A Week in Gaming 2nd Quest #14: 4/3 – 4/9

Oh my, I’m actually writing on a Sunday. A Sunday morning no less, like I should be! Freak accident or a resurgence in dedication? I can’t decide. In either case I managed to take down four games this past week. I’m surprised at this, considering how little I’ve actually played games in the past week. I know that it still sounds like a lot but before I started making Perler bead sprites (which can be found over at my Flickr page!) I would game constantly. It was my de facto choice for something to do, interspersed with things like homework, daily tasks, and occasional friend visits. Now I come to a debate with myself every time I have a large amount of free time and the hobby that always takes precedence is creating those Perler bead sprites.

The past week had a lot of variety to it. At one point I played Super Smash Bros. Brawl with my trio of friends for a few hours and the days that I’ve streamed on I presented a medley of handheld titles. There were only two new games, both of which I’ll write about here, and all in all it was a good week. Now, for what I took down.

Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair (PC, originally Genesis)

This was my first dip into the Wonder Boy series. I was misled from the beginning by what appeared to be a good presentation in both visuals and audio, and the game had two genres I enjoy mashed together: run and gun and shoot ’em up. It’s after you start peeling away the presentation that you realize just how bad this game is; how its flaws will beat you senseless and leave you in the dust. Later research indicated that this version, the Genesis version, was the worst of the ports and damn does it show.

Don’t let the visuals, audio, or the guy who is trashing the game hard in that video fool you. This game is nothing but an exercise in pain. Nine long stages, each divided into the run and gun and shoot em up sections. Everything in the game except those beach balls you see fired at the player will kill you in one hit, the balls will stun you then make you jump uncontrollably while you lose a portion of that time gauge. Earlier stages aren’t that bad when it comes to death, later ones will rip apart entire continues. The game throws more than enough food and weapons at you to restore that bar but it begs to question why bother with it when you so much as twitch and die. The weapons are also irritating in that they barely last more than twenty or so seconds. They become less a tool to use and more of the arsenal of someone with an attention disorder who can’t make up his mind. Plus, what good are getting better weapons over your pea shooter if you can’t ever use them on the bosses?

But all of that isn’t the worst of it. No, the worst come hand-in-hand with the one-hit deaths: the run and jump physics are terrible and there are no invincibility frames. Get hit with a ball, you bounce and are vulnerable. You can respawn from death and instantly die if the game is feeling like an ass and throws an enemy beneath you. You can’t dodge worth shit thanks to the hero’s horrible movement physics, either. I honestly hope that the rest of the series is better than this, because Monster Lair is a terrible game.

Bio-Hazard Battle (PC, originally Genesis)

A Genesis shoot em up with a unique presentation, an interesting premise, and an unfair difficulty curve: this is Bio-Hazard Battle in a nutshell. The long and short of the plot is that a biological world war occurred, tons of giant creatures now make it unsafe, and after decades in a floating space station humanity is going to strike back when they feel the bio-hazards are at a manageable point. To do this, you choose from one of four different bio ships, and yes the game is that focused on the biological. Each ship is different in some way, either from the movement speed or from the layout of which weapons it has. While some are blatantly better than others, this diversity echoes of games like Gradius or U.N. Squadron with their variety.

Beyond that variety, I found other things that I genuinely liked. For instance, collision detection and what actually hurts you. This game functions like Gradius in that one hit equals death. But where Vic Viper can’t touch walls ever, the four ships in Bio-Hazard Battle can. You can rub up against walls and collide into ceilings all you like, just don’t hit enemies. Extra lives were fair in when they were given and the amount of continues the game has seems like a genuine apology for just how brutal this title can get. The most striking thing to me, though, was the presentation: bloody good music and a visual aesthetic I can’t remember seeing in any other shoot ’em up. Some of the on-screen creatures, like the giant flying black leeches in stage 4, literally gave me shivers while looking damn good. The giant flying green caterpillar-like monsters were also striking to me in how they looked, it seemed real in a sense.

The downside to this title was its difficulty, though. At some points this game was brilliantly balanced, at others I was a swearing nightmare. The bosses of stages 4 and 5 were especially asinine, though. It is bad enough that you have to fight a giant enemy that spams attacks at you, interspersed with trying to ram you, but the lines of enemies that filter in at the top and bottom of the screen? Pure overkill. It’s as if they thought the bosses weren’t enough and decided to put in the enemies to make up for whatever the boss was failing at. In short, more enemies, more collision death, dozens more bullets. I won’t even get into the rage that the seventh and eighth stage caused me, never mind the frustration of the final boss. All in all? A good title, marred by a few design choices and an unfair difficulty. I recommend it, but only if you enjoy shoot em ups.

Streets of Rage Remake (PC D/L)

Eight years in the making, a freeware juggernaut of a title that takes everything you ever loved about the Streets of Rage series and throws it into a blender, then makes it better. Tons of characters, an enormous amount of stages, a bloody incredible soundtrack, everything about this game practically sweats the polish that was put into it. I can’t give this game enough praise, and it has already earned a spot as “One of the Best Games of 2011” for me. One of my favorite beat em up series, condensed into one singular game and given away for free by the guys who made it.  As of now there looks like they might be having legal troubles with Sega for whatever reason (despite having contacted them in the past about this project), but I still say give Bombergames and Streets of Rage Remake your support. There are few other remakes of this caliber in existence. I’d write more but where I could do a detailed review in an entire post I’d rather not write here all day about one of the four games.

Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time (GBA)

Finally, the last game. I’ve got mixed feelings about this game, for valid reasons. It is based on a great IP – both a good and bad thing. It is a Game Boy Advance title that tries to emulate the formula of Metroidvanias, but was published and designed by two companies that seem to have vanished completely and whose pedigrees aren’t exactly stellar. But, being the curious bear I am, I decided to go into it and explore everything I could.

The plot is what you’d expect of a Samurai Jack game: Jack wants to defeat Aku and be sent back to his home time. In this game he has the titular Amulet, for which he has to collect four elemental gems. Jack has a plethora of moves at his disposal, which are usually gained by defeating bosses or gaining plot-important items, and all harken to the Metroidvanias. Double jump, super jump, wall jumps, elemental sword attacks and sub-weapons that allow further exploration, all are here and eventually at Jack’s disposal. In addition, enemies will drop a spread of items that are either consumable or that he can equip. The latter are particularly numerous, with spots for armor, two gauntlets, two rings, and three sword stones. While Jack doesn’t gain experience, throughout the game you can acquire items to permanently boost his statistics.

All of this seems good on paper, trust me. In execution, however, we’re left with an incredibly short title devoid of the polish and finesse that could have made it a stellar game. Despite having several areas to it, the game is essentially linear and quick to work your way through. Enemies, while diverse in appearance, are all simple creatures who are lucky if they have more than one basic attack at their disposal. The NPCs are lackluster and to say that there’s a series of quests in the game would be giving it credit. Several items are vague, and to this day I still don’t know what the Gold Ring, the Platinum Ring, or the Scotsman’s Bagpipes do.

The aspect that is likely to shut off people the most though are the physics. Jack moves clunky and rough, with more frames of animation than needed paralyzing him in contrast to the Belmonts or Alucard. Hitboxes are a complete absurdity in this title and require practice to actually discern whether or not you can hit an enemy and how. Jumping feels awkward and several times I’ve fallen through what look like solid floors because my hitboxes weren’t aligned correctly. You’re stuck in one direction for double jumping, and aerial maneuvering is almost a myth here sans gaining height.

Beyond that, the game is short as I mentioned above. Both myself and rightbelow of the Backloggery were able to beat the title within three and a half hours while nearly doing everything the game had to offer. But for those who are so inclined to continue, you can do (really you’re forced) to do a New Game+ when booting up a file you have beaten. All stats and inventory items are carried over sans plot-related ones, making you a juggernaut of death in a game too short for its own good. I beat it twice and did what I believe is 100% within six hours, and sadly enough the only changes for New Game+ were that the Scotsman appeared and became a boss battle, and that you get his bagpipes as a victory prize. That’s it. No harder difficulty, no new items or explanations or even an ending. Nothing. Short, a mix of sweet and bitter, an experience that will leave you wondering if the time invested was truly worth it. Better than other licensed games, but not enough to make it a great licensed title like some of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles or the Capcom Disney games of the 16-bit generation.

I’m a Metroidvania fanboy, so despite its shortcomings I advocate this title. If you can find it for extremely cheap and want a decent experience, I recommend it. Otherwise just leave this title in the dust where it should belong.

——————

That’s all for me this week folks. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week with hopefully another set of beaten or completed games. Until then, keep gaming and visit my Flickr page to see what else I’ve been up to (and possibly make a purchase)!!

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