1991 was a mighty fine year for gaming, with Sonic the Hedgehog ousting Alex Kidd as Sega’s prime platforming mascot, Alien Breed busy making Amiga floppy drives sing, and Fatal Fury had everyone pining after SNK’s AES. Meanwhile in the little niche-of-a-niche that is Japanese-exclusive computer games Zoom had just released a sequel to their OK-ish action game Genocide, proving that everything, even the threat of the utter annihilation of the human race, is better the second time around.
Just like Fill-in-Cafe’s Mad Stalker there were multiple ports of the game to both superior and inferior hardware of the era, with Genocide 2’s in-house FM-Towns release sporting an extended intro and ending, while Kemco’s Super Famicom port ran at the game with a hatchet gripped in hand. To be more specific, the FM-Towns game is identical to the X68000 original bar a few minor graphical effects missing from certain areas – there’s no translucent water in stage 5-1 and the excellent heat haze effect in the background of 5-2 has gone – whereas the Super Famicom port has entire levels missing, opens on stage 2-2 (then heads to 2-1, then 2-3), and the one advantage it had back in 1991, of being the only port not on a fabulously expensive computer, vanished the day the X68000 version of the game showed up on Project EGG for 500 yen.
First impressions of the game aren’t actually all that positive as it looks at first glance like a pretty standard brawler that doesn’t even have combat depth found in older classics like Golden Axe or Double Dragon, but it soon becomes obvious that while Genocide 2 keeps the battling simple it more than makes up for with levels that act more like battle arenas than traditional stages – when the camera stops scrolling you need to track down and eliminate a specific number of enemies to proceed rather than waiting for a bunch of idiotic mooks to run towards your extended fist. I’ll admit that it feels a little bit iffy at first it isn’t especially clear that total shown by the ‘left’ counter on screen displays the total per area, and you need to find a portion of that total amount in your current section to trigger the next ‘GO!’ prompt. It’s a nice idea and you do get a feel for it as the game wears on but Zoom could have been a lot clearer on the what and the where.
These enemies you have to find and take down don’t possess the largest skill set but on the other hand they are usually exclusive to the area you find them in and they tend to have been designed with their surroundings in mind: You’ll find digger-like robots bursting out of the earth, floating sentries that ping lasers off special shields, half-molten Terminator-alikes rising out of lava… there really are only a few that could be lifted out of the stages you find them in a dumped elsewhere without feeling out of place. Bosses follow this trend too; all of them are completely different from and each other and they all require unique tactics if you want to bring them down - they often only have brief periods of vulnerability or need to be hit in specific places so you have to pay attention and find the right moment to attack, it’s not enough to go in flailing and hope your health runs out before theirs does.
The other unique hook that takes a little time to adjust to is Genocide 2’s relatively unique measurement of your gaming abilities – time. There is no score or grading system, the only thing the game cares about is how fast you clear areas and how many enemies you manage to kill along the way. Keeping an eye on your time is entirely optional but it does help nudge you towards acting now – taking that risky leap as soon as possible, charging at enemies before Betty’s had time to recharge (I’m coming to her shortly), and generally making you play in a more aggressive manner than you otherwise would. There’s no actual punishment for taking as long as you like beyond having a bad time attached to your name (meaning even Sonic the Hedgehog’s more harsh in this regard) but this just means that newcomers or those only here for the spectacle (and what a spectacle it is!) can take as long as they like to learn the ropes or simply gawp at the impressive and varied stages on offer.
The good news is you have a formidable robot sidekick to help you with all this fast-paced enemy squishing called Betty.
It’s actually written B.E.T.T.Y. as it’s a super-cool acronym that stands for [checks manual]… Oh. Turns out it really is just called Betty. Anyway! Betty’s a little partner you can summon any time her automatically recharging gauge is full, and by default she’ll float above your head and block any enemy fire she happens to bob in to, which is helpful but not overly exciting. However she comes into her own if you attack while holding a direction on the d-pad as she’ll zoom out in that direction, destroying missiles and damaging anything in her path. Other one-off support systems can be found hidden around the game including a ‘chaser’ type called Mad Betty, ‘Explode’; which unleashes a single screen-wide blast, and finally Shield and High Power, which you can probably work out for yourself. These special items do carry over to the next area if you don’t use them (and also don’t die), but you are only allowed to carry one of each type at a time, preventing you from stockpiling the Shield power up and then blowing through a difficult boss without it ever laying a finger on you, for example.
Genocide 2 does take a while to warm up but when it does you’ll find yourself leaping over fighter jets as they take off on an aircraft carrier, destroying the core of a huge airship before rushing to make your escape as the place falls down around your ears, and even see tiny evil scientists flee at your very presence. It’s an exciting game that plays fair and wants you to enjoy yourself – what’s not to like?
If you like what you see you can buy the game from Project EGG here - http://www.amusement-center.com/project/egg/cgi/ecatalog-detail.cgi?contcode=7&product_id=308 – all in-game text is written in English and they’ve done a grand job on it for a 1991 Japan-only title too!