Sunday, 29 November 2015

Pilot Kids (Arcade)

Pilot Kids is a third party game for SEGA's famous and beloved Model 2 arcade hardware, from Psikyo. Though it's a shooting game, as you'd expect of Psikyo, it's pretty different to most of Psikyo's shooters, in terms of both looks and mechanics. On both fronts, I'd say the Psikyo game it's closest to is their weird Space Invaders parody Space Bomber, with it's quirky looks and multi-kill based scoring system.

It's a horizontal shooter, about two kids who get shrunk down, and fly toy planes to fight off all the other toys, insects and other assorted household objects that have come to life in a hostile manner. The players have two weapons at their disposal: a normal machine gun and lock-on homing missiles. The machine gun is almost useless as an offensive weapon, though it does have the useful property of being able to destroy the orange bullets the enemies fire (which, for the first few stages, is all they fire. Towards the end of stage 4, indestructable blue bullets will also find their way into the enemy's patterns). The missiles, then, are your main method of attack, and they're slightly more complicated than most hoing weapons.

Pressing the second button fires a marker, and the player can mark three to six enemies at once (depending on how many power-ups you have). Pressing the main fire button when at least one enemy is marked fires a missile that'll pass through any marked enemies, as well as any others in its way. The missiles are also the key to the scoring system. The first enemy killed by a missile will award double points, the next quadruple, and so on, up to a multiplier of sixty-four.

Though it's not up there with the likes of Cave's games, or even Psikyo's best, Pilot Kids is pretty fun, and has a nice selection of gimmicks. If it had ever got a sequel that refined things a bit and had slightly more exciting stages, such a game would probably be a classic.

There is also an additional mystery connected to this game, though: after a game ends, and you've inputted your initials, there's a counter that starts at a billion points, and depletes by however many points you scored. It keeps track of this every time you play, and I've managed to hack away a little over twenty million points so far. I have no idea what happens when the counter reaches zero, and apparently, no-one else on the internet has tried to find out, either.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Hard Brain (Playstation)

This was just going to be part of another Net Yaroze round up (and I do still intend to do one of those in the near future), but I totally fell in love with this game and thought it deserved more than a single paragraph. It's a cyberpunk-themed turn-based strategy game, and though it's entirely in Japanese, it seems to be about a small gang of three guys either raiding some high-tech offices or escaping from some high-tech offices that are under siege.

Mechaically, it's pretty simple: to win, you pretty much just have to try and avoid letting any of your guys get surrounded by the enemy, and keep an eye on their HP so that you know when to heal (every one of your characters has one spell, which is for healing, and plenty of MP to use it whenever it's needed). It's also only a few stages long, which is a shame, as it has enough charm in its aesthetics alone, and it'd be nice to see more of the great sprites and character portraits.

It feels, however, that the creator had to cut a lot back in creating the game, since as I'm sure you're all aware, Net Yaroze games had to fit entirely into the Playstation's tiny RAM. There's a bunch of options that are never used, as well as spells for each character that are, as far as I can tell, permanently greyed-out and unusable. I managed to find the creator's website on the internet archive, in the hopes that they might have made a lengthier, more fleshed out version for PC or something, but all I found was the download for this version.

Hard Brain is a game that's definitely worth playing, especially since it'll only take up about 15 minutes of your time for a full playthrough (of which i've had a few at this point). People hold up Team Fatal's Terra Incognita as the Yaroze game that's closest to "commercial quality", but look at the screenshots for Hard Brain and you can't deny that at least in terms of presentation it could stand alongside the likes of Breath of Fire III or Persona and no-one could tell it was the work of a solitary hobbyist.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Curiosities Vol. 5 - Yukawa Moto Senmu no Okatara Ikushi (Dreamcast)

This post can't really be called a review, sincwe to be honest, there's no good reason to play this game unless you're in Japan with an internet-connected Dreamcast during March and April 1999. That's because it was given away free with Dreamcasts back then (or sold for a low price), and it's part of a competition to win real prizes.

You play as the eponymous Mr. Moto, and you roam around a small island digging holes. In those holes, you find sixths of various photos of SEGA and Dreamcast-related items. You get 100 chances to dig, and as far as I can tell, the pieces you find are totally random. The point of the game is to take your 100 chances to dig and hope that you find the right pieces to make full pictures. Apparently, you could then go online to win the prizeswhose pictures you'd filled in.

You can play more than once, but the pieces you find don't carry over through multiple playthroughs. Apparently this was a pretty high-stakes game, since one of the pictures is of a car key, and I read online that there was also a large cash prize too. (Though, doesn't Japan have really strict anti-gambling laws that ban cash prizes? I don't know.)

Like I said, there's literally no reason to play this anymore, but it stands as a piece of SEGA ephemera, and yet another item of proof that for everything else you could accuse them of, you could never say they were ever short on ideas.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Miracle! Panzou - 7-Tsu no Hoshi no Uchuu Kaizoku

I think that means "Space Pirates of the Seven Stars", but I could be wrong. Anyway, it's a combination shooting game and platformer, and though it looks and feels like it might be based on some anime aimed at little kids, I haven't found any actual evidence that it might be.

Anyway, each world has three parts. The first is flying to the world by spaceship, represented by a short and very easy vertical shooting section. Then, you land on the world, and walk around a top-down map with a vacuum cleaner sucking up little creatures and finding the entrances to the actual stages. The actual stages come in platform form. On the map, there are doors with orbs on them, with stages behind them. At the end of each stage there's an orb, and the doors open when you have as many orbs as they're displaying. So progression between stages is totally linear (not that that's a problem or anything, but the map sections add nothing else to the game). The last door on the map leads to the boss.

Miracle! Panzou is a nice looking game, and it's fairly fun to play at first, but it does have some pretty big problems. Firstly, there's one of the worst problems with a lot of post-2000 videogames: pointless tutorials for everything. It mainly only effects the first stage (with exceptions when you gain a new ability, though there's no real reason why those abilities couldn't have been available from the start anyway, another modern game design nuisance), but there, your play will be interrupted so you can be told how to shoot, jump and pretty much every other action, no matter how basic. There's also the problem that I feel bad about bringing up, since it feels so subective: the games is just way too easy. Like I'm sure you have, I've read that criticism being given out by all sorts of idiots, from those who don't understand the point of Kirby games, to those who think credit feeding through an arcade port on the easiest settings means they've seen all it has to offer.

Miracle! Panzou just doesn't feel like even the slightest challenge at any point. I played through the first two worlds, which took about 20-30 minutes, and there were no hard parts, no progression in difficulty from one world to the next, nothing. The new abilities that were obtained weren't really any use except as "keys" (the double jump appears just before the first time you reach a platform that's just out of reach for a single jump, the charge punch appears just before you reach a statue that has to be smashed to progress, and other than similar specific situations, there's no uses for them). It just felt like the game was wasting my time and I might as well have been watching a tv show while mindlessly pressing buttons. Looking at the game's aesthetics, it was probably made with a younger audience in mind, but to me, that's not a valid excuse. There's plenty of games suitable for children, while still being challenging and interesting. A game like Miracle! Panzou, however, just feels insulting.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Pachinko! (Odyssey2)

To most of us in the west, pachinko is hated and feared: a graveyard where once-beloved franchises and publishers go when they die.  But there is also movement in the other direction, that is, videogames that are themselves based on pachinko machines (though it seems to me that the genre's heyday was in the late 80s on the Famicom and PC Engine, I'm far from an expert on the genre, so I could be wrong.). Pachinko! might be the very first pachinko videogame, and it's a western-developed game, too!

I say "might be" for two reasons, though: the first being that I can't rule out some unknown pachinko game existing on some Japanese hobbyist computer, lost to the mists of time, and the second being the fact that it's a very loose interpretation of the concept. For those of you that don't know, in pachinko, the player controls the speed of many balls being fired into a vaguely pinball-esque table in the hopes that they enter various holes and activate various gimmicks (like slot machines and so on) on their way down.

Pachinko! works very differently, changing the game and turning it into a strange 2-player psuedo-sport. How it works is that there are two players at the bottom of the screen, armed with sticks and seperated by a small green pyramid. Above them are five bucket-like things with numbers between zero and ten in them, as well as a small blue interloper who catches any balls they come across and throws them downwards at a random angle. There's two balls, and they bounce around and get hit by the players' sticks. When a ball is hit by a player's stick, it changes to match the colour of that player, and when a ball goes in one of the buckets, the matching player gains as many points as the number in the bucket. If a ball hits the small green pyramid, all the numbers in the buckets randomise. Unfortunately, it never feels like you have any real control over where the balls go, or pretty much anything that happens in the game. After either player reaches a multiple of 100 points, the screen flashes different colours or a few seconds, before resuming. It doesn't actually end until you stop playing.

Pachinko! really can't be recommended as anything other than a historical curiosity. It's boring, completely random and very basic.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Socket (Mega Drive)

So, if you only know one thing about this game, you'll know that it's a blatant Sonic clone, to an extent that no other game before it had been. Every other review I've read of this game, whether it was in a magazine at the time of its release, or on the internet many years later, has focussed entirely on that fact, and then descended into tedious hyperbole about how terrible and unplayable the game is. The fact is, Socket is a very flawed game, and a very unoriginal game, but it does have a few ideas of its own, and it is a fun game to play.

The eponymous character is a weird kind of time-travelling electric duck from the future, who has to stop an evil time-travelling winged fox called Time Dominator from doing evil stuff throughout history. Socket can run, jump and kick, and has an energy meter that serves as a combined time limit and health bar, something usually only seen in games where the player controls a vehicle of some kind.

But the stage themes tread the familiar platform game ground of grassy place, lava caves, factory, futuristic city, and so on.  Stages come in sets of three, though each stage of the three fills an explicit role: The first stage will be a "High Speed Zone", which always takes place in an amazing-looking future city, and is what it sounds like: go really really fast util you get to the end. It's not challenging, but there is a good sensation of speed as you whizz around. The second will be Athletic, a pretty traditional action-platform stage, with a focus on running and jumping and so on. The third part of each set of stages is the "Labyrinth", a huge, sprawling stage with puzzles and traps and so on, with the emphasis being on actually finding your way to the end of the stage.

As for how Socket plays, it's mostly pretty good. Definitely leagues ahead of the other "poor man's Sonic", Bubsy, at least. There's a few moments where the cracks begin to show: for example, there are lots of very Sonic-esque places in stages that use ramps and momentum and even running up walls, but they're just a little bit too stiff and unco-operative, and jumping from non-flat surfaces can sometimes feel strange an unpredictable. Another problem is that it's incredibly easy, even compared to the Sonic games, which themselves aren't incredibly challenging. Socket's massive heath bar, means there's very little consequence to getting hit, so you can just speed your way through stages, ignoring enemies, spikes, lava pits, and so on. You're likely to complete it on your first or second attempt.

If I were to compare Socket to any game, I would actually choose the Playstation 3D action game Speed Power Gunbike. Though SPGB hides it better, there's a shared thread between the two games of being Sonic-inspired attempts at high-speed action games that are just almost great, being held back by a few small, but damning flaws. Also like SPGB, I'd recommend Socket to anyone who has an interest in a kind of alternate interpretation of the Sonic games' ideas.
This game is also known as Time Dominator 1st