We all have our little guilty pleasures that are indulged behind closed doors. Topping off my list would have to be mid-90’s dance music. A lot of it can be cheesy, some of the songs can sound fairly similar with token synth tropes, and the acts and videos can be a bit cringe-worthy at times. But for whatever reason, and like nothing else, there’s just some silly charm to it that can bring me back to my carefree lazy days of early high school.

you’ve got your Real McCoy, Quad City DJs, throw in a Jock Jams mix

uh, some floating Swedes, chain mail gone wrong, LaBouche

….. and now we’re just in some dark territory

Next down on that list, and from the same pop culture era, lies Saban’s VR Troopers.

If you’ve ever sat through the movie Hackers, you know what can happen when Hollywood rolls with their own naive interpretation of something new. In the film, it’s the dawn of the information age, and computery types and their hacking methods are viewed as extreme, portrayed in the most condescending and warped way. Yelling “Hack the planet!” everywhere they go and dressing like Griff’s gang from Back To The Future 2, the main cast is made out to be some sort of alien counter culture. There are no endless, dull hours of actual hacking code here, as some quick keyboard typing by our gang of anti-heroes opens up crazy lo-res graphic worlds that only they can navigate and, thus save the world.. or something. VR Troopers views Virtual Reality in a similar manner, in that it’s trying to make it way more epic than what it actually is.

Premiering in America in September of 1994, VR Troopers was made a bit darker than Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (while borrowing heavily off it), and it targeted an older audience while capitalizing on the 90’s virtual reality fad. Like Power Rangers, it also used live-action Japanese footage, particularly from the Metal Hero series – shows like Dimensional Warrior Spielban and Space Sheriff Shaider. It starred Brad Hawkins, Michael Bacon, and Sarah Brown as Ryan Steele, J.B. Reese, and Kaitlin Star, respectively. Although it was successful enough and had decent ratings, the show ended roughly around 100 episodes when Saban had exhausted all their repurposed Japanese footage by 1996.

Add this 90’s Pacific Sunwear ad to some stock footage and you get your VR Troopers!

As far as the story goes, martial arts enthusiasts Ryan, J.B., and Kaitlin meet up with a holographic Professor named Hart at a Lab they’re investigating while trying to find Ryan’s long-lost father. Hart is the inventor of a device that allows passage between the real world and an alternate virtual reality dimension run by the evil Grimlord and his minions. While our heroes must do transformation montages to suit up and enter this dimension, the villainous Grimlord has a real world alter-ego by the name of Karl Ziktor, a billionaire bent on breaking the barrier between worlds. He is played by the late character actor Gardner Baldwin, who’s portrayal of Ziktor is a blast to watch and he’s pretty over-the-top most of the time.

scenery-chewing Baldwin and prune-headed Grimlord

Feeling a bit like Sailor Moon, you have the heroes that switch identities to fight a villain that sends henchmen one-at-a-time from a parallel world to do battle. There’s even a talking pet that the good guys keep around for a bit of comic relief occasionally. Several villains were reoccurring, so you get to form a bit of a connection with them and giving the story as a whole some substance. Darkheart, in particular, is one of the evil mutants who, as it turns out, is actually Ryan’s brainwashed father, furthering the stakes to win out against Grimlord, as the fight’s become a personal matter.

 

In-game Professor Hart and Jeb the dog, Dark Heart

Naturally, there were toys and the like that came along with the blatant marketing, which of course means….. (drumroll) – a video game! Yes, the Genesis and Game Gear both had the honor of adding the VR Troopers game to their libraries. The game’s concept is pretty cool and plays out like an episode of the show. An arcade cabinet in their dojo sucks the troopers into it and the rest of it plays out like a tournament fighter – Captain N meets Street Fighter, basically. This game within a game concept has all the main henchmen of Grimlord to fight in a variety of settings as well as rounds with Phantom-faced foot soldier types called Skugs. The final fight is with Kamelion who can take the form of friend and foe alike (ala Shang Tsung). Oddly enough though, there’s no final battle with Grimlord himself. It can get a bit repetitive from time to time and the music and action good enough. So, alas, Jamiroquai was wrong, and the future is in fact not made of virtual insanity, but you can still track down the games and/or get the TV series on DVD.

So, the VR Troopers franchise – a cheesy, low budget rip off of a more successful series? – yes. A fun, entertaining guilty pleasure? – absolutely.

Michael A. Jones     nerdsintheburbs@gmail.com     www.nerdsintheburbs.com

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