Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Valis IV - PC-Engine Duo-R


The Valis: The Fantasm Soldier series appeared on many platforms, but the PC-Engine titles really stand out from the rest, much like the only Castlevania title to apear oin this platform over shadowing it's SNES and Genesis brothers.

Valis IV is the forth title for the PC-Engine and perfected what the series had been come to be know for, namely - incredible anime style cutscenes and hard-as-nails platforming gameplay.


In this iteration, you have three characters to choose from, which can be selected at any time and each has their positives and negatives. There's Yuko, the main character, the heroine, a Maria-style character who actually throws birds and can double jump and a tall robot-looking guy who comes in really, really handy in the ice-platform stages.


The cutscenes are really pretty amazing for the time, but still look good today, slightly more defined and better realized than even some of the scenes in Chi No Rondo. I can't speak a lick of Japanese, but you can pretty much get the gist of what's happening from watching them anyway.

Not that it matters much. All of the levels are composed of many parts and your objective is always the same - get to the end and fight a boss. Which may sound repetious, but it never feels like it.

The platforming is excellent, with tough enemies and harder jumps, especially during the 'test' stage where you only control the heroine and have to climb up a tower where one fall takes you to the beginning of the stage more often than not and where the enemies just love to knock you off the smaller platforms. It also doesn't help that it's timed like all the other stages and requires very fast movement to insure you make it to the end in time.


Did I mention the difficulty? It's really hard. Really, really hard. You know that kind of hard where you break controllers, hit stuff nearby like you want to send it straight to hell with a punch and where you growl in anger. Not yell - growl. Like some sort of otherworldly beast. Yup, you'll do that alot in this game.

Which is not to say its a bad game. Oh, far from it. When you get a stage right, it's amazingly rewarding and exciting, more so than any game I have played in recent memory. It's just so rewarding that you strive to get each stage almost perfect and really plan for each boss.

I'm currently on stage 6 and have made only a level or two in. The ice pilars are tough and the later parts of the level are brutally difficult - but hella fun. Highly recommended.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Akumajō Dracula X Chi no Rondo (Rondo of Blood) - PC-Engine


People talk about Akumajō Dracula X Chi no Rondo (Rondo of Blood) in the same hushed tones usually reserved for stellar, groundbreaking RPG's, such as Final Fantasy VII or Chrono Trigger, that imbue it with a sense of grandeur rarely expressed for a platforming title. And damn - it's truely well-deserved.


Rondo of Blood takes the traditional Castlevania elements and further refines the excellent and addictive play style. Konami went all out, creating some of the best graphics of the traditional 2D Castlevania titles and adding unbeliveably good music to make this game much more than the sum of its parts.

It was first brought to the PC-Engine CD/Duo systems as a CD format game and later remade and ported to the PSP as The Dracula X Chronicles and with the original title and Symphony of the Night also unlockable. Many hail Rondo of Blood as the best 'secret' Castlevania as it wasn't available originally on these shores, unless you imported it for the expensive and soon-to-be-overlooked Turbo CD/Duo.


I never got a copy of the game when it came out, having almost no knowledge of its existence. Over the years, I heard little about the game, but when I did, it was always that it was the best Castlevania and my curiosity grew. When Konami announced their remake of the game for the PSP, I knew I'd have to try it out.

I bought my copy of Dracula X Chronicles, excited to play through the remake, but really taken aback by the original. The graphics and music are really amazing for their time and the classic Castlevania gameplay is honed to near perfection. Unfortunately, the original version unlockable on the PSP title suffered from some wicked blurring and made the later stages very difficult to play through and made the game massively frustrating.

So, being the Castlevania fanatic that I am, I set out to get a PC-Engine Duo-R and a copy of the game to play the original and see if it held up to all I had heard and come to believe about it. I found a Duo-R on the PC-Engine FX forums at an excellent price and went for it.

It arrived a few days ago and I cleaned it up and popped in Dracula X as soon as I got home that night. Each night since then, I have been playing until waaaaaaay too late in the evening, totally absorbed in what could be one of the greatest games of all-time.


You start off controlling Richter Belmont and he controls the way you expect a Belmont to control. The weapons are still the classic whip and sub-weapon type, but where the title totally shines is in the graphics, music and stage settings. Each stage has an attention to detail that is exceptional, with fantastic parallax scrolling and settings. A number of the stages have multiple paths with maidens to rescue, including Maria, another playable character that makes the game even that much more fun on a second playthrough.


For those of you wondering if its worth buying a console to play Akumajō Dracula X Chi no Rondo - I'd have to say yes. In much the same way fighter or STG fans purchase HORI joysticks at $200 a pop to get the most out of their favorite titles, it's worth easily that and more to play this Castlevania as it was originally intended. It doesn't hurt that there are a ton of other good games for the system, a few of which I have on the way, like the Valis series, Dragon Egg, Super Star Soldier, Gate of Thunder, etc, etc.

Konami truly crafted a gem in Akumajō Dracula X Chi no Rondo, a fitting end to the classic 2D platforming Castlevania titles, and an excellent pre-cursor to the outstanding Symphony of the Night for the next generation PS1.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Battle Garegga high score #1


Such a fun game. I have scored higher than this on a few occasions, but not by much. I was going to wait until I hit 3 mil+ before I posted a score, but wanted to give myself a good starting point.

Pretty good run overall using Bornum, ending at 2,512,950 at the beginning of stage 4. I hit the flamingos for some good points at the beginning of stage 2 and got my medal count up decently high, but kept losing it in stupid places. I have been trying out almost every charcater and like Gain, but he just moves a bit too fast for my taste. Bornam seems to be my character of choice at the moment.

The rom hack makes playing this game so much easier - no resetting to lower rank, no entering in the code. Awesome.

Going to play this one for a while. I'd love to get a letter score and while that might take a long time, I'm eager to start trying.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Snatcher - Sega CD digital novel/action/adventure game


I have always wanted to sit down and play through Snatcher as I am a pretty big early Hideo Kojima fan (enjoying everything up to the end of the tanker scene in Metal Gear Solid 2) and since I am on a bit of a vintage console kick at the moment, I decided to take the plunge and dive right in.

Snatcher is a kind of action/adventure/digital novel, created for a number of platforms, including the MSX2, PC-Engine and the Sega CD, which is the version I decided to play as it is the version the team put the most into, with an extra chapter at the end and better graphics and voice acting than the other games.

The voice acting is actually very, very good and must ahve been pretty unbelieveable when it came out. Although I knew a couple people who had Sega CD systems back in the day, none of them had or even knew about Snatcher. In fact, most of the guys that had Sega CD systems were envied instantly, and then much less so when you got a chance to play the games on the system and we pretty much wrote it off after that, looking forward to the Playstation and its generation.


The game borrows heavily from Blade Runner and cyberpunk concepts of the time, but the plot is neither trite nor does it feel recycled. Right from the get go, you feel involved in the story and want to see what happens next, kind of a page-turner if you were to think of it as a novel, but definately an engrossing experience as a game.

And that's really what grabs you in this game - the writing. It is very well composed and deep, exposing character faults and moving the plot forward with a deft stroke which never seems heavy-handed. It's also very much geared toward a mature crowd, with pretty gory scenes at times and startling music. Even the music that plays outside Jean's house is dramatic and immediate feeling, making you want to keep progressing forward.


The graphics are really very good, especially for the time, with a distinct style that tries to stay mature and away from anime stereotypes. I'm a huge fan of Japanese animation from this time period, especially the cyberpunk classic Bubblegum Crisis, and this game very much pays tribute to that kind of cyberpunk world. The city feels gritty, the backgrounds are stark but colorful and the city is filled with Neo-Kobe's archetecture in such a way that you actually feel connected to it.

I played it until midnight last night and went to bed, really wanting to see what happened next and woke up thinking about it, ready for the next chapter in the adventure. I'm enjoying the hell out of it and will hopefully finish it today.

What's really dissapointing about the game is that it hasn't been re-released on any other more modern console. There has a been a hacked, proof-of-concept demo available for DS flash carts, showing that it will run and actually look good on the DS just fine, but nothing from the Konami or Kojima camp.

It feels a little like a lost franchise, one that Kojima probably had to let go to keep plodding along with Metal Gear, which is unfortunate. We can only hope that with all of the Capcom remakes, someone at Konmai wakes up, sets two or three guys on it and we get a true classic, re-released for more modern - and much smaller - systems.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Castlevania III - Dracula's Curse - finished!


Not a huge, headline worthy gaming accomplishment by any means, but for me a very satisfying one indeed. I finally beat ol' Dracula this evening, switching back and forth between the boring Monday Night football game and the last stage of Dracula's Curse.

I know that beating a two-decade old NES title may not be the most spectacular gaming accomplishment, but this is one hard game and it feels good to finally lay Dracula to rest. That is, until Super Castlevania IV.

It took me a good month of on and off playing to get to the end as the second to last stage is brutally tough, requiring many, many perfect moves and jumps up the long a** staircase to get to the end, though the end boss, Doppleganger, might be the easiest boss ever in a Castlevania title.

I'm going to start a game with Grant and see what his stages are like. I'm also going to work towards the 1CC, which would be really satisfying, but will definately take some time.

I'm still pretty stoked to play Castlevania III and that's saying a lot about how good this game is. Kind of a forgotten title in the Castlevania series (though, not to Castlevania fans), but a gem nonetheless.

Metroid Zero Mission & Fusion


After playing through the Super NES classic Super Metroid a while back and enjoying the hell out of it, I bought Metroid Zero Mission and Metroid Fusion and played through those as well, being on a bit of a bender for 2D Metroid titles at the time. And I have to say, they are some of the best GBA games ever made.

Relentlessly fun and interesting, they take the gameplay elements that Super Metroid implemented and extend them while further refining the speed (Samus was a bit slow in the SNES title and the addition of the dash button was uninspired) and jumping mechanic of Samus and really making the game a fluid platformer.

Zero Mission is a remake of the first Metroid for the NES made for the GBA. It is this kind of lovingly done remake that makes you compare every attempt to revitalize an old franchise with snazzy graphics and new gameplay elements to this one. It is exceptionally well done, a perfect update with much care taken to redo the game where it was lacking (quick health power-ups, maddening bomb-jumping mechanic) and further polish the elements that were good in the first game (all of the sub-weapons).

The stages are still alot of fun and the exploratory nature of the game is enhanced fully by the addition of a 20 point health power up that happens to spawn way more often, where the NES version only had 5 point ones for 90% of the enemies in the game, making it very hard to refill your energy. They seem to appear more often as well and you end up pushing farther quicker because you don't need to stop and fill all your energy tanks after some particulatly hard sections.

The soundtrack has also been redone and the remixed versions of the stage themes are even better, more involving and even more striking. Brinstar has never been creepier.

There is also an extra section added into the game once you defeat Mother Brain in the Chozo Ruins where you have to sneak around with only a weak stun gun to find your suit and all the sub-weapons to tackle the end boss in a pretty brutal fight. It's pretty fun, but honestly, I skipped it after the second play through of the game as it can get tedious. Plus, having all of those fun enhancements to Samus stripped away from you is a little bit of a let down.

Metroid Fusion kind of picks up where Super Metroid left off in terms of graphics, layout and extras in the game (recharge stations, map uploaders). The story and atmosphere are solid, still keeping the languid creepyness so prevelant in the SNES classic.

I'm just starting my third playthrough and I'm still pretty excited to dive into the 2D excellence that is the Metroid franchise. They both play very well on the GBA Micro and seem almost tailor made for its small screen and controls.

One of these days I'll have to give the 3D Metroid offerings a shot, but with 2D games as good as these, I may never get a look at them.