Thursday, 29 May 2014

Nemesis (GB)

Looks ominous, but Easter Island head??? Konami you've some explaining to do

More Gameboy reviews and this time it's a lovely little quaint side scrolling spaceship shooter called Nemesis. Sadly that's not the Nemesis from Resident Evil punching his hand-dick through idiots faces. Nor a righteous designation of retribution or punishment, personified by a "roight 'orrible khant, me", though the wonderfully lyrical stylings of BrickTop would be amusing anyway. Perhaps if we can do it to the trackline of Darth Vader... No it's been done already.

I... should have paused before taking this image.
Nemesis, is part of the Gradius series though released on the gameboy rather than in Arcades and on the NES. Retitled for some reason and made all the redundant when re-released later with the other game's title instead. Makes you wonder what the point of it was really. However while it's here, I'm reviewing it and despite a few flaws it's a good game overall. There are problems as usual with games but then nobody has made the perfect game and this isn't it because it lacks an ability to nuke-slam people from orbit. What we do have is a side-scrolling game with variable items to collect and use as powerups.

The distinct difference that Nemesis has over games like R-Type is that you choose your power up. Speed, missiles, double shots, lasers, extra ships (options) and Force Fields are all collected by simple power up objects and you select which one you want when you want. The problem with that is you're restricted to having to collect 6 items to get a shield that lasts 3 hits or one BIG object that may or may not kill you outright anyway. If you're continuing from a checkpoint there may not even BE enough objects to get the shield. You also cannot have double AND laser at the same time.

Kinda defeats the point really...
Given the lack of available colour, the detail and such for the levels is astounding for what was possible and what was achieved. Sometimes the enemies get a little difficult to differentiate between each other, the projectiles they're firing and the background/foreground, while it does seem that nearly every effort has been made to try and keep these objects and items separate and discernable enough for the player to recognise as enemies or things that need to be avoided.
Missiles, Double, Speed, but I need more, MUCH more POWAH!

The music is upbeat enough that it becomes memorable and while not entirely in fitting with the theme and style of the game (one boss music in particular is very out of nowhere and makes it sound far more dangerous and sinister than one might expect from a side-scrolling shoot em up. Else the usual beeps and plinks of the gunfire, laser fire, explosions and power ups are clear enough to know which is which (the fact they're being played when you do key things anyway is often the biggest giveaway at that point) and it all goes hand in hand together for the game.

Shields are out, boss just arrived, it's go time!
The controls are fairly solid, one button to fire and one to use your power ups and the well recognised D-Pad for movement. However you'd be advised to NOT sit at the back of the screen (i.e. the left edge) as you'll likely be smashed apart by enemies approaching from the rear and you'll have no indication of it happening until you actually explode, lose all your power ups and have to restart from a checkpoint. Quite the unfair instance of gaming there and it will happen more and more often as you progress through the game towards the final boss. (A blob with 2 guns... bit anticlimactic there. Imagine the CyberDemon turning up in Doom2 with a fucking water pistol and you're on my wavelength now for disappointment).

Even in the future, Margaret Thatcher haunts us.
Sometimes in games like this you'll encounter things like Easter Island heads (It IS Konami after all) and it makes no sense. It doesn't here either but at least the graphics artists made it look like it fits in well enough to have them hurl large hoops the size of your ship. Likewise with other levels, everything fits within that level and the fluidity of the scenery is impressive all the same. Each level also has a sub-boss of sorts (which in some cases is HARDER than the actual boss, but oh well) and it all makes for a good sized challenge with a decent level of replay value. Well worth playing at least once all the way through.

The Konami code works here too, I should add. But just once...

Monday, 26 May 2014

Contra/Probotector (GB)

Such a familiar font, I do miss the old games a lot at times.
Given the last review, I thought that it'd be nice for me to review a few more Gameboy games in this month. My next being Contra/Probotector on the Gameboy. It's certainly an interesting game given the Gameboy's processing power and management of resources. Considering what the old 'boy was capable of, it's quite impressive as it stands.

It's creative, I'll give the designers that much.

Konami took it upon themselves to make what seems to be a mix of the first Contra/Probotector game, elements of the second Contra/Probotector game and throw in a lot of original content to the mix for it to becomes something quite impressive. There's some of the bigger elements thrown in such as musical renditions of level music from the original, some of the boss music makes it in there too and it's a nice return to the originals in that capacity.

Not sure if this should have been the first boss as it depends upon firing in a direction not previously used.
Possibly an issue with the game and size of the carts, but there's only five levels and none of them are particularly long nor infested with multitudes of enemies. You've three of the 2D side-scrolling platformer levels and two that use the pseudo-top-down view of the second NES game rather than the almost 3D tunnel view of the first game's alternative levels. While there's a lot borrowed here, there's also a LOT that's new and unexpected.

It can be difficult at times to identify the enemies, especially when they're shooting at you

The levels follow a similar pattern, going from city/industrial, military base, jungle, alien mesh and then alien mesh corridor, skipping a few of the more redundant and repetitive levels. There's no ice/factory levels (thankfully, I hate ice levels in almost any game) and the final boss is... curiously non-reactive but having said that, the pen-ultimate boss is rather a challenge. I'm getting ahead of myself however.

Roll in, get blown up, join the army!
The controls are very solid for the game, very responsive and very fluid, while jumping is a little out of sorts from the other game, in that you jump a little higher than one might expect for the Contra series, the emphasis is mainly on navigating the level, shooting the occasional enemy that pops up and then going toe-to-toe with the boss. What's refreshing in this game is that ALL of the bosses are unique and not encountered elsewhere in the other games of the series. So there's the thankfully good news that you'll experience new things.

Despite the lack of colours, the detail remains impressive for the alien architecture
Weapons wise, you start with a machinegun which is auto fire enabled, probably to stop people hammering the buttons on the Gameboy, and can upgrade to the scatter/spread gun, a homing bullet series of weapons which is actually quite overkill on bosses, or there's the fireball gun which thankfully is more like the second NES game in terms of use and effectiveness and not the first. So it actually DOES something rather than make the player want to end themselves just to go back to shooting standard bullets again.

Ok, Geiger can't be sued any more... what? Too soon?
The bosses range interesting from a submarine, to a chain-link tank, flying robot combos, a laser toting spider and a blob in a jar. Yes you did read that last part right and thankfully, while it does nothing, the "not quite end of the game" boss before it, is quite the challenge. Even mid-point bosses are nothing like anything in any of the NES games or Arcade games for that matter and as such, you'll get to see new things in this game rather than recycled bosses and sprites.

It does nothing...
It flows fairly well and the gameplay is easy enough that most of the difficulties are rendered moot by the control system. That said, there is the occasional problem with jumping over gaps in that the first few you jump over most likely will cause you to do in that you've got to be really close to the edge in order to make the jump. It's not quite the annoying level of pixel perfect landings but it's close to it. The oddness of the jumping physics in this game makes it a little awkward in that particular regard. Otherwise, a fun game if a little short on the fun and goodness.
A winner is you!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Puzzle Boy (GB)

Atlus... Sort of explains a few things here

Short one today, as there's little to comment upon.

It's always been an odd idea to me to make a video game that is about the fundamental idea of shoving a box around a room. It lets my mind wander back to what seemed like an odd name at the time but that's because I wasn't aware of the time back in the 1980s of foreign titles being ported over, in particular this one called Sokoban. But I'm not reviewing Sokoban, I'm using it as an early example of what is basically the premise for Puzzle Boy, shove boxes around a room and try not to block yourself in like a prick.

Erm.... Tomato Princess perhaps?
Puzzle Boy follows the Sokoban initiative in the way that it's about some animated fruits and vegetables pushing things around to get everyone in the room (sometimes you've 4 different healthy-but-not-going-to-eat-it-snacks in play) back to base and free of the evil (I assume, I've no real idea as I can't read this) blocks and spinning blocks. There's something of a plot in here somewhere but I'll be damned if I can read this kanji... Is it kanji? I really don't know on this one at all. So let's just look at what we can understanding.

Sadly, no the level did not start this way.
You go from A to be while navigating a maze of levels. You've 30 levels, 10 per difficulty in the main game ranging from "Finished before the intro music is over" to the more simply named "....oooh fuck" levels where you might as well get a degree to work them out as it'd take less time. Or a website of info. Some of the blocks move, some rotate and turn and in some rooms you've got holes in the ground that need to be filled in with moveable blocks to make a walkway towards the exit. In harder levels, you've also got to get multiple people in place and switch between them to solve the puzzles. Though having said that, I do love the music, there's just something on quintessentially catchy and lively about it that I can't help but tap toes and hum along while making up some "la la la"s and "de de dee"s in a poor attempt of lyrical mastery .

Push, shove, turn. Walk to the steps for more pain.
Alternatively, you can take on the quick fire puzzles which are smaller, faster (usually) sets of puzzles in a sort of time-trial session where you can race for a better time or quit in frustration when you see a 5x5 puzzle that might as well be the first code to Fort Knox as you've an easier chance to break into THAT than getting through this game in one piece. Or you know, play something else. The music is a little more lively for this mode.

These blocks turn and rotate, but I've taken 21 seconds already and 9 levels next.
On top of that, for those that have a) a friend nearby and b) a friend nearby that ALSO has this game, there's the link up mode challenge where two players compete in the aforementioned speed challenge to try and beat a series of levels before the other player does. The only additional difference, is that you can see how far they are on a progression bar but otherwise there's little point in wondering where everything is as you'll either beat them in speed or they beat you, there's nothing that otherwise influences gameplay. Unlike, for example, Tetris where you can attack each other with bonus lines etc.

Hint: Push the large block downwards
Having said all that, the control system is fairly simple, quite responsive and if anything goes wrong it's because you either didn't pay attention or because you lack the ability to plan ahead some 50 moves in 2D geometrical identities. The frustration of this game is two-fold in that while you've only 30 levels (and can jump to any of them at any time) there are some that are punishingly difficult and some that are just outlandishly fiendish to the point where you'll wonder if the designers could do the puzzles themselves or did they do some form of deal with a demonic deity.

Think carefully, you could get to the end before your brain looks for something fun instead.
While there is no long time investment in this game due to it only having 30 levels and a short lifespan of the challenge/vs. modes, it's worth taking a look at. For about 5 minutes, you'll know by then everything you need to know and by that point, it's likely to be too damn much as it is.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Trog (NES)

Don't be fooled, the one-eyed guy is a complete git.

It's an odd format to follow, but there's many games that take the idea started roughly by pacman and try to improve upon it. Pacman being the great example of a maze based game where you run around the maze and collect all the icons in the maze while avoiding things that will hunt you down and kill you if you touch them. A simple, basic formula and yet it's commonly found in a lot of games in one guise or another. Trog is very much like pacman with a facelift, additions and changes but the core gameplay is still at the root.

But is it any good? Always the key question as pacman wasn't broken so there's no need to fix it, but can you improve?

Seriously, Bloop. Get a better name.
Trog plays out as a story of 1-2 dinosaurs running around maps, trying to collect eggs and avoid the ever evolving and eponymous Trogs. A creature that happily spawns from holes in the ground and will gleefully try to kill your dinosaurs. Once you've managed to collect all of your eggs, you'll be able to escape from the level via an exit sign and then be able to continue onwards and upwards to harder levels with more trogs and increasingly difficult trogs to contend again as well as various traps and tricks.

Teleporters, oil pits, trogs... No wonder dinosaurs died out.
For example, you can run out of the arena for a death. You can be bashed and devoured by the trogs, burnt up and cindered by fire hazards, swallowed up by oil pits, run over by stone wheels and a whole assortment of other comically cartoony methods of dying. (It's a stone wheel, but you're left with rubber tyre prints on your corpse, that's quite an evolution of technology!), later evolutions have bouncing springs... Not entirely sure if that's a step forwards or backwards.

One of many smoothly animated cutscenes. Quite impressive, all things considered...
You've a small assortment of weapons to counter this threat however. Firstly, you've the ability to punch your enemies and send them flying away, this includes most of their attack but not explicitly all of them. You can also become invulnerable for a short time with the horseshoe power up, you can increase your speed with red flowers but lose speed with blue mushrooms, you can also breath fire when eating a spicy chilli-dog, a pineapple that turns you into an invincible T-Rex mimic that crushes enemies and chomps up Trogs wherever possible and for the keen of sight, if you manage to watch at the start of the level for an egg that glimmers and pick up that egg as your LAST egg, in one life, you'll open a portal to warp ahead several levels.

Wheel weapons. Rolling forever around corners so that the middle zone here, is a deathtrap
You will likely need all the help you can get as you try to rush through the 50 levels the game has to offer, which gives you quite the longevity for a game of this nature. Maps, while repeat in style to give the perspective of different areas, don't repeat with actual layouts. Later levels make use of teleporters, warp doors, catapults and walkways to make it harder to progress but also to encourage the use and development of alternative tactics. Especially as the Trogs are also able to use warp doors, teleports, fall off the island and use the catapults.

HINT: This weapon will be coming up... next.
The biggest enemy however, by far, is the control system. Alternative known as the Fucking Controls! In which you'll often find yourself wandering off the island because you miss-timed when the change direction and you should be pressing the direction LONG BEFORE you get to the point in which you wish to turn otherwise the game will just happily keep you strolling onwards... into the long abyss of a pit, a trap, an enemy you could have and SHOULD have avoided or worst of all, the edge of the map and into water death zone.

Sometimes an arcade conversion emulates things it really shouldn't
It's infuriating, to say the least, when it happens. It's outright rage-inducing when you stroll straight past the final egg and take a swan dive into the ocean, killing your change to get a warp zone, bonus points (though nobody really cares about those these days) and a route to a shorter overall game to be played!

T-Rex, for when you have to eat those trying to eat you.
Despite it being only one flaw in the games make-up, it's a huge flaw and causes unnecessary deaths and failures not because of a lack of player ability but by overly strict sensitivity to changes in direction and the rate at which the code updates the inputs being read. It's a real shame because graphically the game looks very polished apart from the backgrounds, the design and depiction of the characters are impressive, especially for the NES trying to replicate a more advanced arcade game. But the control issue is unforgivable. Dying in a game or failing in a game should be because of the player's inability to solve an issue, not because the game doesn't respond.

You will want these, just to get the game over faster
Instead of being fun, it just comes across as enjoyable until it feels like the game wants you dead and to stop having fun while it horsecock slaps you at the same time just to rub salt into the wound. I should lay off the coffee after that one.