GAME REVIEWS

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ryuukyuu

~ RYUUKYUU ~
Face / ASCII Corporation
HuCard
1990

Ryuukyuu is a "well puzzler" that has you manipulate playing cards as opposed to blocks, blobs, or gemstones. You drop each tile when you're ready; there isn't a one-after-another downpour a la Tetris (though you can play with a time limit for extra challenge). Rack up points by putting together winning poker hands.



I'm not a big poker-game fan, but I got some mild enjoyment out of Ryuukyuu anyway. Its unexpected success in this regard was in no way due to the ghastly girl images it "rewarded" me with.



No, I think it had more to do with the strategy involved in managing a bunch of different poker hands at once. Even with the block-drops taking place at my command and without the timer ticking, Ryuukyuu has a frantic feel about it because of all the different rows being built and combinations coming together at once.

Frantic is cool, but frustrating is not. And Ryuukyuu can be a frustrating affair, as outcomes often boil down to luck no matter how astute the player is, and the point-total requirements in later stages are set ridiculously high. Find yourself stuck on a board and the initially cool music can gradually become irritating. It's fortunate, then, that the game offers multiple tunes for you to select from and that conquering a difficult stage evokes a wonderful sense of accomplishment.



It's unlikely that Ryuukyuu will make anyone forget about Tetris or Puyo Puyo, but it does rank with the likes of Spin Pair as a decent, worthwhile member of the genre. You might even think it's great if you're into poker.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hany in the Sky

~ HANY IN THE SKY ~
Face
HuCard
1989

"Innovation is recipe for disaster. Must I cite Star Ocean 2?"

So said Duomazov ally Robanovich during a debate about something or other many years ago. My usually well-informed comrade obviously misspoke, as SO2 is one of the greatest games ever, but had he subbed Hany in the Sky in there for it, he probably would've won his case hands down.

Hany is practically overloaded with "innovative stuff." It's a vertical shooter, but instead of piloting a craft, you control a, uh, whatever the fuck that cucumber-like thing is and rotate his arms to determine the direction his shots take.



Face's innovative measures didn't stop there. You'll arrive at forks in the road in certain stages; some paths lead to upgrades while others simply transport you a ways back. Once you've conquered a given level, you can warp right back to it if you'd like to explore it further in the hopes of finding more good stuff. The locations are typically dark, strange places with weird symbols sketched into the terrain and a variety of odd creatures patrolling the grounds.



Your oddball foes can put up a fairly good fight. To aid you in countering their assaults, the game lets you halt the action and access an upgrade/restoration "shop" pretty much whenever you want.



That's all kind of interesting, but it comes together to form an absolute mess of a shooter. There are reasons most companies don't try crap like this. The rotation system is cumbersome and ends up being a source of extreme annoyance late in the game, when you encounter enemies who are fast and robust. And constant pausing (as will be necessary during the final stretch, when you'll need to purchase life replenishers over and over again) only serves to stunt the already unsatisfying action.



The level designs wind up being huge negatives, as they frequently force the player to revisit previously traveled strips in blind hopes of "finding the right path." And Face's good intentions thematically come to naught, as the visuals are drab and dull all too often. There are way too many nondescript sprites and way too much empty black space.



There certainly aren't many other blasters like Hany in the Sky in the PCE library, and while this is something to be thankful for, the game's uniqueness at least makes it somewhat interesting, and there are some folks out there to whom it'll appeal.

Not many, though.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Aoi Blink (Blue Blink)

~ BLUE BLINK ~
Hudson Soft / NHK Enterprise
HuCard
1990

Blue Blink doesn't merely fall in line with other cartoony platformers from the 16-bit era, and you won't have to look far to find the one element that most serves to make it stand out. Rather than assuming the role of a solitary goofball, you control a band of three yahoos (automatically selected from a party of five for each level). The leader at a given time determines the leaping ability possessed and the type of shot employed by the entire group. While I at once found the concept intriguing, I wasn't immediately pleased with how it's executed, as switching out leaders requires you to stop whatever you're doing in the midst of battle and cycle through candidates via the Select trigger. And with each character being deficient in some way (for the sake of distinction within the group), I wasn't sure I'd ever really take a liking to any of them. But before long I came to appreciate the unique attributes of each flawed hero, from the boomerang-tossing crook to the high-jumping princess.



You won't proceed in the traditional stage-by-stage manner in Blue Blink. There are five realms for you to explore, and each one contains a number of secret-laden sub-levels, most of which aren't accessible right off the bat. You'll have to find a special key to gain access to the lair of a land's leader, and there are plenty of other goodies to nab as you hunt.



Once you do unlock the portal to a boss's den, the head honcho of your little fellowship will hop atop his trusty blue steed for a showdown with a giant (or two). These encounters are the only instances when the action is at all challenging.



Blue Blink's parallax-devoid visuals don't quite rise to the level of excellence that its Shinichi Sakamoto-composed soundtrack attains, but in their simplicity, they do a fine job of complementing the straightforward gameplay.



It wouldn't be absurd to mention BB during a discussion about elite HuCards; it's a hell of a lot of fun to play and has plenty of neat things going for it. But it falls just short of being special in my view, as I can't help but ponder what it might have been with vast Mario World-type stages as opposed to linear strips that call for you simply to shoot anywhere and everywhere to uncover the essential secrets. So greatness eludes BB, but that it even warrants consideration for admittance to such company speaks volumes, and it's certainly worth a play if you're at all into platformers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

P-47

~ P-47 ~
AiCOM
HuCard
1989

P-47 is not a particularly wonderful game, but there are plenty of positive things that can be said about it. Heading up my "good stuff" list is the soundtrack, which predominantly aims for melody but isn't afraid to veer off into abstractness and is highlighted by a couple of very frantic boss tracks. The background graphics hold up their end of the aesthetic bargain by bolstering most strips with nice light colors and boasting lots of multilayer scrolling. That solid artwork depicts a wide variety of environments, and while it's anyone's guess why two "big boat" levels were considered necessary, it's fun to fly over deserts, cities, and oceans, and to soar way up high in cloudy skies past the setting sun, all in a single journey.



Of course, this is a shoot 'em up, and there's no number of pleasant tunes or pretty sky scenes that could offset lackluster action in a shoot 'em up. Well, P-47 doesn't come up short where enemies to blast and shots to avoid are concerned. In fact, it even features a few "Deep Blue moments," as I lovingly refer to the helter-skelter stretches where the bad guys seem to hurl everything they've got at you, making for veritable festivals of violence.



Sadly, being that the enemies are mostly small, humdrum tanks and aircraft, they're just not all that much fun to fight. These poor, uninspired old clunkers have very few options at their disposal in battle: nearly all of them fire either single fast shots (memorize when these guys are gonna show up or you'll get picked off in a flash) or spreading bullets (which can be irritatingly tough to avoid due to your plane's wide hitbox).

Your own weapons are unimpressive visually and feel horribly, horribly weak, making them no fun at all to wield. You can pound away at larger foes for eons without any clear, visible sign that you're actually doing damage to them. It's often best just to keep your distance from the bosses, as most of 'em depart on their own after a while.



P-47 is at its best when it's sending multitudes of speedy enemies your way. Unfortunately, it often prefers to slow things down and place you in frustrating, drawn-out sessions of "chip away at a big machine." I can say I'm glad I spent a few bucks on the game just for its music, but I suspect that that one "significant" positive element does more for me than it will for others. This is not a title to avoid at all costs, but it's not one that I can go ahead and recommend, either.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dynastic Hero

~ DYNASTIC HERO ~
Westone / Hudson Soft
Super CD-ROM
1993

Mechanically, Dynastic Hero is quite reminiscent of its excellent predecessor, Dragon's Curse. But while DC has players scale walls as Mouse Man, soar about as Hawk Man, and do all sorts of other crazy things as other sorts of beast men, all throughout a well-designed realm, DH limits them to the form of sword-swinging goofball for the duration of its quest. Not that every sidescrolling adventure game needs a protagonist capable of shape shifting, but so much of what players do in DH--from trekking through uncomplicated tunnel networks to swimming through underground waterways and slipping around ice worlds--feels all too routine, and plenty of strips are not only dull but also drab.



In lieu of DC's Altered Beast type of twist, DH features munchkin-sized NPCs who follow you around and help out in their own distinct ways: a fairy restores life, a Bamm-Bamm sort smashes through walls, and a bee kid spears your foes. This is all right for what it's worth, though if you ask me, transforming into a fire-breathing lizard man is undeniably cooler than having a small snot-nosed sidekick. DH's sole "transformation" element is incorporated late in the game; the hero shrinks down to a micronized variant of the goofball he already was--meaning his already-unimpressive attack range becomes even more limited.



Despite the frivolousness of the late-stage transformation, the second half of the game is generally superior to the first, as the action heats up a bit, the visuals brighten up for stretches, and the stages become more intricate (of particular note is a pyramid hosting ropes, switches, spikes, conveyor belts, and lots of clever enemies).



Those visuals never really seem to reach their potential, though. Parallax would've worked wonders for a snowy scene that could've come off as a beautiful winter wonderland had it some depth and additional detail to it. As it is, it's pretty, but flat.



The bosses do look cool for the most part, and battles with them are usually interesting thanks to their attack types and lair layouts, though not a single one is stout enough to be memorable.



While consistency eludes the visuals, DH's audio manages to hold up pretty well from start to finish, though those who are planning to spend a fortune to obtain the US release should be made aware that the JPN disc features a much nicer opening song.

And if you're wondering if being proficient in Japanese is essential for getting through the JPN version, well, you shouldn't have much to worry about. Find a decent Wonder Boy in Monster World FAQ and you'll be set--save for a round of quiz questions with a giant sphinx. But even then, a little trial and error will get you through the day, and the merciful beast does grant you a little leeway.



DH is a decent action-quest game worth the low cost the JPN version can be acquired for. Don't expect a product that matches the all-around quality of DC, however.


They must be talking about Dragon's Curse.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Power Eleven

~ POWER ELEVEN ~
Hudson Soft
HuCard
1991

I figured that Power Eleven would be a good title to "get out of the way" as soon as possible, as I didn't think that it'd be much fun or that there's anyone else in the world who actually cares about it. Its relatively stylish title screen ("stylish" considering this is an old soccer game) failed to get me pumped up for play, and limited visuals and an initially off-putting overhead view did nothing to win my approval. But once I finally got a match going, I discovered that PE is a very fast (and, at times, very exciting) sports title.

It plays extremely well: on offense, your speedy strikers are capable of hard, accurate shots and nifty one-timers, while the controls on defense allow you to make sliding steals and quick, easy alternations among backs. At-will speed bursts take the already-breakneck pace to an even more invigorating level. And the players you aren't controlling at a given time make wise decisions in aid of the cause, crashing the net in anticipation of rebounds and moving into perfect position to receive passes. Passing, unfortunately, comes off as unpolished (the one element that does), as players suddenly seem a little stiff when attempting to send the ball in a direction other than the one they're already moving in.

Power Eleven went from being a game I thought I'd just want to plow through to one I found myself powering up whenever I had a few minutes to spare. It was quite a surprise, leagues beyond the cookie-cutter soccer oldie I'd pegged it as, and it's definitely a title that sports-game fans should check out.


You probably can guess which team I used in my pursuit of the Hudson Cup.


I like to go with a formation that emphasizes offense, and it's fun to rack up dozens of goals on the game's shittier teams; but make it to the later rounds and you'll face clubs that invade your zone much more frequently, necessitating responsible defensive play on your part.


The overhead-view graphics aren't nearly as nice as Tecmo World Cup Super Soccer's in-game visuals, but I'll take PE's superior gameplay anytime.


Penalty kicks have an interesting and unusual look, as they place you behind the goalie instead of behind the kicker.


It's easy to beat the computer down the field and break free for open shots in the early rounds. One-timers become very important later on when you encounter speedier goalies and stingier defense groups.


The halftime shows and post-game reports are nothing special, but they serve as evidence of the designers' efforts to give the game appeal beyond its solid mechanics.


You'll have to beat eleven clubs in order to claim the Cup. Late-round matches are exciting and tightly contested...


...meaning you'll have to earn the right to hold that final celebration.