Friday, 26 May 2017

Binary Land (NES)

First, I should mention that I was sent a physical copy of this game as a gift, by patreon subscriber Matt Sephton. So thanks! Anyway, the thing with most maze games is that the maze itself isn't the main source of the challenge. It exists only as a confined place that you have to navigate round while avoiding enemies (and also ensuring that the enemies don't trick you into trapping you between them). The obvious reason for this is that a straight-up maze-solving videogame probably wouldn't be very fun, significantly less than solving mazes on paper, even. Still, the developers of Binary Land decided to have a shot at making a maze game about mazes, though they did it with a gimmick in mind that wouldn't have been possible on paper.

That gimmick is that the player controls two characters at the same time, with one of them having their horizontal controls reversed. They're each on opposing sides of a wall, which also has two different mazes at either side. The objective is to not only get the two penguin protagonists to the top of the screen, but they each have to occupy the spaces directly at each  side of a caged love heart at the top of the screen.

Obviously, there's various obstacles in their path, besides the difficulties you'll face in trying to get the two penguin lovers in just the right relative positions to end the stage. First off, there's spiders and their webs. You can kill the spiders and disperse their webs any time with your attack, though of course, you have to keep an eye on both sides of the screen all the time, as while one penguin is fighting off enemies, the other could be blindly walking into them. The webs are stationary, but if one of your penguins gets stuck in one, they're rendered totally immobile until the other comes over and gets them out.

Later on, more enemies appear, naturally. I've been able to get up to about stage fifteen or sixteen, and in that time, the spiders have been joined by birds, who can fly over the whole screen with no regard as to the walls, and, on contact, switch the positions of your characters. There's also little sentient fireballs, who slowly meander around the place, kill on contact, and unfairly, can't be killed.

Binary Land is a pretty good game, and as I said, it's fairly unique in that it's a maze game that's actually about solving mazes. It's also very cute, and one of those romance-themed games that were a thing in the mid-1980s and haven't really been since, so give it a try.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Autobahn Tokio (3DO)

A big problem for the 3DO is that it jumped the gun a bit. Releasing in 1993, it was far more impressive than its contempories like the the Phillips CDi (which apparently came out in 1991, though I think it took a couple of years for people to really notice it), Amiga CD32 and Atari Jaguar. Unfortunately, in 1994, the Saturn and Playstation came out and all those earlier attempts at starting a new console generation instantly looked ridiculous, like children wearing adult-sized clothes pretending to do grown-up things. The 3DO did try to keep up for a couple more years, however, and Autobahn Tokio is a clear attempt to compete with Daytona USA and Ridge Racer, the flagship racing games on the big two consoles. The problem is that all it really does is highlight the vast distance between the 3DO and SEGA and Sony's consoles.

Looking at still screenshots, you'll probably think it's a valiant effort, and it is: in terms of 3D modelling and quality of textures, this game's not too far behind Daytona. The real difference comes when you see it in motion. Now, I've mentioned a few times before that I have only disdain for the tedious pedants who leave bad reviews for games on steam based entirely on the framerate dipping slightly every now and then, but Autobahn Tokio at its best is slightly faster than a slideshow. It sometimes dips beneath this to become slightly slower than one. There's other, even worse presentational problems present, too. Like how to change the music track you race to, you have to go to the options screen in the main menu, but you can't actualy listen to the tracks while on that screen. Or how, after a race ends, all you get is a black screen with the word "winner" or "loser" on it before being booted back to the main menu (if you manage to get into the top ten best times for the track, you also go to the name entry screen, which is shamelessly ripped off from the one in Daytona USA).

It's not all bad, though. Despite its many faults, it does play pretty well. You have to take note that you need to pick any car other than the blue one, which is somehow so bad it actually drains the fun out of the game. But yeah, it's a pretty fun, simple racing game, that can actually feel pretty fast despite the framerate problems. There's three tracks too, which is more than the original Ridge Racer, and while two of them are pretty typical racing game settings (circuit in the country and city streets at night), the third has a bit more of a contemporary edge, being a twisty, turny mountain road like in Initial D and all those drift racing VHS magazines that modern-day vaporwave artists love so much. And yes, you can actually drift in this, and it's very easy to do: like in Outrun 2, you just let go of the accelerator, tap brake, then start holding the accelerator again.

So yeah, Autobahn Tokio isn't much competition for Daytona USA or Ridge Racer, and in trying to keep up with the Saturn and Playstation, all it really does is highlight how far behind the 3DO really was. But it isn't a terrible game, and it is an interesting technical display, at least.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Mabougirl Miracle Kurun (PC)

If you're smart enough to spot bi-ingual puns, you may have already guessed this game's main hook, which is one I'm suprised to have never encountered before: it's a combination of the old Irritating Stick/Kuru Kuru Kururin thing where you have to navigate a rotating stick through a maze without touching the sides and a danmaku-style shooting game. The pun of course being that the "cle" from "miracle" becomes "kuru" when transliterated into Japanese, and "kuru kuru" is a Japanese onomatopoeia for rotation.

Anyway, you play as a stick that you can move around, and also rotate either way at will, and you have to get through the stages without touching anything (obviously, unlike most modern shooting games, your hitbox is the same size as your ship, since that's the entire point of the game). All the while, bullets will be streaming from the wide sides of your stick, so you've got to juggle the rotation you do to avoid collisions and the rotation you do to try and kill enemies. Killing enemies also fills a meter, and at the press of a button, you can switch from your regular bullets to a powerful laser, that shoots out from the ends of your stick, and is not only more powerful than your normal shots, but also has a score multiplier attached to it that decreases as the meter depletes.

As you play through the stages, you collect gems to buy upgrades, like  increases to max HP, greater ranges of speed settings for both movement and rotation, and even alternative ships. Disappointingly, though, the alternate ships only have different weaponry to the default ship. I would have thought the game could present a whole new set of challenes if there were ships that were different shapes: shorter but fatter for example, or maybe even curved. For those worried about the purity of the arcade-style experience being affected by the upgrades, you can turn them off once unlocked. Furthermore, the game doesn't really have arcade-style progression. Instead, each stage is played individually with a new set of lives and a score that doesn't carry over into other stages. As an extra challenge, though, some upgrades can only be bought by spending a certain kind of gem that can only be obtained one at a time, and only by completing a stage without taking any damage at all.

Mabougirl Miracle Kurun is far from being my favourite game from the current Japanese indie scene, but it's even further from being the worst I've played, too. It's alright, I guess. It'd probably worth a buy if it ever gets released in some convenient form, but it's not worth using a proxy site to order a physical copy from Japan. Like I did. Doh.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Legend of Pong Lonng Fighter Sunny'na (PC98)

So, we've all seen the many many mahjong games that were the most hated thing in MAME until they decided to start including fruit machines (which aren't even playable, as they have no graphics), but until recently, I'd never actually played any of them. Using the helpful site Mahjong in MAME, I picked up some of the basics of how the game works, and since Legend of Pong Lonng Fighter Sunny'na is a simplified version of the game, and it has a cool fantasy theme with amazing pixel art, just like you expect from PC98 games, I decided this would be my first foray into tile-matching. (Also as you'd expect from PC98 games, there's sex and nudity tacked on that adds nothing of value to the game. So tacked on, in fact, that I can take plenty of screenshots and you'd think it was a totally clean game with some fanservicey character designs).

So, rather than explain mahjong to you, I'll just suggest you visit the aforementioned site to learn how it's played, and then forget most of that, since like I said, this is a simplified version. There's a much smaller variety of tiles, and the only thing you're aiming to do is make up three sets of three identical tiles. Each turn you gain a tile, either by drawing at random, or by taking the last tile your opponent discarded (though you can only do this if it's the last one you need to make a "tri", which is what this game calls Pon/Koutsu). Another difference is that the tiles aren't the traditional mahjong tiles, but instead have pictures of typical RPG monsters and items on them: dragons, slimes, swords, potions and so on.

Keeping with that RPG theme, all your opponents are sexy female versions of RPG monsters, with HP and MP. (Which you also have) MP is used to stack the deck in your favour before a round, or to take a look at your opponent's hand during the round. Victory in a game is attained by reducing your opponent's HP to zero, and vice versa. How much damage you do to your opponent when you've got three tris depends on what the tiles making up those tris are. Different monsters deal different amounts of damage (or sometimes heal your HP and MP), and if you're lucky enough to get two tris of the same tile, that'll result in a massive bonus to its effects. Another thing to take note of is that all the monster tiles have yellow or blue triangles in their bottom corners, and making a hand of all yellow monsters results in a powerful "El Dorado" attack, while all blue results in an "Evil Attack".

If you win, you go back to the simple "board" and move on to the next opponent (or, if you beat a boss, you see a dirty cutscene before moving on to the next board), if you lose it's game over, and of course, a dirty cutscene featuring your character. If you haven't played a mahjong game before, Legend of Pong Lonng Fighter Sunny'na is a great introduction, as long as you don't mind the occasionaly bit of dirty pixel art. It's even addictive enough to have had me staying up hours later than I should have a few nights ago! I'll probably even look into some "proper" mahjong games in the near future, I enjoyed this one so much.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Lightning Legend: Daigo no Daibouken (Playstation)

There was a nice little trend in the late 90s, of 3D fighting games being released on home consoles with no prior ties. That is, they weren't related to existing games franchises and they weren't ports of arcade fighters. Most of them never got much attention beyond small cult followings, maybe a geocities fansite here or there, and as a result, most of them never got sequels and are mostly forgotten. Daigo no Daibouken is one of those games.

As far as I can tell, it's a completely original creation: no anime license, no arcade version, nothing. But you wouldn't guess if you weren't told, as the presentation on all levels is amazing. Not only does the game itself look great (a point I'll get back to later), but it's a total package that must have either had a pretty high budget or been a labour of love for the developers. It starts right from the outset, with the game having probably the best character select screen I've ever seen, depicting a room with a large window with a cliff outside, and all the playable characters just hanging out in the room (and on the cliff). Then there's the gallery, where each character not only has a bunch of the usual character design art and so on associated with them, but bizarrely, they each also have a selection of lovingly drawn food items. It's just a great, complete package that makes the game feel like it's a part of an existing series, despite being a one game wonder.

As for how the game actually plays, you have to remember that a lot of these games fell into obscurity because while they were enjoyable enough games, they just weren't in the same league as the games coming to consoles from the arcade. Daigo no Daibouken is no different in that regard, but it does combine a few nice little touches from other games (some of which actually came out years after it) that give it its own feel. It uses a 3-button control scheme similar to more modern fare like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Blazblue. It also has an anime-style super meter that has to be charged manually by holding the taunt and strong attack buttons together. You can also easily put together cool-looking normal combos by mashing the weak and medium attack buttons. Blocking is a weird one in this game: as well as holding back to block, it seems that holding forward also blocks, and possibly also pressing an attack button at the exact time of impact ala Asuka 120% Burning Fest.

Going back to the in-game graphics, they're excellent. This little subgenre of fighting games has been getting attention in some circles recently, because of their colourful aesthetics and crazy character designs. While most of the characters in this game aren't as out-there as in other games, it's definitely very colourful, and the character models themselves look great. I don't know whether it's a case of excellent modelling, well-drawn textures or maybe both, but they look amazing.

All in all, Lightning Legend: Daigo no Daibouken is a pretty good game. It won't set your world on fire, but it's enjoyable enough, and a lot of love clearly went into making it.It's definitely worth a shot.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Hiho Densetsu: Chris no Bouken (PC Engine)

Sometimes, certain games get a reputation of being incredibly, unplayably difficult, accessible to only the most resilient of players. A few of these games deserve such a reputation, but in a lot of cases all the games really require is a slightly higher level of dexterity than most games, and maybe a little pattern recognition when it comes to facing off against enemies and bosses. Though there isn't a lot of english-language writing about Hiho Densetsu: Chris no Bouken floating around out there, what there is does tend to mention the game's difficulty.

It's apparently even considered a Kusoge in some circles, so, just like I inadvertently did with my Renny Blaster review, I'm going to have to buck the trend. I actually thought this game was pretty good! It's nothing special, but it is good enough. The difficulty is mostly just a result of tight design. Every enemy has a very specific set pattern it follows in its movements and attacks, and that includes the bosses. So once you figure those out for an enemy type, you can beat every other enemy of that type with ease. And you get five hit points per life, so it's not like the game's totally unforgiving in that respect.

Another unforgiving aspect is the time limit. Each stage has a certain number of "days" for it's time limit. These "days" are acually only about 20-30 seconds, and you tend to get between three and nine of them to get through the stage, leaving you with no time to meander, you really have to figure things out as quickly as possible, beat enemies with a minimum of fuss and just generally storm your way through. Furthermore, if you die, even if it's during a boss fight, you go back to the start of the stage. Again, other than the "no checkpoints, ever" aspect, this is unforgiving, but still fair. The stages are clearly designed with this kind of play in mind: with one exception, they're totally linear, and it's pretty obvious what you have to do to get past the various obstacles in your way, requiring dextruous skill, rather than puzzle-solving insight.

There's a few interesting original ideas in here, too. For example, you start the game with a near-useless weapon with almost no range. To power it up, you collect two differently coloured orbs: red, blue or yellow. Each combination of two colours gives a different weapon. This itself is cool, but not something that hadn't been done before, even in 1991. What's cooler in relation to this idea is that a few stages into the game a kind of enemy startes to appear who doesn't do any damage to you, but instead steals one of your orbs and runs away, leaving you with the default weapon until you find another orb to go with the one you're left with.

So, Hiho Densetsu is a pretty good game, though it did take a few goes to grow on me. At first the slightly ugly look of it, and the harsh difficulty are off-putting, but stick with it, and it's a fun, satisfying little game.