Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Fighting Masters (Mega Drive)

Though Fighting Masters' release date came six months after Street Fighter II came along and changed fighting games forever, it seems it was too early for SFII to have has any influence on it. In fact, Fighting Masters looks so old-fashioned that for a long time, I actually dismissed it, assuming it was another unplayable mess along the lines of the infamous Tongue of the Fatman. When my curiosity finally overcame me and i actually played the game, I was pleasantly surprised: Fighting Masters is a pretty fun game that's also totally bizarre in a number of ways.

For starters, there are only two buttons used, along with the d-pad: and attack button and a jump button. As well as the simple control scheme, there are also no combination attacks or special moves in the game: each character only has single strikes and throws, with throws doing massive damage and apparently being the cornerstone of the game.

Each fight has only one round, and they all take place in small arenas with walls at each side. Combatants can be thrown into walls, adding even more damage to that inflicted by the already devastating throws. In single player mode, health is managed in a similar manner to survival modes seen in later fighting games: rather than just getting a full health bar for each stage, your health regenerates at the end of each fight, though it's pretty generous, and you'll often end up with at least as much health as you started with anyway.

Aside from the mechanical eccentricities, the game also contains strangeness in the designs of the fighters. Though there are two human characters: a wrestler and an amazon, I can't imagine anyne ever picking them when they're up against such a menagerie of opponents who all manageto be weird and different, while still managing to adhere, however vaguely, to typical upright humanoid shapes.

There's fairly typical monsters, like a dragon, a griffin-man and a boxing cyclops, as well as a tokusatsu-esque blade monster thing, a stone monster that's just the head of a pharoah with arms and legs sticking out, but best of all is the portly blue monster with several red-nippled breasts hanging in a ring formation around its neck and shoulders.

In summary, Fighting Masters is no rival for what we'd now consider a "proper" fighting game, but it is a lot of fun, thanks in no small part to it's varied set of characters.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Big Fight - Big Trouble in the Atlantic Ocean (Arcade)

Probably the best thing about playing obscure games is when you find a game you've never even seen anyone talk about online and it turns out to be an unsung classic of the genre, and that's what i realised had happened shortly after I'd started playing Big Fight - Big Trouble in the Atlantic Ocean.

It's a beat em up, of course, and it's from the early 90s, and though the early 90s was something of a boom period for the genre, that also means there was a lot of pretty terrible cash-in garbage released then, too.  Big Fight is not one of those pieces of garbage. In fact, it's surprising it was released all the way back in 1992, since it's so packed with cool ideas. It even rivals critically acclaimed entries into the genre that came much later, like 1995's Guardians/Denjin Makai II. It's a terrible shame that it was apparently Tatsumi's last ever videogame.

So anyway, as the game starts, it appears to have a pretty typical set up for a beat em up: some bad guys are up to no good on an ocean liner and three heroes go out there to stop them. Those three heroes being, as you'd expect, an average guy (Kevin), a speedy girl (Zill) and a big strong guy (Gear). Straight away, the player can benefit from the game's first gimmick: each character has one or two fighting game-style special moves, the most useful being Zill's leaping, burning knee attack thing, performed by double-tapping forwards and pressing attack. Another thing, the characters seemingly have little or no recovery time for their normal combo attacks, meaning that the player can attack pretty much as quickly as they can press the button.

After you've taken some damage, you'll come across the next of the game's gimmicks: the anger meter. Appearing only when the player is knocked down and a low health, the anger meter is filled by rapidly tapping the attack button before the character gets back on their feet. If it's successfully filled (a knack that shouldn't take long for players to pick up), the character rises to their feet with a special attack (as in the typical beat em up health-draining all-round attack) without the health loss, and for a short time, all their attacks do extra damage and set enemies on fire. It's a nice way of giving ailing players a little help surviving just a little bit longer to the next health power-up.

A little way into the first stage, the game allows the player to choose one of three routes, though I'm pretty sure all the areas get covered eventually, this is still a pretty important choice to make, since ach of the three areas you can choose to tackle first obviously ends in a different boss, and that's where Big Fight's coolest gimmick comes in: at the start of each stage after the first, the player can change their character, with defeated bosses joining the playable roster! The bosses are a pretty varied bunch, too: there's the typical beat em up dominatrix, an offensive Native American stereotype (but offensive racial stereotypes never stopped anyone playing Street Fighter II, did they?), a bizarre pharoah character with long limbs and laser eyes, a cartoonish sumo wrestler, and presumably a few more, since I've not yet been able to complete the game.

Anyway, this game is excellent, and I strongly recommend you go and play it. It's not perfectly emulated in MAME, but there's only a few minor graphical glitches that don't affect gameplay, and don't make the game significantly uglier. Hopefully, it can start to recieve the recognition it should have got a long time ago.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Toyrobo Force (Game Boy Advance)

For some reason, shooting games seem to be something of an underrepresented genre on handheld consoles, especially on post-2000 handhelds (though having said that, the PSP has a pretty strong line-up, even if it is mostly ports). So obviously, when I found out there was a GBA shooter that I hadn't played, I had to give it a try.

I'll be kind, and talk about the positive parts of the game first. Most of the game's positives stem from its presentation: in-game it looks great, with a very friendly, colourful pallette that's somewhat reminiscent of cartoons aimed at the very young. Everything's well-drawn and very detailed considering they low resolution of th GBA screen, and there's cute little touces, like cows in fields that run away when the player shoots at them. The TV cartoon presentation continues between stages, with eyecatches appearing before and after each stage. The character designs are all okay, though a little bland, and unfortunately, most of the enemies are pretty generic.

As for the game itself, it's a vertically scrolling shooting game, with the inclusion of a Xevious-style bomb weapon, which is actually a pretty rare thing in modern shooters. The player controls a police robot on a flying motorbike, and they fly upwards, shooting the generic enemies, and bombing turrets and tanks on the ground. Sometimes during the stage, a criminal will appear, in the form of a mini-bossfight, after which the defeated perp will be left lying on the ground dazed for the player to pick up. The coolest example of this is actually in the first stage, which takes place in a town centre, and has the criminal running around on the ground, avoiding and hiding from the player's bombs and so on.

This all sounds pretty good, right? It's okay, but there are some massive flaws in this game. Firstly, the player only gets limited ammunition for each stage, which can leave no onther choice than just commiting suicide since obviously, having no weapons in a shooter makes things pretty much unwinnable. Secondly, the stages don't just flow into each other, but between them, there are sections in which characters talk to each other, and the player has to go to different buildings to talk to characters in the right order to be able to go to the next stage.

Although the fact that I can't read Japanese makes this more of an exercise in trial and error than it would be for someone who could, even if the game has Englishtext, I'd hate this. I've spoken before, ironically at great length, about how much I hate games that interrupt the player's fun for lengthy sections of usually terrible storytelling. If a game is exceptionally good, or in very rare cases, if the story is actually interesting or entertaining, it can make sitting through these parts worthwhile, but Toyrobo Force definitely doesn't fulfill the first condition, and though I can't read the text, I feel confident that the story is no great saga for our times, either.

If you really want to play a shooting game on your GBA, you'd be much better off going with Gradius Advance/Galaxies, a game that is better than Toyrobo Force in pretty much every possible way.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Disc Station Vol. 17 (PC)

Ahh, it's been a long time since I did a Disc Station post, hasn't it? Well, here's one now, right after a Yaroze Round-Up post. Maybe I could come up with some other semi-regular post series someday and do three in a row? Maybe...

Anyway, it's a PC Disc Station, so you know there's going to be at least some of the following things: interesting videos, amazing pixel art and a whole bunch of games. And Puyo Puyo characters, obviously. And DS17 doesn't disappoint on any of those fronts!

First up is a game entitled "Blitz Runner", which is a kind of time trial racing platform game. You know the Vs. mode in Sonic 3, in which the players pick a character and race laps around a small, specially designed stage? Blitz Runner is like that, but it's single player only, unfortunately, so you only have time to race against. There is an internet option on the title screen, which I assume was used for uploading and downloading times, but of course, that was in late 1997 and the option is now useless. There's three stages, and two characters (though they seem to play exactly alike), and not much else to this game. It looks great, though. Unfortunately, no matter what I tried, Blitz Runner refused to be screenshotted.

Next is an even smaller game, whose title I cannot read. But it's a simple badminton game, starring Carbuncle the orange star-shaped thing from the Puyo games. The side-on perspective reminds me a little of Tennis for Two, but it doesn't really play like it, obviously. The main problem with this game is the difficulty: even on the lowers setting, I never saw the CPU opponent miss a single shot, and I played a few games before giving up completely.

Third is a nice little RPG, in which a Compile employee becomes a tokusatsu-style transforming superhero. This has pretty good production values, with really nice graphics, and not-so-nice CGI cutscenes, and though exploration and such is done top-down, the battles take the form of little side-on beat-em-up segments. Unfortunately, though this game has a lot of charm, and the battles were cool, the language barrier was too high for me to really get anywhere in it. If some kind souls somewhere, someday made a translation patch for it, I'd probably make another attempt and give it its own blog post.

The last game from this volume (I'm omitting the Nazo Puyo installment on the disc, as I'm sure you all know what that's like) is Puyolympics, a collection of mini-games starring a bunch of Puyo characters, with Arle and Witch in the lead roles. The mini-games are a mix of real sports, like running and swimming, and silly videogame nonsense, like catching falling Puyos in a basket, and another one that seems to be based on the same traditional toys as Dharma Doujou. You can play through all the events in a story mode, or you can play each one indiviually. It's pretty full featured, and like all the other games, it looks pretty great, with some cool artwork of Puyo characters in sports clothes, if that's the kind of thing that would interest any of you.

Finally, as always, there's a folder of video files on the disc, too. They were the usual mix of silly animated shorts starring characters from various Compile games, TV ads for Compile games, and other Compile ephemera. I've uploaded one of the videos from the last category, a kind of highlight reel featuring footage from all the various live events Compile held over the course of 1997. It's a great little video, featuring lots of cool stuff like people playing in tournaments, 90s cosplayers, and some guy singing.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Net Yaroze Round-Up Volume 4!

Sam the Boulderman (James Hobden, 1998)
Like Rocks n Gems, Sam the Boulderman is a Boulderdash clone, though it has a slightly different take on the concept. Rather than RnG's big, sprawling stages full of enemies, Sam's stages are all single screen, and as far as I can tell, enemy-free. This means it's entirely puzzle-based, with none of the nerve-wracking chases of the more well known game. It plays alright, though movement does feel a little jerky, and the presentation is pretty shoddy. The graphics are grubby-looking, and the music and sound effects are the same as those used in Clone (though whether this is stealing or just the use of some common Yaroze sound library is beyond my knowledge). Still worth a look, though.

Blitter Boy in Monster Mall (Chris Chadwick, 1998)
This game was critically acclaimed when it came out, winning competitions and awards and the like, and comments I've seen online often name it as one of peoples' favourite Yaroze games, but I really don't like it at all. It's a semi-Robotron-esque game, without the twin-stick shooting in which the player must go about stages shooting ghosts and UFOs while rescuing babies and taking them to the centre of the screen to be beamed away. It can't be denied that it's competently put together and the graphics are incredibly slick, looking like it could be a commercially released Amiga game from only a few years earlier. The biggest problem Blitter Boy has, though, is the sound effects: there's always something making some kind of loud, shrill noise, and worst of all are the babies you're tasked with rescuing. Getting hit by one of the player's stray bullets or coming into contact with any of the enemies makes the babies stop what they're doing and cry, loudly. The constant, awful noise made this game unplayable for me for more than a few minutes.

The Incredible Coneman (Lars Barstad, Per Ivar Pedersen, Rune Solberg, Jostein Trondal, Frode Kristensen, Bjorn Ullevoldaeter, 1998)
The Incredible Coneman is a 3D Pac-Man clone. The player controls Coneman, a kind of robot/tank thing round various mazes, collecting pyramids and stars and avoiding ghosts. The face buttons can be used to move the camera, a function which seemingly has no restraints, allowing the player to zoom out until the entire map is just a tiny dot on the screen. The most distinguishing feature of the game is its sound: the music is a short, mellow, almost hypnotic beat, and the game plays a nice little saxophone doot-doot-doo when the player loses a life. TIC isn't essential playing, but it's not terrible either, and it does have some charm.

Arena (Tom Madams, ????)
A pretty impressive 3D shooting game, starring a mech that looks similar in design to the one from the Amiga game Walker. The player controls the mech, goes about a maze shooting enemies and turrets. It's really hard, so much so that I couldn't even get past the first stage, but I like Arena. The mech's fun to control, the enemíes are satisfying to shoot and destroy, and the graphics are easily some of the best I've seen in a Yaroze game. It's full, texture-mapped 3D, and it looks like it wouldn't be too out of place on the 3D0 or one of those other forgotten consoles of the early 32-bit era (something I say here totally as a compliment).