Tuesday, 13 February 2018

All Star Pro Wrestling (PS2)

I'm sure you're aware that there are plenty of older games that look a lot better, and ever have certain graphical effects that only work properly on an older CRT TV. Some, like old rhythm games are actually borderline unplayable on flatscreen TVs, for various reason to do with refresh rates and the like. However, All Star Pro Wrestling is the first videogame that feels like it was made to not only be played on a CRT TV, but more specifically a black and white one from the 1970s.

This is despite the fact that most of the wrestlers featured in it were current at the time of its release in 2000 (though, since i know nothing about Japanese wrestling of that period, I can't tell you anything about them). It's just so incredibly austere in its presentation that it looks and feels like a tv broadcast from three decades earlier than its release date. If Jim Cornette were ever to play a wrestling videogame (despite his hatred for "videogame marks"), this would be the one he'd play. There's no gimmick matches(not even tag matches! There's nothing but singles matches on offer), barely any music, no finishing moves, no flashy entrances, absolutely no concessions towards the idea that wrestling is a form of entertainment and not a legitimate sport.

The game itself makes no concessions towards being entertainment, either, being an absolute chore to actually play. There's the controls, first of all, which are entirely mapped to the analogue sticks. You move with the left stick, and attack (or sometimes run to the ropes, if that's what your wrestler feels like doing) with the right stick. To grapple, you press L3 and R3 together, while standing so close to your opponent you're already touching them. When while grappling, you use the right stick to do a move, which will almost always be a snapmare, an Irish whip, or a backdrop, no matter what you do or which wrestler you're controlling. (Note: there is apparently an alternate control scheme that uses the buttons, but it also uses the universally terrible touch sensitivity feature the PS2's face buttons had that was so bad that Sony asked developers not to use it after a couple of years).To make matters worse, all this happens so slowly that you'd think the wrestlers were submerged in a vat of treacle.

This game was part of the second half of Squaresoft's "experimental period", which started on the Playstation with the likes of Einhander, Racing Lagoon and Tobal No. 1, and ended in the early days of the Playstation 2 with the likes of this, Driving Emotion Type-S and The Bouncer. You've probably figured out by now that I do not recommend it, and it might even be the worst 3D wrestling game I've ever played. There must have been an audience for slow, boring wrestling games in turn-of-the-century Japan, however, as it somehow sold enough copies to get two sequels.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Jerry Glanville's Pigskin Footbrawl (Mega Drive)

Before I actually start talking about this game, I want to talk about its title. Say it out loud: "Jerry Glanville's Pigskin Footbrawl", and there's something somewhat satisfying in the way it flows. So much so, that for years, I'd assumed that Jerry Glanville was a fictional character, invented purely for the sound of his name, but apparently, he's some kind of sporting multiclasser, having been an American football player as well as a driver in two kinds of car racing. Anyway, it's a port of an arcade game that didn't feature any license, but getting sportsmen's names in titles was a big strategy for early Mega Drive games in the US, so I guess Jerry was the only player they could get who would put his name on this incredibly tenuous adaptataion of the sport.

It's played in a vaguely belt scrolly kind of way, on pitches littered with various objects and hazards. An odd quirk compared to most team sport games is that you control the same player for the entire match, which, since the camera follows the balls, means that you spend a lot of the time offscreen trying to catch up. You do have one little sliver of control over your teammates, however: when you press the punch button, everyone on your team throws a punch at once. Obviously, the main aim is to get the ball to your opponent's end of the pitch, scoring seven points when you do. There's also a "possession" meter that slowly fills while a member of your team has the ball, and if it's full when you score, you get an extra point.

Mostly, this is a pretty fun game to play, with only two major problems: there is both too much and too little of it. Too much because the shortest a single match can be is ten minutes, plus all the intermissions and so on whenever anyone scores and at the end of each quarter. Too little because it's incredibly bare bones: there are only two teams, "Red" and "Blue", and single player mode consists of playing one game as the blue team against the red team. There's no season or career or anything to be found here. There are two pitches, though: the first half of the game takes place in a field, and the second half in a dungeon.

Pigskin Footbrawl is an okay game, but it's really only worth your time if you have at least one friend who's very enthusiastic about playing lots of long matches in a sports game where every match features the exact same teams playing in the exact same venue, forever.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Battle Tycoon - Flash Hiders SFX (SNES)

I complain a lot about how many action games, especially those released in recent years, are ruined by the addition of experience points, skill progression, and the negative difficulty curve that those features create. But of course, there are exceptions to every rules, and Battle Tycoon is one of them. It's the sequel to a PC Engine game I've not yet played called Flash Hiders, and both games seem to be pioneering forays into the kind of long, robust single player modes that later fighting games like the home ports of Street Fighter Alpha 3 or Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution would have.

Obviously, there's the traditional modes where you just pick characters and fight against other human players or computer-controlled opponents, but the meat of the game is in the "Advance" mode, which has you selecting a character that you'll stick with for the duration, while you fight opponents, gain experience and raise your stats. This mode is split into days, and at different times of day, you can go to different places: the official arena to take part in fights against random opponents at random power levels, the street fight arena, where you can choose your opponent from a whoever's present on that day, the gambling den where you can bet on fights in which you don't personally participate (though, if you want, you can actually sit out of fighting altogether and have the computer do it. though the strategy/raising part of the game isn't really deep enough that this would be worthwhile for anyone), an item shop, a place to save your progress, and your apartment where you can look at your stats.

Mostly though, you just take part in fights and watch numbers gradually go up. There's an interesting thing to note about the character stats in this game, though. There are four stats: Attack, Guard, Speed and Point. The first three are obvious, but Point is a pool of extra stat points that can be assigned as you see fit at the start of every bout. All the fights are so easy that the stats don't really seem to matter very much at all, but it's a nice touch. It's an enjoyable mode, and when it came out, there probably wasn't really anything like it. It's kind of surprising that a game like this, that is, a longform action game that's totally accessible to the JP-illiterate doesn't seem to have any kind of fandom in the west already. You would have thought it would have been a hit as far back as the imports market in the 90s, especially when you get onto how it looks and sounds.

How does it look and sound? Well, it's obvious that the developers not only had a target audience in mind, but they knew exactly hoe to hook them. Everything about this game is aggressively designed to appeal to 1990s anime fans (or as they were known at the time it came out, just regular anime fans). The character designs, the stages, even the menus, all look like they could have been licensed from a hundred different OAVs of the time, with music that comes as close to the ideal as the SNES can muster, too. The sprites are a little smaller than most fighting games of the time, but the quality of the artwork is still generally of a very high standard and the whole game looks great.

I totally recommend trying out Battle Tycoon. It looks incredible, and though it's not a particularly sophisticated fighting game, it's still fun enough and the single player mode is, as mentioned, years ahead of its time. It really makes me want to splash out on a 6-button PC Engine controller and a copy of the first game, too, since that has things like full-screen pixel art cutscenes and CD quality music.