Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Spica Adventure (Arcade)

I have to admit, when I first saw screenshots of Spica Adventure on System-16, I didn't expect much of it. It looked, to my eyes, like a cheap filler Bubble Bobble knock-off. Luckily, I turned out to be wrong, and this is a great game, unfortunately ignored by most, probably because it's a 2005 arcade game with no home release.

Spica Adventure is a fast paced action-platformer about a little pink-haired girl with an umbrella. The girl must come from some place where umbrella use is taught from a young age in special umbrella dojos, since it's used for all manner of things in-game: as a weapon with numerous different attacks, as a climbing aid, a parachute, a boat and as a shield. The use of an umbrella as this multi-purpose tool is a small act of genius on behalf of the designers, since anyone with any familiarity with an umbrella could probably read that last sentence and easily picture in their heads, how an umbrella would look doing all those things.

Structurally, the game is pretty standard: beat up enemies and score points until you find the stage's exit, then do that on the next stage and so on, with a boss every few stages, and a Darius-esque map of branching paths after each boss giving an extra incentive to come back a few more times after completing the game. But what happens in the stages, and how it happens is the game's main draw. Stages are designed so that something is pretty much always happening, whether it's enemies being fought, items being collected, flowers growing from the platforms the player stands on, or stuff in the background exploding in reaction to enemies being killed, or any comibination of these (including all of them at once), and obviously, there are sound effects and visual cues accompanying evertything, along with an ever-increasing score.

All these stimuli come together to not only make the game feel fast-paced, but also to subtly encourage the player to keep moving, making more things happen, and doing it all as fast as they can. It makes the game a lot of fun to play, like a significantly less intense version of the feeling you might get while playing a shooting game like Crimzon Clover or Mushihimesama Futari.

It's a shame that Spica Adventure never got a home port, but not a surprise: there just wasn't much room for this kind of game on home consoles in 2005. It would have fit in great on the Dreamcast, not just because it's a high-quality action game from the arcades, but because its brightly coloured, simple-but-sharp aesthetic evokes the visual styles of games like Chu Chu Rocket and Space Channel 5, among others. It would also have been the Dreamcast's only 2D platform game (as far as I know) until Gunlord came along in 2012, but as we all know, the big companies had all long since abandoned the DC by then.

Since it runs on the Taito Type X hardware, which is essentially just a PC in an arcade cabinet, you'd think that Spica Adventure (and pretty much every other Type X game that doesn't require some kind of specialist controller) would be a prime candidate for an official PC release, but obviously, Taito's masters at Square-Enix disagree.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Black Viper (Amiga)

I don't cover a lot of Amiga games on this blog, because though pretty much every Amiga game is obscure outside of Europe, in Europe, it had a pretty big following, so there's still quite a few games that are well known by a lot of people.

But by about 1995-ish, the system had been pretty much abandoned by big publishers and, to be honest, most people buying new games too, leaving only dedicated enthusiasts making and laying new Amiga games. Black Viper comes from well into that era, being released in 1996.

It's an into-the-screen sprite scaling motorbike riding game, like Super Hang-On, but with guns. The player is Efrin Kadan, a lone fighter for freedom on a post-apocalyptic earth ravaged by a war with aliens. Though for some reason, the aliens all seem to ride around in mad max-esque cars and motorbikes, covered in rust and spikes. The fight for freedom taking the form of riding a motorbike (the titular Black Viper) long distances, shooting the alien vehicles, and not shooting the "innocent" articulated lorries.

The graphics are a mixed bag, with the backgrounds being beautiful vistas of blasted wastelands and deserts, and the sprites being indistinct grey-brown lumps. Also, someone on the development team must have been a Cradle of Filth fan, since two of the selectable BGM tracks are named "Summer Dying Fast" and "The Black Goddess Rises", though unfortunately, they ear no resemblence to their namesakes.

Black Viper should be a fast, exciting game with tons of action, but because of various stupid little problems, it's more of a chore to play. Since it adds a bit of shooting action to the usual racing shenanigans, it stands to reason that it has a mechanic whereby the player takes damage, and can eventually be killed, resulting in a game over. This is fine, but not only does Black Viper only allow the player to partially restore their health between stages, but because of some slight clunkiness in the way the game handles collisions, situations in which the player gets caught between the side of the road and another vehicle are not only common, but also devastating, often taking almost half the player's health in a few seconds. There are power-ups on the road, that can instantly restore some health, or offer a temporary shield, but thanks to their random placement and the fact that they whizz by almost instantly, collecting them is a matter of luck more than anything else.

Also available between stages are weapon power-ups, though buying them is a very bad idea, since every time I have, halfway through the following stage the message stating "weapon damaged" has been displayed, leaving me weaponless, and not long after, dead.

The most ridiculous problem this game has, though, is the fact that though it was released in the year 1996, long after anyone with an Amiga had already started using a Mega Drive controller with it's many buttons, it inexplicably only recognises a single fire button. There is a control setting in the options screen that claims to include an option for two-button controllers, but setting it seems to make no difference at all. It is effectively a painted-on fire alarm.

In summary, Black Viper is a bad game with some nice backgrounds (though since it's so broken, you'll probably only see two of them). Oh, another small point in its favour is that it puts the intro on a seperate disk, so you never have to waste time watching/skipping it, plus it includes an option to turn in-game cutscenes off too. If only modern developers were so kind.

Monday, 6 October 2014

HIGH-MACS Simulator (PC)

So, HIGH-MACS Simulator is a freeware game made by a fan of the Gun Griffon series, which unfortuantely, I've never played. But they're a series of military-themed 3D mecha shooters very much in the "real robot" style. I don't know anything about the plot of the games, but HIGH-MACS Simulator's missions take place in real countries and cities, in what looks like the late 20th/early 21st century, but with giant robots.

So obviously, you take on the role of a mecha pilot, usually as part of a small squadron, and you go out on various missions shooting down the enemy's tanks, mecha, and other vehicles. You get four weapons which, as far as I know, are always the same: an anti-tank gun, a machine gun, some kind of mortar-type weapon, and lock-on homing missiles. All except the machine gun come with limited ammunition, and there doesn't seem to be any way of getting more during a stage, though it's unlikely you'll run out of ammo for your anti-tank gun, at least.

The controls are a little awkward to set up, sine the game doesn't seem to acknowledge the right stick of an X-Box 360 controller, mapping "Analog R" controls to the triggers instead, but using a combination of the in-game options and JoytoKey, I managed to put together a comfortable little arrangement. Also, this game should run on pretty much any modern computer: it runs perfectly on my laptop, which can't even manage a decent framerate in Minecraft. Although, it mysteriously wouldn't even open up on my other computer, despite that computer fulfilling all the requirements (actually being more powerful than the laptop too). The only reason I can think of for this is that the other computer is running on Windows XP, though it's listed as compatible on the game's website.

There are two kinds of stages, missions and survival stages. Survival stages are self-explanatory: in them, the player kills enemies and tries to survive as long as possible. Missions have various objectives, like securing a series of points on a map, or killing every enemy on the map. Unfortunately, I've so far been unable to pregress further than the third mission, in which enemy units must be hunted down and wiped out in Kiev under the cover of night, with a pretty strict time limit.

Despite the game's difficulty, I still definitely recommend it: controlling the mech is nice, and even little things, like the satisfying animations for enemies getting hit by your shots make the game a little better. Plus, it's free (from here), so it's not like you have anything to lose. 

Sorry this post's kind of short and unprepared, I had intended to write about PC Disc Station Vol. 18, but I could barely get any of the contents to co-operate with modern computers. Hopefully that won't turn out to be an ongoing problem.