Thursday, 15 August 2019

Simple 2960 Tomodachi Series Vol. 3 - The Itsudemo Puzzle - Massugu Soroete Straws (Game Boy Advance)

I'd previously written off the Simple 2960 Tomodachi series, assuming that it was just a bunch of untranslated visual novels like the Dreamcast's Simple 2000 DC series. I happened across some screenshots of this one recently, though, and it turns out I've been wrong all this time, and the GBA Simple games have at least one cute puzzler among them! In fact, looking at the list of titles, I have no idea where I got my previous assumption from, as it's clear that none of them are visual novels at all. But anyway, this is The Itsudemo Puzzle ~Massugu Soroete Straws~, or The Anytime Puzzle ~Line Up the Straws~, and it's pretty good!

The game presents you with groups of stars connected by lines, and you move your cursor thing around, pushing stars up and down the screen so that the connecting lines become one straight line, either horizontal or diagonal. Do it multiple times in quick succession for more points, of course. There's a totally unimportant story about an apprentice witch who I think is trying to hold back the dawn for as long as possible by arranging the stars in the night sky into straight lines? That's what seems to be happening in the main mode, anyway, as the moon scrolls across the screen and the sky gets lighter as time starts to run out, while going in reverse when you get more time while clearing lines.

Other than the main game, there's also a time attack mode, in which you attempt to score as many points as possible in three minutes, and a free mode, which just goes on forever until you quit via the pause menu. Oddly, even the free mode has a high score table, though the nature of the mode means it really just measures the player's tolerance for boredom (though playing free mode did help me figure out little techniques here and there to improve my game, like any good practice mode should).

There's not much more to be said about this game! It's cute, it's fun, and unlike a lot of Simple Series games, a real copy of it can be found for next to nothing online if you're lucky. It's recommended!

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Gamera - Daikaijuu Kuuchuu Kessen (Game Boy)

Videogames based on Kaiju and Tokusatsu properties can be a mixed bag, though I'm probably not alone in thinking that the 2014 Godzilla game on PS4 is probably the best. And while its true that a lot of these games have got a worse rap than they deserve due to critics not really understanding their appeal (the common opinion of the Dreamcast's Godzilla Generations, for example), I might have found the worst of them all, by some considerable margin.

How Gamera - Daikaijuu Kuuchuu Kessen works is kind of like a turn-based fighting game, with no menus. Every turn, you're asked to input a command, then both monsters' maneuvers play out, and that carries on until one of them runs out of health. The closest thing to which I can compare it is probably the weird FMV fighting game Battle Heat on PC-FX. Except it's on the Game Boy, so you don't even have the visual spectacle of lavish full-screen animation to liven things up. Though if you're playing on a Super Game Boy, there are some nice borders to look at, I guess.

There are really two problems with this game, and they're both massive ones. The first is the inconsistency: it seems like pressing the same button combination on different turns doesn't always result in the same action, and furthermore, performing the same action won't always produce the same results, even if the enemy does the same thing, too. So the game boils down to you watching little animations of Gamera and his current opponent doing seemingly random things at each other until one of them suddenly gets hurt. This repeats over and over until one of them runs out of health, and to make things worse, you have to win two rounds against each monster.

And that leads nicely into the second problem: this game is unbelievably slow! Honestly, it took me a few attempts to get past the first fight, simply because it was sapping me of the will to live, and when I did finally get past it, it took over twenty minutes! And that's without losing any rounds! Then you get to the next stage and are faced with the prospect of this carrying on. Apparently this game has a total of five stages, but I can't imagine anyone having the patience to play through them all. I definitely don't recommend trying to.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Small Games Vol. 4!

All the games in this post are for the Epoch Game Pocket Computer, from 1984. Also, I'm going to at least mention all the games for the Epoch Game Pocket Computer, as there's only seven of them. And only two (maybe three) that are actually worth playing. Now, I'm not 100% on this, but while it definitely wasn't the first handheld games console, I think this might have been the first to have all the true hallmarks of what we think of as a handheld console: interchangable ROM cartridges, processing power in the console itself (as opposed to being inside the cartridges), and a pixel-based display (as opposed to a bespoke Game and Watch-style display for each game). If I'm wrong, please correct me, but I can't see any earlier handhelds that have all three properties.

The first game I'll talk about is Astro Bomber, which is mostly a clone of Konami's arcade game Scramble, though it does have a few of its own original elements, such as fuel-eating clouds, and a final bossfight against a ship that shoots giant snakes at you. It's fun enough, but it's both incredibly easy and far too generous with the lives: you start with six of them, and on my second play, it took until midway through the second loop to lose one of them. I guess that'd make it great for a long train journey, though? Oh, also when you beat the boss, it plays a little bit of Star Wars music, which gave me a laugh the first time.

Next up is Block Maze, which is an original idea, as far as I can tell: you play as a thing in a maze, and you have to kick four blocks from the middle of the maze to the four corners. There's also enemies to avoid, and balls to kick at the enemies and kill them. Plus, after the first stage, the blocks and corners get marked with letters, and you have to get each block to its matching corner. Unforutnately, it suffers the same problem as Astro Bomber: six lives that are way too easy to keep ahold of. Also, the scoring system relies heavily on a little roulette minigame that plays whenever you get a block to its corner, and you know I hate luck-based scoring systems.

The third game isn't even a game, it's the console's built-in art program! That's pretty impressive for a mid-eighties handheld, right? Of course, there's not much you can do with a 75x64 screen and 1-bit colour, but it's interesting nonetheless. I couldn't get much out of it, but I bet pixel artists who love limitations would have a lot of fun with it! The two biggest shames are that there's no way to save your work (on the original hardware, at least. Obviously in an emulator, you just take screenshots), and that every  time the cursor moves a pixel, it's accompanied by a hellish beeping.

As for the rest of the line-up, there's a puzzle game that's also built in, but it's unfortunately a sliding tile puzzle, which doesn't even make a picture, you're just putting letters in order. There's also Sokoban and Mahjong games (I absolutely hate sokoban, and I'm useless at mahjong), and there's an Othello/Reversi game, which might be okay, but there's not really anything to say about it. And that's the Epoch Game Pocket Computer! We hardly knew ye.