Sunday, 27 October 2019

Other Stuff Monthly #6!

Like me, you've probably been curious about all those Chinese Lego-alike brands on Aliexpress, especially since they all have their own unique and original themes, along with the clones of official Lego sets and minifigs of characters to whom they don't own a license. These themes are pretty wide-ranging, too, with fantasy, sci-fi, historical, military and other sets. Recently, I gave into the curiosity and ordered one to see what's what. Specifically, I got Sluban set 0615, from their "The Assassin Legend" theme.

All the sets in this theme seem to feature a smallish medieval building, two combatant minifigs and one civilian minifig. In this case, it's a dwarven blacksmith and his shop providing the backdrop for a fight between a female ninja and an androgynous knight. The shop itself is really nice: it's got two floors and a roof, and both floors actually have stuff in them. There's a little forge and hammer on the ground floor, while upstairs has what appears to be a kind of medieval bathroom, with a barrel and trough. Outside, there's a table, a rack and a training dummy.

As for the minifigs, they're very different in look and construction to official Lego minifigs, with slightly more articulation on the necks. They do look a little odd, but that's probably just in contrast to a lifetime of seeing the original design. They're well-equipped too, as the set comes with three blisters full of swords, halberds, axes, and a bow. Another win for Sluban!

Overall, I'm pretty pleased with this. I'd heard that these sets sometimes have missing parts, but I actually had a few pieces left over when I was done! There was an absent sticker sheet, but to be honest, it's not missed, as I hate applying stickers. It was also shipped without a box, but that was made clear on the seller's page, so it's not like I was deceived or anything there (but it might be a problem if you were intending to buy something like this as a gift).  I'll probably get some more sets at some point in the future, after what a success this one's been.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Metropolismania 2 (PS2)

Metropolismania 2, also known as Machi-ing Maker 2: Zoku Boku no Machi Zukuri, is a city-building game, though it takes a much more down-to-earth approach to the subject matter than the likes of Sim City. It's also a lot simpler, as you don't have to manage finances,  utilities, traffic, or any of the other things you might expect from such a game. Instead, itcan be considered to have elements from Sim City, The Sims, and Animal Crossing, along with its own unique take on municipal management, planning and engineering.

The most obvious difference compared to those other games is the total lack of budgeting required: buildings, roads, and most other things cost nothing. The only money in the game belongs to your character, and is for buying items either for your own use, or to give as gifts. Instead, buildings can only be built when there's someone who wants to move into them, and finding such people is the game's core hook. If you're doing an especially good job of running your town, you'll be receiving e-mails from families and businesses (oddly, all the employees of any businesses in your town all live together in the business' premises as if they were a family) telling you that they want to move in, and what kind of building they want to move into, that you're then able to build.

For most of the game, however, this won't be happening. Instead, you have to gradually befriend the people already living in your town and ask them to introduce you to their out-of-town friends who might want to move in. After a short time, you'll start getting requests for specific buildings and facilities, too, like hospitals, schools, parks, and so on, and you've got to go around talking to everyone, gathering clues on who might have the right connections for what you need.

It's a novel concept, at least, but unforunately, it's not a particularly fun one. The problem is that you've got to do this stuff a lot of times to a lot of people to get anywhere, and once you've finished one stage, you start a new stage and do it all over again (this seems to be a problem in Japan-developed building games, actually, as having to start all over again is what made me stop playing Dragon Quest Builders after I finished the first stage and found out that that meant losing all the stuff I'd built). And even just the first stage took me something like two and a half hours to get through. The only way I can see anyone getting a long way into this game is if they either have a very high tolerance for repetition, or if they play one stage over the course of a day or two, then take a long break before starting the next one.

There are some positive things I have to say about Metropolismania 2, though. For a start, it does have a lot of charm, and even though the townspeople will repeat the same few topics of conversation over and over, it does somehow give the illusion of them all having personalities. Another thing I really liked is that you can go into a first-person view and walk aroud the streets of your town, and the game even keeps the people going about their business while you do so, so you can talk to them just as if you were passing in the street for real. Or you can do it at night, while the streets are empty, all the shops are shut and the only light is from the lampposts. It's got a very comfy feel about it.

Inexplicably, this game and the one before it both got worldwide releases, so you can get them pretty easily, and pretty cheaply. If you're curious, I wouldn't totally dissuade you from giving it a try, though I wouldn't recommend paying more than five or six pounds if you do.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Totsugeki! Mix (PC98)

The problem with looking into games that are on systems that never got released in English-speaking territories is that you're usually limited to action games and nothing else. Amd when those systems are computers that were aimed at businessmen, like the PC98, it's even worse, since there's a higher proportion than usual of games in very text-heavy genres. Luckily, Totsugeki Mix happens to be a pretty straight-up platfor game, of the kind kids across the world were playing, no matter what systems they had access to. Less luckily, though, is that there's almost nothing interesting about it at all. (Except the nice pixel art, but that's the minimum you'd expect from a PC98 game, really).

You jump over things, attack enemies, collect stuff, and so on, just like you've don't a million times before. The only ways in which the game stands out are either bad, or just slightly odd. A bad thing, for example, is how there are three playable characters, only one of whom is viable. Because only one of them can double jump, a skill whose absence makes some stages uncompletable. An odd thing is how every platform you can stand on is completely solid. Like, you can't walk in front of it, or jump through it from below or anything like that. I'm not sure if this one is a deliberate design choice, or just a problem deemed too minor to be worth fixing by the devs, but it does make some areas really awkward to get through.

Like I've already mentioned, the one good thing that can be said in this game's defense is that it's got really nice backgrounds: detailed, high resolution, and very colourful. I guess you could also make the case that it is merely a boring, mediocre game, and not one that's actively unpleasant to play. But I can't recommend it on the strength of that alone, and I won't. There's plenty of much better platformers with great pixel art in the world, like the Amiga's Lionheart, or the X68000's Castlevania, for example. Play those instead of Totsugeki Mix.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Elemental Battle Academy (PC)

Elemental Battle Academy is a kind of combination of a multi-person fighting game (with up to eight combatants in a match), and a third person shooter. But the combat's largely base around melee. You know what I mean though, right? Anyway, it's about a bunch of magical girls fighting each other in big arenas, with a camera just behind the one you're controlling, that's the main thing I'm trying to get across here.

I have to say this about the game: it's incredibly well-made. It's only a doujin title, but it could easily pass for a mid-budget console game. Not only that, but it all works like it should, too: no glitches, graphical or otherwise, and it all feels very stable the whole time you're playing. If these compliments seem a bit suspicious that's because the above qualities make it difficult to be too hard on the game, and unfortunately I am going to have to do that. The big problem is: it's just not very fun to play.

For a start, all the characters have way too much health, so taking them down (or being taken down yourself) takes far too long, especially when the default settings have matches going until someone's scored five knockouts. Similarly, the arenas are enormous, and even with the maximum quotient of eight characters in them, they feel vast and empty, and this is made even worse when you play story mode, which largely consists of one-on-one battles in these vast,cavernous stages.

Worst of all though, are the controls, which seem to have been designed for people with an unusual abundance of digits. For example, your character is equipped with a melee weapon and a projectile weapon. You move her with the left stick, and turn around/aim with the right stick. Whichever weapon you want to use, attack is mapped to the square button (or the X button if you're using an XBox controller, but the problem here is that it's a face button). This is fairly manageable for melee attacks, where you just need to be pointed in the general direction of your target, then you press the button to attack. To shoot at them, however, requires you to hold down R2 to ready your weapon, aim it with the right analogue stick, then fire with the attack button. If you're really ambitious, you might also be using the left analogue stik to avoid incoming attacks.

There's also outfits and accessories and joke weapons to unlock for all the characters, but if the game itself is no fun, then that's no t much consolation, is it? All in all, Elemental Battle Academy is a finely-constructed exercise in tedium. I guess it really does offer the AAA experience on a doujin budget then, eh?

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Small Games Vol. 5!

It's time for another batch of lower-key games, and once again, it's an MSX edition, simply because everyone loves the MSX, right? Unfortunately though, it, like all systems, played host to some pretty terrible games over the course of its life, and today's post is a bit of a good game sandwich, with bad games as the bread. The first slice being American Truck. It's one of those top-down see-how-far-you-can-go crash-avoiding psuedo-racing games that longtime readers will know I love. It's a pretty bad example of the genre, though.

It's just got a lot of little things wrong with it that all add up to a game that's no fun to play. The scoring system is bad: you only get points for destroying other vehicles, so there's no points gained for distance travelled or leftover fuel or time (though this does make me wonder if the developers were inspired by Goliath, the evil truck from Knight Rider). Instead of the usual fuel meter that acts as a combination time limit and health bar, you have three lives, one of which is lost if you touch the edge of the road, or if you so much as graze one of the black circles (presumably open manholes?) dotted around the place here and there. Also, at least once, I died from crashing into a vehicle, even though this is the only way to score points. I wish this game was better, but it just isn't. Don't bother with it.

Next up is a much better game, A.E., a simple single-screen shooter that was recommended to me years and years ago, though I've unfortunately forgotten by whom. If it was you, sorry! Though this game might like incredibly simple and primitive in screenshots, in motion, it's a different story. The backgrounds are completely static, but the enemies fly around them, and a kind of primitive psuedo-sprite-scaling effect has the swooping in and out of hollow meteors and slaloming through stalagmites and stalactites, and so on. It's a really cool effect that really shows how creative the devs must have been. The game itself is okay, too. Mechanically, it manages to stand out by giving you a fairly unusual weapon: your shots travel upwards for as long as you hold the fire button, detonating into an explosion that lasts a couple of seconds when you release. The enemies come in waves of six that fly away after a few passes. You clear a stage when you manage to successfully wipe out three waves. A.E is a decent game, and I pass on the recommendation I received onto you.

Finally, the second slice of bad game bread is The Komainu Quest, a game that I almost feel bad for badmouthing, since it was originally made as a promotional game for the town of Seto in Japan. I still will though, because it's awful. In contrast to A.E, which seemed to be made by developers who knew both the hardware they were using, and the extent of their abilities in using it, The Komainu Quest is rendered pretty much unplayable, apparently thanks to developers biting off more than they could chew in attempting a scrolling shooter on the MSX hardware (though that has been done by others, before anyone points out, and with spectacular results, too. But that's a story for another day). I say "attempting", because this game doesn't actually have scrolling. Instead, the screen slowly updates as you play, in columns a few pixels wide. The result of this is that sometimes you have enemies already firing at you several seconds before they actually appear, and even stationary obstacles pushing your ship out of the way when all you can see is empty sky. I feel bad for saying it, but The Komainu Quest is only worth playing out of historical curiosity.