Friday, 27 February 2015

Lei Nu Ji Shen (Game Boy Color)

It seems like it's been a long time since I featured a Game Boy game, and even longer since I featured a Chinese pirate original. Lei Nu Ji Shen (possibly also known as "Future Robot") stands out from the usual Chinese crowd by eschewing most of their common flaws.

As far as I can tell, though the look of the main character (and the game in general) is definitely heavily influenced by 90s mecha anime, the setting is original. The visual presentation in general is of a particularly high standard, with nice backgroundsand detailed sprites. There are also some amazing looking full screen graphics for an intro and ending and also for static post-boss screens. The music doesn't live up to the looks though, being a shrill, beeping cacophony.

The game itself is a cut above the norm too, as the controls are tight, if not original, and the game is actually at a playable level of difficulty. The way your robot plays is just like Megaman: he can jump, he can shoot three normal shots or one charge shot, and he can dash/slide by pressing down and jump together. The only addition is that the robot in this game can also double jump. There's even an idle animation, which is just another way Lei Nu Ji Shen shows the extra bit of polish it has above its peers.

The stage design is unfortunately the game's weakest point after the music, as every stage consists of walking from left to right, while constantly shooting and occasionally jumping over a bottomless pit. Even the combat is boring, since there's rarely ever more than one enemy onscreen at a time. The boss fights add a bit of variety, though the stages between them seem to be incredibly long.

Although Lei Nu Ji Shen is, as I've said, a lot better than the usual pirate original, especially the ones that appear on 8-bit consoles, I can't recommend it. Even though it does look really great, it's just not very exciting to play at all.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Sukeban Deka II: Shoujo Tekkamen Densetsu (Master System)

Or if you'd prefer, "Delinquent Girl Cop II: Legend of the Girl in the Iron Mask". I should also let the uninitiated among you know that this game isn't a sequel to an earlier Sukeban Deka title, but is based on the second Sukeban Deka TV series, which sees a girl named Yoko Godai, who spent her childhood with her head trapped in an iron mask, taking up the Saki Asamiya codename and becoming the second Sukeban Deka, in the hopes of finding the reasons and culprits behind her stolen childhood. It's an excellent show, and is currently being fansubbed by The Skaro Hunting Society, should any of you be curious.

The game presents a heavily abridged version of the TV show's plot, split into adventure segments and beat em up segments. Unfortunately, the adventure segments make up the bulk of the game, and though I admit that it's a genre that doesn't especially appeal to me at the best of times, Sukeban Deka II's adventure segments are of an especially old-school flavour. There are very few clues as to what is supposed to be done, and though there is an english fan-translation, you'll still probably want a guide to save the tedious effort of going to every room and clicking on everything to find clues and items.

The beat em up sections are much shorter, and similarly old-fashioned, but they're pretty fun. Typically, you'll fight off a small gang of high school boys, before fighting a boss, and though the gang fights are pretty much all the same, the boss fights are really varied, though oddly, they seem to actually get easier as the game goes on.

There's also a couple of 3D maze sections, though they are really just that: empty mazes for the player to navigate that just pad the game out and fill a little bit of extra time.

Unfortunately, I can't really recommend this game unless you really love the TV series, or if you want a nice little slice of 80s Japanese pop-culture (for some reason, I associate SEGA's 8-bit consoles with the period far more than I do the Famicom, despite the Famicom's near-monolithic popularity in Japan at the time, and it's can't be denied that Sukeban Deka is an important artifact of the era.). But if you just want a Master System beat em up, there are far better examples, like Hokuto no Ken or Kung-fu Kid.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Curiosities Vol. 3 - Korean Compile Pirates

I hate to make stereotypes like this, but we're all aware that sometimes game developers and publishers in mainland Asian countries have somewhat lackadaisical stances towards other people's copyrights. It seems that Compile's Disc Station, specifically volume 12 of the PC series had, at one point, caught the eyes of a few arcade developers in South Korea.

This phenomenon was first brought to my attention by tumblr user Fergzilla, who told me about the first of the three games I'll be covering in this post: Yun Sung's Shocking. Shocking is a total, wholesale rip-off of the action RPG Gensei Kai Shingeki, with a new plot about a wolfman trying to regain his humanity tacked on. There's not really that much more to it: Shocking is a really close clone to its "inspiration", the biggest difference being that the graphics are lower resolution, since the original was a PC game, and Compile's PC games were (and are) reknowned for their great hi-res pixel art.

After some investigation into MAME ROMsets and history.dat, I found two Korean arcade games that are both knock-offs of the other big draw on Disc Station #12, Bomber Through Gogo! ~Jump Hero Gaiden 2~, but, unlike Shocking, neither is a direct clone, with different levels of variation from the original.

Firstly there's Bomb Kick, again by Yun Sung. Surprisingly, this game deviates the furthest from the original. Again, the graphics are much lower res than the original, but at least this time they're not direct rips of the original (except that some of the enemies definitely are). In fact, as far as I can tell, a good portion of the game's graphics are new. But also, there are a few enemy sprites that are clearly ripped from either the Mega Drive or SNES version of Disney's Aladdin, as well as a few background images that contain elements from the same, some disguised, some not so much.

The biggest difference between Bomb Kick and the original, though, is in the weapon deployment. In the original, pressing the fire button would drop a bomb on the ground, with a seperate kick button to send it enemy-bound. Bomb Kick has bombs being kicked by default, though they can still be dropped by pressing down and fire. Because of this, this is probably my favourite iteration of the formula, despite its combination of ugly new graphics and shameless stolen ones.

Finally, there's Dynamite Bomber from a company named Limenko. Mechanically, it's more faithful to Compile's original game, with bombing and kicking kept to seperate buttons, and I think that most, or possibly all of the graphics are either new, or at least somewhat disguised rips of graphics from the original game (the playable characters do look like rip-offs of Compile's Jump Hero characters, but I'm not sure if they're just similar designs or edited rips).

The problem is that this, combined with stage design that often places enemies on small, high-up platforms makes the game a bit of an awkward, labourious chore to play. It's a shame, as it does at least look a lot better than Bomb Kick.

So that's that, then. Two Korean companies both decided to plagiarise games from a relatively little-known series of discmags, and both chose games from the same volume of said discmags. What a world!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

TV Animation X: Unmei no Tatakai (Playstation)

Although the advent of online play has made it pretty clear that I'm actually not very good at them at all, I've always loved fighting games, and the Psychic Force series found its way into my heart during my teenage years, as it put the actual licenced anime fighting games to which I had access at the time to shame: while Dragonball GT Final Bout offered vague approximations of well-known characters having slow, awkward battles in boring, lifeless arenas, Psychic force offered cool-looking original characters in flight, dashing around firing energy blasts at each other in a variety of cool-looking stages. The reason I'm talking about Psychic Force is because Unmei no Tatakai is essentially Psychic Force 3 in all but name and characters.

Not only does this game have the same concept and mechanics as the Psychic Force series, it even reuses a few graphical effects and fonts. But it's not just a simple re-skinning of Psychic Force 2/2012, it is a true sequel, with numerous tweaks and new elements. The biggest all-round tweak relates to the dash system. The Psychic Force games have two main kinds of dashing that can be done: a dash that goes in a straight line in any direction that's used for travelling around the arenas, and a semi-circular dash that's intended for dodging attacks at high speed and quickly ducking behind opponents. In the earlier games, dashing was executed by pressing both attack buttons at once, with the type of dash determined by the direction pressed, but Unmei no Tatakai has dashing mapped to the right shoulder buttons, R1 for the straight dash and R2 for the curved dodge.

Obviously, the entire cast is new, being taking from CLAMP's pre-apocalyptic saga X, but two of the characters in particular bring interesting new ideas to the table. Sword-weilding Arashi Kishu stands out from the rest of the cast by being a melee specialist, with vastly fewer projectile attacks, but with better range and power on her melee attacks than any of the other characters. Yuzuhira Nekoi's gimmick is hard to describe in text, but she comes accompanied by a large dog, and most of her projectile attacks are delivered in the form of that canine companion launching itself at her opponent like a missile. The difference this makes mechanically is that Nekoi and her dog are not always in the same direction in relation to the opponent, who can find themselves coming under attack from all directions.

The game's presentation is also worth writing about, as not only is it easily the best-looking 3D fighting game on the Playstation, with some really breath-taking stages which manage to be varied despite all being set in Tokyo, from a skyscraper encoiled by a huge electric dragon, to a peaceful shrine at night, to the misty, moonlit ruins of post-apocalyptic Tokyo in general. The character models all look pretty great, too, with plenty of detail, even close up. It doesn't stop with the graphics, either, as the soundtrack is also excellent, with some amazing music providing perfect accompaniment to the exciting, fast-paced super-powered battles taking place.

You've probably already worked this out, but TV Animation X: Unmei no Tatakai is an incredible game, that I strongly recommend without reservation.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Pop Breaker (Game Gear)

Pop Breaker is an odd game. It feels a lot like an old computer game in a number of ways. The first and most obvious way is that the game's protagonist is the female driver of a futuristic tank, and that the game contains various (clean) pictures of her looking cute. (The pictures themselves are also fairly cute, being limited to the colour palette and very low resolution of the host hardware. The second computer-like trait might not sink in immediately while playing, but it is the most important and is the trait around which the entire game is built: the stages were clearly constructed using some kind of simple level editor program (which, unfortunately, has no in-game version).

 The game sees the player controlling their futuristic tank around various stages, with the aim of each stage being to destroy a stationary device, kind of like the Cores that appear in the Bangai-O games. The stages also contain various obstacles: breakable and unbreakable blocks, arrows that push the tank in the direction they point, triangular blocks that change the trajectory of enemy and player shots (interestingly, the player and enemies fire the same kinds of shots and all shots are treated equally when it comes to destroying blocks, enemies, and the player's tank), and several kinds of enemies who all have their own distinct patterns of behaviour.

Pop Breaker plays something like a hybrid of a shooting game and old-school tile-based action-puzzle games, Because of this play style, on first glance, movement and scrolling will seem jerky and awkward, but this is a necessary part of the design: everything in-game is measured in tiles, and a lot of the game is about being in the exact right position to shoot something or avoid shots or trick enemies into shooting each other. Most enemies are two by two tiles, the player's tank is three by three, while walls, shots and most other objects take up the space of a single tile.

The fact that the player's tank is three tiles wide ties into another odd quirk: before starting a new game, the player chooses whether shots will be fired from the middle, left or right tile. I strongly recommend against choosing the middle tile, though I don't see any specific advantage that left or right might have over each other.

Yeah, Pop Breaker is an interesting game. It's far from being essential, but it's one of a few slightly quirky Game Gear games from smaller developers, and it's definitely not a bad game.

As a little extra note, I've recently started a Patreon! If you pledge two American dollars a month, you get to see all new posts two days before they appear here, and I'd really appreciate the support!