Remake Roundup: Action 52 (Owns)

Welcome to the Remake Roundup! Here we take a look at an unsuspecting old school original and roundup a tasty smattering of new retro remakes.

Action52_logo

In this edition we take our first look into the terribad Action 52 – a notoriously horrible compilation of games (if you can call them that), packed into one cartridge for the bargain price of $200. Proving that no compilation of games is so horrible that it can’t be remade, we dug through 23 remakes to see if even the worst of gaming history can truly can be redeemed.

The Original

Action_52_(NES)_box_artTaking the maxim of “quantity over quality” to the logical extreme, developer Active Enterprises crammed 52 “games” into a single NES cartridge – all of which had the proportional quality of 1/52th of a game.

Many were terrible, all were bad. Numerous were just endless looping levels with no real goals, or even title screens for that matter. Many others were outright broken, and none were fun.

To add insult to injury, it was marketed for the very generous retail price of $200, because God doesn’t exist and Santa Claus is in actual fact powered by the tears of children.

The star of the show, if you could call it that, was a hoped-for franchise-building set of totally-not-teenage ninja warriors called “Cheetahmen”. True to form, while being slightly more playable than the rest of the offerings, Cheetahmen was still utterly terrible, and in some versions – unbeatable due to various reasons such as bugs, terrible design, or the universe collapsing in on itself.

Cheetahmen_title_screen

Heroes in a half-game

No matter how strong your collector impulses may be there are simply some things that should not be collected, like Howard the Duck.

The Remakes

Welcome to the dystopian “naughtys” where a man named Mr. Podunkian resurrects Action 52 through an unofficial remake jam. Action 52 Owns is a remarkable collaborative effort with dozens of indie programmers coming together, taking something terrible and not only making it playable, but even.. dare I say, enjoyable.

The project is a great example of the “new games, retro spirit” behind New Retro Games, so it was only a matter of time that we chained someone in the basement with a semi-functional modified Tandy Deskmate computer and forced them to play each game in turn and report on it.

Of the challenged 52 games, about half (23) were completed. It’s still quite a lot so we will be splitting this into a series of articles of 4-6 games per article. Without further ado…

The Launcher

Action52Owns_LauncherFirst, a quick word about the Action 52 Owns Launcher. The launcher is a download with all remakes (all 158mb of it) with a handy front end.

It’s a great way to experience the remakes, so we highly recommend downloading it. Of course, we’ll be including the download of each game separately too.

Acton 52 Owns Launcher | Download

And now… on to the remakes!

Star Evil

The Original

Star Evil indicates what will become the main trend behind Action 52 – the humble shoot em up. Star Evil begins our epic journey into bad game design by starting the very first level with a box placed mere pixels from your ship, causing you to literally die within the first second of starting the game. Brilliant.

Once you’ve memorised the reflex action required to move away the split second the level starts, you can begin with actually “playing” Star Evil, which turns out to be really easy since the “bosses” don’t even shoot at you, or do much of anything really. After four levels it ends in a black screen. Clearly, craftsmanship such as this will be hard to top.

The Remake

The Star Evil remake begins what will also become a common theme to the Owns project, adding things like a titlescreen, some semblance of plot and even actual gameplay elements to make the game, you know, not shit.

Like most modern reboots, we get introduced via a dark gritty grimdark dystopian cyberfuture setting, whereby a ominous star has appeared and started heating things up considerably. So that’s where global warming comes from – now you know. Encasing yourself in green crystal, which apparently protects your face from melting off, you fly off towards the evil star to get to the bottom of all this.

starevil

First things first – you don’t die to a block to the face in the first second. Gameplay proceeds from there quite similarly to the original, with endless blocks flying towards you (or you toward them, I suppose), while phoenix like firebirds have been introduced, which continuously emerge from the evil star in the background to perform kamikaze lunges at you. There seems to be a “good/evil” meter too, and occasionally a ship will meander towards you; exploding it will drop a letter – which appears to slowly spell ‘Star Evil’. All these things hint at more fleshed out gameplay elements.

Unfortunately despite the improvements from its Action 52 counterpart, to be honest here, Star Evil was still quite confusing and frustratingly difficult to play (even on easy mode).  The firebirds are relentless and it’s very hard to collect enough letters to progress. I could barely hold on to three letters before dying too many times to give up.

Star Evil (remake) | Download

Illuminator

The Original

Illumintor_2

Actual gameplay. Good luck figuring out where the #$&! you are are

Deciding to make a challenging game, the developers set Illuminator completely in the dark, with the room only lighting up temporarily when you blast one of the zombies/vampires/underpaid programmers.

They certainly succeeded. There’s absolutely no way to get any visibility other than a glimpse of light after successfully hitting an enemy. Which you can’t see. Furthermore, you need to constantly navigate and climb ladders. In the dark.

It’s challenging, yes. It’s also completely unfun.

The Remake

The Illuminator remake, on the other hand, does an amazing job of building on potentially good, but terribly executed, premise into something actually fun. The new plot plays on your childhood fears by making the dark corners of your house a very dangerous place to be indeed. Waking up alone in your home, with all the adults inexplicably gone, it’s up to you and your flashlight to fight off the flesh eating zombies creeping around the dark apartment.

illuminator

Illuminator was one of the most attention-grabbing games from the Action 52 Owns project, and it shows. While the zombies actually kind of look cute and happy with big smiles on their faces, Illuminator manages to keep things tense due to its deceptively tight gameplay. You’re constantly balancing the torch’s battery, between lighting the way and charging it for an attack (the only way to kill zombies) which can create some tense moments.

The game also adds items, such as night lights which you can plug in to create small pockets of light, Christmas tree lights which I haven’t figured out how to work, and more, as well as introducing a variety of enemies as the levels progresses.

In short, Illuminator sports enough production quality that it stands on its own right as a game, and is very much worth your time.

Illuminator (remake) | Download

Jupiter Scope

The Original

JupiterScope_1

Returning to what Action 52 knows “best” (worst?), Jupiter Scope is another shooter, which somehow manages to be even less developed than Star Evil. The entire game consists of a single screen with meteors(?) occasionally lazily floating down in your general direction. You can pretty much sit in one spot with a brick on the fire button, and never lose. Not that you can win, either, since literally nothing else ever happens.

The Remake

The remake is the first to make the jump to 3D, marking a world record in terms of leaps in technological sophistication. The graphics now are upgraded to colourful, bright, shaded polygons – which it goes without saying is a significant improvement on the original.

jupiterscope

Gameplay is improved, given that you now have to try and preserve buildings from destruction, and face more than one enemy type. There isn’t really much more to the game though, simply shooting the endless meteors and UFOs and collecting the occasional bonus cubes (which as far as I can tell are just for points).

Still, it feels like a complete experience on its own terms, and Jupiter Scope kind of reminds of that mid-late 90’s wave of clones of Space Invaders, Centipede and the like. It’s cute, and fun for a few moments, and yes, better than the Action 52 version by a long shot.

Jupiter Scope | Download

Alfredo

The Original

There seems to be some debate over whether Alfredo (named Alfredo in the menus but Alfredo N the Fettuc in the game itself) was actually even bootable. This means that Active Enterprises outdid themselves by making just getting the game to load a challenge. Tip of the Troll Hat, boys.

If you could get it to load, either through luck or an emulator, Alfredo was nevertheless a lackluster platformer that featured endless scrolling through infinite kitchens (after beating level 3 it would simply repeat from level 1) full of lethal walking food. So kind of like that nightmare I once had about killer tomatoes in game form, only far worse.

The Remake

Seeking to become the best chef usually involves extensive practice and probably studying at some school or something. Not so for Alfredo, who in this remake, instead travels to the magical Fettuccine castle to conquer cooking through various difficult platforming challenges.

The Alfredo remake is wrapped in an oddly cheery narrative, as you face off against sentient frying pans and the like, and the surrealness of it all kind of reminds me of a Ren and Stimpy cartoon, although arguably less gross about it.

Alfredo

The game takes a greatly enhanced approach to the original’s monotonous gameplay, by turning it into a flippin’ metroidvania complete with abilities to gain like the classic double-jump, and boss battles (thankfully granting you a temporary life bar) – the first of which includes a sneaky reference to the Megadrive version.

Despite these dramatic improvements, Alfredo still feels a bit unpolished, and it’s especially a shame that the jump button was assigned to ‘up’, rather than designating a jump key – as it makes the many, many, difficult platforming challenges more awkwardly difficult than they need to be. The game is ultimately let down by this, and perhaps also due to a somewhat sparse feeling in its levels and gameplay, given that there are no weapons or attacks (that I found).

Fleshed out with tightened controls, Alfredo could have been a great time sink on its own, but at the very least, it is a impressive re-imagining that stands miles apart from its source material.

Alfredo | Download

Phew! Well, that’s enough for today. It’s without doubt that these remakes are significant improvements over the originals – not that it was stiff competition or anything. If you are to play just one remake from this list, Illuminator is the standout and you should definitely give it a whirl. There are still 19 remakes to dig through, we’ll return in roughly a fortnight to spew out another heaping of terrible games and ambitious remakes.

Here at New Retro Games we are focused on the remakes, with a dash of reflection on the games they were built upon. But the history behind Active Enterprises and Action 52 is truly a whole other story and a spectacle to behold. If you want to learn more, there is disturbingly detailed coverage of “disappearing businessmen, missing money, Kickstarter projects, and anthropomorphic cheetahs” at The Punk Effect, as well as a pretty detailed overview at Hardcore Gaming 101.

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About J.C

I grew up in the dark dingy arcades of the 1980s, blasting heads with Robocop 2, but grew up in an era that spanned the introduction of the x86 home computer, through to the 16-bit revolution, into the polygon age and beyond. I write about food, travel and of course, New Retro Games. I started newretrogames.wordpress.com and contribute to www.thecitylane.com. I am also a freelance business researcher, writer, and editor having published academic and corporate articles on innovation and intellectual property.

Posted on April 29, 2016, in Arcade, Platformer, Shoot 'Em Up and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thank you for linking to my Action 52 article on the Punk Effect! I wrote that a couple years ago, so my writing has improved since then, but I’m glad you found it helpful. I did a lot of research for that 4-part series, so I hope that it’ll be of some use to whoever reads it! I had heard that there were some remakes of A52 games, but didn’t know too much about them until now. Great write-up!

    Like

    • Of course, it was an excellent article and journey into insanity! How Active Enterprises managed to raise $20 mil investment I’ll never understand.

      Guessing by the Katakana in your name you’ve spent some time in Japan 😉 私は、東京ですんでいました、でも昔時。日本語が覚えてない!

      Like

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