Friday, April 17, 2015

Another Year of the GameBoy: Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank (aka Trax)

With HAL Laboratory--purveyor of such fine video-game products as the Adventures of Lolo series, the Kirby series and the Mother series--back in the headlines the world over thanks to its recently released 3DS puzzler-platformer, BOXBOY!, I thought now would be the perfect time to chat about this little-known, HAL-made gem from 1991, which was re-named Trax when it was localized for the North American market.

If you've never heard of this particular GameBoy cart, let alone actually played it, here's a breviloquent rundown of what it has to offer: it's a four-stage, top-down, free-scrolling shmup that plops players into the driver's seat of an adorable, bouncy-looking tank.

Controlling said tank is accomplished using the GameBoy's directional pad--which allows the spherical vehicle to scoot about each level with surprising ease--as well as its A and B buttons. Pressing the former rotates (in a clockwise fashion) the tank's turret, uh, whatever half of 45 degrees is, while pressing the latter launches some sort of bomb, bullet or shell at anything and anyone in your path.

Sure, the distinct lack of playfields included in this portable title is a terrible disappointment, but in the same breath, I have to admit the experience doesn't suffer due to that limitation as substantially as you may think.

In fact, Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank is a lot like the aforementioned Kirby games in that it's hardly the deepest of experiences, but it's such a blast to play that you probably won't waste much time whining about that fact after blowing through the content that's on offer.

On a related note, the only piece of criticism I feel like leveling at Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank at the moment is that the designers and developers at HAL Laboratory were perhaps a bit too buttoned-up when they conjured up this cartridge's visuals. Don't get me wrong, the graphics here are nice and clean, but where's the whimsy? I would've killed for a stage that, say, dropped players into the middle a carnival or forced them to climb Mt. Fuji.

Oh, well, even in its current, semi-conservative--for the makers of the Kirby and Mother series, especially--state, Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank is a joy to behold. Plus, at least its packaging displays a bit of playfulness. Take a gander at the illustration (pulled from the game's instruction manual) of the bow-tied tank in the photo above for just one example.

Have any of you spent time with this fine (in the opinion of yours truly, of course) GameBoy title? If so, what do you think of it? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section that follows.

See also: previous 'Another Year of the GameBoy' posts

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Five favorites: WonderSwan box art

I know I haven't mentioned it in some time, but the wonderfully named WonderSwan handheld continues to intrigue me more than maybe it should.

Actually, that's not completely fair. After all, there's a lot to like about this weird, Japan-only portable and its similarly odd catalog of games. For instance, there's the WonderSwan's unique design, which allows users to hold their systems either in a horizontal or vertical position (depending on the cartridge that's stuck inside, of course).

Also, although quite a few uninteresting (especially to Western audiences) games--many of which could be described as downright turds--were released for the WonderSwan during its relatively short "reign," a good number of quality titles were made available for it, too.

Something that often goes hand in hand with quality games, of course, is quality box art--especially when we're talking about Japanese games.

That's true even when it comes to the lowly WonderSwan, as the following five examples of cover imagery should help prove.

Engacho!--OK, so this particular piece of box art is a bit gross. It's also got a lot of verve, though, and the use of color is nothing short of brilliant, if you ask me. An added bonus: its puzzling gameplay's actually loads of fun.

Hataraku Chocobo--This Final Fantasy spin-off's nearly unknown outside of Japan, which is a shame as it seems pretty interesting. Specifically, it sounds like an Animal Crossing-esque sort of experience, although I'm guessing this Chocobo-centric twist on Nintendo's world-conquering series is quite a bit less deep in the content department.

Mr. Driller--This 2001 port of Namco's classic arcade puzzler is proof that it's been released for pretty much every system imaginable over the years. Not that I'm complaining. I'm beyond thrilled that the WonderSwan got in on the Mr. Driller action--although the thing that's chiefly responsible for my bliss is the beautiful box art seen above.

Rhyme Rider Kerorican--This portable music game was made by the well-regarded crew at NanaOn-Sha, perhaps best known for PaRappa the Rapper, UmJammer Lammy and Vib-Ribbon. Rhyme Rider doesn't quite have the same cachet among gamers as those previously mentioned titles, but at least its cover imagery stacks up to the counterparts of its predecessors rather admirably.

Tane wo Maku Tori--This unique puzzler's box art is, without question, my favorite of the bunch showcased here. I like its use of color, of course, and I also like that it looks as though it was crafted out of pieces of cut-up paper, but there's more to it than that, too. Maybe it's that it gives off slightly melancholy as well as cheerful vibes, much like its in-game graphics?

Do you have any favorite examples of WonderSwan cover art? If so, let me (and everyone else) know about them in the comments section that follows.

See also: previous 'five favorites' posts

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shall We Do It? (BOXBOY! plus more Danganronpa and My World, My Way)

I may have only added one new game to my "now playing" roster in the last couple of weeks, but that title--Nintendo's BOXBOY!--has proven to be quite a thrill, so at least my precious time hasn't been at all wasted.

Along with the above-mentioned 3DS effort, I've also put some additional time into two games I slobbered over in my last installment of "Shall We Do It?"--the cult-ish, Vita-based visual novel, Danganronpa, and the oddly endearing DS RPG known in this neck of the woods as My World, My Way. (Elsewhere, which in this case means Japan, it's known as Sekai wa Atashi de Mawatteru, a phrase that apparently translates to something like The World Revolves Around Me.)

Here are a smattering of my thoughts on each of these captivating titles:

BOXBOY! (3DS)--In the hours and days since I bought and downloaded HAL Laboratory's BOXBOY!, a just-released 3DS eShop title, I've spent a good bit of time with it. 

Actually, I've only sunk about two-and-a-half hours into this intriguing puzzler-platformer thus far, but that's been enough for me to get to its eighth world (each world is stuffed with five or more stages), so I'm not about to punish myself for not giving it an acceptable amount of attention.

In conquering those 35 or 40 bite-sized stages, by the way, I've experienced a surprisingly broad array of gameplay elements, although all of them are showcased within similar set pieces--monochromatic, minimalistic affairs that wouldn't have looked out of place during the GameBoy "era."

Anyway, the aforementioned variety definitely is the main thing that's keeping me glued to my digital copy of BOXBOY! at the moment. There's simply a depth to what you can do with this game's protagonist, or to what you can make the protagonist do, that makes the overall experience a grin-inducing blast.

All the said, one slight piece of criticism I'd lay at the otherwise gorgeous feet of BOXBOY! is that I'm not sure I'll ever return to it after I complete it. Of course, the same could be said of the majority of the games I've played over the years, and this one cost me just a couple of bucks (as opposed to many times that), so maybe that won't seem like such a big deal when all is said and done.

Danganronpa (Vita)--Considering how much I loved my first hour or two with this dark Vita adventure, I assumed it would basically take over my life for the next couple of weeks. That didn't happen, surprisingly enough, although I think the addition of BOXBOY! to my ever-growing list of "now playing" titles had a little something to do with it.

Still, I've continued to kind of methodically plug away at it, and over the last few nights I've devoted two or three more hours to its nail-biting story.

I have a feeling I'll devote even more time to it in the coming week, as Danganronpa really turned up the drama dial during my last 60-minute-or-so stint with it, and now I'm chomping at the bit, so to speak, to get back to it and see how things pan out for the colorful cast that sits at the center of this title.

I've still yet to experience any of Danganronpa's trial segments, by the way--though I know one is going to be forced on me shortly--so it'll be interesting to discover how they manage to change things up.

Hopefully I'll be able to chat about that in my next installment of this series.

My World, My Way (DS)--Despite the love I expressed for this quirky, Atlus-published RPG in my last few posts about it, I basically gave it the cold shoulder after I started BOXBOY! and Danganronpa.

Thankfully, that only lasted for about a week, and a few days ago I started playing it again in earnest. Well, maybe I shouldn't say "in earnest," as I've only put about two more hours into it in the last couple of days, but considering this time last week I was worried I'd never play it again, I'd say a two additional hours is worth at least a mini-celebration.

As for how far I was able to progress during those two hours, the CliffsNotes version is that I made it through two more of the game's rather miniscule maps--which, as I believe I've mentioned in earlier posts about My World, My Way, usually contain a town, an exit gate (which allows you to access the next map location) and somewhere between 20 and 30 or so "overworld tiles" that can be traversed, step by step (almost like you would in a board game), and which offer up enemy encounters, items and the like.

My World, My Way's still pretty darn repetitive, by the way, but I can't say I'm all that bothered by it. In large part, I think that's because the game does an excellent job of throwing new environments, baddies and abilities at you right around the time you begin to feel bored with the existing ones.

A case in point: shortly after I gained access to My World, My Way's desolate desert zone, I was introduced to a new pout ability that allowed me to produce unique areas called "southern islands." These map-altering creations feature sandy beaches, crystal-blue waters and even breaching whales--as well as a couple of curious-looking enemy types that only can be encountered while within their borders.

For whatever reason, all of the above have re-ignited my interest in this weird role-playing game--which is a very good thing indeed, as I have a feeling I'm still a considerable distance from its credit roll.

See also: previous 'Shall We Do It?' posts

Monday, April 13, 2015

A note for the handful of people who'll care: I'm putting my #ADecadeofDS posts on the back burner for a couple of weeks

Don't worry, this doesn't mean I'm leaving my #ADecadeofDS series in the dust. On the contrary, I'm only stepping away from it for a short while so that I can spend some more time with a few of the DS games that have really struck a chord with me over the last month or two.

Specifically, I'd like to experience a bit more of what Awatama, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales, My World, My Way and Okamiden have to offer.

Once that's out of the way, though, I plan to jump back into the fray by playing Contact, Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits, Pac-Pix and a whole slew of other intriguing DS games.

In the meantime, you may want to read through the #ADecadeofDS posts I've already published--about games like Awatama, Catch! Touch! Yoshi!, Chocobo Tales, Maestro! Jump in Music, Okamiden, Pop Cutie! Street Fashion Simulation, Taiko no Tatsujin DS and Zombie Daisuki.