Saturday, 27 April 2019

The Hunter (Playstation)

The Hunter, also known as Battle Hunter and Battle Sugoroku: Hunter, is a strange one. It's yet another one of those late-life, low-budget Playstation titles, though it's also one of the few that actually got a worldwide release. As a result, there's actually a bunch of reviews for it on GameFAQs from around that time, and what's interesting about those reviews is that they all either loved or hated the game, with nothing in the middle. In fact, I first played it a few years ago and didn't think much of it, but picking it back up again recently, I've had a fair bit of fun with it.

You start the game by making a character, picking your sprite and colour scheme from a total of 64 combinations, and assigning your initial stats to HP, speed, attack and defense. Then you get a job from the broker and go into the dungeon. The dungeons are randomly generated, and the jobs are usually just finding a specific item and getting to the exit. There'll also be three CPU-controlled players trying to do the same. The biggest problem with this game is that pretty much everything is random, and your success relies a lot on luck. Movement speed and combat are determined by a combination of dice rolls and playing cards from your hand (you start with five cards, and you draw one every turn, and all players draw cards from a common deck. The cards do things like add to specific rolls for movement, attack, and defence, or lay traps on the space you're moving off of). The placement of item boxes is also random, and you don't know what's in a box until you go and get it.

For most missions, though, it doesn't matter if you win or lose: all it affects is how much money you get as a reward, and all money seems to do is let you level up, or restore your max HP (which is halved if you ever get reduced to zero in battle). Still, this is a game that should be both boring and frustrating in equal measure, but I think it manages to get pretty far on charm alone. Even though there's only eight character sprites with eight possible colour palettes, there's still a lot of personality in their animations, and they really add a lot, considering the dungeon itself is represented by nothing more than an isometric grid of grey squares.

There's actually a lot of personality in this simple little game generally. It's all in the little things. Like how there's a hundred items in the game, and most of them don't do anything besides letting you sell them, but the fact that they all have names just adds a little flavour to the world. Like all the books you find seem to be university-level textbooks on specific subjects, and so on. It's also pretty addictive, as games with a lot of random generation often are. I think a big problem is that it was released on a home console. On a handheld, where you could more quickly dip in and out of it, or idly play while watching TV, I think it'd have a lot more value.

Luckily, we don't live in 2001, it's 2019, and there's a bunch of mobile phones and chinese handhelds that can emulate the Playstation, plus the game has a release on PSN, so you can even legally download it to your Vita. I haven't tried any of these solutions yet, but the next time I get some US PSN credit, I will be. Because of the love-or-hate reactions this game gets, though, I can only really recommend paying money for it if you've tried it a couple of times via emulation first, just to see if it clicks with you. But for the record, I do think it's a fun and charming game.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Ninja Savior (MSX)

The first thing you notice about Ninja Savior, and the first thing I'll tell you about it, is that despite being made in Europe in 2015, it manages to look, sound, and feel like a Japanese MSX game from the mid-1980s with incredible authenticity. Considering how fake a lot of similar endeavors end up feeling, I think this is something worth mentioning and applauding. So well done on that front, Revelo! But authenticity aside, is the game actually good?

The answer is a resounding "yeah it's alright I guess". It's a very simple game in which you play as a ninja, jumping from one tower to the the other, while trying to exorcise a series of demons. You do this by collecting the talismans and scrolls hanging in the air between the two towers. At the same time, there'll be one or two smaller demons in the gap too, who hurt you if you touch them. Every time you jump, the talismans, scrolls and lesser demons change position.

 Your jumping arc is always the same, and when you're not jumping, you're sliding down the tower. So it's an action game controlled with one button and no directions, based entirely around timing. Also of note is that rather than a traiditonal health bar there's a kind of momentum bar with an X at one end, an O at the other, and a square moving along it. When you collect a talisman or scroll, it moves towards the O. When you land after a jump or when you hit a lesser demon, it moves towards the X. If it reaches the X, you lose a life, if it reaches the O, you go to the next stage. And that's pretty much all there is to know about this game.

Ninja Savior's a game that's very OK. It's not bad and the one-button controls and momentum meter are interesting, but it's not particularly exciting, and it's way too easy. Maybe if later stages had moving enemies or something that would have spiced things up a bit? Anyway, it wouldn't hurt to give the game a try, but it won't change your life either.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Spikers Battle (Arcade)

The Dreamcast, despite being, in most respects, an incredible machine for people who wanted to bring the arcade home, had only two beat em ups released for it (as far as I can remember, at least). And one of them was Soul Fighter. The strange thing about this is that SEGA had a series of beat em ups in arcades at around that time, the Spikeout series, and two of them even ran on Naomi hardware: the fantasy-themed Slashout, and this one, Spikers Battle. They would have made great additions to the DC library, but I guess it's all just more evidence of SEGA being the Paul Heyman of the videogames world: unmatched in terms of creativity and talent, completely terrible when it comes to making money.

Anyway, Spikers Battle is a strange case, in that it's a beat em up that thinks its a fighting game. It controls like a beat em up, has weapons strewn about the place like a beat em up, and most of the stages see you fighting a boss and some goons, like a beat em up. If you were to compare it to any other game, the most apt would probably be the original Nekketsu Kouha Kunio-kun/Renegade, with its small stages and gang warfare setting. But on top of all of this, it has a strange fighting-game rounds system in place of lives, whereby to advance past a stage, you have to finish it twice, and to get a game over, you have to fail the same stage twice.

I haven't been able to find any information on how multiplayer modes work, but I'll assume it's like the other Spikeout games, and has multiple cabinets linked together, so maybe the rounds thing makes more sense in that context? Anyway, it's pretty much the only problem I have with this game, and it's not a big one. It's fun to play, looks really cool, everything's fine except for that one thing.

Obviously, if you're brave enough to tangle with Naomi emulation, or rich enough to tangle with Naomi ownership, Spikers Battle is one of the games I recommend you look into. It's a lot less brutal in terms of difficulty than some of its stablemates, too (I'm mainly talking about Slashout here, which is a very difficult game).

Friday, 12 April 2019

Simple DS Series Vol. 31: The Chou Dangan!! Custom Sensha

As you look at the screenshots of this game, with the knowledge that it's a platform shooter about driving tanks, it would be easy to just write it off as a cheap Metal Slug knock off. It is a cheap Metal Slug knock off, but importantly, that's not all it is: it does have enough of its own qualities to justify its own existence. It's another nice little sample from the Simple DS Series, after all.

Being a Simple Series game, it does adhere to their usual design philosophy: upgradable characters, selecting the next stage you want to pay from a menu, lots of difficulty levels, and so on. It does take a few detours from the usual route, though: grinding for experience points only increases the max HP of your tank, as weapon and mobility upgrades are hidden throughout the stages as items. Furthermore, while most Simple Series games will pad themselves out with grinding and recycled stages and enemies, The Chou Dangan Custom Sensha is short and sweet, being only about an hour long from start to finish, with the aforementioned grinding never really being necessary. Completing story mode unlocks a score attack mode, which is mostly the same, to the point where I can't actually figue out what the difference is meant to be.

What's most interesting about this game, though, is that depite the fact that (as far as I know) tanks can't jump in real life, this is a platform game about driving a tank where the limitations and abilities of a tank are taken into account. For example, you have two guns: one that can be swivelled around in almost a full circle, and you main turret, that can't be aimed, raised, or lowered. So you  really have to take into account your height relative to the enemies when you're shooting them. Another thing relates to the tank treads: if you jump up to a higher platform, and only just about get onto the edge of it, you can keep pushing forward to kind of climb onto it using the movement of the tank treads. It's only a little thing, but it's very satisfying.

If you can find a copy for cheap, then The Chou Dangan Custom Sensha is definitely worth picking up. The only real downside it has is that it's very short, very easy, and not really exciting or interesting enough to play through more than once. But that one playthrough you have will be a fun time, at least.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Nishijin Pachinko Monogatari 2 (SNES)

So this game was recently fan-translated into English, so I thought I thought it might make for an easy foot-in-the-door to get into the once-big genre of pachinko videogames. Unfortunately, I found pretty much as incomprehensible as I ever have, but I'll share my experience with you anyway.

As you might have gathered, this is a pachinko game with a story, and that story is one of gross irresponsibility: the protagonist, having lost their job due to the waning post-bubble economy, has decided to make a career out of playing pachinko instead. Like most forms of gambling, this might be a somewhat viable, if risky option. Unfortunately, this shmuck was under my control, and I have no idea how pachinko works, so he ended up just pouring all his life savings into some noisy ball-bearing dispensers.

There is a kind of practice mode that lets you play any of the four machines in the game as much as you like, and even gives very lengthy instructions for them, but even these instructions rely on you knowing the basics of the game. Instead, my eyes just glazed over as screens full of text about the relationship between red and green digits, and probability variation mode scrolled by. I did play for a little over an hour, but every time I thought I'd figured out how something worked, attempts to replicate it proved that I hadn't.

As it is, I don't really feel qualified to recommend or not-recommend this game. If you're completely unfamiliar with pachinko, it won't do much to teach you, but it does look nice, and for while I did get to watch a cute little story about a baby chick saving a mermaid play out on one of the machines. So, it exists, and it's now in English. Try it if you want, I guess? See if you can get more out of it than I did.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Street Fighter Alpha (Arcade)

It's the first of April, and as tradition dictates, I'm doing my one post a year (on this blog at least) about a mainstream videogame. My history with Street Fighter Alpha is a little odd: though the second and third games in the series were huge obsessions for me in me pre- and early teens, I never actually played the first SFA game until 2018, when it was included on the Street Fighter 30th anniversary compilation.

It didn't really have many surprises for me: like the first game in the other big CPS2 trilogy, Darkstalkers, it feels a lot like a proof-of-concept for its sequels. The roster's pretty slim, there's the seeds of certain ideas that would become more fleshed out later on, and so on. In fact, this is partially why I never played it before: its status as a "practice attempt" is so ingrained that even its story is completely overwritten by that of Street Fighter Alpha 2, and since the characters and lore have always been a big part of fighting games' appeal to me, I just never bothered after learning about that from the gigantic, now-legendary "Street Fighter Story FAQ" textfile that used to be floating around the internet.

It is a game with its own charms, though. There's some unnamable quality to the way it looks and sounds that fills me with nostalgia, and though the fact that there's even fewer stages than there are characters, the attempt to flesh out the selection by giving each one of them a couple of "time of day" colour palettes is a nice little bit of ingenuity. It also started the Alpha series' tradition of having ports to hardware that shouldn't be able to handle it. The second game had its SNES port, the third had the Game Boy Advance, but Street Fighter Alpha has two such ports: one to the Game Boy Color (which actually came out a fair while later than the SFA2 SNES port), and another to the CPS Changer. If you don't already know, the CPS Changer was Capcom's short-lived attempt at making a competitor to SNK's  Neo Geo AES, being a home console version of their CPS1 arcade hardware.

As already mentioned, the arcade version of Alpha was on CPS2 hardware, and the Changer port was the last game released on that system, done as a kind of swansong. It's almost arcade perfect, though. There's apparently fewer frames of animation in the Changer version, and I think there might be fewer colours and a bit more dithering if you look really closely, but mostly, it's not noticable at all. Anyway, those are my thoughts on Street Fighter Alpha. I'm sure most of you have already played it, but if not, it wouldn't hurt, would it?