Monday, 30 September 2013

SNES Final Fantasy Mystic Quest

Here's where I get into a little grey area known as "Twatty Fan base". That wonderful little area games tend to fall into where some fans of a series will disown the game and label it "A Gaiden Game" or "A non-canon game" or will disregard it as being part of a series because it's "too different" or "not the same kind of game". This is why I turn around and simply ignore these pricks because it's quite simply, a game. These people need to stop being whiny little fucks and either enjoy the game for what it is rather than what it's supposedly not being.

"It's not part of the series" So fucking what? It's still a game, it's still released with that title whether you agree with it or not for whichever little bullshit excuse you can muster up even if it's "Executive meddling" doesn't detract from the game itself, look at it for what it is rather than what it is part of.

"It's too different" No... shit... It has to be different otherwise you're playing the same game as before and then it becomes "It's too similar!” Your on-the-fence little position only shows you're whining but not with a specific reason other than it wasn't the game you wanted it to be. Tough shit, now grow a pair so I can kick them up through your body and have them blast out of your shit-spouting mouth.

But enough of my social commentary on these elitist pricks, there's a game here to see. Not the game many people wanted or many fans of the Final Fantasy series want to acknowledge but a game nonetheless. Sometimes I prefer when a game doesn't have the same fans as the others in the series because sometimes, those fans are annoying idiotic people, and I've no time for those people.

Final Fantasy Mystic Quest... Now begins the internal debate of whether to compare it to other games in the series. I shall not. I shall rate this game on its own merits rather than what it does better or worse than other games. I'm not going to add fuel to the fire by saying inane shit like "Yeah but Final Fantasy 1 did this and Final Fantasy 4 did this blahablahabjahjdahailovecockblahahla" like some pissy little ingrate.

FFMQ is an RPG with a wide audience as its target. The story is fairly simple and throws you into the middle of it. Your hometown is under attack, being destroyed and you leap to safety before you're attacked by a monster. (A fight you can lose... as I found out on my first go when it hit me with a critical attack and killed me outright, seems the AI plays fair, in that it can do what I can do with lucky rolls). Upon killing the monster an old man fills you in on the events and tells you that to save the world from suffering the same fate, you'll have to restore the balance of 4 crystals (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water but thankfully not Heart...Go Planet!) and restore the world to order AND stop a doomsday prophecy.

All before you realise your home town is gone and in a sniff of grief, off you go.

You control your character by the main compass points of movement, North, South, West and East and jumping for the occasional puzzle while on the maps that navigate the world and within towns, cities and dungeons. Battling is done with a menu system similar to turn based combat where you and sometimes an AI partner, will take on up to three enemies in combat where you can select a weapon with which to smack them in the gob, cast magic, defend, use an item or run off (if you can).

As a character, you level up with experience earned from beating the shit out of monsters. Some monsters are weak to various attacks and weapons, some are strong from other attacks and weapons but all are rather well illustrated and show various stages of damage to let you know how badly you've been beating on them. Particularly evident with bosses that have 4-5 different frames of animation for showing the kicking they've taken.

Progressing through the levels and towns, you'll be able to buy and find bigger and better weapons, armours from people or inside hidden chests, sometimes in out of the way places or shown behind locked doors you'll have to come back for later.

Enemies are shown on the world map as either battlefields where you can fight up to 10 enemies (or more if you know how to glitch it) or icons that depict the main enemy, walking into these enemies will trigger the fight, giving you the chance to check and prepare for the enemy and cure ailments like being blinded, which drops your accuracy in combat. Spells have maximum casting for each spell and are replenished when using seeds, the higher the level your character is, the more of each spell they can use... assuming they've found the particular spell. Most spells hit one enemy or can hit them all for a slightly weaker attack, some spells just hit everyone anyway in a more "meh, slap them all" kind of attack.

In this RPG, your most powerful weapons are already available assuming you've found them, ranging from swords, axes, bombs and claws, which can cause status changes in enemies including instant death but by the time you're using that one hit tends to kill the enemies anyway. Armours follow the same suit; your most powerful will be automatically equipped for you to save grief.

During the game you'll encounter various allies that will team up with your character for a while, the AI can be used for them to fight as they'd prefer or you can take over and use their attacks and spells for yourself. All depending upon how you'd like to fight or whether you feel the AI isn't focusing upon the enemies in ways you'd prefer. Essentially they offer the very useful helping hand against the new areas with the new tougher monsters.

It can take around 13 hours on a serious run through of the game.

Story wise, the game jumps and shifts from trying to take itself seriously in building up a situation with someone suffering from something, a monster being the cause and giving credence to the idea that battling the evil monster will save the innocent sufferers. Which does pay off well in some cases but then is destroyed when in one particular event, the heroes fight their way to the top of a mountain where they think the winds are being used to attack a town, meet the main monster and this little exchange takes place.

"So you're the one causing these problems!"
"Nope, it's boss X"

And they fight anyway. All the suspense, build up and it falls down to "Nope, it's that guy" leaving you to think that you'll just head over there to kick his arse as well. Some bosses will take the time to talk to you about how futile what you're doing is, others are just bigger, tougher creatures that are more than happy to get into a slap fight with the main character (and comrade, if you have them, usually you do). The downside to this is that unless you're paying attention to the ONE LINE of information telling you what to do, you can end up not knowing where to go next as the character you just spoke to now reverts to a loop of "Good luck" "I have faith in you" or "Come back later for a good time, bring money" though I might have imagined that last one.

The music within the game is beyond good, at times close to being a shining example of the SNES's audio capabilities while fight music and boss music have their own epic qualities and each one enriches the experience, while music in the fire town is significantly more upbeat to get the shoulders bobbing along with the tunes.

The game moves along at a steady pace though in some of the latter dungeons you need to start thinking in 3 dimensions with floors over floors being an issue, which can be a little jarring at first just to hit switches to trap a boss between floors then you can fight him and likely have your arse handed to you on a silver platter, which begs the question, why have him running away if he's that powerful in the first place? The last few dungeons of the game lose their linearity that the earlier ones had and you're left feeling that you're running in circles looking for the one exit you've not tried just to get the hell on with the next bit of the story. Levelling becomes moot once you're around level 30 with only the final dungeon and the revamp bosses and MAYBE the final boss being a challenge (if you know the glitch... great)

Some dungeons have puzzles beyond just "Walk up to enemy, fight, walk up to boss, fight" in that there's sliding block puzzles, jumping puzzles and later in the game, hook shot puzzles that come right out of a Zelda game with working out how to manoeuvre around the dungeon, grabbing all the treasures and then getting to the boss being a different take than the earlier puzzles of the aforementioned "fight boss, lose, try again", speaking of which, dying in the game lets you refight the same fight at the stats you had at the start of the fight while ending a fight with one of your party dead, the other not, brings the other person back on 1 health point rather than requiring you to get them resurrected in some obscure manner.

To coin a meme, Simple Game Is Simple. A lot of other RPGs (not just Final Fantasy games...) have more complex fighting mechanics, more complex plotlines and more developed characters but on the flip side it's a wonderful step into the RPG era, I know some people are going to whine "It's made that way for certain audiences" and my answer to that is that the game does its job VERY well. It is exactly the kind of game to get people into more evolved RPGs who may have only known platform games or top-down adventure games like Zelda. It gets the mind starting to think on things rather than throwing them in the deep end on an RPG that will only be accessible to people who already know the types of games or are Mensa champions, which is hardly a fun way to spend time playing a game.

Personally, I like the game. It's got this quaint little charm that I find endears me to the game itself and yes, people will draw comparisons to expel the game as a Final Fantasy game because it doesn't fit in with their view of what a Final Fantasy game should be, or slate it for being too simple while not realising that's the POINT of this game, to be simple, to readily accessible to all involved and to encourage people into playing a game type they might not have tried before.

Completitionists might have to resort to a guide to make sure they get every single little treasure as some are really well tucked away, purists will bitch and moan about how this game shouldn't be a Final Fantasy game though it's written on the box and the screen, has a battle system in line with the series and uses the 4 elements as a plot point like almost the whole series does, while people like me who can appreciate a nice fun game will likely enjoy a while with the game exploring RPG mechanics and getting a taste, like I did when I was kid, for something new. While today I still play this game just for the enjoyment of playing it.

In closing, fuck fan-boys for ruining the reputations of good games solely because they don't like them. Oh and try this game out if you get the change.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Dreamcast RUSH 2049

Years ago, games on particularly older systems would either be a one-shot gimmick with the focus being upon the main engine of the game. Or the game would be a mishmash of multiple game types with each game type being played drastically differently. One moment you'd be throwing darts in a pub and the next, abseiling down a canyon while avoiding the sides but going too quickly makes you fall and going too quickly gets you set on fire.  Sometimes the games would be hugely different in their game play from one even to another and today would be considered to be just a series of mini-games. Other games took the main engine of the game and adjusted it to similar game types but different ways of playing it. This game is the latter of that type of multigame.

This game is effectively 3 games in one based around cars.

Game Makers and Gamers have often wanted more and bigger and better thrills in race. Top down view wasn't enough so let us have first person views on race tracks. That not enough? Ok let's have other cars on the track we can race against, on top of that let’s have multiple players playing. Sprites not enough, let's upgrade to polygons. Racing not enough? Let's throw in weapons and guns. That not enough, let's have furiously quick game play, huge jumps and leaps, traps, tricks and explosions. That still not enough? How about WINGS!

Ok... now we're talking San Francisco Rush 2049.

The Rush series of games have built up on racing around cityscapes, using shortcuts triggered by buttons in out-of-the-way places and having some crazy jumps and leaps. This game goes beyond that with the fun side of things by allowing the cars to sprout planes while airborne to help stabilise, balance and trick out some mad moves by spinning, endo-ing and flipping here there and everywhere.

As said at the start, there are essentially 3 games here. However your profile/car can be modified with tyres, frames, engines etc to change the performance of the vehicles. All of these unlocked by winning races and circuit sets, travelling distances in miles/kilometres and collecting coins. Yep even this game has a collecting session. Each level/track has 8 silver and 8 gold coins. The silvers tend to be easier to collect while the golds are often awarded for finding the most hidden, out of the way places, or performing the largest leaps at very specific speeds and angles and usually requires the most powerful engines and lightest frames to reach them.

The main game is racing. Multiple tracks set in and around a futuristic San Francisco scene with booster tracks, short cuts under mountains, through construction yards, loop the loops, corkscrews and death defying leaps of amazing views. You start with 5 other vehicles and once you're racing, how you get to the finish line is up to you. Race the usual track and try to beat the other racers or take the short cuts to get ahead and secure more points and positions, which becomes essential when the other cars out class you. The downside to the shortcuts is that if you fail to beat the shortcut you'll end up crashing and being put back on the track with a slower speed and usually a fair bit behind where you'd be normally. Quite a drawback when the shortcut usually isn't much of a boost, save for the rare one or two that take big chunks off the tracks. Others are substantially difficult to judge as they have loops that take you back before taking you forwards.

The second main game mode is a stunt track. Several levels (with 8 gold and 8 silver coins each) designed with lots of jumps and leaps, boosts and such to get the players into the air quickly and for long durations to perform tricks. The more variation of a trick in a jump, the bigger the multiplier. You can either play solo to try and gain score or go head to head with multiplayer mode to see who gets the highest scores. Cumulative scores unlock further maps and levels in the game. The more awkward players will cause accidents with other players to stop them scoring, fail to land the trick and explode and you get nothing for your launch attempt. Games tend to be 5minutes in length aside from changing the settings.

The final mode is the weapons battle where it's multiplayer only (or solo if you want to learn the level) where there's a selection of weapons for players to collect and use against each other. Each player has a pistol instead of wings while weapon upgrades include sonic blasters, grenades, lasers, machineguns, rockets and battering rams. With people getting either first to x kills or most within a time limit. No coins in these tracks, just flatter areas for people to battle more steadily within the confines of the level. Other power ups include shields, repairs and stealth/cloaking (but the missile will still find you).

There's a lot of variety to keep a lot of players enjoying the game for a long time, particularly the "must collect everything" players with the coins and cars, engine parts, tyres, transmissions (auto, manual, sport, pro) and even levels to unlock, and the ultimate challenge, The Gauntlet, you've got a few minutes to get through some of the toughest tricks and traps in the game before landing on a picture of the team, sadly you can't burn it up with some wheel spins.

Driving is a simple enough affair with tracks laid out usually quite comprehensively. Though some tracks you'll learn quickly that following the main road will lead you into a dead end, thanks a bunch. While some traps trigger hammers and walls that will quickly move in the way and kill the person who triggered it with a big fat smiling face upon the wall as a delightful little "fuck you, with love" from the game designers. Lovely.

Some of the shortcuts are insanely hard and not something you'd even consider at times, such as landing on a moving boat and driving back off again to get to an area that houses a coin. The coin being the ONLY reason you'd even attempt that. Which means to get the coins you'll be playing a lot of practise mode as racing isn't an option if you're taking such detours, several coins on one track are hidden in an area you have to glitch through or drive through on your side and NOT explode, and THEN to travel around a high speed ramp and jump area to get the few silvers and one gold coin contained.

But completionists... are a funny bunch.

The game and maps are designed in such a way that racing around the cityscapes feels like a while knuckle race through madness with every slight twitch and twist being the difference between death and the next position upwards in the rankings. Though you rarely do explode from coming into contact with the walls, often scraping them and still racing on, the involvement of other hazards like Tram Cars tend to make you blow up faster than a Pinto kicked in the arse. Usually the tracks are fair to the racers and only one or two traps encroach upon the main track leaving the risky stuff to those willing to take the risks.

The music is a rather inspired but esoteric selection of tracks with a few tracks that will really pay dividend to the ambience of the race tracks and further enhance the nitro fuelled race feeling, I tend to just leave it with the track Garage and go from there. While there's one or two good tracks, the rest are too laid back or too generic to really be noticeable.

And for the hardcore, there's harder modes with wind speeds affecting the play, fog, backwards tracks and mirror tracks (with their own shortcuts too) and even more challenging, Death Mode where crashing once will take you out for the race, but this includes AI racers and once all 5 of them are down, you've a quiet ride to the end (just don't crash into any wrecks, you'll be furious at that point as the player is always last if they crash).

As an avid gamer, I like this game for the variety, the lack of common sense in the levels and the wings. Serious petrol heads would be advised to steer clear (heh...) as it lacks the tuning focus of more serious racing games while kart racers may find too much of a focus on actual racing than the jolliness of using comical weapons. It fits itself into a niche rather suitably and has a little for everyone in the game.

And Wings.

Now I'm heading off to rev an engine, shout ""Rush" with an echo then taking my 8.0 litre V10 Pick Up truck to ramp off a few jumps at around 280mph.

Then I'm going to play this game again.

Monday, 23 September 2013

SNES Road Riot 4WD

With many games you realise what they're aiming for and how they went about trying to achieve it. Sometimes you realise that there were key issues in creating such things and that due to overwhelming restrictions, they tried their best with what they had at the time. Some games come through as being gems with potential that maybe the next generation of console would have been better overall for their intentions.

And some games should have been terminated at inception, with the proposer, the designer, the programmers, testers and marketing departments. Games so terrible and horrible that their very existence is a blight on humanity's soul. The type of games that you would never give someone even as a joke unlike any Barbie game, which just is a big playful slap to the face. These types of games however you give to someone on the understanding this person will, or already, hates you.

These kinds of games are the ones that earn people street beatings, in public, with their family and kids around.

I defy anyone to actually get this game and play it AND like it. A bold statement, I know, but this is one of THOSE games.

Sometimes with games you realise that they're trying to jump in the bandwagon and make a name for themselves. Mario and Sonic ruled the platformers series in the 2D days and while chars like Bubsy, Bug, Zool and such all took a shot at the platform crown, these two have seen off all attackers, staunchly. Likewise the king of carting games pretty much is the Mario kart series with occasional attempts over the years from the Kongs, Crash Bandicoot, Konami's random people (love the Pyramid Head racer guys!) Sonic even trying to grab a slice of the pie on the cart racing though Nintendo seems to have gotten this one down to such a fine art that there's few decent competitors for the title. Not those other games are bad, but the Mario Kart series is just so well developed now, that even good games are over looked.

This game though... I'm not which game they were trying to replicate but they fucked up in all recognisable ways and likely others I've never seen before in all my years of gaming.

As far back as I can remember, split-screen racing has been a staple of a lot of games over the years. From the C64 I can remember Pole Position, Kick Start 2 (already reviewed, thanks), Top Gear, Mario Kart, Gran Tourismo, various World Rally Championship games, and so on to name but a few that stick out in my mind. The Super Nintendo version of Mario kart being one of the most played games I've had on the console in my youth, but in acquiring THIS GAME I was sadly exposed to one of the uglier undersides of the gaming library.

This game tries to be a racing game. A split-screen off-road buggy racer that competes you and possibly a (soon-to-be-no-longer) friend, against each other and multiple AI racers on dirt tracks against each other. You've your standard, steering, optional gears (never played with gears in any arcade racer, I leave that to my actual car where it's FUN to use them), and an optional gun that shoots out to hit other racers to slow them down.

That's the idea anyway.

Let's take a look at the history. Myself and my cousin, hired this game from a shop going on the blurb on the back, looking for a racing game of sorts and this offered 2 player action, shooting the other racers and seemed to be presented fairly well. I should note this was back before the internet was available and people could readily access reviews and such websites. If they were available I'd have gone straight online and sought the names and addresses of all the people involved and tortured them badly with a whole assortment of things from my garden shed. Most likely the spiders.

This is also likely why the internet wasn't invented sooner, to wait for me to stop wanting these people gone.

So we took this game and paid our rental (I know, renting SNES games, those were the days) and ended up heading home to slap the game into the console and booting it up. Already the cracks were starting to show. The game's presentation was very weak, nothing really being done within the game to showcase what it could do or what it offered. The music was an assault upon the ears and we opted to play the game with the sound down on our little TV. A first for gaming.

Then we started playing it and that's probably where my inspiration came to actually review games, sadly one I realised only recently but better late than never.

The game sets up, gets ready to play and looks like the usual split screen affair of games at the time like Top Gear and Mario kart and that's really where the game differs. The frame rate stutters along like a backfiring scrap heap of a car. The refresh rate is so slow that by the time someone has been seen they're already processed as have over taken you and gone into the distance, your only time to see someone is when you fly past them, they fly past you, or you're level with them very briefly. Shooting at them is beyond a joke, you can't aim accurately with the limited frames of animation of your vehicle and with slow refresh and lowered frame rate, and your bullet is there for a second and gone. Even successfully hitting someone slows them down so slightly that it barely seems to have done anything and when you stop shooting them, they speed right back up to what they were before the change. So the one extra function in a racing game to help you overtake; lets you pull level at the MOST effective it can be.

This game was clearly rushed.

The levels and races are bland and repetitive, backgrounds and the tracks themselves are indistinct from each other and the music grates heavily upon the brain with its awful synths best left to crappy old Midi libraries labelled under "What the fuck were we thinking".

As I mentioned earlier in the review, sometimes you realise that games were made with a lack of firepower and strength that later generations of consoles could manage. Sometimes you play a game realise that split screen tends to be slower and missing something that full screen has. In some games a full screen, single player mode, has a remarkably better refresh rate than the split screen and usually more detail. This games HAS NO SINGLE PLAYER SCREEN. The single player mode is just the fucking multiplayer mode while the bottom half follows one particular AI racer.

There was never any attempt to overcome the trials and tribulations of the hardware limitations, it's a shitty, hastily made, mash up of code that likely was hacked together and slashed out as a means of simply putting out SOMETHING that had racing in it to try and get in on the fat cow of kart racing that was being used. I'm hugely grateful that the £1 I spent hiring the game would have gone to the lovely people who ran the shop rather than the spluttering shit-fest of a company that published this dross.

My sympathies go to those that spent a full £30 or £40 on this pile of dogshit. If anyone has a copy of this game, please send me vids of you destroying it for the good of future generations.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

C64 Desert Fox

While military simulations have not really been my interest, I thought it'd be prudent to dig up another "classic" from the C64 era. I don't tend to enjoy strategy games for the most part as I consider Chess to be one of the most perfect forms of the strategy system, one on one mental combat with specific rules and situations. Unlike more modern strategy games where it's a random number generator that determines how a single solitary individual can take on and defeat a whole army thanks to high rolls of the dice. Yep, your entire army can be Arnold Schwarzenegger’d out of existence thanks to several 6's rolling up.

Thankfully Desert Fox strictly speaking, isn't a strategy simulation. It has elements of it but most of the combat and victory is down to the player being able to play fairly well (and on Grandmaster, VERY well).

The game is a simulation of the World War 2 tank conflict in the African campaign between the Desert Rats and the Desert Fox. Or more basically, The Allies and the Axis led by Rommel. Interestingly enough, it doesn't involve Hitler in game about WW2 fighting and combat, which is certainly not the route Wolfenstein took.

Brief (and pointless) history lesson aside that could be easily disregarded thanks to any form of actual research, you're tasked with guiding the Allies into capturing key depots and either fighting or avoiding Rommel himself in his tank. Who basically serves as a boss fight and a fairly tough one, too.

The game itself is split into 2 modes, a practice and a campaign. The practice lets you run through short versions of the arcade section ranging from shooting down Stukka planes, combating Tiger tanks, traversing minefields, avoiding canyon ambushes and escorting a convoy against a series of bombers engaged in aerial combat. Most of the game is played through the eyes of the tank itself, giving it a generally first person view for such an old game and added a little extra "you're THERE" factor.

As you take on the events, you'll sustain damage from the Stukkas should you fail to shoot them down, take hits from Tiger tanks running back and forth on the horizon while they approach steadily, take mines to the treads and get hit by ambush attacks. The convoy interestingly is more about trying to get as many trucks through the bombardment by shooting down the red planes and not the green planes in a mode akin to Hyper Sports skeet shooting, two guns with left and right to fire either of them and the targets aim themselves, more a test of reflexes than anything else.

The campaign brings all this together. 5 steadily increasing challenges ranging from 3 locations to a whopping 6 locations that your tank will need to travel to in order to liberate the depots before their timers run out and the Axis win. Lose a single depot and it's game over. You can however send in one aerial support to boost that depot's timer. However... To get to the depot you'll have to travel towards it and once near enough, defeat specific events to progress. Your tank moves a set distance per "movement phase" and the radar can tell you the events leading up to the hopefully useful "Depot" in digitised speech no less. Liberating a depot quickly enough will boost your health and repair your tank while taking your sweet time will leave you with less health recovered. The other key issue in the game is Rommel who will steadily home in on you across the map symbolised by a red swastika sign. His advantage is that he'll keep moving while you're engaged in an event and come sometimes result in you winning an event to find he's there, ominous (and fucking hell it is ominous) music sounds and you're fighting the big man one on one.

He fights exactly like the Tiger tank scenario but takes 8 hits to down rather than 5, and moves like greased lightning with its arse on fire. Though you can still win the campaign without fighting him, but it's much more rewarding to take him on and go toe to toe with the toughest challenge in the game.

There's a lot of challenge within the game and even doing the shortest campaign can be either a breeze or a slaughter fest depending upon how fortunate you with Rommel. Avoiding is advised but who wants to do that when the big mean boss is there and you know you can defeat it? No wonder downfall happens a lot.

Most surprising, beyond the digitised speech, is just how nightmarish the game is when you either fight Rommel, lose the game or lose the convoy round, the music/ambience accompaniment is the virtual stuff of nightmare and the first few times you'll hear it, comes across as rather shocking to the ear. Later it just becomes sheer creepy or the stuff of nightmares.

Graphically the game is simple but effective, a lot of focus has gone into the first person tank moments and there's a lot of simplicity that allows for fairly smooth and fluid gameplay, though the Tiger Tanks switching so quickly back and forth is impossible but there's got to be some challenge in there somewhere, the particularly accurate will be shooting down the shells as they advance in a manner rather similar to Encounter's saucers shooting at the player.

The campaign mode and the game in general fall into the same situation as most arcade games, there's little random element in the game when it comes to the campaigns and the arcade sections. If you've found a way to beat the main game, you've likely found the same method will work every time unless you royally bollocks up some of the events leading to the depots. This is a shame because the game has a lot more potential if it could offer varying challenges (except in one game where Rommel turned up twice... oddly).

It's a recommended game however, though an instruction many for the campaign is SORELY needed as it's a very different set of functions to the events. Once you've gotten past this stumbling block, you've got yourself a very accessible and intriguing little entertainment for a while.