Monday, 12 November 2018

Genji Tsuushin Agedama (PC Engine)

This is an anime licensed game, based on an anime that, as far as I can tell has never been translated into English. So I can't really tell you anything about it, other than it ran for 51 episodes, and didn't have any other videogames. I can guess that it wasn't massively popular, then, since a fair few kids anime from the early 90s had a game each for PC Engine, SNES, Mega Drive, Game Boy, and sometimes even Game Gear, too!

Unusually for a licensed game, this one is a fairly original concept. Well, original might not be the right word, but it's not well-worn territory, at least. Genji Tsuushin Agedama is what might be the first and only Atomic Runner Chelnov-alike, being as it is, a platform/shooting game hybrid with a player character that can't stop running forwards. Obviously, that means that there's no exploration or anything, and the platform elements are mainly limited to trying not to fall into pits while simultaneously fighting off enemies.

So you run, jump, and shoot, and you've also got magic attacks performed by holding and releasing the fire button. As you hold it, a meter at the top of the screen fills up. The meter's split into differently coloured sections, each colour is a different attack, more powerful than the last. The longer you hold the button, the more powerful the magic you cast, though also, all the magics after the first are unavailable until you collect items to unlock them one by one, though this doesn't take long or force you to go out of your way. Another ability you've got is that you can do a quick roll along the ground by pressing down on the d-pad. You're invincible during this roll, and it can do a lot of damage, but it's very quick, so you're at risk of getting hurt as soon as it ends.

Though getting hurt isn't itself that big a risk, either, since you can take eight hits from the start, and there's plenty of healing items to pick up, too. In fact, though this is a fun, cute, and charming game, the one big criticism that can be levelled at it is that it's very easy. On my first play, I managed to get pretty far into stage four, and there are only six in total. Despite that, it is still a lot of fun, and definitely worth playing. I'd recommend buying a real copy, but I feel like I got lucky with mine: I got it for about a third of the usual price, since the ebay seller clearly didn't know the game's name, or how to look it up, and had it listed as just "Japanese PC Engine Game". But still, it's pretty fun, though maybe not be £30+ worth of fun.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Attack Pla-Rail (Arcade)

I'm sure most of you have probably heard of Taito's Densha De Go series of train-driving games, based on real Japanese train routes and with an array of specialist controllers associated with the home ports. Attack Pla-Rail, made by Namco and based on a toyline by Tomy seems to be either an attempt at making a rival for that series, or a version of it that aims for a younger audience. The controls, as far as I can tell without having yet played any of the Densha De Go games, are pretty much the same: a lever for controlling your speed, and a few buttons for making decisions and parping your horn.

The most obvious difference between Attack Pla-Rail and its better-known rival is the aesthetic: while Densha De Go aims towards realism, this game gives every object a plastic sheen, and people, vehicles and other objects are very simple. Because they're all toys, obviously. Also playing into the toy aspect is that your time limit is given in the form of remaining battery life, with different trains having different rates of usage, along with differing top speeds and corner handling abilities. You get more batteries by doing different tasks, though they're very simple things: speeding up to go through a loop, beeping your horn at cows, stopping while a bridge gets into place, and so on.

Obviously, with the mention of loops and such, you can already guess that the routes in this game aren't based on any from real life, and that's true. Instead, there's an Outrun-esque system of stages with branching paths between them, though unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any information regarding the total number of stages, or a diagram of where every branching path takes the player. You do go through five stages before the game ends, though that doesn't mean there are fifteen in total like in Outrun, as late in one run, I encountered a stage that had appeared early in another run on a different route. A nice touch is that once you've finished your five stages, you get to use your remaining battery power on a cool-looking night time stage with no obstacles to navigate.

It's a lot more relaxing than the usual excitement you'd want from an arcade game, but despite that (or maybe because of it), Attack Pla-Rail is still a fun game, though since it has no sequels or home ports, I have to say that if it was intended to take custom away from the Densha De Go series, it's had the opposite effect, as it's got me looking up the games and their controllers on ebay, wanting more in a similar vein.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Small Games Round Up Vol. 3!

It's another round up of three games that aren't big enough to support posts of their own, and this time I'm looking at a trio of SG-1000 games, starting with Golgo 13. Obviously the middle-aged fantasy world of Golgo 13, the stoic sniper who assassinates people and beds women is an ill fit for the pastel-palleted world of the SG-1000, so in this game he's using his skills for a non-violent purpose: rescuing people from a runaway train by shooting out the windows so they can escape. Between Goglo and the train, though, there's an infinitely long cargo train and a road. If your bullets hit one of the boxcars on the cargo train, or a truck passing by on the road, it'll bounce back at you, and you have to avoid it. After a few stages, some misanthropic helicopter pilots will also start tryng to bomb you, plus there's a time limit. Unfortunately, if the time limit runs out, the train just goes offscreen, there's no sequence of it hitting a wall or going off a cliff or anything.

Golgo 13 is an okay game, but it's really let down by the fact that once the helicopters start appearing, that's as hard as the game gets. It doesn't speed up or add any more elements, it's essentially just that stage over and over until you run out of lives. Even something as simple as the train going up and down hills occaisionally would be a big change, forcing the player to aim vertically as well astiming their shots and aiming horizontally. Never mind. Hustle Chumy is a more standard game for the time, being a single-screen platformer about a sewer-dwelling rat that just wants to bring home some food. To do so, you leave the sewer and brave the world above, filled with cats, bats, crocodiles, astronauts and an invincible fishman. All the enemies except the fishman can be killed by throwing dots (stones, maybe), with the fishman acting as a slow, but unrelenting terminator-type figure.

The big twist in Hustle Chumy is that the more bits of food you pick up (it's impressive for a game on such an old system that they vary from stage to stage, including fruits, sweets, pudding, and so on), the heavier and slower you get. You can still jump at the same speed, though this carries its own risk, thanks not only to the bats flying overhead, but also the fact that your jump is a set arc, over which you have no control. Hustle Chumy is a pretty good game, well worth a look. Plus it has some very cute sprites, with the cat enemy in particular looking great.

Finally, there's GP World, a racing game that feels like a genetic forebear to SEGA's more well-known sprite scaling racers like Outrun and Hang On. It makes a decent attempt at looking like a sprite scaling game on hardware where that couldn't possibly support it, and it features simpler versions of mechanics that would appear in those games, like Outrun's two-gear system, and the fact that there's no actual placement in the races, you're just racing against time, and the other vehicles are present just to ct as obstacles and to provide points bonuses for passing them. One odd little touch that really speaks to GP World's prototypical nature is that rather than having a timer that counts down to zero, the timer counts upwards, and each stage has a different time limit that gives a game over when the timer gets that high. It's only a little thing, but looking at this game, and the games that came after it, you can see how they streamlined things and improved them bit-by-bit over time.

As for GP World itself, it's a good game. It's fun enough on its own merits, and it's a nice little curiosity: a look at the DNA of some later, more polished games that we all know and love.