Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Second Chances: Bubble Bobble 2 (Famicom)

Given my love of the original Bubble Bobble, you might assume I've adored this pseudo-sequel since the first time I played it. (Don't let its name fool you; Rainbow Islands is the real follow-up to the aforementioned classic.)

In reality, I've attempted to play--and enjoy--Bubble Bobble 2 a number of times since its release 24 years ago. Sadly, each attempt (made via emulation, I have to add; I haven't yet gotten up the nerve to drop a few hundred dollars on a game I've long struggled to like) ended with me shaking my head in disbelief, wondering how the masters at Taito could've screwed up so badly.

What do I mean by "screwed up"? Consider Bubble Bobble 2's graphics. Anyone who tries to tell you they even approach the kaleidoscopic adorableness of Bub's and Bob's first foray into the "cave of monsters" is someone you shouldn't trust, in my humble opinion.

Heck, I'd go so far as to say I prefer the aesthetics of the Rainbow Islands Famicom port to those of the game discussed here, and that particular home version of the official Bubble Bobble successor isn't exactly known for being a looker (especially when compared to its quarter-munching counterpart).

Another visual aspect of Bubble Bobble 2, aka Bubble Bobble Part 2 outside of Japan, that's kept me from warming up to it as much as I thought I would when I first became aware of it: its sprites. They're all out of whack in terms of size. Specifically, Bub and Bob appear to have gained a few pounds since their initial go-round, while their well-known adversaries seem to have been zapped by some sort of futuristic shrinking ray.

That's not the end of the world, admittedly, and if you're like me you'll get over the questionable art direction in time, but even then it remains one of the ugliest Bubble Bobble games around.

The worst offender when it comes to Bubble Bobble 2's looks, though, is its lazy backdrops. Although a couple of them are nice enough, they stick around for so long they become boring. This is especially true of the yawn-inducing, column-filled environment that opens the game. It barely changes while you progress through the first 10 levels, and when you finally make it to the 11th, the sky color switches from blue to coral and that's it.

Later stages offer backgrounds that are far more interesting, thankfully, but even they tend to overstay their welcome.

The good news amidst this deluge of negativity: all the complaints I've leveled at Bubble Bobble 2 so far are merely cosmetic. (That's not to say I can't think of a few others, such as its lackluster soundtrack and its abundance of flicker.) Even better, they irk you less and less the more you play the game--or at least that's been the case for me. As an example, I currently consider the Bub (or Bob) sprite to be kind of cute, which is worlds away from my initial, horrified response to it.

Also, Bubble Bobble 2 is an enjoyable enough single-screen platformer even though it's far from the most attractive one around. That's largely because of how bizarre it eventually shows itself to be.

A case in point: after nearly putting you to sleep with 19 straight stages populated by a few stray clouds, columns and bushes (as well as a bunch of baddies, of course), the game whisks you away to what looks like a brick-lined dungeon to battle what I can only describe as a xenomorph riding a motorcycle. (See screenshot above for evidence.)

How this fits into Bubble Bobble 2's overall story, I cannot say. I can say, however, that it served as a turning point in my relationship with this odd duck of the Bubble Bobble series.

After encountering that Alien-esque boss--as well as the enemy that looks like a mashup of a Star Wars AT-ST and a Zen-chan as well as the one that seems to be made up of a skeletal head, a chain-link body and bony little legs (again, see screenshot above)--I developed an appreciation for Bobble Bobble 2's unapologetic wackiness.

I'd still rather play the original Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands or Parasol Stars, mind you, but I think it's safe to say I'll toss this 1993 release into the mix now and then thanks to my most recent--and mostly positive--experience with it.

See also: previous 'Second Chances' posts about the Famicom ports of Chack'n Pop, Don Doko Don and Rainbow Islands, as well as Bubble Bobble Junior for the GameBoy

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Photographic proof I may be more obsessed with the PC Engine than I am with the Wii at this point

And that's saying something, as I'm really into the Wii right now thanks to all the fun I'm having with Opoona and Tabemon. (Here are some Opoona impressions, for the curious.)

So what do I mean when I say I'm obsessed with NEC's little white wonder, aka the PC Engine? Well, I mean that beyond playing the many PC Engine games I've owned for years now, I've been buying new ones over the last month or two.

In fact, I've bought at least 12 PC Engine games in that time. All are HuCards. Most are RPGs.

Their titles aren't completely visible in the snapshots included to the right, so I'll spell them out for you (in order, from top to bottom) while also sharing little descriptions for those who aren't so versed in PC Engine HuCards.

War of the Dead--A post-apocalyptic RPG from 1989 that features battles focused on side-scrolling action rather than selecting options from drop-down menus. Oh, and War of the Dead's badass protagonist--a woman, amazingly--uses guns, grenade launchers and the like rather than swords and magic to mow down the ghoulies that get in her way. Given all of that, is it any wonder I've wanted to play this since I first pinged my radar?

Necros no Yōsai--I told you early I was really into HuCard RPGs right now. Well, here's another. This one was released in 1990 and offers players slightly more traditional battles than War of the Dead. I say slightly because they're (said to be) far more cinematic than what's typical for the genre and for the time. Not that I've played it yet, mind you. The Brothers Duomazov have, though, and I always trust their judgment.

Susano Oh Densetsu--Surprise! Another chip-based role-playing game. This one is based on the Japanese manga, Susano Oh, created by Go Nagai. Again, word on the street is Susano Oh Densetu isn't your typical RPG. Enemies are visible on the overworld screen and the fights they pick with you via your avatar seem to be pretty strategic. Toss into the mix the ability to use everything from axes to rocket launchers against your opponents, and you've got a game I'm very much itching to play.

Double Dungeons--I can't say I've been itching to play this HuCard dungeon crawler, but I have long thought it looked interesting, so I went ahead and purchased a copy when I came across a cheap one while perusing eBay recently. The differentiator here is two people can tackle a dungeon at the same time. I'll likely never have the opportunity to experience Double Dungeons that way, of course, but hopefully I'll enjoy my eventual playthrough all the same.

R-Type I and II--The R-Type II shown and discussed here isn't the arcade sequel (to the original R-Type, naturally) Irem released in 1989. Bizarrely, the company split the first R-Type into two parts while porting it to the PC Engine. Yes, that meant the game was released on two HuCards. Ridiculous, right? Still, I have fond memories of playing the North American version (on my beloved TurboGrafx-16) back in the day, so I picked up both Japanese chips during one of my impromptu eBay shopping sprees.

Gomola Speed--I've had my eyes on this strange, Snake-inspired PC Engine title for ages now, but it wasn't until I had a Twitter chat about it with Snow Kitten that I finally bit the bullet and bought a copy. It sports some great cover art, plus its gameplay looks like good, breezy fun, so I'll definitely give it a go sooner rather than later.

Daichi-kun Crisis: Do Natural--Here's a HuCard with which I've had an on-again, off-again relationship since I first became aware of it. My interest in it should be easy enough to understand once you glimpse its cover art, which shows an erupting volcano surrounded by a bunch of adorable cows. As for why it took me so long to add Daichi-kun Crisis to my ever-growing collection of PC Engine games: its gameplay looks, well, bonkers--and not necessarily in a good way. That's rarely stopped me from trying something, so here's hoping it pays off this time around.

Nazo no Masquerade--This is the kind of game I would've avoided like the plague before I started learning Japanese. (Read about my progress in this recent post.) Now, though, I use such titles as inspiration to keep me going. Not that I see myself successfully completing an adventure game like this one anytime soon. Still, I may boot up Nazo no Masquerade in the coming weeks just to see what I'm able to suss out, as I'm attracted to its "1920s mansion" setting.

Momotarō Katsugeki--No need to know Japanese for this game, which is a side-scrolling platformer starring that country's popular "Peach Boy." (Momotarō often is translated to Peach Boy.) Momotarō Katsugeki looks quite PC Genjin-esque to me, and seeing as though I've loved every PC Genjin (or Bonk) title I've played, I have a feeling I'll love this Hudson Soft-published effort, too--once I finally pop it into my trusty PC Engine Core Grafx II.

Momotarō Densetsu Turbo and Momotarō Densetsu Gaiden--These games also were made and published by Hudson Soft, and they also star the above-mentioned Peach Boy. They differ from Katsugeki in terms of gameplay, though. Both are Dragon Quest-esque RPGs full of turn-based battles and travels across exotic landscapes. The latter's supposed to be miles better than the former, so most would say I should start with Gaiden, but I'll probably do the opposite.

Have you played any of these PC Engine games? If so, let me (and others) know what you think of them in the comments section below.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Manual Stimulation: Penguin-kun Wars Vs. (GameBoy)

I hate to begin this post on a negative note, but I'm going to do it anyway: the Penguin-kun Wars Vs. instruction manual can't quite hold a candle to the game's eye-popping cover art or cartridge label. (Both can be seen in the previously published, "Surprise! The Year of the GameBoy Continues: Penguin-kun Wars Vs.")

That doesn't mean you should click away from this write-up. The Penguin-kun Wars Vs. manual has plenty to offer even though it lacks the wow factor of the rest of this Japanese game's packaging.

Before we get to the meat of the instructional booklet at hand, though, let's address the scan above, which is of its front and back covers. Rest assured I had nothing to do with the off-color splotches that dot its surface.

Sadly, that's the condition it was in when it landed on my doorstep some time ago. Which is weird, as otherwise this copy of Penguin-kun Wars Vs. seems untouched. Maybe it wasn't stored properly?

Regardless, those splotches basically are nonexistent inside the Penguin-kun Wars Vs. booklet, so let's not linger over them.

Moving on, boy, the penguin illustration above is adorable, isn't it? Stylistically, it reminds me of the similarly rough-hewn drawings that can be found in the manuals made for Bubble Bobble Junior and Penguin Land.

The text that sits behind that piece of art details the history of the Penguin-kun Wars series, by the way. Or at least that's what I was able to gather with my admittedly still-developing understanding of the Japanese language.

The pages above, on the other hand, detail the rules and controls of Penguin-kun Wars Vs., respectively.

The manual then moves on to explain the ins and outs of this GameBoy title's one-player mode.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Surprise! The Year of the GameBoy Continues: Penguin-kun Wars Vs.

In light of the recent news (see for more info) that publisher City Connection is prepping a "modern remake" of Penguin-kun Wars--to be called Penguin-kun Gira Gira WARS--for the Nintendo Switch, I decided now was as good a time as any to publish a post about the original portable version of ASCII Entertainment's one-on-one battler.

If this is the first you've ever heard of Penguin-kun Wars, it's an arcade-style game that stars a handful of animals (specifically, a bat, a cow, a rabbit, a rat and, of course, a penguin) who, for some reason or another, come together to toss balls across a table at each other.

You, the player, choose and then control one of the above-mentioned creatures in a timed battle against another animal, with the goal being to get all 10 balls onto your opponent's side of the table before the clock runs out. Should you fail to accomplish that task, the next best thing is to ensure there are fewer balls on your side of the table than there are on your opponent's when the buzzer rings.

Not all animals are treated equally in any version of Penguin-kun Wars, by they way. For example, the rat moves quickly side to side but throws balls slowly. The cow, on the other hand, lacks foot speed but is fast to recover when hit by a ball. (Sorry, I forgot to mention earlier that characters are knocked unconscious when pelted by said projectiles.)

It's hardly the deepest of experiences, mind you, but it's good, clean fun while also being pretty darn cute, so it's an easy title to recommend even with its shallow gameplay.

Penguin-kun Wars began life--in 1985--as an arcade game, by the way. That same year, ASCII published home ports for both the MSX and the Famicom. The portable port discussed and highlighted here, which added multiplayer tournaments via the Game Boy Video Link to the mix, didn't see the light of day until early 1990.

Unlike the Famicom and MSX iterations Penguin-kun WarsPenguin-kun Wars Vs. wasn't a Japan-only product. In fact, Nexoft brought it to North America as Penguin Wars, while Nintendo handled its release, as King of the Zoo, throughout Europe.

Considering every other version of Penguin-kun Wars is crammed with color, a GameBoy conversion could've been a major disappointment. Like Bubble Bobble Junior, Tumblepop and Snow Bros. Jr., though, Penguin-kun Wars Vs. is surprisingly easy on the eyes despite being a black-and-green affair. Actually, I'd go so far as to say the sprites showcased in the latter game look better than either of its homebound counterparts.

Unfortunately, Penguin-kun Wars for Famicom bests this on-the-go effort in the area of gameplay due to the portable title's somewhat stutter-y frame rate. Don't let that scare you away from it, though; it's still perfectly playable--it's just not perfect.

Granted, I'd probably recommend this game for its packaging alone. I'm especially fond of its cover art, though the interior of its instruction booklet has its moments, too. Speaking of which, you can virtually flip through the entirety of the Penguin-kun Wars Vs. manual in this "Manual Stimulation" post of mine.

In the meantime, have any of you played Penguin-kun Wars in some form or fashion? If so, I'd love it if you're share your opinions of the experience(s) in the comments section of this post.

See also: previous 'Year of the GameBoy' posts

Saturday, August 05, 2017

A few thoughts on Opoona (Wii) now that I've finally played it for a couple of hours

Although I've owned a copy of this unique RPG for years now, its disc hadn't seen the innards of my Wii until a week ago.

What prompted me to get off my lazy butt and (finally) start playing Opoona? One of the first things I did after getting settled into our new home was hook up my Wii (mainly to see if it still worked), which in turn pushed me to unpack and organize all of my games.

Looking through my collection of Wii titles made me realize just how many of them I'd never even booted up. So, I decided then and there to free a few from their plastic prisons--beginning with this ArtePiazza-made oddity and Namco's similarly weird Tabemon. (Don't worry, I'll share impressions of the latter in an upcoming post.)

Since then, I've put approximately six hours into the former. That's an accomplishment worth crowing about, if you ask me. After all, Opoona's first hour or two are the definition of challenging. Not because its random battles are overly tough, mind you; rather, it's because the game takes its sweet time in telling you the protagonist's backstory and introducing you to the game's world. Also, the first area ("dome," actually) it drops you into is a real bitch to navigate.

Thankfully, things pick up a great deal once you're allowed to do as you please--which in Opoona generally means trying out a number of curious "jobs" and tackling the various quests that are associated with them.

The first job you're given is called "ranger." Sounds intriguing, I know, but in reality the ranger job is similar to the generic "fighter" role offered up by any other JRPG that's ever seen the light of day.

So, early on in Opoona, you accept a few tasks that force you into the forest that surrounds the opening dome (more become available in time) to fight alien-looking baddies using the titular character's "bon-bon."

Speaking of Opoona's bon-bon, it's the game's main claim to fame--and for good reason. For the unaware: the bon-bon is your main weapon while playing Opoona. It's controlled using the analog stick on the Wii nunchuck peripheral. While in battle, you pull back on the stick (or push it forward, or to the side) and then let it flick in the opposite direction to send your bon-bon careening toward one or more of the enemies that stand before you, à la Dragon Quest.

That's related to another of Opoona's selling points, by the way. If you want, you can play it one-handed, using only the Wii nunchuck. Personally, I prefer using the Wii remote as well, but I like that the game's developers included such an accessible control option.

Anyway, back to Opoona's job and quest system. I only have experience with the ranger and attendant jobs so far, but that's enough for me to guess the game is going to take me in some strange directions between now and whenever I'm finished with it.

Why? Take the attendant job. The first few quests or tasks you're given upon accepting that occupation have you filling orders at an intergalactic fast-food joint and delivering room service at a bustling hotel.

Admittedly, tackling those tasks is a lot less enjoyable than taking out baddies with the rubber-ball-esque bon-bon, but it's a nice change of pace nonetheless.

Given the above, it should be pretty clear that Opoona isn't your typical console RPG. For the most part, I've found that to be a good thing during my six-hour playthrough. I like its characters, I like its sci-fi setting, I like its snappy battles, I like its breezy soundtrack, and I like its overall aesthetic.

On the other hand, traversing the game's (unquestionably beautiful) environments veers between semi-tedious and tortuous. The huge domes that serve as its hubs are especially enraging. The game fails to provide you with a useful map, so when an NPC says something like, "go ask Mary in the library about this," you invariably spend a good 10 or 15 minutes (if not more) trying to find said location.

The fields outside Opoona's domes are less aggravating in terms of their layouts, but that doesn't mean they're without fault. My main knock against them at the moment: although you can move the camera while wandering around the game's interior spaces, you lose that freedom while outdoors. As a result, it's not unusual to find yourself in awkward positions that make it difficult to parse exactly where you are or where you're going.

Those gripes currently keep from flat-out recommending Opoona, but they aren't keeping me from continuing through its adventure. The bulk of it interests me to the point that the aforementioned niggles are fairly, but not entirely, easy to ignore.

Who knows if that will hold true until I encounter its credit roll, or until I prematurely walk away from the game--whichever happens first. I hope it will, though, as I'd really like to see Opoona through to the end.

In the meantime, have any of you played this Koei-published Wii title? If so, what's your opinion of it?