Sunday, 25 January 2015

Taekwon-Do (SNES)

Like the previously-covered Champion Kendou, Taekwon-Do is part of the mostly dead (apart from MMA and Boxing games, usually featuring real-world athletes) genre of combat sports videogames. Obviously, it focuses on the Korean martial art Taekwon-Do, and, unusally, even offers an option to play the game in Korean rather than Japanese (though, wasn't the import of Japanese videogames to Korea illegal when this game came out? I don't know).

Though there are other modes, such as a King of Fighters-esque team battle mode, and some kind of character edit/training mode that I couldn't really work out, as its pretty text-heavy, and I can't read Japanese or Korean, the main single player mode sees the player selecting a character and taking part in tournaments around the world. There are three possible ways to win a match: either knock your opponent out, knock them to the ground five times, or have scored the most points when the time runs out.

Successful attacks score one to three points each, while knockdowns and ringouts are worth five each. The score totals aren't visible until the end of each match, presumably to stop players building up a safe score and then blocking or avoiding attacks until the counter runs down. There's no visible health bar, but knockouts usually seem to be achieved by completely overwhelming your opponent with constant attacks. The game controls pretty simply: the face buttons combined with directions on the d-pad execute various attacks (mostly kicks, of course), and the shoulder buttons are held to take on different stances, and also to move up and down the mat. The sounds for attacks connecting and being blocked sound like wood blocks being knocked together, which is more effective than my description implies, and gives a very different feel to the more visceral sounds heard in regular fighting games.

Since this is an attempt at a fairly realistic martial arts sports game, the characters are all just guys in Taekwon-Do outfits, and, in fact are all head and palette swaps of the same sprite. Don't take this as a negative, though: the developers have used this fact to their advantage, as that one sprite has a ton of expressive animation. Not only are there special reaction animations to getting hit by ceratin attacks, or in certain situations (for example, a character taking a strong hit to the gut will hunch over and hold themselves for a few frames, while a character being hit mid-jump will stumble on their feet when they land), but the fighters also show various levels of fatigue, which seem to be effected by various factors, such as the character's own stamina stat, the severity of the beating they've taken and the amount of jumping and other energetic moves they've performed. By the end of a particularly fierce bout, both characters will be breathing heavily, shoulders slumped and knees starting to buckle. This depth of animation really adds a lot to the game, and I'm slightly worried I'm not doing a good enough job of getting that across.

Soyeah, Taekwon-Do is definitely a game worth looking into for those wanting something slightly different from a typical fighting game, as well as those interested in how a videogame can take its weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Ninpu Sentai Hurricanger (Playstation)

So, it's a licenced game based, obviously, on the 26th Super Sentai series of the same game (the suit action scenes from which were also used in the US/New Zealand series Power Rangers Ninja Storm). And it came to be released pretty late in the Playstation's life, the reasoning behind which I assume must be down to the fact that it was also very early in the Playstation 2's life and I guess the idea was that the young Super Sentai fanbase wouldn't yet have been able to upgrade.

Predictably, it's an action game, with the player taking control of the Hurricangers and their various mecha, fighting goons and monsters and at some points, other giant robots. Each stage represents an episode of the TV show, and is structured in a manner that will strike a familiar chord with Super Sentai fans. Typically, a stage will open with a section where the player defeats gangs of weak enemies, either in short beat em up segments, or occasionally in crosshair-pointing shooting gallery sections. Next up will usually be an on-foot fight against the monster of the week, which will play like a boss fight to the earlier beat em up segment. Finally is the main draw of these shows: the giant robot fighting against the giant version of the monster from the last part.

The giant robot fights don't play out like the other parts of the game, however: they start with a section with the camera behind the player's mech, in which the ploayer must move from side to side to avoid and deflect projectiles shot by the enemy until an opening to move in closer and attack comes up. When this happens, there's a short sequence in which the player hammers the attack buttons as fast as possible to knock the enemy back, followed by a first-person section that sees the player punching and slashing and using special attacks to deplete the enemy's health.

The game's presentation is perfect, with the in-game graphics being pretty much as good as they could be on the Playstation, and even the use of FMV works in the game's favour. The FMV clips used are short bits of stock footage that are used in the same place as they are in the show itself: transformation sequences, final attacks, and so on. The story mode is only a few stages long, but there are a bunch of extras, like a VS fighting mode, with all the rangers, enemies and monsters as playable characters, and an extra stage featuring a team-up with the red ranger of the Super Sentai show precedin Hurricanger, Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger.

You can probably work out what I think of this game by now, but yeah, I definitely recommend Hurricanger. If you're a fan of the show itself or the genre in general, it's a perfect adaptation, and even if you're not, it's just a really fun action game that's also very well presented.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Bogey Manor (Arcade)

The creators of Bogey Manor seems to have a fair few non-videogame influences in their repetoire, both in the general aesthetic, and even in the mechanics. Firstly, it was released in 1984, a year after Ghostbusters so it doesn't seem too out there to suggest that a comedic game about a guy who uses technology to fight ghosts might have been trying to ride that movie's wave of popularity (though, as barely anyone has heard of it, the tactic doesn't seem to have worked, unfortunately). The other influences all tie into the game's mechanics in some way (and some more than others).

But before I get onto them, I should really explain the game itself, shouldn't I? In it, some guy named Fritz goes to a series of ramshackle old mansions to, I guess exorcise them by destroying all the crystal balls therein. Each house is also infested with various kinds of monsters: ghosts, frankenstein's monsters, witches, and so on. Each house is divided into four screens, and each screen has four floors on it, with stairs and doorways being the way to get between floors. Most of the time, the player can only see the floor they are on, though there is an item that appears in each stage that illuminates every floor. After each orb in a house is smashed, the house starts to collapse from the top down, and the player has to rush to the exit. Failing to get to the exit before the house completely collapses results in death, obviously, but it also gives the player a different death screen than the usual, which is a nice touch.

Outside of the likely Ghostbusters cash-in attempt, the biggest influence on the game is probably Scooby Doo: the game takes place in a series of run-down old haunted houses, and the player's main method of attack is a nice little foray into silly slapstick comedy: to defeat most enemies, the player has to press one button to distract the monster by pointing at the floor or ceiling, and then press the attack button to clobber them over the head with their stick/lightsabre/thing. Most of the monsters don't stay down for long, and the fact that even ghosts can be beaten in this manner suggests that maybe, like most Scooby Doo monsters, they're just crooks in disguise?

The last, and least expected influence is Kamen Rider, or maybe just tokusatsu shows in general. I mentioned before the doors that can be entered to quickly travel from floor to floor, and on each stage, one of those doors (which i think is randomly selected each time, though I'm not certain) will be flashing, and upon entering the flashing door, the player is treated to a short transformation sequence, and for a short time become Super Fritz, who can beat up enemies without distracting them, and who moves slightly faster than regular Fritz, too. In an unusual move, however, the game actually penalises players who use Super Fritz's power, as there's a ten thousand point bonus at the end of each stage for not doing so.

Bogey Manor is a game I definitely recommend. It's fairly unique, and once you get used to it's little ideosnycrasies, it's a lot of fun to play.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Leucistic Wyvern (X Box 360)

Looking at this game's logo, and the dragon the player controls in the game, you'll probably think the same that I did: that it's some kind of flagrant no-budget Panzer Dragoon "homage". That's an innaccurate thought, though: while the creator was obviously a SEGA fan (the fonts used in-game are also really similar to the fonts seen in AM2 arcade games in the mid-90s, particularly bring the Virtua Cop games to mind), it actually plays more like Space Harrier.

There's none of the locking-on seen in Panzer Dragoon, it's all about flying around (while travelling in a straight line, obviously.) while shooting enemies and trying your hardest not to collide with them, their bullets or any of the bits of scenery jutting out of the ground. The scenery is the only real bad point of the game. It's hard to describe, but for some reason, it's really difficult to judge the positions of the obstacles and the player in relation to each other. It's worst of all in the bonus stages, which have points bonuses floating in the middle of large rings, and despite them being bonuses stages, the player can still lose health during them.

I'd also like to talk about the presentation: the graphics are a strange mix of low poly models, with the sharpness that comes with modern HD console games. There's a minor problem that's actually similar to the SNES game I recently covered, Bishin Densetsu Zoku, in that there's a kind of sparseness in the environments, compared to its SEGA-produced inspiration, and being in 3D makes the stages look like completely empty, incredibly vast wasteland stretching out for hundreds of miles. The music and sound effects are a bit of a weak point, though. The music, though inoffensive, just seems to be there, while the sounds effects seem to have been recorded at different levels of volume.

Though Leucistic Wyvern has a few problems (and it's definitely no contender for Chieri no Doki Doki Yukemuri Burari Tabi's XBLIG crown), it's a fun game to play, and it's definitely worth the 60-something pence it costs.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Bishin Densetsu Zoku (SNES)

Bishin Densetsu Zoku is a game set in Japan,'s distant future of 2010. As far as I can tell (without being able to actually read any of the plot), it's about a boyfriend and girlfriend (either of whom can be selected for play, though the boy is a better fighter) on a fun futuristic roadtrip, who have their date ruined by a bunch of mean goons. Unlike most games with futuristic roadtrips as the main centrepiece of their plots, Bishin doesn't focus on vehicular combat: though the bulk of the game is driving, and there are enemy drivers who can be defeated through aggressive, repeated ramming, the main business of fighting foes takes place in short beat em up sections.

Along with the game's hybrid structure, the other cool idea it has is the passage of time. Every stage has a time limit, but rather than just be a generic number of seconds counting down to zero, each stage starts at a time of day, and the destination must be reached before a certain time. These times also provide contiunity: stage one starts at 9am, and the end must be reached before midday. Stage two goes from midday to 4pm, and the third stage from 4 till 8, with the sun gradually setting as time passes. Time passes at a rate of roughly one game minute for every two real-world seconds. When the player crashes their car, a short beat em up section starts, in which the player must defeat a small group of enemies (who, oddly seem to be almost exclusively female) as the clock still runs.

Unfortunately, despite having all these cool and interesting ideas crammed into it, their execution lets Bshin Densetsu Zoku down. The driving sections are not linear, having the player find their own way from point A to point B on the map. The problem lies in the fact that not only do all the roads look exactly the same, without even Outrun-esque roadside objects to break the monotony, but the on-screen minimap doesn't display the layout of the roads. The result of this is long, frustrating minutes driving round in circles, often finding yourself back at the start of the stage with scarce time remaining.

The beat em up sections aren't much better, either. Though they don't have any massive flaws like the driving sections, they're just kind of bland: the player doesn't have many attacks, there's only one small background per stage (though the boss fights get their own backgrounds, too), and the enemies all look the same, even between different stages.

It's really a shame that this game's not very fun to play, as the concept is cool, and it does have a lot of good ideas, they're just executed poorly. As it stands, I have to say that playing Bishin Densetsu Zoku quickly starts to feel like a frustrating chore, and it's not really worth bothering with.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Curiosities Vol. 2 - Mini Vaders and Dottori Kun

These two games are by different companies (Mini Vaders by Taito, and Dottori Kun by Sega), and are in different genres. They do have things in common, though: they share an incredibly minimalist aesthetic, with no colours, no sounds and very simple sprites, and though they look like they're early experiments into videogames from the 1970s, they were both actually made and released in the early 1990s.

The story behind this is that they're both games made as cheaply and simply as possible, with the purpose of being packaged with JAMMA arcade cabinets. There are two stories floating around the internet as to why these games exist: the first is they exist to ensure that the cabinets are functional, and the other is that there was a Japanese law at the time that required that all arcade cabinets be sold with games installed. I don't know which is true, but the legislation story seems the most plausible, since neither game appears to have any kind of test functions.

Mini Vaders is the best (or at least, the most interesting) of the two games, being a very simplified Space Invaders variant, with no score and no lives, but a somewhat unique design. Each stage consists of a formation of invaders that don't shoot at the player, but they do advance down the screen very quickly, and it's up to the player to shoot them before they do. It goes by the classic Space Invaders rule of allowing only one of the player's shots on-screen at a time, and due to the fast pace of the invaders, missing a single shot can mean death.

Dottori Kun is not so interesting. The game is a simple dot-collecting maze game, with the player controlling a V and avoiding a CPU-controlled X. When the screen is cleared of dots, it refills and the players score increases by one. The player can increase their speed by holding the fire button. That's it for Dottori Kun. I guess it doesn't really matter though, since neither game was made to actually be played by anyone.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Zangeki Warp Trial (PC)

So, I thought I'd try out something different with this post: rather than talking about a game that's already been overlooked, I'm going to talk about the demo for a game that isn't out yet, and of which my readers might not be aware.

So, some of you might be aware of the Japanese PC developers Astro Port, with their catalogue of shooting games, as well as the awesome Assault Suits-alike Gigantic Army. And I'm sure that most of you will know of the recent Comiket 87. Astro Port didn't release a new game at C87, but they did release this demo of their upcoming game.

It's a shooting game, and in keeping with Astro Port's other shooters, it's of an old-fashioned, pre-bullet hell design, ala Gradius, R-Type, Darius, and so on. It also has a really cool, fairly unique gimmick, though: as well as the fire button, there's also a warp button. When held, the warp button freezes time and gives the player a cursor to move around the screen. When the button's released, the player's ship warps to wherever the cursor was, hitting any enemies between the two locations with a slashing attack, and ignoring any walls or other obstacles in the way. There's also no power-ups in-game, but instead a more RPG-esque system of putting points into different stats, with more points being rewarded between stages.

I've played to a little over halfway through stage two, and not only do I love the gimmick itself, but the stage design perfectly compliments it. The first stage is an introduction to the use of the warp, while still managing to be a pretty robust challenge, while the second stage is totally merciless, expecting the player to have mastered warping around and all the little nuances of the game's controls.

I definitely recommend getting this demo (from here), and I look forward to the full game being released. The only issue I have is a very minor issue: It would be cool if there were some kind of points incentive for destroying or damaging enemies with the slash attack, rather than shooting them.