Monday, 30 September 2019

Chitty Chitty Train (PC98)

You can probably guess from the screenshots, but what attracted me to this game was the graphics: they're really really nice, aren't they? So tiny and clean and perfectly-formed. I was also thinking it'd been a long time since I'd covered anything on the PC98, and wanted to get back on that, and a great-looking puzzle game seemed like a nice way to do it. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that this game is not nice at all, in fact, you could even go as far as to call it cruel!

But before we get onto that, I should explain it, if you haven't already figured out the premise just by looking at the screens. It's a mouse-controlled puzzle game in which you have to get a train to all the stations, then to the exit. You do this by clicking on the switches to change their positions, and by right-clicking at any point on the track to place a red light that stops any train that encounters it for a few seconds. The cruelty comes from the fact that all the trains (there are other trains on the track that you also need to direct to avoid collisions) all move really fast, and never stop, except in the case of the aforementioned red lights.

Now, there are two basic types of stages in Chitty Chitty Train. There's the complex ones, where you really need to take a look at every switch, the positions of all the trains and stations, and plan your routes carefully. Then there are stages with simpler layouts, where the challenge comes more from having the timing and manual dexterity to click the right switches at the exact right times to avert disaster. Either way, though, you'll be working at high speed, and a successful run of any stage will probably only take a few seconds, though they'll be very intense, high-stress seconds. And of course, it's very unlikely that you'll finish any stage on the first attempt, so don't think you'll be tearing through the game in no time.

There's also an edit mode, which is interesting in theory, though I didn't really have the patience to do anything with it myself. It uses a similar interface to making maps in RPG maker, with you selecting pieces of track and scenery from a window, then placing them where you like on the screen. One interesting bit of information I did glean from this mode is that there are a bunch of different tilesets in the game. All but the first are locked at the start and I could only get far enough to unlock the second, but there's apparently Plain, Snow, Desert, Europe, Future, and Toybox. Hopefully some super player will come along and take screenshots of some later stages someday.

Anyway, Chitty Chitty Train is a fun and charming game, that's also sadistically difficult and stressful. I definitely recommend giving it a shot. And in case you're wondering, all the text I saw in the game was in English, so there's no language barrier to worry about, either.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Other Stuff Monthly #5!

One of the secret reasons I started this series of posts was as an excuse to occasionally buy interesting-looking toys from Japan, and this marks the first time I've bought toys specifically for the blog. The toys in question are a mid-2000s line called Keybots, which I guess never really took off, as there's pretty much no English information on them anywhere, and it doesn't seem to have ever had a TV anime or any videogames. (Though the subject of anime is one I'll get back to later!)

The line is made up of cute monster-like robots, which themselves are composed of an octagonal core with four slots, and various body parts that fit into those slots. The cores also have keyholes in the centre, and come with keys. Insert a key into the hole and turn it, and all the attached parts spring loose. Each core does come with its own colour-coded plastic key, and there's also a shiny key made of metal that fits in any of them.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get any boxed examples, so there's no packaging scans this time, but I was able to get one complete keybot, a red-and-yellow dragon-looking guy, as well most of the parts for a blue-and-grey character, that seems to have dragon, elephant and demonic forms. All the slots and parts are compatible with each other, though, and there are even connector parts that allow the building of larger, multi-core creatures.

I'm not really a fan of the general aesthetic of the toys themselves, though I think they're aimed at a younger audience than the usual mecha stuff. There is, however, a lot of satisfaction in how they feel, especially the amount of resistance to turning the keys, and how all the parts pop off when you do. It might be worth having a couple around, just to idly fiddle with and keep your hands busy while you watch tv or whatever. It's also basically a building toy, and like most building toys, I expect you'd get a lot more out of it the more parts you have. I'd totally love a similar line that had designs that looked more like "proper" mecha, or maybe even used designs from actual anime.

And that handily fetches us back to the subject of anime! As I said,  I couldn't find evidence of any TV anime, which was a surprise for a kids toyline. But what I did find, along with a bunch of typical thirty second TV ads, was a five minute long CG animated short from 2006 entitled キーボッツII 希望の紋章. It's not listen on AniDB, MyAnimeList, or the Anime News Network encyclopedia, so I think I might be the first in the west to see it? Also there's "II" in the title, so presumably, there's at least one more of them out there somewhere.

Friday, 20 September 2019

Hangzo (Arcade)

Hangzo is yet another unreleased arcade game that only came to light thanks to MAME, though this time it's not by Taito. It might be by Hot-B or Data East, though no-one seems to be 100% sure. One thing that is for sure is that though Hangzo was inteded to be an arcade game, spiritually, it's a Mega Drive game to the core. Can you really say that game is spiritually something for sure? Yes, I just did.

The game's about three ninjas, who clearly went to the Joe Musashi school of ninjitsu, as they don't spend any time sneaking around assassinating people. Instead they go through cyberpunk cities noisily destroying loads of exploding robots, and also through biopunk laboratories destroying loads of exploding blobby monsters. They even have a limited-use screen-clearing magic bomb jutsu! It really is like a lost Shinobi game, specifically a lost entry into the Mega Drive's Super/Revenge of Shinobi series.

There are a couple of original elements, though, like the inclusion of seperate buttons for melee and projectile attacks, bearing in mind that Hangzo does predate Shinobi III/Super Shinobi 2, and even in that game, the six-button mode was hidden behind a cheat code. There's also a magic fire breathing lion that turns up in most of the stages for you to ride around on. But generally in terms of both theming and mechanics, this is essentially a professionally-made Shinobi fangame.

It's fairly easy too, and shouldn't take more than a few attempts to one-credit-clear. Though a big part of this is thanks to one stage, about midway through the game, inexplicably having a section where a whole bunch of extra lives and health powerups coming floating in from the side of the screen. But it's not too easy, though, not easy enough to be boring, at least.

I feel like the last few posts on this blog have been really negative, and though I want to turn that around with this post, I can't be 100% positive about Hangzo. Probably as a conseqeunce of being an unfinished, unreleased game, it is a little rough around the edges: the presentation is not exactly super-polished, and the hitboxes feel a little strange at times, for example. However, it's still a lot of fun, and I definitely recommend going and giving it a try. It's a shame it never actually got released, and I hope someday, whoever owns the rights to it gives it a little extra sheen and releases it officially somehow.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Oekaki Puzzle (Neo Geo Pocket Colour)

Long time readers might remember that I've always said that Logic Pro (and its sequel, Logic Pro Adventure) are by far the best nonogram videogames around, with all others being mediocre by comparision. Well, it's time for some exciting news: I may have found the all-time worst example of a nonogram game in Oekaki Puzzle!

To start with, it has the same big flaw as so many others: non-existant stakes caused by a lack of any real lose condition, with the added caveat that you get zero feedback at all on whether you're marking the right or wrong squares. It's also missing some common quality of life features, like highlighting the row and column your cursor is currently on so you tell where you are at a glance, for example.

Then there's the puzzles themselves, which are completely joyless things to solve. I think there's three main reasons for this. One: a lot of the puzzles turn out to be things like letters or numbers or just simple shapes when you complete them. Two: a huge amount of the puzzles are symmetrical, so when you've solved half the puzzle, you just go and do the same thing reversed on the other half of the grid. There's a soul-crushingly long series of near-identical animal faces that are all particularly egregious offenders in this department. Three: a lot of puzzles also feature a lot of rows where the numbers have a lot of ones and twos. This is a hard one to explain, but it makes the puzzles really tedious to solve, and also removes the mild satisfaction of filling in a long line of squares with reckless abandon.

I've actually gone back to the original Logic Pro recently, attempting to finish it in a single credit like I did with Logic Pro Adventure when I reviewed it last year, and the differences between that game and Oekaki Puzzle really show how such a simple concept can be executed by two games with such a vast chasm of quality between the two. Don't bother playing this game.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Kamen Rider SD - Shutsugeki!! Rider Machine (SNES)

I was attracted to this game when I saw some screenshots of it, and it appeared to be a side-scrolling racing game, which is pretty unusual. When I played it, though, it actually turned out to be a beat em up in which the player and all the enemies are riding in or on vehicles. That's pretty unusual too, I guess? Unfortunately, it doesn't have much effect on the game itself.

I assume that the idea of having all the characters on vehicles is to give the impression of an exciting, high speed battle, but that feeling never comes across. You can increase or decrease your speed at any time by pressing the shoulder buttons, but it doesn't really change anything besides the speed at which the background is scrolling, and fighting at 149 kilometres per hour feels exactly the same as fighting at 605 kilometres per hour. It's with those scrolling backgrounds themselves, though, that I place the blame for the this game's lack of excitement.

The thing is that the game never really feels fast or exciting because you're never going anywhere: each area has a background image that's maybe two screens long, and you go past it over and over again until you've beaten all the enemies in that area. Then your character just speeds offscreen to the next area. It feels like you're fighting on a treadmill, and it's not helped by the fact that each stage has a few areas in it, and each background gets used at least twice.

As for the characters, though this game does apparently star every Showa era Kamen Rider, you don't get to pick them, each one gets their own stage, that can only be played in order. A strange approach, when compared to Masked Rider Club Battle Race, which not only lets you pick whichever Rider you like, but is generally a much better game all-round. It's a shame it never got ported to any home systems, really.

There's really no reason to bother with Kamen Rider SD: Shutsugeki!! Rider Machine, unless you really need to have every Kamen Rider game ever released. Even if you want a SNES beat em up with Kamen Riders in it, this isn't the one to go for.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Command War Super Special Battle & War Game (Arcade)

I've reviewed an unreleased Taito arcade game before, Recalhorn, which was pretty much a completed , fully polished game that just wasn't released. Command War Super Special Battle & War Game is not like that: it's very unfinished, and very rough around the edges. I think it's mainly the presentation and balance that hasn't been worked out, though, and the game is still very playable.

Unusually for an (intended) arcade game, it's a strategy game, that sees you moving troops around a simple board. When one of your troops meets one of the enemy's troops, they enter a little battle, a lot like the ones seen in the Game Gear game, Godzilla Kaiju Daishingeki. Also like that game, the troops themselves are a combination of normal sci-fi military stuff like tanks, jets and giant robots, along with slightly weirder monsters, like cyborg dragons and giant harpies. You might not expect it, but it seems that the tanks are the most important units, just because they're so short that a lot of the larger troops' attacks just go right over their heads.

So, that's the basic premise of the game, but before you play, you're asked to select one of four difficulty levels, which have more of an effect on how the game works then you might expect. On beginner mode, you're automatically given a pre-selected group of troops for each battle, making it the least interersting of all the modes. In amateur, there's always a tank on your team, and you get to buy two more. In Professional and Expert, you get to pick all your troops for yourself, plus the objective of the battles is different: in the lower two difficulties, you win simply by defeating all the enemy troops. In the higher two difficulties, each side also has a special extra unit in the form of a giant robot/tank thing, the defeat of which instantly ends the battle.

You've probably noticed that the screenshots of this game are pretty hard to read, and that's true: clearly, the developers hadn't fully figured out how this game was to be presented, and in its current form it's very messy-looking. You do get used to it after a couple of plays, though it's still a shame that it's hard to get a decent look at the troops attacking each other in the action sections without the big stupid maps in the way. There's also a problem with the money, in that you don't get more money for winning battles, and you need to buy units to replace those destroyed. You can get money in battle to be the first one to reach the flags on the map, but otherwise, you can quickly end up in an unwinnable situation after a couple of stages.

All in all, Command War is a mildly interesting distraction, and a curiosity for Taito fans to look into. In its current form, though, it's not a very good game. It might have become one if they'd continued working on it, but it's easy to see why they didn't: someone obviously had the thought "can we make a strategy game for arcades?", and it gradually became clearer that the answer was "not really".