I'm sure you're all at least a little familiar with Sailor Moon: it's one of those things you learn about without trying through cultural osmosis, like Superman or the "music" of X-Factor winners. If you don't know anything about Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, the basic gist is that some pretty girls (bishoujos) act as warriors (that's the senshi bit), fighting evil under their heavenly-body based nicknames. The Sailor bit of the title either comes the characters' day-jobs as rough yet kind-hearted deep-sea trawlermen, or the fact that they fight in their sailor-style school uniforms (well, it is Japanese).
So, that up there's the title screen, and there's an options menu where you can change various settings. You also get a nice MegaDrive rendition of the irritatingly catchy Sailor Moon theme song.
It's rather nicely done, and on the whole the music in BSSM is very nice. I have, however, composed some more fitting lyrics for the theme tune. Ahem:
I walk from left to right punching bad guys,
I jam my pointy shoes right in their eyes,
I keep on hitting them until they die,
In this game called Sailor Moon.
Much more appropriate for the task in hand, I'm sure you'll agree. Anyway, the game is standard side-scrolling punch-a-thon: get from one end of the other, punishing your foes in the name of the moon. Disappointingly there's no two-player mode, but it does give you a generous selection of five playable characters.
That's Sailor Moon herself in the center, and going clockwise from top-left you've got Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Venus and Sailor Jupiter. Bishoujos all, and they've got some nice sprite portraits too. Now, this being a Sailor Moon game and all I should probably play as Sailor Moon herself, but you know what? Screw that. I'm playing as the earthly representative of the Roman god of War! Sailor Mars, you're coming with me. Once you've chosen your warrior, you get the obligatory transformation sequence...
Sega MegaDrive in naked schoolgirl silhouette shocker! Ban this sick filth!
...And then it's on to the first stage.
It's the city streets, as per bloody usual. Mars is wearing a miniskirt and high heels, which where I come from is considered a standard ensemble for a girl to be wearing during a fight in the city centre. Controls-wise, it's a standard setup: one button to attack, one to jump and one to use your health-draining special attack. You've also got a variety of jumping attacks depending on which direction you press in mid-air, and you can hold down the attack button to charge up a projectile attack. All the Sailors have the same moveset, just with different animations. For example, Mars' projectile attack is a little fireball, whereas Venus shoots lightning. Oh, and Venus (Goddess of love, mind you) uses a whip instead of the standard punches and kicks.
A car!? Quick Mars, beat the shit outta it! I mean, watch out for that enemy. I have no idea what is going on with the enemies, because I've never watched Sailor Moon. I assume they're all based on grunts from the show, but what do I know? Nothing, that's what. The first stage has a few different types: there are armoured lizard-man type things, some supremely pissed-off orangutans, deranged-looking women with axes for arms and some pretty women who I guess just weren't pretty enough to become Sailor Senshi. The world of interdimensional monster-fighting teams is a cruel and fickle one indeed.
After five minutes or so, there's a lift. A lift already! I mean, I know you can't have a side-scrolling beat-em-up with them, but normally they don't show up within minutes of the game's opening. The natural order is disrupted. What next, health items that aren't food I found lying on the floor?
Anyway, enemies pour in as the lift crawls upward. For a champion of justice, Mars has no qualms about flinging her opponents out of the elevator and down to a gruesome (and extremely difficult to clean up) pavement-based death. At the top of the lift, the first boss awaits.
That's the boss on the left, the one that looks like a Native American chief who's heavily into S&M. The broad-shouldered fellow on the right is Tuxedo Mask, Sailor Moon's love interest and rose aficionado. He shows up at the start of every boss fight, mumbles something in Japanese and then fucks off without lifting a finger. Thanks a lot. More like Tuxedo Ass, if you ask me.
The boss itself isn't tough at all. In fact, I'm not really sure what its attacks are, because I managed to knock it over, charge up my projectile attack and shoot it as it got up. That made it fall over again, so I just repeated the process until the boss was dead. I AM MARS, LORD OF MARTIAL COMBAT. BOW BEFORE ME, MORTALS! Yep. So, that’s stage one done. You get graded by Tuxedo Mask between stages, although as far as I can tell there's no reward for getting a higher grade. Righto, stage 2 then!
It's a fairground, or rather it's a railway siding with a fairground in the distance. Sailor Mars can see the glowing lights, hear the happy laughter of the normal teens enjoying themselves like any normal teenagers would. Not Mars, though; she is forever bound to her duty. There is nothing in this life for her but kicking orangutans in the face. Still, at least this area has tiny trains driven by pandas. Why? I have no idea, but then again I've never watched Sailor Moon. For all I know, Train-Driving Panda could be a character vital to the plot, perhaps some Deep Throat-esque informant who gives the Sailors tips about their enemies whilst also eating bamboo and being adorable.
There's more nice music here, too. Again, I don't know if it's music from the anime, but it's very pleasant all the same:
It sound more RPG-like to me, though, like something you might find in a Secret of Mana rip-off.
Look at them, the fat fucks. They look like the result of a serious car crash involving Rosie from The Jetsons, a ballerina and a candy cane. They are by far the most irritating normal enemies, and they'll be cropping up in every stage from here on out. The one at the bottom is sliding towards me, legs splayed, a smirk on its otherwise blank robot visage. Look at my junk, that smile seems to whisper. Look at it. Still, they're only clowns, and this is a videogame: that means we get to beat them up. Once that's done, it's on to the second half of the stage.
It... It's beautiful. A world of cakes and here I am playing as a girl with the BMI of a stick insect. To be fair to the Sailors, they don't shy away from dessert; health recovery items in this game take the form of cakes and sundaes that, yes, you find lying on the floor. That makes me wonder why I can't just eat the background to get my health back. I mean, it's a giant cake, right? Unless it's made of fibreglass. Still, those Sailor girls are tough. I'm sure they could handle a diet high in fibreglass.
Onward through the level you go. Occasionally you have to punch you way through a chocolate barrier, which I notice sounds like a euphemism for something truly revolting. Other than that, it's just fighting the same set of enemies until you reach the boss.
It's a camp Nazi! Of course it is. His name is Jadeite (I think), and he fights like you would imagine a pretty boy in a fascist-style uniform would: really badly. He must have been that kid who went to a posh public school and was mercilessly abused by all the older boys. His moves include kicking, jumping and kicking, and a Psycho Crusher. It's not as good as M. Bison's, of course. Much like the first boss, you can keep knocking him over with repeated applications of your projectile attack, so, uh, do that. I can only assume that Jadeite was so rubbish because he was constantly distracted by the pink wafer biscuits that make up the floor of his lair.
Stage three next, and it's got a bit of a gimmick to it.
You've got to stand on the top of these lorries that are constantly shifting around. When they're right next to each other you can walk between them, but when they're apart you're stuck where you are. The real challenge of the level becomes getting enough space to fight the enemies as the driver of your lorry inconsiderately tries to drive off the bloody screen. It is, in essence, a horizontal variation of the ubiquitous lift scenes, although unlike the lift you can't throw your enemies off the lorry and watch them get crushed to a fine red paste by the oncoming traffic.
Turns out the lorries were on their way to a factory, and that's where you'll spend the remainder of the stage. What does this factory make? Well, it's full of cyborg demons with hammers for arms, so I have several theories. It either makes A) Hammer-armed demons, B) croquet sets which said demons then test with their mallet hands, or C) a vast plastic tsunami of licensed Sailor Moon tat. The hammerhands make frustrating opponents as they seem to be able to hit you from anywhere on the screen with their freakish limbs, even if you're nowhere near them. Conversely, Mars seems to sometimes have trouble reaching enemies who are right next to her, which is odd given that her legs make up roughly 80% of her body. You wouldn't think you'd be able to miss with gams like that, but there you go.
Boss time, and it's another camp Space Nazi. This one's called Neflite, and judging by the picture above he has something very interesting hidden in his crotch. Diamonds, possibly, or a miniature reproduction of Michelangelo's David carved in a matchhead. Mars certainly seems keen, anyway. His schtick is speed, and he flies around the room, pausing occasionally to punch you in the back of the head. He's a prick of the first order, and this is the first really challenging fight in the game. The challenge mostly comes from not being able to hit him at all as he jets around the screen like a cheetah on a motorbike. Once you managed to grab him a few times, you'll be on your way to the next stage.
There's not much to say about this stage, really. You're in some kind of castle, fighting the same set of enemies as before. The only difference is that sometimes you have to scroll the screen upwards instead of sideways, and at a couple of points some giant logs roll towards you and you gotta dodge them. Nothing much else to say about this stage, so I'll just say that so far, I'm rather enjoying Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon. Gameplay's fun if a little repetitive, and you do have a bigger moveset than most games of this ilk. The graphics are nice, especially the sprites for the Sailors themselves, and the music is well above average. All in all, it's holding its own amongst the top-ranking MegaDrive brawlers so far.
Another day, another Space Nazi. This one's called Zoisite, and he was so furious at his parents for naming him "Zoisite" that he embarked upon a life of crime. I assume. Maybe not, but it'd make sense. Zoisite here has a trick up his sleeve:
He's an evil clone of Sailor Moon or something. I'm sure this is all explained in the anime, but there're only really three options in a situation like this. It's either Sailor Moon after being hypnotised with a magical spell, a robot or some good old-fashioned crossdressing. Counterfeit Moon here isn't particularly tough, especially after the previous boss, and s/he's susceptible to the repeated projectile attack strategy.
A short stage next, as our heroine battles her way through a cave. I say battles: given her expression in the picture above, it appear the enemies are trying to tickle Mars into submission. There are lots of enemies here, though, lots and lots of them, and it's all a bit of a slog. At least it's got some more nice music:
Aside from many, many enemies, is there anything new in this stage? Well no, not really. There is a bit where you have to destroy a wall before the floor crumbles away, but that's hardly the height of gameplay innovation, is it? Soon enough, the boss shows up. Do you want to have a guess what he looks like?
That's right, he's a Space Nazi. But wait! This one has... a cape! Astounding. Kunzite here also has boomerangs (easy to dodge) and jumping kicks (not so easy to avoid). He's a tough customer, but once you get his timing down you'll well on your way to beating him. And he's the last Space Nazi you'll be fighting in the game. You've beaten them all. Do you know what that makes you? A god damn hero.
Final stage time! It's the Arctic, possibly, or maybe you've been shrunk to microscopic size and placed in a sugarbowl. Look, I don't know how crazy things get in the world of Sailor Moon: for all I know Sailor Mars could be a 50-foot tall robot piloted by Elvis' ghost. And see, now I want a game where you play as a giant robot piloted by the lingering spirit of the King of Rock 'n' Roll. If you don't want that, then there's something terribly wrong with you.
Further in the stage, there's a creepy biomechanical-looking section. Mars cannot handle the terror, and decides to have a lie down on her health bar. It's another gauntlet of foes, and I think you have to fight at least one of everything you've faced previously (except the Space Nazis). Once you're through, it's time for a boss.
Prince Endymion is his name, and what a regal-looking fellow he is too. Slightly confusingly, I think he's the same guy as Tuxedo Mask except from an alternate universe or something. No matter who he is, he got between Mars and her vaguely-defined goal and therefore he must die. He's all about the sword, and conveniently it can fire projectiles. He's a bit like Kunzite, except with more health. Once he's dead, it's final boss battle time.
The last boss is the evil Queen Beryl. Beryl? Not generally a name I associate with evil rulers of dark dimensions. It's more the kind of name you expect an 80-year-old suburban grandmother to have. Maybe that's what Beryl's life is like when she's not plotting to destroy super-powered schoolgirls (I say super-powered, but from what I've seen Sailor Mars doesn't have any powers that couldn't be replicated by a gymnast armed with a petrol-filled water pistol). As befits her royal status, Queen Beryl is a royal pain in the ass. She's fond of projectiles; her basic, forward-firing attack is easy enough to avoid, but she supplements this with a homing lightning attack which seems nigh-impossible to dodge. It's frustrating to say the least, and you're better off just taking the hits from the lightning and getting in close. She's also pretty agile considering she's wearing a dress that binds her ankles together, but if you've got a few lives spare you'll get her in the end. Once she's dead, the game is over!
...Unless you're playing on the Hard difficulty, in which case there's an extra boss at the end. This charming young lady is Queen Metallia (not Metallica), and she's only vulnerable in her giant eyes. This is why the Xenomorphs from Alien are so terrifying: no external eyes to act as convenient weak points. Unlike Beryl's lightning, which was merely very difficult to avoid, I think Metallia's orbs are impossible to avoid. I don't think I ever managed to dodge them, so once more the prevailing tactic is to throw caution to the wind and kick her right in the eyeball as many times as possible. A tough battle indeed, but once she's dead Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon is over.
And here's the ending (for Sailor Mars, at least). THRILL as she says some words! READ said words with your eyes, assuming you know Japanese! Yeah, that's it. It does seem that each Sailor has their own ending, which I guess might add some replay value, but it hardly seems worth it if all you're going to get is a (admittedly nicely drawn) static picture.
You know, if I'd been born a girl I probably would have loved Sailor Moon, and this game hasn't done anything to disprove this theory. It might not be anything Earth-shatteringly novel, but it does what it does well and it's superior to the vast majority of licensed MegaDrive / Genesis games. Solid gameplay, a decent difficulty level, good graphics and music and fairly generous selection of characters all add up to a game that might not challenge Streets of Rage or Golden Axe for the title of "Best MegaDrive brawler" but that can certainly hold its own amongst the chasing pack.
Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, then. Give it a go if you like this sort of thing. And now I'll leave you with yet more alternate lyrics to the theme song on honour of our triumph over the forces of evil.
All the bad guys I found have been killed,
My quest to beat up Nazis is fulfilled,
For my services you will be billed,
I didn't play as Sailor Moon.
* Not true.
** Also untrue.
*** This, however, is true.