How could I not review a game with a name like Wolfchild? I’m thankful Kevin reminded me this was actually a thing, because it’s a Genesis title I kept meaning to play and unfortunately overlooking. I have a feeling this is the case for a lot of people though, because I hesitate to ever call anything a ‘hidden gem,’ but almost no one I spoke to remembered the thing, much less knew anything about it. The cover makes me think this thing was originally supposed to be a late 80s werewolf film, something that I would love to see. The cool horror-styled blood red logo has a small, but decent, story behind it, whose simple concept would make a better film than most of the ones I watch these days. It has that elegant mix of badass feel and cheese factor—I mean, the villain’s name is Karl Draxx for crying out loud. This is a game that wants to assert its manliness with a primal scream and whatever that outfit is the main character is trying to pull off. I expected a bitchin’ guitar solo at the end, and was a bit surprised or maybe even disappointed when that didn’t happen. My early expectations and impressions aside though, I knew I was in for a ride.
The plot begins with a biotech researcher named Kal Morrow, but the main character is his son, Saul. This young man’s life is turned upside down when the evil Chimera organization kills his brother and mother in cold blood before kidnapping his father. Now, Saul must don one of his father’s inventions if he wants to save his only remaining family member and get some semblance of revenge. Thankfully, the device grants him the ability to transform into a lycanthrope warrior with psychic powers, which he’ll need to take down a ruthless army of killers. Some versions of the manual apparently had a small four page comic to go with this to try and get readers into the story further, something I wish more games did. The setup has me hooked, even if it was strongly appealing to my love of bad science fiction, but that didn’t mean the game was good.
If Wolfchild were a comic book series or cartoon, I’d enjoy the hell out of it, but the game will have to do for now
Released by Core Design in 1992, Wolfchild is a side-scrolling game that delivers action and platforming with some quality mechanics. The game has five decent multidirectional maze-like levels that are not bad looking for the time, but ones that won’t be necessarily memorable for most, even if there are challenging spots that stick out and some respectable backgrounds. The music on the other hand is pretty good and it stuck in my head a bit, but what I really liked were the enemy models and animations for the main character—full of movement and detail. The controls are not bad, but I did have to mess with the simple three button layout to get in a good groove with the action. What can make the game weird is the odd hit detection and knockback, but those things will be easy enough to get used to for most after the intro level. There are some small enemies and traps that will be annoying, but once the player knows to keep an eye out for these, they will be manageable. The game is a bit hard, and gets tougher as it goes, but contains a fun challenge that kept me wanting to play again after my continues were over. I was surprised to see that the Genesis version defaults to the ‘easy’ difficulty, and the number of lives at start can be changed. The options menu allows for some versatility, and there is a stage selection code for ease.
Combat has its few aforementioned flaws, but it feels rewarding and makes the player think they can get farther or do better next time. Not everyone agrees with me on the gameplay, but I think this shouldn’t be one of those titles where unprepared players will be juggled off the screen or wrecked beyond compare and not want to pick the controller back up. Bosses were okay and seemed distinct enough that I felt some strategy was involved and I had fun with them, but I’m not sure I’ll many things to say about them in the long run. Although I’m not clear about werewolves being pychic and shooting things from their hands—though I guess that could be in the werewolf lore somewhere—players get power-ups in their lycan form that will change their attacks, but some upgrades will be bad in certain situations. The player starts with bombs as well which act as a useful area effect attack for clearing the screen. Some may feel defenseless when they are hit and revert back to human form, because it only has a punch to try and slaughter the Chimera, but I found it to be highly effective on enemies that get too close for comfort.
There are many different versions of Wolfchild on everything from Master System to the Atari ST. The SNES version did more with the boss fights, while the Amiga boasted some amazing cutscenes that I’m a little jealous over, and I hear the Game Gear port was surprisingly good. I’m not sure if the Genesis version is the best, but I would say it is certainly a good one. It’s a game I am proud to have in the Wilds Collection and will most likely play it again, and any reason to break the Genesis out can’t be too bad. A physical copy won’t break the bank, as lose cartridges can be found for anywhere between $12-$18 and it isn’t too bad for CIB collectors either. For me, this was a good playing experience, but I can’t help but come away from this thinking I want more of the story that was built-up over the gameplay itself. If Wolfchild were a comic book series or cartoon, I’d enjoy the hell out of it, but the game will have to do for now.