Review by YusakuG
"Yes, it's a Final Fight-clone, but it's got attractive girls in obscenely short skirts, and talking cats! That makes all the difference..."
The Japanese game company, Bandai, has been referred to by many as the ''Acclaim of Japan''. In a way, that's a fairly accurate comparison. Just like Acclaim, Bandai specializes in making rushed to the market games based on popular licenses. While Acclaim mainly focuses on movies, sports, and wrestling, Bandai focuses on hot anime licenses. And in the early 90s, one of the hottest anime franchises around was the ''magical girl'' anime series, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon. (''Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon'') When the show became a runaway hit in Japan, Bandai quickly jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to cash in with many video game incarnations. This average beat 'em up for the Super Famicom was one of the first games.
The game loosely follows the plot of the show's first season. Usagi (Moon), Ami (Mercury), Rae (Mars), Makoto (Jupiter), and Minako (Venus) are five teenage girls who were once warriors born from their respective planets centuries ago. It was their job to defend the Moon Kingdom and its royal family from all enemies. However, when the Dark Kingdom invaded the moon with a surprise attack, the peaceful Moon Kingdom fell, and not even the five Sailor Soldiers could save it. The ruler of the moon used the last amount of her power she had to have the five Sailors be reincarnated in the future, hoping they could lead peaceful lives away from the threat of the Dark Kingdom. The girls have no memories of their past on the moon, and lead normal lives.
Now, in the present day, the Dark Kingdom has returned, and is now threatening earth. Two talking cats named Luna and Artemis (the only survivors of the initial attack on the moon) have tracked down the five former Sailor Soldiers, and have restored their memories of their past lives and their long-dormant powers. Their powers are needed to stop Queen Beryl, the ruler of the Dark Kingdom, and prevent earth from meeting the same fate the moon did centuries ago.
With a story like that, it's not hard to understand Bandai's desire to turn it into a video game. I mean, attractive teenage girls in semi-revealing outfits with super powers fighting alien invaders? How could any video game company turn down a premise like that? Unfortunately, Bandai decided to go with the tried (and somewhat tired) tradition of such games as Final Fight and Streets of Rage.
As the game opens, you (or you and a friend in 2 player mode), choose one of the five girls. Each Sailor Soldier has her own strengths and weaknesses, so it's really a matter of player preference. You then proceed through five side-scrolling levels as you take on waves of brainless monster minions who attempt to prevent you from reaching the boss at the end. The Sailors take on the monsters with a variety of martial art moves. You can also do combination attacks by hitting the ''attack'' button repeatedly, stun enemies by holding down on the controller while you attack, and do two different kinds of throws (close and long-range).
Of course, what fun would a Sailor Moon game be if you didn't get access to their powers? If you hold down the ''attack'' button until the meter near the character's life bar is full, your Sailor of choice will unleash her elemental-based attack. However, these moves are actually not very useful in the game, as you become vulnerable to attack while you are charging up. You also can't use them on bosses, since they'll always dodge your attack, or strike you before you've charged up to full. It makes the inclusion of the powers kind of pointless in the end. You wind up mainly relying on physical strength to beat the enemies.
The Sailors also have their own unique desperation attack that you can utilize. This is a special attack that they can use if they become surrounded by enemies. However, you should use this attack sparingly, as it takes away a portion of your life bar. Fortunately, there are many power ups that can be found during the course of the game that can replenish health.
Okay, so far, this game sounds like your basic generic Final Fight clone, right? Well, for the most part it is, but at least Bandai tried something a little bit different. You're graded on your performance for each level. You get a grade ranging from an ''A'' to an ''E'' based on your performance. (No F) Everything that happens during the course of the level seems to affect the grade you earn. These include the number of points you earn, how many power ups and items you picked up, how often you died during the level, and if you had to use a continue. I don't know if you get any special bonuses or something if you get straight A's across all five levels. I think it's just a form of incentive to try to beat the game with an all around better grade average.
For a game that's mainly an uninspired rehash of a tested formula, the graphics are actually very good for 16 Bit. The character sprites are surprisingly large and detailed, and look almost exactly like their anime counterparts. The sprites for the five Sailors are even proportioned properly according to height (Makoto/Jupiter being the tallest of the girls). The enemy sprites are just as detailed as the regular characters. The backgrounds are nice, but kind of bland, with the same kind of areas we expect in these kind of side scrolling beat 'em up games (city streets, shopping district, etc.). The only area where the graphics slip is that enemies repeat themselves too often during the levels. A bit more variety would have been appreciated.
The sound is about as average and ''middle of the road'' as the gameplay. The music has an appropriate exciting beat to get you in the fighting spirit, but it's certainly nothing that you'll be humming after you turn the game off. The sound effects are average as well, with rather weak sounding whacks when one of your punches or kicks connects with an enemy. There are some voice samples from the Sailors, though. They're nothing much, but it's fun for the fans of the show.
There are two main complaints I have with this game. The first is that this game is just so painfully uninspired. There's virtually no innovation whatsoever. This is another case of taking popular licensed characters, and throwing them into a generic video game format that could have featured just about anyone. Aside from the characters and the Sailors' signature powers and attacks, you probably wouldn't be able to tell that this is a Sailor Moon game.
My other main complaint is with the game's hit direction. There are many times when it seems like a hit should connect with an enemy, but the monster will just walk right through your punch or kick unharmed. This makes the game extremely frustrating, and it does not need any added frustration. (Good luck trying to beat Queen Beryl at the end of the game. That cheap bitch is guaranteed to send your controller flying at your TV screen.)
Overall, it's clearly evident that this game was rushed to market. Its only purpose was to quickly cash in on one of the more popular anime franchises in Japan at the time. But, apparently people bought it, because Bandai kept on churning out many more Sailor Moon games (many released during the same year even). The game is fun for a while if you're a fan of the show, because it gives you a chance to play as your favorite characters. Unfortunately, the uninspired gameplay guarantees that this game will ultimately end up sitting on the shelf in the end.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 02/26/02, Updated 06/09/03
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