Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Ichigeku Sachuu!! Hoihoi-san (PS2)

In the year 20XX, the face of pest control is small robots with live weapons, just like in the 2000AD series Banzai Battalion, though unlike Banzai Battalion, this is a Japanese videogame from 2003, so the robot in question is a tiny maid. Anyway, I think the plot is that you're some guy who's bought one of these robots and set up a small business for himself hiring it out to kill the insects in his neighbours' houses, since Japan is a warm, humid country and therefore, full of huge insects with no respect for human privacy.

It's nota very good business model, though, since the fees he collects for this task barely cover the cost of ammunition for Hoihoi's guns. You will be able to afford the best melee weapon after only a few stages, and that coupled with a mastery of sneaking up on the bugs that like to run away, will save you a lot of bullets, and therefore money.

I haven't really explained the game at all yet, have I? It's a 3D third person shooter, that's very much from a bygone age. We've all complained about how a lot of modern 3D games feel very similar, due to them all using near-identical control schemes where the left analogue stick moves your character, and the right moves the camera around them. Hoihoi-san is from the days when a lot of developers hadn't really figured this out yet, so while the left analogue stick does move Hoihoi around, the right stick does nothing at all, the player's only control of the camera being the L1 button putting it directly behind Hoihoi. If you're wondering about aiming your guns, well that's all automatic: if you're near an enemy, a red crosshair will appear on it, and you can shoot them.

The incredibly dated controls aside, this is a pretty good game! It's nothing special, but it looks alright, it's cute, and smashing bugs is very satisfying. Another thing to note about the bugs is that having them be normal-sized and shrinking the player down to their level is far creepier than the typical videogame approach of having normal-sized protagonists and giant bugs. And though all the characters and the stages are cartoony, the bugs are fairly realistic-looking, making them even creepier. The stages are obviously all rooms in people's houses: living rooms, basements, kitchens, etc. You can tell that you're in a different person's house on different stages, though, as different people have different sets of belongings and tastes in decor, which is another nice little touch.

Though it isn't a bad game, I can't really recommend playing Ichigeku Sachii!! Hoihoi-san. Like I've said, it's incredibly dated, and it's also pretty frustrating at first, until you get used to all its little idiosyncracies, and there just isn't anything about it that's interesting or exciting enough to get past its faults.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Penky (Arcade)

It's a tragic thing, when a game has an interesting concept, but poor execution, and Penky represents one such tragedy. The base concept is actually pretty cool, and so simple and obvious that I'm surprised I haven't seen it done before: You walk around painting the floor, like in the old ame Crush Roller, but rather than just avoiding enemies and trying to paint the whole floor of the stage, you are instead competing with another floor painter to have most of the floor yur colour when the time runs out. I guess it's also a little like Splatoon too?

Unfortunately, Penky is a product of Yunsung, a Korean developer whos games have been featured on this blog before, pretty much exclusively in reference to their habit of making poor-quality knock-offs of Compile games. So it might not be an original concept at all, but just stolen from another game of which I'm not aware. All the typical hallmarks of poor games from mainland Asia are in full effect, though: stuff happening onscreen for no reason, low quality sampled music stolen from other sources (including at least one track from the excellent Mega Drive shooting game Thunderforce IV), ugly characters that look like depressing poundshop toys, and a general air of cheapness.

The negativity isn't just confined to the game's presentation, either: it also plays really badly. Now, the aim, as I've already stated, is to make most of the floor your colour before time runs out. So fast movement should be key, right? And there is a power-up that makes you move very fast for a couple of seconds. The problem is that there's also a bunch more power-ups that don't seem to do anything at all, and a lot of the time your character will be slowed to a crawl, or even just randomly stopping to do a stupid pose, both with no obvious reason or explanation. Also, during the matches, other characters will sometimes appear and wander around, clearing both player's colour wherever they tread. All this adds up to a game that's competitive in concept, but completely down to random chance in practice, making it a useless waste of time.

There's other problems too, like how, if you're playing single player, you'll just fight the same opponent over and over on different stages, no matter how many times you beat them. But really, talking about Penky any longer would just be flogging a dead horse. All you need to know is that it's awful and you shouldn't bother playing it.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Curiosities Vol. 11 - Tarot Uranai (3DO)

Although they've been around since at least the mid-80s, you'd think that tarot computer programs would be pretty useless to anyone. If you don't believe in cartomancy, then any kind of tarot, digital or otherwise, is a total waste of time, and if you do, then you'd also presumably know about the various taboos and traditions regarding the touching of cards, and how they're meant to come into the posession of the reader, and so on. But they do exist, and I'm pretty sure they're still around on things like the soon-dead X Box Live Indie Games marketplace, and on mobile phones and the like, too (Though I haven't actually checked, it seems like a safe bet).

Tarot Uranai has something over any of the other tarot programs I've seen, though: production values! Every other example I've seen has either been a very low-fi pixel art dealy on 8-bit formats like the MSX or Game Gear, or maybe even just a secret mode in a proper game like the Playstation port of Puzzle Bobble 4. But Tarot Uranai is on the 3DO, and of course that means FMV and pre-rendered CGI!

So yeah, there's a nice, short CGI intro showing some trees, and then you're presented with a room with three doors, representing three different options. The left door has a cross on it, and takes you to a traditional kind of reading, where a bunch of cards are drawn and laid out in a specific pattern. The middle door has a kind of magic circle design on it, and takes you to a big crystal with the works love, money, business and health. You pick one, and the cards are shuffled, then placed in a big circle, from which you pick one, which I guess reveals your future in that aspect of your life. The final door has a book on it, and contains a little tarot database, where you can look up all the cards and their meanings and such. Whichever option you pick, everything is presented and explained by a Japanese woman with a scarf covering her face speaking in front of bluescreened-in CGI backgrounds.

Like I said earlier, Tarot Uranai is a program with no real utility to anyone, especially people who can't read or understand Japanese. But it's not completely worthless! It does have a great aesthetic that perfectly marries early 90s CGI and a kind of vague pseudo-mysticism in a nice way, that feels like it could have been used as part of the plot-of-the-week in something like the live action Eko Eko Azarak TV series.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Action Hollywood (Arcade)

A derogatory term that's popped up with regards to modern open-world games is "tidying up games", referring to the fact that they're all mostly the same mechanically, and that they all give you a large, open playing area and a checklist of things to go and "tidy". They're very popular games, though, since while they aren't particularly exciting, they aren't really bad, either, and until a player cottons on to the fact that they aren't being excited or stimulated, they can be both addictive and time-consuming.

In many ways, Action Hollywood is a kind of forbear to those games, though purely by coincidence, since this game was never popular enough to have influenced anything. Not only is it completely inoffensive and unexciting, but it's a game about walking around maps tidying them up. Well, you're walking on floor tiles to change their colour, rather than picking things up, but mechanically speaking, it's the same thing. There's also lots of extra points items hidden in the walls, and enemies roaming around.

You can't say they didn't at least try to get a bit of excitement in there,  since there's a slightly Bubble Bobble-esque thing regarding the enemies. When attacked, they fly away from you until they hit a wall. Any enemies they hit along the way are killed, and killed enemies drop points items. You can also kill enemies by hitting while they're dizzy next to a wall. Its' still not enough, though, as there's just no satisfaction in doing it.

The "Hollywood" theme is an excuse for having stages with different themes: jungles, medieval, gothic horror and sci-fi, and you can pick which one to start on. An odd thing to note is that a short sample of the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme repeatedly plays during the castle stages. They all play exactly the same, though, other than different graphic sets (including different spprites for the player character, which is something, at least).

In summary, Action Hollywood is an incredibly average game that is neither good nor bad, it simply exists and takes up time. If it was a game that came packaged with a computer's operating system like Solitaire, that'd be fine, but it's an arcade game, and the makers expected people to pay to play it, which is practically an insult.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Crest of Wolf (PC Engine)

So, Crest of Wolf, which is also known as Riot Zone, is a port of the arcade game Riot City. Wikipedia says that the reason for all this is that while Westone owned the rights to the game itself, while SEGA owned the title and all the characters. I don't know how true that is, but since it sounds like the arrangement that lead to the altered PC Engine ports of the Wonderboy in Monsterland games, it seems plausible.

Anyway, it's a pretty average beat em up, of the kind that sprouted up in their dozenns in the early 90s, following the release of Final Fight. It doesn't do anything particularly interesting or innovative with the forumla, with the characters only having pretty basic movesets, and there aren't even any weapons to pick up and use. To make things even worse, this port of the game doesn't even have a two-player mode, which is a particular shame, since I was looking forward to playing this co-op when I eventually got round to getting a multitap and another controller for my PC Engine.

It does have something in its favour, though: its aesthetic and presentation! The usual beat em up influences of Hokuto no Ken, The Warriors and Streets of Fire aren't so present in Crest of Wolf, and in their place is something a little more interesting. The game takes place in a very chinese-looking lawless island city that's reminiscent of the real-life Kowloon Walled City, which was in the process of being demolished when this game came out in 1993. Another possible inspiration that came to mind when I saw the mouldy concrete, rotting brickwork and general dilapidation of the locales seen in the game is Jademan Wong's comic Oriental Heroes, specifically the late 1980s incarnation that got a run translated into English.

It's not only original, but also really atmospheric, even with minimal animation. There's one part in particular that really caught my imagination: near the start of stage three, you fight in front of a seedy mahjong parlour, with people crowded round small tables, sat on stools and chain-smoking as mice scrurry back and forth across the floor. The boss of the same stage is an evil acupuncturist who you fight in his office, with diagrams on the walls and so on. I don't know why more games haven't used a similar setting.

So yeah, on a purely mechanical level, Crest of Wolf isn't anything special. It's not bad, but it's not a lost gem of the genre or anything, either. I think the setting and the atmosphere more than make up for that, though, and it's a game that's definitely worth your time.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Loopop Cube Loop Salad DS (DS)

Like Binary Land, I also received a physical copy of this game as a kind gift from a patreon subcriber, this time Justin, of the excellent (though sadly seldom updated) site, Tinpot Gamer! This time, it's a cute puzzle-platformer that was ported to DS from the Playstation. Unfortunately, I haven't played the Playstation version, so I can't tell you how they compare. I can only tell you about this version on its own terms.

Anyway, the biggest thing that will hit you about this game is the presentation: there's lots of art in the cutscenes and on the title screen and in the backgrounds of the stages by prolific artist Izumi Takemoto (who has appeared on this blog before, back when I reviewed the Saturn adventure game Dinosaur Island). I don't think any of his work in any field has ever been released in English, though if I'm wrong, please tell me. As well as that, each set of stages has a theme, like cake, medicine, sleeping, and so on, and the player character has a different sprite for each theme! And that's not all, either: each set of stages has its own background music, with not only vocals, but also karaoke lyrics on the bottom screen!

It's already the third paragraph, and I haven't even mentioned how the game plays yet! Each stage has various differently coloured cubes that you can push around. They disappear when three or more are touching, and the aim of each stage is to get rid of them all. Like you'd expect from a game like this (that doesn't hide it like certain other games that have recently been on this blog, rassum frassum), your movement and jumping is all very precise: jumps always reach the same height and cover the same distance, and you always move one block's width at a time.

The problem with a lot of these games is that they're either so easy as to be a boring timewaster, or so hard that I get a few stages in and give up. Loopop Cube is a rare case that falls somewhere in the middle! I've gotten slightly stuck a few times, but I've managed to get over thirty stages in so far (out of 120) without totally giving up yet, so that's pretty great.

In summary, Loopop Cube Loop Salad DS is a very cute, well presented game, that's also alright to play. Obviously, it doesn't have the kind of superfast action I usually crave, but as the ancient philosophers said: a man cannot live on bullet patterns alone.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Binary Land (NES)

First, I should mention that I was sent a physical copy of this game as a gift, by patreon subscriber Matt Sephton. So thanks! Anyway, the thing with most maze games is that the maze itself isn't the main source of the challenge. It exists only as a confined place that you have to navigate round while avoiding enemies (and also ensuring that the enemies don't trick you into trapping you between them). The obvious reason for this is that a straight-up maze-solving videogame probably wouldn't be very fun, significantly less than solving mazes on paper, even. Still, the developers of Binary Land decided to have a shot at making a maze game about mazes, though they did it with a gimmick in mind that wouldn't have been possible on paper.

That gimmick is that the player controls two characters at the same time, with one of them having their horizontal controls reversed. They're each on opposing sides of a wall, which also has two different mazes at either side. The objective is to not only get the two penguin protagonists to the top of the screen, but they each have to occupy the spaces directly at each  side of a caged love heart at the top of the screen.

Obviously, there's various obstacles in their path, besides the difficulties you'll face in trying to get the two penguin lovers in just the right relative positions to end the stage. First off, there's spiders and their webs. You can kill the spiders and disperse their webs any time with your attack, though of course, you have to keep an eye on both sides of the screen all the time, as while one penguin is fighting off enemies, the other could be blindly walking into them. The webs are stationary, but if one of your penguins gets stuck in one, they're rendered totally immobile until the other comes over and gets them out.

Later on, more enemies appear, naturally. I've been able to get up to about stage fifteen or sixteen, and in that time, the spiders have been joined by birds, who can fly over the whole screen with no regard as to the walls, and, on contact, switch the positions of your characters. There's also little sentient fireballs, who slowly meander around the place, kill on contact, and unfairly, can't be killed.

Binary Land is a pretty good game, and as I said, it's fairly unique in that it's a maze game that's actually about solving mazes. It's also very cute, and one of those romance-themed games that were a thing in the mid-1980s and haven't really been since, so give it a try.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Autobahn Tokio (3DO)

A big problem for the 3DO is that it jumped the gun a bit. Releasing in 1993, it was far more impressive than its contempories like the the Phillips CDi (which apparently came out in 1991, though I think it took a couple of years for people to really notice it), Amiga CD32 and Atari Jaguar. Unfortunately, in 1994, the Saturn and Playstation came out and all those earlier attempts at starting a new console generation instantly looked ridiculous, like children wearing adult-sized clothes pretending to do grown-up things. The 3DO did try to keep up for a couple more years, however, and Autobahn Tokio is a clear attempt to compete with Daytona USA and Ridge Racer, the flagship racing games on the big two consoles. The problem is that all it really does is highlight the vast distance between the 3DO and SEGA and Sony's consoles.

Looking at still screenshots, you'll probably think it's a valiant effort, and it is: in terms of 3D modelling and quality of textures, this game's not too far behind Daytona. The real difference comes when you see it in motion. Now, I've mentioned a few times before that I have only disdain for the tedious pedants who leave bad reviews for games on steam based entirely on the framerate dipping slightly every now and then, but Autobahn Tokio at its best is slightly faster than a slideshow. It sometimes dips beneath this to become slightly slower than one. There's other, even worse presentational problems present, too. Like how to change the music track you race to, you have to go to the options screen in the main menu, but you can't actualy listen to the tracks while on that screen. Or how, after a race ends, all you get is a black screen with the word "winner" or "loser" on it before being booted back to the main menu (if you manage to get into the top ten best times for the track, you also go to the name entry screen, which is shamelessly ripped off from the one in Daytona USA).

It's not all bad, though. Despite its many faults, it does play pretty well. You have to take note that you need to pick any car other than the blue one, which is somehow so bad it actually drains the fun out of the game. But yeah, it's a pretty fun, simple racing game, that can actually feel pretty fast despite the framerate problems. There's three tracks too, which is more than the original Ridge Racer, and while two of them are pretty typical racing game settings (circuit in the country and city streets at night), the third has a bit more of a contemporary edge, being a twisty, turny mountain road like in Initial D and all those drift racing VHS magazines that modern-day vaporwave artists love so much. And yes, you can actually drift in this, and it's very easy to do: like in Outrun 2, you just let go of the accelerator, tap brake, then start holding the accelerator again.

So yeah, Autobahn Tokio isn't much competition for Daytona USA or Ridge Racer, and in trying to keep up with the Saturn and Playstation, all it really does is highlight how far behind the 3DO really was. But it isn't a terrible game, and it is an interesting technical display, at least.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Mabougirl Miracle Kurun (PC)

If you're smart enough to spot bi-ingual puns, you may have already guessed this game's main hook, which is one I'm suprised to have never encountered before: it's a combination of the old Irritating Stick/Kuru Kuru Kururin thing where you have to navigate a rotating stick through a maze without touching the sides and a danmaku-style shooting game. The pun of course being that the "cle" from "miracle" becomes "kuru" when transliterated into Japanese, and "kuru kuru" is a Japanese onomatopoeia for rotation.

Anyway, you play as a stick that you can move around, and also rotate either way at will, and you have to get through the stages without touching anything (obviously, unlike most modern shooting games, your hitbox is the same size as your ship, since that's the entire point of the game). All the while, bullets will be streaming from the wide sides of your stick, so you've got to juggle the rotation you do to avoid collisions and the rotation you do to try and kill enemies. Killing enemies also fills a meter, and at the press of a button, you can switch from your regular bullets to a powerful laser, that shoots out from the ends of your stick, and is not only more powerful than your normal shots, but also has a score multiplier attached to it that decreases as the meter depletes.

As you play through the stages, you collect gems to buy upgrades, like  increases to max HP, greater ranges of speed settings for both movement and rotation, and even alternative ships. Disappointingly, though, the alternate ships only have different weaponry to the default ship. I would have thought the game could present a whole new set of challenes if there were ships that were different shapes: shorter but fatter for example, or maybe even curved. For those worried about the purity of the arcade-style experience being affected by the upgrades, you can turn them off once unlocked. Furthermore, the game doesn't really have arcade-style progression. Instead, each stage is played individually with a new set of lives and a score that doesn't carry over into other stages. As an extra challenge, though, some upgrades can only be bought by spending a certain kind of gem that can only be obtained one at a time, and only by completing a stage without taking any damage at all.

Mabougirl Miracle Kurun is far from being my favourite game from the current Japanese indie scene, but it's even further from being the worst I've played, too. It's alright, I guess. It'd probably worth a buy if it ever gets released in some convenient form, but it's not worth using a proxy site to order a physical copy from Japan. Like I did. Doh.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Legend of Pong Lonng Fighter Sunny'na (PC98)

So, we've all seen the many many mahjong games that were the most hated thing in MAME until they decided to start including fruit machines (which aren't even playable, as they have no graphics), but until recently, I'd never actually played any of them. Using the helpful site Mahjong in MAME, I picked up some of the basics of how the game works, and since Legend of Pong Lonng Fighter Sunny'na is a simplified version of the game, and it has a cool fantasy theme with amazing pixel art, just like you expect from PC98 games, I decided this would be my first foray into tile-matching. (Also as you'd expect from PC98 games, there's sex and nudity tacked on that adds nothing of value to the game. So tacked on, in fact, that I can take plenty of screenshots and you'd think it was a totally clean game with some fanservicey character designs).

So, rather than explain mahjong to you, I'll just suggest you visit the aforementioned site to learn how it's played, and then forget most of that, since like I said, this is a simplified version. There's a much smaller variety of tiles, and the only thing you're aiming to do is make up three sets of three identical tiles. Each turn you gain a tile, either by drawing at random, or by taking the last tile your opponent discarded (though you can only do this if it's the last one you need to make a "tri", which is what this game calls Pon/Koutsu). Another difference is that the tiles aren't the traditional mahjong tiles, but instead have pictures of typical RPG monsters and items on them: dragons, slimes, swords, potions and so on.

Keeping with that RPG theme, all your opponents are sexy female versions of RPG monsters, with HP and MP. (Which you also have) MP is used to stack the deck in your favour before a round, or to take a look at your opponent's hand during the round. Victory in a game is attained by reducing your opponent's HP to zero, and vice versa. How much damage you do to your opponent when you've got three tris depends on what the tiles making up those tris are. Different monsters deal different amounts of damage (or sometimes heal your HP and MP), and if you're lucky enough to get two tris of the same tile, that'll result in a massive bonus to its effects. Another thing to take note of is that all the monster tiles have yellow or blue triangles in their bottom corners, and making a hand of all yellow monsters results in a powerful "El Dorado" attack, while all blue results in an "Evil Attack".

If you win, you go back to the simple "board" and move on to the next opponent (or, if you beat a boss, you see a dirty cutscene before moving on to the next board), if you lose it's game over, and of course, a dirty cutscene featuring your character. If you haven't played a mahjong game before, Legend of Pong Lonng Fighter Sunny'na is a great introduction, as long as you don't mind the occasionaly bit of dirty pixel art. It's even addictive enough to have had me staying up hours later than I should have a few nights ago! I'll probably even look into some "proper" mahjong games in the near future, I enjoyed this one so much.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Lightning Legend: Daigo no Daibouken (Playstation)

There was a nice little trend in the late 90s, of 3D fighting games being released on home consoles with no prior ties. That is, they weren't related to existing games franchises and they weren't ports of arcade fighters. Most of them never got much attention beyond small cult followings, maybe a geocities fansite here or there, and as a result, most of them never got sequels and are mostly forgotten. Daigo no Daibouken is one of those games.

As far as I can tell, it's a completely original creation: no anime license, no arcade version, nothing. But you wouldn't guess if you weren't told, as the presentation on all levels is amazing. Not only does the game itself look great (a point I'll get back to later), but it's a total package that must have either had a pretty high budget or been a labour of love for the developers. It starts right from the outset, with the game having probably the best character select screen I've ever seen, depicting a room with a large window with a cliff outside, and all the playable characters just hanging out in the room (and on the cliff). Then there's the gallery, where each character not only has a bunch of the usual character design art and so on associated with them, but bizarrely, they each also have a selection of lovingly drawn food items. It's just a great, complete package that makes the game feel like it's a part of an existing series, despite being a one game wonder.

As for how the game actually plays, you have to remember that a lot of these games fell into obscurity because while they were enjoyable enough games, they just weren't in the same league as the games coming to consoles from the arcade. Daigo no Daibouken is no different in that regard, but it does combine a few nice little touches from other games (some of which actually came out years after it) that give it its own feel. It uses a 3-button control scheme similar to more modern fare like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Blazblue. It also has an anime-style super meter that has to be charged manually by holding the taunt and strong attack buttons together. You can also easily put together cool-looking normal combos by mashing the weak and medium attack buttons. Blocking is a weird one in this game: as well as holding back to block, it seems that holding forward also blocks, and possibly also pressing an attack button at the exact time of impact ala Asuka 120% Burning Fest.

Going back to the in-game graphics, they're excellent. This little subgenre of fighting games has been getting attention in some circles recently, because of their colourful aesthetics and crazy character designs. While most of the characters in this game aren't as out-there as in other games, it's definitely very colourful, and the character models themselves look great. I don't know whether it's a case of excellent modelling, well-drawn textures or maybe both, but they look amazing.

All in all, Lightning Legend: Daigo no Daibouken is a pretty good game. It won't set your world on fire, but it's enjoyable enough, and a lot of love clearly went into making it.It's definitely worth a shot.