Friday, 29 September 2023

Occultist Girl Magatsuhi (PC)

 To describe this game is to invoke that one image macro format with images of Vince McMahon getting progressively more excited with every new piece of information. It's a sprite scaling shooting game, in which you play as a flying onmyouji, and it's developed by Platine Dispositif. You see what I mean? As a list of bullet points, it's incredible! But what about as an actual game?


Well, before we get into that, I should mention that I decided to abide by the rule of threes in the opening paragraph, as there's another bullet point I could have added: it takes inspiration from and makes references to Space Harrier, Night Striker, and Afterburner! All those games are undisputed classics of the genre, this just keeps getting better, right? And of course, it's got some ideas of its own, too. 


From Space Harrier, it takes the general feel of being a high-speed flying person weaving between the parts of the scenery that you can't destroy, the checkerboard pattern on a lot of the stage's floors, and there's even a tribute to that game's multi-sprite dragon boss. From Night Striker, there's the branching paths, the interstitial tunel segments, and a lot of the stage concepts seem to be taken directly from there, too. And from Afterburner, there's a heavy emphasis on locking onto multiple enemies at once with a homing shot, with escalating score rewards to match.


The game's own big idea is actually a little bit of an attempt at building upon the Afterburner lock-on system. Like in Afterburner, you lock onto enemies by aiming at them without firing, but from that point on, it gets a little more complicated. Each enemy type will be locked onto with either a red, green, or blue reticule, and each of those has its own fire button. You'll generally only have one type of enemy in each little squadron, and you only need to hold the correct button for a second to shoot all of them, but it's still a bit more concentration than you had to exert in Afterburner. (I've been playing with a Saturn controller, and mapped the three lock-on fire buttons to X, Y, and Z, which was a fine setup).


So yes, Occultist Girl Magatsuhi is a good game. I don't think it's quite as good as Space Harrier or Night Striker, and it's maybe a little better than Afterburner. The only real bad points I can come up with are presentational and definitely not deal breakers. Firstly, I don't think the enemies are particularly interesting. There's a lot of things like eyes, orbs, spinning tops, and so on that feels a bit bland and sterile. Secondly, there's the soundtrack. It's hard for me to be specific in criticising the game's music simply because I can't remember any of it. It just immediately leaves my brain as soon as I stop playing. I wouldn't normally bring this up, but all those games I listed as this game's influences all had incredible soundtracks, as did other big-name games in the genre, like Galaxy Force 2 and Super Thunderblade.


To reiterate: this is a great game, though it's not a super-original one, and I have some minor criticisms regarding its presentation. Still definitely worth your time, though, especially if you're starved for some new (to you, at least) sprite scaling action.

Friday, 22 September 2023

Zig Zag Cat Dachou Club mo Oosawagi da (SNES)

 It seems doubtful that I'll find another brick breaking game that comes close to being as good as either of the two titans that stand atop the genre, Puchi Charat and Prism Land Story, but I keep on looking. Zig Zag Cat, though it does have a few interesting ideas, definitely isn't the one to do it. And remember: interesting and good aren't always the same thing.


The biggest idea Zig Zag Cat has is structural: it's got some vague, very slight RPG bits mixed in with the Arkanoid-like action. Very slight meaning that there's little "towns" (contained entirely within one building each) between the stages, with save points, inns (that don't seem to actually do anything), and shops. The shops sell power ups, but they're as temporary as the ones that appear in the stages themselves, and coupled with the rarity of the coins, a bit pointless. There's no permanent equipment or levelling up or anything, though. Which on the one hand is a plus for the game's balance and difficulty curve, but it would at least have offered something a bit more exciting to talk about. I wonder how levelling up and permanent upgrades would even work in a game like this, for example.


The stages themselves are vertically scrolling, and for the most part, sparsely populated with bricks to hit with your ball. And while the screen's scrolling, you can just hit them with your paddle as you get to them anyway. A few times in each stage, though, the scrolling stops, and you have to get through a more traditional Arkanoid-style stage, though even here you don't have to break all the bricks, just one particular one. It's a grey blob thing that opens an eye the first two times you hit it and disappears on the third. The stages are all completely linear, of course, and it all feels like a significantly more boring version of Devilish on the Mega Drive.


Something else that makes this game noteworthy, other than its unusual combination of structure and genre is that it's a tie-in game to a Japanese comedy trio called Dachou Club. I don't really know anything about them, other than that the first related search result I found was a news story about one member's untimely death in 2022. They appear a few times to say stuff to your character, but I can't read Japanese, so I can't tell you anything about what they say. Since the protagonist is some kid, and the ball is his cat, I wonder if the tie-in was something added late in development? It seems more like pretty generic early nineties "it'll do" nonsense than something a group of famous comedians would come up with.


I don't recommend playing Zig Zag Cat. I played it for about an hour or two and at best I was bored, and at worst I was frustrated (and not in a fun way). But it's weird and unusual in various ways, and now you know about it. You're welcome, I guess?