Saturday, 31 October 2015

Rock N' Bolt (SG-1000)

Rock N' Bolt is part of a thematic tradition that was strong in the 1980s, especially on the 8-bit microcomputers, but seemed to have completely disappeared by the start of the 1990s: working class videogames. That is, games with protagonists that weren't adventurers or assassins or any other kind of power fantasy, but just men and women doing (cartoonishly exaggerated versions of) their regular day-to-day jobs, like binmen, miners, nurses and in this case, construction workers*.

So, as a part of that long-forgotten tradition, Rock N' Bolt stars a construction worker charged with the task of bolting girders in place, with his only enemy being the time limit. The girders, when not bolted down are inexplicably moving back and forth, and your worker can't jump across any gaps that might appear. Each floor is done twice: first, you only have to bolt down every girder. The second time around, you're given a diagram at the bottom of the screen, and the girders have to be bolted down so that they match the diagram. Once he's done on a floor, he goes back to the elevator to be taken upwards to the next, and this is where the real puzzle element comes in.

Just going out and bolting the girders down is simple enough, and even in the diagram versions of the stages it's not too much of a task to get things matched up, but getting back to the elevator means leaving some girders left unbolted, sometimes even unbolting them so you can get across the map. It gets hard pretty quickly, too, as a few stages in, the stages get bigger, being spread across several screens. So the player has to navigate their way away from the elevator, put the girders in the positions detailed on the diagram, and find their way back. All while keeping in mind what's happening across several screens and staying within the time limit.

It's a fun game, I can't deny that. And like most SG-1000 games, it automatically looks nice, thanks to the system's attractive and idiosyncratic colour palette. There's also the neat little touch of the score being displayed as dollars and cents working in it's favour. But for me, it's just a little too stressful. All the doing and un-doing and backtracking and so on is just a bit overwhelming. I know a lot of people would be fine with all that, and would love Rock N' Bolt, and to those people, I definitely recommend it, personally, it's not something I can see myself continuing to play long term.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Chandragupta: Warrior Prince (PSP)

Chandragupta: Warrior Prince was released on PS2 and PSP by Sony in 2009, exclusively in India (GameFAQs lists a European release, but I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that this happened. Also, GameFAQs only lists that release, with no mention of India. I haven't played the PS2 version, but on the PSP it's a single-plane beat em up with some platforming bits.

When I first started playing it, I hated this game. The first stage has enemies that are constantly blocking and awkward to fight, constant tutorial messages abruptly halting the action andsome truly awful platforming sections with almost unavoidable traps. I perservered though, and in the follwing stages, I actually found myself having a lot of fun: the enemies were more numerous, but also a lot more co-operative in my attempts to kill them, making the action flow a lot better. Furthermore, the platforming sections were less frequent, shorter and a lot less sadistic.

Another positive the game has right from the start is the fact that it looks amazing, presented as it is in a 2.5D style reminiscent of the likes of Pandemonium or Klonoa, that goes great with the beautiful ancient India setting, one which I think has always been criminally underused in the medium of videogames (and comics, action cartoons, etc. too, come to think of it).

There are some downsides to the game, though. Firstly, there's a "feature" that, in my opinion is something that works to the detriment of many modern action games: the fact that special moves and weapons are unlocked as you progress through the game. It's boring, annoying and adds nothing to games. Secondly, there's the whole mechanic surrounding firing arrows. There's some enemies that'll be lurking in the background shooting arrows at you while you fight melee enemies in the foreground (or vice versa). The only way to beat them is by shooting them with arrows, and this is done by holding down the right shoulder button, aiming your crosshair with the analogue stick and then letting go to shoot. All this time you're completely immobile and unable to defend yourself from other foes. Thirdly, it's only a minor complaint, but the boss fights are terrible. Each boss is just a regular enemy with more health, who will go into the background every now and then to summon a small group of regular enemies for the player to fight while they watch.

Another complaint that's not one concerning the game's mechanics, but still quite disappointing is the fact that Chandragupta himself is light-skinned, while the enemies he fights are dark-skinned. It's especially noticable and unpleasant in the second stage, featuring a young Chandragupta defending his village from "a gang of thugs". It's a phenomenon I've seen before in the Amar Chitra Katha series of comics that adapt stories from Hindu mythology and Indian history, but those comics at least have the excuse of being made in the 1960s and 70s. We should expect better from media made in this century.

All in all, Chandragupta is an okay game. It's nothing particularly special to play, but it does look amazing, and I don't know of any other games that were made in India or specifically for that market, so it's a bit of a curiosity, too.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Chiteisenki (X68000)

Chiteisenki is a bit of a mixed bag. There's a lot to like about it, but there's also a few annoying little flaws that can easily attract your most fevered hatred. It's a giant robot shooting game by Sprite, wo are mostly known for fangames featuring anime characters, like Ayu Ayu Panic and Akazukin Cha Cha Cha.

You guide your robot through the stages, which look like platform stages, though you can freely fly around them, and your task is to find and destroy the various enemy towers that sit around the stages motionless, firing their weapons and spawning enemies. Each destroyed tower also yields a futuristic treasure chest, that will contain one of the various items, and sometimes also an enemy. Destroy them all and the exit to the next stage opens.

There are a few unique points to make Chiteisenki stand out. The first you'll encounter is the game's use of gravity and recoil: you're constantly being pulled down by gravity, and the recoil from firing your gun knocks you backwards a little. It's just a little touch, but it's contantly affecting how you control your movement. The other main unique point is the extra life system. At the end of each stage, you'll play a roulette game. By default, the prizes on offer are four empty boxes, two items worth 1000 points and two items that will reduce your health by one point. However, one of the items that can be found in the treasure chests is a small bouncy creature, a lot like the Haro robots from the Gundam franchise. Each one of these you collect replaces one of the empty boxes in the roulette, and should you get one from the roulette, it's worth an extra life. Unfortunately, these items can be shot and killed when they appear, and if you do kill one, not only do you lose that one, you lose all of them you have in stock. Also, collecting more than four of them doesn't really have any extra benefit.

The one big problem with the game is how frustrating it can be. Using the Haro items as an example, sometimes a chest will contain one of them and an enemy, and it's way too easy to accidentally shoot the item while trying to kill the enemy. There's also the fact that you start each stage and each life with only three out of your five shields in place (or two if you were unlucky in the previous stage's roulette). And there's also the fact that side from the enemies that are already in the stages, and the enemies that spawn from the towers, a lot of the stages also feature enemies constantly spawning at random from thin air.

All in all, Chiteisenki is a fairly average game. If you think you got the patience for it, it's definitely interesting enough to be worth a look. Oddly, it also has a port to the GBA, though I haven't played that yet. One last note: I did actually get further than the second set of stages, but for no obvious reason, Fraps decided to stop taking screenshots at that point, and I didn't have it in me to start again.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Croket! Kindan no Kinka Box (Playstation)

So, Croket is based on an anime series from 2003, about the eponymous boy going on a quest to seek out some kind of special wish-granting coins called Kinka. Or so the summary on anidb says, at least. Only a single episode has been subbed, apparently, and I haven't seen it.

In this game (the only one on a home console, though there are a bunch on the GBA and DS), youtake control of Croket, and take part in some kind of fighting-themed gameshow/tournament arrangement. Each stage sees you in a top-down location with other characters, and for the first couple of stages, there's a certain amount of Kinka you need to get to finish the stage. Eventually, I reached a stage with some kind of scavenger hunt arrangement going on, and I couldn't work out the win condition. On the map screen, you see how many Kinka the top 6 fighters have, and you go about looking for them. Walking into another character on the map takes things into a side-view platform/fighting arrangement feeling a lot like the Digimon Battle Spirit games.

In the fighting segments, there are treasure chests that fling Kinka about when opened, and you can also knock the Kinka out of your opponent either with certain moves, or just with sustained beatings. Of course, the winner of the bout also takes a portion of their opponent's Kinka as a prize. Unfortunately, you'll end up having to fight the same opponents multiple times in a stage to get the required amount, and to make things worse, the smart player will quickly work out which characters they can most easily beat, and follow them around the map "bullying" them until they have enough Kinka to end the stage.

The fighting controls are simple, though they do have one odd little quirk: there's buttons for weak and strong attacks, as well as a third button that's only used in conjunction with direction inputs for specials and supers. Specials use up a third of your super meter, while supers use up the whole thing, but if you connect with your super, your opponent will drop a lot of coins, and coins fill up your meter.

It's hard to believe that this is not only a Playstation game, but one that came so late in the console's life in 2003, as it would easily fit in among the many anime licenced games on the Super Famicom. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, of course, it just strikes me as very unusual that not only was a licenced game being released on the original Playstation years after the PS2's release, but it's also such a dated-looking title. I can only assume the developers weren't given much of a budget.

Croket! Kindan no Kinka Box is a fairly playable game, if you're curious about it, it won't hurt to give it a try, but you're not missing out on anything special if you don't. One last note, though: like I said, I've never sen the anime on which this game is based, so maybe it's pretty different, but the game's premise heavily reminds me of the hunter exam arc near the start of Hunter X Hunter, particularly the part where all the candidates have to hunt each other down to steal enough badges to pass. I don't know if the anime was just a cheap, cynical cash-in, but the game kind of makes it seem that way.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Pop'n Magic (PC Engine)

There are a lot of cute Japanse games with Pop and/or Magic in the title, usually platformers or colour-matching puzzle games. In this case, it's a platformer with a very mild element of colour matching thrown in as a gimmick. More specifically, it's a Bubble Bobble-esque single screen platformer with a heavy emphasis on finding the best ways to make points items appear  from killing enemies.

As usual with this subgenre, your main weapon doesn't directly kill the enemies, just puts them into a harmless, immoble state, in this case being a magic orb in one of three colours (depending on the enemy): orange, blue or yellow. These orbs can be picked up and thrown around by the player by holding down the fire button, and the idea is to throw them at other orbs. Then, if the two orbs are the same colour, they turn back into enemies, which yields no benefits to the player as far as I can tell. But if they're different colours, one of the orbs will bounce around dropping power ups and points items as it goes, before disappearing.

Which orb disappears depends on the colours involved, in a rock-paper-scissors arrangement: blue destroys orange, orange destroys yellow, and yellow destroys blue. If you're unable to make an orb (or orbs) disappear in this method, you can do it by shooting them a few times, but you only get one item out of it this way. So, the key to scoring high is defeating enemies and destroying their orbs in an order that only leaves you with one leftover at the end of the stage. The fact that you'll always be left with at least one leftover is a bit of a weakness to the system, as it makes the ends of stages a little bit awkward and unsatisfying, even when you've technically done as well as possible on the stage.

Putting mechanics to the side, the game's excellently presented, with full-screen animated cutscenes, lots of voice acting, and bright, colourful graphics throughout. Also, as you might expect, the stages are split into themed sets, with a bossfight at the end. What you might not expect, though, is that each stage has its own background, and each theme sort of has two sub-themes. For example, in the woods stages, the first half will be the woods during daylight, with the second half being the woods at sunset. The spooky stages start outside a haunted mansion, gradually getting closer and going inside. It's a nice little touch.

Pop'n Magic isn't a bad game, but it doesn't particularly stand out, either. If you really like Bubble Bobb-likes, there's no harm in giving it a try, but there are plenty of better ones too.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Yuu Maze (Famicom Disk System)

Yuu Maze is the name it's known by in ROMsets and the like, but in-game, it also uses the name Youmais. It's also a port of the arcade game Raimais, so that makes three names. I'm sure many of you will be familiar with Raimais, since it appears in the excellent PS2 compilation Taito Legends Volume 2 (in my opinion, the greatest retro compilation ever released), but for those who aren't, it's like a very fast, futuristic version of Pac-Man, with various different kinds of enemies, a bunch of power-ups and lots of different mazes.

Yuu Maze is still worth talking about on its own though, since it's not a 100% straight port. Obviously, the graphics take a hit in the move from arcade to FDS, but there's also a few small design changes. The first you'll come across is that the stages now have two portals in each of them: you go into one, and emerge from the other. Then there's the fact that while Raimais had four different doors to go into between stages (each one leading to a different next stage, of course), Yuu Maze only has two. The third big difference is the hidden portals that are found in some stages.

In Raimais, it was pretty rare to find these hidden portals, and they led to secret boss stages. The problem with this, though, was that the bossfights were so tactically different to the regular stages that they were very difficult, and their sporadic nature made them hard to practice. In Yuu Maze, these hidden portals are a lot more common, and instead of leading to bossfights, they lead to timed bonus stages, giving the player sixty seconds to collect all the dots or kill all the enemies. Destroying enemies works in the same way as in Raimais though: there are power-ups that grant the player a laser or a temporary one-hit shield, so you can shoot the enemies or sacrifice the shield and ram them. There's also mines in some stages, which go off a few seconds after the player goes over them, killing anyone narby when they do.

There's also an edit mode, which allows you to make a little five stage course. It's about as complex as you'd expect from a console game released in 1988, but it's a nice little thing, that totally gels well with the simple structure of the game. Raimais is a criminally overlooked game in Taito's back catalogue, and Yuu Maze is a decent enough variant on it. I recommend playing either one of them, or both. Yuu Maze is a lot easier though, being very generous with the extra lives, compared to its inspiration.