Saturday, February 4, 2012

Binary Land (FC) Review

1983, 1985 Hudson Soft

January 24th-February 4th, 2012
Hello, I'm StarBoy91, very passionate about video games, for I love them =)
As you may know from my Antarctic Adventure review, I first experienced many 8-bit titles on a plug & play while growing up in Italy, and one of the many games I played on it was Binary Land by Hudson Soft. Now, love-themed video games are few and far between, but this g
ame was one of those few in this category that I experienced, and quite a unique one at that. And, like the aforementioned title by Konami, the game centers around a penguin (yay, penguins!), only here there's not one, but two. Before it was released on the Famicom, it was released for the MSX in 1983 and was followed by rereleases on the FM-7, NEC PC-6001, and NEC PC-8801 consoles. Binary Land was largely a Japan-exclusive title, although I did look up that the MSX version got released in Europe, too. One thing I neglected to mention in my Antarctic Adventure review is that the reason I wasn't aware that the 8-bit titles on the plug & plays were actual NES and Famicom titles was because the copyright information was blotted out, so I wouldn't know what company developed and/or published it and what year it was made. Shame. Anyway, let's see if this game is worth a ride, and let's see if it has aged well. Like my last review, all screenshots were taken from me playing it on http://www.1980-games.com/.

In the world of Binary Land, two penguins are constantly seperated from each other and they must find their way out of the maze so they can get together again. However, there are various obstacles that aren't hesitant to impede their progress. Here's the thing about this game: you guide both penguins siultaneously, but you only take control of one while the other one moves in a reversed direction (one will go left while the other will head right). As each stage is not very symmetrical, you'll have to figure your way around, and while at first the controls may seem complicated, they actually become second nature after putting some time into the game. On the title screen, you will choose whether to take control of Gurin or his girlfriend Malon, so once you make your decision you cannot alter who to control. Each stage is sprawling with enemies and spiderwebs, and most hazards will be removed with the use of a bug spray. Guess you can never be too careful, I suppose. The spiders are the basic enemies, who can be killed with the bug spray, and sometimes they will move at a steady pace, while other times they might speed up, so you best beware. Spiderwebs can easily be dissolved, but if you're not focused then one of the penguins will be trapped in it, and as a result they will have to rely on the other penguin to save them (whether it's the controllable character or the reverse). Later on, there will be bird enemies that, while not dangerous, are a bit of an issue as they fly around nonstop; and should they come into contact with you (or you them), then both penguins' positions will be swapped. Not a big issue, mind you, although you'll have to be careful not to come across them often. Another type of enemy that will appear later on is the flame enemy, and they're the only obstacles that cannot be defeated with the bug spray, so you'll have to outrun them unless you come across an invincibility item, but more on that later. To keep you on your toes is a time limit, and in most cases it can be beat in the nick of time, but as long as you're careful you're much better off reaching the caged heart at the top of each stage before the timer reaches zero. And another thing, in order to beat the stage, make absolutely sure that both penguins stand right next to the heart, so long as it's inbetween them. Seeing as each stage isn't 100% symmetrical--in some cases, the top will have complete free space, but in other cases the left or right side might have a bump while the other is empty, to give a couple examples--you'll have to work your way through in order to make it. Binary Land has a sixteen-stage cycle, meaning that every sixteenth stage might have the same stage design, but is much harder than before (i.e. Stage 1, 17; Stage 2, 18; Stage 3, 19), with a few exceptions. Those exceptions are the bonus stages, and depending on the cycle, a certain stage may be replaced by a bonus one. In these moments, your mate will already be trapped by a web, with no enemy in sight (mostly), and you have a shorter amount of to get to him/her and up the caged heart. Seeing as there are heart bonus points here, you have the option to a) collect them all for a big bonus, or b) gather a few for a smaller bonus. Seeing as time is of the essence, I highly recommend you do the latter, because it takes a bit to get to the hearts, and you don't want to reach the caged heart too late. The first bonus stages takes place on the third stage, and then the next subsequent ones will be followed every five stages. As is the case in video games like these, it starts out easy enough, but as you progress the difficulty gradually increases. From time to time special items may pop up in random parts of the stages (and they may also be random), so you've only got a few seconds to get them. Those items are an umbrella, an ace of spades card, a harp, a cupcake, and a whale item; the last of which renders you fast and invincible for several seconds. The only way to douse out the fire enemy is if you're invincible. In each regular stage, save for the bonus stages, there are secret items that are concealed unless you spray one certain tile (one of my screenshots shows what I'm talking about). The secret items range from a violin, the planet Saturn, a candle, or an extra life; the item that appears depends entirely on the condition of the stage (is it safe, are enemies seldom or few, et al), so don't always expect the same item to appear in every stage. The visuals are pretty to look at despite being an early Famicom game, and I like how colorful the various stages are. The animations the protagonists and antagonists exhibit, while simple, are also decent. Supporting the background music is a beautifully 8-bit rendered adaptation of "Je te veux" by Erik Satie. It's slow, but it doesn't sound annoyingly repetitive when it keeps looping, so that's good. I like how it speeds up during the bonus stages and while you're invincible, and I also like how it slows down if you manage to reach the Top 5 high score screen and enter your name. Every time you reach the caged heart the first few seconds of Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy" (how interesting; we just shifted from a French tune to a German one). Controls are nice, plus they feel pretty involving here. Binary Land has no continues, and you're reduced to a few lives, meaning the only way to gain a life is by either finding it in a concealed tile or if you gain a specific score. Should you lose a life, you have to start all the way from the bottom again. If you don't reach the caged heart on time then you'll lose a life; if a spider or a fire enemy attacks either Gurin or Malon then you'll lose a life (oddly enough the fire enemy puts you in a spider web); and should both penguins be trapped on a web you'll also lose a life. But, if one penguin is stuck on a web, and an enemy passes by, then that penguin won't be affected, but you should still stay alert. The farthest I could get in this game was Stage 19, and I'm not sure I could possibly get any farther than that--but who knows, only time will tell. So, how has the game aged, you may ask? Well, to be honest, I think Binary Land has aged quite good, and I always enjoy it whenever I play it once in a while. It's got a lot of appealing qualities about it, not to mention it's very colorful. It's an arcade-type of game, but a very well-done arcade-type of game. The controls are very unique and easy to get into should you invest some time on it, and as far as love-themed games go, this one's fun. It's a shame that it was never released in America, as I think many gamers will find something to enjoy here. Binary Land was released on the Japanese Virtual Console on the Wii last year, and I'm also aware that it's a part of the Japan-exclusive compilation Hudson Best Collection Vol. 4: Nazotoki Collection (alongside Nuts & Milk and Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom) for the Game Boy Advance. I could import it, but the problem is that I looked up that it sells for high prices on eBay. Who pays that much for a portable compilation, let alone a portable game? How is it that some of the most enjoyable games ever made are ones that rarely saw releases overseas? It's a hard thing to comprehend. But,... I digress. If you find a plug & play that has it, or if you play it on the website I mentioned (like the last review, I advise you only play there at your discretion), then I think you'll really enjoy it. It's got a few flaws, but if you give it a chance, then you'll have a blast.7.5/10

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