Gaming Heroes of Yesteryear

It’s one thing to talk about retro games that everyone remembers. We all yell from time to time about Mario, Sonic and Battletoads. Each of these games has their own hero or heroes worth revisiting.

But what about the heroes of yesteryear that no one talks about anymore? Here are some of the TechnoBuffalo Gaming crew’s favorites.

Joey Davidson remembers Vectorman.

You know, part of the reason I remember Vectorman (from his game, Vectorman) so well is because of the way he and I were introduced.

Where I grew up, there was a small strip mall with a few anchor stores. One of the stores was Toys ‘R Us, the other was T.J. Maxx. They were directly next to one another. When my mom would go to T.J. Maxx, I would go into Toys ‘R Us and cruise the shop aisle by aisle.

That’s when I found Vectorman for the Sega Genesis. I played the demo console for hours across weeks of visits.

Vectorman was cool. This hero built with balls could jump, leap, shoot and transform almost at will. When the game launched, he was one of the best looking gaming heroes on home consoles. Vectorman was slick.

And so were the sound effects that accompanied his every move. Everything about Vectorman was digital and computer generated. That was the backbone of the game and its basic story. So that digital nature translated to the sound effects of VectorMan himself.

I can still hear his “haha” and “yeah” to this day. It’s a piece of my gaming childhood that I’ll probably never forget.

Then there was the “Play to Win” aspect of Vectorman that had me so crazy about the game initially.

After playing the game for hours on end in Toys ‘R Us, it entered my Christmas list. I wanted it. Then I saw a commercial. Sega ran a promotion with Vectorman that encouraged gamers to buy the game and beat it. Select cartridges displayed a special screen with a phone number. If you beat the game, scored the phone number and called it, you won $25,000 and a trip to Sega’s headquarters.

Awesome, right?

Not only was Vectorman a great game with a unique gaming hero, but Sega was encouraging people to play it with a contest. It’s no wonder I’ll never forget the green-balled marvel.

Eric Frederiksen remembers Alex & Ryan (Kunio & Riki).

River City Ransom wasn’t the first gaming brawler, but it collected a bunch of ideas together and it did tons of things right very early on that were lifted wholesale by many future brawlers. Even as I play Sleeping Dogs, I can see elements I remember from the original RCR.

Before we talk about the characters of River City Ransom, let’s talk about the game itself.

It was one of the progenitors to today’s open-world games. You could travel from end-to-end at any time, stopped only by the thugs waiting for you around every corner. You could go back and forth to different shops and search for secrets. No need to start over because you missed something. Sure, there was no driving and no need for maps in a side-scroller, but that freedom was very fresh back then.

It had character power-ups and leveling, special moves, and disposable weapons. Stopping at stores and picking out books, food and items to power up your character was novel then, but it’s a staple now. Just like I could buy cup noodles in RCR to fill up my life bar, I can take Wei Shen into a convenience store and grab a soda to give me a nice stat boost in Sleeping Dogs. And how many games let you pick up a pipe and whale on someone with it until it breaks (because steel pipes often break after hitting someone five or so times)?

That strong collection of mechanics, as primitive as it was, has left a clear mark on games that followed.

One of my favorite aspects of River City Ransom, though, is the character design. With so few pixels, the creators at the now-defunct Technos managed to pack in more attitude and style than most games manage today with millions of polygons and bump-mapped textures.

From the slick basic sprite to the stylish jump-kicks, main character Alex/Kunio and his buddy Ryan/Riki, almost every frame is an iconic example of 8-bit cool. Even when the guys get the crap beaten out of them, it’s an example of a lasting image:

The number of retro games on iPad, as well as games like the upcoming Retro City Rampage (hmm, there’s something about that name that seems familiar), suggest that there is still room for simple style like this.

With Technos gone, RCR might be a tough franchise to resurrect—I have no idea who has the rights—but the coolest guys on the block definitely need to come back and kick some butt.

Ron Duwell remembers Firebrand (Red Arremer).

As if being a forgotten hero in video game lore was bad enough, how about being the forgotten antagonist to a forgotten hero?

Ghosts n’ Goblins was Capcom’s top franchise before the world ever heard of Mega Man. It told the epic tale of the chivalrous knight Arthur and his boxer shorts as he rescued the Princess Prin Prin from Satan and the forces of the Demon World. The series is well known for its brutal difficulty thanks to its 2-hit deaths, awkward platforming, and wide array of aggressive monsters.

Most infamous amongst these monsters is the Red Arremer, a red gargoyle like creature who stole more than his fair share of ten yen coins back in the day. The Red Arremer remains to this day one of the most feared stock monsters in any videogame because of his merciless attack pattern. In fact, he gained such a large cult following, Capcom eventually gave his his own side series.

The Red Arremer was redubbed Firebrand for American audiences in this trilogy of side-scrolling action games. In each game, the Demon World finds itself on the brink of destruction thanks to corrupted monsters pushing for power and causing civil war. Only in a time of crisis will the Red Blaze awaken, a fire-red mutated gargoyle with the power to bring the demon world to peace.

I’ve only played two of the three Firebrand games, missing out on the NES game back in the day. However, both the original Game Boy Gargoyle’s Quest and the SNES Demon’s Crest remain personal favorites of mine. Atmospheric in their dark nature, they sport a perfect blend of side-scrolling action, RPG advancement, and exploration beyond thought capable at the time.

While in Gargoyle’s Quest, Firebrand is not much more than a chubby little demon, he really comes into his own on the Super Nintendo. Demon’s Crest stars the gargoyle on a quest to find the eight crests which control the world’s elements. Each crest will not only change his color, but his entire form, giving him webbed feet, bulkier legs, larger wings, or extra horns.

Even in his most simple form, Firebrand is just plain awesome. He can fly, breathe fire, and cling to walls with his steel nails. In fact, he begins Demon’s Crest battling in outer space with a demon dragon and plummets back to Earth unscathed. And when he dies in battle, his skin melts off his body, leaving behind a pile of crumpled bones behind. Gross!

Capcom has a lot of forgotten gems from the arcade days, and only a few survived the jump to home consoles: Strider Hiryuu, Radd Spencer, Captain Commando. Whether he is the savior of the demon world or the destroyer of pesky exhibitionist knights, the Red Arremer is the king of them all.

Demon’s Crest was not a huge success, and the Firebrand side series has been derailed ever since. However, Capcom does stick the Red Arremer in a crossover game here and there. He most recently appeared as a playable character in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, the most love he’s ever gotten since his SNES masterpiece. Hopefully Capcom is keeping an eye out for interest in the character. I’d be more than happy to soar through the skies of the Demon World again with the red guy.