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: