The original Tomb Raider
Ok, arcade fans! I am here once again to bring you another obscure coin-op gem that deserves your attention. This time it's the turn of the catchily titled Japanese game Baluba-Louk No Densetsu (just rolls off the tongue doesn't it!). Released way back in 1986, Baluba was another colourful 2d platform, collect-em-up, in a very similar vein to the Tehkan classic, Bomb Jack - one of my all time favourite games! Playing as a cute little explorer dude, your aim is to move around the small underground stages grabbing every single treasure chest, while avoiding the brightly-coloured beasties that patrol the stages.
Pretty standard stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. But, as with every great arcade game, there are many additional game mechanics and differing ways to approach the game. After the opening animation, which sees our hero arrive in his jeep and take a tunnel down to the first tomb, you are free to start grabbing those chests. The six monsters spawn, Pac Man style, from a central hole, and seem to have different ways of chasing you - some like to come directly at you while others seem to go the long way around in an attempt to block your path. Bombs situated around the stage can triggered by either head bashing the brick they rest on from below (Super Mario stylee!) or by jumping whilst standing on them. This incapacitates the enemies for a short while, allowing you to dash through them without fear of death.
The coveted treasure chests can also be used to assist you as, by bashing them twice from below, they open and, once collected, leave a weapon that fires projectiles both left and right of your position. Foes vanquished in this manner leave behind various bonus collectables, ranging from extra points to portals that allow you to move quickly to another part of the stage. The Pac Man similarities continue in the form of a 'power pill' item that turns the tables on your attackers, rather bizarrely, transforming them into spinning, yellow Halloween faces that can be nabbed for extra points. Once all the chests have been swiped, the level is complete and you can sit back and relax for a brief moment while your score is tallied up and you watch your guy pop back up to the surface and trek on foot to the next tunnel.
At its heart, Baluba-Louk No Densetsu is a rather simple game and a mish-mash of various ideas seen before, but it has the all important fun factor and enough challenging risk vs reward style gameplay - should you bash the chests to get more points, or grab them while you can? - to keep you coming back for more. It has nice presentation, the sound is catchy and the visuals are colourful and full of character. The stage backgrounds change fairly often too, adding a nice pinch of visual variety to proceedings and the between stage animations are a nice touch, which lends the game more of an adventure feeling over games that simply switch from one stage to the next without any interlude. It has become one of my favourite games to enjoy in MAME and I highly recommend fans of this style of game check it out!
Title : Baluba-louk no Densetsu
Developer : Able Corp Ltd
Year : 1986
System : Arcade
Genre : Platformer
Aigiina No Yogen : Baluba-Louk No Densetsu Yori
Baluba-Louk No Densetsu also received a sequel-of-sorts on the Famicom (Japan's NES, as if you didn't know already). Released the same year but by developer Vic Tokai, Aigiina No Yogen : Baluba-Louk No Densetsu Yori (yes, really), is a bizarre hybrid of game genres that melds overhead RPG gameplay with something similar to its arcade parent - only far less enjoyable.
After having your ears assaulted by the piercing music and sound effects, you are then required to navigate your barely-animated avatar to one of the open doors on the overhead map. Once inside the gameplay switches to the 2d platforming style you would expect. However, instead of nabbing loads of chests, here there is just one. You can bash the blocks to reveal the side firing projectile weapon, but the only way to open the chest is to (from what I gather from my play testing) kill lots of enemies until one drops a key. There is also, what I assume to be, a shop where you meet an escaped mental patient - though I suspect he is actually a poorly drawn monk. I can't tell you what I found in the shop as it was all in Japanese with no icons. Anyway, the gameplay is annoying and not fun in the slightest, the visuals are miserable and bland and the sound is horrific. Stick to the original and pretend this nonsense doesn't exist.
Title : Aigiina No Yogen : Baluba-Louk No Densetsu Yori
Developer : Vic Tokai
Year : 1986
System : Famicom
Genre : Platformer
There is also an excellent new indie game on the PC that takes great inspiration from Baluba-Louk No Densetsu, as well as Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins series. You can read a full review of Radin Games' Eternum by clicking here.