Sunday, 11 April 2021

Kaleido Festival (PC)

 This is a fangame based on an anime I've never seen called Kaleido Star. From what I've read online, Kaleido Star is about a girl named Sora who dreams of being a circus performer. In this game, you play as Sora, navigating short platforms stages, with the main gimmick being that there's lots of trapezes and trampolines strewn about each stage for you to use. Also, there aren't any enemies (though some stages do have traps that can hurt you, and pretty much all of them have parts with no floor where you can fall to your death (or at least wet failure) in the sea).


I was actually pretty disappointed by the circus aspect of the game. Looking at screenshots before I played it, I was expecting a game that focussed mostly on trapezing and doing tricks in the air, getting landings right, and so on. Instead, it's just a time attack platformer, and though you can get chains by quickly jumping from trapeze to trapeze in quick succession without touching the ground, it's ultimately a minor component of your final scoring for each stage.


The stages themselves are okay, they gradually introduce new elements as you go along, a lot of them have slightly out-of-the-way areas with more coins to collect, all the standard stuff you'd expect from a game like this. That is, until you get to stage 3-4. This stage starts out strong, with a staircase of trampolines leading up to a trapeze on a much longer pair of chains than any seen in the game so far, but then immediately crumbles. At the end of your swing arc on that giant trapeze are a bunch of traps that you'll hit midair if you try to jump straight up to the next giant trapeze. There's also a row of traps for you to smash into if you try going for a horizontal route lower down. I've had something like thirty attempts at this stage, and I don't know if there's some secret trick I have'nt discovered, or if the developer accidentally left some traps where they weren't supposed to be in their stage editor, but as far as I can tell, this stage is impossible.


It's a real disappointment, as that giant trapeze hints at more exciting things to come in later stages, but it seems like I'll nver get to see what those exciting things might turn out to be. As a result of this, and as much as I wish it weren't the case, I really can't recommend this game at all. Sorry.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Tekkouki Mikazuki Trial Version (PS2)

 Obviously, "Trial Edition" means that this is only a demo. But it's a demo of a game that never got released! And that game would have been based on Tekkouki Mikazuki, Keita Amemiya's excellent big-budget giant robot miniseries that aired in 2000! You play as Kazeo, the young boy protagonist of the series, and in tuen, he controls the giant robot Mikazuki to fight off the melon kaiju from the first episode, Suika Idom.


To clarify on that explanation, you play as Kazeo, running around on the ground. At the start of the stage, Suika Idom shows up and starts stomping around and destroying buildings. For about a minute, you've got to run around trying not to get stepped on, until some gold text appears on the screen, heralding Mikazuki's arrival. When it shows up, you can press select to alternate between controlling Kazeo and controlling Mikazuki. However, whichever of the two you're controlling, Kazeo is still "you" in the game's world, and you see what Mikazuki is doing from his perspective, wherever you left him on the ground.


It's a pretty interesting way of getting across the fact that this is a fight between giantsized combatants, and really, you shouldn't have expected anything less, since this game is by Sandlot, the masters of making games about really big things, as seen in their most famous games, the Earth Defence Force series, and a previous Lunatic Obscurity subject, Chou Shoujuu Mecha MG. It's a shame this game never fully came into fruition, as the monster design in the show is incredible (but again, Keita Amemiya is one of the greatest tokusatsu monster designers of all time), and it might have been cool to have stages where you played as Akane piloting the Gekkouki series of robots. 


Though this specific game came out, Sandlot went on to make a bunch of other games, and two of their other PS2 titles in particular build on the concepts put forth in this demo: Gigantic Drive and Tetsujin 28 Go. So I guess I should really seek them both out and give them a try, right? It's very difficult to get ahold of this demo through legitimate means nowadays, but I'm sure that if it appeals to you, you'll figure something out. And if you do, you'll have a fun five or so minutes before it's over, so why not?

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Shenmue I & II (PS4)

 It is the first of April again, and as tradition dictates, it's time to write about a game that's a bit more well known than the usual fare. And this year, it's the turn of SEGA's divisive, absurdly ambitious adventure (and its sequel). In case you're wondering, I'm firmly in the pro-Shenmue camp. 


For those who don't know, the Shenmue games tell the story of a young Japanese man in the mid-1980s named Ryo Hazuki, and his quest to get revenge on Lan Di, the mysterious martial artist who killed his father. Well, they tell part of that story anyway. Unfortunately, though the games are absurdly ambitious, those ambitions never even came close to fruition. This story's been told many times before, but the original intention was for Shenmue to be twelve games, all as long as the first. Shenmue I is the first chapter in its full intended length, but then chapter two was skipped entirely, and the second game comprises chapters three-to-five. I haven't played the third game yet, but I do at least know that the story still isn't finished after twenty years.


But anyway, despite the reduction in scope from the original plans, these games are still incredible. They're open world adventures where you gather information, occasionally get into fights, and if you feel like it, you can waste time playing various side games, including a bunch of actual SEGA arcade games contemporary to the setting. Though they weren't the first open world games, you could make the argument that they were the first modern-style ones, with all kinds of distractions and things to do alongside the main quest. 


I could also talk about the way every character in the game has a name, backstory, and daily schedule, no matter how minor they are, or all the other bizarre and incredible things that are in these games, but to do so would be to do them a disservice. They're games that are much more than the sum of their parts. There's just a certain magic to them that's hard to describe, and judging by the way some people have reacted to them over the years, it's something that you either get or you don't.


Though I finished the first game a few times back on its original release, I never got all the way through the second until its HD rerelease. Furthermore, though I was always a fan of the games, it wasn't until I'd played all the way through both that I really realised how special and beautiful they were. Beyond the specifics of the plot and mechanics of the games, they're also a celebration of life, with themes of personal growth, the way people, places and events come and go with ever-shifting levels of importance, and all that kind of stuff.


There's a lot of stuff to see and do and find and collect in the games, but they aren't really made for completionists. Instead, it makes everyone's experience of the game slightly different: most of the main points will be seen by everyone in mostly the same way, but there's plenty of stuff you'll see that your friends might not, and vice versa. I mentioned earlier that I played through the first game a few times back on the Dreamcast, but on my recent playthrough of the PS4 port, I saw for the first time a pretty lengthy dialogue seen that is not only fully voice-acted (like all the game's dialogue), but even has a unique flashback cutscene. And unless you do a specific set of actions, you might never see any of that stuff! And there's a whole bunch of things like this in both games!


The atmosphere of the games is also noteworthy, in how immersive it is. There's some kind of magic captured in these (by 2021 standards) low polygon models and grainy textures, such that you can practically smell the environments you're exploring. Even playing back then, as a fourteen year old in the north of England, I recognised that these games were instilling in me a nostalgia for places I've never been to, at a time (slightly) before I was even born. I know lot of people don't think highly of these games, but to me, they're two of the best and most important ever, and I think everyone should play them both at least once.