YMCAT have announced they are working on a sequel to the 1988 MSX 2D platformer Sofia with Sofia 2 releasing in 2019. No platform has been confirmed yet, but Nintendo Switch is likely due to the developers already have made The Demon Crystal for the console and are currently working on a sequel (read here for more). Many thanks again to Naruki.
Vampire Killer -or Akumajou Dracula in Japan- released on 30 October 1986 in Japan on the MSX2 – a little over a month after the original Castlevania -also called Akumajou Dracula in Japan- released on the Famicom Disk System. Those expecting a simple port are equally as mistaken as those expecting a sequel. Vampire Killer looks, sounds and feels similar to Castlevania but with one subtle difference – the game leaves behind the more traditional platforming elements of the FDS original. It’s this lack of linearity that helped lay the foundations for the Metroidvania genre
The story is certainly top tier – it’s been 100 years since the vampire hunter Christopher Belmont defeated Count Dracula with the holy whip – the Vampire Killer. Christ was weakening though and men yearned for chaos, destruction and the resurrection of Count Dracula. One black mass later and all three had returned to plague Transylvania. Christopher Belmont is long since dead but it is down to his descendant -Simon Belmont- armed with Christopher’s Vampire Killer to enter Dracula’s Castle and once again destroy Count Dracula and send him back to Hell.
Graphically, Vampire Killer is not only a slight improvement on the FDS original, it also benefits from the superior MSX Virtual Console over the often muddiness of the Famicom emulation. The soundtrack is typically ace although obviously eclipsed since. Vampire Killer consists of six stages with each of these stages consisting of three areas with both a skeleton key needed to be found and a boss defeated before moving onto the next stage. Each area features numerous sub-weapons and items often hidden in walls along with the game’s’ merchant – the Old Crone.
It’s not just the hidden weapons, items and crones confusing matters – Vampire Killer’s levels often appear like mazes with screens looping with one another. Not being able to progress is not necessarily the fault of the complex level layout but more-so in the game’s stair climbing controls and the insane difficulty like with many of Konami’s MSX games although the Virtual Console’s ‘save states’ do make the Wii U version arguably preferable the MSX original. Overall, whilst there’s no denying its historical impact; Vampire Killer is best remembered for what it spawned than what it actually delivered.
One of the main reasons I bought a Japanese Wii U was to play MSX games on my GamePad so when the Wii U received the MSX version of my second favourite shoot-em-up of all time (after R-Type), it was an instant day one purchase. I was introduced to Salamander on the original PlayStation and shortly after bought the Famicom cartridge (unfortunately not the transparent one!). Despite three versions being available on the Wii U Virtual Console, each version is significantly different from the other.
The storyline of Salamander is pretty standard: you already saved the innocent people of Gradius from the vile Bacterions, but now you have to rescue the millions of Gradians from Zelos; an all-engulfing, planet-eating alien who’s hungering to take a bite out of you! Salamander begins very much like Gradius -being an unofficial official sequel- and features the same power-up system (I’m a Ripple and Option guy!), the main difference being simultaneous two-player action plus several vertical scrolling levels.
Salamander starts as expected with the first two levels resembling the arcade (and PC Engine) version(s). The next three are playable in any order and all absolutely excellent (apart from the lights-out section!) with the final level again being a variation of the arcade (there’s actually a bonus level playable after plugging a Gradius 2 cartridge into the second MSX cartridge slot and finding every in-game ‘prediction’ hidden in each level, although this extra level is unfortunately not playable on the Wii U version).
Also a negative is the horrible choppy scrolling of the MSX although it can certainly be lived with. The graphics are otherwise excellent with the soundtrack typically brilliant for an eighties Konami game. Where the game really shines is with the bosses with Konami easily outshining Nintendo in the end-of-level stakes. Trying to determine which of the three Virtual Console Salamander releases is the best is certainly subjective. It might be a cop-out answer but shoot-em-up fans really should check out all three.