As Pulseman, you’re tasked with ending your own twisted father’s acts of cyber terrorism. To do so, you’ll need to make liberal use of your special power: the ability to traverse between the real world and electronics. By defeating various members of the devious “Galaxy Gang” throughout the world, you’ll clean the world of his misdeeds before confronting him.
Each stage is your standard 2D side-scrolling fare, as you scuttle through levels and clash against various robots, criminals, and objects. Pulseman can only take three hits before he dies, with health power ups few and far between. There’s a good variety and number of stages, so you’re getting value for your money. Each stage concludes with a bonus level, which is essentially just an Arkanoid clone with a twist.
The level design is ho-hum as a whole, neither impressive nor poor. The real interesting thing is Pulseman himself. He’s a rather agile fellow and can perform mid-air kicks that render him temporarily invincible. With an electric charge, he can temporarily transform into a diagonal-bound ball, allowing him to reach new areas. Moreover, he can ricochet off walls to increase his time in ball form. The danger of running and dashing to gain a charge is that you might run into an enemy, which probably isn’t worth the risk. There’s a subtle bit of strategy in planning when you’ll tap into your powers and when to fight as a human.
Boss fights are the low point of the game, though calling them “poor” is not terribly accurate. Several of them offer interesting premises, but take too many hits and have movement patterns that stay largely the same. It’s not always easy to tell that you’re doing damage to a boss, since feedback only seems to occur after a few hits. Furthermore, some experimentation showed me that many of the bosses can be bested simply by mashing Pulseman’s flip attack with no strategy whatsoever. This is actually a plus, for it gives less experienced players a crutch to rely on if a boss is too intimidating.
Platforming newcomers will have trouble adjusting to the rarity of health upgrades, but careful players shouldn’t have too much trouble. Some of the difficulty comes from navigating mazes and dealing with splitting paths, rather than enemies simply being out to kill you. One minor annoyance is that the game uses a credit system for when you run out of lives. Gamers with enough prowess will be fine, but it would be miserable to see someone use their last credit on the last level and have to restart the adventure from scratch.
Aside from the intriguing mechanics in the control scheme, the most noteworthy aspect is the visual presentation. When Pulseman is exploring regular real-world locations like Japan and Australia, the graphics are rather tame and mundane. That’s not to downplay the experience though, for the sprite work is utterly sublime (especially on the Sega Genesis). When he taps into the virtual world, things get a lot trippier. Delirious effects overflow in the virtual world such as 3D scrolling background trees and erratic flashing colours. I’m not joking when I say seizures may be induced. The level of background insanity can become distracting at times, and those with a history of eye problems should stay far away. With that said, the graphics certainly succeed in differentiating the two worlds. You’ll never confuse the two.
As this is an import title, you'll have to contend with Japanese. Fortunately, it isn't at all integral to the experience, save for a few cut scenes, so just about anyone can play.
While Pulseman carries the premium price associated with an import game on the Virtual Console, it’s still worth the investment. If you’re not turned off by the fancy visuals or potentially risky difficulty, Pulseman is worth checking out.