Saturday, 3 November 2018

Omega Boost (Playstation, 1999)

North American cover art

Release: 1999
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Publisher: SCEA
Genres: Rail shooter, Shoot em up, Sci-fi, Mecha

Welcome back, it's time for another review. It's yet another Playstation game we're looking at today. Let's start off with an introduction; Can you think of a time where a developer that typically makes games under a specific genre, but on a rare occasion they go outside that limit and make something completely different? And that new product turns out to be pretty good? Something like Squaresoft's Einhander may come to mind. A company known primarily for making RPG's but did a 180 turn and output a great title in the process. This is the same case with Polyphony Digital's Omega Boost. Known primarily for the Gran Turismo racing simulations, they are regarded for being able to push the limits in physics and graphical capabilities in video games. The first GT amazed gamers and critics back in 1998 and went on to become the best-selling PS1 game (a feat I still find hard to believe, considering my disinterest in racing sims). Though, later on in the system's lifetime, they worked on another game. This is where OB comes in. After doing some research, Polyphony has worked on racing titles such as Motortoon Grandprix, Gran Turismo, and more recently the Tourist Trophy series. All of them are racing games, whether kart racers or simulations. With this data, Omega Boost is in fact, the only non-racing game that the studio has ever worked on. And, surprisingly, it's good. Damn good. What lies in store is another rare case of a developer being able to go outside they're comfort zone and excel with their new idea. Let's take a look...

Omega Boost is a 3d on-rails shooter, released in 1999 by Sony Computer Entertainment America. You control a mech named after the title of the game, the story involving Omega being launched by a space facility to hunt down and destroy an imposing AI, named Alpha Core, who threatens humanity in the distant future. However the story should be the least of your concerns when playing the game. The game opens with a kickass FMV introduction blasting licensed music, and it actually looks really cool. You can fly around in open environments with 360 degree freedom, as enemies attack in waves. Occasionally there are some on-rails segments, ala Vanark. There is only one weapon at your disposal; a massive laser-machine gun sort of weapon. It can be used in two different methods; simply shooting in spurts or by locking on to enemies. You hold the attack button and hover the crosshairs over enemies and release the button to launch them. This will be the most the most effective way to deal damage. At the beginning you can only lock onto a couple of enemies at a time, but this number increases as you progress through out the game. Navigating in the worlds is a thrill as you can spin, rotate and fly around in all directions. It can become a bit disorienting due to this, but the controls work well enough so that you can always re-adjust your position. As you destroy more enemies, a meter builds for the special move, called the Viper Boost. When the meter builds up enough, you can press the L2 button to do a devestating attack on all enemies, and it looks really cool to watch OB annilhate everything. This attack should be reserved for only the toughest bosses, as some have huge health bars and the meter can take quite a while to fully charge. You can also use a boost at any time by pressing O, which is very helpful for dodging enemy projectiles.

Image result for omega boost ps1

With how the game plays in it's lock-on combat, it's time for another quick tidbit. During development, Polyphony called on outside assistance. They ended up calling in Yusi Yasuhara, who had originally been the lead designer and programmer for Sega's Panzer Dragoon Zwei, an on-rails shooter for the Sega Saturn. Hence the reason why OB turned out similar to Panzer Dragoon, but in a good way. This also marks one of the few times Polyphony has worked with external developers.

Oh, and a pretty interesting fact ; Shoji Kawamori, a mecha designer most well known for his Macross, and Eureka Seven work, designed the mechas for this game! Pretty cool to say the least. 

Levels are structured as "zones" and each zone has waves of enemies to fight, as well as a mid-boss and end boss. The zones set in space tend to be a little more disorienting because there is no true "ground" to calibrate to. Though the controls may be funny at first, after about 10 minutes you should have it down. 

There's one thing that has to be stated about the visuals; they look absolutely stunning. All the textures look good, though a little dark, but the game is just a treat to view. I will say it's possibly the best looking game I've ever seen on the Playstation. Seriously, it looks that good. Character and enemy models look great, as well as having particle effects and transparencies that stand out. The levels themselves are a bit lacking though, they usually just take place over basic voids of space or somewhere on a planet high in the sky with not much to look at. This doesn't detract from the game, because you're not going to play this just for backgrounds. A majority of the game also runs at 60 FPS, something rarely seen on the platform. The frame rate only enhances it even more, without slowdown or stuttering to be found anywhere. It's silky smooth in action. 

Image result for omega boost ps1
I really need to start capturing my own footage/screenshots. 

The music is... interesting to say the least. It's a mix of techno, metal music with a bit of tribal thrown in. There's also two licensed tracks featured, from Loudmouth and Static-X respectively, both bands I'm not fond of, but there music sounds okay. It fits the mood of the game, going for a tough, gritty kind of feel. The music is nothing that you'll want to download to your iPod, but it works fine.

Your presented a decent challenge here, as there are 9 stages in total. The game can be beaten rather quickly because of this, and that's the biggest criticism I have. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, in fact it makes for a great title if you're looking for something easy to get into that isn't too long. A perfect pick up and play game. Like the Gran Turismo games, there is a replay feature in the main menu if you wish to watch yourself play through levels. Not really important for this type of game, but it's there. 

Due to poor marketing and under-performing sales, Omega Boost quietly faded away, becoming a sleeper hit. The game must have been somewhat popular enough, though: The official soundtrack was released on CD in limited quantities, which have since become incredibly rare, and even action figures were released by Blue Box Toys. They only released figures of Omega Boost and Beta Boost, and a third one of Herbacher was planned, but never ended up being released. Just like the soundtrack, they too are incredibly rare and incredibly expensive, which is too bad, I would love to have one of these.

As for the game itself, it's uncommon, but can be had for around $20-$30. Or just emulate it, burn an iso, however you play your games. It's certainly the best mecha game on Playstation, and deserves to be tried out if you call yourself a fan of shooters or mecha at all. It would have been cool to see this on the upcoming Playstation Classic Console, but because of the licensed music, it's general obscurity, and on top of the fact Sony is generally stupid and cheap, there's no way this will be on there. One can dream I guess.

Image result for omega boost figureImage result for omega boost figure

I'm back

Look what the cat dragged in. Yeah, I'm back. It's been a while.Working now and doing other stuff when I'm not working basically. Which is good, cause now I'll have more stuff to write about on here. Oh my god, so much I could talk about. New games I've played, systems I've discovered like Saturn and Turbografx. And some more Playstation too, don't you worry. Sit tight and it'll be here soon... eventually.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Starting off 2016 well

This weekend I scored one of the hardest to find Wii games:
Metroid Prime Trilogy Collectors Edition. This is the steelcase version, which includes an artbook and all 3 Prime games on a single Wii disc, with motion controls. I found this for only $42, well below the games normal rate. It was released only through Gamestop and in limited quantities. Now, I have a complete Metroid collection. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

CGCC Swap Meet Pick-ups (A little overdue)

So I'm finally off school for a few weeks, so I took a some time to put together what I bought at the CGCC Swap Meet in Cambridge back in November. So yeah, this is a little overdue, but better late than never I guess...?

This is everything from CGCC. I never thought I'd own Mario Paint; but it had the mouse and was at a very good price. The game itself is extremely common, but worthless if it doesn't include the mouse needed. If you've never played Mario Paint, it's pretty much MS Paint downsized onto SNES with a Mario theme to it. Kirby's Pinball Land isn't bad. Ranger X is a good mech shoot 'em up, with a high learning curve but boasting incredible graphics and special effects. Fun fact: Croc was originally pitched to Nintendo as a 3-d platformer starring Yoshi, but Nintendo turned down the idea and Argonaut released the game on Playstation instead. You can even see some resemblance between the Croc and Yoshi characters. Jokes on Nintendo, the game went on to sell a couple million copies and earn a sequel. Overall not bad, but I was a bit underwhelmed at the swap, not really a lot of stuff that genuinely interested me.

The day before the swap meet, I went to Milton to drop by Toyratt, a well-known video game dealer in the GTA. Tons of stuff there, definitely check it out if you're in the area. I mostly went there just to browse, see what they have, but something caught my eye: a complete copy of Metroid II on Game Boy. This is in fact, the only Metroid game I don't have complete in box, so of course I'm all over it. The owner of the store let me have it for $60, which in retail is an incredible deal when you consider it goes for around $100. I'm proud to say that I now have a complete Metroid collection!!! It pays off to get to know the employees and strike up conversations. Deals can be had, even in retail environments.

After the swap on Sunday (November 15) I figured I had time to check out a flea market, with a vendor I know who has given me deals in the past. He also sells tons of boxes and manuals for older games, as he bought up a lot of video store stock from when they were being liquidated. Here, I picked up the Sonic and Knuckles box and manual, and the Streets of Rage box. I already have both those games so it's nice to have the boxes for them. I also picked up the Ninja Turtles Hyperstone Heist box, though I didn't even have the game. I figured if I buy the box for $10 and find the cart for a reasonable price, I've landed a sweet deal. So in each of the boxes cost me $10 each, I'm fine with that.

A few days after that weekend, I had remembered something. Back on the Saturday, Toyratt had a copy of Hyperstone Heist, loose. I wondered if they still had it. I called them first, asking if they had the game, in case it saves me the hassle of driving up there and realizing they already sold it. So I drove up there after school and the owner even put it on hold for me, how nice. The game kicks ass, it's become one of my favourites on the Genesis; good gameplay, good graphics, great music, and it's 2-player simultaneous! While I was there, I decided to pick something else, an item that had caught my eye but I wasn't losing sleep over. That would be a complete F-Zero on SNES, a game that I've actually never played. And after playing it, it's become one of my favourites on Super Nintendo.

And one last cool find. I had a job interview on Black Friday morning, and afterwards I was in the area and dropped by the Value Village. As I walked to the showcase display, a clerk had just locked up something, a small purple box. I look in and see this: a complete copy of Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages on GB Color.... for $9.99. From that point that was an easy decision to make. At this time, I was incredibly lucky. I happened to walk in to the store just as this was being put on the shelf. I was at the right place at the right time. The condition on this thing is amazing: the box has some dings, but the manual is crisp, and upon cracking it open it was very fresh and felt like it had never been used. The cart is also mint: upon first booting it up, there was only a single save file on there, with no progress made whatsoever. No rupees, no items, no equipment, no weapons, nothing. The file would actually start from the very beginning of the game. So I'm going to believe that this had literally been played once, and then stored away to be forgotten about. I even started my own save file, and the battery still works fine, which is another plus. On average, a complete copy like this is worth around $60. Like I said, this is an example of when I was at the right place at the right time. 

Later days.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Busy busy busy

Sorry about any lack of content lately, I've been really busy with school work, assignments and exams the last few weeks. I'll have something new up after this is all done, by the end of next week. At least I'll try to.

Later days.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Vanark (Playstation) Review

North American cover art

For my first review, I've decided to pick a little known, obscure game, called Vanark. Whether you're a collector or just enjoy playing retro games, there's a very good chance that you've never heard of this one, and it's part of a sub-genre that is quite few and far between when it comes to the amount of games available. Enjoy.

Vanark is an on-rails shooter developed by Bit Town Inc. and originally published in Japan by Asmik Ace Entertainment in 1999 for the Playstation, where it was titled Astro Trooper Vanark. Later on it was released by Jaleco to North America in 2000, as Vanark. Even with the slight name change, it still says "Astro Trooper" at the title screen. It plays similar in fashion to other rail shooters like Sega's Space Harrier and Nintendo's own Starfox series. To start, I would go as far to say it's the Playstation's equivalent of Starfox 64 (which, by the way, is one of my all time favourite games). But this isn't a bad thing at all. It may come off as a late release budget title, (which in some respects it is) but it gives a quick, fantastic shooting experience. You play as aspiring pilot named Shun as he and his crew members must protect Mars against a rising biological alien army, a pretty cliche story, but in this tale the plot takes backseat. 

As in any traditional space shooter, you control a spaceship that can move in all directions on the screen, as you shoot up enemies and dodge any environmental objects. Your ship can equip 2 different weapons, a simple laser shot and a selection of missiles, which are able to lock-on to a certain amount of enemies, depending on how many upgrades you've gained. Both of these are selected before beginning a mission. Also, you choose a different crew member before each stage, each can help you out during battle, such as giving you weak points during boss fights or show you alternate routes to take during levels. The ship can slow down, and boost to speed up, like Starfox, however barrel roll maneuvers can't be performed (Peppy would be so sad). The game begins with a quick training stage, however the mechanics don't require much learning, it's basic and easy to pick up. The controls are silky smooth and there's never an issue maneuvering throughout a stage. 

SPOILER ALERT: First mini-boss.

Let's get to the gameplay, this is where Vanark truly shines. It is fast paced, loaded with enemies and there is always something to keep you on your toes. A lot of the boss fights are intense, and each is unique with their own attacks and patterns, which are fun to learn. The level designs are nothing that special; your typical water, lava, space, and desert themes, but I can let that pass, regardless they all look great, and I don't mind seeing this in shooters - in fact, this is something I almost expect. Some of the levels do have different paths to take as mentioned earlier, so that can add a bit of replay value. The challenge is a little high but never too frustrating, it's just right. There are no health pick-ups in game, and three difficulty levels to choose from. You're given 5 continues and then it's game over.

Graphically, the game looks amazing for a late, low-profile release on the aging Playstation. Bit Town knew what they were doing when developing this and certainly knew their way around the system's architecture to produce great aesthetics. The textures look good, with little amounts of noticeable pixels and jagged lines, a trait the PS1 is notorious for. The game runs at a very smooth frame rate without any slowdown or hiccups to add on. The lighting effects are also well done and add a great touch, especially in stage 2 where you are transitioned underwater and sunlight shines through the water surface down to the ocean floor. It adds a great sense of realism to these alien worlds as you destroy everything in your path. All of the enemies and environments look great, with each stage having it's own sort of theme.

The audio is decent for the most part. The music is fast and upbeat. It's nothing very memorable, but it gets the job done. The sound effects are solid. Lasers, explosions, and crashes are loud and intense. It's always satisfying to hear a huge explosion after destroying a tough enemy. However, an annoying sound plays whenever your laser hits a target, it's like a weird metallic-y pipe sound. Another noise, what sounds like a loud humming noise, plays whenever your laser hits anything that isn't a target, such as the environment. After a while these sounds only get slightly annoying, but that's really my only complaint with any of the audio.

Vanark plays as good as it looks.

One thing that should be noted about this game is what happens in between flying stages. After completing a stage, you are brought back to your crew's mothership for briefings, watch some story scenes, and even explore the ship. This is done in a Resident Evil fashion, by controlling polygon characters in front of pre-rendered backgrounds. It's pretty bizarre to see this in a shooter game. Hell, you could see this style used in almost any other genre but shooters. These sections do ruin the pacing of the game, because after sifting through dialog you're left to wander the ship, where you will walk around in frustration just trying to advance to the next stage. Luckily the ship isn't very big so you shouldn't get lost easily. The pre-rendered backgrounds look good, with nice touches in the lighting and details. The characters themselves look kind of bad, especially when compared to the flight stages. They don't have much detail, and are rendered with a low polygon count, additionally Shun's movements seem stiff and kind of jerky. There's even a minigame to play, where you have to disable a bomb on board the ship, by guiding a very small dot through a maze. And trust me, this is much, much more difficult than it sounds. If the dot touches any of the walls, the bomb goes off and it blows up your ship and you lose! Actually, it just takes away all weapon upgrades you had gained up to that point. The dialog between characters is kind of boring and uninteresting, however it does have some bad Engrish sprinkled throughout. The text translation overall comes off as poor. Just be glad there's no voice acting, because that probably would have turned out just as choppy as the text translation.

Earthworms become mutated in the future. Wait, would
they be earthworms if they're not on Earth?

Unfortunately, Vanark doesn't stay it's welcome for very long. There is only 6 stages, and the game can be completed in under an hour, with little reason to go back. However there is some variety; such as the choice of weapons, your crew is customizable, as well as branching paths during levels, so those can add some replay value. You even pilot a speeder-bike vehicle in stage 3 for a change-up. The Resident Evil style segments should have been scrapped entirely as all they do is slow down the pace of the game, and feel like they were added in at the last minute to artificially increase the length of the game. It would have been better to add another flying stage or two instead.

To sum it up, Vanark is very decent. It excels in delivering an action-packed shooter while pleasing to the eye. I think if it was a little bit longer I would like it much more. It's the perfect game to pull down from the shelf and play once in a while. However due to it's late release on the system, (Playstation 2 was just around the corner by the time this released), as well as low sales, it quickly faded into obscurity but should be remembered as an interesting take on the shooter genre. It's very, very uncommon and I would even say it's rare, considering copies of the game almost never show up in ebay auctions; a huge indicator of a truly rare game. (As of this review, the most recent ebay auctions for a complete copy have ended at over $80 CAD) So if you see this for cheap, go for it. You'll get to enjoy one of the finest hidden gems the Playstation has to offer.

Later days.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

CGCC Game Swap this Sunday November 15

So this is happening November 15 and I plan on going. It's taking place in Cambridge and it's open 1-4pm. I'll be bringing a lot of stuff to trade so hopefully I can use that without spending a lot of cash. Never been to this swap before so it should be a good time.