I’m just going to be upfront and get this out of the way. I know close to nil about the TurboGrafx-16! I may have seen screenshots here and there of its games (Bonk’s Adventure comes to mind), but I’ve never played a single one of them, nor have I ever seen the physical console in person!!
It was most likely a product of where I grew up combined with the consoles relatively low adoption in North America. The fact that it was discontinued around 1994 probably didn’t help either. Which was around the time I really started coming into my own with regards to playing video games. I mean, you could barely find Sega Genesis games let alone something like the TurboGrafx in my hometown. One thing I can say is that it always intrigued me. This oddity of a console, with a ton of interesting games on those weird little game cards! How does it all work?!!
When I found Keith Courage it was actually sitting, of all places, with the music CDs in my local Goodwill. At first I didn’t think anything on it, but after a second glance my eyes lit up!! Is that what I think it is?! A video game! – needless to say I was excited. I’ve never encountered a TurboGrafx game, EVER, and now one was in my hand for $0.99 + tax! I promptly scoured Goodwill up and down, back and front hoping to find the system as well, but unfortunately it just wasn’t there.
To this day I still haven’t been able to find the console at a price I’m willing to pay, but I’ve been dying to try out this weird little HuCard. I’m generally not a big fan of emulation as I’d prefer to be able to play the game on actual hardware and to hold the real controller in my hands, but it was really my only option in this case so I just had to deal with it. I at least feel a little better knowing that I actually own the game.
Now I’m on a mission to broaden my TurboGrafx-16 horizons and with Keith Courage being my sole game on the console let’s start here, why the heck not right?!
If I’m going to say one thing about Keith Courage’s presentation it’s that the cover art for the game (at least the US version) threw me off a bit. The cover definitely exudes the 80’s and western comic books of the time, so before popping this bad boy in I was expecting a much more “American” look to the game. To my surprise (and satisfaction) it turned out to be more of a cutesy, fantasy anime with a dash of mech! ?
Which really shouldn’t surprise me since the cover art for many Japanese games have been adapted to suit the North American audience once it was localized. I’d be much more likely to pick the game up though if I saw the badass Japanese cover art sitting on the shelf in a local game store.
What really blew my mind though was that, in Japan, Keith Courage was actually an adaptation of the anime series Mashin Eiyūden Wataru (Spirit Hero Wataru). I’ll talk about the differences a little later, but outside of the game itself the Japanese version might as well have been a completely different product! Which explained why there was such a big discrepancy between the US cover art and the ingame graphics. I can understand though, at least for this game, since it was based on an anime that many North American gamers probably didn’t recognize or even knew existed. But dang that Japanese cover art is cool!
For the most part the graphics in Keith Courage are big, colorful and fun, albeit a little simplistic. The game consists of seven zones each split into an “overworld” and an “underworld” section. Each level is basically just a simple color pallete swap of previous zones. The backgrounds aren’t much to write home about, but some of the platforming landscape is surprisingly detailed for a 8-bit system. Well, I guess the TurboGrafx-16 did have a 16-bit graphics processor. It kind of reminds me of what Sega did with Alex Kidd on the SEGA Master System. Although some of the enemy designs are interesting and weird there are only a few different enemy sprites. Again just palette swapped throughout the game to let you know they’re getting stronger, obviously!
The characters and boss designs on the other hand have a little more going for them. With a lot more detail you can really see the anime references, which is a good thing. It’s really too bad that for the most part the rest of the game’s graphics didn’t follow suit. I had to look at the manual to figure out what the heckfire I was actually looking at half the time! But all is not lost!! When you enter the underworld portion of each zone you get to transform into a super sweet chibi robot!! NOW I feel better.
Where in some parts the graphics may fall short or lack that extra little oomph the music never really leaves ground level. I think there might be four tracks total; overworld, underworld, boss fight and ending. I’m sure there is more variation in the music, but honestly it definitely didn’t feel like it. Regardless, no tracks were really very exciting or memorable and all were very repetitive. Gradually they just became more and more grating the more hours of play you put in!!
In Keith Courage you are presented as… Well, Keith Courage an agent of the organization N.I.C.E. (Nations of International Citizens for Earth) and you are tasked with defeating the members of B.A.D. (Beastly Alien Dudes) who have come to Earth on a meteorite seeking to enslave and destroy its citizens. Who are obviously a huge threat because they’re beastly and chose to refer to themselves as Dudes…
All you have is your sword, a cute little robot called the Nova Suit and your rugged good looks of course. Now it’s up to you to traverse the Alpha Zones and smite the evil agents of B.A.D.! Now that’s a story!!
And it’s the story that really separates the US release from the Japanese one. Where in the US version you are an agent of some “we need to make an acronym” organization and you need to defeat a group of baddies from “here’s another acronym” posse that is trying to destroy Earth. In the Japanese version you are actually a 9 year old boy named Wataru that was transported to this mystical realm called Soukaizan by a dragon and you need to save the world from a demonic entity. Also, instead of having to traverse the B.A.D. hideout known as the Alpha Zones, it’s in fact a multilayered dungeon that the world is built upon. The original story reminds me a lot of Sword Art Online or a similar anime, which in my opinion would have been so much more interesting!! Why NEC?! Why would you change it?!
I wish I could say the gameplay is where Keith Courage shines, but unfortunately that’s not the case. To someone who grew up with the TurboGrafx this game may have been a classic that you have many fond memories of playing. But to me, as a TurboGrafx newbie, the controls were just floaty, imprecise and frustrating! The jump in particular was difficult to gauge and you didn’t alway know if you were going to land on that platform or hit your head off the ceiling or land in that pit of spikes! I’m positive this isn’t indicative to the TurboGrafx as a whole, but this is my first game on the system, and I’m judgmental. ?
There isn’t much to be said about the gameplay mechanics either. You can attack, jump and shoot a special weapon (if you have any in stock). This doesn’t change much either whether you’re in your human form or the Nova Suit form. Though unlike Keith your Nova Suit moves significantly faster than cold molasses!! And the experience in these sections is much more entertaining.
As you explore the overworld you will encounter various shops that can help you along the way. There is a wizard who sells you special weapon refills (this is the only way I know how to restock them), a nurse who will refill your health for a price and a weaponsmith who will sell you upgrades to your sword. The weird thing is that the upgrade is only effective for your Nova Suit, you, vanilla Keith Courage have to deal with the same ole sword throughout the whole adventure! There is also one more character that you can talk to, but all he really does is babble some nonsense about saving the world or something. At first you may be put off by how expensive these charlatan’s wares are, but you’ll soon find out that all you need to do is grind the money out before each underworld section. Luckily this isn’t very difficult and doesn’t take very long.
I do appreciate that the amount of damage you take seems to have no rhyme or reason, which usually ends up being in your favor. You can get hit 10+ times and never lose a heart while other times you get hit just once and lose two. Also, I’m not exactly sure how you increase your max hearts, but occasionally after picking up a heart item it not only refilled all of my health but it also gave me an extra heart! Fortunately, when you do die you get infinite continues with the only penalty being you lose half your money and half of your special weapon stock. It doesn’t set you back very far either, just to the beginning of the current section of the zone you died in. This can still be frustrating, especially if your trying to figure out how to defeat a boss, but for the most part it’s never really a problem.
I harp a bit on the controls and the overall jank of Keith Courage, but after putting a little time into it, it didn’t take very long to get used to how the game is played. Overall the game was pretty straightforward and easy with the exception of one or two of the bosses. The last boss in particular was a pain in my neck and I nearly gave up fighting him until I discover a neat little trick that made him pretty much a cake walk (it’s not cheating dangit!!).
Would I recommend the game?… probably. It’s not the greatest game I’ve ever played nor is it the worst game out there. I say it’s a unique experience on a console that not many people have had the luxury to play. If I’m going to be perfectly honest learning about the game’s actual Japanese roots made it all the more interesting, and for that, it’s definitely worth it. So for my sake and for the mere fact that you can say you’ve played a TurboGrafx-16 game, I’d say give it a shot. There’s not much to loose… other than your patience!! ?
The biggest question on everyone’s mind is, will Hudson Soft make a sequel to this glorious game?? Well, at the time they seemed to think so! What do you think the odds are these days? One can only hope~!! ?
So, what are your thoughts on the TurboGrafx-16? Have you played Keith Courage or any other games on the system?
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