Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Robbit Mon Dieu (Playstation)

 Everyone loves the Jumping Flash games, right? The early Playstation releases that brought a splash of colour to the normally dour world of the first person shooter, their only big downside being the draw distance that had barely improved from their genetic forbear Geograph Seal, and restricted the player's field of vision to barely a few metres in front of their noses. Luckily, there was another sequel, released only in Japan in 1999 that corrects that problem! Unluckily, it's also a very, very boring game to play.


As I just mentioned, the Jumping Flash games stood out amongst other first person shooters by being bright, colourful games, set in fanciful wonderlands. They also stood out by not only have a jump button, but by letting players use it to triple jump to incredible heights. Robbit Mon Dieu, unfortunately does away with almost all of the shooting of the previous games, and in fact pretty much all of the action and even the challenge of those games along with it. A first person game focussed on platforming is still a fairly novel concept, especially in 1999, but not like this.


I feel like the problem might lie in a shift in the demographics the publishers were targeting: as a game aimed at the under-fives, Robbit Mon Dieu would actually be one of the all-time greats. It sees you fulfilling simple tasks like delivering a package to someone who lives up on a floating island, tackling obstacle courses, diving off a high platform and falling through hoops, and so on. There's a few stages that technically have you shooting things, but since those things don't shoot back or offer any other kind of resistance, it's hard to really consider them shooting stages.


 Though it's odd that they'd aim a game at such a young audience and use characters from a pre-existing game that was a few years old itself at that point. Furthermore, there is a lot of text in this game, including menus, mission briefings (though obviously, most of the missions are simple enough that you can easily work them out without being able to read them), and story text. So I'm going to assume that the game was aimed at pre-existing Jumping Flash fans.


And with that in mind, it's a total failure. Unless the aesthetics were literally the only thing that drew you to the Jumping Flash games, and you don't care about how they play, Robbit Mon Dieu is not worth bothering with. It does look amazing, but that's pretty much all it does. Not recommended.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Simple V Series Vol. 2 The Tousou Highway Full Boost - Nagoya-Tokyo Gekisou 4-Jikan (PS Vita)

 That incredibly long title means it's once again time to look at that most beloved of budget game franchises, the Simple Series! It's a bit of a sad entry this one, too, since as far as I can tell, Simple V Series Vol. 2 The Tousou Highway Full Boost - Nagoya-Tokyo Gekisou 4-Jikan is actually the last ever Simple Series game. It's also  a part of the same subseries as a game I've covered in the past, the post-apocalyptic longhaul road trip Simple 2000 Series Vol. 112: The Tousou Highway 2 ~Road Warrior 2050~. Which means that it's also a Tamsoft game! We all love Tamsoft, right?


Anyway, like Road Warrior 2050, it' another longhaul road trip, though this time it's set in present-day Japan, and as far as I can tell you're getting briefcases to deliver them to the yakuza so that they'll release your secretary, who they've lock in a dungeon. While Road Warrior 2050's journey was punctuated by occasionaly sections where you fought waves of enemies on foot, Full Boost breaks up the long drive in a variety of other ways.


The game's main gimmick is that it's not intended for you to complete the whole journey in one car. Most of the vehicle types get damaged very quickly, and all of them have alarmingly small fuel tanks. Obviously, a car with no fuel can't go anywhere, and also if you're in a car when it explodes, that's an instant game over. Furthermore, a car's maximum speed gradually reduces as its fuel meter and structural integrity decrease. So, you get out of the car, and try to steal another one. This is a part of the game that's a little sloppy, though, as the only reliable way of getting a car to stop long enough for you to get into it is to let it run you over. Inexplicably, this doesn't hurt you at all.


Of course, the police aren't going to just let you go on your highway carjacking rampage, and they'll regularly come along to try and spoil your fun. If a police officer catches you on foot, or pulls you out of a stationary vehicle, they'll try and handcuff you, and getting free reduces your stamina a little. Running also reduces your stamina. Despite all this, it seems like the developers wanted to create a non-violent game, as you have no way of keeping the police away, even temporarily. So if there happens to be a few officers around while you're trying to switch to a new vehicle, it can be a little awkward and very difficult to get away with it.


The last thing I want to talk about is the power up system. There are power-ups strewn about the roads here and there, and collecting them progresses a Gradius-style power up chooser along the bottom of the screen, with four different things to choose from. You might be tempted by the quick thrill of selecting Boost every time you pick up an item, but honestly, it's worth saving up four of them each time to get the last option, Guard. What this option does is gives your current vehicle an impenetrable rainbow forcefield, increases your top speed to how it would be if your car was undamaged and full of fuel, and it stops your fuel meter from depleting while it's in effect. Practical and fun!


The Tousou Highway Full Boost isn't some grand swansong for the illustrious Simple Series to bow out on, but it is emblematic of the series at its best: it's a fun, unpretentious game with a lot of low budget b-movie charm. I do recommend giving it a shot, though it's a download-only Japan-only PS Vita game, so its legal accessibility isn't great, and it's only going to get worse as Sony continue their policy of gradually pretending the system never existed. Still, if you can get ahold of it, you should. It's fun.

Friday, 16 October 2020

Tsuyoshi Shikkari Shinasai Taisen Puzzle-dama (SNES)

When looking out for more obscure material for this blog, it sometimes pops up in some strange places. In this case, for example, there's a file on textfiles.com from 1992 which lists the anime airing at that time on Japanese TV, including the times and channels, along with a short description of most of the shows. Most amusingly, Dragonball Z is described as "arcade-style beat em up", but another one that stood out to me was the description to a show I've never seen and had never previously heard of: Tsuyoshi  Shikkari Shinasai, described as "family anime with The Slap". A little bit of searching revealed that the show itself didn't look interesting at all, but that it did have a SNES game.


The game itself is so generic that you could almost consider it the platonic ideal of competitive puzzle games. Coloured orbs fall from the 'bove in pairs, and if three of the same colour touch, they disappear. The main tactic is to set up chains so that lots of junk blocks fill up your opponent's pit. The one unique mechanical touch is that the junk blocks take the form of the regular orbs trapped in transparent cubes. The cubes disappear when orbs are cleared next to them. As a result, any character that dumps junk blocks all in the same colour is at a massive disadvantage, since if three of the same coloured orbs get freed from junk blocks together, they'll also match up, and they'll free the ones next to them, and so on. This kind of thing can instantly change the tide of a match and destroy an opponent in one go.


The presentation of the game is unique in its blandness, though, which is a direct result of the license: all the characters are friendly, middle class suburbanites in jumpers. Plus a dog. It's kind of funny that some people in the west have this stereotype of all Japanese cartoons being crazy, loud action shows, when here we have an anime license that looks like it could be based on some kind of animated adaptation of a cosy BBC sitcom. 


There isn't really anything else to say about Tsuyoshi Shikkari Shinasai. Mechanically, it's so generic that the only reason you'd ever want to choose it over literally any other competitive puzzle game is if you're a big fan of the source material, and I can't imagine there's many readers of this blog that fit that description.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Other Stuff Monthly #17

 So, I recently remembered a promotional pack of some weird cards that came with a comic I bought as a kid. The cards had awesome fantasy artwork, and a whole bunch of scratch off panels. After a small amount of investigation, I found the thing for which I was looking: Steve Jackson's Battle Cards, a trading card game that had the incredible bad luck to launch a few months before Magic The Gathering came along and pretty much redefined what a trading card game was. Though Battle Cards did have some strange properties that meant it probably wouldn't have lasted long even without that apocalyptic event.


The big problem is that it's a trading card game in which each card can only be used once. It's those scratch-off panels, you see: the ones along the bottom of the card and down the sides represent parts of the character's body. To play, two players each take a character card from their collection, and take turns declaring which of their opponent's body parts they're attacking. The opponent scratches off the panel representing that part, and reveals either nothing (showing that the attack missed) or a drop of blood (showing that it hit). After receiving their second wound, and every wound after that, a player must scratch off one of the life panels along the top of the card. There's three of them, and one of them hides a skull and crossbones, which, when revealed indicates death.


Having bought a bunch of packs of Battle Cards from ebay, I played a few rounds with my Dungeons and Dragons group. Despite the mechanics of the game relying entirely on luck, we had a pretty fun time. I think it really relies on the atmosphere; as a silly thing to unwind after a D&D session, it's a lot of fun, but it's not something you could ever play seriously. Especially when you take into account that the actual point of the game has been inaccessible since 1994.


The point of the game was to collect the special foil treasure cards. You see, these cards weren't available in the packs themselves. When you defeat another player, you actually take their defeated card, and scratch off the "purse" panel in the top right corner of the card. Then, you have to get a trading post card, and scratch off two of the panels on that card, of your choice. If you revealed a number and the name of the treasure, you could then send the trading post card, along with a bunch of other cards whos purses added up to the number shown on the trading post, and they'd send you the treasure you reveald on the trading post.


I can see where the designers were coming from with this gimmick: Pogs were very popular, and that was a game often played for keeps. What Battle Cards did was provide an endgame to aim for when playing for keeps, as opposed to just amassing a gigantic stack of cards. On the other hand, I can't see the scratch-off element as being anything other than a cynical attempt at forcing people to endlessly buy cards by making each one single use. It didn't work, of course, the game was such a massive flop that there's still plenty of unopened booster packs for sale online for next-to-nothing. And like I said, if you pick up a few packs, it's a fun and silly way to pass a few minutes with your friends. Plus, the art on all the cards is great, and each one also has a massive wall of lore text on the back!

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Battle Outrun (Master System)

 Contrary to what you might think, unoriginality can actually be a powerful tool in creating a great game, using the core concept of an existing game and adding your own twists and ideas to make something new and exciting. Kid Chameleon did it to Super Mario Brothers 3, and Mortal Kombat did it to Street Fighter II, for just two examples. Battle Outrun is unfortunately an unsuccessful attempt to do it to Chase HQ.


In case any of you aren't familiar with Chase HW, it was an arcade game released by Taito in 1988 (a year before Battle Outrun), and subsequentally ported to pretty much every active home system at the time. In it, you play as a cop engaged in ar chases with criminals, who you have to catch by ramming their car with yours until they stop. Battle Outrun has you playing as a bounty hunter engaged in ar chases with criminals, who you have to catch by ramming their car with yours until they stop,


The only idea that Battle Outrun really adds to the Chase HQ concept is an item shop that appears once a stage, offering upgrades for your car, which are absolutely necessary if you want to make it past even the first stage. Tire and engine are pretty obvious, while upgrading your body reduces the amount of speed you lose when you collide with cars and other objects, and the totally useless chassis upgrades affect how far you fly when you drive over the ramps that appear a couple of times per stage.


The other thing Battle Outrun adds is frustration. Like in pretty much any racing game that takes place on city streets, there are many civilian cars acting as obstacles in your path. More than any other such game, the civilian cars in this gme feel like they were programmed with a sense of deliberate malice. They'll often deliberately drive right in front of you, or between you and the criminal you're trying to ram, or they'll get in front of you and stay in front of you, so you hit them repeatedly and lose five-to-ten precious seconds. Even when you've upgraded your body and engine a couple of times, this is still incredibly annoying, and feels totally unfair, too.


Despite what I said in the opening paragraph of this review, though, the biggest problem Battle Outrun has is its similarity to Chase HQ. Taito's game even got a port to the Master System in 1990, with better graphics, more speed, and obviously, a more streamlined and fun design. So play that instead, and just don't bother with Battle Outrun.