GAME REVIEWS

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Turrican

~ TURRICAN ~
Accolade
HuCard
1991

Turrican seems so promising on paper. Its levels are huge, allowing for Metroid-fashion exploration; it features Contra-esque run-and-gun action; and it provides you with a decent assortment of weapons and attack-types, including a spread gun, a laser whip, and an alternative spinning-razor form. Unfortunately, the gameplay bypasses "challenging" and heads straight for "cheap," mucking up the chip's potential for greatness (and even goodness).



Fast, agile enemies zip about the screen; spreading bullets come from every which way; blind-leap spots make frequent unfair nuisances of themselves; and trash, boulders, lightning, and lava-drops strike you from above.



Perhaps most irritating is the fact that the game doesn't make it obvious when you're taking damage; you must peek at your rapidly dwindling vitality gauge to measure the extent of the beating you're receiving (and during the split second it takes your eyes to make that trip, you'll probably be obliterated). On top of all that, the areas themselves are ugly. And the designers stupidly decided to implement time limits, as they obviously wouldn't want you to spend much time on the one part of the whole mess that's truly fun--exploring the levels to locate secret stuff. Indeed, there's a hell of a lot of secret stuff to find, especially early in the game, with copious "hidden goodie boxes" to uncover and 1-up icons strewn everywhere.



Heck, there are places where extra lives literally rain down upon you. On the one hand, it's cool that there are so many "sweet spots" to locate. On the other, it becomes glaringly obvious that the designers knew they were serving up a monster of a game that would demolish players over and over again.



I could deliver the usual spiel about how you need to memorize the levels, come up with strategies for the boss battles, figure out how to best use your weapons, and have a decent amount of skill to begin with in order to do well in this game. And yeah, that stuff does apply if you hope to make it out of even the first set of stages alive. But the affair degenerates into a nasty battle of attrition regardless. Collect dozens of extra men early on, and hope against hope when the challenges turn downright brutal.



The switch to brutality takes place when you hit Stage 3-2, where emphasis is no longer placed on exploration for the fun and benefit of powering up but on mere survival (and on finding some devilishly out-of-the-way exit spots). And whatever low level of enjoyability the game offered prior to the change in focus predictably plummets towards darker depths during the final stretch. The developers couldn't even be bothered to include music for the third world, while the fourth and final board forces you to endure a nightmarish strip of vertical platforming and some ridiculously boring ice-block busting.



Combine this crappy "climax" with a lame ending that's all too anxious to take you right back to the title screen, and you're left with criminally little reward for all the effort the mission demands.

Tatsujin

~ TATSUJIN ~
Toaplan / Taito
HuCard
1992

It's funny. Look at Tatsujin reviews on the web and you'll find that every bit of text boils down to "It's motherfuckin' HARD" and is accompanied by a screen cap showing the game's famous skull-bomb attack. Of course, there is good reason for the ubiquity of these whiny complaints and skeletal blasts: Tatsujin, especially in its PCE incarnation, is indeed a very difficult shooter; and the only recourse for unskilled babies who hope to survive it is bombing away.

But there will always be goofballs who like to puff themselves up and spit out the oft-heard, seldom true "I like a good challenge" line. Well, look, if you're thinking about obtaining Tatsujin for the sake of playing it and not just to add a somewhat rare and expensive HuCard to your collection, then be honest with yourself. If you're driven to hollering by Super Star Soldier's "intensity" or if you're pained by Nexzr's "rigorous" memorization requirements, then Tatsujin is out of your league. In fact, unless you're as tough and as good as the Duomazov brothers (which is highly unlikely, as the Duomazovs are stout, crazy bearded men who honed their Turbo skills while serving long sentences in the Siberian stockades), then chances are you aren't hard enough to make it anywhere in this game, and you should keep to the safe confines of the Soldier/Gunhed quadrants.

It's not that Tatsujin will constantly wallop you. Segment-by-segment examination of the game reveals many stretches that non-Duomazovs can get through, provided that they remember to watch out for enemies who attack from behind (cheap bastards whom Tatsujin employs many of).

The main sources of trouble are the mini-boss bands. They send plenty of projectiles your way, and said projectiles hurtle across space at speeds that make them almost unavoidable. And since there are typically four or five mid-stage demons to deal with at once, there isn't a whole lot of room for doing much evading anyway. The end-of-level bosses don't even need to bring friends along to present similar problems (nevertheless, the assholes are often aided by small henchmen and cannons). Hope is not allowed here.

Still, live long enough to power up your weapons and you may actually begin to feel a little confident. The blue lightning gun produces a cool-looking pyramid of obliteration when strengthened, allowing for easy progress through strips populated by standard enemies. It proves inadequate during encounters with the dreaded mini-bosses, as it's rather weak and tends to lock in on fools you have no desire to target, but such battles are what the full-fire green energy weapon is for.

Of course, even if you're skilled and fortunate enough to build a weapon up to its optimal capabilities, odds are still slim that you'll be able to maintain that level of firepower for long. Sure, after a while, you'll develop a feel for the stages, and you'll be able to remember which weapons to use at which points, and you'll know exactly when to expect cheap ass-rammers to sneak up on your tail. You'll realize that defeating the mini-lords and end-bosses comes down to doing as much damage as you can before they launch their assaults and then baiting them into sending their entire bullet load at a spot you'll quickly vacate. But you're going to have to maintain that level of unwavering concentration and that perfect timing as the game continually comes at you with cheap enemies and fast-moving bullet storms. And if you stumble for just a single instant, say farewell to your built-up speed and mighty armament.

The safe, economical thing to do if you're considering a high-cost purchase of Tatsujin is to acquire and play the much cheaper Genesis rendition, Truxton, before making a decision. Sure, the PCE version is better, with nicer-sounding music and a larger playfield to work with. But Truxton presents a package similar enough to give you a good idea of whether or not you'll enjoy its HuCard counterpart. It's significantly easier, too, so if it happens to kick your ass, do yourself a favor: stay away from the rough side of town. Save your money and avoid a great deal of pain. Don't buy Tatsujin.


You'll be cruising along and thinking to yourself, "What's that guy talking about? This isn't hard!"


Seconds later, a flock of mini-bosses will annihilate you.


Sure, you can try the ol' skull-bomb baby method of damaging the fiends... and watch in horror as they sidestep the attack. These guys don't mess around.


Neither do their large end-of-level allies.


If you're going to destroy the "bulbs" in this screen, you'd better be ready to dodge the super-fast spread bullets they'll release.


You can breeze through boss-free segments with full-power lightning...


...but the emerald energy weapon represents your best shot at rockin' the tough guys.


Lightning works quite well against the last boss, however, as it allows you to home in on his weak spot while maintaining your distance.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Champion Wrestler

Taito - 1990 - Japan
HuCard



Whenever possible I try to avoid reviewing games I haven't fully completed, but I'll make exceptions in certain cases. Today's exception is Champion Wrestler from Taito.


CW is a port of an arcade game of the same name, one that I had never heard of prior to acquiring the game for my Duo. To be honest, the details surrounding how I actually got this game are foggy. It's certainly not something I sought out on purpose; I'm pretty sure this was one of those "good buddy freebies" your chums like to throw in when you're buying a bunch of other shit off them. You know the type. More often than not, these freebies are worthless, awful games that you'll never play (hence the reason they were given away for free in the first place). Unfortunately, Champion Wrestler is no exception.


Wrestler plays out like any WWE match would-- hit your opponent over the head with chairs, perform ridiculous acrobatics in hopes a stray limb might incur damage on your enemy, etc. The problem with Wrestler is that the control scheme fucking BLOWS. I mean, it's horrible. Atrocious. I cannot really convey in writing how terrible the "concept" behind CW's controls is. It would probably be more accurate to say that Wrestler just doesn't have a control scheme. CW takes button mashing to a new extreme. Because that's all you can do, and hope that you are fruitful in whittling away your enemy's health before yours diminishes. You have a "power" graph at the top of the screen that increases as you rapidly waggle your joystick from left to right, all the while attempting to position yourself (still waggling) so that you can inflict damage on the opposition. If somehow you manage to maneuver into a spot where damage might be an option, it then is your job to start mashing the I and II buttons and hope you pull something off. So you can see the problem here-- there are no cool button combo "moves" to memorize, no strategy in defeating your nemesis, essentially no amount of "skill" is going to benefit you in this game. I don't know about you, but I find this simply unacceptable.




From the title screen, you can select a game mode-- 1P vs CPU, 1P vs 2P, and a couple other modes. Having been outsmarted in my attempts to sucker a friend to play this still-moist-and-steaming pile with me, I resigned to go it solo in the 1P vs CPU mode. You have a choice of 8 different characters to play with, including Taito's own "M. Rastan" from the Rastan Saga series. I suppose it doesn't really matter WHO you pick, but I seemed to have the most luck with "B. Machine".


When a game fails so utterly and completely in the gameplay department, it doesn't really matter how good the aesthetics or any other aspect of the game are. That's a sad truth, because visually the game actually doesn't look half bad. In true Taito form, graphics utilize lots of colors and it's clear not much had to be sacrificed in the arcade to console porting process. I didn't encounter a whole lot of variety in the arena in my handful of runs with CW, but that's not completely unexpected. Music is adequate, if not somewhat good. Again-- what a shame.




At the end of the day, I have to wonder how much Champion Wrestler retailed for when it was new. And I also have to wonder how many kids went out and paid full sticker price for it, and what their reactions were upon getting home and powering it up for the first time. Shit, I got it for FREE and I feel like I got ripped off.



CAL III

~ CAL III ~
Birdy Soft / NEC Avenue
Super CD-ROM
1994

What you experience here is more of an "adventure" than the straightforward sequence of confrontations in CAL II. Rather than simply walking a path and meeting up with girls in ridiculous situations, you tour a variety of places and, well, just keep on picking from the available options. Unlike its predecessor, CAL III isn't littered with choices that lead to undesirable conclusions. In fact, it wasn't until very late in the adventure that, upon answering a sphinx's questions incorrectly, I finally suffered a Game Over. There may be others (a battle with a goofy Hydra being one potential spot of doom), but I've never encountered them.



There's seldom any reason for caution when making your selections, as the chances of blundering into a Game Over are so low. It's nice not having to endure the frustration of replaying segments just to reach a decisive question again, but now there's even less reason to pay attention to what's actually going on. But then, there just isn't much going on in this game anyway.


You'll run into a wide variety of characters, from scheming deities to Alice (in Wonderland), but very little happens aside from lengthy discourse, most of which takes place as you look at boring, redundant desert backdrops.



Occasionally, something genuinely funny happens, but for most of the adventure, I have to struggle just to stay awake. CAL III is incredibly short and quite uneventful, and contrary to what many players likely would expect, it doesn't present much "erotic" material at all.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Urusei Yatsura: Stay with You

~ URUSEI YATSURA ~
Hudson Soft
CD-ROM
1990

Here we have a high school lecher and a green-haired alien girl who wants the guy's stick. Annoyed by the lad's wandering eye, the extraterrestrial "cutie" gives him thunderous electrical shocks in futile attempts to keep him in line. Together they go off on an adventure that takes them from familiar school hallways to the frozen far reaches of outer space.



If I'm not familiar with the source material, an anime-based digital comic needs to look good and move along at a reasonably quick pace in order to gain and hold my attention. Nadia was able to reach the elusive level of so-so-ness by delivering in these respects, but Uruseu Yatsura couldn't match the feat--at least not for a good long while. Its anime-style art isn't very good and takes up but a small portion of the screen, and single poor-looking slides often hang around for way too long as characters babble with one another.



The funny parts aren't funny, the spooky parts aren't spooky, and the characters aren't appealing with the possible exception of... a lemming.



Not satisfied with paining players through its slow, boring plot progression and bad looks, UY "features" a dumb tile-sliding puzzle game and presents a few spots where you can indeed end up with a Game Over (although the ones I experienced were very easy to get around). And then there's the somewhat disturbing shower scene (let's just say it ain't exactly Cadet Babbette hiding in there...).



But UY suddenly rises from the doldrums with an entertaining burst at the end of its second "act" and proceeds at an above-mediocre level for the balance of the adventure. Act 3 has you visit jungles, deserts, and war zones... and congregate with bunnies at tea. You'll need to rescue your friends by finding your way across the desert, discovering passwords that grant access to prison cells, playing lever-based puzzle games, and making doorknobs out of gems. And during the brief fourth act, you'll run into a number of interesting characters, including a cyclops whom you must engage in menu-driven fisticuffs. There's even some nice art to behold at the very end.



UY turns things around during its second half by presenting puzzles and tasks that call for relatively high-level interaction rather than the dull, mindless button clicking one must partake in early in the game. It still shouldn't shoot up to the top of anyone's "digital comics to get" list, but it's not one to dismiss out of hand either.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Denno Tenshi: Digital Angel

~ DIGITAL ANGEL ~
Tokumashoten Intermedia Inc. / News Inc.
Super CD-ROM
1994

A guy goes out one day and happens upon a vagabond floppy disk. He takes it home, loads it up on his computer, and watches in amazement as a girl pops out of his monitor. Some giant mecha land outside his house; female pilots emerge from the machines and congregate with the disk-born chick, who can control the mighty pink mecha. They all hang around for a while, lounging, talking, and bathing (but not doing anything particularly naughty). A few mean girls (including an unpleasant "copy" of the pink-mecha pilot) show up in their own giant machines. A showdown takes place, the copy is eliminated, the mean girls move in with the rest of the bunch, and they all decide to play janken.

That's a good chunk of the odd Digital Angel story. DA is a digital comic with primary menu commands (Talk, Watch, Think, etc.) displayed in English. The most appealing element here is the art; the visuals aren't typical old anime-comic fare. The game has a distinctive appearance, and I found myself looking forward to each new panel. The music is also really cool (for a while, at least).

Odd plot plus anime girls plus English menu plus distinctive art plus good music usually equals a worthwhile game, but DA is actually a middling title. The initially intriguing story really loses steam during its second half. There are myriad Game Over and premature-end screens, and while the Game Overs can usually be avoided easily, the only way to get the "true" ending is to master a "slot game," which can be very frustrating and annoying (and the true ending sucks anyway). I played the game a number of times and changed up my choices enough that I was able to view pretty much every scene there is, and unfortunately, the art and audio lost some of their allure during the wearisome process.

Digital Angel is by no means a poor product, but with the nice ingredients it has going for it, it should've made a more favorable impression on me than it did. The first half of the adventure is quite enjoyable, but the aforementioned problems ultimately drag the game down a digital-comic tier or two.


You get awesome power-armor and mecha designs...


...and awesome chick designs. Good combo, eh?


Unfortunately, there's too little cool stuff...


...and too much domestic stuff (especially late in the game).


You'll need to master the slot game to get a "good" ending. Good luck with that.