Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Bomb Boat (Playstation)

This game's title, in isolation, might lead you, like me, to assume that it might be some kind of military simulation game, or maybe a nautically-themed shooting game. It's actually some thing completely different, and, some would say, slightly unoriginal: Bomb Boat is a maze game about a hungry yellow blob eating stuff while avoiding ghosts.

That is a little harsh, actually, as Bomb Boat does have a couple of its own little gimmicks, and they're right there in the title, even: bombs and boats! The mazes of which each stage is composed are weird little docks, with solid stone parts connected by flimsy wooden bridges. Your means of defence against the ghosts is to drop bombs, bomberman-style, on the ground. On solid ground, the bomb's blast will just stun any nearby ghosts for a couple of seconds, which is useless. However, a bomb that explodes on a bridge destroys the bridge, as well as any ghosts standing on it, scoring you points and getting a ghost or two out of the way for a short time. Furthermore, the bridge will reappear a few seconds later with an item upon it! These are usually just points-granting fish, but there's a few power-ups in there too, like speed-ups, temporary invincibility, and so on. I'm not sure if there's any relationship between simultaneous ghost sinking and the quality of items that appears.

The boats are a lot simpler, though. Each stage has a bunch of them dotted around in pre-determined places. You step onto one and it'll take you in a straight line until it hits another bit of path. Assuming the levels have been designed with enough care, theoretically, someone with a lot of patience might be able to figure out the best route around each stage, to maximise ghost killing and boat-riding for the quickest, most efficient way of getting through the game. I highly doubt anyone has ever been so dedicated to a mediocre Japan-only budget-price Playstation game released at the end of the console's life though.

Bomb Boat isn't a bad game, but I still can't recommend it. There's just no excitement, no hook, nothing to it at all. It would have been a forgotten also-ran if it had been released in 1982, let alone 2002.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Cosmic Epsilon (NES)

When it was released in 1985, Space Harrier was one of, possibly the most graphically impressive videogame that had ever been released up until that point. It would obviously, then, be absurd to try and match it on an 8-bit home console originally released in 1983, even with a few more years of advancement in programming know how. And Cosmic Epsilon is no exception to that: it looks nowhere near as good as arcade Space Harrier. It is still one of the most graphically impressive Famicom games I've ever seen, though, and it does have one cool little trick that Space Harrier doesn't. But I'll get back to that later.

As you've probably worked out, 1989's Cosmic Epsilon is an into-the-screen sprite scaling-style shooting game (though since it's on the Famicom, it has to fake the sprite scaling, though that's no point of shame: remember that Space Harrier II on the Mega Drive had to do the same). You fly forwards, shooting enemies and avoiding their shots, of course. There's a couple of extra gameplay gimmicks in there too, compared to Space Harrier, like the ability to charge up your weapon, making your shots more powerful for a few seconds, as well as a limited use missile weapon that's presumably more powerful, but never seems to hit anything, so we'll never know for sure.

I've read a few other reviews of this game dotted around the internet, and one thing always seems to come up: the difficulty level. Well, two things, but they're related, as the other is the player's massive hitbox, which is a major contributing factor to the game's high difficulty. At first, I was a little sceptical, since I easily managed to get past the first stage on my first attempt. It was only after several failed attempts to get past the second that I realised the veracity of all the complaints of those who came before me. I even looked up the level select cheat so I could take a few more varied screenshots for this review! (As an interesting bit of trivia, the level select cheat is performed by inputting the famous Konami code backwards on the titles screen. Inputting it the right way round just flashes up the message "I AM NOT KONANI", which is slightly amusing).

Other than the difficulty, though, this game is a joy to play: it's smooth, it's fast, everything works how it should, and it generally just feels good. Getting back to the graphics, it also looks amazing! A lot better in motion than in still screenshots,though. And the graphical gimmick I mentioned back in the first paragraph? It's the ground: unlike Space Harrier's abstract grids, the floor in Cosmic Epsilon shows actual places! There's roads, shorelines, cracked earth and lava flows, even a high-altitude stage where you're flying above a lightly cloudy sky. All of this is conveyed to you in the form of patterns of big, differently coloured squares, but nonetheless, it's an effect that works, and really gives the game a sense of place.

So I definitely recommend Cosmic Epsilon. It's one of the most impressive games on its host system, and it's actually fun to play in its own right too.