Last night, I kicked off my mission to Conquer the TurboGrafx-16 by taking on Keith Courage in Alpha Zones. I went into the game with some amount of experience having played the game now and again over many years, but the monotony of the levels led me to never having beaten it (nor getting close).
I went into the game not having read up on it (the manual does give good information) or knowing how difficult or long the game would be. I wanted a clean, fresh experience as if I was a kid again. To my surprise, the game was fairly easy for 6 levels. I could farm gold when I needed it, the bosses were absurdly simple to beat, and I only got lost in a zone once or twice and only very briefly. (The environment is pretty repetitive and it’s easy to confuse where you’ve been with what’s uncharted territory.) In about an hour and a half, I’d gotten through 6 levels.
Each level is broken up into two parts: a stock-up area where you’re collecting gold and making purchases in preparation for the second area which is the battle up towards the boss. There’s virtually no risk of death in the first part (I died only once when I mistimed a jump), and even the second part isn’t too hard but there are some really challenging (and often frustrating) jumps with enemies laying in wait. Ya know…I can’t emphasize enough how often that happens, really, but pro tip: use your sword every time you jump.
When I got to level 7, I presumed this was going to be a classic 8-level game. A lot of games stole that 8-level formula from Super Mario Bros back in the day. Well, as it would turn out, level 7 is the final level (the manual makes this clear, in fact) but MY GOSH I COULD NOT BEAT IT.
The first trap was that the weapons master was offering to sell me a (very expensive) sword that I already had and so I couldn’t buy it. However, I was confused because the sword he said I had wasn’t the name of the sword he was offering, so why couldn’t I buy it? For a while, I feared a glitch. Why? Well, I’d gotten information in the game that I “need the final sword to beat the final boss.” And, boy, was that final boss a handful! Surely it was because I didn’t have that last sword? Well, turns out there are only 6 swords among the 7 levels and the game merely gives you a second chance to buy the last sword in case you missed it the first time, so while I think there was still a glitch, it was only a dialogue glitch.
In the end, it took me 2.5 hours, and about 15 tries, to beat that final boss. Actually, I’m quite impressed with the logic and skill required to beat him, but beat him I did! I know. I was shocked myself. Fittingly, the beat came down to my having one last bit of health left and somehow managing to put 7 straight hits on him for the win. Today, I found out there really is a glitch in the level, but it just so happened to be a way to beat the final boss without him…ever…moving.
I’m kind of glad I didn’t accidentally stumble on to that. Pretty cheap way to cap things off. (Would’ve saved a ton of my time, however.)
Overall, while Keith Courage in Alpha Zones was graphically charming at the time, the repetition of the levels and enemies in the game makes things a bit monotonous. Weak bosses and constantly needing to farm gold means the effort of the game is placed in the wrong places. Short levels with little challenge make the game go by too quickly until the difficulty ramps up enormously with the final boss. It’s not a high quality game, which is a shame, because it was the pack-in title, and one that can be beaten in 4 hours.
Still, I’m excited that after all these years, I finally completed the first TG-16 game I ever played as a 13 year old. There’s something so satisfying about finishing a story that you’ve been starting and stopping for 27 years. It’s part of why I love retro games!
Welp…one game down. 93 to go! Up next will be Splatterhouse! If you’d like to keep track of my progress, follow me on Twitch.