Sunday, 17 December 2017

Brave Blade (Arcade)

I'll start by being honest here, and admit that the thing that drew me towards this game is the graphics. They're that amazing kind of 3D graphics that was prevalent among arcade fighting and racing games from the mid-90s up to about the turn of the century, but it's a rare example of a shooting game in that visual style. And it does it with flair, too, as Brave Blade is set in a great-looking medieval/world war I/giant robots world, with all kinds of cool stuff in it. The developers clearly knew what they were doing too, as the first stage is very short, and ends with a boss fight against a giant tank that transforms into a robot with an awesome animation, and that boss (and its transformation animation) appears prominently in the game's attract mode too.

So, the game itself? You pick one of five pilot/knights, each with different weaponry, and you shoot and slash your enemies, of course. You've got three buttons: shoot, which just shoots, slash/guard, which is your powerful melee attack when tapped and a guard when held, and your power up button, which activates your powered up mode, during which you're invincible and can only melee attack. Regulating all of this is a power bar at the bottom of the screen, which goes up when you destroy enemies (or certain kinds of enemy bullets and missiles that can be destroyed) and goes down when you guard. You can only activate your powered form when it's full, so I recommend never bothering to use the guard (though I'm sure there's probably expert players somewhere who'd tell you I'm incredibly wrong and stupid, I can't see the advantage of it).

The scoring system is centered around the collection of Battle Garegga-esque medals, which at the most basic level, work in the same way as Battle Garegga's: their value starts at 100 and gradually works its way into the tens and even hundreds of thousands, though if you let one drop off the bottom of the screen, it's back down to 100 points a pop. The twist Brave Blade adds is that you can accelerate the accumulation of value in medals by repeatedly attacking them with your melee weapon, which also makes them bounce up the screen a bit, giving you a little more time to collect them too. Of course, if you're doing this, that'll take your concentration away from fighting the enemies and dodging their attacks, so there's a lot of risk/reward play going on. Personally, I'm a bit cowardly, so I only juggle the medals while I'm powered up.

Brave Blade is an excellent game all round. It plays great, with a bunch of fun systems that all interlock together well, and it looks amazing too. I definitely recommend playing it. It's just a shame that it'll probably never get any kind of home port like some other, more well-known shooting games have been getting in recent years.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Simple 2000 Series Vol. 60: The Tokusatsu Henshin Hero

Like the last PS2 game I covered, Seigi no Mikata, The Tokusatsu Henshin Hero is a game that's heavily themed around the genre of Japanese superhero TV shows (though you could probably guess that from the title). Being a Simple 2000 game, however, it eschews the strange meta "living in a tv show world" approach of Seigi no Mikata, and takes the more obvious path of being a beat em up in which you fight a bunch of goons before a monstruous boss.

The tokusatsu flavour is still pretty strong, though. Even though the plot is all in Japanese, it's still easy enough to follow and all the classic cliches of the genre are there: the scientist who gave you your powers watches over you, there's generic footsoldier enemies, along with cheesy-looking monsters, and above the monsters, there's occasional fights against higher-ranking, re-occuring enemies, too. In fact, one of those re-ooccuring enemies, named Yabaider is a direct homage to the character Hakaider, who first appeared as a villain in the 1972 TV series Android Kikaider, and even had his own spinoff movie in 1995 entitled Mechanical Violator Hakaider. Interestingly, as it is a budget game, it takes something of a tokusatsu-style approach to cutting costs, too: the same few locations are reused over and over, there's a lot of padding out by having you fight off increasingly large groups of identical footsoldiers, and none of the battles are particularly grand or spectacular.

These cost-cutting measures unfortunately result in a game that is incredibly repetitive, though. Every stage plays the same, and the first half in which you fight the generic enemies gets longer and more labourious each time as they come in bigger numbers and with more HP each time. The bosses also have far too much HP, as once you've learned their patterns, you're left avoiding them and very gradually chipping away at their life bars for several minutes. Of course, maybe if I could read the unlock conditions for more weapons and moves, maybe it would all have been a lot more fast paced, so the Japanese-literate among you might have a better time (though obviously, I can't promise anything. maybe all the unlockables are rubbish).

You can pick a male or female base, and can choose various costume parts, with more being unlocked as you play, along with more attacks and weapons. At first, I thought there was an Earth Defence Force type situation going on, whereby items are unlocked at random when you finish a stage, but on closer inspection, it appears that each item has a specific unlock condition to be met. This is actually the one place where the language barrier was a problem, as the unlocks started to dry up a few stages in, and I couldn't figure out how to force more of them. It's only a small problem though, as early on, I unlocked a laser pistol and a kind of jumping splits kick, which are both incredibly effective at taking down both footsoldiers and bosses alike.

On the subject of the language barrier, it should also be noted that there are rumours of a European release of this game, from 505 Gamestreet, under the title "Power Fighters". However, though it's appeared on various release lists and so on, I've never seen a copy for sale online or off, nor have I seen any screenshots or footage, and no disc image has ever been ripped and uploaded to the internet as far as I'm aware, either. So I suspect that Power Fighters either doesn't exist at all, or if it does, only on some long-forgotten hard drive in Italy somewhere. Of course, if I'm wrong and it did actually get released, and you can prove it, please let me know.

In summary, The Tokusatsu Henshin Hero is almost an archetypal Simple Series game: it's cheap and repetitive, but also very charming and obviously made with love. It's best played in short bursts of one or two stages at a time, it would definitely be agonising to endure for longer sessions.