Monday, April 7, 2014

Forgotten Worlds

Capcom / NEC Avenue
Super CD-ROM

Already a veteran of the enjoyable (if somewhat emasculated) Genesis version of the game, I was familiar with the unusual manner in which Forgotten Worlds plays by the time I sat down with the Turbo CD rendition. I knew I'd have to determine the direction in which my airborne soldier would fire by rotating him as he'd soar through enemy lines. Those familiar with Macross 2036's boss battles will find a title here that takes a similar approach to blast-'em-up play. 2036, however, allows its players to turn in either direction without ever having to stretch clumsily for the Run button, while FW makes no such allowances except for those who acquire the original PCE bundle-release that includes an Avenue Pad 3. Being forced to reach for Run actually doesn't prove too terribly annoying--and the system is hardly the smoothest regardless of which control scheme one goes with.

Even with an Ave-3 in tow, players will likely find PCE Worlds a great deal tougher than its Genny counterpart. Enemies here are faster and stouter and typically fire many more projectiles. Those overwhelmed by the missile-heavy action won't be able to bring an ally along to make matters easier, as no true two-player mode is available (though a second person can assume limited control of the lone soldier's option pod via a bit of code-inputting).

That it fails to offer two-warrior play is no minor issue, but Turbo FW does employ red book audio to deliver fantastic renditions of the game's predominantly dark tunes (though to this day I'm not particularly happy about Stage 5's sinister theme being rendered "poppy"). It's also far superior to the Genesis version visually, as its enemies are generally larger and its zones are more colorful--virtues certainly worth citing for a game that strives to create an aspect of bizarreness by presenting unusual creatures and environments. Enormous ogres poke their heads through the clouds; super-fast serpents inhabit pretty pink sky-forests; and sorcerers drift about desolate territories that harbor ice-encased mammoths. The title seems to forget the benefits that come with diversity during a mid-game stretch of "pyramid-themed" boards, but it still ultimately attains a compelling "lost-land" feel.

Two of its atypical areas (one a small-scale throwaway tomb, the other a Terraforming-esque volcanic region) and a pair of its boss fights are among the noteworthy items that were not included in the Genesis version.

The post-stage still-shots, on the other hand, are quite similar to the cartridge's intermediary scenes and amount to nothing that a CD title should boast of, though there is amusement to be derived from the accompanying lines of text.

As enemies tend to attack in droves and from inconvenient angles, memorizing their flight patterns and spots of origin will be of great use in getting through the game. A little strategizing is to be done as well, as cash for purchasing health restorers and gun-fire upgrades isn't made available in abundance (though good players can stick with a certain hard-hitting, available-early-on devastator until late in the affair, when the best blaster of all can be acquired).

Come up with a sound set of strategies, keep the habits of your foes in mind, and develop proficiency with the game's unusual controls, and you'll in all likelihood find Forgotten Worlds both beatable and fairly enjoyable. Again, it never quite feels wonderful, but it always feels interestingly atypical--and perhaps that's why I've found it to have greater replay value than plenty of its good-but-not-excellent peers.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mahjong Clinic Special

Naxat Soft
Super CD-ROM

Disregard the "Special" part and you'll find that this game's title provides a good idea of what it's all about: you roam the halls of a clinic and play mahjong with the patients, workers, and loiterers you come across.

It should come as a surprise to no one that only girls are to be encountered in this clinic--and that said girls aren't hesitant to strip in the presence of a mahjong-playing mate.

Options are occasionally presented, and the selections you make determine just how much skin you'll get to see.

None of the images are particularly naughty or racy, however.

All of this is typical PCE-mahjong-game nonsense, but the triteness isn't particularly problematic. The real issue is that there's nothing random about the tiles you're dealt in any given match. The game provides preset hands that are often tough to work with. Of course, if you stumble around enough, you'll eventually become familiar with all of those hands, and then the title becomes a puzzle game of sorts--figure out how to win with the motley assortments of tiles you're given.

Even if you take the most direct path to the end, you'll run across plenty of hand-repeats. You can see me defeating two different girls with the exact same playing-piece arrangement in the following screens (notice that the matches proceeded in identical fashions right down to every last discarded tile):

Of course, once you've sussed out the correct way to proceed with each hand, you can systematically thrash your rendered-helpless opponents.

The bits of story that link these all-too-predictable matches are largely negligible, but the game won't hesitate to toss hands that can't be won with at those who stray from the "proper" path in order to "nudge" them towards the characters it wants them to deal with.

The real shame here is that a couple of good tunes, not to mention commendable usage of said tunes, are utterly wasted. Each contest commences with a pleasant, loungy track that's replaced by a much more intense number once a player calls reach. The switch really did increase the game's level of excitement the first time I experienced it and made me believe I was in for some fun times and exhilarating matches. Man, was I wrong.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Janshin Densetsu (Quest of Jongmaster)

Aicom / NEC Home Electronics
Arcade CD-ROM

Quest of Jongmaster is an RPG that has you defend a town from a death dragon, the world from spacecraft-piloting invaders, and your own hide from all sorts of frightful things.

Of course, to do away with your multitudinous adversaries, you'll have to defeat them in mahjong matches.

And of course, the wicked beasts and horrifying creatures eventually reveal themselves to be silly anime girls who possess very little clothing.

If your interest has somehow been piqued by all this but you have concerns about the possibility of a language barrier, have no fear: it's very easy to figure out how to keep your character in good health and well equipped (with most articles enabling you either to win matches more swiftly or to hold out longer while you receive a pummeling).

The adventure is as linear as they come--you can't stray from the correct path to travel even if you want to, and the "mazes" are hilariously simplistic in design.

Questing and labyrinth navigating were never meant to be the title's most enticing elements, though. Sure, the story has its interesting moments...

...but any fun you manage to have will likely come from meeting the strange beasts/wild ladies who inhabit the land. The designers came up with lots of nice girl and monster designs...

...but were unsuccessful in their endeavors to provide quality in-game graphics, as the charm of the funny-looking, large-headed sprites fails to offset the blandness of the environments.

Dull field visuals are hardly the title's most significant problem, though. The matches play out slowly; and for all the "thought" your opponents put into their moves, they simply aren't very good at mahjong. I do realize that the designers didn't want players to have to experience a high number of draws and defeats with so many random matches to play through, but easy victories don't make for fun, rewarding gameplay in the long run.

As the adventure is far too simplistic to appeal to RPG fans and the "battles" are too slow and easy to prove worthwhile for mahjong aficionados, I don't believe there's really much of an audience out there for Jongmaster. The naughtiness factor prevents me from recommending it even to the many little kids who are looking for a good mahjong RPG, which is quite unfortunate.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Jantei Monogatari 3 Saver Angels

Super CD-ROM

Jantei 3 starts off in sobering fashion. Its opening cinema details the deaths of three girls, with one sequence depicting the suicide of a ten-year-old. We're talking some relatively heavy material here.

But then a cool musical track starts playing--our sign that it's time to move on from that serious stuff and play some mahjong.

The adventure proceeds in the style of a digital comic, with bits of pointing and clicking necessary every so often. Thankfully, Jantei 3's artwork and animation are far superior to those of its predecessor.

And 3 is much wackier than 2 (and most other PC Engine games at that). It features a roster of deviants that includes a crazed centaur, a not quite fully armored (but quite perverted) knight, and a gargantuan school principal.

You'll engage these nutjobs in mahjong warfare and likely find them to be worthy (but not infuriatingly prescient) opponents. Some of them refuse to buckle even after suffering numerous defeats, so to speed things up, you'll probably want to spend points you earn for wins on "techniques" that enable you to cheat your way to quick victories.

Dispersed among the comic-style festivities and mahjong festivals are strange mini-games. You'll have to fend off a team of volleyball-playing maniacs and outmaneuver a wrestling-proficient cat-girl.

Fans of the game's immediate predecessor will be happy to discover that some old friends and foes play important roles in this episode. And said fans will hardly be surprised to learn that this chapter provides a substantial quantity of bare-skin shots.

Actually, Jantei 3 goes so far out of its way to be naughty that the panties-based gimmickry eventually wears out its welcome. While I hardly consider myself a PCE-playing prude, the gratuitousness reaches such absurd extremes that it really doesn't sit well with me, especially since it's juxtaposed with such a weighty opening. But the only other way in which the game proves irritating is in presenting a string of drawn-out mahjong-battles towards its conclusion. On the whole, it's well made and highly entertaining.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Jantei Monogatari 2 Kanketsu Hen


Kanketsu Hen has you pick up right where you left off in Shutsudou Hen. A gargantuan head of stone and his malevolent henchwomen must be stopped in their imperialistic tracks, and the one way you can put an end to their evil antics is by beating the lot of 'em at mahjong. Once again, points that can be spent on techniques to turn a hand in your favor accrue as you tally victories.

You'll find your mahjong-match opponents here to be keener and tougher than the minor-leaguers you encountered in Shutsudou Hen. Particularly talented is the aforementioned hard-head of terror.

There's a good bit of work to do before you can square off with that ill-mannered fellow, though. Shutsudou Hen fans will begin play with a sense of anticipation, as it's clear from the start that the major villains introduced in Jantei 2's opening half will finally have to be confronted and dealt with.

Indeed, emphasis is placed on action right from the get-go; there isn't any "be a good guy and help some whiny kids" prologue-type fodder to sit through this time. Kanketsu Hen is the game's battle-heavy chapter--villains make their moves, and the hero responds by stepping up and... getting his ass kicked repeatedly.

There isn't much you can do to aid the luckless lad during the pre-mahjong-match scenes of battery. While options as to actions to be taken are occasionally offered in Shutsudou Hen, Kanketsu asks that you simply sit back and enjoy the show. As the choices players make in Shutsudou are largely inconsequential, this is actually a case of improvement via omission.

For-the-better changes were also made in the department of visuals. The borders housing animated sequences are not as austere this time around, and there aren't quite as many awkward-looking motions and sketches to cringe at--though there are still bits of graphical goofiness to be observed.

Aside from the punching-bag-of-a-protagonist, the game's graceless good guys don't receive as much on-air time as they do in Shutsudou. Kanketsu's cameraman concentrates instead on providing as many naughty looks at the evil girls as he can. Shots of panties and bare skin abound, though in relative dirty-PCE-game terms things never become all that visually perverse.

Things never become dull or irritating either, as Kanketsu Hen resolves the Jantei 2 story in satisfying fashion. Most PCE mahjong games are quite similar to one another mechanically; it's typically context that separates the good from the unappealing. Jantei 2's action, drama, and interesting characters enable it to claim a spot among the worthwhile ones.