Tuesday, April 13, 2010

AA Look - Taito Legends Volume 1 part 1

To me Taito is the epitome of what makes arcade games memorable. Even if not all of the games they put out are absolute classics they manage to nail aspects of atmosphere and creativity with a lot of unique ideas and some outright bizarre story-telling. It also helps that they have one of the best musical groups in the form of Zuntata composing for all of their games. Empire Interactive put out a compilation of 29 games and while it isn't anywhere close to their complete gameography it's an admirable collection despite a couple faults.

The emulation is fine for what it is but expect some slowdown. It's nothing major but it will cause purists to fly into endless fits of rage. The bigger problem is that buttons can't be configured. This probably wouldn't be a huge deal if a number of games didn't put jump on the square button and fire on the X button. I guess if it's good enough for Empire Interactive it's good enough for the rest of the world..yeah right. Consider it an extra challenge or something.

The thing that bugs me the most is when reviewers point out maybe one or two games on a compilation as anything decent and then write-off the rest of the set as nothing more than nostalgic waste. Videogames aren't about getting hung up on the past since as long as you're playing a game it shouldn't matter where or when it came from. If the game is fun that's all that matters right? So here's what I think of the games in this set.

Battle Shark
Awhile back I paid a visit to a number of arcades and discovered an Ocean Hunter machine. This was a big deal to me as for the longest time I was absolutely enamored with everything about the game. It's a sort-of gun game where you fire torpedoes at dangerous sea-life and then take down the seven mythical beasts of the seven seas. I finally got to play this game after so many years and it sucked! It was clunky, dated, ugly, and nothing that resembled a good game.

Battle Shark is the same thing. Just replace the dangerous sea-life with armies of enemy subs, the 3D graphics with 2D, and all of the bad with good. The player controls a cursor that can fire torpedoes as long as they are in stock. Firing too much leaves the player open to attack as they have to wait for torpedoes to slowly refill. The player must also lead enemies into shots as torpedoes don't hit the enemy instantly. This means firing just ahead of where an enemy is traveling to get the hit.

It’s a dead-end concept but there is still fun to be had thanks to how the torpedo system works and the insane levels of destruction your sub is capable of. Entire carriers can go down in a single hit and even poor humans who are no match can get wiped out. Helicopters and jets will also attack but again one hit will take them out. There are some power-ups but holding onto them is rather tough since they’re gone in a single hit. While you can shoot enemy torpedoes it’s best to destroy the ship before they can fire.

This game relies a lot on atmosphere since everything from the sound effects to the viewpoint is carried over. A helpful voice mentions what direction enemies are coming from but after a bit of damage you’ll find everything is drowned out by a sea of sirens, warnings, and cracked glass to drive home the point that you’re going to die soon. It’s neat sure but a hundred different alarms going off at once will not suddenly make me play any better. Still it’s a neat game and it’s at least better than Ocean Hunter, which is about the only game I can think of that’s in any way similar.

Colony 7
The closest game I can compare this one to is Missile Command. In that game you defended a colony from invading missiles and in this game you defend a colony from invading aliens. With a crosshair in your control all you have to do is blast away all moving objects. That’s really all there is to this game and it doesn’t have Missile Command’s ammo limits that make it such a compelling game. Here you just shoot stuff, maybe you win, maybe you lose, but most likely you won’t even care.

Continental Circus
I don’t know what to say really but I kind of like this game. Though I have to admit I get more fun out of watching the car explode than actually playing. Maybe I just never saw the appeal of F-1 Racing games. The only noteworthy one I can think of is Virtua Racing and even then I only remember it because I spent many hours practicing it for Blockbuster’s videogame championship from way back. I managed to become a store champion thanks in part to that game so by virtue of association I gotta say this game is alright by me.

Electric Yo-Yo
Just because something dull is suddenly electric doesn’t make it cool. If Taito came up with a game named Cyber Yo-Yo I could probably get behind that, as it stands though this is just a game where the player runs around collecting dots. There are some bad guys running or flying around and the Yo-Yo part seems to involve being able to travel very quickly if dots are parallel and some distance away from each other. This is both good and bad since that’s where flying guys are most likely to catch the player. It’s nothing terrible but I don’t ever want to play this game again.

Elevator Action
Last year I talked about Elevator Action Returns. I said something about how it’s one of the greatest arcade games of all time. It’s kind of surprising because the original is so awful. Graphically that’s one thing because it’s never about the graphics and good game design triumphs over all but this game is just not any fun to play.

It’s kind of strange too because the sequel shares a lot of the same basic ideas. All that game did was improve the controls several times over, made the scoring system intuitive and interesting, and most importantly made killing bad guys oh so satisfying. We should be thankful that Taito saw fit to make a sequel because it turned out to be quite phenomenal. The original is still a curiosity at best and time spent on that game would be better spent on the sequel.

You wouldn’t believe how quick I was to write this game off. I started it up and thirty seconds into it I was ready to quit. Fifteen seconds later I was hooked in and enjoying this game. It’s a 2D shooter which is a genre I’ve been kind of spoiled thanks to more recent efforts like anything by Cave but this game still holds up. The level design is very pedestrian as it’s just long horizontal-scrolling stages filled with wave after wave of enemies. The only thing that really differentiates each stage is some kind of trap or condition like falling rocks. The bosses don’t have much of a pattern outside of throwing crap at the player until something sticks.

And yet it’s still a fun game that’ll keep you playing. I think it has something to do with how so much of it is based off of reflexes. Time and time again I’ve been saying that I prefer games where I don’t want to think about what’s coming next and just want to play it by ear as I go along. Exzisus fits this mold as survival is tied to seeing something and then having a couple seconds to act on it.

The weapon system is also kind of neat in that a fully-powered ship is a sight to behold. Not only do I get a choice of lasers or spreadshots I can also get homing missiles and even a cyber bird and a cyber dog. What’s great about these guys is that aside from projectile spitting these animals can also zoom ahead to do great damage and clear enemy bullets. It’s a neat addition I think.

So yeah give this game a shot for at least a minute, I’m certain you’ll like it because while it is old-fashioned it’s definitely quality.

Here’s an interesting one. This game is a 1 on 1 combat game where the hero must stab his way through some nasty dudes (and the occasional lady) to save the day. At the beginning of each stage there’s a short hallway filled with traps, little animals, and all sorts of flying objects. This isn’t much to worry about though because our Gladiator has a sword and a shield. The sword is pretty self-explanatory as the hero can strike high, middle, or low depending on where things are coming from. The shield is similar in that it blocks high, middle, or low but it can only take so much damage before breaking.

These scrolling sections are mostly good for bonus points and the occasional power-up. The real meat of the game is in the fights. Not only must you block your opponent’s attacks but you must also break through their defenses to kill them. While you wear a full suit of armor if the opponent manages to strike you in any spot that area will lose its armor. A second hit in any unarmored area will kill you. The same rules extend to your foe so battles are all about watching movements, paying attention, and learning when to strike. Sure you could hammer away and hope for the best but 98% of all attacks will just end up being blocked by the enemy’s shield.

There are variables to consider as the fighters can still move forward and backward plus a sword power-up can make things interesting if properly used. By collecting pieces of swords the player can gain the use of a magic weapon that if it hits the enemy 14 times without killing them it activates a shield that protects the play from everything for a short time. It’s helpful but if you’re hitting an enemy 14 times to no avail you need more practice.

The attention to detail is rather admirable in such an old game. Defeated foes that are still alive will struggle a bit before the hero moves in to finish them off (best part is that the hero will still go into victory poses before going for the kill). There’s a way to cause the female enemy to lose their armor in a way that’ll expose their breasts. It’s probably not something you want to see (this is a game from the 80s after all) but it’s also fairly difficult to do so don’t expect to just see this accidentally. If it’s any consolation to the offended ladies out there the main character does wear purple underwear. Yeah I don’t know why either. It’s a pretty good game I think. It’s probably not for everyone but what it does it does well.

Great Swordsman
This game…well I just couldn’t get into it. Maybe you’ll have better luck but I didn’t find any enjoyment in it. I didn’t even play it enough to give it a proper description.

Jungle Hunt
This is one of those classic titles that everyone in their late 20s or so seems to remember. You’re some dude out in the Congo trying to rescue your girlfriend. This is done by jumping from vine to vine, swimming with crocodiles, and running up a hill dodging rocks, and then jumping over some natives. These are the kinds of things you do in a lot of other games so these days Jungle Hunt doesn’t do a whole lot to help it stand out.

If you manage to rescue the gal the game starts again on a higher difficulty. This time you play as the gal and you have to contend with new obstacles like monkeys on vines. I figure at this point both main characters just take turns rescuing each other. It’s kind of depressing when you think about it cause apparently they’ll be trapped in the Congo forever or at least until one of them can’t jump high enough to grab a vine or dodge a rock and the other will become cannibal soup.

That’s about the extent of the game really. It’s a nice game to have for historic reasons but these days I’d rather be shooting stuff while swinging a vine or doing super combos on enemies that sort of resemble crocodiles. At least let me stab the dang monkeys with my knife. I hate those stupid jerks.

The New Zealand Story
Here we have a game that for whatever reason Taito decided it should star a kiwi. He’s a cute little guy though his resemblance to an actual kiwi is very questionable. Still he comes equipped with a pretty handy bow & arrow and is tasked with the rescue of all of his friends. This is done by visiting multiple worlds, fighting some bosses, and doing a lot of jumping and flying while avoiding spikes that can be placed anywhere.

Seriously this is one guy I wouldn’t want to mess with. He fires those arrows like nobody’s business and kills anything that tries to be remotely as cute as him. Still he’s of the fragile sort and dies in a single hit. Also while his enemies are just as weak they’re far more numerous and will even appear from magic doors to continually hassle our buddy.

It’s not a particularly difficult game but death comes very easily so carefulness is required above all else. The time limit in each stage is fairly generous and despite the size of each level they’re fairly linear with some providing multiple paths to the end. It can still be a frustrating game though because you might be flying along and out of nowhere a door appears and an enemy jumps out and destroys you without enough of a chance to react. Our hero isn’t exactly great on the maneuverability so if an attack is coming its way it’s going to have a bit of trouble dodging it.

While riding balloons and other flying objects is a nice touch it tends to get old after awhile. Sometimes swimming is involved but again that gets old after awhile. In fact a lot of the game gets repetitive before too long. If only there was some sort of system for scoring bonus points off of regular enemies. At least that would make the flying and platforming sections quite a bit more interesting. As it stands there’s just a bit too much of that scenario style of game design where survival is having the knowledge of what to do in a series of situations rather than relying on skills and reflexes to see it out. Still it’s a decent little piece of work. Once you get adjusted to the controls and learn how to play the game well it becomes a solid and entertaining platformer.

Ninja Kids
Jeeze I have hardly any idea where to begin with this one. Well in a puppet world a bunch of Satanists get together and decide to resurrect…well…Satan. To put this in check some wise master gets his Ninja Kids to do all the dirty work. This colorful bunch will journey through five stages filled to the brim with insane war veterans, hippies/homeless people, zombies, evil ninjas, and a fast food clerk that gets turned into a wolf.

There are people out there that might get offended by some of the stuff in this game. I’m just putting it out there because even though I can’t imagine why they would there are a few things that might bother somebody. It’s all in good fun though as it seems like Taito seems to have made fun of everybody (some of have described this game as resembling South Park as well so think of it as a Japanese videogame take on the cartoon…before it actually existed of course).

The actual game is a hack & slash that we’ve all seen several times before. It’s got a little bit of the Arcade TMNT game, some Golden Axe, and the only real differences are the way each ninja plays. Each of the four characters has their own weapon though personally I tend to favor the red ninja because he uses shuriken. These can fly all the way across the screen so he can play it very safe. Otherwise the ability to do cartwheels in any of four directions is kind of nice. I just wish more enemies did a little bit of telegraphing before they attack.

It’s decent for what it is but you’ll soon discover that the only reason you’re playing through this game is to see what’s coming next. You won’t be spending the time it takes to master this one and be able to complete it without taking damage. I’ve been wrong before though so whatevs. Oh and another thing before I forget. The Taito Legends set only includes the two-player version of this game. This probably wouldn’t be such a big deal if the main menu didn’t display the four-player version of the Ninja Kids cabinet. Thanks a bunch guys.

Operation Wolf
Nothing like a good old-fashioned gun game eh? Grab onto a machine gun and lay waste to enemy soldiers and their vehicles in this shooter. The object is simple. Over the course of six stages you’ll shoot all of the bad guys, not shoot any of the hostages, and help your allies escape from the enemy camp. You’ll burn through the game in about 15 minutes though fair warning a second loop will begin afterwards that puts more enemies on-screen for you to contend with. It won’t be long before you suffer a lethal injury and get a game over by that point.

To make things fair all enemies that are about to fire will flash. This is a great indicator since for the genre it’s hard to keep track of everything going on at once. You get at least some idea of what to prioritize so maybe you’ll take less damage. It’s also a good idea to conserve those rockets as they’re really useful when a couple vehicles are close together.

The one thing that is weird as hell to me is that one of the hostages is a hot bikini blonde. I guess everybody needs a little sex with their violence but c’mon, how in the heck did they end up so deep in enemy territory? Whatever country this game takes place in can’t be much of a tourist attraction. Then again NAM-1975 was even worse in that regard since if you rescued a hot blonde she picked up a machine-gun and helped you blast away the enemy. Yeah I know I’m taking things just a bit too seriously here. It’s nothing amazing but Operation Wolf is a fine game that’ll keep you occupied for at least one play-through.

Operation Thunderbolt
For those who just can’t get enough Taito put out a direct sequel. This time some of the stages are of the forward scrolling variety and there are more vehicles, more rockets, and thus more explosions. It’s a solid update though it is a bit harder because the reload time in-between clips has been lengthened and it seems like more stuff is getting thrown at the player all the time. All in all there’s not much else to say except that this sequel is an improvement in just about every way.

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