Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Akumajo Dracula X: Chi no Rondo (PC Engine)


Akumajo Dracula X: Chi no Rondo
Konami
Super CD-ROM2, 1993

Ask just about any PC Engine owner what one of the must have games for the console is and I'm sure that 99% of them will tell you Dracula X. Part of the famed Castlevania gaming franchises, this 2-D side scrolling game never left the shores of Japan...kind of.


The game was released in Japan in October, 1993 and is the 10th Castlevania game. The game features multiple endings, voice acting and CG cut scenes exclusive to this version of the game. Thanks to the PC Engine's CD-ROM2 and the Super System Card, this is the first Castlevania game to utilize a save system. In 1993 this feature was a huge improvement over the standard password feature. The one thing that I don't fully get is the voice acting is done in German?

The game stars Richter Belmont in his quest to rescue his beloved Annette is kidnapped by Dracula's servant Shaft. On the way he rescues Annette's little sister, Maria Renard (who becomes a playable character in the game!). The game plays like most of the traditional Castlevania games that came before it. Most of the standard sub-weapons are included such as the dagger, cross, holy water, axe, pocket watch and the grimoire - a magic spell book. If you choose to play the game as Maria she has a set of unique sub-weapons: a cat, dragon, cardinal, turtle, egg or musical notes.

The game was such a success that Konami re-released the game on the Super Famicom in Japan two years later in 1995. Akumaj┼Ź Dracula XX featured a few changes however. While the plot was the same, several of the levels were redesigned, a slightly different art style was used in the game and there are only 2 alternate levels. Maria was also cut from the game as a playable character. No surprise either than the music is of lesser quality being on a cartridge. The voice acting was removed in part of the cartridge's limitations. I believe the cut scenes remain...although they may have been removed for the U.S. Super Nintendo release, also in 1995.


If anything of this looks or sounds familiar it should. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the Playstation is a direct sequel to Dracula X!

I originally owned a CD-R version of Dracula X. The previous owner of the PC Engine Duo RX I bought included the burnt copy as a freebie. I can remember some rather graphic cut scenes featuring a human sacrifice and knowing Nintendo I can't believe they would have left that intact when the game was brought to the U.S. Now the original Japanese version was released on the Wii's Virtual Console in March of 2010, but I never downloaded it so I have no idea how faithful it is to the original (i.e. was it censored in any way).

It's not often these days that I care to own the original game in this day of digital download, but this was one game that I wanted the physical copy of. The problem is with it being an import and the large Castlevania fanbase that exists the game doesn't come cheap on the secondary market. If you're lucky you can get a complete copy for around $80.00, but usually it still fetches around $100.00.

Part of the reason I wasn't satisfied with a CD-R or the Wii digital version is the instruction manual and the awesome artwork. Now you can browse each individual page from the manual and see for yourself why this game is so awesome and coveted by many. (you can click on the images for a larger view)
















Earlier I mentioned that the voice acting is done in German.  Well one part of the story in the front of the manual is also written in German...odd.  After you've input your name your adventure starts off with the Prologue - Mission 0.  You can see in one of the pictures how there are differing paths between the levels. I like this as it adds more replay value to the game. I love the art used for all the characters.  By the way, the other 3 girls you see are maidens you can also rescue in your quest to vanquish Dracula.  The last two wide scans show some of the enemies and boss characters you'll run across during the game.  Most of them are just as formidable in the game as they appear in the manual.



Looking at still pictures and scans is one thing, but when talking about video games you need video.  A quick search on YouTube and I found a video featuring the opening sequence and the entire run.  The video is over 3 hours long so I don't expect anyone to watch it all, but skip around and take a look if you aren't familiar with the game.  I can't express how fun this is to play and just how awesome it is.  Hands down this has to be one of the finest games in my library.  I personally bought a PC Engine console solely for the ability to play this game.  Of course that was before the Wii (or even the PSP) was released.  Would I recommend someone today buy a PC Engine for this game?  Not really...unless you are an avid gamer.  It's a GREAT console and there are a lot of great games for it, but with the ability to download it to you Wii console or buying the relatively cheap Dracula X Chronicles PSP game, save your money.  As I said it doesn't come cheap, but if you do decide to take the plunge I think you'll be one happy gamer like myself.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sky Force Reloaded (Android)


Sky Force Reloaded
Infinite Dreams (2006)

I like my physical games as much as any collector and I tend to stay away from playing many mobile games, however I've finally found a game that I can really get behind and feel comfortable recommending to others.


Sky Force Reloaded is the second game in the series, but boasts oh so many improvements of the original. It can be found in the Google Play store and the iTunes store for free. I've downloaded and tried a lot of different shmups and this is the first game that is fun to play.


For starters the game's visuals are beautiful. I play it on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 as I wanted a larger screen. Playing shmups on a small phone just doesn't do it for me. The controls are pretty responsive and there is a lot of content that keeps drawing me back in.


When you start the game you are on the overworld map if you will. The game forces you to replay the levels until you earn a certain amount of medals before the next level will be unlocked. Each level has 4 basic goals: destroy 70% of enemy forces, destroy 100% of enemy forces, rescue all people and stay untouched. 

Depending on your skill, the level of difficulty and the aircraft you are using, you may have to play the level multiple times in order to achieve these goals. Once you complete all 4 goals, the next level of difficulty will be unlocked.

 

Before you set out on your journey, you can select your aircraft from your personal hanger. At the beginning you just have one aircraft and it's pretty weak. It can be upgraded, but more on that in a minute. As you are playing you may come across aircraft parts you can grab. Successfully complete the level and you'll slowly unlock pieces to additional aircraft. As you can see from the above image, I've unlocked nearly all of the available aircraft. My favorite hands down is the one selected, the Octopus. It features multiple homing mini-rockets which really come in handy in the later, more difficult levels.

As you play the game, the destroyed enemies will leave behind stars. This is the games currency and you'll need a lot of these in order to upgrade your aircraft. You have multiple areas you can upgrade and several levels of upgrades. Most of them are self explanatory. The magnet is a helpful tool that I didn't initially pay a lot of attention to. The higher the level, the more the stars will be attracted to your aircraft.


To spice up the gamelay, cards were added to the game. These, like the aircraft parts, show up randomly as you play the game. Most of the time these items only appear on the higher levels of difficulty. These cards add new things to the game or give you new, improved abilities. 

Some of the cards may give you a laser to start the game, or increases your rate of fire. Others give you a stationary pod on the side of your aircraft that increases your firepower. The cards however come in two varieties. The ones you see in the first 4 rows are permanent, meaning you don't have to do anything with them. Once you've collected that card, you get that ability. The row of cards on the bottom are temporary cards. These come with a time limit that gives you some nice boosts...such as unlimited lives or maximum firepower. Of course once the time expires so does your boost in power.

 

New to Reloaded are pilots. You unlock these by completing certain objectives. I already played the game a lot to begin with, but now you are rewarded even more for your persistence. There are multiple Objectives to obtain, more than you see above. The more you get, the more pilots you unlock. Each pilot brings something different to the table. Currently I've been using Burton Panic as he will random trigger your laser or emit a bullet clearing EMP blast at times.


As you beat the bosses on select levels, you unlock golden trophies that you can easily share via social media. It always tracks the number of attempts (and the date) it took to beat the boss as well as the different difficulty levels you've completed.


At the end of the level you are given a summary, tallying up your base score, stars collected, humans rescued, etc. If you beat your previous best score, it will add it to your high score which is a collection of your final scores.

Enough of the boring menu screens, want to see some actual gameplay? Using my iPhone I tried to record myself playing through a few levels. It was hard looking through the phone trying to play the game and ultimately I didn't do as well as I'm capable of, but hopefully you'll get an idea of just how much fun this game is.


Through one of the many updates to the game, it now is easier to find others to play the game with. You can compete for the top score and play weekly tournaments against each other. If you like what you see and want to add me to your friends list, use this ID:

91 22 69 72

Sky Force Reloaded, and the first game, Sky Force, are some really fun shmups. They don't feel cheap like a lot of the shmup games I've found in the Google Play store. I wish I had a way to play the game on my TV with a proper controller, but for now this is my go to game that I enjoy playing for 30 mins or whatever each evening.

I will add that right now for the month of December, there is a special Christmas themed level you can play and compete in a month long high score tournament. You can't use any of your unlocked aircraft from your hanger, but give it a try as it's a challenging level with laser shooting snowmen that are sure to infuriate you!