bit generations: orbital

Thanks to Astro Boy, I have sort of fallen down this nostalgic rabbit hole of old GBA games I was obsessed with a decade ago. Shockingly, Nintendo had a great handheld where a good chunk of its best games were buried underneath a mountain of licensed dogshit based off of a cartoon that was already memory holed months before the game left the planning stages, or were left in Japan entirely. The latter is what happened to the bit Generations series. A series of simple yet aesthetically pleasing games that ranged from “eh, not that great” to “put this on your list of must-play GBA games” in terms of quality. Orbital is, not surprisingly, one of those games.

Orbital is a game where you are a tiny white star that’s trying to become a planet. You do this by absorbing other stars of an equivalent size until you become big enough to move on to the next stage. You can only move by using your planet’s own force of gravity to attract itself to or repel itself from another celestial body, all while trying not to collide with another planet or asteroid. You do this for 30 levels, then two additional sets of stages, assuming you unlock them. It’s a pretty simple concept, but a compelling enough one.

You may find yourself wondering if Orbital counts as this chill game. Is this the kind of thing you want to play in order to relax?

NO

Orbital is a pretty hard game! The weird movement and relying on gravity can be pretty tough in later stages full of asteroid belts, or when you have to maneuver between multiple large planets orbiting one another, where your gravity gets really weird and you don’t know where you’re pulling yourself to. You can go from clearing one stage in moments, to crashing into seemingly everything and getting a game over in the next stage. Orbital can be obtuse, it can be frustrating, it can be weird in an uncomfortable way. All that being said, Orbital is still a tremendous amount of fun that still looks great. I consider this my favorite in the bit Generations series. Yes, Dotstream is extremely colorful and visually pleasing to me, and Coloris has a Cornelius music video included with it, but I still prefer Orbital. Also, it probably doesn’t hurt that it’s a game about space, and space is one of my many gimmicks.

Orbital also got a sequel (remake?) on the Nintendo Wii where it was called Art Style: Orbient. This was also a pretty fun one, and it at least was given an international release. I know this because I bought it day one on the Wii Shop and enjoyed the hell out of it. It’s a bit easier to get into than the GBA game, but not an easier game to finish. Still rules. Play it in Dolphin.

It’s always fun to load up the emulator (mGBA seems to be the go-to these days) at night and play this game about literally finding your place in the universe. I did it all those years ago, huddled up and freezing to the bone in my shitty apartment where the heat doesn’t work, listening to shoegaze and moody ambient music. I’m doing it again now, still freezing, still listening to great music, still enjoying the sight of the stars.

astro boy: the omega factor

Every now and again, I bring up my long-standing love for Astro Boy. I found myself appreciating the character and his show, mostly because it was the only thing on TV worth watching at 4:30 AM while I got ready for work. It was during this time that I also started getting into all the Nintendo stuff that I had missed growing up as a kid with a Sega Genesis and a Sony Playstation. I bought a DS to pass time during breaks at work, and I did a 180 on the Wii as soon as No More Heroes was announced. The DS was a real thing of beauty. Not only did I get to play a lot of great games for that system, but its backwards compatibility allowed me to see all the Game Boy Advance games that I had missed out on (I got a GBA during my high school years, but I only ever owned a few games for it). That was a fun time for me to discover games. And for anything that I couldn’t find for pennies on the dollar at a Gamestop somewhere, I loaded up in the old Visual Boy Advance emulator on my home PC and hoped didn’t run like shit. Among these many classics on the GBA, I found myself becoming extremely attached to Astro Boy: The Omega Factor, to the point that I would say it’s my favorite game on the handheld.

The Omega Factor is a stone-cold classic by Treasure, a company I don’t think I need to gush about a second time. It’s a game with multiple genres: platformer, shooter, brawler. All done very well, with Astro Boy’s powers well represented, including his rear-end machine guns. While Astro’s name is on the cover, this is a game that acts as a loving tribute to the collective works of his creator, Osamu Tezuka. Characters like Black Jack and Phoenix are prominently featured in the story, and there’s an entire level set on the Marine Express. It’s clear that Treasure really did care about the world of Tezuka.

Astro Boy’s first half is a basic enough game. You punch robots and humans who hate robots. You fly around, shooting lasers and your butt-mounted machine gun at more robots and humans who hate robots. Then you take on some large, visually impressive bosses. Sometimes you may run into another Tezuka star making a cameo. You do all of this, moving left to right, as you have in any other game you’ve ever played in your life. Had Treasure stopped here, it still would have been the best game adaptation of Astro Boy by a mile. Then you face a gauntlet of bosses: The World’s Strongest Robots. After defeating the final one, Pluto, a massive being known as the Death Mask appears, sentencing every remaining robot on Earth to death before exposing the planet to an element that will shut them all down. All robots includes a terrified Astro Boy, who slowly dies, leading to an abrupt, anticlimactic ending.

But then Astro Boy is brought back to life by Phoenix, and given the ability to travel back and forth through time, a way of justifying that you now have access to a stage select. Now you’re in the second half of the game, going through each stage a second time, or a third time, or fourth time, or however many times it takes. No longer is this a straightforward action game, the objective has changed to changing the past so as to avoid the apocalyptic future. You have to find the hidden Tezuka Stars that you most definitely missed the first time around. And even if you didn’t miss them, you’ll need to see them again anyways once the story has changed. This is the part of the game where Osamu Tezuka’s message starts to become more and more prominent. It goes from “beat up anti-robot politicians because they’re bad” to themes of love, of bigotry, of what it means to be a robot, of what it means to be a human, of war, of suffering, and of what the purpose of Astro Boy’s existence truly is. The writing is a bit on the basic side, to be certain; this is a Treasure-developed Game Boy Advance game, but it still manages to tell its story well.

I got into Astro Boy watching reruns of the 60s cartoon at four in the morning. I thought it was a neat little cartoon with a simple, yet visually striking character design. Playing this game in the evening is what got me to absolutely love Astro Boy. This innocent child trying his best, using his powers to help others in a tumultuous time of inequality. At risk of sounding like the weeb version of an adult Steven Universe fan, there are times where I’ll play this game, read the manga or watch the many animated adaptations and kind of sort of wish I was Astro Boy in a way. No, I don’t mean having jet boots and the ability to shoot lasers (though that would be pretty cool), I mean I wish that I had Astro Boy’s hope and optimism. I wish I could see a better tomorrow. But I can’t. At least not anymore. Osamu Tezuka survived an American fire-bombing raid as a teenager. He has witnessed death and destruction on a massive scale. As an adult, he became a doctor, a field where pain and death is an every day occurrence. He had a major distrust of government and military, and created iconic manga after iconic manga dedicated to the pointlessness of war and the nationalism that leads to it, full of characters that tried to spread a message of hope. He encouraged a generation of children to be themselves and not conform to a societal standard. I wish I could still believe in people the way that Tezuka did. As great as this game is, I also felt a great sense of sadness upon replaying it for this reason; that I feel myself becoming too fucking bitter for a children’s cartoon character. Maybe it was a subconscious decision to pick this game back up. Maybe I needed to see the spirit of Osamu Tezuka shown through the lens of a great video game to remind myself that things might not be as bad as I’ve spent so many years thinking they are. While I can’t share in Tezuka’s message of hope today, perhaps I can share in it someday soon.

Game’s really good, by the way.

noctis

Solitude is something that doesn’t occur in games all too often. Sure, there’s loneliness, sometimes even isolation, but there is rarely solitude. Even in the most singular single-player games, there are always other people. People to talk to, people to interact with, people to temporarily join forces with, people to fight and kill. You are never truly alone in games. Then something like Noctis comes along.

Noctis is a game about floating through the void of space. You, as an astronaut with no name, pilot a spaceship, also with no name. You fly from planet to planet, moon to moon, galaxy to galaxy, all nameless. You direct your ship’s navigation systems to a celestial body, land, explore it for a little while, then return to your ship. You are then given the option to name the planet or moon you’ve explored, and even write out a series of notes about it. That’s the entire game.

Noctis does have any combat. There are no survival mechanics. There’s no trade. Nothing else but exploration. There aren’t even other people in the universe. The closest you’ll find are a very rare sighting of small birds and frogs on various planets. Or, if your fuel runs empty and you’re stranded (the one resource in this game you have to worry about), you can send out a distress signal, where another ship will give you just enough of its reserve fuel to get you somewhere to resupply. The thing is, you never see the other pilot, or speak to them. You merely see their ship outside your cockpit window until they finish helping you out, where they then fly away, never to be seen again. Any contact you encounter is fleeting.

the other ship in question

Noctis does not even feature any music or sound effects. Everything is dead silent. You may do what I do and try to break that silence by listening to your best selection of ambient music, but it doesn’t do much to change the overbearing atmosphere of the game: you are ALONE.

motoro faam- “…and precipitation”

I like to load up Noctis from time to time, usually whenever I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed with life. It’s a very meditative experience. Me, in my spaceship, floating through a cold and dark void, cataloguing planet after planet for no other reason than my own curiosity. There’s no goal or storyline that I have to follow, I simply exist in a sterile, single-room ship. The game has an option to turn off the ship’s lighting, and allow everything to be illuminated solely by the brightness of the stars, or a lack thereof. I like to turn this option on, further isolate myself while I look at the majesty of the universe.

I spend a couple of hours alone with my thoughts, as I walk the surface of another world, or as I climb out onto my ship’s roof and admire the stars with less obstruction, or as I sit in the darkness, listening to my droning music and letting a passing moon brighten things for a while. Spend my time deciding if the notes I’ll be taking on each world will be clinical, poetic, or even juvenile. I’ve been doing this ever since I discovered the game back in 2007, where it became one of those games I played to wind down after a particularly shitty day at The Job. Tend to find it more relaxing to play it around this time of year: where the weather begins to cool, the sun goes down earlier, and I can wrap myself in a small blanket, maybe pull up the hood on my hoodie if I’m wearing one (rarely am I not). Losing myself in the kind of solitude that would drive a normal person mad, but brings me comfort.

i am playing a fan-modded version that allows you to take panoramic screenshots

I like to look at those images I’ve taken and notes I’ve kept all this time. It’s like looking at old memories, in a way. Speaking of, I was looking for old screenshots of this game on an external hard drive I’ve had almost as long as I’ve been playing this game. Looking at digital memories of over a decade ago, I found this old drawing a friend of mine had given me. We’ve since lost contact, as a long time has passed and life likes to get in the way of relationships like that, so I can’t give them credit for this, as much as I’d like to. It’s a picture of an astronaut. This astronaut is an average man, not the physically fit, shave them sideburns, jingoistic ideal that America has for them. I used to look at this image a lot, not just because it looked cool, but it was honestly pretty inspiring. Some regular dude getting to travel the stars. That concept is not something that will ever happen in this lifetime, and based on who’s running things now, will never happen in the next lifetime, either. I’ve been obsessed with space travel my entire life, and it’s still good to want to dream.

This is one of my all-time favorite games. It is everything that I want in a game about space travel. A game that I was disappointed No Man’s Sky wasn’t. The atmosphere. The visuals. The sound, and the lack thereof. Most importantly, the solitude. Next time the world I live on becomes too much, I know that, even if it’s only for a short time and also imaginary, I can take off, and be alone on my ship.

phantasy star online

I must begin this post with a confession: the original Phantasy Star Online is one of the few Dreamcast classics I missed out on (the others being Skies of Arcadia and D2). I never got to experience turning on my console to explore a strange new world with my friends or strangers. Never got to enjoy even more of that “Sega Magic” during holidays, or long Summer vacations. Never got to experience the pain of a Dreamcast running off a 56k modem. A true Gamer’s Regret.

A few years back, I finally got off my ass and got into the PC port of PSO. I’ll spare you the suspense and tell you that it’s still an amazing game two decades after release; you’ll have to get used to its somewhat unique control scheme (or use a pad), but it’s as playable and fun as any other Dreamcast hit. I’ve been playing for years, and I’m still enjoying myself. The problem is that my enjoyment is somewhat bittersweet. I love running around fighting monsters with internet friends, or joining up with a group of random hunters to complete some quests. I love exploring the gorgeous environments and listening to that great music. I love taking on a random monster hunting quest and hearing the theme song to Burning Rangers.

All of this is great. Phantasy Star Online is a wonderful game that I love. But the bitter part comes in because I experience (or re-experience) something cool, and think, “fuck me, I really wish I could have played this as a teenager.” I keep feeling like I’ve missed out on something. This is a weird feeling I admit, because it’s not as if there’s anything missing, content-wise, from this port of the game; hell, there’s more stuff here than in the original. But there’s still that part of me that really wishes I could have experienced the game in its initial state. Again, it’s weird; I’m weird.

I ended up joining the fan server Ephinea. I’ve heard great things about the other server, Ultima, but I ended up with Ephinea because it advertised itself on being as close to the original Dreamcast experience as possible. So if you want to play with me, that’s the one to join. It doesn’t quite fill the frankly ridiculous feeling I have of missing out on a game during its heyday, but it does a good job of trying to fix it.

Fall is here. It’s getting darker outside earlier, the weather is getting colder, and I want to play some fucking Sega games. I think another reason why I wish I could have played this back in 2000 was because it does a great job of fitting into that Saturn-Dreamcast transitory period that I always associate with the end of the year. The music. The unique, timeless visual aesthetic. The enjoyment you get from playing it. This is the most Sega-ass game to ever Sega. It might be hard for some people to imagine, or even remember, but there was definitely a time when Sonic Team knew what they were doing, and made some of the best games you’ve ever played in your life.

Despite that personal bull shit, PSO rules. It is the only MMO I can stand, as I’m not a big fan of the genre. Yes, that includes that game; the Fantasy one with the obnoxious meme that makes me delay resubscribing another month every time I hear it, so if you want to play Final Fantasy XIV with me, you’ll have to wait until the year 2172. Anyways. The reason I like PSO so much is that it plays like an actual game. You press the attack button, and you attack. You don’t sit through a canned animation after clicking on your 30th Giant Rat. It’s possible to dodge attacks! You don’t have to simply stand in place and eat shit until your cooldown periods end. Stuff happens, and it’s actually fun. You go out into dungeons, fight monsters until you reach a boss, then come back with all the gear you got. Then you equip this gear, so you can go back into the dungeons, get better gear, get better abilities, take out the massive boss at the end quicker, and repeat until you can do this on the hardest difficulty. Sounds monotonous, but can be hours of fun with the right people.

made a new character today. a very androgynous FOmar. wanted to try a force character out, but with a better build than the last one i made.

I admit that I wrote this as a way to try and convince people to pick up PSO, or get back into it. The shape of the internet is changing again, maybe we can all meet up on the Pioneer 2. Though I regret not playing this on the Dreamcast, perhaps by playing with friends on PC, we can make new memories, instead of looking to the past. Strengthening friendships, building new ones, having a fun night while playing the best Dreamcast game of 2022.

seikima ii- akuma no gyakushuu!

Some time ago, when I did my write-up of Paris-Dakar Rally Special, I mentioned that the developers of that game, ISCO, had also done two other Famicom games: Transformers Convoy no Nazo, and Seikima II Akuma no Gyakushuu. I was not especially kind when I mentioned those games, and with good reason: they are terrible.

But, because it’s October, and given that I’ve spent nearly a year getting back into my love of metal music, I thought I would at least try to give Seikima II another chance. At least finish level two before I completely write it off. I ended up finishing the game, once for the “bad” ending and again for the real ending. In the thirty minutes it takes to finish Seikima II, I admit that I ended up warming up to the game somewhat. Now, I’m not going to try and convince you all that this is some sort of hidden gem for the Famicom. It’s not. It is still very much a bad game.

Before I get into all of that, I should probably explain what exactly Seikima II is. Seikima II (pronounced “Seikimatsu,” a pun meaning “The End of the Century”) are a Japanese metal band known for dressing up in cool costumes and wearing face paint. This has led to them getting a lot of comparisons to KISS, which is bull shit. If anything, their sound, on average, sounds more like Judas Priest. You also need significantly less irony to appreciate Seikima II, whereas you need to kind of be in on the joke when it comes to enjoying KISS. I won’t go too into Seikima II’s history, as Wikipedia is right there. Just know that they’re an awesome band that looks cool and makes sick music.

Naturally, being a popular act with a distinct appearance, this also means companies are going to want to cash in. In the Wild West days of the Famicom, when any fly-by-night outfit could release absolute dogshit and still make a little money off of it, you better believe that someone saw dollar signs as Seikima II climbed up the music charts. So, we ended up with a Seikima II Famicom game. If nothing else, this game can hang its hat on the fact that unlike KISS’ shitty game, Akuma no Gyakushuu actually has the band it’s based off of in it. Not only that, but playable members of band (well, just the vocalist), meaning that it outclasses Revolution X Starring Aerosmith, and can hang with other music luminaries like Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, and the arcade game starring Journey.

In this game, you play as His Excellency Demon Kakka (formerly Demon Kogure), rescuing the other members of the band who have all been kidnapped by Zeus (as in the Greek god), and finding their missing instruments. Missing instruments is something of a cliche when it comes to games starring musicians, but at least there’s a reason for it here: the Seikima II “canon” as it were, is that the band are all demons from hell, and are using heavy metal music to spread the message of the devil. So it’s not as if ISCO were left with a blank whiteboard to put ideas on, when there’s a story for them to already work with.

The main issue with Akuma no Gyakushuu and its terrible quality is that His Excellency controls like absolute shit. Specifically, trying to jump. Pressing the jump button while in a neutral position causes His Excellency to jump straight up, and you can very slightly fine-tune his direction once he reaches the peak of his jump. Pressing jump while moving causes him to do a massive leap forward. This lack of control makes it really hard to navigate platforms, grab items, dodge enemies, or do much of anything without a lot of struggling.

On top of that, this is one of those games where you have a lot of life, but it drains over time, acting as a time limit as well, and it drains quickly. This is not a straightforward move left-to-right kind of game, either. Rather, levels are divided up through tunnels in the floor that open up once you’ve collected every item in a room, giving levels something of a maze-like structure (though admittedly, these mazes are not super complicated to navigate), so you do not have time to fuck around. Doesn’t help that enemies spawn infinitely and have somewhat erratic movement patterns. And if you need to get through a small hallway with an “indestructible” type enemy? You just have to take the damage.

Akuma no Gyakushuu is not a fun game that feels good to play. But its absolute biggest, most unforgivable crime is the fact that there is no Seikima II music in it! No chiptune renditions of classic songs to be found here, which is fucked up. Making a game about a music group and not having the music that the group has made is such a spectacular failure that I have to assume it was done on purpose, because nobody can be that stupid. Instead, you get a series of extremely annoying and ear-piercing bleeps and blips that try to sound like music.

zeus looking a little uh, jesus-y here

So what is there for me to warm up to? Well, for one, I appreciate the incredibly amateur graphics the game has. I have this thing for terrible looking Japan-only Famicom games. Don’t know what it is, but I like it. I also appreciate the incredibly mild RPG elements to the game: of all the items you are required to pick up in order to make progress, money is one of those things. The money here is an actual currency, which you can then use to buy health-restoring potions, upgrade your attack, and buy your bandmates instruments back. That’s something that took effort to code and put together. This could very well have been yet another generic 2D platformer that didn’t have maze-like layouts and extra numbers to juggle, but instead there was some degree of ambition shown here, even if the end result is not worth it. I can’t completely hate the game because of this. At least they tried.

 

HOWEVER

One year later, ISCO released Seikima II Special for the MSX2 computer. I also played this one. This is a major improvement over the Famicom game. It’s look better, kind of. It controls significantly better, with His Excellency Demon Kakka moving around like a real video game character. Most importantly, Seikima II Special finally has Seikima II music! Good renditions of their music, at that! I knew that this had to be a better experience as soon as I got to the title screen and heard an 8-bit cover of “El Dorado,” an absolute stormer of a song. Now, I didn’t say that this was a good game, merely a better one. Since this is a real video game now, I can talk a little bit about the levels and stuff.

Zone 1: Jail Zone
Level Music: Rou Ningyou No Yakata

First, I will say that there are two issues with the MSX2 version of this game. One is distinct lack of black backgrounds, which goes against the heavy metal theme. Second is that, due to hardware limitations, there is no screen scrolling. This means that each screen “flips” when you move from one to the next, so you can walk into enemies or fall off a ledge if you aren’t expecting it, seeing as ISCO didn’t really think to redesign the levels around this. Anyways, in this level, you pick up a bunch of items, buy a guitar, and rescue Jail O’Hashi, who is being held in a cage guarded by a tiny little knight.

 

Zone 2: Raiden Zone
Song: Makai Bukyoku

You go from the woods to Heaven, I guess, so you can do what you did in zone 1 all over again. This time to rescue Raiden Yuzawa, the drummer. Nothing much to add here, other than I like the 8-bit version of Mukai Bukyoku a lot. Well done, composer at ISCO, whoever you are!

 

Zone 3: Ace Zone
Song: Akuma No Sakebi

Ace Shimizu is the bandmate His Excellency has to rescue this time. Maybe I can explain what some of these items you pick up actually are. You got your moneybags, which you need to buy things, those ghosts that we (“we” being Westerners) mistake for Klan members, the head of whichever bandmate you need to rescue, and a miscellaneous item that changes from level to level (here it’s candles, in the previous level it was plants). Those little hatches at the bottom of the screen open up once every item in the room (each room is two room-lengths in width) is collected, and you don’t have to pick them up again when you return to a room you’ve already been in. Should also point out that the game’s difficulty completely drops at this point. After level two, the game becomes a total breeze.

 

Zone 4: Xenon Zone
Song: Aphrodite

The final level, where you save Xenon Ishikawa. Not much to say here that I haven’t already said three times, other than Aphrodite is a really good song. I like the platforms being made of skulls and bones!

 

Zone 5: Zeus
Song: Death Land

Then there’s the boss fight against Zeus. Definitely not Jesus. It took me a couple of playthroughs to figure out what song plays during this fight. The reason being is that Zeus might very well be the easiest boss fight in the history of games, and dies way too quickly. Simply jump and shoot and he will die. Maybe you have to move left or right to dodge his incredibly slow attacks. There is no challenge here.

If you kill Zeus and you have the band’s instruments, then you get the ending:

The band jumps in place while His Excellency sits on his throne. A loop of “From Hell With Love” plays and then nothing else happens until you turn off the system. According to a video of the MSX version’s soundtrack, there’s also a version of “Adam no Ringo” that does not appear in-game. That’s a shame, as that song also kicks ass. In any case, that’s Seikima II Special, a pretty bad game based on a band I really like. If nothing else, maybe this post will encourage you to listen to Seikima II. Or at least check out other games that His Excellency has been in, like the Japanese version of DJ Boy (er, well, maybe not), or you can wait until Street Fighter 6 comes out and you can listen to his in-game commentary. But maybe don’t play this game, and definitely stay far away from the Famicom version.

castlevania: harmony of dissonance

In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, there is a scene where Alucard and Maria Renard run into one another, and Maria mentions that the castle they’re both in is different than the last time she was there (during the events of Rondo of Blood). Alucard then explains that the castle is a “creature of chaos,” the canonical explanation as to why Dracula’s castle changes from game to game in the Castlevania series.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is one of the few games in the series I haven’t played through, and I thought now would be a good time to do so. It’s also one of those games that I had always read bad things about. At best, I was told, it was lacking in quality compared to its prequel and eventual sequels. But this isn’t a site that listens to what the majority thinks, so I loaded that bad boy up and didn’t give in to the emulation-induced ADHD that causes you to load up a different game after a few minutes.

“Creature of Chaos” is a term that has been in my mind playing through HoD. Strange to think about in regards to Castlevania, but there’s always been something of a consistency to the layout of the castle. Despite having a gallery, a library, a coliseum, a clock tower, and a laboratory (among many other things) contained within one building, they’ve all been laid out and placed in a way that makes some kind of sense. As in, of course the library would be connected to the fairly benign Outer Wall, which is essentially an elevator with a little nook to chill out in. Yeah, it makes total sense that the underwater reservoir would be connected to the part of Dracula’s Castle where you fight the Mermen (the area that’s in the first level of just about every Castlevania), which would then lead to catacombs, then leading to an underground mine.

This is not the case here. Harmony of Dissonance lives up to its name, with a layout that makes the player wonder if they had accidentally loaded up a ROM with a randomizer included. Sense and coherence are out the window here. You move from room to room with ever-changing themes, even within the same area of the castle. For example, there is a room, a standard medieval castle affair, that leads to two exits. One exit takes you to a room full of lava with an active volcano in the background, the other to a room filled with crystals.

Symphony of the Night and the post-SOTN Castlevanias all rely on having a rewarding sense of exploration. You laboriously cover every last square on those maps, because you might find a new weapon, a new ability, or one of those tiny rooms that serve no real purpose other than a nice bit of scenery. HoD has this as well, but I feel that the real reward is wondering what sort of environment you’ll end up in next. Will you end up in the hallways made entirely of bones? Will those hallways suddenly take you to the laboratory, or to a chapel? You combine this with the haunting, weird music that sounds out of key, but not so out of key that it’s unlistenable, and you end up with this incredibly chaotic atmosphere. A game where the designers went into overdrive when it came to throwing ideas at the wall, not caring if it stuck. There’s something about that wild-eyed design philosophy that I respect.

Now granted, in the traditional game design aspect, this is not the best. Mostly because HoD drops the “there are actually two castles to explore” twist fairly early on in the game, before you’ve found all of your exploratory abilities, meaning that you are constantly traveling back and forth, trying to remember where that locked door you saw two hours ago was and oh fuck did I just go in a circle and wind up back at the tall shaft I can’t climb again? The chaos, while very cool, can lead to you getting lost quite often.

Even with the tedium of bouncing back and forth between two castles, I still found myself enjoying the game. Harmony of Dissonance is such a weird thing that exists; this extremely experimental game that might look like Symphony of the Night, but could not be more removed from it. The sort of boldness that is sorely missed in most games of today, where you could afford to not Play It Safe with a sequel. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Juste Belmont is the most whispy of whispy femboys the series has ever had, and this is a series that includes Alucard and Soma Cruz. If I’m going to be thrust into a fucked up world where the architecture doesn’t make any sense, you might as well give me a pale goth bishounen to look at and ogle while it’s all going on.

That’s essentially the game. A hot dude with a whip explores a couple of giant castles while fighting monsters, and Vampires are involved. It’s Castlevania, but more fucked up and chaotic, and I love it for being that way. Really glad I finally gave this game a chance.

bangai-o spirits

It’s not a controversial thing to say that Treasure was once an amazing developer that knocked out a lot of instant classics. Certified bangers, their entire catalogue. Well, except for Gunstar Super Heroes, Advanced Guardian Heroes, and the thankfully delisted Bangai-O HD on XBox 360, those ones are really bad. But otherwise, yeah, an amazing company that is seemingly stuck doing endless re-releases these days.

Treasure’s output also includes what is undeniably the absolute best game ever released on the Nintendo DS: Bangai-O Spirits. Not only is this the best DS game by a mile, which is impressive given that this was a handheld that also played host to Contact, a surprisingly good port of Ketsui Death Label, and three different Castlevanias, but it’s easily one of my all-time favorite games in general (note to self: should probably rank my favorite games someday instead of casually calling everything my favorite). This was not the Treasure who inflicted Gunstar Super Heroes on the world, this was the Treasure that gifted us Sin and Punishment.

Bangai-O, for those who don’t know, is a series of shooters where you fly around in a mecha firing off an actual, literal, ton of missiles at enemies. The DS game emphasizes the shooting aspect even moreso somehow. There’s no plot, and you’re given a level select right as soon as you turn on the game. Your goal is to go through 160 levels, shooting lots of missiles at lots of enemies. Lots of levels. Lots of very different levels. Levels that can be completed in under five seconds. Levels that can take several minutes. Levels that are puzzles. Levels that are frenetic explosive action. A level that is a tribute to Namco’s Battle City.

You pick a level. You then pick your weapon loadout: two main weapons, and two special weapons. Some levels have specific loadouts you need to clear them. So either you clear a level, or you die and do it again. At no point in time do I ever feel bored or frustrated. The big thing about Bangai-O and its special weapons is that you can charge them up for a big attack, but if you release the attack button the moment an enemy bullet touches you, your attack is bigger and stronger. It’s possible to go from launching 100 small missiles, to causing the DS to temporarily freeze and slowdown as it struggles to render 400 large missiles. Something so satisfying about being so powerful that you bring the system you’re playing on to its knees. That’s Bangai-O Spirits: this addicting shooter that doesn’t get old.

This game kept me sane during a lot of night shifts at the job I was working at the time. I could pull out my DS and go through a few dozen levels while eating a processed chicken sandwich during a lunch break. Stressed out, sweating profusely, having to deal with the worst kind of people who absolutely needed to buy a new TV at 9:45 PM on a Monday. Having to corral a bunch of idiot teens and get them to clean some shelves before closing, which of course they wouldn’t do, and guess who got in trouble for that? Spent a lot of time in those years coping with people being stupid all around me by losing myself in games and weird art. Given the state of my life in 2022, not much has changed from 2007. Not a great time, for sure, but Bangai-O was.

The other thing that kept me sane was Bangai-O’s level editor. You could create or download up to 24 extra levels, which is definitely something I worked on while wishing I was literally anywhere else on Earth. I think my actual copy of the game has 5 or 6 stages I put together, and I can’t imagine any of them are good, given that these were made in a short amount of time while I was feeling the effects of two cans of Monster Energy. I would upload them, but a couple of things. 1) I’m not home until next month, so I don’t have access to my physical copy. 2) the way Bangai-O saved and loaded its level data is novel, weird, and doesn’t always work: levels are saved as sound data, the way old computers used cassette tapes. You hook up a microphone to your PC, hit Play on the save screen, and use some sort of recording software to record the ungodly sound coming out of your game system, where it gets saved as an MP3 file. For the record, this absolutely does not work if you play this on a 3DS, despite also having a working microphone built into it. So I think I will have to try and find a different way to upload levels, if I ever get around to making new ones.

Bangai-O Spirits is this tough but fair game about launching tons of projectiles at enemies who respond with even more projectiles sent your way. Bangai-O Spirits is a game about flexing your creative muscles and making your own STG levels. Bangai-O is a game that feels great to play, everything moves and explodes in satisfying ways. Bangai-O Spirits is the most addicting piece of software you can plug into your Nintendo DS. There’s always that desire to beat your previous high score, or beat your previous clear time, or go back into the level editor and fix this or add that. This is the best game on the DS, and it’s better than your favorite DS game.

ninja jajamaru: the great yokai battle

I’m a big-time sucker for modern takes on old games using a faux-retro style. Pac-Man Championship Edition, Mighty Gunvolt, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Heiankyo Alien 3671, and so on. Even better when that reimagining is of a game that is simply Okay.

Ninja Jajamaru-kun is a series that you’ve probably played at least one its games. Probably loaded up one of them in MAME, or played the extremely choppy NES port, or the one that’s a blatant rip-off of Mario 3. Played it, then quickly forgot about it until you see that Jajamaru sprite and then you remember the game, but not the game’s title. Or you remember that it’s the game that inspired Ninja Haggleman from the Game Center CX game. That’s Jajamaru’s place in gaming history: it’s there. It’s a fine game, there’s nothing really wrong with it, it just doesn’t stick in anyone’s memory for one reason or another. Which makes me all the more interested in a new entry.

Jajamaru Yokai Battle is both the best Jajamaru game, and also complete and utter dogshit. This game was released by City Connection, a bunch of empty-headed fucks who consider themselves a game company. The ones who release shooters with horrible input lag, charged out the ass for Game Tengoku DLC (you know, the “good” Saturn shooter), released a port of Zombie Nation that, no matter what resolution you set it to, only ever takes up a tiny portion of the screen. Oh, and who could ever forget that time they said, “don’t worry, we are definitely bringing the Switch port of Hoshi wo Miru Hito to the West! We even set up an English website with all the information you’ll ever need, including a release date!” Then when it came for release, not only did the game only remain in Japan, City Connection responded with “uh well, we never said it was actually coming out. I mean, not we claimed anything or created any sort of English resources that would lead you to believe this!” Yeah, City Connection essentially gaslit their customers over Hoshi wo Miru Hito, a legendarily bad Famicom RPG. So this is already a company on thin ice with me.

What’s good about Jajamaru? Well, it has a ton of stuff in it. Lots of playable characters, ranging from different colored Jaja’s with unique attacks and abilities, to the game’s enemies, to the boss and princess from the original game. That’s fun. There are a lot of levels, some of them actually good. You can also pick between the original Jajamaru music, and some actually nice arranged music. I will say that this game uses the original NES graphics, and they still look really nice in their simplicity.

What’s bad about Jajamaru. Playing it. Specifically, playing past the half-way point of the game. Whoever the piece of shit that designed these levels is, didn’t really bother to think them through after a point. Fuck it, throw as many enemies and projectiles on screen as possible! Jajamaru is an old-school single-screen platformer in the vein of Bubble Bobble and the original Mario Brothers, so how about some fucking Touhou bullet patterns to deal with? How about enemies that don’t even have attack patterns so much as “fly at you at the speed of light, endlessly shooting” and you can only hope that you can find an item that alleviates the pressure? How about trying to play this game like the original Jajamaru? For those who haven’t played, it is possible to stun enemies by either breaking the floor (but only specific types of floor) out from under them, or jumping on their heads. I have tried this in the new game multiple times, and wouldn’t you know, it doesn’t even fucking work most of the time. You jump on an enemy, and either you somehow miss, get hit by a suddenly appearing projectile, or my favorite, the game decides that actually you are the one who gets stunned. I need to point out that the Famicom version of the original Jajamaru was developed by Micronics, a developer that couldn’t figure out how to make their games not become extremely choppy if more than half a sprite was on screen at once, and yet they got the whole jumping hitbox thing right. Like congratulations on somehow being worse than a notoriously bad developer that was allegedly just one college student in his garage. At least he was programming in Assembly. This was made in Unity!

Some of these levels, with no real rhyme or reason, have boss battles. If, well, when you lose health during the previous level, you don’t get any kind of courtesy refill, so you better learn the bosses pattern of bullet hell bull shit unless you want to have to redo the entire previous level again. This wouldn’t be so bad, if some of these levels didn’t get pretty fucking long towards the end. Completing the final level took me about an hour. I did not have fun. I still have a headache. A headache that I made worse by trying out the “Hell” mode, where everything is harder. Boy, that was a mistake! If you like having bombs dropped on you from off-screen while fending off fast moving enemies with tons of health that can kill you in 1-2 hits, you might like it. As someone who likes challenge, and not barely tested horse shit masquerading as level design, I do not.

I feel like this piece comes across as overly angry. Admittedly, most of this anger is directed at myself, because this is City Connection, and I should know better by now. Every so often, I will give this company money because I think that maybe this is the time they finally get their shit together and make something that doesn’t make me want to pull my hair out, or find the home address of everyone in the company and punch them square in the balls, like I’m Liam Neeson, but for ball punching and not that weird racist revenge fantasy he had all those years back. A real shame, because I actually found myself having a soft spot for Jajamaru as a character. Guess there’s always MAME.

One more thing: you can find a power up that will temporarily turn you into the Honda City from City Connection. The fun arcade game City Connection, not the terrible company that is now permanently on my shit list. The thing about this, is that the Honda handles like it did in its home game, which does not translate well to Jajamaru’s platforming. So no, they couldn’t even get their own namesake right, either.

ADDENDUM: A couple days later, I’ve found I got a couple of things wrong in here. 1) The internet informs me that Ninja Jajamaru on Famicom was developed by Tose. If that’s the case, I apologize for the error; I simply assumed that a really choppy arcade port on the NES was done by a company notorious for really choppy arcade ports on the NES. 2) The Zombie Nation collection seems to work just fine on my desktop PC, and is only completely fucked on my laptop. This still sucks, mind you, but I will only be kind of mad at City Connection for this one.

Holy crap, Lois! This is like that time I played a mediocre licensed game during the 16-bit era!

Something that my friends know all too well, but I haven’t really talked about publicly, is that I have this ironic appreciation of Family Guy. Since at least 2016, I have been entertaining/alienating my friends by speaking in a half-decent Peter Griffin voice.

Family Guy is this weird thing for me. It’s not actually all that funny; it’s a show that tells 100 jokes, and 1 of them might land. Family Guy is completely abhorrent in its depictions of minorities. Is Family Guy incredibly racist? Oh yeah. Is it very homophobic? Of course. Is it extremely misogynistic? Definitely. Is it wildly anti-Semitic? Absolutely. Is it terribly ableist? For sure. Is the episode where Quagmire’s dad transitions into a woman the most transphobic thing I’ve seen on film that wasn’t amateur footage of a literal hate crime? Oh brother, you better believe it! Now, to its credit, Family Guy does punch up as well. Though the punching up is like more of a light jab, whereas the punching down is more like curb-stomping a dead body while the recipients family is forced to watch.

Family Guy is a show that me and my pronouns should absolutely hate, and yet, I find myself strangely compelled to keep watching “Family Guy Funny Moments” compilations during my downtime. There is something about this show, with its lack of real humor in favor of nonsensical cutaways also mostly lacking in humor, that causes the Quality Needle to break and wrap all the way back around. This is not a good show by any stretch, but I also cannot bring myself to dismiss it.

The Family Guy PSP game, on the other hand, is a lot more cut and dry. Cut and dry in that it sucks. It starts out boring, then becomes unplayable pretty quick, just like that time I played Konami Wai Wai World on Famicom.

“so you’re saying i gotta go into different konami worlds and rescue their intellectual properties? sweet. will a punch with a reach of roughly two pixels do the job?”

Family Guy is one of those multi-genre games that were all the rage at the time. Peter walks back and forth punching children and the elderly like he’s in a side-scrolling brawler. Brian has to sneak around and avoid being detected, since dogs need to sneak, I guess. And Stewie shoots and does precision platforming. There might be other characters to play as, but I don’t know, I could not actually finish this game. Yes, I’m admitting it here: I was not up to the Family Guy challenge. Peter’s second brawler phase proved to be way too unfairly difficult for me to want to continue. It an arduous task that takes way longer than it really should. It’s like looking at the back of the box of one of those RPGs that were all the rage in the PS2 era bragging about its 80+ hour play time.

ah great, now a bunch of weirdos on twitter are going to tell me that kanji’s not really gay

This is a difficult game because 1) the controls are terrible. Jumping, sneaking, punching, all a bunch of shit that barely works. Stewie misses platforms with the greatest of ease and trying to pull off Peter’s 3-hit combos are a headache. 2) Enemies tend to move faster than you, and during Peter’s level, have no hitstun. A brawler where all of your attacks are unsafe on hit, as you can eat a whole combo despite landing a heavy attack beforehand. The enemies in Brian’s stealth levels are completely blind, or can see you through walls. The point I gave up was having to fight wave after wave of bumrushing children and cops, only for a man in a clam costume to completely kill me.

Somehow, this isn’t the only time I’ve had a hard time fighting a clam in a game. Remember that time I had to fight a giant clam in Suikoden 1?

somehow, this clam was a harder fight than the literal armies i had to take on beforehand.

As much as I would like to write this game off as mere mercenary work, I can’t. The parts where I have to play the game are heinously bad. However, there was a genuine effort to try and make this like a playable episode of Family Guy. It definitely nails the “100 jokes, 1 of them actually good” style of humor the show has; the very first joke you hear is Peter referencing the time Mr. Belvedere sat on his own balls. It has dated references, like the line, “I’m going to do you what life did to Dana Plato!” which is very Family Guy-esque. There is a significant lack of joking about rape or racism, which I will chalk down to a publisher decision, as I imagine 2k is a bit more strict about that than the Fox network. But it still tries to maintain Seth McFarlane’s…uh…humor. Yeah, sure, we’ll go with that.

The one actual good thing about the Family Guy game is that the cutaway gags are represented as mini-games. That’s an actual good idea! If you succeed at them, you get a bonus that will help you out in the main game, like refilling health, gaining meter for special moves, or turning Brian invisible for a time (this one doesn’t actually work though). And the mini-games are just as nonsensical as the show. Why is Brian having to dodge an angry Abe Lincoln? Why is Stewie imagining a construction worker shooting another with a nail gun? Why does Peter have to shit in a port-o-potty in a Simon Says manner? Who cares.

A shame. I never want to go into these hating a game and stopping early, but I have no choice here. Family Guy is a terrible game that can’t even be enjoyed ironically, like the show. This is not freakin’ sweet, Lois. I’m holding out hope that we’ll finally get a good digital representation of the Griffin family once all those Family Guy skins get added to Fortnite. It’ll be a weird, yet fitting crossover, like when Negan was in Tekken 7, or when they added Mario to Super Smash Brothers!

ClaDun X2

Haven’t been in the mood to really write anything this week, for a whole number of reasons I don’t feel like getting into. But, I am in a much better mood tonight, and I wanted to post something before the week was out.

Keeping with the theme of PSP Month, I’ve been playing a bit of ClaDun X2. It’s a pretty fun, if maybe a little too grindy, Action-RPG. The big selling point here is its amount of customization through the in-game sprite editor: creating characters, weapons, armor, even the music. So I thought what I would do is upload some of the things I’ve made. All of these folders go into your PSP/emulators SAVEDATA directory on the memory stick.

Gilgamesh (Tower of Druaga)

As the self-proclaimed Number One Super Fan of The Tower Of Druaga, I had to put Gilgamesh in here. This zip folder contains two parts: a face edit, and an armor edit. I did not do any weapons or shields for this one, maybe I’ll add to this at a later date.

Download Here!!

 

The Sword of Moonlight

Straight out of every From Software game that matters (and even a couple that don’t), it is the ultimate weapon: the Sword of Moonlight.

Download Here!!

 

The Jousting Q-Tips from American Gladiators (Blue and Red)

Remember everyone: the Atlasphere is not licensed for street use.

The edit data here is meant to be applied to spears. Now, you can apply this to any weapon type in the game, but you should use it for spears. Both colors are included in this zip as well.

Download Here!!

 

Big Floppy Boy

It’s exactly what it looks like, a big floppy double-ender that I’ve seen in many a porn. This was also designed to be a spear because 1) thrusting LOL and 2) because my starting character used spears. But honestly, you could probably apply to this any weapon type. Maybe not bows or daggers, but the other ones could work.

Download Here!!

 

Slimegirl

Here she is, my most popular creation. I made her really quick, since I figured at least one person out there would ask about her. Like Gil, this is a two-piece face/armor set.

Download Here!!

 

That’s it for now. Get yourself a copy of this game and play around with my creations.