Monday, 9 September 2019

Climber (Supervision review)

Developer: Bon Treasure
Publisher: Watara
Released: 1992

Climber is an action game programmed by Yin Yong Qiang, who also coded Delta Hero (1992, Supervision).

You play as a climber and the objective in each of the game's 15 stages is to reach the flag within three minutes. Enemies can be destroyed with your projectile (although fire and water pools must be avoided), and your character can scale walls by shooting anchor climbing tools into them. The level design is above-average and part of its allure is the fact that there's usually multiple routes to beating the stage; this gives the action a neat puzzle element which is great for players that like to beat their best times and rack up points. The gameplay initially shows promise too and for the first few levels the simple premise has an addictive 1980's Arcade-like quality that's aided by unlimited continues. By Stage 5 though, it adds in new mechanics that are required to succeed and unfortunately these aren't explained to the player in-game or in the manual (e.g. learning that you can purposely fall off a ledge and then use your jump mechanic at any time in the air). It's also never clear which blocks you can break with your tools to form a new path, leading to lots of wasted time. Furthermore, the game is let-down by sub-standard coding and the technical deficiencies on display here are really unforgivable. For starters, the controls are often unresponsive and your character usually needs some serious persuasion to turn on a dime; this is confounded further when too many sprites are on-screen, and to top it off there's frequently a mixture of slowdown and sprite flickering. The collision detection is also shoddy and you'll sometimes find yourself losing a life despite clear distance between yourself and an incoming enemy; on other occasions, your sprite will clip straight through an opponent while you safely walk away unharmed!

Climber is a solid concept with intriguing level design, but the dodgy coding really puts a dampener on the whole experience. Its appealing premise is majorly let-down by unintuitive gameplay and dreadful controls, and most times you lose a life will be the result of technical shortcomings rather than poor skill on behalf of the player.

Random trivia: The ending features an unintentionally hilarious screen that states: 'Man participated in this game'!

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Mario Tennis (N64 review)

Developer: Camelot
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 2000

Mario Tennis is a sports game that features the very first appearance of Waluigi.

Tournament mode (singles or doubles) has six cups with three matches each. There's 20 characters and alongside the usual shots (e.g. top spin, slice) is a powerful charge shot that's executed by holding down a button. Unlike later Mario Tennis games which rely on gimmicks, this is a purer version of the sport that arguably places a greater emphasis on skill; I found this to be more enjoyable as you can focus on tactics without a random event interfering. The characters play completely different to each other and I love how they're vulnerable against certain shots as it gives the matches a puzzle-like element. The biggest motivating factor to completing the game with each character is to see their trophy celebrations which are hilarious! Ring Shot mode tasks you with collecting a certain number of rings by hitting the ball through them while battling an opponent: It's a clever idea, as you have to adjust your mindset towards working with your foe, before turning on them to win the point! It's also a great training tool for learning how shot selection, distance and speed can alter the flight / path of the ball. In Piranha Challenge, 50 balls are randomly launched towards you and you must hit as many as possible past the other player; it's a mediocre diversion and after a handful of tries you'll likely stick to the more substantial modes. Bowser Stage sees you playing matches on shifting courts that include power-ups such as Bolts (stuns opponents) and Stars (increases power). It's carnage due to the amount of things happening, but the chaos breeds fun and hilarity due to the unpredictable nature of each point.

Mario Tennis is a terrific sports title that still plays well today and its basic approach is refreshing in a series that has since adopted a more unrealistic tone. The gameplay is entertaining across all character types and the package is complimented by well-executed mini-games that are wholly addictive in their own right.

Random trivia: Extra courts and characters can be unlocked by using the N64 Transfer Pak and the Game Boy Color version of Mario Tennis (2001).

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Strider (Sega Master System review)

Developer: Tiertex
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1991

Strider is an action game that was originally released in the Arcades in 1989.

As a defender of justice named Hiryu, your mission is to battle through five stages to stop the evil Grand Master Meio from taking over the world. Your main attack is a sword, but Hiryu can also slide into enemies, or power-up with robot allies to help you in battle. The level design does an admirable job of replicating all five stages from the coin-op original, albeit it in heavily condensed format (e.g. the rotating gear platforms in Stage 2 are entirely absent). In most sections, the difficulty is lower than the original, mainly due to the lack of enemies on screen at the same time; this is presumably a sprite limitation, but to be fair it does make the action more accessible than the coin munching Arcade game. However, the action is slow and includes various bottomless pits where you need to take a leap of faith due to not being able to see what lies beneath you. There's also a dreaded and inconsistent timer which is generous in some sections and overly stringent in others; for example, in the finale of Stage 3 you pretty much have to plough through enemies and take damage on your way to the boss, otherwise you'll run out of time! Speaking of bosses, each one is a classic case of poor design, as they can be beaten simply by button mashing from a stationary position; there's literally no point in trying to employ strategy for them, as most give you no room to move, meaning you'll take damage and lose a life unless you hammer the attack button. Hiryu's animation is stuttery, but the worst offender is his overly floaty jump which can frequently place you in harms way due to him taking forever to land on his feet!

Strider is a brave attempt to condense an Arcade powerhouse into an 8-bit version, but unfortunately it's an ill-conceived mess and it quickly becomes apparent that the under-powered console just isn't up to the job. Its only redeeming quality is its tight level design, but even that can't save it from complete mediocrity.

Random trivia: The game features a hidden level select feature that can be accessed by pressing certain button combinations on boot-up.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (N64 review)

Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 2000

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is a platformer that was originally planned for release on the N64's 64DD add-on.

Your mission is to recover all of the crystal shards that have shattered across the game's seven planets and stop the sinister Dark Matter from using them for evil. As usual, Kirby can swallow enemies to copy their abilities, but this time two power-ups can be combined to create more devastating attacks. The level design is some of the best in the whole series with inviting worlds and shifting scenery that makes you want to keep playing to see what's ahead. Highlights include a fun water raft ride where you attempt to jump over enemies and obstacles while collecting health items, and another adorable moment where you hop into an aquarium! In a neat twist, there's even some sections where you can play as King Dedede and use his hammer to smash everything in sight! As with most games in the Kirby series, the action is on the easy side; however, the replayability comes from combining abilities and trying out different methods of attacking each of the game's challenges. Likewise, the optional task of locating all three shard pieces in each stage is another motivator to return to previously beaten levels. The graphics shine due to their bright, colourful aesthetics, and despite the shifting perspective of the 2.5D engine, the camera does a very good job of positioning. In terms of combat, the bosses are the clear star of the show thanks to their interesting attack patterns that pose a decent challenge on first attempt. Many of these bosses will be familiar to Kirby fans, but the developers made sure to add some cool twists, such as the Whispy Woods battle that takes place on a fixed, spherical plane.

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is more of a refinement for the series than an evolution, but that doesn't mean it's not a mightily impressive game. In particular, it features top-notch level design and interesting ability combinations that top off a fun adventure already filled with a ridiculous amount of charm and personality.

Random trivia: Three lacklustre mini-games are tucked away in the options menu (100-Yard Hop, Bumper Crop Bump, and Checker Board Chase).

Monday, 19 August 2019

Kid Chameleon (Sega Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Sega Technical Institute
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1992

Kid Chameleon is an action-platformer that's exclusive to Sega's 16-bit console.

Children are being abducted inside a new virtual reality game called Wild Side and it's your job to rescue them and defeat the boss Heady Metal. There's 103 levels and the objective in each is to reach the flag within the time limit. Kid's main attack is to bounce on enemies, but he can also transform into various characters including a fly that can stick to walls, and a tank that fires skull bombs. The game's main strength is its astonishing amount of variety, predominantly in the excellent level design which constantly mixes things up. Likewise, each stage packs a solid challenge, but is just the right length to stop you from getting too frustrated. There are so many ways to beat each level thanks to the multitude of characters and it makes the environment feel like an alluring playground rather than a scripted 'point A to point B' affair. I also like how you don't have to follow the exact route to the flag, and instead the game has plenty of secrets and hidden areas. The adventure is huge with 103 levels to beat, although a major oversight is the lack of a save or password feature to continue your game. It does stumble at times too, such as when completion of a level requires a specific character power-up that's hidden inside an invisible block. In general, the controls are responsive, but personally I found the jumping mechanics to be a bit slippery which certainly doesn't help when dealing with pixel perfect leaps. The bosses pack a good punch though and it's fun running around the smaller environments to see which character power-ups are available and how you can strategically use them in battle.

Kid Chameleon is a terrific action-platformer with outstanding level design, neat character power-ups and a ton of content that will keep you occupied for a long time. It does pack a serious challenge (and could have used a password system), but the bite-sized approach helps to alleviate some of the exasperation you'll undoubtedly encounter!

Random trivia: In Japan, the game was released as Chameleon Kid.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Woody Pop (Sega Game Gear review)

Developer: Sega R&D2
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1991

Woody Pop is a block breaking game that was originally released in Japan on the Sega Mark III (1987).

The Mad Machine is attempting to eliminate the Enchanted Mansion and you must complete 50 levels to foil its plans. The objective in each is to continually bounce a ball off your paddle in order to break all of the coloured bricks. To help, various items are available such as Flames (burns all the blocks above and below it) and Glue (the ball sticks to your paddle). The level design is fantastic and includes a wide variety of layouts and hazards to ensure the action never gets dull. The enemies are only released when you hit a '?' box, and while that might sound like a bad idea the neat twist is that you'll rack up higher scores by downing them (including whacking them with your paddle if they get too close!). The items are a highlight and I love that you can combine them for an ultra powerful attack. Cleverly, the game doesn't always give you items and in certain screens you'll have no choice but to rely on pure skill and fast reactions as the ball continues to speed up. On other occasions, it restricts them and only throws in a barrage of Hammers and Skulls that either widen or shorten the pit beneath you! The controls offer a good level of precision and your bat can be moved across the playfield at high speed with an acceptable degree of accuracy. A welcome feature is the unlimited continues, as it encourages you to keep playing to beat tough levels while resetting your high score at the same time. Also, the ability to choose which direction to move next after beating a level adds much in the way of replayability, as it makes you want to return to see what screens you missed.

Woody Pop certainly takes its cues from Arkanoid (1986, Arcades), but it does have a number of standout features that set it apart, namely its unique scoring mechanics and the ability to fuse items. There's plenty of content here too, and the tight level design and unlimited continues make for some enjoyable block breaking action.

Random trivia: The Sega Mark III version requires the use of the Paddle Control.

Monday, 15 July 2019

Strider (Sega Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Sega R&D2
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1990

Strider is an action game that was originally released in the Arcades in 1989.

As a defender of justice named Hiryu, your mission is to battle through five stages to stop the evil Grand Master Meio from taking over the world. Your main attack is a sword, but Hiryu can also slide into enemies, or power-up with robot allies that help you in battle. The best way to describe Strider's gameplay would be stiff and its main issue regards the jumping mechanics, as once you've committed to leaping through the air there's no way to adjust your flight; this leads to many unfair hits where enemies suddenly appear from off-screen while you're in mid-air. The action also demands complete perfection and the only way to succeed is through trial-and-error rather than pure skill. There's also frequent and random pauses in the action while the next part of the level loads, as well as a ton of slowdown during boss fights. The main highlight is the level variety which includes jungle and city rooftop stages, while adding environmental factors such as lightning and shifting gravity into the mix. There's also some awesome set-pieces (e.g. jumping between helicopters while battling in the sky), as well as cut-scenes to tie the story together. Another key feature is the multiple bosses you'll face in each stage, as many times you'll think the level is over, only for it to continue onward into another epic battle! The sprites are impressively large (especially the bosses), the animation is detailed and the backgrounds have a ton of layers to give the stages added depth. The music is atmospheric, but weirdly there's only minimal SFX which makes it difficult to tell if you're actually inflicting damage during a boss fight.

Strider has the flashy visuals and intriguing level design, but things start to fall apart once you delve into the gameplay department. Forced trial-and-error can be forgiven if your character is given the right tools for the job, but despite his acrobatic move-set your control over Hiryu is extremely rigid, in turn, dampening most of the fun.

Random trivia: An 8-bit Sega Master System port was released in 1991.

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