I remember years ago seeing a review of Kabuki Quantum Fighter in Nintendo Power magazine and thinking that it looked really neat. The main character is a Kabuki fighter who attacks enemies with his hair. Yes, his hair. What could possibly be cooler than that? Unfortunately, after having played the game, I was disappointed, since KQF turned out to be little more than a subpar sidescroller that, in the end, feels very unsatisfying.
As KQF begins, an alien virus has taken over a supercomputer which just happens to control the world's supply of nuclear weapons. The only way to combat the invasion is for someone to go inside the computer and destory the virus within. Scientists have developed a machine that will transfer the user's mind and spirit into the computer, but it's not been tested yet, so no one knows what form the user will take once inside. Colonel Scott O'Connor volunteers for the job, and he is transformed into the Kabuki Quantum Fighter - a Japanese ballet dancer who uses his hair for a weapon.
Kabuki Quantum Fighter consists of six sidescrolling stages, most of which are really short, and the sixth is just the final boss. The difficulty of these stages doesn't vary much, and none contains anything that a few practice runs won't allow you to overcome. I found Stage 3 to be the hardest in the game, and that was mostly due to the ridiculously short amount of time you're given to reach the goal. In fact, the timer in most of the stages is so limited, that you'll have to plow through as quickly as you can, often taking hits from enemies and objects which could have been avoided if you just had the time to stop and fight.
The rest of the challenge comes from the unintuitive play control. When you leap, it's difficult to control where you land, and Scott sometimes leaps rather unpredictably. This is especially true when traversing icy platforms or conveyor belts. Scott will either jump way too far or not far enough. It's not much fun when you know that you can make that relatively simple jump to that platform over there, but when you try it, your character leaps unpredictably and misses.
Another aspect of KQF's play control is the ability to grab onto handlebars and flip horizontally or vertically. When making the vertical flips, I'd sometimes roll right up into the path of enemies that are just offscreen and cannot be seen until it scrolls. Even after knowing the enemies are there, I'd still take hits from them, since the only way to make them visible is to scroll the screen by leaping into their unavoidable paths.
But all of this amounts to very little, anyway, since you can take a ton of hits in the levels, and you still get your life bar partially restored when you reach the goal. Plus, you can trade your weapon chips for more life energy while fighting the bosses. This practically guarantees victory since most bosses can be beaten just by getting in really close and hacking away.
The best part of KQF is the final boss fight (which is indescribably weird-looking). The only sane way of beating it is by using one of your special weapons, but your timing must be impeccable. You'll most likely run out of weapon chips before the fight is over, so you'll have to trade your life energy for more, which leaves little room for error. It's a good fight that did make me feel a little nervous, but it's not terribly difficult to conquer.
KQF's graphics are okay and have some interesting details, but much of them look as though they were ripped off of Ninja Gaiden 2, right down to the beating hearts in the walls and the ancient temple with flowing blue rivers. (What, praytell, is an ancient temple with rivers doing inside a supercomputer?) The later levels have sci-fi horror elements, such as animated Contra-esque aliens and faces embedded within the walls. It's certainly not what I would've thought the inside of a supercomputer would look like, but nevermind.
One really positive thing I can say about Kabuki Quantum Fighter is that the animations of the hero's motions when flipping, punching, and using his hair are very fluid and it's fun just watching them. But the walking and jumping animations were done with only two frames each, so it looks silly in comparison. (In fact, Scott's jump looks so ridiculous, I've lovingly dubbed it the "flea jump".)
So, without much else going for it, you might think that the unusual story would make Kabuki Quantum Fighter worth playing just to see how weird it is. Unfortunately, its anemic cinema scenes often have very little, if anything, to do with what's going on in the actual stages...to the point where they're practically irrelevant and may as well not be there at all. The dialogue consists of inane conversations such as (and this is not an exaggeration), "Warning! An intruder in Area 1! Proceed to Area 2 immediately", and, "You've defeated the boss of Area 3! Now, hurry and get to Area 5!", which adds nothing to the plot. In one particular scene, a warning says that Scott's brainwaves have stopped, but then the game just continues as normal, as though that scene never occurred. The ending does have some unintentionally-hilarious dialogue, though.
Some of the game's music is good, but the cinema scenes also suffer in this area. In the Ninja Gaiden games, the music during the cinema scenes would always change to reflect the current mood. But in KQF, similar music is used for almost every scene, and it's bland as bland can be.
My fondest memory of KQF was seeing reviews for it in Nintendo Power years ago and thinking that it looked really cool. But after actually playing it, I was let down, because the game is just so, so average in almost every way, that it ends up feeling below average. Yes, the idea of controlling a character who attacks with his hair is funny and different, but you get over it after a few moments, and then there's nothing much else of interest. HAL may have had their hearts in the right place when they made Kabuki Quantum Fighter, but it lacks sustenance and doesn't go anywhere with any idea it has. The problem isn't even so much that the game isn't challenging enough, because the hard parts are the most irritating, and I wouldn't want it to be any more irritating than it already is. The problem is that Kabuki Quantum Fighter is poorly designed.
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