Sunday, September 9, 2012

Episode 45

So here is the "official" post announcing Chrontendo Episode 45. As detailed earlier, my computer is having issues, but I was able to successfully render and upload Ep. 45 on Youtube.  The fancy 60 fps h264 version is now available on Archive.  In a day or so, I'll put up an MKV version for those of you into the kinky stuff.

I was working on my PC today and at this point, I've narrowed it down to the hard drive or the Windows install. I had Windows 7 installed on an SSD.  I'm not sure how stable SSDs are at this point. Mine is from Crucial, whom I thought was pretty reliable, but if I need to replace it, I might go with something else. For the time being, I popped in a different hard drive using the same SATA cable as the old drive and made sure everything was working normally. Then I installed the video card drivers to rule that out as an issue. At this point, everything is running smoothly.  Tomorrow, I do a fresh Windows install on the old drive, which will determine whether its the problem is in the drive itself. I'm glad there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the motherboard, since that would be the most work to replace. On the other hand, if the graphics card was the problem, that would have been a really good excuse to get a better card. Maybe I'll replace it "just in case." Skyrim at 80 fps, here I come!*

Thanks to everyone how offered advice, help, etc. I must say that I'm always amazed at the fine caliber of people who read this blog. Sometimes, after reading comments on Chrontendo, I force myself to read comments on Yahoo News, just remind myself how truly awful humanity is.

The big bonus feature this episode is a look at the tangled history of Tetris, leading up to the release of Tengen's Tetris for the NES. In case you don't know the story, Tengen, the division of Atari Games responsible for releasing NES carts, published a port of Tetris in mid 1989. They were taken to court by Nintendo, who also claimed the US rights for Tetris on the NES. The result was Tengen's version being pulled from the shelves almost immediately after it was released, and Nintendo publishing their own NES Tetris later in the year. Tetris was just one of several legal battles between Atari and Nintendo in the 80s/90s, but the results were quite devastating for Atari.

I declare Tengen's Tetris to be Episode 45's MVP game. I like it quite a bit better than Bullet Proof's Famicom Tetris (covered in episode 40), which had a weird control scheme. The Tetris cart released by NOA later in 1989 was pretty decent, but lacked some of the features of the Tengen version, such as two-player head-to-head. The Tengen game is generally regarded as the best of the three.

The other 'big' game (though not necessarily a great game) is Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Gekikame Ninja Den in Japan, or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, in Europe. Europe generally dislikes ninjas for some reason. This game is not based on Konami's famous arcade beat-em-up with the same title. Instead it's a side-scrolling action platformer, with bits of top-down action thrown in. It resembles Konami's earlier Getsufuu Ma Den in some ways. Konami was probably in a bit of a rush to develop this thing, and as a result, the game isn't up to the same standards set by other huge Konami hits like Contra or Castlevania. Naturally, TMNT sold like hotcakes, though it now lives in the shadow of its much better sequels.

Also in Ep. 45, we get a decent baseball game from SNK. Baseball Stars/Baseball Stars - Mezase Sankanou!! is a realistic style simulation game, in which you create teams, leagues, earn money from games, hire and fire players. There are tons of baseball games for the Famicom/NES, and I'm getting quite tired of them, but Baseball Stars is pretty impressive. A few years later it would get a sequel on the Neo-Geo.

Even Capcom is cannot resist the popularity of RPGs on the Famicom. Earlier, we saw a Japanese style adventure game from Capcom, Samurai Sword. Now we have the Dragon Quest inspired Tenchi o Kurau/Destiny of an Emperor. Instead of the typical fantasy setting, Capcom has licensed the rights to a manga based on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The most unusual thing about Destiny is the amazing number of recruitable party members - around 100!  Most of them are quite worthless, and there is no attempt to give any of them any sort of back story or personality (unless you are familiar with the source material.) I can't quite call Destiny a complete success, the fact that there is really only one type of enemy (soldier dudes) makes random battles a bit dull, but it is otherwise an ambitious and forward thinking game.

Another game that I couldn't like as much as I wanted to is Culture Brain's Little Ninja Bros. The Japanese little, Super Chinese 2, reveals its status as a sequel. The first game, an arcade port known as Kung Fu Heroes in the US, was covered in Chrontendo Episode 9. The sequel takes the first game and uses it as the basis for the random battles, while building an RPG around it. Just like Culture Brain's earlier Magic of Scheherazade, Little Ninja Bros features lots of colorful characters. funny dialog and great artwork. It also has a really great musical post-credits sequence.

Quinty/Mendel Palace, or "Mendel's Palace" as I call in this episode, is notable for the being the first game developed by Game Freak, future creators of Pokemon. It's a very good action/puzzle game. The Japanese release was by Namco; over here, it was published by Hudson. Neither the Japanese nor the US name makes any sense.

The Bad:

There is really nothing too terrible in Episode 45. Or maybe I'm just feeling more generous as I get older. A few games should be singled out for being really ugly.

Meitantei Holmes: M-Kara no Chousenjou

Almost immediately after A Week of Garfield, we are treated to another Towachiki game. This is the third Sherlock Holmes from Towachiki, and the second to fit snugly into the Portopia clone genre. It's a little better looking than its predecessor, but this is still falls near the bottom of the Japanese murder mystery adventure game pile.

La Salle Ishii no Child's Quest

Released only a couple days before Quinty, this is a wacky Namco-published RPG based around a Japanese media/TV personality named La Salle Ishii. Also called Lasa-R Ishii or Rasaaru Ishii, in this game he manages a one boy, two girl pop band. In order to make it big, the band travels around a Dragon Quest style overworld and engages in random battles with innocent civilians and police officers. Well, you don't literally fight these people, but rather try to win them over to your cause. Maybe you should just check out the Quinty/Child's Quest trailer.

Other games:

Datsugoku/P.O.W.: Prisoners of War

I really wanted to like this game, a beat-em-up from SNK.  It could be described as Rush'n Attack crossed with Double Dragon.  I was not able to get past the impossible second boss, so I'm withholding judgement on this game.

Famicom Tantei Club Part II - Ushiro ni Tatsu Shoujo

Nintendo is just about the only major publisher still releasing FDS games at this point. Even so, they are now only using the FDS for their adventure games.  This is a prequel to the first Famicom Tantei Club and was popular enough to get a Super Famicom remake years later. It was produced by Gunpei Yokoi and was co-developed by Tose.

Kabushiki Doujou

Speaking of Tose, they did the artwork for this stock market simulation game from Hect. At least Hect has a sense of humor about the subject: your stock market master is a white bearded old guy who looks more appropriate for a Karate doujou than a stock market doujou.

Big Challenge! Go! Go! Bowling

The fourth and final entry in Jaleco's ill-fated "Big Challenge" series of FDS games. The first three were sort of lame as well: we had a Sumo game, a very simple shoot-em-up, and a wild west themed horizontal run-and-gun. This one is a passable bowling game.

Kaettekita! Gunjin Shogi: Nanya Sore!?

Another game with excessive punctuation in the title. "Gunjin" shogi is a variant of shogi played with the tiles upside down. It pops up in video game form in Japan from time to time. As an astute commentor pointed out, its clearly related to the game known in the west as Stratego and in China as Dou Shou Qi. Among your opponents will be a gangster wolf and a beret-wearing Hitler.

SD Gundam World: Gachapon Senshi 2 - Capsule Senki

Earlier in 1989 we saw a fake sequel to SD Gundam World, the "Map Collection" for the FDS. We finally have a real sequel, but its more of less the same game. One improvement is that its now on a cartridge and thus missing the long loading times. For those with short memories, the SD Gundam Gachapon games are irritating military tactics games.

Murder Club

We barely cover this murder mystery adventure game, since it received a fancy port to the PC Engine a little later. That version even came out in the US as JB Harold Murder Club. I will point out the game was designed by one Rika Suzuki. She's still around today, making games for Cing like Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Trace Memory.

What's up next, you ask? Chronsega episode 7, which will see a major change to the Chronsega series. 

*Just kidding. There's no way I'll ever have time to play Skyrim.



Kamiboy said...

The more of these Portopia or Dragon Quest clones I see the more it cements my long standing opinion that genres are the tumors of the game design field.

When you get down to it a genre is something that comes about when someone hits upon a fresh concept which upon popularity is shamelessly copied into an army of soulless clones. These of course carry over the genetic skeleton of their progenitor in a most painstakingly straight faced manner, warts and all.

This tumor like growth begin benign enough because at the onset there are just as many creative original takes on the philosophy behind the concept at hand to offset the negative of all those straight faced clones.

But for reasons relating to the hideous hit based nature of the business the clones always win out in the long run by sheer force of numbers.

The tumor then grows inoperable when the people who grew up on the clones grow up, grow nostalgic and start making clones of their own. At this point the warts and inadequacies of the progenitor become dogma, and when they do then how dare you ever question them. You'll feel the nonsensical wrath of nostalgia is you should ever attempt do.

That is how to this day we are still getting menu based RPGs and basic Portopia derivatives still coming out without any evolution or rethinking of the archaic or just plain erroneous beginning of each genre. They might have 3D graphics now, but they still play like something from 30 years ago, and not even something good from then at that.

Sure, every decade or so you get a Vagrant Story, Dark/Demon's Souls or Deadly Premonition to blind the ignorant cave dwellers with its intolerable eye searing brilliance.

But gaming gods damn it, cant we please at least have one measly single title of such pedigree every year among the horde of clones bearing 30 year old archaic game design?

Just one okay, please? I am bored.

Anonymous said...

I'll never get the love for Tengen's Tetris. I actually think Nintendo's version feels much better to play purely gameplay-wise. It doesn't have 2-player, but really, neither does Tengen's version. Sure you can play two at the same time, but you're not actually playing against each other. You're basically just playing two separate games of Tetris on the same screen. Nothing one player does has any significance to the other player, like other Tetris games where you send rows to each other. Even one player topping out doesn't end the game. The other player just continues to play while the one who topped out just restarts. That's the awesome 2-player Tetris everyone is talking about?!

And then I haven't even mentioned the bad random block generator which will frequently give you 3 or more of the same block in a row, forcing you to misplace one of them in many occasions.

No I think Nintendo's game has better balanced gameplay. It just feels better to me to play for some reason. It's not without it's flaws though, of course. No 2-player mode is really a downer, and the random block generator while better than Tengen's, is far from perfect.

Tengen Tetris is leagues above BPS's first Tetris game though, no question about it. But Bullet-Proof Software actually made my favorite NES Tetris with "Tetris 2 + Bombliss". It only came out on the Famicom, but it features a 2-player mode that's more thought out than Tengen's. And the gameplay allows for a very fast playstyle. The blocks don't jump from row to row like both Nintendo and Tengen Tetris does, but smoothly descends pixel by pixel. Blocks also don't immediately lock into place when they touch the ground. Instead they slide around a bit before locking, a bit like the Tetris: The Grand Master games does. This is what allows for really fast gameplay. Of course the gameplay isn't nearly as perfect as the TGM games, but it's definitely my favorite NES Tetris game. The music could be more catchy though.

The only thing Tengen's Tetris has going for it in my opinion is that it's an unlicensed game which is kind of rare these days. And it has some fun music.

ShaneWM said...

Glad to hear the computer repair is moving forward. Chrontendo is amazing, keep up the good work!

Unknown said...

Great to see you back in full force Dr. S.! Just my two cents - but I wish I had the ability to show you how excellent Battle of Olympus and TMNT really are. I say this for no other reason than I think you're missing out (if that's arrogant please excuse me!).

Keep up the insanely great work - yours is a voice I shall always respect.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deu├čer said...

If anyone of you people is interested in why the Turtles were referred to as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles in Europe, it has a short and stupid history...the word Ninja actually was censored in the UK Version, I think some Brit got assassinated by a presumable Ninja in the 80s, or people thought it was one...however, every other country in europe used the UK Material for their own localization, so they are the Hero Turtles over here. The words censorship got lifted sometimes in the second part of the 90s I think, but it is still pretty weird. Not that the Turtles wouldn't be enjoyable as the Hero Turtles...

klarthailerion said...

Italy, at least, used Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as the title (which is pretty weird, considering Italy was in PAL region "A" along with the UK.. it'd have made more sense if they were in region "B" along with Germany)... here's a cartridge scan to prove it:

klarthailerion said...

Ugh, that link doesn't work... go to this search first, then click on the Italian release:

Phronemophobia said...

I just recently found Chrontendo by chance while searching for something else on Google, so this was the first episode I've actually watched. I'm now going to have to find the time to watch the other 44 episodes. This is not only interesting, but it's also an excellent way to help me create a list of NES titles I might want to add to my collection.
Thank you very much for these videos.

Fleedar said...

I came across Chrontendo about a month ago and I've been watching about an episode a day since then. It's going to be really tough having to wait for future episodes once I'm up to date. I really admire your dedication and I appreciate all the work you put into this show. Thanks a lot!

Jonothan said...

Speaking of people watching Chrontendo, the independant game store in my town often has Chrontendo running on the big monitor behind the counter; it's always nice to see it when I go in to browse the DS games.

Jonothan said...

Speaking of people watching Chrontendo, the independant game store in my town often has Chrontendo running on the big monitor behind the counter; it's always nice to see it when I go in to browse the DS games.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Wait a sec, so some British dude was actually killed by a ninja, and that's what started the whole anti-ninja thing? I assumed they just figured ninjas were bad role models for kids.

Sean - A lot of folks seem to like Battle of Olympus. Some folks also like furry porn or Homestuck. It's a disturbing world we live in.

Jonothan - Really? That seems really strange. Is that like record store clerks playing Derek Bailey to drive away customers?

Coincidentally, I just bought a copy of Deadly Premonition. We'll see if its really as good/weird/terrible as they say....

Unknown said...

Well Dr. S... I don't know what either if those things are so I guess you win this round.

Anonymous said...

Jonothan - What store did you see Chrontendo in? I Actually introduced my cousin who owns a video game store to Chrontendo and would love to hear that his playing it in-store has actually gotten people to watch - the series is such a fantastically interesting retrospective.

Dr. Sparkle, thanks for doing this and keeping up with it over such a long period of time. Your time and devotion to the series is quite frankly an inspiration, not only to play the overlooked gems of the Famicom/NES, but to see such an undertaking done by one person is an inspiration on its own. Thank you for spending your time documenting the Famicom, SMS and Turbo-Grafx 16. It's very much appreciated!

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

All I have to say about POW is this: when I was in elementary school, we had to come up with what was somewhat loosely termed a "rap." My friends and I chose to write about Nintendo games, resulting in the following couplet: "There is this game that's called POW/Whenever I win, my brother says 'wow.'" Not pronouncing "POW" as an acronym, clearly. I believe I did actually witness my friend beating the game, albeit with the twenty-live code; whether or not his brother was impressed, however, is lost to history.

Anonymous said...

As usual, another quality show.

Is it just me, or does POW deserve credit for completely ignoring the "3 color and a transparency" rule to designing characters on the NES? I'm sure stacking the sprites like that probably leads to flicker induced seizures on the actual hardware, but in emulation and in screenshots, it stands out.

The only other games I can think of that use the same trick are the Megaman series (especially 6) and Battletoads.

Anonymous said...

Riverhillsoft? Murder club?

Has anyone else here seen GameInformer's Super Replay of a PSX Adventure game called Overblood? It's pretty hilarious. I bring it up because it's ALSO by Riverhillsoft. It's interesting to see that they're way older than I thought they were. I thought they had only made Overblood and Overblood 2.

Btw, lead programmer on Overblood? Akihiro Hino. The current CEO and founder of Level 5. I wonder if he had anything to do with Murder Club?

mercatfat said...

I skimmed the comments and didn't see anyone else pointing this out, but when you had the SSD, did you put the computer to sleep/hibernate a lot? That (apparently) isn't a good thing to do with them, but that may just be FUD.

Also, did you check for a firmware update for your particular model? Apologies if this was already gone over.

And thanks again for a wonderful episode.

Doctor Sparkle said...

P.O.W. definitely has some nice sprites, but I think Super Mario Bros 2 - the US game - did the same thing first. Unless I'm mistaken, the character sprites were actually two layered sprites?

I checked the credits for Murder Club and Overblood and there are some names listed for both games. Akihiro Hino isn't listed in the Murder Club credits, however. Riverhillsoft also did some gruntwork for other companies, like porting the Battle/Tactics Ogre games for the Saturn.

Kamiboy said...

Apropos Deadly Premonition Dr. S

The thing you need to keep in mind when experiencing that game is that it is the sort that puts its worst foot forward.

Right out of the gate you get the stinky deformed one with a big hole in the sock where a gangrenous toe is sticking out.

This decision on behalf of the creators has been puzzling connoisseurs everywhere. I like to think of it as a sort of a test, a psych profile-cum-rite of passage to turn away the new generation of twitch gamers while allowing the patient old guard unobstructed passage.

In other words disregard the lengthy, rather trite and amusingly amateurish shooting sections that you get served in the opening hours of the game. I believe those sections where forced upon the director, Suehiro, by some sort of company mandate.

Rest assured that they will decrease in length and frequency as you progress.

Whether the unique approach to storytelling employed manages to grab you or not I think you will agree that the design of the title sweeps away all the Portopia derived rubbish and provides a genuine modern take on the narrative heavy adventure concept that does not look like something designed for 1980’s computers.

Oh, and for the love of god, make sure you get hold of the Walkie Talkie as early as you can. Read a FAQ on how, you'll thank me later.

Phil BC said...

Brilliant stuff!

Just out of interest, do you plan on giving the Mega Drive/Genesis and SNES/Super Famicom the same treatment? If so, will you still be at this project by the time you reach retirement age?

Martin said...

even better retro games and Awesome Helicopter Game site said...

Just thought I'd point out that the odd musical choice in the title screen of the dojo stock market game is actually an 8 bit version of J.S. Bach's Air in D;still doesn't have any relationship to dojos or the stock market

Unknown said...

The other songs in the game are also Bach. I pulled out my CD and identified all of them and they are all Bach. By ya the title screen is Air.

Anonymous said...

In answer to your question, Dr. Sparkle: Yes, if I was going to play a TMNT game, I would play this one. The others are all kind of similar right? This is the weird one. Maybe there are other weird ones but I haven't heard of them. I'd play this one, partly because of nostalgia and partly because it actually manages to be sloppy in a charming way, at least to my taste, which is an unusual thing. It has strange little surprises in it. The Final Fight-like TMNT games generally don't do surprising things I think, usually not even little ones. This is not a great game but I think it's better than average for the NES, in spite of its puzzling and sloppy nature. You could say something like Rescue Rangers is a better game, because it gets a lot of the same work done and with a lot more polish, but a game like that is just predictable. I like some of these old-feeling, "wild" NES titles, like TMNT and Metroid, where you never quite know what odd thing you're going to come across (unless you've played before of course).

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