Friday, 11 July 2014

Kakutou Bijin Wulong (PS2)

I'll apologise in advance for the quality of the screenshots accompanying this post. PS2 screenshots tend to look pretty bad at the best of times, but for some reason this game was particularly unphotogenic.

Kakutou Bijin Wulong is a beat em up developed by Dream Factory, though unfortunately there isn't much trace of their trademark roguelike elements in there, other than a stamina bar that can be used to partially restore the player's health by resting. It does use their typical control method, though, with a face button each for low, medium and high attacks, and shoulder buttons for jumping, guarding and grappling.

It's also based on a comic of the same name (or sometimes known as "Fighting Beauty Wulong"), and though I haven't read that comic and the game is entirely in Japanese, from what I can work out, the game's about a teenage girl (who might be an immigrant to Japan from China?) being taught to fight by an old man (her grandad?), who uses a very on-the-job approach to martial arts tutelage, forcing the girl to repeatedly prove herself by fighting in various situations. And these situations are the stages of this game. Oddly, though the game has its origins in a comic, there's something about the aesthetic and the way the game feels that reminds me more of those slightly seedy low budget tokusatsu heroine movies and series that companies like Zen Pictures put out.

Because the game is really, brutally hard, I've only been able to get a few stages in, and so far I've been on the seedy backstreets fighting criminal goons, in a dojo fighting trainee wrestlers, out in the woods fighting wild bears and then in a wrestling ring in a flashy stadium, fighting pro wrestlers.

The stages are laid out in a typical beat em up fashion: you start in an area and beat up everyone there before moving on to the next area. After a few areas, you'll fight a boss, and then go onto the next stage. An interesting and unique element the game has is that for each area, the player is randomly given five items, which are selected by pressing left and right on the d-pad, and used with up on the d-pad (movement is done using the left analogue stick, of course). These items will be a mix (different every time) of any of five things: health-restoring melons, stamina-restoring cheese wedges, and red, blue or green cards. The cards are the most interesting ones, as each one represents a different special move: blue is a powerful strike straight ahead on one target, green is a hurricane kick-type maneuver that will hit anyone near the player, and best of all, red picks up the nearest enemy for a giant swing, which then damages any enemies that get in the way of it.

This is an interesting alternative to more common systems, like specials limited by a power bar or performed via input commands. Interesting and original, but not necessarily good. Like always with random elements, the "five items" mean the player sometimes has to rely on luck more than skill to proceed, and unlike in some games, such as roguelikes and even Dream Factory's trademark roguelike/beat em up hybrids, rather than feeling like an extra little challenge that forces players to be resourceful and cunning, it just feels cheap, and like the player would be better off resetting and trying again on receipt of a bad hand.

That said though, Kakutou Bijin Wulong isn't a bad game, it's not a chore to play or anything, and though it's on a console with more than a generous helping of beat em ups, it could still be worth a look if you've played a fair few of them already and still want more.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Net Yaroze Round-Up Volume 1!

I've been wanting to feature Yaroze games on here for a while now. Originally, I was going to have a themed month, but I didn't like the idea of having consecutive posts on a single subject. Then, I considered a "Top 20" of my favourite Yaroze games, but list posts are a bit sterile and "clickbaity", and I have my integrity to think of! Plus, a Top 20 would mean leaving out games that are interesting, but not particularly fun to play. In the end, I've decided to make this an occaisional series of posts, kind of like the Disc Station ones (which will return someday, I promise!). Oh, and in case any of you aren't familiar with Net Yaroze, it was a scheme by Sony in the late 90s, where they would sell Playstation dev kits to homebrew developers. Some of the games were distributed to the public via magazine coverdiscs, others were only available online between other Yaroze users. Luckily, a lot of the games and demos have been compiled and made available online by kindly hackers and pirates and archivists.

A Bob (K. Okada, H. Endo, J. Suehiro, M. Taniguti, 1998)
A Bob (also known as Airbob) is a cute little bobsledding game. You pick a team, tap square to make them run to the ramp, use the dpad to steer their sled down the ramp, and then press buttons according to the onscreen prompts to make them do stunts and open their parachutes on the way down after jumping from the end of the ramp. There's really only about 2 minutes of game in here, but the graphics are really cute, with the sledders looking like cuddly little space robots. It's worth at least one play just for that, right?


Rocks n Gems (Gerhard Rittenhofer, 1998)
It's a Boulderdash clone! A really well presented Boulderdash clone, too. It looks great, and it mostly feels pretty professional, with only one crack in its veneer: the player character moves way too fast. The game's hard enough as it is, but it also requires precise movement in almost all situations, but the protagonist's speed makes this a pain. The difficulty didn't go unnoticed either, as I definitely remember the UK Official Playstation Magazine printing a password to unlock every stage, which is pretty special for a Yaroze game.

Haunted Maze (Edward Federmeyer, 1998)
Essentially a kind of minimalist Pac-Man clone, Haunted Maze has the player running around a fairly open-plan maze, avoiding skinless zombies and collecting "goodies", which look a lot like giant Lucky Charms marshmallows. Despite the incredibly simple premise, I really enjoy this game. The speed of the game, coupled with the classical soundtrack and the somewhat basic visuals give the game a kind of silent movie slapstick feel.

INVS (Philippe-Andre Lorin, 2001)
I really like this one, it's a psuedo-old-school single-screen shooting game. It kind of anticipates the experimental direction Taito took with some of the more recent Space Invaders games, like Infinity Gene and Extreme. There's some cool enemy concepts, like ones that intercept the player's shots with lasers, and dive-bombing enemies that create pretty large explosions if they're allowed to hit the ground. There's also a nice little mechanic whereby enemies will sometimes release small snowflake-like particles, that are collected to activate the player's shield and temporarily power up their shots.

Gas Girl (Koji Yoshikawa, 1998)
This is one of those games I mentioned in the intro, one of the ones that is more interesting than it is good. It's a platform game about a woman who gets abducted by aliens, and must fart her way to freedom. The one positive thing that can be said about this game is that the farting gimmick is using in a number of ways: it's a weapon to defeat enemies, a propulsion system to boost the distance of the player's jumps, and it can be used to affect the movement of certain obstacles. But otherwise, the game is awful in pretty much every way, and I suspect it mainly exists because of some kind of special interest on the part of the creator.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Cyborg 009 (Mega CD)

So, it's a licenced game based on Shotaro Ishinomori's comic of the same name. But unlike most comic licenced games of the early 90s, rather than being aimed at kids, Cyborg 009's presentation seems to suggest that it's more at nostalgic adults. There's opening credits before the title screen, that, though they don't appear to be a direct recreation of the openings of either Cyborg 009 tv series that had been made at that point, do definitely invoke the feel of 1970s/late 60s Japanese sci-fi/action, and the options screen is styled like an old 1970s TV, with a knob that turns as you go up and down.

The game itself, however is pretty standard for a 90s licence game: it's a platform game where you shoot enemies and collect stuff. It's a pretty high quality one, though. It looks nice, the difficulty is pretty reasonably balanced and it has a nice little gimmick in 009's temporary super-speed ability. Pressing C makes 009 quickly dash forward at high speed, and starting from a few stages in, a fair bit of the level design is based around successfully using this ability in conjunction with jumping to get to higher or further away platforms than can be reached with normal jumps.

Your weapon for most of the game is a beam gun that can only be fired straight ahead, and can be powered up three times (though the only effect of the power ups is that the beam does more damage. Unfortunately, this leads to a (fairly mild) case of the Gradius slippery slope, especially when fighting bosses. Though all the bosses have fairly easy to learn attack patterns, you're still likely to take hits unless you have expertly-honed, lightning fast reflexes, and if you lose a life, you lose your powerups too, meaning that now you have to start the boss fight again, only this time you have to dodge for longer, giving you more chances to mess up. It's far from being the worse case of the problem I've ever seen, but it is a mild irritation. The worst part of it is that it renders the game's progress save option a little less useful, since that starts you at the beginning of the stage in which you saved with the default number of lives and no power-ups.

The game looks and sounds very nice, as previously mentioned, it's very much presented in a retro-Japanese style, but even ignoring that, the graphics are nicely drawn and colourful, and the music fits perfectly. One of the bosses even has a mildly impressive faux-3D effect going on in the background, though it doesn't really come across well in a still screenshot. There's also cutscenes between each stage, and though I'm not a fan of cutscenes as a concept, these are also nicely done. Unlike a lot of Mega CD cutscenes, they're almost full screen (with black borders at the top and bottom for a wide screen effect), as brightly coloured as the in-game graphics and not at all grainy. It seems that rather than using low quality FMV, the developers decided to go with a more extravagant version of the cutscenes seen in various cartridge-based games, like the Valis series or Ninja Gaiden. One little technical oddity though, is that if you're playing the game via an emulator, the voices will be out of sync, presumably due to the lack of loading times.

Cyborg 009 is a pretty fun game, I've never read or watched any version of the original story, so I can't vouch for how faithful an adaptation it is, but if you just want to play a decent Mega CD platformer, it's worth a look.