For the arcade game fan who plays arcade games at home,Jess Ragan's "MAMExpose" presents you with the many joys - andpitfalls - of emulation, specifically those found while using our favoriteprogram in the universe: MAME.

We're doing away with the themes for this edition of MAMExpose.  This time, we've reviewed a grab bag of miscellaneous arcade games which you may have missed.  All of them are worth playing, but which ones are the best of the bunch?  Read on and find out!

Biomechanical Toy
Zeus, 1995


When your world's been conquered by an evil wizard with bladder control issues and its mightiest heroes have been kidnapped, who 'ya gonna call?  The only guy you CAN call, of course... Ignuz, the plastic coated, pistol-packing action star who looks like a pint-sized Steven Seagal.  He runs through each stage in Biomechanical Toy, unloading his guns on countless hostile foes and rescuing helpful sidekicks.  The game is similar to Contra or Metal Slug, but with a stronger emphasis on platforming and a distinct European look that would be more at home on an Amiga computer than in an arcade.  If you're looking for a fast-paced run 'n gun shooter that doesn't take itself too seriously, Biomechanical Toy might fit the bill, although you're going to be disappointed if you expect it to be of the same high quality as the first three Metal Slug games.  Biomechanical Toy has a nasty habit of dragging you back to checkpoints after you die, and the game's hardware chokes when the screen is full of enemies and bullets (I thought maybe my computer was responsible for this, but a quick frame rate check revealed that the arcade hardware was to blame for this choppiness).  I'll give Biomechanical Toy a seven.  Fans of the Amiga computer will enjoy it a little more than I did... for them, I'll give it an eight.

Jaleco, 1993


It's hard to believe I missed this one back when I was reviewing giant robot games in a previous installment of MAMExpose.  It's a slick shooter with a high level of challenge and guns so big you've got to hop aboard them to use them.  Now THAT'S firepower!  If that wasn't enough to make you fall in love with the game, there's also omni-directional fire (ensuring that no enemy will ever be able to sneak up behind you) and a laser sword which cleanly splits your adversaries in half.  Features like these make Cybattler so much fun that you'll be willing to forgive the game for its incredibly irritating soundtrack and stingy distribution of power-ups.  You're rarely given any at all, which detracts from the otherwise fantastic experience.  You'll still have a lot of fun with Cybattler, even if it leaves you begging for more weapons like Oliver Twist begs for another bowl of gruel at an orphanage cafeteria.  I give it a commendable eight.


Tinkle Pit
Namco, 1993


I'll give you a minute to stop laughing at the game's silly title.  Done yet?  Good.  Now that you've got those visions of toilet bowls out of your head, I'll reveal that Namco's Tinkle Pit is not at all what you may have expected.  It's an old-school action game, similar to the ones Namco used to make back in its glory days.  However, Tinkle Pit's got beautifully drawn graphics you won't find in any of Namco's early classics.  Your pudgy little hero and his enemies are impressively shaded, vibrantly colored, and just so gosh darned cute you'll want to reach into your monitor and hug 'em.  The gameplay is a cross between Pac-Man and Dig Dug, but instead of a air pump, you're armed with a bell, like the ones you'd find around a cat's neck.  To clear the screen of enemies, you'll need to drop the bell, leaving a trail of elastic cord behind you.  When the bad guys start following this trail, that's when you tug on the cord.  The bell will obediantly snap back into your hands, knocking out any foes it touches as it speeds toward you.  It's a unique play mechanic, but it leaves you helpless against any enemy smart enough to meet you head on.  Tinkle Pit's not the classic that Dig Dug and Pac-Man were, but it's nearly as charming, thanks to its adorable graphics and cameos by other Namco characters.  Tinkle Pit's a solid game that deserves a seven.

Tube Panic
3D Shooter
Nichibutsu/Fujitek, 1984


I imagine this game must have made more than a few eyes bulge back in 1984, when it was first released.  Sure, scaling and rotation is nothing special these days, but twenty years ago, these effects were unexplored territory, with Tube Panic being one of the first pioneers.  You may have been blown away the first time you saw smoothly scrolling 3D effects on the Super NES, but you could only imagine how players must have felt seeing these effects for the first time anywhere.  Tube Panic is still impressive today, and on top of that, it's a pretty entertaining shooter.  There's not much in the way of depth... you simply speed through a series of cylindrical stages, blasting robots and taking detours through holes which offer the added bonus of shielding your ship for a short period of time.  When you reach the end of the tube, you've got to dock with a mothership to refuel and, if you're lucky, earn a bonus for parking in the dead center of the landing strip.  The gameplay isn't quite as satisfying as it is in similar shooters like Gyruss and Tempest, but Tube Panic is still quite fun to play... and even more fun to watch.  I give it an eight.

MAME TIPS:  Remember, you don't have to stick with the default options for every game.  Right click the title of the game you wish to play, then select Properties.  This comes in handy if you want to play a particular game in a window, or wish to customize it to your liking without changing the features in the three thousand other games MAME supports.  For instance, if you want to turn off the colored overlay in Star Castle, making the graphics more crisp, you can make this change without affecting the other vector games in your collection.

In the next edition of MAMExpose, we pay tribute to Data East, a game company which enjoyed great success in the 1980's with hits like Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja.  Sadly, the decline of arcades and an inability to satisfy the demands of today's gamers put this former industry leader out of business.  In two short months, we'll examine some of Data East's lesser known arcade titles.

You've played plenty of bad games on game consoles, but what about bad arcade games? In the next MAMExpose, we'll look at a few titles that aren't worth a second look, let alone a second quarter.

A new "MAMExpose" can be found herebi-monthly!

For "back issues" of this column, click HERE.

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Last updated: Monday, July 04, 2005 10:03 PM