Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Jimmu Denshou

Wolf Team / Big Club

I don't think I've ever seen anything even remotely positive written about this into-the-screen dash-and-shoot game. After just a few minutes of playing it, I was ready to join the crowd and rip it for its many apparent flaws. The animation and Space Harrier-type field scrolling were choppy as hell, and huge doses of slowdown and flicker didn't help matters at all. The weaponry seemed inadequate, as I started off with nothing but a sword-swipe attack, and minor upgrades that allowed my blade to emit little projectiles didn't seem particularly helpful or impressive. Worst of all, the controls felt extremely shoddy.

But things turned around once I made adjustments to those unwieldy controls. Changing the "RUN" setting from "AUTO" to "KEY" on the title-screen menu (thus ensuring that the sprinting swordsman would hold still unless I was impelling him via the d-pad) made the game feel entirely different (and much better). On AUTO, my clumsy samurai fell from platforms, got stuck on poles, and bumped into bosses. KEY allowed me so much more control over the unfortunate hero. And following my discovery of manageable controls, other bright spots became evident.

The music holds up well throughout the game. I'm sure people have ripped on it and will continue to rip on it, but I'm convinced that if it were part of a different overall package, no one would have any issues with it. One effective boss tune actually reminds me of a fantastic Zelda II palace track. And the aesthetic pleasantness doesn't end there: while the graphics are indeed choppy, some of the distant backdrops are actually quite nice to look at, and the huge bosses are often impressive and compellingly bizarre in design.

Those bosses can put up quite a fight, and battles with the first few can seem like long, drawn-out matters of attrition. But make some progress and you'll encounter giants that require strategy and prudent weapon selection to defeat. It feels really, really good to solve the attack patterns of the toughest ones. And by the time you reach those tough guys, you'll probably be wielding much more effective weaponry than you were early in the game. Your blade can shoot spreading lightning bolts, homing spheres, and other such cool and effective missiles.

You'll need those upgrades to contend with even the standard stage villains, whom you'll find yourself baiting into position before destroying or evading completely. The stages themselves are more than just flat pseudo-3D affairs. You'll have to make tricky speed runs and avoid numerous danger spots. Underworlds and warp zones provide alternative routes through some sections. Power-up locations are not always immediately evident. You'll need to get dialed in and learn the levels inside and out.

And once you're in that zone, you'll likely find that the game evokes all the right feelings. Bosses can disgust and amaze you at once. Speed runs are exhilarating. Dark underworlds are appropriately terrifying. Everything just feels right.

All of these things are elements that, I imagine, we all love to discover in our action-adventure games, and Jimmu certainly delivered them to me. But not everyone will have the same sort of experience with the game as I had. Some folks won't be able to get past the shoddiness and lack of overall appeal that inevitably plague early sessions. And the game is flat-out hard--even grueling at times. Passwords keep track of your health and weaponry, so it's not enough just to stumble your way through a stage; you've got to beat it in decent condition or you'll be crushed as soon as the next one begins. And I'm not even going to try to excuse Stage 3, a nightmare of hellish platforming that the game's controls simply aren't cut out for: contact with the surface means instant damage, and you might find yourself repeatedly plummeting into a long and horribly difficult stretch of underworld.

But if you accept those initial bitter experiences and manage to get past Stage 3... well, there's a darn good chance you still won't like the game. You'll need to have a pretty high level of tolerance for unpolished titles in order to make it through this one, and being a fan of Space Harrier lookalikes to begin with won't hurt. Even then, you might find Jimmu unacceptable. But playing through it was a very rewarding experience for me, and it actually ranks quite highly among HuCards in my book.

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