Sunday, 17 June 2018

Ninpen Manmaru (Saturn)

It's a long held piece of recieved wisdom, perpetuated by idiots, that the Saturn couldn't do 3D graphics, despite the existence of games like NiGHTs, Panzer Dragoon, Quake, Burning Rangers, and a whole bunch more. Ninpen Manmaru is one to count among that bunch more, being a proper, fully 3D platform game that looks great, easily the rival of any of its bigger budgeted Playstation contemporaries.

It's based on an anime that appears to be for small children, which does explain some of the game's design choices, like how there's no combat (even though your character is a ninja penguin with a sword strapped to their back). Enemies in the stages are really just mobile obstacles for you to avoid, and though there are bosses, they're confrontations, rather than fights. Instead, the game's purely about platforming, with the sole aim being to get to the end of each stage within the time limit, and without getting killed by traps or enemies.

The game's big problem, though, is the controls. They're just really sloppy! Your penguin will sometimes land on a tiny platform, then start running immediately after landing, sending him down into the lava below, and sentencing you to another long wait for the platform to come back within reach. In fact, that's the game's other big problem: how much time is spent waiting for moving platforms to get into the right position for you to jump on or off them. I know it's a longstanding platformer tradition, but for some reason, it really grates in this game, right from the start. Maybe I just don't play as many platformers as I once did, and I'm no longer used to the genre's quirks, I don't know, maybe it's just jarring considering how fast your movement is the rest of the time, and it breaks the game's flow. (As an aside, if this game were on any other console, you could mistake it for an attack on SEGA, since the excuse often given for the lack of a proper 3D Sonic game on the Saturn is that the Dreamcast was the first console capable of loading large enough 3D stages for Sonic to run around in, and Ninpen Manmaru is a 3D mascot platformer about a fast-moving blue animal navigating stages as quickly as possible.)

Going back to the subject of bosses, the confrontations being non-violent allows them a little bit of variety, as they take the form of various contests, such as collecting most of the coins in a small area while your opponent does the same, running away from a foe who seems to be trying to eat you until the time runs out, and so on. I haven't played particularly far into the game, as despite being aimed at apparently primary school children, the difficulty curve becomes incredibly steep after the first set of stages, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a regular old race as a boss stage at some point in the game, either.

In summary, Ninpen Manmaru is a decent enough game, that's techinically impressive for any home console of the time, let alone the Saturn. However, if you want to play it, be warned that legitimate copies fetch absurd prices, ranging from around seventy pounds, to ten times that amount. I'm not sure how those prices are justified, either, as the amount of copies on sale on ebay alone show that it can't be a particularly rare game. But I'm sure you can think of some other way of playing it if you really want to.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Small Games Round Up Vol. 1!

I've long laboured over the fact that there are lots of games I'd like to tell you all about, mainly early arcade games, or ones on very old computers, but weren't complex enough to carry a post on their own. I could just write shorter posts, but then you'd be eagerly waiting five days for a new post, just to get a few lines an a couple of screenshots about some anncient relic. Then I realised I could just bundle them together, and for this inaugural round up, I've put together three little PC88 games, starting with Skyscraper. Another note before we start: the PC88 is known in some circles for being home to a lot of great music. None of the three games featured in this post live up to that, though, they just have bleepy sound effects.

Skyscraper is a single-screen shooter, in which you avoid or shoot various seemingly-random shapes and objects, while also catching tiny little people who are falling to the deaths (well, some are falling to their deaths, some have parachutes). Once you've met your rescue quota, the stage ends. There doesn't seem to be any penalty for letting the fallers die, other than wasting time (and losing a bit of your time bonus at the end of the stage), which is nice, since they die if they hit the bottom of the screen, any of the enemies, or even your own shots. Between stages, there's a very strange bonus "game" that simply asks you to press a letter on the keyboard. All in all, a fun enough game, with some really nice pixel art backgrounds.

Next up is Karakuri Ninpou, a very arcade-looking game, and, I suspect, possibly an influence on the Haggleman games on the first Game Center CX game for the DS. In it, you play as a green ninja out to rescue their red ninja friend, who gets kidnapped by god in the pening cutscene. To do so, you have to navigate a house full of enemies, stairs, and doors. Not every room is reachable by stairs alone, so you have to use the doors, which are all linked to each other in pairs, though it's up to you to figure out and remember which doors are connected to which. I have to admit that though I made many attempts, I never actually got past the first stage of this one, as there's an enemy that sometimes appears, a black ninja, who throws shuriken at you, and there doesn't seem to be any way of avoiding or deflecting that. Still, someone with the patience to build up superhuman skill (and probably a lot of luck, too) at playing this game might get more joy out of it than I did. It definitely feels like it's a game that might better than it first seems, at least.

Last, and also least, is Donkey Gorilla, a very simple, almost Game and Watch-esque game. It uses text mode graphics, so everything's very charming and simple in a geometric kind of way, and you play as what I think is a chameleon hanging onto a washing line while things that are probably gorillas dance around below you. You kill the gorillas by dropping hearts on them, and sometimes one of them will try to climb a tree, killing you if they reach the top. Also a bird-like thing occaisionally flies overhead to try and kill you with hearts, too. There's not much to say about Donkey Gorilla, really. You might get a minute or two's amusement out of it, at most, but not much more.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 30: The 1 on 1 Basketball (Playstation)

When you look at a list of arcade games, there's one name near the top that always sticks out, to me at least: 1 on 1 Government. I always notice it, because it's close to the top of an alphabetically ordered list, and it's such a strange title that gives nothing away about what kind of game it is. What it is, though, is a port to arcades of this, more sensibly titled Playstation game.

It's surprising that it was a Playstation game before it was an arcade game, as it's structured very much like an arcade game, and, like Lethal Crash Race tried to apply the Street Fighter II formula to racing games, The 1 on 1 Basketball tries to do that for Basketball. You pick a character from a pretty big selection (that includes, aong a few regular people, a monkey, an angel, and some kind of childish cartoon drawing of a person), and you go on to face the other characters in a series of basketball games. By default, the games last ninety seconds, or until someone scores eleven points. Also, I don't know if this is an actual basketball rule, but if the time ends on a draw, the game carries on for another twenty seconds. This didn't strike me as odd, but it'll keep doing that until there's a winner, one way or another.

It should be mentioned that as well a the 1 on 1 mode, there's also a 2 on 2 mode, though as far as I can tell, there's no "canon" teams, so you just throw any two characters together, and your CPU opponents will do the same, and it otherwise plays out the same as the main mode, except the stages are a little too small for it, so there's a lot of bumping into each other. Anyway, this game plays pretty well! The controls are simple enough to pick up: you move left or right across the court, with up and down moving you left or right in relation to your oppnent's position. There's also a button each for shooting, getting in your opponent's way, and trying to steal the ball. Like the fighting games it's trying to emulate structurally, it's fast paced, and easy to start playing straight away.

Anyway, yeah, I recommend playing this (or the arcade version, since as far as I can tell, there aren't really any differences between them). For various reasons, I keep getting more curious about arcade sports games these days, and it seems like a lot of them are pretty good (this one being no exception).

Friday, 1 June 2018

TH Strikes Back (Arcade)

You might remember a few years ago, I reviewed a Spanish arcade game entitled Thunder Hoop. Well, the TH in this game's title stands for the same thing I guess, since this is the sequel to it. Like its predecessor, it's about a guy who looks a lot like Son Goku (though this time round, it's more of a "Dragonball Z as drawn by Rob Liefeld" kind of Goku than the original game's shorter, more cutesy Dragonball style) running around platform stages shooting stuff.

Unlike the original though, TH Strikes back has less of an Amiga/Microcomputer feel to it, having a much faster pace, and more of an influence from console games as well as its arcade peers. There's generally a lot less careful platforming in this one, as you storm ahead as fast as you can, constantly shooting the many crowds of one-shot enemies, making you feel like the super-powered fighter your character resembles visually. The game has the "semi-auto" shooting, where you can shoot as fast as you can press the button, which is always satisfying, especially during boss fights. All in all, it's generally pretty fun to play. If you like Contra or Metal Slug and want a not-quite-as-good-but-still-pretty-good alternative, TH Strikes Back is a decent enough effort in that regard.

With the talk of the actual mechanics out of the way, I want to talk about the game's graphics. I've already mentioned the main character being a bit unoriginal, but the enemies are all pretty interesting. There's weird biological horrors, sleek, shiny sci-fi women who look like they've been ripped from the cover of an issue of Heavy Metal, floating cast-offs from The Real Ghostbusters, and even weirder biological horrors. The backgrounds are nice, too, being a mix of standard sci-fi spaceships and tech along with some shameless Giger-cribbing. All the enemies also have unique deatth animations, which for the most part have them exploding, spreading their innards all over the place, but special note should be made of the aforementioned sci-fi women, who upon death, inflate until they burst. I'll give the developers the benefit of the doubt since this game came out in 1994, but in our post-deviantart 2018 world, it does seem like that might have been some fiendish, perverse animator catering to his own special interests on the sly.

There's another cool little touch that kind of covers mechanics and aesthetics at the same time: enemies generally don't instantly kill you on touch. Bullets and other projectiles they shoot do, but the enemies themselves will instead initiate some attack when they touch you, and if you're quick enough, you can kill them before they actually pull the attack off and kill you. Like the death animations, those are all different for each enemy too. Lots of attention to detail in this game all round, which is a nice surprise when you consider that a lot of western-developed arcade games are just ugly, cheap cash-ins with the minimum effort put in.

TH Strikes back isn't going to change your life, and there's lots of better games in the genre, but it's still got enough going for it that you should at least play a few credits and have a look for yourself.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Crayon Shin-chan Puzzle Daimaou no Nazo (3DO)

I'm not super familiar with Crayon Shin-chan, but I do know it's one of those absurdly long-running family anime that's been going since at least the early 1990s. I did see one episode once, back in the early 2000s when Fox Kids was still around, and I was really caught off guard and surprised to see that a kids channel was airing a show where a little boy gets a package from the postwoman and remarks "Hey, I've got a little package for you too, baby!" Anyway, as long-running as it is, it's had many videogame tie-ins, and this is one of them, on that doomed console, the 3DO.

It's a puzzle game of the sort that could really be skinned to match pretty much any property at all, though since it's a 3DO game, they have gone all-out with the theming, and there's lots of little animations and a ton of voice acting. Of course, it's a versus-style puzzle game, and it takes the Tetris Battle Gaiden approach of having special blocks that have to be cleared to activate special abilities, though unlike TBG, which has you saving those blocks up to use a more powerful power at your leisure, in this game, the power is used as soon as the special block is cleared. An extra little bit of personality I liked about this game is that every character has their own set of normal blocks, which I presume are linked to their interests. Like Shin-chan has little scribbly faces, his dad has socks and beer, and so on. It's a nice touch, and a more interesting way of saying "look at all the space a CD gives us compared to cartridges" than FMVs, too.

Anyway, different normal blocks fall from the 'bove, and disappear either when four of the same are placed in a straight line, or in a two-by-two square. If you get rid of them via the square method, one of the blocks in the next piece will be replaced with a special question mark block, which can take the place of any colour/shape in a disappearing formation. The kind of blocks with which you make the special blocks disappear decides which power gets activated. For example, one colour will make a randomly-selected bunch of the pieces in your pit fly away, another will erase the bottom three rows of your pit, and another will dump two rows of garbage blocks into your opponent's pit. As is tradition, the first person to have blocks go over the top of their pit loses.

Unfortunately, I have to say the same thing I say in almost every post I write about versus puzzle games: it's alright, but Puyo Puyo, Magical Drop, and a few other games have perfected aspects of the genre to such an extent that any other games have to have something really special to be worth anyone's time. And unless you really love Shin-chan and can understand spoken Japanese, Puzzle Daimaou no Nazo doesn't really have anything going for it. It's not a problem that troubles other genres, but I feel like versus puzzlers, especially the ones that aren't in the upper echelons, are so similar that it makes it possible for a few games to rise to cyclopean heights and eclipse all would-be competitors. I mean there are a few that aren't as good as those mentioned, but are still worth playing, like Landmaker, for example, but again, Landmaker is a very unique game that stands out.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Bomb Boat (Playstation)

This game's title, in isolation, might lead you, like me, to assume that it might be some kind of military simulation game, or maybe a nautically-themed shooting game. It's actually some thing completely different, and, some would say, slightly unoriginal: Bomb Boat is a maze game about a hungry yellow blob eating stuff while avoiding ghosts.

That is a little harsh, actually, as Bomb Boat does have a couple of its own little gimmicks, and they're right there in the title, even: bombs and boats! The mazes of which each stage is composed are weird little docks, with solid stone parts connected by flimsy wooden bridges. Your means of defence against the ghosts is to drop bombs, bomberman-style, on the ground. On solid ground, the bomb's blast will just stun any nearby ghosts for a couple of seconds, which is useless. However, a bomb that explodes on a bridge destroys the bridge, as well as any ghosts standing on it, scoring you points and getting a ghost or two out of the way for a short time. Furthermore, the bridge will reappear a few seconds later with an item upon it! These are usually just points-granting fish, but there's a few power-ups in there too, like speed-ups, temporary invincibility, and so on. I'm not sure if there's any relationship between simultaneous ghost sinking and the quality of items that appears.

The boats are a lot simpler, though. Each stage has a bunch of them dotted around in pre-determined places. You step onto one and it'll take you in a straight line until it hits another bit of path. Assuming the levels have been designed with enough care, theoretically, someone with a lot of patience might be able to figure out the best route around each stage, to maximise ghost killing and boat-riding for the quickest, most efficient way of getting through the game. I highly doubt anyone has ever been so dedicated to a mediocre Japan-only budget-price Playstation game released at the end of the console's life though.

Bomb Boat isn't a bad game, but I still can't recommend it. There's just no excitement, no hook, nothing to it at all. It would have been a forgotten also-ran if it had been released in 1982, let alone 2002.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Cosmic Epsilon (NES)

When it was released in 1985, Space Harrier was one of, possibly the most graphically impressive videogame that had ever been released up until that point. It would obviously, then, be absurd to try and match it on an 8-bit home console originally released in 1983, even with a few more years of advancement in programming know how. And Cosmic Epsilon is no exception to that: it looks nowhere near as good as arcade Space Harrier. It is still one of the most graphically impressive Famicom games I've ever seen, though, and it does have one cool little trick that Space Harrier doesn't. But I'll get back to that later.

As you've probably worked out, 1989's Cosmic Epsilon is an into-the-screen sprite scaling-style shooting game (though since it's on the Famicom, it has to fake the sprite scaling, though that's no point of shame: remember that Space Harrier II on the Mega Drive had to do the same). You fly forwards, shooting enemies and avoiding their shots, of course. There's a couple of extra gameplay gimmicks in there too, compared to Space Harrier, like the ability to charge up your weapon, making your shots more powerful for a few seconds, as well as a limited use missile weapon that's presumably more powerful, but never seems to hit anything, so we'll never know for sure.

I've read a few other reviews of this game dotted around the internet, and one thing always seems to come up: the difficulty level. Well, two things, but they're related, as the other is the player's massive hitbox, which is a major contributing factor to the game's high difficulty. At first, I was a little sceptical, since I easily managed to get past the first stage on my first attempt. It was only after several failed attempts to get past the second that I realised the veracity of all the complaints of those who came before me. I even looked up the level select cheat so I could take a few more varied screenshots for this review! (As an interesting bit of trivia, the level select cheat is performed by inputting the famous Konami code backwards on the titles screen. Inputting it the right way round just flashes up the message "I AM NOT KONANI", which is slightly amusing).

Other than the difficulty, though, this game is a joy to play: it's smooth, it's fast, everything works how it should, and it generally just feels good. Getting back to the graphics, it also looks amazing! A lot better in motion than in still screenshots,though. And the graphical gimmick I mentioned back in the first paragraph? It's the ground: unlike Space Harrier's abstract grids, the floor in Cosmic Epsilon shows actual places! There's roads, shorelines, cracked earth and lava flows, even a high-altitude stage where you're flying above a lightly cloudy sky. All of this is conveyed to you in the form of patterns of big, differently coloured squares, but nonetheless, it's an effect that works, and really gives the game a sense of place.

So I definitely recommend Cosmic Epsilon. It's one of the most impressive games on its host system, and it's actually fun to play in its own right too. 

Friday, 11 May 2018

GHost94 (PC)

I have to start this review with an admission: I have no idea what the goal of this game is, plus I'm really bad at it, so I didn't get very far in the few hours of it that I played. However, I think it's an interesting enough game to write about and at least tell you what I figured out about it. It's part of a long-running series o;f Japanese indie PC games, that you've probably seen a few of if you pay attention to the trailer compilations that come out before each Comiket.

It's a 3D stealth game that takes place in a massive (well, it feels massive, anyway) post-apocalyptic/dystopian Japanese city, patrolled by ninja-like soldiers and heavily-armed robots. Being stealthy is incredibly important, as if you're spotted, all the enemies in the area will chase you around trying to kill you and you're far from durable. You can find somewhere to hide until the heat dies down, but the best thing to do is to find an exit and leae the area as fast as possible. I can't tell you about any of the plot or anything, so I basically just went exploring as best I could. Occasionally I'd trigger a story event, and one time I found a save/healing room (which was very important, as if you haven't saved and you die, you have to start the game again, with a very long unskippable cutscene you have to sit through every time). There's areas that I think are radioactive, where a geiger counter-esque clicking sound starts, and an increasing counter appears above your head. Different areas have the counter going up at different speeds, and if it reaches 999, you die instantly. Seems like videogame radioactivity to me!

There's a lot that's failry unique about the game, with the most obvious being its look. It looks incredible, with a late-90s inspired combination of 2d sprites walking around low-poly 3D worlds with low resolution pixel art textures. But it's used in a way that wouldn't have been possible on the Playstation or Saturn, creating some gigantic areas, and creating a real sense of scale, as rotting skyscrapers tower above your tiny SD sprite in the outdoors areas, while the indoor areas range from labyrinhtine mazes of corridors and small rooms to huge high-ceilinged hallways and swimming pools. The other big idiosyncracy is the controls: rather than going with the now-standard twin stick controls for 3d action games, GHost94 has its own controls that take a little bit of getting used to. Essentially, your actual movement is restriced to moving left and right on a 2D plane, and jumping. You can still move all over the place though, as you use the shoulder buttons (assumeing you've set up your controls in the layout recommended by the config screen's diagram) to move the camera, and with it the plane on which you move, by ninety degrees. Like I said, it does take some gettig used to, and you are in danger of fumbling under pressure when you've been spotted, but on the other hand, it is nice to play a modern 3D action game that doesn't just use the exact same control scheme as every other game. Plus, there's a first-person view button that's useful not just for spotting eemies you might not have otherwise, but also for just taking in the spectacle of your surroundings.

Now, as I mentioned, I haven't managed to get very far in this game yet, so there's some things I can only half-understand. You can pick up various small objects from the ground, but most of them seem to be useless bits of garbage. There's also money, dropped by enemies, should you be brave enough to try and fight them, and lucky/skilled enough to kill one. I never found a use for the garbage items (that do literally just seem to be bits of litter), nor did I ever reach a shop where money could be spent. Though I assume that weapons are sold there, as you start with a weak knife that can be equipped and unequipped.

I think that's all I can really say about GHost94, to be honest. I find it fascinating and aesthetically beautiful enough to try and stumble my way through. If you've got the patience (or the Japanese literacy) for it, you should give it a try, too. If you do, I'd be glad to hear your findings!

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Turbo Girl (MSX)

There might be something I've forgotten in the misty past of this blog, but I think this might be the first western-developed MSX game I've covered here. As well as being popular in Japan, the system also had/has a strong following in mainland Europe, especially the Netherlands. This game, however, is Spanish, and it's a port of a ZX Spectrum game, which you can probably tell just from looking at the screenshots, since it's pretty much a direct port, colour clash and all. (As an aside, I think this might also be the first Spanish game I've featured?)

The game's a shooting game with some platforming. Top down platforming. With multiple consecutive jumps that require pixel-perfect timing and precision. I'm going to spoil the rest of the review for you now: it's pretty much completely negative. This game is just no fun to play at all, nor does it have any other redeeming features, except maybe having a female protaagonist (though you can only really see her on the very eighties title screen).

It's ugly, it's slow, it's boring, and there's no music anywhere except the title screen. The stage design is horrible, too: as well as the pixel perfect death-jumps, there's also enemies that pop up from the bottom of the screen without warning, some really unpleasant checkpoint placing and a general cramped feeling to everything. On top of all this, despite the word "turbo" being right there in the title, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the derelict space stations on which the game is set were submerged in oceans of treacle, as everything moves incredibly slowly, even the bullets.

Another problem the game has is the controls: you can select joystick controls at the start, but the game only recognises one joystick button (presumably a vestigial problem from its Spectrum source), with jump assigned to the space bar. Remember those nigh-impossible jumps I described earlier? I was playing on an emulator, using joy2key to map the space bar to one of the buttons on my USB Saturn controller. If you were playing on real hardware, you wouldn't be able to sdo that, and the game would be rendered pretty much impossible. Especially since the second stage, as far as I can tell, does away with the shooting part of the game completely and becomes entirely about jumping across massive gaps in the floor.

Don't play Turbo Girl, it's an irredeemible, joyless piece of garbage.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Aaargh! (Amiga)

Oddly, I'd played this game long before I'd ever even heard of Rampage. It was among the boxes of pirated games that came with the second hand Amiga 500 I got one year as a kid, and for a couple of years, it was the only reference I had for games about being a big monster that wrecks stuff. Interestingly, it's also one of a few Amiga games that was also released on the Amiga-based Arcadia arcade hardware, making it an oddity in two ways: a European-developed arcade game, and one that was ported from a computer to the arcades (or possibly the other way round? Though since they're pretty much the same machine I don't think it really matters).

Is it good though? We'll get to that in a while. First, it might be more useful to compare it to its more famous American forebear. In terms of originality, at least, Aaargh! fares pretty well. It's got a slightly beat em up-like perspective so you can walk up and down as well as left and right, meaning the cities can have more interesting layouts than just a bunch of buildings all in a row. There's also a secondary goal alongside smashing everything, which is to find the roc's egg hidden in each stage, which takes you to a bossfight/bonus stage against the one of the two selectable monsters you didn't choose.

So anyway, the game sees you as one of two giant monsters (a giant lizard or a cyclops) destroying various human-built locations throughout history. The locations are pretty varied, and other than the first stage always being the jungle village, they seem to appear in random order, too, so even if you can't get far, you'll at least be able to see a lot of them with some perseverance. There's sterotypical east asian temples, desert cities carved into the sides of cliff faces, colonial American towns, and so on, and they all look pretty nice (though naturally, some are more colourful and detailed than others). No matter what location in time or space you end up, though, you always seem to be under attack from a human-directed trebuchet and giant prehistoric mosquitos.

To finish a stage, you either destroy every building, or you find and pick up the roc's egg. The first method will just take you to another stage full of stuff to smash, while the second will take you to the aforementioned bonus bossfight. The bonus bossfights aren't very good. There's no health bar or other indication of who's winning, and you and your opponent just flail at each other for a few seconds until inevitably, you fall over and your opponent wins. It doesn't really matter though, since losing these fights doesn't result in a game over anyway. The game's other big problem is the controls: since it's an Amiga game, that means the designers had to shoehorn multiple actions onto one fire button (I mean, the Amiga could totally use two button controllers, but for some reason most developers for it never bothered with a second button). So, if you tap the button, you breath fire. If you hold it and press left and right, you punch, up and you do an uppercut (for killing mosquitons) and down is for picking up items or humans off the ground.

These controls would be fine, were it not for two problems: firstly, you have four-way movement in this game, but because of how the controls work, you can't punch buildings while you're facing up or down, meaning you can only destroy them with fire. Fire that's limited, but you don't have any kind of onscreen meter or anything telling you how much you have left. (As an aside, one pretty cool thing you can do with your fire breath is set buildings ablaze, and they'll gradually fall apart and collapse while you go and do other stuff). The other problem is that sometimes, the controls just don't respond. I'm sure there's some kind of special knack to getting your monster to punch or whatever whenever you want them to, but as it is, sometimes you'll be holding the button and pressing the directions and your monster will just walk around, or breath fire instead of doing what you ask. It's this problem especially that's the game-killer.

So, Aaargh! is a game with some good ideas, and some bad ideas (why not have both monsters in the field looking for the egg simultaneously? That would make a lot more sense.), and some very bad execution. And it's the execution that prevents me from being able to recommend playing it, unresponsive controls of this degree are just unforgivable.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Sports Jam (Dreamcast)

You'd think, even as late as 2001, something with the mainstream appeal of a sports game would still be guaranteed to get a worldwide release on the Dreamcast, but Sports Jam oddly never made it to european shores. Though if you look at it another way, it makes more sense: like the PS Vita is now, by 2001, the Dreamcast was a niche console, and most people still buying games for it were arcade nerds and anime fans, and with the arcade scene in the K at least being so poor, they would have had no prior knowledge of this game, nor would they be naturally inclined to give a sports game a chance. And from the other side of it, Sports Jam is such an oddity of a sports game, that would have put off a lot of mainstream players anyway.

What it is is a variant on a format as old as time: it's a Track and Field-type game, in which you play various short events, trying to get the fastest time or the highest score. The game's big hook, though, is that rather than the traditional athletic events, you're instead playing various minigames based on isolated aspects of sports that would ordinarily have their own videogames. For example, there's two American football games, one where you're running and bashing down sandbags to score a touchdown, and another that relies on perfect timing to kick a field goal. There's also games representing aspects of tennis, golf, basketball, bicycle racing, soccer, baseball and ice hockey.

There's a few different modes to pick from: DC Original and Arcade are both pretty much the same: you play four events, each picked as you go. The difficulty of the events depends on how late in the game you're playing them, and this is a real bit of strategy you should pay attention to: some games are easy enough whenever you play them, some are near-impossible on later levels, but incredibly simple early on. There's also a mode called Your Original, in which you play all twelve events, choosing their order before you play. It seems like a strange omission to me that there's no mode in which you play a single event, or even a practice mode, but it's no big deal, I guess.

Whether you like this game pretty much lies entirely on how much you like multi-event sports games. If you don't at all, it's probably not going to do anything to change your mind. But if you do, then it's an excellent example of one, with varied and fun events, as well as the kind of lavish presentation and production values you'd expect from a SEGA arcade game of this era. Like I said earlier, though, its not a surprise that it fell through the gaps and got forgotten.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Curiosities Vol. 14 - SEGA Saturn Sample Program Ver. 1.00

So, this interesting piece of history was recently found and released by someone over at the forums. It is as the title suggests: a sample program for the Saturn that shows various different graphical tricks it can do. It starts with a menu featuring items such as "Scroll Sample", "Sprite Sample", and so on, and most of them have several options inside them.

First up is Scroll Sample, which lets you see various kinds of scrolling, obviously. You can have a bunch of random garbage scrolling across the screen, numerous blocks of letters scrolling around in layers, a kind of distorted blob moving over a picture of sonic and tails, and so on. The most interesting part of this menu is the option that has a seemingly infinite field of textured cubes floating in a heavenly white background.

Next there's Sprite Sample, which as a little more interactivity. In here, there are options that let you spin various simple shapes around, you can move an Opa Opa sprite around to see how the Saturn handles shadows, you can distort and warp an enemy sprite from Fantasy Zone, and you can spin and rotate a little polygon gem thing. Oh, and look at some spinning cubes demonstrating different kinds of shading the Saturn can do, too.

Window Sample is probably the least interesting menu, as it just lets you see sprites moving inside transparent windows, so we'll move straight on to Game Sample, which is a simple little 2D shooting game where you avoid bullets and shoot red triangles and sonic sprites for points. Nothing spectacular, obviously, but it is a thing that exists, at least. It's just a sample, showing that the Saturn can indeed keep track of things and allow players to control objects and generally all the bare minimum things expected of a games console.

Finally, there's the enigmatically named 2/14 Demo (which is presumably a demo, made on the fourteenth of February). This shows a cube thing with SEGA-related animated textures on each side, floating above a magic carpet, with mountains in the background. It's all very ~aesthetic~.

Obviously, something like this isn't going to provide more than a few minutes of entertainment for anyone, but of course that was never its purpose. It is interesting to see these kinds of primordial test programs from consoles' development cycles, though. Even though they're only a couple of decades old, there's something about them that feels immeasurably ancient and secret. Sorry if this is a bit of a lacklustre post, but I've been slightly unwell recently and I just didn't want to go too long without posting. I'm mostly better now, though, so there'll be a proper post in a few days.