Saturday 18 May 2024

Lil' Monster (Game Boy Color)


 Also known as Gem Gem Monster, this is a kind of monster-raising RPG, but without the RPG part. The world map is more of a fancy menu, and most of it's non-functional. According to a guide I read online, you can give items to your monster and that'll open up new map areas, and even a whole side quest about collecting five special items. But whenever I gave the requisite items to my monster, nothing happened.


So what does happen? The game starts with you being told that you can make a monster by putting a gem in a can and shaking it. Surprisingly, this is actually the case! From there, the main thing you do is go to the arena to enter four tournaments of increasing difficulty, and also grinding to get strong enough to win the tournaments. There really is an insane amount of grinding in this game, and I strongly recommend you have a fast forward button mapped to a convenient button (since I assume you'll be emulating it).


It's not a completely mindless grind, though, and this is thanks to the relationship between monsters, gems, and moves. Gems are turned into monsters, that's already been established. But gems are also moves, and there's a bit of proto-deckbuilding in here, since you've got to maintain a deck of twenty moves for your monster to use in battle. Every turn in battle, you can pick from your current hand of four, and the one you choose will be replaced by another random one from your deck.


When you're not at the arena, you can also go to the fields, and turn a gem into a monster for your current monster to fight. Most of the early gems will just drop a copy of themselves after you beat them. This is useful if you want to build up a bunch of useless gems to sell, but it gets more interesting a bit later, when gem-summoned monsters start dropping slightly more powerful gems after you beat them. So, this improves the range of moves you can put in your deck, and it also gives you access to better monsters. 


I think that your monster is actually just an incorporeal spirit, as when it's defeated in battle, it dies, and you pick a gem from your inventory to turn into your new monster. But your "new" monster has the same name, experience, and maximum HP as the old one, so it's more like reincarnation? Their attack and defence stats will be determined by their new form, though. Frustratingly, you don't ever get to see what the attack and defence stats are, though, so you just have to assume that a gem that represents a stronger move also represents a stronger monster.


Lil' Monster is a game that's all about boring grinding with a little bit of strategy, and a clear path of progression to string you along. Being on a handheld definitely helps its tolerability, but honestly, there are many more interesting handheld games about grinding if that's what you want, and plenty of even more interesting handheld games that aren't about grinding, too. It's better than Wolf Simulator, at least, but that's not saying much. The main reason I stopped playing after several hours, though, is getting eternally softlocked in a battle where my opponent healed every turn, and my own monster wasn't taking any damage at all for an unknown reason. So if you do decide to look into this game, save often.

Saturday 11 May 2024

Boogie Woogie Bowling (Mega Drive)

 I think, if I cast my mind back to the ancient past, this game might have received a review in an issue of SEGA Power, probably an issue numbered in the 40s. But I had no interest in sports games at all as a kid, and that review wasn't of Boogie Woogie Bowling, as the game underwent a rigorous blandification process while being brought westwards. The name was changed to "Championship Bowling", and while Boogie Woogie has a cast made up of two boys, a girl, and a xenomorph, Championship has a cast made up of two men and two women, drawn in a totally different style to the ones in Boogie Woogie. 


The reason I even bothered to look into this game as an adult is thanks to a bit of weird happenstance. A couple of years ago, I got a chinese clone console that has a slot for Famicom cartridges, and a slot for Mega Drive cartridges. It's a nie little machine, it's USB powered and has HDMI output, so it's very convenient to get running in the 2020s, plus it even has region and language switches for the Mega Drive games.  One little quirk it has is the power switch: in the middle, the console is switched off, push it upwards to turn the Famicom part on, and downwards to activate the Mega Drive part. Anyway, a friend's son was playing on it, and with no cartridge in the Famicom slot, tried to turn it on by pushing the switch upwards. This revealed a menu of over a hundred built-in Famicom ROMs that had been there the whole time without my knowledge! A short experiment later revealed that there was an equivalent menu of Mega Drive games, too! And Boogie Woogie Bowling was among them.


I have no idea, though, how I managed to recognise that it had been reskinned for a different version that I'd only ever seen in a magazine more than thirty years ago, though. The human brain really is mysterious, I guess. Anyway, it's a bowling game. It plays pretty much like any other bowling game: it's mainly based around stopping a marker that quickly moves back and forth on various power/spin/etc. meters. Isn't it strange how bowling games and golf games are so similar in how they're played? There's also a little gimmick that lets you press the face buttons while your opponent's trying to determine their ball's spin, which I think affects the speed of their marker, though I'm not totally sure on that.


The main mode is structured as you might expect: you bowl against various CPU opponents, gradually increasing in difficulty. A lot of these opponents will throw gutter ball after gutter ball, while some will oddly alternate between gutter balls and strikes. either way, it's a lot more merciful than the other bowling game with which I'm familiar, the Game Boy pirate cart classic World Bowling, which is absolutely merciless and demands perfect play from the outset. There's a couple of other modes, too, though these can only be played as a solo practice, or against other human players. There's split mode, which gives you sets of random pins, never a full set, and you have to clear them. In this mode, you only score points if you clear every pin. There's also bonus mode, which is more interesting: each individual pin is assigned a different points value, seemingly at random. I guess there's no CPU opponents for these modes because it would have been too complicated to program them to actually try and score properly? That's just a theory, though.


Boogie Woogie Bowling is an incredibly okay game. I definitely wouldn't have paid money for it on release, and I probably wouldn't today, unless it was apart of some kind of compilation or something. But if you emulate it, or find the ROM hidden away in a piece of hardware you own, it might amuse you for an hour or so. One extra thing I found interesting is that it was published in Japan by Visco, a company I definitely associate more with arcade games and the Neo Geo than with regular consoles.