Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Ichigeku Sachuu!! Hoihoi-san (PS2)

In the year 20XX, the face of pest control is small robots with live weapons, just like in the 2000AD series Banzai Battalion, though unlike Banzai Battalion, this is a Japanese videogame from 2003, so the robot in question is a tiny maid. Anyway, I think the plot is that you're some guy who's bought one of these robots and set up a small business for himself hiring it out to kill the insects in his neighbours' houses, since Japan is a warm, humid country and therefore, full of huge insects with no respect for human privacy.

It's nota very good business model, though, since the fees he collects for this task barely cover the cost of ammunition for Hoihoi's guns. You will be able to afford the best melee weapon after only a few stages, and that coupled with a mastery of sneaking up on the bugs that like to run away, will save you a lot of bullets, and therefore money.

I haven't really explained the game at all yet, have I? It's a 3D third person shooter, that's very much from a bygone age. We've all complained about how a lot of modern 3D games feel very similar, due to them all using near-identical control schemes where the left analogue stick moves your character, and the right moves the camera around them. Hoihoi-san is from the days when a lot of developers hadn't really figured this out yet, so while the left analogue stick does move Hoihoi around, the right stick does nothing at all, the player's only control of the camera being the L1 button putting it directly behind Hoihoi. If you're wondering about aiming your guns, well that's all automatic: if you're near an enemy, a red crosshair will appear on it, and you can shoot them.

The incredibly dated controls aside, this is a pretty good game! It's nothing special, but it looks alright, it's cute, and smashing bugs is very satisfying. Another thing to note about the bugs is that having them be normal-sized and shrinking the player down to their level is far creepier than the typical videogame approach of having normal-sized protagonists and giant bugs. And though all the characters and the stages are cartoony, the bugs are fairly realistic-looking, making them even creepier. The stages are obviously all rooms in people's houses: living rooms, basements, kitchens, etc. You can tell that you're in a different person's house on different stages, though, as different people have different sets of belongings and tastes in decor, which is another nice little touch.

Though it isn't a bad game, I can't really recommend playing Ichigeku Sachii!! Hoihoi-san. Like I've said, it's incredibly dated, and it's also pretty frustrating at first, until you get used to all its little idiosyncracies, and there just isn't anything about it that's interesting or exciting enough to get past its faults.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Penky (Arcade)

It's a tragic thing, when a game has an interesting concept, but poor execution, and Penky represents one such tragedy. The base concept is actually pretty cool, and so simple and obvious that I'm surprised I haven't seen it done before: You walk around painting the floor, like in the old ame Crush Roller, but rather than just avoiding enemies and trying to paint the whole floor of the stage, you are instead competing with another floor painter to have most of the floor yur colour when the time runs out. I guess it's also a little like Splatoon too?

Unfortunately, Penky is a product of Yunsung, a Korean developer whos games have been featured on this blog before, pretty much exclusively in reference to their habit of making poor-quality knock-offs of Compile games. So it might not be an original concept at all, but just stolen from another game of which I'm not aware. All the typical hallmarks of poor games from mainland Asia are in full effect, though: stuff happening onscreen for no reason, low quality sampled music stolen from other sources (including at least one track from the excellent Mega Drive shooting game Thunderforce IV), ugly characters that look like depressing poundshop toys, and a general air of cheapness.

The negativity isn't just confined to the game's presentation, either: it also plays really badly. Now, the aim, as I've already stated, is to make most of the floor your colour before time runs out. So fast movement should be key, right? And there is a power-up that makes you move very fast for a couple of seconds. The problem is that there's also a bunch more power-ups that don't seem to do anything at all, and a lot of the time your character will be slowed to a crawl, or even just randomly stopping to do a stupid pose, both with no obvious reason or explanation. Also, during the matches, other characters will sometimes appear and wander around, clearing both player's colour wherever they tread. All this adds up to a game that's competitive in concept, but completely down to random chance in practice, making it a useless waste of time.

There's other problems too, like how, if you're playing single player, you'll just fight the same opponent over and over on different stages, no matter how many times you beat them. But really, talking about Penky any longer would just be flogging a dead horse. All you need to know is that it's awful and you shouldn't bother playing it.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Curiosities Vol. 11 - Tarot Uranai (3DO)

Although they've been around since at least the mid-80s, you'd think that tarot computer programs would be pretty useless to anyone. If you don't believe in cartomancy, then any kind of tarot, digital or otherwise, is a total waste of time, and if you do, then you'd also presumably know about the various taboos and traditions regarding the touching of cards, and how they're meant to come into the posession of the reader, and so on. But they do exist, and I'm pretty sure they're still around on things like the soon-dead X Box Live Indie Games marketplace, and on mobile phones and the like, too (Though I haven't actually checked, it seems like a safe bet).

Tarot Uranai has something over any of the other tarot programs I've seen, though: production values! Every other example I've seen has either been a very low-fi pixel art dealy on 8-bit formats like the MSX or Game Gear, or maybe even just a secret mode in a proper game like the Playstation port of Puzzle Bobble 4. But Tarot Uranai is on the 3DO, and of course that means FMV and pre-rendered CGI!

So yeah, there's a nice, short CGI intro showing some trees, and then you're presented with a room with three doors, representing three different options. The left door has a cross on it, and takes you to a traditional kind of reading, where a bunch of cards are drawn and laid out in a specific pattern. The middle door has a kind of magic circle design on it, and takes you to a big crystal with the works love, money, business and health. You pick one, and the cards are shuffled, then placed in a big circle, from which you pick one, which I guess reveals your future in that aspect of your life. The final door has a book on it, and contains a little tarot database, where you can look up all the cards and their meanings and such. Whichever option you pick, everything is presented and explained by a Japanese woman with a scarf covering her face speaking in front of bluescreened-in CGI backgrounds.

Like I said earlier, Tarot Uranai is a program with no real utility to anyone, especially people who can't read or understand Japanese. But it's not completely worthless! It does have a great aesthetic that perfectly marries early 90s CGI and a kind of vague pseudo-mysticism in a nice way, that feels like it could have been used as part of the plot-of-the-week in something like the live action Eko Eko Azarak TV series.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Action Hollywood (Arcade)

A derogatory term that's popped up with regards to modern open-world games is "tidying up games", referring to the fact that they're all mostly the same mechanically, and that they all give you a large, open playing area and a checklist of things to go and "tidy". They're very popular games, though, since while they aren't particularly exciting, they aren't really bad, either, and until a player cottons on to the fact that they aren't being excited or stimulated, they can be both addictive and time-consuming.

In many ways, Action Hollywood is a kind of forbear to those games, though purely by coincidence, since this game was never popular enough to have influenced anything. Not only is it completely inoffensive and unexciting, but it's a game about walking around maps tidying them up. Well, you're walking on floor tiles to change their colour, rather than picking things up, but mechanically speaking, it's the same thing. There's also lots of extra points items hidden in the walls, and enemies roaming around.

You can't say they didn't at least try to get a bit of excitement in there,  since there's a slightly Bubble Bobble-esque thing regarding the enemies. When attacked, they fly away from you until they hit a wall. Any enemies they hit along the way are killed, and killed enemies drop points items. You can also kill enemies by hitting while they're dizzy next to a wall. Its' still not enough, though, as there's just no satisfaction in doing it.

The "Hollywood" theme is an excuse for having stages with different themes: jungles, medieval, gothic horror and sci-fi, and you can pick which one to start on. An odd thing to note is that a short sample of the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme repeatedly plays during the castle stages. They all play exactly the same, though, other than different graphic sets (including different spprites for the player character, which is something, at least).

In summary, Action Hollywood is an incredibly average game that is neither good nor bad, it simply exists and takes up time. If it was a game that came packaged with a computer's operating system like Solitaire, that'd be fine, but it's an arcade game, and the makers expected people to pay to play it, which is practically an insult.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Crest of Wolf (PC Engine)

So, Crest of Wolf, which is also known as Riot Zone, is a port of the arcade game Riot City. Wikipedia says that the reason for all this is that while Westone owned the rights to the game itself, while SEGA owned the title and all the characters. I don't know how true that is, but since it sounds like the arrangement that lead to the altered PC Engine ports of the Wonderboy in Monsterland games, it seems plausible.

Anyway, it's a pretty average beat em up, of the kind that sprouted up in their dozenns in the early 90s, following the release of Final Fight. It doesn't do anything particularly interesting or innovative with the forumla, with the characters only having pretty basic movesets, and there aren't even any weapons to pick up and use. To make things even worse, this port of the game doesn't even have a two-player mode, which is a particular shame, since I was looking forward to playing this co-op when I eventually got round to getting a multitap and another controller for my PC Engine.

It does have something in its favour, though: its aesthetic and presentation! The usual beat em up influences of Hokuto no Ken, The Warriors and Streets of Fire aren't so present in Crest of Wolf, and in their place is something a little more interesting. The game takes place in a very chinese-looking lawless island city that's reminiscent of the real-life Kowloon Walled City, which was in the process of being demolished when this game came out in 1993. Another possible inspiration that came to mind when I saw the mouldy concrete, rotting brickwork and general dilapidation of the locales seen in the game is Jademan Wong's comic Oriental Heroes, specifically the late 1980s incarnation that got a run translated into English.

It's not only original, but also really atmospheric, even with minimal animation. There's one part in particular that really caught my imagination: near the start of stage three, you fight in front of a seedy mahjong parlour, with people crowded round small tables, sat on stools and chain-smoking as mice scrurry back and forth across the floor. The boss of the same stage is an evil acupuncturist who you fight in his office, with diagrams on the walls and so on. I don't know why more games haven't used a similar setting.

So yeah, on a purely mechanical level, Crest of Wolf isn't anything special. It's not bad, but it's not a lost gem of the genre or anything, either. I think the setting and the atmosphere more than make up for that, though, and it's a game that's definitely worth your time.