Saturday, 27 November 2021

Hang On GP (Saturn)

 There's a couple of things I need to say to start this review off. The first is that you'll probably notice from the screenshots that the emulation for it is far from perfect, and there's a fair bit of graphical glitching. However, it does seem to run at full speed, and plays totally fine, as far as I can tell. The other thing is that it's also known as Hang On GP 95 and Hang On GP 96. Yes, they are all the same game.


When I remembered recently that there was a 3D Hang On game for the Saturn that I'd never played, I was excited. I'm a big fan of Hang On, Super Hang On, and even the minor oddity Hang On Jr., a port of the original to lower-powered hardware, presumably for arcade operators on a tight budget, and Was interested to see a version with some nice mid-90s low poly graphics. I was pretty disappointed, then, when I loaded up Hang On GP and rather than the old formula of racing against the clock to reach checkpoints on long, linear road tracks, you are instead in a more standard racing scenario, racing laps around looped tracks against other riders.


It's not a bad game, though. It's fast and it plays fine (though considering that it's a Saturn original rather than an arcade port, you'd think they would have made it control a little better with a D-pad), and it looks great, especially considering how early a release it is. There's a lot of pop-up, especially on the city stage, but that's forgivable. The aesthetics are really nice: it takes the stereotypse of "SEGA blue skies" and really runs with it. The stages take place on a tropical island (complete with a row of moai heads!), the Great Wall of China, and a generic modern city, and they all look great, and like places you'd really want to go to.


Hang On GP isn't a great game, and I'd even go as far as to say it was a disappointment. But it's not a bad game, either. I do vaguely remember it being universally panned in magazines at the time, but that's definitely understandable: the early days of the Saturn had a lot of similar racing games, a lot of which were first party like this one, and almost all of them were not only better than Hang On GP, but they also had the allure of being arcade ports in their favour.

Friday, 19 November 2021

TAMA: Adventurous Ball in Giddy Labyrinth (Playstation)

 I had originally planned to review the Saturn version of this game, since on that console it was a launch title, and I thought it'd be interesting to see a Saturn launch title that wasn't a port of one of SEGA's arcade hits. But that version doesn't really emulate very well, so I settled for the Playstation version instead. As far as I know, they're pretty much the same game though, and it was a launch game for both systems, so it's not too big a compromise.


In the early days of the 32-bit consoles, there were a lot of games that saw developers trying to figure out how classic genres would work in 3D: what changes would need to be made for practical reasons, and what innovations would be birthed from the newly discovered Z-axis. 3D Lemmings and the Bug games being two high profile (at the time) failed experiments. TAMA is another experiment, essentially taking the old Taito ball-in-a-rotating-maze arcade game Cameltry and putting it in 3D. There aren't really any compromises that need to be made to make the concept work, and there are two main innovations brought in.


Before I describe them, I should explain the game, for those who aren't familiar with Cameltry. ach stage is a maze with a ball in it. You've got to get the ball to the goal before time runs out. In Cameltry, you could only rotate the maze left and right, while being in 3D allows TAMA to also offer the ability to tilt the maze in any direction, giving the player a lot more potential precision in controlling the ball's speed and direction. The other big hange is simpler and more obvious: the stages are multi-layered and see you going up and down ramps, riding moving platforms across gaps, and so on.


As for how the game itself is: it's pretty good. I love the way it looks, the very low-poly models and simple textures really work for the toy-like setting, and the physics never feel weird, which is crucial in a game like this. It's not going to blow your mind, but it's a mildly amusing distraction, executed as well as it could have been. The only real negative point I have to make is that Stage 2-2, very early into the game, has a point near the end that's completely unforgiving and needs perfect execution. It took me something like half an hour and many attempts to get past this stage, and then it was plain sailing for the next twenty or so stages, so it's a weird little difficulty spike.


TAMA is a nice little game, and the fact that it was a launch title for two competing consoles released only a few weeks apart makes it an interesting historical footnote, too. It even managed to get reviewed in a few US and UK magazines as a result of this, though they weren't particularly impressed (though to be fair, I definitely wouldn't be recommending anyone play it if mid90s import prices were the barrier to doing so).