Sunday, 17 June 2018

Ninpen Manmaru (Saturn)

It's a long held piece of recieved wisdom, perpetuated by idiots, that the Saturn couldn't do 3D graphics, despite the existence of games like NiGHTs, Panzer Dragoon, Quake, Burning Rangers, and a whole bunch more. Ninpen Manmaru is one to count among that bunch more, being a proper, fully 3D platform game that looks great, easily the rival of any of its bigger budgeted Playstation contemporaries.

It's based on an anime that appears to be for small children, which does explain some of the game's design choices, like how there's no combat (even though your character is a ninja penguin with a sword strapped to their back). Enemies in the stages are really just mobile obstacles for you to avoid, and though there are bosses, they're confrontations, rather than fights. Instead, the game's purely about platforming, with the sole aim being to get to the end of each stage within the time limit, and without getting killed by traps or enemies.

The game's big problem, though, is the controls. They're just really sloppy! Your penguin will sometimes land on a tiny platform, then start running immediately after landing, sending him down into the lava below, and sentencing you to another long wait for the platform to come back within reach. In fact, that's the game's other big problem: how much time is spent waiting for moving platforms to get into the right position for you to jump on or off them. I know it's a longstanding platformer tradition, but for some reason, it really grates in this game, right from the start. Maybe I just don't play as many platformers as I once did, and I'm no longer used to the genre's quirks, I don't know, maybe it's just jarring considering how fast your movement is the rest of the time, and it breaks the game's flow. (As an aside, if this game were on any other console, you could mistake it for an attack on SEGA, since the excuse often given for the lack of a proper 3D Sonic game on the Saturn is that the Dreamcast was the first console capable of loading large enough 3D stages for Sonic to run around in, and Ninpen Manmaru is a 3D mascot platformer about a fast-moving blue animal navigating stages as quickly as possible.)

Going back to the subject of bosses, the confrontations being non-violent allows them a little bit of variety, as they take the form of various contests, such as collecting most of the coins in a small area while your opponent does the same, running away from a foe who seems to be trying to eat you until the time runs out, and so on. I haven't played particularly far into the game, as despite being aimed at apparently primary school children, the difficulty curve becomes incredibly steep after the first set of stages, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a regular old race as a boss stage at some point in the game, either.

In summary, Ninpen Manmaru is a decent enough game, that's techinically impressive for any home console of the time, let alone the Saturn. However, if you want to play it, be warned that legitimate copies fetch absurd prices, ranging from around seventy pounds, to ten times that amount. I'm not sure how those prices are justified, either, as the amount of copies on sale on ebay alone show that it can't be a particularly rare game. But I'm sure you can think of some other way of playing it if you really want to.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Small Games Round Up Vol. 1!

I've long laboured over the fact that there are lots of games I'd like to tell you all about, mainly early arcade games, or ones on very old computers, but weren't complex enough to carry a post on their own. I could just write shorter posts, but then you'd be eagerly waiting five days for a new post, just to get a few lines an a couple of screenshots about some anncient relic. Then I realised I could just bundle them together, and for this inaugural round up, I've put together three little PC88 games, starting with Skyscraper. Another note before we start: the PC88 is known in some circles for being home to a lot of great music. None of the three games featured in this post live up to that, though, they just have bleepy sound effects.

Skyscraper is a single-screen shooter, in which you avoid or shoot various seemingly-random shapes and objects, while also catching tiny little people who are falling to the deaths (well, some are falling to their deaths, some have parachutes). Once you've met your rescue quota, the stage ends. There doesn't seem to be any penalty for letting the fallers die, other than wasting time (and losing a bit of your time bonus at the end of the stage), which is nice, since they die if they hit the bottom of the screen, any of the enemies, or even your own shots. Between stages, there's a very strange bonus "game" that simply asks you to press a letter on the keyboard. All in all, a fun enough game, with some really nice pixel art backgrounds.

Next up is Karakuri Ninpou, a very arcade-looking game, and, I suspect, possibly an influence on the Haggleman games on the first Game Center CX game for the DS. In it, you play as a green ninja out to rescue their red ninja friend, who gets kidnapped by god in the pening cutscene. To do so, you have to navigate a house full of enemies, stairs, and doors. Not every room is reachable by stairs alone, so you have to use the doors, which are all linked to each other in pairs, though it's up to you to figure out and remember which doors are connected to which. I have to admit that though I made many attempts, I never actually got past the first stage of this one, as there's an enemy that sometimes appears, a black ninja, who throws shuriken at you, and there doesn't seem to be any way of avoiding or deflecting that. Still, someone with the patience to build up superhuman skill (and probably a lot of luck, too) at playing this game might get more joy out of it than I did. It definitely feels like it's a game that might better than it first seems, at least.

Last, and also least, is Donkey Gorilla, a very simple, almost Game and Watch-esque game. It uses text mode graphics, so everything's very charming and simple in a geometric kind of way, and you play as what I think is a chameleon hanging onto a washing line while things that are probably gorillas dance around below you. You kill the gorillas by dropping hearts on them, and sometimes one of them will try to climb a tree, killing you if they reach the top. Also a bird-like thing occaisionally flies overhead to try and kill you with hearts, too. There's not much to say about Donkey Gorilla, really. You might get a minute or two's amusement out of it, at most, but not much more.