Friday, May 8, 2009

50 Great Arcade Games # 11: Black Tiger

I didn't really pick up on Black Tiger until MAME some years ago(and today the Capcom Classics Collection volume 2, which you should really purchase if you haven't already). I guess this is partly due to the scary marquee art which depicted a rather freaky looking man with a ball & chain for an arm(even though it's pretty clear in the game that the hero has all of his limbs intact). I'm not exactly sure what Romstar(who distributed a number of early Capcom games to the arcades) was thinking when they came up with that one but it would take me several years before I recognized Black Tiger for its greatness.

In Black Tiger you go through eight rounds of ever increasing difficulty and complexity. The game is played from a side-view with a heavy emphasis on platforming and fighting, though there's also plenty of exploration to be done. Aside from hidden and not so hidden treasures you're bound to run into old men who need rescuing. They reward you with coins, extra time, vitality potions, and offer to sell you items like armor, antidotes(for the handful of poisonous enemies), keys for chests, and stronger flails. You're also free to explore optional dungeons throughout the game but aside from offering danger you also have to keep track of your remaining time as it is fairly limited.

The star of this game is a bare-chested man wielding a flail. Not only does this flail stretch a great distance the man flings daggers at the same time which go out in an forward/upward spread. Add in a moderately controllable jump(even when you jump straight up you can still move in either direction if need be) and quite a bit of flexibility(even when you're attacking you can still jump, which is important for any situation). Couple this with a health meter that increases with your score and the ability to buy & repair armor and you've got a pretty tough dude. 

Things aren't always this easy though as your adversaries are many in number. Most of these guys by themselves don't pose much of a threat but any combination of them can be quite devastating if you're not patient and have quick reflexes. Goblins and slimes are standard fare but you'll quickly find yourself facing off against Fire elementals, underground plants, mummies, invincible coins, and even ninjas. Your greatest foe however is a single falling rock. You'll hear a sound that one is about to fall but most of the time it's too late as a single hit from a rock will wipe you out instantly(armor and health are ignored). You can also fall into spikey pits for a similar fate. At the end of each round you face off against a boss. To break it down two of the bosses you'll face are blockheads who hop around and bounce off your weapon, trying to crush you. Three of the bosses including the final are fire-spewing dragons and they gain strength and different colors as you progress. There's one encounter with a spear-tossing demon and finally two fights with armored dragon-men. Most of these bosses are actually quite easy but if you've been exploring the stage you probably have little time left for these guys so you're more likely to get over-zealous and lose a life.

In the end it's a simplistic game yet it's still quite fantastic as it's among the most polished of Capcom's early efforts. The mechanics for example are extremely generous and allow for smart players to take advantage of particular enemy combinations. Also the pacing is quite well done as every stage throws just enough intensity into every screen that you're never suffering through long stretches with nothing happening. Also the zenny used for the shops is doled out at a good pace so even the strongest weapon becomes affordable when you really need it. While Black Tiger isn't really innovative or deep it succeeds quite admirably at everything it sets out to be and is a classic as far as I'm concerned. 

I would also like to mention that while Black Tiger is also a fairly easy game(I nearly 1CCed it earlier today aside from a run-in with a falling rock) for those seeking a high score it offers an additional level of challenge through the various optional dungeons in each round. The game clearly marks how to find both these and the boss monster through different-colored arrows placed on the background. It's a subtle yet welcome addition that allows the player to focus on what's around them.

No comments:

Post a Comment