Sometimes you have to ask yourself, what do I consider a “video game”. Not like a specific genre mind you, just your default idea of a video game. For me it would have to be something like Keith Courage in Alpha Zones.
This game isn’t exactly what I’d call good. Hell I wouldn’t even call it bad. It’s so amazingly average that it fits the TurboGrafx-16 like a glove. The system itself was overall just okay. It had high points at the time, but this was back when new systems and electronics just kept popping up. It wasn’t uncommon to here people say “Oh that is nice but I bet something better will be out soon, I’ll just stick to my Nintendo Tapes” when talking to friends or other people at the flea market.
Back then it was how we always got our “new” systems. Growing up we just bought used stuff a lot. You could get a perfectly fine Super Nintendo used at the flea market for like $55 so who needed a TurboGrafx? But this isn’t about that, this is about Keith Courage.
The first thing that hits you is the title screen. Straight out of Phantasy Star or Golden Sun. So brash and fantastical. Sparkling guilded letters befitting a sword and sorcery style game. Yet the box art was Gundam mixed with Mazinger so what gives here?
I guess it wasn’t to surprising back then. I struggle to think of any box art that adequately depicted the game back then. Heck I think the Alpha Zones box is pretty spot on for what you get.
The game is pretty split in two equally average parts. You get a rather floaty action platformer with shops and spikes. Decent jump arc, responsive controls, and an attack distance that makes it feel like it’s your fault when you get hit, most of the time anyway.
You have some shops for upgrades and weapons as well as a Nurse who heals you and gives tips. Honestly it’s just your pretty standard affair. It’s not unenjoyable just more like it’s uh… It makes me wish I was playing another better game. The colors are bright and vibrant. Clean sprite work with decent sound effects give it a more polished feel than I was expecting if I’m being honest. A little lacking musically but nothing off putting. It’s atmospheric enough with the limited sound channels. So you settle in thinking things are gonna be alright and you let your gaurd down and just start going with flow until, BAM!
A magic rainbow comes down and sucks you up into a robot, or turns you into a robot? Stuff happens and you now have not. And jeez this part is more fun, way more fast, and pretty challenging. The game is almost 100% improved at this point only now the hit box seems off. You take hits that don’t seem fair. Your weapon strikes feel less reliable. Just all around it feels sloppier. Yet at the same time it becomes more enjoyable. You run through the stage slap up a boss and get cosmic rainbowed back to being a kid again. This part always makes me sad as well I do like the structure and reliability of the human stages I had a taste of radical action and I want to go back.
So why is this what I consider a video game I hear you cry. Well all of it really. The mixed aesthetics of old Japanese buildings and rocket platforms while jumping over glowing death spikes to kill enemies to get big coins to buy bombs and magic to fight against robots with guns for heads when a rainbow makes me also into a robot.
That’s a video game. That is the experience I can’t get anywhere else. A good RPG is like a book that takes skill to turn a page. I can still get a great story from a book or comic. It would have word boxes and pictures and swords and stuff. Or take Heavy Rain or Metal Gear Solid these are great experiences sometimes even fun but the bigger draw their is “It’s like a movie you can play” is the term I hear tossed around. Yes I get more accomplishment from beating a game rather than just watching a show. Just does that accomplishment scratch my itch to play a video game? Not really. Just like even the best Pinball game still lacks that tactile response of jamming a button at hard with your palm resting on oily cold steel. Or Monopoly without having to set up a board and take it down sounds nice, but your brain didn’t want video monopoly now did it? That’s why I still play so many retro games. Honestly that’s why I still buy new Mario games. I can get stories anywhere, but my bigass coins? Those will be forever in the Alpha Zones and other castles of my past and in the few games that try hard to honor what games where not just cash in on nostalgia or indie cred.