Friday, April 3, 2009

AAA looks at: Twinkle Star Sprites

The purpose of this post is not to look at Twinkle Star Sprites as a whole but instead how it holds up as a single-player game. For the unfamiliar, Twinkle Star Sprites is a NeoGeo game by ADK. It can be best described as a VS puzzler/2D shooter. Like most other VS puzzlers the screen is split into two halves with you on one side and the opponent on the other. By destroying enemies so that they combo together you can send bullets raining down on the opponent's end of the screen in an effort to wipe them out, they of course can dodge these bullets and retaliate. By using the power gauge, creating combos(which involve using the swarms of enemies in combination with your enemy's bullets), one can send out extra attacks with unique properties or even send out bosses to hassle their opponent. By triggering fever mode it's not uncommon to see the screen so filled with bullets it starts to feel like something out of Mars Matrix or a shooter by Cave. Amidst all of the chaos however there is a constant focus and direction in the game and with a clear head and maybe a few screen-clearing bombs you can get out of most any situation.

Though this may put out some much of my focus on AAA will be on games that don't feature a directly competitive element. That is there won't be any looks at fighters or any other game where in order to get the most out of it you need somebody playing against you. Besides there's always room for a FAD(Fighter Appreciation December) or something else along those lines.

Anyway the single-player modes in Twinkle Star Sprites consist of a basic 7 stage mode where you fight a series of wacky characters(complete with equally wacky speeches) or a mode where you play solely as the lead heroine Load Ran which has just a bit more emphasis on story. Aside from quite a few endings and practice is there any the real incentive to playing singleplayer?

A scoring system is in place in TSS. At the end of every fight(provided you win) you're scored on how fast you beat your opponent and how high your combo count has gotten. At the end of the game all remaining lives translate into a 100k bonus each and you get an life for 500k points. Over the course of the battle one of the powerups you can collect is a little $ sign that grows exponentially as you collect more of them(i.e. it starts from 10 measly points and moves up). 

I'll go ahead and point this out right now. If you want to attain the highest scores possible in TSS you have to set the difficult to the hardest setting. The bonus you get for beating an opponent quickly is negated simply by the fact that you get far more points for dragging fights out as long as possible. However these fights can't go too long because Death himself will appear and chase you down. Either way however you don't want the battles to end quickly and that means your AI opponent has to survive for as long as possible. Some games like Magical Drop 3 give such a huge bonus for defeating your opponent quickly that it makes sense not to try and drag them out. 

However after a certain point depending on your skill you will hit a brick wall in the form of Memory: the game's last boss. Aside from possessing a very good special attack and the highest stats in the game her AI dodging is second to none. If you can survive long enough I'd argue that most of the points you're going to make in any single-player TSS are going to be off of her. In fact after a certain point those 100k bonuses for remaining lives will seem kind of pointless if you can skim double or even triple that in a very long losing round with Memory. Unlike most of the other opponents in single player you'll have little to worry about Memory being overwhelmed. In fact at this point the design of the game seems to change. Cause really 99% of the time(especially on the hardest setting) you simply can't win against Memory. No matter what you send down on her she'll get around it and if she does die it's a completely random fluke that makes no sense at all. So at this point it's best not to even worry about trying to beat Memory, instead you focus on surviving as long as possible. It's more akin to the everyday Endless mode you see in most falling block(tetris, PuyoPuyo, etc) puzzlers. You play until you lose, there's no other way around it. 

Unfortunately with the random elements in play I can't really recommend TSS as a great single-player game. Although you can create tough situations for the AI you can't directly kill them nor can you guarantee that whatever you throw at them will. Arcade games are no stranger to random elements certainly but even then there are factors that have to remain in place to guarantee that luck should never play a role in determining a high score. Actually hoping your opponent will succeed in evading your attacks is a rather inexplicable idea and flies in the face of good game design. It is still an excellent game however and one of the best when played with a friend. 

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