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.


Anonymous said...

Woah woah woah, a new episode already?! What's the world coming to?

Downloading ASAP. This is not something I had expected!

Zaygne Torkmar said...

My my, this popped up pretty quickly. Your effort's expedience enthuses me.

Cornervizion said...

Happy 40th Episode Doctor Sparkle! I'll be downloading this shortly.

Discoalucard said...

Hey, isn't that baseball game the one that the Capcom guys were developing as their "day job" before devoting the rest of their waking hours to Mega Man 2? Was always curious about that. Looking forward to watching this!

xerxes said...

Oh yes, the weird BPS Tetris! Its backward-ass control scheme is (in my imagination) the Elektronika 60 original.

For the record, I saw the Matrix the day it came out, and LOVED IT. I thought it was a spoof of some kind. Only later did I understand why the goateed fellows two rows behind me were so disturbed by my laughter.

Raffa said...

As usual, happy, happy, happy, joy, joy, joy!!! Thanks Dr. Sparkle.
Maybe its time to relax now for a few days, we wouldn't want you to have a NES breakdown ^_^

360 Trooper said...

Oh Jesus, a game based on Legend of Galactic Heroes. You know, I liked the anime for the story, but it's about as action-packed as watching someone else play Stratego.

Samael said...

Akira is only famous in America because it was proof that animation for adults could compete on a technical level with Disney. The story suffers from being a chopped up recap of the manga - it's designed mostly to appeal to people who already read it.

Further wrecking it for American audiences is the translation, which could best be compared to throwing the script into Babelfish, and then adjusting the results until you could fool humans into thinking the movie was designed for them.

By the way, freezing time works great on the giant lasers in Mega Man 2.

Anonymous said...

Release out of nowhere! Awesome! New Chrontendo is always wonderful. Congratulations on 40 episodes, you're closing in on *two days* worth of content here (if you include Chronsega and Chronturbo, well over that!)

Teal said...

Not gonna lie, I giggled every time you discussed "Fireman"'s stage in Mega Man 2.

(the zippo lighter dude is Heat Man)

Doctor Sparkle said...

DA - Yes, Mega Man's developers were apparently working on Pro Yakyuu... simultaneously with Mega Man 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keiji_Inafune

As for "Fire Man," this is what happens when you get old. The first thing to go is the memory. Fire Man has a nice parallelism with Air Man, I guess.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Nice to see a new episode out before my 34th birthday!

Dr. Sparkle said...
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?

Well, it might be worth doing so. The Matrix of course combed it's inspiration from Megazone 23 pt. 1 otherwise, but whatever.

Samael said
Akira is only famous in America because it was proof that animation for adults could compete on a technical level with Disney. The story suffers from being a chopped up recap of the manga - it's designed mostly to appeal to people who already read it.

If anything, it did at least gave anime appreciation a slight boost in this country.

Further wrecking it for American audiences is the translation, which could best be compared to throwing the script into Babelfish, and then adjusting the results until you could fool humans into thinking the movie was designed for them.

And yet, some of us love that ol' dubbed version we first saw back then. The Pioneer one is OK, but not my cup 'o tea.

matt.mcneely said...

Another great episode. I especially enjoyed the break down of the controls for Skate or Die with the diagrams perfectly conveying the frustration you encountered.

I have to say I was a big fan of Akira in my youth. I haven't seen it since I was about 16 years old, so I suspect I might find it a bit convoluted and insane these days. Still, I think it features some creative and excellent art, animation, and a distinctive and cool sounding score. You can't take that away from it.

By the way, the green blocks in Super Sprint were, as far as I can tell, supposed to be bushes.

matt.mcneely said...

I just stumbled upon this. I wonder if the artist was inspired by your recent completion of 1988?


Doctor Sparkle said...

Matt - regarding the 1988 illustration, I suppose it's possible. Though it looks like he and I have some disagreements over the release year of WWF Wrestlemania and X-men. Wrestlemania will be appearing in Ep. 41, by the way. Now there's a thought to brighten everyone's day!

kendra said...

Another fun episode!
Since you are coming up to 1989 do you think you might have room at some point to mention one of my Ultimate Famicom Objects Of Lust - the Famicom Titler http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famicom_Titler
It was released in 1989.
So sexy! So expensive!

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Oh guys, bashing on Akira, how can you...I just recently saw the movie first time in English, and it still holded up very well imho, though I have seen hundreds of anime while I last saw it (in the far superior german version). That reminded me of a professor I once heard, whos first sentence was that she thought Tarantinos Pulp Fiction is extremely overrated (I saw that too a week ago...it still is a great movie).
Of course this is all subjective, I too heard some people liking Apocalypse Zero or Baldr Force EXE Resolution, which I hated with a great flaming ball of contempt.

Anonymous said...

Another great episode! I wish we lived in a world where someone was paying you to do this, and you could up the output to an episode a week. God...that would rock.

Dan Koch said...

Platoon. Egad, what a disaster. I had that for the C64, but the NES version is somehow WORSE. Like many C64 games (and the NES derivatives they spawned), the best part of that game is the opening screen and music -- haunting and evocative. The trouble only begins once you press the Start button.

It's been about four years since I last saw Akira. The plot itself is impossible to follow, but the animation is still gorgeous, and the inscrutability of the storyline provides a sense of alienation that meshes well with the hypnotic cyberpunk horror of the visuals. Just shut off the cerebral cortex and soak in the images -- analytical thinking will definitely not help your enjoyment.

Thanks for doing this, by the way! I admire the relentlessness and thoroughness with which you've pursued this whole ordeal -- it's an inspiration!

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

I think the narrative in the movie Akira (I haven't read the manga...) is not as bad as most people say. Okay, the first time you see it you're pretty stranded. But when you let some time pass, and discuss it with other peaople, and then see it again, I would say it is a pretty rewarding experience. Not every movie, or story per se, has to unfold completely after the first watching, sometimes you need some time so sort out what message is in it, and what you can take from it for yourself.
But before I start rambling about todays cinema and movies, lets just say: The american live action version which they are doing right now, will suck, believe me. I don't have much hope left in american cinema...

Anonymous said...

Your site is good...The kids are interested to play this game..

Safe online games

Anonymous said...

finally caught up from your first post, haha.

Your Japanese pronunciation seems to have improved; did you do some studying or something?

it is peculiar; meaning, i steam-rolled through your posts in a month or so. posts that spanned years.

now i must wait for your episodes, for the first time. ha.

Excellent episode, Sir. keep em coming.

elblanco said...

Love it!

It's been a while since a Chronturbo! Had to get my fix here.


Doctor Sparkle said...

I wouldn't say that I have I have been studying up on Japanese, but I am trying a bit harder. My pronunciation is a bit jacked up. On the other hand, my English, French and German pronunciation isn't so great, either.

Weird about the JP spelling of Ocarina. I guess Nintendo didn't care or thought the standard English pronunciation would confuse folks. How often do anyone use the word ocarina, anyway? Probably only when referring to that game.

xerxes said...

I can't believe the way I pronounce "ocarina' is correct (if not official?). Jeremy Parish convinced me otherwise through sheer repetition.

What's weirder is when a nonsense word gets different pronunciations in different countries. Like "Xevious."

PDT said...


It's not Fidel Castro, it's Ernesto "Che" Guevara (hence, the title).


Doctor Sparkle said...

PDT - So you think that is supposed to be Che, not Castro? To me, the facial features don't resemble either of them that much, but the short hair on top makes it look more like Castro. We almost always see Che depicted with longer hair. I'm not sure what to think now.