There are some games, which, you just don't know why you remember them. They might not have exceptional graphics, catchy music, fun or original gameplay, or even a unique aesthetic or story. Hell, you may not have even played them at all, and yet there they are, buried in your subconscious like a sleeper agent, ready to be triggered at the most unseemly time, until one day you're an adult in the age of the Internet and such things are readily available to you at a moment's whim, and a tiny, innocuous thought crystalizes in your head: "What was that Genesis game with the level that's like a board game, and you throw the dice and fight a big smiley face and you can mix and match weapon types?" Well, that was Gunstar Heroes. That game was awesome. I'm not here to talk about that today, instead I'm going to talk about a time when the silent memory-of-obscure-games ninja dealt me a much darker fate.
When I was young I read a magazine one day, I'm just going to say it was EGM even though my memory is fuzzy, which previewed two games in particular that caught my attention. One of which the name I couldn't remember for years. It was an isometric perspective game where you make your way through an office building trying to escape genetic horrors. It wasn't until recently that I learned that I was thinking about D Generation, a name so idiotic and cliched that I probably subconsciously blocked it from my memory for that very reason. I still haven't played it, but I digress. The other was a SNES action platformer where you play as a guy with a sword in the future and fight a Blanka look-alike as a boss called X-Kaliber 2097. Not actually getting to play these games at the time, I was left to imagine that they were awesome. Well, one day at complete random I remembered that the latter existed and decided to track it down.
X-Kaliber 2097 takes place in the year 2097, just in case you thought the number in the title meant it took place at unit 2097 in X-Kaliber Apartments, when "people do what they're told, or they do nothing at all." A tag line that was used in the magazine article, which I always remembered for some reason. Maybe it hits a little too close to home for some gamers? Anyway, the plot is pure Saturday morning cartoon crap. An evil guy in a snazzy suit named Raptor has his hooks in all of Neo New York's seats of power and has everyone one his payroll, except for two members of the "Special Forces." One of them is you, Slash, he of the radical hair and gray trenchcoat. The other is your partner Alix, whom the evil guys kidnap because the hero needs something with boobies to rescue, right? It would just be gay if the partner you had to rescue was a guy. That Rad Spencer and Super Joe? Gay. Slash has a powerful sword that Raptor wants, because having an entire city under his thumb just isn't cutting it (OH-HO!), apparently. I don't know, maybe it's the only thing that can defeat the computer DYNA and detonate the bombs inside the floating tower. It's kind of funny to see the old magic sword prophecy transplanted to a cyberpunk setting, but I think the writers were less trying to turn a cliche on its head and moreso high as all hell.
Controlling Slash seems intuitive enough at first. The game makes use of all four face buttons, with a weak attack, thrust, jump, and block. Things start to fall apart pretty quickly, however. If you jump and do a weak attack, you stop in midair as you slash and fall straight back to the ground. Pressing the thrust button while airborne will have you attack in a downward stroke that doesn't impede your forward momentum, however it often doesn't hit quite how you planned. You can't block in midair, and although there are a few places where you'll wish you could, it probably wouldn't help much anyway. Then there's the projectile, which defaults to either shoulder button. You strike in a downward stroke and an incredibly slow-moving wave of energy comes out. If it connects with an enemy, recovery time is pretty quick, but if it whiffs, you hold this pose for several seconds and can't do a goddamned thing in the meantime.
There are three major problems with the controls here, and they all seem to conspire against you and destroy any potential this game may have had. Number one, they're not quite as responsive as you'd think they would be. It seems like when you're trying to go from attacking to blocking, or vice versa, there's always a tiny bit of delay that makes you miss a window of opportunity, which is a problem because many of the enemies are a lot faster than you. You have decent air control when you execute a jump, but the aforementioned issues with aerial attacks make jumping a gamble when enemies are nearby.
Number two, there is no hit invincibility for your character, and blocking makes you slide all over the place. This is especially troublesome when dealing with enemies that like to assault you with a barrage of projectiles. Before you know it, you've slid an entire screen's worth backwards or off a platform. Your first instinct is to block everything low, but high and low attacks must be blocked accordingly or else you take damage. You can destroy most projectiles with an attack, but the lack of responsiveness I talked about a second ago makes this problematic. No matter how fast you hammer Y, the weak attack is never fast enough to keep up with all the crap flying at you. You'll probably find yourself tanking through some parts to get in a better position to attack, since trying to play it safe will only result in getting knocked around like a rag doll.
Number three, the hit detection fucking sucks. Enemies that look like they're a mile away from you can register hits, and that jumping stroke attack of yours never behaves quite like you think it will. The problem isn't so readily apparent in the stages, at least early on, but where it completely breaks the game is with the bosses.
Dear god, the bosses. This is where most players will probably chuck their controller and give up. But since I'm a masochist, I've tried to stick it out with each one to ensure that they are in some way beatable, because I'm trying to convince myself in vain that someone
at some point playtested this game. Evidently someone on the development team must have realized that fighting games were popular at the time and decided to work that into the boss fights, but it just doesn't work in X-Kaliber 2097's shitty-ass engine. This leads to some of the most unfun battles you've ever experienced in a 2D action platformer. Most of the bosses actually follow a pretty predictable pattern, but you have a wafer-thin window of opportunity to land any hits as they block any mixup you try to throw at them, and everything they do takes priority over your attacks. Generally the idea is to try to hit them when their backs are turned, but they're usually a lot faster than you and react too quickly for you to try and mount an offensive. As such, each boss fight amounts to figuring out the one trick to hitting them successfully and then repeating that ad nauseam while trying not to die.
Now that you've imagined the most unplayable game on Earth, let's see what it's like in practice!
The game opens on a shipping dock with the cityscape in the background. There are actually some cool graphical things at work here with the reflection and ripple effects of the buildings in the water. It's pretty generous with the health items as you dispatch generic grunts and work your way inside a warehouse. In here you get your first real taste of being bounced around like a table hockey puck as you try to deal with turrets in the corridors. The first miniboss is a bald scientist guy who mutates into some kind of tangerine monster, but isn't too hard if you block his charge and then wail on him with normal attacks. Then it's back outside to more docks and on to the first boss.
I don't blame you if you give up right here. This bastard just walks slowly to the left or right and attacks with this oversized scimitar if you get too close. Like all the bosses in this game, he turtles like a bitch if you try to hit him with normal attacks. Sometimes he shoots a vine out the rose tattoo on his chest, which I think you can counter somehow, but you'll be too busy blocking to have time to react. In order to damage him, you have to jump at him just right
and hit him with a downward stroke. It seems to work best if you block and let him knock you back with his sword until you're just out of his reach, then attack while he stands in one place swinging like a moron. It helps if you stagger the arc of your jump in midair, but the reach of his sword is so huge that it takes some practice to find the sweet spot. Sometimes he'll walk right at you and do nothing, and you can land a hit by jumping straight up and striking, but I wouldn't count on it too much. You might also be able to hit him with a standing thrust if he decides to walk away while you're still in range.
Moving on to the city slums, this one starts off not unlike the first level of the Genesis platformer El Viento with guys on motorcycles endlessly assaulting you, but nowhere near as hectic (that game at least had decent controls). They die in one hit, so it's relatively simple to get past them and the Contra III stage 1 vertically shooting flames that come out of the street. Next you make your way up a fire escape while cyborg bodybuilders bust out of doors and roll into balls at you while generally being impossible to dodge. At the top you fight two clawed guys with paperbags over their heads who assault you from either side. Just keep alternating left and right with your thrust attack and they'll go down quickly. So far the actual stages in of the game don't present that much of a problem, and health items are liberally dispersed throughout. After going across some rooftops and fighting generic grunts you take an elevator to the stage's end.
You know what, I thought I had a strategy for this guy. I displayed it quite effectively in a video and it served me well on several runs. Then it just stopped working one day. As if this game didn't piss me off enough. I had a nice little paragraph written detailing it too. Fuck it, I don't know. Hit him until his skin comes off and he starts running around with his chainsaw arm. Don't even think about trying to play distance games with him because he doesn't actually need to be anywhere near you to register a hit on you. Just get him in the corner and keep spamming the weak attack and pray that he forgets to block every now and then. Fuck it, I don't know. I'm fed up with this shit. Maybe you'll win and maybe you won't.
This one starts off at a construction site, with generic grunts, landmines, and turrets. Then you fight two minibosses in a row. The first one with the rice paddy hat and no penis is a joke, just get him in the corner and slash while ducking. The Asura looking guy on the elevator who jumps around and whips fire waves at you is a bit tougher, but if you stand in the middle of the screen and jump as soon as his sprite appears from the top of the screen, you can then adjust your air control regardless of which side he actually comes down on and hit him with a downward slash.
I hope you enjoyed the easy stages so far, because get ready for one of the most agonizing platforming parts in the game. You have to make your way up the girders via platforms and elevators while dodging generic grunts and rocketeer guys. The grunts shouldn't be too tough if you can dispatch them before they fire off any shots, but the rocketeers appear so quickly that killing them can be a challenge, and they almost never show up at the same elevation, so timing your jump correctly in order to hit them is harder than it sounds. God help you if one touches you, because you'll get knocked way the FUCK back down to an earlier part of the section. Also, the bombs they drop do a substantial amount of damage, and suddenly the game isn't quite so generous with health items anymore! I hope you bring your A-game when tackling this stage, because did I mention that the game doesn't give you any continues? So if you to get the two extra lives leading up to this stage and manage to not die against Tattoo or Chainsaw, you only have 5 cracks at it!
A typical run through this level might go something like this: maybe you didn't do so well against the second miniboss, so you start the section at half health. You go up about three levels before dying to bombs. Start back at the beginning, get to the level just past the second hamburger, but get knocked off the staggered platforms where four rocketeers come at you at once. Try to work your way back up from where you fell to, and get juggled into a bomb by a grunt's gunfire. Start back at the bottom, get past the staggered platforms, then get knocked off a sideways-moving platform by a rocketeer. Go back up, get to the part where you have to wait for the sideways platform and the elevator to match up, but get knocked off by a rocketeer again and
Sorry, I blacked out for a minute there. I think I'm okay now.
Boss: Some rhino guy
This boss fight is a little weird. Suddenly you're in an apartment building on fire, and your character is green and has two swords. Also, you can move in 8 directions now for some reason? Anyway, a drill comes up through the floor and this rhino guy with a machinegun comes out. He's not so tough, he alternates shooting at you and charging across the screen, but it's all a matter of recognizing his pattern and knowing when to strike. When he goes down, it looks like you finally get to rescue Alix, but then some guy in a samurai helmet grabs her and jumps out the window. Nuts.
The style of the game changes again, now it's a 3D game somehow? I didn't know you could get graphics like this out of a Super Nintendo! Must be some kind of SuperFX Chip wizardry. Now you're in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, so I guess the bad guys won or something. There really should have been a cutscene explaining this.
But hey, this level's actually pretty fun! You buy psychic powers from this guy's shop and then go to an old man in a floating dentist's chair and set up your arsenal. When you go into battle, the powers you have in your arsenal will spawn periodically in random order at your starting point. You change powers by running over the corresponding orb and pressing a face button to assign that power to that button. You can do things like fire projectiles, put up shields, levitate, restore health, erase enemies' powers, and all kinds of cool stuff! Enemies that spawn on the map have to get powers from their base too, so strategic positioning is really important to victory in this level. Apparently there's some kind of "molty-player" mode that lets you play with people across town, but I don't have dial-up AOL or the Super Nintendo fax modem attachment so I can't try it out yet.
Boss: Old Sniper
Despite the level being fun, the boss is pretty boring. Now you're in a jungle and all of your psychic powers are gone. Instead of a heroin addict you're now a guy with a mullet and a bunch of guns. Some geezer is trying to kill you, but evidently he's not trying that hard because sometimes he just never shows up. You can skip this battle by going into your Super Nintendo's menu and setting the clock ahead by one week, causing him to die of old age.
We're back to 2D side-scrolling again. Now you're blue and you have to run to the right and jump or roll into robots. It kind of sucks now that you only have two attacks, but at least they aren't as awkward anymore. And you have hit invincibility now! Instead of a health bar you collect gold rings, so if you get hit while you have rings you lose them all, but you won't die unless you take another hit. You can even grab some lost rings back after they scatter away from your sprite when you get hit. It's an okay stage. You travel sort of fast and it's got some cool music.
Boss: Black Car
Your guy must have gotten tired of running, because you take on this boss in a racecar. You drive around a track based around a coastal town with mountain ridges, so I guess we're in Maine now? The driving physics are pretty funky. You drift all over the place and plowing into walls only causes a slight bump and a decrease in speed. Pretty soon you'll pass the black car on the side of the road, and after a little while he'll come after you. This motherfucker is fast
. The only way to win is to stay directly in front of him so he rams you when he comes up from behind. Just keep this up and you'll win the race. Boss fight. Win the boss fight.
The graphics really take a turn for the worse in this stage. I guess with all those 3D parts, they ran out of memory on the SNES cart. The plot is really lost on me at this point. I guess Raptor got the sword and gained some reality warping powers or something because now you're a dinosaur who jumps around and spits bubbles. You have to hit monsters and trap them in the bubbles, then pop them and make them turn into food. It's kind of fun, and the music is catchy as hell.
Final Boss: Naked Cannibal
The culmination of the events of this game amounts to what is arguably the greatest final boss fight in all of video game history. First of all, just look at the graphics. They're highly stylized and surreal, and have this great filter that makes them look like a classic painting. The scenario is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Your tyrannical father devours your brothers and sisters, but thanks to your mother's quick thinking you are hidden away safely. You must then force feed the boss an emetic and cause him to regurgitate your siblings. This part requires some hackneyed quick-time events, but they're nothing too substantial. Then, in the final phase, you lead your siblings and an army of monsters in an RTS battle against your forebearers for control of heaven and earth.
Well, there you have it. Despite some hiccups during the first half of the game and some weird experimentation later on, X-Kaliber 2097 is a unique addition to the SNES library. Covering such a wide range of genres and pushing the hardware to its limits, it breaks ground for how we would perceive video games in the 32-bit era, nay, challenges the very essence of what a video game is. It is so important an achievement for the medium of digital entertainment, that I can overlook its shortcomings and award it three and half soc
Epson Color Printer Model 2097 is the latest addition to the Espon family of small and home office equipment. Covering a wide range of functions such as print, fax, scan, and copy, and with a photo-quality rate of 9 pages per minute, I give it two and a ha tdfdfvt ynuhmm,,.kk,.mnbnvvfgbfvgff