Thursday, 26 March 2020

Other Stuff Monthly #11!

Because the last post was a few days late due to technical problems, it's already that time of the month where I look at a non-videogame item of interest. Not only that, but the next post will be the annual April fools non-obscure videogame! But anyway, what's this month's item? It is at least slightly videogame related, since it's a miniature replication of a classic electromechanical arcade game from Namco!

Namely, it's a replica of Wani Wani Panic, which is also known as Gator Panic or Wacky Gator. I'm sure most of you who are old enough to remember the 1990s would have probably seen it in arcades back then. It's a whack-a-mole style game, where crocodiles come back and forth, in and out of some tunnels, and you bop as many as you can with a hammer within the time limit. The replica is a fancy papercraft kit with some plastic battery-powered innards, and unfortunately, it's not a product you can just easily buy: it was a free gift with an issue of youchien (or, kindergarten), a magazine for young children. As such, it actually came with two skins: the classic one which I used, and another one themed around the latest Doraemon movie, Eiga Doraemon: Nobita no Shin Kyouryuu (Doraemon the Movie: Nobita's New Dinosaur).

It might be a little hard to tell from my grainy PS Vita photography, but the built kit looks great. It's bright and colourful, and does a surprisingly good job of looking like the original machine, despite being made of card instead of metal and plastic. I'm very pleased with it, and I hope that it's sturdy enough to last for many years. It's not perfect, though. A big flaw is one that I won't have to deal with again: it was really hard to put together. It's not a problem I had with the very simple Panelki kit I posted about previously, but this was a much more complex kit, and there were a lot of times when I had difficulty getting tabs through slots. The problem is that you need to be quite firm, but it's scary being too firm, in case you just smash your thumb right through a panel and ruin the whole thing. I should mention that I had no trouble following the instructions, though. You put the numbered tab into its matching slot, and that's pretty much it.

The other big problem I have with the kit is that there's no randomness in how the crocodiles come out. There's a very short pattern that repeats over and over until time is up, and it makes this more of a fancy novelty ornament than a real home version of the arcade game. I know I'm being a little nitpicky with a kids magazine gift, and like I said, it is a really great-looking toy, but it's still a disappointment. Overall, though, I have to say I'm pleased with this, simply because it does look great, and someday I hope I'll be in a situation where I have lots of shelf space for it to look nice on, and I'll just keep hoping that someday I'll encounter a real one of the machines somewhere to play it again.

Finally, I have two last things to say. The first is that in the magazine itself, they're advertising that the next issue will come with another kit, for a papercraft payphone with sound-making keypad. I wonder if they do a kit every month, and if I should try to keep an eye on this magazine in case there's ever another interesting one? The other thing I have to say is that special thanks for this post goes to selectbutton forums user Dylan, for buying the magazine on my behalf and sending it to me.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Bakusou Dekotora Densetsu - Otoko Ippiki Yume Kaidoi (Playstation)

I've been aware of this series for a long time, but the large amount of menus, all in Japanese had put me off. But recently, I just decided to dive in, and it turns out that the menus are pretty simple to navigate once you're playing the game. Anyway, in case you're won dering, this is the first in a series of nconventional racing games, themed around the subculture of Japanese truck drivers who adorn their vehicles with murals and flashing lights and various other garish accoutrements. Dekotora means "Decorated Truck", you see.

It's not just the theming that's unconventional, as Bakusou Dekotora Densetsu plays unlike any other racing game I've ever played. For a start, you never have to worry about taking corners, as your truck will just automatically follow the line of the road as you hold the accelerator down. Instead the races (which are all one-on-one) are more of a strategic battle of wits between you and your opponent. Basically, your opponent will always start with a pretty big lead, and it'll take a while to catch up with them, and when you do, you'll be going at about the same speed, making overtaking difficult. The twist is that you get a speed boost from being directly and closely behind your opponent, and you've got to use this to build up speed and nip in front of them when you have the chance.

Now, you might be wondering about the "no taking corners" thing. Instead of worrying about slowing down when the road bends, you're instead expected to use left and right on the D-pad to change lanes when the need arises, either in trying to out-maneuver your opponent or navigate around the normal car-driving road users (who, on later stages, always seem to be in the way as soon as you would otherwise be able to take the lead. infuriating!). You even have to double-tap them, as the first press just turns on your indicator! As well as acceleration and steering, you also have buttons for honking your horn and shouting abuse.

Also unlike most racing games, the money you win from races can't be spent on more powerful engines, or more grippy tires. Instead, you start the game with a bland, grey truck, and your winnings are spent on your choice of a vast array of bright, gaudy junk to put on it. There's strips of flashing lights, massive murals of demons or monsters or princesses, and more. The only bad thing I really have to say about this stuff is that right from the first races, your opponents all already have fully-decorated trucks, and the miserly amount of points you get for each win means that you'll be playing for eons before your ride is looking as ostentatious as you want it to. It would be remiss, too, to talk about this game without mentioning its atmosphere: there's tons of it. It's definitely in that genre of fiction regarding working class people in showa era Japan, and if you've seen movies or TV shows from those days, you'll definitely get the same feel from this as you did from those.

Anyway, the first Bakusou Dekotora Densetsu game is one I've enjoyed playing so far, and I look forward to looking into some of its spin-offs and sequels at some point, too. it even has entries on the Game Boy and Wonderswan! I recommend giving it a try yourself, and I even have a small menu-navigation tip for the Japanese-illiterate: to load your save, you have to pick the box on the right on the main menu. Also, there's a couple of modes I haven't bothered with, like the drawing mode (because only those with the patience of the saint and some proper pixel art talent are going to get anything decent out of it), and time attack mode (because it's just the racing, without the game's main gimmick).

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Dragon Egg! (PC Engine)

Dragon Egg! is one of that strange category of games from around the late eighties and early nineties that totally would have fit in among the arcade games of the time, but it was only ever a console game. Well, maybe 1991 was a little too late to be releasing a very eighties-feeling platformer, but only a little. But two or three years earlier, it would have fit into the arcade scene perfectly, anyway.

It borrows heavily from two popular arcade games of that era, after all: Wonderboy in Monsterland, and Altered Beast. From Wonderboy, it takes the item shops as well as the generally overall feel of things, and from Altered Beast it takes the concept of collecting orbs to gradually take on new forms. You play as a little girl who starts the game carrying a dragon egg around in her backpack, which she uses to bludgeon enemies (which seems very irresponsible). Upon death, enemies will drop either a coin or an orb. Obviously, the coins are for spending in the shops littered about the stages, on power ups and health potions.

The orbs, though, like in Altered Beast, gradually cause the dragon to hatch, and then grow. Growing the dragon doesn't just give extra range to your weapon, but it also affects your movement and the size of your sprite (and presumably, your hit box, though I'm not 100% on that one). By the time your dragon's at full size, you'll be doing massive jumps that cover a lot of height and distance. It makes it a little more difficult to accurately land on small moving platforms, but overall it's a net benefit as it allows you to reach places you smaller forms couldn't and sometimes even skip parts of stages. Oddly, you have to icrease the power of your attacks by buying power-ups from the shop, which seems odd. Also, if you lose a life, it's all the way back down to egg form, which can lead to some Gradius-style slippery slopes, especially if it happens while fighting a boss.

It's the difficulty in general that's the game's main flaw, in fact. It's not as simple as just being too hard, though: the first half of the game is incredibly easy, in fact, and you should breeze through it on your first attempt with very few issues. After there, though, the game takes a sudden and dramatic turn towards being difficult to the point that it feels unfair at times. There are enemies with attacks that come out without warning, or that are impossible to kill without also taking a hit. You could ignore them, but if you've just lost a life, you'll be desperately hoping to get some orbs. Maybe the real strategy is to learn how to get through the game using basic short range egg attack. But even if that were effective, it definitely wouldn't be any fun.

Dragon Egg! is a cute game, and it does start out fun. I won't say it's not a good game, I'll just warn anyone that fancies trying it that the latter half is brutal, and they shouldn't go into it expecting an easy time.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

The Fighting Wolf AT (MSX)

For such an early entry into the belt scrolling beat em up genre, and from a relatively small company like Technopolis Soft, it's impressive how versatile the controls in The Fighting Wolf AT are. With only a D-pad and two buttons, you can walk in eight directions, punch, kick, and even duck and jump! Unfortunately, you only ever have to walk left, walk right, and punch, and in fact, doing anything else will diminish your chances of survival.

So, each stage consists of a few screen's worth of a repeating background, though it doesn't matter if you walk to the end or not, only that you defeat every enemy. Although it would be more accurate to say that rather than "beating every enemy", you're beating enemies until they eventually stop spawning. Each stage has exactly two kinds of enemy: one that spawns on the right of the screen, and one that spawns on the left of the screen. Beat one, and an identical one will take its place. Keep doing this and after a couple of minutes, you've beaten the stage.

I don't know how long the game is, but the technique that got me to stage five (the enemies do gradually become more enthusastic about trying to fight back, and you only get one life) is just to repeatedly punch one enemy until it's dead, then turn around and punch the enemy on the other side until they're dead. By then, the enemy on the first side will have respawned and walked up to you, so repeat the process. And that's pretty much the entire game. The background changes each stage, as do the sprites for the enemies, but they all play the same.

There's not much more to say about this game. It looks okay, except when the screen scrolls, and the music isn't terrible I guess. The best thing I can say about it is that the enemies in th second stage are a woman and a baby, which is kind of odd. Don't play The Fighting Wolf AT, it's rubbish.