ron, May-16 2008

Omnidirectional VC Friday

After 18 months of semi-steady releases and with WiiWare coming soon to European shores (it's already started in the US and Japan), how much more should we really expect from the VC? Well, the usual amount apparently, because this Friday the current hanabiness of the Wii Shop Channel continues, and three new imported VC games have successfully popped up.

Digital Champ: Battle Boxing

This is a first-person boxing game for the TurboGrafx. As to not obstruct your view of the opponent, you control only the magic floating pair of hands attached to your otherwise implied boxer, but that's all you need to punch and block. The controls are weirdly semi-analog, in that you (and opponents) can move certain distances to the sides, simply by holding the d-pad a little while longer or shorter, as opposed to the big role model's mere cycling through precisely defined locations and stances. In that sense it's a bit more free-form, and certainly aims for more visual realism as well.

Gley Lancer

A horizontal shmup for the Megadrive that takes big sips from Gradius's and R-Type's cups. Stylistically it serves up the classic "huge alien abominations in neat space installations" theme and the bosses in particular resemble R-Type a lot. The weapon upgrade system leans more towards Gradius but does have its own ideas, the most obvious of which is that your "option" satellites stay stationary relative to your ship but have configurable firing directions for a little whiff of layered strategy.

Star Parodier

Another vertical shmup for the TurboGrafx, closely modeled after Soldier Blade as far as basic play mechanics and weapon upgrade system goes, but as it is really a parody, it comes with assorted absurdities piled on. There are references to many more videogames besides just shmups in there as well. Famous characters make distorted appearances as mini-bosses and basically anything goes, like that one level that looks like a mash-up between Spy Hunter and Balloon Fight, but still plays with the usual shmup mechanics.

Star Parodier is clearly better than 82.6% of all shmups on the Virtual Console, and arguably better than most of the real Star Soldier games (I'd give the edge to Soldier Blade but Star Parodier is the next best thing after that). It's of course somewhat of a cheap trick, simply because of the unabashed variety that can be provided in an all-out parody. Games that attempt to stick to more plausible themes are at a natural disadvantage there. Great gameplay balance and progression is not automatic though, and Star Parodier excels in these areas as well. Strongly recommended for anyone with any known tolerance at all for shmups.
Gley Lancer gets some things right, some others not so much. Among the "rights" are the weapon upgrading, which culminates in an awesome maelstrom of bullets flowing forth from from your ship, and the boss battles. Relatively disappointing though are the levels themselves, where it's mostly empty and samey. It doesn't have R-Type's intricate maneuvering challenges or even Gradius's more open bunches of platforms. Still good but not upper-tier.

Digital Champ is quite frustrating because of its free movement. It's just too difficult to aim for your enemies, as they randomly bounce back and forth across your screen, so it's actually a great strategy to just "spray" as many punches as you can in approximately the right direction and then hope that statistics will work in your favour. The game's lack of cool-down time seems to openly invite this strategy. It's just not interesting to play, and a real stinker in comparison with Punch Out, where there is challenge, recongnition of patterns, anticipation, reaction and well-timed execution. That's what boxing should be, and we recommend it as the substitute of choice for, oh, every boxing game on the VC.

Summary: Star Parodier is highly recommended, Gley Lancer is less recommended but still good. Digital Champ just can't win.


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