Sunday, 19 February 2017

Crows The Battle Action (Saturn)

It's an odd coincidence that there's two very rare Saturn games that are both beat em ups, both licenced from long-running non-game franchises that are associated with specific subcultures and they both have the word "crow" in their titles. Anyway, the awfulness of The Crow: City of Angels is a well-known matter of public record, but how does the other crowgame fare?

WEll, it's pretty good. You control your delinquent of choice, and beat up other delinquents, as well as yakuza members and what appear to be military-themed goons. The stages are surprisingly short, being only a couple of minutes long each, and mostly ending without bossfights, which tend to be relegated to their own seperate stages. Though the game looks nice, with well-animated sprites (even though they're super deformed, which doesn't really fit with the gritty image the game's trying to put across), the most interesting thing about Crows is how it plays, and the ways in which it's just a little bit unoriginal.

The first impression you'll get from playing is that it's a lot like River City Ransom/Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari. You have seperate buttons for punch and kick, and they don't really chain together well, and when you pick up weapons, punch swings the weapon, while kick throws it. So that's suspiciously similar to RCR, especially when you throw in the fact that it's a game about big-headed juvenile delinquents, right? The difference is that Crows uses every button on the Saturn controller (or at least, it has things assigned to all of them). There's buttons for quickly sliding across the  floor, taunting your opponents, blocking, and the shoulder buttons each have customisable combos assigned to them (which reduce your health at such a huge amount that they're rendered totally useless). Mostly, though, you can get by with just punches, kicks and weapon attacks.

It might sound like I don't like this game, but that's not true. It's a pretty good game, it's inoffensive to play, the problem is that it feels a little soulless, like it's just ticking boxes and passing time. Even most of the aforementioned controls feel like they're just there because the developers felt like they needed to use every button. I think the main reason Crows gets by is because the late 90s were an incredibly lean time for beat em ups as a genre, and as a result, there's very few of them on the Saturn, meaning that an okay beat em up gets elevated to being a pretty good one, just by virtue of its lack of competition. But obviously, in this day and age, none of that actually matters, since anyone with a computer can play pretty much any game on any system up to about ten years ago.

So yeah, Crows The Battle Action is an okay game, and it's definitely a lot better than The Crow: City of Angels. Don't pay the crazy prices it fetches online nowadays, though. Obviously.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Splendor Blast II (Arcade)

So, you remember the early 90s, when the first big 3D arcade games were coming out? Virtua Fighter, Virtua Racing, and so on? It's shameful to say it now, but at the time, I wasn't impressed. Since I was a poor kid who couldn't afford a Saturn or 32X, and lived in some podunk village with no arcade, I only ever saw still screenshots of these games, that looked like a bunch of ugly boxes. Obviously, yers later, I saw these games in motion and was made to be ashamed of my thoughts and actions. I clearly didn't learn anything, though, as upon seeing stills of Splendor Blast II, I thought it looked like just another 80s shooting game with ugly low resolution graphics. Then I actually played it, and it turns out I was wrong on many fronts: it's actually an innovate futuristic racing game that looks amazing in motion, and the backgrounds look that way because it uses a kind of pre-mode 7 rotation effect to fake 3D!

This game was actually never released, though it is finished, and we can only play it thanks to Shoutime getting ahold of a copy and dumping the ROM, and we should all be thankful for that, as it really is a great game. It's pretty much as you'd expect from a futuristic racing game: spaceships instead of cars, racers risking life and limb, interfering space monsters and a little bit of shooting, as well as that old chestnut, the "fuel gauge that serves as a combined health bar and time limit." You race through the stages at high-speed, dodging obstacles and overtaking your opponents. The latter half of each stage will also let you shoot to destroy obstacles and aliens, though not your opponents, who will manage to avoid getting hit every time (though you can use this to your advantage by getting them out of the way). At the end of each stage, you get a bonus based on which position you finished in, how quick you were (as long as you finished in under a minute) and just a bonus for finishing. You also get some of your fuel back, at a rate which seems to be directly tied to how large your bonuses were.

It really is a game ahead of its time in a few ways. Obviously, there's the graphics, which look great in motion. Not only are they super-fast, but the psuedo-3D effect looks really cool as well, with some parts being especially good, like the lava stage with has columns of flame shooting out of firepits, like something from the hellish planet Apokolips in Jack Kirby's Fourth World. There's also the fact that you are actually racing against opponents. Though the game won't end if you place low at the end of a stage, the bearing that your placement has on the energy you get back would severely hamper your chances of surviving the next stage. But the fact that it keeps track at all is something to talk about, as most racing games in 1985 pitted you purely against the clock, with other racers only there to give you a points bonus when you pass them (though SBII does that too, of course).

The fact that this game was never released is bizarre to me. It's obviously a complete game, and not only is it a great one, but it's also an innovative one that's years ahead of its time. The only possible explanation I can come up with is that maybe Alpha Denshi saw SEGA's Super Scaler games and thought that their vertically-scrolling effort looked old hat in comparision? Anyway, now that it's available for everyone to play, I strongly recommend that you do so as soon as possible.