GAME REVIEWS

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Super Raiden

~ SUPER RAIDEN ~
Seibu Kaihatsu / Hudson Soft
Super CD-ROM
1992

Raiden veterans will find themselves in familiar territory when they begin playing Super. Actually, just about everything--from the bullet-heavy gameplay to the unimpressive visuals--will seem to be the same.



For this release, however, the game was blessed with a red book soundtrack (which was hardly a given--just ask owners of Altered Beast CD). The instrumentation is excellent, quite reminiscent of Hellfire-S'. Unfortunately, the compositions themselves are far from special with the exceptions of the Stage 2 theme (which is fantastic) and parts of the Level 10 number.

And yes, I did say "Level 10." While the original Raiden is an eight-board affair, Super tacks on two additional stages, a flooded Area 9 and a hard-as-hell final strip.



The concern here isn't with the new stages themselves; in fact, the last level will be appreciated by shoot 'em up experts for its high level of difficulty. The real issue is that Raiden already felt long as it was. Even the best of shooters start to push their luck when they extend beyond a reasonable six or seven stages, and Raiden was never exactly the strongest vertical around to begin with. It takes skill to make it to Level 10 in this game--and it takes incredible fortitude to begin the long journey anew after failing on that level. If you do survive the gauntlet, you'll be rewarded with a new bit of ending... but don't expect much from it.



Super Raiden will be a nice pickup for folks who are already Raiden fans and who'd like to experience the challenge of the new stages and the novelty of playing the game with red book music. For those who haven't yet purchased a PCE Raiden and insist on doing so, my advice is to go with this one, as it's more rewarding and boasts higher-quality audio. And here's one more bit of advice: if you make it to the last boss and you think you've got him beaten, well... you haven't.



So don't let your guard down.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Raiden

~ RAIDEN ~
Seibu Kaihatsu / Hudson Soft / NEC
HuCard
1991

Raiden is much heavier on bullets than most of its 16-bit peers, and it bears a greater resemblance in play style to the manic shooters that came after it than it does to the titles that sat alongside it on store shelves. The formula will feel familiar to bullet-hell vets: make do with your regular guns while taking care of small-fry, and save your bombs for times when you absolutely need them (namely, when something huge comes along and is about to fill the screen with speedy projectiles). You have to use a little strategy and memorize the ways in which the tougher sequences play out. Raiden certainly isn't as wild as many of its descendents, but it's hard and will seem especially so to those "aces" who earned their titles breezing through Compile blasters and the like. For a wretchedly ancient shooter, Raiden is strikingly modern in some respects.

It's also an absolute bore visually. There's a lot of dirt, water, and base-type area to fly over, and things become even more revolting when you soar up into space, where even the asteroids are ugly. Block-shaped tanks and cookie-cutter craft, no matter how large they are or how many bullets they fire, aren't all that much fun to fight, especially over the course of what's a pretty long adventure at eight levels.

It's Raiden's strange lot to be action packed but dull. I'd like to be able to say that being hard and standing out stylistically among Turbo shooters are factors that make it worth playing. However, Tatsujin is rougher and better, and Kyuukyoku Tiger is similar in theme and gameplay style but manages to be a lot more enjoyable. But Raiden is still decent, and if you've tackled those two (along with the many other Gunheds and Soldier Blades that rank higher in PCE shoot 'em up hierarchy) and you're seeking a new challenge, well, here you go.


Raiden doesn't hesitate to let you know exactly what you're in for: lots of bullets and very dull enemies and environments.


Yeah, the action is pretty heavy. But could any of this possibly be blander?


Things don't improve much up in space. Hell, I think I saw these fools back on Earth...


...Yes, yes I did.


All right, here's an enemy I like. The trains that come chugging along in Level 2 are my favorite Raiden foes.


You have only two primary weapons: a spreading vulcan and a concentrated laser. Typical positives and negatives apply.


Things get pretty tough when these craft surround you in the final level. Get by 'em and wreck the last boss so that you can... start all over again.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Loom

~ LOOM ~
LucasArts / TTI
Super CD-ROM
1992

Loom originally appeared on the PC and was quite a success before transitioning to the Turbo's Super CD unit. It's a strange game to say the least, and it certainly isn't for everyone. It's quite reminiscent of Sierra's line of King's Quest episodes, and if you enjoy that type of point-and-click adventure game (as I do), you'll probably be enthralled with this title (as I am).



But be aware that it's slow. Truth be told, Loom can be a relatively tedious affair at times, as the hero walks slowly, the plot unfolds slowly, and the game loads up slowly. Despite all that, it's very short: you probably won't need more than a single afternoon to complete it.



If you decide you can live with its pacing and length, Loom will have you assume the role of Bobbin Threadbare, a weaver who plays patterns of musical notes on his distaff to make incredible things happen. He sets off to find the other weavers (who have all been turned into swans, of course)...



...and along the way he meets plenty of interesting folks from the Glassmakers, Shepherds, Blacksmiths and Clerics guilds.



Eventually, he stumbles upon an evil plot that the Clerics are devising and gets himself into a ton of trouble.



Loom won't deliver much action, but it will keep most players entertained. Bobbin eventually gains many powers, including the abilities to change straw into gold, see in the dark, alter the colors of objects, turn invisible, and strike fear into the hearts of living things; and experimenting with the various drafts will lead to some truly hilarious moments.



Loom is a fabulously funny game; Bobbin is a witty, cynical young lad who isn't afraid to crack distasteful jokes or tell off the most powerful of villains. The wacky people and creatures he encounters during his quest provide plenty of laughs as well.


"Ahem."

Loom boasts solid aesthetics to accompany its wonderful sense of humor. As you would expect in a game that places so much importance on sound, the music is brilliant. Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake composition possesses a leisurely, ethereal quality that adds to the majestic feeling of the game. And while none of the character sprites exhibit much detail, the background graphics are often very well drawn and look like simple-but-cool paintings.



There's little doubt that Loom's slow gameplay will drive some people out of their minds. But if you're patient with the title, it'll probably keep you very entertained with its clever sarcasm and charismatic cast while really making you think.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

BoxyBoy

~ BOXYBOY ~
Media Rings / Thinking Rabbit / NEC
HuCard
1990

BoxyBoy grants you the opportunity to visit some of the world's greatest nations, like Egypt, Japan, and, uh, "SOUTHPOLE." Once you arrive in a particular country, you get to CHALLENGE it...



...which basically means you'll have to shove a bunch of boxes onto a bunch of dots.


And that's all there is to it. Some boards (not many) are easy; some are ridiculously difficult. Some are small, while others are so large that they comprise multiple screens. The game is somewhat helpful and forgiving: you can rewind your actions and bring up a faraway-view map screen to get a better idea of the big picture.



You may hammer away at these simple-in-concept puzzles for 250 rounds if you like. Sadly, unless this boxy brand of conundrum is really up your alley, you'll likely find the adventure too uninteresting and repetitive to stick with for more than just a couple dozen levels. Even if you enjoy other puzzlers that involve shoving shit around, chances are you won't find BB particularly appealing, as the ones you've already experienced probably do much better jobs of keeping players interested. Old Adventures of Lolo for NES basically boils down to pushing stuff, but it features a likable hero and plenty of hostile creatures for him to deal with (and even equips him with the means of putting those creatures to use in the puzzle solving). The Turbo's very own Tricky Kick isn't as complex as Lolo, but it succeeds thanks to cool level themes and appealing characters who have their own unique storylines that are relayed via opening and closing cinemas. To be fair, BoxyBoy does periodically present congratulatory cinematic screens...



...but we're hardly talking the sort of stuff that'll motivate a player to persevere through a multitude of tough levels. Now, if BoxyBoy were, like, my only TurboGrafx game, I suppose I could see myself spending hours and hours on its most challenging boards and eventually developing a fondness for the title. Solving a hellish room layout does feel awfully good...



...but maybe that awesome feeling is really just attributable to relief. And for some reason I doubt that there are many people in that unenviable BB-only position, so few will have reason to play the game for very long, as the system's library offers so many more-attractive alternatives. Like Gate of Thunder. Or Rondo of Blood. Or Tricky Kick.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Exile

~ EXILE ~
Renovation / Telenet / Working Designs (US)
CD-ROM
1992 (JPN: 1991)

Exile is a decent action-RPG; it might even look like a good one from afar. After all, it does feature a badass protagonist in the callous assassin Sadler...



...and many of the monsters he slays during the game's sidescrolling action sequences look pretty darn cool.



The music is very good, and the story is fairly interesting, so even the overhead-view "talk to people" scenes are often entertaining.



Unfortunately, the game is extremely short and ridiculously easy. None of the bosses came even remotely close to doing significant damage to me. I never used any items, nor did I cast any spells except for Warp to save myself some travel time (in the Japanese version, that is; Working Designs chose to leave that particular incantation out of the US game). In light of the lack of challenge, I guess it's a blessing that the journey is a brief one; during the final stretch, I just wanted the whole thing to end. Since I knew I wasn't going to face any sort of challenge and the designers didn't provide anything particularly interesting in the way of level designs or puzzles, it all started to seem rather pointless. Vic Ireland and company did buff up the monsters for the US release, but not to the absurd Wicked Phenomenon extent, and the poor creatures still can't put up much of a fight.



The only real difference WD's "efforts" made is that some of the still-easy bosses take a lot longer to kill (especially the last fool).



If you don't think you'll mind the ridiculously low level of difficulty, then you'll likely find that Exile plays well enough, but it's certainly not in the same league as some other titles that take similar approaches, like The Legend of Xanadu and Blood Gear.