Thursday, 28 March 2019

Castle Warrior (Amiga)

Castle Warrior represents a concept I've rarely seen before: the into-the-screen sprite scaling beat em up (the only other example I can think of is Jinmu Densho on PC Engine). Well, it starts out as that, anyway, with your warrior walking down a corridor (in a castle, of course), being assailed by bats and wall-mounted monster arms, and the occasional enemy big enough to force him to stop and fight it for a bit. While the bats and the arms are dispatched with a direct swing of the sword, these larger opponents are battled in a silly little game of violent tennis, whereby they shoot perfectly spherical fireballs at you, and you try to bat them back with your sword. At the end of the corridor waits a big dragon, so big in fact that it doesn't even fit on the screen. This battle, and a later boss fight against a similarly massive snake monster, is fought by moving left and right to avoid attacks, and chucking spears when you get the chance.

The second stage has a similar into-the-screen premise, but this time you're kayaking down an underground river and avoiding stalacmites, angry fish, and other such things. All the stages and boss fights so far have a feel to them that's a kind of combination of a simple LCD game and one of those games they had on saturday morning TV shows in the 1990s, where kids could call in and control a character by shouting directions down the phone. It's all very simplistic, very slow, and very stiff.

After the boat ride, you fight the aforementioned snake monster, and after that, the game suddenly changes perspective, as the final battle is viewed from the side. This seems like a strange decision, having the final boss fight be less graphically impressive than the rest of the game. This fight is against a wizened old wizrd in a red cloak, sitting in a flying throne made from the lower jaw of a giant demon statue. It's also incredibly hard, as the wizard's attacks are both difficult to dodge and massively damaging. I've made a few attempts at beating him, but even with an infinite lives cheat, I could never land more than one or two hits.

There's one last thing to be said about Castle Warrior that I haven't already: it's incredibly short. Like, less than ten minutes. I assume that the huge difficulty spike represented by the final boss is just there so that people can't say they completed it on their first try with no problems at all. Though it's a pretty unique game, and even Jinmu Densho is pretty different to it, so there's not really any alternatives, I can't really recommend Castle Warrior. It's an incredibly short game, and still somehow feels like a bit of a slog.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Accel Knights 2: Full Throttle (3DS)

First, I'll point out that though this is a 3DS game, I haven't bothered to stitch the top and bottom screenshots together, since the bottom screen is mostly unused and doesn't have anything interesting on it. But anyway, Accel Knights 2 is a game with an amazing premise: it's about knights on motorbikes jousting in a fantastical future world. Also, the motorbikes can transform into power armour. Obviously, this game never got released in the west, presumably due to some market research by the publisher that told them that people outside Japan weren't interested in buying games where awesome stuff happens. It's also the sequel to a Japan-only DSiWare game, but getting hold of such a thing in this day and age  is currently beyond me.

Anyway, these jousts don't take the form of real time action, instead being a kind of strategic rock-paper-scissors arrangement, albeit one where you can see what your opponent is picking. The battles take place in rounds, and each round has two parts. The first part is the RPS bit, where each knight decides to charge a low, middle, or high attack by holding X, A, or B to fill a meter. High beats middle, middle beats low, and low beats high, and you can see what your opponent is charging. However, you can change which one you want to charge at any point in this very short sequence, and I think the last one you press is the one that you use. It's really best to just pick one and charge it all the way, which gives you a two-out-of-three chance of winning.

The second part of the round is a much simpler rhythm-based affair: there's a bar with some lines along it, another line moves along the bar, and you press A whenever the moving line meets one of the stationary ones. Being successful in either part of the combat builds up your MP, which you then allocate between rounds. The aim of the battle is to be the first one to fill up your final charge meter, which transforms your motorbike into power armour so you can dleiver your final attack and win the fight. You can (and should) also use MP to charge up your two engines (one for each part of the combat round), though, as doing so significantly increases the amount of MP you build up in future rounds, and charging the final meter takes a lot of the stuff.

Accel Knights 2 is definitely a case of style over substance, as the battles are very repetitive, and once you've won a few and figured out how it all works, it's also incredibly easy. But, the game's style is cool enough to make up for the lack of substance, and it's definitely an enjoyable experience (for maybe two or three battles at a time, at least). If you are able to attain access to this game, I'd recommend you do so.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Breed Master (Playstation)

Though the title might sound like one of those Japan-only racehorse management games, Breed Master is actually a colour-matching puzzle game, with some monster raising/battling flavour added. It's also part of that strange class of games: those very low budget Playstation games that came out well after everyone had moved onto the PS2.

It has a few quirks besides that, too, like how not only do you have (almost) complete control over when pieces drop into your pit, but the game doesn't end when they reach the top! Instead, you can summon another row's worth of pieces by pressing the R1 button at any time, and the game ends when your monster's HP reaches zero. You can probably work out from there that filling your pit to the brim damages your monster, and that's right, but it only causes a small amount of damage. Instead, damage is caused to your opponent's monster (and vice versa) mainly by getting rid of coloured pieces by matching them, and doing so in combos, as tradition dictates.

Now, it's the combo-forming that's my favourite part of this game, as it takes an approach similar to the Magical Drop series, in that being fast and dextrous in your movement of the pieces is more important than the approach preferred in games like Puyo Puyo, for example, where setting up a large chain in advance and waiting for the right piece you need to trigger it to come along is the main tactic. Getting bigger combos does more damage to your opponent, of course.

Then there's the monster-raising aspect of the game. The pieces come in four colours, and there are four corresponding meters for your monster below its HP meter. As they fill up, your monster will level up, and very occasionally (like, no more than three times in an entire single-player run), four yellow blocks with hexagrams on them will fall into your pit. Put those together and your monster evloves into a new form, with more HP and a different magic attack. Magic attacks are performed in a similar manner to evolution, except these hexagram blocks are green, and they appear a lot more frequently. Magic attacks range from healing your monster everytime it damages the opponent, to turning the bottom few rows of their pit into junk blocks, or making unbreakable stone pillars appear in their pit for a short time.

The problem with Breed Master is that it feels half-made. You'll get good enough to 1CC the single player mode after no more than two or three attempts, there's no checklist to see entice you into trying to hatch that one monster you're missing, and the game's core mechanics aren't exciting enough for versus play to be much of a draw. It's an okay game, and if you see it going cheap, it might be worth gettin for a couple of hours' entertainment, but it's not one to bother actively seeking out.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Gegege no Kitarou - Youkai Daimakyou (NES)

I'm sure most of the people reading a blog like this will be cultured enough to have some familiarity with Gegege no Kitaro, but for the few that don't it's an incredibly popular and influential folk horror comic for kids from the mid-20th century that essentially re-introduced the concept of youkai back into Japanese popular culture. Of course, such a cultural megalith has had a ton of adaptations into other media, including lots of videogames, of which this is one.

It's a platform game, but unlike a lot of 1980s licensed platformers, it's actually got some cool and original ideas! You start out on a map screen, pretty reminiscent of the ones in Namco's Dragon Buster II, and it's litterd with various spooky-looking buildings that obviously contain the stages you'll be traversing. What interesting is the form those stages take. They're only about two or three screens across and the loop infinitely, but each one has one of three possible goals to complete.

Some stages want you to kill a quota of enemies, which is fairly standard, others want you to collect a quota of the ghosts floating around the stage, and the third kind are both the most conceptually interesting and the fiddliest to play. They have you accompanied by a little flamey ghost friend that follows you around like Tails in Sonic 2, and the goal is to move around the stage in such a way that the ghost touches (and lights) the wicks of all the candles strewn about the place. This mostly comes down to standing next to a candle and either crouching or jumping to get the spirit to float to the right height, but still, I appreciate the effort put into making something a little bit different. With some refinement of the basic formula and some skillful stage design, this could have been fleshed out into its own game, maybe.

Whatever the stage type you're in, after you've performed your task, two doors appear. Going in the one on the left takes you to a boss battle, the one on the right just takes you straight back to the map with the stage cleared. I don't know if there's any long-term consequences for skipping the bosses, other than missing out on the big points payday you get for defeating them. The bosses inhabit their own mini-stages, which are tall rather than wide, with you starting at the bottom and climbing up to the boss at the top. Though they're pretty formulaic, I have to say that the bosses are very charming. They all appear in the form of massive looming faces made up of a mixture of sprites and background tiles and there's just something about them that I love.

Gegege no Kitaro isn't a game that will change your life, but it is one that's got a lot of charm and it's decent enough fun to play, too. It's also a game that really strongly looks and feels like a Famicom game. Like, if you imagine in your head a game that kids might be playing at home in 1980s Japan, it'd probably look something like this one. It did get a US release, renamed to "Ninja Kid", despite the complete lack of ninjas. I reviewed the JP version, though, just because this is yet another game I "discovered" through my habit of buying dirt-cheap Famicom cartridges with cool-looking label art.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Tsumera (PC)

I'll start out by saying that getting this game running was an ordeal. Unlike the last couple of old PC games, Graduation and Nyan Nyan Tower, which ran natively in Windows 10 with no problems, for a couple of days, I couldn't even manage to get Tsumera running in DOSBOX. Luckily, someone pointed me towards a version uploaded as part of something called the eXoDOS collection, which runs in DOSBOX no problem. So if you end up wanting to play this game, seek that out, I guess?

Anyway, it's a pinball game developed in Taiwan, which is itself pretty interesting. Is is the first Taiwanese game I've covered here? I can't actually remember. It's also very heavily influenced by the Crush games, which is no bad thing at all. Thematically, it can be considered a combination of Devil Crush and Jaki Crush, with lots European and Asian occult influences on display, though in terms of actual design, it's definitely skewed towards Devil Crush. Soome elements are shamelessly lifted from there, like the dragon whos maouth leads to a boss stage, or the hexagram surrounded by a troop of marching goons. And yes, like the Crush games, Tsumera is made up of one main table that's three screens high, with hidden portals to single-screen bossfight/bonus stages littered around the place.

Despite being pretty unoriginal, there's a lot to love about this game: it looks amazing, it's fun to play, there's a ton of mysterious things to uncover (I've played for a few hours now, and in my last credit before writing this, I was still discovering new stuff!), and it's generally a high-quality game all round. I do, however have a couple of minor issues. The first is that there's no score display while you're playing, nor is it ever made clear what exactly contributes to your end-of-ball bonuses. Obviously, this doesn't really affect play too much, but it does make learning to play the game better and make higher scores more difficult. The second, much bigger problem is also a little harder to explain: basically, there's lots of things to activate around the table. Portals to open, different monsters to summon, and so on. The problem is that whenever you leave the main table, whether it's to go to a boss screen, or even just to prematurely cash in your bonus, everything on the table resets. Because somethings are a lot less labourious to activate than others, seeing what some of the slower-activated gimmicks actually do when completed is pretty difficult!

All in all, though, these faults don't get in the way of the fact that Tsumera is an excellent little game, and it really is a shame that it's not only obscure, but also kind of inaccessible. We can only hope that whatever company owns the rights to it someday decides to cash in and put out a rerelease for modern systems. But if the idea of getting it working isn't too daunting, I definitely recommend doing so.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Curiosites Vol. 15 - Ohenro-san (Gamecube)

"Walking Simulator" is a disparaging name often given to non-violent, narrative-driven games, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly. Though the term didn't really exist in 2003 when Ohenro-san Hosshin no Dojo was released, it's a mantle that fits the game perfectly. Ohenro-san is literally a game about walking across Japan and visiting temples and that's it. It's meant to come with a special controller with buttons for left and right steps, as well as a pedometer so the walking you do in your day-to-day life can be transferred into the game, but I had neither of those things, so I was just pushing forward on the analogue stick to progress.

Because this was meant as a substitute for a real pilgrimage, aimed at the old and infirm who couldn't make the journey themselves, everything is represented as a slide show of photos of the real locations, rather than being a polygonal rendering for you to walk through and explore in real time. Of course I understand why it was done in this way, but it's not very impressive, and it really doesn't give the impression of walking from place to place: when I say it's a slideshow, that's all it feels like, there's no sensation of movement at all.

Once you're at a temple, you can do various things like light a candle, get a talisman, do some reading, and so on, but really, that's all there is to this. It's not a game, and it's not intended to be played like one, and so it wouldn't be fair to judge it as one, either. I'm just posting about it because it's weird and obscure and there's probably not many people who know about it.

The nature of this thing is that recommending it or not recommending it is kind of meaningless, though I will say this: unless you can read Japanese and you really, really love seeing photos of Japanese temples, I can't imagine how you'd get anything out of this at all.