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Cyborg 009

Genre: Action Developer: Riot Publisher: Telenet Players: 1 Released: 1993

Finding a Japanese video game based on an anime is about as common as finding an American one featuring the latest Nickelodeon characters. For every bounty hunter or robot chick with lazer eyes that appears in Japan, we get another Spongebob Squarepants game. People need to think about that the next time they decide to criticize Japanese character designs.

To be fair though, sometimes the criticism is warranted, at least at the artistic level. After wading through all the goofy plots, I often find that many Japanese characters themselves are just not appealing at all. Either it’s the way they’re drawn or just how they behave that makes me cringe. Once a big anime fan, I find myself reeling backwards at the site of scantily-clad school girls with six-foot swords or some similar nonsense.

Perhaps that’s why I found Cyborg 009’s characters strangely refreshing. I say “strangely” because it sounds odd to find characters who were created in the mid 1960s to be new and engaging, especially considering how booming modern anime is. Personally, I had never read the Cyborg 009 manga or seen the original anime, but I’ve been a fan of older stories since I first started watching anime in the early ’90s. I’ve been able to track down some older series on VHS and later on DVD, and as I go back to such classics as Locke the Superman and Planet Robo Danguard Ace, I’m finding the stories to be more cerebral and intriguing.

Who knows? Maybe I’m entering the whole “get off my lawn” phase of life, where everything new sucks and only the older stuff is worth my time. I don’t doubt that there’s a little of that, but it might also have to do with me being sort of tapped out on all “flash over substance” of much of the modern stuff. In today’s gaming and anime, all kinds of bells and whistles are expected, and while a lot of it looks cool, much of it doesn’t really say much or have much substance.

Needless to say, I was quite disappointed then, when I finally got to play Cyborg 009 on the Mega CD. Unlike the great anime of old, Riot’s digital version of the late Shotaro Ishinomori’s classic manga is more of a harbinger of things to come in gaming than a true homage to its source material. All the anime elements for a great story are there, but somehow the gameplay manages to ultimately fall flat.

For those just discovering this game, Cyborg 009 tells the story of nine people who are kidnapped by the evil Black Ghost organization. After brutal experimentation, the nine are transformed into powerful cyborgs, each with a super power. They decide to band together to fight their captor and save the world. In the Mega CD rendition, all the characters are present, but players only control Joe Shimamura, known as cyborg 009. At first glance, it appears that Joe’s super power is to run to his right while rapidly firing a laser, since this is essentially all one does in the game. In reality, his actual power is to run at blinding speed. Here it is put to use in a most uninspired way, and Joe only uses it to access platforms outside his normal jump reach.

There is a stage that scroll automatically and allow him to run, but it doesn’t seem to require his super speed, since all the bad guys Joe shoots at can run as fast as he does. With each passing stage, the game erodes into a typical side-scroller that features both platforming and run-‘n-gun elements. The problem is that it does neither of them particularly well, and virtually all the gameplay elements encountered on the first level are what the player can expect to see for the rest of the game.

It really is a shame, as what Cyborg 009 lacks in gameplay is made up for in presentation in spades. The game is chock full of great anime cut scenes between levels (over 300 scenes in all), each telling the story of Joe’s encounter with a young blonde girl that eventually turns out to be a spy for the Black Ghost. Supposedly, the scenes feature the voices of an all-new cast, and with their great animation, they offer players a great incentive for finishing each level. The music is also excellent, and it rounds out the presentation perfectly. Had the gameplay received this amount of love, this would definitely have been a true classic.

The levels themselves are a mix of impressive scenarios and dull backgrounds. They’re at least varied in look, but none of the platforming sections are difficult, and one need do little more than just move to right to reach the end. The bosses that await there are laughably easy, and with Joe’s extremely large health bar, it’s often too easy to simply outlast them. A few of them look really cool, but most of them are nothing special to look at and even less exciting to fight.

Please don’t take my criticisms as a sign that Cyborg 009 is a bad game overall, which it is not. It’s just merely average, and while that might be more than enough for most people, I was really hoping to find a game that was on par with the anime on which it’s based. Perhaps I was expecting too much, given the quality of such translations at the time, but I really had high hopes for this one.

Gamers looking for another cheap title for their CD collection won’t feel cheated by spending a few bucks on this one. Those unfamiliar with the game who are expecting a solid and challenging title will certainly feel a bit cheated at what Cyborg 009 has to offer. I urge gamers to arm themselves beforehand with YouTube gameplay videos and/or this review so as to avoid later disappointment. Riot made a respectable action title, but it could definitely have been more respectful to Ishinomori’s classic characters.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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