Friday, 15 August 2014

Neutopia (TurboGrafx-16)

Neutopia turbografx pc engine title screen
"Neutopia" is the twentieth episode of the sixth season of the animated sitcom Futurama, and the premiere of Season 6-B. It is the twentieth episode of the sixth season in production order, and the 108th episode in broadcast order.

Actually ignore that, because the Neutopia I'm looking at here is a TurboGrafx game from Hudson Soft. I figured that my site could do with a few more of these around, especially after that run of modern 3D PC shooters I just played. The game's been described as 'a bit of a Zelda clone', so if this ends up being about stylish gunplay and gritty realism again then you can't blame me this time.

Speaking of Zelda clones, the way the logo has been skewered on a sword sure seems familiar. Though Nintendo didn't really start piercing its Zelda logos until Link to the Past two years later, so I'll let them off with that.

Here's one difference from Zelda right away: the game begins with an actual cutscene showing this fiery shadow gentleman landing in a bolt of lightning, popping into this museum, and then coming out with a woman under his arm to zap back into the sky again.

The camera remains locked in place until morning comes, the sun rises, and a hero eventually turns up and steps inside the temple. And not one of these people noticed that the statues outside are wearing bras on their heads.

One thing I've learned from three years of writing about video games is that 'Princess' is the Japanese word for 'kidnap victim'.

The temple guardian goes on to explain that the evil demon Dirth has hidden the medallions in eight separate labyrinths and I need to get them all back because they contain the power of wisdom. You could say that this has certain similarities to how Princess Zelda was kidnapped and the eight pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom were scattered in Legend of Zelda, but there's actually a pretty big difference: it was Princess Zelda herself who hid the Triforce, while these guys apparently had no idea what was coming and no plan at all.

Wait... how does she even know what Dirth did with their medallions? She hasn't left this building all night. All she says is "we have news," so I guess she got a message somehow from her network of spies. Either that or it was all over twitter.

The love of the Princess? You're assuming a bit aren't you? Sure I may be Jazeta, the most dashing, heroic and competent mercenary in all the lands, but let's not take that as a given. He's my counter proposal: money will be my reward.

Yeah, well, as a young and dumb man I have the power of flight AND x-ray vision. But sure, healing sounds good. In fact I'd mark this place on my map for later if I actually had one.

Right, I'm playing as an adventurous warrior carrying a shield, and I have to navigate an overworld made from stationary interconnected screens viewed from above. I suppose there's some superficial similarities to the original Zelda, but there's one important difference: I started off already armed with a sword, so I don't have to visit an old man at the start to pick one up. Nope, I have to visit the old man to pick up my SAVE GAME OPTION.

Also he lives in a bunker instead of a cave, so that's different too.

The man told me to head west, so I did and ended up running into his identical twin on the next screen (this one does live in a cave though). Here our hero Jazeta obtained the medicine of vitality (a health potion) and the boom bombs (bombs).

I love this classic JRPG style interior design: two cupboards with flowers on and a free-standing fireplace, and that's it; those are the only things the man owns besides the clothes on his back. Well they are now anyway, but to be honest I think his neighbours are going to sleep safer since I confiscated his high explosives.

Neutopia 2 (TurboGrafx-16)
The guy also shows up in the sequel and immediately wrecks the fourth wall. He's got the same stuff in the same two chests, but he's upgraded his furniture in the meantime at least. Well he's gotten himself a rug and some VHS tapes anyway.

SEVERAL SCREENS OF WANDERING LATER.


I had planned to go west like the guy said, I really did, but somehow I ended over on the eastern side of the overworld instead. It's not my fault, it's not like I have a map!

On the plus side, I got to meet some other folks along the way with useful advice. Like... that I can push rocks sometimes to open up secret passages. So now I'm going to have to push every rock I see on every screen everywhere.

I got a flame throwing wand out of it! You could say this is a lot like Zelda's boomerang weapon, with how the fireballs return to me, but the way it comes out of his foot reminds me more of Soccer Kid's football.

The wand takes longer to kill enemies than the sword though, and gets even weaker as I run out of health, but with the extra range it gives me I'm just going to put up with it. It can be a bit tricky to hit enemies either way as I can't move diagonally at all and they can. Also I need to aim at their sprites' position on screen, not at their shadows.

On the plus side, both my weapons have knockback so I'm at least able to shove enemies out of my personal space. It's a smart piece of game design... that the developers borrowed from Zelda.

Crap, I just did a shameful job of dodging these guys and their arrows after they ambushed me on the way back out of an NPC cave. It's my own fault I guess for not killing them all before I went in. They would've actually stayed dead (for a bit).

I was pretty wounded already by this point though, as enemies really don't like dropping health. They can do it, I've seen it happen (the health pickup looks like cherries), it's just incredibly rare. Plus pickups don't stick around on screen for long. If a dead enemy drops a shiny silver coin on the floor I've got to decide if the 10 gold it gives me is worth running into the fray to grab.

Hey, turns out some of these trees are actually flammable fakes! I received a tip-off from one of my informants earlier that I could use the wand to discover secret staircases and their intel has paid off. Shame that this means that I'll have to start shooting at every tree on every screen after I'm done pushing every rock.

You know, these octopus monsters popping out of the water and shooting bullets at me really remind me of something and I can't quite put my finger on it.

The Legend of Zelda (NES)
Oh yeah, the sea monsters were all over the place in Zelda too. They were just as annoying there as well.

The secret passage led to a helpful healer, so now I've got another place I can return to if I get into trouble again. Assuming I can remember where she lives (and what tree she's under).


SOME BLIND WANDERING LATER.


Awesome, this must be one of those labyrinths I've heard so much about. Well I've got my wand and I've got my bombs, so I don't see why I shouldn't go inside and have a look around.

Well that's awesome, first the game conditions me to push every block I see, and then it goes and hids spring loaded spikes inside one of them. I needed that health you bastard game! It's not like I can get a refill while I'm in here! Not without drinking my precious health potion anyway, and I'm saving that. It'd cost every penny I own to buy a second one so I'd rather just respawn back at the last save NPC and hike back.

Seems that the next door along is locked shut, though I somehow I doubt I'll be needing a key.

Alright I've killed all the enemies and... the door is still shut. Do I have to push a block or something? The last block I got too close to took off two chunks of my health, so I'm not sure I want to. Aww fuck it, I might as well; I'm not likely to last much longer down here at half health anyway.

And the block is... safe. Hey it actually was the switch to open the door!

Right, got it chief.

Okay this locked door trick's getting old now. I know I have to push the block this time, but it won't let me until all the enemies are dead. Poor little cow skeletons, all they wanted to do was stomp around for all eternity and slay trespassers, and now I have to destroy them all.

Seriously, they're doing the locked door thing AGAIN?

Wait, there's no door in here and I couldn't push those blocks even I wanted to. Is this just a dead end? Have I broken into the snake storage room (formally the explosives storage room judging by what I keep fishing out of their guts)?

The dungeon map is inconclusive. It only shows me where I've been, not where I can go, and my magic 'go this way to find the next medallion' compass is pointing back the way I came. I'm sure that thing was pointing to the west though a few screens back.

Oh, check out all my awesome items I've picked up along the way: I've got a ring that makes enemies on screen get weaker (one use only), a set of wings that take me back to the last save NPC I met, living in some distant bunker across the overworld, and... well I've got that save book I picked up that lets me save at all. Unlimited use thankfully.

You wouldn't believe how many wings enemies drop by the way. I'm sure I managed to get three on screen at once at one point. It's like the enemies are scheming to warp in and invade my save point or something. Those assholes should be carrying more cherries.

Well I guess I'm backtracking then.


A FEW ROOMS LATER.


Our hero Jazeta has obtained a crystal ball!

I took the top door in that room I was in earlier and found the thing just lying in a chest, and with it the mysteries of the crypt have been laid bare! Well, it's added most of the rooms to my map anyway, though some secret rooms will still be hidden. An NPC told me that earlier, they're helpful like that.

And then I got our hero Jazeta's dumb ass killed a couple of rooms away while trying to attack and dodge enemies, and not doing either very well. I keep instinctively trying to step diagonally, which then sends me off in a direction I'm not expecting. I was so close to some more treasure as well!

Fortunately I get to keep my crystal ball and other items, so I won't have to grab that again. Less fortunately the game took away half my money and dumped me back outside in the middle of nowhere.


SIX MINUTES LATER.



Our hero Jazeta has obtained the key to the crypt.


EVEN LATER STILL.


Our hero Jazeta has obtained the bronze sword! Sometimes bronze swords can be blue, okay? Like... if you've got your screen's colour inverted perhaps. Or maybe the previous owner just painted the thing (at some point before abandoning it inside a chest in the middle of a crypt.)

Okay, that's it, I'm all out of rooms now. Well, except for the three along the left hand side of the map but I can't figure out how to get over there. I do still have a pocket full of bombs, but I haven't seen a single cracked wall to use them on.

Wow, so the game isn't doing the cracked wall thing then? I just have to use explosives on every wall that looks suspicious from now on I guess (ie. it doesn't have a door on it or border a room I've been to already). Well this explains why the snakes in here were all dropping bombs (I'll have to remember to come back here next time I'm running low on explosives).

Uh... is that a golem with the Star of David on its chest? A bit out of place in the fantasy kingdom of Neutopia isn't it?

Alright then boss #1 (or maybe #2, the game's a bit non-linear), let's see how long you last against a half-power wand of fire!

Uh? Well I can't say I expected that.

I didn't make him explode, that's actually how he attacks me. It seems pretty obvious that I have to smack around the shiny red core while it's unshielded (before he pulls himself back together again).

Whoa, that happened so fast I'm not even sure what got me.

Now I've been teleported back to an NPC's basement out in the overworld somewhere. So I'll have to hike all the way back to the crypt, go through all those rooms and push all those blocks again. But I can't push the blocks until I've killed all those enemies again. And this time I have to do it without making mistakes and losing any health.

At least the game let me keep my swag, so I won't have to get the key or sword again along the way.


TIME PASSES.



The Legend of Zelda (NES)
I FINALLY DID IT! The medallion piece is now mine, and along with it a bonus hit point! Also wisdom maybe, I dunno.

It took five more runs in the end, smacking that guy around for a full minute or so each time before getting kicked back out, but I persevered and eventually managed it. The annoying part was... well it was having to walk all the way back each time, but the other annoying part was that I actually had the guy figured out after the second fight! The plan was simple: keep him in the top half of the screen by smacking his exposed core upwards, thus preventing him from pinning me into a corner. He kept ruining it though by getting around to the side of me, and then I was inevitably screwed.

I think an epic victory is as good an excuse as any to save/get a password, especially as I was just teleported back to the save temple automatically.

Just look at that glorious array of characters up there. All the letters, all the numbers, upper and lower case! 1s, ls and Is together in harmony, Os, os and 0s. I'm sure I even saw a $ in there once. Fortunately I can just shove my password into the file cabinet instead and let the game worry about it.


SOME TIME LATER.


I fought my way through another crypt on the other side of the overworld, and now I'm definitely starting to get the feeling that this guy is supposed to be boss #1 and I accidentally fought them out of order. My first clue was how I've been absolutely destroying him with the fire wand I found over by the second dungeon. I won't even need that extra hit point at this rate.

Still gonna take a while though it seems.

Alright, collecting those two chaos emeralds from the bosses means that I've completed 22% of the game and have unlocked the staircase leading down to the Subterranean Sphere. Uh, medallions, whatever.

Well I could hang around up here for a bit longer, finding the rest of the hidden NPCs and gaining the benefit of their advice and their items, but screw that. I've got my new bronze Mega Man pants on and I'm going exploring. I'll try to get another 11% done before I turn the game off I think, get a third of it finished.


SOON, ON THE SUBTERRANEAN SPHERE.


Seems like they've stepped up the difficulty a little down here on the second map. There's rivers of lava, pig monsters firing arrows at me from all directions, demon fireballs leaping up and spitting flame out at me... it's almost getting as difficult as the easiest part of Zelda.

Speaking of Zelda (and I'm sure this won't be the last time I do that), it only just occurred to me here that my shield may not be entirely decorative, and yep it turns out that like Link I can block arrows as long as I'm facing them and not pressing any attack buttons. I suppose I should experiment and discover which types of projectiles I can deflect with the shield, but I'll save that until after I find a healer down here. I really don't really feel like hiking all the way back to the stairs again when I'm injured.

Here's another fascinating thing I've discovered underground: these guys are everywhere, disguised as rocks, lying in wait to pounce on any unsuspecting adventurers with a habit of pushing every stone they see in case it opens something. The one on the left is a real rock, while the one on the right is the monster. Or maybe it's the other way around. Either way I'll need to be more cautious from now on.


THREE AND A HALF HIT POINTS WORTH OF FAILURE LATER.


Okay, so I should be looking out for some stalactites so I can chat with the man with access to a jar of moss. I feel like I should be writing these messages down, because my brain is actively trying to push this info right back out of my head.

Stalactites, stalactites, stalactites. Remember stalactites.


LATER, AT LABYRINTH #3.


You know, I'm suddenly starting to get an idea of what I'll need moonbeam moss for. Weirdly for a community that mostly lives in caves and basements, the people on this world invented the fire wand before the lamp. No I can't just use the fire wand to light the place up, that'd make too much sense.

I tried stumbling through the dark as best I could, but it was hard to dodge ghosts when I couldn't see the walls I was running into. Still, I got a free trip back to the last save point and a free health refill. Well almost full (my two extra hit points remain unfilled).


MUCH LATER.


I had to check a walkthrough to find the moss man in the end, which I'm not all that proud of.

It turns out that these crystals are basically just trees in disguise, so I can burn some of them with my fire wand to find secret stairwells. That probably should've occurred to me earlier, seeing as they have the same kind of placement as the trees, but I guess I was expecting to find a new crystal shattering wand or something.

Oh sorry, I keep calling them crystals; they're actually stalactites. They're shiny fantasy stalactites that grow up from the floor like stalagmites instead of down from the ceiling. You can see how I got a bit confused though.


LATER, BACK AT LABYRINTH #3.


With the jar of moss in hand I can illuminate the third labyrinth and see that... it's filled with same kinds of rooms as before. I have to kill all the monsters, then push the block to open the door. Though this time it's more difficult as there's more blocks around to push, and only one of them is the right one! Seems like I know exactly what to expect from this place now.

...or maybe not.

These creatures aren't all that dangerous on their own, and none of the enemies so far have shown any kind of interest in deliberately chasing me, but every time I kill one of them another one pops out of the pipe to replace them. This is a cruel challenge to put in front of a hero who can only travel by zigzagging.

They could've at least made them drop cherries, so I could get some health back before taking on the boss. The last thing I want to do is stumble into a boss fight at half health.


SOON.


Oh... crap. Well this is going to take a while.


TIME PASSES.


Okay I don't want to be one of those kinds of people who get angry and rants about video games, but after having to fight these guys over and over again I am honestly kind of frustrated right now. No, not frustrated, I am fucking livid. I feel like reaching around this game's neck and choking the life out of it.

What sort of inhuman bastard of a game developer makes a player walk across the level to get back to the dungeon entrance and then fight through half a dozen rooms every bloody time they lose the boss fight at the end, and doesn't even give them their full health back first? I can't even get health back in the dungeon besides the occasional 1 hit point cherry or secret potion hidden behind a destroyable wall, and I used up all my potions the first time through!

NINE TRIES it took me to kill these two in the end, which... is actually fine with me. I'm not happy about it, but I realise that I suck at boss fights and I can't blame the game for that. But for every minute I spent fighting the gargoyles, I had to spend three more getting back up to them. (My winning trick was to keep knocking them back to keep them both on the same side and then use the shield to block their sword projectiles by the way).

I'm mostly just angry at myself though, for being too stubborn to turn the game off and walk away. I mean what was I expecting to get from finishing the fight anyway, besides an extra hit point? Was I after some kind of satisfaction, because I can tell you I don't feel very satisfied right now. Good gameplay is what brings me happiness, not tedious repetition.

Beating the boss got me more health, and more health means a better fire wand! Well, it's slower anyway. It'd be cool if the flames hit everything in their path, but nope they just stop at the first thing they touch (even if it's a pickup).

Well I've gotten this far, maybe I should keep playing until I've completed the final subterranean labyrinth and opened up the next staircase, see if anything changes on the next sphere.


LATER, IN LABYRINTH #4.


Touch plate triggered traps huh? Well that's new. Hey, I've found something new, now I don't even have to continue to the next overworld anymore! My curiosity has been satisfied, so I'm turning this off.


CONCLUSION

Well it's Zelda isn't it? Or at least it does a fair impression of Legend of Zelda, for the benefit of TurboGrafx owners without a NES.

It seems to be a bit more accessible than Legend of Zelda though; you get more direction and more hints than I remember the Nintendo game giving out, with helpful NPCs hiding in bunkers under every rock. Set fire to a tree, there's an NPC in there, push a rock, there's an NPC in there. I even trying using bombs on the ancient designs carved into the cliffs, only to find NPCs hiding behind them too! I can definitely believe that this is a community of people absolutely terrified of a powerful demon, as you'd have to be pretty desperate to think that permanently sealing yourself inside a cave is a smart move.

But the game didn't really endear itself to me to be honest. I mean it's pretty competently put together, and Hudson Soft had the sense to borrow player-friendly features like the saves, the infinite continues and the few seconds of invincibility you get when you take damage. I'm not sure I'd call this a bad game, but I found that going NPC hunting was dull, especially without an overworld automap, and the awkward combat got old when the dungeons repeatedly forced me to slay rooms full of enemies to move on. Oh plus obviously the story is worthless, not that it matters much.

I was chatting about the game with occasional Super Adventures guest writer mecha-neko, and he didn't get why I disliked it so much as it looked cool from what he'd seen of of it. So he decided to play the game himself, and found he was able to effortlessly fly right through every dungeon I'd struggled with on his very first try, like he had wings made of smug. He had a much happier time with the game in general actually... right up to the point where he lost against a boss and found himself with no potions, no bombs and no gold to buy more. A few failures later and he told me "I've had it playing by its rules. Its rules are bad".

The game gets less fun the more you mess up, with your resources quickly disappearing, enemies taking longer to kill as you lose health, and boss fights dragging on forever. Soon you have to start grinding enemies to make back the cash needed to buy potions. Healers are free at least, but they're all hiding from you and rarely live conveniently close to a dungeon. Plus I'm not convinced that the collision detection always plays fair.

In conclusion, I wouldn't recommend the game. But I wouldn't want to talk you out of trying it either, especially if you're a fan of repetitive gameplay and harsh punishments who hates walking diagonally.


You have now been blessed with my opinions about Neutopia! But you're welcome to share your own thoughts about the game or my website in the box below. Go on, you might as well.

6 comments:

  1. I thought the things on the sequel guy's table were NES consoles, not VHS tapes.

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    1. Yeah, I just checked again and they do actually look like a row of NES consoles.

      Wow, what an asshole that old guy is then. He's got so many of the same console that he leaves them lined up on a table in the corner, yet when the only teenager in the village comes in to say hi, he offers him high explosives and medical supplies! "Here you go kid, take these four bombs and go play outside. Heh heh aren't video games great?"

      The man doesn't even own a TV!

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  2. You'll never finish the next game. Ho ho.

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  3. Thanks again for all of the reviews!

    While your point about dying at a boss and then starting outside being a pain is valid, I believe that it was prretty much par for the course back in the day. I recently played all of the way through this game and really enjoyed it, although I do understand those who are more used to most newer games' allowing saves in more locations.

    I do have a "P" game to recommend to you if you have space - Pyramid Plunder for the TurboGrafx-16 CD. It's a fully released game for the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 CD which was released just last year. If you're willing to review it, but you don't have access to a copy of it, then let me know and I'll work out getting a copy to you.

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    Replies
    1. I've got more than a full set of 'p' games for this year I'm afraid, it seems like a popular letter.

      I love that people are still making games for the PC Engine, but I'll probably won't be playing Pyramid Plunder myself as it looks a little bit too... Pac-Man; I'd have nothing to say and likely very little to show beyond what's already on the game's site.

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