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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: Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

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Its finally time for a Zelda game to be reviewed! This is far from the first game I’ve played in the series, that honor goes to Oracle of Ages on the Game Boy Color. I played the Game Boy Advance port of the predecessor of this game, A Link to the Past on the next handheld I owned. I loved it and now own the original Super Nintendo release, and still have my original boxes for Oracle of Ages, GBA Link to the Past, and the Minish Cap. Since I went so long without a home Nintendo console its only recently in my collecting days that I’ve picked those up. A Link Between Worlds is the most recent original game in the long running series, releasing in 2013 for Nintendo’s 3DS. It uses the world design and map of Link to the Past as a base, and weaves a new tale in a familiar world.

The Zelda games always seem to have some identifying mechanic at their core to make each individual title stand out. Wind Waker’s sailing, Wolf Link in Twilight Princess, time jumps in Ocarina of Time, masks in Majora’s Mask, and so on. In Link Between Worlds you can turn into a painting on the wall and scoot along it, moving to floating platforms or through small cracks to get past certain rooms and into secret areas. There are some cracks on the overworld after a certain event that will be your method of travel between Hyrule and the replacement to the old Dark World, Lorule. High and Low, get it? Lorule is dark and its princess, Hilda, calls upon Link to help gather up the descendants of the Seven Sages to save both worlds. This is after you do the basic and familiar pendant gathering for fans of the first game.

This game really does feel like Nintendo’s version of fanservice. They take something familiar and dear to a lot of their old school fans, and modernized it. I feel like I’m playing A Link to the Past again, but the story’s different, and the wall running adds just enough to where it doesn’t feel like another Game Boy Advance port! The early dungeons and some of the bosses are quite familiar as well, but they may require different tactics to defeat than before since you have all kinds of fun new toys and abilities to play with.

Something that old school Zelda fans may miss is the way dungeons feel. You don’t unlock new items through doing the dungeons, you rent and later buy them. You can rent most of the items early on in the game, with any stragglers unlocked by getting through a certain area of the game. This style does open the game up, so it doesn’t feel like a completely linear run through the dungeons. The early part does, but once the world opens up and you can get to Lorule then there are few restrictions to which dungeon you go to. The sacrifice of finding items in dungeons actually opens the world up to different play and exploration styles!

There are not too many weaknesses about this game that I noticed. Any time I died or made a mistake it was entirely my fault and not one of the game’s by having a badly designed room or controls. Everything flows well. There are parts that may take a bit of trial and error or memorization, but its never enough to significantly alter the flow of the game. Since I have a 3DS XL I also tried out the game’s 3D capabilities. At first glance you may think that the feature is worthless in a top down Zelda. There were certain areas that felt easier and flowed better, and allowed for better timing while in 3D than 2D in my opinion.

What stood out the most to me was the game’s story. It felt like the darkest world with the most urgency since Majora’s Mask. It doesn’t go beyond that game of course but it delves deeper than one would expect into the purpose of the Sages and the Triforce’s impact and power on the worlds of Hyrule and Lorule. The ending was wrapped up neatly in traditional Zelda style. Everything is just peachy for Hyrule, Link, and Princess Zelda when all is said and done. The journey to the ending was one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I’ve had with a handheld game in a long time, and it comes highly recommended!

Psychotic Reviews: Beyond Oasis

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Beyond Oasis is an action/adventure game developed by Ancient for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. It released quite late in the system’s lifecycle, late 1994 for Japan and 1995 everywhere else. Since Ancient was founded by Yuzo Koshiro it also includes a soundtrack composed by him. This is most likely Sega’s answer to The Legend of Zelda mixed with some Mana series since there are many similarities in gameplay design, puzzle solving, and progression.

You play as Prince Ali of the Kingdom of Oasis, and some bad stuff is starting to go down. One day while digging in an old ruin Prince Ali finds a gold armlet, which fixes itself to his wrist and tells him of his destiny to save Oasis. Clothing style and culture shows that the game is based on Middle Eastern mythology and literature such as the 1001 Arabian Nights. The gold armlet has the ability to control spirits, one of which is named after the class of infernal djinni Efreet.

There are differences with the weapon and item systems, as well as abilities. Ali starts off with a knife as your default weapon, this knife has unlimited uses but a short reach. You can pick up other weapons such as a bow, sword, and bombs for damage boosts, but these all break after a certain number of uses. Planning when and where to use your stronger weapons is a must, I usually saved them for boss battles.

Combat is quite fun as it offers great depth. It feels like you’re playing a brawler within your adventure game as Ali has kicks, swipes, stabs, jump kicks, flying stabs and slashes, flip attacks, and a spin attack. A lot of these attacks can only be used with your first knife though, so heavy damage weapons that can break are best used for more predictable fights like bosses. Each spirit has its own attacks as well, and these take large chunks of your SP down. Just having a spirit out will slowly deplete your SP bar.

The items you find mostly heal you. Ali has two stats to worry about, HP and SP. HP is your health, like it is every game that has HP. SP are your Spell Points, and these are used up just by having a spirit out or using a spirit’s magical abilities. These healing items are certain food items. Items like meat or cheese heals your HP while fruits heal your SP, still others heal both stats! You can also pick up powerups for your spirits, various weapons, and healing items in treasure chests scattered throughout Oasis.

There are plenty of secrets to find while exploring the world, even some hidden mini games that give quite nice rewards. In terms of following the storyline though the game is just as linear as any Zelda game. Beyond Oasis has the built in feature known as the “go-here” arrow when you’re off doing your quest. The map is stylized and fairly difficult to read when you’re first starting the game though. Once you’ve explored most of it the map will make sense.

The game feels quite balanced in its world design. You usually have nice area of outdoor overworld to explore while you make your way from dungeon to dungeon. The game also has a natural break between spirits. You can find the first two spirits quickly, but then Ali starts to work to unfold more of this mysterious group that is threatening his Kingdom before working to get the last two. Its a nice break between the two and lets the story keep you interested in what’s happening instead of breaking it up like this: get all spirits, uncover mystery.

A physical copy for the Genesis seems to be a bit uncommon, and its price ranges from $15-25 for a loose cartridge. This game has seen various digital releases and is on some modern compilations such as Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and Steam.

Psychotic Reviews: Magic Knight Rayearth

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Magic Knight Rayearth is an action/adventure based on a popular manga and anime series of the same name. Come to the Sega Saturn where we get going back down the Working Designs road!

Working Designs and Sega had quite a close relationship at first. Sega could make some money by licensing the rights to a game out to Working Designs that they themselves did not want to localize and release. Looking at the lineup of Working Designs Saturn games a staggering 4 of their 6 games for the Saturn were actually developed by Sega (5 if you count Camelot’s Shining Wisdom since the company was founded by Sega, but they had broken away from them the same year it was released in Japan) including our game this week.

Magic Knight Rayearth was first released in Japan in 1995, but did not make it to North America until late 1998. In fact this is the very last Saturn game released in North America. What was the cause of this delay? In the manual Working Designs simply states that it took 30 months to fix everything that they wanted to or could fix. Well, that story actually goes back to around 1995 when Working Designs was interested in working with Sony. Bernie Stolar did not like the company or its president Victor Ireland, and quickly shot them down for the rights to Arc the Lad. When Stolar moved from Sony to Sega Working Designs was quick to move back to Sony, since their relationship with Sega soured very quickly. I don’t think they took three years messing around with an already finished game for no reason. Stolar was well known for his dislike of RPGs, especially at Working Designs. Nevertheless, the game was released and sits as a curiousity for a company known for putting as much work into packaging as their actual games.

As a result of this nearly three year delay between releases Rayearth was not reviewed well when it launched. Many criticized the graphics as being akin to an early Saturn 2D game (it was), and the game’s release window (months after the other final Saturn stragglers). But, does this mean the game itself is not worth anybody’s time, or is it just a case of bad timing mixed with a sour relationship?

I previously reviewed Sunsoft’s Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean from Working Designs where I praised that game’s voice work. Rayearth has much more voice acting in it, and its all top notch quality that other companies should take some lessons from to this day. Each of the three main heroines keeps a diary of events as you progress through the game. Most of these are multiple sentences and are fully voiced. Cutscenes are fully voiced as well. There are hundreds of lines of spoken dialogue for the major characters, and you can hear how well directed the actors and actresses were, as well as the quality of Working Designs’ recording studio. Sega America could have taken some pointers from these guys.

Now let’s dig into the meat of this game. As an action-RPG combat takes place in real time. It takes quite some time for the game to really ramp itself though. There are three playable characters, Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu. Hikaru and Umi use short range swords while Fuu uses a bow. Fuu’s charged attack homes in on enemies, making her by far the most useful character. About the only time you’ll switch characters is to use magic to progress, or blast the boss with your strongest spells until they’re out of MP. Then you’ll just switch to Fuu, run in circles, and use her charged attack until the boss is dead. Its not a deep combat system.

The progression system is mostly related to the the Zelda system. Your heroines get better armor, weapon upgrades, and spells by getting to certain parts of the game, and not by spending a lot of money. Money in this game are gems, and they’re actually quite hard to come by. Most enemies will not drop much, most of these gems come from treasure finds.

The story is about a kidnapped princess who summons a few Magic Knights from another world to save her own from being swallowed in darkness. So the world of Cefiro is being taken over by dark forces and starts coming apart at the seams as a result of the princess’ lack of protecting prayers. Our three heroines have been prophesized in this world’s mythology for eons, but these Magic Knights were always assumed to be male. This type of gender identity and societal roles plays a crucial part of the story. Almost everybody is surprised that the Magic Knights are a trio of fourteen year old girls in short skirts. This story does take quite a few twists and turns despite using this rather simple and trite formula.

In the end I felt like the game was a mediocre Zelda clone. Even though it had some nice twists and turns and the game actually functions quite well it just does not stand out too much other than being a Working Designs game. There are a few places in the game where the frame rate plummets and the game almost grinds to a halt. Thankfully these places are not in the middle of a dungeon where you’re surrounded by enemies, but they really stand out and show poor optimization on Sega’s original team. I enjoyed the game overall but there was a distinct lack of polish in places and it was just too easy for my tastes. Given its price tag I would say pass on this unless you must find and own every Working Designs release or every Saturn game.

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