I never really took to the Mortal Kombat series, you know. I played it a bunch in my youth, especially Mortal Kombat 3 because a friend owned it so we ended up playing a lot of the versus mode, but it felt like a poor relation when compared to the likes of Street Fighter II and SNK’s fighting games. The gameplay always felt kinda stodgy and unsatisfying to me and the digitised graphics put me off. Sorry, Mortal Kombat fans. Please don’t take my lack of interest as a criticism of your preferences, and if you do like Mortal Kombat then here are a bunch of magazine covers featuring the slaughtertastic punch-em-up series!

Nintendo Magazine System

Starting off with a pretty straightforward cover in an art style that’s perfectly good and does a fine job of representing these famous Mortal Kombat… you know, for a second I nearly wrote it as “kharacters” but forget that. I refuse to replace hard Cs with Ks until the games’ developers realise their mistake and rename Scorpion to Skorpion. Consistency is all I ask for.
But yeah, this is a solid cover, even if I question the decision to put Goro’s crotch directly in the centre of the image. It certainly does draw the eye towards it. Oh, and Kano’s knives look way too much like those plastic glow in the dark “haunted murderer” knives you get at Halloween to be threatening. Or perhaps that’s the point. If Kano can kill you with toy knifes that come in a set with a Ghostface mask and a bottle of fake blood, imagine the damage he could do with the real thing!

Nintendo Magazine System

Speaking of Kano, here he is again, sporting a forehead so vast I’m amazed a Texan land baron hasn’t tried to purchase it for cattle grazing space. Guile doesn’t look impressed. Mike Haggar looks like he always looks – absolutely furious all the time, which is great for fighting street punks but probably less helpful when he has to cut the ribbon at Metro City Hospital’s new maternity ward.

Electronic Gaming Monthly

Guile and Kano – I didn’t intend for this article to be so Kano-centric thus far, I swear – are paired up again, this time as djinn who have swapped the magical lamp for a Sega Saturn and a PlayStation respectively. You rub the consoles and out they pop, ready to grant a wish as long as that wish is “I’d like to see some scowling, please.”


At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking that Kano is Mortal Kombat’s main character. He really isn’t, although the decision to have a heart-removing criminal with a cybernetic face as the star would have been a refreshingly bold move. But who is Mortal Kombat’s main character? I always assumed it was Liu Kang, based on the usual fighting game hero metric of him being a boring kung fu man, but Liu Kang seems to get much less focus than Raiden the thunder god or the palette-swap ninjas, especially Sub Zero and Scorpion. I suppose it’s simply that Mortal Kombat doesn’t have a focal character in the vein of Street Fighter’s Ryu or Fatal Fury’s Terry Bogard.
As for this cover, it’s another perfectly acceptable comic-book illustration, and yet again Kano’s forehead has grown like the mighty oak. Sonya Blade’s spine is having a rough time at the (four) hands of Goro, and it’s those hands that interest me most about this image: are his nails black because he managed to accidentally slam all of them in a car door, or did he take the time to paint them before stepping onto the field of battle? Actually, painting your nails would be pretty great with four hands, you’d always have a pair free to use while you wait for the other pair to dry.

Sega Master Force

What do we think? Was the decision to have Goro cupping the “pull-out poster” blurb in a manner very reminiscent of a Street Fighter throwing a hadoken an intentional reference to Capcom’s fighting franchise, or was it merely a coincidence that I picked up on because I’ve wasted years of my life playing videogames and absorbing their ephemera? You decide!

Electronic Games

I would very much like someone to attempt to draw a picture of Ryu’s skull based on the physiology presented in this image. I was also interested to learn that Raiden’s lighting powers are the celestial equivalent of a joy buzzer. Neither of these two videogame titans really look like they’re into it, do they? It all seems a bit half-hearted, which is a good metaphor for the “Street Fighter versus Mortal Kombat!” rivalry – or the rivalry between any two similar videogames franchises or competing consoles. These things were endlessly talked up in the games media of the time, especially Sega versus Nintendo, and while I remember the occasional argument it’s my recollection that most people I knew back then were aware you could like both things. All the kids I knew would have killed to have a SNES and a MegaDrive and only didn’t because of the cost. Of course, in the case of Street Fighter II versus Mortal Kombat it’s absolutely no contest and Street Fighter blows Mortal Kombat out of the water.


In which Kano is extremely amused to see Sub-Zero skanking towards him like an over-excited teenager at their first Reel Big Fish gig. I can hear the trumpets while looking at this picture.


Moving on to Mortal Kombat II, and this cover is almost arranged in the formation that Warhammer 40,000 fans would call a “battle pile” - everyone clumped together in a large mound of furious rage and dangerously impractical bladed weapons. I’m mostly thinking of Kung Lao and his razor-brimmed hat. All the Shaolin monks sitting around, watching Goldfinger and saying “you know, I think that Oddjob chap was on to something.” Now that’s an origin story.

Nintendo Power

Most of the covers so far have been goofy comic book fun, but then Nintendo Power comes out with a genuinely disturbing take on Scorpion. For once the undead assassin looks like a creature raised up from hell rather than a Halloween costume with another Halloween mask under the ninja costume. It’s the eyes that do it, clouded and blank. It’s such an effective look, in fact, that it took me a long time to notice the very ugly dragon at the top of the cover. The dragon is probably upset that Milky-Eyed Corpse Scorpion is hogging all the attention that dragons usually get.

Electronic Gaming Monthly

This is definitely my favourite cover of the lot. Three serious-looking warriors, plus the sword-armed wasteland mutant Baraka, who is throwing said sword-arms around his pals as they have a their photo taken in a gesture of camaraderie so pure and wholesome it makes you overlook Baraka being a sword-armed wasteland mutant. “Man, this vacation has been the best,” says Baraka, “I love you guys. I can’t wait until next year’s trip!”


A wide variety of Mortal Kombat characters (plus Sonic the Hedgehog) appear on this cover, from familiar faces like Johnny Cage to… a buff tiger man? I don’t remember there being any buff tiger men in Mortal Kombat, although to be fair I haven’t played a Mortal Kombat game since MK Trilogy so there’s probably at least a couple of buff animal men in the roster by now. Intrigued, I looked up this issue of the magazine and found that the tiger-man was originally intended to be a playable character called Kintaro who was later cut. According to the magazine feature, the reason he was cut was that “a costume of this magnitude simply wasn’t feasible,” which seems odd when you consider Mortal Kombat II did have a character called Kintaro and they’re another hulking brute with four arms.


See? There’s Kintaro now, looking extremely unimpressed by M. Bison’s punches. I’d have thought “extra limbs” would make a costume much more infeasible that slapping a tiger mask and some body paint on an actor wearing a robe, but then I don’t know anything about the complicated process of creating videogames.

Tips and Tricks

I saw at least four magazine covers that were nothing but this image of Raiden, which definitely wouldn’t be enough to get me interested in Mortal Kombat II. On the whole I find MK’s characters to be a fairly bland bunch (although, again, I haven’t played the modern games so they might be more interesting) and Raiden is one of those that never really did anything for me. I’m not saying all Mortal Kombat characters are boring – obviously I can appreciate a skull-headed assassin from hell as much as the next kid who grew up watching eighties horror movies – but I think part of the problem is the digitised graphics. When I look at a Street Fighter or Tekken character I see the character, but when I look at a Mortal Kombat fighter I see person in a “mid-budget television show” costume and that doesn’t do much to create mystique.

Mega Force

I will say this for MK’s cast, though: they do their own thing. How many fighting games of the time did you see with karate-gi-wearing Ryu lookalikes or Brazilian beastmen? Mortal Kombat’s fighters are a unique bunch, at least, and that’s to be commended. On this cover we can see a few of them in a hand-drawn style that’s much more appealing to me than any number of publicity photos of Raiden. It took me a while to realise what Shang Tsung was reminding me of, but eventually it clicked that I’m sure I saw a very similar design on some of the graffiti / “hip-hop” t-shirt of the kind a lot of kids used to wear when I was growing up in the early nineties. Except on the t-shirt that character would be holding a spray-can and wearing a baggy t-shirt rather than a vest, of course.

Great Dragon

Russian mag “Great Dragon” now, and stark, abstract weirdness is the name of the game. I’m sure the Mortal Kombat dragon logo is familiar even to videogame fans who haven’t played the games, and here it is floating near two orbs that might be… planets? Moons? Is this because the magazine also covers Dune 2 and this was the artist’s way of combining the disparate elements of grand interstellar saga and gore-drenched punchathon? Mortal Kombat X Dune, now there’s one hell of a crossover event for you to ponder. “My name is a killing word, but if that doesn’t work then Jax here has powerful cybernetic arms, they should get the job done.”


“First look at the new Sub-Zero” is the big draw here, and I assume it’s like the cliche about a dowdy woman taking off her glasses and letting her hair down. Why Sub-Zero, you’re beautiful!

Super Game Power

Here’s Mortal Kombat antagonist Shao Kahn. He’s a brutal warlord who crushes his enemies – that is, pretty much anyone who’s not Shao Kahn – with his incredible strength and a bloody great hammer. He has a vague samurai feel to his design, a Darth Vader-style helmet made of bones and yes, okay, I’m skirting around the obvious problem here. His skull-mask’s lack of a lower jaw means I can’t help seeing Shao Kahn as having a severely pronounced overbite. Once I’d seen this image I was unable to stop imagining Shao Kahn shouting “Hyuk hyuk!” like sodding Goofy. Like, there’s nothing wrong with the technical execution of this artwork but it’s hard to take a character seriously when they’ve got the maxillary structure of a lost Beavis and Butt-Head character.


Back to some less giggle-inducing artwork, with Scorpion and Mileena (I think?) engaged in a gruesome battle to the death. A death that’ll involve one of the fighters swaying around on the spot for a while before collapsing into a heap because I couldn’t remember the button input for a Fatality, if my MK-playing experiences are anything to go by.
The artwork’s good, even if Scorpion’s weapon looks less like a harpoon and more like the world’s most useless shovel, but it did send me on a little quest. I thought the art style looked familiar, which is weird because I am terrible at picking out a particular artist’s look. So, I looked up this issue of GamePro, found out that the cover artist is called John Estes and then spend a wasted half an hour looking for my Hellraiser comics because I was sure Estes had done some work on them. That’s just the kind of exciting, fast-paced life I lead, folks. Anyway, it turns out it was actually the much more famous Alex Ross in the Hellraiser comics, and also I can’t find my Hellraiser comics. You should check them out some time if you like the Hellraiser movies, some of them are rather good and definitely a lot more fun than watching the later Hellraiser movies. Then again, so is rolling around in a bottle bank with live centipedes in your underwear.


Another cover with artwork that I’d describe as – and I mean this completely without negative connotations - “charmingly amateurish,” this time from Brazilian mag Gamers. I’m sure I’ve seen Sonya’s kicking pose somewhere before, and my brain’s screaming “Cynthia Rothrock movie” at me so maybe that’s it but as we’ve established I’m really bad at picking these things out. The evil queen Sindel is also here, with an outfit that looks like it’s be very uncomfortable on the ol’ bosoms and a hairdo that seems almost toned down from the games, where she sports a barnet that you could confidently slap on a character that was a parody of either Elvira or a washed-up country-and-western singer. Reptile is here too, but based on his expression he hasn’t got a clue why he’s here.


Finally for today, I’d like to close out with a lame joke that I’m always happy to reuse. Ready? Ahem…
“He’s behind me, isn’t he?”
Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.



All right, friendos, it’s time to get pumped, get psyched, get positively giddy at the prospect of yet another videogame about rescuing a princess. Yes, another one. As we all know, being the female heir to a royal linage is a job second only to “salmon salesperson at a bear convention” in the danger stakes, but at least today’s game casts the emotional response to a regal abduction as something besides “heroic dutifulness” - it’s Atlantis Software’s 1989 ZX Spectrum waddle-em-up Heartbroken!

Looks like our hero was in love with the princess and her kidnapping has hit him hard, but he’s not going to sit around and mope. He’s going to… erm, what is he going to do? The loading screen suggests his plan involves putting star-shaped stickers in a blank book, making his own keys using a casting process and drinking a strange blue liquid that I’m going to assume is one of those soft drinks you might remember from your childhood. You know, the ones that were described with worrying vagueness as being “bubblegum” flavoured, although a more accurate description might be “Bertie Bassett’s bathwater.”

For a ZX Spectrum game, Heartbroken gives you some surprisingly in-depth information before you start the game. The plot is exactly the plot you think it is – evil warlock kidnaps princess for ransom, young hero / love interest sets out to save her – but at least you’re given a little more information than that. For instance, we learn that the hero is the direct successor to Merlin himself. Quite the impressive pedigree, and the upshot is that Merlin has given us his spellbook. He’s also given us his “firebolt,” and as that’s listed separately from the spellbook I have to assume the firebolt isn’t a spell at all and Merlin’s legend came about because he was the first person to invent a gun.

The warlock is not the imposing villain I thought he would be. It’s difficult to be intimidated by a floating dressing gown.

You even get a page for each of the game’s enemies, all packed with vital facts. Hang on, let me write this down, I might need to refer to it later. “The castle guards guard the castle.” Okay, got it.

We’re underway, and the action begins in the always-compelling environs of a moonlit graveyard. We’re in control of the stocky chap with the Ramones haircut in the centre of the screen. When the game first began I assumed I’d be in control of the bloke on the left, but disappointingly that’s not the case. That person is merely an aesthetic flourish, providing no danger or utility but simply enlivening the scene as they struggle to haul themselves out of their coffin. Undead creature rising to hunt warm flesh in the moonlight, or victim of a less-than-thorough autopsy and premature burial? I suppose we’ll never know. I’d go over there and check, but the grey tombstone is blocking my path and our hero can’t jump. There’s no jumping at all in Heartbroken, and it honestly took a while to get used to being so totally grounded.

And so we walk, travelling through Heartbroken’s game world by beating feet and achieving vertical movement solely through the use of ladders. The “mostly a platformer with collectible items and the slight tinge of puzzles” is a staple of this era of home computer games – think of titles such as the Dizzy games or Olli and Lissa – and frankly it’s not a genre I’ve ever really enjoyed all that much. I put this down to my own lack of focus, and I’d rather have a platformer or a graphic adventure without the two being smushed together.  Heartbroken’s doing okay so far, though. Our hero moves around quite quickly, and the backgrounds have that spooky, Halloween-as-filtered-through-the-Spectrum’s-aggressive-colour-palette look to them that I never tire of.

While climbing up this small tower, I encountered the first monster with the temerity to get in my way. This chunky ogre might seem like a threat, but it can’t do anything except walk back and forth. Touching the monster is immediately fatal, of course, but you can launch your firebolt by hitting the space bar and there’s nothing the ogres can do to get out of the way. In fact, the closer they are to you the better, because you can only have one projectile on screen at a time, so the closer you are the faster you can fire.

It took me a moment to open the door that my memory was furiously hammering against, but eventually I realised that this section is just stage two of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. I mean, it’s really easy as opposed to GnG’s vicious difficulty level and the protagonist is somehow even less manoeuvrable than Arthur the human anvil, but the inspiration is clear.

There’s a spellbook at the top of the tower. You might think finding a book of spells is redundant when you already have the ability to shoot fireballs out of your hands, but who knows what fiendish traps and diabolical creatures the evil warlock has waiting for us?

Well, there are these flying monsters, for one thing. Based on the previously-noted similarities to Ghosts ‘n Goblins I suppose these are Heartbroken’s equivalent of the hated Red Arremer. They do indeed attack by swooping down towards the player and when you can’t jump to shoot them in mid-air that could be dangerous, but thankfully they’re not nearly as intelligent as the Red Arremer and can be mostly avoided by walking past them at a brisk pace. If that doesn’t work, you can try leaving the screen and re-entering. A lot of the monsters appear in fixed positions by most of the flyers seem semi-random, so if you move back and forth between screens enough they might not appear at all. Definitely one of Hell’s lesser demons, then, but they’re trying their best, bless them. Okay, not bless them, they’re still demons.

Roughly at the centre of Heartbroken’s game worlds stands another, larger, tower, identifiable by its extreme blueness and the skull decorations on the walls. Those skulls look like they have two sets of pincers instead of teeth, which is a fun design for those of you out there who like to draw monsters. What else have we got in this room? There’s a large red statue that the intro calls a “giant troll.” Supposedly they stop you from entering the catacombs, but so far I’ve only been able to travel upwards and you can’t call somewhere a catacomb if it’s above ground level, right? I don’t think that’s allowed. Oh, and the warlock is also here, hanging around at the left of the screen. The warlock’s deal is that he appears out of nowhere from time to time and fires a magical death-bolt at you. You can’t harm the warlock, so once again the best solution is to move back to a previous screen when you see him. When you return, the warlock probably won’t be there any more.

Plus there’s this yellow monster, just hanging around and not threatening the player or anything. Naturally, I threw a firebolt at its head. Nothing happened. It appears that this monster is nothing more than background flavour, and that’s fine. I shouldn’t be projecting behavioural patterns onto this thing just because it looks like Satan’s bedbug, I don't know anything about how it lives its life.

The blue castle is mildly maze-like in design, but it all boils down to picking the correct ladder to climb and it’s not big enough to get lost in, so it didn’t take me long to find the “bottle of elixir” that was presumably the entire point of venturing into this monster-infested edifice.

Over on the far-right of the game world now – that is, about three screens away from the centre of the game world – and there’s another castle. I know it’s a castle, because the castle guards are guarding it. See, I did pay attention. Although not enough attention, apparently, because I now found myself completely stuck. The castle gates are closed and didn’t seem inclined to open even after I firebolted a full regiment of the infinitely-spawning castle guards. I wandered back and forth through the previously-visited areas for a while before giving up and looking up a solution.

You know how people say “it’s obvious once you know the answer?” Yeah, that doesn’t apply here. I knew exactly where I was going and I still got lost because you see that gravestone on the left? Okay, do you see that small patch of differently-coloured dirt below it? Turns out you can climb down at that spot as though there were a ladder there. I would never have spotted that, and I’m the kind of person who is naturally intrigued by disturbed earth at the foot of a tombstone.

Underneath the grave is Merlin’s magic cauldron. So this is Merlin’s grave, then? I thought he was trapped inside a rock by the Lady of the Lake. Whatever magical prison has become his tomb, I’m sure Merlin won’t mind us making use of his cauldron, and by walking up to it we can cycle through a list of spells. The spells cost points to use, so it’s a good job I took the time to shoot all the ogres I saw rather than avoiding them.
The most obviously useful spell is “portcullis,” which had better open the bloody castle doors otherwise I really will be stuck. There’s a “shield” spell that gives you an extra life, and a few other, less immediately obvious incantations. Snapdragon, alchemy and banishment are a little vague but hopefully I’ll figure them out. For now, though, I’m going to hit “teleport” and see where I end up because the game sure isn’t telling me.

Oh, it teleports you back to the castle. That’s actually really useful. And yes, the castle gates are now open, so I can simply walk inside and start blasting away at the castle guards, who have no way to defend themselves from my magical onslaught. Unlike the other enemies they respawn continually, but all that does is further increase my mystical powers by giving me more points to spend on spells.

Up and down the castle we go, most of the time spent climbing ladders and pausing to throw a few firebolts at the guards. It helps to keep them on their toes. One thing of interest in the castle is this room labelled “prison” where a monster has been locked away in a cage. Makes you wonder what crimes it committed to be incarcerated in a world where most monsters are free to roam the streets and... okay, so roaming the street is about all they do, but they’re free and this one isn’t. And imprisoned without food, too, it must hve been one hell of a monster crime.

There’s also an impassable dragon – although I’d also accept “fancy crocodile” as a description – blocking my path to the castle’s upper reaches. It’s deadly to the touch but it doesn’t actively try to hurt you, and why would it? It’s a dragon, it’s got nothing to prove to you. Unfortunately I need to get past the dragon, and now I’m regretting not casting the “snapdragon” spell while I was at the cauldron because I bet that’s what you have to do and now I have to walk all the way back to the second screen of the game.

Yep, that fixed it. The dragon will now let me pass unmolested, and I even managed to reach the kidnapped princess, who is caged high atop the castle. It’s a ruddy good cage, too. All these magical powers at my command and I still can’t force it open. I definitely need a key, even though I can shoot fireballs out of my hands, soothe savage dragons and remotely operate the castle portcullis with the ease of someone using a garage door opener. I guess the princess will just have to wait while I find a key. She looks comfortable enough in there. With that pointy hat, she also looks more like a wizard than any of the wizards in this game.

In a different, less locked part of the castle, I found the mould for a key. I’m sure that I can use the elixir and the key mould to free the princess, but I need some kind of forge to heat up the components. Maybe the fire underneath the cauldron will work, he muttered to himself as he trudged back to the start of the game again to cast the alchemy spell. That’s how you make the key, which is rather cheapening the art of alchemy. Transmuting base metals into gold or a creating a homunculus is alchemy; making keys is called “being a cobbler,” or at least I’ve never had a key cut somewhere that didn’t also repair shoes. Anyway, it’s a bloody good job you can use the teleportation spell to get back to the castle otherwise Heartbroken might have started to grind on my patience a little.

The princess is free, the lovers are reunited and the warlock’s plans are thwarted before he’s even had time to cut enough letters out of the newspaper for the ransom note. It turns out that our hero’s main powers are briskness and efficiency.

“Well done,” says the talking sword. Thanks, talking sword. Then the game gave me the rank of “Excalibur” and Heartbroken is over. Unless you want to play through it again, in which case you can go back to the start and enjoy a second loop where the locations of the items you need to collect have been shuffled around. That’s one way to add a bit of longevity to a game that is very short and not particularly complicated, but don’t take that as a criticism. I enjoyed Heartbroken and I mostly enjoyed it because it took me about half an hour to complete, and it would have been half that if I’d known about the hidden tombstone ladder. It’s a very simplistic game, but I got some pleasure from scuttling through its nicely spooky backdrops and baiting enemies into more advantageous positions to make up for my lack of jumping ability. A fun way to pass a little time, then. It’s like a nice cheese sandwich: unlikely to break into your list of the greatest meals you’ve ever eaten, but a satisfying and wholesome choice none-the-less. I say wholesome, one of my favourite things about it was the little animation of the noose swaying in the wind.



If I was putting together a list of animals most suited to defending a planet from demonic, interstellar invaders, I’d imagine I’d put the humble rabbit somewhere down near the bottom. When the Carrot People of Brocculon 7 start getting belligerent then sure, it’s rabbits all the way but otherwise I’d go with, I dunno, gorillas with guns. However, if you make the rabbit a flying mechanical suit with destructive fists and a rapid-fire laser gun then hey, now you’ve got the concept of today’s game: it’s Video System’s 1987 arcade shooter Rabio Lepus!

Yes, it’s Rabio Lepus, with a rather nice calligraphic logo and the words “Rabio Lepus” written below a second time, just in case you forgot the title of the game after reading the logo. Lepus is, of course, the Latin word for “hare” and helps make up the taxonomical name for bunnies, and Rabio is… well, it’s a made up word but it definitely feels rabbit-ish. It also sounds like Scooby-Doo meeting Fabio.

On the rabbit planet, where the inhabitants are human and merely dress as rabbits to varying degrees, the king and the two princesses have been kidnapped by the bad guys. Why? Who knows. All I know is that the villains are leaving behind a perfectly good castle, and I find it more amusing than perhaps I should that this fairytale castle has a paved asphalt road leading up to it.

Off goes Usagi, the robotic rabbit fighter, to save King Fursuit and his daughters Wedding Rabbit and Playboy Bunny. That’s who we’ll be playing as. If these character looks familiar to you, you might have spotted them in other Video System games such as the Sonic Wings series, where Rabio Lepus’ characters pop up in playable or cameo appearances. Space-travelling robobunnies feel very much in keeping with Video System’s slightly weird design philosophy. I think the last Video System game I played was Lethal Crash Race, and that definitely had its fair share of weirdos.

You know what I love? When videogame map screens mark locations with extremely redundant labels. “Spaceship”? Thanks, for a second there I thought it was vinyl copy of the Elvis Costello album Armed Forces.
Don’t be fooled by this map: it might look like there are only three stages (spaceship, asteroid base and planet) but there are a lot more than that, as we shall see.

Here we go, then. Rabio Lepus is a side-scrolling shooter that I’m going to compare to Gradius, even though I feel a little bad that I always compare side-scrolling shooters to Gradius. I know there are other shooters out there, but the way the first conga line of enemies flew towards Usagi genuinely did make me think of Gradius.
As with most side-scrolling shooters, you shoot the enemies with your weapon – in Usagi’s case, a relatively fast-firing laser cannon - and try not to collide with the bad guys or their projectiles. So far so typical, although Rabio Lepus does give you a health bar rather than having you explode into rabbity chunks at the slightest mishap. That’s what the red blocks at the bottom of the screen are. Each block represents one of your three lives and acts as an individual health bar.

Onwards flies Usagi, pew-pewing his way through an enemy armada composed mostly of nondescript robotic lumps and more interesting scuttling creatures that look like walking microchips. It all plays out much as you’d expect. Usagi handles quite well, although he is something of a marshmallowy target, being fairly large and with a hitbox I never really managed to get a concrete handle on. Then a voice sample shouted “Destroy enemy master!”

A boss? Already? Blimey, that was quick. I’ve barely warmed up my trigger finger; stage one had only been going about a minute and a half before this robotic bull appeared. Usagi’s powers of flight give him the advantage in this battle, with the boss being confined to the bottom half of the screen, although Usagi’s main weapon can only fire straight ahead so you will have to get in front of the boss to damage it. That’s dangerous, because the boss has the ability to fire a deadly plasma beam ahead of itself, as well as charging head-first along the bottom of the screen. Look, you don’t build a robotic bull and not give it the ability to gore things with its titanium horns. Erm, unless it’s one of those mechanical bar-room bulls that were popular for a while. Maybe this boss is an early prototype of one of those things, banished into outer space for trampling the more tone-deaf patrons during karaoke night.

So, stage one was very brisk and the rest of Rabio Lepus follows the same template of short stages – never more than a couple of minutes long – with a boss at the end. Stage two is no different. Another mechanical background as we fly through the big spaceship from the map screen and more uninspiring robot shapes to shoot at. For a moment I thought these things were supposed to be I Ching mirrors but no, they’re just pissed-off octagons. So far I’m not really feeling Rabio Lepus’ visuals – the graphics themselves are quite nice on a technical level, considering this game is from 1987, but so far they’ve been a little generic and if they were going for an amusing contrast between stark metal militarism and Usagi’s undeniable cuteness it’s not really working for me.

The fact that this stage’s boss is “three robots” isn’t exactly changing my opinion. I like robots as much as the next person who grew up watching Transformers and Voltron, but these aren’t even especially interesting robots. They’re… Gundam Lite, I suppose. They also threw a lot more lasers at me than I was expecting, which is why Usagi is dying in the screenshot above. Eventually I realised that the quickest way to beat this (and any other) boss battle is to fire all of Usagi’s secondary weapon ammo as fast as possible. At the very bottom-left of the screen you can see a row of icons that represents the ammunition for your missile launcher, a limited-use subweapon that fires a barrage of homing missiles in a manner that would feel quite Macross-esque if they weren’t spewing out of a rabbit wearing little red bootees. The missiles are extremely useful and will eliminate even bosses quickly and efficiently, but their limited ammo makes them a valuable resource so I’d recommend saving them for the end-of-stage battles.

This is more like it – some interesting enemies, at last! These morose grey faces definitely caught my interest, although I couldn’t stop think about the way they’re facing out of the screen meaning that Usagi is destroying them by pouring hot laser death directly into their ears. They also remind me of Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov. And if you thought these disembodied faces were fun…

… then get a load of this chap. I like his expression of mild consternation, a remarkably subdued reaction from someone who’s been cracked open like a boiled egg at breakfast time. “Did I just see a flying robo-rabbit, or was it merely a side-effect of my exposed brain matter?” the face seems to be wondering. What I’m wondering is whether this face is based on Peter Weller in RoboCop, because that’s the vibe I’m getting from it.

This battle combines the “animal” and “multiple robots” theme of the previous two bosses to bring us multiple robot panthers. They’re reminding me of the Konami arcade game Black Panther, which is a shame because that game is not very good. I’d better launch all my missiles at them, then.

That plan rather backfired when I moved on to stage four, which is purely a boss battle. A boss battle I don’t have any missile ammunition for. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if you could upgrade Usagi’s main laser, but you can’t. Unlike almost every other shoot-em-up ever made, you’re stuck with the same piddly blaster for the entire duration of the game, with no power-ups to change to a new weapon or even increase your firepower. This does mean that you avoid the common shoot-em-up problem of losing all your power-ups and being woefully underpowered whenever you die, but that’s the only advantage to a system that keeps the gameplay very samey and quite dull for the duration of the game – and by this point, Rabio Lepus has become difficult enough that you feel woefully underpowered anyway.
As for the boss, it’s okay. It looks a bit different, at least. I assume it’s the spaceship’s central computer and the figure sticking out of the side is the hyper-advanced mainframe equivalent of a hood ornament.

The Playboy Princess is saved, so even should Usagi fail in his mission the royal bloodline will live on. I’m half-tempted to call it a day here. Playboy Princess seems like the most level-headed of the three royals. Sure, she’s wearing a bunnygirl suit, but surely that’s better than the king’s mascot costume or the other princess eternally wearing a wedding dress like some long-eared Miss Havisham?

Now we’ve moved on to the asteroid base, where the Rabio Lepus thrill-ride continues with exciting new backgrounds (rocks) and equally exciting new enemies (also rocks). During this lull, I’ll take a moment to explain Usagi’s third weapon – his pummelling fists. If you get close enough to an enemy, pressing the fire button won’t launch a laser but will instead cause Usagi to punch. It’s a very powerful attack, but obviously the range is extremely small. So small, in fact, that I didn’t manage to get a decent screenshot of it because I kept flying into the thing I was trying to punch and dying. The punches are an interesting concept (and a spaceship with arms was presumably “inspired” by Konami’s TwinBee) but the execution is sorely lacking. If your punches had a little more range, that’d make them far more enjoyable to use; if they were activated by a separate button, they’d be even better. However, the punches do not work like that and later in the game there are so many bullet-sponge enemies that you have to punch your way through and it all gets rather frustrating. That didn’t stop Bally-Sente renaming the game Rabbit Punch when they localised it for overseas release, mind you. The pun was right there, it’s not like they could ignore it.

The boss is More Rocks, this time with additional demonic head. If you've seen one shoot-em-up boss where your target is surrounded by a spinning circle of destructible objects, you’ve seen ‘em all.

The next stage is caves again, but this time they’re a bit more interesting thanks to the leaping mecha-piranhas that jump out of the water. As we all know, a school of mecha-piranhas can strip a robo-rabbit down to the endoskeleton in minutes, so it’s annoying that they’re located right next to all the power-ups I need. That’s what the can on the bottom-right of the screen is. Shooting the cans open reveals items such as missile ammo, health-ups or temporary invincibility, but if you touch the cans without shooting them they fall off the screen and the power-up is lost. This feels like a particularly mean addition to a game that has already become very difficult thanks to the density of the enemies, their tendency to appear right next to you with no warning and Usagi’s limited offensive capabilities, and it’s hard enough to feel at odds with Rabio Lepus’ often cutesy art-style. When combined with the “my first shooter” power-up system, I ended up with the impression that Rabio Lepus’ developers couldn’t decide whether they wanted to make a game for a slightly younger audience or regular arcade shooter fans.

The stage – and perhaps the entire game – is redeemed by this boss, a hovering sheet ghost with a variety of expressions scrawled across the (possibly literal) canvas of its face. The boss doesn’t do anything especially interesting – it summons formation-flying turtles and spits the odd projectile – but just look at that goddamn face. I think it’s those eyebrows. They look like my eyebrows, or at least they would if I ever trimmed my eyebrows.

Well I’m glad someone found the time to gussy up this asteroid base a little. Can you even call it a base if it isn’t decorated with bikini angels? I think not. The ceiling-statues showing the T-1000 morphing into an octopus in what could have been Terminator 2’s greatest scene are a nice touch, too.
Please also note the diamond-shaped blocks, because they deflect your laser at a ninety-degree angle when you shoot them and in a better game that could have provided the impetus for some fun semi-puzzle shooting. In Rabio Lepus, however, they just get in the way.

The boss is a black-and-white photocopy of a yoga master, hovering around on his mystical boulder and spewing forth a barrage of fire from which there is no escape. Of all the bosses in the game, this is the one where “fire all your missiles and pray” felt like the only viable tactic, so I did that.

The rock demon from the earlier boss fight is back, only now he’s got an extreme intestinal parasite that can’t wait to pop out and say hello! After the bullshit fire wizard this fight is a nice change of pace and the last respite you’ll get before the end of the game, so take a moment to enjoy it. Then shoot the demon in its mouth. I assume it will be glad to be put out of its misery.

The king has been saved. Sorry, Princess Playgirl, but you’ve just been demoted back down to second in line for the throne. A typical aristocrat, the king starts whining and expects the common man – erm, rabbit – to solve his problems without even attempting to help. I’d watch out, your highness, I doubt that fursuit is guillotine-proof.

We’ve now reached the planet’s surface for another round of fairly generic shoot-em-up action. I just wanted a few cool guns to use, but that was apparently too much to ask. So we shoot some more stone faces and flying robots and avoid the background elements like the pillars. The most interesting thing about this stage is that I had to pause it for a couple of minutes, because it was bothering me that I couldn’t remember what game it reminded me of. Then it hit me: the background was making me think of classic Amiga graphics showcase Shadow of the Beast.

Oh dear – won’t someone please help this unfortunate dragon? It’s managed to get itself stuck inside a bin bag, which as we all know are to dragons as plastic beer rings are to seagulls. It probably crawled into the bag looking for gold to add to its hoard, the poor sod. Never mind, noble creature, I will set you free. After all, lasers shouldn’t have any trouble cutting through a plastic bag.

By the time I reached the ice level, I must confess I’d about had enough of Rabio Lepus. It’s kinda boring, that’s the thing. Enemies are being recycled, the stages aren’t adding any new mechanics or exciting set-pieces and I’ve been using the same laser gun for the entire game. It’s reached that combination of genericness and annoying difficulty that you often find in sub-par shoot-em-ups, although I admit part of the problem might be that I simply don’t enjoy shoot-em-ups all that much. There are a few I like – Lifeforce / Salamander on the NES springs to mind – but on the whole it is not a genre I get much pleasure from. That’s one of the reasons I don’t write about many of them, I suppose.

This boss is an evil elephant. If it wasn’t constantly firing energy pellets at me, I’d have a hard time believing it wasn’t just a regular elephant. It’s kind of a shame that elephants can’t fire deadly projectiles in all directions, honestly. Poachers would really have to step up their game.
On the subject of the elephant’s projectiles, I’d like to meet the person who thought having them turn light blue against a light blue background was a good idea so I can give them a firm handshake around the neck.

It is with a real jaw-breaker of a yawn that I must report the penultimate stage is a boss rush. At least I get to see the ghost again, this time wearing the same facial expression as I was when I got hit by the elephant’s barely-visible projectiles. Apparently this boss, whose name is Tenukie Chaudo, appears in a bunch of other Video System games and that’s great, because he definitely deserves better than Rabio Lepus.

Now we face the final boss: an enormous axe-wielding demon whose lower extremities (or lack thereof) are begging me to make a Rob Liefeld joke. The demon wants to chop Usagi with its axe, so I fired all my missiles and blasted away with my laser while avoiding the demon’s fairly clumsy swings, only to find that nothing was happening. No damage was registered, I ran out of missiles and despite landing hits on every part of the demon’s body – yes, including right in the loincloth – I couldn’t make a breakthrough. Then I noticed the cracked wall in the background, and you don’t play though all the Zelda games without learning what a cracked wall means.

Surprise! There’s a shrivelled, robe-wearing cadaver slumped in a chair behind the wall. Aside from the “bricked up behind a wall” part that’s as good a description of me while writing this article as you’re likely to see, but I didn’t let our common ground stop me from blasting the boss. No, instead I was stopped by the screen-filling diamond blocks and deadly projectiles that were constantly spewing, wave after wave after wave, from the back of the room because I took too long figuring out how the boss fight worked. In the end I simply had to die a few times and use the brief period of invincibility to get right up to the corpse and shoot it as fast as possible. That did the trick, and Rabio Lepus comes to an end.

Everyone is saved and the kingdom is restored to normality: Usagi goes back filing his teeth down by gnawing anything he can find, the king changes into his fancy, jewel-encrusted bunny suit to meet a visiting head of state, that sort of thing.

Usagi gets a statue. Because his front limbs aren’t touching the ground, I believe that means he died in battle.
Rabio Lepus, then. Not a great game, in my humble opinion. A good game? No, not that either. It’s definitely a game, let’s go with that. It feels like a test run for Video System’s wackier (and much more interesting) later shoot-em-ups, and you should probably play those games instead because outside of a few interesting moments like the ghost boss and exposed-brain-maybe-RoboCop wall decorations if feels like there’s little to recommend Rabio Lepus. I might be wrong, though. I often am, and as I said I’m not a big shoot-em-up fan so I don’t feel as qualified to judge Rabio Lepus as I might if it were a beat-em-up or a Halloween-themed hidden object game. I will give it one further bit of praise, though: “Rabio Lepus” is really fun to say out loud. Go on, try it. Now stop, you look weird.

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