Kaizō Chōjin Schbibinman
Kaizō Chōjin Schbibinman ("Restructuring Super Human Schbibinman"; also spelled "Shubibinman", which is a more literal romanization) is a series of 4 side-scrolling action platformers that differ greatly from each other. Put out by NCS/Masiya, a developer mostly known for strategy RPGs such as Langrisser, it takes a satirical view on henshin anime/live action like Kamen Rider, mecha, science fiction, and lots more by taking staples of those genres, such as transforming into an armored hero and making dumb poses, and amplifying the wackiness to an obscene amount. While none of these games particularly present anything new or innovative to the genre, they're all quite well made and very fun.
NCS pretty much got their start on NEC's hardware. In the late 1980s, they established themselves with games like Gaia no Monshoō, Gaiflame, and Moto Roader. They'd primarily stick with the PC Engine throughout the 16-bit era, occasionally straying to put something out on Super Famicom, or more frequently, the Mega Drive. Schbibinman was their first attempt at a console-style action game, and with that in mind, Schbibinman is a pretty admirable effort. Unfortunately, the series is almost completely unheard of in the US, its second installment being the only one to make it to our shores under the title Shockman.
Kaizō Chōjin Schbibinman is the story of two Japanese school kids named Tasuke and Kyapiko, who are in fact androids built by a mad scientist known only as Doc. Doc, who shares a bit of a resemblance with Doc Brown from Back to the Future, built Tasuke and Kyapiko with the ability to morph into armored superheroes known as Schbibinman. Their plight is to battle the evil forces of Dark Skull, an obvious knock-off of Darth Vader and Doc's first attempt at a cybernetic organism who went rogue and established a gang of goons called the Skull Force. The Skull Force are trying to take over the city and have captured civilians in various locations. As the Schbibinman, you must take back the city, one building at a time, rescue the hostages, and defeat Dark Skull and his gang.
That's about all the story there is to Schbibinman. If you want story, NCS has plenty of awesome strategy games for you. But Schbibinman was their outlet to focus entirely on action. One of the great things about the series in general is that you can play with both characters simultaneously in 2-player mode. Or you can just pick one or the other, although they function exactly the same in this game. Once you've chosen a character, you start off on a world map that looks much like the map from Starfox. From Doc's lab, you can move to one of three Skull Force-controlled buildings in the city, from which three paths branch off and occasionally cross. You can go back and forth and clear every stage, though, so you're not restricted to one path.
After selecting a stage, it plays out in standard action game fashion. You can attack with a sword and jump, and that's pretty much it at first. After you've hacked and slashed your way through a stage, collecting gold along the way, you'll face a boss, either a mecha or a three-headed dragon that looks a bit like Gidra. Once you've beaten the boss, the hostage held in that stage will give you some kind of reward. Usually, it's more gold or a healing item, but occasionally, the hostage will join you and allow you to use their services, such as the case with the nurse who will heal you whenever you visit her.
With the gold you get from enemies and hostages, you can buy upgrades from Doc. These upgrades can increase your maximum health, make your weapon stronger, or give you the power to charge energy and unleash the Schbibin Buster, a powerful beam that can also be upgraded. This element of upgradability is great and all, but the gameplay is still almost brought down by a crippling flaw. The jump control is horrible. It's very sluggish, somewhat unresponsive, and you always seem to fall short of your targeted landing point.
Schbibinman looks pretty sweet for a game as old as it is. While most early PC Engine games didn't look much better than games you'd normally see on NES, Master System, or MSX, Schbibinman looks more akin to a Genesis or an early SNES game. The color palette is vibrant, the sprites are pretty and have a decent amount of animation, and the overall atmosphere of the game is nice. The only glaring problem is that the same three stage motifs are constantly reused until you reach Dark Skull's lair.
Schbibinman also has some really catchy music for a HuCard game. Even though the same three tunes are used over and over, it's really hard to get tired of them. There's even some rather clear voice samples for Tasuke and Kyapiko, something of a rarity for non-CD games of the era.
Schbibinman 2: Aratanaru Teki ("A New Enemy") seems to take place quite a bit after the first game. Tasuke is no longer a student and works as a cook in a local restaurant. Kyapiko is still going to school, but looks a bit older, too. These days, there isn't much action going on. Ever since the fall of Dark Skull, Doc has been concocting paranoid conspiracy theories that an invasion is at hand, and he's been sending the two Schbibinman out on wild goose chases. However, one such goose chase turns out to be legit, and it is revealed that an alien empire lead by an emperor named Ryo is plotting to take over the world, but this is only uncovered after Doc is kidnapped. Not only that, but a mysterious duo of villains possessing powers similar to the Schbibinman have appeared. These two Dark Schbibinman, named Jeeta and Mue, are out to kill Tasuke and Kyapiko.
The first thing you'll notice when you begin a game in Schbibinman 2 is that it looks the same, but plays entirely different. The swordplay has been removed. Now you bring down enemies with a ranged weapon that can be charged, just like Mega Man's Mega Buster. The changes are both good and bad. While the action elements of the game are far more refined, and jump control has been fixed, the game feels a lot more dumbed down. No more world map, no more upgrades, no more hostages. It feels like an entirely different game altogether. Not only is the gameplay different, but the aura of the game has changed. The silliness has been taken down to the point where it's almost completely gone aside from Doc's antics. The game tries to be a lot more serious, and fails miserably at it by using the same plot elements we've seen dozens of times already on NES with games like Ninja Gaiden.
Everything else, however, has improved. The graphics are infinitely better than the first game, with much cleaner sprites and more detailed, multi-layered backgrounds. There's also a lot more variety in the stages, each one being unique. There's even a pair of fairly long horizontal shooter stages, which are almost the best parts of the game. The music quality and variety have increased drastically as well, although none of the themes alone compare to some of the better tunes from the first game.
In all, Schbibinman 2 is quite vexing. It's a step down from the first game in just as many ways as it's a step up, so it's very difficult to say whether it's better or worse. The games are so different, they're almost beyond the capacity to be compared accurately, and this is a little nuance that seems to be repeated with each successive game in the series. Fortunately, one thing that has remained the same is the ability to play a 2-player game with a friend.
Schbibinman 2 was the only game in the series to be brought to the US. It was redubbed Shockman, and the existence of the first game was not acknowledged. Tasuke and Kyapiko have been renamed Arnold and Sonya, because in the early 1990s, publishers seemed to think that any exposure to Japanese culture would make American children's heads explode. At least they didn't horrible alter the cover artwork like most Japanese 16-bit games at the time. Humorously, the script for both Arnold and Sonya's game remains the same, so characters constantly refer to Sonya as a male.
Schbibinman 3: Ikai no Princess ("Princess of Another World") takes place some time after Schbibinman 2. The world is fairly peaceful and Tasuke and Kyapiko have taken a long vacation. One day, while sunbathing on the beach, Tasuke and Kyapiko are attacked by a space ship, the captain of which being a princess from another world. Naturally, Tasuke and Kyapiko transform and do battle with the princess and her henchmen, and after beating them to a pulp, it's revealed that the princess is in fact just trying to enlist the help of the Schbibiman to save her homeworld from the clutches of an evil warlord named Kargan. So now the Schbibiman must travel to the princess's world and battle Kargan and his minions.
Schbibiman 3 has once again completely changed its shape, only now it more closely resembles the first game rather than Schbibiman 2/Shockman. The swords are back, as is the more traditional Schbibin Buster, only now it can be remote controlled once it's fired. Doing this and keeping your character out of harm's way at the same time is quite difficult, though. Not all is well, however. The gameplay feels more dumbed down than ever before. The complexity of the boss battles from Schbibiman 2 is gone, now replaced with boss fights that are little more than shootouts. The platforming elements are also gone. Most of the terrain is flat and you're hardly ever required to jump. In fact, if it weren't for one particular part where you have to wall-jump to escape a lava flow, it's likely a player would never even notice the characters had the ability to do so.
The emphasis this time seems to be on combat. You're constantly being bombarded with enemies at insane rates, sometimes 6, 7, 8 appearing on the screen at the same time. Because of this, you're going to get hit, a lot. Luckily, the game makes up for this by providing plenty of healing items and continues. Enemies commonly drop continue points, and once you collect 100, you'll acquire a continue. Unfortunately, although the swords came back, the upgrades didn't. Quite a few ideas from Schbibinman 2 didn't make the cut either, although there is one horizontal shooter stage much like the ones from Schbibinman 2. All in all, it's a good game, but something feels amiss. The game feels somewhat rushed and broken. It lacks any sort of solid structure and constantly jumps from one thing to the next without any sort of transition, which is fairly jarring, a flaw that makes it the weakest of the quadrilogy.
On the really bright side, Schbibinman 3 is simply gorgeous. It's one of the better looking PC Engine CD games from that early in the console's run. The really wow-inducing titles that most people know of, like Dracula X and Legend of Xanadu, wouldn't be seen for a while. Schbibinman 3 opens with a fairly impressive, fully voice acted intro, and the artwork is fairly well-drawn. In-game, there are some really huge, impressive, and very well-animated sprites, like the huge flying dragon in the aforementioned shooter stage. The game also marks the return of the silly style that made the first game so enjoyable. Like most PC Engine CD games, Schbibinman 3 sports a pretty bitchin' hard rock soundtrack full of all that cheesy '80s synth crap that PC Engine CD fans adore the heck out of, and should please anyone who's a fan of games like Ys and Langrisser.
After three games on NEC's hardware, NCS/Masiya wandered off and produced the next Schbibinman title on the Super Famicom. It was created in 1994, but didn't see a release until 1997, when it became available via download from the Satellaview, which was the Super Famicom's equivalent to the Sega Channel. The fates of Tasuke and Kyapiko are left unknown, and the game features two new heroes named Raita and Azuki. The new Schbibinman must battle against the B.B. Dan Battlemizers, a force of goons lead by the obnoxious Galko and her trusted henchman, Kagemaru.
Following the trend of the series, Schbibinman Zero is completely different from the previous games. Now it functions more like a beat-em-up, but it still controls like a platformer. The two heroes are quite different this time around. Raita uses boxing maneuvers and Azuki uses the classic Schbibinman sword. Both characters still have the ability to charge and unleash the Schbibin Buster, only now it has a new purpose in 2-player mode. When both players charge their Schbibin simultaneously, and one character fires and hits the other, they will be energized from the blast and flash white for a few seconds. If the other player fires their Schbibin during this period, they will unleash a Super Schbibin Buster, a devastating attack that can cripple even the strongest bosses. The two characters each have their own unique Super Schbibin, and this new element adds a whole new level of teamwork to the 2-player game.
The level design is better than ever. Many of the stages are multi-tiered, offering the ability to move up and down between the different heights of the stages, which makes it possible to get the drop on enemies from above or below. The boss fights are more intuitive and the bosses themselves have complex patterns. It's no longer just a shoot out. This offers a lot more challenge. Also boosting the difficulty is the very limited health bar. At first, you can only take four hits before you die, and you only have 3 continues to use, which must be shared with the partner in 2-player mode. Fortunately, as you run through the stages and collect a myriad of bonus items, you'll gain experience points and level up, which tacks on another hit to the health meter.
The graphics are pretty bland, but this is typical of a Satellaview game. The sprites have smooth animation, but overall, they're rather ugly. The stages are somewhat boring and static, and only a few have multi-layered backgrounds and parallax scrolling. (The first stage does have some stores called "Super Aniki", a reference to NCS's Cho Aniki series.) The music is fairly catchy, like in all the previous titles, but going from CD format to chip-based sound hardware is a difficult thing to accept, even though it does sound nicely like a Mega Man X title. Despite the lax presentation, the great gameplay makes Schbibinman Zero one of the better games in the series, if not the best, and one of the few good games available on the Satellaview. All in all, Schbibinman Zero closes out what was one of NCS/Masaya's best franchises.