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

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! 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 here.