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Psychotic Reviews: Virtua Cop

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Help Wanted: Those who prefer to shoot first and ask questions later. Virtua City is looking to hire special detectives for missions that require fast trigger fingers. Recruits will be highly trained and put in great peril as they tackle the most dangerous missions to clean this city’s dirty streets. Are you man enough to be a hero? Play as special detectives Michael Hardy and James Cools and take on a huge job that will clean the streets of futuristic, man-made Virtua City.

Again we travel to the lonely lands of Sega’s oft forgotten home console, the Saturn. Virtua Cop started its life in the arcade and upon release became the latest in a long string of hits by Sega Amusement Machine Research and Development Department 2, or AM 2, in 1994. Virtua Cop is a genre defining game, as it broke new ground for on-rail light gun shooters by allowing far more interactivity with the enemies, based on where they are struck by a bullet. Different animations and scores come out for hitting different parts of the bodies of Virtua City’s criminal scum. The graphics are also full, 3-D polygons, which is obviously what Yu Suzuki and crew used after the massive success of Virtua Fighter a year earlier.

Virtua Cop became the primary influence for light gun shooters after its release. Sega would use the game as the backbone for The House of the Dead, Namco came out with its long running Time Crisis series, and even Goldeneye’s aiming on N64 is basically Virtua Cop, admittedly so by the developers. This success is likely a result of the jump to 3-D, which made Virtua Cop feel much more modern than even the best 2-D, arcade light gun shooters that came out just a few years earlier. The extra interactivity adds a layer that makes the game feel fresh even though its based on patterns and memorization to get through the levels. The levels are the basic style of Sega’s arcade level design of the time, with a Beginner, Medium, and Expert stage.

Many shortcomings for the Saturn are well known, but one thing that AM 2 nailed were the console ports of their own arcade games. When other teams were struggling to make use of the unique and confusing arrangement of the Saturn’s hardware, AM 2’s arcade ports were all games that are now staples of the modern Saturn collector’s library. Surprisingly, all these arcade ports are some of the most common and affordable games for the Saturn in all regions where it was released! Despite the less than stellar success of the Saturn outside of Japan, the arcade scene itself was experiencing a revival in North America at the time Virtua Cop released. Street Fighter II’s success got a new generation, myself included, to visit the arcades that had defined cutting edge game design and technology for almost 20 years. The remaining Western arcade developers took advantage of this revival to limp their way into the 21st century, while the Japanese developers flourished as a result of a stronger showing in what is only one of many markets for them.

Playing the game and hearing the soundtrack again caused memories of sights and sounds of the mid 90’s to come flooding back. During this time, I started visiting my local arcades weekly until both of them closed their doors in the early 2000’s. Part of my revived sensation comes from the fact that Virtua Cop, enjoyed with the Saturn’s Stunner light gun, feels so authentic to the original arcade experience. The soundtrack is a giant dose of 90’s nostalgia, and fits the pacing of each stage perfectly. The action is wonderfully framed, and all the different enemy spawns and shooting timers make use of different reaction speeds and player instincts. The Saturn release has many different difficulties to select from, so you can play around and find the one that gives you the perfect challenge. Like all arcade games, practice makes perfect!

Standing up, shooting bad guys, and having to fire off screen, all with the non-stop action of enemies popping up in front of you, makes Virtua Cop stand out as one of the arcade classics of the mid 90’s. If you don’t want to haul around an arcade cabinet, then owning the Saturn port is a fine consolation. Another port was released on the PC a year after the Saturn release, but this version only has mouse support. Another version was also released by Tiger for its R-Zone.

Psychotic Reviews: Steambot Chronicles

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Steambot Chronicles; or Ponkotsu Roman Daikatsugeki: Bumpy Trot as it was originally named in Japan is a Playstation 2 game developed by Irem and published by themselves in Japan, Atlus in North America, and 505 Gamestreet in a few countries in Europe. There is also a spin off on PSP named Steambot Chronicles: Battle Tournament. An odd tie in a puzzle game on PS2 and PSP named Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship, and being one of only four games published by Majesco on the PSP in the USA. A quick look at the back of the case shows the game being marketed as an open world RPG, and that is correct in a way. The game starts off as linear as any other RPG that’s been made and then opens up. Its similar to the opening dungeon in the Elder Scrolls, only dragged on much longer. In this long opening sequence you’ll visit all three of the main towns, many of the back areas, and explore most of the world anyway, by the time its completely opened up. Once an area is open then it may be visited at any time afterwards, and money can be hoarded this way.

There are times where the story in the game essentially halts and time will not pass no matter how many times you run in and out of any city (this is how time passes in this world). You can dig up all the big fossils on this very day if you desire to make a massive amount of money. I did, then I lost it all on the stock market. No, I lied there. But, there is a stock market in this game. Your very actions in sidequests can even open more companies on the stock exchange! Other pieces of optional content can help and boost the price of other companies, so you can commit the most sinister crime of insider trading thanks to these options.

Let’s rewind back to the beginning. You wake up as an amnesiac survivor of a shipwreck, a girl named Coriander runs over to basically save your life. The main character can only barely remember his name when he wakes up, and shows signs of obvious brain trauma. Coriander goes by the nickname of Connie for the game, and Vanilla’s full name is Vanilla R. Beans. The rest of the main cast occupies many other necessary spices for any aspiring chef’s spice rack. Vanilla takes a tossed out, junky Trotmobile, basically an early mech shaped like a classic car. Connie is the lead singer of the biggest band in all the land, the Garland Globetrotters, and you can join! There are many options of musical instruments in the game, and each one is its own rhythm game, with some being offshoots of others.

These instruments range in difficulty, and I found mastering the harmonica you start with to be one of the more difficult ones myself. You can run around and play some pianos that are around the cities, and perform solo or with somebody on the street to make some pocket change. Being in the city does not advance time, so other than the story concerts you can play outside for an hour of real time and save up some stock options, or more instruments, or clothes, maybe some furniture to jazz up your fancy urban suite. Maybe that crazy painter Pablo has some nice paintings to decorate your walls. Don’t forget to add food to your shopping list either, or else you’ll starve to death! Or, more likely, you’ll at least lose the ability to run before you remember to feed Vanilla!

Back to the music I can’t help but feel that the audio was woefully underfunded for a task this grand. I went through the game thinking and feeling that the instruments were all synthed, when it turns out they were all done in a studio! There is a wealth of music for this game, but its spread out just like its world is. There are areas that are dead silent in the game, and the cities all have repetitive and looped music. It does change depending on what time of day of it, but that left the countryside feeling empty. But, the lack of music made those lone treks across the desert feel that much more lonely. Why didn’t the trotmobiles have a built in radio? There’s a suggestion for Steambot 2!

This game has a lot of options for what basically amounted to a lower budget RPG from a company that was a far cry from its glory days in the arcade. Steambot suffers from intense slowdown in various parts of the world, which were technical issues that likely needed more time to be ironed out. Despite the world being open most of the paths between the cities are funnels, so any slowdown on these screens is experienced every time you run through these areas. It can be annoying, especially when you’re locked in combat with a more dangerous Trotmobile.

Technical issues aside this is a fulfilling game that had a lush and vibrant world for its time. The setting is one that feels like a politically fractured area in the early 20th century. Steambot’s enemy design around human piloted Trotmobiles makes this game feel almost nothing like a traditional RPG, and more like a fun experiment courtesy of Irem’s creative team. Irem themselves bowed out of video game development after the Fukushima disaster since their only major title at that point was Disaster Report. Today they focus on their amusement machine market, they’re a big name in the powerful Japanese gambling market. There was early teasing of a sequel to this game in the year following its release, but Steambot 2 was officially cancelled in 2011.

Some of the developers from Irem formed a company called Granzella in the aftermath of the closure of Irem’s video game team. Granzella bought most of the rights, and is known to be continuing work on the Disaster Report series, and a Steambot 2 has been teased as well.

They made a real trotmobile!

They made a real Trotmobile!

Psychotic Reviews: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

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One of my favorite series on the original DS was Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Each game was serious and completely whimsical at the same time. The characters are over the top and blown out of proportion in some cases, which only serve to make the courtroom scenes incredibly memorable as all of these personalities clash. The mystery element meant that the full picture of what happened was never entirely clear to the player until the trial and the investigations leading up to the courtroom scenes slowly reveal the whole story, or could also go down the rabbit hole at times. Its really a perfect blend of point and click puzzle adventure games with the narrative style of a visual novel, making the series stand out as the sum of its parts.

In contrast I’ve only played the first game in the Professor Layton series. I enjoy the game but can never sit down and play it for too long in any one sitting. Its really a gauntlet of puzzles. There are some point and click elements involved in this game as well, but they mainly serve as a way to find hint coins and hidden puzzles. The game is more of a slow burner compared to the Ace Attorney series, which will mix in dramatic courtroom scenes with the slower investigation to mix the pacing up.

These two series in terms of gameplay actually make sense putting together, and when I first heard about the crossover I was rather excited since I knew of Layton at the time and am a massive Ace Attorney fan. Despite only playing the first Layton game I was impressed by this game! The Ace Attorney style investigations mixed well with Layton style exploration and puzzle solving. It never felt like the gauntlet of Layton’s puzzles was getting to be too much of a grind since there is plenty more to enjoy and move through in the game.

In terms of story the world and area feel much more inspired by Layton. There is a village filled with magic where witches are burned after being found guilty at a trial. Professor Layton, Luke, Phoenix Wright, and Maya Fey all find themselves brought to this village. As Phoenix you play through a witch trial and work to get the first exoneration of a witch in the village’s memory! This case introduces a unique twist to the system of cross examination that was standard throughout the Ace Attorney series. In the courtroom scenes the witness testimony is all done at once, the witnesses line up and Phoenix cross examines them one after the other. This does allow the witnesses to collaborate with their stories and add in information that fills in any holes on the fly. This style feels stacked against you. No wonder there were so many guilty verdicts in a row before Nick and Maya showed up here!

After the two pairs meet up the overall goal of the game becomes to uncover the secret of the village and keep working to get rid of this stigma against witches. After all, magic shouldn’t exist in our rational, modern world of science right? This games does a fantastic job of leading you along through the story, with twists and turns helping to guide you. The drama of the courtroom spills out into the streets and these strangers soon become well known for their alien idea of ‘logic’. That’s right, this village has not been enlightened to the basic Western ideas of Greek logic.

Once again Capcom shows that they are the complete master of the crossover, but they had plenty of help from Level-5. Both companies worked together to add the elements from their respective games, and then to polish it up and make it presentable for the player. As a result of this the game is incredibly strong. If you’re interested in either series you’ll be pleased with the results here since Layton is more of the same and Phoenix has a nice change to make this game feel like a unique entry to the Ace Attorney series. Despite their differences the characters work well, but I feel like Layton himself solves these major puzzles because of hazy and unexplained reasons. This difference could be a result of Phoenix taking details in one at a time since everything in his series is evidence based, and only one piece is usually relevant at any one time. If you have a 3DS and are looking for a story based adventure jam packed with fun and wit, check this game out!

Psychotic Reviews: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

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Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is the fourth game in the series of cooperative RPGs starring Nintendo’s two main plumber brothers. It was released around the world in July and August of 2013. Dream Team was developed by longtime series developer AlphaDream, which has made every Mario & Luigi game. Now, I have not played any games in this series since Superstar Saga, the first one. I’ve heard about how good and great the two DS games are, but never got around to them. So when I picked up my 3DS I wanted to jump back into the series with its newest entry.

The story of Dream Team is about the team from the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toadsworth, and random Toads, all going on a vacation to Pi’illo Island, an island that was once inhabited by talking pillow people. Now it has become a wonderful tourist trap. It turns out that the Pi’illo people have really been trapped in the dream world by the evil Antasma. After freeing the Pi’illo Prince, Dreambert, Mario & Luigi go on an adventure around the island to help wake the Pi’illo and stop Antasma and his familiar allies.

Sadly, I may have been better off saving the money I spent on this game and using it for one of the older DS games that I missed out on. While I still have not played Partners in Time or Bowser’s Inside Story, those are well regarded, while Dream Team is a mixed bag. Dream Team is one of those games that can be chalked up as a disappointment, or perhaps why mainstream gaming critics can complain about Call of Duty’s static gameplay from year to year while still awarding it high marks for being a great game in its own right. Dream Team is a fantastic game, when it lets you play it.

Every time you start to feel like you’re on a roll and you’re going to get some serious progress done then the game takes you on a detour, or introduces a new mechanic and spends five minutes explaining how to use it. This may be helpful for the first couple of skills, but when you’re 30 hours in and still being told to press A at the right timing to get this new ability of your’s to work, when the other 7 you’ve received in the game all have the same timing and same buttons, it gets annoying. The game treats you like you’re a 3 year old that’s never played a game before, which I find odd coming from Nintendo, the company that was the king of cryptic gameplay and secrets in the 8 and 16-bit days. They let you discover the game by playing it. Dream Team tells you how to play it. You never get a new ability and are allowed to play with it, you need to sit through an unskippable tutorial explaining the process you’ve already been through many times before.

The gameplay is varied, with three different battle systems at work here. In the real world it uses the classic system that goes back to the first game, with Mario and Luigi side by side in battle, working together to take down enemies. In the dream world Dreamy Luigi becomes a part of Mario during battles, which open up a different set of single group attacks. Dreamy Luigi also has a Godzilla option in the dream world where he grows to be about fifty feet tall and can start jumping and hammering massive bosses. Every attack in every battle mode has its own tutorial, and you don’t stop learning new skills through the game. So every awesome spectacle of Dreamy Luigi going Apache Chief is interrupted by Dreambert going on some tangent about how to use a hammer or how to get Mario to throw mushrooms in his giant brother’s mouth.

Free mustache rides!

 

Really the only major complaint about this game involves the volume of dialogue and copious use of in game tutorials. If you’ve played any of the previous Mario & Luigi games you know what you’re going to be doing most of the time. The game assumes you know nothing (Jon Snow) and uses dialogue in every major location you visit to teach you new things. Since every skill uses the same buttons it becomes a chore in tedium and monotony more than any real helpful advice. In the end there is too much dialogue because there are too many tutorials, which leads to too much dialogue. You see how it became a vicious circle that has lead to gamers complaining about this, and it can get bad enough to turn people off of the game before they beat it. I would not recommend this as a starting point to the series, and it may well be the low point of the Mario & Luigi series as a whole. I’ll play the others and get back to you on that, I have Partners in Time now.

Psychotic Reviews: Mario’s Time Machine

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Why does this exist? I understand educational games, but throwing in a huge, well-established character just seems like a lazy cash grab. A good educational game should be able to stand up on its own by mixing good teaching tools with fun. Mario’s Time Machine fails as a teaching tool.

Mario’s Time Machine was developed and published by The Software Toolworks for the Super Nintendo and MS-DOS. Radical Entertainment developed the NES port with Nintendo publishing this version themselves. When this game was released in the early 90s, it was not the first Mario themed educational game; it was preceded by Mario is Missing! (which had the same developer). As you might be able to discern from the title, Mario’s Time Machine is a game meant to teach history. However, I find that as a teaching tool the game fails. As an adult who understands and knows the basic historical content presented in this game, it is extremely easy to get through and beat quickly. The basic gameplay involves you having historical artifacts with an attached document with information on it; this document has blanks in it that you must fill. As an adult, you’ll likely know most, if not all, of the answers without thinking too much. However, if you’re a kid, you may have trouble filling in these blanks. Other than context clues in the document, the game does little to actually teach history beyond blind guesswork and memorization.

The historical content in the game involves major figures, most of them Western European. You’ll visit Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Isaac Newton, Marco Polo, Cleopatra VII, Thomas Jefferson, and Plato, among others. The only major Eastern figure you meet up with is Kublai Khan, and he’s not the main target of that trip back in time. Since this game is targeted at young children and is exclusive to North America, it can be forgiven for ignoring most of Eastern history. The intended market of kids are only going to be learning the basics at this age after all.

All of these random, historical figures across all periods of time, from Ancient Greece to Thomas Edison, are pulled together by a crazy narrative. Bowser has built a time machine and steals all of these critical artifacts to build a huge museum in his castle. I have never considered Bowser to appreciate any history other than one where he has the Princess and rules as supreme evil overlord. Apparently, Bowser was bored so he single-handedly did what our scientists insist is completely impossible. If he used this power for good, who knows what kind of damage he could help alleviate!

After finishing your homework assignment, Mario has to set the year and location he needs to go to give the item back to its rightful owner and help prevent too many space-time anomalies. Any date and location you pick will take Mario into a surfing mini game, which is by far the most fun aspect of this game. During this surfing section, Mario needs to collect aquatic mushrooms and then jump into a whirlpool. If you pick the right location and time, then you see an example of juxtaposed visual design.

The locations and characters throughout Earth’s European-centric history are realistic in design. The backgrounds and sprites would be right at home in a Western PC RPG of the time, where each town would have its resident eccentric that would send you out on some fetch quest to find their astrolabe or sculptor’s pick in the bottom of some dungeon. Mario’s presence in these realistic areas just stands out and looks awkward. His sprite is ripped straight from Super Mario World, so there’s a huge contrast between his cartoony look and the realistic looks of all of the historical locations.

Overall, this game is best avoided for all but the most curious or the completionist collector. It lacks any real fun for an adult and lacks the tools to properly teach kids the dynamic nature of history. The gameplay is rigid and you will ultimately obtain the correct answers without understanding the why or the implications of the work of these influential people. For these reasons, I will likely stay away from any educational Mario games from now on, except perhaps Interplay’s Mario Teaches Typing, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for Interplay games!

Crack the Seal

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Open your new games. For years many of us have been around game communities and have seen or read about people that will buy two copies of a game, keeping one sealed and opening the other one. Why? I need one copy of a game, to open and play. Having something sealed on the shelf might look nice, but its not serving much of a purpose. Most of the people that try this speculation pick the wrong games to keep sealed, or did until they were burned by their theory or made too little profit to make it worth keeping something factory sealed for a decade.

This entire phenomenon comes down to expectations. We are all aware of how Star Wars toys became a hot collectible. Why was the market so top heavy for sealed toys though? An overwhelming majority of those toys were opened, sealed ones were the exception to this rule. Even today you can run across loose Star Wars toys at flea markets and thrift stores all the time. Sealed ones from the original lines of the toys? Not so much. This type of expectation came with the early days of video games as well. The further back in gaming history you go the harder it is to find sealed games, even boxed games can be difficult for many systems.

Nobody expects this sealed anymore, but they’re still around anyway.

Even before this current explosion of video game collecting there was speculation about the future of a video game’s price. The early days of eBay and online marketing were a wild time that lead many to irresponsible purchasing decisions and speculation. I can remember quite a few games in that time that were highly inflated and have cooled off considerably, while others have blown up as a result of a better connected world and more information on what’s actually hard to find. Specifically, I recall the days when the original Bandai printing of Dragonball GT Final Bout was the hottest title for the first Playstation. It was uncommon at best, but the series was running and at the height of its popularity. A reprint came later and the property cooled off, but you better believe that there were speculators trying to flip the Atari reprints as soon as they came out.

I can honestly remember seeing on some fan forums in the PS2 era people who were going to buy a second copy of such expensive games as Suikoden IV, Jak and Daxter, Okami, and the Collector’s Edition of Final Fantasy XII to ‘hold onto’ and ‘see what happens in the future’. Gaming is a hobby to many people, and the idea of money and a percieved second hand value to the game has fired many people up and turned people who have no business with a video game into a seller, since they know there’s money to be had somewhere. The titles that are really worth flipping if you buy cheap are few and far between, and the only real profit comes from the bulk of many libraries and how many people are digging for these titles at the moment. If I want a long term investment I’ll stick with my financial adviser and diversify my stock portfolio, I’ll probably even invest in some gold and silver as the prices for them cool down even further.

A real man’s investment.

It just takes one time for somebody to buy two copies of Rule of Rose and rake in the profits for the decisions to go all downhill from there. The expectation of newer games on the market is that they should be sealed! The buyer’s market for newer games actually makes the purchasing of used games a poor decision since there are many cases where you can find better deals online for brand new, sealed games than local brick and mortar stores have for used games. One recent example of this for me is seeing Lightning Returns for $50 at a used store, when its currently $30 at Target for a brand new Target exclusive edition, and $20 for a regular release on Amazon! As always, do your research as a buyer and you will not get hosed by a deal like that because you were not paying attention to online deals or even shopping around your own town.

What really made me start thinking about this topic was the release of Gaijinworks’ Class of Heroes 2G for PS3, and my own recent research and purchase for the original Class of Heroes 2 on PSP. I missed out on the original calling for Class of Heroes 2 to give Vic and company my money, but I made sure to send some out for a copy of 2G. While I was watching copies of Class of Heroes 2 the secondhand market was almost entirely sealed copies. I just had to wait for one that was the right price. I did see a few opened copies pop up online, but they did not offer enough in savings to make buying them worthwhile compared to a sealed copy. I’m talking an average of $10 in the difference between an opened copy and a sealed copy.

This game is supposed to be rare! Even after years on the market the price is only that much of a difference. Why is that average difference so little? Its the expectation of the sellers, not the buyers in this case. The sellers have heard for years that a sealed copy is worth more than something that is opened, and to be fair this is correct. The main difference is in profit potential. Copies of Class of Heroes 2G were flipped early on for more than double the original investment, the original Class of Heroes 2 has calmed down almost to the point where a sealed copy is as much as you would have given to Gaijinworks. Once the hype dies down so does the profit. The result? A glut of sealed games with the odd actually opened copy. Given the supply and option the buyer will choose the pristine, unopened, and barely touched copy for only a few dollars more than one that’s opened. I myself did this, and just waited for the best price and one that I could haggle on.

Case replacement fodder and nothing more.

As this article will release its likely that the hot speculative items will continue to be the brand new secondhand sealed copies of the limited edition of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D. What is an item that sold at $50 for those lucky enough to get a pre-order is being listed at two to four times its launch price. And you know there are some people out there paying it. With this release, the Majora’s Mask New 3DS XL, and all the undersold Amiibos I’m sure many Nintendo fans are praying that the company starts to manufacture more than enough copies of everything to keep the shelves stocked longer than a day, maybe even a couple weeks, to chase the speculators away. But they will never truly go away anymore, just find the newest commodity to latch onto. Ten years ago it was Atlus limited editions that were heavily speculated, this is the decade for Nintendo, niche companies, and limited Kickstarter physical copies.

I opened Class of Heroes 2 and 2G as soon as I got them. I love the feeling of unwrapping a brand new game. The day that I am writing this I have a stack of three brand new, crisp, factory sealed PS3 games courtesy of Amazon sales sitting next to me, and I can’t wait to crack the seal, open them up, smell the new game smell, and flip through the manuals. I can’t experience that with a sealed game. I want to make this next point very clear, I am not trying to advocate the opening of a 40 year old, hard to find Atari game or anything related to the idea. Those have more in common with the original run of Star Wars toys than the gaming market of today. In the new market there is absolutely no reason to not open your game to play it. As much as I like looking at my shelf of games they all have one thing in common, they’re open and I can play the game hidden within, read its manual, and enjoy all the art and promotions they came with.

How else would I know what variants I got without opening my games up?

Psychotic Reviews: Panzer Dragoon

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Sega’s surprise launch of the Saturn in North America caught retailers and developers off guard. As a result the pickings were slim. The Saturn’s Japan launch happened only six months before the North American launch so most Japanese third parties did not have anything ready for international release either. The originally announced launch date was in September of 1995 for North America, but then they decided to launch it in May, right in the middle of E3! For a gamer that was anxiously anticipating the Saturn that might sound like a good deal at first, but that also meant that many games would be a full four months behind the launch. As a result, only Sega’s own first party games were available at first, but there was a decent spread of genres available. Panzer Dragoon was Sega’s cinematic action game for the North American launch.

After playing through Panzer Dragoon a few times I can say that it feels heavily inspired by Sega’s own arcade history. This game feels like a modernized (for the mid 90’s), cinematic version of Space Harrier. There’s even a code to put in at the title screen that will derender the dragon and let you fly around by yourself, and its called Space Harrier Mode because of this! Team Andromeda was founded specifically to develop this game, and they delivered one of the all time classic launch games.

Panzer Dragoon is so well polished that it shouldn’t feel like a launch game, and to be fair it was not available at the Japanese launch. The Japanese Saturn launch was dominated by Virtua Fighter. In Panzer Dragoon you fly on a dragon, unless you decide to go in Space Harrier Mode, and your mission is to stop the Black Dragon. There are six levels, called episodes to fly through, with five of them having bosses to fight at the end. The sixth boss is in the seventh episode, and that episode only carries the final fight against the end boss.

The game is set far into the future, long beyond the modern pinnacle of technology and into an apocalyptic view of a world post industry and with only a tyrannical government adding any new technology to the world. Of course these new pieces of tech are only available to the military to keep the government in power. Since old tech is much more advanced they are ravenous in their search for it in ruins that are scattered across the landscape. The unnamed character, or Keil Fluge in other versions, is approached by the dying rider of a blue dragon after he is shot by a black dragon. Keil then carries out the rest of the rider’s mission, stopping the black dragon! Enter the player, and you’re off to the first episode.

Remembering that this game is an early 3D game is kind of hard at times. It runs smoothly and the graphics in the world and characters are quite detailed for an early Saturn game, especially with its lacking 3D capabilities compared to its competition. The controls will pan the camera slightly from side to side as you move the dragon. The aiming reticle that pans moves quite smoothly during this panning, and while I only played with a D-Pad it would likely feel better to play it with a Saturn arcade stick. This game does feel like it would be right at home in an upright cabinet with a stick, fire button, zoom button, and camera switch button. Those are the only three controls in the game, movement, shooting, and moving the camera to see your flanks, behind you, and zoom in and out.

The weapon’s mechanic does have a lock on feature. By holding down any fire button you can lock onto any enemies you swing your reticle over, and then launch your lasers when you release the button. The firing button does not autofire, but you can alternate presses of A, B, and C to get a series of rapid fire shots. Depending on the area it may be more useful to lock on, or it may be better to use rapid fire. The shoulder buttons are used to switch the camera’s focus from side to side. L swings it left, L again swings it behind the dragon, L again goes to the right flank, and one more press of it brings you back to the front quickly. After one press you can slowly aim your way around your flanks and back as well, but the shoulder buttons are useful for quick switches. Finally, X, Y, and Z set to different camera zooms.

This is a game about memorization. Its not overly difficult, but each level does increase the difficulty over the previous level. You should not have much trouble getting through the first level the first time you play the game, but getting through level 5 or 6 the first time you see them is a more daunting task. Panzer Dragoon does offer different level difficulties, but playing on Easy only lets you get through level 4, you have to play on Normal to actually get the chance to beat the game. Easy can be used to master those first four levels so when you do move up to normal you will know the enemy patterns. Taking out a high percentage of enemies will give you an extra life, or continue in this game, at the end of each level. Getting close to a perfect will give you two continues. If you want to see the real ending of the game you have the beat this game on Hard! The best way to beat the game on hard is to memorize everything in all six main flying levels so nothing can threaten you.

Thankfully the game is short. Each level only takes a few minutes, and the bosses don’t take long to defeat once you figure out their pattern, where their weak spot is, and what attack method works the best on them. A playthrough of the game takes around an hour from start to finish. The challenge comes from having to memorize the game and then increase the difficulty to get the true ending. Since the game is so fun and easy to pick up and play with a short time constraint I can forgive it for all this memorization.

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