Sunday, July 1, 2012

1989: Year of the Tigers

(Update: So the 60 FPS versions are up, but I have reports that the MP4 version does not sync the sound and video correctly when played in Quicktime. I have no idea why this is or how to fix it.)

After much blood, sweat, tears, screaming, crying and general unpleasantness, Chronturbo Episode 3 is finally here. This is the first "new look" episode in the Chrontendo family: the first step in an overall makeover for the series. Any changes will be (at least initially) limited to superficial things. Eventually, we see some updates to Chrontendo and Chronsega, as well.

As always, the connoisseur may download impeccable 60 frames/second h.264 versions on, or stream the 30 frames/second version on Youtube. Naturally, various flicker effects are lost in the 30 fps version.

So what's changed in Chronturbo Episode 3? There are new opening and closing sequences, for one. The little introductory sequences for each game are also redone, though they remain relatively unchanged.  I've added new graphics when a caption appears onscreen. Also, there is the aforementioned auto-ducking. Well, it's not literally auto-ducking, but I am adjusting the game sounds to be louder when I'm not talking, so the music can be better heard.  A number of games this episode have some pretty decent music, so its best that we should be able to hear it.

Chronturbo 3 is the first "full" episode of Chronturbo, with 16 games released from January through March 1989. As I mentioned earlier, the pace of releases for the PC Engine starts to pick up dramatically in 1989. Furthermore, NEC was able to do what Sega could not with its Master System: induce third party publishers to release game for the system. This episode features a mere four games from console creators NEC and Hudson. The rest are from outside companies, include seven publishers releasing their first game for the console: Irem, Data East, Sunsoft, Pack-in-Video, Face, Aicom, and Taito.

Still, the two best games end up being from Hudson.

This raises interesting questions about the food supply in underground dungeons.
Dungeon Explorer remains one of the best remembered games on the system. Developed by Atlus, it's an odd mash up of an RPG and a Gauntlet clone. Essentially, Dungeon Explorer is Gauntlet with some RPG elements thrown in. Just like Atari's arcade classic, the game is designed for simultaneous multiplayer, and most of the action involves wandering around top-down dungeons, killing endless hordes of monsters which spawn from portals. These portals must be destroyed to stop the monsters from constantly re-spawning. Unlike Gauntlet, Dungeon Explorer scatters its dungeons around on an overworld, then tosses in some NPCs and a rudimentary plot. Your characters permanently increase their power after defeating each dungeon's boss, so Dungeon Explorer has a simple leveling system.

It's a cool hack and slash game, and feels like a distant ancestor to Diablo. The music, in particular, stands out as catchy and memorable. DE is probably the first really good game from Atlus to be released in the West. What a shame that the US version had such amateurish looking cover art.

Why, NEC? Why!?!?
Military Madness

By early 1989,  military tactics games were quite common on the Famicom. We've already seen one such game, Gaia no Monshou, in Chronturbo Episode 2. Much better is Hudson's take on the genre, Nectaris/Military Madness. It closely resembles Daisenryaku and Famicom Wars in its conception. On top of the basic "move your units around kill stuff" gameplay, Hudson threw in a plot about a radical group on the moon threatening to nuke Earth, as well as an in-game manual.

Why did I feel a sudden twinge of solitary sadness creep over me?
As you may know from previous episodes of Chrontendo, Military Madness is the standard to which I hold all other early console military simulation games. I stand by my position today; it is by far the best such game we've seen in terms of execution.

Other Good Games:

It's not great, but it's miles better than Tiger Heli.
I've already mentioned that Chronturbo 3 features three shoot-em-ups. The best of these is probably Kyūkyoku Tiger, a Japan-only port of the arcade game we call Twin Cobra in the US. This is one of many shooters Toaplan was cranking out in the late '80s (Zero Wing, their most retroactively famous game, hit arcades in 1989).  There's nothing too terribly original or awesome to found in Kyūkyoku Tiger. It's just a reasonably engaging game in which you fly around a helicopter, blowing up tons of enemy aircraft, tanks and gun turrets. The PC Engine's hardware meant there could be quite a few projectiles on screen at once, though this version is still less hectic that the arcade original.

Hanii takes a bit of inspiration from R-Type here.
Another quite good, though very different shoot-em-up was Face's Hanii in the Sky.  Steeped in Shinto lore, Hanii features a heavily armed haniwa figure blasting its way though a variety of bizarre enemies. The main gimmick is your rotating cannon. This allows you to attack in all directions. While not the slickest or prettiest shoot-em-up on the system, Hanii is unusual enough to make it worth a look.

SonSon II

We have a lot of aggressive tigers this episode.

The first Capcom-developed game on the PC Engine,  SonSon II is a cute little action platformer in the Wonder Boy in Monster Land mode. I've already discussed it in some detail.

Space Adventure Cobra: Kokuryuuou no Densetsu

The most modestly clad woman in the whole game.
The only CD Rom Rom game this episode -- this Hudson produced title is based on a sci-fi manga/anime from Buichi Terasawa. The production values are pretty high; the art and music are great, and professional voice actors were used.  Space Adventure Cobra is also a harbinger of the future of NEC's consoles: it's an adventure game that features "mature" content. In this case, that means lots of women in skimpy outfits.


This screen shot depicts the mental image most people got when they thought of NYC back in the '80s.
1988's R-Type and R-Type II were published by Hudson. This makes Vigilante the first Irem published game for the PC Engine. I know Vigilante isn't exactly the best beat-em-up of the era, but this is a very accurate port of the 1987 arcade game. Some of the weird, suggestive signs in the first level have been cut off, however.

The Bad Games:

F-1 Pilot

The cars in F-1 Pilot feature hilariously over-sized side mirrors.
The very first thing this game does wrong is the title. Why is it called "F-1 Pilot" when this is a racing game, not a flying game? The second thing is the subtitle: "You're King of Kings." Even if you were the best F-1 racer in the world, calling yourself the King of Kings is pretty pretentious. The final mistake this game makes is being one of the worst racing games we've seen so far.

Deep Blue

Only five games from Chronturbo 3 were given US releases. Due to what must have been a serious clerical error, one of those games ended up being Deep Blue. I'm sure this game has its defenders due to its unusual play mechanics. It plays unlike most other games in the genre. Deep Blue overwhelms you with enemies but gives you a rechargeable health bar. In theory this sounds very intriguing, but actual game is so boring and repetitive that it approaches kusoge levels of badness.

Ganbare! Golf Boys

The main advantage PC Engine golf games have over Famicom golf games is the extra shades of green.
Absolutely no relation to Konami's Ganbare Goemon series, this turd from KLON and NCS is the second golf game released for the PC Engine.

The Rest:

Winning Shot

The first PC Engine golf game is a bit better than Ganbare! Golf Boys. It also happens to be the system debut from Data East. There's nothing here we haven't already seen on countless Famicom golf games, but at least the music is pretty nice.

Shiryou Sensen/War of the Dead

Another game where the cover art makes it look 1000% cooler than it really is.
A Zelda-ish action RPG that originated on the MSX2, War of the Dead is sometimes called the first survival horror game. Of course, identifying the first survival horror game is sort of like identifying the first rock 'n' roll song: for any nominee, someone will always point out an earlier example. Anyway, if the above description makes you want to try out War of the Dead, be prepared for an experience that is somewhat archaic and unpleasant. Still, this is an interesting game, in theory.

Moto Roader

Before you judge, please remember that graphics aren't everything.
A top down racing game for up to five players. In order to always have all five cars on the screen at once, the game employees some crazy rubber banding. Slow cars are forcibly dragged across the screen to prevent them from getting too far behind.  If nothing else, Moto Racer provides a nice counter example to the rule that Japan also gets the cooler box art.

Out Live

The entire game looks exactly like this screen shot.
Sunsoft's first PC Engine game is a first person RPG. Imagine a sci-fi themed Deep Dungeon in which you cruise around in a mech suit. Out Live is a very basic dungeon crawler, but the graphics make it look a lot cooler than the similar games we've seen on the Famicom.

Kaizou Chounin Shubibinman

Hey kid! Behind you!
A tokusatsu inspired side-scrolling action game. With its tiny sprites and extremely flat, linear levels, Shubibinman is basically a Famicom game with brighter colors.  Aside from that, it's noteworthy for its extremely generous hit detection.

P-47: The Freedom Fighter

A port of a Jaleco arcade game, released by Pack-in-Video on the PC Engine. P-47 is about the most uninspired, generic shoot-em-up you could imagine.

What's next on the schedule?  Let's see... oh, yes! It's Chrontendo 45. And then, we will probably move on to Chronsega 8, which will see some major changes to that series.

Until then, don't forget to check out Chronturbo 3 at Archive or Youtube!


drunkmessiah said...

Awwwwww hell yeah. This is how you should start a week.

Leandro"ODST Belmont Kingsglaive" Alves the devil summoner said...

gostei basatante

Anonymous said...

I don't think I would've taken you for a Woods fan, Dr. S

Helm said...

Thank you. I don't say it enough, Dr. Sparkle, but then you very much for your dedicated efforts. Superb coverage.

Discoalucard said...

You should get on Twitter, so we can properly @ you when we talk about how awesome you are.

Kevin "k8track" Moon said...

I would just like to chime in with the chorus of my fellow sycophants and say that you, Dr. Sparkle, are a demigod of badassery. And a very skilled blogger to boot. Don't ever leave this plane of existence until you've completed your sacred task on earth.

Anonymous said...

I am looking forward to a new Chron series. However, this will likely leave you numb after a proper episode, so take it on your own risk. How about ChronTOSE?

Also, will Chrontendo finish as soon as you hit Sunday Funday, the last release for the NES? Or will you continue with some homebrew games that have been released and published, such as Battle Kid or Nomolos: Storming the Catsle? That isn't a typo, that's the name of the game.

Be wary of the world of Homebrew games, as a good number of them could be mistaken for either Kuso-ge, that is, Japanese for "shitty game".

elblanco said...

Suffering from a sinus infection, and this completely turned around my mood. Awesome!!!!!

Iván Díaz Álvarez said...

I'm very happy to see another chapter on perhaps the most interesting 8/16 console ever :). I am catching up with chrontendo, but in this one I can comment on "real time".

When reviewinv Hanii you mention that turbo controllers were available on its release date, the truth is that the standard controllers had turbo capabilities from the start, with off/turbo when pressed/full turbo positions on the two action buttons.

I enjoyed very much the Cobra segment, last year I played both Cobras on original hardware and they are very fun and have superb atmosphere, at the ending of the first one you have a "dialogue maze" in which you fight the mental control of the big bad, this makes the game unwinnable if you do the "try everything in turn" method.

Kamiboy said...

Great work as always doctor. I must admit the sound track snippet you went with for the new Chronturbo intro could not have been more appropriate.

Speaking of dungeon crawlers, let alone first person ones. I know these were a very popular genre that still, regrettably, exert their influence on RPG's today. Yet, whenever I see one I have to wonder where the appeal lies.

Think about it. Going through square grid mazes and fighting monsters though a static menu like interface is like the most unimaginative person in the world's take on creating an electronic conversion of a board game.

No need to take advantage of the possibilities or powers of the computerized medium, no, nevermind gameplay mechanics, level design or all that. Just a straight faced conversion of paper mazes and still pictures of monsters which you fight using menu commands that might as well read "throw dice".

No wonder the average RPG design card today still reads F- when you look at how wrong a foot the entire genre started off on.

Anonymous said...

The 60 fps h.264 version's sound is out of sync again when watching via QuickTime, it's fine with eg. VLC.

Oh, and pilot really is an alternative term for F1 drivers.

Doctor Sparkle said...

I don't know why anyone would think I'm not a Woods fan. All I do every day is hang out in the forest and get high and stroke my beard contemplatively. It's the perfect soundtrack.

ChronTOSE? That's basically what Chrontendo already is! GDRI lists around 120 or so games for the Famicom/FDS. And that's just the ones we know about. They are far and away the predominant force on the Famicom. While homebrew games are interesting, I think covering those would expand the scope of the Chron- series further than I would like.

If I said that turbo controllers came out the same time as Hanii, I must have muddled what I was trying to say. That wasn't what I thinking. Whoops.

Leon - obrigado. (That's about the only word I know in Portuguese.)

Unknown said...

Awesome, more Chrontendo/Turbo/Sega/.

I discovered this series about 3 months back and have since worked my way through every edition (I think, maybe just most of them)

This is my favourite ongoing internet thing right now.

Kamiboy said...

By the way, the cover art for Dungeon Explorer might not have done much to sell the game to its target audience of north american toddlers. But upon closer inspection it might be considered quite artistic by art connoisseurs.

It certainly would not look out of place as a cubist piece adorning corporate walls nestled amid other divisive works such as a flat coloured balls and random lines.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Kamiboy - That's a very generous assessment of the Dungeon Explorer box art. I'll admit that it does have an Art Brut/Naive/Grandma Moses sort of vibe to it. Or maybe it was someone trying, and failing badly, to give it a comic book cover? Either way, I despise the DE box art. I wish I knew what the story was behind choosing that illustration.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Sparkle, like I said in your previous blog post, please, PLEASE consider saying this.

When a game by TOSE, ISCO, Micronics, or anyone else who qualifies to be called a "Japanese Contract Developer™" pops up in hopefully Chrontendo, it'd be fucking amusing to hear you speak out "If you have kuso-ge problems, I feel bad for you son. I have 99 problems, but a Japanese Contract Developer™ isn't one". A reference to the popular 99 Problems rap song, but I imagine you saying "isn't one" as opposed to "ain't one".

Kamiboy said...

Good doctor, some of the stuff hanging on the walls of my place of work make that Dungeon Explorer cover look like a masterpiece. What it is it about corporations and terrible art? It is hard to imagine anyone paying for such garbage.

Anywaste, if you are interested in knowing a bit more of the behind the scene workings at the North American side of NEC which contributed to the system being stuck in limbo you should listen to the two Victor Ireland segments of the podcasts linked below.

Ric said...

omg that game is epic, here is another epic retro game Helicopter Game

Lis said...

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