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.

First, I suppose some introductions are in order.  I'm Jess Ragan, the editor of The Gameroom Blitz and a freelance staffer for Digital Press.  I've been reading DP in one form or another for many years, and have been playing video games even longer.  You'd think that I would have been overjoyed with the idea of an emulator that can handle nearly every arcade game I've ever played, but oddly, I didn't warm up to MAME at first.  I always felt that it was much too slow, so much so that it was practically worthless on the computers I've owned in the past.  Luckily, I was able to afford a much faster machine last year, and as a result the MAME experience completely transformed... it went from one of my least favorite emulators to the one I play most often.

That's why I've chosen to write about MAME and the many games it supports in my monthly column for Digital Press.  There's been plenty of coverage for the more popular arcade titles, so I'm going to concentrate primarily on the games you may have missed in arcades, as well as a few titles never intended for Americans.  In the premiere installment of The MAME of the Game, I'm going to help you forget about the miserable winter weather with a couple of games with a southwestern theme and a hot salsa flavor... The Togyu and Wild Western.


This was one of my favorite games when I was a child, although I never quite got the name right... I always insisted on calling it Cowboys and Indians, perhaps because it reminded me of that other popular childhood game, played with cap guns instead of joysticks.  At any rate, I was excited to return to this Taito release twenty years later.  Unfortunately, despite having some of the most innovative gameplay of any game released in 1982, Wild Western doesn't hold up as well as some of my other childhood favorites.

The main problem with Wild Western is that the gameplay is rather awkward... you're forced to deal with two joysticks and two buttons in your mission to defend a railroad train from a gang of low-down dirty robbers.  The first joystick guides your player, and the second aims his gun... yet doesn't fire it.  This is accomplished with one of the buttons.  This can be a little frustrating, but fortunately, the other button isn't used very often.  If one of the bad guys makes a jump for the train, you'll need to press it to leap off your horse and meet him there.  You can't pick him off on horseback because your shots will merely bounce off the side of the train... you'll have to meet him eye to eye if you plan to gun him down.  If you let him survive, his friends will jump for the train and eventually overwhelm it, and you can kiss your sheriff's badge goodbye.

It's a fantastic idea for a video game, which is probably why I loved it so much when I was a kid.  However, Wild Western isn't as good as you'd expect, mainly because it's tough to pick off your adversaries thanks to the overly complicated control and the train which essentially splits the screen in half.  It's mighty tough to cross from the left hand side of the screen to the right because if the train doesn't get you, the rain of shots from the train robbers probably will.  Also, the ability to leap off your horse is very limited... you'll only use it when the train is in danger of being hijacked.  If you plan on jumping from your horse to an unmounted steed left in the wake of a fallen opponent, you can forget it... all you'll get is thrown off your own horse.  Finally, the artwork is kind of ugly... unlike most of Taito's games, which were vivid and attractive even in the early 80's, Wild Western is full of plainly drawn backgrounds and tiny sprites drawn from an awkward overhead perspective.  The music, comprised of comfortably familiar western themes, helps make the game both more credible and entertaining, but don't expect to be amazed with anything else in Wild Western.

I'll bet a more complete, graphically enriched sequel (on the Game Boy Advance, perhaps?) would be marvelous, but the original Wild Western only deserves an above average rating of six.

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This came as a huge surprise.  I expected a game with a strong Japanese theme when I first played The Togyu.  What I got instead was a matador simulation, and a pretty enjoyable one at that.  Now, I don't really advocate the slaughter of animals for sport, no more than the average Mortal Kombat fan would recommend ripping the heads off his friends, but I have to say that I really had fun with The Togyu.  It's challenging, varied, and best of all, original... I mean, how many matador games can you say you've played in your lifetime?  After The Togyu, I think my current total is up to... er, one.

Anyway, here's the deal.  On one side of the screen is an angry bull.  On the other is a Spanish matador armed with a red cape and a sword.  You, of course, are the matador, and your job is to taunt the bull with the cape, then run him through with the sword when he's within striking distance.  Of course, this also puts you within striking distance of his sharp horns, so you'll have to be careful and accurate with your attacks.  If you don't hit him in his weak point, a small flashing dot on his back, the bull won't die and will continue to pursue you.  Even if you do manage to drive the sword in the, heh heh, bullseye, that doesn't guarantee victory.  Sometimes the bull will decide that he's not quite ready to spend his retirement at the nearest Taco Bell and will flick the sword from his back and resume the fight.  To finish him, you'll need to collect the sword and once again hit his weak point.

You'd think that a game like this would be pretty repetitive and limited, but it's actually not... the designers have done a great job of making each fight exciting and unpredictable.  You never know just HOW the bull is going to act, and you're never entirely sure if your sword will kill or just graze him.  Sometimes the sword will be thrown from your hands in a close encounter with the steer, and sometimes you'll be able to trick him into colliding with the nearest wall, earning you extra points.  Sometimes you'll only be winded rather than gored when the bull hits you, and another matador will draw the mad cow away from you as you struggle to return to your feet.  This is the game's greatest strength and what will keep you playing even though the graphics are only average (when the bull finally dies, he bleeds what looks like Pepto-Bismol from his nose) and controlling the cape is somewhat unreliable.

I probably wouldn't be so generous if there were a dozen matador games out there, but since The Togyu is the only one I've ever played, I'll give it a rating of seven.  Because of its generic Japanese title, it'd be easy to mistake this for another nudie mahjong game, but rest assured that the only strips you'll find in The Togyu are the strips of beef you've carved from the angry steers.  And, um, the ladies in the second bonus stage.  Well, at least you're not forced to play mahjong to see them.

MAME TIP:  If your joystick is anything like mine, you'll quickly notice that most games aren't properly configured for it.  Furthermore, some titles were originally designed for two controllers... for instance, Ikari Warriors and its cousin Time Soldiers had dials that let you change the firing direction of your gun-toting heroes.  I've found that setting the dial to the left and right shoulder buttons on a controller is the best solution for these games.  To change the controller set-up in MAME, hit P to pause the game, then TAB to access the game menu.  Go to INPUT (this game) and press Enter.  From here, it's very easy to change the controller input... just press Enter when the cursor is on the button you wish to change, then press the button you wish to use instead.  If you decide not to use that button after all, move the cursor away from the selection, then back to it to use an alternate button... this instructs MAME that you only want to use one button, not several, to fire, jump, or use bombs.

Stay tuned next month when MAME of the Game reviews two furry platformers, Kangaroo and the more obscure Orca release Springer (a game better known to frustrated 2600 fans).

A new "MAMExpose" can be found herearound the 10th of every month!

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Last updated: Saturday, April 23, 2005 07:48 AM

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