Sunday, April 12, 2009

AAA looks at: Rastan

Developed by Taito in 1987 Rastan is one of many titles developed to gain some success from Conan the Barbarian which was a big hit at the time. Rastan is your typical loincloth-wearing barbarian with a broadsword and he must cut a bloody path through six rounds broken up into three parts each.

Progressing in the game is simple. You move forward, cut through foes which usually take one hit to kill, engage in quite a bit of platforming(the standard fare of moving platforms, swinging vines, bouncing fireballs, etc) avoid the usual assortment of traps(falling rocks, rolling rocks, spears, cascading water, you get the idea) and take out a boss at the end of each round.

While the game is simple enough and the platforming is handled well the game starts to fall apart in terms of combat mechanics. Most of the time combat is simple as you can cut through enemies with ease(you also can find better temporary weapons lying around as well) but things start to become problematic when it comes to foes that take multiple hits. All of the bosses and a handful of regular enemies require more than one hit to take down. However the game introduces an interesting design decision where if you strike the enemy in a particular place(like the head) they'll go down much quicker if not instantly. The problem is this never feels to be quite 100% and at times you can find yourself jumping right on top of an enemy and taking damage. It's a cool idea to be sure but it doesn't work well enough to be relied on.

However the biggest issue with this game is it simply gives no quarter to the player. What I mean is while some enemies enjoy safe areas where your weapon can't damage them(like the legs of gargoyles) no matter where you get touched you will take damage. Even supposedly safe moves like Conan's downward thrust can lead to a bit of damage since the enemy is more likely to touch your boot before they touch your sword. Thus the mechanics for this game are terribly frustrating and lead to a lot of nonsensical damage. There are times when some attacks won't damage you at all or other times supposedly weak enemies(bats) will take nearly half your life. 

The thing about mechanics is that the player should always be granted some lee-way. In 2D shooters it's expected for the player to have some room to dodge the hundreds of thousands of bullets that fly at them. Sure this may involve shrinking the size of the hitbox so that it's smaller than the actual ship but at the same time elements like bullet-shaving(getting as close as possible to a bullet and gaining points: the game Psyvariar pretty much revolves around this design) so that players will seek out risk-taking opportunities to better their score. In an action game if the attack looks like it'll hit something negligible like the feather in the hero's cap or the tail on their scarf it simply shouldn't count. The game being made in 1987 holds no argument either as companies like Namco and Sega had a great understanding of mechanics even back then.

Other frustrating aspects of Rastan are the powerups. There is little rhyme and reason to them. Though they aren't doled out randomly(some enemies are guaranteed to drop the same thing every time) they may as well be since they're so improperly dispersed. Important items like healing potions could drop by the dozen in one area yet at other times you could go long stretches without anything. In one inexplicable area I've stumbled over two full-health items within two screens of each other. 

At one time I considered Rastan to be one of the 50 best arcade games one would ever play(at least in my opinion) but playing it again I've realized there are simply too many glaring faults and in the end it's little more than an interesting curiousity. The worst part is however the sequel Nastar is even worse...but I'll get to that later.

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