Sunday, July 14, 2019

A whole lot of thoughts on Ever Oasis for the Nintendo 3DS

I bought a copy of Ever Oasis all the way back in early 2018--when Walmart was clearing out its stock of 3DS games for some reason or other. Sadly, it sat on a shelf, unopened and unloved, until a couple of weeks ago.

While considering which game I should take on vacation with me at that time, my stress-addled brain kindly reminded me of Ever Oasis. So, I stuck the cart into my trusty OG 3DS and tossed the whole she-bang into my carry-on bag.

Surprisingly, I avoided both like the plague on my nine-hour flight as well as throughout the rest of my two-week vacation. I came to my senses on the trip home, though. Not only did I start my way through Ever Oasis during this lengthy leg of the journey, but I put more than four hours into its desert-focused adventure before I landed in Austin.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have seen the posts I've published in the week-plus since I returned home that extol Ever Oasis' virtues. None of them went into much detail about why I've enjoyed the title so much up to now (or which aspects have done their darndest to keep me from enjoying it), though, so I thought I'd rectify that here.

It's gorgeous--Visually, Ever Oasis reminds me of a trio of other games I similarly adore: Fantasy Life, Miitopia, and Secret of Mana. All three are cute as buttons and feature chibi-ish character and enemy designs, of course, but that's only part of what I'm talking about here. The main aspect that ties these four titles together for me is they all use warm, soft color palettes that call to mind sherbet and beachy sunsets. As a result, I basically never tire of looking at them--Ever Oasis, in particular.

The soundtrack gives off serious Secret of Mana vibes, too--And by that I mostly mean there's a breezy, laidback feel to the bulk of it. The rest is made up of atmospheric tunes and tunes that are bombastically epic. All in all, it's an pleasingly eclectic soundtrack that cuts its own path while also offering a bit of nod to one Hiroki Kikuta forged many years earlier.

Fighting in Ever Oasis is a ton of fun--In fact, combat in this game feels a lot like the combat that's front and center in another 3DS game I just mentioned, Fantasy Life. I'd argue it's even more satisfying here, though, thanks to the fact you typically control a three-member party, and each party member tends to hoist different weapons and have different abilities that can be put to creative use while exploring as well as in battle.

I love the unique weapon designs--I'm especially smitten with the hammers wielded by Ever Oasis' portly, frog-like Serkah characters. One has a spiky cactus for a head. Another is capped with a giant pinecone. All of them put a smile on my face. The same is true of many of this game's other weapons, too--from its bolas, to its bows, to its magical wands. Sadly, only Serkahs can use the aforementioned hammers, but that's a pretty minor complaint, all things considered.

That said, I think there are too many weapons in Ever Oasis--I can't believe I'm saying such a thing, to be honest. Usually, I welcome any and all weapons an RPG is willing to throw at me. In Ever Oasis, though, you have to craft--or "synthesize"--the vast majority of them out of materials you collect while in the field. Only a select few can be bought from one of the game's rarely encountered merchants. As a result, you quickly build up a sizable cache of weapon "recipes" that overwhelms more than it impresses.

On the flipside, I wish there were more outfits in the game--I've found about seven turbans so far and maybe 15 coats or robes. That's not a whole lot, especially compared to the slew of weapons Ever Oasis offers up. Still, I'd be fine with this dearth of clothing options if what was available were more useful. Instead, the coats and robes and turbans are purely superficial. Accessories like anklets and rings and mirrors do boost your defenses in a couple of ways, but they're not visible during play--another big bummer for me.

The strategic aspect of the dungeon-crawling here is surprisingly engaging and intriguing--It's quite Zelda-esque in this regard. In fact, one could argue it one-ups Nintendo's classic series now and then thanks to the vast number of ways you can solve its puzzles. An unfortunate downside of this aspect of the game: you have to switch out party members with annoying regularity. Doing so is a lot easier than it could be thanks to the game's "aqua gate" function, but it's still pretty exhausting.

Speaking of which, I'd like this game even more than I do now if I could switch out party members via the pause menu--Considering the "aqua gate" mechanism I just referred to is far from realistic, I wish Ever Oasis' developers had taken things one step further and let players change party members quickly and easily via the game's pause menu.

That seems to be Ever Oasis' only missing "quality of life" component, however--Ever Oasis may fumble a bit with the above, but it makes up for it elsewhere. Don't like gardening? Ask some of your residents to handle it for you. Restocking their shops--or "Bloom Booths"--with materials you gather while spelunking is made similarly easy after a certain point. Early on, you have to go door to door to accomplish this task; later, it requires little more than the press of a button. The game is full of such shortcuts, and they help make it as tedium-free as possible.

I could do without a lot of this game's town-building and NPC-pleasing--Many like to describe Ever Oasis as a spiritual successor to Square Enix's Mana series. And while that makes some sense--especially since Secret of Mana's director, Koichi Ishii, also served as this title's director--it only tells half the story. That's because overworld-stalking and dungeon-crawling are just a part of Ever Oasis' gameplay loop. The other part focuses on town-building, material-gathering, and NPC-pleasing. Those actions are a nice diversion at first, but for me they became increasingly tiresome and time-consuming as I delved ever deeper into the game.

It's a crying shame you can't recruit any of the adorable Noots as party members--As much as I like the designs of most of Ever Oasis' controllable characters (of which there are many), I can't help but feel sad the developers of the title didn't allow players to add even one of the game's cute-as-hell Noot beings to their dungeon-crawling parties. Maybe they saved it for a sequel?

Note: the screenshots showcased here are from this wonderful Ever Oasis walkthrough and guide

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Manual Stimulation: Gunpey (WonderSwan)

Considering how much I usually love portable puzzle games, I am disappointingly inexperienced with and uneducated about Gunpey.

On the one hand, I can understand it. Gunpey isn't the most interesting looking puzzler around--despite being one that's played with the WonderSwan turned sideways, in so-called "portrait mode."

On the other hand, I can't understand it, as the game was made by the esteemed Gunpei Yokoi.

Not that he made it himself, of course. He made it with a number of former Nintendo colleagues who helped him start a company called Koto.

At any rate, their maiden release hit Japanese store shelves alongside the original WonderSwan model on March 4, 1999.

Unfortunately, Gunpey's status as an early WonderSwan release is reflected in its rather ho-hum instruction manual, scans of which can be seen throughout this post.

This manual also reflects what I said earlier about Gunpey being far from an eye-popping puzzle game.

How so? Well, most of the acreage here is covered in text. The rest is covered in black-and-white screenshots. A pop of color can be seen now and then, but that's about it.

Which is strange, as Gunpey stars a small handful of mascot-y characters that could've livened things up a little--or a lot.

Instead, the designers who worked on the Gunpey manual ignored them almost completely.

Oh, well. At least a number of screenshots included here showcase them. (Click on and zoom in on the scans immediately above and below to see what I mean.)

What else is there to say about the Gunpey instruction booklet? Not much, if you ask me.

A bit more can be said about Gunpey the game, though. For example, although it began life on the WonderSwan, it eventually made its way to the WonderSwan Color, the original PlayStation, the PlayStation Portable, and the Nintendo DS as well.

Also, a few months after the original iteration released, a version featuring San-X's Tarepanda character released for the WonderSwan, too.

Finally, some of you might like to hear how Gunpey is played. The gist: you move line fragments vertically along a grid in order to create a single horizontal line that stretches from the left edge of the WonderSwan screen to its right edge.

Like I said earlier, hardly the most thrilling of premises for a puzzle game.

Still, my limited time with it has been enjoyable enough, so if you have a WonderSwan and you're itching to play a puzzler on it, you could do worse than pick up a copy of Gunpey.

See also: 'Manual Stimulation' posts about other WonderSwan games, including Crazy Climber, Lode Runner, and Engacho!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Five reasons I would've paid full price for the Switch version of Dandy Dungeon if Onion Games had forced me to do so

I downloaded and started playing Onion Games' Dandy Dungeon the second it hit the Apple App Store in early 2017. (OK, so maybe it wasn't the exact second. I certainly bought it that same day, though.)

Why? Because Yoshiro Kimura--of Chulip, Little King's Story, and Moon: Remix RPG Adventure fame--not only had a hand in designing it, but served as its director, too.

Also, Kazuyuki Kurashima acted as Dandy Dungeon's art director, and Keiichi Sugiyama handled its music and sound design.

If those names don't mean anything to you, Kurashima previously crafted the character designs for games like Freshly-Pickled Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland and UFO: A Day in the Life, while Sugiyama worked on such classics as Daytona USA 2001 and Rez.

Sadly, although I adored most of the handful of hours I put into the mobile version of this roguelike puzzler, some of its "free to play" elements eventually got on my nerves.

Fast forward to a few months ago when word started spreading that Dandy Dungeon was Switch-bound. Despite my mixed reaction to the original release, I couldn't help but get excited about the prospect of giving it a second chance on what's currently my go-to game system.

Thankfully, those murmurings proved to be true for a change, and Dandy Dungeon is now due to hit the Nintendo Switch eShop on June 27. (Heads up: if you pre-purchase it before that date, you'll only pay $17.50, or 30 percent less than the usual price of $24.99.)

As you've hopefully gathered from this post's headline, I won't be paying anything for it. That's because the folks at Onion Games kindly gave me a free copy.

That's awesome, of course, but even so I'm here to say I would've paid full price for this Dandy Dungeon Switch port if the company had snubbed my request. Why? Here are five reasons:

It's deliciously simple--Dandy Dungeon's gameplay basically consists of being sent into dungeons made up of five-square-by-five-square rooms and then drawing a single line that takes the digital representation of the game's protagonist, Yamada-kun, from their entrances to their exits. There's a bit more to it than that, but only a bit. Such straightforward simplicity may sound boring, but it's not. Helping matters immensely: each room of each dungeon is randomly generated--or at least they seem to be randomly generated. Also, you can finish one in seconds at best or minutes at most.

It's crammed full of content--I can't tell you how much, sadly. That said, I've put just over 20 hours into this iteration of Dandy Dungeon so far, and I have a feeling I've got at least that much more to go before I hit its end credits. (Assuming it has a credit roll, of course.) Granted, some--maybe even a good chunk--of that time has been spent grinding, but I'd argue that grinding in Dandy Dungeon rarely, if ever, feels annoying. On the contrary, it's often surprisingly gratifying, as every trip through a particular dungeon leaves you a tad wiser about its (and your) strengths and weaknesses.

It's cute as a button--Kurashima-san sure knows how to make sprites adorable, doesn't he? That was true in Super Mario RPG, it was true in LIVE A LIVE, and it's true in Dandy Dungeon as well. And the sprites here aren't just statically cute, either--they bounce and lunge and wiggle in ways that'll put a stupid, sappy grin on your face, too.

It's completely bonkers--If you've ever played any of Kimura's other joints, like one of my favorite games of 2018, Black Bird, you know they tend to be bizarre. Dandy Dungeon is no exception. You may have already heard the game's story, which focuses on a 36-year-old guy who hates his job, loves his much younger neighbor, and turns to both for inspiration as he makes his own RPG. At home. In his underwear. That's just the start of Dandy Dungeon's journey to Weirdo Land, however. Its enemies, bosses, even its armor and weapons regularly qualify as eyebrow-raising--though rarely in a scandalous way.

Its soundtrack is subtly incredible--Those of you who played and loved Black Bird might approach Dandy Dungeon expecting a similarly "out there" soundtrack. That's not exactly what you'll get, but don't let that stop you from looking forward to it anyway. What's so subtle about this game's music, you ask? Mainly, it's that most of Dandy Dungeon's tunes are wink-wink-nudge-nudge riffs on classic Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy tracks. They're great and all, but they're unlikely to blow you away. As for what will: the handful of fully original compositions, like the Middle Eastern-esque one that plays whenever a rare monster appears on a stage.

See also: 'Onion Games' Black Bird is the dark Fantasy Zone clone I didn't know I wanted or needed'

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Five (more) questions with the makers of Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe

A little over a week ago, I published an interview with Simon Larsen and Lukas Erritsø Hansen, the two guys who, along with musical artist potato-tan, made the homebrew GameBoy gem known as Tobu Tobu Girl.

If you read through that interview, you know that I conducted it over a year ago. I conducted this one, which focuses on the GameBoy Color-compatible Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe, far more recently--just a couple of days ago, in fact.

Speaking of which, you can learn more about--and back a boxed release of--this colorized and otherwise enhanced version of Tangram Games' flagship title via the Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe Kickstarter that ends on May 4.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe title screen

The Gay Gamer: What prompted you to make a deluxe version of Tobu Tobu Girl? Also, when did you make the decision to go this route and when did you get started on it?

Simon: We had been toying around with this idea all the way back when the game was early in development but never went beyond some some colored mock-ups. Tobu Tobu Girl was our first GameBoy project, so we already had our hands full making it work on the DMG.

It wasn't until First Press Games approached us in late 2018 suggesting a "deluxe" version to go with the physical release that we actually started working on it. The (non-GameBoy) game we were working on at the time was not really working out, so this seemed like a nice distraction. As much as we like the original grayscale version, the DMG screen is not very suited for the fast gameplay of Tobu Tobu Girl, so we always felt like the game was best played on a GameBoy Color or Advance anyway. That seemed like a good reason to make a proper colored version.

Early Tobu Tobu Girl color mock-up

The Gay Gamer: Is Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe simply a colorized version of the original game, or is there more to this project than that?

Simon: Besides the obvious addition of colors, a lot of the in-game graphics have been overhauled, both in the grayscale and color versions.

We are also working on some larger additions to the game that we unfortunately can’t reveal too much about yet since some of it is tied to the Kickstarter stretch goals. But we promise there will be some really cool new features regardless of whether any of the stretch goals are met.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe "Clouds" stage

The Gay Gamer: Have you encountered any problems or issues while turning the original game into Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe? If so, can you talk about a few of them and how you overcame them?

Lukas: While at first glance it might have seemed pretty straightforward colorizing the four-shade graphics of the original game, it did come with its share of challenges. Since no (eight-by-eight-pixel) tile can consist of more than four different colors, and no more than eight unique four-color palettes can be present at any time, I had to rework a lot of the tile-based assets from the original.

Especially the score tally screen illustrations were heavily altered to fit the color restrictions, as you would have a tile consisting of the background color, outline, skin, skin shade, jacket, and the shading on the jacket. In the grayscale version, these are just four colors, whereas in the color version I would often end up having tiles like these with five or six different colors.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe "Space" stage

Another problem was the issue of choosing colors that would present well on the GameBoy Color screen. The RGB colors do not translate to the GameBoy Color screen like they would on a standard monitor and generally look more washed-out. Although most emulators have ways of emulating this effect, none of them really seemed to emulate it that closely, so this led to a lot of trial and error.

Simon: On the programming side, this process has mostly been fairly simple. Most of the effort went into writing and rewriting tools for getting the assets into the game. All the new assets increased the amount of data in the game quite a bit, so we had to restructure the ROM’s layout to make everything fit nicely. This hasn’t been a major issue though, since cartridges for the physical release--and any decent flash carts--have way more memory available than we’d ever need.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe "Dream" stage

The Gay Gamer: Tobu Tobu Girl was made to the original GameBoy's specifications. Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe is being made to the GameBoy Color's specifications. Surely this means your next project will be Tobu Tobu Girl Advance, made to the specifications of the GameBoy Advance? Seriously, though, do you ever see yourselves making a proper sequel to Tobu Tobu Girl?

Simon: For now, I doubt we will ever make a sequel. We have already put more time and energy into Tobu Tobu Girl than we ever planned to, and I think I speak for both of us when I say we’re ready to do something else. Overall, we are also pretty happy with the final design: each enemy serves a specific purpose and I think the game allows a decent amount of player expression with only a few core mechanics. If we would ever decide to make a sequel, it would be because we wanted to make a fundamentally different game.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe menu screen

The Gay Gamer: Can we ever expect to see Tobu Tobu Girl or Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe for sale on the Nintendo Switch (or even the 3DS) eShop? If so, when? And if not, why?

Simon: While that would be pretty cool, it is highly unlikely. I don’t think Nintendo would ever allow any emulated games on the eShop. And even if that was the case, I hear getting games certified for consoles is also huge pain. We are making games for fun, not for profit, so we would rather put that energy into making something new.

See also: the Tobu Tobu Girl review I wrote for Hardcore Gaming 101

Friday, April 19, 2019

Check out the Tobu Tobu Girl review I wrote for Hardcore Gaming 101

To those of you who are sick of me writing, tweeting, or otherwise chatting about Tangram Games' Tobu Tobu Girl, I'm sorry.

Don't worry, I'll return to blogging and blathering on about other games soon enough.

In the meantime, please consider reading the Tobu Tobu Girl review I wrote for Hardcore Gaming 101. I think it'll help you understand why I adore the game so much.

Speaking of which, one of the reasons I love Tobu Tobu Girl is that it reminds me of Nintendo's Balloon Kid. As I say in my HG101 review of the former, "both [games] star plucky girls. Both begin with loved ones--a brother in Balloon Kid, a cat in Tobu Tobu Girl--carried away by balloons. Both feature gameplay that regularly makes you feel like you’re a pinball ricocheting around the screen."

That's where the similarities end, though. Again, from my review: "Whereas Balloon Kid is a unique spin on the side-scrolling platformer genre, Tobu Tobu Girl is an arcadey, twitchy, high-score-chasing affair that’s akin to Ferry Halim’s Winterbells. Much like that 2006 effort, the main objective in Tobu Tobu Girl is to quickly climb the screen by bouncing off anything and everything in your path. In Winterbells, that means bells and birds; in Tangram Games’ title, it means birds, bats, ghosts, and even aliens."

On a related, note, Tangram Games recently teamed up with First Press Games to launch a Kickstarter for Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe, a GameBoy Color-enhanced reworking of the original.

Although a free, open-source ROM of Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe will be released in a few months, backers of this Kickstarter will receive physical (boxed) copies of the game.

See also: 'Ten questions with the guys behind the best GameBoy game you've probably never played, Tobu Tobu Girl'