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.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Advanced Galactic Empire (A.G.E) (1991)

The E doesn't quite work with the chunky font.
Name:A.G.E. (Advanced Galactic Empire)
Number:212
Year:1991
Publisher:Coktel Vision
Developer:Coktel Vision
Genre:FPS/Adventure
Difficulty:4/5
Time:8 hours 10 minutes
Won:Yes (88W/69L)

I had no idea what to expect when I opened up AGE. Was it going to be a space sim? Was it going to be another game like the original? Was it going to be just as audacious as the original? The only one that ended up being true was being like the original. A bit too like the original at times, if you ask me, and a bit too little like the original at others.

The big question is, is it more advanced than the original? That's a tricky thing to say. The inventory screen has been simplified and made easier to use, which isn't a bad thing, but is clearly simplified. The only shield automatically activates, you have one radar which is always on, and the equipment you use is three slots you get. Despite a rather low number of inventory items, I don't even think you get the entire inventory screen filled, I like that better, but advanced it is not.

Dialog is simplified, you just click on a NPC, and the conversation happens automatically, you get whatever, automatically, no trading. I mourn the loss of the dialog system, but not of the trading system. I don't mourn NPCs being less likely to start shooting at you, or your vehicle being incredibly fragile in general, to the point that touching an NPC could hurt you.

It's hard to describe the rest of the changes one way or another. It's faster, but that comes with the "cost" that some characters are sprites rather than 3D models. They're nice sprites, but they have basically zero animation. (Which fits with the uglier models, so neutral) The most interesting addition is choosing where your power goes, to the shields or to the weapon, but it's basically a binary choice as to if you want to shoot something or not die.

There's an exploratory missile mode, where you go over the world in some sort of missile path. Frankly, it's a bit odd, since it doesn't show you enemies, only locations, and it's not like you need that. You also get the opportunity to pick up oxygen barreling around up there. In practice, it's too fast to be easily caught and there really isn't a situation that you'll be desperate enough for oxygen to check. The various dispensers are enough.
 
I think what AGE has going for it is approachability. It lacks the cooler aspects of the original, but it's also less user hostile. It at least tries to tell you how to play, before throwing you into a world that doesn't want you dead nearly as much as the original. It's still going to try to kill you, but at least it gives you a fighting chance and some sense of fairness. The worst moments of this game do not compare to the worst of the original. In this respect you could call it dumbed down, the lows and highs are shaved off to present a more average title.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since this makes AGE come off like you always have something to do. You do in the original, but that came at the cost that one section was very easy to get stuck on. This is basically just a nice ride from start to finish. As always, that means there's never any wondering where to go, but once you've played it, there's zero reason to replay it. In theory, you could try to go through the prison without first getting the okay from the governor, but I doubt the game accounts for that.
It's also very dense, so it feels larger than it is when you're making progress, but when you have to go back, suddenly you realize you haven't gone that far. Since trips to healing stations were somewhat frequent, this isn't as bad as it sounds, and it makes the game much more denser.
The story is an oddity because the focus is both less and more on it. Outside of dedicated conversation areas, most NPCs just tell you where to go or give you stuff, but inside it's very important. (This is how I'm describing the more traditional pixel art backgrounds) Early on, it seems as though you have to figure out where things are going, only for the game to go for a shocking direction that to me, just felt like a random change, no more interesting than hearing a Foreigner song after a Cannibal Corpse song on the radio. Unusual yes, but not shocking or even something I would note if I didn't have to talk about.

That said, this aspect ties deeply into other Coktel Vision games, because while we got these kinds of backgrounds in the last game, they divided the game up. Here we get a taste of Inca, action sequences broken up by, not really adventure game sections. Adventure game sections are more a part of the actual game here. They look nice, but just serving to give us dialog is disappointingly mundane. Outside of the bar, there's basically nothing optional.

As I've said, these games were considered failures, which makes it odd that they never gave up on it, and never really learned anything about it's failure. You can clearly see the transition between the two, despite a mostly different team. Is failure in this case a hindsight view, and they believed that it could work until the company eventually gave up? I don't know, but something about this story is fishy.

From another perspective, I don't think they did anything wrong, save for going for something that technology could not yet achieve. At least here. From a playability point, I think these are the best of their action games. These are intriguing worlds and intriguing situations, and if they came out a few years later and were sprite based rather than early 3D, they'd be cult classics. These are ahead of their time in so many ways, the problem is getting over that harsh, ugly initial point.

I think that people at Coktel Vision learned the wrong lessons from these games. Inca is in many ways inferior to these games, the space sim aspect is simple and hardly an improvement over this ground combat, and the ground combat is basically a light gun game. They're not exactly great examples of either. What Inca has is a mood, it so completely defines it's vague Incan setting that no one else can ever hope to measure up to it, even if it's technically better. Whereas AGE and GE don't define intergalactic secret agents the way they do, even if it were suddenly the most beloved games around.

That said, it is hilarious to see the stark contrast between these stunning backgrounds and the utterly bland 3D.
My desire to see Galactic Empire as an adventure/RPG hybrid is less pronounced here. Sure, it'd still be the better choice, but because this one is more straight-forward, what it is is more acceptable. You'd have to build up your additional choices and paths, and while I like that, this felt good enough as is.

For the most part, I'm not sure on a lot of aspects that don't seem to be very changed, yet also seem better. The controls are mostly identical to the original, yet I never had any trouble this time. It then occurred to me that the game no longer hurts you for touching objects, and your shield doesn't slowly drain as you walk. Instead, the only thing you're racing against is your slowly draining oxygen.

Combat seems identical, but gave me less trouble, probably due to the whole power system. There are four real weapons, then grenades and land mines. Land mines are nice, since the AI is your usual braindead AI, so setting up a trap is easy. The actual weapons, meanwhile, I ended up only using the stunner until I couldn't. Higher damage means little when it costs a lot more ammo and you don't know when you can reload. I'm not even sure some there was a purpose to the fusion gun, despite someone handing it to me like it's something amazing.

I feel like the biggest loss in this game, outside of the dialog, is in the mood. No longer do I feel like a secret agent in a strange world with strange sayings, it just seems like another Galactic Empire. Perhaps in being more advanced, it loses that which made it what it is. Music is the biggest loss here, it's rare for me to not complain too much about one track throughout a game, but that added something to the game. Here, no music outside of the intro.

Weapons:
A basic motley of weapons and extras, with landmines that actually work! 3/10

Enemies:
I'm pretty sure that the difference between most enemies is in stats behind the scenes. Otherwise they all seem to move the same outside of a few endgame oddities. Slowly approach, then deal constant damage. 2/10

Non-Enemies:
Basically just story dispensers, but I like how if you screw things up, or don't want to pay tribute, you can attack some and save yourself some stuff. 3/10

Levels:
There's always something to do, but on the odd occasion you get stuck, it can be very annoying. 5/10

Player Agency:
I probably shouldn't be too generous, since even if I'm used to it, it's still a janky control scheme, but most of the crap has been removed. It's still some effort before it gets entirely reasonable though. I still think the inventory is a bit bad even if it's less crap now. 4/10

Interactivity:
Some clever puzzles, but mostly limited ability to do things, making brute force not just attractive, but easy. 5/10

Atmosphere:
The strange French atmosphere of being able to do anything, even if it doesn't make sense, is still there, but considerably less pronounced this time around. 5/10

Graphics:
The 3D is ugly, but the 2D is pretty nice. 3/10

Story:
Intriguing, but very much a case of just following what the game tells us to do, without trying to understand what's going on. No shocking revelations, no sudden twists, just victory. 3/10

Sound/Music:
Some nice sound effects, but otherwise silence. 3/10

That's 36, but I'm going to be nice and throw in 2 points to bring it to 38, one point less than it's predecessor.

None of the reviews are in English, and seem to be a range of middle of the road scores. I'm guessing that this had no appearance in America, as even the British presence is absent. Pretty disappointing, but to be expected. This game wasn't really well documented and that had to start from some point, but at the very least I'm glad I made it through.

That pretty much ends 1991 as far as FPS titles go, but we'll still be around here for a good few titles thanks to both Apogee and Epic's first FPS titles coming up. Well, in Apogee's case, again. In the meantime though, we'll see a cutesy arcade platformer and another Japanese FPS.

Monday, June 3, 2024

A.G.E: Won

I'm really sure what taking the back route from the church is going to actually accomplish as far as breaking this Saar guy out of prison, but I start off doing it anyway. I kill some wildlife, shoot another target blocking my path, and find another kind of enemy. Humanoid, some kind of mercenary. He drops a grenade.

Then I end up here, in this spinning Myst device in which I have to do...something. Oh, I just shoot four "drawbridges" to get down. Every time you want to pass it. Past this is another humanoid, but before I determine if it's friendly or hostile, I just randomly die. I guess he shot me. He's a touch little bugger, or maybe attack power determines a heck of a lot more than I'd thought. I kill him, walk past him...and die again. I guess I'm not going this way yet. Fine, frontal assault works for me.

I think to talk to the priest outside the church again. He upgrades my laser to either Laser B or A, the font in this game isn't clear. I'm going to wager B, but man, this game is going a heck of a lot faster than the original. When I walk back and see I have no path back, so I need to figure out what the problem is. A mine? An invisible laser field? This is tricky, because I don't see anything, but it pretty clearly happens at a set point. Ah, don't tell me I needed something I dropped back in town to clear up space.

I figure out that it's not something invisible, the things on the side are really faster crushers. So fast I couldn't get a shot of them moving. It's not a question of moving faster or of having a higher powered shield. Shooting it is also out of the question, as I'm operating on the assumption that anything in this game I can't destroy with two grenades simply cannot be destroyed. Which means...I have to reload. Nuts! I have one more idea before replaying an entire game session, what if I have to trick the enemy into the trap? YES!

A couple more enemies, and another type of dispenser, this one gives a medikit, basically just a portable full service. Then I find a strange item, and try to pick it up. Uh-oh, my inventory is full, so I have to drop it. Uh-oh, the game is screeching at me when I try to drop it and says my inventory is full. I know that, that's why I'm dropping it! Eventually I manage to drop it, and then walk past it so I can drop something else, only to find out it was a mine...and I just set it...and it dealt 19000 damage. Which, no matter how you slice it, kills me.

That building, oddly enough, is just decoration, most buildings in this game are.

Second time, I use up some grenades, since between a grenade and a mine, I suspect the mine is more powerful. I can afford to drag guys back towards mine. I also discover that the moving mines can be stopped, simply by hitting them with the stunner. I wonder if I'm actually going to need the Laser A at any point? My wondering stops when I encounter another inflatable barrier. There's no getting past it this time, I have to do the last session again. Sigh...That's basically the entire game outside of the tutorial. Damn it.

While on my way through the Teknos factory again, I realize that I wasn't going through the guards properly. I should have been using the Teknos pass on them. Oh, well. The Teknos factory is actually somewhat buggy, it's not clear what the hotspot to enter it is, and you can actually go through the walls. The last game gave me a deathly fear of touching anything, since that drains health, but here you can touch things without trouble. Just don't get shot. I also realize the monk on the island tells me he can't help me find my fiancee. Did the translator forget to mention my character is some kind of Valerian-style agent or am I not a secret agent at all and they just goofed?
The area past the inflatable barrier is full of enemies, five, which is a lot for this game. Meaning a trip back to a service station. I really hope that other formec isn't a straight upgrade, because I'll be a bit annoyed if that's true. After that group of enemies is another, larger group of enemies. If it sounds like I'm glossing over combat, well, there isn't much to gloss over. Moreso than other games, Galactic Empire is a lot of backing up and shooting, with added trips to a healing station because you technically can't carry that much ammo.
The mouth movements of a calm and rational governor.
I just break my way past a group of gremlins, it would take too long to fight them directly...and it's the governor's mansion. Try not to think of the geography of what I've described here and the poor relations between the church and the governor. Yeah, he confirms that Saar is in his prison. He's not on my side anymore, because I'm plotting with Massadeh to get him a bomb, I guess that's the guy who asked for the Gravtik Bomb. He tries to gas me, and then offers me a proposition I cannot refuse. He'll free Saar and give me the bomb, but he wants me to blow up Massadeh's bunker with it. Since this doesn't give him any leverage over me, he tells me his police have found my friend/fiancee. If I'm given a choice, I'm definitely not going with Konrad.
Yeah, but it feels like I had to make a deal with the devil to do it, which I suspect you wouldn't appreciate.
This takes me to inside the prison. Because I was low on supplies, I reloaded, and found out that there's a service station off the path. Since most of the area off the path is impassible, I think it's water, I didn't realize. I didn't actually need to worry about this, since after the conversation confirming that Saar is out, the both of us are sent directly to the church. It's still a good thing I recharged, because I'm sent back to the desert to get the DARC. Oh, and it's right next to the monk and his pet crabs, who are alive again and attack me. Sigh...He tells me not to trust Konrad, yeah, I know.
This doesn't mean I'm sent back, instead, the Technosector is east of the monk. Okay. It's basically the same area I was in when I first came to the island, only there's a central tower I can enter now. This is different than the usual gameplay, instead of shooting your way through, you're forced to sneak past enemies, then once you're at the obvious end, using the DARC, which is an item not a weapon, to deactivate the head robot. Now, back to Shade, where I converse with the Teknopopess, I give her the DARC, she gives me the Gravtik Bomb, off to Massadeh.
This is straight-up the coolest shot of the game.
There's a fancy animation to go along with it, and now I'm at the fortress. NPCs aren't shooting me, which is a good sign. I did only have one pass, which is used up after one passageway. Luckily, another NPC was willing to give me a pass in exchange for an air compressor. There are tents, which are traps, activate one, and an enemy pops out. I don't have a way of healing, or more importantly, recharging ammo, so I'll let them live.

Then there's a quicksand arena full of monsters which are hard to hit, so the trick here isn't to have attack at max, but shield at max. They trick you into thinking you can fight by dropping two grenades. Past a robot and another passageway, I find a service station. Whew. Now what? Toxic gas, finally, a use for the anti-gas screen; Another, faster spinning room where you shoot pillars, and then two robots, one kind of friendly, the other berzerk. The friendly one warns me about a distributor which has a questionaire, and a weapon thief.

That weapon thief? Not optional, it's some sort of machine. He takes all your weapons. Rather than work through this, I try to just make it past him. This isn't totally unworkable, with shields at maximum, I can tank most hits without any damage, the big problem is a tricky little puzzle, which only gives you optional items, which drains health on the wrong choice. It was green, I think there was supposed to be some trouble, but I couldn't make heads or tails of what the way to figure it out was. Not much point, I think. Until I reach another passageway, I don't have a third key, and the guard talks about how he isn't going to let me through until I give him a medikit, which I used back in the factory. I reload, hoping I can trick my way past the weapon thief, no dice.

Probably because the building is on fire!
Instead, I just missed a lot of stuff. There's another weapon, a spherogel, kind of crap, but I don't have anything right now, another medikit, and in an animal enclosure, the third key. I didn't even notice that, since I was just rushing on by. I also notice the creatures I'm moving past are called aliens. That's a bit non-descriptive, don't you think? Aha, the final building...and I shouldn't have entered that, it's set me on fire. The one freaking time they play with internal temperature, it's to set me on fire.

The answer is, either you keep the earlier medikit, or you just kill the guy who demands one. Next, Saar astrally projects to tell us there are mines in the next area. Mines in this game would be a lot harder if I couldn't disable them easily. There's another pass in the maze, and after is a service station. Finally. This leads to a section which wouldn't be notable, except I get to use the mine on a robot guard, and I pick up a "teleport magnet", whatever that is.
This is by far the most annoying puzzle in the game.
This leads into something tricky. Two crushers, one after another. It takes many attempts, many views of the game over messages which do not particularly help the view that the French are cowards, but eventually I figure out that you're probably supposed to be walking behind the crushers with the teleport magnet activated. Probably. Saying this game still has issues with collision is understating things. Eventually, what I actually figure out is that you're supposed to bait out the crushers, back up, then shoot them with the spherogel. That's...better. You can't do it while it's stationary, because that would be too easy. I'm not really sure this is the answer either, the game still feels like it's breaking.

More robots, another pillar thing, which is slowly but surely draining my ammo reserves. The spherogel is not a weapon which conserves ammo. At this point, the game tries to trick me by throwing a monster disguised as my friend/fiancee at me. Fortunately, there are plenty of mines around to make up for the ones I've used. Over some water, where something is shooting at me...
...and now for a stretch before a spaceship. Other spaceships are shooting at me. Bizarre. This is the final stretch. The big problem aren't the ships, they attack once and fly away, instead, the guards have some kind of super cannon which shreds my shields. Some clever placement of mines, and a few tries, and I'm through. Next, I have to activate the Gravitik Bomb on the ship. This takes me a while to figure out, you drop it under the center section.
So here's a nice picture and five lines of text.
The game ends, and you get a series of text crawls saying that Dale is back on the ship, Konrad will remain governor, and I've been promoted to Major. I would have expected if I had a choice that Konrad would have been the worse option, but the choice is out of my hands. It's a bit disappointing, frankly, getting just an ending about the inevitability of corruption.

This Session: 4 hours 30 minutes

Final Time: 8 hours 10 minutes