By Jonathan Higgins / September 1st, 2012
Developer: Game Freak
Console: Sega Genesis / Wii Virtual Console
Release Date: July 22, 1994 / July 13 2009
Rating: ESRB E
Sonic the Hedgehog was all I knew and loved on the Sega Genesis for the longest time. But that… that was destined to change as soon as my parents generously paid for the Sega Channel service. As soon as I realized I had access to fifty games per month, my young mind went wild with the possibilities. I began playing stuff I’d never heard of just to expand my horizons. If it weren’t for the Sega Channel, I wouldn’t have been introduced to Streets of Rage or Toejam and Earl; I wouldn’t have been the only one on the block to know about niche games destined to grow into cult classics like Beyond Oasis or Gunstar Heroes.
Beyond the games many of you know, the one that had the biggest influence on me back then was a hidden gem called Pulseman. I had no idea that this game had only been released in Japan, but found its way to my living room through the Sega Channel service as an “exclusive”, and I definitely had no idea that… the game was developed and designed by Game Freak. You know, the folks that created Pokemon.
If you think Pokemon is Game Freak at its most bizarre, I’m about to blow your mind, ladies and gentlemen.
Static Heaven: An Odyssey that Began with White Noise
If Pokemon was truly turning children into vacuous zombies back in its hay-day, I insist Pulseman must have been Game Freak’s test run. The game begins in static—the title screen is static—and the entire world gives off this vibe as if you, the player, have been sucked inside your television… into a world destined to overpower your mind with the kind of stuff you look through kaleidoscopes to see. My reading comprehension was decent for my age, but at eight years old I had no clue what the plot of this game was supposed to be or what in the world was going on.
Playing through this game again as an adult via the Wii’s Virtual Console opened my eyes to quite a bit. For starters, it made me realize that I must have been possessed as a child, to play through over half of this game (it was quite difficult for me; I could never advance past Level 3) without realizing how absolutely insane it is. Much more pressing, however: the game’s story. Here’s what it’s about (and I promise you I’m not kidding): Good-hearted scientist man creates female artificial intelligence . He falls in love with her, then digitizes himself, then the two create a child that’s half man, half computer: Pulseman. Apparently knocking circuits with AI and living in a computer world causes corruption of the mind. Pulseman’s goal is to defeat his own father, who has become the evil, corrupt head of the “Galaxy Gang”.
Creative Game Freak is creative.
Honestly, the underlying plot of this game doesn’t really matter. It felt like Robocop to me when I played it as a kid, and it still gave off that vibe when I played it again recently, this time to completion. Why this stuff is happening isn’t nearly as important as what is happening when it comes to this eclectic work of art.
The game has seven levels that take you to various pars of the real world intertwined with the computer world. You start out in Japan, journey to India, make a few stops in good ole USA, run around in Thailand and Australia…
If you’re looking for a sense of realism though, you won’t find it here.
To call this game’s artistic style “abstract” is entirely too tame. For example, when first visiting the “India” stage you’re greeted by a surreal space with upside-down trees flying upwards. Each and every environment the game throws at you, whether you’re in the game’s version of reality or virtual reality, will leave you taken aback, wondering if this game was the product of several developers’ opiate dreams. After a while, it becomes near impossible to differentiate between the games two “worlds”. The sound accompanying you through this wild ride wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it wasn’t awful either. I dare say some of it’s even catchy!
Controlling Pulseman is simple enough. He can smash enemies with an electric punch executed by a simple button press, he jumps and he slides. An extra layer of depth is added to his movements when you charge up his circuits by running.
While fully charged, Pulseman can fire a beam of light as opposed to just a simple punch, or he can turn into a ball of electricity and propel himself in any direction with the finesse of the d-pad and the corresponding “A” button. Pulseman can charge himself up quickly by tapping left or right on the d-pad twice.
This game is a platformer at heart. I’d say it gives tons of other Sega platformers a run for their money, but I wouldn’t call the level design “Mario good”. The game rewards you for mastering Pulseman’s charged up jumps and attacks early. But as you progress, the platforming becomes more and more unforgiving.
What makes this game the most unique platformer I’ve experienced in ages involves the game’s “computer world”. While in “reality”, the environments are certainly artistic, and the platforming is solid. But as soon as you emerge inside the computer world, everything goes crazy!
The computer world throws all sense of logic into the wind. Everything is almost excessively bright and colorful. The background is either in sharp contrast against the foreground, or blends right in with it. The level design itself offers thousands of abstract touches bordering on the insane. Simple platforming mechanics are replaced by turning Pulseman into a ball while charged and controlling him as he zips from wire to wire to avoid death pits…
The world of Pulseman is truly intoxicating. I found myself so mesmerized and simultaneously freaked out by what I was seeing that I made the entire six to seven hour journey in one sitting after covering Wednesday morning’s Nintendo Direct from Japan.
The artistry is truly unique, but it’s also not hard to see how it inspired some of your favorite Pokemon. You can truly tell this game was designed by the creative minds at Game Freak. Even if this game completely weirds you out, it’s worth experiencing to see several nods to the Pokemon franchise before it even happened!
All in all, Pulseman is totally worth your time and money. But it’s not worth your time because it has the best platforming you’ll see on a console or because its story, length, or replay value will keep you coming back.
It’s worth your time because the presentation that this game offers is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, especially if you have a history with Game Freak that’s only limited to the Pokemon franchise.
I’ve included a gallery of 5/7 of the game’s stages at the bottom of this page. I imagine seeing what crazy environments this game has to offer should be enough to draw in platformer and Game Freak fans alike.
This game is available on the Wii Virtual Console for 900 Wii Points (import price)!
Oprainfall’s Review System:
5 Stars- A Must Own Game. Games don’t get much better than this. We recommend you buy it if you can.
4 Stars- A Great Game. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. If you like the genre, you should like this game.
3 Stars- A Good Game. This game may have some flaws, but is enjoyable. Give it a try, you might like it.
2 Stars- A Poor Game. There is something off about this game. Fans of the series or genre might like it.
1 Star- A Bad Game. There are obvious flaws that keep the game from being enjoyable. We cannot recommend this game.
Game FreakImport gamePokémonPulsemanSega ChannelWii Virtual Console