Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon

Also Known As: Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (Japanese release?)
Platform: Arcade (Cave 1st Generation hardware)
Developer: Gazelle
Publisher: Banpresto
Released: 1995
Genre: Scrolling Brawler
Players: 1-2 (Co-op)

Without the bizarre license, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon (yes, I still call it by the full title) would've been all but forgotten, and with good reason- it's a pretty average experience, and oddly reminiscent of the other scrolling brawler certain members of this team were responsible for during their tenure at Toaplan, the equally insane Knuckle Bash. It's a shame, because with a little work and a few cues taken from other, better games in the genre (most of which came several years before this one) this could've actually been really good. Instead, it's a middling effort at best, and done better elsewhere.

Picking one of five characters- the differences between whom are extremely minor, but as they have an aerial dive, pick either Sailor Jupiter/Venus and you're good to go- you hit the streets and, from the off, impressions are actually positive. It's certainly got some nice animation, the colourful backdrops are a bit of a change from the urbanised likes of Final Fight and The Punisher, and your characters actually have quite a few different moves- somersaults, back-and-front air attacks, the ability to run, and a third button used for screen-clearing 'magic' attacks. These use up crystals you can pick up from certain bad guys, and just like the magic potions in Golden Axe, the more you have, the more potent your magic attack... Or, rather, you do more damage and the animation (ripped straight from the cartoon series, I'm guessing) is different. The only thing you really notice is the lack of weaponry, but all in all, it seems pretty entertaining stuff.

The problems with the game don't really emerge from the woodwork until you're a few rounds in. Initially, it is quite fun, mostly because from the second round onwards the game doesn't skimp on the enemies- every chance it gets, it swarms the screen with enemies which, naturally, is great fun. Getting stuck in and really wailing on these punks is what every scrolling brawler strives for! By the time you reach Round 4, though, you realise that these fucking assholes never die! On average, the standard thug in games like Streets of Rage and Final Fight can be taken down with one combo or a throw and a few punches. Here, the standard enemies take two full combos, totalling ten hits, to keel over and die. That's insane! Basically, your attacks don't do jack shit to the enemy life bars, which drags each round well beyond the ideal length, making the game a long, drawn-out affair that you eventually get really, really fucking sick of. In standard brawlers, this feeling of apathy happens at around the penultimate stage. Here, about halfway through.

What kills me is that, on a technical level, the game is fun, dammit. It always piles in a load of enemies to keep things going, but the further you go, the more apparent the flaws become- the music sounds like a cat being thrown around a music shop, the enemies absolutely refuse to die, the bosses live even longer and some of them can catch you in a corner combo and kill you way too quickly, there are no weapons or items except for food and crystals (and you get them from a specific enemy- no oil-drum destruction here)... The flaws basically make the game more monotonous and repetitive than it should be, and turn what could've been a definite 4-star game into a just-barely-there 3-star game- the game isn't totally without merit, as the enemies are very bizarre and interesting, and the co-op makes things much more bearable (especially since you can't kill each other). However, in the end, this is just too repetitive to be anything more than average, and unless you want to see how weird the enemies get, or if anime is your thing, it can probably be safely skipped, which is a shame. Could've been much better with a bit of effort.

For trying- and failing- to do something different with the scrolling brawler, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is awarded...

In a sentence, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is...
Almost really, really good.

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