Saturday, 28 December 2019

Other Stuff Monthly #8!

It's time once again to look at a thing that's not a videogame, and this month, our subject is the November 2005 issue of Terebi Magazine, which is a Japanese magazine aimed at little boys. Why bother covering something like this? Because almost all the content is about tokusatsu tv shows, and a lot of that is spent of awesome double-page spreads, be they photographic or even some cool old-school artwork.

The magazine is also supposed to come with a DVD and a bunch or press-out-and-fold cardboard toys, but unfortunately, my copy has no DVD, and most of the toys were missing too. A coupler of the toys were intact, but my attempt at putting them together was an abject failure resulting in ugly, mangled, torn cardboard. Oh well.

Anyway, even if you can't read Japanese, Terebi Magazine is still worth seeking out some issues of if you're interested in tokusatsu, because of those aforementioned photo spreads. While adult-aimed magazines like Newtype Thelive are great for pictures of attractive actors and actresses from tokusatsu shows (and for covering late night stuff like Garo and Lion Maru G that has no place in a kids magazine, of course), these spreads have lots of big close-ups of monster, mecha, and hero suits, which are a joy to look at in such detail.

Also in this issure were some awesome detail cutaway drawings of Ultraman monsters, and a bunch of puzzles, mainly mazes. That's about it for this month, and I'm sorry if you're not at all interested in tokusatsu, but I never claimed that these monthly posts were ever going to be anything but self-indulgent!

Monday, 23 December 2019

Grand Master (NES)

Despite the martial artsy-sounding name, this is an action RPG with a western fantasy setting, in which you play as a young knight named Rody out to rescue a princess from a devil named Dante. It is the most generic plot possible, but it is at at least presented well, with nice-looking pixelart cutscenes, and there's little side elements too, like the failed hero of a land that's already fallen to Dante, and your sister who went missing after going off to become a demon tamer thre years ago. It's also a little different to most RPGs, since it has no save or password functions, so you're meant to be able to get through it in one sitting (I've managed about half, so far, though the way the game's set out means that I've been able to see much more of it than that).

From the start, you can choose which order you want to play the first five dungeons (and this game only has dungeons, no towns), though I strongly recommend going to the icy mountains first, since there you get the throwing axes, which make all the bossfights significantly easier. Every stage has some kind of item to make progress easier, too: a morning star, a magic wand, armour, and so on, and those items are avtually the only way to improve you attack power, since levelling up only improves your max HP and MP. As I mentioned, there's no saving or even passwords available, but if you do die, you can continue from the title screen as many times as you like, keeping your experience level, as well as any items you got from dungeons you've completed.

The nice thing about Grand Master is it's a proper, purely designed videogame, by which i mean that you can easily recognise each kind of enemy and each stage element and quickly learn what they do and how they behave, then you figure out how you best counteract that behaviour. It's not flashy or impressive, but it is simple and satisfying. Though that's not to say that this is a game with bad presentation, the aforementioned cutscenes look great for something in a NES game, and there's some cool little touches in the game itself, too, like when you go to the mountains, Rody's wearing a big thick coat, and in the desert dungeon, he's wearing lighter, short-sleeved armour.

I don't think there's really much more for me to say about Grand Master: it's just a simple, well-designed, fun-to-play game. So obviously, I recommend that you give it a try!

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Ryu Kyu (Game Gear)

So, this is a port of an arcade game that was also ported to the PC Engine. I'm reviewing this version, though, because it's slightly different to the others, and because it's been a long time since the Game Gear was featured here. Also, this port of Ryu Kyu was released in the west under the title Solitaire Poker, but I didn't find that out until after I'd already played the Japanese version for a few hours, and also that title is so boring I almost fell asleep typing it in this sentence.

Anyway, Ryu Kyu is a poker-themed puzzle game. Each stage gives you a score quota and a pit containing a five-by-five grid. A deck of cards is shuffled into four piles, you can only see the top card of each pile. Your task is to pick one of the four visible cards, and drop it into the pit, then do that twenty-four more times until every space is full. While doing this, you're trying to make poker hands in rows, columns and diagonals. Every hand is worth a different amount of points, and you've got to meet the stage's quota before all the spaces are full. This is the basic premise of the game, which is the same in both the Arcade and Game Gear versions.

The Game Gear version differs in a few ways, though. Firstly, before you start playing, you pick a difficulty level. Easy is a lot easier than the arcade version, and hard is slightly harder, though the only difference between the two is that the score quotae are higher in hard mode. The second, much bigger, difference is that in the arcade version, every couple of stages, you got to open a random box, which would reduce the next stage's quota by a few hundred or a few thousand points. The Game Gear has its own system for reducing quotae, which is both better and worse than the arcade version's.

Now, when you clear a stage, any points you scored over the current stage's quota are subtracted from the next stage's quota. This means that you're rewarded for playing well, which I do prefer to the arcade's randomly assigned bonuses, but at the same time, it does make the game a lot easier. I've had playthroughs where my quota was zero points for two or three stages in a row! Though, obviously, it's still a game where you're heavily reliant on what cards you draw. I'd say it's about half-and-half with regards to skill versus luck, though. And though I'd normally admonish a game for having such a strong element of luck, I think in this case it's not so big a problem.

Ryu Kyu is just a simple little puzzle game on a handheld, something to pass a short amount of time, while still being addictive enough to have you coming back to it. It succeeds at that goal pretty well, and I actually like this version better than the arcade. My only big complaint is that you don't get an overall score, your points only correspond to the quota system. But otherwise, I recommend giving this game a try!

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Reinforcer (X68000)

The first thing I though when I loaded up Reinforcer is that it looked a lot like SEGA's arcade game Crack Down, and the first two stages even have you locating and defusing bombs, which is kind of the opposite of what you do in Crack Down, even though in top-down videogame form, the two activities are identical. It only takes a little more inspection to see that Reinforcer is definitely its own game with a lot to offer, though.

Possibly because of the resemblence to Crack Down, I first approached the game with an approach that was both methodical and thorough: killing every enemy, searching every room and path for items, and so on. Then I got to the first boss and had sixteen seconds to try and fight it. It seems that the actual way to play the game is a lot more exciting! I found a lot more success in running through each room, killing only the enemies that were directly in my path or otherwise especially threatening. You can absorb plenty of damage too, which also encourages this kind of madcap, rampaging playstyle.

But let's take a break from talking about how the game plays to highlight the presentation. Though it's a top-down shooter, everything looks as detailed as it can, with some of the sprites looking better than those in the first two Grand Theft Auto games. The menus, cutscenes, dialogue boxes also look great: detailed and stylish. There's a lengthy intro that you thankfully don't have to watch, but it's worth a look at least once, for some excellent pixel art, and top-quality music (though the game has great music generally, to be honest). On top of all this, there's some nice little touches here and there, like the text on the title screen that states emphatically that "THIS GAME IS CYBER PUNK ACTION". It all looks and feels so cool!

Getting into specifics, each character has a selection of four weapons, though you'll mostly be using the machine gun (because it has infinite ammo), and the hand grenades (because you can throw them over walls to kill enemies a room over). Though you don't get to pick which character you use to play each mission, unfortunately. Also of interest is your characters' damage system. You have damage counters for armour and health that start at zero and go up when you get hit. You don't lose any health until your armour is at 100% damage, and in the few stages I've played, there are no items for refilling your health, only your armour (though you can still collect these when your armour is 100% damaged, and it'll still go back down).

Reinforcer is definitely a game I recommend you try out. Among the X68000 action games that aren't arcade ports, it's definitely one of the most high quality, in terms of both presentation, and just as a fun, exciting game! Finally, if you try it out in xm6g, it might not be immediately obvious how to get it running so here's some help: put the System Disk in the first drive, then wait for it to start loading. Then, into the second drive, insert Disk A to watch the intro, or Disk B to go straight to the game. For some reason, the game won't load if you don't wait for the system disk to start loading before inserting one of the others.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Uppers (PS Vita)

I really, really wanted to like this game. On paper, it has so much going for it: it's a modern beat em up that relies on neither ham-fisted nostalgia nor a grind-driven negative difficulty curve, and it has a ton of cool ideas and a lot of visual flair. It's all ruined, though, by one massive insurmountable flaw: it might not have a negative difficulty curve, but it doesn't have a positive one either. It's got a difficulty flatline. What I'm saying is that it's incredibly easy, to an extent I don't remember seeing before in an action game that wasn't made for very young children.

But I'll get back to that, after talking about the game's positives.  Like how all the stages have crowds of girls loitering around the place, and you can get statistical bonuses by impressing them with your fighting. Impress them enough, and they'll even give you love letters! There's also some weird slot machine thing involving them where you can win more bonuses, and a weird minigame that lets you lift a girl's skirt by tapping the X button fast enough for a few seconds. This stuff's all a little unseemly, but it is, at least, original. In fact, I don't remember a beat em up that has you trying to impress onlookers in this way. Surely it hasn't taken 30-odd years of the genre's exitence for someone to come up with this idea?

What I think is the game's best point is its use of weapons and the environment. Rather than being able to pick weapons up, carry them round and use them to clobber enemies, they're all instead parts of the stage. So you use the O button in the right place, and you'll swing round a lamppost to kick the enemies surrounding you, throw a motorbike into a crowd, or event flip a pick-up truck onto a group of foes. Conversely, you can punch, throw, and kick enemies into things to elicit effects: you can cause them to smash through walls, collapse piles of girders, explode burning barrells, and so on. Both these features really add an anarchic feel of mass destruction to all the fights, which is nice.

Of course, that brings us all back to the problem of the game's difficulty. All those cool ideas and visual bombast don't mean much when the game itself is easier than breathing. There's no tension, no friction, and no real excitement. Most of the enemies go down in two or three normal punches, meaning that you only need to use the cool environmental stuff for the tougher enemies and bosses. And even they don't put up much of a challenge. Uppers is definitely the game to play if you ever want to sympathise with Superman's "world of cardboard" speech. I've been playing for over two hours, with hard mode switched on, and still there's no challenge. It might well get harder at some point later in the game, but an action game really shouldn't make you play for multiple hours before getting to the "real" start of the game. Because if it does, then you're likely to just give up on it. Like I have given up on Uppers. One final note: it does have a proper printed manual, with colour illustrations and staples and everything!

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Logic Pro 2 (Arcade)

So, I've already reviewed the first and last parts of this trilogy in the past, and I've finally decided to write about the awkward middle child, which also happens to be the black sheep of the family. While Logic Pro and Logic Pro Adventure are the best nonogram games I've ever played, Logic Pro 2 rivals Oekaki Pizzle for the title of worst.

Where Oekaki Puzzle was boring and joyless in its execution, Logic Pro 2 is actively hateful. The big problem it has is that in attempting liven up their sequel, the developers thought it would be a good idea to add enemies into the mix. Now, this isn't some kind of versus mode where you race to finich a puzzle before an AI opponent, it's little creatures crawling around the grid doing stuff while you try to solve the puzzle. That "stuff" being erasing the crosses you use to mark squares that definitely don't need filling in, or adding crosses of their own, or just sitting and getting in the way.

You can kill all of the aforementioned enemies, though they respawn a short time later. Another type of enemy is unkillable, though, as it appears outside of the grid: the caterpillars that wiggle onto the screen now and then to cover up the numbers. You already have a time limit, and now you'll be wasting valuable seconds waiting for these jerks to wiggle away again so you can actually see the puzzle you're meant to be solving!

The real shame is that other than the enemies, it's mostly the same as Logic Pro Adventure: great graphics, decent puzzles, and that weird gimmick where you collect fifty little dots for a big bonus. It's just ruined by the enemies. I guess Adventure does prove that they learned from their mistakes though, which is nice. Still, don't play this game, no matter how much you're left wanting more after finishing its stablemates.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Other Stuff Monthly #7!

This month's thing that isn't a videogame is an old, rare fanzine! Which is about videogames. Specifically, PC Engine games, it being called The Complete PC Engine Guide Book and all. It was printed in 1993, as far as I can tell, on regular white photocopy paper, with slightly thicker yellow paper used for the cover. Naturally, after twenty-six years, such an item feels pretty fragile, and in fact, the ebay seller from whom I bought it sent me a message when I placed my bid, requesting that I promise to take care of it. It's pretty rare, too, it seems to have been only listed on ebay twice ever (though I don't know if both times were the same copy).

There's about 90 pages of actual content in here, along with a few blank "notes" pages, and some ads on the inside back cover. There's a section detailing all the different models of PC Engine, which even includes the LT and the LaserActiive, which is pretty impressive from a pre-WWW fanzine. Then there's a section on peripherals, the highlights being something called a "colour booster", which does... something to do with making the colours better on  a "SCART PC Engine", as opposed to a PAL one. I know there were a small number of PAL PC Engines released by mail-order, but I have no idea what a SCART one might be, or why the colours need boosting, and half a page dedicated to the Magic Super Griffin. This is one of those big, old-fashioned piracy devices, that goes into the HuCard slot of your PC Engine, and connects to a floppy drive via parallel port. It cost £250, and the article claims that "It is quite legal, in the UK, to buy and use these copiers, so long as you do not sell the software", which sounds very dubious to me. There's also a small mention of a forthcoming, unnamed peripheral that will allow users to record up to an hour of broadcast tv to a CD. Was such a thing ever announced for the PC Engine? It sounds like some absurd fantasy.

There's also a short anime section, explaining what anime is, in that very early 90s way, and giving glowing reviews to Akira, Project A-Ko, and Warriors of the Wind, and a not-so-glowing review of the 1986 Fist of the North Star movie. Then we get a little preview of the Arcade Card, before the bulk of the book: the games reviews. There's 48 pages of these, packed in 5 to a page (all hand-written, too!), and some of the opinions on offer are pretty unusual. I have to say I'm glad I don't have to rely on this book as my primary source of info when buying PCE games. For example: the excellent KiKiKaiKai only scores two out of ten, while the very mediocre L-Dis scores seven! Wallaby scores higher than KiKiKaiKai, even though the writer admits he couldn't even figure out how to play it! There are some undeniable universal truths, though, as Rondo of Blood and Final Lap Twin both score much-deserved nines.

What's most interesting about the reviews section, from a historical standpoint, is some of the titles used for certain games. Obviously, internet access would have been very rare back then, and even if you were online, there wouldn't be a lot of English language info on Japanese videogames out there, so, when people couldn't read the Japanese titles of games, they just kind of had to guess. So, there's a game just listed as "Dodge Ball", though there's at least three games that could be on PC Engine. Bonze Adventure is "Hell Explorer", Schubibinman is "Overhauled Man", and best of all, Bravoman is "Mr. Stretcho Man". There's even a few mystery titles, like "Kario World", "Son of Dracular", and "Japan Warrior".

The book ends with a sizable cheats section, which was probably very useful in that pre-internet age, and the aforementioned notes pages and ads. Some previous owner of my copy has written in some Devil Crash passwords on the last of the notes pages, and the ads are for a few early 90s UK games importers, plus a faux-leather HuCard waller for only £3.20! I can't really recommend seeking out and buying a copy of this guide, unless you're really interested in the ephemera of early import videogame fandom in the UK. Naturally, all the information is available much more easily and more more accurately online in 2019, so historical curiosity is all it has to offer.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Sideswiped (DS)

Sideswiped, also known as Clash King V201 is a great little racing game for the DS, that seems to have gone mostly unnoticed and forgotten. You'd think a fast, fully 3D handheld racing game, that didn't force the use of a terrible touchscreen steering wheel would have got people's attention, but as far as I could tell at the time, the only people who paid any attention to this one were people paying attention to Japanese DS releases on its original release, and then when it came westwards, the few members of that previous group who were interested in racing games. (Having said that, though, I do seem to be suffering a bit of a Mandela effect moment, as various websites have both versions of this game coming out within a month of each other, while I remember playing Clash King V201 for several months before Sideswiped came out. Weird.)

It's not just a racing game, either! It's a little handheld version of the Playstation classic Destruction Derby, with you competing in three kinds of "races", only one of which is focussed on being the first to pass a finish line. There's "Destruction", in which you drive into traffic, trying to ram innocent people's cars hard enough that they fly into the distance and explode, scoring big points for causing chain reactions and "Crash Race", where you drive around a track with seven other cars, scoring points by crashing into them, with less spectacular results than in Destruction. In both of the above modes, you're given a time limit and a points quota to meet in that time. In the final mode, "Normal Race", you take part in a normal race! There's seven other cars, like in Crash Race, but this time you're all just trying to make it over the finish line first.

Most of the stages take place in places like Las Vegas, New York, and generic Seaside and Mountain locales, but there's also an Arena area, which adds a couple of its own, weird race types: "Bowling", where you drive into a bunch of giant pins, and the even stranger "Trampoline", which has you driving off of a raised platform, to bounce on a series of giant trampolines, and popping as many floating balloons as you can along the way. All in all, there's a lot of variety in Sideswiped! Though to be honest, it's only Destruction and Normal Race that you'll ever want to go back to, as the others are either stupid and gimmicky, or just plain boring. But  good stages are really good, don't get me wrong.

Sideswiped is a game that doesn't have any real problems, other than it being surprisingly hard to get ahold of (it doesn't seem to even be listed on Amazon UK!). But if you can find it, it's definitely worth getting.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Bay Route (Arcade)

Yes, that title does sound a lot like "Beirut", though the game is set in a generic post-apocalyptic sci-fi land, so I have no idea why they did that. But anyway, it's a game developed by Sunsoft and published by SEGA, that's a lot like Contra. As is so often the case with SEGA arcade games from this period, I have to wonder why it never got a Mega Drive release. The resemblance to Contra makes it even stranger, since that series was so popular back then, and it could have been a bit of a coup to say "our console has a game like contra, that's more colourful and better looking than anything on Nintendo's console!"

Like Contra, you play as some guy going from left to right, shooting lots of generic enemy soldiers, a fair few pieces of big enemy military hardware, and occasionally a big enemy weird monster here and there, too. The first boss is even a big barricade wall thing with guns on it, like in Contra. There's some differences, though: for example, you start with four weapons and can switch between them at any time, instead of waiting for the right powerup to come along. Also, the flamethrower is definitely the good kind of flamethrower, as opposed to Contra's rubbish fireball gun thing.

On its own merits, without comparisions to Contra, Bay Route is pretty good overall. It's nothing particularly special, just a well-designed run-and-gun game, with easily-learnable enemy behaviours, some cool set-pieces, and a nice smooth difficulty curve. It looks and sounds pretty good, though nothing mindblowing for an arcade game of its era. Obviously, it's not even slightly original, but I don't want to be too harsh on it for that, especially since it's of a pretty similar quality to the series it's ripping off, rather than being significantly worse. Unfortunately, that averageness makes it kind of hard to write about.

I guess I can recommend playing Bay Route? You won't be missing out on a great deal if you don't, but you'll have a decent enough time if you do. It's hard not to be on the fence about this game; there's a lot of reasons why a game might fade into obscurity, and this one clearly did just because it's so completely unremarkable.

Monday, 11 November 2019

3-D Bomberman (MSX)

Though it seems like an obvious thing to have tried at some point in the mid-00s, maybe around the time of the awful Bomberman Act Zero, as far as I can tell, this game from all the way back in 1984 is the only attempt at a first-person Bomberman game. To put that in perspective, I don't even think anyone involved had even realised the multiplayer potential for the series at this point! Obviously, this doesn't use polygons, or even sprite scaling for its 3D effect, instead using Phantasy Star-style dungeons to stage an action game.

By that, I mean they're mazes with identical walls, where your movement is in pre-determined steps, and you can only turn in increments of ninety degrees. This wasn't the only action game from this era to use such a setting, with the most famous example in the UK being 3D Monster Maze, released in 1981 on the Sinclair ZX81, a computer with significantly less power than the MSX. An important difference between that game and 3-D Bomber Man though, is that while 3D Monster Maze had the player as a passive participant, running and hiding from the T-Rex in the maze, the player in this game is tasked with killing the enemies (malevolent green balloons, the eponymous floaters from the UK's localised version of the first Bomber man game, Eric and the Floaters), by dropping time bombs in the grand Bomberman tradition. You can also escape from the maze by finding a ladder, but you don't get any points for this, and I'm not sure if the game has an ending to reach.

The game's execution is about as good as can be expected with the technology of the time, with two small exceptions. Firstly, each of your steps covers the distance of half a block in the maze, which, couple with the stiff 90 degree turning, means you can sometimes get stuck on corners for a few seconds, which can be annoying when you're being chased. The other problem is that there are two types of wall: the indestructible outer wall of the maze, and the destructible walls within, and they both look identical. You do have a small radar that only shows you, the enemies, and the outer walls, but it's a weak compromise. There are other problems, but they're not so much problems with this game, but ways in which someone playing it in 2019 can see that it could have been improved upon with more advanced technology: things like atmospheric stereo sound, the ability to peek round corners, and move in directions other than backwards and forwards would all have added a lot, but obviously wouldn't really have been possible in 1984. Which makes it stranger that it's not an idea Hudson ever revisited, as far as I know.

3-D Bomber Man isn't a bad game, but at the same time, it's more interesting than it is good. It's worth playing out of curiosity, but not much more than that. Also, since I mentioned it at the start, I want to point something out about Bomberman Act Zero: while everyone laughed at that game's attempt at applying a dystopian sci-fi aesthetic to Bomberman, the real problem it had was that it was barely a game at all: the single player mode consisted of 100 identical boring stages, and the multiplayer mode was only playable online. And even then, you could only play in that one stage that's in the single player.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Cross Wiber - Cyber Combat Police (PC Engine)

Last year, I reviewed Cyber Cross - Busou Keiji, which is one of the most-played PC Engine games among those of which I actually own real copies. Cross Wiber is the sequel to that game, and it too is a tokusatsu-themed single-plane beat em up. This time, though, the aesthetic is one more contemporaneous to the tokusatsu shows at the time, as opposed to the 1970s retro look of the first game. Think Blue Swat or Mobile Cop Jiban, as opposed to Kamen Rider or Battle Fever J. The best part of this is that one of the bosses from the first game (the fire-breathing giant frog-man) reappears in the new style, looking totally different, but also instantly recognisable.

The new look is generally pretty great all round, though: everything's very detailed and well-drawn, and it has a little bit of a gritty edge to it, and there's lots of shiny technology and gooey monsters. The game itself has had a few changes made to it, too. For example, where transformation in the first game was dependant on collecting an item, this time round, you just have to press the select button when your health is high enough to have some blue segments. There's really no reason why you wouldn't transform as soon as possible, but requiring you to manually do it does make it feel a little cooler.

Just like last time, there's red, green, and blue forms to transorm into (the default is red, and the other two have to be collected as items), and the weapons for each form are the same, too: red has a sword, green has boomerangs, and blue has a gun. It seems the devs realised that the gun was the best weapon by a long distance, so its use is reliant on battery power, and the blue form is reduced to using punches and kicks when that runs out. Other than these small differences, and a shooting stage where you're riding on a hoverbike, it's very similar to the first game, but with a new coat of paint.

The main difference, which is a big factor as to why I don't like this as much as I did Cyber Cross is the difficulty. The first few stages are very, very easy. A lot easier than the first game ever was. Then along comes the sixth stage, which takes place atop a bunch of metal pillars, with instant death pits below and gangs of floating monsters going about the place, waiting to slightly knock you to your doom. It just feels like such a letdown that instead of designing stages and enemies that challenge you in combat, the devs inserted this kind of test of memory and luck. It's not a total game-ruiner, but it did deflate my enthusiasm for it quite a bit.

As it is, Cross Wiber is a game that's decent, but far from essential. The most damning thing about it, though, is that it's both less good and more expensive than its predecessor. I won't tell you not to play it, but I'd definitely direct you towards Cyber Cross instead of it.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Dark Awake -The King Has No Name- (PS3)

So, this is a fighting game that was originally released on Taito's Type X arcade hardware as "Chaos Breaker" in 2004, with this, the only home port, coming six years later. It's a fantasy-themed 2D fighting game base around team battles, kind of like a combination of Golden Axe: The Duel with the King of Fighters series, but with a few interesting little gimmicks to call its own. As far as I can tell, the home version is pretty much a straight port of the original, with the only addition being online play (which I'm fairly certain is no longer available).

There's eighteen characters, divided into six teams, all of except one of which is racially homogenous. So there's a team each of humans, elves, dwarves, sea demons, and undead, as well as a team that's made up of a goblin, an orc, and a troll. Though the designs do lean heavily on typical fantasy tropes, there's still some cool ideas in the designs. One of the dwarves, for example, comes with an entire artillery cannon, and there's members of the monster and undead teams riding mounts of their own. And even the more cliched characters are cool enough to be appealling, too. Though it's a straight KOF-style team battle arrangement with no tagging, you can call the still-concious members of your team in for assist attacks, and this plays into the game's main unique gimmick.

When you pick your team, you see, you get four slots to fill. The first three are for your characters, and the fourth is for an item. There's a ton of items to choose from, and they do various things like healing your health or super meters, increasing attack or defence for a few seconds, summoning a monster to attack your opponent, and so on. This ties into the assist system in a couple of ways:assists are called by pressing a combination of two attack buttons, and your item is listed among your team memebers and used in the same way. Where things get more interesting (in a single player game, at least) is when, after defeating a team, you get a few more items to pick from, and you can choose to use them to either replace the item you picked at the start, or if you're feeling brave, to replace up to two of your characters, giving you a disadvantage in terms of the number rounds you can lose, but also giving you a bigger choice of usable items.

So, is the game any good? Yes! It feels good to play, all the attacks look and sound good, it's just all-round a pretty good game. It was never going to have an easy time, being a post-2000 2D fighting game with no ties to existing series, and it definitely can't have been helped by the fact that it looks a lot better in motion than it does in still screenshots, either. In motion, it looks great, with big sprites and expressive animation, but in stills, the sprites tend to look a lot more blocky and ugly. If you have the means to play a Japan-only download-only PS3 game (or, for that matter, a Taito Type X game), it's definitely worth your time.