Friday, September 28, 2012

The Great Gaymathon Review #61: Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure (3DS)

Game: Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure
Genre: Music/Rhythm
Developer: Sega/Xeen
Publisher: Sega
System: 3DS
Release date: 2012

A few of the words I'd use to describe Sega's Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure: Ambitious, disappointing, dramatic (sometimes overly so), ridiculous and sweet. Oh, and tedious. Yes, tedious. As much as I hate to admit it, and as much as I enjoyed the Rhythm Thief demo, I found playing through the "real deal," so to speak, to be a chore.

That's not to say this Xeen-developed 3DS title failed to bring a smile to my face. On the contrary, I found certain aspects of it to be both charming and fun. The art style, for instance, is appealingly colorful and pleasant (although it appears a bit "cheap" at times). Rhythm Thief's funky, jazzy soundtrack--which harkens back to that of another Sega property, Space Channel 5--could be described in similarly positive terms. Also, it features the most unique array of control schemes I think I've ever encountered in a portable game.

So, why did I suggest in the first paragraph of this review that Rhythm Thief was disappointing and a "chore"? For starters, although the game is admirably ambitious, its many "pieces" never quite came together for me. You know how various folks have described this release as being "Professor Layton meets Space Channel 5"? Well, that's exactly what it is, at its core. Unfortunately, the mash-up just doesn't come together as well as I'd hoped it would.

Chiefly responsible for this, in my mind, is its story--or, rather, its ratio of story to rhythm games. If I were to guess what said ratio was, I'd say it's about 75-25 in favor of the game's story, and in the end it was just too much for me. I have to say, though, that I think I would have found Rhythm Thief to be a bit trying even if the ratio were closer to 50-50, as the story here--which is set in Paris and involves, among other things, a young guy who's leading a double life as an art thief and an older one who claims to be Napoleon--isn't all that engaging. Or at least it wasn't to me.

Another aspect that failed to engage me: The game's Layton-esque exploration element, or lack thereof. You're rarely at a loss for where to go or what to do next while playing Rhythm Thief, as the next plot point's quite literally pointed out to you (often by a big magenta exclamation point, no less). This game steals ideas from the aforementioned Level-5 series in other ways, too, although I think it would've been better off if its developers had refrained from doing so. In particular, the random tapping of background images--required to find medals (which allow players to buy items than can make difficult mini-games a bit easier), pieces of music and hidden scores--injects an additional layer of annoyance into a title that was annoying enough already.

Finally, it has to be said that although most of Rhythm Thief's mini-games are amusing, "have their heart in the right place" and all that jazz, a good number of them are downright broken due to awkward controls. (In fact, one particular mini-game nearly prompted me to give up on my playthrough altogether.) And even when they don't feel broken, they're often unforgiving to an unbelievable degree. All of which is too bad, as Rhythm Thief's best mini-games easily call to mind those found in such classics as Samba de Amigo and Space Channel 5.

Are those brief, shining moments--along with the others mentioned earlier--enough for me to recommend this quirky mutt of a release to anyone but the most diehard of Sega fans? (Do such people even exist anymore?) To be frank, no, they aren't. I guess if you can find a copy that's cheap enough, it may be worth picking up if you're really into rhythm and/or Professor Layton-ish games, but even then I have a feeling it's more than likely to disappoint.

See also: Previous 'Great Gaymathon' posts

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Five favorites: Games featuring penguins

My recent experiences with The Berlin Wall, a Japanese Game Gear title that's filled with penguins of various colors and sizes, got me thinking it might be fun to write about my favorite games that feature these waddling, flightless birds.

This post is the result of that brainstorming, of course. Please note that I decided to focus on games that have penguin protagonists. As such, you won't see games like the aforementioned platformer or, say, Super Mario 64 discussed here.

1. Binary Land (Famicom)--This Hudson Soft-made game, which puts players in control of a pair of in-love penguins, is one of my favorite Famicom games, so it shouldn't be too surprising that I'm including it here. I don't love Binary Land because of its adorable protagonists, by the way; I love it because of its unique gameplay (you literally control both characters at the same time as you work them toward each stage's "exit" of sorts) and its highly hummable soundtrack.

2. Parodius Da! (PC Engine)--I could have included any of Konami's Parodius games in this post, really, but I decided to go with this, the series' second release, because it's the first I played. A few additional reasons for its inclusion here: it stars Pentarou, son of Antarctic Adventure's main character, and it features hordes of penguin "baddies" as well as a rather notable penguin boss (who earns extra points from yours truly for being both pink and a pirate), too.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Manual Stimulation: Banana (Famicom)

I've got two things to say about Banana's instruction manual: 1) I appreciate that its creators made sure it's an appropriate shade of yellow, and 2) it has absolutely nothing on this Famicom game's appealingly kaleidoscopic box art.

That first point is clear right from the start, of course, but it takes a few pages for the second point to sink in. Sadly, Banana's instruction manual is just a few pages long, so by the time you've come to terms with how boring it is, you're already at its end.

All that said, I decided to share these scans of Banana's manual anyway because so little information about this quirky puzzler, produced by the folks at Victor Interactive, can be found on the Internet these days. 

As you can see, Banana's manual begins rather, well, boringly. I have to admit, though, that I'm more than a bit curious as to what's said in the quote that fills the white box on the left-hand page. 

The next few pages of Banana's manual are similarly yawn-inducing. Granted, the huge majority of instruction manuals produced during the early part of the Famicom era were yawn-inducing, so I won't be too hard on the people who made this one.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Acquisition #144: The Berlin Wall (Game Gear)

Considering my last two "Acquisition #123" posts focused on Japanese Game Gear titles, it probably didn't shock many of you to see that this post will focus on one, too.

Specifically, this entry in the "Acquisition #123" series will focus on Kaneko's The Berlin Wall, a rather adorable Bubble Bobble/Fairyland Story clone that hit the streets of Japan in 1991.

Although the game began life in the arcades, Kaneko's crack team of programmers did an admirable job of downsizing and squeezing it onto a comparably tiny Game Gear cartridge. In fact, I actually prefer the cuter, simpler looks of this portable port to its quarter-munching cousin.

Unfortunately, I've yet to actually give this cart a test drive, so to speak, as I still don't own a Game Gear. (I'm waiting for a particular UK-based eBay vendor to offer another refurbished, banana-yellow Game Gear system for sale before adding one to my collection.)

I've played and enjoyed this hammer-centric single-screen platformer (which, to tell you the truth, has as much in common with Brøderbund's Lode Runner as it does Bubble Bobble and its boppy, bouncy ilk) enough via emulation, though, to know that I'll continue to have an absolute blast with it as soon as I finally get my hands on one of Sega's brick-sized handhelds.

In the meantime, I guess I'll just have to stare at its package (that's what she said) and its similarly, er, "stimulating"--not to mention adorable--instruction manual.

Speaking of the former, I've just uploaded a number of additional photos of both the front and back of The Berlin Wall's box to my Flickr photostream, so please check them out if that's your kind of thing. (I also uploaded a bunch of shots of Banana's, Ganbare Gorby's and Magical Puzzle Popils' packaging, in case any of you are interested.)

See also: 'Another Bubble Bobble/Fairyland Story clone approaches'

Monday, September 24, 2012

I've fallen in love with a girl, and her name is Dove

Don't worry, folks, I haven't dumped my husband and gone over to the dark side. (I kid, non-gay readers.)

You see, the girl I've fallen in love with isn't real. Rather, she's the protagonist in an in-the-works "oceanic adventure game" called Sealark. Here's what Dove looks like:

As for who's working on this game: Chillicothe, Ohio-based programmer and pixel artist, Joshua Cross.

Sealark will be released for Windows, Mac and Linux sometime next year (July is the target, I believe) thanks to an enormously successful kickstarter campaign.

Said kickstarter doesn't end for 19 more days, by the way, so click on the link above if you'd like to join in (or if you'd just like to learn more about the project).

I pledged $10 myself over the weekend. I would have pledged enough to earn the "limited run physical copy of the game and OST" had it still been available, but it wasn't. Oh, well.

Anyway, to see even more of Cross' work, check out his deviantART page and/or his tumblr, Pigeon's Nest.

Puppeteer may make me reconsider my recent decision to pass on the PS3

I know Puppeteer, a Dynamite Headdy-esque PS3 platformer being made by the folks at Sony's Worldwide Studios, was unveiled about a month ago (at Gamescom 2012), but for some dumb reason the game's first trailer slipped under my radar.

Thankfully, Puppeteer's second trailer--released a few days ago during Tokyo Game Show 2012--was unable to weasel its way by me. Watch it below if you have a thing for amazing-looking games (and, really, who doesn't?).

Sadly, the game doesn't yet have a release date. I'm OK with that, though, as it gives me time to figure out an answer to a question that's been bouncing around in my brain for the last few weeks: Will I or won't I buy a PS3 sometime next year?

For the longest time, my plan was to do just that. Specifically, I was going to pick up one of the new PS3 "Super Slim" systems for a song as well as a slew of games (such as 3D Dot Game Heroes, Journey and Valkyria Chronicles) that I've been drooling over for some time.

What's caused me to question that decision? Three things: 1) Sony's decision to slap a price tag on the "Super Slim" that's higher than the one currently affixed to the previous PS3 revision, 2) the unveiling of the "PINK x WHITE" 3DS LL and 3) the impending release of the Wii U.

Of course, another option would be to wait until the PS4 has hit the streets and then pick up a PS3 on the cheap. Yeah, maybe that's what I'll do...