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'