Saturday, April 29, 2017

Welcome to WonderSwan World: Rainbow Islands Putty's Party

Before you get too excited about this portable reimagining of Taito's classic quarter-muncher--and Bubble Bobble sequel--from 1987, I have to share the following, potentially buzz-killing details:

* A company called DigitalWare developed this version of Rainbow Islands. Besides Putty's Party, the only other releases on its resume are a small handful of "Simple" series games for the PS2 and DS. (In other words, neither legendary developer Fukio Mitsuji nor anyone else at Taito had a hand in this "port.")

* Less damning than the above, but still plenty relevant to this conversation: a company called MegaHouse published Putty's Party (in 2000). The only other games it helped bring to the masses are another WonderSwan game (Tetsujin 28-gou) and a trio of fairly random, Japan-only DS titles.

* Unlike basically every other Rainbow Islands game around, Putty's Party is rendered in black, white and a few shades of gray.

* As far as I'm aware, Putty's Party doesn't include all 10 of the arcade original's islands.

Sorry for that last "as far as I'm aware" bit, but up 'til now I've only been able to complete the game's first four islands (Darius, Doh's, Insect and Monster)--which, intriguingly, can be tackled in any order.

Unfortunately, simply finishing those islands doesn't cause any new ones to appear. My gut tells me more are revealed if you manage to nab all seven collectible diamonds on each of the initial isles, but I can't say that with any certainty since I've yet to accomplish that far-from-simple feat.

As for what I think of the stages I have experienced, well, let's start with a positive impression. An obvious one is that Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party is played with the WonderSwan system held sideways, so its screen is oriented vertically. That may sound gimmicky, but it's not. In this game, as in others made for Bandai's would-be GameBoy competitor, it lets you see quite a bit more of the playfield than you would if everything were depicted horizontally.

Speaking of which, the playfields in Putty's Party--as well as every other visual aspect of the game, really--are surprisingly impressive. I want to call them "arcade perfect" besides their lack of color, but I'm not sure that's technically true. Regardless, they look better than most Rainbow Islands ports of the time. (I'm also rather fond of the manga-inspired intermission screens that follow every stage, I've got to say. They're completely static, but they're also well-drawn and add a welcome bit of flair to this release.)

One caveat I've got to add to the above: the protagonist Putty's sprite isn't quite up to snuff, in my opinion.

Another component of Putty's Party that disappoints, at least at first, is its controls. I've always thought the arcade original seemed kind of stiff, especially while executing jumps, but this WonderSwan version feels even more rigid. It's also noticeably slower than its quarter-munching predecessor, which is sure to increase the annoyance felt by some players.

Here's the thing, though: after a while, and after accepting its existence, the stiff slowness of Putty's Party stopped bothering me. That's not to say I now "like" it, mind you, but I also don't hate it to the point of wanting to smash my WonderSwan Color to smithereens, so I'll call it a wash, if not exactly a plus.

I've also come around to another of this port's quirks--that being how the third (of four) level of each island offers up gameplay that's subtly and strangely different from what Rainbow Islands veterans are used to encountering.

For example, water starts flooding Insect Island's third stage basically from the word go, adding an element of tension that usually only pops up if you dillydally or otherwise take too long to reach an area's summit.

The third stage of Doh's Island, on the other hand, requires you to expose a secret door that acts as an exit rather than climb to a giant treasure chest in the sky to escape its clutches. (Note: at the moment, I don't really know what causes that door to appear, although I suspect the culprit is jumping onto a specific platform or dropping a rainbow onto one.)

Although curious, I wouldn't describe either of these additions as entirely welcome. Still, they provide a unique take on Rainbow Islands' traditional gameplay, so I it's hard to discount them completely.

Given all of the above, I'd warn against spending too much money on a copy of this game if you're at all uncertain you'll enjoy it due to its eccentricities. (I can't help but assume the majority of WonderSwan owners will not respond to them as favorably as I have.)

That said, if you've, say, spent time with Nintendo's Ice Climber and it didn't cause you to put a controller through a wall, and if you aren't horrified by the idea of a colorless Rainbow Islands, you could do worse than add Putty's Party to your WonderSwan collection.

See also: my first 'Welcome to WonderSwan World' post about the WonderSwan Color system

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My 10 Most Influential Games: Final Fantasy V (Super Famicom)

I've got to say, I had a hard time deciding whether I should write about Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IV or Final Fantasy V here.

Why? Well, as far as the original Final Fantasy is concerned, it was the first console RPG that really grabbed me. I played Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest now days) before Final Fantasy and liked it well enough, but I preferred Square's effort to Enix's in almost every way.

Specifically, I liked that Final Fantasy provided players with four-person parties--a far cry from Dragon Warrior's solo mission. Also, players could assign classes or "jobs" to party members at the start of the former, while they were stuck with a seemingly generic "hero" in the latter.

Add in Final Fantasy's visible weapons and spells--neither are present in Dragon Warrior/Quest--and it should be easy to understand why younger me found Square's 8-bit RPG so fascinating.

Still, I wouldn't say Final Fantasy turned me into an "RPG fan." Sure, I liked the genre a whole lot more after I played through that game than I did before I played through it, but platformers and shmups continued to be my go-to genre until, well, the release of Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy II in my neck of the woods).

Speaking of Final Fantasy IV, although there's no question it pushed me further into "RPG fan" territory, it didn't really shape my taste in games--role-playing games or otherwise--moving forward.

Yes, I adored the first 16-bit entry in Squaresoft's Final Fantasy series, but if I'm allowed to be honest, it mostly just beefed up the superficial components of earlier Final Fantasy games. And in terms of its gameplay, it could be argued that Final Fantasy IV regressed a bit (or a lot) from its Japan-only, Famicom-based predecessor.

Final Fantasy V, on the other hand, seemed to my teenage self to be a real evolution from the titles that came before it. OK, so I couldn't fully understand its story at the time, but it resonated with me all the same. I especially appreciated how it featured a character--Faris Scherwiz--that defied gender roles.

I also found myself in awe of Final Fantasy V's soundtrack, which has always struck me as being more wistful than that of your average RPG.

This game's story and soundtrack weren't what influenced my taste in video games, though. So which aspects did? The best example I can offer up is its expansive job system. Final Fantasy III featured a similar (albeit less impressive) system, but I didn't play it until the DS remake was released in North America in 2006.

As such, I considered Final Fantasy V's pick-and-choose job system mind-blowing when I encountered it in the early 1990s. (It was one of the first games I ever imported from Japan. I still have that copy, by the way; it's showcased in the photos seen throughout this post.)

I especially loved how the Final Fantasy V job system allowed you to mix and match classes and skills. Want one of your party members to be a White Mage who can wield an axe? Spend some time as a Berserker until you've gained the "equip axes" ability and then make use of it after you switch over to the White Mage job.

Or maybe you want someone in your party who can use a pair of bells in battle? Have him or her take on the Ninja job until they've learned the "dual-wield" ability and then enable it as a Freelancer--especially after they've acquired, say, a Rune Chime and a Tinkerbell.

Although I can't quite say an RPG needs to have a highly customizable job system to attract my attention and otherwise appeal to me in a post-Final Fantasy V world, I can say without hesitation that my shortlist of favorite role-playing games is filled with titles that fit that bill. (A few cases in point: Bravely DefaultDragon Quest IXFinal Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light and Final Fantasy Tactics.)

Another way in which Final Fantasy V helped shape my taste in games: it solidified my love of RPGs that feature bevy of weapons that are visible in battle.

I first became aware of that interest after I acquired the coral sword in the first Final Fantasy, appropriately enough, but it wasn't until I experienced Final Fantasy V's plethora of axes, bells, hammers and harps that it blossomed into a full-on obsession.

Were any of you similarly influenced or enchanted by this 1992 release? If so, share why and how it impacted you in the comments section of this post.

See also: previous '10 Most Influential Games' posts about The 7th Guest, Balloon Kid and Bubble Bobble