Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I don't know about you, but I'm absolutely thrilled we're swimming in actual SaGa as well as SaGa-inspired games at the moment

I've been keenly interested in Square Enix's SaGa series of bizarro RPGs for a long time now.

Makai Toushi SaGa, a GameBoy title that was rebranded The Final Fantasy Legend before it crossed the pond, introduced me to its wonders all the way back in 1990, but only barely.

I didn't fall head over heels in love with the series until I first laid eyes on Romancing SaGa for the Super Famicom.

That's not to say I've spent a lot of time with that 1992 release. Oh, I've tried, but even with my limited--very limited--understanding of Japanese, all of the text Romancing SaGa throws at you is daunting, to say the least.

Still, Romancing SaGa turned me on to just how beautifully strange an RPG can be in the right hands (especially if those hands belong to the one and only Akitoshi Kawazu)--a point that was driven home during my first playthrough of a game that is now one of my all-time favorites, SaGa Frontier.

Sadly, the series has languished in the wake of that late-1990s offering. Although eight SaGa titles were published (in Japan, at least) between 1989 and 2000, only five have come out in the 18 years since--one of which was a remake of an older effort and two of which depressingly avoided consoles.

Amazingly, other developers have stepped into the void in recent years to provide the world with their own SaGa-esque role-players. The Legend of Legacy was the first of these quirky RPGs to hit the market (back in 2015), and while it didn't quite live up to its initial hype, it proved to be an enjoyable enough experience despite its drawbacks.

That game's just-released (outside of Japan) spiritual successor, The Alliance Alive, is an even better "SaGa-like," in my opinion. It's far less experimental, and a lot more straightforward, than The Legend of Legacy, but both of those qualities work in its favor and help it feel like the best SaGa game not made by the aforementioned Kawazu.

You should expect to see more posts about The Alliance Alive here in the coming days and weeks, by the way. I'm so in love with the game after putting more than 60 hours into it that I've got to gush about it a bit.

Speaking of SaGa-ish games I've got to gush about, or that I've got a feeling I'm going to gush about shortly after I start playing them, Octopath Traveler for the Switch is due out in just under two months. I couldn't be more excited about it, to be honest--especially since it looks to be even more akin to the SaGa games of old than The Alliance of Alive.

Will I be gushing about the last "real" SaGa title, SaGa: Scarlet Grace, sooner rather than later, too? It sure seems like it. No less than Kawazu himself recently revealed on Twitter that an English localization of the game is being worked on as we speak.

And then, of course, there's the Romancing SaGa 3 remake that was announced early last year for mobile and Vita. It's also being prepped for a Western release--although no one outside Square Enix seems to know when that will happen (or if it'll hit systems like the PS4, Switch, and Xbox One as well).

Regardless, it's now abundantly clear that the SaGa, er, saga is far from over. I don't know about you, but that thrills me to no end. You can keep your paint-by-numbers RPGs; I'll take weirdo releases like The Alliance Alive, Octopath Traveler, and SaGa: Scarlet Grace over them any day of the week.

How many of you feel the same way?

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The walls of our home won't be complete until one of them sports a pixelated portrait of Ellen Ripley from Konami's Aliens arcade game

I've had a bit of a "thing" for the Alien and Aliens films since I watched them for the first time as a teenager.

You'd think that would mean I've long had a similar thing for games inspired by those flicks, but it doesn't.

There have been a few exceptions, of course. Sega's Alien Syndrome and Alien Storm are two examples. Xenophobe is another.

None of the above compete with Konami's Aliens quarter-muncher from 1990, however. OK, so it takes some liberties with the source material. It's such a blast to play, though, that I don't have any problems overlooking those "creative differences."

It's also gorgeous, of course, with wonderfully detailed backdrops and sprites that evoke the 1986 movie that spawned it.

Apparently Atlanta-based artist Ashley Anderson agrees with that last tidbit. After all, he recently referenced the above-mentioned Aliens arcade game in the acrylic painting that can be seen below.

Before you go and think this is just some paint-by-numbers copycat, consider what Anderson said about it on Instagram:

"I limited my palette this time to traditional portrait colors, prussian blue (to mix with umber to make chromatic blacks), titanium white (for opacity), and zinc white (for warmth and translucence)."

As much as I like this piece, I like this next one, which Anderson calls "Ellen (Withering Heights)," even more.

For the curious: Anderson made "Ellen (Withering Heights)" using color pencil on toned paper.

I'm also quite fond of the similar "Sigourney Weaver," below, from 2010:

Anderson produced it using graphite on paper.

As for what prompted him to go down this particular path eight or so years ago, the artist shared the following explanation on Flickr:

"In keeping with my interest in pixellation's relationship with painting and its mechanics [and] traditions, I have begun collecting images of recognizable personalities as they are depicted in games and drawing them as one might create a portrait drawing from a photograph or a live sitter."

Want to see more of Anderson's pixelated depictions of the Aliens protagonist? Check out "Ellen (Ms X #1)" and "Ellen as April as Ellen."

Consider scouring his Instagram and Flickr photostreams, too. Both are filled with fascinating, game-inspired works of art.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Nice Package! (Banishing Racer, GameBoy)

The first time I laid my eyes on Banishing Racer's box cover (don't ask me when, it's all a blur now), I thought, I need to have that!

Mind you, this was before I'd played even a single second of the game. And it was before I discovered just how much you have to pay for a copy of it these days, too.

Back then, though, neither of those things mattered. All I cared about was the brilliantly colorful illustration that's showcased in the photo below.

OK, so I also liked its name. Banishing Racer. Or Vanishing Racer, as some prefer. Not that the latter makes any more sense than the former.

Whatever. I thought it was silly. And kind of appropriate, considering the game is a bizarre side-scroller that stars an anthropomorphic car. (The cross-eyed green one that's front and center on the Banishing Racer cover, above.)

If a platformer with a four-wheeled protagonist sounds somewhat familiar, that's probably because you've played-or heard of--another Jaleco-made game, 1985's City Connection.

Although I don't believe the now-defunct developer and publisher ever specifically declared Banishing Racer to be an official or even spiritual follow-up to that arcade (as well as Famicom and NES) classic, it sure seems like it at least has to be the latter.

Regardless, this Japan-only GameBoy release is a unique and mostly entertaining offering.

I say "mostly" here because controlling the begloved bug--or whatever type of auto it's supposed to be--that serves as Banishing Racer's main character isn't always effortless, the game's difficulty wavers wildly between cakewalk easy and pull-your-hair-out tough, and it includes a measly 15 stages (a couple of which are painfully short).

But it also looks and sounds great (see and hear what I mean by checking out this Banishing Racer longplay), plus it's simply fun to play a side-scrolling action game in which you're plopped into the shoes--or, erm, wheels--of something other than a person or an animal.

For me, Banishing Racer's positive attributes outweigh its negative ones in the end, although I acknowledge that not everyone feels this way. The proprietor of one of my favorite retro-gaming blogs, VGJUNK, certainly doesn't share my love of this cart, and I've had conversations with a number of other folks who similarly turn their noses up at it.

I'll bet even they have a soft spot for Banishing Racer's box art, though; and its cartridge label and instruction manual cover, too.

Disappointingly, the Banishing Racer manual isn't as wonderful as you probably expect it to be given the game's key art. It's not terrible, but it's also not chock-full of grin-inducing illustrations. Don't take my word for it; you can decide for yourself when I feature it in an upcoming "Manual Stimulation" post.

In the meantime, what do all of you think of the Banishing Racer packaging shots showcased in this post? And what do you think of the game itself, if you've ever played it?

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts about Burning Paper, Noobow, Penguin-kun Wars, and Shippo de Bun

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Lolo no Daibouken (GameBoy)

It pains me to admit this, but as much as I've always loved the idea of HAL Laboratory's Adventures of Lolo (or Eggerland) games, I've never been very good at them.

In fact, no matter which one I play, I only ever seem to get a handful of levels in before I bail because I become hopelessly stuck.

That includes, of course, the game that's the focus of this blog post, 1994's Lolo no Daibouken (Lolo's Great Adventure, basically).

Thankfully, I was pretty sure that would be the case when I bought the copy that provided me with the instruction manual you see here.

Speaking of this manual, it was one of the main reasons I picked up Lolo no Daibouken. So many Japanese GameBoy instruction booklets have blown me away in recent years; surely this one would continue that trend, right?

Sadly, I can't say it does. The Lolo no Daibouken manual is by no means a dud, but it's also not as fabulous as I expected it to be.

It certainly gets off to a good start, with the beautiful cover that can be seen in the first scan above.

After that, though, there's nary an illustration of Lolo or Lala to be found--other than the one that appears in the upper-left corner of nearly every page.

That's quite a missed opportunity on the part of publisher Imagineer, if you ask me. I can't help but wonder if the manual that accompanied the game's European release, which was published by Nintendo in 1995, is better in this regard or if it's similarly disappointing.

Oh, well, at least readers get to ogle a bunch of rose-tinged screenshots, right?

I say that somewhat facetiously, although I've also got to admit some of the screen grabs that are used near the end of the Lolo no Daibouken manual are pretty darn nice.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I like the ones of the game's enemies the best. Still, I would've preferred seeing those baddies depicted using good old pen and ink.

Now that you've had a chance to take it all in, what do you think of the Lolo no Daibouken instruction manual? And what do you think of the game itself--if you've ever played it?

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Bubble Bobble Junior, Penguin LandSnow Bros. Jr., and Tumblepop

Friday, March 23, 2018

Just in the nick of time: I recently bought six old games (that I've never played) from the Wii eShop before Nintendo shuts it down for good

Is it wrong--or weird--that I'm sad the Wii eShop is about to go kaput?

I mean, the thing has been chugging along since late 2006. A part of me honestly (if also deludedly) thought Nintendo would never shut it down--or at least it wouldn't shut it down for many years to come.

And yet here we are, just a few days away from Nintendo basically pulling the plug on it, once and for all.

I say "basically" because the Wii eShop (or the Wii Shop Channel, if you're a stickler for using official terms) will still function--partially--after March 26. You'll still be able to re-download WiiWare and Virtual Console titles you previously bought. You'll still be able to use Wii Points purchased before March 26 to pick up WiiWare and Virtual Console titles, too.

You won't, however, be able to buy (or otherwise add) Wii Points to your system after that date, which means for most folks the Wii eShop will soon be as dead as the DSi Shop.

With that in mind, I dumped a last chunk of dough into the aforementioned Wii Points over the past couple of weekends. And then I promptly used them to purchase a handful of old games I've long wanted to play.

The games in question:

Kirby 64 (Nintendo 64)--It shouldn't be too much of a surprise to hear I've never played this platformer. I pretty much ignored the Kirby series until Canvas Curse was released in 2005, and since then I've jumped all over the place--from Epic Yarn, to Adventure, to Dream Land, to Planet Robobot. To be honest, I never even considered trying Kirby 64 before a friend brought it up on Twitter. His recommendation was so heartfelt that I decided to get off my butt and give it a go. More than four hours later, I've got to say I'm enjoying the hell out of it. It's one of the slowest side-scrollers I've ever played, but every other component is so pleasing that its lack of pace isn't bothering me at all.

Military Madness (TurboGrafx-16)--I've known since this game was first released in 1989 that it was a turn-based strategy game of the highest order. The thing is, I've only ever liked strategy games that are at least a little bit cute--with Nintendo's Advance Wars series being a good example. For whatever reason, the impending closure of the Wii eShop prompted me to rethink that practice. Now I've just got to get myself to not only start it, but hopefully finish it as well. Here's hoping I do just that--and soon.

Phantasy Star (Sega Master System)--Although I was a huge NES fanboy during the 8-bit era, that didn't keep me from desperately wanting to play Phantasy Star. Unfortunately, it was one of the only Master System games I wanted to play at the time. As such, I never got around to buying a Master System or a copy of Phantasy Star. Thanks to the Virtual Console, I didn't need to waste my money on either. Instead, all I had to do was buy 500 points on the Wii eShop and then download a digital version of the game. I've already put about five hours into that ROM, by the way, and so far I'm loving almost every aspect of it. The only thing that bugs me about Phantasy Star at the moment: there are times when battles pop up so frequently (every step or two) that I want to pull out my hair.

Princess Tomato in Salad Kingdom (NES)--Of all the old games discussed here, this is the only one I've previously played. Even then, though, I only barely played it. In fact, if memory serves, I rented it just once, from a grocery store my parents frequented at the time. (Actually, it's still their go-to grocer, though it not longer rents out video games.) Despite that, I remember liking the little I experienced of Princess Tomato. So why did I wait until Nintendo's announcement that it's pulling the plug on the Wii Shop Channel to return to it? I honestly have no idea. Better late than never, though, wouldn't you agree?

Shining in the Darkness (Genesis)--It's hard for me to believe I've never even booted up this game before now given my love of the Shining Force series. I guess I just wasn't that into dungeon-crawlers until fairly recently; and even after I turned that corner, I wasn't in the mood to give this particular example of the genre a try. Speaking of which, I kind of think I should start Shining in the Darkness as soon as I wrap up my Phantasy Star playthrough. The latter title's first-person dungeons have so enthralled me thus far that I wouldn't be surprised if I continue to be hungry for more after I reach its ending.

Super Mario RPG (SNES)--How many of you gasped or frowned or opened your eyes as wide as possible when you realized I've never played this classic? I can't believe it myself, to tell you the truth. One of the only reasons I can offer up as to why I've ignored it for so long is that it must have come out at a time when my attention was elsewhere. As for all the years that have passed since then, well, would you believe me if I said its visuals haven't aged well in my eyes? That's rarely kept me from spending time with other, lesser games, though, so I'm no longer going to let it keep me from spending time with Super Mario RPG.

See also: 'What kind of idiot buys Final Fantasy IV: The After Years WiiWare episodes in 2018? This kind!'