Format reviewed: Sega Master System
Submitted by: Romany Woodhouse
Developed in-house by Sega and released for the Sega Master System in 1989, Psycho Fox seems to be something of a sleeper hit in 8-bit platforming circles. The game depicts Psycho Fox’s quest to rid the world of the diabolical (and wonderfully-named) Madfox Daimyojin.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Psycho Fox is a sort of spiritual precursor to the likes of Sonic, with a few lashings of Super Mario Bros 2 and 3 thrown in for good measure. The 21 stages (set across seven varied, but now somewhat clichéd worlds) share a similar structure with those of Sega’s late-coming mascot games. Each encourages lengthy exploration (this is emphasised further by the lack of a score), and every level has several routes from beginning to end.
The pace of the game can vary wildly between Sonic-esque, high-speed blasts and slower-paced negotiation of enemies and environmental traps, dependent partly on the selected route through each level and your choice of current character. Right from the outset, Psycho Fox will start collecting Magic Medicines, Straw Effigies and Psycho Sticks (aka sticks of Shinto Purification!) from eggs that are scattered throughout the levels. These are inventoried and used on demand, to respectively bestow temporary invincibility, a smart bomb effect and character transformation. Psycho Fox can transform into a Monkey (highest jumps), Hippopotamus (slowest, but can punch through some walls) or Tiger (fastest runner and therefore longest jumper). Careful selection of characters will generally afford you the most successful traverse through each level, although it’s very tempting to default to the tiger and scream through at light-speed.
Enemies encountered during the game can be either punched into oblivion or stomped progressively into the ground. Other gameplay devices include whiplash poles, which can be used to catapult you forward at a speed and trajectory dependent on the speed and height at which you hit them; well-hidden warp tunnels; and Bird Fly – possibly the most charming support character this side of Yoshi. Bird Fly is a little crow (raven?) who perches on your shoulder until flung headlong at enemies. He packs a surprising amount of punch, and will return to your shoulder for more action once the job is done.
Psycho Fox is a very endearing game. The graphics have aged fairly well technically, but the art design is where it really comes into its own. Characters and backgrounds are colourful and enemies are unique and charming. The bosses are inventive (despite some recycling in later stages), and include a mechanical fly that you must fend off with a giant can of fly spray, and something that looks like a jumping Pez dispenser whose middle sections have to be shot out with a movable air gun. Animations are entertaining – for example, if you slightly overshoot the edge of a platform while trying to stop, Psycho Fox will panic, then tread air trying to get back to safety. Death animations, particularly when the Fox character collides with an enemy, are also great. Everything is accompanied by an infectious and upbeat soundtrack, which hasn’t left me in 18 years.
There are a couple of minor gripes. Inertia feels perhaps a little heavy in the game; this may put off newcomers, although persevere for a little while and it’ll feel like second nature. Apart from this the controls are good, and you’ll never feel cheated (although you may berate yourself for falling into that deviously placed water trap, yet again) – although as with any Master System game, having to hit the console-mounted pause button to access your inventory is cumbersome. Of course, this isn’t a problem when playing via an emulator.
Ultimately, those issues really are mitigated by how enjoyable every other aspect of the game is. I heartily recommend this game to lovers of platform games. There is also a Mega Drive sequel, Decap Attack (the Japanese version is called Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure).