You will be pleased to know that Chrontendo Episode 46 is nearing completion. There is only one game left unfinished, and then it's off to editing.
Episode 46 will feature four non-Japanese releases - that is, games that were created for the US market. One of them is Monster Party, but today I wanted to bring up a different title: Airwolf.
The US Airwolf is the second NES game based on the TV show, which, as I pointed out when covering the other Airwolf game, was cancelled in 1987. It was published by Acclaim, whose prior two US-only releases were both developed by Rare. (Wizards and Warriors and WWF Wrestlemania.) For Airwolf, Acclaim brought in a brand new developer to NES, Australia's Beam Software. It's interesting that all the publishers of US-only games for the NES (Acclaim, LJN, Hi Tech, etc) were outsourcing the work to overseas companies. American development studios were apparently all too invested in PC games to consider doing work for the NES.
Airwolf is a pretty awful game. Each level places your helicopter on a map which contains a few prison camps and refueling stations. The object is simple to move Airwolf to each camp to pick up prsioners, refuel if necessary, and then move the edge of the map, thus crossing the border. Almost all the action takes place in first person perspective from inside the cockpit. The results are not exactly visually thrilling:
There is nothing at all original in Airwolf. The game handles worse than most After Burner/Top Gun type games. The sound and graphics are ugly. In the screenshot above, you can see two enemy missiles headed towards you. They are represented simply by a bunch of black dots arranged into a circle. I guess creating a series of missile sprites in varying sizes was too much work or something. You can see the map in the middle of your cockpit's display. Acclaim tried to hide how boring looking the game is with some slightly deceptive packaging: the back of the box uses mostly screenshots from the intro and various cutscenes.
Airwolf is considered to be a pretty awful game, and in the US, Airwolf is the sort of thing we associate Beam Sofware with - lame licensed games. From the 8-bit era, Beam produced Back to the Future, the JVC-published Star Wars, Hunt for Red October on the Game Boy -- the sort of games that cause Youtube videogame critics to get all worked up and starting cursing and screaming. Their most notorious release was Power Punch II, originally created as a sequel to Punch-Out!! However, the resulting game was so terrible, Nintendo refused to associate themselves with it and sold it to a third party publisher, American Softworks. Somehow, amidst all the crap, Beam managed to turn out the Genesis version of Shadowrun, so their record is not 100% bad.
Yet, Beam's reputation outside of the US is very different. As a developer for games on the C-64, ZX Spectrum, etc, Beam (AKA Melbourne House) was considered to be a top-tier game company in the UK. You can find British and Australian sources describing them as legendary and pioneering. Prior to making NES games, they did have an international hit with The Hobbit, a text adventure game. But their most famous game overseas is Way of the Exploding Fist, a blatant rip-off of Karate Champ which improves a bit on the orignal. It failed to turn many heads in the US (Beam created an unreleased NES port), but is considered to be one of THE old-school games in the UK and Europe. At the time of its release, it received massive acclaim from gamers and the gaming press in the UK. Check out this ad for some over-the-top quotes from critics.
"Spectacular, startlingly original," "virtually beyond criticism," "Fantastic sound effects, state of the art animation," "Far and away the best sports combat simulation available." It's hard to reconcile that sort of praise with the game itself. I assume it was just a matter of the Exploding Fist being in the right place at the right time. Beam ending up winning the UK's Golden Joystick award for Best Software House of the Year in 1985. As another example of how UK and US tastes differed, in 1989 that award went to Ocean Software, another company known for tons of licensed shovelware. And the 1989 Golden Joystick for best console game went to.... Thunder Blade on the Sega Master System!
Beam continued to release games throughout the 1990s and 2000s, going through a few ownership and name changes in the process. As Krome Studios Melbourne, they produced forgettable titles like Viva Piñata: Party Animals and Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Republic Heroes. They ceased to exist as of 2010.
Moving on, I have another fine piece of Prog/Krautrock for the fans of that genre out there. This is sort of an oddity, a performance by Tangerine Dream from 1969. In the 70s T-Dream became a wildly successful electronic music act, creating music from behind massive banks of synthesizers. In 1969, however, they were a psychedelic rock band consisting of guitar, bass and drums. There is already one version of this on Youtube, but it was only in 240p, so I uploaded it in better quality.
The performers here are Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze (who moved on to Ash Ra Temple and then a solo career in electronic music) and someone named "Happy" Dieter, whose identity remains unknown. The band performs on a rather distinctive fountain in what is actually the courtyard of a restaurant on Potsdamer St in Berlin. Sadly, this very cool looking courtyard is long gone, though the St. George Fountain still exits, having been moved to nearby Hindemithplatz. You can see the fountain as it looks today here. This particular jam is called the "Bath Tube Session" for reasons unknown to me. The film is a great look into the world of the German psyche scene of the time.