Friday, December 30, 2011

Season's Greetings

Christmas is behind us and New Year's Day beckons.  We'll ring in 2012 with Chrontendo Episode 43.  It might be a while, however, as Ep 43 will be the biggest episode yet, with a butt-numbing 20 games.  This will take us through March 1989 in its entirity.

Until then, with what can you slake your desire for entertainment?  Well, there's a new episode of Generation 16 for starters.  Also... how about a new movie review from Harry Plinkett? And it's a review of  Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull(Note: the video contains one very loud and disturbing sequence inappropriate for viewing in the presence of co-workers or family members) It's the perfect Christmas gift!  Do you remember that warm feeling of nostalgia that washed over you when you saw Crystal Skull?  Sure you do, but that wasn't nostalgia for the '80s and watching Raiders for the first time. No, it was nostalgia for 1999 and watching the Phantom Menace for the first* time! Skull brought those same sensations of excitement, hope, confusion, denial, disappointment, anger, and betrayal flooding back to you. 

If anything Plinkett goes a little easy on Crystal Skull; he seems far too accepting of Shia LeBeouf's performance in the film, for one.  Honestly - has there ever been a less engaging action "star" than LeBeouf? How many actors can duplicate his lack of charisma and screen presence? Jim Belushi, maybe? Spielberg and Lucas almost seem to be making fun of LeBeouf in the movie. The first shot of him in Skull shows him dressed up in 50's biker gear, drawing an obvious (and hilarious) parallel to Marlon Brando in The Wild One.  It almost seems to state, "Sorry kids, actors like Brando are hard to find nowadays.  Here's the weenie-ish 21th century equivalent. Yes, we know he looks like a kid playing dress-up, but look what we had to work with."

He's just like Brando, minus the cool and interesting part.
This sense of ersatzness pervades Crystal Skull. Even the plot revolves around fakery.  Instead of legendary objects such as the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant, Indy is searching for "Mayan" crystal skulls, which in the real world are 19th century forgeries, probably German in origin, sold to gullible collectors.  The film is like that; a fake Indiana Jones movie, foisted upon its unfortunate viewers.  Anyway, the Plinkett review is not quite as amazing as the Star Wars prequel reviews, but it's still pretty entertaining.

Okay, this post really didn't have much to do with video games.  Next time, I'll elaborate on my theory about Rock Operas.

*And probably only time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One Last Episode for 2011

Hello folks. Things have been going a little slowly over here at Chrontendo HQ.  I've been subjected to a seemingly endless series of Christmas parties and events, delaying the new episode considerably. But the wait has finally ended and Chrontendo Episode 42 is now available.  You probably know what to do by now. For the dazzling 60 frames per second version, head over to, and for the slightly grody-er streaming version, check out Youtube.

You might be relieved to know the delays have not been Skyrim-related (at least not yet.)  I have just started Arkham Asylum recently -- and yes, that's Asylum, not Arkham City.  I prefer to pay $17 for a video game over paying $60.  Thus, I sometimes wait on new games. It's a cool little game, but... DAMN, is that voice work on Harley Quinn annoying!  Not being familiar with the Batman cartoons, I don't know anything about the character.  Is she really supposed to have this ridiculous Brooklyn accent? I half expected her to shout, "Cheese it! It's da coppers!" when Batman shows up.

In other news, Greg Sewart has finally launched his Genesis chronogaming video series, Generation 16. It appears the episodes will be a bit shorter than Chrontendo, and also a bit more professional looking; which is to be expected from a legitimate games journalist like Greg.

About Chrontendo 42: it consists of February 1989 in its entirety,  17 games all told.  Namely, Tecmo Bowl and a bunch of crap fine selection of games which are very interesting from a historical perspective.

One significant fact about Tecmo Bowl is that it was Tecmo's first game aimed squarely at the US market. It debuted in the US in February and didn't receive its belated Japanese release until a year and a half later.  While Tecmo Bowl was not the first football game we've seen for the system, it is certainly the best, and one of the most enjoyable NES sports games.  It is the polar opposite of EA's 1988 computer game Madden FootballTecmo Bowl's simplicity and intuitive controls are its major strengths.

What else is good in Episode 42? Well...


....  there's always Namco's Wagyan Land.

Upon starting up Wagyan Land, you'll be most struck by its visual style.  Bold, flat colors, simple geometric shapes -- there are very few Famicom games that look like Wagyan Land. I just wish the game itself were better.  The main culprit is the boss battles.* Remember how Alex Kidd had rock/paper/scissors boss battles?  Wagyan Land takes that one step further and gives you word game boss battles.  Yes, you need to defeat each boss in either a memory game or a word chain game.

Not quite as flawed, but less ambitious is the Konami/Ultra Games NES port of the 1982 arcade game Q*bert. Konami (or whoever ported this for them) were able to produce a reasonably good Q*bert facsimile.  The colors are not as bright, and the controls are not as responsive, but it's still heaps better than the crappy ports for the Atari 5200, Commodore 64 and the like.

While not in the same league as Tecmo Bowl, Konami's Ganbare Pennant Race! is a decent and slightly unusual baseball game. You read that right, Ganbare, as in Goemon.  One month after Ganbare Goemon 2, Konami stuck him in a baseball game.

What else is there in this episode? How about:

Friday the 13th

Another one of those games hated by the internet game critics crowd, this LJN release is not as bad as you would expect. At this time LJN's games were being handled by Atlus, who was then contracting out some of the development work.  Its not clear who was actually responsible for developing Friday the 13th, but it does bear a noticeable structural similarity to LJN's Jaws.  Both games take place in a relatively small game world, in which you may wander around freely.  The objective is simply to defeat Jaws/Jason in battle. This is done by moving around the map, killing low-level enemies, collecting items and building up strength. Jaws/Jason also moves around randomly on the world map, and you will encounter them from time to time, but you can't truly defeat them until the last stage of the game. Both games are pretty non-linear and sort of resemble a much shorter and more simplified RPG. Also, they both suffer from "what the hell am I suppose to be doing in this game?" syndrome.  They don't really resemble any other game in the NES library other than themselves.  Friday the 13th is not a very good game - it's terribly repetitive- but it is not nearly as awful as you have been lead to believe.

Roger Rabbit/Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle

The first entry in the horribly confusing Crazy Castle series, which made the jump to the FDS to handhelds with the second game. Remember Kemco's Donald Duck, which was called Snoopy's Silly Sports Spectacular in the US?  The same thing happened with this game. Kemco released it as a Disney-related title in Japan, and as a Bugs Bunny game in the US. Later entries managed to add to the confusion by throwing in Garfield, the Ghostbusters and Wood Woodpecker. 

Famicom Jump Eiyuu Retsuden

Bandai and Tose combined forces with the manga periodical Weekly Shōnen Jump to create this game, which tosses in tons of manga characters into a middling action RPG. Characters from Fist of North Star, Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, City Hunter and many others make appearances. Famicom Jump stands, along with  Konami's Wai Wai World, as one of the first fan service video games.

Tom Sawyer no Bouken/Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Ye cats! Someone made a Tom Sawyer video game? Not unexpectedly, Seta chose not to adapt the novel, but instead used a dream sequence set-up in order to inject Tom into a standard sidescrolling platformer.  The terrible graphics, music and level design sink Tom Sawyer to the level of kusoge.

Oh, and for those of you who notice that I occasionally add in-game appropriate music during the game's intro segment -- no, I did not use Rush's "Tom Sawyer" for this game.  Because "Tom Sawyer" is a terrible, terrible song, Geddy Lee's charmingly dated synth drones notwithstanding.  Does anyone have any idea what that song is supposed to be about? "Today's Tom Sawyer/He gets high on you/And the energy you trade/He gets right on to the friction of the day." Does this mean anything at all? What exactly is the "friction of the day" and how does one "get right on" it? Did Rush write this song by stringing together a bunch of random five word phrases? (Probably, yes).

Oh wait, never mind.  This is a Rush song, so it's probably some Ayn Randian nonsense about how society oppresses the Übermensch.

The Rest

Can you believe it? More Japanese adventure games!

Yamamura Misa Suspense: Kyouto Hana no Misshitsu Satsujin Jiken

More cherry blossom intensive murder mystery excitement from Taito and Tose.  This is the second game in the series, and improves upon its predecessor by adding in a dynamic action bar.  That is, instead of always showing the same actions (talk, move, etc) the action bar is context sensitive. Only the useful icons will appear at any given time. Progress, I guess.


Yet another game based on yet another historical Chinese conflict. This time, we have an adventure game, taken from some manga you've probably never heard of.

Also, RPGs!

Hydlide 3

The orignal Hydlide is one of the most widely derided games on the NES.  Hydlide 3 could be considered a bit of an improvement, since it offers such things as character classes, towns, shops, NPCs, and so on.  Later in 1989, it was released for the Mega Drive/Genesis as Super Hydlide. I've always felt Hydlide had a worse reputation that it deserved.  The original computer Hydlide was one of the very first JRPGs, so it can be forgiven for a being a bit primitive. The US release was severely delayed, however. In fact, it came out only a few months before the US version of Super Hydlide.  By mid-1989, it must have seemed incredibly archaic.

And in case you're wondering, Hydlide 2 never had a console port.


An ugly, supernatural themed RPG.

Wizardry II: Llylgamyn no Densetsu

It's called Wizardry II, but this is really a port of Wizardry III.  This version is not as soul-destroying as the original US computer Wizardry III, but its still not exactly a lot of fun to play. Unless you like spending hours wandering down many, many identical corridors inside maze-like dungeons, fighting lengthy turn based battles every four steps.


Bandai Golf Challenge Pebble Beach

Yet another generic golf game.  This one distinguishes itself by being a US only release. Developed by Tose.

Tama & Friends - 3 Choume Dai Bouken

A simple sidescroller based on a cute kitty cat. Later, there was also a Tama & Friends anime.

Space Shadow

The pack-in game for the Hyper Shot, a machine gun shaped light gun from Bandai.  The gun is cool looking, but the game is incredibly boring. It simply involves shooting aliens, one at a time, with each alien taking about 20 shots to go down.

Flying Hero

Here's an odd one. Developed by Aicom (Amagon, Legendary Axe), Flying Hero is an inferior looking remake of the earlier Sega Master System game Megumi Rescue.   We saw Megumi Rescue in Chronsega 6, but if your memory fails you - it was an Arkanoid style game in which you rescue people trapped in a burning building.

OK, that covers it. With any luck, Episode 42 will cram in all of March, so it'll be a bit longer than normal.

And to soothe any hard feelings for you Rush fans out there, I'll leave you with some video footage of a prog-rock drummer is actually very creative and interesing. Perhaps you can eventually wean yourself from the empty showiness of Neil Peart.

Until next time, don't forget to check out Chrontendo 42 on Archive or Youtube.

*To all you would-be grammar Nazis: it's called synesis. Look it up.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Very Soon....

December is here and it time for my annual catch-a-cold/sore throat thing.  I was hoping to finish the voiceovers for Episode 42 today, but I'll have to wait until my voice is a little less scratchy. Then of course, we're off to Episode 43, and then... probably some more Chronsega and Chronturbo.

This is probably a sign of getting old, but for the last week I've felt the urge to listen to some classic rock live albums during my commute to work.  Currently I've got The Who's Live at Leeds and Deep Purple's Made in Japan in rotation on my car stereo. I've come to a realization lately: I don't think that Tommy is exactly the Who's best work.  Sure, there are some cool songs, but in spots it drags a bit, and the story doesn't make much sense.  Even live, it drags a bit in spots, and I'm starting to question whether there ever were any really good "rock operas."  Composing a rock opera is one of the early warning signs of a band's artistic decline (e.g. The Kinks,) if you ask me.

Anyhoo... I've been thinking about buying Skyrim at some point. Expect production delays if this happens.  For the immediate future, however, we should be seeing Episode 43 pretty soon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thyme Crisis

It saddens my heart quite a bit to see that my old alma mater, UC Davis, has become the latest example of police brutality against peaceful protestors.  When I went to Davis, it has a reputation as a mellow, quirky, hippie-ish college - the sort of place where bicycles, vegetarian black bean burritos, and Earth Day festivals defined the campus.  Back then, Davis was frequently mocked by conservative media outlets such as Rush Limbaugh and... er... The Daily Show for it's goofy left wing mindset and the famous "Toad Tunnel."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Colbert - Tunnel Vision
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

I guess that things have changed I lot since I went to college.

Believe it or not, quite a bit of work has been done on Chrontendo Episode 42. I'm not going to lie and say it's "almost" ready, but it will definitely be more timely than Episode 41.  As usual, there will tons of crap, including LJN's Friday the 13th! (I will admit, I hate that game.)  For the moment though, I've been busy preparing for Thanksgiving.  I'll be cooking a pretty simple dinner this year, compared to last.  However, this didn't prevent me from having to go to three stores today looking for some goddamned thyme. Is there some kind of thyme shortage going on right now?  Also, my birthday was couple days ago, and it seems I've been on a constant diet of fatty foods, cheese, cake and beer; all of which have conspired to make me lazy.

But!! I do have a very special treat for everyone! Perhaps you remember the remarkable story of Mudflaps, the kitten.  She's doing fine, is getting bigger all the time, and is getting on smashingly with our other animals.  She loves to groom our dog, Gigi, who is very patient with Mudflaps -- up to a certain point. I have immortalized this tumultuous cat/dog friendship in this brief video.

This is the only HD Chrontendo video, but don't expect too much, since it was shot on a cheapie camera.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

At Last: 1989

Guess what day today is?  Today is the day that Chrontendo Episode 41 finally comes out.  Yes, it's real, it's here, and it can be downloaded or streamed. As always, crisp, clear 60 FPS h.264 files may be had on Archive, and semi-decent streaming videos can be watched on Youtube.

I took a slightly different format this time. Instead of including the usual 15 games, I added a 16th game in order to completely cover January 1989 in one episode.  The same will be true for Episode 42 -- all of February will be squeezed in.

Plus: bonus material!  We start this episode by examining the most popular genres of 1988.  I also list my candidates for the most significant Famicom games of 1988.  With that out of the way, we can get to work on 1989.

I'll get straight to the point.  The post-holiday releases mostly consist of a bunch of crap. However, there are two "big" games this episode: a sequel to one of Konami's most popular games (most popular in Japan, that is) and a not-particularly-sucessful game that has built up a cult following over the years.

It may surprise you to learn that Ganbare Goemon was one of Konami's best selling Famicom titles in Japan, along with Twin Bee.  So I'm going to assume that Ganbare Goemon 2's January 1989 release was hugely anticipated.  It was actually the first Famicom game of 1989; it hit the shelves on January 4th, which leads me to theorize it was orignally slated for December and was delayed.

As a sequel, I found it to be both very successful and somewhat disappointing.  What do I mean by that?  It's sucessful in the sense that it improves on the first game. It introduces a two player mode, along with a new character, Ebisumaru, for the second player.  The game's sense of humor has been sharpened, the enemies and bosses are more colorful, and a real plot has been introduced.  However, Ganbare Goemon 2 is a bit disappointing simply because of how similar it is the first game. Compared to contemporary sequels - SMB 3 or Mega Man 2 - Konami's sequel seems a bit old fashioned. Just like the first game you spend far too much time wandering around in first person mazes and jumping around trying to uncover secret passages. It almost feels like Konami was scared to tinker with a successful formula too much.  Eventually Konami got over its cold feet.  Future entries in the Goemon series would get weirder and weirder; check out the US release, Legend of the Mystical Ninja for the SNES if you want to see for yourself.

Our other notable game is Vic Tokai's Degeki Big Bang!/Clash at Demonhead.  I'll admit it right up front: I didn't really like Demonhead very much.  I understand there are some folks who think that it is one of the best games for the NES. This is not surprsing. Demonhead is a somewhat non-linear action platformer with branching paths, shops, experience points (sort of) and various equipable (duh!) pieces of equipment. It might remind you a little bit of games like Bionic Commando or Castlevania III, if all the cool stuff were taken out of those games.  I discuss my disapointment with Demonhead in some detail in the video.  I suspect Demonhead's fans may be viewing it through the hazy miasma of nostalgia.  Regardless, it's still a pretty big improvement over Kid Kool.

Beyond those two games, we have a bit of Japan-only crap, and a racing game that was released in Japan, the US and Europe, under three different names.  And, of course, Casino Kid. We also examine three US releases from 1989:

Tecmo Baseball

Another big disappointment.  With Ninja Gaiden behind them and Tecmo Bowl ahead of them, you'd think a sports game from Tecmo would be something special. It turns out to be yet another nondescript baseball title.  As far as I know, Tecmo Baseball came out in January 1989, though it seems to have originally been scheduled for 1988, judging by a reference in an issue of Nintendo Power.

WWF Wrestlemania

There are people out on the internet who don't like Nintendo's Pro Wrestling. To those folks, I would recommend trying out this little gem from Rare and Acclaim.  It makes Pro Wrestling look like a work of undiluted genius and inspiration by comparison.  Wreslemania began the Acclaim traction of licensing the rights to a property, then making a crappy video NES game out of it.

Sesame Street 123 

A new publisher enters the fray: the New York based Hi Tech Expressions.  I've mentioned that virutally every NES game from a US publisher is developed by Rare or one their associatiates.  In this case, it's Zippo Games, another British company founded by a pair of brothers.  They did some contract work for Rare before being bought out by the Stampers.  Zippo barely even made use of the Sesame Street license here, instead creating a generic kids' game and tacking on Ernie and Grover. The title screen above gives you an idea of how little effort went into this. Remember back in 1984 when most Famicom title screens where just text on a black background?

Aside from Clash at Demonhead, only two other games saw release in both the US and Japan:

World Grand Prix: Pole to Finish/Al Unser Jr. Turbo Racing

Why does the name "Pole to Finish" sound so funny to me?  Any way, this Data East release is yet another F1 racing game.  And for the second time, it was localized for the US market using the name and likeness of a non-F1 race car driver.  Al Jr. was a CART racer, just like Michael Andretti. If anyone played the US version years ago and wondered why your were racing overseas tracks instead of the Indy 500, well... now you know.

100 Man Dollar Kid: Maboroshi no Teiou Hen/Casino Kid

Not your typical gambling game, 100 Man Dollar Kid has an elaborate quest mode.  Unfortunately, big chunks of the game were removed for the US release, Casino Kid.  Also, the game's designers couldn't seem to decide what color the Kid's hair was, since it alternates between brown, black and blue. Some of the elements missing from the US version were later used in Casino Kid 2.

Naturally, we have a bunch of Japanese games - RPGs, adventure games, and the like.

Halley Wars

One of two FDS games this episode, Halley Wars is boring Shoot-em-up from Taito.  It does have an interesting idea, however: any enemy ships you don't shoot down head to Earth and wreak havoc.  Letting too many ships slip by will eventually earn you a game over.

Kidou Keisatsu Patlabor

AKA Mobile Police Patlabor.  In the future, the police use giant robot suits to fight crime and rescue children.  Based on a cartoon, naturally.  This sidescrolling action game is a product of the unholy union of Bandai and Advance Communication - the developer of that Dr. Jekyll game.  This is Episode 41's other FDS game.

 Satomi Hakkenden

A turn based RPG, based on a 19th century Japanese novel, that doesn't even try to hide its indebtedness to Dragon Quest.  One of the few RPGs from SNK.

Zoids 2

When I covered the first Zoids game back in Episode 22, I never would have thought Takara would release a sequel.  Yet here it is.  More dinosaur mech RPG action.  Though I'm still baffled by the fact that the game looks like it takes place in a stereotypical medieval European setting.

Pachio Kun 2

Speaking of sequels no one wanted.... here's another pachinko game featuring the lovable living, breathing pachinko ball, Pachio Kun!  Please be warned, this game contains references to sexual relations between pachinko balls.

Family Trainer: Rai Rai Kyonshizu

A moment of silence, please.  We have now reached the end of Bandai's Family Trainer series of games. The 10th Family Trainer game is based on freakin' Chinese hopping vampires. Specifically, it stars a cute loveable baby kyonshizu.  That's right, you play as a dead child.

Nishimura Kyoutarou Mystery: Blue Train Satsujin Jiken

Another mystery adventure game, this time from Irem and Tose.  The funny thing is, there was a Tantei Jingujii Saburo game for the PS2 called Kind of Blue.  Which raises the question: how many Japanese adventure games named after classic jazz albums are out there?  If you don't know what I'm referring to, then educate yourself, you ignorant bastard!  The opening sequence features some cool art.

Motocross Champion

One of the odder games this episode.  A motorcross racing game, from Konami, which takes a bit of inspiration from Excitebike.  The janky controls prevent this from being top-tier Konami, but it was later spun off into the Motocross Manaics series.

Space Harrier

Space Harrier on the Famicom?  Yes, Sega really was a whore back in the '80s.  Needless to say, this is not the best console version of Space Harrier.

Obviously, I'm aware that this episode took a really long time to produce.  I'm sure Episode 42 will arrive in a more timely fashion. Until then, check it out on Archive or Youtube!

Monday, November 7, 2011

So, I'm working on hacking together a rough cut of Episode 41 now. However, I'd like an opinion on something.  I've included the video of the Family Trainer: Rai Rai! Kyonshizu below.  Yes, it's a Family Trainer game based on Chinese hopping vampires.

Listening to the voice overs recorded on the new PC, I've noticed they sound super bass-y.  The low end sounds too loud and distorted compared to earlier recordings. I assume this has something to do with the default settings on the new soundcard and the new speakers.  So I'd appreciated some feedback on the voiceover quality.  Do the lower frequencies sound too heavy and "boomy"?  Does it sound the same as older videos?  Thanks in advance.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

So good news!  I've finished Clash at Demon Head (as the title screen calls it) AKA Clash at Demonhead (as the box art calls it. The manual can't make make up its mind, either.)  I'm currently preparing my detailed takedown of this beloved cult classic.  Not that I think it's terrible; it just wasn't as good as I thought it was going to be.

So I hope to get some major work done on Chrontendo 41 in a few days. But in the meantime, I've been too busy rockin' like Dokken.  I have the misfortune to live in a city that is not considered a major market for most "medium-sized" bands, so I was very surprised and delighted to see that Mastodon was playing a show locally.  As a super cool bonus, Dillinger Escape Plan was opening. You might not have been thinking that Dr. Sparkle was a rocker dude, but my impressive array of neck tattoos tells a different story. I can throw the devil horns and engage in meth abuse and perform ritual human sacrifice with the best of them.

(Bonus facts: Both Ronnie James Dio and Gene Simmons take credit for introducing the devil/goat/metal horns into popular culture.  Dio claims learned it from his superstitious grandmother; Simmons says he invented by waving at the audience while holding his bass pick with the middle and ring fingers. Truly diabolical metal fans know it originated well before those two dudes.)

Even more surprising than Mastodon is the fact that Cinematic Titanic is doing a live appearance in my area!  CT is essentially an unofficial reunion of the original cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Even the ads for this show describe it as "MST3K Live."  What's odd is that the show is being held in the region's classy venue -- a rather expensive "arts center" that normally hosts guys like Yo Yo Ma or Wynton Marsalis.  I guess the MST guys have made it big time. Needless to say, I'm pretty excited.

And speaking of ill-conceived CGI, have you guys seen the trailer for the Tin Tin movie?  Freaky, cartoon-style heads and faces inserted into a photo-realistic environment?  That's some uncanny valley shit right there.

Oh God, take it away take it away!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween

Hey, I'm almost done with the new Deus Ex game!  That's good news for Chrontendo viewers.  Though there are quite a few other big name titles that have come out recently, or will be released soon - so hopefully my attention won't be derailed again.

The other night I was checking out the Netflix and noticed that Ruggero Deodato's 1976 cop movie, Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, was available in streaming format.  Fans of European sleaze cinema will know Deodato for such gems as Cannibal Holocaust (the pinnacle of the late 70s Italian cannibal movie genre,)  but Live Like a Cop is a straight-up action movie, albeit a very bloody and violent one.  It concerns a pair of buddy cops who break up a ring of gangsters using arson, torture and murder.  Unlike the grim-faced rogue cops found in American movies such as Dirty Harry, these guys exude an amicable, goofy charm even as they cut a bloody swath through a gang of bank robbers and shady real-estate dealers.  When not doing that, they are busy sexually harassing every woman they encounter.  In the 70s it was apparently acceptable to openly engage your female coworkers in small talk such as, "Hey, when are you finally going to give in and let me have sex with you?"


Anyway... the point of all this is that the movie opens with a super-exciting motorcycle chase scene.  We see the cyclists weave in an out of traffic on crowded Italian streets, drive down stairs, drive over cars, drive into shops and through crowds of people, and pop a couple of wheelies that can only be described as "totally bad ass."  It's the kind of stuff you used to see in the movies all the time back in the 70s and 80s.  I began to wonder why action scenes in many of today's movies are so damned boring.  Think of any car chase in a contemporary mainstream action film -- it's probably just tons of lame CGI effects and extraneous slow-motion. Even in "intelligent" action movies, such as the Bourne films, it's all about rapid cutting and constant shaky camera.  These effects don't get your heart pumping so much as they lull you into a trance.

How did this happen?  I'm not sure, but the first movie that I personally recall as suffering from CGI overload was the second Matrix film, from 2003.  I barely remember anything about that movie, but the part that sticks in my mind was an overlong fight scene set on a busy freeway.  It seemed to involve Keanu Reeves jumping around on cars while fighting a pair of albino robot ninja twins, or something.  The use of CGI was so over-the-top that it overwhelmed any sense of danger or drama in the scene.  All the cars flipping over in mid-air and people flying around in slow-mo made the entire thing feel very fake.  At that moment you knew you were no longer watching a movie featuring real live people, but instead were watching a very expensive cartoon. (Matrix 2 also suffered from having bumped up the slow motion usage to hilariously high levels.)*

Perhaps having played countless video games over the years has lead me to associate computer generated graphics with fakeness.  We know the characters in video games are not real, and today's movies contain many scenes that resemble nothing so much as video game cut scenes.  Action scenes in older movies have an inherent physicality to them: we see a real man driving a real motorcycle.  A scene of Sam Raimi's Spiderman swinging through the air is flat and weightless by comparison.  We know Spiderman is just a bunch of pixels created on someone's workstation.  If his web breaks and he falls... it's no big deal.  He is just a bunch of pixels and can't be hurt.

Concept art? Frame from the movie? Frame from the video game? Who can tell?

Maybe this doesn't bother younger movie goers.  Those who have grown up in the CGI era of filmaking might not experience any sort of disconnect between footage of solid objects and computer created objects.  Maybe they think movies like Transformers or Smurfs or Green Lantern look cool, instead of looking like piles of tacky shit.

As for Chrontendo, the new episode mostly hinges on completing the Clash at Demonhead segment.  For a game that's now considered to be a cult classic, I sure find playing it to be a chore.  I'm also a bit busy in the near future - I went to a Halloween party tonight, have another one tomorrow, and have a few things to go to next week.  I'll keep you posted on the new episode's progress.

*I disliked Matrix 2 even more than the first one, especially since I was dragged into seeing it on opening night by some Matrix-lovin' friends.  I remember thinking that only one thing could make that movie bearable -- and that would be a scene where Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne are getting ready to go out and fight some robots or something. Then Fishburne, says "Excuse me for a minute," and ducks into his room.  A few moments later he comes out again, but dressed as Cowboy Curtis. "Okay, Keanu, I'm now ready to kick some robot ass."  Sadly, this scene never happened and the entire movie was ruined.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hunting for Praxis Kits

Last post I mentioned things were going to be a little slow around here lately.  Let me revise this: things are very slow around her lately. Bottom line: I've been busy with other stuff.  Some of this stuff is "legit" like a having a friend from Vegas visiting for a few days.  Another factor is the desire to test out the new computer on a modern PC game. In some bad news for Chrontendo fans, there's this thing out there called Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It turns out this thing is awesome, and better than it has any right to be. Also, here and there, I've been playing Dragon Quest V for the DS.  Don't judge me, people. I can't spend all my gaming time playing stuff like Casino Kid.

"Sweet Dealer" sure sounds like a euphemism for something.

One a technical note, production of the new episode has been somewhat slowed.  The primary programs used for Chrontendo are not Windows 7 compatible, so I'll probably be finishing up episode 41 using my old computer.  I should set up the two computers at a 45 degree angle to each other, so I can use them both simultaneously, like cheesy keyboardists do.

I'm in the process of auditioning some new programs, so we'll see how things go.  The end result will probably be Chrontendo looking a little different. Hopefully, for the better.  Until, then I'm slowly uploading some older episodes on Youtube.

Elsewhere on the web, the dude behind Pre-Sonic Genesis has a new project called (ahem) Chronomancy.  He's covering the officially licensed D&D video games - the Gold Box games and whatnot.  Why the switch, you wonder?  I can only assume he found a video game blog to be insufficient at completely repelling members of the opposite sex. By focusing on an even more "chick-proof" subject, he's able to achieve his goal of a totally abstinent lifestyle. Just a hunch. Anyway, it's cool, so check it out.

Also, Greg Sewart has a neat series of Sega CD reviews called WELCOM METOT HENEX TLEVEL  on the Player One Podcast site. Unlike myself, Sewart is a legit writer, so the reviews are coherent, focused and entertaining. Reading about Sega CD games makes feel a little better about Chrontendo, since I have the consolation that I'm not having to play Corpse Killer or Wirehead.

Incidentally, my wife is at a "Goth Barbecue" party tonight.  She informs me there is a pool there, but no one is using the pool. Is it even possible for Goths to go swimming? Can you look all dark and mysterious in swim trunks?  Do they even make special scary Gothic swim trunks?  Maybe they wear those old-timey full body swimsuits with the black and white stripes? Just wondering.

Fuck you, Tim Burton.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Will the Eighties Never Die?

Things are going to be a little quiet on the Chrontendo front in the immediate future. Chrontendo is currently on hold (not on "hiatus" or anything of that nature.)  I've recently put together a new PC, and it will take a little while to get everything set up.  Having gone from Windows XP to 64-bit Windows 7, I now have to unlearn many habits and learn the peculiarities of the new OS.  I still haven't figured out how to add a "show desktop" button on the taskbar.  And, having to reinstall programs means having to deal with all sorts of missing DLLs and whatnot.

On top of all this, I feel sort of unfashionable by having a huge, clunky desktop computer.  We are repeatedly informed that we are now in the "tablet age" of computing, and that powerful desktop machines are a thing of past.  Everything is now done through online applications and cloud computing.  Supposedly everyone loves the iPads, but I have no idea what I would do with it if I had one.

Also, we are in the middle of getting our roof replaced, and have been getting quotes from contractors for the last two weeks.  Do you know what Dr. Sparkle just loves doing? Writing checks for amounts with lots of zeroes on the end. Hooray.

Earlier, I posted a terrifying picture of an old man in leather pants. You may be wondering, "Dr. Sparkle, why did you make us look at that horrible picture of that scary old man?" The story behind this is that my wife dragged me to a Human League/Men Without Hats show the other week.  Yes, you heard that correctly, I just went to Men-Without-Fucking-Hats concert.  The dude in the leather pants is the guy from Men Without Hats, and he was dressed in that exact same outfit when I saw them, right down to the little bitty cowboy hat (irony?)

Pic from here.

Both bands were operating in the "one original member" mode.  To be fair, this line-up of Human League featured the three vocalists from the second version of the band, when they were producing all their hits.  MWH consisted of the singer and three hired instrumentalists. Strangely, I was more curious to see MWH than Human League, simply because I had no idea of what sort of band they really were.  When you think "Men Without Hats," what pops into your head?  Probably a dwarf jester dancing around.

They turned out to be fairly standard synth-pop band fronted by a guy who pranced around on the stage looking like a gayer version of Bono. At two separate points during the show, he did a dance move thing were he pretended to be popping imaginary bubbles floating in the air.

Human League, the headliners, were the *better* band, I suppose.  At least they had a drummer.  The main dude (who was once known for his wacky hair style and is now completely bald) came out dressed in a black leather raincoat buttoned up around his neck, a hoodie obscuring almost all of his face and a pair of sunglasses.  He was suffering from the delusion that he was Banksy, I guess.  Or maybe it was some sort of comment on the London riots.  One of the singers was a skeletally thin woman wearing a Euro-trashy evening dress thing and an absurd amount of sparkly bracelets, earrings, tiaras, and shit.  All three singers did a few outfit changes throughout the show. I couldn't tell of the whole thing was supposed to be ironic or not.  Despite having sat through an entire Human League show, I still have no conception of what Human League is supposed to be about.

Pic from here.

I should point out the show was at an Indian casino, and took place in a room the size of a small theater/large bar.  I'll charitably describe the room as "two-thirds full."  It was a very odd venue to see show and the room seemed more like it was more suited for a real-estate seminar or something.

Sorry for taking up your time with non-video game related stuff.  There should be an Episode 41 related update before too long.  Also, I should start posting older episodes of Chrontendo on Youtube in the near future.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Herr Professor Doktor von Sparkle Präsentiert: Videospielenbücherkritik

Hello, everyone!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Labor Day.  For you folks outside the US, Labour Day or International Workers Day is usually a commemoration of the achievements of the working class in their struggle against capitalistic oppression throughout the last 100 years of so.  For us inside the US,  Labor Day means barbequing hotdogs, as per the instructions of our corporate overlords.  My chili dogs turned out fantastic, thank you very much.

Dr. Sparkle has been hit with a bad case of the existential ennui lately, which means a slowdown in production of new Chrontendo episodes. I've also been busy with a few things the last week or so. One of them is putting together a new computer.  One of the other things, unfortunately, was this:

It was not as bad as this looks. I'll explain next post.

However, we do have something a little different today -- I thought I'd talk about a couple books produced by fellow retro-game enthusiasts.

Many of you will be familiar with Gamespite. The main site is filled with high-quality game writing and the forums are a haven for old-school video game/furries/yaoi fandom. A couple years ago, Gamespite honcho Jeremy Parish came up with a clever idea: release a series of quarterly collections of reviews/articles from the site's various contributing writers in book form, then publishing those same articles, one at a time, on the web site.

"Sippin' Sizzurp in my ride, like Three 5?" No, that doesn't quite work.

So far, GameSpite Quarterly (now GameSpite Journal) has reached its ninth issue.  The size of each issue varies, from #1's 150 or so pages, to #8's whopping 450+ pages. The meatiest two volumes, in terms of both size and breadth of content, are issues 5 and 8, which are reasonably in-depth looks at the NES and the Playstation 1, respectively. Each issue contains a series of articles about the console, arranged in roughly chronological order. Some articles are thematic; for example, Nintendo's legal battles with Tengen or the practice of importing NTSC Playstation games into Europe.  But most articles discuss individual games.  These can range in length from three sentences for Legend of Kage to five pages for the NES version of Strider.  While these books can't come close to covering every game for each system, they do manage to get in the major US releases, plus a handful of lesser known titles and imports. Each issue is profusely illustrated with black-and-white screenshots and promotional artwork. 

The GameSpite books are very dedicated to their subject matter.  But if you want to see true obsession, you must turn to Hardcore Gaming 101's The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures.  This thing is huge: 772 pages and weighing about 2 1/2 pounds.  Despite being in paperback format, its physical dimensions are that of a good-sized hardcover.  It terms of content, it covers around 300 games and is nicely illustrated with B&W screenshots; though like GameSpite Quarterly, the screen captures can be a bit dark in places.

Not pictured: the heft of this tome.

The Guide focuses on the "classic" era of PC adventure gaming -- the mid-80s through the mid-90s.  Virtually every well known graphic adventure game of that time period is covered, including the oeuvres of LucasArts, Sierra, Legend, Interplay, and so on.  A few earlier games, such as the Zork series, and a handful of modern releases are discussed as well.  A number of writers contributed entries, but the bulk seems to be written by Kurt Kalata himself. The overall tone is evenhanded and non-judgmental; even the worst games are described as "disappointing" or "flawed." I would guess that years of playing adventure games teaches one patience and forgiveness.  Even the most well-loved games in the genre are filled with frustrating bullshit such as unfair deaths, impossible puzzles and sadistically frustrating action sequences.  Adventure game fans learn to put up with a lot.

The book doesn't skimp on words.

Both Gamespite Quarterly and The Guide are not without their flaws.  As self-published books they lack a professional editor, which often shows.  Not that I'm complaining; it's beyond my abilities to proof-read a blog post of this length and not miss typos and errors.  To self-edit a manuscript several hundred pages long and catch every single mistake would be just about impossible.  Both books have problems with the most difficult word on the internet, "comprise."  I was actually a little thrilled when I saw it used correctly early on in The Guide but later usage was inconsistent.  Both books frequently (and exclusively) use "trope" in the modern, internet-y sense, but that probably bothers me only because I'm an curmudgeonly old bastard.

It is I who is being a dick.

The section on Star Trek games in The Guide contains the line "Like most great works of art, its appeal was not immediately recognized...." which is probably the most indefensible statement anyone has made about art, ever.  Of course, it was used in reference to the original Star Trek TV series, so perhaps it was intended to be read ironically, as way of poking fun at the pretensions of Star Trek fans?  GSQ 8 has a long and provocative article by Phil Armstrong on Breath of Fire IV, which goes against popular opinion and claims BoF IV to be the best game in the series and also the best Playstation RPG.  It's a great article, but is bizarrely titled "Ying and Yang."  Is that a typo or a joke that went over my head?  I know Parish has a weakness for puns, so I'm thinking that it was intentional.  Seriously, someone explain that to me. I feel really stupid every time I think about that title.

Despite such trivial imperfections, both publications get my most enthusiastic recommendation.  Quality books on video games are not as common as they should be. Most are amateurishly written small-press works, or general video game histories which rarely get into the nitty-gritty of the games themselves.  Or even worse, postmodern, academic books called "World of Warcraft and the Simulacrum: A Hermeneutic Perspective" or some such nonsense. Volumes of GSQ can be purchased on Blurb, and The Guide is available on Amazon, among other places.  The Guide even comes in ebook format for those of you whose limbs are not sturdy enough to hold a 2 1/2 pound book and sip a soy latte at the same time.

Incidentally, the various comments about Akira, the movie, have whetted my appetite to revisit it.   Maybe I'll like it more this time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Evil Desires of Dr. Sparkle

My sinister plans for world domination have reached a new phase today, with the release of Chrontendo Episode 40.  Finally we have finished with the year 1988 and are poised to begin 1989.  You know the drill by know.   Fancy-ass 60 fps h.264 versions may be found on Archive.  A reasonable streaming version may be found on Youtube.  As always, I recommend the 60 fps videos.

In order to squeeze in the very last few games of '88, I tacked on two additional games, leaving Episode 40 with a total of 17 games.  Five of those are releases for the US market, from Konami, Sunsoft and Tengen. One of the Tengen games, Super Sprint did eventually get aJapanese release a few years later, by Altron, the same guys who published the Japanese version of Paperboy.

Skate or Die! marks the beginning of a new era of console gaming in the US.  It is the first Electronics Arts game released for a console; though in this case it was published by Konami under their Ultra Games imprint.  I've already mentioned my dislike for this game.  Most of my complaints center around the controls (and maybe also the ugly graphics.)  There were some genuinely baffling decisions made when Skate was ported to the NES, such mapping the kick, punch, jump and duck commands to the A button, while leaving the B button unused.

Sadly, warlock powers are missing from Platoon.

The two Sunsoft-published games are ports of Ocean Software's computer game Platoon and Bally Midway's arcade game XenophobePlatoon, which is based on the Oliver Stone movie (as absurd as that seems.) is an absolute mess on every single level.  The developers must not have had the vision or discipline required to make a cohesive game, so they stuck four short games together and called it a day.  Platoon comprises a side scrolling level set in a confusing maze-like jungle;  a first person shooter set in a series of tunnels; a short and boring shooting gallery level; and an extremely repetitive top down run-and-gun level.  Xenophobe is not as frustrating, but ends up being entirely pointless.  The arcade Xenophobe offered the novelty of three player co-op on a single screen. The NES reduced the number of players from three to two and was only capable of putting two enemies onscreen at once.

I wish I were joking, but no -- this is an actual screen shot of Xenophobe.

Tengen puts in an appearance with Vindicators and Super SprintVindicators, recently seen in the Chrontendo 1988 arcade round-up, is a top-down tank game, in which your stupid tank is constantly running out of fuel.  Super Sprint is basically a gussied up version of Atari's 1973 (!) arcade game Grand Trak.  It suffers from some of the weirdest damned physics in any racing game we've seen so far.  The cars have no weight and slip and slide around on the track like it was coated in Vaseline.   All five US games are their own sort of awful, and Vindicators is probably the best of bunch. 

I fail to see anything particularly "super" about Super Sprint.

Moving on, Episode 40 does contain one timeless classic: Rockman 2/Mega Man 2.

Dr. Wiley's mini-warship appears to be monogrammed.  Now that's classy!

Much ink has already been spilt on this game, and there is probably not much I can add.  MM 2 stands with Super Mario Bros. 3 as being the apotheosis of a video game sequel, at least in the NES era.  It takes everything that was good about the first game and expands upon it.  Instead of Mega Man's six robot masters, we now have 8.  Additional helpful items such as the energy tanks and the floating platforms are added in.  New, huge and awesome bosses are introduced. The level design has become even more creative and varied.  The music and graphics have been improved to a impressive degree.  A password system has been added so that you are no longer required to play it in one sitting.

What would a villain's base be without spiky crushy things dropping down from the ceiling?

The first Mega Man, released in late 1987, was just about the most inspired and sophisticated platform game we'd seen on the Famicom at that point.  Mega Man 2 raises that bar once again.  Other than SMB 3, I'm not sure that there was really anything on the system that could touch MM 2 in the action/platforming field.  Ninja Gaiden suffered an excess of cheap deaths.  Bionic Commando suffered from uninteresting bosses.  Blaster Master had those top-down sequences where you walked around on foot.  Mega Man 2 was the one where Capcom got everything just right.

Air Man has bizarre taste in exterior decoration.

The Blue Bomber clearly dominates this episode, but a few other decent games will be covered as well:


If you are like me, you'll make a lot of errors due to the unusual control scheme.

There were a total of three versions of Tetris on the Famicom and NES.  This one, from Bullet Proof Software has the distinction of being the first released, but also the least fun to play.  For starters, you rotate a falling block by pressing down on the d-pad.  This will certainly interfere with your Tetris muscle memory. There is no option to increase the speed at which a block is falling; instead there is an option to instantly drop a block into place.  Thus, you need to be sure a block is positioned correctly or otherwise wait while it moves very slowly down the screen.

And the blocks do move quite slowly in this Tetris.  It's probably the mellowest version of Tetris you'll ever play.  Also: no two player option.  It's not fair to judge this game against later iterations of Tetris; but no one is going to toss aside Tengen's Tetris and play this one instead.  Still, BPS deserves major props for being the first guys to release Tetris on a console.  The fact that BPS had signed a contract that gave them explicit console rights for Tetris would lead to an epic legal battle a little later on.

Guevara/Guerrilla Warfare

Guerrilla Warfare rather obviously features Fidel Castro.

This SNK run-and-gun is hardly a great game in its own right.  It's really just another variation on the Ikari formula: guys with guns walking around in a jungle and shooting everyone who crosses their path.  However, it's a major step up from their console releases of Ikari and Ikari 2.  In the 1990s, SNK would develop a cultish fan following based around their Neo Geo platform.  But in 1988, SNK was still trying to shake off their reputation as producers of crap such as Athena.  That would take a few more years, but Guerrilla Warfare is a step in the right direction.

Pro Yakyuu? Satsujin Jiken!

This is colloquially known as performing a "1-8-7" on a law enforcement officer.

Released the same day as Mega Man 2, this Capcom game pokes fun at the glut of baseball and murder mystery games for the Famicom. It certainly stands out among the crowd of Portopia clones -- Capcom threw in RPG elements, mini-games and even a mini vertical shoot-em-up. 

The remaining titles this episode are not particularly notable.  But we are obligated to discuss every single Famicom game, so here is a quick rundown:

Roller Ball

A rather basic pinball game from HAL, based on an old computer pinball game they released for the MSX in 1984.  There's nothing really wrong with Roller Ball, but post-Alien Crush, it's hard to get too excited about a game like this.


You shouldn't confuse this horizontal shoot-em-up from Kyugo Boueki with the other Airwolf, from Acclaim.  This is better than Acclaim's version, but it's still a slightly boring shoot-em-up with dull enemies and no power ups.  For some reason, the boss battles are fought from a first-person viewpoint.  For a licensed game, it's not bad, I suppose.


The best looking parts of the game are copied directly from the comic or movie.

Speaking of licensed games, we have this adventure game from Tose and Taito, based on the popular sci-fi manga/anime.  Akira, the game, falls halfway between an adventure game and a Visual Novel, meaning there is more dialog and less interactivity than most Famicom adventure games.

Some of you might be old enough to remember the massive hype surrounding the Akira movie when it was released in the US in the late 80s.  I actually saw it in the theaters at that time, and was pretty unimpressed.  I felt the same way ten years later when I emerged from the theater after seeing The Matrix, wondering why everyone was so impressed by that movie.  Maybe I should give Akira a second chance someday?

Shoukoushi Ceddie

I told you this game was not going to be pretty, and I didn't lie.

This one takes the prize for oddest source material for a Famicom video game.  It's an adventure game based on Francis Hodgson Burnett's 1896 children's novel Little Lord Fauntleroy.  Yes, the very same book that started a craze for dressing up young boys in ridiculously sissified outfits at the turn of the 20th century (though, conversely, it also led to pants becoming a standard clothing option for young kids.)  Fuji TV's game is a eye-gougingly ugly mess that adds in some terrible "action" sequences to go along with menu navigation.

Moero!! Pro Soccer/Goal!

A non-terrible soccer game from Tose/Jaleco.  If soccer video games are your bag, then give this one a try.

Pro Yakyuu Family Stadium '88

This game seems strangely familar.

The third game in Namco's popular Family Stadium series.  Naturally, its virtually indistinguishable from the first two games in the series.  The character sprites are unchanged from the first game; in fact, the only obviously new element is that you can now choose between four different ball parks.  Please note, this title should not be confused with Tengen's R.B.I. Baseball 3, a completely separate game.

Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu

Prepare for some thrill-packed tactical spaceship action. No, not really.

Dudes in uniforms standing around in spaceships talking!  That's a good description of every animated Japanese space epic ever made, and also a pretty good summary of this game from Kemco.  There are some tactical space battles hidden somewhere in the game.  Naturally, Ginga is adapted from a series of sci-fi novels, manga and animated TV shows.

Tarot Uranai

Fortune telling simulation game number three!  This time, it's based on the tarot deck.  Rare's  Taboo: The Sixth Sense isn't seeming like such an oddball title, now, is it?

Next time: 1989 is upon us!  And it brings with it: Wrestlemania and Seseme Street games!  For now, you'll have to settle for checking out Episode 40 over at Archive or Youtube.