Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Powerless Rangers: It’s a Losing Battle with MMPR on the Genesis

In the fall of 1993, the world was introduced to the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, a band of five (and later six) teenagers out to save the world from the evil Rita Repulsa, a badly dubbed villainess who lives on the moon with some dudes in rubber monster suits and a woman who occasionally turns into a giant scorpion. Despite – or perhaps because of – bad acting, stupid plots and weird fight scenes, the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers were soon flipping and kicking across every television set in America. Everyone seemed to be making money with Mighty Morphin’ merchandise, and it wasn’t long before video game companies wanted their cut of the power pie. About a year after the Rangers’ arrival, Sega and developer Banpresto presented eager customers with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. But was the power on Sega’s side for their first Rangers title?

There are a scant six backgrounds in this one-on-one fighting title, but each is pleasing to the eye, if a little generic. A volcano, a field with a waterfall and a city backdrop fit the action nicely, but the best is Madam Woe’s stage, a mysterious temple with what appears to be the Northern Lights in the sky behind it. You’d do well to admire the backgrounds while you can, though, because apparently that’s where all the color in the game went. Most of the Rangers look as if they were left in the washing machine too long: The Red Ranger looks like he should be called the Off-Pink Ranger, the Green Ranger is more lime than anything, the Blue Ranger is kind of turquoise, and the Yellow Ranger looks like she’s composed entirely of lemon Starbursts. Everyone else looks good though; the remaining two Rangers have the correct pallets and the robots and monsters are large and detailed. The pleasantly animated characters bounce and bob while at a stand still, but oddly, they don’t look as good while moving. Finally, from the WTF file, check out the Blue Ranger’s winning pose. Uh… is there something you’d like to tell the rest of the team, Billy?

Thanks to some awesome tunes, you’ll be rockin’ out as you battle the forces of evil. The music is sort of a cross between electronic and rock, and while it sometimes relies too much on odd-sounding drum samples, it helps set a somewhat frantic pace akin to the television show. The sound effects aren’t as good, but they get the job done. Kicks and punches sound hollow (think Streets of Rage through a tin horn), and the voice clips, though clear and well-pronounced, sound absolutely nothing like their TV counterparts.

Controlling your fighter is simple. There’s only two attack buttons, light and hard, with jumping and ducking variations. Blocking is performed by holding the D-pad away from your attacker, just like in almost every other fighting game of the era. Executing special moves is easy as well, requiring only a few Street Fighter-esque button taps.

Here’s where things start falling apart. Unfortunately, this game falls prey to the same lazy programming techniques that most other Morphin’ games do: Each Power Ranger fights exactly the same way, with the exception of two or three special attacks. With only two attack buttons, one would think it would have been simple to make a few different animations and mix them up among the heroes. But instead, Banpresto chose the lazy way out and made everyone pallet swaps. After a while, it feels like you’re playing an entire game starring the many ninjas of Mortal Kombat and its sequels.

But unlike Mortal Kombat, not even the special moves do much to define the characters. They range from useful, like the Blue Ranger’s Dino Lance, to worthless, like the Pink Ranger’s super slow Dino Arrow, to just plain wacky and unpredictable, like the Black Ranger’s spinning axe attack. Most of the moves fall into that last, volatile category, making it difficult to know just when a special is appropriate. Watching the Yellow Ranger whiff her Tiger Crasher attack for the 20th time in a row makes for some good laughs in two player mode, but it’s infuriating when you’re trying to triumph over the CPU.

After the first round of a match, it’s off to one of the Power Rangers’ giant robots to battle your now building-sized nemesis. But even this feature doesn’t add enough variety to rescue the game. There are very few combos, so matches quickly degenerate into hit-and-run fests or tiresome fireball fights. It’s fun at the beginning, but after finishing the game once or twice, solo players will likely have seen everything Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers has to offer. Thankfully, the higher difficulty settings pose a decent challenge, but this title probably won’t hold your interest long enough for that to matter. Like the show on which it’s based, the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers game is too repetitive for its own good.

If you’re looking for salvation in this cart through two-player battles, think again. This mode is amusing but extremely limited. I suppose that makes sense in the context of the show; Karate is the great equalizer and all, but a six foot tall Power Ranger might have just a little trouble finishing off a 60 foot tall robot. However, we’re talking about a game that features six teenagers in spandex attacking moon monsters with futuristic weapons they received from a giant floating head in a jar – that is to say, there was never much logic to begin with. Furthermore, if either player chooses a Ranger, the battle always takes place in the bland “Rangers stage.” With half a dozen Power Rangers, you’re likely to spend a lot of time on that stupid bridge.

But lo! By entering a secret code, (continuously tap the A, B and C buttons on player 2’s controller at the Banpresto logo screen until a “Power Rangers!” voice clip is played) one can play as the Evil Green Ranger. He’s a most unique character indeed: For some reason, he can fight two of the three giant robots and as long as the other player hasn’t selected one of the remaining Power Rangers, one can fight in any of the six stages they choose. With so few two player options, why the programmers would make Evil Green inaccessible by normal means is beyond me. You shouldn’t have to enter a code to make a game decently playable, but this new character gives versus mode a much-needed kick in the pants.

"This game should have more of me in it!"
Lastly, there’s a little oddity worth mentioning regarding finishing moves. After winning a match, each character will automatically rush at their vanquished opponent and “finish him” with a special attack. Strangely, even in a Ranger versus Ranger match, the victor will still “kill” his opponent. So according to Sega/Banpresto logic, a normal sized man can’t fight a giant robot, but members of a loyal team of superheroes are willing to kill each other at the end of a simple sparring match.

Overall, this title reeks of sloppiness and the “rush it out the door” mentality that was so prevalent with Sega during the mid and late 90s. Literally one more week cleaning up this game could have made it infinitely more playable, and another month could have produced a product that was appealing to both the younger set as well as hardcore fighting fanatics. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers on the Genesis is a genuinely entertaining game on the first short playthrough and it will give you and a buddy a nice diversion for an hour or two, but as it stands, that’s likely all the Morphin’ time you’ll want to spend with it. Grab a copy for some quick nostalgia if you see it for a few dollars, but soon you’ll wish you could morph this clunker into another game. For some real Mighty Morphin’ action, check out either of the far-superior Power Ranger Game Gear titles.

And now a message from the Power Rangers!

"Hey Se-ga! I used to have a game like this, until my father got a job!"

1 comment:

  1. So glad you included that picture and quote at the end. I still chuckle when I think of that kid ragging on Ernie.