Saturday, February 23, 2008

Chrontendo Episode 8 Has Been Released!

Chrontendo soldiers onwards in its quest to play every Famicom/NES game ever made. By now we have reached April and May of 1986, and this episode features yet another historic moment, with the release of Dragon Quest by Enix on May 26th. While not particularly successful in the US, Dragon Quest would become one of the most popular franchises in Japan, almost single-handedly launching the Japanese RPG genre. While DQ is in some ways a flawed, uneven game, its importance to the Japanese gaming world cannot be overstated. This episode also includes a (very) brief history of RPGs prior to the release of DQ.

However, I also feel that the release of Dragon Quest is significant in another way. For the first year or so of its existence, the Famicom mostly played host to games that were either ports of arcade or computer titles, or very simple sports games. By the end of 1986, the Famicom will have been transformed into a very different beast. Many of the titles released for the Famicom in the future will belong to newer, more console-based genres, that didn't have an exact counterpart in the arcades or on computers. I'd say the Famicom established or popularized four console-based genres: Side-scrolling platformers, Zelda-esque action adventure games, Japanese text adventure games, and Japanese RPGs. The actual games that served as a model for these four genres are: Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken, and Dragon Quest. In other words the basic blueprint for the Famicom's existence has now been laid out. Expect to see those four formulas used over and over again for the next seven years.

This episodes most valuable game:

Dragon Quest

Duh. What else could it be? While there had been several prior RPGs released in Japan for the PC-88 and MSX computers (Dragon Slayer, Black Onyx, Hydlide), it was DQ that really laid down the rules for Japanese RPGs. The basic gameplay and plot of DQ was derived from Richard Garriot's Ultima III: Exodus, yet DQ manages to feel completely different than existing American RPG video games. Yuji Horii, Akira Toriyama and Chunsoft manage to create a game that would appeal to the typical Japanese anime fan, rather than the 16-sided die crowd. Their effort paid off: Dragon Quest would sell a million and a half copies, and future entries in the series would rack up even more impressive sales.

Super Mario Bros. 2

No, this is not THAT Super Mario Bros. 2. This is the original SMB 2, which is virtually a remake of the SMB with the difficulty ratcheted up a few notches. For some reason, Nintendo choose not to release this game in the West for several years, until it eventually made an appearance as "Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels" for the SNES.


Konami bats one out of the park with this stellar port of their 1985 arcade classic. Konami seem to have ported this themselves rather than relying on an outside developer, as Capcom has been doing up to this point. The results are the best shoot-em-up for the Famicom released so far.

Nazo no Mursame Shiro

Nintendo's overdue second game for the Famicom Disk System. While not in the same class as Zelda (and also not designed by Shigeru Miyamoto), Nazo no Murasame Shiro is a nice little action adventure title featuring a samurai. Imagine a more linear Zelda consisting of only the dungeons without the overworld.

Mighty Bomb Jack

Tecmo makes its first, unsteady steps towards platforming greatness with this unusual title. A Famicom-only sequel the the arcade's Bomb Jack, this title is a side-scrolling (and vertical-scrolling!) platformer that takes place inside a pyramid and is really the first decent SMB inspired game. Mighty Bomb Jack, like Tower of Druaga, is a little too difficult to be completely enjoyable, but it is a fine early effort from the folks who would later release Ninja Gaiden.

Bad, bad games:

Atlantis no Nazo

Ugh. This hideous mess from Sunsoft resembles Pitfall meets SMB, plus controls that handle like an 18-wheeler on an icy mountain road. Amazingly, this was considered for an American release as Super Pitfall II. While that seems somehow appropriate, please be aware that this game is actually much worse that Super Pitfall (which will be covered in Chrontendo Episode 10, by the way!).

Bird Week

You might be able to make an interesting game based on this idea: you are a mother bird feeding her chicks and avoiding predators. Regrettably, Bird Week is not an interesting game, but rather one that feels short on inspiration and detail. A dull, repetitive action game.

Addtionally, Episode 8 contains several games which are definitely not good, but not bad enough to actually hate: Gegege no Kitaro, Argus, and Tag Team Pro Wrestling.

Also this episode: Kage no Densetsu, Seicross, Spy VS Spy, Dig Dug II, and Sansuu 1,2 & 3 Toshi: Keisan Game.

Chrontendo Episode 8 is available to download or stream here.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Chrontendo Episode 7 Available to Download!

Yes, Yes, y'all! The latest episode of Chrontendo is now available to download at! Aside from being right on schedule, episode 7 covers the debut of the Famicom Disk System, as well the introduction of one of Nintendo's biggest franchises.

For those not familiar with the FDS, it was a Japan only add-on to the Famicom that plugged into the cartridge slot. It allowed you to play games on Nintendo's proprietary 3" disks. These disks offered more space that cartridges at that time, allowing for larger games. Furthermore, data could be written onto the disks, allowing for game progress to be saved -- very helpful for long games such as Zelda. FDS disks were also much cheaper to manufacture and were sold at a lower retail price. Nintendo released their own titles almost exclusively on the disk format over the next few years in Japan, as the system was quite popular over there. Rather strange, considering how they obstinately struck to cartridges through the 90s.

Our most valuable game this episode:

Zelda no Densetsu: The Hyrule Fantasy

The debut game for the FDS was none other than Legend of Zelda. This game probably needs no introduction as it became one of the biggest selling titles on the Famicom and NES, and revolutionized console gaming just as profoundly as Super Mario Bros. In this episode, I examine the roots of Zelda and discuss the innovations this game made. Needless to say, in the next few months of 1986, concepts from Zelda will start appearing in other games. These include non-linearity; the overworld/dungeon division of the in-game world; shops in which power-ups and other helpful items may be purchased; NPCs who give you cryptic "hints"; and a structure of gameplay in which apparently unsurmountable obstacles may be overcome by finding certain items or performing certain actions.

Other interesting games:

Bomberman - The first game in Hudson's long running series. Actually a port of an MSX game, the Famicom release of Bomberman added the now-familiar robot design of the title character, as well as a lot of special abilities not found in the MSX original. While not as fantastic as the later games in the series, Bomberman is a good start.

Hydlide Special
-- The first Japanese RPG, a port of a 1985 MSX game. While some folks refer to Black Onyx as the first Japanese RPG, that game was designed by an American, and was intended to closely mimic the style of such games as Wizardry. Hydlide took Ultima 3, simplified the gameplay, improved the graphics, removed many of the RPG-ish elements, such as character classes and most of the stats, and made all the characters looks short and stubby. Hydlide is virtually unplayalbe by today's standards, and was eclipsed by the superior and enormously popular Dragon Quest, but it was the first of its kind.

Goonies -- Great platformer of the "run, jump and climb ladders" variety, published by Konami. This game was never released in the US, and is not nearly as well known as its sequel. Still, it is one of the best games of its kind to come out on the Famicom so far.

Twin Bee -- Very decent port of Konami's classic cute-em-up. While later games in the series were more entertaining, Twin Bee is one of the first shooters released for the Famicom that did not suck.

MagMax -- Another decent shoot-em-up, similar to Terra Cresta in its system for collecting parts to improve your ship.

The Hall of Shame:

Baltron -- An utterly pointless Defender clone. The first game from Toei Animation, and a portent of future horrible games from animation, toy and music companies.

Son Son -- Not a bad arcade game, but a terrible conversion, courtesy of Micronics. The amount of flicker in this game is truly seizure inducing.

Ninja Hatori Kun
-- While this game is not a disaster along the lines of Dough Boy or Kinnikuman, it is a hastily designed anime tie-in from Hudson Soft. It's a shame to see Hudson release such mediocre product as this.

Also covered this episode: Lot Lot, Exed Exes, Circus Charlie, Gyrodine, Penguin Kun Wars, and Binary Land.

Chrontendo Episode 7 may be downloaded or streamed here.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Retrogaming Times Monthly

Just a brief update to note that I've added a link to Retrogaming Times Monthly on this page. For those of you unfamiliar with RTM, it is an online newsletter dedicated to games of the 8 bit and pre-8 bit eras. These guys has been cranking out issues since the late 90s with alarming regularity. Definitely something retrogaming fans will want to put on their monthly reading lists. New issues come out, like clockwork, around the first week of each month.