Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Yakuza Fury (PS2)

I know what you're thinking, and for a long time, I thought the same: this game must be a mockbuster for SEGA's Yakuza series, right? But, in researching for this post, I found evidence to the contrary! The Japanese version of this game (Simple 2000 Series Vol. 72: The Ninkyou) was released ten whole months before the Japanese release of the first Yakuza game. Even more surprising is that if GameFAQs is to be believed, even the European release of Yakuza Fury preceded the Japanese release of Yakuza! So it's just a coincidence that there's a low budget game with a similar genre and similar themes to a massively popular high budget game.

Having played a lot of Simple Series games at this point, I can confidently say this one follows the formula to the letter. It's a simple action game (in this case, a beat em up), with stuff to grind for, and long boring cutscenes that have all the voice acting removed from the European version. It even has a low poly rendition of a contemporary Japanese suburb, like so many other low budget PS2 games have! Anyway, the game's split into two parts, essentially: the story missions, where you go to a place, and keep beating people up until you get to the boss fight, and the free-roaming bit. The free roaming bit is actually the least interesting: you can wander around a few streets of the aforementioned suburb, where enemies will constantly run in from the sides of the screen to attack you. There's also a few people standing around that you can talk to, though the enemies don't stop attacking you while you do.

The point of fighting the endless hordes of enemies is to collect the coins they drop so you can buy items of clothing at the shop (an interesting little detail is that the girl in the shop is wearing a t-shirt featuring the main character of another Simple game, The Splatter Action/Splatter Master). They offer minor benefits, but the most important ones to buy are the hakama trousers, which give you an incredibly useful (to the point of almost breaking the game) healing ability, and the eyepatch (listed here as "bandage"), which looks really cool. When you get bored of this, or you've bought every item in the shop, you go and find where the next stage starts, watch a boring cutscene, then beat everyone up in the stage.

I'm not just saying that the cutscenes are boring because I hate cutscenes (though I do, as you know), but because they are the most lifeless, generic gangster nonsense you can imagine. None of the characters have any personality and nothting in the story is remotely interesting. Or maybe I've just been spoiled by the incredible story and characters in the Yakuza games (I know it's not fair to keep comparing them like this, but it's also very hard to avoid). The combat is also unexciting. You get a simple punch combo, which you can end with a kick, and you also get throws, which are so short range and slow that you'll probably never get one to actually connect.

I hate being so negative when reviewing a game, but Yakuza Fury is just an incredibly bland nothing of a game, that's not even bad in an interesting or unique way. It's just plain old mediocre tedium. Don't play it.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Punch the Monkey - Game Edition (Playstation)

This game's got a pretty strange title, but it's there for a reason, as it's a pretty strange idea. Punch The Monkey was an album released in 1998 which featured a bunch of remixes of songs from the various animated adaptations of Monkey Punch's universally-beloved character Lupin III, and this is a videogame adaptation of that album, released in 2000.

Of course, it's a rhythm game, and it's an incredibly simple one at that: the song plays, an animated FMV is shown in the middle of the screen, and Playstation face buttons travel across the bottom of the screen. In the middle of the screen at the bottom, there's a little crosshair, and when a button reaches it, you press the button. There's also a set of colours at the top of the screen, showing how well you're doing, ranging from red (the worst) to blue (the best). At certain points in the song, if you're not in green or blue, you fail and have to start again. It's so simple, it's the kind of thing that you'd see as a minigame in an RPG or something, rather than its own whole game.

Simple doesn't mean easy, though, and it took me about six attempts to get past the first stage. It seems that this is a question of balance, rather than overall difficulty, though, as I breezed through the next few stages without problems. There are some other odd decisions besides the stage order, too, like how you don't actually get to hear most of the songs you're meant to be playing along with, as your button presses all make very loud noises that drown everythig else out, from bullet ricochets on some stages, to doorbells and animal sounds on others. Interesingly, the general presentation of the game is very much a part of a certain aesthetic things in the late 1990s/early2000s had when they were cashing in on 1970s nostalgia. Some of the fonts and swirly background patterns seen at certain points in this game are very reminiscent of the UK VHS and DVD releases of the 1970s Japanese TV show  Monkey/Saiyuuki that came out at around the same time.

Unfortunately, there isn't much more to be said about the game itself, though. There are apparently a series of minigames, unlocked by completing the main game on all difficulties but the easiest, and through those minigames, FMV clips can be unlocked to watch at your leisure, but it's just not worth playing through such a simple and unengaging main game. So all I have left is this little bit of trivia: it was developed by the company Kaze, who I associate more with their two excellent pinball games on Saturn, Last Gladiators and Necronomicon. Two years later, they also released Akira Psycho Ball, a very experimental and strange pinball game on PS2, which, like this game, was licensed from a popular classic anime, and also featured heavy use of FMV clips in little windows. How interesting!

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Super Bikkuriman - Densetsu no Sekiban (Game Boy)

You might already be aware of Bikkuriman as a franchise, but if you're not, it's a line of snacks that were popular in Japan from the late 1970s onwards, that also had stickers in the packets. The characters from the stickers were popular enough to have been featured in various anime and videogame tie-ins over the years, the most well-known in the west probably being the PC Engine game Bikkuriman World, which was an altered port of the arcade game Wonderboy in Monster Land. As far as I can tell, though, this game is completely new.

Like most licensed games from the early 1990s, though it is a platform game, and coming from 1992, it's actually an early example of a problem I associate with the later years of the Game Boy's life: developers being way too ambitious with the size of their sprites. Like you can see in the screenshots, the sprite in this game are huge, which doesn't give them a lot of space to move around the screen, and limits the distance you can see. And that does cause a lot of problems with leaps of faith and so on. Luckily, though, it is ambitious in other ways, and they at least make it an interesting game, if not a good one.

Firstly, your character's lifebar is split in half, with the second half being a power meter that goes up as you attack enemies, and down as you take damage. However, the less life you have left, the higher the maximum amount of power you can store gets, like in Psychic Force 2012. Once the meter reaches a certain level for the first time, you can press start to take on a more powerful form, who looks cooler and can fly and shoot projectiles. In this form, once the power meter reaches a certain level, you can press start to use a super attack, summoning a phoenix or a dragon (depending on which character you're playing as, and they seem to alternate stage-by-stage) to smite your enemies. So brave players might want to try sacrificing their health so they can easily perform this attack twice in a row as soon as they reach the boss (though this is both brave and foolish, as the game's massive sprites make it pretty hard to dodge attacks a lot of the time).

It's nothing ground breaking, but it's more complexity than you might expect from a licensed Game Boy platformer in 1992. And there's more too! As well as the main game, the developers have also included a little beyblade-esque spinning tops minigame accessible from the main menu, presumably as a way to shoehorn in a multiplayer mode. Before you start, you choose whether to emphasise power or speed, and whoever runs out of speed frst loses. So go with speed every time and you'll win. I can't imagine this sold many more copies of the game, and I honestly wonder if two Game Boys and two copies of this were ever connected together, even once. But it was probably a request from the licensor or the publisher that they had to include some kind of multiplayer thing.

Super Bikkuriman - Densetsu no Sekiban isn't anything revolutionary, and I definitely don't recommend going out of your way to track down a copy. But if you ever happen upon a loose cartridge on sale for practically no money at all (like I did), it wouldn't hurt to pick it up.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Minesweeper (PC Engine)

Traditionally, the main strength of Minesweeper has been the fact that it's insantly accessible on your computer's desktop at a second's notice. Logically, therefore, a version of the game that requires a console, a TV and a physical copy of the game might seem superfluous to the point of absurdity. And it is! But still, the PC Engine version of Minesweeper does have something in its favour, which is, like what the arcade game Logic Pro did for nonograms (that is, making an actual videogame out of them), as does this with the concept of Minesweeper.

There's four modes to choose from once you start the game, though we can disregard two of them right off the bat: one's just regular old Minesweeper, and the other lets you choose the size of the grid and the number of mines. The meat of the game is in the other two modes: The Voyage and Cook's Quest. The Voyage is the least interesting of the two, being set in the high seas of the sixteenth century, it's just a long series of pre-set Minesweeper grids for you to gradually progress through in order. What really kills the draw of this mode is that despite being on the PC Engine CD, a system that has space for game saves built into itself, Minesweeper expects you to write passwords down like some kind of stone-age oaf, which wouldn't be so bad in a normal game, but remember: this is just another layer of obfuscation put on top of what is already a comedically inconvenient way to play Minesweeper.

The other mode, Cook's Quest suffers from the same problems of pre-set rids and lack of saves, but I'm willing to give it much more leeway simply because it's generally a much more interesting concept and a lot more fun to play. In this mode, each grid is part of a large underground cave complex, and there are doors dotted around the edges. You aren't expected to clear every mine on every grid, just carve out a safe path to the doors and to the various treasures and items strewn about the place too. This is actually a pretty addictive mode, and not only is it a lot more fun and interesting than regular Minesweeper, but it actually makes sense to be using a D-pad rather than a mouse in this mode, since you can't go more than a space away from the safe spaces you've already revealed.

Though it's obvious that the grids are pre-set to make this a fairly-designed game, it is a buzz killer to be digging around for half an hour, only to misclick and go all the way back to the start to solve the exact same puzzles again to get back to where you were. Maybe it could have had both pre-set and randomised modes, like Toejam and Earl on the Mega Drive? What would be really cool is if you were digging for artifacts, and each one had an in-game encyclopedia entry, like in La Mulana or something. But I'm just fantasy game designing now, aren't I?

Anyway, Minesweeper is a ridiculous game that shouldn't really exist. But it does, and you can get a copy dirt cheap. I recommend you do so, just so you can play Cook's Quest and fantasise about how much better it would have been with just a few changes. Aah.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Black Touch 96 (Arcade)

The title Black Touch 96 might sound like some creepy Qix-clone with lewd pictures in the background, but it's actually something totally different and equally as bad: an unfinished Korean beat em up (with lewd pictures between stages)! Though it's unfinished and therefore a bit rough around the edges, it still has all the typical hallmarks of terrible Korean arcade games we've come to know and hate over the years: low quality sampled music, power up items that don't seem to do anything, sound effects stolen from other games (in this case, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs) and generally unbalanced difficulty are all present and correct. However, it also has some quirks of its own, mainly aesthetic, to stand out from the awful pack.

For example, the enemies. There's only a few of them you'll fight throughout the game, but they are at least unique. There's a mutant man-baby thing that hits you with a wrench, a bald woman who takes off her wig to hit you with, and a fat guy on a skateboard wearing shorts, a vest and a horned helmet, among less interesting ones like the biker-without-a-bike, and recoloured versions of bosses you've already beaten. Of course, all of the above reappear again and again with different colour palettes, though their difficulty and how much health they have seems to be completely unrelated, as one enemy will go down in two hits, while the next one of the exact same type will take twenty seconds of solid pummelling. Solid pummelling is also the strategy for beating every boss: get them to the edge of the screen and hammer the punch button until they die or your arm drops off.

There's no choice of characters, you're stuck with a generic muscular guy, and your attack options are limited. You've got buttons for punches and kicks, a jump button that's completely pointless (you do a tiny little jump in place, and if you press kick while doing it, you do an unimpressivle spin-kick that removes a third of your own health bar), and you also have a once-per-life bomb attack. The bomb attack is at least hilarious, though, as rather than killing all the enemies onscreen, it just makes them run away. On that note, I should, in the interest of fairness, commend the game on its sprite-pushing ability: the character sprites are all pretty big, and the screen does get crowded at times, with up to six enemies at a time. There's no weapons to pick up, though, and very few power ups (lots of point items, very rare health packs that restore a miserly amount of HP, and even rarer invincibility potions and extra bombs), and really no variety at all in the stages other than the backgrounds (though they're not bad-looking, unlike the blotchy characters): just walking left to right fighting crowds of the same few enemies over and over.

There's not much to recommend about Black Touch 96. To be fair, that might be why the developers didn't finish it, they just saw that it was a dead end. Some arcade prototypes are glimpses at concepts that were just too out there to be marketable, or at cool games that just came about at the wrong time. This isn't one of those ones, though, and it's not really worth your time.