Thursday, 30 April 2015

Puzzle Bobble 2 - Various


Bubbles, Bobbles and Puzzles.


Bright, colourful, loud and cheerful. The key elements of a fun game aimed at as many audiences as possible and based upon the popular Bubble Bobble series, Puzzle Bobble 2 is Taito's foray into the world of bubble pop games, made more famous recently by games like Bubble Witch 1 and 2 on Facebook and smart phones and involves the player trying to overcome various set pieces or go toe-to-dragon-toe with opponents both of the Artificial Intelligence and the Stupid Intelligence.

So many choices, some more expensive than others.

Puzzle Bobble 2 takes the light-hearted approach to gaming with the use of Bub and Bob, the character bubble-dragons of the game Bubble Bobble, and sets them in the odd gaming world of Bust-a-move. Where players are presented with a wall composed of various coloured balls and bubbles and have to connect additional balls and bubbles together in order to pop them with the objective of either clearing the screen of bubbles or surviving longer than your opponent as they attempt to do the same.

This is just enemy one. He's a pratt.

After so many shots, Puzzle Bobble 2 will lower the arena or add an upper layer of new bubbles to the arena, giving a limit on the number of shots you can take or keeping the game flowing and continuing while you play against your opponent. If you manage to pop multiple bubbles, you'll be rewarded with bonus points for the feat while in Vs. mode you'll also begin to flood extra bubbles to the bottom of the playing field of your opponent. This being the only way to lose, when the bubbles in your arena extend beyond the point where you can launch them.

Fire bubbles, pop in sets of 3 or more and bonus drops fill up the opponents area.

The puzzle mode for Puzzle Bobble 2 sports a series of differing arenas with different balls and layouts for players to test their skill and accuracy while navigating a board towards a multitude of differing endings. That said, it's not an easy feat to get there and harder to actually beat some of the levels that will require some incredible trick-shots and ricochets to be able to win and progress onwards. The Vs. mode in the game pits the players against a series of cute creatures with increasingly difficult algorithms that will hit the best shot more readily as the player continues, up until a final boss battle and then receiving their well-deserved ending.

You win, "big whoop, wanna foight abaht it?"

The only real problem with the game is that it can be very difficult to judge where to place shots and how the physics of the engine works if you've already been used to playing more recent games like Bubble Witch, as in those types of games you could squeeze shots between gaps that you physically are unable to do in Puzzle Bobble 2, whether by design (to get more cash out you, oh spend-happy player) or through limitations of the hardware and programming (I'm still thinking it's the cash incentive), it can come across as particularly jarring when key shots that work in later games, do not work in this one and are likely to cost you that round of play (and a credit).

You're crap, and beaten by an annoying cartoon kid for that matter.

However, it's still a cute and very appealing game, the music and audio puts it on par with the cheerful Saturday Morning Cartoon Club of games and the presentation is one that puts the player back a few years to the point where cartoons were fun and interesting things rather than being the non-sensical meshes of animation and crowbarred plot devices they seem to have become today... Or I'm just old. Oh God I'm old.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Pac-Land - Arcade (Not quite Pacman)


Welcome to the platformer attempt.


Of a time when Pacman was something of a legend in gaming, back in the early 80s, there was the usual palaver that comes with a trend setting product. The game usually first, then the action figures, cartoon show, lunchbox and next thing you know it's become attack of the merchandisers and the only way to repel the borders is to pump cash at them until parents are screaming for an end to its greedy, monetary food supply and that the fad moves on to something cheaper (usually it doesn't... Turtles anyone?)

Bright, colourful, fairly uneventuful thankfully.

Pac-Land, is a game based on the cartoon that came for the original game. Mr Pacman happens across a fairy that got lost one day and decides to the charitable event of escorting the fairy home, while hiding it under his hat. On his way, the usual ghostly enemies of Dicky, Shitty, Twatty and Arseface (I'm not sure on the names, but those seem to fit well) will do whatever they can to hinder and stop Pacman. These acts range from running him over, dropping bombs from planes and windows, pogo-sticking him to death, crash-landing UFOs at him and all other manners of tricks and traps. If you manage to rescue the fairy, you'll be granted a pair of magic air-jump boots and have to run ALL THE WAY BACK to the start and be greeted by your generic 2.4 Pacman family (complete with "dog" and "cat" for want of better graphics)

Power pills and ghosts running away, some original elements have carried over.

Controls in Pac-Land are very simple, you've got a joystick for moving back and forth (though you'll be slowly stalked by a constant ghost as a timer for the game) and a jump button. That is it. Walk from side to side using the joystick but, and here's the clever bit, you can run by double tapping the joystick. A feat told you at NO POINT during the game, introduction, attract screen or even on the side of the cabinet. What's worse is that to get past one particular set of traps, springboards over water pools, you have to repeatedly double tap the joystick after take-off, FROM RUNNING, in order to float over the water pool and HOPE you have enough speed and height to clear it. Expect most people to not make it past the 3rd level as a result of this.

Those logs spin and will shift you off the platforms.

Aside from the BRUTAL DIFFICULTY CURVE at key points in Pac-Land, it's a fun and cheerful little game with minor frustrations at being caught at key points namely because the player likely didn't slow down and thought they could chance it. Take your time and progress slowly and you'll make it through with little problems... Until the springboards show up again. Once you've gotten back to your family, the next round of levels begin with everything getting harder and more intense. The cars from the first level are back and now with Double Decker Buses, ghosts are throwing things at you from windows and everything has just become a little more intense and difficult, get far enough and you'll find new areas that will host their own challenges too.

You win, your prize is shoes and a run back to the start.

Pac-Land looks very much like the original cartoon, in that it's bright, colourful, clearly defined and uses the main primary and secondary colours and little else. Whether this is because the arcade has used some impressive graphics or the cartoon was just quickly hashed together, is up for debate. (Totally a weak cartoon). The game runs smoothly, the graphics and animations are nice and fluid and the game plays well aside from those key, pixel-perfect moments of timing that require lightning reflexes the likes of which the Gods on Olympus would be proud to have.

Give me something to break! - That's enough Limp Bizkit

As long as you remember the original cartoon, you'll be familiar with the main tune of Pac-Land. It runs on long enough to remain being slightly varied and bridges well into the final few bars at checkpoints and ends of the level and yet doesn't grate too much on the nerves when it begins to repeat itself, though if you're playing well enough it shouldn't repeat by the time you hit a check point or a level end. The return music for the last stage is a slower, staggered rendition of the original and despite the lowered tempo and tone, the gameplay is as every bit as frantic as it has been over the previous rounds.

There's some significant variation in levels to keep things interesting.

Pac-Land is an odd one to be part of the series. Gone are the maxes and dots, but the power pills remain (Stay in school kids, pop pills and eat ghosts) and the ghosts take on a personification/anthropomorphism from the maze to this rendition of their selves in no small thanks to the cartoon. It's a lively little platformer if a little short with some vertical curves in the difficulty if one isn't ready or prepared to quickly experiment for a solution.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

E-Swat Cyber Police - Arcade


A pre-runner for Crackdown? No not the Sega game... nevermind, it's a review.

Sometimes it becomes clear that a game like E-Swat - Cyber Police is using another game engine. What we basically have here is Shinobi or Rolling Thunder (likely Shinobi if it's SEGA) but with cops and robots riding the success of Robocop in the cinemas. While OCEAN may have had the license for Robocop games, it didn't stop SEGA trying to jump the bandwagon with their game, E-Swat - Cyber Police.

Generic cop vs. Skateboarder. Someone film it and cause controversy.

You play as Beatwalker McGenericCop, on the street and ready to shoot everyone and everything. You name it, it's going to get a bullet of hard justice in the face. Skateboarders? Shot. Hostages? Shot. Guy holding a knife? Shot twice. While you take your generic coppy guy out for a stroll, you have to foil three hardened asshats who just robbed a bank and took a hostage with them. One breathes fire and has a bin lid for a shield, another has a boomerang (has anyone EVER used one of these in a threatening manner?) and the last can twirl an anchor on a chain like it's a Kusarigama (look it up).

Congratulations, you're a dick in armour.

Once you've caught the three initial miscreants that can soak up more lead than onions, you're given the upgrade of a cop-lifetime. You get to become Roboc- E-Swat - Cyber Police, where you wear the most bulked out armour you've ever seen and your arm gets a machinegun wrapped around it. Now you're licensed to get shot at by the more heavily armed mobsters out there and giant gorillas (I'm not joking).

Looks like Friday Night in Hackney.

In what is a basic platform, run/gun game, you make your way from left to right and use your ammo (yes you can run out) to shoot down everybody that moves and then try to collect enough ammo to avoid having to melee your way through the game. When you get damaged as the E-Swat - Cyber Police, you also can see the physical damage to your suit just in case your ability to read a health bar is marred by the game. In some places you can leap into the background or up onto a higher platform while most of the game will be spent trying to dodge every bullet, knife, laser and flame thrown at you.

Yes, that looks... reasonable.

Yep, moving and escaping from damage is a tough one in E-Swat - Cyber Police, given you're the size of a walking tank that walks more slowly than a geriatric treading through glue, yet have the strength and agility to leap nearly 20ft into the air if you need to, you're still going to take a lot of hits and wounds from enemies that can mob you and spray firepower like it's going out of fashion. If it's not the gangsters with their rockets and flamethrowers, it's the background that can spawn gun turrets almost at will or the hugely overpowered boss fights that start interestingly and end disappointingly.

It's quite a bit one-sided at this point.

As an example in E-Swat - Cyber Police, your first big boss fight is against a guy in a similarly powered suit that you have. Beating him leads to him running off (why you can't shoot him in the back I don't know) until he's rigged a building to blow up and while it's falling and you're INSIDE that building, you have to fight his private army and escape the building, then you can arrest him. The second main guy to take down sends a tiger, a gorilla (See, I wasn't joking) and a Monster Truck at you and then later bosses are just generic robots/tanks that really lack the almost-creative flare of the original set of bosses.

I didn't sign up for this!

While the levels don't exactly grab the imagination, there's some different layouts and settings the game puts you in with no real cohesion between them in E-Swat - Cyber Police. You're at the docks for one fight, then a football stadium or similar, then a city street, industrial site, docks again until the final few levels that take place in one huge hidden establishment. Otherwise it's the grab-a-large-dice-time-and-roll-out-the-randomly-assigned-level-layout-for-the-next-one, style of level sequence.

Time to bring the house down.

All in all, E-Swat - Cyber Police isn't really a bad game but it is a game that's been done before and done better by the likes of Shinobi and even Rolling Thunder (maybe not so much on Rolling Thunder, but definitely and more memorably with Shinobi) it's not terrible, but it's not great either, an unhappy midground that will have it over looked by games that sit on the more extreme ends of the see-saw.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Contra - Arcade


Enough crap, it's Arnie and Sly.
 
Some will argue this is one of the hardest games out there in the Run and Gun category of gaming. I however, feel that the follow up game to this one is FAR harder but that's for a later review, possibly. That being said, it is still a very tough game and the arbitrary limit of continues on the machine itself is just only a small part of that problem. Though it's not a very big problem as it's great to see games that have that one thing that a lot of games nowadays are missing, challenge!

It's an odd perspective/ratio and keeps you from seeing too far ahead.

Contra follows that lovely idea of starting from the left and running you rightwards (usually, more in a second) where you'll be jumping platforms and hammering the shoot button to fire in as many directions as possible at the limitless spawning enemies, the set-piece enemies and all the way until you meet the boss of the level and have to blow it up. There's no back-story mentioned in the game and to be fair, it's really not needed as the premise is simple, "Run, Gun, Kill, Win" though that last part is a little bit of a challenge.

"We really wanted to be Aliens" is all this game screams.

You've your usual spectrum of weapons in Contra, gun, machinegun, fireball thrower (avoid this like the plague), laser, Spread/Scatter gun and the rarely found, occasionally picked up, Barrier which makes you invincible to everything except falling off the bottom of the screen. The guns have their uses, machinegun negates the need to press the button but lacks the stopping power of the bigger guns. Laser is highly powerful but requires a lot of accuracy which isn't that easy in this game as there's a sort of sweeping direction movement going on with the aim rather than the arbitrary key 8 directional points. Spread/Scatter gun is great for clearing out waves of enemies but only does heavy damage when up close so that all shots hit at once. Fireball thrower... Well, the less said, the better. There's enough variety there for those that like it and a weapon for everyone's preference. (Mine's the spread gun, stay off it)

Mix it up with some pseudo-first person fighting

The controls in Contra are an odd bunch at times. They're less precise and more fluid than the home console versions of the game and by that I mean that you can shoot in angles between the 8 key directions (Up, down, left, right and all 4 diagonals) as the game takes a sort of turning momentum when you're pointing to consecutive directions, but if you change suddenly from Left to Right, you'll switch immediately, however in turning from Left to Up/Left and Up, you'll spray in multiple directions while the aim turns towards the new directions. Going from Left to Up with a slight pause though, will switch the direction immediately, this tends to catch most people out when trying to aim for something that's going to kill you and needs to be shot, as it's usually miniscule in size and very fast.

Some of the bosses offer quite the challenge. Others offer a HEAVY challenge.

There's plenty to hear in Contra, ranging from the pops and squeaks of dying enemies, explosions from bosses, klaxons going off as bosses are damaged and near death/destruction while there's the semi-synonymous noise of dying that seems to have carried from most games across the series, they're clear and precise and don't strictly interfere with the music which is another bonus point in favour of the game. Konami seems to have nailed it perfectly with Contra in that the levels, challenges and bosses in the game are punctuated with suitably appropriate music and most key boss music really sets the adrenaline going, especially after the tunnel levels.

It's not a boss, it takes about as much damage as one.

Graphically, Konami looks stunning. The action and motion is fluid as you traverse the levels and the gameplay is never overwhelmed by what's going on but the looks and appearance of the mechanical structures, odd alien-esque biomechanics (Though I feel Geiger might have been more than a slight inspiration here...) and even the ice levels, jungles and underground tunnels are lavishly designed and realised through the artistic merit of the game.

Space American Football Player Boss... The what now?

It is a tough game though, while there may be several camps of people decrying it as either IS or IS NOT the toughest game of the genre before we start looking at games like I Wanna Be The Guy or platform bullet-hell games, it's difficult but not the toughest. That said there are some issues regarding jumping and shooting accurately especially when trying to aim for diagonal shots but these were ironed out in the console releases (Which have far more levels too).

Laser, Scatter/Spread, rapid fire. All good weapons, just don't get the fireball gun. It's crap.

Play Contra if you can in the arcades, it's quite different from the NES version of the game and will have enough surprises and similarities that would interest and keep a steady gamer curious as to what changes there are. Just remember there's a credit limit before it's an auto-game over and there's no 30 lives cheat for this one.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Quiz and Dragons - Arcade


There's Dragons and a Quiz... Ronsil would be proud.

Combine the awesome power of nerds, geeks and swots together to form the ultimate fusion of Dungeons and Dragons with a Quiz game. Take your dice rolling board game and instead of determining fights and such with the rolling of more dice (perhaps of the 20 sided variety) you have to answer a series of questions on a range of subjects before time runs out.

I always pick the ninja, possible double damage
For either one or two players, Quiz & Dragons sets people against a whole host of monsters, characters, bosses and events that will require them to answer questions in order to progress. Each player can choose between one of four main characters, each with their own advantages that they can bring to the fray. The Warrior, can more regularly regain hit points; The wizard, can steadily choose different subjects in which to answer questions; The Amazon, can drop the questions from 4 answers to 3 or even 2; finally the Ninja that can cause double damage on a correct response. I personally, use the ninja as with a bit of luck, even the last boss falls in a few right answers.

No jokes on this one. I don't know enough to joke about it.
Being an older game, means that there will be no questions newer or more recent than 1994 but there's still a wealth of questions for those that are a little more chronologically gifted amongst us (read: Old gits) though the topics are rather American in basis and as such, there's a whole set of questions on American Football and Baseball that non-American's are going to be hard pressed to answer accurately (There's always room for guessing).

You need to fight Inn-Masters to stay the night, but you get a bonus if you win, death if you don't.
Gameplay in Quiz & Dragons takes the form of each player rolling a dice and moving that many spaces around a board unless they hit a boss square (bigger than usual) and then have to 'battle' the event on that square. In particular there's also Inn Keepers and Fairies that can restore hit points and provide magical items upon being defeated, these magical items include the ability to remove wrong answers from questions, able to pick questions or the most useful, the "TELL YOU THE ANSWER" Item, of which I've had on the last boss.

Multiple paths and routes available for your "pleasure".
On some levels in Quiz & Dragons, you get to choose multiple routes in which to take your character and navigate the maze. Ideally it's to either avoid the bosses and the short routes, or go the longer (slightly) safer path that may or may not lead to bonus items and such. If you're comfortable in your knowledge or you're able to win a prize that gives you control of the questions, you could cakewalk some of the bosses on a topic like movies.

I've a better question. "Who gives a ripe fuck?"
As such, for Quiz & Dragons, it's more a luck based event that determines whether you get a question you can answer successfully, a question that it's obvious what the answer is because of the false responses, or you get a question that nobody, even the people of the subject question, would get right. But you could always get lucky and 25% is still a viable chance, do that 7 times on the trot to win the first round entirely and you're looking at a 1 in 16 thousand (and a bit more) chance of guessing your way through the first level and the boss.

I only know the name of that one because of Blues Brothers.
Quiz & Dragons, oddly, sports a little bit of plot but its main strength lies in its graphics and audio. The music doesn't entirely irritate and in fact becomes rather ambient during the course of the game while the music intensifies during low health questions, there's the pleasant blinks and boings of sound from winning and being award victory pieces while visually, Quiz & Dragons has managed to illustrate and represent almost all of the key Dungeons & Dragons monsters in respectable detail.

43% of complete guesses were right.
Overall, it's one of the few quiz games one can find that tries to go the extra mile and don't just flood you with questions until you lose or quit playing to accept a prize. It's all about the score and the various different ways and means of playing, making it one of the more fun quiz games out there and worth a few credits if you find yourself a machine of Quiz & Dragons.