Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Nintendo Slips into the Shadows

Boy, its been a while since the last episode of Chrontendo. But, Episode 27 is finally here, and can be found on!

A couple notable things about this episode: for one, it includes the first 7 games of 1988, with frequent Famicom publishers Namco, Bandai and Konami charging out of the gate. But something a little unexpected also happens in January '88, with the release of Nintendo's Ice Hockey. Older NES fans will probably remember this game - one of the better Nintendo sports titles. In it you build your hockey team around players with three different physiques.

While preparing the video of Ice Hockey, I realized something. Up until this point the majority of Nintendo developed titles were released in both the US and Japan. These games made up the core of the US NES library - titles like Super Mario Bros, Zelda, Metroid, Punch-Out!! and so on. While many great third party games were also released, a steady stream of internally developed games from Nintendo was indispensable to the NES in the United States. Strangely, this tradition virtually comes to an end with Ice Hockey.

Over the next couple years, we'll only see two Nintendo developed titles released in the US. Granted, those games are major releases: Super Mario 3 and Tetris. But from here on out, most of Nintendo's own games will be Japan only titles. Nintendo will continue to publish games in the US, but these will be developed by outsiders, such as Rare. Maybe this is due to Nintendo's increasing interest in adventure games and RPGs. Perhaps NOA felt these sorts of games, with their reliance on lots of text, would not interest US gamers. Either way, Nintendo Japan and Nintendo of America embark on almost entirely separate paths for a while.

For the moment, however, let's turn our attention back to late 1987, and this episode's gold medal game.

Metal Gear

"Metal Gear! At last I've found yo- Wh...what?"

Konami finishes up "the greatest week in gaming history" with a port of Hideo Kojima's MSX2 stealth game. In a weird twist, Chrontendo does sort of a dual-review of both the MSX2 and the Famicom game. While the console version was somewhat bungled, its still a pretty cool game . I suppose I'll collect my thoughts on Metal Gear for a post in the near future.

Other fine games this episode:

Ice Hockey

The last, and perhaps best, entry in the FDS sports series from Nintendo and Pax Softnica. The genius in this particular entry lies in the use of three distinct player types. Lanky, Pee Wee and Fatso (a little unkind - he's more like "Sturdy") each have their own set of attributes, much like the four characters in Super Mario Bros 2.

Konami Wai Wai World

Konami's first game of 1988 is an oddball mash up featuring characters from several of their more popular titles. Konami Man, Simon Belmont, King Kong, Ganbare Goemon, Vic Viper, Twinbee and others join forces to... defeat some aliens, I guess. Sadly, Wai Wai World was not as cool as I hoped it would be. Despite the interesting cast of characters, it's really just a standard platformer with middle-of-the-road level design. One nice touch that I do like a lot is the way the music changes whenever you switch characters.

Ripple Island

Finally! A decent game from Sunsoft! Oh sure, this is a normal Japanese adventure game, but compared to the horrible stuff Sunsoft's been releasing, it's a godsend. Ripple Island's charming graphics and catchy music can only mean one thing: it was developed with Tokai Engineering. Their name will turn up later on such Sunsoft titles as Master Blaster and Super Spy Hunter. Perhaps Sunsoft's darkest days are behind us now.

SD Gundam World - Gachapon Senshi Scramble Wars

Completely out of the blue comes this game from Human and Bandai: the first strategy war game for the Famicom. If 1987 was the year console RPGs took off, then 1988 will do the same for strategy games. While SD Gundam World isn't exactly fantastic, its long reaching influence on such series as Advance Wars, Fire Emblem and Langrisser should be noted.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have these duds:


Are you telling me this guy lives in Metropolis and has never heard of Superman?

I'm sure it's not easy to make a game about a character who is virtually invincible, super strong, and super fast. Imagine Super Mario Bros with Superman. You could simply fly to Bowser's Castle at the speed of sound, smash through the castle walls, and plow right through Bowser himself. The game would last 10 seconds. Kemco's solution to this dilemma is to turn Superman into a super wuss. Yep, Kemco's man of steel can he harmed by bullets, can't fly more than one block and needs to use the frickin' subway to get around Metropolis. Beyond that, the game is notable for such things are seriously nutty hit detection and off the wall commentary from NPCs.

Sukeban Deka III

We've already seen one Sukeban Deka game for the Sega Master System. But SD III, based on the third series of the long running Japanese live action TV show, is another beast entirely. In fact, SD III marks the triumphant return of Toei and Shoei System/Bear's, the same team behind Hokuto no Ken. This is kusoge at is most craptacular.

Attack Animal Gakuen

You say you didn't like Tobidase Daisakusen/3D Worldrunner because you felt is was just a low budget Space Harrier rip off? Then you're not going to like this game either. Attack Animal Gakuen adds "wacky" enemies and panty shots into the mix, and manages to be much worse than Square's game.

And now the rest:

Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium '87

This is a little shameful, Namco. Family Stadium '87 is very slightly altered version of the first Family Stadium game. Even back then publishers were finding ways of making you buy the same game twice.

Family Circuit

A top down racing game from Namco, with lots of menu options. The first game released in 1988.

GeGeGe no Kitaro 2

Bandai's sequel to the pretty dreadful 1986 game known in the US as Ninja Kid is actually quite decent. Naturally, Bandai modernizes the gameplay at bit: Kitaro 2 is about 1/2 Zelda and 1/2 Dragon Quest. It does benefit from better production values than you would expect from a Bandai game.

Magnum Kiki Ippatsu: Empire City - 1931

A decent port of this 1986 arcade game in which you shoot gangsters. It's like a light gun game, without the light gun!

Wizards and Warriors

Rare, despite being British, were apparently not familiar with the correct usage of "hath."

The first original NES release from Acclaim, and the second NES game designed by Rare. As you might expect, the music is good; the game is not so good. At least this one doesn't feature Fabio on the box art.

Family Trainer: Totsugeki! Fuun Takeshijou

The release of this title from Bandai means there are now inexplicably two Famicom games featuring Takeshi Kitano. At least we can breathe a sigh of relief now. There won't be another Family Trainer game until around Episode 34 or so.

Satsui No Kaisou: Power Soft Satsujin Jiken

Someone at HAL Laboratory had the remarkabley fresh idea of making a text adventure game in which someone is murdered, and you have the solve the crime. Its undoubtedly that sort of innovative thinking that got Satoru Iwata to where he is now.

What's next for Chrontendo? A couple things are in the works. First and foremost is the first episode of Chronturbo, which will cover the PC-Engine/TurboGrafx-16 in chronological order. Yes, this is really coming out; I've already started working on the first episode. The TurboGrafx is a great system with a lot of high quality titles that are not very well known, so I'm quite excited about the series. Episode One will feature games from October 1987 to September 1988.

Until then, head on over to to download or stream Chrontendo 27.


Jonothan said...

Coincidentally, the VA for Kitaro's dad in every Gegege no Kitaro anime died last week :(

Jonothan said...

Sorry if this has been asked already, but what's the ending theme music for Chrontendo, anyway?

garsh said...

You said "Master Blaster". That's the big guy and midget road warrior duo from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. But I'm sure you knew that.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Jonothan, it has been asked before, and the answer is "I can't remember." Some song by Can from a live bootleg that I seem to have misplaced. One of these days I'll find it and add music credits to the videos.

Garsh - When the time comes to cover Blaster Master, I'm gonna have to be careful on that one. I think that subconsciously, I've always felt Master Blaster is a cooler name that Blaster Master.

Anonymous said...

oh, seeing as you're answering questions about the music - the intro music is ESG, but what is the music that usually plays between games? sounds very much like Jah Wobble playing the bass.
anyway, you have great taste!

Doctor Sparkle said...

The between game music is "Tin Can (Puerto Rican Mix)" by Tortoise.

For the upcoming Chronturbo series I'm currently in the midst of debating whether to use music from TG-16 games or regular music for the intros, etc.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

You really have a sophisticated taste of music...I had to cut some credits for a video I made and found out that my music library is so much consisted of Heavy Metal I really had to look for over an hour to find something...a track from Soulfly which fit perfectly. So, I am glad that you really think about your musical choice Doc, I would just slam some crazy guitar riffs and drum solos inbetween, and that would not be appropiate =)

Tork said...

I thought I was smart buying MGS3 instead of Subsistence because it was cheaper and I was disappointed by the extras in MSG2:S, but I guess I outsmarted myself.

My favorite dumb NPC in Superman is the one that says, "Clark Kent is actually Superman." Thanks for spoiling my 'secret' identity! I also enjoy the fact that every mission involves you getting info from the FBI. I wonder if there's a single Superman comic like that. I know the game is stupid but it's such a guilty pleasure of mine.

Thanks for another episode and good luck on ChronTurbo Episode 1.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't find an email contact, so I'm just posting to say thanks for Chrontendo! Just stumbled across this earlier in the week and am going through all the videos (in chronological order, of course). Super stoked for Chronturbo, too!!!

If you get a chance, email me-, I have some ideas on a couple ways I might be able to help out?

Crew Hudson said...

Hey man,
I have been enjoying your very informative shows! Keep up the good work.

Drew said...

Hey man, ive been reading your blog for a bit now and i thought i'd finally post a comment. I really dig your articles, its hard to find good retro blogs out there (except for retronauts of course).

BUT anyway, I don't know if you actually listen to other podcasts, but if you do why not check out mine? We focus on obscure retro games from arcades to the 16-bit era, and try to cut out all the cross talk and bad jokes that other gaming podcasts become all too guilty of.

so yea, thats my pitch, give it a shot? i'd really love to hear what you think!

Anonymous said...

Wizards and Warriors had 3 sequels. There was a Game Boy game called Wizards and Warriors X.

Speaking of which, do you have any plans on making a Game Boy series, or will Chrontendo spill through all of the Nintendo consoles?

Doctor Sparkle said...

qayllS - Since you're German, shouldn't your music collection consist mostly of David Hasselhoff records? And maybe some Heino? I have to admit, Heino was a pretty stylish guy.

Tork - You wouldn't really think Superman would need too much assistance from law enforcement agencies. The guy has super hearing and x-ray vision right? You'd think the FBI would be asking him for help. I am not feeling much love for Kemco right now.

Sargeant D, Crew and Drew - Welcome aboard. And hey! Drew's podcast really is quite good and manages to work crapmeisters Wisdom Tree and LJN into the first episode, as well as a cool bit about great sequels to mediocre games. I cast my vote for Mother/Earthbound in that category.

No plans to do anything with GB at this point. I think adding in handhelds would increase the scope of this project to insane levels. As for the future - I'll probably keep going on consoles until my sanity is shattered. Which could be any day now.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Hasselhoff...liked him as an actor (in my child days in Knight Rider, today his "special appearances" like in Red Alert 3), but when I was young they were two musicians very popular in germany: Hasselhoff and Michael Jackson...and me and my clique hatet them both. I could never pick up any of their albums, and I just started to listen to punk/rock/metal some years later.
So Doc, I know you just suggested Hasselhoff cause of some cliche (and statistically your maybe right), but luckily I was not the typical german in that era, and it remains more cliche than reality.

And german folk music is a huge pain in the ass even today, because the most folk music is running on the TV-Stations which belong to the state (which actually sounds far more undemocratic than it is a bit complicated, the important thing is, that there are taxes (which every sucker with an TV, Radio or Internet connection has to pay) which are the financial-foundation of these stations), and I have to pay taxes so that these folk-music-shows can run, and run, and run ad infinitum. It is very frustrating...

Chris Sobieniak said...

Perhaps his cigarette brand is Paxton!

I still laugh at AVGN's review of this game. "Why is Superman's so small compared to the other guys on this subway, is he a 4 year old kid!?! It's kinda creepy those guys in black, watch out or they might be kidnappers!"

Chris Sobieniak said...

Oh Heino! I remember picking up an LP of this guy at a Savers a few months back!

Rodneylives said...

I have to disagree with your assessment of Wizards & Warriors, which is at least better than its sequels.

Rodneylives said...

Some more things about W&W, now that I've actually gotten to this video in my viewing of the videos:

1. In fact, each level requires a different number of gems.

2. I guess you didn't actually get too far into this one, because it really has some awesome boss fights.

3. The Japanese version was remixed to ramp up the difficulty differently. At first it seems that it gets harder slower, what with the dearth of enemies on the first level, but then you get the really hard Growing Skeleton boss as, I seem to remember, the second boss of the game!

Dan Koch said...

For the folks who are slowly rolling their way through the (outstanding) Chrontendo archives, the closing credits music is a live cut of Can's 'Vitamin C', off of the Ege Bamyasi album.

I'd never heard the live cut before, and it's quite excellent -- something else to thank Dr. Sparkle for!

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