Being the last SNES/SFC game for now, "Bishin Densetsu Zoku: The Legend of Bishin" is, regrettably, a game with a great concept and amazing artwork that just failed to deliver on a few fundamental levels. Developed and published by the small studio at Magifact in 1993, I remember seeing the box for this years ago and thinking I had to at least try it; after all, it was illustrated by Katsuya Terada, who also did covers for titles like Battle K-Road and Sol Divide, though this is easily my favorite. What you essentially have here is Mode 7 driving (ala F-Zero, Kat's Run, etc.) combined with a beat-em-up (ala Final Fight, Streets of Rage, etc., but with a system similar to "The Combatribes") and an optional versus fighting game. It was marketed as the "3R System" (Real Time, Real Street, Real Battle). Sounds awesome right? Yeah, I wish it was.
To its credit, the game opens with great imagery and a plot: In 2010 (their future), the world was faced with a great recession and Japan was no exception, plummeting into a massive downward spiral. Society, pushed to the brink, had almost given up on living and by 2020, it was every man and woman for themselves as they bore their fangs at one another during Mt. Fuji's cataclysmic explosion which wiped out most major areas in Japan. The lava continued to spread, wiping out one city after another, and although their government did the utmost job with the police and their cyber cars to maintain order, they lost their authority due to the sheer rise in violence and anarchy, struggling to be relevant in their efforts. In the middle of all this stood one thriving hi-tech city in Tokyo that avoided all the turmoil, but it has been ruled by the baddest clan of Japan with special powers, referred to by the people as Bishin... and at the top of the clan was the one they call the goddess of hell on a highly tuned, high-tech armored machine.
It's here that twenty-year-old Koji and sixteen-year-old Risa enter the scene. Koji is an inter-high boxing champion and owner of the fastest car on the road, a modified legendary "Shelby Cobra 429" who has his reasons for shutting down the Bishin clan with Risa, a prodigious karate expert who joined Bishin a year prior after her mother's death and was so skilled that she rose to the No.2 spot within the clan before realizing they were part of the problem and not the solution. Each level involves players driving to a designated place on the map before a (usually) strict deadline. Along the way, you encounter enemies and obstacles that will attempt to kill you or throw you out of your car into beat-em-up segments where you fight to get back to your car. You can also grab nitro for a boost of speed and repair kits to restore your car's health one level. The graphics are okay, though the game runs at a lower resolution than average and the music is simple and repetitive.
So what's the problem? Well, the gameplay is significantly flawed. The in-game map shows where you need to be but gives no clue whatsoever on how to get through the labyrinthine roads... by default anyway. There is actually a code to change the navigation to actual roads, but this wasn't common knowledge at the time (because you needed to beat the highest difficulty) and even with it, you need to utilize both navs, which is difficult when you're constantly bombarded by threats. It's very easy to die on the driving segments without going slow and you have to drive almost perfectly and know where you're going to make some stages in time this way. You could drive faster at the risk of crashing into everything or collide into other cars who always zip around you or, god forbid, actually get tossed from the car, where another problem comes up: the fighting.
Fighting is actually easy if you know the special attacks (though throw collision is garbage) and bosses are modestly fun to fight, but random skirmishes have the clock ticking, so if you get thrown out twice or even once, you might as well lose a continue since you won't make it on time. Your orientation changes when you return to your car and you can't even drive in reverse. The worst part of all this is that you don't get a real ending unless you play on the highest difficulty, and most people can't seem to win on easy (less health and more vehicles on higher difficulties at random, nitros mostly kill you anyway). While the beat-em-up segment is basic, it's at least somewhat competent and it's a shame the whole package couldn't pull it together as it's a great concept.
I wanted to like this game... it's got a sweet car, great art, a neat plot for an SFC game, was one of the more mature titles on the system and it should've been a grand slam... oh well. This is a video of the game in action, deliberately getting thrown out once. Enjoy.
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