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

Saturday, September 22, 2012

#15: Ultraman Towards The Future

So, moving forward at one second per second?
Ultraman was one of the first games I remember my brother and I renting for our SNES. I don't remember it being terribly engrossing. But is that just my mind playing tricks on me?

No, my memory was actually pretty spot on. This game is terrible. It's a fighting game where you have no special moves. No combos. No ability to really defend yourself. It feels like your only hope of winning is to have the AI decide to lose since it seems to have ranged attacks and you don't.

Ok, that's not quite true. You build up special power in the middle of the screen and can consume a good amount of it to fire off a slow, bad, ranged attack. This was my plan for the first fight and I got the enemy out of health. Woo! But then it just flashed FINISH in his health bar and I had no idea how to do that. Eventually I built up a full special meter and then randomly hit R. It changed which projectile my special ability button would fire. Crank it all the way to the top setting and hit a FINISH enemy with it to blow them up. So I found a way to progress which was nice but it meant I couldn't use any special moves in order to conserve killing blow power. (I ended up dying on the first guy while I figured this out but then was able to take out 4 guys in a row.)
I went to check if I was missing any moves or anything that would make the game more interesting than 'try to barely clip the monster with the edge of your kick while hoping he chooses not to kill me' and it turns out no. I also discovered that Ultraman was actually HUGE in Japan. There was a live action television show that was hugely popular where a guy in an Ultraman suit would throw pathetic punches and kicks at a guy in a monster suit. The SNES game seems to emulate that pretty well. Maybe they weren't trying to make a quality fighting game. Maybe they were trying to make a true Ultraman game. And maybe the kids in Japan ate it up. As a kid in Canada who'd never seen an Ultraman tv show this was just a bad game. And it remains that way today.

Rating: F

Saturday, September 15, 2012

#14: U.N. Squadron

Flaming unicorn ho!
I don't remember playing much UN Squadron as a kid but I definitely remember playing a lot of it on an emulator when I was living with Aidan. UN Squadron is a shooter game the way shooter games should be made. The game starts with a choice of 3 characters each with their own strengths and weaknesses so you can customize the way you play the game right off the top.

I chose Shin because I thought he was a girl and I always play as the female character in a game when possible. It turns out this game was based on a Japanese anime (Area 88) and he merely looks feminine. Each character has a special ability. Shin needs to pick up fewer power packs on a level to level up his ship. Mickey makes better use of the special weapons. Greg recovers from damage faster.

They don't call me The Insane for nothing!
Recovering from damage faster is another great innovation in this game. When you get hit by anything you don't instantly die. Instead you get put into critical status where a second hit will kill you. After a short period of time you recover and can again take a free hit. There is a limited number of times you can do this on a level (I think 4 or 5) before you're permanently in critical status and will die to the next hit. I think this is fantastic. You don't need to play perfectly in order to win but you do have to play consistently well. One mistake doesn't doom you unlike most other shooters.

I still say Shin is a girl.
You also collect power-ups in a smoother way than in other shooters. Throughout a level there will be red enemies that you kill to get pick-ups. You have a POW number that goes up with each one you get and persists between levels and between deaths. Then at certain POW thresholds your plane levels up and gets stronger guns. Shin's ability decreased the number of these things I needed at each threshold. Unfortunately I actually hit the cap on my starting plane in short order and the rest of the pick-ups felt wasted.

On top of the pick-ups you also earn money for every single thing that you kill. You use this money between levels to buy better planes or to buy special weapons you can use. AoE explosions, or screen-wide nukes, or bombs you can drop below you... That sort of thing. It leads to a steady sense of progression throughout the game as you save up money to buy better stuff.

Another neat thing is the level select map. You start off at the little 88 on the left and have to make your way to the mountain base on the right. Clear a level to increase your range which unlocks more levels. There are also enemy units coming after your base that you need to take out, like that plane that's closing in on me. You can go for the shortest route to the final stage or you can go to all the side stages to earn more money to buy a better plane. I love sidequests!

Unfortunately there is one major problem with the game and it caused me to stop playing after beating 2 stages (and dying a lot on the enemy plane). Holding the shoot button down doesn't cause you to keep shooting forever. In order to put down optimal fire you need to spam the Y button over and over. I'm not as young as I used to be and mashing a button for long lengths of time is a skill that has atrophied with age. My wrist still hurts 7 hours after I was playing. This is a shame since I was really enjoying the game and really like a lot of the ideas they have. But I can't really hold that against the game... It's not the game's fault I'm old and decrepit. The game itself has actually aged wonderfully.

Rating: A+

Saturday, September 8, 2012

#13: Super R-Type

Irem? Never heard of them!
This is a pretty typical scrolling space shooter. It has power-ups to collect. It has bullets to dodge. One hit kills you and forces you to replay entire levels to get back to the boss. It has inexplicable sections of lag because they're overworking the poor SNES. It isn't much fun. I played on normal and couldn't even beat the first level. I'm sure the boss has a pattern you can learn (he moves much faster than you so adapting on the fly isn't possible but I'm sure there are safe spots to stand the entire fight) but having to play perfectly for 5 minutes without power-ups in order to get another try isn't my idea of a good time.

Auto-attack for wave of death to entire screen?
I played again on novice difficulty and there were power-ups everywhere! This one basically made all enemies on the screen die every second as long as they were in a 180 degree arc in front of me. It made the game pretty trivial. I killed the second boss and then decided it wasn't any fun and turned it off.

I don't think I played this game as a kid. I don't think I would have liked it much if I had. I can't give it a complete failing grade because it does actually seem like a complete game that shooter fans might like. Me? I hated it.

Rating: D-

Saturday, September 1, 2012

#12: Super Bases Loaded

Gratuitous butt shots have changed in 21 years...
Super Bases Loaded was the first non-bundled game we had for the SNES when I was a kid. (I believe our Uncle John Boy gave it to us at the same Christmas we got the SNES.) As such this is actually one of my most played SNES games. Compared to previous baseball games we'd played (Baseball on the Intellivision and Street Sports Baseball on the Commodore 64) this game was pretty good. The controls were pretty responsive, you could sub in pinch hitters, plenty of different teams to play...

I have played the perfect game.
It also had an interesting rating system. You earned points for awesome plays. You lost points for striking out, and committing errors, and lots of other bad things. It gave the game some bonus replayability that didn't exist in previous games.  Not as good as adding in a season/league format but still a good step forward.

Quorb! Quorb! He's our man!
I tried to remember which team I used to play and thought there was a reasonable chance it was the K team. As soon as I saw the starting lineup page I knew I'd picked right. Even after all these years I still remember Lynn, Leigh, Quorb... Ryan as the starting pitcher. It's definitely time to play ball!

Sponsored by Saiko?
I managed to hit a home run! You get treated to a little montage with confetti and some scoreboard animations.

One thing I remembered was how stupidly overpowered the K closer was. He threw underhand and had a really fast fastball. You hold up to throw hard and to throw high and it just combines very well with an underhanded pitcher to be practically unhittable by a human player. The computer didn't do much better here!
I ended up barely winning the game (I actually had a big lead but then had a bit of a bad inning in the 8th. My closer was only good for one inning it turned out and I tried to play him in the 7th and 8th and it went poorly.) But the real question is... Did I play a perfect game?!?

Turns out no. Not even close. I struck out 7 times, hit a guy, and walked a guy. It was an intentional walk (runner on 2nd, 1 out, and his pitcher was on deck) but the game still dinged me 3 points for it. Sigh.

At any rate I have absolutely no desire to play a second game. It was an interesting nostalgic trip but the game hasn't actually aged all that well. Pitching isn't as robust as I'd like now. No curve balls. No real way to throw high and slow or low and fast. But for the time it was pretty fun.

Rating: C