Thursday, August 23, 2012

Impressions: Chō Genjin 2 (SFC)

Received: August 16th, 2012 / Written: August 23rd, 2012
Chō Genjin 2
Year: 1995 | Developed and Published by: Hudson Soft | [ O ]

Bonk to the rescue!!!  =D
My experience with the Bonk video game series has been very limited, but from what I played of the bald head-bonking caveman series I had a lot of fun.  Bonk's Adventure was the first game I downloaded on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console over half a decade ago, and I really like it.  That game had decent play control, vibrant colors, cute charm, and an interesting concept.  I hated that the fight with the final boss in said game involved using cheap tactics (liberal usage of turbo buttons, away!!).  The second iteration Bonk's Revenge (which I downloaded months later) I also enjoyed, and thought was an improvement over the first game in more ways than one.  The play control was significantly polished, the visuals were better, the music was catchy and fun to listen to, it was slightly more charming, and I thought the added difficulty settings added some replay value.  Like the previous game, the final boss had to be defeated through cheap tactics (once again the turbo buttons come to the rescue), and I really hate it just as much.  I haven't played Bonk III: Bonk's Big Adventure, but I looked up that it had gameplay elements that were similar to the first New Super Mario Bros. game, and I heard mixed things about it, too; but if that game's final boss has to be defeated through cheap tactics, I swear I'm going to be p#&%ed off, because two times was bad enough.  >=(  I haven't played Bonk's first 16-bit outing Super Bonk on the Super Nintendo, which I also heard mixed things about, though I looked up that it has a big cult following, so maybe I should consider trying it one day.  The sequel, Chō Genjin 2 (Super Bonk 2) for the Super Famicom, was never released outside of Japan.  Recently I imported this game, and I've got to say, I was really surprised at how it turned out.

Bonk's dark night rises
In this sidescrolling action-platformer, Bonk is once again trying to save his world from the evil clutches of the reptilian king, who once more is threatening the prehistoric era.  Boy, you'd think that after being defeated four times prior that he would take a hint.  This time, you also get to face his five best soldiers, who will try to stop you in your tracks.  Bonk controls rather smoothly, and he is really fun to control.  To those of you that are not familiar with the series, Bonk is a caveman who attacks his enemies with his noggin; after jumping down, from below, while swimming, and while in the air.  He can even bounce off walls with his head, skip on the water like a stone if his head is facing down, climb certain walls with his teeth, scale up waterfalls, flip in the air (so long as the attack button is repeatedly being tapped), and so forth.  As is the case with the series, you start with a regular amount of health, but if you find a translucent heart icon, you'll increase your capacity.  What's neat is how collecting the food not only scores you some points but how it also replenishes a little bit of your health, too.  This time Bonk can also run if you hold down the A button, and the X button is used if you have a special ability on you.  If you find a power-up, whether it be piece of meat, or a different icon, then you will be given a power-up ability that will be taken out the moment you're hit once (damn).  Among the power-ups are the one where the fire will be spreading if Bonk hits his head on the ground (you know, the one where he looks freaky), one where Bonk turns into a bird and gains the ability to fly, one where Bonk becomes tiny and can make platforms made out of Japanese characters, and there is one where Bonk has the ability to double-jump as a girl.  Yes, Bonk becomes a girl if he eats the pink-colored meat.  I'm dead serious.

Yummy, yummy, yummy!  I've got
bugs in my tummy!
The world of Chō Genjin 2 looks very appealing, and is a big departure of the series, visually.  On one hand, it's largely reminiscent of the previous PC-Engine games, but on the other hand, the visual style looks all refined and fresh, and it's all pleasing to the eye.  Now this time around there is a map screen which is designed quite nicely, simple though it may be.  Each area looks really good, and there's a good of amount of variety.  For starters, the first area looks like it takes place in a beach-like setting, while the second one takes place in a jungle-like environment with water flowing on there.  In one area you're set in a Western-like exposition (anachronism, I love it), and in another you're venturing forth in a volcano-laden place.  One area that stands out from the rest is the cemetary.  At the start, Bonk is struck by lightning, dies, and turns into a zombie that can roam around even with zero hearts.  The only way to revive him is by filling up his entire health with food and heart power-ups.  It's an eerily dark, atmospherically morbid area where thunder strikes from time to time; and while that happens, you'll second-long glimpses of mountains changing grimaces and the round trees sprouting eyeballs.  It's linear and short, but awesome while it lasts.  You and the enemies in this stage are transparent so long as you're a zombie.  The animations are good, the enemies and bosses look great, and the stages have good layout design.  A lot of the music is sweet, catchy, and fun to listen to, including the map and boss themes.

Bonk has never looked more frightening
than he does here!  D=

The game is pretty manageable, and the length is decent and just right.  In most stages there are checkpoints represented by flowers, and the only way for them to be enabled is by hitting them, which wind up sprouting into a beautiful flower and have a big smile.  Unlike the first two games where if you lost a life you picked up at the exact spot you died, you have to start from the checkpoint once you lost a life.  So if you died during a boss fight earlier in the game, then you have to start over from the sunny flower checkpoint.  I don't know if that's the case with the original Super Bonk, although it is a nice change that's not frustrating.  Through inspection would lead to a secret power-up, a life, or even a tulip that takes you to the bonus area.  The bonus area you play is random, as there's a wheel of five bonus games, and the one it's pointed to is the one you go to.  Each involve Bonk's different ability and must score as much as you can in the allotted time; in one bonus game as a froggy Bonk you have to eat up all the flies before time expires, and in another you're bird Bonk who must pop all the balloons before it's over.  In certain stages there are neat forms of challenge, and the bosses pose a good amount of challenge, especially the penultimate one.  Like the other games, the final stage is a boss rehash leading up to the final boss, but at least there are portions that lead up to those battles.  The final encounter with the reptilian king is split up into three parts, with the bulk of the action occuring during the second part.  The third part of the battle is mindless fun.  You know what the best part about this battle with the reptilian king is?  No cheap tactics involved!!  =D
Finally a final boss in a Bonk game that's not a frustrating battle of attrition!  This is the greatest thing to ever occur in the series!  Yay!!!  =D  Sorry, got off-topic.  =|  If I were asked to give this game a score from 1 to 10, it would definitely get a 9!  So far I've beaten it twice, and both times I had a real blast.  The locations are fun, the charm is ever so appealing (if not freaky at times), the stage designs are creative, and I feel that the gameplay was even more polished than the other games I played.  My only gripe is that if you lose all your lives on a certain stage, then you have to start said stage over again, and depending on the longevity it can be incredibly annoying (do not get a game over on the final stage, or you must start all the way from the beginning).  What's cool is that there's a password system in case you feel like taking a break and do not feel like starting all over (though it is possible to beat it in one sitting).  I wonder if the last game had a password system?  Well, I won't know until I play it.  Anyway, this game is so fun to play, and it reminded me a lot of the PC-Engine Bonk games; out of the three games I played in the series, this one's the best.  Not only is it a topnotch platformer, but it is second only to DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibōken, as far as games made by Hudson Soft are concerned.  Hudson Soft has done a bang-up job with Bonk this time.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Impressions: TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure (SFC)

Received: July 30th, 2012 / Written: August 12th-18th, 2012 (Rough Draft) / Final Draft: August 17th-18th, 2012
TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure

Year: 1994 | Developed and Published by: Konami | [ O ]

Choose your character!
Ah, TwinBee!  =)  Ever since I imported the PSP compilation TwinBee Portable from Japan last year, I fell in love with the series and became a huge fan.  Maybe not as well known (or as hysterically quirky) as Konami's other cute'em up series Parodius, I find this series of games very appealing.  The games are lighthearted, cute, colorful, cheerful, charming, and they have very and intuitive play control, too, with a fair amount of challenge to boot.  Not to mention have a very nice art style.  Back in the early '90s there were a couple titles in the series that were made for the Super Famicom and Super Nintendo console in Japan and Europe respectively: Pop'n TwinBee and TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure (known as Pop'n TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventures in Europe).

I enjoyed Pop'n TwinBee immensely in TwinBee Portable, for I thought it was one of the best games in the cute'em up genre, if not the best.  The benefit of owning a Retro Duo is that I get to play and experience Super Famicom games from Japan, which is great and makes the world a much bigger place.  For the fifth Super Famicom purchase, I chose the (sort of) sequel to Pop'n TwinBee, TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure, which is actually a spin-off (one of three, to be precise) of the series, which transitioned from vertical-scrolling cute'em up to sidescrolling platformer.  Ever since I first looked it up, I wondered how exactly a series transition like that would work.  Fortunately, it turned out to work very well, and it turned out to be very fun.

It's Hammer Time!!!
Funny story about the second 16-bit console TwinBee game: I don't know what its status in Japan or Europe is like, but as far as I looked up, it is very rare!!  No, seriously, take a gander on eBay, there are not many copies of it on there at all, if any.  And in cases when the game does pop up on eBay, it usually sells for a very high amount.  The copy I paid for sold at a very decent price.  I got lucky there.  Now how is it that a game of this caliber is so high up for grabs?  Is it because it's obscure?  Is it because it's a spin-off?  Is it because it's different than most games in the series?  Is it because both regional versions of the game had many differences upon release?  Which reminds me: as far as I looked up, when the PAL version was made, changes were made and certain elements were cut from the original Japanese version.  That version was linear, the dialogue between levels was removed, and it used passwords in order to continue your progress.  But in the Japanese version, the map is nonlinear, there are alternative exits, the map screen has dialogue between the characters, progress is saved through battery back-up, and there are several different endings...  Boy, PAL gamers sure got shortchanged when they got this game, weren't they?  Now I normally don't compare versions of games I experienced to those that I haven't since it's not exactly fair to those that have played said version, but I just had to make an exception here.  Another thing to note is that more often than not the PAL versions will be selling on eBay, while the Japanese versions don't appear as often.  Luckily, the copy I pad for was Japanese, so I got to experience the game as it was initially made.  I almost considered buying the PAL version, since it seemed like it was the only copy on there, but the moment I saw that a Japanese version was on there, I immediately jumped for it.  Totally worth it!  =D  Okay, rambling time over: it's GAME TIME!!!

Thanks to the ringing of a series of bells called the Rainbow Bell, peace had prospered in the universe.  Unfortunately, Dr. Warumon and his anthropomorphic EvilBee army step into the scene and decide to put a big end to that.  The EvilBees have snatched them away, and caused many to panic and worry.  What's worse: the ruler of Planet Meru, Princess Melora, who was previously seen in Detana!! TwinBee, is slowly beginning to fade away as a result.  What could Dr. Warumon hope to accomplish from all this?  Why, only the most diabolical thing imaginable: take over the world.

But luckily for the people the anthropomorphic bee-shaped heroes TwinBee, WinBee, and GwinBee have come to the rescue.  The first two are piloted by a couple teens called Light and Pastel (they're not called that in the game, but they were given names in the series eventually) while the third one is piloted by a baby called Mint (same with him); I kid you not!  In their adventure to stop Dr. Warumon's evil deeds, they will be aided by the pilots' grandfather Dr. Shinamon (via communication on the map screen).

Racing under a beautiful
aurora borealis!
 I remember reading years ago when I read Shiryu's description of his gameplay video that he described the gameplay was like TwinBee meets Sonic the Hedgehog meets RocketKnight Adventures.  Yeah, I can see how he would come to that, now that I played it myself.  That's a good way of putting it, really.  So in the game you can choose to play one of four save files or you could choose to use a password; but since the Japanese copy saves automatically, I find little point to use the password system at all.  From there, you have to choice of playing as the cyan and yellow-colored TwinBee, the pink and blue-colored WinBee, and the green and blue-colored GwinBee.  Of course, once you choose your character, you cannot switch to another one until after you continue if you lose a life.

All right, here are the basics.  If you keep holding the left or right button, you will be moving until you gradually start to run like the wind.  If you press down while running your character will be sliding ahead on its belly.  You can also throw a punch (should you not have a yellow bell power-up) by pressing the Y button in any direction.  If you want to throw a very potent fire punch attack, hold down the Y button until the Punch gauge is full, and then release the button in order to launch the fire punch towards faraway enemies in any of the eight directions.  You can also jump on most enemies and bosses via the B button, and it's also possible to propel yourself into the air and fly for a short period of time in any of the eight directions.  Just hold down the B button until the Jump gauge is full (on the ground or in midair), and once you release it while holding a direction, you'll fly as fast as you can.
The TwinBee Team
Throughout the stages there are angles, walls, and ceilings, and if you fly towards any of these surfaces, then you'll be ricocheting off said surfaces, which is very fun.  While in midair, you can even hover as long as you hold up, though you'll slwoly go down as a result.  From time to time youll come across a button with a "?" mark on it, and once it's been pushed, you'll find one of the following: a missile, a bouncing ball, and a wipeout bomb.  By pressing the X button you can pack them up and put them down, and if you press the Y button while hodling them you'll be using them.  The missile seeks out the enemies, the bouncing ball temporarily bounces all over the screen while knocking out enemies, and the wipeout bomb does exactly as the name implies.  If you want to see what's ahead of you, you can hold down either the L or the R shoulder button to shift the camera to the left or to the right, and to look upward hold up and to look downward hold down.

Having a nice conversation with
Grandpa Shinamon
In the TwinBee-verse you usually shoot at clouds in order for the bells to appear, but in TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure you have to defeat the enemies in order to get the bell power-ups.  Just make sure you catch the bell as it falls, otherwise you'll miss it.  The white bell gives you a special set of shoes, the yellow bell gives your character a special weapon (with it, TwinBee can use a hammer, WinBee can use a ribbon, and GwinBee can use a rattle toy to throw towards distanced enemies), the blue bell gives you a laser gun which can be utilized with the A button, the green bell gives you a Chibi-Bee wingman which will follow you around and damage enemies upon contact (only up to three), the purple bell forms a shield around you (which is disposed if it's hit once), and finally, the pink bell renders you invincible for several seconds.  Be careful, though, because if you're hit, then all the bell power-ups you currently have will jump out from you, and you only have a chance to recuperate a few of them as they fall.  That darn "Sonic the Hedgehog Syndome"!  >=(  Oh, and you only have a health of three hearts, so if you lose your last heart regardless of whether or not you have bell power-ups on you, you'll lose a life.

The pastel-toned visuals lathered in each area are bright, colorful, eye-pleasing, and oh-so inviting.  To name a few: in the sunny green areas there are neat-looking mountains and hills in the background, as well as a few floating islands with a waterfall streaming down.  In the cavernous areas it's all dark save for the round oval centering on your character, and the way the rocks and enemies are revealed as they're in the vicinity gives a rather cool atmospheric feel.  The rainforest areas are great with all the vegetated trees and the water-filled parts you can swim in, while the snowy areas are simply beautiful to look at with all the snow, the ice, and the sky which has a wonderful aurora borealis the higher up you go (I'm a sucker for those).  Each of the main characters are designed very nicely, and they all display smooth animation.  Their various animations are neat, especially the running and idle ones.  The enemies and bosses look great, too, and I love how there are character portraits for whenever dialogue is taking place.

Exploring the dark, strangely
atmospheric cave
The TwinBee cute'em ups usually have a good amount of smooth-flowing challenge while at the same time not being too difficult.  I don't know what to say about this game's challenge, however, and I'm not even certain how I feel about it.  Basically the goal of each stage is to reach the goal represented by a small arch with Dr. Shinamon's face on it.  Some stages are straightforward in that there is only one goal, but in other stages there are alternate goals, similar to Super Mario World.  If ever you feel lost, you can consult the stage's grid-based map whenever you pause the game.  The "G" grid stands for Goal, and if it's yellow it means that it hasn't been accessed yet.  In certain stages, if you haven't gotten them yet, you'll notice a key symbol on the map.  There are six colored keys in total, each found in their corresponding areas.  With these keys in possession, you'll be able to enter the door(s) in each stage that corresponds to that color.  Entering them will send you to a different part of the stage in a secret room.  You'll know you haven't entered the door yet if the map shows a black door symbol on certain grids; why that's important I'll get to shortly.  You'll notice in each stage that there is a timer at the top, and fortunately you can stick around as long as you want with no repercussions whatsoever.

As was the case with the last game, you have health and must beat the stages in one life.  Fortunately, you have an unlimited amount of continues at your disposal.  Unfortunately, your health is comprised of three hearts, while depending on the difficulty (or how you play) feels a little restricting and can make the game harder than it really is.  Some spikes will alleviate you of one heart, while certain other spikes will put an end to your journey, so it's best to be cautious.  The only way to recuperate health is if you either find a heart lying around, or if you collect a hundred round bells (every hundred will reward you with one).

I've got nothing creative to say
about this screenshot
Each Rainbow Bell is guarded by a boss who's name ends with the suffix "Bee" (it's a little like how in the Digimon series pretty much every non-human character's name ended with the suffix "mon"), and the only way to confront Dr. Warumon is if you have gathered all seven of them.  The thing about certain boss stages is that some of them can only be accessed once you find an alternate exit; in the monitor with Dr. Shinamon neat it, there are arrows in each grid that show where you'll be heading depending on the exit you take.  Some exits are easy to reach, while some are rather difficult to access (particularly that one in a Toyland-like stage).  The boss battles require a bit of strategy, and your choices of combating them are to jump on them or to do the fire punch.  The fire punches are more effective since they'll take out four of the bosses' health away.  The thing about fire punches are that you have to wait until the fire gauge is full in order for them to work, and that it takes a second or two depending on which character you play as.  TwinBee takes an equal amount of time to charge up his punches and jumps, while GwinBee pulls off faster fire punches and WinBee propels herself in the air the quickest.  Since you have three hearts, being careful when fighting the bosses are a must, and messing up will lessen the chance of victory; so as a result, GwinBee is your best bet when it comes to boss fights.  I have not defeated any of the bosses on my first try, not even the first one.  A personal quibble I have with this game is that if you hold down the B button while jumping and while holding a directions in moments when you don't need to propel yourself, do not let go (unless the Control Pad is left alone).  If you do, you'll accidentally fly off when you didn't mean to, which is a big issue for someone who regularly holds down the jump button whenever it comes ot jumping; but that's just me.  TwinBee: Rainbow Bell Adventure is neither an easy game nor a hard on, but I'm not exactly sure what difficulty Konami was aiming for here.  That's why I didn't know what to say about this aspect.

That is so adorable!
If I were asked to give this game a score from 1 too 10, I would give this game an 8 at best.  But did this spin-off live up to the TwinBee name?  Yeah, I think it did.  Does it in any way exceed the other games in the series?  No, not really.  I didn't expect it to surpass the series upon playing it (don't know about the two Nintendo 8-bit games and the two PlayStation spin-offs, since I haven't played those), but I had a lot of fun with it in the end, for it had all the charm that I love about the series.  The stages are fun and good-looking, the stage designs are decent (if not difficult at times), and the gameplay is rock solid.  The visual style is pleasing to the eyes, the still shots seen after beating a stage in certain areas is appealing, and the music fits perfectly with the atmosphere.  I just wish there was a consistent difficulty here, because I didn't feel that there was one, which I found distracting.  The boss fights were nice (the way a pair of them react on one stage upon losing is absolutely adorable), the final boss encounter really took me by surprise, and I like how there is a lot of replay value.  I loved how the characters weren't simply palette swaps, and that they actually had differing animations and stats that made them stand out.  The various exits lead to different stages, and some of them will take a long time to access.  I only got one ending so far, but at the end after the credits have finished rolling they show you the results of your performance; you'll be shown how many fairies you gathered, how many doors you opened, how many exits you reached, and how much of the game you've completed.  Some fairies can be found by searching thoroughly in the stage; some of the foregrounds are breakable (there are ones that are obvious and ones that are concealed by blending with the scenery), and some fairies are found by accessing secret rooms once you access a colored door.  Most fairies are hard to find and collect, so stay alert and be careful.  There are different endings, too, and I'm curious as to what happens during them.  It has its glaring flaws, sure, and the inconsistent difficulty drove me off (I regularly have an easy time talking about a video game's difficulty most of the time), but in the end I had a good time with it.  It's fun, cute, charming, and very lighthearted.

I know what you may be thinking when earlier in this post: "fifth Super Famicom purchase"?  "What about your third and fourth SFC games?  Why didn't make an impressions post about them?"  For those that are curious, my third purchase was Gokujō Parodius! ~Kako no Eikō o Motomete~ and my fourth game was Tenchi Sōzō (known to many as Terranigma).  The reason I didn't share my impressions about the former is because I want to create a full-length review of that game (so don't expect news of it anytime soon), and the reason there isn't an impressions post made regarding the latter is because I lost my rought draft.  =(