Friday, May 29, 2009

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection Part 2

Gain Ground - This arcade port is a very interesting one. It seems the designers were going for something really unique when they developed this game. The game has an overhead view and is divided into a ton of stages that are one screen in length. Most of the enemies(some like to hide until you get close) are on-screen and you start by selecting the hero you want to bring into battle. The object is to either kill all of the enemies or have every one of your heroes reach the exit. If a hero is hit by an enemy they are "captured" and another hero must rescue them and exit the battle. At times there are captured heroes already in the battle when you begin. Rescuing these guys will add to your army.

Your army consists of around twenty different characters with varying stats and abilities. All of them have access to a more traditional attack which fires a bullet in whatever direction they're facing. Their secondary ability however is unique and involves attacks like spears that reach high places(for enemies standing on top of walls), grenades(enemies behind cover of course), boomerangs(which cover different ranges), and so on and so forth. Making the most of your army's abilities is where most of your success will come from. This is a very slow-paced game compared to most other arcade titles and you'll quickly discover mere reflexes will not get you far.

This is not a game for everyone and if you're not playing for score you'll probably find it repetitive and dull. Regardless it's a fascinating game well worth studying.

Golden Axe I through III - There's really not much to say about these games. There's the evil Death Adder, a group of heroes seeking revenge, hack'n'slash action, and for the most part really poor gameplay.

The worst thing you can do in a beatemup or hack'n'slash is drag out the regular encounters. Sure bosses will always require your full attention and skills but everyone you face beforehand should be relatively simple to take down. It's only through their sheer force of numbers that your endurance will eventually fade and your character will die. Golden Axe ignores this ideal and makes even the smallest fight something that requires serious effort. This is mainly because enemies have a lot of health and thus take a long time to kill. Couple that with their ability to pull some nasty combos(particularly the skeletons) and most fights are spent constantly positioning and manipulating the movement of the thugs so that you can take them out. All of the thrill of crushing skulls is quickly lost when you're spending most of your time getting the bad guys into a spot where they can't surround you.

Another problem is that your enemy tends to have the advantage in terms of reach. If you both meet head-on the enemy more than likely the enemy will get the first strike because they can reach farther with their attacks. Again this just means that more time is spent positioning so that you can enter from a better angle. This eventually becomes mind-numbing. 

While part II is actually a good improvement(and my pick for best of the Genesis games), part III manages to be even worse than the first game. Though a number of abilities were added to the cast to make them more versatile it doesn't mean much when the enemy has become more reactive to whatever you do. Ever play Mortal Kombat against the computer and got frustrated as they had a counter for every move you tried? Well picture that applied to a hack'n'slash. Some enemies will jump over your every attack and immediately respond with one of their own. Even if you get past that you'll discover not much has changed. 

Revenge of Death Adder is at least a good game though it suffers severely from character balance. Unfortunately somehow Sega never got around to porting this title to any console. Some would say the combat has been dumbed-down as there are more enemies on-screen and it's easier to beat them up but I say it's what the Golden Axe games should have been doing from the start.

Kid Chameleon - I'm sure you're familiar with Super Mario Bros. 3 and its use of suits to grant Mario special powers like better swimming, flight, throwing hammers, or turning into a statue. Well take that concept and turn the knob all the way to the right and you have Kid Chameleon. There's a hot new videogame in the arcades but everytime somebody loses they get trapped in it forever. It's up to the hottest gamer around to journey through over 100 stages to save them all.

Now I say over 100 stages but your likelihood of playing through all of them in a single sitting is slim to none. Kid Chameleon is an extremely non-linear game as it features multiple paths, secret warps, and so many ways to get through the game(though you're likely to stumble upon a handful of the same stages in each playthrough, mainly ones that involve boss-fights).

Utilizing a side-view with multi-scrolling levels the gameplay will become instantly familiar to platformer fans. As the hero seeks out the flag to end the stage(or runs into a warp on the way) he can jump and run with the best of them. He's fairly easy to control except when you gain too much momentum and accidentally sail over the enemy you're trying to jump on. The enemies are numerous and gain in speed and power over the course of the game. Unless the hero can locate a helmet he can only take two hits before dying.

The helmets are essential to progress in Kid Chameleon as they are usually doled out when specific situations arise. Many of them are useful for merely defeating foes(like the Samurai, Axe-Murderer, and so on) but others are actually required for progress(Knights can climb walls, flies are small and stick to walls, Helmet for flying, and so on). The nice thing about these helmets is that they can take three hits(five if you're a knight) before you're reduced to plain hero again. 

Kid Chameleon is a very challenging game since not only are you expected to get through a fairly long game with a lot of different paths but you have to do it with a limited number of lives and continues. Both are plentiful in the numerous secrets throughout the stages but can be lost just as easily. Aside from the usual causes of death like falling into a pit or getting hit by an enemy you can also get crushed in a variety of ways, get mangled by the "wall of death" in a handful of stages(platformer-trope: a giant wall tied to an auto-scrolling stage where you must stay ahead while a combination of obstacles attempts to slow you down), and a time-limit that can hardly be ignored.

Kid Chameleon offers a lot of score-based rewards for masterful playing. Bonus points for beating the level under a certain time are expected but you also get bonuses for not getting hit, not picking up any items, and so on. While not all stages can be beaten without items it's still a very neat idea that the developers spent at least some time working with. It's especially good since on replays gamers can work on the stages they've completed before in new and more challenging ways to better prep themselves for the harder stages they might have gotten stuck at before. 

While some might have gotten sick of Kid Chameleon showing up on every Sega compilation around I think it holds up quite well and is still one of the better platformers available for the system. Definitely put some time into it.

Phantasy Star II - The second game in the Phantasy Star series takes place over a thousand years after the first game. On the planet Motavia(which is supposed to be nothing but desert) the enigmatic Mother Brain controls the climate and ecosystem, creating a near-utopia for the people living there. Unfortunately the presence of monsters and other bad things has led to you being sent out to investigate and hopefully figure it all out. Unfortunately nothing goes right but at least you still get a decent RPG out of the deal.

If you're a fan of RPGs and have never played a Phantasy Star before I recommend going straight to the 4th game first. The reason behind this is Phantasy Star 2 is not a friendly game. Your first couple hours are most likely going to be spent gathering exp and money(grinding) just to survive the first couple dungeons. Enemies hit hard, tend to attack first, and leave little in the way of reward for your trouble. 

The method of progression is pretty standard for an RPG. While you spend most of your time exploring the planets and their many dungeons you can also visit a handful of towns to procure their goods and services(hospitals, equipment shops, and so on). Also by visiting most towns a new party member will arrive at your house. As expected they all have varying stats & abilities as well as access to different equipment. Some party-members are better for particular stretches of the game while others are more likely to stick to your party throughout the game.

Like the other Genesis PS games exploration is handled entirely by an overhead view. In a frustrating bit of design the game-screen doesn't stay centered when you move around. This means that if you're moving forward you'll see more of what's behind you than what's ahead of you. This is alleviated somewhat after you leave a random battle as the game-screen is centered(course then you'll realize you've reached a dead-end). 

The dungeons are without a doubt the hardest part of Phantasy Star 2. Even the first dungeon has multiple floors and it is pretty long. From there the dungeons only grow larger and more complex, with tougher monsters filling the hallways. While there's a bit of linearity to them you'll more than likely find yourself running into several dead-ends without so much as a treasure chest for your trouble. Thankfully items for getting out of dungeons instantly are easily available and a large stock of life-restoring dimates can get you pretty far. After you get out of the initial grind you'll discover that most of the levels you gain will be due to getting lost in dungeons for extended periods of time. It's a different kind of wandering in circles sure but it's better than wandering around a nearby town for experience. That said unless you're really having trouble beating this game in less than thirty hours should be quite possible. There are only three boss-fights in the entire game and you'll be more than prepared for all of them when the time comes. 

The game is unbalanced somewhat by the appearance of re-usable items in the latter half of the game. You'll come across a piece of equipment that drops damage for all party members by a substantial amount(provided you use it when every battle starts) and at least one item that casts Gires(a mid-tier healing spell) for every party member. Between these items you'll quickly discover that with enough patience you can become near-invincible to most encounters. You can choose to ignore these particular tools at your own peril but personally I wouldn't have finished the game without them. 

Like I said if you just want to play a Phantasy Star game stick with part 4. If you want a challenging RPG with lots of dungeons to get hopelessly lost in then check out part 2. 

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom - Considering how much of a classic part 2 was when it came out there was quite a bit of anticipation for this game(so I imagine). Unfortunately this game didn't turn out well at all. 

A young man is about to marry but at the ceremony his bride-to-be is whisked away by what looks to be a dragon. The simple "rescue the princess" story becomes much more when we soon discover that they don't live happily ever after and it will take a couple generations of heroes to solve the problems of the land.

Not much has changed from the last game. There's the overworld, towns, dungeons, and an overhead view for everything. Dungeons are several times easier than in the last game as they're much shorter and more linear. To add to that the battles are also easier and the party levels much faster. 

The most unique aspect of this game is that when the player reaches certain points in the game they can choose which woman they want to marry. This results in different children with different abilities as well as different paths in the story. This is done twice throughout the course of the game and can result in a number of different endings(which sensibly explains why it's even shorter than Phantasy Star 2) . Unfortunately you're still going to go through the same particular quests and encounter certain bosses(making some paths far too similar).

I'm not usually one to pick on the aesthetics in a game but Phantasy Star 3 re-uses a ton of content. When you explore dungeons you're likely to see either caves or futuristic tunnels. All of the towns look the same except maybe the houses are moved around, many of the enemies are re-colors of one another, and so on. Unless you're really interested in the story there's not much to see beyond the first couple hours. 

Phantasy Star 3 is unfortunately a bit of a failure as a game. While it gets all of the basics down it's very clear that this title suffered from an awful development phase and didn't get the time it deserved to be made into a great game. I guess that's part of the reason why it's not a challenging game as if it actually tried to take any risks it'd fall apart entirely. 

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millenium - This game is a return to form and is my pick for best of the series. Taking place another thousand years after everything the player finds themselves back on Motavia(which is a desert again after the fall of Mother Brain) in control of two bounty hunters. Before long(again this game could be done in less than 30 hours) one of these bounty hunters will go on to lead a party of heroes to destroy Dark Force and save the universe.

Like the other games PSIV has the towns, dungeons, overhead view, and all of that other stuff. The biggest difference however is that exploration is fast. The party moves very quickly and even the longest dungeon feels relatively short compared to the shortest dungeon in Phantasy Star 2. Couple this with varying dungeons and almost constant changes of location and it's like the developers have condensed all of the good in Phantasy Star without sacrificing the reputation it has gained. Though the dungeons feel shorter they still provide a good challenge through the large variety of foes. Boss fights are more frequent and the battle system has been augmented with some important changes that make everything more interesting and require a greater usage of tactics from the player.

I haven't talked about the battle system in prior Phantasy Star games because there isn't much to talk about. Battles usually consisted of fight, heal, and using the strongest available techs for bosses. In PSIV however techs outside of healing are more useful. Also all of the party members have access to their own unique skills. Typically these are damage-based and can only be used a limited number of times. By using a combination of certain skills and techs in battle they can lead to special attacks that do great damage. Throughout the game these can be discovered and are quite useful. Along with everything else it's pretty clear that PSIV has the best combat in the series.

This is one of the best RPGs on the Sega Genesis so there's little reason why you shouldn't check this one out if you buy this compilation.

Ristar - This is one game I never really got the appeal of. It's a popular title among Genesis fans and I can see why as it's well-made with a strong concept, varied level-design, and a solid understanding of mechanics but I just could never really get into it. 

Ristar is a young star who soars across the galaxy to save planets from evil. His main source of attack is his head(thankfully he doesn't throw it at bad guys like everyone else). Instead Ristar grabs enemies with his long & stretchy arms and gives them a devastating head-butt. Obviously since this is a platformer Ristar does more than head-butt things into oblivion. In order to complete the stages as well as discover their many secrets Ristar has to use his stretchy arms to climb walls, swing on tree branches, swim, and find special posts that with enough momentum allow him to soar into the air for a short time. As usual bosses await at the end of every world. 

Maybe another time I'll give it the serious effort it deserves as it's really quite good.

Shining Force - While today we have more S-RPGs than we could possibly stand back in the Genesis days there wasn't much to work with. Outside of Warsong(more commonly known as Langrisser, which is a Japan-only long running series of SRPGs) and maybe a couple of other titles all we had was Shining Force. It's the standard tale of good vs evil but it's played out over the course of several 12 against many battle.

Although the bulk of the game is spent in combat you still visit towns to buy weapons, get information, and possibly recruit some new characters to the Force(there's also a tactics room where you can organize your combat party). There's some light wandering around overworlds but really not much in the way of exploration. 

Combat is handled in a strict "my turn, your turn" fashion. Depending on the agility ratings of everyone involved all of the combatants will make their turn in that order. Winning is as simple as defeating all of the enemies or their leader. Losing is equally simple since all the Force leader has to do is get killed. Thankfully Max(the Hero & Force leader) is pretty adept at fighting and has access to a useful spell that teleports the party instantly out of combat(if they're at a severe disadvantage or they just want to grind).

When two opposing forces are close enough and one chooses to attack(through melee or otherwise) the game takes on a side-view close-up of both characters as they go through the animations. While some SRPGs don't care for the animations and just want a text message stating how the attack went these go by quickly so they're not much of a bother. 

While Shining Force isn't nearly as deep as some of its contemporaries there's still a number of aspects to keep tabs on. First off while there are only twelve slots in the Force there are over twice as many characters to choose from. Sure the Hero will always take one space but finding the proper combination of fighters, healers, archers, spell-casters, and hybrids for the Force is worth figuring out. On the field one has to note the terrain they're on when they make their move. A defense bonus is granted under certain types of terrain(like forest or mountains) but flying characters can't use it. Some types of characters get a bonus against other types(like archers have the advantage over flying units). It's not much but they're still factors worth considering.

Unfortunately the game is held back by the poor enemy AI and slow-cursor speed. Since a cursor is used throughout combat and automatically moves between characters as they make their turns it can be a bit of an annoyance. Fortunately this isn't particularly noticeable unless you've played Shining Force 2 first(which has an increased cursor-speed). The enemy AI is rather poor. For the most part their movements are scripted and they tend to do some very idiotic things like not target weak party members and even not target anyone at all. This makes the game easier for the wrong reasons and can be rather jarring(because you'll be planning your movements in expectation of the enemy doing a certain move and they do something entirely random). Thankfully this is much-improved in the sequel.

Shining Force 2 - This sequel improves on the original in every way. First off it's longer, with a better-realized overworld that actually rewards exploration(there are many secret items and even a secret town to be found). Secondly the AI has gotten a substantial boost and seems to have been programmed to always seek out the best possible scenario in combat(they'll always target the weakest party member in range). To add to this difficulty settings are included which give the enemies boosted stats as well as give them better chances of scoring critical hits, multiple hits, and counter-attacks. Even without these the game is still a greater challenge than the first Shining Force and it'll require a better understanding of the tactics introduced in the first game to survive this sequel. All in all this is a really good SRPG. It's still not as deep or compelling as something like Final Fantasy Tactics or one of the Nippon-Ichi titles but it's certainly easier to pick up and less time is required to get the most out of it.

Shining In the Darkness - If you're the kind of person who just wants to explore a large grid-based dungeon in first-person and not have to fool around with superfluous things such as multiple towns, a storyline, and memorable characters this is the RPG for you. A really bad guy decides to capture the princess for nefarious reasons and it's up to a young fighter, mage, and cleric to save the day. While the dungeon doesn't offer much in the way of visuals it's definitely large and confusing. The only frustrating aspect of this game is that there's no auto-map. I guess you could just use some grid-paper but even with all the time I spent on older PC-RPGs like The Bard's Tale series I never got around to figuring that stuff out. 

No comments:

Post a Comment