Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Bokan To Ippatsu! Doronbō Kanpekiban (Saturn)

Checkpoints OFF
4 Difficulty levels
8 Stages
Ship speed fixed, selected at start of level
- - - - - - -
Developed by Banpresto
Published by Banpresto in 1997

Even though on the outside both versions of this game are the same, there are actually a few differences between them. The Playstation title was the first one to be released as Bokan To Ippatsu! Doronbō, whereas the Saturn one came out the next year with Kanpekiban added to the title. For all purposes the latter is a slightly enhanced port of the former.

If you're a fan of the 70s anime Yatterman, which was a part of the long-running Time Bokan series, you'll feel quite astonished by this awkward little game especially when you realize that you take on the role of the villains instead of the heroes. Two buffoons and their sexy blonde leader pilot strange-looking vehicles and face off against mecha bosses controlled by several protagonists from the Time Bokan franchise such as Yatterman, Zenderman, Rescueman, Firebird (from Yattodetaman), Gyakuten Ippatsuman and Itadakiman. Of course that bears no weight at all on the actual gameplay, I just wanted to stress how much fan service Time Bokan / Time Fighters aficionados will find here.

The good news is that the gameplay, albeit offbeat and weird, offers enough substance for fans of the shooting genre to have some fun. While it doesn't push the envelope on any aspect whatsoever, it does strike a peculiar balance between risk and reward. In short, play safe and enjoy a laid back ride, or get cocky and risk losing the credit in a flash.  

Intro and first stage half of Time Bokan Series: Bokan To Ippatsu! Doronbō Kanpekiban
(courtesy of YouTube user Japanspel)

Three inputs need to be used in order to play Bokan To Ippatsu! Doronbō Kanpebikan: shot, bomb and dash. By default these work respectively with buttons A/C, B and L/R, but you can switch to a couple of other fixed configurations if you go to the Options from the start screen. In each level you must chose one vehicle from an initial assortment of six (after the third level another three become available), but you can't select the same vehicle twice in a row. All vehicles have specific abilities for movement, shield and firepower, with their own unique shot patterns. Bombs, on the other hand, have only two variations for all of them and behave in a very special way: a press of the button arms the bomb, and once it's ready another press releases it. Whenever you're on ground level they come out as arching exploding blasts, but if you're underwater or you're flying they come out as straight missiles. Bombs are also unlimited, and are the most important feature for scoring.

Using bombs for scoring is quite simple actually. The more enemies you destroy in a single blast the more you score. In a nutshell, it all comes down to identifying the best moments for bombing. Now for the catch: besides not granting any invincibility to the player, whenever you have a bomb armed and you get hit all your energy is lost, the vehicle is destroyed and the Doronbō gang is forced to ride a weak bike armed with only a pea shot, one hit away from GAME OVER. All is not lost though, since you can recover the vehicle form if you can survive long enough either to enter the next stage (the health bar is replenished at the start of every level) or to get to the next skull item carrier (it will release a shiny helmet icon that brings back the vehicle with the energy level you had prior to losing it).

Other items you might get from these carriers or by destroying random enemies consist of power-up (D), health refill (birds), temporary turbo speed (pink cat), power down (a dark helmet), point bonus (diamonds) and extra credit (potion). Most of the items you'll come across, however, will be golden and silver skulls that fill up a meter on the top of the screen. If the meter reaches 100 the vehicle will turn into a huge invincible mecha as the meter decreases towards zero. Besides becoming invincible, you will also recover all your energy level when this happens. The only downside is that you'll be unable to use bombs, which makes collecting skulls only really useful for survival (strategic or not). Skulls aren't worth any points whatsoever.

A rematch against boss Gyakuten Ippat(s)uman in stage 7

Most of the time the game is rather easygoing. Reaching max power makes the ride even easier, but you need to collect all three Ds to achieve it in every level. There are a few parts that do incur in inevitable perils though, and stage 5 is notorious for having almost all of them: the screen scrolling sideways faster than you're able to move, exploding mines, beams that fall over your head if you destroy them at the wrong moment and also one of the trickiest bosses in the whole game. However, when the going gets rough don't forget that you can always use the dash input in order to literally get through any hazard. This short lateral move makes you invincible at the cost of some recovery time, but it does wonders against some of the most threatening attacks from bosses. Unfortunately, if you've been knocked down to bike form you can't use neither the dash nor any bombs.

A few details are bound to bother some people such as the consufing firing patterns of a few vehicles, bullets being dangerously engulfed by explosions or the intrusive animations that pop up all the time in the lower display (left for player 1, right for player 2), which impair visibility when you least expect it. Other than that it's just a matter of adapting to the strange rules of the gameplay, coping with the abundance of silly dialogue/voices and enjoying the goofy art design, which ranges from clunky to deliciously creative.

Click for the option menus translation for Bokan To Ippatsu! Doronbō Kanpekiban

The biggest difference from this game and its Playstation counterpart is that Kanpekiban comes with one more stage prior to the final level, an urban area at nighttime with suspended bridges and parks full of trees. A few extra animated sections and minor tweaks applied to the presentation and the sound during boss introductions complete the package. Nothing changed in the actual gameplay, which still does not reset your score if you decide to continue (automatic save is implemented by default though).

My 1CC score shown below was achieved on Normal difficulty. The sequel Bokan Desu Yo is only available on the Playstation, so that's where I'll head next in order to see beautiful bad lady Doronjo in action again. After her win against the good guys in Bokan To Ippatsu! the poor thing still doesn't get to celebrate victory. On the contrary, you almost feel sorry for what happens to the trio once the final boss goes down.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Fantasy Zone (Playstation 2)

Checkpoints ON
3 Difficulty levels
12 Stages
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Sega
Published by Sega / 3D Ages in 2003

When Sega decided to bring its most famous games back to the spotlight with the Sega Ages 2500 discs for the Playstation 2 in Japan, fans were not exactly sure what to expect. The 3D remakes proposed by the series were promising on paper, yet didn't always reach the standards everybody was hoping for. I still can't vouch for the quality of the rest of the games in this collection, but what I've seen so far is enough to agree with the opinion that Vol. 3 is probably one of its best regarded outings. It presents a nice makeover of Fantasy Zone, the classic torus cute'em up we've all come to know and love.

For those who might be a little confused, there's also a Fantasy Zone Complete Collection, which was the last Sega Ages 2500 release as Vol. 33 and consists of a compilation of all major games and ports in the series plus a few arrange modes that are quite interesting on their own. However, Fantasy Zone as presented in Vol. 3 is a standalone game that's not included in Vol. 33, and a mandatory one for lovers of the franchise because it comes with four brand-new exclusive levels and bosses. Another highlight of this particular title is the cell-shaded redesign applied to all graphics and the nice 3D sections and transitions it allows during the game itself.

Note: this edition of Fantasy Zone also saw release as part of the Sega Classics Collection compilation, which came out in different regions other than Japan.

Meet new boss Skarotten of the Dawndusk stage

In the start menu you can select from three different modes. Normal is the main game and includes all new material exclusive to this port. Arcade is a faithful rendition of the original arcade game, only retouched by the cell-shaded graphic overhaul. Challenge mode is a special section where you're allowed to play individual stages in order to collect gold coins and use them to purchase new options, weapons and stages (this is how you unlock the extra levels for Normal mode only).

Controls are the same for every variation of the game. One button shoots and another drops bombs. Each stage consists of a closed area where ten evil generators spawn most of the enemies and hazards. The player's mission is to destroy all generators by flying left or right and then kill the stage boss. Scrolling speed can be affected by how close you are to the sides, but you can also land Opa-Opa on the ground and completely halt scrolling. Enemies will, however, approach from all sides and in the most diverse formations, so there's no fixed behavior for anything you see except for the fact that most enemies will leave behind gold coins when destroyed.

Gold coins collected are to be used in the shop accessed by touching a floating balloon that approches from the top of the screen. Some items are essential, such as twin missiles a choice for speed-up. Others might have timed ammo (20s) or are limited to single use only (you can buy more of the same though). Before leaving the shop you can still choose which item within a category (speed, shot, bomb) you'll be using. Dying strips you off of everything you might have purchased, so you need to buy them again – just note that except for speed-ups all items suffer inflation and increase in price for each consecutive purchase. Gold coins and extra lives are converted into a huge bonus upon completing the game, so the main objective when playing for score is to get to the end by no-missing with lots of gold collected. This bonus totally outweighs any milking you might be inclined to make during the levels, unless your idea of scoring higher is to spend countless hours shooting and dodging stuff for peanuts.

The main differences of Normal mode, which is the main game mode of this Fantasy Zone iteration, consist of a brief special entry for Opa Opa in every level and the game switching to a rail shooting point of view when bosses are defeated. They will then spit out gold coins for 20 seconds before exploding into coins as they would in the original game. Every extra weapon and resource unlocked in Challenge mode will also be available here. However, if you haven't still unlocked all extra stages you'll get a bad ending when beating the game. Another important feature of Normal mode is that it doesn't loop.

Plaleaf redesigned
(courtesy of YouTube user MorayAbiss)

Extra stages in Normal mode match the tone of the original game perfectly. Graphics, music and bosses are colorful, catchy and original. It doesn't take long to unlock them in Challenge mode, and that's equally the case with other very precious unlocks such as "auto rapid" and "barrier". Auto rapid gives you a fixed autofire rate that lets you breeze through the game if you're familiar with it. That's great to amass the highest amount of gold possible because the longer you take to destroy your enemies the lesser value you'll get from them gold coins (I almost felt guilty for wielding such a copius firepower level though). Barrier appears as an extra item in the shop and is self-explanatory: it gives you a shield that can withstand 3 hits from regular bullets. It doesn't protect you from collisions though, so watch out for touching what you absolutely shouldn't.

As a glorified arrange mode of Fantasy Zone, I can definitely say I had great fun with this port. I particularly liked the fact that Normal mode ends after you beat the final boss. Once I unlocked the extra levels and got barrier and auto rapid I didn't bother with Challenge mode anymore. You can still get other stuff like "continue" and "infla", which does away with all the inflation when purchasing items the shop (!). However, if you fancy extras such as design and character models, watch out for red coins when playing Challenge mode. Each red coin unlocks one game character in the Gallery mode. Everything is automatically saved to the memory card, with high scores duly registered in separate tables for both main game modes.

My general strategy for Normal mode was to get the jet engine and twin bombs in the first stage, 7-way shot in the Pocarius level and 3 heavy bombs in the boss rush of the final level (one for boss KobaBeach, another for boss Pickon and a final one for last boss Opapa's final minion). The best results I got on Normal mode are below, playing in the normal difficulty with game region set to Japan, auto rapid activated and barrier unlocked:

And now for my final results on Arcade mode, Japan setting, normal difficulty. I reached stage 3-4 (round 21) and adopted pretty much the same strategy described above, except for boss Pickon.