Tuesday, June 30, 2009

XBLA Look - 1942: Joint Strike

This time I've decided to take a look at the Capcom/Backbone shooter Joint Strike. Be sure to give it a look over here.

Or not...XBLAratings has been shut down.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Websites to check out for June of '09

Acidglow's youtube - Acidglow and his partner Saera go through tons of games and post videos of each playthrough. Granted you probably shouldn't be watching these videos if you're looking for superplays or advanced strategies but they're easy on the eyes and watchable. Good for a rainy day.

Classic Game Room HD - These guys have been around for quite awhile but I've just now gotten around to watching their videos. I'm usually not fond of watching video reviews as most reviewers just don't have the voice for it but these guys are great at what they do. I even watched reviews for games I had no interest in just because they're all of such good quality.

PepsimanVsJoe's Gaming blog -Frankly I'm not sure what I was doing with this but I really shouldn't have bothered. Feel free to point and laugh.

And yeah...that's it. I'll try to do better next time.

Friday, June 26, 2009

XNA look: Angry Barry

I just posted a review of the XNA game "Angry Barry". You can check it out here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

PS2 Look: Shinobi

The jump to 3D marked a difficult transition for most older franchises. The Mario Bros. series has delivered some brilliant 3D platformers like Galaxy, Sunshine, and of course Mario 64. On the other hand you have the Sonic series which...well it hasn't been pretty. While these games have gone through dramatic changes their core concepts remain the same. There were two 3D Shinobi games released on the PS2 and today I'm going to look at Overwork's Shinobi 2002. 

The release of Devil May Cry marked an innovation in the action game genre. So many publishers at the time were keen on grabbing a bit of DMC's success and in doing so put out a number of clones which simply weren't any good. When Shinobi '02 was announced there were some like myself who expected similar results but thankfully it isn't the case. '02 is a 3D action game certainly but it's more of a 3D version of the 2D Shinobi titles we know and love. The concept remains the same though the gameplay and mechanics have still made quite a few changes. 

'02 follows the story of Hotsuma and the Oboro clan. There's a cursed sword called Akujiki and everyone dies. Needless to say it's a bit of a downer even though the peppy techno music would have you think otherwise. The game takes place over 8 stages with two acts apiece. While many of the acts consist of a regular level followed by a bossfight, some are just a bossfight. It's a little odd how this works out but whatever. On average most stages are around 5 to 10 minutes with the bosses taking about 3 to 5 minutes(or if you're skilled...less than a minute). Course it doesn't matter what I say about the length of the stages because it can vary quite wildly. I'll go ahead and put it out there: Shinobi is a pretty hard game.

Hotsuma is about as equipped as you can imagine. It's important to master his moveset as every stage will require these abilities in one way or another. First off we have running, simple enough. There's a jump as well as a double-jump, and then there's dashing. Dashing is useful for quickly moving but most of the time it's going to be for evading attacks. The player can also dash while in mid-air but only once. If they strike an enemy while in mid-air they can mid-air dash again. This is extremely important to remember as a number of battles take place over pits. Hotsuma will also latch onto most walls when the player jumps on them. From here the player can run horizontally across the wall and will only be thrown off if they jump or get hit by an enemy attack. 

While L1 centers the camera behind Hotsuma, R1 activates his lock-on. If he's not currently locked onto an enemy a handy arrow appears around him that points out the nearest foe. While this isn't always 100% it's still amazingly effective. Also when Hotsuma is facing an enemy his dash gains new properties. When dashing to the side he also moves forward so he can arc around and then behind his opponent. Striking anything from behind means double damage. 

Hotsuma's weapons consist of his sword, shuriken, and ninja magic. Since this is a Shinobi game let's eliminate magic from the equation as it's really only good in desperate scenarios. The shuriken however have been changed from killing enemies to only doing a slight bit of damage while paralyzing them for a short time. When surrounded Hotsuma can do a double jump and then fling his shuriken to pull off an impressive throw that hits everything around him(though this costs a lot of shuriken). When pulling back on the analog stick Hotsuma can also perform a kick which is good for breaking through enemy defenses.

Last and most important we have the sword. Mastering the sword is essential to survival and mastery of this game. On the ground Hotsuma can perform a basic multiple strike combo. This can be good for when enemies group together and for a few bosses. Jumping attacks strike vertical in both an upwards and downwards angle making them very useful for mid-air fighting. There are also two flavors of sword-attacks from the walls, one hits forward while another strikes to the side. While the first stage introduces you to the basics of combat and platforming the second stage will introduce you to Akujiki. After attaining this powerful weapon a time limit of sorts is introduced. In order for Hotsuma to avoid getting his life drained he must keep the sword readily replenished with the souls of his enemies. The level designs are very linear and filled with enemies so as long as you keep moving(and killing) it's not much of a hassle. 

The most important tool that Akujiki brings to the table is TATE. Whenever an enemy spawns an orb in the top-right corner appears. When an enemy is killed the orb lights up and Akujiki changes color. When this happen the sword increases in strength. Thus when there are a lot of enemies in the area the sword can become quite powerful. When all of the enemies are defeated the TATE is completed and the player is rewarded with a short cutscene showing all of the monsters splitting to pieces and dying at once. Unfortunately if Hotsuma takes too long to kill enemies the orbs disappear and the power is lost. Obviously the tactic here is to defeat the weak enemies first so the more powerful foes fall in a single hit. In fact most of the bosses can be defeated in a single strike provided you can hit them with a full TATEd weapon(from behind helps as well).

Fans of earlier Shinobi games will note a number of trademarks throughout this game. There's insta-death pits in 3/4s of the stages, items to find like more shuriken, magic, health, and oboro symbols(which unlock extras), and of course the boss at the end of each act. Progression through these acts are a bit different though. Typically as Hotsuma runs through the act enemies will spawn and for the most part Hotsuma can choose to kill them or keep moving. At times progress will be blocked off unless Hotsuma can defeat every foe in the area. There are also some sections where the path is locked by floating devices that must be destroyed with the sword or shuriken(with enemies sure to appear to complicate things). There are also a handful of traps to be wary of and tend to be unique to the stages they're in. 

Enemies come in many designs but they tend to fall under categories. Flying foes tend to have a charge attack and/or spit fire, also they're the weakest. Ground-based minions can be anything from ninjas to dogs to even ninja dogs. Bigger guys take quite a few hits to go down(unless you're TATE is exceptional) but leave behind a bit of health when defeated. These three categories of enemies can appear in a variety of combinations over the course of each stage. 

The bosses are similar to what you'd find in most action games. They have a variety of attacks as well as times when their defenses are exposed(most likely before or after a major attack). However the trick to defeating these guys effectively is to take advantage of the mid-air enemies that regularly spawn. The environments of these fights change quite a bit and rarely will you face a boss on a completely flat surface. Some take place over pits while others require the use of walls, still others can only be hit when Hotsuma is at the peak of his jump+dash. Thankfully if the player dies at a boss-fight they go straight to the boss instead of having to play through the act again.

Death is a constant in this game. All of Hotsuma's friends and foes die, enemies of all three categories die all the time, and well...Hotsuma himself dies often as well. While he has a fairly lengthy health meter being knocked into a pit will take him out instantly. Also unlike prior Shinobi games that offered a brief period of invincibility between hits, Hotsuma can get beat to death quite quickly if he isn't always moving. If that wasn't enough some enemy attacks can paralyze him for a second or two, enough time to get killed. 

Thus it's imperative to master the camera and pay attention to every sight and sound. Enemies will regularly attack from out of view and most tend to give away audio cues when they're about to attack. The sound design is quite exceptional in this game as the player will be able to easily distinguish between an enemy attack, an enemy teleporting, and whatever other indicators that tell something is happening.

The mechanics of this game are as expected quite excellent. Dodging is effortless and once the player gets the controls down they will have no problems looking like a ninja master as constant enemy fire misses them by a foot or two. The sword takes a bit of effort to get used to however as learning what strike to use can mean the difference between destroying a minor foe and missing them completely. Unlike some action games most attacks can be canceled out of by jumping or dashing. Thus if the effort looks futile as long as your reflexes are sound you're not stuck watching your character miss and get bombarded. 

Like other Shinobi titles at the end of each act you're graded on multiple aspects. Sure there's the expected stuff like getting points for doing TATEs but there's also one for not taking any damage. Obviously this is something that will take massive amounts of skill to attain and with three difficulties it'll be a long time before anyone can master this game.

Is it worth putting forth the effort? I definitely think so. In fact I'll go ahead and say that this is one of the best action games I've ever played. While it doesn't have the stylish combos of a Devil May Cry or the enemy design of a Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi offers fantastic level design and boss-fights. Each act throws the right combination of enemies and environments to keep the player challenged throughout and offers quite a few areas that are optional but usually carry a heavy risk. In longer stages there might be an oboro symbol or some fights nearby but they also contain massive pits. Every completed act is easily accessible by a stage select so the player can always go back to stages they had trouble with before but want to acquire missing symbols & a higher rank. There's even a separate ranking for players who go through the entire game, for when they want a serious challenge. The stages also maintain the same style and design throughout so the player isn't thrown a curveball and has to navigate something entirely new that throws off the gameplay. It's probably a little repetitive sure but even if you make it to an area that looks the same it'll be filled with more enemies or stronger ones which keeps things fresh. The acts are all of perfect length and aside from the pits the instances where you can get killed because of a couple mistakes are quite rare. Even if you die numerous times in a single act it never really becomes frustrating because you're aware of your mistakes and can correct them next time around. One other thing that's great is that the level designs are angular and use a lot of edges. Sure it doesn't do much for the game graphically but it makes the camera much easier to wield. 

The boss fights aren't great simply because of the bosses themselves. The environments you fight them in, the enemies they summon, and their mechanics take on different properties. It's very much a total package here and makes every fight memorable and challenging. The use of audio and visual cues is just remarkable as even when you can't see the enemies you are still more than able to deal with whatever they throw out. 

Another important aspect of this game is that despite the myriad of changes in graphics, level design, and gameplay the spirit and core concepts of Shinobi remain. The enemy attacks are easy to follow and don't involve a punch of spinning around and causing random crap to flood the area. They're direct and easy to dodge even if the player isn't quite prepared. The enemies have no qualms about appearing nearby pits or in places where they can trouble Hotsuma the most. Sure Joe Musashi of the prior games could only dream of having Hotsuma's maneuvers but they still sure a lot in common overall. Not only is the identity of Shinobi maintained even in a sea of clones but it also shows impressive growth and adaptation to future action games.

Like most other PS2 games this can be had for less than $10 and I give it my highest recommendation. It's a very challenging game but plays it fair and balanced while featuring immaculate level design. Though this game is nearly eight years old it's still one of the best action games the genre has to offer.

Shame the sequel didn't turn out so hot. But I'll save that for another time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gameboy Advance look: Klonoa Empire of Dreams

While there have been no shortage of Klonoa games released for various systems I can't help but feel that Namco doesn't make enough of them. Compared to the likes of Tekken or the Tales of .... franchise Klonoa's offerings seem almost meager. This is a shame cause while we have more than enough fighting games and action-RPGs that all play the same there should never be enough platformers.

Though the gameplay aspects shift ever so slightly between releases Klonoa is a puzzle-platformer series. Though there are enemies wandering around the various stages they are used to assist in the solving of puzzles of both the jumping and "switch-pulling" variety. While the consoles have seen more traditional takes on this genre(with lots of traditional aspects like pits and moving platforms) the handheld titles like Empire of Dreams are more focused on puzzle-solving(though there are a few exceptions).

In Klonoa's travels he arrives at a world where the Emperor won't allow anyone to dream. The ones that do dream turn into monsters and wreck havoc. Naturally it's up Klonoa and his pal to set things right. This is done over five worlds with seven stages each along with five bosses(though another final boss awaits at the end). Twenty-five of these stages play out in the same manner. In order to reach the exit Klonoa must collect three stars. To get to these stars requires a lot of switch-throwing, jumping around, finding various keys for locked doors, and figuring out the best way to use the various enemies wandering about. Five stages involve Klonoa surfing, gathering gems, and avoiding traps while the other five are completely auto-scrolling and require a heavier emphasis on platforming as well as gem-collecting.

Klonoa only has one tool to his name and that is his wind ring. The wind ring shoots a small close-range projectile that has a number of uses. Shooting an enemy with it causes it to inflate like a balloon and appear over Klonoa's head. From here Klonoa can throw it straight forward or use it to double-jump. Solving the levels will require frequent combinations of these two maneuvers. The ring can also flip switches, grab blocks, and even hold onto a few objects to help Klonoa progress. While jumping Klonoa can also hold the jump button a bit to flutter. This can be used for certain longer jumps or to slow falls but if used improperly can be quite dangerous. Klonoa has a health meter that can take three hits though during the auto-scrolling stages there are a couple ways he can die instantly. Extra lives are very frequent however and the stages feature numerous checkpoints so death never really sets the player back that much.

The level design is for the most part very linear. While there's quite a bit of back & forth movement your next step is always clear and there's nothing in the way of alternate paths and little in the way of hidden optional areas. Essentially once you solve the puzzles and gather all of the gems you have little reason to return to these levels(except maybe to complete them faster). The puzzles run the gamut of switch-pulling, block destroying, and object tossing and the game introduces new elements fairly often. It's standard fare as far as game progression but it works well enough.

As mentioned before the enemies do little more than wander around and are used for solving the levels above all else. They respawn infinitely so you can never get stuck and are usually placed where they are necessary. Some have special abilities(like some that can be used as bombs & aren't immediately destroyed when you throw them) but otherwise their usage and purpose is pretty singular. The bosses are about what can be expected. They have a variety of attacks and your goal is to toss regular enemies at them to do damage. Usually these bosses take on aspects you've seen in the levels so it's a good way to reinforce what the player has learned. They are all quite easy though.

One thing I really dislike about Empire of Dreams is that it's very clear there is an optimal path to completing each stage. What I mean is that every power-up location, every spot where an enemy awaits, and every switch, platform, or otherwise has been designed for one particular path. It's one thing to know what to expect when replaying a stage but half the time in Empire it's simply overkill. The way Klonoa and the levels are designed leave no room for variation and there are no special skills or abilities that can make the levels more challenging or enable more ways to play through them. 

Then again it's probably more likely that I simply don't care for the puzzle-platformer genre. I think a great platformer should have a substantial amount of replay value and give players multiple ways to get through each stage. Then again maybe I just haven't found the right game in the puzzle-platformer genre to really appreciate it. While Empire of Dreams has great mechanics and solid level design it's also mostly an easy ride and getting any real challenge out of it requires completing every stage and collecting every gem. Furthermore even if I go back to a previous stage there's nothing I can do to make the stage more interesting. Everything is designed in such a way that there's no variance or thrill to trying different things. Overall for being the only game available to me during a power outage it's not bad, it's just not something I would have bothered with under any other circumstances. 

Xbox 360 look - Condemned 2: Bloodshot

The original Condemned was a pleasant surprise for early X360 adopters and PC gamers. Combining brutal first-person combat with murder investigations and a twisted story it made for quite a popular title. Like nearly every other game this generation a sequel has been developed, released, and talked about. Is this game worth the $10 and several hours I spent on it? 

Ethan Thomas has seen better days. When not slumming in the streets he's picking fights with his personal demons and working on his neckbeard. Somehow things manage to get even worse and he's selected to help his old colleagues solve some murders, find some people, and uncover an ancient cult out to rule the world. Fans of the first game have noted time and time again that Bloodshot's storyline is ridiculous and they're very much correct. But in all honesty as a reader of this site do you even care about the story? All it is is an excuse to pick fights with the homeless.

This game is played from a first-person perspective and takes place over several stages of varying locales. Despite the premise of the gameplay each level still changes up quite often and more often than not the player will find themselves wrapped up in story elements rather than focused on the combat & exploration. The process is seamless at least and every stage features several elements to them to keep them fairly lengthy and well-designed. 

The player controls Ethan and his array of moves. While our anti-hero is incapable of ducking or jumping he can sprint for a brief period before tiring out. It's tricky to get used to at first since when sprinting Ethan always runs forward when you press the button. Using the right & left triggers he can punch while pushing in the right analog stick allows him to kick. Holding both triggers causes him to block and if you time it right the enemy will stumble, allowing for an easy counterattack. There's also a sprint attack for getting in quickly. By performing certain combinations(a handy list is available at all times) Ethan can gain damage bonuses as well as build up a special meter that consists of three blocks. When these blocks fill he can trigger combos that act as QTEs. These can either do serious damage, cripple the enemy which slows them down, or simply kill them. When the enemy is to the point of near-death they'll be on their knees and have a dazed look. Here you can grab them and finish them off using something from the environment. There's really not any strategic advantage or scoring bonus for doing these things though, which makes them rather pointless(unless you're a fan of violence). Health is determined by three bars at the top of the screen. How it works is that if you take damage as long as there's a little health remaining in a bar it'll eventually refill itself. If not there are plenty of healing kits scattered around that fill any empty bars(also if you die you restart the last checkpoint with full health). 

Ethan has an incredible variety of weapons to choose from. Standards like bats and pipes populate the stages but the real fun is finding all of the random objects that can be used as weapons. One stage has the player break into a museum where they'll find tons of broadswords, battle axes, and so on. Other objects like locker doors, bowling pins, antlers, bricks, and so on can all be used. These weapons have varying stats in power, durability, speed, and range so it's always best to seek out what's comfortable. Weapons can also be thrown for hitting faraway enemies and certain objects. Unfortunately for whatever reason the developers insist on also having a lot of guns in this game. These run the gamut of shotguns, assault rifles, and pistols. Ammo is quite limited since they tend to only be found in marked lockers or off other guns but towards the end of the game the focus is shifted towards shooting instead of melee which is very disappointing. 

Ethan isn't limited to merely killing though. He has four readily accessible tools for investigating crimescenes and generally getting around. The UV light is handy for seeing things in the dark(like blood and so on), the camera can take pictures of various interesting things, the spectrometer helps Ethan track certain objects, and finally a GPS that works as a map and also can set waypoints. All of these tools are necessary for figuring out the crimescenes Ethan will stumble over. These investigations are also constantly graded and the player must correctly figure out things like the cause of death and the identity of the person from the various clues scattered around. In order to achieve the highest detective rating for a stage all of these as well as discovering the locations of news reports, sonic emitters, and other objectives. Achieving the Gold rating in each stage leads to upgrades and other bonuses.

The foes of Bloodshot are certainly out there. Most of the time they consist of the homeless. These guys have been twisted by some ghastly experimentation and will fight you or whoever they run into. For the most part they behave similar to the player in combat. They'll even seek out new weapons if you manage to break the one they currently have. While most of these thugs look very different from one another and have different attacks the strategy for them remains the same. Time your block to open them up for a counterattack, repeat, do the occassional combo, and that's it. It gets more interesting when multiple foes are around as you can even hit two or more at a time with a single strike. Unfortunately for the most part combat with these guys is really shallow. The game mixes it up frequently by employing the use of bosses. While it's nice to have variety in foes at the same time these boss fights are more about figuring out their solution rather than mastering the intricacies of fighting. One boss for example you have to throw exploding dolls at while another you have to wait for them to perform an attack that leaves them open. There's very little in the way of fights that actually require the understanding of the supposedly deep combat system in place. There are also a couple of enemies that simply can't be killed, which creates for some interesting scenarios(since it's usually instant death if they catch you). 

Bloodshot offers a host of additional modes. The biggest addition is multiplayer and if people are still playing it today I recommend checking it out. There's a large variety of modes and I particularly enjoyed the "Bum Rush" where one or two players with a large amount of health & strength have to kill as many weak players as possible before succumbing to the onslaught. It's a shame though that 90% of all X360 multiplayer games lose their player-base after less than a year(or even less than a month). Then again when your competition consists of Halo 3, The Call of Duty series, and a handful of others there's not much you can do.

An arena mode is also available for fans of the combat. This singleplayer mode challenges the player to attain a high score under a variety of conditions. Most of these can be boiled down to simply beating up as many people as possible and there are leaderboards tracking the most successful endeavors. Here is where the actual depth to the combat shines since unlike the story mode the player can't rely on a readily available supply of health, they're frequently outnumbered, and they're actually rewarded on how well they fight(as opposed to just being rewarded for detective skills in story mode). It also helps that this mode makes the silly story easier to ignore and there are no guns. 

First-person melee is always a tricky subject to deal with in terms of mechanics and Bloodshot is no different. Alot of the time it seems like the range to hit someone from is larger than expected. In fact over the course of my playthrough I instinctively chose to block everytime someone takes a swing, even if it looks like it's from far away. Even if it looks like they're several feet away they'll still recoil like I was nose-to-nose with them. On the other hand if the enemy takes a swing and I don't block for the most part no damage is done provided I'm some distance away. It's rather odd how that works out(even if it is to the player's benefit). When watching two people fight each other it looks more sensible but I guess that's just how perspective works. 

While aesthetics don't affect the gameplay I still found myself taking issue with a number of aspects of this game. A lot of the mystery and fear in this game is lost when I realized that "oh it's just some big cult behind everything". I have a big enough fear of simply being harassed while walking through streets at night so naturally being jumped and killed for no reason should have been really scary. It's that fear of the unknown but once the game tells exactly what's going on it devolves into a standard "good vs evil" tale. Instead of implying something more sinister like all of this is in Ethan's head and he's just beating up random people he percieves as demon's it just becomes something traditional and dull. Speaking of Ethan he looks really idiotic and like some test subject to appeal to an "Xtreme" crowd(it doesn't help that every other word out of his mouth is an expletive). 

So while I think Condemned 2 is definitely worth $10 I can't say for sure if it's worth the time. Fans of the original will be most likely disappointed with the story and characters in the sequel and if there's nobody playing online that rules out the multiplayer at well. It seems like such a waste considering that the fighting is decent enough and the arena modes inject quite a bit of life into the game. Unless you're the type of person who is tired of seeing guns in every game they've purchased this generation I can't quite recommend this one for any serious amount of play-time. 

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Genesis June being cut short/Plans for July

While I'm not sure what I'm going to do for the rest of this month I am going to cut short the Genesis updates for now. Biggest problem is I can't seem to keep my console from producing this godawful sound. I've tried all of the suggestions and I think my only option left is to buy another system. Considering I've spent almost as much money on getting the sound to work properly as I have on games I think it's time I break for a bit before I go insane.

Granted I hate to stop when I still have some truly excellent games to look at like Rocket Knight Adventures I simply need a break from this system. It may sound petty but there you go.

Anyway June & July look to be great months for 2D Fighting game fans since just off the top of my head we have Blazblue, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and King of Fighters XII. Unfortunately I'm not much for talking about fighting games so even if I purchase all three of these titles you're very unlikely to see a post about them.

July is looking to be just a regular potpourri of older games but at least not as old as the Genesis. Heck I might even do a couple reviews of games made in this console generation. Would that be crazy or what?

While I'm not confirming anything I do want to look at games like Raiden Fighter Aces(yes more 2D shooters. Sorry), Shadow of The Colossus(Great game), Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter(ditto), Shinobi PS2(ditto again), Capcom Classics Collection volume 2(lots of good ones), and well whatever else I can squeeze in. 

Another thing I've been meaning to do is to write reviews for this website called XBLA and XNA ratings. As the title says this is a site that has reviews for potentially every XBLA and XNA release. Granted XBLA reviews are a dime a dozen usually but there's simply not enough information out there about XNA games. So anyway I'd like to get to working on that sometime very soon.

I'm also seriously eyeing a new PC but chances are if I go through with it I'll be too busy playing Morrowind to consider reviewing any games. Although given the chance I'd really like to check out Team Fortress 2 as well. I was a huge fan of TFC and while I enjoyed the little I played from the 360 release of The Orange Box that version is so outdated I couldn't possibly imagine spending a serious amount of time with it. As a bonus I'll also be able to access my Steam account and play through the dozens of older FPS titles I've accumulated over the years. I've always been more partial to older shooters that focused more on actual level design over scripted scenarios. If this ever comes about you can be sure I'll look at one of my favorite FPS games of all time: Quake 1.

Oh and before I forget I welcome any and all feedback regarding this blog. If you have a suggestion there's a very good chance I'll honor it. Right now I'm still feeling around and trying to figure out where I stand so any comments are much appreciated. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Genesis look: Contra - Hard Corps

When Konami announced their support for the Sega Megadrive fans speculated that titles from the publisher's most popular franchises would make an appearance. Sure enough we saw a new Castlevania as well as a new Contra. Hard Corps shares the same concept and mechanics of past Contra games but goes in a different direction in terms of aesthetics and more importantly game design.

The Contra series has always held a reputation as being the premier game in the "run & gun" genre. Essentially these games boil down to lots of running around and shooting. Other popular games in this genre include the Metal Slug series and Gunstar Heroes. When someone picks up a Contra game they're going to expect certain things: One hit always equals death, tons of heavy firepower, and aliens. Hard Corps delivers all of that and more.

This game takes place after The Alien Wars(Contra 3 for the SNES) and stars four playable characters with up to four selectable weapons each. You have Ray who is your standard blonde-haired dude. He's the most balanced of the group in that his weapons are good for most any situation, but never exceptional. Sheena is the woman and she has slight advantages over Ray in some weapons, less so in others. Brownie is a little robot who differs from the rest of the cast in that he has a double-jump. His weapons are unique but mostly rather weak, but thanks to his size and maneuverability he has the highest survival rate. Fang is as you can imagine a Cyber-Wolfman. This guy's weapons are tricky to use but they're ultra-powerful. 

The entire cast controls basically the same. They can run, jump(with mid-air control of course), and slide. The slide is a very useful move as everyone is invincible while doing it. There's a bit of recovery time after a slide and you can't fire while performing it but still it can be quite important for survival. Everyone starts off with a basic cannon that shoots rapid-fire and is decent as a last resort. By finding power-ups each character can access their four weapons and switch between them as they see fit. These run the gamut of spreadfires, homing shots, and even some odd ones like a fiery punch and what is essentially a homing yo-yo. Dying will cost the currently equipped weapon however. Bombs can also be found which are good for damaging bosses and not much else. Also while holding down the fire button the player can hit weapon-switch button to switch firing modes. One mode acts as Fixed where they stand still while firing at angles and the other is Free where players can move while shooting. There's obvious advantages to both.

Hard Corps takes place over the course of six stages but only three of them will be the same everytime. After a couple key levels the player will be offered a decision to make and these decisions lead to four possible endings(there's also a hidden fifth one and even a bad ending). With these multiple endings come multiple final stages, making this one of the largest Contra games ever. Like Alien Soldier and unlike the other Contra games, Hard Corps pays most of the attention to boss-fights. It's not uncommon for many levels to be simply a series of bossfights broken up by a few enemy soldiers and maybe a couple powerups in-between. 

With this in mind the expectation is that the bossfights would have to be excellent and require all of the tools at the player's disposal. Needless to say Hard Corps delivers on this front. All of the bosses are intricately designed and feature a large array of attacks and abilities to keep them unique and loaded with personality. They share a certain common element in that all of their attacks must be jumped over, slid past, or otherwise avoided by being in the right spot at the right time but they're all very creative and challenging.

Hard Corps is certainly a hardcore game in this respect. The original Japanese version actually had a health meter which could take three hits(along with a bunch of codes for extra lives and such). Needless to say all of this was taken out for the International releases. Until the player understands the patterns or has the reflexes to dodge everything thrown at them they'll go through many lives, continues, and even playthroughs before they can get a handle on this game. 

Unfortunately when a large part of the challenge in a game is in knowing boss-patterns the game starts to become much easier. When dealing with regular enemies multiple factors can be put into place(level design, types of enemies, etc). Through some combination of these factors an element of randomness can be introduced to keep the player on their toes and wary of something bad happening. Hard Corps however is so focused on bosses and their patterns that once the player has learned a level they can breeze through it with no problem(except for the possibility of player error). On the other hand if the game were to introduce random elements(like the boss firing bullets while performing certain attacks, changing up their patterns) it could possibly lead to the game being broken. Hard Corps is a very tight affair and with a lot of fights even the slightest deviation can lead to untold amounts of bad design. While the game doesn't produce a level of challenge that grows with the player(there aren't any selectable difficulties) it also doesn't throw any curveballs that would be unfair to someone who has spent a long time with the game knowing its every intricacy. All told I really don't think having the game focused on patterns is that much of a problem. There's more than enough levels to master and even after a gamer has beaten the game without dying they can still push themselves further by relying only on certain weapons or by going for the fastest completion time possible. Throw in the multiple playable characters and there's plenty of depth to this game even for the people who can accurately predict every step of the game.

Despite the focus on boss-fights I consider this game one of the best action titles available on the Genesis. Aside from offering a large assortment of levels it showcases impressive usage of the hardware, tons of amazing battles, good character balance and weapons, perfect controls, and is just an absolutely incredible piece of work. Frankly I don't care what your opinion is on boss-fights or the lack of running in your run & gun you simply have to check this game out.

By the way Konami what's with the lack of this game, Castlevania Bloodlines, and all three Rocket Knight games on the Virtual Console? It'd be a guaranteed $40 out of my wallet at least.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Genesis look: Alisia Dragoon

Action-platformers are in no short supply when it comes to the Genesis so what can be done to help a title stand out from the pack? Game Arts tackled this problem with Alisia Dragoon. While at its core it has the same basic elements as other titles in the genre it introduces some interesting ideas and executes them quite well.

In a land where evil is up to no good it's up to a vengeful princess and her trusty dragons to stop an evil priest from awakening a great demon. In order to accomplish her mission the princess must journey through 8 stages of multi-scrolling platforming and shooting. Not only are there scores of respawnable foes to destroy there's also many hidden items that will strengthen Alisia and her dragon friends.

While Alisia is familiar with concepts of walking and jumping its her methods of attack that really help give this game an identity. Her main weapon is lightning which can be used a number of ways. Short bursts are fine for taking out weak groups of enemies while concentrated blasts might be necessary for larger foes. Although her energy drains after a short period it refills very quickly. What makes this attack unique is that it automatically homes in on enemy targets Alisia is facing. This allows her to focus on dodging their attacks. If Alisia allows her energy to charge up all the way(which takes a couple seconds) she unleashes a fully-charged blast that covers the screen and does immense damage. This is a very handy weapon though at times the player can become over-reliant on it and thus halt the pacing as they'll have Alisia stop every few seconds to make sure she can pull off another blast.

The other key weapon is Alisia's array of Dragon friends. By hitting the A button the game pauses and Alisia can choose from four different dragons. All of these dragons have an energy meter that when filled up will cause them to unleash their attack on the nearest enemy target. They stay behind Alisia at all times and this important to consider as they can catch bullets or be used to arrange an attack. These dragons have varying abilities and their own health meters, thus giving Alisia an incentive to keep them alive. The secret to using these Dragons effectively is to summon them when they're ready to attack. Their energy meters recharge even when they're not currently selected and since the game pauses while choosing dragons it's easy for Alisia to bring one out for a quick attack. The more time a dragon spends with Alisia the more likely they are to take damage.

Alisia has many power-ups she can collect. There's the typical gamut of extra health and lives but the really interesting power-ups are of the permanent variety. Some enable her dragon friends to level up(which raises their attack power and life). Others will strengthen Alisia's lightning by one level or raise her maximum health. It's not uncommon for these to be found at the very ends of dead-ends so nudging every crevice and jumping into every hole is recommended to finding some of these secret items. 

The levels in Alisia Dragoon share a common theme in that they're large and not always straightforward. There are many deviations from the main path and plenty of secrets to find. The game does a fine job of keeping these level designs interesting by employing basic traps and some platforming. Another great aspect of the level design is that the enemies are placed so that Alisia's weapons can really be put to the test. There's a lot of angular structure in the design and despite having a homing weapon Alisia can still run into a lot of trouble when everything is designed around blocking her shots. 

Most of the enemies in Alisia Dragoon are of the respawnable variety. Weaker foes go down easily but continue to come back for more, giving Alisia reason to keep moving. Larger guys tend to take quite a bit more abuse but they also count towards a "shot down rate" which is the only way the game keeps track of score. As mentioned earlier all of the enemies are designed to work within their environment and are placed at the right spots to keep Alisia from simply blazing through every stage. The bosses play out as expected and can only be defeated by the player's skill in putting Alisia's ability to work. There's no puzzles to solve or gimmicks to figure out. There's patterns and a variety of attacks to dodge and they work out quite well.

While there is an over-abundance of stuff that wants Alisia dead this game is still fairly easy to complete on normal difficulty. Health-restoration items are everywhere and Alisia can screw up quite a few times before she becomes a corpse. It is very possible to beat this game without taking a hit but it would involve the player memorizing every square inch of the levels and boss-fights. Alisia is constantly under attack from all sides yet at times it's probably best to avoid fighting back. Sometimes it's better to just keep moving and ignore the petty creatures. 

Aside from the previously mentioned over-reliance on the burst attack I can't find much in the way of flaws with this game. I'm just surprised and disappointed that we never saw a sequel or even further games by the team behind Alisia Dragoon. It's probably not the best action game but it's certainly creative and develops an interesting concept that is not only well-designed but also shows great mechanics. Too many games come up with some good ideas but just fall apart when taken to task but Alisia Dragoon remains a great game throughout, making it one of the better action-platformers on the Genesis. On the other hand maybe the game isn't for everyone and the weapon system as well as usage of dragons could give it a stilted feel that relies too much on memorization over actual skill. However I haven't really put enough time into the game to consider the finer points so until then I see nothing wrong with giving this game a very high recommendation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

VC Look: Neutopia 1 & 2

The success of the original Legend of Zelda prompted a few developers to design their own games that mirrored the NES classic. While decent games in their own right they are for better or worse near-exact clones. The Neutopia games fall under this classification. Though well-designed it's obvious where the bulk of their inspiration came from and thus they lack their own identity.

The Neutopia games tell the tales of young men who seek to become heroes by going through overworlds filled with secrets as well as labyrinths filled with danger(and more secrets). Both games take a fairly linear approach to exploration. The first game makes it obvious by requiring the player to collect a couple items before they can access the next section of the world. It operates sort of like a hub, where the player starts from a central area and goes through the other areas in turn. The second game is a little less linear but replaces the hub with a fairly easy to navigate path. Neither game is like the original Zelda where one could access nearly any dungeon at any time. 

The heroes of both games have access to arsenal Link can only dream of. Aside from standard weapons like bombs and boomerangs they can access magic rods that become stronger in proportion to their health, flails that can attack enemies from a distance, and even a bunch of Link's popular items like a rainbow bridge for crossing exactly one square of water. Like Link the Neutopia kids are also able to find stronger weapons & armor in dungeons or lying around the world. It's also helpful to track down various boots as not only do they let the characters access new areas but they also allow them to move faster. Early on these games start off quite slow because it takes the guys forever to get anywhere. 

The worlds these two guys explore are filled to the brim with trees and walls housing secrets. I'd say about 99% of the areas you'll visit have at one secret room per screen. Some house rewards while others give information and still others offer to restore your life or save your game(these guys tend to crop up near dungeons..which is very helpful). After a certain point though it does get tiring checking every single screen for secrets, especially if the player loses track and forgets what rooms they've already uncovered.

The dungeons are again similar to what you'd expect from a Zelda-clone. Most dungeons have one or two equipment upgrades, some prisoners who give important information, and plenty of enemies and traps. Unfortunately many rooms tend to lock up when the player enters, forcing them to seek out the sole brick that they have to push to unlock the doors. This can get quite maddening as this happens very often and some rooms can house quite a few bricks.

The monsters of Neutopia are typical for the genre. Expect lots of blobs early on but as the game progresses the army of evil starts to improve in both strength and original designs. Many enemies that rely on projectiles attack do so without providing a visual cue like pausing for a second. Though your hero can protect against most of these as long as his shield is continually upgraded, it's best to always take to the sides and never approach enemies by getting directly in front of them. The bosses are thankfully much better than the ones in Legend of Zelda. Aside from offering a greater variety in designs these guys have various attacks and unique patterns. 

In terms of mechanics Neutopia 1 & 2 is well done. I guess this is just as well since aside from ripping off the structure and design of Zelda they also went after the mechanics as well. They can be a bit though as enemies that fly or jump into the air can still damage or be damaged even if they look like they're high into the air. I guess it really isn't a big deal in the long run but it threw me off at first.

The biggest fault with these games is that they are far too repetitive and the dungeons just seem to take far too long to complete. While they're similar in size to Zelda, Neutopia's dungeons feel longer and less challenging because the enemies tend to be slow and weak. The enemies in Zelda's dungeons can be pretty dangerous and having to face off with a room filled with can make anyone wary. The creatures of Neutopia however simply don't stand a chance when the heroes have access to so many great weapons(at least the fire rod was significantly weakened in the second game). Many of the dungeons feel like just a series of rooms and there's nothing in the way of short-cuts or even a way to keep doors from locking or enemies from respawning. It becomes a bit more tolerable when the hero attains faster movement speed but by then the dungeons have grown even larger. 

Perhaps most distressing about the Neutopia games is that despite the fact that they came out years after the Legend of Zelda they did little in the way of improving on it. Sure there are more items to play with and more secrets to find but the basic structure has gone unchanged and most of the dungeons never really get beyond being just a series of locked rooms filled with monsters. They're fine games if you're interested in more of the same but if this is the best we can expect it's no wonder why Nintendo changed everything with the release of Link to the Past.

All in all they're decent enough clones but I wouldn't bother with them. 

Online Gaming Look: Action-RPGs

I think as far as online games go the most time I've put into a single genre has been the Action-RPG. These games tend to have a few things in common: A variety of characters or character classes with differentiating stats & skills, action-oriented gameplay that's rewarding for skillful players, and "phat loot". In this post I'll look at all of the online action-rpgs I can remember spending quite a bit of time on.

Diablo 1 - This was my first real foray into online gaming and it was not without its share of headacches. To be honest I did a lot of cheating in this game. I'd regularly accept duped-items, stat-raising potions, and even overpowered hack weapons. Unlike most games in the genre I actually enjoyed this game more in single-player mode. While I can't say I enjoyed saving every couple minutes there was a certain thrill in having death around every corner.

Diablo 2 - This game threatens to consume me at least once a day. It's only because I refuse to get a computer that works that I can manage to keep myself away from this game. Most if not all of the characters I used in Diablo 2(Sorceress, Necromancer, Assassin, Paladin) were named after 2D shooters. This is mainly because so many of the characters in this game specialize in filling the screen with projectiles. My personal favorite was a Necromancer named Risk Storage. Risk Storage is the name of one of the final bosses in Darius Gaiden. One thing Blizzard is absolutely phenomenal at is support. Diablo 2 is practically ancient yet it continues to recieve new patches, additional items, and generally tends to feel like an entirely new game after each major bugfix. One thing I really want to see in the sequel however is a better emphasis on exploration. While the main game is quite varied and features some impressive dungeon designs(despite the fact that most of them are random), in terms of gaining experience or finding great equipment the player is better off repeating certain areas and killing the same bosses constantly. It would also help if there was a better currency system in place like making gold something that can actually be really useful. Sure lots of people rely on Stone of Jordans for trade but despite raising nearly a dozen characters to level 80+ I never saw a single SoJ. Yeah I don't understand either.

Phantasy Star Online - I'll go ahead and admit that next to Diablo 2, Phantasy Star Online is my most played action-rpg. My favorite aspect of this game is the mechanics. While your character doesn't have anything in the way of evasive maneuvers spacing is still quite important as where enemies can connect with their attacks is very well-defined. Being able to escape from a large crowd of monsters without a scratch is very cool. Everything has to be properly-timed since a single hit tends to wreck the player. Challenge-mode further emphasizes this aspect by limited equipment and experience so that players are forced to rely on teamwork, proper item-management, and raw skills. It's not a mode for everyone and I'm certainly no good at it but it's still fascinating and extremely well-done. The only aspect that I think needs serious work is the distribution of rare equipment. Some of the drop-rates are just completely ridiculous.

Though I've retired from this game I hear people can actually play it for free. Check out Schtack's Server on your favorite search engine for more information. I'm never going back though.

Phantasy Star Universe - I was disappointed in this game when it first came out and was even more disappointed when the major expansion hit. The biggest problem is that unlike PSO the mechanics in PSU just aren't nearly as sound. Attacks have an area of effect to them and even if a projectile looks like it should miss if it's close enough it'll cause damage. This extends to just about everything dangerous in the game. Furthermore there's simply a lack of interesting equipment and you're likely to run into several parties all using the same weapons. Sure PSO had a few stand-bys that are good in most situations but in PSU it's just ridiculous. Most battle strategies rely on spamming special skills and like Diablo 2 everyone tends to play the areas that provide the most experience. PSU is heavily unbalanced in this respect, especially since a lot of the pre-expansion areas still contain their old reward bonuses(which were meager and done so that'd take weeks of straight-playing to get anywhere). There's little else I can say about this one other than I regret the time I spent on it.

Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Darkness - While the other games are more like tactical action games, this one is a straight-up action RPG. The mechanics in this game are fairly sound though it seems like a number of attacks that damage the character don't seem to connect. The thing that sticks out to me the most is that this game is very repetitive and drawn-out. Sure that's par for the course as you tend to kill a lot of the same things but at least they're broken up by the occassional special monster or maybe different formations/unique enemies that require a change of tactics to get rid of. Here there's really not enough variety. Enemies fall by the hundreds and drop absurd amounts of loot(most of which is useless). This goes on for several areas until finally a boss. These bosses are terrible though. The game mixes up the boss fights by giving them design aspects and techniques that make them more than just a big target with lots of HP. However in this game it can just get annoying as fights drag on for too long and half the time it feels like you're not doing anything to it. Another interesting aspect of this game is that it was broken not too long after it came out. Rare potions can be found and then synthesizing with the player's equipment to raise their hit points or damage to absurd levels. We're talking weapons that could kill the final boss on the hardest setting in one hit. Obviously a patch was released to alleviate that but everyone who didn't ditch their equipment or tried to synthesize it again were still invincible. While the game was essentially ruined I found I actually had more fun with it using weapons that could kill everything nearly instantly.

Genesis Look: Fire Shark

One of the giants of the 2D shooter genre early on was Toaplan. These developers were responsible for such hits as Twin Cobra, Tiger Heli, Truxton, Snow Brothers, Hellfire, and many others. Shortly after declaring bankruptcy the remains of Toaplan split off to form or join up with Cave, Takumi, 8ing/Raizing, and Gazelle. 

Why am I telling you things you could have just as easily found in wikipedia? It's simply because after the fall of Toaplan we entered the Golden Age of Arcade 2D shooters. Cave's produced a number of excellent games from the Dodonpachi series to ESP Galuda as well as many others, Takumi put a number of classic titles including Mars Matrix, 8ing/Raizing went on to do the phenomenal releases such as Battle Garegga, Armored Police Batrider along with many more, and Gazelle...well...Gazelle did Air Gallet which isn't half bad. It's amazing that so much talent was kept under one name for so long.

Fire Shark is a vertical arcade shooter where the player takes control of a biplane through 10 stages of ever-increasing difficulty. The structure is similar to other shooters in that one hit leads to death while death leads to getting kicked back to the last checkpoint. At the end of each stage there's a boss waiting to be destroyed.

Like many other early shooters the main ship starts off fairly weak but grows in power through the collection of various goodies. By destroying key enemies(which are fairly easy to pick out as they're usually something like a zeppelin or a certain kind of boat) they release power-ups. By grabbing power-ups labeled with a P one can strengthen their current weapon. Players start off with a simple three-way spreadshot but that can grow substantially until the entire area is raining with bullets. Two other weapons are available and they are the Helix laser which has immense power but not a lot of range as well as the flame laser(yes I made that up myself). The flame laser is one impressive weapon as two jets of flame shoot straight ahead while other jets fan around the ship, creating a truly devastating weapon. This is provided of course that the player can successfully put these weapons together and hold onto them as one hit will send them back to square one. Speed-ups can also be collected as well as bombs. The bombs are quite impressive and can even take out many bosses with a single shot while protecting the player for a few precious moments. 

The scoring system in this game is really good. At the end of each level all of the bolts you collect(by destroying various grounded objects like cannons) are multiplied by the number of bombs you have remaining. So if you have six bombs and 30,000 points worth of bolts that's a cool 180,000 on your scoreboard. Holding on to these bombs is quite difficult though since they're so useful for escaping danger and if you take a hit you're back to only three bombs. It's a great system and provides an additional challenge for players who feel they've mastered the game.

The level design doesn't pull any fancy tricks or expects the player to navigate a bunch of trap-filled mazes. Every stage plays it simple by going for the right combination of tanks, cannons, suicidal biplanes, and whatever else that can eventually take you down. The biplanes tend to be especially tricky later in the game as they'll start employing formations and arrangements that could trap you if you're not destroying them fast enough. The bullet-spreads fired by the various enemies aren't complicated affairs to dodge but they're fast and the game has no qualms about catching the player unaware. Thankfully since the screen is capable of some horizontal scrolling anything off to the sides won't fire if they can't be seen(and therefore destroyed). It's also notable that when objects reach near the bottom of the screen they will cease firing. This is nice to have as there's hardly anything more frustrating than taking a bullet in the tail. 

A 2D shooter lives and dies by its mechanics and Fire Shark has them perfected. The ship's hitbox is very well defined and not too easy of a target. Even bullets that shave uncomfortably close to the wings of the ship aren't a problem. Also even though death is never far behind the ship is just strong enough that getting back into the game isn't a neigh-impossible affair. Even though at times the ship will spawn surrounded by cannons the game gives the player a second or two to re-acquaint themselves with the game before everything starts firing. Another important note is that bullets pulse as they travel along the screen. This isn't distracting in fact it's a great indicator of danger and it helps keep bullets from blending in with the background(something that happens far too often in shooters).

The bosses in this game aren't exactly epic but they work excellently within the context of the game. Since bosses don't take very long to destroy they are often accompanied by cannons and other enemy ships. Not only does this make for a more difficult battle but it really helps to move the pacing along. There's no boss where you're going to be stuck plugging away at it for ten minutes straight.  Even though there are ten stages the game never really slows down and there's only a couple real problematic spots if you're not paying attention(hint: don't always stay at the very bottom of the screen).

While Fire Shark doesn't offer the complicated scoring systems that give later 2D shooters their incredible depth it's very accessible to gamers new to the 2D shooter genre yet maintains an exceptional level of challenge for the veterans. Throw in additional difficulties and multiple loops and the game can last for quite awhile. In the end we have one of the best shooters available on the Genesis and a fine game in its own right. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 15, 2009

VC Look: Cho-Aniki

One of the most important aspects of this blog is that no games can be judged for their graphics and sounds. Beautiful games with excellent music mean nothing at all here. If that's all that mattered there are plenty of avenues for watching videos of the games as well as listening to their music. I try to run a tight ship here and when met with a game that relies on audiovisuals to make a sale there's nothing I can do in terms of recommending a purchase let alone a playthrough. If there's one thing I've noticed that with older games that cost a pittance time is much more valuable. 

Cho-Aniki was developed by NCS/Masaya. You may remember them from Wings of Wor, which I looked at earlier this month. Over the years Cho-Aniki has gotten a reputation for being many things. One thing is for certain however this is not your typical shootemup. The most powerful being in the universe is lacking the energy needed to win the ultimate muscle-men contest so he's resorted to capturing everything in sight for fuel. Needless to say a couple of people took offense to that and it's up to you to guide either a man or a woman through five vivid levels to take out the bad guys. 

Our heroes are capable enough as they start with a regular pea shooter but can upgrade their strength by collecting protein(yeah I don't know either). To supplement this they can access a special weapon by letting go of the fire button. The male lets off his trademark manbeam(their words not mine) which is basically a giant laser while the female sprays bullets diagonally. Both of these can only done for a little bit before they have to charge up again. Options come to the aid of our heroes usually by the form of two half-naked musclemen. These guys stay to the sides of your hero and fire away and can access manbeams of their own. Sometimes the player might come across a cherub or a..well something else. Anyway like the hero these options can be powered up a bit as long as they're the ones that collect the protein. They can act as shields but direct contact with enemies is usually fatal(which is why I find it odd you can press a button to send them flying into enemies). For you direct contact with anything(except walls and floors) is fatal. The player's speed can be adjusted at any time though usually it isn't necessary(unless there's a particular setting you prefer). Oh and I almost forgot you get a handful of bombs for doing immense damage.

The five stages of this game are broken up into multiple parts. At first waves of enemies will assault your character. Typically you'll see everything the stage has to offer here and the rest of the stage follows suit with similar waves, though all of the enemies remain exclusive to the stage they appear in. Before long a mini-boss will attack. After destroying it the stage will resume until the player arrives at another mid-boss, and then another wave and boss will follow after that. At the end of the stage there will be the end-boss. With three mini-bosses and one end-boss for each stage that's quite a few for a 2D shooter.

The level design in this game is very barren. Unlike Wings of Wor which mixed it up by including traps and objects to look out for throughout the stage, the stages in Choaniki are mostly just one long corridor filled with enemies. Sometimes the direction the player moves in changes but that doesn't affect the gameplay. There's little in the way of formation or design to the placement of enemies either. Pretty much every regular enemy you fight has little in the way of variation and all they do is move forward while firing bullets. At least the enemies have different bullet-patterns but other than that there's not much else to differentiate stage 1 from stage 2 through 5. Towards the end of stage 5 the designers get the bright idea to throw some walls in that affect movement and can crush the player if they don't move. 

The bosses on the other hand are quite good. Some of them provide a large variety of attacks, others have multiple forms, and some show a lot of personality in coming up with interesting ways of killing you. The biggest problem with these guys however is that they fall much too quickly. While I admit to hating shooters where bosses take forever to kill I also feel that many of the bosses in this game can die off before they even get their feet off the ground.

The mechanics in this game are pretty sound. Despite your "ship" being a rather odd shape the hit-box is a good size and it takes almost a direct hit to put him or her down. Unfortunately it's not always clear what can kill you. Projectiles and direct contact with enemies are expected but there's certain parts that the player can freely go through if they know where they are. Some of the bosses are also so large that they leave the player very little room for moving around. I guess this doesn't matter much since they die so quickly but it's far from the optimal solution here.

The biggest problem with Cho-Aniki is that it's far too easy...at least on anything below the Hard setting. Looking past once the player is able to complete this game without dying they don't have much else to challenge themselves with. I guess someone could always choose to play without options, bombs, or so on but that would require a very well-designed game in order to consider putting forth that kind of effort. With Cho-aniki I just don't see it as the weak level design and quick-dying bosses don't provide enough entertainment to create new challenges.

While Cho-aniki isn't a spectacular failure and it has all of the necessary ingredients to make a good 2D shooter it's very clear that it relies more on its whimsical art direction and wonderful soundtrack rather than more important elements like good level design or a reasonable level of challenge.  If I weren't held to the restricctions set by this blog I'd recommend this game just for how it looks and sounds but otherwise it's just not something I'd consider if I wanted a good 2D shooter. Since the Virtual Console release clocks in at 900 points I'd say consider looking at Gleylancer. I know I will soon enough.

Genesis/VC look: Wonder Boy in Monster World

While Monster World fits under the fairly standard classification of "action-adventure" it manages to maintain an identity through it's unique outlook on exploration and combat. This game is the second-to-last Wonder Boy game ever made(the Japan-exclusive Monster World IV is considered the final one). The series has undergone some radical changes since its inception many years ago. The action-adventure games are probably the ones we're all most familiar with.

Monster World takes place in a land where bad things are happening. To combat this a young man named Shion takes it upon himself and slowly leaves his home to destroy evil and possibly do a few good deeds on the way. This will involve a bit of shopping, lots of platforming, a bunch of killing baddies for their money, and no shortage of exploration through land, sea, and space.

The first thing players will notice is that Shion walks very slowly. This is one of the clever elements of design Monster World employs. Though Shion starts off slow he can find and buy new boots to increase his walking speed. Early on enemies don't do much more than stand still and hop in place. But as Shion progresses(and finds faster boots) he'll find that with each new area he enters the enemies become more active and their attacks intensify. 

The second thing players will notice is that Shion's weapon reach is horrible. While his sword has decent range and can effectively hit enemies from nearly anywhere in front of him the player will soon discover they have to be almost on top of an enemy to score a hit. This is balanced out by the fact that most enemies don't have a lengthy recovery period. That is if the player hits them they go into a damage animation but the player is usually free to keep hitting them until they're dead. However as the game progresses the enemies will begin to counter hits by jumping or attacking. Over time the reach and range of Shion's weaponry improve but it's still not something to rely on.

Armor and shields can also be purchased or found. This equipment not only lessens damage but shields have the added benefit of blocking projectile attacks as long as Shion is not attacking or crouching. Shields can be tricky to use since attacks that hit Shion's feet or head will still count but all the same it's still very important to the survival of the player.

Shion also has access to numerous spells. These can be useful in certain situations but for the most part players will find themselves relying on a spell that doubles their attack and a return spell that takes them back to the last inn they stayed at. To aid Shion ever further a number of helpers will follow him through various stages of the game. Some will find goodies for Shion while others simply help attack the enemies. Unfortunately for the most part these guys are useless.

The Monster World itself is actually quite linear. However there are more than enough secrets and areas that must be returned to after collecting certain items. The areas Shion explores are varied and show a good understanding of various aspects of level design(even if all of the locations aren't exactly original). There are no overly long stages in this game and most players should be able to breeze through the entire thing in a couple hours.

The dungeons and overall level design are quite good. While each leg of the journey is short just enough time is spent on them that they feel complete. Just as you think you're going to be tired of a particular leg of the quest a necessary item is found and you're off to somewhere entirely new. Also there's a fair sense of progression throughout as the platforming becomes more difficult and new enemies keep things fresh. 

There are a handful of boss-fights in this game. While one mixes it up by providing a mini-quiz game the others are standard affairs where you dodge their attacks and pound them into submission. These foes tend to be quite easy as Shion is usually more than equipped to handle them(it doesn't help that their life-bars aren't terribly long either). However Shion is a rather clunky target even after finding the best boots and the final bosses are by far the hardest parts of the game.

To go into greater detail let's look at the Demon King. While Shion is capable of dodging basic stuff(provided the player is given some warning that the enemy is about to attack) even at his fastest he doesn't have the agility to get around more complicated attacks and ones that strike from multiple directions at once. The Demon King has three heads and when you knock one off it continues to attack Shion. So in this tiny room Shion will eventually have to deal with two heads, the boss himself, and whatever attacks are being flung about. This is really too much for Shion to handle and since his recovery period is quite short this boss fight is more a battle of attrition than anything requiring real skill. Later on we have the final boss. This guy starts off easy enough with a single laser(that can be destroyed though it will respawn after a short time) roaming the area. After depleting his health however he takes on a second form and a number of additions are made. First he can only be damaged when his eye is open, two lasers enter the room, a buzz-saw roams back and forth across the ground Shion is standing on, and to top it all off he's on a conveyor-belt that's constantly changing directions. To say this is the hardest part of the game isn't enough. If this were already a challenging game and the final boss was the hardest part that would be sensible. Instead this is a very easy game that just happens to have a brutally difficult finale. 

From what I hear part of this is due to the fact that Sega of America made additions to the final boss to make it more challenging. Why these additions weren't spread throughout the entire game to help the player better prepare for sudden jumps in difficulty is beyond me. The perfect way of dealing with this should have been two difficulty settings so that gamers could have a very difficult game for 100% of the time instead of 5%. It's a completely nonsensical way to conclude a relatively pleasant experience. Just to put it into perspective someone is able to beat the final boss in the Japanese version with a mere three hearts while in the US version it's just not possible.

So unless you're interested in fighting an un-balanced final boss you might want to try Dynastic Hero. It's the same price on the Virtual Console and it's essentially the same game(the graphics, art, and music have been changed however) but it's based off of the Japanese version of Monster World so the finale is a bit smoother.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Genesis look: Revenge of Shinobi

When looking at a game like Revenge of Shinobi comparisons to its sequels as well as prequels are inevitable. While Sega has made numerous changes to the series over the years there are still many constants that tie them all together. The Shinobi is a Ninja Master. Although he has many tools at his disposal from a near limitless supply of shuriken to ninja magic for any situation his true skill comes from an ability to take any foe out from a close range. The main constant is that it doesn't matter whether the enemy has a gun or a thousand guns Shinobi will reach them and kill them.

The original Shinobi certainly put this aspect through its paces by handing out the most points to gamers who refrained from taking out enemies from a distance. This is certainly a challenge because not only must the player be on the ground they must also be close enough to initiate their close-range attack(since melee attacks are done with the same button as throwing shurikens or firing a gun). An already challenging game enters a whole new realm of difficulty when the player has to contend with more difficult situations that they themselves have created, throwing their own survival into question for more points. It's the difference between beating the game and mastering it.

The original Shinobi served as the basis for nearly every Shinobi game that followed suit. Even with the jump to 3D in Shinobi for PS2 the concept remained. While these sequels added such things as health meters, many hidden 1ups, and a variety of difficulty settings they also developed a new end-of-level bonus. By beating a level without taking damage the player is awarded a substantial amount of points. This bonus didn't exist in the original game because Shinobi only took one hit to get killed. This is smart game design. Aside from making the title more accessible to beginners it becomes more rewarding for pros. 

Revenge of Shinobi was released around the same time as Shadow Dancer. While Shadow Dancer was more of a sequel to the original Shinobi --as it shared many similarities in its gameplay aside from the addition of a ninja dog-- Revenge was something a bit different. Stages are still broken up into two parts. Typically one part is linear with a major emphasis on platforming while the other is multi-scrolling and involves some basic exploration. All eight stages end with a boss-fight and the player is rewarded a completion bonus which varies depending on how well they performed, a Perfect bonus for completing a stage with full health, and a Technical Bonus for not using magic.

The controls are where the differences really start to show. Joe in Revenge is a little bit slower. His movements by comparison are more direct and his jumps have varying height and can be controlled while in mid-air. Furthermore by jumping he has access to a second jump that gives him additional height and access to a special attack. Like in the other games Joe can still throw shurikens, do close-range attacks, and access magic. The magic however is different in that there are four spells. One serves to damage everything on screen, another grants immunity to damage for a few hits, another allows him to jump much higher, and finally a suicide spell that trades a life for complete refill of health. In prior games all the spell did was damage everything on screen. There's a lot more flexibility here but in the way of the master you can't rely on any of them.

The mechanics are similar to the other games. Joe only takes damage from direct attacks. For example if one of the Jackie Chan clones(Revenge is notorious for using tons of popular icons as regular enemies & bosses) does a kick if you make contact with any part of his body aside from his foot or leg you will not take damage. Sure it shares the same animation as taking damage but no health is lost. This is a necessary tool for getting close to enemies as at times you might just have to drop on them to get into position for a close-range kill. Unlike the Arcade Shinobis however the enemies don't react in kind, so it feels kind of odd bouncing off of someone and they don't even flinch.

These days gamers are probably more familiar with Revenge's followup Shinobi 3. This is to be expected as while Shinobi 3 is available on a variety of compilations and the Wii's Virtual Console, Revenge is only just now under consideration for a VC release. Thus going from a game released in 1993 to a game released in 1989 is a bit of a step-back. Revenge Joe doesn't have a number of the moves his future itineration would gain. In this game one of the only ways he can block is if he has the Power-up(which also allows him to do double damage...until he takes damage) and furthermore that's only if he's walking or crouch-walking. The other is done by performing a close-range attack but unless you don't have any shurikens that won't be much use. Other abilities like running(and the running slash) and the diving kick are also not in Revenge Joe's arsenal, making getting close to an enemy a much greater challenge.

The level design further differentiates the two games. While Shinobi 3 mixes things up quite often and features more accessible level design Revenge is definitely old-school. Old adages like pits with enemies nearby waiting to knock you in them are popular as is many situations where the firepower is so overbearing you'll have quite a bit of trouble working out how to get at the foes without flinging a shuriken and/or taking damage. 

The bossfights even further differentiate the two. Shinobi 3's fights involve foes with lots of movement, a large variety of attacks, and at times different forms. Revenge foes however are limited to 1 or 2 attacks and don't have much in the way of flexibility. That is not to say that Revenge bosses are any easier. In fact since the player's moveset is more limited they have to work harder to find the right spot to damage the boss without getting countered. Furthermore there are places in the environment where the Revenge player must take advantage of to avoid getting clobbered as he simply doesn't have the ease of movement that he'd gain from the sequel. 

All of these things make for a different kind of challenge. While Shinobi 3 is better at relying on reflexes and movement, Revenge benefits more from the careful players who analyze each encounter, study patterns and plan accordingly. Bringing the original Shinobi and Shadow Dancer into the fold we find that those two games rely mostly on manipulation(since enemies actually react when Shinobi bumps into them), memorization, and speed. It's impressive that Sega is able to focus on different attributes for all of their games so that players have different means of attaining their ninja master status.

Revenge of Shinobi's level design shows some remarkable ideas and contains quite a bit of variety while still maintaining some semblance of proper difficulty progression. In a couple stages the player can jump between planes(separated by a fence of some sort). This is essential for getting around some heavily armed areas and around pits & walls. The second stage that employs this design forces the player to contend with kunoichi nuns as well as speeding red cars. Towards the end the first half of stage 7 throws a lot of tough platforms with enemies at critical points. While stage 8's first half is similar it makes the platforming easier but adds in more enemies. The entire game complements itself well by changing the focus slightly for each stage but still retaining the overall direction. While enemies tend to repeat the game does well at putting together just the right combination of them with the surrounding environment to create a greater challenge than what you faced prior. While their behavior is familiar the addition of other enemies as well as differing level design makes for new difficulties. 

The enemies run the expected gamut of ninjas, soldiers, and even a few oddballs(what's with the dancing girls?). They're not much of a threat on their own and especially so if you simply take them all out from a distance. However as you close in on ninjas they fling a constant rate of shurikens and jump away with the occasional downward-angled shuriken. Soldiers have a pattern to their firing but getting close is always as a hassle since they tend to have support(from guys lobbing grenades or another soldier firing away). Rambo-esque thugs aren't much from a distance but their flamethrowers are very problematic if you try to get close. The bosses are extension of this ideal. While they can be pretty easy if you just stay back and fire away they have numerous spots that will damage you if you touch them and it's a serious challenge to hit them several times in a relatively small weakpoint with a tiny knife. Sure the sword has exceptional range and reach but that's only if you're still holding onto it(as it will be lost with your power-up if you take a hit). Finding these safe spots and weakpoints suddenly becomes a much harder affair and makes for a more compelling game.

In the end though it's all fair and balanced. While enemies and bosses have no shortage of ways to cause your death they offer just enough in the way of visual cues and patterns to leave just enough time for the player to get at them any way they can. While a perfect run of this game could take a long time the game does a fine job of leaving all of this up to the player and giving them many outs if things aren't going well. Though it'll cost points the player could always use the shield spell to take a few hits before losing their power-up(as a bonus this spell keeps them from bouncing away when they get hit). The harder settings do little aside from increase the damage Joe takes as well as give him less lives to work with but it gives the Ninja Master something to work towards. Usually I frown on difficulty settings that simply make it easier for the player to die but I think it works well here as most players won't attempt it until they've gained quite a bit of experience in the easier settings.

While Revenge of Shinobi could be considered a bit dated it is still among one of the best action games on the Genesis because it offers something akin to the older Castlevanias. It's a stiff and punishing game where every action has immediate results and enemies are placed wherever they'd be most dangerous. This isn't a game about looking good, creating massive combos, or killing hundreds of enemies with ease. Mastering this game requires planning, looking for openings, and tons of careful maneuvering. I consider it a required play...which is the highest possible rating I'll ever give a game.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Genesis look: El Viento

Here we have another game with a bit of an identity to it. However just because a game has an identity doesn't make it great since what if the identity has serious flaws? El Viento is the story of a Peruvian Princess out to stop a group of mad worshippers from awakening a mad God that could destroy the world. The mafia is involved as well since there's apparently profit in this sort of thing and Annet's only assistance comes from a prettyboy Indiana Jones-esque man named Earnest Evans. Oh and the game takes place in 1928. Yeah I don't understand it either.

El Viento was developed by Wolf Team and it certainly shows. Wolf-Team's biggest problem is that while they have a handle on mechanics and programming they never really figured out level design and at times they push for new ideas when their games would benefit more from ignoring them altogether. 

The game is comprised of eight stages. Some have multiple sections and they all vary in length. Starting from the streets of New York City Annet moves on to cliffs, sewers, caves, ships that travel by both land & air, and finally an encounter at the ruins of the Empire State Building. Unless you watch the cutscenes in-between levels you'll have no idea where in the world Annet is going.

Annet controls about how you would expect. When not running she's jumping and she's extremely maneuverable in mid-air(which is necessary for dodging a lot of attacks). One unique tool at her disposal is the fact that she can duck while in mid-air. This makes her a slightly smaller target which is always a good thing. Finally while ducking Annet can perform a dash. This is good for getting around faster, dodging some attacks, and is necessary for one of the boss-fights. Annet's main weapon is an infinite cache of boomerangs. These fly straight ahead unless you grab a jewel power-up then it has slight homing capabilities. To add to this Annet has access to some magic spells. Thought she starts with only a simple fireball as she progresses she gains a water blast that travels along the ground, a wave shot for covering a wide area, a fireball that does immense damage if it connects, and a homing shot that automatically fires and lasts for several seconds. To use the stronger spells Annet has to charge up for them, which only takes a second or two. After casting her MP guage is drained of the required amount for the spell but it is quickly replenished. This is mostly to keep her from spamming spells repeatedly as they're all much stronger than her default boomerang. Another unique aspect is that Annet has an EXP system. By killing most foes(respawnables don't count) she amasses points and after certain amounts her life bar increases. Needless to say score really doesn't matter in this game as it is tied entirely to her survival. If anything you could theoretically make the game more difficult by killing as few enemies as possible.

The stages contain quite a bit of variety. The first stage provides a standard introduction with lots of guys to kill and stuff to jump on but by the second stage you're doing a variety of platforming. The third stage mixes it up even further with lots of nasty enemies to run away from and even some large dragons to fight with. The fourth stage has Annet riding a dolphin over the ocean but most of the time she's in the bowels of a ship dodging spikes and solving a handful of exploding barrel related puzzles. From there she arrives at an ancient temple in the fifth stage to kill some things. The sixth stage involves lots of conveyor belts, scrap metal to avoid, and cute little tanks. The seventh stage is a very short romp on the top of a plane and the eighth stage is just an abomination(I'll get to that later).

Annet's enemies are tied to their respective stages and very rarely will you see anything from one stage make an appearance in another. At first you're dealing with mobsters but later on all sorts of freaks, mutants, and monsters will make attempts on your life. The bosses mix things up a bit and usually have some sort of gimmick that you have to figure out in order to kill them. It's nothing complicated but it could trip up players who aren't paying attention.

The mechanics to this game are something else. To start with Annet doesn't get any invincibility period when she takes a hit. So if you're constantly running into bullets, enemies, and whatever else your life-bar will drain quite quickly. Instead she kind of bounces away a bit, does a flailing animation you probably won't notice, and a very distinct sound effect plays(it sounds something like "DOOM" so if you get hit a bunch of times it's just "DOOM DOOM DOOM DOOM"). This can be quite difficult to get used to but I guess since everything takes off so little health it's sort of balanced out. Annet's hitbox is also confusing. Some attacks can fly right through her head. However at times a simple spear that looks to sail right over her will cause damage. This isn't such a big deal since the game is relatively easy once you know what to expect but it's obvious more play-testing should have been done.

The stages are very unbalanced in terms of difficulty and design. The 3rd stage is quite a bit of trouble since it runs rather long and there's only two health items in the entirety of it(to add to that one of them is at around the beginning of the level). The 4th stage starts off horrifically with these huge pixelated Octopi that you can't avoid taking damage from(plus you get knocked off your dolphin into the water, leading to more damage). The 5th is just pathetic in terms of difficulty(even the boss goes down with a snap if you know how to dash). If you can beat the 5th then the 6th will definitely not be a problem. Sure the dangerous scraps on conveyor belts can be a problem but they have an easy pattern to figure out. The 6th boss is actually one of those games you play where somebody takes a ball and puts it under one of three cups. They switch the cups as fast as possible and leave you to figure out which one has the ball(if you're no good at these games then I guess you're out of luck here). 7th level and boss? Also pathetic. Only at the final stage does the game decide to get challenging again and how? By being a complete abomination.

Now it's not the spear-wielding guys, the elevators, or the doors tied to switches that ruin this level. It's the bats. Not only do these bats constantly respawn but they can come from anywhere off-screen. They appeared in the 5th stage as well but they appeared from the mouths of certain destroyable statues so it made sense. In the final stage however there's nothing you can do about these things aside from using the homing spell every few seconds. Many will still get to you though and if they do have a habit of getting stuck behind your head, doing tons of damage and leaving you struggling to shake them off. By the time you reach the final boss it's guaranteed you'll be at half or even less than a 1/3rd of your total health. Unless you know what to do against this guy you're out of luck. This final stage is perhaps one of the worst I've ever experienced in a game. This had to have been rushed because it's a horrible way to end what could have been a somewhat decent game.

Furthermore even if we did remove the final stage of the game we'd still be left with a series of levels with an incredibly poor difficulty curve. The hardest the game gets before the final stage is stage 3. That makes no sense at all. Stage 3 is also only as hard as it is because they tried a number of interesting ideas(like respawnable deadly rats and fish that you have to dash away from and possibly ride) but the mechanics and level design just weren't tight enough to make it work as well as it should. Actually let me get this straight. In a game about a Peruvian Princess fighting against a cult of demons the biggest problems with it come from bats, rats, and fish? I'd understand it if Wolf-Team created some insane monster that was so powerful or had so many advantages that it broke the game but they failed at designed rats, bats, and fish...three of the easiest creatures to place in a videogame. As I mentioned before they tried new things and they all fell flat.

I say take all of that other junk out and leave just the concept, mechanics, controls, and Annet's powers and start fresh. There could possibly be a room for a lot of these ideas but what they need to become good is a steady sense of progression. You have a level with conveyor belts. Okay. Now make those conveyor belts move, then throw stuff on them for Annet to dodge, sprinkle some sensibly-placed enemies, maybe some dangerous substance to jump over in-between conveyor belts, and so on. It's standard certainly and chances are you've seen it all before in every other action-platformer but it works. The identity will come from Annet's controls and powers as well as Wolf-Team's own ideas about level design. I'm honestly not sure how the developers behind this game could screw up so bad and make so many amateurish mistakes. 

In Conclusion El Viento has some merit but it's so far buried under so many design issues that it'll never amount to anything more than an obscure piece of trash. I still like the game but I have to recognize that it's heavily flawed and would have benefitted so much from a reasonable development schedule and a team more concerned about making a solid game than one that is only interested in showing off. This is also one of Wolf-Team's better games...yeah.

I read around and the 6th boss(three cup guy) actually has a pattern. Everytime you play the game the boxes always move to the same spots, making him one of the easiest bosses ever. Eh oh well.

Genesis look: Ranger X

An important aspect in developing a great game is identity. Without an identity a game has nothing that helps it stand apart from possibly hundreds of other titles in the same genre. Sega/Gau was well aware of this when they put together Ranger-X. While it is at heart an action-shooter game there are so many unique aspects and different approaches to mechanics and game design that it makes for a great game.

In the far future society will fail and it is up to a man and his mecha to set things right. Each of the six stages involves hunting down numerous objectives through moderately-sized environments and then facing off with a big boss at the end. Our buddy doesn't have to go it alone however as a cycle-like vehicle follows him through three stages while a flying vehicle covers him through the other three.

The Ranger-X has quite an impressive arsenal. He has a main cannon, the ability to fly for a short period of time and an ever-increasing collection of sub-weapons that he can switch between using his vehicles. While the flying vehicle only follows along and tosses lasers at nearby enemies, the cycle is quite the interesting creation. The cycle fires a main cannon along with X and if X gets inside the cycle he can control it directly as well as strengthen the main cannon with double firepower and homing capabilities. His sub-weapons run the gamut of flamethrowers, lasers that directly target enemies, a blast that rolls along the ground, a flying mecha-eagle of death, a wave shot, and finally a super-blast that drains all of X's energy but makes quite an impression on the enemy. Add in a pretty lengthy life meter for both X and his cycle and they're ready for action.

Energy is restored by light. Where the player gets light is usually pretty obvious. In caves he may have to shoot loose rocks in the ceiling, maybe while scaling a tall building at night he'll come across a random room with the light still on. Energy is needed for the sub-weapons as well as recharging health from the handy stations or from one-time-only pickups. This can be problematic if you're doing poorly in some stages since that means constantly waiting for energy to recharge and then going back to the station to heal up. the stages are rather short so one never has to wander far.

A flying mecha needs a mecha-army to fight against and Ranger-X certainly delivers. Rather than focus on filling the screen with enemies at all times the stages are designed with certain enemy-sets in mind. If you're stalking an enemy base and searchlights are scouring the area it'd be a good idea to take out the wandering patrols and hibernating attack-pods. The objectives that you have to destroy are by no means defenseless as they're well-guarded and can put up a fight of their own. The bosses follow in the mindset of the level designs and tend to do more than offer up a huge wave of bullets to dodge. Some require a bit of ingenuity and restraint and some others might be quite a hassle if you don't use the environment to your advantage. I guess this could be considered a "thinking man's action game" if it actually required a lot of thinking. No it's more about simply understanding that there's more to succeeding than blowing everything up.

Aside from the aforementioned vehicles Ranger-X's offers some very creative uses in mechanics. Though your jet-pack is limited you can prolong its flight by tapping up instead of holding it. If you let the jet-pack empty all the way you'll drop like a stone with no way to recover. Furthermore if one holds down while in the air they'll drop even faster, making a useful technique for dodging attacks. Also since X is the only one that takes damage from enemy-fire you can ride on top of the cycle to get where you're going faster and it can be used to cross a handful of dangerous areas. Most attacks are targeted directly at X so if something's flying at you you can always duck inside your cycle for a quick dodge. Most of the sub-weapons can also be used to cancel out many of the enemy's bullets. Obviously this is a good thing. Taking damage is also handled well since although you don't get an invincibility period after taking a hit you have so much maneuverability that you can quickly get out of large attacks. Collisions with most enemies don't result in damage either. In fact you can shove some enemies around to put yourself in a more advantageous position. The main cannon fire button is tied to both the A and C button(one for left and one for right). This is good for a number of reasons and makes X great in any situation.

Score really doesn't matter at all in this game since unless you fly past a bunch of enemies you're bound to destroy everything(respawnable enemies don't give out any points). This is sensible as additional continues are tied to score. In addition when you destroy the final boss you're rewarded with a completely ridiculous amount of points. So for the most part it's really meaningless.

There are two perceived faults with Ranger-X. That is it's short and easy. However by perceived that's what I believe most people will say after they beat the game on normal without using a continue. While there are additional difficulty settings above normal let's go beyond that. There are still a number of ways for the player to challenge themselves further. Try going without certain sub-weapons or even all of them, try going through the game taking as little damage as possible or only destroying the objectives/bosses. Yes the game is still short but the levels have a bit of open-ness to them and it's safe to try new things. Another important aspect of a great game is that it should be made yours. By this I mean that if it makes sense it should be do-able and if it works it should be successful. If the player wants to get more life out of their game by trying a variety of challenges they've made for themselves the game should be designed to allow that freedom. Under no circumstances should the game force the player to change their idea of how the game could be played. Ranger-X is definitely a game that can be made yours if you think the gameplay is worthwhile. 

I'll be spending more time looking at the essential concept of making a game yours in the future but for now consider checking out Ranger-X. This is one of the better titles available on the Genesis and like with nearly everything else I've talked about in this blog it's affordable no matter your budget.