Monday, 25 February 2019

Toshinden (Wii)

This game's existence is a bit of a mystery: the Toshinden series isn't exactly fondly remembered, and the only reason it was every really popular at all is because it was one of the first 3D fighting games to come along. So why then, a whole decade after the last Toshinden, did Tomy decide to not only release a game using that name, but release a game with no other connection to the series. It doesn't play like the others, it has none of the characters, and it's not set in the same world. It doesn't even have the same developers as the original series! (Those were developed by Lunatic Obscurity stalwarts Tamsoft, this is by Dream Factory, of Tobal and Ehrgeiz fame, and could very well be their worst game!)

So, if it doesn't play like the other Toshinden games, how does it play? Well, it's an odd one. You can use the analogue stick to run around the arena in all directions, and you only have two normal attack buttons: weak and strong. Rather than special move motions, you have a special and a super, each mapped to a button of their own. I'm not normally a fan of these kinds of super-simplified fighting game controls, though can sometimes work, as in the Senko no Ronde games, or to a lesser extent, the Playstation 90s anime homage festival that is Evil Zone/Eretzvaju. In this case, though, the best thing you can say about the controls is that they're not the worst thing about the game.

The actual worst thing about the game is a decision so stupid and antithetical to the nature of fighting games that I can barely believe they did it: all of the playable characters start out with weak, puny movesets, and you're expected to grind in single player to earn points to buy their moves and combos. To make matters worse,  despite this being a game that never had online play, there are only two single player modes: story mode, where you can't pick your character, and surival mode, where you endlessly fight randomly-selected opponents on randomly-selected stages until you lose. It's barely a step above Bomberman Act Zero on X Box 360!

Now, this game isn't completely worthless: I will admit that it looks great, with the character models and textures being particularly appealling. But obviously, that's not enough to make up for how much of an absolute chore it is to play, so obviously, I'm not going to recommend that you bother with it. It's a shame, too, I was really hoping this would be a nice little unsung hero of the Wii's library.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Steamgear Mash (Saturn)

I didn't know anything about this game going into it, other than it being developed by Tamsoft, who are always welcome on this blog, and published by Takara, who are mainly known (to me, at least) for their surprisingly good ports of SNK games to the Mega Drive, SNES, Game Boy and Game Gear. Despite the involvement of those two companies, it's neither a fighting game nor does it feature almost-naked ladies fighting monsters. Instead, it's a cute isometric action game, with some interesting ideas.

You play as a round little heavily-armed robot, followed around by a tiny, constantly-meowing cat, and you walk around various isometric stages shooting enemies and looking for each area's boss. There's a little dash of the Metrovania in there, too as the the path to the next stage is always blocked by a coloured block that can only be destroyed by the weapon acquired by beaten the stage's boss. There's  sometimes other blocks that get in the way of even reaching the boss, though the weapons to destroy them can be found hidden about the stage somewhere. It's all fairly standard semi=linear action game stuff so far, right?

The most interesting thing this game has though, in my opinion, is the controls. Because the Saturn controller doesn't have two sets of directional controls, some other solution had to have been made with regards to being ables to move and shoot in different directions simultaneously. They could have used the A, B, X and Y buttons as a second d-pad, I guess, though that wouldn't have left many buttons for things like jumping and changing weapons, or alternatively they could have used the shoulder buttons to swivel the top half of your robot like a tank's turret. But they did neither of these, going for a much more unorthodox solution. There's various different aiming options that can be cycled through with the left shoulder button, and they're utilised with the right shoulder button, though some of them have to be found as upgrade items as you play the game.

These options are things like Lock, which keeps you firing in the same direction when you change your walking direction, Back, which shoots in the opposite direction of your movement, Stop, which keeps you in one place and lets you shoot all around, or Roll, which lets you walk around in straight lines, while the top half of your body spins around, shooting in a circle. It's an odd solution, and some would say and over-complicated one, but the important thing is that it's an interesting one.

Other than that, Steamgear Mash is a pretty good game. It's not going to blow any minds or anything, but it's still pretty fun, and it's also really cute. They didn't have to put in a tiny meowing cat following you around, it doesn't serve any actuual in-game purpose, but there it is. That kind of superfluous detail really speaks in this game's favour, I think. If you get the opportunity to play Steamgear Mash, you should probably give it a try.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Jammit (3DO)

Jammit is a one-on-one basketball game, played on half-courts with a basket at only one end. The back of the box calls this "streetball", but that sounds way too much like it was invented by a marketing executive to be real, in my opinion. That feel carries over to the whole game, as everything about it attempts to be gritty and edgy and street and all that stuff, albeit in an incredibly ineffectual, even quaint early 1990s way.

The back of the box says a lot of things, in fact. It tries to paint a picture of a merciless and violent world of street basketball, where players are "left gasping for air in intensive care", even though fouls are totally still in effect, and can be called for a bit of mildly aggressive shoving. It also says that there's "enough trash talk to dis the whole neighbourhood", when you mainly just hear the phrases "you be foulin'!" and "you're not so tough!" over and over, no matter which characters (of which there are only three) are in the game. Also there's meant to be five different courts, but in a couple of hours of play, I only saw two. But that's probably my fault for not being very good.

As I'm sure you've noticed from the screenshots, the character sprites in Jammit are digitised photos, ala Mortal Kombat, which is partially why I decided to play the 3DO version over the Mega Drive or SNES versions: I was going in blind, and had assumed that the sheer 90s power of the CD and a mighty 32-bit onsole would let this game look its best, maybe rivalling the arcade versions of the first few Mortal Kombat games. Unfortunately, as you can see, it's still got small, blurry sprites, and what you can't see is that the music is also a disappointment. Being on CD, I had my heart set on hearing some terrible, conspicuously clean-languaged original raps in this game, but the music just has that weird farty sound that so many America-developed Mega Drive games have.

I've been incredibly harsh on this game so far, but honestly, I had a lot of fun playing it, even though I'm terrible and won only about  two or three of the games I played. The games aren't all just the same, either: in single-player mode, each game you play has different rules: first to twenty-one points, points only count when you're shooting from an X that moves around the floor, points only count when you make the camera go into close-up mode, and so on. And the cheesiness of the game's aesthetic is incredibly charming and nostalgic, too. Jammit's far from a classic, and I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to play it, but if you ever stumble across the chance to do so, you'll probably have a pretty good time playing this pretty bad game.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Masked Rider Club Battle Race (Arcade)

I've actually been avoiding writing about this game for a long time now, not for any reason actually to do with the game itself, but for some reason I thought I'd already covered it years ago. But I finallt went back and cheacked and found no such post. So anyway, Masked Rider Club Battle Race is a game I actually got to play as a kid, in an arcade at a holiday camp in Cleethorpes. This was long before I'd ever head of Kamen Rider, and possibly before I'd even seen Saban's Masked Rider or the Power Rangers episodes that introduced him.

Anyway, it's one of those games that only I seem to love: a top-down, vertically-scrolling psuedo-racing game where the aim is to get to the end of each stage as quickly as possible while avoiding obstacles, and in which you have a fuel meter that acts as a combination time limit and health bar. There's got to be a snappier name for these things! There's also an actual time limit this time round, too, though it's so generous that you're never likely to run it down, and it's really only there for providing a time bonus at the end of each stage. The controls are interesting, though the game's controlled with two buttons and a digital joystick, you still have a fair amount of control over your speed. Obviously, once of the buttons is the accelerator, which you'll be holding the whole time, and you can let go of it to slow down and stop. But also, holding up on the joystick lets you go faster, and holding down lets you reduce your speed.

It's tempting to storm through the stages at top speed, holding up the entire time, but unless you both memorise the location of every obstacle and have the dexterity to avoid them at high speed, it's a bad move. In terms of survival and scoring, it's better to just go through the stages at normal speed: you're more likely to survive, and the end-of-stage fuel bonus is likely to be higher if you aren't constantly crashing into stuff. On top of that, you're more likely to pick up more of the points items littered about the stages if you aren't zooming past them, too. On the other hand, top speed is really fast, so it's a lot more thrilling to play tht way.

All the TV Kamen Riders who had appeared up to that point are playable characters, with the main difference between them being the direction and range of their attacks (in my opinion, Kamen Rider ZX is probably the best pick, with his straightfoward straight-ahead attack), and everything's in a colourful super deformed style, which I guess was the fashion at the time, considering there was also a Kamen Rider SD anime released in the same year, along with another SD Kamen Rider appearing in Banpresto's Great Battle series of Super Famicom games. Even if you're, for some reason, not a fan of Kamen Rider or tokusatsu in general, I'd still say Kamen Rider Club Battle Race is worth playing. It's a great example of the genre, with more sophistication than earlier entries. (In fact, it might even be the last game of its kind to ever appear in arcades, as the world had mostly moved on by 1993).

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Nyan Nyan Tower (PC)

Collecting physical copies of doujin PC games is becoming something of a mini-hobby for me recently, and 2001's Nyan Nyan Tower is my latest acquisition. It's a cure maze game that plays a lot like a top-down version of the old SEGA arcade game Flicky: your aim is to go around each single-screen stage, pick up all the fairies, and bring them to the exit. Just like in Flicky, and Blitter Boy, and other games of this type, there's more points to be had by bring multiple fairies home at once. However, unlike every other game, it's not that simple: each fairy is colour-coded and they have to be picked up in rainbow order from red to violet, in order to score the big points.

When you start the game, you can choose between story and challenge mode, though the only difference I can see between them is that Story mode has a dialogue scene at the start. More meaningful is the choice between two characters, Nora and Ziam. Nora's normal attack is very close range, and only stuns enemies, though it can destroy destructible walls and reveal hidden coins (of which there is one on each stage, and every five stages you get to use them to play a bonus game), and to kill enemies, she has to use a charge attack. Ziam, on the other hand has a ranged normal attack, which kills enemies in one hit, but needs a charge attack to destroy walls and reveal coins.

Nyan Nyan Tower would be a pretty great game if it weren't for two problems. The first is that it's really, really slow. I'm sure it's not a frame rate issue, since all the sounds seem to be playing at the right speed, plus I'm sure my computer, which can emulate the Dreamcast and PS2, should have no trouble keeping up with a 2D indie game from eighteen years ago. But even though Nora moves slightly faster than Ziam, they both still feel like they're wading through treacle the whole time. The other problem is kind of related, and it's that the game is just too easy. Even if you play for score and go around collecting the fairies on each stage in order, you'll get more than ten stages in before you lose a single life. In fact, it's so easy that I've yet to have the patience to play an entire credit of it yet: I get bored and give up long before I'm in any danger of running out of lives.

It's a shame, but not every game can be a lost classic, I guess. Still, in NNT's favour, I will say that it's very well presented, and it's got some good ideas, even if the execution isn't great. The developers, Shisui House seem to have been pretty prolific around the early 00s, and they've got a few games I'd like to look at in the future too, and this one wasn't bad enough to put me off them, at least. But I still don't recommend tracking it down.