Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Cyber Dodge (PC Engine)

It's an odd title, Cyber Dodge, as though it's definitely a dodgeball game, the "Cyber" part isn't as apt. I guess it's meant to imply that it's a futuristic, cyberpunk kind of dodgeball game (and or some unknown reason, GameFAQs lists the name literally as "Cyberpunk Dodgeball", which sounds like the kind of re-naming the game might have got if it had had a westrn Turbografx-16 release. Except it didn't as far as I can tell, so I guess GameFAQs pulled that name out of the ether?

Rather than a specific cyberpunk theme, the theming in Cyber Dodge is a random mishmash of various sci-fi and fantasy archetypes. There's the protagonist team for single player mode, who are generic guys in futuristic american football armour, and their opponents include teams of gladiators, skeletons, aliens (sadly not Giger knock-offs, despite what their team logo would have you believe), robots, ninja, and long-bearded levitating wizards. Each team also has its own themed arena, and each arena has its own themed ball! For example, the skeleton team plays in a museum full of dinosaur bones, where they throw a skull around, while the ninja team makes its home in one of those Japanese gardens with the big rocks and meticulously raked sand, with a moss-covered spherical rock as their ball. It's a nice little touch.

But is the game any good? Kind of. As dodgeball games go, they're pretty much all the same, mechanically: you throw the ball at the other team, they throw it at you, with good timing you can catch a thrown ball, and there's also running and jumping too.  There's also the usual special power shots, unique to each team, though I've yet to figure out how to consistently pull any of them off. There is, however, one big flaw in Cyber Dodge: it's totally unbalanced. In single player mode, you fight all the opponent teams in the same order every time, and as well as getting better at playing dodgeball as you go through them, the later teams also have more health and do more damage. The problem with this is that it carries through to the free play modes. So no two teams are on equal footing, and the wizards team have a distinct and significant advantage over all the others, being the last team faced in single player mode.

So in summary, Cyber Dodge has inconsistent, nonsensical theming, it's brutally difficult in single player mode, and it's unfair to the degree of being totally pointless in two player mode. But it does look pretty nice! So make your own mind up whetheror not you want to play it. But remember, the PC Engine also has a Kunio-Kun dodgeball game, and a game based on the anime Honoo no Toukyuuji@ Dodge Danpei, and while I've yet to play either of them, it's a pretty safe bet to say that at least the Kuino game will be better than this one.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Unknown Soldier - Mokuba no Houkou (DS)

There were probably three big audiences for the original DS: there were the little kids, who had piles and piles of licenced shovelware based on CGI movies thrust upon them, there were the anime nerds, who had piles and piles of other licenced games, along with a ton of RPGs and visual novels and so on, and the old people, who were enticed with puzzle compilations and IQ tests. Not much was done to entice the types of people who were, at the time, playing a lot of first- and third-person shooters based on real-life conflicts on the PS2 and XBox. Tamsoft saw that gap in the market, and made two attempts at appealling to it, first with The Simple DS Series Vol. 21: The Hohei ~Butai de Shutsugeki! Senjou no Inu~, and again with Unknown Soldier, which is a sequel to The Hohei in all but name. Oddly, neither game was released outside Japan, despite the obvious appeal they'd both have in the west.

Unknown Soldier, like its predecessor, is a full-3D third person shooter set during World War II, with a simple mission-based structure. The missions are about 10-20 minutes long each, and they all pretty much consist of the same thing: walk to the next checkpoint, killing nazis along the way. Simplicity in this case is a good thing, though, as it means there's no barrier at all to players who lack Japanese literacy.

The controls are somewhat similar to yet another Tamsoft DS game that I've covered here before, The Simple 2000 Series Vol. 39: The Shouboutai: you move around with the d-pad or face buttons (depending on your dominant hand, of course), and you turn and aim by dragging the stylus around a box on the touch screen. The touch screen also has buttons for looking down your crosshairs, changing or dropping weapons, reloading, and situational commands, like planting bombs or crouching behind sandbag walls. The shoulder buttons are both used to shoot.

Though the genre and setting wouldn't usually appeal to me, I have to say that Unknown Soldier is still pretty good. It's as technologically impressive as Tamsoft's other DS releases (I don't know how or why, but this small company mainly known for budget games consistently managed to get really good 3D graphics out of the original DS), it's pretty fun to play, and the sniper rifle is as satisfying as spiner rifles often tend to be. Though it is a little too satisfying, maybe: once you get access to sinper rifles a couple of stages in, you'll find that they're a lot more effective than your other weapons, at both long and short ranges, with or without using the scope.

Though the game has it's unrealistic touches, like your own character's regenerating health, or enemies suddenly appearing out of nowhere when you get to a checkpoint, it does also have one little bit of realism, that's usually ignored in 3D shooters: if you manually reload before finishing a clip, the bullets in the unfinished clip will be lost. Another nice little detail is one that reveals that there was at least one wrestling fan on the development team: you can pick from three playable soldiers, and they're named (despite the game's title suggesting otherwise) S. Austin, A. Anderson, and F. Goodish. The first two are obvious references, the third is a little less well known, referring to the real name of Bruiser Brody, Frank Goodish.

Unknown Soldier is a game I feel pretty safe in recommending. It's a competent entry into a genre that doesn't have much representation on the DS, and popping off nazis with the rifle is both fun and satisfying. As an extra note, there's a PS2 version of this game's Simple Series predecessor, Simple 2000 Series Vol. 102: The Hohei ~Senjou no Inutachi~ did actually get a PAL release under the title Covert Command. It's a bit simpler than Unknown Soldier, and it obviously doesn't have the novelty appeal of being on the DS, but you might be interested in having a look at it.