Reviewed by Nicholas “SmugeeBear” McDonald
Columbus Circle is a Japanese publisher that has published several titles in recent years such as Gleylancer, Ultracore and the physical release of the Sega Mega Drive Mini title Darius. Mad Stalker: Full Metal Forth was developed by Fill-in-Cafe and Family Soft and released on a few machines and consoles back in the day like the Sharp X68000, PC Engine, FM Towns and PlayStation. Each version has a myriad of differences from an expanded story and cutscenes to different music and graphics.
A Mega Drive version was slated for release during 1993 and was in co-development with Sharp but due to a variety of circumstances it was never finished or released. Some say it was cartridge costs at the time, but with companies folding, takeovers and asset transfers it would be well over 26 years before the game would finally resurface. Opera House would later start work on finishing the game back in 2018 with assistance from the original developers, which ironically is something similar to the development of Ultracore. The development was finally completed and it saw a Japanese release in 2020. Strictly Limited Games then picked up the rights to publish the game in the West and it landed during 2022.
The Columbus Circle release comes in a plastic case with some awesome looking anime style box art of a mech from the game. The back of the box includes screenshots and blurb hyping up the features of the game. The cartridge is another Columbus Circle take so has the smokey clear grey look to the cart, their logo on the back with a nice textured feeling and a real nice sticker of the cover art on the cartridge. Also, like the release of Ultracore, there may be issues with the cartridge damaging consoles due to the unbevelled edge of the cartridge connector and power issue. So just be careful taking it in and out of the slot.
Included with my copy was a set of postcards of the mechs from the game which looked interesting but also a disc that gives you some upcoming information about Columbus Circle’s current and upcoming releases. It also includes a bit about the game and you could listen to selected tracks from the game, which is a nice touch.
“Giant Robot Action!!”
Mad Stalker: Full Metal Forth is set in the future of 2142 in Artemis city where after a long war peace has reigned. A ship containing Mecha called SlaveGears is found and confiscated. Two of the Mecha, named Rising Dog and Hound Dog, are taken to be experimented on by the police. Suddenly, a computer on the ship activates and hacks the city mainframe that infects Rising Dog and activates the rest of the SlaveGears to begin its assault on the city. Hound Dog is quickly called up and the mecha and its pilot are thrust into stopping the rampage.
Mad Stalker is a game that is played in a side scrolling beat ’em-up style but with a combat system you would find in a fighting game. You play on a 2D plane with the top of the screen containing your information such as health, score and timer. But also during the game there are several in-game cutscenes to move the story along which breaks up the pace and adds some variety to proceedings.
Mad Stalker, also contains a multipalyer mode where you and a second palyer can duke it out, but also you notice that the game’s combat system and the sprite work make it feel like its supposed to be a fighting game. The game also allows you to choose any of the characters from the player characters to enemies and boss robots.
“Controls, Looks and Sounds of the Future…”
The combat system is interesting and it plays almost like a fighting game where you use a combination of button movements to do a variety of moves. It is satisfying to do on standard enemies but with other enemies you have to learn what moves can take them out effectively as they deal more damage or because of the size difference. The levels are broken up between fights with bosses that can be fun but the AI does feel a bit janky and aggressive.
They can get a cheap hit on you right at the start of the fight but also can back you into a corner and punish you by just looping an attack infinitely. This is annoying as you still get dealt damage during attack animations as well and to block you have to press two of the Mega Drives buttons down at the same time. But also, you can back the bosses into a corner yourself with some kick attacks.
The sound and music have an awesome futuristic synth style that I really enjoyed. So much so in fact I actually sourced the soundtrack CD for this version of the game. The sprite work for the mechs and the variety of enemies is good and interesting to look at. The graphics overall, have some flair due to the parallax scrolling, are pretty similar to the other versions and while they look good, they feel dated. However, these quibbles wouldn’t have really mattered if the game was originally released back in the day.
“Returning to base…”
This is a difficult game to review as there are some things which are annoying mechanically but others that make me really enjoy the game. I think if it was tweaked and some of the issues were ironed out it would have made Mad Stalker: Full Metal Forth something greater. But as it stands this is an absolute diamond in the rough, it has a settling I like, the music is a blast and an interesting combat system.
Some of its idiosyncrasies and cheap bosses drives me nuts as I game over from some really cheap attacks. I did have an absolute blast with it but just wish it was released 26 years earlier. Strictly Limited Run still have some copies, in a variety of packages, still on sale and I know if you want the Japanese version they can still be found easily. If you like the genre and fancy something different give this a look.