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Old 04-23-2012, 11:13 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Hudson Soft's Forgotten Experiments

If Hudson Soft is ever to be mourned, the time is now. Once a proud face in Japan's game industry, Hudson pioneered the market's CD technology, created NEC's TurboGrafx-16 family, and had a half-dozen profitable franchises. But time and finances chipped away at Hudson, and the last decade saw them fall under Konami's aegis. This March 1, Hudson Soft ceased to exist, and its catalog and the little Hudson Bee logo are now fully the properly of Konami. This likely won't end Hudson's biggest franchises, though. It's only a matter of time until Konami trots out a new Bomberman game, and they may continue other notable Hudson series like Adventure Island, Star Soldier, and Momotaro Dentetsu. As while we're being optimistic, perhaps they'll even revive Bonk or Bloody Roar if enough fans ask nicely and make phony Twitter accounts.

Yet there are some Hudson games that we'll likely never see again. They were lone titles that never quite hatched into franchises, and they disappeared from the industry before long. We doubt that Konami will excavate them now, but they should.


(Famicom, 1985)

It's easy to see Binary Land as part of the penguin craze that gripped Japan in the 1980s and never fully let go. This phenomenon can be observed in games like Pengo and Penguin Adventure, and it even fueled a line of penguin-themed Suntory commercials. Those ads culminated with Penguin Memories, an animated film about a traumatized (and adorable) penguin war veteran. Hudson Soft's Binary Land doesn't reach so far in its exploration of flightless waterfowl, but it's up there with the best penguin-centric games of its era.

Shockingly, the original Binary Land has no penguins. When it first appeared on the MSX computer in 1984, the game featured a human boy and a girl navigating a maze. This theme was wisely shunned in the Famicom version of Binary Land that arrived a year later, and it was the Famicom version that the public remembered. The main characters became the penguin couple of Gurin and Malon, and each stage finds the two of them separated by a spider-infested maze. The birds mirror each other's movements, and the player essentially controls both of them at the same time. The stages are divided in the center, and each side guides its captive penguin along a different path. Various power-ups materialize along the way, and even a baby penguin appears if Gurin and Malon walk past each other often enough.

While the game borrows a few things from Sega's Pengo (including a bleeping victory chorus of 'Ode to Joy'), Binary Land's quite novel in its dual-character gameplay, and it toys with a player's perception while navigating the two penguins to the stage's goal. It's a shame that Binary Land didn't inspire many other games. Only From Software's The Adventures of Cookie and Cream picked up the idea, and it's about rabbits. That's not really the same.

The Famicom version of Binary Land was never brought to North America. Like Nuts & Milk, Hudson's first Famicom title, Binary Land belonged to a school of arcade-style, single-screen games that publishers thought simplistic by the time the NES market exploded in the West. Or perhaps they were aghast at the game's implications of penguin procreation. Still, Hudson Soft cared enough to bring it to cell phones and a Game Boy Advance collection in Japan. Just one mystery lingers: Why call it Binary Land? What does that have to do with penguins?


(NES, 1989)

The more ambitous titles of the NES era often combined several different types of gameplay. Sadly, these hybrids also proved that axiom about jacks of all trades; for every hit like The Guardian Legend, there was a Bayou Billy or Mafat Conspiracy lurking somewhere. Xexyz, however, is a modest success when it comes to blending a side-scrolling action game with a shooter.

Xexyz also succeeds in showing off the sort of oddball mishmash that NES games could present with little care for logic. Its futuristically armored hero, Apollo, explores stages littered with the mechanical forces of a tyrant named Goruza, and his journey's aided by some vaguely RPG-like elements. Doors throughout the levels lead to mini-games, shops, bonus items, captive fairies, robots, and perhaps even bathing giantesses or vaguely Greek gods. These are the game's even-numbered levels, and they're interspersed with shooting stages where Apollo mounts a Cyborg Rider ship and blasts through waves of enemies. The game also trots out some imposingly large bosses, complete with a final battle against a space fortress.

This mix of styles isn't quite enough to turn Xexyz brilliant. The shooter levels make Apollo too large a target, while awkward jumping gums up the platformer stages. Hudson also toned down the more bizarre imagery of the game for North America, excising a storyline that features talking turtles and multiple endings. Yet it's a solid achievement all the same, with enough complexities to stand apart from other genre mash-ups in the NES library.

Unfortunately, the NES library is as far as Xexyz went. No sequels arrived, and Hudson Soft's support for the Wii's Virtual Console never included Xexyz. Perhaps there's a legal issue at work: Hudson Soft published Xexyz in Japan and North America, but the developer is believed to be Atlus or a related studio. Whatever the problem is, it's kept Xexyz in the dark.


(Super NES, 1995)

Hagane: The Final Conflict is one of those unfortunate action games that almost, almost gets it right. It certainly looks the part of a '90s marvel: there's a cyborg ninja hero and an equally high-tech army for him to fight, and everything's created with appropriately dark and detailed graphical style. Hagane himself is outfitted with four different weapons and a bunch of aerial maneuvers, well beyond the typical side-scroller protagonist of the day. And Hagane isn't poorly made by any stretch of the imagination. It was developed by CAProduction, a studio that later furnished Hudson with titles from the Saturn's Bulk Slash up to the Wii's Wing Island.

However, Hagane was one of CAProduction's first outings, and it lacks in ambition. Patterned after the likes of Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi, Hagane aims for a variety of challenges; one level introduces a line of sandworms, and another breaks into a chase sequence full of suddenly appearing pits. Yet it never reaches the genre's best. Despite the frequent boss encounters, it lacks the cinematic panache of Strider or the precision of a Ninja Gaiden. It's also staggeringly hard, offering a restrictive continue system and no passwords.

A second Hagane might've done the original's ideas justice, but that never came to be. In fact, it was very easy to miss Hagane: The Final Conflict back in 1995. Hagane's North American print ads riffed on the cheesy dubbing of Japanese monster films, but the game had a very limited release, and most of those who found it only saw it as a rental. Today, it's one of the few Super NES games that's both exceptionally rare and marginally interesting. Hudson Soft never got around to re-issuing it on the Virtual Console, either. Like the other B-listers from Hudson's catalog, Hagane was a limited engagement.
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Old 04-23-2012, 12:22 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Hudson Soft's Forgotten Experiments

Xexyz - Nintendo Entertainment System
Binary Land - Nintendo Entertainment System
Hagane: The Final Conflict - Super Nintendo
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