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Level 1

Welcome to Level 1. Every week we look at a random game's very first level. It doesn't matter what kind of game it is or what system it's for, we're here to dissect the game's first level and see what it tells us about the rest of the game. I promise you an eye-opening experience in each episode! It's time to grab your bolt bombs and suit up, because this week we're taking a look at Keith Courage in Alpha Zones. This terrible pack-in had the potential to kill the TurboGrafx-16, but instead most people accepted it for what it is -- a mediocre action game. But who cares how terrible it is, it's time for another episode of Level 1!

Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (Hudson)
[ Release: 1989 - Console: TurboGrafx-16 ]
Castlevania (NES)
Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (Hudson)
Don't remember Keith Courage? Then you weren't one of the first people to buy a TurboGrafx-16. For a short time, this Hudson-developed action game was the pack-in for NEC's failed 16-bit console. So don't feel bad if you don't know Keith Courage, because even die-hard fans barely remember this forgettable action character. But that's not going to stop us from digging deep into this Hudson misfire to figure out what went wrong. So pick up that control and press start, because we're about to jump into the first level of Keith Courage in Alpha Zones.

Level 1-1: The Rock Zone Overworld: I begin my journey on the streets of the first village. I know this is the first village because there's a big sign next to me that says "LEVEL 1." With my bearing in order, I walk from left to right looking for something to do. All along my path there are businesses
Castlevania - Castle Entrance/The Foyer
Keith Courage - The Rock Zone Overworld
trying to sell me their newest wares and warn me of impending danger. I talk to Nurse Nancy and she heals my wounds, the Prophet gives me cogent advice and some dude at the weapons store refuses to sell me anything.

Yeah, I know I shouldn't care. But there's something about that Weapons Master guy that rubs me the wrong way. First he won't tell me his name and then he follows it up with the clumsily worded, "Look for weapons as I sell them to you." Either he's all out of
Castlevania - Castle Entrance/The Foyer
Keith Courage - The Rock Zone Overworld
weapons or he doesn't like my jib, because I leave his store empty handed. Thankfully it's not a total loss as I learn that in the Alpha Zone, English is not the first language.

Seeing as I don't have any gold coins and I'm in no need for a health potion, I decide to see where this path takes me. Just outside of town I see a house, but spikes and moving platforms surround it. I decide to risk it, jumping from one platform to the next
Castlevania - Castle Entrance/The Foyer
Keith Courage - The Rock Zone Overworld
praying that I don't slip and fight Reptile down in the spike pit. I safely make it across to learn that the house is owned by an unbalanced old wise wizard. After he warns me of the dangers just beyond his house, the wise wizard hands me a bolt bomb. He then winks at me and I decide to leave before anything creepy happens.

Just beyond another spike pit is the exit to the next level, but I'm not sure how it works. I see a pedestal and some directions; however, all but one of the words is written in Japanese. The
Castlevania - Underground Mote
Keith Courage - The Rock Zone Overworld
only word I can read is the very ominous, "DANGER!!" But I'm sure it will be okay. What's the worst that could happen? I hold my head up high and step onto the pedestal. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a powerful sucking rainbow sends me shooting into the sky. How predictable.

Level 1-2: The Rock Zone Underworld: I land in a world unrecognizable from the last. I've traded day for night, peaceful calm for chaotic violence and spike pits for ... well, I guess not everything is different in The Rock Zone. I look around and worry that maybe
Castlevania - Underground Mote
Keith Courage - The Rock Zone Underworld
I'm not up to the task; but then I remember I have a brand new suit of armor and a gigantic sword that should take down anything daring to get close to me. Also: This is the first level, how hard could it be?

It turns out that the wise townsfolk weren't kidding around when they said it was a Rock Zone. As I continue my journey through this rocky environment, I discover a number of brand
Castlevania - Underground Mote
Keith Courage - The Rock Zone Underworld
new bad guys to fight. The most menacing one looks like a hunchback with a humungous revolver on his back. If there's one thing I've learned from my few minutes in the Alpha Zones, it's that you want to avoid people that have guns larger than your entire suit of armor.

Around the fifth layer of this Rock Zone I start to wonder what other Alpha Zones await me, assuming I make it through the repetition of this boring level. It occurs to me that I have a map, it's one of
Castlevania - Underground Mote
Keith Courage - The Rock Zone Underworld
the few things I picked up in my brief stay above ground. It tells me that below me is Reverse Zone, Fire Zone, Toxic Zone, Glacier Zone and, of course, the Magic Zone. For a few minutes I contemplate giving it up and going back home. There's no way I'm going to survive the Fire Zone and even if I do, I still have to deal with the Toxic Zone. I still want to have children. I'm too young for this fight.

Boss - Dragon Knights: But before I can officially throw in the towel, the ground gives out from under me and I'm sent plunging into the boss chamber. Before me are two Dragon Knights -- fat characters
Castlevania - Boss - Giant Bat
Keith Courage - Boss - Dragon Knights
that can fly around the screen and shoot at me. It startles me. Or maybe it's the rotting bodies and gaudy paintjob that startles me. Either way, I'm officially startled ... and they know it.

They surround me, one on each side. But I'm too quick for them. No, that's not right. I'm too strong for them? Nope, that's not it either. On paper I'm completely outclassed. These guys can fly, they are fast and they have guns. But they aren't expecting
Castlevania - Level 2
Keith Courage - Boss - Dragon Knights
my suit of armor to be indestructible. Actually, neither do I. Even though I have been shot dozens of times, I still have most of my health. Unafraid of their puny little guns, I stand up and rip them to shreds. And then, out of nowhere, a rainbow shoots me into the air.

What Have We Learned Today? Most people think there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but Keith Courage goes against conventional wisdom. There is no easy
Castlevania Artwork
Keith Courage - Level 2
money here, just a rainbow that sucks you into the air and plops you down in a scary underworld full of monsters with guns on their backs. Thanks for nothing, rainbow! In my world that's called a tornado, not a rainbow. If this is what a rainbow does, I would hate to see it rain in the Alpha Zones.

What Did We Miss? We missed only the most shocking plot twist of them all by not continuing on to Level 2. That's right: We learn that Nurse Nancy, the Weapon Master and even the Wise Old Wizard have somehow teleported from their old digs. And it's not just in Level 2. We see the same thing happen level after level. It's eerie, sort of like that time when Scott Baio thought Willie Aames was in three places at the same time. What, is this not the time to use a Charles in Charge analogy? Seriously, he was in charge of our days and nights. Take a few of those gold coins and buy a clue.

What Keith Courage's Psyche Report Concluded: "Although Keith is a bright young man, he's created an imaginary world for himself that paints him as a superhero. He no longer responds to his given name, forcing us to call him "Keith Courage." We're concerned that he's becoming more delusional with each passing day, to the point where he may be a risk to himself and/or others."
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