Monday, May 17, 2010

Chrontendo Springs Forward

It seems that spring has hesitantly arrived here on the west coast, about two months after it it was scheduled to start in March. Likewise, we have reached spring 1988 in the Chrontendo universe, and Episode 29 is finally here.

After featuring Contra and Dragon Quest III last episode, this one is bound to be a bit disappointing. But don't fear! We have our usual collection of good, bad and weird games; and at least one fondly remembered NES title.

Our special feature this time around is a little look at Taito, the folks who pretty much kicked off the video game craze in 1978, but by 2005 had reached the point where they got gobbled up by Square Enix. At which point I can imagine Yōichi Wada informing everyone at Taito that from now on, Taito's main focus will be producing reworked versions of their classic games for handheld platforms. Hey, it worked for Square!

If I were to summarize 1987 for the Famicom, I'd say it was year that RPGs infiltrated almost every aspect of Japanese video games. Just was we saw a huge wave of RPGS hit the Famicom all at once, we now encounter a mini-tsunami of military strategy games. This will continue into Episode 30 and beyond, culminating with the August release of Famicom Wars from Nintendo themselves. Soon, even the RPG genre will be infected with the military bug, with Fire Emblem hitting shelves in 1990. Which leads us to our game of the month/episode:

Nobunaga no Yabou/Nobunaga's Ambition

This! Title! Screen! Is! AWESOME!

Koei makes its console debut in the most ambitious manner possible. In 1988 they brought a genre that had been previously been restricted to computers to the Famicom, established an office in the US, then translated and released NA for the NES. Today so many Japanese publishers are hesitant to take any risks when it comes to localizing games for the West. Yet in 1989 Koei rolled out a US release for a game in a completely untested genre that was about frickin' medieval Japanese history. And named it after a guy that approximately 0% of the NES user base had ever heard of. You have to admit, that takes serious balls. If they have a couple to spare maybe they could lend Sega some? While its hard to play Nobunaga nowadays, after haven been spoiled by modern strategy games, this game certainly has its place in NES history.

The Runners Up:

R.C. Pro-Am

Wait a second! Little tiny toy cars can't go that fast! Something's fishy here....

Another fine game from Rare that I don't personally care for. I just have some natural disinclination towards top-down, or in this case, isometric, racing games. As I mentioned a while back, in 1988 Nintendo of America began relying less on Nintendo Japan for games, and focused more on producing US only games developed by western companies. R.C. Pro-Am is one such game, and would be followed up by Anticipation, also by Rare, towards the end of the year.

Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode

Chicks don't dig on Duke Togo for his scintillating conversational skills.

A bold, surprising, and very flawed release from Vic Tokai. Yes, this is the game where your character rather famously gets laid in a cut scene. Nintendo of America's censors must have been asleep at the wheel when this one came down the line. It walked off with a Seal of Quality despite containing graphic, bloody violence and sex. Golgo 13 is a bit ahead of its time with its use of cut scenes and highly varied game play. For example, in one sequence you are required to perform a hit from a helicopter using a high powered sniper rifle. The rest of the game mixes in side scrolling beat-em-up action, Hogan's Alley style shooting sequences (sans light gun), underwater levels, and first person mazes. This would make a fantastic game -- if only the action sequences were better handled. The first person mazes, in particular, get singled out as exercises in tedium and frustration. Of all the games this episode, Golgo 13 is the one I really wish turned out a bit better.

Arkanoid II

Another very competent and faithful port of a Taito game. Though its appeal is somewhat limited by it needing the special Arkanoid controller to be played properly.

And now the bad games:


Yep, flying predator heads.

Yikes! Another movie tie-in from Pack-in-Video, the same guys who brought you Rambo. Just like the Rambo game, Predator bears only the slightest resemblance to the movie it was supposedly based on. Among the highlights: walking though walls and then falling through the ground to your death; the fact that your weapons will vanish every time you begin a new level; and a battle with the Predator, whose attack consists of shooting out a group of four flying mini-Predator heads.

T&C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage

The first of not one, but two NES games featuring characters from surfboard manufacturer T&C Designs' line of T-shirts. I assume LJN was looking for something even more ridiculous than a paint gun toy to base a game on. Despite being a product of Japanese developers, it seems to be inspired by the California Games school of video game design.

Tsurikichi Sampei: Blue Marlin Hen

A fishing game from Victor Interactive, based on an anime/manga. That pretty much tells you all you need to know. Victor has put out some terrible stuff so far. Their troubling legacy continues when their next release turns out to be a port of Ys, handled by the infamous Advance Communication.

Nazoler Land Dai 3 Gou

The fourth Nazoler Land game from Sun Soft. And, thankfully, the last.

Also, lots of ho-hum stuff this time around:

Wardner no Mori

A decent little platformer arcade game gets a less than impressive port to the FDS. Taito, a little behind the times, will continue supporting the FDS a bit longer than the other big arcade companies, until early 1989.

Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf

This SNK golf game was given the dubious honor of being mentioned in Game Revolution's list of worst video game names, for reasons I don't really understand. I can think of plenty of worse names. From last episode alone, we have Replicart and Fire Bam. And don't even get me started on Stick Hunter. At any rate, this is around the ninth golf game we've covered, and ir really brings nothing new to the table, aside from the likeness of Lee Trevino.

Omoikkiri Tanteidan Haado Gumi - Matenrou no Chousenjou

This guy is supposed to some sort of master thief. But how hard can it be to catch a guy making a getaway in a hot air balloon?

Oddball, vaguely Goonies II styled game based on a Japanese TV show. The most notable thing is the antagonist wears a terrifying gold V for Vendetta type mask.


I love what you did with this room. You must give me your interior decorator's number!

A port of an British computer game from Firebird. The original game was clearly inspired by Gauntlet, but I guess Jaleco picked this up for Japanese release because they could pass it off as a Zelda clone. It features a Druid who shoots fireballs and can summon a Golem. I suppose a Spaceballs quote would be appropriate here?


Something I never expected to see on the Famicom: a port of LucasArts' first game. It's sort of like soccer played with landspeeders.

19 - Neunzehn

Our most mysteriously title game this episode. But we've already heard about this game last post.

Napoleon Senki

Yet another title with a mix-up on its Wikipedia page. The author seems to have conflated this Irem/Lenar game with L'Empereur, a different Napoleonic War game from Koei.

So I hope to have Episode 30 out in a more reasonable time frame. And after that... Chronsega 5! Until then, head on over to and check out Chrontendo Episode 29.


Cornervizion said...

"Laying some pipe", that's a sex-ralated euphemism I've not heard before until now Dr. S. Just watched it, and even though the games were not as striking as 28's it another great episode. It's nice to see the ZX Spectrum on there too. (Although it's version of Druid is pretty awful), Regarding Firebird the orginal publishers of Druid, they were an offshoot from British Telecom which at until 1984 were publicly owned. They started releaseing budget titles (around £2.50) with a quality which were better than the current budget-game-market-leader Mastertronic. And then started releasing full-price games like Druid, The Sentinel, Samurai Warrior (Which was based on the adventures of Usagi Yojimbo) and the non-BBC micro versions of Elite, which had a very infamous copy-protection system known as "Lens-Lok"

Anonymous said...

Gotta love a new episode of Chrontendo. Looking forward to more, as always.

Anonymous said...

In 2002 or so I was doing interactive design, and one of the projects I did was a Shockwave skateboarding game (this was before Flash had made Director extinct). Basically, it was the skateboarding part of T&C Wood & Water Rage with Red Bull's mascot inserted.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Laying some pipe is a common euphemism in germany, I think at least since a very popular german comic known as Werner (at least in german speaking countries...not so much outside, maybe because the main humour is generated by dialect). For the episode, the Predator Game is retarded, Golgo 13 looks interesting, I heard that the series is cool, the Taito roundup was nice and informative, after all a good episode. Keep going dude.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Yeah, I do remember those days when we had stuff like this out in the mall and school. Though in particular I'm not too famliar with the T&C characters however. Thrilla Gorilla certain looks like a pretty cool character I wish I could've known though. Of course nowadays it just be some lingering memory I bother to do fanart on deviantART about (or Fur Affinity)! I see Steve Nazer also did work for those "Big Dogs" Tee's as well.

Another 80's hip, cool cat that was being marketed by another sportswear company was "Rude Dog". Though unlike T&C he wasn't blessed with his own video game, though he scored a Saturday morning cartoon show I used to watch 20 years ago.

Wouldn't surprise me if some European/American prudish standards led to making them have those antennas to make them appear less-threatening since no 'organisms' were involved.

Funny the Famicom couldn't produce the graph lines as smoth as the Atari 800 could do earlier, oh well.

Being reminded of a game I saw Taito release a while back that is being released here as "Panic Museum", it's quite a neat little 3D shooter through an interesting locale (orig. title: "Haunted Museum").

You come to realize there's no limits to what could be turned into a manga in Japan, such as fishing.

Ruben Kraken said...

I've been following for a while now and wanted to finally give my nod of appreciation for this series. Where we are at now is around the time when I got an NES and although it has been very interesting, now is when it starts to mix more heavily with nostalgia.

I played T&C more than I'd really like to admit. It might be helpful to explain that the pull you experience during the surfing is because the wave is breaking, but since it is not animated and the character moves and not the wave it looks and feels odd. You can also grind on the rails while skateboarding which gives you a huge speed boost necessary to get over some jumps.

Doctor Sparkle said...

I don't think Firebird made too much of an impression on this side of the Atlantic, though I did own one Firebird-related game myself, something I picked out of the bargin bin at random:

About T&C: one of the things I don't like is just how obscure some of the mechanics are: like the wave in the surfing section. It's not really clear while playing what triggers your character to suddenly wipe out. It's like the skater in Winter Sports, she keeps falling down for no good reason.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Oh, and before I forget that Doc: your articulation of the german word Neunzehn was good. With an accent, but understandable. I don't have the slightest clue if you researched it before, but after you said it so often I figuered you practiced before =)

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

And that Napoleon game looks like an prototype of that North vs South game, which I played like an idiot for the C64... and afaik there is also a version für the NES...just a coincidence?

Doctor Sparkle said...

I actually understand a bit of German, nur ein bisschen. My greatest triumph speaking the language was in one of those rest stop/gas station/super market places along the Autobahn. My wife and I bought a couple sandwiches, and the guy ringing us up asked "Zusammen?" To which I quickly replied, "Zusammen!" As an American in Europe, everyone will start speaking English to you the moment you open your mouth, so you rarely get to practice any other languages.

There's another game coming up in Episode 30, Dokuganryu Masamune, where the battles look a bit like North and South. The armies line up along the left and right hand sides of the screen.

Ruben Kraken said...

Oh, yes, don't get me wrong, T&C is an awful game. I don't recall a decent 2D skateboarding game until the Tony Hawk series was ported to the GBA in a top-down view. At least when I went back and tried some of the popular NES skateboarding games some were decent, but still not what I would put in the category of good.

Ruben Kraken said...

I hope you don't mind, but I've found trying to track down when a particular game was in which episode tricky. Particularly if I can't remember the title off the top of my head, but I might know the time period it came out, or that it came out around the same time as another game. So I threw together an episode guide.

I'd like to do similar for Chronsega and Chronturbo, but I wanted to get some feedback before I get too far along.

Anonymous said...

The game Darius is pronounced da-RYE-us, as it is wirrten in its original Japanese title, ダライアス

Anonymous said...

You're also pronounced kusoge (shitty game) as "kosugi."
The correct prounounciation is KOO-so-gay.

Cornervizion said...

I've seen a few comments regarding "Napoleon". To be honest I didn't even know there was a Famicom title about him, I thought that the first Napoleon wargame came out as a launch title for the GBA in Japan. And that it also looked quite intriguing. It was programmed by Intelligent Systems and thus, it's rather similar to Fire Emblem. There has been an attempt to translate it into English.(As it was officialy available in French) But Alas it's currently incomplete (but still playable).

Also good call by Reuben regarding the Tony Hawk games on the GBA too, they were brilliant, and unlike most PS1 to GBA conversions, they tailor made the games to suit the handheld rather then trying to cram a PS1 game onto a GBA (Like Driver for instance), Dave Mirra 2 is worth checking out on the GBA as well, It plays as good as Tony Hawks. But incredibly, they managed to fit MP3 quality full length music onto the cartridge.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Re: kusoge. As mentioned before, I'm prone to metathesis at times, and don't always catch those things. Even though I do try to proof each episode before posting it. As for Darius, it always seemed the best policy to me to pronounce non-Japanese words in game titles in the standard Western fashion, since the Katakana transliterations don't accurately reflect native pronunciations. Neunzehn ends up as new ee zeh nu in Katakana, for example. Since Darius is a common name in the US, I went the standard pronunciation. This still doesn't give an answer as to how the heck Gradius is supposed to be pronounced, it not being a word in any language.

Cornervizion - Yep, there were two Napoleon games for the Famicom/NES. As for the GBA game, it looks like it's been translated enough to be playable. Though I'm not sure if Intelligent Systems was involved. Wikipedia says they programmed it, but it looks like it was really Genki: Oh, the mysterious world of Japanese game development!

Back in the day, my favorite old skateboarding game was 720 Degrees, in the arcades. I don't know how it would hold up today; I've never played an emulated version since I don't really have a way of reproducing the weird joystick controls.

Cheetorlives said...

I just happened to reach this episode this week. And when you were talking about Nobunaga's Ambition, you were debating about the release date of the original version being 1983 or 1986. Well. Just this past week at Tokyo Game Show, Koei apparently had their booth dedicated to celebrating the 30th anniversary of the series instead of showing the probably countless Dynasty Warriors spinoff titles that they have in development. So, this may help to clear up confusion about NA's original release. Though I'm sure you never lost any sleep over it.