Friday, October 30, 2009

Final Lap Twin

Namco / NEC

I wrote this racer off when it first came out because it had received some pretty low scores in Electronic Gaming Monthly (stupid of me, I know) and I'd already bought Victory Run for my driving fix. Thank goodness a friend of mine ignored the magazine balderdash and went ahead and purchased the chip. I tried it out at his house and was hooked as soon as I started a game up in the RPG mode. Yes, rather than have me speed around in circles interminably, FLT defied driver tradition and presented a full-fledged, races-based journey to undertake. What a novel idea for a racing game! And hell, it played pretty damn well and featured some good tunes too. So, of course, I immediately went out and acquired it, and I've played through the adventure a number of times in the years that have passed since then. FLT is a game that all Turbo enthusiasts should try--I have yet to run into someone who doesn't dig the quest mode.

FLT's RPG land is actually pretty fun to explore. Do a little searching and you can find quite a few hidden items and secret messages.

Random "battles" are one-on-one, single-lap race-offs...

...while boss confrontations are huge, multi-lap spectacles.

Your car eventually gets cursed, which causes it (and apparently every other vehicle in the land) to shrink.

Maxed-out ratings are nice, and acquiring the secret parts is essential, but if you don't track down the mysterious "Mr. Minute" for a last-second upgrade...

...then this guy will annihilate you.

Completing the quest doesn't have to mean you're done with the game. The regular racing modes can provide lots of additional enjoyment, especially if you play with a buddy, record your best times, and go for new records.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

World Court Tennis

Namco / NEC

Final Lap Twin endeared itself to Turbo players with its innovative RPG mode, but a big reason it was such a success is that its driving engine was solid to begin with. It plays great as a racer and would've been received well even if its designers hadn't put together a cool adventure to make the whole package even stronger. World Court Tennis, on the other hand, does not fare well at all with its basic sports action. The large-headed, stupid-looking players run so slowly and swing so meekly that you'll wonder if they've ever set foot on a court or picked up a racket before. But WCT's designers weren't content with building a throwaway standard mode; they had to go ahead and bomb with all the questing elements they incorporated as well.

Unlike Final Lap's, WCT's core gameplay is shit, failing even to come close to Davis Cup's or Final Match's. It goes completely to hell when you're forced to switch sides and play at the top. Good luck returning the ball.

The presentation elements are revolting 8-bit-caliber trash, and it seems like the designers didn't even give a damn about the "adventuring," as there's little to do but plod from town to tennis court to town to tennis court. You do eventually get an inner tube to flounder about the "vast" seas... in case that sounds like fun.

The townsfolk spew the simplest, stupidest BS I've ever encountered in anything remotely resembling an RPG. Not that there's much for them to clue you in on in this simple tale.

Oh, there are some secrets to stumble upon... not that they're of the helpful sort.

Make it to the end and you'll get to face the evil tennis king, who is apparently the devil, who is apparently a goofy green guy.

Even the NPCs know that you should be playing Final Lap instead of this garbage. In fact, this is the one useful bit of information you'll receive during your quest.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ys III: Wanderers from Ys

Falcom / Hudson Soft / NEC

I bought a TG-16 as soon as the console hit the market in 1989, but it wasn't until early '92 that I finally acquired a Turbo CD unit. By that point, it was darn near impossible to find a copy of Ys Book I & II on store shelves, so III was the first episode of the series that I purchased and played through (though I did manage to obtain I & II a couple of months later). I'm glad it worked out that way. The rap on III at the time was that it was a pretty solid sidescrolling adventure title but a hefty disappointment in the wake of its predecessor's magnificence. Since it was my first Ys game, I didn't have to worry about it letting me down in that respect, and I was able to derive enjoyment from it based on its own mettle. And enjoy it I did (and still do).

These days, people don't complain nearly as much about its "inadequacy" as a sequel as they do about its atrociously rough multilayer scrolling. I did indeed find the first town's choppiness-afflicted backdrop disconcerting when my adventure commenced, and perhaps due to unpleasant memories of that initial experience, I still note the unattractiveness of the strip each time I start up a new game. But the faulty scrolling isn't something I pay any mind to as I proceed with my quest. In fact, I think the game looks pretty darn good, as it features lots of very cool, very nice-looking backdrops.

Some of the visual highlights come towards the end of the adventure. I've always dug the view of the climb up the circular stairway that Adol takes to Demonicus' den and the theatrics of the wall-bursting, stone-busting final confrontation.

And the music rocks, plain and simple. It doesn't offer the sort of variety that can be found in I & II's soundtrack, but if you dig exciting, up-tempo tunes that feature some good, crunchy riffs, you'll like what what III delivers. I especially love the dark, dirty breakdown that follows the awesome guitar solo in the Tigre Mines track. But one of the best tunes in the game actually isn't a rock number; it's the enchanting melody that plays at the "Beginning/Continue" screen.

The great music augments solid, fast-paced gameplay. Many adventure games that are viewed from the side for their durations or feature sidescrolling action portions get away with combat that's merely passable thanks to their overall packages including sweet visuals and/or well-conceived questing elements. But Ys III actually gives us hack-and-slash action that would be satisfying even if evaluated on its own. It's a blast to hold down button II and have Adol charge forward and tear apart everything in his path like some vicious madman.

The cool music, cool combat, and, yes, cool visuals make Ys III a definite winner, but I do have some complaints to make about it. I'll get the "short and easy" spiel out of the way first. Actually, I don't really mind the easiness all that much, but while some of the bosses (such as the volcano dragon) are fairly cool...

...others are just lame, especially the anomalous thing that's stuck to a cave wall...

...and then there are a few who don't do much of anything at all.

As for the lack of length, I didn't expect an epic adventure coming in, but a single evening is about all it takes to get through the whole thing, and that's just not enough for a quest game that's devoid of challenge to begin with. Levels that are less straightforward would've been nice and might've offset the issue of brevity. As it is, even when some "tricky" elements are included in the stage design, it's always quite clear where you must go and what you have to do to get there.

And I think people should complain more about the horrid voice acting than about the scrolling. NEC recruited an all-star cast of voice actors for Book I & II but opted not to go that route for III, and the actors they did go with delivered horrible performances. The only one I don't mind is Chester's, but that's because tragic antagonist Chester is an extremely goofy and awkward fellow and the VA who voiced the lad has goofy and awkward down pat--seemingly thanks to his own real-life aspects. Elena is supposed to be a sweet, endearing, "eyes closed as she prays for Adol's safe return" type...

...but her VA did such a terrible job that I don't find her to be an appealing character in the slightest. And I have to cringe when the Dogi VA administers a lecture on being a true warrior.

Dogi's downfall is attributable in part to mediocre writing, which brings us to another thing I don't particularly like about this episode: the rampant silliness of the script. A few of the dumbest bits are amusing, but such material never would've snuck its way into the dramatic context of I & II. It's not that I don't like it when sequels change things up by moving in a less-serious direction--hell, I dig Final Fantasy X-2--but dopey scripting has no place in an Ys game if you ask me. At the very least, the writers could've spared Adol his part in the foolishness. I much prefer the cool, aloof man-of-few-words in I & II to the garrulous, insecure dumbass featured here.

But the action and the aesthetics are the reasons to play this game, and my complaints are minor when viewed in light of the title's virtues.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Strip Fighter II

Games Express - 1994 - Japan

Inspired by my brother IvaNEC's recent coverage of fighting games on the Turbo, I decided I'd follow his lead and do up a little review on the infamous Strip Fighter II.

Contrary to the implications of the name, Strip Fighter II is not a sequel to anything. Rather, it's a fairly blatant clone of Street Fighter II, released during the height of the SF2 craze. Only, there's a twist: all the fighters are female, and you are treated to digitized photographs of naked women after winning a match. And win you will.

As far as fighters on the console go, Strip Fighter II is fairly middle-of-the-road. Control is a bit stiff, but far from the atrociousness of the original Street Fighter (Fighting Street). It's also a far cry from the smooth-as-butter manipulation of avatars in Kabuki Ittouryoudan.

Visually speaking Strip Fighter II really shines, and I don't say that because of my predilection for naked women. It actually brings competent stage design to the table, somewhat surprising for a game many write off as a mere novelty. You'll find colorful and lush scenery here, as well as character design that's not half bad. The stage floors even line scroll for a correct aspect! Music isn't bad, but hardly memorable.

More than anything else, it's the "reward" photos of naked women that really date the game. Be prepared for cheesy late 80s/early 90s hairstyles and pixelated bush. On the other hand, what better way to fit in with classic TurboGrafx kitsch?

Special moves are executed via your standard Street Fighter II button combos, which isn't really surprising for a product of the era. Like its big "brother," you are much better off playing Strip Fighter II with a 6 button pad or stick as opposed to a 2 button controller. Unfortunately, even with a 6 button pad Strip Fighter II plays a bit too clunky for it to rank with the best. Despite the unresponsive controls, Strip Fighter is ridiculously easy and you shouldn't have much trouble clearing the game with all 6 characters.

It's the unbalanced nature of the game and the aforementioned shortcomings that ultimately motivate most people to pass over it in favor of one of the more "traditional" fighters. Pick it up if you like fighters and you see it for a reasonable price, you'll get at least an afternoon or two's worth of enjoyment out of it. You might even come back to it from time to time. I'll freely admit it's a guilty pleasure of mine.

A few of the "beauties" you'll get to disrobe by achieving victory.

Samurai Ghost (Genpei Toumaden Kannoni)


Typically inspired by mention of China Warrior, we Turbo fans love to share our thoughts on games that feature big, goofy, clumsy characters. Kitsch classic Sword of Sodan is immediately credited as the pack's most amusing disaster, and then discussion turns towards the genuinely positive, which is usually when Samurai Ghost is alluded to. I expected SG to be clunky, of course, but I also counted on it being Sodan-ish enough to endear itself to me despite inadequate hack-and-slash gameplay. To my surprise, SG actually has so much more to offer than delight steeped in kitsch. It isn't something to laugh at after all.

I knew about the huge sprites coming in, and the game certainly didn't disappoint in that regard, but I didn't anticipate gorgeous, parallax-heavy backgrounds. These are some extremely impressive chip graphics.

The music is also good stuff, and it seems immensely appropriate for the bizarre events that unfold. In fact, the "samurai in a demon world" theme is very cool in general. And I expected the level design to be rather flat (a la most of Sodan), but there are some tricky platforming segments and environmental hazards to contend with, so there's definitely more to the stage action than charging and hacking.

The enemies are quite interesting in design, and many of them utilize nifty defense tactics and evasive maneuvers.

The bosses in particular require thought and pattern recognition on the player's part. And just to add to the general coolness, one of them kills himself after suffering defeat at your hands. (So devoted to his cause is this great warrior that he sometimes comes back during the boss gauntlet at the end of the game--and he kills himself after that fight as well!)

That's a lot of good, but there's some bad too, and the "bad" is pretty significant. While it certainly plays better than its awful predecessor, Genpei Toumaden, SG still doesn't control very well, so you can get stuck in some awkward situations: enemies (often along with spikes or lava or poisonous terrain/objects) may drain your vitality in mere moments as you bounce/blunder about in a spot that the clunky controls landed you in. While the stages themselves are well designed, the controls don't provide you with the means to succeed without a struggle.

I forgive SG for its gameplay woes, but the frustration factor might turn others off from it. I still say give it a chance. Enjoy the fine graphics if nothing else.