Monday, April 18, 2016

Give 'Em A Hand: Portable Game Reviews

It's been a while since I've posted, so I guess it's time to make the dog's nuts!

Wait... that's not right, is it? Can I have another take? What do you mean "this is live?" Oh, damn it...

Capcom/Sensory Sweep

You'll be hooked on the brothers!
(image from
This is undeniably the weakest of Capcom's three arcade collections for the PSP, but it might be worth a look if you're a fan of the Buster Bros. series or its star attraction, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. Buster Bros. and its sequels invites you on a bubble-hunting expedition across the globe. See the sights, including gorgeously drawn world landmarks! Studiously avoid worthless power ups like dynamite and the grappling hook! Swear profusely when you lose a life after brushing up against one of the bouncing balls! Of the three games, Super Buster Bros. is the best, with important refinements to the gameplay and a special Panic Mode which challenges you to stay alive as long as possible as balloons rain from the sky. The original Buster Bros. may appeal to fans of Akira Toriyama thanks to the cartoon artwork that closely copies his style, and Buster Buddies? Uh, let's pretend that rendered mess never happened.

Then there's Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, a gem stacking, color matching contest with the added bonus of characters from the Street Fighter and Darkstalkers series. Big-headed versions of the fighters are set in the center of the screen, and swat at each other as jewels are destroyed and match-blocking counter gems are sent to the other player's bin. While the game is also available for more powerful home consoles, the version offered in Capcom Puzzle World is more faithful to the source material, without the ugly remastered graphics.

There's one more game, the Arkanoid-ish Block Block, but its inclusion is... well, puzzling when you consider that it was already offered in Capcom Classics Remixed. It's there if you want it, but the Buster Bros. trilogy and Puzzle Fighter are the real draws in the modest but competent package. B-

Namco/Smart Bomb Entertainment

Snoopy vs. The Red Baron is an extrapolation of the scenes from the Peanuts specials, where Charlie Brown's beagle would clash with the World War I flying ace in a series of frustratingly vague aerial battles. Rather than racing past strobing colors on his dog house as he did in the cartoons, Snoopy flies over fully realized battlefields in his often mentioned, rarely seen Sopwith Camel. The graphics are impressive considering the game's age, rivaling Pilotwings Resort on the 3DS with a generous field of vision and diverse environments to explore.

Snoop, there it is.
(image from GamesRadar)
So it's hard to complain about the graphics, but the gameplay is another story. At its best moments, Snoopy vs. The Red Baron is a liberating experience, letting you explore each stage at your leisure while hunting for bonus items and gunning down rival planes. At its worst, the game saddles you with a lot of escort and tower defense missions that severely limit your horizons. Some of these are damned near impossible to finish until you've memorized the layout of the stage and have powered up your pathetic machine guns in Pigpen's shop.

Another gripe, and this is purely aesthetic, is that it sometimes misses its mark as a tribute to the long-running comic. Characters are hideously rendered (don't expect the quality of the recent 20th Century Fox film) and sometimes badly voiced, especially Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty's long-suffering sidekick Marcie. Why is she a six year old with a lisp? Shouldn't that be Sally's voice? The triumphant war themes in each stage also clash with Vince Guaraldi's laid-back, plinky jazz tunes in the hub, but no matter. Flawed as it may be, Snoopy vs. The Red Baron is enjoyable enough that you'll be glad you were there when the Schulz hit the Richthophen. B

Idea Factory/Compile Heart

This game was created by Compile Heart, the successor to the developer of classics like The Guardian Legend and Puyo Puyo. That name must have been chosen under the mistaken belief that the new company has the soul of the old one, but considering its rather dire library, I can think of a few organs that are a better fit. How about Compile Spleen? Maybe Compile Tonsil? Wait, wait... Compile Lower Intestine! It reflects the quality of their output, at least.

Monpiece... of Crap!
(image provided by Idea Factory,
which really should be ashamed
of itself for publishing this game)
Anyway. Monster Monpiece is promoted as a card game, but most of that is just window dressing... and rather peculiar window dressing as that, with teenage girls cosplaying as mythical creatures. The actual game boils down to lobotomized chess... you drop cards on your side of the playfield, which steadily advance on your opponent's territory. Those cards can be buffed by dropping special booster cards behind them, making them unstoppable and the destruction of your rival's home base a certainty. That's pretty much all there is... you drop a fighter in the first turn, trail them with a booster in the second, and wait for victory, dropping other fighters as needed to defend your own territory. Whee.

The selling point of this game (if it can be called that) is that the cards can be undressed with vigorous rubbing of your Vita, boosting their abilities at a heavy cost to your self-respect. If that's all it takes to keep you entertained, then maybe, maybe, Monster Monpiece is worth the two dollars it cost in a recent flash sale. However, if you're familiar with Compile Gallbladder's previous work (including such "masterpieces" as Hyperdimension Neptunia and its endless sequels), you'll know to keep your distance. Forget the tempting price... your time is worth much more than this. F

Koei-Tecmo/Omega Force

Sick of Monster Hunter clones on handheld systems? Well tough, you're getting another one. If it's any consolation, this is a pretty good one; not quite as hopeless as Soul Sacrifice Delta and certainly more entertaining than Freedom Wars. In Toukiden, you're a feudal fighter known as a Slayer, and it's your job to protect your territory from the encroachment of bizarre Japanese monsters called the Oni.

Nice... doggie...?
(Image from PushSquare)
At first the odds seem stacked in your favor. The Oni are bite-sized and easily dispatched, and you've got help from two capable companions, along with the souls of legendary fighters which can be slotted into your equipment for an added boost of power. But don't get overconfident... after a few missions, you'll encounter grotesque monsters which effortlessly dart across the playfield despite their jaw-dropping size. You'll literally have to take these beasts apart piece by piece, purifying the dislodged limbs and hacking away at the exposed wounds.

Fighting the bosses can be a lot of fun, but there are a few nagging issues. First, they take a ridiculous amount of damage, to the point where it feels like you're trying to crush a brick wall with your forehead. Second, the monsters sprout purple ghost limbs to replace the ones you've destroyed, which feels like a cop-out on the part of the developers. Sure, the Oni occasionally stumble after you've dismembered them, but being reduced to a stump isn't as much a handicap in Toukiden as you'd expect.

So the boss fights are needlessly drawn out and the action gets repetitive, but there's a lot Toukiden has in its favor. Like dazzling, console-quality graphics. A wide assortment of weapons ranging from the the usual oversized katana to a pair of metal fists that send smaller enemies flying from the impact of your blows. Plenty of items and customization options to satisfy your raging OCD. And oh yes, a furry sidekick which wisely fades into the background rather than getting all up in your face like the Felynes from Monster Hunter. Toukiden is very similar to Monster Hunter, yes, but it's nevertheless one of the best games in a shrinking pool of recent Vita releases. B+

Nintendo 3DS

Resident Evil is twenty years old at this point, and it's clear the series has matured a great deal in those two decades. Where there were once stiff polygonal characters wandering through static backgrounds, there are now stunningly realistic characters in environments with real depth and volume. Where there was awkward turn-walk-turn control, there is intuitive gameplay that lets you slip through the grasp of hungry monsters. And where there was acting and dialog that left players rolling their eyes, there are performances that build tension rather than burying it under a mountain of cheese.

You see a lot of Jill's butt in this game.
It's practically its own character.
(image from Nintendo 3DS ROM)
(and no, I won't give you any)
Now those improvements have come to handhelds with Resident Evil Revelations. As series regular Jill Valentine, you must explore the abandoned cruise ship Queen Xenobia, searching for survivors while fighting through the unfortunate souls infected by a terrorist virus. The graphics are incredible considering the limitations of the 3DS, with one highlight being the dining hall in the first floor of the ship. A sickly brown mist wafts through the room, consuming the neatly arranged tables and chairs and offering cover for the zombies hoping to sink their claws into you. Everywhere you turn, you see traces of the ship's former opulence, swallowed by darkness and decay. It must have been a nice place... once.

Revelations hits choppy waters from time to time... it's tough to play on a New 3DS, with the tiny ZL and ZR buttons used to aim and fire your gun, and the touchscreen makes item management (especially using grenades) a handful. However, the game's most memorable (and horrifying) moments tend to make up for its lesser qualities. Good luck trying to sleep after you've met the communications officer you were trying to rescue. B+


  1. Always love these posts, Jess. Keep 'em coming! (If it's not too much of a pain in the ass, of course.) Anyway, the included game that has me the most interested this time around is Resident Evil. I've long ignored it because I just can't handle this type of game (they stress me out!), but maybe I'll make an exception for this one sometime soon...

    1. If you keep readin' 'em, I'll keep postin' 'em!

      Yeah, survival horror isn't my bag generally, but for five dollars I could hardly resist. Play on the casual mode if you decide to get a copy for yourself; it's plenty hard even on that difficulty level.

    2. Thanks for the heads up, Jess. I'll definitely play it on casual mode -- assuming I ever pick it up, I mean XD