Saturday, 27 June 2015

Moto Roader II (PC Engine)

I don't know a lot about the PC Engine, and the mareting strategies of the companies that made and published games for it, but I think it might be a fair estimate to say that it probably leant towards the otaku end of the market. I say this because it seems like a higher proportion of its sports and racing games have fantasy or sci-fi themes than most consoles, and because a lot of PC Engine games have artwork of scantily-clad anime girls liberally strewn throughout. Moto Roader II is, of course, a futuristic racing game with such teenage boy-baiting artwork featured on its menus and pre-race screens.

For a 1991 console game, there's a fair bit of depth in there too, though. There's three kinds of vehicles to pick from (car, tank and hovercraft), and you can pick a different one for each race. You can also buy upgrades for the tires, body and engine for each vehicle, to improve their steering, health and speed, respectively. Oh yeah, there's health meters, and once they reach zero, it's an instant game over, which is a little unfair, as CPU drivers simply get an automatic last place (even if mor than one drops out), and get to come back in the next race. There's also consumable items to buy, like weaponry (the freeze gun is partcularly brutal) and a one-use repair item. Between the three different kinds of vehicles, there's the usual variations in speed and durability and the like, but one interesting addition is that the hovercrafts, since they float above the ground, can only crash into other hovercrafts.

There's only a few different themes for the tracks, though I guess if it were a more realistic racing game, there'd only be one, so this isn't worth complaining about. Furthermore, there's a couple of different tracks for each theme, and on higher difficulties (and towards the end of the easiest difficulty), the game makes newer, longer tracks by bolting together more than track, with a glowing red tunnel to transition between the different themes.

Moto Roader II isn't a  classic, and I'd go as far as to say that it's barely noteworthy at all. But It's a pretty fun game, like a nerdier version of the Micro Machines games. Though I've only been able to play it single player, it does support up to five human players, which I can only assume enhances the game massively.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Mighty Warriors (Arcade)

I'm sure you all know of the massive fighting game boom that followed in the wake of Street Fighter II and, to a lesser extent Mortal Kombat in the early 1990s, and how along with some classics, there were also some awful, point-missing garbage cash-ins, like Bloodstorm and Data East's unreleased Tattoo Assassins. Might Warriors appears to be one of those cash-ins, though this is just guesswork, as there's very little information about the game's development, or even its release date. The publisher, Elettronica Video-Games, is an Italian company that seems to only make gambling machines now (assuming the company that exists today under that name is the same one).

Anyway, the plot is pretty similar to SEGA's Eternal Champions: a bunch of dead (and exclusively male) warriors from throughout history are given the chance to live again by proving their might. These warriors include the usual Greek, Roman and (very white-looking) Egyptian, as well as a Celt, a non-specific African, a Chinese guy, a viking, some kind of big monk, and, most surprising, a massive Babylonian. Amusingly, it seems the artists had a hard time trying to animate tartan for the Celt's outfit, so they have him in chef-style checkerboard trousers.

They all have their own stages, too, and the stages even have at least two weather/time of day variants each, which is a surprise for a game like this. The reason I'm not mentioning the names of any of the characters, is because they seem to have different names depending on whether the left or right-side player is controlling them. For example, the viking can be Gurdaf on the left, or Gandalf on the right, while the Chinese guy is Hang-Sing or Chang-Kien. I guess this is their way around explaining how two of the same character can be fighting each other?

The game is no classic, as you've probably already assumed, but it does have some more interesting little quirks. Like how before each fight, you pick your character's "mutation". This isn't a special power or trait like you might expect, but one of the other characters that you can suddenly change into at will. Obviously, there's no explanation for this, nor is there any real advantage to doing this in a fight. Furthermore, each character starts every round with a weapon, which disappears if they get to 50% health or lower and get knocked to the ground. There's also little aesthetic touches, like how the continue screen counts down in Roman numerals, and how there's a little animated face between the health bars that says all the "ROUND ONE! FIGHT!" stuff. Little touches like these make me think that though the execution isn't great, and the game was almost definitely knocked out as a quick, cheap cash-in, at least someone involved in its creation must have been passionate about what they were doing.

Yeah, Mighty Warriors isn't a game I can recommend at all, but it's a quirky little thing that stands out from the other cash-ins by having a few little sparks of creativity and personality. And also by not resorting to the try-hard me-too shock tactics of games like Time Killers and Bloodstorm.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

FZ Senki Axis (X68000)

This game does what I've seen a few games on old floppy-based systems do, in that it has a fancy animated intro, which it puts on a completely seperate disk that's not needed to play the game. So theoretically, you don't even need to skip the cutscene, you can just throw it away never to be seen again. It's not a terrible one, though, it's fairly atmospheric and sets the scene I guess.

Anyway, FZ Senki Axis, then. It's an isometric shooting game by Wolfteam, specialists in making games that seem like they're licenced from late 80s OAVs, but actually aren't. In the case of FZ Senki Axis, it feels a lot like the Votoms spin-off Armour Hunter Mellowlink, except you're in a mecha, and poor old Mellowlink was always on foot with his trusty rifle. Each stage sees the player hunting down a certain number of specific target enemies, which tend to be bigger or faster than the regular drones (or both).

Despite every stage having the same overall mission, they still manage to be varied. Not only are the stages set in a variety of different environments, with war-torn cities, countryside battlefields, desert ruins, and so on, but there's gimmicks to them, too. Like one stage has the player in a dark cave, seeking out gun turrets hidden in murky pools of water, and another takes a break from the wide open spaces that are the norm, and has the player storming an enemy base, fighting security systems in corridors. The bossfights are even more varied, with heavily armed war-trains, a pair of fast elite mecha who seem to be inspired by Gundam's Black Tri-Stars and so on.

It's not all good, though. For starters, the difficulty is totally unforgiving, and it'd be hard to blame players for giving up after being quickly destroyed on their first go. The other side of that coin, however, is that the difficulty can really ramp up the tension, leading situations like a player on their last point of health trying to hunt down the stage's last target before getting taken out by a drone. Another problem is a smaller one, and I almost feel as if I'm nitpicking when I bring it up: the fact that there's no kind of acknowledgement when walking over different types of terrain. It's most noticable in the countryside stage, where the player's mech just walks over fields, bridges and water alike, as if the world was one of those carpets with roads and stuff printed on it. All it would have taken would have been a tiny splashing effect around the feet to enhance the experience so much more. But like I said, it's a tiny thing, and I feel silly bringing it up.

FZ Senki Axis is still a good game, and you should definitely give it a try if you think you can handle it. Even if you don't, you could try the Mega Drive port, which is mostly the same, but a lot easier.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Bomboy (Mega Drive)

Bomboy is an unlicenced game from Taiwan that serves as a Bomberman knock-off, and like most modern movie mockbusters, it actually came out before the actual Mega Drive version of Bomberman by a year. Unusually for an unlicenced Mega Drive game, programming-wise it seems pretty robust, with no noticable glitches. The graphics also seem to be both original and of decent quality.

The game has a couple of giant, glaring flaws, however. The most immediately obvious is that the main draw of the Bomberman games, the battle mode is completely absent. There is a two-player option, but it's just "normal mode" co-op play. The second flaw takes a while to sink in, and it's the atrocious stage design.

Every stage seems to be some slight variation on the theme of having diagonal lines of blocks all the way across the screen, with only a couple of destructible blocks in each line. In the grid-based world of Bomberman (or rather, a clone of Bomberman), this makes each stage into an exercise in slow, onerous tedium. It's made worse by the fact that the enemies seem to move completely a random, leaving the player to place bombs nearby and just hope that they wander into the explosion at the right time. The scarce amounts of destructible blocks also makes power-ups a rare occurance, and on one occasion, I'd managed to slog my way through the entire first 5 stages before getting a bomb-up or fire-up item.

You might notice among the screenshots, however, a stage that doesn't fit with the rest. After playing Bomboy for a while, I wondered if it had any kind of intro or anything, so I left the title screen running to see what happened. There wasn't an intro, but there was a rolling demo, featuring a completely different Stage 1-1 than the one ingame. Some further research online reveals that there is an entire different set of levels to the ones I played. So are there two different ROMs floating about? Or the same ROM that somehow plays different stages depending on whether it's being played on an emulator or real hardware? Maybe there's Action Replay codes that might allow players to play both sets of stages? We might never know.

I conclusion, the version of Bomboy I played was awful. But there might be a better one out there somewhere, maybe?

Monday, 8 June 2015

Mouja (Arcade)

I'm sure the fine, discerning readers of this blog will be familiar with the Neo Geo puzzle game Money Puzzle Exchanger, which combined the fast-paced gameplay of Magical Drop with the excitement of mental arithmetic. But if any of you aren't, instead of matching colours, the player matches denominations of currency: five ones make a five, two fives make a ten, five tens make a fifty, two fifties a hundred, five hundreds a five-hundred and two five-hundreds disappear. According to legend, the similarities between Money Puzzle Exchanger and Magical Drop were so great that Data East sued the devloper, FACE, into bankruptcy. I'm not sure how true this story is, since the game managed to get ported to Playstation and Game Boy.

But anyway, what does any of this have to do with Mouja? Well,Mouja is like a version of Money Puzzle Exchanger without the Magical Drop plagiarism: rather than Magical Drop's idiosyncratic "pulling orbs down and thrusting them back up" mechanic that MPE stole, Mouja has a more traditional "orbs fall into a pit from above in pairs". Otherwise, it has all the arithmatical fun seen in FACE's allegedly ill-fated game. In fact, the "one" coins look exactly the same, too, but it's a pretty simple design anyway, and the other coins all look different enough.

Mechanically, it's alright. I prefer Money Puzzle Exchanger though, since Magical Drop is my favourite puzzle game series, and MPE is like a nice little variant on the theme. Mouja feels a little clunky and reliant on luck as much as skill. There is a huge problem with this game, however: the single player game is brutally, sadistically difficult. A lot of arcade games are harder than they need to be because they want players to get addicted and feed more coins in and continue their way to the end. Some arcade games are hard because they're legitimately well-designed games designed for skilled players. Mouja, on the other hand, feels like it is the outcome of one of two scenarios.

The first scenario leans on something I once read about videogame AI: that programmers make it as good as they can, then scale it back to make it fair on human players. It sounds feasible, and Mouja feels like the programmers might have done the first part and forgot about the scaling back. The second possibility is that it really is a game designed with sadism in mind, and evidence backing this up comes in the form of the game's scoring system: not only is it fairly inscrutible, but sometimes scores go down and even into negative numbers, with no explanation.

Obviously, I can't really recommend Mouja, except as an exhibit to satisfy your grim curiosity.