Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout (1997)

      As mentioned prior, I love manga artist Akira Toriyama. Something about Dragon Ball Z's absurdly muscled fighters gently levitating in the air and screaming for half-an-hour has had me hooked for 12 years now. With continual re-releases and new toy sets based on a long-dead anime/manga, it's safe to say that Z's allure has captured the imagination and closet wrestler of us all. 
      And yet, while Dragon Ball was still a relevant series, there was not one good fighting game based on it. Beginning with the Famicom, every release had the potential to take all that was great about Dragon Ball's ridiculous fights and put them in the control of countless rabid fans with the one requirement of being a good game. That's all the fans wanted. Released for the PlayStation, Bandai delivered Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout.
      Final Bout was released just as the Dragon Ball series was finishing up in Japan, thus Bandai had the series' entire back-catalog to form the game's roster. Just thinking of all the potential "what if?" fights I could have staged makes me giggle. Given the PlayStation's limited memory, Bandai should have been frugal with their character choices. Instead, they opted towards having multiple iterations of the same character.

     I count at least five Gokus and three Trunks.

      And that's not even the worst of it! Following the character selection is quite possibly the worst pre-match taunt accompanied by the worst voice actors the English localization team could have found. In Bandai's defense, Final Bout was released even before Dragon Ball Z hit Toonami in '98. Not only were they localizing a game who's namesake was based on a show that hadn't made it overseas, but there also wasn't an established English vocal cast yet. However, this doesn't account for the actual fights themselves to still have the prerecorded Japanese voice actors for every Kamehameha, Big Bang Attack and jump. This provides a nice touch of inauthenticity, as the males in the Japanese Z have quite high-pitched voices, especially when in contrast against the American dub. Perhaps they were lazy? Maybe they wanted the presentation to reflect how half-assed the actual game play was. 
      Oh God, here comes the game play. There is not one thing about the controls that I can praise. I remember subscribing to Beckett's Dragon Ball Z Collector magazine when I was twelve, and they had a section in one issue dedicated to importing Dragon Ball games. They had a review of Final Bout, and it closed with how badly the controls were. Picture this: there's a tiny man who's sole purpose is to tell the characters in Final Bout what action to perform. In order to do said action, you have to manually write out what the action is, hand it to the little man, who in turn runs down the entire length of the PlayStation controller chord, and delivers the action to the character on screen. Beckett's simile was so spot on, that I'm actually questioning whether or not they're on to something. Playing this game requires an unforgivable amount of dedication, investment, and patience; it's almost like having a relationship with the game, yet I've had relationships that have lasted shorter than how long it takes Vegeta to turn around. 
      This game is not worth the 30+ dollars it costs to find a copy of the original 1997 American release, and it's not worth the fifteen dollars I spent importing it when I was twelve. There was a re-release in 2004 when Dragon Ball GT actually started airing in America, so the value has naturally gone down, but why bother?


Friday, October 8, 2010

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition (1995)

     It's a safe assumption that if you were a boy in elementary school in the early '90s, and liked smashing things, you were smitten with the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. It's execution of huge mechs and monsters going toe-to-toe was unrivaled up to that point, and as a kid, it was awesome. With a franchise as popular as Mighty Morphin', the inevitability of terrible, officially incensed games was predictable. 
     Not so with The Fighting Edition. Though the box art does a terrific job leading the buyer to assume the game must be terrible as well, I assure you it's a fa├žade. Disregard the universe it's set in, and you're presented with a really decent fighting game. 
     With a cast of four Megazords and four villains, The Fighting Edition is essentially your basic 2D fighter, except with amazing visuals and a gimmick that works surprisingly well: underneath your health bar is a secondary bar that repeatedly refills and empties over the course of the battle. I discovered through playing that if you pull off a special move right as the bar is completely filled and flashing, the bar will change color. Repeat the process several times, and you pull off a super fancy, oh-my-god-what-the-hell-is-going-on move. It's really cool, and it's a nice touch to the overall metagame, as it requires impeccable timing.
     When it comes to every fighter I've ever played, I shamefully adhere to the button-mashing code of suck. However, I actually found a bit of a scapegoat from my routine in The Fighting Edition. The game is actually really easy to pick up and play; I figured out your basic Hadouken equivalents and physical combos fairly easily, which is kind of a big deal for me. When I played the game with a few buddies, it was even easy for them to pose a serious challenge to my patented "Mash the D-Pad in a counter-clockwise motion, while repeatedly pressing the energy button" strategy (which, might I add, is exactly what I told them to do.). I think part of The Fighting Edition's pick-up-and-play focus could be attributed to the fact that it's demographic is 10-year-old's, but that really doesn't detract from the game. 
     The visuals and sound are pretty great! The included fighters are very accurate representations of their television counterparts, and they move very fluidly. Once I got a Game Over in the Arcade/Story mode, I was treated with an illustrated depiction of Lord Zedd that was one of the best looking images to ever come off of a SNES, hands-down. The soundtrack that serves as a supplement to your brawls contains a pretty faithful composition of the main theme, as well as other songs featured from the show. I had a good laugh with most of the backgrounds, though. For example:


     It's good to see that Zordon finally upgraded to that 700 foot flat-screen plasma he always wanted. I don't remember the Command Center taking place inside of a computer. I digress, the game is very detailed, and one of the better-looking fighters on the SNES. 
     Coupled with the gimmick mentioned prior, The Fighting Edition really is a solid fighting game, and even hardcore fighters should find a home with it. Though there aren't any outstanding flaws in the game, it's more of a game to play in quick bursts or simply for those bursts of nostalgia with a few friends. 
     Also, Shogun Megazord is terribly, terribly broken. I had a rougher time fighting him than I did with the final boss. It isn't his size exactly, it's more of how much straight up discipline they managed to pack into one character. It's like, all of the other characters are balanced simply because the majority of the available programming was put into Shogun Megazord's flaming sword. When playing as Shogun Megazord, I can't even beat Shogun Megazord, yet he's based solely around defense. I'm thinking that if you land one hit on him, then stand still, blocking, Shogun Megazord won't know what to do, and you'll win simply because the time runs out. He's so used to kicking total and complete ass that he won't know what to do. He's accustomed to being approached first that he can't make the first move. It's almost crippling for him. Shogun Megazord has Asperger's.  

Buy Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition (feat. Shogun Megazord) on Amazon 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Go Go Ackman (1994)

     Like the other boys in my 7th grade, I followed the trend of obsessively watching Dragon Ball Z, and in turn worshiping Akira Toriyama, and every piece of manga and video game artwork he produced. During one of our Toriyama-researching binges, a friend of mine had found a Super Famicom game that had somehow gone under the radar: Go Go Ackman. Best described as an action platformer, it held our interest for about half an hour before we moved on to looking up Dragon Ball Z hentai involving Android 18 and Dr. Gero. A grave decision on my part, as we spent more time looking at that than playing this surprisingly well-made platformer. I know now that it was time wasted indeed.
     I recently re-obtained the game, and it's incredibly good! The game never saw a release Stateside, so the dialogue is completely in Japanese. However, there's a surprising amount of English in the menus; more than enough to get one's grips of how to play. From what I can vaguely understand given the language barrier, you're Ackman. There's a cherub that for whatever reason is your nemesis, and you have to make your way past his minions to arrive at the inevitable showdown between the two of you.
     I'm a sucker for 2D platformers, and this one takes the tried-and-true formula and ups it a few dozen pegs past my expectations. Ackman traverses through about 9 different stages to get to each end-of-stage boss battle, defeating cherubs, monsters, and humans along the way. At first glance it comes off as a standard, run of the mill licensed platformer that the Super Famicom/SNES was quite partial to in the early '90s. Not so! In hidden nooks, Ackman can obtain power-ups to easily ward of any challenge to come his way. These range from bombs, swords, boomerangs, and in one level, a jetpack. As if that weren't enough, the second level is completely vehicular and solidified my adoration for this game; Ackman, behind the wheel of a sports car, weaving his way past landmines, and around cherubs on hover bikes is the red ribbon of the creativity in this game. These additions add a really nice hook to the game that makes it stand out from other platformers, aside from the tight controls and it's beautiful visuals, in vibrant 16-bit glory. Speaking of which...
     The visuals! The details shine throughout the game, so much so that there's no question that Toriyama did the artwork for this game. The backgrounds are multi-layered, with clouds moving at different rates and close scenery passing from view faster than images farther away. It provides a nice touch of depth to each world, and it's appreciated. The sprites are larger than the Super Nintendo norm, providing near-perfect recreations of the characters in the manga this game is allegedly based upon. Each character, namely Ackman himself, has many different individual frames for each motion as well. Everything is really detailed and a treat to view.
    Of the two qualms I have with Go Go Ackman, the one that bothers me the most is how bland the music is. It isn't bad or irritating, really, but I honestly can't remember one memorable track from the game. It's a shame because the soundtrack for a video game is always the one thing that really stands out in a video game for me. I understand that's just personal preference, and it may not matter to most, but in this case it's a problem. The other qualm, if you can call it that, is the lack of a save feature. I tend to look past this, though, because the difficulty isn't ridiculous, and the game itself is fairly short for a platformer.
     I beat Go Go Ackman in about an hour and a half, but that actually didn't bother me! Compared to the sprawling RPG's and FPS's of the current generation, Go Go Ackman was a nice change of pace and equally fulfilling in enjoyment through playing and the impression it left on my afterward. It's a really fun, good-looking game, and it's worth a look if you're looking for something freshly retro...if that makes sense.