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.
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.
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.
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.
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!