Pulseman
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Mega Drive
  • Developer:
    • Game Freak
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • JP 07/22/1994
Score: 75%

This review was published on 08/07/2015.

Pulseman is a side-scrolling platform video game published by Sega and developed by Game Freak for the Sega Mega Drive. It was released in Japan on July 22, 1994. The game was only ever officially released as a cartridge in Japan, but it did get a temporary digital release in North America via the Sega Channel. In the likely event that you aren't aware, the Sega Channel was a cable service that allowed people to download demos and games onto their Sega Genesis consoles and was around from December 1994 to July 31, 1998. Unfortunately, games downloaded from the Sega Channel got erased once the console was turned off, so North Americans got the short end of the stick when it came to Pulseman's availability. When Pulseman was first unveiled, it was going to be titled Spark, but its name was changed during development. Many of the people that worked on this game later went on to work on the vastly more popular Pokemon series, such as director Ken Sugimori, designer Satoshi Tajiri, and composer Junichi Masuda. Further, Game Freak almost exclusively creates games for Nintendo these days, making the fact that they once developed a Sega title a bit strange to see. Anyway, this game is pretty decent all around.

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In 1999, a scientist of mathematics and biology named Dr. Yoshiyama succeeded in constructing the world's first self-aware computerized life form and dubbed it C-Life. The first C-Life was designed in the shape of a cute girl. This digital girl proved to be too attractive, though, because Yoshiyama soon fell in love with her. Somehow, Yoshiyama digitized and uploaded himself into his own computer to be with his seductive creation. Once together, the two lovebirds engaged in virtual intercourse and bore a child from within the computer. The combination of DNA and data resulted in the birth of a half-human, half C-Life boy called Pulseman. Due to his mixed heritage, Pulseman was able to survive outside of a computer, while also having the ability to channel electrical currents throughout his body. Sadly, Yoshiyama's overlong exposure to the computer world corrupted his mind, transforming him into an evil mad scientist by the name of Doc Waruyama. Back in the real world, Waruyama utilized a system he invented known as EUREKA to materialize C-Life beings into the human realm, assembling the Galaxy Gang in an attempt to take over the globe. It's now 2015 and destiny calls for Pulseman to fight his own father to save humanity. The moral of the story: online dating sucks.

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As you likely have gathered, Pulseman is the pulsating protagonist of this game and the delightful dude you control for the whole adventure. He looks like a cross between Mega Man and one of the Power Rangers, being fully decked out in outlandishly vibrant armor. Besides the standard running and jumping that every platform hero can do, Pulseman is capable of using the electrical current of his body to perform a few special moves. In order to charge up the electricity within his body, Pulseman must run for a short distance or perform a dash. Normally, he will do a short ranged electrical swipe attack with his hands, but that will change into a projectile blast of electricity if he's all charged up. The main reason to charge up, however, is to make use of Pulseman's Volteccer ability, which transforms him into an electrical ball that bounces all over the environment like a deadly pinball. This move is useful both as a means of mobility and as a means of attack, as it will propel him to higher heights and any foes he smashes into will be vaporized. It's easy to get a handle on the controls and the Volteccer ability is super fun to play around with.

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This is one of the better looking and sounding games on the Mega Drive. Cosmetically, the graphics are very pleasant, featuring lots of color, big sprites with a decent amount of detail, good animation, snazzy parallax scrolling, and neat swirly background effects. There are even a couple of 3-D wireframe polygonal models, which was quite an impressive feat for the time. You might want to look away if you suffer from epilepsy, however, as many of the backgrounds flash wildly. The music is also pretty solid overall, with lots of catchy tracks that will catch your attention. Less impressive than the music are the voices, which are all in English, but suffer from scratchiness due to the hardware's limitations. They're somewhat intelligible if you listen closely, but aren't exactly pleasant to the ear canals. The voices are never annoying, though, especially since they usually get drowned out by the game's nice soundtrack anyway. Pulseman earns top marks when it comes to graphics and music.

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Initially, you're able to choose from three stages, and more unlock as the game progresses. All the stages take place in different real world countries, like Japan, India, U.S.A, Thailand, and Australia. Each individual stage is linear and merely tasks you with getting to the end alive, but they often have plenty of wide open spaces to bounce around in Volteccer form. Most of the stages will switch back and forth between the real world and cyberspace, with cyberspace having psychedelic looking backgrounds and trippy foreground objects. The differences between cyberspace and the real world are purely cosmetic, though. After beating a main stage, you get to play a pointless but fun bonus stage similar to Breakout, where Pulseman's Volteccer form is used to break blocks for points. The only issue with the main stages is that their design is a bit too basic at times, having overly simplistic layouts and not many enemies and objects to interact with. An overreliance on floating platforms also makes things feel a little on the amateur side. The stages are still fun to play, but don't expect the complexity of say, Mega Man or Sonic. I do like how a female reporter will comment on Pulseman's valiant efforts in a faux news program every so often, though.

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The Volteccer form isn't simply there for your amusement; it's also vital to progressing through the stages. In addition to allowing him to reach higher ground, the Volteccer can interact with certain electrical objects like wires. If Pulseman comes into contact with wires while in Volteccer form, he will be able to travel across them as an electrical current. Traveling across wires is fast and fully automated, but you're able to come out of them at any time and also jump between adjacent ones. The game uses this to great effect in some sections by having looping wire mazes you must frantically navigate through. There are also large bolts Pulseman can attach to using his Volteccer form, and once locked in, he'll rotate around them repeatedly until you decide to launch off at high speeds. The one thing Pulseman fears most is water, which will neutralize all of his electrical abilities. As annoying as the water can be sometimes, it's used in some clever ways. For example, there's a part with a bunch of wires hanging over pits with rising tides, and if the water touches Pulseman while he's traveling through the wires, he'll pop back out and fall into the chasms below. With the exception of water, all of these objects provide a lot of enjoyment and make up for some of the stage design's shortcomings.

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Bosses will show up on occasion to try and extinguish the spark that is Pulseman's life. A few of the bosses are conceptually creative, like this one hacker dude who uses a Virtual Boy-like device to control a giant polygonal fist to attack you in the cyber world; upon defeating him digitally, you exit out into the real world to find his computer totally wrecked, where you administer a final jolt of judgment to the criminal. Another inventive boss is a robotic tree that can only be damaged by jumping into the wires it periodically reveals, which eventually overloads its circuits. The coolest fight is the one against Veil, who's basically a dark version of Pulseman and has all of the same moves, including the Volteccer. Watching two electrifying balls crash into each other, warping the surrounding environment is intense. Some of the boss fights involve Waruyama piloting or commanding machines to attack you, similar to Dr. Eggman from Sonic. The Volteccer is quite useful during boss fights, since you can use the temporary invulnerability it grants to slip through attacks as well as demolish the boss. They may not be groundbreaking, but the bosses in Pulseman are keen.

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This game will increase your pulse, because it's pretty good. The graphics and music are both stellar, especially for the Mega Drive, the controls are intuitive, and bouncing everywhere as an electrically charged pinball is highly enjoyable. A lot of the bosses are pretty cool, too. Where the game falls slightly short is in the level design; the stages are a bit generic in how they're laid out, sometimes being too sparse with actual content. The game manages to overcome that problem with its impeccable charm and entertaining mechanics, but this could have gone from a good game to a great one if the stages were more competently put together. As it stands, Pulseman is still a mighty fine game that's worth checking out.

Word Count: 1,571

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