Sunday, 18 February 2018

Super Bubble 2003 (Arcade)

There's an unusual story behind this post: a total stranger on Youtube sent me a message saying that the only information they could find on it anywhere were short video clips, and asked if I could write a post about it. I'd never heard of it before, and looked up those short video clips, and it looked okay, so here this post is.

For a long long time, I've lamented that I would often see screenshots of freemium MMORPGs and mobile phone games from Korea with really, incredibly good pixelart and sprites, always sad that there was this pool of talent there was was a perfect fit for cool, fun, arcade-style games, seemingly doomed to an eternity of their art being wasted in a world of nickel-and-diming micro-transactions and grind-based games. Meanwhile, Korean arcade games had a reputation for not only being incredibly low in quality, but also for stealing art assets from western and Japanese games. Super Bubble 2003 bucks both trends by not only being okay to play, but by having all-original (as far as I can tell) artwork!

And that artwork is truly excellent. All the characters are super-cute and well-animated, the points items are all lovingly rendered sprites depicted various foods, everything's bright and colorful without being garish; it's all just really high quality. I think the only negative thing I can say about this game, visually speaking, is that there's no visible life counter! The music and sound effects are pretty unremarkable, if you're wondering.

As for how it plays: it's a Bubble Bobble clone. Like most BB clones, it doesn't, as far as I can tell, copy the original's Druaga-esque system of byzantine secrets-within-secrets, only the core mechanics of trpping enemies in bubbles and popping them for points items. It does a pretty good job of it, though, and it does add a couple of other things to the formula, too: there's a tug-o-war minigame that appears when you collect a magic wand, and a giant/invincible mode that happens when you collect a bootleg Superman icon. The minigame is pretty much impossible to win, as far as I can tell though, so I have no idea what the prize is. The giant/invinciblity power up is nice, having its own super-cute sprites rather than just blowing up the regular-sized ones.

It's got a very steep difficulty curve that almost instantly shoots right up after you finish the first set of fifteen stages. I shamefully have to admit that I credit-fed up to the mid-30s to take screenshots, but I find credit-feeding incredibly boring so stopped there. It's proper difficulty, though: it doesn't change the rules on you or any other underhand tactic like that. With a lot of practice and skill, you could totally 1cc this game eventually. Whether or not it's a recommended play hinges, I guess, on your tolerance for that sort of thing, possibly tempered by your desire to see super-cute sprites. Give it a try, I guess?

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

All Star Pro Wrestling (PS2)

I'm sure you're aware that there are plenty of older games that look a lot better, and ever have certain graphical effects that only work properly on an older CRT TV. Some, like old rhythm games are actually borderline unplayable on flatscreen TVs, for various reason to do with refresh rates and the like. However, All Star Pro Wrestling is the first videogame that feels like it was made to not only be played on a CRT TV, but more specifically a black and white one from the 1970s.

This is despite the fact that most of the wrestlers featured in it were current at the time of its release in 2000 (though, since i know nothing about Japanese wrestling of that period, I can't tell you anything about them). It's just so incredibly austere in its presentation that it looks and feels like a tv broadcast from three decades earlier than its release date. If Jim Cornette were ever to play a wrestling videogame (despite his hatred for "videogame marks"), this would be the one he'd play. There's no gimmick matches(not even tag matches! There's nothing but singles matches on offer), barely any music, no finishing moves, no flashy entrances, absolutely no concessions towards the idea that wrestling is a form of entertainment and not a legitimate sport.

The game itself makes no concessions towards being entertainment, either, being an absolute chore to actually play. There's the controls, first of all, which are entirely mapped to the analogue sticks. You move with the left stick, and attack (or sometimes run to the ropes, if that's what your wrestler feels like doing) with the right stick. To grapple, you press L3 and R3 together, while standing so close to your opponent you're already touching them. When while grappling, you use the right stick to do a move, which will almost always be a snapmare, an Irish whip, or a backdrop, no matter what you do or which wrestler you're controlling. (Note: there is apparently an alternate control scheme that uses the buttons, but it also uses the universally terrible touch sensitivity feature the PS2's face buttons had that was so bad that Sony asked developers not to use it after a couple of years).To make matters worse, all this happens so slowly that you'd think the wrestlers were submerged in a vat of treacle.

This game was part of the second half of Squaresoft's "experimental period", which started on the Playstation with the likes of Einhander, Racing Lagoon and Tobal No. 1, and ended in the early days of the Playstation 2 with the likes of this, Driving Emotion Type-S and The Bouncer. You've probably figured out by now that I do not recommend it, and it might even be the worst 3D wrestling game I've ever played. There must have been an audience for slow, boring wrestling games in turn-of-the-century Japan, however, as it somehow sold enough copies to get two sequels.