Friday, September 12, 2014

Six shoot 'em ups I'm playing as part of #Shmuptember

Welcome to #Shmuptember, everyone! Wait, do you mean to tell me you don't know what #Shmuptember is?

In that case, here's a little explanation: #Shmuptember is the most recent of blogger Anne Lee's "community game-along" events that tasks willing participants with playing any and all shoot 'em ups that strike their fancy and then sharing their experiences with others--be it in blog posts, podcasts, Tweets or via some other form of social media.

Given the love I've long felt for this genre, I'd be remiss if I didn't put a slew of shmups through their paces this month. In fact, I've already spent a good amount of time with six of them. Continue reading for a few thoughts.

AeroStar (GameBoy)--An intriguingly odd example of the genre due to the fact that it combines traditional overhead-shmup trappings (flying a plane, shooting anything that finds its way on screen) with the most noteworthy elements of Data East's arcade classic, Bump 'n' JumpSpecifically, the majority of the average Joe's or Jane's experience with AeroStar is spent scuttling along roads of various widths while oncoming enemies attack from all angles. Every so often, though, the road falls away and they're forced to launch into the air--but only for a limited amount of time. The game's definitely held back a bit by the GameBoy hardware--a fact that's most plainly observed in the stuttering quality of its scrolling fields--but never to the point that it becomes unplayable or even unenjoyable.

Darius Plus (PC Engine)--I've always thought of this game as being an example of "Deep Blue done right." After all, both games feature a bevy of aquatic settings and foes, although Deep Blue does a lot more with both of those aspects than its Taito-made counterpart. Still, Darius Plus has always had better word of mouth attached to it than Pack-in Video's oft-vilified effort. My rather limited impressions of Darius Plus so far support the notion that it's a better shmup than Deep Blue, but only just, as neither one appeals to me all that much at the moment, I have to say. Here's hoping that changes, and for the better, before #Shmuptember comes to a close.

Insector X (Famicom)--As much as I love (or at least want to love) the aquatic-themed shoot 'em ups discussed in the bullet point above, both of them currently pale in comparison to this insect-themed example of the genre. Although this version of Taito's Insector X isn't quite "arcade perfect," it ably holds its own when it comes to every aspect that matters. I especially like that players are able to choose boy or girl pilots--and that said pilots make adorable little faces while shooting at the similarly cute arthropods that zip and zoom around the screen. This horizontal shmup's bosses are worth noting, too, both for their appealingly cartoonish designs as well as for their screen-filling girth.

Ordyne (PC Engine)--Is this Namco-made game a cute 'em up (à la Parodius and TwinBee) or more a straight-laced shmup like the other games mentioned in this post? It's often hard to tell while playing it, which is a real shame. Personally, I wish its designers had decided to lean more heavily toward adorable than traditional, as examples of the latter are a dime a dozen, especially on the PC Engine. Even in its current state, though, I've got to say I quite like Ordyne. It's colorful, it's got funny-looking enemies (always a plus in my book) and it's acceptably enjoyable. Sure, it could be more engaging or exciting--like its Konami-made counterparts, for example--but it's hard to whine about that when the rest of it is able to bring a smile to your face.

Steel Empire (Mega Drive)--I remember reading about and seeing screenshots of this HOT*B-made title way back when it was released, but that's about it. I wasn't much of a smhup fan at the time--well, aside from cute 'em ups like Pop'n TwinBee and the like--so I never even downloaded and played a ROM of it until recently, when it popped back onto everyone's radar due to the just-released 3DS remake. As great as this new version may be (and I've only heard good things about it), the 16-bit original's pretty great, too, thanks to its original ideas (one of the selectable ships is a dirigible), steampunk-inspired visuals, tight controls and challenging gameplay.

Tenjin Kaisen (GameBoy)--If ever you've wanted to play a shmup that embodies the look, theme and feel of Koei's Samurai Warriors (Sengoku Musou) series, well, here you go. Actually, you may want to try this one, called Mercenary Force in North America, even if you've never dreamed of such a thing, as it should prove interesting to both musou fans and noobs alike. The main reasons for that: players begin by hiring four "mercenaries" that represent five different occupations (for lack of a better word) and offer varying amounts of health and weaponry. After that, it's off to battle, with the aforementioned quartet basically acting like "options" in your typical shoot 'em up. (They even can be rotated into various positions, depending on the situation at hand.) Some are sure to look at the graphics on display here and groan a bit, but they're far from bad and, if my experience is any indication, they're likely to improve over time.

So, that's some of what I've been playing--and will be playing--throughout #Shmuptember. Which shmups are you planning to tackle?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Manual Stimulation: Parasol Stars (PC Engine)

I've held off on publishing a "Manual Stimulation" post devoted to this popular single-screen platformer until now for one simple reason: it's nowhere near as impressive as it should be given how charming and colorful the on-screen action is.

Sadly, the cover of Parasol Stars' manual is both of those things (charming and colorful) and then some. All of that is washed away, though, as soon as you flip it open.

That said, I guess you could say the bubble-inspired header that tops every interior page of this PC Engine manual is a nice, although hardly stellar, addition to the proceedings.

Other aspects of its layout are similarly appealing, such as the scroll that shares the game's story and the stars that call attention to descriptions of its many stages.

Aside from the above, though, it seems kind of wrong for a manual like this one to feature black-and-white screenshots, don't you think?

It does feature a few illustrations, at least, although they pale in comparison to the ones found in similar Taito efforts, such as the manuals the company produced for some of its other arcade-to-PC-Engine ports like Don Doko Don, The New Zealand Story and Mizubaku Daibouken.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

15 memories in honor of the Sega Dreamcast's 15th anniversary

You may have heard elsewhere that yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast's North American launch. (For those of you who aren't great at math, that means it was released in this region on Sept. 9, 1999.)

In honor of that milestone, I thought it might be nice to take a little Dreamcast-focused trip down memory lane.

1. I bought one at launch--Oddly, I can only say that about a couple of consoles, like the Saturn and the Wii. And maybe the Nintendo 64. (I can't entirely remember when I got that last one, but I'm pretty sure it was within a few weeks or months of its release.) 

2. I sold my Japanese Saturn and games to pay for it--As much as I love my Dreamcast and the handful of games I've since acquired for it, I have to admit that I now regret this decision--or at least consider it to have been a somewhat questionable one. 

3. The system's design is what made me want the system--What can I say? It reminded me of NEC's PC Engine, which has long been my favorite console, aesthetically speaking.

4. Well, that and Sonic Adventure and Power Stone--Coming from the era that gave us the Nintendo 64, the PlayStation and the Saturn, these launch-day games looked positively futuristic to my young-ish eyes. I remember being especially entranced by Capcom's arena-based brawler.

5. I've never played Sonic Adventure, by the way--I'm not exactly sure why, unfortunately. Were reviews not so kind to this ambitious release? If so, that's likely the reason. Or maybe the other games I picked up at launch were enough to satisfy me?

6. I've also never owned or played Skies of Arcadia--Given my love of the RPG genre, and the praise that's often heaped upon this Overworks-developed title, that's sure to be a shocking revelation for some. I know it is for me.

7. Nor have I owned or played Samba de Amigo--Actually, this may be an even more surprising disclosure than the one above. I have a feeling the rather pricey (even back then) maraca controllers are what kept me from picking up a copy.

8. Worst admission yet: I also haven't owned or played Seaman--I mean, really--given the name of this blog, I should've at least played a game called Seaman, right? Seriously, despite the fact that this odd "virtual pet" has intrigued me since it first traipsed onto my radar, I've never experienced it firsthand. Maybe I'll rectify that sometime next year.

9. I've spent very little time with Shenmue despite liking what I've played of it--Here's another head-scratcher, or at least I think it is. At least there's a somewhat acceptable explanation for this one--that being that my older brother took this game and a few others (SoulCalibur being one, and Power Stone possibly being another) with him when we stopped sharing an apartment many, many years ago. As for why I've failed to buy a replacement copy in the ensuing decade or so, though, I can't say.

10. I'm pretty sure I've never imported a Dreamcast game--I say "I'm pretty sure" here because my memory's a bit foggy when it comes to this subject. Assuming that's the case, though, this is one of the few instances where I haven't bought even a single Japanese game for a system I still own. Don't worry, I plan to change that soon enough by picking up one or all of the following Japan-only Dreamcast titles: Boku no Tennis Jinsei, Net de Tennis, Lack of Love and Segagaga

11. Oh, and Space Channel 5: Part 2 as well--Sadly, I'm pretty sure acquiring this 2002 release is going to set me back a pretty penny--although maybe not as much as copies of the aforementioned Lack of Love and Segagaga are likely to cost me? Regardless, it'll be worth it, especially when you consider the following.

12. The original Space Channel 5 title is one of my all-time favorite games--I could play it over and over and over again and never become bored with it. In fact, I've done just that since first bought this fabulous rhythm game some years ago.

13. I don't believe I ever took my Dreamcast on line--I'm not entirely sure why that is, although I think it may have had a little something to do with the fact that the only online-enabled Dreamcast game I've ever owned is ChuChu Rocket!--which I didn't buy until a number of years after the system had exited the market.

14. I've never used a VMU to do anything other than data storage--In other words, I've never used it to play any of the mini-games that were included on a number of Dreamcast discs. Granted, a quick glance at this list suggests I own just a handful of titles that offer VMU support, so I guess I shouldn't feel too bad about this oversight.

15. I am determined to own one of the pink Hello Kitty Dreamcast systems before I die--In fact, maybe I'll make it a goal to check this off of my lengthy gaming wish list sometime in 2015.

Do any of you have fond (or otherwise) memories of Sega's final system? If so, please share them in the comments section of this post.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

One-Eyed Girl x Duck Hunt Dog

Is the "Duck Hunt Dog" really going to be included in Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U as a playable character? I have no idea, of course, but I can't help but hope the rumor that suggests he's going to make a noteworthy appearance in the above-mentioned pair of games proves to be true upon their release.

Why, you ask? I don't really know, to tell you the truth--other than I think it sounds like he'd be a fun character to bring into battle. (I'd also like to bring the Ice Climber protagonists into battle, it should be said, but it sounds like they're being left out this time around?)

I can't say with any certainty that artist One-Eyed Girl (aka Kasey Tararuj) is as interested in all of this as I am, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that she is, especially after coming across the adorable creation below.

Tararuj's take on the "Duck Hunter" was included in the "8 Bit and Beyond 2" show recently presented by the Bottleneck Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, by the way. Sadly for any of us who'd like to own one of these "custom bubs," and happily for Tararuj, the one showcased above was snapped up by some eagle-eyed gallery-goer. Oh, well, at least we can take in the photos that can be seen here.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Recommend me some Taito-made Famicom, PC Engine and GameBoy titles

You may have noticed--you know, by reading this recent post, as well as this one and this one--that I'm on a bit of a Taito kick as of late.

Granted, I've been interested in this now basically defunct developer and publisher--and its output, of course--since I first came across a Bubble Bobble cabinet in the arcade that was tucked into the corner of my hometown's bowling alley as a teen, but recently I become even more of a Taito fan.

There's no particular reason I can point to for this increase of affection--other than I've played and written about a bunch of Taito-made games (Bubble Bobble, Don Doko DonInsector X and Rainbow Islands among them) in the last week or two, I mean.

Anyway, as a result, I'd really like to delve even deeper into this Tokyo-based company's catalog. The thing is, though, I've already spent time with a good number of the games it released for my current favorite systems, the Famicom (NES), PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16) and GameBoy.

Specifically, for the Famicom I've played: Bubble BobbleBubble Bobble 2Chuka TaisenDon Doko DonDon Doko Don 2Elevator ActionInsector XRainbow Islands and Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World (aka Panic Restaurant in the West).

When it comes to the company's PC Engine titles, I've played: Darius PlusDon Doko DonGokuraku Chuka TaisenHana Taka Daka!?Jigoku MeguriKiki KaikaiMizubaku DaiboukenThe New Zealand StoryParasol Stars and Rainbow Islands.

Finally, I've played two Taito-made GameBoy carts thus far, with the pair in question being Bubble Bobble and Bobble Bobble Junior.

Should any of you have any Taito-focused recommendations--especially for the aforementioned systems--to share, I'd love to hear them.

To help get you started, here are a handful of the company's games I've been curious about for some time but have yet to experience: Cadash (PC Engine), JuJu Densetsu (Famicom), Power Blazer (Famicom), Sagaia (GameBoy) and Taito Chase H.Q. (PC Engine).