Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Impressions: Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken (SFC)

Received: June 9th, 2012 / Written: June 12th, 2012
Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken
Year: 1994 | Developed by: GRC | Published by: Tomy | [ O ]

What a beautiful attraction!

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse has starred in a lot of video games back in the '90s, and there were only a few of them that remained Japan-exclusive, including Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken for the Super Famicom, which takes place in Disneyland.  I've never been to Disneyland before, but I've always heard great things about that place, and I hope I get to visit it someday.  I first heard of this game on RVGFanatic's website on his Obscure SFC Hub section years ago, and from what I've read about it back then it had me real interested.  Flashforward a few years later, and I would finally experience Mickey's adventure in Tokyo Disneyland, and honestly, I ended up liking it a lot in the end.
You should see this rollercoaster, it's

Mickey and friends decide to head out and have fun at Disneyland one day, and while they're there something terrible happens.  Mickey's informed by Minnie that Pete has kidnapped the rest of his companions, so he sets out to find and rescue them in the iconic segments of Disneyland.  On his journey Mickey brings a combo water/air balloon pack so he can get around, for there many obstacles to face.  By holding down the X button, you'll be filling your balloon with air, and should you fill up the G gauge, you'll be floating upward until the gauge becomes empty.  You can let go of the balloon by releasing the X button; if you do it while ducking, then the balloon will rise up all on its own, but should you do it while floating, then Mickey will propel himself into the air in whichever direction you choose (just bear in mind how much of the G gauge you've got left).  By holding down the Y button, Mickey will fill a balloon with water, which is the essential weapon against enemies and bosses.  Throwing the water balloon with the W gauge full will have a greater impact on enemies than if you do it early.  If you want, you could also place the full water balloon on the ground while ducking in order to use it as a temporary trampoline.  Experimenting is key.  Each location looks really good and detailed, for they all have a nice visual look, feel, and charm.  The first area is pirate-themed, with cool backdrops abound, neat settings, and a beautiful starry sky in the penultimate portion.  The third area is water-themed, and I feel it displays a great amount of atmosphere, for it at first takes place in a cave, and then afterwards we see the outside, which looks very great, not to mention there are a few moments where Mickey will be log-riding (if not swimming), which adds to the fun.  The fifth stage takes place in a futuristic-like space environment, and is very effective because it's so surreal; there are transporters, space cadets trying to stop you, cutely-designed robotic enemies, incredibly detailed inside locations, all culminating in a rollercoaster ride under a gorgeous night sky.  Basically, all the areas have such a great amount of appeal, for they're incredibly memorable and charming.  The background music does a great job at complementing each location so perfectly, because it creates a very fitting atmosphere.

"Gosh, Goofy, when did we start
learning Japanese?"

One thing I should mention is that Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken is very difficult for a Disney-themed game, and that's largely attributed to the fact that the controls are less than stellar.  Jumping takes a bit of practice to get right, Mickey swims a little slowly (though you can still walk or run underwater), and there's the matter of proper timing when it comes to propelling into the air (in several cases, it's highly mandatory).  There are only a few occasions where you have to propel yourself a few times into (and while in) the air until you reach your target.  Letting go at just before the opportune moment will send you to the ground (or to instant death), so you have to make sure the gauge is full before launching yourself to the sky.  However, it's best to hold a direction of a button before you propel yourself, for if you release the X button without holding a direction, then you'll drop down.  There's also a breath gauge for whenever you're submerged in the water, for the longer you stay, the slowly the gauge begins to decrease.  If it gets empty, you won't die, but you will lose one hit point and then the gauge refills itself (same case for if spikes or enemies damage you).  Reaching the surface at any time will completely fill the gauge until you go back in the water.  The controls aren't terrible, for they can be managed with enough time and practice, but they could've been benefited with more polish.  Another factor that adds to the difficulty are the area designs.  Some areas are designed so notoriously, that it's hair-raising at best.  A few stage portions are long, and the final stage is one of the most frustrating areas I've ever been in!  I mean, damn!  Using the balloon and propelling yourself at exactly the right moment is an absolute must in here, particularly on Stage 6-3, which is infuriating in terms of design and challenge.  The consolation to the final stage is that there is a big payoff at the end, where you get to combat Pete in a room fashioned to pay homage to the (in my opinion) underrated 1985 animated movie The Black Cauldron (can you imagine my surprise when I noticed that and entered the room for the first time?).  If that's not enough to make the situation exciting, then the fight itself and the epic music that accompanies it is, making it the best final boss fight I've yet experienced in a Disney game.  Some of the game's challenge is commendable, but other times it can be proven to be otherwise, which makes it the most challenging Mickey Mouse game I've ever played and beaten; not even Mickey's Wild Adventure, the PAL-exclusive PlayStation adaptation of Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse, can touch this.  There are three difficulty modes in Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken; on Easy you start with a health of eight (represented by small balloons), on Normal you have a health of five, and on Hard three (though in the latter two, you can raise your health if you find some health power-ups).  There are a few obstacles added in the area if you play on either Normal or Hard that makes things a little harder, but otherwise there's not much difference between the modes.  The boss fights are nice (even though they're largely against Pete), and there are a few instances of slowdown here and there, but not enough to detract the enjoyment.  In each cutscene Mickey converses with a friend (one of them is even Scrooge McDuck), and even though the dialogue is in Japanese, it's all right, because it's a platformer, and it only occurs during the cutscene; though I must confess I do wish I knew what it would translate to.  For all the flaws it has, it's got a lot of good going for it.  The selected areas are wonderful to behold, the animations are decent, it's very charming, and the battle with Horned Pete is awesome!  Depending on what difficulty setting you play, you'll see a varied ending scene, with Hard mode displaying the full ending, which makes the experience rewarding.  The controls could have been tweaked a bit, and some area designs are better left not mentioned, but regardless, I had fun with Mickey's Tokyo Disneyland adventure, and in the end I thought it was good.  GRC did a nice job.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Impressions: Alcahest (SFC)

Received: May 22nd, 2012 / Written: June 7th, 2012
Year: 1993 | Developed by: HAL Laboratory | Published by: SquareSoft | [ O ]

9/14/13 Update: Click here to read my current thoughts on it
Alcahest for the Super Famicom is quite an interesting experience, and it almost blows my mind that it was never released overseas.  All I knew prior to playing the game was that it was an action-oriented RPG with a limited amount of lives, had several stages, and that you could continue your progress through password, that's it.  But when I began to experience it, boy was I in for a surprise.

Golden dragon: friend or foe?
The last of HAL's two RPGs (their first one being the turn-based Arcana) was my very first Super Famicom cartridge, and I'm very glad I got to play it, for it turned out to be really fun.  The gameplay is very solid, and throughout the experience you would meet different guardians and partners that would help aid you in your quest, each with varied magic and special powers (as long as you had enough magic and special orbs).  Depending on which guardian attribute you chose, if you held down the attack button until the bar is flashing, then you'll amass a different and potent sword attack (if you let go early, the sword attack will still occur, it just won't be as powerful).  The locations are detailed and wonderful to look at (that rain effect during one of the early segments of the third stage, while simple, is so mesmerizing), and several of them are pretty fascinating (one even takes place in space; I'm serious).  Each stage has a different set of items that you have to find and use in order to progress a little forward; for example, in the cavern of the first stage you have to find a pair of boots in order to walk on lava.  The areas are fun to explore, the enemy roster is interesting, and some of the bosses even have two forms.  Even though I couldn't understand what was going on due to all the Japanese dialogue, I felt like I was in another world entirely and it really had me glued in, plus there were several moments that were intense which truly shocked me.  And even if the experience was Japanese, this RPG is surprisingly straightforward considering its genre, and there weren't any "Yes or No" situations nor moments when I had to make a choice through the dialogue, so I didn't have a hard time progressing because of that.  The boss battles are fun, and a lot of the areas are atmospheric in feel and are quite nice.  I should also mention that Alcahest's score, composed by famed Jun Ishikawa, is that good, for there's a wide range of themes all throughout.  Also, you don't see many RPGs that have actual knights riding on horseback, and there are few scenes where that happens, which I have to say is very neat.

Now, with all that said, there are a few reservations I have with the game.  As great as the gameplay is, it could benefit from slightly more responsive dashing controls, for sometimes if you tap to a certain direction sometimes it'll respond and sometimes it won't.  Entering the password can take a bit of time, for you have to be real accurate with certain Japanese characters (my advice: take a snapshot of the password, bit by bit).  As epic as the final boss encounter with Alcahest is (apparently, from what I researched, this is one of those games where it is named after the main villain), it can be a tad time-consuming to take him down without losing a life.  The game's also rather short for an A-RPG, as it can take approximately three to four hours to beat, and it's a shame really, because it's a very, very fun game.  In some aspects, Alcahest is a better game than Arcana is (though that says a lot considering how I feel about the latter), and the ending to this game is far more superior and much more rewarding than that of Arcana's, which was crap.  Out of the four difficulty settings (yes, there are difficulty settings in an A-RPG, hard to grasp!) I've only beaten Easy and Normal, and what gives this game replay value is that depending on which difficulty setting you play under you'll start out with lesser lives, which luckily can be earned by reaching a specific score (Easy starts with 8 lives, Normal 5, Hard 3, and Pro zilch).  When I turned on Alcahest on for the first time on May 31st after I bought the Retro Duo system, I knew I was in for a wild ride, plus it opened the doorway to new possibilites (I can import FC and SFC games now, which has me excited).  I'll admit that while I wish I could comprehend what was happening in the game dialogue-wise, it didn't detract from my enjoyment one bit (I also like how the character portraits would appear if a key character or villain was speaking).  I really enjoyed it, and I couldn't have chosen a better first SFC experience in cartridge format.  In the end, I was very impressed with HAL's attempt at crafting an A-RPG.