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by Sotenga - July 21, 2013

Borench (ボレンチ) - Arcade (1990)


Sega has dabbled into just about every potential genre of game in existence. They've proven their worth with action-platformers like Alex Kidd and Sonic the Hedgehog, racers like OutRun and Sega Rally, beat-em-ups like Golden Axe and Streets of Rage, RPGs like Phantasy Star and Skies of Arcadia, and several genre-defying hits like Shenmue and jet Set Radio. Those are the big ones everyone knows about, but there's also a grand amount of games that no one remembers quite as readily. Obscure non-hits like Dynamite Dux, Crack Down, and Aurail were quite good games in their own right but never caught too much public attention. This is also the case with an obscure active puzzle game known by the mystery term Borench. The origin of the word "Borench" itself is completely obscure, but perhaps it's a nonsense word meaning "the act of placing ramps to guide balls to safety." Even if not Sega's most outwardly impressive software at first glance, this humble game is quite addictive and requires fast reaction, quick thinking, and a little luck to get far.

The objective of each level is to guide the ball to the goal at the end while avoiding numerous pits around the board, not unlike Marble Madness. Totally unlike Marble Madness, however, you have no direct control over the ball. It moves of its own accord and keeps rolling in a straight line unless the terrain of the board causes it to change direction. This is where you come in, as you control a cursor able to place directional triangular angles on board squares. These angles are color-coded so you can associate a specific angle with the corresponding color: Green for upper-left, blue for upper-right, yellow for lower-left, and red for lower-right. You have no direct control over the ramps you are given, but if an unfavorable one comes up, just guide the cursor over any hole in the board and the next one up will appear. The ball's direction changes depending on where the long side of the angle will direct it, but if you hit the flat side of the angle, your balls crashes and loses a life. You get three lives per play, and if you lose one or have to continue, you start at the very beginning of the track. The ball also gradually changes from blue to red the longer it stays on the board and rolls uncontrollably faster, so the quicker you can reach the finish line, the better.

Your ball can be slowed down if you run through one of the many question marks placed around the board, most of which give you bonus points in addition to dropping the speed and a rare few bestowing a bonus life. There's a fair deal of risk/reward consideration as you have to think on the fly whether going out of your way to grab some question marks would be overall beneficial or detrimental to your eventual success. Still, if you feel your ball is ever going too slow, there's a second button you can hold to speed it up, but it's only recommended to do this if you've already set down your ball path. Sometimes, your ramp roster will occasionally come across a "plus tile," a special square that doesn't influence the ball's decision, but instead enables any tile to have ramps placed on them. This may seem like a relatively benign feature, but it becomes essential to survival in later levels. Every square your ball rolls over becomes a dead "X" tile and your ball will perish if it rolls over them again, but the plus tile allows for safe passage. Some stages feature "X" tiles already spread out on the board without even having traveled over them first. You can't place angles upon these "X" squares without laying a plus tile over them first, so they're crucial to survival.

There's not much else to say about how Borench plays, but it is attractive via its simplicity. This game gets quite hard quickly, with later boards instilling an increasing number of pitfalls mixed with "X" tiles. The ball speeds up faster in later levels and snagging as many question marks as you can becomes a borderline requirement. Those looking for a boosted challenge can start on level 3 or level 6 at the very beginning if they so choose. It's definitely an overall no-frills game and the straightforward graphical style speaks for its low-key design. The graphics definitely aren't bad - the isometric perspective is handled well and the parallax of the board beneath the background is quite impressive - but they're not meant to dazzle, simply provide your field of view. There's not too much to say about the music either, though the main tune is well done and fairly catchy, with a pretty amusing panic tune that immediately pipes up when your ball's in imminent danger. Borench qualifies as one of those hidden gems, a game not very well-known amongst a company's release history but deserves to have more light shed on it. It's not Sonic the Hedgehog or OutRun or any of the above-mentioned all-time hits, and it hasn't made the transition to any known home compilations. No one can really determine why it didn't catch on (Weird name? Spartan design? Somewhat steep challenge curve?), but in spite of its foibles, it's definitely worth giving a roll if you can track it down.

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Borench (Arcade)

Borench (Arcade)

Borench (Arcade)

Borench (Arcade)

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