Saturday, February 25, 2017

Nice Package! (Tabemon, Wii)

Last week, the Cool Box Art Twitter account wisely highlighted the European cover of Namco's colorful, Pac-Man-esque Wii game, The Munchables.

I say wisely because, in my humble opinion, The Munchables' Euro (as well as North American) box art is top notch.

As much as I like that cover imagery, though, I like its Japanese counterpart--showcased in the photo that follows--even more.

If you can't quite make out all of the wonderful details of the Tabemon (that's what The Munchables was called in Japan) box art in the snapshot above, take a gander at the one below. Or check out this scan.

Seriously, Tabemon's cover illustration and logo are among my favorites produced for a Nintendo Wii game.

Sadly, I can't say I love its gameplay as much as its packaging. Tabemon (or The Munchables, if that's how you prefer to refer to this title) looks great, no question. Its Pac-Man-esque gameplay, though, is just a little too superficial for my liking.

Speaking of which, I can't help but wonder if Tabemon or The Munchables would've benefited from a bit more structure. Think about Pac-Man--or Ms. Pac-Man or even Pac-Man Championship Edition. To me, part of what makes all three of those games so great is that they place limits on what players can do and where they can go.

Anyway, don't take that to mean I think you should avoid Tabemon or The Munchables like the plague. While its gameplay isn't quite as enjoyable as I expected it to be, it's still fun enough to own.

Plus, as you hopefully can see here, its packaging--which includes its box and disc art as well as its instruction manual--is worth the price of admission.

I don't know if you can see it the photo that kicks off this post, but Tabemon's instruction manual is billed as being as recipe book. Cute, right?

The cute continues throughout, too. Seriously, the Tabemon manual is stuffed full of adorable, food-themed art. Sadly, I wasn't able to scan this booklet before I put the bulk of my games collection into storage and left Seattle, so I it won't star in one of my "Manual Stimulation" posts until the end of this year at the earliest.

In the meantime, have any of you played either The Munchables or Tabemon? If so, what did you think of the experience?

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts

Thursday, February 23, 2017

My 10 Most Influential Games: The 7th Guest (PC)

It probably seems strange to call a game I've never mentioned here before one of my "most influential." (And by influential, I mean it was influential in shaping my current taste in video games.) The fact is, though, that The 7th Guest absolutely blew my mind back when I played through it on my family's PC as a teen.

If this is the first you're hearing of The 7th Guest, it's an adventure game set in a haunted mansion. To progress through its surprisingly adult story, players have to solve various logic puzzles.

Really, The 7th Guest is like a horror-tinged precursor to the Professor Layton series, although Level-5's games offer up many more brain-teasers than the Trilobyte-developed title discussed in this post.

Anyway, besides all of the above, The 7th Guest caused a stir when it was released in 1993 because it took up two CDs (unheard of at the time) and was chock-full of both live-action video clips and pre-rendered 3D graphics.

As much as my younger self loved this game's flashiness, the aspects that most impressed me, and kept me and my mom--a mystery and puzzle buff herself--coming back to it until we reached its ending, were its creepy backstory and its many tough-as-nails puzzles.

I'd never encountered the former in a game before I started The 7th Guest, while the latter opened my mind to the fact that digital puzzles (you know, as opposed to physical ones found in books and newspapers) could involve more than just letters, words or random shapes and blobs.

Of course, I'd also never encountered 3D graphics and live-action video clips in a game before I started The 7th Guest, so I guess I shouldn't discount how much those components impacted and influenced my taste in video games moving forward.

Certainly, The 7th Guest helped solidify my interest in adventure and puzzle games. Previously, I viewed both genres as something akin to second-class citizens and preferred to spend my precious free time with platformers and RPGs.

It also opened my eyes to the fact that games don't have to be depicted in a limited number of ways to be appealing or engaging. Until The 7th Guest came around, I pretty much equated games with pixels. I also generally thought of them as being two-dimensional affairs.

The idea of a game made up of three-dimensional graphics and video clips didn't sit all that well with me back then--thanks in large part to the fact that the few existing efforts I was aware of didn't seem to offer any real gameplay or even graphical improvements over the status quo.

That mostly changed after my mom and I dumped countless hours into The 7th GuestNot entirely, mind you, as it wasn't until I'd spent some serious time with the Saturn's, PlayStation's and Nintendo 64's libraries that I fully got behind the notion that games with pre-rendered or pre-recorded visuals could be something other than crap.

Still, the "interactive movie" that is The 7th Guest started me down the path toward accepting non-traditional video games, and for that I'll always be grateful.

I'll also forever be grateful that it brought my mom and I together in a way that's rarely happened in either of our lives. Other than the time I helped her figure out how to play Tetris DS (and tried to help her play New Super Mario Bros.), we've played just one game together--The 7th Guest. And that's an experience I'll never forget.

Note: I was inspired to begin this series after reading through Rachel Simone Weil's similar one over at Rachel's write-ups focus on the games that prompted her to start making her own. I'm obviously not a developer, so my posts will focus on the 10 titles that sucked me into this hobby and shaped my interests in it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Five favorite Pac-Man clones

Full disclosure: I'm not the world's biggest Pac-Man fan. Oh, I like the character well enough, and I love Ms. Pac-Man to death, but the Namco-made quartermuncher that started it all? It kind of bores me, if I'm allowed to be honest.

In fact, I'd much rather play any of the Pac-Man clones described below than the arcade classic that seemingly inspired their creation.

Crush Roller (Neo Geo Pocket Color)--OK, so this ADK-developed title, a remake of a 1981 arcade game called Make Trax, isn't a total rip-off of Pac-Man. After all, rather than tasking players with clearing each screen of something, Crush Roller tasks them with filling them with something. Paint, in particular. That's easier said than done, of course, thanks to the baddies, which look a bit like Dragon Quest slimes to my eyes, that chase you as attempt to "paint the town red" (or whatever color you're given for a specific stage). These baddies don't always play fair (they're often a smidgen faster than the paint roller you control), and as a result the game can be teeth-gnashingly frustrating. Still, I enjoy playing it now and then, and I have a feeling most people who have even a passing interest in Pac-Man would (mostly) enjoy it, too. If you'd like to see this Neo Geo Pocket Color game's packaging, by the way, you can do it in this old post of mine: "It's just a little Crush (Roller)."

Devil World (Famicom)--Although I like all of the Pac-Man clones included in this post, I like this one the least. Sure, it sports some great, early-Famicom-era (or early-NES-era) graphics and music, but its gameplay is a tad more complicated than it needs to be, in my humble opinion. Instead of having players focus on eating dots and avoiding enemies à la Pac-Man, Devil World has them perform those actions while also collecting crosses and bibles as well as staying far away from the crushing ropes that ring each maze-like stage. Speaking of which, the stages in Devil World are a lot more convoluted than those found in Pac-Man, which can lead to confusion and even death if you're not careful. In Devil World's favor, its cover art and the contents of its instruction manual are stellar and are worth owning on their own. (Bonus round: read my overly succinct Devil World review.)

Lock 'n' Chase (GameBoy)--At first glance, Lock 'n' Chase appears to be a lazy and uninspired Pac-Man clone. Hell, the protagonist looks like everyone's favorite spherical dot-muncher with a dapper fedora plopped onto his head. Thankfully, Data East's title differs from Namco's in a few other notable ways--chief among them being the former's larger, scrolling levels. Also, the levels in Lock 'n' Chase are far less symmetrical than the ones in Pac-Man, which I guess could be a positive or a negative, depending on your personality. Another feather in the snazzy cap of Lock 'n' Chase: its baddies all sport police hats. Unfortunately, the lack of color in this GameBoy port hurts its replay value by making it difficult to tell one screen from the next. If you can overlook that fact, though, you'll probably get a kick out of this portable Pac-Man homage.

Onyanko Town (Famicom)--This Micronics-developed and Pony Canyon-published Famicom cartridge belongs in the same camp as the one that houses Crush Roller. Onyanko Town looks great (although not as great as Crush Roller, it has to be said) and offers up an adorably appealing premise--which puts you in the paws of a mama cat who has to track down her kittens and safely bring them home--but it also tends to be beyond aggravating. That's due in part to the title's often-enormous stage layouts and in part to the extremely slow speed at which the mama cat moves. Add in a background tune that gives new meaning to the term "earsplitting," and you have a Japan-only release that's sure to turn off a large chunk of the population. I consider it a favorite Pac-Man clone anyway, though,  because I'm a sucker for games starring pixelated pups (the majority of Onyanko Town's enemies) and felines.

Painter Momopie (GameBoy)--There are a lot distressingly overlooked Japanese GameBoy games. Astro Rabby is one. Burning Paper is another. And then there's Sigma Entertainment's Painter Momopie. It may not be quite as fantastic as those other two efforts, but it's just as fascinating. After all, how many games have you played that have you paint the floors of cozy-looking kitchens, bedrooms and the like while avoiding mice and ghosts and other creatures? None, I'm sure. Plus, Painter Momopie's soundtrack is nearly as heart-warming as its homey setting. The same can be said of its outer box and its instruction manual. Another reason I'd recommend Painter Momopie to anyone who's open to playing a GameBoy cart in this day and age: it's almost assuredly the most relaxing (or at least stress-free) of all the Pac-Man clones discussed in this post.

See also: all of the "five overlooked games you need to play as soon as possible" posts I've published so far