Wednesday, March 5, 2014
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
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.
Saturday, February 22, 2014
I knew that there would be girls, and I knew that there would be mahjong matches. But those are the only things I knew to expect when I started playing Jantei 2. Whether or not the game is any good was a matter very much in question. I'd already experienced both the first episode in the series and the third, and while I found the former to be a terribly dull detective story, I rather enjoyed the time I spent with the crazy, cartoony stars of the latter. It seemed reasonable enough to expect the second game to be a mere middle-of-the-road sort of product, so I wasn't anticipating my inevitable sessions with it. What I was anticipating, though, was having a good deal more adventuring to do than I had in its forebear and followup; after all, it's split up into two separately released chapters, with Shutsudou Hen constituting the opening half.
Indeed, there's an adventure to experience here, and the adventurer who experiences it is a well-meaning if awkward lad who somehow manages to transform himself into a robotic soldier when circumstances demand such drastic action. He regularly utilizes his unique ability to aid distressed acquaintances and teary-eyed civilians.
The do-gooder's adversaries are an alien head of stone and a flock of odd-looking, strangely attired females.
This story of Rock Head vs. Robot Boy plays out via animated sequences that are housed within horribly large, strictly utilitarian borders. There are options to choose from here and there, but selections are nothing but formalities, mere exercises in clicking, and the interface is unnecessarily clunky.
Thankfully, not a whole lot of time is wasted on menu-driven sequences, and once the show gets rolling, it's anything but uneventful. An evil cat-girl administering breast-exposing whip lashes to a bound-and-vulnerable heroine might actually fall into the "going too far" category, but I'm hardly opposed to lightsaber-wielding robo-warriors having it out.
Of course, whips and lightsabers and whatnot are tossed aside once the time comes for disputes to be settled for good. Mahjong tiles are the characters' weapons of choice for all-or-nothing showdowns.
And Jantei 2's mahjong matches play out well--which basically means that they aren't overly difficult and don't require a great deal of time. Points awarded for victories can be used to acquire hand-altering abilities and make the contests even easier and less time consuming.
Decent music lends to the dramatic effect of particular events, though the excitement generated by the soundtrack is frequently nullified by the goofy facial expressions and awkward gesticulating of the clumsy characters.
Still, the part of Jantei 2 presented here remained interesting enough for me to want to proceed to the next slice as soon as I was done with it. If anything, it ended far too quickly. Shutsudou Hen really does feel like half a game--but at least it's half of a pretty good one.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
As a fan of this horror-themed, dash-and-blast platformer, I typically wave off word of its reputation for mediocrity, reasoning that its detractors are likely the sorts who are unwilling to take up a good challenge or unable to figure out that a double-jump is at their disposal. But even I must concede that the title does itself no favors with its visuals, as it employs sprites that are frequently too goofy to be appealing even in a kitschy sense and has a fuzzy, all-too-simplistic look about it in general.
And while I was able to become accustomed to the feel of the action fairly quickly, I cannot claim that the game plays wonderfully. The aforementioned double-jump is executed in an odd manner, and turning on a dime is out of the question for your stiff, often-surrounded-and-always-outnumbered avatar.
Players are forced to subscribe to a "die repeatedly and learn from your errors" philosophy, as enemy patterns are often too aberrant and level layouts too trap laden to advance in any other way, but some missteps reveal little except the immediately obvious fact that the controls are far from perfect.
As Horror Story is a platformer of the forced-scrolling sort, those who brave it may proceed only at a pace dictated by the title itself. It's unfortunate for the unskilled and easily discouraged, then, that the game never seems to be in any hurry to get anywhere. Strips are revealed bit by minuscule bit as speedy enemies soar through the air, scurry along the turf, and even emerge from the backdrops.
Thankfully, HS does provide tools and techniques that can enable dedicated players to overcome the challenges presented by their foes and surroundings. Missiles, lasers, bombs, and three-way shots are among the monster-massacring long-range attack-types at your disposal. Many enemies can also be demolished in Super Mario-esque bop-on-the-cranium fashion, and a shield can be acquired to give the hero a fighting chance at survival.
Those who put in the time to get a handle on the available offensive options will live long enough and proceed far enough to notice and appreciate the cleverness that consistently marks the game's level designs. Forks in the road of the "low-or-high" variety provide opportunities for experimentation, while tricky platforming segments demand both keen thought and sharp reflexes. Even the means by which you can advance from one point to the next are occasionally atypical, with successions of wafting balloons, drifting boats, and reaper-heisted coffins acting here and there as de facto bridges to level ends.
And while they don't call for extreme contemplation, most of the boss battles do ask that you devise clever methods for getting through them. The final fight in particular is enjoyable, as it demands that you make quick, timely leaps while you take to the offensive.
A lively soundtrack adds a little spirit to the affair, which can prove very rewarding if you're willing to forgive the title its often-unappealing visuals and far-from-superlative gameplay.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Inspired in part by Gauntlet, Gain Ground features small, simplistic-in-design play areas with clearly marked exits to scurry for and plenty of brutes to blast.
Three different characters are available for you to select from at the start. By nabbing and absconding with doll-like icons placed about some of the fields, you can put together an impressive assemblage of twenty. Members of your party who take a hit revert to their immobile miniature forms, but you can attempt to retrieve them with one of their allies.
Clear an area of enemies and you'll be on your way to the next board. You can't simply dash about and engage in mindless mayhem, however; strategy in avatar selection is important. Some characters toss spears, some blast away with rifles, some wield elemental magic. Some are fleet of foot while others are heavy treaders. Even the hand in which a given warrior holds his destructive tool of choice can be a matter of great importance. Limited-range weaponry won't suffice for annihilating foes stationed on platforms, camped behind barriers, or laying low in ditches.
It usually isn't difficult to navigate the occasionally mazelike but typically straightforward play areas, but what they lack in structural disparity, they make up for in aesthetic variety. You'll battle barbarians on open fields, robots in futuristic bases, and Wizzrobe-like magic-users within the walls of dungeons.
Magnificent tunes produced by T's Music make the experience feel more dramatic than its scantly strategic, simple-at-heart premise would seem to warrant. Cinemas are absent, unfortunately, and the in-game visuals are rather ugly, but at least some fairly large sprites are occasionally employed.
The game doesn't go far enough with its level layouts and enemy designs to make every recruitable combatant essential. As some characters are largely redundant and others are simply inadequate, you'll likely end up sticking with a core group of favorites. Still, you can make your life a lot easier by selecting a warrior most appropriate for whatever zone you're invading, and you'll likely need to devise a scheme involving more than one hero to get through the challenging final stage.
Boasting a distinctive premise and onscreen projectile counts that can rise in a hurry, Gain Ground is an interesting, often-exciting title that should prove pleasing provided that the player doesn't set his expectations in regards to its strategic elements exceedingly high.
Sunday, January 5, 2014
Travelers is a traditional-style RPG that really tries its darnedest to buddy up to players. Level-ups occur frequently, and characters need not even complete a given battle to reap benefits from them, including the immediate restoration of lost HP and MP. Regular healing is hardly required, though, as most of the monsters are capable of doing only meager bits of damage. Once you've put a weapon through its paces, you can sell it off for nearly as much money as you spent on it in the first place. And a dash button is provided so that your party can quickly navigate fields and labyrinths that are anything but vast to begin with.
Despite its best efforts, Travelers hasn't been able to get in good with everyone who has played it. In fact, unaffected by its methods of ingratiation, my stern brother Duomitri couldn't wait to unload his copy on me. He was extremely irritated that a Super CD RPG had the gall to make its way to the marketplace sans cinemas. Indeed, that Travelers sticks with sketches featuring its in-game sprites for storytelling sequences is no minor point.
Only during the closing credits is any cinema-worthy artwork presented, which is rather unfortunate, as the character drawings that adorn the game's packaging aren't of the typical anime-style variety (though they don't represent an extraordinary deviation either). Also unfortunate in the eyes of some players is Travelers' insistence on being goofy at almost every turn. Characters bob up and down like pigeons when they speak, and both heroes and villains have the ridiculous tendency to trip over their own feet at the most inopportune times, leading to "comedy" revolving around fallen fools rolling about the turf.
The game does get more serious with its plot points as it moves along: some emotional moments prove truly touching, and some suspenseful scenes actually make quite the dramatic impact. One intriguing sequence has your characters employ a glass cutter to break into a shop and snag a secret document, while another pits them against would-be late-night assassins.
Plot development isn't the only area in which Travelers improves as it proceeds. The first third of the adventure has players visit dungeons that are somewhat inventive in design (the characters must scale walls and walk tightropes at various points), but the distinct elements are really rather superficial and never truly fleshed out.
But the second chapter has the party explore the bowels of a giant demon-infested tree trunk that plays home to a large red dragon and has creepy vermin resting on its walls.
And the final stretch hits hard by taking players into a cave in which the bloody bodies and severed appendages of slain kobolds are strewn about.
Challenge is absent throughout all of the game's stages, but there are elements of the Travelers play system that show its designers were indeed striving to create something a good deal more complex and involving than some Mystic Quest-like baby-targeted product. Characters can take up various positions on the battlefield, with the spots they occupy ultimately determining the offensive options at their disposal and affecting the likelihood that they will come under attack.
And a four-phase day-night cycle is put into effect. As one might expect, certain events can be triggered only during particular time periods.
Travelers starts off as a decent (if all-too-easy and all-too-goofy) RPG and evolves from there into a rather engaging adventure game. Fans of the genre will likely have themselves a good time aiding the clumsy-but-well-intentioned heroes in achieving their goals.