Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Grateful Turtles and Peacock Kings (Updated!)

(12/23/2010: Apparently some dudes want to watch this on their iPads or whatever, so I've re-encoded the H.264 version with AAC audio, which is actually the standard for MP4 AVC.  Let me know if there are any problems.  Also: Merry Christmas and happy holidays!)

Let's get the important news out of the way first.  Chrontendo 35 is ready to download or stream on Archive.org.

Pardon me for engaging in some personal chatter for a moment, but a few posts back Kevin Moon/K8track made a comment about the Ad Hoc fried chicken recipe.  Ad Hoc has become quite famous for their fried chicken nights, and the recipe is supposed to be one of the best.  I've finally decided to try making it, despite not really being much into deep frying.  The "secret weapon" in the recipe is the elaborate brine the chicken soaks in, which makes the chicken almost too juicy.  Still, it turned out exceptionally delicious.  As my wife said while eating it, "I don't want it to end!"

And something else new: a commenter on Youtube suggested I upload Chrontendo episodes in 60 frames per second H.264 format. That's certainly not a bad idea.  I'm all one for newer technologies, and H.264 is pretty promising.  So, if you want the high quality 60 fps video, just download the H.264 MP4 file instead of the AVI.  Thus you will be able to see the fast flickering effects sometimes employed, such as the shadows in Bayou Billy.  And despite being slightly smaller than the AVI file, the quality is just about perfect.  I suppose most video players can handle MP4, but if you need one I recommend VLC.

Previously I had noted the end of Konami's "Exciting" sports series by pointing out it was no huge loss.  Well, perhaps I spoke to soon.  Konami didn't so much stop making the Exciting sports games as they just changed the name of the series.  I noticed that this episode's Konami tennis game bore the title of Konamic Tennis.  Konamic is a rather goofy portmanteau of "Konami" and "dynamic."   But other than the name, Konamic Tennis is really no different than any of Konami's previous FDS sports games, and even has an "Exciting Mode" among the game play options.  Then it turned out that the Japanese title for Track and Field II was Konamic Sports in Seoul, and that of Blades of Steel was Konamic Hockey.  So the Exciting sports games still live, under a new name.

As you know, every episode we single out one particular game as the best, most interesting, or historically important game.  So moving right along, this week's MVP game is...


That's right.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  No game really sticks out this episode of being worthy of taking the top prize.  It's not that there aren't some decent games this time around. It's just that nothing here really qualifies as a great game.

We do have some reasonably good games, however, so let's take a look at those.

Mad City/The Adventures of Bayou Billy


What kind of idiot would go mano-a-diente with a fucking crocodile!?

They can't all be winners, and Konami's first beat-em-up is a bit of a misstep compared to its last few big action games.  Bayou Billy is one of Konami's least loved 8-bit games.  In fact, it's hated far and wide, mostly for its "lack of balance," tediousness, and patchwork-like quality.

Bayou Billy's ending.  It really exists!

However, the original Japanese game, Mad City, is fun and breezy by comparison.  Enemies go down in 3 or 4 hits, the driving levels are much shorter, and at no point are you required to fight alligators*.  For reasons unknown, Konami substantially ramped up the difficulty for the US version of Mad City.   Perhaps it was an effort the lengthen the game and give it more "value."   As a result, even the weakest minions in Bayou Billy now take around ten hits to kill, and the vehicular segments have become grueling endurance tests.   In this episode we actually play through a translated version of Mad City, and even get the see the alternate endings!

Ancient Ys Vanished


Thrilling RPG action.

The beloved Falcom action RPG gets its first console port.   Unfortunately, the job was handed to Advance Communication, the same guys who made the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde game.  The results are pretty disappointing, at least to anyone who's played a better version of Ys, such at the TurboGrafx 16 disc or Ys Eternal.  Since Ys exists in so many different forms, we include a whirlwind tour of the many different releases of this game.

Konamic Sports in Seoul/Track and Field II

This console only sequel to Hyper Olympic/Track and Field relies on the same button mashing formula as its predecessor. Some of the same events return, some new events are added, and the character sprites are bigger.  No surprises here, but a decent amount of fun can still be had.

Super Pinball

Giant robots everywhere. Even in pinball games.

Now here is a surprise!  A nice little pinball game from Coconuts Japan.  It's no Devil's Crush, but it's better than Moon Ball Magic.  With a total of 6 different screens, including 4 "hidden" ones, and various little mini games thrown in, Super Pinball is actually quite enjoyable.

While there may not have been any great games this episode, we have no paucity of terrible games.

Matou no Houkai: The Hero of Babel

 He even jumps like Simon Belmont.

The one game this episode that rubs me the wrong way,  Matou no Hokai is from the good folks at Carry Lab, who had previously brought us Mystery Quest, a clever little game which owed a huge debt to Super Mario Bros.  Matou no Hokai, on the other hand is a terrible little trifle that shamelessly rips off the Castlevania games.  And when I say "rips off..." I don't mean "inspired by...."   So blatant is its debt to Castlevania that not only do you get powerups by destroying wall-mounted torches and smashing blocks in walls, but the first boss is the goddamned Grim Reaper!   He even throws sickles at you!

To get an idea of what Matou no Hokai is like, just imagine Castlevania with all the good parts taken out (atmospheric graphics, great music, fun boss battles) and all the bad parts left in and magnified (stiff controls, annoying and hard to hit enemies), and then throw in some brand new problems (clunky menus, the fact that one minute into the game you have to grind for XP.)   Needless to say, I don't like this game.

Super Dyna'mix Badminton

From VAP and sometimes Nintendo collaborator Pax Softnica, we have this incompetently made badminton game.  Just how lazy were the game's developers?  There is an option to choose the sex of your player, but apparently no female player sprite was ever created:  All players are represented with the same masculine looking sprite.  Considering that the box art used the image of a pretty young blond woman, this omission is a little odd.

Kujaku Ou


Killer Mermaids.

Based on a manga, animated film, and live action Kung Fu film (!), Kujaku Ou is another poorly executed attempt to combine a Portopia style adventure game with an RPG (see also, Square's Cleopatra no Mahou.)  SMS aficionados might think Kujaku Ou looks a little familiar -- it was reworked as an action game and released by Sega as Spellcaster.

And the rest:

Reigen Doushi/Phantom Fighter

When I started Chrontendo I had no idea that I would encounter multiple games based on jiang-shi AKA Chinese hopping vampires.  Yet, back in Chrontendo 22 we had Kyonshiizu II, adapted from the Japanese version of Hello Dracula.  Now we have Reigen Doushi, the official licensed game of Mr. Vampire, which is pretty much the greatest movie ever made.  Improbably released in the US under the name Phantom Fighter, the game itself is nothing special.  But it is kind of cool to play as a Lam Ching Ying.

Kame no Ongaeshi: Urashima Densetsu/Xexyz

You ride into battle on your flying lobstermobile.

Another obscure game that received a US release despite its heavy Asian subject matter.  The Japanese game is based on the legendary turtle-saving fisherman Urashima Tarō.  Much like Toei's Mr Gold from Episode 33, the plot of this Hudson game essentially just "Urashima in space."  Hudson was apparently at a loss on how to market this in the US, so they changed the title to some random gibberish and renamed the hero as "Apollo."

Xexyz is a pretty slick looking game that alternates between platforming and shootemup stages.  Developed by Atlus, it resembles 1987's Bio Senshi Dan; both titles are near-misses.  Some weird jumping mechanics,  a few bugs,and general lameness in the shmump levels prevent Xexyz from achieving greatness.

Maniac Mansion

A port of the classic LucasArts adventure game -- but not the version you are used to seeing.  Two years before LucasArts and Realtime developed their own version for the NES, Jaleco took a stab at it themselves.  The 1988 Maniac Mansion was only released in Japan, and didn't experience the same censorship issues as the later US release.  However, Jaleco's game suffers from a general lack of personality in the graphics, and the fact that multi-screen rooms are compressed down to a single screen in size.   While hardly an ideal port, it is kind of cool to see an alternate version of one of the NES' most popular games.

Kick and Run

A harmless little port of a virtually forgotten Taito arcade soccer game.  After having played this, I wonder if this formed the template for Soccer League: Winner's Cup from last episode.  The two games look and handle very much alike.

Eggerland - Souzouhe no Tabidachi

Remember how we had a new Eggerland game last episode?  Well, here's another, this time for the Famicom Disk Writer.  This shorter, easier game is the budget release in the Eggerland series.


Our requisite Sengoku-era strategy game.   This one's from Irem and looks pretty well made.  If you want to see way more Hototogisu than I can offer, this guy has a 30+ part Let's Play on Youtube; though it lacks any commentary.

Famicom Meijinsen

 Pretty good graphics for a shōgi game.

shōgi game from SNK.  I don't know how well it plays shōgi, but it has lots of options and charming graphics.

Konamic Tennis

The aforementioned tennis game from Konami.

Another episode down!  Next up is Chronsega episode 6.  Then its back to Chrontendo for what's going to be one whiz-bang episode.  Until then, don't forgot to check out episode 35 over at Archive.

*There seems to be some confusion whether they are alligators or crocodiles.  The manual calls them crocs, an animal not found in the Louisiana Bayou.  On the other hand, they seem to aggressive to be alligators.  Maybe Gordon, the "Gangster King of Bourbon Street," had crocodiles specially flown in to put in the swamps surrounding his mansion.


Anonymous said...

Phantom Fighter! - I don't know how you missed it. In comic books. In game magazines. The promise of hopping Chinese vampire kung fu action. What could kid could resist the lure, especially after the 90,000th time they saw the ad? I didn't even know they were vampires, but I knew this was a major release, easily as important as Double Dragon 2.

If only such a random approach was given to deciding which games to push into the public consciousness today, the world would be a weirder, more wonderful place...

By the way, the ads were all deadly serious. Finding out there's a movie attached to the game, and that movie is a kickass hopping vampire kung fu comedy...

It's like my inner child getting a hug from reality.

Thank you, for starting our day out on such a wonderful note...

LameDino said...

Ohhh, 60 FPS h264 !! I'm loving it...

And Ys, definitely looking forward to hearing your opinions on it. I love Ys, not a huge fan of the Famicom version though.

interrobang said...

You might enjoy this post about Nintendo's demands for their port of Maniac Mansion:


Yikes, MUFF DIVER had to be changed again. In order to minimize the impact on the artwork, I needed to substitute MUFF with another four letter word that was less suggestive that could make sense with DIVER. We settled on the word TUNA.

flip said...

I liked how you used an excerpt of Joanna Newsom's Ys album in the intro to the game Ys ;) keep up the good work! I'm enjoying every episode.

fuxter said...

H.264? Good!

synt4x said...

Wow this one came out fast. Thanks for making my day better. Merry Christmas Dr.Sparkle!

LameDino said...

Just watched this episode on my AppleTV and I must say, yet again, H264 and 60FPS is really lovely. One suggestion though, if possible, could you encode the audio in AAC instead of MP3? Both the iPhone and AppleTV played your original video but without sound. I had to recode the sound for it to play.

If anyone else wanna watch this on an Apple device, this is what I did to recode the audio. Only took a minute or two since it doesn't recode the video.

ffmpeg -i episode35h264.mp4 -vcodec copy -acodec libfaac -ab 160k episode35_aac.mp4

synt4x said...

Damn this new h.264 encodes looks really nice. The games just flow a lot better.

Is it possible to re-encode the older episodes in this fashion, or would that be too much work?

Doctor Sparkle said...

Is Anon being facetious? There wasn't really any sort of promotional push for Phantom Fighter, was there? The game only rated one tiny mention in Nin. Power.

Flip - I'm glad someone got the Newsom/Ys reference.

As for Maniac Mansion: NOA gets a lot of flak nowadays for their complaints about the content of Maniac Mansion. Yet, by coming up with "Muff Diver" it's clear that Lucasarts was trying to screw with NOA as well. Did they seriously think for one second that would get past anyone?

Does anyone have any objections to AAC? Does anyone have any reasons to prefer HE-AAC or LC-AAC? Re-encoding Ep. 35 can be done easily. However, that wouldn't be possible on older episodes, since the "master" files are all 30 fps AVI.

fuxter said...

AAC? Good!

actually mp4 usually come with h.264 video and acc audio.

it's good to have mp4 for supported devices, but i would keep xvid/mp3 avi files just for archival purposes.

sorry, no clue about HE-AAC or LC-AAC issue.

with mp4 files in place podcast thingy could be organized somehow, i guess.

patapa said...

The HE-AAC and even more so HE-AAC v2 profiles are meant to be used for low bitrate situations. They are also less compatible player wise.

My recommendation would be that you go for the LC-AAC profile, use the bitrate you normally encode your mp3 stream with and enjoy a better audio quality as a result.

LameDino said...

Never saw that you recoded the episode with AAC before now! But I just tried and I could stream it from archive.org directly from my iPhone. Thanks a lot :)

Anonymous said...

Is Anon being facetious? There wasn't really any sort of promotional push for Phantom Fighter, was there?

I certainly don't remember much (if any) promotion for this game at the time, and I read every magazine I could get my hands on in excruciating detail.

That said, it was 20+ years ago, so it's entirely possible I'm forgetting something-- but I definitely don't remember it being on par with a game like Double Dragon 2 in terms of marketing or general awareness.

Chris Osborne said...

Wow, those are the wettest hurdles I've ever seen. If I'd had a race like that when I ran in high school my coach would have thrown a fit and taken us all home.

Or it's the most boring steeple chase ever since it's all in a straight line.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Chris - exactly! I figured Konami was conflating Olympic with equestrian events. Or maybe that's the wacky Japanese game show version of hurdles.

Chris Osborne said...

Actually, they do steeplechase with humans too. Which is both weird and really cool to watch.

At least for Winthrop's runners it was the race for people who thought that running 25 laps around a track was just too boring. Can't say I blame them for that though. I always got bored enough running around twice during practice.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is completely serious about Phantom Fighter. I never read Nintendo Power, like the other kids, and my comic book tastes were obscure. But wherever that ad did show up, it attracted attention. My friend included it in a nostalgia giftpack only because of the cheesy ad. It's even mentioned in an Amazon review, as if it were a bonus feature -


So bizarre, that it's completely unknown. I guess this provides an interesting lesson in how not to promote a product...

GF said...

Hototogisu does refer to the type of bird; traditionally it's emblematic of the early summer. Lhude sing cuccu and all that.

It probably lends its name to the game and the sword as a poetic symbol.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Well, leave it to the Japanese to get all poetic about killing dudes with swords. And GF, congrats for making the most obscure musical reference ever on this blog.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Phantom Fighter was one of those I do remember seeing in comic book ads as well. I guess FCI was very big on promoting a game, I just didn't care for it at all after straining my brain on it!

Rodneylives said...

On games that get ported twice by different teams in completely different styles, oh brother, wait until you get to Rampart. Konami like completely remade Atari Games' arcade hit it their own image!

Kevin Moon said...

I was happy and pleasantly surprised to see that you took the time and effort to give that Ad Hoc recipe a try! Excellent! I still have not gotten around to doing it, but absolutely everyone who has tried it just swears by it. I still think the best fried chicken I've ever had is my fiancee's tempura fried chicken, so it will be interesting to compare.

Another recipe that I have been fascinated by for some time and would love to try making someday is birria de chivo--Mexican goat stew.

If you end up making it eventually, you must let us know how it turns out!

Phil said...

Is that a Joanna Newsom song when you introduce Ys? Very clever.. ;)

PS: Really love your videos, looking forward to watching your next ones!