Saturday, 28 December 2019

Other Stuff Monthly #8!

It's time once again to look at a thing that's not a videogame, and this month, our subject is the November 2005 issue of Terebi Magazine, which is a Japanese magazine aimed at little boys. Why bother covering something like this? Because almost all the content is about tokusatsu tv shows, and a lot of that is spent of awesome double-page spreads, be they photographic or even some cool old-school artwork.

The magazine is also supposed to come with a DVD and a bunch or press-out-and-fold cardboard toys, but unfortunately, my copy has no DVD, and most of the toys were missing too. A coupler of the toys were intact, but my attempt at putting them together was an abject failure resulting in ugly, mangled, torn cardboard. Oh well.

Anyway, even if you can't read Japanese, Terebi Magazine is still worth seeking out some issues of if you're interested in tokusatsu, because of those aforementioned photo spreads. While adult-aimed magazines like Newtype Thelive are great for pictures of attractive actors and actresses from tokusatsu shows (and for covering late night stuff like Garo and Lion Maru G that has no place in a kids magazine, of course), these spreads have lots of big close-ups of monster, mecha, and hero suits, which are a joy to look at in such detail.

Also in this issure were some awesome detail cutaway drawings of Ultraman monsters, and a bunch of puzzles, mainly mazes. That's about it for this month, and I'm sorry if you're not at all interested in tokusatsu, but I never claimed that these monthly posts were ever going to be anything but self-indulgent!

Monday, 23 December 2019

Grand Master (NES)

Despite the martial artsy-sounding name, this is an action RPG with a western fantasy setting, in which you play as a young knight named Rody out to rescue a princess from a devil named Dante. It is the most generic plot possible, but it is at at least presented well, with nice-looking pixelart cutscenes, and there's little side elements too, like the failed hero of a land that's already fallen to Dante, and your sister who went missing after going off to become a demon tamer thre years ago. It's also a little different to most RPGs, since it has no save or password functions, so you're meant to be able to get through it in one sitting (I've managed about half, so far, though the way the game's set out means that I've been able to see much more of it than that).

From the start, you can choose which order you want to play the first five dungeons (and this game only has dungeons, no towns), though I strongly recommend going to the icy mountains first, since there you get the throwing axes, which make all the bossfights significantly easier. Every stage has some kind of item to make progress easier, too: a morning star, a magic wand, armour, and so on, and those items are avtually the only way to improve you attack power, since levelling up only improves your max HP and MP. As I mentioned, there's no saving or even passwords available, but if you do die, you can continue from the title screen as many times as you like, keeping your experience level, as well as any items you got from dungeons you've completed.

The nice thing about Grand Master is it's a proper, purely designed videogame, by which i mean that you can easily recognise each kind of enemy and each stage element and quickly learn what they do and how they behave, then you figure out how you best counteract that behaviour. It's not flashy or impressive, but it is simple and satisfying. Though that's not to say that this is a game with bad presentation, the aforementioned cutscenes look great for something in a NES game, and there's some cool little touches in the game itself, too, like when you go to the mountains, Rody's wearing a big thick coat, and in the desert dungeon, he's wearing lighter, short-sleeved armour.

I don't think there's really much more for me to say about Grand Master: it's just a simple, well-designed, fun-to-play game. So obviously, I recommend that you give it a try!

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Ryu Kyu (Game Gear)

So, this is a port of an arcade game that was also ported to the PC Engine. I'm reviewing this version, though, because it's slightly different to the others, and because it's been a long time since the Game Gear was featured here. Also, this port of Ryu Kyu was released in the west under the title Solitaire Poker, but I didn't find that out until after I'd already played the Japanese version for a few hours, and also that title is so boring I almost fell asleep typing it in this sentence.

Anyway, Ryu Kyu is a poker-themed puzzle game. Each stage gives you a score quota and a pit containing a five-by-five grid. A deck of cards is shuffled into four piles, you can only see the top card of each pile. Your task is to pick one of the four visible cards, and drop it into the pit, then do that twenty-four more times until every space is full. While doing this, you're trying to make poker hands in rows, columns and diagonals. Every hand is worth a different amount of points, and you've got to meet the stage's quota before all the spaces are full. This is the basic premise of the game, which is the same in both the Arcade and Game Gear versions.

The Game Gear version differs in a few ways, though. Firstly, before you start playing, you pick a difficulty level. Easy is a lot easier than the arcade version, and hard is slightly harder, though the only difference between the two is that the score quotae are higher in hard mode. The second, much bigger, difference is that in the arcade version, every couple of stages, you got to open a random box, which would reduce the next stage's quota by a few hundred or a few thousand points. The Game Gear has its own system for reducing quotae, which is both better and worse than the arcade version's.

Now, when you clear a stage, any points you scored over the current stage's quota are subtracted from the next stage's quota. This means that you're rewarded for playing well, which I do prefer to the arcade's randomly assigned bonuses, but at the same time, it does make the game a lot easier. I've had playthroughs where my quota was zero points for two or three stages in a row! Though, obviously, it's still a game where you're heavily reliant on what cards you draw. I'd say it's about half-and-half with regards to skill versus luck, though. And though I'd normally admonish a game for having such a strong element of luck, I think in this case it's not so big a problem.

Ryu Kyu is just a simple little puzzle game on a handheld, something to pass a short amount of time, while still being addictive enough to have you coming back to it. It succeeds at that goal pretty well, and I actually like this version better than the arcade. My only big complaint is that you don't get an overall score, your points only correspond to the quota system. But otherwise, I recommend giving this game a try!

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Reinforcer (X68000)

The first thing I though when I loaded up Reinforcer is that it looked a lot like SEGA's arcade game Crack Down, and the first two stages even have you locating and defusing bombs, which is kind of the opposite of what you do in Crack Down, even though in top-down videogame form, the two activities are identical. It only takes a little more inspection to see that Reinforcer is definitely its own game with a lot to offer, though.

Possibly because of the resemblence to Crack Down, I first approached the game with an approach that was both methodical and thorough: killing every enemy, searching every room and path for items, and so on. Then I got to the first boss and had sixteen seconds to try and fight it. It seems that the actual way to play the game is a lot more exciting! I found a lot more success in running through each room, killing only the enemies that were directly in my path or otherwise especially threatening. You can absorb plenty of damage too, which also encourages this kind of madcap, rampaging playstyle.

But let's take a break from talking about how the game plays to highlight the presentation. Though it's a top-down shooter, everything looks as detailed as it can, with some of the sprites looking better than those in the first two Grand Theft Auto games. The menus, cutscenes, dialogue boxes also look great: detailed and stylish. There's a lengthy intro that you thankfully don't have to watch, but it's worth a look at least once, for some excellent pixel art, and top-quality music (though the game has great music generally, to be honest). On top of all this, there's some nice little touches here and there, like the text on the title screen that states emphatically that "THIS GAME IS CYBER PUNK ACTION". It all looks and feels so cool!

Getting into specifics, each character has a selection of four weapons, though you'll mostly be using the machine gun (because it has infinite ammo), and the hand grenades (because you can throw them over walls to kill enemies a room over). Though you don't get to pick which character you use to play each mission, unfortunately. Also of interest is your characters' damage system. You have damage counters for armour and health that start at zero and go up when you get hit. You don't lose any health until your armour is at 100% damage, and in the few stages I've played, there are no items for refilling your health, only your armour (though you can still collect these when your armour is 100% damaged, and it'll still go back down).

Reinforcer is definitely a game I recommend you try out. Among the X68000 action games that aren't arcade ports, it's definitely one of the most high quality, in terms of both presentation, and just as a fun, exciting game! Finally, if you try it out in xm6g, it might not be immediately obvious how to get it running so here's some help: put the System Disk in the first drive, then wait for it to start loading. Then, into the second drive, insert Disk A to watch the intro, or Disk B to go straight to the game. For some reason, the game won't load if you don't wait for the system disk to start loading before inserting one of the others.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Uppers (PS Vita)

I really, really wanted to like this game. On paper, it has so much going for it: it's a modern beat em up that relies on neither ham-fisted nostalgia nor a grind-driven negative difficulty curve, and it has a ton of cool ideas and a lot of visual flair. It's all ruined, though, by one massive insurmountable flaw: it might not have a negative difficulty curve, but it doesn't have a positive one either. It's got a difficulty flatline. What I'm saying is that it's incredibly easy, to an extent I don't remember seeing before in an action game that wasn't made for very young children.

But I'll get back to that, after talking about the game's positives.  Like how all the stages have crowds of girls loitering around the place, and you can get statistical bonuses by impressing them with your fighting. Impress them enough, and they'll even give you love letters! There's also some weird slot machine thing involving them where you can win more bonuses, and a weird minigame that lets you lift a girl's skirt by tapping the X button fast enough for a few seconds. This stuff's all a little unseemly, but it is, at least, original. In fact, I don't remember a beat em up that has you trying to impress onlookers in this way. Surely it hasn't taken 30-odd years of the genre's exitence for someone to come up with this idea?

What I think is the game's best point is its use of weapons and the environment. Rather than being able to pick weapons up, carry them round and use them to clobber enemies, they're all instead parts of the stage. So you use the O button in the right place, and you'll swing round a lamppost to kick the enemies surrounding you, throw a motorbike into a crowd, or event flip a pick-up truck onto a group of foes. Conversely, you can punch, throw, and kick enemies into things to elicit effects: you can cause them to smash through walls, collapse piles of girders, explode burning barrells, and so on. Both these features really add an anarchic feel of mass destruction to all the fights, which is nice.

Of course, that brings us all back to the problem of the game's difficulty. All those cool ideas and visual bombast don't mean much when the game itself is easier than breathing. There's no tension, no friction, and no real excitement. Most of the enemies go down in two or three normal punches, meaning that you only need to use the cool environmental stuff for the tougher enemies and bosses. And even they don't put up much of a challenge. Uppers is definitely the game to play if you ever want to sympathise with Superman's "world of cardboard" speech. I've been playing for over two hours, with hard mode switched on, and still there's no challenge. It might well get harder at some point later in the game, but an action game really shouldn't make you play for multiple hours before getting to the "real" start of the game. Because if it does, then you're likely to just give up on it. Like I have given up on Uppers. One final note: it does have a proper printed manual, with colour illustrations and staples and everything!

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Logic Pro 2 (Arcade)

So, I've already reviewed the first and last parts of this trilogy in the past, and I've finally decided to write about the awkward middle child, which also happens to be the black sheep of the family. While Logic Pro and Logic Pro Adventure are the best nonogram games I've ever played, Logic Pro 2 rivals Oekaki Pizzle for the title of worst.

Where Oekaki Puzzle was boring and joyless in its execution, Logic Pro 2 is actively hateful. The big problem it has is that in attempting liven up their sequel, the developers thought it would be a good idea to add enemies into the mix. Now, this isn't some kind of versus mode where you race to finich a puzzle before an AI opponent, it's little creatures crawling around the grid doing stuff while you try to solve the puzzle. That "stuff" being erasing the crosses you use to mark squares that definitely don't need filling in, or adding crosses of their own, or just sitting and getting in the way.

You can kill all of the aforementioned enemies, though they respawn a short time later. Another type of enemy is unkillable, though, as it appears outside of the grid: the caterpillars that wiggle onto the screen now and then to cover up the numbers. You already have a time limit, and now you'll be wasting valuable seconds waiting for these jerks to wiggle away again so you can actually see the puzzle you're meant to be solving!

The real shame is that other than the enemies, it's mostly the same as Logic Pro Adventure: great graphics, decent puzzles, and that weird gimmick where you collect fifty little dots for a big bonus. It's just ruined by the enemies. I guess Adventure does prove that they learned from their mistakes though, which is nice. Still, don't play this game, no matter how much you're left wanting more after finishing its stablemates.