Have you ever played a video game and thought to yourself, this seems familiar? You probably know the feeling if you’ve played any of the big modern franchises like Pokémon or Call of Duty, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about any two distinct, separate games that play exactly the same.
It happened to me with Psycho Fox, on the Sega Master System. Bloody great game, unless you live in a PAL territory, which… uh… I do. So it was a bloody great game, if you didn’t mind playing in slow motion. I actually took a solder iron to the console in the end and gave it an emergency PAL-ectomy. The games now play at their correct speed. Proper job.
Anyway, the story starts in Japan some time in 1988, with a game by Vic Tokai called Kakefu-kun no Jump Tengoku: Speed Jigoku. It was fairly decent, and soon repackaged for the west as Kid Kool to remove any association with the game’s main character Kakefu-kun, himself based on popular Japanese child actor Kenji Sagara. With the most minor of modifications the game would later receive, they simply took his hat away.
So, a year later when the time came for Vic Tokai to release a game on Sega’s floundering-but-still-awesome Master System, they did what any of us would do in that situation and skinned Kid Kool alive.
Keeping the gameplay intact, they painted it over with cute animal characters and called it Psycho Fox. What’s ‘psycho’ about him, I don’t know, but it’s a catchy name. I don’t think the game was ever released in Japan, but if it was it almost certainly would’ve been renamed something like Jump Hit Troublesome Fox Bang Bang! Wonderland.
Over the pond in Brazil, they loved the Master System but hated foxes, so when distributor Tec Toy released the game over there, they hastily replaced the main characters and christened the game Sapo Xulé vs Os Invasores do Brejo, or Stink-Foot the Frog Vs the Swamp Invaders. I am not making this up.
In 1991, Vic Tokai moved onto 16-bit hardware and left the Master System behind. They wanted to make a brand-new game for the cutting-edge Mega Drive, so they took the mutilated and defiled remnants of Kid Kool / Psycho Frog / Whatever and turned it into a virtually identical game called Magical Hat: Surprise Turbo! Great Adventure.
This wouldn’t fly in the west, so that game was reskinned as Decap Attack – a name that only makes marginally more sense. Deciding that our palettes were subtly different to our Japanese brethren, Vic Tokai set the game in Transylvania and replaced the cast with a green-moustached Dr. Frankenstein and Chuck – his lumpy orange mummy friend. Instead of punching things like a normal man/fox/frog, Chuck impossibly thrust his head out from the middle of his torso and attacked enemies or the landscape with his face.
Some of you Brits reading may fondly recall the Decap Attack comic strip in Fleetway’s Sonic the Comic. It was absolutely mental – a thing of comic genius penned by writer/illustrator Nigel Kitching. He turned it into a hilariously macabre sitcom, and pushed the envelope at every opportunity. The ol’ S.T.C deserves its own article, so look out for that in the future.
Anyway, thanks to Vic Tokai, it was possible to buy six games for three different systems and end up with the same thing. The funny thing is, it would have gone unnoticed if not for the fact that progenitor Kafeku-kun had such a distinct play style. The gameplay, power-ups, controls, even the way the enemies move is entirely unique and unmistakeable. Had the first game been more generic, no-one would have noticed.