Thursday, 28 December 2017

Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting (DS)

Hajime no Ippo is a comic about boxing that's been running (and continues to run) since 1989, and it's had a few videogame adaptations in that time, too, some of which got brought to the west (presumably after being de-Japanified) as the "Victorious Boxers" seres. Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting wasn't brought over, but there is a partial translation patch out there for it, and, to be honest, even without the patch it's probably pretty easy to figure out.

As you'd expect, it's a boxing game. There aren't really any special gimmicks or anything, just regular old punching. You do havce a super meter, but all it enables are really powerful punches, no special powers or anything. Some mention should be made of the controls: the default scheme is a touchscreen affair, that has you poking and swiping in a bunch of boxes on the bottom screen to do different punchs. Like most touchscreen gimmicks, it doesn't really work, and you'll quickly be using the pause menu to change to some proper button-based controls, which work much better, having left punches mapped to Y and B, right punches mapped to X and A and special punches performed by pressing both button for one hand.

Though I'm not a fan of the old cliche that handheld games are best when they're playable in short bursts (because I personally like to play long handheld games while watching TV), I have to say that Hajime no Ippo really excels at that sort of thing. Obviously, each bout is a few minutes long at the most, and the game saves automatically after each one. So even if you just played one fight everytime you sat on the toilet, you'd still be making a little progress each time. The fights themselves are enjoyable enough, too. It never feels like there's as much precision or as many options available to you as in a fighting game, but punching is very satisfying, and not only does the game never seem unfair, but there difficulty curve is smooth too, and your opponents not only get harder very gradually, but they also each seem to have their own fighting style and tactics.

Between fights, you can also participate in little touchscreen "training" minigames. Your trainer will tell you that these increase your stats, but I can't actually find any mention of these stats anywhere else, and I think he might be lying just to shoehorn in another touchscreen gimmick, as developers were wont to do on DS games, especially licensed ones. I still attempt one before every fight though, because what if he's not lying.

There's not much more I have to say about this game other than to describe the cool little touches there are, like how your face gets swollen as it receieves punches, which manifests-ingame as the edges of the screen getting slightly darker, and you can have your trainer put an icepack on it between rounds to lessen the swelling. Also between rounds is the only time you get to see your own face, and just how lumpy your opponent's made it, which is cool too. Anyway, I have to admit that I haven't played a lot of boxing games in my time, but this is probably my favourite of the ones I have played, and that includes Super Punch Out.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Micom Slayer (PC)

So, this is a free Japanese game, and if I forget to add the link here when I upload this post, please comment and remind me to (since I write posts as plain text documents well in advance of them actually being uploaded). Anyway, it's also a total love letter to the 8-bit microcomputers (or "micoms", if you will) of 1980s Japan, like the MSX, the Sharp MZ-700, the NEC PC88, and so on, as it's a semi-linear platform game about a girl on a quest to collect them all (plus a few slightly later 16-bit computers too).

There's twelve stages, two each for each area, and each area is based on a particular old computer, with graphics and sound to match (though your characters' sprites are always modern and hi-res. I don't have much experience with some of these computers, but to my eye, all these homages seemed spot on. I especially love the MZ-700 stages with their blocky text mode enemies and such, they're just really cute. I was even able to identify some game-specific homages, too, with a stage that looks just like Lode Runner, and bosses that harken back to the likes of Donkey Kong, and, oddly, Capcom's awesome arcade platformer Black Tiger.

Anyway, these stages are all huge and filled with treasure chests, which contain keys, food (for replenishing health, of course) and coins (if you have at least one hundred coins when a character dies, you can bring them back) or, very rarely, a computer. The computers don't do anything, other than their collection being your ultimate goal. Every stage has two of them somewhere, either hidden in a chest or hoarded away by the stage's boss, who can't be fought until you find the chest with that stage's boss key. Some bosses don't have computers, meaning that their stages must have both of them hidden in chests. What these bosses do give you is new characters.

There's six characters in total, and as well as acting as extra lives, they all have different abilities. The girl who's a clear homage to the Valis games is just generally better at jumping around and attacking than the default character, while the lizardman/troll guy and the stickman can break the large square rocks that block off certain parts of each stage and jump really high respectively. So yeah, there's a kind of backtracking exploratory element in there game, too. Fitting to the game's theme, it's more of a Maze of Galious situation rather than a Metroid or Symphony of the Night one.

There's not much more I can really say about Micom Slayer. It's a great little game that's both fun to play and super-charming, and it's free so I recommend you go and get it right now. The only problem I have is that for some reason, it didn't save my game. Though this is only a minor problem, and I'm sure I've probably set something up wrong while installing the game. If anyone figures out the solution to this problem, please let me know!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Brave Blade (Arcade)

I'll start by being honest here, and admit that the thing that drew me towards this game is the graphics. They're that amazing kind of 3D graphics that was prevalent among arcade fighting and racing games from the mid-90s up to about the turn of the century, but it's a rare example of a shooting game in that visual style. And it does it with flair, too, as Brave Blade is set in a great-looking medieval/world war I/giant robots world, with all kinds of cool stuff in it. The developers clearly knew what they were doing too, as the first stage is very short, and ends with a boss fight against a giant tank that transforms into a robot with an awesome animation, and that boss (and its transformation animation) appears prominently in the game's attract mode too.

So, the game itself? You pick one of five pilot/knights, each with different weaponry, and you shoot and slash your enemies, of course. You've got three buttons: shoot, which just shoots, slash/guard, which is your powerful melee attack when tapped and a guard when held, and your power up button, which activates your powered up mode, during which you're invincible and can only melee attack. Regulating all of this is a power bar at the bottom of the screen, which goes up when you destroy enemies (or certain kinds of enemy bullets and missiles that can be destroyed) and goes down when you guard. You can only activate your powered form when it's full, so I recommend never bothering to use the guard (though I'm sure there's probably expert players somewhere who'd tell you I'm incredibly wrong and stupid, I can't see the advantage of it).

The scoring system is centered around the collection of Battle Garegga-esque medals, which at the most basic level, work in the same way as Battle Garegga's: their value starts at 100 and gradually works its way into the tens and even hundreds of thousands, though if you let one drop off the bottom of the screen, it's back down to 100 points a pop. The twist Brave Blade adds is that you can accelerate the accumulation of value in medals by repeatedly attacking them with your melee weapon, which also makes them bounce up the screen a bit, giving you a little more time to collect them too. Of course, if you're doing this, that'll take your concentration away from fighting the enemies and dodging their attacks, so there's a lot of risk/reward play going on. Personally, I'm a bit cowardly, so I only juggle the medals while I'm powered up.

Brave Blade is an excellent game all round. It plays great, with a bunch of fun systems that all interlock together well, and it looks amazing too. I definitely recommend playing it. It's just a shame that it'll probably never get any kind of home port like some other, more well-known shooting games have been getting in recent years.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Simple 2000 Series Vol. 60: The Tokusatsu Henshin Hero

Like the last PS2 game I covered, Seigi no Mikata, The Tokusatsu Henshin Hero is a game that's heavily themed around the genre of Japanese superhero TV shows (though you could probably guess that from the title). Being a Simple 2000 game, however, it eschews the strange meta "living in a tv show world" approach of Seigi no Mikata, and takes the more obvious path of being a beat em up in which you fight a bunch of goons before a monstruous boss.

The tokusatsu flavour is still pretty strong, though. Even though the plot is all in Japanese, it's still easy enough to follow and all the classic cliches of the genre are there: the scientist who gave you your powers watches over you, there's generic footsoldier enemies, along with cheesy-looking monsters, and above the monsters, there's occasional fights against higher-ranking, re-occuring enemies, too. In fact, one of those re-ooccuring enemies, named Yabaider is a direct homage to the character Hakaider, who first appeared as a villain in the 1972 TV series Android Kikaider, and even had his own spinoff movie in 1995 entitled Mechanical Violator Hakaider. Interestingly, as it is a budget game, it takes something of a tokusatsu-style approach to cutting costs, too: the same few locations are reused over and over, there's a lot of padding out by having you fight off increasingly large groups of identical footsoldiers, and none of the battles are particularly grand or spectacular.

These cost-cutting measures unfortunately result in a game that is incredibly repetitive, though. Every stage plays the same, and the first half in which you fight the generic enemies gets longer and more labourious each time as they come in bigger numbers and with more HP each time. The bosses also have far too much HP, as once you've learned their patterns, you're left avoiding them and very gradually chipping away at their life bars for several minutes. Of course, maybe if I could read the unlock conditions for more weapons and moves, maybe it would all have been a lot more fast paced, so the Japanese-literate among you might have a better time (though obviously, I can't promise anything. maybe all the unlockables are rubbish).

You can pick a male or female base, and can choose various costume parts, with more being unlocked as you play, along with more attacks and weapons. At first, I thought there was an Earth Defence Force type situation going on, whereby items are unlocked at random when you finish a stage, but on closer inspection, it appears that each item has a specific unlock condition to be met. This is actually the one place where the language barrier was a problem, as the unlocks started to dry up a few stages in, and I couldn't figure out how to force more of them. It's only a small problem though, as early on, I unlocked a laser pistol and a kind of jumping splits kick, which are both incredibly effective at taking down both footsoldiers and bosses alike.

On the subject of the language barrier, it should also be noted that there are rumours of a European release of this game, from 505 Gamestreet, under the title "Power Fighters". However, though it's appeared on various release lists and so on, I've never seen a copy for sale online or off, nor have I seen any screenshots or footage, and no disc image has ever been ripped and uploaded to the internet as far as I'm aware, either. So I suspect that Power Fighters either doesn't exist at all, or if it does, only on some long-forgotten hard drive in Italy somewhere. Of course, if I'm wrong and it did actually get released, and you can prove it, please let me know.

In summary, The Tokusatsu Henshin Hero is almost an archetypal Simple Series game: it's cheap and repetitive, but also very charming and obviously made with love. It's best played in short bursts of one or two stages at a time, it would definitely be agonising to endure for longer sessions.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Dragon's Revenge (Mega Drive)

So, you might remember a while back, when I reviewed Jaki Crush, the sequel to Devil Crush. Well, in a convoluted sort of way, Dragon's Revenge is also the sequel to Devil Crush. You see, it was Tengen who brought the Mega Drive port of Devil Crush to the west, and while they did so, they also changed the name to Dragon's Fury, and removed pentagrams, coffins, crosses and various other things, so as to avoid offending any 17th century witchfinders that might have bought a copy for their kids. Despite all that, the sheer quality of the game shone through and it was enough of a hit for Tengen to make this weird semi-official psuedo-sequel to their bowdlerisation of someone else's game.

So, Dragon's Revenge takes a lot from its forbear: a three screen high main table, various bonus stages, even things like having a dragon's head on the bottom screen, a woman's face in the middle and a skull on the top. Though the woman and the skull are pretty different to the ones in the first game. The woman was a regular old pixel art sprite in the first game, and gradually turned into a snake monster as you did stuff, but now she's made up of digitised photos of a real woman's face, and as you do stuff, she wakes up and starts talking and going "ooh!" like she's in a carry on film, then she kind of floats around the table at random for some reason too. The skull is still pretty much the same as it was before, functionally speaking (it's a portal to a bonus stage), but it does look like a cool demon goat skull, so that's nice.

The bonus stages are a lot like the ones in Devil Crush, too: you hit either a big monster or lots of little monsters with your ball to kill them. None of them feel as fun though, and they all have a very cheesy 80s fantasy novel cover look to them, too. I guess the one where a bunch of little goblin men stand on a waterfall and throw their endlessly-regenerating heads down the screen is funny, though. It seems that there's some kind of plot business going on regarding the bonus stages, too, as whenever you exit one, you're shown a screen where a witch and some monsters loom over a bunch of orbs (if you successfully complete one of the bonus stages, which seems to take forever, the orbs are revealed to have generic fantasy heroes trapped inside them).

You can describe a lot of things in Dragon's Revenge as being "like Devil Crush, but inferior", which probably stems from its cash-in, almost mockbuster origins. It's uglier, less fun to play and the music isn't as good, and to top it all off, it really doesn't have an identity of its own. I could go on and on listing every little thing I didn't like about it, but that wouldn't be interesting for me to write, or for you to read. I don't recommend you play it, except out of grim curiosity. Play any of the actual Crush games instead, or even Kyuutenkai Fantastic Pinball, which, other than the name and the cute theme, is essentially a fourth (fifth?) Crush game.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Coaster Race (MSX)

It's always impressive to see games on old computers do things that those computers just weren't designed for, like parallax scrolling, or, in this case, a pretty good bit of faux-sprite scaling, in an Outrun-esque racing game. It's even got hills and, true to its roller coaster theming, loops! Plus it plays pretty well, too.

So, on the title screen, you're presented with three modes: 1P SKILL 1 and 2, and 2P GAME. The 1P options are the single player game, but SKILL 2 starts you on the third track instead of the first. The 2P GAME option is even stranger, as rather than being a head to head race, or even a takey-turny time trail affair, it's a strange arrangement in which one player drives on a track using the joystick, while the other makes corners and loops appear by pressing keys on the keyboard. I couldn't figure out what the point of this mode was, as it didn't seem to have any obvious win conditions for either player.

The game itself is pretty standard for an arcade-style racing game of the mid-80s: you're racing against the clock to drive four laps each around five tracks. Hitting other cars results in your car exploding and a few seconds being wasted as you reappear on the track, and you get ten points for each car passed and a hundred for every second left on the clock at the end of each lap. The first thing that struck me when I started playing was how cute this game is: your car is a slightly futuristic, toyetic vehicle, with a big turbine on the back that spins faster as your speed increases. The tracks are cute too since they're all meant to be roller coasters, the backgrounds all look like theme parks. There's a lot of reused elements in the background, so I assume that all the tracks are part of the same park, and you can see differrent bits of it from each one.

The loops and steep hills on the tracks work really well too, which is impressive: you lose speed and accellerate more slowly when going uphill, and then go vastly faster going down the other side. Loops work pretty much the same, but with the added spectacle of the background scrolling vertically, coming back upside down, then coming back again the right way up. I haven't described it very well, but it is a really effective effect for an 8-bit game from 1986. Another nice little touch is that there's also differen times of day! Track one takes place during the day, two and three at sunset, and the final two tracks take place in the dead of night.

Coaster Race is a fun little game with a ton of charm, and I recommend you go and play it. There's even a little surprise waiting at the end of track five to look forward to too!

Monday, 27 November 2017

Heavy Smash (Arcade)

Other than a few remaining outliers like the Everybody's Golf series, sports games that aren't staid, po-faced "simulations" starring real life players are a pretty rare thing nowadays, and sci-fi/fantasy-themed games about fictional sports even moreso. And that's a shame, because those games are usually pretty great, Heavy Smash included.

What it is is a lot like a simplified, horizontally-scrolling version of the Speedball, where armoured players carry the ball and try to throw it into the goals at either ends of the pitch. This being an arcade game rather than a computer game, Heavy Smash does everything in a much louder, more colourful and generally more flamboyant manner than the Speedball games, though. There's also the addition of a power bar, whose main function is to determine how powerful you shots at the enemy's goal are, with the most powerful being like special attacks from a shonen anime, and being able to blast the opponent's goalie into the goal along with the ball at close nough range. The controls are pretty simple, and perfectly suited to a Mega Drive port that never happened: you have three buttons, the middle one is jump, and the other two each have two different functions, depending on which team has the ball. One of them is for taking shots at the opponent's goal, or attempting to tackle a ball-holding member of the opponent's team, while the other either passes the ball to one of your teammates, or, when your power bar is full, shoots a projectile at your nearest opponent.

Interestingly, the game has two scores. There's the number of goals you've scored in the current match, of course, but there's also a regular old arcade game score, too. This latter score goes up when you score goals, tackle enemy players and pick up the ball, and there's also end of match bonuses for things like scoring hat tricks and so on. Another little quirk is that though the standard length of a match is ninety seconds, if you get six points ahead of your opponents, the match is called off and you're declared the winner outright, so it is theoretically possible to attempt a speedrun of this game. Less cool is the fact that if the scores are tied when time runs out, the game goes into sudden death, and if no-one scores before that time runs out, the CPU player wins.

All the teams except one are nationally themed, and true to form for a Japanese arcade game, there's plenty of stereotypes. The Japan team are samurai, the Italy team are gladiators, and so on. But there's also some non-stereotypical teams in there too: Spain are also represented by a team of samurai, and Brazil are represented by a team of guys with electric superpowers? Also, at first glance, Australia's team are the only women in the game, but when the usually-masked Japan team score a goal, the bare-faced portrait that comes up appears to be a short-haired woman, which is interesting, I guess?

In summary, Heavy Smash is a game that's a lot of fun to play, and it looks awesome, too. Plus, it's yet another game you can look at and ask "why did this never get a home port?" So go and do both those things!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Airship Q (PS Vita)

The first I heard of this game was that it was an import-only PS Vita game that had received an official translation, and instantly went and bought a copy, just because we really should reward the publishers who do good things like this, just as much as we should shun those who engage in unethical business practices like encouraging real money gambling and so on. (How topical! I feel lucky that none of the games embroiled in all this loot box controversy are even slightly appealing to me in the first place, though). Luckily, this all paid off, and Airship Q turned out to be a pretty good game!

As you look at the screenshots, I'm sure you'll be reminded heavily of Terraria, and there's no denying that that game must have been a big influence on this one. It's by no means a clone, though, as while Terraria might have an end goal, it's also a non-linear game that takes place in a large, procedurally generated open world, with a heavy emphasis on building bases and so on, Airship Q is a much more linear action RPG ala Zelda, that happens to take place in a world of mostly-destructible blocks, and in which you gather resources to make your tools and weapons.

In it, you play as a girl living in a world of floating islands who built a flying ship with her brother, only for her brother to be kidnapped by a witch, who also turned the two siblings into cats. Your aim (at the start of your adventure, at least) is to rescue your brother, beat up the witch and regain your human forms. In the course of this, you'll seek out statues that let you build more and more pieces of equipment, from stronger mining equipment to pieces of machinery that improve your airship. You'll also eventually find out some secrets behind the world when your true quest is revealed (though since this is a pretty recent game that's still available to buy brand new, I won't spoil things any further). There's even the possiblity of a cheeky bit of sequence-breaking, if you're smart!

It's a lot of fun to play. Dungeons largely involve digging around and building staircases to climb, while simultaneously fighting off hoards of monsters and seeking out the statues hidden within. Exploration has a totally different feel, as you fly around on your ship seeking out islands and dungeons, as well as occasionally fending off attacks from flying monsters,and even huge dragons and enemy ships (dragons are usually guarding some important treasure nearby, while enemy ships are usually great sources for resources like big cannons to steal and attach to your ship, and coal to power your machines). There's also cool little touches like how structures need to be built in certain ways, since unlike Minecraft, everything will collapse in short time if it's not built in a sufficiently sturdy manner (though that's fine if you're just building a temporary bridge or whatever).

Again, I don't want to spoil all the cool little moments and touches that this game holds, so I'll end this review here with a strong recommendation. Airship Q is a great game, and you can pick up a brand new physical copy for really cheap, too!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Shadows of the Tusk (Saturn)

It seems slightly strange to me there there are two obscure Saturn games that use pre-rendered sprites and have character designs by Susumu Matsushita. (The other one, you might remember me covering a while ago, is Willy Wombat.) Anyway, Shadows of the Tusk is a turn-based strategy game, that, to add onto the unusuality of the whole affair, had online play via the X-BAND modem, though there's still plenty of single-player fun to be had, so that's fine.

The online element does seem to have had an influence on the design in general, as a lot of things seem streamlined to cater to the low bandwidth that would have been available to a dialup modem attached to a four-year-old console in 1998. For a start, there's no levelling up for any of the characters, though there is some kind of power progression in a different way. In single player mode, you have a "deck" of characters to build, and you get more characters by winning battles. Your deck screen has you putting characters on two rows: the smaller row has the characters that are summoned automatically at the start of battle, the character who starts on the middle space of that row will be designated the leader, meaning that the battle ends if they're defeated, and they also have the ability to summon characters that you've placed in the other row of the deck. Summoning costs mana, and your force has a shared mana pool that's also used for casting spells, and regenerates by ensuring that characters start their turns on certain spaces on the map.

Another concession is that though there are different backgrounds available, every battle takes place on a tiny five-by-five grid. This, in combination with the "kill the leader" tactical element ensures that the game has an almost chess-like emphasis on where you move your characters, and there'll even be plenty of times when you'll sacrifice characters to either make way for stronger characters stood behind them, or just to postpone your enemy's soldiers reaching your leader. Another thing to take into account while talking about character placement is that any spell or attack you can cast that affects an area will not discern between friend and foe, meaning that you might end up sometimes have to decide if you want to heal your enemies or immolate your allies.

Obviously, I haven't played the multiplayer mode around which the game is clearly centred, but there's enough meat to the singleplayer game that it's still worth your time. Best of all is that though all the plot-related stuff is in Japanese, all the menus, including those during the battles, are entirely in English! So, this is a pretty fun game that mostly looks great (the small sprites on the grid look really nice, while the bigger sprites used for the attack animations look like the most awful mid-90s CG), and is totally accessible to the JP-illiterate. I definitely recommend it!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Road Spirits (PC Engine)

Road Spirits isn't a particuarly good or original game, but it does serve as a useful example to point out and debunk two annoying habits of the kinds of people who write videogames reviews as if they're writing consumer reports on household appliances rather than subjective critiques of creative works.

First up is the idea that the length of time between starting a game and seeing its ending is the sole, or most important arbiter of a game's quality and value for money. It the idea that leads to people complaining that ports of even recent arcade games are "unworthy" of being sold at anything other than the lowest bargain prices, because they don't babysit the player through fourty hours of box-ticking and map-tidying. To use Road Spirits as an example, we can compare it to SEGA's Outrun. A full run of Outrun, from beginning to end will take between five and eight minutes, while Road Spirits has seventeen tracks which are tackled in a set order, each taking between three and four minutes to drive through.

Outrun is also better than Road Spirits in practically every way. Where Outrun's stages are full of obstacles and other objects, Road Spirits' stages are sparsely decorated with a few signs or trees here and there, making them feel empty and lifeless. Also, Outrun is a challenging game, in which you try desperately to reach checkpoints before running out of time, and trying to pass other vehicles without hitting them to score the most points, while Road Spirits has absurdly generous time limits you'd have deliberately try to fail, and the very few other cars you see on the road don't really serve any purpose at all. The one point Road Spirits has over Outrun is that it takes advantage of its format, having a full CD quality soundtrack with ten songs. So, it's a clear case of quality over quantity right? Anyone would choose Outrun over Road Spirits, even though Road Spirits is a much longer game from start to finish.

The other annoying habit is the idea that games can never be more than the sum of their parts, something that's not such a big problem any more, though there are still writers putting out reviews with lots of different numbers exactly stating how good they think each seperate aspect of a game is. You can see from the first part of the review that this isn't a great game, and is not only pretty mediocre in almost every respect, but also significantly inferior to a very similar game released a few years earlier in the same genre. But the thing is, it's not a worthless game, there is a reason to play, and a situation in which it's actually a pretty great experience!

This mostly hinges upon the aforementioned CD soundtrack, but if you play this game late on a sweltering hot summer's night, with the lights of and the windows open, you play a few stages, making sure to choose the more sophisticated tunes from the soundtrack, it's a great mood-setting game. It just provides a cool, relaxing atmosphere in a way that makes the whole thing worthwhile, and which can't really be described in a collection of arbitrary numbers.

So yeah, it's not a killer app or anything, but considering that you can get a copy for a handful of pennies if you shop around a bit, it's a worthwhile addition to your PC Engine CD library.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Eojjeonji Joheun Il-i Saenggil Geot Gateun Jeonyeok (PC)

So, that long title apparently translates to "A Night Where Good Things Are Bound To Happen", which is also the name of the comic on which it's based, which was the first professional work (as far as I can tell) of Lee myung-Jin, who later went on to create the fantasy comic Ragnarok, which he'd then abandon after that comic's spin-off MMORPG turned out to be wildly more profitable. Boo. This comic apparently got an english translation under the name "Lights Out", which is interesting, I guess.

The comic's apparently about juvenile delinquents and gangsters, and the game is a belt-scrolling beat em up! It's also a bit of an anachronism: despite coming out in 1997, it's a DOS game, rather than Windows 95 or something. At the opposite end of the scale, it also suffers from that beat em up disease I'm sure you're all sick of me complaining about: experience points! You get points for beating up enemies, and at the end of each stage segment, you get a chance to spend those points on things like increasing your max HP, improving your moveset, and so on. You really need to choose wisely, since you'll probably only be able to afford something every couple of visits, and your health doesn't recover between stages unless you pay for it (there's an option to increase and refill your health bar and a cheaper one to just refill it). Also because this game is merciless in its difficulty.

Well, it appears to be on your first play, as your health bar goes down in huge chunks, and after only a few hits from enemies it'll be gone. Obviously, you'll want to upgrade it pretty soon, but there's something else at work that you won't notice at first, that I'll refer to as the "stubbornness" system for the sake of convenience. How stubbornness works is that once your health bar is completely depleted, you start flashing red. While you're in this state, you can keep taking damage indefinitely, as long as you never get knocked off your feet. So it's a cool little last chance type of dealy. It'd be a lot cooler if there were health items every now and then or free healing at the end of the stage, as it'd motivate you to try your very hardest to struggle to the next item, but it's still nice. Some enemies also have the stubbornness trait too, but it's not just a way to make the game even harder, as you get a small amount of experience for every hit you land on a flashing enemy, so, depending on your skill, courage and tolerance to boredom, you can milk these guys for experience indefinitely.

It would be remiss to let this review end without mentioning how great this game looks. The character sprites aren't anything special, but they're nice enough, and more than made up for by the backgrounds, which all look excellent. The game's got a gritty urban setting, and that coupled with the high-quality pixel art almost lets you envision a world where there was a Saturn entry into the Streets of Rage series. A nice little touch is that there's billboard ads for the Ragnarok comic series in some of the backgrounds, too. Anyway, I'm not going to say that this game is an absolute essential that you need to track down, but if you do, and you give it a chance, you won't regret it.