Thursday, 19 July 2018

Kamen Rider Kuuga (Playstation)

2000's Kamen Rider Kuuga, in case anyone doesn't know, was the first Kamen Rider TV series since 1988's Kamen Rider Black RX. And I guess it must have been a success, since Different Kamen Rider shows have been running alongside the Super Sentai shows ever since. Since the show's aimed at little kids, it makes sense to have the licensed videogame on the Playstation instead of the newly-released PS2, too, since it means they can make a quick, cheap little game for the kids to buy with their pocket money. (The 2001 and 2002 Kamen Rider shows, Agito and Ryuki also had their games on PS1, presumably for the same reasons.)

Anyway, as befitting a series that's mainly about one-on-one combat between a hero and a series of episodic monsters, it's a fighting game. There's a single player story mode, that's about fifteen minutes long, and sees you playing as Kamen Rider Ryuki in various different forms fighting monsters. There's different kinds of fights in this mode too, like ones where you only have to get the monster down to 50% health, or ones where you have to survive the attacks of an invincible monster for thirty seconds. The game will also encourage you (in the form of a text prompt) to finish some fights with certain attacks. It's okay, but like I said, there's only fifteen minutes of it and it's done. Finishing it once does unlock survival mode, which is a lot more interesting, though.

Survival mode lets you play as the various Kuuga forms seen in story mode, but also, as all of the monsters you fight in that mode! (After you've unlocked them, but I'll get onto that later.) Other than that, it's just a typical survival mode: you fight an unending stream of randomly-selected foes until you get beat. The game's controls are very simple, which I assume is another concession towards a younger target audience: there's no special move inputs, instead the four face buttons are mapped to punch, kick, throw, and special. Some characters have more than one special, which are excuted by just pressing different directions along with the special button.

Now, onto unocking stuff. Every time you finish playing story or survival mode, you get points, depending on how many fights you won. Each point can be spent to buy one random card in the digital card collection. There's 81 cards to get, and once you get a card, it isn't removed from the pool of possible cards you draw, so the more you have, the harder it is to fill the gaps in your collection. Anyway, among the cards, there are smaller subsets of three cards, which unlock playable characters when you get them all. I think I managed to get all of these cards after finishing story mode once and playing maybe two or three games of survival mode. The rest of the cards are just for completionists and people who like looking at low resolution photos of turn-of-the-century tokusatsu actors and monster suits (and who doesn't?).

So Kamen Rider Kuuga is a decent enough game, I guess. Nothingg spectacular, but it's entertaining enough, and if you know people who you can get to play old licensed games with you, it's probably pretty fun in versus mode, too. On that note, I wonder why it was never seen on the import/piracy scene at the time, considering how import-friendly it is. But on the other hand, English-speaking tokusatsu fandom was still so tiny as to be practically non-existent at the time, and the game isn't really good enough to be worth playing over any arcade-ported figting games without the allure of the license. (Still a lot better than some of the awful fighting games we played back then just because of the license, like Dragonball Final Bout and so on). Yeah, it's alright. Give it a try.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

War: The Final Assault (Arcade)

I'll start this post with a disclaimer: this game isn't emulated perfectly in MAME by a long shot, and while the original cabinet uses some buttons and a big gun handle-shaped analogue stick for controls, I had to make do with a Dual Shock 4 and jimmying together some controls that were pretty close to a modern first person shooter through trial and error. Since it would be unfair to comment on the quality of the game under these circumstances, consider this post as being for informational purposes only.

As far as I can tell, though, it's a pretty good attempt at bringing contemporary console first person shooters (circa 1999, when the game was released) to the arcade! I only played the single player mode, though it seems that it has both co-op and versus multiplayer modes, judging by the attract mode demos and the high score tables. Single player mode has you going through stages killing lots of enemy soldiers and robots. Sometimes you'll get to pick up a more powerful weapon, which is nice, too, and there's a fair few different kinds. Also, when you kill human enemies with an explosive weapon, they burst into chunks of meat, which is also nice.

The game's set in futuristic Siberia, and your enemies are a kind of generic bad guy army that takes vidual cues from both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, though judging by some of the names of later stages seen on the highscore tables, it looks like aliens get involved later on, too. Visually, the game looks great: everything's huge and colourful and chunky, and there's cool propaganda posters on the walls too. The robot enemies are a bit boring, though, which is a shame as the human enemies look alright, despite being a bit generic. Though there was apparently a scrapped N64 port in the works, the whole time I was playing, the thought that ran through my mind was that it looked like a lot of western-developed Dreamcast games. Of course, it didn't get ported there, either.

As for how it plays, it's a mixed bag. I do like the linearity of the stages, and the fact that there's big red arrows telling you where to go, as something that's always frustrated me in single player FPSes is getting lost in the stages. I don't know why, but it always seems to happen! One thing I really didn't like though, is that there's quite a few bullet sponge enemies, and they only get more frequent as the stages go on. I only played until the fourth boss, and by then, just getting through each room was becoming laborious.

Though I was essentially playing it at half speed, thanks to a combination of the emulation being in its early days, and my laptop not particularly being a powerhouse (though I don't know if it runs faster on more powerful computers, or if we will just have to wait for the emulation to get slowly closer to perfection), I mostly enjoyed War: The Final Assault. It's colourful, there's explosions and stuff, and there aren't many arcade games like it. (Off the top of my head, I can think of Last Survivor, Outtrigger, and that Counterstrike arcade game?) Try it, I guess, see how you get on.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Ordyne (PC Engine)

Not every game has to be original to be fun,a fact that definitely works in Ordyne's favour. Though Namco's output in the late 80s was mostly pretty varied (something that shows in the massive array of PC Engine games they released in the console's early days, most of which were pretty unique in some way, and most of which were also really high quality. Making it so much stranger that they didn't release any PC Engine CD games, as far as I know), Ordyne is a game that's clearly very heavily influenced by SEGA's Fantasy Zone.

For a start, it's a cute, cartoony shooting game, though to be fair, that was a pretty popular thing at the time, and Ordyne isn't as strange or psychedelic as Fantasy Zone. The real similarities lie in its actual mechanics. Firstly, you have a straight forward shot fired with one button, and a bomb that drops down from the front of your ship fired with the other, and like in FZ, playing this game without a turbo controller will build up massive muscles in your right arm as you try to shoot fast enough to get through the enemies. For some reason, Ordyne starts giving out a lot of bullet sponge enemies that take a ton of punishment from the second stage onwards, which is never a good thing.

THe other big thing taken from Fantasy Zone is the item shop. I know bombs and item shops are fairly common things in this era, but both of them together in a horizontally-scrolling cute-em-up just feels like too big a set of coincidences. The shop does work a little differently to FZ's shop, though. While Fantasy Zone and its sequels have every item available throughout the game as long as you've collected enough money for them, each time the shop appears in Ordyne, there's only three non-randomly selected items available. Also, when you by a weapon, its use is limited by time, not by how many time you fire it (just like in Fantasy Zone).

To be fair to Ordyne, it's not totally a rip off of Fantasy Zone. It's one-way forced scrolling, as opposed to FZ's Defender-style free roaming style, for example. More interestingly, there's the occasional appearance of the Dream Company, which allows you to gamble 1000 crystals for the chance to win either a power up or a larger amount of money, and other such prizes. I'm not sure if it's possible to lose at this, since t hasn't happened to me yet. Maybe I've just been very lucky, but still, if you see the weird clock guy floating around, approach him.

Ordyne might not be an original game, and there are definitely much better PC Engine shooting games in the same price range, but it's still a pretty good game. I wouldn't bother actively seeking it out, but if you see a copy on sale at a slightly lower price than usual, you probably won't regret picking it up.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dragon Beat: Legend of Pinball (Playstation)

I really like pinball games, both real tables and videogames. I think there's a lot to be learned about game design, especially for arcade-style games from playing them. It helps that most of them are pretty fun, even when they're not particularly well-designed because of some basic principles I'll get into later. Dragon Beat is definitely a useful learning experience, even among pinball games, as it's a masterclass in fundamentally bad design.

But first, I'll address a more obvious elephant in the room regarding this game: the way it looks. It's ugly. Very ugly. Everything is prerendered in a way that makes everything look very very dated. Some people talk about how the low polygon graphics seen on the Playstation and Saturn have aged poorly, and they're wrong in general, but Dragon Beat in particular is a game that would have benefitted greatly from having chunky polygon models with vibrant, brightly-coloured textures as opposed to the drab, wannabe realistic renders it has. The fact that prerendered backgrounds aren't exactly conducive to play and interaction is probably a mitigating factor in the game's mechanical faults, too.

Though it might just seem like flourish, an important part of what makes pinball fun is the constant stimulation. The whole time you're playing a pinball game, there's noise, flashing lights, numbers going up, stuff moving around and so on. For an example of this idea taken to its extreme, play Kaze's Digital Pinball series on Saturn (Last Gladiators and Necronomicon), games that constantly bombard the player with absurd levels of bombasticity, with guitar solos, booming proclamations and even surreal poetry recitations happening while the ball pings around the place.

Dragon Beat, by contrast is just plain old boring, in a way I've never seen a pinball game be before. More than half of your time is spent watching the ball just bounce off of walls, making no sound, scoring no points, having nothing happen. If you're lucky, you'll get the ball into a few holes , which will trigger events and let you see a little bit of cool pixel art and maybe also a glitchy pre-rendered sprite of a monster dancing around the table, but in the most part, this game is dull. (The whole theming of the game suggests that it was inspired by the work of husband and wife video pinball developers Littlewing, but only thematically. Littlewing's games are much more exciting, even their first, the primitive 1991 game Tristan, which you can play on the Internet Archive here.)

There's none of the audio-visual stimulation, none of the brain-pleasing numbers-going-up, there's nothing. Just a ball slowly rolling around an ugly table. And, in another bad aesthetic choice, the ball has some kind of weird sprite scaling thing going on, so that it shrinks when it goes up the screen, and grows when it comes down. It doesn't really work though, maybe due to the flatness of the tables themselves, and just looks strange.

Obviously, I don't recommend Dragon Beat - Legend of Pinball. Instead, you should play literally any other pinball game ever made, as I'm yet to encounter one that's anywhere near as bad as this.