Faselei! review by Ruined Luna
On bigger, more popular home systems, like the PC and PlayStation, it's not hard to find games involving big stompy robots out for some serious destruction. On handheld machines, it's a different matter - their limitations mean it's very tricky to pull off games of this ilk. Unless you have a Neo Geo Pocket and a way of getting Faselei!...
Right from the intro sequence, Faselei!'s graphics are notably stylish. Bringing back memories of the stylised artwork used in Metal Gear Solid on the PSX, the game has a look all its own. Discovering that the mechs in the game are called TS, or Toy Soldiers, you kind of half-expect an overly 'kiddie' look to the game. Not so. True, as you'd expect there is a Manga styling thing going on, but it looks far more adult - few bright contrasting colours, some murky backdrops and excellently-drawn characters give the game a slightly threatening, sinister aura. Actually in-game, too, bright colours are rare (unless you count the map and the chips, of which more later), but the whole thing is crystal-clear. Animation on the TS, weapons and so on isn't anything that'll make you go 'wow!', but it's perfectly good enough.
As far as the sound goes, Faselei! is a little disappointing... it has some decent tunes and perfectly passable sound effects (good, beefy walking sounds for the robots and explosions), but nothing that really makes you feel that the NGP's sound chip is stretching itself. It fits, but if you're going to play it on a train or whatever where you might turn the sound off, you aren't really going to miss it too much.
Faselei! reminds me a lot of the old kid's toy tank, Big Trak, which you could program with a sequence of commands (like drive forward X amount of distance, fire laser gun, spin round on the spot, drive off and bump into the TV, run over the cat's tail, etc). Instead of the usual mech game type of controls, or even the system used in the PC's MechCommander (the closest thing I've seen to Faselei! on any system yet, by virtue of its birds-eye view), this game forces you to anticipate what your opponents are going to do, by programming in a sequence of five commands (walk forward, turn right, fire weapon 1, step back, fire weapon 1, for example). You are limited to how many different command chips you can carry by the size of the CPU in your TS, and, of course, how much money you have to buy them with - so if you're low on cash between missions and you absolutely MUST have the new chip in there to fire weapon number 3, then you have to take out something else - are you going to deny yourself the option to turn left, walk backwards...? The end result sits somewhere between conventional real-time and turn-based strategy games, with a sizeable element all its own. As is so often the case with NGP games, Faselei! may not be 100% original, but it's an extremely different way of doing something that's already been done. And it does it really, really well.
Perhaps not quite an A+ game, Faselei! is still a remarkable piece of software. Combining a decent plot, hugely atmospheric graphics, original gameplay, and a large dollop of thought, it's a game that may not be everyone's cup of tea, but still deserves to be hunted down and played by any self-respecting Neo Geo Pocket owner. The well-known problem of finding it, due to the frankly criminal dissolution of SNK USA and Europe, should not deter you - copies can still be located (if rarely) in the UK, and it's intuitive enough to play that you might consider a Japanese version (unless the chips have Kanji characters on them...). But if any game screams for a good NGPC emulator on PC, if only to get it out to the millions (well, handful) of dedicated NGP owners, this is it. It wasn't the game to bring the NGP to the mainstream - not a chance, it's way too left of centre for that - but it's too good to miss. Beg, borrow and steal to get yourself a copy of it.