Thursday, 29 May 2014

Aa Harimanada (Game Gear)

Aa Harimanada is a sumo game, based on Kei Sadayasu's comiic of the same name. You've probably seen the Mega Drive game based on the comic, which, as was the fashion at the time, was more like a sumo-themed fighting game, with large, detailed sprites and special moves and the like. (As an aside, the UK's Sega Power magazine printed a review of the Mega Drive game, but were apparently too lazy or too cheap to get someone to translate the title for them, so they just referred to it as "SUMO".)

The Game Gear version is, as far as I can tell with my very limited understanding of sumo, a lot more realistic. Though there are special moves in the game, the only reason I know this is because I once
performed one by accident (ashoryuken-looking maneuver that I was unfortunately never able to recreate). The CPU opponents never performed any specials, no matter how far into the game I got. There is one particularly unrealistic-seeming touch left in however: the ability to jump stright up in the air about three or four metres. You can't attack or anything from up there, though, so it's as pointless as it is inappropriate. Winning is possible via the regular sumo methods of knocking your opponent down, or throwing them out of the ring, though there is also a health bar, presumably to avoid stalemates, and attacking an opponent with a fully depleted health bar will automatically knock them down or send them rolling out of the ring.

As you can see from the screenshots, the game's graphics are fairly nice looking, though they're far from the best the Game Gear has to offer, and as you play the game, you'll notice they commit a far graver sin: repetition to an almost absurd degree. There's only one arena in the game as far as I can tell, having played well over twenty stages in, and even worse, there's only on character sprite. It's true, although the many opponents you face in the game all have different names and portraits displayed before each bout, every one of them, including the player character, is one sprite used over and over with the only variations being in skin and mawashi colour. Making this even worse is the fact that the varying skin colours rarely match the colour of the character seen in the pre-match portraits.

Despite this, the presentation in general is pretty good. The one sprite the game has is of a decent size and also fairly well animated, and there's quite a bit of sampled speech, considering it's an early 90s handheld game. Each match also ends with a big, full-screen animation of the winniing move, which looks pretty cool and is only slightly hampered by the fact that again, all the animations feature generic characters, irrelevant of which characters are involved.

Unforunately, though there are a few good points speaking in this game's favour, they are vastly outweighed by the negatives. The aformentioned health bar is the game's real killer, even in light of the recoloured sprites problem, as it removes the need for any kind of skill in the game. It's entirely possible to coast through the game by simply pummeling opponents with palm thrusts and headbutts until they're knocked out, and it seems they never develop any kind of skill to counter such tactics. I've only seen the game over screen because I lost a fight on purpose, and I've never seen the game's ending simply because the boredom of fighting identical, inept opponents always becomes totaly unbearable after about twenty-ish matches.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Exelinya Burst (Xbox 360)

It's time for another Japanese Xbox Live Indie Game, and in it, the player controls a tiny sukumizu-clad girl who flies aroun d with a big grabby-arm device. Using said device, they must grab and throw enemies, who come in the form of crudely drawn vegetables. Though the game bears some superficial similarities to Bangai-O, as well as a shared obsession with explosions, the way it plays makes it a pretty unique game.

You character is unkillable, with the only real foe being the time limit. Before time runs out, the player has to score as many points as possible, by grab the enemies and throwing them into each other. Thrown enemies explode, and enemies caught in explosions will also explode, and so on. There's also bosses, who come in
the form of flans and milk cartons, who shoot streams of carrot and radish-shaped missiles (the carrots go in a straight line, the radishes are homing).

There's also a power bar at the bottom of the screen, which goes up and down depending on how many explosions are currently happening. The more full it gets, the larger the explosions get. When it's completely full, large red explosions will occur, that also slightly increase the amoumnt of remaining time. So obviously, the game revolves entirely around creating more, bigger explosions, to score points, to regain time, and to cause more explosions.

Obviously, the time lmit and constant explosions give the game a manic pace, and this is also aided by the
music. There's a few different tracks, and the game seems to switch between in a semi-dynamic way. I'm not sure exactly how it chooses which track to play at a given time, whether it's based on the current amount of enemies or explosions on-screen, or maybe the remaining time or some other myserious algorhythm, but it always fits.

Though it's not a must-buy like Chieri no Doki Doki Yukemori Burari Tabi, I still totally recommend Exelinya Burst. It's only 69p, and the nature of the game means you can probably easily fit a whole credit into the 8 minute default demo time that XBLIG games offer to see if it grabs you.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Sanrio Carnival (Game Boy)

So, it's a puzzle game featuring Sanrio characters on the menu screens, and their faces on the blocks. Match three of the same and they'll disappear, the ones above will fall down, leading to the possibility of a chain. That's it, as far as the core mechanics of the game go. It's a slow rip-off of Columns, with music so awful it can only be that way on purpose.

But! That's not all there is to the game! There are three modes of play available, High Score, Endless and what the fan-translated version of the game refers to as just "Complete Stages". The first two are, as far as I
can tell, identical to each other, and they're the typical puzzle game single player mode in which the player just has to last as long as they can, scoring as many points as they can until they fill the screen up and the game ends.

The third mode is much more interesting, and probably the only interesting thing about this game. In it, there are five stages, each charging the player with a different task, the first and third are trivially easy: clear thirty sets of three or more, and clear five sets of four or more. Stages four and five are a little more challenging: clear ten "doubles" (a double being more than one set of three or more at the same time) and make ten chains. The second stage is the hardest, however, requiring 50,000 points to be scored. It would sound like a lot in most games, but the points in this game go up very slowly, and it's made even harder by
the fact that the well into which your blocks are falling is really small, possibly the smallest I've ever seen in a puzzle game at only six blocks wide by eight blocks high.

Of course, you could, with a bit of practice, complete all the tasks easily. But why would you bother? The game just isn't any fun. The stages gimmick is interesting, but the game itself is so slow and plain, there's just no excitement in it. Considering that it's for the Game Boy, facing stiff competition from many, many better puzzle games, therre's just no reason to ever play Sanrio Carnival. Apparently, the Sanrio name and characters were enough to get it to sell on release, though, as it did receive a sequel two years later.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Over Rev (Arcade)

You might already know that I love arcade racing games, especially ones from the mid-90s, with their bright colours and relatively low (compared to modern console games) polygon counts. Over Rev is the second racing game Jaleco released for SEGA's Model 2 hardware, and it hits most of the right spots that a 90s arcade racer should. I should also mention here the same disclaimer I put at the start of my post about Motor Raid, that I emulated this game and played it with a normal analogue controller, so my experience will be slightly different to that of someone playing on a real arcade cabinet with steering wheels and fancy moulded seats and the like.

It's got bright blue skies, it's fast, it has cool backdrops, all it lacks is a cool soundtrack. Once you start the game, there are two modes to choose from: Challenge Cup and Time Attack. Challenge cup is the harder of the two modes, but also the one that has a chance of giving a longer game for your credit (if you're a good player). In it, the player drives each track in order, having to not only reach checkpoints to prolong the time
limit, but also finish the race in a minimum position, which starts at 5th and gets higher with each race. (Because I'm terrible, I only got to the second stage in this mode D:). Time Attack mode allows the player to choose any of the four tracks to play on, though you only get one race per credit. All that needs to be done in this mode is get to the checkpoints and finish as quickly as possible, your position in the race isn't important.

The four tracks (there might be a secret track, or maybe a fifth track in Challenge Cup mode, but I haven't found any mention of one online anywhere) take place in Shibuya, Ariake (which includes driving under the Tokyo Big Sight!), Tsukuba (the most boring track, taking place in a racing arena. Are they called arenas? I don't know.), and Hakone (a very nice-looking track taking place in a forest, with waterfalls and trees and such). There's lots of nice little touches, like planes flying past, trains
going over overhead bridges, and so on, that make the stages feel a little more alive, though there doesn't seem to be a crowd of any kind watching on the Tsukuba track, which seems odd.

There's seven cars to choose from, though three of them are very slightly hidden, being revealed when the accelerator is pushed on the car select screen (oddly, the brake is used to select things in this game). Unfortunately, the three hidden cars aren't anything too outlandish or interesting like the hidden horse in Daytona USA, just two more sports cars and a pick-up truck.

In conclusion, Over Rev is a pretty fun game, definitely worth playing if you're sick of seeing Daytona's
tracks over and over again and want something new to scratch your Model 2 racing itch. It's just a shame that it never got a home port, unlike Jaleco's earlier Model 2 racer, Super GT 24hr (which maybe I'll write about sometime in the distant future? I'll think about it.).

Friday, 2 May 2014

The Last Tempest (X68000)

This is a game that was almost, thanks to the short-sightedness of its developer, lost to the ages. It's only down to a helpful poster at the Tokugawa Corp forums, who found a way round the game's copy protection that it can now be emulated, played and written about.
On to the game itself, it's an action game taking place on floating isometric islands, and on each stage, the player must find and kill all the enemies therein. The hook is that the player is some kind of evil skull-
worm-thing, and the enemies are angels, saints, apostles and other biblical figures. Enemies are killed simply by repeatedly ramming them with your face. The game delights in being disrespectful and irreverant, too: cherub enemies are labelled "angelic scum", the good samaritan is pointed out with a big red arrow instructing "KILL HIM!", and the homing shots fired by the Archangel Gabriel are "angelic sperm".
The game is a lot of fun, and though the stages all have the same basic goal (kill every enemy), there's still a lot of variety in them, and another nice touch is that though each stage has a boss (usually an archangel, though I've also encountered a bronze serpent summoned by Moses and Aaron, who also float around on their own little island summoning explosions and rains of holy water to further annoy you), they don't have to be killed last, and will often roam about the stages attacking at will.
Another interesting point is that the player character is technically invulnerable to direct attacks, with death only coming from falling off the islands, which actually serves to make it more annoying, especially when, as is often the case, death comes from the player's own clumsiness, without even needing any enemy
Despite this frustration, this is a game I'm going to be sticking with for a few reasons. Firstly, the charm of its adolescent blasphemous trappings (as an aside: though it came out in the same year as Neon Genesis Evangelion, since that series debuted in October, it's probably just a coincidence), contrasted with the high quality of the graphics and music and how well put together the game is in general is nice, and secondly, as I said, every stage is unique and full of nice little ideas, and I want to see more of what the game has to offer.
Special thanks to Japanese PC Compendium for helping me get the disc images and the save state needed to run them.