Sunday, 31 January 2016

一>◇ (XBox 360)

So, I don't know how to pronounce this game's title, and I had to copy and paste the characters from the XBox website. Thanks, Hitmark Brothers. Anyway, it's a weird little puzzle/strategy/art game thing in which you play as a giant green hand that holds dominion over a small island inhabited by green bean-like creatures.

The game's presentation is almost aggressively committed to standing out and being strange: obviously there's the bizarre title, and then once you start the game, you see that a lot of the graphics are digitised photos. The presentation is the main part of the game's appeal, though I'm sure that that was intentional. It definitely feels more like an "interactive creative work" than an actual game, even though it has various gamey elements, like a score and a game over screen.

Anyway, you play as this giant green hand, and you have various actions in your repertoire. You can move left and right across the landscape as well as up or down (though vertically, there are only two possible positions). You can also grab objects, push the bean-people into the ground, flick objects, and pick up and drop bean-people and water. The object of the game is to plant trees, flick their leaves so that more bean-people fall out, and then grab the leaves and then vigorously rub the tree until it becomes a wooden spaceship. You then grab a few of the bean-people and drop them into the spaceship, which will take off a short time later. The game ends when you have no more bean-people left on the island, and you won't last more than a few launches, as the island very gradually shirnks over time (unless there's a way to reverse this process that I haven't figured out).

一>◇ is an amusing enough distraction for a short time, but you'll definitely be able to see everything it has to offer in the standard XBLIG 8 minute free preview. So unless you want to show the developers your appreciation, there's no need to pay the 69p for the full version.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Net Yaroze Round-Up Vol. 7!

Grave Pobbery (Masahiro, 1997)
This game is very unpolished, but mechanically it seems to be mostly finished. It's a pretty simple game in which your little polygon man enters stages that each contain a few stone blocks. Using your pickaxe, you smash every block in the stage, and fight off the ghosts and snakes hiding within, either by repeatedly hitting them with your pickaxe, or by using items, also found inside the blocks. There's crosses to get rid of ghosts, and bombs to kill the snakes (and handily, destroy any blocks caught in their blast, too).  It's a mildly amusing game, and its simple nature and tiny amount of assets used make it feel like the kind of thing someone might make for a quick game jam today.

Alien Looter (Ben James, 1998)
Alien Looter is a pretty simple concept: take Space Invaders, add power-ups and remove the dan kire so that the player can shoot as quickly as they can press the fire button. The result is a game where stages last only a few loud and cacophonus seconds, and you can blast through fifty or more stages in only a couple of minutes.  It's nothing especially fancy, but it is a lot of fun while it lasts.

Oyaji (T. Munemasa, 1998)
This is a weird one: you play as an old, balding man wearing only a pair of underpants, and you're trapped in a brick maze with some hovering satellite dish robot things. As far as I can tell, your task is to smash all the robots, but awful collision detection coupled with your long, slow attack animation make this very difficult. Oyaji is graphically impressive with its texture maps and such, but not very fun to play at all.

Diver (Nahoisa Kamei, 1997)
Diver looks and feels like a game from a 1980s 8-bit computer, specifically the kind popular with Japanese hobbyists, like the PC88 and such. It's a very simple game: you play as a diver, diving into the sea to get piles of gold, though you can only stay under for a few seconds at a time. Every time you get a pile of gold, another one appears, as well as a few more rocks to get in the way. The main problem with Diver is that there's not really any challenge, unless you play chicken and try to get multiple piles in a single dive, but there's no real reason to do this, since they'll only be worth one point each whatever you do. Adding a score multiplier or something to incentivise this kind of risky play would be a massive improvement.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Pang: Magical Michael (DS)

So, Pang (also known as Buster Bros. and Pomping World) is a series that was once fairly well-known, but seemingly got completely forgotten once the 32-bit consoles came long in the mid-90s.  For those of you who don't already know, it is, at its most basic, a kind of mix between Space Invaders and Asteroids, where the player (or players) run around the bottom of the screen firing upwards at malevolent balloons, that split into smaller balloons when shot, until they're at their smallest size, at which they just pop. The aim of each stage is to get rid of every balloon without any of them hitting you.

2010's Magical Michael was the first new Pang game in ten years, and in the years since, there haven't been any more of them. It's a shame, because it's easily the best in the series. The two main modes in the game are tour mode, which is the traditional stage-based affair, themed around visiting famous landmarks from around the world and freeing them of their inflated spherical oppressors, and panic mode, introduced in 2000's Mighty Pang, which is an endless survival mode with no platforms, items or ladders, in which balloons endlessly fall from the sky, with the player just popping them, scoring points and staying alive as long as possible.

The reason that this is the best version of Pang is mainly down to its host hardware. The two screens of the DS allow for a wider array of stage designs in tour mode: single-screen stages, stages in which the balloons have the height of both screens to bounce in, and split-level stages, where the player has to judge when and how to climb the ladder from one screen to the other.

To be honest, though, I don't particularly care for tour mode. Panic mode is a lot more enjoyable, being a pure score-based game of skill. There are two main scoring mechanics: one based on which order you pop balloons (more points for consecutively popping same-sized balloons) and a bonus that gradually increases as long as you don't fire off a shot that hits nothing. Panic mode doesn't really gain anything massive from being done on two screens, though, other than the fact that it takes place in a series of extravagant high-ceilinged halls that look amazing, despite being heavily stylised static artwork. It does, however, benefit greatly from being on a handheld. It's just a great game to have on hand to play for a few minutes while waiting for something else to happe, and a handheld console is a lot more convenient and logical towards that end than an arcade cabinet.

Pang: Magical Michael is a good game and a worthwhile (though simple) update to an old series. It's also available for practically nothing, so I definitely recommend seeking it out.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

School Fighter (Game Boy Color)

So, for years this unlicenced Chinese game has been sitting in the Game Boy Color romsets, mocking us all with the promise of educational pugilism. Booting the rom would let the inquisitive player see the intro and title screen, but nothing more. Until, that is, earlier this week, when long-time friend and ally of this blog Takashi partially cracked School Fighter's copy protection. Only the first two stages are playable, but that lets us see the game in action, and get a good grip on its mechanics and design.

So what's it like? It's a single-plane beat em up, with some occasional platform elements, and it's clearly heavily influenced, both aesthetically and mechanically by SNK's King of Fighters games and by Technos' Kunio-kun games. The plot, as far as I can tell (there's no text in the intro, and if there was, it'd be in Chinese, and I wouldn't be able to read it anyway), is that all the school's sports teams have been taken over and corrupted by appropriately-themed monsters. So in the first stage, you fight baseball monsters, the second has volleyball monsters, and the title card for the third stage promises judo monsters. Judging by the number of monsters that appear in the intro, it looks like there's six stages in total, with boxing, kendo and a final stage lying in wait.

You get three characters to choose from, though as far as I can tell, the only differences are aesthetic: a girl, a boy, and Gowin's dinosaur mascot, who for this game is cosplaying as Kyo Kusanagi. The game manages to get a lot of different actions from the GBC's d-pad and two buttons, too. A and B are punch and kick (though oddly, the girl's standing kick is a crouching punch, albeit a different-looking one than her actual crouching punch), and pressing the two together jumps. The d-pad works mostly as you'd expect: you walk left and right, and press down to crouch, but this is where the mechanical influence of The King of Fighters comes in: pressing up performs a very KOF-esque dodge move, and double-tapping left or right performs a short dash. Furthermore, you can jump while dashing to go further and higher.

The three characters, while they play identically, as I already mentioned, they do each have their own personalities, the male character especially. They really went all out to make him look like a tough Bancho (yeah, though it's a Chinese game, it does seem to be heavily influenced by Japanese high school culture). He walks with his hands in his pockets, his standing kicks are the kind of casual forward thrusts you see in the likes of Rival Schools or Kenka Bancho, and his dodge move is a nonchalant shrug out of the way. The enemies, on the other hand, are mostly just really cute: there's little green bean guys, flying guys who look like Tails, but with his spinning tails replaced with dragonfly wings, little tiger cub people, and so on.

School Fighter is definitely a pleasant surprise: it's a strong contendor for the title of "best Game Boy beat em up", as well as one of the best pirate games I've played on any system. I only hope that someday the copy protection  might get fully cracked. Or I somehow manage to track down an actual copy of it myself. Apparently, it's also the third game in a series that started on the original Game Boy called "Binary Monsters", so I guess I should take a look at those games sometime too.
This game is also known as Binary Monsters III and 熱門高校 數碼怪獸III

Monday, 11 January 2016

Curiosities Vol. 6 - Heim Waltz (Saturn)

So firstly, I should point out that I've renamed the "Arcade Curiosities" series of posts, and included stuff like those X68000 Space Harrier hacks and stuff, just to allow a bit more variety in future posts.  Mainly things that are on games consoles but aren't really games, like Heim Waltz, for example.

What is Heim Waltz then, if not a game? Well, it's an interactive video tour of two model homes, a house and a flat, in mid-1990s Japanese suburbia. Since it was only given out to prospective customers of one particular housing company, it's also one of the rarest Saturn discs around. The odd thing about this situation is that you'd think that it'd make more sense for them to make this a PC disc, and if they did, no-one would have cared about preserving it and it would have just vanished into true, irretrievable obscurity never to be seen again.

But they didn't, and here we all are. It actually bears some superficial similarities to the Mega CD and Saturn game Yumemi Mystery Mansion, in that your navigation of the properties is very limited, basically giving you a choice of different paths from one FMV to the next. There's no puzzles or butterfly ghosts though, just a voiceover (you get to choose between a male and female voice) describing the details, and some kind of floor plan menu thing that's all in Japanese, as well as a feature to move a cursor round and see additional details on certain parts of each room.

Unless you're in the market for middle-class suburban housing in 1990s Japan, Heim Waltz will have no interest or use to you, so obviously, there's no reason to "play" it. There's especially no reason to pay £300 to get a legit copy of it either.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Final Justice (PC)

You might remember a week or two ago in the Olteus II post, when I bemoaned the state of the beat em up in the twenty-first century, lumbered as it is with boring, time-wasting nonsense like experience levels and skill shops. It seems that the Japanese indie scene, at least, is one last vanguard of proper beat em ups. It doesn't mean they're all automatically good, but they can at least be said to be "pure" arcade-style games, undiluted by weak RPG nonsense.

Final Justice is one of those Japanese indie beat em ups, though it doesn't have anything to do with Captain America's super move from Capcom's fighting games. Instead, it's about a Kamen Rider-style heroine (complete with rider kick) fighting off crowds of little girls and disembodied bunnygirl heads, with a boss appearing every few stages. You get a normal combo, which can be ended in one of two ways, a rising uppercut, a couple of air attacks (including the rider kick), and two super moves that cost meter. I guess I'd say the sophistication of the combat is fairly average.

The presentation is a mixed bag: the menus and GUI and such look great, and the backgrounds and sprites are technically well-drawn. The problem lies in the super deformed style of the sprites leaves me a little cold, and the fact that though they are detailed and well-drawn, they're also very small and the top half of the screen is always empty seems like a waste. I guess it mainly depends on how tolerant you are of SD characters.

Another problem with Final Justice is that it's far too easy, with no difficulty options available. The game gives out more extra lives than you'll ever need, and I completed the whole thing on my first attempt with plenty of them left over. This is despite the fact that enemies in later stages come in pretty thick crowds, and they're constantly throwing projectiles around and doing a decent amount of damage.

I guess Final Justice isn't a bad game, but it's not a particularly good one, either. It's just a painless way to spend a forgettable half an hour.