Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blasters, and the Mastering Thereof.

First and foremost: Chrontendo Episode 32 is now ready for download or streaming at

This post is just a little too late for the 25th anniversary of the Japanese release of Super Mario Bros, I'm afraid. Maybe I can time a perfectly time a post for 25th anniversary of the NES next month. Of course, in Chrontendo time, it's still mid-1988 and Super Mario Bros is a little less than 3 years old. An equivalent title today would be Mass Effect. That's in Japan; in the US, many kids were just getting their Nintendo consoles and popping in SMB for the first time.

Video games haven't changed much since the release of Mass Effect in 2007, but they sure evolved a lot from 1985 to 1988. Take Episode 32's Blaster Master: it features a huge multi-pathed world, the gameplay alternates between sidescrolling vehicular action and top down Zelda-like levels. Your tank is well-armed, being equipped with four types of weaponry and is eminently upgradable. By the end of the game, it will be able to move around underwater like a submarine and climb up walls and ceilings.

Similarly, Nichibutsu's Cosmo Police Galivan, offers a high degree of exploration and backtracking, and requires you to constantly find new items while improving the stats on your weapons. SMB merely demanded the player find their way from the left side of the world to right side, with poking around looking for coins and mushrooms as optional activities. On the other hand, while playing Galivan you will: find a new weapon used to open locked doors; pick up a crystal to make a hidden elevator appear; destroy a super computer to open additional locked areas; use a warp zone to teleport to a separate sublevel; defeat a sub-boss to obtain the "Cosmo Power"; and defeat another sub-boss and get a better sword. After all this, you'll reach the "real" boss. And all of this occurs on the game's first level! Throw in RPG elements such as experience points, hit points, magic points, some sort of points called "GP", levels for both you and your weapons, and you've got a game that would caused a mental meltdown to Famicom gamers in 1985.

Unlike Samus Aran, Galivan lacked the foresight to bring his armor with him.

And even though all three games are for the same platform, advances in cartridge technology and programming skill meant substantial graphical improvements.

Famicom Game, circa 1985.

..and circa 1988.

Despite being highly ambitious games of epic proportions, both Blaster Master and Cosmo Police Galivan have their flaws. Galivan's unbalanced leveling system requires that players do some substantial XP grinding. And its never ending procession of hidden passages, crystals, swords, and new abilities and equipment with names like Spark Booster and Cosmo Arm, make the game just a little too complicated. The shear amount of junk you have to collect in Galivan makes you pine for nice, simple games, like Metroid Prime.

Sunsoft's Blaster Master limits you to just one abilities upgrade per level. However, getting those upgrades requires that you hop out of your pimped-out tank and run around on foot shooting stuff with your tiny little pea-shooter of a laser gun. While the idea of mixing up Metroid-like tank action with Zelda/Metal Gear top-down sequences sounds great in theory, it fails in execution. Primarily due to the incredibly lame weapons you are forced to use while on foot, and the fact that the enemies seem to have hit boxes that would be more appropriate for your onscreen avatar in the latest Cave bullet hell shooter. You can literally see bullets passing through their heads while leaving them unharmed.

All this is bad enough, but then for Sunsoft to make a game of this size and complexity that doesn't use battery saves or passwords is pure, unblinking sadism.

The only known portrait of Blaster Master director Hiroaki Higashiya.

Master Blaster definitely takes top honors this episode, and Galivan is pretty decent as well. Nothing else quite compares to those two games, but Capcom's 1943: The Battle of Midway does a pretty decent job. The sequel to 1942 adds a few modern touches, like end of level bosses, but still feels quite old-fashioned compared to something like Konami's Salamander/Lifeforce. Aside from the glaring historical inaccuracy in the title (The Battle of Midway occurred in 1942), the most irksome thing is that your power-up and life bar are on a timer - and tend to run out right as you reach a boss.

Apparently, the Japanese were quite fond of frickin' gigantic planes with multiple mounted guns

I would hesitate to call it a good game, but Moonball Magic at least has a cool intro. Unlike Nintendo's Pinball - one of the very first releases for the Famicom - this DOG published title features multiple tables. Some interesting facts: Moonball Magic's intro prominently features the name of designer Mark Flint, a native Texan who found a certain amount of notoriety as a video game programmer in Japan. Also, it's the last game released by DOG, along with Akara Senki Raijin. By this time, Square was headed down a path that would find them focusing almost exclusively on Final Fantasy related games for the next several years. Shutting down DOG was another nail in the FDS coffin.

Episode 32 features the usual assortment of crappy games as well.

Fire Rock

From a purely geological perspective, this cave doesn't make a lot of sense.

The other Mark Flint game this episode, Fire Rock is an unbearable platfomerish action game that uses a truly awful wall climbing mechanic. Its definitely my least favorite game this episode. It uses a title screen almost identical to Moonball Magic, with the same "Mark Flint Presents" logo. Yet it was published by Use instead of DOG.

Akara Senki Raijin

A shoot-em-up published by Square? Don't get too excited. This ain't exactly Einhänder.

Also transliterated as Akuu Senki Raijin. This DOG title came out the same day as Moonball Magic, and its by far the worse of the two. It looks like a cut-rate Guardian Legend clone, with freakishly awful shoot-em-up sequences. It was developed by Microcabin, whom you might remember from last episode. They were an early developer of Japanese computer adventure games. I guess they weren't cut out to this sort of thing.

Kyuukyoku Harikiri Stadium

Yet another damned Family Stadium rip-off, this time from Taito. Sadly, the flood of lame baseball games isn't stopping real soon. This title would be completely unnoteworthy if it weren't for the cool box art.

The box artwork is absolutely the best thing about this game.

Saint Seiya: Ougon Densetsu Kanketsu-hen

Bandai and Tose team up for a sequel to their 1987 anime spin-off game. I'm not sure why, but they made this sequel duller and more repetitive than the original. Like the first game it mixes flavorless sidescrolling action sequences with turn-based boss battles.

In addition, we have some fair-to-middling games:

Sanada Juu Yuushi

A wild farmer approaches!

More Sengoku era action, this time in RPG form. Sanada Yukimura's clan were buddies of Takeda Shingen and and enemies of Ieyasu Tokugawa. While this bears a strong resemblance to Dragon Quest II in many ways, some of the underlying game mechanics are quite different. As far as I can tell you build up strength by amassing soldiers in your army rather than by leveling up in the traditional fashion. And you've round up your ten ninja retainers - the "Juu Yuushi" of the title.

Youkai Douchuuki

The Famicom came late to this party, as Namco released a better looking port for the PC Engine back in February 1988. This version is much uglier, but more faithful to the arcade game. It also adds a "Pious" meter, which draws the connection to another Now Production game, Spelunker II.

Risa no Yousei Densetsu - Risa Tachibana

Just like Nintendo's Nakayama Miho Tokimeki Highschool, this Konami release is an adventure game starring a J-Pop idol. Except here... instead of trying to date Risa Tachibana, you assist her in saving a fairy tale kingdom from an evil witch. Sounds fair to me.

Ninja-kun: Ashura no Shou

Jaleco has already created several spinoffs to UPL's Ninja Kun with their Ninja Kun Jajamaru series. This, however, is a port of UPL's official arcade sequel to the original game. It's a slightly updated variation on the arcade Ninja Kun that fails to be very exciting.

But most exciting of all, this episode also has the final two parts of our history of adventure gaming. Part 3 covers Western games starting from the introduction of the mouse-based point and click interface, through the genre's demise in the late 90s. Part 4 covers Japanese games from the introduction of CD-Rom adventure games through domination of the visual novel. Its exciting stuff, and points part add up to be quite huge, and hopefully somewhat informative.

Japanese visual novels all tend to look pretty much exactly like this.

Despite having 3 fewer games this time, the adventure game segment bumped up this episode's length to an unreasonable size, and the full size Xvid file is darned enormous. But if you have high speed internet, a few extra megs aren't going to make that much of a difference. So I left it as is, instead of trying to compress it further.

There you have it! Next time we switch back to 15 games per episode, as we close out July 1988, which was a pretty big month. 20 games were released in Japan, though two of them had previously come out in the US already.

Until then, head on over to and check out Episode 32!


Jonothan said...

The Harikiri Stadium cover just reminds me of The Warriors. "I'm gonna shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle."

Helm said...

Lots of interesting games this episode. Super Black Onyx seems like the sort of thing I'd play compulsively before I knew any better options, there's something likeable about how it does characters and the UI.

Doctor Sparkle said...

That cover is pretty intriguing. The batter is holding the bat in such an arrogant, almost defiant, fashion, while the catcher and his teammates stand frozen in wide-eyed horror. The weird curvilinear perspective just adds to the drama. What transpired on the diamond that day? We'll never know, but I'm sure it's hell of a lot more interesting than the game.

Blobolonia said...

Fire Rock. Oh my god.

It controls like a Klik & Play game!

Green Tentacle said...

Little correction - Princess Maker was actually done by Gainax (yes, the anime company). Microcabin only handled the Saturn and 3DO ports of the second game.

Other than that - great episode.

garsh said...

You let a "Master Blaster" slip in when comparing it with that France Rally or whatever.

Also, when you say neither the manual nor the game mention the vehicle's name as "Sophia the 3rd", do you not count the subscreen? It's almost like a comic parody of "Irate Gamer" parodies when that screen is displayed only a moment after you utter that assertion.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Oops! Right you are about Princess Maker. Sadly I'm not really an expert in dating sims. And I knew at some point during the episode I would slip and utter "Master Blaster." For some reason I always felt that name sounded less awkward than Blaster Master.

In the Japanese version of BM, the tank is called Metal Attacker, which is why the status screen says "SOPHIA THE 3rd NORA MA-01". Sunsoft didn't bother to change the screen for the US release, nor give any explanation as to what that text is referring to. But the manual never calls it Sophia and the guide in Nintendo Power calls it "The Rover." The sequels do call it SOPHIA, so Sunsoft must have officially named it at some later point. Maybe in the BM novel? I thought I'd point that out since everyone always comments about the tank having a weird name.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Really some interesting games this episode, I took kinda interest in "Sanada Juu Yuushi". Though I can't play it, for I don't have any japanese skills, the concept with armys moving with you is intriguing. I would like to see this in a modern game. The Last Remnant kinda tried it, but from all I heard, this game sucks.
And, I wonder, another Baseball game. I don't get what you Americans like about this sport, and I seriously don't have a clue why the japanese like it. Why do they keep making baseball games, till this very day? Is baseball maybe the easiest sportsgame to make? Soccer can't be more complex, and the japanese like it too.

Anonymous said...

You are really onto something here with these videos. Thank you so much for putting hard work in despite all your stresses. Amazingly appreciated!

Doctor Sparkle said...

You know, qayllS, the Japanese are in to far weirder things than baseball. But they do seem to randomly get way into western stuff from time to time, like Ventures-style instrumental music in the 60s, or RPG video games a bit later.

As for why Americans like baseball, I think one of the standard answers is that is series of showdowns between two guys: the batter and the pitcher. It ties into American Individualism, the old west, gunfighters, all that stuff. Perhaps Fußball appeals more to collectivist European sentiments.

Anonymous said...

Love the warning at the beginning haha-- perfectly sums up the way I feel about watching this at work!

Doctor Sparkle said...

Sgt. D - Just imagine how you'll feel when we get around to covering the Cho Aniki games!

Chris Sobieniak said...

God I can't believe you talked about Kanon!

Really, only those people would be so into those it's maddening sometimes! I'm just glad I'm in my 30's and don't have to go with the norms of such a small minority!

This was something that was heard on a podcast years ago that inspired me to make this YTMND...

As for why Americans like baseball, I think one of the standard answers is that is series of showdowns between two guys: the batter and the pitcher. It ties into American Individualism, the old west, gunfighters, all that stuff. Perhaps Fußball appeals more to collectivist European sentiments.

That does sound pretty accurate to how I view it. Individuality in America certainly takes pros over what's best for the public as a whole (which is why the medical system here is so fractured due to the way it is).

Sgt. D - Just imagine how you'll feel when we get around to covering the Cho Aniki games!

Just being reminded Playstation Network just released the PSOne game you can download to your PS3 or PSP right now as part of a new section devoted to import PSone games that'll be available for the service.

Anonymous said...

I have actually read the Blaster Master novel. I read it a lot of years ago at my grandmothers used bookstore, so I don't remember much other than the following:

The tank was owned by a women who served as a guide, could she be Sofia?

There was a scene where he tries to fire a bunch of special weapons, but can't as the tank is too low on energy. One was called 'Power beak' or 'power break' or somesuch.

goddard19 said...

Regarding the History of Adventure Games segment, one game I was hoping you would mention would be Virgin Interactive's Toonstruck. It featured FMV combined with animated characters and had some top quality voice actors like Christopher Lloyd, Tim Curry, Ben Stein, and Rob Paulson.