Friday, April 17, 2015

Another Year of the GameBoy: Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank (aka Trax)

With HAL Laboratory--purveyor of such fine video-game products as the Adventures of Lolo series, the Kirby series and the Mother series--back in the headlines the world over thanks to its recently released 3DS puzzler-platformer, BOXBOY!, I thought now would be the perfect time to chat about this little-known, HAL-made gem from 1991, which was re-named Trax when it was localized for the North American market.

If you've never heard of this particular GameBoy cart, let alone actually played it, here's a breviloquent rundown of what it has to offer: it's a four-stage, top-down, free-scrolling shmup that plops players into the driver's seat of an adorable, bouncy-looking tank.

Controlling said tank is accomplished using the GameBoy's directional pad--which allows the spherical vehicle to scoot about each level with surprising ease--as well as its A and B buttons. Pressing the former rotates (in a clockwise fashion) the tank's turret, uh, whatever half of 45 degrees is, while pressing the latter launches some sort of bomb, bullet or shell at anything and anyone in your path.

Sure, the distinct lack of playfields included in this portable title is a terrible disappointment, but in the same breath, I have to admit the experience doesn't suffer due to that limitation as substantially as you may think.

In fact, Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank is a lot like the aforementioned Kirby games in that it's hardly the deepest of experiences, but it's such a blast to play that you probably won't waste much time whining about that fact after blowing through the content that's on offer.

On a related note, the only piece of criticism I feel like leveling at Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank at the moment is that the designers and developers at HAL Laboratory were perhaps a bit too buttoned-up when they conjured up this cartridge's visuals. Don't get me wrong, the graphics here are nice and clean, but where's the whimsy? I would've killed for a stage that, say, dropped players into the middle a carnival or forced them to climb Mt. Fuji.

Oh, well, even in its current, semi-conservative--for the makers of the Kirby and Mother series, especially--state, Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank is a joy to behold. Plus, at least its packaging displays a bit of playfulness. Take a gander at the illustration (pulled from the game's instruction manual) of the bow-tied tank in the photo above for just one example.

Have any of you spent time with this fine (in the opinion of yours truly, of course) GameBoy title? If so, what do you think of it? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section that follows.

See also: previous 'Another Year of the GameBoy' posts

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Five favorites: WonderSwan box art

I know I haven't mentioned it in some time, but the wonderfully named WonderSwan handheld continues to intrigue me more than maybe it should.

Actually, that's not completely fair. After all, there's a lot to like about this weird, Japan-only portable and its similarly odd catalog of games. For instance, there's the WonderSwan's unique design, which allows users to hold their systems either in a horizontal or vertical position (depending on the cartridge that's stuck inside, of course).

Also, although quite a few uninteresting (especially to Western audiences) games--many of which could be described as downright turds--were released for the WonderSwan during its relatively short "reign," a good number of quality titles were made available for it, too.

Something that often goes hand in hand with quality games, of course, is quality box art--especially when we're talking about Japanese games.

That's true even when it comes to the lowly WonderSwan, as the following five examples of cover imagery should help prove.

Engacho!--OK, so this particular piece of box art is a bit gross. It's also got a lot of verve, though, and the use of color is nothing short of brilliant, if you ask me. An added bonus: its puzzling gameplay's actually loads of fun.

Hataraku Chocobo--This Final Fantasy spin-off's nearly unknown outside of Japan, which is a shame as it seems pretty interesting. Specifically, it sounds like an Animal Crossing-esque sort of experience, although I'm guessing this Chocobo-centric twist on Nintendo's world-conquering series is quite a bit less deep in the content department.

Mr. Driller--This 2001 port of Namco's classic arcade puzzler is proof that it's been released for pretty much every system imaginable over the years. Not that I'm complaining. I'm beyond thrilled that the WonderSwan got in on the Mr. Driller action--although the thing that's chiefly responsible for my bliss is the beautiful box art seen above.

Rhyme Rider Kerorican--This portable music game was made by the well-regarded crew at NanaOn-Sha, perhaps best known for PaRappa the Rapper, UmJammer Lammy and Vib-Ribbon. Rhyme Rider doesn't quite have the same cachet among gamers as those previously mentioned titles, but at least its cover imagery stacks up to the counterparts of its predecessors rather admirably.

Tane wo Maku Tori--This unique puzzler's box art is, without question, my favorite of the bunch showcased here. I like its use of color, of course, and I also like that it looks as though it was crafted out of pieces of cut-up paper, but there's more to it than that, too. Maybe it's that it gives off slightly melancholy as well as cheerful vibes, much like its in-game graphics?

Do you have any favorite examples of WonderSwan cover art? If so, let me (and everyone else) know about them in the comments section that follows.

See also: previous 'five favorites' posts

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shall We Do It? (BOXBOY! plus more Danganronpa and My World, My Way)

I may have only added one new game to my "now playing" roster in the last couple of weeks, but that title--Nintendo's BOXBOY!--has proven to be quite a thrill, so at least my precious time hasn't been at all wasted.

Along with the above-mentioned 3DS effort, I've also put some additional time into two games I slobbered over in my last installment of "Shall We Do It?"--the cult-ish, Vita-based visual novel, Danganronpa, and the oddly endearing DS RPG known in this neck of the woods as My World, My Way. (Elsewhere, which in this case means Japan, it's known as Sekai wa Atashi de Mawatteru, a phrase that apparently translates to something like The World Revolves Around Me.)

Here are a smattering of my thoughts on each of these captivating titles:

BOXBOY! (3DS)--In the hours and days since I bought and downloaded HAL Laboratory's BOXBOY!, a just-released 3DS eShop title, I've spent a good bit of time with it. 

Actually, I've only sunk about two-and-a-half hours into this intriguing puzzler-platformer thus far, but that's been enough for me to get to its eighth world (each world is stuffed with five or more stages), so I'm not about to punish myself for not giving it an acceptable amount of attention.

In conquering those 35 or 40 bite-sized stages, by the way, I've experienced a surprisingly broad array of gameplay elements, although all of them are showcased within similar set pieces--monochromatic, minimalistic affairs that wouldn't have looked out of place during the GameBoy "era."

Anyway, the aforementioned variety definitely is the main thing that's keeping me glued to my digital copy of BOXBOY! at the moment. There's simply a depth to what you can do with this game's protagonist, or to what you can make the protagonist do, that makes the overall experience a grin-inducing blast.

All the said, one slight piece of criticism I'd lay at the otherwise gorgeous feet of BOXBOY! is that I'm not sure I'll ever return to it after I complete it. Of course, the same could be said of the majority of the games I've played over the years, and this one cost me just a couple of bucks (as opposed to many times that), so maybe that won't seem like such a big deal when all is said and done.

Danganronpa (Vita)--Considering how much I loved my first hour or two with this dark Vita adventure, I assumed it would basically take over my life for the next couple of weeks. That didn't happen, surprisingly enough, although I think the addition of BOXBOY! to my ever-growing list of "now playing" titles had a little something to do with it.

Still, I've continued to kind of methodically plug away at it, and over the last few nights I've devoted two or three more hours to its nail-biting story.

I have a feeling I'll devote even more time to it in the coming week, as Danganronpa really turned up the drama dial during my last 60-minute-or-so stint with it, and now I'm chomping at the bit, so to speak, to get back to it and see how things pan out for the colorful cast that sits at the center of this title.

I've still yet to experience any of Danganronpa's trial segments, by the way--though I know one is going to be forced on me shortly--so it'll be interesting to discover how they manage to change things up.

Hopefully I'll be able to chat about that in my next installment of this series.

My World, My Way (DS)--Despite the love I expressed for this quirky, Atlus-published RPG in my last few posts about it, I basically gave it the cold shoulder after I started BOXBOY! and Danganronpa.

Thankfully, that only lasted for about a week, and a few days ago I started playing it again in earnest. Well, maybe I shouldn't say "in earnest," as I've only put about two more hours into it in the last couple of days, but considering this time last week I was worried I'd never play it again, I'd say a two additional hours is worth at least a mini-celebration.

As for how far I was able to progress during those two hours, the CliffsNotes version is that I made it through two more of the game's rather miniscule maps--which, as I believe I've mentioned in earlier posts about My World, My Way, usually contain a town, an exit gate (which allows you to access the next map location) and somewhere between 20 and 30 or so "overworld tiles" that can be traversed, step by step (almost like you would in a board game), and which offer up enemy encounters, items and the like.

My World, My Way's still pretty darn repetitive, by the way, but I can't say I'm all that bothered by it. In large part, I think that's because the game does an excellent job of throwing new environments, baddies and abilities at you right around the time you begin to feel bored with the existing ones.

A case in point: shortly after I gained access to My World, My Way's desolate desert zone, I was introduced to a new pout ability that allowed me to produce unique areas called "southern islands." These map-altering creations feature sandy beaches, crystal-blue waters and even breaching whales--as well as a couple of curious-looking enemy types that only can be encountered while within their borders.

For whatever reason, all of the above have re-ignited my interest in this weird role-playing game--which is a very good thing indeed, as I have a feeling I'm still a considerable distance from its credit roll.

See also: previous 'Shall We Do It?' posts

Monday, April 13, 2015

A note for the handful of people who'll care: I'm putting my #ADecadeofDS posts on the back burner for a couple of weeks

Don't worry, this doesn't mean I'm leaving my #ADecadeofDS series in the dust. On the contrary, I'm only stepping away from it for a short while so that I can spend some more time with a few of the DS games that have really struck a chord with me over the last month or two.

Specifically, I'd like to experience a bit more of what Awatama, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales, My World, My Way and Okamiden have to offer.

Once that's out of the way, though, I plan to jump back into the fray by playing Contact, Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits, Pac-Pix and a whole slew of other intriguing DS games.

In the meantime, you may want to read through the #ADecadeofDS posts I've already published--about games like Awatama, Catch! Touch! Yoshi!, Chocobo Tales, Maestro! Jump in Music, Okamiden, Pop Cutie! Street Fashion Simulation, Taiko no Tatsujin DS and Zombie Daisuki.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Another Year of the GameBoy: Pitman (aka Catrap)

I've mentioned this GameBoy title, which began life as a (Sharp MZ-700) computer game, a number of times on The Nichiest Podcast Ever, but I'm not sure I've ever mentioned it here.

That's a shame, as it's easily one of my favorite of the multitude of carts that were made for Nintendo's first handheld thanks to its unique blend of puzzling and platforming gameplay.

I also really like its rather rough-hewn graphics, which are made a lot more appealing by all of the little animations that are attached to them.

And then, of course, there's the packaging that was produced for Pitman, which is the name given to the Japanese version of this Asmik-made game. (It was called Catrap in North America.)

The photo below showcases Pitman's box, cartridge and manual art. Sadly, unlike some Japanese GameBoy titles, this one's various components don't feature different pieces of art.

Pitman's instruction manual goes a lot way toward making up for that, though--something that's made pretty clear from the get-go, as the snapshot below should prove.

I really like how the illustrations that are included in this manual look like they could have appeared in a cartoon made in the early part of the last century.

Above is another example of the sort of adorable drawings that accompany all of the instructive text and screenshots that otherwise fill Pitman's manual--although this particular drawing appears on the back of the manual rather than inside of it.

Getting back to how this game "plays" and why it's such a standout, even among all of the other sublime titles that were released for Nintendo's brick-like system in the many years it was on the market: for me, the gist is that it's an all-around fun--if also fairly challenging--experience.

Hopping around, pushing blocks, climbing ladders and bashing into enemies--all of which take place in your average Pitman (or Catrap) playthrough and can be seen in action in this video--just feels nice, and all of those actions are made even more enjoyable when accompanied by head-bopping, toe-tapping backing track.

A few other reasons this game deserves attention as well as praise: it allows players to choose between controlling a male or female character at the beginning of each and every stage, and it includes a really cool time-bending element that basically lets you rewind whenever you make an errant move. 

If you'd like to give Pitman or Catrap a try, but you're not the sort who collects GameBoy cartridges, you can pick up a digital version via the 3DS' eShop--assuming you have some iteration of Nintendo's latest entry in the portable-gaming arms race.

See also: previous 'Year of the GameBoy' and 'Another Year of the GameBoy' posts

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

This Yokai Watch Busters trailer almost makes up for Fantasy Life 2 being a (barf) mobile title

In case you haven't already heard, during the Level-5 Vision 2015 event held in Japan a couple of days ago, the company that brought the world the Professor Layton series and a bunch of other intriguing games announced that the sequel to one of my favorite 3DS titles so far, Fantasy Life, is going to be released for ... Android and iOS.

Cue the "sad trombone" sound effect, right?

Thankfully, Level-5 also showed off a couple of games that actually will see the light of day on the 3DS. One of them is a spin-off of the company's super-popular Yokai Watch series that'll be called Yokai Watch Busters.

When Yokai Watch Busters was first revealed about a month ago, I responded to the news with a yawn. That was far from how I reacted to the game's initial trailer, though, which can be viewed above.

Since we now know that at least one of the three mainline Yokai Watch titles currently available in Japan will making its way across the pond to Europe and North America (with Nintendo's assistance, it seems) next year, I hope Yokai Watch Busters also will make the trek to our shores at some point.

What do all of you think about the news regarding Fantasy Life 2Yokai Watch's Western release, Yokai Watch Busters, or even Snack World and Layton 7? As always, share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Monday, April 06, 2015

#ADecadeofDS: My World, My Way

Amount of time devoted to this game in the last week--Six hours, 44 minutes.

Most recent boss toppled, location reached or milestone achieved--In order: I defeated the Succubus Queen that laid in wait at the bottom of the straightforwardly titled Succubus Field Dungeon, after which I sashayed into Bonfire Town and fulfilled its mayor's inane quests (I put up with them because they netted me the Merchant's License I was so desperately seeking at the time) before moving on to the Underground Farm Dungeon, where I mowed down all of its creepy comers.

Overall comments on the experience--As I mentioned in my very last post, this Atlus-published DS RPG (it was developed by a company called Global A) shows right from the start that it's going to do things a bit differently by focusing its story on a princess who's basically a spoiled brat. She's also pretty darn stubborn, a character trait that's put on display nearly from the get-go when Elise (the afore-mentioned princess) decides to exchange her beautiful tresses and her comely dresses for the more practical and utilitarian wares of an adventurer--all so she can attract the attention of a mysterious and not easily impressed stud.

As you can probably imagine, it's a nice change of pace from the tried-and-true, straight-faced fare that serves as the backbone of your typical Japanese RPG, and it certainly put me in the mood to tackle its pastel-hued adventure.

Has it lived up to all of that early-game hype? In many ways, yes, as I've come to absolutely adore its puerile protagonist and its silly story. I'm nearly as fond of the couple of unique contributions it offers to the RPG genre, with the main ones being its much-ballyhooed "pout system"--which allows Elise to alter the landscape that surrounds her as well as attract additional enemies to an area and more--and its weird, board game-esque overworld.

That last component is kind of off-putting at first, I have to admit, but after a while it feels something akin to refreshing. After all, if you're anything like me, shuffling back and forth across an RPG's seemingly endless map screen is thrilling at first but quickly loses its luster, and this alternative--every area is made up of anywhere from 12 to maybe 30 squares, and players can traverse each one in a single step--is a lot more streamlined.

Aside from all of the above, the only other aspects of My World, My Way that are worth mentioning are its battles, which are decidedly mundane but not altogether boring thanks to their zippy nature, and its soundtrack, which is banal to the point of being completely forgettable.

Will I continue to play this game in the coming days, weeks and maybe even months?--Absolutely. Actually, I plan to complete it--assuming it doesn't overstay its welcome by taking up more than, say, 20 or 25 hours of my time.

Do I recommend it to others?--Yes, but not without a few reservations or words of warning. After all, as thoroughly as I've enjoyed playing My World, My Way so far, I still get the distinct impression that many gamers will be bored silly by it. Yes, the writing often is silly (in a good way), and the much-touted "pout system" is unquestionably unique, the remaining components of this portable RPG are far less riveting. In fact, some are sure to find its graphics to be downright ugly and its Dragon Quest-esque battles to be snooze-worthy. Both of these aspects ended up growing on me mightily over the course of my multi-hour playthrough, though, so maybe the same will be true for other folks (especially those with fairly open minds), too?

Next up--Nothing, as I'd really like to play My World, My Way for one more week before moving on to another DS game.

See also: previous 'A Decade of DS' posts