Saturday, June 29, 2013

That's a wrap! - GC9X Fight 3 Tournament Results

After an exciting month, GC9X Fight 3 has come to a close! The winner of the fighting game challenge is Bobinator, while Snarboo has claimed the score challenge. The two winners of GC9X Fight 3 will soon square off in a post tournament WWE 12 wrestling match to be hosted by site contributor and GC9X guest host WildWeasel. Be sure to check the official GC9X Twitter page for more details and match times!

For those curious, here are the tournament results:

Marvel Super Heroes vs Capcom

Soldier Blade - 5 Minute Score Challenge

1. Snarboo - 1276600
2. BigBangBlitz - 1202800
3. Sotenga - 1047200
4. Doctorallosaurus - 973200
5. Bobinator - 863800
6. TheChosen - 751100
7. EksFaktr - 692100
8. TheGunheart - 674200

Stay tuned for future GC9X events! We have a lot in store for you over the summer months.

The Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 17

So, now that we're caught up, episodes from here on will be going out bi-weekly. This time we're taking a look at Nintendo Power #8, for September and October of 1989, and our first Game Boy game!

Games Reviewed:
  • Duck Tales
  • Hoops
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit (NES)
  • Tetris (Game Boy)

Monday, June 24, 2013

GC9X Flash News 6/24/2013

For those who missed the announcement, the Madden NFL '95 podcast has FINALLY been out for approximately a week to now. Very sorry for all the delays, but it's been a hectic month for many of our regulars. Still, it's done, it's out, and it's awesome. Keep an eye out sometime in July for our upcoming podcast of Terra Nova and an account of GC9X's Caravan Challenge!

Grab the podcast from this here link. HUT HUT HUT HUT

Friday, June 21, 2013

500-Word Indies: Crayon Physics Deluxe

Please excuse the lack of a new review last week, but at the time I was so busy I probably would have forgotten to post one even if I had a contribution ready and didn't need to write a review myself. So here is finally Crayon Physics Deluxe, an experimental puzzle game all about your drawn sketches becoming real.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 16

Now, at long last, we come to the most current episode of the Nintendo Power Retrospectives, as we come to the first issue of Nintendo Power's second year, where... wait, what? I've reviewed (pretty much) all of these games already? Well that's embarrassing.

Mega Man II Gameplay Footage by
Opening Music: 'Super Buck II' by Estradasphere -
Closing Music: 'Air Shooter' by Joshua Morse -

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Join us for GC9X Fight 3: Caravan of Carnage!

In addition to June's current GC9X thread, HG101 is also proud to host GC9X Fight 3! This month's tournament is split into two challenges: competitive and score attack. For the competitive challenge, we have Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter, the fourth entry in Capcom's long running Marvel fighting series. For the score attack, we have Soldier Blade, part of Hudson's seminal shooter franchise! Matches are best 2-out-of-3 for the competitive challenge, while the 5-minute Caravan mode will be used for the score attack.

Sign ups are open until June 15th and are available to anyone with an HG101 forum's account! Signing up will enter you in for both games, so be sure to brush up on your space shooting and pugilism skills.

500-Word Indies: Stay Dead

This week we're covering a full-motion video fighting game! How is that supposed to work, you ask? Well, find out in our review of Stay Dead.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Game Club 199X - The Mid-Year Report

For the past year-and-a-half, Game Club 199X has been operating under the tutelage of HG101, delivering podcasts about obscure games ranging from the Sega Master System to the Game Boy Advance. For those not familiar with GC9X, it was conceived by forum patron Xerxes as a community effort to get gamers playing a game-of-the-month under the proviso of no FAQs whatsoever. The idea would be that as everyone would play the game together, they would help each other out with hints and advice, as well as hand-drawn lists and maps whenever necessary. It has been incredibly fun so far and we don't intend to stop, but we're always looking for more listeners and potential contributors. For those who want to participate in GC9X, register a forum account, head to the GC9X subforum, and vote on the game of the month. And if the game's already been voted for, then feel free to start playing, adding relevant commentary and hints, contribute fanart or music based off of the game, or anything else of which you can think.

For this month of June 2013, the current games up for vote are Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri by Looking Glass (the now-defunct makers of System Shock and Thief), Air Combat (the PS1 port of the first installment in Namco's seminal Ace Combat series), and Ganbare Goemon 2 (the second Famicom entry of Konami's massive Goemon series, which is only super-popular in Japan). For those who are interested in following GC9X, sign up on the forums and follow our thread of the month:

For those who have already been participating and/or listening to our podcasts, thank you for your continued support! And for those who are patiently waiting our slightly-delayed May podcast, John Madden thanks you as well:

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 15

This week we come to the conclusion of the Best of the Rest for 1988-1989, with the last 10 titles on the list.

Opening Music: 'Super Buck II' by Estradasphere -
Closing Music: 'Of Whips and Strings' by Super Guitar Bros. -

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Class of Heroes 2 Review

As one of the last PSP games likely to ever get a physical copy in the US,  Class of Heroes 2's pending release already has a good amount of history behind it. In addition, there's Gaijinworks' past attempt at a Kickstarter for a deluxe release(which sadly was a miserable failure), the lukewarm reception to Atlus' release of the original game, and this being the first RPG localization coming from Working Designs' Victor Ireland since Growlanser Generations in 2004.

Victor Ireland has gone to great lengths to defend the release of CoH2 on what many would call a dead system. He rightfully believes the PSP has still many great RPGs worth releasing in the US, as there's no shortage of great titles in Japan that have never been even considered for localization, with more still being announced on a regular basis(even if the latter mostly consist of Otome visual novels, thanks to Idea Factory).

Although I have yet to play the original game, I've heard quite a bit of negativity. All the dungeons are randomized and claustrophobic labyrinths with little variety or room for stable exploration. The developers, a team from Acquire called ZeroDiv, are also responsible for the PS3 'Wizardry Renaissance' titles, and the similarities are all over the place.

Although CoH uses (arguably inferior) cute anime styled-designs instead of Wizardry's realistic-proportioned fantasy artwork, the gameplay is largely the same as its console big-brother.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls (PSN)
See the similarities?

From the main hub, or school in CoH's case, you create your party from scratch using a wide variety of races and classes, mostly Wizardry standards, all: elves, humans, dwarfs, dragons, even angels and demons.  The player is given free reign in making any sort of party they like, though more often than not, all they'll need is the traditional line-up of a priest, wizard, thief, and a front line of tank warriors.

This isn't quite as viable in Class of Heroes, at least not its sequel, as priests and wizards are technically one-and-the same. In Wizardry, you can always make separate priests and wizards, or just respec one as the other later on to get both. Whichever learns healing or offensive magic never naturally learns the other.

My CoH2 Mage knows both healing and offensive magic, and while not a master of either, is very serviceable at each field.  One huge departure from the Acquire Wizardry titles: CoH2 does not use the traditional 9/9/9 magic system, where each spell has its own stock of costs(think FF8). Instead, you get traditional MP and a normal list of spells.

My team currently consists of a dual-wielding Samurai(something of a spellsword), a tank Warrior, a two-fisted monk, a bow-wielding ranger(also doubles as a trap-disarming thief, and hilariously is more powerful than anyone in my front line), a Mage(whose spells are ridiculously over-powered), and the support-class known as the Idol, who despite being cute as a button, has proven largely useless so far. It would be great if the Idol could take some of the support magic burden away from my Mage, as those healing and mapping skills would actually give her something to do other than cast negligible stat-boosting magic and flail at slimes with a microphone.

Right off the bat, CoH2's dungeons are anything but claustrophobic. You start out in a big open-air forest called the 'Beginner's Brush', full of winding paths lined with trees, bushes, and even areas full of water that require floating magic to get across.

This may inspire comparisons to Atlus' Etrian Odyssey series, but the similarities stop there. While Etrian Odyssey's forests feel vivid and alive, thanks in no small part to Yuzo Koshiro's beautiful atmospheric music, the forests(and dungeons in general) within CoH2 feel dead.

That's because they have no music: none. Much like the Acquire Wizardry games, these dungeon crawlers favor atmosphere over ambient BGM. This worked fairly well in the PSN Wizardry, with eerie footsteps and moans making each block of progress a creepy undertaking.

With the cute and colorful style favored by CoH2, it makes what should be a cheerful adventure seem foreboding and barren. There is a nice ambient piece that plays when you examine chests or peruse the menus, and some appropriately intense battle music, but whenever moving through the dungeons, expect nothing but silent tedium, and you'll be moving through them a lot. Class of Heroes 2's dungeons are not just numerous, they are massive.

The second dungeon, Witch's Woods, has upwards of eight different screens of winding paths full of warps, trap tiles, and death-dealing monsters in droves. As another throwback to Wizardry titles, without a map-making spell or a map itself purchased from a shop at your disposal, you won't even get to see the dungeon layout.

Etrian Odyssey's team seemed to understand something very important to a dungeon crawler: if a player's going to delve into dungeons for hours on end, they may as well have something enjoyable to listen to. Even Starfish's much smaller, and very prolific, Elminage series was blessed with solid ambient dungeon BGM. Class of Heroes is already going on to its fifth title in the series, and one can only hope they've taken notes from their competitors by now.

Elminage Original (PSP)

Starfish's Elminage series, regrettably, has been largely left unlocalized, and only the original has been released on the PSP by UFO Interactive, with a buggy and uneven localization considered rushed at best. Not even a patch was able to fix all the game's numerous errors, and those are almost unheard of for PSP titles.

Class of Heroes 2 has little to make it stand apart from the many other dungeon crawlers on the market nowadays, strictly going off the gameplay. It has charming art and a wide variety of dungeons and parties to explore, but it's an unpolished assortment.

This is where Victor Ireland's involvement should come as a relief. Working Designs has always specialized at making unremarkable stories and plots shine through clever writing, and this game is no exception. The NPC and quest dialogue is all witty, well-written, and worth savoring. Even incidental combat lines have a trademark Working Designs sense of humor to them, such as lines declaring that slain ghost monsters shall 'spook no more', and bow-wielding archers' attacks leave their victims 'full of holes'.

The core plot of CoH2 is certainly slow to build, at least as far as I've gotten. The characters are charming and the setting is fun, but those expecting a plot to grip you from the start like Growlanser II or the Lunar titles should dial back their hopes. Of course, this is a dungeon crawler, so most players of the genre seldom expect an engrossing story, but there have been instances where they have succeeded brilliantly at it, such as Atlus' narrative-rich Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land and even the minimalist storytelling of the original Etrian Odyssey.
Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land (PS2)

This is hardly a deal breaker. The quests are varied and have fun plots, and the core story is more than enough to keep the player going through the dungeons, but when the journey is left as barren as Acquire's is due to the lack of ambient music, it feels as if the sharp writing is the best aspect of an otherwise flawed journey.

I'm still playing Class of Heroes 2, and I'm enjoying mapping out the massive dungeons and the fun battle system, but still, part of me wishes I was playing Atlus or even Starfish's more polished takes on the genre.

On the bright side, Victor promises the later games in the series improve further on the formula Acquire is content to reuse time and time again, so as said earlier, let's hope they've been doing a lot of studying.

Sfoglia gonna cut somebody!

Super Chain Crusher Horizon - the biggest shmup in history!

We're not joking with that title - this really is the biggest shmup ever developed, with a Hyper-High-Definition (HHD) of 3200 x 800 pixels. Not even the original triple-monitor version of Darius was not this big! As you'll see though, it's not just a gimmick. This 2D shooter makes some rather clever use of its incredible length.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Dark Age of JRPGs (7): Panorama Toh ぱのらま島 - PC-88 (1983)

If you thought Dragon Slayer was Falcom's first RPG, you guessed wrong. Well, admittedly it's a bit of a stretch to call Panorama Toh an RPG in the traditional sense, cause there are no stats or level-ups, but Falcom did, so who are we to judge? According to Japanese sites, the game was programmed by Yoshio Kiya, the creator of Dragonslayer and Brandish.

After the title screen, the game opens with a Pac-Man-like scroll, where all the characters, items and locations are introduced. Only here they're much more. You're supposed to press the Help Key on the PC-88 keyboard to start the game, which was mapped to "End" in the Emulator I used.

Maybe by virtue of being a Falcom game, there are surprisingly decent scans around for this game, not only of the box cover, but also the map below that came with it, found on this site. Players were probably supposed to mark enemies and traps on it, as their locations are always the same.

It also shows that the overworld takes place on a hex grid, which isn't immediately apparent when looking at the black background in the game. Therefore, you can only walk left or right in the diagonal directions, which feels a bit weird at first. At the beginning, the game kindly ask you to toggle your Caps Lock, cause coding a routine that deals with lower case characters was apparently just too much to ask for.

All around the map, you meet these spear-wielding aboriginals. At first I thought they were enemies and pressed (A)ttack, which triggers a little animation at the bottom right and shoot them - that's right, you have a gun at your disposal. It's not easy to tell what kind of setting this is, as it takes place mostly in forest areas where you meet bushmen, snakes or nessie(!), in the dungeons you meet ghosts, demons and other monsters and you can enter a pyramid, but you can also get a tank an power armor.

Turns out the aboriginals are not necessarily hostile, though, and you're not actually supposed to fight them. (T)alking makes them drop a line of exposition or two, like in most Japanese RPGs that followed since. You can also (G)ive them money for items, but you have to guess a number between 1 and 9, and the price of their item is determined randomly, as is the type of item you get afterwards. Whether or not you meet their demands, they always take your money. Sometimes they also just run away with it, no matter how much you gave them. Actually it's never worth buying from them, at least in this version (more on that later).

On some fields you end up in a trap like this, whereupon an aboriginal appears and laughs at you. You can try to (J)ump out of it on your own, but every failed attempt (it's random again) costs a not insignificant amount of health. It's usually much less dangerous to (C)all for help, until another aboriginal appears and pulls you up. At some places on the map there are also snakes that bite you. As a result you get paralyzed, and cannot carry on without a medicine. If you don't have any, you can again (C)all an aboriginal for help.

Pretty much any normal action substracts one or two health points as well, but you start the game with 100 rations of (F)ood you can consume at any time to heal yourself. Sometimes you can find a tree with cherries, bananas(!), strawberries(!!) or steaming pork knuckles(!!!), which I suppose refill your rations, but I never got any of them. It seems you need to position yourself with the "4" and "6" keys on the numeral pad, and then (U)se a rope, but I never happend to have one with me when I found a tree.

Combat in this game is really weird, as it's more or less real time. Calling it an action RPG would be a bit much, but it is clearly visible that Falcom was getting there eventually. If you meet a lion (or a whole bunch of them, as seen above), it starts to rush at you, and you need to (A)ttack it in time (you might still lose by random determination). If you manage to slaughter a whole pack of lions, you get 30 rations of food. There are also some fights that can be dodged with "8" and "2".

Panorama Toh even has a day-and-night cycle, although at night all you can do is wait for dawn. You cannot move and nothing ever happens at night.

This is Nessie, but you can't actually attack her. The guy just tries to storm at her and then sinks to the ground of the lake.

This is one of the caves from the inside. It is pitch dark, and the only means of orientation is the exclamation "Ouchi !!" whenever you hit a wall. Add to that a somewhat unresponsive input and randomly attacking monsters. (A)ttacking them only yields a message that they cannot be hurt without certain artifacts, which of course I don't have, so all I can do is (E)scape. That fortunately always works, but you have to do it quickly, cause the battles here are semi-realtime, too. The monsters are all made of text characters and look kinda cute:

The spelunking didn't go too well, so I guess I should stock up my gear at one of the towns. But they're all at the other side of the river, so I have to find a way across.

At some points there is actually a ferryman. You can try (A)ttacking him, but it always fails. Trying to (C)all him for help may get his attention - or maybe a bushman runs up to you and stabs you in the face with his spear instead. But even if you manage to employ the boatsman, he doesn't simply drop you off across the river - the one I could convince to take me on his boat for 10 gold pieces just took me down the river for a few fields before leaving me on the same shore I came from. Swimming over is actually more promising: The game makes you keep pressing "4" to the other shore, but you sink down to the ground with random speed, and if you hit the ground before reaching the end, you lose health and have to start again. For some reason this procedure has to be done twice with each crossing, but failing the second one still lets you get across.

The towns are fun - you are the yellow asteristk, but the purple @-characters are thieves that steal your money. Doesn't matter at all, though, as you'll see shortly

Entering the stores brings up close-up portraits of the shopowners, a feature that carried on to later games like Ys. From left to right: The Foodstuff Store, the Inn and the Bank. The Inn even exists as a 3D space where you can walk up to your room:

Most important is the tool shop, however, where you can get anything that the aboriginals sell, and then some. The best part of the deal: Almost every item only costs 1 gold coin, and for buying you actually get the money instead of losing it. I have no idea whether this is a bug, or the disk image that's around is hacked. There's also a pawnshop to sell items (above to the right), but given the state the game is in, that is hardly necessary. I bought a flashlight and some batteries, also a radar and a "PWD Suit" (which other than the rest of the items cost 20,000, but once again the shop owner gave me money instead of taking it). The latter is even reflected in the appearance on the overworld (also notice the filled (I)nventory screen to the right):

After (U)sing the flashlight, dungeons look like this, in best Wizardry - or rather early Ultima - fashion. Sometimes it's really hard to tell how far away a corridor to the left or right is, resulting in many useless, time-wasting turns. Batteries also die faster than in a Game Gear so I had to get back and stock up more (you can only buy one per menu selection - ugh). Each time a battery runs out, the color of the dungeon walls changes for some reason. Even if the light runs out, though, it isn't too bad with the radar, which draws an automap as you go along. All you have to do is bump into every wall to test the way, while the radar tracks your position. I never found anything of value in the caves, although they do connect one cave entry to another, so I guess that would be an alternative way across the river - after you've been at the city once to get your gear.

There's also the castle to the southwest, of course. Other than the caves, it is perfectly lit, represented by the solid walls instead of wireframes. It is full of these guys, which I can only interpret as perverts who show off their huge erections. (A)ttacking them makes them go away, but you can also give them all your money if you want. Nothing of this does anything for you. The castle is huge and you get disturbed by them every few steps, so I just gave up on it.

That leaves the pyramid, which houses the only dungeon enemies that can actually be (A)ttacked without magic weapons. There are also two yellow circles lying around everywhere, but I couldn't do anything with them.

There are several locked doors around the hallways, but (U)sing a key here only gives me the message that it's to be opened and I shall return to the first floor? But I've never been on any other floors other than this? Very strange.

Eventually ASCII Darth Vader here blocks the way, and apparently I need a holy sword to defeat him. But I played Legend of the Holy Sword last week! I give up!