(Updated 4/9/2011) Oh shit! Breaking news from commenter Kendra! Check out this here!
It's finally happened. Chrontendo Episode 37 is here, in a dizzying array of digital formats. For those of you who can stand to watch only the highest quality online videos, check out the 60 FPS versions on Archive: you can download or stream the h.264 MP4 video or its hipsterish cousin, the MKV. You'll also find the more mundane AVI version here. If you prefer a bit more Beiber and a bit less granola in your video hosting sites, check out the semi-decent 30 FPS version on Youtube.
Now you might be wondering what I mean when I describe Episode 37 as "ugly." For starters, take a look at the following screenshot.
A long time ago, Dr. Sparkle used to be a sort of crappy painter. Therefore, I feel relatively qualified to point out the various aesthetic malfunctions occuring above. Such as the forest green/mustard yellow "explosion" word balloon in the upper left -- is it intended to depict the violence and excitement inherent in the concept of "TwoOnTwo?" Why is the black edging on the large green characters missing from the right side of each character? What is happened to the right side of the basketball player's face? Why is he leaping with hands up in the air as if he were shooting a basket, yet the ball is approaching the basket from the opposite direction?. Who the hell would design a basketball hoop that's so much smaller than a regulation sized basketball? Or maybe the basketball itself is over-sized? Either way, it's not going to fit in that hoop. And why was the art director thinking that this garish mishmash of graphical elements and clashing colors was acceptable to use in a commercially released product?
Aside from the Moero!! Junior Basket title screen, we also have games in which Margaret Thatcher runs for President of the USA, Takeshi Kitano guides you through a board game version of Sengoku-era Japan, you compete in a "Grand Prix" by playing rounds of pachinko, and you play the classic board game Othello by answering trivia questions. Also, we have a mahjong game based around a manga character. Yes, you heard that right: there is both a mahjong and a pachinko game this episode. Sorry.
This all sounds pretty torturous, but luckily for you, I decided to throw in the Chrontendo 1988 Arcade Game Roundup! So between clips of 8-bit chicks in bunny suits, you'll get to watch giant snakes made out of fire leaping out of the sun! In not one, but two games! Yes, one of them is Gradius II, but do you know what the other is?
Snakes + Fire + Spaceships = AWESOME
As before, the games featured in the arcade roundup are grouped by publisher, so we get a crash course in the major games of 1988 from Sega, Namco, Konami, Capcom, Taito, and Atari, as well as those from smaller publishers such as Data East, SNK, Tecmo, and so on. It's all pretty amazing and exciting, so hopefully you'll enjoy getting to watch cutting-edge graphics for once.
Every episode of Chrontendo, I select one game as the "best" game of the episode. This time, I am going to, somewhat grudgingly, give the honor to Kemco's NES release of Deja Vu.
No one can deny that the original, Macintosh version, of Deja Vu was something of a revelation. One of the first adventure games to use the mouse, Deja Vu did away with the clumsy text parsers found in most adventure games at that time. Instead of typing out "move west," one could simply use the Mac's mouse to position the pointer onto the west door, and then, with simple click, move through the door.
The only NES game that requires you to literally, slap a ho.
Kemco's Deja Vu obviously couldn't make use of a mouse, so the entire control scheme was redesigned. You now have to use the d-pad to navigate a bunch of commands, and walking through a door requires two verbs, "open" and "move", and multiple button presses. In other words, it took Deja Vu's main innovation, a simple and easy to use control scheme, and made it much more clunky and slow.
The game itself is still pretty good, however, especially compared to the illogical and linear Japanese adventure games we've been seeing. I had some trouble with the DV's nested inventory system at the end of game, which kept getting me arrested. The video goes into more detail about my problems.
Also pretty decent this episode:
Sangokushi/Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Cao Cao doesn't like it when you call him "Cow Cow."
Koei's biggest and baddest history strategy game comes late to the party. It was originally released for the PC-88 in 1985. By November 1988, we've already seen a bunch of similar games hit the Famicom. Hot-B's Takeda Shingen, Namco's Dokuganryu Masamune, Irem's Hototogisu, and Koei's own Nobunaga's Ambition were all modeled on Romance. While there's nothing wrong with Romance, there's also nothing here we haven't really seen before.
You see kids, back in the 80s, not only was Pluto a real planet, it was bigger than Neptune!
Konami goes oooooold-school with this port of their 1983 arcade tube shooter. In the fast moving world of 1980s shoot-em-ups, Gyruss seems like a relic from the neolithic age. Still, it's a fun way to kill a few minutes. Unlike the games listed below.
The worst of Episode 37:
Taito once again shows their lack of ambition, Famicom-wise, with this archaic looking FDS game. Yuu Maze is an honest-to-god maze game of the sort popular in the early 80s. You drive your little car around picking up dots while avoiding enemy vehicles, who don't so much chase after you as just move around randomly. Seriously, Taito, time to step up to the plate.
American Football/Touchdown Fever
Not to be confused with "White Line Fever." Also quite popular in the 80s.
I'm not 100% sure what the actual Japanese title of this game is. The box art has "American Football" in 100 point type, while the game's title screen just says "Touchdown Fever." Either way, I'd call it the worst football game for the system. Even 10 Yard Fight is better.
Family Quiz: 4-nin wa Rival
A quickie mini-game collection which incorporates trivia questions into Othello, a simple board game, and a memory game. It's notable only for being the first game we've seen from Athena, who would later make the Dezaemon games.
Does this look familiar? It should if you've seen Chronturbo 1 and Chronsega 5.
The most baffling entry this episode is RPG-ish action platformer from Jaleco. Ostensibly based on the story of Son Wokong/Son Gouku from Journey to the West, Saiyuuki World is in reality a direct clone of Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Level design, boss battles, enemy placement -- all are taken directly from Sega's game. Of course, this has happened once before with Bikkuriman World, covered in Chronturbo Epsiode 1. But while that game was licensed from Monster Land's developer Westone, it's not clear that Jaleco did the same thing here. Instead of Westone's name appearing in the credits, we see a copyright to NMK. It doesn't seem possible that Jaleco could get away with "borrowing" the entire game, so I assume some money must have changed hands at some point?
And finally, some oddities:
United State Presidential Race: America Daitouryou Senkyo
Margaret Thatcher's wattle, rendered in all its 8 bit glory!
Yep. That's the title. "United State." A 1988 US Presidential election simulation game, where one of the candidates is Margaret Thatcher? The earlier games this most resembles are the stock market simulations; except instead of picking stocks you establish your position on various issues, and invest money in your campaign.
Gambler Jiko Chuushinha
I hope you guys like mahjong games, because we have another 3 dozen or so to cover before Chrontendo's done.
A port of a slightly earlier computer mahjong game, based on a manga series you've probably never heard of. Yet it was somehow popular enough to warrant a series of sequels that lasted up to the Playstation/Saturn era. To summarize, it's a mahjong game in which the icons representing the players are borrowed from a comic book.
You're probably familiar with this game because you've already seen the Episode 37 preview. If not: it's a Dragon Quest-y RPG from Taito that takes a great idea and ruins it through repetitiveness and blandness. More specifically, the game begins with each party member separated in different parts of the world. You can switch between them at will, and must level each up separately before meeting up and forming your party. Sadly, Kaiju Monogatari is pretty dull, even by mid 80s Famicom RPG standards.
Moero!! Junior Basket Two on Two/Hoops
You might recall Jaleco's Moero!! Pro Yakyuu, released as Bases Loaded in the US. Junior Basket is the latest in their Moero!! series, and is the first half-court basketball game we've seen. Aside from the terrifying title screen seen above, it's not... half bad. (DYSWIDT?)
The first Famicom game in which you chat up a waitress in a bar.
Capcom does the whole menu-based adventure game thing. While the production values are pretty good, the setting and story are not exactly inspired. It also suffers from the same stifling linearity as other JP adventure games, since as Princess Tomato. As a result, playing Samurai Sword feels less like puzzle solving and more like searching through menu options for the trigger actions that allows you to move forward.
Touhou Kenbun Roku
Another adventure game, Touhou Kenbun Roku is apparently the first game by Harvest Moon creators Natsume. It's a "wacky" adventure game based on the travels of Marco Polo. There's a brief but interesting musical digression during the segment covering this game.
AKA Pachinko Grand Prix. Wow, "Grand Prix?" It sounds like they took a pachinko game and tried to make it more exciting. If that was the developer's intention, it didn't work. Pachinko video games are still boring.
Takeshi no Sengoku Fuuunji
The third, that's right, third Famicom based on Takeshi Kitano. And it won't be the last either.
And... that's it! We're done for today. I know this episode seems kind of terrible, but next time we will have a really cool and difficult game involving a ninja. And after that we have a sequel to a popular RPG series from Square. And then, we have a sequel to a Capcom game involving a small, blue robot boy. So things are looking up! Until then, check out Chrontendo Episode 37 on Archive or YouTube.