A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!
This is my first time playing through The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang, and as it is a mostly stand-alone title aside from a Japanese-exclusive platforming game, I have no experience with anything related to the IP. That said, I do have more than enough experience with the top-down adventure/RPG genre, so I will occasionally use my knowledge of said genre to better construct my opinions. Before I started writing this review, I made sure to complete the game 100%. Due to the game having never seen a re-release beyond the SNES, while also being highly sought after in the retro gaming community, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I played this game through an emulator. However, when I emulate games, I stick to the most vanilla settings there are to try and replicate the original system as best as possible, so this should not influence my opinion in the slightest.
The game has been streamed to completion over on Twitch. The archives for this playthrough can be found over at my YouTube channel!
To this day, the SNES is still my favourite home console. Not only is the system itself just really solid, but the game library is just so expansive with good titles around every corner. But at the same time, it is also a system where if you ask for the best games of a genre, it usually comes down to the same list of titles. Not that anything is wrong with that of course, but a lot of titles are never talked about as a result. I am always on the lookout for titles that I’ve never heard of before but that do look really appealing, and channels such as SNESdrunk help me a lot with that. I don’t exactly remember if I learned about The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang through this channel, but it has certainly been a contributor to me desiring to play it. It looked exactly up my alley, but there was one problem… or well, two rather. The game was never released in PAL regions, and if you follow the retro market, you probably also know that a game like this one? Yeah, they get expensive. Real expensive.
Last year I already mentioned it in my article about emulation and piracy that if developers- or publishers don’t make their games readily available in the modern age, that I won’t have any issues with pirating a game. As much as I would like to support the creators, handing over money going into the triple digits to someone completely unrelated is not something I’m a fan of. And due to that decision, I can now finally play games that I’ve always wanted to play without feeling bad about it. And for this ”celebratory occasion” (as much as you can call it that), I really wanted to make The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang the first game I would play. Was it a good celebration? I dunno, read the review, I’m not telling :).
The game stars the cutest vampire protagonist we have ever seen in gaming, whose name is Spike McFang. Kudos if you were able to guess that name from the title; you are a real one. He was on his way to the Fighter Islands to learn the ways of the warrior, as he will have to take over the kingdom of Batland from his father one day when he is older. But his plans are interrupted soon as his friend Carmilla comes to warn him that the land has been taken over by the evil Von Hessler, oh no! And as a heroic protagonist does, he immediately tells her… that he’ll come back later as he’s busy. After all, he already paid for this trial–that money would go to waste if he didn’t attempt it.
That short interaction is a good representation of how the story of The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang will go. As you may expect, the focus here is more on delivering a cute, charming and funny story over anything else. There are a good amount of humorous conversations or events happening that all revolve around our cute main protagonist, as early as the first hour of the game. Just going into Spike’s parents’ castle to rescue them already faces him with catladies that try to push him back by waving the rug under him, a spring over a bottomless pit that’s too powerful so Spike crashes his head into the ceiling and falls down, and my favourite: a fake-out save point that bats Spike so hard he crashes through a wall. Oh, and those save points are humans with a moai statue head. I’m not making this up.
The focus here is more on delivery a cute, charming and funny story over anything else.
But do you want to know the most shocking part about the beginning part of this game right after you gain control? These Fighter Islands where Spike arrives are a bona fide tutorial. Yeah, I know, your mouth has probably already hit the ground from genuine disbelieve. A title from this era, and it has a tutorial? But indeed, everything that you need to know about the game is taught to you right away. And I can tell you now that for the most part, Spike is a joy to control.
The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang is a top-down action RPG, similar to games from that era but yet completely different at the same time, mostly due to our magical protagonist. One of the main differences is actually the very first mechanic taught to you in the tutorial: jumping! Doesn’t really sound special but hey, it works surprisingly good for avoiding damage. It gets more interesting when it comes to the attacks however, as Spike can get close to enemies and give them a spin attack. It usually bounces him or the enemy away so you generally don’t have too worry too much about taking damage if you’re careful, which you should be in general as you can’t spam the spin attack without getting dizzy and leaving yourself vulnerable afterwards for a long amount of time.
Vulnerability is actually Spike’s biggest shortcoming, as my favourite attack involves him throwing his hat like a boomerang, but an attack that need to be charged up while standing still before it can be used. The tutorial says this attack is nice for flying enemies, but the game barely has any so just use them on anything you want dead. Trust me, it will do the job against any enemy. If you stand in a nice position so that it hits the enemy at the exact edge of your throwing distance, it can give some seriously nice lingering damage. There are also multiple hats throughout the game that change the hat’s travel arch, so they are definitely worth looking into.
But possibly the most unique asset to Spike is that he has access to a surprisingly wide arsenal of magic. These are all obtained from a gachapon shop in the towns, costing 20 coins for a randomly returned card. Good thing that despite it being random, there isn’t really a terrible card you can get from it. There are several offensive ones that always do the job well, a few invincibility ones, and others like teleportation that are just good to have. It’s a really good set of magic abilities, even though I must admit I personally didn’t use them as much as I would have liked to. The power of the offensive ones were always pretty similar to Spike just throwing his hat, and it would probably have been a different story if I could throw the hat while magic stuff was happening but… yeah no, not possible.
The one I used more than any other was the tomato juice to restore Spike’s health, because our goodest boy here isn’t a vampire on the hunt for blood, but for tomatoes instead. He wouldn’t dare sucking a human’s blood, though he’ll probably still murder them if they oppose him and have coins or tomatoes in their pockets. But at that point I’ll just count it as self-defense to not put our cute little vampire in a bad spot. Anyhow, I’m drifting away from the topic, what was I talking about again?
Me using ”tomato juice magic” more than anything else is actually a nice segue into what I wanted to talk about next, because it directly correlates to one of the few issues this game has–but a pretty big one at that. This game has some ridiculous difficulty curves, but not for the reason you may think. Like I said before, the game controls well and it generally becomes your own fault when you get hit, give or take a few scenarios that are in the far minority. So what is it that makes these difficulty curves so extreme then? Simple: the levelling system.
So it makes sense for levelling to make a character more experienced- or stronger, that’s common sense that I don’t really have to explain. The more levels you have, the stronger you become, and that goes for Spike too. What is different here though, is that a single level makes a world of difference. Damage done is doubled, and damage taken is halved for each level. And it doesn’t matter how much skill you have; if a random enemy takes two minutes to kill because you aren’t at a good level yet, that’s not difficult; it’s long and boring. And you can probably see where I’m getting at but yes, being underlevelled is a common occurrence unless you grind hard.
If you defeat every single enemy on your path towards the boss, you won’t even be close to the level you need to make it a comfortable boss battle that doesn’t take minutes going into the double digits. You need to grind, and you need to grind a surprisingly high amount too. And don’t get me wrong: I don’t hate grinding at all, and it definitely wasn’t the core issue here. It’s more the fact that the game doesn’t make grinding the most convenient thing to do. Save points aren’t always placed at a logical spot, and they don’t restore your health either. The only way to restore your health in this game, aside from the magic mentioned earlier that costs 100 coins per usage, is to talk to the professor in town, or very rare situations where there are restore points in the dungeons.
But most of all, I guess it’s more of a shame that so much grinding is almost demanded, because The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang is a very short game. You won’t be here for longer than 6 hours at most–probably 4 or even less if we don’t include grinding. So it’s not like the grinding takes long to do, but it does take a very long time in the context of how long the game is–time that could probably have been used better to reduce grinding altogether and replace it with more content. Because that’s probably what everyone who has played the game can agree on: we want more.
It’s not like the grinding takes long to do, but it does take a very long time in the context of how long the game is.
The dungeons themselves also rarely have anything interesting to offer aside from those funny moments I mentioned at the beginning of the review. There’s not a single chest to be found, or any other upgrades that would benefit Spike. It’s a linear adventure from start to finish, with dungeons also having just one meaningful route to the end where a boss awaits. And that is absolutely fine, don’t get me wrong! But let’s create a scenario where that isn’t the case–maybe there would have been a bit more meaningful content as well as reducing the need to grind? For example, chests in locations that would otherwise lead to dead ends, and they give you ~10% of the experience needed for the next level. Not only would I go out of my way for these chests, but kill every enemy on my path and gain more experience that way. Yeah, the game would be shorter as a result, but extending game time with long grinding isn’t exciting either.
Frankly, I’m of the opinion that the levelling system in general is redundant, but that’s more an opinion on what could’ve been. So instead, I should just look at what the game is giving me, and I definitely have a few fond memories of the game. I will never forget the moment I was doing great at a boss, just for it to level up during the fight with a completely renewed health bar and then absolutely destroying me. I can say in general that the bosses were pretty fun, constantly evolving through the battle when it comes to strategy. The only issue with them really is that you don’t know when they appear as there is no indication and, in more cases than not, no save point nearby.
But for what else stays with me, well, that’s not really too difficult to say. Given that this game’s strongest asset is that it is a characteristic and humorous adventure, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the presentation also lives up to expectations. The graphics are vibrating with colour, and cutscenes often make the most of what they can. There are also some really addicting music pieces in there, with arguable one of the silliest- yet fitting boss battle themes I’ve ever heard. It’s definitely something you would hear in a cartoon, and I appreciate them sticking with that theme.
A casual, fun and characteristic experience is how I would love to describe The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang, yet the gameplay doesn’t always reflect the casual side. That’s for the simple reason that underneath that cute appearance, you’ll be caught off-guard by a massive grind fest. And there is no option other than to accept it because the levelling system makes it so that the damage done and taken is drastically adjusted with every single level. No matter how skillful you may be, even a random enemy can take minutes to kill when underlevelled, compared to a few seconds when being only a few levels higher. And while I don’t dislike grinding, the main issues here are that grinding is not only inconvenient to do because of inconsistent save point placements with no healing, but also because it’s the majority of an already short adventure. And that it a massive shame because the adventure itself, ignoring the grinding, was really fun. It is really charming when it comes to the humour, and our cute protagonist controls smoothly with a lot of useful magic spells to cast. I will always have fond memories of those humourous charming moments, but unfortunately I will also always be reminded of what could have been versus what the game actually is.
- Really charming and characteristic adventure.
- Lots of magic spells to choose from.
- Spike overall controls well.
- The majority of the game forces grinding.
- Grinding is made inconvenient to do.
- Inconsistent save point placements.
Thank you for reading! If you’re reading this when the review was published then hey, it’s been a while. If you follow me on Twitter you’ve probably already heard about this, but my writing motivation has been very low again. It was so bad that I couldn’t even write an update post. So while not official, I have decided to focus on longer posts spread over more weeks, as well as making the website a supporting pillar to my Twitch instead of the other way around. But yeah, sorry it’s been a while. I hope you all are still doing well!
By the way: there was no history and trivia segment in this review simply because there wasn’t really that much on the internet to know about it, aside from it having a Japanese prequel on the TurboGrafx 16. But I did actually want to mention something. Did you know that the international version was slightly altered to be more family-friendly? Yeah, not too surprising, censorship constantly happens. But the funniest part about this is that the Japanese version is actually easier, because not just censorship was applied, but also weird changes like no health recovery on level-up and enemies having more defense. So some of my complaints were actually non-existent in the original version… but were introduced with the localized version. Very strange indeed.
Who is the cutest protagonist in a videogame?
My choices are from the Japanese-exclusive games Magical Pop’n with the unnamed Princess character, and Milon from Do-Re-Mi Fantasy. Both are just super adorable, and the former is even voice by an idol!
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