Sunday, November 17, 2019

To the person who pointed out two pages were missing from my post about the Magical Puzzle Popils manual: that's no longer the case

Three or so years ago, someone pointed out that two pages of the Magical Puzzle Popils instruction booklet were missing from this old "Manual Stimulation" post of mine.

Unfortunately, that comment came in while my husband and I were on sabbatical. I didn't have my copy of this Sega Game Gear puzzler or access to a scanner at the time, so I couldn't rectify the situation then.

I finally rectified it the other day, but who knows if the person who made me aware of the gaffe is still waiting to see the full Magical Puzzle Popils manual?

In the off chance they are, I decided to publish the post you're reading right now to let them know it's finally available in all its "Magical Guide" glory. (Click on the link above to see it.)

That's not the only reason I'm publishing this post, though. I'm also doing so because I want more people to know about this wonderful Game Gear title, which the late, great Fukio Mitsuji developed for the now-defunct Tengen.

If Mitsuji's name doesn't ring a bell, he's the brainchild behind two games you should know well: Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands.

Unlike that pair of Mitsuji creations, Magical Puzzle Popils, renamed Popils: The Blockbusting Challenge when it hit European store shelves in 1992, challenges your brain rather than your reflexes.

Popils is just as cute as those classics, though, if not quite as kaleidoscopically colorful. It also matches their blissful soundtracks.

Add it all up, and you've got one of my five favorite Game Gear games. Is the Magical Puzzle Popils instruction manual a favorite, too? I'll let you be the judge of that.

See also: five Game Gear games you need to play as soon as possible

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Manual Stimulation: Banishing Racer (GameBoy)

Given the brilliance of Banishing Racer's box art, its instruction booklet must be similarly magnificent, right?

To be completely honest, I find the Banishing Racer manual a bit disappointing.

I say that mainly because I love every other aspect of this Japan-only GameBoy game, published by Jaleco Entertainment during the summer of 1991. To me, Banishing Racer's cover art, in-game graphics, soundtrack, and even story are marvelous.

The kookiness that's on full display in each of the above-mentioned areas is barely noticeable while flipping through the game's instruction manual.

The story spread of the Banishing Racer manual is a welcome exception, thanks to the portraits that sit behind the text.

Speaking of which, that's not City Connection's Clarice on the left, is it? I know it doesn't look like her, but you never know--maybe she got her hair done between when that game wrapped up and this one began.

I know it's not always easy to spruce up the pages of a game manual that tell readers how things work, but surely this one's designers could've offered up something more than a simple--and small--rendering of the GameBoy hardware?

Here comes my favorite page of any game manual that's worth its salt--the page that showcases the game's items.

Unfortunately, Banishing Racer features just three items. A bit of a head-scratcher considering the game is a side-scroller, don't you think?

The Banishing Racer instruction booklet wraps up with a look at the game's five stages, each of which consist of three areas.

These stages are based on real-life American cities, by the way. Your journey starts in San Francisco and then takes you and your adorably anthropomorphic car character through Las Vegas, Denver, and Detroit, before concluding in New York City.

See also: 'Five more overlooked Japanese GameBoy games you need to play as soon as possible'

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Manual Stimulation: Donkey Kong (GameBoy)

If I could only play one GameBoy game from here on out, of course I'd choose Tetris. Donkey Kong would be my second choice if such naughtiness were allowed, though.

For me, GameBoy Donkey Kong--that's what the manual cover below suggests this version is called, right?--is one of the most perfect portable gaming experiences to be made available to the public.

Does this game's Japanese instruction manual similarly represent perfection? Not in my mind, but don't take that to mean it sucks.

Sure, it pales in comparison to the Burning Paper, Ghostbusters 2, and Snow Bros. Jr. manuals, but it's still more appealing than many others--as the remainder of this post should make clear.

OK, so the first few pages of the Japanese Donkey Kong booklet don't quite make the case for it being any kind of standout among GameBoy manuals.

At least they feature a few illustrations and a good bit of color, though, right?

Things get a little more exciting on the sixth and seventh pages of this particular Donkey Kong manual.

I especially like how the drawings on the next couple of spreads depict the surprisingly athletic moves Mario makes in this 1994 release.

I also like how these pages mix in the odd screenshot to nice effect.

I do wish the artists and designers who worked on the Japanese Donkey Kong instructional manual had whipped up a few illustrations that depicted the game's handful of items, most of which are highlighted on the next handful of pages.

They could've offered up a more interesting representation of the game's map, too. Instead, readers get some black-and-white screen grabs. Yawn.

Hey, did you know the folks at Pax Softonica--or Pax Softnica, as the company's also known--developed GameBoy Donkey Kong?

That name may not ring a bell, but I'll bet these titles do: Balloon KidMole Mania, and Mother (aka EarthBound Beginnings). Pax Softonica made each of those games--and many more. Pretty impressive, eh?

Also impressive, though not nearly as much: the enemy sprites they conjured up for their handheld take on Nintendo's famous Donkey Kong IP.

I don't know about you, but I've always had a soft spot for that ladybug, in particular.

The GameBoy iteration of Donkey Kong wraps up by naming the people (primarily?) responsible for the game's creation. That's not something you often see in Nintendo-published titles, so I think it's pretty cool this one is an exception.

See also: Balloon Kid, Hoshi no Kirby, Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa and Moguranya manual scans

Thursday, November 07, 2019

You press a button to hold hands, plus four more reasons I can't stop thinking about and playing The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince

I've got to admit: I hemmed and hawed quite a bit when it came to buying a physical copy of The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince early this year.

Why? Although I've thoroughly enjoyed a number of Nippon Ichi Software's smaller offerings, like Cladun and Yomawari, in recent years, this PS4 and Switch game appeared to be inspired by, if not directly related to, the much-maligned htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary and A Rose in the Twilight.

I've yet to play either of those pretty puzzler-platformers, sadly, but I've read and heard enough about both of them to get the feeling they may not be my cup of tea.

Still, The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince's announcement trailer made it seem so damn charming that in the end I couldn't keep myself from pre-ordering a copy.

Fast forward to today, and I just finished playing through the game for a second time.

I've been thinking of doing so since I wrapped up my first playthrough shortly after it released in my neck of the woods. Why? Here are the main reasons I've had The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince on the brain for most of 2019.

I think its story is the sweetest I've ever encountered in a game--Honestly, this is the reason I haven't been able to get The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince off my mind this year. It feels kind of silly to say so given the story here is little more than a fairy tale. Still, the folks who wrote and localized that tale imbued it with such sincerity and tenderness that it hit my ill-prepared heart like a Mack truck. Their efforts made me truly care about the eponymous characters and their unfortunate situation, and that's not something I can say about the text in many games.

Its gameplay is simple, but not boring--While playing The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince, you spend 90-plus percent of your time performing one or more of these four actions: moving left and right, jumping, holding the prince's hand (but only while you're a princess), and clawing enemies to death (while in wolf-monster form). I'm sure that makes it sound like a snore-fest, but I'm here to tell you it's anything but. Hell, just grabbing the prince's paw and pulling him through each stage is such a thrill for me that I'd be perfectly happy if that were all the game had to offer. That it also provides players with some light platforming, baddie-slashing, and puzzle-solving is the icing on the proverbial cake.

It doesn't overstay its welcome--My two playthroughs of The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince lasted nine-and-a-half hours total. Although I've long championed shorter games, I'd usually balk at one that takes only four or five hours to beat. Especially when its asking price is $40. (Don't worry, that's for the now-out-of-print physical version. Digital copies cost just $20.) Not in this case. In my humble opinion, five hours is the perfect length for this particular title. It allows the endearing story to unfold without completely unraveling. And it keeps the straightforward gameplay from grating or boring. Plus, it entices players to do as I've done and stroll through its otherworldly set pieces multiple times.

It looks marvelous--Not so long ago, I wasn't a fan of the kind of "Flash game" aesthetic showcased in The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince and its ilk, like the aforementioned htoL#NiQ and Yomawari. These titles would look so much better if they were sprite-based, I stupidly thought. At some point, though, I did a 180. I can't tell you when or why, just that it happened. And now? I find this title's hand-drawn, watercolor-esque graphics stunning. The only thing I'd change about them at this point would be to allow players to disable--or, better yet, adjust via a slider--the effect that darkens the edges of the screen. It's fine now and then, but sometimes I'd like to fully see my surroundings, you know?

Its soundtrack is pretty wonderful, too--If your experience with The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince is anything like mine, its background music may seem a bit samey as you work your way through its side-scrolling world. Listen to the soundtrack when you're not worrying about the well-being of the game's, erm, "royal" protagonists, though, and it'll immediately become clear just how varied it is. Some tunes soothe with lilting harp-, guitar-, or flute-focused melodies. Others rouse with triumphant xylophone- or piano-heavy hooks. True, most have a decidedly chill vibe, but they're appealingly distinct when you give them the attention they deserve.

See also: 'Five things that made it really easy for me to put more than 60 hours into The Alliance Alive'

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Six reasons all the people who suggested I'd hate A Witch's Tale were wrong

Shortly after I announced on Twitter that I was starting through A Witch's Tale, my old podcasting pal Mollie Patterson sent me a GIF of Morgan Freeman nodding his head and saying, "Good luck."

She wasn't the first to warn me away from this Hit Maker-developed, Nippon Ichi Software-published Nintendo DS RPG. In fact, I'd say most folks have responded negatively whenever I've expressed an interest in it.

Still, I'm the sort of bloke who prefers to come to his own conclusion about such things. So, true to form, I stubbornly stuck my long-ignored cartridge of A Witch's Tale into my trusty 3DS a couple of weeks ago and prepared for the worst.

Eighteen-ish hours later, I'm here to tell you those naysayers were wrong. Or at least they were wrong to believe I'd hate the game.

On the contrary, I loved it. The more time I spent with A Witch's Tale, the more I enjoyed it. And now that I'm done with it, I can honestly say it's been a highlight of my year. Here are a few reasons why.

It looks lovely--At first glance, A Witch's Tale isn't anything special, aesthetically speaking. Oh, it's colorful and cute, but so are countless other DS titles. What eventually set it apart from the ho-hum pack in my mind was how it deftly combines charming spritework and deliciously lush backdrops. Usually I'm not a fan of this kind of commingling, but it produces eye-popping results with such regularity here that it's easy to embrace.

Its battles really grew on me--Early on in my playthrough of A Witch's Tale, I found its turn-based battles rather annoying. It didn't help that every single action required me to utilize the system's touch screen. I'm fine with that in some DS gaming situations, but it can make for slow-paced fights when shoehorned into an RPG like this one. That's what I thought in the beginning, anyway. My opinion on the matter changed mightily a little later on, though--so much so that I actually relished the occasional tussle as this quirky adventure approached its conclusion.

I especially like how "ancient magic" works in A Witch's Tale--The element that slows down this game's battles the most is called ancient magic. To unleash one of these bigger-than-usual spells on the enemies lined up in front of you, you have to correctly trace a "rune" on your DS' touch screen. It's a source of frustration at the start, as screwing up--and thus failing to send forth a ring of fire, a torrent of water, and the like--is easy as can be if you race through the experience. In time, though, I came to appreciate the careful nature of this aspect of A Witch's Tale--mainly because it keeps you from spamming high-powered magic and forces you to use at least a smidgen of strategy while taking on baddies.

The locations you explore in it are a breath of fresh air--OK, so A Witch's Tale does feature the requisite "snow area." Even then, though, it's more Christmas-y than wintry. The rest of the locales on offer here are not so clichéd. My main--and almost only--complaint with this part of the game is it almost entirely ignores the Halloween-ish Shadow Town. Also, you don't fight any enemies there, which I consider an even bigger missed opportunity. Shouldn't this be where me and my bad-ass doll posse battle the final boss--or at least challenge her second-in-command?

The text is surprisingly witty--No one with any taste is going to tell you A Witch's Tale features the best writing around. They should tell you it's far better than average, though--or far better than you're probably expecting it to be. Speaking of the latter, I went into the game with fairly low expectations in this regard, so that may be why it impressed me as much as it did. At any rate, the thing I like most about this title's localization is that it convincingly transforms the pigtailed protagonist from an annoying brat to, well, someone who still tests your patience but is a lot more likable overall.

It's a properly bite-sized RPG--Although I don't mind playing a lengthy RPG now and then, I far prefer playing ones that take 20 or fewer hours to finish. A Witch's Tale fits this criteria, if only just, but that's not all. It's also designed to accommodate shorter stints of play. Rather than give players an overworld to traverse, it offers them a hub--the aforementioned Shadow Town--that conveniently connects each of the game's six lands. Those lands are fairly well contained, too. Sure, it's possible to get lost in them, but mostly they ensure you move on to the next well before the current one overstays its welcome.

Does all of this mean you'll love A Witch's Tale as much as I did if you give it a try? It could. I think your chances of matching my positive experience will be best, though, if you're the type who likes games that dare to do things differently--even if it doesn't always produce, or even approach, perfection.