Thursday, 16 November 2017

Shadows of the Tusk (Saturn)

It seems slightly strange to me there there are two obscure Saturn games that use pre-rendered sprites and have character designs by Susumu Matsushita. (The other one, you might remember me covering a while ago, is Willy Wombat.) Anyway, Shadows of the Tusk is a turn-based strategy game, that, to add onto the unusuality of the whole affair, had online play via the X-BAND modem, though there's still plenty of single-player fun to be had, so that's fine.

The online element does seem to have had an influence on the design in general, as a lot of things seem streamlined to cater to the low bandwidth that would have been available to a dialup modem attached to a four-year-old console in 1998. For a start, there's no levelling up for any of the characters, though there is some kind of power progression in a different way. In single player mode, you have a "deck" of characters to build, and you get more characters by winning battles. Your deck screen has you putting characters on two rows: the smaller row has the characters that are summoned automatically at the start of battle, the character who starts on the middle space of that row will be designated the leader, meaning that the battle ends if they're defeated, and they also have the ability to summon characters that you've placed in the other row of the deck. Summoning costs mana, and your force has a shared mana pool that's also used for casting spells, and regenerates by ensuring that characters start their turns on certain spaces on the map.

Another concession is that though there are different backgrounds available, every battle takes place on a tiny five-by-five grid. This, in combination with the "kill the leader" tactical element ensures that the game has an almost chess-like emphasis on where you move your characters, and there'll even be plenty of times when you'll sacrifice characters to either make way for stronger characters stood behind them, or just to postpone your enemy's soldiers reaching your leader. Another thing to take into account while talking about character placement is that any spell or attack you can cast that affects an area will not discern between friend and foe, meaning that you might end up sometimes have to decide if you want to heal your enemies or immolate your allies.

Obviously, I haven't played the multiplayer mode around which the game is clearly centred, but there's enough meat to the singleplayer game that it's still worth your time. Best of all is that though all the plot-related stuff is in Japanese, all the menus, including those during the battles, are entirely in English! So, this is a pretty fun game that mostly looks great (the small sprites on the grid look really nice, while the bigger sprites used for the attack animations look like the most awful mid-90s CG), and is totally accessible to the JP-illiterate. I definitely recommend it!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Road Spirits (PC Engine)

Road Spirits isn't a particuarly good or original game, but it does serve as a useful example to point out and debunk two annoying habits of the kinds of people who write videogames reviews as if they're writing consumer reports on household appliances rather than subjective critiques of creative works.

First up is the idea that the length of time between starting a game and seeing its ending is the sole, or most important arbiter of a game's quality and value for money. It the idea that leads to people complaining that ports of even recent arcade games are "unworthy" of being sold at anything other than the lowest bargain prices, because they don't babysit the player through fourty hours of box-ticking and map-tidying. To use Road Spirits as an example, we can compare it to SEGA's Outrun. A full run of Outrun, from beginning to end will take between five and eight minutes, while Road Spirits has seventeen tracks which are tackled in a set order, each taking between three and four minutes to drive through.

Outrun is also better than Road Spirits in practically every way. Where Outrun's stages are full of obstacles and other objects, Road Spirits' stages are sparsely decorated with a few signs or trees here and there, making them feel empty and lifeless. Also, Outrun is a challenging game, in which you try desperately to reach checkpoints before running out of time, and trying to pass other vehicles without hitting them to score the most points, while Road Spirits has absurdly generous time limits you'd have deliberately try to fail, and the very few other cars you see on the road don't really serve any purpose at all. The one point Road Spirits has over Outrun is that it takes advantage of its format, having a full CD quality soundtrack with ten songs. So, it's a clear case of quality over quantity right? Anyone would choose Outrun over Road Spirits, even though Road Spirits is a much longer game from start to finish.

The other annoying habit is the idea that games can never be more than the sum of their parts, something that's not such a big problem any more, though there are still writers putting out reviews with lots of different numbers exactly stating how good they think each seperate aspect of a game is. You can see from the first part of the review that this isn't a great game, and is not only pretty mediocre in almost every respect, but also significantly inferior to a very similar game released a few years earlier in the same genre. But the thing is, it's not a worthless game, there is a reason to play, and a situation in which it's actually a pretty great experience!

This mostly hinges upon the aforementioned CD soundtrack, but if you play this game late on a sweltering hot summer's night, with the lights of and the windows open, you play a few stages, making sure to choose the more sophisticated tunes from the soundtrack, it's a great mood-setting game. It just provides a cool, relaxing atmosphere in a way that makes the whole thing worthwhile, and which can't really be described in a collection of arbitrary numbers.

So yeah, it's not a killer app or anything, but considering that you can get a copy for a handful of pennies if you shop around a bit, it's a worthwhile addition to your PC Engine CD library.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Eojjeonji Joheun Il-i Saenggil Geot Gateun Jeonyeok (PC)

So, that long title apparently translates to "A Night Where Good Things Are Bound To Happen", which is also the name of the comic on which it's based, which was the first professional work (as far as I can tell) of Lee myung-Jin, who later went on to create the fantasy comic Ragnarok, which he'd then abandon after that comic's spin-off MMORPG turned out to be wildly more profitable. Boo. This comic apparently got an english translation under the name "Lights Out", which is interesting, I guess.

The comic's apparently about juvenile delinquents and gangsters, and the game is a belt-scrolling beat em up! It's also a bit of an anachronism: despite coming out in 1997, it's a DOS game, rather than Windows 95 or something. At the opposite end of the scale, it also suffers from that beat em up disease I'm sure you're all sick of me complaining about: experience points! You get points for beating up enemies, and at the end of each stage segment, you get a chance to spend those points on things like increasing your max HP, improving your moveset, and so on. You really need to choose wisely, since you'll probably only be able to afford something every couple of visits, and your health doesn't recover between stages unless you pay for it (there's an option to increase and refill your health bar and a cheaper one to just refill it). Also because this game is merciless in its difficulty.

Well, it appears to be on your first play, as your health bar goes down in huge chunks, and after only a few hits from enemies it'll be gone. Obviously, you'll want to upgrade it pretty soon, but there's something else at work that you won't notice at first, that I'll refer to as the "stubbornness" system for the sake of convenience. How stubbornness works is that once your health bar is completely depleted, you start flashing red. While you're in this state, you can keep taking damage indefinitely, as long as you never get knocked off your feet. So it's a cool little last chance type of dealy. It'd be a lot cooler if there were health items every now and then or free healing at the end of the stage, as it'd motivate you to try your very hardest to struggle to the next item, but it's still nice. Some enemies also have the stubbornness trait too, but it's not just a way to make the game even harder, as you get a small amount of experience for every hit you land on a flashing enemy, so, depending on your skill, courage and tolerance to boredom, you can milk these guys for experience indefinitely.

It would be remiss to let this review end without mentioning how great this game looks. The character sprites aren't anything special, but they're nice enough, and more than made up for by the backgrounds, which all look excellent. The game's got a gritty urban setting, and that coupled with the high-quality pixel art almost lets you envision a world where there was a Saturn entry into the Streets of Rage series. A nice little touch is that there's billboard ads for the Ragnarok comic series in some of the backgrounds, too. Anyway, I'm not going to say that this game is an absolute essential that you need to track down, but if you do, and you give it a chance, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Seigi no Mikata (PS2)

Most tokusatsu-themed games, whether they're based on actual shows, or just inspired by the genre's aesthetic and concepts, are fighting games or beat em ups. That's what I was expecting from Seigi no Mikata, but it turned out to be something completely different: an adventure game that attempts to simulate the entire role of a main character in a tokusatsu show, not just the parts where they're transformed and fighting enemies. In fact, the game emulates the structure of a tokusatsu TV show in general: there are episodes rather than stages, and each episode had opening and closing sequences and an ad break in the middle! Furthermore, your goal isn't necessarily to win every instance of combat, but to achieve a minimum percentage of the TV ratings each week.

Before you get to doing any of that, though, you do get to choose the look of your hero's transformed state. It's not a super in-depth character creator, since you can just mix and match parts for arms, legs, torso and head, but it interesting in another way. All the parts you can pick are blatant homages to classic tokusatsu and anime shows like Gatchaman, Kikaider, and even going all the way back to the likes of Gekkou Kamen, the first Japanese TV superhero from all the way back in 1958.

So, if it's not all combat, what does this game actually entail? Mostly, wandering around a small Japanese town (as a side note, if you like low-poly renditions of small Japanese towns, and I know some of you do, this is a pretty good one), talking to people and sometimes helping them with small problems, like herding their cats, finding their dropped contact lenses, and so on. Talking to people and solving their problems gives very tiny ratings boosts, while standing still doing nothing causes them to plummet. Every few minutes, though, there'll be an event, which means you have to go to the right location before it starts. (Amazingly, for the entire first episode, I managed to do this every time, entirely by chance. After that though, I went and found a guide, just in case). An event might be just a conversation with the other characters on the show, a battle with some mooks or a villain, or sometimes both. During the conversations, there are usually multiple choices, that can affect the ratings, though they'll slowly rise all the time an event is happening no matter what you do.

As for the combat, it's a disappointment. It starts with a little button-mashing minigame to do decide who goes first, then whoever does go first gets to pick their ten attacks (they can be punches, kicks or throws). After that, the other side tries to guess which ten attacks the attacker chose so they can defend. The whole thing then plays out, and if both sides are still standing, it starts again, but with the roles of attacker and defender reversed, until one side falls. It's not exciting at all, but since this isn't an action game generally, I guess they didn't want any difficulty walls for the adventure game fans that were probably going to buy it. But even Shenmue's branching path-style QTBs were better than this.

Seigi no Mikata is a game that I really wanted to like, as it's clear a lot of love went into its creation, and it is of a very high quality and full of ideas. The problem is that it's just so boring to play! A lot of your time is spent wandering around waiting for the next event to happen, and the events themselves aren't particularly exciting, either. You might level the same criticisms at Shenmue, but I'd say the difference is that in Shenmue, you have to actually investigate to make the events happen, plus its depictions of 1980s Japan and Hong Kong are so richly textured and full of life that it can get by pretty well on its atmosphere alone. In summary, play Shenmue instead of this, sorry.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Lethal Crash Race (Arcade)

Lethal Crash Race is a game that can pay testament to the incredible popularity and influence of Street Fighter II on the arcade scene of the early nineties, as though it's not a fighting game, it clearly takes a lot of influence from Capcom's epoch-defining game. That's not to say that it's one of those racing games that's heavy on the fantasy and violence: though a lot of effort has clearly gone into ensuring that ramming your opponent's car is fun and satisfying, it's not an essential part of winning, nor are there projectile weapons or other power ups to be collected on the track.

Instead the influence is more structural and stylistic. There are eight characters to choose from, each with their own cars (all of which are mis-spelled knock-offs of real cars), and their own stages. Their own stages because rather than being a game in which you race a whole load of cars round stadiums for several laps, Lethal Crash Race instead has short one-on-one races of about a minute in length, along various linear tracks all across the world. Not only that, but each character also has different quotes for the beginning and end of each race, my favourite being the rich old man who cheerily declares "this might be my last race."

It's got a really nice feel to it, it's fast and smooth, and as mentioned, bashing into your opponent is satisfying. You're not going to destroy them, but you can knock them off the road, and into rivers or other obstacles. It looks great, too: though the style of the time was all sprite scaling, moving into low poly models, Lethal Crash Race puts up a good fight with its top-down view, having great-looking cars and nicely detailed stages. It looks kind of like if Grand Theft Auto was fully 2D and a bit more detailed and zoomed in, and since it's set up so that your car is always driving up the screen, there's a really cool rotating camera effect on tracks with big round turns.

Lethal Crash Race is a fun game with a cool and interesting concept and lots of charm, and I recommend that you go and play it. It's also yet another game that could easily have been ported to consoles, but inexplicably never was, and probably never will be.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Paneltia Story: Kerun no Daibouken (Saturn)

The "rebuild the world" RPG is a grand old tradition, dating back to at least the early nineties with games like Terranigma (if there are any such games pre-16 bit, I don't know about them), and still lingers today with the likes of Dragon Quest Builders and maybe even Fallout 4 could be considered an entry, with its focus on taking an active hand in rebuilding civilisation. Paneltia Story is one of the rare examples of a 32-bit example (again, I can't think of any others, so if you can, please tell me!), though I'm not sure if you're rebuilding a world, or building a new one in your dreams, since I can't read any of the plot.

Anyway, it doesn't look particularly impressive, and doesn't really contain anything that couldn't have been done on the Mega Drive or SNES, as the RPG part of the game is very very old-fashioned, not only aesthetically, but also mechanically. You've got a top-down view, Dragon-Quest-style first person battles with static monster sprites and so on, and lots and lots of reused graphics. The battles are really unexciting affairs, too: in the oldest-school style, you and they monsters simply take turns hitting each other until one side runs out of HP. It's unfair to completely judge Paneltia Story as a pure RPG though, as a lot of the game revolves around the whole building gimmick.

Building works like this: each stage starts as a big empty void with a town floating in it, though as you start, the town is just an inn and a small shop. You start off with a few panels that you can place in the void, and they can have mountains, forests, rocks or water on them, or they can just be an empty plain. After you've placed a few, you can go and explore them, fighting monsters to gain experience and more panels. When you place a panel on certain (invisible) spaces, a fairy will appear and give you a town panel, which can only be placed on top of your starting town, to which they add more people and buildings. In the map-building menu, you can also look at instructions for making dungeons appear on the map, like say, place a forest panel and surround it with mountain panels, for example. Then the entrance to a dungeon will appear in the forest panels. Go to the dungeon, beat the boss, and then go to the next stage to start all over again, but with new monsters that have higher stats.

Well, I say that, but the second stage has a slightly different structure (though graphically, it and its starting town use the exact same tilesets as the first stage, which is a disappointment). For a start, the dungeon is already on the map, and you don't have any special instructions in the map menu. So you go to the boss, and there's a bit of dialogue beefore you're kicked out of the dungeon. You do now have some instructions though, and using them makes a little cave with a treasure chest in it appear. This is unfortunately, as far as I managed to get, though. I went back to the boss, and the same thing happened as before, but without any new instructions this time, and I have no idea how to proceed further.

Paneltia Story is still a somewhat interesting game, though. Playing it might be overly simple to the point of tedium, but it does have some interesting ideas, and I did have the hope of seeing if there were more of them as the game goes on. I also hope that there's more tilesets and different kinds of panel later in the game, too. I did try and find a walkthrough or a longplay video, and try and figure out what I was doing wrong, but there's nothing as far as I can see, on GameFAQs, Youtube or even Niconico. If you're Japanese-literate, and have the patience for not-particularly-exciting RPG mechanics, then you might find something interesting in Paneltia, and if you do, please satisfy my curiosity and tell me all about it!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Tsuushin Taisen Logic Battle Daisessen (Dreamcast)

I feel like I'm playing a lot of games recently that can be described as a kind of combination of elements from other games, and this is one of them. The constituent parts in this case being Battleship and Minesweeper, both grid-based games about naval combat, though this game is themed around the inhabitants of a floating island where it's always springtime, but is currently suffering a terrible winter. That's really all I know about the plot, so let's just move on to the game itself, the explanation of which is going to be fairly lengthy.

The first thing you do before you even try to enter battle is decide your formations. You start with twenty soldiers, called "Bingos", and you can place them on your 10x10 grid in small formations called boards (kind of like your different ships in Battleship, but more varied in shape). As you win battles, you'll gradually be given more Bingos (Bingoes?) to play with, and you'll earn currency that can be spent on buying more boards, in bigger sizes and a wider variety of shapes. The importance of the boards you pick and wherre you place them will become apparent when you actually get into battle, which is where things get a bit more complex and nerdy-sounding, so be warned as you enter the next paragraph.

In battle, you start off with ten power points, and your choice from the boards you have on the grid. Whichever board you choose costs as many points as the number of bingos of which it is composed, and you use it to attack, in a Battleship-esque manner, placing its shape on the opponent's grid. If you found any of your opponent's bingos, they'll be revealed, and once you reveal one of your opponent's boards entirely, it'll be destroyed and they can no longer attack with it. Missed attacks aren't completely useless, as on your subsequent turns, places where you've attacked but there wasn't a bingo will be marked in one of two ways: if there are no bingos vertically or horizontally adjacent to the empty square, it'll show as a white cross, and if there are, there'll be a green exclamation mark there. At the start of a new turn, you'll get back one power point, plus any bonus power points you got for destroying boards. Obviously, once you're done, your opponent will do the same until one of you is left without bingos and declared the loser.

It's a pretty amusing game, but nothing special. I have to say that there are multiplayer modes that I wasn't able to play: one online, and one offline. The offline multiplayer mode apparently has the players' grids shown on the VMU screen in their respective controllers for the sake of privacy, like your hand of cards in Sonic Shuffle. It's a shame it's fallen into the Mariana Trench of forgotten games, as a nice convenient PC version to play for 10 minutes while wating for something else would be really nice.

If you like the sound of it, I recommend Tsuushin Taisen Logic Battle Daisessen. The thing to remember though, is that it's one of those Windows CE Dreamcast games, and as far as I know, the only emulator that runs them is Demul, which can be a bit weird and temperamental.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Penguin-kun Wars 2 (MSX)

There's a chance you might have played the first Penguin-kun Wars game, which was ported to the NES and Game Boy and released in the west as King of the Zoo, but in case you haven't, it was about a fictional sport played by cute animals.

The sport itself (which doesn't have a name, as far as I can tell) is a kind of combination of bowling and dodgeball: the participants stand at either end of a flat plain, each starting with five balls. The aim is to roll the balls over to your opponent's side, with the winner being either the first to get all ten balls on their opponent's side, or the one with the least balls on their side when time runs out. Furthermore, if you hit your opponent with a ball, they're stunned for a few seconds (or vice versa, obviously).

In the first game, this was all there was to it. It had a sports tournament setting, and you simple faced off against increasingly skilled opponents as you advanced. The second game, however, has a (very simple) plot: you go to  the house of your friend to play, only to see them getting kidnapped! So you go off to rescue them. An additional cute touch is that you can pick a male or female penguin to play as, and the one you don't pick is who gets kidnapped. As you're not participating in a sports tournament this time, your opponents don't play fair. There are multiple areas (Mammal World, Insect World, Reptile World, etc.), each with a few opponents to beat. Most of your opponents have some kind of special ability that they have no qualms about abusing, such as the shark, who can't be stunned, instead turning red and ramping up the aggression if you hit him, or the ants, who's special ability is that there are two of them, so if you stun one, the other can still move. The exception is Mammal World, where the locals just seem to be mediocre players that you won't have too much trouble beating.

After you've beaten three opponents in an area, you fight that area's boss, who has even more unfair abilities. For example, the boss of Insect World is a centipede, who takes up his entire side of the field, can throw every ball he has at once and takes multiple hits before getting stunned. There's no versus mode, and I think that's probably for the best: though it's a kind of sports game at its core, Penguin-kun Wars 2 is structured more like a single player action game, with stages and boss fights and so on, and as such is balanced heavily against the player.

Before the review ends, it would be remiss to allow the presentation to go unmentioned, as it's pretty nice for a 1988 MSX game. Each stage has its own background, with an audience of whatever animals live there. One stage, Antarctic World, has a few humans in the crowd, which is odd. Another cool touch is that each stage has unique game over and stage complete screens. It really feels like the developers were enthusiastic about making this game, but unfortunately, that enthusiasm has mainly gone into including as many ideas and variations on the core mechanics as possible, with little regard as to how balanced it all is.

If you're a particularly big fan of the original, and you're desperately clamouring for more, then that's exactly what you'll get from this sequel. I can't help but feel that that's an incredibly tiny niche, though, even by the standards of this blog.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Hokuto no Ken 2: Seikimatsu Kyuseishu Densetsu (NES)

I wasn't aware of this when I started playing this game, but it did actually get localised and released in North America as Fist of the North Star, despite covering a part of the series that wouldn't get an official tranlation until many years later. But the JP version is the version I've played (since I picked up a real copy of it to play on my portable Famiclone), so that's what I'll be talking about. I haven't played the western version, but the reviews on GameFAQs all seem to be describing a completely different game to this one: one where the player has an infinitely regenerating health bar, and the first stage is an endless maze of secret rooms.

Anyway, it's a fairly standard single-plane beat em up in which you play as Kenshiro, and you go from left to right punching goons, until you get to a boss, who needs to be punched several times. A nice touch is that regular enemies and bosses alike will get a cool little death animation where they stand in place getting all warped and distorted for a second or two before shattering into many little pieces, just like in the show! It's a lot more effective than the deaths in the Mega Drive Hokuto no Ken game (also known in its mangled form as Last Battle), where the enemies just kind of fall backwards and turn into a little red splodge.

Anyway, once you figure out the little things like the power ups (tiny words float out of dead enemies. Collecting them increases your power, which mainly improves your movement and attack speed. Every twenty dead enemies fills up another meter bit-by-bit, and when you're at full power, your jacket explodes and you can toplessly shoot slightly useless projectiles) and the game's idiosyncratic collision detection (basically, only the tip of your fist/foot can hurt enemies, and only if it's touching the edge of their sprite), this is a pretty enjoyable game. Smashing enemies to bits is nice and satisfying, and all the bosses and sub-bosses have their own techniques and strategies. It's nothing special, but it's a fairly fun little romp.

What I like most about the game, though, is the way it looks. I've already mentioned the enemies' death animations, but Kenshiro himself has a very distinctive little sprite, the bosses all look unique, the backgrounds look like the gritty post-apocalyptic stone fortresses that they are, and so on. Anyway, it's by no means a classic, but it is a game that holds enough fun to justify the miniscule price it fetches online, and if you like super low resolution sprites and/or Hokuto no Ken, it's definitely worth a look.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Wild Riders (Arcade)

Like usual with arcade racing games, I'll start with the disclaimer that I was playing this on a PC emulator with a regualr game controller, not a real, motorcycle-shaped sit-down arcade cabinet. I'll also add the extra caveat that the emulation of this game is somewhat less than perfect, so the real thing is even more preferred than usual. But I guess that most people reading this, were they to play Wild Riders, would be doing so via emulation anyway, so I guess it doesn't really matter that much.

Anyway, Wild Riders is a very SEGA racing game, in which you play as one of two motorbike gang members on the run from the cops in a place called Massive City, which looks like a perfect blue-skied version of Beverly Hills from an 80s cartoon. Of course, you go smashing through parks, pool parties, fancy restaurants and hotels, and so on, all while any pedestrians jump out of the way without fail, ala Crazy Taxi. It all looks incredible too, with a cel-shaded style, incredibly bold colours on everything, and cool little stylistic things like character close-ups appearing in little comic panels.

It also plays pretty great: fast and smooth, just like you'd expect from a SEGA racing game. There's a few unique gimmicks too! Firstly, instead of a traditional time limit, since you're on the run, the counter at the top of the screen shows how many metres away they are from catching you. The number goes up and down depending on how well you're doing, and you can get bigger boosts by exploiting the game's other main gimmick. That other gimmick is that there are various obstacles that you can either jump off of or slide underneath. On a real cabinet, this is done by pulling up or pushing down on the bike's handlebars, while in emulation, you can just map these functions to buttons on your controller, they don't need to be analogue.

The only downside, and probably the reason it never got any ports to home consoles is the length: obviously an arcade game isn't going to be long, but I finished Wild Riders on my second attempt, and there's no Outrun-style branching paths or Crazy Taxi-style free roaming to add variety to repeated playthroughs, leaving you with a game that's beautiful and exciting, but essentially only for five minutes. I guess if a particular arcade had a lot of players all competing for the top score, that'd cause a lot of repeat play, but even in 2001 that'd be a very big if. Any console port would need a lot of additional stuff added, and at a time where SEGA were leaking money all over the place, doing all that for a game with no name recognition probably wasn't a priority.

So yeah, Wild Riders is a (condensed) ton of fun, and looks amazing. It's also, however, probably the most demanding game that runs on Naomi 2 hardware, so if you have a computer that can handle the emulation, it's definitely worth a look.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Shinseiki Evangelion: Battle Orchestra (PS2)

Considering what a huge merchandising juggernaut Neon Genesis Evangelion is, it's surprising that not a single one of the videogames based on it (as far as I'm aware) has ever been released outside Japan. The might have something to do with the fact that despite being a super robot show, most Evangelion games are text-heavy things like adventure games and child-rearing simulators, which don't have big fanbases in the west . But there are a few action games, like this one, and the one on N64, which have also been passed over for westward release.

A certain kind of fan might be a little upset with the above paragraph, thinking I'm not showing Evangelion the proper amount of respect and reverence by referring to it as a super robot show, but that's what it is, and furthermore, this game is similarly irreverent. For a start, it's a Smash Bros.-esque party fighting game, with platforms and weapons and so on (though all the weapons are realistic things like missiles and axes, no squeaky hammers or anything), and it uses characters and locations from not only the series itself, but also from the movie End of Evangelion. So you can have fights atop a bunch of navy ships in the ocean, in the flooded remains of Tokyo, and even in places like the Seele room where all those talking slabs hang out at say ominous things to each other. The best stage of all, however, is Terminal Dogma, the place where the angel Lilith is crucified, bleeding LCL. This stage also serves as the game's "Final Destination", being just a flat plain with no special features or gimmicks.

The game's story mode lets you play as  any of the five kids who pilot evas over the course of the series, and it goes pretty much as you expect: you just take part in battles from the show, one after another. More interesting are the versus and survival modes, though, as they allow you to play as the angels, as well as some other oddities, like the mass-produced Evas from EoE, and there's even a guest character in the form of the Gunbuster! (Though it must be a shrunken-down version, since the actual Gunbuster was on a significantly larger scale than the Evas and angels.) The best part of this is that the selection isn't limited to those angels that are vaguely anthropomorphic: the d8-shaped Ramiel, spherical Leilel, and just plain strange Sahaquiel are all present. I'm sure I've said in previous that I'm not a big fan of Smash-likes, but I think Battle Orchestra has enough weird stuff in it to be worth a look, and the inclusion of such strange playable characters adds a lot of appeal.

So yeah, I'm surprised this game isn't already better known, since it's one of the few Evangelion videogames that's totally playable without knowledge of Japanese, plus it's actually pretty good for what it is. I should also mention that on top of everything else, it looks amazing, a ton of effort has obviously gone into the presentation, both in battle and in the menus. It's a bit of a copout, but I'll just end by saying that if you're a fan of Evangelion, and not averse to having a bit of illy fun with it, you should totally track this game down. If not, you probably shouldn't bother.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Soreyuke! Amida-kun! (Game Boy)

So, I'm sure you've all seen the Amida lot-drawing system somewhere at some point, whether it's in the bonus stages for Super Mario Land 2 or Psycho Fox, or that episode of Cardcaptor Sakura where Syaoran gets picked to be the princess in the school play. In case you haven't, how it works is that there's a bunch of vertical lines with different results at one end, and all these lines are connected at random by vertical lines. Normally, the middle area with all the vertical lines would be covered up while everyone chooses a starting point. After everyone has chosen a starting point, they go down the path they've selected, with the twist being that every time they come to a horizontal line, they have to go across it, and since they were all hidden when the paths were chosen, no-one knows where they'll end up.

In Soreyuke! Amida-Kun (also known as just "Amida"), you control a sentient, mobile vertical line. There's a round Kirby-like creature on each stge who wants to get home, and you have to get them there, while ensuring they don't walk into any skulls, which are at all the ends of the vertical paths that aren't home, as well as on some of the horizontal paths too. Obviously, you do this by moving around and actng as a bridge so that the creature crosses at all the right places.

The stages start out pretty simple, with only a few vertical paths and regular old horizontals dotted about. As the game goes on, though, more vertical paths get added, as well as different kinds of paths joining them, starting with diagonal paths, which act the same as horizontals, but take up more room. Then later there's paths that just send your little blob back the way from whence they came, and others that teleport them to a different part of the stage, and so on. Like most fixed puzzle games, it starts out simple, and gets more complex and difficult by scaling up the size of the problems and adding new elements. It actually gets pretty difficult surprisingly quickly, once you get past the first few stages.

There's not really much more to be said about this game. If it sounds interesting, give it a shot, but don't expect anything spectacular.