Thursday, 29 October 2015

Fighting Fantasy - Arcade


Nice pixel art, but that's about it.


I wasn't entirely sure of what to expect when I started playing Fighting Fantasy. I was worried initially it was going to be one of those QIX based games where you slowly carve out an arena while the image of a nude woman sits behind a screen that slowly is revealed while you progress through avoiding pointless enemies. Thankfully this isn't one of those games as it is in fact a beat-em-up. Sadly it's not a very good one but it is one of the more creative attempts I've seen from the older sets of games.

Thankfully, no hippos were harmed in the Hippodrome

The premise of Fighting Fantasy is a simple one. You've been chosen as some sort of badass with a sword to take part in interstellar games of gladiatorial combat, where all the other creatures also happen to be from the mythos of the same planet. Not quite sure how that figures out but at least there was an attempt to do something other than "Here's enemies, go crack skulls" which is almost neatly explained in the title sequence after you pump in your cash.

For a particularly non-human enemy, it's well coded.

Controls are simple enough, harkening back to the days of Barbarian on the old early 80s home computers. You've an attack button, a jump button and 8directions of the joystick. Tapping the attack while pushing a direction will result in an attack of some nature while hold back and attack will block (usually) an attack for a short while. Interestingly, after each fight you can purchase weapons and items to keep yourself alive and give different stats. Longer weapons tend to hurt less while short range weapons do the most damage (except against the last enemy where everything does 1 hit point of damage, the cheap bastard).

Just a little bit one-sided in this battle...

Your opponents in Fighting Fantasy are as varied as they are difficult to fight. Each enemy requires a different tactic (Though getting them into a corner and hammering them repeatedly works almost universally well. Ranging from a Lamia (snake woman), Gargoyles, lizard men, scorpion men, dragons, an obligatory twin battle, wizards and the last boss who might as well be God with the health and over prioritised attacks and moves he's got.

Just as unfair as it looks, the 2nd hardest battle in the game.

But the uniqueness in Fighting Fantasy is that each character will fight in a different way. Lamia will use her snake tail to attack at times, Scorpion man will try to poison with the stinger, the twins will do dual-moves, wizard attacks with a huge selection of spells, the Dragon is enormous and more like a boss than a fight and all the fighters have a certain charm to them that shows there's something fairly well developed in this game.

I did not beat this guy, I am ashamed.

Sadly the execution of the game is dross. Fighting Fantasy has the ideas and the ambition but lacks the actual game to pull off what it's attempting to do. While the graphics are impressive for the time and the enemies are clearly and well thought out in their design and performance, the gameplay is the key issue in that it becomes a hammer and button basher very quickly and the idea of using tactics in combat is laughed out the window unless you effectively study this game like you're learning a new language. (And no, not because it's partly in Japanese)

Will kill you unless you fight dirty.

If the combat in Fighting Fantasy (you know, the very CORE of a fighting a game) had been improved and made more accessible and playable, this would have been a solid hit of a game. Unfortunately it's become an unexciting mess punctuated with impressive idea but horrible execution.

One of the MORE infuriatingly cheap enemies. Akin to putting a slingshot against a Howitzer.

Almost fitting that the last two words of my previous paragraph are entirely suitable for what to do with this game.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Metamorphic Force - Arcade


"Send in the Furries..."


Take the idea of Captain Planet and have it saved by a bunch of furries and you've got Metamorphic Force in a nutshell. The idea is that nature is annoyed, someone turned up to rule the planet and what we have as our saviour group is a bunch of people that fight and can turn into various creatures as a powerup for stronger attacks and fighting styles. A little like Bloody Roar in some respects except it's a scrolling brawl em up rather than a one-on-one fighting game.

Thankfully nobody has the power of "Heart"

Metamorphic Force runs on the idea of hammering every enemy repeatedly but interestingly it also allows you to attack enemies that are down for the count. It also runs on the health idea being a number rather than a life bar, allowing for players to pop in more credits to boost their health so they don't die, but you still get the option anyway if you die as it is (more cash for the makers after all).

And the fur flies...

The game is fast however, your movement, combat, attacks and so on are done with very quick reactions from the game itself and the levels are decently short enough to be enjoyable rather than having them drag on for too long. Especially once you're transformed into your beast form, you'll find yourself mowing through the enemies with scant abandon.

Bosses attack the player too with psychadelic strobing.

Having said that for Metamorphic Force, it looks... Actually it's hard to state how it looks. It looks like it should belong on a Saturday morning kids show akin to some mutated post-adolescent tortoise saviours (or something like that), while the actual art style gives rise to almost everyone either looking like they're made of plastic like they're already action-figures or everyone is a muscle bound greased up hunk. Which looks ok on some characters, on others it is down-right weird.

Ice boss... Ice Golem... In the Ice World...

You've your usual mooks and monsters in the game with a selection of more powerful bosses that inevitably come back for a reprise in the "Boss run" level of the game before heading to the final level where you get to punch out God before he turns into a wrestling dragon monster. (What is it with wrestling and dragon monsters these days...). There's no

There's just something "off" about the model of the enemies...

Musically, Metamorphic Force goes straight for the jugular and doesn't let go. It slams in with a heavy intro composed to summon up the blood within players and overplays the sense of urgency worse than Brian Blessed on Open Ham night. It's certainly entertaining but it does shoot way too high for its target and over achieves to the point of becoming almost detrimental to the experience of the game. Though Hamminess is solid throughout the game with the over the top voice acting from the bosses which all really add to the fun of the game and I certainly wouldn't want it any other way.

Compulsory fire zone to offset ice zone!

The only real complaint to Metamorphic Force is that it's a touch too easy and a tad too short. Most levels fly past quickly and while it feels great making such progress and each of the levels is gloriously unique and devoid of cohesion between them all (as most brawling games are), you're left feeling that you wanted to experience the game a little more in ways that aren't just replaying the game over again.

It's silly, it's funny and as long as you don't try to take the game seriously in the first place, you can have a lot of laughs with the mindless fighting.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Time Crisis - Arcade


It's time, for a Crisis

Pedals and guns. An odd combination to be sure but it has a lot of potential and thanks to Namco, they've managed to turn it into an entire franchise through Time Crisis. Use the gun to shoot everyone and everything you possibly can in the shortest amount of time in order to progress through the levels, while using the pedal to advance and releasing the pedal to become indestructible but at the cost of a) time and b) not being able to shoot anything at all.

There are shotcuts to be found too

There's a plot in Time Crisis, as one might hope for and it runs along the B-Movie lines of "Someone has been kidnapped, arms smugglers are attempting to take over some small principality and you're being sent in, lone agent style, to stop the plot, save the hostage and shoot up more people than Rambo, Commando and Robocop combined. 

Quite a few shortcuts

As expected, the focus in the game is on Time and there being a Crisis. The Crisis has already been explained and the Time element is that you'll have approximately a minute to beat the game. However, before people decry bullshit, you gain time in various ways. These range from clearing an area, to shooting yellow/gold enemies which only appear periodically and briefly for a bonus of 2-5 seconds, as well as getting quick-fire accuracy shots for more time and there's always alternative solutions in blowing something up or being quick enough to bypass stop-gap checkpoints as an extra incentive for the especially quick players. 

Whoa! A plot too!

You're given several lives in Time Crisis, depending upon the arcade settings, ranging from 3 to 9 (only the super generous would permit that however) and getting shot by a lethal bullet or explosive or even hazardous surroundings, will results in having one of your health points removed and staggers your view for a few seconds, losing even more precious time. The issue is that if you run out of time, it's game over regardless of the health of which you're carrying on you. That aside, once you get used to the idea that speed and accuracy and bravery will win this, not cautiousness and carefulness, you will make significantly more progress and find yourself only really stepping off the pedal once a reload is required or one of the red soldiers turn up, as these ones are almost certain to be firing lethal shots. Not that the others can't wound, they're just much less likely to do so.

There's quite a variety in locations and settings in the game

Cars, cannons, helicopters, these are several of the larger enemies in the game that will require more firepower to take down. Failing that, there's always soldiers, rocket soldiers, ninjas with claws, ninjas with knives, machine gunners, soldiers with pipes and many other enemies. It's an interesting mix of madness while you'll quickly learn to spot the red enemies and unique enemies as they'll be the ones that shoot you before you realise it. 

Sadly, not the final boss

The music in Time Crisis fits well and has been scored appropriately, a steady set tempo that becomes more manic and intense during the lead up towards the more climatic battles and dips back at the start of a level to ease us emotionally into the next round. Speech has been recorded well and you'll often hear "Action!" as if this game took on the form of a movie or cinematic but it's suitable enough to not be repetitively annoying and often is welcomed as it makes it abundantly clear when the action is back on again.

Only the red guys should be worried over.

It's an impressive game and concept (If Space Gun hadn't done it first...) and for the first game in the franchise, has shown that you can take the old style of the on-rails shooter and make something innovative with it. Unlike Space Gun, Time Crisis is fully 3D using the similar graphics engines that the PSX could manage but for some reason it works very well with this game, scenes and backgrounds are wonderfully represented given the circumstances and everything does feel like a hike through an East European castle with its construction sites, science labs (including 'The Fly' teleporters...) all the way up to the big final battle with the Man-Behind-The-Man bad guy. Who keeps popping up in other games.

Certainly worth several credits and hopefully you'll have a machine that gives you a plethora of lives with which to play around.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Xenophobe - Arcade

The crazy split screen... It's only going to get worse.

I imagine a meeting at Midway's office.

"Yes, let's ride the success of Aliens (the film) the idea of huge monsters that kill humans very easily and very rapidly running around space stations and planets, nomming down people like candy and causing something to burst from their chests in that odd parody of pregnancy and birth that results in the vasectomy rate going up each time this film comes on for some reason. Let's take that idea, not buy the actual license (Because Konami has it anyway) and make a game that is basically a big send up of the original material."

Game over? I'm FREE! YES!!!

"However, lets royally fuck up the control system and make it as awkward as hell, unplayable by those casual gamers (you know the ones I mean, people that have never played before and expect arcade games to be intuitive and easy to use while real skill comes from experience) and overwhelm people with this abysmal mess and scare them off because we've already got their credits so what the hell do we care after that."

And they were applauded and given a raise and they made this game.

The controls... The horror... But all because of the controls.

I'm not being entirely fair though. So let me break this stuff down.

In what is supposed to be a 3-player game, Xenophobe can allow up to 3 players to play through the game at once. Each one can wander the space-station corridors, meet up and play together or go solo through the space station in search of the key components to beat the mission. Or play until time runs out and the place blows up. Your main mission being to kill every single alien in the space station before the self-destruct kicks in.

So I'm an alien, fighting other aliens, in a game titled "fear of aliens"...

That being said, the levels wrap around themselves so if you keep heading in one direction you'll end up back where you started, but the aliens can move around too. There's multiple weapons to find and keep for yourself in which you can use to kill the aliens from different guns like the laser, gas and lightning, as well as grenades but you're more likely to blow yourself up with those and the aliens tend to attack from most places. Creeping little critters that look like shelled face-huggers, mid aliens that crawl and pounce, big aliens that spit acid and use their mass to attack and other undesirables along the way.

Sadly, you never blow up on ship, you get teleported out. So you can suffer some more.

The biggest problem in the game is the completely unintuitive control system. You've an attack button, and two actions buttons. One used for getting up and jumping and interacting with the backgrounds, the other for crouching, throwing off enemies, picking up objects and throwing grenades. That's right, one button crouches, the other jumps. At times it's simply easier to just crouch, let the aliens come to you and blast as many as you can before the timer runs out in Xenophobe. Speaking of which, if you find switches and buttons, you can find out how many aliens are left and how much time is left before it all blows up. Usually around 100 or so are in most levels, more in the later ones but with the controls how they are, players aren't going to be keen to find out.

Forget the timer, where's the "Blow it the fuck up now!" button?

Add to this an ever diminishing health count and unfair attacks from monsters you simply cannot avoid and monsters that can shrug off damage JUST to hit you (seemingly, but almost always happens) and you end up with an largely unplayable mess that most players will blunder their way through until they get bored or their credit runs out of health. Usually the former. Steer clear of this chaotic mess of a game.