23/11/2010

DEVILISH / BAD OMEN

What with me talking about the likes of Monster Maulers, Money Idol Exchanger and Growl recently, VGJUNK was starting to look like some fluffy magical gumdrop world where everything is made of twinkling roses and powdered kittens, a strange place where I ended up rather enjoying all the games I played. Well, you can forget all that today, as it's off to the Megadrive where I'll be playing Aisystem Tokyo's ball-busting assault on the laws of physics, Devilish.

Although, I played the Japanese version, which is called Bad Omen, which is what I'll be calling it from now on. It's contradiction time already, because although I've already said Bad Omen is rubbish, (and it is,) it does have some good things goin' on. The first of these is the plot, which may be the greatest plot to any videogame ever. The plot is that a demon, whose name is a symbol à la Prince, sees a happy prince and a happy princess and becomes terribly jealous. The demon decides to destroy their happiness; but how? Raise a demonic army to enslave them and their people? Fry them with his evil fire-breath? No, he chooses an altogether... different approach.

That's right. He turns them into two stone paddles. As revenges go, it's hardly up there with your Titus Andronicus-style cannibalism revenge; hell, it's not much better than clingfilm over the toilet bowl. I have come up with three possible explanations for this strange plot:
1) The demon only knew one magic spell, which happened to be one that turns royalty into stone paddles.
2) While fooling around with dark forces that they didn't fully comprehend, the prince and princess accidentally turned themselves into stone paddles and made up the whole "evil demon was jealous" excuse to spare their blushes, or,
3) Lots of hallucinogens.
Whatever the reason, the stage is set for Bad Omen. The stone paddles may have tipped you off as to what kind of game Bad Omen is already, but in case they haven't, it is a clone of Breakout / Arkanoid. You control a paddle (or in this case two), moving from side to side as a ball bounces up and down the screen. You have to get your paddle in the way to stop the ball from falling off the bottom of the screen, smashing whatever bricks are in your way at the top of the screen. You know the one, you've probably played it a million times, or possibly you played it once, realised it was dull as sin and never played it again. Well, that's the basic premise of Bad Omen, although it does feature a few minor complications. The first is that you have two paddles positioned above eachother. You control them at the same time, but the bottom paddle can only move left-to-right, while the top paddle can go anywhere it damn well chooses. I assume that there are two paddles to facilitate the two-player mode, but I didn't try it, so I wouldn't know. It's not that I don't have any friends, it's just that the reason they remain my friends is because I don't make them play shitty games like Bad Omen with me.
The top paddle can also rotate 90 degrees, allowing you to bounce the ball left or right. This comes in useful for Bad Omen's other twist on a tired old concept. Rather than a static playing screen, in Bad Omen you have to move the ball up the screen (and sometimes left or right) to progress, like a kind of platform-game version of Breakout, if you will, with each stage even having a boss at the end.
A couple of things before we dive into the painful experience of actually playing the game. For some odd reason, whenever there is a screen transition outside the main game, (between levels, for example,) it is accompanied by a demonic zip.

The screen gets unzipped by that thing there, the most HEAVY METAAAAL clothes fastener I have ever seen. Peculiar. The other is that you get a nice bit of digitised speech when you start the game:



If it didn't say Bad Omen right there, I would have considerable difficulty telling you what he's supposed to be saying, which is exactly as it should be. Personally, I think it sounds more like he's saying "Black Oven".

Anyway, the game itself. You start off in a small village-like area, although the game refers to it as "Graveyard" and there are certainly skeletons around, fire-breathing ones that knock your ball about. There are some little demon guys too, but they're not much hassle, and you'll mostly be concentrating on smashing the many, many bricks in front of you to get to the end of the stage. It all sounds very jolly, but it doesn't take long for Bad Omen's problems to become apparent. The main one, and it's a pretty insurmountable one, is that the ball physics is dreadful. Your ball careers off flat surfaces, including your paddles, at wildly inconsistent angles. God help you if it bounces off something that isn't smooth, because the ball can and will go anywhere except where you might reasonably expect it to go. Add to that the fact that sometimes the ball inexplicably passes through the paddle, and it makes you wonder about the people who made this game. After all, they managed to take a game mechanic that worked perfectly well fifteen years before this game was released and screw it up royally. It's like taking the spark plugs out of a Rolls Royce engine and replacing them with chocolate replicas.
Did I mention that this game has bosses? They're not even made of bricks! (Well, one of them is). Stage one's boss is this demon.


Sadly, not the demon that caused all this mess, because then the game would be a lot a) shorter, b) easier and c) better. Much, much better. I'm sure you can figure out how you defeat this boss. If not, I fear there may be something wrong with the very cells of your brain.

Stage two is set in a clock tower, and it all goes a bit Castlevania. There are some sections where the ball is carried around between the teeth of some giant cogs (as shown above), which would be fine but sometimes they get stuck and fall irretrievably off the bottom of the screen. Thanks for that. I'd rather deal with Medusa Heads. The boss is a clock, and you beat it by getting your ball to fall into one of the holes corresponding to the number on its face. I have no idea if it's random, or you have to get them in certain holes; all I know is that I fluked it, and I was glad to see the back of it.

Stage three is in Waterfall country, and as you can probably guess, the waterfalls push your ball the wrong way. Not that there ever seems to be a right way, and thus we have stumbled across another of Bad Omen's major flaws: it's all luck. You never seem to have even a modicum of control, and everything is left to the fickle gods of fortune, which does not make for a satisfying gaming experience. The only thing of any merit contained in level three is the boss, the Treant pictured above. His main merit? He looks like he should be in Altered Beast, or perhaps more like a parasitic twin surgically removed from Whispy Woods.

Stage four is the Seaside, and the side of the sea they mean is the underside. This is probably the most bullshitty stage in the game, for reasons that are probably apparent when you look at the picture above. You can't see anything! It's like trying to play the game with some net curtains stapled over your eyes. Add to that the fact that you're barely given enough time to finish the stage (didn't I mention you're timed? Well, you are) and throw in some enemies that can paralyse you for what feels like a geological age, and you have a nice recipe for a pad being hurled out of a window, preferably into one of those machines that crushes cars into cubes. The bosses are this pair of watery dicks:

They're called Undine, and their vaguely tentacular bodies and round mouths make me wish I was playing Day of the Tentacle instead.

Next up is a volcano. Those faces in the shot above can extend their mouths and grab your ball. And then they just hold onto it. And hold onto it. And hold onto it. FOREVER. There is a section where four of them are positioned next to eachother, and they just casually passed the ball between them for one hundred thousand years. Also, the volcano has smaller volcanoes inside it. Is that even possible? Please, if you're a geologist, let me know. The boss is a volcano too, but his only attack is to create more balls for you to keep in the air.

Finally you reach the demon's lair, which is apparently on a "Prairie". Rather than being a little house, it's a maze of tight, winding passageways that you must navigate your ball through using the game's imprecise and inconsistent controls. It is exactly as frustrating as it sounds. The final boss draws near, probably rueing the fact that he'd built his lair out of the very blocks that only two stone paddles and a magic ball could break. Serious lack of foresight there, buddy.

There are three of him, and there's a heart in the middle that you have to hit to hurt him/them. He only really has one attack, which is to throw a load of balls onto the playing field, hoping you will lose track of which is yours and let it fall. Luckily, I got the ball stuck between the heart and the top of the screen where it bounced back and forth, allowing me defeat the demon in what might well be record time. Thus, the game is complete and the paddly royalty are returned to their rightful forms.

The prince appears to have a pegleg in that shot.

As I'm sure you've probably guessed, I didn't like Bad Omen very much. As I said, it has a couple of things going for it, one being the mad-as-a-bag-of-weasels plot. The other is the music, which is really very good. It was composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, better known these days for his work with Square-Enix on titles such as Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics (a real favourite of mine), and it is one of the best Megadrive soundtracks I have ever heard.
Highlights include the introduction music, which makes the goofy plot just that bit more touching, which is no easy feat:



The first stage music is great too, especially the bass sound.



And finally, the Seaside stage music, which is far superior to anything Sakimoto did for FFXII. All the music is on YouTube, so you should check it out.



And that's Bad Omen / Devilish, a game that took a perfectly servicable (if admittedly dull) gameplay mechanic, broke it, and then slapped on a vague fantasy setting and some great music. Do yourself a favour and don't play it!

2 comments:

  1. I know that this is a very old article at this point, but I came back to it to get the links to the soundtrack on Youtube that you posted before. I'm surprised that there aren't comments here, not because the game is horrid, but because the soundtrack is masterful. I just wanted to say thank you for introducing me to it. I probably never would have found it otherwise seeing as I don't typically look up soundtracks to shitty Genesis/Megadrive pinball games. In spite of that, this game has one of my favourite soundtracks on the system, and I only ever found it because I read this article. So, again, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you're looking for more excellent Genesis music, you should check out the soundtrack to Elemental Master, that stuff's great.

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