Saturday, 28 September 2013

Kamen Rider Black - Taiketsu Shadow Moon

Obviously, the title is what attracted me to this game. Most Kamen Rider games are either based on the post-2000 series, or are based on the classic series, but made many years later (for example, the Kamen Rider and Kamen Rider V3 games on Playstation), but the game is based on an older Rider and was
released at the same time as the show was airing.
It's a mostly standard single-plane beat em up, in which you travel from left to right, punching creatures along the way, and fighting a boss at the end. Every three stages there's a fight with an area boss, which is pretty cool as the sprites for these fights are double size.
There's also occasional motorbike stages, which, since you walk so slowly in the regular stages are a breath of fresh air. These stages play a lot like the motorbike stages in Alex Kidd in Miracle World and Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle: you ride along at a decent speed, jumping over pits and obstacles.
The walking stages that make up the bulk of the game aren't so fun. As I already mentioned, they're very slow, and there are further problems to be found in the controls, which have two strange and very pronounced quirks. The first one you're likely to notice is the bizarre way jumping works in this game.
Pressing the jump button once will make you jump straight upwards. To actually jump forwards, you must jump upwards, then at the right time (just before the flip at the jump's summit), press forward and jump together. I don't understand why this was done at all, since it does seem to be a deliberate desicion on behalf of the designers.
Whether the second quirk is deliberate design or just bad programming is less clear, though. What it is, is that rather than changing direction instantly when you press left then right (or vice versa), you step backwards for a second, then turn round. This puts you at a disadvantage in boss fights, since you're unable to quickly turn to face your opponent, and, in fact, tapping the directions only makes the problem worse. This is pretty much unforgivable for players used to the quick reactions of later beat em ups (and even contempory ones, like Altered Beast).
A good thing about the game (though nowhere near good enough to redeem it) is the fact that it does look pretty nice. Even though the sprites are tiny, and all except for Kamen Rider Black himself and the big area bosses are a bit crap and undetailed, the graphics as a whole are very colourful, and the backgrounds, though simple, look nice enough too.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Dark Hunter: Shou Kotojigen Gakuen (Saturn)

I am cheating a little bit here, as this isn't actually a game. It claims to be an interactive learning tool to help Japanese teenagers learn english. It comes in the forms of what is essentially an OAV about various
supernatural goings-on occuring at and around a boarding school at the top of a steep hill. It was made by Koei, who released five such things on the Saturn, two in the Dark Hunter series (of which this is the first), and three in the EMIT series.
THe educational element comes in the form of the language options. You can choose to have the story play out with English or Japanese voice acting, as well as English or Japanese subtitles, in any combination. You can also choose to immediately repeat scenes with different language options, and certain words and phrases in the subtitles will be highlighted, and these phrases can be selected, which will show the selected phrase in the opposite language.
Also, at certain points in the story, the player/viewer can choose which character the story should focus on or choose the next line a character might say, making it slightly ahead of Dinosaur Island in terms of interactivity, and the fact that there's an English language option makes it a lot easier and more enjoyable. There are also short "quizzes", in which the player will, for example be asked to identify ten things in the room, by clicking on
them and choosing from three options the correct english name for that item. Dinosaur Island definitely has the edge over Dark Hunter in terms of animation, though. Despite using a similar system of giant sprites over FMV, Dark Hunter's animation is very limited, with a lot of shots of people standing or sitting around, people talking with their faces out of shot and so on. I think it's safe to assume that this is down to the fact that this release comes on a single CD, and still has room for two full voice tracks. And the bilingual nature of the disc could also explain a lack of fluidity in the lip sync, making it sort-of match both languages could have been a preferable solution to concentrating on one and having the other look much worse.
As for the story itself, it's not great. It really could be a low-budget mid-90s OAV, with a slightly awkward sounding English dub also typical of the era. There's a lot of "mystery" which really feels like an excuse to have not a lot happen. Come to think of it, the "language tutor" aspect of the software is also a pretty
reasonable explanation as to why a lot of the story is made up of conversations. THe fact that you can save which scene you've watched up to and come back to it later is nice, too.
IN conclusion, this isn't really a game, but it is kind of interesting, and it could be thought of as a weird pre-DVD example of a bilingual anime release. I wonder if this series (and the EMIT sister series) ever had a small western fandom for that reason? If there was such a fandom, it must have been tiny, since I've never heard people talking about either of them.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Damdam Stompland (Playstation)

Obviously, I can only speculate about this, but it seems very much like this game exists mainly because someone working for a small developer discovered how to make the Playstation do a thing, and they wanted to make a game to show off that thing. The thing in question being the real-time rendering of shadows, which are actually shaped by the models casting them, and which also change length and direction in reaction to the
light source.
The game itself is simple one of shadow tag, as seen in the excellent Urusei Yatsura movie Only You: the idea isn't to tag your opponent's body, but to stamp on their shadow. Do it three times before your opponent does, or before the time (the matches only last a single minute, which goes by very quickly) runs out to win.
You can't just walk on to the shadow to score a point, but must press X to do a stomping action. Circle jumps and square does some kind of sliding tackle type thing that doesn't seem to serve any purpose, other than moving straight ahead very quickly.
There are numerous characters and arenas (arenae?) in the game, though they aren't specific to each other. There aren't any boss characters as far as I can tell. Some of the characters are typical cartoony humans, along with a robot (who bears a striking resemblens to Goriki from Kia Asamiya's Steam Detectives), a
mushroom-man wearing wooden armour, and strangest of all, a severed fish head with human legs. And it really is a severed head, as the wound is visible from certain angles. There's also a nice bit of flavour in the game, with big colourful illustrations between stages and in endings, and the game over screen shows a picture of your defeated character looking depressed (or in the case of the fish head, eaten).
The arenas are all completely different, offering different ratios of safe area and Dead or Alive-esque danger zones. The safe areas also have different features in them, such as conveyor belts, moving obstacles or even just that fact that one stage's safe area is a tiny, low friction square in the centre of the map. Another hazard comes in the form of little sombrero-clad cactus-men, who will stomp on the shadows of the unwary.
I like this game more than I had expected to. It is a lot of fun to play, though I can imagine it might not have a
lot of long-term longevity, being based as it is on a single idea, and it did take me a few games to get used to playing it (though a good part of this was working out the controls, a task of which I have helpfully absolved you). There's also a definite low-budget feel to it, it really wouldn't be out of place in the Simple 1500 series (two notes here: firstly, long-time readers will surely know I would never regard this as a negative point, and secondly, if i remember rightly, there is actually a game of regular tag in the Simple 1500 series).