What's that you say? Sorry for the delay in posting an update? No, that's not it. Though now that you mention it... an update is a little overdue.
Chrontendo Episode 24 is progressing, but slower that I anticipated. Various preoccupations have been eating away at my time. I'm probably the last person on Earth to read it, but after a couple years of procrastinating, I've picked a copy of Doris Kearns Goodwin's epic Lincoln book Team of Rivals. It's turned out to be a real page turner, and surprisingly hard to put down for a book concerned primarily with political maneuvering. Also, spurred on by the price drop, I decided to finally get Rock Band 2! Now I can work on my chops and stop making a fool of myself whenever I sit behind the drums. The first time you sit behind the drum kits, it's as if someone handed you a ticking bomb and asked you to defuse it. You really have no idea what exactly you are supposed to be doing.
Oh yes! I said I was sorry about something. The reason being that with Chrontendo Episode 24 were are turning to a new chapter in the history of the NES. A dark, dirty chapter; one whose pages are stained with the tears of NES owners. So far we've only seen games of Japanese origin. Even the handful of US only releases we've covered have been from Nintendo, Data East and so on. However, October 1987 witnesses the emergence of US-based publishers releasing games exclusively for the US market. LJN Toys released their first three games that month, Karate Kid, Jaws and Gotcha! The Sport.
People often associate LJN with Acclaim, but at this point they were still owned by Universal. Their first three games are all tied into Universal films. Karate Kid is a substandard platformer until the third level, at which point it becomes an exercise in pure frustration. The third level, the monsoon level, must go down as one of the most hateful gaming experiences I've encountered in Chrontendo so far. To top it all off, the game is not even based on Karate Kid, but on the lame sequel, Karate Kid II!
A similar bait and switch occurs with Jaws. If you picked up this game hoping to play as Roy Schneider or Richard Dreyfuss, forget it. The game is actually a tie-in to the 1987 franchise-killer Jaws: The Revenge. The most striking thing about Jaws is its extreme shortness. Once you've gotten the hang of the game, you can complete it in a matter of minutes. A speed run of the game clocks in at 3:58! The game itself simply consists of cruising around the tiny overworld map in your boat mixed with underwater action sequences that could have been lifted out of an old 2600 game.
Gotcha! a light gun game, manages to be quite playable, so it's the odd man out here. Jaws and Karate Kid, to a certain degree, strike me as having a distinctly mid 80s Western style of game design. Both games take several half-baked ideas and simply string them together to form a longer game. Karate Kid combines a level of one-on-one fighting, a few platforming level and some microgames. Jaws is even more inchoate. Several types of basic action sequences are simply slapped together; none are strong enough to hold the gamer's interest. The result is similar to titles such as Ghostbusters and Winter Games. The surprising thing is that both Jaws and Karate Kid were outsourced to Japanese hands: Westone worked on Jaws and Atlus on Karate Kid (the microgames in Kid seem to have a relative in Bio Senshi Dan's wrestling sequences). The always fascinating Game Developer Research Institute has had some interesting posts on LJN lately, including the Atlus connection. Presumably LJN's titles were produced quickly and cheaply, which would explain the huge step down in quality from games like Wonderboy and Megami Tensei.
After these three titles, LJN would go on to release a number of carts for the NES, mostly based on existing IPs, and mostly terrible. And it won't stop with LJN. Acclaim will release it's first NES game designed for the US market later in 1987. Other companies will follow: High Tech Expressions, Gametek, Milton Bradley, Tradewest, et al will emerge over the next couple years. By the late 80's, American gamers will get to experience what Japanese gamers have known since 1985: tons of quickie licensed games crowding the shelves. Come to think of it, that's still the case to this day.
But, don't worry -- it's not all bad news this time around. We'll also get some good games, namely Faxanadu, Bubble Bobble and a little something called Punch-Out!