Saturday, 18 May 2019

Championship Wrestling (C64)

A few weeks ago, me and a friend wondered if there was a World of Sport Wrestling game on C64. There wasn't, but in looking for one, a screenshot of this game caught my eye, with its isometric view and diamond-shaped ring being reminiscent of the Fire Pro games, the best series of wrestling games there's ever likely to be. Does "reminiscent" still apply, when this game predates Fire Pro by a couple of years? Anyway, I obviously wasn't expecting anything anywhere near as good as any entry in that series, but I still had to satisfy my curiosity by playing it.

The out-of-game presentation is pretty bad, even for a game from 1986. That picture at the top of this review with the plain text on a blank blue background is the actual title screen, and all the menus look like that. Also, there's no nice artwork on the loading screens, either: they're just black. Luckily, this is more than made up for by the in-game graphics since, as you can see in the rest of the screenshots, it looks pretty good. Even more impressive is that the animation isn't bad, either!

As for how it plays: it's not terrible. I've definitely played significantly worse wrestling games. As was a standard workaround on these old microcomputers with one-button controllers, you can do different moves by holding the button and pressing different directions. There seems to be maybe eight moves per wrestler, too (though obviously, there's a lot of move-sharing): while the wrestlers are roaming free, you do punches, kicks, and so on, but you can also get your opponent into a headlock, from which you perform a couple of throws. There doesn't seem to be any mat wrestling, though, as pressing the button next to a downed opponent goes for a pin, instead.

The main problem the game has is a lack of variety: though there's eight wrestlers that all look different to each other, they all feel the same when you play as them. Plus, there's only one match type, and there's actually only seven wrestlers, since if you select Zeke Weasel as your own wrestler or your opponent, the game will crash while loading. After ten minutes of play, I was already bored, and after half an hour, I was ready to never play it again.

It's pretty obvious that I can't really recommend this game, but I do feel a bit guilty about it. It wouldn't be a surprise to learn that this was the best wrestling game available in the UK in 1986. It's not 1986 now, though, and you can get literally hundreds of much, much better wrestling games instead of it.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Motorbike King (PS2)

On paper, it almost seems as though Motorbike King (also known as Simple 2000 Ultimate Series Vol. 13: Kyousou! Tansha King ~Kattobi Baribari Densetsu~) was made specifically for me: it's a Bosuzoku-themed racing game, in which you can choose to play as a sukeban, and not only is it a Simple Series game, but it was even developed by those B-grade legends at Tamsoft! It was a disappointment, then, to actually play it and find an awkward game with motorbikes that handled like shopping trolleys and an absolutely merciless difficulty curve.

Luckily, I stuck with it for a couple of hours, bolstered by my love for the aesthetic the game was presenting, and once you've got a grip on the weird handling and you start winning races, it becomes a lot more satisfying. The main problem is, as already mentioned, the brutal difficulty curve: the fact is that even if you have a decent lead on your opponent, if you mess up once, that's all they need to not only overtake you, but to zoom off into the distance, never to be seen again. Once you get a couple of upgrades for your bike, you might be able to regain the lead, but only if you lost it early in the race, and you drive perfectly from that point on.

Anyway, as you might have gathered, the game takes place over a series of one-on-one races, all on public roads, and all at night. As far as I can tell, there are three underling opponents you have to beat, before you can face off against the two bosses. There might be further races beyond those two bosses, but I haven't managed to beat either of them yet, so I can't currently confirm that. During the races, you'll get told at certain points in each lap (they're the same every time, so you can be ready for them after your first time round) "Appeal Time Remaining", an awkwardly translated prompt for you to partake in a bit of showing off. There's various tricks you can do by holding down R2 in combination with other buttons, such as standing up and dancing atop your bike, pulling a wheelie, or playing the start of Auld Lang Syne on your horn. While playing, though, I've learned that the best trick to do, in terms of risk taken, ease of input, and points gained, is simply taking your hands off the handlebars and waving them around, by holding R2 and L1 together.

At the end of each race, the points you get from performing stunts (AP) get converted into the points you can spend on bike upgrades and cosmetic items (KP). Win the race, and you'll get a couple of hundred KP, plus another one for every 200 AP you earned during the race. Lose, and you'll get ten KP, plus one for every 2000 AP you earned. So you can unlock stuff without winning races, but it's significantly more laborious. A nice little touch you'll notice while navigating the game's menus is how colloquial they are: rather than every confirmation prompt offering Yes and No, each one is different, and they're all a lot more casual than that.

In fact, the translation and localisation of this game is really interesting generally. It's a game themed around a very specific Japanese subculture, and yet there's been almost no effort to try and shoehorn it into looking or feeling like some kind of western equivalent. I assume this was done to avoid the additional costs and time involved in that kind of aggressive localisation, but remember that only a few years before this, we had the Playstation port of Gunbird being stripped of all its personality and localised as "Mobile Light Force". So whatever their reasons for doing it were, some thanks should go to 505 Games for leaving this one intact.

I've actually had a few people asking me on social media sites to recommend Simple Series games for them to play, so I'll probably be covering a few more in the near future, too. In this case, I'll say that if you like the aesthetic and setting, and you have the patience to get through the steep learning curve, Motorbike King is one that's worth seeking out.