Friday, 16 October 2020

Tsuyoshi Shikkari Shinasai Taisen Puzzle-dama (SNES)

When looking out for more obscure material for this blog, it sometimes pops up in some strange places. In this case, for example, there's a file on from 1992 which lists the anime airing at that time on Japanese TV, including the times and channels, along with a short description of most of the shows. Most amusingly, Dragonball Z is described as "arcade-style beat em up", but another one that stood out to me was the description to a show I've never seen and had never previously heard of: Tsuyoshi  Shikkari Shinasai, described as "family anime with The Slap". A little bit of searching revealed that the show itself didn't look interesting at all, but that it did have a SNES game.


The game itself is so generic that you could almost consider it the platonic ideal of competitive puzzle games. Coloured orbs fall from the 'bove in pairs, and if three of the same colour touch, they disappear. The main tactic is to set up chains so that lots of junk blocks fill up your opponent's pit. The one unique mechanical touch is that the junk blocks take the form of the regular orbs trapped in transparent cubes. The cubes disappear when orbs are cleared next to them. As a result, any character that dumps junk blocks all in the same colour is at a massive disadvantage, since if three of the same coloured orbs get freed from junk blocks together, they'll also match up, and they'll free the ones next to them, and so on. This kind of thing can instantly change the tide of a match and destroy an opponent in one go.


The presentation of the game is unique in its blandness, though, which is a direct result of the license: all the characters are friendly, middle class suburbanites in jumpers. Plus a dog. It's kind of funny that some people in the west have this stereotype of all Japanese cartoons being crazy, loud action shows, when here we have an anime license that looks like it could be based on some kind of animated adaptation of a cosy BBC sitcom. 


There isn't really anything else to say about Tsuyoshi Shikkari Shinasai. Mechanically, it's so generic that the only reason you'd ever want to choose it over literally any other competitive puzzle game is if you're a big fan of the source material, and I can't imagine there's many readers of this blog that fit that description.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Other Stuff Monthly #17

 So, I recently remembered a promotional pack of some weird cards that came with a comic I bought as a kid. The cards had awesome fantasy artwork, and a whole bunch of scratch off panels. After a small amount of investigation, I found the thing for which I was looking: Steve Jackson's Battle Cards, a trading card game that had the incredible bad luck to launch a few months before Magic The Gathering came along and pretty much redefined what a trading card game was. Though Battle Cards did have some strange properties that meant it probably wouldn't have lasted long even without that apocalyptic event.


The big problem is that it's a trading card game in which each card can only be used once. It's those scratch-off panels, you see: the ones along the bottom of the card and down the sides represent parts of the character's body. To play, two players each take a character card from their collection, and take turns declaring which of their opponent's body parts they're attacking. The opponent scratches off the panel representing that part, and reveals either nothing (showing that the attack missed) or a drop of blood (showing that it hit). After receiving their second wound, and every wound after that, a player must scratch off one of the life panels along the top of the card. There's three of them, and one of them hides a skull and crossbones, which, when revealed indicates death.


Having bought a bunch of packs of Battle Cards from ebay, I played a few rounds with my Dungeons and Dragons group. Despite the mechanics of the game relying entirely on luck, we had a pretty fun time. I think it really relies on the atmosphere; as a silly thing to unwind after a D&D session, it's a lot of fun, but it's not something you could ever play seriously. Especially when you take into account that the actual point of the game has been inaccessible since 1994.


The point of the game was to collect the special foil treasure cards. You see, these cards weren't available in the packs themselves. When you defeat another player, you actually take their defeated card, and scratch off the "purse" panel in the top right corner of the card. Then, you have to get a trading post card, and scratch off two of the panels on that card, of your choice. If you revealed a number and the name of the treasure, you could then send the trading post card, along with a bunch of other cards whos purses added up to the number shown on the trading post, and they'd send you the treasure you reveald on the trading post.


I can see where the designers were coming from with this gimmick: Pogs were very popular, and that was a game often played for keeps. What Battle Cards did was provide an endgame to aim for when playing for keeps, as opposed to just amassing a gigantic stack of cards. On the other hand, I can't see the scratch-off element as being anything other than a cynical attempt at forcing people to endlessly buy cards by making each one single use. It didn't work, of course, the game was such a massive flop that there's still plenty of unopened booster packs for sale online for next-to-nothing. And like I said, if you pick up a few packs, it's a fun and silly way to pass a few minutes with your friends. Plus, the art on all the cards is great, and each one also has a massive wall of lore text on the back!

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Battle Outrun (Master System)

 Contrary to what you might think, unoriginality can actually be a powerful tool in creating a great game, using the core concept of an existing game and adding your own twists and ideas to make something new and exciting. Kid Chameleon did it to Super Mario Brothers 3, and Mortal Kombat did it to Street Fighter II, for just two examples. Battle Outrun is unfortunately an unsuccessful attempt to do it to Chase HQ.


In case any of you aren't familiar with Chase HW, it was an arcade game released by Taito in 1988 (a year before Battle Outrun), and subsequentally ported to pretty much every active home system at the time. In it, you play as a cop engaged in ar chases with criminals, who you have to catch by ramming their car with yours until they stop. Battle Outrun has you playing as a bounty hunter engaged in ar chases with criminals, who you have to catch by ramming their car with yours until they stop,


The only idea that Battle Outrun really adds to the Chase HQ concept is an item shop that appears once a stage, offering upgrades for your car, which are absolutely necessary if you want to make it past even the first stage. Tire and engine are pretty obvious, while upgrading your body reduces the amount of speed you lose when you collide with cars and other objects, and the totally useless chassis upgrades affect how far you fly when you drive over the ramps that appear a couple of times per stage.


The other thing Battle Outrun adds is frustration. Like in pretty much any racing game that takes place on city streets, there are many civilian cars acting as obstacles in your path. More than any other such game, the civilian cars in this gme feel like they were programmed with a sense of deliberate malice. They'll often deliberately drive right in front of you, or between you and the criminal you're trying to ram, or they'll get in front of you and stay in front of you, so you hit them repeatedly and lose five-to-ten precious seconds. Even when you've upgraded your body and engine a couple of times, this is still incredibly annoying, and feels totally unfair, too.


Despite what I said in the opening paragraph of this review, though, the biggest problem Battle Outrun has is its similarity to Chase HQ. Taito's game even got a port to the Master System in 1990, with better graphics, more speed, and obviously, a more streamlined and fun design. So play that instead, and just don't bother with Battle Outrun.