Friday, April 8, 2011

Episode 37 Rears Its Ugly, Ugly Head

(Updated 4/9/2011)  Oh shit!  Breaking news from commenter Kendra!  Check out this here!

It's finally happened. Chrontendo Episode 37 is here, in a dizzying array of digital formats. For those of you who can stand to watch only the highest quality online videos, check out the 60 FPS versions on Archive:  you can download or stream the h.264 MP4 video or its hipsterish cousin, the MKV. You'll also find the more mundane AVI version here. If you prefer a bit more Beiber and a bit less granola in your video hosting sites, check out the semi-decent 30 FPS version on Youtube.

Now you might be wondering what I mean when I describe Episode 37 as "ugly." For starters, take a look at the following screenshot.

A long time ago, Dr. Sparkle used to be a sort of crappy painter. Therefore, I feel relatively qualified to point out the various aesthetic malfunctions occuring above. Such as the forest green/mustard yellow "explosion" word balloon in the upper left -- is it intended to depict the violence and excitement inherent in the concept of "TwoOnTwo?"  Why is the black edging on the large green characters missing from the right side of each character?  What is happened to the right side of the basketball player's face?  Why is he leaping with hands up in the air as if he were shooting a basket, yet the ball is approaching the basket from the opposite direction?.  Who the hell would design a basketball hoop that's so much smaller than a regulation sized basketball?  Or maybe the basketball itself is over-sized?  Either way, it's not going to fit in that hoop. And why was the art director thinking that this garish mishmash of graphical elements and clashing colors was acceptable to use in a commercially released product?

Aside from the Moero!! Junior Basket title screen, we also have games in which Margaret Thatcher runs for President of the USA, Takeshi Kitano guides you through a board game version of Sengoku-era Japan, you compete in a "Grand Prix" by playing rounds of pachinko, and you play the classic board game Othello by answering trivia questions. Also, we have a mahjong game based around a manga character. Yes, you heard that right: there is both a mahjong and a pachinko game this episode.  Sorry.

This all sounds pretty torturous, but luckily for you, I decided to throw in the Chrontendo 1988 Arcade Game Roundup!   So between clips of 8-bit chicks in bunny suits, you'll get to watch giant snakes made out of fire leaping out of the sun!  In not one, but two games!  Yes, one of them is Gradius II, but do you know what the other is?

Snakes + Fire + Spaceships = AWESOME

As before, the games featured in the arcade roundup are grouped by publisher, so we get a crash course in the major games of 1988 from Sega, Namco, Konami, Capcom, Taito, and Atari, as well as those from smaller publishers such as Data East, SNK, Tecmo, and so on. It's all pretty amazing and exciting, so hopefully you'll enjoy getting to watch cutting-edge graphics for once.

Every episode of Chrontendo, I select one game as the "best" game of the episode.  This time, I am going to, somewhat grudgingly, give the honor to Kemco's NES release of Deja Vu.

No one can deny that the original, Macintosh version, of Deja Vu was something of a revelation.  One of the first adventure games to use the mouse, Deja Vu did away with the clumsy text parsers found in most adventure games at that time.  Instead of typing out "move west," one could simply use the Mac's mouse to position the pointer onto the west door, and then, with simple click, move through the door.

The only NES game that requires you to literally, slap a ho.

Kemco's Deja Vu obviously couldn't make use of a mouse, so the entire control scheme was redesigned.  You now have to use the d-pad to navigate a bunch of commands, and walking through a door requires two verbs, "open" and "move",  and multiple button presses.  In other words, it took Deja Vu's main innovation, a simple and easy to use control scheme, and made it much more clunky and slow.

The game itself is still pretty good, however, especially compared to the illogical and linear Japanese adventure games we've been seeing.  I had some trouble with the DV's nested inventory system at the end of game, which kept getting me arrested.  The video goes into more detail about my problems.

Also pretty decent this episode:

Sangokushi/Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Cao Cao doesn't like it when you call him "Cow Cow."

Koei's biggest and baddest history strategy game comes late to the party.  It was originally released for the PC-88 in 1985. By November 1988, we've already seen a bunch of similar games hit the Famicom.   Hot-B's Takeda Shingen, Namco's Dokuganryu Masamune, Irem's Hototogisu, and Koei's own Nobunaga's Ambition were all modeled on Romance.  While there's nothing wrong with Romance, there's also nothing here we haven't really seen before.


You see kids, back in the 80s, not only was Pluto a real planet, it was bigger than Neptune!

Konami goes oooooold-school with this port of their 1983 arcade tube shooter.  In the fast moving world of 1980s shoot-em-ups, Gyruss seems like a relic from the neolithic age.   Still, it's a fun way to kill a few minutes.  Unlike the games listed below.

The worst of Episode 37:

Yuu Maze/Youmais

Taito once again shows their lack of ambition, Famicom-wise, with this archaic looking FDS game.  Yuu Maze is an honest-to-god maze game of the sort popular in the early 80s.  You drive your little car around picking up dots while avoiding enemy vehicles, who don't so much chase after you as just move around randomly.  Seriously, Taito, time to step up to the plate.

American Football/Touchdown Fever

Not to be confused with "White Line Fever."  Also quite popular in the 80s.

I'm not 100% sure what the actual Japanese title of this game is.  The box art has "American Football" in 100 point type, while the game's title screen just says "Touchdown Fever."  Either way, I'd call it the worst football game for the system.  Even 10 Yard Fight is better.

Family Quiz: 4-nin wa Rival

A quickie mini-game collection which incorporates trivia questions into Othello, a simple board game, and a memory game.  It's notable only for being the first game we've seen from Athena, who would later make the Dezaemon games.

Saiyuuki World

Does this look familiar?  It should if you've seen Chronturbo 1 and Chronsega 5.

The most baffling entry this episode is RPG-ish action platformer from Jaleco.  Ostensibly based on the story of Son Wokong/Son Gouku from Journey to the West, Saiyuuki World is in reality a direct clone of Wonder Boy in Monster Land.  Level design, boss battles, enemy placement -- all are taken directly from Sega's game.  Of course, this has happened once before with Bikkuriman World, covered in Chronturbo Epsiode 1.  But while that game was licensed from Monster Land's developer Westone, it's not clear that Jaleco did the same thing here.  Instead of Westone's name appearing in the credits, we see a copyright to NMK.  It doesn't seem possible that Jaleco could get away with "borrowing" the entire game, so I assume some money must have changed hands at some point?

And finally, some oddities:

United State Presidential Race: America Daitouryou Senkyo

Margaret Thatcher's wattle, rendered in all its 8 bit glory!

Yep.  That's the title.  "United State."  A 1988 US Presidential election simulation game, where one of the candidates is Margaret Thatcher?  The earlier games this most resembles are the stock market simulations; except instead of picking stocks you establish your position on various issues, and invest money in your campaign.

Gambler Jiko Chuushinha 

I hope you guys like mahjong games, because we have another 3 dozen or so to cover before Chrontendo's done.

A port of a slightly earlier computer mahjong game, based on a manga series you've probably never heard of.  Yet it was somehow popular enough to warrant a series of sequels that lasted up to the Playstation/Saturn era.  To summarize, it's a mahjong game in which the icons representing the players are borrowed from a comic book.

Kaijuu Monogatari

You're probably familiar with this game because you've already seen the Episode 37 preview.  If not: it's a Dragon Quest-y RPG from Taito that takes a great idea and ruins it through repetitiveness and blandness.  More specifically, the game begins with each party member separated in different parts of the world.  You can switch between them at will, and must level each up separately before meeting up and forming your party.  Sadly, Kaiju Monogatari is pretty dull, even by mid 80s Famicom RPG standards.

Moero!! Junior Basket Two on Two/Hoops

You might recall Jaleco's Moero!! Pro Yakyuu, released as Bases Loaded in the US.  Junior Basket is the latest in their Moero!! series, and is the first half-court basketball game we've seen.  Aside from the terrifying title screen seen above, it's not... half bad. (DYSWIDT?)

Samurai Sword

The first Famicom game in which you chat up a waitress in a bar.
Capcom does the whole menu-based adventure game thing.  While the production values are pretty good, the setting and story are not exactly inspired.  It also suffers from the same stifling linearity as other JP adventure games, since as Princess Tomato.  As a result, playing Samurai Sword feels less like puzzle solving and more like searching through menu options for the trigger actions that allows you to move forward.

Touhou Kenbun Roku

Another adventure game, Touhou Kenbun Roku is apparently the first game by Harvest Moon creators Natsume.  It's a "wacky" adventure game based on the travels of Marco Polo.  There's a brief but interesting musical digression during the segment covering this game.

Pachinko GP

AKA Pachinko Grand Prix.  Wow, "Grand Prix?"  It sounds like they took a pachinko game and tried to make it more exciting.  If that was the developer's intention, it didn't work.  Pachinko video games are still boring.

Takeshi no Sengoku Fuuunji

The third, that's right, third Famicom based on Takeshi Kitano.  And it won't be the last either.

And... that's it!  We're done for today.  I know this episode seems kind of terrible, but next time we will have a really cool and difficult game involving a ninja.  And after that we have a sequel to a popular RPG series from Square.  And then, we have a sequel to a Capcom game involving a small, blue robot boy.  So things are looking up!  Until then,  check out Chrontendo Episode 37 on Archive or YouTube.


Anonymous said...

Is Saiyuki World the game that was heavily "palette swapped" for western release as the Native American-themed "Whomp'Em"? Does that make it count as a different game that will be covered later on? Perhaps I should wait for the video to finish downloading (currently at 27%) to see the answers for myself? :)

Hooray! Ep.37 is here! Awesome news, Dr.S!

Chris Osborne said...

The lettering looks like they're going for some sort of leaning to the right 3-D effect.

I'm guessing the player is attempting a trick shot off the title and the basket is so small because there's nothing else really there to base the attempted perspective on.

At least they didn't go for the more traditional Japanese perspective style of haziness. I doubt that would have worked. Or maybe they did and we're seeing how it didn't work.

Kevin "k8track" Moon said...

Dr. Sparkle, you're like a crack dealer. I need my Chrontendo fix; I'm already starting to get the shakes again. I used to do a little, but a little wouldn't do it, so the little got more and more.

Unknown said...

Damn it! One of the things I was supposed to mention in the Saiyuuki World segment was that the sequel was reworked into Whomp 'Em. I completely forgot about that until right now. The other thing I forgot to mention this episode was the cancelled NES version of Deja Vu 2. Oh well....

So Chris, perhaps the guy is standing behind the title characters, throwing the ball forwards so that it bounced off the rear side of the exclamation points? And the ball is now traveling backwards towards the hoops, but the perspective is making the hoop look smaller than the ball? That is possible I suppose, but it's a very generous theory.

Garrett said...

Perhaps a final episode on unreleased games is in order? That, and the slowly burgeoning homebrew scene quite possibly deserve at least a mention once you hit the end of the road.

GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Also, unlicensed FDS gambling/porn games. I think this is very important.

Another solid episode. For my money, it's more entertaining to read about terrible, obscure games that we've never heard of than good games that everyone knows about.

Anonymous said...

I recently found your videos via Reddit and have spent hours watching them over the course of the past couple of days. They're ridiculously informative and entertaining; thanks and keep up the great work!

I have a question for you, but didn't know where to post it, so here goes: could you supply the artist/song names for the music you use in your videos? Like the intro, the transitions between games, etc... I've heard a couple of really interesting things that I wish I knew the name of.

Thanks again!

James Hogwood said...

Dr Sparkle,

Long time watcher, first time commenter. Thank you very much for creating this fascinating program! I admire your perseverance and I hope you will continue your project to the bitter end. I grew up playing most of these games and despite my continuing and life-long love of them I have learned a great deal from your comments and analyses. I have written many official strategy guides (Jade Empire, Knights of the Old Republic II, Final Fantasy VII, etc) and I really appreciate the scholarship and enthusiasm you've brought to your work. I would love to know more about the tools that you use. Keep up the excellent work! I will be watching! And thank you again!

kendra said...

Does that Presidential game use OMD's 'Enola Gay' as part of its soundtrack (about 3'12secs in)? There's something deeply weird about a Japanese game about a US Presidential race using a song that critiques the US decision to drop an atomic bomb on Japan in its lyrics!

GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Huh. Sure sounds like it, now that you point it out, but I'm kind of on the fence about this one. Maybe if we could hear more of the track, it would be easier to judge.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Good job! The bizarre thing is that while I was working on Chrontendo Ep. 37 my wife and a friend went out to see OMD. Her friend knows Andy, who actually wrote the song (I met him once myself.) The America tune caught my attention as sounding familiar and distinctive, but I didn't connect the dots.

Chris Osborne said...

Generous is what I go for.

As for the porn games, good luck with that.

Garrett said...

The Japanese are kind of notorious for "borrowing" popular Western music in their scores. In fact, the now-cancelled Dragon Ball Kai swiped music from places so prominent (Avatar and Terminator: Rise of the Machines) that Toei was forced to cop to it and replace virtually all of the music on Kai (even reruns) with stuff from Dragon Ball Z.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I think the game "Yuu Maze" is very similar, or practically based on this arcade edition Taito put out the same year called "Raimais". I was just playing it on the PSP "Taito Legends" disc and noticed the similarities...

Doctor Sparkle said...

I stone cold dropped the ball on Reimais. When I was picking out games for the 88 arcade game roundup, I passed over that one because it was too boring looking. I can't believe I didn't remember it when doing the Yuu Maze segment.

One of my favorite examples of Asian music borrowing is in Cantonese version of Bruce Lee's "The Big Boss"/"Fist of Fury" which blatantly incorporates pieces of Pink Floyd and King Crimson songs into the original soundtrack.

matt.mcneely said...

Another fine episode. I'm already anticipating the next one. About the guy's mouth/nose from the mahjong game you covered: I'm pretty sure that is supposed to be his mouth. It's a stylized cartoon representation to be sure, but a mouth all the same.

Just thought I would let you know that I've finished the shorter version of my documentary for submission for my class project. I'll be editing the longer version in the coming weeks and I still need to do a few minor things with the shorter one, but it's pretty much done. I'll put it up on Vimeo within the next few days here and I'll e-mail you the link. You are featured heavily in it as I've focused the short version specifically on the NES and it's legacy.


Cornervizion said...

Another good episode there Dr S, Particularly enjoyed the 1988 Arcade round-up too. Interesting fact about OMD's Andy, he wrote a very successful pop song for the UK girl-band Atomic Kitten called "Whole-Again" a few years back.

Anyway talking of soundalike tunes something caught my attention on Episode 36, The FDS game "Big Challenge! Dogfight Spirit" has level music which sounded awfully similar to Jaleco's arcade and Snes shooter EDF. The same team perhaps?

Kevin Moon said...

My favorite example is from one of my favorite Commodore 64 games, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which has a jaunty little tune. A few years later I bought the eponymous Madness album and discovered that "House of Fun" really sounded familiar. Sure enough, they were one and the same. I'm sure you'll cover this little tidbit when you get up to episode 236 of ChronC64 in February 2028.

And it was fully 20 years before I *finally* realized that the opening theme to Mario Bros. is the beginning of Eine kleine Nachtmusik!

Anonymous said...

"For my money, it's more entertaining to read about terrible, obscure games that we've never heard of than good games that everyone knows about."


Also, it's entirely possible that I'm blinded by nostalgia, but I really liked Assault and Vindicators! Granted I was 10 years old, but I played the shit out of both of those games, and thought they both offered a unique and more deliberate take on the genre than most.

Also glad to see you gave props to some other games from that year like Forgotten Worlds, Cabal and Ninja Gaiden- 1988 was as a whole a really great year for arcade games. Developers had been refining familiar genres for a few years at that point, so their experience coupled with hardware that could deliver really nice 2D graphics netted out in a crop of really excellent games (IMO, at least).

Anyhow, great work as always, and thanks!!

Unknown said...

Dr.Sparkle, do you have scripts for every episode of Chrontendo? I want to do translating on my language for russian audience, and if you would give me texts, it would help me so much in translation. Thank you in advance.

stewy said...

Just watched this today. RE: Saiyuuki World, Westone was pretty well-known for maintaining the rights to everything in their games outside of the actual characters - the publishers usually retained those rights.

That's why Wonder Boy and Adventure Island are the essentially the same game. They did it with Riot Zone/Riot City as well.

Great episode as always!

Roto13 said...

"walking through a door [in Deja Vu] requires two verbs, "open" and "move", and multiple button presses."

That's not really true. You can interact with certain things certain ways by just clicking on them without choosing a verb first. To go through a door, all you have to do is deselect whatever verb you have equipped (with B), click on the door once to open it, and click on it again to move through it.

I'm not sure if you've gotten to Shadowgate and Uninvited yet since this is the last episode I've watched, but that's something to keep in mind for those games.