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.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Net Yaroze Round-Up Vol.8!

Earth Saves Our Love (Taro Kamon, 1998)
A fairly minimalist shooting game that has you controlling a swivelling cannon at the bottom of the screen. Satellites fall from above, and if three hit the bottom of the screen, it's game over. The challenge mainly comes from the fact that your cannon is very slow-firing, so you have to time your shots well to hit the falling  satellites. Furthermore, holding the fire button charges your shots, and if hit with enough force, satellites can smash into each other, saving you a bit of work.

Jagot (Unknown Creator, 1998)
Jagot has two modes: classic and fishy. Classic mode is a fairly generic, no-frills Tetris clone, albeit one with an absurdly wide playing field and awkward controls (everything is done with the d-pad, with up rotating pieces, and down instantly setting them into place at the bottom of the pit). Fishy mode is more original, though unfortunately, significantly less fun to play.
It's the same "wide Tetris" as classic mode, except that you no longer have direct control over the falling pieces. Instead, you move a fish around, and try to nudge the pieces into place. It's novel, but not fun. Also, there's a glitch whereby the pieces sometimes sink through the bottom of the pit and reappear at the top, causing an instant game over when the next piece spawns.

Magical Millie (KBO, 1997)
A cute little single-screen platformer in which you play as the eponymous Millie, a witch dressed in red. It's pretty basic stuff, really: collect the key and get to the door while killing enemies and avoiding their attacks. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it is fun to play. I assume the game's unfinished, as there's no music or sound effects, and the presentation is somewhat rough around the edges, but Magical Millie is still a game that's worth a bit of your time.

NanaTan (KRD/Yousuke Kuroda, 1997)This is a cute tank-based shooting game with really nice shaded polygon graphics. It's also very simple to play: just drive up the screen shooting enemies and avoiding their fire. Unfortunately, all of NanaTan's positive qualities are outweighed by the fact that it's brutally difficult, and on top of that, only gives you one life. A real shame.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Willy Wombat (Saturn)

The early years of the 32-bit era were a time of great experimentation. The advent of decent texture-mapped 3D on home consoles meant developers were trying to find new genres that wouldn't have been previously possible, and finding ways to take old genres into the third dimension. Willy Wombat falls into the latter category, being an attempt at making a 3D mascot platformer. Unfortunately, I think it came out a year or two too late to be a big success: by 1997, the animal mascot fad had pretty much completely died down, the Saturn was already mostly abandoned in the west, and, to be brutally honest, compared to its contemporaries, WW would have looked pretty ugly and old hat, with its pre-rendered sprites on drably-coloured 3D stages look.

Like you've probably figured out, it's a 3D platformer, about the eponymous wombat. What you might not expect is that he's an ex-cop on the run from the totalitarian regime he once served, and is also searching ancient ruins for six magic gems. The camera is always high above the stage, and can be rotated with the shoulder buttons. You have melee attacks and the ability to throw boomerangs, which can be used to collect items as well as defeat foes.

It's  a shame for a couple of reasons. The first is that the character designs were done by Susumu Matsushita, of Famitsu magazine fame, and all look pretty cool in their cutscene portaits and other art, even if their actual sprites are kind of blobby. Secondly, it was clearly made with a view to a worldwide release,  with all the cutscenes having full english voice acting, and the main character looking like a mix of Sonic, Indiana Jones and Batman. On the other hand, had it got a worldwide release, there's a good chance it wouldn't have gotten the best reception.

Willy Wombat is a game with problems that go beyond the slightly ugly graphics. Mainly, it's incredibly frustrating to play. The stages are huge, full of enemies, puzzles, traps and pitfalls, so obviously, some of the difficulty is down to deliberate design, which is fine. Unfortunately, everything you do (or try to do) ingame is made all the harder because of how the game works. It's sometimes hard to be sure you're facing in the exact right direction to hit an enemy or dodge a trap or jump over a pit. In fact, fighting crowds of enemies is usually best done by standing still and repeatedly firing while rotating the camera with the shoulder buttons to aim.

Willy Wombat is a game I really tried my hardest to like, but eventually, I just couldn't suck up the frustration any more, and it began to sprout into boredom as I fruitlessly wandered round a stage, looking for the next place to go to. It's just not fun enough to stick with, unfortunately.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Mimi in The Sky (X Box 360)

 Along with zombie-themed Minecraft knock-offs and creepy photo-based dating sims, twinstick shooters are one of the most common genres on X Box Live Indie Games (how odd it is typing that in the knowledge that before long, we'll only be able to refer to it in the past tense. I really hope we don't lose the ability to play the games we've bought). Most of them don't really have any way of standing out from the crowd, though there are some exceptions. Early example I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 stood out despite the tired zombies premise through its unique " dancefloor at a dingy rock club" atmosphere. Mimi in the Sky is another one that stands out, though its unique nature lies more in its mechanics.

You see, the game's main hook is that it's a twinstick shooter with the design sensibilities of an arcade shooter, if not the prodction values (though that's obviously forgivable considering the circumstances of its existence). Like a lot of Japanese shooters in this post-Touhou world, you play as a flying little girl, beset from all sides by ghosts, witches, flying squirrels and other enemies. As you destroy them, two things happen. The most immediately obvious is that they release a load of grey numbers. These are points items, the bigger the number, the more the points. Also, the closer you are to the enemy when they're detroyed, the bigger the numbers will be. The other thing is that a meter at the bottom will gradually fill up.

When that meter's full, you can use the right trigger to perform a dash. The dash is a useful move, it provides a split-second of invulnerability and destroys any enemies through which it passes, no matter how big. Destroying enemies by dashing fills up yet another meter, which is activated as soon as it fills, starting fever mode. Fever mode offers no perks regarding your ability to destroy enemies or avoid their attacks, but instead vastly increases the scoring potential. While fever mode is in effect, the grey numbers will be multicoloured, and worth vastly more points.

As the game goes on, bigger and stronger enemies appear, and from the point at which the large witches floating in the foetal position appear, you can stay in fever mode almost continuosly (as dashing through one of them is enough to completely fill the meter). Shortly after this happens, though, the game gets a lot more dangerous, as thicker hordes of smaller enemies start appearing, along with enemies that fire aimed lasers that go right across the playing field, as well as enemies that fire rings of revenge bullets in every direction and so on.

Mimi in the sky is a pretty good game. It's no threat to Chieri no Doki Doki Yukemuri Burari Tabi's crown at the top of XBLIG shooting games, but it's worth the 69p it costs to buy it. It's listed with its title in Japanese, so to save you the bother of trying to find it yourself, here's the link.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Tomba! (Playstation)

It's April Fools day again (Or the 30th of March if you're a patreon subscriber)! I liked doing the Soul Calibur V post last year, so I'm making a tradition of these annual non-obscure game posts!
If it was released today, Tomba (or Tombi in Europe) would be called a metrovania (or metroidvania for people who like words with awkward stops in the middle of them). It's a platform game with RPG elements and a big explorable world in place of seperate linear stages. Obviously, the genre existed before either Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night existed, but those were the two that made it popular, blah blah et cetera.  
Though it wasn't anywhere near as popular as either of those two games, Tomba was fairly popular in its day, and it's remembered fondly by everyone who played it. If it was more popular, or if design traits were more of a factor in coming up with these names, Tomba would have part of its name in that awkward portmanteau alongside the works of Nintendo and Konami. The reason I say this is because the three games represent three different styles of RPG being turned sideways and played all platform-like.  
Metroid represents a simple, Zelda-esque style of RPG, with the player character getting stronger and opening new areas being based on the finding of certain items, and in which each item has a specific intended use. Symphony of the Night represents a more typical Japanese RPG, with lots of stats and experience points and all kinds of different weapons and armour and other equipment. So what does Tomba represent? Western-style RPGs, series like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. 
This might sound ridiculous, but it's true! The crux of this lies in Tomba's mission system. Like in a large, open-world western RPG, Tomba picks up missions and side-missions and so on as he wanders the world looking for the Koma Pigs and hid Grandfather's bracelet. Also like those games, new missions can be triggered in a variety of different ways: talking to characters, finding items, entering new areas, and so on. 
Also like those games, some missions will be over almost as soon as they begin (or, in some cases, a particularly thorough player can finish a mission before they've triggered the start of it), and some missions can be started near the start of the game and not come fully into fruition much later in the game. 
So yeah, that's an aspect of this game that I've never seen anyone else acknowledge, and I think it's a shame that it's one that hasn't really found a place in the greater DNA of the metrovania species.