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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Column: Arcade Obscurities

COLUMN: 'Arcade Obscurities' - Sega's Dark Edge

March 23, 2007 9:53 PM |

Screenshot [Arcade Obscurities is a bi-weekly column by Solvalou.com's Arttu Ylärakkola, probing some of the most interesting and obscure arcade games yet to be covered in the geek gaming press, thanks to Arttu's JAMMA board collection, and our insatiable quest for knowledge. This fifth column looks at Sega's obscure 1993 3D-'ish' fighting game Dark Edge.]

Back in the day, Sega was known for its powerful arcade hardware. What this meant in the late '80s and early '90s was that the hardware was good at sprite scaling and rotation. When Sega released Rad Mobile in 1990, its state-of-the-art pseudo-3D graphics were powered by the new System 32 hardware. While driving games come and go, there's one obscurity on System 32 that never was seen outside Japan: a fighting game called Dark Edge.

The game's background from the official flyer: "In the 25th Century, the human beings are allowed to live in the unified world controlled by the ultra-large computer. Those tough people who got out of their control now seem to be battling for the sake of their ambitions and desires. Even that battling, however, is controlled and the super-fighter is destined to fall a victim to an assassin sent by the ultra-large computer. Down the assassin and destroy the computer. Regain the future of the human beings, and fight for your aspirations."

COLUMN: 'Arcade Obscurities' - Sega's Taisen Tanto-R 'Sasi-su!!'

March 2, 2007 11:12 AM |

[Arcade Obscurities is a bi-weekly column by Solvalou.com's Arttu Ylärakkola, probing some of the most interesting and obscure arcade games yet to be covered in the geek gaming press, thanks to Arttu's JAMMA board collection, and our insatiable quest for knowledge. This fourth column looks at Puzzloop and Pang creator Sega's 1998 ST-V mini-game fest Taisen Tanto-R 'Sasi-su!!'.]

There are some somewhat rare games that are so expensive that you delay the purchase by years, hoping for the price to come down. The exact opposite are games that, while cheap and relatively common, don't find their way to your collection simply because they're obscure: obscure in a way that nobody seems to know anything about them, the flyers and screenshots look weird - and since 90% of everything is crap, you stay away from such games.

However, sometimes you take a risk and buy such a game: by doing that I've had some disappointments, but also some very positive surprises, one of which is very obscure and also very Japanese Taisen Tanto-R 'Sasissu!'.

Taisen Tanto-R 'Sasi-su!!' (1998) by Sega is the last game in the Puzzle & Action minigame series. The other games in the series are Tanto-R (1992), Ichidant-R (1994) and Treasure Hunt/BoMulEul Chajara (1995). While the first two games run on a Sega Genesis/Megadrive-like arcade system named System C-2, the last two games use the arcade version of Sega Saturn: the ST-V Titan.

COLUMN: 'Arcade Obscurities' - Mitchell's Gamshara

February 16, 2007 9:24 PM |

gamshara1.jpg[Arcade Obscurities is a bi-weekly column by Solvalou.com's Arttu Ylärakkola, probing some of the most interesting and obscure arcade games yet to be covered in the geek gaming press, thanks to Arttu's JAMMA board collection, and our insatiable quest for knowledge. This fourth column looks at Puzzloop and Pang creator Mitchell's 2002 single-screen shooter Gamshara.]

One of the most underrated and underexploited shmup-subgenres is the Cabal-type shooter. For those people who have not played the 1988 TAD Corporation classic, you get Cabal when you take your normal 2D on-rails-shooter, remove the scrolling, and change the perspective from a first-person to a third-person perspective, moving the camera behind the player.

The above details allow the games to implement their main source of enjoyment: the combination of a visible player character and static scenery. By moving your player horizontally, you can hide behind parts of the scenery and only get exposed when you decide to attack. When you are visible and firing towards the enemies, a crosshair can be freely moved around the screen to attack while you stand still firing at the enemies, totally Rambo-style. Indeed, most of the lives are lost by "trying to shoot just one more enemy" before ducking behind cover. However, a certain aggressiveness is required, as the covers crumble when they receive damage, so you have a kind of time limit in which to shoot all the enemies from one level. Without any sort of safe spots, getting hit by dozens of incoming bullets is very, very easy.

gamshara1.jpgThe Cabal Of Cabal Clones

The ramboish Cabal was followed by Wild West -themed Blood Bros in 1990. Surprisingly, those two seem to be the only good examples of their genre: there have been other quite similar games, but none of them provide the raw simple playability of the aformentioned titles. Two examples: Konami's 1988 into-the-screen -scrolling Devastators was chunky and unplayable, Sega's 1999 Charge 'N' Blast featured nice polygonal graphics, but got very negative reviews almost everywhere.

That's where Mitchell Corporation's Gamshara comes in: it's from 2002, but still sticks to the same basic formula as the old non-scrolling 2D titles, and that is the exact reason why it is better than many of its conterparts. The gameplay itself could have easily been implemented identically 20 years earlier, but Namco's System 10 hardware spices it with smooth hi-res 2d with very nice transparency and lighting effects.

gamshara1.jpgDamn Those Greedy Warloads!

It's the year 1500 in Gamshara, and the land is in turmoil because "greedy warloads" (that's what the game says) "shed bood onto the land to extend their wealth and power". However, one of these "warloads" sends his samurai ninjas, Saika Magoichi and Hotary to end the bloodbath. Saika is powerful but slow, Hotary is speedy but has weaker weaponry. What this boils down to is lots of Cabal-like shooting - either hundreds of footsoldiers, horsemen, ancient tanks and ninjas in gliders or screen-filling bosses: fortresses with endless of gun turrets, mechanical dragon/submarine hybrids, or other historically inaccurate adversaries.

To make the task a bit easier, in addition to firing with A-button, you can avoid the enemies by jumping (B-button) or powering up the "Gamshara mode" by pressing the C-button: Gamshara mode grants you much-enhanced weaponry for a limited time - very useful against big swarms of enemies or to deliver the finishing blow to an end-of-level nasty.

gamshara1.jpgLong And Short Of It

Chaining multiple kills gives you more points and also the ability to use a powerful blast that can be only launched after a long enough period of continuous firing: as you move the crosshair instead of yourself when firing, quick judgement is often required to decide wether to safely duck for cover or to keep firing against a large enemy in order to deliver the big punch.

So what's the verdict? Well, Gamshara is not as good as it could be. I have very few ideas how to improve the game, but for some reason the original Cabal is simply just more fun to play. Maybe it's Cabal's surgically precise evasion roll versus Gamshara's fiddly bullet evading jump. Or the way you're just quickly whisked to another level in Gamshara, instead seeing the next level on the horizon in Cabal.

Cabal has lots of place to hide behind, Gamshara hardly has any - so maybe it's underutilization of safe spots? I don't know, but what I know is that Gamshara gets points for doing its small part in reviving a dead genre. It's not a complete success, but like a, say, Tetris-clone, it is impossible for this one to completely fail to entertain.

COLUMN: 'Arcade Obscurities' - Namco's Dancing Eyes

February 2, 2007 7:36 AM |

Dancing Eyes by Namco[Arcade Obscurities is a bi-weekly column by Solvalou.com's Arttu Ylärakkola, probing some of the most interesting and obscure arcade games yet to be covered in the geek gaming press, thanks to Arttu's JAMMA board collection, and our insatiable quest for knowledge. This third column looks at Namco's odd/creepy 1996 3D puzzle action title Dancing Eyes.]

We all know the stereotypical perception of females in most video games. It gets even more embarrassing when dealing with games that contain women only to attract a bigger crowd: just think about all the zillions of "sexy" mahjongg games or "erotic" Qix clones.

However, when examining such a "genre" more carefully, one can find some that are actually very playable, some that are just plain offensive, and some that are out-there weird. Yes, weird in the way that makes you wonder how on earth such projects ever got greenlighted by a sane company. A prime example of a game like that is Namco's Dancing Eyes.

Dancing Eyes, Shrinking Clothes?

Dancing Eyes by Namco In Dancing Eyes you are a mouse in a grid-like landscape. When moving around the landscape's gridlines, you can (by pressing a button) eat away the lines. If you succeed in eating all the lines around one or multiple grid sections, that part of the landscape disappears. Eat enough and you complete the level, and can choose the next one from two presented choices. Your only problem is that there are various nasties that try to catch you. But fortunately pick-ups are available which give you special abilities, such as faster movement or weapons which you can use to eliminate your enemies.

What makes Dancing Eyes weird is that in most levels, the landscape which you try to destroy is clothing! There's nothing too weird (remember that we're talking about Japan-only video games here) about undressing 3D models of big-eyed Japanese girls, but after a stage or two you start to unconver such things as cows, male bodybuilders, sweaty salarymen. Unsurprisingly, the game lets you freely rotate the camera around while the undressed person/animal/whatever poses for you once the level has been completed.

Exactly The Novelty Effect!

Is Dancing Eyes a good game? No, but it's a perfect example of the kind of Japanese arcade weirdness that gets giggles from anyone who's ever seen the game. It's a road to insanity, as you start a new game, and while your mouse eats away a teenager's army wear in Level 1, you think it as a completely normal video game activity.

Then again, your comparison point is probably: "That cow with the enormous udders in Level 5's barrel was weird". Don't get me wrong - I am not moralizing: it's just that Dancing Eyes goes far beyond the weirdness of a normal T&A puzzle game.

So - Dancing Eyes, released in 1996, runs on Namco's PlayStation 1-like System 11 hardware. The game's not available for any console format, but don't despair if you don't have an arcade cabinet set-up: you can buy an action figure instead!

COLUMN: 'Arcade Obscurities' - Namco's Tenkomori Shooting

January 19, 2007 10:15 AM |

Tenkomori Shooting[Arcade Obscurities is a bi-weekly column by Solvalou.com's Arttu Ylärakkola, probing some of the most interesting and obscure arcade games yet to be covered in the geek gaming press, thanks to Arttu's JAMMA board collection, and our insatiable quest for knowledge. This second column does an awesome job of describing Namco's relatively obscure 1998 game 'Tenkomori Shooting'.]

What would David Attenborough say if he found out that monkeys rescue their offspring, who've been kidnapped by an overweight sorceress, by scoring points in miniature shoot 'em up video games? Don't know if that's scientifically accurate, but that's what happens in Namco's Tenkomori Shooting.

There's lots of minigame collections, but Tenkomori is squarely aimed at the shooter crowd: absolutely every and each one of the games available contains shooting and/or bombing in some form or another. The majority of the games are original, but included is also some classics - and the great thing here is that when the classics are referenced, they are exact duplicates of the originals, and not some watered-down 3D remakes.

When you start the game, you can select one of three difficulty levels. The more difficult level you choose, the more options you have when it comes to choosing the first minigame, and the more minigames you have to succesfully complete to reach the topmost level of the sorceress' tower where the final fight (no pun intended) takes place.

Each minigame requires the player to shoot or bomb certain number of targets in very limited (only a few seconds!) time. Fail, and your monkey alter-ego loses some health. Succeed, and our monkey hero climbs to a new level of the tower, where you can select from four new randomly selected mini-games. Well, actually only three new games are available, as you can always select the just-completed game again. The idea is that the more times you select a certain game, the more difficult it will be.

Tenkomori Shooting runs on Namco's System 12 hardware and utilizes it extensively. While the classic games look very basic, some of the 3D sections look absolutely awesome. Unfortunately for console gamers, Tenkomori Shooting is a Japan-only arcade exclusive. A rare English version exists, but it seems that it was never released to the public.

COLUMN: 'Arcade Obscurities' - Namco's Aqua Rush

January 8, 2007 6:12 AM |

[Arcade Obscurities is a bi-weekly column by Solvalou.com's Arttu Ylärakkola, probing some of the most interesting and obscure arcade games yet to be covered in the geek gaming press, thanks to Arttu's JAMMA board collection, and our insatiable quest for knowledge. The first column deals with Namco's 1999 puzzle game 'Aqua Rush'.]

Rushing Aquatic Puzzles

Google for Aqua Rush, and the first result you'll get is a marketing site for bottled water. However, Aqua Rush is also a little-known Japan-only arcade game, one product of Namco's massive arcade history - no wonder if you haven't heard about it.

Basically what we have here is an underwater themed puzzle game: air bubbles rise from the bottom of the screen inside a rectangular playing area. When the bubbles collide with static bubbles on top of the screen, they combine. If a bubble is wide enough to cover the whole width of the playing field, that part of the bubble bursts and disappears - yes, exactly like making a line in Tetris. No need to completely clear the screen, as only one red-hued row in the bubble needs to be removed in order to proceed to the next level.

In Aqua Rush, the piece you control starts as a 3-bubble-wide rectangle. Instead of rotating it, you have 3 buttons with which you can use to grow the piece as much as you like by adding one bubble on top of the leftmost, middle or rightmost bubble. Since the only things you can do are to move the piece horizontally and expand it, many of the game's levels consist of figuring out how to effectively fill vertical spaces.

aquarush1.jpg

This means making combos is relatively easy: just figure out how to expand your piece so that after the first bubble line bursts, the leftovers of your piece fit on the next vertical gap and so on. As nothing is ever rotated, gameplay is more streamlined than what is found in usual block fitting games.

Bubbly Combo Crackdown

This one-dimensionality of the game forces limits on how distinct puzzles can be created and makes the presented problems not very mentally taxing, but neither isn't really a problem as what matters more in this case is the basic ingredient of a fun puzzle game: high amount of stupendously long combos - and Aqua Rush is full of them. The way the graphics are implemented enhances the explosiveness of the combos, as the bubbles are big enough to make the level not to fit to the screen but instead the playfield scrolls vertically when lines are made.

Another gameplay mechanic which adds to the sense of speed and urgency is that often a level requires you to fill extremely long vertical gaps which is solved not by thinking, but by furiously mashing the buttons in attempt to resize your block correctly. And the bigger your block is, the more lines you can take out simultaneously. This is essential, as play is graded on how quickly a level is completed.

Easy, But Beautiful?

All the above works as well as possible, but unfortunately the fast-paced gameplay is not very finely tuned: I completed two of the three different difficulty levels on my first go. Two player vs mode is also available, but it does not work very well: huge chains equal quick unfair deaths. So is Aqua Rush a deservedly forgettable game?

No!

aquarush2.jpg

It's all about the presentation! The game is dead serious about itself, and for me, its style hits all the right spots. Instead of dancing yellow cartoon kittens, there are swarms of realistic polygonal fishes swimming in the background, screens of 3D explosion rings when points are scored and perfectly fitting soundscape (click the link for an MP3).

Conclusion

Aqua Rush was released as late as 1999 and runs on Namco's System 12 hardware, which is basically a souped-up version of the PlayStation console. What we have here is a 2D puzzle game running on the same hardware which was used for titles like Soul Calibur and Tekken Tag Tournament.

The above may sound heretical to the cultivated retrogamer, but with Aqua Rush the non-gameplay related components really make a difference. It's a prime example of Namco's unique style which surfaces in its games once in a while. Like, for example, Xevious 3D/G - in my opinion the best retro remake when it comes to style - Aqua Rush has everything right.

So what's the conclusion? Manic shooters put you "in the zone" with their intensity. While being a simplistic puzzle game, instead of being boring, Aqua Rush puts you in the zone with its presentation. It's a worthy achievement, methinks.