Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Apidya (Amiga)

Amiga Apidya title screen
Today's game is 1992's Amiga exclusive Apidya, requested less than a month ago which is way better than I usually manage.

Man, look at that title screen, you can tell with a glance what country this game came from. A glimpse at the Kaiko logo anyway. Kaiko were actually a German company who tried to bring the Japanese console game experience to western computers, even down to including katakana on the logo and anime art on the box cover. Though the fact that アビヂャ actually says 'abidya' would be a bit of a giveaway to anyone who can read the language. They even threw a II on there for the hell of it, even though this is the first and only game in the series.

Speaking of the title, Apidya is based on the word 'Apidae' which is the family that the honey bee belongs to; just in case you were curious.

I've thought about showing off Apidya on the site before as it's got some interesting art, but then I'd remember that I'm terrible at the game and all I'd be able to show was the first half of stage one. But it's been requested now, so I figure that I should probably get it over with.

Hey, it has an intro!

At some point in time, somewhere in the world, something was happening. The intro text doesn't feel ready to commit to anything specific just yet though.

The Evil Lord of Black Magic has a cunning plan though, requiring a glowing ball of insects which he's somehow managed to summon outside of the frame.

Oh no, not peace-lovin' Yuri and Ikuro!

I totally cheated on this image by the way, pasting the text from another part of the intro and cutting out Lord Hexaae's swarm of a thousand mutated insects (they looked like a white circle flying into the door).

So let me take a second to review this plan: the Dark Lord of Black Magic has decided to kill Yuri (whoever she is) in her sleep with a thousand insect stings? Man, that's just mean.

Well we've had red hair and green hair, so does that mean...

Yep, our hero Ikuro has flowing blue locks.

The guy really loves his Yuri I guess.

That's an... interesting camera angle they've gone with there. Not very anime at all. In fact I'd go as far as saying it looks more like it's from a German Amiga game than a Japanese console game.

I'll get you dark wizard, if it's the last thing I do!! I should mention that I cheated a bit again to make this animation loop.

And I cheated a whole lot on this one, basically scrapping the original animation entirely and building a new one out of the frames (because I try to avoid fast flickering images on the site if I can help it.)

What you're seeing here is Ikuro transforming into a bee. A five foot long bee as well, despite him being a regular sized bee in game. The only way to fight a thousand mutated insects is by shapeshifting into an insect you see.

I love it when a developer goes the extra mile and puts some real effort into the presentation of their options screen. Shame that didn't happen here.

There's plenty of scope for tweaking the game though, including support for two-button joysticks. It even supports Mega Drive/Genesis gamepads somehow, which is a feature I don't remember ever seeing in an Amiga game before.

Though on the other hand, it also gives the player four difficulty modes but only lets you finish the game on the hardest two. Of course it goes out of its way to tell you this... in the manual. What's so bad about letting less-skilled players eventually reach the ending in a game they bought anyway? It's not like they can take it back to the shop if they can't complete it.

Also, it's nice that they've added an option to save the settings to disk, but it'd would've been cool if they'd used this high-tech data storage functionality to save game progress as well. Just a level select would've been awesome.

You know, loading times ain't so bad when there's a Chris Hülsbeck loading theme playing during the wait; they should get him to do elevator music. Speaking of music, this first level has awesome music behind it... by famed Turrican composer Chris Hülsbeck in fact! There you go, have some youtube links to listen to while you read.

Okay this is all coming back to me now. It's using a Gradius-style power-up system, so I have to make sure that I shoot down entire waves of enemies with my bee-bullets to get a red power-up flower to drop.

There's a (weirdly high-res) bar of upgrades along the bottom of the screen and every flower I grab pushes the selection across to the next upgrade. Then I just hit space/press button 2/waggle the joystick to claim my upgrade and the bar's put back to square 0 again.

Though I can't quite remember what the weapon upgrades actually do yet, so I'm not sure which to get.

Well this upgrade gave me fizzly green shots, which seems like something worth having.

Speaking of shots, you can't really tell from still images but the enemy bullets are pretty well done in this. They flash from dark blue to bright yellow, making them stand out clearly in front of any background. Which is more than I can say about some of these enemies.

Speaking of backgrounds, there's no parallax scrolling in this at all. These plants might as well have been painted onto a wall for all the sense of depth I'm getting.

Oh crap, that was fast. At least now I know I've confirmed that I don't have hit points or a life bar in this. One shot and the bee is gone.

I wonder what got me anyway. I think it must have been a stray shot from that wave of cannon fodder enemies I just wiped out. You can almost see one of the creatures on the bottom right if you look closely.

I can now reveal that the game has mid-level checkpoints. Also giant mushrooms that fire out tiny mushrooms at me. Plus I've lost my green fizzle shot!

I'm not sure I get the 'you failed the challenge when armed with good weapons, so let's take them away and give you a second try with just your starting gun' philosophy in shoot 'em ups. Though I suspect the answer is probably 'arcades'. Apidya belongs to one of the oldest genres, a descendent of generations of games designed to kick the player back to an 'insert cash to continue' screen at every opportunity. Even though there's no coin slot on a stock Amiga, developers still wanted to replicate that authentic arcade experience, which meant following all the rules: lives, continues, high scores, and bastard hard difficulty.

Oh crap, what killed my bee this time?

Looking at my screenshots I seem to have been hit by one of the bullets this creature's spraying out, though I'm not sure how I could've missed that coming at me. Fair enough though, if I made the mistake then I deserve what I get.

By the way, this guy is the end of level one boss, for real. I shouldn't mock a creature that just successfully kicked my ass, but... look at him, he's so tiny!

What the fuck, the game has put me all the way back at the mushroom again? This was half a level ago! Granted it's not a particularly huge level, but I don't much want to replay it every time I fail the boss fight.

Well it's certainly nice to be flying back through the second half of stage one again (not really). I should be flying up and shooting those little flies to grab a power-up flower or two, but I'm scared they're going to start shooting me right when I'm too close to dodge out of the way. Enemies in this don't share my compulsion to only fire forwards and tend to shoot off bullets in any direction they feel like.

Even that fireball throwing beetle down there has a bigger firing arc than you'd expect, nearly catching me in the back last time... after he was off screen.

Holy shit, what? Where did that grasshopper come from?

Wow, he was sitting there in the last screenshot all along. With all the bullets and enemies around I've started to focus on what's moving rather than what's on screen, so this totally blindsided me.


THREE LIVES LATER.


And the grasshopper strikes again. In my defence I've got flies all over the top of the screen, a fire breathing beetle firing diagonally from the ground, wasps that take a ton of bullet to kill, AND a camouflaged grasshopper leaping up at me just when it's least convenient. I'm not saying it's unfair, it's just a bit much for stage one. I still haven't had a chance to try out all the upgrades yet!

Do I want to continue? Well let me see, I'm halfway through stage 1 so... sorry, but I think I'm going to have to go with 'no'.


SOON, ON MY SECOND ATTEMPT.


Hey I've learned/remembered a new trick! Hold down the fire button for a few seconds charges up this giant stinger missile, which flies across the screen killing pretty everything it touches in one hit. Even butterflies.

I've been using it to kill those bullet spitting beetles burrowing out the soil below as well, but it's risky as my shapeshifting bee can't handle the ground at all. It doesn't know whether to land and walk, or crash into it head-first, so it suffers a total existence failure instead and explodes. I did a bit of research and apparently this isn't normal for bees.
 
Okay here I am again, armed and far more dangerous this time around. Let's see if he can handle my super-stinger attacks! Even acknowledging them would be cool. Just a little flicker, so that I know it's working. Man I wish that bosses had a visible health bar right about now.

FINE then, I'll do this the old fashioned way. Actually I won't, because that beetle hiding behind me just shot me in the ass... I think. There's a lot of bullets around okay?

I think I need a break. I guess this would be a good time to take a look at Apidya's rivals at the time, to give it some context.

MEANWHILE, IN 1992:

Agony (Amiga)
I showed off Apidya way back in my Agony article two years ago, so it only seems fair to give it a mention in return.

After a few minutes of playing Apidya stage 1-1, the first stages of this feel ridiculous easy. Enemies are slow and it doesn't throw nearly as many bullets across the screen. Apidya's far from bullet hell, but it keeps you moving. On the other hand Apidya may like to hide enemies in the background, but Agony is the undisputed master of it, to the point where it's difficult to take a good screenshot with enemies visible on it.

Though what you can see often looks fantastic, with artist Franck Sauer even turning loading screens into an art gallery. As far as shapeshifting shoot 'em up protagonists go, his Alestes the Owl has a far more impressive sprite than Ikuro the Bee and if he ever gets killed he has the sense to just reappear on the spot.

Project X (Amiga)
I didn't want to just repeat the same few games as in my Agony article, but then I saw Project X's spacestation looking at me and I couldn't say no to it.

Project X shares Apidya's power-up system, though it uses words (and voices) to tell me exactly what I'm getting, which is nice. The game has distinct encounters (a few waves of enemies, an asteroid field, a mini boss, another wave of enemies etc.), which makes Apidya's 'throw everything out at once' style more obvious in comparison. It also has checkpoints all over the place (not that you'll last long after being thrown back into a difficult fight with half your power-ups sapped out of you).

R-Type II (Amiga)
Unlike those other two, R-Type II isn't an Amiga exclusive, so it's an example of the kind of arcade ports Apidya would've been compared to at the time. To be honest I can't make it past the first stage, so it's got a lot in common there, though that's mostly because the boss wiped me out before I even figured out his weakpoint (in the Amiga version anyway, I totally owned that guy in the arcade game). With the rest of the enemies I was able to dance through their slow motion bullets pretty effortlessly.

It's definitely not as slick as the arcade original, Amiga games never are, but it's 95% of the way to replicating the original game experience and that's what Apidya is following on from. Apidya feels to me like a game for people who've already completed something like this and are looking for more of a challenge, rather than something for more casual gamers to enjoy.


TIME PASSES.


Huh, I actually beat the level boss this time? But it only took a few shots! Maybe it's because I'd chosen the right weapon for the... wait, did a flying baby just climb out of his exploding corpse just now?

Whoa, a change of scenery at last!

This reminds me so much of Yo! Joe!'s flying bonus stages, except here I'm collecting cherubs while avoiding demons. I was hoping each one I caught might be an extra life, but nope; they're just for points.


STAGE 1-2.


Wow, so this is the second level huh? Same background, similar enemies... new music though: youtube link. Okay I admit it's pretty much the same as the last music.

This level's got a proper mid-boss for me to fight though, (unless it's really tiny and this is really the end of the stage). The guy is a pain in the ass because he fires out three projectiles with different arcs for me to dodge and I haven't exactly got much screen to work with here.

Crap, I just got caught out by the second fireball. Well I'm sure I'd get the hang of it with a bit of practice, but sadly that was my last life and I've had to use a continue. Now I've been thrown back to the start of the world. Not the the start of this level, I mean the entire world. Stage 1-1.


MUCH LATER.


Oh shit, I don't believe it... choosing to play on 'Practice' mode means I skip the rest of world 1 after killing the first boss, jumping straight from stage 1-1 to stage 2-1.

Not that I'm complaining, seeing as I can finally show off some different graphics now.

Crap, they're shooting at me from below while dropping rocks on my from the sky. This wouldn't be so bad, except that they've stolen the secret weapon I used to complete stage 1 without losing a life: the energy shield.

The shield costs seven flowers, which isn't easy to collect, but it means that I can survive a few hits without exploding and that massively increases my chances of making it through a level. Annoyingly it seems that it only lasts for a level though.

R-Type II fills half the screen with water like this for stage two as well, CONINCIDENCE??? Maybe not, but who cares as it's a nice effect. I'm not entirely sure why my bee can manoeuvre underwater as gracefully as an R-9C space fighter though.

Okay, I'm calling that death bullshit. Most of my other deaths so far have been fair, but there was no way I could've avoided that pincer or seen it coming. It shot out at me way too fast.

But then the game's not designed to be played through on reflexes alone, it's a memory test, you're supposed to practice the levels over and over. Though not on practice mode obviously, as that skips half of them.


A FEW CONTINUES LATER.

 
I've reached the stage 2-1 boss at last! This guy's not too threatening, as I'll likely be fine if I memorise his routine and then stay out of his path as he zigzags around the screen. Though the only way to memorise it is to survive a little longer each time, and each death means that I have to fight through half the stage to get back here.

Oops, I just accidentally hit those reset keys as fast as I could. Well, it can't be helped I guess.


CONCLUSION

Ideally I wouldn't want to judge a game until I've seen a few levels of it (and I wouldn't generally consider anything I'd written to be a proper review until I'd finished the game), so I'm not sure I have an opinion of Apidya worth sharing. I mean I only get to see the first 10% of it before I fail the skill check and it kicks me back to the start.

It doesn't feel like a badly made game and I'm sure most of my deaths were my own fault, but they came so fast and the punishment is so severe, that I got utterly demoralised in the first 30 seconds and then just started yelling abuse at it after that. If you're hit just a single time you lose half your power ups, half your progress in the level and one of your pitifully limited chances to keep playing. The thing does nothing but piss me off and that's not really what I'm after in a game.


Maybe you have opinions about Apidya, my article, my site, or other such things? Maybe you'd like to share them using the comment box below? Maybe you should!

3 comments:

  1. I never played Project X although I did play Project F, the not-so-hidden homage in Superfrog and that was quite easy. I'm not sure that has anything to do with the article, sorry.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe not, but it definitely should turn up as part of my Project X article if that ever happens. I need to scribble a note about that somewhere.

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  2. I'm not surprised the game supports a Megadrive pad, I used to play my Amiga games with an Amstrad GX4000 pad.

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