Thursday, 27 December 2018

Buddhagillie (MSX)

In the US and UK, at least, Wisdom Tree's selection of platformers about biblical figures carrying things on top of their heads are what we mostly think of, when we think of religious videogames. They also have a reputation (that they totally, one hundred percent deserve) for being awful to the point of near-unplayability. But of course, there are videogames with religious themes other than those relating to Christianity in the world, such as the 2006 Judaism-themed adventure game The Shivah, and though I can't remember the name, I definitely remember seeing a video of an Islamic-themed Tomb Raider-like a few years ago. And more infamously there's a game about (possibly even by?) the Aum Shinrikyo sect on PC88. But, as you might have gathered from the title, Buddhagillie is a game about Buddhism.

You play as the Buddha, with the aim of making all sentient beings your equal. This is done by going into hell and fighting the four sufferings (birth, aging, sickness and death), and absorbing the karma they spit out to power your mantra. You can only fly around the left half of the screen, you see, and the beings you hope to free from the circle of reincarnation: demons, asura, humans, gods and so on, all appear on the right side of the screen. So you have to use you sword to absorb karma, to power your mantra nad fire it at them. In gameplay terms, you slash small enemies with your sword by tapping the attack button. Holding the attack button lets you block their bullets, and absorb them. After you've absorbed bullets, you'll shoot your own on the last attack of your three-slash sword attack chain.

So, this is basically a decently-designed shooting game, with a few interesting ideas, and even a proper scoring system. Though those aren't surprising, since it's a homebrew game from 2018 released for free on the internet, and not actually a commercial MSX game from the 1980s. Whether you interpret it as an actual work of religious devotion, or you just see the Buddhist content as a bit of aesthetic flavour, it can't be denied that it does make the game stand out: there's not many games that look like this in the world, or that have selected quotes from the Buddha onscreen at all times.

But is it actually good? Yes! Like I said, it's got interesting ideas, and a proper, functional scoring system (that mainly centers around killing multiple small enemies with one three-hit chain), and it's pretty addictive, too. The only real complaint I have is the fault of the host hardware, rather than the game itself, and it's that there's quite a bit of sprite flicker, and it's very frustrating getting killed by a temporarily-invisible bullet.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Shanghai Kid (Arcade)

Also known as Hokuha Syourin Hiryu no Ken, Shanghai Kid is the first in the long-running Hiryu no Ken series of fighting games and beat em ups. The last entries in the series were on the Playstation and N64, so I guess it just wasn't able to survive the move to 3D, though I'll save that talk for another time, as I do intend to cover a few other games in this series at some point in the future, but for now: back to Shanghai Kid. It looks like an early fighting game, though it's really more of an attempt at a more complex (for the time) martial arts simulator-type game.

The structure is the same as most fighting games even to this day: you fight a series of gradually more difficult opponents. The difference is in how the fighting takes place, and how you control your character, as the developers came up with a system that allows for quite a bit of sophistication using only two buttons and an eight-way joystick, long before special move motions or combos had been invented. The two buttons are predictably assigned to punch and kick, but the interesting stuff comes in the form of the joystick. Though you can walk left and right, jump, and crouch, those aren't the things you'll mainly be using the joystick for. Instead, the game uses a system of high, middle, and low attacks, as well as corresponding blocks.

The way this works is almost turn-based in its execution. There are red circles that will appear on you or your opponent, at the head, feet, or torso level. When a circle appears on you, you just press the joystick up, down, or sideways to block the incoming attack. When it appears on the opponent, you do the same, but you press punch or kick at the same time, to attack your opponent's temporary blind spot. Obviously, as the game goes on, and the difficulty of opponents increases, so does the speed at which circles appear, disappear, or change places. Another complication is that a few fights in, you start facing special opponents (including one that happens to look exactly like Tiger Mask! There are probably otther unofficial appearances from old manga characters too, that I haven't recognised) who have unique attacks, for which you'll need to figure out the most effective evasive maneuvers.

I really like Shanghai Kid, it's an interesting game, and the Hiryu no Ken series is interesting to me in general, so like I said earlier, expect to see some of the sequels covered here at some point in the future. Until then, obviously I recommend giving this game a try!

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Tenma de Jack - Odoroki Mamenoki Daitoubou!! (Playstation)

The early days of 3D platforming were a little odd, as developers came up with their own ideas as to how what was probably the most popular genre on home systems at the time would work in 3D. Games like Pandemonium and Klonoa just played like 2D platformers, but with amazing-looking polygon graphics. Crash Bandicoot turned things sideways and had players going in a fairly linear path into the screen, instead of across it. Mario 64, Croc, and Spyro, between them, took what would become the most popular approach: huge 3d worlds to run and jump around in. But there was another approach that's been mostly forgotten by history: Bug on the saturn had players navigating netowrks of thin paths suspended in space, and had almost no imitators. In fact, this game: Tenma de Jack - Odoroki Mamenoki Daitoubou is the only one that I know of, coming out on Playstation in the year 2000.

Tenma de Jack's paths aren't floating in total isolation though: despite the protagonist being a weird blue goblin with a detachable head, he's actually the folkloric Jack, and the whole game is about climbing his famous and popular beanstalk, which runs up through the centre of each stage, and in most cases, can be jumped onto and climbed up, too. There's a few things stopping you from just jumping on and climbing to the top (and end) of the stage. First, there's an extra objective: each stage has a native flower, of which there are three specimens to find (though you only need to get one of them to be allowed to go to the next stage). Second, there's areas on the beanstalk that you can't grab ahold of, meaning that getting to the top requires strategic use of both platforms and stalk to get to the top. There's also a meter on screen showing Jack's remaining arm strength, which depletes as you're clung to the stalk, and Jack's movement speed goes down with it.

There's also, on each stage, a special enemy to go along with the usual birds and worms and such. This enemy is a human (or at least vaguely human-like), who will chase you around, trying to steal your head, for some reason. They're incredibly annoying, and you can only knock them out for a few seconds at a time. In fact, when you first start playing, the whole game is pretty annoying: every where you go, you'll find a new irritating trap or enemy or mechanic stopping your progress. But as you learn to recognise these things, and also to figure out the game's logic so you can more easily figure out new obstacles as they appear, it becomes a much more enjoyable game! Stages that were painful slogs, you begin to soar through at high speed, and it all becomes quite rewarding. Thugh it's not in the same league of quality as Speed Power Gunbike, I do think it belongs to that same school of games that get better in proportion to your ability to learn their systems and play them.

Tenma de Jack isn't a great game, but platform fans might want to track it down to try something a little out of the norm for the genre. You will need a bit of patience to get you through the initial frustration, though.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Family Pinball (NES)

Family Pinball, released in 1989, seems like it might have felt a little bit dated. Not only is the main table, a 2 screen high Pac-Man-themed affair, a bit simplistic when compared to real pinball tables of the late 1980s, but also compared to video pinball games on other systems. For example, Alien Crush had been released on PC Engine just a few months earlier, and while it might be a little unfair to compare games on systems with such different power levels, but while the Famicom had no chance of putting out anything that could rival Alien Crush graphically, it could definitely have played host to a pinball table that was just as complex and interesting.

I guess Namco saw the same problem in their own game, as while the Pac-Man table is the only traditional pinball table in the game, there are a bunch of other tables, that are more like pinball-inspired minigames, rather than actual tables. The first is 9-Ball. It's an odd combination of pinball and pachinko, where the aim is, like pachinko, to launch the ball at just the right speed so that it goes into one of the holes on the table. Before starting, you bet points, and winning the bet relies on getting balls in holes so that they form squares or lines. The pinball element enters proceddings in two ways: firstly, you can nudge the table to try and influence how the ball falls, and secondly, instead of a ball just falling off the bottom of the screen helplessly, there's a pair of flippers down there, so you can send it back up if you're quick enough.

The third of the minigames is battle pinball, and is also probably the most filled-out conceptually speaking, as well as the most fun to play. It's a versus pinball game, in which the aim is to get the ball past your opponent's flippers. First to three points wins. The way gravity works in this mode is a little odd, though I can't think of any better way they might have handled it: the ball will "fall" towards the nearest set of flippers, with "down" changing direction halfway up the table. (Or down it. You know what I mean.) There's three different tables in this mode, too, which would add a bit of variety if it was being played a lot (which I can actually imagine happening back in the game's heyday).

Finally, there's sports pinball, coming in soccer and ice hockey varieties (though there isn't much difference between the two as far as I can tell). This is mostly like battle pinball, with the same physics, and the same aim, but with no pinball bumpers or targets strewn about the tables, and with a much odder control scheme. Instead of activating two flippeers in front of your goal, you have a goalkeeper there, who you can move left and right, and who automatically deflects the ball, Pong-style. In the opponent's side of the table, you have one flipper, which you can also move left and right, and you can also press the buttons that activate the two flippers in other mdes to spin it clockwise or counter-clockwise. This mode feels a little half-baked, and is more fiddly than fun, especially compared to the much better battle pinball mode.

All in all, I found Family Pinball a bit of a disappointment, mainly thanks to how basic the main table is. If you have someone to regularly play against, you'll probably get decent milage out of battle mode, but otherwise, it's not a title worth bothering with.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Magical Speed (Arcade)

Magical Speed is an adaptation of the tradition card game (traditional as in it uses a deck of normal playing cards) Speed, with a really nice-looking fantasy RPG lick of paint, and there's a few interesting (or at least unusual) things about it. Speed, if you don't know (and I didn't before playing this) has two cards in the centre of the table, and the players have 4 cards at a time each, as well as a pile to draw from when one of them is gone. You get rid of your cards by putting them on top of one of the two cards in the middle, though it has to be one higher or lower than it (suits don't matter). The winner is the first player to be rid of all their cards, or whoever has the least remaining cards when time runs out.

The first interesting thing about this game is that it's intended to be played two-player, on a cocktail cabinet, with the players facing each other. So each player sees their cards at the bottom of the screen facing them, and their opponent's cars at the top, upside down. Luckily, there's also a single player mode, as even if I could get someone to play, figuring out how this arrangement would work while emulating on a PC would be a bit of a hassle. The single player mode is surprisingly thorough, too! Though it's just a typical fighting game-style deal where you play against a bunch of opponents in succession, each more skilled than the last, there are three difficulty levels to pick from, and each of the three levels has its own seperate cast of opponents, all with unique sprites and animations, plus their own cute little introductory cutscenes. And there is actually a fair difficulty curve too! Well done, Allumer.

The other interesting thing is the controls. Since this is a game all about having the fastest reactions, using the joystick to move a cursor to select your card, then choose which pile to put it on would be far too slow. Instead, there are six buttons: two on the top row, representing the two piles and four beneath, representing your four face-up cards. Hit the button for the card you want, then the pile you want it to go to, and that's how you play. I may have mentioned before, but I typically use a USB replica SEGA Saturn pad for playing stuff on PC that doesn't require any analogue sticks, but in this case, I was having trouble figuring out a setup that let me press all the buttons quickly, while also avoiding my getting confused about which button was which. Eventually, I managed to come up with something that worked pretty well: holding the controller in my right hand, I had the two top buttons mapped to the Y and Z buttons on there, and with my left hand on the PC keyboard, and the four bottom buttons mapped to Q, W, E, and R on there. I could only play for 10-15 minutes at a time before the fingers of my left hand started getting stiff, but it was good enough.

In summary, Magical Speed is a very cute game, and it's fun enough, but I can't imagine anyone ever wanting to play it more than a few times in single player. I guess if you're lucky enough to ever encounter a real cocktail cabinet of it, it seems like it'd be a ton of fun to play against a real opponent that way, though.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Hellraider (Amiga)

The most interesting thing about this game is that it turned out to be a totally different kind of game than I thought it was when I started playing. When I started playing, I thought it was an incredibly difficult Bosconian knockoff with some weird quirks, where you were supposed to fly around an eight-way scrolling world and destroy every enemy base. Turns out I was totally wrong: it's an incredibly difficult (but kind of original) shooting/escort type thing!

As the HMS Hellraider, you're tasked with collecting gems from the surface of the planet Hell (nothing to do with the Ngihtwish song though, as far as I can tell), where the intense heat and pressure cause the local volcanos to just spit them out like nobody's business. Though for most of the game, you don't actually control the Hellraider itself, but its four little scouting/escort ships, called Orbitals. The Hellraider will float around slowly, seemingly at random, picking up gems as it flies over them. When its hold is full of gems, the stage is over and you go onto the next one. The problem of course being that not only is Hell a hazardous planet to begin with, being peppered with volcanos, lava lakes, and  big rocks to crash into, but there are also apparantly rival mining interests already here, who are far more organised than you and not willing to share. So the main point of your mission is to pilot an Orbital escorting the Hellraider, and protect it from any enemy ships, turrets or mines that want to destroy it. If the Hellraider gets destroyed, you do get to fly around shooting enemies until your Orbital goes down, but you can't actually finish the stage. If all four Orbitals get destroyed, you can then control the Hellraider directly. It moves very slowly, but it can take a lot of hits (assuming it hasn't already been shot to near destruction, anyway), and can shoot in seven directions.

You might notice that all the screenshots I've taken are of the first stage. This is because, despite playing for over two hours, I never managed to complete it (though I did come close once or twice). I only know there even are more stages because I looked it up on youtube! I think there are two main problems that make this game such a chore. The first is that there's no radar, so you never know when enemies are going to suddenly fly in and start shooting your mothership to bits, or when you're about to stumble upon a nest of enemy turrets. Also, if you do chase an enemy ship and end up away from the Hellraider, there's no way of knowing how to get back to it.  The second is that the Hellraider itself just seems to move around at random, often just flying straight past convenient clumps of gems all stuck together. The stage would be over much quicker, and you wouldn't have to protect it for as long (the stages can go on for over five minutes!) if it had some kind of gem-seeking AI (apparently, you can play a kind of co-op game, with player one controlling the Orbitals and player two controlling the Hellraider, but I haven't been able to try it. If so, that sounds like a much less stressful game).

Hellraider is interesting: it's a game that I initially thought was a low-quality knockoff of an arcade classic, but it turned out to be an interesting and original game, ruined by a couple of huge flaws. I've said in the past that people's nostalgia for the Amiga keeps them from admitting that most of its games looked amazing, but played like garbage, but I have to admit that the low barrier for entry does result in a lot of experimentation in design that can result in games that, even if they aren't actually fun to play, are at least different and cool conceptually.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Magical Taruruto-kun (Mega Drive)

It's yet another game based on an early 90s anime that never got translated into English. I guess this one must have been much more popular than Genji Tsuushin Agedama, as while that only had one videogame, Taruruto-kun had seven of them across four formats and in only two years! You'd think that kind of success would get the franchise earmarked for international release, but I guess not. Anyway, you play as the eponymous magical boy, who's a chubby little guy with a two-pointed hat and a magic wand, and obviously, it's a platform game.

It is a pretty high quality platform game, too! You can use your want to pick up items and throw them at enemies (for some reason, picked up items grow a smiling face), or just to hit enemies at very short range if there's no items around to pick up. You can also press jump again midair to sprout wings and perform a wide bowl-shaped swooping glide type action. Like any good platform game, it's designed around these abilities, with a few other gimmicks specific to each stage. One big fault I've found, though, is that while there are plenty of parts where you need to use the glide to reach power ups or squeeze through gaps, there's very few points at which you can really let loose and glide over a long distance without worrying. I know the devs were probably focussed on designing challenging stages, but the glide is really satisfying, and it's a shame you don't often get to enjoy it to its fullest.

It should also be mentioned that this game looks amazing. It's so colourful, and the sprites are all chunky and cute, and it's kind of got a SNES-ish look to it, if you think of the stereotype that SNES games were cuter and more pastel-hued than the Mega Drive's grittier, darker games, like if the SNES was TV anime, and the Mega Drive was violent OAVs, if you will. Despite the looks, though, it still plays in the harder arcade style you'd expect from the Mega Drive: it's a lot harder than it looks, it can definitely be played for score, and it's definitely designed around mastery of the mechanics and controls. (That's not to say that there aren't SNES games like this, but it's obvious to anyone that the Mega Drive's library, especially in the early years, was heavily skewed towards being a home arcade). Sorry about that overly-long foray into system comparisions, got a bit carried away there I think.

Magical Taruruto-kun is an amazing-looking game, that's also definitely worth playing. It strange how a game of such obvious high quality never really had much attention from western importers until the modern era. I guess being based on a kids show and not being an arcade port meant no-one in the west bothered to take notice of it on release. It's also left me interested in whether any of the other games based on the same show are any good.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Graduation (PC)

The Graduation/Sostsugyou series was pretty big in Japan in the 1990s, and spawned a bunch of sequels, anime adaptations and other spin-offs. You probably already know that that success never travelled abroad, though, but there was one attempt at making it. Oddly, that one attempt was made by Mixx Entertainment, the company that would later become Tokyopop, a big part in the turn-of-the-century english-translated manga boom. I'm no industry analyst, but I suspect that a big part of the reason why they failed so hard that most people aren't even aware that any of the Graduation games got a western release is because they chose one of the PC versions to bring over, rather than one of the many console ports. (As an aside, despite the name, this game is actually a translation of one of the sequels, Graduation II: Neo Generation.)

I'm sure the reason they made that decision was to cut costs, though at the same time, they also redubbed all the dialogue instead of just subtitling it (and of course, this being a 90s dub of a Japanese property, all of the girls are from the UK and various parts of America now). The problem is that, before the likes of Cave Story started the big indie boom in the early 00s, PC games had a bit of a problem with aesthetic and thematic homogeneity. That is, it seemed (at least to a casual observer) that PC games were all about manly men doing violent things in grim worlds, compared to consoles, which hosted games of almost every genre, with settings and styles for every taste. Combined with the fact that PCs weren't as ubiquitous then as they are now, and you get the situation that most of the people who would have been interested in playing this game had no way of doing so, or even of finding out it existed. (And there are even more factors you could take into account, like how PCs were usually kept in shared family rooms back then, and toxic masculinity being what it is, a lot of male potential players probably wouldn't have wanted to play something that looked so "girly" in front of their parents, while consoles would more likely be kept in the privacy of one's bedroom).

So, the English release of Graduation sank without a trace. The only reason I know it existed is because I happened to pick up an issue of Mixx-zine from around the time of its release on one of my first ever trips to a comic shop, in which it was heavily promoted (along with another Mixx CD-Rom, a weird multimedia Sailor Moon thing that I'm yet to track down). Nearly twenty years later, I finally get ahold of it, and I have to say: it's not for me, to be honest. The premise is that you're a teacher with a class of five girls, with different personalities (nerd, airhead, delinquent, annoying child, and generic pretty girl), and you've got to guide them through their final year of high school, with the aim not only to keep their grades up, but also to make sure they turn out to be happy, well-rounded individuals. You do this by choosing once a week which subjects to focus on, which girl needs more attention, how strict your teaching style is, and so on. You even have control over what the girls do at the weekends!

The problem is, I'm just not very good at this kind of semi-abstract strategy game. To me, it mostly feels like I'm clicking on boxes and watching numbers go up and down, and I just don't see the logic to any of it. I'm sure someone with the patience and desire to see it through could play the game over and over, eventually learning all its systems and how every thing works, eventually getting a perfect ening where all five girls go on to have amazing lives, but I just don't have the patience for that. I'm not saying it's a bad game, it's just one that doesn't work for me at all (I mean, it might be a bad game too, I guess?). Still, hopefully someone who would be interested in this game, but didn't know it existed might read this, track it down, and write a better, more qualified review of it. But until then, this is probably going to be the only review on the whole internet. Sorry. One final note: since this is an old PC game, you might be wondering about compatibility. Well, as long as you go into the .exe's properties and run it in Windows 95 compatibility mode, it works perfectly in 64-bit Windows 10.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Genji Tsuushin Agedama (PC Engine)

This is an anime licensed game, based on an anime that, as far as I can tell has never been translated into English. So I can't really tell you anything about it, other than it ran for 51 episodes, and didn't have any other videogames. I can guess that it wasn't massively popular, then, since a fair few kids anime from the early 90s had a game each for PC Engine, SNES, Mega Drive, Game Boy, and sometimes even Game Gear, too!

Unusually for a licensed game, this one is a fairly original concept. Well, original might not be the right word, but it's not well-worn territory, at least. Genji Tsuushin Agedama is what might be the first and only Atomic Runner Chelnov-alike, being as it is, a platform/shooting game hybrid with a player character that can't stop running forwards. Obviously, that means that there's no exploration or anything, and the platform elements are mainly limited to trying not to fall into pits while simultaneously fighting off enemies.

So you run, jump, and shoot, and you've also got magic attacks performed by holding and releasing the fire button. As you hold it, a meter at the top of the screen fills up. The meter's split into differently coloured sections, each colour is a different attack, more powerful than the last. The longer you hold the button, the more powerful the magic you cast, though also, all the magics after the first are unavailable until you collect items to unlock them one by one, though this doesn't take long or force you to go out of your way. Another ability you've got is that you can do a quick roll along the ground by pressing down on the d-pad. You're invincible during this roll, and it can do a lot of damage, but it's very quick, so you're at risk of getting hurt as soon as it ends.

Though getting hurt isn't itself that big a risk, either, since you can take eight hits from the start, and there's plenty of healing items to pick up, too. In fact, though this is a fun, cute, and charming game, the one big criticism that can be levelled at it is that it's very easy. On my first play, I managed to get pretty far into stage four, and there are only six in total. Despite that, it is still a lot of fun, and definitely worth playing. I'd recommend buying a real copy, but I feel like I got lucky with mine: I got it for about a third of the usual price, since the ebay seller clearly didn't know the game's name, or how to look it up, and had it listed as just "Japanese PC Engine Game". But still, it's pretty fun, though maybe not be £30+ worth of fun.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Attack Pla-Rail (Arcade)

I'm sure most of you have probably heard of Taito's Densha De Go series of train-driving games, based on real Japanese train routes and with an array of specialist controllers associated with the home ports. Attack Pla-Rail, made by Namco and based on a toyline by Tomy seems to be either an attempt at making a rival for that series, or a version of it that aims for a younger audience. The controls, as far as I can tell without having yet played any of the Densha De Go games, are pretty much the same: a lever for controlling your speed, and a few buttons for making decisions and parping your horn.

The most obvious difference between Attack Pla-Rail and its better-known rival is the aesthetic: while Densha De Go aims towards realism, this game gives every object a plastic sheen, and people, vehicles and other objects are very simple. Because they're all toys, obviously. Also playing into the toy aspect is that your time limit is given in the form of remaining battery life, with different trains having different rates of usage, along with differing top speeds and corner handling abilities. You get more batteries by doing different tasks, though they're very simple things: speeding up to go through a loop, beeping your horn at cows, stopping while a bridge gets into place, and so on.

Obviously, with the mention of loops and such, you can already guess that the routes in this game aren't based on any from real life, and that's true. Instead, there's an Outrun-esque system of stages with branching paths between them, though unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any information regarding the total number of stages, or a diagram of where every branching path takes the player. You do go through five stages before the game ends, though that doesn't mean there are fifteen in total like in Outrun, as late in one run, I encountered a stage that had appeared early in another run on a different route. A nice touch is that once you've finished your five stages, you get to use your remaining battery power on a cool-looking night time stage with no obstacles to navigate.

It's a lot more relaxing than the usual excitement you'd want from an arcade game, but despite that (or maybe because of it), Attack Pla-Rail is still a fun game, though since it has no sequels or home ports, I have to say that if it was intended to take custom away from the Densha De Go series, it's had the opposite effect, as it's got me looking up the games and their controllers on ebay, wanting more in a similar vein.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Small Games Round Up Vol. 3!

It's another round up of three games that aren't big enough to support posts of their own, and this time I'm looking at a trio of SG-1000 games, starting with Golgo 13. Obviously the middle-aged fantasy world of Golgo 13, the stoic sniper who assassinates people and beds women is an ill fit for the pastel-palleted world of the SG-1000, so in this game he's using his skills for a non-violent purpose: rescuing people from a runaway train by shooting out the windows so they can escape. Between Goglo and the train, though, there's an infinitely long cargo train and a road. If your bullets hit one of the boxcars on the cargo train, or a truck passing by on the road, it'll bounce back at you, and you have to avoid it. After a few stages, some misanthropic helicopter pilots will also start tryng to bomb you, plus there's a time limit. Unfortunately, if the time limit runs out, the train just goes offscreen, there's no sequence of it hitting a wall or going off a cliff or anything.

Golgo 13 is an okay game, but it's really let down by the fact that once the helicopters start appearing, that's as hard as the game gets. It doesn't speed up or add any more elements, it's essentially just that stage over and over until you run out of lives. Even something as simple as the train going up and down hills occaisionally would be a big change, forcing the player to aim vertically as well astiming their shots and aiming horizontally. Never mind. Hustle Chumy is a more standard game for the time, being a single-screen platformer about a sewer-dwelling rat that just wants to bring home some food. To do so, you leave the sewer and brave the world above, filled with cats, bats, crocodiles, astronauts and an invincible fishman. All the enemies except the fishman can be killed by throwing dots (stones, maybe), with the fishman acting as a slow, but unrelenting terminator-type figure.

The big twist in Hustle Chumy is that the more bits of food you pick up (it's impressive for a game on such an old system that they vary from stage to stage, including fruits, sweets, pudding, and so on), the heavier and slower you get. You can still jump at the same speed, though this carries its own risk, thanks not only to the bats flying overhead, but also the fact that your jump is a set arc, over which you have no control. Hustle Chumy is a pretty good game, well worth a look. Plus it has some very cute sprites, with the cat enemy in particular looking great.

Finally, there's GP World, a racing game that feels like a genetic forebear to SEGA's more well-known sprite scaling racers like Outrun and Hang On. It makes a decent attempt at looking like a sprite scaling game on hardware where that couldn't possibly support it, and it features simpler versions of mechanics that would appear in those games, like Outrun's two-gear system, and the fact that there's no actual placement in the races, you're just racing against time, and the other vehicles are present just to ct as obstacles and to provide points bonuses for passing them. One odd little touch that really speaks to GP World's prototypical nature is that rather than having a timer that counts down to zero, the timer counts upwards, and each stage has a different time limit that gives a game over when the timer gets that high. It's only a little thing, but looking at this game, and the games that came after it, you can see how they streamlined things and improved them bit-by-bit over time.

As for GP World itself, it's a good game. It's fun enough on its own merits, and it's a nice little curiosity: a look at the DNA of some later, more polished games that we all know and love.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Monster Hearts R (PC)

Once again, I've been able to get ahold of a game released at a recent Comiket, and once again, it's a shooting game. This time, it's a shooting game about three monster maids: a vampire maid who is just that, a werewolf maid who is also a ninja, and a Frankenstein's monster maid who can summon a giant robot. Though there are obviously a few common systems no matter who you pick, their weapons and playstyles are all so different, they could almost have come from different games. But first, we'll get to those elements that are the same whoever you play.

Firstly, there's the power-up system. There's various differently coloured kanji that might appear while you play, but the two most important ones are the orange ones, that power you up, and the purple ones, which power you down. The orange ones gradually fill up an experience meter, until your weapon reaches level 5. You can keep collecting them once you're at level 5, but now every time the meter fills, it makes three big bonus coins appear on screen. These coins are worth so many points, that, should you be playing for score, this is the main thing on wich you should concentrate. The purple ones are fired in patterns by certain enemies like bullets, and obviously should be avoided like they are bullets.

As for the differences in characters, obviously, there's the differences you'd expect between their normal shots: the vampire has a regular spreading vulcan shot, the werewolf has a shot that just goes straight ahead, but is a lot weaker than you'd expect from a weapon of this type (due to this, she requires a slightly non-traditional, counter-intuitive playstyle that I'll get into shortly), and the Frankenstein's monster slowly fires powerful drill-shaped rockets, with faster lasers accompanying them as she powers up. The real differences between the three come from their super attacks, which all work differently, and require very different tactics.

We'll start again with the vampire, whose super weapon surrounds her with a bullet-absorbing forcefield for a few seconds, after which a bunch of familiars will storm across the screen, their number and the power of their attacks being determined in correlation with the amount of bullets absorbed. After about 10-20 seconds, it will have recharged, and can be used again. The werewolf's super has two different forms: tapping the button will simply make her release shurikens in a circle outwards, using up a third of the power meter. Holding the button while the meter's full, though, will make a bunch of shadow copies appear all over the screen, before they start shooting shurikens in every direction for a couple of seconds. This is the quickest super to recharge, taking only a few seconds to come back, which, along with her almost useless normal shots, so playing as the werewolf means relying on your super as your main form of attack.

The Frankenstein's monster's super is the coolest, but also the hardest to really use effectively: it summons a giant robot, vastly increasing your firepower, and also letting you absorb a bunch of hits, until it's had enough and goes away. How long you get to use it depends on how much it gets hit, though obviously, it's hitbox is huge, and it's pretty hard to avoid bullets in this form. What makes it hard to use, though, is that it takes several minutes to recharge after you summon it, so you're left betting on your own skills: can you survive until the boss without the robot, or alternatively, do you want to uuse it to storm through the stage, and hope it doesn't take too many hits and can get you through at least some of the boss fight too?

With all this in mind, is the game actually any good though? Well, it has a lot of problems, like how every time you get a game over, the time it takes and the amount of stuff you have to skip through to start a new game is way too long. Also, as a result of the three characters being so completely different in playstyle, the initial learning curve is pretty brutal, even for an STG. On the other hand, though, despite the minor problems it has, and how frustrating it can be in general, it's a game that once you start playing, it can be hard to stop. You can easily while away the hours without even realising. Maybe it's wasted on PC with this strong a hook, it could probably rake in the coins in an arcade setting! Anyway, if you're ordering a copy from Japan, there are probably way better games you could buy before it, but if it ever gets a nice convenient download release, then I definitely recommend picking it up.