Monday, 29 January 2018

Vindex (Amiga)

This was going to be a post about a game entitled "Space Harrier: Return to the Fantasy Zone", which is one of those semi-official western sequels to Japanese games I talked about in my review of Dragon's Revenge. It's an especially obscure one, too, since as far as I can tell, it was only released in a compilation along with the original Space Harrier as well as a couple of other arcade ports. Unfortunately, it only had the option to play using the mouse, which was so fiddly and useless as to render the game completely unplayable. And that's not just my personal dislike of mouse controls in action games, Harrier really did just seem to jerkily zip around the screen at random. So instead, here's Vindex, another sprite scaling shooting game on the Amiga.

Vindex at least has functioning controls, which puts it a step above SH:RttFZ. Unfortunately, that's about all it has. Well, that's not fair, some of the backgrounds look okay in a minimalist sort of way. Only the backgrounds, though: your ship and the enemies look very generic and bland, with the final boss looking particularly like a very unimaginative child's drawing of a robot.

As lackluster as the graphics are, at least they're there, which is more than can be said for the music. It might just be because I associate sprite scaling games with SEGA and Taito, two companies who always put great soundtracks in their games, but Vindex's lack of music is really weird and jarring, and makes the game feel incredibly empty.

It doesn't play well, either: all the hitboxes seem to be huge, and every time you lose a life, you go back to the start of the current stage. It's an exercise in tedium, and completely devoid of fun or excitement. I even resorted to using a level select cheat just to take a few more varied screenshots (which is also how I saw the rubbish-looking final boss, who is also incredibly easy to kill, probably easier than any other part of the game). It probably goes without saying at this point, but Vindex is a game I definitely don't recommend. It's so tedious, in fact, that I had to look at the earlier paragraphs in this document to remind myself of its name. I don't like writing such overwhelmingly negative reviews, but sometimes there's just nothing positive to be said about a game.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Truck Kyousoukyoku - Ai to Kanashimi no Rodeo (PS2)

This game's title means "Truck Mad Dash Melody: Rodeo of Love and Sadness", and it can most easily be described as "Outrun in a truck", though it's also much more than that! Like Outrun, it is a linear against-the-clock racing games with branching paths (though the branches just lead to different routes through the same stages, not to completely different stages as in Outrun) there's also a little bit of Chase HQ in there, not to mention the different feel a truck has compared to a Ferrari, and on top of all that is this game's distinct style and theme.

The basic premise is that you pick one of four truckers and drive overnight to return home to your loved one. The journey takes place over five stages, the time limits for which are incredibly strict, and that's only the first part of this game's brutally steep learning curve. Not only are the time limits strict, but hitting other vehicles actually carries a time penalty! There's one exception to that rule, though: the evil trucker in his demonic truck who turns up once a stage. You actually get time back for ramming him! There's also branching paths, as I mentioned before, and interestingly, you get different time extensions depending on the route you take though a stage, and obviously, some routes are shorter or easier to get through than others, so over the course of several plays, you can eventually figure out the best way to go. And you will have to have several plays, it took me over an hour before I could get past the first stage without credit feeding!

There's also an "original mode" which has you going on longer, less exciting missions. For example, the first mission (and the only one I played) has you driving around town collecting fish, and at one point the evil trucker shows up to shoot bombs at you on a perilous winding mountain path. I came very close to finishing this first mission a few times, but the fact that a single attempt takes nearly five whole minutes combined with the generally lower level of excitement mean I quickly gave up on this mode. No great loss really, as the arcade mode is pretty compelling on its own, and original mode is just the standard "pad out the home release" type stuff.

Now, the most interesting thing about Truck Kyousoukyoku to me is the setting and general aesthetic. The most obvious part of all this is that all the trucks in the game are Dekotora, gigantic and luridly decorated trucks that have had their own subculture in Japan for decades. I think probably the place most people in the west will have seen them is in the background of Sodom's stage in Street Fighter Alpha 3? Another cool thing is that it's set in Japan during what appears to be the 1960s or 70s, by my reckoning, with dramatic character artwork and a soundtrack of sad-sounding romantic ballads to match. It's something that really makes the game stand out from the crowd (though to be honest, the crowd of games about driving trucks has never been very big, though it was probably at its biggest around the turn of the century when this came out).

So yeah, if you're interested in a checkpoint-based driving game with a different feel and a differrent style to it, and you're willing to climb a steep learning curve, then I definitely recommend Truck Kyousoukyoku. As an aside, TCRF notes that the game has a debug mode, that includes a model viewer for all the vehicles in the game, as well as one for all the stages, so videogame tourists who know how to use action replay codes and that kind of dark sorcery might also want to check it out.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Megatudo 2096 (Playstation)

The first thing I want to say about this game, before I actually say anything about the game itself, is that though there's no Japanese text ingame as far as I can tell, the title itself is somehow mistransliterated, judging by the voice on the title screen. That voice calls it "Megatude 2096", which is actually a worse title than the one written down, as it sounds like the dominant personality trait of a 90s platformer's main character.

Anyway, this is a 3D fighting game, in which all the characters are giant robots, rendered with glorious gouraud shading. It works especially well, too, as it makes them all look exactly like unpainted plastic model kits. The backgrounds are more traditionally textured, but they look pretty good, too. Despite all that, there's still something about Megatudo 2096 that just feels incredibly low budget, especially on the title screen and menus.

Another thing in its favour, though, is that it does try to do a few unique things mechanically: rather than just having normal, mundane side-stepping, the game takes advantage of the fact that its characters are robots with the "linear dash", which is essentially a very fast kind of strafing on rocket-powered roller skates. It's also an early example of a projectile-based fighting game, like the Psychic Force or Senko no Ronde series. It's still a bit primitive, though: for example, you don't automatically switch between projectile and melee attacks based on the distance between the two fighters, but instead there's the slightly clunky inclusion of a weapon change button. As far as I can tell, you'll never actually want to use you melee weapon anyway, since the best strategy in this game for beating any opponent is to just linear dash in circles around them while constantly shooting.

There's not really much more to say about it, though. It's a kind of cool-looking, kind of cheap-looking experimental fighting game that you might find interesting for half an hour or so. Maybe more if you play against a human opponent, which I haven't had the opportunity to do, though I'd be interested if it's more tactically interesting when you're not playing against a stupid AI. Another interesting fact is that there's one FAQ for this game on gameFAQs, and it was written in 1996! I always like finding games that have really old FAQs on there. Anyway, if you're curious, give it a shot, but if you don't you're not missing much. Play Psychic Force 2012 instead.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Death Wish 3 (C64)

In case you aren't aware, this isn't the third in a series of games entitled Death Wish, but is a licensed game based on the third in a series of movies by that name, in which Charles Bronson plays a kind of vengeful war diety named Paul Kersey. The third movie sees him descend upon a version of New York that looks more like Rossington, where he falls in love with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, then kill like a hundred people with a variety of guns and the assistance of other local pensioners.

Anyway, it's interesting because it's an incredibly early example of a popular 2010s genre: the open-world tidying game. That is, games in which you can freely roam about a huge map, and there are dots on the map representing things like bosses, minigames and so on that you're expected to tidy up. Obviously, the map isn't particularly big, and the dots only represent bosses (or rather, tactically significant enemies, since they're not any more difficult to kill than the regular enemies), but in principle it's the same. You play as Kersey, and you walk around New York, killing bad guys and avoiding the temptation to kill cops and old women (because doing so reduces your score significantly).

In the interests of simple, readable game design, there are actually only five kinds of people in Death Wish 3's portrayal of New York: cops, old women, criminals, large breasted women who occasionally stop to scratch their bums, and the mysterious guys who run in to clean all the corpses away. The last two types can't be killed, either. So you get points for killing criminals and lose them for killing old people and cops. There's also blinking dots on the map, usually inside buildings. These are the riot leaders, and you've got to get to them and kill them, which stops the current riot and gives you a couple of minutes of peace, quiet and boredom until the next one starts. You just do this until you either get killed by the criminals or you stop playing from boredom.

As already mentioned, it's an interesting concept to see in not only a game from over thirty years ago, but one that's also a throwaway movie license too. However, there's really only a few minutes of fun to be had, as once you've put down one riot, they don't get any harder or add new types of enemy or anything. Plus the way you navigate around the streets is really odd and took me a while to figure out: pressing up or down rotates your view by ninety degrees, and you really need to keep an eye on the map to be able to have a clue as to where you're going. I'd say give it a try, just for curiosity's sake, but don't expect to be glued to it, or to ever have the desire to return.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Silver Valley v1.00 (Master System)

I don't know what it is about the Master System, but for some reason, it seems to attract homebrew with really great production values. For example, a few years ago, there was an amazing port of the Bruce Lee game that was originally on various 8-bit microcomputers in the 1980s. Silver Valley continues that tradition, but this time, it's an all-new game! Just as a disclaimer, I'm assuming from the version number that this is probably the final version of the game, but I could be wrong.

It's a platformer that's clearly heavily inspired by the NES Castlevania games, with bits and pieces that suggest other influences too, such as Megaman, Ghouls and Ghosts, Wonderboy, and even the Switchblade games, which were kind of UK-developed attempts at creating Japanese-style console action games, but on the Amiga. It all feels as smooth as it looks, too: the controls are responsive and great, and you can jump, attack, and shuffle around on your knees. Technically and visually, this game can't be faulted: it's one of the best-looking games on the Master System, commercial or otherwise, and it all feels perfectly robust, too. AND there's even a little game-within-a-game in the form of a playable "Crapman" arcade cabinet,

There are a couple of little problems designwise, though. The enemies, for a start, almost all seem to be massive damage sponges, taking several hits to kill. There's also the lives system: you get one life (though you can take four hits before dying) and infinite continues. It might just be me, but it felt like this really cheapens things, with certain challenges like instant death spikes and almost unavoidable enemies appearing pretty close to the start of the game making it seem like the game wants you to use the continues, which I feel is a problem, because I just feel like using continues, especially when there's an infinite supply of them, drains all the joy out of any game. A change as simple as having three lives instead of just one would go a long way towards making this feel like a much more "complete" game.

I don't want to be too harsh on Silver Valley, because it's obviously a passion project for its creator, and it really is an admirable effort, too. But at the same time, I do have to be honest when I'm talking about a game, no matter what its source. I can only hope that if eruiz00 ever finds this review, they take it for the honest, constructive criticism it's intended to be, and that I hope they continue making games after they're done with Silver Valley, as it's clear they have a ton of talent. And everyone else reading this, I of course recommend you give the game a try, because despite its problems, it's still and impressive achievement.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Zusar Vasar (Dreamcast)

Zusar Vasar is the kind of game that just doesn't get made anymore: it's a racing game that isn't about driving either go-karts round theme park-looking tracks or realistic cars around realistic tracks. Instead, it's a futuristic (possibly post-apocalyptic) chariot racing game, in which the chariots are pulled by robotic animals of various kinds. And they race around a variety of locations: mountains, jungles, ruined cities, and so on.

The whole chariot deal isn't just a gimmick, either: it significantly affects how you drive around. The main controls have you steering with the analogue stick, and both triggers are accelerate, one assigned to each of your robots. The X button is also used for your boost, that takes a few seconds recharge after use. Obviously, the weight distribution of a chariot is different to a car or motorbike, too. Mainly, there's a joint between your "engine" and the back of your vehicle, which has no power of its own and just rocks about as it's pulled along. So those are the first few quirks to which you have to get used, but there's more.

The "more" comes in the form of the fact that there are three different kinds of race: one the ground, in the air, and in the water. And they all feel totally different. My recommendation is to play a few air races first, as they're the easiest way to get used to the whole "dual acceleration" thing, and getting a handle on that makes all the races a lot easier. The water races are a lot harder to get a handle on, though, as your craft sways and bobs around on the water and swings like crazy on corners. The ground races are somewhere in the middle, of course, and after you've played a few they're not much more difficult to get through than a normal arcade-style racing game.

As for structure, there's the obvious modes for single races, time trials and a season mode, plus there's the "single battle race" mode. When I saw this mode on the menu, I wondered why there wasn't any battle race season mode. Once I actually played it, the answer was obvious: this mode is an enjoyable, but somewhat unfair, little slice of organised anarchy. Before you start a race in this mode, you choose your animal and chariot, and you choose a normal and special weapon too. The normal weapon can be used as much as you like, and the special weapon has a cooldown time even shorter than your boost. The result is six chariots all trundling around, constantly shooting each other, there's explosions all over the place, and it's just generally anarchic. It's a ton of fun, but it'd be infuriating if you were actually trying to consistently win to try and progress through a season.

Zusar Vasar is a game I'd place alongside the likes of Speed Power Gunbike: it's a game that initially seems unforgiving to the point of being no fun at all. But like Speed Power Gunbike, play it a bit more, get used to it's idiosyncracies, and you'll be hurtling along and having a ton of fun. The Dreamcast is such a widely-loved and thoroughly talked-about console that there aren't many hidden gems on there that everyone doesn't know about, but I think Zusar Vasar can be considered one of them.