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Sonic Blast Man (Arcade) artwork

Sonic Blast Man (Arcade) review

"Wham! Arcades were a bit louder in the early 90's. It seemed every ten seconds you would hear a rather loud thud from a particular corner, and most likely that sound was generated by Taito's Sonic Blast Man, the epitome of physical strength based games. 


Wham! Arcades were a bit louder in the early 90's. It seemed every ten seconds you would hear a rather loud thud from a particular corner, and most likely that sound was generated by Taito's Sonic Blast Man, the epitome of physical strength based games. 

The premise is simple enough. A pivoting two foot steel arm with a circular punching bag, not unlike an overstuffed stool cushion, attached to the end pops up. The player punches the bag, hand in punching glove, in a downward arc ninety degrees as powerfully as possible. The player's score, reflecting how powerfully or pitifully he (or she) hit, is then displayed on screen right behind the bag for all to admire or mock. The game never says what the units are, but they seem to roughly correspond to pounds of force applied, a strange observation since both the Japanese and American units share the same numbers. The stage is completed at the end of the third punch. The ending depends on stage chosen and whether or not you successfully defeated the opponent. 

To make things interesting, Taito includes five levels of ''enemies'' (stages) to punch, each level more difficult than the last. Every target has a miniature story line, and the recognition you receive increases as the objective becomes more difficult. The idea is that lower levels include much wussier opponents while the highest pits you against foes that a real super hero would face. The starter is a hoodlum with a Mohawk holding a damsel with a nifty 1989 hairdo and jacket hostage. This one is for kids as just about any average height, average strength adolescent can easily knock this guy to the ground. 

Next is that pesky evil truck that is about to run a baby over. Like a true super hero, instead of merely sweeping the child off the street, you prove your strength by smashing the moving truck to pieces, most certainly killing the driver in the process. How brave. Other, albeit less entertaining, enemies include, in order, the alien fortress (skyscraper), the giant crab, and the mighty meteor. Of course everybody wants to challenge the meteor, but it takes an amazing amount of strength to conquer, bruising the egos of many males. 

Another interesting feature are the levels of damage shown as you subtract points off the stage's total. The punk reels back when hit then obtains black eyes. The truck crumbles, and crab gets its claws ripped off. This is a cool extra, and it encourages the player by making him feel much stronger than he actually is (''Wow, look at that crater-sized dent I made!''). And this is the entire point of the game: feeling like a super hero. 

Sonic Blast Man is just as much about knowing exactly how to hit it as it is about using brute strength. The beginner commonly stands still and punches straight on or even at a slight upward angle; this wastes much of the force and momentum than Blast Man pros utilize. Taking a step back and throwing your whole body into the punch and following through as the bag arcs down greatly increases the score. Finding a particular hitting style for your height and build and getting the motion down takes some time, so just a play or two will not accurately determine how good of a puncher you can be. 

The ''video'' in Blast Man actually contains mostly stills; there is very little animation, even in the introduction and endings. However, the stills are nicely drawn, especially the punk, who looks quite menacing. Each stage includes about seven or eight stills: four or five of them depicting the target in perfect health and varying stages of damage, a Batman-ish ''SMASH!'' balloon, and a still or two for the ending. 

Blast Man himself looks like a complete weirdo. For some reason, he is about nine feet tall. His helmet has antennae, a satellite dish, and what looks like integrated sunglasses. He has ridiculously over-sized shoulder pads, a clock and computer terminal on his chest, and a goofy locket-thing on his belt. He even wears boxing gloves. He doesn't wear a cape; he wears a scarf. His colors completely clash. Yes, Sonic Blast Man is the perfect 60's Batman reject; he would make Adam West proud. Obviously, Blast Man is supposed to be a mockery of U.S. comic book heroes, but no one here got the joke, which probably makes us look even stupider. 

The game has very little in the way of sounds. The title screen's voice-over, the thug's ''Uuech!'' and Blast Man's lame ''Take that!'' are the most memorable by far. The rest of the effects center around accompanying crunching noises, as if the sound of the pole hitting the cabinet isn't noisy enough. There are a few musical fanfares but, again, nothing memorable.

The game's cabinet is especially impressive. Because of the type of action it needs to withstand, the cabinet is quite sturdy and heavy, and it takes the strongest of men to budge the thing. Another impressive feature is the red, white, and blue coloring of the unit, giving a patriotic feel to the game, a real irony considering its Japanese origins. 

What made Sonic Blast Man so special was the primal male bonding that took place around the unit. Everybody put their quarters in and tried the best they could to smack the crap out of whatever stage they picked, often in the presence of a multitude of onlookers. It didn't matter if you won or lost or were strong or weak. All that mattered was that you put your very best in, and you were respected for that. Oh, sure, there was that one guy who snickered and held weaker players in contempt, but he quickly lost his smugness when that enormous black dude came in and effortlessly scored a 350, putting his relatively pathetic 110 to shame. 

My personal favorite was beating on the thug. By the time I was thirteen, my then impressive physique could render him unconscious in just two of the three hits. Still, he was the only human opponent (beating up planets and buildings is boring), and I just loved that ''uuech!'' sound effect he made. Plus, I liked the added bonus of the chick whoring up to Blast Man once I won. I wonder if she wore anything underneath that jacket...Yow! 

Sonic Blast Man sparked what looked like to be the next wave of arcade games, combining physical activity with action on the video screen. But, alas, it was not meant to be; from the start, the thoughtful observer could predict some troubles. Any activity that requires as much physical force as Sonic Blast Man is going to yield the occasional injury. Problems included the eventual wear of both the bag and the glove, leading to even more injuries. Perhaps the most distressing of all were the cocky kids who wanted to look impressive by bare-handing the bag. Padded or not, hitting a steel rod as hard as you can puts extreme strain on your wrist. There were even reports of neck, leg, and back injuries due to idiots head-butting and jump-kicking the thing. However this was hardly Taito's fault as writing on the cabinet (and common sense) clearly indicated that only gloved hands were to be used. In fact, most of the injuries were likely consequences of incorrect usage by the players and poor supervision by arcade attendants. 

Indeed, Taito lost a class action lawsuit regarding fractured wrists and the failure in reporting such injuries to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Following that Taito recalled all units from the United States, so, naturally, Sonic Blast Man is nearly impossible to find here in the States. This lawsuit spooked nearly every maker of physical strength based games, and the fad died as quickly as it was born. Politics, not Kryptonite, killed Sonic Blast Man. Fortunately, this game is not as difficult to find in less lawsuit happy countries such as the United Kingdom and Japan, but what an expensive way to hit a glorified punching bag. 

It's difficult to explain why punching a circular bag attached to a steel pole over and over is fun, but it was. Men just love to hit stuff, and Sonic Blast Man certainly helped them with that. Sonic Blast man was an amazingly social game in a less than social atmosphere. Gamers are usually too engrossed in the game for small talk, and, worse yet, many gamers are antisocial to begin with. This was a great game to break the ice with those guys you always see but never get a chance to talk to.

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Community review by whelkman (May 26, 2008)

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