You can't see this but I'm doing the Sukeban Deka pose as I type this. Turns out typing with a yo-yo is a bad idea. Anyway, this review is based on the fan translation found over here which we'll link to again later (although we wholehearted reject the notion suggested on that page that the source material is bad, it's good, it's the best, Sukeban Deka rules) so, you know, we didn't play it in the original Japanese for what that's worth. Also, our screenshots of the show also come from fan-made translations but we don't want to get in legal trouble so you'll have to find them yourself. We send you in the right direction at least, because you absolutely must watch Sukeban Deka. Finally, aspect ratios, Gaming Hell's eternal nemesis. Judging from the commercial for the game shows that the screen needs to be stretched just a little, so the shots here are 272 x 240 as opposed to 256 x 240, to better simulate how the game looks on a real CRT. Or something. Native resolutions were a mistake.
It's time for another licensed game on Gaming Hell, one for a license we absolutely love.
Our souls ain't sunk that low- it's time to talk, near-endlessly, about SUKEBAN DEKA
Sukeban Deka (usually translated as Delinquent Girl Detective / Cop- this isn't within Gaming Hell's remit but the subculture of sukeban in real life is a fascinating study as documented here) started life as a manga published in Hana to Yume from 1975 to 1982 (so just at the right time to capitalise on the subculture) and created by Shinji Wada (1950-2011), with the cover art above from the preview of the 2022 reprint on Amazon. Originally conceived somewhat by accident- a behind-the-scenes section of reprints of the first volume, as mentioned on Wikipedia, explains that the editors at Hakusensha wanted a policewoman story while Wada wanted a high school story, so the two were combined (the scanlations don't translate this but that seems to be roughly the origin)- the story sees Saki Asamiya, recent escapee of the Hell Fortress reformatory prison, blackmailed by the police (represented by the Dark Director known only as Sunglasses to Saki) to become an undercover detective to solve crimes taking place in schools across Japan so she can save her mother from execution. Her police-supplied weapon? A powerful yo-yo with a hard plastic casing, steel chain and the Sakura no Daimon (Sakura Crest) inside to show she's working with the law. There's plenty of other versions of the series including an OVA, a reboot manga, some other spin-off manga, but to me, one adaptation reigns supreme...
Yes, the version of Sukeban Deka I'm most familiar with is the TV adaptation. Three seasons of Sukeban Deka produced by Toei aired between 1985 and 1987 on Fuji Television and while they've never been released in any official capacity in English, the first two seasons have been fansubbed and they are amazing. Each season has a different idol taking the role of Saki Asamiya with the first starring Yuki Saito, mostly being based on early parts of the manga, in particular the Mizuchi Sisters arc, with a certain level of looseness and some alterations (the series doesn't start with the Hell Fortress escape as something along those lines comes later, and Saki's relationship with her mother is a lot different). It's very good viewing, a story of a lonely girl trying to help her mom and save the whole of Japan at the same time, but as much as I'd love to talk about how much I love that season- the episode with the beauty paagent murder is a particular favourite, as is the one where Saki's temporary house explodes and the one with the arsonist idol- the second season is the focus here as it was the basis for today's subject, the Mark III game. There's a tie-in game for the third season on Famicom too, but the first season wasn't so lucky. I'm just using this paragraph as an excuse to post shots from the first season, sorry for being so transparent. (I'm not sorry at all.)
Sukeban Deka II: Shōjo Tekkamen Densetsu (The Legend of the Iron-Masked Girl), then, very loosely adapts the Seiroukai plotline from the manga, but takes a lot of liberties with the plot and in particular substitutes the original Saki Asamiya entirely. Yuki Saito didn't return and so Yoko Minamino plays Yoko Godai, a girl forced to wear an iron mask throughout childhood, eventually recruited by the Dark Director and taking on the original Sukeban Deka's codename, Saki Asamiya, to solve the mystery of her father's death, yo-yo in tow. She gets some sidekicks too, Okyo of the Marbles (a tomboyish girl who uses marbles with deadly precision) and Yukino (a high-class girl equipped with a fan and nails) to help her fight crime. Crime-doers plauging Japan this season include but are not limited to a quintet of evil Buddhist monks, the Terminator and an honest-to-goodness medieval knight in a season of 42 episodees that includes homages to Casablanca and First Blood, two idol group episodes (including one set during a bank robbery) and multiple scenes where Okyo steals Yukino's cake while she's recovering from temporary blindness in hospital. Full of heart as well as the power of friendship, it is absolutely peak action-drama television, a show with the Gaming Hell seal of approval and honestly, stop reading this nonsense, watch Sukeban Deka II instead. It kills me that I can't spend all day talking about it, but this is a video game website after all.
So, actually talking about the game now, honest.
Released in April 1987 (while the third season was still airing if Sega's own release data is to be trusted- the model number, G-1318, does put it within that range rather than 1986, and the box and title screen give 1987 as the date too, so don't trust Wikipedia's 1986 date!) for the Mark III / Master System and developed by Sega R&D 2 (that one's via Sega Retro, although the end credits say it's the 4th R&D division, but nevertheless it was still developed in-house so close enough), Sukeban Deka II: Shōjo Tekkamen Densetsu is an interesting take on the Japanese console-based text adventure that were everywhere on the Famicom as explored in the intros to our article on Idol Hakkenden and Famicom Detective Club, but with significantly less of the adventuring part, but we'll get to that. Based very loosely on the overall plot of the TV show but missing or changing a lot of the details, Saki, Okyo and Yukino must defeat some of the more notable villains from the show such as Hayate No.1 and the leader of the Kyosha Seven to recover Saki's stolen iron mask and eventually clash with the leader of Seiroukai and the sinister figure behind everything. Can they solve the mystery of Saki's childhood and defeat Seiroukai before they take over all of Japan? Only the iron mask knows...
(This review is based on the fan translation patch by enigmaopoeia and SSTranslations, available at RomHacking.net.)
Now, while at first brush this looks like a proper Japanese console text adventure, this is a title that takes the very broad strokes of the genre and melds it with an action game, ending as something of a jack of all trades and master of none. Sega did release a few traditional games in this style- Sherlock Holmes: Loretta no Shouzou for the SG-1000 and Hoshi o Sagashite... for the Mark III are purely menu-based adventures more in line with the likes of Portopia and Famicom Detective Club. However, blending genres together was more Sega's interest, which you can see in the Master System title Kujaku-Oh / Spellcaster which melds platforming and adventure game elements, and the Sega-published, Santos-developed Mega Drive Battle Golfer Yui which mixes adventure with golf of all things, and while Sukeban Deka II isn't quite that outlandish, it does go for an action-adventure hybrid. The two segments are pretty separate from one another- selecting Fight in the adventure section when necessary leads to the action scenes, and the only thing you do in the adventure scenes that affects the action scenes is finding and putting on the iron mask for temporary invincibility- so tackling them separately seems like the easiest way to go.
Beginning with the adventure scenes, after being a little spoiled by the offerings on Nintendo's system it all feels a little slight here although it's mostly fine. You start with three schools to explore all with three classrooms, a gym and the front door. There's no specific order to these schools, you can visit them in any order but you need to find the key and the safe in each, with clues in the classrooms on what to do and where to go in each school and one boss fight per school. A pretty open-ended layout to start things off, but the memos you find in certain classrooms will lead you to what to do after you beat the boss and get the key, usually using Hit on something to make the safe appear, so it's pretty simple, enough experimentation will get you the key items you need and it won't take long. That's good because this part of the game has no continues- die in the action scenes and you gotta restart the whole thing! No saving either, although as we'll see shortly that's not a huge problem. This pattern generally continues in the second half too, but the memos you find become less clear and the puzzle solutions become more obtuse, culminating in a set of events where you have to smack a specific part of a grey blocky wall with absolutely no visual indication you've done anything to spawn a button in a completely different room. You do get a clue of what to do here, but have fun with that one anyway.
While the adventure sections mostly remain the same once you reach the second half, there's two major changes. First, as explained on GameFAQs, you get the ability to continue from this half by holding Up and pressing Button 2 five times on the Game Over screen. Second, you'll move on to Seiroukai's HQ and the true Sukeban Deka II begins... In the most Japanese console text adventure way possible, 3D mazes! A new 'feature' added to the Famicom port of The Portopia Serial Murder Case and also present in Famicom Detective Club, this game goes a little over-the-top with it as there's three of the bloody things. Obviously there are no maps or anything so you're on your own, but the first two are at least manageable in that there's only one thing you need to find in them and the main thing the game does to confuse you is have turns that just loop around back to the main path. You don't really have to mess with your menu in these first ones though, so they're easy enough to bumble through, although don't expect any slick movement animations like in Phantasy Star. The third and final one has two booby traps though, time bombs that start a countdown timer if you examine them that will instantly end your game if you're not fast enough. Ouch. Finding your objective in here leads to perhaps the worst moment in the game- solving a relatively-easy sound puzzle (fortunately you can solve it without having to actually listen, it's just a pattern you can deduce through words) leads to a slide puzzle, a pretty rough one with a bizarre pattern too. This is the last major puzzle in the game and it's... I mean, it's an ending, that's enough. That said, you have to do something else here to get the true ending (which I absolutely would not have figured out without a guide- thank you, enigmaopoeia) so if you mess it up, you have to do the entire maze and slide puzzle again. Whoof.
Generally these adventure sections aren't egregiously bad or anything, and are certainly breezy enough that you can get through at least the first half without too much issue. There's not much in the way of pixel-hunting, with pretty generous, uh, 'hit-boxes' on things you have to examine or attack, the inventory is very limited so you won't be juggling twenty different items and trying them out and there's no multiple conversation topics (although you'll have to speak to some people multiple times). The one curious menu item is Drop / Place which isn't used very often and feels a little vague, especially since you have to be a little more precise in where you 'place' objects you have to do this with, but most of the other options make sense. Additionally, each area is self-contained as once you've got an object of interest from there or accessed the next available area you're pretty much done, and generally you don't have to do stuff in one area to unlock stuff in another, but the list of locations you can move to never gets pruned. I can imagine this leading to first-time players getting stuck as they try to do stuff in places they've already been to, but once you realise you only have one task per area for the most part, it should hopefully be a little more straightforward. The inclusion of those accursed 3D mazes is unfortunate, especially with the time bombs and the bloody slide puzzle in the final one that you might have to repeat, but you absolutely have permission to use a map if you don't have any graph paper or additional patience handy. Those caveats aside, I'd describe this part of the game as completely agreeable and mostly pleasant.
As for the action scenes... They're pretty basic but in the first half at least the action scenes are quite good! You only play as Saki herself (sorry, Okyo and Yukino stans) and while they're very short, they do the job nicely enough. Done in a scrolling brawler-style isometric view, you can fling your yo-yo in six directions (the eight cardinal directions minus straight up and straight down) and jump (neutral jump lets you attack, moving jump doesn't) and, well, that's all you need really. You can, however, put Saki's iron mask on before a fight starts for some temporary invincibility, very handy for getting the hang of boss fights and the action scenes in general, as it is possible to get bullied into a corner although it doesn't seem you can get stun-locked to death, a well-timed jump will get you out of trouble. In the first half of the game, each boss fight is preceded by a very short scene where you fight a mob of students which is pretty much nothing, you can just try to corral them into a convenient position and wail on them, perfectly adequate stuff and not too frustrating. Each of the three initial bosses feel unique though- Hayate No. 1 has to be struck in the head with a neutral jumping attack, the biker gang zoom across the screen so you have to catch them unaware and the leader of the Kyosha Seven has a projectile you'd do well to avoid. They have pretty sturdy healthbars too, so these fights can be a little protracted but generally fun to engage in.
After that though, the remaining bosses lack any kind of interesting approach and boil down to putting the iron mask on and attacking diagonally, so there's even less to them. They don't even have the support of the student mobs! One of these fights is interesting more in concept than execution, though- you fight the first Saki Asamiya! Hope you put the iron mask on so you don't get the two sukeban mixed up. It's a bit disappointing after the variety the earlier bosses show, but for fans of the show at least you do get a decent spread of some of the villains from the series. In general, this would probably need some beefing up to be a stand-alone game- playable Okyo and Yukino would've been a good start, as would different enemy mobs before boss fights- but as half of an action-adventure title, it does the job without being obtrusive beyond being your only source of a Game Over, only a temporary setback once you reach the second half of the game.
To wrap up then, Sukeban Deka II is a completely fine melding of action and adventure in a relatively pint-sized package- without a guide you're looking at no more than three hours, and you can shave an hour or more off depending on how much you use a guide (I would suggest one for the 3D maze sequences, but leave the adventuring and action sections to your own power for maximum enjoyment). It's a brisk little adventure that doesn't do anything particularly bad but isn't an amazing game lost to time either. I'd personally describe it as a 'rainy afternoon' game- the sort of thing you fire up and play with a nice cup of tea over the course of a drizzly afternoon. It doesn't have the same level of heft to it as some games more purely in the Japanese-based text adventures of the Famicom that were starting to emerge around this time, and if you're looking for Japan-centric licensed games on the Mark III then Hokuto no Ken / Fist of the North Star is probably a better choice, but it's not bad, completely fine, right down the middle. Of course, the true purpose of this article is to get you all to watch Sukeban Deka, but if it means you play the game too, then I'll have surely earned my specialised yo-yo, right?
For delivering justice in an action and adventure way, Sukeban Deka II: Shōjo Tekkamen Densetsu is awarded...
In a sentence, Sukeban Deka II: Shōjo Tekkamen Densetsu is...
A perfectly fine, brief adventure.
And now, it's that time, folks!
There's not too many extras to show off, but here's some cute little cameos hidden in the game.
You'll probably find these by accident- I did!- but they're also listed in enigmaopoeia's guide on GameFAQs if you want to double-check 'em.
To find all of these, you need to pick the Hit option and hit the listed desk in the listed classroom scene.
In Takanoha High School's Classroom 2, hit the third desk in the bottom row to see the daruma from Teddy Boy Blues.
In Hakucho High School's Classroom 3, hit the second desk in the bottom row to see the snail from Teddy Boy Blues.
In Seiryu High Schhol's Classroom 1, hit the fourth desk in the bottom row to see the player character from Teddy Boy Blues.
In Tenchi High School's Classroom 1, hit the first desk in the top row to see Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone.
In Ryozan High School's Classroom 1, hit the first desk in the top row to see both the Teddy Boy Blues player character and Alex Kidd.
There's some other text-based secrets in the game by using Examine on some desks like a bromide of Yoko Minamino and an Alex Kidd game. Try to find them!
Next, here's a commercial for the game!
There is a change with the footage here- the adventure scenes have blue backgrounds whereas they're black in the final game.
Also, at the end you hear the early end-of-episode catchphrase, usually translated as, "I won't forgive you!". It's true, Saki can't forgive injustice.
(I'd provide a romaji transcription, but the only one I could find was on TV Tropes and referenced absolutely nowhere else, so I don't trust it!)
Finally, what if you want to watch Sukeban Deka in English? Well, here's some resources for you.
Unfortunately, your options are incredibly limited. While we can't link you to them, English fansubs exist of the first two seasons- if you're looking for them, we can tell you the first season was fansubbed by SkewedStudios, the Skaro Hunting Society fansubbed the second season, and no-one's done the third one... Yet. As soon as we know, you'd better believe we're on it. Beyond the TV series though, there's two live-action movies that follow on from the second and third seasons of the show (Sukeban Deka: The Movie and Sukeban Deka: Counter Attack from the Kazama Sisters) plus a two-episode OVA (that means it's anime) that were all given English releases on DVD in the US. Finally, there's the 2006 / 2007 film Sukeban Deka: Code Name = Asamiya Saki, localised as Yo-Yo Girl Cop, an accurate summary of the series if ever there was one. Like the three TV series, it doesn't require any prior knowledge of the series to jump in, as it's a new agent under the name Asamiya Saki (they do mention that the codename hasn't been used in a long time, a copy of the manga appears in a library scene and Yuki Saito makes an appearance) and this is the widest release anything in the series has been given, as even I have a copy on DVD! Weirdly, there's a softcore porn version of the film too, Sukepan Deka: Virgin Name = Moromi Saki, released in English- somehow- as Yo-Yo Sexy Girl Cop. So, you know, make sure you don't pick that up by mistake.
GO WATCH SUKEBAN DEKA
I AM NO LONGER ASKING, I AM ENFORCING