Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Curosities Vol. 10 - Playable Politicians

There's plenty of games starring real people, most of them being atheletes, with some musicians and actors and even the occasional comedian. Less common, though still more than you'd expect are games starring politicians, a few of which I'll be looking at today. There are actually quite a few omissions from this post, like Bill Clinton's appearance in NBA Jam, and pretty much the entire cast of the old Spitting Image fighting game, but I've tried to stick to games that are relatively obscure, and also to games where the politician in question is clearly the protagonist and/or main character.

So the first game is probably the most well-known of the ones appearing in this list, though at the same time, its star is the politician with the least fame outside his own country. SEGA's 1985 arcade game I'm Sorry is a single-screen maze game that sees Kakuei Tanaka (Prime Minister of Japan between 1972 and 1974) walking the streets of Japan collecting gold bars and avoiding sex scandals. It's got a nice risk/reward mechanic, whereby you don't get any points for the gold bars until you take them back to your mansion, but the amount of points increases greatly with each bar collected before returning home. Still, it's more interesting as a historical curiosity than as an actual good game, and even without knowledge of Tanaka's career, seeing tiny little 80s sprites engaging in BDSM and such is mildly amusing the first few times.

Next up is a politician who is, pretty prolific, as far as videogame appearances go. As well as having two otherwise unrelated games of his own, he also makes an appearance in Street Fighter II. Of course I'm talking about the final General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev! I can only assume that Japanese game developers saw him in the news and thought he was cute or funny-looking or something?

Anyway, the two games were released within months of each other in 1991, with Gorby no Pipline Daisakusen landing first, in April for the MSX. It's a combination of two better-known puzzle games, those being Tetris and Pipemania. There's a Tetris-style pit, lines with open pipes at each side. Blocks with pipe shapes in them fall from above, and the aim is to link the pipes on the right with the pipes on the left. There's a quota on each stage that has to be fulfilled before the pit completely fills up with pipe-bits. It's a surprisingly difficult game, and though it's fun and can hold your attention for a short time, it's unfortunately less than the sum of its parts, with both Tetris and Pipemania both being much better games than it.

Two months later, Ganbare Gorby! reached the Game Gear, and this time, it's a top down action game. In it, you play as Gorbachev, now working in some kind of distribution centre, ensuring people get the bread, medicine and Game Gears that they need, by stepping on switches to make conveyor belts point in the right direction. Obviously, there are some complications: the conveyor belts also have upon them less desirable items, like mouldy bread, poison and gears. (The gears are the unwanted item on the stage with the Game Gear as the wanted item, a joke I've only noticed now that I'm typing it out.) There's also thieves and, for some reason, armed guards wandering about the place, stealing items and beating up Mikhail, to interfere with his work. It's not a bad game, and it's also got a decent difficulty curve, with the stages gradually getting more complex, with more labyrinthine layouts of belts, and multiple different sets of switches, and so on. A de-Gorbied version was also released in the west a bit later, renamed Factory Panic.

Our last politician is a bit of a renaissance man, having also been a conspiracy theorist/TV personality, an actor, and, most impotantly, a wrestler. Of course, it's Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Governer of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003! The game that bears his name, Jesse "The Body" Ventura Wrestling Superstars, a localisation of the Mega Drive game Thunder Pro Wrestling Retsuden, was never actually released, and the ROM was only found and leaked publicly in 2016. Since Thunder Pro was itself a spin-off of the excellent Fire Pro Wrestling series, it's mechanically sound, and definitely a big step up from other wrestling games of the time. The only real problem it has is that the single-player game is far too easy: I managed to get to the final stage on my first play. Still, it's a fun little game, and other than Ventura himself, takes the usual Japanese wrestling game route of having oddly-named copyright-friendly clones of real wrestlers. You should at least give it a go, if only because it's a recently unearthed lost treasure.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Treasure Strike (Dreamcast)

My opinion of Treasure Strike, if made into a graph, would take on something of a U shape. When I first read a description of the game and saw a couple of screenshots, I thought "great! A Power Stone 2 clone with character creation!", unfortunately, I then played the game and my first impressions were more along the lines of "oh, it's not really like PS2 at all, and the character creation's not that great." I stubbornly kept playing, however, and that's where the graph goes right back up, as I realised "it's not like PS2, but it's still a ton of fun, and the character creation actually opens up a short time into the game".

You'll probably want some clarification on all that, right? Well, Treasure Strike's a 3D battle action game, in which you take on the mantle of a member of a town's treasure hunting guild, and you go to various places and find treasure, which can be sold to buy new weapons. The matches are a little unorthodox, as they see you running around various locations seeking out keys to open treasure chests. Keys come in three colours, and most chests are one or two of those three colours (two-coloured chests need both matching keys to open, and there are wooden chests that don't need a key at all). Each chest contains a treasure, but only one chest contains the target treasure needed to win the match. Obviously, your opponents all want the same thing too, and you're all armed with any two from the combination of melee weapons, guns and mines. Taking damage makes you drop treasure and keys, and running out of health sends you back to your homebase (which is also used for storing treasure, and to actually win the match, you need to get ahold of the target treasure and bring it back here). Yeah, at first, I was a little disappointed that it wasn't an all-out brawl, and the attack animations are a little slow and clunky, but after a few stages, the action becomes crazier and more manic, and a lot more fun. And the face that it's a treasure hunt rather than a fight gives the game a fairly unique screwball comedy feel.

The character creation mode is eacily the deepest I've seen on the Dreamcast, with the exception of Fire Pro Wrestling D, though like I said earlier, at the start of the game, you don't get much to work with. Upon starting a new story mode, you can choose your skin colour, hair style and colour, height, and facial features, all of which are permanent except hairstyle. You can't change your outfit until after you've won the first battle, which is annoying, but once you get the option, you'll spend at least half an hour customising stuff (at least, that's how it went for me). There's a massive array of clothes, accessories and hairstyles available, and the best thing is that they're all free! There's no tedious grinding to get the cool outfit you want like there is in a lot of more modern games with dressing up modes, and, your outfit has no bearing on your in-battle ability! Both things I definitely approve of.

Normally, I'm dead set against the idea of buying new weapons and upgrades in action games, but there are always exceptions of course, and Treasure Strike is one of them. In this case, it's an exception because like I've already mentioned, combat isn't actually a big thing in the game, and the advantage granted by buying more powerful weapons is pretty minimal. Plus, you'll probably be able to afford the most expensive weapons in the shop after only a couple of matches.

Along with all the good things this game has mechanically, you'll be pleased to know the developers haven't neglected the aesthetics. Everything looks great in this game: the locations look like cool, fun places, reminiscent of particularly well-designed theme parks. The characters are all amazing, too, the townspeople are a bunch of kooky-looking eccentrics (though the beauty salon/fashion boutique is owned by a pair of old fashioned gay stereotypes), your opponents all look like characters from a cool 90s shonen manga, and you'd really have to deliberately try if you wanted to make a character that wasn't cool, cute, or cool and cute.

Though it's a game that was clearly designed around a (now long-dead) online multiplayer mode, Treasure Strike does still have a full and robust single player mode, and though  I haven't had the opportunity to try it out, it also has a split-screen multiplayer mode. Both of those things that modern developers with budgets several orders of magnitude larger than a Japan=only third party Dreamcast game would have had seemingly can't manage. It's also a ton of fun to play, so I totally recommend you do so as soon as possible.