Monday, April 27, 2009

OK, So It's Official Now

Official Chrontendo news this post! Yes, I have an honest-to-god announcement to make. In a moment. First, let's get a few things out of the way.

First of all, as I write this post, I'm baking a delicious strawberry rhubarb cobbler. I know rhubarb doesn't get a lot of love nowadays, but if you've never tried it, give it a shot. Seriously, strawberries + rhubarb = awesomeness.

More relevant to Chrontendo is this: Episode 20 should be finished before too long, though has hit a bit of a snag. Mostly in the form of the 1.5 megabits of pure evil known as Dragon Slayer IV, or as we call it in the west, Legacy of the Wizard.

The developer, Nihon Falcom, is perhaps best known for the Ys series. While Ys is a rather friendly, pick-up-and-play sort of action RPG, the Dragon Slayer games tend to be a bit more punishing. DS IV gives you a enormous, sprawling, impossibly complex dungeon, full of puzzles, dead ends, hidden quest objects, invisible passages - the works! Totally lacking the hand holding found in so many games today, neither the manual nor the game itself gives you even the slightest hint as to what to do. While in theory, that sounds like exactly the kind of game I like, in practice - I hate this game. To make a rather crude analogy (for which I apologize) - it's sort of like the old traveling salesman joke, and DS IV is the milk machine. Has anyone out there played this game? Did anybody actually like it?

On the plus side, we will also have the much loved Double Dribble from Konami. In the Kusoge department, there is Bats & Terii - which is sort of like if you mated Super Mario Bros, with say... Hokuto no Ken. Additionally, we'll see two games which are unusually fixated on butt cheeks.

And about that announcement! Chrontendo will be adding a third series to the family. A few commenters had already figured this one out.

Yep, Chrontendo will tackle the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16. Why? The PC Engine is just too cultish, fascinating and overlooked for me to not do a series on it. Just like the Famicom there are tons of almost forgotten or Japan-only games for the system.

So when? Well, the PCE came out in October 1987, and Chrontendo Ep. 20 finds us just hitting August. This means there will be several episodes of Chrontendo before Chronturbo Episode 1. Just like the Master System, the release schedule started out slowly, so it will be more of a sporadic thing for a while. Regardless, it's quite exciting, so I wanted to give everyone a heads up.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A few comments and questions

First the amusing: while checking on the search terms that led folks to this blog, I was tickled pink to find "looking at my Gucci it's about that time" among them. Chrontendo was probably not what they were looking for, but you never know what you'll find on the interwebs.

Chrontendo received its first spam comments on that post. Again, the culprit was clearly the world "Gucci". I guess that's a bit of a milestone for this blog.

In other news, the similarity between Sega localizing Anmitsu Hime as an Alex Kidd game and Nintendo doing something similar with Doki Doki Panic and Mario Bros was commented on. Super Mario Bros 2 definitely did it first - Alex Kidd: High Tech World was released about a year later - but by some weird coincidence, Chrontendo Episode 20 will kick off with DDP/SMB 2! That should be ready before too long; it's shaping up to be a bit more interesting than I originally anticipated. Other than SMB 2, we'll see a rather odd port from Jaleco, an early Square RPG, and the console debut from Rare.

Anyway, here's a couple questions for YOU, dear reader. First up: post length. Anyone think these posts are just too damn long? It's bad enough that I yakity-yak for 55 minutes on some silly old video games. It seems that adding so much further "clarification" about each episode on this blog might be a bit much for some people. I wondering if I shouldn't try to be more concise on these posts. Anyone have any feelings on this?

Also, few people have wondered if I'm going to be doing any consoles other than the Famicom & SMS. Admittedly, I'm not sure what the ultimate future of Chronsega is. It seems silly to focus on the Master System while ignoring the Mega-Drive/Genesis. Additionally, at some point (around 1990), the Master System simply became a dumping ground for 8-bit versions of MD games. And the system just refused to die; it went through a serious revival in the early 90s. In 1993 there were around 50 SMS games released as compared to 35 or so in 1987!

So... any thoughts, suggestions or interest on other consoles? In all seriousness, I value your opinions.

I will say this much: there will definitely be a third series of Chrontendo making an appearance in a few months. I'm sure anyone with a working knowledge of video game console chronology can figure out what it is. (Hint: it is not the Atari 7800).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Problems with Chronsega 3

As some of you have noticed, there have been some sound problems with Chronsega 3; namely the streaming and MP-4 versions feature audio running at a different speed than the video, causing some major out-of-syncedness. I've uploaded the original file again, and had Archive rederive them, but the problem still exists. I'm not sure why.

So for the time being, I've pulled those two versions. I've downloaded the avi and ogg versions, which seem fine. So, I apologize to all you streaming video and MP-4 fans. For those with "fat pipes" I recommend the avi version; the picture quality is very good. For those of you who want a smaller file, but don't have anything capable of playing ogg, might I suggest Video Lan, the well loved, open source video player that plays pretty much everything? Considering that VLC is free and very useful, you might as well download a copy.

Thanks to the fine folks who pointed out the problem so quickly. Might I humbly request that if any similar problems occur in the future, by all means - let me know. Any problems with the episodes (other than being full of misinformation, bad judgements and general lameness. But feel free to point those out as well. I'm not some delicate, sensative internet wuss who will freak out when someone calls me out on my bullshit) are things that probably slipped by me.

For those just tuning in, read the Chronsega Episode 3 post here, or just scroll down.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

AK: I Hate You

No, no, not the line of Kalashnikov assault rifles, but Alex Kidd: Sega's elfin eared would-be mascot. While Alex Kidd in Miracle World was a fine attempt at an action packed side scrolling platformer, this episode of Chronsega finds him starring in a game that seems designed to waste any residual feelings of goodwill from the first title. You can see for you own eyes by downloading it at Chronsega Episode 3 over at

This episode covers from March to July 1987, with a few stray, undated non-Japanese releases thrown in. Episode 3 contains a bit of bonus content; it features a total of 17 titles rather than the usual 15, but still comes in a little shorter than your typical Chrontendo. Once again we find Sega treading water, with no really excellent titles coming out during those five months. Instead we have some quickie sports titles, a few arcade ports, some fun light gun games, and a few more ambitious original titles, three of which were based on animated TV shows.

I don't want to come across as some Sega-hating Nintendo fanboy; that's definitly not the case. But comparing the Master System's release schedule with that of the Famicom during the same time period shows the inadequacies of Sega's console in sharp relief.

The same period of time saw 81 releases for the Famicom. Among these were well-remembered titles like Rygar, Goonies II, Renegade, Double Dribble, Rad Racer and Section Z. There were titles from names with substantial followings in Japan: Yuji Horii and Nihon Falcom. Also found were such quirky and original games like Otocky, plenty of ports of computer titles, both eastern and western, as well as a handful of arcade ports. And for the less discriminating gamer, there were tons of crappy games featuring licensed IPs. The Famicom catalog had enormous depth and featured literally something for everyone - all the way from prestigious releases from big publishers to RPGs to adventure games to silly stuff like Pachinko and horse racing games.

A lot of virtual ink has been spillt by folks on the internet wondering why the Master System failed to find an audience in Japan. But comparing the consoles side by side at any point in time seems to unearth an obvious answer: Sega didn't offer anything that Nintendo wasn't already providng in greater quality and quantity. The sole exception being ports of Sega arcade games and slightly better graphics and sound. In every other field, Nintendo held a clear advantage. Sega themselves must have realized this. Two years after the launch of the SMS, they were already preparing to replace it with a new, 16-bit console.

But enough of all that! What about this episode's games? The game I liked the most this episode was, somewhat sadly, Wonder Boy - a port an arcade game that had already been released for the Famicom, in a somewhat altered version, six months prior.

The great thing about Wonder Boy is how faithful it is the original arcade version. The Famicom first announced itself to the world with its strikingly accurate versions of such arcade games as Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. But since then a huge gap had emerged between technological capabilities of arcade machines and home consoles or computers. Wonder Boy closes that gap almost entirely, despite a few minor changes to the gameplay. The bottom line: at this point in time Wonder Boy was the only home version of a game in recent memory to be virtually indistinguishable from the arcade original.

Not so much with Out Run, but still, you have to hand it to Sega for trying.

Sega's arcade classic is filled with a ridiculous number of detailed sprites whizzing across the screen at great speed. The Master System version can't even come close to reproducing Out Run's crazy sprite scaling, but the result is still quite playable and impressive for the time. A little more convincing is Out Run's music; it was the first Master System game to take advantage of the new Yamaha FM sound chip found in the redesigned Japanese Master System console (which wouldn't hit the shelves until September). The Yamaha chip was able to introduce clear, deep percussive sounds, completely unlike the typical beeps and bloops previously heard on 8-bit consoles. From this point on, almost every Japanese SMS title will make use of the chip. Unfortunately, in the west, we go the shaft again, as only the Japanse console contained the FM chip.

Episode 3 sees a spate of unremarkable sports titles, but one stands above the crowd: Great Baseball/The Pro Yakyuu Pennant.

The original, Japan-only Great Baseball was a standard clone of Nintendo's Baseball. One of the very first games released for the SMS, Great Baseball was deemed unsuitable for US release. A new, greatly improved Great Baseball was released here in June 1987, and then in Japan two months later after some additional redesign. The game bears quite a bit of resemblance to Jaleco's Moreo!! Pro Yakyuu/Bases Loaded (recently covered in Chrontendo 19), which also came out in June, though I like Sega's game a bit more.

The popularity of Nintendo's Duck Hunt resulted in the release of a handful of light gun games being de rigeur for young consoles. The Master System was no exception, and this episode sees the release of three more: Shooting Gallery, Gangster Town and Missle Defense 3-D.

Shooting Gallery is nothing special, but Gangster Town is quite cool - a ramped up version of Nintendo's Hogan's Alley. Performing well will even allow you to level up and increase the length of your life bar.

Missile Defense 3-D makes use of Sega's high-tech new 3-D glasses for the SMS. The whole 3-D thing was underutilized, much like Nintendo's R.O.B., but Sega did put out a few games that made use of the technology, including Zaxxon 3-D, Out Run 3-D and Space Harrier 3-D. Unfortunely, Missile Defense 3-D can't really be emulated properly, so the only way the play the game is to find a pair of working glasses.

On the flip side, Chronsega 3 has its share of failures and disappointments. I suppose that's true of every episode in this series, but this time around the bitter dregs of disappointment taste twice as bad.

First up is Zillion, one of the fruits of a bizarre collaboration between Sega and animation studio Tatsunoko Production, that also included an animated TV series and a toy gun. Unfortunately, this particular fruit rotted on the vine. Zillion was discussed in much detail on the previous post.

Equally troubling in Anmitsu Hime, based on the long lived franchise of comics, live action TV shows and animated series. For western release, the sprites were altered (some just barely) and the name changed to Alex Kidd : High-Tech World. Aside from the seriously ugly cover art, High-Tech World's most heinous crime is its irritating, simplistic and non-intuitive graphical adventure style segment which makes up its first half.

Granted, many early adventure games, such as those published by Sierra Online, are noted for their surfeit of unexpected deaths and "puzzles" solved by guesswork or repetition of a certain action. High-Tech World has all that in spades, but minus the creativity and wry sense of humor that (sometimes) redeemed Sierra's games.

The second half of the game features three short, almost identical, platforming levels whose length is stretched out by a number of cheap hits. These levels fall far below the standard set in Miracle World. I'm not sure what Sega's intentions were by releasing this as an Alex Kidd game, but its only effect could have been to dilute the value of the Alex Kidd brand. Imagine if Konami bought the rights the Bandai's Hokuto no Ken and released it as a Castlevania game.

Some offerings show glimmers of hope through the muck. At least Sega was learning how to utilize the Master System's graphical power. Earlier SMS games sometimes resembled Famicom releases with brighter colors. Yet, with titles like Makai Retsuden/Kung Fu Kid, the programmers were now creating detailed graphics with rich, eyepopping colors. Compare with 1985's Pit Pot:

While Makai Retsuden still plays like old fashioned proto beat-em-up in the My Hero vein, it sure looks pretty.

Other, minor disappointments this episode:

Sega releases a few more installments in their Great Sports series: Great Football, Great Volleyball and Great Basketball, before bringing the series to a close with (Great SoccerWorld Soccer in Japan). There is nothing particularly special about any of these games, other than Great Basketball being the first basketball game of the 8-bit console generation, and Great Football just being sort of an odd game.

Other games featured:

Woody Pop - A charming looking Arkanoid clone only playable with the special controller packaged with the game. The last game released in the MyCard format.

Rocky - A rather basic boxing game with very nice graphics. Let down by having only three opponents and irksome, button mashing, Track and Field-like "training sessions."

Sukeban Deka II - Much like High School Kimengumi, an odd adventure/action game mashup based on a licensed property. In this case, it's a TV series featuring a female high-school detective armed with a Rygar like yo-yo weapon.

Enduro Racer - A pseudo-port of Yu Suzuki's cool super-scaler motorcross racing game. For reasons known only to Sega, the SMS version dropped the 3-D graphics and became an isometric, vaguely Excitebike-esque racer.

Well, another half-year of the Master System come and gone. Once again, Sega doesn't come up with anything with the potential to challenge Nintendo's hegemony. But... I feel that change is just around the corner. The next episode of Chronsega will be an important one, and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where Sega is headed. For now, go over to and get Chronsega Episode 3.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Looking At My Gucci...'s about that time. What time? Time for a new Chronsega! Having reached mid-1987 on the Famicom, we need to do some quick catch up on the Sega Master System. Of course, since less than 40 titles were released that year, catching up will be pretty easy.

Chronsega Episode 3 will be posted in the very near future. While you're waiting, how about a preview? One title in particular caused me no end of heartache and disappointment. I speak, of course, of Akai Koudan Zillion (or just Zillion in the West), whose promise of sci-fi themed exploration and combat gave way to a blisteringly monotonous exercise in memorization of four digit codes.

Zillion: A Case Study

Yes, Zillion was the Master System's next "big" game after Alex Kidd in Miracle World, but whereas Alex Kidd was Sega's attempt at a Mario-killer, Zillion set Metroid in its sights. The premise is virtually identical to Metroid's: infiltrate an underground base; explore a complex maze of interconnected halls and corridors; find items to power up your weapons and lengthen your lifebar; once powered-up, backtrack to reach previously inaccessible areas. Yet, in Zillion's case, it all goes horribly wrong.

Are you familiar with the cocktail known as a Black Velvet? Beer mixed with champagne? Zillion is like adulterating Metroid's Veuve Cliquot with Impossible Mission's Molson Ice: a travesty. In place of Metroid's fascinating alien landscapes, Zillion offers a series of interconnected, identical looking, one-screen rooms. Aside from the boss, there is only one enemy, a typical mindless security guard (though, later in the game, he at least learns to crouch while firing his laser gun). Weapon powerups simply give you a more powerful laser. And the backtracking is necessary only to open up a few previously sealed containers.

Yet, Zillion would not have crossed the threshold from the humdrum to the truly hateful without its password system. Every room requires you to shoot four containers and obtain the keyword inside. These four keywords must then be typed into the room's computer terminal in order for the door leading to the next room to be opened. This procedure in then repeated in the next room, and the next, and the next....

Zillion's series of rooms reminds you of something found in most puzzlers such as the Lolo games, but with simple memorization of four digit codes replacing any actual puzzles. I suppose this repetitive style of game play might be acceptable if broken down into small chunks. But, in a move which displayed their sneering contempt for Master System owners, Sega did not allow any sort of password or save mechanism in Zillion; it must be played in one sitting. Were it not for emulator save states, I would have never finished this game (though, in an attempt to replicate the original experience, I played it in sessions as long as I could tolerate).

Typing these words now, I feels as if I'm being too hard on Zillion. In all fairness, the game does have its fans, and even I felt a certain sense of accomplishment once I cleared the final room and headed down the final stretch towards the base's main computer. And Sega didn't intend to make such a taxing game. It's simply that by 1987, Sega had mastered the arcade game; great console games still eluded them. Maybe I'm expecting too much of Sega. After all, the Master System had been on the market less than two years when Zillion was released. Super Mario Bros, Nintendo's first great console game, hit the shelves two years and two months after the Famicom's debut.

Of course, we all know what lies in store for Sega. They would eventually come to fully grasp the concept of the console game. By the end of the year, Sega would release a title that became an undisputed classic of the 8-bit era. All the while, Sega was already working on a new, improved gaming system that would eventually challenge Nintendo's supremacy in the console market. So while I know Sega will eventually pull it together, I find myself getting impatient waiting for them to get there.