Tuesday, July 14, 2009

AA Look - Capcom Classics Collection Volume 2: part 1

Shortly after the release of Capcom Classics Collection Volume 1, Capcom/Digital Eclipse put out a second volume containing a number of arcade hits. I'll go ahead and say that this compilation is better than the last so if you picked that one up and liked it at the very least you're sure to enjoy this one. Along with Black Tiger and King of Dragons, this compilation includes a number of great arcade games though it contains a few stinkers as well. Anyway enough with the introduction let's get on with the games.

1941: Counterattack - Despite what the title implies this is actually one of the later 19XX games. The levels have undergone a bit of a change in terms of structure as they tend to involve lots of weaving in-between buildings and through enemy bases. What this means is that there are actually walls to contend with alongside the enemies and their many bullets. Touching a wall doesn't cost a ship or even a block of life. Instead the ship spins around and sends the player's bullets in different directions. This can be good for hitting enemies to the side and back of the player though it is rather frustrating in its mechanics. It'd be one thing if the player actively pressed against the wall to cause it to spin but instead they just have to get close enough. This can be very annoying when dealing with enemies that are ahead of the player but situated close to walls.

The weapon & health system is similar to prior 19XX games in that a weapon powerup usually has a time limit and the player can take multiple hits before dying. Sometimes however upon grabbing a powerup it will only be available for about 10 seconds, making it rather useless. I'm not sure how or why this happens but it can be quite frustrating. Also in order to get the optimal rate of fire you have to get a steady button-tapping rhythm going on. Simply mashing the fire button doesn't work. It's rather strange and can be annoying to get used to(especially if you mostly play shooters where you can simply hold the fire button). The player can access a loop that damages every enemy onscreen but the catch is that it costs a bar of health. Getting hit costs a bar of health though so I'm not sure what the point of the loop is. Furthermore if you get hit and then do the loop well you just cost yourself two bars.

Despite being able to take many hits and getting health restored in-between stages this is still a pretty difficult game. The game throws a lot of firepower and enemy forces your way and half the time your ship feels ill-equipped to deal with them. It'd probably be better if there were more weapons that offered a greater range of attack and while the walls can be useful in that respect they're not in every stage. Overall a decent enough title that's held back from greatness due to a number of quirks.

Avengers - This game isn't anywhere close to approaching greatness. This game is in fact outright horrible. I'm not sure what the genre is they were going for here. I guess it's like an overhead version of that classic game Kung-Fu. The sad part is it looks like the developers put forth a serious effort because the mechanics are sensible but the concept is just so poor and there's just no saving it no matter what. The idea should just have never been greenlit in the first place. This game is a curiousity and not much else.

Block Block - Fans of Breakout and Arkanoid will recognize this immediately. Bounce a ball off of a paddle to destroy blocks and get power-ups. This game throws in an interesting design decision that if you take too long to complete a level your paddle shrinks and then eventually breaks. Unfortunately this game wasn't designed for the control scheme in place. The original arcade game used a knob(sort of like the one in Cameltry) and without anything similar in place this port has to rely on the d-pad or analog sticks. Neither control method works well and most of the time the player will over or undershoot the ball, thus leading to many lives lost. It's so bad you'll be thankful to keep from getting outright killed, let alone being able to properly aim the ball to clear the stages quickly and get a lot of bonus points. Might be decent in another form but you may as well skip this version.

Captain Commando - While Final Fight is one of the most important beatemups ever made it isn't particularly great. This game is just one of the many refinements Capcom would make in their attempts to perfect the genre. Whether you play as the Captain, the Ninja, the Mummy, or the Baby you're in for a decent ride. The game takes place over several stages but the goal remains the same. Beat people up, occassionally grab a gun or some health, and then kill the boss. The controls are a bit more fluid than Final Fight and every character is capable of dashing. This game also introduces a unique mechanic in that by double-tapping up or down the player will dash in that direction. This can be handy for dodging attacks though for larger enemies it can still be frustating since they tend to have a wider than expected attack range.

The level design isn't anything special and loses some of the neat touches that added variety to the gameplay(like the fire in the Industrial stage of Final Fight). There's also not enough of a difference between the four playable characters. Some have only one unique move(like the Baby gets a pile-driver) and there isn't any variance in stats like health & speed to cater to different play-styles. 

One interesting aspect of this game is that it's rather gorey. When Mac kills an enemy the flesh is stripped right of their bones, the ninja decapitates most foes(even some bosses), and enemies that burn to death have certainly seen better days. It is sort of odd though how the attractive female enemies don't suffer a similar fate when you defeat them in this particular manner. Regardless this is a worthy beatemup and while it's not as good as later entries in the genre it shows growth and an understanding of quality game design.

Eco Fighters - I'm not exactly sure how this game warranted a release over the brilliant 19XX but ultimately it's still a worthwhile game. In a future where pollution runs rampant two pilots grab a couple of ships and take the fight to big oil, big lumber, and big robots. The game uses a dual-stick setup similar to Forgotten Worlds but there's no shopping or paramecium to be found.

The levels in this game are straightforward and rely more on swams of enemies and their bullets to cause player death as opposed to intricate structures and convoluting traps. The player responds in kind with a fairly unique weapon system. By collecting gems off of defeated enemies a power-up will float on-screen that switches between various "arms". Your current arm can be powered up to five levels but you can also choose from different arms that offer different attacks. Most of these arms can also be charged up to unleash a special attack which can be effective in the right situation. These arms can also catch bullets although only at the tip and really if you're going to rely on it you'll want the arm with the large tip as it'll cover more space. There are also secondary weapons that can be collected. These can be rather useful given the right situation.

Other than the unique weapon system this game doesn't offer much of anything new. Regardless it's competent and features no serious issues. I'd still prefer to have 19XX but eh oh well.

Knights of the Round - This hack'n'slash about King Arthur's trek for the Holy Grail is about what you'd expect of the genre. Seven stages of armored goons, horses, bosses, and even the occasional trap have been set between you and that elusive cup. Whether you're the well-rounded Arthur, Lancelot the quick, or the powerful Percival you're in for a pretty tough ride.

The basics of the game are simple enough. Hitting the attack button triggers a string of swings that'll clobber any enemy foolish enough to get close. A powerful swing can be accessing by pressing the attack button and then immediately pushing forward while a block can be done by doing the same but pushing backward. This is one game that offers rewards for understanding and applying the abilities but the penalty for failure is very high. A successful block not only leaves the enemy open but gives the player a couple seconds of invulnerability. A succesful power swing will knock the enemy down and possibly dizzy them, where the player can either capitalize or turn their attention to other enemies on-screen. This adds a layer of depth usually not seen in hack'n'slash titles. 

The enemy variety isn't the greatest but most of the bosses are exceptional and show off an impressive array of attacks that are not always evaded by either jumping or moving out of the way. A level-up system is tied to score which is actually handled very well. Levelups make the player stronger and refill their health. This game also allows the player to gain points from collecting food when they already have full health. This is a boon to masters of the game who can post some really high scores since they're not so worried about staying alive.

This game is certainly one of the high points in this collection and is a must-play for fans of the genre. I'm not a fan of hyperbole but this game is at least a hundred times better than Golden Axe. 

Mega Twins - Some people might be more familiar with the Genesis port that goes by the name "Chiki Chiki Boys". Anyway this game is a side and sometimes vertical-scrolling action platformer. The game is split into five rounds though the 4th consists of many areas that each end with a boss. I'm not exactly sure why they went with five rounds when it feels more like nine or ten but really it's not that big of a deal. Your main attack is a sword swing. Normally this attack requires that the player be very close to an enemy but occassional a sword swing will deliver a more powerful attack that offers increased range. The levels are short but they're filled with respawning baddies, powerups(including rare ones that up the player's weapon and energy levels), and coins. 

This game offers up a lot of coinage. From hidden spots in the stage to fountains of them when a boss is defeated this game goes all out. Unfortunately the coins are only good for score. In the Genesis version you can actually go to a shop in-between stages to upgrade your gear. I miss this feature in the arcade version even though it didn't really add anything. 

The biggest pain about this game is that when a player is near death an obnoxious clown horn starts blaring. Since it only takes one or maybe two hits to reach critical health that means a lot of terrible noise. It's so distracting that either you've gotten killed or you've killed yourself just so the sound will go away. I'm really not sure why the developers just didn't include some sort of visual indicator. Then again this could be just an issue with the sound emulation. Regardless it's simply not a good idea. Other than that there's really not much to this game. It's playable but unless you really take a liking to it you'll forget about it not long after your first playthrough.

Last Duel - This is a vertical shooter with a twist. Three of the stages are traditional stages that feel very similar to the overhead levels in Life Force while the other three having you racing a cyber-bike down treacherous roads. These bike stages have a time limit and you have to reach the end while jumping over cliffs and dodging/shooting your way through tanks, cars, and so on. These stages are really interesting but the regular shooter ones are mundane and dull not to mention they go by very slow. 

I'm disappointed that Capcom didn't pursue this concept further as the later stages showed some good ideas. The ice stage is particularly noteworthy in that it has patches of ice to slip on as well as crumbling cliffs to keep you moving. The jump is really neat too as it can be used to dodge bullets and even hop over most enemies. Why none of this was expanded upon is beyond me. Aside from half of the game being really neat there's also a damsel in distress with her breasts out. Kind of disappointing that the unlockable bonus art doesn't feature more of her. 

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