Saturday, November 8, 2014

Desura Look - Phoenix Force

Another 2D shooter, I'm guessing this is also a cell-phone port. The Phoenix Force travels the globe looking for minions of evil, and then blows them away. It's an adequate time-waster, something you can play for a few minutes and still make some progress. This game is 100 stages of boss-fights. Now that doesn't mean there are 100 bosses. There are several types, and each stage can have up to four of them on the battlefield.

The Phoenix Force consists of five different phoenixes. Auto-fire is constantly on and they regularly trigger their special ability (if they have one). Basically all you're doing is dodging bullets. Fans of scoring systems or even just points in general are left out in the cold. No matter how many enemy bullets you rub up against, or how close you are to the boss when it's defeated, there are no bonus points of any kind. Merely surviving is enough to earn a gold star, or a power-up, or a speed-up. The only points earned are experience, which you can cash in for a stronger bird. I went with the ice-phoenix. He has a name but I don't care. All I care about is that his special ability can freeze bosses for a couple seconds and slow down their attacks.

That's the extent of the game really, just a lot of boss-fights. Due to the bite-sized nature of the game I stuck with it. The act of dodging bullets will always remain compelling to me. Perhaps it's a side-effect of the hundreds of 2D shooters I've played over the years. Hundreds? Really?! I mean, it definitely feels like hundreds sometimes. When you've got your face plastered onto the screen making those life or death millimeter-movements, everything starts to blend together.

But that's not all Phoenix Force has to offer! About mid-way through you unlock the option to fight random battles, 1,000 of them. I know what you're thinking: "A thousand boss-fights!? That's 10 times 100!!!" Yep, it is a pretty big number. The game even awards a gem for every random battle that's completed. Hopefully I never run into anyone that collected all 1,000 gems. That's just plain absurd.

Still, I have to give credit where it's due, some of the boss-fights are pretty neat. When every stage is self-contained, I guess it's a springboard to experiment with tons of combinations. Sure enough enemies can clutter the screen in bullets, but give them unique attacks that come from all different directions, and you'll see something that's rather impressive.

This screenshot directly above is level 100. The blue mummy fires yellow bullets that directly target the player, the pink mummy fires pink bullets that spread outward. The jolly green golem creates shields and throws stalactites with messy hit-boxes (they can sometimes kill you if they're close enough). The snake fires bullets that collide with other bullets to make bullet explosions. Side note: One day I'll do a shmup review and not even use the word "bullet", wouldn't that be astounding?

Anyway, with all four of these bastards firing at once, it's easy to get tripped up. I'll dodge the yellow, only to get hit with the pinks, I'll dodge both of those to get hit by the explosions. Worst of all is when I finally establish control, only to forget about those screwy stalactites. I died more times on this stage alone than one of those ridiculous hidden final bosses found in Cave shooters. Sure, a giant mecha-hornet can turn a screen hot pink and I'll die a dozen or so times, but this particular encounter from a random cell-phone game lead to more deaths, simply because it started beating me psychologically. I'd die near the end of the fight, then take 2-3 more deaths at the beginning of future attempts. In all fairness, Phoenix Force makes you restart the stage if you die. If you manage to get to one of those secret Cave bosses, you can (usually) continue as many times as you like and the boss (usually) doesn't regain health.

So Phoenix Force, eh..I suppose it's worth a look. This is one of many games I've received through purchasing indie bundles. It's guaranteed that I wouldn't have bought this game by itself, but now that I've played through it, it was kinda worthwhile. Well, mostly because of level 100.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Desura Look - Radical Heroes (ALPHA)

Another beatemup inspired by River City Ransom? Sure, let's see what Radical Heroes is all about. There's some guy by the name of Eyeclopse and he has Crimson City under his control. It's going to take two fists of justice to bring him down. I'm guessing that since this game is still in the Alpha stage only the first couple levels are playable. By the way, huge emphasis on the "alpha". What's there is entertaining, but it's obvious this game has a ways to go.

The controls are fairly standard. Punching, kicking, blocking, and jumping are all handled by separate buttons. Special moves can be performed using standard fighting game motions like down, up punch, quarter-circle forward kick, and so on. Each level takes place on a huge map, which is divided into squares. While you can follow the roads to move the game along, you can jump fences to find secrets like unlockable characters and specialty shops. Like RCR, purchases can be made, though it's not quite as in-depth. Basically while there are places to buy food, weapons, and new moves, there aren't any record stores, pharmacies, saunas, and the cashier at the burger place isn't handing out free smiles.

As you explore, enemies appear randomly, like a JRPG or something. The fighting mechanics are passable, though since everyone can move while punching, there's not enough sense of impact. Also, after a couple upgrades I was wiping the floor with every two-bit thug in no time. Using a flying knee to level several punks in a row is pretty satisfying. It's probably an issue of pacing. These levels are pretty huge and stopping to punch everyone would get old. There is also a lot of optional space to explore. One part of each level is locked away, requiring a yellow key-card to get through. In this side-area I found a shop that sells a rocket-pack.

The rocket-pack is really cool, too cool in fact. I doubt this handy item will make it to the beta, or it will be severely nerfed. Basically it allows the player to fly anywhere, and it carries over between levels (both of them). I can go exploring, skip checkpoints, and even walk on top of buildings. Enemies will also try to grab the player and drag them down while they're flying. It's a pretty neat touch. Also while I was shopping I grabbed a homing missile launcher. With it I fired so many missiles at the boss, he was lifted into the air, and then he fell into a river. This game can be really amusing.

As far as long-term appeal goes it's impossible for me to say. Personally, I'd rather this game place an emphasis on finding neat stuff, having more interesting content to explore, and creative ideas to experiment with. RCR wasn't a strict arcade beatemup, it was a sandbox brawler. It gave players the freedom to play the game their way. Whether it was mastering certain moves, building up stats to extreme levels, or simply trying to beat the game with as little shopping as possible. I'm hoping Radical Heroes expands more in that direction. Also since so many levels are being planned, I'd consider cutting a bit of the fat off of them, currently they're a bit too big.

Hopefully the final version drops the Obola/infowars banners. I'm not going to hate the message (not a fan of politics in general), but using a videogame as the medium? That's low.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Desura Look - Diadra Empty

Diadra Empty? What the heck does that even mean? I did the research and came up with the following conclusion: This is a Doujin 2D shooter. Take control of a girl and her dragon, survive hordes of monsters, evade billions of bullets, and attempt to wrap your head around the various scoring systems.

Unlike most other shooters, Diadra is free-roaming. It's not total freedom however, the levels don't wrap-around like Defender. It's probably just as well because with all the bullets flying about it's liable to mess with your head. Before starting the game you can choose from different weapon sets. However, you have to unlock most of them through playing the game. Still, it's a nice to have something to look forward to on future play-throughs (aside from the whole "gotta beat my hi-score" stuff of course).

The controls are fairly easy to figure out. There's a strafe button, which is necessary so that you're not switching directions when targeting a large enemy. There's also a bomb. It can be useful for getting out of terrible situations, but I think it's used as a multiplier bonus trigger or some such. The dash button is one that you should get really comfortable with. Weaving in-between every bullet is fine, if you're crazy. The dash is a free pass through even the thickest enemy fire. Used sparingly you can slip through immense firepower, and deliver some punishment. If all else fails, you have a shield that recharges after taking a hit. However, with every shot the shield will take longer to recover. In-between stages a shop is available for upgrading weapon power and abilities. 

Like any good 2D shooter, Diadra Empty is not the kinda game that can be figured out in a single play-through. The first stage is easy enough, with its tiny swarms of enemies that don't put up any resistance. In less than 5 minutes however you'll have more than enough trouble keeping track of everything. A handy radar points out monsters and even bullets, but presence of mind and knowledge of what will spawn where will bring you the most success. It gets extremely hectic, and I've seen so much crap getting thrown at me the frame-rate starts to buckle. Yeah I said frame-rate, there's no slowdown no matter how much is going on. The final boss is also one of those jerks with a dozen forms (including the obligatory "giant crystal" that you might remember from Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga, and so on).

The skill ceiling for this game seems high enough. On my second attempt I managed to complete the game without continuing. That sounds impressive, but my score was absolute trash. I didn't even crack the default top three hi-scores. I definitely felt like I missed something during all the chaos. Also there's a "true" difficulty setting. Naturally this adds even more adversity to contend with. It'll be awhile before I give that a go, because I still have to figure out the scoring system.

This is a remarkable game, though it helps to be a huge fan of danmaku. Also unlike most titles in the genre, there's a handy maneuver for dodging bullets. Threading a thousand moving needles isn't required to grasp this game, which might make it more appealing than other shooters. Diadra Empty is going to hit Steam...sometime. You might want to give it a go when that time comes (or just grab it off Desura right now). 

Desura Look - Beekyr: Shmup For Experts

When I read the title for this game I was a little put off. I know "shmup" is a common term for 2D shooters, but it still rubs me the wrong way. Beekyr is a competent little game, if you don't mind its shallow game design. You're a bee fighting for queen and hive, and thousands of insects and their bullets aren't going to stop you.

Other 2D shooters tend to have all these sub-systems. So if you shoot an enemy with the special shot, while triggering fever mode, while grazing at least three other bullets, and within tickling distance of the vanquished adversary, you get a 1.85 multiplier bonus. There's none of that stuff in Beekyr. Just hold down the shot button and make sure those insects die. That's the scoring system. There are a few overhead stages where you collect pollen. When the meter fills up you can kill the boss. This is a very simplistic shmup.

It's also pretty easy. My advice is to move right past the normal setting. At least go with "Arcade" or "Expert". On normal you'd have to struggle just to see more than a couple enemy bullets on-screen. There is a "Bullet-Hell" setting as well. This is the setting where all of the bullets have been hiding out, and they get heaped on as early as the first stage. This is a truly difficult setting, and probably unfairly so. A lot of it has to do with the types of enemies. There are some that shoot out a stream of destructible shots, which aren't very threatening. But then there are the little buggers that fly in circles, are hard to hit, and in less than a second they've filled the entire screen with bullets. Unlike the average bullet-hell, the player-bee doesn't have a smaller hit-box to compensate. The hero is a very large target, and that's a bad thing when hundreds of floating pieces of death are flying about. The overhead stages are just headache-inducing. The enemies fire destructible bullets, but they all approach from an angle, one that flies just south of your fire, which is more than sufficient to make your abdomen explode.

I'm going to wager that the "Bullet-Hell" setting didn't see much in the way of testing. Considering the situations the player is frequently thrown into and the lack of a decent hit-box, this seems like a setting added for laughs. Beekyr is an otherwise charming title that makes up for its lack of complexity by being functionally sound and for the most part a smooth ride. If you're looking for a bullet-hell, there's a few dozen others I've reviewed that are a better pick.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Desura Look - BANZAI PECAN: Last Hope for the Young Century

In a post-apocalyptic future, a young woman transforms into a super heroine to fight for justice. Her adversaries? The Seven Deadly Succubi that captured her boyfriend. Banzai Pecan is a single-plane beatemup. Expect to pound the stuffing out of a legion of bunny-girls, and...well maybe it's better just to not bother at all.

Let's get the good stuff out of the way first. Banzai Pecan has a lot of moves, and more are unlocked as the game progresses. There's a dodge ability, the standard "get off me!" attack that pushes everyone away, and finishing moves (like the classy taco-breaker). Some unique enemies are thrown into the mix every now and then as well.

The art-direction is...well it is what it is. I guess I've become desensitized to this sort of stuff. Yes there are a lot of busty women in tiny outfits. That's not the problem with this game. The problem is the mechanics. Mechanics. Mechanics. MECHANICS! When making a game, mechanics are the most essential part! Without them you might as well not even have a game, it's just a simulation where things happen when you press buttons. Banzai Pecan is essentially a button-masher. Situations are resolved simply by continuing to attack. The dodge ability doesn't really work because there's simply not enough time to respond when an enemy does a powerful attack. Mixing dodges in with all the punches and kicks sounds like a good idea, but it just looks goofy in practice and the player ends up getting hit anyway.

For the most part bosses are easy, You can take half their health just through button-strings. At the half-way point their AI wakes up, which means they'll break out of combos with different attacks. It's not really challenging, just frustrating. When they hit the last 1/3 of their health they start doing super moves. These attacks will wipe the player out, but they can be countered. The trick is to be standing in the right spot and hitting the attack button. It's a rather poor idea, since most of the time I'm likely to stumble into the right spot.

Banzai Pecan isn't on Steam (yet) so I'm hoping a lot of time was spent re-balancing and working out the various issues in this game. This is one of those games where everything is in place, but it falls apart when someone sits down to actually play it. More a curiosity than anything. One more classy pic for the road:

Desura Look - N.P.P.D. Rush: The Milk of Ultraviolet

In the year 198X the hottest drug on the market "NOX" is controlling the city. You, a former junkie, have been "recruited" to the N.P.P.D. Basically your limbs have been removed and you've been jammed into a motordeathcycle. Confused? Angry? Too freaking bad. Now you've got to rescue 30 junkies so that what's left of their lives might be salvaged. The best part? You're bleeding out, so you're gonna die in a few minutes. This...well this is definitely a videogame.

NPPD fancies itself an arcade game, and in many ways it's true. This is game is entrenched in many old-school philosophies. The time-limit is actually limiting for one thing. You have to plan your route, move very quickly, and it'll take trial and error before things start to click. Also there's plenty of stuff trying to kill you as you explore each of the five floors. Due to the time limit, you're being hurried along, but you also have to be wary because crashing into some enemies is pretty much instant death. Due to the nature of the game it's expected to take some damage, but critical errors will lead to game overs. There aren't any continues either, and I'm still not even certain that there's a level 2 after rescuing 30 junkies.

The area you're exploring is divided into five floors, each of which has a bevy of shops. The one you'll be spending most if not all of your cash on is the clock-maker. Basically they slow your rush cycles or something, causing you to bleed out slower? or? ...???? Whatever, they give you an extra 60 seconds. There's another shop that sells weapons, NOX (refills health but costs time), and "socket on socket" action. Some guy will even buy your organs for a nice chunk of change, though I guess it costs a ton of health. Maybe this is beneficial to those with a lot of health but not a lot of time? Hmm.

At first the difficulty is somewhere between "WHAT?" and "WTF?" It takes a few play-throughs just to get an idea of what this game is all about. It's similar to Die Hard on the NES. You play it expecting to be John Mcclane and kill all the bad guys Contra style. Instead it's a strategic-action game where you have to plot your next move, every fight is draining, and your resources have to be managed. I'm not saying that game is quality, but it had a unique concept, execution is another story.

Anyway, NPPD has some neat elements to it. While the viewing area is very limited, the screen is splashed with blood every time you destroy an enemy. It sounds obnoxious but it's a helpful indicator for when off-screen enemies blow up. In a game where every second counts you should never have to ask "is it dead?" Your bullets also travel a LONG way, I'd wage they keep going until they hit a wall (or an enemy). Needless to say, it helps to keep the fire button held down.

Note that this is a Desura look. This game is also available on Steam. That version is newer and from what I hear the graphics are cleaned up, there are new enemy types, and other stuff. This older version apparently is more atmospheric, more surreal. Whatever the case, if you're looking for something different, this might be worth exploring.

Just expect to see a lot of this:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

IHNIWTG - My Top 25 Xbox 360 games.

I wrote out this list on a whim. It's probably better that it's here on my blog, for posterity reasons.

25. Deathsmiles 2 & 2X 
24. Guwange
23. Gears of War 1 (I dunno, 2 & 3 just weren't the same. On paper they're better sequels, but they never quite clicked with me)
22. Vanquish
21. Lost Planet 2 (One of the best co-op shooters ever)
20. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (Stupid amount of time spent on this)
19. Driver: San Francisco (Highly underrated, a fantastic driving game)
18. Dodonpachi Resurrection 
17. Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
16. Saint's Row 2 
15. Modern Warfare 2 (Yes..Not Modern Warfare 1. Don't judge me.)
14. ESP Galuda 2
13. Deadly Premonition
12. Muchi Muchi Pork / Pink Sweets
11. Mamotte Knight
10. Tekken Tag Tournament 2
9. Bayonetta
8. Pacman CE DX+ & Pacman CE
5. Mushihime-sama Futari
4. Raiden Fighter Aces
3. Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (Just DD is fine too)
2. Dark Souls
1. Guardian Heroes (Yes my favorite Saturn game is also my favorite X360 game..cheats!)

Honorable mentions:

Lost Odyssey
Tales of Vesperia
Resident Evil 5
Dead Rising 1
Lost Planet 2
Geometry Wars 2
Mass Effect 1 (I'd include Mass Effect 3's multiplayer but I have that on PC)
Virtual On: Oratario Tangram
Test Drive Unlimited
Binary Domain
Dodonpachi Saidaioujou (Some Cave-heads would put this game over Resurrection, I can see why but it's my preference)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dangan Ronpa 2 arrives!

After reading the Dangan Ronpa 1 let's-play I just had to get my hands on the sequel as soon as it was available in the U.S. Looking forward to digging into this one when time permits.

Excuse the poor shots. The only digital camera I own is an ancient model that runs on AA batteries. Had to settle for the cell-phone. Expect a full look on this game...sometime.

Monday, September 1, 2014

IHNIWTG Look - Alex Kidd and Company Collection

As a long-time Sega fan I can never have too many high-quality re-releases of their classic library. Needless to say when it was announced that M2 was handling ports of a handful of Sega games for Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network I had to cheer. M2’s work is top-class and is usually a close-second to having the actual hardware. Alex Kidd & Company is an odd collection of titles but when two out of three are among Sega’s best it’s hard to complain.

I wasn’t around for the Sega Master System. In fact even today my library consists of one game, the original Phantasy Star. So I’m not the person to ask when it comes to games like the Alex Kidd series. As far as I can tell he was the original mascot for the system. Quite a few games were released starring him, all of wildly varying quality. Eventually he was replaced by a significantly more popular Sega character and that’s the end of it. I only know Alex Kidd from his sole Genesis game and his appearance in Sega Superstars Tennis. Since the Genesis game was terrible and he absolutely destroyed me in Tennis, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t despise Alex Kidd.

Miracle World does little to change my feelings. The biggest issue is the controls. Alex is a slippery, greasy, and just plain sloppy Kidd who has no business being in videogames. Jumping, the most important aspect of a platformer, is totally flawed. Missing jumps and landing in pits is a common occurrence, or after the jump is made Kidd will slide off the platform and into death’s waiting arms. This game also seems to go on forever, with vehicle sections, labyrinths, and even a few swimming stages doing very little to keep things fresh. Worst of all a handful of boss-fights require that you play Janken to win. What is Janken? It’s rock-paper-scissors. Even if the rest of the game was quality I’d still fail it simply because of such a terrible and inane design-decision. How Alex Kidd got top billing in this collection is something I’ll never understand.

But let’s forget about that mess and focus on the two great games in this set. Revenge of Shinobi is a classic when it comes to action games. It’s closer to the older style of action that can be found in the earlier Castlevania titles. Even though Joe Musashi has several times the maneuverability of the average whip-slinger, the enemy-placement and design still feels very traditional. Basically, enemies are placed in the manner that they can best kill you. Expect your adversaries to hassle you with constant gunfire, block your shuriken, or push you into pits. Also numerous traps fill each stage, with most leading to death if the player isn’t paying attention. There aren’t any fancy tricks for getting around enemies aside from the rainbow shuriken technique. Even then it’s a wasteful maneuver so your score is likely to suffer. Newer Shinobi games put the emphasis on looking good while fighting, a philosophy that this game doesn’t share in the slightest.

While this may not sound appealing to you that doesn’t mean you should avoid this game.  The easiest way to tell what makes a game great is by how natural it feels while playing. When the player moves around in the game-world it immediately feels like this is what they’re meant to be doing. This co-existence that occurs when the controls and the world-design flow so well together is something we take for granted. It’s times like these that we have to step back so that we can notice just how well put-together a game like Revenge of Shinobi is. The best games feel like everything was done effortlessly, like it was only through divination that such a gem occurred. Don’t ignore an opportunity to visit this classic.

In terms of arcade racing games I usually don’t pay attention to anything that predates Daytona USA. So it seems very strange that I’ve been able to not just enjoy but to actually connect with Super Hang-On. The goal is exceedingly simple, reach the end of the race before the timer runs out. All you really have to look out for are the turns and the other racers. However all it takes is one big crash or slowing down one too many times to cost you a chance at seeing the finish-line. Also knowing when to apply the turbo can lead to success, or to a horrible controller-tossing wreck.

What makes Super Hang-On work is that despite being considered a racing game that doesn’t mean you have to approach it as one. Think of it more like you’re dodging obstacles and making turns in order to get through the game. The handling of the bike and the turbo-implementation feel almost binary. It’s not like other racing games where you have to consider just how much gas you’re applying or what type of turn is going to have to be made to get around a particular curve. Winning races becomes less reliant on memorization as reflexes actually have their use. Ultimately Super Hang-On is really simplistic but even for someone like myself who has never played it, its status as a high-quality game is immediately recognizable.

M2 delivers in terms of features. Each of the three games has a handful of trials. Think of these as the score-attack modes you’d find in arcade ports. There are specific rules to account for and the player is ranked accordingly in the online leaderboards. For example Revenge of Shinobi has a trial for getting as high a score as possible with one life while Super Hang-On allows the player to race for the best time on a handful of courses. Other bonuses include jukeboxes for listening to the music and the ability to save and download replays. Unlike the late Sega-Ages releases in Japan, don’t go into this set expecting art museums or anything of that sort. You will however get all of the available region versions with each game, though at least as far as this set is concerned the differences between them are minimal. Numerous screen options are also available for gamers who want the right look for their TV. These screen modes also allow for scan lines and smoothing, though I’ve yet to see a circumstance where the latter actually looks decent. Super Hang-On even allows for some 3D options if you have the necessary equipment (even a cheap pair of 3D glasses could suffice).

All that’s left to say is finally, a vintage collection actually deserving of the word “vintage”. For a very respectable price you can get a pair of classics that are fully-loaded with all the options you could ever need. Revenge of Shinobi and Super Hang-On emphasize what made Sega games great. That means accessibility that doesn’t disrespect the player no matter their skill-level and a flawless application of mechanics and game-design. It certainly makes me wonder how Alex Kidd in Miracle World managed to get in there though because it has neither going for it.  

Note - IHNIWTG is short for I Have No Idea Where This Goes. There's quite a bit of stuff that I've written that went unpublished, so I'm putting it up here on the blog. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

AA Look - Akai Katana

I love two-dimensional shooters. Some of you may refer to them as shmups, a silly shortening of the phrase “shoot-em-up”. I never understood this because I don’t go around referring to beat-em-ups as bemups. But whatever, just this once I’ll do you all a turn and say I love…shmups. Japanese developer Cave is well-known for their…shmups but rarely do they ever see our side of the world unless we’re willing to import. Rising Star Games decided to take a chance on us with a domestic release of Akai Katana. I love Cave and I love…shmups, so I should definitely love this game…right? Well, funny thing about this console generation is that it’s been just full of surprises.

The story behind the dreaded Akai Katana is about what you’d expect from the genre. It’s depressing, insane, and probably will make you wonder why you’re fighting at all. During a reconstructive era in Japan a powerful mineral was unearthed. Not only could it power anything better than coal or electricity, it could also be used to forge katanas. It seems that when these dark-blades are used to kill a human being their souls can become trapped and they become phantoms. All you really need to know about phantoms is that they’re practically invincible, can summon battleships out of thin-air, and have mastered chemistry to the point where they turn bullets into gold.

So on one side we have the evil empire that uses the katanas and phantoms to spread tyranny and oppression. On the other side we have six heroes, who have paid the greatest of sacrifices in order to become strong enough to stand against the empire. Sumire Asaka, Kikyou Saionji, and Suzuran Sanada have given their lives to the katana for the power of the phantom. In order to lead them to victory they must be guided by three other people, whose lives have also been irrecoverably touched by the katanas. Botan Saionji, a woman who lost her sight and her brother Kikyou. Shion Kobayawaka, whose deal with the katana cost her youth. Finally there is Tsubaki Shinjo, who decided to stop wearing women’s clothing. One of these three ladies didn’t have to sacrifice all that much.

You’re not given much time to dwell on the melodrama since your ship is going to be the target of multiple battalions and the hundreds of millions of bullets they’re capable of drowning the screen with. Your goal is to make the best of this awful situation by scoring as many points as possible. You could survive and win the war, most likely you won’t. Your hopes and dreams will come crashing to earth alongside the one of three ships you were piloting. Over the course of five or six stages – depending on which of the three modes you play – you’ll have to come to grips with the fact that winning is not a right videogames are supposed to give you. You must master the various sub-systems while forging a relationship between a phantom and its guide that is stronger than any katana. Even then you likely won’t survive…so just try to have a bit of fun okay?

The three modes of play in Akai Katana are known as Origins, Climax, and Slash. Origins mode is as you’ve already guessed the original mode that was found in the arcades. Climax mode is the same in terms of scoring mechanics but it was designed with wide-screen in mind. The additional real-estate can make things a bit more forgiving for the player. Slash mode is the obligatory console-exclusive mode though I’ve read a port* to the arcades is being worked on. This is a really good idea because I think Slash mode is the most entertaining of the bunch.

Each stage of Akai Katana involves the usual mix of tiny ships that yield to the slightest amount of firepower and much larger vehicles that can take and receive punishment like no other. Mid-bosses and end-bosses are also to be expected and chances are fairly high a lot of bullets will be involved as well. The ship you choose effects the weapon-type as well as the phantom you control. Each ship also comes equipped with a “sacred spirit” aka an option. Manipulating this option is important as it can gather energy, which you will need to keep your phantom powered. Ships and phantoms have an offensive and defensive stance. When you’re holding down the shot button you’re on the offensive but when you’re tapping the shot button or pressing down auto-fire you’re playing defensively. As per more recent genre traditions you also get a stock of three bombs for those situations you can’t handle. If you really wanted to you could probably get through this game while completely ignoring your phantom. Your score and sanity will suffer however as this game revolves around using their powers to make the battlefield your own.

Your immediate goal in Akai Katana is to turn the most hopeless situations into brief shining moments of pure bliss. Pure bliss is attained through the mass accumulation of wealth. In Slash mode you destroy enemies or maneuver the option onto them to acquire energy. While doing so you also have to collect enough steel orbs, which can be done through defensive play. When you believe you’ve attained enough steel orbs that’s when you summon the phantom. As a phantom you must then seek out the perfect opportunities to fire those steel orbs and collect katanas in the process. When you think you’ve got enough blades you release them all in one devastating attack. Timing, location, and aim are everything because overwhelming katana destruction happens only a few times each stage. It’s an impressive sight to behold as bullets and enemy alike are destroyed and the explosions are pure shiny brilliance. There are other factors to account for such as how many hits you’ve managed up to that moment, when to use this ability during boss-fights, and so on. You could read a guide or watch a superplay but you can’t hope to replicate this difficult yet rewarding process until you’ve played and replayed the game an innumerable amount of times.

What can I say about Origins mode? When I first got the game I spent a large amount of time in the Slash mode and really enjoyed it. When I started Origins mode however my world had turned upside-down, inside-out, and all that I had known had become unknown. I was no longer the same person. I went to work, argued with my boss, and nearly got thrown out. At home I’d pace between the windows and the mirror, everything I saw just made me confused and disgusted. I then considered quitting videogames, this whole review business, and possibly starting a blog about bowling. At least when I hit the pins little revenge-pins wouldn’t appear and gold wouldn’t start pouring down the lanes if I ever got a strike. I don’t like Origins mode.

Just like in Slash mode you have to seek out the worst possible situations and try to profit from them. However what you want to do this time is when you become a phantom you want to gather as many bullets as possible. While in defensive stance you will block all bullets and push them around. The trick is to shove as many bullets in the enemy’s general vicinity before you destroy them so all that neon ammo turns to precious gold. However you have to do this with while in offensive stance, and that means not being protected from all of the bits of death you’ve been juggling for the past several seconds.

Again while the process seems only slightly convoluted you have to take into account the fact that you won’t get it right the first, second, or even the 437th time. Part of this is because after you get the gold you have to hold onto it. You must keep the fire button held down and allow the gold to orbit you like some phantom planet. For reasons only explained by fantasy science this causes the gold to grow in size and become more valuable. If you hold on for too long the gold eventually disappears. Even for a Cave shooter the scoring system behind Origins mode feels unnecessarily obtuse. Slash mode requires a bit of work to get the most out of it as well but at least the results of a well-timed strike are immediate as the Xbox 360 nearly chokes from having so much gold on-screen. With Origins mode there’s no time to take in your accomplishments as you’re likely already building up energy for your next bullet-planet-swirling-gold-phantasm fever.

I’m at the point where my biggest concern when playing is not how I just missed death by millimeters. Instead all I think about is how I mistimed my switch to phantom and cost myself tens of millions of points. Even the boss battles do nothing for me. While the idea of enemy phantoms that draw battleships out of thin air to overwhelm the player sounds interesting the actual fights simply aren’t entertaining. It’s like not enough is done to establish the importance of this battle. These bosses might be high-ranking generals or have some history with the main characters but to me they’ve done nothing to get me interested in seeing them killed. As difficult as the final boss is I think he is quite unimpressive due to his laughable design. He can fill a screen with bullets and obliterate me many times over but he’s still a loser with two katanas and a bad haircut. 

Overall Akai Katana leaves me conflicted. If you’re the type who can appreciate scoring systems that are loaded with depth you’ll find a lot to love about this game. However the possibility exists that you may find yourself dissatisfied and maybe even a little empty. It’s as if Cave somehow managed to take the thrill out of a 2D shooter. That feeling of joy that can only come from having death within shaving distance is gone. In its place is regret and frustration, because your placement and timing was off by the slightest smidgen. Of the Cave releases that are available this generation I consider this one to be the weakest. It’s not a bad game at all, but it doesn’t create that fire that I yearn for when I sit down with a 2D shooter.

*This is an old review.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Status update

So the burning question on everyone's mind is: Where has PepsimanVsJoe been?

Well it goes something like this...
Last year I was actually writing for awhile, and then I got a kidney stone. If you've had one of those before, you know how much fun they are. Since games-writing still doesn't pay bills I had to quit. Combine this with moving, a new gaming PC, and a host of other occurrences, and it's a wonder I remembered that I have this blog. 

I'm not sure where I'm going from here, this post is just an acknowledgment that I'm around.

My PC game picture gallery

Wondering where all the pictures are on this blog?

Apparently they're all in my minus account.

Fair warning, there will be spoilers for various games.
Mostly it's PC stuff but some Vita games make appearances as well.

Steam reviews

For the sake of convenience I've provided a link to my Steam reviews.
They're...nothing special but eh, at least they're proof I haven't quit.