Friday, 28 November 2014

Aworg (Mega Drive)

Aworg is one of a few games released via download for the short-lived, Japan-only Meganet internet service for the Mega Drive. It stars a cyborg (who, in my eyes, bears a mild resemblence to Megaman X), holding a paper fan in each hand and no weapons. The cyborg flaps the fans to achieve awkward flight, and is charged with the task of collecting three keys in each stage, and then exiting the stage via portal. (The title screen refers to the protagonist as a "hero in the sky", though as far as I can tell, his actions aren't partiularly heroic.)

The stages are full of obstacles, stationary and mobile. There are spikes, orbs, and aggressive floating aliens. The orbs and aliens can be killed, either by use of Aworg's special health-draining attack, by pushing them into spikes, or through repeated headbutts. Pushing enemies is a more complicated affair than it initially sounds, as its done by facing away from your target and flapping. It takes a while to get used to manage doing this and also actually avoiding other obstacles and getting to where you want to be. Headbutting is a more simple affair, being somewhat reminiscent of Ecco the Dolphin's charging attack, but since enemies take multiple hits, it's hard to dispatch them without taking damage yourself. Speaking of damage, the game gives the player a different amount of starting health for each stage, presumably in accordance with the stage's difficulty, though I assume that later stages will combine sadistic layouts with austere health rationing.

The game's not what you would call fun to play, and though it's biggest failing is that it's way too hard, it's too hard in a way that dares the player to play again, and try to get a little further. If you in the mood for a vintage masocore experience, Aworg might be a game you'd want to seek out. If not, it definitely isn't. And as for the odd title, I'm assuming that it's some kind of mangled portmanteau of the words "air" and "cyborg"

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Realm of the Dead (PS2)

Europe was a pretty good place to be a PS2 owner, as for some reason, we had a lot of smaller publishers buying the rights to many lesser-known Japanese games and releasing them here, which is apparently something that didn't really happen in North America. Obviously, a lot of those games were awful shovelware garbage, but it also meant we got to play some amazing classics like Global Defence Force and games that were more interesting than they were actually good, like Zombie vs. Ambulance. Realm of the Dead is one of those many piles of low-budget Japanese titles that was brought over, but it doesn't really fall into any of the above categories, that is to say, it's particularly good, it's not terrible, and it's definitely not interesting.

Realm of the Dead is a gory, zombie themed beat em up, but unlike most zombie games, it's set in medieval times. So instead of killing zombie cops and office workers, you kill zombie knights and fishwives. You've got weak attacks and strong attacks, you earn points that are used to buy upgrades between stages, et cetera. There's really nothing about this game that stands out at all.

It could be said that it does at least paint a somewhat realistic picture of the medieval world, with most locations being brown, dirty and damp-looking. Very damp-looking in some cases, as you're going to spend several consecutive stages early in the game wading through identical-looking sewers, killing the same enemies you kill everywhere else.

Yeah, this is a pretty short review, since there's only so many ways in which it's possible to say "this game is mediocre". Like I said in the Raging Blades review, there are plenty of great beat em ups to play on the PS2 before you get to ones like this, and if you really want to play one with zombies and gore, I'd say go for Zombie Hunters 2. If horror isn't essential to you, then once again, I urge you to play God Hand.
This game is also known as Bakuen Kakusei: Neverland Senki Zero

Monday, 17 November 2014

Super Glob (Arcade)

Super Glob is an arcade game of a style popular in the early 80s, featuring a cute thing of indeterminate nature avoiding enemies and eating things. It's probably safe to say that though a lot of the games in this trend weren't maze games (and in fact there was actually a fair amount of mechanical variation between most of the games), they were almost definitely inspired by Pacman's massive popularity.

In this particular iteration of the theme, the players control a small blue slime named "Glob", and ride in elevators to eat all the food on each stage. The enemies come in the form of various animals: crocodiles, frogs, rabbits, monkeys and pigs, each with their own behaviour patterns.

There's two buttons in use for this game, one to make glob jump up and stick to the ceiling, which is useful to evade enemies, and also to defeat them by dropping onto them from above, though each stage has a time limit in the form of an "energy level", which depletes faster whie Glob is stuck to the ceiling. The second button is used to press the buttons that are dotted around the stages to call the elevators to the player's current floor. This button comes with it's own cute little animation, and the elevators provide another method for dispatching foes: crushing with the top or bottom of the elevator, in a manner possibly inspired by Taito's Elevator Action, released in the same year.

A few stages in, the enemies gain the ability to call the elevators, to kill the player or, since they aren't too bright, each other. A couple more stages and some of the enemies can even ride the elevators up and down, which complicates things even more than it sounds like it does. Each enemy is worth a different amount of points, oddly all being mulitples of eleven. The amount of points each piece of food is worth increases by 10 each stage, too. These two things combine to make a simple, but still interest way of ensuring there can be some variation in the scores of players with different skill levels.

The game is known by a few other names, including The Glob, and Beastie Feastie. There are some difference between the differently named versions, too, though they're all fundamentally the same game: Beastie Feastie has uglier graphics, different stage layouts and a continue option. The Glob appears to be mostly the same as Super Glob, with only a few pallette difference and very minor changes to stage layout.
Here's a comparision of the first stages of each game, with Beastie Feastie on the left, The Glob in the middle, and Super Glob on the right :

You can read more about how this odd state of affairs came about here.

Super Glob is a game that's worth playing, in my opinion. It's cute, it has an interesting scoring system and it's fun to play. It's also part of a mildly interesting footnote in arcade history too, which is nice.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Panic in Nakayoshi World (SNES)

This is a game I'd encountered way back when I first had access to emulation, before I even owned a computer, and was running a dreamSNES disc I'd got from one of the local software pirates in my village, with ROM discs burned by my friends. Panic in Nakayoshi World was on a disc sent to me by an internet friend, who described it as "this weird Bomberman-type game with Sailor Moon in it", which, to the untrained eye, seems like an accurate description. Definitely better than describing it as a puzzle game, which I've seen one person online do, at least.

But I recently got a physical copy of the game from ebay for a few pounds, and playing it again, I can see exactly what it is: it's Battle City with a pink and yellow makeover! (And long-time readers might remember when I reviewed Tank Force, the arcade-only sequel to Battle City, a couple of years ago.)

It has all the main features of Battle City: destructable blocks, enemies spawning from three points at the top of the map, a target at the bottom of the map that has to be defended from enemy fire. Your weapon is even powered up by collecting stars! But of course, instead of controlling a tank, you're controlling Sailor Moon or one of three other characters from comics being published in Nakayoshi magazine at the time, none of whom I'm familiar with. And instead of enemy tanks patrolling an occupied city, there are enemy rabbits and teddy bears patrolling cute fairytale forests and the like.

The one, singular problem I have with the game is that the addition of boss fights means losing a life can put the player at a massive disadvantage: since all power ups a lost on death, dying before a boss fight can be disastrous. At full power, bosses are easy, going down in a few seconds. With no power-ups, you have to play almost perfectly just to defeat them within the time limit. It's only a minor problem, and it's nowhere near as pronounced as it is in a lot of other games, but it's still mildly annoying.

Really, whether you like this game or not depends on two things: how much you like Battle City and how comfortable you are playing a game that is themed with such femininity (and that really shouldn't be a problem with anyone in this day and age, should it?) Panic in Nakayoshi World probably isn't as good as Tank Force, but it is still worth playing, and if you want to play it on real hardware, a copy shouldn't set you back too much.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Basketball Nightmare (Master System)

The night before the big game, the captain of a high school basketball team has a nightmare, where he has to play against teams of monsters. And though he's probably American, and the game was made for western audiences (the only ones still buying Master System games in 1989), a lot of the monsters are very Japanese: buddhist cyclopses, kappas, undead Japanese grandmothers, and so on. The enemy teams, being monsters, play on spooky courts, too, which happen to look pretty cool, with baskets made of bones and rocks and such.

Despite the unusual theme of Basketball Nightmare, it doesn't add any kind of fantastic elements to the way the game plays: no power-ups or special moves or anything of the sort. It's just a regular basketball game in which the AI teams all happen to be monsters. So normal is the manner in which the game plays, that in 2-player mode, and the pointless CPU vs CPU mode, the teams are all human. There's also talk online of a secret single player mode played against international human teams, though I haven't found any instructions on how to access this mode.

The game plays better than you'd expect from an 8-bit team sports game, and it's presented excellently: attempted slam dunks are shown via impressive full screen cutaway animations and the regular sprites are all cute and appealing. It does fall apart, however, when you discover the secret to winning every match: get the ball, run to the bottom right corner of the court and shoot. More often then not, you'll score a three pointer. Do this a few times, and your opponents will have no chance of catching up before the time runs out.

Basketball Nightmare is worth a look for the cute graphics, and some fun might be had from the 2-player mode (though I guess either both players or neither players would have to know about the secret for it to be at all competitive), but it's definitely not an essential game that needs to be sought out.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Aurail (Arcade)

Aurail is an arcade shooting game made by Westone in 1990, with a bunch of interesting gimmicks. It also has a pretty interesting setting  and visual style, taking place in a world that seems to combine old-fashioned ornate design with futuristic technology, giving the game a slightly more unique look than the semi-steampunkish style usually used when a setting combines fantasy and sci-fi or the past and the future. A lot of love actually seems to gone into the game's visual design, with some nice big pieces of splash artwork use at various points, like the titles and continue screens. It's a shame there'll probably never be an artbook showing some more insight into it (although I'd love to be proven wrong on this. Even if someone just dug out a lavishly illustrated article from an old issue of Gamest or something, that would be nice!)

The easiest to explain out of the game's gimmicks is that there are two types of stages in the game: typical vertically-scrolling shooting game stages, and the less common first-person shooting stages, that take place in long, straight tunnels. A little more complicated, though more prevalent, since the first person stages are only occaisional distractions, are the control and power-up systems.

Along with the joystick, the player has three buttonswith which to control their walking tank. The first is a fairly traditional fire button, which when held locks the tank in place, allowing the player to shoot all around them. Before explaining the other two buttons, the power-up system must be explained: there's a power meter going up the left-hand side of the screen, which is filled a small amount when a "P" power-up is collected. There are also "D" power-ups that summon an attack drone that hovers around, following the player. The second button puts the drone into attack mode, causing it to fly around the screen, shooting enemies until the power meter is depleted. The third button activates a forcefield around the player, using a fairly hefty chunk of power. The player can have up to three forcefields active at once, each protecting from a single attack.

So it looks good, and has interesting controls, but it Aurail actually a good game? Well, it's alright. The pace is a lot slower than you might expect from an arcade shooting game, as there's no forced scrolling, and the player does need to be careful, almost tactical even, when approaching enemies, especially since the walking tank isn't really fast enough to quickly weave between oncoming bullets: it's more effective to seek positions where safety can be found for a second or two, shoot from there and then move again. It's also very, very hard. Those three shields can be worn down quicker than you might expect, and when death does come, the distance between checkpoints is truly punishing. There's harder games from this era, but Aurail is definitely not a forgiving game by a long, long way.