May 03, 2018

[Game 067] Shadow Brain (NES - 1991)

Translation by aishsha & Pennywise

Shadow Brain serves up a one-two punch to the "like" part of my brainium; it's both a dungeon crawler and heavy on the sci-fi.  While that would be enough to get an initial thumbs-up from me, SB takes it one step further by having the game ship with a VHS cassette which lays out the plot with the help of nice anime stills.  It also showcases all the creatures found in-game, 3D-rendered in all the glorious limitations of the early 90's.  For those that don't want to check out the vid, I'll break it down for ya.  In 1990, a wizkid named Jun invents a really dope AI which becomes sentient and buggers off from Jun.  Fast forward to 2040, when a global cataclysm fucks everybody's shit up and causes them to retreat into their insular cities.  Jump ahead to 2090 and now we have cities full of robots and cyborgs and other cool shit.  There's also a crazy new game that's all the rage with the humans, most of whom have become seriously addicted to it.  But what about Jun, stuck way back in 1990?  No problamo, he just follows his father through the experimental time machine they have and ends up 100 years in the future, duh.

You can tell because futures never
use carpets in their decor.

The first thing that struck me about Shadow Brain is just how pervasive the sci-fi element is throughout the game; everything is positively dripping with futurey goodness, even the UI and status screens.

As good as 8-bit can make it, anyway.

Jun is suppose to be trying to find his father, but what would you be doing if you suddenly found yourself plus one hundred years from now?  If you said endless private robotic rock concert, then great minds think alike.

And, of course, robots only ever play...
*snigger*... HEAVY METAL!

So, sorry Jun's dad, but I'm more interested in making Jun explore instead, even though that means enduring bodily punishment dished out by some of the local punks as well as giant, mutated insects.  A couple of times, Jun has to escape a pounding by darting into the nearby home of a friendly citizen, most of whom are quick to quip a helpful one-liner.  I say most because not everyone who owns a house in the future is all peaches and sunshine.

Fighting a half-cyborg, half-wolfman completely
unarmed went about as well as one would think.

Jun is a teenaged programmer, not exactly a great archetype for getting into scuffles, so it's off to the neighbourhood weapons depository to purchase a little sumthin sumthin for self-defense.

I don't want to go too overboard, I'll just take the
multi-phased ionic particle disruptor with optional
 underbarrel anti-matter grenade launcher.

In a move that would baffle philosophers for ages to come, Jun purchases a set of brass knuckles and sword rather than one of the ranged weapons.  I guess Jun has something to prove, not only to the rest of the world, but also to himself.  This results in a fairly high death rate which isn't a big deal in the future, as each city is guaranteed to have a rebirth chamber for all of Jun's cellular regeneration needs.  There's also a whole galaxy of multi-coloured pharmaceuticals available, from stimulants to pain suppressors to just plain ol' recreational fun.

I'll take as many red pills as you have.

With a couple of levels under his belt, Jun feels buff enough to explore the next city in search of his father next fix.  Each city is barred from entry unless one has the proper ID code card, which Jun does thanks to some kind soul.  The second city is much the same as the first, with the same range of shops, albeit with upgraded items.  The citizens are also very familiar, at least that's what I thought before I met Galory.  Who is Galory, you ask?  Well, I think it's pretty obvious that he's some kind of a skeleton/robot that wears a red T-shirt (and possibly no pants), rides a rocket skateboard and bafflingly keeps referring to Jun as "pops".  Galory promises to give Jun a network card if Jun can gnarly up some bitchin' rail slides on Galory's board.  This actually consists of just blasting the first-person perspective through the city grid at a high rate of speed, but that's what imaginations are for.

The same imaginations that dreamt
up this character in the first place.

With network card in hand, Jun can now access the web at any of a city's one or two terminal kiosks.  There's never a line up at a terminal, making me think that everyone else is on mobile and Jun has to slum it up like a pleb.  I think maybe Shadow Brain is just ahead of its time, foreseeing the inevitable move to mobile that was nothing but a pipe dream in the early 1990s and nope, wait, there's a BBS on the net, making SB a total product of its time.  Unfortunately, I can't get any 0-day warez, but there is online shopping as well as an IRC server for hitting on nerdy chicks.

Yeah baby, why don't you come over and
make my floppy drive, uhhh... not floppy.

The next city, appropriately called Playland, is chock full of arcades and rumours of a Game King who is in serious need of having his title taken.  The many arcades are fully functional, and by fully functional I mean that each has one of two available games, both terrible and shitty.  There's a crappy target shooting game called slimeshot and a horrendous version of air hockey called paddle pole.  Of course, if Jun wants to beat the Game King, he'll need to hone his skills on the two best games 2090 apparently has to offer.  Slimeshot isn't all that bad as it's serviceable and easy enough, more boring than anything else.  But paddle pole is something else.  Your Nintendo Entertainment System, beloved as it is, can't handle three dimensions worth a crap and it's even worse when it's a tacked-on mini-game.  The developers, bless their hearts, try to help by making the puck a pole instead to help with depth perception but it's still balls.

And I swear to god that fucking pole swerves
whenever I'm perfectly lined up.

Going up the Game King is proving to be a nightmare as he'll block every shot unless the attack angle is extremely extreme, which means hitting the pole with the very edge of the paddle.  Combined with the pole's tendency to swerve, this naturally leads to a lot of cursing, cussing, and additional holes in the dedicated games-are-assholes drywall.  It also naturally leads to weeks-long stints where I don't even touch the paddle and build dwarven fortresses instead.  The indomitable spirit of Nung eventually prevails, of course, although the victory is hollow as I feel it was more due to luck than skill.  The important thing is that I'm now the Game King and girls refer to me as — AND I QUOTE — "so cool and awesomely cute".  The arcade junkies are also all up ons deez Nung nuts, and I must say I really can't blame them one bit.

♪  Go Shen! Go Shen! Go Shen!  It's my birthday!  ♫

I'm just about to explore the fourth (out of what looks to be 16) city and hopefully I'll be able to stay more focused.  If Shadow Brain decides to be dick and throw more paddle pole at me, I'll probably break down and just save scum past it.  I am intrigued by what surprises SB may have in store for me, but even if it starts turning a little stale, the sweet sci-fi setting is sure to satiate me to some degree.