Friday 20 August 2010

Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan

what how when why

China, my greatest foe. And my greatest ally. Actually to be honest I don't really know China and it doesn't really know me, but I do know of the products it produces. This is one of them, a Mega Drive beat 'em up under the awkward name of Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan. Catchy isn't it?

When I saw this game I couldn't really care less for it, though it was made for an entirely different audience so that might be why. But don't ignore this post. My statistics say you like this weird crap so this might be right up your street, and after playing it, it gets to a few houses on my road too.

"Pirate" or "unlicensed"? There's a surprisingly big difference between the two. Piracy tends to suggest your selling copyrighted work without the permissions to do so. Making illegal copies and distributing without concent.

Unlicensed games are a bit simpler in nature. If you produce a game for a video game console and sell it without the license to do so, your game tends to be labeled "unlicensed". You'd like to think all pirate games are unlicensed ones, but not all unlicensed games are infringing on copyright, so they're not all pirates.

To understand which category Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan falls under you'd have to look up sound drivers and voice samples and see who owns the copyrights for them. Chances are... nobody does. Or if they did, they don't now. Because aside from stealing some sound effects from Streets of Rage... SHFYZ is a completely new game, unlicensed solely on the basis that it came from China, where Mega Drives weren't supposed to even exist.

So I'm going to refrain from using the term "pirate" or "pirate original" here because this is merely China's attempt to get into the world of video gaming. You can't blame them if their government stops their developers from being as credible as others. The other alternative is no games at all. It might be something that needs to be passed around the net as well because it's a mistake I kept making when I was younger.

Oh and as I've found while contributing to Sega Retro, piracy in Northern China and Russia is extremely professional and might as well be classed as the real deal in those regions. The "Dendy" famiclone which unofficially acted as the NES in Russia has its own section on their equivalent of eBay. You might as well just embrace it.

As you might have gathered, Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan is a strange beat 'em up that's trying to be like Japan but insists on having a Chinese twist. It showed up in 1999, having been developed by "Never Ending Soft Team", and is effectively an ancient Chinese take on Streets of Rage. There are three mostly identical characters to choose from, and you kill everything on screen for reasons unknown to man. Or at least the non-Chinese speaking man.

What's made this game stick out above the crowd is that despite having no resources to work with and no programming history to speak of, this game is surprisingly very good. It does have a few letdowns, and I'll get to that in a second, but it's one of the few games from China that isn't a heap of stolen tat (the other being Xin Qigai Wangzi (Beggar Prince... you know, that Mega Drive RPG that was released in 2006)). It's evidence to prove China can make a good video game, just a shame they were two generations behind at the time.

But the most striking problem about Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan is its awful choice of sound driver and music. Supposedly it was stolen from Data East... I don't know whether that's a fact (it does sound similar to High Seas Havoc but that game makes much better use of the driver), but it really does bring out the worst of the Mega Drive and brings back bad memories of pirate crap I've talked about over the years (such as Pocket Monster). And I'm deadly serious about this... I personally find it difficult to admire the game in its current state because of its choice of cheapo-sounding music. It's not something the average person would be all that bothered about amd doesn't ruin every stage, but trust me, when you've played as many unlicensed games I have you're tempted to give the game a bad mark from the get go.

Thing is, the composition probably isn't that bad, but think of it this way. If you tried to play the works of Beethoven or Mozart on a set of broken washing machines... it probably won't sound as nice as if you did it with a piano or ochestra. Though it could be worth a try.

(And let me take this moment to point out I'm not going to make tenuous links as to who made what based solely on the noises produced from a sound chip. As I've said many times before I think a lot of resources are passed around to different people)

The art style doesn't help Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan's situation. The title screen and menus look as if they were done on the cheap, and some of the stages aren't all that great. But there are several moments of brilliance past the first stage. Some things need a bit of tweaking but it's not a bad package, even if I'm not completely taken by the themes included within the package.

Gameplay is very straightforward. It's like Streets of Rage but without extra weapons, not as much change in the scenery, less area to fight in and is noticeably more repetitive. Amazingly it does have some neat effects going on, such as the screen wipe move triggered by pressing A. It beats many of the non-Streets of Rage beat 'em ups the Mega Drive suffered through, but when you see the very dodgy looking running animations and the fact you're still restricted to one or two moves... it's clear that it doesn't go far to extend the genre. Still, with no noticeable slowdown or immediately noticeable gameplay flaws, it's a very solid entry, and is neither too easy nor too hard.

Actually no, that's a lie. It does extend the genre as it allows you to slice items into little bits... though I'm not sure why you'd want to. There are a lot of barrels on each stage so the opportunity is always there.

Unfortunately the "best unlicensed game" ends up being a fairly mediocre one when put next to licensed products though. But having said that perhaps I'm slightly biased because I don't actually enjoy most beat 'em ups. Often it's the art style and sound that makes a beat 'em up great in my eyes as most play the same these days... and sadly large parts of the art style and the choice of sound fails to appeal to me with Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan. But it will almost certainly appeal to others so opinions will be mixed.

Also one obvious problem with the game is that it's in Chinese. This is of course to be expected, but as the game is very much story-driven, a non Chinese speaker will feel a bit left out. The game has only resurfaced very recently so who knows... perhaps it will be given the Beggar Prince treatment at some point.

Overall this is a nice game. It's crafted very well and is leaps and bounds beyond what you would normally expect, but the settings don't really float my boat. Still, worth a go if you're a fan of the likes of Golden Axe or whatever.

No comments:

Post a Comment