The Simple 2000 Series
Game publisher D3's Simple 2000 series has been around since the PSX days, when it was known as Superlite. As the title suggests, these are relatively simple games that cost 2000 yen, or roughly $20. They range from ports of arcade games, to odd twists on familiar genres, blatant imitations of popular franchises, and even more blatant fanservice titles.
Despite the questionable quality of these fast food game releases, the series has been going strong with over seventy different titles on the PS2 alone. So while they might not reach the level of sales of the average Square-Enix game, the Simple 2000 series has gained a large enough fanbase to keep D3 churning them out. A few of the current series have been released in the UK, but so far none have been available in the US, outside of importing.
Being a cheapskate by nature, I gave a few of the more interesting-looking titles a try, and here are my results. Note that the following scores treat these games no differently from their full price brethren, since I'd rather judge them on their worth to me as a player than by their dollar or yen value.
Volume 31: The Chikyuu Boueigun
Released in the UK as Monster Attack, developer Sandlot has recycled their game engine from Robot Alchemic Drive to produce this homage to classic sci-fi movies such as Them and War of the Worlds. Aliens have arrived in massive flying saucers, seeking to destroy Tokyo with their minions of giant ants, mini-saucers, and even a Godzilla clone or two. The EDF must be having personnel problems since their only line of defense is a single man, but at least they've equipped him with up to a hundred different forms of firearms, most of which need to be unlocked, and three vehicles, which are actually fairly useless.
The action is fast-paced and might bring to mind a 3rd person version of Halo since the main character can only carry two weapons at a time. Ammo is unlimited, but there are reloading times between clips, which vary from weapon to weapon, as does damage, rate of fire, and clip storage. To keep you from being too vulnerable, you can quick roll to either side while reloading, though it doesn't do much good if you roll right into a swarm of giant ants. The gameplay is fast, fluid, and frantic, though occasional camera problems and slowdown mar the experience.
Even with twenty five missions, this game can be cleared in a little over three hours. There are five levels of difficulty, but they don't change the missions substantially, especially with only three different areas and a mere handful of enemy types. The gameplay is enjoyable enough to be the sort you'll pull out every once and a while to clear a few more missions before putting it back on the shelf. There are also split screen co-op and deathmatch modes so you won't have to fight alone.
Volume 47: Battle Sekigahara
A shameless Samurai Warriors clone with an interesting gimmick. Instead of having to plow through wave after wave of foot soldiers one slash at a time, these warriors have the ability to strike up to a hundred times instantaneously. Holding down the attack button marks the enemies around them while their special meter lasts. Once the meter runs out, time stops and the warrior slashes at his enemies while they're frozen in place and unable to defend themselves, only for time to return to normal to allow them to die. Though if the player is hit while marking his targets, he's knocked out of this mode with his energy wasted. It's a great gimmick for a game to have, even better handled than a similar time dilation effect in Alter Echo, but that's sadly all this game has got.
It's in no way as deep or as satisfying as the game it's imitating. You start with two characters, with up to eight that can be earned, and the two play more or less the same, especially when the fighting is rather simplistic. This is made worse by the high difficulty, where enemy generals take forever to whittle down while they can kill you in a few combos. In place of powered moves there are colored gems, but these all have the same basic effect, and are mainly used to get out of being trapped in a combo. Combined with the foggy landscape that always looks the same, and the nearly identical generals making you feel as if you're playing the same mission over and over again, there's not much reason to play this, even for an obsessive Samurai Warriors fan.
Volume 61: The Oneechanbara
While Tamsoft also made the game above, they've clearly learned from their mistakes. This title follows the more original formula of a woman in a bikini and cowboy hat slashing through bloody hordes of zombies to reach a final showdown with her younger half-sister. Cheesy? No question about it, but so are the Evil Dead movies...though thankfully we've never had to see Ash in a bikini.
The gameplay mimics the recent Ninja Gaiden to some degree, but provides enough of its own innovation to be considered more of an inspiration than outright theft, not to mention an enemy lock-on system that fixes NG's unfriendly camera. Besides a canned sword combo, the main character has four other sword attacks with various effects like crowd clearing, four different kick attacks, a desperation attack that uses up some life, and a blood rage mode where her power and speed are magnified while her life slowly drains away. This game not only has a combo meter for your strikes, but also how many kills you get in a row. The timing of these is tight, forcing you to keep up the mayhem if you want to earn experience points and fill out the quest checkoff list. With some areas having up to two hundred zombies, with up to fifty at a time, there's a heap of undead to practice your combos on.
Collecting yellow spheres dropped by enemies and doing well on levels will earn you experience points for leveling up. Each level up will allow you to improve the main character's various stats, making her stronger, faster, and even better dressed. Four difficulty levels, two of which need to be unlocked, and the quest collection add to the replay value. Questing is a mere matter of pulling off certain stunts in each of the six levels, like getting through without a scratch, to earn wallpapers and extra costumes. There's also a survival mode that strips away the story to create a battle royal in a single area for those needing a quick fix.
The game needs these extra elements because it's relatively short. Clearing the story mode will last about six hours if you take your time, but can be rushed through in an hour and a half. Outside the main character, the visuals are unremarkable and the music is bland, though the visceral sound effects are juicy. There are only three unique stages, each with some collision and clipping problems, but all these issues can be attributed to the game being rushed out the door at a breakneck pace. A shame, because if it had been given the time and attention of a full price release, it might have stood among the best in the PS2's hall of fame.