Thursday, 3 July 2014

MAME Hidden Gems - P & Q are for...

There are several excuses for why it has taken me so long to get around to writing this blog entry.

I moved house (quite unexpectedly)
As result stopped building my MAME cabinet.
I discovered my new boss has massive hang-ups about people using the internet at work.
I don't have a dedicated games room or even TV in the new house...

There are many sob stories and weak explanations I could offer but, when it comes down to it, on the three previous occasions in the past few months that I’ve tried to write this entry I’ve been stopped by a single unavoidable fact:

It may be where you'll find Pac Man and Power Drift, but the relatively unknown games in P and Q are rubbish.

This all means that you’re going to get just two games today; one for each letter, both of which are really interesting curios rather than fully fledged hidden gems. Both are definitely worth a look though. 

Pachinko Sexy Reaction is quite possibly the first game I ever played on MAME. I’m comfortable listing it as a hidden gem here but it does hold a relatively high profile and certain notoriety in the MAME community.

Pachinko is often described as Japanese pinball, which is nonsense. It’s a ‘game’ with far more in common with those coin waterfall things you find on every pier on the British coast – Pinball requires skill, Pachinko is entirely based on luck.

Rather than coins, Pachinko machines dispense a quantity of ball bearings to the player, who precedes to drop them in the top. From here they drop, hitting pins, bumpers, and scoring points on their way to the bottom. It’s a game as pointless as it is oddly addictive.

In a move that will delight anyone who buys into the spurious stereotype that all Japanese people are sexually repressed weirdos who buy used panties from vending machines during a grope filled commute to work on an overcrowded train… Pachinko Sexy Reaction aims to liven up the core game’s ‘mechanics’ by offering the player some soft-core hentai animation as a reward for achieving certain scores.

Now I can’t be sure if this was originally designed to titillate or amuse, but I can tell you that - through the sheer absurdity more than anything else - these scenes are very, very funny.
They are also surprisingly well drawn and animated.

It’s the comedy factor and surprising production standards that has lead me to recommend PSR here, as a game it is astoundingly limited. It is entirely likely that you will only play it once, spamming the credits button until you have witnessed each of the games bizarre cut-scenes. But playing it once is exactly what everyone (over a certain age) should aim to do with this game.

Quantum is a vector game designed to be played with a trackball – it should be a terrible candidate for MAME.

If you've never seen what vector graphics look like on a dedicated display you’re missing out. The pin-sharp lines and idiosyncratic mapping points are a stunning thing to behold.
When I first saw a Vectrex machine running at the Retroactive event in Leicester last year it went straight to the top of my Christmas list.

Then there’s the trackball. I recently discovered that this method of control is actually one of the cheaper input methods to add to a cabinet – but it should surprise no-one that the vast majority of people use MAME on a PC using an Xbox controller, rather than built into a purpose built cabinet.

So since it doesn’t look or control as it should then why is it here?

Mainly because it still plays great, with the limitations of the 1982 hardware the trackpad controls can be replaced with an eight way stick with very little loss to the fun-factor.

As for the graphics, if you’re playing on a CRT (As you really should for any game released before the turn of the century) they are still sharp and serve the purpose perfectly well.

But more than this, the number one reason for choosing Quantum is probably that it revealed itself to me as the likely inspiration for one of the first smartphone games I played that didn't feel restricted by the input method.

So this is not just a recommendation for Quantum, on MAME, but also a recommendation for Spirit, on Android and iOS (Not to be confused with also-good-but-contextually-irrelevant- Spirits).

Both games have the same central conceit; encircle the items on the screen with your reticule. It's a little like Qix has been set free from the restrictions of the lines.

It’s simple fun to begin with but as the screen gets busier and the types of enemy become more varied in their movements, both games become increasing challenging. Multiplier perks await those who capture multiple icons in a single ‘tail’ but the mechanics remain simple and the gameplay as addictive and any score chaser throughout the game.

Hopefully “R” will be a few days, rather than a few months, away. With the swathes of games I have starting with that initial letter I’m hoping I won’t have to scrabble around for nominations again!