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All PS1 Games In Order: Part 017

An explanation of what I'm doing here can be found in my introduction post.

Last week we looked at World Cup Golf: Professional Addition, The Chessmaster 3-D, Assault Rigs, and D.

This time we will move deeper into February '96 with Street Fighter Alpha: Warrior's Dream, College Slam, Johnny Bazookatone, and Krazy Ivan.

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Street Fighter Alpha: Warrior's Dream

Release Date: 2/7/1996

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Time to Taking An Uppercut To The Face: 40 Minutes

We have now arrived at our first proper Street Fighter game, though the release timing is a bit odd. Not being a fighting game guy, I had to do a bit of research to figure out where Street Fighter Alpha fits into things. It seems that after Capcom had milked Street Fighter II for all it was worth, they decided to make a prequel/soft reboot of the franchise instead of going straight to a third numbered entry. They used this opportunity to switch up the roster and make some changes to the fighting system. The mechanical significance of all this goes a bit over my head, but we'll get to that.

As is now customary, the first thing I did on boot-up was go into the settings and set the difficulty down to the lowest level. The best thing I can say about this game is the inclusion of a rudimentary practice mode, which would have been super useful if I wanted to spend the time learning proper button execution. After spending ten minutes failing to throw a consistent Hadouken, I backed out of that and looked at the fight ladder. I chose a random character, Charlie, and went through the eight fights. The easy difficulty is actually pretty easy in this game and I was able to beat Bison with minimal difficulty. There wasn't really an ending, which was probably a function of the difficulty level, but that's to be expected in the mid-90's. I upped the difficulty to 3/8 and tried the ladder again as Chun-li with the turbo on. I made it to round five and got wrecked by Sagat. This is a ho-hum recounting of my playthrough, because this game is overall is a ho-hum experience.

I was gonna make a joke until just now when I noticed their feet
I was gonna make a joke until just now when I noticed their feet

I feel awkward about my apathetic attitude towards this game. For what this was supposed to be in its time, it should feel like a big deal, but it doesn't. It looks nice, the animations are snappy, it runs smoothly, and the music is good. That might be part of the problem. The presentation is only just fine. A mid-tier game like Dark Legend looks and sounds about as good as this game, which is an unflattering comparison considering that this is supposed to be the biggest deal in its genre. The only unequivocally positive thing I can say is that I always enjoyed the Z transition into each match, it's just really satisfying.

Maybe another reason for my indifferent attitude is the roster. Capcom pared down the cast from the last version of Street Fighter II, which I think had 17 characters, down to 10 initial and 3 boss characters. The issue with this is that only 6 of those 13 are carryovers. People were attached enough to the roster from SFII that someone felt the need to shoehorn all of them into the 1994 movie. It feels weird and wrong to not have characters like Zangief, Blanca, Honda, or Cammie in one of these games. On top of that, the new characters don't feel interesting. This motley bunch seems to have been either taken from the original Street Fighter (not something you want to remind people of), drawn from Final Fight for some reason, or were genuine new creations. Sure, Rose is fine, but you would want to have her added in addition to the favorites, not in place of them. But I'm not a Fighting game guy, so what do I know.

The hell is this thing supposed to be?
The hell is this thing supposed to be?

That brings us to the biggest issue with Street Fighter Alpha. I mentioned when looking at Virtua Fighter 2 that I'm under the impression that the Fighting genre began alienating casual players in the late-90's. As far as I can tell, the major fighting game studios gradually increased the mechanical complexity of their games throughout the 90's to keep up with the needs of their committed players. The increasing skill ceilings in the major franchises made most of the gameplay largely inscrutable to anyone not in the scene. With the general decline of arcades, there weren't enough hardcore Fighting game sickos to economically justify a large market for the genre before online play became feasible. I can see that process play out in this game.

Some interesting ideas about the human body, all around
Some interesting ideas about the human body, all around

From what I've read, there were apparently several important changes to the high-level gameplay featured here. There's a whole thing going on with the super meter and the management of such. There's something called an Alpha Counter, which sure. This is also supposed to be the game where air blocking, throw recovery, and some kind of animation cancelling got introduced. This is all barely comprehensible; I can't even consistently get off a frickin' Hadouken on a Playstation d-pad. In the universe of people with money to burn on video games, there are more people like me than not. Ignoring that group is a good way for developers to box themselves into an ever-shrinking demographic. I fully expect that by the time I get to it, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Street Fighter III and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. What I'm trying to get at is that I think Divekick is the best Fighting game ever made.

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College Slam

Release Date: 2/10/1996

Developer: Iguana Entertainment

Publisher: Acclaim

Time to A Boring Megadunk: 15 Minutes

It's so hard to find anything to say about this game. It's literally a boring re-skin of NBA Jam. Remember how Iguana handled the console ports of both NBA Jam and Tournament Edition? Turns out they took that TE framework, stripped out all the branding, and half-heartedly inserted the NCAA license. This thing feels like some kind of low-effort ROM hack, where the players were exchanged with generic copy-pasted models. I played only half a match before quitting out of ennui. Let's see what details we can glean from this thing.

The worst part is that there are too few teeth
The worst part is that there are too few teeth

I'm not going to describe the gameplay here, because it's literally NBA Jam. I will keep repeating that until it loses all meaning, this is literally NBA Jam. I only noticed one change between this and TE: instead of being able to choose two out of three players on a team, you get to choose two out of five players on a team. This is probably due to the change in licensing. With the NBA license, you get the likeness of real players, which is engaging for players but kind of a hassle for developers. As a dev, you would need to make the bobblehead players kinda resemble the actual guys. Because the NCAA wasn't paying its players, their likenesses couldn't be licensed. This means that the developers of an NCAA game like this could either make up players and approximate likenesses, or they could save money and create one player model per position archetype. That's probably why there's a larger roster in College Slam, there's like six total player models and no names. Even still, with the increased options you could probably get into the weeds by swapping between more different kinds of players, but who the hell was playing this game at that high a level?

We dared to ask: What if NBA Jam was uninteresting?
We dared to ask: What if NBA Jam was uninteresting?

For the reasons stated above, the visual design and style are a major step backwards from NBA Jam: TE. This feels like a store-brand knockoff or something. There's so little to latch onto here, other than the irrational offense that I took at this thing's existence. What really makes me mad, though, is that because this uses the exact same engine and mechanics of a better game, it's still basically competent. You could play this game and have an adequate time if you didn't know any better. Its mediocrity means that I can't stick this at the bottom of my rankings out of spite like I want to, I'm trying to have something resembling consistent standards.

As much as I hate to admit it, I can see how a kid in the mid-90's could have had a good time with this game. There are parts of the U.S. where if someone sees the letters 'UK' they'll think of the University of Kentucky before anything else, as it should be. If a kid in one of those households got this game and had never played NBA Jam, they would have loved this thing. This line of thought is a bummer, so let's move on.

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Johnny Bazookatone

Release Date: 2/15/1996

Developer: Arc Developments

Publisher: U.S. Gold

Time to Going Bazooka Tone Deaf: 22 Minutes

I'd never heard of this game before now. That's why when I saw the title, I had a feeling that resembled hope. I imagined something along the lines of Charlie Murder but with ska. A ska themed Beat 'Em Up or 2D Action game would be rad, maybe something with a trombone rocket launcher and too much checkerboard. That would be a cool, but this is not that game. There isn't even a bazooka in this accursed trash.

Oof, where to start, where to start. How about with the opening scene. This game nearly broke me before I even got to the main menu. When starting this thing up, you're subjected to 4+ minutes of a sizzle reel containing about two dozen basic 3d animations cycled through in different combinations. This is accompanied by music that, to my non-musical ears, sounds like an electronica jam band lazily noodling around. This thing was the longest 4-5 minutes of my life. I felt like I was losing my mind after seeing the same bendy guitar and keyboard player animations for the fourth time. It's like you took a bunch of 90's bowling alley animations and stitched them together in the dullest music video imaginable.

That guitar doesn't even work like a bazooka, it's a machine gun
That guitar doesn't even work like a bazooka, it's a machine gun

It seems that the main gimmick with this thing is the music. It's supposed to be some kind of genre bending combination of house music, funk, and guitar riffs. This is largely a failure, with only a couple of later songs on the soundtrack being any good. This gimmick is supposed to be reinforced by the premise of playing as the guitarist front man of some band who has to get his favorite guitar back from the devil and escape hell. I had to look that up, there is no storytelling of any kind in this game. No set-up, no writing, no named characters, just what was apparently written in the manual, like it's 1989 or some shit. I'm assuming that you play as the titular Mr. Bazookatone, but who knows. The only thing I got out of this game is that the first level is called "Sin Sin Penitentiary", which in practice is just a generic graveyard level. I'm not going to unpack all of that, or even touch it with a ten-foot pole.

The actual game part of this is a painfully uninteresting 2D Action Platformer. You walk to the right, pick-up Bubsy amounts of the one collectible, shoot enemies, and wrestle with the controls. Everything about the movement feels off, which is exacerbated by what seems like the movement tech that you're supposed to use. If you jump and point your gun down, you can slow your descent. This feels terrible in practice, but it's probably the key to some of the weird platforming issues. Otherwise, the enemies are uninteresting, and the overall combat design feels incompetent.

STOP MAKING GRAVEYARD LEVELS. YES, YOU.
STOP MAKING GRAVEYARD LEVELS. YES, YOU.

Incompetent is probably the operative word to use here. From the opening movie to the details of the level design to the Tex Avery-esque copy-pasted art assets in the levels, this whole thing feels slapdash and barely put together. The whole package doesn't feel low-budget as much as it feels no-budget. If you told me that this was a student project from 2009, I would call it a promising but flawed first try. If this was a mid-aughts flash game, I would be impressed that a teenager was able to get 3D models working that well, but otherwise it would be lackluster. As an actual product, it's a disaster in any time period.

None of this should have been surprising, I saw the studio/publisher combo before starting the game. Yet, I hoped that Arc Developments would have at least made a little good on what looks like a passion project. Unfortunately, playing this game after World Series Golf in such a short span of time is like taking two to the back of the head. None of the games they made after this came out on consoles in North America, which is something to be thankful for, but these last two games were multi-platform. We're not going to be rid of 'ol John Bazooks anytime soon.

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Krazy Ivan

Release Date: 2/15/1996

Developer: Psygnosis

Publisher: Psygnosis

Time to Dead In The Desert: 31 Minutes

Maybe I wasn't in the right state of mind for Krazy Ivan, or maybe there is no right state of mind for this game. What we have here is a mech-based FPS with FMV cutscenes. So, like Ghen War but worse.

Starting with that FMV, I think this is finally the game that broke me. I don't like bad FMV anymore. There are plenty of games with atrocious acting and casual racism, but for some reason this is the straw that broke the camel's back. *sigh* Anyway, the premise is that in the near future there's an alien invasion and humanity's only hope is a violent psycho driving a junky looking post-soviet mech. Most of the characters are supposed to be Russian, and the writing makes the most of outdated Soviet stereotypes. Even if we weren't currently in a moment that isn't amenable to heroic Russian characters in fiction, this would still be bad due to the lazy writing and abysmal acting. I'm not even going to touch the intro for the Saudi Arabia level.

*Slaps game box* You can fit so much racism in this bad boy
*Slaps game box* You can fit so much racism in this bad boy

So, let's ignore and repress all memories of that crap. The game itself is broken out into six open zones that all feature the same kind of level design and are identically structured. A summary of that structure: you are dropped into the middle of a map, there are three points of interest in different parts of the map which each contains a boss fight, after completing those three points of interest there is a fourth boss that is just a static shield generator. Each boss has a name and some kind of gimmick, but not with that much differentiation. The levels themselves are like low-poly versions of the uncharted planets from Mass Effect. Your mech has the standard infinite ammo pea shooter, with limited ammo lasers, rockets, and other weapons that can be unlocked and equipped. The guns have a highly restrictive cooldown meter on them that will be important later on. An odd point is that there is a very short time limit that counts down when you aren't in a boss arena, though the only thing to do in the open zones is shoot random MoBs for power-ups.

The actual combat is decidedly mediocre. The solution to all of life's problems is to circle strafe the bad guy, and this game does nothing to disabuse that philosophy. You strafe every boss while shooting them and try not to get shot. The attack patterns become larger and boss health increases between levels, but otherwise it’s the same tactic every time. I only ran into problems because a boss in the second level had a hitbox too small for my missiles and the main gun wasn't doing any damage to it. There's only one life per level and dying causes a game over and credits before spitting you to the load screen. You can save progress between levels, which is an improvement over other games we've seen, but that's saying very little. The lack of interest in the combat combined with the amount of time needed to get back to the point you died chills any desire to play this thing.

This is less interesting than it looks
This is less interesting than it looks

There are also a few weird quibbles with the movement. Even though the mech moves faster than any other mech game so far, you're weirdly constrained by the hilly terrain which you can't readily navigate. There's no jumping and you can't Skyrim or Mako your way up hills. Yet, the bosses and MoBs can easily go up and down the terrain, which feels like it's either unfair or an oversight. The worst thing, though, is that the strafe is semi-automatic. Some explanation, strafing is done using the L1/R1 buttons, which is fair enough, but each press of the button only leads to a single step. Holding down the button doesn't automatically lead to any additional steps. This means that you need to jam on the shoulder buttons while feathering the d-pad to maintain aim and managing the fire button, because cooldown, in order to successfully circle strafe an enemy. This initially has the effect of trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time, and after a while can cause ergonomic issues. It's all around a sub-par experience.

Oh right, there's a decent upgrade system
Oh right, there's a decent upgrade system

Another reason to not have any motivation with the gameplay is that completing a level rewards the player with terrible cutscenes, which is more of a punishment than anything else. God, I don't like thinking about this game. Psygnosis is burning me out, so let's all pretend that this thing never happened. I'm going to go lay down now.

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When I started this blog series, I really did not expect to get turned so completely against British game development, yet here we are. A few weeks without a US Gold or Psygnosis game should do me good. Hold on, did that cursed monkey paw just curl a finger? Anyway, let's check in with the Ranking of All PS1 Games:

1. Air Combat

18. Street Fighter Alpha: Warrior's Dream

36. College Slam

46. Krazy Ivan

59. Johnny Bazookatone

62. World Cup Golf: Professional Edition

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On Friday, we will begin our journey in earnest through the 3DO catalog with Battle Chess, Crime Patrol, Dragon's Lair, and Escape From Monster Manor. Surely these are functional and non-problematic games.

Then next week we're going to continue with the PS1 and our death march to Spring 1996 with Striker '96, Alien Trilogy, Psychic Detective, and Brain Dead 13.

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