Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Airship Q (PS Vita)

The first I heard of this game was that it was an import-only PS Vita game that had received an official translation, and instantly went and bought a copy, just because we really should reward the publishers who do good things like this, just as much as we should shun those who engage in unethical business practices like encouraging real money gambling and so on. (How topical! I feel lucky that none of the games embroiled in all this loot box controversy are even slightly appealing to me in the first place, though). Luckily, this all paid off, and Airship Q turned out to be a pretty good game!

As you look at the screenshots, I'm sure you'll be reminded heavily of Terraria, and there's no denying that that game must have been a big influence on this one. It's by no means a clone, though, as while Terraria might have an end goal, it's also a non-linear game that takes place in a large, procedurally generated open world, with a heavy emphasis on building bases and so on, Airship Q is a much more linear action RPG ala Zelda, that happens to take place in a world of mostly-destructible blocks, and in which you gather resources to make your tools and weapons.

In it, you play as a girl living in a world of floating islands who built a flying ship with her brother, only for her brother to be kidnapped by a witch, who also turned the two siblings into cats. Your aim (at the start of your adventure, at least) is to rescue your brother, beat up the witch and regain your human forms. In the course of this, you'll seek out statues that let you build more and more pieces of equipment, from stronger mining equipment to pieces of machinery that improve your airship. You'll also eventually find out some secrets behind the world when your true quest is revealed (though since this is a pretty recent game that's still available to buy brand new, I won't spoil things any further). There's even the possiblity of a cheeky bit of sequence-breaking, if you're smart!

It's a lot of fun to play. Dungeons largely involve digging around and building staircases to climb, while simultaneously fighting off hoards of monsters and seeking out the statues hidden within. Exploration has a totally different feel, as you fly around on your ship seeking out islands and dungeons, as well as occasionally fending off attacks from flying monsters,and even huge dragons and enemy ships (dragons are usually guarding some important treasure nearby, while enemy ships are usually great sources for resources like big cannons to steal and attach to your ship, and coal to power your machines). There's also cool little touches like how structures need to be built in certain ways, since unlike Minecraft, everything will collapse in short time if it's not built in a sufficiently sturdy manner (though that's fine if you're just building a temporary bridge or whatever).

Again, I don't want to spoil all the cool little moments and touches that this game holds, so I'll end this review here with a strong recommendation. Airship Q is a great game, and you can pick up a brand new physical copy for really cheap, too!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Shadows of the Tusk (Saturn)

It seems slightly strange to me there there are two obscure Saturn games that use pre-rendered sprites and have character designs by Susumu Matsushita. (The other one, you might remember me covering a while ago, is Willy Wombat.) Anyway, Shadows of the Tusk is a turn-based strategy game, that, to add onto the unusuality of the whole affair, had online play via the X-BAND modem, though there's still plenty of single-player fun to be had, so that's fine.

The online element does seem to have had an influence on the design in general, as a lot of things seem streamlined to cater to the low bandwidth that would have been available to a dialup modem attached to a four-year-old console in 1998. For a start, there's no levelling up for any of the characters, though there is some kind of power progression in a different way. In single player mode, you have a "deck" of characters to build, and you get more characters by winning battles. Your deck screen has you putting characters on two rows: the smaller row has the characters that are summoned automatically at the start of battle, the character who starts on the middle space of that row will be designated the leader, meaning that the battle ends if they're defeated, and they also have the ability to summon characters that you've placed in the other row of the deck. Summoning costs mana, and your force has a shared mana pool that's also used for casting spells, and regenerates by ensuring that characters start their turns on certain spaces on the map.

Another concession is that though there are different backgrounds available, every battle takes place on a tiny five-by-five grid. This, in combination with the "kill the leader" tactical element ensures that the game has an almost chess-like emphasis on where you move your characters, and there'll even be plenty of times when you'll sacrifice characters to either make way for stronger characters stood behind them, or just to postpone your enemy's soldiers reaching your leader. Another thing to take into account while talking about character placement is that any spell or attack you can cast that affects an area will not discern between friend and foe, meaning that you might end up sometimes have to decide if you want to heal your enemies or immolate your allies.

Obviously, I haven't played the multiplayer mode around which the game is clearly centred, but there's enough meat to the singleplayer game that it's still worth your time. Best of all is that though all the plot-related stuff is in Japanese, all the menus, including those during the battles, are entirely in English! So, this is a pretty fun game that mostly looks great (the small sprites on the grid look really nice, while the bigger sprites used for the attack animations look like the most awful mid-90s CG), and is totally accessible to the JP-illiterate. I definitely recommend it!