Monday, 16 May 2022

Andro Dunos 2 Review (Switch)

You wait an age for an obscure Neo Geo franchise to be revived and then two come along at once. We recently looked at Ganryu 2 and here publisher Just For Games come, working their nostalgic remit again. Even better, this time the game has turned out excellently.

We aren’t particularly familiar with the original but from what we have seen of it Andro Dunos 2 seems to really be its own beast with the name merely added to produce brand awareness and marketing ability. This isn’t a bad thing as it has allowed the team to make a stand-out side scrolling shoot’em up that’s both welcoming to hardcore fans and casual players alike.

In terms of style, Andro Dunos 2 takes small influences from the back catalogue of famous side scrolling shoot’em ups but ultimately comes out as it’s own thing. It has a distinctive identity and exists away from the homage like titles such as Super Hydorah while retaining the Neo Geo look.

The key dynamic of the game is levelling the multi-weapon system. Players can cycle through four different types of weapons which fire at different angles, speeds and sizes and each can be increased in power. Missiles, shields and other additional accessories can also be picked up as you go. The key though is that for a temporary drop in power each weapon can be used to activate a mega blast. If you have all four weapons powered up enough it then becomes a legitimate tactic to keep cycling through and activating the mega blast before moving to the next weapon while the others are recharging. During the levels blue spheres can also be accumulated which can be used to level up the main and support weapons at the end of each stage.

The stages themselves are also excellent with them gently leaning on the past while depicting something that seems unique to the game itself. The game also lets you settle in and get comfortable before gradually ramping up the difficulty and technical skill required to progress. There is also a continue system which let’s you start from any level which you have previously beaten which is a sensible concession for casual fans looking to make their way through.

The look of Andro Dunos 2 also perfectly captures the arcade feel of the 90’s with it being colourful and bold in both it’s craft design and the levels themselves. The bosses are highlights with them being suitably screen filling and impressive and requiring thought and patience to take down. In terms of nailing that nostalgic vibe with a ‘new’ IP this really is up there with the best of them.

Overall, Andro Dunos 2 is remarkable. It is basically a completely new game from the 90’s carrying the vibe and look of the era for all its worth without falling back on simple nostalgic triggers or being a ‘greatest hits’ collection of other retro shoot’em ups. If this is the future for titles going for the retro aesthetic, then we are all for it and we would recommend it to anyone looking for something new from the 90’s.

Overall 9/10

Monday, 9 May 2022

Ganryu 2 Review (Switch)

The Switch continues to be a sort of Ark for retro games and systems with the online pass and the the Neo Geo Pocket having a high-profile presence on the system. Arcade and Neo Geo games are also prevalent and there’s even been Saturn and Amiga titles beginning to come through. Alongside this several ‘new’ retro games have started to appear. Ganryu 2 falls somewhere between the two categories as a technically new game, but one that is a direct sequel to a slightly obscure Neo Geo title.

It all starts well enough with big bold graphics that invoke the arcade sprites of old. The characters and environments are beautiful as well and invoke the spirit of ancient Japan well. The problem comes with regards to how the game plays. The first issue is with the control layout. There is a lot you can do with your character but the controls just never feel comfortable. The attack button is clearly in the wrong place and the jump and dash dynamic seems very awkward. There are no button configuration options either which is a real shame.  

Once you have wrestled the buttons under control your next obstacle is the flow of the game. It seems to skip frames at times which means your character is never quite where you think they are and the same goes for enemies. Again, this can be overcome but when you have a game this quick and so reliant on twitch reflexes it is a noticeable issue. Add in memory test enemies and obstacles you have no way of avoiding without prior knowledge and the cracks really start to show. ** (A patch has now been issued to address the frame rate - see paragraph at the end of the review). 

All of this would be forgivable if the game didn’t abide by a crazy approach to progress. You do have a healthy number of lives but when you must reach for a continue it takes you all the way back to the first part of the chapter. We fought through to the end of stage 1-2 only to die at the boss. Naturally we expected the continue to start us back at the beginning of stage 1-2 but no. Right back to the start of 1-1 we went. In a lot of ways, it would be better just to not have continues for all the use they are. There are no other ways to continue progress either.

Overall, the shine on Ganryu 2 rubs off very quickly. It’s a real shame as with a changed continue system the game would actually be a lot of fun - even with the control and frame rate issues. As it is though it’s just too much to deal with and not enjoyable enough to be worth the perseverance. In the end there’s just too many flaws to be able to recommend this to all but the most hardcore of Neo Geo fans.

** Since this review was written a patch has been released for the game. This has changed the frame rate issue dramatically and the game now plays incredibly smoothly. While other issues remain the flow of the game has been dramatically improved and as a result it is much more fun. A future patch is also in the pipeline which adds buttons config options and changes the prevalence of healing items. The overall score has been changed to reflect the current patch.

Overall 6/10

Monday, 2 May 2022

Big Bang Pro Wrestling Review (Switch)

The Neo Geo Pocket Colour is really finding a second life through the Nintendo Switch and long may it continue. Scouring lists of essential games though will rarely bring up this lesser-known wrestling game and initially it did seem a rather odd choice to us. First impressions weren’t particularly good either but then it all sort of fell into place and now it’s clear this is one of those hidden gems you hear about so often.

What many may overlook is actually how the game works (handily a scan of the original manual is included). There are two main types of wrestling games when it comes to lock ups. Ones where you hammer buttons and ones such as Firepro which are more focused on timing of button presses and building of moves. This is most certainly in the second camp and once players get used to it there’s a fun game here even though you only have two buttons to pull off moves.

Those two buttons are used to their fullest though with each wrestler having four grapple moves along with a host of strikes and rope based attacks. Each wrestler also has a special move which they can pull of at any time once their name is glowing by pressing both buttons together. The lack of moves is also shielded by the fact that matches are often fairly short so repetition never has a chance to set in.

There’s no shortage of match types either with a career mode that features coffin matches and things hanging on a pole matches (which we’ve still not fully worked out), along with the more standard fair. You can also find weapons around the outside of the ring and even bump the ref. it’s very impressive from the little Neo Geo Pocket and this must be one of the most ambitious games on the system.

The most telling thing about the game is simply how many hours we have put into it without realising. It certainly has the same power as all the best wrestling games where you simply lose track of time and find yourself staying for one more match.

Overall, Big Bang Pro Wrestling has proved to be a really nice surprise. We had never even heard of it but it’s now up there with SNK vs Capcom: Card Fighters Clash as our most played NGP game. It plays well, it’s inventive, the graphics and sound are satisfying, and it uses the control scheme the best you can possibly expect for the system. Well done to whomever picked it out to be given a second chance on Switch- it’s a resounding success.

Overall 7/10

Monday, 25 April 2022

Taito Milestones Review (Switch)

Retro collections and arcade releases are become more and more common on the Switch and each new one seems to try and push the bar higher in terms of what’s included. We’ve had Sega, various Konami collections, Capcom and SNK just to name a few giving us wide ranging collections of their back catalogues with a vary degree of options and museum elements. Now Taito are entering the market with a group of ten arcade games and it’s not really what we had hoped.

Taito has been releasing its games on the Switch for some time in the form of Arcade Archives branded stuff which generally come with regional variations and a few other options. By comparison what we get here is about as bare bones as possible. The title screen simply has the games displayed for players to pick and that’s it. No museum extras, no regional variants, nothing really which shows these games off or explains why they are so seminal to company. When you put that against efforts from the like of SNK it simply it’s up to the same standard. There are online leader boards at least.

While the ten games do cover a wide range of genres, they aren’t exactly the iconic titles you might be hoping for. Alpine Ski, Wild Western, Front Line and Space Seeker are really very early arcade representations of the teams work and just don’t have the hook that a lot of gamers will be hoping for as they handle very stiffly.  Halley’s Comet is an ok vertically scrolling shooter and the Ninja Warriors is a quite poor side scrolling brawler which is a million miles away from the quality of the SNES/Switch sequel already available on the system.

It's not all bad though as Elevator Action and The Fairyland Story remain as fun and addictive as ever (even if you can buy them separately already). Qix may well get a second lease of life because of this collection as well and remains an underrated puzzler where you must try and fill in blocks of colour before the baddie floating around in the middle of the screen catches you. Chack ‘N’ Pop is the last game on the collection and again proves to be a fun single screen platform/maze distraction.

Unfortunately, this is a collection burdened by what isn’t here. If you want Space Invaders, you’ll need to go and buy that collection separately. Darius? The same and there’s no sign of iconic games such as Phoenix, The New Zealand Story or Bubble Bobble. Even games already on the Switch from the correct time period are missing such as The Legend of Kage. Considering most of these games made it onto a bumper collection on the PS2 (https://www.retro101.co.uk/2012/10/taito-legends-review-ps2.html), it really is baffling.

Overall, this is a highly disappointing effort. When so much care and attention is put into the individual releases of the games this just seems completely misjudged. So many other companies have now set the standard for what to expect for this kind of price that ten bare bones games just aren’t enough anymore. Yes, there are some high points here, but the fact Taito has so many other collections and retro releases available just makes this seem like a cynical attempt to push some titles together they didn’t really have a lot of faith in.

Overall 5/10