Thursday, November 29, 2012

Impressions: World of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (GEN)

Received: November 7th, 2012 / Written: November 25th-29th, 2012
World of Illusion starring
Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck
Year: 1992 | Developed by: Sega (AM7) | Published by: Sega

The underwater sea is such a miraculous
place
It seems to me that I just can't get enough of these Disney-licensed titles, especially when they star Mickey Mouse; hell, this is the fifth 2D Mickey Mouse platformer I got this year (maybe I should take a break?).  Sega's first Disney platformer for their MegaDrive/Genesis console Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse was such a big hit back when it came out in 1990, and rightfully so, because I thought it was very fun when I played it for the first time last month, and I considered it the best Mickey Mouse game I played.  It was one of those games I found charming and effective despite their overall simplicity.  The following year QuackShot starring Donald Duck (I haven't played it yet) came out for the same console, and it too enjoyed the success of Mickey's first 16-bit adventure...  =|  Wait that game didn't do well with critics, I don't think, nevermind!  *clears throat*  Let me try something a little more accurate: Sega, noticing that gamers were enjoying both Mickey's and Donald's first 16-bit games so immensely, one day figured "Hey, why not have these two Disney favorites in the same game, and turn it into a two-player experience?"  So a sequel was born!  =)  And the sequel is different than fans of the first title expected but regardless, here it is, ready to be talked about today: World of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck!  Yeah, that's a lengthy mouthful of a title, isn't it?  So from this point onward I'm going to simplify the name to World of Illusion!  So, yeah, let's delve in!!  =D

World of Illusion was also a game I've been interested in for years, but after I played Castle of Illusion I wondered if it was going to live up to the expectations and enjoyment set by the first game.  I heard mixed feelings on this sequel; some thought it was superior to Castle while others thought it was a major step down.  So what I did was I tried not to have high expectations, so I lowered them before playing, and honestly that's a good thing.  =)  Let's start off the impressions by saying that you can play as either Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck in this adventure, and if you preferred one character over the other, then World of Illusion simply offered the best of both worlds.
Well, more or less...  There are no difficulty settings this time around.  =(  So I guess you must be wondering: did I think it was a good follow-up to the 1990 hit?  Let's all find out together!
And yes, I am a brony, and I am proud to be one!  I like Friendship is Magic, I think it's a charming and likable animated show, and in my opinion it's one of the best animated shows of the 2010's right alongside Phineas and Ferb.  Please don't judge me, non-bronies.

"Uh, I don't know, Donald.  I don't trust this
box at all!" replies Mickey.
One day, Mickey and Donald are practicing their magician skills for a magic act that's about to come soon.  So they both aspire to become magicians?  Who knew!  Anyway, Mickey performs this one trick which startles Donald and sends him flying back; in the process, he unveils a box of mysterious origin.  Mickey and Donald are surprised to see it backstage, so they come to inspect it.  Donald wants to try it and use it as part of their act, but Mickey has his doubts.  Little did Donald realize, however, that entering the creepy-looking box would lead to his untimely demise.  I kid, I kid!  XD  What does happen as Donald enters it is that he gets transported to an entirely different world, and soon after Mickey follows.  A big, ominous hooded figure then appears and tells them that he will help them out of his world... on the sole condition that they get past all the areas and obstacles set against them and ultimately defeat him in the end.  So this is a tale of escape, pretty much; that's cool.  Will Mickey and Donald ever get out of the titular World of Illusion (no connection to the first game's Castle from the same moniker)?  Will they ever see their friends and family back home, and will they be back just in time for their magic act to start?  Also, will the mysterious hooded figure maintain his word?  There's no time to waste, so put your magic skills to the test and try to escape this wonderfully surreal, magical world!

Now this is what I call an ideal piano!
In the sky!!  =D
Controls are different from the last game, and they are pretty nice and polished.  Gone is the "hop & bop" gameplay (as RVGFanatic would call it) that dominated the previous adventure, and now this time around Mickey and Donald attack enemies and bosses by using their capes.  Also in this adventure, there are three assigned actions: attacking with the cape, jumping, and lastly, running.  Your character can also crawl through tight spaces if you hold down the jump button while crouching when moving left or right.  The game controls pretty nicely, and the gameplay feels polished as well.  Although, not to sound like I'm complaining, but why not have the attacking and running abilities assigned to just one button (like the Super Mario Bros. series) for one of the control types in the options screen?  I'm not saying it's a problem or anything, I'm just saying!

As previously mentioned, you could take control as either Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, and if there was another gamer by your side then you could play with both characters simultaneously.  Your character has a health capacity of eight (that's generous), and throughout the game you'll be contending with enemies and collecting "?" bags with any of the following content: cards, candy for one patch of health, a blue card that offers temporary invincibility, a slice of cake that refills your whole health, and lastly, there is a rocket item.  These rockets are scarce, for you won't find many of them, but when you do find them what will happen is that it will launch in the sky, show off some fireworks, and then affect all enemies on screen.  The enemies don't die here, but rather if your cape touches them they'll be turning into different creatures, such as butterflies and flowers.  I like that, it's quite a nice touch.  In keeping with the magic theme, after you defeat each boss, a chest will appear with a manuscript that teaches you a special magic trick that you can use in the next particular stage anytime you exclaim "Alakazam!"; a few of these are encasing yourself in a bubble so you won't drown underwater, and in another you use it to make a flying carpet appear so you can fly in the sky.  The types of magic are really nice, and I like how there's variety in each of them.

Nooooo!!!  Not another tasty-looking area!!
Hasn't my tummy been through enough??  =(
Without a shadow of a doubt, the visuals for this sequel have vastly improved since Castle of Illusion!  Each worlds are beautiful to look at, for they present so much detail and color, not to mention that each stage has a really inviting, magical look to them.  What's cool is that some stages and themes are inspired by previous Disney movies, such as The Little Mermaid, The Sword in the Stone, and Alice in Wonderland.  To name some examples, the very first area sets you in an enchanted forest setting, with some line scrolling and moving foregrounds to add some depth, afterwards it takes place inside a mine with diamonds seen in the background and filled with bright spider-webs.  Another area takes place in the sky with a large abundance of clouds, and what's pretty cool is how there are a couple times you might come across piano keys made out of clouds.  That is both ingenious and imaginative.  =)  The underwater portions look dazzling, what with all the different blue hues on the horizon, and I love how it's all wavy in the backdrop (just check out that castle).  The final stage even has some gorgeous-looking moments.  Unfortunately this is one of those games that has at least one food-themed area, with cakes and chocolates and sweets among the place; while very pretty-looking, it can easily make gamers crave a big appetite if looked at too long.  In another subject, I really love the way the plot unfolds in storybook format, since I feel it evokes a mystical sense to it.  =)
Don't mess with Donald!
The character and enemy designs are great.  Mickey and Donald animate very fluidly, they move and run really smoothly, and I like the way the cape looks when it's being used against your foes.  The main duo look really detailed, and I like how Mickey's and Donald's character sprites are faithful to those of the short toons they starred in; even though I admit I do miss anime-Mickey from Castle of Illusion.  The enemies and bosses are also designed nicely, and what's cool is how some of them make appearances from classic Disney fare, like the crazy shewitch Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone, the card guards from Alice in Wonderland, and that one pencil/ruler-hybrid creature from the special Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land (awesome cameo!  I loved that short flick when I was little!!), to name a few.  The final boss looks highly-detailed and shaded, even if he fills up the majority of the screen.

It's so beautiful!!!  ='D
Soundwise, it's all right.  The MegaDrive/Genesis doesn't have the greatest of sound cabilities, but done with the right touch, it can be effective and fun to listen to in its own way.  Sega succeeds with that somewhat.  The instrumentation is nice, and a lot of the songs that are heard here are memorable and catchy in their own right, though I couldn't help but notice that there was some soft underscoring in the mix for this game.  But still, the songs are nice.  The song that plays during the plot portion of the intro pays great homage to Maleficent's theme from the underrated animated feature Sleeping Beauty, and boy does it sound menacing and brooding with Sega's sound chip.  The first stage theme sounds charming, the underwater third stage theme sounds wonderful yet haunting, and the fourth stage themes sound good.  Some songs are emotion-driven (in my opinion), and a few songs do a good job at delivering an ominous mood without straying far from the lighthearted tone, not to mention one of the final areas delivers a fittingly mystifying aura.  The regular boss theme is good while the final boss theme is loud and foreboding, which is great.  The best song, I feel, plays during the credits sequence, for it's charmingly lighthearted and at one point goose-bump inducing (it's that good).

The sound effects are decent, though not exactly up to par with the background music.  They're not bad, and some are even fun to listen to; such as the sound the cape makes whenever it successfully transforms the enemy into something different, the sound for when the character roams around the sea inside a bubble, and the escalating notes of the piano whenever you step on each note from right to left (albeit sharply).  In this adventure, there are actual voice samples of Mickey and Donald used whenever they take damage, anytime they say "Wow!", and everytime they say "Alakazam!"  Even though it sounds a tad muffled, it's still a technical achievement for Sega's console, and they sound good.  They sound so much like Mickey and Donald, that it makes me wonder if I'm hearing the voice clips of the late Wayne Allwine and the current Tony Anselmo, respectively?  I'm pretty convinced that it must be the case, but either way, it's so cool!

This bit gives a real sense of mystery and
wonder  =)
World of Illusion is a good game and a loyal follow-up to the magnificent predecessor Castle of Illusion, even though they are connected by title only, and not through gameplay and plot (no references to Sega's first Mickey Mouse game, either).  The areas are bright, wonderful, and colorful, and I like how each of them have a good amount of depth and atmosphere that help bring it to life.  The songs are good, and the gameplay really shines thanks to its polish, responsiveness, and intuitiveness.  The stage designs are good, and it's one charming, magical adventure.  Now with that said, how does it stack up with the first game?  Remember when I said before that Castle of Illusion could be beaten in around a half hour?  Well, this game can be beaten in less time than that, and there are a few moments that present some challenge, even though for the most part it's a very easy game; even easier than the first title, which says a lot (though give that game some credit, it at least tried).  The choice to play as either Mickey and Donald was a really wise choice Sega made, but the lack of a difficulty setting reduces its status by a margin.  But what it lacks in difficulty modes it more than makes up for with diversity.  There are still five stages regardless of who you play as, but what's neat is that depending on which character you play as, you'll be heading to one portion of the stage that was made exclusively for either Mickey or Donald; for example, Mickey is the only one who flies to the stars on a cork, and Donald is the only one who heads to the islands during that one bit in the third stage.  I looked up that there is an exclusive stage for when both characters are active, though I've yet to see those.  So at least there's some notable replay value to be had.  The only HUD you're shown are your health and the amount of lives you've got, and that's great; though I can't help but feel that the upper right hand corner could've been used for something else.  Overall, World of Illusion is always a fun game to play every now and then, and it's always fun while it lasts, despite its shortcomings.  It's lighthearted, charming, and enjoyable, not to mention a neat atmospheric adventure with some cool boss fights.  It's not the first game, but it's a good game in its own right.  Simply put: this platformer was both a step forward and a step backward.  I thought it was brief yet amiable!  =)

My Impressions: 8.5
Thank you for reading, please leave a comment!  =)

P.S.: I haven't played Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion yet, but I hope to do so before the year ends!  I just hope that it doesn't have a mouthwatering food stage as well.
P.S. 2: In all seriousness, I knew that Mickey was a magician one time in one of his cartoons long ago, but I never knew Donald was one at one point.
P.S. 3: I apologize if that one joke in the plot portion felt tasteless.  =(
P.S. 4: By the way, I absolutely love how other Disney characters are mentioned in the "starring" lineup during the prelude to the title even though they're reduced to one time cameos.
P.S. 5: Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck would abandon their profession as magicians under Sega's wing three years later to star in another platformer together: Capcom's Mickey & Donald: Magical Adventure 3 for the Super Famicom (which sadly I have not played yet).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Impressions: Ys IV: Mask of the Sun (SFC)

Received: September 10th, 2012 / Written: November 17th-22nd, 2012
Ys IV: Mask of the Sun
Year: 1993 | Developed and Published by: Tonkin House | Licensed by: Nihon Falcom | [ O ]

4/9/17 Update: Check out my updated and extended thoughts here  =)
"Eleven against one??  That's not a fair advantage!"
The Ys series is a well-known series among gamers, and some argue that it's got some of the best storytelling on there.  The games have also made their mark in A-RPG history by incorporating anime cutscenes, a rockin' soundtrack all around, and they have very detailed plots.  The great thing about the plots are that bit by bit you uncover a bit of information and secrets which gradually connect the pieces to the plot, and the plots themselves are usually great.  My experience with the Ys series up to this point has been positive so far.

The first Ys, Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished, I thought was quite good, even though it's easy and can be beaten in a few hours.  The sequel Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished - The Final Chapter, which takes place straight after the events of the first game, was a huge improvement; it had more length, greater areas, amped up the difficulty (maybe more so than actually needed), and it had a great final boss encounter.  Also I liked how Jim Cummings provided the voice for one of the villainous characters.  The first two games I played back to back on Ys Book I & II on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console (I downloaded it the day it arrived on the service back in 2008), and in my opinion that's the best way to play the first two games because the first half ends on a cliffhanger and the second half takes place immediately after that event.  Fun games!  The following year I tried the third iteration in the series, the sidescrolling venture Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, which is a heavily polarized title, garnering mixed reactions from critics and gamers alike.  I played the SNES version, and I personally enjoyed it, plus I liked it more than its predecessors even though it was a tad shorter and easier than the previous game.  I loved it and thought was fun even though I had my share of personal qualms with it.  Fastforward three years later, after I got my Retro Duo.  It opened a big window for me, and now I could be able to play Super Famicom games from Japan.  I thought that since my first SFC cart was the Japan-exclusive RPG Alcahest that I would order an RPG every three other games (so far it's working out, but now I'm not so sure); the fourth SFC game I bought was the perfect Tenchi Sōzō (Terranigma to most all of you) and for the seventh game I bought the well-known Ys IV: Mask of the Sun.  And honestly, it's the best Ys game I played so far; I've yet to play games number 5 through 7.

Whoa, I can see my own reflection!  Cool!  =D
Interesting to note is that back when this game came out, it was made not by series creator Nihon Falcom, but by the developers behind the Nintendo 16-bit version of the third game, Tonkin House.  Actually, there are two games under the Ys IV moniker, this followed by the Hudson Soft version on the PC-Engine Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys (which I haven't played).  Even though Tonkin House's version is (or was) the official fourth entry in the series, Hudson Soft's non-canon entry is highly lauded by many gamers.  I looked up that while the PC-Engine version has the same plotline and gameplay, the structure is different and plot elements take place during different moments; so it's not a port so much as a new game.  There were supposed to three Ys IV titles, but for some reason Sega's version was halfway finished in development before it got canned.  I'm guessing the reason Nihon Falcom didn't work on it themselves back then was because they were working on Brandish 2: The Planet Buster, which came out at around the same time; but I don't know that for a fact.

And just as I decide that Mask of the Sun is going to be my newest Super Famicom experience, I find out that there's going to be another Ys IV experience, for the PlayStation Vita called Ys: Ocean Foliage in Celceta, and that it was worked on by Nihon themselves and will replace the SFC game as the official fourth game in the series.  I find it a little frustrating and a little sad too, because Tonkin House's game is really fun, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  Since 1993, Ys IV has stayed a Japan-exclusive title (including the PlayStation 2 remake), even after the sixth and seventh titles came out, and the only likelihood of the PS Vita game being released outside Japan is in 2013, the twentieth anniversary of the fourth title, but even then chances of it happening are very slim.  If it does come out in America, I'm not going to buy a Vita just for that one game; that would be wasteful.  But that's just me; anyway, I've gone on long enough, let's talk about how I feel about Ys IV: Mask of the Sun=)

A conversation between two individuals
After the sidescrolling adventure Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, Nihon decided (before delegating the responsibility to Tonkin House) to go back to their original roots, where the game once again is viewed from a bird's eye view.  Just like Wanderers from Ys was the Zelda II: The Adventure of Link of the Ys games, so too is Ys IV: Mask of the Sun the The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past to the series, in that it reverted back to the original style and successfully manages to outdo all the games that came out before it by incorporating more elements and create a much more fun experience in the process.  From what I researched Mask of the Sun takes place after the events of the second and before the third game; so really, this is both a sequel and a prequel all at once (a midquel, I suppose).

One of Ys IV's many fun maze-like areas
Young red-haired Adol Christin once again takes the role of the main protagonist, and since this game went back to the original roots, so did the original gameplay.  For those of you that are not aware, Adol's method of attacking is shoving the enemies until their health is down; that's it.  But you don't want to run straight through them, as chances are you'll be losing health this way, so I highly advise that you attack from one side of the enemy (to its left or to its right, it doesn't matter which).  There are some enemy areas and some safe areas where if you hold still long enough then your health will automatically heal itself, which is nice and convenient.  There are items which you'll find and need in order to advance the plot, and of course there are items which you'll need in order to make sure you prolong your survival, like herbs and potions for health or magic, among others.Throughout the adventure you'll find different variations of weapons and equipment, and usually the newest ones you find are the ones you'll wish to stick with.  What's pretty neat is that with this fourth installation there are some swords and blades which can conjure up some magic via the X button.  Some examples that come to mind are shooting fire, ice, and even lightning.  But the catch is that it uses up magic points, and how much it uses up varies with the blade you use, so it's really wise to use the magic sparingly.  During the boss battles you'll need to exert tons of physical damage towards them, and you'll have to be careful not to take too much damage plus make sure you follow their exact pattern to have them defeated.  Adol still moves in a boxed, four-way pattern, but he moves so swiftly that it's not really much of an issue throughout the game.  The item roster is bigger than it was before, and this time it's actually possible to get poisoned by a certain enemy type; the only way for it to lose effect is if you equip an antidote or if you hold still for a minute or two until it goes away.  Halfway in the adventure you'll be given a "wing" item which you can use any time you want and teleport yourself to any of the areas you've been in.  Sweet!  The gameplay is rock solid, though I still find the method of attacking through pushing a little silly.

Adol confronts enemies thrice his size
The Ys games aren't known for having the most impressive of visuals, but in their own right they do look good, particularly this fourth entry's visuals.  What I always enjoyed about the series is how the action is viewed inside a nice-looking frame, which is pretty neat.  The frame looks nice and stylized, but everything else in the game looks good as well.  The areas are rich with detail (, and I like how there is a big amount of variety.  A few examples that of these locations are the ice caves where it all looks so cool and nice, and it's largely covered in ice, not to mention there is an icy floor that ends up showing the upper walls', Adol's and the enemies' reflection below them.  That is awesome, and it reminded of a similar time it happened in the first Ys.  Another area I'd like to talk about a rock-style cavern where it's all brown with all the rocks around it with the holes that lead to different portions.  The brown coloring scheme that was used in this area is not bad, and it works, to be honest.  There is also another area that takes place in the middle of a big forest, and from the first seconds you enter there it gets darker and begins to rain.  As simple as the forest and rain effects look, it's still nice to look at.  There are even a few times when you might be walking behind a color-layering waterfall, and even a few instances during the penultimate area where you climb the tower in a neat visual fashion.  Sorry if I'm losing you, the point I'm getting at is the areas look good, despite their simplicity.  The safe town areas look wonderful and inviting, and each area has their own quality that makes them stand out.  The character and enemy models are really small, but they animate real well.  Adol looks cool, and I like the way he looks when he runs.  There are times during conversations when from time to time the characters would either lower their head or even spin around to express a feeling of surprise or importance, the latter of which I find really humorous.  What I find cool about Ys IV is how whenever you meet some notable villains and fight them as bosses, they start off about the same height as you, but then they grow roughly three times Adol's size.  That is incredibly awesome!  =D  It's not often that you see that happen in games of this ilk.  As is a custom for the Ys series, there are anime-like cutscenes, and boy they do not disappoint.  The intro sequence alone is spectacular!

I remember this bridge!  I have such good memories
of this bridge!
Another aspect the Ys series is best known for is having a rock-like soundtrack, and this installation delivers each song with flying colors.  The rock quality has always been one of the best parts of the entire series, in my opinion.  What I find very interesting about this soundtrack is how this time there are some symphonics in the mix of the rock music, and even songs that sound entirely symphonic.  It stands out to say the least, but the songs don't sound half bad.  A lot of the battlefield areas sound great, like the one that's played during the ice cavern and and the one that's played during the raining forest area.  The penultimate tower area has pretty rockin' music too, which sounds epic.  The town themes sound neat, too, and I like how fantastic the symphonic themes sound.  A few themes from the first two Ys games are even remixed, and the remixes sound nice in 16-bit format.  There are a couple sad-sounding themes, including this music box-like theme that plays any time this one key blonde female character makes an appearance.  The regular boss theme sounds good, but the final boss theme really steals the show, as it's an epic-sounding showdown with a real sense of urgency, not to mention it's a do or die moment.  The sound effects are nice, too, particularly the ones for when Adol damages enemies and bosses.  The found item sound still sounds similar to Metroid's item found sound, which always sounds cool, and the sound that plays for whenever the bosses have been taken down is great.

Hey, you helped me on my second quest!
You're a good, helpful friend!  =)
So in the end I thought Ys IV: Mask of the Sun was a very fantastic RPG.  It's not the best one in the genre, but it definitely does earn a spot in the Top 10 Nintendo 16-bit RPGs category as far as I'm concerned.  Even though I personally enjoyed Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, I really liked how the licensers Nihon Falcom decided to revert back to their original formula, and especially decided to add new content to make for a more exciting adventure.  The areas all look good, and I love how they've got their own individual look and attention to detail in them.  Each area is designed nicely, and I enjoy their maze-like design.  The rock hard music is awesome, as usually is the case with this series, even if it was significantly different in certain parts, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Controls are great, and it was nice for Adol to once again shove enemies in order to damage them, silly though it may sound.  The inventory system is nice, and I thought it was cool that some of the swords or blades had magic qualities.  What's neat about this game is that you could obtain up to ten of each weapon, armor, and shield.  That is awesome, and it's quite an accomplishment considering the previous three games.  The idea to turn Ys IV: Mask of the Sun into a midquel was good one, and the boss fights are exciting.  It was nice to see some characters and revisit a few areas from the first two Ys games, and some of them made me smile; the 16-bit remixes of a few of the themes were really nice.  =)  If there's one qualm I have, it's just a nitpick of mine, but here goes: the experience points.  Unlike the last game, the level cap is 31, and any time you decimate enemies and bosses you'll earn experience points.  But here's what I noticed: the more you level up, the less experience points you'll earn by fighting older enemies, meaning that the newer enemies will consistently have the highest amount.  You'll earn the same amount of money, but you'll earn a different amount of experience points as you level up.  That's just distracting for me; no RPG does that, or at least no game in the RPG genre that I played does that!  But apparently this one does, so go figure.

Even though it was all in Japanese, I was involved in the story somewhat.  There were some rather harsh moments in this fourth Ys adventure, and a few of them were even mean-spirited.  There's this one moment where Adol eavesdrops on a conversation between a winged figure and the Terrible Trio, as I'd like to call them, but he gets exposed by the winged creature; so what happens next is he gets beaten to a pulp by the trio, and even when his health has gone to zero, he's still brutally attacked until they stop.  And I'm like "Did that seriously just happen??", and I've got to tell you, that scene made me so mad; hell, it makes me mad just thinking about it.  There is also this blonde female character who plays a key role in the game, but she consistently gets mistreated (and one time brutally injured) throughout most the of the game, and I cannot help but feel sorry for her; her theme is also so sad that it makes me feel as if something seriously tragic is going to happen.  There are dark moments in this game, too, but the mean-spiritedness that occurs in some of them really gets to me.  The first three games had a few dark moments in certain parts, but never to the extent that was done in this game.  There were a few scenes I felt were emotional, especially the scene that occurs straight after the final boss encounter was finished.  I thought it was one of those "it didn't have to be this way" moments, and I really thought the scene was especially sad.  It was nowhere near as heartwrenching as Tenchi Sōzō's ending scenario, but it was sad all the same.

Regardless, Ys IV: Mask of the Sun was a very fun game, and it took me around eleven non-consecutive hours to beat it (I beat it in more than two months after I received it), at the level cap 31.  It's not that the game is hard, though there are challenging moments, and the adventure is a lot shorter and it can be beaten in less time.  The reason it took me so long to beat the game was because I was a little busy, with college, work, life in general, and I was playing more games, too.  I admit I took some breaks during the middle of my playthrough, too.  I can see why it's positively received, and I'm glad I got to play it.  It's a 9 for me!  =)
Thank you for reading, please leave a comment!


Now that I played the fourth game, my next mission in the Ys series is to play the fifth iteration.  Fortunately that won't be much of an issue, since they've only made one version of it for the Sup--
Really?  =(  Man!  *sigh*  Well I didn't think it would come to this, but I see that I am left with no choice: I'll flip a coin over it.  Heads I play the original version, and tails I try the Expert version.  Here I go: *flips coin and waits for it to land on the ground*
TO BE CONTINUED...
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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  =)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Impressions: Pocky & Rocky (SNES)

Received: May 24th, 2012 / Written: November 6th-9th, 2012
Pocky & Rocky
Year: 1992, 1993 | Developed and Published by: Natsume | Licensed by: Taito

"Hey!  Quit hoggin' all the food!!!"  >=(
I've got a confession to make: two days before I got this game I had received my very first Super Famicom cart Alcahest, but sometime before that I had gotten a Game Genie.  It was at that point that I really wanted to start importing SFC games from Japan; I was under the impression that the Game Genie could play SFC games.  The SFC cart didn't fit on the Game Genie slot, and I was let down.  And yet some websites say that it works for SFC games, so either someone's lying or I'm missing something, and I probably am.  I really wanted to play Alcahest and I was sad that I couldn't do it and had lost all hope for a chance to import SFC games.  ='(  Two days later I went to 3D Games to buy some games, when I saw a system that caught my interest.  It was a Retro Duo, and the employee there said that it worked for NTSC SNES games and SFC games from Japan.  That day my hope was restored, and I would go on to purchase the system the very following Thursday.  It cost a bit, but it was worth the price, and it turned out to be one of the best gaming decisions I ever made!  =D

Sorry, slightly offtopic.  Anyway, on the 24th, I had decided to buy some games, like I said before.  I bought three SNES games that day: the always classic Pilotwings (which I enjoyed since I was little; now that I have my own copy, I no longer have to wait until I visit my relatives in order to play it), X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse (which was new to me, and is a decent brawler based on the '90s X-Men animated series), and finally there was the game of the day, Pocky & Rocky.  I've oft heard of this game online, as it's highly lauded as a cult classic among many, and I heard that it was pretty good too.  When I saw a copy of the game with that name on there, I knew I had to buy it.  What's cool is that I got to try it for a little bit at the 3D Games store on the displayed Retro Duo, with the employee's consent.  It was a pretty neat experience, and it's not often that it happens.  From what I had played at the game store, it was good, but when I played it at home, it was even better.  Pocky & Rocky (known in Japan as KiKi KaiKai: Nazo no Kuro Manto) is the SNES-exclusive follow-up to Taito's 1986 arcade game KiKi KaiKai (known outside Japan as Knight Boy for some reason).  Unlike the arcade original (which I have not played), this 16-bit SNES game was made by Natsume with the license by Taito.  And yet, surprisingly, Natsume managed to create a console-exclusive experience with a rather arcade-like feel to it; but I'm getting ahead of myself.  So is the game really that good?

Trailing through the big bamboo forest
This game takes place after the events of the original arcade game, from what I looked up (and from what I could gather in the first part of the intro).  In the past the Nopino Goblins went rampant around the land during Feudal Japan, until they were stopped one day by the young priestess named Pocky who then led them the right path, and all was well with the world.  One day, a raccoon dog named Rocky visits the priestess' shrine in a panic.  He asks for her help when his fellow Nopino Goblins have gone awry due to a mysterious force; oh, and Rocky's a Nopino Goblin, too.  He tried to pacify them by himself before, but to no avail.  Together, Pocky and Rocky would venture forth to free the Nopino Goblins and defeat the force behind the trouble.  During their quest they discover that the Black Mantle is the one behind the mayhem, and that he's also taking advantage of a group of monsters known as the "Gorgonzola Goblins".  That name is just too funny, and it's nice to hear the word outside of a kind of cheese.  When it comes to discussing about games, I try my goshdarn best not to reveal the majority of the plot (just minor parts) or give away any plot-related spoilers (though that applies to games that have a good plot), and if it's a game with a really good plot, then I try to be as non-spoilerish if possible; but considering it's not that long a game, I can't help but explain some of the plot.  Will the duo Pocky and Rocky break the spell controlling the Nopino Goblins?  And will they be able to defeat the Black Mantle--who for some reason looks like a cross between Empress Sonia from Equinox and the evil cult worshipper Shaft from Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo--before it's too late?  Play and find out the answer!  The fate of Feudal Japan rests in your hands!

"Fear me, foes, and behold my Leaf Power!!"
Pocky & Rocky's gameplay is just awesome!!  =D  Basically it plays like a shoot'em up, only you have the freedom of movement and direction of your character and you fight off creatures from Japanese culture and mythology in Japan, as opposed to just heading towards one direction and fighting off opposing alien/ship armadas in space and outer planets.  That works really well for this game, but that's only the icing on the fun cake.  In the game you can decide to take control of the priestess Pocky (who throws cards) or her round tanuki friend Rocky (who throws leaves), or if you have another friend alonside you, then you can play with both characters simultaneously.  The controls are really responsive and great as well.  The default controls go like this: holding down the Y button has you unleash a vast unlimited array of projectiles toward enemies in a rapidfire manner (I love it), pressing the A button has you throw one projectile at a time (why would anyone want to opt for that when the rapidfire button is available?), pressing the X button and a certain direction while make you slide in the direction of your choice, and tapping the B button repeatedly will have your character deflect most enemy projectiles (very useful in many situations, especially during midboss and boss fights).  By holding down the B button until just the right moment, your character will unleash a special temporary move that will make enemies bounce away; Pocky will make a short rotating fan attack while Rocky will become a solid tanuki statue.  Both heroes will execute a special devastating attack that will wipe all enemies who overwhelm you by pressing either shoulder button, as long as you have the special green power-ups at your disposal.  And while the impact will be the same, the execution is done a little differently.  However, it's best that you use these sparingly, since those power-ups are few and far between.  Whilst contending with the enemies, you'll come across various power-ups such as spread shots (purple), fire (red), forcefield (which goes away after it's been in contact a few times), and food power-ups to augment your health.  For example, if you get several purple power-ups in a row, then you'll have amass a very powerful projectile attack in big numbers.  If you get hit a few times or if you get a different power-up instead, then the power-up will (gradually) level down.  My favorite is the spread shot, as I think it's the better main weapon and the most highly effective out of the two, but it all goes down to personal preference in the end.  After defeating each boss you're awarded an extra increase in health capacity, furthering your chances of survival.  Here's the catch, though: if you lose all your lives, get a game over, and decide to continue, you'll start at the beginning of the stage you lost all your lives in with the exact number of hearts you started the game with.  It just seems like a step back to me, but it's not too much of a problem, it's just an observation.

"I WAS FROZEN TODAY!"
The visuals here are colorful, detailed, and great, for they do a really good job at presenting the world of Pocky & Rocky, not to mention it's got an arcade-like, anime look to it which I like very much.  The first stage takes place near a shrine, which looks neat; there's a moment when it becomes dark and rains hard only to clear up again, and in a later part you'll cross a bridge and see enemies pop out from the water (they even have watery reflections, that's so cool).  The second stage, the bamboo forest, is my favorite, in terms of visuals.  I like how the majority of the area is filled with green bamboo trees, and there's a sense that you're setting foot in a special, myserious foreign location.  The third stage takes place in a cemetery, during the night with the creepy mist filling the air, until you step inside a building and then a cave, where things are just as weird.  One of the first rooms you step in has lights coming from windows, and what's neat about them is how there are clouds that are moving alongside it, which is a really sweet detail (one of my screenshots illustrates what I'm talking about).  The rest of the stages I'll leave up to you to discover, but I will say that each area has a real sense of atmosphere all around, mostly due the fact that it takes place in a foreign land.  Clever usage of shadows and shadow layering effects on the characters, too.  A lot of the enemies are based on Japanese myth and folklore, like obake and tsukumogami, among others.  The main characters Pocky and Rocky animate smoothly, and I like how swiftly their throwing animations are like when they rapidfire.  There are times when they might look humorous, and Rocky I feel plays a big role in comedic relief.  The bosses and midbosses are big and look good, and after each stage there is a cutscene telling the story with some nice artwork on there.  This game has a lighthearted anime feel, and I like it.  =)

Darn it, Rocky!  What did I tell you about lying
down on the job?!
One of the greatest aspects of the game is the background music, composed by Hiroyuki Iwatsuki, which really compliments each area's atmosphere, and as a result it creates a fitting mood.  The soundtrack is notable in that he combined an electric beat with traditional Japanese music, and the result is quite marvelous.  They are all fun, catchy songs to listen to, and I quite enjoy the sound quality.  The different themes for each cutscene is good, and in some cases the songs can be very effective.  The bamboo forest theme is wonderful due to the melody that was used and the way it sounds relaxing and action-packed at the same time.  The cemetery themes are appropriately thrilling, and the last one out of the two I find to be truly haunting.  The fourth area theme packs some epic sounding punch to the action, and it gives the feeling of doing something big, even though the theme is really simple.  The boss themes are rather energetic, especially the final one against the Black Mantle, which is excellent.  What I find interesting in this aspect is the sound effects: they don't sound at all like 16-bit sounds, they sound like they were lifted from a mid-80's arcade game; which I suppose is befitting considering when the first KiKi KaiKai title came out.  I don't say that as a bad thing, though, as I personally feel that it gives this game a solid edge over others of its kin.  Several of the sounds are fun and engaging, like the devastating attack sound effect, the sound effect used whenever an item is being deflected, and the sounds each character makes when they lose all their health.  It's rather cool, really.

Red bridge crossing
When I tried Pocky & Rocky at 3D Games for the very first time, I thought it was pretty good, but when I played it at home for a much fuller experience, I grew to like it more and more, and it has quickly become one of my favorites these past several months.  I like the execution behind the game, and the result is rather spectacular.  Pocky and Rocky are cute, likeably charming protagonists, and the Japanese theme, content, and enemies really make an out of this world experience; it's like you really are in feudal Japan.  The visuals and sound are great, but what really steals the show is the controls.  It is non-stop, fast-paced action throughout the whole adventure, and the controls are some of the most fun I've had in this type of game, especially considering that you can attack in a rapidfire fashion.  Awesome!  =D  I brought up from time to time the word "arcade" when talking about this classic, because that's what I honestly felt: this is a well-done console-exclusive arcade game, which an arcade feel and look to it.  It's even about as long as a regular mid-80's arcade game, at six stages.  Considering the difficulty, that's not such a bad thing.  Speaking of difficulty: Pocky & Rocky is quite a hard video game, even on Easy mode it's very challenging.  The action is hectic, enemies appear frequently and often, plus it shares the difficulty that's often found in arcade games (not to the point of being impossible, but rather just enough to be of great challenge).  It's manageable if you go at a steady pace, which does soften the challenge flow a tad bit, though it's best to keep advancing forward, especially since there's a timer at the bottom of the screen; so no lollygagging about in here.  So far I've only beaten Easy mode a couple times, and I've yet to try the subsequent two difficulty settings; one day I'll try to attempt that.  Fortunately the game offers unlimited continues, so you could play as long as you want; you'll just have to start the stage over again, that's all.  The boss fights are fun, and some of them require special patterns for them to be taken down.  Pocky & Rocky is a fun arcade-like experience, and one such game that's fun to visit every once in awhile.  I quite love it.

Online I looked up that it's often likened to Konami's The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (the first 16-bit Ganbare Goemon), and, yeah, I can see that; both games present a lot charm, there's Japanese quirkiness on the horizon, and the gameplay is a tad bit similar.  Personally though, I felt that Pocky and Rocky's venture was more fun and more fair than Ganbare Goemon's, because I felt the latter was plodding, slow, and unfair, if not frustrating at times (not necesarrily because that game is hard, it's not; but because the password system is ridiculously hefty, losing lives makes me feel like the game is to condescending me, the power-ups keep decreasing the more I get hit by enemies, and it's just too damn time-consuming for me).  I honestly felt that The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was unenjoyable, though that's just me.  Nothing personal against you, Konami, but Natsume's game is far superior as far as I'm concerned.  I digress, though, Pocky & Rocky is awesome and deserves to be played by all!  =)

This classic was successful enough to spawn two sequels, Pocky & Rocky 2 on the SNES and Pocky & Rocky with Becky for the Game Boy Advance, even though it's quite obscure.  Though not quite as obscure as the second and third games.  And when I looked up the second SNES game on eBay, all I've got to say is damn, man!  Is the game really that obscure, or that good (if not better) than the first SNES game?  I ask that because it sells for outrageously high prices on there!  Maybe I'll ask for it on my Christmas list.  Considering how much I like Pocky & Rocky, I'm curious to see if the second one delivers just as much enjoyment, if not more.

Thank you for reading, please leave a comment!  =)
P.S.: This game deserves a 9!  It's just that much fun to play.
P.S. 2: From what I looked up, whilst the American and Japanese versions maintained the plotline, the European version totally axed it.  It seems like a poor excuse to not have it translated in different languages to me, though I don't know that for a fact.
P.S. 3: If you like The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, then that's great, different strokes for different folks, to each their own.  It just didn't do it for me, personally.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Impressions: Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (GEN)

Received: October 9th, 2012 / Written: November 3rd, 2012
Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse
Year: 1990 | Developed by: Sega (AM7) | Published by: Sega

The Itsy Bitsy Spider came down to greet
the Mouse
For the longest time the only 2D platformer I ever played that starred Mickey Mouse since I was very little was Mickey's Wild Adventure for the first PlayStation console (the PAL-exclusive, enhanced port of the MegaDrive/Genesis game Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse); I lived in Europe back then, and I always visit my relatives each year.  After all these years, I think that game has aged well; it's got good aesthetic qualities, good play control, memorable areas, decent amount of challenge, and it was always a fun, enjoyable experience for me.  One of my childhood favorites, and one of my current favorites today, though I still wish the Sony version reached the American shores.

It wasn't until some time early this year (2012) that I would finally get to experience another retro 2D Mickey Mouse platformer, Capcom's The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey & Minnie for the SNES console.  Then on my birthday (April 5th), one of the games I was given and was going to play was its predecessor, The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse, also on the SNES.  And during the summer, I purchased a Retro Duo system, which lets me play not only NES and SNES games, but also Super Famicom games, I decided to start importing SFC games from Japan (one of the best things to happen to me as a gamer).  One of the first games I decided to import was the obscure, Japan-exclusive Mickey no Tokyo Disneyland Daibōken.  All good, very fun games in their own right, and I'm glad that I got to play them all!  =)

Swim away from those piranhas through
these perilous water caves
There was this one Mickey Mouse game, though, that has attracted my curiosity for so many years, and that game was none other than Sega's Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse.  I remember one time when I visited some of my cousins in America, they had a Genesis console with some games for it, and I remember there was an ad for it in the back of the instruction manual for the first Sonic the Hedgehog.  I've also always heard positive, good word of mouth for this game, and since then I've always been interested and curious about it.  Recently I've decided to order it from eBay and experience it this past month.  But wait, I don't own Sega's 16-bit console, so how was I ever to play it?  Well, at the same time I ordered a RetroGen, an adaptor that lets you play Genesis and MegaDrive games on the SNES and Retro Duo consoles.  While I was initially skeptical about the adaptor, I was amazed by its capabilities when I finally got it (it's not flawless, but it works all the same).  However, it didn't arrive until the 27th, and seeing as the game arrived long before that, I was really eager to play the game so badly.  When the adaptor arrived, though, I was finally able to play the game, and having got a chance to play Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, I knew I was in for something special.  My own Sega cartridge, yay!  =D

I've never seen Mickey look so panicked
before
In Vera City, all the inhabitants and visitors are happy and joyful, especially the always charming Mickey Mouse and his equally charming girlfriend Minnie Mouse.  Everyone in there liked and admired Minnie for her popularity and beauty... well, not everyone exactly.  One day she gets kidnapped out of envy by the witch Mizrabel, who looks like she came out of Disney's 1937 animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (intentional homage?).  Mickey, wanting to save Minnie, traced them all the way to the titular Castle of Illusion.  It's there that an inhabitant warns you that Mizrabel plans to steal Minnie's beauty to make the witch look beautiful and Minnie look evil like her, and that the only way to stop the evil witch is to recoup the seven rainbow gems, most of which are guarded by the Masters of Illusion.  Inside the castle there are doors that lead to different realms; so basically the exterior part of the castle is like a hub world, only it's entirely linear in structure and scope.  Anyway, what are you waiting for?  Minnie awaits your rescue!

The controls for this game are nice, yet simple.  There are two main types of action: jumping and throwing items (should you have them at your disposal).  It's been so long since I touched the croissant-shaped Sega controller, so I wasn't certain how the buttons would function on the SNES controller.  The back of the RetroGen box was kind enough to tell which button was which in the transition (i.e. Genesis B = SNES B, Genesis A = SNES Y), and I really appreciated that since I found it very helpful.  Each realm is divided into small portions, and at the end of each stage there is a boss encounter.  The thing about the jumping controls here are that you have to hold down on the directional controls in order for them to be defeated, otherwise you'll take damage from them.  Holding down the jump button while pressing down on the enemies will make you bounce high.  How effective!  Every realm has a different kind of item to throw towards enemies, and finding a bag will give you ten items.  Mickey can also duck, swing, swim under water, and run down diagonal slopes.  At times there are moments when you'll come across small white gems (for bonus points) and stars (which serves as a health power-up).  The area design layouts are good, and the controls are fairly responsive.

Warning: Do NOT play this area on an empty
tummy!
For a game that was made in 1990, it's rather surprising how impressive the visuals were for its time, and I think it's quite beautiful to look at, all simplicity for its time aside.  During the intro sequence, there is a cutscene rendered in a small box-shaped view, but the moment Mickey arrives in front of the castle, said box widens to fill up the size for the title "Castle of Illusion" to fit on there, and I think it's rather neat, and the way he stops and looks towards the castle at that moment reminds of a similar cutscene in the NES Ninja Gaiden game.  Awesome!  The forest is a wonderful-looking area with all the green foliage and trees that surround it; there is even a sub-area with a pristine look to it, with interconnected spider-webs and leaves lathered all over the place, and the trees viewed from that perspective look sweet.  The way the spider-webs are detailed, with the water drops on them, and the way it sometimes glows is quite breathtaking.  The water cave portions are neat, and one of them was made in such an in-depth matter, with the smooth parallax scrolling, abundance of waterfalls, and the ruinous-like stature which makes me think of the lost underwater city of Atlantis.  One of the sub-areas of the library is a pastry- and sweet-filled wonderland, with its mouth-watering look and feel, which if looked at too long will cause one to be very hungry; so be prepared.  The thing that caught my attention here was the way the parallax scrolling was implemented during this part, done in such a way that it almost feels like Mickey's in a carousel or other fun ride in an amusement park, which I find very impressive.  The other areas look good, too, and from time to time there are moments of layering over the character and enemies.  Since the MegaDrive/Genesis isn't capable of smooth color-layering effects, instead we're treated to a unique kind of layering effect called "dithering".  It's not as flawless as in consoles that do implement smooth color-layering, but it's not horrible; in fact, it does a good job of giving a nice feeling of depth.  Mickey Mouse is designed greatly, even if at times he looks a little anime-ish (hey, it was made by Sega of Japan, after all), though I don't find that to be a bad thing.  The animations are decent, though the way he runs down slopes and the way he looks as he's standing near an edge are funny, if not disconcerting at times.  The enemies are memorable, and the bosses don't look shabby either, especially Mizrabel.

Sega's 16-bit machine isn't particularly known for displaying impressive sound capabilities, but the music presented in this game is not bad.  In fact, many of the songs are catchy, energetic, upbeat, and are just so much fun to listen to, despite the console's sound quality.  The forest and toyland themes are lighthearted, the water cave themes sound epic and adventurous, and the boss themes sound really pumped up and energetic.  The theme that plays during the portion with the spider-webs and when you're swimming inside a coffee cup in the library sound whimsical and adds a magical sense of feeling and wonder.  The other songs are good, too, and a few of them sound dark, even.  The sound effects, interestingly, have a higher quality to them than the music does; and I know that sounds crazy, but that's what it sounds like to me.  The way the door closes in the castle hub as Mickey enters sounds crisp with a good quality.  The other sound effects, like when Mickey jumps on the enemies, he collects items, or the sound effect that plays when a clown is struck and the unicycle is riding on its own is humorous.  The ending suite is nice, and it gives you a sense that you've done a big accomplishment.

Swingin' on through to the other side
Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse has three difficulty settings.  The easy difficulty setting is so short and easy that you can literally beat in a matter of minutes.  The normal difficulty has more length put to it, with some more enemies and areas in the mix.  The hard difficulty setting adds more enemies, makes them do more, not to mention add more challenge to the game thanks to the fact that there are less items to use and find; made even more challenging by the fact that hard mode must be beaten in one continue, otherwise it's game over.  Talk about harsh!  At least on normal mode you're given a few continues to begin with.  But I won't give up, I'll have the hard difficulty setting beaten one day, it's just going to take some time.  In all difficulty settings you start with a different amount of health in each stage; on easy you start with five, on normal you start with three, and on hard you begin with two.

Sega's first Disney-licensed game is a fun platformer, and I can see why it's often touted as such a classic.  It plays like a charm (though it seems like Mickey has floaty jumps sometimes), looks like a charm, and even sounds like a charm.  It's one of those cases where a game can be most effective at its simplest.  It's rare, but the game somehow fits the bill.  Playing in each area is such a joy, the amount of creativity is good, exploring some of the bigger areas is an exciting moment, and the boss fights are fun, even though they have simple patterns to defeat them.  One thing I noticed about this platformer is that it can be beaten in over a half hour.  When it comes to games that are so fun to play yet are so short in length, that can either be a bad thing (*cough* Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose! *cough*) or it can be a not-so bad thing, depending on how you view it.  Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse has only five stages, but they've got a good amount of challenge to them, and yet oddly enough I'm not bothered by its brevity.  It's a fun game while it lasts, and it's a rather addicting one, too.  Quickly became one of my favorites, and it's become my favorite 2D Mickey game so far.  I heard that there was a version of it made for the Sega Master System, only it plays a little differently.  Mickey's first 16-bit Sega adventure was so successful among gamers and critics, that it garnered some sequels: Land of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse on the Sega Master System, World of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck for the MegaDrive/Genesis, and lastly Legend of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse for the Sega Master System.  Recently there was news that there's a new Mickey Mouse game for the Nintendo 3DS Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, which is both a follow-up to the Nintendo Wii game and an homage to Castle of Illusion.  In fact, that's one of the reasons I bought this game (to prepare myself for the 3DS game), aside from being curious about it, and I'm hoping the 3DS game lives up to its hype and is a good, faithful follow-up to Sega's classic.  But, who knows, in time we'll see; just a few more weeks left to wait.  I'm glad I got to play Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse; it's one of the best MegaDrive/Genesis games I ever played, and I daresay it's the best Disney game ever made!  It's simple yet effective!  =)

Thank you for reading!  Please leave a comment!  =)
P.S.: If I were to give this game a grade, it would be a 9.5!  I couldn't have picked a better first Genesis game!  =D
P.S. 2: The ending is well-done, and the post-credits scenario is nicely done, too, though it leaves so many questions.
P.S. 3: Two years later Capcom would create their answer on the SNES to Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse called The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse.  How does it stack up to this game?  If you stick around, I may just review it one day.  Stay tuned and take care!