Sunday, 28 August 2016

Legend of Galahad (Mega Drive)

The Legend of Galahad is a port of an Amiga game called Leander, and I'm reviewing the port rather than the original for two reasons: firstly, it's the version I remember seeing in magazines as a kid, and secondly, I'm going to assume that the original has some terrible control scheme where jump is mapped to up on the joystick, and I don't have the patience for that kind of nonsense. Anyway, it's clearly a British attempt at making a Monster World-esque action platformer, andin some ways, it's a pretty good attempt. In other ways, not so much. Unfortunately, it's the important parts it messes up on.

I'll start on the positives, and specifically on the biggest positives: this is an incredible-looking game. It's got that Roger Dean-inspired airbrushed look that a lot of the higer-profile Amiga games had, and it's very effective. The world in which its set is a kind of mix of northern Europe, with a few mildly stereotypical asian influences thrown in, as well as the aforementioned prog rock album cover style. It feels like the entire game is set among the mountaintops, and the graphics do an amazing job of evoking that, to the extent that you can almost feel the fresh, cold air in your lungs, even in the stuffy humid heat of a British summer (the conditions under which I was playing this game). Another positive is that Galahad himself controls really well. Walking, jumping and attacking all feel good, and he swings his sword as fast as you push the button.

Okay, so then there's the negatives, first of which being that the combat doesn't feel very good at all. Almost every enemy takes multiple hits to kill, and most of them won't make any acknowledgement that you're hitting them: they'll just keep walking back and forth while you impotntly slash at them with your sword. Furthermore, there's other enemies with certain weak spots, that are often in positions that makes them impossible to hurt without taking damage yourself, and example being the giant bugs that appear in some of the cave segments. An even bigger crime is that the rules of combat are applied inconsistently: every few stages, there'll be a dragon. The dragons aren't bosses in the traditional sense, they aren't at the end of stages or anything, though they are unique and they do appear in places that mean they have to be defeated before you can get past them. The problem is that a single hit from a dragon will take a life from you, no matter how much health you have remaining. A dragon can just poke you with the end of its nose and you lose a life straight away. It feels unfair, and it's just a terrible design decision.

The other big negative is the stage design. I've already mentioned that some enemies are placed in positions that make taking damage inevitable, but there's other things too. Like the massive amount of leaps of faith there are: you're often asked to blindly jump into the ether, without any way of knowing what traps await, or where they are. There's also a certain kind of trap that drops a heavy object on the player, killing them instantly. The problem is that its effective hitbox is its entire sprite, so if it's already fallen and you walk into the side of it, you lose a life. Again, lots of terrible, unfair design decisions.

It's easy to see why Galahad (or rather, Leander) would have been a big deal on the Amiga, where there weren't a lot of Japanese-inspired action game, especially ones with such great production values. But on the Mega Drive, the early 90s home of arcade ports? It's got a lot of stiff competition, against which it never had a hope of standing up.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Godzilla - Kaiju Daishingeki (Game Gear)

The first time I played this game, a long time ago (so long ago that I was emulating it on the original GP32, which puts it in the early-mid 00s), I was so let down by the fact that a Godzilla game could be a boring-looking strategy game, which I totally wasn't in the mood for, that I switched it off, and then didn't play it again for years. A year or two ago, I decided to give it another try, no longer being the impatient teenager I was back then. I'm glad I did!

Videogames based on tokusatsu and kaiju properties have a bit of a poor reputation, the blame for which I place at the feet of the 1991 Ultraman arcade game and its ports to home consoles. It was a not-very-good fighting game, and by the time the home ports had come out, Street Fighter II had come out and pretty much changed the very meaning of the term "fighting game", making Ultraman look even worse. But there's actually a fair few decent toku games: the super sentai games on Playstation, the Power Rangers fighting game on SNES, and most of Godzilla's own games are at least playable, even if they aren't classics, even the critically-panned Dreamcast game Godzilla Generations is pretty decent, if you're in the mood for a kind of stress relief game about destroying cities and nothing else.

Godzilla Kaiju Daishingeki (translates to something like "The Great Kaiju Offensive", I think) is definitely playable, but not a classic. It's also pretty unique, as it's a turn-based strategy/side-scrolling action hybrid. When you start playing, you select a side (Godzilla and his monster allies, or the human G-force, and sometimes their monster allies. There's also unplayable space monsters, like Gigan and Space Godzilla) and a stage. Then, you move your units around in the time-honoured turn-based strategy manner, and when two opposing units are next to each other, they can enter combat. Combat comes in the form of little 2D side-view fight segments with very short time limits. Monsters and unique human units (like Super X or Mechagodzilla) have lots of HP, while conventional weapons (tanks and jets and the like) go down in a single hit, but come in "squadrons", which are kind of like lives in practice.

There's four stages, which can be played in any order, based on Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972), Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991), Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II (1993), and Godzilla Vs. Space Godzilla (1994), as well as a secret stage based on the original 1954 Godzilla movie, though unlocking it means completing all the others in a single sitting, and since each stage takes twenty to thirty minutes, that's going to take some saintlike patience (or save states) to accomplish. Anyway, this gives you a good mix of playable units on both sides, and most of the battles are balanced pretty well, too (the exception being the Space Godzilla battle, as ol' spacey takes barely any damage, and can heal half his max HP every round. I guess there's some solution I haven't worked out). Most importantly, it's actually pretty fun to play. Whether you're playing as the humans or Godzilla and friends, the combat is fun and satisfying, despite being very very simple. The only problem is that at the start of each battle, it takes a few turns to get the units from either side to actually get near each other and for the battle to really get exciting. But once it does, you'll be having a great time.

Godzilla Kaiju Daishingeki is a fun little game, and if you givie it a chance, you probably won't regret doing so. A great little game for Godzilla fans, and definitely in the upper tiers of the Game Gear library, too!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

New Sinbad 7 (Arcade)

I like to think that I'm too intelligent to be taken in by advertising, but in the case of New Sinbad 7, it was not just the game's promotional flyer, with its striking sci-fi/fantasy hybrid art, but also the bizarre slogan on that flyer, loudly proclaiming "SEVEN TIMES SEVEN SORCERERS OF OLD SOUGHT SINBAD 7", that totally caught my imagination and led me to playing the game. It's a great little turn of phrase though, isn't it? It's so mythic and dramatic.

The game itself is a little less so, however. It's a maze game, that's pretty primitive-looking, even compared to other games from 1983, and you play as sinbad, represented by what appears to be some kind of tiny green bird, who flies around mazes shooting butterflies. In the centre of each maze, there's a temple with a treasure or a key in the middle of it, and for each monster you kill, a small block of the temple disappears, until a path has been cleared to the bounty within. If there's a treasure there, you collect it and simply go on to the next stage. On collection of a key, a door will open somewhere on the stage, which leads to another screen, on which there's a formation of blocks for you to shoot, and while you're doing that, some of the blocks will occasionally break off and start haphazardly flying around the screen. Shoot all the blocks, animate or otherwise, and you go on to the next screen.

It's a very simple game, and I do like the path-clearing mechanic, and the fact that you can shoot the enemies' shots. In conjunction with the fact that you're limited to two shots at a time means that realistically, you'll win a gunfight with one enemy in a couple of seconds, but with two or more enemies coming at you from the same direction, you'll quickly end up dead. I like that small-scale bit of mechanical certainty: you know exactly what you can do, and so you can instantly assess which situations can be worked to your benefit. Unfortunately, the "block" stages don't really allow for any of that kind of strategising, with your enemies randomly bouncing around the screen faster than both your movement and your bullets, making clearing them mainly down to luck.

I can see that they wanted to break up the main stages in fears of the game becoming repetitive, but those block stages are boring, unfair and generally terrible. New Sinbad 7 wouldn't have been some great classic without them, but they definitely make it a worse game than it would otherwise have been. I don't recommend playing this game, but I do really recommend you go and look up its flyer.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Project Minerva Professional (PS2)

It's odd that this game got a western release, since it's a weird kind of celebrity vehicle thing for Norika Fujiwara, an actress who isn't well-known in the west at all (the only thing that westerners might know on her IMDB page is the live action movie based on the comic Boys Over Flowers). Even more oddly, the game's opening credits list er as "Star and Planner", though I assume her role in planning was just agreeing to be in a game, and possibly having the enemies be robots because she didn't want to be seen as a bloodthirsty mercenary? Or maybe it really was a passion project for her, and she genuinely had a bunch of ideas for an action game in which she wanted to star?

If this game was made in the west, about a western model/actress/general celebrity, it'd probably be very different. Look at Kim Kardashian's game, for example: a phone game about fashion and fame and all that sort of thing. Project Minerva Professional, by contrast, is a military/sci-fi themed squad-based 3D shooter. Norika "plays" a woman named Alicia, who is the leader of a military task force charged with saving humanity from the evil robots manufactured by Minerva Corporation. This is done in a series of missions (I hear there's over a hundred, though I've only played through about six of them), with various typical squad shooter objectives: kill a number of enemies, plant bombs in certain locations, rescue the hostages, and so on.

Now, though I do think it's a bit of a shame that almost all modern 3D action games use a near-identical dual analogue control scheme, I think the fact that Project Minerva came out before that layout had been standardised is what really hurts it the most, more than the useless squad members running around like headless chickens, and more than the very simple (and Simple Series-esque) stage layouts and mission parameters. (Though it wasn't originally released as a Simple Series game, it really does feel like one, and actually got a rerelease a bit later as The Simple 2000 Ulitmate Series Vol. 23). Alicia is moved with the left stick, the right shoulder buttons are used for aiming your gun and looking through your binoculars, and the left shoulder buttons are used for centering the camera behind Alicia, which is the only direct control of the camera you get. Another typical (and hated) trait the game has in common with a lot of Simple Series games is the insane level of grinding. Weapons and armour are slowly made available in the shop, and once they're available, they still need to be bought, with insane prices that require several stages to be completed before they can be met.

You might wonder what the right analogue stick is doing, and it does nothing besides being a duplicate of the controls mapped to the d-pad, which are used for selecting and giving orders to your underlings. There's lots of other weird quirks in this game too, like how enemies don't appear on the radar unless you look at them through your binoculars and "mark" them, which has to be done for each enemy individually. You also have very little offence or defence at short ranges. There are some short range weapons, but they aren't great, and  you can't move and shoot at the same time: to shoot, you hold down R2 to look through your weapon's scope, aim with the left stick (so you can't move at the same time), and shoot with the square button. To make things worse, the direction you'll be looking in when you hold R2 isn't necessarily going to be the direction the camera is pointing in beforehand, making it very difficult to quickly aim and shoot at enemies. Unlike the clunkiness of Deep Water, this awkwardness doesn't add anything to the game, it is just annoying awkwardness.

Having said all that, there is some fun to be had in Project Minerva Professional. Since the late 90s, it's been a widely held opinion that there's a certain satisfying thrill to be had in shooting far away enemies through a scope, and that does still apply in this game, even through all the clunkiness of the controls and the weirdness of the camera. There's still dozens, and probably even hundreds of better games that offer the same thrill, though, so unless you really love the aesthetic of early PS2 games, you should just go for one of those over this one.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Brave Battle Saga: Legend of the Magic Warrior (Mega Drive)

Brave Battle Saga: Legend of the Magic Warrior (also known as Barver Battle Saga: Tai Kong Zhan Shi and Final Fantasy) is an unlicensed RPG, released originally in Chinese, translated into Russian (and re-titled Final Fantasy) by pirates and later fan-translated into English. Though accounts of the Russian translation say it's terrible to the point of possibly being machine translated, their renaming of it is actually pretty apt: there's a lot in this game that would make the casual observer think they were looking at an actual lost game in Squaresoft's series.

Before you even get to the title screen, the intro tells us that there was an ancient schism between opposing factions in favour of technology and magic, and that the world is kept in balance by four temples, each in different kingdoms, and each representing one of the four classical elements. So pretty much the scenario seen in the first five Final Fantasies. Then, when you actually start playing the game, you'll see that the battle system is (as far as I can tell) identical to Square's Active Time Battle system, and when you start getting magic, the spells can be equipped to whichever character you like, and you can buy multiples of each spell to give to each character on your party if you like, kind of like a simpler version of Final Fantasy VII's materia system (though to Brave Battle Saga's credit, it does predate that game by a year). On the plus side, it's definitely one of the better-looking RPGs on the Mega Drive, probably down to trying to copy the kind of highly-detailed spritework seen in Square's SNES RPGs.

Upon the unoriginal foundation laid by the intro, the game's  plot doesn't really get any more interesting: there's runaway princesses, demons kidnapping people and trying to wreck the elemental temples, and all the other incredibly cliched RPG stuff. Chinese RPGs on PC have a reputation for being great, romantic epic adventures, but unfortunately, in this case, the developers seem to have been content to ape typical Japanese RPG tropes.

Unfortunately, thogh it's a clear copy of Square's games on a superficial level, it doen't have anywhere near the same kind of quality in scenario writing and game design, being as it is one of the most linear RPGs I've ever played. You're totally unable to to do anything or go anywhere except straight forward to the next plot destination, which makes it even more frustrating that sometimes you're arbitrarily blocked from advancing until you've spoken to the right people in the right order. You might notice from the screenshots that I didn't play particularly far into this game, not even far enough to obtain my fourth party member, but I did play for over four hours, which I think is enough to get a good enough grasp on whether or not the game is worth playing. And even if it's not, a game that expects you to play for hours and hours before suddenly getting interesting is a game that's just not worth your time at all.

In summary, Brave Battle Saga is an unusually high-quality production for an unlicensed game, but at the same time, it's not very interesting to play, it's way too linear for an RPG of this style, and there isn't a single original thing about it, aesthetically, narratively or mechanically.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Fluid (Playstation)

I don't know how well-known they are outside the UK, but there were a couple of music sequencing programs on the original Playstation entitled Music and Music 2000. They weren't the first on the system, though: that title (as far as I can tell) goes to this weird dolphin-themed thing. I've seen other sites write about this game, tying it into that whole cringewrothy "Playstations in nightclubs" thing Sony were doing in the mid-90s, that laid the ground for the awful trying-to-be-cool writing seen in games magaines of the era, parodied by Digitiser's "Cyber X" character. But Fluid came out a couple of years after that whole thing had mostly wound down, and I'd place it more alongside the Japanese experimental art-game movement of the time, along with the likes of Kaze no Notam.

Anyway, what is Fluid? It's an attmept to tie a simple, accessible music sequencer to a videogame. I don't know much (or anything) about making music, but I'd say the sequencer part is probably too simple, since it limits the player to creating a very short (about 4 seconds) loop of irritating beeps and buzzes.

The videogame part sees you guiding a dolphin around the sea, until you touch one of the slowly-rotating rock sculptures, each of which sends you into a different streaming FMV world wherein you can tap or hold the triangle, X and circle buttons to have the dolphin emit weird noises. While you're doing this, you can also move the dolphin round with the dpad, simultaneously changing the way the noises sound so you're playing the dolphin like a weird underwater theremin. Once you've spent enough time in a world, you can move on to the next one, and at any time, presing start takes you back to the ocean, where you can also find a spinning DNA thing that takes you to the sequencer, where you can mess with the BGM that plays in the FMV worlds.

I should really talk about Fluid's most appealing aspect: its aesthetic. It's like a perfect slice of vaporwave aesthetic cliche: you play as a low-poly dolphin, swimming through an ocean of abstract stone sculptures, which transport you to shiny, dreamlike worlds full of crystals and marble pillars and the like. If you decide to make all the music as slow as possible, that adds to the effect even more, of course If that sounds like enough to make Fluid worth your while, then go for it , I guess. I didn't really get much enjoyment out of it, and I can't see myself ever loading it up again after posting this review.