Thursday, 27 August 2020

Other Stuff Monthly #16

 Back in early 2018, I backed a game on Kickstarter called Crypt. It was a fun little dice game about a bunch of scheming princes and princess who want the king's treasure, despite all being left out of his will. When the same people had another campaign in mid-2019 to fund their next game, Afternova, I naturally backed that one, too. Unfortunately, my copy arrived literally the day the Covid-19 lockdown started in the UK, so it sat unplayed on a shelf for a few months. But now I've had a couple of games of it, and it definitely lives up to its predecessor!


The game sees the players recruiting various space-faring engineers, to mine planets for different coloured minerals, which in turn are used to build spaceship parts. Some of the spaceship parts add new abilities, like more storage space to store minerals, or getting to draw extra cards at certain times,  while others are just worth victory points at the end of the game. 


The real hook of the game is that it can be difficult to recruit  all the engineers you need to mine the planet you want, so you can negotiate with other players, agreeing how to divvy up the planet's yield in exchange for the use of their engineers. So you have to balance out getting the minerals you need, while trying to keep your opponentsaway from all the ones they need. It obviously gets harder to negotiate towards the end of the game, as the game ends when one player finishes six spaceship parts, leaving everyone else one last turn to do score what they can.


Playtime is about half an hour, and it goes by pretty quickly. The whole game is a combination of negotiation and resource management (not just the literal resources of the negineers and minerals, but also the space needed to keep them, as you can only hold eight cards and four minerals at a time), and there's very little reliance on luck, so winning or losing does depend on who was the better player that game.


I've enjoyed every game I've played so far of Afternova, and it's pretty cheap as far as decent board games go, so I definitely recommend picking it up, as long as you have at least two other people with whom to play it. It's also got a ton of silly animal puns on the engineer cards, which is a nice bonus!

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Fantastic Children (GBA)

 On paper, Fantastic Children should be worthless shovelware garbage. It is, after all, a licensed GBA platformer based on an anime. I can't tell you much about the anime other than that it's apparently about a group of immortal 12 year olds, and it was created by Takashi Nakamura, whos distinctive character design style you're sure to recognise if you've seen the movie Catnapped. It does have an official english release though, and I might just give it a watch someday, as if the game really gives me vibes of those classic kids adventure anime from the 80s and early 90s, like Giant Gorg, Mysterious Cities of Gold, and The Secret of Blue Water.


Right from the start, it's obvious that this game is possibly the best-looking game on the system, with lavish, detailed backgrounds, and really amazing animation on the main character's sprite. As he runs, jumps, climbs, falls, and so on, you can really feels the weight of his body and the force of his movements, and those are all things you do a lot of, since most of the game is made up of Prince of Persia-style precision platforming. It's so far beyond the usual garish colours and blobby pre-rendered sprite you see all too often on the GBA.  


Like I said, the game is mostly PoP-style platforming, as you clamber around, exploring various environments, like jungles, abandoned buildings, quiet little seaside towns, and so on. The quality of the animation makes this a totally joyful experience, even if he practice of holding the jump button to grab and keep ahold of ledges, then pressing up to climb onto them takes a little bit of getting used to at first. What's  really unique about this game is the rare occasions when you meet enemies (well, there are wild animals that can hurt you right from the start, but they're more like hazards than enemies), as this is the only platform game that I can think of that has turn-based combat!


The way it works is that you and your opponent each has a hand of five attacks. There are specials that each do specific things, but mostly, you'll be using punches, kicks, and chops, which have a rock-paper-scissors dynamic going on: punches beat kicks, kicks beat chops, and chops beat punches. You can switch between your attacks as much as you like in the few seconds before they meet in the middle, at which point one of you takes damage (or both if you each used the same attack). Used attacks are discarded, and if the fight's still ongoing after five turns, you each get your full hands back and carry on. 


You can change the attacks in your hand via the pause menu, and you get more choices, including things like attacks that hit twice when they win, as well as the aforementioned specials, by beating enemies and opening treasure boxes. Certain kinds of enemies have specific hands too, so if you know you're going into an area where the enemies prefer kicks, you might want to build a punch-based hand, for example. It's a system more interesting than exciting, but it does solve the problem of having enemies without them getting in the way of the sheer kinetic joy of the platforming.


I think that's all I really have to say about Fantastic Children. Of course, I very highly recommend that you go and play it as soon as possible, and don't worry about there being a language barrier, as while the story text is all in Japanese, all the menus and so on are in English. It should be counted alongside Ninja Cop, Gunstar Super Heroes, and all the other truly great GBA games that people still love to this day, it's honestly that good.

Monday, 17 August 2020

Pyramid Magic (Mega Drive)


 It's yet another puzzle platformer, even though every time I need to mention I'm not a fan of the genre. On the plus side, I have at least realsied that there are things to like bout them. For example, they definitely adhere to the idea of "purity" I've talked about in past reviews, as they're pretty much all made up of a small number of easily-identifiable parts that have a very specific purpose. 


This especially applies to Pyramid Magic, as it was a download title, and as you might imagine, a download title in 1991 really did have to be economical with the filesizes. So, every stage is made up of seven different kinds of thing (well, every stage I saw, at least): the blocks that make up the walls, floor, and ceiling, the blocks that you can pick up and move around, three kinds of boxes that have to be opened in order (the wooden box has the key for the red box, whih has the key for the green box,  which contains the magic... thing that banishes the ghost blocking the exit), and of course, the player character himself and the aforementioned exit-blocking ghost.


So obviously, the game centres around moving the stone blocks around so that you can get to the exit, making sure you open wach of the three boxes in order along the way. Your character is two blocks high, and can jump two blocks high. He can carry one block at a time, and can move and drop blocks in increments half a block wide. You can only crawl throgh one-block-high gaps if you walk into them while carrying a block, and if you fall off an edge while carrying a block, it'll crush you to death. There's your basic elements, nd of course, they're arranged in increasingly complex ways, and there's usually one specific solution to each stage you have to figure out.


Like I always say with these games, it's really not for me, but if you like them, maybe you'll like this one. However, due to the circumstances of this game's release, the presentation is significantly more spartan than you mighht be used to, but maybe the curiosity of those circumstances is compensation enough for you? And if you do play and enjoy Pyramid Magic, you'll also like Pyramid Magic II, which is essentially just more stages of the same game. Pyramid Magic III is a little different, adding a breakable urn to the mix, and I couldn't even figure out what the goal of the first stage in that one was.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban (SNES)

 At first sight, I'd assumed that this game was going to be a clone of Kiki Kaikai, which obviously got my interest right away. As it turns out, it's more of a top-down beat em up, like the arcade game Kyros. Well, with one of the characters, at least. There's two to pick from: a Japanese guy, and a White guy, both of whom give the impression of being effeminate dandies, which is an unusual choice for a pair of action game protagonists.


The Japanese guy is the melee character, attacking enemies with a harisen, while the white guy throws roses at them. From this point on, assume that I'm mostly talking about playing as the Japanese guy, because the white guy's attack is so slow and weak, that playing as him solo is almost impossible. He might make more sense in the context of co-operative play, though. As well as normal attacks, you also get screen-clearing magic bomb attacks, limited by needing to collect scrolls before using them. These magic attacks are done in the form of summons, with the white guy summoning maids and butlers, and the Japanese guy summoning ninja and, for some reason, bunny girls.


The final skill in the dandy pair's offensive repetoire comes in the form of transformation. Sometimes enemies will drop little percentages as items. Collecting them, obviously, increases the percentage on your player HUD, and when it's over 50%, you can transform your dandy into a gigantic musclebound freak who confidently strides around destroying normal enemies in single punches and bosses in only a few more. You even get a different victory splash screen if you finish a stage in this form!


Aside from the unique protagonists, the game's overall aesthetic is pretty interesting, too. The graphics are generally excellent, being both detailed and well-drawn, and after the first set of stages, all set in Japan, the game goes on a bit of a world tour, with stages in China, India, Europe, and Arabia, all with their own stereotypical enemies. So there's kyonshi and martial artists in China, levitating Yogi and an elephant (complete with impressive multi-sprite trunk!) in India, knights, witches, and cherubim in Europe, and so on. Though Arabia just seemed to be another Europe-style castle stage for some reason? That was a disappointment. Still, having gone into the game expecting only Japan, it was a nice surprise.


Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban is definitely a game worth playing, bringing some unusual twists to the beat em up genre, both mechanically and aesthetically, and though I haven't been able to play a co-op game, I'm pretty sure that the game was designed with that in mind, and would presumably play even better with a friend.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Dunk Kid's (Game Gear)

The strangeness with Dunk Kid's doesn't actually start with the superfluous apostrophe on the title screen: before you even get to there, there's a splash screen featuring the logo of ASBA, the All-Japan Street Basketball Association. What's strange about ASBA? Well, not only do they seem to not exist anymore, but the only reference I can find to them online is in relation to this game, which makes me wonder if they ever existed at all. None of the teams in the game have names besides their home city/country/state/continent, either, which makes ASBA's existence all the more questionable.

But let's not allow possibly-fictional governing bodies skew our opinions of this game, that simply wouldn't be fair, would it? Especially since it's a pretty good game, after all. Like Jammit, it's a basketball game in which both sides are trying to score in the same basket. Unlike Jammit, it doesn't make many embarassing pretensions towards being "tough", nor does it have a buffet of weird variant rules.

In Dunk Kid's, there's a time limit, and whichever team has the most points at the end of it is the winner, and that's that. Baskets score one point when they're put in close to the basket, and two points from far away. If you get one in from directly beneath the basket, this sometimes triggers one of a few special dunk animations, which look cool, but still only score one point.

It's a pretty fun, simple sports game that doesn't make a quixotic attempt at squeezing a psuedo-realistic "simulation" out of an 8-bit console. But what it does squeeze out is some surprisingly great presentation! Each team has their own slightly stereotypical stage, for example, and while you might expect an 8-bit sports game to have one player sprite that's cloned and recoloured many times for every player on every team, there's actually four player sprites that are copied over the game's eight teams! Not only that, but the devs have even got a nice little bit of diversity out of those four sprites: there's a bunch of different skin colours spread across the teams, and one of the sprites (or, if you like, two of the teams) is a girl! Even in 2020, there's not many games where you can play as a black girl, but this little-known Japan-only handheld sports title is one of them!

There's really only one big problem Dunk Kid's has, and to be honest, it's not even that big a problem. I'm sure you remember how in Cyber Dodge, the teams' stats were based on the order in which you face them in the single player campaign. Well, the same is done here, so if you play a single match (or if you somehow get two Game Gears, a link cable and two copies of the game to play versus mode), the only viable teams to pick are Russia, China, and Hawaii. In campaign mode, only the teams representing Japanese cities are playable, making this a Japanese game where all the Japanese player options are the weakest. How odd!

Anyway, yes, Dunk Kid's is a very fun game that I definitely recommend to people who aren't the types to turn their noses up at ancient sports games. It's just a shame it's on a system that requires such faff to set up a two-player game.