Thursday, 30 January 2020

Other Stuff Monthly #9!

So, a few years ago, I was reading my way through the 1980s, as depicted in Uncanny X-Men, and an ad that kept cropping up was one for a board game entitled Web of Gold. It caught my eye, so I went to ebay to see if I could get a copy for myself. Amazingly, depsite the game being decades old, I managed to get a complete copy in immaculate condition for less than five pounds! Even better, it actually turned out to be a pretty good game, which is against the odds for a kids game from the 1980s.

The game concerns a group of explorers venturing into a large cave in search of gold. The cave is unfortunately inhabited by giant spiders. Players each control one explorer and one spider. As explorers, they journey around the board, hoping to find gold nuggets and other items (that aid in finding gold nuggets). As spiders, they try to entrap and kill the other players' explorers in webs. Winning comes through either being the first explorer to fetch six nuggets back to their homebase, or the last explorer still alive. It's a fun game, full of backstabbing, and just enough of a luck element to make snatching victory from the jaws of defeat an exciting event.

Where Web of Gold really shines though, is in its board and components. Everything is meticulously and precisely designed to fit together. The rock pillars on the board have little notches to fit the web tokens between, the explorers have slots on their underside to put them on the webs whn they get caught, and there are little places around the edges of the board to store cards, the die, and so on. Furthermore, each player has a little card to keep track of the fuel in their lantern and the number of spider bites they've suffered. These cards have little sliding counters attached to them and again, they're excellenty designed. Finally, the item cards, depicting things like torches, mushrooms, ropes, and so on, have really great, colourful art printed on them. It's just a great-looking game, with parts that are satisfying to use that add to the overall quality of the game as a whole.

Web of Gold is a great game, and, assuming prices are still as low as they were a few years ago, and also assuming you have at least two other people with whom to play it, I highly recommend tracking down a copy of your own.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Guru Guru (DS)

Also known in Japan as "Guru Guru Nagetto", Guru Guru is a game I found while looking up the developers of a game I covered a few months ago, Simple 2960 Tomodachi Series Vol. 3 - The Itsudemo Puzzle - Massugu Soroete Straws on Game Boy Advance. Not only are the two games by the same developer, but the main character of that game, the trainee witch Straw, is also playable in this one! It's not a sequel, though, as while that was a puzzle game, this is a golf game.

Or rather, golf is the nearest thing to which Guru Guru can be compared. Instead of hitting a tiny hard ball with a stick to try and get it into a distant whole on a massive lawn in the fewest strikes, you are instead throwing bouncy limbless rabbit-like creatures called familars to try and land them at the end of a linear path in the fewest throws. Obviously, there's complications, as the paths are full of hills, walls, ceilings, bottomless pits, and so on, to hinder your progress. You do get to pick between three routes, though, and you can switch between them when you like, as long as you're on a flat surface that's even with the route to which you want to move.

Along with being golf-like in concept, there's also some similarities with more traditional golf games. For example, on each turn, you pick one of three different kinds of throwing technique (determined by which character you picked), then decide how hard you're going to throw the ball with the use of a power meter. Of course, this being a DS game, the power meter utilises the touch screen, having you quickly draw circles to build it up, before flicking across to throw. It works okay, but it's hard to get much precision for those rare occasions when you don't want to throw the familiar as hard as you can.

I was a little sceptical when I first started playing this game, and it did take me a few goes to even figure out how to play it, but it's actually a ton of fun to play once you've got the hang of it. My advice is to ignore the various training modes and just go straight in for the tournament. The training modes make the game seem a lot more difficult than it actually is, and there's a lot of satisfaction not just in beating your tournament opponents, but in seeing their familars bouncing backwards off of walls and falling down pits, leaving them in a worse position at the end of their turn than at the start. One last thing I have yet to mention is the graphics, so before this review ends: they're great. They're cute and colourful (in a kind of pastelly way on my actual DS, though the  screenshots from the capture device look a lot brighter), and have a clean isometric pixelly look that's very appealling. In summary, this game is definitely recommended to anyone still exploring the massive original DS library.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Simple 2000 Series Ultimate Vol. 17 Taisen! Bakudan Poi Poi (PS2)

Some of you might remember the two Poy Poy/Poitter's Poit games on the original Playstation, which had a (very) small cult following in the west at the time. If not, then they were a pair of multiplayer action games, where a bunch of characters in a small field tried to be the last one standing in a game of chucking objects at each other. They had a very distinct visual style, with brightly coloured, very low poly graphics even by the standards of the time. Taisen! Bakuden Poi Poi is at the very least, a spiritual successor to those games. It might be an actual sequel, though because the titles are only similar, not the same, and the fact that I can't find any companies involved in those games and this one.

As well as the Poy Poy games, it's also a kind of modern reimagining of the 1987 arcade game Butasan. While Poy Poy had players throwing rocks and logs and so on to damage each other, Bakudan Poi Poi is all about running around throwing time bombs at each other, just like Butasan. Though Butasan was about cartoonish anthropomorphised pigs in muddy fields, while this game is about realistic humans in a modern day (or at least, early 2000s) Japanese setting. The reaslistic setting actually makes the game feel a lot sillier, as you have schoolgirls, policemen, soldiers, and so on, running around parking lots and suburban wastelands holding big round bombs above their heads and chucking them at each other.

There aren't just normal bombs, either: there's also a rugby ball-shaped bomb that bounces around wildly after being thrown, a landmine, and a UFO-looking bomb that creates a slow movement field when it explodes. There's also a few power-ups. Normal ones, like health refills and invincibility, and stranger ones, like a potion that makes you fall asleep, and an orb that turns you into a bomb, allowing you to lie in wait until another player picks you up before exploding.

Single player mode has you going through a short series of missions as each character. The missions are mostly just to kill a certain quota of opponents before time runs out or you get killed yourself. So it could be "kill 10 policemen", or "kill 30 of any opponent", for example. The final stage for each character is a boss fight against an opponent who has three hit points like you, and can even pick up the healing items like you can.

It's a pretty fun game, all told. It gets repetitive pretty quickly, but the all-round zaniness and the chaos of the constant explosions alleviates that a fair bit. Pretty much perfect for a Simple 2000 game, and it doesn't have any of the pointless grinding that drags down so many of its stablemates, either. If you stumble across a copy at any time, and assuming it still carries an appropriately low price tag, it's definitely worth a try.

Monday, 13 January 2020

S.C.A.R.S (Playstation)

That title there's an acronym, for Super Computer Animal Racing Simulation. The plot involes a super computer in the distant future simulating races between animal/car hybrids (reminiscent of the 90s toyline Car-Nivores) for some reason. The plot doesn't really affect the game in any way other than each track having a little sequence where the topology "grows" out of a flat blue grid, before the textures spread over it. That's pretty cool, though. Better than a normal loading screen, at least. The cars being animals doesn't really come into it at all, though, other than looking cool and putting an A in the title's acronym.

The races themselves play out in a Mario Kart style, which you might not expect from the non-cuteness of the overall aesthetic. There's power-ups to collect and a jump button, though, so that's pretty Mario Kart, I'm sure you agree. There's enough differences in the formula to set it apart, though, and they mostly involve the power-ups themselves. Firstly, they aren't assigned randomly, you can see which power-up you're going to get before you get it. This means there's none of the MK-style balancing where racers at the front only get the worst power-ups, and racers at the back only get the best. This is kind of balanced out by the fact that most of the power-ups are more useful when you're behind the pack, so a racer in first will be driving around holding onto their power-ups just in case they fall behind at some point.

Then there's the power-ups themselves. There are some of the usual suspects: missiles, speed boosts, shields, and so on, but there's also several kinds of trap power-ups. When used, these typically send forwards an energy field of some kind: a wall, a spinning triangle, a floating magnetic tetrahedron. The wall and the triangle simple stop any car that hits them, and they take a split-second to disappear afterwards, so if a few cars are bunched together, they might all get stopped, fot you to drive past with impunity. The magnetic tetrahedron is more deadly, but only to one car: it piicks them up and spins them for a few seconds. The trapped car can shoot a missile to get free, but they'll be dropped at whatever angle the magnet currently has them at, while if they wait the few seconds to be dropped naturally, they'll be pointed in the right direction. What's annoying about all of the above, is that they can trap the racer who sent them out, which seems like a stupid oversight.

Another weird quirk is that you have a score while racing, with points awarded for hitting your opponents with weapons. But these points don't affect your standing in the race ranking in any way, and it's hard to see what the point of them is. There's a bonus ranking point awarded after each race for the racer that had the fastest single lap, so why couldn't they have had another one for the highest score? As it is, the score doesn't take anything away from the game, but at the same time, it doesn't add anything either.

As a single-player experience, SCARS is very much okay. It's not great, but it's not bad, either. In terms of Playstation kart racers that I've played in recent times, it's better than Tank Racer, but not as good as Megaman Battle & Chase. It's probably better with human opponents, but that's obviously going to be the case for the other games, too.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Case of Dungeons (PC98)

It's time for that rarest of treats: a Japanese microcomputer game that has an English translation! Well, a partial one, at least. The character names are romanised and the names of the items and some of the enemies are translated, and not much else. But that does make it a lot easier compared to playing the raw Japanese version, and there doesn't really seem to be much of a plot to be missing out on, either. Anyway, Case of Dungeon is a simple isometric dungeon crawling RPG.

To start of with, you pick one of many pre-made characters from a little book at the start of the game. There's knights, mages, elves, thiefs, and so on, and one little odd thing I noticed is a few sneaky little Addams Family references, with some of the characters' names containing "Fesuta", "Gomezu", "Wenzudi", and "Motesha", though there's no "Paguzuri". The characters aren't at all balanced, with some having stats that just totally put the others to shame, even when you take into account the differing amount of points you can add to stats yourself when you select one. Once that's done with, you enter the dungeon, on your quest to (I think) kill the Black Dragon.

As mentioned, everything's seen from an isometric viewpoint, and the game is controlled with either the mouse or the arrow and Z/X keys. You don't directly move your character, you move an arrow around the screen, where it'll be pointing in one of four directions, then press Z to make them take one step in that direction. It's pretty slow, as the dungeon is procedurally generated and revealed one space at a time. Every now and then, you'll also enter a random battle. The commands for the battles aren't translated, so I'll tell you what they are here: from left to right, you've got escape, magic, and attack. Your item window is also open during battle, and oddly, using items and changing equipment doesn't use up a turn, so if you're about to die, you can just eat a load of bread until you get back to full health.

Something that was clearly done to extend the length of the game is that the stairs down to the next floor of the dungeon won't appear until you've explored every last tile on the current floor, except for those covered by locked doors. (On the subject of locked doors, you do start with a load of keys, and they're pretty commonly found in chests, too, but it's not worth the effort of going into your inventory and using them, as doors are almost always generated in frong of walls, or in the middle of rooms. So you can just either walk round them or they don't lead anywhere anyway. Weird.)

This, more than anything else, is what killed this game for me. I was actually fine with the incredibly slow walking speed and the slightly glitchy battle menu, but after I'd gotten a few floors in, I was traipsing around the place looking for the one last unexplored tile somewhere that would make the stairs appear for over 20 minutes. I saved my game and gave up. I might never go back to that file, but you never know. It's a shame, as despite having everything going against it, Case of Dungeon was, like The Hunter, it's a game that really held my attention despite really being quite boring.

I can't really say that I recommend this game after saying that, can I? But if you're more patient than I am, maybe you could give it a shot? Everyone like isometric graphics at least, don't they? Oh, and for some reason, the translated version doesn't seem to be listed on or on the "beginner's guide to PC98"-type articles going around, so here's the link.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Curiosities Vol. 16 - Zero no Tsukaima Fantasy Force

This post is also about that game's sequel, Zero no Tsukaima Fantasy Force 2nd Impact, since they're both a little off the beaten track, but I didn't think they were interesting enough to warrant a whole post each. The most interesting thing about them really is their method of distribution: they were never actually available to buy, but were extras included with the limited editions of the PS2 visual novels Zero no Tsukaima: Muma ga Tsumugu Yokaze no Nocturne and Zero no Tsukaima: Maigo no Period to Ikusen no Symphony, respectively. Because they were limited edition extras, that means they have their own discs and PS2 game ID numbers, so they can be counted as games in their own right, and not the kind of thing I covered all the way back in Curiosities Vol. 8.

Are they any good, though? Well, they're alright. The first game is a horizontal scroller that's easy enough that I one credit cleared the first loop on my second attempt. It's got some cute little touches, though, like how your charge attack extends a line of text from your character's mouth that damages enemies, in a nice little homage to the Parodius games. The second loop is a lot tougher, too, with a greater number of enemies acting more aggressively and even shooting revenge bullets right from the start. Maybe they should have included the option to start there as a hard mode?

The second game is a vertical scroller, and it takes a big step up in quality. There's two characters to choose from, each with their own sets of weapons, and there's even a two-player co-op option! The RPG-like backdrops and the fact that one of the characters rides a dragon really bring to mind Namco's Dragon Spirit/Saber duology, which is definitely no bad thing. Again, it's a little easy, though I only got as far as what appears to be the final boss this time round. One weird thing they included is a bad powerup that reduces your bomb stock by one. I don't understand that at all.

Both games are pretty fun diversions, but not much more than that, and definitely not worth tracking down what are probably now rare and valuable Japan-only visual novels from over a decade ago. There's no real scoring systems in them, which is fair enough, since they're deliberately evoking an oldschool feel, but I think what really kills them for me is that they don't save high scores, which was an annoyingly common problem with PS2 shooting games, as I remember. In summary, emulate them if you're curious, but otherwise you're not missing out on anything special.