Saturday, March 17, 2018

A few thoughts on Doki Doki Literature Club

If you want to get me excited about a game, tell me it's short.

It has to be "good," too, of course. But short is right up there in terms of importance when I'm considering which games to play these days.

That's not to say I decided to download and play Doki Doki Literature Club solely because someone told me it's short. I also liked that it's a visual novel--a gaming genre I've enjoyed quite a bit over the last few years. (See my write-ups on 999, Hakuoki, Hotel Dusk, Sweet Fuse, and VA-11 HALL-A for proof.)

What intrigued me most about this free PC game, though, was that it's known for being weird--even a bit (or a lot) freaky.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I played through the first hour or so of Doki Doki Literature Club and found it to be fairly typical, if a bit cheap in terms of production values, as far as visual novels are concerned.

OK, so maybe "typical" isn't the right word to use here. After all, a couple of the protagonist's handful of apparent love interests definitely made me a bit uncomfortable--and not in the comparably wholesome way most potential paramours do in these kinds of games.

Following a rather by-the-numbers opening salvo, during which one of the above-mentioned ladies (a neighbor and friend) twists your arm into joining the eponymous literature club, the atmosphere of this game slowly veers toward the sinister.

Even then, though, it never goes far beyond feeling "off," which makes the shocking twist that pops up almost out of nowhere all the more dramatic.

And after that? Woof. Buckle up, kids; the remainder of Doki Doki Literature Club is a bumpy ride of eye-opening situations and conversations.

To be honest, I didn't find the overall experience as enthralling as many others have, but it certainly didn't bore me. Actually, I take that back; it did bore me for a while. The first half drags on a little too long, if you ask me. Still, I couldn't help but appreciate how that imbued the game with a sort of mounting tension that otherwise might not exist.

Specifically, although Doki Doki Literature Club makes it clear right from the start that you're going to encounter some crazy shit at one point or another (hence the regular warnings that the game is "not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed"), it keeps the "when" a mystery right until the end.

Does this "twist" and all that comes after it make up for the game's less than thrilling first few hours? Not entirely, in my opinion. Thankfully, that doesn't really matter. Doki Doki Literature Club is free, after all, which makes it hard to complain about such things. Plus, the overall experience is enjoyable enough that it's easy to overlook the title's handful of missteps and shortcomings.

Have any of you completed Doki Doki Literature Club? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

Download: Doki Doki Literature Club

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Five more overlooked Famicom games you need to play as soon as possible

I've published a bunch of "overlooked games you need to play as soon as possible" posts over the last year and a half.

One focused on oft-ignored PC Engine games. Later write-ups focused on Japanese PlayStationGame GearGameBoyGameBoy AdvanceDS, and 3DS eShop games.

And of course another, which first went live all the way back in November of 2016, focused on overlooked Famicom games.

A recent Twitter conversation prompted me to take another look at that last post. Afterward, I thought of a few more great Famicom games people tend to pass on and so decided to chat about them here.

Don Doko Don 2--I know the Famicom is home to a ton of wonderful platformers, many of which do more to impress than this 1992 release. Still, I've long had a soft spot for it due to its adorable cast of characters, candy-coated visuals, and surprisingly appealing backing tunes. OK, so Don Doko Don 2's gameplay isn't as unique as it probably should be considering its protagonist wields a variety of hammers as weapons. It's loads of fun regardless, and for me that's more important than--or at least as important as--all of the above-mentioned bells and whistles when it comes to side-scrolling platformers.

Flying Hero--I've never been much of a fan of ArkanoidBreakout, or any of the copycats and pretenders that have followed in their wake over the last four or so decades. The lone exception to that rule is this Aicom-developed title. It switches things up just enough for the bat-and-ball gameplay at its core to feel refreshing. Usually, you control some sort of oval or rectangular "ship." Here, that's replaced by a pair of firefighters holding a net. With most Breakout clones, a ball bounces around the screen and destroys blocks or bricks. In Flying Hero, a third fireman ricochets across each stage in an attempt to rescue people from burning buildings. Combine those aesthetic updates with settings that include castles, forests, and even outer space, and you've got a great way to spend a chunk of your free time.

Hello Kitty World--A lot of people probably turn up their noses at this game because of its Sanrio connection and its childish, saccharine graphics. Well, those folks are missing out, as Hello Kitty World's basically a re-skinned remake of Nintendo's magical Balloon Kid. I hold that GameBoy side-scroller in high regard despite its disappointing brevity. Although I don't consider Hello Kitty World to be quite the gem that Balloon Kid is, I still think it's well worth checking out if you've got a Famicom (or some way of playing Famicom carts). This title's graphics and music are a step or two down from those showcased in Balloon Kid, but the gameplay's almost exactly the same. Still not convinced? Maybe my Hello Kitty World review can sway you to give it a chance.

Kiki Kaikai: Dotou Hen--I'm guessing a lot of people ignore Dotou Hen because they assume it's yet another home port of Taito's original KiKi KaiKai quarter-muncher. In fact, it's a completely unique offering despite its familiar visuals. The biggest difference here: the o-fuda scrolls Sayo-chan sends at oncoming enemies are no longer unlimited. So, unlike every other KiKi KaiKai (or Pocky & Rocky) game in existence, you can't just spam the shoot button while playing this Famicom Disk System release. That adds a welcome layer of tension and even strategy to what can otherwise seem like a brainless overhead shmup.

Onyanko Town--Truth be told, Onyanko Town has its issues. Its protagonist, the apron-wearing mama cat showcased in the screenshot above, often moves like her paws have been slathered in molasses. Its soundtrack is grating and shrill. And its visuals, well, the best you can say about them is they get the job done. Still, the overall experience is intriguing enough that I return to it rather frequently. I guess it's because Onyanko Town, which tasks players with tracking down a delinquent kitten while avoiding prowling dogs and fishmongers, tweaks the formula made famous by Namco's Pac-Man just enough to feel enjoyably unique.

See also: all previous blog posts about overlooked games you should play as soon as possible

Saturday, February 24, 2018

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

I nearly did something really dumb earlier this week. Yes, even dumber than buying Final Fantasy: The After Years WiiWare episodes in 2018.

The dumb thing in question: I got this close to ordering a Japanese Wii just so I could buy a bunch of that region's Virtual Console releases before Nintendo stops letting people buy Wii Points on March 26.

Actually, the first part of that plan wouldn't have been the dumbest decision in the world. Used Japanese Wiis aren't too expensive at the moment, after all. What would have been pretty dumb, though: dropping a load of cash on a ton of games I already own in physical form.

In the end, I decided picking up a used Japanese Wii wouldn't be the best use of my hard-earned cash.

I still had the Wii eShop on the brain, though, and that prompted me to start thinking about the North American Virtual Console and WiiWare titles I could purchase with some of the money I previously planned to plop down on the aforementioned imports.

My first thought was to grab some of the old games I've stupidly overlooked since they first hit the Wii eShop--like Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System, Monster Lair for the TurboGrafx-16, and Kirby 64 for the Nintendo 64.

I actually bought two of those games--Monster Lair and Kirby 64--yesterday. Along with those titles, I bought all of the Final Fantasy IV: The After Years WiiWare episodes I'd previously passed on.

Thankfully, I only had to buy three of them--for a total of 1,400 Wii Points ($14). I went in thinking I'd have to pay for all but the initial three episodes and maybe Rydia's, so discovering I'd nabbed three others at some point was quite a thrill.

Why did I waste $14 on all this, especially considering I own Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection for the PSP, which includes the entirety of The After Years?

The only explanation I can offer up is it didn't feel right to me that my "copy" of the WiiWare version of The After Years would forever be incomplete if I failed to pay for the rest of its optional content.

Also, I'm more likely to boot up my Wii than my PSP at this point in time, strangely enough. And then there's the fact that I've already completed the game's first three chapters (the prologue as well as Ceodore's and Kain's "tales")--not that I can remember anything about them now.

The question is: will I ever work my way through all of these colorfully titled episodes ("The Eidolons Shackled" and "The Vanished Lunar Whale" among them) I just picked up, or will they forever remain unplayed?

Your guess is as good as mine. I'm certainly going to give it my best shot, though. Final Fantasy IV is one of my all-time favorite games, so I'd really like to experience this direct follow-up--and sooner rather than later.

Have any of you played the WiiWare version of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, or even one of the versions released for the PSP, PC, or mobile? If so, what did you think of it? And based on that experience, do you think I've made a wise move or gone off the deep end?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Moguranya (aka Mole Mania, GameBoy)

As you may have guessed from my many "Year of the GameBoy" posts, as well as a good number of my "Nice Package!" write-ups, I now own a lot of Japanese GameBoy games.

For me, a big part of the joy of owning Japanese GameBoy games--complete ones, especially--is being able to flip through their instruction manuals.

Something I've learned while paging through my many Japanese GameBoy game manuals is that the ones Nintendo packed inside its own "silver box" releases are a bit disappointing.

Moguranya's manual, highlighted here, is one example. A few others (which have yet to be featured in "Manual Stimulation" posts but will be soon enough) are GameBoy Donkey Kong and Hoshi no Kirby.

None of these GameBoy manuals are terrible, or even close to it. They're all colorful and feature some nice screenshots and illustrations. Still, they feel ... lacking.

Like, it's hard for me to go from the Bubble BobbleBurning PaperGhostbusters 2, and Snow Bros. Jr. manuals to the ones I just mentioned and think, "yeah, these are an improvement."

The only "silver box" Japanese GameBoy manual I can think of that impresses me the way the above-mentioned booklets do is the one Nintendo produced for Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru (aka For the Frog the Bell Tolls).

Even it could be better, though--in my opinion, of course.

As for the Moguranya (aka Mole Mania) instruction booklet showcased here, like I said, it's very nice overall. I like the pops of color and cute little design elements (especially the paw-print stamps that accompany each page's header).

The illustrations that are found here and there are lovely, too, of course. Unfortunately, there are only a handful, and a couple of them are re-used.

Taken as a whole, though, it's hard to label Moguranya's manual a dud. I'd find it a lot more impressive, though, if Nintendo's artists and designers had seen fit to fill it with even a few more adorable illustrations.

Thankfully, Moguranya's gameplay more than makes up for its somewhat meh-tastic instruction manual, so I'm not going to beat myself up for buying a complete copy of it anytime soon.

If you'd like to see what this game's outer box and cartridge look like, by the way, you can do so in this post of mine. It also includes a couple of photos of GameBoy Donkey Kong's box and manual.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A few thoughts on Space Dave! now that I've put nearly 10 hours into it

I've got to be honest: my initial impressions of Space Dave weren't great.

You see, one of the things I liked most about this game's predecessor, Woah Dave, was its simplicity--and I mean that in terms of its graphics as well as its gameplay.

That's not how I would've described Space Dave's graphics and gameplay after booting it up for the first time a few weeks back. Actually, I'm not sure I'd describe them that way now.

After all, this Switch eShop game's visuals are a strange, and often kind of off-putting, mix of really blocky and somewhat less blocky backdrops and sprites. (Think Atari 2600 on the one end, and NES on the other.) Also, there's a lot more going on with Space Dave's gameplay than what was offered up in the relatively straightforward Woah Dave. (This is despite the fact you can boil Space Dave's premise down to "use whatever means necessary to clear each screen of enemies.")

Although it took me a while to develop an appreciation for Space Dave's looks, I came around to its deeper-and-more-strategic-than-it-first-appears alien-shooting action pretty darn quickly. In fact, just a handful of 15- or 20-minute stints was all I needed to realize it's not only a worthy successor to Woah Dave, but to the games--like Space Invaders and Galaga--that inspired it as well.

Here are a few reasons why I've since become so smitten with Space Dave that I've dumped just under 10 hours into it:

It's the perfect Switch game for when you've only got five or 10 minutes of free time--Sure, there have been times when I've spent 30 minutes or even an hour with Space Dave. Usually, though, I play it for 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there. If that doesn't sound like much, consider that you can make a good number--five? maybe 10?--of high-score runs in those scant few minutes. Or you can if you're like me and you abort a run if you die or stupidly allow a descending alien (à la Galaga) to crash into the ground and create a lava pit before you reach a certain point.

Space Dave also is a great game if you want to forget about time completely--That's because it's one of those "just one more level" kind of games. Or maybe I should say "just one more run" kind of games--as in, just one more run at a high score. I don't know how other people are playing Space Dave, but for me, every time I hit "start" I do so either to move up one of its online leaderboards or to top my previous best effort. It's possible to "beat" or finish the game--at least I think it is; I've yet to conquer it myself--but seeing its credit roll isn't my main goal. And yet I continue to plug away at it, day after day. In other words, prepare to become blissfully addicted if you decide to plunk down some of your hard-earned cash on Space Dave.

Its soundtrack is sublime--And not only that, but it perfectly complements the game's frenetic on-screen action. Admittedly, Space Dave's soundtrack is so similar to Woah Dave's that I had to ask creator Jason Cirillo if the two were one and the same when I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago (related aside: they're different), but don't take that to be a criticism. For me, Space Dave's music is one of its many highlights. It (and its accompanying audio) makes me feel like I'm playing the game in a packed arcade during the 1980s--and that's only ever a good thing.

I've had a blast trying to discover all of its secrets--At first, Space Dave's gameplay can seem pretty basic. (Not as basic as Woah Dave, mind you, but still basic enough.) You can move Dave left and right, you can make him jump and even hover, and you can shoot at the aliens that flit and twirl overhead. Give it a bit of time, though, or "cheat" and do a little Internet sleuthing, and you're sure to discover some of the secrets that make playing Space Dave even more thrilling--and strategic--than it was initially. One example: if you leap into the wave that erupts from one of the game's POW-like "SPACE" blocks, it'll temporarily make you invincible as well as boost the power of your weapon.

If you'd like to know about more of Space Dave's secrets, tricks, tips, and advice, by the way, stay tuned. I'm prepping a blog post that'll cover all four.

In the meantime, I'd highly recommend buying Space Dave if you've got the dough ($9.99) and if you've got room on your Switch. It's a wonderful evolution of single-screen arcade shoot 'em ups like Galaga and Space Invaders. Plus, if you're like me, you'll probably still be playing it this time next year. How many games can that be said about these days?

Note: both Woah Dave's and Space Dave's names actually end in an exclamation point, like this--Space Dave! That can make writing about either game a bit of a nightmare, though, so in an attempt to make my life (and yours) a little easier, I axed the exclamation point throughout this post.