Monday, April 22, 2013

Black Hole Assault

Super CD-ROM

Micronet opted not to enlist any sullen fireball hurlers, flip-kicking soldiers, or one-eyed Thai boxers for this SCD fighter. Combat-happy robo-warriors make up Black Hole Assault's convention-defying lineup.

Unfortunately, these rumbling robots aren't very handy with their steel extremities. They're capable of dealing weak jabs and kicks and performing "specials" that in most cases are common uppercuts and knee strikes and never require much in the way of skill to pull off. Firing a projectile calls for you to do nothing more than put distance between yourself and your opponent and execute a single button press.

It's robot-vs.-robot combat that's simple to a fault. Micronet knew they had an all-too-basic product on their hands, so they implemented environmental effects and hazards to give players additional elements to think about. Tussling while under the influence of an abnormal level of gravity isn't as wacky or as challenging as you might believe it would be, and the fighter-decking bursts of flame are anything but massive conflagrations.

Neither your foes nor your surroundings are ever likely to place you in great peril. In fact, simply scoring a single knockdown often opens the door for you to beat your opponent senseless. Just pound repeatedly on the poor mechanical sap as it dazedly attempts to rise to its feet.

Though I knew about all of this prior to acquiring the disc, I was still somewhat eager to give BHA a try. As much an expert on groundbreaking cartoons as on robot-starring fighters, my polymathic cousin Zigfriedevsky had informed me that the game's cinemas feature a temperamental fellow reminiscent of Robotech legend Anatole Leonard, who is undoubtedly the smartest, toughest, most fascinating character in all of anime. Indeed, BHA's bald, gruff Captain Graine greatly reminds me of his Masters saga progenitor as he calls for immediate attacks on an unknown foe; demands that his superiors shut their yaps at once; and refers to his toiling, try-hard subordinates as idiots. Thank goodness for this brash Leonard-inspired officer; aside from his fury-filled episodes, BHA's interludes present little but poorly drawn characters, inane dialogue, and uninteresting plot points.

Unfortunately, Graine is able to make only so many demands and dish out only so much abuse before being forced to yield screen time to the dull fight scenes. The robots themselves aren't dull design-wise, but little was done to individualize them. Hardly any differences are to be found in their respective move sets, and none of them are imbued with much personality. Not even an awesomely grouchy Leonard wannabe can make up for such deficiencies.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Summer Carnival '92: Alzadick

Naxat Soft

No multistage journeys are to be taken here. Alzadick delivers vertical shooting in the contexts of quickly completed timed modes and single-strip adventures. Expect to do a great deal of back-and-forth wending and drifting as you blast up lots of small villains and plenty of floor tiles.

Whether you're shooting for a high point total or playing for victory, suffer no misgivings about wrecking the game's scenery. Neither the rust-colored area nor the green-and-gray zone is particularly appealing, even when left undefaced.

The minute enemy sprites are uninteresting and unimpressive. Even the few large contraptions that get thrown your way are hardly worthy of being viewed as vintage PCE-shooter boss machines.

Those responsible for the title's audio enjoyed more success than did their graphics-department counterparts, but as there are so few modes and areas to experience, the tunes tied to said modes and areas are bound to wear out their welcomes quite quickly. The main scoring strip's loungy theme will likely be the first to become irritating.

As overstretched as it is, the soundtrack was done up in red book form and thus justifies to an extent the game's subsistence on disc. Expect no cinemas to provide further justification. Mere text blocks act as bookends for the one-level-and-done "story" segments.

No one should have much trouble reaching the text-screens of triumph, despite the meekness of the Alzadick craft's guns. Four different primary weapons can be acquired and utilized, but they differ merely in the directions their stick-shots spread out in. Also on offer are four super-powerful one-off auxiliary weapons.

What's not on offer is variety. But everyone who purchases the disc should be well aware of its limitations going in, as it's no great secret at this point that Alzadick is not a proper full-length shooter. Unfortunately, even when its assorted mini-modes are judged on their own merits, they fail to stack up against Cychorider and the score/time attack modes presented by the likes of Spriggan, Nexzr Special, and Soldier Blade. Alzadick doesn't boast the speed, depth, impressive enemies, appealing visuals, or cool weapons that many of its peers do--peers that in most cases provide not only superior score-based events but also excellent multilevel experiences.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Blood Gear

Hudson Soft / Red / Westone
Super CD-ROM

Noting that it was designed by the estimable Westone and that it boasted awesome cover art and one of the coolest titles in gaming history, my brother Duomitri (a venturesome prospector of video-game gold) took a chance on Blood Gear before practically anyone else had even heard of it. The game didn't remain obscure for long after that, as Duomitri raved about the effort, often comparing it to Zelda II, an amazing old-school action-RPG in its own right. Indeed, BG not only succeeds in providing satisfying combat and questing elements but also presents a thrilling story that revolves around the strike-and-counter rivalry between a diligent, likable hero and a memorably malicious antagonist.

Like The Adventure of Link, Blood Gear places heavy emphasis on sidescrolling action scenes. But rather than having you assume the role of a scrawny elven lad brandishing a tiny blade, BG provides you with giant mecha capable of wielding lightsabers, mega-bazookas, shotguns, and a wide variety of other devastating arms. And instead of poking around mere woods and palaces, you get to explore factories, tundras, storm-lands, underwater bases, mechanized caverns, and the depths of outer space.

You even eventually pay a visit to a strange little village inhabited by phantoms.

Like Exile's, Blood Gear's town sequences represent a departure from its action scenes in that they're viewed from an overhead perspective. While they do ask that you partake in the usual RPG acts of commerce and clue garnering, they often also have you perform amusing little tasks, like breaking out of a prison and subsequently stealing an enemy soldier's uniform to engage in a bit of espionage.

Found in most of the villages are factories in which you may strengthen your mecha. You begin with a slow, clunky trash heap of a robot and end up with an absolute killing machine (and you decide on the manner in which to power it up, as you earn points for upgrading by slaying your adversaries). Even after your robotic warrior has attained god-mecha status, you won't simply be able to plow through the enemy forces; you'll have to plan as you proceed, switching up weapons when necessary and even pulling some acts of chicanery to fool a few awesomely powerful contraptions that'll bust you up in no time if you attack them head on.

Said contraptions (especially the largest ones) and most of the backdrops (particularly the ones boasting multilayer scrolling) are very detailed and colorful and look absolutely fantastic.

The last boss is an insane two-screen-tall terror machine, and right before you can attempt to deal with it, you have to annihilate a huge starship hovering about in space.

It's a fantastic conclusion to an adventure that never slows down. Don't expect all the fun to be backed by red book brilliance, however, as the tunes are mostly chip fare. The tracks are excellent, though, and very memorable, particularly the invigorating primary action-scene tune, a swingy composition reminiscent of certain Final Fight numbers, a dirty dungeon dirge, and the sentimental town theme.

I've held Blood Gear in very high regard over the years, viewing it as one of the twenty or thirty best video games I've ever played. Amazingly, it proves whenever I revisit it to kick even more ass than my memories tend to indicate. It's absolutely outstanding, one of the greatest Duo products of all time and a must if you enjoy adventure games along the lines of Zelda II, The Legend of Xanadu, and Exile.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fiend Hunter

Right Stuff
Super CD-ROM

I often liken Fiend Hunter to Blood Will Tell, a favorite of mine for the Playstation 2. BWT features a dark, compelling theme and solid 3D combat, but its main attraction is its boss cast. The colossus-confronting hero must hunt down and annihilate forty-eight incredible fiends, among whom are club-wielding lion-men, enormous armored minotaurs, bellowing demon ogresses, and a sinister six-armed deity who steals people's faces and tattoos them to his torso. FH's beastly villains aren't quite as impressive as BWT's yetis, golems, and specters, but there are over forty of them for you to engage in hack-and-slash combat, and their respective attack methods are varied enough to require you to devise fresh tactics for each bout.

Squaring off with all those skilled, striking creatures is the unfortunately named Feed Sluster, a lanky, goofier-than-he'd-like-to-admit Earnest Evans emulator whom women just can't seem to keep their hands off.

While Feed takes after Wolf Team's legendary treasure hunter in matters of appearance and temperament, he comes off as a mimicker of the Prince of Persia protagonist in action. Stretches separating fights have him dash, leap, crawl, climb, and ledge-grab PoP style.

Accompanying the hunter every hop, heave, and step of the way is a timid little demon named Exy.

The poor, diminutive fire fiend never seems to want much to do with monster hunting or devil battering but exhibits valor and skill by warding off attackers, illuminating dusky areas, nabbing out-of-the-way items, and flipping distant switches.

Feed himself is hardly a klutz. He's capable of performing myriad flips, swipes, and magic-based attacks in battle, and he controls well enough that pulling off any of his assorted moves is seldom difficult. In truth, the unlikely partners complement each other so marvelously that many of the cheap-tactics-prone fiends can hardly help but end up being clobbered. Stacking the odds further in the duo's favor is the fact that items can be bought in shops, found in niches, and won from villains that strengthen the warrior and his demonic chum in aspects of melee and magic ability.

It's unfortunate that Right Stuff couldn't make Feed animate nearly as well as his Persian predecessor, though the ungraceful manner in which the fellow goes about his business belies the general adequacy of the controls. The fiends themselves aren't graphically impressive, but many of them are intriguing in design, while the backdrops are generally dark but rarely revolting and occasionally look quite nice (particularly those utilized for outdoor sequences). The soundtrack also has its impressive moments, as it delivers both catchy and appealingly wacky numbers and gets serious and dramatic when it really needs to.

Despite the high number of respectable-enough ingredients that went into the title, whatever allure Fiend Hunter has is almost entirely attributable to its cast of creatures. It's never particularly ambitious with its exploratory elements or perplexing with its environment-based conundrums. It isn't aesthetically brilliant, and it can feel a bit rough at times. But the fun that comes with finding and battling distinctively designed devils makes players keep right on questing until the blood of the final fiend has been spilled.