Thursday, 8 October 2015

Pop'n Magic (PC Engine)

There are a lot of cute Japanse games with Pop and/or Magic in the title, usually platformers or colour-matching puzzle games. In this case, it's a platformer with a very mild element of colour matching thrown in as a gimmick. More specifically, it's a Bubble Bobble-esque single screen platformer with a heavy emphasis on finding the best ways to make points items appear  from killing enemies.

As usual with this subgenre, your main weapon doesn't directly kill the enemies, just puts them into a harmless, immoble state, in this case being a magic orb in one of three colours (depending on the enemy): orange, blue or yellow. These orbs can be picked up and thrown around by the player by holding down the fire button, and the idea is to throw them at other orbs. Then, if the two orbs are the same colour, they turn back into enemies, which yields no benefits to the player as far as I can tell. But if they're different colours, one of the orbs will bounce around dropping power ups and points items as it goes, before disappearing.

Which orb disappears depends on the colours involved, in a rock-paper-scissors arrangement: blue destroys orange, orange destroys yellow, and yellow destroys blue. If you're unable to make an orb (or orbs) disappear in this method, you can do it by shooting them a few times, but you only get one item out of it this way. So, the key to scoring high is defeating enemies and destroying their orbs in an order that only leaves you with one leftover at the end of the stage. The fact that you'll always be left with at least one leftover is a bit of a weakness to the system, as it makes the ends of stages a little bit awkward and unsatisfying, even when you've technically done as well as possible on the stage.

Putting mechanics to the side, the game's excellently presented, with full-screen animated cutscenes, lots of voice acting, and bright, colourful graphics throughout. Also, as you might expect, the stages are split into themed sets, with a bossfight at the end. What you might not expect, though, is that each stage has its own background, and each theme sort of has two sub-themes. For example, in the woods stages, the first half will be the woods during daylight, with the second half being the woods at sunset. The spooky stages start outside a haunted mansion, gradually getting closer and going inside. It's a nice little touch.

Pop'n Magic isn't a bad game, but it doesn't particularly stand out, either. If you really like Bubble Bobb-likes, there's no harm in giving it a try, but there are plenty of better ones too.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Yuu Maze (Famicom Disk System)

Yuu Maze is the name it's known by in ROMsets and the like, but in-game, it also uses the name Youmais. It's also a port of the arcade game Raimais, so that makes three names. I'm sure many of you will be familiar with Raimais, since it appears in the excellent PS2 compilation Taito Legends Volume 2 (in my opinion, the greatest retro compilation ever released), but for those who aren't, it's like a very fast, futuristic version of Pac-Man, with various different kinds of enemies, a bunch of power-ups and lots of different mazes.

Yuu Maze is still worth talking about on its own though, since it's not a 100% straight port. Obviously, the graphics take a hit in the move from arcade to FDS, but there's also a few small design changes. The first you'll come across is that the stages now have two portals in each of them: you go into one, and emerge from the other. Then there's the fact that while Raimais had four different doors to go into between stages (each one leading to a different next stage, of course), Yuu Maze only has two. The third big difference is the hidden portals that are found in some stages.

In Raimais, it was pretty rare to find these hidden portals, and they led to secret boss stages. The problem with this, though, was that the bossfights were so tactically different to the regular stages that they were very difficult, and their sporadic nature made them hard to practice. In Yuu Maze, these hidden portals are a lot more common, and instead of leading to bossfights, they lead to timed bonus stages, giving the player sixty seconds to collect all the dots or kill all the enemies. Destroying enemies works in the same way as in Raimais though: there are power-ups that grant the player a laser or a temporary one-hit shield, so you can shoot the enemies or sacrifice the shield and ram them. There's also mines in some stages, which go off a few seconds after the player goes over them, killing anyone narby when they do.

There's also an edit mode, which allows you to make a little five stage course. It's about as complex as you'd expect from a console game released in 1988, but it's a nice little thing, that totally gels well with the simple structure of the game. Raimais is a criminally overlooked game in Taito's back catalogue, and Yuu Maze is a decent enough variant on it. I recommend playing either one of them, or both. Yuu Maze is a lot easier though, being very generous with the extra lives, compared to its inspiration.