GAME REVIEWS

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mitsubachi Gakuen

~ MITSUBACHI GAKUEN ~
Hudson Soft
CD-ROM
1990

Mitsubachi Gakuen opens with a catchy, upbeat pop vocal and goes on to follow a gaggle of idol wannabes through four comic-style adventures, one for each season of the year. Elements common to each tale are weird-looking individuals, poor chip music, and silliness in spades. Occasional "quizzes" reveal themselves to be easily passed guessing games; puzzles are typically simplistic in nature and hardly obstructive at all. Misstep your way to a Game Over and you'll simply be shot back to the last save point so that you can give the trouble spot another try.



Springtime's story sees you explore the intriguing labyrinth that is the local high school before having you head for a mountain tower in pursuit of some no-good hooded fool. The stone structure contains challenges necessitating the usage of the girls' respective talents (which can be determined via a glance at the provided profile pages).



Summer means gallivanting with the girls at the beach and putting up with the goofy antics of a "musclebound" buffoon. You can play at the shore for only so long before you have to journey through the woods to a house where crazies reside. Conundrums here are solved via complex means--dark areas demand the flicking on of a flashlight, for instance.



Autumn starts off in RPG style, but the Dragon Quest aping comes to an early and abrupt halt for the sake of band get-togethers and jaunts around town. The chapter concludes with a concert; unfortunately, the girls deliver a rather poor performance.



A Christmastime ski trip is on the agenda for winter. Following another lame "rock" session, the aspiring idols go about solving a mystery and thwarting the maleficent schemes of a Santa-impersonating scoundrel. Trials in this episode can actually prove troublesome.


This obviously isn't the sort of material that many PC Engine players are actively looking for, and it will likely prove unbearably corny for most people. But the game really doesn't pretend to take itself seriously; it goes about its silly business with a light atmosphere and a great sense of humor. Each story moves along at a very fast pace and is fairly long relative to many standalone Duo comics, so there's value here for those who can derive amusement from the subject matter.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Local Girls of Hawaii

~ THE LOCAL GIRLS OF HAWAII ~
Excite Software
CD-ROM
1993

Chances are that if you're hunting for these Excite Software "girls on the beach" titles, your goal is either to add some not-easy-to-come-by trinkets to your collection or to acquire every "US release" that you can, and actual high-quality content isn't factoring into your objectives. Regardless of what your motivation is, the opportunity to leaf through photos of skin-baring sunbathers probably doesn't seem like it will be an unpleasant byproduct of your quest. But as if being a downright stupid slide show masquerading as a game weren't deplorable enough, Local Girls goes about its seemingly simple task in laughably inept fashion. After a bumbling lensman had produced off-center shots of seemingly random body parts, the "designers" apparently figured spatterings of color and blocky deformations were their best bets for salvaging the image wrecks they were left with (...or maybe they were just incompetent too).



Even when embellishment-free shots portraying a recognizable human are actually delivered, the human in question is often either caught in a terribly awkward position or assuming a ridiculously melodramatic "pose." The post-shoot additions of various creatures and stage pieces make the whole production come off as comical.


Block out all the misapplied adornments and focus solely on (what you can make out of) the females, and you'll likely conclude that the ladies here aren't exactly incredibly attractive eye-catchers anyway.


Filthy images shellacked with distortion and portraying randomly juxtaposed objects will provide little titillation for even the most crazed and desperate perv, who won't appreciate the black blotches that obscure all the "best parts" anyway.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Manhole

~ THE MANHOLE ~
Cyan / Sunsoft / Sun Electronics / Activision
CD-ROM
1991

The Manhole packaging utilizes cover space to pledge that children will be entertained by what the game has to offer, a declaration that may as well be taken as notice to those of us beyond our prepubescent years that thrills are not in store here. Indeed, there's nothing thrilling about the title's point-and-click-and-watch play style (as there's never any risk of anything horrible happening) or its simplistic manner of presentation (as its "action" wasn't even deemed worthy of receiving full-screen treatment). It doesn't hide the fact that it takes its cue from famous works of children's literature (including Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the Chronicles of Narnia) and perhaps takes its acts of homage too far, ending up a mere exhibition of mimicry in some places. At its best, it's an odd and intriguing one-strange-thing-after-another little adventure, delivering successions of wacky happenings like some sort of kindergartner-targeted Yellow Submarine.



Again, nothing that occurs is particularly exciting; this is a bizarre but utterly hazardless realm, and your hosts are peculiar but hospitable, even the grumpy, little-kid-averse walrus.



Still, after spending a few minutes coming to terms with Manhole's complete amiableness and toddler-level simplicity (traits that make it seem so out of place as a PC Engine release), I found myself compulsively clicking on anything and everything that came into view, suddenly determined to find every brief animated sequence, odd sound effect, and weird trinket to play with that the silly game contains.


Unfortunately, while it initially seems like you have many options as far as where you can go and what you can do (climb a beanstalk, take a boat ride, warp via an apparently magical fire hydrant, etc.), you'll discover in short order that all paths ultimately converge, abruptly leaving you with nothing more to see or do. In the end, it's the brevity with which The Manhole plays out, not its style or simplicity, that really leaves it devoid of value.


Of course, the ubiquitous caveat regarding the game is that it's meant for kids, not for an over-the-hill, mean-spirited bum like me. You know, I really wonder what the hell kind of kid people believe Manhole can be some sort of great success with. Children generally can't sit still through the sort of slow-paced, pointless nonsense that this title delivers; they tend to prefer fast-paced, pointless nonsense. When I was little and in need of a new LCD handheld or 2600 game to conquer, the element I considered a requisite above all others was action--so did my buds when they were hunting for a new game, and so do most other kids. The Manhole actually seems more suitable for an easily amused old fellow with a bit of leisure time to burn than it does for a restless little runt.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Doraemon Nobita no Dorabian Night CD

~ DORAEMON NOBITA NO DORABIAN NIGHT CD ~
Hudson Soft
Super CD-ROM
1992

As I've detailed the particulars of my disappointing experience with the Dorabian Night HuCard in the piece I posted about it, suffice it to say here I feel DN is stocked with great concepts that are ultimately let down by unexciting gameplay. Having identified gameplay as the element Hudson was least likely to have tinkered with in producing this CD revamp, I found the disc unalluring. A new, crudely drawn opening sequence introducing DN's geeky good-guy assemblage failed to generate the slightest bit of enthusiasm in me; a cinematic redo of the HuCard's procession-commencing sketch also wasn't up to the task.



Fast-forwarding a bit (like, all the way through the game), yet another inconsequential cinema is implemented as a cap to the festivities.



How fancy. But most of the "changes" here involve not the storytelling segments but the in-game visuals. Environments were brushed up to appear more refined and, in some instances, more colorful. Some of the alterations Hudson made were so minor that one wonders why they even bothered, and I question the prudence of some of their color swaps. Still, this version looks better--sharper and more polished--than its HuCard forerunner.


Thing is, there really wasn't anything wrong with Dorabian Night's graphics to begin with (aside from some rough-hewn sprites, which were not redrawn for this release). Heck, the HuCard's introductory skit actually was amusing as it was; never would I have yearned for a "cinematic" do-up of it. And while the new ending is nice, the thought of watching it again is not nearly enticing enough to make me want to re-endure the monotonous "adventure." In other words, these modifications and additions mean very little to me. I still find Dorabian Night to be an utter bore.



Now, a new red book soundtrack is something that might've made a difference (to a degree). I've never been a fan of boring Bonk III, but the CD version's lively soundtrack at least gets me a little more interested in the sleepily slow action. Unfortunately, aside from employing vocal numbers for the title screen and credit scroll, lazy Hudson chose to stick with the card's tunes. These are not awful tracks, but they're too breezy and unassertive to add any excitement to a game in dire need of some sort of boost.


Fans of the HuCard version might want to acquire this CD, as they may enjoy spotting the graphical alterations and get a kick out of the new cinemas and "funny" voice work. Me, well, I've been let down yet again, left shaking my head and feeling that Hudson threw away a second chance to do justice to the fine concepts they'd come up with for the original project. Hell, they even rendered the intermediary time-warp scenes less wacky and impressive.


Well done, guys.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chew Man Fu

~ CHEW MAN FU ~
Hudson Soft
HuCard
1990

Hudson Soft had a plan in mind for this one. When it comes right down to it, Chew Man Fu doesn't amount to much more than a game of Sokoban with kick-the-ball and color-matching elements incorporated and without much thinking involved. Of course, crafty developers have ways of masking shallow, derivative gameplay, and if the embellishments they come up with are effective enough, their efforts can win players over in spite of whatever unmeritorious material lies beneath the surface. And so wily Hudson wastes no time before introducing us to CMF's cute little pig-tailed heroines and the crew of oafish, silly-looking beasts who oppose them. The gregarious gang is placed in levels done up with bright, pretty colors to carry out its simple duties while being serenaded by extremely pleasant musical tracks.



When it comes to CMF's endeavors to endear itself to players in every conceivable outside-of-actual-gameplay way, there's simply no letup. Even intermissions are treated as times for merrymaking, as a friendly old man offers whimsical words of advice and the evil wizard Chew makes chuckle-evoking "threats."



Well, I sure as hell was charmed by it all. "What a nice game!" I thought to myself a few seconds into my ball-rolling chores. "How enjoyable this is!" I cried, even though I was doing nothing but placing orbs atop similarly shaded panels and knocking off a few slow-footed animals.


A few rounds in, it all came crashing down. I realized that the simple tasks I was performing were never going to evolve into missions grander or more intriguing, that this is an "action-puzzler" with very little action and no true puzzle solving. What it does offer is redundancy. Oh, lord, is it repetitive. With your sole aim in each level being to deliver four big balls to their color-sharing homes, potential for variety lies only in the designs of the boards themselves and the antics of the enemy cast. Unfortunately, since everything in CMF is drawn in such oversized fashion, there really isn't room within the edge-of-the-screen borders for any sort of intricacy to be integrated into the level design. Pretenses of strategic elements abound: some balls serve as better means to achieving certain ends than others. But the simple stratagem relied on when any "thought" at all is necessary involves reaching the black ball at once for its usefulness in wall demolishing and space clearing. As for the monsters, while you face different sets of three in each realm, there isn't much variation in the stooges' tactics from one world to the next. From "barbarian baboons" to "abominable snowfreaks," the large ape-like villains typically find ways to take your precious orbs hostage, while frogs, turtles, and other such tiny riffraff merely make roadblock-type nuisances of themselves.


Chew Man Fu wears out its welcome very quickly, but through the wonders of palette swapping, Hudson found a way to advertise the game as featuring a whopping 500+ levels. Considering I had my fill upon reaching Round 5, I see little to celebrate in this purported asset of length.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Zipang

~ ZIPANG ~
Tecmo / Pack-in Video / Arc
HuCard
1990

My noble brother Alexei is the big Solomon's Key fan in the family; I'm just the doofus who always confuses the title with Spelunker for some reason. Foggy-at-best recollections did little to pump me up for Pack-in Video's PC Engine revamp of SK ("That cave game?"). I did have good reason to believe I would enjoy it, however. An upgraded rendition of a game Alexei loves seemed like a safe bet, as my stout sibling is nearly infallible. And the presence of the Pack-in moniker on a cover is typically a harbinger of enjoyment (perhaps only for me, but whatever...). Speaking of covers, what a wacky sight this game's is. It's tough not to go into the Zipang experience with a general feeling of positivity.



The experience itself was an enjoyable and surprisingly addictive one for me. There isn't really a whole lot to it, conceptually: you can make and bust blocks, and in each level you must utilize these cube-centric talents to reach an out-of-the-way key and an even-more-out-of-the-way exit. The variety in enemies, obstacles, and challenges that the game throws your way from stage to stage (and even within each stage) is remarkable, especially considering that lengthy sequences of distinct conundrums are built into small, single-screen boards. Sometimes, you have to construct serpentine stairways to make it to your goal; sometimes, you need to find your way through intricate preset labyrinths. Build blockwork barriers to keep aerial foes at bay; take out the ground beneath a beast-warrior's feet to send him plummeting to his death; and lure a mindless pursuer into a niche and seal him away, Cask of Amontillado style.


Zipang keeps things interesting, and it keeps them challenging as well. Know this: you'll find yourself very frustrated at times, if not with the puzzles themselves, then with the hero's extremely inconvenient lack of dexterity. But also know that you'll feel incredibly proud after overcoming a particularly difficult series of trials. And once it's all over, once all sixty boards have been conquered, you'll likely look back on the trying times and, with a sense of accomplishment in tow, realize you wouldn't change a single thing about how the experience unfolded.