Tuesday 23 January 2018

Parodius Da! - NEC PC Engine - 1992

As I've stated a few times before, the Gradius series contains some of my favourite shoot 'em ups.  These games in turn produced a couple of spin-off series - one being Salamander/Life Force, and the second being the rather strange Parodius.  As can be deduced from the title, Parodius is a parody of Gradius.

Parodius first appeared in 1988 on the MSX as Parodius: The Octopus Saves the Earth.  Like the MSX version of Gradius, it wasn't great.  In 1990 Parodius! From Myth to Laughter was released in the arcades.  It is this version on which Parodius Da! is based.

I'd heard of Parodius before but had never seen it in the arcades nor played any of the conversions.  The first time was when it appeared on my shortlist for 1991 for the Sharp X68000.  Comparing it to the original ROM on MAME, it was a pretty accurate rendition.  Even then the mighty X68000 struggled on the second level with quite a bit of slowdown when the screen got busy.  The second level was as far as I got as what really put me off was the insane difficulty level.

Come 1992, and Parodius Da! was released for the PC Engine in Japan (there was no US release on the TurboGrafx-16).  First impressions were not good after playing the X68K version.  The graphics were a lower resolution and not as detailed, and the transitions between backgrounds was not very smooth.  The music and sound effects, although good, paled against the computer.  Compared to the Sharp machine it generally looked a bit rough around the edges.  I soon got used to this, however, and found the PC Engine game more enjoyable (and needless to say, easier).  Just after completing this entry I found a there was a version of the game for the SNES.  It was not on my short-list but I decided to try it anyway. Like the other two conversions it was not released in the US but came out in Europe as Parodius: Non-Sense FantasyOf the three, it had the best sound and most options, and the graphics are almost on a par with the Sharp.  Maybe it's because I played it more extensively I still preferred the gameplay on the PC Engine.
Parodius: Non-Sense Fantasy on the SNES and Parodius Da! on the Sharp X68000
I'd always thought of Parodius as Gradius but reskinned with weird graphics.  To a certain extent I was right - it plays identically to Gradius and the graphics are a bit bizarre - but to label it as such would be unfairParodius builds on Gradius by adding a few extra elements to the game.  The strangeness starts on the ship selection screen.  Your choices include the Vic Viper from Gradius and TwinBee from another Konami franchise, which is fair enough.  Your other choices are an octopus and a penguin. I'm not going to attempt to discover if there is any sort of plot.
TwinBee is possibly the weakest character.

After the selection screen you have the choice of whether powerups are applied automatically or manually.  You also have choice of three difficulty levels.  Even the hardest level makes for an easier ride than you'll get on the X68000.

Basic gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has ever played Gradius.  You proceed through each level shooting enemies.  Certain individual enemies (usually coloured red) and waves of enemies drop capsules when destroyed.  Blue capsules act as a smart bomb and destroy all enemies on the screen when picked up.  Picking up orange capsules incrementally highlights items on your power meter which upgrade your ship (or character) when selected.  Besides 'Speedup' and the unfamiliar '!?', all upgrades are unique for each ship.  At the end of each level you are met by a 'pre boss' (such as the volcanoes in Gradius) followed by the end of level boss himself.
Defeating the second level boss.

Collecting certain capsules turns your power meter red which starts a game of 'roulette' on it.  Pressing the power up button stops it on a random power up.  I try to avoid these because if it lands on 'Speedup' it can make your ship too fast, or it can reduce the power of your main weapon (say from a laser to double shot in the case of the Vic Viper).  If it lands on '!?' then all your powerups are removed and your ship is reduced to the slowest speed.  This also happens if you are killed and can quickly lead to 'Game Over' as Parodius is pretty much a one life game.

In addition to the capsules, certain enemies drop one-time-use bell power ups.  These vary in colour which denotes their effect and you can change their colour by shooting them (though ‘choosing’ a colour is easier said than done).  The most common bell is yellow and provides bonus points.  The points value increases with each consecutive yellow bell.  The green bell increases the size of your character and any options for a short time.  In this state you are invincible but cannot use your weapons.  The white bell equips your character with a megaphone which ‘fires’ phrases in Japanese to damage enemies.  The blue bell equips your ship with a ‘smart bomb’ that clears the screen of enemies.

The green bell and white bell in action.

The sound effects and music are good with speech when power ups are selected.  The main score is based on the music from Gradius interspersed with classical jingles and music from other Konami games. 

Overall Parodius Da! is an enjoyable game.  The graphics can be strange and it’s weird playing as the different characters, but underneath it is pure Gradius so I can’t help but like it.

Example gameplay....

Wednesday 10 January 2018

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - Nintendo SNES - 1992

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the third game in the Zelda series and the second to feature on my blog.  I wasn't keen on Zelda II: The Adventure of Link with its side-scrolling levels.  A Link to the Past reverts back to the strange overhead view from the original Legend of Zelda from 1987, albeit with much improved sound and graphics.

I can forgive this viewpoint in something like Atic Atac, but shouldn't we be seeing the hero's back here?

The manual sets the scene for the game describing the history of the world to the present day.  The world of Hyrule was created by three gods.  They left behind them a powerful artefact called the Triforce which they placed in the hidden "Golden Land" hoping it would be found by someone worthy enough to wield its power.  Unfortunately the Gates to the Golden Land and the Triforce itself were discovered by the evil king of thieves, Ganondorf Dragmire.

A dark power began to emanate from the Golden Land and evil beings were drawn to join forces with Ganondorf.  After disasters started to befall Hyrule, the ruler ordered the Seven Wise Men and the Knights of Hyrule to seal the gates to the Golden Land.  The people of Hyrule also forged the Master Sword to counter the power of the Triforce, but it could only be wielded by a person of pure heart.  While the Wise Men were searching for this hero, the Knights were lost in a battle with the dark forces, but in the end the Golden Land was sealed off with Ganondorf trapped inside.

After centuries of peace, Hyrule was hit by disease and drought.  A Wizard appeared by the name of Agahnim who restored the land using a powerful magic.  The king installed him as chief advisor and heir to the Wise Men.  Lately, rumours have begun spreading that Agahnim is ruling the country with his magic and is carrying out strange experiments in Hyrule Castle...

You begin the game by naming your character with no more than 6 letters, which unfortunately 'Wingnut' exceeds.  In his sleep he sees a vision of Princess Zelda asking for help, saying she has been locked in the dungeon of Hyrule castle.  She also says Agahnim has kidnapped six other maidens, all descendants of the Seven Wise Men, and is using them to break open the seal to the Golden Land.  Zelda says she is the only one left.  On waking you find your uncle getting ready for battle.  He heads out telling you to remain in the house.

Of course it would be a pretty short game if you did as instructed so you head out into the rain.  The voice of Zelda says there is a secret entrance to the castle.  This is the only place you can head anyway as the main entrance to the castle and roads leading elsewhere are blocked by guards.  At this stage the only power you have is to uproot shrubs.  Occasionally you may find rupees (the local currency) under them.  The shrubs can be used as missile weapons.  Likewise, pots can be picked up and thrown in the same manner.  Later on other items may be revealed such as bombs, arrows, magic potions and hearts.

The secret entrance to Hyrule castle can be found under a bush.  You soon find your mortally wounded uncle who hands over his sword and shield and says you must rescue Zelda.  The shield can block some missiles while the sword can be used to attack enemies in front.  Holding down the B button charges a whirling attack that damages all enemies within range. Extra weapons such as a boomerang and bow can be found further into the game.

Getting hit by an enemy runs down your life meter.  The life meter is initially made of three heart containers.  Getting injured reduces the life meter and once it's empty you have the option of restarting the game at a previous point.  The heart containers can be partially recharged by picking up small hearts.  These can be found by searching in jars or under bushes and are sometimes dropped by dead opponents.  The meter can be fully recharged at certain points by finding faeries.  More heart containers can be found during the game.

After rescuing Zelda she takes you through a secret passage to Sanctuary.  You are advised to speak to the Village Elder who says you need the Master Sword to defeat Agahnim.  Before you can retrieve the sword you must find three pendants.  All quest objectives are marked on an overworld map that can be bought up outside of dungeons.
The map is shown in two scales.

The overworld is not too big and can be traversed quite quickly if you avoid combats.  All the items you are looking for, however, are normally hidden in dungeons and are guarded by a boss.  Some of the dungeons can be quite complex, making the world more expansive than it seems.

Once I had obtained the Master Sword, I was informed that Princess Zelda had once again been captured by Agahnim and was again being held in Hyrule Castle.  I got there just as Agahnim had used her to break the seal of the Seven Wise Men.  Of course, I had to kick his arse.

I was then banished to the Golden Land.  It had been corrupted by the evil Ganondorf and had now become the Dark World.  I had been here before to get past an obstacle in the Light World, but lacking the Moon Pool at the time I was turned into a rabbit.  I also now had a mirror that could be used as a portal between the two worlds.  The Dark World has a similar map to the Light World.

The first task here was to go about rescuing the seven maidens.  I did put some more time into the game but didn't complete it as I would never get this blog entry done.  I may well continue from this save in the future.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past  has often been lauded as one of the best games on the SNES.  It reminds me a lot of the best Ultimate Play the Game Spectrum titles where brains as well as manual dexterity are required to win.  It has some good puzzles and the two interconnected worlds work well.  The graphics are good and don't look dated.  The only issue I have is where the perspective of the rooms and the 2D sprite are sometimes out of kilter which I found a bit jarring.  Sound is good and some of the music is recognisable from the first Zelda game.  All in all an excellent title and much, much better than its immediate predecessor.