Considering it is essentially two discs connected by a spindle, together with a looped piece of string, the yo-yo has been one of the stranger fads over the years. After enjoying isolated periods of popularity during the 60s and 70s, the 80s saw another resurgence for the toy that required just a supple wrist and plenty of frustrating perseverance.
Such an enduring trend was inevitably going to spill into the world of videogames, yet while many games have featured yo-yos as an offensive weapon (most notably Kirby Super Star and Super Smash Bros Brawl), Spinmaster is the one that has most featured the celebrated toy, albeit with a number of notable upgrades, and was released into the arcades by Data East in 1993. The coin-op company was enduring a somewhat patchy early Nineties, but one notable success had been the prehistoric cartoon caper Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja (which is also available on Antstream Arcade). Spinmaster was an obvious attempt to mimic the style of that game in a more modern setting, coupled with the fad that refused to go away.
We’ll get on to the game itself shortly; in the meantime the crazy backstory to Spinmaster, explained in its eccentric arcade manual, is as amusing as it is vague. It concerns that most unoriginal of plot devices, a treasure map, worn and torn apart over the years, with one fragment drifting into the path of Johnny, an adventurer and the star of Spinmaster. Johnny’s dreams of ancient treasure are rudely interrupted by Dr. De Playne (a Fantasy Island reference?), a one-eyed and white-haired mad scientist determined to acquire the treasure for himself. Stealing Johnny’s piece of map, he also kidnaps the hero’s girlfriend Mary for good measure, and jets off to discover the remaining parts. Quite what the plan is after that is unclear, but for certain it involves something terribly nefarious such as world domination. Something must be done! Taking charge of Johnny, it’s up to you to charge across five disparate regions, vanquishing the minions of Dr. De Playne and acquiring the missing pieces of map. Oh, and rescue Johnny’s girlfriend.
Known in Japan as Miracle Adventure, Spinmaster is a joy from start to finish, and a game Antstream Arcade finds impossible not to love. The story begins at Madrid Airport (don’t ask…) as Johnny chases after his abducted sweetheart. Initially he has a mere yo-yo to deter enemies, although it makes for a pretty useful offensive weapon. However, this can be upgraded in numerous delightful ways, from ninja-esque throwing stars, to bombs and deadly icicles, the latter of which is our particular favourite. Even better, each upgrade has a unique charge and smart bomb power, creating devastating and breath-taking effects across the screen. It’s just as well, too, because there is a whole a legion of adversaries to tackle in Spinmaster, from hulking mummies to pesky bats and gigantic muscled thugs.
Those enemies may sound random; and that’s because the whole of Spinmaster is a bit random. Each area appears stitched onto the last with no thought to continuity. The airport gives way to a desert, complete with ancient granite blocks and deadly crabs. Later there’s an Egyptian tomb followed by what appears to be a medieval castle. The game’s bosses are equally bizarre. A quartet of giant snakes, controlled by Dr. De Playne in full snake charmer outfit, spit down at Johnny. A blue blobby thing transforms into a 256 tonne weight (because it can, ok?) before splitting up into a dozen smaller forms of itself, snarling and spluttering at Johnny. A giant swaps heads, bouncing from dragon to Medusa and cyclops within the space of one battle, as if a melting pot of ancient legends was used to create the game’s end-of-level bosses.
All this madness would be an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that Spinmaster is a delight to play from start to finish. Surprisingly easy for an arcade game, it eschews the hard-core gameplay of similar titles such as Metal Slug, and instead ensures the player can breeze through its levels relatively easily, timing jumps and collecting the power-ups, regularly dropped by unfriendly vultures. Never mind that it cheekily echos several other Data East games, such as the Sega Genesis title, Dashin’ Desperados, and Joe & Mac; when you’re having as much fun as this, who cares?
It’s all utterly bonkers, but in our opinion, that just enhances the experience. Too many games today play it straight and narrow, ensuring the gaming experience is at real as possible. Spinmaster doesn’t care. It just does what it wants. And we love it for it.