Despite being one of the big guns of anime when I was getting into the medium, I don't think I've ever seen Record of Lodoss War, not properly. It aired regularly on the Sci-Fi Channel during its attempts to introduce anime to broader audiences in the mid-to-late-'90s, and I remember catching bits and pieces: the omnicompetent elf Deedlit's first meeting with the young knight Parn, upbrading him for causing a big clumsy human ruckus when "there are fairies in these woods," and what I believe was the opening scene, of the six heroes moving silently under cloaks in a rainstorm, à la the intro to Clock Tower: Ghost Head, albeit concerning less-nefarious business. I remember an upscale video catalog dedicated primarily to British programming featuring the Lodoss box set, trying to showcase anime to its patrons as "the hottest new Japanese import" (unfortunately, it must not have taken, as the box sets were on clearance a few months later). I remember the Dark Knight Ashram, a fan favorite of so many, and someone on some forum or fanzine coining the term "Parn syndrome" to refer to bland, not-very-capable heroes who were blatant stand-ins for the target shounen audience able to trump far more interesting and powerful villains through author fiat. (I would have termed this "Alex syndrome" myself.)

What drew me to Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, and ultimately convinced me to purchase it during the latest Steam sale, was the game proudly putting Deedlit front and center in its promotion, the game icon consisting of a glamorous, unabashedly loving illustration of Deedlit bathed in sunlight. Deedlit was a top-tier waifu in the '90s, and I outright goddamn admire the creators going, "You know what? We still love this character! This character is good, and she deserves a starring role in her own video game, vagaries of time and franchise popularity be damned!" Hell yeah! Go ahead! Bring on Ghaleon in Wonder Labyrinth. If my enthusiasm seems inconsistent with recent comments I've made, hang on a bit.

As promised, the premise of the game finds our Deedlit waking up in a labyrinth, her memory hazy and recollection of what she's doing here unclear. She explores to find her old friends present as well - except they're not quite acting right, and they seem to be in on something she isn't. But this labyrinth is full of monsters! Is Deedlit going to sit around and eat pizza? No: she's going to collect a variety of weapons and power-ups in a bout of recursive unlocking to get to the heart of what's going down here.

Now: while I recommend the game and have a lot of praise the story, I found during the course of breaking down the title that I had a number of complaints, and there isn't a way into discussing Wonder Labyrinth that isn't going to make my recommendation here sound overly qualified. So let me say up front: this is a good, solid Metroidvania with fun gameplay and good (though frequently-borrowed) visuals, one that doesn't overstay its welcome, with a denouement that made me very glad I played it. If it's piqued your interest, get it; you'll be rewarded. Please keep that in mind during the discussion of strengths and weaknesses below.


Taken from the official site; I have to hold down a second key to access the function row on my laptop, so I'm notably lacking in combat shots in my own screenshots.

While Wonder Labyrinth has beautiful sprite art, the first thing you'll probably recognize is the stuff stolen from everywhere else - startling with Deedlit herself, whose animation frames are very obviously traced over Alucard's from Symphony of the Night. Early bosses have their intros and attack patterns swiped from Order of Ecclesia and Shadows of Mystara. There's a lot of impressive work here - a lot of it, such as Deedlit's beautiful, whirlwind-wrapped triple jump - but the steals are so blatant and right up-front in the game's presentation that at every turn, I was wondering: is this impressive sight original, or just something I don't recognize because I haven't played the source?

Mechanically, though, the game is on surer footing. Our elf protagonist, like everything in Lodoss, hews to fantasy archetypes, and while she'll spend much of the game swinging a bladed weapon - not only her trademark rapier but even quicker knives & catclaws, ranged shuriken & chakrams, and two-handed buster swords with devastating overhead strikes - her offense will rest more heavily on archery and magic than the average Metroidvania protag. Once you acquire a bow, you'll always have arrows at the ready, mapped to the one of the face buttons. While aiming is clunky - you hold down the button to plant Deed's feet and tilt her torso back and forth to aim in a rather limited cone, with no side switching and stiff animation that's swiped from the seraph enemies in Symphony's chapel - archery is a useful offensive option in several scenarios and offers a refreshing change of gameplay and mindset from melee combat. (I recall a boss battle that was initially cast as sword vs. sword but upon me remembering I had arrows completely changed character, from a tentative game of footsie to an exhilarating dodge-'em-up.) The game also features a number of light archery puzzles - ricocheting arrows off obstacles to strike targets & open doors, repeatedly hitting mechanisms from a moving platform to cross an expanse - that offer useful variety. I didn't always enjoy how it felt if more exact aiming than "straight ahead" was required, but despite the controls, the archery does add some welcome speed and spice.

Magic revolves around an Ikaruga-like elemental system. After making their acquaintance very early in the adventure, Deedlit will always be accompanied by either a fire spirit or a wind spirit. Deedlit's primary weapon will be imbued with the elemental affinity of her current companion, which naturally affects how much damage she deals to enemies depending on their own alignments. She can also, though, nullify magic traps and enemy magic attacks and absorb them as MP if she has a spirit of the same element equipped. This becomes a particularly crucial tactic during boss battles, where rapid switching between spirits (it's mapped to a shoulder button) is necessary not only to survive but to fuel your own offense. The mechanic lends itself to show-stopping displays of enemy force and crazy spell patterns (that, yes, also share DNA with shoot-'em-ups), as well as hectic periods during regular exploration when enemies of opposing elements are clustered close together.

The spirits also bestow upon Deedlit a couple ancillary abilities: wind allows her to hover for a bit, while the fire endows her slide with an offensive kick. Though the kick remains entirely optional, the hover does figure into a few mobility puzzles where you'll need to switch nimbly between your wind-fueled hover and protection from fire-based traps. Sometimes it's hard to see what element you are in the heat of a pitched boss battle, where quick & constant switching is often required, but otherwise, in addition to powering puzzles, the elemental system adds a react-on-your-feet immediacy to gameplay and strongly distinguishes the title from other Metroidvanias. It's a showcase mechanic, and it works well.

You also have just-plain offensive spells, mapped, like arrows, to a face button, and this actually causes a problem. The very first spell you get is a light-elemental several-shot homing attack that is massively, massively overpowered, to the point where it renders a number of the initial boss battles completely trivial. Things get a bit more balanced later on, but the spell remained a pillar of my offense, my #2 attack option after (and sometimes preceding) my basic melee. Deedlit can find several other spells with different attack patterns along her adventure, but I very seldom bothered with them outside a couple experimental casts, because the opening spell is just so powerful, and it homes. Props for making magic so viable in a basic-attack sense rather than an only-on-special-occasions sense, but the devs should have nerfed that spell a bit or reduced Deedlit's generous MP pool. Of course, I could have showed self-restraint, but what am I going to do when presented with a win button? Not use it?

Structurally, the map is solid - it's relatively compact, as the game is about 8 to 9 hours, but large enough to be satisfying to unlock. I do wish there were more secrets: once you get an ability that opens up map area, there will be one or two rooms you can access elsewhere than in your immediate level, but there aren't any extensive alternate routes or significant goodies for creative explorers. Hidden stuff is generally restricted to one HP/MP pickup and a couple rooms with an extra weapon per level, with the breakable passages announced by telltale cracks. (Then again, though I did get 99% map completion, I've seen other players in post-game conversation reference a number of abilities & spells I completely missed, so maybe the failure is on my part here.) One point of praise: once encountered, barriers are marked on your map with color-coded notation for easy backtracking later, something I don't recall Castlevania ever doing.

Getting back to aesthetics: while the individual details of sprite art itself are well-wrought, the levels could use a spark of originality. Even though the Metroid-like Castlevanias generally take place in the same location (Drac's castle), they still manage to offer memorable settings: a chapel framed against an open, racing sky, or a bone-bedecked museum of skeleton enemies, or Dracula's big Scrooge McDuck gold coin vault. The so-called Wonder Labyrinth has a few differences from level to level, but it's largely a bunch of dim stone galleries with various statues. Neat-looking statues, possibly-cadged statues, but the overall effect is a bit on the dour side nonetheless. Likewise, the music is OK but a bit unremarkable; it has the attitude and instrumentation of a Metroidvania OST but not the melodies to dig into your brain. Describing it as Castlevania Muzak is too mean, but it has the same unobtrusive, kind-of-going-nowhere qualities. It's not bad, but the game would benefit from it being better.

I think this is a byproduct of the devs coming from fan game production, notably the prodigious Touhou series; it's a professional production, but gamewise, the inspiration often isn't *quite* there, and they're still leaning too heavily on storied forebearers in the genre. They do, however, excel definitively in one aspect, and that's the ultimate destination of the story. Spoilers below.

So I'm back from a fresh round of defeats in trying to get a commission proposal through via Akari Funato via Skeb, and since it looks like I'm going to be playing the waiting game for a bit, I thought I'd chronicle what I learned from my recent bouts with the platform, in a "someday, someone may experience these bizarre events; hopefully, they will find my notes useful" fashion.

WarioWare: Get It Together!

I'm not fond of the outlet these days, but this Polygon review reflects most of my feelings here. In brief: This installment of WarioWare puts the franchise's stable of characters front and center by having them finally star in the minigames themselves as controllable characters, each moving in their own unique way and boasting their own special abilities. While you choose the party of heroes that will tackle each level (from an eventual pool of 20), the choice of character for each individual minigame is randomized. This spotlight role for Wario's primo bunch of friends/employees/victims is way overdue, but leads to one of the game's big problems: Having to remember both how the random pick of main character controls within a couple seconds and how a particular game plays in the next couple adds one layer of complexity too many for this game structure. (In addition, some characters are, inevitably, just poorly suited to certain minigames because of their movesets, giving progress - through the game or, in particular, toward certain additional goals - a frustratingly heavy element of randomness.)

My other complaint here is the dearth of unlockable toys & games & weird stuff, replaced by presents you give the characters to unlock additional palettes and art for them. The art is neat, but I miss stuff like the full version of Dr. Mario reskinned with Wario or that lyrical paper plane game. (There are a bunch of local multiplayer games, but if you're solo, you're restricted to three very simple bonus titles.) This was worth trying, and the result is fine, but it's a solid third (behind the original and Touched) of the three WarioWare games I've played. (If you have multiplayer partners readily available, of course, it's a different story.)

It still delivers its share of warm & fuzzy moments, though!

How could you hate a game that celebrates both Halloween *and* mint chocolate chip ice cream?!


Centipede: Recharged

I have another review from which to cadge for this title - my own, from Steam:

So some mobile devs saw Pac-Man Championship Edition and said, hey, we've seen that "vaporwave" art the kids love, and Atari doesn't care what happens to their IPs nowadays, so let's churn out a knockoff! Whereas Pac-Man CE & DX iterated on and blew up the original's gameplay in supremely satisfying ways, though, Centipede: Recharged didn't really care about that "gameplay" thing and as such broke the original in several ways.

Namely: a) The playfield is way larger than the original, yet your shots have been slowed and take too long to travel the playfield to control the increased enemy hordes. b) Aiming is extremely persnickety, and shots have to be pinpoint accurate to hit - good luck with that, given that one of the few ways this game is faithful to the original is the trackball mechanics and the attendant slipslidy movement (analog stick only here; sorry, no d-pad). c) The mushrooms take more hits to kill and are freaking impossible to get rid of given the slower shot speed and tiny hitboxes, leading to numerous scenarios where I am unloading and unloading into a centipede that's right in front of my face and not hitting it, because the first segment I hit turned into the Masada of mushrooms, the Krak des Chevaliers of mushrooms. d) The playfield never clears out the garbage that accumulates, and the devs like to spawn scorpions every five seconds that spawn adamantium poison mushrooms that you're not able to hit reliably over the super-wide playfield. Hey, everyone's favorite part of Centipede is when all the enemies are bunched up on the bottom third of the screen, right? That's what everyone loves.

You do get power-ups - you pretty much have to be running a power-up constantly to survive - but they're not as fun or satisfying as, say, the screen-sweeping laser beams or giant ghost-squashing Pac-Men of Pac-Man 256. By far the most useful are the explosive bullets, since their AoE nullifies the aiming/tiny hitbox problems and will help get rid of the 256,000 poison mushrooms littering your screen 60 seconds in. Ditto the spread gun, though the smaller 3-shot variant still tends to miss a lot. The railgun is useless. Side cannons have potential but can't hit due to the aiming. Rapid fire actually should have been default shot speed - see, that's the thing with these "'70s arcade games reimagined" projects: you have to go bigger & bolder, on both the enemy side and the player's. You can't leave the player less equipped to deal with things than they were in the original.

Also: the fun sound effects and changing palettes of the original are completely absent. WTF?

I used "mobile" at the top as shorthand for "cheap and thoughtless," but Recharged really is designed for mobile sensibilities - given the length of the average game and content available, you're really not expected to be spending more than an hour & change on this. I'll probably continue to screw around with Recharged, because I love Centipede and will continue trying futilely to get mileage out of this broke-ass version and am fundamentally stupid. Those smarter should just get Atari Vault and hit up the rock-solid originals instead.

ETA: Yeah, came to my senses and asked for a refund. Every death is cheap. This game just really frustrates attempts to have fun with it.

I'll just add to the above that while it's somewhat moot, as the game doesn't seem to be selling well, all the negative reviews sound like the authors have been avidly tracking Centipede developments since 1982, while all the positive reviews sound like they're Google Translated from paid Amazon shills:

Negative review:

While the sound is a passable evolution of Atari 3xBlotz chip output, I will not be giving this game a positive review until it adds trackball-accurate mouse support!

Positive review:

Games are fun! Many games are released on Steam every week, and this is one of them!


Resident Evil (GameCube)

Long story: I wanted to replay Silent Hill 4 for the Halloween season and hauled the giant 27-inch 30-year-old CRT in the spare bedroom up to the TV stand only to discover that the lasers in both of my PS2s are dead. (I also discovered, demoralizingly, that I've lost of bit of muscle with COVID-era gym weight room abstention, since I stumbled under the weight and damaged the edge of the TV stand. I had to use the out-of-service air conditioner as an intermediary platform to haul the thing up there.) I don't want to give Konami money for the GOG version, so what to do?

Well, emulate, obviously, but in the meantime, the CRT is up there, and my GameCube still works, so looks like it's time to crack those copies of RE Remake and Zero I bought so long ago.

However: I'm almost through the first time with the mansion, and I'm frankly having a miserable time. The game reduces your resources to the barest of bones - I think Jill's gotten like 3 magazines in the entire game thus far - while increasing the durability, proliferation, and tenacity of numbers of your enemies: zombies can take up to 15 goddamn handgun bullets to kill, are constantly bursting through doors, and will inevitably turn into nigh-invincible Crimson Heads before you can make your way through the hordes back to your oil flask and lighter to burn their bodies even if you *do* down one. I haven't even gotten a shotgun yet. Barry did try to fork over the grenade launcher, but due to the inaccessibility of the item boxes thanks to the zombie-packed hallways, I had full pockets and had to leave it near Forest's corpse. It wouldn't have helped anyway, as I'll need to save every single grenade for Yawn, who, if the pattern holds, will take 98 shots and a napalm bomb.

The upshot of all this is that the focus of the game has gone from conserving resources and judiciously picking your battles to dodging nearly every zombie. This is not only a near-complete redefinition of the skills you need to get through the game but also no fun, since Jill's directional movement is now very loosey-goosey, making it extremely hard to pinpoint the direction she's headed or dodge. (My GameCube controller might be at partial fault here, as the analog stick has a little more give than I believe it should, but the tiny D-pad is only the slightest of improvements.)

Granted, the environment looks great (if a little dim), but I can't indulge in one of the basic joys of survival horror, exploring my deliciously spooky environment, for fear I might set off a trap or lose the last of the precious resources keeping my run from being utterly bricked. It's like the game is fragile. I'm afraid to engage with it, lest everything break. Don't touch that doorknob; you might trigger a zombie attack! Don't go through this hallway again; you'll waste your items, and you'll never get refills! I realize survival horror rests on tension, those moments when you are overwhelmed, when you are, to quote Kimimi, "two doors, five bullets, and three zombies away from a save room." But when you're several doors, no bullets, and 17,000 zombies away from everything, always, the survival horror cycle of mounting tension-crisis-release that, say, the PS Clock Tower illustrates so well is replaced with an utterly exhausting monotone, as welcome as a siren screaming for hours on end. REmake's constant game-bricking threats prevent you from trying stuff - from doing something, anything - and it's just utterly no fun to have to go on numerous dead-end scouting runs in preparation for making like ten minutes of actual progress.

Also, I note that the music has been near-completely excised. Perhaps they thought it would clash with the remake's more realistic graphics, or maybe there were issues with the composer, but the score was so integral to the character of the original game that this can't help but hit as real galaxy-brain thinking.

Looking back through my notes on my run of the original RE, I see I got really frustrated during the return to the mansion and the ammo-sponge nature of the Hunters, so I can't see my opinion of the game markedly improving in the future. So this is going to have to be like Castlevania IV, where I devote a set, short, joyless period of time to it per day to grinding through it.

Man, what is it with me and aggravating Halloween gaming experiences? Last year, it was the extremely frustrating Original Mode of Castlevania Chronicles. Maybe I'd be better served by doing a run of Chris's campaign on the original instead.

In rummaging through my game stuff, I got to paging through a copy of the Magical School Lunar character design reference sheets I picked up on Yahoo Japan several years ago. Sets of these sheets were widely available in that market at the time. I don't know whether my copy was actually used by one of the staff, as reference sheets are sometimes commercially released. Unlike my nicely-bound Neo Angelique: Abyss character sheet book, though, the Magical School Lunar sheets consist of a bunch of relatively cheap mimeographs held together by a single staple in the corner. There were, though, rampant listings on YJ of a few other Lunar items of unknown provenance - possibly not commercial, but seemingly not bootleg; maybe from sort of convention - in the same time period: copies of the SSS ref sheets (less common than the MSL listings but still in significant numbers) and a set of an Akari Funato enamel pin of chibi Luna & Lucia and an example of Lunar currency (from Vane) that had one of the dragons on it. I never bit on the SSS sheets, as they seemed to contain the same drawings available in the commercial SSS books, but I regret not picking up one of those dang coin/pin sets. They were so ubiquitous at the time that I put off my purchase until, of course, it was too late.

Anyhow, the MSL sheets. One of the first pages concerns how the characters' eyes are colored: for most, the irises are a flat, uniform black. (I think this is a mistake: it makes the art look as cheap as, well, it is.) The exceptions are the magic-race villains, who are directed to have their characteristic red eyes. Though Barua is mentioned by her eventual name, the sheets reveal that apparently, until rather late in production, Memphis's name was going to be..."Delvis."

Admittedly, Lunar has generally gone the ヴィ route over the ビ route in representing "v" (see Vane/Vheen/ヴェーン), which suggests that it's more likely "Derbis," which comes with its own problems.

As wild as his wardrobe got, I'm not familiar with Elvis appearing onstage with any giant bound serpents.