Friday, 24 March 2017

Sion II (X68000)

It seems like the last couple of posts have been a bit negative, but luckily, this one has come along to buck that trend! Sion II is a game for the X68000 which was given away for free with a magazine in 1992, which is pretty amazing to be honest, for a couple of reasons, which I'll get around to shortly. Before I do, I'm going to make a point of mentioning that along with all its other fine traits, it's got an incredibly good soundtrack, right up there with Cho Ren Sha 68k as one of the best on the system.

Now, the reasons it's amazing that this is a coverdisk game I mentioned. Firstly, there's the fact that it's a fully-featured game, that could easily stand alongside any commercial games of the time, on pretty much any contemporaeous system. I mean, it's a fairly simple arcadey shooting game, but you know, it came out in 1992, and it has a proper attract mode and other little bits of presentation polish. It plays well too, but you know, there's been plenty of good games given away free on various formats over the years, but ones with these kind of production values are pretty rare.

The other reason you can figure out by simply looking at the screenshots alongside this review: it's a polygonal 3D action game on a 16-bit system in 1992. That's a year before Starfox hit the SNES, and two years before Virtua Racing on the Mega Drive. It's also two years before the better-known 3D X68000 shooter, the Jumping Flash antecendent Geograph Seal. The framerate might drop a little when things get busy, but honestly, even with that taken into account, it still feels like a technical marvel.

Anyway, yeah, as I mentioned, it plays pretty well. It's obviously heavily influenced by the Star Wars vector-based arcade games from the 80s, as you fly forwards, shooting enemies and avoiding their shots, with a first-person cockpit view. There's even a stage taking place in a trench! The trench is as far as I've been able to get, actually, as it features sections of girder-dodging, between shooting sections, and eventually the girders start moving. I've tried a few times, but I have not yet been able to proceed any further than that. But yeah, it's a simple 3D on-rails shooter, so it's very linear, but only an idiot would complain about that (like the guy who wrote the Panzer Dragoon review in Sega Power a million years ago). I definitely recommend playing it, or at the very least looking up the music on youtube.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Net Yaroze Round Up Vol. 10!

Dot Kuzushi
You can probably figure from this game's title that it's a Breakout clone. I can only assume from playing it that it's also a very unfinished one,as it has almost everything wrong with it, both mechanically and technically, that can be wrong with a game of this type. Firstly, it seems that every brick requires multiple hits to break, and since each brick (in the first stage at least, though I gave up on the game after fifteen minutes of neither progressing or failing) represents a pixel in an old arcade sprite, there are lots of them. To make matters worse, the ball behaves strangely in various ways, all of which are to the game's detriment. It moves very, very slowly  and never speeds up, and rather than travelling in straight lines, it moves in kind of fluttering zigzags. Worst of all, the ball will sometimes just harmlessly pass through the blocks as if they weren't there at all. It is without ambiguity that I strongly recommend never wasting a second of your time on this game.

Come Baa
This is a game that could probably only have been made in the UK, as it adapts a sport/occupation that was once, long long ago, a televised event that drew millions of viewers here: sheep herding with a dog. Come Baa has you controlling a dog in a 3D field, trying to chase sheep into a pen. It's very fiddly though, and after a few minutes of playing, I'd only made the sheep spread out all over the field even more, and had to give up. It's an original idea, and it looks pretty nice as Yaroze games go, but unfortunately, it's near-impossible to actually play.

This is a Tetris-style shape-arranging puzzle game, though it lacks a certain elegance and simplicity that make it hard to figure out at first. The walls and floor of the pit have lots of wire ends, and each block in every tetromino has a piece of wire, either cross- or L-shaped.To make blocks disappear, you have to connect two of the wall/floor pieces and make a circuit. The catch is that the direction of the powerflow can only be changed by the L-shaped wireblocks. It's less compliated than I'm making it sound, honestly. Though Hardwire is a technically sound game that does make sense once you've figured it out, it's not actually very fun to play. Gorby no Pipeline Daisakusen does a similar idea, and it does it much better.

Easily one of the nicest-looking Yaroze games I've seen, I'm surprised this one got the tiny bit of extra polish it would have needed to be released on magazine coverdiscs. What it actually is is a slot car-style racing game in which the cars are little technological minibeasts, and the track is the insides of a computer. Like I said, it looks great: it's got cute little low poly models and great use of bold, bright colours on a black background. The only problem with it is that it's too accurate an adaptation of slot car racing, by which I mean that it's almost impossible to keep your car on the track without slowing to an absolute crawl when approaching corners. Worth a quick play for the great graphics, but not much more.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Bermuda Triangle (Arcade)

Some of SNK's pre-NeoGeo games are well-remembered, and much-loved, like Athena, or the Ikari Warriors series. Bermuda Triangle, by contrast, is neither remembered or liked. This is half an injustice, as though it definitely doesn't deserve to be liked, it should at least be remembered for being one of the most bizarrely-designed shooting games there is.

To start with, it uses a rotary joystick, which is only strange from our modern point of view, because no games have really used them since the late 80s, which is when this game was released, and when SNK had a minor fascination with the device, releasing (as far as I'm aware) more rotary joystick-controlled games than anyone else. But as I said, it's only a starting point, and though at first glance, Bermuda Triangle looks like a generic late 80s shooting game, it has a whole bunch of weird gimmicks thrown in.

So, your ship. The first thing you'll notice about it is that it's huge, big enough that avoiding enemies and their shots is a lot more difficult than it is enjoyable. Then, as you play, it'll keep changing form. This is because your health bar and the power of your weapons are linked: when you collect power ups, you gain health, and when you get hit, you lose power. When your ship gains or loses enough health to have its weapon power go up or down, it also changes form. Coupled with the fact that your ship is huge and will be getting hit a lot until you get used it, along with the fact that power ups appear seemingly at random, this all adds up into a baffling experience for the first-time player. With this, I can at least see what they were trying to do here: the idea of a form-changing ship is pretty cool, and the concept of weapon power and health being linked makes sense from a thematic standpoint, if not one of game balance. It's just the execution and a lack of explanation that really let the game down here.

Bermuda Triangle's other big weird mechanic is the way you play through the stages. First, you fly up the stage, like you would do in any other vertically-scrolling shooter. But then, you reach the top, and start going backwards, back down the stage, still fighting off enemies (using the rotary joystick, or whatever substitute you've configured for yourself in MAME to turn your ship's gun around). THEN, when you get back to the start, you fly up the stage a second time, with different enemy layouts than the first time, and at the end of this run, you fight the boss. It does this for every stage, and I really have no idea what the developers could have been thinking with this. Was it a way of trying to force players to change their firing direction? Was it just an attempt at making stages longer without having to draw more background graphics? Whatever the reason was, it falls on its face. It's annoying, it doesn't make any sense, it's a bad move all round.

I really can't recommend playing Bermuda Triangle, and I find it strange that it was released. It feels like some kind of experimental game that might have been made internally to try out a bunch of ideas the devs had, but it was actually released into arcades, though presumably, not many, and not for very long.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Asameshimae Nyanko (SNES)

Othello is a classic strategy board game that's been around since at least the late 19th century, and has been adapted into videogame form many times over the years, dating back all the way to the Odyssey2's Dynasty. Rock Paper Scissors is an even older game, though it's a lot less strategic, and really more of a way of randomly deciding things than an enjoyable pastime. Asameshimae Nyanko is a game from 1994 that bravely seeks to answer the question "what if we combined the strategy of Othello with the randomness of Rock Paper Scissors, and there were also lots of kittens?"

Yeah, so this is a game of othello in which the piece are not small black and white discs, but blue and pink kittens. For some reason, you also get to pick which breed of kitten is used before you start a game. There's also a few locations to play in, too, like a roof in the city, a grid of rocks in the wilderness and a luxurious carpet in a remote palace. The different locations do offer slightly differently shaped boards, but are otherwise just cosmetic changes like the kitten breeds. The big difference between this game and a normal game of Othello is that after each turn, the current player can choose one of their opponent's kittens to take, and this dispute is decided in a seperate little one-on-one battle.

As you might have guessed, these one-on-ones are where the Rock-Paper-Scissors element comes into play. You press A, Y or B on your controller, your opponent does the same, and a winner is decided. I've only played single player, so I can't tell you which button beats which, but I'm not sure it really matters that much. It's not just the one solitary kitten that's at stake, either: if the kitten changes hands and this causes two kittens of that colour to surround a line of the opponent's kittens, that line is taken, as if the changed kitten was placed as part of a normal move. (I know that sentence is confusing for people who don't know how Othello is played, but I'm assuming those people are in the minority.)

Asameshimae Nyanko is a very well-presented game. The kitten sprites look cute, and though there would be a risk of them looking lifeless when placed on the board in large numbers, the game cleverly animates each kitten individually, so they're all doing dfferent things at any one time, which really adds a lot to the character of the game. It looks really great in general, actually, with nice, soft colours and well-drawn sprites and backgrounds.

Unfortunately, there's really nothing more to this game than playing one-off games. There's no kind of story mode or arcade-style mode with opponents of gradually increasing difficulty, so playing single player is an experience you'll get bored of in less than half an hour. On the other hand, if you can somehow convince someone to play a partially-randomised videogame adaptation of Othello with you, then Asameshimae Nyanko is that game!

Friday, 3 March 2017

Beast Saga Saikyou Gekiotsu Coliseum (3DS)

There's a fondly-remembered 80s toyline called "Battle Beasts." They were simple figures with a simple concept: little rubber figures of anthropomorphic animals wearing armour that was an aesthetic mix of medieval knight's armour and futuristic power armour.For some reason, though, it never got the big relaunches that lots of other 80s toylines did, until 2013, when the new toyline Beast Saga debuted in Japan, along with a new cartoon to promote it. I don't think either of them ever reached the west, though apparently the cartoon did get an English dub that aired in parts of Asia.

So, not only is this game a toyline/cartoon tie-in, but it's a modern one, too, and neither of those things bode well for its quality. It's an arena-style fighting game with a setup that's vaguely similar to some of the Gundam arcade games, whereby each fight involves two teams of fighters. The teams might not have the same number or strength of members, but both team has an equal value of battle points, and each member is worth a different amount of said points. When a character is knocked out, they're out of the battle for a short time, and their team's BP is reduced by that member's value. When a team has no BP left, they lose. Some stages in story mode also feature monoliths at either end of the arena, which result in instant defeat if destroyed.

It's very simple to play: you have buttons for chain attacks, strong attacks and projectile attacks (which can be charged), as well as a button for rolling/dodging, and a button for utilising super attacks once your meter is full. The story mode has an interesting layout, being made up of several multi-part arcs, with more being unlocked as you finish them. There's a main storyline with numbered arcs, as well as side stories in which you play as villains and such, which is a cool addition.

I've mostly been positive about this game so far, but I have to break it to you that that most hated bugbear of the modern action game rears its head: levelling up. It's not too bad, though, as levelling up doesn't appear to have too massive an effect on your character's performance, and from the few hours I've played so far, the game does still seem to be getting harder rather than easier, as is often the case in action games with levelling. Plus, levelling doesn't affect anything in the game's free battle mode, which presumably is also the multiplayer mode, so that's a plus too. Though another negative is that even after a couple of hours' play, more than half the characters in free battle mode are still locked. That's incredibly annoying, though I guess it's better than locking them behind a paywall.

Despite its faults, I still like this game. It's a fun little casual knockabout of a game, and the characters are mostly really cool-looking, which I guess they'd have to be ifthey want to sell any toys. If you have the means to play it, and you can track a cheap copy down, I'd say Beast Saga is worth a look.