Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Episode 43 Hath Arrived!

Let me start by stating the obvious: after much delay, Chrontendo Episode 43 is available. You may stream it at Youtube, or get superior 60 fps h.264 versions on Archive.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a long episode; it covers the entire month of March, 1989 with a total of 20 games.  This "one month per episode" thing is not going to be permanent. Episode 44 will cover April, but will have quite a bit of bonus content since April, 1989 is light on games. 

Some interestintg comments were made about Famitsu magazine and their lists and game scores, as well as the overall issue of ranking games.  A little refresher about Famitsu's scoring: each game is reviewed by four people on a scale of one to ten. If a game receives four scores of 10, then it has obtained the "perfect" score of 40. In the past, Famitsu was very stingy about handing out perfect 40s. The only two games of the 1990's that received a perfect score were Zelda: OOT and Soul Caliber.  Since then, the perfect 40 has become more commonplace, with two or three a year not being uncommon.

For those who haven't seen it, I recommend this post on Magweasel, which translates a comic book conversion between Warp's Kenji Eno and Famitsu's Editor-in-Chief about the "fairness" or lack of fairness in the scoring system. It's quite informative about the magazine's philosophy behind the scores back in the 1990's.  Nowadays, or course, Famitsu gets chided for having loosened up its scoring process, and for handing out too many good scores, especially for popular games from major publishers.

How can you not trust a magazine with such elegant, understated cover design?

The same thing happens with Western gaming publications. Every time the new Uncharted or God of War game gets an A grade, accusations start flying around the internet. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, professional game publications rely very heavily on game publishers for content.  Interviews, sneak peeks at upcoming games, advance review copies.... gaming mags and websites depend on these things to be competitive in the marketplace. I'm sure game publishers try to leverage this dependence from time to time.

Secondly, let's face it: as gamers, as lot of us have some pretty big chips on our shoulders.  We have declared our loyalty to certain companies, genres, and series and we often despise other companies, genres and series. And we love nothing more than making our feelings known to as many people as possible. The online gaming community is not the most vituperative group of people on the internet (that would be Yahoo News commentators and grammar/punctuation/word usage Nazis), but we love to tear down games we dislike.

An interesting manifestation of this is that the usual critic/fan duality is almost completely reversed.  Film critics are often labeled by the general public as being too critical. Movies that make hundreds of millions of dollars often receive very bad reviews.  Game fans, on the other hand, accuse professional game critics of being too lenient.  A quick examination of the reviews on Metacritic will demonstrate this. The majority of user reviews for movies will be higher than critics' reviews.  In the game category, the opposite is true. Check it out. An interesting corollary of this phenomenon: if a game title contains the words "Call of Duty," the the user reviews will be a good 30 points or more below the critics' reviews.

There is a notable exception to this rule.  One thing the armchair game critic (i.e.: myself and most people reading this) loves above all else is to champion the misunderstood or unjustly neglected game. This is especially true among fans of niche genres such as JRPGs, shoot-em-ups, strategy games, etc. This generally involves taking a game that received middling to poor reviews and claiming the mainstream gaming press failed to adequately give it the attention it deserved. Perhaps the game critics simply failed to understand the game or didn't devote enough time to it. Or perhaps only the hardest of the hardcore gamers are perceptive enough to realize the truth: that some obscure game that received bad reviews is actually far better than that popular game everyone is talking about. At its worst, the practice becomes a form or Armond White-ism.

Unfortunately, the above rant doesn't leave that much space to discuss Episode 43's content. Here it is in a nutshell: we have four adventure games, a few arcade ports, and a bunch or crap.

Deja Vu, with monsters.

The most notable games this episode are Jesus: Kyoufu no Bio Monster and Shadowgate. Both are menu-driven adventure games originally released on computers. Both involve wandering around confined, isolated environments.  Neither are known for having intuitive puzzles. Beyond that they differ quite a bit. Jesus is very character driven. The protagonist, a typical pink-haired, anime bad-ass, is frequently depicted onscreen, along with his jailbait keyboard-playing girlfriend and her neurotic pet robot.  In Shadowgate, your character is never shown and has virtually zero interaction with anyone else. In fact, there are hardly any other human beings in the game, other than a wizard who appears at one point with some advice.

You literally rock the monster to death!

Shadowgate loads you down with inventory - several menu screens worth - and then challenges you to figure out what to do with it. Most rooms require you to use an item in your inventory to open a door, kill a monster, or simply obtain another item.  Shadowgate never tells you how to use any of the items, so a lot of guesswork is required. Jesus, on the other hand, gives you very little inventory; instead you advance by examining your environment and trying out dialog options until you activate the hidden trigger to advance the plot. Also, you rarely (or perhaps never) die is Jesus. Shadowgate offers an astonishing array of deaths; there's a way to die on almost every screen.

You will probably see this a few times.

Shadowgate, being the first port of a computer adventure game on a console is fondly remembered in the US. In Japan, the Famicom version is considered to be kusoge. Once again, Magweasal helps explain this by translating some of the game's overwrought Japanese text.

Ankoku Shinwa: Yamato Takeru Densetsu

This is a very weird adventure game published by Tokyo Shoseki that was originally on the MSX. It's based on a manga and the story revolves around pre-Nara era Japan (essentially, it takes place in prehistorical or "legendary" Japan.). Despite there being an unofficial English translation the story is pretty hard to follow.

Hikari Genji: Roller Panic

This is the joker in the deck - an adventure game that stars a horrible, rollerskating Japanese boy-band.  I'll just repeat what I said the episode itself. This makes Noriko for the PC-Engine look like a work of genius.

Also, arcade ports!

Rolling Thunder

It's never explained why they need all those sandbags.

This is Shinobi before there was Shinobi, except it's by Namco, not Sega. The arcade game was pretty cool, but something is just not quite right about the home version. It's not terrible, its just that when playing Rolling Thunder I kind of wish I was playing Shinobi instead.

Afterburner II/Afterburner

Something was lost in the translation, it seems.

Speaking of Sega, for some stupid reason, someone thought it was a good idea to try to put Afterburner on the Famicom. On the postive side, this is the last Sega game that Sunsoft would port to the Famicom. Hopefully, we'll soon be seeing less stuff like this from Sunsoft and more stuff like Gimmick and Batman. Tengen released this on the NES in a slightly altered form.

Operation Wolf

Not the prettiest game on the NES

Maybe I'm just getting less patient with ports of arcade games that aren't rejiggered to make them into appropriate console games. Capcom and Konami have learned to do this. Taito apparently hasn't.  There's nothing wrong with Operation Wolf, aside from the fact that its simply a lamer version of the arcade game.

Marble Madness

March 1989 sees the debut NES games from Milton Bradley.  Naturally, they are developed by Rare.  Unlike Operation Wolf and Rolling Thunder, the NES Marble Madness looks almost exactly like the arcade game.  Unfortunately, Marble Madness without a trackball is an exercise in frustration.

John Elway's Quarterback

Again, there's nothing inherently awful about this game. In fact, if we hadn't just covered Tecmo Bowl, I might have been impressed with John Elway's Quarterback. However, timing is everything. This port was developed by Rare.

World Games

This is how you will feel playing World Games.

This is a port of a computer game instead of an arcade game. But do you want to guess who was responsible for this port? Rare, that's who. Yes, all three US-only games this episode were handled by Rare.

The rest:

Putt Putt Golf

A wacky golf game on the FDS from Pack-in-Video

Home Run Nighter: Pennant League!!

Another baseball game?! Oh, god, when will they stop? This one is Data East's attempt at a Family Stadium/RBI Baseball clone.

Family Pinball/Rock 'n' Ball

The umpteenth game in Namco's Family sports series takes a slightly different approach than most pinball videogames.  There are four pinball games found within. The most creative is a double-ended table in which gravity is reversed at the midpoint of the table. The least interesting is a pachinko/pinball hybrid!  Namco wasn't releasing NES games in the US at this point, so NTVIC stripped all the Namco references out and renamed it Rock 'n' Ball.

Jajamaru Ninpou Chou

This is the fifth title in Jaleco's Ninja Kun/Jajamaru series. The previous entries were action platformers, but Jaleco suddenly decided to switch genres, and Jajamaru Ninpou Chou turns out to be a Dragon Quest clone! Jaleco planned to release this in the US under the name Taro's Quest. The localization was at least partially completed, but Taro's Quest ended up being cancelled.  An unfinished beta cartridge later turned up and was made available online.

Bakushou!! Jinsei Gekijou

Another Jinsei game. That is, a video game based on the Milton Bradley's board game, The Game of Life.  Get used to Jinsei games, because they remain popular in Japan up to the present day.

Sakigake!! Otokojuku: Shippu Ichi Gou Se

What is going on with that guy's left leg?

A dreadful beat-em-up from Tose and Bandai, based on a hyper-violent anime series. It is, however, better looking than Hokuto no Ken.

Hayauchi Super Igo

An igo game from Kemco.

Matsumoto Tooru no Kabushiki Hisshou Gaku 2

The sequel to last year's stock market simulation game. The sequel is much expanded, and even features some unusual stuff for a simulation game, such as first person mazes.

SD Gundam World Gachapon Senshi - Scramble Wars Map Collection

This is not a new game, but instead a collection of new maps for Bandai's robot-filled strategy game.

What's up next? Good news for the handful of Chronsega fans out there. Chronsega Episode 7 will take us into 1989 and the end of the console's life in Japan. This epsisode won't take so long, I promise.


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

Awesome. Looking forward to watching it. But I'm REALLY excited about episode forty-four, 'cause unless I miss my guess, it's time for GARFIELD! OMG!

Rodneylives said...

"Unfortunately, Marble Madness without a trackball is an exercise in frustration."

Actually I disagree, Marble Madness is nearly always easier in console versions than in the arcade. Trackballs are actually pretty tricky to manipulate with skill, you can bang up your hands pretty badly in trying to impart good speed to the ball -- either that or the Marble Madness machine I played long ago had weak sensors. On a console, there's usually a button you can hold to impart more force to the ball, and often the game helps by mapping straight directions or diagonals to precisely match the straights of the courses.

A good middle ground between playing with a digital joypad or joystick and the arcade's trackball is the version in Midway Arcade Tresures, which uses analog joystick controls in each console incarnation.

Sean697 said...

I don't know if I'm happier I get to watch a new Chrontendo episode tonight at work or that Chronsega 7 is next. The occasional Cronsega or Chronturbo break really makes me appreciate the Chrontendo episodes more when you come back to them as as I can get famicom overload watching too many in a row. And I have to disagree with John. The finesse and control with marble madness with a track ball cannot be matched with a control pad. Just the more directional axis of movement you get over a pad is vastly superior. Try and emulate the game in MAME and use a PC joypad and then a trackball mouse and you will see a huge difference in playability.

T. Ryan Arnold said...

yay! I can`t watch to watch this baby.

ShaneWM said...

New Chrontendo! Keep up the good work. :)

ShaneWM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Control Marble Madness with a trackball on MAME? Who has trackballs nowadays? I though they died out long ago, like the 3-Button Mouse with no wheel, or the Gamepad without Analog-Stick(s). Marble Madness can be controlled precisely and well with the NES Pad, just watch the speedrun on SDA with awe:

InsaneDavid said...

Trackball all the way for Marble Madness.

Any arcade game with poorly maintained controls will be difficult to play, regardless of the input method.

The Professor said...

Sweet baby Jesus (Dreadful Bio Monster), I couldn't be more excited! An 82 minute episode? That has to be the longest to date. Can't wait to get home and kick back with this.

Raffa said...

Aiyaa, the doctor's back in full effect!!
Thanks for No.43, really been looking forward to getting my mittens on it, cheers ^_^

EarlThird said...

Excellent episode as always, Doctor. I'm looking forward to Chronsega, I'm anticipating the way that series will go, as the Master System seemed to flourish in markets that seemed increasingly unlikely (First...Europe? and then...Brazil?), which makes for an odd library of games.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

What do you mean by markets that are "increasingly unlikely", especially with europe? Good economy, strong interest in technology, and a youth that tasted C64 computers and ZX-Spectrums. The NES was succesful over here, why shouldn't the Master System?

kendra said...

Whatever control issues Marble Madness has, it still has one of the best soundtracks, and full marks to Rare for the conversion in that department
(p.s. Retronauts just gave you another writeup on their blog, doc!)

Kevin "k8track" Moon said...

Once again, a top-notch episode from the premier video game vlog (or is it vblog?) on the internets today. I thoroughly enjoyed it. You continually prove that you can still make something interesting, entertaining, and informative even from the most mediocre of games.

My favorite quote from the episode:
"Also, the hand rolling the dice looks sort of... inappropriate."


qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

A message from our friends at Retronauts:
To put it in one sentence I just repeat the Headline from the Blogpost: Drop What You're Doing and Start Watching Chrontendo!
I will surely do that =)

MrB said...

Actually, I kind of liked Ankoku Shinwa... seems pretty atmospheric to me. Apart from that, there aren't too many remarkable games this time... but hey, you've only scratched the surface so far. ;) Good job, as usual. :)

Chris Sobieniak said...

I recall beating Marble Madness on the NES a few times myself!

In actuality, the origins of pinball itself came from a French game called "Bagatelle" which involved the ball being shot into scoring holes on the field. The elements that became the standard in pinball from the mid 20th century onward wasn't present in those early pin games, and many games also often was used for gambling purposes as they were often seen in bars.

There's a pretty good documentary in pinball's history up over at YouTube for anyone to check out called "Pleasure Machines: The History of Pinball".

matt.mcneely said...

Another great, and atypically lengthy, episode!

I have to say, you have a way of elegantly and succinctly cutting to the heart of an issue. The whole video game review kerfuffle that has sprung up recently had me thinking about the issue a great deal. Your take on it seems more reasonable than most everything else I've seen written on the subject of late.

@ Kevin "k8track" Moon: I agree with your favorite quote; the moment I saw that hand I snickered to myself.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Well, I'm not surprised that the console version of Marble Madness has some supporters. It would be entirely possible to become acclimated to the d-pad, but as someone who was used to the trackball, I found the d-pad really hard to handle.

And Chris, good point about bagatelle and the related "rolling a ball around" games. It didn't cross my mind at the time, but I realize now that Marble Madness had a real world analogue that was quite popular at the time: those ball bearing in a maze things, aka Labyrinth. You moved around the ball by tilting the axes using two knobs. I don't know if kids still play with those things, but they were considered totally dope back then.

As for Retronauts, it's good to see my "gifts" to 1UP of cash and Colombian blow are finally paying off!

Kevin "k8track" Moon said...

When I was a kid, I inherited an old bagatelle game (which my family and I always called "bagtail") that I loved and spent much time playing. Every so often over the years I've taken it out and rediscovered the simple fun of playing it all over again. I still have it to this day and it is in excellent and very playable condition. It is inaccessible at the moment (it's stored away in my attic and I am in South Korea for the year), but I managed to find a picture of the exact kind I have at this blog (the first picture):

I could see myself collecting these things if I ever came across one; someday I'd love to have deep pockets and the time and mojo to build up a nice (electro-) mechanical game collection, but for now, I must be frugal and pragmatic with my purchases.

Andrew said...

Hey, man. I just wanted to say that Chrontendo is an incredible blog/video series.

1Up's Retronauts exposed me to it,and I've been watching your archives for days.

Superhuman effort right here. Keep em up!