Intermission.

Sorry guys, I’m not feeling up to writing today (that’s what liver disease can do to you). So for those of you expecting my write-up on Crisis Force, it’ll have to wait. Again. I’ll rest up this weekend and pick up fresh on Monday.

But just to whet your appetite, here’s some cool Crisis Force-related things.

First, the Aura Wing, as it appears in the PlayStation 2 game Airforce Delta Strike.

Second, a remix of the first and sixth stage theme from Crisis Force as heard on the Otomedius Excellent OST, “Re-entry.” Say what you will about the Otomedius games, but they sure did have decent soundtracks with load of remixes from other Konami OSTs.

Go Gorby, go!

I conducted a poll on Twitter to determine what Famicom game I’d write about today. Crisis Force – the one I knew nearly everyone would pick – easily took first place. But because I’m me, I’ve decided to write about the first runner-up instead.

Gorby no Pipeline Daisakusen (Gorby’s Pipeline) – Tokuma Shoten/Compile – 1991

Gorby’s Pipeline is one of the many great puzzle games never released outside Japan in any format (it was also released for the MSX and FM Towns). Essentially, it’s like a cross between Tetris and Pipe Dream, and is one of the pre-Puyo Puyo Compile puzzlers.

The story behind the game is interesting, to say the least. You’re in charge of building a water pipeline between Japan and Russia, to strengthen relations between the two countries. Making sure things were all nice and legal, as far as using Gorbachev’s image and name was concerned, Compile apparently had full permission from the Soviet embassy to use them on the game and in promotional materials (although I do wonder what he thought of the nickname “Gorby”).

Much like Tetris, the game takes place in a pit that you must construct the pipeline in. Drop your first connecting piece against the right wall of the pit, and the water begins to flow. From there, you have to build the pipeline so that it connects to one of the outlets on the left wall. This, of course, is no easy task. The different pieces that drop down are rarely straight pipes. There are elbow joints, U-shaped pipes and S-shaped pipes. It’s up to you to get everything running smoothly and not accidentally misdirect the water into a dead end.

Every so often different power-ups drop down: the water drop, which will clear out most of the pipe pieces on the screen; the water bottle, which will create blue blocks in the pit (these two pieces will only work if placed next to an open end of the pipe); and the drill, which can devastate the hard work you’ve put into the pipeline unless you find a good way to use it, such as correcting an error you made placing pipes.

The whole thing is wrapped up in a rather charming package. A little blonde girl in traditional Russian garb kicks the pipe pieces into the pit, while under the score, another traditionally dressed blonde girl stands on a patch of snow, “directing” the pipeline construction with her two flags. All the while, various pieces of classical Russian music play, some of which you’re bound to recognize.

Underneath that charm is a very tricky game, though, one that involves a great deal of strategy – more than I’m willing to go into here. Still, it’s a great game for puzzle fans that have grown tired of the usual standards like Tetris and Columns.

Next time: okay, fine. I’ll write about Crisis Force. But after that will be something you won’t be expecting.

In the meantime, check out this longplay of Gorby’s Pipeline.

How many notable towers did ancient Babylon have?

I think as far as Namco is concerned, just one: Druaga’s tower (as thoroughly explored in the games The Quest of Ki, The Tower of Druaga and The Return of Ishtar). The story of Gil and Ki was passed down by the people, and became legend. But as was once said, “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth.” And centuries later, the tower still stands, but is now rumored to be the home of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

One intrepid archaeologist is determined to enter the crumbling tower and find the Hanging Gardens.

His name is Indy.

Indy Borgnine.

Babel no Tou – Namco – 1986

And boy, does he have his work cut out for him.

Babel no Tou is a puzzle game. A very devious, insanely difficult puzzle game that involves the proper placement of L-shaped blocks to get to the exit of each floor, which give Indy access to vines and moving platforms. Indy has a limited amount of strength he can use to pick up the blocks (they’re easily as big as he is, and can crush him if handled improperly), but this can be replenished by finding hidden pitchers. There are plenty of treasures scattered around the different floors of the tower, but sometimes they aren’t worth the effort to pick up. The exception to this would be the crystal balls, because sometimes you have to get them to open the exit door.

But it’s not all just moving blocks around, oh no. There are also plenty of creatures guarding the tower (surviving minions of Druaga’s, maybe?). Luckily, most of them can be defeated by crushing them with the blocks. Still, they make Indy’s life just that much more difficult. Luckily there’s no time limit, or he’d really be screwed. Another thing that makes life easier is a password system, as well as the ability to pause the game and view the entire room by pushing up and down on the d-pad.

Now, if you want to see the real ending of the game, you have to know what to do in the occasional “statue rooms” you come across. If you perform the correct task, an image will appear in the middle of the screen, among them a scorpion, a Japanese “money cat” and Pac-Man. There are eight total. At the very end of the game, you find yourself in a room to enter the password made up of the symbols you found. If you found all eight and put them in the correct order, Indy ascends to the Hanging Gardens and you get the code for the Pro mode.

Babel no Tou is definitely a challenge and a half. Anyone wanting to play this one all the way through had better be prepared to die, a lot.

Next time, I’m going to talk about a Famicom game that wasn’t by Namco. Until then, check out this longplay of Babel no Tou.

That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into, Ki.

So just how did Princess Ki end up as a stone at the top of the Tower of Druaga? Find out in…

Kai no Bouken: The Quest of Ki – Namco – 1988

Years before the events of The Tower of Druaga, the Blue Crystal Rod was bestowed upon the land of Babylim (Babylon) by the god Anu, who placed it in the sky above the kingdom, where it brought about an era of peace. Babylim was then conquered by Emperor Balarant of Sumer, who forced the people of Babylim to construct a tower to reach the Blue Crystal Rod. However, angry about the blasphemy, Anu destroyed the tower and damaged the Rod, letting Druaga loose. Druaga rebuilt the tower and hid the Rod at the top. The goddess Ishtar then found a sorceress – Ki – and gave her a magic headband that enabled her to fly, and instructed her to ascend the tower and get the Blue Crystal Rod from Druaga.

Now that you know that…

I’ve decided that I like the idea of the Druaga games, not so much the games themselves, because the execution is flawed in a lot of places.

This is one such place.

The Tower of Druaga, for all its flaws, at least played fairly well. The Quest of Ki, on the other hand, looks like a traditional platformer, at first. But instead of using stairs or ladders to get to a higher platform, you have to press the jump button and watch as Ki practically flies into the stratosphere. You do have some control when determining where Ki lands, but if you whack her head on a ceiling, she’s knocked back down and you have no control until she hits the floor. Better hope there aren’t any enemies below her.

This is The Quest of Ki‘s biggest flaw, and at the same time, its most innovative gameplay mechanic. That, I think, must be some kind of paradox. It definitely puts a unique spin on traditional platforming, but it’s so frustrating that most players can only take so much of it before they give up and switch to a different game.

Ishtar and the dragon spirit Quox occasionally pop up between stages to give Ki hints, but unless you’re playing the English translation or can read Japanese, they’re worthless to you.

The ending sets up The Tower of Druaga nicely, at least. It explains exactly what happened to Ki and the Blue Crystal Rod, as well as what happened to Quox (who’s an enemy in Druaga), and you’re told that Ki’s lover Gil would ascend the tower and rescue her. Of course, they don’t mention how the two of them worked their way down the tower to escape, as seen in The Return of Ishtar.

Namco liked to do a whole “shared universe” thing with a lot of their earlier games, and I believe that there’s a chapter of the Druaga saga that takes place in the distant future. And even though the legend of Druaga, Gil, Ki and Ishtar had faded into myth by that point, the tower still stands, now home to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But what man would brave those crumbling walls and attempt to find the Hanging Gardens himself?

Only one man has the courage, skills and intelligence to attempt such a feat.

While you’re waiting to find out what happens next, check out this longplay of The Quest of Ki.

And now for something completely different.

Let’s talk Famicom.

Recently, I’ve been taking a break from the Turbografx-16 to go back to my all-time favorite, after months of leaving it untouched. I thought, for a change of pace, I’d talk about a few of the Famicom exclusives I was playing.

The Tower of Druaga – Namco – 1985

You know, I’ve played several different versions of Druaga over the years, and for the life of me, I can’t understand exactly what the Japanese see in it. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Maybe you just had to be there when it was first released. I don’t know.

For those of you unfamiliar with Druaga, it’s a dungeon crawler of sorts. You play as the knight Gilgamesh (usually called Gil), and you must fight your way to the top of the tower to rescue the princess Ki from the evil scorpion-like demon Druaga, who also has in his possession the magical Blue Crystal Rod. Every floor has a special item to find, but there’s a ridiculously short timer and you walk like a snail until you find the boots. And there are a lot of floors to make your way through (60, total). Treasure chests only appear when you do… something… to make them appear. On every floor, what that something is changes, and the game doesn’t give you any hints.

You’re constantly under siege from all sorts of enemies, from slimes to knights to wizards, among others. And Gil always has to draw his sword before he can attack. You can hold the attack button down so that the sword is always drawn, but that leaves your defenses down.

Personally, I’ve never gotten far in any version of the game. The arcade game is a bit better than the Famicom game, but not by much. The PC Engine version, on the other hand, is a massive improvement, with larger characters and faster movement from the start. Still, I’ve never been able to get very far. I don’t know, maybe I just don’t understand the nuances of the game.

The Tower of Druaga did launch a series, one that remained virtually unknown outside of Japan, at least until the Namco Museum series for the PlayStation was released. The original arcade game is included on Volume 3, and the arcade sequel, The Return of Ishtar, is on Volume 4.

What not many people know is that there was a prequel, and it was a Famicom exclusive. I’ll take a look at that one next time. In the meantime, take a look at this longplay of the Famicom game. The player here makes it look easy, of course.