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CONSOLE: Famicom DEVELOPER: EIM Ltd. PUBLISHER: Sigma Entertainment
RELEASE DATE (JP): October 25, 1991 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Haruka needs your help! Bring a hat!

Sometimes it felt like platformers came a dime a dozen on the ol' NES. Super Mario Bros., Castlevania, Contra, Mega Man, pretty much any Capcom game about a Disney character... uh, Yo! Noid... Home Alone 2... Indeed, platformers were the rampant fad back in the 8-bit era. But keep in mind that all the titles I just mentioned only barely scratch the surface of the North American game market. What you may not realize is that there is still a significant percentage of titles released in Japan only that also fell prey to the platformer craze. Among them is "Time Zone", a fairly low-key game released in 1991 by Sigma Entertainment. It was enjoyed only by a fraction of the gaming market, attributed to the fact that it had to compete with different high-profile games from major developers and publishers (plus, in Japan, the Super Famicom -- alongside the Sega Genesis -- was blossoming as the next generation of consoles took reign). Or perhaps the reason behind its lack of popularity was the basic fact that it... wasn't... all that special.

"Time Zone" follows a very lackluster plot. It's the classic "damsel in distress" scenario: your girlfriend, Haruka, has been kidnapped by the likely ill-intentioned Professor Time, and so it's up to some punk goof to go and rescue her. The only catch is that Professor Time can, as his name probably infers, travel through time. Using a reworked television remote (or so it appears), he can open up a wormhole and just hop in. Luckily, it sticks around just long enough for the hero to follow them. The three people are transported to numerous time periods (well, okay, five), including the ages when dinosaurs roamed, steam engines were the hip thing, and, uh, chess pieces bounced around by their own free will (nobody really knows when that occurred). Eventually, there is a final showdown with Professor Time, and once you defeat him, you'll get your girfriend back for a night of questionable behaviour in a flower-filled meadow.

So what exactly sets this game apart from the flood of other Famicom games released around the same time? On the surface, it looks like a generic platformer. Running and jumping from one end of a level to the other, it brings nothing new to the table. So how can you defeat enemies? That's where the innovation (though it's minor innovation) comes into play. Your primary weapon is your red baseball cap, which you fling like a boomerang at oncoming foes. Decent enough. You can also collect bells that are scattered around the various levels. Every time you snag one, the hands of a little clock on your status bar move a bit. Reach the 12:00 mark and you become invincible... on a skateboard! Radical, dude! You can mow down enemies for a short time. Heck, you can even clear a stage invincibly if you're agile enough. I found the controls on both regular walking mode and skateboarding mode to be a bit floaty; for example, if you're running and decide to take a leap, you might end up flying off an edge or into an enemy you didn't plan on encountering. That can definitely be frustrating... or at least it would be, had the number of extra lives available not been so lenient. A quiz game in every world will allow you to earn 3 extra lives if you can answer one question correctly. Usually it's something goofy, like having a swarm of bees fly by and telling them how many red ones were present. Simple stuff like that... unless you can't read Japanese, in which case, you may fail.

The graphics are rather basic, although I will give them points for ensuring the worlds are rich in colour. There aren't too many cool effects here; it's bare-bones visuals. All the characters are well-defined and cartoony, and the bosses have some level of creativity to them. However, in 1991, you could expect a little more detail out of the NES, even if it was becoming an inferior system at the time. Soundwise, the music is cute and enjoyable for what little time it plays, but don't expect it to win a Grammy. Sound effects are not that varied; if there are more than five, I'd be surprised.

Why did this game not get ported overseas, besides the fact that it could not compete with the likes of Mario, Mega Man, and his other NES-based pals? Above (left), I present a screenshot of Exhibit A. Each era is built around a certain stereotypical setting. In 1885, for example, the hero is placed in a Western ranch-style area, complete with steam engines and barn structures. However, the enemies are not exactly quaint: as you can see, there is a Native American playing the drum. I also spotted cacti with sombreros in the same level. These stereotypical depictions would not be permitted in North America. Japan must be more lax on this type of thing. Granted, they could have been changed, but considering that Sigma Entertainment was not exactly a large-budget company, it was probably not in their best interests to bring it overseas with alterations. Nevertheless, although it may not have been the longest or the most exhilarating title in the Famicom library, gamers outside of Japan missed out on a fun little platformer that could have satisfied many people on a boring Saturday afternoon. Too bad it's now stuck in a time zone of its own.


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