This has always been a strange one for me. I had seen Kabuki Quantum Fighter in the stores many times but ignored it because of its name. First of all I did not know what a Kabuki was. And second that box art did it no favors. I also bought Marvel’s X-Men over Vice: Project Doom so what the hell did I know. If I had taken the time do any kind of research I would have learned that this is a well-designed platformer that hangs with the best of them in some respects. This is a great game that has flown under the radar far too long.
If you are expecting the game’s story to somehow explain its name it does so loosely. In the distant future something has hacked into the world’s mainframe computer and taken control. These same systems control the country’s nuclear warheads, with Armageddon imminent. The solution is to transfer the mind of Colonel Scott O’Connor into data to combat the rogue code. Since the system is untested no one knows what to expect. So it comes as a surprise when Scott transforms into a Kabuki figure. This occurs because the system recognizes one of Scott’s ancestors as a Kabuki performer which has an influence on him.
It is flimsy and hacked together to differ from its Japanese counterpart. The game is known as Jigoku Gokuraku Maru and is loosely based on a film called Zipang. In it a futuristic city that is controlled by a computer has been taken over. With its loss of control the city begins to degrade which only slightly explains the weird fauna and demons flying around. Bottom line the plot makes little sense in either incarnation.
Your primary weapon is your hair which comes as no surprise. It has medium range and attacks pretty quickly making it very effective. You have a few melee attacks depending on the situation but largely that wild mane is what you will rely on. There are a host of secondary weapons that use a resource called Chips as ammo. Anyone familiar with Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden will be right at home with this system but it differs too. For one you gain a new weapon after every level. You can also switch at any time with each using a different number of chips.
That being said I found the side weapons disappointing. You begin with the fireball but its range is short that you might as well use your hair instead, especially as it is weak too. The super fireball is stronger and probably the second best weapon in the game. The fusion gun releases three fireballs in different directions which is situationally useful. Quantum bombs aren’t worth the number of chips they use. The best weapon is the bola which wraps around a target for continuous damage. It is devastating against bosses which is probably why you won’t see it until the end of the game.
While disappointing it doesn’t hurt the game overall. Combat isn’t the focus, platforming is. Colonel Scott is a dexterous protagonist and can climb and hang from nearly any surface. Initially it doesn’t ask much of your skills. There are platforms to swing on but those usually only lead to an alternate path to the exit. By the mid-point they become more elaborate and task you with fending off enemies while timing jumps and beating the clock. Reaching the end level bosses with a decent amount of health becomes a task in itself that is incredibly fun. In many ways it reminds me of Sunsoft’s Batman, not just in look but the way the stages are laid out. It becomes tricky to navigate without taking damage but very satisfying once you do. Even the boss battles follow this same curve. I wish more of the NES library were this well balanced.
If you thought the main character’s design was weird than the rest of the game is similar trippy. Although it takes inside a computer each area is full of organic demons and machinery. The visual design is like a mashup of Batman and Ninja Gaiden with some areas looking almost as if they were ripped from those games. While it isn’t original it also means the game looks great too. Sadly the music is completely forgettable which sucks as this could have been the total package.
There is no denying that Kabuki Quantum Fighter is a bit derivative however its gameplay is strong enough that it doesn’t matter. This is a very strong platformer with a perfect difficulty curve and serves as a nice alternative to the usual greats. Ignore the silly title and a great platformer awaits.