Sunday, 31 May 2015

Bujingai (PS2)

There's pretty much one thing everyone knows about this game, if they know anything about it at all, and that's that famous Japanese musician/actor/general celebrity Gackt lent his likeness to the main character, Lau Wong. The thing is, Lau mostly just looks like what you would picture in your head if someone asked you to imagine the young male protagonist of a Japanese-developed PS2 game. The game's set in a lavishly realised world that combines the aesthetics of a near-future cyberpunk world with those of stereotypical Chinese wuxia fantasy, and it's a fast-paced 3D platform/beat em up. In fact, my friend who lent me his copy for this review described it to me as "the game he wished Devil May Cry was".

It is definitely very similar to the Devil May Cry series, especially the third entry, whos release date it preceds by over a year. You go about the levels, swordfighting monsters and demons and the like, as well as doing a bit of platforming here and there. Gackt aside, the game's real gimmick is how it incorporates that aforementioned wuxia influence in both its combat and its platforming.

At its most basic, the combat is similar to most 3D beat em ups: you mash a button to perform combos, hold a shoulder button to lock onto a single enemy, and use the jump button while locked on to roll around and dodge. The attack animations are very stylised, with Lau flipping and spinning and generally engaging in lots of movement and acrobatics while performing even his most basic combos, but the game really comes into its own when fighting an opponent who also weilds a sword and has their own defence meter. When you're locked onto an enemy, if you're not attacking when they attack you, their attack is parried, and you can then counter by quickly attacking, which depletes your defence meter, but only very temporarily. When facing an enemy who also has this skill, the fight turns into a dramatic clash of flailing swords and counters countering counters and so on, and it does a good job of making combat feel and look really cool and fun.

As for the platforming, the wuxia influence is really just a spin on the old wall-running gimmick, just animated in a way that looks nicer, and of course, the skilled player can also jump and flip off of walls on which they are running, and start running on a nearby wall. It takes some practice, but like the combat, it's a small, simple thing that just makes playing the game a little bit more satisfying.

Bujingai is a game that definitely recieves my recommendation. It looks great, sounds great and it's both fun and satisfying to play. A quick look at ebay also tells me that it's available for only a few mere pounds, too!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Blank Blood (PC)

The first thing you should probably know about Blank Blood is that it was made by and for people with an interest in a certain specialist genre of entertainment called "ryona", whose main focus is pretty girls coming to severe physical harm. It's not an interest I share, but luckily, the developers of this game weren't so consumed by their interests that they forgot to make an actual game to put them in.

It's an exploratory platform game (you could call it a Metrovania, though as far as I can tell, there's no kind of levelling up or acquisition of skills or abilities), in which a knife-weilding young woman and a gun-toting schoolgirl explore a large dungeon in search of treasure. I actually like the treasure hunting aspect: each treasure chest you find has a unique item, which are all worth a different amount of points, and they all also have little descriptions (though the descriptions are in Japanese, it's the thought that counts). The controls feel a little weak at first, but once you get used to the slightly odd collision detection and the fact that almost every gap requires a double jump, you'll be fine.

The dungeon is, of course, filled with many kinds of monsters and traps, and though the monsters start out as pretty standard fare (snakes, carnivorous plants, slimes, etc.), as you start to get a bit further in, there are some very strange, alien-looking creature lurking about. Though, the same strategy is applied to beating most of them: just repeatedly attack, and they'll probably die long before your health is low. Some of the enemies have more dangerous grapple-style attacks, that requires quick hammering of the attack button to escape, and some of these have their own unique death animations too. For example, falling into a carnivorous plant's mouth and failing to get free results in your character being shown getting digested inside the plant.

Actually, had the game's website not pointed out that it was made with the intention of attracting ryona enthusiasts as an audience, it could easily get away with being considered a 2D platform game with a lot of different animations for the main characters and more gore than usual. Different types of damage each have their own sprites, and there's also a lot of quite gory death animations, the one that most sticks in my mind is the one seen when the player dies from being impaled by a spear shooting up from the ground, leaving them twitching with the spear sticking right through their torso. Both characters also have different idle stances depending on how much remaining health they have.

There is a big downside to Blank Blood though (aside from the obvious, of course): the difficulty is not at all balanced. Certain traps seem completely impossible to get by unscathed, though there is a kind of fix, in the form of an invincibility "Debug Mode", that can be turned on and off at any time by pressing the Delete key on your keyboard, it still feels a bit weak. It's hard to say whether or not I recommend Blank Blood. It's not some nice spritework, and it's not terrible to play, but it's also a bit sleazy and there are many, many other exploration-based platformers that are much better than it. I guess it all depends on how much grim curiosity you have?
 (Thanks to tumblr user acid-eater for bringing this game to my attention)

Monday, 18 May 2015

Zippy Race (SG-1000)

Zippy Race is port of an arcade game, though I'm reviewing the SG-1000 version for three reasons: I didn't know this until I'd already played the SG-1000 version quite a bit, it's been a while since an SG-1000 game was featured on this blog and I just like the way SG-1000 games look. Obviously, it's a racing game, and though it's a pretty simple one, it's also pretty clever. The race in question is a ninety participant contest taking place across the USA, from Los Angeles to New York with a few other cities visited along the way. One odd point, though, is that though the player is riding a motorbike, all the other racers are in cars.

The game is fit into five stages, with your position in the race carrying over from stage to stage. Your bike's fuel tank serves as both a time limit and a health bar, and there are fuel tanks dotted around the stages to slightly replenish it. This being an old arcade game, there's also points to score, and I do like the various ways Zippy Race allows players to score points. The main two methods revolve around your position in the race: whenever you overtake a car, if overtaking that car puts you in a higher position than you've had at any prior point in the race, you get 500 points. Also, at the end of each stage, a big long chart of possible positions comes up, and bonus points are awarded based on your position on that chart. This also fulfills an even more important function than points: for every hundred points you get here, a small amount of fuel is replenished.

That leads into an example of the mechanical simplicity I love in this game, and how it all ties together so well: when you crash, you lose a chunk of your fuel bar and two cars will always pass you. When cars pass you, obviously your position in the race goes down, potentially affecting you end-of-stage bonus and the extra fuel that comes with it, but also stops you from getting points for passing cars until you've regained and surpassed your pre-crash position. This kind of simple, intertwined mechanic that effectively seperates good players from bad is something I really like, and I think works great in this game.

The game has five stages of two types: three of them take place in rural-looking environments and two in the desert. These two types of stage have their own set of obstacles and features, though they are all differently laid out from each other. The rural stages tend to have lots of bends and forks in the road, with not much else, while the desert stages have boulders and cacti strewn about the place, along with narrow bridges across rivers, and a much more generous supple or fuel cans and points items than the rural stages.

There is one thing I don't like at all in Zippy Race, however. At the end of each stage, there's a short psuedo-3D section, with a simple representation of a city in the background. These sections are just straight, featureless road on which the player avoids cars, but the sticking point is that they act like a kind of anti-bonus stage. You don't get any points or increase in rank for passing these cars, but you fuel is still depleting and you still get the penalty for crashing.

I liked this game a lot. As I've already said, the simple mechanics and they way they all weave together into a fun game really hooked me. I definitely recommend giving it a shot!
(This game is also known as MotoRace USA, Traverse USA and Mototour)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Yuureikun (MSX)

This is a fairly deceptive game, as though it might look like a platformer in screenshots, Yuureikun is actually more like a shooting game. Going by strict definitions, it doesn't really fit into either category perfectly, as it's fairly unique. The player controls a little boo-like ghost, who floats about, avoiding bullets, killing enemies and all that other shooting game stuff.

The main difference is in your methods of attack, of which there are two: the first and most damaging is a weird backwards thrust attack that is limited by a long meter above your health bar, and is also the only way to break blocks (which I'll come back to. The second is a small fireball that floats next to you and can be sent out in front of you to attack before slowly making its way back to you. This attack kind of reminds me of Twinbee's fists, though it's slower and less effective.

Enemies drop coins upon death, and it actually took until my second go to work out what these coins were for. As I mentioned before, your backwards thrust attack can be used to smash certain blocks, some will be obvious and some not so much. Hidden inside some of these blocks are power-ups, such as health restorers and time-stoppers, though it's not possible to simply collect them as you like, as every power up you find has a cost attatched in Yen, that gets deducted upon collection. Rarer than the power-ups are little "doorway with a staircase inside" icons, that lead to bonus stages that give the player a few seconds to quickly grab some money and try to find power-ups in the walls.

The uniqueness also applies to the boss fights, as every boss I've fought so far has had a different strategy to it, and oddly, the boss of the first stage was the most complicated so far: it's a face embedded into a cave wall, with enemies constantly coming out of its mouth. To defeat it, the player has to use their backwards thrust attack to send enemies flying into the face's eye.

Yuureikun isn't a super-exciting game, nor is it some lost, hidden classic. It is an above-average game, though, with the graphics and sound being of especially high quality, and though I wouldn't say to rush out and play it right now, I don't think you'd regret giving it a few goes if you're curious.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Kettou Beast Wars (Game Boy Color)

Before Crawfish's miraculous ports of Street Fighter Alpha (to the Game Boy Color) and Street Fighter Alpha 3 (to the Game Boy Advance), handheld fighting games outside of the Neo Geo Pocket had a pretty bad reputation, and in most cases, that reputation was deserved. But stretching back into the early-mid 1990s, Takara were publishing ports of SNK fighting games to the Game Gear and Game Boy that were often far better than their peers. A lot of those ports were made by another company named Gaibrain, and it's this partnership that also made this game, based on the Transformers Beast Wars Toyline and TV Shows.

Luckily, their talents aren't limited to ports, and not only is Kettou Beast Wars a game full of enough features to make some console fighting games look bare bones, but it's actually a good game, with every department excelling to the extent allowed by the host hardware. There's eight playable characters, as well as at least one boss character, which would be generous for a fighting game on an 8-bit system, but this being a Transformers game, each character can also transform at any time mid-battle. So each character has two full sets of animations, including movements, attacks and even seperate sets of specials for each form.

The characters that are most fun to play as are Megatron, because he turns into a T-Rex that breathes fire and does flying kicks, and Guiledart, who turns into a Triceratops and has some really awesome-looking throws in his robot form. Of course, the game's concept alone ensures there's some fun to be had no matter what characters are involved, since you can have a gorilla fight a tank at Stonehenge, or a cheetah fighting a squid on the beach.

Those modes I mentioned earlier are a typical one-on-one arcade-style mode, a team battle mode where the player can choose to play as the Maximals (faces) or the Predacons (heels), and something called "quick draw", which I couldn't really work out. There's also a couple of extra modes, like a mode full of text-heavy character profiles, and an odd mini-game, which sees the player hammering buttons to break gems out of a big rock.

Mechanically, it's not super-complex beyond the transformation gimmick (which is admittedly really cool). There's a meter at the bottom of the screen that has to be charged manually, which can be expended in a power-boosting "hyper mode", or on super-moves that I haven't been able to execute. Transformation doesn't have any kind of penalty or limitation, though: you can press select at pretty much any time that you're not taking or dealing damage to change form.

Presentation is pretty great, too, within limits. The sprites are tiny, but still manage to be pretty detailed and full of character and charm, and they're really well animated, too. Backgrounds are a little simple and bland, but the colour choices are attractive enough to make up for that in most cases. Some of the menu screens are a bit weak, being plain white text on a black background, though considering the relatively massive amount of stuff that's packed into such a small cartridge, it's fair enough to allow this concession.

Yeah, I definitely recommend Kettou Beast Wars, at least, if you're for some reason in the market for Game Boy Color fighting games.

Monday, 4 May 2015

GG Series Collection Plus (DS), Part 4

It's time for the final part of this long series of reviews, and it's covering the sports section of the cartridge. Don't worry, though, as apparently Genterprise are as lacking in enthusiasm for the subject as me, and some of these games really stretch the definition of a sports game.

Drift Circuit
A terrible racing game. All the cars are the exact same sprite in different colours. They aren't even properly animated, they just slide around and rotate. It's also incredibly slow-paced and tedious. The gimmick is that you can increase your speed by double-tapping a direction to drift, but this just feels awkward, and the boost isn't much, either.

This is a little odd. It's a futuristic gymnastics game starring what appears to be one of the cycloids from the Street Fighter EX series. You jump to grab on to bars, then swing round them and jump to other bars, collecting gems and trying to reach the exit. It's kind of frustrating when you miss, but otherwise this is a pretty fun game.

Throw Out
A weird soccer-like game starring teams of four fat little robots. It's not particularly interesting or noteworthy in any way.

Exciting River
A kayaking game with an interesting control scheme: the shoulder buttons are each assigned to one of the paddles. Tap them rhythmically and alternately to go straight ahead, and repeatedly tap one to turn in that direction. The player simply has to get to the end of the course before time runs out, and there's a bunch of courses to play through. It's fun to play even on the strength of the controls alone.

Run & Strike
A tennis/squash game featuring a girl hitting a ball at targets on a wall. It reminds me of the bonus games in SEGA's tennis games. Though it's not a bad game, it just didn't really grab me.

Air Pinball Hockey
Like you might guess from the title, this is a weird hybrid of pinball and air hockey. The way this turns out if pretty similar to an arkanoid clone, but with a smaller paddle that can move in all directions. The stages all have different goals, like scoring a certain amount of points or destroying a bunch of targets, and you get a fresh set of lives for each stage, too. This is easily the best game n the sports section, though that does feel a little like damning with light praise.

Uchuu Race
Dissapointing, this one. You drive a spaceship round various short tracks as fast as possible, and touching the sides adds seconds onto your time. There's no opponents at all, and though it looks nice, there's not really much substance to it.