I love the original Game Boy. It had to make do with a monochrome display, a tiny screen resolution and minimal quality assurance, while still trying to make a game that people would be willing to buy for the crazy prices back in those days. Heiankyo Alien's a good time killer and all, but I don't think many people would be willing to spend £30 on it, especially when the quickest way to describe it is "you play as a fat dude who has to dig holes to bury aliens alive." It's a fun game, but yeah, without seeing it you'd wonder why anyone would bother picking it up.
Likewise, Tasmania Story: You play as a baseball cap wearing child, on the run from four Dr. Mario viruses. You must collect all the stylized coyotes and cacti in the level to progress. Your only means of defence is to drop bombs. So much as touching a beasty makes you collapse and spasm.
Who would want to pay money for this game, let alone play it?
Well, it wasn't released in English, so that's probably a hint in some vague and cryptic manner.
The first thing you notice is that the game has a very stylized, very minimalist art style, rendering everything as a solid black wedge with very few details. In fact, there's very little usage of the two greys, and the times they are used seems almost unnecessary, dare I say it! It's a very stark looking game, and I like it that way. It adds a nightmarish quality, which is appropriate because Dr. Mario viruses as big as your face, man. As big as your face.
After hitting Start, you're treating to what I assume is the sole cinematic in the entire game, and what I presume sets the scene, storywise: A tiger sprinting across a barren wasteland to wistful music. Though given the graphics, those mountains could be rocks, and those rocks could be two-headed tortoises. Try squinting. Doesn't it look like an army of two headed tortoises? It looks like it to me. Then again, I see lots of things.
I'm guessing the story's about this tiger being part of a desert-style sleigh race, which has been converted into a delivery squad to bring medicine to a sickness-stricken city with no outside communication, but the group are suffering hardships and doubts in each other. So, achieving an out-of-body experience, the tiger contacts Jimmy, the baseball cap kid, to channel friendship energy via the collection of stylized fauna and florae, which in turn will help the medicine group regain faith in each other and use the power of teamwork to bring that medicine home. BUT, their current dislike of each other is generating HATE MONSTERS to chase poor Jimmy, thus making the whole thing difficult for both groups. But if Jimmy can pull on through, then the sickness-stricken city will be saved!
I'm pretty sure that's what Balto was all about.
After that, you're given the option of playing the game slow or fast. It's hard enough on slow, so you should only pick the latter if you're digitially suicidal. You're then treated to the instructions screen, showing you what the controls are (the D-Pad MOVES!) and how many points you're awarded for either blowing up a monster or stomping on them. Followed up by mentioning what stage this is, you can start the game!
And immediately, you can almost say it's a platformer version of Pac-Man.
See, those cacti, or whatever the level's item is, are essentially your pellets. They reward you with minimal pointage, and if they weren't kind of essential to completing each stage and making progress beyond the first level, there'd be no real reason to actually go about collecting them. And you know how there's four ghosts, all with varying attitudes, but there's usually at least one always on your tail? Well, Tasmania Story multiplied that dude by four!
That's where the similarities have to resort to making some really horrendous comparisons, though. Like those warp gates at either side of the board that bring you out the opposite side, and the ghosts can't use them, but no casual player ever made much use of them either? Well, a vague variation of that has been incorporated into the main gameplay via means of trampolines. Jimmy, being a white man who is rendered otherwise via graphical limitations, cannot jump. On the bright side, neither can the monsters, but at either side of the level are trampolines. Walk onto them and you can bounce, and by holding a direction you can land on the platform in that respective direction. Falling off doesn't break a leg or twist an ankle, but if you bounce on the trampoline for too long then it breaks and you land on your spine and wreck it beyond repair. And that's terrible.
So you're permanently hounded by those hate monsters. Timmy, not having the wisdom of being genre-savvy and packing some heat, nor of legal age to possess a firearm, has little in the way of defending himself. If a monster is below him, he can drop off and knock it for six if timed correctly, but that's just plain inconvenient. That's why it's a good thing he invaded the prop warehouse of any good cartoon and prepared himself with ten giant circular bombs with unlimited fuses. With a single push of the A button, he'll lay a bomb, and when an enemy makes contact with it, BLAMMO, nothing will actually explode! The monster will just run face first into the huge explosive and give itself a concussion. If Timmy were really smart, he would've equipped himself with instantaneous brick walls, a gong, and maybe a bucket of magic paint so he could make some tunnels that work for only him and just cause the enemy to smash into it, because it's just a wall with a painted tunnel. He'd have to make sure it was the good magic paint, because the Dick Dastardly variety just isn't going to do much good when a sick city rests on his shoulders. Metaphorically, of course. To have that for real calls for a hospital appointment.
If Timmy died the instant he touched a monster anytime, that just wouldn't make for an exciting game, as those bastards creep up on him faster than a cranky person on something to be cranky about. Unlike Pac-Man, you ain't got no power pellet that'll allow you to plough through your enemies in a cannibalistic manner; you've always got to keep your strategetic skills on you. See, in the main area, you're all vulnerable. Timmy touches a monster, he dies. A bomb touches a monster, he temporarily dies for about five seconds, if that. If you got temporary invincibility for skipping instead of walking, then that would just be plain ol' unfair, sonny jim. Tim.
That's why while on the trampoline and exiting or entering from one tile of it, nobody gets hurt. You can bounce up and down until the cows come home, but that's no way to talk about your parents. As long as the trampoline doesn't break, you're safe, but lingering just allows more monsters to follow, so that's why you gotta move, gotta move, gotta move faster. If you're getting on and a monster is getting off, as long as both of you are within close proximity of the trampoline's path, you're safe and sound. It's when you get further away that the deaths start happening. Wonky in wording, but in motion it makes total sense.
On the topic of collision detection, however, the bombs are super mega crap in that field. Sure, touch a monster and it'll knock them out. The trouble is when you're being surrounded and need to exit, fast, you can never really know where to place your bomb and position yourself. If you don't move after placing a bomb, it's more likely for the monster to kill you than hit the bomb, but if you move away, the monster approaching from the other angle is even more likely to kill you, as a graze of your elbow is all it takes for you to expire, sometimes.
Should've gone for the brick wall, Timmy.
With every level completed, the layout changes, which would completely blow Pac-Man out of the water if it weren't for the fact Ms. Pac-Man had that feature, so boo. The items you collect vary, the main ones only in appearance, the bonus ones the same in addition to doubling the number of points you get from them. By round 6, the left trampoline can't reach the top floor! Beyond, the monsters will gain cars, the floors begin collapsing, and all the land around will begin crumpling. Teamwork all you want, hopeless situations are hopeless situations, and no amount of wishing and hoping can change it.
At least, that's what I assume happens. I kind of lose all my lives around level 5, so I don't even know if it has wacky intermissions or anything.
Tasmania Story is fun, but for an inexperienced individual like myself, is pretty darn difficult. It's like a platforming Pac-Man with a little more strategy, dare I say; as tempting as it is to gather up all those kangaroos as quickly as possible, doing that only makes it easier for the monsters to surround you and kill you for breakfast. Thus, you've gotta take advantage of their inconsistent turning patterns. Sometimes they'll head in your direction if you're above them, sometimes they'll just keep on going towards the trampoline. What you've really got to do is herd them so they become one large, closely compacted group. That way there's lessened chance of them branching off, cutting you off and then having your flesh as a tenderised dessert menu. Then, while they're trying feebly to catch up, you can collect the bulk of the items and win yourself to the next round.
Despite knowing that, I still can't get past level 5 without screwing up real badly a bunch of times. Woe!
What really makes the game interesting, though, is just the stark, barren art style. It's crude, it's barebones, and it really adds this bizarre quality to the game. Fun as it is, it's essentially platformer Pac-Man, and if it looked any good, I'd most likely have forgotten about it. But it's strange, yet wonderful.
The tiger runs through a barren land with distant mountains / two headed tortoises, but that, from what I've seen, is the only hint of backdrop the game offers. The game itself takes place against nothing. Complete and utter whiteness, with mosaic platforms. And there, on that arena of bleakness, you get chased eternally by bug-eyed, perpetually grinning face monsters.
And in the face of danger, Timmy does naught but smile.
That boy is a sick child.
Things get weirder when you see the box art...
Sure, the boy riding the tiger, I can deal with that, just simple artistic license. What I can't deal with, however, are the animals.
One type of creature shows up more than once there, and all of them are snarling or expressing menace towards the tiger. They are all black and toothy.
And they are mice.
YOU'RE TELLING ME THESE ARE MICE
THOSE THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN KILLING ME SO MANY TIMES ARE MICE
THIS IS A MOUSE
I HATE THOSE MEECES TO PIECES
(totally ruined my made-up story, that did)