It’s not unusual for two games to have the same general plot. Mario and Link both rescue princesses. Kratos and C.J. both have problems with authority. Mega Man and Sonic both have doctor issues. But even when there are similarities between game plots, we’re still talking about videogames, which means you can have drastically different gameplay. Mario and Link are never going to be mistaken for each other, even if they both look a little chubby in their debut appearances. At this point, there are more gameplay styles under the sun than there ever have been, but even back in the day, Mega Man and Sonic starred in very different adventures, despite both being “2-D run and jump” heroes.
However, back in the distant past of the 80’s, there were LaserDisc games. Laserdisc games were “playable cartoons” that were always the same. And, yes, I mean they were “the same” as in they all played the same and the games were always the same every time you played ‘em. The appeal was that you were controlling a “playable cartoon”, but in practice, it was like watching a TV show, but every ten seconds, you had to press the right button, or the show ended (I think they actually tried that with the Dragon’s Lair cartoon series).
But there certainly was appeal to the LaserDiscs. If you could tolerate what passed for gameplay in these games, you were treated to some of the best animation and storytelling available to gaming at the time. This was the age of Final Fantasy starring four anonymous randos that lived in fear of being knocked down, the mere concept of “a playable movie” was charm enough to gobble up enough quarters to keep even Gamblor happy. These games might have all played the same, but, technically, every cartoon on Nickelodeon “plays” the same, and nobody is confusing Spongebob for Invader Zim.
Though it does seem a bit odd that, of the limited number of LaserDisc-style games that were released, three of them featured the exact same plot.
Dragon’s Lair 2: Time Warp seems like the most popular example here. As you can guess from the name, the first and only sequel to Dragon’s Lair (the Bluth animated game that practically invented the LaserDisc genre) features Dirk the Daring traveling through time to rescue his beloved Daphne. Time travel is the main hook here, as the original Dragon’s Lair was just an adventure through a musty old castle, and we do hit a few epochs that aren’t usually popular, like the Renaissance and… Wonderland? We hit “Prehistoric” and “The Garden of Eden”? That seems… incongruous. No matter, what we have here is a hero diving through time to rescue his best gal from some random jerkass, and the time travel is an easy excuse for eclectic scenes and locales. You’re not going to fight a dinosaur any other way!
Released the same year is Hologram Time Traveler. I’ve discussed this game at length before, but to reiterate for anyone that can’t remember every precious word I’ve ever committed to pixels, Hologram Time Traveler is the story of… a hero traveling through time to save a woman. Oh… kay. The game uses the time portals as an excuse to visit famous epochs like prehistoric and medieval times, and there are a few levels that are less “time travel” and more “magical fantasy land”. This sound familiar? Hologram Time Traveler is technically a longer game than Dragon’s Lair 2, but the levels seem much shorter. Also, it’s all digitized live action (as opposed to gorgeous animation), so I hope you like watching some doof run around in a cowboy hat. Oddly, both games feature female leads that seem to exist exclusively for their sex appeal. Alright, that’s not odd at all, but it was at least uncommon in gaming back in 1991.
Or maybe I’m completely wrong about that.
Time Gal is our featured game today, and it first came stateside in 1993. This does not mean the game was actually created two years after the previous two LaserDisc time traveling adventures. No, Time Gal was released in Japanese arcades back in 1985, making Time Gal’s adventure roughly concurrent with Dragon’s Lair (1). We just never saw it stateside, because dubs are expensive, and PokéAkira hadn’t made anime cool yet. Heck, it’s probably a small wonder we got the Sega CD version at all, but I suppose that system needed all the Full Motion Video CD games it could get, because Kriss Kross could only be responsible for so many titles.
But don’t think that just because Time Gal was the first time traveling LaserDisc game that it’s completely original. Time Gal herself, featured here:
Looks a biiiit like Lum Invader, the star of Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, a series that started in the 70’s.
But I’m sure it’s a coincidence that Time Gal bears a smidge of similarity to Japan’s Jessica Rabbit. Sure.
Time Gal is a pretty fun time (ha!) if you can ignore the obvious plagiarism, though. The whole game is elegantly animated by Toei, and it features that astonishing 80’s anime style (aka before the industry discovered the joy of animating panties… well, animating panties all the time, at least). Reika, the titular Time Gal, is clearly meant to be “sexy” in her bikini bottoms and vest, but 90% of her death animations (and it’s a LaserDisc game, you’re gonna see a lot of death animations) feature the heroine shrinking down to endearing chibi size. I realize that a modern day Time Gal would revel in figuratively and literally stripping the heroine, but the “cutesy” deaths of Time Gal… well… you might have just lost a quarter, but at least it was adorable.
And, ultimately, that’s the appeal of all these time travel-based LaserDisc games. They’re creative and fun, and, while they’re fleecing your coin collection right out of your pockets, at least they’re doing it in an entertaining way. In Final Fight or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you lost because you sucked, and the game mocked and goaded you with a countdown timer and the promise of a dead hero that is all your fault. Time Gal and its brethren (sistren?) lived or died by their entertaining death animations that made you still enjoy every mistake. I’m glad all these LaserDisc games eventually got ported to the home consoles, because watching a “blooper reel” of Reika’s every death is practically more fun than playing the game itself (and that would be very expensive a quarter at a time).
But that doesn’t make Time Gal any less of a clone.
Yes, I suppose Time Gal started the “time traveling LaserDisc game” trend a decade before everybody else, but it came stateside two years late to the party, when we had already battled prehistory with Dirk and… whatever the dude from Hologram Time Traveler is named. Probably Steve. Time Gal just looked like that Dragon’s Lair 2 clone with the girl from that one anime in it. And, let’s be realistic here, “anime games” might have flourished on the Sega CD (see also: Lunar, Popful Mail), but “Sega CD owners that also liked anime and wanted more LaserDisc animated games” had to be a subset of a subset of people that probably numbered into the lower teens. Reika is only known as “that girl in the bikini from a lot of Gamepro ads” to anyone that could ever recall the game.
But Time Gal did deserve better. Time Gal deserved a sequel… or at least a US Playstation version. Time Gal was published by Taito, so I guess it’s owned by Square Enix now, but I don’t think Reika is going to be guesting in Dissidia anytime soon. Yes, the whole game is a relic of a forgotten epoch, but someone decided to try to revive Brave Fencer Musashi at some point, so shouldn’t Time Gal get a chance?
She was good enough to copy for a couple of other really similar LaserDisc games. I’m sure there’s some place she could fit in today.
FGC #210 Time Gal
- System: Sega CD and Arcade. Given the state of Sega CD games nowadays, good luck enjoying either option.
- Number of players: Reika must save the whole of human existence alone, without pants.
- Favorite Epoch: Time Gal has a number of “future” levels, but my favorite is the one that’s a year before the finale, and is basically a quick pastiche of Alien. Anime Alien is something I’m sure has been done elsewhere, but Reika sucks the creatures out the airlock with aplomb.
- Modern Times: The “current” time period from the game (1991 AD!) looks like some variation on a Middle Eastern Warzone. The next time period, the far future of 2001, appears to be, basically, Mad Max. Were the designers of Time Gal just that pessimistic?
- Did you know? Okay, so there is a little “fan service”. The original Japanese cut of Time Gal featured a few “deaths” where Reika’s top got shredded. She was always facing away from the camera, and it was always played for laughs, but there was that promise that the mostly naked heroine was getting slightly more naked. This was, naturally, cut from the American release, as we are a shining bastion of purity in all media.
- Would I play again: I might watch a youtube run of the game again. In the meanwhile, though, I hope to not touch another LaserDisc game for a while.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Smash Bros Fo(u)r the Nintendo 3DS! Biggest roster, smallest screen. Please look forward to it!