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!