Monday, 27 October 2014

Sega Ages 2500 Series Vol. 2: Monaco GP

The Sega Ages series started out as a bunch of 3D remakes of old Sega games, later turning into compilations of often rarer, high-quality emulated titles with generous extras. Obviously, being only volume number 2, Monaco GP is of the first variety. These early titles were almost universally lambasted by all and sundry when they came out, with the remakes of Golden Axe and Space Harrier drawing particular ire. Monaco GP was mostly ignored, though, probably because the original is a lot older than most of the other games, and was only previously ported to a home system once, to the SG-1000 all the way back in 1983.

The original (or rather, the SG1000 port, since the original is not yet emulated in MAME, so I haven't been able to play it) is a pretty great game: the player drives down an endless road avoiding other cars, scoring more points the faster they go. The Sega Ages 2500 remakes has three different modes: arcade classic, arcade original and grand prix.

Arcade classic is pretty much just like the orignal game: go fast and survive as long as you can. Arcade original takes that concept, with several additions: a selection of different tracks, corners (which are tackled with the shoulder buttons), power-ups that offer things like speed boosts, a temporarily giant car, temporary invincibility and so on, and lines of stars on the track that, when collected, give the player points and extra speed. Grand Prix takes the extra elements from arcade original mode, and removes the endless score-run structure (and with it, limited lives), instead having the player race against time around sets of five tracks.

Arcade original is the worst of the three, since it eschews the one-hit kills of classic mode, it takes ages to actually die, taking the player long past the point at which the game stops being fun. Grand Prix is a lot better, though, taking the updated mechanics and putting them in a structure that never lasts longer than 15-20 minutes, though the time limits are a little too generous on the easy and normal courses. An interesting thing that's shared by both the arcade modes is that the player doesn't start any lives, though extra lives are dealt out at every 20000 points scored, and during the first 60 seconds of a run, the player can die as many times as they like without penalty, allowing players to build up at least one or two lives before the game begins proper.

This game was relased in the west along with a bunch of other early Sega Ages 2500 entries on a single disc as "Sega Classics Collection", which is something I definitely recommend getting hold of.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Chaos Break (Playstation)

So, in 1998, Taito released an arcade game entitled Chaos Heat, it's a pretty good game, like a 3D beat em up with guns. I'll probably do a post on it at some point in the distant future. For some reason, Taito, instead of porting Chaos Heat to the Playstation, made Chaos Break, a spin-off set in the same universe (or an "Episode of Chaos Heat", as the title screen puts it).

This port doesn't have the constant, fast-paced action of its arcade parent, eschewing it in favour of Resident Evil-esque exploration and puzzles, in what can only have been an ill-advised attempt to cash in on the popularity of that kind of adventure game on the Playstation at the time. Ill-advised because, while Resident Evil, as an example takes place in an atmospheric mansion, with many unique rooms containing interesting puzzles and memorable items, Chaos Break doesn't have any of those things.

The setting is a scientific facility that's futuristic in the least interesting way possible: everything made out of grey metal, no decoration, sliding doors, all that kind of thing. The rooms and especially the corridors all pretty much look alike, which I guess is realistic for a facility of this type, but in a videogame that contains as much backtracking as Chaos Break, it's not only ugly and boring, but also impractical, leading to endless flicking to and fro between the game and the map screen in the pause menu.

The biggest crime Chaos Break commits, however, is in its puzzles. Using Resident Evil as an example once again, the puzzles in that game included logic puzzles with verbose clues, block-pushing puzzles, fitting items in different slots, and so on. The puzzles in Chaos break are neither fun nor interesting. To find the first password you need to unlock a door, the player simply has to find it written down on a piece of paper found in the possession of a dead scientist found lying around. The second takes the game to new depths, being a randomly generated sudoku puzzle. Not only is the puzzle itself a tedious, slow, laborious chore, it completely shatters any atmosphere or immersion the player might be feeling, which would be bad in a regular game, but remember that Chaos Break is supposed to be a horror game (though the near-infinite ammunition available coupled with the feeble monsters might have already convinced you otherwise) and the sudoku puzzle is like a testament to this game being an awful, poorly thought out mess.

I'm sure you've already guessed, but I don't recommend this game. It's just an ugly, boring mess. Don't play it.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Spica Adventure (Arcade)

I have to admit, when I first saw screenshots of Spica Adventure on System-16, I didn't expect much of it. It looked, to my eyes, like a cheap filler Bubble Bobble knock-off. Luckily, I turned out to be wrong, and this is a great game, unfortunately ignored by most, probably because it's a 2005 arcade game with no home release.

Spica Adventure is a fast paced action-platformer about a little pink-haired girl with an umbrella. The girl must come from some place where umbrella use is taught from a young age in special umbrella dojos, since it's used for all manner of things in-game: as a weapon with numerous different attacks, as a climbing aid, a parachute, a boat and as a shield. The use of an umbrella as this multi-purpose tool is a small act of genius on behalf of the designers, since anyone with any familiarity with an umbrella could probably read that last sentence and easily picture in their heads, how an umbrella would look doing all those things.

Structurally, the game is pretty standard: beat up enemies and score points until you find the stage's exit, then do that on the next stage and so on, with a boss every few stages, and a Darius-esque map of branching paths after each boss giving an extra incentive to come back a few more times after completing the game. But what happens in the stages, and how it happens is the game's main draw. Stages are designed so that something is pretty much always happening, whether it's enemies being fought, items being collected, flowers growing from the platforms the player stands on, or stuff in the background exploding in reaction to enemies being killed, or any comibination of these (including all of them at once), and obviously, there are sound effects and visual cues accompanying evertything, along with an ever-increasing score.

All these stimuli come together to not only make the game feel fast-paced, but also to subtly encourage the player to keep moving, making more things happen, and doing it all as fast as they can. It makes the game a lot of fun to play, like a significantly less intense version of the feeling you might get while playing a shooting game like Crimzon Clover or Mushihimesama Futari.

It's a shame that Spica Adventure never got a home port, but not a surprise: there just wasn't much room for this kind of game on home consoles in 2005. It would have fit in great on the Dreamcast, not just because it's a high-quality action game from the arcades, but because its brightly coloured, simple-but-sharp aesthetic evokes the visual styles of games like Chu Chu Rocket and Space Channel 5, among others. It would also have been the Dreamcast's only 2D platform game (as far as I know) until Gunlord came along in 2012, but as we all know, the big companies had all long since abandoned the DC by then.

Since it runs on the Taito Type X hardware, which is essentially just a PC in an arcade cabinet, you'd think that Spica Adventure (and pretty much every other Type X game that doesn't require some kind of specialist controller) would be a prime candidate for an official PC release, but obviously, Taito's masters at Square-Enix disagree.