In 1992, Taito released a game with the misleading title of Silent Dragon. It was not, I discovered, the touching tale of a mythical beast who joins a Trappist monastery to work through some deep spiritual trauma, but rather a side-scrolling beat-em-up in which some vaguely martial-arty types punch some guys. Oh well, I've inserted my credit now. Let's see what awaits us, shall we?
Would you care to guess the plot? Go on, give it a try. If you said "[Main Character]'s girlfriend has been kidnapped! You must fight to get her back! And also for justice!" then you are correct. So far, Silent Dragon is off to a very generic start. Let's have a look at our fighters, then:
So, we've got Joe, whose fighting style is apparently "Fighter". There's Lee, the kung fu master, which means he'll be rubbish. For some bizarre reason, in the majority of side-scrolling beat-em-ups "kug fu master" is equivalent to "punching bag". Poor Lee has wasted his life. Next is Kato the ninja, who is shushing us in that picture. What a rude ninja. Finally we have Sonny, a GI who is slowly falling out of frame. These are the men tasked with defeating the evil Dr. Bio and saving the world. Who is Dr. Bio? Well, apart from possibly being Baby Bio's father, he is this guy:
The effeminate Joker-looking guy, I mean, not the blonde damsel. That'd be a great turnaround, though; fluffy blonde girlfriend snaps and kidnaps respected bioengineer. It's almost M. Night Shyamalan-esque. I quite like Dr. Bio. He's certainly a little different from the normal villain that you might expect to find in this kind of situation. So, you chooses a character and the game begins.
Stage One starts with you jumping off a boat, which is a pretty high-octane way to start. I went with Joe for most of the game, partly because he's got the best balance of power and speed and partly because he throws out a Shoryuken at the end of every basic combo he does. The controls are pretty straight forward: attack, jump and a special that drains your health a little when used (in Joe's case, it's a forward flip kick thing, and very useful it is too). As you make your way through the docks, of course some enemies step out to try and destroy you, and they are punks. Street punks of course, the same as always, and these ones are even more generic than usual. There's a guy in a kind of boxing pose, and a guy with spiky hair... and that's about it, really. Granted, I can Dragon Punch them into the sunset like in the picture above, but a little variety wouldn't hurt. Oh, I almost forgot, there is an enemy who is essentially E. Honda in bondage gear, but the less said about that the better, I think. As you move through the stage, the sun slowly sets, which is a nice touch. The second part of the stage starts with you blowing up a Ferrari which someone had inconsiderately parked across the street. I don't know what it says about me, but as soon as I saw the Ferrari, I ran straight over to it and started punching it, ignoring the punks who were trying to hit me. Why did I do that? Have I been mentally conditioned to want to punch expensive cars? The car-smashing minigame in Street Fighter probably isn't helping. I can only hope it doesn't start seeping into my actual life. Eventually you reach the stage's boss, and what a freak he is.
According to the arcade flyer, this guy is called Animal Cupid. Now, that is a name that brings up a lot of questions, and most of them are about bestiality. The kind of questions that you don't want to know the answers to. Dark questions. Let's just stop thinking about it, shall we? Please, stop thinking about what that man did to get the name "Animal Cupid" and just pray to God he runs some kind of animal dating service. He's wearing bandages and nothing else, and the graphics people at Taito went to the extra trouble of giving him a bandage thong. Someone sat down to design this guy and though "You know what he needs?" Exposed buttocks." Thank you, That Guy, wherever you are. Quite posssibly a secure facility somewhere.
Stage two next, and Joe is still travelling through the city. The first thing to notice here is the appearance of the obligatory dominatrix. Every single side-scroller like this has them; I guess just whipping your regular customers isn't enough to pay the bills, and you need to do a bit of freelance evil on the side. To help you dispatch these women, the game lets you pick up a car battery to clobber them with, a weapon which ranks up there with The Punisher's bag of fertilizer as an odd offensive tool. As you hit them with the battery, some construction workers in the background cheer you on, and I end up feeling like a mysogynistic douchebag. Thanks, Taito.
The second half of the stage takes you through a fashion boutique, where more bondage Hondas wait to slap you across the room. It's a short area, and then it's time for the boss, a lion-maned Fist of the North Star wannabe with knives on his wrists. He looks pretty damn cheerful about being a boss, so maybe he was only recently promoted. It was at this point that I noticed that the sprites get smaller as you move into the background, a technique that was used surprisingly rarely and is one of the few things that Silent Dragon does a little differently. The boss is easily defeated, despite his ablility to scale his sprite, and it's on to stage three.
This stage is in the back of a truck, a truck which is apparently impervious to the large piles of dynamite which are constantly exploding inside it. Considering that this truck deposited some enemies during the previous stage, it has a lot of punks inside. Like a clown truck, but instead of clowns it's full of vicious psychopaths. So, like a normal clown car, then. I realised that the enemies don't have names above their health bars in Silent Dragon, and that is disappointing, because it means I can't apply my theory that the enemy names that do appear are chosen by the protagonist when he sees the enemy for the first time. You just lost points, Silent Dragon.
After a while, the sides of the truck fall off and enemies are dropped off by guys on motorcycles, like some kind of evil courier service - goons when you need them, if you like. Then a helicopter appears and shoots missiles at you. It's all go on this truck, I tell you. But who's that jumping down from the chopper? Why it's the stage's boss, and he's pretty god-damn familiar looking.
He's just a palette-and-head swap of the previous boss, but with that swapping they have turned him in to Jagi from Fist of the North Star / Hokuto no Ken. Here's a picture of Jagi:
Okay, so maybe it's just a coincidence and he looks a bit Jagi-esque. Well, here's the bosses profile picture.
Yep, they just ripped him right off, and that's great, because I love Jagi. The boss's name is Wolfkid, and according to the arcade flyer, "He can't be seen in the daytime". I have no idea what that means; does sunlight somehow render him invisible? Is he a vampire? Or does he just stay in bed all day like a shiftless, dole-scrounging scumbag? Well, it's a moot point, because I'm clearly fighting him in the middle of the day and I CAN SEE HIM JUST FINE. As he is Jagi, that means he knows Hokuto Shinken, which may explain why this boss battle is so hard. He's much, much tougher than the last boss, even without having a shotgun. He attacks with combos of little fireballs which seem to be able to hit you when you should be out of range, and they do a lot of damage, too. But, y'know, Hokuto Shinken. What can you do? It turns out what I can do is keep pumping credits in and spamming Joe's special attack, and soon enough the way to stage four is open.
Stage four starts with a monkey throwing a Molotov cocktail at you. No, really. There he is at the top-right of the picture, looking down on the destruction he has wrought, savouring the smell of buring flesh as he breathes deeply with his simian lungs.
What a bastard. Just as you've gotten used to the concept of a dangerous ape with petrol bombs, he changes tack and starts throwing delicious, health-regenerating apples down to you instead. You're messing with my head, monkey-man. Look at you, sitting up there with mischief in your fickle monkey heart like some furry incarnation of Fate. I hate you, Molotov monkey.
The stage continues through the mountains, over a rope bridge that you can boot enemies off of, until you come to a lava-filled cave. In the lava cave lurks a mid-boss. He's a fire-breathing armadillo dragon thing!
After the previous couple of bosses, he's a bit more interesting. As he is an armadillo, you know his attack pattern is going to involve curling into a ball and rolling into you while being invincible, and so it proves. Just once, I'd like an armadillo boss that tries to beat you with laser eye-beams or something. He's easy enough to beat, much easier than Jagi at any rate, and the stage moves on to some kind of Joel Schumacher-inspired neon Indian burial ground. It looks like Sitting Bull should be throwing shapes to some bangin' techno beats nearby, but instead of proud native chiefs, Joe has to face two bosses at once: the Man-Bat who ran (flapped?) away earlier, and a green, bandage-covered, stretchy-armed fella called Frankenman.
Frankenman is pretty cool, actually. I usually like the "hideous creature swathed in bandages" look, like Jennety from Captain Commando or Marco from Kaiser Knuckle. Animal Cupid is a rare exception, but Frankenman pulls it back for bandaged freaks everywhere. But still they are easier to defeat that Wolfkid/Jagi, probably due to Frankenman's terrible posture, which can't be good for his back. With those two defeated, it's on to the final stage.
The final stage is set in the Technodrome, apparently, and it's the fairly standard "assault on the villain's base" setup. You get a bunch of regular punks, and of course you have to re-fight most of the bosses again too. Oh joy. The game shows mercy by not making you fight Wolfkid again, thank god.
There's an airlock that you can open, and then you can hit the goons so they lose their footing and get sucked out. That's all well and good, except that the base is on ground level. Okay, it might be up in the mountains a bit, but it's certainly not in space. Maybe I just don't understand the subtle science of vacuum aerodynamics, but I'm pretty sure that if you open a door at the top of a skyscraper you aren't immediately sucked out into the air. It's at this point that I would be expecting to face the one thing that I thought tied all side-scrolling beat-em-ups together, the one thread that connected them all, from the mighty Final Fights right up to the modern Scott Pilgrims. That thing is an elevator in which you travel while enemies pour in from all sides. Silent Dragon does not have one. I am broken, bereft, destroyed. It's like everything I believed in has been swept away with one sweep of a badly-designed punching animation.
Despite this trauma, I managed to drag myself on until I reached the head honcho, Dr. Bio himself.
He's riding what I can only describe as a Space-Segway. It looks like it should make theremin noises when he moves about. As this game was released in 1992, it's safe to say that Taito predicted the arrival of the Segway by a good eight or nine years, showing how truly ahead of its time Silent Dragon was. I really like Dr. Bio, mostly because he's an effeminate, purple-haired psychopath wearing a lime green zoot suit and an eyepatch with a gun for an arm. Forget your James Bonds, that's cool right there. That isn't Dr. Bio's true form, or course. No, after a few hits all his skin falls off and he is revealed to be a Terminator.
Stomp stomp, punch punch, you get the drill. He's actually really easy to beat by taking advantage of the invincibility offered by your special move to avoid his attacks and then bashing him with a standard combo. I gotta say, I much preferred the first iteration of Dr. Bio, but once his robot form is defeated, that's the end of the game. Boo.
With all the stages complete, I'm still none the wiser as to why this game is called Silent Dragon. It features no dragons, unless you count the armadillo thing, which you shouldn't because HE'S AN ARMADILLO. He's certainly not silent, either. Maybe the Dragon of the title refers to our hero, but he's not silent either. It is a mystery that will never be solved, or more likely it is two English words that Taito liked the sound of together. I think a more appropriate name for Silent Dragon would be No Sleeves: The Game. Seriously, look at the screenshots and you will see that Dr. Bio himself is the only character with sleeves. This game has a real obsession with bare arms. All the enemies have bare arms or are armadillos, all the bosses have bare arms, all the heroes have bare arms. There are more sleeveless jackets here than in the whole of the ninties combined.
The ending? Our hero makes out with a girl. That's the whole ending, that picture. You will notice that the girl is wearing a sleeveless dress. Wait a second, that sleeveless red outfit, those muscular arms, that blonde hair... I think Joe is making out with Ken from Street Fighter. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Well, No Sleeves: The Game is exactly what you would think it is from this rambling article. Short, generic to the point of plagarism and just all round a bit forgettable. But still, I had fun with it, and as it is so short, it doesn't have time to outstay its welcome. Plus, Dr. Bio is a cool, Space Segway ridin' kinda guy. And he has sleeves, making him better than everyone else involved in this game. So give it a go, or not; you probably won't remember it either way.
Here are the arcade flyers:
And here's some gameplay footage. Enjoy!
P.S. Don't forget about the VGJUNK Tumblr!
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