Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Episode 38 Has Arrived

What could be better than a urinal constructed out of old SNES carts?  How about a new episode of Chrontendo!  Episode 38 is now available in a variety of exciting formats on, or in a fast, convenient, streaming version on Youtube.  Unless you're like me, and your ISP also provides on-demand streaming video, in which case your Youtube download speeds may have become suspiciously slow lately.

This new episode can be divided neatly into four parts.  The parts consist of: a) one classic NES games, b) a few "interesting" but non-spectacular titles, c) a bunch of crap, and d) the 1988 Computer Game Round Up.

I mentioned the Computer Round Up a few posts ago, so suffice to say that it's a reasonably long, high-level view of some of the highlights and lowlights of the world of computer gaming in 1988. It's a quick run through featuring adventure games, strategy games, "arcade" games, sports games, and role-playing games.  It covers Western games only, and focuses on US computers, but a few British and European titles find their way in.

As for our "great" NES game this episode, it's none other than Tecmo's Ninja Ryūkenden/Ninja Gaiden/Shadow Warriors.  Something I neglected to mention this episode was that, due to Europe's inexplicable dislike of ninjas*, the game was retitled Shadow Warriors over there.  And apparently the idea of masked assassins doesn't go down in Europe, since Ryu was depicted as maskless and shuriken-less on the box art over there.

Ninjas in Europe are required by law to walk around without their masks on.

Playing the game in the cold, hard light of 2011 makes me realize two things - that Ryu is a terrible ninja, and that Tecmo has padded out a six level game with tons of cheap deaths.  On the other hand, the much touted cinematic cut-scenes are still very impressive.  Seeing them in the context of other NES games of the time makes them even more so.  

A relatively peaceful moment in Ninja Gaiden.

Ninja Gaiden also confirms what we assumed about Tecmo after playing Rygar -- that they understand the differences between a good arcade game and a good console game.  Ninja Gaiden stands next to Bionic Commando as the most successful NES reworking of an arcade title.  Just like Capcom's game, the home version Ninja Gaiden is an entirely new game.  This is because it was developed separately from the arcade version, by a different development team.   The NES Ryu has been heavily wussified; his arcade counterpart was capable of performing the flying neck throw, a game breaking and conservation-of-momentum-defying attack.   Additionally, the NES Ryu has been given an angsty back story involving the death of his father, and even falls in the love with a bouffanted CIA agent.  The arcade Ryu is concerned with one thing only: handing dudes their asses.  That and escaping the slowly descending saw blade, I suppose.  Despite this, Ninja Gaiden's transformation from a relatively simple beat 'em up into an epic Castlevania clone resulted in a far more memorable game.  By the time the sequel rolled around, Tecmo had ironed out most of the kinks.

It turns out blowing up secret fortresses is pretty effective as foreplay.

Beyond Ninja Gaiden, there are no other games in Episode 38 that that I can reccomend without hesitation.  Still,  a few titles are worth taking a closer look at.

King of Kings

Daisenryaku + an RPG + a deck of cards = King of Kings.

No, not the Wisdom Tree game, silly!  This is an oddball military strategy game in the mode of Daisenryaku/Famicom Wars, except with elves and dragons replacing tanks and jet fighters.  The title "King of Kings" is a bit strange, especially when you consider the main bad guy is named "Lucifer."  Since the game was developed by Atlus, we can chalk this up as another example of their inappropriate use of religious figures in their games.

Godzilla: King of Monsters/Godzilla: Monster of Monsters

It always though that "atomic breath" should look more fiery.

Military strategy games were so popular on the Famicom in 1988 that Toho and Compile decided to make a beat 'em up that looked like a military strategy game.  You move Godzilla and Mothra around on a hex based world map, and then play a short sidescrolling beat 'em up level for each space that you moved.  It works quite a bit differently from most action games, since your character sprites are enormous, and taking tons of damage is unavoidable.  Luckily you have huge lifebars, so you can just sort of smash you way through the levels.  It manages to feel a bit "off,"  however.

Hanjuku Hero

Yet another military/strategic/RPG type thing, this time from Square.  The game has a comedic slant to it, though the humor will be lost on anyone not literate in Japanese.  Later titles in the series would be far more interesting, but a couple things are notable.  Namely, the game's great Nobuo Uematsu score, and the Egg Monsters that you can use in combat.  These would later find their way into the Final Fantasy series as Summons.

Alien Syndrome 

Believe it or not, the Master System version looked worse than this.

As with Fantasy Zone from Episode 20 , this is a Sega game published on the Famicom by Sunsoft (and later by Tengen in the US.)  Somehow the Famicom Alien Syndrome manages to be better and more faithful to the arcade game that the Master System version.

Totsuzen! Macho Man/Amagon

You may have already seen this game in the preview of  Episode 38 posted on Youtube earlier.  If so, you know I don't really care for this game, despite the fact that this seems reasonably well made.

Kaettekita Mario Bros.

Nintendo pimps Mario out to an instant noodle company.

A genuine Famicom oddity, courtesy of Nintendo.  This game, released for the Famicom Disk Writer, is a merely an improved version of Mario Bros. (originally seen back in Chrontendo Episode 1!), with some ads for Nagatanien noodle and rice seasoning products edited in.  I assume the president of Nagatanien and Hiroshi Yamauchi belonged to the same country club or something.  Even weirder, this version formed the basis for the Classic Mario Bros. game released in Europe a few years later.

In the category of less interesting stuff, we have the following:
Momotaro Dentetsu

A screenshot of Momotaro Dentetsu.  Or maybe this is from Tetsudo Ou.  I can't remember.

One of Hudson's longest lasting and most popular series, Momotaro Dentetsu (Momotaro's Electric Railway) is a take-off on Hudson's earlier Momotaro Densetsu game.  Instead of an RPG, it's one of those train-themed board games, much like Tetsudo Ou, from Chrontedo 26.

Family Mahjong II

Another mahjong game from Namco, apparenty developed by Nichibutsu/Nissan Busan.


Great... the ice cream cone is humping the trumpet.

Another US release from Nintendo and Rare.  This one's a "board game" in the style of Pictionary.  If you're wondering how Rare cranks out games so quickly, part of it must have to do with the fact that certain assets, such as the system for typing out your answer using the d-pad, are borrowed from earlier Rare games  -- Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! in this case.

Nakashima Satoshi: F1 Hero/Micheal Andretti's World GP

A weird and visually unappealing F1 racing game from Varie.  These things never seem to get released in the US, but for some reason Sammy licensed the name and likeness of Michael Andretti (Mario's son) and gave it a whirl.  I assume no one out there actually remembers this game?

Tantei Jinguuji Saburo: Kiken na Ninin

For the third Saburo game, Sunsoft used the same release tactic as Nintendo did for its adventure games.  They split it up into two separate disks and released them about a month apart.  For those who don't recall, the Tantei Jinguuji Saburo games are Portopia style mystery/detective adventure games.

Nankin no Adventure

Another adventure game, though this one is a humorous game from the obscure Japanese cartoonist Nankin.

Chuugoku Senseijutsu

Speaking of Rare, do you recall a weird old NES game called Taboo?  We'll be covering that in around 5-6 episodes from now.  In the meantime, this Jaleco release is sort of like the Japanese equivalent.  It's a fortune telling game based on Chinese astrology.

Jaaman Tanteidan Matonarikumi

More crapola from Bandai, once again based on a kid's TV show.  We covered its sister game back in Chrontendo 29.

We have now reached early December 1988, and in a few episode we'll finally get to 1989.  We'll see a couple big name releases in late 1988, but before we do that we're going to switch gears for a second.  The next episode up will be something that at least some of you have been waiting a while for.

Until then, check out Chrontendo Episode 38 on Archive or Youtube.

*See also: Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles


xaqar said...

Our family played a TON of Anticipation! I'd bet that I could still name a good chunk of the pictures before much was drawn on the screen,
Have to respect the multiple difficulty levels and the 4 player simultaneous play!

Anonymous said...

Lovely.... Thank you dr sparkle, the wait for this episode had me in a state of vituperative apoplexy that has thankfully receded.

This stuff is without doubt, my favourite content on the internet.

Also, when I was 8 I bought Ninja gaiden ( one of my maybe 2 or 3 games a year). On the way home I bought a videogame magazine called Total nes that gave the game 47%.

That shit sent me into a fairly sharp depression , I'l tell you that.

Laser Ghost said...

Me so happy! Will later write a better comment :)

Anonymous said...

Dr. S, you speak of Alien Syndrome being a rip off of the Aliens movies, but were you aware that there was an Aliens branded Alien Syndrome rip off?

Aliens: Thanatos Encounter was a 2001 Game Boy Color game developed by Crawfish Interactive and published by THQ. It added some of the survival horror elements that Alien Syndrome lacked, such as limited ammo. There were several characters to chose from, with statistics that positioned them along the classic "Strong/Slow to Weak/Fast" continuum. The first level bore a striking resemblance to the first level of the NES version of Alien Syndrome, if my memory is correct.

Unfortunately, Thanatos Encounter is not very good. Since you can duel wield weapons, the bullets shoot from the edge of your character. The aliens are quite fast and lining up just the edge of your sprite with them is frustratingly difficult.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

The best top down shooter I played was Shadow Company on the PC, I very much recommend it, if you like the genre. But don't get the Left for Dead Addon, it doesn't hold up to the original campaign.

The 60FPS Version of the video, combined with the high resolution, make a real feast for the eyes. It doesnt get any better than that, keep it that way.

Oh yeah, and I feel I have to talk about Zak make a relatively short review, which is okay, but I have to say, I love this game, and I think the story is brilliant. You will never get another game which ties together so much New Age shit, and has fun with it (the next best thing is Ecco the Dolphin). It takes myths of ancient machines stored on earth by aliens, strange chrystals which can teleport people or tranforms their minds into animals, fucked up labyrinths (which suck) in the face on Mars and multiple pyramids and ziggurats from mankinds history. Don't forget the two headed squirrel (I think a far descendant of the three headed monkey...) and the alien that dresses like Elvis in a spaceship over the bermuda triangle. I just realised the game is really strange.
And in the box was also a very cool newspaper with info to solve puzzles, which even today makes a fun read. It is an american version of the Sun, and the newspaper which the protagonist works for. If you have a remote interest in old-school adventures from the LucasFilm Games Age (in which you can die AND get stuck) try it out, it is really great.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Oh, and I just realised that the music in the japanese version of the Godzilla game is an 8-bit Verison of the Godzilla title-music from the movies. Thats fucking awesome.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see someone look past the cinematic aspects of Ninja Gaiden and openly acknowledge that its "just" good.

Although, I think its worth mentioning that Ryu controls pretty smoothly compared to most Famicom heroes of the day.

Laser Ghost said...

Ok, watched the whole thing twice, and liked it very much, but as an European buffoon grown up on C64, I need to say some things about computer gaming.
The fact is, computers had harsh time with "arcade" games, or any scrolling shoot'em ups. From the aspect ratio, to funky gfx color limits, and one-fire-button joysticks, it was a big achievement to code a fluid sidescroller. Armalyte is a good example of such a miracle, but as a game per se it's very different from it's console counterparts (same goes for Katakis, Slayer, Zynaps, Zybex etc.) Conversion of R-Type was coded in 3 months or so by guys who made a nearly perfect rip-off of the Irem's game (Katakis, which was later modified and re-released as Denaris). At least the gameplay was fluid and all 8 levels were present.
Still, adventure, role-playing and strategy games were (and still are, probably) the fundamentals of computer gaming.

So, waiting for next episode, I guess? :)

monomaniac said...

Another great episode, thanks so much for all the hard work you're putting into this.
Just one remark: I'm fairly sure that in the game title "Tantei Jinguuji Saburo: Kiken na Ninin" it should be "Futari" instead of "Ninin". That's how the Kanji are usually pronounced and also how the Japanese wikipedia entry calls the game.

Anonymous said...

downloading with my super slow bandwidth... thank you dr.!!!!

Anonymous said...

downloading with my super slow bandwidth... thanks you dr.!!!!

always looking forward for your videos...


Anonymous said...

double post...
sloooooow connection!!

elblanco said...

Awesome! Can't wait to watch it.

Thought you might also find this interesting

Doctor Sparkle said...

I took a look at clips of Aliens: Thanatos Encounter, and yes... there is definitely a resemblance to Alien Syndrome. I guess Sega was in no position to complain.

I have played through a good chunk of Zack McKracken but could never finish it. It's a nutty game, but it seemed to fall into an uncomfortable space between Maniac Mansion and the later games, where Lucas Arts hadn't quite perfected their formula yet.

As for Godzilla I can only assume that some kind of issue with the US rights to the first movie necessitated the goofy title change and deletion of Ifukube's famous Godzilla Theme.

Garrett said...

As Jon Pertwee taught us, bouffants are awesome.

DXS said...

I don't see any way to contact you on your BlogSite, and as i wish to send you a general letter, not aimed as a comment of any single episode, this is the best place I could find to stick it where you may actually see it...

Yet, it also far too large to put here... The character limit is far exceeded: If you're interested in some additional information, plus suggestions and history, please contact meat : design_by_xs (at) . I'm also going to put an open letter to you on FamicomWorld, so you can look for it there.

PaulNoonan said...

Excellent job as always. I have a soft spot for Zack. It was my first adventure game and had a good sense of humor.

TVel said...

Dr Sparkle-- a friend of mine just directed me to your website the other day knowing that I enjoy retro games (mainly NES 8-bit-- can't quite yank much enthusiasm over the games of today.) I decided to start from Episode 1-- I'm about 3 or 4 episodes in and really enjoying it. I wanted to drop a note to let you know you have a great series here and I look forward to getting up to speed and following as new episodes come out. But they main reason I dropped a note was because I saw you name dropped Dr. Strangely Strange in a previous post and I think that is incredible. LOVE that band. You don't often see folk enthusiasts with an interest in 8-bit games. Thanks!

kendra said...

I'm more of a Shirley Collins fan myself. now that's hardcore folk!

Doctor Sparkle said...

Yep, Dr. Sparkle is a bit of an fan of oddball UK folk music in the vein of Shirley Collins, Fairport Convention, Comus, Bill Fay - all that sort of stuff.

As for Kiken na Ninin/Kiken na Futari, I've seen it listed both ways on various sites. To me, it looks like the Japanese characters literally spell ni nin: 二人, but after checking around, it turns out "futuri" is consider the correct pronunciation for some reason I don't understand.

TVel said...

Hah, good show! Love all those bands and singers-- Shirley Collins is fantastic. What a voice! Comus; a truly unique and amazing act. Had the opportunity to see the ISB a few years back too-- no Robin but, still very good. Anyway, sorry for the off-topic. Thanks again for the very informative and highly entertaining chronology!

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm going to be the nerdier nerd this episode... In the 1988 computer game review, on the last game of the RPG section (Pool of Radiance), you asked what the Forgotten Realms were.

Forgotten Realms is one of the "worlds" or "universes" in D&D, created by Ed Greenwood and fleshed out over the past 20+ years by a ton of additional people. It's got its own set of rules, races, people, and places, its own magic and character class specifics, and its own pantheon of dieties. There are a ton of games, source books, and novels that take place within the Forgotten Realms setting. An example of another different D&D "world" would be Dragonlance. Hopefully this makes sense.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Well, yes, but if these realms are "forgotten," how is it that are so many books, games, etc, about them? It sounds like they should have called them The Exceptionally Well Documented Realms.

Jungman Jansson said...

I don't agree with the sentiment that home computers couldn't handle arcade ports or arcade-style games. The C64 and Amiga were certainly capable of (hardware supported) smooth scrolling and good sprite handling. As for the Amstrad, Spectrum and IBM PC - well, not so much, but then again the MSX has terrible scrolling and still has a lot of great versions of arcade games.

I think the real issue was development. Most European games were handled by small teams and done very quickly. That goes both for ports and original games. They just didn't have the resources of the large, professional Japanese developers, and the end results tend to reflect that.

And there definitely was a demand for arcade ports and similarly styled action games in Europe. Strategy games and RPGs were certainly popular as well, but they were rather more niche genres and not the driving force that they were in the US computer gaming market.

Jungman Jansson said...

Oh, and one more thing - the PC didn't truly emerge as the definite winner of the computer format wars (in terms of gaming) until the early 90's in Europe.

As far as I can remember, Doom was the final nail in the coffin. No Amiga at the time could do that, no matter how souped-up. Commodore's constant confusion with regards to marketing and hardware development (and eventual bankruptcy) didn't help things, of course.

The trend towards PC gaming had certainly been clear for quite some time, but the field was still pretty much open as late as 1991-1992.

And C64 games were widely sold in stores, both specialized computer stores and regular toy stores, until about the end of 1991.

killias2 said...

I usually agree with your comments, but I do think Ninja Gaiden is an unambiguous classic. I agree with you that the enemies are cheap (especially the respawning), the last level is absurd, and that getting sent back when dying at the final boss is truly, needlessly cruel.

That said, once you get good enough at Ninja Gaiden, there really aren't many games like it. You can basically run right through it, at a neck-break speed, and it's just an absolute joy. Ninja Gaiden 2, for all its strengths, slows down the action way too much in comparison. In Ninja Gaiden, the cheap enemies and respawning, -forces- you to keep going and running and remembering when to jump, when to attack, and when to use a special.

It's definitely a game that depends on memorization, but I don't care. Even more than Mega Man 2 or Super Mario Brothers 3, I love nothing more than a quick run through of Ninja Gaiden.

killias2 said...

Also, the music and the cut-scenes, while phenomenal taken by themselves, do a lot to encourage the sense of speed and pace. In a way, it's almost sort of like Sonic the Hedgehog, once you get good enough. Everything encourages speed, as well as making the right decisions at the right times. However, unlike Sonic, it's not automatic. It only becomes automatic as you get good enough at the game.

The pace set by the music and the frenetic cut-scenes is just the perfect accompaniment to the intensity in the main game.

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