Woo hoo witchy woman.
Magical Doropie (known in North America as The Krion Conquest) is a game that lives in infamy. This 1990 action-platformer from Vic Tokai didn’t exactly set the sales charts on fire on either side of the Pacific and lingers on today almost entirely as a punchline thanks to its shameful status as a blatant copy of the first two Mega Man games.
And it’s true! Even the most generous (or downright contrary) of critics can’t deny that Magical Doropie is a complete and total rip-off of Capcom’s classic series. Your heroic witch character looks and animates just like the Blue Bomber, her enemies consist of the same wacky robots with expressive Disney cartoon eyes, she has a menu of special weapons to choose from (each of which changes her outfit to a different color when equipped), and even her death animation is identical to Mega Man’s. It might be a blessing in disguise that the game flew under the radar in its day, since the level of outright idea theft on display here verges on the legally actionable.
Still, I’ve always wanted to give the game a try. Maybe I’m just perversely attracted to the sheer audacity of it all. Price was a mitigating factor for quite a while, however. I was curious, but not quite $60 curious, you know? Fortunately, I was able to snag a reproduction cartridge at last year’s Portland Retro Gaming Expo for much less. As an added bonus, it’s actually an English language fan translation of the original Japanese release. This matters for a couple reasons. First, the original release of Magical Doropie had a complete in-game story told through a series of Ninja Gaiden style cinematic cut scenes. These were cut from The Krion Conquest, presumably to save money on an official translation. Not even the ending was spared! Also left out was the original’s continue feature and players were instead forced to start the entire game over every time they exhausted their initial stock of lives. Now, I would not only be able to experience this most infamous of NES clone games, I’d get to play the version its designers intended. As a special added bonus, the label on my cartridge showcases a very DeviantArt-esque cheesecake shot of Doropie flashing her bare ass at the viewer. Classy.
So just how is Magical Doropie? Surprisingly decent, given its checkered reputation. The game opens in the far-flung future of 1999. Earth is under attack by the mysterious Akudama Empire and its legions of robots. Conventional weapons are useless against the invaders, leaving only one hope: Magic. Fortunately, a mercenary named Kagemaru has successfully stolen an enchanted rod from the enemy forces. Sealed inside the rod is the witch Doropie (Francesca in the North American version), who alone is capable of combating the Akudama with her magic wand. A strange and slightly silly setup to be sure, though not exceptionally so for the era. Supposedly, the designers had wanted to do a game based on a contemporary anime adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, but couldn’t secure the rights. The only element remaining here that hints at this history is the main character’s name being a variation of Dorothy. As these things go, Magical Doropie’s story is no towering achievement, but it’s still one of the game’s highlights. The main character is cute and the cut scenes are well-drawn. There’s also a bit of development by the end, as you eventually get to find out what the deal is with the Akudama Empire and its leader Empress Elysia. Doropie even gets to rescue the kidnapped Kagemaru at one point in a welcome inversion of the terminally overused “save the girl” plot. Not bad for 1990.
The gameplay…is Mega Man. I could go to great effort to detail exactly what that means, but I don’t think that would be a very productive use of your time or mine. If you’re reading reviews of decades-old 8-bit video games, I feel pretty comfortable assuming certain things about you. That you more or less know how a Mega Man game functions is one of them. That being said, there are some differences worth mentioning.
Foremost among these is the lack of a stage select feature. There are a total of thirteen stages in Magical Doropie. These are presented in a fixed order and are further sub-divided into four main levels with three stages each and a fifth level that consists entirely of a multi-phase final boss fight. Running out of lives and continuing will always set you back to the start of the level, regardless of the specific sub-stage you died on. Wipe out on stage 2-3, for example, and you’ll continue back at the beginning of 2-1.
Doropie is also a bit more agile than Mega Man himself was around this same time. Unlike her robotic counterpart, she can crouch to avoid attacks and fire her wand upward in addition to straight ahead. She can even charge up her primary weapon to deal extra damage by holding down the fire button, an ability that Mega Man wouldn’t gain until his fourth outing the following year.
The third major departure from formula is the weapon system. Mega Man has to earn each of his special powers individually by defeating bosses, but Doropie has all of her magic spells available from the very start. There are five total in additional to the normal shot: Fire, Freeze, Ball, Shield, and Broom. Furthermore, there’s no finite weapon energy enforced here, so you’re free to use any magic you want any time you want. The one exception to this is Fire, which damages all enemies on screen in exchange for a sizable chunk of Doropie’s health and is generally not worth the cost. Out of the remaining four weapons, Freeze and Shield have a few narrow, specialized uses while Ball and Broom are absolutely indispensable. Ball shoots at a 45-degree angle and can ricochet off walls, making it useful against many of the more cunningly-placed enemies. Broom creates a flying platform reminiscent of Mega Man’s Rush Jet that is required to cross the multitude of spike-filled pits that litter the levels. Just remember not to jump when riding on the broom or you’ll plummet to an untimely end as it speeds away without you.
All this said, Magical Doropie still lacks that special touch that would make it as good as any given real Mega Man game. For starters, the levels aren’t as thematically distinct or imaginative, although the underwater stages where Doropie has to fight her way between air pockets before her oxygen runs out are an interesting twist on the formula. The rest of the stages look and play generically. Similarly, the majority of Doropie’s foes are forgettable and prove that there’s more to the art of designing a great Mega Man enemy than just sticking googly eyes on any old hunk of scrap metal. The weapon system is also lacking in depth and overall utility. Most of Doropie’s special weapons are quite pointless and the two that you’ll be relying on most often are merely useful, not cool or fun. Bosses don’t take extra damage from specific weapons like they do in Mega Man, either, so that’s another layer of design complexity gone.
Graphics are comparable to the first Mega Man, even if they are wasted on bland levels and enemies. Sound is another story. The tunes we get in Magical Doropie are average at best. I know because I just went back and listened to them again. The fact that I needed to should give you an idea of how very average they are. I’ll probably have forgotten them again by this time tomorrow. This is obviously not on par with Capcom’s legendary “put down that controller and dance” brand of 8-bit techo-rock. That level of talent just isn’t present here.
So if Magical Doropie is mediocre, why did I call it “surprisingly decent” above? Well, it turns out that aping one of the greatest sagas in all of gaming buys you a long, long way to fall before you end up with something unplayable. Magical Doropie is no Mega Man, but it’s sure as hell no Super Pitfall or Fist of the North Star, either. The gameplay is solid, the plot and characters are enjoyable, and it presents a decent challenge. All-in-all, a playthrough makes for a pleasant evening’s gaming. The Krion Conquest version is another story. Ripping out the cute story bits and the continue feature results in a far less charming game that will take you much, much more than a breezy couple hours to complete. I have no reservations about recommending that you spend a few hours with this one, but devoting dozens of hours to a game that never rises above “not bad?” Forget it. Your time could be much better spent. If you really want to dedicate that much of your life to a tough NES game, try Battletoads or Blaster Master.
Sometimes it really does matter which witch is which.