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Nov 27, 2014

Retro: GAIAPOLIS (Konami's beat-'em-up game)

Konami's arcade beat-'em-ups are the stuff of legend, with huge pulling power thanks to licences such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons. However, the genre quickly began to lose ground when one-on-one fighters like Street Fighter II hit the scene, and were all but killed off when 3D games took over. This is a shame, because it left a great number of worthwhile games like Gaiapolis to die a commercial death.

Gaiapolis was Konami's attempt to change its approach to beat-'em-ups, adopting a top-down perspective, a fantasy setting and some RPG-style elements to go with it. There's a story at work, illustrated with cutscenes between stages, and the game even has a password system to allow players to resume their games. You can tell that Konami was attempting to create something of an epic here, and it works quite well. That having been said, the action is that of a standard beat-'em-up with added elements, rather than a more complete hybrid.

Each stage sees players wandering around, smacking up bad guys and collecting items. The game offers a variety of pick-ups - some are standard health items while others grant experience, allowing players to level up for more health and stronger attacks. The best ones are the assist characters though, as they provide diminutive helpers who will attack enemies either autonomously or as directed. We particularly like the little lizard knight, who knocks enemies down with a hammer.

Everything about Gaiapolis suggests a high quality production. The soundtrack ramps up the tension nicely and the visuals are amongst the best 2D visuals of their era, with varied stages and impressively large bosses to fight. The game also maintains its pace, not slowing down even with a variety of enemy characters are on-screen.

We're not sure why this was never converted - it might not have the depth of a true role-playing game, but it certainly provides something different enough to be worthwhile. Even if the 16-bit consoles couldn't have handled it, it would have made a good early release on the PlayStation or Saturn. Evidently, we're not the only ones who liked it, as the game did eventually receive an unofficial Famicom conversion from the prolific pirate group Sachen.


Capcom's attempt to bring the t high fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons to arcades resulted in a similar beat-'em-up format to Gaiapolis, though Capcom's game retained the more traditional side-scrolling format.The game was bundled with its sequel on the Saturn in 1999, and on console and PC download services in 2013.


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