Friday, April 3, 2009

AAA looks at a handful of Namco arcade titles.

Bosconian is a free-roaming overhead shooter. In a rather unique design decision your cannon fires both in front of and behind you, allowing you to take out enemy missiles on your tail while simultaneous clearing the way in front of you(and more importantly keeping you from awkwardly turning around to take out the missiles). The goal of each wave is to destroy all of the enemy bases. There's a small weakpoint that must be attacked from either horizontal or vertically and as the stage progresses these bases produce small shields and missiles to defend themselves. Bosconian is probably nothing special but for a game developed in 1981 it shows very impressive use of mechanics. You can actually have enemy bullets touch the outer edges of your ship without costing a life, resulting in some very close shaves. Also neat is the radar system, which tracks the threat level. If there's nothing around you're green, danger nearby: yellow, and if you take too long to clear a stage the threat level goes to red and you're constantly assaulted by enemies. A voice also announces particular things to look out(like if an enemy formation approaches) and is a great method of helping the player keep track of everything around him or her. Anyway I highly recommend it.

Dragon Spirit is a vertical shooter where you play as a Dragon and have to fight off a ton of monsterous plants and animals and destroy a great evil. It's pretty standard fare but unfortunately this game is plagued with issues. For example although you can grab powerups that allow you to grow extra heads for more firepower, this also causes you to stop firing for a brief moment while the head grows in. That's just a poor decision. Worse however is the mechanics of the Dragon you play as. For a 2D shooter you're a rather large target and though bullets that clip the wings won't harm your heads and body are still incredibly easy targets and dodging a heavy amount of enemy fire feels really clunky and is just frustrating. Also although you can take more than one hit before losing a life you also lose a head(if you have more than one). It would have made more sense to go with one or the other but doubly screwing the player doesn't really work out in this game. The ability to fire on the ground is also a nuisance since there's still no way to attack enemies outside of a very limited range and it's easy to miss powerups or worse enemies that are still very capable of firing on the player even from off-screen. At any rate you're better off playing the much older Xevious, one of its sequels/remakes, or well some other 2D shooter, just avoid this one. 

Baraduke is an interesting bird. Each level is broken up into multiple sections. Each section is comprised of a handful of screens where you have to find all of the alien generators, destroy them, and reach the exit. To keep you moving random aliens will show up to try and kill you and in general more firepower will be flying your way. After destroying a generator you can grab a powerup which results in points, a gun powerup, an enemy alien, or a friendly alien that depending on the situation will run away or towards you. Shooting him is a bad idea since in-between stages you have a chance at recieving an extra shield. Also neat is that when you face the boss all of your remaining friendly aliens will suicide attack the creature. Another interesting design decision is that as you fire the recoil will push you back a short distance. It can be handy for certain purposes, not so for others. Personally I think it's worth a look.

I never saw the big deal with Mappy. I guess you're a mouse cop who has to stop catburglars(ho ho) by grabbing various expensive-looking objects. Your only means of defense is by opening doors that knock the cats out for a couple seconds(you also can't be harmed while bouncing on a trampoline, of which there are many in each stage). I really didn't find this game entertaining at all. It's probably well-made but I didn't see anything worthy of note and everything just feels dull and lifeless.

Pac & Pal is an interesting twist on Pacman(Namco produced a ton of these over the years it seems). Well your Pal isn't so much a pal as a sort of good-intentioned screwup. The game plays like any other Pacman except there are no dots and you have to pick up cards that serve as keys which open doors to all of the fruit/powerups. Your pal however will go towards the items, pick them up, and carry them to the ghosts spawn point where they disappear. Though you finish the stage if you get all of the items your points will really suffer if you let your Pal get away with any of them. Oh and I can't forget all of the ghosts floating around causing headaches. Pac & Pal also changes up the power-pellets by turning them into items based on other Namco titles(like Galaxian and Rally-X) and when you collect them you have to press a button to fire off a short-range attack that stuns the ghosts and gives out points(and like any other Pacman game it goes 200, 400, 800, 1600) it's entirely possible to actually continue to take out ghosts as long as you have the power for repeated 1600 point bonuses. Fans of Pacman: Championship Edition on XBLA might remember this design decision. The only real nuisance I have with the game is that every now and then I mistake Pal for a ghost. It's worth a look I think simply because it shows how Namco has evolved and changed the Pac-series(even if it isn't always for the better).

Pac-mania is another example of Namco trying new things with their beloved mascot. Now instead of the traditional overhead view the game takes on an isometric look(giving Pacman and Co. an almost 3D look) as well as their biggest change...a  jump button. Yep now you can bounce out of bad situations. It's not a free ticket out of trouble though since you can still lose a life if a ghost catches you on the arc of the jump(whether it's ascending or descending) and in the later stages even some of the Ghosts will learn how to jump. It's an interesting idea but due to everything being much larger(or more zoomed-in I should say so as to account for properly timing the jumps) it's hard to see around you. This game would have really benefitted from a Rally-X style radar that keeps track of ghosts and whatever dots you're missing. As it is however it's too easy to lose track of the other ghosts only to run into trouble later. In the end it's an interesting experiment but ultimately rather lacking. 

I'll look at some more titles later on.

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