Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chrontendo - Not Dead

Contrary to what you might think, Chrontendo will be returning shortly. After a certain amount of hassle reinstalling everything on my new hard drive, retrieving the pertinent data from the old drive, and putzing around with all the settings, plugins, etc, I think Chrontendo is ready to go.

Of course, I'm writing this while taking break from planning an elaborate, multi-course Italian style Thanksgiving dinner, so I'll be a wee bit busy for the next few days. But once life has returned to normal, I'll direct my full attention to the newest episode of Chrontendo.

Until then, thanks for the patience.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chrontendo Down...But Not Out

Well, Chrontendo's been going through a bit of a rough spot right now. Episode 15 was inexcusably late due to various factors and real-world concerns (not to mention various modern, time-devouring recent video game releases.) But, on the bright side, even as I was putting the final touches on the latest Chrontendo, I was also making fantastic progress of Episode 16. So it looked like two episodes were about ready to go.

It was at this untimely moment that my computer decided to take a dump. I still don't know exactly what happened. After deciding to download and install Windows XP SP3, my computer immediately became unbootable in any mode. Eventually, I was able to get my hands on a Windows reinstall disc, and after fooling around with the Windows repair console I managed to get my PC to boot up. At that point I should have immediately starting copying my files to the new hard drive, but I foolishly assumed that whatever problems I'd been having were now fixed. It turns out that was not the case, since I've not been able to get Windows running since. And, for some reason, I've not been able to reinstall Windows on that hard drive. As a matter of fact, I've not been able to access my files through any of normal methods; even going in through the command line doesn't allow me to access some folders on the drive.

So I'm not really sure if the hard drive is damaged or if the Windows installation has become so thoroughly trashed as to make the drive unusable. If I find some way of rescuing the missing data, then Chrontendo will be up and running soon. If not, then it looks like Episode's 15 and 16 will need to started from scratch. Also lost is some work on future episodes, various files I use in compiling the episodes, all my research and notes I've done on the Famicom and SMS, web bookmarks, etc. Not to mention lots of files unrelated to Chrontendo.

At this point, its a matter of when, not if, Episode 15 will be releases. Chrontendo will live on regardless of this setback. However, there is a chance I might start Chronsega Episode 3 will working to retrieve the last two episodes of Chrontendo. Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chronsega Returns

Wow! The second episode of Chronsega is now ready and available to stream or download. For those just tuning in, Chronsega, is the companion series to Chrontendo, and is covering every release for the Sega Mark III/Master System in Chronological order. Episode Two examines 15 games released from September 1986 to February 1987, including the first US/Europe only releases. Unlike Nintendo, Sega wasted no time getting the Master System to the US, debuting it in October 1986, a year after the Japanese release. Before the year's end, Sega had 20 games on the US market; strangely enough, only 16 Mark III games hit the shelves in Japan that year. So from the very beginning, Sega was focusing very strongly on the Western market. As it happened, the Master System was most successful in Europe, Australia and Brazil.

In Chronsega Episode One, I lamented that most of the Mark III's releases seemed like rejected arcade games (along with a handful of ports of actual Sega arcade games.) The situation does improve somewhat this time around, with the November release of one of the Mark III's most fondly remembered games. Also on the board are an honest-to-good Portopia-style adventure game from Sega, as well as the usual arcade ports, US computer game ports, and so on...

Gold Medal goes to:

Alex Kidd in Miracle World

Our uncontested winner this episode is Sega's attempt at a Super Mario like killer app for the Mark III/Master System. While Alex Kidd sold only a fraction of the copies that the Mario game did, it remains (along with Phantasy Star) one of the few "must have" games for the system. The first Alex Kidd title, an arcade release called Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars, was a straightforward run and jump scrolling platformer. For the console-only sequel, Sega added some more advanced components into the mix. Alex Kidd now smashes blocks looking for items, collects money to spend in shops, rides a motorcycle and a helicopter, travels through vertical and horizontal levels, and explores maze like castles filled with some seriously tough platforming. While far from perfect - the controls are way too loose - Alex Kidd in Miracle World is slightly ahead of its time; it reminds me a little of Kid Icarus, which would be released a month later for the Famicom. Sega has proven they can make an excellent console game. Let's hope they pull this feat off again in 1987.

Silver Medals:

Space Harrier

At the end of 1986, the Mark III is finally graced with a port of one of Sega's greatest arcade games, Space Harrier. When Space Harrier first hit arcades in 1985, it was bleeding edge: incredibly fast action, amazing sprite based 3-D graphics, convincing speech. Can the Mark III hope to replicate this on a console? Definitely not, but it certainly tries its hardest. While the home version suffers from slower game play and problematic handling of sprites (see the image above), the fact even a semi-successful attempt was made to bring Space Harrier to a home console in 1986 is impressive.

The Circuit/World Grand Prix

The Mark III's first auto racing game plays like a four-wheeled version of Hang-On, but with a difference. After each race points are awarded based on your finishing time. After accumulating enough points, you can buy upgrades for your car. That's right, you can power up your car! However, these power ups only last for one race, thus preventing any progressive improvement of your stats. Still, it was a nice idea, and quite unusual at the time.

The Ninja

Terrible name, but surprising decent game. Certainly The Ninja is much better than the other vertical run and gun on display this episode, Ashura/Rambo/Secret Command. Your Ninja only has one weapon, but, to compensate, has the special ninja power to vanish momentarily. While most levels are standard Commando-style fare - you move upward, shooting at enemies that come down from the top of the screen to attack you - there are some more interesting, and more difficult levels thrown in. One level finds you running horizontally dodging enormous boulders; another places you in the middle of a horse stampede. All in all, The Ninja is better than its somewhat tarnished reputation would lead you to believe.

Brown Medal Games:

Ashura/Rambo/Secret Command

A terrible Commando/Ikari Warriors clone that manages to be less playable than than the Famicom/NES Ikari, Ashura is mostly notable for the fact that it was released in three different versions in different territories. In the US, it was Rambo: First Blood Part 2, in Japan, Ashura, with slightly different characters sprites, and in Europe, it was known as Secret Command. As if running around in broad daylight killing hundreds of people with machine guns and explosives could possibly be described as secretive behavior. At any rate, the game seems so Rambo-esque, down to the explosive tipped arrows, that I assume it was developed for US release as Rambo, then converted to the more generic Ashura for Japan, rather than vice-versa. Either way, this game is not a lot of fun.

Astro Warrior

The box for Astro Warrior should be labeled, "Marginally better than Satellite 7!" Yes, its another original vertical shooter for the Mark III. It looks and plays better than Satellite 7, but is absurdly easy, short and boring. While the Saturn, Dreamcast and even the Genesis had some excellent shoot-em-ups, the Mark III/Master System fell way behind the Famicom in this genre.

Double Target/Quartet

Port of Sega's four player arcade game, except that only two people can play! Quartet unsuccessfully tried to ride the wave of revenue generated by Atari's Gauntlet, but providing four player simultaneous action and an oversize cabinet. The Mark III port has been seriously cut down: the number of players reduced to two, the speech synthesis removed, and the graphics and music downgraded. What is left is the most unremarkable sidescrolling platforming imaginable, not really any better than the stuff Bandai was releasing for the Famicom around this time.

Also this episode:

Great Ice Hockey - A decent looking ice hockey game that requires a special controller, the Sega Sports Pad, to play. A US only title.

Great Golf - Sega chose not to simply rip off Nintendo's Golf for this release. It seems the Great Sports titles are showing some improvement.

High School! Kimengumi - The second game based on a licensed property ( the first being last episode's Hokuto no Ken), Kimengumi is a weird graphic adventure type game involving running around, collecting, then using various items.

Marksman Shooting/Trap Shooting/Safari Hunt - Combo cart only relased in the US (without Safari Hunt, which was included on a pack-in cart with Hang On) and Europe. To be used with Sega's light gun accessory.

Loretta no Shouzou - Sega makes a Japanese, Portopia style adventure game. Involving Sherlock Holmes!

To download Chronsega Episode 2, head on over to archive.org.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chrontendo Episode 15: Enter the RPG

After that charming little diversion into the world of Sega, we are back with the newest episode of Chrontendo, which may be streamed or downloaded at archive.org! We open in early 1987, and the Famicom's release schedule starts picking up again, with a nice solid 8 titles released in February. Episode 15 is virtually a special RPG episode, with two distinctively Japanese RPGs released. A handful of RPG games came out in 1986, the first Dragon Quest, the Zelda/RPG hybrid Athena, Hydlide, and the western-style Deep Dungeon. But this episode sees two JRPGs released almost back to back; one turn based, and the other an action RPG. But both seem to embody many of the elements that would define the JPG: super deformed character designs, quirky enemies, a substantial amount of required leveling, a combination of fantasy and sci-fi themes, and a relatively clear cut plot and objectives. Episode 15 almost became a three RPG episode, but Marchen Veil, a purported action RPG, turned out to be more of a top down adventure game.

Episose 15's MVP:

Dragon Quest II/Dragon Warrior II

The inevitable sequel to Chunsoft/Enix's suprsise hit of 1986, Dragon Quest II was an even bigger success, selling around 2 and a half million copies in Japan. Later games would sell even more, resulting in DQ becoming perhaps the biggest video game franchise in Japan. In the 1987 the concept of a sequel to a video game was still a little fuzzy; video games with actual plots being
a recent development. Unlike Zelda 2, DQ II is everything you could want in a sequel. It fixed many of the frustrating things in the first DQ, and then improved and expanded upon the things in DQ that made that first game so unique. The major change is the increase of the number of characters from one to three and that multiple enemies are faced in each battle. This makes DQ II's battles require a bit more strategy, as you need to decide which monsters to attack first, how many characters to use offensively versus for support, and whether you want to spend valuable magic points on offensive spells to soften enemies up. Magic plays a much bigger role in this game, but still feels underpowered. There are no really powerful offensive magic spells; the closest DQ II comes to a Nuke spell is Explodet, which does decent damage, but misses with alarming freuency (hitting 1 or 0 enemies out of 3 or 4 is not uncommon).

I had played Dragon Quest II in the past, but never finished it. Compared to later RPGs, it seemed impossibly old fashioned and virtually unplayable. Latter day RPG players may recoil in horror at some of the game's old school peculiarities: if two characters have selected the same enemy to attack and the first character defeats that enemy, the second character will simply do nothing and lose a turn -- the early Final Fantasy games also had this quirk. Yet playing DQ II in the context of early 1987, it seems like a mini-masterpiece and huge step forward for RPGs and console games in general.

Other Interesting Games:


The second released from HAL Laboratory, Eggerland manages to be substantially better than Gall Force (covered in Chrontedo 13). HAL had previously released two games for the MSX computers, and the Famicom EggerlandEggerland is a reworking of the second MSX game. One of the best Sokaban type games of this era, Eggerland is creative, clever and sometimes head-bangingly challenging puzzler. HAL would follow this up with lots more titles in the Eggerland/Lolo series.

Esper Dream

Konami's first RPG was released three weeks after Draqon Quest II, and while it pales next to Enix's title, it is an intriguing game which can be appreciated by English speaking gamers thanks to an unoffical translation. Esper Dream is an action RPG in which enemies are visible on the overworld, but still uses a separate battle screen, similar to Ultima III. Eschewing the usual sword and sorcerty theme, Esper Dream takes place in storybook like setting, with enemies such as bugs, fish and chess peices. Oddly, your arsenal includes laser guns and bazookas as well as ESP abilities. At times Esper Dream can stupidly difficult - later enemies can take many, many hits to kill, even with the best weapons. And some attacks are impossible to avoid. As a result, strategy often plays little part in the game - getting through a level will usually depend on if you have a enough max HP or MP to make it to the boss.

Mickey Mouse

One of the few non-Capcom Disney games of this era, Mickey Mouse was developed and released in Japan by Hudson. By 1988, Capcom had already inked their deal with Disney, and Mickey Mouse ended up being released by Capcom in the US, under the name Mickey Mousecapade. Strangely, either Hudson or Capcom changed many of the enemy sprites for the US release. On first glance, Mickey Mouse appears to be a rather simple platorm game, something the kids can enjoy. However, it soon reveals itself to be sadistically tough at times, perhaps to compensate for the shortness of the game. Unfortunatley, though it is a better than average Famicom platformer, Mickey Mouse is not quite as good as it should be. Once again, Hudson is phoning it in for a game based on a licensed property.

The Bottom of the Barrel

Shin Jinrui: The New Type

The other Hudson release this episode is almost a complete disaster: a land based shoot-em-up that reminds me of Square's terrible King's Knight. The one notable thing about Shin Jinrui, aside from the title, is that it is the sole game published by Rix Soft. I have no idea how Hudson got mixed up with them, but Rix Soft turns out to be a short lived software division of Ricoh Elemex, a Japanese manufacturer of precision measuring equipment. Taken in conjunction with Adventure Island and Bonk, I'm beginning to think Hudson has some sort of caveman fetish.

Black Bass

Fishing is not exactly the most exciting sport, and you wouldn't expect a fishing video game to be thrill packed. Black Bass is the Famicom debut from the hideously named publisher Hot B. Aside from giving their company a name that sounds like a deviant sex act or an obscure Southern rapper, Hot B introduced fishing simulations into the world of console gaming. Granted, there were fishing games before this, like Fishing Derby for the 2600. But did Fishing Derby let you chose your lure, pick your spot in the lake to drop your line, or give you a reeling-in mini game? Nope, it was Black Bass that first gave us a gritty, realistic fishing video game. Not included: 6-pack of warm Schlitz.

Ultraman -Kaijuu Teikoku no Gyakushuu

This dull, unimaginative, sidescrolling platformer helps demonstrate has stagnant the genre was
becoming, less than a year and a half after Super Mario Bros. Marginally worse than the Tose developed Pocket Saurus; Ultraman makes this list due to the sloppy programming.

Also this episode:

Famicom Golf Japan Course - Another sports title from Nintendo, and a virtual remake of their earlier Golf, courtesy of HAL Laboratory.

Hiryu no Ken - Weird beat-em-up/platformer/fighting game hybrid from Culture Brain. The platforming sections are terrible, but the fighting levels are decent.

Nazoler Land - Jesus, another awful game from Sunsoft. This time it's a "magazine" title, which means Nazoler Land 2, 3, etc will follow shortly.

Ikanari Musician - No relation to Ikari Warriors, this is a very simple music program. With rabbits.

Marchen Veil - Port of 1985 Japanese computer game with a fantasy theme. It'd be nice to see an English translation of this, but I very much doubt this will turn out to be a lost classic.

Super Lode Runner - Wow. Another Lode Runner game, this time from Irem. Funny how almost every pre R-Type game from Irem turns out to be a little lame.

Pocket Zaurus: Ju Ouken no Nazo - You are transformed into a bowtie and glasses wearing dinosaur and must travel back in time to 10,000,000 BC. Then you move to the right and jump over stuff. Courtesy of Bandi and Tose.

Family Trainer Aerobics Studio/Dance Aerobics - Yet another Family Trainer game from Bandai, released in the US by Nintendo for the Power Pad. Don't worry, there's only a few dozen more of these to go.

And that is it! Check back next time for Chronsega Episode 2, featuring 15 games from August 1986 to February 1987. Then its back to the Famicom with Chrontendo Episode 16, featuring... a couple more cool Konami games.

Download or stream Chrontendo Episode 15 here

Friday, July 18, 2008

Chronsega Episode One is here!

Wow! An exciting new era for Chrontendo begins today. For we are broadening our scope to little to take in the other home console of the 8-bit era: the Sega SG-1000 Mark III aka the Sega Master System! Yep, Chrontendo presents -- Chronsega Episode 1.

A superior console on a purely technical level, the Master System failed to make much of a dent in Nintendo's market share in the US and Japan. However, the system was successful in Europe, Australia and Brazil and actually had a fairly long lifespan, from 1985 to 1998. The main culprits for the Master System's failure to make an impact on US consumers are usually given as exceptionally bad marketing (the Master System games had notorioulsy awful cover art in the US) and lack of third party support. Virtually every major Japanese game developer/publisher had already thrown their lot in with Nintendo. Due to Nintendo's restrictive contracts, they were prevented from dealing with Sega. During the system's Japanese and US lifespan, almost every game was released by Sega themselves.

And, of course, the Master System was not known for having a lot of good games. Whereas Nintendo threw all their effort in the Famicom, during the 80s Sega seemed like an arcade game manufacturer that just happened to make a few console games on the side. The original titles for the Master System were not always top-shelf Sega. On that note, let's take a look at the 15 games covered in Chronsega Episode 1. These games span October 1985 through July 1986. Keep in mind that during this same time period, we were seeing such pioneering titles as Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest being released for the Famicom.

Fantasy Zone

Surprisingly, Sega released very few arcade ports during its first 10 months of existence. The best Mark III/Master System this game turns out to be a port of their almost brand new 1986 arcade title. A horizontal shoot-em-up, Fantasy Zone is, along with Konami's Twinbee, one of
the first cute-em-up games: shooters that replace the typical military or sci-fi themes with silly, cute enemies and environments. While Fantasy Zone is definitely charming and cute, it is isn't actually a humor game, the way Twinbee or Parodius are. Humorous cute-em-ups tend to insert mundane objects into bizarre, inappropriate settings. For example many of the enemies in Twinbee are household objects, or in Hudson's Star Parodier, your ship is actually a PC Engine console! Fantasy Zone, on the other hand, exists in a coherent fantasy setting, albeit an usually colorful and cutesy one.

The game itself is surprisingly good for an 8-bit shooter; certainly miles above the other two shooters this episode. While some graphical elements from the arcade version needed to be eliminated, the Mark III Fantasy Zone still looks great. And it features some of the biggest and most creative bosses seen in a console game so far.


A port of Yu Suzuki's 1985 arcade game, Hang-On was a launch title for the Mark III. Certainly, the game shows off system's capabilities, with its fast, smooth, sprite based 3-D effects. Granted, the game loses something in the translation, since you are not playing while sitting on a motorcycle as in the arcade version, but the Mark III Hang-On is still a fun little racing game.

Comical Machine Gun Joe

A short arcade style shooting game, Machine Gun Joe is a pleasant time killer. It features an early version of the mechanic found in Cabal; your fedora and trench coat clad character is
free to move horizontally along the bottom on the screen. Enemies appear in the background/top half of the screen, spraying bullets down upon you. This game is a good example of the Japanese humor game aesthetic: while Machine Gun Joe has an ostensible gangster theme, various incongruous elements are thrown in. Enemies include pigs, giant spiders, schoolgirls, and Joe travels from docks and dive bars to a wooded fairyland.

Ghost House

I suppose the fact that such an average game as Ghost House made this episode's "good games" list says a lot about the quality of the Mark III's early releases. Ghost House is a typical arcade style platformer, distinguished only by its horror theme. While this was released a few months before Castlevania, it is not anywhere near as unique, exciting or well-designed as Konami's game. Games such as Ghost House give the impression that Sega was putting most of
its resources into its arcade titles, and relegating second-tier game ideas to the Mark III.

The Bottom of the Barrel Games:

Seishun Scandal/My Hero

This prototypical beat-em-up, developed by Coreland (later known as Banpresto), worked fine as an arcade game. However, something went seriously wrong with the Mark III version. Three out the four levels were scrapped, and the difficulty level shot sky-high. In the arcade game, your character could cut through punks like a hot knife through butter; in the home version, coming in contact with an enemy will frequently result in the enemy getting the first hit in. Considering that a single hit will kill you, this is serious problem. Come to think of it, maybe one-hit-deaths in beat-em-ups is a bad idea.

Satellite 7

Wretchedly dull vertical shooter. Every aspect of Satellite 7 is undistinguished: enemies, power-ups, music, backgrounds. Seriously, this is one of the most generic shooters I've seen, and I've already covered quite a few lame shooters for the Famicom.

Great Soccer

Sega, needing to put some software on the shelves for its new console, published a series of hastily developed sports games, all with "great" in the title. Of the three covered in this episode, Great Soccer, Great Baseball and Great Tennis, the soccer games is probably the worst. All three games are derivative of Nintendo's early sport titles, but Great Soccer features some daaaamn ugly character sprites.


Astro Flash: Another shooter, released immediatly after Satellite 7. Considerably better, but still not exactly a classic.

Fushigi no Oshiro Pit Pot: This sort of resembles a top down puzzle game such as HAL's Lolo games crossed with Legend of Zelda. That might not be a bad idea, but it this case, it resulted in a remarkably lame release.

F-16 Fighting Falcon: Port of super dull looking MSX flight simulation game. The fact that it requires two controllers to play the game makes it a bit of a drag. This late 1985 release is the first third party developed Mark III title; it was by the US based company Nexa.

Hokuto no Ken/Black Belt: This is about a million times better than the Famicom Hokuto no Ken game released by Toei around the same time. But it's still not very good.

Teddy Boy Blues: The other Sega launch title, and a port of a now forgotten Sega arcade platformer. The odd title comes from a hit Japanese pop single, and the game itself has nothing to do with Teddy Boys.

Gokuaku Doumei Dump Matsumoto/Pro Wrestling: Decent, but frustrating wrestling title. The Japanese version is based on a real female wrestler while the US release features fictional male wrestlers.

Great Baseball/Great Tennis: Just your average everyday mid-80s sports games. These are remarkably similar to Nintendo's Tennis and Baseball, but with slightly better graphics.

I really shouldn't be too hard on Sega; after all, it takes every console a while to hit its stride. On the other hand, this was Sega's second console. They had been releasing games for the old SG-1000 for a few years, and had developing video games since the late '70s, so you would hope they would approach the Mark III as grizzled veterans, not bumbling newbies. But, I have high hopes for Chronsega Episode 2, which will feature one of the Mark III's most respected titles. Look for it shortly after Chrontendo Episode 15.

To stream or download Chronsega Episode 1, go to archive.org.

Episode 14 Is Here and Chrontendo Goes Sega!

Surprisingly enough, Chrontendo Episode 14 is only somewhat behind schedule and available to stream or download at archive.org! An historic episode, this, featuring not one but two big releases from Nintendo themselves, and.... we finally move into the year 1987! I'll undoubtedly come with with some sort of 1986 debriefing/1987 introduction, but that will need to wait for next episode. Episode 14 is simply packed with too much 8-bit goodness/weirdness to fit in any more content. You even get a bonus game! There are 16 instead of 15 this time.

This episode has a pretty densely packed release schedule - 12 games released between 12/19 and 12/26. Publishers were clearly trying to get some product on the shelves before the year's end, regardless of the quality. Thus we have two titles from Kemco on 12/26; one was an odd little text adventure game based on an animated feature film and the other a port of an ultra-obscure platformer originally released for the Atari computer systems. Taito and Nichibutsu both release arcade ports that come with special controls. Capcom ports one of their most recent arcade games while Bandai quickly puts another Family Trainer game on the market. And future Nintendo rival Sony releases their first game for the system, which is naturally based on a Japanese rock band. The first month of 1987 starts off slowly by comparison, but does contain one huge release.

But...there is more big news! Chrontendo has so far been focusing strictly on releases for the Famicom and ignoring all other gaming systems. This is changing as of right now because we will now be covering the Sega Master System/Mark III! That's right, the next episode will actually be Chronsega Episode 1!! We'll begin in October 1985 and continue on through the first half of 1986. Chronsega Ep. 1 will be followed by Chrontendo Ep. 15, and then by Chronsega Ep. 2. At this point, we'll be "caught up" and episodes of Chronsega will appear occasionally. The Master System is virtually a lost system in the US, having sold a fraction of the number of units that the NES did. Since Sega has a pretty good reputation with its later consoles, I'm hoping to find some forgotten gems on the Master System.

Back to business! This episode's gold medal goes to:

Hikari Shinwa - Palutena no Kagami AKA Kid Icarus

Produced by Gunpei Yokoi, Hikari Shinwa (literally "Myth of Light - The Mirror of Palutena") is sort of a follow up to Metroid. However, while Metroid focused on exploration and item gathering in a large, non-linear setting, this game is more action based and straightforward. Most levels are completely linear, though usually vertically orientated. In between each "world" is a maze-like fortress level, which are structured like side-view versions of Zelda's dungeons. Hikari is definitely not the classic that Metroid was, but still manages to be a solid, fun and occasionally very difficult platformer. One major issue is the curiously inverted difficulty level. Your character Pit starts off very weak, with almost no attack power and a short life bar. As Pit obtains new weapons throughout the game he gradually changes into an unstoppable killing machine. The final level is a cakewalk compared to the first. Regardless, Hikari Shinwa still stands heads above the other games this episode.

Other titles of note:


While having absolutely nothing to do with the Derek and the Dominos song, Layla still manages to be a slightly better than averag
e run-and-gun game. It features a Samus Aran like space chick who blows through various asteroid/space station levels, killing everything in sight and picking up ice cream cones and pieces of cake for bonus points. Not to mention weapons and ammo. TONS of weapons and ammo. Layla must be the most well-armed character in video game history, able to carry around blasters, lasers, flamethrowers, bombs, rocket launchers, light sabers, axes, and so on. At a time when Castlevania's two weapon system was still fresh and new, the ability to switch between a dozen or so weapons seems way ahead of its time. If only the gameplay itself was a little more exciting....


Taito ports their often-copied arcade hit to the Famicom, complete with a special rotary controller. Unfortunately, Konami had just released a very cool Arkanoid copycat called Nazo no Kabe (covered in Chrontendo Episode 13). Arkanoid's main strength/weakness is the special controller. Having the controller allows you to more replicate the arcade experience, while not having the controller renders the game virtually unplayable.

Seikima II

OK, OK! So Seikima II is not a good game! It is still the wackiest game this episode, and thus earns an honorable mention. The Famicom debut from Sony (but not first video game from Sony - they had been releasing games for Japanese computer systems such as the MSX for a little while), Seikima II is based on a black leather, spikes and make-up encrusted Japanese rock band that was popular in the 80s. Incidentally, this game is not a sequel; the band's name is actually "Seikima II." The game itself is a pretty standard platformer. You play as Seikima II's singer, collecting money and objects, avoiding enemies, and buying items in shops.

The Legend of Zelda 2 - Link no Bouken/Zelda 2 - The Adventures of Link

The last game covered this episode in the famously disappointing Zelda 2. The black sheep in the Zelda family (unless you count the CD-i games, but most Zelda fans simply ignore the existence of those), The Adventures of Link radically alters the formula that made the first game one of the most successful titles for the Famicom. The sequel adds some RPG elements - experience points, spells, random monster attacks, villages, NPCs that request your assistance - while removing the money and shops. Additionally, much of the sense of exploration and adventure has been removed from the game, and the overworld is laid out in a much more linear fashion. But the most commented on change in Zelda 2 is the switch from an overhead to a side view for all the action segments of the game. While this isn't necessarily a bad idea, the execution is far from perfect. The dungeons tend to be on the boring side, and many of the enemies are incredibly annoying. Additionally, some enemies do not yield experience points when killed! Judged on its own merits, Zelda 2 is a good, but flawed game. Compared to its predecessor, however, it can't help but be a let down.

This episode's brown medals go to:

Cosmo Genesis/Star Voyager

This Star Raiders clone from ASCII adds a few new elements to the formula, but still suffers from poor execution. Granted, Cosmo Genesis is not terrible, but nevertheless ends up being the worst game this episode. While Episode 14 does contain a few uninspired games, there's really nothing this time to compare to Super Monkey or Convoy no Nazo. Or course, Cosmo Genesis was still bad enough to catch the eye of Acclaim, who released it in the US as Star Voyager.

Tatakai no Banka/Trojan

After releasing a string of early classics such as 1942, Commando and Ghosts 'n Goblins, Capcom unleashed this dud. A side-scrolling futuristic beat-em-up, Trojan simply fails to capture the magic of those earlier titles. Again, Trojan is not a really terrible game, but it is a pop fly that arrives after a series of home runs.

This episode's utterly puzzling game:

Moeta Princess - Puzzling Zelda-like adventure game, heavy on the Japanese

The Rest:

Toki no Tabito: Time Stranger - Very simple text adventure game from Kemco.
Electrician - Another oddity from Kemco, this is a port of an old Atari computer game.
Dragon Buster - Port of Namco's ahead-of-its-time fantasy themed arcade game.
Hi no Tori: Wagaou no Bouken - A licensed property from Konami, based on an Osamu Tezuka manga.
Mahjong Goku - The third Mahjong game for the Famicom. It won't be the last.
Crazy Climber - Port of Nichibutsu's arcade classic, which requires a special controller.
Family Trainer: Running Stadium - Another game in Bandai's Family Trainer series.
Labyrinth - Action adventure game based on the Henson/Lucas film. This Tokuma Shoten
release is completely different than the LucasArts game, and is possible developed by Atlus!

As always, Chrontendo Episode 14 may be downloaded at archive.org here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chrontendo Episode 13: Wrath of the Yakyuu

Episode 13 has arrived, more or less on schedule. As always, it may be streamed or downloaded from archive.org. As you may recall from last episode, the 1986 holiday season has arrived in Japan, and new Famicom games are being released in droves. In fact, this episode only covers ten days, from December 10 thru December 19. We'll finish up 1986 next episode, so you can think of Episodes 12-14 as a trilogy of sorts.

Before we get into the games themselves, let's discuss sports games for a moment. Today, sports games are a major genre, with series such as Madden Football moving an absurd number of units. Sports games played an important role in the early years of video games, with such consoles as the Intellivison building their reputation on superior sports titles. But the astute Chrontendo viewer will have noted a distinct dearth of sports titles for the Famicom so far, with the exception of wrestling games. Nintendo themselves released a handful of basic sports titles early in the system's lifespan - Golf, Baseball, Soccer and Tennis. Since then we've had Irem's 10 Yard Fight in 1985 and Nintendo's Volleyball in mid-1986. With this episode, we'll see this start to change, beginning with the release of a baseball game from Namco that helped kick off the modern era of sports games.

In addition, we have another fine Konami release, a dull text adventure game from Square, and a US style RPG, as well as all kinds of general nonsense. Let's get going.

Episode 13's MVP:

Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium/RBI Baseball
King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch

For the first time ever, it's a tie! Neither of these titles are stone cold classsics, yet both rise above the crowd. Namco's Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium marks a major turning point in the evolution of the sports game. Rather than using identical, generic players as in Nintendo's Baseball, Family Stadium features real Japanese baseball players, each with his own unique hitting and/or pitching stats. Thus, every team is different, and knowing your teams strengths and weaknesses is vital to mastering the game. Tengen released the game in the US as RBI Baseball, replacing the Japanese teams and players with American ones. RBI Baseball proudly featured the MLBPA logo on front, thus kicking off the era of licensed sports titles. The Family Stadium series continues to this day, while RBI Baseball continued as a separate series for a few years.

In 1986, Dino DeLaurentiis released a belated sequel to his 1976 hit movie King Kong. King Kong Lives was a box office flop, but did inspire a video game tie-in from Konami, the wonderfully titled King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch. Never released in the US, this fun top down action game has nothing to do with the movie, but is a crazy romp featuring interconnected maze-like levels, the ability to jump, punch and throw rocks, and even a certain number of destructible elements in the environment. Oh yes, and giant ducks. I'm not sure why the folks at Konami think ducks are so sinister, but killer ducks will feature in another Konami game a little later down the road (to be covered in Episode 15).

More Cool Games:

Nazo no Kabe: Block Kazushi

What?! Konami virtually has a lock-down on this episode! Nazo no Kabe is a fun little Arkanoid clone, which beat Taito's Famicom port of Arkanoid to the shelves by around two weeks! Just like Arkanoid, this game is a modern variation on the old Atari classic Breakout. Think of it as Breakout with the following additions: a sci-fi theme, power-ups, enemies, more varied block patterns, and the occasional boss. I will admit, I like Nazo no Kabe better than Arkanoid itself.

Mashou/Deadly Towers

Here's a game with an extremely bad reputation that it doesn't quite deserve. Mashou is a Zelda inspired adventure game in which you climb a series of towers to obtain and destroy seven evil bells. Much of the game is completely playable, though hampered by the developer Lenar's insistence on hiding most of the important items in completely arbitrary places. Even so, Mashou is relatively decent -- except for one thing. Lenar decided to ramp up the difficulty and length of the game by adding a number of huge, dangerous and impossible to navigate dungeons. The entrances to these dungeons are invisible, so accidentally stumbling into one will usually result in death while your desperately search for the dungeon's exit. This virtually kills the game for all but the most masochistic gamers. Find some maps of the dungeons online, however, and you Mashou becomes surprisingly acceptable. Mashou is a big, ambitious game. Too bad Lenar had to take a crap all over their own creation by adding those ridiculous dungeons.

Wing of Madoola

Again, not a great game, but better than I suspected. Wing of Madoola is the first Sunsoft title to show any promise. A side scrolling platformer with RPG elements, Madoola contains the usual power-ups, bosses, and running, jumping and slashing action. The game is fun in spots and there is a decent amount of variety to the levels, but Madoola is hampered by bad controls and annoying enemies. Still, a huge improvement over Super Arabian.

Deep Dungeon

RPG's are still relatively rare on the Famicom, even as RPG elements are becoming increasingly common. The first in a series of four games, Humming Bird Soft's Deep Dungeon is a straight up US style first-person RPG ala Wizardry. Taking place entirely inside a single dungeon, you control a lone adventurer who battles monsters one at a time, turn-based style. While not getting lost in the labyrinthine dungeon (hint: break out the pencil and graph paper for this one), your hero rummages through piles of trash looking for valuables. While RPGs don't really get any more basic than this, Deep Dungeon will please fans of old-school dungeon crawling action.

Not so good games:

Takeshi no Chousenjou

Just like Ganso Saiyuuki: Super Monkey Daibouken, this Taito release is a classic example of kusoge - a shitty game. Supposedly designed by Takeshi "Beat" Kitano, the video game hating actor, director and TV celebrity, Takeshi no Chousenjou (Takeshi's Challenge) is sort of an anti-video game -- a deliberately boring, unplayable mess. Certain elements in this game have given it a reputation as either an avant-garde classic or one the worst games ever released. Either way, it is unlikely anyone actually enjoyed this game for more than a few minutes.


I'm not sure if Breeder is bad, or just pointless. You construct robots and then pit your creations against each other in the arena - a decent idea for a game. However, the robot battles are completely automated and mostly consist of your robots wandering around the arena, occasionally attacking each other. The result is incredibly boring, but at least Breeder is notable as probably the least interactive video game released up to this point. The Japanese would eventually become the masters of non-interactive video games, so Breeder perhaps a little ahead of its time.

Gall Force: Eternal Story

An anime based shoot-em-up from HAL Laboratory? I had high hopes for Gall Force, but these were dashed upon playing the game itself. Considering this was the first game HAL published themselves, I shouldn't have expected too much. Regardless, Gall Force is a pretty lame shooter, with way too many enemies and useless power ups. The graphics are pretty good, however. This is also the earliest shoot-em-up I've seen that indicates in-game that the pilots are teenage girls. Eventually, Japanese games would start displaying an ennerving fascination with underage girls, so HAL is at least partially to blame for introducing lolicon into console gaming.

The rest:

Doreamon - A quickie release from Hudson, based on the eternally popular anime about a blue robot cat.
Suishou no Ryuu - Dull, almost dialog free text adventure game from Square. That oft-told story about Square facing bankruptcy in their early years is starting to make sense.
Sherlock Holmes: Hakushaku Reijou Yuukai Jiken - Actually sort of an interesting title from the obscure publisher Towachiki. As the master detective, you run around the UK, stabbing random pedestrians to death while searching for randomly hidden clues.
Adian no Tsue - A god-damned educational game disguised as a lame Zelda clone. More pointlessness from Sunsoft.
Knight Lore - A heavily modified port of the old Spectrum game, originally from The Ultimate Play the Game (later known as Rare). "Speccy" fans consider Knight Lore a timeless classic, but we'll have to chalk that up to typical British eccentricity.
Metro Cross - Port of an oddball Namco arcade game. You jump over giant rolling coke cans to avoid being electrocuted. No, it doesn't make any sense to me either.

Well, there you have it, another 15 games out of the way! Don't forget to download Chrontendo Episode 13 at archive.org!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Chrontendo Episode 12: Shooter Bliss

Hello everyone, Chrontendo Episode 12 is now available to download or stream over at archive.org. This episode sees us finally reach December of 1986 and the Japanese holiday season. As a result, we'll the number of games being released spike dramatically as publishers try to fill the shelves with product before New Year's Day. Not surprisingly, we see a few new publishers enter the fray this season. November and December see the Famicom debuts from the television and music company VAP, toy giant Takara, Japanese utility and cable provider Vic Tokai, and music/electronics behemoth CBS/Sony. We'll also be introduced to a few companies who actually specialize in video games, such as HAL Laboratory, the Square-led consortium DOG, Towachiki, Use, and Imagineer. Of these last five, only HAL would have a long and prestigious career.

As it turns out, this would be the last great influx of new publishers for the Famicom. Over the years Japanese publishers for the system would come and go, but never again in such great numbers. If we were to flash forward to November/December 1987, we would see releases from pretty much the same companies that released games in November/December 1986. By this time, the Famicom has entered its adult years.

As for the games themselves this episode? An odd selection, notable for two very good shooters (and one pretty decent shooter), a notorious example of kuso-ge, and a couple terrible games based on very popular licensed properties. Also, we have the second US-only release, this time courtesy of Data East.

Episode Twelve's Grand Champion:

Zanac AI

We've seen some fine shoot-em-ups for the Famicom so far, but Zanac leaves all competition in the dust. A vastly superior port of a title originally released for MSX computers, Zanac is an early title from Compile, who you might recall being the developer of Lunar Ball. Compile would eventually go on the become what many consider to be THE developer of shoot-em-ups for consoles, with such titles as Blazing Lazers, Guardian Legend, and the Aleste series. Zanac feels like the first modern shoot-em-up for the Famicom, with its frequent bosses, wide variety of secondary weapons and generous helping of power-ups. From a technical perspective, the game is an amazing accomplishment. Zanac manages to cram in tons of enemies and bullets without slowdown or excessive flickering.

Coincidentally, this episode also features Tiger-Heli, a port of Toaplan's first shoot-em-up. While the arcade Tiger-Heli was a fun, if not exceptional game, the Famicom port is severely hampered by terrible programming, courtesy of Micronics. While still a worthwhile game, playing the Famicom Tiger-Heli will make you wish it was ported by someone with Compile's technical competence.

More Notable Games:

Moero Twinbee - Cinnamon Hakase wo Sukue!

Episode 12 is a little shooter-heavy, what with Zanac, Tiger-Heli, and this little gem from Konami. A console only sequel to the arcade game Twinbee, Moero Twinbee tweaks the formula slightly by adding horizonal scrolling levels as well as vertical. Still present is the unique and slightly irritating power-up techinque that requires you to shoot falling bells until they change color. Fortunatley, some of the best power-ups are found by bombing ground targets. Its a rare day that sees two high quality shooters on the Famicom in one episode, so enjoy it while you can. Next episode, things return to normal with the dire Gall Force.


Ikari is one of the most divisive games released for the Famicom/NES. A select few revere it as a classic, while many others consider it to one of the worst games for the system. Much of the vitriol centers around the difficult to use controls - the arcade original used a rotary joystick while the Famicom port makes due with the D-pad. Still, some of the greatness of SNK's original game manages to shine through, despite another horrible porting job from Micronics. Speaking of which, Micronics has managed to become the arch-villain in the Famicom saga so far. They should receive criminal charges for the number of classic arcade games they have screwed up so far.

Castle Excellent

Sequel to ASCII's MSX game The Castle. This Lode Runner like puzzle game, released as Castlequest in the US, has you make your way through a 100 room castle in order to find a princess. Each room contains enemies, death traps and color-coded locked doors. The wonky jumping controls give Castle Excellent some hair pulling moments, but overall it remains a well designed, challenging game.

This Episode's Losers

Ganso Saiyuuki: Super Monkey Daibouken

There are plenty of bad games for the Famicom, but few manage to reach the level of Ganso Saiyuuki. In the categories of boring gameplay, shallow combat, amateurish graphics, general incoherence, and simply lacking anything that even resembles fun, Ganso Saiyuuki takes the gold medals. Hell, this game takes the platinum medals. It's difficult to completely understand Ganso Saiyuuki without playing it yourself, so I can't really elaborate on how bad it is. However, someone picking this game up for the first time will probably be simply baffled, as it appears at first glance to be a game in which absolutely nothing happens. Imagine Dragon Quest with no enemy encounters (though these do eventually appear) and no NPCs and with an impossibly huge overworld. Needless to say, it has a cult following in Japan as being a prime example of kuso-ge.

Transformers: Convoy no Nazo

Another spectacular debacle of a video game, this quickie cash-in from ISCO and Takara fails on almost every level. Really, a basic run to the right and shoot things game shouldn't be that hard to make, yet Convoy no Nazo manages to flub even the simplest gameplay elements. For example, most enemies are too short to actually be hit be your laser - it simply sails over their heads - thus forcing you to jump over most things that come your way. Even the most desperate Transformers fan should avoid this mess.

Dragon Ball: Shenron no Nazo

Notable for being the first of many, many Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z video games. Unfortunately, this Tose/Bandai title, released in censored form in the US as Dragon Power, gets the series off on the wrong foot. Shenron no Nazo misses even the low standards set by earlier Bandai games like Chubby Cherub and Ninja Kid.

The Rest:

Mappy Land - Decent but flawed console only sequel to Namco's arcade game concerning a rodent law enforcement officer.
Nagagutsu o Haita Neko - Based on Toei's 1976 animated film. Not to be confused with the related, but very different US only game, Puss 'N' Boots: Pero's Great Adventure.
The Monitor Puzzle - Kineco - Kinetic Connection - Difficult puzzle game involving putting together pieces of a moving image.
Aigina no Yogen: From the Legend of Balubalouk - Awkwardly titled adventure/platformer game. Seems to involve a kidnapped princess of some sort. The Famicom debut from Vic Tokai.
Hottaman no Chisoko Tanken - Sort of like Dig Dug, only more complicated. Famicom debut from Use.
Daiva - Part of an ambitious project of seven interrelated Daiva games, each released on a different Japanese system. The game itself combines Star Raiders with mediocre platformer action.
Karate Champ - The odd man out this episode. This Data East title was the second US-only release (after Nintendo's Gumshoe). Well, this technically isn't true - Karate Champ was given a belated release on the FDS in 1988. The 1984 arcade game was one of the first one-on-one fighting games and was probably still popular enough in 1986 for Data East to feel it warranted an NES releases.

As always, this episode may be downloaded from archive.org.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Episode 11: The Two Castles

Well, it is running a wee bit behind schedule, but Chrontendo Episode 11 is finished and available for download. What's in store this episode? A pretty nice selection of games, actually. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, but of all the third party publishers, Konami and Hudson are the ones really putting some effort into their games. By Fall 1986, both publishers had mastered the art of original games for the Famicom, in ways that others, such as Jaleco, Sunsoft, Square, and even Namco and Taito, have not.

This episode also sees the first great game for the Famicom Disk System that was not released by Nintendo themselves. The system is slowly coming of age, with six FDS games being released this episode. By end of the year, new FDS games will be coming out one after the other.

This Episode's Winner...

Akumajo Dracula/Castlevania

Classic platformers don't get much cooler than the orginal Castlevania. Light years ahead of most other recent Famicom platformers, this Konami release combines rich graphics, atmospheric music and imaginative level design. Castlevania eschews the typical cutsey style of most post-Mario side-scrolling platform games, instead opting for a spooky, gothic horror themed game set inside a decaying, monster infested castle. Your character, Simon Belmont, makes his way through six levels, each quite different in design and with a unique boss at the end of each. The bosses are one of the most impressive elements of the game. At a time when repeated or virtually identical bosses where commonplace, each of Castlevania's bosses are completely different in appearance, attack pattern, and weakness. While some might fault the game's controls as being unforgiving, they are still massively superior to the sloppy controls found in such games as Atlantis no Nazo or Gegege no Kitaro.


Meikyuu Kumikyoku/Milon's Secret Castle

Admittedly, this Hudson release is not in the same league as Castlevania. Milon's Secret Castle is a carefully designed, cute and fun puzzlish platformer built around a musical theme. Strangely similar to Castlevania, the object of the game is to ascend floor by floor, room by room, to the top of the titular castle. Each room can only be exited by finding a sufficient quantity of hidden items. While not without flaws, Milon's Secret Castle is a quality title.

Senjou no Ookami/Commando

Capcom finally ditches Micronics and ports their 1985 arcade hit themselves. The results are not quite as impressive as you might hope, but you still end up with a pretty good vertical action game. Furthermore, Commando inaugurates the Capcom tradition of adding additional gameplay elements to console ports.

Pro Wrestling: Famicom Wrestling Association

After two previous attempts someone finally releases a decent wrestling game for the Famicom. Unsurprisingly, that someone turns out to be Nintendo themselves.

Family Trainer Athletic World

Not really a good game, but notable for debuting Bandai's Family Trainer series. These games were designed to be used with the Family Trainer mat, on which the player stood and controlled by moving around. Nintendo was apparently quite pleased with the idea, since they released it themselves in the US as the Power Pad. Curiously, Nintendo is now reviving the idea as the Wii Fit.

Less than average games:

Urusei Yatsura: Lum no Wedding Bell

Based on a popular manga/anime series, this Jaleco title was released in arcades as Momoko 120%. Not a fantastically horrible game, Urusei Yatsura is just a little on the annoying side. The fact that it's ending up in Episode 11's "bad game list" just shows the relatively high quality of the games this time around.

Sansuu 4/5+6 Toshi: Keisan Game

It's probably a little unfair to throw this quickie educational release from Tokyo Shoseki on the list, but it's actually less intereting than the previous three Sansuu games. They've even cut the number of games on each cartridge in half!

Also this episode:

Terra Cresta: Pretty decent port of this classic vertical shoot-em-up from Nichibutsu.
Buggy Popper: Port of the old arcade game known as Bump 'n' Jump in the US.
Othello: An Othello video game from the mysterious publisher Kawada.
Dead Zone: Weird text adventure game from Sunsoft. Has the distinction of being the second
Japanese text adventure game for the Famicom.
Super Star Force: Kemco's lame sequel to Star Force. Not nearly as good as Hudson's sequel to that same game.
Ginga Denshou - Galaxy Odyessy: Time traveling vertical shoot-em-up. Not as interesting as
it sounds.
Mississippi Satsujin Jiken: Port of Commodore 64 adventure game Murder on the Mississippi.
I am a Teacher - Teami no Kiso: The second knitting instruction game from Royal Kougyou.

Well there you have it! Go ahead and download or stream Episode 11 here.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Chrontendo Special 10th Episode!

Yes, it is here at last, the special 10th episode of Chrontendo! Except that it is not really that special. In fact, it is pretty much a standard episode. Sorry. But, it does feature 15 more Famicom games from August and September of 1986! What's in store this episode? The first game in a beloved franchise from Hudson, the Famicom debuts from SNK and Victor, a very odd FDS title, an early Square release, and perhaps the first genuine kusoge game for the system.

This Episode's top pick:

Takahashi Meijin no Bouken Jima/Adventure Island

From Hudson we have this charming little side-scrolling platformer, which is actually an altered port of Sega's Wonder Boy. What's this?? A Sega game on the Famicom! How is this possible? Well, Wonder Boy was developed by a company called Escape/Westone who somehow retained rights to the game itself, even while Sega held the rights to the name "Wonder Boy" and all the characters. Thus, Hudson was able to release the game on the Famicom, courtesy of Escape, with redesigned character sprites. Oddly, Hudson based the new protagonist on real-life Hudson employee Toshiyuki Takahashi. For the US release, Adventure Island, the character name was changed to the inappropriate sounding "Master Higgins." Confusingly, both Wonder Boy and Adventure Island had several sequels, and Hudson continued to released altered ports of the Wonder Boy games while developing unreleated Adventure Island games. A very quick run-through of the Wonder Boy and Adventure Island series is given in Episode 10.

As for the game itself? It is pretty good, at least compared to other post-Mario platformers we've been seeing on the Famicom so far (see Super Pitfall and Musashi no Ken in this episode). While certainly derivative of Super Mario Bros, the game is charming, fun and the controls handle well. The major drawback is a certain degree of repetitiveness, as later levels are very similar to earlier ones. And like many games of this era, the end of level bosses are virtually identical. Overall, Adventure Island is quite a relief from the mediocre platformers being released for the Famicom.

More Cool Games:

Jajamaru no Daibouken

While no one's idea of a great game, the newest installment in this Jaleco series does incorporate some new ideas from Mario-style platformers. If nothing else, Jaleco has cranked these things out on a regular basis - Ninja Kun in May '85, Ninja Jajamaru Kun in November '85, and now Jajamaru no Daibouken in August '86 - allowing us a clear view of the development of the platformer genre. This game features longer, more horizontally orientated levels, and boss fights after each one. And of course, the giant toad is prominently featured in Jajamaru no Daibouken (even though I referred to it as a giant frog in the voiceover. Whoops!)

Mobile Suit Z-Gundam: Hot Scramble

I swear that if I ever open my own greasy spoon diner, I'll have a breakfast special called the Hot Scramble. That just sounds like a delicious egg, cheese and sausage based breakfast. No such tasty treats are contained in this game, but you do get some decent cockpit-view shooting action, courtesy of Masanobu Endoh's Game Studios. That's right! A Bandai game not developed by Tose! Mark this day on your calender. I can only assume this game was a success in Japan, since it was followed about by about a thousand other Gundam games. I guess Chrontendo will have to tackle those eventually....

ASO/Alpha Mission and Super Xevious: Gamp no Nazo

Two shoot-em-ups for the price of one! Granted, neither of these are really "cool" games, but they are both somewhat notable. ASO (Armored Scrum Object) happens to be the first Famicom release from SNK and also contains a very unusual word in its title. I'm sure I can count the number of times I've seen the word "scrum" used on one hand. This game makes the serious mistake of giving the player a number of very cool sounding power-ups (Flame, Nuke, "Sheeld", etc...) and then severely limiting the usage of those weapons. Super Xevious is a console only sequel - still a very rare thing in 1986 - to Namco's hit arcade game Xevious. Somehow, Super Xevious manages to add a few updates to the Xevious formula (power-ups, actual levels) and still fall short of the original game.

Games which angry up the blood with their sheer awfulness:

Hokuto no Ken

Hokuto no Ken!! Goddamn, this game pisses me off! Listening to my voiceover for this game, I realize I let Hokuto no Ken off way to easily. Really, the game is a bit insulting. Clearly, Toei was thinking that since it was based off a popular manga/anime (known as Fist of the North Star in the West), it would sell a certain number of copies regardless of how little effort was put into the game itself. And I'll be damned if developer Shoei System (aka Bears) didn't turn out one of the laziest games for the Famicom ever. Hokuto no Ken is one of the first examples on the Famicom of "kusoge"; that is, a shitty game. Kusoge hold a certain fascination for many Japanese gamers, and I will admit that when playing Hokuto no Ken, I find it hilariously awful for about the first minute. After that, the hatred starts to set in, and I curse Toei and Shoei System for ever releasing this thing. Seriously, it's like they came over to my house, left a steaming turd on my front porch, and then ran away.

On a related note, we will get to see one of the most mind-warplingly awful kusoge games in Episode 12.

Super Pitfall

Well, Pony Canyon went ahead and let Micronics develop a new entry in the beloved Activision series. Way to go, guys. From a purely technical standpoint, I suppose Super Pitfall is not that bad. However, this is a fine example of taking a perfectly acceptable idea way too far. While games such as Zelda and Metroid used the idea of hard-to-find secrets and hidden items to enhance replayability and reward resourceful players, Super Pitfall uses those concepts to completely kill the game. Super Pitfall is essentially a remake of Pitfall II - your goal is to find your niece, her pet Mountain Lion, and the Raj Diamond. But, in Super Pitfall, every item you need to complete your quest is invisible. That's right, all the keys, replacement ammunition, quest items and completely invisible and found by jumping while standing next to them. In one case, the entrance to the next level is accessed by jumping into a particular enemy! And there are no clues anywhere; it is simply jump, jump, jump until you just happen to uncover a necessary item. Unfortunately, this particular theory of game design - artificially extending a game's length by simply hiding key items - will continue to be a hallmark of bad games for the Famicom for some time.


While Ghostbusters was a popular, but not particularly good Activision game for US computers, this Famicom port is another matter entirely. The final level must go down as one of the worst levels ever in video game history. Your three Ghostbusters (Ernie Hudson's character is conspicuously absent from the game) must march up innumerable flights of stairs in order to meet the final boss, Gozer. However, this is accomplished by hitting the B button once for every step you wish to take. Thus, your characters move at an almost comically slow rate, while being attacked by impossible-to-avoid swarm of ghosts. Really, it is worth playing the game just to see how badly conceived this level is. I suppose this was the beginning of Activision's slow slide into irrelevance in the late 80s and early 90s, prior to their recent phenomenal turn-around.

Also this episode:

Musashi no Ken: So-so platformer from Taito based on (surprise!) a manga/anime series.
King's Knight: Baffingly weird vertical shooter with a fantasy theme from Square.
Koneko Monogatri: Based on the film released in the US as "Milo and Otis." A cute and simple platformer.
Space Hunter: Incredibly, a mere month after Metroid, Kemco released this game about a female "Space Hunter." Unlike Metroid, this game is not good.
Sky Kid: Port of Namco's Choplifter-like horizontal shooter.
Banana: First Famicom release from Victor. A decent puzzle game.
I am a Teacher - Super Mario no Sweater: What the hell? An instructional knitting disk for the FDS?

As always, Chrontendo Episode 10 may be downloaded or streamed from archive.org here.