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// review by SoyBomb

Bowling, racing, and crazy baaaaaaalls!

In Japan, Culture Publishers (and later D3 Publisher) released a series of budget titles for the PlayStation (and a variety of consoles, including the PlayStation 2, PSP, Dreamcast, Nintendo DS, and the Wii), all under the "Simple" moniker. The PlayStation series was called "Simple 1500", the 1500 representing the cost of each game (1500 yen, which was indeed relatively cheap compared to full-priced retail games at the time). The games were developed by a variety of smaller companies, and the Simple series was a great way to give the little guys a voice, a method similar to the modern Steam/PSN/XBLA/eShop. Some of these games made it overseas thanks to a few gung-ho American and European publishers who saw promise in this little titles, the most prolific at the time being Agetec.

Today, we're going to shed some light on Volumes 16 through 20 for another romp in the magical world of simplicity (budget-wise, of course).

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 16: The Pachislot

Let's kick things off with a fresh bite from the gambling bug. This here is "The Pachislot." Of course, there is no particular type of pachislot other than this one, hence the strong determinant "THE" at the front. They were cockily confident on this one, and I say "they", but I don't really know who I am referring to, since there's no way I'm going to be able to identify a developer named "Byakuyasyobo." That's a made-up name and you know it. Someone fell asleep on the keyboard and awoke to discover their business name. That's how Sweden got its name.

Pachislot is the Japanese term for slot machines. They basically work the same way as any other slot machine, although there is a Security Electronics and Communication Technology Association that has developed specific regulations for the machines. As well, they can be tweaked by the pachinko parlour owner to determine how often, if at all, they will cause a win. It's not uncommon to have a slot machine set to consistently lose, which others around you are more successful. It's all planned...

You could lose a lot of money if you choose the wrong machine, but with The Pachislot, you just have to plunk down 1500 yen one time, and you can lose to your heart's content with much consequence, other than being disappointed... and bored. There are four different machines you can choose from in this game, although I'm sure the one called "X Hours Battle" with a creepy moulded old man face on the front is sure to lure in the most love. From there, you simply drop your coins into the slot and hope for the best. The graphics are cluttered, and the game barely has music, aside from whatever happens when you pull the lever (and you don't even get to SEE that — that would require a second day of programming).

This hardly qualifies as a must-have title. This hardly qualifies as a game worth 1500 yen. But at least fellows with the gambler's fallacy can pick this up and at least suffer from their addictions in the comfort of their own home without fear of losing their paycheck.

Insert a quarter, and get ready for some massive X Hours Battling! Yeaaaaaah!

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 17: The Bike Race

With generic leather gloves and matching underwear, I decided to take charge of my life. No, I didn't get a primo job out west rigging oil or combing prairie dogs for golden nuggets in their fur. I decided to finally step into the competitive world of motorized bicycle charioteering! Thanks to Simple Series Vol. 17, cleverly titled "The Bike Race," all my dreams of becoming a professional motobiker can come true, just like they did for... uhhh... can anyone name a famous motorbike racer? I sure can't.

As soon as you boot this bad boy up and that stock rock'n'roll blasts through your speaker like a stale donut out a third story window, you know that you're in for a swell time. (The introductory full-motion video, complete with minor bits of tire cam footage, does its best to jam this coolness down our throats.) You can choose from five different racers, all of which have generic three-letter names like Ava, Ryu (not the Ninja Gaiden star or Street Fighter fellow, sadly), and Bob. BOB. Who in their right might is going to choose "Bob"? Actually, me, because he is sporting the coolest shades in town and a green afro. I should just declare him the winner. Next, choose your make of bike; I'm going with Yamaha because I love their pianos. Select your track (novices can only pick from three, but they must all be rad if the music speaketh true), and then you're on your way.

Then it's off to the race, and... yep, it's a motobike racer. In THREE-DEE. For a PlayStation game, it's not the worst thing I've ever seen, though I've never seen many pleasant-looking 3D games on PlayStation. They usually remind me of that one week where I was really sick and clung to a barf bucket like it was manna. The controls are not bad, although I occasionally felt as though my tires were chained to the ground during turns. But I never achieved last place, so NCS must have done SOMETHING right. I highly doubt my character choice mattered much, but perhaps there are subtle nuances only detectable by cyborgs and Urkels.

Can't handle the sheer thrill and exhilaration of Excitebike? Try The Bike Race, and find out just how awesome a dye job on Bob really is.

There's no shame in coming in third... uh, all the time...

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 18: The Bowling

Boy, I was really hankering for a game about actually creating virtual clay bowls using a pottery wheel simulator. Alas, it was not to be. Instead, I got some silly game about knocking a bunch of pins down by rolling a ball. What kind of wretchedness is this?!

Alright, if my sarcasm wasn't immediately detected, then I apologize. Let's take a brief look at "The Bowling", not to be confused with "The Boweling", a horror flick concocted in the seedy underbelly of frightening cinema. It's bowling. And, sadly, it's not very fun bowling. Just imagine the alpha version of the bowling from Wii Sports, and you have this.

Where do I begin? How about the fact that you're the ONLY lane in the bowling alley? And the alley is dark, like the power's been shut off and it's been abandoned for years. Next, although you get to line up your roll (using unofficial bowling terminology by a guy who can easily bowl a 47) and give it a bit of a curve as needed, the way your ball actually travels down the lane is determined by a quickly scrolling bar where you have to press a button to stop it right in the middle. It's difficult to be accurate because that cursor is shuffling like a jumpstyler in 2008, and stopping too far to the left or right will cause your ball to defy the laws of physics and suddenly veer off into the gutter halfway down the lane. How is this even POSSIBLE?! Must be a warped lane or something...

The Bowling has two modes of play. One is... bowling. STANDARD BOWLING. It's the kind of genius I would have expected from a Simple Series game. The other mode involves having to knock down pins in ten different formations in a row without failing too many times. Succeeding in knocking all the pins down in those ten exercises pushes you ahead to the next decathlon of ball rolling. With the gloomy surroundings, however, the thrill just isn't quite there. It's a beautiful thing, like watching a tulip getting stepped on by a militia.

I'm not playing this anymore. I'm instead curling up in the fetal position, then being rolled down a bowling lane into ten pins of dysphoria.

♫ Don't let the suuuuuuun go down on a bowling alley. ♫

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 19: The Sugoroku


If you haven't picked up on it by now, I have seriously been digging the title screen music of these games lately. And this one is no exception: I had to put all my stuff down, get up off the sofa, and commence an impromptu version of doing the Monkey in bare feet.

Now that I've taken care of all funk urges, let's get down with Volume 19, entitled "The Sugoroku." I'm sure you're sitting there in your pantsuit asking, "What's a sugoroku?" Sugoroku is a Japanese board game. There are two different styles of sugoroku. One is similar to backgammon, called "ban-sugoroku." I think backgammon is terribly uninteresting, personally, and that they should actually BAN that type of SUGOROKU. Get it? In any case, this is not a backgammon-style game. The other style of sugoroku is more like snakes and ladders, which is what we have here. And dangit, if this ain't fun, I don't know what is!

After selecting four characters and your board of choice, everyone gets to frolic on a giant game board. And when I say "giant", I'm not kidding. This could take a little while to complete. You roll to figure out the turn order, and then you're on your way! The three boards are indeed different, not just in layout but in background and in the type of characters that can play. The outer space board, for example, has aliens! No Sigourney Weaver, however, although you can pretend one of the generic females is her. Your goal to is not only get to the end first, but also to collect as much treasure as possible by landing on the chest spaces. Doing so will automatically give you a random treasure with a specific value. Rack up them dolla dolla.

Other spaces will try to mess with your head. Warp spaces can make or break your progress, and the legendary miss-a-turns are also present. Plus, when you land on the same space as a fellow explorer, you'll get into a bit of a brawl to see who should have the treasure.

It looks like an old PlayStation game, it plays like an old PlayStation game, and it IS an old PlayStation game. There's nothing stunning about the sound or the visuals, but still, I couldn't help but love the simplistic charm of The SUGOROKUUUUUUUUUU!!!

The businessman will never overtake the sushi chef. Never!

Simple 1500 Series Vol. 20: The Puzzle

Last up in today's showcase is "The Puzzle," which, judging by the title alone, could be pretty much anything. Little did I realize beforehand, this is actually just a re-release of a game called "Pastel Muse" from two years earlier. Well, THAT sure clears things up. So, this game is about an artist who not only draws solely in pastel colours but also ponders about the deep philosophies brought forth by great people of the ages! Heidegger! Nietzsche! Socrates! Murphy Brown! That's what this game must be!

Well, let me tell you this: I was NOT expecting what I just saw. The introduction alone was more than I could handle. There were so many strange things going on that I cannot even begin to explain it. I had to make a visual collage because there are no words for this...

...and then I get thrust into a game that has practically nothing to do with any of these "things." Instead, what I now have is a Bust-A-Move clone but with an ever so slight twist. That is, an ever so slight twist that makes The Puzzle a prime candidate for a junk heap.

Like Bust-A-Move, your job is to connect three or more orbs of the same colour to make them "pop" and disappear. (Of course, in The Puzzle, if the particular stage starts with three or more already connected, they just sit there. Why?!) The only difference is that instead of hovering in the air, they're sitting in a pit dug to a 45° angle, all piled up like a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles. In order to shoot a coloured orb, you can't just fire it off. You need to do some funky angling to get it where you want. Well, guess what, ladies and gentlemensches: shooting with the reticule is horribly inaccurate and clunky; it's extremely difficult to point it in the spot you want, and you're likely to miss and drop the ball somewhere else, like NOT where you want it! Bottom line is this: if you have terrible controls in a puzzle game, you have a terrible puzzle game. That's all there is to it. And The Puzzle has terrible controls. Ipso facto, you have yourself a game worthy of a plunging down Toilet Bowl Alley. Heck, put it beside The Bowling and The Pachislot. They can all be flush buddies.

Not even cutesy creatures shooting balls from a guitar can save this one.

So many bubbles... Anyone have any Pepto Bismol to spare?

Wham! Another five Simple 1500 Series games knocked out of the park! ...ooh, right into the gullet of an innocent hot dog vendor. Let's try to aim elsewhere next time, shall we?

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