Friday, 29 July 2016

Renny Blaster (PC Engine)

1995 seems like an absurdly late time to be releasing not only a single plane beat em up, but also a PC Engine game (I know there were still PCE games coming out for a couple more years after this, but the system's heyday was definitely long behind it by now), but Renny Blaster clearly sought to add a little sophistication to the genre, both mechanically and aesthetically.

In terms of aesthetic theming, it doesn't really do anything that hasn't been done before, as the game follows two snappily-dressed modern-day action exorcists, Fujiro the martial artist, and Seishiro the mage as they travel the world fighting demons, monsters and evil humans perfomring dark deeds with the dark arts. The difference is how Renny Blaster does these things: obviously, there's still going to be a bit of cheesy B-movie shlock, but it's mixed in with a bit of slightly classier horror-occult-noir that lifts it above the likes of Splatterhouse and Night Slashers in the sophistication stakes (not that I don't love those other games dearly, of course). It's hard to pinpoint why, exactly, but there's just something in the combination of colour palettes, stage settings, the way the main characters are dressed (more like characters from a Hong Kong action movie than a TV anime) and the voice acted conversations before each boss fight that makes the game feel a little more "adult" than its peers.

Mechanically, this is easily one of the most complex single plane beat em ups that I've ever played. Both of the characters have their own movesets, with moves performed by holding directions and attacking, jumping and attacking, and jumping and holding directions while attacks. There's also running attacks, and special attacks performed by holding the attack button for different lengths of time. Furthermore, it's possible to unlock more of these special attacks by finding items around the stages (move scrolls for Fujiro and spellbooks for Seishiro), and you can change which moves are equipped between stages (though all the move names are in Japanese, so if you can't read it, there's going to be a bit of guesswork involved, unfortunately). Considering this is a genre that's usually built around simplicity with maybe one special gimmick available to the player, Renny Blaster stands head and shoulders above its genremates in terms of complexity.

Of course, I wouldn't be so stupid as to automatically equate complexity with quality (or, for that matter, simplicity with inferiority), so is Renny Blaster actually good? Yes, it's great! I wouldn't go as far as to say it's the best in the genre, but it's up there with the likes of the Mega Drive port of Altered Beast and the original arcade version of My Hero (I'm not being sarcastic, by the way: Altered Beast MD is a great game, that's been given a much worse deal than it deserves over the years). 

It's definitely worth emulating Renny Blaster, at the very least. Since it's such a late release in the PC Engine's life, I'll assume getting a legitimate copy is for eccentric millionaires only, though I think there was a semi-official reprint a couple of years ago? I'm not sure. Anyway, it's a great game. Play it.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Devastator (Mega CD)

It might just be my imagination, but it seems like there's a disproportionally large amount of action games about giant robots on the Mega CD. Devastator is one of them, and it's also part of another sizable category of Mega CD games: anime licenses. It's based on a two episode OAV entitled D-1 Devastator, of which only one episode has ever been subbed into english, by the group ARR, who had an infuriating habit of subbing the first episodes of rare and interesting series, and then never going back to them. Of course, since this is a game on an early CD console, grainy clips from the anime play between stages, though the quality is far from being the worst on the system.

But anyway, Devastator is a combination platform game/horizontally-scrolling shooter, with each stage playing out as either one or the other. There's no half-measures, either, as the platform stages are intricate, and full of traps, while the shooting stages are fast, hectic and full of enemies and their bullets. I admit I wasn't expecting much from a Mega CD game licensed from a long-forgotten OAV and developed by Wolfteam, but Devastator was a really pleasant surprise.

I have no idea what the anime is about, but the developers haven't let it hamper them thematically in any way, as there's stages in cities, deserts, jungles, some kind of incredibly enormous space/hell mansion and so on. The monsters mostly seem to be the same for all the platform stages, though each has unique traps and other elements, while the enemies in the shooting stages seem to be different every time. The bosses in both types of stages are great, too, being massive, detailed sprites, with attack patterns that are fun to learn.

Not only does it play really well, with the difficulty level balanced just right, hard enough to be satisfying and easy enough to avoid frustration, but it also looks and sounds great. It's not just a case of a Mega Drive game being dumped onto CD so they could shoehorn in some FMVs, the Mega CD's strengths are really put on display here, with lots of colours, amazing CD quality music, and even the occasional bit of sprite scaling! (Sprite scaling is always very welcome on this blog.)

The Mega CD is a system with more hidden gems than most people think, and Devastator is definitely one of them. I definitely recommend giving it a try.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Curiosities Vol. 9 - Street Fighter II Fangames

So, you might already be aware of this fact, but Street Fighter II was pretty popular when it came out, and it managed to maintain that popularity for quite some time, too. And I'm sure you're also aware that when Japanese nerds like a thing, they tend to make tons and tons of fanworks for it, so why not look at a few SFII fangames, contemporary to the game's original popularity? I've already covered one, the Space Harrier hack Street Harrier, back when I posted all about the wide array of Space Harrier hacks there are on the X68000, which is also the host hardware of the three games I'll talk about today.

First up is the worst of the crop: American Heroes BF 92 Extra Version. It's a fighting game in which you play as a super deformed Guile, and travel the world fighting super deformed guile recolours. Unfortunately, special moves hardly ever work, the collision detection is awful, and in my opinion at least, Guile is the least interesting or cool Street Fighter II character to base a game around. AHBF92EV isn't really worth your time.

Next up, there's the strangest of this motley trio, Blanka in Shura No Kuni. This is an odd single screen beat em up affair, in which you play as Blanka, and beat up as many copies of Vega (claw) as you can before either the time or your health run out. It uses beat em up-style controls, where you have a jump button, a single button for comboed attacks and can walk up and down the screen, and the sprites for Blanka and Vega are both ripped directly from Street Fighter II. The title screen also has three "START" options, for no obvious reason. A decent enough distraction for a couple of minutes, and a headscratching mystery as to why it exists.

 Finally, I saved the best til last! Little Chinese Final Edition is another fighting game, starring a cute, slightly super deformed version of Chun-li. Well, to tell the truth, it stars several cute, slightly super deformed versions of Chun-li, all with other characters' specials added to their moveset. Every version has the lightning kick, and most have the spinning bird kick, too, but only one of them has only these moves. There's also a Chun-li with Ryu/Ken's moves, one with M. Bison (dictator)'s moves, and one with Balrog (boxer)'s moves. Plus, waiting at the end of single-player mode, there's a Chun-li with the moves of all these characters! LCFE is a nice game, it looks really cute, it's fun to play, and most importantly, unlike American Heroes, the moves actually work, and hits connect properly! If you're a big Chun-li fan, or you just like weird old curios, it's definitely worth seeking it out.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Deep Water (PS2)

I bought this game over three years ago, and at the time, I had a little play of it, quickly got lost and confused, and put it on the shelf to rot. Recently, I decided to give it another chance, and was pleasantly surprised to find an interesting game with lots of cool ideas. The joy didn't last long, but I'll get to that later.

Also known as The Simple 2000 Series Vol. 54: The Taikai Kemono, Deep Water is an open-world sailing/monster-hunting game in which you sail around a flooded world, going from port to port, taking on missions and buying weaponry and fuel. The world's pretty odd, as it seems to be a post-apocalyptic flooded world, with the tops of ruined buildings peeking up out of the water in some places, but there's actually lots of land, all of it surrounded by steep, very high cliffs. I wonder if there's people living up there, who shun the ocean-faring peasants below. Anyway, as you're sailing around, you get attacked by sharks and pirates (on silly little one-person cannon-boat things) and other angry sealife, and occasionally, you'll take on the task of fighting a giant monster, the giant monster fights being the game's main draw.

The mechanics of playing the game are actually pretty interesting themselves. You never really set foot off your boat, but you are a one-person crew and the game tries to replicate this experience by having you walk up and down your boat to do different things. For example, to actually sail around, you have to go to the steering wheel and controls in the middle of the boat, while to look at the map, change weapons or cool the engines, you have to go to the storage bins at the back of the boat. During combat, you'll be running around the deck aiming your rifle at your assailants, and during bossfights you'll occasionally have to man the harpoon gun at the front.

What I've been avoiding talking about is the huge, absurd, totally deliberate flaw in the game's design: the obscene amount of back-tracking, which would be bad enough itself, but it's vaguely directed back-tracking too. You'll quickly learn that when you see a harbour mentioned by anyone at another harbour, even in passing, it means you have to go there to make the story progress, even if that means twenty minutes of sailing across the map to somewhere you went near the start of the game. Add to this the fact that fuel is absurdly expensive, so the game also expects you to spend hours grinding random enemies to be able to afford refills (though I've found that it's far more efficient in cases where you're low on both fuel and money to just let enemies sink your ship. you'll reappear at the last harbour you visited with full HP and fuel, and half your money gone, which is almost definitely less than the cost of the fuel).

This time-wasting and vagueness mean that I've only been able to fight one of the game's much-vaunted giant monsters. I've received the missions to fight two more, but in one case, the area where they're said to appear are still blocked by barriers, and in the other, I've found the area, but apparently there's someone, somewhere I need to speak to to make it appear, and after a solid hour of tedious nautical errand-running, I just totally lost patience.

I think I can semi-recommend Deep Water. The way it handles the solo sailing is pretty cool, and the fact that it'll probably be dirt cheap means that you're not losing much by giving up on it when it starts trying your patience.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Retro Force (Playstation)

"Cultural appropriation" might be a bit strong for what Retro Force is, but it can't be denied that there is something at least a little annoying about the circumstances under which it was released. In the late 90s, unless you were able to import, you pretty much didn't get to play any home ports of arcade shooting games, and if you did, they were often insulting, mangled messes like the infamous Mobile Light Force, stripped of its character to make it "less Japanese", for some reason. It's in this climate that Retro Force, a vertically scrolleing shooter with a Wipeout/Jet Force Gemini-esque faux-Japanese aesthetic was released.

All this aside, is it actually a good game, though? No. The first and biggest problem you'll encounter is the controls: your ship doesn't stop moving until about a second after you stop pressing the d-pad. This alone is pretty unforgivable in a game and a genre that demands precision at all times. I guess that's why you have a pretty long health bar for each of your lives, and almost nofeedback on getting hit, making you into a kind of bullet-sponging ice hockey puck.

Another problem is that your weapons all feel incredibly weak, and power-ups are unbelievably rare: you don't see one until midway through the second stage. Speaking of stages, there's some odd choices in the game's visual design, like how the first stage is set in a pretty cool-looking futuristic city, while the next three stages are spent flying above boring, white ice fields.

I could keep going on and on about all the flaws this game has, and how it's just no fun to play at all, but that kind of negativity isn't very interesting, despite what thousands of squealing youtube critics would have you believe. I'll just say that it's a bad game, and there are many other, better shooters on the Playstation alone.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Melpool Land (PC98)

Melpool Land (sometimes romanised as "Merupu Rurando") is a bit of a slight oddity, being a kind of top-down fighting game. Almost a mixture of sumo and boxing, with some extra videogamey bits thrown in, even. You pick your character from a selection of four (one of them is the furry swordsman from "Gensei", so I assume the rest of them are characters from other Compile games with whom I'm not familiar) and you fight the others in sequence, plus a weird little plant-man that you fight twice: once on his own stage and again on the stage of the character you picked.

The fights are a little unusual. They take place in squarish arenas, filled with pitfalls, landmines, walls and pinball bumpers. Each character has two floating objects (for example, magic pillars, small robots, floating tomatoes, etc.), tht are used kind of like a boxer's fist. Tapping the space bar uses them to punch, holding uses them to block. You win by either wearing down your opponent's health or knocking them off the stage. Your "fists" also have their own health, which is diminished by blocking. If both your fists are destroyed, your only offence is to walk into your opponent and try to push them off the stage, which is pretty difficult, so try not to let it come to that.

Melpool Land has the same flaws as another Compile PC98 game I've featured here in the past, Runner's High: It's beautifully presented, but there's just not enough of it. Single player mode will take only about 15-20 minutes to play through with every character, and there's no higher difficulty levels or anything like that. There is also a 2 player versus mode, which I haven't been able to play, but the fact that the characters aren't very well balanced (the swordsman is a lot better than all the others, the robot a lot worse than all the others) mean that it's not likely to come out as a lost competitive classic.

It does look very nice, though, being yet another display of the kind of lovingly-crafted pixel art Compile were putting out on PC98 and Windows in the 90s. But unfortunately, that's not enough to save it.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Kat's Run - Zen-Nihon K-Car Senshuken (SNES)

There's a few slightly odd little idiosyncracies that seperate Kat's Run from the usual generic 16-bit racing games. For a start, the selection of cars on offer is a little odd, being a mix of fast convertibles and the kind of 4x4s and people carriers you'd normally associate with middle class soccer moms. There's also the fact that before selecting your car, you select your character from a pack of very 90s anime-looking young folks.

Character selection is a purely aesthetic choice, as far as I can tell: they appear in a window at the bottom of the screen, with animations for steering and reacting to moving up and down in the race standing. Despite that, it does add to the game, in that it forms part of an all-round well-presented little package. The game looks great in general, with an array of beautiful mode 7 tracks and cute little sprites for the cars and so on.

Another odd thing is how the game handles tracks. Before you start, you can pick one of two game types, though the only difference I can tell between the two is that one gives you the tracks in a fixed order, the other random. But either way, you drive all the tracks as a single race: after a lap (or possibly two? I'm not totally certain on that), a red orb appears on the ground, and when you drive past it, you suddenly find yourself a dark tunnel, emerging a few seconds later in a totally different location. The locations are pretty varied too: there's city and country tracks in Japan, a track in the egyptian desert, one in the shadow of a gigantic statue statue, and so on.

The odd vehicular selection can be somewhat explained away by the fact that these races are apparently illegal: there's some kind of plot about a wanted racer with a billion-yen bounty on her head, and should a player find themselves hanging too far behind the pack, they'll start to hear sirens getting louder and louder. Eventually, a cop car will appear to your rear, and if it manages to overtake, it's instantly game over and prison food for your chosen character.

Overall, Kat's Run is a fun and great-looking racing game with a lot of charm and some interesting little quirks. You could definitely do a lot worse on the SNES.