Last time I looked at Fill-in-Cafe’s robot-smashing beat ‘em up it was the very first version, all giant 2D sprites knocking seven bells out of each other to bits on Sharp’s mighty X68000 computer. Now it’s time to fast forward a few years to 1997 and look at the final Mad Stalker, a title that refused to update its niche-retro genre game with shiny pre-rendered sprites or crude polygonal puppets and instead brought some truly glorious 2D to the one 32-bit system of the era that wasn’t supposed to be much good at it.
And the pixel art in here really is brilliant; there’s lots of detail on these upgraded designs and the animation makes them feel weighty without being slow or unwieldy, capturing everything there was to love about the original and then giving it the extra polish it deserved. A few all-new fancy effects add a touch of Playstation glamour; explosions are bigger and translucent, and screen-wide sprite scaling kicks in to give you a bit of extra visual room if you’re leaping high in the air or brawling at the edge of the screen – it’s far more subtle than the scaling used in the likes of Assault Suit Leynos 2, but it’s more than enough to help you out.
Mad Stalker was never a long game to begin with so it might alarm you to learn that the remake has shortened the stages even further! Before you go and jump blog I’d like to explain that for once this is a good thing as it cuts out on a lot of the stop/start walking between groups of three to four enemies and instead flings the whole lot of them at you in quick succession. What the Playstation version loses in pure hiking distance it definitely makes up for in visual interest, as the backgrounds are now far more varied and give a much better feeling of progression than scrolling past the same few skyscrapers for five minutes.
There was never much wrong with Mad Stalker’s battle system and it looks like Fill-in-Cafe knew it so on the whole they tweaked rather than rewrote what was already there, with the changes made reflecting the remake’s more aggressive in-your-face style.
For starters there’s now a dedicated boost button, allowing you to not only dash and air-hop around like your blue backside’s on fire but also making it far quicker and easier to leap back into the fray after being knocked down – assuming you get knocked down at all, thanks to the new ability to recover from the sort of blows that would normally end up with your mech lying flat on its back. Blocking has been changed completely and now happens in a semi-automatic manner if you’re standing still – this disappointed me at first as I loved the manual guard found in the original… until I discovered (Translation: Read the flipping manual) that instead of holding both attack buttons to block, you now press both attack buttons during a blockspark (is that what we’re calling them?) to launch a swift counterattack that’s as useful as it is damned cool. The other major addition is the overdrive system, a small gauge that builds up as you whack things and grants a temporary attack and defence boost when fully charged as well as allowing you to unleash a devastatingly powerful attack – if you can pull it off, that is. The original was very much about watching enemies and finding the right time to attack – it wasn’t slow by any means, but you were expected to defend yourself, keep your distance, and not just punch and then punch some more. This remake doesn’t dumb down the battle system but it certainly skews everything towards playing more aggressively and creating your own offensive opportunities instead of waiting for your moment. Even the continue system has been changed to follow the new philosophy, refilling your health right where you stand rather than kicking you back out to the title screen and asking if you want to restart from a checkpoint. Both of these approaches have their benefits, and I feel they each suit the intended style of play in their own games well.
Technically Playstation Mad Stalker’s the easier game as you can definitely plough through the entire thing on your first go just by hitting stuff in the robo-teeth and prodding the start button when this deeply tactical play finally fails you, but I’m not convinced notions of ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ were really Fill-in-Cafe’s intent here: If you ask me it’s more about pacing, about creating an intense and free-flowing experience that’s happy for you to be carried along the crest of the wave for as long as you’re enjoying yourself. Neither Mad Stalker cancels out the other and they both are good and different enough to be worth playing in their own right – and thanks to digital download services they are also both are very easy to get hold of cheaply even if you happen to live outside Japan too! Think the more careful robo-battling of the X68k original is more like your sort of thing? Head on over to Project EGG! Like the sound of this hyped-up Playstation do-over? It’s just 614yen on PSN. Everybody wins!
Oh and in case you were wondering: Yes, you can still play as all the robots in story mode with a cheat code. Have fun!