Friday, 10 August 2018

Block Wars (Playstation)

It's kind of interesting, that every time I find another Versus Arkanoid clone, it manifests its competitive element in a totally different way. There's the most famous example, Puchi Carat, that essentially transplants Puzzle Bobble's ruleset into a block-breaking environment, there's Blocken, with its combination of a block-breaking race, and Tetris Battle Gaiden-esque attacks, and now Block Wars, which has yet another interpretation of the concept.

How it works is that the field is horizontally aligned, with a player at each end, barrier in the middle, and a solid wall behind each player. Each player starts with an identical set of blocks, and they go about their business smashing them with the ball. There's a bunch of characters to choose from, and as far as I can tell, they differ in how fast the ball goes, and how quickly it accelerates. There are two possible win conditions, the least interesting being smashing all your blocks before your opponent does.

Much more interesting is the way the walls and centre barrier come into play. The other way you can win is to ensure that one of the blocks on your opponent's side touches the wall behind them. Of course, this is done by moving the barrier in the middle of the field. There's two things that make the barrier move: hitting it with your ball pushes it away from you and towards your opponent. Allowing your ball to hit the wall behind you does the opposite. I think hitting the barrier also makes extra blocks appear on your opponent's side of the field, but the game moves really fast, so I'm not totally sure about that.

Well, the balls move really fast, but the game doesn't always. As is often a problem in single player Arkanoid-likes, you do often end up with situations where both players have one brick remaining in a hard-to-reach place, and there's a long, tense battle to be the first to reach it. And of course, with no blocks in the way, both players are knocking the barrier back and forth, too. The tension would probably be a lot more exciting with human opponents than AI ones, I assume.

Block Wars is a playable game, but if you plan on playing it single player, I wouldn't bother. There's a perfectly fine Playstation port of Puchi Carat, and that game's a lot more fun, and it has a couple of solo modes, too. Maybe Block Wars would have worked better as an arcade game, maybe on a tabletop cabinet with a vertically-aligned screen between the players?

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Strahl (3DO)

There's a lot of FMV games on the 3DO, but as far as I can tell, most of them are of the later, more complex variety that have you switching between multiple cameras and setting traps, and so on. In fact, I think Strahl might be the only old school Dragon's Lair-style game on the system (if I'm wrong on this, please let me know, of course). If anyone reading this somehow doesn't know how these games work, you watch a nice-looking cartoon, and "control" the action through a series of what would later become known as QTEs.

There's not much out of the ordinary in Strahl, mechanically speaking: It uses the four directions of the D-pad, as well as the A button when some crossed swords on the screen, and unusually, when a line of dots appears onscreen, you're expected to quickly tap the B button until they're all gone. The other big difference between Strahl and other games in the genre is that you get to choose the order in which you play the stages, so even hopelessly inept players can see a decent amount of different animation. (At the start of the game, you get 3 stages to pick from. After completing one of them, this opens up to six stages, and after them, there's a final seventh stage.)

There is actually a third difference between Strahl and its genremates: it's by far the easiest of these games I've ever played. The button prompts are actually pretty sparesly placed, and there's sometimes long stretches of onscreen action where you're not asked for any input at all. Furthermore, they're very forgiving, too: not only do you get a generous amount of time to press the button, but you're also not penalised for mispressing, as long as you do make the correct input before the prompt disappears. As a result of this, I finished the game on my first attempt, without continuing.

Strahl is only about twenty minutes long, but it's a nice twenty minutes. It looks and feels like the kind of 1980s OAV that would have been dubbed and released in the west as a kids' video on the cheap, no matter how inappropriate that decision would have been, like Birth, or that bizarre Marvel Dracula anime. I say it's worth a play if the sound of that appeals to you. One last note: I've read up a little bit on this game's history, and it was apparently originally made for arcades in 1985, but went unreleased until the 1990s, when it got ported to the Laseractive, the Saturn, and the 3DO, and apparently, all three versions play slightly differently (though I have no idea how).