Review: Black Tiger (VC Arcade)

Ghosts 'n Goblins 'n Gimmicks

In 1985, Capcom released the infamous Ghosts 'n Goblins upon the world. Still regarded as one of the most challenging games ever made, it was a smash hit and cost many players many, many quarters as they died again and again. Although it would get a sequel eventually, after two years, Capcom decided to make a similar game with a few added gameplay elements.

In Black Tiger, you take control of the titular hero, a barbarian warrior attempting to save his kingdom from the usual invasion of monsters, eventually slaying a dragon to save the princess and restore peace to the land.

The game pretty much plays exactly like Ghosts 'n Goblins with some added depth. You need to make your way through eight stages (only once, thankfully), defeating nearly endless monsters that seem to spawn everywhere around you, and conquer a boss at the end of every level. What's different is that while platforming was fairly low-key in GnG, it plays a much more important role here as you'll almost be doing just as much of it as you are killing enemies.

Aside from having to simply jump gaps, you'll frequently need to climb up long pillars, or even leap between them, and as enemies can be located on them or in the air near them this can sometimes prove difficult. Thankfully, you can still attack while you're climbing. Another important part of the game is rescuing old men who have been turned to stone. Each one you save will give you a hint, money, extra time, or will open up a shop for you for 20 seconds, allowing you to purchase better weapons and armour, keys to open chests with or potions to protect yourself from poison.

Each stage also features a large amount of pots and chests to open, each one containing money or powerups (although chests sometimes contain traps, so watch out!). There is also a "dungeon" you can enter in each level to rescue some extra old men, but should you die in these you are kicked out immediately, so make the most of them.

Black Tiger's default weapon never really changes and only gets better as you upgrade: it starts off as a ball and chain, with the ball changing into a scythe, axe and other weapons with each improvement. Aside from increased power, this will also increase the length of your chain, eventually allowing you to hit enemies at the edge of the screen while you're in the center. The weapon also fires projectiles diagonally upward with each swing, which, although not too powerful, can be quite helpful. Should you contract poison from certain enemies, the projectiles will cease to functions, so for this reason it is handy to always pack some anti-poison potions.

Your hero's armour is almost as fragile as Arthur's at the get-go, with two hits destroying it and then one further hit reducing you to dust, but due to the shops that thankfully shouldn't last long, as the best armour you can purchase is able to take a whopping eight hits before finally ceasing to exist.

Unfortunately, one massive problem with the game is that you will be taking those eight hits. While GnG is at least somewhat lenient on the enemies, Black Tiger just keeps spawning them everywhere, which truly makes for some situations where it is completely impossible to avoid getting bonked. Enemies will frequently be both in front, behind, above and in the air in front and behind you, and it's just not possible to kill them all without them hitting you first.

While you can just be a cheapskate (especially now on Virtual Console) and just keep inserting credits to continue (as you start off very close to where you died every time), it gets incredibly annoying seeing the continue screen pop up five or more times per stage, and once you reach a certain point it's almost impossible to prevent this.

The only way this won't happen is if you clear the first two or three stages perfectly, racking up as much cash as you can and buying the best weapon and protection there is, keeping a large supply of extra money at the ready to quickly replenish your armour should you lose it later on. Collecting money simply doesn't go that fast later on without the proper equipment, especially if each enemy takes fifteen hits to kill while you die in three.

Another big problem with the game is that pixel-perfect jumping is required almost everywhere. Whether it's for jumping across pits or over bosses, if you're a hair off the edge before jumping, you will fall just short or your target and either take a hit or, of course, die instantly. Better practice your timing!

Graphics and music-wise the game is pretty good. While it might seems like each of the first few levels are palette swaps of each other (which they are), you will travel through a few other locations later on which look pretty nice and completely different from the earlier stages. The music isn't particularly catchy or memorable, but it's not too bad.

Conclusion

Black Tiger's entertainment value is pretty much directly tied to your gaming skill. If you can do well enough in the first few levels to kit yourself out with good stuff, then it should be possible to beat the rest of the game without too much resistance, provided you've mastered your jumping skills. Those first few levels thankfully aren't as hard as, say, those in Ghosts 'n Goblins, but if you just cannot manage to do well in the beginning, then the rest of the game will just be one long, boring slog of repeatedly inserting extra coins and continuing.

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