Friday, May 13, 2016

Super Earth Defense Force (SNES) Review

Written: May 12th-13th, 2016
Year: 1991 | Developed and Published by: Jaleco

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.  Now my strong points when it comes to video game genres are platformers and RPGs (turn-based and namely action-oriented) but if there's one genre I don't consider myself to be really good at all the way is shoot'em ups (horizontal and vertical); it's probably got to do with the fact that these are precarious types of games for me in that I have to maneuver the ship around as I try to avoid a screen-full of enemy ships and enemy bullets (sometimes coming in right behind you).  But I figured today I may as well talk about one of the first horizontal-scrolling shoot'em ups I ever played during my childhood and am somewhat good at playing (to a point, that is): Jaleco's Super Earth Defense Force.

Shooting up in the sky, going up twice as high
Originally an arcade game in 1991 simply known as Earth Defense Force, the game (or rather its gameplay structure) got ported as Super Earth Defense Force to the Super Famicom on October 1991 which saw an American release on January 1992 until finally it received a European edition that same year.  And while the original coin-op edition had a two-player option and significantly different stages with unlimited continues (I should know, I got a chance to experience it years ago on one of my cousins' MAME CD), the Nintendo 16-bit release was exclusively rendered a single-player entry with only three continues at your stead amidst different stages.  So what is the first serious shoot'em up I'm covering on my StarBlog like?

What a nice space colony, I hope nothing bad
happens to it... oh, right, shoot'em up  =(
It's doomed  ={
Since this version in particular is slightly different than the original arcade counterpart, so too is its story.  The arcade Earth Defense Force takes place in the year 20XX where planet Earth is attacked all of a sudden by the alien Azyma Empire, whose sole purpose from its flagship the Orbital Satellite Buster is to wipe out all living beings on the planet.  Earth's only hope rests on the XA-1 and XA-2 space fighter ships sent forth from the organization E.D.F. (which stands for Earth Defense Force).  In Super Earth Defense Force, the Azyma Empire has established its own quarters on the dark side of the Moon, where it's revealed that after they attacked Earth they have a secret weapon on said Moon which could destroy the planet and all who inhabit it in one fell swoop.  It is up to the XA-1 space fighter ship sent from the E.D.F. organization to take these enemy forces out and obliterate the secret weapon before it's too late.

Attack this malevolent machine
Super Earth Defense Force is a horizontal-scrolling shoot'em up, and in it you take control of the XA-1 fighter ship, and regardless where you move around and maneuver it your ship will always face the right direction.  Liberally holding down the B button will allow you to shoot nonstop (both the ship and the two gun turrets), the A button will allow you to toggle the function of the two gun turrets around you, and the X button will change the speed of your ship (one arrow is the slowest and three arrows is the fastest; but I rarely bother changing the ship speed outside of the middle option).  Before you start each stage and after you lost a continue you have the choice to choose one of eight various weapons which you'll have to stick with until the end of the stage; I always opt for the Homing weapon because it's a very convenient feature and honestly all the other weapons I find to be useless by comparison and not quite as convenient (despite the variations in power, speed, and rapid fire).

Because this game is Darius now
Something that's quite innovative for this genre is the way that you have a shield stock as opposed to dying after being shot once (in the Config screen you can set it up to three).  Essentially taking a hit alleviates one stock from you, and once they're all gone you lose a continue (since a continue is the equivalent of a life in this particular shoot'em up).  Another neat innovation is how you could actually level up the weapon of your choice after shooting down a lot of enemies and/or garnering points which will fill up the level gauge, and once that's filled up you will level up your weapon up to Level 5, and once you fill up the bar any time after the fact you'll garner one extra shield stock.  Something of note is that how leveled up you are also enables certain functions of your two gun turrets; when you start the game the only options you can achieve with them are staying by your side or having them circle around you, but later on will also come their ability to either follow you around in a lined up fashion or get right up close to your targets (the best function of them all).

Neatly subtle sunset effects
Visually Super Earth Defense Force is decent to look at, and even though it's not anything to write home about there are some neat-looking segments here and there.  The first stage transpires above a sequence of parallax scrolling clouds which seamlessly turns from day to dawn in the most subtle way possible, for instance; the second stage has nice city lights below a starry atmosphere, and both the fourth and fifth stages have got a cool Mode 7 moment (the former of which has a space colony slowly zoom in to the side before it looms in the same playing field, and the way the Azyma Empire's Moon base rotates and scales in at the same time in gradual fashion during the latter is an impressive sequence).  =)  And when you turn on the game there is a greatly detailed XA-1 and gun turrets on top of a skyline transpiring behind the huge blank "E.D.F." letters which slowly pan to the left amidst a black screen; it does get you prepared for what's to come.

And now we have an enemy mech from R-Type,
because of course it has one such similar enemy
The XA-1 and its gun turrets are designed decently in-game, and the Azyma Empire's forces that you deal with have got varying designs that look cool; among them round cannons, fish-like mechanical enemies who could easily belong in a Darius game, and creatures made out of ice.  Any time you approach the main boss there will be a lightning strike to signify the event and many of them are huge; such as a giant mechanical swordfish, an ice worm, and even a huge mecha creature with a radioactive canister used for its fuel.  And after enough hits have been dished against them they're still functioning but look in worse condition thanks to their detail (and when they explode it's quite satisfying).

Well, that machine sure is crabby today
The music in Super Earth Defense Force is one of the best things about this game, for not only does it augment a sense of atmosphere in each stage but it also sounds really good in terms of composition and nature; too bad that it often gets obfuscated by the very loud same-sounding shooting sound effects (with some occasional explosions and during the fifth stage shattering ice effects) throughout.  Why did you do that, Jaleco, why couldn't you be more like Lagoon where there are little to no sound effects affecting the background music (thank God for the sound test combined with the fact that pausing will still have the music playing)?  =(

I'm outnumbered
As for the songs themselves they are fun and catchy to listen to, in particular the themes for the second stage, fourth stage, and fifth stage.  I like the way it's composed with its sound samples and how intense it could sound like during the boss theme, even during the final two boss fights within the same stage; and the credits theme ain't so shabby.  =)  The original Earth Defense Force arcade was composed by Tsukasa Tawada (who also worked on the first Ikari no Yôsai localized as Fortified Zone for the Game Boy), but the music that was done for the Nintendo 16-bit take Super Earth Defense Force was provided by Yasuhiko Takashiba (whose other main contributions for Jaleco was the first Rushing Beat which as a whole was woefully altered when localized for the Western release Rival Turf! and the one on one fighting game Dead Dance which got localized as Tuff E Nuff), and I have a fondness for this soundtrack since listening to it as a child whenever I played it during visits at my relatives'.

Icy salamander in your midst
The thing about most shoot'em ups is that one hit usually results in you dying and when that happens you either usually start from the beginning of the stage or the closest spot where you died; Super Earth Defense Force's inclusion of shield stocks alleviates that sense of worry although when you do lose a continue you must start over from the beginning of the stage where you lost all your shield stocks at (which is no problem really since they are not very long).  The game is actually fairly manageable even for me to play during the first three stages which is not a problem (especially since enemy pattern memorization is key); where the difficulty starts picking up for me (and likely everyone else) is the boss at the end of the fourth stage.  If you were to play this on say the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console (if you did not have confidence playing this kind of game) you would probably abuse the save state feature from this point onward (because the bullets and enemy fire are flying fast at you), but there is a way where you can still play legitimately without resorting to that measure as much... although it may disrupt the flow: pausing and unpausing, over and over.  It might not be 100% fullproof, but pausing is the equivalent of stopping the action and unpausing is the equivalent of resuming it, and the former especially helps when you can exactly pinpoint where the bullets are flying and where you should maneuver your ship.  When did pausing a game suddenly become a way to alleviate some challenge?  <=(

Sooo much flashing and wearing down
Super Earth Defense Force is not a widely regarded shoot'em up, and the developer Jaleco isn't a generally well-liked company as not many people seem to like them or their games (as far as I noticed).  During the console wars of the '90s the MegaDrive/Genesis dominated as far as this genre was concerned as opposed to the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo, and there's a reason for this: while Sega's 16-bit console did not have good sound samples or a plentiful color library it did have a fast processor which meant that games could go at fast speeds with no problem, Nintendo's 16-bit console had great sound samples and a huge color library but at the expense of being a slow-processing machine.  This basically meant that any time a lot was going on onscreen or when things were becoming hectic there would be graphic slowdown; and early in the Nintendo 16-bit console's lifespan gamers largely did not react well to Konami's 16-bit foray in the form of their 1990 sorta port of 1989's Gradius III, Taito's console-exclusive Darius Twin, or even Irem's Super R-Type because of this fact or because they didn't offer as much speed and/or challenge as people would've liked, and by the time today's game came out there wasn't much confidence with the shoot'em up genre as far as the Nintendo 16-bit console was concerned (the only exception during 1991 being Capcom's sorta port of their 1989 arcade adaptation of Area 88 in U.N. Squadron which was positively received).  But some of what came after from 1992 onward did renew some confidence as they were better received in and out of comparison.

Great formation, here's your award!
*BLAST*
I remember first playing Super Earth Defense Force during either 1997 or 1998 when I was six or seven over at my one of my cousins' house whenever I visited them, and suffice it to say it left an impression on me when I was young (that opening especially and even the entrances of some bosses) and I could really only get up to the fourth stage before I lost all my continues.  It was one of the very first games I played in the shoot'em up genre, and admittedly for the first half it does make for a pick-up and play kind of game (especially since your power-up can level up and your ship has a shield stock of three, and the soundtrack is really catchy).  Each year I went and visited this would always be one of the games I wound up playing as I do find it fun (one of my cousins who owns it loves it and has beaten it a few times), and while it's true there are amounts of graphic slowdown I didn't feel it detracted from the fun to be quite honest (in fact, sometimes I saw it as a benefit).  =)  A common thing about shoot'em ups is not touching the upper and bottom surfaces or even stationary obstacles otherwise you'll either lose a life or health, but in this case you don't have to worry about that until the final stage.

Skeletal swordfish sure are waterproof
For years I had always meant to procure my own copy of it since I had fun childhood memories of today's game, but being a collector meant I was curious about so many games, so because of this games that I was largely curious about ended up catching my attention (and add to the fact that I'm indecisive and basically collecting games is hard in a nutshell).  Last Summer I decided to download Super Earth Defense Force on the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console (released by current license-holder Hamster), and while I would not have objected to owning a physical cart (since it doesn't cost much on eBay) I did have enough points to download it on there so I decided to use them.  =)  And while it's not without its problems I do personally find it to be fun to play once in awhile, and it was during this time that I discovered the pause-unpause solution.  And yeah, while I do find myself using the save state from the end of the fourth stage onward I do try to get by with the pause-unpause trick (as it is bound to get you places); but hey, at least in Wild Guns I only start using the save state during the final stage.  But, you know, apples and oranges (Natsume's game is a shooting gallery, today's game is a shoot'em up).
If you're searching for a decent shoot'em up to play then Super Earth Defense Force is not a bad choice to play once in awhile.  If you don't desire graphic slowdown when playing this genre you're better off playing something else which admittedly is better.  But if you're forgiving of the slowdown and would like to see how Jaleco attempted their take on the genre during its heyday then it's fun while it lasts (or until you run out of continues), and if you like innovative features in your shoot'em ups such as leveling up your weapon and shield stocks you may end up liking it for what it is.  It's not great Jaleco entertainment but it's solid Jaleco in my book, and I'm normally not good at shoot'em ups.  =)  Make of it what you will, for your mileage may vary.

My Personal Score: 7.0/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. If there's one game I'm worse at playing that I start using save states earlier than either this game and Wild Guns it's Castlevania: Dracula X; but I am far from ready to talk about that one.  That title is neither Konami's finest nor is it in league with the 1993 PC-Engine classic that the 1995 SNES action/platformer is misleadingly named after (they're not the same game, despite the same setting and controls).
 
P.S. 2 Sweet, I got my third title that I promised I would talk about this year in my 2016 Video Game Reviews Bucket List done, now I only have to talk about six more left!  =D
 
P.S. 3 And in a total non-irony, Jaleco would return to the shoot'em up genre for the Nintendo 16-bit albeit as publisher of the North American version of R-Type III: The Third Lightning for Irem... because they couldn't publish it themselves for some reason.  =/
 
Happy 25th Anniversary,
(Super) Earth Defense Force!!!!!!!!!  =D
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think!  Have a great Summer, and take care!  =)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Wild Guns (SNES) Review

Written: May 3rd-6th, 2016
Year: 1994 | Developed and Published by: Natsume

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit!  =)  Freakin' Wild Guns!!!  =D

Released on August 1994 for the Super Famicom, this Western/sci-fi punk shooting gallery-game created by Natsume saw an American SNES release on July 1995 and would not see a release in Europe until October 1996--the latter of which was not distributed by Natsume but by the infamous Titus Software.  Oooh, man, what a way to go!  =(

Now for those not aware, Titus Software is a company with that terrifying as hell red fox logo (what do you mean it isn't?  Look at it!!) who was not exactly known for developing quality titles during their run in the '80s and '90s until they declared bankruptcy in 2005 and for years have been criticized for their low quality standards to the point where any association with them (whether they actually made or published a game) meant people who judged games by the company on the cover thought it was going to be bad (and in the latter's case it's largely uncalled for).  Legitimately makes me wonder if Titus made a good game before they died.
For example, America and Europe were probably worried that ASCII's platformer Ardy Lightfoot was going to be bad on account that Titus' name was attached as Western publisher when the truth of the matter was that if they played it it's actually not that bad; and Europeans who did not play today's game due to Titus' name as publisher probably felt the same way when again if they actually played it it's not that bad.  =(  Of course if Nastume hadn't gone the lazy route in the European edition of Pocky & Rocky and took out all the words as opposed to translating them (no, really, they actually did that) which made them come across as unreliable distributors in that region this probably would not have happened; would explain why PAL regions received Pocky & Rocky 2 courtesy of Ocean Software (a better video game company than Titus) instead.

Sorry, I'm getting off track, what's this awesome game like?  ......oh, did I just spoil that?  Oops!  =$

In a Western steampunk universe lived a young beauty named Annie who asked renowned space bounty hunter Clint for help.  She tells him that the Kid family abducted her whole family and killed them and that she would pay Clint anything he wants to dispose of these fiends to which he says he doesn't need help.  But he lets Annie tag along anyway when she says her vendetta against the Kid family is personal and claims she might be as good a shot as Clint.  So together they go up against the Kid's forces to avenge Annie's loved ones but more importantly put an end to the Kid's crimes once and for all.

Dodging enemy fire
In Wild Guns you have the choice to take the reins of either Clint or Annie, or both if you have a companion with you, and while the controls and environment might take a bit of time to adjust to it does not take long for them to become second nature.  By holding down the Y button you'll amass a rapid-fire succession of shots to your foes or wherever you aim your crosshairs (and simply press it once to whack an enemy with your gun should they be on the same plane as you); an obscure option is the ability to start a lasso by tapping the Y button and then let go to stop (and if a stick of dynamite is on your plane you can pick it up and throw it with the same button); the thing about either option is that you're kind of left in a vulnerable position since you're shooting or lassoing as you're holding still, so if bullets are coming your way just hold down the Y button as you press the B button either left or right to drop and roll to either side (it's also possible to jump and double jump with B when you're not shooting, but that's less of a thing you'll wind up doing); and if you wish to dispose of all enemies onscreen or deal a huge amount of damage to your boss just press the X button for the big bomb (provided you have at least one of them at your disposal, can only carry up to five).

*whack*
So, being that this is a shooting gallery style-game this of course means that there will be a plethora of enemies who will pop out left and right and try to take you down, and all it takes to do that is one hit.  And if you're not careful you'll lose them all fairly quickly because unless you keep your eyes peeled or be on your best guard you won't see the enemy fire coming.  Each stage is divided into segments, and mostly you'll have to put up with all the enemies until the time clock reaches zero and once that happens you must take on the mini-boss; defeat the mini-boss and the process starts anew but in a different set environment as well as different foes and once you defeat the mini-boss here it's off to shootout with the stage boss which you have unlimited time to take down.  Between the second and fifth stage you can choose which order you could play them to your heart's desire.  If you lose a life you'll resume right at the spot, but if you lose all of them the continues are unlimited but you'll be forced to start from the beginning of the stage you were playing.

Bar shootout
In each stage you start out with the normal gun which has got an unlimited array of ammo (and you might largely be rendered with it) but every now and then whether you shot a certain enemy or wait for a floating weapon icon to come by to shoot at will be a chance to amass fifty rounds of a more powerful gun; there's shotgun which is a bit slow but powerful, there's the machine gun which will rapidly make bullets fly, and there's the grenade gun which deals a big amount of damage.  One thing to watch out for though, especially if a flying weapon icon has a "?" on it, is the toy popgun which you should empty out immediately because its bullets are so ineffective.  =(

YEAH, go Vulcan gun!!!  =D
There is another gun which you can use in your venture however which is the best weapon in the game, but in order to accomplish that you have to fill up the gauge.  And in order to fill up said gauge you must shoot your enemies' gunfire in order to fill it up... I repeat, you must deliberately aim and shoot your bullets against enemy bullets in order to gradually fill up your gauge--yeah, that's logic.  Once the gauge has completely filled up however you will unleash the Vulcan gun which fires out explosive rounds while rendering you impervious to enemy fire, and so long as you have this ultra powerful weapon in your stead it will slowly deplete the gauge and once it's fully emptied your weapon will either be normal (or any of the previously aforementioned ones) again and become vulnerable once again.  Wild Guns, indeed=D

Time to show this machine the ropes
One of the many things that Wild Guns has got in its favor is that it is absolutely gorgeous in the visual sense.  Each area has got a steampunk sci-fi feel what with all the machinery and modern technology abound, and yet at the same time you get a wildly appropriate Western feel which I'm sure must've been quite the challenge for Natsume when developing it; fortunately it paid off real well.  =)  The areas are so detailed yet colorful at the same time, not just the foreground that you roam around in but the backdrop in which your shooting your gun towards as well.  And while I'm on the subject Natsume's attention to even the miniscule detail is impressive here because when bullets are being shot by you they leave behind a hole or signs of debris depending where in the area you shoot; during the Carson City bar for instance it's possible to not only shoot the bottles which leave behind shattered debris but also leave shot marks on stools, walls, and even the table.  Impressive doesn't even begin to describe that sense of detail; it makes for an authentic atmosphere.  =)

Dynamite toss
I also like the Desolation Canyon with the canyons and full moon in the backdrop and that huge skeleton of an ancient dinosaur smack dab in the middle of it; the inside of the Ammunition Depot looks nifty and the entrance to the Gold Mine looks so modernized and yet it succinctly preserves that old time Western feel what with the railroad tracks leading to it.  The mini-bosses are largely robotic (from the trenchcoat-wearing gunman to that ammo-packed cowbot) with a sole exception (that lanky self-absorbed suavely dressed coward) and their animations are cool for the way they literally break down and explode after their defeat is quite satisfying, and the flashing colors to indicate that they're about to bite it is a really nice touch.  =)

Wild explosive shootouts in the steampunk sci-fi
equivalent of the wild West
Now the bosses themselves really steal the show when you get to them for they are so looming in the backdrop that they are fittingly imposing as they tower over you (except the final two bosses who are only human).  A few examples of them are the machine gun-toting goliath in Carson City, the giant bullet-shooting orb with a spine-like tail as it floats in front of you at the Ammunition Depot, and even a giant mechanical crab creature who's enough to give Pincha from Equinox a run for his money (in terms of intimidating stature) at the final phase of the Gold Mine.  Some nice little details are the way that the Carson City boss faces the exact position you are at and the way the glass shatters when you've dealt enough bullets to the Ammunition Depot boss.  And did I mention that there's a crapton of explosions in Wild Guns?  Whether it be by destroying machinery, executing a wipeout bomb, or seeing the downfall of huge bosses, these explosions are so awesome that not only does it slightly turn the atmosphere red but a lot of the times they're so sizzling they affect the whole setting.  Sweet!  =D

Dodging enemy missiles
The main protagonists Clint and Annie are so well-designed, and despite the fact that they're wearing 19th century clothing against all these steampunk elements in front of them it actually feels right.  Their moving animations are fluid, the bullets actually fly off from their guns as they're shooting (if you look carefully), and there's a welcome sense of follow-through as they land on the ground after jumping.  =)  Their profile shots after you beat each stage are cool, and it's nice to see a bigger version of them during the stage select screen drop into the scene and then jump straight up.  The enemy roster is aptly-chosen as you face off against the likes of various shooters (in one case pixel-sized due to how far their distance is from you), knife men, robotic zombies who sprout from the ground in the Desolation Canyon (I think), literal wing men, and even flying turret guns to name a few.

Let him have it!
Wild Guns' music was composed by Hiroyuki Iwatsuki (who also provided the music for the original Game Boy edition of Spanky's Quest, the Nintendo 16-bit Pocky & Rocky diptych, the game that was supposed to be a Game Boy sequel to the ninja-centric Nintendo 8-bit platformer Shadow of the Ninja before somehow turning into a Ninja Gaiden prequel licensed by Tecmo in Ninja Gaiden Shadow, and the Zen-Nippon Pro Wrestling series) and Haruo Ohashi (who co-composed for Pocky & Rocky 2 and the Nintendo 16-bit Power Rangers games), and the music is so damn good what with the way it deftly blends Western cues with high adrenaline-pumping rock within the same music, for it is glorious=D

Above you!!!
Some of my favorite songs transpire during the Carson City, Desolation Canyon, and Gold Mine stages; but basically the whole soundtrack is good.  The main boss theme is enough to get you pumped up for the action, and the end credits theme is so rewarding and breathtakingly gratifying to listen to after you beat Wild Guns on the Normal and Hard difficulty modes that it alone makes it all worth it.  <=)  The sound effects are varied appropriately enough when it comes to the various guns you shoot from, the explosion sounds are intensely chosen (especially when firing from the Vulcan gun), and I like how whenever you get a new life after every 100,000 points there's an unusually pitched locomotive toot-toot sound.

"Stop right there, punk!"
Wild Guns has three difficulty settings, with Easy being the most manageable of the three and Hard being the least manageable; and yet despite little variations in each setting the difficulty more or less is challenging.  In part because you have to be quick and alert and partly due the fact that there are times when a pack of enemies or gunfire will attempt to overwhelm you should you not be careful.  There are unlimited continues (which is good), and it is largely manageable if you got it all figured out; but the main events that will likely give you the most trouble (as they do me) are the mechanical crab boss at the end of the Gold Mine stage (its myriad bullets, anyway), the main boss from the Armored Train stage, and primarily the Kid and his forces at the end (on account that so much happens at once to the point that you'd better hope you either have enough bombs or have the Vulcan gun to make it through this segment).  There are also bonus stages where you could try to shoot as many targets as you can in the allotted time for points which can only be accessed if you make it through the first two stages without getting a game over and the same goes for the third through fourth stages (absolutely no game over or you cannot access it).

Oh, what are you doing?  o_O
I remember first finding out about this game nearly a decade ago on YouTube when watching gameplay footage of it provided by Shiryu, and combined with what I heard of its praises it made me really want to play it, and (before one of my cousins loaned me his SNES console two days shy of 2009) so I hoped that it would arrive on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console (since it regularly goes for a huge sum on eBay).  But by the time it did come to that downloadable service in 2010 I had kind of moved on from VC downloads and focused on mainly collecting and playing physical SNES carts from eBay; but when I got a Nintendo Wii U console on Christmas 2013 I still kept on largely buying physical carts on eBay but only once in awhile download titles on the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console, and on April 2015 I did just that since I still wanted to play Wild Guns out of curiosity's sake (for $8, it's quite a bargain).

"Get off my train!"
The first time I played I had a bit of trouble adjusting to its realm and controls because of the amount of enemy and gunfire leveled against you, but over the course of months after not only taking advantage of augmenting the Vulcan gun gauge (as much as the solution to that makes absolutely no sense) and learning to adapt to its stages and memorizing enemy patterns I found the game to be a lot better and better and for the majority of it I manage to play it just fine (and learned to rely less on enemy wipeout bombs excepting the final boss and just manage with bullets).  =)  And the better I got at the game the more I ended up liking it to the point that it's become one of my favorites.  And since I downloaded Wild Guns on the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console you readers are probably wondering how frequently I use its save state feature (if at all); frankly the only time I really use it when playing it is during the final sixth stage (mainly during the final fight of the "Final Fight" which is the most challenging bit of it all).  I'm sure it is possible to get by that segment legitimately (and no doubt its difficulty would be much alleviated with another gamer by your side) but for me it's tough (I have an easier time getting through any of ActRaiser 2's three difficulty settings and can do so legitimately--though to be fair, Quintet's action-based platformer is slow-paced and Natsume's shooting gallery-type game is the opposite of slow-paced), but believe me I do try my best when I get to the finale.

Fire at his metallic face
Wild Guns is an absolute blast to play every once in awhile; its hybrid blend of Western and steampunk sci-fi is very inspired, its sense of detail is impressive, the gun-toting gameplay rocks when you know exactly what to do and how to properly target your shots, its sense of challenge is really good, its adrenaline-pumping frenetic pace and plethora of explosions make things exhilarating, and above all it is a lot of fun to boot!  =D  The only downside is that at six stages it's very short at around thirty to forty-five minutes (give or take how many game overs you got), but you know what: its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, and having finally got a chance to experience it myself I understand why it's got such a cult following (aside from the fact that it didn't get anywhere near as much attention then as it does today) for it truly is one of Natsume's hidden gems.  Wild Guns also has also got plenty of replay value in that aside from the fact that you could choose between Clint and Annie (or both) in any of the four palette schemes the second through fifth stages can be selected in any order (I personally go clockwise from Desolation Canyon to Armored Train) and the harder the difficulty the more complete the ending and credits sequence is.  =)

Victory!!!  =D
Wild Guns whenever it pops up on eBay normally costs hundreds of dollars, which frankly I find to be more understandable than is the case with Pocky & Rocky 2.  Don't get me wrong, I like that aforementioned title (despite the personal issues I have with it) and it is a good game on its own merits as well as a good sequel, but I could not for the life of me find any compelling reason for it to go for hundreds of dollars; Wild Guns on the other hand I completely understand based on all the special qualities I covered (despite also being available on both the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console downloadable services for $8) and to be honest I like it better than Pocky & Rocky 2, but the first Pocky & Rocky is still the best of the Nintendo 16-bit Natsume offerings to me (from the ones I played, anyway).

BOOM!  God Bless this badass game!  =)
If you're searching for a wildly enjoyable shooting gallery video game then you'll love Wild Guns, and if you like blended setting genres combined to one then all the better.  If you're craving challenge there's plenty of it in store for you, and if you desire replay value well fortunately you're getting a lot of that too.  =)  If you can overlook the fact that it's got the cliché amount of stages (six) and its relative brevity then I think you'll really, really, really enjoy it.  It might take awhile to accustom to its gameplay structure and countless obstacles on your path, but rest assured that once it all becomes second nature then regardless of whether you play it on the Nintendo 16-bit console or either Virtual Console services then boy are you in for one ultimate badass experience.  Totally worth checking out!  =D

My Personal Score: 8.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. At last, I finally got another game reviewed as I promised I would on my ambitious 2016 Reviews Bucket List outside of Xandra no Daibōken: Valkyrie to no Deai back in January.  Two down,... seven to go......  '_'  .........I need to get cracking, the year is going by quick!  Oh, and all screenshots I took back in December.
 
P.S. 2 This is my second favorite Nintendo 16-bit Western title behind Lenar's Ganpuru: Gunman's Proof which is my number one!  I would say what I thought of Konami's Sunset Riders, but sadly I never played any of its versions (nor can afford to play them).  =(
 
P.S. 3 Oh yeah, off-topic: go watch Captain America: Civil War, it's really good!  =)
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think!  Have a great Summer, and take care!  =D

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Ufouria: The Saga (NES) Review

Written: April 24th-May 1st, 2016
Alternate Title: Hebereke [|O|]
Year: 1991 | Developed and Published by: Sunsoft | [|O|]

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit... only today we're talking 8-bit; awkward.  =|
 
Image from Wikipedia; Happy 30th Anniversary, Metroid!!!
In 1986 Nintendo unveiled unto the world the Alien-inspired non-linear sidescrolling adventure game Metroid for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, which saw an American and European release on the NES in 1987 and 1988 respectively.  The game was ahead of its time in that there was heavy emphasis on exploration (not to mention survival) as opposed to being a straightforward full-on actioner which would serve as an influence on various games that came after, and it was one of the first games to have a female lead (which came as a surprise to most everyone that played it at the time when male protagonists largely dominated, if they beat it in less than five hours that is).  Metroid, regardless how you feel about the original, has left a big impact in the gaming world that it became a success and spawned not only a franchise but also inspired similar titles.  =)

1991 (yay, my birthyear!!!) saw the return of bounty hunter Samus Aran in Metroid II: Return of Samus for the original Game Boy; not only that but Sunsoft created their own lighthearted take on Metroid for the Famicom titled Hebereke that September, which saw a limited European and Australian release in November 1992 as Ufouria: The Saga.  An American release was planned during its heyday but never materialized due to cancellation (which was rectified when released on the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console downloadable services in 2010 and 2014 respectively).  So how did Sunsoft do?

Since I only played the European version on the NTSC Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console, I'll be talking about this version specifically, since there were lots of changes made from the original Japanese Hebereke (as much as I wish I had the Famicom version, despite not owning anything that can play a Nintendo 8-bit game from Japan).  The story goes in this version that Bop-Louie and his three friends lived in a world called Ufouria, and when they noticed a crater they decided to stumble across it but fell in.  All except Bop-Louie have lost their memories upon entering this new world, so he must find them and convince them that he's not a threat to them.  Once everyone's been accounted for they all must search for three keys which will open the gate that takes them back to Ufouria, but it's easier said than done.

Ball toss!!!
Like Metroid long before it Ufouria: The Saga is a nonlinear sidescrolling adventure, meaning that the world you peruse is huge and you can go in any part that you please (provided you've got the proper items with you).  Unlike the aforementioned title however, whereas you only took the role of a single character, in today's game you have the option to play any one of four characters during any part of your venture.  At first you start off with the snowman Bop-Louie, but after you find (and do battle) with his amnesiac friends (dinosaur Freeon-Leon, ghost Shades, and angler fish Gil, as they were called in Europe) you'll be able to switch as any of them as you please.

Why must penguins be enemies again?  =(
Each member of the quartet has got diverse strengths that compensate for the others' weaknesses, and not only are they vital to your journey but in some cases they help overcome certain obstacles particular characters cannot.  Bop-Louie can walk fast and eventually learns to climb walls, Freeon-Leon is a bit slow but he can walk on ice and swim on the surface of the water, Shades is a slow walker but can jump high and glide down slowly (when you hold down the A button in midair), and Gil might be slow on land but he can explore and walk fast underwater.  Regardless of who you choose to play as the controls are similar: A lets you jump, B lets you pick up and throw a ball that an enemy and/or boss has left behind, and the main way to attack is by holding down as you jump on your foes.  You can look up your inventory to switch characters (or look up the map) with the Select button, and you pause with Start.

"Take this!"
Most of the time when you jump on top of enemies they'll leave behind a ball which you could throw if you wanted to, but once in awhile they'll leave behind a small fraction of health for you (which can only be largely replenished if you either consumed a potion or the hard to reach water of life to refill it all in the menu).  Scattered throughout this mysterious world are chests for which the contents inside will range from either potions, hearts that increase health capacity, a compass which shows you the password (a system which is pretty moot on the Virtual Console since your progress will be resumed after you came back from taking a break from it), a map to see where you are or where certain chests are located, one of three keys that will open the gate, and any one of the four characters' secret weapon.

Well, it's all fun and games until someone loses
their eyes...  I'll see myself out now
Utilizing the secret weapon involves holding down the B button until a heart is above your characters' head, and once you're ready press the B button again to unleash it.  Bop-Louie's secret weapon is his own head via his extendable neck (like a bobble head) in any direction in front of you (above, diagonally, or straight ahead), Freeon-Leon's secret weapon is the power to breathe ice unto enemies which will freeze them so you can turn them into a platform to jump on (but be quick because after awhile they'll break free from their icy prison), Shades' secret weapon has him knock his own head with his mallet which will make his eyes pop out and home in on any onscreen enemy until they return to his eye sockets, and Gil's secret weapon is a small but powerful bomb which he spits out of his mouth which will explode boxes impeding your path.  These are not only a good way of handling enemies but also an innovative way to make progress to areas which you previously had no access to.

Riding along in the mine
Ufouria: The Saga's soundtrack was composed by Naoki Kodaka, whose specialty was memorable music until his retirement in 2002; he was a Sunsoft regular who previously did music for the original Blaster Master, the infamous Addams Family license Fester's Quest, and the initial license to The Terminator before the rights to the film got lost which became Journey to Silius, and he would go on to compose music for Spy Hunter's unofficial Nintendo 8-bit sequel Super Spy Hunter (Battle Formula in Japan), the Sunsoft-developed MegaDrive cute'em up Super Fantasy Zone released by Sega, and more famously the Albert Odyssey RPG series.  Kodaka's music is well-regarded among the video gaming community and this game is no exception.

Venturing underwater
There has been a point of contention regarding this game's music tempo, since the original version on the physical cart had somewhat slower music than what the Virtual Console had in store which slightly sped up the music but maintained the actual game speed, which has drawn a mixed reaction.  Some people felt that the sped up music felt wrong and distracting (namely those who grew up playing it during the '90s) while others were more welcoming of it and appreciative.  I fall in the latter category as I actually don't mind the music being sped up, as I find that it actually energizes and enlivens the atmosphere as opposed to if it were being played slow.  =)  If you don't have access to a Nintendo Wii or Nintendo Wii U console and wanted to have a good idea of what I'm talking about, look up a song of this game on YouTube and listen to it on the Normal speed setting: that's the original version's tempo.  But if you up it to 1.25x speed when playing it: aside from a different pitch that is more or less the tempo of the Virtual Console release.

Swimming to the nearest platform
The songs in question are very good and do the job well.  The main theme when the game starts is bouncy and upbeat, the ice realm sounds menacing, the deep underground segment sounds very dark and mysterious in points, and one of the outer themes sounds so laidback and lighthearted.  The regular boss theme is alright by itself, but the final boss theme is brooding.  The intro theme for the story is fascinating, and the credits theme is really pleasant to listen to when all is said and done.  <=)  The sound effects that are used in the game are decent; the splash sound for when you get into the water sounds appropriate, the sound for when the enemies have been jumped on is cool, and considering the Nintendo 8-bit console's sound capabilities the sound effects for when you damage a cat boss lets out the most accurate meow sound you'll hear from the system.

"I must regain my friend's memory by fighting him!" 
The visuals are bright and colorful in this lighthearted romp, and for 8-bit standards they are good to a point.  =)  The best visuals in the game are for the areas that have got in-depth detail; such as the tree that you're climbing some times (even when you're near it underwater), the dark wall décor when you're inside rocky terrain or even the mines, especially when you traverse to the icy plains (and the shading of the ice near its walls is a nice touch too).  The final area near where you enter the gate is also nice to look at.

That's drool, alright; you mean I have to climb on it?  <=/
The rest is not bad to look at, really, just very under-detailed by comparison.  The skyline for when you begin is a nice hue of cyan, and when you're above the clouds there's some simple clouds on there which seamlessly blends in to said sky.  The underwater segments are an effective shade of blue, and as for the palettes that were chosen for the characters and enemies they're sufficiently chosen.  =)

Shades delivering an egg to make progress
Each member of the quartet, considering the Nintendo 8-bit software, have got quaint designs and surprisingly fluid walking animations; it's cool to see them swing their arms back and forth (and in Shades' case, bounce his body back and forth).  The jumping and throwing animation is sufficient, and I think it's cute how their icons in the menu smile upon being selected.  =)  The bosses are decently designed and they've got a simplistic anime charm to them (especially when they get jumped on or defeated by you), and the enemy roster is not bad: comprising of little cream puffs with eyes, personages in fish and penguin costumes, blackbirds who are not singing in the dead of night, scuba divers, and even sentient Rolling Stones logos (which may or may not have been intentional) among others.

"Special delivery, pussy cat!"
Like Metroid this game is simple to play but it is not exactly straightforward due the complex layout of the world; but in Ufouria: The Saga's it is slightly on the easy side, yet it does not stray from its structure.  So early in the proceedings you can only proceed to places where you can readily access since there are segments where you cannot quite get to on account that you do not yet have items (or characters) in which you can access them (you need Gil in order to fully submerge underwater, and finding the item that makes Bop-Louie climb is a necessity in order to get to previously inaccessible segments, et al).  The solution to each boss is more or less the same: jump on them which enables them to leave behind a ball which you can pick up and throw at them just enough times until they bite it; but what's cool is how once in awhile there's a bit more to the process.  One boss needs to be defeated through Bop-Louie's secret weapon because he's so well-protected, and another boss involves jumping on a white ball in order to get the ball to throw at the actual cat boss protruding from a pipe.  Losing all your health during any part of the game sets you back at the starting point, which is frankly understandable since it is a small and short game.

High-jumping ghost
Because it's been subject to changes from the original Hebereke (especially considering what came after in Japan) I may as well mention the changes that were made.  The original plot involved a war which affected space and time itself which resulted in the world collapsing and four heroes "falling to the cleft of time".  Hebe, the main character, was originally a wide-eyed penguin but got changed to a snowman named Bop-Louie; Oh-Chan, a female cat, got altered to a male lizard named Freeon-Leon; and while the ghost Sukezaemon and the angler fish Jennifer retained their masculine forms for the European edition their names got changed to Shades and Gil respectively.  The name Hebereke itself is derived from the Japanese colloquialism that translates to either "drunk" or "untrustworthy"; interesting name choice for an otherwise lighthearted title.  <=|

"You've sung 'Let it Go' for the last time!"
The European cart version Ufouria: The Saga had a very limited run that it's become a sought after item for collectors, but at least it's also available worldwide on the Nintendo Wii (U) Virtual Console downloadable services where it only costs about $5... unlike 1992's Famicom title Gimmick! which got localized to Mr. Gimmick for Scandinavian NES audiences in 1993 and the 1992 Game Boy platformer Trip World in which case they cost a ton (unless you live in Europe in which case you could access the latter on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console for cheap by comparison; lucky PAL gamers!), because God forbid Americans play these kinds of games (even though everyone is curious about and wishes to play them in this region).  -_-  In 2003 Hebereke got released on mobile phones in Japan and got rereleased on Windows by Project EGG in 2010; and in 2002 this lighthearted venture got paired up in the fifth installment of Sunsoft's Memorial Collection sextet for the PlayStation One alongside the serious Raf World (Journey to Silius in the West, developed by Tokai Engineering which also developed the first Blaster Master and ported Micro Cabin's breakthrough hit Xak: The Art of Visual Stage to the Super Famicom).
Because those two really go hand in hand together when you think about it.  =<

Snow place like home, right?
After Hebereke came out some of its characters would go on to make (cameo) appearances in Sunsoft property like Epoch's Barcode World for the Famicom (which included cards and an actual barcode), Yeh Yeh Tennis (Wai Wai Tennis 2 in Japan) for the PlayStation One, and even appeared in a single stage of the Sega 16-bit edition of the famous action/puzzler Lemmings.  Hebe and his companions would even star in four-panel comic strips for the Famimaga magazine in Japan until its cancellation in 1998 once said magazine became the Famimaga 64, and Hebe himself acted as Sunsoft's own mascot in Japan for awhile.
Eventually Hebereke became a franchise, spawning several games that largely appeared on the Super Famicom (a console which I own), partly on the Sega Saturn (which I do not own), and partly on the PlayStation One (which I do own, but only the NTSC model) straying from the very sidescrolling genre that started it all and focusing more on genrebending (ranging from puzzlers to fighting to racing to even more puzzlers).  A couple of them also made it to European shores, as is; then what was the point of making those changes in the first place???  >=(  You think I exaggerate when I say that people make no sense?

If I recall correctly I first found out about Ufouria: The Saga back in 2010 (before I learned what it really was in its original incarnation) when it arrived on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console worldwide, and even though I wanted to play it I was in that phase where I was more into collecting physical cartridges (namely SNES) than I was into VC downloads; but luckily when I got a Nintendo Wii U console on Christmas 2013 I not only alternated between collecting physical carts but also once in awhile download games on its Virtual Console service, and on January 2015 I downloaded today's title.  Was it worth those years of curiosity?  For the most part it was.  =)
I thought it was fun as a lighter take on Metroid, and the way its structure was modeled after that title was sound.  I enjoyed Naoki Kodaka's music (even if it was sped up), visually it was pleasing to look at for 8-bit standards, I liked to search every nook and cranny, the easy difficult was fair, and each characters' various strengths and weaknesses and alternating between them given the situation was quite intuitive.  The main thing that dragged it down for me was the fact that it's so short.  =(  No lie, the first time I beat Ufouria: The Saga (after a day or two that I started) I played through the game again that night and wound up beating it in roughly an hours' time.  I just could not believe it, but hell, it was fun while it lasted.  =)

Bop
If you're looking for a fun nonlinear adventure alternative to Metroid, on its own merits it's a fun little romp (provided you own the proper systems it's available on).  If you expect it to be as complex or challenging like Metroid or even long for that matter you may want to lower your expectations a bit, but if you like a little bit of (surreal) charm in your games you'll dig it just fine.  It might be on the short side, but as a Metroidvania (before Metroidvania became a thing with the post-Symphony of the Night Castelvania series or in the most recent decade and a half Shantae) Sunsoft did a solid job all things considered.  =)  Maybe not as stellar as the likes of Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but it's still worth checking out if you're interested.

My Personal Score: 7.0/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. Recently I got to play the first Hebereke follow-up, Hebereke no Popūn on the Super Famicom, out of genuine curiosity for the other titles that followed after today's game and so far I like it.  =)  Can't wait to try more Hebereke SFC games this Summer.  Also, today's title has got a ton of stuff that was left in The Cutting Room Floor.
 
Happy 25th Anniversary, Hebereke!!!!!!  =)
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you all have a great Summer, take care!  =)
---------------------------------------------------------------
If by "forever" you mean a dozen-plus years (three and a half not counting the Oh-Chan Picross series or the Famimaga comic strips) then yes, their saga did last forever; also, that's the subtitle.  Can I go back to talking about Nintendo 16-bit games now?  <=(