Saturday, January 30, 2010

Drop Off

Data East / NEC

I've always hated Breakout and most of its many imitators. The only title along those lines I'd ever enjoyed was an ancient LCD handheld game called Spitball Sparky, which stars a likable Q*bert-like character and plays better than its "paddle"-featuring peers. Of course, I haven't had the pleasure of giving SS a go since I was about seven years old; if it's actually crap and my memories are horribly distorted by nostalgia, well, I'm none the wiser. And this didn't bode well for Drop Off: I'm inclined to despise its ilk to begin with, and there wasn't any chance it could compete with the masterpiece that I recall Spitball Sparky being. With things looking grim, DO actually brought a quick smile to my face with its opening cinematics, which can boast of very cool music accompanying very goofy text that relays a "go inside a mind" plot reminiscent of Psychosis'.

The weaving of this intriguing tale continues with melodramatic text-based intermissions. It's funny... the original PCE version features mangled English during these scenes, so whoever localized the title decided to fix that... but still came up with gibberish.

The story-related stuff is certainly entertaining, but then there's the game itself. Well, let's try to cover this quickly. You control a blue thing and destroy objects with a ball. You can "open up" your blue thing to deflect the ball at sharper angles. There are plenty of different objects to obliterate, including apples, crystals, eyeballs, and amoebas. If you hit the right spot in a chain and break off a bunch of objects at once, you're rewarded with bonus points. The "interesting" thing is that the chains of objects gradually descend. This is no Space Invaders; you don't have to annihilate every link to finish a round. You just have to hang in there until the chains have fully descended. But if an object touches your blue thing, you die. And if the ball bashes its way through the floor, you die. You can repel the chains a limited number of times to create a little breathing room, and a steamroller-type thing occasionally shows up to perform floor repair.

That's about all there is to the affair, aside from the occasional instance of silliness.

Drop Off is not excellent. It's not based on a wonderful concept, and it isn't executed particularly well. In fact, it's often said to be a disaster. Well, even though I was predisposed to hate it, I really can't say that I do. It gets kind of intense, I suppose, when objects come down and crowd the deflector. The nice music makes me want to like the game, as does the amusing story. I came in expecting about a billion levels, but there are only sixteen, which is just fine. And DO does have something that even Spitball Sparky doesn't: a final boss.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cyber Core


I think it's absolutely ridiculous that this extremely entertaining insect-centric shooter is often compared to the wretched clunker Dragon Spirit. The respective control setups are similar, as each grants you a main weapon with which you can take out aerial foes and "bombs" so that you can deal with enemies on the ground, but that's where the similarities end. Cyber Core is faster and offers much more action than Namco's title; it really is one of the "busiest" chip shooters, while crappy DS simply plods along. Delightful, upbeat melodies and a lovable cast of big-bosses and mini-bosses contribute to CC's irresistible charm. Veteran players will have little trouble beating the game, but its fast-paced action gives it good replay value.

It's unfortunate that most of the backgrounds aren't very appealing, but CC thrives on speed and onscreen activity, so its visual shortcomings are hardly devastating.

Most of the midbosses actually do look pretty cool, and they're lots of fun to fight, especially the enormous mosquito who wields a mighty sword of a proboscis and the gargantuan moth who plops himself onto the playfield.

Some of the bosses really make you work. You'll have to sneak through a barrage of projectiles and smaller vermin to make precise bomb strikes on the massive spider. The final boss, on the other hand, gives up after taking just a few seconds' worth of direct hits from powered-up weaponry.

Speaking of weaponry, four different devastators are at your disposal and can be strengthened to remarkable extremes (if you're willing to accept an expanded hitbox). If you power up the mighty blue "pinwheel," you'll find yourself flying freely for most of the adventure. The defense-oriented green shot had the most promise, as it unleashes sickles capable of eliminating any sort of enemy-emitted projectile, but CC gives us little reason to play with a conservative game plan.

Look down at Stage 2's desecrated city to see a line of funny little beetles scampering down the road. The game employs more-serious enemy designs later on.

It isn't until the very last level that it gets at all challenging, though. Those small blue pests are incredibly fast and actually pose more of a threat than do their daunting one-eyed allies.

If you’re an experienced shooter player, you'll reach the end of Cyber Core quickly and with a healthy number of lives in tow. The game doesn’t feel easy while you’re actually playing it, though, as it gives you plenty of insects and bullets to be concerned with. Perhaps you'll finish it the first time you power it up, but you’ll probably return to it the very next day... and have yourself a blast once again.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Addams Family

ICOM Simulations / NEC

I didn't like the "classic" Addams Family television show, nor did I enjoy the "hit" movie NEC intended to cash in on here, so as you might imagine, I wasn't exactly dying to play this game. Still, I was a bit--and I really do mean a bit--interested in the title because ICOM went in such an unusual direction with it. Umbrella-wielding Tully Alford is hardly a dream hero, but as I fully expected to play as the "good-guy" Addamses, the unlikely protagonist was a pleasant surprise. And since some of my favorite games are ambitious sidescrolling adventures that shun the idea of level-by-level progression, I'm always interested in giving new ones a try. Indeed, exploring the hallways (and dungeons and caverns and torture chambers) of the Addamses' mansion can be quite enjoyable, as you never know what sorts of freaks you'll run into.

Some areas and characters look better than others, but the graphics hold up pretty well aside from a few bland side-rooms and botched sprites, and the designers clearly tried to inject as much variety as they could into what's essentially a single-structure adventure.

As you make your way through the mansion, you'll inevitably run into the Addamses themselves. Some of the battles that take place are quite fun to partake in thanks to the methods of attack employed by your bizarre hosts: young Wednesday tries to bludgeon you with an enchanted NES, while her off-kilter old man elects to go the sword-fighting route.

Just as there's variety in the location designs and boss fights, there's variety in the methods of travel available to you. A ferry is your ticket to a duel with Uncle Fester, while the Addams family locomotive can help you reach treasures resting on high-up platforms.

Sadly, not much use was made of the Turbo CD's capabilities aside from inclusion of the Addams Family theme song and some digitized images.

And that's not all there is to find fault with here. Sure, it's fun to peek around the strange old mansion, but I wish we were given some cool puzzles to solve while poking about. All we get along those lines are spots that require us to figure out (via trial and error) which door of many is the right one to open. And speaking of "the right door," should you select a "wrong" one, you might find yourself hurled back to a point much earlier in the adventure, which can be extremely irritating (to say the least). Still, if you can live with some frustrating times, you might find the game to be surprisingly enjoyable, as I did.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bikkuriman World

Hudson Soft

Well, thank goodness things got a hell of a lot better with Dragon's Curse.

That's what I was thinking a few levels into Bikkuriman World, an aged and seemingly decrepit chip title that was showing its revolting wrinkles at every "cartoonish" turn and having me play as a dopey-looking, poorly dressed Chubby Cherub wannabe.

I expected the forerunner of Dragon's Curse and Dynastic Hero to let me do some exploring, but aside from the damnable labyrinth that is the final board, Bikkuriman's rounds are pretty straightforward. Maybe we should be thankful for that, as the game imposes time limits and urges us to race from checkpoint to checkpoint (an unnecessary leftover arcade element). Yes, there are secrets to uncover, but they mostly involve jumping and stumbling about to happen upon hidden coins and shop entrances.

Being that it fails to provide players with the opportunity to partake in true adventuring, Bikkuriman has to rely heavily on "hack-and-slash" gameplay, an element that has never been the series's forte, even when it hit its stride with DC. There's no such thing as "attack range" in these games, and the goofy star of this particular episode begins his quest as a slow, feeble pushover. Early on, you'll definitely wonder how you'll ever avoid suffering severe thrashings at the hands of certain stern bosses when you're charged with guiding such an inept "warrior."

The funny thing is, despite all my early head shaking and skepticism, I eventually started to enjoy the game. Finding hidden loot stashes becomes a lot of fun once you realize just how important it is that you earn cash quickly. And even after you've obtained that dough, you can't just barge into a shop and empty out your pockets without doing a bit of thinking; you've gotta spend your money wisely in order to keep the poor Cherub-like fellow healthy and strong.

Once you figure out how to make good cash (and allocate it well), you can have a lot more fun with the action itself. Acquire some quality equipment and watch as the formerly meek lad evolves into a speedy, fearless powerhouse! Well, I'm exaggerating there, but he does develop into a more competent fighter as you yourself get better at managing your money and gear. He even starts to resemble an honest-to-goodness video-game hero after a while!

Bosses that seemed horribly unfair the first few times you faced them are suddenly no match for your skill and the naked-no-more warrior's might!

And so Bikkuriman World ends up being not only playable but also rewarding and fun. Would you believe me if I were to tell you I prefer it to Dynastic Hero? Well, I sure do.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shockman (Schbibin Man 2)


Schbibin Man 2 retains the charge-up method of attack featured in its predecessor but ditches swordplay in favor of MegaManish run-and-shoot action. Indeed, that this is a PCE game so prominently featuring the MM style (the resemblance goes beyond basic combat elements) makes it a novelty unto itself...

...but its many huge bosses are hardly clones of the midget men fought by the old blue bomber.

There are even some sidescrolling shooter stages included, and while they feel a little sloppy, they do play well enough to serve as satisfying, nice-looking change-of-pace boards.

The visuals are nice throughout the game, in fact, though some areas are prettier and less repetitive in backdrop design and foreground layout than others. The music is good, as per the norm for this series. But the best part of all might be the fairly high level of difficulty. The game gets quite tough as you near its conclusion and definitely provides those who conquer its challenges with a well-deserved feeling of accomplishment.

I certainly like all of that stuff. What I don't like very much is the floaty gameplay. Sure, Schbibin 2 plays better than its forerunner, but it still leaves plenty of room for improvement, and you might find yourself frustrated while attempting to get through tight parts that call for careful advancement.

Despite its gameplay issues, Schbibin Man 2 earns a spot amongst the recommendable PCE action games. It's hardly extraordinary, but one can see in it signs of creative potential, the origins of ingenious ideas that were eventually realized in the brilliant Schbibin Man 3.