Friday, 31 July 2015

Go! Go! Cosmo Cops! (DS)

So first you should know that I rotated all the screenshots for this post, as it's one of those rare DS games that's played with the console on its side. It also has a left-handed option, which a few games omit, making them a lot less comfortable to play (though it's been so long, I can't remember any of the offending games. I guess they can't be that good if I don't remember them and I haven't bothered to re-play them at any point). Go! Go! Cosmo Cops! is a game built around a gimmick, and that gimmick is pretty similar to the PS2 game Chaindive: your characters have grappling hooks which can be attached to dots around the stages (though in this game, the dots look different to match the theme of each set of stages, which is nice).

Unlike Chaindive, though, the game centres entirely around the hooking gimmick, with almost all of the player's movement throughout the stages being done in this manner, as well as all combat. There's other differences too, of course. The most obvious is that the game is completely controlled via touchscreen, in a manner so simple and obvious that you can probably work it out from looking at the screenshots. There's also the concept of slingshotting. Using the touchscreen, it's possible to hook onto one dot and then simultaneously onto a second, then pull your character back and let go to send them shooting off.

Skillful use of the slingshot move is something the game really wants you to learn: it's by far the fastest way to travel across the stages, and it's the way to defeat enemies and bosses. The developers really go to town with the basic concepts of the game as it goes on, too. It starts off easy and simple, but more and more obstacles get added as the game goes on, and by the end the player will be facing some sadistic tests of skill, timing and dexterity.

Pretty much every kind of trap related to the whole grabbing/climbing/slingshotting set of mechanics that you can think of will be thrown at you at some point. It starts out with lots of stationary dots with a few enemies here and there, and goes on to stages featuring shifting tides of deadly lava, looping spike-covered trains to maneuver between, and even things that are a lot more difficult than they sound, like sets of moving dots going very quickly between rows of spikes. There's also a couple of weak vehicle-based stages, one with a submarine, the other with some kind of futuristic space-hopper thing to break things up, but they're instantly forgettable. A nice little touch is that the game allows a choice between a male and female character, and the choice is entirely aesthetic.

Go! Go! Cosmo Cops! is an okay little game, it's worth picking up if you see it cheap, but don't go out of your way to find it or anything. Also, a little bit of trivia: though it's a Japanese-developed game, it only saw release in Europe, though all the text and graphics for the Japanese version are hidden away in the ROM, and I believe there's a hack available to make them usable (though since I was playing on a real cartridge, I haven't tried this).

Friday, 24 July 2015

Kenyuu Densetsu Yaiba (SNES)

While the Mega Drive catered to arcade nerds with its many ports and original shooting games, the SNES/Super Famicom sought to draw in the anime nerds, with masses of licenced games and RPGs (I have a theory that the decline in RPG popularity is linked with the rise of very cheaply available anime, especially in the west. Back in the 90s, it was a lot more expensive, space-consuming and generally difficult to watch an entire anime series, but RPGs offered a full-length animesque storyline contained in a single cartridge or later on, a few CDs.).

Yaiba is both an anime licenced game and an RPG. I don't know anything about the source material, but it looks to be a pretty generic early 90s shonen series, though the creator went on to create the absurdly long-running Detective Conan juggernaut. As for the game itself, it's an action RPG, with the emphasis placed heavily on the action. Interacting with other characters is mostly confined to linear dialogues before and after bossfights, as well as token conversations related to mechanical things like saving and buying items.

The vast majority of the player's time is spent roaming topdown stages killing constantly spawning enemies, until they find the spot where the next story event or bossfight is triggered. It's better than I'm making it sound, but it's also very simple. In fact, the simplicity is actually part of the game's appeal. There's some nice streamlining in the mechanics that I really like. For example, rather than receiving experience points in set amounts upon defeating enemies, whenever the player hits an enemy, they receive experience equal to the amount of damage they inflicted. Level ups are simple, too: every level up you recieve adds 10 to your maximum HP, 1 to the amount of damage you inflict with a normal attack and reduces the amount of damage you take from enemy attacks by one.

The fact that the game is so simple means that Japanese literacy is not at all required to enjoy it, I managed to get a fair few stages in so far with no troubles, at the most you'll probably just need to look up the controls and the basics of how the game works: saving, travelling between stages, that kind of thing.

Kenyuu Densetsu Yaiba isn't anything particularly special, but it's a fun game, it feels rewarding to play, and it doesn't require knowledge of Japanese language. I don't think you'd regret giving it a try.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Rayer Shoot (X68000)

Something the X68000 has a lot of (compared to most systems) is fan-made games based on anime, with a fair few of them being based on magical girl shows. There's a bunch of Sailor Moon fangames on there, as well as a relatively well-known one based on Akazukin Chacha. Rayer Shoot is another one of those, based (as you can probably tell from the very obivously fanart title screen) on CLAMP's series Magic Knight Rayearth. I'm not very familiar with the series, but I do know that it's about three schoolgirls who get whisked away to a magical fantasy land while on a school trip to the Tokyo Tower.

Anyway, despite the amateurish title screen, the game itself is really well presented. Almost commercial quality, even, with nice sprites, lots of colour, decent music, and even voice samples. I assume the samples must be recorded from the anime itself? I should really talk about how the game plays too, right? Well, it's no classic, but it's a pretty good effort.

It's a vertically-scrolling shooter, and the player has control of all three of the schoolgirl protagonists, though only one at a time. Each girl has a different weapon, and they each have a health bar, which slowly replenishes while tagged out. There's also an experience/levelling up system in lieu of power ups, though it seems to take a very very long time to get anywhere with it, and it'd definitely take a lot of skill to even try to keep your three girls' levels balanced.

In fact, playing the game takes a lot of skill in general: those health bars go down very quickly, and the enemies and their bullets are both high-speed and high-quantity. To get anywhere, players really do need to keep an eye on their helath bars and make tactical use of tagging in and out to recover as much health as possible, trying to keep the girl with the highest amount of health in play as much as possible. You also get a bomb attack which is different for each girl and recharges a short time after use.

Rayer Shoot is a fun, well presented game, as well as a nice little artifact of 90s anime fandom in Japan. I definitely recommend it, with the caveat that you go in expecting a merciless challenge.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Dragon Wang (SG-1000)

Pre-Final Fight beat em ups are interesting, in the same way that pre-Street Fighter II fighting games are, in that Final Fight kind of standardised the genre (I know Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun was also very influential, but FF was definitely a watershed moment). There were a few standard tropes before the afore-mentioned games, though: enemies that appeared at random rather than at planned intervals, standard enemies being one hit kills and generic chinese-style martial arts settings were more popular than the crime-ridden urban hells popularised by FF and NKK. Dragon Wang mostly follows this formula to a tee: each stage is some kind of multistory palace, with one-hit enemies running in from the sides of the screen at random.

The player has two attacks: kicks and flying kicks. Though the flying kicks never ever connect so they might as well not be there. Also though the SG-1000 controller has two buttons, they're both assigned to kick, forcing the player to press up to jump. Such a stupid, annoying little problem that's there for no reason at all. There's two kinds of regular enemies: guys who come right up to the player to kick, and guys who stand back and throw knives. Because of the random generation, though, the knife guys can sometimes show up at the worst times, surrounding the player from both sides, protected by walls of kicking guys.

The one unique gimmick the game has, though, is that rather than just go from left to right until reaching a boss at the end, they explore the floors of the palace seeking out bosses to fight to get keys and rescue the girl. The bosses all have their own health bars, and each has a gimmick, whether it's a weapon or the ability to teleport or being a robot. There's three bosses on the first stage, and each subsequent stage adds one. What's horrible about fighting the bosses is that there's no pattern or strategy to learn: they move and attack at random, so you just have to hope you're lucky enough to get enough attacks in to kill them before they do it to you. You health does get replenished after you beat them, though.

I wanted to like this game, it does have some charm and it looks really nice, as most SG-1000 games do, thanks to the system's idiosyncratic colour palette. Unfortunately, the more time spent playing it, the more obvious its flaws become,  and the more painful it gets to play.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Maze of Flott (Arcade)

Maze of Flott is a bizarre game. Not in any of the usual senses: mechanically, it's plays like an attempt at making a slightly more involved and complex version of the traditional arcade maze game, and there's nothing overtly surreal about the aesthetic either. What bizarre is the combination of the two. You play as a little red car that drives around cities looking for keys, and avoiding/destroying other cars along the way. You also have a fuel gauge, and there are petrol stations dotted around where you can refuel, which costs money. Also, unlike the cars in Pacar (another, much older, car-themed maze game), in Maze of Flott, your car just moves like any other maze game character, being able to instantly turn 180 degrees and go in the other direction.

Money and keys are both obtained inside buildings. Now, although these buildings appear to be things you'd find in normal cities, like banks, supermarkets, casinos, and so on from the outside, on the inside they actually contain dungeon-like mazes (or maze-like dungeons), full of traps, treasures, and secret passageways. Exactly which maze is in which building is different every time you play, though there are only a few possible layouts to encounter. The keys are also in different buildings each time, and every possible layout has the potential to contain a key.

This means the player has to go into each building and thoroughly explore the mazes within until they find the number of keys needed to proceed to the next stage. This kind of balances out with the fact that every mazes contains lots of treasure, whether the key's there or not, and treasure gives both points and money, and money can be spent to buy back the fuel wasted on going round all these mazes.

The big problem with this game comes in the form of some unfair inconsistency. When you're in the mazes, colliding with most of the traps will take a chunk off your fuel gauge, with the exception being that falling down an open trap door means losing a life. While outside, driving around the cities, colliding with other vehicles is instant death. Furthermore, the vehicles are faster, more numerous and less predictable than the maze traps.

I can't really recommend this game, nothing about it is really interesting enough to be able to overlook its numerous flaws.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Hokuto no Ken: Hokuto Shinken Denshousha no Michi (DS)

I'm sure anyone reading a blog like this will be familiar with Hokuto no Ken (also known as Fist of the North Star) from one place or another, and even if you aren't, you'll probably have played or watched or read something that was influenced by (or just straight up stole from) it. Even today, decades after the original comic finished, it still gets licenced videogames, cartoons and other stuff. This isn't even the only Hokuto no Ken game on the DS, though the other one is a Pachinko simulator, so it barely counts.

This one, however, is what could most simply be described as an interactive comic. If that brings up unpleasant images of tedious visual novels and the like, don't worry, it's nothing like that. Instead, you're shown panels from the original comic, and when a fight breaks out, you have to perform various touchscreen things to get through it. Since this is a Hokuto no Ken game, the most common thing the game wants you to do is hit the badguys' pressure points in quick succession, but there's also various other things, like carefully tracing lines or circles, to simulate blocking and countering attacks, as well as variations on pressure point-hitting, like hitting them in a certain order, or hitting a single point many times as quickly as possible.

In fact, as you progress through the game, there'll be chapters in which you plays as characters besides Kenshiro; namely, Rei and Raoh. Raoh, being a fellow Hokuto Shinken practioner, plays in much the same way as Kenshiro: hitting pressure points and making guys explode. Rei's Nanto Suichoken attacks are executed differently, though, with the player having to precisely slash across thin lines to cut enemies apart. I don't know if making Rei's stages significantly harder was the developers' intention, but it definitely came out that way.

Though it's a fun game, there are some negative points: the production values are very low, as not only is there no actual animation in-game, but there's also some stupid little errors, like how easy it is to accidentally start a new game on the title screen, which immediately deletes any progress you'd previously made. Also, when replaying stages, the game simply saves the most recent score you got on a stage, rather than always keeping the highest. There's also the fact that all the extras, like the character profiles and quiz mini-game are useless to the Japanese-illiterate, though it'd be unfair to blame the game for that, really.

If you're a big HnK fan, and you can pick this up cheaply (which you probably can), I definitely recommend giving it a try. It's a fun little game, and the colourised comic panels do look really great, too.