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Operation: Logic Bomb

Jaleco is one of the few publishers that I don’t really have a strong opinion of.  Throughout the 8 & 16-bit era they released many titles however outside of the Bases Loaded and Rushing Beat series never managed to achieve a breakout hit.  It always seemed as though the majority of their output were right on the cusp of greatness but held back by one or two flaws.  The few that overcame this stigma were truly excellent but sadly overlooked such as Astyanax and Shatterhand.

Operation Logic Bomb is one such title, an enjoyable overhead shooter that combines many different elements to become greater than the sum of its parts.  Why it flew so far under the radar is a bit of a mystery but I’ll guess the box art played a part.  The comic book style cover art isn’t exactly the greatest and while it certainly helped it stand out judging by the game’s obscurity it wasn’t enough.  This wouldn’t be the first time Jaleco tried this; their fighting game Tuff Enuff has even worse box art and makes me want to punch its cover monkey rather than give the game a spin.  Nothing wrong with a little outside the box thinking but when you go too far you end up with this:

At a hidden laboratory an experiment using interdimensional technology goes awry and all contact is lost.  Because of the lab’s failure the barrier between worlds has been broken with mysterious creatures streaming through.  An unknown organization sends in a cyborg soldier to survey the damage and clean up the mess.

This is actually the third in a trilogy of overhead action titles named Ikari no Yousai in Japan.  In the US we only saw two such releases with all connections removed.  Fortified Zone was the first in the series and an early Gameboy release and pretty unique for its time as it was an original IP and not a port.  For reasons unknown its sequel remained a Japanese exclusive with OLB picking up the slack.

As the lone soldier called in to wreck shop and save the scientist you start the game with little more than the shirt on your back.  During the course of the game however eventually you’ll come across three extra weapons that can be switched on the fly and a few special items that will aid in your progress.  Each weapon has its strengths and weaknesses but most importantly they never become obsolete.  Some enemies and bosses are immune to specific armaments so you would do well to become familiar with your armaments.

The Straight arrow is a rapid fire machine gun and the default weapon that doesn’t excel in any one category but does have the longest range.  The spread eagle offers a wider range but suffers from the shortest range.  The R-laser is the weakest but can bounce off walls like its name suggests.  The Firebug is the most powerful and versatile as its flames will wrap around corners and objects to an extent.  2 additional items make an appearance toward the end of the game; the Decoy unit creates a transparent clone to fool enemies in your stead and the claymore is….a claymore mine.  Search hard enough and you might find one more weapon although it isn’t better than the flamethrower.

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Operation Logic Bomb is a top down shooter first and foremost but that label is only part of the overall picture.  It has many commonalities with games like Zelda and Metroid, albeit in a condensed form.  As you explore the many sectors of the lab you’ll come across data terminals that need to be destroyed to restore the area to its original form.  Sometimes access to these terminals is barred until you’ve cleared a given room of enemies. Other times you’ll need a particular weapon to destroy them such as bouncing the R-laser off the walls of a small crevice, prompting you to leave it for later like in Metroid.

Each “level” isn’t all that large but you will have to navigate warp tiles to get around.  It’s pretty straightforward with very few opportunities to branch off and explore side areas until you’ve restored a given location completely before moving on.  Overall the difficulty rests on the easy side despite only one life and three continues.  Your life bar is pretty long and there are terminals scattered about that will refill it after every boss fight.  Even the few boss battles don’t offer up much of a challenge as they’ll go down in seconds with the right weapon.

The game’s lack of challenge exposes its one critical flaw, its brevity.  The game is criminally short and can be completed in as little as an hour once you’ve memorized the maps of each area.  Because the game is so short it never truly allows you to exploit your arsenal of weapon creatively.  The few times you use the R-laser to destroy distant memory banks or the decoy unit to trick an energy shield into exposing its prize are awesome but these moments are few in number.  If the game were longer it would have given its features room to grow and truly been excellent.

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Most top down shooters from the 16-bit era weren’t anything to write home about however Operation Logic Bomb has its moments.  The cold metal sci-fi hallways and corridors exhibit a great deal of variety all things considered and the encroaching virtual elements laid on top of the environments are used to pretty good effect.  The few outdoor areas are a bit lacking but they at least provide a reprieve from the strict indoor setting.  The atmospheric music is pretty catchy and has a similar vibe to the OST of the Rushing Beat series; probably the same composer.

If only there were more content.  Operation Logic Bomb is one of the better top down shooters for the SNES alongside Super Smash TV and Pocky & Rocky.  The genre wasn’t so stacked in that era so it’s always nice to see that the offerings are of a high quality.

7-out-of-10-1

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Totally Rad

1991-92 were truly epic years in the NES’s life.  At that point the hardware had been on the market for 6 years in the US (8 in Japan) meaning developers were squeezing every last drop of power the little grey box could muster.  Some true classics were released in that time frame such as Super Mario Brothers 3, Battletoads, and Batman: Revenge of the Joker, etc.  But just as many flew under the radar; Little Samson ring a bell?  One such release that vied for that spot but fell short was Totally Rad, a late Jaleco release that suffers from a lack of polish.

Jake is a magician in training, apprenticed to the great Zebediah Pong.  His training is interrupted when creatures from the Underworld kidnap his girlfriend Allison in a ploy to lure her father out of hiding.  Totally uncool.  Now Jake has to set out to rescue his bodacious babe from the bad guys.

If you’re wondering why I’m using slang so drastically out of date most don’t remember it, well that’s because the game is riddled with it.  When most games were localized back then they were usually done so faithfully.  There were a few cases where certain liberties were taken, usually by Konami but that stuff was relegated to the instruction manuals.

Someone at Jaleco thought they were being creative by injecting tired 80s surf lingo in the game and it suffers as a result.  I grew up in the north east so my only exposure to that crap came from Ninja Turtles and the Beverly Hills Teens cartoon.  Even with my limited knowledge of surf talk I could tell you that by 1991 it was outdated.  Whatever clever attempt at a story they were trying to achieve falls flat as a result.

Ignore the cut scenes and you are left with a game that certainly looks like it could rub shoulders with the likes of Castlevania and Shatterhand.  Unfortunately Totally Rad lacks that master stroke that comes from an expert game designer.  What you are left with is a solid game that is badly balanced and at times feels straight up broken.

There are no power-ups in Totally Rad; in fact you have everything you need to complete the game from the outset.  There are a host of spells, 12 altogether that cover all the bases.  There are two healing spells, invincibility, freezing time, 4 elemental spells and 3 different forms you can assume.  Jake’s only offensive “weapon” is a magical burst that can be charged up for more power.  You only have one magic meter that isn’t replenished  until the next level so conservative use is key.

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For the most part the level design is overly simplistic at times.  There are five Acts with 2 stages each.  Usually the first is a simple left to right jaunt while the second half seems to come straight from hell.  The levels themselves don’t see to be the focus, rather the enemies.  Enemy placement is carefully measured, forcing you to think carefully about how to proceed lest you take unnecessary hits you can’t afford.

Which speaks to a larger problem with Totally Rad.  As a whole the game is unbalanced.  Even as early as the first act there are enemies that can remove nearly half your life bar in one fell stroke.  Magic is in short supply and while it’s tempting to want to experiment with your abilities the fact that you’ll need to keep some in reserve for healing completely works against it.  As later levels drag on the lack of power-ups and the effect on the game’s challenge becomes evident.  At most you can cast 3 or 4 spells before your magic is depleted.

Flaws like these are the type that are stamped out toward the end of development and are noticeable in a game releasing this late in the console’s life cycle.  You might have been able to overlook them completely but with games like Castlevania III and Mega Man IV as competition you might just reconsider a purchase.  That’s the kind of market Totally Rad faced.

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While the gameplay came up short the presentation doesn’t.  In this regard Totally Rad is on equal footing with some of the best the NES has to offer.  Parallax scrolling is used pretty extensively, sometimes 3-4 levels deep.  Beyond the level of detail in the backgrounds are the massive bosses.  These giant monstrosities take up nearly a third of the screen, an impressive feat.

Despite the quality of the art I do question the color choices used throughout the game.  Lots of purples and greens mixed together combine to create some truly gaudy looking backdrops.  There are cut scenes in between levels that look nice but are extremely repetitive; Tecmo had nothing to fear.  Localization aside at least they tried.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say Totally Rad is exactly that it’s at least entertaining.  Had the development team gone over the game and tightened up certain elements this would easily have been an excellent action platformer.  As it is it will have to settle for solid status.

7-out-of-10

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Astyanax

Astyanax.  What a weird choice for a game title.  Most games live or die on store shelves from factors not even related to whether the game is good or not.  Box art, customer awareness, the screenshots used to “sell it”, all of these are elements that can make or break a game at retail.  I mean, when you think about it, there is no way in hell Mega man should have been a hit with that atrocious cover.  At the least, with a title like Astyanax you know quite a few people are going to pick it up and look at it, wondering what the hell does that word even mean?

Astyanax was originally released in arcades in 1989.  I have only seen screenshots of it and found out about it after the fact.  The NES game was also released the same year however like Rygar before it is a completely different game.  The Astyanax in the title refers to the hero of the game, a 16-year old high school student who is transported to the world of Remlia to save its princess, Rosebud.  With no other way to return home aside from saving her you take axe in hand and proceed on your quest.

A side scrolling platformer, gameplay is exactly the same as Legendary Axe for the Turbo-Grafx 16.  You have a meter that charges up and controls the power behind your swings and can be extended permanently by collecting items contained in idol statues.  Unlike LA, in addition to your axe you have 3 magic spells that require different amounts of magic:  Blind, Blast, and Bolt.  Also, you can upgrade your weapon 2 times, axe-spear-sword.  In a very strange twist, the spear is the weakest one but is required in order to obtain the sword.  How fucked up is that?  The game is decently long and takes place across 6 levels.  Each of the 6 levels are broken up into multiple parts and all have a mini boss or boss at the end.  The bosses are one of the game’s graphical highlights.

The graphics are insanely detailed by NES standards.  The sprites are absolutely huge and the backgrounds follow suit in terms of detail.  The game throws a large number of enemies at you at once, which is impressive but not always a good idea.  Nearly all of the bosses are towering monstrosities that dwarf you and are the game’s high point.  Jaleco really went all out creating the look of the game.  Like Ninja Gaiden the game is filled with cut scenes that move the story forward at a good clip.  Even the music is catchy and suits each level perfectly.  It is a bit comical how seriously the game takes itself at times but that isn’t really a minus.  The ending cutscenes are very long and make completing the game well worth the trip.

This is very much an amalgamation of elements from many of the best Nintendo games.  The only keeping it from being mentioned in the same breath as classics such as Ninja Gaiden and Castlevania is polish.  The game delights in throwing as much on screen as possible but this comes at a price: crippling slowdown.  There are times where the game will slow to a crawl, music and all, and it happens frequently.  The collision detection is also very spotty, with clean hits missing or being forced into breathing range for attacks to register.

The Castlevania games are notorious for throwing Medusa heads at you in the worst possible scenarios but they at least show some restraint.  Here that isn’t taken into consideration as you’ll face the possibility of falling into a pit at nearly every opportunity.  There is some suspect enemy placement; many times you’ll be forced to waste magic to proceed or risk a one hit kill.  This plus the slowdown means you will be starting many of the levels over repeatedly.

Even taking those criticisms into consideration at most they keep the game from being a 9 out of ten.  This is still a damned fine platformer that unfortunately went unnoticed during that period.  It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t reach the heights it aspired to but will still entertain you for a few hours.

 


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