Monday, 30 July 2018

Ruruli Ra Rura (PC FX)

It's a PC FX game! So let's get all the usual cliches out of the way first: it's got beautiful animated FMVs, it's a console with lots of wasted potential, this game was inexplicably released in 1998, I have no idea how anyone turned a profit making games for a console with such a tiny userbase. Anyway, Ruruli Ra Rura, is a kind of metrovania-type affair, though it leans heavily towards puzzles than action. Also, besides the obligatory excellent FMVs, it looks like it could have come out on the PC Engine a decade earlier. The in-game graphics are really simple, with really small sprites and so on.

You start the game as a Samurai guy, and as the game goes on, you meet and recruit more allies, all with different abilities: shooting fire to destroy ice walls, running across narrow ridges, swimming, and so on. There's a common complaint levelled at metrovaniae, as well as similarly-structured games in other genres, like the Legend of Zelda games, for example, that most of the abilities you acquire have no practical purpose except for acting as keys to unlock the specific obstacles they're designed for. I think Ruruli Ra Rura is the most egregious example of this I've encountered. You can only switch characters at save points, and when you're not specifically sending an ally out to get past an obstacle, you're better off playing as the Samurai, as he's the only one that's remotely competent at fighting enemies. Plus he's got a fast normal walking speed (which is still very slow. Slow walking speeds are a plague in this game).

Though I've got a lot of complaints about this game, I can't honestly say I haven't enjoyed playing it. There's just something slightly satisfying about the slow-but-sure progress you make through the world. There's a translation patch available that translates all the menus, making te game a lot more playable to the Japanese-illiterate, though unfortunately, unlike the patch for Tyoushin Heiki Zeroigar, it doesn't add subtitles to the FMVs, so you don't get the exact nuances of the plot. Although I don't think we're missing out on a great deal, since as far as I can tell, the tone is that of a very silly slapstick comedy, very much in the vein of all those Dungeons and Dragons-inspired OAVs of the 90s like Slayers, Dragon Half, Ozanari Dungeon, etc.

I think I've covered everything I need to here, right? It's a deeply flawed, but fun and charming game, with all the 90s anime polish you'd expect from a PC FX game.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Small Game Round Up Vol. 2!

It's time for some more ancient games that are too simple to support entire posts on their own! Today I'll be talking about just two games, both on the MSX, and the first is Godzilla vs. 3 Major Monsters, also known as Gozira 3D, for some reason.

It's a single-screen action game, that's just barely above the level of complexity of a handheld LCD game, or possibly one of the more advanced Atari 2600 games with slightly better graphics. The action all takes place in a classic tokusatsu rocky desert, and starts with Megalon emerging from holes in the ground. Obviously, you play Godzilla, and you just blast him with your atomic breath. Do this 10-15 times (I think Megalon has to have dug at least eight holes before this stage ends, as opposed to reusing ones he's already dug), and Megalon will be replaced by two Kumongas (they're really being generous with the term "major monster" in this game, aren't they?)

The Kumongas will pop up out of the holes at random, to shoot webs and energy bolts at Godzilla, like a more aggressive whack-a-mole game, and I think you have to hit each one three times to be rid of them. The final, and easiest enemy you have to face is King Ghidorah, who slowly flies down from the top of the screen occaisionally shooting a gravity bolt, but mostly doing nothing. Just blast him until he goes, and the whole thing starts again, but slightly faster. It's nothing spectacular, but it's an okay diversion for five minutes or so. Also, the Godzilla sprite looks great when walking left or right (but terrible when walking up or down).

The other game I hve to talk about today is one of possible historical significance, and very little else. Nyannyan Prowrestling might be the first ever women's wrestling videogame. It came out in 1986, the same year as SEGA's Gokuaku Doumei Dump Matsumoto, though I haven't been able to track down an exact date for either game, so I can't say for certain which was first. Even if SEGA got there first, this might still be the first home videogame about women's wrestling, if it came out before the 20th of July that year (when Gokuaku Doumei Dump Matsumoto's Master System port was released).

Anyway, other than that bit of trivia, there's not much positive to say about this game. All the wrestlers have the exact same sprite, it uses a bizarre menu-based control system (though to be fair, a few early combat sports games did this, including the Boxing and Pro-Wrestling games on the SG-1000. There's a lot of SEGA talk in this review, isn't there?), and for some reason, all the matches take place on basketball courts instead of wrestling rings. On top of all that, you have to play it with the keyboard, as it doesn't acknowledge controller inputs! There's not much more to be said about this game. It's an interesting historical footnote, but not much else. Don't waste your time, except to satisfy your curiosity.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Kamen Rider Kuuga (Playstation)

2000's Kamen Rider Kuuga, in case anyone doesn't know, was the first Kamen Rider TV series since 1988's Kamen Rider Black RX. And I guess it must have been a success, since Different Kamen Rider shows have been running alongside the Super Sentai shows ever since. Since the show's aimed at little kids, it makes sense to have the licensed videogame on the Playstation instead of the newly-released PS2, too, since it means they can make a quick, cheap little game for the kids to buy with their pocket money. (The 2001 and 2002 Kamen Rider shows, Agito and Ryuki also had their games on PS1, presumably for the same reasons.)

Anyway, as befitting a series that's mainly about one-on-one combat between a hero and a series of episodic monsters, it's a fighting game. There's a single player story mode, that's about fifteen minutes long, and sees you playing as Kamen Rider Ryuki in various different forms fighting monsters. There's different kinds of fights in this mode too, like ones where you only have to get the monster down to 50% health, or ones where you have to survive the attacks of an invincible monster for thirty seconds. The game will also encourage you (in the form of a text prompt) to finish some fights with certain attacks. It's okay, but like I said, there's only fifteen minutes of it and it's done. Finishing it once does unlock survival mode, which is a lot more interesting, though.

Survival mode lets you play as the various Kuuga forms seen in story mode, but also, as all of the monsters you fight in that mode! (After you've unlocked them, but I'll get onto that later.) Other than that, it's just a typical survival mode: you fight an unending stream of randomly-selected foes until you get beat. The game's controls are very simple, which I assume is another concession towards a younger target audience: there's no special move inputs, instead the four face buttons are mapped to punch, kick, throw, and special. Some characters have more than one special, which are excuted by just pressing different directions along with the special button.

Now, onto unocking stuff. Every time you finish playing story or survival mode, you get points, depending on how many fights you won. Each point can be spent to buy one random card in the digital card collection. There's 81 cards to get, and once you get a card, it isn't removed from the pool of possible cards you draw, so the more you have, the harder it is to fill the gaps in your collection. Anyway, among the cards, there are smaller subsets of three cards, which unlock playable characters when you get them all. I think I managed to get all of these cards after finishing story mode once and playing maybe two or three games of survival mode. The rest of the cards are just for completionists and people who like looking at low resolution photos of turn-of-the-century tokusatsu actors and monster suits (and who doesn't?).

So Kamen Rider Kuuga is a decent enough game, I guess. Nothingg spectacular, but it's entertaining enough, and if you know people who you can get to play old licensed games with you, it's probably pretty fun in versus mode, too. On that note, I wonder why it was never seen on the import/piracy scene at the time, considering how import-friendly it is. But on the other hand, English-speaking tokusatsu fandom was still so tiny as to be practically non-existent at the time, and the game isn't really good enough to be worth playing over any arcade-ported figting games without the allure of the license. (Still a lot better than some of the awful fighting games we played back then just because of the license, like Dragonball Final Bout and so on). Yeah, it's alright. Give it a try.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

War: The Final Assault (Arcade)

I'll start this post with a disclaimer: this game isn't emulated perfectly in MAME by a long shot, and while the original cabinet uses some buttons and a big gun handle-shaped analogue stick for controls, I had to make do with a Dual Shock 4 and jimmying together some controls that were pretty close to a modern first person shooter through trial and error. Since it would be unfair to comment on the quality of the game under these circumstances, consider this post as being for informational purposes only.

As far as I can tell, though, it's a pretty good attempt at bringing contemporary console first person shooters (circa 1999, when the game was released) to the arcade! I only played the single player mode, though it seems that it has both co-op and versus multiplayer modes, judging by the attract mode demos and the high score tables. Single player mode has you going through stages killing lots of enemy soldiers and robots. Sometimes you'll get to pick up a more powerful weapon, which is nice, too, and there's a fair few different kinds. Also, when you kill human enemies with an explosive weapon, they burst into chunks of meat, which is also nice.

The game's set in futuristic Siberia, and your enemies are a kind of generic bad guy army that takes vidual cues from both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, though judging by some of the names of later stages seen on the highscore tables, it looks like aliens get involved later on, too. Visually, the game looks great: everything's huge and colourful and chunky, and there's cool propaganda posters on the walls too. The robot enemies are a bit boring, though, which is a shame as the human enemies look alright, despite being a bit generic. Though there was apparently a scrapped N64 port in the works, the whole time I was playing, the thought that ran through my mind was that it looked like a lot of western-developed Dreamcast games. Of course, it didn't get ported there, either.

As for how it plays, it's a mixed bag. I do like the linearity of the stages, and the fact that there's big red arrows telling you where to go, as something that's always frustrated me in single player FPSes is getting lost in the stages. I don't know why, but it always seems to happen! One thing I really didn't like though, is that there's quite a few bullet sponge enemies, and they only get more frequent as the stages go on. I only played until the fourth boss, and by then, just getting through each room was becoming laborious.

Though I was essentially playing it at half speed, thanks to a combination of the emulation being in its early days, and my laptop not particularly being a powerhouse (though I don't know if it runs faster on more powerful computers, or if we will just have to wait for the emulation to get slowly closer to perfection), I mostly enjoyed War: The Final Assault. It's colourful, there's explosions and stuff, and there aren't many arcade games like it. (Off the top of my head, I can think of Last Survivor, Outtrigger, and that Counterstrike arcade game?) Try it, I guess, see how you get on.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Ordyne (PC Engine)

Not every game has to be original to be fun,a fact that definitely works in Ordyne's favour. Though Namco's output in the late 80s was mostly pretty varied (something that shows in the massive array of PC Engine games they released in the console's early days, most of which were pretty unique in some way, and most of which were also really high quality. Making it so much stranger that they didn't release any PC Engine CD games, as far as I know), Ordyne is a game that's clearly very heavily influenced by SEGA's Fantasy Zone.

For a start, it's a cute, cartoony shooting game, though to be fair, that was a pretty popular thing at the time, and Ordyne isn't as strange or psychedelic as Fantasy Zone. The real similarities lie in its actual mechanics. Firstly, you have a straight forward shot fired with one button, and a bomb that drops down from the front of your ship fired with the other, and like in FZ, playing this game without a turbo controller will build up massive muscles in your right arm as you try to shoot fast enough to get through the enemies. For some reason, Ordyne starts giving out a lot of bullet sponge enemies that take a ton of punishment from the second stage onwards, which is never a good thing.

THe other big thing taken from Fantasy Zone is the item shop. I know bombs and item shops are fairly common things in this era, but both of them together in a horizontally-scrolling cute-em-up just feels like too big a set of coincidences. The shop does work a little differently to FZ's shop, though. While Fantasy Zone and its sequels have every item available throughout the game as long as you've collected enough money for them, each time the shop appears in Ordyne, there's only three non-randomly selected items available. Also, when you by a weapon, its use is limited by time, not by how many time you fire it (just like in Fantasy Zone).

To be fair to Ordyne, it's not totally a rip off of Fantasy Zone. It's one-way forced scrolling, as opposed to FZ's Defender-style free roaming style, for example. More interestingly, there's the occasional appearance of the Dream Company, which allows you to gamble 1000 crystals for the chance to win either a power up or a larger amount of money, and other such prizes. I'm not sure if it's possible to lose at this, since t hasn't happened to me yet. Maybe I've just been very lucky, but still, if you see the weird clock guy floating around, approach him.

Ordyne might not be an original game, and there are definitely much better PC Engine shooting games in the same price range, but it's still a pretty good game. I wouldn't bother actively seeking it out, but if you see a copy on sale at a slightly lower price than usual, you probably won't regret picking it up.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dragon Beat: Legend of Pinball (Playstation)

I really like pinball games, both real tables and videogames. I think there's a lot to be learned about game design, especially for arcade-style games from playing them. It helps that most of them are pretty fun, even when they're not particularly well-designed because of some basic principles I'll get into later. Dragon Beat is definitely a useful learning experience, even among pinball games, as it's a masterclass in fundamentally bad design.

But first, I'll address a more obvious elephant in the room regarding this game: the way it looks. It's ugly. Very ugly. Everything is prerendered in a way that makes everything look very very dated. Some people talk about how the low polygon graphics seen on the Playstation and Saturn have aged poorly, and they're wrong in general, but Dragon Beat in particular is a game that would have benefitted greatly from having chunky polygon models with vibrant, brightly-coloured textures as opposed to the drab, wannabe realistic renders it has. The fact that prerendered backgrounds aren't exactly conducive to play and interaction is probably a mitigating factor in the game's mechanical faults, too.

Though it might just seem like flourish, an important part of what makes pinball fun is the constant stimulation. The whole time you're playing a pinball game, there's noise, flashing lights, numbers going up, stuff moving around and so on. For an example of this idea taken to its extreme, play Kaze's Digital Pinball series on Saturn (Last Gladiators and Necronomicon), games that constantly bombard the player with absurd levels of bombasticity, with guitar solos, booming proclamations and even surreal poetry recitations happening while the ball pings around the place.

Dragon Beat, by contrast is just plain old boring, in a way I've never seen a pinball game be before. More than half of your time is spent watching the ball just bounce off of walls, making no sound, scoring no points, having nothing happen. If you're lucky, you'll get the ball into a few holes , which will trigger events and let you see a little bit of cool pixel art and maybe also a glitchy pre-rendered sprite of a monster dancing around the table, but in the most part, this game is dull. (The whole theming of the game suggests that it was inspired by the work of husband and wife video pinball developers Littlewing, but only thematically. Littlewing's games are much more exciting, even their first, the primitive 1991 game Tristan, which you can play on the Internet Archive here.)

There's none of the audio-visual stimulation, none of the brain-pleasing numbers-going-up, there's nothing. Just a ball slowly rolling around an ugly table. And, in another bad aesthetic choice, the ball has some kind of weird sprite scaling thing going on, so that it shrinks when it goes up the screen, and grows when it comes down. It doesn't really work though, maybe due to the flatness of the tables themselves, and just looks strange.

Obviously, I don't recommend Dragon Beat - Legend of Pinball. Instead, you should play literally any other pinball game ever made, as I'm yet to encounter one that's anywhere near as bad as this.