Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Blank Blood (PC)

The first thing you should probably know about Blank Blood is that it was made by and for people with an interest in a certain specialist genre of entertainment called "ryona", whose main focus is pretty girls coming to severe physical harm. It's not an interest I share, but luckily, the developers of this game weren't so consumed by their interests that they forgot to make an actual game to put them in.

It's an exploratory platform game (you could call it a Metrovania, though as far as I can tell, there's no kind of levelling up or acquisition of skills or abilities), in which a knife-weilding young woman and a gun-toting schoolgirl explore a large dungeon in search of treasure. I actually like the treasure hunting aspect: each treasure chest you find has a unique item, which are all worth a different amount of points, and they all also have little descriptions (though the descriptions are in Japanese, it's the thought that counts). The controls feel a little weak at first, but once you get used to the slightly odd collision detection and the fact that almost every gap requires a double jump, you'll be fine.

The dungeon is, of course, filled with many kinds of monsters and traps, and though the monsters start out as pretty standard fare (snakes, carnivorous plants, slimes, etc.), as you start to get a bit further in, there are some very strange, alien-looking creature lurking about. Though, the same strategy is applied to beating most of them: just repeatedly attack, and they'll probably die long before your health is low. Some of the enemies have more dangerous grapple-style attacks, that requires quick hammering of the attack button to escape, and some of these have their own unique death animations too. For example, falling into a carnivorous plant's mouth and failing to get free results in your character being shown getting digested inside the plant.

Actually, had the game's website not pointed out that it was made with the intention of attracting ryona enthusiasts as an audience, it could easily get away with being considered a 2D platform game with a lot of different animations for the main characters and more gore than usual. Different types of damage each have their own sprites, and there's also a lot of quite gory death animations, the one that most sticks in my mind is the one seen when the player dies from being impaled by a spear shooting up from the ground, leaving them twitching with the spear sticking right through their torso. Both characters also have different idle stances depending on how much remaining health they have.

There is a big downside to Blank Blood though (aside from the obvious, of course): the difficulty is not at all balanced. Certain traps seem completely impossible to get by unscathed, though there is a kind of fix, in the form of an invincibility "Debug Mode", that can be turned on and off at any time by pressing the Delete key on your keyboard, it still feels a bit weak. It's hard to say whether or not I recommend Blank Blood. It's not some nice spritework, and it's not terrible to play, but it's also a bit sleazy and there are many, many other exploration-based platformers that are much better than it. I guess it all depends on how much grim curiosity you have?
 (Thanks to tumblr user acid-eater for bringing this game to my attention)

Monday, 18 May 2015

Zippy Race (SG-1000)

Zippy Race is port of an arcade game, though I'm reviewing the SG-1000 version for three reasons: I didn't know this until I'd already played the SG-1000 version quite a bit, it's been a while since an SG-1000 game was featured on this blog and I just like the way SG-1000 games look. Obviously, it's a racing game, and though it's a pretty simple one, it's also pretty clever. The race in question is a ninety participant contest taking place across the USA, from Los Angeles to New York with a few other cities visited along the way. One odd point, though, is that though the player is riding a motorbike, all the other racers are in cars.

The game is fit into five stages, with your position in the race carrying over from stage to stage. Your bike's fuel tank serves as both a time limit and a health bar, and there are fuel tanks dotted around the stages to slightly replenish it. This being an old arcade game, there's also points to score, and I do like the various ways Zippy Race allows players to score points. The main two methods revolve around your position in the race: whenever you overtake a car, if overtaking that car puts you in a higher position than you've had at any prior point in the race, you get 500 points. Also, at the end of each stage, a big long chart of possible positions comes up, and bonus points are awarded based on your position on that chart. This also fulfills an even more important function than points: for every hundred points you get here, a small amount of fuel is replenished.

That leads into an example of the mechanical simplicity I love in this game, and how it all ties together so well: when you crash, you lose a chunk of your fuel bar and two cars will always pass you. When cars pass you, obviously your position in the race goes down, potentially affecting you end-of-stage bonus and the extra fuel that comes with it, but also stops you from getting points for passing cars until you've regained and surpassed your pre-crash position. This kind of simple, intertwined mechanic that effectively seperates good players from bad is something I really like, and I think works great in this game.

The game has five stages of two types: three of them take place in rural-looking environments and two in the desert. These two types of stage have their own set of obstacles and features, though they are all differently laid out from each other. The rural stages tend to have lots of bends and forks in the road, with not much else, while the desert stages have boulders and cacti strewn about the place, along with narrow bridges across rivers, and a much more generous supple or fuel cans and points items than the rural stages.

There is one thing I don't like at all in Zippy Race, however. At the end of each stage, there's a short psuedo-3D section, with a simple representation of a city in the background. These sections are just straight, featureless road on which the player avoids cars, but the sticking point is that they act like a kind of anti-bonus stage. You don't get any points or increase in rank for passing these cars, but you fuel is still depleting and you still get the penalty for crashing.

I liked this game a lot. As I've already said, the simple mechanics and they way they all weave together into a fun game really hooked me. I definitely recommend giving it a shot!
(This game is also known as MotoRace USA, Traverse USA and Mototour)