Monday, October 4, 2010

The Fantastic Four of July 1988

Episode 33 should be ready before too much longer.  We're lucky to have not one, two or three great games this time around, but four!  Granted, July 1988 is not quite as epoch-making as December 1987, but having four high quality games in such a sort period of time is a bit of a rarity for the Famicom.  Strangely, all are conversions of arcade games.

First and foremost is one of the most fondly remembered titles from Capcom: Bionic Commando.  Capcom has not been the most prolific publisher for the NES, nor does it have the most impressive track record.  That honor goes to Konami.  But with Mega Man, Capcom released their first truly great console game, and now, with Bionic Commando, their second.

 Why can't I fire my gun straight up??!!

Capcom have been making changes to their arcade games when porting them to the NES; making them more "console like," -- perhaps adding to the length of the game, or throwing in some secrets or the ever-present "RPG elements."  But Bionic Commando has been completely rebuilt from the ground up.  It's not even clear whether it is a port or a sequel to its arcade namesake.  But that doesn't really matter.  What matters is this: you are a super-soldier with a robotic arm, whose job is to kill Hitler.

Taito's NES Bubble Bobble cartridge was almost identical to the arcade game. But when it came time to port BB's sequel, Rainbow Islands, Taito fiddled with the game's layout a bit.  Still, it's a game where you kill using rainbows!  How brutal is that?!  While the Famicom can't reproduce the arcade game's cotton candy and ice cream color scheme, it's a near perfect port, fun-wise.

Rainbows + rows of razor sharp spikes = good old fashioned fun.

Sports games on the Famicom have been hit or miss so far.  But, Konami, hot off Double Dribble, scores another win with Blades of Steel. Essentially just Double Dribble on ice, Blades adds one very nice feature: fighting.  Yep, winning a fighting minigame will get a member of the opposing team kicked off the ice!  Factor in tight controls, fast action, and  - amazingly - excellent automated switching between active players.  The result is one of the best 8 bit sports games.

Blood on the ice!

Another is Technos Japan's Super Dodge Ball.  Sort of a cross between the dodge ball you played as a kid and Rollerball, your team must literally murder their way through an international dodge ball tournament.  Despite the inappropriateness of beating your opponents to death  with a rubber ball, the game is tons of violent fun.  It just shows how the best sports video games are often the least based in reality.

 This guy got hit so hard he went flying off the right side of the screen and reappeared on the left.

Just to sum up: Episode 33 will feature many unusual means of killing, such as dodge balls, robotic arms and rainbows.  Also a game called Blades of Steel.  Seriously, this episode is going to be so badass it's like Danny Trejo in video game podcast form.


Chris Osborne said...

Hmm, so my favorite soccer game ever uses former dodge ball players. I never knew.

jp said...

I've come to the conclusion that, despite its reputation as a massively overhauled port, NES Bionic Commando is a sequel. There's very little content shared between the two versions, and the arcade protagonist was Super Joe, whose crummy butt you have to rescue in the NES game. It's less ambiguous with the Japanese versions; the arcade game was Top Secret, while the NES game was Top Secret: Hitler No Fukkatsu. Anyway! I'll stop now.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Wasn't tat Master D or so instead of Hitler in the western Versions? Though every sucker with some historic background can see that the final boss is obviously Hitler.
In the Modern Era remake, only called Bionic Commando, there is a Boss who talks with a very strong german accent, so I think in the canon you have to read between the lines.

Tork said...

Super Dodge Ball is one of the great NES games and it's thanks to its Bean Ball mode. At first I didn't like it because it wasn't structured like the regular matches but it keeps the game fresh long after you've conquered the Soviets.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

For anyone interested, here is an article about an awesome show which ran in germany about videogames in the late 70s, on Hardcoregaming 101.

Did I mention it was awesome?

Doctor Sparkle said...

Yeah, I'm definitely familiar with the Sokal hoax. For those not in the know, this was a deliberately nonsensical article was submitted to the postmodern journal Social Text, to see if the editors could tell the difference between a well reasoned article and gibberish. Naturally, it was printed.

Lynxara - the Japanese sure have a serious things for robots. What is that about, I wonder? A manifestation of living within a rigid social hierarchy? A way of commenting on high tech "ultimate weapons" without mentioning real-life nuclear weaponry?

And, as some of you may have gathered from the Bionic Commando screenshot, that is not the US version as released. The video in Ep. 33 will actually be from a hacked version that puts the Hitler and Nazi references back into the game. Hitler was given the goofy name of "Master D" in the NES release. No relation to Master P, I assume? Both were fond of tanks.

Lynxara said...

My personal theory for Japanese robophilia is that when superhero comics came to Japan in the 50s and 60s-- Superman and early Marvel-- the audience had a conflicted reaction. The idea of superheroes were quite popular, but the idea of actually having superpowers that alienated you from everyone else in your society was a bit abhorrent to the Japanese mindset. Being a character like Superman who can pass for normal is okay, but I doubt any little Japanese kids would want to identify with monstrous heroes like the Hulk or the Thing the way their American counterparts did in the 70s. At best, you might want him to be your friend, as you see in 70s Godzilla. (Your friend who goes back under the sea and out of sight when you don't need him anymore.)

Now, if you put all of the superpowers into a robot, and make the hero the utterly normal guy who operates the robot, then you can have it both ways. The hero is special and all-powerful in the robot. Then he can step out of it and be a normal-seeming, perhaps happily functioning member of his society (which tends to be the ideal in Japanese superhero stories). Even Japanese superheroes who don't have robots tend to be "transforming" heroes who can turn into a super-suited form, then turn back into a person who looks ordinary and, more often than not, isn't particularly superhuman. (They may have abnormalities that are beneath the surface, though-- like the hero Kikaider is an android built to resemble his creator's dead son, and he's not really okay with that.)

I also think the birth date of Japanese mass popular culture has a little to do with it. Through the 50s Japan is rebuilding and doesn't have a huge media industry. Most of their pop culture is imported from the US. By the late 60s and early 70s Japan has its own entertainment industry and can crank out all the manga, TV, and film that the audience could want. The global zeitgeist of mass media at the time was a fascination with SF themes, which were relatively new. So Japan's earliest popular works reflected the global fascination with robots, space travel, and psychics. Cultural reverence for those early creators extended into reverence for their themes, so Japan never really put the soft SF boom of the 70s away. So where the rest of the world's taste for SF themes comes and goes, in Japan it's fairly constant.

Lynxara said...
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Lynxara said...
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