Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Shinseiki GPX Cyber Formula VS (PSP)

 You might not have heard of Shinseiki GPX Cyber Formula, but it's a series that's interested me for a while. Originally an anime that aired on Japanese TV in 1991, obviously trying to cash in on the popularity of Formula 1 racing in Japan at that time. It's not a massive franchise, but it does seem to have been a bit of a cult hit, spawning several straight-to-video sequels over the course of the 1990s, and a seemingly endless stretch of videogame adapatations, with the most recent being released in 2018. Despite all this, and even despite the existence of an English dub that aired in parts of Southeast Asia, almost nothing of it has ever reached North America or the UK, with the one exception being the SNES game, released in the US as "Cyber Spin".


This entry was released in Japan only in 2008, and it's pretty good! When it comes to racing games, I'm usually more interested in the glamourous likes of the Ridge Racer series than the grey world of Gran Turismo or F1, but having seen a few episodes of the source material, I decided to give it a chance. It mostly plays like an arcade-style racer, rather than a psuedo-realistic simulation, which is definitely fine by me. There's plenty of different things to hold your attention, too.


There's three main modes of play, ofr a start: Survival, which has a very arcade-like structure, and sees you competing in races until you fail to finish one in first place. Unfortunately, I've only managed to get a few races deep into this, so I can't tell you if it's endless or if it has an ending. The fact that the tracks are always presented in the same order suggests to me that there's an end to it, though. Conquest is the one of the three I've played the least, and seems to be made up of shorter, harder, one-on-one races. The real meat of the game seems to be in the GPX mode, in which you pick a set of stages, and race through them in sequence, with the usual system of points awarded for higher finishing places, and so on.


What's interesting about GPX mode, is that the higher difficulty courses add more laps to each race. This is interesting because the cars in the game have a boost function, limited by the amount of fuel it uses up. It's essential to winning races, and as the races get longer, it'll run out a lot sooner before the ends of the races. So, as you progress through th ranks, you'll have to get better at both rationing the use of your boost, and in timing your visits to the pit lane to refuel. This probably doesn't sound like much to people who are more used to simulation-style racers, but in most racing games, I pretty much never enter the pit, so it's interesting to see a game that necessitates doing so, without slowing down or over-complicating the action.


There's a couple of other side modes in there, too: a solo drag race time trial mode (called ZERO 4000), and a mode called "Max Speed Attack", which sees you racing round part of a track, attempting to reach as high a speed as possible when you go past two specific points. I've made a few attempts at beating both these modes, all unsuccessful.


Anyway, I'm not even sure if most of my readership is even interested in racing games (which is why I try and keep a bigger gap between each one than I do with other genres), but if you are, this is one that's definitely worth a look. It looks great, it's fun to play, and it's fast. All you want from a racing game really, right?

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Noon - New Type Action Game (Playstation)

 Disregard the title: it's a puzzle game, not an action game, and it can be played by anyone, not just newtypes. It is, though, a game with a lot to hold your interest, and there's even a bit of mystery outside of the game itself to enjoy, too! But I'll get back to that later. First: the game itself.


It's a versus puzzle game, but not of the "stuff falling into a well" variety. Instead, you and your opponent are doing battle in a square arena. Near the top and bottom of the arena, there are two rectangular grids of coloured squares: one blue and one green. Also, coloured orbs randomly appear throughout the arena. Each player also has a timer, that starts at ten seconds, and depletes whenever every square of their coloured grid is full of orbs. If your counter reaches zero, you lose.


Now, you can push the orbs around, and there are two methods of clearing them from the arena. For the sake of convenience, I'll called them "squashing" and "smashing". First, squashing: if you push an orb against a wall or another orb, after a couple of seconds, it'll break and your power meter will fill up a little. When the power meter is full, you can use a super attack, which is different for each character: making a bunch of same-colloured orbs appear, making a few rainbow-coloured wild orbs appear, making a tond of junk orbs appear, and so on.


Smashing is a little more conventional: get three or more orbs of the same colour in a straight line and hit them with your melee attack, and they'll all disappear, and some junk orbs will appear in your opponent's grid. THere's also boss fights where your opponent has a health bar instead of a grid, and you damage them by smashing orbs. It all took me a couple of games to get ahold of, but once I did, I was having a pretty good time.


The presentation is also really high quality! There's a ton of excellent pixel art in here, for the characters, the stage backgrounds, and the story cutscenes. Even the main menu is pretty cool, being made of a big cog-power machine thing. This might not make sense, but it siimultaneously feels like both a medium-budget title, and a small creator-driven passion project.  Which leads nicely into that mystery I mentioned earlier!


Before the titles screen, along with all the usual company logos you'd expect to see at the start of a videogame, there's also a plain black screen with the white text ""Kouji Oono Original Version 1993", and every mention of copyright includes a 1996 copyright for Microcabin, and a 1993 copyright for Kouji Oono. Now, the obvious part of all this is that the Playstation version of Noon is a remake of a game made in 1993, by Kouji Oono. THe mystery is the fact that all my searching hasn't been able to turn up any information on either the pre-Playstation version of the game, or its creator.


I have a few assumptions and educated guesses, at least: if the game was commercially released, it wasn't on any consoles, since  there would be some documentation of it online somewhere, since pretty much every official console game release is documented, and almost all are ripped and uploaded too. My guess is that it could have been released on a microcomputer, since the gaps in generally available knowledge in that field are significantly bigger than the gaps in knowledge of console games. My guess is the X68000, based on nothing, really, except that the game itself jst has a kind of intangible X68000 feel to it. As for Kouji Oono, I could only find a short list of games he had development credits in. So short, in fact, that neither version of Noon was among them. The only other solution I can think of is that the 1993 game had a different title, in which case the only chance we have of finding it is to play every Microcabin game released in 1993, and hoping it's one of them.


Mystery aside, Noon is a fun, exciting game, as well as being pretty unique and vety aesthetically pleasing. It's definitely worth your time, and I recommend giving it a try.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Dokapon - Monster Hunter (GBA)

 You look at this game's logo, and the western boxart, and it's easy enough to tell that it owes its western release to a superficial resemblence to the Pokemon games. Though there is a monster recruiting mechanic in Dokapon, it's entirely optional, and the items needed to do it are pretty rare. Personally, I didn't bother with it at all, but the game has enough of its own charm and ideas that it doesn't need to be a Pokemon mockbuster.


I'll address the most obvious quality first: the way the game looks. Though there's not much in the way of animation, the spritework in the game is beautiful. The overworld sprites look as if someone took the typical blobby pre-rendered sprites seen in so many GBA games and drew over them to make them look good, but the in-battle sprites are the jewel in the game's visual crown. Every enemy monster is a very charming, well drawn creature or humanoid, and your own character's sprite is not only their equal in terms of being well drawn, but there's a unique sprite for every sword and shield you can obtain in-game. That's two hundred all together!


The dungeons aren't particularly interesting. There's a slight bit of roguelike-ness, with procedurally generated floor layouts, but the battles are all more traditional RPG turn-based battles, and you don't recover health while you walk around, nor is there a hunger mechanic. You also get to keep your level when you die, but not your items, equipment, or money. The equipment is the biggest loss, to be honest, as it levels up as you use it, so a sword and shield that have lasted at least one dungeon are going to be significantly stronger than anything on sale in the town shop. I've played up to the third boss so far, and I do like the game enough that I'll probably play it all the way through eventually, and I do like that after the first two dungeons taking the standard settings of mine and forest, the third takes place in a circus.


Another misconception you might have on your first play is that the battles are simple and boring, but there are in fact quite a few interesting ideas in there! First, there are attack and defence turnsl when you attack, your enemy defends, and vice versa. The reason this is interesting is because of the second big idea: rock/paper/scissors. Whether attacking or defending, you can either choose the standard attack or block, or one of three skills, each mapped to rock, paper, or scissors. Your enemies do the same. If, while defending, you pick (for example) your "rock" defence skill, and your enemy attacks with their scissors attack skill, their attack is totally nullified, and you get the effects of your defence skill. Defence skills are usually stat buffs or status recovery, attack skills might do more damage, or inflict status ailments, and so on.


You might have read the previous paragraph and think that this means that the battles are a totally luck-based affair, but that's really not the case at all. You can see what attack skills your enemies have equipped to each slot, and with this knowledge, you can make an educated guess as to what they'll do. Certain enemies will prefer to try and inflict certain status ailments, for example. Or, you might see a fire-breathing enemy that has a skill named "napalm", and you just use common sense to assume that they'll try and use that when they attack. It's actually a fun and interesting system, that brings a little more strategy to random battles against non-boss enemies that, in a lot of other RPGs, would just have you mashing the confirm button to attack until the battle's over.


If you like RPGs, Dokapon Monster Hunter has a lot to offer in most departments except plot (which is barely present at all, and what little there is is very cliched). If you don't, it probably won't do much to convert you. On the other hand, if you like pixel art, you should at least go and look up sprite sheets for the enemies and equipment because they're really, really good. It's good enough that it's also got me curious about other entries in the series, so expect some of those to pop up on the blog at some point in the future, maybe.

Friday, 4 December 2020

Mick and Mack as the Global Gladiators (Mega Drive)


If you went back in time a couple of decades, the level of fame enjoyed by the two McDonalds licensed Mega Drive games was pretty much the exact opposite: Global Gladiators was pretty well-known, and has a lot of advertising in magazines around the time of its release, while McDonalds Treasureland Adventure was a much smaller release, that I didn't even know got released outside Japan until fairly recently. But with the Treasure-mania that followed in the wake of Ikaruga in the early 2000s, their game got a lot more attention, and Global Gladiators got forgotten among all the other licensed platformers from the 90s.


I actually had Global Gladiators as a kid, and even I had mostly forgotten it (other than the surprisingly good music, which is a far cry from the usual farty rubbish you usually see in American-developed Mega Drive games) until I recently decided to load it up on a whim. The thing is, this is a game that doesn't deserve to be forgotten! It's actually a fast-paced and exciting platform shooter, which sees you playing as one of the eponymous  Gladiators (actually just two kids with super soakers full of brown slime), and shooting monsters in various locales.


There's lots of cool little touches that just add to the quality of the game, like how your character's walking/running speed not only builds up as you go in one direrction, but the acceleration rate is affected by going up or down hills, too. Just like Sonic! Your weapon has infinite ammo and shoots as fast as you can hit the fire button, but you still have to pay attention to what you're doing, as the recoil knocks you back just a tiny bit per shot, and can have unattentive players falling to their doom. Another quirk is that there's no bosses: every stage just ends with Ronald McDonald waving a flag.


The game's got an overall theme of environmentalism, even having a bonus stage themed around picking up pieces of rubbish and putting them in the right recycling bins. This theming comes trough in some stages better than others. The first stage, for example, is a great subversion of the usual Green Hill Zone knock-off so often used to open platform games: there's lots of green all over the place, but it's actually toxic slime, rather than grass or leaves! And the monsters in that stage fit the theme too, being various kinds of gooey slime monsters. Then that's followed up with an actual forest stage, looking like the Pacific Northwest, and seeing you shooting beavers, fish, and plant monsters. It's obviously not a game-ruining problem, but it is a mildly annoying bit of ludonarrative dissonance.


Global Gladiators is definitely a game that deserves a bit more recognition as being a high-quality platform shooter, albeit one with a somewhat strange and ill-fitting license attached to it. If you haven't played it, or if you played it long ago, I recommend giving it a look.