Monday, 24 March 2014

Raging Blades (PS2)

Raging Blades is a beat em up that, though it never saw an arcade release really feels like it should have had one (there is the possibility that is was made from the remains of a cancelled arcade game, but this is purely speculation).
In it, you pick one of four generic fantasy characters (Gray the Knight, Bud the Warrior, Raybrandt the Wizard, and Tina the Monk), go to various generic fantasy locations, including the much loved RPG staple, the "ancient lost civilisation with guard robots and big glowing crystals" and fight lots of generic fantasy
monsters. There's also two secret characters, Iria the Valkyrie and Alicia the Fallen Angel, who have to be unloacked with a cheat, though it you save after doing the cheat, they stay unlocked permanently. They're both a lot stronger than all the other characters. Alicia can't be selected in Story Mode, though Iria can.
Doing said cheat also unlocks an extra mode, called "Full Attack", which allows players to change characters when they continue, and more importantly, removes the boring story narration between stages.
As for how the game actually plays, it's pretty good. Like the setting, the mechanics won't win any prizes for originality, but it's fun enough, and the stages, though cliched, do have a lot of atmosphere to them. You don't get any lives in the game, just  single health bar, though continues are limited, so if you wanted, you could treat them as a stock of lives, without letting it weigh too heavily upon
your conscience.
You progress through stages in the traditional beat em up manner: walk along, stop to fight a group of enemies, carry on walking until you get to the next area. The stages themsleves are easy (other than the last stage), but the miserly distribution of healing items means you often won't have a lot of health left by the time you reach the bosses, and the bosses are significantly harder than the stages.
There's also a Duel Mode, which unfortunately isn't a reprise of the Duel Mode found in the first two Mega Drive Goolden Axe games, but rather a versus mode, in which up to four players (which means it's not really a duel then, surely?) pick either one of the main cast or one of the enemies and fight each other. I think it has all the enemies in the game, I didn't actually check. Sorry!
Like I've said throughout the review, there's definitely nothing original about Raging Blades, but it's fun and
it's atmospheric and it looks nice, so it wouldn't be a totally terrible idea to get it. Especially since it doesn't fetch particularly high prices online: my copy (like a lot of the non-import PS2 games I write about here) only cost me a penny plus postage from amazon. There are definitely better PS2 beat em ups you should get first, though. Like God Hand. You should definitely have God Hand.
This game is also known as Raging Bless

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Flash Motor Karen (PSP)

I'm sure everyone reading this blog knows of Sokoban or Boxxle or one of the other names of the ancient shoving boxes onto certain spots-type of puzzle game. Flash Motor Karen plays kind of like a more complicated, but simultaneously more forgiving version of those games.
Each stage is a small area with a switch and a door. The object is to press the switch, then get to the door. You can take as many steps as you like getting to the switch, but each stage has a limit on how many steps can be taken between pressing the switch and getting to the door. So, in puzzle mode at least, there are two main kinds of stages: ones which introduce the player to a new concept, in which the puzzle to solve is usually getting to the switch, allowing the player more leeway in learning how to interact with the new element, and the main kind, in which the player is given
elements they have seen before, and the main challenge of the stage is to set up a path to get from the switch to the door in as few moves as possible.
There's also a story mode, chapters of which are gradually unlocked as you make your way through puzzle mode, which, as well as telling a story (entirely in Japanese, of course, and thankfully skippable), also adds another type of stage. The third type of stage has enemy robots walking around the map, who act in a roguelike-style manner, only moving when the player moves. In these stages, the aim is to "trick" the robots into moving into a square adjacent to your own, so they can be dispatched with a press of the O button. Conversley, moving into a square adjacent to one of the robots will result in the player's death.

Flash Motor Karen is a pretty good game, and unlike many puzzle games of this type, never feels impossibly hard (though there are hard puzzles, I've yet to be stuck on one for more than 10-15 minutes, nor did I ever feel that the solution was totally beyond my reach). Though this might mean that the game is offensively easy for hardened sokoban fans. (Sokofans?)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Chieri no Doki Doki Yukemuri Burari Tabi (X Box 360)

The X Box Live Indie Games marketplace has a pretty bad reputation, thanks to the millions of games about chatting up girls, and trillions of games with titles containing some combination of the words "zombie", "craft", "epic" and "pixel". But among all of those, there are a few gems to be sought out. I've probably made a bad decision by choosing this one to write about first, since it's definitely my favourite game on the entire XBLIG
In it, you play as a young girl who was enjoying a nice day at the hot springs with her dad, when suddenly, the bottom of the spring gives way, and dad's sucked down into a pit full of malicious ducks and monkeys. Obviously, Chieri is compelled to jump into the pit and save her dad, armed only with a squirt bottle and a rabbit. The least likely of these two weapons, the rabbit, is the gimmick on which the game hangs. All over the screen, there are flashing "hooks", similar to those seen in ChainDive, onto which the rabbit can grab (an action performed by the player pressing and holding A), with Chieri hanging on by a chain. While attatched to a hook (or even an enemy!), pushing the analogue stick will make Chieri lean in the direction pushed, shooting bullets from her squirt bottle in the opposite direction.
There's a few types of enemies in the game: Ducks, who paddle along the bottom of the screen in groups, monkeys, who float down from above in wooden buckets, and revolving turret-things that stay in one place. There's also bosses who appear every now and then, in the form of giant floating meatbuns with an increasing number of smaller meatbuns orbiting it. The bullets the enemies fight are turned into harmless fruit when they pass through the chain, and the fruit all instantly fly towards Chieri when the chain is released. Collecting a
certain amount of fruit earns an extra life, with the amount increasing everytime it's reached. But, as the game goes along, the enemies gradually get more enthusiastic in shooting larger amounts of bullets that be cancelled into fruit. So it all works out in the end, which is nice.
Anyway, I've already said that I love this game, so obviously I recommend it, especially since it's only about 70p. Searching for Japanese games on the XBLIG marketplace is a pain, tough, so just buy it on the xbox site here and have it appear on your console's download queue. The developers also have a website here, and it appears they mostly make fangames using characters from existing series, like Cardcaptor Sakura, Lilith from the Darkstalkers series.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Castle (SG-1000)

This game's a port of an MSX game, but I'm writing about this version because it's the one I discovered first and because I really like the SG-1000's colour palette.
It's a very old-fashioned platform adventure game of the sort that were popular on various computers in Europe in the 1980s, (l'Abbaye des Morts by Locomalito is a pretty great modern-day tribute to the genre) so much so, that I actually tried to find an "original" C64 or Spectrum version from which the SG-1000 and
MSX versions might have been ported, until I saw the MSX version's title screen, which credits the game's original authors, Isao Yoshida and Keisuke Iwakura.
Anyway, the plot of the game is a generic "save the princess from the castle"-type affair, and to do so, you have to find your way around the 100 room castle. Unlike most modern metrovania games (which could be seen as the spiritual descendents of this genre), combat is far from the player's main concern in this game. Keys are the most important thing, available in various different colours, to open doors of matching colours. There's also potions to increase your number of lives, and various kinds of treasure to increase your score. The meat of the game is working out how to reach each item and each exit in every room without getting killed by any of the enemies or traps in the room. There's items that can be pushed around, like bricks and vases and such, though they all act the same. they can be jumped on top of or pushed from the sides, and they fall off of platforms. They're also your only weapon against the enemies in the castle, as pushing one of these items into an enemy kills the enemy. Dead enemies stay dead, even after leaving a room and re-entering, while items return to their original positions, meaning that a single item can be used in more than
one part of a room, as long as you exit and re-enter.
The controls are obviously simple: the d-pad moves your character, one button jumps and the other, unusually, changes the speed of the game, allowing the player to switch at will between full and half-speed, depending on whether they're waiting for an elevator to come down to them, or timing a risky jump over an enemy's head.
There's not much more to be said abou this game, other than that it meets my approval. It's a lot of fun to play, and it's neither brutally hard nor insultingly easy, and solving each room feels like a satisfying little victory.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Net de Tennis! (Dreamcast)

In Europe, the Dreamcast was advertised with the slogan "up to six billion players", obviously referring to the console's in-built online capabilities. Obviously, SEGA Europe then went on to live up to this by releasing a massive amount of games with online play. And by massive number, I mean "about five or six". Yeah, they
messed it up, just like they did when they refused to play to the Saturn's strengths and arcade-loving userbase. Another Saturn analogue is that in Japan, Capcom in particular were releasing a whole bunch of games that could be played online, most famously their "For Matching Service" series of arcade ports. This is another one of Capcom's online Dreamcast releases.
What's obvious as soon the game starts is that it's a budget release and that it was definitely released with online play in ind, with single player being just an afterthought, only offering single exhibition matches with no kind of career or arcade-style progression mode available. There's also a couple of extra features included to enhance the online aspect. The first is a simple character edit mode, in which you can choose the hairstyle, skin and clothing colours of a player, as well as choosing whether their racket is star-shaped or a more traditional oval, plus you can give your player a little dog that follows her around the court (and you can
choose the colour of the dog too). The other is a mode allowing players to select a still avatar, and four short phrases, which, it seems would be displayed during play when the analogue stick was pushed (the game itself being controlled with the d-pad, obviously).
As for how the game actually plays, it's okay. Nothing special. No fancy moves or powers or anything, like in something like SEGA Superstars Tennis as far as I could tell, though the players do have stats labelled "Guts" and "Miracle" (plus one of the players is apparently from a country called "Love"), so it's possible I just haven't figured out how to activate these things (but the CPU players haven't used them, either). One weird little touch is that when you're serving, you can tap down on the d-pad to make your player bounce the ball on the ground. It doesn't
affect gameplay in anyway, but it's a nice little thing.
I'd probably compare the game to the early Game Boy game Tennis: just a simple, fun tennis videogame. This doesn't really work in its favour though, since there are a lot of simple fun tennis games on pretty much every system, and most of them are easier to get ahold of than this one, there's not really any reason to bother going to the effort of tracking this one down, unless you specifically like to seek out and play lesser known titles like this like some kind of weirdo nerd or something.