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16-Bit Fantasy

I recently found myself driving up to Cheltenham (UK) armed with enough spirits to make a brick wall wobble. The party hosts were a wonderful and newly engaged couple whom I had only met the week before due to some tragic circumstances. Once I arrived, I was hugged and ushered up a dark staircase to an ajar door. The scene reeked of a classic horror movie. However once inside, their flat quickly became my personal holy land.

I stepped in to the lounge where shelving units lined the walls and were filled with a thousand DVDs and hundreds of Blu-Rays. Stacks of Dragon Ball manga stood like pillars all around the room and I was whisked back to those days of getting in from school and cracking on Cartoon Network to see if Goku hit Frieza with the spirit bomb.

** WARNING – We have lost cabin pressure **

Elsewhere in the flat, Indiana Jones maquettes and Halo toys were scattered in a geek-chic feng shui and the coffee table in the centre of the room held a Jack Skellington cookie jar. How f***ing cool.

However, all of this wonderment blurred into obscurity when I noticed the altar to the God of Pixels. Stood at the far end of the room, on its cabinet throne, was a 50? 1080p and adorning it’s ankles were a mass of leads and consoles. Gamecube, Dreamcast, Xbox, 360, PS1/2/3, GBA/3DS, Master System et al. Looming over this altar, like evil advisors, were stacks and stacks of games covering everything from Road Rash to Mass Effect.

Houston we have a problem…Paul has wet his pants.

So anyway, the party kicked off royally and at 4am, after one too many ciders, I turned to my friends Lyle and Ad to ask please oh please, can we try and complete Golden Axe on the MegaDrive? (Sega Genesis for those across the big blue wobbly road). Queue one great hit of nostalgia, which got me thinking about school holidays lost in front of a 12? Toshiba. For me, despite being an avid reader, comic collector and film buff, my main foray into the fantasy whirlwind came in 16-Bit cartridge form (with the occassional floppy disk on the Commadore 64 for good measure).

I was disappointed to find that if you Google for lists of top 16-Bit fantasy games on the MegaDrive or SNES, you just get the usual Final Fantasy answers. Games that include those classic characters from Link and Mario to Sonic and Samus Aran all feature in one way or another but are these really the greatest fantasy games of the 16-Bit generation that helped shape my fascination with the fantastical?

I don’t think so.

So come with me now as I delve in to my top 5 fantasy video games from the 16-Bit era.

But first…

Notable Mentions That Didn’t Make The Grade

James Pond – An amphibious cod fish who not only wears a robotic suit of armour but can also stretch to lengths that would make Mr Fantastic jealous. Fantasy-o-metre 4/10

Comix Zone – A guy gets sucked in to his own comic strip by the super-villain he created. What’s not to like? Deadpool would be proud of the broken 4th wall. Fantasy-o-metre 5/10

Zombies Ate My Neighbours – This game had everything. You play as super-cool kids wearing super-cool late-80s sunglasses, you fight every kind of fantasy enemy you can imagine from werewolves to demon babies and also you gain a bit of street cred by saving your neighbours. On top of all of this, there was a crazy amount of levels. What’s not to love? Fantasy-o-metre 6/10

And here we go.

5. Dynamite Headdy

Dynamite Headdy

Someone famous once said, “the whole world’s a stage”. No idea who said it, but for Dynamite Headdy that person is correct. Spotlights adorn the ceiling of the theatre-set screen as you head out to defeat the evil baddie who happens to be a giant mannequin. Sounds quite tame but this mannequin plays dress-up and you soon find yourself facing many alter-egos including a fearsome dragon. Oooooh scary. So how do you defeat him? By throwing your head of course. That’s right, Dynamite throws his head and like Mjolnir it always returns. And like any good presenter from a TV shopping channel I say to you, “But that’s not all!” If the bad guy’s too tough, just grab a Hammer-Head power up and truly become the hammer of Thor. If you have a wall to climb then grab the spikey head and climb on up. If you’re feeling hungry, just grab the hoover head and suck up those suckers like Kirby. How can you not love Dynamite? He’s da bomb! – Ahem…sorry, couldn’t resist.

Fantasy-o-Metre 7/10

4. Earthworm Jim

Earthworm Jim 2

How to make a superhero.

1. Take a worm.
2. Throw him in to a super suit that not only gives him humanoid movement but also big cartoony eyes and the ability to talk.
3. Give him a big red blaster and a Cow Launcher.
4. Name him Jim.
5. Create zany ‘Call ‘em as you see ‘em’ antagonists such as Psy-Crow, Evil Cat and Queen Slug-For-A-Butt.
6. Pull the ripcord and watch things whirl while singing the theme tune from the obligatory cartoon that followed: “Earthworm Jim, the soil he did crawl. Earthworm Jim, a super suit did fall…”

Fantasy-o-Metre 8/10

3. Altered Beast

Altered Beast

When you’re a kid, Altered Beast is the coolest! You defeat baddies and collect blue orbs with each one bringing you closer to become a super creature with fantastic powers. It’s the closest I ever came to realising those dreams of waking up one day as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. But when playing Altered Beast as an adult I realise that it is possibly the most homoerotic game I have ever played…not that I’ve played many. So here you are, walking around with your mate, kicking dogs, eating blue steroids and bursting out of your clothes in a big fleshy block of ripple in a speedo until you eventually become either very furry or rather scaly. Still, who cares when you’re battling giant floating eyeballs? Not me.

Fantasy-o-Metre 8/10

2. Golden Axe

Golden Axe

The game starts with a character choice of a Conan, Xena or Gimli-type and you’re then thrown at ogres, giants, skeletons and sexy Evil-Lyn like baddies. The levels are based on the backs of giant turtles and eagles and did I mention that you get to ride dragons and weird bird/scorpion things? And what about the magic? That was the big gamble with Golden Axe. Do you use your magic regularly, which would inflict small but steady damage or do you save it up for those big bosses? I suppose it depended on how many of those goblins you could kick who then dropped either health or magic jars.

While we’re on the point of bosses, it is definitely one of my 16-bit highlights when you defeat Death Adder only to find out there’s more gameplay as you have to defeat another boss, Death Bringer wahooooo! Except…didn’t you just use all your magic against Death Adder? Bugger.

Question: Has anyone actually completed Golden Axe? It always seemed that just as you figured you were about to destroy Death Bringer he would send down a fire breathing dragon, followed by lightening followed by electricity followed by a GAME OVER screen.

Fantasy-O-Metre 10/10

N.B. I need your help here. I say these magic dropping things are goblins but my friend Ad is adamant they are squirrels. Please tell him he’s wrong in the comments below.

1. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

Moonwalker

Not content with the atrocious and self-indulgent movie of the same name, they had to go and make a game. And whatta game! This is without doubt the greatest fantasy game ever created. You don’t believe me? Well, in what other game can you defeat zombies and gangsters with magic and dance moves? Who else has a hat attack to rival both Oddjob and Kung Lao. Who other than MJ could morph themselves like an organic transformer into a car and drive to the next level or *spoiler ahead* morph in to a spaceship in the final showdown? Oh yes. He may as well be the result of a steamy session between Gandalf, Optimus and MC Hammer. Obviously, there are jokes to be made about a game where the aim is to help Michael Jackson hunt down and ‘save’ children but we’re above such things. And for anyone who ever played this game, tell me that catching the falling star and transforming in to a missile spouting, jet firing Michael Jackson killer robot wasn’t the coolest thing ever?

Fantasy-O-Metre A SpinalTap 11/10

So what do you think? Have I nailed it or is Moonwalker not the greatest 16-Bit fantasy game of all time? Answers on a postcard. Failing that, feel free to debate in the comments below.

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9 Comments

  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    My favourite two video games of all time were ‘ToeJam & Earl’ and ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ – I think they have that stunningly simple game play and yet love-ability to them that is unmatched in todays gaming… saying that… you will not find me complaining as I sail off rooftops and assassinate corrupt noblemen (assassins creed!).

    Altered Beast and Earth Worm Jim are two games that I really, really loved as a kid. I remember never completing Altered Beast and that is pretty amazing seeing as me and my sister played it every day for about a year or so!!! I did complete all the others on your list at least once though 😀

  2. Avatar Tarran says:

    My favourite was Shining Force 1&2

  3. Avatar Ryan says:

    My favourite fantasy games would have to be Super Ghosts and Goblins, Chrono-Trigger, Lufia & Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinstrals. In fact, chuck in any of those turn-based RPG’s like Pokemon and Final Fantasy 1 – 6.

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      Indeed! I’m tempted to follow up this more platformer/action based article with an RPG based article seeing as this one has really taken me back to a blissful time 😀

  4. Let’s not forget Shining in the Darkness and Phantasy Star 2 – those were some awesome fantasy games for the Genesis.

  5. Avatar Nikki-ann says:

    I had both Golden Axe and James Pond on the C64! Oh, I miss the C64… It got given away when I was away one weekend, to say I wasn’t happy when I got home was an understatement!

  6. Avatar ChrisMB says:

    Sadly, my only experience with Golden Axe was at an arcade in my local mall, which closed down a month after I moved here. But it was definitely one of my favorite gaming experiences. Should see if my friendly Genesis owner has a copy…

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