Monday, 22 October 2018

Knights of Valour 3 (Arcade)

It's strange that even to this day, none of IGS' arcade games have been ported to home consoles, the only reason I can think of being that no console publisher wants to bother with a Taiwanese company? But still, their beat em ups were always pretty ambitious, taking the inventory system from Capcom's Dungeons and Dragons beat em ups, and gradually expanding on the idea, eventually culminating in this: Knights of Valour 3, which brings various console game concepts and brings them to the arcade.

The biggest and most obvious thing is the use of memory cards. Though this is actuall pretty common in a lot of post-2000 arcade games, this is, as far as I know, the only beat em up that uses them. What does it use them for? For saving your progress in the game, and the stats, equipment and inventory of your character. Yes, it is another beat em up with those dreaded "RPG elements". But in this case, I'm willing to be a lot more forgiving than usual.

There's a couple of reasons for this, the least important being that the "progression" is very slow and very gradual, so it's not like grinding over and over to make the game easier is going to be a big thing, especially since there's a couple of barriers to this: firstly, it's an arcade game, so every time you play and die, that's the price of a credit thrown away, so you'd be better off getting better at the game, than waiting for it to get easier. Secondly, the item/equipment shop is only accessible after completing a stage, so there is a minimum barrier of entry before you can unlock new moves and better weapons and such.

The big reason I'm more forgiving, though, is simply that it's an arcade game, and it's not meant to be played the way I've been playing it (alone, on a computer at home). It's meant to be played in a public, social setting, with other players. And I can really see how that would enhance the game greatly: a group of friends, each with their own memory card containing their character, playing every day on their lunch break or whatever, gradually making progress through the game over the course of months. As far as I'm aware, there aren't any other arcade games that offer that kind of long term experience (like I said earlier, there are other arcade games that use memory cards, but as far as I know, they're all competitive, rather than co-operative), and it sounds like something that'd be really enjoyable. And after you've all finished for good, the memory cards themselves look really cool, so they'd be nice keepsakes to hold onto.

If you're curious about this game, it's still worth playing in MAME: it's decent enough fun, and it also looks incredible, but I have to say that, though it's very unlikely, I really hope I one day get to play it as it was originally intended, since the developers really did make an arcade game that offers and experience you can't perfectly replicate as a home game, even though the game itself could easily be ported to any of its contemporary home systems (Knights of Valour 3 was originally released in 2011).

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Ore ga Omae wo Mamoru (DS)

This game's title translates to "I Will Protect You", and it was part of a short-lived initiative to try and lure female visual novel fans towards "proper" games. The only other game I know of that was a part of the initiative was a reskinned version of the RPG Dungeon Maker. The luring in this case was entirely thematic, having a white-haired bishonen as a protagonist, various other bishonen in the town, and a female NPC for them all to fawn over. The game itself, though, definitely doesn't feel like it was made with players new to action games in mind.

Ore ga Omae wo Mamoru is a platform RPG, or a metrovania, if you like, and it starts out being brutally difficult: even the weakest enemies will take a ton of punishment, while you'll go down in just a few hits. Despite the fact that it doesn't have experience points and levelling, there's still an inverse difficulty curve in effect, since as time goes on, you get access to better weapons and armour, and healing items become easier to get ahold of, and things quickly get a lot easier after the first hour. Still, that's pretty much a part of the genre, and all the RPG-style Castlevaniae have this problem, and I love them, so I can't really hold it against OgOwM. Though when I say it gets easier, I'm referring entirely to combat and survival.

The big problem I have with this game is the language barrier, so if you can fluently read Japanese, you can stop here: this game's pretty good, if you've played all 3 DS Castlevaniae to death and want something similar, this is the game to go for. For everyone else, though: after killing the irst boss, I got totally stuck. All I could find were locked doors and walls that looked destructible, but I had no Idea how to open them. I also found a few chests with key items in them, though those items didn't seem to open any of the doors I could find.

It really is a shame, too. I remember there being a bit of buzz around this game when it came out in Japan, a lot of people being intrigued by the idea of an action RPG designed by and for women, but it seems that interest fizzled out almost instantly. GameFAQs has the long-abandoned beginnings of a walkthrough and a map with very little annotation, and there's also a forum thread somewhere on the internet from 2010 announcing a translation patch that never materialised. Hopefully someday, interest in this game will be revitalised, and someone will write, if not a translation patch, at least a proper walkthrough, so everyone can play it. Until that happens though, you're going to have a tough time getting through if you're not Japanese-literate.

Here's an addendum to what's written above: a few days after writing this review, I had to play the game a bit more to take screenshots, and during this session, I somehow triggered a long series of cutscenes. After they'd finished, not only was my max HP increased, but I also now had the ability to break those aforementioned destructible-looking walls. So I am able to progess a bit further in the game, but since I have no idea what made this happen, I still stand by my earlier opinion that the language barrier is fairly strong for those who can't read Japanese.

Friday, 12 October 2018

The Anime Super Remix: Kyojin no Hoshi (PS2)

In case you don't know, Kyojin no Hoshi is a baseball anime that aired all the way back in 1968, and it's one of those old anime that was massively influential on all that came after it. Unfortunately, I don't know much of the exact details, because only the first episode has ever been translated into English. I do know that it was to first appearance of that BDSM-looking "training suit" that you see in a bunch of anime, including an early episode of Pokemon, where some guy puts one on his Sandshrew.

Anyway, this game came out in 2002, alongside another "Anime Super Remix" game, based on the 1980 boxing anime Ashita no Joe 2, and it, as far as I can tell, tells the story of the anime through a mixture of video clips (which are amazingly high quality, considering the age of the source material), still images with captions, and minigames re-enacting certain iconic scenes.

The minigames are all very difficult, and completely unforgiving, even on the easiest difficulty. Well, the three of them I was able to play were, anyway. You only start with two minigames unlocked, and by playing them, you can earn points, which allow you to unlock more minigames, as well as more story scenes. However, to actually get the minigames, you'll have to grind no matter how well you play. Each minigame costs nine hundred points to unlock, and successfully completing a minigame on its hardest difficulty will get you between 150 and 200 points each time. So you'll have to complete 4 successful runs on hard to get the next game at the very least.

And I'm not exageratting when I describe the difficulty of these games. They basically boil down to different configurations of press a button once or twice with perfect timing, and pressing a button as many times as possible in a very short amount of time. The timing-based tasks aren't so bad once you get into a bit of a rhythm with them, which is possible even through emulation. The button-tapping tasks, however seem to vary, seemingly at random, between "pretty difficult" and "literally impossible, even Meijin Takahashi can't press a button this fast". I know these olden days sports anime were all about tragedy and despair, but to complete these absurdly hard tasks, with the only reward being a fraction of the way towards getting the next one is a bit dispiriting.

Though retelling the story of an old, reknowned TV series through a series of minigames recreating specific scenes is an interesting one, the actual execution here is so bad, and so antithetical to having a good time, I can't recommend this game at all.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Ridegear Guybrave (Playstation)

It's a beat em up, and it's not an arcade game, or on a console released before 1994! So, I'm sure you all know what's going to happen, and yes, there are both experience points and equipment shops. But it's not all bad, as the weapons you buy actually all have not only their own models that actually appear on your robot, but their own animations too! So you are actually getting a bit of fun out of them besides the numbers going up.

And yes, it's also a game about robots. Giant ones, though they're also super-deformed. Which is probably actually more realistic than big tall, slender mecha. The setting is an island in what I assume is some kind of newly colonised frontier world, as everything manmade seems kind of ramshackle, though there isn't any of the environmental devestation you'd expect from a post-apocalyptic world, with stages taking place in deserts, plains, caves, forests, meadows and so on.

The RPG elements don't just stop at the stat-raising stuff, either: there's towns where you talk to people, buy stuff, and so on. In fact, the towns conspire with the game's navigation system to create some offensively aggregious padding, which actually detracts from the game's quality a lot more than the stats stuff. There's a point early on in the game, where you have to talk to a guy in the second town, then go back to the first town to talk to another guy, then return to the original guy in the second town. The problem with this is that there are two stages between those two towns.

Now, the game's world map doesn't let you just pass over cleared areas, but instead, each area, whether it's a stage or a town, has two exits, one at the left and one at the right. When you leave via one exit, you can only go to the opposite exit on the next stage in that direction. So, how the above quest goes is that you initially leave the first town, and go through the two stages to get to the second. Then you leave the second and go through those two stages again, but backwards, to get back to the first town. Then you have to go through those same two stages for a third time to get back to the second town. I can't remember the last time I played a game with such little respect for the player's time. The combat was actually pretty fun at first: crunchy and satisfying, and with the novelty of trying out new weapons now and then, but after this nonsense, I'd lost all goodwill I once had towards this game.

I think if me and my friends had gotten copies of this from our local totally legitimate import games dealer around the time of its release, it might have been one of our favourites that we'd occasionally talk about to this day. As a more discerning adult with access to emulation and so on, I can't recommend it. If you want action games with nice low poly robots and cool anime character portraits, you can easily find many others that are a lot better than this.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Logic Pro Adventure (Arcade)

The original Logic Pro was one of the first games ever featured on this blog, all the way back in 2009. Back then, I said it was the only nonograms game to make an actual interesting videogame out of the concept, by adding a strict time limit, with penalties for trying to fill in the wrong squares. In the nine years since, I've played a few other games, old and new, and it's still true that Logic Pro (and its sequels) are the only ones really worth your time.

Logic Pro Adventure is the second sequel to the original, and it mostly works the same as the first: you solve nonograms, there's a time limit, you lose a big chunk of time if you try to fill in an incorrect square. Also like the first, you get limited-use items to help you when you can't get a handle on a puzzle. The "cross clear" item from the first game, that reveals all the squares in horizontal and vertical straight lines emanating from the cursor's current location is back, and accompanied by a bomb that reveals a five-by-five square surrounding the cursor. There's also little coloured spheres that randomly appear as you play, that seem, at first, to just be points items, though they're a little more strange than that.

The stages are split into sets of three, identified by colour, and if, in the course of completing a set of stages, you collect fifty of those orbs, you'll instantly be taken to the next trio of stages. It's a really strange mechanic, and it seems odd to me that an arcade game would add a mechanic that just makes completion quicker and easier like this, with no real downside. As it is, this might be the easiest one credit completion of an arcade game I've ever had! There is actually some replay value, though: as you might expect, the stages are randomly chosen from an unseen pool, so every game is slightly different. However, there are three characters to choose from at the start of the game, and I'm pretty sure that each character has a totally different pool from which puzzles are drawn. Other than that, there's no difference in how they play, other than having different sound effects and endings.

There's not much more to be said about Logic Pro Adventure. If you like nonograms, then it's probably the best videogame about solving them that's out there. If you don't, then you're not going to have any interest in it at all anyway. So let that be your guide as to whether or not you go and play it, I guess.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Lupin III: Pyramid no Kenja (Saturn)

It's suprising how few Lupin III games there have been over the years, considering not only the character's international popularity, but also how his 1979 movie The Castle of Cagliostro was a clear influence on the designs of various games, most obviously the Castlevania series. And of the games that there are, a bunch of them are adventure games or console ports of pachi-slot machines, not the crazy madcap action games you'd expect from Lupin III.

This Saturn entry is one of the action games, though, and for some reason, it seems to be less well known than the Lupin III database disc thing that's also on Saturn. The plot, as far as I can discern (since it's told in a series of great-looking, but obviously untranslated FMVs), concerns Lupin, Goemon, and Jigen looking to relieve a pyramid of all its treasures. Of course, this being a videogame based on an anime character, the pyramid is not only full of normal traps, but also masked cultist guards, futuristic super-technology, and the pyramid itself is only the tip of a giant diamond-shaped structure that's mostly underground.

Most of the stages focus around getting a treasure, then getting to the exit. Along the way you'll also fight enemies, avoid traps and sometimes solve a simple puzzle or two. It's okay, but it's let down by a few things. The camera is the worst, it's terrible. It never changes angle on its own, instead relying on you to do it with the shoulder buttons, and even then, it seems almost impossible to get it into a good position for jumping over pits and things like that. I feel like a lot of the time when people complain about the camera in old 3D games, they're just nitpicking, but this is a case where it's legitimately terrible.

The other main problem is one I almost feel bad for picking at, because it really shows that the developers tried to capture the spirit of Lupin III. Lupin's got a big, gangly-limned run animation that looks great, but unfortunately, it also means that he's constantly moving really fast, making navigating certain hazards more difficult than it needs to be, especially when stuff like moving platforms and the like are brought into the equation.

On the whole, Pyramid no Kenja isn't a great game. It does, however, look really great, and it's yet another nail in the coffin of the "Saturn can't do 3D" myth. I don't really recommend playing it though, unless you've got saintlike reserves of patience at your disposal.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Outlander (Mega Drive)

This is a game I first encountered years ago, in my earliest days of emulation, but back then, I never figured out how to actually play it. Or at least, I never figured out how to play it for a decent amount of time. But before I get onto that, I should describe what the game actually is: it's a would-be sequel to a Mad Max game on the NES (that I haven't played), though the publisher apparently no longer had the license, so they just changed the name.

You play as some guy driving through a post-apocalyptic wasteland, constantly assailed by bikers, and later on, people in cars and helicopter pilots. You can fight them off with machineguns mounted to the front of your car, and when an enemy's coming close up next to you, a little side window appears and, if your timing's good enough, you can blast them with your shotgun. Eventually, the little left-pointing arrow on your dashboard will start blinking, telling you that you're near a town and you should pull over (which is done by stopping your car to the left side of the road, then turning the steering wheel left as far as it'll go).

That's the part I never figured out back then, and it's pretty important! The town segments take the form of single-plane beat em up stages, where you walk to the left, taking out any enemies you encounter (all the people you encounter are enemies, by the way), as well as destroying any barrels or crates you find, in the hopes of obtaining more fuel, food or water (to replenish you health), or ammo for your guns. If you don't visit the towns, you won't get any points, as they're totted up based on how many enemies you killed, your remaining fuel and health, and so on as you enter. But more importantly, you'll quickly run out of fuel! (Actually points are pretty important too, since you don't start with any extra lives and you can only get them through points).

If you run out of fuel, you'll come to a stop, and you'll have to do a beat em up stage on the road, which are much harder than the town ones, since there's now bikers trying to take your head off with chains, and you can only kill them with your shotgun, which has limited ammo. In the old days, I'd just keep driving until I reached one of these stages, then quickly get killed. I'm glad I gave it another shot as an adult, and finally figured it out, because Outlander is a pretty fun game!

It's no classic, and it has some big problems, like how the scenery during the driving sections never changes (I know you're driving through an endless wasteland, but with a bit of imagination you can easily come up with a few variants: toxic swamp, ruined city, dead forest, etc.), and how later on there's some unfair stuff like poisoned water that reduces your health, but it's definitely a game worth playing, and it's a shame it's not better known. I strongly recommend you also give it a try!

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Advanced Spanner-X -Endless Fire- (X68000)

The title might be bizarre, but unfortunately, the setting of this game is fairly standard, old-fashioned space shooter stuff. You're a spaceship, you shoot other spaceships. Luckily, however, it is a bit more interesting from a mechanical standpoint, and though it's a Japanese game on a system that was only ever released in Japan, it does make me wonder if the developers were fans of European-developed shooting games, like Xenon 2 et al.

There's a couple of reasons I say this. The first is that the game does suffer from that most stereotypical EuroSTG bugbear, lots and lots of bulletsponge enemies. The second, and most interesting, is that rather than your ship having one weapon that gradually powers up, or the ability to change weapons by collecting different items, you instead select your weapon before each stage. A lot of European shooting games have weapon shops for changing and upgrading one's weapon, though Spanner-X's system is a little different from that, too: you're given a selection of weapons from which to choose at the start of each stage, and the twist is that each can only be chosen once.

I guess the point of this is that there's a weapon that best matches each stage, and the player discovers the best order to use them through trial and error. I'm putting a lot of faith in the design skills of the developers with this theory, but I think it works out. There's definitely weapons that seem perfect for the first few stages, at least. It's not a system I like, but at least they're trying something different, I guess? And really, the biggest problem with this game is that first point: the enemies can all take a fair few shots, and they're mostly really small sprites too, so you constantly feel underpowered, which isn't a lot of fun, to be honest.

There is another, more interesting mechanical idiosyncracy in there too, though! Rather than giving you a health bar or a set number of lives, you're given a number of energy units, which not only act as hitpoints, but also temporary power-ups. You lose a unit of energy if you get hit, and you can also press the second button on your controller to expend a unit to power up your weapon for five seconds. Either way, when there's no energy left, it's game over. It's an interesting and unusual system, but even your powered up weapons still feel weak, so making the sacrifice never really feels worthwhile.

There's some other little notes to say about this game, like how the music is excellent (though this being both a shooting game and on the X68000, you could probably have predicted that), and the weird practice of how by default, the score's only displayed between stages, and you have to go into the options screen to turn on score display during play. Though it's an interesting and fairly original game, I can't really recommend Advanced Spanner X Endless Fire, as playing it just isn't fun or exciting. A disappointment.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Simple 2000 Series Vol. 73 = The Saiyuutou Saruden (PS2)

This game has a lot in common with the early Oneechanbara games: it's by Tamsoft, it's a low budget musou game, and it has a lot of wandering around big, multi-map stages like a lost idiot. But! There isn't just the "Journey to the West" theme to differentiate it, as it does actually bring a few ideas to the table, even if they're more interesting in theory than they are fun to engage with in practice.

The premise is one that just seems so obvious for a 3D game based on Journey to the West: you play as Monkey (and later Pigsy and Sandy too), and your job is to escort Tripitaka (note: I'm using the names from the UK dub of the 1970s Japanese live action Saiyuki TV show, just for convenience) across big stages filled with various kinds of demons. There's a few complications that took me a while to figure out at first, though.

Firstly, you've got to find the place to which you're escorting Tripitaka. You go out, find the thing, then go back and tell her, and she'll start moving. There's a huge statue you've got to find and take her to to pray to, and a smaller statue, the finding of which will encourage Tripitaka to take you to the sealed gate to the stage's boss, that you have to fight. The first two bosses are Pigsy and Sandy, and Sandy is the point at which I gave up on the game, after spending over 30 minutes repeatedly being killed by him. Sorry, but he takes off a third of your health right at the start with an unavoidable combo, and then interrupts all your attempts to fight him with the same. It's no fun, and it totally killed my interest in the game.

But other than that, the whole reconnaisance/escort aspect of the game does a lot to differentiate it from other musou games, though I feel it might have been better if they'd have waited a few years and put it on more powerful hardware. The problem is that the stages have to be pretty big by the nature of the game, which means they have to be split up into a few smaller maps, with loading times between each of them. Since you're definitely going to be back and forth, that means you're subjected to numerous loading screens no matter what. There's also the problem that when you leave an area and come back, all the enemies will have respawned, though you can lighten that burden by just running past them all the first time through.

Obviously, though I spent a few hours playing The Saiyuutou Saruden and it does have some potential, I can't really recommend it. It's a shame its ideas never got re-explored on hardware more capable of fulfilling them. Also, it's totally ruined by the unfair, unfun bosses (even though I did beat the first one, it was still an awful experience, and mainly down to luck).

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Ankoku Shinwa: Yamato Takeru Densetsu (NES)

Also known as Dark Myth, this is an adventure game based on the 1976 comic, all focussed around Japanese and Buddhist mythology, with a particular focus on the creation myths of Japan. The comic only lasted a single volume, so I assume it wasn't massively popular when it came out, with both this game and an OAV being released in 1989 and 1990 respectively, over a decade later. I can't say for certain, but I'm going to lay the credit for both adaptations at the feet of the Teito Monogatari franchise of novels, comics, movies and anime, that really re-popularised Japanese mythology and mysticism in the 1980s.

The game itself has typical 80s menu-based Famicom adventure game sections where you look at, walk, talk to, get, and use things, places and people, each one puntucated by a boss fight done in the style of a 2D platform game (but with no platforms). The adventure sections are actually pretty easy, there never seems to be more than three options for each action you can take, and even working through trial and error, you shouldn't face too many problems, except for one. Paradoxically, the game, at times, assumes you're an idiot, which makes the puzzles harder.

For example, there's a point where you encounter two statues, one with an empty eye socket, another with a removable eye-shaped gem. Obviusly, the solution is to take the eye-shaped gem from one statue and put it into the other. The thing that got me stuck, though, is that the option to put the gem into the eyehole doesn't appear until you check your late dad's journal, which will helpfully tell you "put the gem in the eyehole!" Figuring out that I had to look in the journal led to me having to look up a guide, and it makes no sense to me that the game forces you to do that as part of the puzzle, rather than using it as an optional hint.

The action sequences are very brief and very easy, and would barely be worth mentioning if they weren't unusual by their simple presence in the game. They're not terrible or a chore, but neither do they add a lot to the game. The game's difficulty is a mystery in general, though: the story's subject matter is pretty dark, with lots of deaths and a fair bit of violence, and the way the story's told in the comic and the OAV is also very dense, to the extent that it almost seems like it was made with the intent of being an edutainment piece on Japanese myth and ancient history. Contradictory to the tone and style of the source material is the game's difficulty. It all feels like it was made for a much younger audience than the other versions, and maybe it was?

Though the subject matter is interesting, and surprisingly rare in videogames, I still feel like everything about this game just makes it a weak substitute for either of the other versions of the story, and you'd probably be better off reading or watching one of those.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Delisoba Deluxe (Saturn)

So, it's another one of those candidates for the title of "rarest Saturn game of all", and like Heim Waltz, it's one that was never released on sale in shops. Delisoba Deluxe was only given out as a prize to contestants on a TV game show, and playing the game was apparently also part of being on the game show, though I haven't been able to find out whether that's actually true or not, or even the name of the show itself. As you might guess, then, unlike Heim Waltz, Delisoba Deluxe is an actual playable game! And not only that, but it's also developed by Cave, which can only push its price up even further.

What it is is a fairly basic against-the-clock racing game, in which you play as two people atop a moped, hoping to deliver something to the TV studio before time runs out. I guess there must be some rule I'm missing out on from not having seen the TV show, because it seems like even if you don't crash at all, it'd be impossible to complete the "TV Original" mode without running out of time at least once. Luckily, though, there's two other modes to play. The second mode is Time Attack, which isn't much diffrent from TV Original, except you don't run out of time, and you're just trying to set records for finishing the course.

The third mode is the most exciting, and the one in which you can really see that this is a Cave game: Coin Links. In this mode, you've got a much more generous time limit, and the aim is to drive through the course collecting coins for points. This being a cave game, there is of course a scoring system, whereby coins are worth more points as you collect them in quick succession, with a little time meter in the corner of the screen showing you exactly how long you've got to get the next coin before dropping your combo. It's not like the complex and byzantine systems seen in their more recent games, but this was relatively early in their life as a company, and it is almost exactly like the combo system for killing enemies in the Dodonpachi games. It's interesting to see something like that in a game that was probably mostly in the hands of normal, non-arcade obsessed people for a long time.

Other than that, there's a map edit mode that seems a little glitchy, and I unfortunately couldn't figure out how to actually ride on the edited course, which is a shame. There's not much more to say about this game, really! It's a pretty fun diversion for about 15 minutes, and I can see people possibly getting into the Coin Link mode, trying to beat their scores, but it's also one I definitely recommend emulating. You're unlikely to ever see a real copy for sale, and if you do, it'll be hundreds, maybe even thousands of pounds to buy.