Wednesday, July 15, 2009

AA Look - Capcom Classics Collection Volume 2: part 2

Magic Sword - This game is in many ways the spiritual sequel to Black Tiger. While the labyrinth-esque levels have been traded in for purely side-scrolling ones the gameplay is quite similar. Evil threatens again and this time two heroes have been set out to do the right thing. The game takes place over 50(!) stages though on average they tend to take only 30 seconds to over a minute to complete. The goal is to get the door while avoiding/killing enemies and finding food to keep your strength up and treasure to up your score.

The most interesting aspect of this game is the buddy system. Locked away behind various doors are allies who will add their powers to yours. While you have a handy sword that actually fires projectiles when fully charged it's not good for much when enemies attack from all sides at the same time. With a buddy at your side they'll fire off projectiles that cover more ground. By collecting red hearts they will also level up and grow in the strength. The catch is that they have health meters of their own and thus can be killed off, leaving you to fend for yourself. These buddies range from ninjas to knights to wizards and so on.

While Black Tiger isn't a very hard game, Magic Sword can be quite a challenge. Your health is constantly draining and enemies tend to hit pretty hard. While the game is possible to 1CC it probably involves holding onto a scroll power-up that dramatically increases the rate that enemies drop items(which leads to more food). I've never been able to pull it off myself and since there aren't reliable ways to abuse this trick it can be very tough surviving to the next point where a lot of food can be gathered. Furthermore there's an item that doubles points recieved so people looking to truly master the game will have to avoid the scroll. 

Despite having over 50 stages this game does a fine job of providing variety. While some sections and even a handful of bosses are re-used there are enough additions and changes to make these encounters fresh. Even when you visit a similar area you'll likely have a new buddy and the enemies will be tougher. 

As far as action-platformers go this game is excellent. Part of the challenge is finding that perfect route through each area and knowing when to swap items and buddies to cover difficult situations. Since health is constantly draining there's no good reason to stay in one area or to even stop moving, leading to some frenetic battles as enemies crowd around. I definitely think you should put some time into this game.

Quiz & Dragons - The quiz genre is actually very popular in Japanese arcades as there are hundreds of games for people to test their useless knowledge. In the US however these are quite rare with Quiz & Dragons being one of them. The story goes that there is a great evil and it must be vanquished. In order to do so the player must travel from board to board rolling a die. The spot where the player lands will usually lead to a battle. In these battles both the player and enemy have a set number of hitpoints. Answering a question correctly damages the enemy and the player recieves points for how quickly they answer. Answering a question incorrectly or allowing the time to run out will damage the player. All questions are multiple choice so the player is guaranteed a 1 in 4 chance of success even if they don't know the answer. If they get the question wrong the correct answer is pointed out and the player is given a new question.

There are four selectable characters and they each have a special ability that can make the game easier. One character will randomly do double damage to an enemy while another can reduce the number of choices down to two. This lends a bit of character to the adventure although playing as the Amazon can get annoying very quickly. She does this yell that was ripped from Grace Jones's character in Conan the Destroyer(it's some variation of "YEAH!") and hearing that all the time can get annoying very quickly. The title of the game "Quiz & Dragons" is also a takeoff of the popular "Dungeons & Dragons". It's kind of interesting that in a few years Capcom would put out a couple of D&D arcade games.

The questions in this game cover a large variety of categories and unless you play this game so much that the questions start to loop it can be pretty tough. I've even seen some questions about 90s television. They're really expecting a lot from players of this game cause even I have trouble remembering some of the characters from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Included in this compilation is a special version of Quiz & Dragons that is made up entirely of trivia about Capcom and their various games. This is a pretty neat addition although the questions loop far too quickly. Still it's fun to mess around with for a bit and you can even unlock cheats for the other games if you can answer five questions in a row.

The biggest complaint I have with this game is that it tends to drag. It's best played with a friend cause if you're going for a highscore or something you'll probably get bored with it after so long. It wouldn't be so bad if enemies required less questions to defeat but when many of them have between 8 & 10 hitpoints it can become very numbing.

Side Arms - This game is practically a sequel to Sector Z. You play as a super-advanced ship that turns into a robot. This dude is capable of firing in either direction when mashing the subsequent button. What follows is a bunch of horizontally and vertically scrolling stages filled with enemies and the expected boss at the end.

The biggest problem with this game is that the power ups tend to be frustrating. Your ship is capable of holding multiple weapons that can be swapped between with the simple press of a button. Massive lasers that cut through larger enemies, spreadshots for covering more ground, and so on are clearly marked and all have their uses. The frustration sets in when the power-up itself initially spawns. Like some other Capcom shooters the player can shoot the power-up to change it into different ones. These start off simply as POWs which raise the player's speed. Shooting them a couple times will turn them into an orb which acts as an option for one of the weapons. Continuing to shoot this same power-up changes it into all of the weapons you can collect before finally setting on a backwards POW(which lowers speed). 

How is that a good idea? Getting the power-up you want is easier said than done when enemies are coming at you from both sides and the screen is constantly moving. It's really too much trouble to sit there and focus on getting that one powerup you need. To add to the frustration after a couple speed powerups the Side-arms dude moves far too quickly. The only way to alleviate this problem is by grabbing a speed-down but good luck pulling that off. Enemy shots are fast and accurate so it's never good to sit in one spot for more than a second.

Mashing the fire button is also quite a nuisance. It's enough of a hassle in shooters where the ship only fires in one direction but here it just turns into an absolute pain. It's much easier on an arcade stick as the buttons are easier to mash but on a PS2 controller it just doesn't work well at all. All that said it's still a competent game but there are too many issues that keep me from enjoying it.

The Speed Rumbler - Here we have a unique game. In a lawless future that only Mad Max could survive in people are captured from small towns and held for ransom. You have 24 hours to complete the game while saving people, blowing up bad guys, and driving around obstacles and collecting powerups. Obviously for the sake of being a videogame the time limit in this game is actually 24 minutes.

The game uses an overhead view and in order to complete the stage the player must reach the goal. Standing in their way is a host of enemy cars, guys hiding in windows taking potshots, some really nasty large vehicles, and traps in the form of exploding barrels, landmines, and so on. Your car only fires in the direction your facing so a lot of the time it's more beneficial to focus on the road ahead and not on the enemies hounding you. There's also a considerable bonus for beating the stage quickly. Power-ups are easy to get as there are lots of hostages willing to hand them out provided you can rescue them after breaking them out of the various prisons located through each stage. In an interesting twist however these powerups can be lost very easily.

While your vehicle is pretty hardy it's certainly not invincible. Once your car is in a critical state you have to hop out and continue the fight on foot. You won't last long in this state though you can roll to dodge attacks and fight back with a cannon of your own while you wait for a replacement car to arrive. Thanks to the time limit and the bonuses that come with it there's not much of a benefit to getting a lot of cars destroyed. This isn't even considering that while your car has a fresh tank of energy it also has none of the powerups your last car had. While the point is not lose the car when so much is out to kill you it's always nice to have a last ditch method of survival.

While the concept is unique the gameplay is kind of mediocre. The car is rather difficult to control as it tends to behave closer to an actual car(well as actual as arcade videogame cars tend to be). The level designs are well-done at least and showcase a good amount of variety. Unfortunately with the way your car controls and the way enemy cars behave there's going to be a lot of clumsy bumping around and cars piling into each other. Still I guess with enough time & practice this game could become quite rewarding. It's not my kind of game though. 

Street Fighter & Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo - I'm not much for discussing fighting games on this blog and besides I'm sure everyone is well aware that one of these games is considered unplayable while the other is up there with some of the best the genre has to offer.

Strider - Through five stages our hero Strider Hiryu must kill some evil dictator and engage with a variety of bizarre forces including Amazons, Chinese Acrobats, and Air Pirates. Considered a standout action title at its time this game is imaginative, thrilling, and very difficult. While games like Black Tiger and Magic Sword provide a more traditional action-platformer this game is based more around putting the player through various scenarios that vary wildly from platforming to fighting to mixes of both.

The one constant in this game is Strider himself. His weapon is quite impressive and will cut through most enemies in a single hit(which is good because the time limit is very short and Strider can walk while attacking). His jump is forced to the point where you can't change direction in mid-air so absolute certainy is a must before making each leap. Strider can hang from climb both walls and ceilings and you can be certain this'll happen often. A crouch as well as a slide round out his limited but effective abilities. Power-ups take many forms and can give Strider more life, options to assist his attacking capabilities, a stronger weapon(temporary), and the rare 1up or two. Unfortunately holding onto these powerups can be quite difficult as the options are tied to his health and if he dies or takes enough damage they're gone. 

The levels of this game will require every ounce of Strider's ability because aside from the creative and constantly respawning enemies the levels are designed to the point where even the simplest mistake leads to the death. Jumping at the wrong moment, stopping or slowing down when it's necessary to cross certain gaps, or even just taking that wrong step will lead to death. Considering how situational the game is it almost feels like one of those Dragon's Lair games(except there's nothing telling you where to go to survive). The bosses are actually a welcome break as they tend to be pretty easy and go down in only a few hits. 

While there are only five stages they are nothing short of impressive. For example one stage takes place entirely on a flying battleship that will be destroyed at some point leading to a escape through the crumbling remains. For a game based on setpieces the developers certainly went all out on making them impressive.

The most frustrating aspect of this game is that trial & error rears its ugly head again. There are situations where you have to be standing in a certain spot or else you risk getting killed like a section where you have to dodge bombs while riding a small platform. To add to this there are even a couple areas where one is likely to get stuck. My biggest problem is towards the end where I have to face off against the 4th boss a second time. While I can avoid all of his attacks easily enough I end up running out of time before I can kill him. I'm not sure where exactly I'm going wrong either. Aside from that Strider is an imaginative and challenging action-platformer and it's a shame the sequel was handed off to different developers. The second game is more combat-oriented and the innovative level design of the first game was lost completely. 

Three Wonders - As the title implies this is not one arcade game but three and after inserting your coins(or simply pressing start in this case) you can choose your game.

Midnight Wanderers - This game is a run & gun shooter and features a unique art-style. Evil once again plagues the land and it's up to young men to set things right. The game takes place over a variety of locales but there are a few constants in play. Enemies regular approach from the sides or from various hiding spots, there are power-ups to gather that increase firepower or add an option that does additional damage, and there's a mid-boss as well as a boss to round things out. Both heroes are capable of jumping, firing, and performing a short dash by crouching and hitting jump. Like in Ghosts & Goblins the heroes are also able to take at least one hit before dying and like Sir Arthur they'll be in their underwear until they take that second hit or grab a magic lamp that restores them.

This game doesn't offer much that hasn't been done before and it's been bettered by more contemporary games like Metal Slug. Despite that it's still a worthwhile game as it nails the basics and crafts a fine-tuned game that plays fair while still offering a good challenge. Personally this is my favorite of the three games.

Chariot - The cast of Midnight Wanderers returns but this time they're all part of a side-scrolling shooter. There's a number of good ideas about this game as well as a really bad one. First I'll start with the good like the unique weapon system. As with most other 2D shooters you can choose from one of two powerups. Wide enables a weak spreadshot while Narrow provides a powerful shot with little range. The neat thing here is that you can collect options that act as one-use missiles. Depending on your main weapon this secondary shot provides the opposite effect. So if you have Narrow your secondary will be Wide and vice-versa. Options are replenished over time and when they're not used they act as a tail that can be manipulated slightly to block enemy bullets. The game also implements a time bonus for defeating the boss quickly. When you approach one a large point value is shown and starts to drop rapidly, giving you whatever's left when you defeat the boss.

The big problem with this game however is that the hitbox is simply much too large. Like with any other shooter one hit will end the player's life and aside from the option tail they don't have enough of a chance. Aside from both ships being rather large targets pretty much any part of them will lead to death if it's scratched with a bullet. Very rarely there's a power-up that grants an extra hit but the hitbox is seemingly increased in size so this is lost not long after it's picked up. The game is still well-made and shows some decent level design but the hitbox issue is too large to ignore. This game is not worth the hassle as far as I'm concerned.

Don't Pull - Why this game doesn't use the heroes from the other two games is beyond me. Instead you have a Rabbit and a Squirrel teaming up to eat fruit, smash dragons & blobs with blocks, and do stupid dances. With the name of the game being Don't Pull your goal is to wander through several overhead stages and destroy all of the enemies by shoving blocks at them. It's a simple concept though the game offers up a bunch of ideas to keep things at least semi-interesting.

The levels are pre-arranged in some manner and enemies spawn from manholes littered throughout the playfield. You can step on these manholes or push a block on top of them to slow down their spawn and try to regulate things slightly. When a block is pushed it'll slide across the screen and any enemies caught in its path will get smashed(as expected if you can line up more than one foe you get bonus points). Since blocks have a habit of doubling up when you push on a block sitting next to another one it gets destroyed. Some blocks hold powerups, others act as bombs that stun enemies, and still others are near-invincible and flash when placed to other blocks of the same kind(I'm sure this does something but I can't figure it out). There's also plenty of fruit that can either be found in some blocks or occasionally a giant fruit will spawn that must be touched multiple times to be "eaten" and thus gain the full bonus. 

Good luck with all of that though cause the enemies in this game are relentless. Aside from constantly seeking you out they also gain in speed over time and the dragons have the added ability of fire breath(though they can only attack horizontally...hmm). Arranging blocks to box them in is fine for awhile but these guys will start climbing on top of the blocks to get at you. While the playfield for each area is large enough a chunk of it is patrolled by rolling boulders. Stepping outside of this area could get you killed but enemies that follow you there can be victim to the boulders as well. It's handy for a lsst-ditch escape and not much else. After you've defeated enough enemies the couple that remain might try to escape. It's very clear that the developers were inspired by the Namco classic Dig Dug, as both games have a lot in common in terms of how enemies behave(two different kinds, one breathes fire but only horizontally, will cheat to get at you, they run away when there's only one or left).

While the scoring system in this game is sensible enough I'm not sure why a time bonus was included. In order to get the most points a stage has to be completed in less than 10 seconds. I'm really not sure how this is possible since it takes a few seconds just for the enemies to appear in the level. Sure if you die when there are only one or two enemies left you can respawn, kill them, and still get the full bonus but it just seems like a nonsensical addition. Otherwise I guess it's a fine puzzle game but since I don't follow the genre that often I couldn't really get into this game.

Tiger Road - This game was probably a classic when it first came out but today it hasn't aged well at all. Good guy has to kill the bad guys you've heard it all before, only this time it involves lots of weapon-swinging and running from left to right. Yeah this game doesn't have much going for it from the outset but it gets worse. The controls are fine but enemies have a habit of doubling up on each other. This wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that you can only hit one enemy at a time even if it's very clear that your weapon is going through more than one. This leads to nothing but headaches as enemies will frequently gang up on you no matter what. This is further compounded by the terrible mechanics. You walk far slower than you jump. In order to traverse a lot of areas you have to keep jumping or risk getting further piled on by enemies. The bosses are awful as well. They're nothing more than really big guys with attacks that you can't see coming let alone dodge. The only way to beat them is to mash away at the attack button and hope that you drain their health before they drain yours. This game is a total mess and not worth wasting any time on.

Varth - In a future where computers control everything it's up to a couple of pilots in some antique planes to destroy an automated army and rescue humanity. I don't even know where to begin with this one. It's a vertical shooter that features some very unique ideas. First off like many other shooters the player has access to a cache of bombs. When a bomb is used up a little meter is shown and when it fills up a new bomb is given. The player can actually recharge this meter faster by moving around a lot. This would probably be easier with a stick though I can't imagine arcade operators being thrilled about that back in the day(imagine how many sticks got broken from people shaking the heck out of them). When you start the game you have a choice between two option settings. The first setting keeps options facing forward no matter the circumstance. Since bullets come from all angles it's not perfect but still suitable for most situations. The more interesting setting is free option. Here both options circle the player and automatically go after bullets that are close to your ship. This is handy yet somewhat unpredictable as some bullets will still get through as the option is busy catching others. 

This is actually a very good shooter that's held back by one very large problem. For starters read the forum post I put in quotes here. Yes I'm really not sure how anyone could think this was a good idea yet Capcom actually went with it. The worst part is that a lot of the levels have more variety and thought put into them than games that are less than a fifth in length. Maybe the developers could have split the game up into multiple paths like a Darius game or found some other way to pare down the considerable length of this game but as it stands I find this title hard to recommend. It's fun to play around with for a bit but for serious players they'll get bored of this one quickly as the bosses take too long to kill and there are just too many long stages. Throw in a ton of hidden bonus items and an additional bonus for not using bombs and it just becomes an exhausting game.

So there you have it. While there are indeed a couple games that are too flawed to be considering great and even a couple too awful to be considered competent there's still more than enough to justify picking this compliation up at a reasonable price. 

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