Thursday, 12 December 2019

Reinforcer (X68000)

The first thing I though when I loaded up Reinforcer is that it looked a lot like SEGA's arcade game Crack Down, and the first two stages even have you locating and defusing bombs, which is kind of the opposite of what you do in Crack Down, even though in top-down videogame form, the two activities are identical. It only takes a little more inspection to see that Reinforcer is definitely its own game with a lot to offer, though.

Possibly because of the resemblence to Crack Down, I first approached the game with an approach that was both methodical and thorough: killing every enemy, searching every room and path for items, and so on. Then I got to the first boss and had sixteen seconds to try and fight it. It seems that the actual way to play the game is a lot more exciting! I found a lot more success in running through each room, killing only the enemies that were directly in my path or otherwise especially threatening. You can absorb plenty of damage too, which also encourages this kind of madcap, rampaging playstyle.

But let's take a break from talking about how the game plays to highlight the presentation. Though it's a top-down shooter, everything looks as detailed as it can, with some of the sprites looking better than those in the first two Grand Theft Auto games. The menus, cutscenes, dialogue boxes also look great: detailed and stylish. There's a lengthy intro that you thankfully don't have to watch, but it's worth a look at least once, for some excellent pixel art, and top-quality music (though the game has great music generally, to be honest). On top of all this, there's some nice little touches here and there, like the text on the title screen that states emphatically that "THIS GAME IS CYBER PUNK ACTION". It all looks and feels so cool!

Getting into specifics, each character has a selection of four weapons, though you'll mostly be using the machine gun (because it has infinite ammo), and the hand grenades (because you can throw them over walls to kill enemies a room over). Though you don't get to pick which character you use to play each mission, unfortunately. Also of interest is your characters' damage system. You have damage counters for armour and health that start at zero and go up when you get hit. You don't lose any health until your armour is at 100% damage, and in the few stages I've played, there are no items for refilling your health, only your armour (though you can still collect these when your armour is 100% damaged, and it'll still go back down).

Reinforcer is definitely a game I recommend you try out. Among the X68000 action games that aren't arcade ports, it's definitely one of the most high quality, in terms of both presentation, and just as a fun, exciting game! Finally, if you try it out in xm6g, it might not be immediately obvious how to get it running so here's some help: put the System Disk in the first drive, then wait for it to start loading. Then, into the second drive, insert Disk A to watch the intro, or Disk B to go straight to the game. For some reason, the game won't load if you don't wait for the system disk to start loading before inserting one of the others.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Uppers (PS Vita)

I really, really wanted to like this game. On paper, it has so much going for it: it's a modern beat em up that relies on neither ham-fisted nostalgia nor a grind-driven negative difficulty curve, and it has a ton of cool ideas and a lot of visual flair. It's all ruined, though, by one massive insurmountable flaw: it might not have a negative difficulty curve, but it doesn't have a positive one either. It's got a difficulty flatline. What I'm saying is that it's incredibly easy, to an extent I don't remember seeing before in an action game that wasn't made for very young children.

But I'll get back to that, after talking about the game's positives.  Like how all the stages have crowds of girls loitering around the place, and you can get statistical bonuses by impressing them with your fighting. Impress them enough, and they'll even give you love letters! There's also some weird slot machine thing involving them where you can win more bonuses, and a weird minigame that lets you lift a girl's skirt by tapping the X button fast enough for a few seconds. This stuff's all a little unseemly, but it is, at least, original. In fact, I don't remember a beat em up that has you trying to impress onlookers in this way. Surely it hasn't taken 30-odd years of the genre's exitence for someone to come up with this idea?

What I think is the game's best point is its use of weapons and the environment. Rather than being able to pick weapons up, carry them round and use them to clobber enemies, they're all instead parts of the stage. So you use the O button in the right place, and you'll swing round a lamppost to kick the enemies surrounding you, throw a motorbike into a crowd, or event flip a pick-up truck onto a group of foes. Conversely, you can punch, throw, and kick enemies into things to elicit effects: you can cause them to smash through walls, collapse piles of girders, explode burning barrells, and so on. Both these features really add an anarchic feel of mass destruction to all the fights, which is nice.

Of course, that brings us all back to the problem of the game's difficulty. All those cool ideas and visual bombast don't mean much when the game itself is easier than breathing. There's no tension, no friction, and no real excitement. Most of the enemies go down in two or three normal punches, meaning that you only need to use the cool environmental stuff for the tougher enemies and bosses. And even they don't put up much of a challenge. Uppers is definitely the game to play if you ever want to sympathise with Superman's "world of cardboard" speech. I've been playing for over two hours, with hard mode switched on, and still there's no challenge. It might well get harder at some point later in the game, but an action game really shouldn't make you play for multiple hours before getting to the "real" start of the game. Because if it does, then you're likely to just give up on it. Like I have given up on Uppers. One final note: it does have a proper printed manual, with colour illustrations and staples and everything!