Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chrontendo Episode 13: Wrath of the Yakyuu

Episode 13 has arrived, more or less on schedule. As always, it may be streamed or downloaded from As you may recall from last episode, the 1986 holiday season has arrived in Japan, and new Famicom games are being released in droves. In fact, this episode only covers ten days, from December 10 thru December 19. We'll finish up 1986 next episode, so you can think of Episodes 12-14 as a trilogy of sorts.

Before we get into the games themselves, let's discuss sports games for a moment. Today, sports games are a major genre, with series such as Madden Football moving an absurd number of units. Sports games played an important role in the early years of video games, with such consoles as the Intellivison building their reputation on superior sports titles. But the astute Chrontendo viewer will have noted a distinct dearth of sports titles for the Famicom so far, with the exception of wrestling games. Nintendo themselves released a handful of basic sports titles early in the system's lifespan - Golf, Baseball, Soccer and Tennis. Since then we've had Irem's 10 Yard Fight in 1985 and Nintendo's Volleyball in mid-1986. With this episode, we'll see this start to change, beginning with the release of a baseball game from Namco that helped kick off the modern era of sports games.

In addition, we have another fine Konami release, a dull text adventure game from Square, and a US style RPG, as well as all kinds of general nonsense. Let's get going.

Episode 13's MVP:

Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium/RBI Baseball
King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch

For the first time ever, it's a tie! Neither of these titles are stone cold classsics, yet both rise above the crowd. Namco's Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium marks a major turning point in the evolution of the sports game. Rather than using identical, generic players as in Nintendo's Baseball, Family Stadium features real Japanese baseball players, each with his own unique hitting and/or pitching stats. Thus, every team is different, and knowing your teams strengths and weaknesses is vital to mastering the game. Tengen released the game in the US as RBI Baseball, replacing the Japanese teams and players with American ones. RBI Baseball proudly featured the MLBPA logo on front, thus kicking off the era of licensed sports titles. The Family Stadium series continues to this day, while RBI Baseball continued as a separate series for a few years.

In 1986, Dino DeLaurentiis released a belated sequel to his 1976 hit movie King Kong. King Kong Lives was a box office flop, but did inspire a video game tie-in from Konami, the wonderfully titled King Kong 2: Ikari no Megaton Punch. Never released in the US, this fun top down action game has nothing to do with the movie, but is a crazy romp featuring interconnected maze-like levels, the ability to jump, punch and throw rocks, and even a certain number of destructible elements in the environment. Oh yes, and giant ducks. I'm not sure why the folks at Konami think ducks are so sinister, but killer ducks will feature in another Konami game a little later down the road (to be covered in Episode 15).

More Cool Games:

Nazo no Kabe: Block Kazushi

What?! Konami virtually has a lock-down on this episode! Nazo no Kabe is a fun little Arkanoid clone, which beat Taito's Famicom port of Arkanoid to the shelves by around two weeks! Just like Arkanoid, this game is a modern variation on the old Atari classic Breakout. Think of it as Breakout with the following additions: a sci-fi theme, power-ups, enemies, more varied block patterns, and the occasional boss. I will admit, I like Nazo no Kabe better than Arkanoid itself.

Mashou/Deadly Towers

Here's a game with an extremely bad reputation that it doesn't quite deserve. Mashou is a Zelda inspired adventure game in which you climb a series of towers to obtain and destroy seven evil bells. Much of the game is completely playable, though hampered by the developer Lenar's insistence on hiding most of the important items in completely arbitrary places. Even so, Mashou is relatively decent -- except for one thing. Lenar decided to ramp up the difficulty and length of the game by adding a number of huge, dangerous and impossible to navigate dungeons. The entrances to these dungeons are invisible, so accidentally stumbling into one will usually result in death while your desperately search for the dungeon's exit. This virtually kills the game for all but the most masochistic gamers. Find some maps of the dungeons online, however, and you Mashou becomes surprisingly acceptable. Mashou is a big, ambitious game. Too bad Lenar had to take a crap all over their own creation by adding those ridiculous dungeons.

Wing of Madoola

Again, not a great game, but better than I suspected. Wing of Madoola is the first Sunsoft title to show any promise. A side scrolling platformer with RPG elements, Madoola contains the usual power-ups, bosses, and running, jumping and slashing action. The game is fun in spots and there is a decent amount of variety to the levels, but Madoola is hampered by bad controls and annoying enemies. Still, a huge improvement over Super Arabian.

Deep Dungeon

RPG's are still relatively rare on the Famicom, even as RPG elements are becoming increasingly common. The first in a series of four games, Humming Bird Soft's Deep Dungeon is a straight up US style first-person RPG ala Wizardry. Taking place entirely inside a single dungeon, you control a lone adventurer who battles monsters one at a time, turn-based style. While not getting lost in the labyrinthine dungeon (hint: break out the pencil and graph paper for this one), your hero rummages through piles of trash looking for valuables. While RPGs don't really get any more basic than this, Deep Dungeon will please fans of old-school dungeon crawling action.

Not so good games:

Takeshi no Chousenjou

Just like Ganso Saiyuuki: Super Monkey Daibouken, this Taito release is a classic example of kusoge - a shitty game. Supposedly designed by Takeshi "Beat" Kitano, the video game hating actor, director and TV celebrity, Takeshi no Chousenjou (Takeshi's Challenge) is sort of an anti-video game -- a deliberately boring, unplayable mess. Certain elements in this game have given it a reputation as either an avant-garde classic or one the worst games ever released. Either way, it is unlikely anyone actually enjoyed this game for more than a few minutes.


I'm not sure if Breeder is bad, or just pointless. You construct robots and then pit your creations against each other in the arena - a decent idea for a game. However, the robot battles are completely automated and mostly consist of your robots wandering around the arena, occasionally attacking each other. The result is incredibly boring, but at least Breeder is notable as probably the least interactive video game released up to this point. The Japanese would eventually become the masters of non-interactive video games, so Breeder perhaps a little ahead of its time.

Gall Force: Eternal Story

An anime based shoot-em-up from HAL Laboratory? I had high hopes for Gall Force, but these were dashed upon playing the game itself. Considering this was the first game HAL published themselves, I shouldn't have expected too much. Regardless, Gall Force is a pretty lame shooter, with way too many enemies and useless power ups. The graphics are pretty good, however. This is also the earliest shoot-em-up I've seen that indicates in-game that the pilots are teenage girls. Eventually, Japanese games would start displaying an ennerving fascination with underage girls, so HAL is at least partially to blame for introducing lolicon into console gaming.

The rest:

Doreamon - A quickie release from Hudson, based on the eternally popular anime about a blue robot cat.
Suishou no Ryuu - Dull, almost dialog free text adventure game from Square. That oft-told story about Square facing bankruptcy in their early years is starting to make sense.
Sherlock Holmes: Hakushaku Reijou Yuukai Jiken - Actually sort of an interesting title from the obscure publisher Towachiki. As the master detective, you run around the UK, stabbing random pedestrians to death while searching for randomly hidden clues.
Adian no Tsue - A god-damned educational game disguised as a lame Zelda clone. More pointlessness from Sunsoft.
Knight Lore - A heavily modified port of the old Spectrum game, originally from The Ultimate Play the Game (later known as Rare). "Speccy" fans consider Knight Lore a timeless classic, but we'll have to chalk that up to typical British eccentricity.
Metro Cross - Port of an oddball Namco arcade game. You jump over giant rolling coke cans to avoid being electrocuted. No, it doesn't make any sense to me either.

Well, there you have it, another 15 games out of the way! Don't forget to download Chrontendo Episode 13 at!