Fanzines and Fatal Fury

I grew up reading the likes of C&VG, Super Play, and Edge, and like many people at the time I longed to do something similar myself – I only lacked the talent, time, and a computer to create my amazing and “hilarious” fanzine with. Fast forward twenty (!!) or so years later and I now find myself with a computer of my very own, which is why I’m able to share the aberrations below with you. They’re written “in character”, and the page design I’ve been holding myself to is “90’s UK gaming magazine via Sonic the Hedgehog’s Japanese cover” so, uh, enjoy?

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Kimimi’s adventures in Rockman 2 land

OK, confession time: until a few day ago I’d never played a Rockman game.  Technically I had, but only in a “Right what’s all the fuss about then? *fiddles with game* *gets distracted by something shiny*” sort of way, rather than properly sitting down with a specific single title and spending more than five whole minutes on it. Just about everyone I asked told me to play Rockman 2 if I was only going to play one of them, and so that’s what I did (Japanese standalone Playstation port for convenience’s sake, hence the watermarks on the screenshots below).

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I wasn’t expecting much to be honest, so I was surprised to find myself having a good time! The stages are actually quite short once you’ve stopped dying in them and the chunky sprites worked well within the NES’ limitations, making for an expressive cast with more superfluous animations than I was expecting from a game published at the tail end of 1988 on a relatively weedy console. The music wasn’t bad either, although as a lady raised on delicious 80’s Euro chiptune I don’t think I’ll ever really find a stock-hardware NES soundtrack that clicks with me.

I found the “defeat the boss, get their weapon” system… OK. In some parts I was shocked at how well they thought it through – using the Leaf Shield to clog Airman up was such a stroke of real-world common sense I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see logic like that applied in a game today, never mind decades ago, and the rest generally rewarded players that applied a little thought or had paid attention to weaponry behaviour beforehand.

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Then came Quickman (yes I’m going to complain about Quickman).

It’s as if the reason why everything else in the game is so progressive and fun is because they took all the usual 80’s platformer traps and, unable to destroy the vile monster they had created, imprisoned it within a single stage instead. I have no problem with games being hard - I like hard. What I do have a problem with is blind memorisation trying to pass itself off as skilful play. A stage designed to be hard-but-fair would allow you to see where the danger lies beforehand and make the challenge how to negotiate it safely (Heatman’s instakill lava pits, for example), or it’d be obvious where the enemy was coming from and you’d have time to react (Woodman’s robo-chicken things). However Quickman’s BS Energy Lasers Of Doom expect you to have positioned yourself correctly before you’re even on the same screen as the lasers you’re falling in to.

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When Rockman 2’s not assuming its players are masters of clairvoyance I thought it was an exciting and creative adventure, but there are times when it slips into the worst of 80’s platforming ruts – and ultimately a stage-long memory test isn’t something I enjoyed back then and I certainly don’t have the patience for it now, which is why this game’s been shelved while I go and find a slightly more balanced gaming experience, like whatever SNK can come up with.

But the good news is I can at least now see why people think so fondly of it even if I’ll probably never finish the game myself, so all in all I’ll consider this little history lesson 600-ish yen well spent.

Little (OK, *big*) oddities: Biohazard 2 trial edition

Those of you who’ve been polite or unfortunate enough to visit my blog and/or Twitter for a while now might know that I’m really quite fascinated by unused and other leftover content hiding away on regular retail games, which is why popping over to check the latest TCRF updates is practically a daily necessity for me. I’ve even done a bit of digging myself in the past, looking at a few Falcom games and divining insignificant tidbits from early Alisia Dragoon images. This blog post is along the same sort of lines, with me poking my nose where it’s not supposed to go and finding… well, you’ll see!

I bought Biohazard: Director’s Cut because I figured I may as well give in and be the crazy Biohazard lady everyone apparently thinks I am – an assumption that isn’t going to be helped when I tell you that the first thing I did after receiving it was pop the accompanying Biohazard 2 trial edition disc into my laptop and go rifling through the files in search of whatever the hell was on there that Capcom didn’t want anyone to see.

To be honest, I expected to find somewhere between nothing and stuff all – perhaps a few duplicated textures with the word 仮 (temporary) scribbled on them and a load of empty disc space. I was wrong. Really wrong.

A quick aside before we get stuck in: I’m probably (OK, definitely) not the first to find these things, and let’s be clear – I didn’t do anything more than poke around the disc using tools people far more intelligent than myself had already created and kindly distributed for the rest of us to use (Biofat in this case) – but I still thought it’d be a little interesting to share and compare a few things anyway.

Let’s start with… a cabinet tucked away in a corner, shall we? Whoo~, exciting! Or maybe not. In the final (shown on the right), the door they added here takes you up an outside staircase and up to the second floor – very handy, so this was probably added to make getting around a little easier, right?

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Wrong. Right. Well, sort of both.

This extra staircase wasn’t necessary in the beta because as these rough drafts show (also found on the trial disc) the main hall was designed very differently and had staircases that could take you up to the second floor on either side without any trouble. I imagine (being the operative word here) this was changed simply because they couldn’t think of a not-contrived way of making the upper levels not immediately accessible, or to encourage players to follow a more restricted path.

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Other places clearly in a “We’ll just hide our unfinished work here where nobody will ever find it” state include the elevator-car-thing that takes you down to the lab (for these next few, left image:trial disc, right: final) :

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As well as “Place towards the end with the tedious elevator/box-pushing puzzle in it”.

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And the last placeholder one we’ll look at here so I can get this blog post out before the sun goes cold; a set (totalling seven different images) that are obviously some poor soul’s work-in-progress “zombie-infested street” design.

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Then the trial disc content starts to get really weird.

Biohazard 1.5 weird.

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For the uninitiated, “Biohazard 1.5” was the game intended to be Biohazard 2 until [some unknown people at] Capcom decided that it wasn’t an awesome enough follow-up to the game that coined the term “survival horror” and so they threw everything out and started from scratch. Almost, anyway. Some of the lab areas are actually identical to their 1.5 counterparts (frozen room where you find the fuse) or with a minor redesign (monitor room, Birkin’s lab), but I digress.

I thought the sensible thing to do after stumbling across these images would be to have a pootle around the leaked (and clearly unfinished) 1.5 beta myself, mostly to prove that I wasn’t going mad but also to match up these unused trial disc files to proper in-game locations. You can see a few examples of this morning’s handiwork below:

(Trial disc background on the left, equivalent Biohazard 1.5 location on the right)

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But as it turns out the trial disc still wasn’t done dishing out delicious secrets yet, as when I checked this (ridiculous) conveyor belt room in the 1.5 leak I thought it looked similar to some backgrounds I’d seen on the trial disc…

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...and the reason why the area looked a little strange was because the trial disc backgrounds are actually from a later stage of development! Compare the images below to see how much detail had been added between the two:

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There’s that much lurking in here I could waffle on forever, so to save everyone from that particular torture I’ve decided to upload all the trial disc backgrounds in a handy zipped folder here instead (do tell me if there’s any trouble with the link).

Why is Biohazard 1.5 still so tantalising anyway? Well, it’s a so-close-we-could-almost-taste-it alternative to game that sold millions, a little “what if” moment in gaming trapped in digital amber and sandwiched between two of the biggest Playstation titles of all time. It’s also because, as with all betas, us gamers can’t help but use our imaginations to fill in the blanks (and there are still an awful lot of those in 1.5’s case) and anything we don’t like we can pretend is “just because it’s a beta” or something they would have fixed before release. The fact is though is that nobody scraps a big-budget (for the time) project 70% of the way through production if everything’s coming together beautifully, so while it’ll always be interesting to read whatever we can about 1.5 (and an official design document/making of book would be wonderful) it’s also good to remember that the best version of Biohazard 2 is actually the one we got.

Kimimi’s Hall of Shame: Playstation 2 edition

It may come as no surprise to learn that I’m quite fond of videogames, and have been since… since always, really. Unfortunately enthusiasm for my hobby and having the free time to actually do something about it rarely match up, and over the years I’ve amassed more games than I should probably admit to not finishing (or in some cases, not even starting). In any case, I’m hoping that this first attempt at publicly humiliating myself will give me the drive I need to get around to playing them sooner rather than later, or if nothing else give everyone reading a reason to poke me for being such a fickle and unfocused gamer.

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Shame #1: Phantasy Star: Generation 1

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How could I not buy this, a lovingly-crafted remake of the game that started one of Sega’s biggest RPG series and the start of what could arguably be the greatest retro-remake series of all time?! It also comes with a special folder to store all the info cards that came with each game (although they stopped making those after a while) and generally looks pretty spiffy all round. So how come I’ve not finished this yet? Simple! My sense of direction is roughly on a par with a spinning top after a pint of vodka, making traversing the first-person dungeons of the Algol System incredibly difficult – and I always forget to go searching the net for maps!

 

Shame #2: Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner

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This is the “worst” game on my list, as I’ve not even opened this one! It’s not through lack of interest – Atlus’ PS2-era RPGs were always achingly stylish – but because I keep picking it up and thinking “I really will buy part two one day and play them through back-to-back. Wouldn’t that be an awesome thing to do?”. I first said that to myself several years ago, and I still haven’t remembered to actually do that (You may wonder why I don’t sort that out now – let’s just say “Steam Summer Sale”).

 

 

Shame #3: Deka Voice

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Who doesn’t want to play a so-stylish-it-hurts cel-shaded noir-esque detective voice-controlled game with a dog sidekick (why yes, I am paid by the hyphen*)? Unfortunately Deka Voice’s setting is a little too adult to play with my son around, and trying to command a German Shepard to search for drugs in Japanese is something my husband would find hilarious. I could take refuge and play it through the relative privacy of my laptop… only PCSX2 doesn’t recognise USB headsets, and voice commands aren’t an optional extra in this wonderful title.

*lies: I’m not paid at all

 

Shame #4: Tori no Hoshi: Aerial Planet

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Waitaminute! What’s this doing on here?! Didn’t I blog about it a while ago? Well, this one really isn’t my fault – I was making steady progress, I knew all my spacebird behaviours and I could fly my glider like a pro! Then… then my PS3 decided that it was tired of functioning properly and decided life would be better all round if it could force me to format the hard drive. Utterly crushed by this unexpected defeat when I almost hard the game beat, I’ve not been able to work up the mental fortitude to seriously dive back in since.

 

 

Shame #5: Super Robot Taisen OG Gaiden

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Like any woman, I love the idea of using giant Japanese robots, mechs, and whatever the hell else is in this game battling against each other in an SRPG environment. I also love grabbing a giant limited edition box that contains a groovy poseable robot figure (not pictured). Unfortunately I’ve never played any of the Original Generation games, and as such I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on. At all. I also know next to nothing about giant robots/mechs other than this little nugget: building Gundam kits is an excellent way to turn your fingertips into scalpel-hewn shells of their former selves. OG Gaiden continues to sit on the shelf and taunt me, and will probably continue to do so for a while yet.

 

Shame #6: Elvandia Story

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This one piqued my interest for a rather unusual reason – the composer list is really very impressive! The music for this pretty SRPG is credited to Noriyuki Iwadare, Norihiko Hibino, and Yoshitaka Suzuki. If those names don’t ring a bell then their work definitely will: Lunar, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Bayonetta respectively, and that’s not even scratching the surface of their collective efforts. So why haven’t I dedicated some special time to hear their work in this game? Simple: contrary to popular opinion I am only human and there’s sometimes just not enough Kimimi to go around!

 

 

Shame #7: Mojibribbon

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So how do you follow up games about rapping dogs, guitar-playing lambs, and dancing wireframe rabbits? With a calligraphy-inspired rapping inkblot, that’s how! Mojibribbon’s a beautiful and brilliant game that’s just bursting with the sort of creativity that makes me proud to champion this hobby… unfortunately I was born under the “Dancing Dad at Disco” star and as such I lack any sense of rhythm whatsoever.

 

 

 

Shame #8: Shining Force Neo

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Unlike a lot of Sega fans I don’t want to cast this game into a fiery pit just for being a Shining Force game that’s not an SRPG, and I don’t even really mind it being an OK-but-not-spectacular relaunch/retelling of the Mega Drive classic. It’s just sort of “there”: hanging around and making me look bad. From what I remember I just got distracted by a game that was a bit shinier and/or a bit more exciting and never got back around to finishing it even though I also have the official guide lurking around here somewhere (it’s about the size and weight of a large tank, in case you were wondering).

 

 

Shame #9: Radiata Stories

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From what I can recall this game lets you kick a dog. I remember nothing else.

Nice cover though.

 

 

 

 

Shame #10: Rebirth Moon

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I keep telling myself I like Idea Factory RPGs (and I really -sort of- do), especially when I can get my hands on fancy boxes stuffed with all sorts of neat extras. But then I never seem to find the time to, y’know, actually play them. In my defence I have finished several of their other games, just not this one. Or any of their other PS2 RPGs that are gathering dust on my shelves. My bad.

 

 

 

Time to turn in my gaming badge or should I get stuck in? Got a favourite here or your own pile of shame? Let me know!

A little look at… Pop’n Tanks

Released only in Japan (like so many games on this blog) during the tail end of the Playstation’s life, Pop’n Tanks is a quirky little one-off title that takes the terrifying premise of life-and-death tank warfare and turns it in to an adorable all-ages arena battler.

The game was published by Enix and developed by Symbio - don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them before now, as this is the only game they’ve ever publicly put their name to. They’re currently known as Symbio Systems, and looking at their official website it appears that after Pop’n Tanks they turned their hand to more “invisible” development, working to produce software for other companies and their products. That may not sound very rock’n’roll, but on the other hand they’ve actually survived the last fifteen years which is more than can be said for an awful lot of other developers who released games in 1999.

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The chunky designs, uncluttered textures, and fenced-in arenas all work well within the Playstation’s limitations, and the overall effect is of a bright and sunny action game with bags of character. It’s certainly not on the visual level of games like Vagrant Story (what is?), but there are some neat little touches such as animated water textures that help bring an already vibrant game to life.

The arenas you wage colourful warfare in are a varied lot with their own lumps, bumps, and buildings to duck behind for a bit of cover. Fortunately tedious games of cat-and-mouse are avoided thanks to the ability to blow up just about anything in your field of vision, and as destroyed buildings occasionally house extra special ammo crates or recovery items there are many split-second decisions to be made that encourage players to dash across open terrain and generally play in an engaging and active manner.

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“Tank controls” usually brings to mind a certain zombie-based game series, and is often used in a derogatory manner. Nobody likes tank controls (or so I’m told). So it’s good news all round then to learn that Pop’n Tanks control scheme is relatively un-tank-like and makes for a fast and fluid experience; with players whizzing around the battlefield and firing off a cheeky shot to the side as they speed off towards a health pickup.

Damage-dealing in these armoured tussles comes in two main varieties – standard shots and special attacks. Standard shots come from a pool of ammo represented by little yellow bullets underneath your health bar, once this has been emptied there’s a short delay while your driver automatically refreshes your unlimited supplies. Special attacks are far more limited, with only two available at the start of a round and these can only be restocked using ammo crates found inside destroyed buildings. The reason for this restriction is that these attacks are far more damaging than your usual firepower, although to keep things balanced they’re much harder to actually hit your opponent with.

While the execution’s a little out of the ordinary having tanks shooting at things isn’t really an unexpected turn of events, so as is appropriate for a game with tanks shaped like desserts and incredibly cute drivers Pop’n Tanks adds another move to your not-Bonaparte's arsenal, a little bunny-hop style jump that will temporarily stun your opponent as well as squishing them flat in a satisfying manner – although it should be used with care as missing will leave you vulnerable to counterattacks.

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As if the sheer joy of racing around and blowing up everything in sight wasn’t enough to hold your interest, Symbio were gracious enough to include a variety of modes to accommodate all your tank-busting moods, from Story Mode’s more straightforward arcade tournament style to Tank World’s in-depth customisation, as well as Quick Battle/Customs Battle modes for those times when you just want to blow things up in brightly-coloured death machines. Split screen versus scuffles are available in the Quick Battle and Custom Battle modes, meaning anyone lucky enough to rope in a second player can enjoy fights with both the pre-made characters as well as pitting their hard-won custom World Tank creations against each other too.

Sometimes we want games to transcend their medium and become art. Sometimes we want games to tell us a story we’ll still be talking about in years to come. Pop’n Tanks does neither of those things. What Pop’n Tanks does do, and do very well, is be damned good fun - careening about the place and blowing things up is always a pleasurable experience, and the bright-n-breezy style is inviting and encouraging. It doesn’t require knowing or practising anything particularly tricky before you starting feeling in control or doing well, and the game is balanced well enough that losses against either another player or the CPU always feel down to a lack of skill rather than poor vehicle choice or getting caught by a cheap attack. Even better for the import-curious is that there’s not an awful lot of Japanese text in the game, meaning I can happily recommend Pop’n Tanks to anyone looking for an exciting and accessible Playstation experience.