Saturday, 26 April 2014

Elevator Action Old & New (Game Boy Advance)

So obviously, everyone knows of the Elevator Action series, probably through the amazing arcade game Elevator Action Returns, but I think this entry into the series has gone mostly unplayed, released as it was, only in Japan, and apparently not in great quantities.
The cartridge contains both the original Elevator Action and a whole new game. The original is what it is. I won't waste too much time talking about it, but it's definitely a game that lives in the shadow of its sequels: it's
brutally hard, fiddly to control and moves like it's set at the bottom of a treacle ocean.
The new game lets you pick from three playable characters, with different stats. There is a fourth character unlocked after completing the game with all three characters, but I didn't go that far. I got most of the way through with one character before giving up on the game. The game's stages are split into 8 sets of four, which all have to be played through individually, which presents one of the biggest problems the game has. Because you get a whole new set of lives every four stages, this makes getting through the first three quarters of the game incredibly easy. You might argue that this is to make the game more palatable for a handheld console, but compare to another GBA game, the excellent Ninja Cop (which itself has a few similarities to the Elevator Action series), which allows the player to start at any set of stages, but also goes straight into the next once one is finished, with the continuing score adding an extra incentive to play the game from start to finish in a single run. Elevator Action New doesn't even have scoring, so the player is literally just trying to get from start to finish.
With that complaint out of the way, you might wonder why I didn't complete the game, even once. The thing is, once you get to the penultimate set of stages, the game does two things that totally throw the difficulty from "pointlessly easy" to "unfairly difficult". The first thing is a new enemy, big robots that stomp around the floors shooting lasers, and who take ten shots to kill. For context, consider that your ammo is limited in this game, even for the default gun, and the player starts each stage with only 30 bullets. The second is the fact that the stage layouts are no longer simple vertical buildings with the exit at the top or bottom. I gave up on
the game, when, after finding all the secret files in one stage, dying to a time out when I couldn't seem to find the stage exit anywhere.
The game isn't a total write-off, though. There is one new element that I really liked in this game: the disguise power up. It turns the player into an enemy for 10 or so seconds, allowing them to walk about the stages freely, without any enemy interference. It's only a simple little thing, but it's a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it's not enough to save this game. I never expected EAN to be able to stand up to Elevator Action Returns, but the fact is, it doesn't even stand up to its Game Boy Color antescendant Elevator Action EX, which is a great game, and one which I definitely recommend, should you have a need for some portable elevator-themed espionage.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Kouryuu Densetsu: Elan Doree (Saturn)

So, it's a fighting game, and as was the fashion at the time, it attempts to stand out from the crowd by having a gimmick: the fights take place mid-air, with the characters riding on flying beasts (most of whom are dragons).
Aesthetically, the game is excellent, going for the always-welcome "mid-90s fantasy OAV" style. The characters are all fairly appealing, in their own ways, and though most of the characters are riding dragons, those dragons aren't just lazy re-colours, all looking slightly different, with Rubone's poison dragon standing out in particular with its smooth black skin and whale-like face. And as I said, most of the characters are
riding dragons. Marielle the magician rides a kind of flying dolphin creature, Tina the magical girl rides a furry orange beast, and Eriorna, the coolest character in the game, is a Takarazuka-inspired swordswoman who fights with the power of "estheticism" rides a large bird. The stages in which the fights take place are also worrth a mention, being as they are, huge in scale and definitely appropriate for providing the kind of gravitas you'd expect from fights between dragon-straddling warriors and the like.
As for how the game plays, it's pretty good. There's three main buttons: weak attack, strong attack and jump (obviously in this case, the human character jumps off their steed, rather than the flying beast jumping in midair). It's jumping that stops the dragon-riding gimmick from being purely aesthetic, as taking an attack midair will knock a character to the ground, leaving them prone to attack until their steed swoops down and retrieves them. Another unique point is in the way special and super moves are handled. While you might see in the screenshots beneath the health bars something that looks like a traditional super meter, it's actually two
seperate items. The number in a box does show how many super move uses a player has remaining, though this is a set amount each round, that, as far as I can tell, isn't replenished until the next round (the amount is sometimes two and sometimes three, though I haven't figured out why). The meter next to it measures a player's "dragon power", which is depleted whenever the player guards or uses a projectile attack, and fills back up when they take damage or land a melee attack. Obviously, the developers were attempting to curb projectile spamming and players that constantly guard. Speaking of the developers, this game was apparently made by a company named Sai-Mate, who, as far as I'm aware never made another game before or since, which is a shame.
Elan Doree is definitely worth playing, if only for how nice it looks (though it's not exactly a chor to play, either).

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Simple 2500 Series Portable!! Vol. 13: The Akuma Hunters - Exorsister

The first thing you should know about this game is that it bears no relation to the early 90s series of comedy/horror/porn films starring famed comic creator Ippongi Bang. I hope you can get over your obviously grave disappointment.
It's actually got more in common with the Oneechanbara series being, as it is, developed by Tamsoft, and featuring a group of attractive women engaging in combat with horror-themed monsters. Also like the Oneechanbara series, the game has only a few maps,
each having several missions taking place in parts of it. The game has a big flaw that its more famous sister lacks though, which is that most hated bugbear of modern action games, endless grinding. While the Oneechanbara series does have experience points and levelling up, the player's progress isn't particularly impeded by their low level, Exorsister requires re-playing stages over and over to grind for the materials to sell so you can play a stronger weapon that will reduce the awful slog of the next one.
When you do manage to save up for an adequate weapon, the game is a fairly entertaining (though repetetive) beat em up. You go about the stage,
beat up monsters (who do look pretty cool, and there are a fair few varieties of them, too), and while they're unconcious on the ground, you exorcise them. Each weapon has two stats: AP (attack power) and RP (I assume this means rosary power?), their functions are fairly obvious: attack power indicates how much damage the weapon does when attacking, and RP indicates how quickly monsters can be exorcised with the weapon equipped.
Fighting tough monsters, who will have three main advantages over the player, such as lots of health, lots of.. spiritual health(?) and an entourage of goons to protect them,
is simpler than it seems at first. You just need to stay locked on to the target, and wail on them, dodging out of the way when they look like they're going to attack. When they're down, the best way to exorcise them is to charge the spell up close (which makes it charge much quicker), then run away from the crony monsters before casting it, so they don't interrupt it with their attacks. And don't bother killing the cronies until you kill the target, as they'll quickly respawn.
Anyway, although I've enjoyed this game, and spent a good few hours playing it, I can't call it a good game or really recommend it. The fact is that the grind of having to repeat stages to get equipped for the next ones is just so boring, and there are much better things to do with your time than waste it on that kind of rubbish.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Buster (X68000)

Buster is a platform game, that's clearly been heavily influenced by Arcade platformers of the late 1980s, like Wardner and Legend of Hero Tonma. In it, the player travels, in the traditional manner, from left to right, killing enemies as you go. The only part of the game that's particularly original is the sword meter, which decreases every time you make a normal attack, and replenishes gradually when you're not attacking. You do also have an alternate attack, in the form of a splatterhouse-esque sliding kick, performed by pressing the
attack button at the same time as hitting the ground after a jump or fall. The sliding kick doesn't deplete the sword meter, and in fact quickly replenishes a large portion of it.
Don't mistake unoriginality for low quality, though: Buster is an excellent game that also has great graphics and music. The controls are tight and the stages are designed with deliberate precision. Nothing in the game feels arbitrary or accidental.
There is an aspect of the game that will put many off, however: its difficulty. The stages are designed with precision, and they expect to be played with precision in return. The first stage allows the player to get acquainted with the controls and mechanics, but as soon as the first boss is defeated, the game no longer has any mercy. There are jumps which require pixel-perfect accuracy, and a little later, situations that require that accuracy in jumping, but also perfect timing in attacking, and all in tiny timeframes with no space for error.
Because the game is so well made, this can get frustrating, but it's the right kind of frustration that a difficult game should invoke, where the player knows that they are at fault, and not the game. If you want a hard,
very old fashioned platform game, Buster is definitely one of them. The maker, E. Hashimoto, later went on to make a bunch of fairly well-known PC games, such as Akuji the Demon, and Guardian of Paradise. He's also made a psuedo-remake of Buster, 11 years after the original. I say psuedo-remake, as though I haven't played it, footage I've seen shows that the graphics are completely different (in a good way), and the game looks like it plays very differently, with the character moving around and fighting enemies at very high speeds.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Qix Adventure (Game Boy Colour)

I'm sure most people reading this blog have played Qix, or some clone of it. If not, the idea is that you claim territory in a big box by drawing smaller boxes inside it, while avoiding the things that already live in there. Most clones build on the original Qix's framework by having pictures be revealed in your claimed territory, and by adding power ups. Qix Adventure has these things, as well as a Pokemon bandwagon-jumping

collectathon element (the late 90s kids anime style the game's visuals have are further evidence of this), as
well as some faux-RPG trappings.
Playing as some kid named Speedy, you arrive on an island full of strange creatures that will, before each stage, engage Speedy in poorly-translated conversation. These creatures also appear in the stages themselves, though not as enemies that need to be avoided. The enemies are the traditional Qix and Sparks. There's also a treasure chest in each stage, though it's locked at the start of the stage, which is where the strange creatures come into things: capture them into your territory and the treasure chest opens. Obviously, capture the chest into your territory to claim the goods it contains. Said goods are the aforementioned collectathon element of the game, as the menu between stages will let you look at the treasures you've collected, along with a short description, also poorly translated. None of the treasures I've found seem to have any in-game use, though there is a screen in the menu for equipping items, and you are given money as well as points at the end of each stage, so presumably, there is equipment to buy later in the game? I've played through a few
areas, and hadn't encountered a shop yet, though. The way the game gives the player money is fairly interesting, too: the amount of money received at the end of a stage is a percentage of the points scored in the stage (starting at 2% and increasing gradually as the player progresses through the game).
Qix Adventure also has on the cartridge a port of the original Qix, selectable from the main menu, which is nice, I guess. If you like Qix and Qix-like games, Adventure is definitely one of the better ones I've played, so it's worth having a look at, though I'm not sure I'd want to pay the £10-ish it tends to go for on ebay.
Shamefully, I forgot to take a screenshot of the title screen while playing, and was too lazy to go back to my other computer to take one, so please make do with this google image searched replacement. I took all the other screenshots, though.