Monday, August 31, 2009

Chrontendo 24: This Time It's Personal!

So, we've made it. After much swearing, sleepless nights, and shaking fists at the heavens, Chrontendo Episode 24 is finally here. By all means, head on over to to stream or download. I hope you are in a festive mood, since Chrontendo 24-27 will be covering the 1987 holiday season. What do we have to look forward to? How about Mega Man, Final Fantasy and Metal Gear? Yep, plenty of big money franchises kicked off in December '87.

Today, however, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with the release of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! Or for the Japan-centric among you, the big game over there was Hudson's Famicom version of Japan's biggest selling PC game, Xanadu. And, of course, the unveiling of Hudson's and NEC's cutting edge new console, the PC Engine. These were heady times for Hudson, I'm sure. Unlike Sega, Hudson decided to keep one foot squarely on each side of fence. While releasing a steady stream of software for their new console, they continued to turn out games for the Famicom. Apparenlty Nintendo was fine with that.

Also, in the bonus content department, we have a reasonably long look at the arcade games of 1987. The big three being: Contra, Double Dragon, and R-Type. Ever wonder why Contra is called "Contra?" When I first saw the game in arcades, I assumed it had an uber-patriotic, right-wing theme to it, based on the title and military theme. Then it turned out you weren't killing Communists, you were fighting aliens. Weird, huh?

Let's get started with this episodes MVP:

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

The first couple years of the NES in the United States were dominated by three games: Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda and Punch-Out!! The brainchild of Genyo Takeda from Nintendo R&D1 (the same guy behind the cartridge battery backup and the N64's analog control stick), Punch-Out!! was a perfect example of an arcade port done exactly right. Nintendo's home system couldn't replicate the arcade version's graphics, so it focused instead on tightening up the controls and polishing the gameplay until it gleamed. Add in the name and likeness of Mike Tyson, the newly crowned undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, and Nintendo had an instant, massive hit.

Those interested in Punch-Out!! will undoubtedly want to check out this lengthy conversation about the game between Takeda, Shigeru Miyomoto, Satoru Iwata, and others. Among the many fascinating nuggets found within: the double monitor cabinet was designed to clear out an excess of monitors in Nintendo's warehouses. Thanks for Game Developer Research Institute for posting the link.

Other notable games:


Nihon Falcom may have been a big player in the Japanese computer game scene, but they seem hesitant to try their luck in the console market, preferring to license their games on a one-off basis to various publishers. Here we find Hudson releasing a special Famicom exclusive spin-off of Falcom's mega-hit Xanadu. This couldn't really be called a "port", since Hudson virtually redesigned the game from scratch, stripping down the RPG elements to the bare essentials. Faxanadu is a strange, fascinating, and often irritating game. If nothing else, Hudson's sense of visual design shines through the sometimes clunky gameplay. Certain moments, like an eerie world enshrouded in smoke and fog look like nothing else on the Famicom.

Bubble Bobble

On the exact opposite end of the video game spectrum, we have Taito's Bubble Bobble. Unlike Kiki KaiKai, Taito decided to port Bubble Bobble to the FDS virtually untouched. It stands as one of the best and most accurate ports of an arcade game we've seen so far. Never played Bubble Bobble? Well, you control a dragon that breathes bubbles rather than fire. But don't be alarmed, those bubbles are deadly enough for your dragon to go on a 100+ level murder spree, killing every single creature that crosses his path. Never underestimate the homicidal potential of bubbles in the right hands.

Lupin III: Isan no Pandora

A surprisingly well done anime-based game from Namco and.... Tose?! Yes, schlock meisters Tose finally put their name on something decent. A pretty solid action platformer that allows you to alternate between three playable characters, sort of like SMB2. Though in the fine Japanese tradition of making supposedly-tough characters vulnerable to wussiest little enemies, master thief Lupin, arms expert Jigen and samurai Ishikawa Goemon XIII can all be taken down by stray cats.

On the flip side of the coin:

Karate Kid

My ill will towards this game has already been revealed to the world. Still, I've got to point out that LJN's entry in to the video game market opened the floodgates for movie tie-ins and licensed IPs on consoles in the US. It's worth recalling that back in 1987, games based on movies were still far and few between. The main exception being games released on the Master System featuring Sylvester Stallone.


Compile ported the popular Falcom computer game and squandered the opportunity. Imagine Legacy of the Wizard, except with a much smaller world and lots of running back and forth over the same level. You mostly look for various hidden items that have no in-game description whatsoever. Doesn't sound to bad? Well, should I mention there is no way to save your game and no passwords? Or that you have one life and no option to continue?

Famicom Grand Prix: F1 Race

Absolutely my least favorite racing game for the Famicom so far. Surprising, because it's from Nintendo and Hal. I was hoping this would be an updated version of 1984's F1 Race, but it turns out to be an old-school top down racing game.


Thankfully, the last in Hal's weird little series of arcade ports.

And let's not forget...


Not as terrible as Karate Kid, this Westone developed LJN game is merely short of repetitive. Based on the film that finally killed the Jaws franchise, Jaws: The Revenge.

Gotcha! The Sport

The best of the three LJN games, Gotcha! is a decent little light gun game. Though one that requires you to use the light gun and the regular controller simultaneously.


Nutty space RPG from Nichibutsu featuring Star Raiders style battles. Not nearly as interesting as it might sound.

Uchuusen: Cosmo Carrier

More Star Raiders action, this time from Jaleco. Sort of similar to Cosmo Genesis/Star Voyager.

Kick Challenger - Air Foot

The second game from VAP; about 1/100th as awful as their first, Super Monkey Daibouken. Here you control an ambulatory tomato with enormous feet, as you wander around kicking rocks and mushrooms looking for Nike shoes. Wait, what?

Family Composer

Remember Ikinari Musician from earlier in '87? Sort of a virtual music studio game? Well, Family Composer is just like that, only with 100% fewer dancing rabbits.

So, it was a long time coming, but hopefully, Episode 24 will be worth it. Episode 25 will presumably be free of any bonus content, and thus arrive on time. Once again, Chrontendo Episode 25 may be downloaded here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Would Some Bonus Content Help?

So once again, Chrontendo is behind schedule. It's not due to pure laziness, really. I've been getting my house painted for the last week, and we decided to get the garage painted at the last minute. If you've ever needed to clear out a garage that's been collecting stuff for a few years, you'll know its a huge and time consuming effort.

Of course, Episode 24 would be done by know if it weren't for.... Bonus Content! Yep, the promised followup to the computer game round-up is here. We'll be checking out the arcade games of 1987.

One of these games is called "Double Dragon." For some reason, it's not the one on the left.

And I just now realized that the last post was rather heavily centered on screenshots featuring half naked men. I hope everyone enjoyed this special "all-Beefcake" post. It all ties into my plans to eventually transition Chrontendo from video games to a Tom of Finland fan site.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The End of An Era

More accurately, Chrontendo Episode 24 will mark the end of two eras. First off, we'll be covering the beloved boxing game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (or just Punch-Out!!, as it has also been titled at times). "Ah, Punch-Out!!" you say. "Great game. I spent eons trying to knock out Mike Tyson, back in the day. What of it?"

Well... recall that Nintendo entered the video game field in the mid 1970s. Their early output was typical of the time: Space Invaders clones and whatnot. Then in 1981 they suddenly struck massive pay dirt with the release of Donkey Kong. DK and its sequels put Nintendo into the upper ranks of arcade game manufacturers. Additional successes, such as Popeye in 1982 and Mario Bros in 1983 cemented their position. However, after only two years since the first flush of success, Nintendo decided to focus their energies on the home market instead. At the time, this would have been a very unusual, almost suicidal, move. Atari and Sega both released home consoles, but managed to divide their attention between producing arcade hits and releasing a study flow of cartridges simultaneously. Nintendo decided to focus entirely on the home market, releasing a mere trickle of original arcade titles.

hit the arcades in 1984; a sequel followed shortly afterward. From a technical perspective , Punch-Out!! was far and away the most impressive game Nintendo had released. Enormous, lifelike characters, and realistic human speech allowed the game to stand apart from its contemporary brethren. The game was quite successful, but the series was Nintendo's last stand at the arcades. Punch-Out!!'s unusual follow-up, Arm Wrestling, would be the final original arcade game Nintendo released before devoting itself entirely to the Famicom and NES. Nintendo's presence in arcades would be limited to machines such as the Playchoice 10, which was simply a system for playing virtually unmodified NES games on an arcade cabinet.

Nintendo created popular and innovative arcade titles; it's too bad they chose to abandon the field entirely. The Famicom debuted with an arcade port, Donkey Kong, in 1983. Punch-Out!!, in 1987, would be the final Famicom port of a Nintendo arcade game, thus ending that particular chapter.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! was released in October 1987. Strangely enough, that same month saw another milestone; one that was, in retrospect, the first nail in the coffin of the 8-bit generation. Hudson Soft had been working on a new chip set -- one superior to that found in the Famicom. Hudson then partnered with electronics giant NEC to produce a video game console based around this chip set. The result, dubbed the PC Engine, was released in Japan on October 30.

There is some debate over whether the PC Engine can be considered a true 16-bit system. It used a 16-bit graphics processor and an 8-bit CPU. Regardless of the technical specifications, there could be no doubt the PC Engine was a next-gen console. Anyone who booted up the machine and plugged in an early title like Kung Fu, could instantly see the system's capabilities far surpassed that of the Famicom or Master System. The Famicom/NES remained a viable console until the early 90s, but anyone could see the writing on the wall. Sega shrugged off the failure of the Master System and went to work on their own 16-bit system, to be released almost exactly one year later. Nintendo themselves belatedly followed suit in late 1990. Famicom, your days are numbered.

Don't be all sad though. The good times for the Famicom are really just getting started. The 1987 holiday season will see three major franchises rolled out, as well as several interesting one-offs and a handful of sequels. Episode 24 takes us into November, so once that episode drops (very soon!), the end of the year madness will begin.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I'm Truly Sorry

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!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why Must Everybody Laugh At My Mighty Sword?

Chrontendo Episode 23 is here, available to stream or download from, as usual. For those paying attention, you'll know Episode 23 is the spectacular all-RPG (not quite, but it feels that way) episode.

Pity the poor 8-bit RPG hero! Nameless, speechless, these little fellows step forward with only their leather armor and daggers to battle slimes, rats, wolves and - in Hoshi no Miru Hito - robots. Let's face it, in their pixelated versions, these guys got the short end of the stick. How could any of them live up to the standards of bad-ass warriorhood as portrayed on their games' cover art? For the example, take the protagonist of Kemco's Indora no Hikari.

Wow. This guy cuts a rather imposing figure. Would you want to mess with such an fearsome dude? Certainly, he could make short work of dragons and wyverns. However, in the game itself...

...oh my. Kid, I think your mother's calling you. Seriously, put that sword down - you might hurt yourself. Also notice the lack of cool explosions.

Alas, our hero's predicament is all too common. Very radical fantasy themed box art may conceal a very graphically non-inspired game. And the gameplay also frequently suffered from a lack of inspiration. Most of these RPGs are simply a mix-and-match of a few basic gameplay choices. Single-member party or multiple party members? Turn based combat or real time, "bump the enemy" combat? Enemies visible on the overworld or random enemy encounters? DQ style overworld or Zelda style flip-screen overworld? Let's do a quick rundown of this episode's seven RPGs.

Ultima: Exodus

The odd man out this episode, Pony Canyon's Exodus is a port of Origin's enormously influential 1983 computer game. Dragon Quest took the basic stucture from Ultima III: Exodus and tweaked it to be more appealing to Japanese gamers. Since DQ spawned pretty much the entire JRPG scene, I suppose every subsequent JRPG owes Exodus some sort of debt. Of course, trying to play the game is another story. Much of the game is boring, repetitive and maddening, especially the truly bizarre system for leveling up. Unfortunately, Exodus is one of those all time classics that's difficult to play today.

Momotarou Densetsu

Hudson's game is the most blatant example of a Dragon Quest knock-off this episode. It's also the RPG with the best production values and the smoothest gameplay. Attractive graphics and thoughtful music combined with an improved interface manage to sand off some of the rough edges of DQ. Additionally, the game's unusual setting (Momotarou Densetsu is based on the same material as Nintendo's Shin Onigashima) sets it apart from the other RPGs this episode.

Sword of Kalin

Also known as Kalin no Ken or Kalin no Tsurugi, this is an action RPG version of Dragon Quest 1. Rather infuriating combat takes this one down a few notches. However, it has been unofficially translated into English, making it a bit more accessible for western gamers.

Minelvaton Saga

This Taito published (but Random House developed) title manages to be better than Mirai Shinwa Jarvas. It is very similar to Sword of Kalin, right down to the Hydlide style of combat. There's really nothing remarkable or notable about this game at all.

Indora no Hikari

The best thing that can be said about this Kemco published game is that it's better than you would expect from a Kemco game. Turn based combat takes place on a Zelda influenced overworld. And as shown above, the hero looks like a complete weenie. Still, it's better looking and sounding than Kalin or Minelvaton.

Hoshi no Miru Hito

Discussed in depth a couple posts back. Terrible, buggy, turn-based RPG that does almost everything wrong. But don't take just my word on it. Hardcore Gaming 101 has an extensive write up on the game.

Haja no Fuuin

The least DQ like of all this episode's RPG, Haja is a port of a Japanese computer game from 1986. It's actually nothing at all like the other games discussed here. The most unique feature about this game is thatit's only game we've seen so far to receive a simultaneous release on the Famicom and Sega Master System! The superior SMS version actually came out a week before the Famicom's, so for one brief, shining moment, SMS owners had something to crow about. I give Haja the short shrift this episode, since it will be covered in more detail in Chronsega Episode 4.

But this episode isn't all RPGs. Unfortunately, nothing really stands out among the rest of the games. Probably the most interesting is Konami's Falsion.

Falsion is a shoot-em-up in the Space Harrier/After Burner mode. It was one of the few games to make use of Nintendo's high-tech Japanese 3-D goggles. While there's nothing too terribly wrong with the game, I'd award it a pretty low position in the Konami Famicom pantheon.

Kaiketsu Yanchamaru/Kid Niki: Radical Ninja

Irem ports their 1986 arcade game. I'd consider 1985-1986 to be the "dark ages" for Irem - a fallow period between the successful Kung Fu Master and the game-changing R-Type. Kid Niki is a standard side-scrolling action platfomer, its US release being the only special thing about it.

Youkai Yashiki

Irem's other game this episode is a port of a 1986 MSX game from Casio. Once again we have a game based around youkai (last episode's Kiki Kaikai was another one.) It resembles a much simpler version of Maze of Galious - lots of running around and climbing ladders looking for key items... scrolls, in this case.

Esper Bouken Tai

A rather bizarre Metroid like game from Jaleco featuring a character with amazing jumping abilities and animated household appliances. For some reason, Japanese game designers have a fascination with ESP. See also Esper Dream, Spelunker II and Hoshi no Miru Hito for other examples of ESP themed games.

And our bottom-of-the-barrel scrapings:

Millipede - Another old arcade port from HAL. There's nothing wrong with the arcade version of Millipede, but I question the need for a less than perfect port of an old game that had already been released multiple times.

Karaoke Studio Senyou Cassette Top 20 Vol. 1 - As far as I can tell, this is simply a rerelease of Bandai's Karaoke Studio with a few new songs added in. Perhaps I'm missing something.

Pulsar no Hikari: Space Wars Simulation - An utterly baffling space simulation game. Soft Pro International are the same folks who made the equally baffling Breeder.

Topple Zip - It's sort of like Twin Bee, only it's not good.

Butwaittheresmore! Also in Episode 23, we have a look at the history of the great developer and manufacturer Irem! Those of you following Chrontendo will probably be less than impressed by Irem's output so far. Such gems as Super Lode Runner and Spelunker are not going to turn many heads. But Irem's real strength lies in their fantastic arcade games, particularly those of the late 80s and early 90s.

Irem looked at Konami's Gradius and said, "We will make a game like this. Only more awesome!" For God's sake, the entire third level of R-Type is simply your R9 slowly taking down an enormous mothership jammed packed with laser cannons, thrusters, and all sorts of surprises. Over the next few years, Irem continued to up the ante with games featuring detailed graphics, enormous bosses, huge explosions and over the top action.

Also this episode - more Hokuto no Ken! We briefly return to Chrontendo's favorite whipping boy for a special Chrontendo update, where I try to correct a few of the more glaring omissions from earlier episodes.

So head on over to and enjoy.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Episode 23 To "Drop" Soon

Episode 23 is currently in editing, and will move to QA shortly. After that it will head to production. Hopefully, the plentitude of explosions in the Irem segment will offset the lack of action due to all of this episode's RPGs.

See you in a couple days.