Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Frame Gride (Dreamcast)

Before they hit the mainstream with the Souls series, From Software spent years making games aimed at very specific niches, like their slow-paced, high-difficulty first person action RPGs (the most famous of which being those in the Kings Field series), or their super in-depth Armoured Core series of giant robot sims. Frame Gride is, compared to those games, a lot simpler, easier and more accessible. Another difference is in the setting: while the AC series takes place in a futuristic world of capitalism gone mad, Frame Gride takes place in a medieval fantasy world, more akin to the likes of Aura Battler Dunbine or the Vision of Escaflowne, and with mecha that look like grand, ornate suits of giant armour.

It's a game of one-on-one giant robot arena fights, though with controls and setup being a lot simpler than the Armoured Core games. There's only a few different stats for each piece of equipment, and the stats are represented by simple bars, rather than pages and pages full of numbers. The way you acquire more equipment is also simplified: there's neither currency nor shops in this game. Instead, defeating foes rewards you with various gems, and in your home menu, you can combine two of these gems at a time, with each possible combination garnering either a piece of equipment or a "squire", which I'll get onto later. Luckily, there's no need to waste time and gems on trial and error, since the equipment screen does tell you what gems you need to combine for each item.

Now, the squires. They're self-operated robots you can summon to fight alongside you in battle (and your foes can do the same). You get them by combining gems, just like your equipment, and they all have their own properties and different kinds of weapons. They each also have an LF points value, which is like a quota. The maximum amount of LF's worth of squires you can summon depends on which pieces of armour you have equipped. They're not a massive help, but they're better than nothing. Also, destroying your enemies' squires gets you more gems.

The game, other than the menu between fights where you combine gems, change equipment and so on, is very simply structured. You just go from one fight to the next, until, after defeating seven foes, you fight the final boss. It's not a long game, but there's an obvious reason for that, though unfortuantely, it's one that I can't really tell you about in great detail. Frame Gride has an online battle option, and it's clear that it's this the game was built around, with single player being there as both an obligation and a bit of added value. Obviously, there's no way for me to possibly play Frame Gride online in this day and age, so I can't tell you about how it worked. But I can say that it's weird that it was never brought to the west, purely because Dreamcast owners outside Japan were starved of games with online play. Magazines and internet message boards alike would decry the lack of online games being released. We can now see that they did exist, in many genres, but only in Japan, another case of SEGA Europe and America's infamous ineptitude when it came to choosing Dreamcast (and Saturn) games for western release.

All that aside, though, Frame Gride is still a great-looking game, and single player mode is still a fine way to pass an hour or two. There's also a translation patch floating around on the internet, to make things that bit more accessible. I think the version I played must have been an early version of the patch, as I have seen mention online of the game being fully translated, and the version I played still had a lot of Japanse text left untouched. Either way, it's far from impenetrable as it is, and I recommend you give it a try.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Elevation II (Amiga)

I've given up, at least temporarily, on finding anything interesting in the Assassins PD compilation disks, as after looking at a few, it seems they were almost exclusively interested in making compilations of uninteresting clones of old arcade games. So instead, here's a solitary PD Amiga game that, rather than copying verbatim an old arcade game, offers up an original game that wouldn't have looked out of place in arcades a decade before its actual release.

So, you're a little man, and you have to run across the floors of a building until you reach your lady love at the top. Obstructing you are elevators, with various levels of speed and erraticnes. It's incredibly simple: the only controls are left and right, and touching an elevator results in a lost life. There's also various kinds of items that fall from above at random intervals, including extra lives, invincibility, points bonuses and items that instantly move you up or down a floor.

Scoring is pretty simple, too: other than the 1000 points item that might fall down, at the end of each stage, you get a bonus based on how quick you were, as well as fifty points for each stage you've cleared and a hundred for each remaining life you have. Obviously, the items appearing at random can mean that your score isn't totally a reflection of your skill, and there's always something of a luck element. Unlike in other games where I've slated such an aproach, though, I think Elevation II is just about simple enough to get away with it.

It would be remiss to let this review end without mention of the game's presentation. Since the game is a one-man job from 1993, it's obviously very simple, but at the same time, there's a lot of nostalgic charm to it. I'd describe it as a kind of mix of the black backgrounds and simple sprites of classic arcade games and the cheap and cheerful brightly-colored working class charm of 1980s ITV Saturday night light entertainment.

Elevation II is an incredibly simple game, and even at the time of its release, it couldn't possibly have been considered meaty enough to be a commercial release on either home systems or in arcades, but it remains one of my favourite Amiga games. It just has a timeless quality, it's a ton of fun to play, and surprisingly addictive.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Keriotosse! (Saturn)

I'm tagging Keriotosse as a fighting game, like I have with a few other similar 32-bit oddities in the past, but it's a very tenuous tag, as this game lacks most of the trappings of what you'd consider to be a real fighting game. There's no healthbars, no knockouts, almost no special moves, and no punching. What it actually is is a somewhat silly contest in which four characters on a small circular stage all try to kick each other off the edge. The last one on the platform wins the round, and the first to win three rounds wins the match.

Thinking about it a little more, the stages themselves actually suggest a little inspiration from the Bomberman games, as each one is slightly different, whether it has interactive playground equipment, running water, strong winds or other such features, that all have some kind of effect on the proceedings. An annoying feature that every stage has is that no matter what kind of surface they take place upon, all the characters slid around as if it were a traditional platform slippy slidy ice stage. Obviously the devs were thinking this would aid in characters kicking each other around, but it's mostly just a nuisance.

The characters are a weird, incoherent selection, seemingly made up of anything that came into the designer's heads. Your starting selection includings a harpy boy, a deep-voiced alien woman, a beer-loving bunnygirl, and an aging buddhist priest. A few stages into single-player mode, you'll also start encountering other weirdos, including robots of both faux-Gundam and faux-R2D2 flavours, a weird masked princess, and others. They all mostly play identically to each other, with the exception being the special attacks. I assume these characters can be unlocked, though unfortunately, I haven't yet found out how.

Special attacks are limited-use (typically once per round, though if the round goes on long enough, they do eventualy recharge), and each character's is totally different. For example, the harpy boy can fly around for a short time, taking him out of reach of attacks and allowing him to swoop down and claw at his foes. The monk surrounds himself with a ring of hearts, that knockback foes much further than the normal kicks. The bunnygirls can offer a pint to an opponent, that leaves them drunk for a short time, and the R2D2-like robot can trigger a large explosion. It's nice that the special attacks aren't just slight variations on the same few effects, but it does mean that some characters have massive advantages over the others. In my experience, the priest and the harpy boy are by far the best equipped of the initial few selectable characters.

Keriotosse isn't a bad game, but it's not a very good one, either. It's incredibly average. The only reason you should really play it is to see the very nice low-poly stages, and the slightly less nice low-poly characters. I mean, I can't think of any better kicking-people-off-platforms games, but it's not a very exciting concept to begin with, either. After this and JSWAT and that awful game with the pig, I should really try to seek out a forgotten Saturn game that I can be a bit more positive about, shouldn't I?

Monday, 12 December 2016

Maze Action (PS2)

It wasn't long ago that I proclaimed Minami no Shima ni Buta Ga Ita to be the worst game ever featured on this blog, but in Maze Action (Also known as The Simple 2000 Ultimate Series Vol. 8: Gekitou! Meiro King), I've found a fairly robust challenger to that title. It does fall short, though, in that while playing Maze Action is a completely miserable experience, and it's a pretty cheap-looking title, even for a Simple Series game, it does at least feel like it's just a bad game, and not a personal insult from the developers directed at the player. (Minami no Shima ni Buta Ga Ita really was that bad).

The plot and the mechanics both seem to have been inspired by the popular comic Hunter X Hunter, specifically the hunter exam story arc. You are one of the four of this year's candidates to have reached the final exam at the hero academy, but there can only be one graduate, so you've got to face each other in a contest of skill and strength to determine who that'll be. So single player mode has four stages: you face off against each of the three characters you didn't pick, and then you fight a copy of your own character. It seems likely that there's probably a fifth stage with a final boss character, but you'd honestly need the patience of a saint to bother playing long enough to find out.

The mechanical influence from HxH is also from the hunter exam part, as the contests in which you're place see you running around a maze, trying to be first to find three matching keys and getting to your opponent's starting pad. The twist is that while you need three red keys and your opponent needs three blue, you start with a blue key and they start with a red. So, just like that part on the island where all the hunter candidates have to run around trying to steal each other's number badges, while protecting their own, you will be forced, at some point, to fight your opponent. There are various items littering the mazes, along with the keys. There's weapons, of both melee and projectile varieties, and there's traps. There's also some traps permanently planted around the place, too.

This could have all addedup into a fairly decent game, but the problem is all in the execution. Moving around feels awkward, combat is haphazard and unsatisfying, and it just generally doesn't feel very good to play. It's frustrating, because it also feels like the developers were really inspired and really wanted to make a simplified videogame version of the hunter exam, but they just didn't make it enjoyable to play.

So yeah, Maze Action is a terrible game and you definitely shouldn't play it. But I can see what they were trying to do, at least. That's something, right?

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Diet Family (Arcade)

When I first saw this title, and the fact that it was made by the Korean company Semicom, I was instantly interested. This was mainly because, as I've covered before, Korean arcade games aren't always completely original, and I thought that it might at least be a fun knock-off of the excellent Data East game Diet Go Go (which I covered on this blog many years ago). It's actually a totally original (as far as I can tell) Galaga-style shooting game, with a bit of an unhealthy approach to weight loss as its main theme.

So, you play as one of five characters (and if they're a family, as the title suggests, then it looks like it's two daughters, mum, dad and their weird blue cat thing), and set out to destroy/avoid food, and eat only the tasty diet pills. Yeah, that's a bit weird and unpleasant, isn't it? I mean at least Diet Go Go had the protagonists dressed like they were going to do execise too, and the food that evil scientist was giving out was all massive cakes and legs of meat.Most of the food in Diet Family is pretty healthy stuff like fruits, vegetables and sushi!

But all that aside, the game is at least full of interesting ideas mechanically. For example, scoring and obtaining power-ups relies heavily on the game's comboing system. Unusually, that system focuses entirely on accuracy, rather than the more typical speed, as your combo counter goes up for every one of your bullets that hits an enemy in a row, and resets if one of your bullets flies offscreen. As the combo gets longer, more and more items and power-ups will make their way down the screen to you. It works fairly well, though the requirements to get a power-up for your weapon are incredibly steep, needing twenty sucessful shots in a row. On the other hand, as you get further into the game, there are more enemies coming at you in thicker patterns, so it does get easier to rack up big combos as you go along.

The way your lives work is different, too. You have three lives and an energy meter. If you take a hit, the energy meter decreases, depending on the strength of the enemy that hit you (you're told the strengths of the different enemies at the start of each stage). It goes up a tiny amount for each diet pills you collect. If it decreases past the bottom of the bar, you'll lose a life, your sprite will get fatter (though this is only cosmetic, you aren't slowed down or anything), and the energy meter will be back near the top again. If you collect enough pills to make the meter go over the top, and you've lost at least one life, you'll get another life back, though the meter will be back at the bottom. So it's easier to claw lives back than in most shooting games, though you are limited to a maximum of three (plus a full energy meter).

Saying whether or not I actually recommend Diet Family is a difficult one: though I didn't personally find it to be a very enjoyable game to play, I can also see that it's definitely competently made and designed, and someone with more patience for its accuracy-based mechanics could very well get a lot of fun out of it. What a terrible, fence-sitting conclusion!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Minami no Shima ni Buta Ga Ita (Saturn)

What we have here might be the worst game ever featured on this blog. It's definitely the most shameful licensed commercial release, with production values that would look bad if they were in some Chinese Pirate Mega Drive game, let alone a game licensed, officially released and sold for money on the Saturn in 1996. Even having an animated FMV intro doesn't make the game look any better, since even that manages to be grotesque and cheap-looking.

You take control of a whip-wielding pig, on a journey to retrieve a load of lost piglets (as far as I can tell, at least). This journey takes you across various different landscapes, which are fairly typical platform game locales: snowy place, clockwork place, jungle place, beach place, and so on. The stages themselves can be tackled in any order, and also have two types of sections. When you first enter an area, you'll play through a psuedo-platformy stage (though there's no actual platforming to be done), where you walk from left to right, using your whip to defeat enemies and free piglets from bubbles. Once you get to the end of one of these areas, you'll then enter a puzzle stage.

The puzzles are all varied, to the point at which I've seen quite a few of them, and they were all unique with none of them being just a variation on one of the others. The main problem is that not only do you have to solve the puzzles, but you also have to figure out what slving the puzzles requires. Like I said they're all unique, but on top of that, none of them come with instructions in any language. You're just dumped in there and expected to work out what you're meant to do, and how to do it in three attempts. If you solve the puzzle, you'll go on to another action stage/puzzle stage cycle. If you use up your three chances, you'll get a game over, and if you voluntarily quit, you'll go back to the area select screen.

I can't really tell you any more about it. The action stages are terrible and pointless, with tiny sprites jerking around in front of backgrounds that aren't even in the same scale. The puzzle stages are boring and if you solve them, there's no satisfaction, while if you fail, you don't feel any incentive to go back and try again. I played this game for about an hour, and the only positive thing I can say about the experience is that I can at least tell you not to bother.

I hate to say it, but Minami no Shima ni Buta Ga Ita is a game that deserves to languish in obscurity, forgotten forever. After you finish reading this review, try to forget you ever even heard this game's title.