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Keith Courage In Alpha Zones (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Keith Courage In Alpha Zones (TurboGrafx-16) review


"The Turbografx-16 deserved a better fate than to wind up a distant third to the Super Nintendo and Genesis in the console wars. With superb entries in the platforming and shooter genres, it’s hard to see where the system failed. "



The Turbografx-16 deserved a better fate than to wind up a distant third to the Super Nintendo and Genesis in the console wars. With superb entries in the platforming and shooter genres, it’s hard to see where the system failed.

But then you look at how things started for the TG-16. You look at the pack-in game for this system, a platformer called Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, and suddenly it all becomes crystal clear. You see, the Turbografx-16 was already on life support before it even got off the ground.

To say this game was a flop is an understatement. A seven-stage platformer, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones just isn’t the sort of thing that would convince most people to plunk down a bunch of money on a new system. Unless, of course, you’re the type of gamer that gets into generic, repetitive and clunky platformers that try to do a lot of things, but fail at all of them.

You really get the idea that Hudson Soft had some ambitious ideas when it came to crafting Keith. Each stage is divided into two parts. Initially, you’re in an easy-going overworld area where you can talk to people while purchasing improved swords and other goodies. The only real danger in these places comes from falling on spikes -- which results in instant death. Yeah, you have your fair share of monsters in these places, but you’ll soon realize they need to hit you an ungodly number of times to even cause you one heart of damage. And when you start with three hearts and can build up to a total of eight, it doesn’t take long to figure out just how imposing the cats and other critters here actually are.

When you reach the end of an overworld area, you then get teleported to the “action” part of the level. Donning a spacesuit designed to make him look like a blocky robot, Keith now takes on some more powerful foes (it actually takes fewer than 10 hits to cost you a heart -- YIKES!!!) as he wanders through a cavernous setting on his way to that level’s boss. After dispatching the minion of the Bad Alien Dudes group (or B.A.D. -- the less said the better....), it’s on to the next level’s tame overworld segment.

Now, if any of what I just described sounded fun to you, this is the part of the review where I shatter your expectations. You see, Hudson really botched up this concept to create an experience where the fun lasts for about one level.

Why one level? Well, when you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all. While the overworld and underworld segments of each level get longer as you play through the game, very little actually changes. Only a handful of monsters were designed, so you’ll see more than your fair share of plummeting cats and flying skulls as you progress from one level to the next. Really, the only notable difference from one world to the next is the length. Sure, in one level, you might have to jump across fiery pits, while another one might have slippery ice, but those minor alterations do little to alleviate the feeling that you’re just playing the same stage over and over again.

Well, to be honest, there is one more difference between each level. You remember how I said you can purchase new swords on each level? As you go from one stage to the next, the price of those weapons will skyrocket. As you near the end of the game, you’ll have to spend thousands of coins to earn your next upgrade. The problem is that you only get money from a certain percentage of the overworld enemies and it tends to range from 50 to 150 coins, with one enemy dropping a whopping 200 coins upon its rare appearances. This leads to the ever-so-fun “walk back and forth and kill hordes of lame enemies” segments of the game that do nothing but sap my enthusiasm. I understand that Keith Courage is a pretty short game, but can’t there be a BETTER way to extend its length?

Then again, I’d prefer it if there was NO way to make this game longer. Not only is it repetitive and boring, but also controls poorly. In the overworld, Keith moves slowly and awkwardly across the terrain. When you move to the underworld sections, you find that his robot suit apparently gives him superhuman abilities. Keith moves faster and can jump farther. Sadly, he still doesn’t handle well, which can make it quite awkward to maneuver through areas with small ledges and spikes. You might find yourself impaled on spikes when all you wanted to do was hop from one ledge to a lower one, for example. Or, you might find yourself inadvertently leaping into bosses when you meant to go straight up into the air. Honestly, it can get messy.

Then again, a lot of things in this game are messy. With a number of bosses, the only strategy you really need is to stand near them and pound the attack button, hoping they die before you do. The final boss could have been a very challenging battle, but there’s this little glitch in the game that, with a little execution on your part, will render him immobile and helpless.

The best thing about these boss fights are the background graphics, as you’re in a blue room with what appears to be pulsating idols in the background. Sadly, the rest of the game has little to offer visually. You have simple buildings and tiny monsters in the overworld. While a number of the larger underworld monsters are somewhat appealing, the levels themselves seem composed of empty black backgrounds littered with ledges and spikes. I really didn’t need another reminder that Keith Courage in Alpha Zones was boring, but it looks like I got one. Musically, I really dug the boss tune and the little ditty that played when you got warped from the overworld to the underworld. Too bad you only hear those two songs for a handful of seconds in each level, but you do get to hear vastly inferior melodies while doing the bulk of the gameplay. Trust me, if Hudson could have screwed something up, they probably did.

It’s not that Keith Courage in Alpha Zones had no potential. Initially, I liked the concept of alternating tame stages where you got information and items with tougher stages where you put all that to good use. It wasn’t until I played through a couple of levels that I realized that the tame stages were just tedious time-wasters and the tougher ones were more annoying than challenging. While the Turbografx-16 was able to rebound to release a number of excellent games, like the old saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And with this game being the first impression, perhaps failure was the only possible conclusion for the system.

Rating: 2/10

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (March 10, 2005)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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