Might Have Been: World Beach Volley

[Might Have Been tracks the failures of promising games, characters, and companies. This installment looks at World Beach Volley, released for the Game Boy in 1991.] 

Cute sports games often go unappreciated. Most sports titles may strive for realistic takes on baseball, soccer, football, ice hockey, curling, field hockey, bowling, water hockey, snooker, cricket, dino hockey, and every other type of pastime, but credit must go to the developers who went the opposite direction and turned a popular sport into a simplified cavalcade of big-headed characters and approachable gameplay. It’s still a viable field today, but it was especially prolific on the Game Boy, where basic hardware inspired—or perhaps demanded—more abstract appearances. That’s where you’ll find Graphic Research’s World Beach Volley.



Straightforward in its presentation, World Beach Volley offers a player two-on-two matches with adjustable rules about points and court-swapping. Controls are handled well with two buttons for serving, spiking, and blocking. It’s all similar to Technos Japan’s excellent Super Spike V’Ball, though perhaps not as aggressive with its fierce spikes. 
 
Two players can take part via a link cable, but it’s not so bad to be stuck with computer-controlled opponents and partners. The AI actually proves helpful here, as it can spike and block instead of just setting up your character for a move. This also results in your teammate getting in your way at times, but that's the price of an independent thinker.


Shunning any real-world rules about gender-based leagues, World Beach Volley offers an international tournament where men and women compete side by side. You’re given a spread of six countries with four players apiece, complete with delightful names and specialties. What’s more American than a blonde spiker named Liftty and her “strong attack through block” or the “Big Fighter” Bill? Or perhaps you’d prefer the Russian player named Rossyan or Lie and her “Chinese Hope,” whatever that means? 

Lufia and the Fortress of Doom's Grand Opening

I did not own Lufia and the Fortress of Doom as a kid, but my cousins did. Each summer they’d bring it along when the family gathered at grandma’s house, and each summer I’d play the first few hours of the game. By the next summer my save file would be gone, long since overwritten by my cousins or one of their friends. I didn’t mind, because this meant that I got to play the game’s introduction all over again.

In Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, Neverland Company and writer/director Masahide Miyata made a bold move for a Super NES RPG from 1993: they opened with its final battle—or a final battle, at least.



It begins with an ominous crawl across a floating isle, the home of four godlike beings of destruction called Sinistrals. Four brave mortals, led by a warrior named Maxim, rise to face this threat, and we’re taken right to their climactic journey through the isle. Tales of ancient heroes are very common in a fantasy RPG, but instead of simply telling us how things went, Lufia and the Fortress of Doom lets us play it out entirely.



We find Maxim and his allies already at the heart of the Sinistrals' inner sanctum. With finely tense music and eerily vacant halls, the castle evokes a final stage so well a casual viewer might glance and assume that this is, in fact, the big finale of a 40-hour RPG and not an opening in media res. 

As befitting a final dungeon, heroes Maxim, Selan, Artea, and Guy are all high in levels and outfitted with powerful weapons and magic, and it’s hard for them to lose against the monsters that pop up throughout the fortress. You might notice, however, that those monsters pop up very often. Remember that.

The Sinistrals await at the center of this citadel, and Maxim’s party tackles all four of them. Each is a screen-filling creature that’s a little harder to beat than the grunt-level monsters, though you’d have to make a real effort for them to defeat you. Aside from that, however, they feel like end bosses. They even disintegrate dramatically, just like a proper chief villain should.

Lost Anime: Metal Hazard Mugen

The anime industry was in chaos around 2007.  American publishers were ailing after years of releasing too many mediocre series in outdated methods, stores were deluged with unwanted DVDs, and Japanese licensors still sought exorbitant licensing fees for those same mediocrities. It’s no surprise that some anime projects vanished entirely in this bubble of fragile companies and unsustainable ideas. One of them was Metal Hazard Mugen, a series that made the remarkable move of telling people to stay away from it. 

 


That’s the first impression the Metal Hazard Mugen flyer gives us, anyway, with its taglines of “Let Me Alone!” and “Don’t pry into our affairs!” At the Tokyo Anime Fair of 2007, Wedge Holdings promoted Mugen along with the CGI action flick Cat Blue Dynamite and a cuddly kids show called Kuma3. Cat Blue Dynamite came out online while Kuma3 apparently aired on Japanese TV, but Metal Hazard Mugen never surfaced. 

Reading the rest of the sell-sheet reveals that the taglines aren’t reverse psychology as much as they're trying to evoke the show’s bitter young hero and insular alien planet. Metal Hazard Mugen unfolds on a distant world where humans are the unwanted colonizers, and a mercenary and wealthy-family scion named Jin “Sigma” Katsuragi has discovered a talent for harmonizing with mecha. One of these, the Mugen X-OE, is a particularly powerful transforming car-robot, and it seems to be very, very important that its engine doesn’t stall, lest the pilot lose his raison d'etre. Maybe he's just late for work. 

The awkward text raises a number of questions. We’re told that humankind’s “remembrance of our homeland, Planet Earth, is lost” a mere paragraph before we learn how our protagonist ranked in an intelligence test back on that supposedly lost Earth. Sentences cut off at random, leaving us to ponder unexplained terms like “Delft Apparition” and “MM interface.” It’s almost confusing enough to be a Yoshiyuki Tomino series.  



Beyond the odd phrasing, though, Metal Hazard Mugen looks to be the most generic anime series you could find in 2007. It presents a hodgepodge of ugly character designs, posed statically around equally stiff GC images of robot combat and linked by unmemorable jargon. There’s little to sell the series apart from a name or two in the credits: Toru Nozaki had some pull from scripting or co-creating Sunrise shows like Argento Soma, Flag, and Gasaraki, and Junichi “Beecraft” Akutsu is an experienced Gundam designer. It's strange that there’s no director listed, but perhaps the project was just that early.

Did Metal Hazard Mugen have any potential? It’s possible that Nozaki might have thrown a curveball or two, as he did with Garasaki’s drift into spiritualism and anti-American politics, and the Mugen robot itself, presumably a Beecraft design, isn’t a bad take on a transforming motorbike mecha. And, uh…well, the blond, blue-clad character’s design isn’t completely awful.  

The greatest flattery for Metal Hazard Mugen is that it doesn’t look that much worse than some of the drivel that actually made it to the market. At this point anime studios had cranked out drab mecha and science fiction series from Cybuster to Pilot Candidate to Starship Operators to Innocent Venus, and American publishers were still buying them. One can’t blame Wedge Holdings for thinking that Metal Hazard Mugen deserved to clog up a shelf at Suncoast with volumes two, three, and five of its overpriced DVD releases.  



Yet there was no publisher to rescue Metal Hazard Mugen. As far as I can tell, it never aired, and I can’t even find a trailer for it. It’s even hard to find evidence that it was ever announced; the most prominent news comes from a Turkish site’s snippet about Wedge Holdings announcing the series along with Kuma3 and Velvet Under World. The latter was a vanity project from actor Takehito Koyasu that only got as far as a trailer and some music albums. I’m not sure if Metal Hazard Mugen even reached that stage.  

It’s possible that some pilot footage was cobbled together for the lone screenshot that survives online, but I doubt things went beyond that. Animation tends to cost more to produce than a live-action show, and no one would bankroll all of Metal Hazard Mugen’s 26 planned episodes without some guaranteed TV deal. Even so, I can’t fully dismiss the possibility that Metal Hazard Mugen was completed and aired on some obscure satellite station, possibly with full English voicework. Strangers discoveries have arisen among obscure anime.  

Perhaps Metal Hazard Mugen didn't fail simply on its own merits. If Radix Planning is the same company as Radix Ace Entertainment, they went out of business in 2006. Wedge Holdings still exists, but they’ve apparently given up on getting a piece of the anime market. I'm sure they'll love it if everybody pesters them about a certain anime series canceled almost fifteen years ago.  

Metal Hazard Mugen stirs no interest today. No one will mourn it as they might Five Killers or some other promising canceled anime of the bubble era, and that’s a fitting legacy. Mugen presents nothing but a mediocre front, and in doing that it embodies everything forgettable about the global anime boom. But hey, it was thoughtful enough to tell us that it just wanted to be left alone.  

Review: GG Aleste 3

Compile’s Aleste series stayed silent for much too long. It includes some of the best shooters ever made, but it drifted away in the 1990s thanks to Puyo Puyo and Compile's general fracturing. It wasn’t until recently that M2, masters of reviving old games, got the rights to Aleste and announced the all-new Aleste Branch as well as a Switch and PlayStation 4 collection of four older Alestes from the Sega Master System and Game Gear. And then M2 gave the Aleste Collection a brand new game with GG Aleste 3: Last Messiah, designed as an actual Game Gear title running on precise system specs. Because M2 is insane. 

In fact, GG Aleste 3 seems engineered to make you think you’re also a little insane. From the moment it shows Luna Waizen (or Lluna Wizn, as the manual has it) suiting up and joining the proud family of Aleste spacefighter pilots, everything about GG Aleste 3 is calibrated to the Game Gear’s pixels and display size. It gnaws at your sense of time and leads you to believe for a moment that the year is 1994 and you’ve imported a title for the recently obsolete Game Gear just because of a brief, enthusiastic review in the back pages of Diehard GameFan or Sega Power. That’s how faithful M2 was in creating a new Compile shooter.



But what makes a Compile shooter, anyway? For starters, it ignores a lot of genre standards. The 2-D shooter was largely a creature of arcades back in its day, when the likes of R-Type and Raiden drove sales by making players memorize the way through repeatedly deadly stages. That tendency continues today, where the whole point of most shooters seems to rest not in beating the game, but in replaying it, mastering the scoring system, and learning everything so well you can finish it without using any continues (which are often unlimited and penalty-free). And while there's nothing wrong with that, it’s a shame that this focus on high scores and one-credit exhibition occludes the other ways a shooter can engage us. 

Compile never had that problem. Their shooters were made for home computers and consoles, and so they never had to compromise their design for the sake of getting another quarter in the machine. If typical shooters were sometimes too short and too stingy with their power-ups, Compile’s offerings emerged as lengthy, measured challenges with plenty of space to experiment. 



And that’s what GG Aleste 3 brings back. Luna’s ship has the usual Aleste weapons: a direct laser, a reverse-aimed fireball, a revolving shield, arcing fire bombs, crescent homing shots, and diagonal firing. GG Aleste 3’s arsenal isn’t novel, but it embraces another tradition: an Aleste game never leaves the player without power-ups for long. Red booster ovals and weapon icons drift into the screen every few seconds, letting you enhance your basic shots and switch sub-attacks very easily. Most important of all, grabbing any power-ups makes you immune to any bullets for just a moment.