GAME REVIEWS

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dungeon Explorer

Atlus/Hudson Soft - 1989 - U.S.A.
HuCard


For every console exists games that define it, games that represent its spirit. Dungeon Explorer is one such game. Love it or hate it, it cannot be argued that Explorer didn't make an impact on the Turbo gaming universe. It set a precedent where previously none existed. Seldom does a game come along that appeals to such a diverse audience. Turbo fans unite: this one's for you.


To identify Dungeon Explorer as merely a "Gauntlet clone" just doesn't do the game justice. While there's no hiding that Explorer borrows its most basic gameplay elements from the venerable action title, it improves upon that template in every possible way. The story upon which the game is based is hardly groundbreaking: a formerly tranquil community called Odessia has been transformed into a land of dungeons and evil by an alien race that has enslaved the people through the power of the ORA stone. It's up to you to find the ORA and return peace to Odessia.

Eight different classes of character are available upon beginning the game, an additional two can be obtained secretly if you follow the correct path with the correct character. Each class boasts diverse strengths and weaknesses, and makes for incredible replay value. Defeated bosses leave behind crystal "beans" that allow your character to "level up" their attributes at your discretion. Each class has different magic capabilities that can be utilized through the use of white & black magic potions. Such abilities range from magic shields, to magic "bombs," to health restoration.


Explorer handles excessive onscreen action with extreme competence and rarely will you experience any slowdown. Controls are tight and responsive, but perhaps the coolest feature of all is the multiplayer capability. Dungeon Explorer allows up to five people to play simultaneously, which makes for an incredibly fun time. You really have to get on the same wavelength as your partner(s) to maximize your combined firepower and abilities and stay out of each other's way.

Where do we go from here?

You'll discover a few subplots within the adventure if you pay attention.

This guy's name is Judas? And he's supposed to be on my side?

Have a drink on me.

Friends along the way offer valuable advice.

Dungeons are vast and unique; on your first run through, you'll get lost in Rallymaze, overpowered in Cherry Tower, and impressed by Natas. Hell, you'll still be impressed on your tenth run through. Explorer has plenty of area to keep you busy for quite a while. Don't expect to complete the game on your first or second sitting; save games are handled via manageable 10-character passwords.


While the screens shown here should speak for themselves, Explorer's finest asset lies in the music. Generally regarded as the best non-redbook soundtrack on the console, the Explorer soundscape lays to rest any shred of doubt that the TurboGrafx was truly the next generation in console gaming.

You have not truly experienced the spirit of the Turbo until you've played Dungeon Explorer.


Bosses are memorable and just badass in general. You'll encounter over a dozen of these guys by the end of your journey.

KLAX

~ KLAX ~
Tengen
HuCard
1990

My logical brother Alexei tried to reason with me, but I would have none of it: I was going to play KLAX even though I knew it would be a waste of time and a thoroughly dopey thing to do. I wasn't "giving it a fair chance" or anything, as I had complete faith in Alexei's reports of its through-and-through shittiness; but I play everything Turbo. Everything. And I can't receive word of a massive disaster without subsequently rushing out to view the wreckage firsthand.

Well, I went and I saw. And I'm here to tell you that even if you know full well that KLAX is an outright stinker heading in, there's an extremely good chance that it will still find a way to make you despise it to an unanticipated degree. It's a disgustingly awful puzzler that, laughably enough, is considered a "classic" in some circles.


Well, there's your mission. Get to it. KLAX doesn't exactly match Tetris in cleverness of concept.


It has no personality and is every bit as boring as it looks. With annoying cheers and screams in lieu of actual music, the game quickly transitions from dull to irritating.


Wait, did I say it has no personality? My mistake. The background "scenery" does change every few levels. Here we have an exquisite parking lot...


...and here's a forest. Play well and keep advancing and you'll get to see... palette-swapped versions of the early backdrops...


...which isn't much incentive for taking on the game's silly challenges.


But whatever. I honed my "BIG X"-making skills until I earned the right to "warp." I was whisked away to the later levels...


...which provided no relief from the monotony.


Ah, to be back in the days of useless pre-stage "hints." Kinda reminds me of Gauntlet. Speaking of which, Tengen should've granted the Turbo a rendition of Gauntlet. My treasure-hunting cousin Zigfriedelnov and I used to spend hours looking around for the stupid "clues" in the NES version.


Um.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Aldynes

~ ALDYNES ~
Hudson Soft
HuCard (SuperGrafx)
1991

Here's a shooter that excels in lots of different ways. It taps into the mega-power and virility of the SuperGrafx to achieve extraordinary visuals: its bosses are phenomenal giants, and its backgrounds are incredible multilayer scenes flush with detail and alive with all sorts of mechanized activity. Yet, it makes an even greater impression with its audio: while the Aldynes soundtrack doesn't do anything technically abnormal with HuCard instrumentation, it demonstrates that remarkable compositions (such as Stage 2's relentless hard-rock number) can be performed effectively with vintage chip sound quality. And the gameplay follows the lead of the aesthetic elements, thriving on a unique options system that allows you to send your pods out to do their own thing, keep them in close to provide additional standard fire, or have them revolve around your vessel in a defensive posture. Careful, intelligent playing, along with a good bit of trial and error, is the way to survive Aldynes' no-nonsense challenges.

The game seems like a master of all trades, but... well, there are a few caveats that can be tacked on here (actually, the following items don't bother me, but I know there are folks out there who'll complain about them). While the graphics are very detailed and simply amazing in a technical sense, they're also quite dark, with cold steel environs the norm. If you're looking for beautiful sunsets and merry blue skies, find your fun elsewhere. And while you can power up your guns to incredible extremes, they don't scare many of your enemies in their initial forms, which means you'll be in a heck of a lot of trouble if you take a hit late in the game and have to rough out a tough stage from a strength-slashing checkpoint. Nonetheless, even those who demand cheery colors and have no stomach for the game's late-stage perils will likely concede that this is a package awesome in enough areas to warrant a try, if not an immediate purchase.


Most of the bosses are gigantic, but even the smaller ones are more than willing to face you head-on.


The Aldynes weapon set is quite varied and interesting, and each cannon type can be strengthened to a tremendous extreme. A typical spread gun evolves until it's unleashing giant green globes of destruction.


The option craft are even more useful than the mighty weapons. Here, I'm able to ignore an assault from behind and concentrate on clearing a path because my option pod has my back.


Not every piece of your arsenal is quite as essential to survival. You can charge up a frontal shield at the expense of rapid fire, but the barrier doesn't really help much except during a rather pointless sequence where missiles are launched from the background.


Most of the challenges Aldynes presents are anything but pointless, though, with the coolest strip of all being a hazard-laden stretch of magnetic cavern. Before you reach that harrowing area, you'll have to blast through webs of golden rings woven by small spider-like machines.


It's too bad that there aren't many mini-bosses. This particular fellow doesn't do a very good job of concealing himself, though you may be the one looking for cover when he starts chasing after you. The littler guys do their work well and keep the pressure on by firing lots of projectiles and leaping and dashing about like madmen.


One weapon in particular will really come in handy during the final fight.

Friday, August 28, 2009

It Came from the Desert

~ IT CAME FROM THE DESERT ~
Cinemaware / NEC
CD-ROM
1991

This is one of those "special meaning" games for me, as it was the one I bought along with my Turbo CD unit way back in the day. The motorcycle headlights of Desert's title screen flashing on as the song "Sea of Love" kicked in constituted my introduction to CD-based gaming, and I was pretty blown away by it all. Since that time, I've seen Desert get about as much love as its ill-fated FMV sibling Sherlock Holmes--which is to say, not much. In fact, I think the only praise it's ever gotten has come from VideoGames & Computer Entertainment magazine and famous Turbo expert and Duomazov comrade, Keranu McKenna. Well... I agree with VG&CE and Keranu.



Aside from "Sea of Love," the best thing about the game is its extremely (and intentionally) cheesy storyline, which concerns the efforts of giant ants to annihilate the protagonist's hometown and conquer the world. It's great for laughs, especially early on. As the plot advances and more and more characters get turned into bug-manipulated "antdroids," the whole affair becomes surprisingly eerie. And it plays out pretty well through the grainy FMV, though the style can certainly be deemed archaic.



So the story rules, but the action scenes are usually cited as the title's downfall. However, the save-the-antdroid "shooting gallery" mini-game is really rather cool. What's not to like about a veritable bonus round that has you kill insects eating the flesh off helpless screaming victims, all to the tune of appropriately spooky music?



Overhead-view sequences that call for you to seal the ants' lairs aren't unenjoyable, though they play out slowly and don't feel very polished.



The sidescrolling segments are where the game truly falters, as jumping control is nonexistent and it seems at times that the game can have the hard-charging ants kill you at will.



So sluggish controls and lack of polish detract from two of the three action-based parts, and if you don't finish the ants off quickly, those combat scenes will seem mighty repetitive by the time you reach the end of the game. Thankfully, you can kill the ant queen long before the eight-day time limit has elapsed.



Of course, you'll miss some of the coolest plot points if you move that quickly, but chances are you'll experience them anyway while you're getting the hang of how the game works. It's probably not something you'll be able to conquer right off the bat.