U-four-ia: The Saga
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Sunsoft
  • Publisher:
    • Sunsoft
  • Released:
    • JP 09/20/1991
    • UK 11/19/1992
Score: 80%

This review was published on 10/20/2016.

U-four-ia: The Saga is a side-scrolling platform video game published and developed by Sunsoft for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was originally released in Japan on September 20, 1991, Europe on November 19, 1992, and Australia in 1992. There was a North American release planned, but it never happened. The game is called Hebereke in Japan, which is the name of the Japanese version's main character and roughly translates to "drunk" or "untrustworthy." This is the first game in the Hebereke series, though just about every sequel is a different genre. While this game did make the jump overseas, most of the other games in the series never made it out of Japan. A lot of that probably has to do with how these games are very Japanese in design, featuring brightly colored graphics and characters reminiscent of Hello Kitty. At any rate, U-four-ia is easily one of the best games on the NES. Outside Japan, the game is fairly obscure, though it's now a well-known title in the retro gaming scene.

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Long ago, in an unknown time, there existed a world named Ufouria. It was named such because only four different species inhabited its countless wondrous lands. All the creatures of Ufouria live together in peace and harmony. One day, four friends named Bop-Louie, Freeon-Leon, Shades, and Gil went out on a grand adventure. They encounter a giant crater along the way and decide to get a closer look. When they peered into the crater, they could see a glimmering crystal. Everyone wanted to reach inside to grab it, but Bop sensed danger and chose to watch from a safe distance. Suddenly, the ground near the edge broke away and all of Bop's friends fell into the darkness. Concerned with the wellbeing of his pals, Bop-Louie cautiously made his way into the crater and found himself in a strange, new world. He must now embark on a perilous journey to find all his friends and help them get back to Ufouria.

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Besides the text and story, there are various other differences between the Japanese and PAL versions of the game. First off, the names of the four main characters were changed in the PAL release. In the original Japanese version, Bop-Louie was named Hebe, Freeon-Leon was Oh-Chan, Shades was Sukezaemon, and Gil was called Jennifer. The cosmetic appearance of some of the heroes was also changed. Bop-Louie was originally a white penguin in the Japanese version, but the PAL version changed him into a snowman-like boy with clothes and a blue hat. Freeon-Leon went from a kid wearing a cat costume in the Japanese version to an orange dinosaur in the PAL game. There are countless other little visual changes, such as the poop that the bird enemies dropped in the Japanese game being changed into sixteen ton weights in the PAL version. Aside from all that, both versions of the game are mostly the same, though the Japanese version runs faster because it's in the NTSC format.

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The controls are pretty simple, which should be expected of most games on the system, considering how few buttons there are on an NES controller. For the most part, you'll be using the d-pad to walk around and the A button to jump. Similar to the Super Mario Bros. games, you mainly defeat enemies by jumping on top of them. Unlike the Super Mario games, however, you must hold down on the d-pad as you land on the enemy's head in order to actually hurt them. If you simply jump onto enemies without pressing down, then you'll be injured instead. This should be familiar to those who played DuckTales on the NES, except you don't have a cane to use as a pogo stick. Also, felled foes will occasionally drop a goofy face that you can pick up and throw with the B button. This disembodied face can be tossed into enemies to injure them, but it vanishes on its own after a short while. Yeah, I don't quite get it, either.

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As indicated by the story, Bop starts alone, but he'll eventually encounter his friends. However, they're all suffering from a cliched case of amnesia, so they don't remember who he is. As a result of that, they'll attack Bop on sight, thinking he's an enemy of some kind. If Bop manages to best them in battle, they'll remember him and permanently join his team. All characters share the same life bar, but you can switch between them at virtually any time via the menu screen. This is one of the main highlights of the game, as each character has different abilities. For instance, Bop is the fastest runner, but can't swim, whereas Freeon-Leon is slow and has a poor jump, but is able to swim along the surface of water and has better traction on icy surfaces. This enables you to explore new regions of the game, making the acquisition of new characters a very exciting prospect. It's similar to the form of progression pioneered in Metroid, but even cooler.

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If you press the select button, you'll open the menu screen. In addition to switching characters, this is where you get to see the items you currently have. That's right; like Metroid, this game primarily revolves around collecting items and upgrades. Most important items are contained within treasure chests that you find simply lying around the environment. These items include things like a map that shows you the layout of the land, a compass that reveals your location, a suction cup to climb walls, hearts that permanently increase your life gauge, and other cool stuff. There are also a series of items that'll give characters new charge attacks they can use by holding down the B button. Some of these are pretty wacky, like Shades' special attack has him hit his own head with a hammer to shoot his eyes out at enemies. While most items remain permanent parts of your inventory, there are a couple of consumable things like health potions. Not all the items are necessary to beat the game, but they all help and are a delight to collect.

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When it comes to the level design, this game takes a lot of inspiration from Metroid. Like Metroid, the whole world flows together seamlessly, with no stage transitions or anything. There are countless interconnected pathways, giving the whole thing a big nonlinear vibe. The emphasis here is on exploration. However, to prevent players from getting lost, an arrow will sometimes appear at the top of the screen to point you in the right direction, but this only happens if you go the wrong way. In any case, the environments are pleasantly varied: there are grassy fields, icy caverns, dusty mines, a massive tree, a sky world, and more. There are plenty of strange and creative creatures to encounter along the way, too. For example, there are bits where you must climb a rope made of spit coming from a drooling face floating in the air. Whatever this strange world is, it's a fun place to explore.

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Eventually, you learn that your main objective is to open a large gate at a mysterious temple, which could potentially lead back to the land of Ufouria. In order to do this, you'll need to gather three magical keys. The keys are hidden in all four, or rather, three corners of the map. There are rings that'll reveal the locations of the keys on the map. How do you find these rings? Well, that's the hard part. You can get a trinket some ways into the game that'll reveal the locations of most hidden items, including where the rings are. Once that's obtained, it's just a matter of following your map to locate everything you need. It's possible to find all the keys without any of the rings or the trinket that reveals secret stuff, but that's a tough proposition if you've never played the game before.

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On top of fighting his amnesiac friends, Bop must also battle against other nasty mini-bosses and bosses. Most bosses can't be harmed by simply stomping on their heads, so it's usually necessary to pick up and throw those strange faces at them to get the job done. The fights with Bop's friends all play out like one-on-one games of dodge ball, as they'll try to throw the strange face balls back at you. The other bosses are a little different, though, and some are slightly clever. To defeat most of the other bosses, you have to stomp on their heads to make them barf out a face ball, then throw the face ball into their faces to actually damage them. Sometimes the boss will spawn enemies you'll have to kill to get the face balls, but you'll almost always need the face balls. All the bosses also look super weird, but that description generally fits everything in this game. None of the bosses are particularly groundbreaking, but they provide a nice break from the casual exploration.

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Early on in the game, you'll get an item that'll reveal the current password when selected from the menu. The passwords themselves are similar to the ones from the classic Mega Man games on the NES. That means there's a six-by-six grid of squares with balls that are colored red, blue, or green. The locations and colors of the balls will determine your password. Unlike Mega Man, however, the passwords are all obscenely complex, so they take forever to jot down and input. The likely explanation for why the passwords are so complex is because the game has to store the data for all the items and characters you currently have, and there are a lot. Due to that, these types of games should never use password systems. Save batteries were becoming commonplace during this period, and this game could have really used one. This is easily the worst thing about the game, but it's not bad enough to sour the experience.

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This game's awesome. It's got some of the best graphics on the NES, decent music, a vast world filled with amusing oddities to explore, tons of neat goodies to find, and you can play as a sunglasses wearing ghost. The sense of discovery and wonderment this game offers is unmatched. To be honest, this completely blows the original Metroid on the NES out of the water. It's a tragedy this game never got released in North America, because it's freaking fantastic. Playing this game will give you a sense of euphoria.

Word Count: 1,764

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