VHS Revival’s Jason Breininger brings you all the arcade and console news from Fall of 1987.
The year was 1987. I was a young boy obsessed with video games, horror films and MTV. Arcades were still extremely popular hangouts for me and my friends. The Nintendo Entertainment System was all the rage in my town, and I was on the verge of getting my own that December. The Sega Master System was also in stores in 1987, but definitely playing catch-up due to the NES’s head start and exclusive titles. With consoles taking centre stage, home computers would remain prevalent thanks to economically priced offerings from Commodore, Atari, Apple, IBM and Amiga. In this article, I take a walk down memory lane to review the latest and greatest arcade, computer and home console releases from the Fall of 1987.
Sega releases Shinobi having already released Super Hang On and After Burner earlier in the year. 1986-87 was a banner couple of years for Sega’s arcade division, and Shinobi would become one of their most memorable ’80s games and a big arcade seller.
The gameplay of Shinobi is basic action platformer. You play as master ninja Joe Musashi, whose mission is to stop terrorist organization the Ring of Five. They have kidnapped children of the world’s leaders, and you must rescue them while using stealth techniques learned over the course of your life. You have weapons such as throwing stars, swords, nunchucks and other long distance weapons such as bombs, knives and guns. You also have your fists and legs to deliver lethal blows, if necessary.
Each larger level has sub-levels you must complete before confronting one of the game’s five bosses. Between certain levels – depending on the success you have with rescuing the kidnapped children – you are provided an opportunity via a bonus level to achieve additional magic skills. Hopefully you’ll be better at these than I am as they are quite tough to master! Luckily, these magic skills are not mandatory for completing the game, but certainly make passages in the game easier to complete.
For me, Shinobi is a quintessential arcade action platformer. The graphics are good and the controls are easy to master. Your ninja character can jump up and down different levels on the screen by pressing the direction on the joystick, followed by the jump button, a departure from the simultaneous ‘up-and-jump’ platformers of the time.
The enemies become a bit redundant, but the boss fights are interesting and quite large. Also, Spider-Man makes an odd appearance as an enemy in level 2….huh? Bottom line, ninjas were all the rage among us pre-teens in the late ’80s and Shinobi fed into that trend perfectly.
Nintendo Entertainment System
In late 1987, Capcom unleashed a generically-titled game with horrific box art called Mega Man. Also known as Rockman in Japan, Mega Man starred a little blue character who could fire weapons from his arm, aka the Mega Buster. Of course, the Mega Man in the video game looked nothing like the abomination drawn on the box cover. The video game version was way cuter, cuddlier and less….human? I don’t know exactly what game was described to the artist tasked with this assignment, but I cannot imagine that he or she actually played one second of Mega Man before setting forth on completing this task.
First off, he’s holding a gun instead of having a gun arm. Second, he’s got an awful lot of yellow in his suit. I double checked the amount of yellow in Mega Man’s suit in the game itself and the amount was significantly less. Well, zero yellow actually. Did I mention that he looks human on the cover? Mega Man most definitely is not a human. Also, palm trees in the background? The game takes place in a mechanically advanced future where robots are so prevalent that even common animals such as dogs and birds have been replaced by robotic ones. This is the kind of box art that should have buried the game as a forgotten relic, but thankfully, enough people actually played it to give it life after ridicule.
It’s no secret that the original Mega Man is tough. It takes the same basic premise that would be used for all future 8 bit Mega Mans, 6 in total. Mega Man was created by Dr. Light, and his assistant, Dr. Wily, has turned evil and transformed Dr. Light’s creations into minions for his world domination scheme, and you must defeat the end-of-level bosses, collecting their weapons along the way.
What made this game so unique was the ability to play through the levels in any order you choose. There were certainly easier paths to Dr. Wily than others, and part of the fun of the game is replaying and figuring out which weapons work best on which bosses. Mega Man is great fun, but its lack of save feature made it extremely difficult to beat. The NES series would see better offerings, but the extremely popular long running Mega Man franchise had to get its start somewhere, and this is a solid if unrefined first outing.
Maniac Mansion was a Lucasfilm release that found its way onto the Commodore 64, Apple II, Amiga, Atari ST and IBM computers. A point and click graphic adventure game, it told the story of a mad scientist, Dr. Edison (no relation to Thomas), and a missing girlfriend of teenage protagonist Dave Miller.
Dave recruits his eclectic group of friends, with names such as Syd and Razor, into the mansion in order to find her. The gang must solve puzzles and avoid interacting with members of the Edison family who will ultimately kill them if they are found.
The game was praised for it’s offbeat humor and unique plot and gameplay. There was a slightly watered down and censored port of the game on the NES a few years later that took out any sexual references, as benign as they may have been at the time, but you still get to microwave a hamster!
The quintessential version of Maniac Mansion was for the home computer, and while I have no experience of this version, I had a friend growing up who owned a Commodore 64, and he praises this game to this day.
Sega Master System
In late 1987, Sega was attempting to keep up with the big dog on the home console block, Nintendo, and so far wasn’t succeeding. Sega chose to fight back by releasing a unique and dedicated peripheral to make their fledgling Master System console seem state-of-the-art in comparison to the NES. As a result, the SegaScope 3-D Glasses were released in several regions in late 1987.
These 3-D glasses were slightly bulkier than a normal pair of glasses which would then plug into the game card slot on the front of the Master System model 1. Since the model 2 Master System did not include a card slot, the 3-D glasses could not be used with that version of the console, but by the time the model 2 Master System was released, the 3-D glasses and game sales had all but dried up.
The SegaScope 3-D glasses could be bought separately, or they were also bundled with certain Master Systems along with Missile Defense 3-D built into the console. I feel like the glasses mostly work well in some games, but generally offer blurry gameplay. Once my daughters saw them they wanted to give them a try and they were unimpressed. Their claims were that the games were simply blurry and not really in 3-D, but they don’t have perspective in mind when using them like I do. I think they are much better than the cheap glasses you got with Rad Racer or 3-D World Runner for the NES, which is only fair since they were free.
My favorite game released for the glasses was Missile Defense 3-D. I think the effects are cool, and, most importantly, the game is fun. It requires both the 3-D glasses and light phaser, so if you’re playing this game on original hardware, have someone take a picture or video of you all geared up blasting away at enemy missiles attempting to destroy your city in this cold war classic. The Sega Scope 3-D glasses may be a collectable novelty today, but back in 1987 they were cutting edge and highly desirable for Master System owners.
Jason Breininger: Author and Chief Games Writer
Retro gaming enthusiast and blogger that grew up on the classics from the 80’s and 90’s. Enjoying the process of documenting my extensive video game collection & providing personal retro gaming experiences on my Cartridge Corner blog.
My wife and two daughters, classic video games, Alien franchise, the music of Prince, the films of Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, and Jack Nicholson, indie rock, classic hip-hop from the golden era of ’87-’94, musician related biographies.