Monday, 28 September 2020

Railroad Baron (NES)

 Also known as Tetsudou-Oh, Railroad Baron is a board game, that's definitely in the same genre as Monopoly, with a little bit of Ticket to Ride thrown in, too. The aim the the game is to move your train around Europe by rolling the dice, making money as you go. Each player get randomly assigned a destination at the start of the game, then again whenever they reach a destination. When one player has finished a certain number of journeys (the default is seven), or when one of the players runs out of money, the game ends and scores are totted up.


The scores are based on how much money you have at the end of the game, how many stations you control (you control a station if you were the last player to pass through it) and how many railways you own (if you control two adjacent stations, then you can choose to buy the railway between them). If the game ends because of a player going bankrupt, that player automatically scores zero.


Each railway is made up of three empty spaces of track between stations, and it costs money to move over them. But if you own the track that another player is moving over, that money comes to you. So, be strategic with the railways you buy, and you'll probably win. There is another element of chaos, though: after each move where you don't reach your destination, a random event occurs. You might win the lottery, get to bet on a horse race, or have some railways blocked off for a ew turns by an earthquake. You might even be given a free railway! Most annoying of all, you might get teleported to another part of the map, or have your destination changed at random.


Anyway, that's an explantion of how Railroad Baron plays, but is it actually any good? Eh, it depends. The split between luck and strategy is about 75/25 in luck's favour, which isn't great. I don't expect you to be able to subject any other human players, but the CPU players are decent enough: they aren't the telepathic superplayers that you might find in a lot of tabletop-themed videogames, but they do act like they're trying to win rather than acting totally randomly, too. Basically, if you have some way of playing this on a handheld, whether through emulation or a handheld Famiclone, it's not a terrible way to keep your hands busy through thirty-to-fourty minutes of TV watching.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Fire Dragon Fist Master Xiaomei (PC)

 Sometimes, you can just happen to see screenshots or a short video of a game, and instantly need to play it, and that was the case when the trailer for Fire Dragon Fist Master Xiaomei appared in my Youtube recommendations. It looks to be a high-quality single-plane beat em up that's true to its genre, and which is obviously playing on nostalgia while updating the aesthetic just a little bit, and still adding a couple of its own ideas.


I have good news: it's exactly what it looks to be! Beat em ups are a genre that have been unfortunately conspicuous by their absence in both western and Japanese indie scenes (with very few exceptions, like Streets of Rage Remake, and Tifa Tan X, a game you should not go and look up if you're in polite company), but FDFM Xiaomei is definitely seeking to make up for lost time. It's obviously very inspired by the progenitor of the genre, Spartan X (or Kung Fu, if you prefer), even having the same little row of boxes showing how many stages you've beaten and have yet to beat.


Like Spartan X, this game sees you walk from left to right in various old-timey chinese locales, punching and kicking various enemies, the most populous of whom being the big bald guys with their arms up in the air. But there's also creepy little doll things, birds, snakes, butterflies, sword-throwing guys, kyonshi, and more out to get you, too. And this being an old-fashioned game with old-fashioned values, every enemy type has its own specific behaviour and tactics. 


There's bosses too, who are all unique, like the guy who throws his giant head at you, the sad ghost who thanks you for killing her, and at the end of stage four, a cool multi-sprite dragon than summons lightning, and along who's back you can walk, if you like. Best of all, you fight every boss with the same moveset and the same stats as you start the game with. In 2020, Streets of Rage 4 brought back real belt-scroller beat em ups, but right under our noses, Fire Dragon Fist Master Xiaomei had brought back real single plane beat em ups in 2019, and none of us even noticed!


It's definitely a revival that I'm very happy to see, and I hope it continues for a long time. If you agree, the best way to ensure that, as far as I can see is to go and buy this game, as well as SoR4 (if, for some insane reason you don't have that one already). There's even a physical release, for those willing to go to all the effort of importing from Japan (and who still have an optical drive on their PC). I highly recommend this game, it's honestly like an arcade perfect home port of a game that never existed. There's plenty of PC shooting games you could give that accolade to, now there's finally a beat em up to join them!

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

I Love Bikes! Street Racer Soul - Rider's Spirits (SNES)

 Also known as Bike Daisuki! Hashiriya Tamashii - Rider's Spirits, this game might look like one of many Mario Kart wannabes with super deformed characters and mode 7 tracks, and it pretty much is that. That is, except for one little detail: it's much more boring than most other games in this subgenre. 


You pick one of eight motorcyclists, including an army man, some  fairly generic girls, a character with cat ears on their helmet, a leather-clad gay stereotype, and some even more generic male motorcross guys and another one I can't remember, you race around the tracks in a grand prix arrangement with points being awarded depending on your finishing position. Of course, the CPU riders will always finish in the same order, so if you don't perform perfectly in every race, you aren't going to win the championship. 


There's three sets of tracks: amateur, novice, and pro. Oddly, amateur comes before novice. Unfortunately, there's no way to see the novice or pro tracks without getting first place in amateur, not even in time trial mode! After several hours of trying, the best I've been able to manage is second. So if there's a lack of variety in the screenshots, that's why. 


Anyway, other than the slightly wacky SD characters, this game's a lot more subdued than its genremates, and it's not a decision that works in its favour. The worst thing is the items. Firstly, there's no items to collect on the tracks, instead you can get one item per lap by going through the pit stop (though thankfully, you don't actually have to stop there). Then, when you actually use the item, it just shoots straght upwards, to descend, usually unseen and without any satusfaction, on one of the other racers. Other than that, it's a game that generally just feels slow, fiddly, and awkward at all times.


Obviously, I don't recommend I Love Bikes! etc, etc. Don't play it, it's rubbish. It has a translation patch, and I do kind of feel bad for the people who went out of their way to make that, but at the same time, i'm not insulting their work. It's the game itself that's bad, their translation is fine.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Dragonball Z Gekitou Tenkaichi Budokai (NES)

 Most of the Famicom Dragonball Z games are RPG, which never really seemed like a good fit, in my opinion, so when I found out that the final Famicom DBZ game was a fighting game released as late as 1992, that really caught my attention. Then when I learned that it was also part of some gimmicky barcode trading card nonsense, I wanted to play it even more! Of course, actually playing such a thing on real hardware would cost a ton, not only for the peripheral itself, but also for the cards required to use it. Luckily, there's a romhack out there that just lets you pick which character you want to be ingame, as opposed to having to swipe the barcode on the character's trading card.


It's a pretty impressive roster, too, with thirty slots. That is, nineteen characters, seven of whom have multiple forms, since this is Dragonball Z, after all. That's still thirty different character sprites, though, which is impressive for a Famicom game! They're taken from the fight against Raditz, all the way up to the fight against Perfect Cell, too, if you're wondering. Now, since this is a game built entirely around a gimmick, and really the whole point of it is to have kids in early 90s Japan going to each others' houses to make their card collections fight each other, there's not much in the way of single player stuff, and definitely no story mode.


You can play a tournament mode, though, by picking the eight-man tournament option, and, after selecting your own character, pressing B on the controller, which will have the CPU pick seven random fighters to fill the rest of the spaces. The problem is that the CPU-generated fighters are all incredibly weak, and you'll be able to beat any of them within a few hits. Sometimes just a single hit is enough! After you've beaten three opponents and won the tournament, you get to see your character's face in the middle of a fancy winners' certificate screen! Then, Freeza turns up and demands a fight. As big as the gap was between you and your previous CPU opponents, there's a similar gap between this bossfight Freeza and you. I've fought him a bunch of times, and never beaten him, and in fact, most of those fights were over in less than ten seconds.


That's really all there is to Gekitou Tenkaichi Budokai. Unless through some strange cosmic happenstance you suddenly find yourself in the body of a Japanese child in 1992, and that child doesn't yet have a sixteen-bit console, but does have the expensive peripheral for playing this game, then I'm sure you'll hve a lot of fun with your new friends. If that incredibly unlikely thing doesn't happen, though, this really is just a gimmick of a game, and there are many much better Dragonball Z fighitng games. In fact, I'm pretty sure there were probably already better ones on the Super Famicom and Mega Drive in 1992, even.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Brave Pinball (PC)


 Okay, I'll start this review with an apology: there's no screenshots other than the title screen because every time I took a screenshot in-game, the game would pause, and the screenshot would just show the pause menu. Every time, no matter what I did. After over an hour of trying different solutions, I gave up. So unfortunately, you'll have to deal with an unillustrated review, just this once.

I bought Brave Pinball a few weeks ago, as I was browsing the summer sale on DLSite, and the concept of an RPG-themed pinball game seemed pretty cute and fun. I especially like the little synergy between the main character and the concept of pinball: his swords are kind of shaped like pinball flippers, and the flippers in the game are kind of shaped like swords. Also, there isn't actually a ball in the game, as you're instead chucking a tiny version of the main character around the table to hit things with his swords.

The over-arching goal of the game, alongside the traditional pinball goal of scoring points, is to collect sixteen "pieces" of something. What the something is is a surprise. Pieces are collected in various ways: random drops from enemies in each area, reaching score thresholds, beating bosses, and so on. So, to get them all, you have to be able to explore the massive table and all its sub-tables, as well as just scoring points. Luckily, you don't have to get every piece in a single game, it's more of a long-term goal.

There's one massive flaw to the game, though, that really hampered my enjoyment of it: there's no way of nudging the ball/knight a little in the right direction. In a normal pinball game, this would be frustrating enough, as it'd cause you to lose balls down the middle with no hope of saving them far too often, but, as previously mentioned, Brave Pinball has an exploration element to it. So what this means is that you can struggle your way up the table a few areas, and in a second or two, find yourself all the way back down to the starting area. There's also little technical problems that a nudge action would have solved, like how the knight often gets stuck on objects for long, boring seconds at a time, or stuck in a loop bouncing between certain objects and the side of the table.

That's not the only flaw the game has, though. If you think back to my review of Dragon Beat: Legend of Pinball, you'll remember that (in my opinion, at least) an important part of pinball is that you should have constant stimulation: ideally, every time you hit the ball up the table, and every time it hits something, there should be a noise, a flashing light, some points scored, or all of the above. In Brave Pinball, not only do the enemies only score points when they're killed, rater than every time they take damage, but there are also these wooden windmill/waterwheel things littered around the board that just get in the way, scoring no points and often proving another hurdle in the way of the game's exploration gimmick.

I admit I do feel a litle guilty giving such a damning review to a modern indie game, the developers of which obviously put a lot of love into, but I just can't recommend Brave Pinball. It's addictive, as most pinball games are, especially on PC when you can load them up and play a quick game to pass a few minutes, but unfortunately, the flaws are just insumountible. I do hope, though, that the devs go back to the drawing board and give it another try sometime, as the basic idea of an RPG-themed pinball game is really cool.