Friday, August 19, 2016

Nice Package! (Parodius Da!, PC Engine)

Before I became aware of games like Konami's Parodius Da!, I wasn't all that interested in the shoot 'em up (or shmup) genre.

Sure, early examples like Galaga and Gradius and even R-Type were well crafted and provided a certain thrill, but their deep-space, sci-fi settings left me kind of cold.

The second I laid eyes on titles like Parodius Da! and Detana!! TwinBee, though, I knew those chills--the bad sort, at least--were a thing of the past.

Although TwinBee and other, similar, games like Cotton, Hana Taaka Daka!?, PC Denjin and Twinkle Star Sprites, give me the warm fuzzies, none of them do so as strongly as the game that basically defines the entire cute 'em up genre.

Naturally I'm talking about Parodius Da!

What's so great about it? For starters, there are the visuals. Calling them "candy coated" or "kaleidoscopic" or anything of the sort doesn't quite do them justice, in my opinion.

So what does do them justice? How about "so crazy and colorful they'd make the Ringling Bros. proud."

OK, that's maybe a bit over the top, but if it conjures up thoughts of flying penguins, bathing octopuses, sunglasses-wearing moai statues and other circus-esque entities, well, it's done its job.

There's a lot more to Parodius Da! than its graphics, though. Nearly as important to its stature as a top-shelf cute 'em up is its wacky soundtrack, the bulk of which consists of remixes of classical music.

The cherry on top: this entry, like pretty much all of the Parodius series' entries, hits the gameplay sweet spot in that it's equal parts fun and challenging.

And then, of course, there's this title's packaging. I wouldn't say the cover art produced for the PC Engine port is as stellar as the imagery created for the Super Famicom one, but it's still far better than OK.

Its HuCard label and manual innards are similarly sensational--as evidenced by the snapshots above--while the back of its case is just so-so. Oh, well, you can't always have it all, right?

See also: 'Nice Package!' posts about Pac-Land, KiKi KaiKai and Hana Taaka Daka!?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Manual Stimulation (Valkyrie no Densetsu, PC Engine)

Truth be told, I've never had the highest opinion of Namco's PC Engine releases. Or maybe I should say I've only recently gained an appreciation for them.

What gave me pause in the past? My main issue with the company's PC Engine output was that most of it was made up of watered-down arcade conversions. Although that kind of thing doesn't bother me now--in fact, in many cases I appreciate the differences between the quarter-munchers and their console counterparts--it definitely irritated me when I was younger.

Thankfully, I've since gotten over such closed-mindedness--to the point that I'm now a pretty big fan of the games Namco produced for NEC's Famicom competitor.

Valkyrie no Densetsu is a good example of how things have improved between me and the folks who developed Namco's PC Engine offerings. Until a few months ago, I turned my nose up at this 1990 release. It's not exactly a looker, as the saying goes, and when it comes to old games like this one, that often means the difference between it being played or ignored.

The good news regarding Valkyrie no Densetsu is that it looks a good bit better once it's in motion. It's also surprisingly fun--in an overly linear, original Legend of Zelda kind of way.

Even if that weren't true, though, I'd probably want to own a copy of this colorful HuCard. If you need a reason why, just look at the scans shared throughout this post.

The pair of spreads above really show off how far Namco's artists and designers were willing to go to create quality instruction manuals back in the day.

I especially like the image of the eponymous Valkyrie taking on one of the game's caveman-like baddies that covers the pages that immediate precede this chunk of text but, really, all of the art included on this manual's many piece of papers is awesome if you ask me.

Even pages that otherwise might be considered boring are better than your run-of-the-mill how-to booklet, thanks to the use of color and callouts and whatnot.

Not that you could call much of the Valkyrie no Densetsu instruction manual "boring." Consider the following spread--which reminds me of the similar products Nintendo created for titles like The Legend of Zelda and Kid Icarus.

Somewhat-related aside: I've always been a softie for illustrations of common game items like bottles and keys and weapons and armor.

Finally, we have a map of the areas players have to traverse if they want to conquer the PC Engine version of Valkyrie no Densetsu.

Or at least that's what I think the pages above are supposed to depict. I can't say for sure because I've never made it past the HuCard's first few stages.

How about you? Are you a hardcore Valkyrie no Densetsu fan who has seen its end credits many times over, or is this the first you're hearing of this not-quite-classic (outside of Japan, at least)? Regardless, please share your thoughts on this title's manual if you have the time and interest.

See also: 'Nice Package! (Valkyrie no Densetsu, PC Engine),' 'Second Chances: Valkyrie no Densetsu (PC Engine)' and previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts

Monday, August 15, 2016

So, is Ambition of the Slimes (3DS) worth its $5 price tag?

Now that I've put a few hours into the just-released 3DS version of Circle Entertainment's strategy RPG, Ambition of the Slimes, I thought I'd share some thoughts on the experience.

Before I get to those musings, though, I have to mention that I've never played any other iteration of this game. (Developer altairworks first made it available to iOS and PlayStation Mobile users early last year.) So, I can't say how the 3DS port compares to those releases.

With that out of the way, here are some impressions of Ambition of the Slimes for 3DS:

* First, I like that this Final Fantasy Tactics-esque SRPG gets things rolling in the right direction with a tutorial. Even better, it's a short tutorial--just three quick battles.

* Why do I like that it includes a tutorial? Because as is the case with many of Circle Entertainment's games--no offense intended by this next statement, mind you--Ambition of the Slimes' text is only somewhat understandable. Also, it just doesn't feature much text, period. Combine those truths and you have a situation that screams for some sort of tutorial.

* Surprisingly, the third stage of this 3DS title's tutorial had me stumped for a bit. Specifically, the enemy kicked my butt two or three times before I finally figured out what I had to do to beat it. That's not a knock on the game, by the way; I'm pretty sure I was just being dense. Still, it was nice to learn so quickly that Ambition of the Slimes probably wouldn't be a pushover.

* Did those pleasant reactions continue to pop up after I began the game's main campaign? I'd say so. Early on, at least, the story is minimal, the battle stages are fairly small, the challenge increases at an acceptable rate and the soundtrack is surprisingly pleasant. (Regarding that last point, though, I can't be alone in thinking the music here sounds awfully similar to that of the Witch & Hero games, right?)

* Speaking of Ambition of the Slimes' story, at the moment I'd almost describe it as non-existent.  Now, I'd consider that a negative in many cases (especially when talking about RPGs), but in this one it doesn't bother me at all. I didn't buy this from the 3DS eShop because I wanted a deep adventure; I bought it because I wanted a "lite" SRPG to play during my daily commute and during whatever free time I can muster up at home. That's exactly what it's given me so far.

* Control-wise, Ambition of the Slimes is perfectly serviceable. Or maybe I should say it controls as expected. In other words, the 3DS' shoulder buttons rotate the playfields, à la Final Fantasy Tactics and most other modern SRPGs, while its circle and directional pads move characters and its A and B buttons confirm battle orders. Oh, and each of these actions work smoothly and feel good.

* Finally, my favorite aspect of Ambition of the Slimes: its graphics. I'm not just talking about its main battle aesthetics--you know, the ones that can be seen while moving about on the game's three-dimensional, isometric fields. Those are great--thanks in large part to the pixelated characters that populate them. Even better, as far as I'm concerned, are the graphics that come into play after you've decided to confront a specific enemy. (Check out the red-tinged screenshot above for an example of what I'm talking about here.) The sprite-based art used in these moments almost looks like it was created by Pokémon designer Ken Sugimori (even though I know he had nothing to do with it).

Sounds good, right? If you agree, go ahead and give it a try. It'll only set you back five bucks. Just keep in mind that Ambition of the Slimes is a lot like a couple of other Circle Entertainment 3DS titles, namely Witch & Hero and Witch & Hero II.

Much like those games are bite-sized tower-defense titles, Ambition of the Slimes is a bite-sized strategy RPG. In other words, expect something that rivals the great Final Fantasy Tactics and you're going to be sorely disappointed.

See also: Ambition of the Slimes' latest trailer