Welcome to the eighth installment of a semi-regular feature here at GameCritics.com—the Bargain Basement. It's as sure as death or taxes that anyone who takes up videogaming will find themselves rooting through a bargain bin at one point or another. For those that do, few things feel as satisfying as saving hard-earned cash and getting a gem of a game at the same time.
The titles covered below can usually be found online or in any shop that has a selection of used or discount games (usually for $20.00 or less!). Please keep in mind that because the games in this feature may be older and not on the latest hardware, it's assumed that the graphics aren't bleeding-edge. The final scores for each title are based on a rating that takes this into account, and does not penalize them for visual shortcomings. Gameplay is what we're talking about here.
Happy hunting, and more importantly...Happy Gaming!
Gekioh: Shooting King
Who says shooters are dead? Treasure has just blessed gamers with their outstanding Ikaruga, and there are more high-profile entries on the horizon like Konami's Gradius V and Irem's R-Type Final. While waiting for those big names, the fading PlayStation has recently had a number of low-priced shooters released that we can enjoy right now. One I'd like to highlight is Gekioh: Shooting King. An archetypical entry into the vertical shooting category, it manages to provide a very solid amount of gameplay by sticking closely to a long-established formula.
Like many before it, Gekioh features a lone spaceship (or two with a friend) against impossible odds. Shot, Missile and Lightning weapon types are available for your fighter in several increments of power. Also present are the requisite screen-clearing super-bombs and a rare icon that grants you a one-hit shield while powering your weapon up to full capacity at the same time. As far as bosses go, what shooter would be complete without a final encounter that makes you want to destroy not only your controller, but your game console, your television, and any friends that might be sitting nearby? When going down the vertical shooter genre's checklist of staples, Gekioh's got all bases covered.
This will be very familiar ground to those who were playing shooters during their heyday back in the 16-bit era, but for newer players Gekioh is a good place to get their feet wet. What sweetens the deal are a number of extra modes available from the start. For example, "Ancient" mode changes the graphics to resemble an old piece of celluloid film stock, complete with a case of the jitters and a hair stuck on the "projector's" lens. "Pocket" mode modifies both the appearance and play of the game to simulate what it would be like running on the Sony PocketStation's LCD screen. (The unit, similar to the Sega Dreamcast's VMU, was never released domestically.) Gekioh may be strictly by-the-numbers, but it gets everything right and provides a pleasant afternoon of mindless airborne destruction.
I thought that while I was on the subject with Gekioh, it wouldn't hurt to feature Sol Divide. A hard-to-describe shooter hybrid put out by the suddenly ubiquitous XS Games, its play can be roughly summed up as a horizontal shooter with some item management and melee combat mixed in. If arcade hits Forgotten Worlds and Magic Sword were squashed together and combined into one game with low-end production values, it might very well look something like Sol Divide.
Featuring three able-bodied characters to choose from, they can fly, fire projectiles and cast magic spells in addition to dishing out damage with hand-held weapons. The game displays a strong mythological fantasy motif, noticeable by its hordes of flying skeletons, hovering eyeballs, and levitating knights. The large boss encounters follow suit with a huge hydra and axe-wielding minotaur, among others. Sol Divide works well as a simple side-scrolling shooter, but what I found most intriguing was the magic structure.
Each character has a magic meter that slowly accumulates energy by attacking enemies. There are eleven spells that can be acquired, featuring various effects ranging from powerful flame attacks to calling up the grim reaper for some serious hurt. After becoming familiar with this system, the game becomes a balancing act between building up your power reserves and unleashing spells to get you out of sticky situations. It's also important to know when to use several weaker spells, or to drain your entire bar for one high-level incantation.
The game features a straightforward arcade mode for pick-up-and-play action, but also sports a slightly deeper quest mode. In this part of the game, magic usage is highly restricted and you can accumulate things like health-ups, keys and defensive items to be rationed out between levels. There's not a lot to it, but it's considerably more challenging than the arcade mode for those who like to squeeze every last drop of play from their purchases. Sol Divide has a few rough areas, but much like Gekioh, there is a certain pleasure to be had by running on reflexes for an hour or two.
InuYasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale
To round out the basement this month, I'm breaking away from shooters and recommending a new 2D fighter called InuYasha, based on anime/manga of the same name by prolific author Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku). The game features twelve characters (two initially selectable, ten hidden) and pits them against each other in a quest to obtain mystical crystal shards for one reason or another. I'm not at all familiar with the source material despite being a former Takahashi fan myself, but it's hard not to like characters such as the old man who attacks by dropping three-eyed cows from the sky, or the randy monk that delivers a soulful pat on the posterior. (Perhaps not very PC, but still quite amusing in its own way.)
InuYasha isn't the most technically complex fighter ever made, but the engine is enjoyable in an old-old-school fashion. Possessing approximately the same level of sophistication found in the Super NES's early fighters, players can pull off simple combos and special attacks with ease. There's also a surprising two-on-two tag feature similar to that found in Capcom's Versus series or Namco's Tekken Tag. Load times are unavoidable when switching off, but it's still nice to have the option. Other big plusses in the game's favor are the amusing story snippets between rounds as well as three different minigames appearing in the main mode. Much like the classic "destroy the car" encounter in the first Street Fighter II titles, players will find themselves assaulting large boulders, swatting poisonous bees and putting out magical fires within a time limit.
The animation is fairly well done and there are a good number of extras such as the generous art gallery, happy music test, and the ability to change the Japanese voice samples. InuYasha is quite pleasing despite the PlayStation's aged hardware, and contains many touches that enhance the total package. I get the feeling that the developers put a lot more heart into creating the disc than they had to. InuYasha may not be able to compete with the big boys of the fighting genre, but fans of quirky anime games or those looking for a budget fighter won't be disappointed.