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!'

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