So as part of December’s deluge of games (see here), I got a number of import Sega Saturn releases. It’s a mishmash of stuff, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time with every game now with the exception of the Clockwork Knight games which perhaps I’ll tackle in another post. For now though here are some brief impressions of Baku Baku Animal, Deep Fear, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Lode Runner: The Legend Returns, and the concisely named Detana Twinbee Yahho-! Deluxe Pack. Puzzle, survival horror, fighting, platformer, shmup, all genres present and accounted for!
Baku Baku Animal
I believe this was released in the West as simply Baku Baku. Have to say it’s a pretty decent riff on the Puyo Puyo/Tetris formula. It essentially revolves around pairing animals with foodstuffs: monkeys with bananas, dogs with bones, mice with cheese, etc. Like Puyo Puyo, you compete in splitscreen mode against a computer or human opponent. Chaining combos or disappearing large amounts of foodstuffs in a single move drops new blocks suddenly on your opponent’s side of the screen.
I’m finally starting to understand one of the most important elements of a game like this, namely risk-reward. The closer you are to having your screen filled up (gAmE oVeR), the greater the potential to win the match with one incredible, devastating combo. After an early build-up and settling in, matches in Baku Baku Animal often become a series of surprising comebacks and reversals, with one person sending over lots of blocks, nearly killing someone, the other person then getting a large combo which almost kills the original player, and so on with these combos sending blocks back-and-forth until one person finally loses control and kicks the bucket. The core gameplay is solid here.
I should mention the graphics in this game, which are really strange. I don’t know whether I like them or not. On the one hand they are aesthetically rather ugly, like a bad version of Clockwork Knight’s charming graphical style. The characters look like inflatable sex dolls, and they animate rather like sex dolls for that matter too. On the other hand, this is a game in which you compete to become the princess’s royal zookeeper. With a compelling premise like that you’re hardly going to be concerned with graphics and animation! I don’t have anything more to add on that note. The music is a bit grating but there are a few decent songs, it’s just that you hear them less often than the grating stuff.
Conclusion: It’s a solid puzzler, although Puyo Puyo Sun takes the prize for best puzzler in my eyes. As well as having music which doesn’t irritate, there’s the addition of the titular Sun blocks. These function like super-powered normal blocks, and add a whole new element of strategy which can result in vs. matches being over within the first 20 seconds of play if used effectively against an unsuspecting opponent.
This one’s interesting. Produced by Rieko Kodama, this was the final Saturn game brought to Europe, and it fetches a pretty penny these days in English. Thankfully it’s not so dear from Japan, and most of the game is in English so it’s not posing any problems so far.
I’m pretty into survival horror but didn’t know what to expect with this – I figured it might’ve gone either way. I’m a big Resident Evil 2 fan, but I really struggled with the prequel. Happily, so far Deep Fear is closer to RE2 than 1. For starters, the controls are somewhat slicker than RE – the main character turns and moves faster than most tank-controlled characters. The second positive thing to say is that, while ostensibly a Resident Evil clone set in a underwater base, Deep Fear appears to have more than enough originality in gameplay and style to justify its own existence.
Presentation-wise there is a heavy emphasis on story which I wasn’t expecting. There are numerous cutscenes which indicate where you have to go and what you should do. It’s not the RE “you go explore and I go explore”, it’s more like “go and find the Dr. in this place”. And you find her, two minutes later. Cue terrible voice acting. It’s very funny at points, with your main character a particular lowlight. I mean seriously, would anyone on earth describe the mood around the big table with a phrase like stuffy these days…? “What do you mean… stuffy?” (The very next scene incidentally has some random staff members laughing about how they wish mermaids existed in a conversation with a distinctly drug-addled tone, that doesn’t sound so stuffy to me?!)
Now it may be because I’m still early on in the game that there is this hand-holding going on, but it’s far less stressful than RE in terms of ammo and item management. There is no item management, for one! It’s not like RE where ammo is scattered around the levels, instead there are set recharge points which automatically refill your ammo to max, and at this early stage I’m well-armed with three guns and ten or so medical packs. Thinking back to my recent experience with the REmake on Gamecube, being able to carry all that stuff with no item boxes or anything is absurdly liberating.
What prevents this game from being such a breeze in the park, is the fact that you have to think about air. Some rooms have low oxygen, and you have to reach a control box to adjust the oxygen levels to normal. Shooting your gun uses up precious oxygen (I assume it makes your guy breathe more heavily), and I can see already the potential for this to create some very tense moments as you have to travel through air depleted areas to reach a control box that raises the oxygen level. It’s early in the game and I’ve already had a few close-to-death encounters, so I hope that will continue.
Street Fighter Alpha 2
The Alpha series is called Zero in Japan, so technically I’m playing Zero 2. There’s a Zorro type Z that appears when transitioning to matches, so I’m curious whether they redid that for Western releases, or if it’s just one of those “oh well, guess they’re ripping off Zorro” unexplained things! Regardless I’ve been having a lot of fun with this one. It took some getting used to as this is my first entry in the series with the exception of Street Fighter 2 and its many variants. First of all though is that this game is gorgeous. Guardian Heroes is the only other 2D fighting game I have for the Saturn and it looks great too, but Alpha 2 has remarkably detailed and fluid animation which I think goes beyond Guardian Heroes.
Graphics aside I’m really enjoying this, and the Saturn controller is really ideal for Street Fighter. It’s taking quite a bit of time to learn and get used to some of the inputs for super combo moves, but the regular special moves – Shoryuken, Yoga Fire, and so on – are remarkably easy to pull off on the Saturn d-pad. Plus Sakura (a schoolgirl interpretation of Ryu) has become my new favourite Street Fighter character. It’s Ryu but faster and daintier, so much so that Ryu feels like a tank when I use him now. Cool stuff.
Lode Runner: The Legend Returns
Here’s a sequel to a classic which I enjoyed once upon a time on Amiga. And sequel it is, this is straight as can be. It is Lode Runner. Speedy gameplay, single screen levels, enemies falling in manmade pits so you can run over them, it’s all present. It’s so old school you can’t even save. What?! Yeah, no save, not even for high scores. That’s a bit annoying. Plus there’s no level select or password system, so it’s from the start every time. Now that’s hardcore. It comes with a level editor too, and finally a 2-player mode. The multiplayer has a completely unique co-op campaign that is nothing like the singleplayer so it’s worth getting someone else to try it. Still, I don’t have much to say about it. It’s good but frustrating. It is satisfying that I’m improving with every playthrough, but I seriously doubt I’ll ever beat this game. After about 15 playthroughs I haven’t even made it out of the first world. I don’t know how many levels are in each world, but with a total of 150 singleplayer levels in the game, I’ve certainly got a long long way to go.
Detana Twinbee Yahho-! Deluxe Pack
Last but not quite least, here’s Detana Twinbee. This series was made by the Parodius team at Konami, and it’s another spin-off along the lines of Parodius. This game includes the first two Twinbee games, much like the Parodius collection, Parodius Da! (or just Parodius in the West). There’s not really much to say, except that these are two vertical shmups on a disc filled with crazy. Both games are highly frantic, with the screen overwhelmed with fire and enemies most of the time. On top of that is a fairly complex weapons system – there are bells which give you all sorts of different effects, bombs which hit targets below the screen for bonus points, charge shots and a secondary weapon. So you’re shooting up to 3 different types of fire at the same time, while handling the bells (not the easiest thing) plus dealing with heavy enemy fire. There are some cool things like a chase sequence in which you follow a flying ship around a tower, and an Alice in Wonderland theme complete with an absurd boss fight against a robot Alice shooting lasers with her eyes. A few memorable moments and nice presentation aside, it’s not particularly compelling. Good for a lark perhaps, and an interesting companion to the Parodius series, but if you like your silly shmups I’d go with Parodius over this any day.
And with that, I leave you with the all-important Early Impressions Disclaimer: I reserve the right to reverse these conclusions at any time. (Look forward to my next post: Detana Twinbee is the Best Shmup Ever Made.)