Sunday, July 14, 2024

Rejection: Sewers and Submachine Guns

I start exploring from the start again, going dead south. I curiously find myself ending up in strange dialogs like this, that I saw before finding a gun last time. Hmm, that's a strange sign because the area this was in has nothing in it. Wait, there's absolutely no exit out of here except through the area I was exploring last time. Guess I need to explore that some.

But first, let's see that camp in more detail. There's the camp leader again...and there's a medic. I found two medikits connected to the start area, so I think that health isn't a problem if I can untangle myself from the zombies. I just need to survive. Considering the level design here is on the mazey side, that will be tricky.

Testing out the knife some more, I see that it has some decent range, which means if I should probably rely on it more than I have been. Enemies tend to back off when you hit them, but not run away, not that it matters when they respawn. So you can fight them this way. Activating the menu to switch weapons does cause the game to pause, which is nice.

 

I reach Shinjuku again, and there's another new enemy. Metal zombie. He's only the toughest zombie yet, capable of killing me in three shots, about 90 damage to my 210 health, not survivable. The shotgun is actually a crappy weapon, since it deals less damage than the revolver somehow and the pellets aren't guaranteed to hit. Enemies are moving around a lot more, they actually get a fair bit of space, a lot between and in the middle of tiles. How odd considering they basically have two sprites, one standing and one attacking.

I guess "bodcon" is this zombie lady. "Body conscious"?
Oh, wow, there are two more enemies, a redane, which I don't know what it is or what it means, and a woman in a red dress. The revolver kills everything in Shinjuku, but accuracy is in question, since they move around a lot and the revolver kicks. There's also just a ton of enemies. This path is clearly wrong. And when I'm dying the game is freezing for some reason. Oh, well.

At this point I get stuck. I have no problems with the zombies in the first area connected to the camp, but I can only find this section of Shinjuku, which is odd because I distinctly remember another entrance, and more importantly, I found an area that wasn't Shinjuku, full of enemies that were not these. Right, so I need to make a map. Time to fire up Gridmonger. I'm not sharing them, because they're not really accurate, not that I think it matters, there doesn't seem to be any secrets. At least there's no way to figure out there are secrets, nothing happens when you move into a wall. Movement is so sticky once you get going that it would be a problem if it did.

It turns out that I was missing one fairly obvious door by simply misremembering that it was a dead end. That's it, there are three doors, where I came from, Shinjuku the hellzone, and then the actual path forward. Strange, but accurate.

The south door is the one I want, the one I entered before, and the area I find myself in now. I had hoped that I could just walk normally at this point, but alas, the game isn't that generous. The wall sprites were nicer than usual at first, but there are only two variations. Door and not door. I quickly find myself lost and in my hastiness to fight zombies, dead.

Proceeding more carefully this time, I'm rewarded with a level-up. Apparently I got hit several times, because I'm at less than half my new health total. Otherwise its slow goings. The north side of this area has two of the guns I mentioned last time, the 92F and the P.38. I decide to save the P.38 for later, dumping the shotgun now, despite its less than useful nature, seems unwise. I might actually need it.

Levels seem to be relatively small, and despite the doors making things awkward, I do appreciate the game breaking itself up like that, both from a mapping perspective and a playability perspective, enemies can't go through doors. There's one door further south, and three areas with a single enemy. And the door south leads to the enemies that were too tough for me but still killable. So my assumption that the game wasn't really level gating itself was both right, because I could go to Shinjuku if I was insane, and wrong in that this is exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.

This isn't an actual enemy, it's blocking the way out and can't be killed.
This brings up several questions regarding the intended playing style of this game. I can grind, but it's not fun. The game's dialog seems to be telling me I shouldn't be trying to fight the blue guy, who is called Halycon, but I keep mentally thinking Frost Giant. I can't really deal enough damage to him, the magnum kicks far too fiercely for me to ever reliable hit something with it. I wonder if that's the point? No, I just wasn't fighting hard enough. All right, whatever. Bones that were guarding the way out disappear.
Welcome to Meguro, everyone. We got giant rats. I mean giant mice. And here I thought this game was going to be off-the-wall. Though I guess rodents of that size isn't typical. And then giant alligators that look like Killer Croc. Fish too. Guess these are the mutants. Why am I getting Operation Bodycount vibes? When you're promised one thing and then you get a maze full of random wildlife? I complain, but enemies are stealthy in a way that works, you have to follow the shadow, then have your cursor at the right height to attack them when they attack you.

It's also a fairly simple level, at least at first. There are no doors, despite the massive number of pipes around, so you just have to carefully advance, most paths at a crossroad lead to a dead end. The enemies make it annoying, but they're not so difficult to deal with as to be unfathomable. Guns feel useless here, since enemies only appear when they're close. At this point, I also realize that my character is in fact, carrying around a medikit, seems to heal a quite low amount of health, currently 52. Not...great.

Then the path I was taking leads to a dead end, and I have to find a way back. Despite slaughtering a metric ton of enemies, I am somehow still level 2. I take well over 1200 XP to reach level 3. Which will present a problem for me eventually if I need to grind. There's not really a lot to talk about, since every RPG of this style has these twisting corridors with the occasional big room. It's decent level design, but not quite suited to more of a straight action game.

Curiously, most of these enemies can't hurt me if I'm quick on the draw, I suspect there's some system in place to cause more damage to K-Ko if I get hit in the behind. It's a good thing to ponder as I get completely lost, not finding any way forward or any way back. I hope this is solving my grinding problem, at least short term. I could fire up Gridmonger again, which I stopped when I reached the Frost Giant, but I at least vaguely recognize everything at this stage. In the sense that I recognize that I'm not where I should be.

Monster art looks great in screenshots, but don't be fooled, it's mostly static.
And then as I make my way back, I realize there's little hope of that working out now. I have to hope against hope that I can stumble my way back. The corridors all look the same. Perhaps I could remember it all if I really focused, but mapping this area feels like it would have less of a point than if I just memorized it. Though I say this, and when I finally make it back, I spot that the way back out is another pipe, indistinguishable from any other. Guess I'm going to have to bite the bullet. The comparison to Isle of the Dead is complete, the only thing missing are a few rule breaking puzzles and a mad scientist at the end.

That said, while the game doesn't drop ammo as you go along, you can get a refill from base. And from the doctor. I really hope these aren't limited. I'd rather not have health and ammo be a completely limited resource. I also take the opportunity to figure out exactly what each of my skills is. Life power, body power, defense power, quickness, level and experience. Quickness is a thing? Why? I haven't noticed anything. I'm also not sure what the difference between body and defense power is. Is body power offense? If so, why didn't they just say offense?

Rather than do this all by mapping, I just do it by the old reliable of following one wall, in this case the left, and paying attention to any and all pipes, hoping one leads somewhere else. I'll be screwed if some part of the area is on an island, that is, going left or right exclusively will never lead you there. It turns out that while I might have missed it, it still follows the usual game logic of door that's in a dead end/recess is enterable but the others aren't. God forbid you design two doors per level, one you can't and one you can enter.

I have no idea how I seem to have hit him first for that much and my proceeding difficulty.
Shinagawa, we've been looking forward to seeing you. I see I've been misspelling your name all this time. There's a hot second before I spot my first enemy. Practically looks like a bandit rather than a zombie, but he's a hell zombie. Hell's Angel, presumably. He's...he's immune to my knife. Great. He's immune to my pistol too. Wait, am I even hitting him? Is he tough or is his hit box broken? Using the Python tells me he's tough. So there is some level gating going on. He's guarding some more portable medikits, which I don't need right now. Let's explore elsewhere.

Right, another new kind of zombie. Tobi. Which off-hand means flying, but apparently serves as an abbreviation for several different kinds of workers, construction, firefighters. Hey, he's guarding a box. Does it have a weapon? Yes. YES! It's a FN P90. Belgium's most important contribution to humanity. I take back everything bad I've ever said about this game. It says its in 9mm, but who cares? It's not sharing ammo with anything. I'm also pretty sure this is the first video game to include the P90, at the very least first FPS*. Let's see if it lives up to my hype.

*The IMFDB says so, in that there isn't anything before the late '90s but they also don't mention Jagged Alliance, so I don't know how reliable that is.


This strikes me as a perfect place to pause. Solved a nasty maze, got myself some kickass firepower and have a nice section with which to grind myself some experience if need be. Even that trip back is going to do nothing to dissuade my good mood. They've earned themselves a lot of good will here. Level design is somewhat mazey, but you can shred zombies with a P90. Turning is a bit janky, but when you do, you shred a zombie with a P90. Not enough games do that.

This Session: 3 hours 10 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours 10 minutes

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Rejection: Introduction

Rejection - Dennou Shoujo (Rejection - Computer Girl) is a game that I couldn't find much information on. It's something of an enigma, even in the realm of Japanese FPS. It's from Sur de Wave, a label of the company Takeru, and that's about all I know. So, without ado, let's see it.

This opening section is something that tripped me up, if you saw the end of I, Robot, you'll know that I actually asked people for help on this one, I got the information from zwanzig_wwoelf on RPG Codex, the only other person I actually knew played this. Turns out the problem is that it expects you to move with the joystick...though I could have solved my initial problem by pressing my mouse wheel. Sigh. I know he had trouble with it thanks to the game being too advanced in terms of language for him, which is another compounding problem for me. I'm going to use an imitation N64 controller for this one.

I think it's safe to say that even if I like this one, I'm not going to recommend this one.

We get a shot of something before it's destroyed by a meteor, and the opening turns into a crawl of text. The music playing during this section is some bizarre frantic stuff, fast techno or something, not at all appropriate here. Thankfully, someone already uploaded the intro, and even translated it for us. In the description, anyway.

A giant meteor hits Tokyo bay, in an instant ruining the city. The meteor claimed 7 million people. Entire instutes destroyed. Kansai places a provisional government, Tokyo dispatches research team who are astonished. People have become zombie-like creatures.

The meteor has a virus attached to it, which has special characteristics. Called 'Kosumoanfitamin'. (Crap Vitamin? Nah...) It causes death in living cells, transforming them. Then the infection takes place, their existence is harmless but, after death they start moving again, changing into zombies.

The truth is known to the provisional government, but the zombies don't become a wide phenomena outside of Tokyo, so it's decided to quarantine Tokyo.

With the quarantine, many people become refugees, within the Tokyo metropolitian region every place builds underground facilities, the government supplies them with weapons to fight the zombies with.

It's been one year since the meteor.

In the refugee camp, the young men balance zombie fighting and going on supply runs, while forming vigilante groups. In the middle of this one person, a teenage girl called K-Ko in a vigilante group from Shibuya. Her father is in the army, doing a mercenary training drill in Shibuya, teaching them how to fight.

On that day, K-Ko finds a message on her arm from someone called Alice Paku. The existing government is rescuing survivors, Colonel Kihara, is dispatched to find survivors that are immune. They do some kind of relief effort, before making an announcement that the refugees should appeal to them for guidance.

Somebody can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is the first time we see the flesh-eating kind of zombies in a FPS, maybe the first zombies in general. It depends on when in the year this came out, because Catacomb Abyss has necromancy zombies and Wolfenstein has the flesh golems. I'm also guessing that some of this is supposed to be more sinister than it comes off in writing. The first one I can remember of flesh-eating is Isle of the Dead.

I also note that I continually refer to the main character as K-Ko. It's written K子, which even before the audio I knew was pronounced Keiko. They're clearly going for something off-kilter about her name and '90s cyberpunk name feels like the best fit to me.

Ah. This feels like that artistic sweet spot between amateur and professional. Suddenly, I hear voices. Ah, crap, I'm not very good with hearing Japanese yet. And this part isn't subtitled. I'm going to assume they're just celebrating K-Ko's return, with some narrator explaining something I don't care about.

Look at that perspective, it's terrible, I love it.

Then we get a conversation between K-ko and Group leader. Still voice acted, but this time there are subtitles. Whatever the decree is, they're worried about how it would affect K-Ko. This guy talks about Shinakawa harbor, a lot of zombies there. They're weak now, but there's a danger they'll get bigger. So, take them out.

Controls for this are weird, despite being a system with a keyboard and a mouse this is more like a console game in practice, because you're using a joypad for everything. Shooting is done with the gamepad, the A button, changing weapons is done with select. All the menus are done through there, status, saving and loading. It also functions as pause. Right now I have a knife, a P08, a Colt Python and a M870 shotgun. Nice, though seemingly a random selection. (And while you can't see the menu, I noticed later there's a level system)

Aiming is simple, move the pad around. To move or turn, you move to the edges, the B button seems to do it quickly, but it doesn't always work and it just moves you, not turn. No combat waltz for me. It's a bit rough around the edges, to say the least. I hope if I need to run somewhere I'll have figured this game out by then.

You can actually talk to people outside of cutscenes. He doesn't tell me anything new, just what he already told me. Let's go exploring then. I have no context other than Shibuya. The HUD is not helpful. I'm not entirely clear on which direction is north. When the red bit is straight up? I guess the lower left is health, pretty cool, but it gives a constant chirp, like a smoke alarm, very annoying, and the music isn't playing anymore. Whether that's good or not is to be seen. I assume S is south.

I eventually find an arrow into a door which presumably means I should go here. Oh, it's just a medikit, can't pick it up, you just use it. I guess arrows are showing which doors you can enter and which are for show, which is annoying but does tell us the developers are going for realistic level design but don't want to put in everywhere they don't want to be important.

Yep, it's another game with that anime design of complex clothing and simple body parts.
After some more wandering, I find my first enemy. Zombie girl, looks like the vampire lady from Tsukihime. Let's line up a shot and...Holy crap, K-Ko's gone apecrap! Constantly shooting and turning in one place, what the actual heck. Why is this happening? I'm not that badly damaged, but my controls aren't responding. I genuinely don't know if this is a fear mechanic or if my control glitched up, because when I reloaded an early start, the problem was no longer happening. The second time around I just kill her with no trouble. Weird.

I reach a dead end, I have no map, and fight another on my way out. I realize three things. Firstly, S does not refer to south, it's just general information, you're in Shibuya. Two, the fire button sticks, dunno if that's controller, game or emulator, if it's the game it's my fault. Three, voice clips play as you attack and are attacked. It's nice on a theoretical level, but I'm not sure I appreciate hearing "GANBATTE!" when I'm killing some poor girl clutching her teddy bear.
There are no weak spots that I can tell. At least not the most obvious one.
Semushi? Hunchback? Huh. He's tougher than the girls, not surprising, there's also an oyaji or someone's dad. Wait, is this just Isle of the Dead, but not as a joke and competent? I'm saying competent, because the atmosphere is pretty creepy here, and despite indications that the game is maze-like, I'm liking it so far. Allegedly, it's a RPG too, but I've seen no indication of that so far, beyond the MC having statistics. Having statistics doesn't make it a RPG. (Obviously this was before I saw the level stat)
You can spot the hit icon here I describe later.
I figure out the issue, it's somewhere between the emulator and the joystick, sometimes it just locks up, doing whatever it was I was doing last. I need to quit the emulator and reload whenever it happens, which is great. I do note I get a burst of music whenever this happens. I'm not sure that the music is improving the game. Maybe this is a WINE issue, I'll try Tsugaru Towns instead of Unz.

The controller's a bit more jank since I can't select my controls, but otherwise it seems to be better. Also, music. That makes things more annoying when you're trying to listen to somebody, but it works well otherwise. All screenshots are retroactively from that, since it's easier than cropping screenshots taken by my OS.
I dig the short draw distance.
That music loop is kind of annoying with the beeping on too. It doesn't fully loop. I'll see if I keep it on, it's useful for enemy cues at least. I find myself in Shinjuku...which...uh...crud. Okay, I don't know if this is cheating or not, but I'm going to look up the wards of Tokyo real quick...and I've gone in the wrong direction. Actually, if this is any indication I shouldn't have gone in this direction to begin with. Well, I can find my way back. Probably. That does tell me that the red direction on the compass is the direction I'm going in.

On my return trip, I find that all the enemies I killed have returned. Wow, this really is Isle of the Dead from Japan, isn't it? I also notice the beeps get more frequent as I take damage, which means it's going to get very annoying when I'm in bad shape. Weapons also have a few interesting quirks, which I noticed by switching to the Colt. The area you shot turns inverted, so with the Colt you get a pretty big area. It also moves the cursor up when you shoot it. That's an undeniable first, recoil. Neat, but could get annoying.

And if you die, the game resets to the opening cutscene. That wasn't well thought out. Unfortunately, I died before I could test the shotgun and the knife, so I'm trying again. The Colt's basically a straight upgrade over the P08, but the other two are quite different. The knife still has recoil, and works like you'd expect a knife to, it's even a slash as far as hit area. The shotgun is actually quite clever, it spreads the area out, which does mean you could hit someone dead on and miss them.

As I'm exploring the area I got killed in, I get this. Basically, something's wrong here. Or I'm going the wrong way like I know I am. Then I spot a crate which gives me another gun! Okay, clearly I'm coming back this way when I'm serious. Beretta 92F, baby. Which I'm really only happy about because I've been using a "weaker" handgun for my primary.
And then I find another gun. A P38. This in of itself is not impressive, I'd place it between the P08 and the 92F myself, no, it's impressive because of what it represents. I have to drop one of my guns, which means that the number of guns is going to be exceedingly generous. This...this is the best news I could have possibly heard.
There's something off in the corner I can't see, because I'd need to turn and that's a bad idea right now.
And then I find these freaking guys. There's like three of these bones dudes, the guys in the suit, and the frost giant guy shoots at me. I make a valiant effort, but I get killed. There's two things to note about it, I killed some of them, so this is clearly possible, and this game is willing to let you waltz into hell and doesn't stop you from killing the demons. I like that in a RPG.

I could see this one going either way. This has the bad ideas from Isle of the Dead, an entirely unique aiming system with shooting mechanics I'm deeply interested in, and signs that it could go even further off the rails. I think, regardless of how this goes, this is going to be better than Elm Knight. This is going to be a great disappointment or the greatest FPS before Doom.

This Session: 1 hour

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Cloak & Dagger (1984)

Name:Cloak & Dagger
Number:217
Year:1984
Publisher:Atari
Developer:Atari
Genre:Top-Down Shooter
Difficulty:5/5
Time:2 hour 30 minutes
Won:Yes (89W/71L)

As I was putting the finishing touches on I, Robot, I was quite eager to consider Atari's arcade games over and down with. Indeed, that was to be the last arcade game I covered this year too, but of course, it turns out I missed something important. The movie tie-in Cloak & Dagger.

I say tie-in, because it's not a license like we think of them, it's supposed to be the game inside the movie. From what I'm reading, it's a spy thriller loosely based off a crime short story and has the dubious honor of being one of four films based off said short story. The game's relevance solely seems to be that the main character wishes that he lived in a world like the protagonist. We think about such things today, but for something like this, that seems downright quaint.

Why would you think that would work when you've been chasing him for a while?
Cloak & Dagger was released as a conversion kit for Robotron 2084, because this was just before I, Robot, and Atari was doing quite poorly. The movie doesn't seem like it did much either, which could not have helped. The story is that you're chasing after Dr. Boom inside his bomb factory.

You already sort of know how this one's going to play like, Robotron 2084. It controls the exact same way, one joystick shoots, the other moves. The focus is quite different in how you're supposed to do that, rather than a hundred or so enemies on-screen, often there are a handful, with a ton of boxes everywhere. Or rather, explosives. You get points for shooting them, but the inactive ones you get more points for taking. To actually encourage players to do this, there are objects you pick up which are maps and power-ups. Preventing you from just taking everything are active explosives, walk into them and you die.

The actual enemy list is pretty basic starting out. Starting off there's dumb enemy who just kind of shoots back. He gets more aggressive as the level goes on, but he's not very troublesome. Later, Dr. Bomb hangs around for a moment to throw bombs at you. There's an eye thing, not too troublesome because it stands still and has no range.

The blue things are forklifts, the tube in the top left is an explosive armer.

Other hazards aren't really enemies. Forklifts kill you. They move boxes between places, and reflect your shots. Explosives Armers are...exactly what they sound like. Also on every stage is a bomb in the center. This functions as a timelimit and as a bonus, you get an "igniter" button, which throws something towards the bomb. If it lights you get mega bonuses, just don't get caught in the blast. It also lights after a certain amount of time anyway, but slower.

There are three distinct kinds of levels, the first are the conveyor belt levels. These have a bunch of crates on conveyor belts. This is the most common level type, and most of the focus is here. The real problem, outside of not keeping an eye on each enemy, is just fighting the belts. Getting something of actual value off these things can be annoying. They don't quite work the way you'd expect.

Then there are the cave levels. I have no problems with these. You get to shoot the walls and for once the game isn't focused on overwhelming you with random crap. Sadly, there are only a handful of these.

This only briefly flashes, so you can't just abuse this to advance.
For three levels, you need to find maps to a minefield, and then on the fourth, you use that map to figure out the path through a minefield. You could, of course, just manually do this, since you have a mine radar and it periodically lights up, but this is risky, but not entirely worthless. The path is not always the quickest one, and finding the map can be tricky on some levels due to the sheer number of crates there are.

This goes fairly well for a while, it's easier than most of its contemporaries, but this is more because instead of throwing a thousand enemies at you, it throws a thousand crates at you. Something that is sometimes deadly is always better than something that always is, but it's not a cakewalk either.

It's helped by a generous amount of the game allowing you to skip to later levels, both at the start and a between level skip, which forces you to stop on minefield levels, without the map, but you should be able to figure out where to go if you're paying attention.
That said, once you get into the teens things ramp up. Eyes start appearing in non-cave levels, and most annoying of all, there are box crushers. You have to time your way past them, fine, but they work wonky as far as shots getting past them go. It's not clear where you can and cannot shoot past them. It takes until the twenties before it truly gets bad. Something I found amusing was that after I decided to play this with save states, the next level goes with a "Careful, these next levels are tricky", as if it wouldn't have taken me thousands of quarters to get to the point I just was.

As these were the final stretch, this would be more shocking if they weren't. They were still all better than Level 28. I don't know what it was about Level 28, but I could just not get any luck there whatsoever. Either I got lucky on the final stretch, or they just aren't as hard as the game credits, but I died in these less than I did Level 28. They just weren't that hard after what I went through.
The red pool is an acid pit. I don't know why it's red.

Well, except the final minefield, Level 32. You're basically pinned down at the start, there's plenty of spare room to get past the eyes, but they shoot down your shots, and you have to deal with all the robots. I know what I have to do with the eyes, but I can't seem to do it properly here. I need to get lucky with them. Now, here's the reason why this game isn't fondly remembered, practically every level has conveyor belts. Every level is the level that moves you around whether you want it to or not. Further, the game also doesn't like you moving and puts as much danger in your path as possible; Basically, the conveyor belt is putting you on a path towards death.

Something I waited to mention was the between level elevator rides. These are honestly just cool as hell. Depending on the level, he acts like it was no sweat, or if he nearly got blown up, freaks out. It's not quite accurate, but he plays out like a proto-Build protagonist, no voice clips, but the badassery is still there. Also, hints and ways to skip past levels you've already played.
The final boss fight is actually kind of mundane. It's not easy, of course, but compared to some of these minefield levels, it's easier. Dr. Boom goes down in one hit, so the real threat are the robots. My character's hitbox is completely bizarre, I don't understand what it is at all. To get past here, you just shoot the stars guarding the secret plans, and go through the next elevator.
Right, I've won...and the elevator is going up to Level 32...and opening. It's the same, except there's no bomb. This game is kidding me. Fortunately, I don't have to play Level 32 again, I can play Level 31. Now the reason why you don't stop are Node Monsters and Superguard. The Node Monsters appear in the ruins of a bomb, they bounce around and take three shots to hit. They're annoying, but you probably shouldn't be staying around for too long. Superguard chases after you if you stand around for too long, and fighting him is technically possible, but not very wise.
Okay, not that impressive.
You win the game, definitely a win, since the game ends, by making it back up to the ground floor. No second boss, you just escape. The game congratulates you and then shows you the blueprints you recovered. For all we might expect such a feat to be worth some grand ending cutscene, I think that in of itself, there is no other reward for completing this than completing this. Which isn't as bad as you'd think, even in the dirty way I won.

Weapons:
Fairly basic, I think you had about 8 shots on-screen. 1/10

Enemies:
The actual enemies, as opposed to hazards, is quite low, about five enemy types, most of which depend on the level and some aren't even there until you've nearly beaten the game. 2/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
Some interesting ideas at first, then devolves into endless conveyor belts. 3/10

Player Agency:
The igniter button is a bit wonky to figure out, but that's emulation issues. It's otherwise mostly fine, but it handicaps itself too much. 5/10

Interactivity:
You can shoot pretty much anything that's on-screen, but most of it is boxes. Still, points for effort. 4/10

Atmosphere:
The whole spy theme feels at odds with the strange game world. Cool, I'm some super spy, why does every level look like it was taken from a Looney Tunes game? 3/10

Graphics:
I dig the between level sections, but otherwise it's mostly just functional stuff. 3/10

Story:
An excuse. 0/10

Sound/Music:
A nice little intro theme, then blips and bloops. 2/10

That's 23, which would tie it at number one for 1984, but that doesn't seem right, so I'll remove a point, so 22. Still higher than I, Robot.

Next up, Rejection, yeah, I actually got that working.

Monday, June 24, 2024

I, Robot (1984)

Name:I, Robot
Number:216
Year:1984
Publisher:Atari
Developer:Atari
Genre:TPS
Difficulty:5/5
Time:2 hours
Won:No (88W/71L)

And so the first era of Atari comes to a close with the rather subdued release of I, Robot, name obviously taken from Isaac Asimov. It's a promising looking title, from the same guy who made Tempest, and it boasts a pretty impressive setup for a 1984 game, 3D polygons. None of this technical stuff, this is the sort of stuff you'd see running at a decent framerate a half decade later on home computers.

There are two modes, the first, is a doodle program. If you ever looked at the cards falling at the end of a game of solitaire and thought that was something you'd like to do with early 3D models from a game you never heard of, well, it's here. More importantly, is this game itself, in which you play as a robot rebelling against Big Brother, make your own jokes about what awful things the robot had to watch before rebelling. It's...unusual.

To start with, your objective on every screen isn't really to shoot things. Shooting things is optional, at least at the start. Instead, you walk over every red tile, turning it blue, until you turn all red tiles blue. Then, you jump over to the background of the screen and kill Big Brother, well, on this level anyway. Jumping is automatic, every time you have a tile you can jump to, your robot jumps. After doing this, a path is is made between the places you jumped. There is no manual jumping.

It sounds silly, but considering how weird this game is, it's oddly helpful.
To stop you, Big Brother periodically opens an eye in the background. When it's red, it shoots you if you are jumping. This is the primary obstacle throughout the game, other obstacles occur depending on the level. Birds are a common one, but usually you have to be in the air to get hit by them.

The first level is pretty generous about things, you get two areas introducing the basic concepts, your guy gives a little speech bubble about when the eye opens, where you should go and about the birds. There's also a teleport in the corner, which teleports you to later levels, seemingly just depending on if you unlocked them or not. I'll get to that in a moment.
After winning a level you get a variety of mini-games, firstly, a shoot 'em up section, where how many shots you can have on-screen, three, is suddenly important. Shoot asteroids to not get destroyed, or tetragrams to get points, Watch out for the sides, a life-saver will try to kill you. It divides sections up.
Level 2 is more keen to show you all about jumping, and there are no more speech bubbles. Your location and the location of red tiles are important. This one feels like one of those ball puzzles where you have to move into walls to get a ball to a certain location. It's also important to know when the eye is going to open, when it opens it doesn't matter at which stage of the jump you're in, you're dead. Green tiles just function as blocks.
At this point, I get mini-game number 2, a weird thing where you gather some tetragrams while avoiding a shuriken slowly destroying the ground behind you. It's inside Big Brother's pyramid and it feels like some sort of treasure run. It feels completely out of place, with the added bonus that dying here just advances you. (while taking that life, of course)
The next couple of levels aren't really worth mentioning, except for the space mini-game after level 4. This introduces a giant Moai head that spits out stakes. You have to shoot them or you die. It doesn't die, you just shoot it to cause it to not spit out stakes or shoot the stakes until the game decides you've done enough. This is not fun.
On level 5 the game starts ramping up the difficulty. Three lines, not too bad an eye, except, orbs constantly fly up, then towards the foreground. You're dodging these, and you get basically zero space. This is basically the place the casual player is likely to stop. I stopped playing legitimately and instead started using the teleport on level 1. Which seems to give you more points than if you played legitimately. This game has such a weird scoring system.
Level 6 introduces a new concept, destructible walls. Also, because I'm dying a lot more, the game helpfully tells me that the start buttons can change the viewport. Press 1 enough times, you get a side-scrolling view, which gives you more points. press 2 enough times, you get a bird's eye view. I usually just went for isometric. This level's a lot tricky than you'd think, the game is now pelting you with soccer balls. It's more difficult to dodge than it sounds, but that may be the usual problem of not playing this on proper hardware. (But given the game in question, playing on proper hardware is likely impossible for myself)
Level 7. The orange tiles slowly go down, if you then make a move to jump to them, they turn blue. There are homing mines on this level. I identify this stage as the time I'd stop playing for fun. You only shoot forward, and these mines have an annoying movement pattern where they lie at the bottom of a tile's edge or sneak up behind you and I don't think I won by actual skill here.
I don't really know if I'm messing this up because the game is genuinely hard or because I'm just not mastering it properly. Part of it is controls, it's a bit too loose with my setup, but I keep dying to the dumbest things. Take level 8. It's a series of lines you have to jump across, with the only real trouble being three sharks which go through the lines in an alternating series. I died a lot here, either to the sharks or the eye getting me making a jump.
Level 9 is all about dodging some mines. It's not that hard on the surface, the mines are slow and if you do get caught by one, it's removed from play. The real trouble is the eye, even though you really only jump 8 times, it's tricky. I died quite a few times here. After this, space sections and the little pyramid/treasure mini-game are getting more annoying, with the best way to survive being just to shoot as little as possible.
I stop playing at Level 12. I was tired of having to replay all the levels from level 5 onward and the supposed code that lets you advance earlier didn't seem to work. I'd have tried more if it was just the tile levels, but those mini-games were getting tedious. They're incredibly repetitive. The pyramid game is in addition to the space mini-game, which adds to the tedium. And with the space mini-game, you have a good shot of said level being one with the giant Moai head, just lovely.

Weapons:
Functionally, only there because the game needs a weapon. 1/10

Enemies:

More like traps than real foes, but an interesting variety nonetheless. 3/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
I was never happier in this game than when it gave me a new challenge to try to solve. The way the game is laid out is annoying, but when you finally see something new it feels worth it. 5/10

Player Agency:
Jankiness of playing in MAME aside, there are some clever ideas here that can be annoying. The whole shooting towards the background is a nice idea, until you have to destroy walls. You can stop a jump if you let go of the joystick, clever, until you do it by mistake trying not to make a series of jumps. 3/10

Interactivity:
Pretty much anything you can reach is either shootable or something you can jump over. 2/10

Atmosphere:
The 3D graphics carry it for an hour and that's about it. 2/10

Graphics:
Out of all the early 3D games I've played, this one embodied the most that feeling of "the future" that 3D was intended to envoke at the beginning. It's still ugly though. 2/10

Story:
A bunch of classic sci-fi concepts strung together in something resembling a fever dream. 1/10

Sound/Music:
Typical bloops and bleeps. 1/10

That's 20.

So, the reception. Allegedly, the reception of the game is quite poor. I've seen this said a few times, but I haven't actually seen any evidence of this. I didn't find any negative reviews, but perhaps I didn't look hard enough. It would be unusual, since I generally associate game reviewers with being easily wowed by graphics, and this is certainly a wower. Instead, everything is positive.

It is true that the game sold very few units, 1000 according to numbers I found online, but consider that this was the worst year for a company to be in the arcade business. (at the time, anyway) Atari didn't really need good, they needed a miracle. I don't quite know the business side of the arcade industry, even if there were non-stop lines around I, Robot machines, that might not have done them a lick of good.

That said, I do think that modern look backs at the game are a bit generous. It's still clearly flawed. The space mini-game is just unnecessary and just adds unnecessary length to a game that did not need to work for length at all. I don't like the pyramid mini-game, but without the space mini-game that's merely an occasional nuisance rather than another nuisance.

It wouldn't be surprising at all to find some game that accidentally did this, but without the unnecessary crap added in. This is a deceptively simple concept when you tear away the weirdness of it. Tile puzzle games like this are a dime a dozen, and someone has to have stumbled onto the same formula.

Side note, I tried to start Rejection, the FM Towns game this week, but it wouldn't work. I did what you always do with a FM Towns game, mount the CD in a virtual drive, then insert a floppy in the emulator. But once I got to the menu, nothing seemed to happen. If anyone has a clue as to what I'm doing wrong, I'd appreciate the help, because otherwise it looks like I won't be playing it anytime soon.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Liquid Kids (1990)

Name:Liquid Kids AKA Mizubaku Daibouke
Number:215
Year:1990
Publisher:Taito
Developer:Taito
Genre:Side-scrolling Shooter
Difficulty:4/5
Time:2 hours
Won:No (88W/70L)

One of the oddities of 1992 FPS is an arcade exclusive FPS, which is allegedly quite clever for 1992. Before we reach that however, we'll take a look at one of the designers, Toshiaki Matsumoto, and see some more oddities.

Firstly, Liquid Kids, or as it's known in Japan, Mizubaku Adventure among possibly others, is an arcade side-scrolling platformer/shooter. It's not quite the stereotype of a bad arcade side-scroller, you are not forced between feeding it coins and being bored to tears or trying to replay it from the start and finding it frustrating. I mean, you can still do the former, you respawn roughly where you died, enemies disappear, and even after a continue everything is as you left it. I'll explain why it sucks in a moment.

That's a thing that's been said in English.
The story, told in Engrish, is that you are Hipopo the Hippo, the last of the cute cuddly animals from Woody Lake, and you must go after the Fire Devil who kidnapped the rest. This doesn't really have much purpose to what little story exists, you just get some animals at the end of each stage.
The story, told in Engrish, is that you are Hipopo the Hippo, the last of the cute cuddly animals from Woody Lake, and you must go after the Fire Devil who kidnapped the rest. This doesn't really have much purpose to what little story exists, you just get some animals at the end of each stage.

There are three stages a section, most of which depict cute, pleasant areas full of cute creatures who want to kill Hipopo. So Hipopo has the power of throwing water balls. This is not the joke weapon it sounds like. Yeah, it has exactly that arc which means you can't hit smaller creatures at a certain spot, but the game doesn't really have that many...and more importantly, the water balls explode, shooting a flood of water across the ground, downstream. That said, this doesn't kill them as much as moving your rotund creature into the frozen/wet enemies, which shoots them like a billard until it hits a wall, even down levels. Powerups exist which increase the power, but I only found one in the first section.

The problem is, your hippo moves like people imagine a hippo moves, extremely slowly. This effects everything, you can't really dodge, your jump has a very narrow arc, so you can't really dodge or get out of the enemies way. The game doesn't really offer a counterpoint to this starting off, so long as you pay attention to where enemies are spawning and don't rush in, there's no time limit, you'll get by easily.
Enemies aren't very interesting at this stage. You get things with shells which don't seem to do anything special. Seals or something that shoot at you, but ever so rarely. The two trouble enemies are ones with a conch shell on their head, which they then shoot up. That was throwing me at first, because most enemies are non-entities as far as I'm concerned. Then bombs, which have this habit of shooting out flames, I guess them exploding.

They spawn in some places, but in others they slowly trickle in via burning portals. These seem to be limitless, and tied into the slowly darkening sky. They're not the interesting part of the level design, instead, you occasionally get things like water wheels, they're not connected to anything, but if you shoot them, they spin like crazy. Then there are flowers that need to be watered, these give powerups, and fire flowers, which you need to shoot.
At the end of 1-3, I get my first boss fight. It's certainly a boss fight. He jumps around and occasionally opens up to reveal a line of fire which I'm sure would hurt me if it ever hit me. I never died to this, saying it's a joke implies it's funny. It's not fun, because combat isn't fun. It's not interesting, the most unusual thing I had to do was find a choice of words for the not helicopter blade it has. It is, to quote a Rush song, "Why are we here? Because we're here -- Roll the bones." That, or the developers wanted the game to be a minute longer.

After this you get two doors, which determines which of two stages you start at.

Section two is unusual. It's a water section, which by logic of my character being a water creature, should mean I play better, or by logic of crappy video games, it's unplayable. Throw logic out the window, it's the same as other stages, except sometimes your hippo is floating on water and some enemies lie under the water. This actually makes some annoying sections, because said enemies can't be hit with your water attack under the water, but they can above, and it hurts above. Figure it out yourself. Why does it happen? Because it happens. Roll the bones.
This is actually enough to shift the game from basically a joke to challenging, but not very interesting. It's very easy for the enemy to pin you down here, moving over water while there's a horde of fish is not going to end well for you. This really eats up the lives, but it's still more of a failure to deal with them then them being cheap. They're very slow in reaching you, which puts you in an annoying place.

The boss of this section is unusual. He's somewhere between the first boss, here because he's here, and a serious boss. He shoots out sponges, which are water absorbing landmines, but he himself is very vulnerable to your damage and if you hit him from above, he's just wrecked. His movement is very predictable, except for one moment, otherwise you basically take him out easily.
This brings us to the fire section. The first fire section if the map screen is any indication. You want to know a coin munching section? Here's a coin-munching section. For starters, you have to make a blind drop onto a singular platform, everything else is spikes, or get lucky with a moving platform. Then there are falling blocks, at the end of which is a strange, and big new enemy. He's tough, but still stupid, he has body parts you have to dismember. That's a strange consideration in this game.

Saying this section delights in torturing the player is an understatement, because I feel like everything the game could do to screw over the player is put here. Platforms that move up and down? Well, you won't get crushed, but they're going to put spikes halfway up, at the top, and possibly somewhere else to, because you paid money to play this, you will suffer. That said, this wasn't too bad when I went through my second time.
Then we have the metal knights. My first thought were that they were like the knights from the Zelda series, but they're just as dumb. No, what makes them nasty is that they're fast and it doesn't seem like you're damaging them. This is extremely tight quarters, they will kill you unless you know what you're doing. Before the fire stage I could at least pretend to be trying to 1CC this, but no, there's no chance of that now.
There's a train at the top, and some more types of enemies. I don't know how you fight the train, or if you can. Fighting a train is kind of like fighting against technological progress itself, impossible. Or I'm just missing something. Maybe this level wasn't simply a series of memorization challenges and there's something to it.
The second stage is really just more of the same, but the boss is interesting. He killed me quite a lot, but I can't say I mind too much. He's like the earlier big enemies, tough and with multiple parts. The saw blades don't seem to hurt you, but he pumps out enemies, and shoots flames once both parts have been removed, which is the bigger issue. It's actually a lot easier than I thought, and requires using all three levels of the area.
Egyptian section, basically tricks and traps. The new enemies are kind of clever, there's a conch shell that, if you move into it, will turn into a deadlier version of itself. Then there's the annoying enemy, a reaper-looking dude with a grabber. He grabs you, and you're not dead, but you'll wish you were. He moves you into a different level. Sometimes it's just back a few places, other times it's a nasty repeating loop.

I actually really liked this section, except, it's also where the game ended for me. See, there are a lot of clever tricks here, which isn't surprising considering how much it screwed you over. No, the problem is that at one point, the game had a spring, which functions much like you'd expect one to function, except it just isn't enough to reach the next platform. What is? Dunno, but no matter what I do I can't seem to get up it.

Despite my issues, I did enjoy it. It's well-polished, but perhaps too much so at times. It seems oddly Amiga-ish at times, pretty sure they used a real human whistling in one of the music tracks, which in the west would be a tell-tale sign of .mod music around this time.
I don't have any reason to show this, I just like how goofy it is.
Weapons:
I can't help but like, despite the game basically forcing you to use a grenade weapon exclusively, as a crutch. It shouldn't work, but it does. 2/10

Enemies:
There's a wide variety, ranging from an interesting challenge, to just hammer them with your water balls. 4/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
For as far as I could reach, there's some clever tricks going on. Each stage has it's own gimmicks and tricks, keeping each one unique in both design and looks. Also, there are little side stages you can find my watering the right spot, I only found two and entered one, not sure if there's much point to it. 4/10

Player Agency:
Outside of rare power-ups, you move incredibly slowly with such a bizarre jump arc. When serious enemies come around, any positives the rest of the game had more are more than ruined when you have seemingly no chance of escape, that is, outside of quarters. 1/10

Interactivity:
Feels like just guessing where to hit with the massive amount of water you get rather than any conscious thought. 1/10

Atmosphere:
Feels like the world you get in an intro cutscene before the villain turns all the cute animals into demons, yet it's also the after effect of that. 4/10

Graphics:
Cutesy, well-animated and generally nice to see. Sometimes feels a bit too bright and cheerful that it hurts my eyes though. 7/10

Story:
Vague Engrish, not very exciting plot. 1/10

Sound/Music:
A bit too soft-spoken, to fit the vibe of the game. Some are nice, but it felt like no matter how high I brought up the volume I was hearing it through a pair of tin cans. 3/10

That's 27, not bad for an arcade platformer.

Almost universally this game seems to have met with praise, which I sort of understand. There's a port of this to the PC Engine, which is probably inferior in many ways, and ports to the Switch and PS4, which are from those kinds of allegedly arcade perfect ports that every company these days brags about.

Next week, we'll probably see Space Gun, maybe Rejection. This week has had some very time-consuming problems, and next week there'll be more. I try to keep things to every Sunday, but I hope my readers will forgive me if the next post is on a Monday.