Sunday, July 15, 2018

If you own a 3DS, you need to buy and play Pocket Card Jockey right now

And if you don't own a 3DS, you need to get one as soon as possible and then use it to play Pocket Card Jockey.

I know everyone's moved on to the Switch. So have I, for the most part. I also know this game hit the North American, European, and Australian 3DS eShop eons ago--in May 2016, to be exact. (It hit the Japanese 3DS eShop all the way back in July 2013.)

Given all of the above, I understand why Pocket Card Jockey isn't exactly trending on Twitter right now. The thing is, I doubt Pocket Card Jockey ever trended on Twitter, or lit up the sales charts--even when it first came out and garnered a good amount of praise.

So why am I writing about it now, more than two years after it made a splash (or maybe I should say plop, given the lack of hype surrounding its launch)? And why am I using yet another blog post to push people to give the game a try? Because I started playing it again last weekend while visiting my husband's family in Ohio and it reminded me of Pocket Card Jockey's brilliance.

I'd intended to play something else (Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, for the curious), but when I finally opened my trusty "flame red" 3DS I returned to my long-ignored Pocket Card Jockey save file instead.

At first, I stuck with the game's "training" mode, which basically allows you to play quick rounds of golf solitaire. Within a few hours, though, I cautiously moved over to the main mode. I didn't fare too well early on, to be honest, but a quick look at the "How to Succeed in Pocket Card Jockey Without Really Trying" guide I published a couple of years ago turned things around pretty quickly.

I'm currently 20 hours into my latest obsessive stint with Pocket Card Jockey. The first such stint began in 2013 immediately after the Japanese version's release and lasted for more than 60 hours. The second started in 2016 following the North American version's release and lasted an additional 60-plus hours.

In other words, I've now devoted somewhere north of 140 hours to this $6.99 game over the course of five years.

What's the pull for me? The main attraction (or maybe I should say mane attraction?) is that it's a whole lot of fun. For some reason, I find the combination of solitaire, horse racing, adorable graphics, a top-tier soundtrack, and surprisingly intriguing--and at times shockingly dark--interactions with the game's curious cast of characters to be a winning one.

And then, of course, there's the fact that this Game Freak-developed title is beyond addictive. You know how it's impossible to walk away from Tetris until you've completed about 100 levels? Well, Pocket Card Jockey is imbued with a similar quality. But instead of telling yourself, "just one more round," you're more likely to mutter, "just one more horse"--as it's entirely possible to take a steed from colt or filly to retirement in an hour or so.

Still not convinced to give this hidden gem a try? Maybe my Pocket Card Jockey review will do the trick. Or the fact that I declared it to be my favorite game of 2016 might sway you.

Whatever you need to do to convince yourself to buy Pocket Card Jockey, do it. And do it now. You never know when Nintendo's going to pull the plug on the 3DS eShop, and believe me when I say you don't want to go through life without experiencing this delightfully odd game.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Five things that made it really easy for me to put more than 60 hours into The Alliance Alive

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, you may have seen me trumpet the fact that I finished The Alliance Alive a short time ago--after putting more than 60 hours into it.

Actually, you may have seen me celebrate the same accomplishment in one of my most recent posts here, too.

Regardless, you know now. And, really, as thrilled as I am that I reached The Alliance Alive's credit roll and devoted so many hours to it along the way, I'm even more thrilled that I enjoyed pretty much every one of the nearly 4,000 minutes I spent with this portable RPG.

Why? Here are the first five reasons that came to mind:

Awakening "battle arts" is completely addictive--If you're not quite up to speed on The Alliance Alive's inner workings, "battle arts" are special attacks or moves that are tied to specific classes of weapons. If you give one of your characters a spear, for example, one of her battle arts may be "Charge," which causes her to race toward and through an enemy. While using that art, you might "awaken" another one, like "Spear Fishing" or "Triple Strike." The key word here is might. There's seemingly no rhyme or reason for when a character will learn a new battle art. You may go a number of encounters without awakening even one, or you may awaken three or four in a single tussle. I know some players find the randomness annoying, but I love it. You never know when a new--and likely more fabulous--move is going to fall into your lap.

The soundtrack is sublime--And not only that, but it's surprisingly varied. Some tracks, like "Rainy World" and "Sealed Museum," are fairly ambient in nature, while others, like "Clockwork City Gearlock" and "Fiery World," pulsate and soar thanks to plucky piano bits and pleasantly synth-y strings. (My favorite of them all is "Flight," which pops up later in the game but is well worth the wait.) The brilliance of The Alliance Alive soundtrack came as no surprise to me, by the way, as I knew going in that Masashi Hamauzu had composed the bulk of it. Some of his previous credits: Chocobo no Fushigi na Dungeon for the original PlayStation, Final Fantasy X for the PS2, and this title's precursor, The Legend of Legacy. (Psst! You can listen to The Alliance Alive's entire soundtrack here.)

The "water devil dens" provide the game with just the right amount of toughness and creepiness--Truth be told, a lot of The Alliance Alive's content could be called "standard fare." That's not a complaint or a critique; it's a simple statement of fact. What am I talking about here? The locations you explore while wandering the game's expansive map are a good example, as are the beasts you battle along the way. I wouldn't make the same claim about its "water devil dens," though. These optional dungeons dot the landscape and can be accessed via malevolent-looking whirlpools. As you might expect based on their name, they're teeming with some of the nastiest baddies in the whole game. The best thing about these "dens," in my opinion: they give The Alliance Alive a sense of otherworldly tension that helps it break free from the "typical JRPG" mold the game's developers seemingly used to create a good chunk of the rest of this sprawling adventure. (The next best thing about them: the creepy lines enemies spout before battles begin.)

Once it finally clicked, The Alliance Alive's guild system proved to be surprisingly cool (not to mention helpful)--Another aspect of The Alliance Alive that helps it steer clear of "cookie cutter" territory are the guild towers that stick out from the surrounding environment like giant, Victorian weather vanes. Early on, it's hard to make heads or tails of these structures and their inhabitants. The game attempts to explain things, but none of it clicked with me until I was a good 20 or so hours into my playthrough. Which is a shame, because once you "get" The Alliance Alive's guild system, you realize what a cool game changer it is. The gist: if you're within a certain range of a guild tower, it may support you in battle. One type stuns all enemies for a turn. Another wallops them with a massive attack. Yet another weakens their defenses. That's awesome in and of itself, of course, but it becomes even more so after you build a network of towers and you come within range of a number of them at the same time. And that's just scratching the surface of the benefits these spires offer players who devote time and energy to them. (To learn more, check out this article.)

It's got a character who fights enemies while sitting inside a duck-shaped "power suit"--And not only that, but she eventually fits it with a floaty so it can cross pools of lava. This character, named Tiggy, isn't the only appealing one in The Alliance Alive, by the way. A few others include a "daemon" lady with fox-like ears and tail, a "beastfolk" that looks to be a cross between a lizard and an antelope, a loud-mouthed penguin, and a youthful, hard-nosed businessman (businessboy?) who uses a wheelchair and wears a pot with a teddy bear strapped to it on his head. That's a long way of saying this game has a colorful cast of characters. Sadly, you can't add that last one--the one with the bear stuck to his noggin--to your party, but believe me when I say you're sure to like a lot of the beings that populate The Alliance Alive despite that unfortunate oversight.

That's not the extent of what I found appealing about The Alliance Alive during the 60-plus hours I devoted to it, mind you. I also loved how its non-player characters change what they say to you based on who's currently serving as your main party member, for example. And I similarly enjoyed being allowed to speed up battles with the press of a button.

Is there any room for improvement after all of the above has been taken into consideration? Definitely. As colorful as its cast of characters is, there's no question it could be even more diverse. (Every human in The Alliance Alive seems to be white, straight, and cisgender.) And I would've killed to be able to add some of its more interesting NPCs, like the aforementioned boy with the stuffed animal attached to his skull, the Guild Girls (see above), and Princess Yukiha to my party, even if only after the end credits rolled.

Don't let those few shortcomings keep you from starting through The Alliance Alive yourself. I found it to be an almost shockingly special title, all things considered, and as such I can't recommend it strongly enough to anyone who still has a 3DS and who typically enjoys role-playing games.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Pri Pri Primitive Princess! (GameBoy)

Don't let its lovely cover art fool you--Sunsoft's Pri Pri Primitive Princess isn't a great game. In fact, most people who've played it will tell you it's an absolute turd.

I can't say I agree with them, at least not entirely. Yes, Pri Pri Primitive Princess has its faults, but the same can be said of a lot of GameBoy titles, in my experience.

Granted, I've got a soft spot the size of Texas for single-screen platformers, the genre that encompasses this Japan-only release from 1990. I've got a similarly large soft spot for games that star cavemen--you know, like Hudson Soft's old PC Genjin (aka Bonk's Adventure) series.

Combine all of the above with the fact that Pri Pri Primitive Princess is, as you should be well aware by now, a GameBoy cart, and you've got yourself the makings of a "must buy" game pour moi, as the French might say.

In other words, I'd covet my complete-in-box copy of Pri Pri Primitive Princess even if its instruction manual were an utter disappointment. Thankfully, it isn't.

You'll see what I mean as you make your way through this post. For now, though, take my word that nearly every page features at least one nicely crafted illustration.

Would I have complained if the folks who cobbled together the Pri Pri Primitive Princess manual way back when had thrown in a few more pieces of art? Of course not.

Even as things stand, though, this manual's still a good bit better than quite a few other Japanese GameBoy instruction booklets currently in my possession.

See also: similar posts about the instruction manuals made for other Japanese GameBoy titles like Bubble Bobble Junior, Lolo no DaiboukenPenguin LandSnow Bros. Jr., and Tumblepop

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I don't know about you, but I'm absolutely thrilled we're swimming in actual SaGa as well as SaGa-inspired games at the moment

I've been keenly interested in Square Enix's SaGa series of bizarro RPGs for a long time now.

Makai Toushi SaGa, a GameBoy title that was rebranded The Final Fantasy Legend before it crossed the pond, introduced me to its wonders all the way back in 1990, but only barely.

I didn't fall head over heels in love with the series until I first laid eyes on Romancing SaGa for the Super Famicom.

That's not to say I've spent a lot of time with that 1992 release. Oh, I've tried, but even with my limited--very limited--understanding of Japanese, all of the text Romancing SaGa throws at you is daunting, to say the least.

Still, Romancing SaGa turned me on to just how beautifully strange an RPG can be in the right hands (especially if those hands belong to the one and only Akitoshi Kawazu)--a point that was driven home during my first playthrough of a game that is now one of my all-time favorites, SaGa Frontier.

Sadly, the series has languished in the wake of that late-1990s offering. Although eight SaGa titles were published (in Japan, at least) between 1989 and 2000, only five have come out in the 18 years since--one of which was a remake of an older effort and two of which depressingly avoided consoles.

Amazingly, other developers have stepped into the void in recent years to provide the world with their own SaGa-esque role-players. The Legend of Legacy was the first of these quirky RPGs to hit the market (back in 2015), and while it didn't quite live up to its initial hype, it proved to be an enjoyable enough experience despite its drawbacks.

That game's just-released (outside of Japan) spiritual successor, The Alliance Alive, is an even better "SaGa-like," in my opinion. It's far less experimental, and a lot more straightforward, than The Legend of Legacy, but both of those qualities work in its favor and help it feel like the best SaGa game not made by the aforementioned Kawazu.

You should expect to see more posts about The Alliance Alive here in the coming days and weeks, by the way. I'm so in love with the game after putting more than 60 hours into it that I've got to gush about it a bit.

Speaking of SaGa-ish games I've got to gush about, or that I've got a feeling I'm going to gush about shortly after I start playing them, Octopath Traveler for the Switch is due out in just under two months. I couldn't be more excited about it, to be honest--especially since it looks to be even more akin to the SaGa games of old than The Alliance of Alive.

Will I be gushing about the last "real" SaGa title, SaGa: Scarlet Grace, sooner rather than later, too? It sure seems like it. No less than Kawazu himself recently revealed on Twitter that an English localization of the game is being worked on as we speak.

And then, of course, there's the Romancing SaGa 3 remake that was announced early last year for mobile and Vita. It's also being prepped for a Western release--although no one outside Square Enix seems to know when that will happen (or if it'll hit systems like the PS4, Switch, and Xbox One as well).

Regardless, it's now abundantly clear that the SaGa, er, saga is far from over. I don't know about you, but that thrills me to no end. You can keep your paint-by-numbers RPGs; I'll take weirdo releases like The Alliance Alive, Octopath Traveler, and SaGa: Scarlet Grace over them any day of the week.

How many of you feel the same way?

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The walls of our home won't be complete until one of them sports a pixelated portrait of Ellen Ripley from Konami's Aliens arcade game

I've had a bit of a "thing" for the Alien and Aliens films since I watched them for the first time as a teenager.

You'd think that would mean I've long had a similar thing for games inspired by those flicks, but it doesn't.

There have been a few exceptions, of course. Sega's Alien Syndrome and Alien Storm are two examples. Xenophobe is another.

None of the above compete with Konami's Aliens quarter-muncher from 1990, however. OK, so it takes some liberties with the source material. It's such a blast to play, though, that I don't have any problems overlooking those "creative differences."

It's also gorgeous, of course, with wonderfully detailed backdrops and sprites that evoke the 1986 movie that spawned it.

Apparently Atlanta-based artist Ashley Anderson agrees with that last tidbit. After all, he recently referenced the above-mentioned Aliens arcade game in the acrylic painting that can be seen below.

Before you go and think this is just some paint-by-numbers copycat, consider what Anderson said about it on Instagram:

"I limited my palette this time to traditional portrait colors, prussian blue (to mix with umber to make chromatic blacks), titanium white (for opacity), and zinc white (for warmth and translucence)."

As much as I like this piece, I like this next one, which Anderson calls "Ellen (Withering Heights)," even more.

For the curious: Anderson made "Ellen (Withering Heights)" using color pencil on toned paper.

I'm also quite fond of the similar "Sigourney Weaver," below, from 2010:

Anderson produced it using graphite on paper.

As for what prompted him to go down this particular path eight or so years ago, the artist shared the following explanation on Flickr:

"In keeping with my interest in pixellation's relationship with painting and its mechanics [and] traditions, I have begun collecting images of recognizable personalities as they are depicted in games and drawing them as one might create a portrait drawing from a photograph or a live sitter."

Want to see more of Anderson's pixelated depictions of the Aliens protagonist? Check out "Ellen (Ms X #1)" and "Ellen as April as Ellen."

Consider scouring his Instagram and Flickr photostreams, too. Both are filled with fascinating, game-inspired works of art.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Nice Package! (Banishing Racer, GameBoy)

The first time I laid my eyes on Banishing Racer's box cover (don't ask me when, it's all a blur now), I thought, I need to have that!

Mind you, this was before I'd played even a single second of the game. And it was before I discovered just how much you have to pay for a copy of it these days, too.

Back then, though, neither of those things mattered. All I cared about was the brilliantly colorful illustration that's showcased in the photo below.

OK, so I also liked its name. Banishing Racer. Or Vanishing Racer, as some prefer. Not that the latter makes any more sense than the former.

Whatever. I thought it was silly. And kind of appropriate, considering the game is a bizarre side-scroller that stars an anthropomorphic car. (The cross-eyed green one that's front and center on the Banishing Racer cover, above.)

If a platformer with a four-wheeled protagonist sounds somewhat familiar, that's probably because you've played-or heard of--another Jaleco-made game, 1985's City Connection.

Although I don't believe the now-defunct developer and publisher ever specifically declared Banishing Racer to be an official or even spiritual follow-up to that arcade (as well as Famicom and NES) classic, it sure seems like it at least has to be the latter.

Regardless, this Japan-only GameBoy release is a unique and mostly entertaining offering.

I say "mostly" here because controlling the begloved bug--or whatever type of auto it's supposed to be--that serves as Banishing Racer's main character isn't always effortless, the game's difficulty wavers wildly between cakewalk easy and pull-your-hair-out tough, and it includes a measly 15 stages (a couple of which are painfully short).

But it also looks and sounds great (see and hear what I mean by checking out this Banishing Racer longplay), plus it's simply fun to play a side-scrolling action game in which you're plopped into the shoes--or, erm, wheels--of something other than a person or an animal.

For me, Banishing Racer's positive attributes outweigh its negative ones in the end, although I acknowledge that not everyone feels this way. The proprietor of one of my favorite retro-gaming blogs, VGJUNK, certainly doesn't share my love of this cart, and I've had conversations with a number of other folks who similarly turn their noses up at it.

I'll bet even they have a soft spot for Banishing Racer's box art, though; and its cartridge label and instruction manual cover, too.

Disappointingly, the Banishing Racer manual isn't as wonderful as you probably expect it to be given the game's key art. It's not terrible, but it's also not chock-full of grin-inducing illustrations. Don't take my word for it; you can decide for yourself when I feature it in an upcoming "Manual Stimulation" post.

In the meantime, what do all of you think of the Banishing Racer packaging shots showcased in this post? And what do you think of the game itself, if you've ever played it?

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts about Burning Paper, Noobow, Penguin-kun Wars, and Shippo de Bun

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Lolo no Daibouken (GameBoy)

It pains me to admit this, but as much as I've always loved the idea of HAL Laboratory's Adventures of Lolo (or Eggerland) games, I've never been very good at them.

In fact, no matter which one I play, I only ever seem to get a handful of levels in before I bail because I become hopelessly stuck.

That includes, of course, the game that's the focus of this blog post, 1994's Lolo no Daibouken (Lolo's Great Adventure, basically).

Thankfully, I was pretty sure that would be the case when I bought the copy that provided me with the instruction manual you see here.

Speaking of this manual, it was one of the main reasons I picked up Lolo no Daibouken. So many Japanese GameBoy instruction booklets have blown me away in recent years; surely this one would continue that trend, right?

Sadly, I can't say it does. The Lolo no Daibouken manual is by no means a dud, but it's also not as fabulous as I expected it to be.

It certainly gets off to a good start, with the beautiful cover that can be seen in the first scan above.

After that, though, there's nary an illustration of Lolo or Lala to be found--other than the one that appears in the upper-left corner of nearly every page.

That's quite a missed opportunity on the part of publisher Imagineer, if you ask me. I can't help but wonder if the manual that accompanied the game's European release, which was published by Nintendo in 1995, is better in this regard or if it's similarly disappointing.

Oh, well, at least readers get to ogle a bunch of rose-tinged screenshots, right?

I say that somewhat facetiously, although I've also got to admit some of the screen grabs that are used near the end of the Lolo no Daibouken manual are pretty darn nice.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I like the ones of the game's enemies the best. Still, I would've preferred seeing those baddies depicted using good old pen and ink.

Now that you've had a chance to take it all in, what do you think of the Lolo no Daibouken instruction manual? And what do you think of the game itself--if you've ever played it?

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Bubble Bobble Junior, Penguin LandSnow Bros. Jr., and Tumblepop

Friday, March 23, 2018

Just in the nick of time: I recently bought six old games (that I've never played) from the Wii eShop before Nintendo shuts it down for good

Is it wrong--or weird--that I'm sad the Wii eShop is about to go kaput?

I mean, the thing has been chugging along since late 2006. A part of me honestly (if also deludedly) thought Nintendo would never shut it down--or at least it wouldn't shut it down for many years to come.

And yet here we are, just a few days away from Nintendo basically pulling the plug on it, once and for all.

I say "basically" because the Wii eShop (or the Wii Shop Channel, if you're a stickler for using official terms) will still function--partially--after March 26. You'll still be able to re-download WiiWare and Virtual Console titles you previously bought. You'll still be able to use Wii Points purchased before March 26 to pick up WiiWare and Virtual Console titles, too.

You won't, however, be able to buy (or otherwise add) Wii Points to your system after that date, which means for most folks the Wii eShop will soon be as dead as the DSi Shop.

With that in mind, I dumped a last chunk of dough into the aforementioned Wii Points over the past couple of weekends. And then I promptly used them to purchase a handful of old games I've long wanted to play.

The games in question:

Kirby 64 (Nintendo 64)--It shouldn't be too much of a surprise to hear I've never played this platformer. I pretty much ignored the Kirby series until Canvas Curse was released in 2005, and since then I've jumped all over the place--from Epic Yarn, to Adventure, to Dream Land, to Planet Robobot. To be honest, I never even considered trying Kirby 64 before a friend brought it up on Twitter. His recommendation was so heartfelt that I decided to get off my butt and give it a go. More than four hours later, I've got to say I'm enjoying the hell out of it. It's one of the slowest side-scrollers I've ever played, but every other component is so pleasing that its lack of pace isn't bothering me at all.

Military Madness (TurboGrafx-16)--I've known since this game was first released in 1989 that it was a turn-based strategy game of the highest order. The thing is, I've only ever liked strategy games that are at least a little bit cute--with Nintendo's Advance Wars series being a good example. For whatever reason, the impending closure of the Wii eShop prompted me to rethink that practice. Now I've just got to get myself to not only start it, but hopefully finish it as well. Here's hoping I do just that--and soon.

Phantasy Star (Sega Master System)--Although I was a huge NES fanboy during the 8-bit era, that didn't keep me from desperately wanting to play Phantasy Star. Unfortunately, it was one of the only Master System games I wanted to play at the time. As such, I never got around to buying a Master System or a copy of Phantasy Star. Thanks to the Virtual Console, I didn't need to waste my money on either. Instead, all I had to do was buy 500 points on the Wii eShop and then download a digital version of the game. I've already put about five hours into that ROM, by the way, and so far I'm loving almost every aspect of it. The only thing that bugs me about Phantasy Star at the moment: there are times when battles pop up so frequently (every step or two) that I want to pull out my hair.

Princess Tomato in Salad Kingdom (NES)--Of all the old games discussed here, this is the only one I've previously played. Even then, though, I only barely played it. In fact, if memory serves, I rented it just once, from a grocery store my parents frequented at the time. (Actually, it's still their go-to grocer, though it not longer rents out video games.) Despite that, I remember liking the little I experienced of Princess Tomato. So why did I wait until Nintendo's announcement that it's pulling the plug on the Wii Shop Channel to return to it? I honestly have no idea. Better late than never, though, wouldn't you agree?

Shining in the Darkness (Genesis)--It's hard for me to believe I've never even booted up this game before now given my love of the Shining Force series. I guess I just wasn't that into dungeon-crawlers until fairly recently; and even after I turned that corner, I wasn't in the mood to give this particular example of the genre a try. Speaking of which, I kind of think I should start Shining in the Darkness as soon as I wrap up my Phantasy Star playthrough. The latter title's first-person dungeons have so enthralled me thus far that I wouldn't be surprised if I continue to be hungry for more after I reach its ending.

Super Mario RPG (SNES)--How many of you gasped or frowned or opened your eyes as wide as possible when you realized I've never played this classic? I can't believe it myself, to tell you the truth. One of the only reasons I can offer up as to why I've ignored it for so long is that it must have come out at a time when my attention was elsewhere. As for all the years that have passed since then, well, would you believe me if I said its visuals haven't aged well in my eyes? That's rarely kept me from spending time with other, lesser games, though, so I'm no longer going to let it keep me from spending time with Super Mario RPG.

See also: 'What kind of idiot buys Final Fantasy IV: The After Years WiiWare episodes in 2018? This kind!'

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A few thoughts on Doki Doki Literature Club

If you want to get me excited about a game, tell me it's short.

It has to be "good," too, of course. But short is right up there in terms of importance when I'm considering which games to play these days.

That's not to say I decided to download and play Doki Doki Literature Club solely because someone told me it's short. I also liked that it's a visual novel--a gaming genre I've enjoyed quite a bit over the last few years. (See my write-ups on 999, Hakuoki, Hotel Dusk, Sweet Fuse, and VA-11 HALL-A for proof.)

What intrigued me most about this free PC game, though, was that it's known for being weird--even a bit (or a lot) freaky.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I played through the first hour or so of Doki Doki Literature Club and found it to be fairly typical, if a bit cheap in terms of production values, as far as visual novels are concerned.

OK, so maybe "typical" isn't the right word to use here. After all, a couple of the protagonist's handful of apparent love interests definitely made me a bit uncomfortable--and not in the comparably wholesome way most potential paramours do in these kinds of games.

Following a rather by-the-numbers opening salvo, during which one of the above-mentioned ladies (a neighbor and friend) twists your arm into joining the eponymous literature club, the atmosphere of this game slowly veers toward the sinister.

Even then, though, it never goes far beyond feeling "off," which makes the shocking twist that pops up almost out of nowhere all the more dramatic.

And after that? Woof. Buckle up, kids; the remainder of Doki Doki Literature Club is a bumpy ride of eye-opening situations and conversations.

To be honest, I didn't find the overall experience as enthralling as many others have, but it certainly didn't bore me. Actually, I take that back; it did bore me for a while. The first half drags on a little too long, if you ask me. Still, I couldn't help but appreciate how that imbued the game with a sort of mounting tension that otherwise might not exist.

Specifically, although Doki Doki Literature Club makes it clear right from the start that you're going to encounter some crazy shit at one point or another (hence the regular warnings that the game is "not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed"), it keeps the "when" a mystery right until the end.

Does this "twist" and all that comes after it make up for the game's less than thrilling first few hours? Not entirely, in my opinion. Thankfully, that doesn't really matter. Doki Doki Literature Club is free, after all, which makes it hard to complain about such things. Plus, the overall experience is enjoyable enough that it's easy to overlook the title's handful of missteps and shortcomings.

Have any of you completed Doki Doki Literature Club? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

Download: Doki Doki Literature Club

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Five more overlooked Famicom games you need to play as soon as possible

I've published a bunch of "overlooked games you need to play as soon as possible" posts over the last year and a half.

One focused on oft-ignored PC Engine games. Later write-ups focused on Japanese PlayStationGame GearGameBoyGameBoy AdvanceDS, and 3DS eShop games.

And of course another, which first went live all the way back in November of 2016, focused on overlooked Famicom games.

A recent Twitter conversation prompted me to take another look at that last post. Afterward, I thought of a few more great Famicom games people tend to pass on and so decided to chat about them here.

Don Doko Don 2--I know the Famicom is home to a ton of wonderful platformers, many of which do more to impress than this 1992 release. Still, I've long had a soft spot for it due to its adorable cast of characters, candy-coated visuals, and surprisingly appealing backing tunes. OK, so Don Doko Don 2's gameplay isn't as unique as it probably should be considering its protagonist wields a variety of hammers as weapons. It's loads of fun regardless, and for me that's more important than--or at least as important as--all of the above-mentioned bells and whistles when it comes to side-scrolling platformers.

Flying Hero--I've never been much of a fan of ArkanoidBreakout, or any of the copycats and pretenders that have followed in their wake over the last four or so decades. The lone exception to that rule is this Aicom-developed title. It switches things up just enough for the bat-and-ball gameplay at its core to feel refreshing. Usually, you control some sort of oval or rectangular "ship." Here, that's replaced by a pair of firefighters holding a net. With most Breakout clones, a ball bounces around the screen and destroys blocks or bricks. In Flying Hero, a third fireman ricochets across each stage in an attempt to rescue people from burning buildings. Combine those aesthetic updates with settings that include castles, forests, and even outer space, and you've got a great way to spend a chunk of your free time.

Hello Kitty World--A lot of people probably turn up their noses at this game because of its Sanrio connection and its childish, saccharine graphics. Well, those folks are missing out, as Hello Kitty World's basically a re-skinned remake of Nintendo's magical Balloon Kid. I hold that GameBoy side-scroller in high regard despite its disappointing brevity. Although I don't consider Hello Kitty World to be quite the gem that Balloon Kid is, I still think it's well worth checking out if you've got a Famicom (or some way of playing Famicom carts). This title's graphics and music are a step or two down from those showcased in Balloon Kid, but the gameplay's almost exactly the same. Still not convinced? Maybe my Hello Kitty World review can sway you to give it a chance.

Kiki Kaikai: Dotou Hen--I'm guessing a lot of people ignore Dotou Hen because they assume it's yet another home port of Taito's original KiKi KaiKai quarter-muncher. In fact, it's a completely unique offering despite its familiar visuals. The biggest difference here: the o-fuda scrolls Sayo-chan sends at oncoming enemies are no longer unlimited. So, unlike every other KiKi KaiKai (or Pocky & Rocky) game in existence, you can't just spam the shoot button while playing this Famicom Disk System release. That adds a welcome layer of tension and even strategy to what can otherwise seem like a brainless overhead shmup.

Onyanko Town--Truth be told, Onyanko Town has its issues. Its protagonist, the apron-wearing mama cat showcased in the screenshot above, often moves like her paws have been slathered in molasses. Its soundtrack is grating and shrill. And its visuals, well, the best you can say about them is they get the job done. Still, the overall experience is intriguing enough that I return to it rather frequently. I guess it's because Onyanko Town, which tasks players with tracking down a delinquent kitten while avoiding prowling dogs and fishmongers, tweaks the formula made famous by Namco's Pac-Man just enough to feel enjoyably unique.

See also: all previous blog posts about overlooked games you should play as soon as possible

Saturday, February 24, 2018

What kind of idiot buys Final Fantasy IV: The After Years WiiWare episodes in 2018? This kind!

I nearly did something really dumb earlier this week. Yes, even dumber than buying Final Fantasy: The After Years WiiWare episodes in 2018.

The dumb thing in question: I got this close to ordering a Japanese Wii just so I could buy a bunch of that region's Virtual Console releases before Nintendo stops letting people buy Wii Points on March 26.

Actually, the first part of that plan wouldn't have been the dumbest decision in the world. Used Japanese Wiis aren't too expensive at the moment, after all. What would have been pretty dumb, though: dropping a load of cash on a ton of games I already own in physical form.

In the end, I decided picking up a used Japanese Wii wouldn't be the best use of my hard-earned cash.

I still had the Wii eShop on the brain, though, and that prompted me to start thinking about the North American Virtual Console and WiiWare titles I could purchase with some of the money I previously planned to plop down on the aforementioned imports.

My first thought was to grab some of the old games I've stupidly overlooked since they first hit the Wii eShop--like Phantasy Star for the Sega Master System, Monster Lair for the TurboGrafx-16, and Kirby 64 for the Nintendo 64.

I actually bought two of those games--Monster Lair and Kirby 64--yesterday. Along with those titles, I bought all of the Final Fantasy IV: The After Years WiiWare episodes I'd previously passed on.

Thankfully, I only had to buy three of them--for a total of 1,400 Wii Points ($14). I went in thinking I'd have to pay for all but the initial three episodes and maybe Rydia's, so discovering I'd nabbed three others at some point was quite a thrill.

Why did I waste $14 on all this, especially considering I own Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection for the PSP, which includes the entirety of The After Years?

The only explanation I can offer up is it didn't feel right to me that my "copy" of the WiiWare version of The After Years would forever be incomplete if I failed to pay for the rest of its optional content.

Also, I'm more likely to boot up my Wii than my PSP at this point in time, strangely enough. And then there's the fact that I've already completed the game's first three chapters (the prologue as well as Ceodore's and Kain's "tales")--not that I can remember anything about them now.

The question is: will I ever work my way through all of these colorfully titled episodes ("The Eidolons Shackled" and "The Vanished Lunar Whale" among them) I just picked up, or will they forever remain unplayed?

Your guess is as good as mine. I'm certainly going to give it my best shot, though. Final Fantasy IV is one of my all-time favorite games, so I'd really like to experience this direct follow-up--and sooner rather than later.

Have any of you played the WiiWare version of Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, or even one of the versions released for the PSP, PC, or mobile? If so, what did you think of it? And based on that experience, do you think I've made a wise move or gone off the deep end?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Moguranya (aka Mole Mania, GameBoy)

As you may have guessed from my many "Year of the GameBoy" posts, as well as a good number of my "Nice Package!" write-ups, I now own a lot of Japanese GameBoy games.

For me, a big part of the joy of owning Japanese GameBoy games--complete ones, especially--is being able to flip through their instruction manuals.

Something I've learned while paging through my many Japanese GameBoy game manuals is that the ones Nintendo packed inside its own "silver box" releases are a bit disappointing.

Moguranya's manual, highlighted here, is one example. A few others (which have yet to be featured in "Manual Stimulation" posts but will be soon enough) are GameBoy Donkey Kong and Hoshi no Kirby.

None of these GameBoy manuals are terrible, or even close to it. They're all colorful and feature some nice screenshots and illustrations. Still, they feel ... lacking.

Like, it's hard for me to go from the Bubble BobbleBurning PaperGhostbusters 2, and Snow Bros. Jr. manuals to the ones I just mentioned and think, "yeah, these are an improvement."

The only "silver box" Japanese GameBoy manual I can think of that impresses me the way the above-mentioned booklets do is the one Nintendo produced for Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru (aka For the Frog the Bell Tolls).

Even it could be better, though--in my opinion, of course.

As for the Moguranya (aka Mole Mania) instruction booklet showcased here, like I said, it's very nice overall. I like the pops of color and cute little design elements (especially the paw-print stamps that accompany each page's header).

The illustrations that are found here and there are lovely, too, of course. Unfortunately, there are only a handful, and a couple of them are re-used.

Taken as a whole, though, it's hard to label Moguranya's manual a dud. I'd find it a lot more impressive, though, if Nintendo's artists and designers had seen fit to fill it with even a few more adorable illustrations.

Thankfully, Moguranya's gameplay more than makes up for its somewhat meh-tastic instruction manual, so I'm not going to beat myself up for buying a complete copy of it anytime soon.

If you'd like to see what this game's outer box and cartridge look like, by the way, you can do so in this post of mine. It also includes a couple of photos of GameBoy Donkey Kong's box and manual.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts