Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Newsflash! Chrontendo Episode 18 now available at!

I will admit that we are running into a bit of rough patch with the Famicom around this time. Summer 1987 doesn't seem be jammed packed with exciting releases. Part of the problem is simply the sheer number of games coming out at this time. Whereas June-August of 1986 found only 23 games hitting the shelves, there are 53 games released same three months in 1987! While we will still continue to see some quality releases, the amount of bad to indifferent stuff is a little overwhelming.

With that in mind, we notice a theme of unoriginality in Episode 18. Several titles seem uncomfortably similar to well known games from major publishers. I discussed three of them last post. Other than that, what should we be looking for in today's episode? Probably the continued influence of games like Zelda and Metroid. Much of 1986 was taken up by rather straightforward sidescrolling platfomers. 1987 is shaping up to be the year of the action adventure game with non-linear and/or RPG influences. A good chunk of Episode 18's game fall in that category, and expect to see more of the same in Episode 19.

So, let's get down to the brass tacks. Our notable game this episode is another winner from Capcom.

Section Z

A port of Capcom's 1986 horizontal shooter, Section Z is the most well known in the US of Episode 18's releases. Just like Higemaru from last episode, Capcom dramatically altered the Famicom version. Essentially, they took the arcade game and crossbred it with Metroid. Thus, it's a shooter with branching paths, backtracking, life bar extensions, and so on. The last boss is even named "L-Brain." On the negative side - this is 1987! We expect cooler power-ups in a shooter!

While far from perfect, Section Z is certainly the most interesting Famicom game so far from Capcom, a company that is slowly gaining its footing when it comes to console video games.

Episode 18 is not exactly packed with winners, but a few other nice games are featured.

Pro Golfer Saru - Kage no Tournament

What?! A Bandai/Tose game that's worth playing? Hard to believe, but this turns out to be a decent golf game. Inspired (naturally) by a manga/anime series, Pro Golfer Saru is a nice contrast to the more sedate Nintendo golf games. Rather than attempting to create a realistic golf simulation, Bandai and Tose get all wild and goofy, letting you golf on urban rooftops and courses infested with gophers and mini-tornadoes. While hardly brilliant, there is a certain amount of fun to be had here.

Hao-Kun no Fushigina Tabi/Mystery Quest

Another game that straddles the line between good and simply OK. This cute little platformer lifts a few moves directly from Super Mario Bros while managing to be reasonably enjoyable. Another DOG game, this time by the obscure developer Carry Lab. This was their only game to get a US release, in heavily truncated form as Mystery Quest.

Meikyuu Jiin Dababa

Yet another stylish game from Konami! This Indian-themed oddity has an unusual gameplay quirk. Your character cannot walk but can only jump from square to square on the grid-like playing field. That's one great thing about Konami; even minor, forgotten titles such as this one often turn out to be little gems.

Oh, but what would any episode of Chrontendo be without its share of stinkers?


SNK's sidescrolling platformer with a (purportedly) Grecian theme is the most infamous game this episode. It's certainly made the round of "worst of the NES" lists. And it really is terrible game. Funny thing is, the arcade original was not that bad. But in the hands of Micronics, the same guys who made Super Pitfall, the Famicom port has become an irredeemable mess. While playing Athena, I kept wondering why any publisher would hire Micronics to develop a game they planned to put their own name on.

Takahashi Meijin no Bug-tte Honey

This Hudson release is not so much bad, as it is just disappointing. Rather than sticking to the Takahashi Meijin/Adventure Island formula, Hudson took lame platforming action and stuffed it with heaping handfuls of Arkanoid. The result is a game that is as ridiculously schizoid as it is unsatisfying to play.

Reflect World

I'm going to assume this is a bad game. I say "assume" because I really have no idea how to play it. I'm sure the entire game can't simply involve driving your tank across nondescript planetscapes, shooting and random enemies. There's got to be more to it than that, but I guess Reflect World chooses the separate the real gamers from from the noobs by obfuscating the game's actual content under a thick layer of Super Monkey Daibouken style pointlessness.

And now for the rest....

Dynamite Bowl

This Toshiba EMI game is undoubtedly the least exciting game to ever feature a bowling shirted gorilla holding a bomb with lit fuse on the box art. The game is a bit of a tease, since no gorillas are featured in the game itself, just plain ol' bowling action.

Smash Ping Pong

Notable for one thing: it's a Nintendo published port of a Konami arcade game. Probably the first and last time we'll see Nintendo and Konami team up like this.

Hercules no Eikou

Thirteen months after the release of Dragon Quest, someone (Data East, oddly enough) decides to get a 100% bona fide DQ clone on the market. Something tells me this won't be the last DQ clone.
Deep Dungeon II: Yuushi no Monshou

Six months after its release, someone decides to put a 100% bonafide clone of Deep Dungeon on the market. It turns out that someone is Hummingbird Soft and the game is Deep Dungeon II. So far the Deep Dungeon series is nothing if not consistent.
Family Trainer: Jogging Race

You jog. In place. On a mat. Unlike the other Family Trainer games we've seen so far, this did not get a US release.

Youkai Club

Jaleco gets all Castlevania with this one. Well, maybe Castlevania crossed with Kid Icarus, but a lot less cool than you would like to imagine.

Seiken - Psycho Calibur

A very original and intriguing name! Unfortunately, Seiken is just a straight up Zelda clone. Not quite a bad game, but hardly much fun to play either. Just don't get excited because you think this has something to do with Seiken Densetsu. It does not.

Nazoler Land Dai 2 Gou

More shovelware from Sunsoft. Five quickie mini-games shoved on one disk.

There you have it! Stream or download Episode 18!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Episode 18 in the Works

Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Dragon Quest. Three titles that sent shock waves throughout the Japanese console gaming industry upon their release. The influence of those three games was pervasive in the mid to late 80s in ways that should be obvious to anyone who's been following Chrontendo so far. Still, outright copycats of those three titles didn't really emerged until May 1987.

It wouldn't be completely fair to describe Hao-Kun no Fushigina Tabi (reworked/retitled and released as Mystery Quest in the US) as a Mario clone. There are some definite gameplay and structural differences between the two games. But more than any other previous Famicom game, the world of Hao-Kun looks like the Mushroom Kingdom, with its building block structures and stone work castles.

Scrape away the Mario-esque surface and you have a decent fantasy land platformer underneath. As a slightly overlooked title, Hao-Kun is certainly an improvement over the awful platforming games being released by Bandai, Toei, and Takara at this time.

As for the woefully obscure and bizarrely titled Seiken Psycho Calibur, it is only noteworthy as the first Famicom game to rip-off Zelda in a completely blatant manner. I tip my hat to Imagineer for having the balls to copy Nintendo's enormous hit, though I wish they had managed to make a better game. There would be some entertaining Zelda clones released (Hudson's Neutopia comes to mind), but Seiken Psycho Calibur fails to entertain.

While not the first post-Dragon Quest JRPG for the Famicom, Hercules no Eikou is the first game to borrow the DQ formula lock, stock and barrel. Valkyrie and Esper Dream were action RPGs that sit midway between DQ and Zelda, while Deep Dungeon sat firmly in the tradition of western games like Wizardry. Hercules simply transposes DQ from a medieval fantasy world to that of ancient Greece. While some gameplay tweaks have been made, it is impossible to play Hercules without DQ coming to mind.

These three games are, of course, covered in Chrontendo Episode 18, which will be finished shortly. Also featured will be 12 games that are not clones of successful Nintendo/Enix titles, though we do have Deep Dungeon II, which is essentially a clone of the first Deep Dungeon game. Other oddities include a rare Nintendo/Konami collaboration (!) and a forgettable Adventure Island/Takahashi Meijin spin-off. Check back soon for more news.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Action. The Adventure.

Yep. It's that time again. Episode 17 is now available.

Let's face it, Chrontendo 16 had a pretty execrable set of games, saved only by a couple ringers from Konami and the delightful Otocky. Episode 17 sees Chrontendo on the rebound, with a few classic/historically important games mixed in the usual stuff. And only one game that I would classify as complete garbage.

We are at a pivotal point in the Famicom history. The first wave of lame post-Mario platformers seems to be subsiding a little, and a new generation of action adventure games is starting to wash up on the shore. A perfect example would be the release of two titles based on existing arcade games. We've seen arcade ports be rejiggered for home release before: Commando and Rush'n Attack featured additions and alterations to the arcade originals. But now we have examples of games being completely reworked for the Famicom. Pirate Ship Higemaru was a cute quarter muncher based around the concept of crushing pirates beneath barrels. Rygar was a Ghosts 'n' Goblins like scroller in which you slay your foes using a giant, death-dealing yo-yo. For the Famicom versions, both were transformed into epic, globe-spanning action adventure games with an emphasis on exploration. Some arcade developers were wising up to the fact that console video games should not be designed to suck up a steady stream of quarters, and that for home games, some players might desire a more immersive and extended style of game.

Of course, in the wrong hands, this can go horribly astray, as the Kinnikuman sequel demonstrates. That's right! They made a sequel to the horrible, horrible Kinnikuman wrestling game. As it turns out, Bandai keeps putting out these damned things. I suppose a DS or Wii release is inevitable.

Chrontendo Episode 17 also has a brief history of the beat-em-up game. Quite timely, since this episode covers the genre defining Renegade. Younger folks might not remember, but back when we used to play games in arcades, beat-em-ups were all the rage for a while.

So, what's the best game this episode?

Argos no Senshi/Rygar

Despite its technical issues (not to mention the fact that it doesn't have any sort of saving mechanism,) Rygar takes the gold medal. Just because it is so damned cool. I have a soft spot for the original arcade version, but this highly altered port takes the game into a more console friendly direction. As a very early "Metroidvania" game, Rygar wins points for letting you play as a yo-yo slinging badass out to save his kingdom from the villainous Liger. (Why are the main bad guys in these games always some sort of demonic or superpowered being as opposed to just a normal human causing all the trouble? Well, occasionally they are normal guys - see Cybernator for an example.) Please note: a Liger is an real world animal, simply being a Lion/Tiger hybrid. There's nothing that special about them, except for the fact that they're somewhat rare. Apparently mating lions and tigers is frowned upon in the zoo-keeping community.

More fine games:

Ai Senshi Nicol

Eventually, Konami is is going to have to stop making the other guys look bad. They've taken top honors on Chrontendo three times, and have had honorable mentions for pretty much every episode since they started releasing games for the Famicom. Eventually, they'll need to step down or at least share the spotlight with some other publishers.

Until then... Ai Senshi Nicol (Love Warrior Nicol) is another fine and somewhat overlooked top-down action adventure game in the vein of King Kong 2, with a heaping spoonful of Esper Dream thrown in for good measure.

Higemaru Makaishima

Poor Capcom! If it weren't for Rygar stealing its thunder, this game would be notable as a simple arcade game being converted into an epic Zelda-esque adventure game for home release. You sail the seven seas - Dragon Quest II style - crushing pirates underneath oaken barrels, then docking on one the game's seven islands. You then proceed to depopulate the islands, killing any natives you encounter by throwing boulders at them. Yes, your character is a chauvinist asshole of the sort not seen again until Resident Evil 4 ("Filthy, poverty stricken Europeans are approaching! Where's my pistol?" Odd... that game is also by Capcom....)

Nekketsu Kouha Kunio Kun/Renegade

Technos Japan makes its Famicom debut with this port of their 1986 arcade release. The most historically important game this episode, if not the best, Renegade takes as its raw materials games like Irem's Kung Fu and Sega's Seishun Scandal, and from them creates a new, fully defined genre: the beat-em-up. Despite being a fine game, Renegade had its dick kicked in the dirt by Technos' superior follow-ups: Double Dragon and River City Ransom.

Some awful games:

Kinnikuman - Kinniku Ookurai Soudatsusen

I know my bitching about these awful Kinnikuman games from Bandai is beating a dead horse. These things are just so awful I can't help myself!

Relics - Ankoku Yousai

This interesting looking but unsuccessful Metroid-like title was discussed in great detail a couple posts back. The fact that there are only two really terrible games this episode speaks to the unusually high quality of games this time around. Don't worry, things will be back to back to normal soon.

The indifferent:

Family Jockey

This release from Namco has a nice, colorful cover. The game itself is about horse racing and betting imaginary money on horses. It's completely futile to try to understand Japanese gamer's fascination with horse racing video games, but Family Jockey was noteworthy enough to warrant an updated version being released for the Wii last year.

Morita Shogi

The second shogi game for the Famicom from SETA.

Igo: Kyuu Roban Taikyoku

A go game from Bullet Proof Software, this is seemingly a port of a Western computer game called Micro Go.

Cocona World

I have no idea what "Cocona" means, but this a rather uninteresting looking adventure game featuring a red-haired witch.

Fuuun Shaolin Kyo

An early fighting game for the FDS from Jaleco. It seems inspired by Konami's Yie Ar Kung Fu. The problem is that Yie Ar Kung Fu was released for the Famicom two years prior to Fuuun, and in terms of video games in the mid-80s, two years is a lifetime. If Fuuun had made any improvements to the Yie Ar Kung Fu formula, this game might have been more notable.

Tantei Jinguuji Saburou

The first game in this long running series from Data East. Another detective-based, Portopia inspired adventure game. Much like last episode's Sanma no Meitantei, there are some graphic adventure portions mixed in with the standard menu-based action.

The Monitor Puzzle - Kineco Vol. II

The second and final Monitor Puzzle game from Irem. Exactly like the first one, you assemble a puzzle of a moving image.

As you may have noticed, this episode came out in a reasonably timely fashion. With any luck, new episodes of Chrontendo will be appearing with more regularity than they have been over the last couple months. Episode 18 is shaping up to be quite nicely and will feature... more games from Capcom and Konami! And what about Nintendo themselves? They haven't exactly been prolific so far in 1987. Well, there is a new Nintendo release in Episode 18, but don't get too excited. In fact, the rest of 1987 will be sort of a mellow year for Nintendo published games, with a couple notable exceptions.

Feel free to head on over to and stream or download Chrontendo Episode 18.