Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Shinseiki Evangelion: Battle Orchestra (PS2)

Considering what a huge merchandising juggernaut Neon Genesis Evangelion is, it's surprising that not a single one of the videogames based on it (as far as I'm aware) has ever been released outside Japan. The might have something to do with the fact that despite being a super robot show, most Evangelion games are text-heavy things like adventure games and child-rearing simulators, which don't have big fanbases in the west . But there are a few action games, like this one, and the one on N64, which have also been passed over for westward release.

A certain kind of fan might be a little upset with the above paragraph, thinking I'm not showing Evangelion the proper amount of respect and reverence by referring to it as a super robot show, but that's what it is, and furthermore, this game is similarly irreverent. For a start, it's a Smash Bros.-esque party fighting game, with platforms and weapons and so on (though all the weapons are realistic things like missiles and axes, no squeaky hammers or anything), and it uses characters and locations from not only the series itself, but also from the movie End of Evangelion. So you can have fights atop a bunch of navy ships in the ocean, in the flooded remains of Tokyo, and even in places like the Seele room where all those talking slabs hang out at say ominous things to each other. The best stage of all, however, is Terminal Dogma, the place where the angel Lilith is crucified, bleeding LCL. This stage also serves as the game's "Final Destination", being just a flat plain with no special features or gimmicks.

The game's story mode lets you play as  any of the five kids who pilot evas over the course of the series, and it goes pretty much as you expect: you just take part in battles from the show, one after another. More interesting are the versus and survival modes, though, as they allow you to play as the angels, as well as some other oddities, like the mass-produced Evas from EoE, and there's even a guest character in the form of the Gunbuster! (Though it must be a shrunken-down version, since the actual Gunbuster was on a significantly larger scale than the Evas and angels.) The best part of this is that the selection isn't limited to those angels that are vaguely anthropomorphic: the d8-shaped Ramiel, spherical Leilel, and just plain strange Sahaquiel are all present. I'm sure I've said in previous that I'm not a big fan of Smash-likes, but I think Battle Orchestra has enough weird stuff in it to be worth a look, and the inclusion of such strange playable characters adds a lot of appeal.

So yeah, I'm surprised this game isn't already better known, since it's one of the few Evangelion videogames that's totally playable without knowledge of Japanese, plus it's actually pretty good for what it is. I should also mention that on top of everything else, it looks amazing, a ton of effort has obviously gone into the presentation, both in battle and in the menus. It's a bit of a copout, but I'll just end by saying that if you're a fan of Evangelion, and not averse to having a bit of illy fun with it, you should totally track this game down. If not, you probably shouldn't bother.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Soreyuke! Amida-kun! (Game Boy)

So, I'm sure you've all seen the Amida lot-drawing system somewhere at some point, whether it's in the bonus stages for Super Mario Land 2 or Psycho Fox, or that episode of Cardcaptor Sakura where Syaoran gets picked to be the princess in the school play. In case you haven't, how it works is that there's a bunch of vertical lines with different results at one end, and all these lines are connected at random by vertical lines. Normally, the middle area with all the vertical lines would be covered up while everyone chooses a starting point. After everyone has chosen a starting point, they go down the path they've selected, with the twist being that every time they come to a horizontal line, they have to go across it, and since they were all hidden when the paths were chosen, no-one knows where they'll end up.

In Soreyuke! Amida-Kun (also known as just "Amida"), you control a sentient, mobile vertical line. There's a round Kirby-like creature on each stge who wants to get home, and you have to get them there, while ensuring they don't walk into any skulls, which are at all the ends of the vertical paths that aren't home, as well as on some of the horizontal paths too. Obviously, you do this by moving around and actng as a bridge so that the creature crosses at all the right places.

The stages start out pretty simple, with only a few vertical paths and regular old horizontals dotted about. As the game goes on, though, more vertical paths get added, as well as different kinds of paths joining them, starting with diagonal paths, which act the same as horizontals, but take up more room. Then later there's paths that just send your little blob back the way from whence they came, and others that teleport them to a different part of the stage, and so on. Like most fixed puzzle games, it starts out simple, and gets more complex and difficult by scaling up the size of the problems and adding new elements. It actually gets pretty difficult surprisingly quickly, once you get past the first few stages.

There's not really much more to be said about this game. If it sounds interesting, give it a shot, but don't expect anything spectacular.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Demolish Fist (Arcade)

At some point in the mid-late 1990s, beat em ups as a genre entered something of a drought, from which the genre's never really recovered. While shooting games and 2D platformers have plenty of great representatives from both mainstream and independent developers, new beat em ups are few and far between, and a lot of the time, they're ruined by the kinds of stupid game-killing design choices I've complained about in many, many posts on this blog before: levelling up/skill shops, negative difficulty curves, and a new one I only discovered recently: there's a game available on PS4 and PC called Mother Russia Bleeds, and the lives/continue system is so broken as to make it impossible to get a game over (as far as I could tell), rendering the game completely pointless.

But anyway, that drought. It was still very much in effect in 2003, when Demolish Fist was released, and even among the few beat em ups released about that time, this one stands out by being more traditional. Though it's entirely in 3D and you can move and face in all eight directions, the camera sticks rigidly in one position (not counting cutscenes, obviously), making the game play like a regular, old-fashioned belt scroller. And it does a great job of it, too! You walk along, beat up crowds of bad guys, pick up weapons and power-ups and a good time is had by all.

Of course, every beat em up needs to have a gimmick to make it stand out, even if it has no contemporary competitors, and Demolish Fist actually has a few! Firstly, there's a block button. It's not a massive thing, but it's still something that a lot of beat em ups don't have. Secondly, the game takes an approach to weaponry akin to Two Crude Dudes or Dynamite Deka, having tons of stuff available to pick up and swing and/or throw: cattleprods, baseball bats with nails hammered into the end, swords, electrified gloves, fuel tanks, vending machines, motorcycles, cars and so on. The final, and most unique gimmick is the vertigo system. You get a power bar that fills up from attacking enemies, like in many other games. When it fills up, you can press all three buttons to enter vertigo mode, during which you're not only invincible, but you can also attack as fast as you're able to hammer the attack button. This lasts for ten seconds or until every enemy present has been defeated, and it never gets old or stops being satisfying.

I also want to talk about this game's setting and aesthetic, which I like as much as the game itself. It's a kind of look that was used in a lot of anime and Japanese videogames around the turn of the century that I'm going to call "sunset dystopia", a world where there hasn't been any kind of cataclysmic event, but it's just kind of lurching slowly towards an eventual apocalypse through societal entropy that's just on the horizon. I guess other examples of the look would be Daraku Tenshi, King of Fighters 99, and Crimson Tears.

So yeah, Demolish Fist is an excellent game. If you're able to play it (and most fairly modern computers should be able to emulate the Atomiswave at a decent speed by now. My pre-owned laptop can manage it, even!), then you definitely should.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Real Fighter (PC)

If you go back and play the original Virtua Fighter, you'll find a pretty fun game, and I'm you'll also agree that though the character models and textures are simple, there's a lot of life in them, and the animation in particular is more lifelike and realistic than any fighting game that had come before it. Back in the early-mid 1990s, however, I didn't live near any arcades, nor was I rich enough to have a 32X or a Saturn. So I'd see still screenshots of SEGA's fighting game, and wonder why all the writers were losing their minds over what looked like two piles of boxes engaging in combat.

I bring all this up to make something clear to you: you might look at the screenshots of Real Fighter in this review and assume that it's a similar scenario, that it looks bad in still pictures, but in motion it takes on a whole new life. You would be very wrong to assume this. In fact, Real Fighter actually looks worse in motion than it does in still screenshots. The characters look only very vaguely human at the best of times, their fighting stances look ridiculous and when they move, it's something akin to someone picking up an action figure and seeing how far in each direction every point of articulation goes, attempting to make the most impossible poses they can.

Actually playing the game isn't any better. Like Virtua Fighter, you have buttons for punch, kick and guard. Guard works exactly as you'd expect, punch will make a punch happen maybe one of every ten times you press it, and kick will usually produce something that's kind of like a kick or series of kicks. The two characters will sort of randomly flail at each other for a while, until one of them either runs out of health or falls off the stage. None of this is helped by the camera, that changes angles completely at random, presumably in an ill-fated attempt at being cinematic.

I might be being a little too harsh on Real Fighter, since it is, after all, Korea's first ever 3D fighting game (as far as I can tell, it might also be the only Korean 3D fighting game, as all the others I've seen, before and since, have been 2D), but it's just an ugly, boring waste of time. Don't bother playing it, except for reasons of historical curiosity.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Simple 2000 Series Vol. 112: The Tousou Highway 2 ~Road Warrior 2050~

You have to admit, just looking at the title, that this game has a lot of potential right from the start. Of course, it's a Simple Series title and it's yet another game on this blog by Tamsoft, so I still approached with some caution, knowing that the higher I raised my hopes for a cool Mad Max knockoff game, the more likely they'd be dashed, and the game would turn out to be some awful fiddly rubbish.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded, and though the game's low budget did result in some minor problems, like all the stages looking the same, The Tousou Highway 2 is easily one of the best the Simple 2000 Series has to offer. The premise, as far as I can tell, is that in the post-apocalyptic future, your wife/sister/friend/some random woman is dying in Nagoya, and you have to drive your precious cargo of medicine to her from Tokyo in under four hours. Obviously, between the two cities there are an endless amount of goons riding motorbikes and armoured cars who want to stop you, though I have no idea way.So you drive across a number of stages, shooting enemies as you go, and that four hour time limit is in real time, though it doesn't count time you spend in the pause menu or the shop/pitstop screen.

 A few months ago, I played through the 2015 Mad Max game on PS4, and while most of the game was a fairly standard (though very pretty) map-tidying open world dealy, the vehicular combat was probably the best I've ever seen, especially during the convoy chases. Tousou Highway 2, being a low-budget game from nearly a decade before Mad Max came out, obviously can't match up to the newer game in terms of sophistication, but the thing is, after I'd finished Mad Max, I said "I wish there was a game that was just the convoy battles from this", and Tousou Highway 2 is pretty close to that!

It's a very very simple version of that, but still: you get to hurtle down the highway in a cool-looking post-apocalyptic car, constantly killing bandits, either by gunfire or just by smashing through them with your car, and it all takes place in the crumbling ruins of the twenty-first century. It feels fast, killing bad guys is fun and satisfying and it's just great all-round. Well, that part of the game is,at least. Once every stage or so, you'll have to stop your car and get out, because the bad guys have built a barricade. You go in the barricade and fight a whole bunch of goons on foot, sometimes accompanied by a heavily-armed boss. Once they're all dead, the barricade explodes and you can get back in you car and be on your merry way. It's not exactly terrible, but it does break the flow a little bit.

The only other problem I have with the game is that it's incredibly easy. You hardly take any damage (which is represented by an image of the vial of medicine gradually cracking), and when you do, there are more healing items around for you to stockpile than you'll ever need. Furthermore, the time limit is no challenge, either, as on my first attempt I finished the game with over an hour and a half left over. But even taking those few small qualms into account, I definitely recommend seeking this game out and giving it a go. It's excellent.