Monday, September 24, 2012

Level Up: Pulseman

If I say the name Game Freak, you might recognize it due to them being the developers of Pokemon (which I neglected to mention in my Pokemon Blue review), and currently they work exclusively behind Nintendo. But of course, they didn’t start out that way, and though their earliest titles are on the NES (like the previously reviewed Yoshi), they had a few that came out for the PC, PlayStation and Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis as we North Americans know it). According to my research, most of these are Japanese only games, but one was brought to us thanks to the Wii Virtual Console. Let’s take a look at Pulseman, originally for the Sega Master Drive, but I’ll be playing it on the Wii Virtual Console.
Since ported games on the Virtual Console are still not translated for some reason, my understanding of the game’s story relies somewhat on fan translations. But basically Pulseman seems to be a unique individual able to cross over from virtual reality to the real world at will. He was created when his father, Doctor Yoshiyama entered into the virtual world to be with a virtual woman he loved and they produced an offspring. I think this might be why Pulseman was never came to America: they weren’t ready for man on data action. However, though Yoshiyama could enter the virtual reality and produce an offspring that could leave, it seems that he was stuck for a while. This would have a negative effect over time and would result in two Matrix sequels- I mean Yoshiyama going insane. When he finally gets out he has become the evil Doctor Waruyama and establishes a group of cyber terrorists he calls the Galaxy Gang. The only person who can stop them from taking over all of the world’s technology is the only one who can stop their mayhem in the virtual world as well as the real one: Pulseman.
The story behind Pulseman is interesting, especially considering he sounds like he’s just a rejected Megaman robot master. The idea that the main villain is actually Pulseman’s creator, turned mad due to what he did for love, actually creates some tension and could play out like a tragedy. Here’s the problem: this is pretty much told to us from the start. This would be like if at the beginning of A New Hope, Luke’s aunt said “It really sucked that your father went crazy trying to protect you and your mother and became Darth Vader”.  Still, it’s a neat emotional twist to the plot, which was more than I expected from a game that revolves around the Cyberspace trope.
With a name like Pulseman, the core game mechanics would of course rely on electricity. You have two kinds of attacks, but the more interesting thing is how you get to use your powers. You need to power them up by running, and this is an interesting mechanic. But it has a fatal problem: you basically have two speeds, slow and fast, and the shift between is just so sudden. However, you can also charge up by double tapping forward or backwards, as Pulseman will jolt in that direction and be fully charged. I found this ruins the strategy of running around and finding enough room to use your good attacks, since this will work even if you hit into a wall. It’s a shame that this game mechanic had so much potential.
But beyond that, the platforming is still good. Being fully changed allows you to shoot a straight shot of electricity or bounce around in an electric ball (which is a great way to say yourself from dying). I found the difficulty to be a good middle ground, as you’ll need to know what you’re doing, but it’s never frustrating. All around, the only flaw is the lack of “smoothness” coming from the speed system.
Pulseman is a great game, it could have just been that extra bit better. The music is good and the graphics are awesome! The game play is a pretty amusing as long as you don’t have to suddenly run, and everything has a cool techno atmosphere to it. This is a pretty good game that I am glad we get to now experience, and it’s pretty clear this game means something to Game Freaks too: the Galaxy Game may have inspired Team Galactic in 4th Generation Pokemon, there’s a guy in Pokemon Platnium that looks like Doctor Waruyama, Rotom is shaped a bit like the title character, Remoraid looks like an enemy in the game and the “Volt-Tackle” is one of Pulseman’s two attacks (Pikachu’s final smash in Super Smash Bros. Brawl looks just like this move too). If this game just felt a lot smoother, I could see myself giving this game a perfect score. But, I just can’t get over the momentum problems I felt while replaying this game for this review. I give Pulseman available on the Wii Virtual Console 9 levels out of 10.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Level Up: Shinobi

So far in this 8-Bit ninja month *GONG*, I have looked at 3 NES games with the word Ninja in the title. So I’m guessing some of you may have started wondering why I didn’t just call it “NES Ninja’” month, or maybe started looking up games with the word “Ninja” in the title. Well, like a Ninja, I wanted to be unpredictable: I started with the most obvious game, then went for something less known, then a slightly obscure game. So now, I’ll review a Ninja game on a console I haven’t even talked about yet. Let’s now look at Shinobi for the Sega Master System.
Beyond the system, the gameplay also makes this game different from the others I reviewed this month. While most of them went for a chaotic, action feel, Shinobi goes for the feel of a slow, intimidating assassin. The animation looks like the player character is just taking baby steps forward (which is why I jokingly give him the nick name “The world’s slowest ninja”). This game is all about planning things out, as you’re damaged easily making it hard to advance if there is an enemy in front of you, so just wait for your moment to strike.
Of course, at its heart, Shinobi is still a platforming game and has a few interesting elements. By pressing up or down and the jump button in the right spots, you jump up to another level, floor, platform or whatever you want to call it. Not only is this necessary to advance but it’s useful to manoeuvre around enemies. As you play, you will also spot kidnapped kids. By walking up to them, they will give you certain bonus items. This could be a weapon upgrade, they might heal you, extend your health bar, let you play bonus games for some extra skills or maybe just give you points. Not every weapon is an upgrade though, so you may want to skip a kid here or there (they always have the same item, so just remember where they are).
As for the controls, I have to say they work really well. Considering how slow Shinobi moves, I was surprised to find I could react quickly if I needed to.  You can also be surprisingly accurate with your thrown weapons while jumping. All around, this game has pretty decent game play.
The story of Shinobi takes place in modern times, when the criminal organisation “Zeed” kidnaps the children of Joe Musashi’s ninja clan. He takes it upon himself to rescue them and take down the Zeed.
Now, do you know how I know all of this? I looked it up on Wikipedia. Seriously, everything I just said could have been made up by someone who edited the page and I wouldn’t know. The game never gave any hint that it has a plot, especially since there are no cut scenes. This wouldn’t be so bad, but one thing really pushed me over the limit: when you finish the game (and this is so pathetic, I’m not even going to activate a spoiler alarm) all you get is the Game Over screen. There’s no extra image, no “Thank You”, “The End” or even a credit roll. This game is actually kind of hard, so to put all that effort for a screen that I could have just seen if I failed really made my blood boil. Now, apparently the arcade version had images and messages between stages, but that’s not the version I’m talking about. The fact that they didn’t even put the effort to change the words to an appropriate end message shows an incredible laziness and might as well have been a picture of the producer flipping us the bird.
I wanted to like Shinobi more than I do. Honestly, the game play is fun and different enough from most games (especially most Ninja games) that it makes it somewhat unique. Unfortunately a few things stop me from raving about this game: there is no cut scenes, the ending really made me mad (called the worst video game ending ever by a few people) and (as much as I hate to nit-pick) there is a jump on level 4-2 that is practically impossible. That doesn’t sound so bad, but this is the type of game where a single death makes you lose all your power-ups, it is hard to beat the game without them and a single pit-fall means a death. If you’re the type of gamer who gets really invested in finishing something, this might just disappoint you: the pay-off is not worth the effort. Still, Shinobi is fun as it has many great elements and approaches its subject in a good way. I give Shinobi for the Sega Master System 7 levels out of 10.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Level Up: Ninja Crusaders

So we know Ninjas are often awesome, but occasionally you’ll get a stinker that just used the name Ninja as a marketing gimmick (Ninja Bread Man leaps to mind) and you have to take the risk. That’s what I thought when I randomly stumbled upon today’s game. I had never heard of it or even the company on the label (Sammy Studios) so I took a chance. Let’s look at my random find and continue 8-bit Ninja month *GONG* with Ninja Crusaders for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Last week, when I talked about Shadow of the Ninja, I had compared it a lot to Ninja Gaiden.  While I found the two games comparable, I felt it was only because it was also an 8-bit Ninja game on the NES. But at no point did I feel like Shadow of the Ninja was trying to be Ninja Gaiden. That’s not the case with Ninja Crusaders: it very much feels like a knock off even from just looking at the game. The sprite style looks like they just tried to copy Ryu, but didn’t quite succeed. Furthermore, I mentioned that Ryu was bright while the enemies are dark in my review of Ninja Gaiden 2. This is not the case with Ninja Crusaders, as the player character is a dark red, but the enemies range from dark blue and brown to bright pink, so that contrast doesn’t exist.  Even the animations, poses and backgrounds are all done in the same manner as Ninja Gaiden. It really starts feeling like The Asylum started publishing video games.
The game play is… second rate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still “left-to-right-hit-the-enemy” goodness, but there are some things just off about it. The jumping, for example, fells more like floating up and down in the air. Oddly enough, swimming feels more like you’re jumping onto water, as you sink about as quickly as you would if you were stepping on a memory foam mattress. Hit detection really feels iffy too, as I’m never sure if I’m hitting the enemies. It’s just all a bunch of things like this that makes me wonder it’s just half-assed or if they didn’t know how a really good game feels.
A common complaint (among the 3 other reviews I could actually find) is that this game is unfairly hard due to the player character dying with one hit. This not only goes against the inverse laws of Ninjas, but turns it from an action game to more of a memory test. Trial and error games aren’t inherently bad (look at Battletoads) but this is too chaotic, and only being able to take one hit only allows you inch forward.
That’s the last negative thing I’m really going to say about this game, as there are good things. For example, like in Shadow the Ninja, you can find other weapons to switch to. There are 4 different ones, which I can’t really list (a mix of the sub-par sprites and my lack of knowledge of Japanese weapons), but it does help you tailor the game to how you want to play it. For example, I enjoy the whip, because with only one chance to make a mistake, I enjoy taking down my enemies from as far as possible. Others might enjoy the stronger bow weapon that will take down most enemies in few hits. Another thing to consider is that the weapon you choose will also allow you to play as one of 4 animals. Each weapon corresponds to a different animal, so you may want to test both out and see which weapon suits you best for both cases.
“But Leo” you might be asking “can’t I just change weapons when I want a different animal?” I recommend not doing that. First off, weapons are found on the field, so the weapon you want might not be available at a given time, or you might switch to weapon that you’re not good with and may not be able to switch back for a while. Secondly, every time you run into the icon for the weapon you already have, you get an extra life. Since getting hit once kills you you’ll want to stock up as much as you can.
Ninja Crusaders isn’t really a great game, but it’s not really a bad game either. Perhaps it’s just my habit of being too nice while reviewing things, but for an obvious Ninja Gaiden rip-off made by some company I’ve never heard of, this could have been a lot worse. It feels off, but it’s not broken. It gets hard at some points, but not due to poor programming. It doesn’t get my blood pumping, but I’m neither bored nor angry after it. Though it doesn’t come highly recommended, I’m also not going to say to stay away from this game. Just feels a little cheap, so if you can deal with that, go for it maybe. I give Ninja Crusaders for the NES 6 levels out of 10.