Saturday, January 28, 2017

Five overlooked GameBoy Advance games you need to play as soon as possible

So far, my "five overlooked games you need to play as soon as possible" series has offered up posts about (what I consider to be) unfortunately ignored Famicom, PC Engine, PlayStation, Game Gear and GameBoy gems.

This entry obviously focuses on a handful of disappointingly overlooked GameBoy Advance titles.

I've got at least a few more such posts up my sleeve, by the way--in case any of you are worried the one you're reading right now is this series' last hurrah. In fact, the plan is to publish write-ups about PSP, DS and 3DS games I think you need to play as soon as possible, and I'll also likely publish follow-ups to my earlier GameBoy and Famicom features as well.

In the meantime, here are five GBA games I believe too many people have turned up their noses at (intentionally or not) over the years.

Guru Logi Champ--Do you like Picross? If the answer is yes, you'll undoubtedly like this 2001 title, which was developed by the wizards at Compile. (They gave the world Aleste, Gunhead and Puyo Puyo, among other classics.) Don't worry, Guru Logi Champ is no simple Picross rip-off; it takes the basics of Nintendo's electronic nonogram games and runs with them, injecting a smidge of action and a dash humor into what's usually a rather sedate experience. Add in the fact that Guru Logi Champ's box and cartridge are among the most appealing ever produced for the GameBoy Advance (see photos of both in this "Nice Package!" post) and it's not hard to understand why pretty much anyone who's played this colorful puzzler is sure to recommend it.

Hatena Satena--Here's another wacky GBA game that's similar to Picross. It's quite a departure from Gugu Logi Champ despite this fact, though, and that's likely because Hatena Satena also recalls another classic puzzler, Minesweeper. Although I'd say Guru Logi Champ is more immediately accessible than this Hudson-made game, don't take that to mean I'm suggesting you pick up the former over the latter. If forced to choose between the two from an aesthetic standpoint, I'd go with Hatena Satena, no question. (Of course, Guru Logi Champ is a looker, too.) Also worth noting: copies of this 2001 title should be much cheaper than those of the above-mentioned one. The only problem here is that Hatena Satena may not be easy to find these days, so be patient if you want to add it to your collection.

Hitsuji no Kimochi--This is likely to be the most "controversial" of all the game recommendations I make in this post. Why? Though Capcom both developed and published this 2002 title (released outside of Japan as Sheep), it hasn't received the best of reviews in the years since. Still, I think it's worth checking out if you're open to trying something different. That's what you get with Hitsuji no Kimochi, after all, as it's an action-puzzle game that tasks players with herding--you guessed it--sheep. Admittedly, its graphics could be better, and it's hardly the longest of GameBoy Advance titles (offering just 24 stages), but it's also unique and sports some wickedly cute packaging (see it in all its glory here), so you could do worse than hunt down a copy if you need to fill out your GBA library.

Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest: Shōgeki no Shippo Dan--This 2003, Japan-only release isn't as good as its successors, the first of which is known by many North American fans of the Nintendo DS as Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. Still, it's well worth buying and playing if you enjoyed that dual-screened follow-up. Anyone who has experienced Rocket Slime will feel right at home with Slime MoriMori Dragon Quest, as both titles feature the same gameplay--save the latter's frantic tank battles. In other words, you spend a lot of time flinging an adorably vacant blue slime around a vaguely Zelda-like overworld. And you spend nearly as much time picking up and flinging the many enemies and items that litter those same playfields. You also gather resources and rescue slime buddies, activities that should sound familiar to anyone who's at all knowledgable about this title's highly acclaimed DS sequel.

Zooo--If this game's name doesn't ring a bell, how about Zoo Keeper? For whatever reason, developer Buddiez, Inc.--or was it publisher Success?--changed the series' name from Zooo to Zoo Keeper between the release of this title and its 2004 sequel. Thankfully, the gameplay's basically the same no matter what it's called, although of course there are no touch controls in this iteration. That's actually the main reason I like Zooo the most out of all these animal-themed, match-three puzzlers. For me, the Zoo Keeper DS and 3DS games are too easy because of their stylus-focused controls, while being forced to use the GBA's d-pad and face buttons in Zooo creates a kind of tension that makes you feel really good whenever you hit any sort of milestone. Bonus: pretty much any copy of Zooo you come across these days is sure to be bargain-basement cheap.

Are there any GameBoy Advance titles you think are overlooked and thus deserve more love from the masses? Let me and others know about them in the comments section of this post.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Shall We Do It? (Boxlife and The Starship Damrey plus Kirby: Planet Robobot and Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World demos)

Although I've spent more time with Dragon Quest VII in the last couple of weeks than I've spent with the games discussed here, I'm going to save my comments about the former for my inevitable review of it. (Yes, this means I'm that close to finishing Dragon Quest VII's main campaign--thanks to putting more than 25 hours into it since 2017 started.)

Plus, I think I've said more than enough about my Dragon Quest VII playthrough up to this point. And then there's the fact that I've had so much fun with all of the games named in this post's headline that I'd rather write about them instead.

Boxlife--Who could've thought that a game about putting together boxes would wind up being fun? Besides the folks at skip Ltd., the makers of Boxlife (Hacolife in Japan), I mean.

Actually, let me step back a bit and revise my comment about this DSiWare (don't worry, you can still buy it from every region's 3DS eShop) title being fun. A more accurate way to describe it would be "enjoyably frantic," or maybe, "challenging--sometimes in a way that makes you chuckle, and sometimes in a way that makes you want to crush your DSi or 3DS system beneath the heel of a heavy boot."

OK, so, yes, Boxlife occasionally will cause you to lose your cool, but the good news here is you'll usually walk away from those occasions feeling like whatever mistakes you made during your last round were your fault, not the fault of "cheap" artificial intelligence.

At any rate, my advice to anyone who buys Boxlife after reading this write-up: stick with it. The game's "factory mode," especially, may drive you batty at first, but spend some time with its "R&D mode" and things eventually will click. That's when Boxlife's brilliance really hits you and makes you happy you dropped $4.99 (or whatever it costs in your neck of the woods) on it.

Kirby: Planet Robobot demo--It's been a while since I played a Kirby game. In fact, I think the last one I properly put through its paces was Kirby's Return to Dream Land for the Wii. I intended to follow up that experience by buying the pink puff's first 3DS offering (Triple Deluxe), but for whatever reason I never got around to it. When a demo was made available for that title's sequel, though, I decided I had to try it.

Now that I have, I'm itching to give the full game a go. Why? For starters, Planet Robobot focuses on what every Kirby game since the first (that would be 1992's Dream Land for GameBoy) has focused on: having fun. And by that, of course, I mean having a blast inhaling enemies and then taking on and using their special abilities against other foes. Planet Robobot also is a real looker, with candy-coated visuals that are as likely as the title's gameplay to bring a smile to your face.

Most importantly, though, this effort positively differentiates itself from past entries in the series by tossing something decidedly new at players: colorful mech suits that Kirby can pilot. Without fail, they're overpowered, but that's surely the point. Regardless, it's a blast climbing into one and then basically having your way with the rest of that part of the stage, and I look forward to finding out how they impact the overall adventure this time around.

The Starship Damrey--Although I've thoroughly enjoyed all of the Guild series games I've played so far (and that includes Aero Porter, Attack of the Friday Monsters!, Crimson Shroud and Weapon Shop de Omasse), I spent a long time dragging my feet in regard to The Starship Damrey.

I ignored it for a few reasons, of course, with one being that I've never been a big fan of games that have to be played from a first-person perspective and another being that a few folks told me The Starship Damrey was short and not worth my while. I'm glad I pushed aside both roadblocks late last year and bought this digital title while it was on sale, because the two hours I've devoted to it in the last week or so have been beyond intriguing.

If you don't know much about The Starship Damrey, the gist is that basically plops you into a seemingly abandoned spaceship and then tasks you with figuring out why you're there and what's happened to your crewmates. Oh, and you do this using a handful of robots that are placed around said ship, as you're unable to get out of the bed you wake up in at the start of the game.

Anyway, I have no idea how close I am to figuring out the mystery at the heart of The Starship Damrey (I just passed the two-hour mark last night), but even if I accomplish that feat in the next hour, I know I'll walk away from the game feeling I got more than my money's worth with it.

Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World demo--I've been of two minds about this 3DS port of Good-Feel's undeniably adorable Wii U platformer since it was first revealed last fall.

At first, I was thrilled I'd finally be able to give it a go (as I don't own a Wii U and I loved the developer's similarly crafty Kirby's Epic Yarn) while on the go. Later, my enthusiasm faltered when I decided Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World's visuals were far less impressive than I initially imagined them to be.

Well, things took a turn back toward "OK, I'm buying this sucker ASAP" after I played the game's demo--a few times over, at that--over the weekend. When seen on an actual 3DS screen, Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World looks almost shockingly good. More importantly, it feels shockingly good, too, and that's true whether you experience it on an original 3DS or a New 3DS. (I played through the demo twice using both systems. )

If you're a frame-rate snob, you'll want to make sure you own a New 3DS, but rest assured you'll still have a blast with it if you only have access to an OG system.

See also: 'Are we f$%kin' there yet? (or, more thoughts on Dragon Quest VII after spending 40-plus hours with the 3DS remake)'

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Manual Stimulation: Bubble Bobble (Famicom Disk System)

As promised in my last post about the packaging produced for the "Disk Writer" version of Bubble Bobble's Famicom Disk System port, here is that Japanese release's instruction manual.

Something I've got to say right off the bat is that I'm sorry if the scans offered up here seem overly pale. The fact is, they pretty accurately depict the real-world product.

Thankfully, they look a lot better when you click on them and blow them up a bit, so I'd highly recommend doing just that as you work your way through this write-up.

Anyway, the first real page of Bubble Bobble's Famicom Disk Writer booklet (below) shares the game's rather simplistic story--rescue Bub's and Bob's girlfriends from the "Cave of Monsters"--complete with an abundance of exclamation points.

The next page, as you probably can make out, explains Bubble Bobble's wonderfully straightforward controls.

The couple of pages that follow (see above and below) attempt to expand that education by sharing a few more advanced strategies that can be employed while playing this classic single-screen platformer.

It isn't until the 10th and 11th pages of Bubble Bobble's Famicom Disk Writer manual that we get to the really good stuff. In this case, that means bios of the game's protagonists (the aforementioned Bub and Bob, or Bubblun and Bobblun in Japan) and chief antagonists.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Nice Package! (Bubble Bobble, Famicom Disk System)

Last fall, I published a post in which I asked folks to help me solve the "mystery" of Bubble Bobble's many Famicom Disk System releases.

Or at least I thought Taito's classic single-screen platformer had earned a number of FDS releases. In reality, it appears it earned just two: a limited edition that offered buyers a copy of Bubble Bubble's Famicom port plus a larger-than-normal instruction manual and the version that's showcased in photos throughout this write-up.

The second iteration could be purchased for a nominal fee from one of the many Famicom Disk Writer Kiosks (learn more about them at Nintendo installed in game stores across Japan from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s.

This "Disk Writer" version of Bobble Bobble has long intrigued me thanks to its two-tone, watermelon-colored manual.

I mean, anyone who has ever visited my Twitter or Tumblr pages knows I'm fond of pink things. Of course, I'm also fond of adorable things--and how else would you describe the cover imagery that's highlighted below?

To be honest, I'd probably have sought out a "Disk Writer" copy of Bobble Bobble's Famicom Disk System port even if its instruction booklet's paper was the color of pea soup thanks to its "lucky cha-cha-cha wow!" tagline.

Thankfully, it's not. And as is hopefully plainly evident in the snapshot below, this booklet's pink-and-green palette looks especially great when employed on its interior pages.

Speaking of which, this particular page of Bubble Bobble's manual highlights some of the game's many point items. My very next blog post will be filled with scans of this manual, by the way, so keep an eye out for it if you get a kick out of stuff like that.

In the meantime, here's one last look at the contents of the "Disk Writer" iteration of Bubble Bobble for FDS. 

It has to be noted that Japanese Famicom owners bought this particular version (with the game written onto "brand new" disks, as Nintendo referred to them at the time) for somewhere between 2,600 and 3,500 yen. 

Bubble Bobble could be "rented" via a Famicom Disk Writer for just 500 yen, too, but folks who went that route had to provide their own blank disks (2,000 yen a pop). Also, rather than receiving a glorious, dual-color booklet like the one that's on display here, they got a folded piece of paper with the game's instructions and accompanying illustrations printed in simple black text.

If you'd like to take a closer look at Bubble Bobble's game disk, you can do so here. Or you can check out its colorful cover slip here

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts about City Connection, Otocky, Pizza Pop! and Rainbow Islands