GAME REVIEWS

Friday, October 28, 2011

Body Conquest II

~ BODY CONQUEST II ~
Games Express
HuCard
1993

What little effort Games Express was willing to devote to this project primarily went towards mimicking Dragon Quest. There's little visual evidence to suggest that Body Conquest II is actually a PC Engine game and not some shoddy Famicom release. So archaic are this RPG's field visuals that fellow PCE antiquities like La Valeur would take on the sheen of modern, glitzy Square productions if lined up in comparison.



Revolting primitivity pervades BC2's audio as well. GE delivered an overworld theme sure to drive adventurers batty as it calls to mind the rightly maligned Xevious soundtrack with its high-pitched instrumental antics. Similarly vexing are the VCS-caliber sound effects, many of which are simply unnecessary, including a horrid "thud" that accompanies every instance of inadvertent contact with stationary objects. Prepare to hear thud after abhorrible thud as you attempt to make heads or tails of the logic-defiant village constructions.



Don't expect the land's labyrinths to be easily navigable either. The difficulty you have making your way through these drably drawn dungeons will likely stem from GE's implementation of the old "limited visibility" trick. It's not like they bothered to provide any interesting puzzles for players to solve as reprieves from dull tunnel touring.

Of course, there will be plenty of battles for you to participate in as you poke around the abodes of your enemies. And of course, Games Express put together an all-girls lineup of adversaries for you to contend with. The strange-looking females don't stand much of a chance, as your valiant lady slayer is a quick study when it comes to learning techniques that bring most clashes to an abrupt conclusion when utilized.

The fact that your foes can be dealt with quickly and easily is a very good thing considering how slowly events unfold otherwise. Regardless of the hero's dilly-dallying nature and refusal to do anything but stroll leisurely about the countryside, there isn't enough of an adventure here to make for a lengthy experience. BC2 is a simple mimicker that counts on elements of smut to entertain nutcases who are intrigued by promises of pervertedness. If you are such a nutcase, though, know ahead of time that while the text (which is in Japanese) contains plenty of smut-speak, the only visual elements that will satisfy your hunger for naughty fare are the bare breasts and butts that a few of the combatants flaunt. There's also this, uh, "coming-of-age" scene:


Basically, RPG fans and oddball deviants alike will find little to appreciate here. There is a happy ending to cap the archaic mush, but you might as well take a gander at it now and dismiss the game from there in favor of the many superior HuCard RPGs that you can play instead.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fushigi no Yume no Alice (Alice in Wonderdream)

~ ALICE IN WONDERDREAM ~
Face
HuCard
1990

With horrid controls and a fantasy-land setting that belies its devilishly unforgiving nature, Wonderdream reminded me at once of the Genesis dud Fantasia. Fantasia's own creators ultimately admitted that their game was a regrettable, unfinished rush job, an abomination so clunky and unpolished that players couldn't help but feel they were fighting a losing battle as they haplessly bumbled into one beating after another. Whether Face had neither the time nor the resources to shape Wonderdream into something playable or simply were content to release what they might've proclaimed a "high-level challenge" is something we may never know, but their "efforts" led to a debacle that brought back that "losing battle" feeling for me. Alice is a stumbling, incompetent heroine who struggles to perform even the basic mascot-platformer bounce-on-their-heads technique, resorts to a terribly weak and silly-in-concept "howl attack," and slides about a land that contains no shortage of thin columns and bottomless pits.

While Wonderdream's dreadful gameplay reminded me of fear-inducing Fantasia, the environments it had me explore called to mind a number of superior 16-bit titles. Faussete Amour's pastel-shaded countryside, The Legendary Axe's log-laden rapids, Rastan Saga II's distant woodland structures, Chiki Chiki Boy's dense jungle, and Castle of Illusion's cake-and-candy realm all have drab counterparts here. (Castle even lends clownish foes to Face's atrocity.)



The allusions might as well have been dashed completely, as, ironically enough, you'll spend a great deal of time traveling through a shadow-blotted rendition of the Wonderdream realm, the darkness brought on by a magic spell that allows you to spot otherwise-invisible goodies. Why Face couldn't simply have placed these very-typical items out in the open (but perhaps in hard-to-reach locations) rather than resorting to this "secrets in the dark" nonsense is yet another mystery that will likely go unsolved.


Solving the game itself actually shouldn't be beyond the capabilities of most decent players; incantations that grant Alice temporary invulnerability and super-human leaping ability make even the toughest boards mere poorly designed formalities; and while the gameplay is anything but smooth, the journey itself is nothing if not short. Despite the low number of levels they created for players to blunder through, Face chose to recycle lame-the-first-time-around ghost and crocodile mini-bosses across multiple sub-levels. Major foes don't muck around: they typically flood the screen with bouncing baubles of peril as Alice attempts to fight back sans her spell-casting ability.



Were someone to request a few words on positive elements that Wonderdream brings to the table, I'm afraid I would be unable to deliver any. Actually, its level-two tune is quite pleasing to my ear. That one track is all I like about it, aside from the alluded-to-earlier brevity of the unenjoyable quest it asks players to undertake.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gulliver Boy

~ GULLIVER BOY ~
Hudson Soft / Wai Wai Company
Super CD-ROM / Arcade CD-ROM
1995

Gulliver Boy deserves more attention than it typically receives, as it's a great RPG that features some of the most impressive cinemas to be viewed in a Duo game. It doesn't matter (to me, at least) that these amazing FMV sequences are displayed via relatively small windows or that the video itself is somewhat grainy. The mini-movies still represent quite an achievement, and they're noteworthy for both their advanced quality and the events they depict. There's some enchanting storytelling to enjoy here, with every plot point handled in stylish fashion, whether the order of the day is humor or destruction.


The graphical goodness extends to in-game elements: towns, sprites, and maze areas all look fantastic. The overworld graphics aren't impressive at all, but the more involved I got in Gulliver's quest, the less attention I paid to their inadequacy.


Most of GB's battles feature gorgeous backdrops, and the creatures you wage war with are detailed and well drawn, though the designs themselves are often of the unalluring sort.



A flick of your II-button turbo switch will enable you to plow through the scrums in effortless fashion. Gulliver and his allies level up extremely quickly, so it's easy to stay one step ahead of their adversaries. Plus, you can see most roving monsters on the field screen, so it's often possible to avoid combat entirely if you're just not in the mood to fight.

There are plenty of other little things that add to the enjoyability of the experience. Portraits of the bosses in their daunting glory are often replaced mid-battle by ones that show the villains battered and beaten.

You'll briefly engage in mecha combat of the bump-and-run Ys variety while exploring an underground tunnel network.

And while most of the music is merely inoffensive chip fare, there are some entertainingly wacky vocal numbers to enjoy.

Considering all of the things that GB's designers did well, it's somewhat surprising that they dropped the ball with an element they probably thought would make for a novel hook. You can purchase goods and sell 'em off later for considerable profit, but money is of little use in the game. You don't need to buy traditional RPG articles; hell, you can even dodge the fee that's charged for resting at inns, as saving is free and your characters are automatically healed whenever you load your game up.

But the mishandling of commerce turned out to be inconsequential. I was thrilled to discover a sea-buried sum of 500,000, not because I needed the cash for anything in particular but because it was a neat event that added to the game's charm. There are fantastic cinemas to watch, memorable confrontations to partake in, and atypical locations to visit as the proceedings meld Dickensian tales of young-rogue adventuring and old-Europe exploration with intrigue of the sci-fi sort. The combination makes GB worth picking up if you're at all into lengthy adventure games.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Measure of a Turbo Badass


Typically stereotyped as unwashed misfits and greasy-haired castoffs, video-game players nonetheless fancy themselves the boldest of blokes when putting a blade to a notorious boss or venturing through a famously difficult area. It's no surprise, then, when a victorious adventurer pumps his fists in joy or emits expletives denoting utter, hard-earned triumph. While it's debatable how much real-world applicability lies in the brands of skill, perseverance, and problem-solving ability required to slay a Gleeok or smash a Goomba, there certainly is some element of each of the aforementioned traits on display when a game-based challenge is overcome. There's no need to mythologize the feats of gaming nerds, but there's nothing wrong with these "heroes" giving themselves a small pat on the back for overcoming daunting odds in breaking through pixelated obstacles.

Of course, there's only so much satisfaction to be had in gloating over the crushed corpse of a Ganondorf. Conquerors seeking accolades find that their tidings of accomplishments are received quite warmly on the internet, the figurative kingdom for a noble knight of gaming. And when assemblages of glory-seeking geeks exchange ledgers of their achievements, feelings of competitiveness and compulsions to one-up one another develop covertly beneath the obligatory "Congratulations" messages. Contests are inevitabilities in such environments, with the participants as fired up for score swapping as they would be for any anticipated real-life event.


A stoked nerd prepares to annihilate his competition in a Spriggan high-score contest.

Indeed, emerging from a forum showdown with a blue ribbon to flaunt becomes such a priority for proud game-war battlers that they frequently resort to dishonest means in the name of achieving notoriety. Ignorant or dismissive of the sad element of irony that accompanies their actions, our fire-in-their-eyes heroes don't hesitate to save-state their way to a deceptively high number of clears. They devote more time to studying tactic-revealing videos than they do to sussing out enemy patterns on their own, with top-tier scores to show for their "efforts."

Well, these gaming Mark McGwires can have their asterisk-saddled records. Those looking to take a virtuous path to game-dweeb glory can accept the challenge laid out here by the biggest Turbo nerds of all: The Brothers Duomazov. Make legitimate runs through the games enumerated in this altogether goofy (but valid and substantive) piece and your accomplishments will have trumped what even the most devious save-state abuser and Youtube surfer can boast about. Your bronze bust will have its place in the halls built in tribute to the greatest PC Engine-playing badasses.

I suppose we shouldn't present a list of trials without first explaining how said list was conceived. Let's establish at once that consensus as to what merits a praiseworthy accomplishment means little to us. Any warrior worth his game pad will tell you that Exile: Wicked Phenomenon can be completed by an utter clod provided that said clod is capable of being patient and putting in the slightest bit of thought for the sake of outwitting dopey enemies (regardless of how many hits those plodding enemies can withstand). And this list is not simply some "toughest games" compendium. It's hard to get through 250 rounds of BoxyBoy, but there isn't much virility involved in examining a bunch of grids for the purpose of placing squares atop dots. True warriors know how to prioritize, know that in some endeavors lies greater glory than in others. We must keep in mind that accepting and even overcoming a challenge does not a badass make.


Only one of these gun wielders is truly a badass.

In case the above visual demonstration fails to make our parameters clear, I'll now spell them out in the most overt way. Conquer the games we list and you will have displayed the following qualities that any true badass must be in possession of:


~ DETERMINATION ~
No matter the length of your résumé indicating previous achievements, some tasks will require of you that one thing feared by pseudo warriors everywhere: practice.


~ FORTITUDE ~
Bona fide gaming champions can't simply pick and choose the challenges they accept. Sometimes, enduring unimaginable pain is necessary for them to prove their true mettle.


~ INTELLIGENCE ~
Warriors of legend didn't simply maim and murder. They were sharp enough to discern the correct path to travel, clever enough to perceive the light of a solution in the most opaque conundrum.


~ GUTS ~
Difficult stages and enemies tend to get inside players' heads after dealing them a few heavy thrashings. Those who don't wilt in the face of the seemingly unvanquishable are those who stand a real chance at achieving greatness.


~ TALENT ~
Brains, heart, persistence... yes, those are all wonderful things. But there's nothing that can replace innate skill. And there are few things that can beat refined skill.

And now to present the twelve games that stand between the standard sour-faced, poor-postured nerd and Turbo immortality. Slaughter the dozen and you will have displayed an incredible blend of the virtues cited above, hence proving yourself worthy of PCE avatarhood.


~ SINISTRON / VIOLENT SOLDIER ~
You'll make it past the halfway point and believe that victory is at hand. Then a savage storm of asteroids will obliterate you. VS's merciless take on the final level allows for not a single instance of lost focus.


~ RAYXANBER II ~
Quips voiced by legions of incompetent players account for Ray 2's reputation for being unbeatable--and those brutes haven't even made it to the game's greatest stretches of horror: the web world of the fourth round and the narrow corridors of the sixth.


~ THE LEGEND OF XANADU ~
Simply overcoming the language barrier can prove too daunting a task for adventurers unable to read Japanese. Fiddle your way through overworld fetch quests to access surprisingly difficult sidescrolling strips. It'll be your wits, not your blade-wielding skill, that you'll need to rely on in the fiendish (and famously enormous) final tower.


~ ASTRALIUS ~
As horribly painful an experience as you are ever likely to endure. A flutist-led covey of inept weaklings and mollycoddles contends with bands of brutal adversaries while you yourself cope with unforgivable design flaws.


~ LAST ARMAGEDDON ~
There are ways to break the game and render the initially formidable enemy forces hapless and helpless. But chicanery won't get you through the billion-hall dungeons or enable you to locate obscured event points.


~ MIGHT AND MAGIC III ~
The sheer size of M&M3's world and the depth of its play system will annihilate the aspirations of faux warriors before they even have the chance to engage the unfathomably powerful beasts who reside in the trap-laden labyrinths.


~ ALTERED BEAST ~
Those raised on the leniency of the Genesis rendition are in for a horrifying surprise with the unforgiving, thought-demanding HuCard version. A trip through the CD take--that of the castrated bosses--does not suffice for the attainment of badassery.


~ SHAPE SHIFTER ~
The crybaby killer. Great rewards and an incredibly tough final boss (who crushed even the designers who created him) await those willing to wipe away the tears and put in a little practice.


~ NEXZR ~
Approach this no-nonsense shooter impetuously and you'll be stomped on at once. Figure out when to depend on your reflexes and when to utilize stratagems, and then hope that the schemes you've come up with suffice.


~ SUPER RAIDEN ~
The final strip of this ten-level marathon is patrolled by villains who harbor no pity for those who make a single misstep. One lapse is all it takes for a player to find himself with no other option but to begin the long journey anew.


~ TATSUJIN ~
Mini-boss bands fire projectiles that surge through space at ridiculous speeds. There's practically no time for you to react to the attacks, let alone counter them effectively.

There you go: the twelve games that constitute the most intense test imaginable of a Turbo player's staunchness. (And no, our count is not off: Sinistron and Violent Soldier are considered separate trials due to certain differences between the two.)

Now to coronate the true badasses and do away with the pretenders. Count up the number of cited games you've cleared, and proceed to find out your standing within Turbo-badass hierarchy.


~ SISSY ~
0 games completed
The Mousse rating means you'd best stick with the "charm," flutes, and lollipops of harmless SNES titles. You can't cut it in the realm of the PC Engine.


~ POTENTIAL BADASS ~
1-3 games completed
The Ranma rating means you may have crashed your way through a shooter or followed a walkthrough to the end of an adventure, but you've still got some work to do before earning respect from the elite.


~ DEVELOPING BADASS ~
4-6 games completed
The Janne rating means you've made progress worthy of commendation. Your ability seems obvious, but it's not yet clear if you possess but a specialized brand of talent or if you can overcome a variety of the Turbo's greatest challenges.


~ POWERFUL BADASS ~
7-9 games completed
The Higgins rating means you've established yourself as a force to be reckoned with. You're on the cusp of keeping company with the most mythical of Turbo warriors.


~ MEGA BADASS ~
10-11 games completed
The Guy Kazama rating means you are a true legend in TurboGrafx circles and one of the mightiest heroes ever to have torn through a video adventure.


~ ULTIMATE DUOMAZOV-LEVEL BADASS ~
All 12 games completed
The Lee Pappas rating means that you are worthy of Turbo deification. Even the most famous of all Turbo champions, the Brothers Duomazov, would accept you as their comrade in game-nerd battle.

The only players known to have achieved Duomazov-level badassness are, well, the Duomazovs themselves. For those who aspire to reach an unreachable level of excellence, your quest now lies before you. It's time to discover exactly what you're made of... but, you know, don't forget to have fun and not drive yourself crazy while trying to conquer games that are nearly unconquerable. Otherwise, you might end up like this guy:


And that wouldn't be a good thing.