Saturday, October 26, 2013

#72: Soul Blazer

Such a simple sword for a sword blazer.
I love a lot of games on the Super Nintendo but there aren't very many that bring back memories the way Soul Blazer does. It had a really interesting way of building up a world and that stuck with me over all these years. The basic idea is there are little circles that spawn monsters inside of dungeons. Kill all the monsters that spawn and you can step on the circle to seal it. Sometimes this would open up a new path to travel in the dungeon and sometimes it would release the soul of a creature from town. That soul would appear back in town along with nearby things like a building or a bridge or a set of stairs. You could go back and talk to all of them. Some existed just to add atmosphere to the town. Some existed as part of an end game gathering quest. Most importantly some served to progress the plot and/or open up new dungeons. So the game basically plays out with you hacking monsters in a dungeon for a bit, then going back to town to check out all the souls you saved, then going back into a dungeon. Repeat as necessary.

Old woman sells medicinal herbs!
I didn't remember much about the game beyond the basics of releasing souls. The opening music was immediately familiar, but not from Soul Blazer... No, this music was from ActRaiser! Another game that alternated between fighting monsters and a unique way of building a town. Another game by Enix, actually. It didn't take long for them to link the games together in other ways. In ActRaiser you play as 'The Master' who is essentially the God of that world. You would sent your power down to inhabit statues to beat up the monsters. In Soul Blazer you take the form of a human avatar of a heavenly being but you get to commune with 'The Master'. In both games The Master has apparently failed as all living things have been sealed away by evil. But with a little help from an angel the day can be saved! It also felt like they flat out stole a lot of the sounds and animations for things like enemies dying, and shooting projectiles, and spawning from a lair.
Suck it, Deathtoll!
I saw this game was coming up today and spent all week playing it instead of just popping it in for a bit in the afternoon. Soul Blazer is worth the attention. The story is interesting enough, but a little preachy. The plot is about a scientist who invents a machine that lets evil take over the world. The moral of the story is that science is bad and faith is good. A pretty terrible moral, actually. The ending has the player character fall in love with a human girl. The Master sees this and decides the player character isn't worthy of being a heavenly being and casts him out of heaven to go live with the girl. Sounds good, actually! Oh, except The Master wipes out all of his memories. She still knows he's the angel/man/hero who saved the world but he doesn't remember it. He doesn't even remember her. But she loves him and he's an amnesiac so they obviously live together in the end.

The game is a pretty standard adventure RPG game. Swing your sword, cast your spells. Find the pattern for the boss fights and execute them in order to dish out more damage than you take. Level up some if you need the extra health. Inventory management is a real pain, unfortunately. If you find a key you need to go through the effort of equipping the key to your one item slot before you can unlock the door. Then you need to switch your item slot back to the one useful item.

There are 6 levels of souls to save and then a final dungeon. Each level has it's own theme and story, though they are all pretty derivative. A member of Dr Leo's entourage was in the town and had a gem. The ruler of the town falsely imprisoned them to take the gem, all of which led to the huge downfall of the world. Save people, eventually save Leo's friend, save the now apologetic rules, get the gem. But even though they were all basically the same story the details were different enough in each town to feel like something new was going on.

Is Soul Blazer the best game ever? No. But it's a fun game with a really interesting and unique premise. A lot like ActRaiser in that way, actually. It's pretty telling I think that there's only been two games out of seventy-two thus far that I felt compelled to play through to completion and it's those two games. I came close on Link to the Past and I only skipped out on Final Fantasy IV because I'd just played it but the fact still remains that only ActRaiser and Soul Blazer captured my memory enough to get me to want to play it through, and were good enough to make me stick with them.

Rating : S-

Saturday, October 19, 2013

#71: Rampart

There are some sounds that stick with me for no discernible reason. I wouldn't have been able to describe the opening sound for Rampart before I played it today. Even now, 40 minutes later, I can't describe it at all. But as soon as it started playing I knew right away that it was time to build cannons and destroy my brother's walls.

Unfortunately I don't have a brother here so I can't destroy his walls. Instead I was stuck destroying these little boats that kept swarming my island. Stupid little boats. Stop attacking me! Shooting the little boats wasn't actually very fun. Targeting is quantized and not along the right grid to make it clear where to shoot to sink a boat. If they started moving it was right out. Even now I don't know if I needed to hit them multiple times, or if there was a chance to miss, or if I was just aiming badly. I ended up just unloading tons of bullets at each boat and taking many waves to kill them all. This is made easier by building more cannons every wave, I guess...

The other aspect of the game is the rebuild your walls stage. You get given a random piece of size 1 to 5 which you can rotate. You can't build over existing stuff like cannons, castles, or fires. Surround extra castles for bonus points and extra cannons! This aspect was actually really stressful. Am I going to get the piece I need? Can I mash buttons fast enough putting pieces into any legal spot to try to search for the right piece? Is it even possible to succeed? (Fires along the coast could make it impossible to fix a give castle.) Fail to surround any castle and lose.

I remember liking Rampart as a kid, and it was still ok even now. I suspect it would have been better with a second player? Even alone, this would have been a definite rental.

It even had actual voices! CEASE! FIRE!

Rating: B+

Saturday, October 12, 2013

#70: Mario Paint

I remember renting Mario Paint as a kid, because it came in a stupidly big box compared to other games. This is because it came packaged with a mouse and pad. This game was the first time I ever used a mouse (the early computers we had all had joysticks as input devices)!

Swat those bugs!
As far as an actual game there isn't much here. There's a fly swatter minigame buried in a submenu where various bugs fly around the screen and you need to use the mouse to hit them while avoiding their projectiles. I was able to play this on my emulator by emulating the SNES mouse with my actual mouse. It turns out after using a mouse for a couple decades the novelty has worn off, so it wasn't actually very fun. The cartridge also came with a drawing program, some animation functions, and a music player...

The music player may be one of the best things to come from the SNES. There are people who use it to play songs from other things. Songs like the one above from Final Fantasy VIII.

Is Mario Paint a game for me? No. Drawing and making music are both things way outside my skillset. Is Mario Paint a good game for someone who would actually use it for more than swatting flies? I believe it is.

Rating: A+

Saturday, October 5, 2013

#69: Magic Sword

Magic Sword is a game I didn't think I'd heard of, and I know I didn't play it as a kid. But the more I played it today, the more familiar it seemed. I feel like maybe I played it on an emulator at University? Or maybe I played a sequel/spin-off? I'm not sure, but it was definitely interesting.
Level Select at the start of the game?
Magic Sword is a single player platformer where you take the role of a scantily clad, muscle bound blonde with a big sword and a shield. There are three buttons. Jump, swing sword, and hurt yourself. I'm sure the hurt myself button pulled off some sort of super move but I never saw it do anything except drain my own health so I stopped using it. The twist for the game is the ability to get an ally who follows you around jumping/attacking when you jump/attack. There seemed to be a large number of potential allies. I know I saw a ninja, a thief, a white mage, a black mage, an ogre, a dragon, a knight, and a girl.
He-Man and She-Ra?
On top of that, there's an item slot which holds one item at a time. What those items do was not clear to me, and I just picked everything up indiscriminately. When an item dropped it was never clear if it was going to be worth points, or restore health, or go into my inventory slot. Or hurt me? I know I lost health sometimes without knowing why. So I just took them all.

The gameplay reminded me a bit of ActRaiser. ActRaiser is my second highest rated game thus far, so that sounds like it should be high praise. But the platforming in ActRaiser was not great. It got such a high rating for the world building and the awesome integration between the two. The platforming here is playable, but with nothing special going on. Jump, attack. Jump, attack. Awkward dodge. Hardware slowdown. Attack.

After each level the game would give little tips about what was going on. So eventually I learned the diamond ring is used to recruit the dragon. The gold book is used to earn more points. The white mage can damage undead while the black mage cannot. Thieves detect trapped treasure chests. Those are the sorts of things I would have written down if I'd rented this game as a kid back in the pre-internet days. And probably would have been enough to let me figure out what was going on. That would add a lot of replayability to the game. I don't really want to keep playing it now, but I think I would have played it a lot back then.

The music is also very good. And also reminded me of ActRaiser. I think it's the organ base to the music maybe? It really fit in with the idea of climbing a tower and killing the undead. I like it.

Rating: A+