Tiger Road (TurboGrafx-16) review
"Perhaps it's the simplicity of the gameplay that draws me in. You control a little bald man, Lee Wong (who bears no relation to Bonk, in case you're wondering). Never mind what the glossy, airbrushed cover depicts; you are not Fu Man Chu, and the Rogaine is not working. So just leave it alone it Costanza - there's no denying the complete, stark baldness. "
Surely I deserved a better fate! Granted, the children are now safe, and that's the important part. But after all that pain, I wanted - no, I expected - a more fulfilling close to it all.
I didn't get it.
Average and wishy-washy sounds and sights straight out of JJ & Jeff, and get-knocked-into-the-pits frustration from Ninja Gaiden; this is what Tiger Road brings to the table. The table is not set very well, and there are various spills on the misaligned placemats. But as unwelcoming as the preparations appear, I find myself oddly drifting back for seconds, and thirds. This is because when the game isn't frustrating, it's very enjoyable to play.
Tiger Road is a Capcom-created, 2D side-scrolling action arcade game, ported over to the Turbografx by Victor Musical Industries, of The Legendary Axe fame. But be forewarned that the game has neither the quality of Capcom's coin-op, nor the awe-inspiring adventuring of Axe. Once we dispense with the unflattering comparisons though, Tiger Road on the Turbo is as decent a way to sweat through forty-five minutes as any.
Perhaps it's the simplicity of the gameplay that draws me in. You control a little bald man, Lee Wong (who bears no relation to Bonk, in case you're wondering). Never mind what the glossy, airbrushed cover depicts; you are not Fu Man Chu, and the Rogaine is not working. So just leave it alone it Costanza - there's no denying the complete, stark baldness.
Lee doesn't let his genetics get him down, however, and after seeing his Temple of Oh Lin in ruins, the children of the 'hood kidnapped, and the secret Oh Lin scrolls swiped, he sets out to right wrongs. The bad guy is called the Dragon God, and when you see him you will realize that besides being an egotist, he's a disillusioned old fool with notions of grandeur.
Fight through five areas with numerous stages filling each. Travel through multileveled temples and explore caves. That's what you'll be doing most of the time. But you'll also be granted the ability to fly on a few occasions. Lee will find himself hanging in midair (this is the clue that tips you off that you're in one of those 'flying levels') and you must direct him through dark spaces (i.e.: no backgrounds to speak of) and avoid spikes and fat, bloated, balloon-like enemies en route.
Other enemies are similarly singular. As creatively conceived as they might be, their names certainly aren't. Thrill to the dangerous exploits of Long Sword Man (a.k.a. John Holmes) who is unmistakably wielding: a Long Sword. Armour man wears armour, Boxing Man sticks and moves, and Spear Man forces you to ''dodge his spears of death'' as the manual so dramatically puts it.
The boss encounters are pretty fun, if a little drawn out at times. The first boss, The Lizard Man, is extremely easy to beat, but because he hides in the water for 90% of the time you're fighting, beating him is tedious. The Evil Ghost guardian of level two forces upon you a similar fate. You must be patient while he materializes so that you can take a shot at him, and then he pulls his disappearing act on you all over again. All this, while enduring some of the most horribly cacophonic tunes ever made. The level music is passable mind you, itís just the wailing boss theme that you should listen out for (like you have a choice).
Despite that, the game up until this point is a lot of fun, and because it's so easy to get into, I found myself loving Tiger Road in spite of myself.
Then came the later levels.
Let me try to explain the madness at work here. You have three weapons to choose from. A sickle (really a battle axe that spins on an invisible axis), a morningstar (a spiked ball that yo-yos forward on an invisible string), and finally the sword (for which the list of positives is invisible). Only the sickle is of any use, so don't even bother with the other two. The sickle arcs above your head, taking out the airborne acrobats who comprise the Dragon God's army. The sword jabs pathetically, and the rate of 'fire' of the morningstar is laughable.
All right. We've established that there is only one viable weapon choice.
Pitfall number one: now that you have the sickle, what this means is that every weapon dispensing enemy or icon will yield a crap weapon! Thus, you must avoid these carelessly placed weapons constantly. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for Pitfall number two; this one goes for the jugular.
Pitfall number two: remember Ninja Gaiden. Which one, you ask? Any of them. They all do the same thing. Ye Olde Castlevania games do it too. Here is a Tiger Road refresher: Lee runs toward a pit, jumps over it, only for a flying fool of an assailant to collide with him in midair, and force him awkwardly down and into the pit. For the tenth time on one play. This is mostly how you'll die playing Tiger Road.
You can try anything. You can creep up the edge of the hole, allowing one foot to overlap the gaping darkness, and make the smallest jump possible. This is done so that the screen doesn't scroll as much and allow oncoming enemies to enter and do their dirty deed. This technique works very well in the early going, but even this masterful technique fails us toward the end. You see, the screen doesn't need to scroll in area five for the enemies to keep on coming.
It is at this point where you must employ the weakest of all platforming techniques. You must take a hit on purpose, so that you'll be invincible for the second that it takes to make the jump. Truly a blatant programming flaw if ever there was one. There are more major instances of this 'sacrifice' foolishness, with no relation to jumping.
When you progress through the game and pick up the floating scrolls left behind by fallen bosses, as well as conquer the bonus rounds (quick, put out a candle with your sickle!), you will gain the Tiger Technique. For a nominal processing fee, the game will upgrade that to a Double-Headed Tiger Technique. These are fancy names for the power that allows Lee to dispatch his short-range weapons (at least until you lose some vitality) and attack from long range with a giant lollipop. The oddly formed wand fires out tracks of ghost tigers that swoop at enemies. The Double-Headed technique allows two tracks of ghost tigers - one low and one high - to be leveled at foes.
Now for more foolishness. Some of your antagonists almost certainly require you to kill them with this weapon. But if you have too little vitality when you meet up with them, you're plum out of luck and basically need to sacrifice yourself so that your 'next life' appears with the Tiger Technique primed and ready to go.
Avoiding weapons, taking hits and deaths on purpose, falling into pits; all of these flaws can make the latter stages of Tiger Road very, very frustrating. Cursing the game is a common practice, as is switching off the system violently and prematurely.
But when you get it right, and have a little luck on your side, you might just get to the end of Tiger Road, and despite the weak ending, doing so is a very fulfilling thing for a platform fan. Why? Because early on, it's so damn playable. This is good stuff for a fan of the genre what with all the colourful jumping and slashing through comic book caves and creatures. And because it's so easy to get into, after finishing it, you'll probably have another go immediately following!
And then, you'll get far enough, realize, and switch it off.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 17, 2003)
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