Friday, February 21, 2014

Five favorites: Sega Mega-CD box art

True story: I've always felt an odd affinity for Sega's Mega-CD (Sega CD in the West), the bulky add-on device that was released for the Mega Drive (Genesis) in the early 1990s.

In fact, I was so attracted to the system and its rather tiny catalog of games that I regularly rented a CD-X--the surprisingly small all-in-one system, released in 1994, that combined the Genesis and Sega CD--along with copies of Lunar: The Silver Star or Lunar: Eternal Blue (usually) from the local grocery store as a teen.

I've long considered buying a CD-X system and a bunch of the system's games as a result of those experiences, but the former still commands such high prices on eBay that I've yet to bite the bullet.

That supposed resolve is routinely tested by beautiful Mega-CD box art like that which is showcased below, I have to say. I mean, who wouldn't want to own a copy of Keio Yuugekitai just so they could pull it from the shelf and stare at its cover imagery now and then?

Aisle Lord--I know next to nothing about this particular game--I think it's an RPG?--but at the moment I'm perfectly fine with that, as all I care about is its cover art. Sure, the basis of it is that same, clichéd, "let's jumble all of the game's characters together in the center of the illustration" design that's been a staple of Japanese gaming since the beginning of time (or so it sometimes seems), but at least this time around the artist in charge utilized a slightly different style.

Keio Yuugekitai--According to the word on the street, this game is as worth owning for its gameplay as it is for its box art--which kind of shocks me, as its box art is the definition of beautiful.

Lunar: The Silver Star--I'm sure some folks would include the cover art of this game's sequel, Eternal Blue, here instead, and I can't argue with them to an extent, but I've always been so attracted to this particular creation--and the game it represents--that I couldn't help but include it here.

Time Gal--I know the gameplay of this one isn't all that appealing, but you've got to love it box art anyway--or at least I do. I mean, come on--not only does it feature a green-haired lass with ample thighs (and, no, I'm also not sure why I zeroed in on that fact), but it features a giant woolly mammoth, too. In other words, it's close to perfection. The only way it could be better, in my opinion: if it showcased a bare-chested stud with pecs and abs to spare instead of a chick.

Waraou Salesman--OK, so some of you are likely to consider this piece of cover art to be the stuff of nightmares. I can't fault you for that, but I personally love it--mainly because it seems like a Japanese take on the creepy propaganda posters you could have seen in other areas of the world (if not in Japan, too) in the early part of the last century.

Note: all of the box art included in this post was pulled from the always fabulous

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Great Gaymathon Review #64: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

Game: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
System: 3DS
Release date: 2013

If I were to boil down this review to a single sentence, it'd probably read something like this: A Link Between Worlds is so magical (yes, magical) that it's singlehandedly rekindled my long-lost interest in the Zelda series as a whole.

This could hardly be considered much of a review if I stopped there, though, so I guess I should get to typing. But where should I start? Here's as good a spot as any, in my humble opinion: A Link Between Worlds, as you may have heard, is a years-in-coming follow-up to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, aka one of my all-time favorite games.

The thing is, that 1992 release is one of the few Zelda games I've ever enjoyed (with the others being the series' very first game and the original Nintendo 64 version of Ocarina of Time--although I've got to admit I haven't spent enough time with A Link's Awakening, Majora's Mask or The Wind Waker to have formed a solid opinion of them). Even then, I came into A Link Between Worlds with monumentally low expectations. In fact, I nearly decided to pass on the game entirely--that's how disinterested I am in this vaunted series these days.

After putting just over 20 hours into my particular copy of the game, though, I can safely say my initial fears--and my aloof attitude--were unwarranted. One of my main worries, by the way, was that A Link Between Worlds would be little more than an unattractive retread of A Link to the Past. And guess what? That couldn't be further from the truth.

Sure, there are a lot of similarities between the two games--they're both set in the same world (although most locations are different), they both feature the same basic gameplay, they both feature the same music and sound effects (although the former are re-arrangements)--but despite that A Link Between Worlds does an admirable job of presenting itself as an engagingly unique effort.

In large part, that's because of this game's signature "gimmick," which allows Link to turn into a piece of graffiti and scamper along walls and shimmy through cracks, but there are other reasons, too. A couple of them: the open-ended gameplay (you can tackle its dungeons in whatever order you choose, basically) and the ability to rent the game's appealing assortment of both old and new items (yep, you no longer acquire them within each dungeon) nearly right from the start.

It's also worth noting that although there's a story that helps move players along, it's the definition of barebones (while still proving to be at least somewhat interesting, of course) and never gets in the way of the action--which is how I like it in my Zelda games.

All of the above takes a back seat to the most important aspect of A Link Between Worlds' appeal, however; that being how it "feels."

By that, I mean that quite literally everything feels great (and "right," if that makes sense) and is a joy to experience in this game--from moving Link around, to slashing at enemies (who tend to bounce away as if they were made out of rubber) or tall clumps of grass, to smooshing anything and everything with the "magic mallet" (my favorite item), to turning into painting and stuttering along walls.

That, to me, was the thing that most blew me away while traipsing through this particular Zelda adventure, and it's also the thing that's most likely to bring me back for second, third and even more playthroughs in the coming months and years.

Sure, its graphics are surprisingly, even shockingly, charming and its soundtrack is filled with tunes that will prompt even most hardened gamer to hum along, but they really just serve to make A Link Between Worlds look and sound nice. Even without those elements, this game would play like a dream, and that's all that should matter in cases like this, isn't it?

See also: previous 'Great Gaymathon' reviews

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Shall We Do It? (bidding a fond farewell to Sweet Fuse and finally digging into Bravely Default)

"Oh, hell no."

Those three words were the first ones that came to mind when I wrapped up Sweet Fuse: At Your Side for the first time over the weekend.

That's because, after spending about a week and a whole lot of hours on this PSP-based visual novel, the first ending I encountered was a bad one. (As in, the guy I had the hots for didn't admit to feeling the same about me, er, my 18-year-old female avatar.)

I considered that to be completely unacceptable, so I promptly decided to go through the whole affair again--which is easier than it may sound in Sweet Fuse (and many other such games), as it offers players the ability to fast-forward through text that's already been read.

The problem is, I made a wrong choice at the very beginning of that follow-up attempt (these games are all about making the right choices--to the extent that most fans refer to a guide while working through them) and as a result I wound up not being able to re-woo the character in question.

So, after that campaign ended an hour or so later--also badly, I might add--I gave it another go. This time lasted just 45 minutes or so, and guess what? I finally ended up with the man of my dreams. Er, sort of. I think.

Was it all worth it? Surprisingly, I think it was. Although Sweet Fuse started slowly for me, its story--a murder mystery set at a video game-themed theme park, basically--eventually sank its claws into me, as did its colorful cast of characters.

I have to admit that I only found two of its woo-able men to be at all attractive--the "mature" (he's all of 32) journalist, Ayumu Shirabe, seen in the screenshot above, and the wild-haired "escort," Ryusei Mitarashi--but the rest of the bunch were interesting enough that it didn't bother me much, if at all.

As much as I enjoyed this experience, I can't help but think only a small fraction of today's gamers would find it similarly enthralling. That's largely because of the Choose Your Own Adventure-esque gameplay, by the way, and not because it's aimed at women and girls.

Still, that hasn't hurt this game's main competition in the Western world, Hakuoki, from finding a surprising amount of success, so maybe I'm selling non-Japanese gamers a bit short?

Regardless, just know that the main thing you do when you "play" Sweet Fuse is read. Once in a while you're asked to select between two or three options that will advance the plot in various ways, but other than that you'll be advancing lines of text with your PSP's X button.

If that doesn't bother you, I'd highly recommend giving the game a go should you own the requisite hardware.

A game I wouldn't give such a hearty recommendation to at this point, although I'm admittedly still at the very beginning of its adventure, is Golden Sun for the GameBoy Advance.

I've had this one for ages now, but for all sorts of reasons failed to boot it up until this past weekend.

Now, before I get too negative, let me just say that already I like a number of things about this portable RPG: I like its graphics (yes, even though they exist in that rather unattractive and awkward space also filled by games like Donkey Kong Country), I like its basic gameplay (which is like if Shining Force were turned into a traditional, turn-based RPG) and I like its soundtrack, too.

What don't I like? For starters, I hope that whomever designed the stairs found throughout the initial town was fired shortly after Golden Sun's release. On more than one occasion I've become stuck because I couldn't see the steps that supposedly had been carved out of the stony backdrop.

Actually, I hope the person in charge of this town's layout was fired, too, as it's a far too circuitous for its own good, if you ask me.

Oh, and then there's the fact that after an hour or two of gameplay I've still yet to find my way out of said town. Admittedly, it's possible I just haven't been paying close enough attention to what the game's NPCs are saying, but I doubt it.

Don't worry, I'm not planning to give up on Golden Sun anytime soon as a result of the above-mentioned shenanigans, although I wouldn't expect me to beat it anytime soon. After all, I just began Bravely Default, and anyone who has been coming here for even just the last few months should know that game is likely to take the bulk of my gaming attention for the foreseeable future. (Hell, I spent eight to 10 hours on the Bravely Default demo alone.)

Speaking of Bravely Default, I've played about three hours of it the other day and, boy, were those three hours a blast. I'm happy to report the full game eases folks into the experience a lot better than the demo did.

My favorite part of Bravely Default so far: the "party chat" feature. I can only imagine how much time this added to the game's localization effort, so I'm glad the people responsible for it decided to keep it intact.

This feature allows gamers to gain a bit of insight into the feelings and motives of each party member, by the way. As far as I can tell it can be completely ignored, so those of you who'd rather just get on with things are free to do so.

Other than that, I'm also loving the game's battle system, of course, as well as its graphics (or maybe I should say "art style") and soundtrack--although none of that should come as a surprise, as I loved all of those things in the Bravely Default demo, too.

Are any of you also working your way through this beautiful RPG at the moment? If so, what do you think of it so far?

One last thing: should you want to read a few impressions of another game I've spent some quality time in recent days, click here to check out my initial thoughts on the Japan-only puzzler, Zoo Keeper 3D.

Also, click here to scroll through previous "Shall We Do It?" posts.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Forget the Year of Luigi; for me, 2014 is the Year of the GameBoy

Given the number of posts I've published about them in recent weeks and months, you could be forgiven for assuming I'd already declared (or at least privately decided) this to be the "Year of the DS" or the "Year of the 3DS."

In a way, of course, 2014 is and will be both of those things for me--unofficially, at least. Officially, though, it's already become clear to me that the focus of my thoughts and desires this year is going to be the handheld that started it all, the GameBoy.

The fact is, I've been a smidge obsessed with the system--its extensive catalog of obscure Japanese games, in particular--since I wrote about Irem's Noobow early last year.

Clockwise from upper-left: Snow Bros. Jr., Painter Momopie,
Penguin Land and Osawagase! Penguin Boy

Things only got worse after I discovered Peetan a few months later, and then Painter Momopie and Osawagase! Penguin Boy a couple of months after that.

Sadly, I've yet to come across complete copies of Noobow or Peetan during my all-too-frequent eBay forays, but I have come across--and purchased--copies of Painter Momopie and Osawagase! Penguin Boy and a number of other intriguing, import-only GameBoy titles in the last half-year or so.

So, expect to see posts--featuring photos as well as impressions, if not actual reviews--about all of them sooner rather than later. At the moment, I'm not planning to "brand" these write-ups in any particular way, but who knows? Regardless, I hope you'll enjoy them.

Monday, February 17, 2014

SHOCKING NEWS: Zoo Keeper 3D doesn't suck

I have to be honest here: I bought Zoo Keeper 3D expecting to be disappointed by it.

I know that doesn't make much sense--why would I go ahead and spend my hard-earned money on a game that I was pretty sure I'd dislike? Well, the thing is, I didn't think I'd completely hate it. I just thought it would pale in comparison to the series' first handheld release, 2003's Zooo, much like that game's DS-based follow-up did.

So, imagine my surprise when I started playing Zoo Keeper 3D a few days ago and couldn't stop. And not only couldn't I stop playing it, but I couldn't stop grinning while I was playing it.

What's so fun about this iteration of everyone's favorite zoo-themed, match-three puzzler? I've got two words for you: Encho Battle.

That's the name of my favorite Zoo Keeper 3D mode, for those of you who aren't in the know (and I'm guessing that's a good portion of you). In it, you battle to the death (or something like that) against the game's balding curator.

The general rules here are the same as they always are in these Bejeweled-esque titles: rid the game field of as many tiles as possible by placing three or more of the same design--in this case, different animals' faces--in a row.

What sets this mode apart from the others included in Zoo Keeper 3D is that here, getting rid of alligator, giraffe, monkey and panda tiles earns the player "offense" points, while doing the same to the elephant and hippo tiles earns you "defense" points.

As for why you need either of those things: at the end of every round (they only take a few seconds), you and the curator--I'm assuming his name is Encho--square off a la Punch-Out!! If he has more offense and defense points than you do, your health meter decreases. Allow it to dry up completely and it's game over.

Something I love about this particular mode: it means business. As in, I've played it about 25 times now (at least), and so far I've racked up just seven or so wins.

Speaking of challenges, the "Score Attack" mode included here is pretty tough, too. That may be because each game is limited to a single minute, though--as opposed to the six-minute games found in the other Zoo Keeper titles.

You can extend that a bit, but I have to confess that I'm not entirely sure how you do it. I've been able to eke out games that lasted a minute and a half and two minutes, but that's it--and I have no idea what I did to earn those extra, precious seconds.

Zoo Keeper 3D features a few other modes as well, of course, but I've yet to play any of them. If you want to know their names, there's "Normal Game" (traditional rules apply), "Tokoton" (rid the field of 100 of each animal), "Quest," "Puzzle" (which seems similar to games like Nazo Puyo) and "Friend Battle" (versus mode, basically).

Two last comments before I hit "publish": although Zoo Keeper 3D's soundtrack isn't as stellar as the one featured in the first Zoo Keeper, it far from sucks. (In fact, the tune that plays throughout each "Score Attack" battle is largely responsible for my continued attempts at this mode.) Also, the little animations that play out on the top screen (while the action takes place on the lower one--if you choose) are a lot cuter and a lot more interesting than they have any right to be.

See also: 'One of the many reasons I'm glad I finally picked up Zoo Keeper 3D: it comes with an actual manual'