This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.
All retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.
This week was a little different: I wasn’t able to meet up with Kris at Retro Games Plus because of the holiday and his later Black Friday sale mixing with my own hockey tournament. Therefore, I changed things up a bit. I found a local video store in Shelton named Video 7, which has been around for twenty-seven years. Walking into this place is like walking back into 1987. They have an old-school Coke machine right by the register, the ones with the big fat “COKE” button at the top. There are walls upon walls of old VHS tapes—he’s the only person who still rents VHS in this area with Blockbuster gone—which date back decades. Of note to me was the video game section, where he is not renting so much as selling. While there’s still somewhat of a VHS market, there’s of course none for Nintendo and Sega games. The good news about that is that he offers very good prices for games that often come with their original boxes. I was able to buy Mega Man 3, Little League Baseball Championship Series, and Flying Dragon: The Secret Scroll, all for a combined $40. Tonight, we look at Flying Dragon, a Culture Brain game that was actually the first console version in a long line of Hiryu no Ken games.
HOW WAS IT THEN: The combination of two different styles of game—a side-scrolling adventure with boss fights and a fighting tournament setup—was revolutionary when it was first debuted. Though neither aspect would have held up on its own, together they made a great combination that kept players from getting bored. There was also a fairly involved story for the time that came off like a mix between your average poorly dubbed Kung-Fu movie and a PG version of Bloodsport. The star of the game—which made us rush through the side-scrolling sections as quickly as possible to reach—was the tournament fighting sections, which played like Street Fighter II meets Simon. A dot would show up on either you or your opponent, and you had to either hit or defend it. Sometimes, you would fight a “Tusk Warrior,” the big bad guys who killed your mentor, Juan, and stole the Secret Scrolls of Hiryu no Ken.
You had to go through the game at least twice to complete it, so there was a lot to do for bored kids who didn’t have a lot of other games to play. And finding out the secrets of the game—namely, how to unmask the other Tusk Soldiers—was involved and gave a great deal of satisfaction if they were done right.
HOW IS IT NOW:: Simply put, Flying Dragon is showing its age.
The side scrolling missions, when played in 2011, are simple to the point of being wastes of time. You can more or less fly through all of the stages, stopping only to kill enough enemies to make the in-stage bosses show up to get to the actual fighting portion of the game. However, being able to beat the game takes either a zen-like mastery of all of the in-game clues, dumb luck, or a strategy guide.
First, to know which enemies are disguised Tusk Soldiers, you must uncover an arbitrary number of Juan panels in the journey stages. At that point, when the enemy in question comes up, you’ll be told how to expose him. If you expose him, great; then you have to beat the Tusk Soldier. However, if you lose—a possibility if you start the second half of the battle with low life—you have to expose the Tusk Soldier again. If you beat the Tusk Soldier, then yay, you get the scroll. If you beat the disguise before exposing the Tusk Soldier, though, you’d better hope you got one of those question marks from a statue in the journey stage, and you’d better know to press up and select at the tournament bracket screen to go back a match (this fact is buried in the back of the instruction book). If not, you’ll have to go through the entire game again to get the true ending, meaning it could require three trips through the game. I’ll come back to the true ending in a bit, too.
This is notwithstanding some issues in the fighting portions. The gameplay itself is simple but gets highly twitchy, especially later in the game where seemingly innocuous button presses count as missed hits. This moves to the next sequence, which means there’s the chance that anyone playing is going to be trying to “catch up” and take a lot of cheap hits in the process. Then there are the special moves by the enemies. Some – like the Hiryu no Ken special move, a flying spinning kick – are pathetically easy to avoid by taking a couple of steps back. Others will almost always lead to hits, especially if they make you defend high to get hit low on the rebound. None of this is game breaking, just annoying. This is especially true later in the game when you need a high KO meter, which lets you do the Hiryu no Ken yourself to unveil Tusk Soldiers.
The game is artificially long, a bit buggy, and needlessly obtuse to get the “real” ending. Those don’t translate well to a game’s replayability twenty-four years after it was made and twenty-two after seeing American shores, though there is some fun to be had. Speaking of that ending, after twenty-two years of fighting, an FAQ, and some emulator savestate usage, I finally, finally beat Flying Dragon! Here is the ending:
After that screen, the game goes back to the title screen.
Fuck you, Culture Brain.