Thursday, June 11, 2009

Vampires... Why Did It Have To Be Vampires?

Finally! Chrontendo Episode 21, the very special "much delayed" episode, is ready. Get it at archive.org. I hope you guys like bats, vampires, Indiana Jones and Konami, because that's what this episode is all about.

The fates have sent us an unusual number of fine games this time around. Aside from the previously mentioned three Konami titles, we have a great game from Square (gasp!), fun stuff from HAL and Hudson, and a couple franchise-starting titles that are notable, if not exactly excellent. Also up: an intriguing failure from Bandai & Tose and two games that we'll classify as straight up kusoge.

A couple brief notes. Those you with master lists of Famicom releases may note one missing game: Igo: Kuroban Taikyoku from Bullet Proof Software, released on August 11. This is merely a cartridge reissue of an FDS game covered back in Chrontendo 17.

Also, at the suggestion of one commenter, I've added undertitles when viewing footage from versions of games on other systems, for purposes of clarification.

Finally, streaming video and MPEG-4 are back for Episode 21. In the past, I've uploaded XviD AVI files, but Archive's new conversion software was resulting in seriously out of sync MPEG-4 files. This time I uploaded a larger MPEG-2 file, which converted correctly to MPEG-4, then replaced with the smaller, better quality AVI file. As far as I can tell, this is working so far. If anyone has any problems, please let me know.

Enough beating around the bush.. Let's get started with this episode's winnah!

Dracula II: Noroi no Fuuin/Castlevania II: Simon's Quest

The "black sheep" of the Castlevania family, at least until Castlevania: Judgement came along. Still, judging the user reviews on GameFaqs, public opinion on this title remains very much mixed. At least one well known video game commenter really hates it. As for myself, I actually like the way Castlevania II purposefully messes with the gamer.

















Not content to merely give Castlevania an RPG makeover, Konami saw fit to turn the entire genre on its head. End of level bosses are either optional, very easy, or missing altogether. Solutions to puzzles are completely illogical and virtually impossible to figure out on your own (perhaps they had been playing some Sierra adventure games?) NPCs don't just offer cryptic or vague advice, they dispense totally false and/or worthless information.

This subversion of genre rules helps Castlevania II deliver a creepy, paranoid vibe. Though the game's detailed graphics and eerie, yet catchy musical score also substantially contribute to the overall weird feeling. While in some ways a very flawed game, Castlevania II has enough character, personality and uniqueness to qualify as a minor classic.

What about you guys? Anyone else out there like this game? Does it fill you with raging hatred? Is it still as divisive as it once was, or have feelings mellowed over the years?

Majou Densetsu II: Daimashikyou Galious

















Part a trilogy of games for the MSX, the middle installment is the only one to get a console port. Majou Densetsu, also known as Knightmare, was a fantasy themed shoot-em-up similar to Squares King's Knight. The sequel was a major step forward - a lengthy side scrolling action adventure game set in a series of maze like castles. The game's most unusual feature was the use of Hebrew themes sprinkled throughout; in the bosses' names, for example. Knightmare III: Shalom, took this conceit even further.

As was often the case, Majou Densetsu II was reworked a bit for the Famicom release (cf. Valis, also this episode). The game is somewhat in the style of Zelda or Goonies II, minus the first person adventure game sequences, with lots of running around and collecting items. The most notable gameplay gimmick is the ability to switch back and forth between your two playable characters at will. There are some differences between the two: Popolon is stronger but will drown if he falls in water, while Aphrodite will be unharmed by a dunk in the drink. Sometimes only a certain character can enter a particular door. But the character-switching isn't integrated deeply enough to make much of a difference in the gameplay

Almana no Kiseki

A distant cousin to Capcom's Bionic Commando, this platformer employees an unusual grappling hook-and-rope mechanic. Almana draws inspiration from two sources: Roc 'n' Rope, an earlier Konami arcade game which used the same grappling hook system; and Indiana Jones.

Your fedora clad adventurer comes pre-equipped with throwing knives, but will quickly find a gun, bombs, bolas, and what appear to be naval mines (!). Unfortunately, all weapons have limited usage, while enemies respawn infinitely, so you can't engage in indiscriminate slaughter. You know what your character really could use? A whip.

For a Konami game, the controls are a little shaky, and shooting and climbing the ropes isn't quite as effortless as it should be. Considering just how frequently you need to use the grappling hook, this is a real shame. Both Almana no Kiseki and Majou Densetsu II feature music by Kinuyo Yamashita, who composed the score for the first Castlevania.

Highway Star/Rad Racer

By this time, things must have been looking up for Square. The team from 3D Worldrunner, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Nubuo Uematsu and Nasir Gebelli, recreated that game's success with this technically impressive Out Run clone. Shortly thereafter, they would again combine their talents to create the even more successful Final Fantasy*, which ended up the video game equivalent of a license to legally print money.

Until then, they'll just have to be satisfied with having put out the best racing game on the Famicom so far.

Bomber King/Robowarrior

















Though it wasn't clear from the US version, this game is Hudson's followup to Bomberman. Here, instead of running around in typical Bomberman style rooms, your 'roided up and heavily armed character is out to save the world from environmental devastation the only he knows how - by blowing everything up. Aside from bombs, you'll pick up missiles, batteries, candles and life preservers. Because, you know, robots can't swim.

Air Fortress

















HAL's first attempt at an action game for the Famicom, 1986's Gall Force, was, from a gameplay perspective, a disaster. They certainly fare better with this odd little shoot-em-up. Air Fortress alternates between very simple hori shoot-em-up levels, and "on foot" segments taking place inside the titular fortresses. Unusually high quality backgrounds on this title.


No episode of Chrontendo would be complete, without its share of truly wretched games.

Miracle Ropit's Adventures in 2100

From our good buddies at Micronics, it's another shitty game! Their winning formula: take the chick in a robot suit concept from Metroid, subtract everything cool and replace it with equal portions of suck. What kind of strange lifeforms will you encounter while exploring alien worlds? How about goats, dogs and uh... floating parallelograms.

Transformers: The Head Masters

















Ignoring the possibilities for crude jokes made at the expense of a name like "Head Masters," I'll just point out this is nominally better than Convoy no Nazo. Still, don't expect too much. Takara has taken their popular line of toys whose about cars that can turn into robots, and produced a game about cars that cannot turn into robots, and robots that cannot turn into cars. A Transformers game with no transforming! Well played, Takara....

Elnark no Zaihou

















Congratulations, Towachiki, for making the least memorable game this episode. I almost forget to mention this game while writing this post. The Indiana Jones styled setting (again!) has you tromping around the South American jungle, looking for ancient temples or something. The mysterious developer has left traces of their work in other games such as Mirai Shinwa Jarvas and Takeshi Chosenjou! Bonus: the game loops you around the same backgrounds over and over again, until you perform some completely arbitrary action to transport you to a new area. People who complain about Castlevania II should try playing this for a bit of perspective.

And the rest:

Family Mahjong - The great Famicom mahjong torrent is officially underway.

Saint Seiya

















Are Bandai and Tose slowly inching their way towards decent games? Saint Seiya, based on the anime known as Knights of the Zodiac in the West, is certainly the most ambitious game from Bandai so far. An unwieldy fusion of a turn-based RPG and a Beat-'em-up (a concept that is actually workable. Odin Sphere, for example,) the resulting game falls a little short of playable. But at least they are actually making an effort to produce something that transcends the likes of Kinnikuman.

Valis the Fantastic Soldier

















Weirdo port of Telenet/Wolfteam's computer game, originally for the PC-88 and MSX. If you've played the vastly superior remake on the PC Engine, prepare to cry salty tears of despair while playing this version. Among the game's sins: incredibly difficult to navigate levels, and boring bosses that require an insane number of hits to take down.

Kiki Kaikai Dotou Hen

Like Valis, this is a port that just doesn't quite pull it off, darn it! Taito's arcade game was a Shinto based shoot-em-up with wacky yokai enemies. For Famicom version, Taito has attempted to translate Kiki Kaikai into a exploration based action adventure game by making the levels much bigger and removing most of the enemies. Years later, Natsume would revive the game by adding a Tanuki sidekick and improving the gameplay. In the West, the sequels were released under the name Pocky and Rocky.

Mito Koumon

















Based on the loooong running historic television drama, this Sunsoft release attempts to break the record for most speech samples in a Famicom game. It's actually quite impressive for a game of this vintage. Presumably those samples took a big chunk of this cart's 2 Megs of ROM. It resembles Konami's enormously popular** Ganbare Goemon game, with a bit more of a graphical adventure game slant.

Super Lode Runner II - The fourth, and last, Lode Runner game for the Famicom.

So there we have it. Hopefully Episode 21 will be out a bit sooner. For now, check out Episode 21 at archive.org.

* Supposedly. At various times, Sakaguchi has given sales figures of 400,000 for the FC/NES Final Fantasy and 500,000 for 3D Worldrunner. Say what?!? I thought FF was the big hit that ended a string of collossal flops and saved Square from financial ruin. But it actually sold less than Sakaguchi's first console game?

** Konami's best selling title for the Famicom in Japan. No joke!

11 comments:

Kahless_GOA said...

Nice Episode dude, just keep em coming...btw, I wondered if there was ever any good Transformer Game. Convoy no Nazo sucked big time, and the aberation in Episode 21 named something Headmaster wasn't a hight of gaming. What the f*** is that even supposed to mean? I watched the complete cartoon series, there was never a Headmaster...btw, I would recommend it, I watched them all oin a row, and I thought only 3 or so fromm all 100 were really good, I mean with interesting plot and some sense behind all. And the new Transformer movie blowed imho, but I made the mistake to EXPECT something. But I'm getting of the point here, I wondered if you know if there was any playable Transformers game on 8-Bit, or even 16-Bit consoles. There was one on PS2, which I should definitaly get one day, but I wondered if the Japanese ever got something out on (S)NES, it would fit in the timeframe of the cartoon series. Though, the Ultraman game was released over a decade after the movies/series...

Doctor Sparkle said...

The Transformers were pretty popular throughout the 80s, so its odd that they didn't release more games. Other than a Commodore 64 game designed by David Crane, there were the two Famicom games...then nothing until the PS1 era. I've never played the PS games, but I can't imagine they'd be any good. One was a fighting game. The weirdest looking Transformers game was a Japanese GameCube release: a fighting game with Takara, Hudson and Konami characters. You could play characters like Optimus Prime, Simon Belmont and Bomberman!

The Head Masters TV series apparently never made it out of Japan until a few years ago. Apparently it involved Transformers who could detach their head for some reason.

Kahless_GOA said...

There is one PS2 game, known only as TransFormers, which achieved relatively good critics around the world (as seen here: http://www.metacritic.com/games/platforms/ps2/transformers?q=transformers ). Though, I am kinda dissapointed by the franchise, I really love the idea of Robots transforming into vehicles and such shit, but the Movies (especially the first live action movie, I havent seen the 2nd yet) and the old series dissapointed me a lot...I mean, these are robots which are SEVERAL MILLION YEARS old, and are childish, stupid and not very wise (except that Optimus Prime dude). I know it is just a kids show, but it can still be made with some brains. The Harry Potter books and movies aren't my thing either, but they have at least a deep plot and some twisted backstory.
okay, I should stop bashing TransFormers, especially the Japanese have some other feel to these robots, when I think of Gundam or Neon Genesis Evangelion...they are used to that shit.

Chris Sobieniak said...

SAINT SEIYA
Still saddens me they could've done a lot more with this property in the US than the meager few things we saw. Much of Europe and Latin America were blessed with this classic alongside Fist of the North Star.


MITO KOUMON
Mainichi Broadcasting System is a TV station in Osaka that is an affiliate of the Japan News Network (JNN, which also operates the channel TBS in Tokyo).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainichi_Broadcasting_System


TRANSFORMERS: HEADMASTERS
It's true to argue much of the Transformers franchise, either in America or Japan, has been rather not very good overall. It was a ploy of toy companies to further sell a product to a demographic that wasn't old enough to really appreciate it on a level the way many familiar properties like Gundam would to an older crowd. I was never really quite into the stuff back in the day but it's funny they didn't try to bring over these later shows that were Japan-only like Headmasters, Masterforce or Victory. Of course in Masterforce, they weren't even sentient, more like suits the guys battle in.

Then there's Transformers: Zone!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8uFO5YqdPY

Garrett said...

The Headmasters were featured in the original Transformers series, but only in the final three episodes (which, due to the additional characters required for the Headmaster and Targetmaster gimmick, as well as the number of episodes being reduced from 5 to 3 during the script revisions). The Japanese Headmasters cartoon ignored those last three episodes (which pretty much closed the series while leaving an opening for another series that never came) and used a wildly different take on the gimmick, as well as making some severely annoying story choices (killing off Prime *again*, turning Arcee and Carly into extremely domesticated characters, focusing on a much-more infantile Daniel and Wheelie).

On the subject of the original Sunbow cartoon (created in the US and animated in Japan, Korea, and the Philippines), the problem with the show is the rather lax story editing and writing in the first two seasons, which was done by Sunbow's American partner, Marvel Productions, instead by Sunbow themselves (which hired big-name comic book and animation writers like Steve Gerber, Marv Wolfman, Roger Stern, and Christy Marx for their other shows). While G.I. Joe and Jem were well-written (if occasionally bizarre) cartoons, The Transformers was pretty poorly written until after the movie, when all the popular characters were dead and the animation quality took a nosedive. Further complicating things are the DVDs, which used incomplete film masters as their basis instead of the complete (though heavily aged) video masters, exponentially adding to the animation errors present in the show (particularly in the first season, which was rushed to air in only a few months).

Tarquinnff3 said...

I've been watching all your shows in order and they are awesome. I was wondering, where did you get your master list? The only one I have found is on Wikipedia and even it doesn't have some of the games you review. Secondly, I haven't been able to get this episode (21) to load and it gives me a timed-out error. Maybe it's just site issues that will go away, but maybe it's not. Just thougth I'd let you know. Thanks again and keep them comming.

PS. Are you planning on doing a Chrongameboy?

Doctor Sparkle said...

Tarquinnff3 - I tried downloading Ep 21 and it worked fine for me. Perhaps a temporary issue with Archive.org?

I originally based my list of Famicom games on the very helpful, now-deleted Chronological list of Famicom games on Wikipedia: http://tinyurl.com/25zldkr. I then rounded up lists of US only and unlicensed games from somewhere, and added them in.

As for Gameboy - I don't think I'll be doing any handheld systems.

JohnH said...

I''m surprised, on Air Fortress, you didn't mention the amazing escape-the-base sections, which in later levels are about the most tension-racked things available on the NES. Such atmosphere!

Also, when you defeat the last (gigantic) fortress, there's a password to an entire second quest, with completely new, even harder fortresses! Truly a severely underrated game.

JohnH said...

Castlevania II, as I discovered quite some time ago, has many endings depending on how fast you beat it. Taking your time in beating it actually seems to give you the endings in which Simon doesn't die. Just another way the game subverts expectations.

The ending is determined solely by the number of game days it takes you to beat it. When you run out of lives you begin back at the starting town at the beginning of the day you were on. Both of those facts, coupled with the fact that the timer freezes when in a mansion, can be used to win in a very small amount of time.

It's been many years since I did this, but I seem to remember figuring out a way to get to the last castle by the tail end of the second day!

I seem to remember, after beating the game on that run, getting an ending in which, after the ending text, Dracula's hand creepily emerges from the ground....

I also remember reading an interview with the game's designer in which he admitted, even in the Japanese version, that the townsfolk lie. Personally I think that's a great idea overall, since it's rather suspicious in these games that the people cowering in the towns would happen to have the precise information on defeating nearby puzzles that they have in so many other games.

Doctor Sparkle said...

JohnH - It's been a while, but as I recall, I got the "medium" ending on CVII, where Simon dies due to his wounds. I very much doubt I'd ever be able to get the good ending, since I tend to play slowly and methodically.

One of the things I like about the game is the fact that half the NPCs are liars or insane. More games ought to utilize deceptive or misinformed NPCs.

AptProspect@yahoo.com said...

Another great episode, I like your analysis of CVII and how it messes with the player by turning genre expectations on their head, I never thought of it that way. For the record, I love this game today as I did back then and am amazed at how it set the blueprint for the Metroidvania genre later on.

I should point out that, although the game is cryptic (deliberately), there is some guidance in the form of the Holy Water weapon. For example, that solid wall you jumped through can be exposed as false by testing it with Holy Water before jumping. Similarly, the Holy Water can expose hint books that are actually helpful, as opposed to the NPCs. It's still cryptic, but you're not left completely stranded.