Thursday, 27 August 2015

Thunder Hoop (Arcade)

Thunder Hoop's an arcade platform game by a Spanish company called Gaelco, who have a few games I hope to cover in the future, mainly because unlike a lot of European arcade manufacturers, they did/do seem to actually care about making good games, rather than just makng money (even if they aren't always 100% successful in their endeavours). In fact, they're probably best known for releasing the ROMs for their game World Rally for free and even assisting in it being added to MAME.

But anyway, Thunder Hoop. It feels quite Amiga-esque, in two ways: mechanically, it's obviously inspired by Japanese arcade games, as a lot of the better Amiga games were, and aesthetically it has a kind of particularly European psuedo-anime look to it. The main character even looks kind of like a bootleg Son Goku. Otherwise, it's a fairly typical action-heavy platform game, and a fairly well made one, from a purely mechanical and technical standpoint. There's no wrestling with bad controls, or poor collision detection or anything like that, it all works fine.

The problem is the stage designs. Firstly, though they are at least interesting to navigate (ie. you're always climbing ladders and jumping platforms and so on, rather than just walking across vast flat plains), the stages are also far too long. I haven't timed any of my plays, but they feel like they're around 5 minutes long each, which seems a bit of a slog. Secondly, there are lots of places where enemies just suddenly appear right next to the player literally out of nowhere, giving them almost no time to react. Obviously, these enemies will only get you the first time you reach their spawning point, but it feels cheap and Rick Dangerous-esque, which is bad enough for home games but even worse in an Arcade game.

Though it does have some good points, and it is an admirable effort, I don't really recommend playin Thunder Hoop. Apparently it has two sequels that aren't yet emulated in MAME. I'd definitely be interested in playing them, as TH does show potential, and it'd be nice to see if it was ever realised.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Simple DS Series vol. 39: The Shouboutai (DS)

Time for another Tamsoft game, and I don't think I've mentioned this before, but despite most of their DS output being in the Simple Series, Tamsoft seemed to have an uncanny nack for making polygon graphics on the system. The Shouboutai is no exception to this, bringing some non-violent third person shooting action to the table.

I remember one of the advertising taglines for Sonic Team's Burning Rangers stating that it had "Thrills without the kills", as it was a 3D action game about rescuing people and fighting fires, and The Shouboutai treads similar ground, though in present day Japan, rather than the futuristic labs and space stations of Burning Rangers.

As well as having great graphics, The Shouboutai also manages to simulate the dual analogue-based controls of console third person shooters, with the d-pad or face buttons being used to move around, and the touchscreen being used to turn you character, as well as to aim and shoot. Obviously, since this is a game about firefighting, different kinds of water hoses take the place of guns, and fire takes the place of enemies. Though the first few stages feature normal fire, that mostly just stays still and slowly grows if you don't put it out, you'll soon be up against fires that move around and even shoot smaller fires at the player. There's even boss fights, against such foes as giant angry chemical fires, and burning out cars that are somehow driving up and down the street.

There's some downsides to this game, though they're not big ones. The main one is an issue that crops up in a lot of Japanese budget games, even the big names like Oneechanbara and Earth Defence Force: There are a lot of stages, but not so many maps. So you have stages that just take place in different areas of the same map, with the rest blocked off. There only seems to be three maps in The Shouboutai: a suburban street, the corridors of a hotel, and a factory/warehouse type place. There's also the fact that the game can get a little repetitive, even though there are a few different mission objectives that crop up, from simply putting out every fire, to rescuing civilians. These are the only real faults, and neither of them are significant problems.

I definitely recommend giving The Shouboutai a look, even though there are plenty of 3D shooters on more modern handhelds, it's always nice to see something like this squeezed on to low-powered hardware. And if you want more violence in your TPS, there are a couple of alternative options that I'll cover at some point in the future (and if i remember rightly, they're also developed by Tamsoft).

Friday, 14 August 2015

Robbeary (Amiga)

I recently had a minor revelation regarding this game: for years, I'd assumed the title was pronounced like "Robb-ear-y", which is meaningless and makes no sense, but the player's character is a teddy bar, so obviously, it's meant to be "Rob-bear-y", which is still pretty stupid, but at least makes a little sense. Anyway, it's a single screen platformer about collecting stuff and scoring points.

Yeah, your bear goes around these pretty simply laid out stages and collects every giants fruit they contain before going on to the next stage. Obviously, there's also a bunch of enemies running around trying to stop you, and one touch from them kills you. Unusually, and more typical of "collect everything" maze games than platformers, you have no reliable means of defence against the enemies. Other than randomly appearing power ups that turn them into points items, all you can do is try your best to avoid them. To make this even harder, there's a timer, and when it runs out, all the enemies go into cocoons and hatch out twice as fast as they were before. If you take too long finishing a stage, this can even happen more than once!

Not only are the items that appear random, but so are the movements of the enemies: they just randomly walk back and forth, sometimes stopping for a second or walking off the edge of platforms. These things make the game not only hard, but dependent almost entirely on luck. You can't form  a strategy to make sure you get a power up in the nick of time, because you don't know when or where the power ups will appear, and you can't learn the enemy patterns to work out the best way around them because the enemies don't have any patterns. It's only when one of the random items (a green key, not to be confused with the gold key that appears at the end of the stage or the silver key which apparently does nothing at all) opened a door to a bonus stage that I realised that there's a chance that the developer had misinterpreted Bubble Bobble's elaborate system of secret items, room and stages as being random and tried to copy it.

Now I know that there have been a few games covered on this very blog where I've said that randomness has ruined them, but I should clarify that randomness isn't an inherently bad thing. Some of my favourite games use a lot of it: Shiren the Wanderer, One-Way Heroics and Minecraft being but three. But you'll notice that none of those games are arcade (or arcade-style) score-based action http://games.In games like this, scoring and progress should always be as close as possible to 100% about skill, knowledge and understanding of the game mechanics on the part of the player, and random elements totally ruin that.

Though it holds a little bit of nostalgia value for me (it was in a huge box of pirated games that came with the pre-owned Amiga I got for Christmas as a kid one year), I definitey can't recommend that you bother playing Robbeary.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Bullfight (Arcade)

The first thing I should mention here is that the title of this game isn't any kind of metaphor, it's literally about bulfighting, and it's pretty grisly, so if you that might upset you, you should probably skip this post. It's a top-down single screen game, it's pretty fun, atmospheric enough, but also quite flawed.

You play as a torero in the bullring, and the controls comprise a joystick and two buttons. Obviously, the joystick moves you around, while the buttons are for cape moving and stabbing, respectively. You score points for leading the bull with your cape, stabbing the bull, leading it into a wall, opening a wound on its back and killing it. Upon killing the bull, you go onto the next stage, with progressively fiercer bulls, and eventually, a second bull gets added to the mix.

The bull can trample you, which temporarily immobilises you, he can knock your sword out of your hand and even sometimes break it (if this happens a guy at ringside will throw another one into the ring after a couple of seconds) and he can gore you with his horns, resulting in a lost life. Since your torero wears a different-coloured outfit for each life, does that mean that they're literally being killed in the ring and it's a different guy each time? Who knows?

As for the flaws, there are two main ones. The first is that cape movement is kind of awkward and stiff. I think the direction in which the cape rotates is determined by the relative positions and movements of you and the bull, but I'm not entirely sure about that. The second is that the bull's movement can sometimes feels erratic and random, even when you're leading it with your cape. I guess this adds a little realism, since a bull is a huge, angry wild animal and should be a little unpredictable, but it can also make the game feel unfair.

If you can stomach it, though, I do think bullfight is a fun game, despite its flaws and the fact that it's pretty shallow in the long run. Interesting that other than this, the only other videogames based on real-life bloodsports that I can think of are those Cabela rifle animal hunting arcade games. I guess that's because of the unpleasant subject matter and the inherent unfairness in favour of the human participants that most of these sports hold. I'd also like to point out before I finish that I am totally against bloodsports of all kinds in real life.