Monday, 24 July 2017

Iblard Laputa no Kaeru Machi (Playstation)

It's another one of those ~aesthetic~ Playstation games, like previous Lunatic Obscurity entry Kaze no Notam, and while Kaze no Notam was vaguely inspired by the work of artist Hiroshi Nagai, Iblard Laputa no Kaeru Machi is explicity and specifically based on the work of artist Naohisa Inoue, right down to his paintings appearing in some stages as clues.

Besides being an artistic showcase, Iblard is also a first-person adventure game featuring simple puzzles, which are mainly solved by using the right item in the right place. It's actually a lot like a version of Yumemi Mystery Mansion, but set outside and with realtime 3D graphics instead of prerendered FMV fakery, and it is actually from the same developer as both Mystery Mansion games. There are seperate stages, and each one only includes a few items to use and a few items to work with, meaning that all the puzzles are very easy to solve: even if you somehow don't figure them out, it won't take long to get through with trial and error. Another nice thing is that though there's some text and spoken dialogue, there's very little, and you don't need to understand any of it to get anywhere (at least, not in the few stages I've played through).

A quick image search for "Naohisa Inoue" brings up lots of paintings of incredibly idyllic fairyland gardens overflowing with flowers, and those are the environments you'll be exploring in this game. Although there are some minor hazards, they're both easy to avoid and very unlikely to kill you, and they seem to be there simply as some kind of token gesture towards being a traditional videogame. The visuals and music and lack of real threats combine to make a very safe-feeling environment, and everything's very cosy and dreamlike. If you've ever been in either a very verdant garden or a very overgrown bit of forest on a sweltering hot summer afternoon, this game's got a similar feel, to the extent that you can almost feel the pollen going up your nose.  I think the low-poly models and low-resolution textures really help that feeling, and that this would be a very different game were it made at any other time in the advancement of videogame technology.

Iblard Laputa no Kaeru Machi is a game that's completely devoid of excitement, and isn't interesting mechanically, either. However, it is a perfect example of how a game can still be good and worthwhile while not being "good" in any kind of traditional sense. It perfectly creates an atmosphere and the simple puzzles are in there for two reasons: firstly, they give you a reason to fully explore each stage, as solving the puzzles will mean going to each part at least once. Secondly, they create a (very mild) feeling of being a little bit lost in a nice, though strange, place, a feeling which is helped by the fact that the map works like an actual map: there's not movie "you are here" dot, and instead you have to look at certain landmarks on the map and then look for them in the stage to get your bearings. Though it might not be the easiest game to track down, I strongly recommend that you do.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Wiz n Liz (Mega Drive)

Videogames magazines of the early to mid 1990s had something of a strange vendetta against platform games. Even unquestioned classics like Gunstar Heroes, Contra Hard Corps and Alien Soldier would get average-at-best reviews from a lot of magazines, simply for looking like platform games. Obviously, this meant that there were great games that fell by the wayside, and since they never had the series or developer associations that those games had, they never gained the renown they deserved. Wiz n Liz is one such game.

Though it's a UK-developed game that was only ever released on home systems, it could honestly stand up alongside the best single player arcade games, as it is purely about going fast and scoring points. I'd even go as far as to say that with a different aesthetic, the game's design could totally be used to make a perfect Sonic arcade game! The main meat of the game is running arond the stages, which are only a few screens across, rollercoaster-like in design and looping (kind of like the multiplayer stages in Sonic 3), where you collect rabbits, which turn into letters. The first task of each stage is to collect the letters to spell a word at the top of the screen, once that's done, you just have to collect the rest of the rabbits (who now turn into clocks, fruit, and stars, all of which I'll explain shortly) and go to the exit as fast as possible, you have to do two or three rounds of this per stage, depending on the difficulty level. There's no enemies, other than very easy bossfights that occur every eight stages, and your only threat is the time limit.

You start the game with two minutes, and your remaining time carries over from stage to stage. When it runs out, you lose a life, but there are various ways to claw back the seconds. The main two are the clocks that the rabbits drop during the stages, as each one will give you three seconds back at the end of the round, and a glowing time orb worth thirty seconds that appears in a random place on the stage whenever you get down to lesst than ten seconds left on the clock. Now that the clocks have been explained, I should do the other two items, right?

The stars don't really do anything on their own, other than give you points, but with the aid of certain fruits and vegetables, they can do a lot more! The fruits and veg, you see, are spell components, and between stages, you put two of the food items in your posession into a cauldron to get various different effects. This is where the game hides and almost Bubble Bobblian level of secret stuff: as well as item shops where you can spend you hard-won stars on more fruit, extra lives and a few more precious seconds, there's at least three mini-games that can be played for more points, level skips, a fake game over screen and various other weird things. Though obviously, a player who wanted to maximise their score would go online to look up a list of all the recipes for the most useful spells, I would honeslty advise against doing this, as there's a lot of fun to be had in getting a different surprise between every stage, and of course, the world seems a lot bigger when you don't know exactly how much there is in it, right?

Obviously, Wiz n Liz is a game I completely recommend you go and play as soon as possible. It really is a double shame that it never got an arcade release back when it came out, and that it doesn't have the cultural cache to ever get any kind of remake or rerelease on modern consoles. It's a game that excels in pretty much every department and deserves to be much more famous than it is.