The story of
Chelnov is a sad one. It was released in arcades in 1988 by Data East.
In-universe, the story of Chelnov is also pretty sad!
Regular joe coal miner Chelnov was just going about his business when HE WAS RADIO-ACTIVATED. Not only was he radio-activated, but he was BKOW!'d, too, which always ruins a perfectly good windy.
When I think abnormal power, I think having a double-jointed thumb or something. Sprouting electricity and black stink lines is a bit beyond that. I should update my assumptions.
Devilish Destarian's Enchanting Solicitation could rank up there with Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium as wacky movie title of the summer.
FOR EVERLASTING PEACE
And so, bursting your way out of the chamber, the game begins.
But first, the artillery you will collect along the way! Taking a step from the Belmont family, items are claimed by shooting wall-mounted torches, or blasting enemies carrying them.
Chelnov, being an Atomic Runner, is equipped with LASER HANDS, which have craptacular range and very, very weak, though that latter part isn't immediately obvious thanks to only a small fraction of the enemies requiring more than one shot to bring about their demise. He can grab power-ups of varying colours to increase its statistics in different ways - the yellow increase the range, the red will up the strength, and blue allow projectiles to be shot quicker, though it still requires the button to be pressed for every shot, so it's nowhere near as cool as it could be. If you have another weapon, you can grab the pistol to reclaim it, though in most cases there's little reason to do so.
The fireball isn't much different than the laser, except the shots grow the farther they travel, effectively providing more range. Of course, you need a lot of red UPs to achieve this, and otherwise it's a bit pointless. Even at full power, it's rather unimpressive.
The boomerang automatically has greater range than the laser, and also goes through all enemies in your path, so if aimed correctly, you can nail a few enemies in one shot. Of course, since you can only have two on screen and they need to return to you before you can fire another, it can also open POTENTIAL DEATH.
The flail kicks major ass. Instead of being a projectile, you just heave a ludicrously sized flail in the direction you're facing, and anything that touches it will get clobbered. Even if it's just the chain, they die. And if you get the maximum amount of UPs, you swing THREE FLAILS. It is amazing, let me remind you.
The circle shot, on the other hand, is pretty awful, and a lot like Contra's fireball. You shoot a slow-moving stream of spiked balls that circle in the direction you aim, ploughing through enemies. In concept it sounds decent, but it's just so ludicrously slow that the time you're left defenceless is too long for comfort, and although on multi-hit enemies it can score plenty on them in one shot, it's just too inconvenient to make great use of. Not to mention that it actually lags the game. Well implemented!
The missile, I would possibly dare say is the best weapon in the game. With no UPs, it's rather awful; it moves at a snails pace, takes a long time to explode so you can fire another, and has no distinct advantage over enemies. Get all the UPs, though, and every problem is rectified; the missiles home in on targets, will split to deal more damage in one shot, and the explosions are large enough to eliminate those within close radius. The explosions do mean that if you're trying to destroy a wall, it can lead to taking longer than you'd desire, but they're still pretty rad.
Yeah, now we know all that. After bursting through out of what's presumably your experimentation tube chamber thing, you begin atomic running through the game, and the mechanics are actually explained for once. See, the Runner part of Chelnov's title isn't just one of those Japanese descriptive things that they tack on for no good reason; the coal miner is always running. You can make him stop, or keep him running forward while facing backwards, but he will never take a step back once he's taken it forward. He's too determined to fight for justice to metaphorically think it over and take a step back. He just keeps going. Like Duracell personified.
I mention this because the first level does nothing to stand out from the rest for the first segment, and merely introduces you to the basic enemies and the basic surroundings you'll be seeing: Boring grey tunnels with a black sky in the distance and brown pillars. With good graphics, a potentially intriguing sight, but here it's just horrible and grainy. Go, 1988!
After wiping out a small army, Chelnov takes a leap over a drawbridge hanging above flame belching generators and into the good part: Blue caves! Here he gets assaulted by fluttering fly things, marathon runners and giant veiny groping hands. There's also formation following pod-like things that are just asking to be bounced on top of that are practically lifted from every shmup ever, except this time they come from behind you!
Towards the end, our hero encounters a giant purple thing with smaller teal things circling it. Which, ultimately, is a lot like everything you encounter in this game: Multi-coloured things. It merely deploys those formation bugs at you while also moving along the borders occasionally, requiring some serious hopping timing to bounce across without dying embarrassingly. Like I did. About fifty million shots to the fact kills it for good.
After some more boring tunnels that suck, you come across a fire pit of brown-green orb things that need blasting so you don't jump into them like a doofus and kill yourself. That's then followed up with more boring tunnels that at least spice things up with a few nice murals, wherein puke-green sperm monsters swarm in diagonally and attempt to provide Chelnov with a healthy amount of death.
And then it's the boss! It's quite clearly and certainly a wall-mounted boulder-necked fire-breathing dragon, so I can't call it a thing. It moves around and sprays from fire once you're in front of it, which can lead to some truly embarrassing deaths, but Chelnov isn't just an Atomic Runner, he's an Atomic Runner, and with the help of a J Boost he can nearly clear the whole screen, so unless you're silly the fire shouldn't be a hassle. Blast the bitch and it'll crumble to bits, roots first.
Stage 2 kicks off with some great scenery: Giant, immobile, Technicolor monsters pinned in the background, watching the events while dangling eyes do the same, apparently set in a valley of sand. It's pretty minimalist, but almost Altered Beast style in its imagery, not to mention probably the prettiest the game ever gets. Which probably isn't saying much.
This stage also introduces the lanky marathon runners, who sometimes bear spiky shields that, like everything else in the game, kill you dead on collision. Because running into spikes just isn't cricket.
Other notable enemies it introduces include the green hopping space rabbits, who quite literally and understandably, being rabbits and all, hop over the place in great bounds and are a pain in the ass to take care of because they like to land on your head and kill you. Which is very embarrassing, like a lot of things in the game. And also the purple owl frog bats, who have no interesting tactics at all, but jeez, look at them! God must've been laughing when he made those. Well, the Destarians. Whoever.
Also: Green coconut throwing space monkeys. They float in the air, throw coconuts, then drop and hang somewhere new. They're terrible at actually proving dangerous, but they rock for that very reason.
In the middle of the course is a bridge across a pit of lava, where you get hounded by... something. With most other things, I can get away with comparing them to basic geometric shapes, but this is just a big orange wedge with what I assume is a grey dog's head at the top. It moves around a bit, weaving up and down, and then goes off-screen, proving completely pointless. The whole game leaves a lot of questions open regarding what the hell.
After that, you enter a scenario that took me four continues you figure out. As you march down a slope, two lanky dudes with shields approach from the front, while a zigzag fly goes overhead. Meanwhile, two hop-and-fire dragons march in from behind. The shield dudes are harmless, but need to be jumped over; the dragons will open fire if given too much time. The fly will shoot as it zigzags. You have to shoot at the right time and jump at the right time to get it right. At least, that's what I initially thought. It just turned out to shoot the dragons, jump, then blast the fly. Simple!
This is followed up by a sequence involving lowering and raising spikes ala Crash Man's stage, which can be bounced on, but needless to say, causes plenty of death because of wonky collision detection. Fun times!
The boss of this stage is some kind of Egyptian-like statue thing with bug eyes and a head shaped like the titular character of Hey Arnold!. Despite being the second boss, it manages to be less threatening than the first, as its only methods of attack are hopping around feebly, and launching a number of Animal Crossing Gyroids from it skulls to rain down on you (yeah I know they have real names but I can't be bothered to research kapeesh). Blast both eye sockets until they're hollowed and the head will fly away, leaving its body to explode and combust.
After progressing through a land of fire pits, hanging demons and evil Egyptian artefacts, it's only natural that the next destination is a city. Just like real geography! It kicks off with some stupid flies, stupid marathon runners, and totally badass G.I. Joe style helicopter that drops off more marathon runners. Aside from dropping off enemies, it has no means of attack, so its dangerousness doesn't match well up, but hey, it looks awesome!
There's also some fire belching things, but we've seen those already.
The game then decides that the city is too interesting, and throws you into another tunnel where you face rising walls. You've got to blast them several times to destroy them, but that's it. They don't kill you on contact, they just stop you and provide risk of being crushed by the screen if you're too slow jumping. Dangerous shit.
The game's senses are recollected and takes you back into the city and soon start crossing a bridge. So far, every bridge in the game has spelt trouble, and this one is no different, for you face a purple zigzagging purple dragon. Technically I'd like to say the horns declassify it from being a dragon and lump it into the thing category, but I'm just trying to stretch that joke out.
When flying forwards, the dragon merely zigzags and does nothing, allowing a good pumping of laser into its face, but when it goes backwards, it'll breathe fire once you share its position on the horizontal axis. This is less cool and more death-bringing, even though it's a very simple plan to follow. You're meant to bounce off it's head to avoid the fire, but as usual, Chelnov flashes and expires if he doesn't use the right frame of animation to collide with an enemy, so for me and my stupid self it was a very hard fight. After three waves it just flies away. Dangerous!
This is followed by an entertaining sequence wherein you hop across stone pillars and bounce on top of fly things, and then fight another G.I. Joe helicopter. Whee!
You then face the boss, who maintains tradition by actually being something identifiable, but in this case embarrassingly so - a helicopter.
After fighting several dragons, an Egyptian robot and ludicrous amounts of things, you fight a military helicopter. That drops marathon men.
It sometimes shoot bullets.
It's awful, and embarrassing, and its role only gets worse. It dies easily, thankfully, so let's move on to greener pastures.
Stage 4 throws you in a deep, dark forest, where the more 'organic' foes come out to prey on your flesh, including the goddamned rabbits, goddamned owl bats, goddamned hands, and goddamned armed purple snakes, that are thankfully not on goddamned planes.
There's also lots of pits you're forced to fall down, usually followed up with those green monkey dudes who try to spike you with their horribly thrown coconuts. It's pretty boring.
Then it goes to a bridge across flaming death, hounded by one of those pod things with circling things again; except now it's green! Accompanied by those smaller formation-following pod things and the hopping dragons! Sadly, aside from the change of environment, it fights no differently and will simply fly off if you don't kill it in time (which is understandable, given the inconsistent height of the bridge), so it's not exactly an engaging encounter.
This is then followed up with more tunnels where you face the ever-dreaded rising walls. And owl bats. This level is not exactly impressive, I must say.
And it follows up that statement by making you fight the goddamned Egyptian thing again! In the exact same way!
That is, until you bust up its eye holes, where it flashes colours, explodes just a little, and the head separates! The head begins slowly pinballing around the room while the body takes small, feeble hops in an attempt to collide with you and invoke video game death, which you can safely bounce on to no ill effect. Obviously, following video game logic, the head is the weak spot which you must blast with lasers to help bring about its death. When that is done, both the head and body explode, and we can happily say that we'll never be seeing that loser again. Hurrah!
This stage is another alien tunnel with crap on the walls. I've been enthusiastic as much as I can, WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME
(besides content that doesn't end up with me resorting to this kind of attitude, I imagine)
After a ludicrous tunnel sequence where the arrangement of green monkeys and hopping dragons resulted in me having to use three continues just to figure out the right pattern to not die horribly several times in a row, you encounter a brand new obstacle: Giant hammer-shaped generators! With very weak stands!
Needless to say, you need to destroy them to get past, and unlike the rising walls, these kill you on contact. However, following basic laws of physics, they fall when their stands are destroyed, and give you very precise time to run under them. So, for the shortest ones, you must stand as close as you can to the dangerous pillar, destroy it, and then dash the very instant it is gone. Stop too short and you just run into the pillar like a doofus and kill yourself.
This is followed up by a devious arrangement of enemies and rising walls that is specifically geared to make Chelnov a flashing dead pancake of some kind, and then hopping between towers of fire while flies shoot at you. See, that latter part is fun frustration. Being crushed by very precise generators and shot by dickhead Destarians just isn't cool.
After a wave of groping hands, you encounter the boss, and the difficulty doesn't get any easier here. It's a skeletal avian, maybe a dragon, perhaps a thing, but it's all too clear that this son of a bitch is a son of a bitch.
Let me elaborate. Breaking all game tradition, the head is not the weak spot - the chest is. The bird will extend its neck at you, and if you are standing too far away, will deploy three mini-dragons in your general direction. If you stand that distance, you can't shoot the chest because of the bird's head and range of your weapon. But if you stand close, you're in perfect range of shooting the chest and can do it very well in fact. The problem? The son of a bitch will dive bomb you. There's no warning in advance, no signal other than the fact you're standing close, and no opportunity to react. You will get dive-bombed too fast to react and you will be killed. If you stand anywhere else, you can't get more than a couple of shots in, and more likely to get clobbered by the neck. So at the very position where you can actually kill it, it will kill you in seconds flat.
Did I mention you can't even bounce off the mini-dragons without dying?
Fuck this guy. I could only beat it using an invincibility code, which is something I'm simultaneously ashamed of, yet gratified with, because fuck this guy.
As if it wasn't obvious already that the game had begun to stink just a little bit more than usual, this level is back to the forest with the same animal type enemies. Before I can truly get complaining, it does start off with a very fun sequence of hopping across platforms, flying pods and other monstrosities above a pit of life-sapping fire.
This is then followed up by a new enemy: Space worms! The creepy crawly variety, not the rectum flavour. They fly in your general direction, but give them a zap and they'll thrash in temporary agony before combusting. Easy stuff, but nice to see something new.
Especially since the rest of the level is very, very samey. There's a few rising walls that now have guns on the tops, and lots and lots of hopping dragons, but really, it's ludicrously samey.
If you saw these images in an earlier level, would you have noticed? I think not.
Quite wonderfully, there's a long sequence of generators on stands and fly enemies before the boss, which very likely results in an unfortunate case of repeated dying. And there's no checkpoint at the boss, so if you die to it, you'll have to trek through it all over again. And the boss is not fun. Don't you love cheap difficulty? Then again, in reality if you died you'd have to start from scratch, or the game would cease to run again, ever, so it's fair cop.
The boss is a giant immobile robot that forms around a central, spherical processing unit, and fires volleys of three bullets and one bullet alternately, before splitting apart and allowing the centre to float around with horrible aim. Then it reforms, repeats, and so on. You can't attack while it's a robot, but fair game as a sphere. It's simple enough, and attacking it is a cinch, unlike the previous boss, but it's just such a laborious hassle; not to mention the robot likes to reform while you're cornered, giving you very little space to avoid the bullets. And if you happen to be airborne when it reforms or separates, then the arms will crash against you and you will die.
Not fun! Just like the rest of the game!
I jest. It's vaguely amusing.
Well, okay, I lie. I'm torturing myself here.
Stage 7 takes us back to the city, and therefore the best parts of the game: The G.I. Joe helicopters! I seriously can't say it enough how incredibly those things are. Their attacks suck, the defence on them stinks, and the bright pink isn't doing them any favours, but I want one. It also shows a suspicious looking engraving on the wall as you start, which is totally bound to be important, right?
There's also a highway you run under. Exciting stuff!
And that thing from Stage 2 returns as your ally as you cross a very long pit of boiling fire, allowing you to bounce on its head as it moves without harm through the unpleasant element. Good times.
After some more generator destroying that is all too certain to crush you several times, you're treating to the ever lovely rising walls again, which now have guns on top of them and come in rows of six, both on the ground and descending from the ceiling. All firing at the same time, three bullets from each.
And it does not take long before it gets absolutely absurd.
I'd like to remind you that it took me ten minutes to reach the boss of this level, and another five to actually beat it.
Quite nicely, the game follows up this demonstration of virtual hell with a parade of enemies containing lots and lots of items, which surely must be there for a reason.
Precisely! For after them, you encounter the final boss of the game. The big cheese Destarian.
Which is, surprise surprise, a H.R. Giger style alien. Or, more precisely, an alien in the style of the alien from Alien.
With a sword!
Being a floating, top-heavy extraterrestrial, it as no manoeuvres aside from merely floating in your general direction, flailing its sword aimlessly and hoping that it will stab you something fierce. This may not sound terrifying, but somehow, it is. The sword will generally attempt to aim for you, but only generally, so you can't accurately pinpoint when it's safe to bounce across the beast's noggin without getting your legs chopped off. Quite mercifully, once it's moved far enough and been hit enough times, it'll zip to the other side of the screen and repeat its meandering progress towards you, though it may feel the need to mix things up with some changing of where it starts. It usually comes from the right, but sometimes it's the left! You're not safe if you're behind it, though, as that elongated skull isn't just for show. It's a mouth. That spits mini aliens at you.
I think it's a good thing that it's very likely that any real aliens we meet will just be gaseous.
After it's gotten a fair amount of clobbering and decided it's had enough, it will not explode and save you the hassle of fighting it any more. It will whisk into the air, taking you with it, and fight you on the Statue of Liberty! Which seems to a fair bit smaller than it should be, but what do I know about the scale of radioactivity-induced coal miners and legless xenomorphs in comparison to the French built statue?
This may seem dramatic, but nothing has actually changed at all. Instead of moving back and forth, the creature now moves in a diamond line around the centre, more or less, and that's the most it does, still flailing that arm something fierce. It doesn't exactly make the fight easier, though. I mean, it sounds easy, but avoiding that sword is hard without the jump power-up, and if you die then you have to fight the first half again. Not cool! Keep it up and you'll get the ending, though. I've spent way too long on this, so that'll be a nice compensation, right?
The alien goes limp, Chelnov leaps fifty hundred miles away from the statue onto dry land, and watches the Destarian explode into a stream streaking towards the heavens like something almost symbolic.
The poor coal minter may have succeeded in defeating the Destarians, never mind how it never explains how they came to be in the first place, but his motherland is lost just as inexplicably. Considering America, although reasonably intact from that horizon there, seems to have been transmogrified into one quarter jungle and three thirds lots and lots of boring ass tunnels, it's assumed he can't get a decent kip here either.
He must look for a new land.
And he must look for it the only way he can.
Run, Chelnov. Run.
The game proceeds to supply a cast list of nearly every enemy in the game, skipping over the bosses, mini-bosses and anything that would actually need a real definition. And, as usual for games of this era, all names lack English definition. The flying space worms are called Mimizu, which, obviously enough, translates from Japanese as earthworm. And the green coconut throwing monkeys are abbreviations of yamazaru, the real name for them. Imaginative! Most of the others I just can't get a match for, so how a tubby alien marathon runner gets the name of Nubeesa is beyond me.
All this, and Chelnov pays no attention.
And runs offs-screen...
Where he doesn't get a moment's peace...
Before the stage 3 helicopter shows up, following after.
And when it goes off-screen, a new sound plays.
One that my ears detect as 1988 Data East arcade era gunfire.
Which is followed up by an ending screen.
Which, to me, suggests that the lamest boss in the game just gunned the Atomic Runner in the back.
Meaning that after so much hard work; and more importantly, so much dying, the ending to the game is incredibly, incredibly depressing!
That boss is so rude.
Chelnov never got a sequel, but he did get a port to the Sega Mega Drive, four years later!
It looks prettier, and the English actually makes sense this time, but damned if I'm going to spend two more hours dying because of pain in the ass monster walkers to talk about it.
He also made cameos in a number of other Data East titles, but not nearly to the extent of Karnov. Appearing in the final world of Diet Go Go!, as well as Trio the Punch - Don't Forget Me as a ludicrously sized mallet wield foe, so he had a good run.
Long live Chelnov.