Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Penguin-kun Wars 2 (MSX)

There's a chance you might have played the first Penguin-kun Wars game, which was ported to the NES and Game Boy and released in the west as King of the Zoo, but in case you haven't, it was about a fictional sport played by cute animals.

The sport itself (which doesn't have a name, as far as I can tell) is a kind of combination of bowling and dodgeball: the participants stand at either end of a flat plain, each starting with five balls. The aim is to roll the balls over to your opponent's side, with the winner being either the first to get all ten balls on their opponent's side, or the one with the least balls on their side when time runs out. Furthermore, if you hit your opponent with a ball, they're stunned for a few seconds (or vice versa, obviously).

In the first game, this was all there was to it. It had a sports tournament setting, and you simple faced off against increasingly skilled opponents as you advanced. The second game, however, has a (very simple) plot: you go to  the house of your friend to play, only to see them getting kidnapped! So you go off to rescue them. An additional cute touch is that you can pick a male or female penguin to play as, and the one you don't pick is who gets kidnapped. As you're not participating in a sports tournament this time, your opponents don't play fair. There are multiple areas (Mammal World, Insect World, Reptile World, etc.), each with a few opponents to beat. Most of your opponents have some kind of special ability that they have no qualms about abusing, such as the shark, who can't be stunned, instead turning red and ramping up the aggression if you hit him, or the ants, who's special ability is that there are two of them, so if you stun one, the other can still move. The exception is Mammal World, where the locals just seem to be mediocre players that you won't have too much trouble beating.

After you've beaten three opponents in an area, you fight that area's boss, who has even more unfair abilities. For example, the boss of Insect World is a centipede, who takes up his entire side of the field, can throw every ball he has at once and takes multiple hits before getting stunned. There's no versus mode, and I think that's probably for the best: though it's a kind of sports game at its core, Penguin-kun Wars 2 is structured more like a single player action game, with stages and boss fights and so on, and as such is balanced heavily against the player.

Before the review ends, it would be remiss to allow the presentation to go unmentioned, as it's pretty nice for a 1988 MSX game. Each stage has its own background, with an audience of whatever animals live there. One stage, Antarctic World, has a few humans in the crowd, which is odd. Another cool touch is that each stage has unique game over and stage complete screens. It really feels like the developers were enthusiastic about making this game, but unfortunately, that enthusiasm has mainly gone into including as many ideas and variations on the core mechanics as possible, with little regard as to how balanced it all is.

If you're a particularly big fan of the original, and you're desperately clamouring for more, then that's exactly what you'll get from this sequel. I can't help but feel that that's an incredibly tiny niche, though, even by the standards of this blog.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Hokuto no Ken 2: Seikimatsu Kyuseishu Densetsu (NES)

I wasn't aware of this when I started playing this game, but it did actually get localised and released in North America as Fist of the North Star, despite covering a part of the series that wouldn't get an official tranlation until many years later. But the JP version is the version I've played (since I picked up a real copy of it to play on my portable Famiclone), so that's what I'll be talking about. I haven't played the western version, but the reviews on GameFAQs all seem to be describing a completely different game to this one: one where the player has an infinitely regenerating health bar, and the first stage is an endless maze of secret rooms.

Anyway, it's a fairly standard single-plane beat em up in which you play as Kenshiro, and you go from left to right punching goons, until you get to a boss, who needs to be punched several times. A nice touch is that regular enemies and bosses alike will get a cool little death animation where they stand in place getting all warped and distorted for a second or two before shattering into many little pieces, just like in the show! It's a lot more effective than the deaths in the Mega Drive Hokuto no Ken game (also known in its mangled form as Last Battle), where the enemies just kind of fall backwards and turn into a little red splodge.

Anyway, once you figure out the little things like the power ups (tiny words float out of dead enemies. Collecting them increases your power, which mainly improves your movement and attack speed. Every twenty dead enemies fills up another meter bit-by-bit, and when you're at full power, your jacket explodes and you can toplessly shoot slightly useless projectiles) and the game's idiosyncratic collision detection (basically, only the tip of your fist/foot can hurt enemies, and only if it's touching the edge of their sprite), this is a pretty enjoyable game. Smashing enemies to bits is nice and satisfying, and all the bosses and sub-bosses have their own techniques and strategies. It's nothing special, but it's a fairly fun little romp.

What I like most about the game, though, is the way it looks. I've already mentioned the enemies' death animations, but Kenshiro himself has a very distinctive little sprite, the bosses all look unique, the backgrounds look like the gritty post-apocalyptic stone fortresses that they are, and so on. Anyway, it's by no means a classic, but it is a game that holds enough fun to justify the miniscule price it fetches online, and if you like super low resolution sprites and/or Hokuto no Ken, it's definitely worth a look.