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

















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.

4 comments:

Daniel said...

Hi there, what a great initiave. I just discovered your website and I love the idea! Can you tell me where you found a chronological list of NES games? And does there exist a similar SNES list?

Doctor Sparkle said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Daniel. As for a list of all the NES games -- that's a tough one. Wikipedia lists all the Famicom games by release date: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronological_list_of_Famicom_games. But this doesn't include US only releases. Having done some research on the subject, it seems many US NES release dates have not been documented for posterity. I've compiled what I think is a virtually complete list of NES games, but have only month or year of release for many US titles. If a chronological list of SNES games exist, I'd sure like to see it, as I'm currently working on a list myself. Looks like some folks are also working on the SNES/SFC listings on Wikipedia.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Well at least something's getting done nowadays. I wish I was more better aware of this when the NES was out when these games did appear.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Ganso Saiyuuki: Super Monkey Daibouken
Being reminded of VAP for a few anime-related material they released over the years, obviously video games weren't their bag!

Nagagutsu o Haita Neko
Interesting about the differences between this and a later US-only game of the same character.

MAPPYLAND
Kinda nice they left the church bit in there!

DRAGON BALL: SHEN LONG NO NAZO
Most recently, this first Famicom game was re-released as an extra in the Nintendo DS title "Dragon Ball DS 2: Charge! Red Ribbon Army", though it appears it won't be added as an extra for the US release this summer, but I hope it does show up!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeYFSenKFpE

And if you're wondering, Muten Roshi, the guy who asked to see Bulma's panties, got a nosebleed, which is a very common joke seen in cartoons like that!

KINECO
Not a bad game here, too bad they didn't bring it out for the NES.

ZANAC
Didn't think Pony Canyon put out a decent game (though I see Compile did this anyway).