Grab a seat there. Go on, pick any one you like. All the chairs are very comfy in a review of mine. Feeling relaxed? Grab a beverage of your choice and read on. Today we're going to talk about import games. We're going to talk about one in particular, but this is a mood-building paragraph. Let's set our wayback machine to the 8-bit era here. All the happy little children in the late 80's and early 90's loved Mr. Gray Toaster That Looks Like A VCR Because Atari Ruined Everything Five Years Ago. Very few, however, would have had extensive knowledge of the lovely little red toploader that was its Japanese counterpart. I speak of course of Nintendo's Family Computer, or Famicom for short. It's 2011 now, and the 8-bit era is a thing of legend and nostalgia and everyone knows this stuff by now and none of it is any bit of trivia. But, at the height of the 8-bit era, nobody knew what a Famicom was. We were blissfully unaware that hundreds of games came out for Japan's primo 8-bit system that didn't hit here. Then there were the ones that got altered on their hop across the pond; Super Mario Bros. 2 (the one with Subcon and Shyguys), Shatterhand.. hell, even games nobody cares about anymore like Yo Noid or Whomp 'Em. (There's some useless trivia for you.) Today I would like to talk about a game that remained overseas, a rather nice one at that too. Moon Crystal, released in 1992 by a little company called Hect.. or as the game's title screen says, "Hector Playing Interface". An obscure game from an obscure developer. We have hit the motherload of obscurity, but what have we found? We have found something that's good but a little flawed.
Being released in 1992, Moon Crystal falls dangerously close to a category of video games that is cause for celebration; I am going to make up a name for these sorts of games right now and call it a "twilight gem". What is a twilight gem, one might ask, and does it have anything to do with a needlessly popular creative fiction series? No. God no. I should have chosen my words better. These are games that are released for a system AFTER that system's successor has been released. By that time, the older system's boundaries have been pushed in incredibly new and innovative ways. Take our good friend Mr. Famicom, for instance. In 1983 it was sporting simple games that would not be unwelcome in a local arcade. Just a few years later it was sporting pinnacles of 8-bit graphics and sound, and add-on chips and other such trickery made things like the Famicom version of Castlevania 3 technical masterpieces. Moon Crystal falls into this category; not for its sound, but for its graphics. Cutscenes have lots of bright colors and are very anime-inspired (it is Japan, give 'em a break), and the animations are incredibly fluid and have enough frames of animation to make you do a double take. What's that I said? Cutscenes? Well, hold on to your hats and read on, folks.
If a professional reviewer ever got their hands on Moon Crystal (and I'm certain someone in Japan did, back in 1992), they would have to make a blurb for this game. The most appropriate possible blurb, the way to sum this thing up ever-so-simply, would be to say "It's like Ninja Gaiden crossed with Prince Of Persia." That really is how this thing plays.
You have 8-bit cutscenes represented with pixel-art, and you have a player character who is animated fluidly and can hang onto ledges and pull himself up. As for the plot of the game, it is pretty simple. But hey, it's not all that bad and this was still an era where story was still a big deal when it wasn't confined to page 3 of the instruction booklet.
You are a kid with green hair named Ricky Slater, and one crazy night your entire village is abducted by goons working for an evil genius. So, Ricky sets out to get his family and friends and fellow villagers back from the clutches of evil, and foil the plans of a well-dressed man. It's a simple story but it looks nice in 8-bit anime-style graphics.
The gameplay is important, and.. well.. let's focus on the good first. Ricky's main weapon is a piddly little dagger, but there are power-ups scattered through each level; treasure chests. Slice one open and get the goodies inside. Simple stuff. Power-ups range from life pickups to a dagger "extension" to give you better range. Hell, there's even a pair of double-jump boots! That is some classy stuff. As for your own protection, Ricky starts every level (and every fresh life) with three hearts. Little powerups that can only be described as "Heart containers" will give you an extra heart for that life, but you can only have a maximum of five hearts. You go back to three when you die, though, and that will probably happen.
No beating around the bush, this game takes more cues from Ninja Gaiden than just the cutscenes. There are six stages in all, and the first three will probably be breezed through. The last three? Have fun with that. Technically, it's not the stages that will trip you up; they really aren't all THAT bad, save for some tricky platforming in the final level. What will really set your blood boiling are the bosses. Oh, the first two or three are relatively simple, but by about the third boss you will be hitting a brick wall. The reason for this comes back to those fluid animations and controls.
Ricky controls kind of realistically, see. In pretty much any other platforming action game ever made, if you are moving in one direction and hit the opposite direction, your character will turn around instantly. Ricky, however, has a half-second "turning" animation where he turns around to face the other way. This is what will get you killed in the boss fights; that half a second leaves you vulnerable to getting hit by a boss. These guys are quick to attack, and you will only have five hearts maximum. If you are to die, you'll start back at the last checkpoint and have to traverse through a bunch of the level again. This does give you a chance to possibly get back your sword upgrade/double jump/heart containers, but don't bet on getting all five hearts back. Most of the bosses in this game can be easily broken, too, and you can simply stand in front of them and mash the attack button. If you have five hearts and fast fingers, you'll more than likely come out on top. In this case, for me personally, the pretty frames of animation take away from the game and make it harder than it should be. It's difficulty from control, and not difficulty from anything actually in the game.
So, that is Moon Crystal for you. Obscurest of obscure Famicom games. It doesn't even have a Wikipedia page, for God's sakes! This is 2011, damnit, someone on Wikipedia has to have heard of this damn thing before! It's still a very solid platforming action game though, even if I myself have some personal issues with the control. You might not, though, and it's simply a twilight gem of the NES/Famicom era that really should not have been snubbed. There IS a fan translation out there that makes the cutscenes readable, if you were to wish to give Moon Crystal a go. As far as import games go, this one really should have come over here.