Thursday, 31 December 2015

Baluba-Louk no Densetsu (Arcade)

So, Balouba-Louk no Densetsu is a 1986 platformer that combines ideas from an earlier age of arcade games, along with ideas shared by its contempories. From the earlier age, it has a lot of mechanics that you'll recognise from Pac-Man and its imitators: your goal in each stage is to collect all the points items and avoid the enemies chasing you (in this case, they appear to be brightly coloured octopodes). Also, there's an item in each stage that turns the enemies into points items for a short time, which double in value for each one you manage to collect.

Its more contempory influences are more widespread but mainly, they appear to be Super Mario Bros and Bubble Bobble. From Mario, the game takes the idea of hitting blocks from below: hitting a treasure chest from below causes it to open, and opened treasure chests are worth more points when collected. Furthermore, an opened treasure chest might sprout a flower, and hitting it again will cause the flower to bloom. Obviously, bloomed flower chests are worth even more points. Opened chests will also leave a bomb in their place, and if the player jumps from a block with a bomb on top, the bomb will be lit, and any enemies caught in the explosion will be paralysed for a few seconds. Bloomed flowers, when collected, leave a different item, and when this item is jumped from, it fires shots to the left and right, which turn enemies into one of eight different power-ups, each with different effects, like adding portals or an extra "power pill" item to the stage, or just giving the player a few extra points.

It's this whole business with the flowers and opening chests and so on that I'm considering the influence of Bubble Bobble (and other arcade games of the time), that is, that though the game seems simple on the surface, there are various hidden and semi-hidden ways of scoring extra points, doing away with enemies, and so on. I often find myself saying on this blog the phrase "it's a shame this game wasn't more popular", and it applies to this game, too, as though it did get a Famicom-only sequel, had it been more popular, there might be more documentation around of the various secrets that might be hidden within (or maybe I'm just assuming too much of the game, and the reason it never took off in a big way, despite being a fun, well made game,  is because there aren't any secrets and it didn't hold players' attention for long).

Balouba-Louk no Densetsu is a decent enough little game, and I recommend you give it a shot. As an aside, the text on the title screen "Baluba-Louk was discovered in 1985" made me wonder if it was inspired by some real ruins or something that might have been discovered that year, but no, that's just regular old flavour text.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Olteus II (X68000)

One thing I usually hate is levelling up and buying equipment in action games. The worst cases are almost always beat em ups, a genre that has been completely killed in recent years by developers choosing to replace interesting mechanics and design with endless grinding and enemies that can only be defeated using moves that are only useful for defeating those specific enemies. But I'm going on a bit of an unrelated rant here, as though Olteus II has both experience levels and a weapon shop, they actually make the game more compelling. Plus it's a shooting game, not a beat em up.

In fact, the way the game seems to encourage, rather than punish continuing in contradiction to the genre's norm, it can possibly be considered a kind of dialogue-free action RPG that takes a shooting game-like form. For shooting enemies, you gain experience points and gold. Levelling up via experience increases the amount of hits you can take before dying, and increases the power of your default gun and your charge weapon. You also start the game with two options which do nothing alone. This is where the gold comes into play: there's a shop with a variety of different weapons, and different power levels for each of those weapons, and you can equip a different weapon to each one of the options.

The game's split (as far as I can tell, as I haven't completed it yet) into two planets, of four stages each, and a final techno-organic spaceship with a single stage. The stages on each planet can be done in any order, though you have to complete one planet to go to the next. There's also a system of "days" in effect. You start with 999 days to complete your mission, and every time you play a stage, whether successful or not, takes up one day. I really don't know what happens if you run out of days, as getting to the final stage, maxing out my level and getting enough gold to buy every weapon took about 20-something days and an hour and a half. It'd take superhuman levels of both incompetence and persistence to get through 999 days.

The game's presentation is definitely a strong point. The menus all look great, with little diagrams for the weapons in the shop, and thumbnail illustrations of each stage on the stage select screen. Ingame, it looks really great and very colourful, and though it's a minor shame there isn't any parallax, it does look amazing for an independently-produced videogame from 1991. The music was a surprise, as it sounds like it was influenced more by western computer game music, rather than the arcade and console influences you see in most X68000 games (and especially shooting games).

In summary, Olteus II's idiosyncracies mean it won't be something you'll play for years to come like the more orthodox high-quality shooting games on the X68000, like Cho Ren Sha 68k and the like, but it is an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Burning Angels (PC)

Firstly, this game has nothing (as far as I can tell) to do with the theme song from Sonic Team's firefighting classic Burning Rangers. Instead, it's an all-female fighting game themed around pro-wrestling. It's obviously a very low budget indie game, and it's very barebones, with nothing more than a single-player story mode and a versus mode on offer. There's also only one background in the game, though each character does have their own theme tune.

It's got some nice mechanics of its own, though, so it isn't just some throwaway vanilla fighter with a wrestling-themed lick of paint. The player has five buttons: a taunt, and hard and light variants of strikes and throws. Unfortunately, the throw buttons aren't very interesting on their own, just performing an irish whip to the side of the screen. But with typical special move direction inputs, they allow each character to have a few special throws, and even super throws. In keeping with the wresting theme, normal strikes do very little damage, and strike specials generally not much more, placing a stronger emphasis on throws than combos. The throw buttons are also used for parrying throws, while strikes are blocked in the usual manner of holding back

The game's strongest point is probably the way it looks: big sprites, bold colours and an oddly smooth style of animation that brings to mind the french tv cartoon Wakfu. The character designs are pretty varied, too: rather than the usual tactic seen in the likes of Stardust Suplex of using real-life wrestlers with the names changed, Burning Angels uses exaggerated cartoonish characters, and though some of them seem a little fetishistic (a leather-clad sadistic heel, a skinny, flat-chested catgirl, etc.), they're mostly okay, and pretty varied too. There's a typical heroic wrestler (very reminiscent of Rumble Roses' protagonist Reiko), a long-legged woman with a heavily kick-based offence, and a female Ultraman parody, among others.

It'll probably never happen, but Burning Angels is a game I'd really like to see some high-level versus play of. I think the emphasis on throws, and the Irish whip move that doesn't really have an analogue in other games would make for interesting viewing. It's worth a look if you want to play a fighting game that's a little different from the norm, though probably only if you have other humans to fight against.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Snezhaja Koroleva (Arcade)

So, here's a game that was made in the Soviet Union (specifically Ukraine, I believe), for a Soviet audience. Though it was released in 1988, it's apparently based on a 1957 animated film, itself based on Hans Christian Andersen's story The Snow Queen. I haven't seen that movie, but I'm sure it can't be the worst animated adaptation that story's received.

Though some might hold lazy stereotypes about technology in the USSR being primitive in comparision to that of the rest of the world, graphically, Snezhaja Koroleva appears to be on a par with what a lot of videogames looked like in 1988. I definitely wouldn't look too out of place on the Master System or maybe even as a budget-priced Amiga release of that period.

Of course, in terms of aesthetics and game mechanics, it was probably developed in a state of relative isolation from its Japanese, American and Western European peers, and as a result, it has a fairly different structure and feel to it. It's essentially a collection of single-screen mini-games.

You play as Gerda, out to find her missing friend Kay, and on each screen, the goal is to reach the top-right corner, with each screen providing its own obstacles. Oddly, though most of the screens are platformers, the first is a maze, that has you avoiding monsters while picking up roses before heading to the corner to exit. There's some thing of a "Game and Watch" quality to the rest of the screens, as they focus on avoiding or navigating various obstacles, sometimes requiring frame-perfect timing. I was going to say that the game's easy to get through, after I managed it on my second attempt, but then on every subsequent attempt, I totally failed, so who knows? I also had a theory that the game was "allowed" to be easy and just tell a story because it was developed outside of capitalism and the profit motive demanding a challenging coin-muncher. But I guess my own ineptitude has put paid to that idea.

As it is, and as it often is with old games developed outside the "usual" game-developing regions, Snezhaja Koroleva (or Снежная королева, if you like) is more of an endearing curiosity than an unearthed lost classic. Still, it's nice that games like these are preserved for everyone to play, isn't it?

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Net Yaroze Round-Up Vol. 6!

The Comedian Adventure (Taro Kamon, 1998)
A minimalist one-button platform game that seems to have "borrowed" its heroes from the scatological PC Engine game Kato-chan and Ken-chan (AKA JJ & Jeff). Pressing any button makes your guy jump forwards at an angle, releasing the button or hitting the top of the screen makes him fall forwards at a slightly steeper angle. You have sixty seconds to get as far as you can without falling into any holes. If you fall into a hole, you get a speech bubble with some sage advice like "Finish your homework!" or "Brush your teeth!". It's mildly amusing for a few minutes, until you manage to survive the full minute.

Anda (Makoto Okuzumi, 1997)
A very old-fashioned shooting game that's obviously very inspired by the likes of Xevious and Star Soldier. There's no sound, and it's generally not very exciting at all. The worst part, though, is that the enemy bullets are incredibly tiny and often blend into the background. It seems competently made, but not very well-designed.

Minic The Hedgehog (Kiyoshi Sakai, 1997)
This is apparently a port of an X68000 doujin game, though I haven't been able to find that version. It's more of a tech demo than an actual game, too, being as it is an attempt at making a semi-clone of the first Sonic The Hedgehog game. It's mostly impressive, too, as there's a decent attempt at replicating Sonic physics, though it just falls a tiny bit short . That tiny bit makes a lot of difference, though, and the result is that it's almost impossible to build up the momentum needed to run up even the shallowest of inclines. Another problem is that the screen is flanked on all sides by massive black borders (which I've cropped ouit of the screenshots for this post, to make things look a bit nicer).

Dance Of Death (Shigeaki Matsumoto, 1998)
This polygonal top-dpwn beat em up does performs a trick that many of the best games of the 32-bit era do: uses its low-poly models, short draw distance and small memory space for textures to create an atmosphere. You play as a lone samurai, beseiged on all sides by your enemies, who has to fight his way out. There's a timer and a number counting down the amount of remaining enemies, but the game's hard enough that I've not yet managed to survive long enough for either one to make it to zero. Like I said, it's an atmospheric game, and tense too, as you and your enemies can be taken out in only a couple of sword strokes, and there are far more of them than there are of you. Definitely worth a look.

My Flower (Makoto Okuzumi, 1997)
A brightly-dressed young girl on a series of floating islands inhabited by angry crabs and friendly chickens must make flowers grow, flags fly and eggs hatch by dancing around them. The colours and simple graphics remind me of early Namco games, like Toypop and Pac-Land. The main problem this game has is that it's not immediately obvious what the player is supposed to do or avoid. Though I managed to get a couple of stages in, I did so without ever figuring out the exact win conditions for each stage. Avoid this one, I say. (I feel like I'm being a little hard on ol' Makoto's games in this post. If you search your own name and find it, I'm really sorry!)

Friday, 4 December 2015

Koma (X68000)

Koma, or Beigoma, are a kind of traditional Japanese wooden spinning top. In this game, you play as one in the odd situation of having to collect exclamation marks while trying to stay to moving platforms above an endless black void. Each stage has a different set of platforms, and though they move in the same patterns every time, the exclamation marks appear in random positions.

The biggest strength of Koma is that the aesthetics and mechanics are inseperably intertwined: because anything that's not black is safe ground, the more complex and psychedelic a stage looks, generally the more difficult it'll be. The stages were each obviously designed with this in mind, each having both its own look and an individual set of challenges and tests of dexterity in navigating to different areas of the screen.

The thing you have to try and do is to stop seeing the different coloured platforms as seperate entities and instead to see the gaps between them as shifting and warping things to avoid. But then again, after a few stages, you'll start to be presented with very small platforms, and single pixel-width bridges, so that advice doesn't really hole up in those situations.

The old cliche "easy to play, difficult to master" definitely applies to Koma, and it's definitely worth playing, at least until the difficulty starts to try your patience.