In the golden age of video arcades, human females ("women", to you and me) were rarely represented as video game characters.
You see, the vast bulk of the games released in the late 70s and early 80s were locked into the science fiction genre (Asteroids, Battlezone, Phoenix, etc.) in which human characters of either gender weren't necessary or realized. Even though some "cute" games debuted later on that were gender-neutral, such as Frogger and Q*Bert, and there were a few attempts to create games based around female lead characters, (Ladybug, Kangaroo, and the "first lady of the arcades", Ms. Pac-Man) none of these games featured actual women.
I suspect this phenomenon had as much to do with the male-centric mindset of the video arcade industry, (women don't play video games, why release games with women as characters?), as it did the limitations of arcade game hardware. The computing power available to programmers didn't allow for great amounts of physical definition and detail in character graphics, which is essential in properly conveying the human female form.
By the mid 80s, graphics were improving rapidly, and women were beginning to show up more frequently as video game characters. We had seen the laserdisc ladies Princess Daphne, and Kimberly, in Dragon's Lair and Space Ace respectively, and other female adventurers like Thyra the Valkyrie in Atari's Gauntlet and several women in Exidy's shooting game series (Crossbow, Cheyenne, etc.)
But one woman in particular went completely unnoticed. She charged onto the scene with sword held high, defending her land and her people from destruction. Yet she was ill prepared to deal with the real challenge, coaxing quarters from players' pockets. Although her game was fun, challenging, and a visual delight, she quickly disappeared into obscurity. It is she, the noble and strong Amazonian warrior, and her game, Soldier Girl Amazon, which captures the spotlight as this issue's Lost Arcade Classic.
Now, periodically through this article, you'll read italicized text, which is taken from the original sales flyer. Any poor grammar or spelling is completely original. Hey, I'm just "keeping it real"!
"Become the Mighty Fighting Amazon and you will search jungles and deserts on the most dangerous island of Earth."
Created in Japan by Nihon Bussan Co. Ltd, and released in the states by their American division, Nichibutsu U.S.A. Corp. in 1986, Soldier Girl Amazon is a vertically scrolling combat and adventure game starring the aforementioned Amazonian warrior. The player is provided with a joystick that controls the heroine's aim and movement, in addition to two fire buttons; the first activates a "standard" weapon, and the second launches a bomb, which has the potential to destroy multiple enemies at once. These bombs are in limited supply, so use them wisely.
"Your mission is to recapture the men you desperately need to save the only race of giant womankind from extinction."
I see this statement as being interpreted in two ways... (1) the Amazon has to recapture men whose job it is to protect her fellow Amazonians from being defeated by some OTHER force... (which seems counter-intuitive to the entire mythology of the Amazonian race), or (2) that it's well.... basically... a rescue mission culminating in some race-propagating "bow-chicka-wow-wow" !
"You will journey and must conquer eight forbidden territories of death infested by hungry cannibals and defended by armies of bizarre creatures, each lead by a giant hideous monster whom you must defeat to continue your quest."
As the Amazon begins her quest, enemy soldiers immediately confront her, outfitted in what appear to be pink and blue leotards. Despite this questionable fashion choice, the threat they present is very real, as they attack in groups of three or four, and have excellent aim. They advance by somersaulting through the air, and crawling on the ground.
Shortly after the deadly "gymnast" soldiers attack, crazed men leap and hop toward you, tossing bananas as they advance, and wearing gimp masks. (remember that scene in "Pulp Fiction"? Yeah, just like that). Their attack is less organized than that of the gymnasts, but their spastic movements makes them more challenging to gun down.
Now, if either of these enemy groups are meant to represent cannibals, I just don't see it. To me, they are simply enemy fighters, albeit, enemy fighters driven insane by wearing feminine aerobics outfits, and leather hoods.
After disposing of these first few enemies, the Amazon begins to encounter some truly strange creatures. Here's a brief rundown of some of the highlights: (1) Hermit crab / octopus hybrid monsters. (2) Giant bipedal eyeballs. (3) Landlocked mouths that shoot fireballs. (4) Overgrown bees that attack in formations of six. And my personal favorites... upright rolling wheels that also attack in groups of six. It's not clear if they are weird creatures themselves, or vehicles being driven by weird creatures. Either way they are deadly.
Initially, the Amazon is able to take two hits from an enemy before being defeated. She glows to indicate that she is at full strength, then after being hit once, she ceases glowing, and she is fully vulnerable to enemy shots or collisions. Reserve Amazons enter the game at full glowing strength.
Additionally, after the first hit from an enemy, her "standard" weapon gets downgraded. For instance, you begin with the ability to fire three blasts that fan out in front of you. After being hit once by an enemy, you can only fire one single blast in the direction you are aiming.
Power ups are hidden in chests that must be blasted apart with multiple shots. These power ups enable you to regain your triple shots and your glowing strength, and they can also freeze the enemies for a few precious seconds.
But be careful! Spiders sometimes appear instead of a power up, and they are nasty buggers. It would be bad enough if they were simply indestructible (which they are...) but they also shoot webs, which slow you down to about half speed if you get tangled up in one. The good news is that the webs disappear after a few seconds, allowing you to resume your normal speed and maneuverability.
As the Amazon battles her way across the landscape, she will encounter deadly ponds. It's important to steer her clear of the water, as contact with the pool results in instant death, even if she is at full glowing strength. However, the upside to all this is that the enemy forces also suffer from the same vulnerability.
It's quite satisfying (and rather amusing) to position a pond between the Amazon and her pursuers, and watch as multiple enemies willingly plunge to their deaths in the murky depths. It seems that in their single-minded goal to destroy her, the enemies do not grasp the concept of self-preservation! Although the Amazon earns no points for enemies destroyed in this manner, it does provide a convenient way to take a break from the furious action for a few seconds.
"Remember, you must steal the air mobile cycle and become invincible to succeed against the giant evil that awaits you."
First of all, I’m calling it a "hover-bike". "Air mobile cycle" seems unnecessarily clumsy.
Anyway, the hover-bike descends from the top of the screen, stops about halfway down, the pilot takes a few pot shots at our heroine, then he disappears from whence he came. If you manage to zap the pilot, you can then commandeer this craft for greater mobility against the enemy forces. The hover-bike can travel over ponds, but it is also a larger target for the enemies to focus their attacks on. It can handle two shots before being destroyed, but the Amazon herself will survive the wreckage and go back to fighting on foot.
Grabbing power ups while on the hover-bike increases its weaponry, eventually transforming it into a full spaceship! The hover-bike enjoys a few seconds of invulnerability immediately after powering up, but at any other time, the craft will still be destroyed by two enemy shots.
Now, as for the "giant evil that awaits you", I'm assuming that line refers to the various boss creatures that most be destroyed periodically. Just as the "normal" enemies were rather bizarre, so are the bosses. For example, you’ll face a bird-like creature with a fleshy mutated body, an airborne skeletal dragon, a monstrous demonic spider, and a floating rectangular platform decorated with skulls.
As in most games involving "boss battles", the player can look forward to lots of rapid firing, frenzied dodging, and the use of any reserved bombs in order to emerge victorious.
After destroying a boss, a Roman legionary (one of the men!) is released... who then proceeds to run away off the top of the screen. That's right, he runs AWAY from the Amazon. So if we subscribe to the belief that the men are some sort of guardians for the Amazon race, then shame on these mythological women for choosing such wussies as protectors. If we lean toward the other interpretation - well then, clearly these men are not fit to... ahem... be of service.
But this does count as a "rescue", so the Amazon has done her job well. She then continues traveling the landscape, facing crazier enemy attack patterns, less frequent power ups, and stronger and more hideous bosses, until all of the men are recovered.
Even though the game's general concept (one lone fighter against an entire army of bad guys) shares much in common with military themed contemporaries like Front Line and Commando, Soldier Girl Amazon actually shares more in common with Nichibutsu's own 1985 sci-fi shoot-em up, Terra Cresta, in both style and execution. The enemy attack formations (especially the bees and the upright wheels) are very reminiscent of similar enemy attacks in Terra Cresta, as are the power ups, graphic fonts, and the background music, which at times sounds like a remix of Terra Cresta's theme.
The graphics are quite impressive, especially regarding the Amazon herself. She sports metallic blue armor, a sword, a shield, and long golden hair, not to mention a realistically defined figure. The environments she travels through range from Roman streets and ruins, to deserts, and jungles.
My only real criticism is that the game is much tougher than it should be... even on the first level! Everybody knows the first level of any video game should be easy enough for beginners to grasp the gameplay, but interesting enough to motivate good players to progress deeper into its world. Soldier Girl Amazon immediately begins by throwing multiple enemies and shots at our heroine, and traveling any further into the level ramps up the difficulty rather quickly.
On second thought, this difficulty would have been balanced out had the game used rotational Ikari Warriors styled-joysticks, which allow for the on-screen character to aim and fire in a direction independent of his movement. As it stands, the Amazon can only fire in the direction she is facing, which often leads to disaster when attacked by multiple enemies from multiple angles.
Or, Nichibutsu could have borrowed the control scheme of Gun.Smoke, (Romstar / Capcom 1985) in which the sheriff hero always faces north (toward the top of the screen), but has three fire buttons - one that fires dead ahead, one for firing to his forward left, and another for firing to his forward right. A good Gun.Smoke player can pepper the area around him with bullets, mowing down enemy outlaws, and yet never has to stop moving forward or fall back. Had Soldier Girl Amazon featured multiple fire buttons for different angles, perhaps her rescue mission wouldn't have been as daunting.
"COLOSSAL EARNINGS! Fierce combat action! Unbelievable graphics! Long lasting play appeal! The Ultimate Shootout!"
Nichibutsu was always an underdog manufacturer in North America - Their two biggest hits, Crazy Climber, and Moon Cresta, only gained wide spread distribution when licensed respectively to Taito of America and Gremlin/Sega. Their other arcade titles were all obscure, such as Radical Radial (which is a surreal combination of Monaco GP and Galaga), and Frisky Tom, in which you control a plumber trying to repair pipes so a hot blonde can take a bath. I'm not making that up.
So after 22 long years of battling enemy creatures and insane soldiers, destroying grotesque bosses, and maintaining a never-ending rescue campaign that has saved countless men, I'm glad to welcome this brave Amazonian fighter into the museum of the Lost Arcade Classic. Relax and enjoy. You deserve it, Soldier Girl.