Saturday, 21 June 2014

Cyborg 009 (Mega CD)

So, it's a licenced game based on Shotaro Ishinomori's comic of the same name. But unlike most comic licenced games of the early 90s, rather than being aimed at kids, Cyborg 009's presentation seems to suggest that it's more at nostalgic adults. There's opening credits before the title screen, that, though they don't appear to be a direct recreation of the openings of either Cyborg 009 tv series that had been made at that point, do definitely invoke the feel of 1970s/late 60s Japanese sci-fi/action, and the options screen is styled like an old 1970s TV, with a knob that turns as you go up and down.

The game itself, however is pretty standard for a 90s licence game: it's a platform game where you shoot enemies and collect stuff. It's a pretty high quality one, though. It looks nice, the difficulty is pretty reasonably balanced and it has a nice little gimmick in 009's temporary super-speed ability. Pressing C makes 009 quickly dash forward at high speed, and starting from a few stages in, a fair bit of the level design is based around successfully using this ability in conjunction with jumping to get to higher or further away platforms than can be reached with normal jumps.

Your weapon for most of the game is a beam gun that can only be fired straight ahead, and can be powered up three times (though the only effect of the power ups is that the beam does more damage. Unfortunately, this leads to a (fairly mild) case of the Gradius slippery slope, especially when fighting bosses. Though all the bosses have fairly easy to learn attack patterns, you're still likely to take hits unless you have expertly-honed, lightning fast reflexes, and if you lose a life, you lose your powerups too, meaning that now you have to start the boss fight again, only this time you have to dodge for longer, giving you more chances to mess up. It's far from being the worse case of the problem I've ever seen, but it is a mild irritation. The worst part of it is that it renders the game's progress save option a little less useful, since that starts you at the beginning of the stage in which you saved with the default number of lives and no power-ups.

The game looks and sounds very nice, as previously mentioned, it's very much presented in a retro-Japanese style, but even ignoring that, the graphics are nicely drawn and colourful, and the music fits perfectly. One of the bosses even has a mildly impressive faux-3D effect going on in the background, though it doesn't really come across well in a still screenshot. There's also cutscenes between each stage, and though I'm not a fan of cutscenes as a concept, these are also nicely done. Unlike a lot of Mega CD cutscenes, they're almost full screen (with black borders at the top and bottom for a wide screen effect), as brightly coloured as the in-game graphics and not at all grainy. It seems that rather than using low quality FMV, the developers decided to go with a more extravagant version of the cutscenes seen in various cartridge-based games, like the Valis series or Ninja Gaiden. One little technical oddity though, is that if you're playing the game via an emulator, the voices will be out of sync, presumably due to the lack of loading times.

Cyborg 009 is a pretty fun game, I've never read or watched any version of the original story, so I can't vouch for how faithful an adaptation it is, but if you just want to play a decent Mega CD platformer, it's worth a look.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Express Raider (Arcade)

Hello! Remember me? It's been a while since I last posted, sorry! I've been busy with things like re-learning how to 3D model and other miscellany.

Anyway, Express Raider is an arcade game released by Data East in 1986, and it's a pretty early example of a game in which the player is the bad guy. I won't say first, because even if there's no earlier villain arcade games (which there might be, I haven't checked), there's probably something from the 80s british computer scene that features a playable bad guy.

The specific knave over whom your control will be exerted in this game is a nameless train robber/mass murderer in the old west. There's two types of robberies this no-good scoundrel commits: ones where he
boards the train, and ones where he rides horseback alongside it. Yes, it's not "one big score" he's after, he's a career criminal.

The two types of robbery are represented by two types of play. The on-foot robberies see the player walking across the tops of the train carraiges, each of which is protected by a different guardian. This might sound like a beat em up setup, but as the enemies are fought one at a time, in fixed spaces, it's more along the lines of something like Karateka, a strictly Player-Vs-AI fighting game with a single playable character, but multiple opponents, a genre that was pretty much killed by Street Fighter II, and then buried by Rise of the Robots.

Other than the generic tough guy you'll encounter a few times on each fighting stage, there's also riflemen, big guys who try to shove you off the train with a wall of boxes, and the coal-shovelling guy who, on your arrival, diverts his attention from fuelling the train to ending your life. An interesting part of these sections is your health bar, which obviously get depleted via enemy attacks, but also gets restored through your successful attacks, making it something more of a momentum meter than a traditional health bar.

The other bits, the ones that take place on horseback, aren't nearly as interesting as the fighting bits, though they're not the chore I'd originally assumed them to be when I saw them in the game's attract demo. The
easiest way to describe it would be as a kind of horseback cabal-esque shooting gallery. The bottom part of the screen is your moving area, in which you must dodge the enemy bullets, and the top has the train carraiges. Enemies pop up to take shots at the player through windows or from behind walls or whatever, and sometimes a woman will appear with a bag of points for you too (you lose a life if you shoot her, which is really easy to do, considering how frantic these sections are). After you kill a certain amount of enemies at a carraige, you move on to the next until you finally reach the engine, which plays host to a mildly bizarre bonus stage, in which you have the remaining time from the rest of the stage to shoot as manically as possible to find invisible targets while a guy on board the train randomly gives you big sacks of points.

Express Raider is a fun, fairly unique game that definitely meets my recommendation. You should totally play it!