Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Great Gaymathon Review #72: Astro Rabby (GameBoy)

Game: Astro Rabby
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Cyclone System
Publisher: IGS
System: GameBoy
Release date: 1990

It's no secret that Nintendo's GameBoy wasn't a technological marvel. Sure, its hardware was comparable to that of the Famicom (or the NES, if that's your cup of tea), but that doesn't mean a whole lot when you consider the latter was six years old when the former first hit the streets.

Also, as everyone should know by now, the GameBoy's screen wasn't the greatest. In fact, it's far more responsible for holding back this handheld's titles than the amount of sprites it could handle or the size of its onboard RAM.

I bring up all of these details because they prompted a lot of developers to put a cap on their creativity while producing games for Nintendo's first portable system. That's most evident in the shocking number of puzzlers and other simple, single-screen affairs that found their way onto store shelves during the GameBoy's reign.

The same criticism can't be laid at the feet of the folks at Cyclone System, makers of Astro Rabby. After all, not only is this Japan-only 1990 release a platformer, but it's a top-down platformer that in a really weird way calls to mind an early PlayStation effort that so many people seem to love, Jumping Flash!

Admittedly, Jumping Flash! offers players a whole lot more freedom than Astro Rabby does, but the point still stands: this is a GameBoy title that shouldn't exist given the bulk of the system's often-creatively-barren catalog.

Which begs the question: what makes Astro Rabby so great? Or, at least, what makes stand out from the system's sea of Tetris wannabes?

To that, the first thing I'd point out is the top-down, pseudo-3D platforming action that serves as this game's backbone. It's weird and kind of floaty at first, but give it time and it'll not only grow on you but it'll probably start to feel pretty darn good. I'd even go so far as to describe it as "exhilarating" after you become accustomed to it.

Mind you, Astro Rabby isn't some sort of freeform platformer that lets you wander about as you like. Actually, it's presented almost like an overhead shmup. Each space-based level scrolls forward at a rather languid pace (thankfully!). If you reach a particular level's end point without picking up the "power-up part" that's hidden within one of its many Super Mario-esque question blocks--here you bounce on them rather than hit them from below to reveal what's inside--you loop back to the beginning and continue in that vein until you finally nab it.

In the meantime, you hop around and do your best to avoid the out-of-place baddies--extraterrestrial frogs, moles, octopi and the like--as well as bottomless pits that populate the remainder of each stage.

Something that makes all of this space-hopping, parts-grabbing action a little more enjoyable than it would be otherwise is the blippy, boppy soundtrack that percolates in the background.

If only the best of those tunes played during Astro Rabby's woeful bonus rounds. They're based on that old-fashioned game known as Concentration--only in this case you're tasked with matching bell chimes rather than images. If that sounds at all appealing, well, let me assure you that it isn't.

Actually, I'm sure it would be at least acceptable if it were easy to tell the difference between the sounds. As it stands, it's hard--really hard--to tell one from another. Combine that with the fact that you have to wrap things up in 30 seconds or less, and you've got yourself a miserable experience.

Thankfully, you're allowed to continue on with your pixelated adventure even if you fail to complete these extra stages. There's no question, though, that it would be a lot more fun if Astro Rabby's developers had it so you could beat them now and then. (Full disclosure: I've yet to get close to clearing a single one.)

My suggestion: pretend these bonus rounds don't exist and instead focus your attention on the rest of what this quirky import has to offer. Do that and you should have a surprisingly good time--especially if you generally use your GameBoy to play one of the system's many puzzlers.

See also: previous 'Great Gaymathon' reviews plus 'Another Year of the GameBoy: Astro Rabby'

Thursday, October 08, 2015

A few more thoughts on The Legend of Legacy demo now that I've put almost nine hours into it

Actually, I've put "just" eight hours and 40 minutes into the Legend of Legacy demo thus far, but it's easier to say "almost nine" in a blog headline so that's what I went with here.

With that out of the way, some of you probably are wondering how on earth I could spend nearly nine hours playing this upcoming 3DS game's downloadable teaser. That's surprisingly easy to explain, actually. In fact, here are six reasons that just popped into my head:

It allows you to play as a frog--OK, so anyone who's at all paid attention to The Legend of Legacy's development or release probably knows that one of the game's potential party members is a frog. Unsurprisingly, he's been my "main" for the entire eight-plus hours I've spent with this demo since I nabbed it from the 3DS eShop a couple of weeks ago. (If you're wondering who my second-favorite character is at the moment, that would be the saucy Eloise.)

It features some deliciously "old school" RPG fights--I know a lot of gamers have moved on from turn-based battles, but I still love them. Not only that, but I still prefer them to the kind of MMO-esque battles that are at the heart of so many modern RPGs (like Fantasy Life and Xenoblade Chronicles). Anyway, if you, too, are a fan of turn-based battles, you should get a kick out of that particular component of The Legend of Legacy.

Its battle scenes also call to mind SaGa Frontier--Kind of. Like the ones that serve as the centerpiece of that PlayStation classic, this current 3DS offering's fight scenes are far more thrilling that your run-of-the-mill ones thanks to the random bursts of light that signify one of your party members has learned a new move. Sadly, The Legend of Legacy's battles aren't as kaleidoscopically complex as those in SaGa Frontier. Specifically, the former don't allow you to produce the eye-popping combos that help make the latter such a joy to experience.

Its soundtrack is the definition of sublime--Considering how many game soundtracks he's worked on over the years, it's a crying shame that this is the first time I've heard any of Masashi Hamauzu's music. The stuff he created for The Legend of Legacy is so lovely, though, that there's no doubt in my mind I'll keep an ear out for additional examples of his work in the following months and years. Thankfully, I can turn to a few games already in my collection if I want to accomplish that quickly and easily, as it appears he had a hand in Chocobo no Fushigina Dungeon (PlayStation), SaGa Frontier 2 (PlayStation), Unlimited SaGa (PS2) and Sigma Harmonics (DS)--all of which I've owned for some time now.

It's shockingly light on story--In fact, I'm not even sure I'd say The Legend of Legacy's demo includes a story. Sure, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cut scene kicks things off, but after that the focus is squarely on making maps and battling baddies. Which is fine with me, as I happen to be one of those crotchety "old" gamers who believe today's RPGs are far too wordy. Granted, I won't mind at all if a smidgen more of a story pops up in the full retail release of this Atlus-published title, but I also won't mind if that aspect stays as lean and mean as it is in this bite-sized version.

It's obtuse as all get-out--OK, so I'm not sure I should point to this as a positive. That said, there's something kind of cool about playing an RPG that treats you like you have a brain, don't you think? Or maybe I should say it treats you like you're smart enough to track down an online FAQ or to ask your Twitter followers for helpful advice. I also like that there's an air of the first Dragon Quest to this demo. It plops you into The Legend of Legacy's diminutive world and says "figure it out" before hightailing it out of there like it's late for a dinner date.

Have any of you played The Legend of Legacy demo? If so, what did you think of it? Did it leave you feeling desperate for the game's full retail release (due out next week in North America), or did it leave you feeling kind of cold? However you may feel about this 3DS teaser, let me know about it in the comments section below.

See also: 'While we wait for me to get off my lazy butt and begin to play The Legend of Legacy, let's drool over its lovely packaging'

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Has any game ever looked as frightening *and* adorable as Nippon Ichi's Yomawari?

Seriously. Just look at this new trailer (below) for Nippon Ichi's Yomawari.

At first glance, it appears to be a cute, but dark, adventure game for the Vita. Then the enemies start popping around (around the 1:25 mark) and everything literally goes to hell.

As much as those hungry, toothy eyeballs scare the bejesus out of me, though, I'm going to do my best to play Yomawari as soon as my pre-ordered copy arrives on my doorstep.

That won't happen until sometime in early November, sadly, as the game doesn't hit Japanese store shelves until Oct. 29 and it'll take my purchase at least a week (if not two) to make its way to me.

I don't mind as much as I may be letting on, though, as the delay will give me plenty of time to figure out how I'm going to keep a grip on my precious pink-and-white Vita whenever one of Yomawari's adorable-yet-frightening baddies surprises me with its presence.

Are any of you similarly curious--if also a smidge apprehensive--about this upcoming spookfest? If so, please tell me why in the comments section below.

See also: previous posts about Yomawari

Monday, October 05, 2015

Photographic proof that, even when it comes to game-related pickups, bigger isn't always better

You know that ages-old saying, "big things come in small packages"? (Some of you may know it as "good things come in small packages.")

Well, I'm now a firm believer in it being applicable to game-related pickups as well as all sorts of other life situations.

This revelation was brought about by the surprisingly small package that can be seen in the photo below, by the way. (Look past the copy of Mr Driller: Drill Spirits, which I included so as to provide a proper sense of scale.)

The package in question was just (or, rather, over the weekend) delivered to my doorstep, and it contains a surprising amount of gaming goodness.

As for exactly what that gaming goodness entails, I'm sorry to do this, but I'm going to leave that for an upcoming post. Not because I'm a fan of teasing people who happen upon my blog with overly vague write-ups like this one, mind you. No, I'm doing it because I haven't yet taken--and properly prepared--photos of its this box's contents.

Still, I wanted to publish a note (and photo) about its arrival because it has me feeling more excited than I have in quite some time.

In the meantime, you could always try to guess what's inside this tiny package. Or you can wait a week or so until I share this post's follow-up.

If you decide to go with the second option, maybe you can tell me (and everyone else who reads this write-up) about any game-related pickups that have thrilled you in recent weeks?