April 10th, 2007 | Feature
The Game Center CX Episode Guide
The front-to-back tribute to the Japanese TV show that flies in the face of Nintendo's epilepsy warnings.

 

Game Center CX Season 15 – Back to Contents
#126
Shoot! Retreat!! "Battle Formula"

Chousen

Sometimes there’s a game that you know will make a fun GCCX episode just by reading about it. This is one of those times: today, Arino is playing Sunsoft’s Famicom game Battle Formula, which Americans may know better as Super Spy Hunter on NES. The game has shown up on GCCX before: way, way back in season 2, Arino visited the home of Famicom supercollector KUBOKEN, who showed off Battle Formula because of its rarity and high quality. Just how rare is the game in Japan? The show had to wave goodbye to the rough equivalent of $220 to get a copy. It makes Arino a little nervous just holding it!

It’s immediately apparent why Battle Formula was called Super Spy Hunter, because it’s just like the arcade original: a top-down driving game where your car can also shoot bullets at oncoming enemies. But it’s much flashier than the regular Spy Hunter, with lots of fancy graphics effects that Sunsoft used to push the NES. Arino begins the game, but he takes it slow at first, being careful not to crash into anything. Destroying certain red trucks on the road will earn Arino new power-ups.

The road weaves back and forth and is sometimes even partly destroyed, so Arino has to have quick reflexes to get through the stage(s) while also shooting down the enemies. After a couple of retries, he gets past the middle of the stage. After a big curve, a "STOP" warning flashes on the screen. Arino hits the brakes, and good thing, too — he stops right before the road ends and a series of semi trucks are up ahead. He has to carefully go across the roofs of the trucks before moving on to the end of the stage and facing the first boss.

The boss is a two-pronged offense: a fighter chopper that hovers around, and a giant truck that goes around the road trying to ram Arino into submission. After dying once, Arino manages to destroy the chopper, but then the truck starts to explode and out pop two more choppers! He’s clearly thrown off, and the truck smashes into him again. And a few more times after that. On his last life, Arino realizes that he should concentrate on the truck, and that it seems to be following Arino in a circular pattern.

On the way back to the boss, Arino reaches the part with the submerged road, and where the car turns into a boat. He notices a strip of pavement to the far left, though, and takes a couple tries to get the car up there. It’s a nice "carpool lane" through the otherwise treacherous section, but at the end, it tricks Arino by forcing him to jump off a ramp, where the rest of the road begins just a little to the right. He hits the water just off to the left, and then keeps failing to even hit the ramp for several more attempts.

Arino re-engages the boss(es), and manages to destroy the truck and the choppers with just a bar of life left. Except that that wasn’t the end, either! The truck’s cab remains, and continues to shoot missiles at Arino. He’s caught by a missile in the middle of his movement pattern, and dies once more.

It takes several more tries, and on the 15th, Arino manages to destroy the truck after a tense moment where he had almost no life left and the cab was about to pinch him. And that’s… stage 1! Yes, really.

Stage 2 opens in a desert, and Arino gets some new power-ups that are, naturally, pretty powerful. He’s also up to full health, so for the first bit of the stage, it’s easy going. Soon, the road disappears and the desrt course becomes lined with quicksand traps. Arino tries to stay on the edges of the pits, and does mostly well, but eventually goes straight into the middle and dies. He restarts, luckily manages to get another health extension halfway through, and finally makes it past the pits. Back on the road, the car upgrades once more, and Arino heads to the boss.

The boss this time is a huge battle tank with a few turrets on it. The basic strategy is the same: Arino has to keep from being pinches or otherwise killed. The tank moves pretty slow, so it’s not as much of a pain. Its "H" shape allows Arino to get up in the middle of the tank and fire at it point-blank, but the turrets fire too quickly for him, and keep killing him right in the middle. And then he has to get through the quicksand again…

Arino enters the seventh attempt against this boss, and with one bar of health left, he amazingly destroys the turrets and goes for the center of the tank. But the tank nudges left just enough to his Arino and kill him before had a chance to finish it off! Same old story. We’re up to attempt 22 when Arino finally survives long enough to blow the tank’s core, which looks kind of like a lantern flashlight. It doesn’t seem to be shooting, so Arino just keeps firing and trying not to rub up against the tank. It takes forever to blow up, but he does finally beat stage 2.

Stage 3 is much like the first, with lots of curving roads to show off the game’s programming (Arino likens it to a 3DS game). It’s a quick trip to the boss, who immediately vaporizes our hero. That’s because it’s a giant bank of five giant lasers. Arino must destroy the laser heads, then get rid of many metal panels on top. He gets back to the boss, and cameraman Abe tells him to be careful here. Luckily, Arino is, and mansges to blow off the lasers and the three turrets that appear after that. But then he dies when the middle "core" turret appears and picks him off again.

He continues dying in the same way, at the same place (from the middle lasers) over and over again. And over. And over. Arino crests 80 attempts. The end is most certainly not in sight. He goes for an 84th try, and dies once more.

And then… nothing. The game gives out after Arino dies that time. Yes, except for one flickering scanline on the screen, Battle Formula locked up. All Arino can do is press the dreaded Reset button. And of course, he starts all over at stage 1. This is what $220 buys?!

He’s forced to spend another hour and a half getting back to that stage 3 boss. This time, though, Arino is fully powered-up, and blasts the lasers like nobody’s business. That’s pretty much all it takes to then destroy the core and (finally) get past stage 3.

Stage 4 is an interesting one: Arino continues along the road, then the road ends, and he seems to be flying, but then the next road from below comes zooming in — he’s falling! Or just taking a big leap! In his confusion, once he lands, he’s killed by an errant bullet. The stage continues like this, but Arino keeps getting killed by swarms of helicopters. In fact, once he finally endures long enough to reach the part just before the boss, he lands and is killed by the very last bullet that a ‘copter fires. Ahem.

On the next try, he doesn’t screw up and finally reaches the boss, another laser-firing doohickey, this one with a giant eye. It’s not quite as lethal as the last boss, but Arino still has to stay on his toes (tires?), as the boss is moving along a rack and goes up and down, left and right with much regularity.

The problem, as before, is that Arino comes at the boss underpowered. When he blew through the others, he had a couple of health and "power" power-ups. But in his attempts to stay alive with enough power, he also dies even more, taking up an excrutiating four hours on stage 4 alone. He reaches the boss on his 58th attempt, with at least one decent power-up to his offense. He destroys both the front and rear lasers on the boss, and then goes for the eye. Of course, the eye starts spitting bullets, so Arino can’t sit still. He life is chipped away at, but soon enough, he destroys the boss!

Stage 5 begins with another twist — well, a small one: the car is now a boat, as this stage will take place mostly on water. There’s no road, but Arino will still have to weave past a gauntlet of mines. After getting past the first wave of mines, he’s assaulted by submarine drones that fire harpoons at him from the sides. He dies, but after that, he reaches shore and goes back to driving. The road then gets a little rough… a little too rough, and the car suddenly transforms into a small jet! Now the game is a full-on shoot-em-up, which means Arino is way out of his element.

A couple more deaths lead to another Game Over, and Arino restarts stage 5. Unfortunately, his replaying isn’t helping him get through the jet part. After enough pain, AD Takahashi makes a long-awaited appearance. He has some help in the form of a secret code that can help Arino earn some extra lives. Unfortuantely it’s no less of a trial than the rest of the game.

At the continue screen, Arino must make the little turret icon put its "arms" up a couple of times and then press Start. Doing this starts "Hyper Tennis," a hidden Pong-like minigame against the computer. If Arino wins the minigame, he gets to continue with 20 lives. The game begins. After a few seconds, a wall fades in that bounces the ball back to Arino. He loses a couple of points (the score counts down from 9; whoever gets the other to 0 wins), and then a few more. He loses the entire game and is booted back to stage 5 with no extra lives.

He gets back to the Pong game immediately, though, and this time Takahashi takes over. He lucks into a short winning streak where the computer keeps missing the ball, but with one point to go on either side, he ends up losing. Oops! One more try…and the CPU wins again. And again. Poor Takahashi. At least Arino can laugh it off. Finally, Takahashi wins it, and sure enough, Arino is back to stage 5 with 20 lives.

Except then he’s handed the clock, which means it’s almost time to go, but at least he has 20 more tries to make good. He gets back to the jet section and stays alive a little longer, but still not long enough. He’s down to 13 lives when he makes some progress and finally encounters a midboss, a larger jet that’s raining bullets on him. But there’s another one coming, and soon he’s pinched and killed. More deaths pass, and he’s down to three lives. Arino finally puts on a cold pad for one last surge of concentration.

Arino gets a couple of health power-ups, but by the time he reaches the big jet, he’s down to two bars. He tries to evade, but it’s not enough — he dies once more. Takahashi is called in to get past the big jets, and he does just that. He continues through the stage, destroying more big jets, but soon even he is clipped by a bullet and killed. He’s shocked; mouth agape, even. He goes for one more try, but he loses that too. Unfortunately, it’s Takahashi who uses up the last lives, and so, it’s time for Arino to give this one up.

But of course, Takahashi is left behind to clean up. The later stages feature a boss gauntlet of the previous bosses before ending in one last, but not too menacing-looking boss. And so ends one of the hardest — and priciest! — Famicom games.

TamaGe

Game Center CX had its usual live event for Fuji TV’s annual United States of Odaiba festival. Here, Arino is joined by announcer Yuko Takeda as he tries to once again complete the last course of F-Zero.

As before, that last Fire Field track is really the bane of his existence, moreso when there’a an audience of people groaning in front of him. He loses the race, but he has three more chances in the form of three more Super Famicoms laid on the table. All we have to do is get engineer Suda to switch over the video cable. But then Arino fails again.

AD Takahashi is then called over to assist the same way as before: changing controllers at the end of each lap. Takahashi finishes the first lap, but then Arino blows up on his turn. One more try. Arino is so close, but Samurai Goroh, his nemesis, pulls ahead, and he once again fails. OK, another try. Takahashi helps get Arino to the last lap, but once again Goroh pulls ahead, and then Arino bumps himself around a tricky spot before the finish! Panic! But amazingly, he crosses the line in 3rd place! So at least for this event, the challenge was a success.

Retro Read-Aloud

For this installment, it’s a scene from Secret of Mana where the main hero (Nishiyama) is the main ingredient in a goblin (Arino)’s stew. AP Nakayama guests once more as the stacatto-speaking fellow goblin. Nishiyama is impressed by his voice acting skills, though!

Game Collections: 1992: March – July

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