If you’re over the age of say, 25, you most likely remember the Toy’s R’ Us video game aisle. No games were actually stocked on the sales floor. Instead, an entire aisle with pictures of game boxes lining one wall greeted you. You grabbed a small ticket off the wall under a picture of a game box that represented the store’s inventory. No tickets left for a paticular game? SOLD OUT. The elderly woman working the counter of the small bank-teller like room up front, way past the cash registers, would hand you a game in trade for a ticket, after you paid for it, of course. It was fun and added to the excitement of buying a game, for me anyway, like ‘OMG this is a big deal’. Often times you had one game on your mind that was ‘coming soon’, checking each visit to the store, waiting and hoping for that game to arrive whenever you walked down the game aisle.
Mine was Psycho Fox for the Sega Master System. Unfortunately, Toy’s R Us never stocked it locally (perhaps nationwide as well) as the SMS scene died with a loud “Ka-plut” in the early 1990s. Once the SNES came out in 1991, and the 16-bit wars got into full swing, I forgot about the game, thinking about it only in passing until recently, when I dove back into my SMS and played the game after 20 years.
Psycho Fox is a platformer for the Sega Master System that puts you in control of a Fox who looks a little more silly than psycho. The game is very similar to Super Mario 2 for the NES, where in SMB2 you can play as one of four characters chosen at the beginning of a level, Psycho Fox allows you to play as a Hippo, a Monkey, or a Tiger. They all attack the same, by punching their enemies, but each runs and jumps differently than the other. Unlike SMB2, you can transform ‘on the fly’ with the help of a “Psycho Stick”, accessed by pausing the game and using a menu screen. You must defeat the Madfox Daimyojin who has of course, conquered all the creatures of the world with his magic. (Fun Fact: Foxes have changeling like powers in Japanese folklore, hence, the premise for the game.)
In 1989, platformers were king, and Sega was throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck. This game really feels like a mish-mash of the Super Mario series on the NES, but don’t forget, Sega didn’t really have a mascot at the time, these were pre-blue-hedgehog days. Alex Kidd? Meh. I enjoy the Mario series as a whole so this isn’t a bad thing. Each world in Psycho Fox has its own look, but has that ‘Mario’ feel (seriously, the last underground level may as well be an underworld SMB level). The end bosses are pretty clever and unique. There’s one huge robot fly that is only hurt by jumping on a bottle of insect spray, dousing him with poison.
Control in Psycho Fox is ‘ok’. I really only have a gripe about the SMS in general. Inexplicably, you must keep the console near you as the Master System has a ‘pause’ button mounted directly on it. Seriously, a pause button.. I had to buy a longer RF cable wire specifically for the SMS solely to keep that damn button accessible. In Psycho Fox, the button brings up a status menu where you can change your character and use items like invincibility “Magic Medicine”.
Graphically, Psycho Fox is pretty good, even now. The Saturday morning cartoon look with large stationary googly eyes always does it for me. Your main attack method is your fist, which has an ok attack range, and there’s a sort of Penguin looking creature called a ‘Bird Fly’. He’s a bird you find in an egg that you can throw at enemies, but he’ll return like a boomerang. Cute. Deadly. Don’t let his poker face fool you.
So after 20 years, was this game worth waiting for? Did the memories of Game Pro articles hold up to reality? In a word. Absolutely! While I wish I found the game the first time around in the early 90’s, I’m glad I did today. It’s a fun little platformer that offers the challenge of Mario, but with a bit more going on regarding graphics and play abilities. It feels like a Sega game. The background sprites look like they’d be at home in Fantasy Zone or Alex Kidd. The theme music is actually pretty decent, but man, that jump noise feels so out of place. Need a new platformer? Tired of a red plumber? Give a sly fox, a Psycho Fox, the fair shake.