Monday, 11 November 2019

3-D Bomberman (MSX)

Though it seems like an obvious thing to have tried at some point in the mid-00s, maybe around the time of the awful Bomberman Act Zero, as far as I can tell, this game from all the way back in 1984 is the only attempt at a first-person Bomberman game. To put that in perspective, I don't even think anyone involved had even realised the multiplayer potential for the series at this point! Obviously, this doesn't use polygons, or even sprite scaling for its 3D effect, instead using Phantasy Star-style dungeons to stage an action game.

By that, I mean they're mazes with identical walls, where your movement is in pre-determined steps, and you can only turn in increments of ninety degrees. This wasn't the only action game from this era to use such a setting, with the most famous example in the UK being 3D Monster Maze, released in 1981 on the Sinclair ZX81, a computer with significantly less power than the MSX. An important difference between that game and 3-D Bomber Man though, is that while 3D Monster Maze had the player as a passive participant, running and hiding from the T-Rex in the maze, the player in this game is tasked with killing the enemies (malevolent green balloons, the eponymous floaters from the UK's localised version of the first Bomber man game, Eric and the Floaters), by dropping time bombs in the grand Bomberman tradition. You can also escape from the maze by finding a ladder, but you don't get any points for this, and I'm not sure if the game has an ending to reach.

The game's execution is about as good as can be expected with the technology of the time, with two small exceptions. Firstly, each of your steps covers the distance of half a block in the maze, which, couple with the stiff 90 degree turning, means you can sometimes get stuck on corners for a few seconds, which can be annoying when you're being chased. The other problem is that there are two types of wall: the indestructible outer wall of the maze, and the destructible walls within, and they both look identical. You do have a small radar that only shows you, the enemies, and the outer walls, but it's a weak compromise. There are other problems, but they're not so much problems with this game, but ways in which someone playing it in 2019 can see that it could have been improved upon with more advanced technology: things like atmospheric stereo sound, the ability to peek round corners, and move in directions other than backwards and forwards would all have added a lot, but obviously wouldn't really have been possible in 1984. Which makes it stranger that it's not an idea Hudson ever revisited, as far as I know.

3-D Bomber Man isn't a bad game, but at the same time, it's more interesting than it is good. It's worth playing out of curiosity, but not much more than that. Also, since I mentioned it at the start, I want to point something out about Bomberman Act Zero: while everyone laughed at that game's attempt at applying a dystopian sci-fi aesthetic to Bomberman, the real problem it had was that it was barely a game at all: the single player mode consisted of 100 identical boring stages, and the multiplayer mode was only playable online. And even then, you could only play in that one stage that's in the single player.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Cross Wiber - Cyber Combat Police (PC Engine)

Last year, I reviewed Cyber Cross - Busou Keiji, which is one of the most-played PC Engine games among those of which I actually own real copies. Cross Wiber is the sequel to that game, and it too is a tokusatsu-themed single-plane beat em up. This time, though, the aesthetic is one more contemporaneous to the tokusatsu shows at the time, as opposed to the 1970s retro look of the first game. Think Blue Swat or Mobile Cop Jiban, as opposed to Kamen Rider or Battle Fever J. The best part of this is that one of the bosses from the first game (the fire-breathing giant frog-man) reappears in the new style, looking totally different, but also instantly recognisable.

The new look is generally pretty great all round, though: everything's very detailed and well-drawn, and it has a little bit of a gritty edge to it, and there's lots of shiny technology and gooey monsters. The game itself has had a few changes made to it, too. For example, where transformation in the first game was dependant on collecting an item, this time round, you just have to press the select button when your health is high enough to have some blue segments. There's really no reason why you wouldn't transform as soon as possible, but requiring you to manually do it does make it feel a little cooler.

Just like last time, there's red, green, and blue forms to transorm into (the default is red, and the other two have to be collected as items), and the weapons for each form are the same, too: red has a sword, green has boomerangs, and blue has a gun. It seems the devs realised that the gun was the best weapon by a long distance, so its use is reliant on battery power, and the blue form is reduced to using punches and kicks when that runs out. Other than these small differences, and a shooting stage where you're riding on a hoverbike, it's very similar to the first game, but with a new coat of paint.

The main difference, which is a big factor as to why I don't like this as much as I did Cyber Cross is the difficulty. The first few stages are very, very easy. A lot easier than the first game ever was. Then along comes the sixth stage, which takes place atop a bunch of metal pillars, with instant death pits below and gangs of floating monsters going about the place, waiting to slightly knock you to your doom. It just feels like such a letdown that instead of designing stages and enemies that challenge you in combat, the devs inserted this kind of test of memory and luck. It's not a total game-ruiner, but it did deflate my enthusiasm for it quite a bit.

As it is, Cross Wiber is a game that's decent, but far from essential. The most damning thing about it, though, is that it's both less good and more expensive than its predecessor. I won't tell you not to play it, but I'd definitely direct you towards Cyber Cross instead of it.