Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Christmas in October

Chrontendo Episode 25 is finally, finally here. Funny, when I first started working on this episode it seemed to be coming along very quickly. Life is full of surprises, I suppose. Regardless, head on over to and stream or download it.

The holiday season is a funny time for video games. Publishers often try to get highly anticipated titles in stores before Christmas*, in order to take advantage of our end-of-the-year profligacy. By that same token, a lot of quickie cash-in games get released at Christmas time, providing a bit of a dilemma for uneducated consumers. This was just as true in Japan in 1987 as it is today. December 1987 sees around 33 Famicom games released. This includes some prestige titles from Konami, Capcom and Square; sequels to earlier successes from Bandai and Namco; Nintendo's entry into the world of RPGs (sort of); crap from the likes of Victor, Sunsoft and Coconuts; and some games based on popular movies. All of this will be covered in Chrontendo 25-27. Let's begin.

Episode 25's VIP game is....

....nothing! Shockingly, there are no games this time around I can recommend without hesitation. There are some very interesting games, but none that really rise to the level of a great game. Despite this, Episode 25 is still a pretty cool episode. It's just full of flawed games.

Let's start with the halfway decent games:

Dragon Scroll: Yomigaerishi Maryuu

Konami does a Zelda clone! That's sounds really great, but the game itself turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. You spend most of the game wandering around five worlds (forest world, desert world, moutain world, etc. No ice world, thank God) and various dungeons looks for staffs, books, bells, rings and plants. Dragon Scroll is great looking, has awesome music, and the final dragon vs dragon battle is cool. But something doesn't quite click here. The magic is a little lame -- it's mostly used for finding hidden items. You never really gain any fun abilities from all the stuff you collect. The game feels structureless and lacks character; it mostly plays like a big easter egg hunt. Some of the items and areas are virtually impossible to find on your own (much like Castlevania II), so a FAQ will probably be necessary to finish this thing.

Nakayama Miho no Tokimeki High School

Nintendo's game this episode is, in fact, a dating sim. That's right, Nintendo put out a God-damned dating sim for the Famicom! Featuring a J-Pop idol! And guess whose names are in the credits? Gunpei Yokoi and Nobuo Uematsu! What a crazy world we live in. Naturally the game is well made and quite innovative, not to mention G rated.

Star Wars

Namco's wild and wacky game, based very loosely on the 1977 movie. I've discussed it a bit already, but one further thing I'd like to point out is how much the game resembles Mega Man in certain areas. In particular, Star Wars has a deep love of moving platforms, disappearing platforms, spike-covered horizontal surfaces, ladders, and difficult jumps. One thing is clear: Star Wars hates you and wants to kill you.


Alright, an NES version of Shanghai (aka Taipei aka Solitaire Mahjong) is not exactly exciting news. And this version is much uglier than the PC Engine release, which came out in October. But the game is still darned addictive.

But let's not forget the bad games:


The best bad game this episode. Rambo has some sloppy design and programming, and can be sadistically hard at times. When fighting the final boss, was it really necessary to have endlessly respawning enemy soldiers attacking and bombs raining down on you at the same time? This NES title is the third Rambo game from Pack-in-Video. The first two, for Japanese computers, looked like Hydlide, so this is definitely an improvement. It's curious however, how existing games get thrown into the Famicom sausage grinder and come out as side scrolling action RPG-like games (e.g. Valis, Faxandu). For another look at Rambo, I'll point you to GameSpite's quasi-positive write up, wherein Jeremy Parish classifies as an example of the "Metroidvania" genre.


Yeesh! Another mess from Micronics. This times its a Ys style action RPG based on a manga featuring a sexy female alien. Hmm, that last sentence describes Japanese video game culture in a nutshell.

Santa Claus no Takarabako

Baffling. Utterly baffling is the only way to describe this disk from Data East. There are two options: the first allows you to create a customized electronic Christmas card. The second, "Party Games" generates random bingo, roulette, slot machine and dice results. Why these two things were put together on one disk with Santa Claus' name slapped on it is a mystery I cannot solve.

And the rest:

Exciting Baseball

Sadly, the latest entry in Konami's "Exciting" sports series fails to live up to the standards set by Exciting Basket/Double Dribble. I think I was being generous by not putting this into the "bad games" category. The background music consists almost entirely of a series of whistle-like shrieks. Its certainly the worst "music" I've encountered in any Konami game and is probably the most grating BGM for any Famicom game so far.


Konami's entry in the "virtual synthesizer" genre. This one came with a special keyboard controller. The game's name is often given as "Dreamikko" for some reason.

JJ: Tobidase Daisakusen Part 2

A moderate upgrade to the first TD game, which you might recall being released by Acclaim as 3D Worldrunner. This sequel never made it out of Japan, but that's really not a problem, being that JJ is really just TD with new sprites and faster gameplay. However, its becoming clear that Square has a fondness for alliteration in its game's titles.

Top Gun

Top Gun completes a trifecta of disappointments from Konami. Whereas Rambo and Star Wars offered warped variations on the orignals' plotlines, Top Gun doesn't even accomplish that. Instead, Konami merely slapped the Top Gun name on an uninspired and generic aerial combat game.


Short and simple adequately describes this vehicular shooter. The second US only release from Data East.

Jikuu Yuten Debias

Namco enlists Now Production to develop this sidescrolling action RPG. I think the sidescrolling action RPG genre must be about ready to reach critical mass. How many of these things can they keep putting out?

Family Trainer: Daiondoukai/Super Team Games

Family Trainer game #7. This one is distinguished by the three player co-op option.

Golf Club: Birdie Rush

A decent golf game from Data East. I've just now realized that around half of this episodes titles were from Konami or Data East. Expect to see them both in Episode 26 as well.

That's all for this time. Now it's time for me to get to work on Chronsega Episode 4. Once again, you can get Chrontendo Episode 25 here.

*It seems 2009 is going to an exception to the rule. But this has already been commented on and analyzed endlessly on the internet, so there's no need to go into that here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

So Hey There!

I've finally finished the last game this episode, Konami's wacky and impossible Zelda clone, Dragon Scroll. I'm not sure why, but I felt the need to see this game through to the end. Probably because I knew the final battle would be dragon-on-dragon action, something you didn't see in too many video games back then.

So now's there's a chance I'll be able to slap together episode 25 over the next few days. Incidentally, Dragon Scroll is one of four Konami games this time. Sadly, it's the only one of much interest.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Some Odds and Ends

Hey! So you might be wondering when the new Chrontendo is coming out. It should be soon. But guess what? The next episode will be the 25th! Or 28th if you count the Chronsega.

Speaking of Chronsega, the 4th episode will follow Chrotendo 25, then after that will be Chrontendo 26. As it works out, Chronsega 4 and Chrontendo 26 will form sort of a "dueling RPGs" duology as each episode will feature one of the most well-loved RPGs of the 8-bit days. These two games were released virtually concurrently in Japan. One established a multimedia empire of sorts; the other became a cult classic and is considered by many to be the best game for the SMS.

Then we'll be on to Chrontendo 27, which will close out 1987. Shortly thereafter, Chronturbo will debut.

Also, I've updated the links, adding few more fine video game related sites. In particular, I'll point out another Chronogaming project over at Magweasel. Yes, this fellow is chronogaming the PC Engine in a particularly excellent fashion which I suppose makes Chronturbo somewhat redundant. But don't worry! Chronturbo is still go!

One game coming soon is the NES version of Metal Gear, which reminds me of some recent news for Kojima fans. After what was undoubtedly an incredible amount of hard work, an unofficial English translation of Policenauts has been released. So 15 years later, we can finally play the "missing" Kojima game.

In other news, Chrontendo Episode 25 is somewhat behind schedule, but I've been a little busy. Aside from playing all the way through that damned Namco Star Wars game, I've had various real life stuff going on, including baking a carrot cake.

Please note: I never, ever said I was good at sculpting marzipan.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Namco! You Lie!

Luke Skywalker did not fight Darth Vader on the Jawa sandcrawler! Nor did he rescue Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Egyptian-themed planet of Kessel. Yet both these things occur, in flagrant violation of Star Wars continuity, in Namco's Famicom game Star Wars.

Luke Skywalker's undewater battle with Darth Vader

We shouldn't judge Star Wars too harshly. The protocols for creating a video game based on a feature film were not not fully formed in 1987. Earlier titles, such Star Wars, the arcade game, and Tron were content to recreate certain action packed moments from those films, without any thought to plot or characterization. E.T. tried to cram bits and pieces of that blockbuster in the confines of a typical 2600 game. The result was a game based themes and imagery from the movie, but would make no sense to anyone not already familiar with the film. Others, such as the Master System Rambo or Top Gun, simply took the name and crammed into an existing video game genre; these games make no attempt to recreate the plot of Rambo or Top Gun.

Not an exact quote from the film

Star Wars
and Pack-in-Video's Rambo both take the films' plots as their basic starting point. Namco's game begins with a recreation of Star Wars' opening title scroll and space combat scene. The intent is clearly to let the player know you are playing "Star Wars", but in video game form. Luke finds the message from Leia, boards the Millennium Falcon and is taken aboard the Death Star. At various points, you are obligated to engage in dog fights with Tie Fighters. So far, this all sounds very faithful to the original movie; but Namco -- perhaps feeling Star Wars' plot did not have enough opportunities for side-scrolling platfomer action -- felt the need to greatly embellish the story. Now Luke also travels to an ice world, and underwater world, and so on, in order to rescue his compatriots. Certainly, these levels each need a boss. Who else would do but Darth Vader himself? This leads to various oddites; Luke does not encounter Han Solo until near the game's end, but has been cruising around in the Millennium Falcon the entire time.

Rambo faces down the child-kidnapping giant spider

Pack-in-Video's Rambo finds itself in a similar situation. There had been earlier games based on Rambo: First Blood Part II, including those for western PCs, Japanese PCs, and the SMS. But the NES/Famicom title was the first to attempt to recreate the movie's plot, though along the way, the storyline goes completely off the rails. Your John Rambo sprite interacts with Co, Trautman and Murdock, and even quotes lines from the movie. Yet somehow you find Rambo knifing bees, flamingos, gorillas, flying skulls, and strange, invisible humanoid creatures. The game's first boss is a giant spider and Rambo turns Murdock into a frog at one point.

The power of IKARI!

We really can't fault Namco and Pack-in for all this nonsense. In 2009, our first instinct upon playing Rambo is to resort to snark: "Gee, I guess I must have slept through the scene where Rambo fights bats and fireball spitting plants in a cave." But at the time these games were released, there were no "rules" for movie-inspired video games stating what could and couldn't be done. Nowadays, the studios undoubtedly have a lot of editorial control over the contents of such games*; God knows we wouldn't want a Star Wars game straying too far from canon. But in 1987, the expectations were simply that characters and locations from the movie would appear in the game. No one said that a mere video game had to faithful to the movie.

*LJN's Karate Kid and Jaws stayed reasonably close to events in the films. Of course, LJN was owned by MCA/Universal. Later, Lucasarts' series of Star Wars games would promote the idea that games should be integrated into the world of the movies.