Monday, 29 May 2017

Zillion (Master System)

Today on Super Adventures I've got good news! Mecha-neko's come back after a seven month absence to write another guest post, so I get to take the week off.

Hey stranger-folk. I'm mecha-neko and today I'm playing a Master System game I found called Zillion. Or perhaps it's ZLLON!

Developer:Sega|Release Date:1987|Systems:Sega Master System

Hmm, what to make of this? From the look of the pulsating ray-gun on the title screen, it's probably a light-gun game. But don't be fooled: the cat from Interpose (my very first Obscure-As-All-Hell Animated Cat Game August post!) twiddles ray-guns all over the place on his title screen, and that one turned out to be a side scrolling shooter. Yeah, that sounds right. "Zillion." It's like it fell right off the bottom of the periodic table or something. Gotta be a shooter.

In fact, the 27th of May is the thirtieth anniversary of Zillion! It was released in Japan on 27th May 1987. Happy birthday, Zillion! This post's going up a couple days late, 'cause cats work to their own calendar. (And I'm not making a new banner!)
But even so, why would I ever post another side-scrolling shoot-'em-up? You're just going to have to read on and find out!


It's important for a game to make a good first impression and Zillion starts off with a bang! A great big screen-filling bang!

Seeing a nicely traced anime dude as soon as you turn on the console can be a very good sign indeed. It at least looks expensive. But is that expensive in a good way or a bad way? It could end up as the hidden gem of the century! Or it could be Akira.

The game opens with a nice J-Pop sounding theme, which makes me think that this was based on an anime. And it was! Here's what I'm listening to, and here's the Zillion title theme "Pure Stone" (external links)!

I've never heard of Zillion before playing this game. The anime had one season and only a few episodes were translated into English. It's apparently super big in Brazil, and it was enough of a hit in Japan to get a remastered Blu-Ray release in 2015 with cast commentaries and all the rest. The visual style of it all looks pretty old: all hand-drawn and painted, a little blurry, a little surreal, which means to me it looks pretty nifty!

Sometime in the near future, a lone figure in red walks out of a honking great mobile base as the title screen music neatly segues into shifts into a heroic chorus, full of hope for the inevitable starting forest level.

YOUR MISSION
STEAL THE CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION STORED IN THE 5 FLOPPY DISKS FROM THE NORSA FORCES' BASE ON PLANET X.
AFTER SUCCESSFULLY OBTAINING THE DISKS, INPUT THE COMMAND "EXPLODE" IN THE BASE'S MAIN COMPUTER AND DESTROY THE BASE.
CHAMP AND APPLE ARE ALREADY IN THE BASE, BUT IT LOOKS LIKE THEY'VE BEEN CAPTURED. RESCUE THEM AND THEN WORK TOGETHER TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR MISSION.
GOOD LUCK!
DIRECTOR GORD.

The late eighties were a time of miracles. Rather than just assuming that the player will have the manual to hand, games started including their plot in the game itself! Not many eighties games would live or die on the player knowing their plot, but knowing the objective is a lot more crucial! I know I've gotta deal with five disks, two lost agents and one giant explosion.

I bought this as cart-only for a quid, knowing nothing about it other than it had an interesting name and a vague promise that it could be my kind of game. Zillion asks me if I'd like to see all the commands. I suppose I do!

YOU MUST INPUT AN ID CARD TO ACTIVATE THE COMPUTER FOR THE MAIN COMPUTER, HOWEVER, THE RED ID CARD IS REQUIRED.
AFTER USE, IT WILL NOT BE RETURNED TO YOU, EXCEPT IN THE CASE WHERE THE COMMAND "DOOR OPEN" IS USED.
COMMAND "DOOR OPEN" TO OPEN THE CLOSED DOOR INPUT THE 4 LETTERS WHICH APPEAR WHEN THE SECRET BOX IS DESTROYED.
THE ID CARD WILL THEN BE RETURNED TO YOU.

Just one little missing full stop here and here turns the reasonable I.D. card warning into near gibberish. I have to find an I.D. card to use the computer, whereas the main computer specifically requires a red card. I don't get my I.D. card back unless I use it to open a door... sounds like a bizarre inversion of the infamous self-destructing single-use keys from The Legend of Zelda.

If I find the I.D. card, I ought to open all the doors I can with it before using it for anything else then, right? And when I destroy the secret box, I get four letters which I can input to open the closed door.

Some of these special codes look more practical than others. Knowing how to detonate the base: good thing. Knowing how to commit suicide: a bit extreme, innit?

It's a platformer! Damn! It's hard to get excited about a platformer. I was looking forward to this being a little different to stuff I'd seen before.

I might as well make the most of it. Go, my little red and blue space marine robot dude! There's agents who need our help!

He runs, he bounds, he can shoot while crawling!! Well that's sort of trivialised these robots hasn't it.

This field goes on forever, and JJ isn't getting any points for this slaughter. My only reward is a bowel-shattering 'Wakkapchaaaaoowwww!' sound effect for each robot felled, and a safe journey through the brush.

A lift! Level 1 is complete! That was underwhelming. Five screens walk to the right and not an obstacle, tree, crate or platform to be seen.

But then... the lift goes down. We're descending into the base proper.

Patrol robots. Gotta time it right!

Up and down controls the lift, but that means I can't change posture. I'll have to time my evasive jumps perfectly if I don't want a laser to the face.

Now which way to go? Left, right or down?

There's an old-fashioned, scrolling flick-screen transition for you. I haven't seen one of those for a while.

There's sprite flickering all over the place but that's forgiveable for what the game's trying to achieve. The poor Master System can only have eight 8-pixel wide sprites on any line, so it's doing well to show a bad guy, a laser bolt, the lift and a robot all at the same time.

Now what can I do in here? There's a computer and a bunch of bins. I can't use the computer yet because I none of those robots dropped an I.D. card. No other exits that I can see. Next route!

Damn it, JJ! You and your stupid bionic bunny legs! You'd have made it if you didn't spend half a second thinking about each jump.

I have no idea what JJ is supposed to be. Is he a human? Or maybe a colourful cyborg? On my TV he's a rough blue and red haze, which totally makes him look like he's Wrench from the musical Starlight Express (external link).

At the end of the mined corridor was another lift, and that lead to a T junction, and that led to a dead end and here.

Alright, this room's got a computer, a laser wall and a locked door. I can't get to the door while the laser wall's in the way. Huh, I'm missing something here. I can't search the containers like in Impossible Mission even though they're very conspicuously containery. But then again they don't look like SECRET BOX either.

I'm going to check out another route.

Enemy! Wait... ohhh! That makes sense. Destroy the secret box, get the goodies! And we can all shoot through walls!

Wait... is this Impossible Mission crossed with Metroid? How the HELL did I not know about this sooner? This game is exactly as old as I am, and I've never heard of it and it's Impossible Mission crossed with dog-damned Metroid!?

Well this doesn't seem like a one-man sneaking mission so it's time for some freestyle, guns-blazing, full-scale vandalism! Go nuts, JJ!

And there was a KEY WORD in that box, and that box, and that box! Oh yeah! We're cooking now! We've got all four! Stick 'em in the computer, you colourful bastard and let's get outta here!

Bugger.

And I think I ought to have written down those shapes I found.

Right, so it's back up the lift and back to one of the other rooms to see if I can snatch an I.D. card from one of the boxes!

Ta dah! It was in the very first room. That's nice.

There's no locked door in here, but that's no reason to deny myself a bit of aimless destruction.

BEEP BEEP BEEP

I must have killed the robots' favourite box 'cause now they're swarming on me in droves! And they've killed the nice background music too!

Eventually somebody puts the music back on and the robots stop.

Alright, I get one use of this I.D. card and then it's gone. I can either use it down the main lift, or through the mine corridor.

Darn it! I'm just gonna draw a map already.

Huh, I thought I'd explored more of the base than that! It seems huge when you're playing it (mostly because it takes ages to walk down the mine corridor). By my calculations, the mine corridor route is going to loop back on itself, so either it's going to hide behind the entrance lift and go to places unknown, or it's going to end, hopefully in treasure!

I'm surprised I haven't screwed up by leaving one of the lifts in the wrong place. That's the kind of unfriendly game-ruining crap I expect from an 8-bit game. But nope, they discreetly snap back to your level when you go off-screen.

It's back through the mine corridor again for me.

Many accidental explosions later... back in the room with the laser wall...

Alright! So I used my only I.D. card to turn off the laser wall, giving me free reign to scoop up all the boxes: I scored another four-element KEY CODE and a shiny replacement card.

Let's input the KEY CODE into the computer!

Beep, boop, beep, boop: kaboom! Either I guessed the correct order (it's only a one-in-twenty-four chance when there's four distinct symbols, so it's not impossible) or the game doesn't care what order you input the symbols, which is COOL and SMART!

You can recognise all these symbols from the list at the start of the game. And now that they're all lined up side by side maybe you can see that they're (mostly) the numbers 1 to 9 together with their mirror images! Sneaky!

This means that in any room with a computer I can spend one of my I.D. cards and enter those codes to temporarily disable laser walls, auto-guns, warp (where? back to the base?), or... suicide. Ew. That's an evil syndicate for you: all of their computers are equipped with a convenient 'suicide' button just in case your life of villainy gets you down.

Aw dang, the laser wall turned back on. I'm curious just how much damage JJ takes from trying to touch it. Best case, it doesn't do anything (though it'll seem like cheating), worst case I lose my only life and I'm back to the very start of the game.

ZAP... well I've lost over a hundred HP but I'm still in the game. And I still have my I.D. card which means that I can still use the computers to type in the random door passwords, as long as there aren't any more laser walls in the way.

It does raise the question of how I expect to get back out of this place considering the computer is going to be on the wrong side of this laser wall when I'm done, but never mind.

It's an I.D. card bonanza! The three pods on the platforms each have an I.D. card in each. (Let's pray that I can carry more than one and these aren't just disappearing.)

I managed to kill one of these guys by landing on their head, which leads me to believe that they're just clones or something and I'm the killer robot.

One much-needed, nutritious, pilfered-from-a-bin bagel (or perhaps electro cyberbagel) later, and I've got just enough endurance to continue.

Gun power, level up, fully restored health! Bingo, baby!

With my new gun, I can destroy a slightly more boring style of bin! Can't see me getting very far without this.

And yep, the level-up icon is the ship from Sega arcade shoot 'em up Fantasy Zone, Opa-Opa! He (or maybe she!) snuck into the Zillion anime as one of the squad's many mascots.

Whew. I think I've earned a save. It's time to trek all the way back left, through the laser wall, down the lift, back through the mine corridor, up the main lift, through the forest and back to the ship!

Hi there, miss! JJ's back and he'd like to save.

Fully healed, great! How about a save... no save? Right. Well. I'm sure I'll get a password when I die.

Back to the action!

I opened that first locked door I found at the bottommost part of the base that I'd explored so far, and then this happened.

Nah, the game doesn't really repeat like this. I faked this l'il GIF. But would you really be able to notice if I hadn't told you?

Every room is blue. The same blue with the same tiles, over and over again. It's wearing me down. I can feel my interest tangibly waning, like a plant left in the scorching hot sun with nothing for nutrition than Master System games. I know the Master System has a limited palette but it has more colours than that single blue. It's a wonderful, pleasant blue, but I can't tell where I am or what I'm doing!

So I go through Bob-knows how many rooms of that, memorising four digit codes temporarily and opening doors. Occasionally there'll be a robot or two, but nothing is happening.

There aren't any bottomless pits, which is a good thing considering the delay on JJ's jump. Impossible Mission had bottomless pits all over the place, even when there were rooms directly on top of other rooms.

Impossible Mission (Commodore 64)

If you haven't played that Impossible Mission I keep going on about, it's a simple super-amazing exploration and puzzle-solving platform game written for the Commodore 64 in 1984, and then ported to pretty much everything else shortly afterwards.

Impossible Mission (Commodore 64)

You play as a rotoscoped secret agent fellow who has to infiltrate a big labyrinth consisting of puzzle rooms connected by corridors and lifts, and do some simple single-screen platforming to avoid hazards while you search the contents of the rooms for the secret codes you need to allow you to access the master computer located somewhere within the maze and save the day. To help you along you can find 'passwords', which are tokens you can spend to render all the instant death robots temporarily inert.

It's not identical to Zillion... that wouldn't be fair! Zillion has music! And in Impossible Mission you can't fight back against the robots; your only defence is an incredible somersault you can perform even from a standing position. You don't have a gun, which means that you don't get scenes like this:

Son of a friggin' damn bitch.

What the hell was that, huh?

Apart from the ability to destroy a less crinkly kind of trashcan I'm not finding much enjoyment out of my Gun 2. It fires just as slowly, still only lets me have one bullet on screen and has the same range. It just makes a louder 'schhooom'.

The conditions for triggering an alert seem to be pretty arbitrary. I think it might be specific areas of the screen that do it. Say, if I stand right here, I'll never be able to get to the right side of the screen because of the hurt-on-contact robots raining from above. I've got to move away from it, wait until the robots stop, shimmy to the right like a wiggly worm on acid, flip around, and deal with any new robots that I'd triggered. Puzzle rooms!

That dark line on the floor is... an invisible goods lift that only appears when I'm standing on it? Huh. I don't get it. Are they trying to save on sprites? That's just really weird.

The lift takes me back up to a room I've already cleared! Great, a shortcut back! Except I have to pay an I.D. card to get past the laser wall guarding the exit. It'd be nice if there was some way to turn these off permanently.

Rats and bats... so that's their game is it? They get me so caught up with ducking under platforms trying to force open an opening in the infinite robot cascade that I've gone and forgotten the bleeding code. Well I'm not going to fall for their next scam and end up having one of my I.D. cards taken off me for getting the code wrong too many times. I can see through THAT one. I'm going to exit the computer and save my card!

While I'm in a backtracking mood, I'm going to get that one box I couldn't destroy with my starting gun. And wouldn't you know it, it's got one of those big ol' 5 ¼" floppy disks in that I need to win the game! So while you're drawing that map, you've gotta write down all the boxes that your gun wasn't powerful enough to destroy since they might contain critical disks...

That tub on the far right contains a level up but I can't get to it since I can't jump high enough. Dang. At least I know there's a full health waiting for me if I can remember to come back for it. Saves me having to head all the way back to H.Q. Make a note, folks. It's in the blue room with all the robots.

Ducking robots...!?

Nobody said they were allowed to duck! How am I supposed to evade that? The only way I can think of is to assume every exit leads to a corridor full of robots (which to be fair they are) and enter them shooting and crawling, hoping that the ugly ducker is in front and that my first bullet snags 'em dead. If the guy in front is standing, I've been rused.

Also enemies constantly pour in from both sides within corridors even if you've cleared the rooms on either side. Good job my laser's got infinite ammo! Actually I'd better check whether it does or not. Now that could've been embarrassing.

It's a proper pause menu screen! It's got stats! Icons! A dangerously pointy anime chin! Most Master System games I've seen don't even acknowledge a pause press except by halting everything on the screen. Sonic just looks like he's suspended in mid-air while the rings keep rotating.

No map here though. Not even a set of coordinates. And no sign of a password or a save button. This is starting to get a little unnerving.

Son of an elephant's testicle! Knock it off!!

Here lies JJ, he died of robots.

The death screen music is weirdly upbeat. A little 'these things happen' with a dash of 'you tried your best'.

Aw, now the girl at headquarters is all sad and the bad guy is all happy. This isn't a good ending at all! Even the music is a sad version of the title music.

And, what's worse, I only get three continues for the entire game! And I don't have lives!

Oh well, let's give it another shot.

HA HA HA. THAT'S FUNNY. NOW STOP IT.

50 / 720 HP remaining. Phenomenal.

Things are getting a bit tense. I'm going to use one of my spare I.D. cards since I've got so many and dial myself up a map. I don't think I can really go in the wrong direction; everything's been pretty linear so far, but being able to see any side rooms I might have missed will be a help.

Here's the MAP. It's not altogether helpful but it does convey the scale of the place. Eight rooms across and sixteen rooms down. Plenty of game for your money! Is that red room the main computer room or where one of the agents is being held?

I guess now I have to see if any of squares I've already visited has a secret passage that leads to a black square or perhaps there's a jump powerup box that I've skipped somewhere along the way. I think I'll save and take a break... oh right. Kids didn't have to go to school or eat or pee in the eighties, did they?

I know, I'll turn it the heck off.

That was a cool game. I liked it. I liked it when I was rolling along, and then I stopped rolling along so I stopped liking it. And now every time I try out Zillion I have to play through the part I'm already familiar with to get to the challenging part. No checkpoints or passwords for the entire game: Zillion is for the harder-core. Castlevania and Dark Souls? Easy street.

I had a conclusion type thing all written up about how pleased I was to find Zillion. For a long time the only Master System game I owned was Sonic The Hedgehog and that's because it was built into the thing. I'm fond of the Master System for some reason, even though many of the games are naff sandwiches. Maybe simply because it always felt like the underdog since nobody mentions it.

I was going to write about how well put together Zillion seemed, how it could be one of those forgotten games whose name you remember in a flash of inspiration and yell out in enthusiastic pride when you realise you still own it. I wanted Zillion to be ace, but having gotten to here a few times writing this post, it's just worn out its welcome.

Maybe I'll forget all about it if I leave it alone for a few months. It'll seem all new and fresh and not like I'm shooting the same four bins over and over again.

The next day...

Aha! I've found the enemy's secret Anticlimax Storage Facility. Just as planned.

All these corridors and shafts are the same colour, just like the rooms... how does anybody get around in this base? The floors don't have numbers or names or symbols. You've got to have colour-coded sections, like Metroid, or places with different shapes, like Metroid, or different enemies in each area, like Metroid.

The developers must've been so rushed right off their feet trying to stick all the little pieces of this massive game together that 'make places memorable' slipped further and further down the To-Do list until it was forgotten. And I wouldn't be surprised if all of this was written by one guy over four months with no sleep. "Hey, you've read a couple of those computer nerd magazines, haven't you?" yells the producer, "We could make a mint if we get a videogame of our anime show on the shelves by the end of the year. DO IT."

Argh, bring back the blue! You're forgiven, blue!

At least this terrifying red background means I'm advancing again. Let's see what's in these boxes... EMPTY?? EMPTY?!?!?! I reach a dead end and all I find is EMPTY??!?

There should never be anything that's empty, damn it! I don't turn bins EMPTY after I've taken level ups out of them. You're being inconsistent, Zillion! And not giving me stuff!

The only other room I have left is this one, but there's no door here! I haven't checked that busted bin under the laser barrier yet, but I don't think there's anything useful in there. The gun powerups and the level ups have always appeared as icons immediately after destroying the bin, the healthy bagels only sometimes do... but maybe jump powerups don't? Nope, it's just another I.D. card, which you'd have to have spent an I.D. card to get. But why is there a keycode in here if there's no more locked doors?

That is one of the many secrets of Zillion!


CONCLUSION


I'm a big fan of Impossible Mission. I liked it back when I played the stupid, broken Amiga port you get with Impossible Mission 2097 that I played when I was seven and didn't know what I was doing. I liked it when I finally got a C64 and found myself figuring it all out. And I still like it now even after finally beating it. And Zillion is more Impossible Mission, but from Japan! And with shooting!

Zillion is all about the secrets. The entire game is a secret; the more you play it the more you reveal. The purpose of Zillion is to learn enough about the game across multiple playthroughs in order to become more efficient each time. You're supposed to draw out maps and plan routes and figure out when to pick up items and when to save them. All the fiddly things that annoy you? You can defeat them, beat them, get around them, ignore them.

8-bit games of length have always had a bit of push and shove with the player. Sometimes they're just unhelpful, other times they're nasty. Zillion is firmly unhelpful, but it's got a labyrinth full of stuff to steal and doors to kick down and every time you master a room you get just that tiny bit better. It starts as survival, moves on to exploration, then gathering, assault, rescue, domination and finally exploooosion.

In short, the game won me back over when I noticed what the purpose of the keycode in this room is and I could resume my ass-kicking duties. But you're supposed to get frustrated first. You're supposed to talk about it on the playground and write into magazines and roam around lost. That's what makes the game last.

I wish I hadn't looked up what I'd missed on a map first, but at the same time I don't think I would've figured it out.

Unlike Impossible Mission, which was ported (badly) to every system under the sun (including the Master System), Zillion is a Master System exclusive written by Sega themselves. Looks like you're going to have to get yourselves a Master System after all, folks.

As a final thought, let's just take a moment to enjoy how unfathomably pants the Zillion cover is outside of Japan.

Here's how it looks in Japan:

Red light-bullet Zillion. © Tatsunoko / NTV.
1M, Mega. For use with Sega Mark III. 1 Player. Not for use with SC-3000, SG-1000 series.
JJ's mission is to retrieve 5 floppy disks from the Nosa army base. If you help Champ and Apple on the way, you can change members.
Let's not play games for a long time. And let's take a 10-20 minute break every hour when playing games for a long time.
SEGA Co. Ltd. SEGA Enterprises.

And here's how it looks in the US, Europe, Brazil...:

It's accurate, but damn. They could have chosen any of the scenes from the game as an illustration: the big red H.Q., the handsome hero dashing through the forest, running down a corridor, shooting robots, dodging lasers and leaping over mines, or simply posing with a gun (the titular Zillion is the laser you're carrying!). But no, they drew a picture of the computer screen and now the game looks like an exciting adventure in oven repair.

Well done.

Anyway, play Zillion, will ya?


Not the most challenging of 'next game' clues this week. At least I don't think it is, but it's hard for me to tell when I already know what the game is.

Leave a comment if you want to guess what is! Or you could even say something about this Zillion game you've just been reading about. You've got options.

13 comments:

  1. The game is based on the anime and the gun they use in the anime is based on the Master System's Light Phaser peripheral. Circular!

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    Replies
    1. Plus the Master System Light Phaser is based on the gun in Sega's laser tag game... which was called Zillion.

      But none of this explains why the ZX Spectrum's light gun also looks like the gun in Zillion!

      Delete
    2. I'm glad you folks have gotten to the bottom of this! Whenever I looked up the cause-and-effect of the Zillion name, the Zillion games, the Zillion anime, and the Light Phaser, I got horribly horribly confused.

      Delete
  2. On a scale of the Quake 2 blaster sound to the Command & Conquer 1 guard tower sound, how would you rate 'Wakkapchaaaaoowwww!'?

    Less importantly, what's the way of getting into Impossible Mission you would recommend to someone somewhat less stubborn than you or Ray: just jumping in, giving the manual a read, having the manual open and taking notes, or combing the Internet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm, I seem to remember the C&C tower going DPFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFTH. The Zillion sound is more interesting, it's a big colourful squarewave slide, but the C&C sound has it beat in sheer volume since I'm a big 'buildings not units' style C&C player, so whenever a stray soldier comes near my base everything gets drowned out by a million DPFFFFTH at once.

      Delete
  3. The next game is obviously a pirate themed one. I really wish it's "Redguard" the only Elder Scrolls game I've enjoyed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Redguard's the only Elder Scrolls game I've never played (aside from the mobile ones)... but it's not that. Sorry.

      Delete
  4. The next game seems to be Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck's Revenge (specifically the Part I title Card: The Largo Embargo :p )

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