Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Battle Pinball (3DO)

Longtime readers of this blog might remember that back in the mists of antiquity, I wrote about a SNES game with the same title as this one. The two are unrelated, though. While that game was a regular pinball game themed around battles, this one is a game about battles taking place in the form of pinball scoring contests.

There's four characters (a mole, an alien, death and a gambler), each with their own table. In single player mode, you pick one, and do battle with all four characters in random order. The battles work like this: you each get three balls, and the aim is to get a higher score than your opponent. The score really is all that matters: if you lose all three balls first, but have a higher score, your opponent continues playing until they either beat your score or lose their last ball. Once you beat all four characters, you see a short FMV ending (lovingly rendered, like all the character art, in hideous early-90s CGI, the kind that they used to call "Silicon Graphics" in magazines at the time.) And that's it, pretty much.

The tables are all very simple: a few bumpers, a couple of sets of targets, a ramp or two, and that's all. No multiball or special table events or moving parts of any kind. I guess the reasons for this are twofold, though both necessities of development. I'm only theorising here, but I think it'd be a heavy strain on the hardware to have to keep track of two fully-featured, action-packed pinball tables at once. The other reason is that I assume it would be a lot harder to balance the four tables, to make sure that none of them had massive scoring advantages over any of the others, if they were full of dozens of features and gimmicks.

It's surprising that no-one's used this splitscreen "Vs. Pinball" concept since (as far as I'm aware, at least). It's a good idea, and a lot less fiddly and confusing than the turn-taking multiplayer modes that a lot of pinball games do have. A simultaneous competitive pinball game could work really well on handhelds, too. Anyway, Battle Pinball is a fun little game with a cool concept, though the single player mode is incredibly anemic, and of course, it would work a lot better on more powerful hardware.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Dark Native Apostle (PS2)

When Bomberman: Act Zero came out for the 360 in 2006, it was universally loathed, and rightfully so. But an annoying point about the coverage it got is that so much of the negativity was focussed on the concept of a gritty sci-fi Bomberman game, that it was barely mentioned that the game itself was absolute garbage, with only one arena, no local multiplayer, and a single player mode that consisted of playing the same stage 100 times in a row. The thing is, it wasn't the first attempt at a gritty Bomberman for the 21st century. Though it doesn't bear the name of the esteemed multiplayer franchise, Dark Native Apostle was published in Japan by Hudson Soft, and features a protagonist with the ability to drop small timed explosives wherever he goes. (Coincidentally, it was developed by recurring Lunatic Obscurity favourites Tamsoft!)

It's not a multiplayer Vs. arena game, though, but takes the attack mechanic from the Bomberman series and applies to, of all things, a blend of survival horror with the occasional bit of light 3D platforming. Well, "survival horror" in the respect that the plot involves genetic engineering and bio-weapons, and that a lot of time is spent running back and forth finding keys, putting disks into computer terminals and flicking power switches. There isn't anything actually scary in the game, your main method of attack has infinte ammo and there's an ample supply of healing items.

So yeah, you're some genetic engineered bio-weapon guy with amnesia, and you go into the labs where you were made to try and find out your past. It's pretty much the exact same plot as a billion other games that came out between 1996 and 2005. The combat aspect of the game is incredibly easy: most enemies will stand still while firing at you or changing direction, so you can just drop a bomb at their feet to dispatch them. You can hold the square button down and walk away when you drop a bomb to give it a longer fuse, but I've gotten a fair few areas into the game, and beaten a few bosses and this ability has not yet been useful once.

The puzzle-solving aspect of the game is a lot more difficult, though. Well, I think it is, it might just be my being a bit thick. Though you are expected to comb every room you can go into to find every item and clue that might lead to you opening more rooms and progressing. There is one interesting feature the game has involving the upgrades to your powers: you can equip up to four "chips", each of which improves an aspect of your abilities, like the power of your bombs or you max HP or whatever. But, by equipping them in the right order, you can also gain special abilities! Some of these are almost universally useful, like the dash ability. Some are useful in a few certain places, like the ability to see invisible objects. Some are useful in literally one part of the game and then never again, like the ability to drop blinding flash bombs, that only seem to affect the big purple lizard boss you fight in the sewers early in the game. The fact that you often don't get the chips needed to acquire a special ability until around the time you get the note telling you about it is a disappointment, too: playing a second time around with prior knowledge of all the "recipes" could have possibly led to a sneaky bit of sequence breaking, maybe?

Dark Native Apostle isn't a great game, but it's not a particularly bad one either. I guess the core concept alone is interesting enough to be worth a look, though. An obvious comparision to make is to the Playstation game Silent Bomber, which I like a lot more than DNA, though it is a pure all-out action game, so it's not an entirely fair comparision to make.