Monday, 22 August 2011

The Simpsons: Bart Versus The Juggernauts (Game Boy)

Before I start, I should be clear: this isn't so much a review as it is a warning. I've played this game for more than anyone ever should, and you shouldn't make the same mistake.
This nightmare all started many years ago, when I got my Game Boy. It was preowned, and came with a few games: the 32-in-1 cartridge that I previously mentioned, Super Mario Land 2, WWF Superstars 2 and this one. The Simpsons: Bart vs The Juggernauts.
The game is about a Gladiators-esque gameshow, and Bart's appearance as a contestant on it. There are six events, but you only start with two: A basketball style thing and a skateboarding thing. Although I've managed to get past these two events at some point in the distant past, in recent plays, I haven't managed it, and I've spent hours trying.
In the first event, there's a large black and white grid with a basket at the other end. you have to take a ball to the basket and get back as many times as you can in the time limit. The squares aren't arranged in a checkerboard pattern, and the black ones electrecute you. Get electrecuted three times and the event ends early. Also, sometimes the squares change to their opposite colour. They flash before doing it, but they also sometimes bluff you and flash without changing. Two of the juggernauts are jumping around the grid, and will knock you onto another, random square if you land on the same square as them.
The second event has Bart skateboarding down a ramp to build up speed, then at the end, jumping off the ramp to dropkick a juggernaut off his pedestal. Obviously, there are obstacles on the ramp, like pizza slices and hand smashing through the floor to grab Bart. If the description could end there, this event wouldn't be so bad. To stand a chance of hitting the juggernaut at the end, you have to avoid every obstacle and be at full speed at the end of the ramp. Even that would be fine, if it weren't for the fact that pizza slice can sometimes appear right on the end of the ramp without warning. Then there's the fact that the juggernaut will be holding a shield either high or low, meaning you have to position yourself correctly on the ramp, or just bounce off it harmlessly. There's absolutely no way of knowing whether the sheild will be high or low until you hit it.
By the way, not only do you have to complete these events, you have to do it perfectly, as fast as possible and on your first try, because although you get three tries for each event, to get the amount of points you need to go on to the next set of events means playing perfectly.
Don't play this game! The only slightly redeeming feature about it is the fact that it features some old Simpsons characters that never get mentioned or seen any more, like Dr. Marvin Monroe and Captain Lance Murdoch. Hopefully having written this review of it, I can finally exorcise this demon that has haunted me for years and never play it again.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Lion King 3 (Mega Drive)

In case you haven't worked it out from the title, this game is a chinese bootleg. It's one of the high quality ones, though. There's a more well known one called The Lion King 2 as well, and amazingly, this isn't just the same game with a different title screen!
It's a platform game, with a mix of graphics taken from the official Lion King game, a few from other games, such as Donkey Kong Country and Aladdin, plus some original graphics.
Obviously, you play as Simba, but you get to choose at the start of the game whether you play as cub or adult Simba. Who would ever pick cub Simba? It seems every Lion King game does this differently: The original, official game follows the plot of the movie, and you play the first few levels as a cub, becoming adult Simba later on and The Lion King 2 has a Mario-style power up that turns you into adult Simba until you take a hit.
Seems I'm typing "Simba" a lot in this review.
Anyway, although it's just a generic platform game with Simba as the playable character, it's a lot of fun. Jumping around the stages clawing other animals to death (especially birds. for some reason, there seems to be a ton of different bird enemies, one of which is Iago the parrot from Aladdin with a crazy new colour scheme) or maybe defeating them with Simba's new psychic wave attack (no, really). There is just one main flaw; there are various items (they change depending on the stage) that you're supposed to jump, grab and swing from. The problem is, the collision detection for them is awful, and a lot of the time Simba will just fall straight past them. There are several points in the game where you'll have to do several of these in a row, all above a bottomless pit. If you have the patience to get past these parts, though, they don't completely ruin the rest of the game. It's just a shame that such a nice game has such a terrible flaw.
As for sound, at least some of the music is ripped, being Mega Drivey renditions of songs from the Lion King such as The Circle of Life and I Just Can't Wait to be King (Speaking of which, the awful grab-swing things in this are somewhat reminiscent of the Just Can't Wait to be King stage in the original, although that stage did a better job of ruining the game, since it was a whole stage of stupid swingy jumps, and it was only the second stage at that, so anyone without saintlike patience would just have to miss most of the game.), the rest of the music being either original, or ripped from a source with which I am not familiar. The sound effects are okay, too. nothing spectacular. But there is a kind of flying beetle that makes monkey noises, and the noise Simba makes when he gets hit sounds a lot like he's saying "Quahoon!", the made up swear word that Jack Tenrec says in Cadillacs and Dinosaurs/Xenozoic Tales.
So if you have a bit of patience and are interested in the crazy world of chinese bootleg games, this is one of the better ones that I know of, and is definitely worth playing.
One last thing, there's a white tiger in the intro. No tigers of any kind have shown up in the game so far, although I haven't been able to complete it yet (a later stage taking place in the clouds has a particularly brutal set of swing-jumps), it would be nice if there is some later on.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Flame Zapper Kotsujin (PC-98)

Flame Zapper Kotsujin is an excellent game. I'm starting the review off with that statement, just because it's hard to know exactly where to start in singing this game's praises.
The most obvious things when you start playing are the graphics and sound, both of which are of a very high quality. The graphics are excellently drawn, making good use of the PC98's high resolution, as well as using some nice pallettes.
The music is excellent. That's all there is to say about it. It's just really good, catchy shooting game music.
Great presentation can't really standup on its own without a good game behind it, though. But like the opening sentence of this review says, Flame Zapper Kotsujin is an excellent game. I'd go as far as to say it's the best of all the PC98 games I've played (though admittedly, this isn't many. At a guess, I'd say about 20-ish) (And yes, I've played the Touhou games. They're just a bit better than mediocre, to be honest.).
You've probably already worked out that it's a shooting game, and it was made by a team called CO2-PRO, who made a few other PC98 shooters, including the Gradius fangame GARUDIUS 95 and the okay-but-nothing-special Last Breaker. Their body of work, as well as the quality of it suggests that CO2-PRO were big fans of the genre. And this love especially shows in FZK.
It plays fast, with lots of enemies and bullets constantly onscereen. There are three weapons to choose from, a red spread gun that's kind of weak and useless, blue bendy homing lasers, and a very powerful yellow gun that fires straight ahead. You also have the usual bullet-cancelling bombs, but in a nice touch, the bombs look different depending on which weapon you have at the time: red bombs release a bunch of toaplan-esque skull-shaped explosions up the screen, blue bombs summon four extra ships to shoot a giant screen-filling array of lasers, and the most spectacular bombs are the yellows, which summon a giant celestial hand to fill the screen with bolts of lightning.
The game also has a number of different scoring methods, ranging from the obvious (finish a stage without dying or using any bombs to add multipliers to your end of stage bonuses) to the obscure (at least three different techniques of getting big points from the Eighting/Raizing reminiscent medals that enemies often drop).
The only negative criticism I can give this game is that it is a little bit too easy. I'm not even very good at shooting games, and I can get pretty far into the final stage on a single credit. That's on the default settings, though, and you can always turn the difficulty up.
If you're at all interested in shooting games, I very much recommend you seek out and play Flame Zapper Kotsujin.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Yumemi Mystery Mansion (Mega CD)

I remember when the Mega CD first came out in Europe, this game was previewed a lot in magazines. I assume it got so much attention because of the prerendered CG graphics, and the fact that there wasn't anything else like it on the SEGA consoles at that time. Since then it seems to have been forgotten by history. I'd even forgotten about it until recently, when I played it for the first time.
It's an adventure game set in a mansion, that you entered following your sister, who in turn was following a butterfly. You wander about the mansion, seeing it all in first person perspective, and although everything is prerendered, it still moves pretty smoothly, and though the graphics are low-res and very grainy, that only adds to the atmosphere. Atmosphere is by far the game's strongest point. Even though there are no enemies, and there are only (as far as I can tell) two ways to get game over, the game still manages to be creepy just by the strength of the atmosphere it creates, and the bizarre premise in general. The only other characters you meet in the mansion are talking blue butterflies, who are the souls of people trapped in the mansion by its owner, the unseen malefactor referred to as The Hunter. Your objective is to find your sister and get out of the mansion before midnight, at which point you and your sister will join the other residents as butterflies, trapped in the mansion forever.
As there are no enemies in the game, the only things obstructing your escape are the various puzzles in the mansion. Most of the puzzles being of the "find the item/key and use in the right place", made even worse by the fact that you're often given no indication as to where the items will be, and on top of that, some items can be seen from the start of the game, but can only be picked up later in the game when they're actually needed, with no indication that this is the case. I'm slightly ashamed to say that I actually had to resort to consulting gameFAQs for the final puzzle.
Despite all the faults this game has, I still say it's worth playing for the creepy dreamlike atmosphere, especially if you're interested in horror in videogames. It's only an hour or so long, so it's not going to waste too much of your time. The fact that it's so short, coupled with the general lack of gameplay and the fancy graphics does make it seem more like a tech demo than an actual game. It probably would have been more fondly remembered had it been a pack-in with the console than a full price stand alone purchase.
(This game is also known as "Mansion of Hidden Souls")

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Abalaburn (Playstation)

Abalaburn has two main modes: story mode and arcade mode.I haven't played much of arcade mode, because it's pretty awful. Story mode I have played a lot of, though.
It comprises a 3D roaming beat em up with some huge stages, lots of varied enemies and the occaisional bit of insanely painful platforming.
Each stage basically involves you wandering around beating up monsters until you beat the one that drops a key (pointed out by a small spark floating above its head), which will open a door that leads to that stage's mid-boss, which will be a huge monster of some kind. Then you find another key, and beat the stage's actual boss, which will be more humanoid in proportions (and for most of the game, they will be the other selectable characters. the aforementioned arcade mode is made entirely of these fights). As an aside, the playable characters are very varied in design, with some cool characters (eg. a spiky-haired and chunky-limbed shonen protagonist and a light-footed catboy) and some that are awful (a grotesquely racist caricature and a shape shifting midget thing).
For a few hours, this is all a lot of fun. Eventually the cracks will start to appear. You'll notice that every normal fight consists of doing a short combo, holding block while the enemy does the same, and then repeating until the enemy is dead. And then there are the terrible parts where you have to use the slightly awkward controls to navigate moving platforms, which will take a long time, and will be no fun at all. At least you don't die or take damage for falling off of them, though.
All these minor flaws do add up, but it wasn't until the final stage that the game really killed my desire to play. The final stage, in true Japanese videogame cliche fashion, is a futuristic technology stage, following all the other, fantasy themed stages. It's also got several huge mid-bosses, which are a series of heavily armed (and heavily armoured) tanks. They kill you very quickly, die very slowly and are just no fun at all to fight. It was a shame to have to give up on a game that was, up until that point, so charming and fun, especially so close to the end, but those bosses really were terrible.
It's really a shame this game never got a western release, though. I'm sure I would have loved this as a teenager, if I'd had the chance to play it back then.