Thursday, 25 March 2021

Wired Soul (PC)

 I've been saying that the past few years have seen something of a renaissance for the beat em up genre, with the likes of Streets of Rage 4, Ninja Saviors, and Fire Dragon Fist Master Xiaomei all being excellent games that both revived the genre after years and years of diluted efforts, as well as bringing their own new ideas to the table. But Wired Soul predates them all, having come out in 2015 (according to its DLSite page, there might have been a physical release before that). 


I've got some bad news and some good news regarding Wired Soul, though. The bad news is that it's not as good as any of the games listed above. The good news is that those games all set an incredibly high bar, and it's still a good game that's definitely worth playing. On first sight, it'll all seem very generic and basic, with the "girl getting kidnapped" plot and the strange lack of grappling or throws, but the more you play, the more you realise that there's a little more under the surface.


I guess the devs disregarded grappling to focus on combos, since as you'll eventually discover, you can chain a bunch of attacks together, and it's very satisfying to do so. It also manages this with only one attack button! You get your regular string of attacks by going up to an enemy and repeatedly pressing attack, and obviously, there are running and jumping attacks, too. But you can also perform more powerful autocombos by holding the attack button to fill a charge meter, then releasing when an enemy's in range. Not only that, but you can actually attack twice while in the air, plus you can hit an enemy once while they're on the ground.


With a bit of skill, timing, and aim, you can, for example, perform your charged autocombo before jumping up and kicking the enemy another two times before landing beside them and getting a sly ground punch in before they get up. It'll take a fair bit of practice before you can do that kind of thing reliably, but it's very satisfying every time you do pull it off. The only real problem the game has is the difficulty, that feels slightly unfair. For example, it seems like enemy attacks, regardless of whether you're doing a special or who attacked first or anything else like that, always have priority over your attacks. Furthermore, a bar of health doesn't seem to go very far, either: it'll only take a few hits for you to lose a life, especially against bosses. They aren't game-killing problems, but they're a bit annoying, and they stop the game reaching the upper echelons like the ones listed above.


Wired Soul is a game where the positives outweigh the negatives, though, and I do still recommend it. It was clearly a passion project for the developers, and not every game has to be a senses-shattering instant classic. If you like beat em ups, go and buy it. it's good.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Dragonball Z: Idainaru Dragonball Densetsu (Saturn)

 Back around the turn of the century, when Dragonball Z was just starting to air on British TV, me and my friends were a bunh of teenagers with no money, so we mostly relied on the various software pirates in our vilage to supply us with videogames. Unfortunately, the only Dragonball game any of them had available was Dragonball GT Final Bout on the Playstation. Despite having great-looking gouraud-shaded graphics, Final Bout was almost unplayable garbage. Still, we played a ton of it anyway, and I even remember one weekend we didn't see one of our group because he'd decided to stay home and try unlocking a whole bunch of characters by completing it on hard mode nine consecutive times without losing a round. The method he was following turned out to be an April Fools joke from a popular fansite. Anyway, we longed for better DBZ games, and in the ads for importers that were printed in magazines at the time, the title "Dragonball Z Legends" always stood out. We had no other details on this game other than that it existed, it was too expensive for any of us to buy, and it had to be better than what we had.


Cut to about a decade later, and I've recently gotten a 4-in-1 cartridge for my Saturn, and I'm shopping around online for cheap imports that I can actually play. Amazingly, I find a copy of that mysterious Dragonball Z game for less than ten pounds, so I buy it straight away! I wasn't sure what to expect, but nonetheless, what I got was a pretty big surprise. Idainaru Dragonball Densetsu is a fighting game, though it's unlike any other fighting game I've ever played. For a start, most of your attacks don't damage your opponent at all. Instead, there's a momentum meter at the bottom of the screen, and attack moves it in your favour. When it goes all the way to one side, a member of the team that has the advantage will perform a super move, doing significant damage (usually about a third of their total health) to one of the members of the opposing team.


I should clarify the basic structure of the fights before I go any further. The fights are two-sided, with up to three combatants on each team, and they take place in a massive 3D space. You only control one team member at a time, though you can switch between them whenever you like with the left shoulder button, and you're always facing one of your opponents, among whom you can switch with the right shoulder button. You don't really control your movement in a traditional manner, instead up and down move you towards or away from your opponent. Your teammates you're not controlling will be controlled by AI. As well as just winning the fights, you can also unlock secret characters for the two player versus mode by re-enacting specific events from the show: having characters die in the right order, or having them be killed by specific moves, and so on. 


The whole re-enacting thing is a little too fiddly for me to have bothered with, to be honest, and I wasn't planning on playing versus mode anyway. However, of all the Dragonball Z games to do it in, this is probably the right one. The very unusual way it plays is probably the most faithful attempt I've ever seen of emulating the very specific way in which Dragonball Z fights play out. It even goes so far as having every attack deplete your ki meter, so you have to charge it up pretty often, just like what happens in the show! Despite how that sounds, it really does work in the game's favour, honest.


Dragonball Z Idainaru Dragonball Densetsu is a game I definitely recommend to anyone who's ever been a fan of Dragonball Z, and who doesn't mind playing something that's a little out of the ordinary and takes some getting used to. I guess the Xenoverse games and Battle of Z are the closest modern equivalent, but for all their graphical splendor, they don't capture the feel of the show in the way that this game does.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Curiosities Vol. 19 - Gambling 2!

 It's mostly illegal in America and Japan, but gambling is a pretty big problem in the UK, with every town harbouring several bookies and seedy "arcades" filled with nothing but fruit machines, latched onto the streets like fattened ticks. So of course, these special "prize" versions of legitimate videogames were also made for the UK market, and they have an aesthetic that shows it: in the fonts and specific shades of colours used in their graphics, there is an indescribable je nais se quois that harkens back to that kind of smoky, smelly pub that dads used to love up to about the mid nineties.


The first of the two games I'll be reviewing in this post is also the worst of the two: Prize Space Invaders is, in every way, a completely hateful game without merit. To play costs thirty pence for a "practice" game with no prizes, or fifty pence for a full game, in which it is theoretically possible to win money. How it works is that you play Space Invaders, and you're given a score quota, which adds ten pence to your prize. If you finish the stage, you're asked if you want to cash out and receive your prize or carry on, in hopes of increasing it. You only get one life, and if you die, you lose your prize. 


What's really horrible about it, though, is that the UFOs that fly across the top of the screen are now constant, and if you miss one, your score resets to zero. And on top of all that, some invaders will take multiple hits to kill, or might split into multiple invaders when you shoot them, and so on. It's a cynical, horrible game, but I think if you were some kind of Space Invaders savant, you might eventually be able to make a profit off of it. Though you'd need to be lucky too, since the score quota varies from game to game, seemingly at random.


Second up is Prize Tetris, apparently also known as Blox and Tetris Payout, and to which I have the opposite reastion to Prize Space Invaders, in a way: though I'm fairly certain it's completely impossible to win money on it, it does at least offer a mildly interesting variation on the traditional Tetris ruleset. Once again, you're supposed to be reaching a score quota to make money, though the lowest prize here is a whole pound, and the game implies it's possible to win up to twenty pounds! It's not, though. You're playing Tetris on a very short time limit, and even if you were to play perfectly, you wouldn't be able to reach the quota. It'd take at least something like seventy lines just to get to the lowest one.


What's intersting about Prize Tetris though is how points are scored. Unlike most variants, there's no extra points scored for clearing multiple lines in one go, not even for a full tetris. Instead, you scorer more points for clearing a line the higher up in the well it was. So you might try a strategy of deliberately filling the bottom few rows with junk, to score the extra points available in the upper echelons. You still wouldn't make any money, since the time limit is so short, but you might get a little closer than you otherwise would have done. Finally, just like Prize Space Invaders, the quotas and the amount of points scored per line is different every time you play, and again, it seems to be totally random. Maybe it's based on some algorithm that takes into account the amount of coins in the machine and the relative skill of past players, maybe it's just another way these games are horrible parasitic nonsense, we may never know.


If you're curious about either of the games covered in this post, then go emulate them, I guess. You're unlikely to still find working machines anywhere in the wild, and even if you do, I wouldn't recommend feeding them.

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Small Games Vol. 8!

 This post represents the last vestiges of my fifth laptop, the worst laptop I ever owned, which could barely run anything, and which is the reason why there haven't been any arcade, PS2, Saturn, etc. games featured on here in a long time. Because the two games I'm writing about today were among the few it could actually run without any problems! They're also linked to each other by being deliberate throwbacks to games of the 1980s.


Anyway, the first of the two is Cinnabar Kamen, a tokusatsu-themed single plane beat em up that has you in the role of the eponymous masked hero, walking from right to left, punching and kicking monsters, until you get to a boss, who you proceed to fight. There's not much more to it than that, really. It doesn't bring much to the genre, feeling like a romhack of the oldest of the old, Spartan X/Kung Fu, that doesn't even feel as good to play. It's definitely worlds away from the quality of the excellent Fire Dragon Fist Master Xiaomei. Cinnabar Kamen was a huge disappointment, and the one positive thing I can think to say about it is that the sunset in the background is nice and colourful. Not worth the hundred yen asking price.


Next up is a game that oozes authenticity, with the only crack in its eighties facade being the option for online co-op on the title screen. Were it not for this one giveaway, you could easily think that Virus Crashers was a ROM from the early days of the Famicom running in an emulator, rather than a brand new PC game released in the twenty-first century (I'm not sure exactly when, though, since the title screen has two copyright dates: 2006 and 2013)! As for the game itself, it can simply (and accurately) be described as "Bubble Bobble, but you can fly", as it sees you tackle single-screen stages full of enemies by trapping them in bubbles, then popping them to get point-scoring fruit. You even get higher-scoring fruit and power-ups for popping multiple enemies at once! Also, you can fly by holding the jump button. Though that is slightly more difficult than it sounds, as theres a lot of momentum/inertia at play, so it's not as simple as just going where you like on the screen and popping enemies at your leisure. The only thing missing (at least as far as I can tell) is Bubble Bobble's plethora of esoteric Druaga-esque secrets. Unless they are in there and I just haven't found any of them, in which case: good job to the devs for hiding them so well, I guess!


So, that's two games, both will run on practically any PC, though only one of the two is really worth bothering with. I know this post is short, but the next one's going to be longer, and maybe even a little bit seedier, so please look forward to that!