Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Other Stuff Monthly #12!

Wow, it's the twelfth installment of Lunatic Obscurity's least-popular feature, Other Stuff Monthly! So why not talk about the item that inspired it, a 1980s Dragonball tabletop game, which I think is called Goku's West City Uproar? See, I bought this game on a whim after seeing it listed for one solitary Yen on Yahho Auctions Japan, and it being a piece of merch of the world's most popular cartoon that I'd never seen before, thought it mght make an interesting subject to review or at least post about somewhere at some point.

Having not yet had the idea for Other Stuff Monthly, I put it away and forgot about it, until recently! When my landlord found it as he was clearing out the spare room. Now, there's a reason this rare old toy was so cheap, and that's because it is in very poor condition. There's several parts missing, most of which are just cosmetic, but two are very much essential to play: the balls.

If you've ever seen the game that's known in the UK as Screwball Scramble, in which the player races against the clock, using switches to operate various gizmos on a board to get a ball bearing through an assault course as quickly as possible, Goku's West City Uproar is a game like that, except instead of a single player racing against the clock, it's two players racing against each other. I did try to rectify this omission though, by ordering a couple of ball bearings online, but unfortunately, they're just slightly too big to fit through the tunnels on the board, and just slightly too heavy to jump off of the little lifting pokey sticks high enough.

In testing the game with the replacement balls, I also found out another thing wrong with my copy of the game: some of the parts which are supposed to move up and down when a player pushes a lever don't do anything at all. So even if I got some more appropriately-sized orbs, it still wouldn't matter. I've taken some pictures (with the griny PS Vita camera, as always), but that's all I can really say on this post. Please look forward to  many more installments of this feature, whether you want them or not!

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Small Games Vol. 6!

It seems like it's been a while since there's been a small games post, and I just happened upon three candidates while exploring the X68000's roster, so here we are! First up is Hard Battle, a nice little shooting game. In it, you control an X68000, flying over scenery made of circuit boards and chips, and shooting disks at various other flying microcomputers, who return fire in kind. All while a demented little chiptune plays. It's pretty good! Play it, set a high score, try to beat the high score, there's not much else to it, really. There's no bombs or power-ups, and there's no scoring system besides "get points for shooting enemies", so it's pretty much as simple as a shooting game cane be. Not bad, though.

Next up is a game that doesn't fair so well, to the extent that I think it was probably just a bit of practice for the developer, and not meant to be enjoyed as a full, finished game at all. Its name is Death Fighter, and in it, you play as a martial artist who looks a lot like Ryu from Street Fighter, but whos repetoire is limited to punches and judo throws, locked in combat against a heavily armoured gladiator/knight-type guy. Your enemy doesn't really have any AI beyond charging forward and constantly attacking, and you've got to try and get your offence in when you can. You can block by pressing down, but since the enemy never stops attacking, there isn't really any point. A curiosity, and nothing more.

Finally, the best game of this trio, Ikari Blade. It looks like a pretty typical old-fashioned single-screen shooting game, but it gradually escalates to the point where the screens is full of enemies and their bullets, with very little room to maneuver. The main problem is that the escalation is a little too gradual, and your first five minutes or so of play will have you wondering why the game starts you out with ten shields, and why it's so generous in giving you more of them. It's also a shame that the game's not so generous with weapon power-ups, as even after three or four of them, your gun still feels incredibly feeble. Like I said, though, Ikari Blade is the best game out of these three, and despite its flaws, there's just something about it that's compelling and even slightly addictive.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Werdragon (PC88)

So, I have to start this review with a confession: I've only been able to play the first stage of this game. Not because it was too hard for me to get past (though it did actually take me a few attempts), but because as soon as the second stage started, the graphics were suddenly all glitched out, to the point of being unplayable. It's a shame, as Werdragon was turning out to be an okay game. Not a great one, or even a good one, but an okay one, at least.

Set in a world familiar from a thousand 1980s OAVs, that of a post-apocayptic cyberpunk city, where there's also demons and stuff along with the gangs and cyborgs, Werdragon is an auto-scrolling single-plane beat em up where you play as the eponymous, mis-spelled weredragon. Who is also a cyborg or something put together by a ghost professor? I'm just guessing by what I saw in the cutscenes. Anyway, you go from left to right, killing lots of enemies along the way with your sword, until you eventually get to the boss. You know how these things go.

There's a few twists in there, though! Like the flying drone enemies with the flat tops, who aren't just enemies: sometimes killing them refills a few points of your hit points, and you can stand on top of their flat heads, which is actually essential to avoid getting crushed to death between the left side of the screen and a wall at certain points. You move, jump, and crouch using the d-pad, and you have a button each for attacking left and right. Pressing down and both buttons together also fetches up your weapon select menu, from whence you can pick swords, guns, and magic. The magic is limited-use, and the gun you start off with is too slow and weak for most uses (it does come in handy during the first boss fight though, just because you'll eventually run out of magic, and your sword is almost impossible to harm him with).

Though the game moves very quickly, it also scrolls very jerkily, in chunks of a few pixels at a time. That's pretty common for action games on old Japanese microcomputers, though, so it'd be unfair to judge the game on that, and to be honest, it doesn't work to the game's detriment too much anyway. But, since I could only play the first stage of Werdragon there's not much else I have to say about it. Unless there was a big change later in the game, I can't say that we're all missing out on some big lost classic here, but like I said: it's not bad, either. It's just okay.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Racing Aces (Mega CD)

There were a few games on the Mega CD that used a combination of a few very low poly models and FMV backgrounds to try and trick players into thinking they were 3D, the most well-known probably being Silpheed. Racing Aces bucks that trend by actually being a  game with full 3D stages! As you might have figured out from the title, it's a racing game about flying old timey aeroplanes around racetracks.

Unfortunately, it's a concept that doesn't really work very well, at least it doesn't here. It's just so fiddly, and it also feels so slow, even when you collect the turbo boost power ups. I'm sure it's not a frame rate issue, as though the frame rate does chug a bit, the Mega Drive version of Virtua Racing manages to be a fast and fun racing game under similar conditions. Maybe it's the fact that it's a game about racing planes? There's no accelerator, of course, and you have to keep dipping down to maintain speed, then pulling back up to avoid the ground.

The unfortunate fact is that the whole time I was playing this game, I was thinking of all the ways it could have been better. It would have been better if they'd made it a ground-based racing game, or a Pilotwings-style flying stunt game, or maybe even pushed the boat out and pre-empted the PS2's Sky Odyssey by about a decade and made it a relaxing biplane exploration game. It's a shame, because it really is impressive what they've managed to achieve with this game, and it's just no fun to play at all. It's barely even worth mentioning the incredibly dated stereotypical Japanese characters, because it's not like they're spoiling an otherwise decent game through their presence.

Anyway, more about how the game actually plays. You pick a character from the massive roster (though as far as I can tell, they don't actually play differently to each other), then you'll compete in a series of races against eight of the other characters, with the usual rules that you get championship points for finishing races in high positions. There's an extra caveat in that you can also shoot down your fellow racers, and each kill is worth one championship point too (downed pilots respawn after a couple of seconds). That's actually a good design decision, that I wish was more common in racing games that also have a combat element. I'm sure you remember when I criticised S.C.A.R.S for having a completely pointless scoring system tied to destroying your opponents. There's lots of tracks, and as you go along, you can buy better planes and upgrade them, and so on, but otherwise, that's pretty much it.

Racing Aces is a game that's ambitious and impressive, and unfortunately absolutely no fun to play at all. I don't recommend it as anything other than a technological curiosity. And on the subject of curiosity, I decided to look up the developers, Hammond & Leyland. Not only was this their only game (as far as I could tell), but most of the results weren't even for this company, but for news stories concerning a pair of cricket players active in the 1930s!

Monday, 6 April 2020

Curosities Vol. 18! - Game de Check! Koutsuu Anzen (Master System)

Game de Check! Koutsuu Anzen is an educational game that was commisionned by a Japanese insurance company, and was never actually on sale. They made a couple of hundred copies, and would lend the game, along with a Master System, to primary schools that requested it. It's also something that was pretty much completely forgotten and considered lost to the ages until very recently, when the great people at SMS Power got ahold of a copy, and not only dumped the ROM, but also simultaneously released a translation patch so more people could enjoy it! There's lots more information over there regarding the game's origins, so you should definitely go and have a look.

But I'm here to talk about the game itself! It's actually a collection of three games on one cartridge: Driving Sense Test, You're the Best Driver, and Pyonkichi's Adventure. Driving Sense Test is itself a collection of four minigames, designed to test the player's reactions and observational skills. You'll have to identify objects that fly past a window at high speed, catch animals of varying speeds by lowering your net at just the right time, follow a motorbike while weaving through traffic, and finally, walk behind a parrot, who'll warn you when to duck, jump, or speed up, o avoid obstacles. It's ok, I guess. The last of the minigames is the best, and the most videogamey in feel. At the end of all four, you get given scores in the areas each one was meant to be measuring: Driving Eye, Speed Sense, Driving Technique, and Risk Control.

Next up is the most substantial of the three games, You're the Best Driver. In this one, you drive either a car or a motorbike (though I couldn't tell any non-cosmetic difference between the two), and drive around the streets, very carefully obeying the rules of the road. Sticking to the speed limit, stopping at lights, and so on. Though I kept getting minor violations every time I turned a corner, and couldn't figure out why. Does Japan have a seperate speed limit for cornering maybe? You start the game with a hundred points, and lose some for every violation. Speeding loses seven points, hitting another car twenty-nine, and so on. Hitting a pedestrian loses all hundred points in one go! This is a decent enough educational game, I can definitely see a bunch of primary school kids in the eighties all clamouring to be the first to get to play it, like Granny's Garden in the UK during the same era, or the generic maths and French games that were on the computers at my school in the nineties.

Last, and also least, is Pyonkitchi's Adventure. By far the weakest of the three games here, it sees Pyonkitchi the Rabbit off on a walk to visit Pyonko the Rabbit. Along the way, he makes various decisions, like whether or not to look oth ways before crossing, or wait until the man turns green, and so on. Afterward, you decide whether he made the right decision or not, and the game tells you whether you were right or wrong. It's probably more educationally relvant to little kids than the other two games, but it's also by far the most boring. Very little interactivity, and it feels more than a little bit preachy and finger-wagging.

In summary, this is an interesting piece of history that's finally available for all to see, and it's actually not a bad set of games either, considering their origin. I do wonder why the insurance company chose the Master System for its host console rather than the ubiquitous-in-Japan Famicom, though. Maybe they liked the SMS' colour palette? Maybe it was cheaper? Maybe an exec was friends with one of SEGA's execs? We'll probably never know.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Streets of Rage II (Game Gear)

So, for this year's April fools non-obscure game, I've gone with a game that's really only a port of a well-known game. Obviously, everyone knows the original Mega Drive version of Streets of Rage 2, it's one of the most beloved classics of the entire 16-bit era. But I saw some screenshots of the Game Gear port, and the cute little sprites made me want to give it a go. I did, and it turns out that though it is missing a few elements of the MD version, it's got enough of its own stuff to be considered its own game, rather than a poor man's cut down port.

For a start, it controls differently to the original, which is to be expected, as the Game Gear has one fewer button than a standard Mega Drive controller, but you'll be surprised to learn that they actually added a few things in this department! The attacks that were mapped to the A button are now performed by pressing up-down-one, and they don't reduce your health when they hit. The A+forward attacks are now 1+2+forward, and you now have a limited-use super attack, performed by holding down button 1 for a few seconds and releasing. This is functonally the same as summoning the police artillery in the first game, but now it's a screen-filling special move your character performs, which is a bit less awkward, thematically.

The stages are different, too. There's no baseball field or bridge stages, for example, and the theme park is split into two stages: the pirate ship full of ninjas comes first, and then there's a partially-new stage that combines elements of the alien hive area and the missing bridge stage. This stage even has an all-new exclusive boss! Even better, that boss takes on the SEGA tradition of ripping off characters from pop-culture, as it's blatantly just a Predator, complete with stealth camoflage and triangular aiming reticle.

Now, for the omissions. A minor one is that you now only have one kind of jumping attack for each character instead of three. There's also only three playble characters instead of four, and while Axel and Blaze were obviously not going to be cut, for some reason they got rid of Max instead of Skates. Skates is the worst! There's only two weapon types, though cleverly, one of them is depicted as just a straight line of white pixels, which you can easily interpret as a baseball bat, lead pipe or katana, depending on the situation. There's fewer enemy types, of course, and as already mentioned, some stages have been omitted or merged together. I've also already mentioned how much I love the graphics, but I'll also say that they've done a great job of bringing over the original's legendary soundtrack, too, and this version sounds as good as any 8-bit non-CD console game probably ever could.

Game Gear Streets of Rage 2, then. It's definitely worth playing, even if (or especially if) you've played the Mega Drive version to death. On last thing that might entice you into giving it a go: one of the biggest criticism of the Mga Drive version is that it's too easy. Even with the addition of the supermoves, and the Game Gear's inability to handle crowds of enemies as large as the Mega Drive can, this version is a lot harder, without feeling like it's unfair or unbalanced.