Friday, 30 September 2016

Faceball (Virtual Boy review)

Developer: Bullet-Proof Software
Publisher: Bullet-Proof Software
Released: N/A
 

Faceball (known in Japan as NikoChan Battle) is an unreleased first-person maze shooter that was supposed to be published in 1996.


In Normal mode, there's four stages (with 14 mazes each) and the objective in each maze is to shoot all enemies within 99 seconds. Up and Down on the d-pad moves you forwards and backwards, while Left and Right turns your character. What's rare for the system is that you can use both d-pads at the same time to run or strafe. The triggers fire your weapon and the A button activates power-ups (Speed Increase, Shield or Freeze) that are obtained. A handy map shows nearby enemies, but it doesn't display walls, some of which need to be shot to reach your opponent. The controls are brilliant and once you get used to moving both d-pads in unison it's a blast to run around the mazes, dodging enemy attacks with swift manoeuvres and ducking out of cover to fire back. While the scrolling is a bit choppy it's smoother than Insmouse no Yakata (1995, Virtual Boy) and you can circle around in a 360° motion instead of only four directions. The maps aren't particularly interesting (mainly due to the untextured walls), but the range of enemies are what keeps the game fun, as each has their own unique abilities that must be learnt to beat the clock. For example, Shieldma hides behind a shield and occasionally pops out of cover to shoot, while Stalker is only represented by a shadow on the ground and requires several hits to kill. Disappointingly, the maze layouts remain the same across all four stages, and the only difference is that your opponents move faster; this means there's not as much content as it initially seems and instead the stages basically amount to difficulty settings. Arena mode is presumably the unfinished two-player option and although you can cycle through 13 different characters and customise your game settings it always starts you at Stage 1-1 of the Normal mode.
 
Faceball is a simple, yet addictive shooter that could have been a top-tier game if it weren't for the severe lack of content. Despite this, it's still fun in short bursts and it's tantalising to imagine how epic it would have been in Arena multiplayer mode if the Virtual Boy's link cable was ever released!



Random trivia: A remastered version of the game was developed by thunderstruck of the Planet VB forums that included extra levels and bug fixes.

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