From The CRPG Addict
|The game is up-front about its content.|
The game is set in Cobra City, which happens to be on Cobra Island, an isolated U.S. territory south of Florida. (The game never really resolved whether it’s technically part of Florida or its own thing.) Lately, a bunch of women have gone missing and gangs are roaming the streets unchecked. “The best private eye in Florida” has arrived in town to investigate, summoned by a longtime (female) acquaintance, whose friend Donna, a scientific researcher, is one of the missing women.
|A James Bond-ish montage begins the game.|
I originally started playing about three weeks ago, just for an hour or so, before putting it aside in favor of Legends of the Lost Realm. When I fired it up again, I was tickled to find that the hero’s name was “Max Stostero” (a play on “testosterone”), his childhood friend was named “Sugar Saddler,” and–best of all–the bad guy was named “Harland” (which happens to be the name of one of my frequent commenter-antagonists). It wasn’t until after I finished the game and consulted some external materials that I realized–and remembered–that I had designated those names myself, which you can do during character creation. (It’s really the only thing you can do during character creation.) The defaults are “JR Knight” for the detective, “Faythe Watson” for his friend, and “Kaiser” for the villain, but I’ll use my characters’ names throughout.
|What passes for “character creation.”|
The game takes place over several moderately-sized areas approached in a linear order, starting with Central Cobra City, then moving to West, South, and East sections before taking a weird turn through a cemetery and finishing up in a castle. All exploration is from a top-down view, with the usual Japanese “Goofy Cartoonish Little Men” (GCLMs) for Max and Sugar (or JR and Faythe, whatever). In one rarely-seen innovation, the character icons change to reflect their current clothing.
|You ultimately find maps of most of the areas.|
The game begins with Max arriving in Central Cobra City and immediately peering through a telescope at a collection of women on a nude beach. Enraptured, he fails to notice a gang of thugs approaching and must quickly defeat them in combat. Soon, he finds his way to Sugar’s apartment and adds her to the “party,” which contains only Max and Sugar throughout the game. We’ve had lots of single-character games and lots of party games, but I don’t remember a prior “duo” game.
|Max meets with his compatriot.|
Each of the city’s sections has its own quest to solve and its own shops, buildings, and items hidden beneath bushes and in fountains and such. Some of the buildings are enterable and explorable (and have their own hidden items to find; you basically have to rub up against every piece of furniture); others offer menu shops. Most of the ares have a delivery service that Max can join, both for some extra cash and as a plausible excuse to enter various homes. Slowly, Max and Sugar build their inventories and finances and uncover the main plot.
|Sure, that makes sense.|
|Looting houses, just like in Zelda.
There is sex and nudity, but most is surprisingly optional. For instance, Max can trade ladies’ undergarments, which are found copiously throughout the city’s houses, to a collector who offers dirty pictures in exchange. But you don’t have to do this, or look at the pictures. There are a couple of prostitutes in the bars, but hiring them is not mandatory and ultimately doesn’t do anything for the character or plot.
|One of the optional encounters.|
Perhaps most notably, Max meets maybe half a dozen women throughout the game that he can later call from Sugar’s apartment phone, invite on dates, and ultimately have sex with. For players looking primarily for an eroge, this I suppose is the highlight of the game. Each encounter offers a menu on which Max can select lips, hands, or sex toys and then apply them to various parts of the females’ bodies. If he gets the right sequence of foreplay options (which as far as I can tell is completely arbitrary), he is able to consummate the encounter. If not, the woman goes home in a huff and he has to call her and try again.
|Some of the options during amorous encounters.|
|Hint: using the “candle” never seems to produce a positive result.|
The images follow usual Japanese rules (no actual genitalia), but scenes are, shall we say, quite verbosely narrated in text, plus accompanied by the types of “sound effects” you don’t want blasting out of your speakers at midnight in a Ukrainian hotel. That’s about all I’ll describe. I don’t imagine many circumstances in which I would find video games a titillating experience, and much less so with this graphical style accompanied by poorly-written erotica in which half the words are misspelled. I quickly fast-forwarded through the scenes and opted out of most of the possible experiences. There are a couple of unavoidable ones, however.
What I will say about the game’s approach to sex is that it’s less exploitative than any of the eroge we’ve seen so far. Not only is everything consensual, but the women are not depicted erotically while being attacked, as in Xentar. For the most part, they look plausibly adult. Sugar is an equal protagonist. Max does not gain any powers from abusing her, and she isn’t depicted unclothed until the end. Max, while something of a ladies’ man, is neither a sexual titan nor an inept fool. There are no small penis or body odor jokes.
Let’s move on to the RPG elements. Wandering through the streets and dungeons, combat occurs about once every 12 seconds. The frequency would make the game unplayable if the episodes weren’t so short. You face generally one enemy at a time, drawn from a gallery of grotesques who all seem to be satirizing something. With your chosen weapon in hand, you click on various parts of the enemies’ bodies. Each enemy has a different “weakest” area, though it’s usually easy to figure it out; heads and exposed skin almost always work. The trick is that every round, the cursor starts in a different screen location, so you have to be quick on the draw to move it to your chosen enemy location and click. If you’re fast, you can hit him more times than he hits you. When you win, most enemies are simply “dispersed” rather than killed, although winning boss combats usually rewards you with a picture of the enemy corpse.
|A gallery of some of the game’s weird foes.|
You can find a variety of inventory items to improve your chances in combat, including special throwable items that do direct damage (e.g., poison darts, firecrackers, throwing stars, grenades) and those that diminish or scare away the enemy (e.g., tear gas, perfume, “magic spray”). The characters can find or buy healing pills of different levels.
The problem is that the combat is both too frequent and too easy. You’re never remotely in danger from random combats, and even the “boss” combats can usually be won without resorting to any special items. Health regenerates so quickly outside of combat that you almost never have to take your healing pills.
|Items for sale in one of the clothing stores.|
You get frequent equipment upgrades. Max starts with a Magnum and can buy a Model 10 revolver, but ammunition is rare and expensive, so you generally save the guns for the boss combats. For other times, you find an escalating series of melee weapons such as a pocket knife, a baseball bat, and an axe. “Armor” consists of increasingly heavy versions of regular clothing; for instance, denim is better than regular cloth and leather is better than denim.
Leveling occurs at a rate of about 1 level per 20 minutes, and it’s accompanied by increases in accuracy, damage, speed, and hit point maximums.
That leaves the plot, which starts somewhat sensibly but then takes some weird turns. The inciting mystery–the missing women–is solved mostly on the first map. By wandering around and talking with NPCs (particularly denizens of the bar), Max slowly learns that women are being lured into a placed called “Club 10” with promises of modeling jobs. The club only allows females to enter; Sugar goes in looking for Donna and is abducted. Max must figure out how to enter and rescue her. He ultimately does so posing as a courier. He fights a few battles before fighting and killing Tacker, the owner of the club, who has been trafficking the women to Hong Kong.
|Max gets some key intelligence from a bar.|
Sugar’s friend Donna is not among the women rescued, however. Neither is Yvonne, the daughter of the local train engineer. When the game begins, only Central Cobra City is accessible. East Cobra City can’t be reached because the bridge is washed out. The workmen needed to fix the bridge are all in South Cobra City, normally accessible by train, but the train’s driver is in West Cobra City, which is behind a locked gate, looking for his daughter. The keys to the gate are found on Tacker’s body, opening up the new area.
In West Cobra City, Max must solve a series of interrelated quests to get into a new establishment called the House of Leather and Chain. To do this, Sugar has to learn a psychic skill called “Dowzing” to find hidden items and places. In the House, the pair fight a couple of perverts and rescue Yvonne.
|And when I say “perverts”…|
With Yvonne freed, the engineer goes back to work, and the party visits South Cobra City, where the police station is located. Max soon finds out that the police have been taken over and turned into a military force by a General Fist, with all of the officers under some kind of weird spell. The pair finds Donna’s research assitant, Melissa, who relates that a man named Harland arrived recently and wanted to use the lab facilities to manufacture a drug called Accocin, which is supposed to cure drug addiction. Instead, it turned out to be a powerful hypnotic drug that Harland used to enslave the populace.
|“We march now for the Texas border.”|
Max has to find an army uniform and colonel’s insignia to get access to key locations, then confront General Fist in his estate. The estate is a pain to navigate, requiring numerous battles against tough enemies called “Dark Knights” plus solving a navigation puzzle.
|These guys were only vulnerable on their lightly-armored necks.|
Once Fist is dead, the city manages to rebuild the bridge to East Cobra City. The key goal there is to enter Donna’s research lab, but when the pair first visits, it’s too cold to enter. They have to run around solving quests to ultimately borrow a pair of winter coats from one of the residents. This allows them to assault the lab, kill Mechacrone (one of Harland’s lieutenants), and rescue Donna. They also rescue the mayor’s daughter at some point during this process, but I took poor notes on that.
|Sugar ruins all my fun.|
There are a fair number of optional encounters and side quests on each map, including Max participating in a hangover remedy experiment and getting poisoned, visiting a fortuneteller who accurately describes the endgame, and pillaging a house occupied by occultists.
Towards the end, the game takes a weird turn towards fantasy. It turns out that Harland is holed up in a three-floor castle in the middle of a cemetery. The heroes have to take a train to the cemetery and find their way to the castle via a maze of up and down ladders connecting various points on the surface to various catacombs. During this adventure, Max and Sugar meet a resistance movement hiding in the catacombs, and one of them gives Max the Sword of Gaia, the best weapon in the game. Somewhere around this time, Sugar gets a stun gun that paralyzes opponents for a short time.
|How about a shotgun instead?|
Eventually, they find their way to the castle, which though only three small floors took almost as long as the rest of the game up to this point. It was a nightmare of doors, keys, stairs, and backtracking as I had to find four crystals and affix them to four pyramids to shut off a force field or something. Keep in mind that combats are still happening every 12 seconds or so. It took a tedious 5 or 6 hours, though by this point I was on the flight home and thus grateful for a lack of breasts on my screen.
|Don’t ask me what this was about. I was running on fumes at this point.|
|Taking on the final challenger.|
|The heroes flee the crumbling castle.|
|NPCs line up to congratulate the team.|
|This is perhaps the best reward I’ve ever received in an RPG.|
|Max immediately spoils the mood.|
|Way to cut down on the sequel possibilities.|