Saturday, 7 January 2017

Annet Futatabi (Mega CD)

For some reason, Wolf Team were very prolific on the Mega CD, whether they were porting other companies games, like Road Avenger and Thunderstorm FX, or making their own stuff, like this game. Annet Futatabi is the third part of a trilogy that also includes the Mega Drive games Earnest Evans and El Viento. Unlike those games, though, it's not a platformer, but a belt-scrolling beat em up, one of very few Mega CD beat em ups that aren't arcade ports.

As a Japanese Mega CD title, it's pretty much par for the course: it's an action game of the sort that the base Mega Drive could have played host to, but with the addition of CD audio, full screen animated cutscenes (in the "animated pixel art" non-FMV style I've spoken of in  a few other reviews, most notably the Saturn game Dinosaur Island) and voice acting. And all of those things are great! The cutscenes are very reminiscent of 80s/early 90s period-adventure anime, like The Secret of Blue Water, and so on. There's even a nice anime-style intro, complete with vocal theme song!

Of course, great presentation is something of a common theme throughout Wolf Team's games, especially when they're working on CD-based systems. Unfortunately, another running theme is "almost greatness", and Annet Futatabi is no exception. It has all the ingredients for being an unsung classic of the system (and, to be honest, most of the system's classics can be considered unsung, thanks to the received opinion that "the Mega CD was worthless"): it's a fairly nice-looking beat em up, with a cool setting, a female lead and great presentation, plus it's a system exclusive. You can probably guess from the tone of this paragraph so far that it doesn't quite work out like that, though.

And you'd be right to guess that! Though there are some nice little things about how the game plays: the fact that you can run in eight directions, and that you do have a moderately sizable moelist, it all falls apart due to how unfair the difficulty is. Firstly, when enemies attack, their hitbox seems to be bigger than their entire sprite, not just the part of them that's attacking, and it seems to still be in effect for a few frames after the attack animation's finished. So for anyone used to more competently-constructed beat em ups, who might instinctively go in for a throw or combo as soon as an enemy's attack finishes will have to counterintuitively learn to wait a little, slowing the game down and ruining the flow. There's also the fact that you have a big bomb attack that recharges over time, so it can be used multiple times over the course of a single stage. The problem is that when the stage's boss appears, your bomb attack disappears and you can't use it. This just makes no sense at all! I can't imagine what they were thinking when they made that decision, especially due to the fact that bosses suffer (or rather, they benefit?) from the "giant attack hitbox problem just as much as the regular enemies, and they're a lot bigger than normal enemies already.

I really wanted to like this game, and I tried to get some kind of joy from it, but it's just an awkward, frustrating slog. When I got to the third stage, an underground ancient temple full of robots with ranged attacks and the ability to turn invincible without warning, I gave up on it. It's a shame.

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