Outpatient Article: Under The Knife – Sword Master (NES) Review

By Krooze L-Roy

(parenthesis are jails for words [and brackets are prisons])

While I find it impossible to believe that Sword Master has, at any point in history, been someone’s favorite game, neither can I visualize any form of creature who couldn’t get at least thirty solid minutes of good fun out of it.

A moments repose on the title screen will initiate perhaps the greatest story sequence ever programmed into a video game cartridge. Delivered without the tiresome burden of text, this sequence is a montage of overtly fearsome demons, openly evil wizards, unambiguously distressed damsels, and a phalanx of what are unmistakably skeleton warriors, all set to a rousing piece of adventurous music. This a game that knows it’s own identity.

Gameplay is equally direct, to the point where I don’t need to waste any valuable language in describing it, since the above screenshot tells you absolutely everything you need to know. Be this as it may, there’s a bit more depth than you may be inclined to believe, and the game is far from brainless. You character is in possession of an EXP gauge, so right there the game is every bit as brainy as any RPG. Sword fights too are more than the button mashing you’d probably expect, requiring fancy jumping strikes, hasty retreats, well-timed blocks, and potent overhead swings. These fights can actually be fairly intense and challenging. Continue reading

Outpatient Article: Under The Knife – No One Can Stop Mr Domino! (PS1) Review

By Krooze L-Roy

(Self-Unemployed and Dependently Wealthy)

Ahhhh, Artdink. If there was ever a developer after my own heart, Artdink would probably be jealous. Granted, the eccentric developer really only had two games I loved (the game in question, plus Tail of the Sun), but I loved those games as if they were my own illegitimate children. They were of a caliber of strangeness unmatched before or since. Granted, “Japanese quirkiness” has become somewhat of a commodity, sold raw and wholesale to America-hating Americans, but the works of Artdink had the quality of games that were strange because of debilitating mental illness rather than gimmickry. And while this might be complete nostalgic fallacy on my part, uh… well… it isn’t. My own mental illness prevents me from accepting such a possibility.

No One Can Stop Mr Domino is a game that defies categorization, but if categorization were being particularly defiant in return, it would probably cave and call itself an action puzzler. What this basically boils down to is dominoes. No, not the game elderly black men play in the park, but real dominoes; placing the game pieces, in rows, on their edges and knocking one over, creating (if you invested adequate time into it) an elaborate chain reaction. [As an aside, am I the only one who remembers the Domino Rally line of toys?] Continue reading

5 Ways in Which the PSP is Better than the DS

By:Krooze L-Roy
(Don’t give me shit, you know you’d hit that)
The PSP gets no respect. It’s perceived as the handheld system for the mainstream; a shiny toy for frat boys to play GTA and watch Adam Sandler movies on. The DS, by contrast, is for the true gamer; it conjures images of pony-tailed Gamestop employees playing Advance Wars as they suffer through the torture of daily life. The actual merits of both systems are often overshadowed by these false images of contrasting demographics, just as they did during the 16 bit console wars.

Detractors of Sony’s easily finger-printed portable point out
a lack of original games for the system. And it’s true that most of the system’s high profile games are simply inferior installments in franchises that started life on home consoles. Why would you want to play scaled down versions of Jak or Ratchet or Metal Gear, when you could be playing fresh new games like Mario, Zelda or Metroid?

Perhaps I applied the sarcasm a bit too thick there, but the point is that the DS gets a lot of undue credit for offering fresh gameplay experiences. For every Ouendan there are fifty Mega Man Battle Networks, and using a stylus to play games that adhere closely to typical game design conventions is hardly what I’d call “fresh.” Meanwhile the original games for the PSP, such as Crush, get little recognition, though admittedly they are few in number.

Continue reading

The Rant: Honestly, Does Anyone Still Enjoy Stealth?

By: Krooze L-Roy
(You have about no seconds to live)

Based on the continued popularity of the Splinter Cell and Metal Gear franchises, and the fact that one trick pony series like Tenchu and Siphon Filter are still in existence, the obvious answer to the above question is a resounding “yes.” I just can’t for the life of me fathom why.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten some enjoyment out of all the aforementioned series, and I would certainly never venture to criticize the almighty Metal Gear. I just don’t really see the appeal in sneaking around for five minutes just to break some unsuspecting security guard’s neck. What’s so wrong with breaking necks the conventional way – with bullets and lead pipes? Continue reading

The Top 5 Posthumously Released Shmups for the Dreamcast

By: Krooze L-Roy
(Time for your shot. Get it? Shmups? Shot? Do you get it?)

#1 – Border Down

It was a tragic day for lameness the day this game was released. Simply put, Border Down is awesome. I could end the review right now and be content in the knowledge that I’ve described the game 100% accurately, but I suppose I’ll ramble on for a while (for typing practice).

The spiritual sequel to another fairly obscure import shooter called Metal Black (which is also very good, by the way), Border Down isn’t distinguished by gimmicks or clever twists. No, BD separates itself from the pack simply by kicking a lot of ass in every conceivable department. Graphics, music, controls – yes. Memorable bosses and level designs – check. Massive firepower – Cliclick. That last one was a text approximation of a shotgun pumping, by the way. A space shotgun.

The weapons at your thumb-tip are the glue that hold the game together, more so even than the average shmup. Developer G.Rev (Under Defeat) has been extremely generous in this department by giving the player a highly versatile yet elegant weapons system. As you play, your gun-power increases automatically (the occasional power up helps to expedite this process). When fully charged, your guns are fucking beasts. Two firing modes are available at all times; holding the shoot button will fire the traditional forward gun, while tapping the same button launches (surprisingly powerful) homing beams.

As potent as these standard weapons are, sometimes the situation calls for something bigger. Enter the super-laser. At any time, your firepower can be traded in for a supercharged laser blast, which will steadily drain your power meter the longer it’s held. It will also render you invincible, making it a defensive tool as well as an offensive weapon. One of the game’s coolest touches is that certain enemies (mostly bosses) have a superlaser of their own. And if two of these mammoth weapons should happen to collide head on… awesomeness ensues.

This simple control scheme quickly becomes second nature, which frees you up to concentrate on two things; dodging and blasting, the rock-solid foundation on which any respectable shoot em up is built.

And you’ll need all the concentration you can muster, because challenge makes a rather prominent appearance in this game. And while it could certainly be argued that such things are highly subjective, I’ll nevertheless go out on a limb and say that the difficulty is perfect. You’ll get your ass kicked until it’s the consistency of raw ground beef, but with time and practice, the game is surmountable. Even for someone with the reflexes of Bruce Lee (meaning, a corpse; probably not the best dead person I could’ve chosen as an example), beating the game in one credit seems tantalizingly doable.

So since I’ve ranted and raved for a bit longer than I’d planned, I’ll try to sum up Border Down in nine words; instant classic; the final nail in the Dreamcast’s coffin… removed. Damn.

As of this writing, there are no known plans of porting BD to any other system, so busting out the ol’ DC is currently the only way to play it at home (it was originally an arcade release, also Japan-only). It’s also a bit expensive to get a hold of, with mint copies selling for well over a hundred dollars, but for anyone who’s interested in picking up one of the best shmups available, it’s money well spent.


#5 – Trizeal

#4 – Zero Gunner 2

#3 – Under Defeat

#2 – Psyvariar 2

What, no Ikaruga? No Trigger Heart? As I stated in the introduction (see first entry-Trizeal), I disqualified all the games which later received U.S. releases. And, for various reasons, (namely the fact that I haven’t played Trigger Heart Excelica) I also secretly disqualified games that are slated to receive a future release. Just thought I should explain that.

~ by Krooze L-Roy on January 30, 2008.


The Top 5 Posthumously Released Shmups for the Dreamcast

By: Krooze L-Roy
(Operating Thetan, level 4)

#2 – Psyvariar 2

Out of all the games on this list, this one least adheres to typical shmup conventions. As a matter of fact, you could go so far as to say that Psyvariar 2 turns the whole concept of the shmup on it’s ear. Flying directly into enemies and their bullets is not only possible, it’s essential to scoring well. And experts at the game tend to shoot their weapon only occasionally; purposely (though selectively) sparing the lives of their adversaries. It’s a strange beast; a shmup that requires very little dodging and shooting. “B-But how is this POSSIBLE,” you scream in red-faced indignation.

Here’s how. Gameplay revolves heavily around leveling up your character (you play as a mech, by the way). For every level gained, your mech becomes temporarily invincible for a fraction of a second. During this time you are free to kamikaze your enemies and dive into their bullets. With some skill, and perhaps a bit of luck, you can level up repeatedly and frolic carefree through even the thickest waves of enemy fire. And man, oh, man does it feel nice.

This simple concept spawns a devious conflict of interests in the players’ psyche. Risk is the key to both success and failure, and this is mostly due to another of the game’s key mechanics; bullet scraping.

Placing your mech in close proximity to enemy bullets increases both your score and your experience level. This risk obviously puts you in immediate danger, but it’s also fundamental to leveling up, which temporarily cancells out this danger. You frequently find yourself in both situations; dying because you get carried away with bullet-bathing heroics, and the other side of the coin; dying because you didn’t fill up your experience gage fast enough to cancel out the massive wall of lead coming your way.

These elements create a game that’s as maddening as it is captivating, but for all it’s complexity, it’s not as difficult as it sounds (nor as complex). The hit box is extremely small, perhaps even as small as a single pixel. Thus, only a tiny portion of your mech is actually vulnerable to enemy fire, resulting in many “how the hell did I survive that” moments, and who doesn’t love those.

The true difficulty of the game is psychological. It’s the struggle to find a balance between playing carefully and going for it that makes this game tough. As such, it’s one of the few games that you seem to get worse at as you play and become more confident with it’s concepts.

It does indeed take a while to get used to playing a shmup this way though. And it’s equally difficult to get un-used to it when you switch over to a more conventional game. It’s as unique as Ikaruga and as addictive as crack-laced crack. And when you get into the rhythm of the game, it’s an experience like no other. This game simply must be experienced, and you should do whatever it takes (w h a t e v e r. i t. t a k e s) to get your hands on it.

Psyvariar 2 is also available for the Japanese PS2, which can be picked up for significantly less zenny than the Dreamcast version. So, as much as I hate to say it, that might be a more sensible route to take if you have an import-enabled PS2.

The Top 5 Posthumously Released Shmups for the Dreamcast

By: Krooze L-Roy
(Don’t let the smile fool you)

#3 – Under Defeat

On the surface, this one might look a bit similar to Zero Gunner 2. But other than the fact that they both place you in the cockpit of a helicopter, they’re as different as two games can be. And if ZG2 is tough, Under Defeat is absolutely murderous in difficulty.

Created by G.Rev, one of my favorite up-and-coming developers (fun fact: they assisted in the development of Ikaruga), the game has production values you wouldn’t expect from such a small studio. The graphics are crisp (especially in TATE mode), the sound is powerful and booming, and the controls are spot on. Every aspect of the game is as solid as a neutron star.

One thing in particular will impress you within mere moments of booting up the game; the explosions. Of all the hundred+ shmups I’ve played, I have to give UD the nod for having the very best explosions around. This isn’t a distinction I take lightly, but I feel that in this case it’s an undeniable truth. The frequent bowel control issues I’ve had while playing the game are a testament to the sheer force and ferocity of these amazing displays of pyrotechnics. The bosses in particular have ridiculously detailed and satisfying death throes.

The gameplay itself is simple. You can shoot, move, and drop smart bombs. You can also deploy one of three types of helper pods, which will take a few potshots at the enemy before disappearing to be recharged. The only feature that’s even close to being a “gimmick” is that you can shoot at a slight angle (say, 30 degrees or so to the left and right). It might not be as versatile as the 360° rotation seen in ZG2, but it allows for a more focused and intense old school experience.

The game only uses two buttons to control all these various abilities, and when the action gets heavy, this simplicity is a necessity. You only have your dodging skills to rely upon, and the simple control scheme allows you to get the most out of your (*cough* piss poor) reflexes.

Things get hectic rather quickly, and only the twitchiest of gamers will see the end credits, if there even are end credits. That’s right, I still haven’t been able to beat this one. The difficulty of the final boss in particular is absolutely absurd. But that’s exactly what makes these games so maddening and so addictive.

Other than the arcade, you can only find this one on the DC, and I highly recommend that you do. This is actually one of the cheaper games on the list, and should only cost you about sixty clams. Get it now before the price goes up, as these games rarely come down in value.