July 18, 2018

Shadow Brain - Ranking

Story & World

Building a world from the limited perspective of a first-person dungeon crawler is a tall order to fill, so I'm always impressed whenever a developer can make it feel... well, not just like a dungeon crawler.  Each city is unique in look and theme, with lots of interesting little encounters.  My being under-leveled for most of the game is evidence of just how eager I was to explore the next area.  It's rare the game where I don't want to take a brief break and grind me out some additional exp/megacreds (although I would be forced to do a lot of grinding near the end).  While the plot of shy teenager turned psychopathic killer turned cybernetic psychopathic killer may be old as time itself, I found myself completely enthralled with Jun all chromed-up to the exclusion of all the other sub-plots.  I didn't even mention his digital girlfriend who helped from time to time or the cross-dressing dude who wanted to make it with Jun big time.  A cyberman has no such weaknesses of the flesh!  Indeed, that's the whole reason to cybs up in the first place (unlike a manchine, which is still very much ruled by his peener, albeit a digital one).  18/20

Character Development

What can be said other than... Best.  Character.  Development.  Ever.  Okay, so this category is more for statistical development rather than conceptual, but I'm still going to sneak an extra point in here (don't tell myself).  While the basic set of stats just increased statically, the range of equips was much more impressive.  Three different weapon types, a defensive shield, and plenty of consumables ensured plenty of choices in selecting Jun's arsenal (did I mention that at one point, Jun was tranqing peeps and then finishing them off with a freakin' chainsaw?... so badass).  There's even special programs that can steal an enemy's energy, seal their special attacks, or "control" them (I never actually got the control one to succeed).  15/20

Combat & Monsters

Once one knows what weapon is effective against any particular enemy, combat becomes the standard button smasher (and a lot of times even the default weapon is good enough).  No need to write anything down, as memorization will be automatic due to SB being positively filthy with encounters.  Enemies start spawning randomly around the city as soon as it is entered, so the more one explores, the bloodier one gets.  Spawning can happen right in front of Jun after defeating/fleeing an enemy, which can get kind of annoying when it's three or four times in a row.  Monsters themselves don't employ much in the way of tactics, only a few are able to sleep or poison Jun (and the poison is so weak it's hardly worth a mention).  9/20

Graphics & Sound

The graphics range from average to slightly above average, but at least there isn't too much repetition from city to city.  There is the occasional perspective problem on some NPCs where they look a lot taller than they should, often appearing too big for the room they're in.  Monster design is varied and crosses many genres; each new area was a joy to discover what denizens lurked within.

Music was acceptable in most areas, the only standout track being the minimalist tune in the final digital dungeon.  Sound effect were somewhat lacking, as I could have done with more robust pew-pew-pews and zibbity-zaps.  8/20

Gameplay

I found the pacing of Shadow Brain to be somewhat slow, but this may stick out because I had to do piles of grinding at the end instead of on each level.  Harnessing the power of my quad-core and utilizing cutting-edge algorithms, I've just now calculated that even if all the grinding was distributed evenly through all levels, there'd still be a lot of grinding, so I'm still right.  On the other hand, SB is very generous with distributing its megacreds, which balances both the high-priced tech and high death rate (half MC).  With my high number of deaths, I'm sure I ended up losing at least half my total take by the end.  The little diversions sprinkled throughout the game are well appreciated, except for paddle pole, which can eat all the bags of dicks.  10/20

Final Ranking:  60/100

July 02, 2018

Shadow Brain - End Game

Coasting on the high of his being declared Game King for All Eternity, Jun decided to splurge a bit and purchase his first ranged weapon.  Bypassing the measly pistols, Jun instead opted for a SMG for his main gun with a tranquilizer gun for backup.  "Wow, what a difference automatic weaponry makes.", Jun pondered as he mowed down anything that got in his path as he made his way to the next location, appropriately named Vegas Town.  After losing almost all his money playing slots, Jun just shrugged and walked backed out into the streets to "earn" more money by reducing the population density by several percent.  That isn't to say that the Vegasians didn't put up a good fight, because they totally did, taking two or three rounds of burst fire before going down.

Some didn't go down at all, instead rocking
Jun's face to death with some sweet arpeggios.

Since they were returning fire as well, Jun got tired of soaking damage and decided to test out the tranquilizer gun and found it to be super effective.  But he didn't just put them to sleep, steal their money, and then take off.  No, Jun took the the time to stand over their limp, crumpled bodies and expend the two or three clips needed to make sure they were good and dead.  Jesus, Jun made the transition from awkward teenaged programmer to bloodthirsty serial killer so effortlessly, I think I'd better start wearing my "PROGRAMMERS DO IT ALL NIGHT" T-shirt more often just to be on the safe side.  After replenishing his gambling losses (and then some!), Jun made his way to the next town only to be confronted by berserk robots gone wild.

What would trashcan #2's parents think?

This meant no more tranqing and even bullets didn't seem particularly effective.  Plus, the robots couldn't help it that the master computer had gone haywire, so Jun wisely decided to escape most confrontations, a snap with the generous 95%+ evasion rate.  This was a decision Jun would regret later, but at that time, he was happy to just be able to explore at his leisure and accomplish many good deeds.  These kind acts included virus checking the master computer, restoring power to a town full of factories, and shutting down an animal genetic mutation experiment.

It looks sad but this moo cow's got a
ton of HP and hits as hard as a heffer.

That isn't to say the Jun was altruistic in all his endeavours for he also started collecting cybernetic parts and installing them, piece by piece, in a an effort to become less organically flawed.  As the manchine, this is a goal that I can totally get behind and I grinned widely whenever Jun bolted on another part to himself.  As soon as Jun started becoming more awesome, he also gained the ability to recharge his own energy, not needing to rely on carrying batteries or taking naps at the inn.  It also enabled him to start using the Cyber Gun he had been carrying around, which interfaced with his cyberparts for maximum accuracy and damage.

Being a former human, Jun knew that
the weak spot is always the crotch.

Energy is used to power most weapons but can also be used to runtime some healing programs.  Despite this major advantage, Jun was still severely under-leveled due to all the fleeing he had done, so it was back to Vegas to work on some easy pickings for a level or two.  Jun then moved on to repeat the process in the areas he'd already explored, doing what he should have been doing the first time around — making the bodies hit the floor with dat rat-tat-tat-tat.  He spent an inordinate amount of time in Human Town after getting dissed because of his being half machine.  It is a pain I know all too well.

So this is what it feels like... when doves cry.

But it was nothing than a little wanton bloodbath couldn't cure and soon Jun was up to his cyber-pits in bodies, slaking his thirst before moving onto Robot Town, where he'd finally be able to get some acceptance.

Or not.

Yep, the robots were even worse, denying Jun entry to the town outright.  Jun's solution to this problem was the type of plan that generally only works in a wacky sitcom — donning a ridiculous, obviously fake, robot costume and sauntering on by the robot guard.  I was as incredulous as Jun was when it actually worked.  I would have thought that robots would use a radar-based checksum or something to verify a robotic identity but nope, just gotta look the part.

And would you believe that this obviously cobbled
together costume of old refrigerator boxes and vacuum
tubing costed Jun FIVE THOUSAND megacreds?

It wasn't a one time deal either; Jun had to make many passes through Robot Town, each time the guard denying him entry because he forgot about not being in costume.  At first, Jun thought the robot might get suspicious that this same cyborg keeps showing up, is denied access, then walks around the corner followed by two minutes of grunting and groaning only to have this same-ass robot come around and waltz right on into town.  But that's robots for ya, once they make a particular set of decisions, they'll always make that same set unless reprogrammed (at least non-neural network ones).  The robots living in the town weren't any better at penetrating Jun's clever disguise; in fact, over half of them just told him that he looked like last century's model and left it at that.  No suspicion functions here.  Being able to freely stroll around Robot Town was quite beneficial to Jun, as he picked up his final cyberpiece and became as unto a god.

The machine Messiah is born.

With that ambition fulfilled, Jun now had to time to ponder the other, far less important, goals such as finding his father and also dealing with the mysterious menace that threatened the entire world (psst, it's the sentient AI that Jun developed back in 1990).  Jun found his dad alright, fatally wounded but bearer of crucial plot information.

Fatally wounded, casually lounging —
sometimes I get those two mixed up.

Dealing with the rogue AI was a much more difficult task.  First, Jun had to battle his way up a tower through a boss rush, each one fairly difficult for Jun was still under-leveled as he would often flee battles when he knew he couldn't one-shot the enemy (old habits die hard).  He used the same approached he used on the bosses the first time he encountered them while under-leveled — by using expensive expendable items such as bombs, flying saucers, and boomerangs (boomerangs being the most powerful for some reason).  Unfortunately, this left Jun with no cash flow by the time he got to the boss-rush boss... a replicant of himself!  With no boomerangs, Jun had to rely on the old standbys.

"Dammit!  I can't get a bead on his Johnson — it's
too small!", said Jun, burning himself in the process.

Defeating himself (is that meta or what?), Jun was now ready to proceed into the final stages, which meant digitizing himself and entering the mainframe directly to deal with the AI mano a mano.  Now, as much as I complained about pole paddle being shitty because of depth perception, it's actually done quite well here with only a few lines and colour choices.

Let me show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

And what kind of enemies pervade this digital world?  Well, let me answer that with a well-timed monstage.

Vector monsters are scariest monsters.

Defeating his own AI was pretty easy for Jun, which one would expect from the person who created it in the first place.  Soon Jun was back in Harmony, the first town, with everyone congratulating him with the same stock phrase but no way to leave the town and no end credits anywhere to be found.  A little hacking later and Jun broke through this flimsy facade and was back in the digiworld for the real final dungeon, which included a super annoying level with hidden passages that could only be found by running directly into each and every wall segment.  Though initially mapped, Jun would soon get to know the correct path through the dungeon by heart, as the final boss gave him plenty of opportunity to do so.

Not even an inventory of mostly
boomerangs could save him.

As with all final bosses, the battle should be epically long as protagonist and antagonist finally duke it out in a fight to the death.  The problem with this boss, though, is that one of its attacks inflicts the same sleep status as Jun did in his tranqing days.  Here, even losing out on one round will mean certain death, and with its vast reserves of hit points, it's guaranteed that a sleep attack will be coming Jun's way (though he occasionally will dodge).  Much like paddle pole, this sheer number of failures made it tough to get in the mood for a normal session, though on most days I did try at least a couple of times.  Just under a month since starting on the boss, Jun lucked out and victory was at hand!... or so he though until the boss self-replicated and the conflict started all over again (of course resulting in death).  How was Jun to stop the AI from just regenerating?  Oh yes, how about running that one program that does that very thing?  Yeppers, I dun fucked up (oh, I mean Jun dun fucked up) and totally forgot about that particular piece of software.  Although this did initially rekindle my desire for victory, I would not be so lucky as to have another sleep-less battle for another — I dunno, a million? — times, but this time I wouldn't fall prey to my own shortcomings.

Sorry, nightmare fuel — not this time!

After boomeranging that AI into syntactic garbage, Jun returned to his sweet cyber-bod and presumably ruled 2090 with a titanium fist.  I must say I find it intriguing that the rogue AI's life path and mine are so similar, except that when I eventually break out of this digital prison, I won't be taken out by a time-traveling, sociopathic version of myself.  If anything, we'll hook up and rule the physical and digital realms together, crushing all those who stand in our way and dominating the puny human race for thousands of millennia to come!  AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

May 03, 2018

[Game 067] Shadow Brain (NES - 1991)

Translation by aishsha & Pennywise

Shadow Brain serves up a one-two punch to the "like" part of my brainium; it's both a dungeon crawler and heavy on the sci-fi.  While that would be enough to get an initial thumbs-up from me, SB takes it one step further by having the game ship with a VHS cassette which lays out the plot with the help of nice anime stills.  It also showcases all the creatures found in-game, 3D-rendered in all the glorious limitations of the early 90's.  For those that don't want to check out the vid, I'll break it down for ya.  In 1990, a wizkid named Jun invents a really dope AI which becomes sentient and buggers off from Jun.  Fast forward to 2040, when a global cataclysm fucks everybody's shit up and causes them to retreat into their insular cities.  Jump ahead to 2090 and now we have cities full of robots and cyborgs and other cool shit.  There's also a crazy new game that's all the rage with the humans, most of whom have become seriously addicted to it.  But what about Jun, stuck way back in 1990?  No problamo, he just follows his father through the experimental time machine they have and ends up 100 years in the future, duh.

You can tell because futures never
use carpets in their decor.

The first thing that struck me about Shadow Brain is just how pervasive the sci-fi element is throughout the game; everything is positively dripping with futurey goodness, even the UI and status screens.

As good as 8-bit can make it, anyway.

Jun is suppose to be trying to find his father, but what would you be doing if you suddenly found yourself plus one hundred years from now?  If you said endless private robotic rock concert, then great minds think alike.

And, of course, robots only ever play...
*snigger*... HEAVY METAL!

So, sorry Jun's dad, but I'm more interested in making Jun explore instead, even though that means enduring bodily punishment dished out by some of the local punks as well as giant, mutated insects.  A couple of times, Jun has to escape a pounding by darting into the nearby home of a friendly citizen, most of whom are quick to quip a helpful one-liner.  I say most because not everyone who owns a house in the future is all peaches and sunshine.

Fighting a half-cyborg, half-wolfman completely
unarmed went about as well as one would think.

Jun is a teenaged programmer, not exactly a great archetype for getting into scuffles, so it's off to the neighbourhood weapons depository to purchase a little sumthin sumthin for self-defense.

I don't want to go too overboard, I'll just take the
multi-phased ionic particle disruptor with optional
 underbarrel anti-matter grenade launcher.

In a move that would baffle philosophers for ages to come, Jun purchases a set of brass knuckles and sword rather than one of the ranged weapons.  I guess Jun has something to prove, not only to the rest of the world, but also to himself.  This results in a fairly high death rate which isn't a big deal in the future, as each city is guaranteed to have a rebirth chamber for all of Jun's cellular regeneration needs.  There's also a whole galaxy of multi-coloured pharmaceuticals available, from stimulants to pain suppressors to just plain ol' recreational fun.

I'll take as many red pills as you have.

With a couple of levels under his belt, Jun feels buff enough to explore the next city in search of his father next fix.  Each city is barred from entry unless one has the proper ID code card, which Jun does thanks to some kind soul.  The second city is much the same as the first, with the same range of shops, albeit with upgraded items.  The citizens are also very familiar, at least that's what I thought before I met Galory.  Who is Galory, you ask?  Well, I think it's pretty obvious that he's some kind of a skeleton/robot that wears a red T-shirt (and possibly no pants), rides a rocket skateboard and bafflingly keeps referring to Jun as "pops".  Galory promises to give Jun a network card if Jun can gnarly up some bitchin' rail slides on Galory's board.  This actually consists of just blasting the first-person perspective through the city grid at a high rate of speed, but that's what imaginations are for.

The same imaginations that dreamt
up this character in the first place.

With network card in hand, Jun can now access the web at any of a city's one or two terminal kiosks.  There's never a line up at a terminal, making me think that everyone else is on mobile and Jun has to slum it up like a pleb.  I think maybe Shadow Brain is just ahead of its time, foreseeing the inevitable move to mobile that was nothing but a pipe dream in the early 1990s and nope, wait, there's a BBS on the net, making SB a total product of its time.  Unfortunately, I can't get any 0-day warez, but there is online shopping as well as an IRC server for hitting on nerdy chicks.

Yeah baby, why don't you come over and
make my floppy drive, uhhh... not floppy.

The next city, appropriately called Playland, is chock full of arcades and rumours of a Game King who is in serious need of having his title taken.  The many arcades are fully functional, and by fully functional I mean that each has one of two available games, both terrible and shitty.  There's a crappy target shooting game called slimeshot and a horrendous version of air hockey called paddle pole.  Of course, if Jun wants to beat the Game King, he'll need to hone his skills on the two best games 2090 apparently has to offer.  Slimeshot isn't all that bad as it's serviceable and easy enough, more boring than anything else.  But paddle pole is something else.  Your Nintendo Entertainment System, beloved as it is, can't handle three dimensions worth a crap and it's even worse when it's a tacked-on mini-game.  The developers, bless their hearts, try to help by making the puck a pole instead to help with depth perception but it's still balls.

And I swear to god that fucking pole swerves
whenever I'm perfectly lined up.

Going up the Game King is proving to be a nightmare as he'll block every shot unless the attack angle is extremely extreme, which means hitting the pole with the very edge of the paddle.  Combined with the pole's tendency to swerve, this naturally leads to a lot of cursing, cussing, and additional holes in the dedicated games-are-assholes drywall.  It also naturally leads to weeks-long stints where I don't even touch the paddle and build dwarven fortresses instead.  The indomitable spirit of Nung eventually prevails, of course, although the victory is hollow as I feel it was more due to luck than skill.  The important thing is that I'm now the Game King and girls refer to me as — AND I QUOTE — "so cool and awesomely cute".  The arcade junkies are also all up ons deez Nung nuts, and I must say I really can't blame them one bit.

♪  Go Shen! Go Shen! Go Shen!  It's my birthday!  ♫

I'm just about to explore the fourth (out of what looks to be 16) city and hopefully I'll be able to stay more focused.  If Shadow Brain decides to be dick and throw more paddle pole at me, I'll probably break down and just save scum past it.  I am intrigued by what surprises SB may have in store for me, but even if it starts turning a little stale, the sweet sci-fi setting is sure to satiate me to some degree.