Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fear and Loathing in the Midnight Sea

Oh, Irem,

Why do you hate me so much?

Episode 44 was progressing nicely, then came Holy Diver.

A bit of background: Irem's Holy Diver is one of those highly regarded "hidden gems" of the Famicom. It's an extremely cool game released only in Japan that has gained a cult following as a slick, well-made action title in the Castlevania mode -- a game that should have recieved a release in the West, but didn't. It's been one of the games on my radar; I've been looking forward to Holy Diver for some time. One of the pleasures of Chrontendo is discovering all these great games I've never played before. But it turns out Holy Diver is hard. Not Castlevania hard or Mega Man 1 hard or Ninja Gaiden hard, but "goddamn, why does this game keep killing me over and over?" hard. And "why is every frickin' enemy so difficult to kill?" hard.

Despite this, Holy Diver is a very fair game. Its deaths are not cheap, like, say, A Week of Garfield. It doesn't help that the game requires judicial use of special abilities, which consume magic points. And I'm one of those guys who hates to use limited resources or special items, because I'm always "saving" them for later.  No matter how rough things get I always refuse to use my elixir or super-powerful attack because I assume the next battle is going to be even worse, and that's when I'll really need it.

Part of the problem may be that, unlike Ninja Gaiden or Mega Man,  I've never played Holy Diver before. With practice, it may become more manageable. Still, this is game that needs to be on all those "Hardest games of the NES" lists.

Must there be lava everywhere?!?
So, how many folks out there have played Holy Diver? Is it really as tough as I think? And while you're at it, what exactly is the song "Holy Diver" about? Why does it talk about tigers (which are black and orange) and then mention "a cat in black and blue?" Did someone beat up the tiger?

Bonus: What's with all the Sword and Sorcery/D&D imagery in the "Holy Diver" video?

What is the cosmic connection between the late Mr. R.J. Dio, a man whose life was undoubtedly stuffed to the brim with sex, drugs and partying -- and normal D&D fans, many of which have never known the sweet touch of female flesh?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

This Week in Odd Sexual Inuendo

If there is one bright spot in being forced to drive a daily commute through heavy traffic, it's that you get a chance to read some of the silly, offensive or just plain confusing stickers people put on the back of their cars. The other day I noticed one of those enormously macho "work" trucks (a Dodge Super Duty, though based on its pristine appearance, it had not been used much for actually hauling stuff around ) with a funny sticker in the rear window. It said "Team Backyard Boyz" in a jagged, extreme-looking font, the kind of font used by energy drinks or metal bands. Now I'm 99% sure that Backyard Boyz is a local youth baseball team with a rather unfortunate name. But I can't help but think that there simply has to be a "Dirty South" gay rap crew with that name. I mean, some underground gay rap group from Houston or somewhere must have already taken that name.  Hopefully the owner of that truck isn't too sensitive to double entendres.

To top it off, directly in front of the Dodge was yet another over-sized truck, this one covered with stickers containing very deliberate inuendoes. The guy must have been a deep water fisherman, based on his stickers. One was shaped like a fish and read "Size Matters," while his vanity license plate read "GO DEEPR." At least its not as bad as those rubber testicles guys hang off the back of their trucks.

In more endearing news, Ruben Kraken has resurfaced and updated the Chrontendo Episode Guide, to Episode 13, at least. I assumed the fellow had disappeared into the void and had put the creation of an internal episode guide on my to-do list (along with updating the game list.)

Chrontendo Episode 44 will be a little different than the last few, since it will feature fewer games, but will be stuffed with some major bonus content. It will contain a couple notorious games, namely A Week of Garfield and Rare's Taboo: The Sixth Sense. To complement Taboo there is also an obscure, weird Japanese game based on psychic phenomenon.  To balance this out, we have a few really good, solid games, including a cult hit from Technos Japan, so Chrontendo 44 will not be the utter clusterfuck that Chronsega 7 was.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sega Master System: The End of an Era

I hope everyone enjoyed the first ever Chrontendo April Fool's Day post. While I think that Chron-CD-i is a great idea for a chronogaming project, I also think it's a great idea for somebody other than me to do it. That's one boat that's never going to sail from this port. Of course, our April Fool's post was a hastily slapped together hack-job compared to some. Socks Make People Sexy did another pretty elaborate redesign resembling Giant Bomb, including some funny fake news articles. Most of you will have already seen this, but Google's NES Google Maps is typically brilliant and relevant for Famicom/NES fans. Also, I thought the Nintendo 3DS Dubstep trailer was pretty cool. This was already discussed here, but I always get confused when I hear "dubstep" music or Skrillex, or whatever. The thing is... I remember listening to stuff that was called dubstep some years ago -- guys like Burial or Kode9. This kind of music felt like it grew out of the weirder, late period drum 'n' bass artists such as Grooverider, Yet I don't see much of a connection between this kind of music and what is called dubstep today, which seems to refer either to goofy pop music or irritating noise (or frequently, irritating noise inserted into goofy pop music.)

Moving right along, the big news is the release of Chronsega 7. Naturally, the new episode is available for your viewing pleasure at and Youtube. It's the same as always; 15 games are covered, from late 1988 through mid 1989. But it's also sort of a sad occasion, since this episode features the final Sega Master System games released in Japan. Sega's first attempt at competing with Nintendo in the console market ended in utter, abject failure in its home country. The Master System continued on in the US for a little while longer, but it was quickly rendered obsolete by the newer Genesis. Surprisingly, the Master System experienced a rebirth in other parts of the globe, namely Europe, Australia and Brazil. It even outsold the Mega Drive/Genesis in Europe well into the 90s.  1989 will be sort of a low point for the system, with only around 20 new games released. It will actually peak in 1993 (about 50 games that year) before finally dying off in 1998. Yes, 1998, the same year the Dreamcast was released.

Virtua Fighter for the SMS. This somehow exists.
While the Master System continued to exist after 1989, in one way, it resembled the Famicom more than 1985-1988 era Master System. As we've noticed in Chrontendo, Nintendo released very few Famicom games themselves during the second half of that console's existence. Likewise, as Sega devoted most of their resources to the Mega Drive/Genesis, third party developers and publishers dominated the Master System's catalog. Expect to see lots of stuff from the likes of Sanritsu, Tiertex and Probe in the future. Sega's lack of investment in the Master System is already evident in this episode. None of the games in Chronsega 7 are that great. But at least one is pretty ambitious:

Chou-on Senshi Borgman/Cyborg Hunter

You play as the Boba Fett guy.
The last "big" game for the Japanese Master System is, like its spiritual predecessor Zillion, based on an animated TV show. For the Western release, Cyborg Hunter, all references to the anime were dropped and a few characters redrawn.  In either version, the game is sort of boring and repetitive. You wander down countless identical horizontal passageways and pick up the occasional power-up. These power-ups bestow new abilities and give Cyborg Hunter a slight Metroid feel. Imagine stripping Metroid of any sense of exploration and non-linerity and you would get something much like Cyborg Hunter.

Aside from Cyborg Hunter, we have a few other notable games.

Bomber Raid

Here's an idea: Fly around the tank and shoot him from behind!
Notable for being the last Japanese Master System release, this Sanritsu developed shoot-em-up resembles Capcom's 1942 games or early Toaplan titles such as Sky Shark. Military themed vertical shoot-em-ups were quite popular in arcades at this time. It's too bad that Bomber Raid is so uninteresting and generic in its construction. There are no cool weapons, enemy patterns are boring, and the backgrounds are uninspired.  Bomber Raid would be a pretty solid shooter if only Sanritsu had thrown in something to make it stand out from the pack. When you consider that it was released only a few months before Hudson's Blazing Lazers on the PC-Engine, it makes Bomber Raid seem all the more old fashioned.

Double Dragon

We can place Double Dragon next to Rygar as evidence of an emerging trend in arcade ports: the Master System version will be very similar to the arcade game while the Famicom version will be substantially reworked.  The SMS Double Dragon retains the original's two player co-op and is in most ways a very faithful port. One exception - enemies tend to be much tougher and often spam the jumping kick attack. As a result the jump kick becomes your go-to attack in most situations; trying to walk up to an enemy and punch him will often result in a jump kick to the face. I wouldn't say that the SMS Double Dragon is better or worse than the Famicom game, but it is certainly different.

Ys: The Vanished Omens

In contrast, the Master System Ys is very similar to the Famicom version that we saw a while back. In fact, the Japanese SMS release cam out only around 1 1/2 months after the Famicom Ys, so the two versions were almost contemporary.  The main distinguishing feature of this Ys is the completely redrawn character portraits. It was also the first version to be released in the US.

Galaxy Force

In short: overly ambitious and tragically flawed. Sega already had issues trying to get a decent version of Space Harrier on the Master System.  Galaxy Force, an arcade game from 1988, is like Space Harrier to the power of three: it is jammed full of crazy sprite scaling and 3D effects. Sega did an impressive job getting it on a 4 megabit cartridge. But, man, is it one ugly, flickery mess!

Time Soldiers

A port of the SNK/Alpha Denshi vertical run 'n' gun. Just like Ikari Warriors, this used a rotary joystick in its original arcade incarnation. The console version is better than the NES Ikari Warriors, but it's still a little dull, in my opinion.

The majority of games in Chronsega 7 were released in western markets only, meaning the US, Europe and Brazil.  One point of interest is the emergence of two US based publishers, Activision and Parker Brothers. Activision ended up releasing several Sega titles in the US, such as Bomber Raid and Cyborg Hunter. Also, Sega published its first Master System games designed by American developers, Monopoly.


A US/Europe only release from Activision. It's a decent looking port, but the controls are a little "off."


This was published by Sega, but developed by Gilman Louie's Nexa Corp. It's a no frills electronic version of the board game. The one exception is the Nexa created little animations of the game pieces moving along the board, done in isometric perspective.


That's a salami Alf is holding. Literally.
A US only graphic adventure game from Sega. This was developed by Sphere, the successor to Nexa. You can read an interview with a Nexa/Sphere employee on GDRI here. The game itself is pretty terrible and contains some very poorly implemented action sequences. And, yes, it is based on the silly 80s sitcom about the alien.

Montezuma's Revenge

Awesome key collecting action!
The retro game in today's episode. It's actually an old Atari 800 platformer in the Spelunker/Pitfall 2 mode. The Master System game is a pretty snazzy looking upgrade from the original, but it seemed antiquated by 1989 standards.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

"Assy" is just "Embassy" with the first two letters cut-off, in case you're wondering.
The Broderbund computer game that spawned an edutainment empire receives an console port. The graphics have been reworked from the ground up for this version.

Walter Payton Football/American Pro Football

Sort of the SMS equivalent to John Elway's Quarterback. On an related note: a couple days ago I was driving behind a car with a "John Elway Manhattan Beach Scion" license plate frame. I guess the guy owns car dealerships now.

California Games

Prepare to hear me bitch about the overly complicated controls in these games, again.

Altered Beast

Some of the worst clouds seen in a video game.
This game is far better known as the pack-in game for the US Sega Genesis. The Genesis version is pretty good. The Master System Altered Beast is abysmal. Just about everything than can go wrong in a console port goes wrong here: ugly graphics, a weird control scheme, a missing level, compromised hit detection.... but the real killer is jerky, laggy, almost slo-mo feel to character movement. This turns Altered Beast from a sub-par game into an unplayable mess. I declare this to be the biggest disappointment this episode.

The next Chronsega will cover a decent chunk of 1989. However, the "chrono" part of Chronsega is going to have to be taken with a pretty big grain of salt from here on out. There does not seem to be any reliable source of release dates for US and European Master System games. In the future, everything will be a matter of guesswork and/or random ordering of games.

So, once again, please visit or Youtube and check out Chronsega Episode 7. Next up: Chrontendo 44!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hey Folks...

I was planning on posting about Chrontendo 7 yesterday, but my wife had an unexpected trip to the emergency room.

I'll probably update later tonight, but the new episode is actually available on archive and youtube.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Quick Preview

Hey Everyone, thanks for checking in. Episode 44 of Chron-CD-i is not ready yet. But let me tell you, it's going to be a doozy, with many classic games such as Mad Dog McCree and Flintstones and Jetsons: Timewarp. As you know, each episode of Chron-CD-i takes around 500 man-hours to produce, and this episode should be ready by mid-July.

You heard me right, Mad Dog McCree! Woot!
 However, as a little treat, I've got a sneak preview. Now don't get too excited, but one of the  games featured in the new Chron-CD-i is one of the most illustrious releases for the console ever, Mario Hotel! I personally feel that Hotel Mario had the potential to be a real system-seller. After all, it took an popular existing character, Mario, and brought him into the modern gaming age. Yep, no more crude, pixelated graphics or bloop-bloop-bleep music! Nope, Hotel Mario brought beautifully animated FMV and CD quality music to the series. Really, the game should have brought Mario into the multimedia age, but, as usual, antipathy from critics, gamers, and the population at large prevented it from being the huge hit it deserved to be. Once again, a nation of gamers brainwashed by Nintendo and Sega overlooked a real gem of a game on the CD-i.

I have to apologize for the quality of the video. I was having problems with my microphone, and if I sound a little out of it, please be aware my doctor currently has me on prescription of dilaudid, paxil and oxycontin. Anyway, check back shortly, in 2-3 months, for the latest episode in the only video podcast dedicated to the most underrated console of all time, the Philips CD-i!