Saturday, December 29, 2012

#29: Super Baseball Simulator 1000

One thousand or a really precise one?
Super Baseball Simulator 1000 is certainly one of the games I played the most on the SNES as a kid. It had everything a baseball game needed to have in order to keep my interest for a long stretch of time. Would it still hold some of that luster 21 years later?

165 games is a lot of games!
The first thing the game has going for it is the ability to actually play a full baseball season. The game accurately tracks every at bat that happens in the game and keeps hitting and pitching statistics for every player on every team throughout the season. I didn't actually like playing baseball all that much as a kid but I loved baseball stats. I used to keep score for games I'd watch on tv and wrote a spreadsheet to track my house league team's stats using whatever spreadsheet software it was that came with GEOS on the Commodore 64. So for the game to keep data over almost 500 games for a season was pretty awesome for me.
Mercy ruled!
But as I said, I didn't really like playing baseball... This game would let you simulate games you weren't playing which was nice. But on top of that you had the option to not really play baseball. You could play super enhanced baseball. In the field you'd have a jump/dive button and a super jump/dive button so you could jump to the roof of the stadium to catch a home run if you timed it right. You could slide all the way from one side of the field to another. Hit X before getting the ball to charge up a super throw that would get to the base fast. Hit Y before getting the ball to power up your glove allowing you to actually catch some of the super hits. Every batter had a special hit they could use like turning the ball into an exploding bomb that stunned whoever it hit or turning the ball invisible or reversing the controls of the defender so up was down and left was right. Pitchers had 4 super pitches they could choose from with things ranging from the iron ball that would frequently break bats to the SSFB (Super Super Fast Ball) that went, as advertised, really freaking fast.

Other 'super' pitches weren't so super.
You could set up your league to allow a limited number of super moves per game. This terrible leaf pitch would cost you 4 of your quota. You could turn super moves off entirely by setting the quotas to 0. Or you could set them to unlimited and just be crazy awesome on every play. Guess what I did?

Now, the computer couldn't quite handle the concept of super moves. It wouldn't use them very well, it had no idea how to deal with some of my super moves, and it would trivialize others. For some reason the super hit which made the ball invisible was easy to deal with. I think the computer would cheat and know where the ball would land. On the other hand the super hit which made the ball's shadow invisible broke the AI. It would simply stop moving players until the ball landed. Even though it could make sense that the computer could do an ok job of working out where the ball 'should' land given that you can still see the ball itself!

The game was really easy. Back then it was really easy, now it was really easy. But I played it a lot so I guess I didn't care that it was really easy. I wasn't playing the game to win so much as to try to twink out my player stats. My lead off hitter would basically hit an inside the park homerun every at-bat. Only when the computer would randomly make an error would I get screwed (for some reason the stats engine would treat that as an at-bat but not as a hit which would lower my average). I can remember being bitter about the mercy rule which called the game after you were up by 10 if you were the home team. If you were the away team you could score as much as you wanted because theoretically they could come back in the bottom of the inning. I'd run into problems trying to have my guys show up on the stat lists because they wouldn't get enough at bats because most of them would only bat once in the first inning and then the game would get called.

That said, I think using an actual limit on super moves would make the game more strategic. Do you really want to use the super throw from the out field on this play? You can guarantee strike the other guy out by throwing 3 warp pitches in a row... In order to have a game you need some way to prevent that from happening. Gentleman's rule or by putting in a cost you can't always pay. I'm glad they built such a system into the game even if I never used it.

At any rate, I played a full 5 game season, went undefeated, and had fun. Still a good game.

Rating: A+

Saturday, December 22, 2012

#28: Lagoon

Nice waterfall I guess?
I recognized the name Lagoon but I couldn't really remember why. I was thinking it was an action-adventure game where you saved townspeople by opening chests but that would be game 72 on the list, Soul Blazer. I'm sure I rented Lagoon as a kid but I guess it really didn't stick with me. It turns out Lagoon actually is an action-adventure game, but not a memorable one. The game started with me forced to wander around town trying to find a plot hook. The town was full of buildings with doors. Some doors I could open. Others I couldn't. There was no way to tell which was which which was pretty frustrating. Ultimately by visiting, in order, mayor's house, church, cave entrance, church, mayor's house, church, weapon shop I was finally able to get started.

I opened this treasure chest and it locked up the game and played a huge, unskippable fanfare. Doo da dooooooo! You found 10 gold. The mayor gave me 300 gold to start my adventure which was enough money to buy every single thing in the store. 10 gold is not interesting. It certainly didn't deserve a fanfare.

I eventually made it to the end of the stupid cave and found the dude I was sent in to rescue. He was injured and took a healing potion I found in a chest to similar huge fanfare. I gather he wasn't going to move until I gave him one, so it's a good thing I found that chest first... Otherwise I would have had to backtrack the stupid cave, then come back here. Once the guy started moving it turned into an escort quest. I had to go back through the whole cave with this idiot following me. Idiot-boy moved very slowly (I guess for flavour because he was injured?) and would try to take the shortest path to me. Even if that path included a little impassable crack. Then he'd just stand there looking stupid until I walked back up to him and showed him the right way to go.

I got frustrated with the escort quest so I tried to get my friend killed. Nope. The enemies would just walk right through him without doing any damage to him at all. He would appear to be invincible. Why did he need my help if he can't take any damage? Just walk home on your own, loser. So I took off to the exit without him... But then it wouldn't let me go into doors unless he was beside me, so even if I cleared a straight line path to the door I then had to wait for him to catch up before proceeding.

Slow escort quest coupled with wonky controls coupled with a pretty bad combat system meant I just walked away from the game rather than finish the escort quest. I don't remember getting this bitter at the game as a kid so it's quite possible that World of Warcraft managed to jade my perception of escort quests. 

The combat system was annoying in that my sword was only a couple pixels long and I'd only hit the enemy if I managed to line it up mid-swing with an enemy. My health bar regenerated and theirs didn't so I ended up just charging into every enemy and mashed the attack button until they died. I'd be full by the time I got to the next enemy so I didn't care how much damage I took. This is bad game design, I think. I want combat to be interesting and then to have consequences for failure. Oh well.

Also frustrating... I was going up levels but I only found out by checking the status screen. No dings. No messages. Nothing. Opening a chest with 10 gold in it was worth a fanfare and a pause. Leveling up? Nothing at all. That's the wrong way to design a game. People like to level up. Tell them when they did!

That said, if I didn't have a lot of action-adventure experience this probably wouldn't have been so bad. And it was the first such game on the system. Well, it came out in the same month as Super Castlevania IV... Lagoon should probably be happy it's earlier in the alphabet since I suspect it would get a worse rating in the other order...

Rating: C

Saturday, December 15, 2012

#27: Home Alone

Nice tilted e in the logo!
Ah, Home Alone. A movie tie-in platformer for the highest grossing movie of it's year, and third most all-time at the time. Even now Wikipedia lists is as #38 all-time in North America adjusted for inflation. With such a popular movie it's no surprise someone made a video game based on it... Movie tie in games tend to be terrible, though. How does this one fare?
Who hides a bag of cash in the toilet?
The premise of the game is The Wet Bandits have broken into the house and are trying to steal all your valuables. You play the 8-year Kevin and are tasks with running through your house stuffing valuable stuff into your backpack. When it fills up you can empty it out in a laundry chute. Throw enough stuff down into the basement and you have to go down there to lock it up in a gigantic safe. As you play you collect different weapons and can set off various traps on the bandits.
The platforming section actually isn't bad. Your movements are a little slippery and you can violate the laws of physics by adjusting your trajectory in mid air. But it feels good. Maybe this is because this was one of the first games we had on the SNES and I played it a lot as a kid, but it just feels like the way a platformer should feel.
The theme of the game is a little silly. Why does an 8-year old care if some thieves are going to take his toy trains? How does a squirt gun actually slow them down at all? I get that the movie was all about traps and fending off the bandits and I guess it fits in decently with that. And is it really so different than collecting coins or stars or whatever it is Mario is making you randomly collect? I guess not.

The level design gets boring. At least Mario would go underwater once in a while. In this game every level features several rooms full of stuff, 2 hallways, and a basement. You collect different valuable things but you always stuff them down a hole and then dodge bugs in the basement.

The music and sound are actually pretty good. The movie got nominated for an Oscar based on the music so I guess they had a good base to work off of. I'm surprised they didn't screw it up.

The game actually uses three buttons. Jump, attack, switch weapons. Hurray!

Overall the game is a little repetitive and is a movie tie-in but it was fun back in the day and wasn't bad even now. I feel like I'm supposed to hate this game but I just can't. It's a fun little platformer.

Rating: B+

Friday, December 7, 2012

#26: D-Force

It's begging for a D rating right in the name!
Even before the start menu the game started with a brick wall and a terrible choppy sound. I thought something was wrong with my headphones. But then a helicopter shot through the brick wall and it became clear that there was nothing wrong with my hardware. No, that was the way they thought a helicopter sounded. Man, I sure hope that doesn't carry over into the actual game...
What are those balls?!?
The game turned out to be a shooter. A really, really bad one. The sound did carry over into the game. The music was mediocre on top of it, but the sound was really, really terrible. This game had all of my least favourite aspects of games so far. Shooting my starting weapon, with no enemies on the screen, caused lag. The game used one button. Shoot. All these other buttons on the controller and none of them did anything. To be fair start did pause the game... But even paused the background would keep pulsing this weird flowy animation. I bet they thought it looked cool. Or the intern they brought in thought it looked cool. I think it looks terrible.
I made it to the boss of the first stage. One good thing is dying only knocked you down one power-up tier instead of all the way to the bottom. One bad thing is the boss moved faster than any other enemy and coupled with the lag from shooting I couldn't survive. And didn't care enough to keep trying.

Then I uploaded the images here and saw the title screen had different options. So I went back to try exploration mode, which was in a dinosaur world without power-ups and with an added button! L or R would zoom in. It sucked.

I don't think I played this game back in the day. And I'm never going to play it again.

Rating: F

Saturday, December 1, 2012

#25: True Golf Classics: Waialae Country Club

Looks like the Rebel Alliance logo. Or BAT-MAN!
It may surprise people to learn that I think this game may be my most played SNES game. It's certainly in the top 5. I didn't have many friends as a kid and I spent most of my days after school around the time this game came out at my friend Mathieu's place. We'd play games every day. A lot of hockey games, but even more golf. This golf game. You could create characters and track stats over many, many plays. I think we got pretty good at it.
High score wins in golf, right?
I am no longer very good at it. And I no longer like it at all. It's a little laggy. It's very punishing when choosing swing power in that it wraps around from full to empty. So I kept hitting the ball a couple feet instead of hundreds of yards. Putting gave a good hill map thing, but was laggy to bring it up.

I found I didn't remember the holes, despite having played it so much, and didn't care that I didn't remember them. It wasn't very fun so I stopped playing as soon as I fell to last place on the leaderboard. Which I believe took all of two holes. It was a fine game for the time but I have absolutely no desire to play it anymore.

Rating: C+

Saturday, November 24, 2012

#24: Super Tennis

There are some sports that make for good video games right out of the box. There are other sports that just don't have anything special going on in them. Tennis is a great game to actually play in person. It provides great exercise and if you're good at it there's all kinds of neat things you can make the ball do. In a video game, not so much. Either a shot is really good and should be used to win most points or it's really bad and shouldn't be used at all.
20 playable characters!
I started up a circuit event instead of just playing a single match. I had to pick a character and chose to go with Yuka. It turns out they all have different stats and Yuka is actually quite bad. Very slow but doesn't hit hard enough to make up for it. Oh well.

I got blown out. My first match was on clay. My opponent was able to hit the ball slow enough that it wouldn't even bounce to me at the back line. But if I moved in, she would hit it very hard and I wouldn't be able to reach it in time. Turns out being very slow is very bad.

Oh my!
I spent most of my first match trying to figure out the controls. Not so much so I could hit the ball better, but because some of the time I could reveal my panties and I wanted to take a screenshot of it. Because that's actually what watching tennis on tv means to me. I am such a sad person.

At any rate, the game wasn't terribly fun or interesting. My best plan for winning seemed to be to just make contact and assume the opponent would eventually miss an easy shot before I did.

I remember playing this as a kid, because I remember changing the colour of the tennis ball in the pause menu. But I don't remember playing it much or having fun with it. Probably because I didn't. But if I actually wanted to play a decent tennis game, I guess this would be it.

Rating: C

Saturday, November 17, 2012

#23: Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts

Super Spooky!
One of the old video game review sites I read posted a review of this game a year and a half ago and I remember getting a little riled up about it. He talked the game up as being one of the hardest on the SNES, then gave up after getting killed repeatedly about 4 monsters into the game. At the time my memory of the game wasn't one of a hard game. I know my brother used to rent this a fair bit and we were both pretty good at it. Of course we'd played a lot of the C64 Ghosts and Goblins game and maybe we're just really, really good at games? I don't know.

Unhand my blue haired beauty!
I loaded the game up and got right into it. The first level started with a rock I couldn't jump over. I mashed some buttons, discovered I had a double jump, and was off to the races. I was double jumping all over the place because that's what you do when you can double jump. Of course it turns out you can't change direction while in the air (except by jumping the second time which defies the laws of physics in many ways and lets you change direction). So I quickly started dying by coasting into enemies during my second jump. Ok, lesson learned... Only double jump when you have to, and never double jump at maximum velocity toward the edge of the screen since enemies could spawn where you can't avoid them.

Green armour!
Ghouls 'N Ghosts features a lot of power-ups you can obtain as you play. You start with silver armour which absorbs one point of damage. You can get green armour which powers up your attack but still only absorbs one hit. If you have green armour you can get gold armour which really powers up your attack and still only absorbs one hit. Then you have a wide variety of primary weapons. Lance, dagger, bow, magical fire... Magical fire sounds awesome but has the real problem that you can only have 2 of them on the screen at once. So if you throw two of them to your right you actually have no way to damage enemies from the left until the old ones completely finish their animation. It sucks! Well, you have to adjust to it, anyway.

A very popular screen in this game.
The early platforming part wasn't too bad. I got the hang of using the weapons properly. I got the hang of being careful with my jumps. I learned the patterns of all the enemies and could make it to the halfway point of the level pretty handily. At the halfway mark a giant wave sweeps up from the background and wipes out about two-thirds of the land. If you were standing in a spot that got wiped out you were instantly killed. There was no warning. There was no way to know which spots were safe. If you died you had to go back to the very start. And while I could beat that stuff it still took a fair amount of time and was by no means guaranteed.

So I had to memorize safe spots from the wave. Fine, got it... And then died to the next wave. Ok, get back there, live through two waves... Get hit by a clam which knocks me backwards into a pit. Dead. Ok, get back. Manage to survive the third wave without warning... And then double jump my way into a pit. I give up.

Take a listen to the first stage music. This music is awesome. It properly conveys the feeling of being in a graveyard, attacked by zombies, but has an uplifting beat because you know you can win if you work at it. Which is how I feel about this game. It's hard, but it isn't exactly unfair. On the one hand it sucks that the wave thing will instantly kill practically everyone who gets to it the first time. But on the other hand it doesn't take out random sections of the terrain. It takes out precise sections and you can totally memorize where to stand. This game feels a lot like pattern recognition. Demon dogs will kill you when they first show up but you learn how they jump and then can beat them pretty easily.

Maybe that's why I remember my brother and I beating this game as kids? We had the time and the inclination to die over and over again while adding new patterns to our memories? It certainly helped that we had the video game motor skills to pull off the moves needed once we figured out what those moves were. And plenty of spare time to sink in.

When I think of video games of my youth this game actually really personifies the era. You die a lot. And that's ok! Just keep trying. The game doesn't apologize for what it is. And while I don't currently have the time or inclination to get good at it again that's not a flaw in the game itself. I like that the game is hard, but ultimately beatable. Video games today have fallen away from this point of view (look at 'looking for raid' raids in World of Warcraft, for example) but that doesn't mean I have to like the change. I liked the way games were and I'm going to reward this game with a good rating for really following the old school way.

Rating: A-

Saturday, November 10, 2012

#22: RPM Racing

Radical Psycho Machine? What?
The first thing about this game is it wasn't even included in the massive ROM pack I found when I started this little adventure. It didn't take long to find it online, but it was still a little odd that it wasn't included. I did some looking and can't find any reason it wouldn't have been included. It was released in both NA and Japan. It apparently was the first game developed in the US for the SNES. Also, it's a remake of a Commodore 64 game.
Pimp Your Ride!
Reading that makes sense to me, since the game played a lot like a C64 game. And I mean that in a bad way. There was one button that did anything. I guess start also paused the game but everything else went unused. I hate when they can't figure out useful things for other buttons. For example, there's no way to go in reverse so if I wanted to go backwards I had to spin in a circle.
Terrible Camera Angle!
Why would I want to go backwards? Because of this hill. You slowed down as you climbed the hill and you actually couldn't get to the top from the bottom. You had to turn around and go down the ramp in the background to build up speed. See that yellow car? He wasn't smart enough to turn around and actually never got up the hill. He just kept trying to climb the hill, stalling out partway up, and falling back to the bottom.

The sound was terrible. The graphics tried using a different graphics style with fewer colours but deeper contrasts? Whatever it was, I didn't like it. The gameplay was terrible. You could spend money to upgrade your vehicle but you didn't get any money unless you won a race. And I wasn't able to win a race in my first two tries. Maybe because I had a terrible car!

I almost wish I had a rating lower than F- since I feel like this game may be worse than Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball. Eh, probably not. But this game is still pretty darn terrible. Why did so many games get ported from outdated systems? I don't want to play medicore C64 games on my SNES now and I can't imagine I would have wanted to back in the day either.

Rating: F-

Saturday, November 3, 2012

#21: Paperboy 2

Wait, what's a newspaper?
I can remember the original Paperboy being one of my favourite games on the Commodore 64. It was hard, and controlling it with a joystick was wonky, but compared to other games at the time it was pretty fun. And the fact that you'd get game over after a few minutes wasn't so bad because it meant my brother could then take a turn. And then he'd lose in a few minutes and I'd get to go again!

That's not fair!
Paperboy 2 definitely continues that tradition. Most sewer grates do nothing. Some of them have monsters that reach out and kill you. Pranked!

Baby Bung?
The camera angle is a little wonky. I get that you need to see the houses in order to aim your papers at the mailboxes instead of at windows. And to see people throwing junk at you. But then you get no time at all to react to something like a runaway baby carriage.
Wanh waaaaah.
I'm sure there's a lot of pattern recognition going on. You learn to avoid the grates. You learn to stay off the left hand sidewalk. You learn the right timing for each speed to hit the mailboxes. I don't feel like playing enough to get good at this game. I played 3 times and definitely got a higher score each time. But it wasn't terribly fun. I donno. Quirky things happening on a street just isn't amusing to me anymore. Repeated game-overs just aren't my thing either.

But those are issues with the game design, not with the game implementation. This game is very good for what it's trying to be. It's not trying to be a long, fair game. It feels like it's trying to be an arcade game which wants your quarters and is giving you small chunks of a fun game in return.

Rating: B

Saturday, October 27, 2012

#20: John Madden's Football

Madden! Madden!
Last week we had the fourth installment in possibly the most popular jRPG series of all time. Today we have the second installment in what is almost certainly the most popular sports franchise, at least in North America. (I think the FIFA series does pretty well also, but that's neither here nor there.)
I read some of the backstory behind the franchise and it's pretty interesting. A guy at EA wanted to make a football game in 1984 and went to John Madden for help. Madden insisted the game be awesome and wouldn't put his name on a title for 4 years until they came out with something he thought was realistic enough. It's nice to see someone's name in the title and actually find out they put in hard work and fought for having the game be good. (Unlike, say, Bill Laimbeer and his combat basketball.)
EA didn't have an NFL or NFLPA license for this game. And yet when I set up a game between San Francisco and Detroit I was told that San Fran has the best quarterback of all time. Also, Detroit loves to run the ball with their awesome running back. Hmm... Joe Montana and Barry Sanders? In the game there were no numbers or names or anything but it still seems like they were treading on the NFL's toes...

At any rate, I set about playing the game using the overpowered San Fran team against the truly terrible Detroit team. I found the game to be pretty hard because I couldn't figure out how to properly catch the stupid football. Kick-offs would sail over my head. Passes would appear to pass right through my players. I think I completed all of one pass in the first half, but it went for a touchdown because Jerry Rice is better than everyone on the Lions' defense put together.

Barry Sanders for -22 yards? Suck on that!
On defense I took my standard plan of 'call a blitz, control a guy not in the blitz and make him blitz too' and just charged at the quarterback. I got a safety out of it in the first half and forced a lot of negative yardage runs. I also gave up two passing plays for 136 yards total, but those are the chances you take. You'll notice all of the Lions points came in chunks of 6. 2 field goals? No. I blocked every extra point. The Lions blockers suck!

This game was missing tons of features I expect to exist in a football game now. No onside kick. No 2-point conversion. No way to catch the damn ball. (Ok, that's probably me being bad.) But compared to other games around the time this game is fantastic. Actually having a good playbook to call from is pretty sweet. You can call audibles. There's instant replay. There's a play-off mode. This game actually feels like coaching football. People can complain all they want about how the Madden franchise just sells the same game every year but they started out with a pretty good game and each iteration has made some marginal improvements. This game, without most of those improvements, is still an impressively good game.

Rating: A-

Saturday, October 20, 2012

#19: Final Fantasy II

For those who may not be aware I have a generic gaming blog which updates each weekday. One of the main topics covered there is a Final Fantasy marathon where I'm playing through all the games in order. Earlier this year I played through Final Fantasy IV and posted about it here.

Final Fantasy IV was released in the US as Final Fantasy II. Square hadn't ported the actual FFII or FFIII over to North America and figured it would be too confusing to jump from I to IV. Which was probably true at the time, but doesn't work out that way now. At any rate, I'm playing all North American SNES games so for the rest of this post I'm going to refer to the game as Final Fantasy II and only really talk about the game in the SNES cartridge.
A dark knight's life is full of regrets.
At any rate, I don't really have a strong desire to play again in full, but I'll play a little bit to get some screenshots. Instead I think I want to talk about the different parts of a game and compare Final Fantasy II to the 18 games I've covered so far.
Cecil is no Yzerman.
Plot - Well, most of the games in the early SNES days didn't have anything even vaguely resembling a plot. Final Fight had a kidnapped girl. Super Mario World had a kidnapped princess. ActRaiser had a reviving god plot going on. Drakkhen actually had a decent plot. Final Fantasy II blows them all away. Ancient evil coming back to life, an epic backstory, surprise lost brother... It absolutely takes the cake of every game played thus far

Character Development - Most of the games have no character development at all. Mario doesn't grow as a person during his game. The Chessmaster is good at chess? ActRaiser actually has a reasonable amount of character development among the NPCs manning your temples. It's actually pretty good. Final Fantasy II again blows them all away. You've got the dark knight who redeems himself and becomes a paladin. The ninja that has his parents brutally deformed by a mad scientist who grows as a person when he kills them. The young girl who gets sucked onto another plane where time flows faster. All the NPCs in Mysidia treat you differently at different parts of the game. The spoony bard and the old man. A love story. Pretty much every other game thus far has been an exercise in mechanics. FFII has actual characters in an actual story.
Graphics - Viewed through today's lens the graphics of all the games are mediocre to poor. Compared against each other FFII actually has pretty good graphics. It makes use of the mode 7 graphics to handle airship flight which is pretty sweet. I wouldn't say it has the best of the games I've played thus far (Super Mario World would get that call I think) but it's definitely above average.

Sound - Simply put, Nobuo Uematsu is awesome. Some of the games have had terrible sound (I'm looking at you, Chessmaster) but FFII has incredible music. Not just the music though! The sound just fits. Definitely the top of the pack.

Jump up! Jump up! And get down!
Gameplay - Well, FFII innovated substantially over previous Final Fantasy games. It's hard to really judge gameplay head to head against something like Final Fight, which is a completely different genre. But Final Fight was bad for a fighter and Final Fantasy II is good for an RPG.

Overall, I really can't complain about any aspect of Final Fantasy II at this point in the SNES timeline. It's a masterpiece.

Rating: S

Saturday, October 13, 2012

#18: Darius Twin

I popped in Darius Twin, a side-scrolling shooter where you have three lives, and went game over in less than a minute. I started a second game and went game over in less than a minute. I started a third game where I didn't try to kill things, just avoid them until I got some power-ups, and made it a little bit further. Then I started a fourth game where I cleared out two levels without dying once...

This game suffers from the problem many power-up based games suffer from. The level designers didn't seem to understand that the power of your ship was going to increase massively over time. So your ship without power-ups can't even kill the wimpiest enemy in one hit. Your ship with a bunch of power-ups is essentially invincible. I died once, costing me my powered up shield, and then died many times in succession to lose in short order. (The level had foreground overlays so I couldn't see the enemies coming until they were on top of me... Knowing where they spawn from now I could get through the level I'm sure, but I really don't want to.)
How is my score so high for only doing zone A, C, D?
Enemy design was interesting in that they were all giant fish. I liked that the game had 'auto-fire' turned on so I just needed to hold the shoot and missile buttons down instead of mashing them, but even that started hurting my hand. No other buttons did anything. So why didn't they just have my ship always auto-fire? I couldn't conceive of a reason to not be constantly shooting so there was no decision making involved...

It's like the 'run' button in RPGs. Initially you couldn't run at all. Then you had to equip an item and hold a button down to run. Then you had to hold a button down to run. Then you ran automatically and had to hold a button down to walk. I want games like this to have a 'stop shooting' button and otherwise just constantly shoot!

I actually don't think I'd played this game before. But it's pretty much a worse version of other shooters. It has the same lag when tons of stuff is going on. It has the same problems with bad difficulty design relative to expected power-ups. And it doesn't have any power-up customization like some of the better shooters (UN Squadron/Gradius III). It did have a level map where you didn't have to do every stage so there was some replayability there I guess.

Rating: C-

Saturday, October 6, 2012

#17: Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball

White men can fight?
After the awesomeness that was ActRaiser last week I find myself stuck with a game I was dreading. I don't like basketball. I don't know that combat would add much to a game of basketball. And I don't have a clue who Bill Laimbeer is so having his name in the title doesn't encourage me in any way.
One game only, please!
Apparently the game comes with a league you can save. This is actually interesting. If I wanted to keep playing I would totally go investigate what goes on in a league. But after having played twice I can safely say I've had my fill of combat basketball.

My first game ended 5-4 in the computer's favour. Yes, a basketball game with only 9 points scored between the two teams. It turns out the 'combat' part basically means you have a diving double-punch button that knocks down anyone you hit and gives you the ball if they have it. Combine that with making it almost impossible to pass the ball (you can't really tell where your teammates are from the mini-map and the AI for your friends is terrible) and you actually don't make very much progress. Basically you have two guys from each team punching themselves at the middle of the court.
After playing once and losing by one point I wanted revenge. I was going to play again, and I was going to win. Before doing so I decided to look up the controls on the internet since I couldn't seem to find a way to make any of the buttons do anything except for B. It turns out that's because they don't do anything. B is for passing, shooting, jumping, and attacking. Yes, on a controller with 6 easy to hit buttons they crammed everything into a single button. It's like playing a Commodore 64 game on a SNES. When you only have one button it's pretty cool to see different ways to use the button. When you have 6? Use them! You idiots!

At any rate I won the second game 18-17. I figured out a good way to score points... You see, after you score a basket the other team has to pass the ball out from under the basket. And the AI only brings those two players back. So you send one of your guys up to punch the received as soon as he gets the ball. Then you punch the guy who passed the ball. With them both down you get time to take one shot from close range. Turns out a lot of those shots go in. Of course, once I'd scored a bunch the computer started cheating and every one of his shots would go in. So I had a big lead at half time and then he started spawn camping my net after he scored just like I'd been doing. Except all his shots went in. Eventually I broke out (power-ups spawn on the field so you can actually escape containment if you get a run speed buff and a heat seeking missile) and managed to score a couple more times to win. Woo?

I have a feeling my brother rented this once as a kid and I'd then blocked it out of my mind. The characters seem familiar enough that I don't think this is new to me but I didn't remember just how terrible it was. Maybe it's better with another human? More likely we just keep punching each other at the middle of the court. This game is terrible and I can't recommend anyone ever play it. Now or when it came out.

Rating: F-

Saturday, September 29, 2012

#16: ActRaiser

I'll be honest, when I created the rating scheme and made a rating higher than A+ I had a single game in mind for that rating. People may suspect that game would be Final Fantasy II (us) or Final Fantasy III (us) and while those games may still earn an S rating they weren't the reason I created it. ActRaiser was.

8 characters allowed in a name? Sweet!
Did ActRaiser hold up to my memory as being truly awesome? Let me put it this way... The timing worked out such that ActRaiser would be posted during the first weekend of the new World of Warcraft expansion. I have a ton of stuff to do in WoW to get ready for it... And I still played ActRaiser through to completion. That's the first game in this little adventure that got played all the way through.
God statue, activate!
ActRaiser is a game with two very distinct segments. The core of the game is a platformer where you, as the god of the world, send your spirit to inhabit a statue. The statue has a big sword and you run around chopping the bad guys. The platformer game is very solid but unspectacular. It doesn't have a lot of bells or whistles but it also doesn't have any flaws. Movement is smooth. You have a lot of control in your jumps. You don't have any special sword attacks or anything but the attack animation works well. You have good range with your sword and you never get into a situation where you know what to attack but can't make yourself attack it.
Love the constellation boss!
You have no defensive moves. God statue doesn't have a shield, just a huge sword. You will take hits when playing ActRaiser. Lots of them. Most of the boss fights devolve into finding a pattern where you can inflict more damage than you take in a trade and then repeating. Finding a way to do damage without taking any back is hard if not impossible. But the game plays fair. There are always ways to trade favourably.

Suck it, Bat-cave!
The other part of the game is a city building simulator. Here you control an angel servant who works to direct the human population of the planet. As you get more people to follow your religion you gain power. You can increase your maximum health during the platformer levels. You can learn special spells to use while platforming, and you can learn more charges of those spells. There are 6 different cities you get to develop as you play the game and each one has storylines that play out as you develop them.

You'd think after the 30th time I'd start expecting it...
Each of the 6 cities has two different platformer levels associated with them. The first level unlocks the city and lets you start developing it. The second level is the big boss of the zone and unlocks the maximum potential of the city.
It's the final countdown!
Clear out all 12 of the platformer levels to unlock the boss stage. Here you fight, without healing, sped up versions of the big bads from each of the 6 cities. And then, the head demon guy himself. I lost the first time through (using 2 of my 7 magic points on a wipe was a pretty big blunder) but came back to win on my second try.
If this game was just the platformer it would be worse than Super Mario World but still a pretty solid game. If this game was just the city builder it would be about on par with Populous. The two combined into one game with interesting plot? With the two building off each other? It's fantastic. I can't recall ever playing a game that puts two different genres together in such a smooth fashion. And it's such an early title, too! I really think anyone who hasn't played this game before should track it down and give it a spin. It's worth the time. Heck, people who have played it before should probably play it again. I had a blast playing it again.

Rating: S