Thanks to Qubyte Games for the review code
Title: Qubyte Classics: The Tale of Clouds and Wind
System: Xbox One
Release Date: 12/21/2022
Another month, another Qubyte Classic. Same routine as before, except this is the first time a Qubyte launch has only offered one version of any game: Clouds and Wind, also known as Water Margin was a Taiwanese Genesis game from the late 90s, following the tale of the same name in a belt scroller format, and there’s no other console variants of any kind that exist.
Water Margin was made by a team who eventually gave their shot at a Final Fantasy clone, Brave Battle Saga, and generally was niche before Piko somehow acquired the legal rights to both of them. This game was translated into english, and it gets the job done at explaining the basic plot of “go from place to place and beat up people”.
Same Qubyte wrapper as always, even with a singular version, so yes, that means this is a Genesis emulator with noticeable input lag and the same filter/display options as we’ve previously seen. Save states work normally here at least, but otherwise the wrapper and emulation is just as poor quality as I always critique it as, with the sound emulation being relatively normal.
So, for a game with underground origins, just what does Water Margin have to offer presentation wise? Well, it starts with a title screen sporting a pretty blue background, and the cutscenes are text scrolls that get the job done decently well. Upon picking one of the main three characters and getting into the actual game however, you’ll see that visually, this game is just a complete mess, somehow barely being coherent while also clearly being a mashup of whatever the devs could get their hands on. This game is a belt scroller akin to Final Fight, Golden Axe and other similar titles, and a lot of the sprites here are just strange looking alterations of sprites from elsewhere. They aren’t 1:1 per say except in a few cases, having been altered enough to be only noticeable if you played a lot of retro games in this genre religiously. Even then, you’ll still get the sense that a lot of assets in this game just feel familiar in some weird way, whether it be an attack animation, the weird stolen sound effects being pitch-shifted, among other things. It’s pretty tough to explain, honestly, and I can only ask that you look at a longplay for yourself and see the game in motion.
Still, the levels themselves are original, even if that isn’t really much of a compliment considering how basic they look. You go to woods, you go to a raft, you go to a village, you go to assorted landmarks seen in belt scrollers of all kinds. There isn’t much in terms of branching paths or stage variety, or any sort of cool background details whatsoever. Your limited attacks means you have limited moves and animations, thus meaning you’ll just see the same attack animations over and over and over. Props to the magic techniques for sporting cool screen-clearing effects, though. The music is likewise very generic, but original to the game and doesn’t appear to be a copy of anything I’ve heard, (even if some sound effects like the GO! indicator are clearly pitch-shifted from Capcom titles) and is fairly inoffensive.
Set across multiple stages, you take control of one of three warriors on a quest to defeat the evil generals! This game is incredibly simplistic, with your usual attack, jump and magic setup, and each character having their own stats that determine how they hit enemies. Yet, outside of that, the game doesn’t have much in terms of combo depth, special moves, or cool techniques. You just have a basic attack and combo, a jump attack, a dash move, a power move by holding both jump and attack, and a magic attack you can unleash if you collect the corresponding emblem. With no ability to throw enemies or do more than basic moves, Water Margin somehow manages to be more basic than the first Golden Axe, a game that came out many years before this one!
Thus, each stage is fairly typical: beat waves of enemies up, move to the next screen, pickup items, eventually reaching a boss and dueling it to complete the stage. You can have a local co-op buddy join you for the ride, which makes the game a lot more fun, but otherwise Water Margin is simplistic to a fault. It’s decent fun for mindless action, which was why I enjoyed a run through it on Evercade, but it isn’t a game you’ll want to revisit often, or fully clear with every single character. This version does add achievements to incentivize you to do that sort of thing, but it really isn’t worth it, especially considering how yep, this Qubyte release has garbage input lag, which didn’t really hinder my gameplay that much, but still led to a few annoying mistimed jump attacks. This game also does the trope where playing on an easier difficulty will cut the game off early, but even on the highest setting the game doesn’t get much more interesting outside of flooding you with more baddies that hit harder.
Somehow, I can’t help but still find it a bit charming how Water Margin sticks to cloning the early Capcom belt scroller, but in some cases here it feels almost like a copy, despite not being one in the way that the abhorrent Thunderbolt II was an outright reskin. Rather, Water Margin feels like someone played a lot of King of Dragons, Golden Axe and Final Fight, went “I wanna do my own!” and just did it back in the 90s, and I kinda find that charming, even though that just makes the continual lack of any historical context in these Qubyte Classics more irksome, since I’d love to know the story behind the development of this game, see some concept art, boxart/cart scans, anything of interest! But here you just get a ROM in a bad wrapper and have it called a day.
In conclusion, Water Margin ends the Qubyte Classics lineup for 2022 on a very dull note: The most basic port imaginable of a very average, inoffensive belt scroller, that manages to be so simplistic you’ll either find it charming or baffling considering the depth of contemporaries on the Genesis. Even in a belt scroller, the input lag from this godawful wrapper has not been addressed one bit, and at this point I’m convinced either all Qubyte Classics from 2022 were just hastily thrown together last-minute with nobody noticing the input lag, or developed all at once and just rolled out monthly with no intention to go back to them, since even just fixing this glaring emulation flaw would go a long way to making these games easier to recommend, as the $5 price isn’t really a bad one for an afternoon of simplistic belt scrolling action!
Alas, Water Margin is an average game thrown into a bad wrapper, put out into the stores with little historical context or really any reason to know anything about it. Decent afternoon fun with a friend in local co-op, but not engaging for any other reason, since the repetitiveness will set in really, really fast if you play this by yourself. I had good fun with this on the Evercade VS, but here I just wished the game was given a bit more care than being shot into stores without much word.
I give Qubyte Classics: The Tale of Clouds and Wind a 4 out of 10.