LCD Games VIII: LCDs Take Manhattan

INDIE GAMER CHICK’S LCD GUIDE: PART I – PART II – PART IIIPART IVPART VPART VIPART VII

Who would have thunk it? My four LCD features were some of my most-viewed in 2022. It turns out, I didn’t QUITE tap myself out, as there was a handful that I skipped. So, as one final thank you for making 2022 my biggest year in almost a decade, here’s one last plunge into your childhoods with eight more LCD games. Suddenly, I wish I had my Game Boy Color here to kiss it and say “thank you for not being these.”

PENGO!!
Bandai (1983)
Gameplay Type: Action-Arcade

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I figured there was no way that an LCD could recreate the block-shoving, enemy crushing gameplay of Pengo and I was.. absolutely correct. Oddly, it’s not the lack of animation that makes this fail. In fact, they solved any potential issue that could cause by having enemies be frozen in place the moment you shove a block. If they’re lined-up with the block when you press the button, it’s a kill. That was a wise choice. The problem is the playfield is just not big enough for the game to work. There’s only a couple blocks you can actually shove, with the rest being stuck against the wall. With a playfield only seven columns across, that’s just not enough. Miss even a single time and you’ll probably lose. This is made worse by the fact that enemies can destroy the blocks too. It’s not worth getting the hang of because the game feels too cramped and low-energy. This was a bad idea to attempt.

ASTRO COMMAND!!
Epoch (1982)
Gameplay Type: Shmup

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A typical LCD shmup with the twist being one extra type of enemy and a weapon to deal with it. You shoot enemies on the right side of the screen while also dropping bombs on the enemies who will strut underneath you in the bottom row. The issue is the enemies positively spam the screen with gunfire, but when you fire any of your ammo, you’re locked in-place until the bullet hits, which makes it impractical to weave through their barrage of bullets. Also, this is one of those games that absolutely required animation that the format isn’t capable of. The timing of when you can and can’t dodge out of the way never felt consistent, as sometimes I pulled off a skin-of-my-teeth evasion, and sometimes it felt like I was practically instakilled by a bullet. It’s not a total wash. Picking off the enemies has a satisfying blink/ping, but this needed more fine-tuning to get the timing more intuitive.

APOLLO 13!!
Tiger Electronics (1995)
Gameplay Type: Quickdraw-Dodger

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Houston, we have a problem. We sat around trying to figure out how to play this game for an hour. Or, rather, Dad did. I quit after like five minutes. Finally, we (well, he, but hey, we’re a team, right Daddio?) figured out that, to beat the first level, you have to line up the LEM and with the crosshairs and press the capture button five times in a minute. If the movement controls or thrust controls do anything here, we couldn’t notice it. In the second level, you have dodge rocks, but here we kept gaming over in just seconds. We were colliding with rocks so quickly that we didn’t even have time to figure out if we were supposed to be using the directional pad or the left/right thrust controls. The problem with the Archive is it didn’t include the instructions. I tried to track down the instructions, but go figure, this is one of the very few games that has no listing at the comprehensive Handheld Museum. They certainly were ambitious here, but the resulting game isn’t remotely intuitive, and honestly, the first two stages aren’t fun. Presumably there’s a third stage where you deploy a parachute but we couldn’t survive ten seconds on the second stage to find out. If you’re going to make a complicated game that requires instructions, make sure it’s fun. Apollo 13 appears to be just run-of-the-mill LCD gameplay, only overly cluttered and rendered unintuitive.

VINDICATORS!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Shooter

Based on the 1988 Atari Games coin-op, it’s a three-channel shooter where you can move left and right while aiming your gun three different ways separately. It’s a nice twist and it actually works. Once the enemies start firing upon you, you have to quickly bob and weave your way around. Some enemies can be picked-off from multiple angles, while others you to position yourself under them AND aim your turret correctly. You can only move forward (with extremely poor scrolling.. seriously this is motion-free) in the center channel, and sometimes I found it better to just ignore enemies. Tiger added some elements to make it feel true to the arcade game, like having to get a key to exit through the gate. I always appreciate it when they make that extra effort, even if it’s a teeny tiny thing that ultimately doesn’t affect gameplay that much. Vindicators isn’t mind-blowing or anything, but it’s a nice little time waster.

NEBULA MASK MACHINEMAN: LIGHTNING STRIKER!!
aka Machine Man

Bandai (1984)
Gameplay Type: Dodger/Shooting Gallery

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I was worried at first this was just a rehash of Ultraman. It almost was. The gameplay is split into two parts. In part one, you’re a car that has to dodge bullets fired from a factory. To the game’s credit, it’s yet another LCD (or in this case, VFD) that proves that I was wrong: this format absolutely can create a sense of speed. It just needs the right “animation” and sound effects. So, Machine Man has that going for it, and it’s one of the most convincing illusions of movement I’ve seen yet in over one-hundred LCDs. Unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t any good. You have to make your way to the factory, with the speed increasing the further right you move on the screen. While you do this, the factory lobs bullets at you that you have to dodge. It’s really dull. Once you get to the factory, you transform into a robot and the game becomes a simple five-channel gallery shooter that doesn’t nothing original. According to the Handheld Museum, this is one of the rarest LCD/VFDs out there, and knowing what goes into making these emulated versions, I’m heartbroken I didn’t like this at all. It’s really boring. Great sense of speed, though! Can’t stress that enough.

ZACKMAN!!
Bandai (1982)
Gameplay Type: Action-Arcade

Zackman, which is apparently based on an arcade game called The Pit, is sort like Dig Dug. You have to burrow through blocks to reach a purple canister and return it to your ship. The Dig Dug aspect comes from the various rocks scattered throughout the level that you can use to crush enemies. There’s also a gun hidden on the stages, but in a dozen or so sessions, most of which I went several levels deep, I only found it once. It’s bizarre how many obscure coin-ops got the LCD/VFD treatment. Maybe it came with the contract when you sign-up to make arcade games. “Sign here to acknowledge your game will eventually be trashed forty years later by a silver-spoon licking California girl. And sign here to have your game completely bastardized and made into an LCD or VDF that’s barely recognizable for all the hard work you’ll be putting into your arcade game. And please initial underneath that to assure that also will also be trashed forty years later by some silver-spoon licking California girl, possibly the same girl but that’s subject to availability. Congratulations, you’re now officially an arcade game maker and OH look at that, the arcade market crashed. Sorry for all the paperwork.” Anyway, it’s nice that Zackman’s playfield is actually scrolls. I wish that Pengo did that too. But the game is just not fun.

HOOK!!
Tiger Electronics (1991)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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Based on the Steven Spielberg movie that he hates but I’ve always kind of adored, this is a game played in three parts. In part one, the Lost Boys launch garbage at pirates, and.. I’m not even sure you can lose this section. You just hit the fire button and they come at you in a straight line and just keep pressing fire. Eventually, Captain Hook will show up and raise his sword up and down, but if this is an attempt to block your projectiles, it never worked for me. Even when it seemed like I might have mistimed things, I still got the pirates and never took damage in this section. This whole “level one” goes on forever, with only one part of your soul escaping to continue playing to the next level. The rest of my soul is stuck just pressing one button with no challenge for all eternity. The bit of my soul that moved onto part two had to swing back and forth on a rope and kick pirates in the face while avoiding their sword attacks. You need to collect two keys to begin the section where you battle Captain Hook as Peter Pan. Here you cross swords, dodging and attacking and trying to knock Hook’s health down. In multiple attempts, I never got a single hit in. I would have kept trying to but the sheer agony of having to play to that part is like being stuck with an unstoppable cut scene. It seriously is a couple minutes, and it’s misery. What were they thinking? You earned no BANGARANG on this one, Tiger!

SKELETON WARRIORS!!
Tiger Electronics (1994)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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The total inconsistency of Tiger’s ambition is so weird. Hook, a movie based on a grown-up Peter Pan? Three unique levels that all play differently. Skeleton Warriors? Just press the button when something is next to you to kill them. I suppose you do have to walk right too, and they try to have LCD debris scattered around to create that illusion, but it fails badly. There’s almost no ambition here, like their mandate was to just dump something out using Game Template #2B so that this reaches the market in time for the cartoon’s premiere. There’s a sword to pick up, but it doesn’t seem to do anything besides change what weapon you stick out when you kill things. If it does more, I didn’t need it. There’s no ammo, and in fact, I only needed two gameplay sessions to be able to play this without taking any damage. Hell, the only reason I took damage the first time was attempting to capture screenshots. It feels like it was aimed at really young and possibly brain damaged children. When Tiger Electronics phoned-in a license, they REALLY phoned it in. This is just lazy and shameful.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

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