Saturday, June 5, 2010

Of Dragons and Babies

Episode 30 is here at last, and is, by Chrontendo standards, somewhat "on time." You know the drill by now, head on over to Archive.org to stream or download.

The damned military strategy/simulation invasion from Episode 29 continues here. Three games this time around, none of which were ever released outside of Japan. I have also received, from my suppliers south of the border, some of that legendary ultra-pure, "black tar" kusoge - three carts worth. Be careful with this stuff - it will mess you up good.

But aside from the usual junk, we have some legitimately good games. And... a game that I don't like at all, Battle of Olympus, which has a pretty sturdy following nowadays. I hadn't played it until recently, but was intrigued by the opinions floating around the internet that it was one of the best and most overlooked games for the NES. Having played as much as I could stand, I firmly BEG TO DIFFER. There. I said it. Disagree? You can fight me in the streets over it. Beware of my hair grab/knee to the face combo, however.

Once again, Episode 30 has splits top honors between two games:

Double Dragon












When fighting enormous bald mutants, it's considered perfectly acceptable to kick the groin.

One of the all-time NES classics, and the game that popularized the entire beat-em-up genre. Hopefully, now that we've reached the post-Double Dragon era, we won't be seeing any more of those terrible My Hero style beat-em-ups.

Perhaps one key to Double Dragon's success was the way it tapped into a peculiar fear in the 80s: gangs running wild and taking over the streets. The slightly post-apocalyptic world of DD is only a few hairs away from that of Mad Max/The Road Warrior - punks in leather, headbands and mohawks terrorizing the populace, the civil authorities powerless to stop them. Perhaps the first bit of pop culture to explicitly exploit this fear was the controversial poster art to the 1979 movie The Warriors.
















This movie and poster caused a brief panic in 1979.


They outnumber the cops 5 to 1!
DD seems to take place after the gangs have taken over. Billy walks down empty streets, never encountering anyone who isn't a gang member. The illusion is somewhat shattered by the fact that the gang seems to have made their hideout in some sort of ancient underground temple. Also, you might wonder, Billy has that pimpin' Trans Am sitting in his garage. Why doesn't he just drive to the hideout?

Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa














At last! Baby vs. Demon Goat Wizard action!

The other great game this episode defies any sort of rational criticism of its plot. This Super Mario Bros. clone from Konami dishes out the typical story involving a kidnapping and some sort of evil Wizard/King. In this case, the protagonist is even less likely than a caveman or plumber - you control a baby, too young to walk, but armed with a deadly rattle! This utterly ridiculous set-up conceals what must be the best SMB style platformer since... well, since Super Mario Bros. With simple yet fantastic looking graphics and constantly creative level design, Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa never ceases to be entertaining. Unlike Battle of Olympus, this really is one of the most underrated games for the console.

But Episode 30 isn't really about good games, it's about the bad ones. And we have plenty.

Kamen Rider Black

This is like the Manos: Hands of Fate of video games. No, that's not fair, as Manos is actually a pretty entertaining movie in its own way. KRB is like a singularity of awfulness; no fun can ever escape from within its event horizon. Though we just discussed KRB is few posts ago.

Jīkiru Hakase no Hōma ga Toki/Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

















The most notorious game this episode, thanks to an over-dramatically negative assessment from the Angry Video Game Nerd. I'll be upfront with my opinion: Jekyll and Hyde is not as bad as everyone says it is. However, it never explains its own rules or goals in-game. Simply picking it up and playing it without having a manual or FAQ handy will result in a quick, inexplicable death.

The point of the game is to make as much progress as possible as Dr. Jekyll before inevitably transforming into Hyde. As Hyde you'll need to kill as many enemies as possible with your "Psycho Wave" in order to turn back into Jekyll. If Hyde ever catches up to where Jekyll was on the map when he last transformed into Hyde, you'll get a game over. So the strategy is simple: try to avoid turning into Hyde, but once you do, turn back in Jekyll quickly.

Despite its bad reputation, I found it to be more playable than either Ikari II or Kamen Rider Black.

Famicom Grand Prix II - 3D Hot Rally


Sure, if this wasn't a Nintendo game I wouldn't come down on it so hard. But really Nintendo? You made an Out Run clone? One considerably inferior to Out Run or even Rad Racer? If your going to stoop to such depths as ripping off Sega, then at least try to put a bit more effort into it. As I mentioned, the game's not really that bad, but when I got to the part where the road forks, and it uses the exact same effect as Out Run - with the two paths sort of flickering in a ghostly fashion in front of you for a few moments - I hung my head in shame. By the way, because of weird flicker effects used in this game, certain things, such as the forks in the road, aren't really visible in the video.

Ikari Warriors II: The Victory Road

Another butchering of an SNK arcade game courtesy of Micronics. The first game wasn't exactly fantastic, but the sequel manages to be worse in every regard. Worse controls, worse graphics, unintelligible speech samples. Throw in some awful mini-games and - despite being a cartridge game - loading screens, and you've got one ugly mess of a top down run and gun.

Aspic













Despite what this screenshot might lead you to beleive, Aspic is an old-fashioned action RPG.

Bothtec (the guys behind the weird, Metroid-like Relics) dusts the cobwebs off this antique computer RPG and ports it to the Famicom. On the RPG timeline, Aspic feels like it was developed about two minutes after Hydlide. Unfortunately, the developers responsible for this port forgot the Famicom was capable of smooth scrolling, and results are headache inducing, choppy, MSX style scrolling.

And the others:

Olympus no Tatakai/Battle of Olympus















Another bat to the face.

The most popular game this episode, outside of Double Dragon. It's also a game that I couldn't stand. Maybe it was the flat, uninspired level design and the boring backgrounds. Maybe it was the fact that the game starts out with a dozen NPCs giving you tons of advice on stuff that will make no sense to you this early in the game. Or perhaps it's that almost every single enemy you encounter attacks you either in the air, above the reach of your sword, or low to the ground, below the reach of your sword. Especially those damn bats, that swoop down and hit your face as you are jumping over bottomless pits (or salamander filled pits). As I mention in the video, Castlevania has those Medusa Heads and Igors, but at least Konami had the decency to use them sparingly.

Dokuganryu Masamune and Takeda Shingen

Two Nobunaga's Ambition clones, this time from Namco and Hot-B. Not surprisngly, Masamune is the more polished of the two, and has some cool battle scenes. Both games are based on real-life Sengoku era warlords. Masamune, known for his uber-cool moon crescent helmet, survived the Sengoku wars and held on to his land under the Tokogawa Shogunate. Takeda Shingen was the inspiration for Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha, though that film is purely fictional, and only very loosely based on Takeda. If you've never seen Kagemusha, I would highly recommend it as one of the best films from the rather spotty second half of Kurosawa's career.

Fuuun Shaolin Kyo - Ankoku no Maou














Holy shit! He's doing that Karate Kid move in mid-air!

A slightly improved sequel to Jaleco's 1987 fighting game, covered back in Chrontendo 17. While the backgrounds look nicer, a weak control scheme sinks the game. You need to press A and B simultaneously to jump! Yikes! Palatte swapped enemies abound.

Fleet Commander

From ASCII, the first naval warfare simulation game for the Famicom. You control the Japanese fleet of heavy cruisers, battleships, submarines and aircraft carriers in this WWII era game. One notation I'd like to make about the video of this game: I give a baffled mention of the "Turbo File" save option on the main menu. As it turns out, the Turbo File was an add-on device for the Famicom that could be used to save games. It was manufactured by ASCII and was compatible with a number of titles.












Fudo Myouoden/Demon Sword













This screenshot makes Fudo Myouoden look way cooler than it really is.

This Tose developed/Taito published game got pretty heavily whacked for the US release, with a number of levels and power ups being cut out. Possibly this was due to size limitations - the Japanese cart was the largest cart Famicom cart released at this point; the first to break the 3 Megabit limit. (In case you're wondering, Konami's Ganbare Goemon was the first 2 Meg cart, Ganbare Goemon Gaiden from 1990 was the first 4 Meg Famicom game, and Koei's Uncharted Waters hit 5 Megs.). The game is the "spiritual successor" to Legend of Kage: you control a high-jumping sword and projectile wielding guy. Enemies constantly assail you by raining out of the sky in an annoying fashion.

Be-Bop High School: Koukousei Gokuraku Densetsu

















Data East tries to break the record for hideous character design in this manga/film inspired adventure game. Oh, good lord, those horrible smiles! Stop staring at me!

Moero!! Pro Tennis/Racket Attack


The seconds game in Tose/Jaleco's Moero!! sports series. Much like the earlier Bases Loaded, this one features speech synthesis and realistically, though slightly ugly, drawn sprites.

One caveat about Episode 30 - for some reason, the video gets quite ugly and chunky looking for about a minute during the end of Demon Sword and the beginning of Fleet Commander. These sections looked fine in the original video, but when being converted to a reasonable sized AVI file, that section got a bit screwy. I encoded it twice with the exact sames results. I might try encoding it again from scratch in a day or two.

Once again, Chrontendo Episode 30, now available at Archive.org.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looking at Olympus vs. Biobaby, it's clear that a good game designer must do more than challenge a player. We face enough challenges in real life, and the rewards for beating them are much more exciting than anything a videogame has to offer.

A good game designer first rewards the player for playing.

A flame whip, a spread shot, floating enemies that take out any enemies in the way, multiple options adding their firepower to the ship - Konami's one of the few companies to have realized the carrot is as important as the stick.

The question is, why didn't more people realize it sooner?

Johanh said...

Thanks for another great episode!
About the lost flickering effects and such in some games: couldn't you merge/interpolate frames to make it visible even at lower frame rates?

Helm said...

Thanks for all your hard work.

I like the background city art in Jekyll & Hyde an awful lot and the push/pull mechanics of it could be used for some better game.

I felt like you perhaps were missing some vital control concept in the Kamen Rider Black game (and I feel likewise sometimes with other bad games you present). Surely it can't just be this, can it? There might be more moves that make the game more playable. But perhaps not.

I didn't know of the baby mario game at all, it seems really good.

Once more, thank you for all the hard work.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Helm, I guess I could have elaborated a bit more on KRB, but as far I as know, there really is no way to make it fun or playable. There are some "advanced moves" - sort of a jumping punch and kick, and forward roll you can do while standing, as well as something where you jump up and wiggle your arms around. Attacks can also be charged. But none of these seem really useful or necessary. Maybe more towards the end of the game. But for the two "stages" I played, bosses could be defeated by standing on one side of the room and punching them as they approached you, or by simply driving by and punching on the motorcycle level. The game is not too long, only five stages, and stage five is simply fighting the same boss three times in a row! Talk about lazy design!

Ruben Kraken said...

Another great episode and I appreciate the extra elbow grease you put in to fix some of the technical issues.

With Battle of Olympus I really have no defense for it beyond my friend and I playing the crap out of it trying to beat it. We would put in the names of whatever girl we were crushing on at the time as the heroine to try and motivate ourselves. I understand none of that quantifies into good gameplay or design, but it is all I have.

Bio Miracle looks like a fantastic little 8-bit platformer which I am baffled how I have never heard anything about it until now, considering it was released on Virtual Console 2 years ago. I am not sure how well it would have done stateside considering at this point the video game market is starting to become more and more dominated by the teenage male demographic and "playing as a baby just isn't cool, bro!" mentality.

Demon Sword, goddamn look at that sword! I mean really! It puts all the hilarious FF/Manga swords to shame. I can't really explain why but there is something about how high you can jump in this game that I really like. If it is simply the freedom in it, I am not sure.

I wonder if you took the harsher Japan release and changed it from random enemy entry and attack patterns and replaced it with predictable Mega Man type patterns how big of a difference, if any, it would make.