Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sonic Blast Man (SNES) Review - Remembering a forgotten superhero of the 90's

Where were you when Sonic Blast Man arrived from a distant world to defend Earth from the likes of street thugs, asteroids and giant crabs?  Chances are the majority of my readers just gave a collective "What?"

You know, Sonic Blast Man! That rad arcade game where you put the boxing glove on to punch the sensor and defend the Earth? I doubt that rings a bell either. In fact, I don't recall even being aware that there was an arcade game until I encountered one of these rare machines on a class trip to Atlanta, long after I had played the Sonic Blast Man SNES game and its sequel, which is what I want to talk about today.

Sonic Blast Man is the story of a super hero from a distant planet that has come to save the planet Earth by 100 megaton punching runaway trains, thugs and asteroids, not unlike the Super Man origin story (less punchie). That's at least what we can gather from pretty much the only narrative the game offers.

The cover art reads "The Arcade Hit" which isn't exactly true or false. The main game is actually a side scrolling beat em up in the vein of Final Fight or Streets of Rage where you follow a given path clearing enemies as you go. Just as it is presented in the opening cutscene, you'll quickly learn that punching is Sonic Blast Man's specialty, which is oh so satisfying to dish out on street thugs, robots, aliens or whatever else the game throws at you.

Mass Effect fans, where else can you punch out some weird Turian/Krogan hybrids?

Sonic Blast Man has enough combo variations and special grabs in his arsenal to keep the punches rolling, however his slow walking speed makes getting within range a chore. Especially in later stages where the enemies duck in and out of the screen and flee as you advance, forcing all too many repetitive slow dances as you inch your way through combat. If only they thought to include a run or dash. Sometimes I felt like I needed to use one of the limited D. Punches, the screen clearing 100 megaton punch, to advance because chasing the enemies down was becoming too monotonous.

This guy is about to very much regret getting up this morning.

The stages from the arcade game appear as bonus stages after each level, called "Hit Stages." Like the arcade, you are presented with a single screen showing you an advancing threat that can naturally only be dealt with by smashing it with megaton punches. Such as an 18 wheeler about to run down a runaway baby carriage.

Since the Super Nintendo to my knowledge never came out with a punching glove and sensor apparatus the stages consist of you swirling the d-pad to fill a power meter as high as you can before a certain time limit runs out and then hitting b when the floating punch icon is over the target area. It's fun at first but quickly becomes physically tiring as you swirl your thumb with all your might to fill the power meter. The higher the difficulty the harder it is to fill the meter, but I found that even after switching back to easy for the bonus games my thumb was extremely fatigued. By the end of the game I was holding the controller upside down in my other hand to save my left thumb from breaking off.

Use 100 megaton punches on the Giant Enemy Crab's weak point for massive damage!

The sprites in this game are large, colorful, and impressively detailed. The size actually reminds me a lot of SNK titles like Art of Fighting. Until later in the game, most of the stages are the typical locales you've seen in the beat em up genre's past such as a street, sewer and factory. The music is generally pretty catchy and the sound effects give satisfying support to each devastating punch you deal out.

Despite Sonic Blast Man's arsenal of attacks, the mobility issues make this title come off as a very basic style of beat em up. It's not a bad game, but an unremarkable one, especially if you've honed your skills on games like Streets of Rage.

Pros:

-Sonic Blast Man has probably the most awesome super hero costume ever!
-Huge arcade style sprite work is nice to look at.
-Catchy tunes.
-Stages from the Arcade game included as a bonus (when you're not exhausted from playing them).
-Combat is satisfying (when you can catch up to the enemies).

Cons:

-Movement is sluggish to the point where catching up with enemies is difficult.
-Bonus stages hurt my hands to play for too long.
-No 2-player mode.
-The game overall doesn't really bring anything memorable to the table, aside from Sonic Blast Man's costume!


Next time on Sonic Blast Man....can the problems had with the original game be ironed out for the megaton smashing sequel, Sonic Blast Man 2? Visit again later to find out.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Retro Gaming Finds - April 6th

Evening everyone!

One of my favorite hobbies is searching flea markets (or dirt malls depending on where you hail from) and thrift markets for retro gaming items in the hopes of giving them a better home and much needed playing. I've decided to start making record of these adventures, good and bad, as well as information on better deals in my area for other collectors.

This weekend I set out to find a replacement Sega Genesis to fill the gap left by the passing of the original from my childhood. I set out with my brother (@Yoshieggpic on Twitter) to the Tri-Cities Flea Markets outside of Johnson City TN. I'm sorry I don't have any pictures from the trip itself, only the stuff I actually came home with.

The first booth we stopped at had a model 1 Genesis with Altered beast in the box with all original accessories, inserts and game. The condition was pretty spectacular but the asking price of $120 was a little steep for me and I was looking for one to play instead of display in a collection anyway.

The next booth had a model 2 Genesis in box with inserts and all accessories. It was supposed to include Vector Man and the box was pretty beat up so he was only asking for $25 for it. I got it out of the box to inspect and everything was in fantastic condition. No scuffs or anything on the console itself and the controller and cords felt like they had never been touched. Needless to say I was pretty excited, but unfortunately when I opened the cartridge slot it appeared that something had smashed one of the connectors down. He seemed just as let down as I was as I think he had accepted it as a trade earlier.


 The broken connector


This controller is in amazing condition
 

The next booth had a Genesis model 2 on display with no cords or accessories. It appeared to be in pretty good shape and the connectors looked great in this one. The seller said that it worked but he didn't have any of the cords for it, but since it was a risk on my part he was only asking $5 for it, along with a free controller, so I decided to give it a shot.

I went back to the other booth and asked if he would be willing to part with the box and cords of the other console and lucky enough he was for $10 and even included the broken console to see if I could do anything with it.

Score! Mission accomplished and I was only in $15 dollars. I prefer the original model Genesis, but I think the model 2 still looks cool too. I didn't see any games I needed anywhere so we cut the trip short after that.

Back at home, as expected, the console with the broken connector powers on but will not play anything. I may be able to bend it back with the right tool but I'm keeping it to the side for now. The other console works like a charm and I've been happily enjoying my Genesis collection since I got home.

The working console, still in pretty good shape

All the spoils from this trip

It was a great trip and I can't wait to visit again. Maybe I'll see what kinds of Master System stuff I can find next time.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Beyond Oasis Review

I remember fondly (sort of) the days of the 16-bit console wars and the arguments that would ensue over whether the Super Nintendo or the Sega Genesis was the better console and which had the better games. Often these "discussions" came down to software comparisons, some obligatory such as Super Mario World vs. Sonic The Hedgehog, and some not so, like Chrono Trigger vs. Phantasy Star IV. Whenever The Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past was mentioned though, there was one game that was almost always used as a counter.

Enter Beyond Oasis, otherwise known as The Story of Thor in other territories, and often regarded as a Zelda clone. It's a shame to me that this title lives in Zelda's shadow to many players of the 16-bit era. Yes, both titles sport a top down perspective, active combat, puzzle solving, and dungeon exploration. However, in my opinion, Beyond Oasis has enough differences for it to stand alone as its own unique title. 

That being said, I'll try my best not to make comparisons between the two. Both have great things going for them and in the end award very different experiences for the player. Instead, I would encourage you to read what I have to say and then give them both a try to decide for yourself if you so wish.

The story begins with the main character, prince Ali, doing a bit of treasure hunting, which you soon discover is one of his favorite hobbies. In a particular chest, he discovers a mysterious golden armlet and decides to try it on. Naturally the armlet becomes stuck and a mysterious spirit appears to warn you of a great evil descending upon the land. Suddenly a violent earthquake erupts and you narrowly escape the island cave before it's swallowed up by the ocean. After returning to town, a sudden monster attack sets the prophecy in motion. You soon find out from the King that it is your destiny to return the golden armlet to its full power and rid the world of this unknown evil. And so the adventure begins...







As stated above, combat is always live, meaning enemies will attack as soon as they notice you. Fortunately for you, Ali has a generous variety of attacks and special moves to deal with any mob you cross paths with.

The dagger, which is the default weapon, is also the most versatile. It cannot be broken or set down and has the longest list of special moves available. Tapping B makes you stab, but press it rapidly enough will make Ali kick rapidly. Holding B for a brief moment and releasing causes a powerful horizontal swipe that knocks enemies down. If you get surrounded, a quick 360 motion on the d-pad plus B gives you a quick spin slash that blows enemies back and grounds them. If you pressing B while running produces an even stronger swipe that launches enemies in a disorienting spin. The most powerful move, and my personal favorite, is the back flip, which is executed by pressing forward, back, forward and B. It hits multiple times and chunks some major damage.

On top of that, you can find extra weapons such as broadswords, crossbows and bombs, some of which have special extra effects. The downside to the alternate weapons is that they break and must be discarded after so many attacks. That is unless you're clever enough to find the rarest versions for your arsenal.

Joining Ali in battle are four elemental spirits you meet one by one by completing the game's dungeons. You can summon them into battle by shooting a ball of light from the golden armlet at their represented element. For example, hitting a flaming torch on a cave wall will summon the fire spirit, Efreet. Once the spirit is present, the A button allows you to issue commands. Pressing, tapping, or holding A will make the spirit unleash one of their special moves. Watch your magic meter!

Not only are they capable sidekicks in battle, but they also help you traverse the world around you and navigate dungeons. Unlike collecting equipment like in Zelda, the spirits act as your extra tools. Such as using Dytto, the water spirit, to extinguish a wall of flames, or Efreet to light torches. It's this spirit mechanic that gives the game a unique depth that's rare to the genre.

I was very impressed with the level of detail that went into summoning the spirits themselves. Most of the time there are obvious elemental sources to allow you to summon, but you can get creative as well. For example, you can toss a bomb and if you shoot a ball of light timed so it touches the flames of the explosion, you can summon Efreet. Every source of water makes it possible to summon Dytto, right down to the tiny droplets of water falling from the ceiling of a cave if timed correctly. The shadow spirit, Shade, can be summoned from the reflective surface of the great knight's armor. It really encourages you to explore the environment in detail. The only spirit that didn't seem to get this treatment is Bow, the plant/earth elemental. While plant life is in abundance in Oasis, you can only summon him from certain ones. I guess it would be too easy to summon him otherwise.

Overall the game is more focused on action than puzzle solving. While the dungeons are littered with puzzles, there's nothing that will leave you head scratching like in Zelda. Some of the more difficult segments of the game are actually platforming related, particularly later in the game when you're tasked with navigating small moving platforms. There's even a boss that takes place over a giant pit with a handful of flying platforms as your only means of staying alive. Thankfully falling down a pit doesn't kill you instantly but rather only takes a bit of damage. Regardless, the frustration is still there. The best method for surviving such trials is to be patient, time your jumps carefully and watch Ali's shadow as you fall.

Oasis is an open world and there's plenty to explore though it does become a bit linear once you sail to the northern region of the island. Thankfully once you meet Shade and gain access to the warp network (essentially fast travel) things open back up again, giving you the opportunity to visit past locals with your new spirits in tow.

Visually, Beyond Oasis is one of the nicest looking games on the Genesis. The backgrounds are colorful and full of detail and every sprite in the game is beautifully animated. The music was composed by famous Japanese composure Yuzo Koshiro and captures the feeling of grand adventure perfectly. The sound effects feel as though they were ripped right out of Streets of Rage, though they are slightly different. Ali actually sounds just like Axel.

If you're hungry for an action adventure, I highly recommend you give Beyond Oasis a try. Even if you decide Beyond Oasis is mere Zelda clone, I can safely guarantee the adventurer in you will have a blast seeing it through to the end.



Pros:

-Combat is fun and addictive.
-Beautiful graphics and animation.
-Sound track is grand and memorable.
-The spirit/summon system is unique and fun to utilize during gameplay.

Cons:

-Has some annoying platforming segments that can be difficult to traverse in this type of prospective.
-The journey becomes linear for a noticeable portion of the story.

Note:  The version I reviewed was my original Sega Genesis cartridge, but you can also find Beyond Oasis available on the Nintendo Wii e-shop and on the Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection disk for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.  I have all of these versions and find them all to be pretty much perfect ports of the original.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My thoughts on Sonic Boom

Today Sega has brought to light their plans for the new Sonic the Hedgehog spin-off titled Sonic Boom. The initial announcement was made late last year, along with a pesky teaser image featuring the silhouettes of the redesigned characters which set the internet ablaze in both good and bad speculations.

Now that the designs have been made public, as well as the plans for a TV show and Wii U/3DS games, I wanted to share my 2 cents as a long time Sonic fan.

When I first saw the teaser image, I was worried that the characters would now be wearing clothes, but as you can see the accessories they've adorned do little to distance the characters from their iconic designs. I'm actually digging Sonic's scarf. The belts and goggles go well with Tails' shift to the scientist/mechanic role we've become accustomed to since Sonic Adventure. As for Amy, she seems to sport a different outfit in every series spin-off so I was kind of expecting something like this.

The most jarring changes are obviously Sonic's blue arms and that Knuckles has doubled in height and mass. The arms I'm fine with, I mean it actually kind of makes sense if you look at a real hedgehog. Knuckles might be a little too big for my liking though. If it were toned back just a tad I would love it because I do like Knuckles as "the muscle" of the group.

I'm not sure what the deal is with the tape/bandages, mainly why they chose to wrap it around their shoes. Better traction? Who knows. It does seem a little much though. I think it works for Knuckles' look, but if they wanted to accent Sonic's hands I would have gone for some brown leather (possibly fingerless) gloves.

Those are my opinions, but I'm not really the target demographic for Sonic Boom. At least for the TV show anyway.  So what does the target audience think?  I showed it to my kids and they seem perfectly fine with the redesigns. They said "Knuckles looks big and cool" so he's cleared with them. After showing them the trailer for the show, I envision us religiously tuning in to new episodes of Sonic Boom as well as accumulating action figures from the toy line Sega promised. They loved it. Why do I suddenly feel even more in debt?

As for the game, Big Red Button Entertainment is leading the development of the Wii U version, while Sanzaru is working on the 3DS version. While I feel like Sonic Team has gotten Sonic back on track since Sonic Unleashed, I'm excited to hear that some western developers will be taking a crack at the franchise. It'll be interesting to see what new ideas they bring to the table.

Take a look at the trailers below and see what you think.

Sonic Boom TV series trailer:

Sonic Boom Video Game reveal trailer
 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bio Hazard Battle Review

Lately I've found myself addicted to shmups, usually of the horizontal scrolling space craft variety, but there's one in particular from my childhood that I keep returning to time and time again. There's certainly a feeling of nostalgia that lends itself to this title for me, but it has a lot going for it otherwise, particularly the sci fi, almost horror atmosphere this game creates. So tonight I want to share a little more about why I love Bio Hazard Battle for the Sega Genesis.


Bio Hazard Battle takes place on the fictional world of Avaron which has been overrun by horrendously mutated flora and fauna as a result of a planet wide "bio-war" that happened some time ago. It is your job to pilot one of four available "bio-ships" down to the surface to search for a suitable place for mankind to recolonize.

The game begins with you being dropped through the upper atmosphere from the colony ship. It becomes rapidly apparent that your stay on Avaron will not be a hospitable one. It's clear that the planet hasn't been able to repair itself from the aftermath of the bio-war as I'm pretty sure giant flying squid, centipedes and bees in the upper atmosphere couldn't be normal. The only option left then is to begin hunting the source of the mutations.

That's the story in a nutshell, which is delivered entirely by the game's manual and brief synopsis on the back of the box. There are no narratives or cutscenes during the game itself, so if you have a loose cartridge or your download didn't include a manual then you won't have much to go on. If you've played a lot of shmups though, you'll know that the story usually takes a back seat to the action anyway.

Gameplay wise, BHB ends up being exactly what you'd expect in any shmup. In the beginning you choose from a selection of 4 different bio-ships. Unfortunately there's no way of telling the differences between each ship from the selection screen, you'll have to rely on trial and error to decide which one you like best. After experimenting you'll find that the ships move at different speeds and have different sub weapons based on the colored seeds you collect. The differences aren't dramatic enough for one ship to be better than another, but so you can find the movement speed and sub weapon load out that best suits your play style.

If you're a veteran to the genre then BHB probably won't surprise you very much. The game doesn't really throw anything at you that you haven't already dealt with in other shooters. I feel like the game's favorite gimmicks are brief spurts of bullet hell while much larger enemies try to crowd the screen from either side.

Success comes much easier the better you are at controlling the external pod that fires your sub weapon, which rotates the ship opposite of your d-pad input. So in other words, if you move the ship backwards, it will swing to the front. It can be awkward at first but after a few plays you should get the hang of it. The pod is indestructible and absorbs enemy fire, so learning to use it as a shield becomes crucial in later stages. Each ship has its own charge blast, which is just about guaranteed to destroy any of the larger beasts that wander into the screen. The down side is that it takes roughly the same amount of time to charge the blast as it does a mega buster in a Mega Man game, but during this time neither your ship or your pod can fire. Even though it only takes a little over a second to charge you must be aware of your surroundings and enemy fire before doing so, which can make it a bit of a gamble towards the end of the game.

If any of that doesn't sound like your thing, I must at least recommend that you play the game for the music. BHB has some of the most amazing and chilling tracks in the Genesis library. They all do well to drive home the intended sci-fi horror atmosphere of a planet infested with grotesque flying worms and other entomophobic nightmare fuel. I'd like to note that the boss music is one of my all time favorite boss themes.

The sound effects are nicely done too, especially from defeating the larger enemies. They have this nice mixture of explosion-splatter that makes it really satisfying to take them down.

The graphics themselves are sort of hit and miss. While the bio-ships and enemies are beautifully drawn and nicely animated, the backgrounds can be a bit bland. Some do stand out though, such as the jungle and under-sea missions. The bosses are nice to look at but don't offer any sort of challenge. Other than the nice sprite work they can come off a bit disappointing in practice.

If you're a hard core shmup enthusiast, this game may be a bit of a mediocre experience for you. However, I do feel like the difficulty is at a comfortable enough level for me to recommend it to someone who may just be getting into the genre. As I said above, I do recommend that anyone give the game a try to at least experience the music and the atmosphere it creates. I feel like that's what really pulls me back to this game time and time again.

Pros:

-Awesome music and sound effects.
-Controls are precise and live up to the standards of any great shmup.
-2 player simultaneous co-op.
-Great animation and creature art.

Cons:

-Might be considered too easy or mediocre if you're a shmup enthusiast.
-No in game ship statistics or listings of sub weapons.
-No in game narrative. The ending may be a bit of a let down too.
-Backgrounds are a little bland.

Note: The version I reviewed was my original Sega Genesis cartridge but the game is available for download on the Nintendo e-shop and on the Steam network. I have not played those versions, but I've heard from other sources that they are pretty much perfect ports.

Review Policy

As I'm about to publish my first game review of 2014, I thought it might be important to explain my policy on game reviews going forward.

It's a bit of a lengthy read, but if you frequent here it might give you more trust in the reviews I do.

To read it, click the button in the navigation above, or simply click here.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Maintenance

Please bare with me while I make some behind the scenes improvements as well as experiment with some different layout options. I'm also thinking of ways to improve navigation.

Anyway, I just wanted to give notice in case someone was browsing and things started moving around. As always, thanks for visiting!