Thursday, November 08, 2018

Ten Black Bird tips, tricks, and tactics

As my last post here hopefully makes clear, I like Onion Games' homage to Fantasy Zone, Black Bird, a whole heck of a lot.

I like this Switch shoot 'em up (though it's also available via Steam) so much, in fact, that I've put more than 16 hours into it since I bought it a few weeks ago.

That means I'm a bona fide Black Bird pro, right? I wouldn't go that far. My high score at the moment is a smidgen above 15 million, which puts me around 265th on the worldwide leaderboard. (This is just among Switch players, by the way. The Switch and PC leaderboards are separate.)

Still, I'd say I know my way around the game pretty well at this point.

Black Bird fan art by @karinto_angrm

That's what prompted me to publish the write-up you're reading now. Well, that and the fact that I've yet to come across a single English article or blog post or FAQ that shares tips, tricks, or tactics with players who are struggling to wrap their brains (and thumbs) around Black Bird's many gameplay elements.

So, that's what you're getting here: every hint, tip, trick, and tactic I could think of after obsessively playing Black Bird for the last 15 or so days.

1. First and foremost, never forget that only the black bird's eye is vulnerable to attack--This is part bullet-hell shmup, after all. And that kind of thing (making just a small portion of your "ship" assailable) is par for the course for the sub-genre. Keeping that in mind should make Black Bird's boss battles, in particular, a lot easier--or at least a little less stressful.

2. Don't bother hammering the shoot button--Save your thumb a lot of discomfort and even some cramping and just hold it down. Believe me, doing so won't make playing Black Bird a bore. You and your other thumb will have plenty to do--and plenty to worry about--even if your right one remains static. (Well, except for when it shifts positions to hit the "X" button and unleash an enemy-obliterating bomb.)

3. The key to combos is to keep shooting enemies (and to not get shot yourself while doing so)--You've heard this game has combos, right? Well, they're one of the keys to getting the highest of high scores. Actually, they may be the key to getting the highest of high scores. At any rate, starting a combo is easy: just shoot and kill one of Black Bird's many enemies. (Yes, even though they're cute.) To keep a combo going, though, you have to continue shooting and killing them.

Black Bird fan art by @Taite283
But don't dawdle. You see that yellow gauge sitting just below the score in the upper-right corner of the screen? If that empties, your combo comes to an abrupt end. The same happens if even one of your foes' bullets hits your precious plumage mid-combo, by the way. So do your best to keep those projectiles at, uh, wing's length as you go about your murderous business.

4. And the key to upgrading your weapon is to keep grabbing gems--Sadly, I can't tell you how many of these gems, dropped by felled baddies, you need to grab to successfully upgrade your weapon. So grab as many as you can as you zigzag your way through Black Bird's wrap-around stages.

5. Try to balance the number of enemies you kill with the amount of time you spend on a level--Down enough baddies during a stage and you'll be awarded a ton of bonus points. How many is "enough"? It depends on the stage. You'll know you've succeeded in that regard, though, when the game offers up a "superb!" while tallying your results. You also want to shoot for "superb!" when it comes to your level-completion time. Achieve that and the bonus points you netted for your enemy kills are tripled. (They're doubled if you get a "great!")

6. Use your bombs wisely--During my first handful of Black Bird playthroughs, I saved these eye-popping and often ear-splitting explosives for the final boss, mostly to make its last form a little easier. I still hold on to a few for that purpose, but now I use some within the levels that precede the climactic battle, too. Anyway, to get the most bang for your buck, don't drop one of these weapons of mass destruction until you've maxed out your combo meter. (You'll know this has happened when its text turns purple.) Also, I'd recommend against wasting any bombs on the first three bosses--even while tackling the game's "True" mode. With a bit of practice and patience, you should be able to beat them using regular bullets--or whatever shoots out of the eponymous fowl's beak.

7. Speaking of bombs, you can't have more than six in your inventory--And you can't have more than eight life bars at any one time. Keep that in mind as you collect the power-ups that pop out of Black Bird's grinning "curse pots." (They're the little brown bowl-shaped objects that tend to be hidden beneath the dirt, behind doors, and among tree branches.) You only get a handful of points for collecting another after hitting those limits, so aim for a different power-up instead.

8. Patience really is a virtue, especially during Black Bird's boss fights--All of this game's bosses do their best to tease you into being more aggressive than maybe you should be. The third one, Paladon, is a good example. If you go into that tussle with all guns blazing, your life meter is sure to suffer for it. A much better tactic is to stay calm and to time your moves and shots with the openings it eventually offers up. In other words, don't rush these battles.

Black Bird fan art by @r_stk

9. Don't ignore practice mode--It's a good place to come to grips with the game's many components and to practice strategies without committing to a full playthrough. Sure, you can do the same in Black Bird's "normal" and "true" modes if you want, but why waste your time with that when there's a far more efficient option?

10. If you see something sticking out of the ground, shoot it!--Why? For starters, it may be a curse pot that's just waiting to provide you with a power-up. On the other hand, it could be "Aspara-san," the wonderfully strange character that's part asparagus stalk and part rocket. To be totally honest, I don't know what unearthing the latter does besides net you 10,000 points and reward you with a chuckle-worthy soundbite, but I usually give the guy a helping hand out of the ground anyway.

Have any of you played Black Bird? If so, share any of the hints, tips, tricks, or tactics you've amassed thus far in the comments section of this post.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Onion Games' Black Bird is the dark Fantasy Zone clone I didn't know I wanted or needed

When Onion Games announced earlier this year that its next release--after the pair of mobile curiosities known as Dandy Dungeon and Million Onion Hotel--would be a PC and Switch shoot 'em up called Black Bird, I was nearly beside myself with excitement.

Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the time I spent with the aforementioned Dandy Dungeon in 2017, but I had similarly thrilling experiences with many of company founder Yoshiro Kimura's previous offerings--Chulip for PS2 and Little King's Story for Wii chief among them.

My enthusiasm for Black Bird waned a bit after seeing the game's first real trailer a few weeks ago. Not only did it look a little too close to Sega's Fantasy Zone for my liking, but it also looked a little too much like a bullet-hell shmup. (The only bullet-hell shmup that's tripped my trigger to date is the gay, smutty Sugar Shooter.)

So, I didn't buy the Switch version of Black Bird upon release as planned. And at that point, I wasn't sure I'd ever pick it up. A few days later, though, I apprehensively plopped down $20 on it anyway. Why? For starters, I'd been looking forward to it for so long that ignoring it seemed wrong. Plus, I felt like both Onion Games and Kimura deserved the benefit of the doubt. Neither has done me wrong yet, so why start second-guessing them now?

Boy, am I glad I went ahead with the purchase. In the 10 days since I bought Black Bird, I've put more than nine hours into it. That's quite an accomplishment when you consider the game has just four stages and its normal mode can be finished in about 20 minutes.

So why do I keep returning to it over and over again? Here are five reasons I'd say are as relevant as any:

Black Bird may be short, but it has a lot of depth--This game may not have a lot of raw content, but it makes up for that by having a lot of components. There are weapon upgrades. Combos. Collectible gems. Bombs. End-of-level bonuses. And they're all intertwined in a way that takes some time to understand. (Hell, I still haven't wrapped my head around a few of them--and I've played Black Bird for nearly 10 hours.) Given that, I actually think this game's brevity is a plus. It allows you to come to grips with its many elements without asking for too much of a commitment.

When everything "clicks," it feels like you've entered another plane of existence--OK, so maybe that's overstating things a bit. I don't think saying it's easy to "get into a zone" while playing Black Bird is hyperbolic, though. I often feel like I'm on autopilot--and I mean that in a good way--whenever I make another run at a high score. (And let there be no doubt: moving up the online leaderboard, and not reaching the end credits, is the focus here.) Is that due to its entrancing soundtrack? Maybe, but I think there's more to it than that, too--like all of the mesmerizing details that are crammed into each level and the sheer number of enemies and projectiles that careen around the screen at any given moment.

Black Bird's amazing soundtrack is like an extension of its gameplay--Don't take that the wrong way; the music here isn't interactive like it is in, say, ASCII's Otocky for the Famicom. Still, Black Bird's gameplay and soundtrack feel intertwined in a way that's unique and unusual for the medium. Even if that weren't the case, though, the tunes here would be well worth trumpeting. Besides the poppy, Beatles-esque theme song, they're so otherworldly vaudevillian they'd surely make Danny Elfman proud.

Some of the enemy designs in this game are so cute I almost feel bad shooting them to smithereens--The key word here is "almost." After all, they'll gleefully gun you down if given the chance. Still, there's no denying most of them are downright adorable. I especially like the ones that bob around the screen with colorful balloons tied around their waists. (I'm also pretty fond of "Aspara-san," who is part asparagus, part rocket, and mumbles "let's kill something" as he launches himself into the air.)

I appreciate that Black Bird's story is bleak--Or at least it seems to be bleak. You see, Black Bird's story is told through painfully short between-stage vignettes that feature no words or voices. (Aside from the occasional exclamation or guffaw, that is.) Still, those bits and pieces make it clear this is no childish fairy tale. A case in point: the game begins with a little girl falling over dead on the street as people pass by without missing a step. After an old man pokes her corpse with a cane, she transforms into the eponymous fowl.

Clearly I'm in love with this peculiar, pint-sized shoot 'em up. That doesn't mean I think everybody will feel the same way about it. If you're not a big fan of the genre, you may not get your money's worth from Black Bird--especially given its $20 price tag. Those of you who fall head over heels for shmups, though, should download it to your system of choice (PC or Switch) as soon as you have the funds.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Five reasons I hate myself for waiting 17 years to play through Luigi's Mansion for the first time

The Nintendo GameCube came out at a time when I basically ignored video games.

Although I remember playing a bit of Super Mario 64 with my college roommates, that was pretty much the extent of my involvement and interest in the hobby for a good number of years.

In fact, I don't remember coming back into the fold, so to speak, until sometime in 2004--after Nintendo dropped the price of the console to $99 and released a "Player's Choice" version of Animal Crossing.

Did I follow up those acquisitions by purchasing Luigi's Mansion, too? Nope. Sadly, I can't tell you why I failed to do that, though I suspect the "word on the street" that the game was criminally short had something to do with it.

Oh, well, all is forgiven since I eventually picked up a copy, right? Plus, as the headline of this post hopefully makes clear, I also own the recently released 3DS port (remake?) of the game.

Speaking of Luigi's Mansion for the 3DS, I played through it last week. Yes, all the way through it--right to the end credits. Here are my favorite aspects of that 10-plus-hour journey, which double as reasons why I hate myself for waiting so long to fully experience this game.

Sucking up ghosts with the Poltergust 3000 is surprisingly fun--I know what some of you are thinking here: how could sucking up ghosts not be fun? The thing is, I played a tiny bit of the GameCube version of Luigi's Mansion before I started through this 3DS port-make (sorry, I don't know what to call it), and that aspect of the game left me feeling conflicted. On the one hand, I found it refreshingly unique. On the other, it was more annoying--or maybe I should say less thrilling--than I assumed it would be. Well, you can toss all of that out the window. It didn't take long for the 3DS iteration to wipe those earlier experiences from my memory. For the most part, bagging baddies here is both amusing and gratifying. There are exceptions, of course--the final battle being a prime example--but thankfully they fail to spoil the fun.

Luigi's humming makes my heart melt--And not only that, but it makes traipsing through the halls and rooms of his freebie mansion more grin-inducing than it has any right to be given the game's ghoulish focus. On a related note, I'm pretty sure I followed every single stint with Luigi's Mansion by humming its theme song myself. If that's not a testament to how cute and catchy both the tune and the character's rendition of it are, I don't know what is. (By the way, a similar aspect of Luigi's Mansion that makes my heart melt and mouth break into a grin is that it dedicates a button to calling for Mario.)

The room designs are dazzling--Gaining access to a new room in Luigi's Mansion (you unlock them as you progress through the game) is an honest-to-goodness treat. Each one sports a different theme--from bathroom to ballroom to billiards room and beyond--and each one is lavishly decorated. Picking a favorite must be like picking a favorite child if you're a parent. It's impossible! They're such a delight that contemplating which ones are the best is a complete waste of time. Instead, I'd suggest you do what I did: accept that all of them are top-notch and then brace yourself to be bowled over whenever you get to venture inside one for the first time.

The game's portrait ghosts and battles are pretty awesome, too--If this component of Luigi's Mansion doesn't return for the just-announced Switch sequel (I've heard that 2013's Dark Moon eschews it), I'm going to have a hissy fit. It's right up there with the titular manor's lovingly appointed rooms in making this such an endearing and entrancing game. Why? For starters, the "portrait ghosts" in question are quite a bunch. There's the scarf-knitting granny, the lily-loving bodybuilder, and the bed-wetting girl--plus 19 others. Also, they all attack you in different ways, and they all have different weak points, too. In other words, Luigi's Mansion keeps you on your toes--and gives your eyes a pretty good workout as well.

Experiencing all of the above in full 3D is so mind-blowing I couldn't play it any other way--Before you roll your eyes at me, consider this: my 3DS' depth slider rarely leaves the "off" position. I made an exception when I booted up Luigi's Mansion for the first time, though, because I knew that was the game's raison d'être. I ended up liking it so much I spent my entire 11-hour-ish playthrough with the 3D effect turned on. What can I say? It made the mansion's numerous living spaces look even more marvelous than they did otherwise.

Have any of you played either the original version of Luigi's Mansion or the 3DS rerelease discussed here? If so, what did you think of it?

See also: 'five reasons I hate myself for waiting 29 years to finish Capcom's Sweet Home' and 'five reasons I (mostly) hate myself for waiting 26 years to play Super Mario Land 2 for the first time'

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Five reasons I hate myself for waiting 29 years to finish Capcom's Sweet Home

Like Super Mario Land 2, which I discussed in my last post, Capcom's Sweet Home is an old game I've been meaning to play for many decades now. Nearly three decades, in fact.

Unlike that 1992 GameBoy title, however, I'd at least booted up this scary Famicom RPG from 1989 on a few occasions over the years.

I'd never gotten more than an hour or so into it, though--or at least I hadn't until I started my way through it about a week ago.

Well, that's all in the past. This time around, I played Sweet Home for just over 12 hours. And not only that, but I finished it.

So why do I hate myself for waiting 29 years to thoroughly explore this game's hair-raising halls and grounds? Here are the five reasons that first popped into my head:

Sweet Home absolutely nails the feeling of being locked in a haunted mansion--Seems impossible, doesn't it? After all, not only is the dwelling in question crafted using 8-bit sprites, but it's depicted using a top-down perspective, too. Despite that, Sweet Home is as nail-bitingly claustrophobic as any survival-horror game that takes place in such an eerie (and similarly cramped) locale. You really feel like you're stalking the spooky hallways of an evil manor while playing Sweet Home, and that's a real accomplishment as far as I'm concerned.

Its soundtrack only adds to the tension--Sweet Home's music isn't always easy on the ears. Hell, sometimes it's downright annoying. It's pretty much always fitting, though. As in, even when the game's backing tunes are discordantly irritating, they complement what's happening on your TV screen. Don't take this to mean there are no standouts on Sweet Home's soundtrack. In fact, quite a few of its songs could be heralded as stellar. I'm especially fond of the "eastern garden" tune, with its lightning-like percussion flourishes, and the sweetly melancholy "fresco theme."

I love how its story is revealed in bits and pieces--In most RPGs, you learn about its story through banter between party members or conversations with non-player characters. Here, you're mostly made aware of it via notes and even paintings you discover while exploring the titular "home." That gives the game an air of mystery I'm not sure it would have if it'd stuck more closely to the traditions of the genre. It also enhances the sense of loneliness and unease that permeates this Japan-only release.

The turn-based battles in this game are surprisingly unique--Yes, you read that correctly: Sweet Home features turn-based battles. And they're not unlike those you encounter in Dragon Quest or Mother or numerous other 8-bit RPGs with first-person fights. So what's unique about the ones on offer here? A good example is the "pray" option, which increases your power if you time things right. Another example is the "call" option, which lets you bring straggling party members into an on-going battle. (Although five characters are at your disposal while playing Sweet Home, you're forced to split them into groups of two or three. When you select this command, the game cuts away from the fight at hand so you can move one or more other party members to its location.)

It's nearly the perfect length for an RPG--As I mentioned earlier, my just-completed playthrough of Sweet Home took just over 12 hours. That's a breath of fresh air for someone (such as myself) who rarely has the time, energy, or attention span to deal with 100-plus-hour behemoths like Octopath Traveler. Which isn't to suggest Sweet Home's pacing is perfect. I actually thought it overstayed its welcome by an hour or two. Still, I'll take that over the aforementioned alternative any day.

There's only one other aspect of Sweet Home that turned me off, by the way. What is it? The way it severely limits how many items you and your intrepid companions can hold. I understand why the game's developers decided against giving players unlimited space for these objects (which include candles, fire extinguishers, and pieces of rope), but I wish they'd been a bit more lenient. Thankfully, you can drop seemingly pointless tools and wares on the ground and return for them later if the need arises.

That pair of slight missteps notwithstanding, I found my latest (and most successful) foray through Sweet Home's halls and grounds both fascinating and exhilarating. So much so, in fact, that I can't wait to enter its creepy confines again this time next year.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Five reasons I (mostly) hate myself for waiting 26 years to play Super Mario Land 2 for the first time

You may have heard me grouse here or there about the fact that I've never played Super Mario Land 2 for the GameBoy.

It's my own fault, of course. No one kept me from playing it.

The thing is, I can't really say what did keep me from playing it all this time. Which is strange, as I recall enjoying the original Super Mario Land quite a bit back in the day.

Granted, that title launched alongside Nintendo's first handheld in 1989. And it was a lot easier to please GameBoy owners then than it was when Super Mario Land 2 followed it onto store shelves in 1992.

Did I become a more discerning game fan during the three-and-a-half-year span between those two releases? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Far more likely, in my opinion, is that I couldn't shake the (admittedly uninformed) feeling Super Mario Land 2 was little more than a poor man's version of Super Mario World.

Do I still feel that way about the game now that I've played and even beaten it? (I accomplished the latter last week.) Not really, and here are five reasons why:

It's far less of a Super Mario World ripoff than I assumed it to be--Some of you probably are wondering why I ever thought Super Mario Land 2 was a ripoff of Super Mario World. To be honest, I can't remember. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the Mario sprites in both games look pretty darn similar? Regardless, I no longer have such an erroneous opinion of the iconic character's second portable outing. Instead, I now respect its uniqueness and even silliness.

The zone maps are everything--Seriously, how could Nintendo give us something so fabulous and then never return to it? Each and every one of the zone maps included in Super Mario Land 2 brought a smile to my face during my breezy playthrough, though the Mario, Pumpkin, and Space ones especially thrilled me. Admittedly, they're just maps--and single-screen maps, at that. Still, they add a sense of childish whimsy to the experience that most side-scrolling Mario games lack.

Many of its enemies remind me of the first Super Mario Land--And by that I mean they're completely bonkers, of course. They're also a breath of fresh air compared to their counterparts that appear in nearly every other Mario game in existence. I mean, who needs Goombas and Koopas when you have pigs who shoot cannonballs out of their huge snouts (they're called Bomubomu) and fish-cow combos (Mōgyo) that try to gore you with their pointed horns?

I like its mostly unique (for the Mario series) soundtrack--I'm used to Mario games featuring tons of reused tunes. That's not the case here. In fact, I'm not sure any of Super Mario Land 2's music was pulled from previous entries in the long-running series. Regardless, pretty much every song this cartridge offers up is almost profanely exuberant. That makes playing through this platformer even more grin-inducing than it would be if it sported the typical Mario soundtrack.

A late-in-the-game stage pays homage to the "Balloon Trip" mode of Balloon Fight--Some of you may not know this, but I absolutely adore the "Balloon Trip" mode of Balloon Fight. It's the ultimate "just one more try" type of game experience for me. Does this mean I've been playing the Super Mario Land 2 stage alluded to above over and over again since I first encountered it? Not on your life. I sure enjoyed my first time through it, though, and I'll always look forward to it in future attempts.

As for that "mostly" I hid in this post's headline, well, I did that because I don't love each and every aspect of Super Mario Land 2. For example, jumps in this game feel stiffer than they do in other Mario side-scrollers. Also, it's far from the meatiest platformer I've ever played. (I finished it in a few minutes over three hours.)

Despite those minor missteps, I had a blast getting to know Super Mario Land 2 via my trusty 3DS recently. It was the polar opposite of the samey New Super Mario Bros. titles Nintendo's frustratingly focused on for the last decade-plus.

Here's hoping whoever there heads up the next Mario sequel turns to this 1992 release for a bit of inspiration.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Crazy Climber (WonderSwan)

I've long ignored Crazy Climber for WonderSwan because it looked just a little too antiquated for my liking.

Granted, the original arcade version of the game came out all the way back in 1980, so this portable port from 1999 was bound to have an old-fashioned air to it, too.

If this is your first foray into the world of Crazy Climber, you're probably wondering: wasn't it updated or modernized at all between 1980 and 1999?

You'd think so, but as far as I can tell, the answer to that question amounts to "not really."

Maker and publisher Nichibutsu improved the looks of most of its console ports and sequels, but even Crazy Climber 2000 (from--you guessed it--the year 2000, and released for the original PlayStation) features the same "scale a skyscraper using two joysticks" (or directional pads) gameplay as the quarter-muncher that birthed the series 38 years ago.

So what prompted me to do an about-face and pick up a copy of this nichiest of niche titles? One catalyst was that I found out it's played holding the WonderSwan system vertically. (I've always been a sucker for that.) Another was its cartoonish and colorful box art.

Speaking of Crazy Climber's lovely cover illustration, I've got admit I kind of assumed it meant the game's instruction manual would be stuffed with similarly eye-popping imagery.

Boy, was I wrong. In fact, except for the manual's last spread, it's nearly devoid of art. The only exception is the awkwardly drawn hands found in the lower-left corner of page seven.

Don't take that to mean I'm disappointed with my purchase. I'm still glad I own this version of Crazy Climber. Hell, I'm still glad I own this booklet. Its cover and second-to-last page alone make it worth every penny.

If you're wondering what the illustrations on the second-to-last page are supposed to represent, by the way, that would be the game's "characters." I put it in quotes because some of the depicted objects obviously don't fit the typical definition of the word.

Anyway, you encounter all of these so-called characters as you (attempt to) make your way to the top of each of Crazy Climber's mammoth buildings.

Most aim to do you harm. The lone exception: the "lucky balloon." It kindly hauls you up a handful of floors without asking for anything in return.

One last comment before I declare this post complete: click on any of the scans you see here to take a closer look at them.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Engacho! and Lode Runner for WonderSwan

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Dungeon Land (GameBoy)

You may remember Dungeon Land is the Japanese GameBoy title I bought because it featured "enemy flan."

Or you may remember it because it was Enix's maiden release for Nintendo's first handheld game system. It's even possible you remember its magnificently colorful cover art.

And if you don't remember Dungeon Land, or if this post is introducing you to it, that's cool, too.

Either way, uh, here's that old game's instruction manual!

You might think I'm disappointed that Dungeon Land's manual isn't as salmon-y as its outer box.

That was my initial reaction to it, I've got to admit, but now that I've had some time to reflect, I actually quite like the black-gray-yellow scheme its designers used instead.

That's hardly the only interesting or impressive aspect of this booklet, however. For example, it also features a good number of eye-catching illustrations--like the ones you see in this spread.

The second page above seemingly details the game's story, by the way. (As far as I can tell, the text at the top says something along the lines of "About Dungeon Land.")

I can't tell you what those details are, sadly, as I can't understand them.

I'm sure it creatively explains why this title is part board game and part role-playing game, though. Or at least I hope that's the case.

Because it includes RPG elements, Dungeon Land has its share of fantastic enemy characters. You can see some of them--including the flan baddie I mentioned earlier--in the right-hand page below.

Even more "monsters" are showcased across the next spread. I think these are some of the game's bosses, actually--though don't quote me on that.

Whatever they are, I love them. I'm not sure why they have three names, unfortunately. Or maybe the three words above their heads aren't names at all? Maybe they just explain their three "phases" or something like that?

As you probably can tell, I haven't played much of Dungeon Land to date. That's because role-playing board games aren't a whole lot of fun when you don't understand much of the text they throw at you.

To be honest, it probably wouldn't be much fun even if I did know what was going on at all times. Maybe it's just me, but I rarely enjoy tackling digital board games on my own.

Still, I'm glad I own a copy of Dungeon Land. Who knows, maybe someday I'll rope another human being into playing it with me. Or maybe I'll learn enough Japanese to find out it's a blast even when experienced alone.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Burning Paper, NoobowPainter Momopie, Peetan, and Snow Bros. Jr.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Susano-o Densetsu (PC Engine)

If only I'd penned and published this post last summer as intended.

Back then, one of my favorite retro-game blogs, The Brothers Duomazov, was still alive and well.

OK, so maybe "well" isn't the right word to use here. After all, it hadn't been updated in more than three years at that point.

I could access and enjoy all of its reviews of old PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16 games whenever I wanted, though, and that was more than enough for me. (I swear I read some of them at least 10 times each. They were like comfort food for me.)

I bring up The Brothers Duomazov, by the way, because it was one of the only sites that offered up any real information on this obscure, Japan-only RPG from 1989.

Also, it pushed me to buy a copy of the game. Before I read the brothers' thoughts on Susano-o Densetsu, I skipped right over it each and every time I came across it on eBay or my go-to online stores.

What can I say? Its cover art screams "bad game" to me--despite the fact that a buff dude is front and center and the esteemed Hudson Soft logo sits just below his hairless torso.

Well, The Brothers Duomazov opened my eyes to the fact that Susano-o Densetsu is far from a bad game. Actually, their write-up made it seem pretty darn interesting.

For starters, it's a HuCard-based role-playing game--an honest-to-goodness rarity as far as the PC Engine is concerned.

Also, its battles don't rip off Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy like pretty much every other RPG did in the late 1980s. Instead, fights in Susano-o Densetsu offer players a bit more freedom than was typical for the genre at the time.

Combine that with this Alfa System-made game's cyberpunk-ish aesthetic, and it should be easy enough to understand why I'm now a proud owner of a complete copy.

The instruction manual showcased in this post was pulled from the interior of that copy, naturally. It's quite something, wouldn't you agree? Admittedly, it could use a few (or a lot) more illustrations, but I think it's pretty fabulous even in its current state.

I especially like the full-page world map featured on its fifth page. And of course I adore the item and enemy drawings highlighted on the Susano-o Densetsu manual's final spread.

What's your opinion of this surprisingly beefy booklet? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Or maybe it doesn't inspire any kind of emotional reaction from you? Regardless, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Dungeon Explorer, KiKi KaiKai, Parodius Da!, and Son Son II.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Six 'seasonally appropriate' games I'm planning to play in the lead-up to Halloween

I've already completed a pair of Halloween-ish games in recent weeks: Creeping Terror for 3DS and Undertale for Switch.

They'll soon be joined by the following sextet of spooktacular titles, all of which I hope to play between now and All Hallows' Eve.

I can't promise I'll finish all of the games discussed below, mind you. I will start them, though, and then put as much time into them as I can before the calendar flips over to November.

Avenging Spirit (GameBoy)--If you're a bit of a Japanophile like I am, you may know this game as Phantasm rather than Avenging Spirit. You also probably know it's fairly well regarded by people who've played either version. That makes a lot of sense once you're clued in to its premise. A group of mobsters kidnap your girlfriend and then kill you. Now you're a ghost. A ghost that can possess other people. Make use of that unfortunately acquired skill to track down your lover and take revenge on the thugs who took your life. It's all quite thrilling--or at least that's how I'd describe the few minutes I've put into Avenging Spirit here and there--if not entirely "seasonally appropriate."

Avenging Spirit for GameBoy

Death Mark (Switch)--I first became aware of this horror-themed visual novel when it was released (in Japan) for the Vita last summer. At the time, I didn't even know what kind of game it was--all I cared about was its stunning box art. So when the news broke a few months ago that a localized version of Death Mark would hit Western store shelves in time for Halloween, I almost fainted. Sadly, publisher Aksys Games switched out the Japanese release's cover illustration for one that's a bit more "by the numbers." Oh, well, I'm still excited to see how it compares to the other VNs I've played so far.

Dark Souls Remastered (Switch)--I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I fired up this game's network test a couple of weekends ago. Boy, was I wrong. Not that I'm complaining; I actually enjoyed it--even if I did die innumerable times, and even if I did find it sort of suffocating. I will admit that this bite-sized portion of Dark Souls Remastered stumped me now and then, but I figured things out eventually thanks to a bit of internet sleuthing. Something else I'll admit: I'm still not sure this is my kind of game. I'm going to give it a go anyway, though, because I'd rather try it and hate it than ignore it and wonder "what if?"

Luigi's Mansion (3DS)--The original Luigi's Mansion is another one of those games that I've "always meant to play." Or maybe I should say I've always meant to play it for more than 30 minutes or so--because that's about the longest I've spent with it to date. I blame that appalling lack of attention on my nearly decade-long disinterest in playing games while tethered to a TV. This 3DS port of the game should solve at least part of that problem. Hopefully it'll solve the other part, too; in other words, hopefully I'll actually finish it this time around.

Magical Chase for PC Engine

Magical Chase (PC Engine)--What I'm about to say may shock some of you: I've never been the biggest fan of this Quest-made shoot 'em up from 1991. Admittedly, it's likely my feelings on the game have been colored by the astronomical prices that tend to be attached to copies these days. That's not all of it, though. I'm also not too keen on what I see as Magical Chase's discordant theme. I mean, your "ship" is a broom-riding witch--why do you fly it through bright and colorful environments that look nothing like the creepy locales typically associated with such beings? Still, as much as I wish it were a little more like Cotton, I can appreciate its designers' attempts at creating something different. I'll try to remember that during this latest playthrough.

Super Mario Land 2 (GameBoy)--OK, so Super Mario Land 2 isn't exactly a Halloween-esque game through and through. It does feature a "zone" that fits the season at hand, though--or so I've been told. I can't say so myself, because I'm a Super Mario Land 2 virgin. (Gasp!) Of course, this isn't the first time I've suggested I was going to start my way through this title, though it will be my last. Why? Because I've already bought it (via the 3DS eShop). Here's hoping it's only a matter of time before I reach the "Pumpkin Zone" alluded to earlier.

Are you planning--or hoping--to play any spooky or scary games in the lead-up to October 31? If so, which ones?

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A few thoughts on Creeping Terror (3DS) now that I've played and finished it

When Sushi Typhoon Games unveiled Creeping Terror in late 2016, I was stoked. A 3DS title inspired by the classic survival-horror game, Clock Tower? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, Creeping Terror didn't hit the North American 3DS eShop until Halloween day last year. For me, that was at least 24 hours too late. I wanted to play it in the lead-up to the holiday, not afterward.

So, I passed on it--with the intention of returning to it in advance of this All Hallows' Eve.

Of course, I completely forgot about Creeping Terror shortly after its release. Thankfully, an acquaintance reminded me of it a couple of weeks ago via an Instagram post.

In rapid succession, I bought, downloaded, and started playing the game. And after a little more than five hours (spread over seven or so days), I finished it, too.

What's my opinion of Creeping Terror given that experience? Here are a few thoughts:

If you've been looking for a "new" Clock Tower, you've got one in Creeping Terror--Clock Tower creator Hifumi Kono had nothing to do with Creeping Terror, but it can sure seem like he did when you're playing it. Not only does this 3DS title and Kono's Super Famicom standout have the same vibe, but the two games share a number of other traits as well. For starters, they look a lot a like--despite the fact that Clock Tower's claustrophobic world is crafted using sprites while Creeping Terror's is made up of polygons. Their gameplay is remarkably similar, too, though the 3DS title's is quite a bit more user-friendly. (Clock Tower is a old-school point-and-click affair, while in Creeping Terror you move the main character with the system's circle pad and interact with your surroundings with its face buttons.) All in all, Creeping Terror feels like a modern Clock Tower in most respects, which is just what I was hoping for when I bought it.

Unfortunately, Creeping Terror's protagonist is just as slow as her Clock Tower counterpart--The developers who brought Creeping Terror to life made a lot of improvements to the Clock Tower "mold" while doing so. That's not to say what they produced is the absolute best side-scrolling survival-horror game to see the light of day. For that to be true, its main character wouldn't move like she lacks leg muscles. The run button helps, but only a bit. (And even it becomes almost useless when an enemy starts chasing you.) Oh, well, it adds to the tension--even if artificially.

Every character besides the protagonist is an idiot--That's par for the course in slasher films, right?  And it's probably par for the course in slasher games, too. (I say probably because I've experienced far fewer of the latter than the former.) Still, Creeping Terror's cast seems especially dumb. They're constantly suggesting you split up or otherwise unnecessarily put yourselves in danger. I'm sure some of this is tied to keeping the gameplay focused on the protagonist, but I'm also sure it could've been handled in a far more elegant fashion.

Creeping Terror doesn't feature much music, but what it does feature is more than fitting--First of all, I've got to say I like that playing this game is a predominantly silent experience. Most of the time, all you hear are ambient noises, like creaking floors or dripping water. (Or the Mario-fireball-esque "ploink" that sounds whenever you turn on or off your phone's flashlight app.) Actual music only enters the picture right as one of Creeping Terror's antagonists are about to arrive on the scene. Believe me when I say the tune's not only fitting, but mighty effective in getting your attention (and in getting you to haul ass to safety).

The localization is disappointingly stilted--No offense to the person or people who handled Creeping Terror's localization. I know this work is tough. That said, the English text in the North American release of the game is pretty stiff. It almost feels like a "first pass"--like with a little massaging, it could've come across as a lot more natural. Don't worry, it's not so bad it'll make you drop the game; it's mostly just awkward.

How many items does a stranded school girl really need?--Creeping Terror's protagonist only has enough room in her jacket--or wherever she stuffs all the things she finds lying about the game's environment--for six items. That doesn't sound like much, but don't worry; it's plenty. After all, you seemingly come across a candy bar (eat it and you restore a bit of stamina--important when you're running from an enemy) or a portable phone charger in every other room. If your playthrough is anything like mine, it won't take you long before you barely even notice their existence. Which is a shame, as it keeps Creeping Terror from being a thoroughly terrifying engagement.

If you like making use of your system's 3D abilities, crank up its depth slider while playing Creeping Terror--I rarely play 3DS titles in 3D. Doing so usually either brings on a migraine, or makes me feel like I'm about to get one. That said, I made an exception for Creeping Terror after giving that aspect a try. Not only did it help immerse me into the game, but it also helped me see the on-screen action. (Most of Creeping Terror's set pieces are eye-strainingly dark. Switching to 3D mode makes them a little less so.)

See also: 'five things that made it really easy for me to put more than 60 hours into The Alliance Alive' and 'five reasons I've fallen head over heels in love with Sushi Striker'

Monday, September 24, 2018

Second Chances: Tennis (NES)

A couple of years ago, I published a "Second Chances" post about another NES tennis game, Jaleco's Racket Attack. (Read it here.)

In that write-up, I regaled the four or five people who actually read it with the trials and tribulations I had to endure during my most recent experience with that 1988 release.

Basically, Racket Attack is a hot mess. It's slow, slippery, and frustratingly difficult. Well, guess what? Some of those same words could be used to describe Nintendo's Tennis from 1985.

OK, so Tennis isn't exactly slow. Or at least the player sprites don't move slowly. No one is going to accuse the ball of racing through the air, though.

Tennis' speed is the last thing you'll need to worry about should you ever play it, however. No, far more worrisome and irksome are the following:

* When it comes to player-controlled characters, you've got just one option--a white guy with dark hair.

* As for opponents, there are just five in the entire game. They're also caucasian men.

* Your repertoire of moves consists of two serves (a fast one and a slow one), a "flat" forehand, a similarly struck backhand, a lob, and a volley.

* Every match you play in Tennis takes place on the same "hard" (concrete) court. Look elsewhere if you care about carpet, clay, or grass surfaces.

* Speaking of which, the game lacks a tournament mode, a "world tour" mode, or even a rankings ladder. Your only choice is to play one-on-one matches against the five opponents mentioned earlier. (Each one represents a different difficulty level.)

This tennis title would be annoying enough if that were the extent of its "cons." Unfortunately, it isn't.  In fact, the game's final noteworthy negative is the one that impacts gameplay the most.

What is it? It's that positioning your character sprite in Tennis is an overly finicky exercise. If you're not in the right spot, you'll totally miss the ball. Or you'll hit it but send it many feet wide of the sidelines.

Given all of the above, why am I even writing about about this ancient cart? Or what prompted me to give it a "second chance" it seemingly didn't deserve?

It all started when I subscribed to the just-launched Nintendo Switch Online service and downloaded the complementary NES app.

After playing a few rounds of Balloon Fight's "Balloon Trip" mode (as you do), not to mention a couple of go-throughs of Donkey Kong, I clicked on Tennis without giving it much thought.

It looked and sounded and felt just as antiquated as I remembered, of course, but for some reason I didn't exit out of it after a handful of games.

In fact, I kept on playing until the end of the match, which I lost by the rather humiliating score of 6-0, 6-3. (Although in my defense, I came back from 5-1 down in the second set and even saved a bunch of match points along the way.)

Time for me to sashay away from the game once and for all, right? Wrong. I'm actually kind of pumped to play it again.

I can't guarantee I'll give it the time of day after I defeat even one of its handful of opponents, mind you, but until that happens, I'll probably return to it now and then to see if I can make any headway against the competition.

Have any of you played Tennis? If so, what do you think about it?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Seven game announcements from yesterday's Nintendo Direct that made me grin from ear to ear

I don't know about you, but I was far from thrilled by the E3 2018 Nintendo Direct.

Don't get me wrong, I loved seeing Fire Emblem: Three Houses in action. (Finally!) The footage of Daemon X Machina showcased during the above-mentioned presentation similarly blew me away. I'm not much of a Pokémon or Super Smash Bros. fan, though, which probably explains my lack of enthusiasm toward the company's most recent E3 extravaganza.

The latest Nintendo Direct, though--the one that went live yesterday? That was my jam.

I approached it assuming I'd get a fresh glimpse of the Yoshi Switch game that was revealed over a year ago as well as new details on titles like Pokémon: Let's Go, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and the upcoming Luigi's Mansion remake for 3DS. Oh, I knew that wouldn't be the full extent of this broadcast, but I also didn't think it would offer up much else--especially in terms of reveals that would wow me.

Boy, was I wrong. Not only did almost all of the following announcements came out of nowhere for me (the Animal Crossing and Katamari Damacy ones were rumored in the days and even hours leading up to the Direct's drop), but they also thrilled me to pieces. Keep reading to learn why.

A new Animal Crossing is coming to Switch in 2019--Given the earth-shattering sales of previous portable entries in this long-running series of "slow living" games, a Switch entry was the definition of a no-brainer. Still, many thought Animal Crossing would hit the system sometime in 2018, so its absence until now has made some of those folks (including myself) antsy. All is forgotten and forgiven with yesterday's news that the game is coming in 2019, right? Not quite, but it's a start. And, really, I put hundreds of hours into the Animal Crossing release most consider the worst (City Folk), so it's safe to say I'll be singing a decidedly positive tune by the time this next one is plopped onto actual and virtual store shelves in the coming 12 or so months.

All of the Final Fantasy love--You might think the news that both Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles and Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition HD are Switch-bound would've prepared me for the news that a bunch of other Final Fantasy games are coming to Nintendo's hybrid system, too. Nope, it didn't. When World of Final Fantasy Maxima was revealed, I responded with a pleasantly surprised, "oh!" I was unable to produce sound when Chocobo's Mystery Dungeon EVERY BUDDY! popped up, though, and the same was true when Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age waltzed onto the screen. Admittedly, I'm more than a bit bummed that almost all of the above seem to be digital-only releases (Final Fantasy XII is the only exception, according to word on the street), but I'm going to buy them anyway.

Katamari Damacy Reroll--I'm a firm believer that everyone could use some Katamari Damacy in their life. This Keita Takahashi-created series is so colorful, energetic, and wacky--not to mention fun--I'm sure it would make even the biggest sourpuss grin like the Cheshire Cat. (But, you know, in a less creepy fashion.) I do wish this release included a remaster of We Love Katamari as well as the first Katamari Damacy title, but Bandai Namco's probably planning to sell it separately. And you know what? I'll purchase it, too--as long as Reroll proves to be a solid effort.

Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn--I don't know how many of you are aware of this, but I adore Kirby's Epic Yarn. In fact, I love it so much I named it my favorite game of 2010. As such, I was beyond bowled over when it dawned on me that I'll soon be able to play an enhanced version of it on my 3DS. I'm sure a lot of people would prefer to see this on the Switch, but I think the 3DS is the perfect place for it. It'll fit right in with Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World and Hey! Pikmin, wouldn't you agree?

Luigi's Mansion 3--Although I can't say I was shocked to learn during yesterday's Nintendo Direct that the company is prepping a third Luigi's Mansion title, I was shocked to hear--and see--that it's so far along. Something else that shocked me: some folks are calling it ugly. Did we watch the same footage? I mean, sure, it's not the absolute best-looking game I've ever laid eyes on, but the same could be said of other Switch standouts like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. At any rate, I can't wait to get my hands on Luigi's Mansion 3--even if nothing changes about its graphics between now and whenever it releases in 2019.

Town--Talk about "out of nowhere." Did anyone see this coming--a Switch RPG from Game Freak that doesn't have Pokémon in its name? That's a big plus as far as I'm concerned, though I know not everyone will feel the same way. Of course, I tend to love the company's weird side projects--see HarmoKnight and my favorite 3DS game ever, Pocket Card Jockey--so I guess you could say I was destined to at least like this one, too. My only concern at the moment is that Town's likely to be a digital-only release. Which is fine in many respects (it likely means it'll be cheaper than your typical "boxed" game, for instance), but also suggests it may not have as much content as a retail offering.

Yoshi's Crafted World--First things first: I think this game's name is disappointingly lazy. That said, maybe the person or people who came up with it want it to remind people of the last Yoshi title, Woolly World? Whatever the case may be, all I really care about is how Crafted World plays, looks, and sounds (and in that very order, too). I obviously can't say how it plays, though the footage shown off yesterday certainly makes it seem like a worthwhile platformer. I can, however, say it looks quite wonderful. For me, the aesthetic is just different enough from Woolly World's to be completely enticing. Should the soundtrack live up to the gameplay and visuals, Yoshi's Crafted World should be a feast for the eyes, ears, and, well, fingers.

Did you watch yesterday's Nintendo Direct broadcast? If so, what did you consider to be the stand-out game announcements? Which ones thrilled--or even disappointed--you the most?

See also: the Japanese version of yesterday's Nintendo Direct