Monday, 27 August 2018

Delisoba Deluxe (Saturn)

So, it's another one of those candidates for the title of "rarest Saturn game of all", and like Heim Waltz, it's one that was never released on sale in shops. Delisoba Deluxe was only given out as a prize to contestants on a TV game show, and playing the game was apparently also part of being on the game show, though I haven't been able to find out whether that's actually true or not, or even the name of the show itself. As you might guess, then, unlike Heim Waltz, Delisoba Deluxe is an actual playable game! And not only that, but it's also developed by Cave, which can only push its price up even further.

What it is is a fairly basic against-the-clock racing game, in which you play as two people atop a moped, hoping to deliver something to the TV studio before time runs out. I guess there must be some rule I'm missing out on from not having seen the TV show, because it seems like even if you don't crash at all, it'd be impossible to complete the "TV Original" mode without running out of time at least once. Luckily, though, there's two other modes to play. The second mode is Time Attack, which isn't much diffrent from TV Original, except you don't run out of time, and you're just trying to set records for finishing the course.

The third mode is the most exciting, and the one in which you can really see that this is a Cave game: Coin Links. In this mode, you've got a much more generous time limit, and the aim is to drive through the course collecting coins for points. This being a cave game, there is of course a scoring system, whereby coins are worth more points as you collect them in quick succession, with a little time meter in the corner of the screen showing you exactly how long you've got to get the next coin before dropping your combo. It's not like the complex and byzantine systems seen in their more recent games, but this was relatively early in their life as a company, and it is almost exactly like the combo system for killing enemies in the Dodonpachi games. It's interesting to see something like that in a game that was probably mostly in the hands of normal, non-arcade obsessed people for a long time.

Other than that, there's a map edit mode that seems a little glitchy, and I unfortunately couldn't figure out how to actually ride on the edited course, which is a shame. There's not much more to say about this game, really! It's a pretty fun diversion for about 15 minutes, and I can see people possibly getting into the Coin Link mode, trying to beat their scores, but it's also one I definitely recommend emulating. You're unlikely to ever see a real copy for sale, and if you do, it'll be hundreds, maybe even thousands of pounds to buy.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Panic Road (Arcade)

Video pinball games make sense on home systems, as there are factors of cost and space that make keeping a pinball collection at home incredibly unrealistic for anyone but the most crooked robber barons. In arcades, though, they're a much odder prospect, since most places that have arcade machines are also places you're likely to find pinball tables, so who would bother playing an untactile facsimile when they can play the real thing? Which is probably why, off the top of my head, I can only think of two pinball arcade games: the pornographic Gals Pinball, and this one, Panic Road.

Panic Road features some early examples (maybe even the first, but I'm not sure on that) of a video pinball game having features not possible on real tables, too: there's roaming, destructible enemies in place of stationary bumpers, there's multiple tables, and were those multiscreen tables real, they'd definitely be abnormally long compared to their peers. You don't get to choose which table you play, though, as the game takes a videogamey approach to progression. Each table has a goal, which reveals a key when fulfilled. Hit the key with the ball andgo to the next table!

The problem is that the game doesn't tell you what these goals are, and they're not particularly intuitive, either. The first table's goal is to collect the numbers 1-2-3 that are in a row about midway up the table, the ocean-themed table two has you hitting every clam on the table so they open up, and though I made the key appear on table three, I still have no idea what triggered that. It just seemed to happen. At least the table's themes are varied, though: table one is in a little garden with mushrooms, strawberries and wooden fenceposts, table two is as mentioned before, in the ocean, while the third table is just an arrangement of random objects, like moles, pencils, disembodied hands and a pink mountain.

Panic Road is an okay game. The opacity of each stage's goals is a problem, as are the slightly odd ball physics (which can be forgiven considering the game's age), and it obviously doesn't hold a candle to many of the console pinball games that would come later, but it's a fun enough distraction. I imagine it wasn't very popular with arcade operators, though: my first credit with no prior practice lasted over 20 minutes, and none of those that followed were any shorter.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Shadow Blasters (Mega Drive)

Shadow Blasters, also known as Shiten Myooh, is an interesting case. When I first played it, I wrote it off as an unfair, too-hard kusoge. For some resaon, though, I kept being drawn back to it, and the more I played it, the more I saw the good in it. For a start, it's not unfair, or too hard, it's just a very old fashioned (even for 1990) game that expects you to learn it, and offers little mercy or concession while you do so.

You get four characters (two ninja, a swordsman and a monk), who also act as your lives, and you can switch between them at any time from the pause menu. One concession the game does make is that it allows you to play the stages in whatever order you wish. The four characters each have their own very slightly different attacks, not in my opinion, they're not really different enough to warrant switching often. One thing that really feels missing from this game is the ability to heal characters while they're "tagged out", either automatically over time, or through power ups with that purpose. As it is though, you might as well play with one character until they die, then go onto the next, until you run out or finish the game. Maybe it would make the game too easy though?

On the other hand, something I did really find interesting about Shadow Blasters is the attack/power up system. Next to your health meter, there's a power meter, indicating how powerful your attacks are. You can charge it by holding the attack button for a more powerful attack. That's all fairly traditional, right? The twist that I really like, though, is that one of the power ups you collect makes it so a segment of your current character's power meter is always filled in, making charge shots take less time to power up, and gradually increasing the power of all your shots, until eventually, if you ever manage to collect nine of the items with one character, every one of your attacks is at full power. It's only something small, but I don't recall ever seeing it done in any other game, and I thought it was really cool.

Everything else about the game is fairly standard for an early Mega Drive action title: the stages are in forests, mountains, spaceships, and gritty inner cities, the enemies are a mix of humanoid troops who blindly march forward and weird small monsters that fly around, and the bosses are a decent enough array of big, weird monsters. It's not ground-breaking, but it is at least well executed. Shadow Blasters was apparently released in Japan and the US in the same week, but despite that, there's still some localisation silliness in there. In the JP version, the characters have the thematically appropriate names Kotarou, Ayame, Senshirou and Kidenbou, while the US version has the incredibly ill-fitting Horatio, Tiffany, Leo and Marco. That's more amusing than anything, tough the same can't be said for the disparity in quality between the two versions' boxarts: the Japanese copy has an incredible high quality painting, reminiscent of the best of the Heisei era Godzilla movie posters, while the US box has a laughable piece that looks like the cover of a self-published tabletop RPG supplement.

Whichever version you play, though, the game itself is surprisingly good if you have the patience to stick with it. You'll probably want to emulate, though, since it's apparently now rare and expensive. Though it was one of the built in ROMs on my chinese handheld Mega Drive clone, so that's also a nice way to get it!

Friday, 10 August 2018

Block Wars (Playstation)

It's kind of interesting, that every time I find another Versus Arkanoid clone, it manifests its competitive element in a totally different way. There's the most famous example, Puchi Carat, that essentially transplants Puzzle Bobble's ruleset into a block-breaking environment, there's Blocken, with its combination of a block-breaking race, and Tetris Battle Gaiden-esque attacks, and now Block Wars, which has yet another interpretation of the concept.

How it works is that the field is horizontally aligned, with a player at each end, barrier in the middle, and a solid wall behind each player. Each player starts with an identical set of blocks, and they go about their business smashing them with the ball. There's a bunch of characters to choose from, and as far as I can tell, they differ in how fast the ball goes, and how quickly it accelerates. There are two possible win conditions, the least interesting being smashing all your blocks before your opponent does.

Much more interesting is the way the walls and centre barrier come into play. The other way you can win is to ensure that one of the blocks on your opponent's side touches the wall behind them. Of course, this is done by moving the barrier in the middle of the field. There's two things that make the barrier move: hitting it with your ball pushes it away from you and towards your opponent. Allowing your ball to hit the wall behind you does the opposite. I think hitting the barrier also makes extra blocks appear on your opponent's side of the field, but the game moves really fast, so I'm not totally sure about that.

Well, the balls move really fast, but the game doesn't always. As is often a problem in single player Arkanoid-likes, you do often end up with situations where both players have one brick remaining in a hard-to-reach place, and there's a long, tense battle to be the first to reach it. And of course, with no blocks in the way, both players are knocking the barrier back and forth, too. The tension would probably be a lot more exciting with human opponents than AI ones, I assume.

Block Wars is a playable game, but if you plan on playing it single player, I wouldn't bother. There's a perfectly fine Playstation port of Puchi Carat, and that game's a lot more fun, and it has a couple of solo modes, too. Maybe Block Wars would have worked better as an arcade game, maybe on a tabletop cabinet with a vertically-aligned screen between the players?

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Strahl (3DO)

There's a lot of FMV games on the 3DO, but as far as I can tell, most of them are of the later, more complex variety that have you switching between multiple cameras and setting traps, and so on. In fact, I think Strahl might be the only old school Dragon's Lair-style game on the system (if I'm wrong on this, please let me know, of course). If anyone reading this somehow doesn't know how these games work, you watch a nice-looking cartoon, and "control" the action through a series of what would later become known as QTEs.

There's not much out of the ordinary in Strahl, mechanically speaking: It uses the four directions of the D-pad, as well as the A button when some crossed swords on the screen, and unusually, when a line of dots appears onscreen, you're expected to quickly tap the B button until they're all gone. The other big difference between Strahl and other games in the genre is that you get to choose the order in which you play the stages, so even hopelessly inept players can see a decent amount of different animation. (At the start of the game, you get 3 stages to pick from. After completing one of them, this opens up to six stages, and after them, there's a final seventh stage.)

There is actually a third difference between Strahl and its genremates: it's by far the easiest of these games I've ever played. The button prompts are actually pretty sparesly placed, and there's sometimes long stretches of onscreen action where you're not asked for any input at all. Furthermore, they're very forgiving, too: not only do you get a generous amount of time to press the button, but you're also not penalised for mispressing, as long as you do make the correct input before the prompt disappears. As a result of this, I finished the game on my first attempt, without continuing.

Strahl is only about twenty minutes long, but it's a nice twenty minutes. It looks and feels like the kind of 1980s OAV that would have been dubbed and released in the west as a kids' video on the cheap, no matter how inappropriate that decision would have been, like Birth, or that bizarre Marvel Dracula anime. I say it's worth a play if the sound of that appeals to you. One last note: I've read up a little bit on this game's history, and it was apparently originally made for arcades in 1985, but went unreleased until the 1990s, when it got ported to the Laseractive, the Saturn, and the 3DO, and apparently, all three versions play slightly differently (though I have no idea how).