Saturday, May 25, 2013


Stouts! (and one porter)
Hey guys, I hope most of you will be able to take advantage of the three day weekend, at least those of you in the US. I'm in the midst of an office improvement project. Stage one is mostly cleaning all the crap out of my office.  But, I am making time for Chrontendo 47 (and photographing recent beer acquisitions.)  For non-beer nerds out there -- stouts, especially imperial stouts and chocolate/coffee stouts are very highly prized in the US.  Checking out Ratebeer's list of higest rated beers, we see that 13 our of the top 20 are imperial stouts. One particular beer, Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, caused another bit of a beer freakout when it was released a few weeks ago, with long lines, instant sell-outs, etc.

More Stouts!

Not quite as insane was the run for Firestone Walker's Parabola, which hit the shelves about a week ago. While every decent liquor store ran out immediately, I was able a find a few bottles at Whole Foods (which is actually sort of a great place to buy beer, since the beer geeks tend to overlook it.) Incredibly, I found two bottles of FW's Sucaba at a Bev-Mo the same day.

Last time, I announced the launch of the Chrontendo Twitter. Today I'll mention the Chrontendo Tumblr, which "soft launched" a week ago. There's not much on there yet, but it will consist entirely of screenshots of games from each upcoming episode. This will allow you to preview each new episode if you choose, and sort of monitor the progress.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Underdressed Teenage Girls and Robot Ninjas

I suppose those two things sum up the Japanese videogame experience quite nicely. Both of them will be on display today. Throw in tokusatsu heroes, golf games, mahjong, manga adaptations, turn-based/action RPGs, and panty shots, and you have summed up Chronturbo Episode 4.

Just like Chrontendo and Chronsega we've moved Chronturbo into a decent sized HD format on Youtube, so you can totally watch it fullscreen on your big-ass monitor and not have it look like shit. The Youtube version is here.  As always, I still recommend downloading the 60 frames per second h.264 version from 60 frames per second is the only way to experience the full glory of these things. Find it here.

Chronturbo 3 covered January through March of 1989, and Episode 4 basically takes us through the next three months. We actually reach the first week of July, which was just a little bit before the TurboGrafx-16 was released in the US. But for the moment, let's discuss the CD-ROM² add-on.

At first glance, its another Dragon Quest clone.

Despite being the most important technological innovation we've seen in the entire Chron series, the CD-ROM² hasn't born much fruit yet. There was a port of Street Fighter, which didn't make good use of the medium, and was a terrible game to boot. This was followed by one non-game and one barely-a-game (Bikkuriman Daijikai and No Ri Ko.)  In March Hudson gave us a very high quality release with Space Adventure Cobra, but this was mostly a menu-based adventure game. Finally, in June, Hudson produced their attempt at a killer app for the CD-ROM²: Far East of Eden: Ziria, a massive, ambitious Dragon Quest style RPG.  Far East of Eden outdid DQ in every department (except originality, I suppose.) Big name voice actors were brought in to record the game's many dialog scenes and its colorful, animated charterers were much more detailed than any found on a Famicom game. Musical legend Ryuichi Sakamoto created some of the in game music.

High res graphics set this apart from Famicom RPGs
 Far East of Eden ended up becoming quite successful in Japan. The second game in the series was massively popular, so much so that it ended up at the number 12 spot on that Famitsu readers' poll I discussed earlier. That puts it well above Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI or any Mario game! It's a shame than none of the Far East of Eden RPGs received a US release, or even a fan translation.

He's right behind you!

The other  game is a little different, but also quite important. Valis II may be a bit more familiar to you, since it was released in the US, by NEC. While not a great game, it is the first platformer for the CD-ROM², as well as the first third party published title.  It helped introduce a popular feature to consoles: the anime-inspired cutscene featuring skimpily dressed young ladies. By the end of its lifespan, the PC Engine was kept afloat by games based around naughty cutscenes. Also, since Valis II was one of the first CD games to be hastily dubbed into English, it started the grand tradition of really awful videogame voice acting.  This tradition continues to this very day.

A highly unlikely outfit.

As magnificent as Far East and Valis II are, they stand cold and shivering in the shadow of a far greater game: Gunhed/Blazing Lazers from Compile and Hudson. There is no denying the fact that Blazing Lazers is The Shit. Don't take my word for it. Google "best 10 TurboGrax games" or something, and check out the lists that people have put together. This is one the best games for the system and everyone knows it.

Cool robots = rad
What makes Blazing Lazers so great? Simple: radness. Try it yourself. Turn on the game and ask yourself, "Is there anything happening here that is not rad?" The answer will always be, "Nope. Every single thing on the screen is completely rad." Sure, some of the earlier shoot-em-ups we've seen have been pretty darned cool, such as Xanac, Salamander, R-Type, etc. But here, Compile just dialed up the coolness to extreme levels.

Space bubbles = also rad.

Bad Games:

The PC Engine is not known for its kusoge. There were some awful PC Engine games, and Energy and Jinmu Denshou would qualify as awful games by almost anyone's standards. Yet, there is one thing that redeems them: the music. Many of the main Famicom kusoge such as Athena or Super Monkey Daibouken have these ear-piercing, screechy, tuneless, music tracks. Yet Energy, despite being an ugly, buggy mess, manages to serve up some sick tunes. Jinmu Denshou -- an unpleasant Space Harrier clone which tries to integrate bits of platforming into the shooting action -- also has a pretty well done musical theme.

I have no idea what's going on here.

The RPGs:

Aside from Far East of Eden, we have two lesser RPGs, Makai Hakkenden Shada and Susano-ou Densetsu. Data East's Hakkenden is based on the same classic Japanese novel as SNK's Satomi Hakkenden, which we covered in Chrontendo 41.  The unusual thing about this game, is that rather than modeling itself after Dragon Quest, it is instead an extremely blatant rip-off of Falcom's Ys. Of course, the PC Engine version of Ys wouldn't be released until December 1989, making Hakkenden the Missing In Action to Ys's Rambo: First Blood Part II.

It's just like Ys, only terrible.

Susano-ou Densetsu, from Hudson, is a bit more original, though it is based on a Go Nagai manga, and is named after the Shinto deity.  In the world of video games, Susano-ou will familiar to Megami Tensei fans. It's a pretty large game, in terms of cartridge space (and price), but was overshadowed by Far East of Eden, which came out shortly afterwards.

This looks a wee bit like Dungeon Explorer.

The Golf Games:

Two golf games this time around: Hudson's Power Golf, which had colorful, dynamic box art (in Japan) and Naxat's Naxat Open, which had boooooring box art, and did not get a US release.  I suppose Power Golf is nominally the more interesting of the two, but both are just standard console golf games.

Arcade Ports from Namco:

Namco tends to focus on ports of earlier arcade games when it comes to its PC Engine releases. This time they dig deep into their vaults and pull out a port of Pac-Land, the pioneering game which is not that much fun to play nowadays. But it was the first Pac-man game to break away from the "running around in a maze" genre,. Instead it went on to create many of the conventions  of the side-scrolling platformer.

Ghosts flying airplanes?!

Wonder Momo is an odd, single plane beat-em-up with a tokusatsu theme. Like a lot of similar games, such as Sega's My Hero, it focuses heavily on knowing enemy patterns and finding the correct rhythm. It is also one of the most common HuCards in Japan, according to Kevin Gifford.

Yes, part of the game is a guy who tries to take an up-the-skirt photo.

Final Lap Twin - now here's an interesting one. Final Lap was a perfectly typical racing arcade game from 1987. For the console version, Namco decided to add an RPG mode. The results are very much like an improved World Tennis - that weird tennis RPG from Chronturbo 2.

Yes, this is somehow a racing game.

The Rest:

Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag -  The first Human published game! Having developed numerous games for other publishers, Human finally struck out for themselves with the first game in their long running wrestling series. Several key members of Human worked on Nintendo's Pro Wrestling, and Combination Tag resembles that game more than it does the later Fire Pro games. The high degree of customization that defined the Fire Pro series is not yet in place.

Screenshots of wrestling games often look a little risque.

Cyber Cross - You are a Japanese superhero. You walk from left to right and punch aliens that are walking from right to left.

Not much to see here.

Ninja Warriors - Port of the Taito arcade game that had the big, long screen, like Darius. It's basically Rush N Attack with ninjas minus most of the fun.

Wai Wai Mahjong - A mahjong game with colorful graphics and goofy characters.

There we have it. By my reckoning we'll need three more Chronturbos to finish off 1989. But that'll be a little while. Right now we need to deal with the next Chrontendo, which will feature a long-awaited game from Nintendo. Until then, check out Chronturbo 4 on Youtube and Archive.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Almost Done/Chrontendo Twitter

Here's your Friday late night post. What I hope is the final cut of Chronturbo Episode 4 is being processed now. Assuming there are no horrible mistakes discovered in the completed video, it should be up on Archive tomorrow, followed by the Youtube version.

Chrontendo 4 is another long one, people. An hour and a half. I really need to keep this shit under control. Why do I need to spend three minutes talking about the most generic, boring, Tose-developed golf game in existence? I dunno man. It must be the beast within.

"Every single one us, a devil inside...." Oh god, the 80s were awesome.
File this under more exciting news: Chrontendo is finally on Twitter! Yes, somehow one of the most  long-winded dudes is now being forced to adhere to a 140 character limit. What will you find on the Chrontendo Twitter? Mostly stupid bullshit, just like every other Twitter account. But you will also find updates on Chrontendo progress. So for those who wonder, "Is Dr. Sparkle working on the new episode or not?", and "If Dr. Sparkle is not working on Chrontendo, then what is he doing?"  -- well, then I guess the Twitter has the answers for you.

Anyway.... @chrontendo. Check it out. Delve into the psyche of Dr. Sparkle. There's even a link on the right hand side of this page. What's next? A Chrontendo Tumblr is in the works. And then? Chrontendo Pinterest? Chrontendo Chat Roulette? Who knows?

Friday, May 3, 2013

No, I'm Not Dead...

...I've just been quiet lately. While some parts of the country might be still be getting snow and rain, around here we've been hit with summer-like heat. It's reached the high 90s this week, which is a little scary for late April/early May. Thus, I've been hit with both a major case of the lazies, and an epidemic of weeds in my back yard. Chrontendo has been moved to the back burner for a moment.

In the time since I last posted, we've experienced a series of national disasters and high-profile deaths. Obviously, we've been hit with the non-stop media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings over the last couple weeks, as well as the inevitable epidemic of ridiculous conspiracy theories. For those who are smart enough to avoid such nonsense, the three main threads seem to be this:

President Obama is secretly behind the bombings. Somehow, actual elected officials have touted this theory, including a New Hampshire state legislator. Alternately, some folks claim that a random student of Saudi descent who was injured in the bombings is the real perpetrator. This is Glen Beck's theory.  And, of course, numerous asshats in the media have revealed their complete ignorance of the US legal system, in particular, a defendant's 5th Amendment rights. Apparently, these people interpret a federal judge following federal law in a criminal case as "Obama/US Justice Department is secretly in league with terrorists."

As a person whose been around for a few years, I can assure you: the American media was not always as crazy as it is today. I blame the internet.

"It's my happening...."
The most notable celebrity death in April was that of Roger Ebert. I've always had mixed feelings about Ebert. At the time of his death, he was the most famous film critic alive; in fact, he was probably the only film critic well known to the general populace. Towards the end of his life, he was respected, almost revered, as the dean of American film criticism.  Those of you with longer memories, however, might remember that Ebert was once the poster boy for the death of film criticism.
The '50s and '60s begat a golden age of American movie critics.  Stanley Kauffmann, Pauline Kael, Manny Farber, and perhaps the greatest of all, Andrew Sarris, all reached large audiences at a time when movie criticism could be taken very seriously. A review from a high-profile writer like Sarris or Kael could make or break a film's reputation and even effect its box-office success (as amazing as that sounds today.) These guys were all "serious," intellectual critics and often delved into the philosophical and aesthetic qualities of movie-making. Ebert, while a very good writer, tended to review movies based on his own personal taste, rather than offering a deep analysis of the films he was writing about. In the 1970s, he and Gene Siskel were accused of dumbing down film criticism by reducing it to a simple "thumbs up, thumbs down" formula. I can see the anti-Ebert crowd's point: can you imagine, say, art critics adapting such a system?

Of course, Ebert (and Siskel) also helped popularize the very notion of a film critic. Probably every younger film critic working today were inspired by "At the Movies/Sneak Previews." Compared to the idiot writing reviews in your local newspaper/alt weekly mag, Ebert was a goddamned modern-day Montaigne. His writing was always fun to read, and part of that fun was just how infuriatingly wrong he could be times. In his later years, he became bizarrely fond of terrible films; you might recall his 3 1/2 star review of Revenge of the Sith, or picking crap like Crash and frickin' Juno as the best films of their respective years.

Regardless of his supposed crimes against film criticism, I would give Ebert a lifetime pass for two things: writing the scripts for Russ Meyer movies such as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and his wonderful, classic reply to Rob Schneider in response to Schneider's attack on Patrick Goldstein. (I might also add Ebert's classic burn on Vincent Gallo after Gallo called him fat.)

In more death news, two talented local music legends died recently. If there are any metalheads out there, you have probably heard that Chi Cheng, bassist for the Deftones, finally succumbed from complications resulting from his 2008 car crash. He'd spent most of the last five years in a coma, though he was briefly released from the hospital last year. A lot of folks around here always held on the hope that Cheng would some day, somehow, get better. His death is a huge fucking tragedy for the Sacramento music world, ranking right up there with the 1986 killing of another local music god, Victor Wong (who was also Asian, but I suppose that's a story for another day.)

Truth be told, it's been many years since I've seen the Deftones perform - it was sometime back in the '90s. They had the luck (misfortune?) to hit it big just as many other, much worse "nu-metal" bands were becoming popular. Somehow, they got lumped in with such musical shitfests as Korn and Limp Bizkit, despite pre-dating those bands by several years.  As much as I hate the music of Korn, etc, I must admit many of those bands stood by Chi after his accident and raised funds for his family's medical expenses.  So, I'll openly admit the dudes from Korn, Hatebreed, Slipknot, Sevendust, etc, etc, must be wonderful human beings, regardless of the music they make.

More low profile was the death of Scott Miller, of Game Theory and Loud Family. Game Theory was one part of the thriving Davis musical scene of the '80's, and were somewhat connected to the whole "Paisley Underground" scene of that era (related acts: Thin White Rope, True West, Dream Syndicate.) Among a certain set of aficionados, Game Theory's 1986 album Lolita Nation is one of the finest underground records of the 1980s. Good luck finding a copy for a reasonable amount of money nowadays. Full disclosure: Dr. Sparkle went to school in Davis, and is somewhat predisposed towards Davis-related stuff.

Finally, here's the part of the post you really care about:

Chronturbo 4 is almost done. It's mostly recorded and edited. I don't have an exact date, but I hope to get some work done this weekend (assuming I am not overwhelmed by yard work.)