Wednesday, April 22, 2009

AAA looks at: Capcom Classics Collection 1 part 2

1942 - The first in a series of WW2-inspired shooters by Capcom. There's really not much I can say about this one as it's very basic. You're in a plane, you shoot other planes, there's one seemingly only one powerup, and you get more points for shooting lots of things down. The game is broken up into 32 stages but if you're like me you'll be bored after the first one and will find more entertainment in putting a bunch of naughty words in the Top 5 list(since unlike most arcade games you can actually put your entire name in the list if you get a hi-score instead of just your initials). One feature unique to the series is that if you're in a jam you can do a roll to get out of it. The trick is however is that you only get a couple of these.

1943 - This update adds more powerups and a very unique property..a life meter. Unlike most shooters where you get a stock of three lives which are gone in a single hit this game gives a constantly draining health meter that can be filled by grabbing power-ups and drained quickly by enemy fire(with some attacks doing more damage than others). Also new is that at the end of every stage you have to take out a particular enemy(like maybe a fleet of ships) in sort of a bossfight. You have to defeat the boss in a rather short amount of time or else you have to retry the entire battle. Problem is however is that the initial weapon is very weak and even though you can get weapon powerups(like a weak spreadfire, a powerful but close range blast, and narrow but with a high rate of fire missiles) they only last for 20 or so seconds and thus tend to disappear when you need them most. Interesting sure but further sequels improve on the formula.

1943 Kai - Now this is a good update! Essentially it's 1943 but with a number of improvements. Now as long as you're collecting weapons more time for them will be added to the total. Granted it peaks at least than a minute and a half total but you're more likely to spend time with a weapon than without one. Everything else simply feels substantially better. Sure the number of unique enemy-types is rather limited but they all take on new patterns and properties as you progress. This is definitely one of the better games on this collection(though the much later 19XX smokes this game and is my pick for best of the series...unfortunately it never saw a homeport). There was also a 1942 game released for the XBLA/PSN services but I can't recommend it at all. It seems to stick to 19XX as the biggest reference point(fans of that game will catch a lot of similarities) but it's inferior in aspects such as level design and well...everything else. Unless you're like me and need an easy shooter that you can beat without continuing to make you feel good about yourself I'd avoid that one at all costs. 

Bionic Commando - Wow this game is a mess. No really this is one of the worst designed games I've ever played. As soon as you start it up the game drops you seemingly in the middle of a stage with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. Even in arcade games which average half an hour in length you're supposed to be given some sense of progression(consider the first couple minutes a mini-tutorial to help the player get their feet wet) but here the game just throws a dozen things around at once and expects you to sort it out. The Bionic arm which is the focal point of the game feels really stiff and you can't use it while falling(which would be useful if you move off of a ledge to find out it's a bottomless pit). Touching an enemy no matter what they're doing will kill you and bigger guys take far too many shots. Sometimes if you're not 100% on the mark when you grab onto an object with your arm you'll find yourself falling off of whatever ledge you grabbed and into another pit. Really I could go further but really what's the point? Rather then drag this out I'll simply recommend that you pick up the phenomenal Bionic Commando Rearmed for XBLA/PSN/PC. This remake of the NES Bionic Commando(which improves on the arcade version in every way...partly because it's practically an entirely new game) is fantastic.

Commando - Way back when Taito made a little game called Frontline. You're a lone soldier behind enemy lines doing what he has to do to survive. Capcom's Commando is essentially the same deal but better in every way. Though Commando is vertically oriented the game doesn't constantly scroll upward. However this means that the player must always be moving forward or they will be overwhelmed by enemy forces. This makes for an interesting bit of design, especially since even though you can shoot in eight directions you can only throw grenades directly forward. It's a bit of a tricky game to get used to and deaths by enemies coming in from the sides is an all too frequent occurence(nothing worse than getting ran over by a vehicle you can't see coming) it's still worth a look. 

Exed Exes - Really not worth bothering with at all I'm afraid to say. If you manage to find any merit in this game let me know I'd love to hear about it.

Forgotten Worlds - This is a really good game. In the future two guys who can not be stopped by Paramecian alone decide to go through some bizarre(some would even say Forgotten) worlds destroying egyptian deities, Gods of War, dying dragons, and so on while buying new weapons and powerups at shops. FW is a side-scrolling shooter that features two unique design decisions. First off there's a health meter(which doesn't drain constantly like in 1943) and instead of always facing forward the player can rotate 360 degrees to blast things coming at them from every direction. Imperative to survival is the satellite. Not only does this serve as an important weapon it can also catch bullets. The catch(ugh) to this is that while the fire button is held down the satellite stays in one place, while leaving it alone will allow the player to move it where they'll need it most. Though it's hardly possible to get the twin-stick setup the arcade release had the Dual-shocks analog sticks make a decent subsititute(certainly an improvement over using two buttons to rotate either direction, which was the case for past home-ports). Another neat aspect is that despite the large size of the characters the only spot they can actually be damaged is their chest, which makes surviving quite a bit easier. FW is actually a fairly easy game. I was able to reach the final boss on one credit(though unfortunately his I couldn't dodge his laser spreads) and I really never played this game very much. Still I guess one could make the game more challenging and attain higher scores by spending less money(since all zenny is added to their final score at the end of the game) so in essence maybe it isn't all that easy. Either way this is one of the best games on the collection so give it a shot. Also check out Omega Five for XBLA, it's a pretty decent title even though it runs quite short(only 4 stages).

Gun Smoke - While this game has all the mechanics of a 2D shooter you can't really approach it as one. As a cowboy sent in to collect some fat bounties off of the typical gamut of wild and crazy bad guys your sole weapon is a pair of revolvers. The trick to playing is that since enemies can come from multiple angles you have multiple buttons you can press to fire at them. By pressing any combination of buttons you can even fire in opposite directions to take out guys on both sides of you. The powerups are kind of lacking(don't expect any lasers) but thankfully the foes boast similar firepower so you're never really outmatched. One really unfortunate aspect is that you can't shoot behind you, so when bad guys get behind you all you can do is keep dodging their fire until they eventually get scrolled off the screen. Oh and whoever did the attract demo for this game was hopefully fired. The guy dies in the first five seconds! Yeah that's really going to get people interested in the game.

Legendary Wings - I'll sum this game up in a single word: Yikes. This is one of those shooters where you can bomb objects on the ground while taking out foes flying at you(like Xevious any a number of other titles) but really this isn't worth bothering with at all. The game tries to mix it up by throwing in side-scrolling areas where you're on foot and shooting bad guys & climbing ladders while wandering around but these are just plain terrible. I really can't recommend this game at all. There are no redeemable qualities to be found.

Mercs - You wouldn't know it by the looks but this is actually a sequel to Commando. This game adds a ton of new features like levels that scroll in multiple directions, boss fights, mega-bombs for those tough moments, a variety of weapons and powerups, and a health meter. Despite all of the additions and changes the basics are very much the same. If you want to survive you have to keep moving and you can only fire in the direction you're facing. It's interesting that Capcom would still require the player to be facing the direction they wish to fire, especially in light of titles like Smash TV and Forgotten Worlds. I think they didn't go with the twin-stick method as at times it's best to go with game design that creates an identity. If Capcom went with a twin-stick setup they'd have to design the entire game to support it, changing many of the properties in the regular enemies and the bossfights, making for an entirely different game. Would it have turned out better? I don't think so, it would simply be different. In fact it'd probably end up being too similar to other games. Aside from that I think maintaining an identity is the most important aspect of game design. The last thing this industry needs is a bunch of games that all play the same(Capcom thought the same way too I imagine when they released Resident Evil 5, a game that still maintains its "can't shoot while moving" design decision, helping it stand out in a sea of dual-stick FPS and third-person shooters. But yeah Mercs is one of the better titles in this set.

Pirate Ship Higemaru - There are pirates on a ship you toss barrels at them to win. The stages are set in a variety of mazes and you get more points for nailing multiple pirates with a single barrel. I immediately lost interest in this game due to the sloppy controls. Movement doesn't exactly feel 1:1 and if I'm having trouble moving around in the tutorial how could I even survive an actual level? Other than that it's just not very interesting.

Section Z - Sometimes there are games that even though there are a number of aspects I should properly explain the gameplay is so bland that it's just not worth the trouble. I guess it's neat that bullets and bombs are relegated to a single button but this game really suffers from the "enemies out of nowhere" syndrome. It's all too easy to get beaned by a foe coming from behind. Though the game emphasizes not to sit at either end of the screen(by allowing the player to switch directions to fire behind him for example) there's still no warning where something is going to fly in from. Also although you can increase the power of your gun your bomb's rate of fire remains really bad, making it frustrating for ground-based enemies. Other than that there's really not much else to say, it's just not worth playing.

Son Son - Most people are more familiar with the Marvel Vs Capcom 2 character instead of the actual game. Son Son is a bit of an odd one. Inspired by Journey to the West you play as Son Son or her friend(or both if you have a friend) and travel through 20 stages. The field is broke up into multiple paths that can you jump between by pressing up or down. Enemies that exhibit many properities like jumping between paths, flinging spears bar your path and you use a short range cannon to take them out. There's also a lot of food to gather. Most of the food is worth very few points but there are ones posted on signs worth major points. Also of note is the POW sign. Grab this and all enemies are turned into major point foods. This is a tricky game to get used to but it can actually be pretty fun. Oddly enough this game allows the player to continue if they run out of lives. I'm not sure why this was done because the ending certainly isn't worth the trouble. Also odd is that after beating the game it restarts from the first stage. Usually when this happens the game becomes much harder but from what I've played of the second loop it felt as difficult as the first..very odd but eh if somebody can manage to play Son Son for that long more power to them I guess.

Trojan - In a desolate future one man with a sword & shield can make a difference. Trojan reminds me titles like Kung Fu and Vigilante. You walk from left to right, foes rush in, you bash them out of the way with your sword. The shield is an interesting tool in that while it can block most enemy attacks there are some that if you attempt to block will simply knock your weapons away(though you can pick them back up). It's an interesting addition but it does little to make this game a worthwhile play. The most frustrating aspect is the fact that enemies are only hurt by the sword. If they're too close your sword will simply pass through them. Though I appreciate the importance of mechanics sometimes they should be ignored when they would benefit the player. Son Son did this by allowing the player's bullets to go through the ground when they jump between paths, thus giving them the ability to take out foes that might be between paths. At the very least it'd make Trojan move a bit quicker since one doesn't have to worry about adjusting their distance to guarantee a kill. Anyway in the end this game is forgettable.

Vulgus - The only unique aspect of this game is that you have a limited use cannon that does immense damage and can destroy rows of enemies for extra bonus points. Otherwise it's limited, frustrating(enemies will get behind you and there's nothing you can do about it) and just not worth bothering with at all.

One thing anyone can take away from Capcom arcade titles is that they contain a lot of secrets. Secrets aren't exactly a strange occurence in games but Capcom really takes it to the next level with their releases. It seems in almost all of their non-fighters there's something you can shoot, strike, walk over, and pretty soon you've stumbled upon some random item that'll boost your score or award you a powerup. These are always good for promoting replay value but one has to wonder if they're perhaps too abundant. Sure most of these items aren't going to make the games too easy(in fact more likely you may be required to find these if you want to have some chance of beating the game without continuing) but having to memorize dozens of secret locations to maximize score and survival doesn't sit well with me. Sure in the end we'll all have to memorize games if we expect to master them but it just feels too obvious to me, even perhaps a bit shallow. Regardless I think Capcom pulls off this aspect quite well, as their games are more than enough challenge to compensate for all of the hidden bonuses and even then the hidden ones that aren't good for score can be ignored entirely for those seeking mastery.

All in all Capcom Classics Collection volume 1 is a decent enough compilation. Though a rather large number of games can be ignored some may find them interesting simply to unlock the various extras which are gotten by accomplishing certain milestones(i.e. beating the game, getting a high score, finding a particular item, etc). It helps that most if not all of these games were ported from various Capcom Saturn/PSX compilations in the late 90s and the emulation is for the most part competent(though Forgotten Worlds has awful sound balance, the music is constantly drowned out by your own weaponary). 

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