Wednesday 12 June 2019

Nights Into Dreams: Virtua Dreams Speak to Me

Love at first sight is a concept many do not believe. Well, in this case, it was true. I loved this game the moment I saw the Saturn trailer it was featured in. I wanted the game for well over half a year before I finally received it. That love was never misplaced. Case and point, Nights is flight!

The game is not afraid to throw you directly into the world, and after a brief menu screen, you are transported directly into the dream world. With the choice of two levels, either the boy, Elliot or the girl, Claris. Both of these children are caught within the nightmare world, ruled by Wizeman the Wicked, which is threatening their dreams by turning them into a very dangerous place. One of the Nightmarens shows pity on the children and decides to help them by inhabiting their dreams willingly, which gives them the power to fight back.

Nights is about as surrealistic a game can be without being straight up incoherent. The game, itself, has been accused of being such, but it really only takes a short amount of time to figure the game out. Not only does the game drop you many, many hints on how to play it, but it also becomes quite easily played on basic intuition and instinct. The method of spin attack and whirling around enemies to create whirling attacks to defeat them is reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog’s gameplay, only in flight (not to mention the game was developed by Sonic Team).

With its wondrous look and artistic value in dreamscapes and bosses. You must figure out how to defeat the main enemies. At some points, the learning curve can be somewhat steep, but with just a bit of experimentation, you will find this a satisfying fighting style. The free flight capability was cutting edge for its time. While the paths are somewhat linear with the normal controller. With the 3D Controller Pad, you can free flight through the whole level without bounds other than what is set for the whole level itself.

Aside from a few scenes and pictures of Nights, we honestly never get a whole lot of character with her in ways of personality. The game itself is more a “show don’t tell” aspect, as she is seen smiling. She was never given a speaking role in the game, but was in the sequel “Journey into Dreams.” Even though the character was given an English accented female voice, the character herself is actually genderless and “completely up to the player (hence why I go with she, just because).

The story is quite deep for what little they show in the actual game. Though, we are introduced to the children in the beginning cut scenes, the rest of the story is more or less included in the narrative outside of the game itself. This is probably for the best, as too much story could overload the real object of the game. Nights was created to test the limitations of a new system of the time.

The game was met with critical and public success, though the financial success it reached is something of an unclear subject. It is still hailed today as arguably the greatest game on the Saturn. It is universally loved and even acknowledged by gamers who have never played the Saturn. If you have Steam, a PS3 or Xbox 360, then you can get the game rather easily and for cheap. Try it out and experience it for yourself. Virtua Nightmares Realized...

Saturday 8 June 2019

Battle Arena Toshinden Remix - Crack that Whip!

It’s no secret that the Sega Saturn’s collection is ripe with fighting games. Anywhere from mainstream to more obscure titles can be seen. Not all of them are perfect, but Battle Arena Toshinden Remix is definitely no slouch when it comes to two siblings competing for who can perform the most special flashy moves. A far cry different than Virtua Fighter, you not only use a vast array of weapons, but you also have very fast moving and powerful energy projectiles. This game is nothing if not somewhat pretty to look at.

It's interesting to note that this was originally going to be a Playstation exclusive. Why it was later ported onto the Saturn as "Remix", it's not exactly clear. However, ported it was and it stood up on its own legs, sporting new features in the game. This made its original intent of derailing Virtua Fighter  completely null and void, and created quite the puzzling turn of events.

Though the graphics have not aged well, they're still better than that swampfest of an anime movie compliments of 90’s cliches (Not kidding, do not watch the movie). It still works just fine with its controls, and the glitches are somewhat few and far in between so long as you don’t whip the camera around too fast too many times. The Sega Saturn’s framerates can get somewhat testy, especially with games that show this amount of scenery along with their polygon figures known as characters.

The characters of Battle Arena Toshinden are quite diverse, and their fighting styles are fun to play around with, however if you play with one such as Gaia, do not expect a fair challenge. Once you unlock the big brute in the appendaged armor, your chances of winning increase around ten fold. He was definitely not meant to appeal to the competitive nature within us all. Beyond him, there are the normal chaps. We have our Ryu and Ken clones that do have an impressively broad backstory to them. The game pinpointed every fighting game archetype and it’s fun to meet them all and see what they can do.

That’s not to say the story is all that interesting, though. Once you’ve passed through the story mode, you get the idea that these people honestly don’t want to be there for the most part. Those who do want to be there are on the wrong side of crazy. However, further down the line for this franchise, after a bit of reading, you’ll find that to be par for the course. After the installments wrap up storylines, the producers kept wanting them to further it more, and it was clear that their writers ran out of ideas. It more or less ends up going nowhere.

The ending drives this point home pretty hard. There is no ending, this is what we nerds call the “Empire Strikes Back” of Toshinden games, as we are left on a very poorly planned cliffhanger. I say poorly planned in that the Sega Saturn’s version of the sequel took a very very bad turn. While Playstation got one version of the sequel that met with critical acclaim, the Saturn got Battle Arena Toshinden URA, which was dragged through the mud before being drooled onto a CD.

If you would like a happy ending to this story, there is one. We not only got URA, but there was also Fighters Megamix, which beats the hell out of all of these games anyway. Megamix is immensely better and exclusive to the Sega Saturn. Total win.

The gameplay is not greatly balanced, and the fighting is not especially deep, as you would find in the Virtua Fighters 1 and 2. It’s far more reliant on the aspect of having pretty moves that do brunt force damage or standing still and letting the laser light show take control. If you were looking for a solid fighting game, this one is hit or miss with people. It’s quirky and fun for all of its entertainment value. However, when you start talking official sanctions with competitions, that may be a bit of a stretch. Characters can do endless strings of cheap moves that made you want to turn around and punch the other player in the arm. With no real challenge when it comes to skill, and no real complicated move system, it’s fun to look at.

As said, the graphics ain’t great, but the voice acting is a far cry worse. Despite there being a good number of decent voice actors in the anime, the English dub for the game sounded like they found the janitor, his three cousins along with a couple of their other roommates and had them talk into a mic to say words in funny accents. If there was a proper accent within it, it’s almost impossible to tell with the cartoonish way they talk, it’s honestly hilarious. Surprisingly, though, from footage I've seen from the MS-DOS version, it was surprisingly ported well by the devs at Digital Dialect.

Pop it in and beat the story mode within about ten minutes, and feel good about unlocking a few character. Beyond that, it’s just fun to wail on some friends and make fun of the squeaky voices they make when they fall. This title is another one that should never be taken seriously. Nor should you ever look into the later sequels. The Playstation port game after this one was a superior game, as well as the Saturn’s Megamix. Trek that far with it, and then move on to Soul Calibur. Virtua Slice!

Wednesday 5 June 2019

Panzer Dragoon II Zwei - How You've Grown!

When you want the high flying action and excitement of the ages, and the Saturn is calling your name, what game do you turn to? Nights: Into Dreams comes to mind, but you’re not feeling quite that kid friendly at the moment. You need guns, explosions, bombs, and a dragon! Make that a dragoon! Featuring some of the most gothic, rustic graphics this side of the 5th Generation, far intensified from its former title.

Panzer Dragoon Zwei features a young man who saved the reptilian creature from certain death at the hands of his captors. He takes the winged thing away and begins a very long journey which includes ample amounts of soaring. With a small but powerful blaster in his hands, he fights off legions of enemies, able to turn 360 degrees and fire at all angles.

These legions of enemies rank from about the size of a horse, to the size of a battleship! Whether they be flying next to you or firing at you from the ground, you need to know how to target enemies and utilize your dragoon’s energy attack that he fires off as a natural means of defense. It is one of the most useful weapons in the young man’s arsenal as it clears out the more plentiful, smaller enemies. However, the blaster is by far more solid when it comes to inflicting damage to a single target. Its firing rate is very fluid and quick with the flick of your thumb.

The controls are intuitive and the learning curve eases you in slowly. However, as the game goes on, that learning is put to the test as you are put through more and more peril that accumulates before you know it. The difficulty is something to behold with this game.

The dragoon you ride not only has the autolock attack, but he also has an ultimate attack! Once your meter next to your life is full, you fire off a multiple energy projectiles and kill many, many enemies, or drain the boss’s life in a major way. After many of the levels throughout the game, you will notice that your dragoon sheds its skin and glows to a radiant glisten! This is how the dragoon evolves and becomes stronger! You’ll notice that not only can he lock onto more targets over time, but he will also do more damage with more HP. However, do not think of this as getting too good for the likes of the enemies. Oh, no. Never think that.

If it was not clear already, this game is an absolute masterpiece. It is not without flaws, of course. The challenge can register in the "not fair" category in randomly occurring cases. However, with some trial and error, the challenges do not register as impossible. Some of the environments, while pretty, can lack in the graphics department, even for back then. None of these problems take away from the overall enjoyment, not until you get to the later, more frustrating levels.

Some of us older folk love the graphics because we became accustomed to them, but none of that matters, because they are so outlandish and strange that it makes them quite timeless. The more saturated brownish tinge of the color pallet do wonders to preserve its rusty charm. While some levels lack in the graphics, there are some that are also very beautiful, even going so far as to say "surrealistic."

As gameplay goes, this has been said to out do its predecessor. We here on Planet Virtua agree. The challenge is real, many of the levels are beautiful to look at and the musical score is very good, doing nothing to distract from the game. Do not miss out on this classic Saturn title and be sure to check out Panzer Dragoon. Do not forget to lead your Dragoon to water.

Saturday 1 June 2019

Virtua Sonic #2: Rough Virtua Life

Whenever we talk about Sonic, here on the Saturn Junkyard, I get the feeling that, perhaps, we have become a bit disconnected with the public. This shouldn’t be such a big thing, but at the same time, there are some very good reasons why Saturn and Sonic have a very shaky relationship at best. The mere fact that it is our favorite system goes to show a lot, because anyone who loves Sega normally loves the Blue Blur. However, with 2 stink bomb ports that make the bottom 20 lists on a regular basis, it’s understandable.

Note that I am not counting Sonic Jam as a Saturn port. Yes, Jam had its place on the system because it brought a wonderful bunch of Sega games you guys will remember to the greatest system ever! Not only that, but it did it very well! That port of Sonic the Hedgehog from the Dreamcast was so over stuffed with other games that it couldn't possibly be anything short of awful. This is the Sonic Quartet of great games. Should I count Sonic and Knuckles as an actual game? Probably not, but I'm going to anyway. To tell an old secret, my favorite Sonic game has always been the game packaged with my first Sega Genesis, Sonic the Hedgehog 2. With the first three games and the expansion pack included in this one disc, it is most certainly worth adding to your collection. It beats the alternative by far...

Sonic R sported mediocre graphics, terrible controls, questionable map decisions, game-breaking glitches, floundering frame rates and just all around subpar gameplay, especially when it comes to some of the difficulty spikes. Sounds terrible, right? Well, truth is, it kind of was. However, there was a fanbase behind this game that fully admitted its flaws but still would not give it up. 

Apart from its flaws, one part that it excels in is the music. Pay attention to whom you mention that music to, because they will break down DDR style and start singing to a beat in their heads. The gameplay is awful, but it’s very addictive once you find your own way around the bad controls. The frame rates get back here and there, but after you’ve numbed your brain to the point of not caring, you come to expect it.

The only real hardship of Sonic Racing is collecting all of the chaos emeralds and the unlockable characters. These unlockables are a staple of the Sonic franchise for many reasons, as they not only feature Metal Sonic, Metal Knuckles and Super Sonic, but also a very strange doll of tails. It looks like nothing more than a floating plush toy with an antenna on top. It’s so creepy, it’s amazing. Even when it floats above water, though, it’s not fast enough to really win any races unless you really cut some serious, glitchy corners.

Anyway! With five courses to go through and some very fun extra gameplay, this Sonic rendition is actually one to at least give a try. That’s much more than I can say for the other Sonic game in the library though…

Sonic 3D Blast is well known throughout fans of the old Sega Library (makes me think we play games on tomes and scrolls while we light the screen with torches) as one of the worst ideas for Sonic at the time. While there have been several other, much worse ideas, this one stood out because of the route they took with it.

This was in a period where 3D was glowing in all of its glory, and the same year it was released was the same year the Sega Saturn was released in America. The term 2.5D has been thrown around in the gaming community, and even that sounds generous. The isometric angle with which the game was made slows the pace down to an absolute crawl. The game is a boring, miserable experience, and worst of all, it was slow. 

The Gamegear version was obviously riddled with problems (but, then again, so was the Gamegear), the Genesis version was only slightly better and the Saturn port fixed some of the problems they had, but there’s always the depth perception problem! If you don’t know what depth perception is, pretty much how your two eyes perceive the space in front of you and measure it out for you so that you can know where to move. It’s simple physio/anatomy sciencey mumbo jumbo crap! Sonic 3D Blast does not care what kind of depth perception you have in your arsenal. They have their platforms laid out the way they want, at the angle they want, and how you jump on top of them is your problem, not theirs!

That one problem with the depth perception screws up your running, your jumping on platforms, and jumping on enemies. So now you’re missing targets, falling off high tops and getting run over by little critters. If you hadn’t gathered, it more or less screws up a lot of the game.

This is a real shame, because otherwise, the colors are bright and cheery, the graphics look crisp and clean in the Saturn port and it’s obvious the devs put a lot more into this version. However, you can’t patch together a game with such an enormous flaw as to screw up every part of the gameplay in some way. The mere fact that this was the first representation of Sonic for the Saturn in the US is an abysmal thought.

It was not all bad, but let’s face it, Sonic was severely shafted on this deal. Now, for the want of a happy ending, there is a nice big silver lining all over it! You see, the Sega Saturn did not maintain its greatness all its own. A hero is only a good as his buddy sometimes, and where the Saturn fell short, the Dreamcast picked up the slack. So Sonic still got a pretty decent send off, all things considered, from the Sega consoles. We can be grateful for that. Drink Virtua Water!