Thursday, 18 December 2014

Hi no Tori Hououhen (MSX)

I'll admit something here before I start: despite all the critical acclaim it gets, I've never read or watched any version of Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix series, upon which this game is based. In fact, before playing this game, the most contact I'd had with it was the cameos in the excellent GBA game Astro Boy Omega Factor. But from what I gather, the series is some kind of great philosophical work. Though none of that gets through into the game, which is a vertically scrolling shooter, it's still pretty unique in its own right.

The unique factor is that Hi no Tori adds an element of exploration to the mix. Exploration in a scrolling shooter might be hard to fathom, but it does work fairly well. The stages only scroll upwards, but they do loop vertically, and there are exits to the left and right at certain points, essentially making each stage a collection of interlinked sub-stages.

The player spends each stage seeking out stone tablets, each marked with kanji, which open gates marked with the same kanji, until one of those gates leads to the stage's boss fight. Boss fights take place in their own seperate, non-scrolling stage, a cool-looking cave made of skulls. The game looks pretty great in general, easily one of the best-looking MSX games I've seen, up there with Aleste 2.

It's technically sound, too, with your shots coming out pretty much as fast as you can press the fire button and Takahashi Meijin-esque displays of button-hammering prowess are a skill worth developing for this game, as a fair few of the enemies are mild bullet sponges, while others might be weak, but attack in thick, aggressive formations. Most of the power-ups are typical of shooting games of the era: improving the range of the player's shots, increasing the player's movement speed, etc., but one odd point is that there's two different kinds of invincibility item: one that causes enemies to die on contact while in effect, and one that doesn't.

Hi no Tori is a pretty good game, that's unique and it looks great, though it is very difficult. Not to the sadistic level of Evil Stone, but its difficulty definitely lives up to the stereotype carried by late 80s shooting games. I'd say it's definitely worth a look if you're curious.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Evil Stone (Arcade)

Evil Stone is an odd game. It's a beat em up, but rather than taking place on a traditional scrolling path, it takes place on grids of floating rocks. Furthermore, it's a beat em up in which the player has no kind of health counter, and can theoretically take an endless number of hits without dying. Obviously, the catch is that the player instead dies by being knocked back into an empty space and falling to their death. The player can move in four directions, and there are only two action buttons: jump and attack, though jump can be pressed twice to jump two spaces instead of one, and attack can be held for a second or two for a more powerful and longer-ranged charge attack. Aesthetically it's quite interesting, too, as the plot deals with the gates of hell opening, and demons flooding heaven and earth, and the designers seem to have been influenced by both western and Asian visions of hell and its inhabitants, with a slightly stronger emphasis on the Asian.

The game starts with a moderately easy stage to introduce its concepts, though in this case "moderately easy" is relative and should be interpreted as "somewhat less sadistic than what is to come", as you probably won't even reach the boss on your first attempt. A useful thing to know, though, is that you should grind the goblin/demon enemies at the start of the stage until you collect enough power-ups to turn your charge attack into a projectile, otherwise the boss will be almost impossible to beat, if you manage to get that far without projectiles.

After the first stage, any kindness the game may once have shown the player will be thrown out of the window. There will be jumping puzzles, tests of agility, and periods of aggressive bombardment by respawning enemies. Sometimes there will even be jumping puzzles that test the player's ability while they are also being aggressively bombarded by respawning enemies. I had to do some credit feeding to get a couple of stages in, so that I could take some more varied screenshots, but some way into stage 3, I just had to give up altogether.

Despite the fact that Evil Stone is undeniably a cynically designed money-grabbing credit muncher, and despite the insane, sadistic difficulty, it is still technically a fair game. Or at least, I'm fairly certain that theoretically, someone with inhuman skill at playing videogames could possibly have a chance at finishing the game on a single credit after decades of practice. Which, although the difficulty of Evil Stone means that you could never accurately describe it as a fun game, it is at least in a higher league than "pay-to-win" mobile phone/facebook game scams. I still don't recommend playing it though, except as a curiosity.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Net Yaroze Round-Up Volume 5!

Katapila (Ben James, 2003)
This is a really simple game, you play as a bouncing ball and you jump onto ever-higher plaftorms, while trying not to fall off the bottom of the screen. It's the opposite of the games that were pretty commonly found on pre-smartphones in which the player's character had to fall onto platforms as the screen descends. There's also difficulty levels, which affect the speed of the screen scrolling, the speed of the ball's movement, and whether or not platforms disappear fter having been jumped on. It's an okay game, but nothing really special in any department.

Manic X (Tuna Technologies, 1997)
Another simple one, and an idea that's seemingly as old as homebrew games and romhacking itself: it's Pac-Man with some variations. Those variations in this case being different mazes for each stage, and the fact that the food items have been replaced with randomly appearing power-ups such as invisibility potions, dynamite that instantly kills all the ghosts, and so on. It's also pretty nice looking, it looks just like an Amiga game! The only real problem with it is that it seems to be a little unfinished: there's no music or sound, and once the player runs out of lives, the game just quits back to the Yaroze main menu.

Terra Incognita (Mitsuru Kamiyama, Shintaro Tajima, Kunikatsu Tachi, 1998)
Terra Incognita is a game that doesn't really fit on an obscure games blog, as it's by far the most well-known Net Yaroze game, but it is so well-known that it's monolithic and almost synonymous with the system. For those who don't know it, there's two main reasons it's so well-remembered: the first is the legendary English translation of the script, and the second is the fact that the production values are so far beyond anything else done on the Yaroze system. It's an action RPG about a guy going to a monster-infested island to seek out treasure. It's just typical action RPG stuff: hitting monsters and finding keys and so on, but obviously, the way it looks and sounds makes it something of a spectacle.  Also of interest to long-time readers of this blog is that the makers of Terra Incognita (collectively known as Team Fatal) also made the weird Fatal Fantasy VII demo.

Super Mansion/Yakata Plus (Tomukazu Sato, 1997)
So, this is apparently a port of a game from the FM Towns Marty, and it's kind of like Resident Evil, but without any monsters or combat, just puzzles and keys and the like. Unfortunately, it's all in Japanese, and I don't have the patience to stumble through an action-free adventure game like this. It all seems competently made, though, so the Japanese-literate and the patient might want to give it a look. Otherwise, there are also a few playthroughs on Youtube. While I was playing it to put it in this post, I noticed a poster on a wall in one of the rooms, which caught my interest.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information on it, though luckily, selectbutton forum members Dark Age Iron Savior and Takashi (who have both also helped researching stuff for posts on this blog in the past) were able to dig up more: The artist of the Brainax poster was a friend of the game's programmer, who, in times long since past, had a website, which is archived here, which contains more Brainax art, as well as other art for projects that unfortunately don't seem to have gone anywhere.