Friday, 27 October 2017

Lethal Crash Race (Arcade)

Lethal Crash Race is a game that can pay testament to the incredible popularity and influence of Street Fighter II on the arcade scene of the early nineties, as though it's not a fighting game, it clearly takes a lot of influence from Capcom's epoch-defining game. That's not to say that it's one of those racing games that's heavy on the fantasy and violence: though a lot of effort has clearly gone into ensuring that ramming your opponent's car is fun and satisfying, it's not an essential part of winning, nor are there projectile weapons or other power ups to be collected on the track.

Instead the influence is more structural and stylistic. There are eight characters to choose from, each with their own cars (all of which are mis-spelled knock-offs of real cars), and their own stages. Their own stages because rather than being a game in which you race a whole load of cars round stadiums for several laps, Lethal Crash Race instead has short one-on-one races of about a minute in length, along various linear tracks all across the world. Not only that, but each character also has different quotes for the beginning and end of each race, my favourite being the rich old man who cheerily declares "this might be my last race."

It's got a really nice feel to it, it's fast and smooth, and as mentioned, bashing into your opponent is satisfying. You're not going to destroy them, but you can knock them off the road, and into rivers or other obstacles. It looks great, too: though the style of the time was all sprite scaling, moving into low poly models, Lethal Crash Race puts up a good fight with its top-down view, having great-looking cars and nicely detailed stages. It looks kind of like if Grand Theft Auto was fully 2D and a bit more detailed and zoomed in, and since it's set up so that your car is always driving up the screen, there's a really cool rotating camera effect on tracks with big round turns.

Lethal Crash Race is a fun game with a cool and interesting concept and lots of charm, and I recommend that you go and play it. It's also yet another game that could easily have been ported to consoles, but inexplicably never was, and probably never will be.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Paneltia Story: Kerun no Daibouken (Saturn)

The "rebuild the world" RPG is a grand old tradition, dating back to at least the early nineties with games like Terranigma (if there are any such games pre-16 bit, I don't know about them), and still lingers today with the likes of Dragon Quest Builders and maybe even Fallout 4 could be considered an entry, with its focus on taking an active hand in rebuilding civilisation. Paneltia Story is one of the rare examples of a 32-bit example (again, I can't think of any others, so if you can, please tell me!), though I'm not sure if you're rebuilding a world, or building a new one in your dreams, since I can't read any of the plot.

Anyway, it doesn't look particularly impressive, and doesn't really contain anything that couldn't have been done on the Mega Drive or SNES, as the RPG part of the game is very very old-fashioned, not only aesthetically, but also mechanically. You've got a top-down view, Dragon-Quest-style first person battles with static monster sprites and so on, and lots and lots of reused graphics. The battles are really unexciting affairs, too: in the oldest-school style, you and they monsters simply take turns hitting each other until one side runs out of HP. It's unfair to completely judge Paneltia Story as a pure RPG though, as a lot of the game revolves around the whole building gimmick.

Building works like this: each stage starts as a big empty void with a town floating in it, though as you start, the town is just an inn and a small shop. You start off with a few panels that you can place in the void, and they can have mountains, forests, rocks or water on them, or they can just be an empty plain. After you've placed a few, you can go and explore them, fighting monsters to gain experience and more panels. When you place a panel on certain (invisible) spaces, a fairy will appear and give you a town panel, which can only be placed on top of your starting town, to which they add more people and buildings. In the map-building menu, you can also look at instructions for making dungeons appear on the map, like say, place a forest panel and surround it with mountain panels, for example. Then the entrance to a dungeon will appear in the forest panels. Go to the dungeon, beat the boss, and then go to the next stage to start all over again, but with new monsters that have higher stats.

Well, I say that, but the second stage has a slightly different structure (though graphically, it and its starting town use the exact same tilesets as the first stage, which is a disappointment). For a start, the dungeon is already on the map, and you don't have any special instructions in the map menu. So you go to the boss, and there's a bit of dialogue beefore you're kicked out of the dungeon. You do now have some instructions though, and using them makes a little cave with a treasure chest in it appear. This is unfortunately, as far as I managed to get, though. I went back to the boss, and the same thing happened as before, but without any new instructions this time, and I have no idea how to proceed further.

Paneltia Story is still a somewhat interesting game, though. Playing it might be overly simple to the point of tedium, but it does have some interesting ideas, and I did have the hope of seeing if there were more of them as the game goes on. I also hope that there's more tilesets and different kinds of panel later in the game, too. I did try and find a walkthrough or a longplay video, and try and figure out what I was doing wrong, but there's nothing as far as I can see, on GameFAQs, Youtube or even Niconico. If you're Japanese-literate, and have the patience for not-particularly-exciting RPG mechanics, then you might find something interesting in Paneltia, and if you do, please satisfy my curiosity and tell me all about it!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Tsuushin Taisen Logic Battle Daisessen (Dreamcast)

I feel like I'm playing a lot of games recently that can be described as a kind of combination of elements from other games, and this is one of them. The constituent parts in this case being Battleship and Minesweeper, both grid-based games about naval combat, though this game is themed around the inhabitants of a floating island where it's always springtime, but is currently suffering a terrible winter. That's really all I know about the plot, so let's just move on to the game itself, the explanation of which is going to be fairly lengthy.

The first thing you do before you even try to enter battle is decide your formations. You start with twenty soldiers, called "Bingos", and you can place them on your 10x10 grid in small formations called boards (kind of like your different ships in Battleship, but more varied in shape). As you win battles, you'll gradually be given more Bingos (Bingoes?) to play with, and you'll earn currency that can be spent on buying more boards, in bigger sizes and a wider variety of shapes. The importance of the boards you pick and wherre you place them will become apparent when you actually get into battle, which is where things get a bit more complex and nerdy-sounding, so be warned as you enter the next paragraph.

In battle, you start off with ten power points, and your choice from the boards you have on the grid. Whichever board you choose costs as many points as the number of bingos of which it is composed, and you use it to attack, in a Battleship-esque manner, placing its shape on the opponent's grid. If you found any of your opponent's bingos, they'll be revealed, and once you reveal one of your opponent's boards entirely, it'll be destroyed and they can no longer attack with it. Missed attacks aren't completely useless, as on your subsequent turns, places where you've attacked but there wasn't a bingo will be marked in one of two ways: if there are no bingos vertically or horizontally adjacent to the empty square, it'll show as a white cross, and if there are, there'll be a green exclamation mark there. At the start of a new turn, you'll get back one power point, plus any bonus power points you got for destroying boards. Obviously, once you're done, your opponent will do the same until one of you is left without bingos and declared the loser.

It's a pretty amusing game, but nothing special. I have to say that there are multiplayer modes that I wasn't able to play: one online, and one offline. The offline multiplayer mode apparently has the players' grids shown on the VMU screen in their respective controllers for the sake of privacy, like your hand of cards in Sonic Shuffle. It's a shame it's fallen into the Mariana Trench of forgotten games, as a nice convenient PC version to play for 10 minutes while wating for something else would be really nice.

If you like the sound of it, I recommend Tsuushin Taisen Logic Battle Daisessen. The thing to remember though, is that it's one of those Windows CE Dreamcast games, and as far as I know, the only emulator that runs them is Demul, which can be a bit weird and temperamental.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Penguin-kun Wars 2 (MSX)

There's a chance you might have played the first Penguin-kun Wars game, which was ported to the NES and Game Boy and released in the west as King of the Zoo, but in case you haven't, it was about a fictional sport played by cute animals.

The sport itself (which doesn't have a name, as far as I can tell) is a kind of combination of bowling and dodgeball: the participants stand at either end of a flat plain, each starting with five balls. The aim is to roll the balls over to your opponent's side, with the winner being either the first to get all ten balls on their opponent's side, or the one with the least balls on their side when time runs out. Furthermore, if you hit your opponent with a ball, they're stunned for a few seconds (or vice versa, obviously).

In the first game, this was all there was to it. It had a sports tournament setting, and you simple faced off against increasingly skilled opponents as you advanced. The second game, however, has a (very simple) plot: you go to  the house of your friend to play, only to see them getting kidnapped! So you go off to rescue them. An additional cute touch is that you can pick a male or female penguin to play as, and the one you don't pick is who gets kidnapped. As you're not participating in a sports tournament this time, your opponents don't play fair. There are multiple areas (Mammal World, Insect World, Reptile World, etc.), each with a few opponents to beat. Most of your opponents have some kind of special ability that they have no qualms about abusing, such as the shark, who can't be stunned, instead turning red and ramping up the aggression if you hit him, or the ants, who's special ability is that there are two of them, so if you stun one, the other can still move. The exception is Mammal World, where the locals just seem to be mediocre players that you won't have too much trouble beating.

After you've beaten three opponents in an area, you fight that area's boss, who has even more unfair abilities. For example, the boss of Insect World is a centipede, who takes up his entire side of the field, can throw every ball he has at once and takes multiple hits before getting stunned. There's no versus mode, and I think that's probably for the best: though it's a kind of sports game at its core, Penguin-kun Wars 2 is structured more like a single player action game, with stages and boss fights and so on, and as such is balanced heavily against the player.

Before the review ends, it would be remiss to allow the presentation to go unmentioned, as it's pretty nice for a 1988 MSX game. Each stage has its own background, with an audience of whatever animals live there. One stage, Antarctic World, has a few humans in the crowd, which is odd. Another cool touch is that each stage has unique game over and stage complete screens. It really feels like the developers were enthusiastic about making this game, but unfortunately, that enthusiasm has mainly gone into including as many ideas and variations on the core mechanics as possible, with little regard as to how balanced it all is.

If you're a particularly big fan of the original, and you're desperately clamouring for more, then that's exactly what you'll get from this sequel. I can't help but feel that that's an incredibly tiny niche, though, even by the standards of this blog.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Hokuto no Ken 2: Seikimatsu Kyuseishu Densetsu (NES)

I wasn't aware of this when I started playing this game, but it did actually get localised and released in North America as Fist of the North Star, despite covering a part of the series that wouldn't get an official tranlation until many years later. But the JP version is the version I've played (since I picked up a real copy of it to play on my portable Famiclone), so that's what I'll be talking about. I haven't played the western version, but the reviews on GameFAQs all seem to be describing a completely different game to this one: one where the player has an infinitely regenerating health bar, and the first stage is an endless maze of secret rooms.

Anyway, it's a fairly standard single-plane beat em up in which you play as Kenshiro, and you go from left to right punching goons, until you get to a boss, who needs to be punched several times. A nice touch is that regular enemies and bosses alike will get a cool little death animation where they stand in place getting all warped and distorted for a second or two before shattering into many little pieces, just like in the show! It's a lot more effective than the deaths in the Mega Drive Hokuto no Ken game (also known in its mangled form as Last Battle), where the enemies just kind of fall backwards and turn into a little red splodge.

Anyway, once you figure out the little things like the power ups (tiny words float out of dead enemies. Collecting them increases your power, which mainly improves your movement and attack speed. Every twenty dead enemies fills up another meter bit-by-bit, and when you're at full power, your jacket explodes and you can toplessly shoot slightly useless projectiles) and the game's idiosyncratic collision detection (basically, only the tip of your fist/foot can hurt enemies, and only if it's touching the edge of their sprite), this is a pretty enjoyable game. Smashing enemies to bits is nice and satisfying, and all the bosses and sub-bosses have their own techniques and strategies. It's nothing special, but it's a fairly fun little romp.

What I like most about the game, though, is the way it looks. I've already mentioned the enemies' death animations, but Kenshiro himself has a very distinctive little sprite, the bosses all look unique, the backgrounds look like the gritty post-apocalyptic stone fortresses that they are, and so on. Anyway, it's by no means a classic, but it is a game that holds enough fun to justify the miniscule price it fetches online, and if you like super low resolution sprites and/or Hokuto no Ken, it's definitely worth a look.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Wild Riders (Arcade)

Like usual with arcade racing games, I'll start with the disclaimer that I was playing this on a PC emulator with a regualr game controller, not a real, motorcycle-shaped sit-down arcade cabinet. I'll also add the extra caveat that the emulation of this game is somewhat less than perfect, so the real thing is even more preferred than usual. But I guess that most people reading this, were they to play Wild Riders, would be doing so via emulation anyway, so I guess it doesn't really matter that much.

Anyway, Wild Riders is a very SEGA racing game, in which you play as one of two motorbike gang members on the run from the cops in a place called Massive City, which looks like a perfect blue-skied version of Beverly Hills from an 80s cartoon. Of course, you go smashing through parks, pool parties, fancy restaurants and hotels, and so on, all while any pedestrians jump out of the way without fail, ala Crazy Taxi. It all looks incredible too, with a cel-shaded style, incredibly bold colours on everything, and cool little stylistic things like character close-ups appearing in little comic panels.

It also plays pretty great: fast and smooth, just like you'd expect from a SEGA racing game. There's a few unique gimmicks too! Firstly, instead of a traditional time limit, since you're on the run, the counter at the top of the screen shows how many metres away they are from catching you. The number goes up and down depending on how well you're doing, and you can get bigger boosts by exploiting the game's other main gimmick. That other gimmick is that there are various obstacles that you can either jump off of or slide underneath. On a real cabinet, this is done by pulling up or pushing down on the bike's handlebars, while in emulation, you can just map these functions to buttons on your controller, they don't need to be analogue.

The only downside, and probably the reason it never got any ports to home consoles is the length: obviously an arcade game isn't going to be long, but I finished Wild Riders on my second attempt, and there's no Outrun-style branching paths or Crazy Taxi-style free roaming to add variety to repeated playthroughs, leaving you with a game that's beautiful and exciting, but essentially only for five minutes. I guess if a particular arcade had a lot of players all competing for the top score, that'd cause a lot of repeat play, but even in 2001 that'd be a very big if. Any console port would need a lot of additional stuff added, and at a time where SEGA were leaking money all over the place, doing all that for a game with no name recognition probably wasn't a priority.

So yeah, Wild Riders is a (condensed) ton of fun, and looks amazing. It's also, however, probably the most demanding game that runs on Naomi 2 hardware, so if you have a computer that can handle the emulation, it's definitely worth a look.