Friday, 26 May 2017

Binary Land (NES)

First, I should mention that I was sent a physical copy of this game as a gift, by patreon subscriber Matt Sephton. So thanks! Anyway, the thing with most maze games is that the maze itself isn't the main source of the challenge. It exists only as a confined place that you have to navigate round while avoiding enemies (and also ensuring that the enemies don't trick you into trapping you between them). The obvious reason for this is that a straight-up maze-solving videogame probably wouldn't be very fun, significantly less than solving mazes on paper, even. Still, the developers of Binary Land decided to have a shot at making a maze game about mazes, though they did it with a gimmick in mind that wouldn't have been possible on paper.

That gimmick is that the player controls two characters at the same time, with one of them having their horizontal controls reversed. They're each on opposing sides of a wall, which also has two different mazes at either side. The objective is to not only get the two penguin protagonists to the top of the screen, but they each have to occupy the spaces directly at each  side of a caged love heart at the top of the screen.

Obviously, there's various obstacles in their path, besides the difficulties you'll face in trying to get the two penguin lovers in just the right relative positions to end the stage. First off, there's spiders and their webs. You can kill the spiders and disperse their webs any time with your attack, though of course, you have to keep an eye on both sides of the screen all the time, as while one penguin is fighting off enemies, the other could be blindly walking into them. The webs are stationary, but if one of your penguins gets stuck in one, they're rendered totally immobile until the other comes over and gets them out.

Later on, more enemies appear, naturally. I've been able to get up to about stage fifteen or sixteen, and in that time, the spiders have been joined by birds, who can fly over the whole screen with no regard as to the walls, and, on contact, switch the positions of your characters. There's also little sentient fireballs, who slowly meander around the place, kill on contact, and unfairly, can't be killed.

Binary Land is a pretty good game, and as I said, it's fairly unique in that it's a maze game that's actually about solving mazes. It's also very cute, and one of those romance-themed games that were a thing in the mid-1980s and haven't really been since, so give it a try.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Autobahn Tokio (3DO)

A big problem for the 3DO is that it jumped the gun a bit. Releasing in 1993, it was far more impressive than its contempories like the the Phillips CDi (which apparently came out in 1991, though I think it took a couple of years for people to really notice it), Amiga CD32 and Atari Jaguar. Unfortunately, in 1994, the Saturn and Playstation came out and all those earlier attempts at starting a new console generation instantly looked ridiculous, like children wearing adult-sized clothes pretending to do grown-up things. The 3DO did try to keep up for a couple more years, however, and Autobahn Tokio is a clear attempt to compete with Daytona USA and Ridge Racer, the flagship racing games on the big two consoles. The problem is that all it really does is highlight the vast distance between the 3DO and SEGA and Sony's consoles.

Looking at still screenshots, you'll probably think it's a valiant effort, and it is: in terms of 3D modelling and quality of textures, this game's not too far behind Daytona. The real difference comes when you see it in motion. Now, I've mentioned a few times before that I have only disdain for the tedious pedants who leave bad reviews for games on steam based entirely on the framerate dipping slightly every now and then, but Autobahn Tokio at its best is slightly faster than a slideshow. It sometimes dips beneath this to become slightly slower than one. There's other, even worse presentational problems present, too. Like how to change the music track you race to, you have to go to the options screen in the main menu, but you can't actualy listen to the tracks while on that screen. Or how, after a race ends, all you get is a black screen with the word "winner" or "loser" on it before being booted back to the main menu (if you manage to get into the top ten best times for the track, you also go to the name entry screen, which is shamelessly ripped off from the one in Daytona USA).

It's not all bad, though. Despite its many faults, it does play pretty well. You have to take note that you need to pick any car other than the blue one, which is somehow so bad it actually drains the fun out of the game. But yeah, it's a pretty fun, simple racing game, that can actually feel pretty fast despite the framerate problems. There's three tracks too, which is more than the original Ridge Racer, and while two of them are pretty typical racing game settings (circuit in the country and city streets at night), the third has a bit more of a contemporary edge, being a twisty, turny mountain road like in Initial D and all those drift racing VHS magazines that modern-day vaporwave artists love so much. And yes, you can actually drift in this, and it's very easy to do: like in Outrun 2, you just let go of the accelerator, tap brake, then start holding the accelerator again.

So yeah, Autobahn Tokio isn't much competition for Daytona USA or Ridge Racer, and in trying to keep up with the Saturn and Playstation, all it really does is highlight how far behind the 3DO really was. But it isn't a terrible game, and it is an interesting technical display, at least.