Sunday 29 March 2020

The Panzer Dragoon Remake: Flying Blind Through Familiar Skies

I’ve always been sympathetic to, and even charmed by Sega’s mid-‘90s transitional struggles. For a time, the company was caught perpetually off guard as the industry conventions it had relied on (and indeed, helped define) crumbled amidst a swift generational shift. Sega adapted, more or less. It eventually forged its own creative renaissance that continues to endear the company to many of us today, even if it was ultimately a victim of that sea change.

In my mind, no game exemplified that precarious phase more than the original Panzer Dragoon. As something of a killer app in the Sega Saturn’s early days, the original title stands as a cult classic, particularly by association with its offspring. Fans maintain an enduring fondness for the original Panzer Dragoon, of course, but it remains even better known for kicking off a remarkable and criminally underappreciated gaming franchise.

For its part, the original Panzer Dragoon was a timid first step in a bold new direction. It navigated a generational chasm between a familiar arcade-action framework and the unbound possibilities of 3D gaming. Between them, Panzer Dragoon took a contorted middle path. It utilized the third dimension to great artistic and mechanical effect, hoisting players atop a majestic dragon and immersing them in a 360˚ perspective as they locked lasers with fantastical beasts in a mysterious, post-apocalyptic setting. Those concepts contributed to a distinct vision and tone that felt entirely new. However, several of the game's structural aspects – like its rigidly linear pathways, finite life/continue counts, and lack of upgrades or progression systems – did not.

The game is about dragons, after all, so in those terms the original Panzer Dragoon was like a young fledgling: confined to well-trodden ground despite its loftier ambitions for flight. With later installments, the series would grow its wings, evolve with more modern conventions, and soar with a swagger to match its ambition.

But now, 25 years later, developer MegaPixel Studio and publisher Forever Entertainment return us to that young fledgling via the Nintendo Switch (for now, with PC and other platforms eventually).

At face value, the Panzer Dragoon remake basically does what it promises. It lets me hop back into the dragon’s saddle and guides me through the linear pathways and familiar locales from the original game. Homing lasers in tow, I again blast the waves of monsters surrounding me. The remake largely succeeds in replicating the basic structure of Panzer Dragoon, no doubt, but it overlooks many of the things which defined its novel vision in the first place. At no point does the Panzer Dragoon remake ever make a compelling case for why it really needed to exist.

Friday 13 March 2020

Battle Arena Toshinden URA - Ultimate Rancid Anus

What do you get when you take an already made sequel to a mediocre (at best) game and jackhammer it into a completely different system than intended? You get a product that looks like it was hastily put together by lego knockoffs. Battle Arena Toshinden URA was meant to be a Sega Saturn release that veered away from the ongoing plot of the main series. Why? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? It’s well known that the Saturn has a completely different operating system than the Playstation, so it’s obvious that they would need to take a different route in its creation.

But, for real, Takara… WHY!? Why would you do this? One single look at this game and your heart will sink. Even if you don’t care all that much about the first one, you still made an effort to get this game in some capacity. Whether it be by money or whatever else, you still spent time to make this game playable and now you look at THIS! The character select screen is enough to cause you to scowl. It is ugly. I know graphics don’t mean everything, but this looks like vomit of the blockiest quality!
That’s not even talking about the gameplay. Oh, no. Those two paragraphs were just about the look and the history of this “game.” As soon as you get to your first match, everything gets much, much worse! The first game was saltine crackers, this game is stale wheat bread on the verge of growing blue fuzz. The controls are as alien as the story concept. The character models are far more half assed than the first and any attempt at any kind of strategy goes just about as well as the first game, if not worse.

You have to try to be this lazy with a game. The concepts of the first game were already shabby enough, but now, you don’t even have a story mode. Oh, no no no, no story what-so-ever is ever really shown. There is a story somewhere in here, and it’s about as nonsensical as you’d expect. You get 5 to 10 second cut scenes that show off their hot new bad guys. These bad guys are so bad, they’re cheap and spam attacks to a ridiculous degree. A big surprise coming from a game so nuanced as this.

So, yes, it’s that bad. It’s even worse than I could have expected, and I was expecting some bad stuff. Remix was no masterpiece, by any means, but it had merit in the ways of dumb fun. This has none of that. The voice clips during the fight sound far worse, and there isn’t even a story mode as a vehicle to show off the cheesy voice acting between characters. Playing the main game is equivalent to an arcade mode. So, with the new characters, you get no character at all, just new fighters. Trust me when I say it’s not worth it. This is definitely a front runner for the worst fighting game on the Sega Saturn!