Sega Master System / Mark III / Game Gear
In addition to games consoles, sushi, karaoke bars and horizontally scrolling sword video games, the Japanese are also quite keen on worshipping certain animals as deities. One of them is Inari Daimyojin, the fox deity. Supernaturally powered foxes act as special priests at Inari shrines and keep order over the fox community.
Sooner or later, something had to go wrong among the peaceful worshippers (had to, really — it'd be a bit boring otherwise). Madfox Daimyojin became a priest, developed plans to rule the world and created creatures to help him do it (ho-hum). The foxes of the Inari shrines chose one of the youngsters amongst them to go and eliminate Madfox. That youthful and heroic canine creature was Psycho Fox (who sounds like another bad guy to me. but I didn't write the plot).
The player sends Psycho Fox walking/running (he can move at two different speeds) and jumping across the platforms which make up each sideways scrolling level. The levels have been thrown into disarray by Madfox's powers and strange creatures like gabachos, zizo zizos, poontans and red hoppers are all eager to do his bidding — and that means attacking Psycho Fox. Psycho must defend himself by punching them — not too difficult because he's got an unusually long left arm. There are also traps and devices to be avoided, or preferably used to the Fox's advantage.
There are three parts to each of the seven levels each ending with one of four monster bosses. Luckily there are handy items to be found that can be used on any part of the game. Straw effigies (smart bombs), magic medicine (shield), extra lives and money bags are pretty ordinary, but Bird's Fly is more inventive. The bird perches on Psycho's shoulder and can be sent out to home in and kill creatures. Better still is the psycho stick which allows Psycho to be transformed into different animals; a tiger, who has high speed and long jumping ability; a monkey whose jumps are particularly high; or a hippo, slow and a bad jumper but with high punch-power.
Money bags are used on the between-level game, based on the Japanese lottery. Amida. A path has to be taken to the temple at the top of the Amida and at each junction a money bag is used. If the temple is reached before money runs out a random number of lives is awarded.
What is it about foxes that makes people think they're wild and whacky animals? Perhaps it's all Basil Brush's fault. But I've got nothing to complain about and neither have Sega owners, as Psycho Fox uses this premise to build a fresh new platform game with many sub-elements. Just the running, jumping and punching is enjoyable, especially combined with flexible flag-poles, springboards and collapsing bridges. But then there's the Mario method of killing baddies (jumping directly on top of them), collectable smart bombs and shields, and Bird's Fly, which is by no means a foolproof defence method because the bird flies over nearby enemies. Transforming into the tiger, monkey or hippo doesn't make that much difference but there are some situations where it's best to be a particular beast.
Psycho Fox is both immediately playable, due to its fun graphics and familiar main play elements, and an enduring, challenging product, due to its finely set difficulty level (it ain't easy!) and numerous intricacies to become familiar with. At last an 8-bit Sega game to shout about!
GAME PSYCHO FOX
VERSIONS SEGA MASTER £24.95
SEGA MASTER 83%
A very fun-looking game, lots of bright colours spread around. While some background graphics are little more than functional and bog-standard 'cute', others are very good indeed, with deft shading used to produce wood, glass and metal effects for both rustic and futuristic worlds. Sprites are small yet detailed and the player sprites are like cartoon characters, and move very quickly and smoothly when running. Sound effects are old fashioned but fitting, with the twee music just irritating.