Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Halloween Quickie

Hey folks, here's our very special, spooky Halloween post! Well, it's not really very spooky. If anything, its appalling at best. All I have for you today, is a quick preview of Chronsega 8. There just happens to be a horror-themed game (sort of) this episode: Basketball Nightmare, which was apparently released only in Europe, in mid 1989. You'll get the see the new, more SMS-appropriate title sequence, as well. Long live Alex Kidd!

Also, as a goofy Halloween bonus, here's a super obscure song by the Australian 70s band, A Raincoat. Like many people, I first encountered this song via its unauthorized usage in Kenneth Anger's short film, Rabbit's Moon. Specifically, the later re-edited Rabbit's Moon from the 1970s; Anger's original version used a selection of classic doo-wop and soul songs. I can't find a good looking transfer of the orginal film on Youtube, but you can see a kind of crummy version here, if avant garde movies from the 1950s are your thing.

Anyway, the recut version of Rabbit's Moon dropped the original soundtrack and replaced it with a totally inappropriate 70s rock song called "It Came in the Dark." In those pre-Google days, people could only hear the song and wonder what the hell it was. "It Came in the Dark" is both utterly stupid and catchy as hell. I'm sure this tune was burned into the brain of just about everyone who saw Rabbit's Moon. Here's the song:

A Raincoat also released a full-length album, the poorly titled Digalongamacs, which featured the Sparks-y I Love You For Your Mind (Not Your Body)." 

Monday, October 22, 2012

An Ode to Third Party SMS Games

Ok, I know what you're thinking. "Dr. Sparkle, you idiot, an ode is a form of poetry! And this post consists entirely of your turgid, un-poetic prose!"  And yes, I agree with you 100%.  However, I am using "ode" as  metaphor, and an unnaturally loose one, at that. I'm not here to praise third party SMS games, but to announce their demise.

Chronsega 8, when it eventually arrives - and I'd like to reiterate that, yes, Chronsega Episode 8 is a totally real thing that will be happening in the near future, despite what the unreasonably long wait may have led you to believe.  Sorry, but I had a couple really long games this episode that I'm still working on. Plus, I've been busy with other things! Did I mention last time I'm having some work done around the house? Heck, I actually took part in a charity walk for cancer yesterday, people! The new episode is almost completely recorded and I'll be editing it before too long.

As I was saying, when Chronsega 8 manifests itself, we'll be seeing the final third party game for the Master System in the US. As we know, third party games are vital to the success of a console. The PC Engine did quite well in Japan, and part of that success must be attributed to game publishers like Namco signing on early in system's lifespan.  "Lack of third party support," is often cited as a reason for the failure of the 32X and Saturn. For the Master System, the situation was even worse.

Only two games from a third party publisher were released in Japan, and both were from the mysterious Salio, a rather fake-sounding company that only published one other game, Daichikun Crisis: Do Natural for the PC Engine in 1989.

The fact that both titles were ports of Tecmo games already published on the Famicom, merely adds to the level of fishiness.  On the other hand, in the US, a full five games were published by non-Sega companies. The first two, in late 1988, wer from former console giant Activision: Rampage and Galaxy Force, both arcade ports that were already available on many other systems.  The other publisher was Parker Brothers, who contributed two games in early 1989, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and Montezuma's Revenge, both covered in Chronsega 7. The final SMS game from Parker Brothers was King's Quest: Quest for the Crown, released sometime around Summer 1989.

Sometime in Fall 1989, Sega took over the distribution of the Sega Master System themselves, after it had been handled by the toy company Tonka for a while.  This makes perfect sense, as Sega was launching the Genesis in the US at the same time. For some reason, Sega continued to support the ailing Master System in the US well into the lifespan on the Genesis. In mid-1990 Sega released a Nintendo Fan Club type magazine called Sega Visions. Each issue devotes a considerable amount of space to Genesis news, and a handful of pages to the Master System.

With every new issue, the Master System became a slightly less visible. Sega still nominally supported the console in the US, having released the budget priced SMS II, and kept relasing cartridges at a slow trickle over the course of 1990 and 1991. Sega Visions usually threw in a single two-page review in each 48 page issue, and in one instance, reviewing a game, The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck, that supposedly never came out in the US. The last mention the SMS received was in the late 1991 issue, when the SMS Sonic the Hedgehog was reviewed. That title was barely released in the US, and is highly collectable today. Sega Visions then went on a breif hiatus, and when it relaunched in a new format in mid 1992, all mentions of the Master System were gone.

The SMS made its unlikely revival in Europe by that time. With it finally came the rush of third party publishers that the console had always been missing. Companies like Domark, TekMagik, Codemasters, US Gold, Flying Edge, Imageworks and Virgin all generated a healthy stream of new releases.

We won't be seeing the end of the SMS in the United States in Chronsega 8, but we will see its US release schedule slowly grinding to a halt as it picks up steam in Europe and Brazil. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Primal Metroidvania

I've been away from Chrontendo for the last couple days, but now I'm back with a decent sized update. First things first: I've bought a new, larger SSD and  have installed it. As you might recall, I was having some issues with my SSD, and based on what I had been reading in the manufacturer's forum, my problems weren't that uncommon. I ended up getting a  larger SSD, a 256 GB OCZ Vertex 4, since I could use a little extra space. The thing arrived on Saturday, and, I'll admit, the packaging impressed me quite a bit.

The box was dark gray with a nice matte finish. Inside, the drive was kept in place by a thick cardboard holder with this super-sturdy foam padding. The back of the holder contained a metal mounting bracket for the drive. I didn't need this, but it was a nice touch to include mounting hardware, and it made the package feel much more substantial. There was even a little sticker included. I know it's silly to put so much stock into the packaging of a piece of hardware, but when I bought my original SDD, I was surprised how boring and crappy the box was. When you buy a fancy new piece of cutting edge technology, you want the box to suggest the wonders contained within. I actually made a short film about building the new computer, in order to get some footage to test potential new editing software on. Maybe I'll post it someday, and you can see the other SSD's lame box.

Anyhoo... Chronsega 8 is going to be a pretty big episode, with several large, "important," games, and very little that could be considered to be total crap.  There are, however, several games that I personally don't care for. One game that I do like a lot, is the one I mentioned last time, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap AKA Monster Land II (which would have been the Japanese title, had it been released in Japan.) To make matters more confusing, there was also an arcade game called Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, which received a TG-16 and Mega-Drive port. The Dragon's Trap also received a TG-16 port, but I don't want to make the issue any more muddled than it already is. The virtues of The Dragon's Trap have been detailed elsewhere, but I'll chip in my 50 cents as well.

The prior game in the series, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, introduced RPG elements - money, shops, armor, etc - to the series. But it still had a completely linear, SMB-like structure to the game world. WBiML also had a timer feature that greatly discouraged exploration and looking for hidden items. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap ditches the timer, and requires you to do quite a bit of poking around for secrets.  Instead of having a series of self-contained linear stages, WBIII:TDT uses a simple Metroidvania style structure. The game is invariably compared to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night due to its opening sequence. Much like SOTN, you begin WBIII:TDT in the last level of the previous game, Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Your character is fully leveled up with the best weapons and armor, and you replay the final boss of Monster Land, the Meka Dragon. After defeating him, you not only lose your equipment, but your stats and lifebar get downgraded to almost nothing. It's a surprisingly familiar moment to anyone who's played SOTN. Likewise, Metroid games usually start a similar prologue in which Samus loses all her abilities.

In Mouse Man form you can walk on walls and through tiny passages.
 Fans of SOTN and the GBA/DS Castlevania games will experience a bit of deja vu when playing WBIII:TDT. While traveling though the game world you'll often encounter platforms that are just a little too high for you to reach and you requently spy areas that are unreachable from your current location. Later in the game, you gain the power to climb certain walls and eventually you'll obtain the power of flight. Another very Castlevania like area is an underground waterway. You can travel though the waterway but certain areas are off-limits until you gain enhanced swimming abilities later.  Once you've obtained these new powers, you'll not only be able to advance into new areas, but also you can revisit old areas and find hidden caches of money, special weapons, lifebar extensions and so on.  It's certainly the most advanced example of a Metroidvania type game we've seen so far. It's not perfect by any means - the controls are a bit wonky, and platforms are unnecessarily slippery, but I'd place it alongside the likes of Phantasy Star and Alex Kidd on the top tier of SMS games.

The bird form will allow you to fly to secret areas and obtain the best equipment.
 Also: regarding the chili I mentioned last time. There isn't really a recipe; it's more of a "put in what you like" kind of deal. But generally, it involves browning some meat - I used bacon (a lot!), chorizo and flat iron steak - then adding it to a liquid base. In this case the liquid was tomato sauce, tomato paste, beer and tequilla. From there add onions, garlic, diced tomatos and peppers. Obviously, the peppers depend on your personal taste and what you can find, but I used habaneros, jalapeƱos, Anaheims, a fancy heirloom style of pepper called a Jimmy Nardello, and some other type of locally grown pepper that I can't remember. You should also throw in a can of chopped chipotle peppers. Add any additional spices you want - I did chili powder, black pepper and fresh basil and oregano. Then add beans and simmer for a few hours. A really good trick is to add a bit of chocolate, since chocolate and chili naturally go together. This works the other way around, too: trying adding some chili power to your cafe mocha or hot chocolate!

Fianlly, as a bonus this post, I'm throwing in a bit of music. If you are a fan of Chrontendo, you must be pretty weird, so perhaps you enjoy music from off the beaten path. This is not Krautrock, but keeping with the Axis theme, here's a classic Japanese psychedelic/progressive obscurity, Flied Egg.

This is the title track from their 1972 ablum, Dr. Siegel's Flied Egg Shooting Machine, a mini epic of sorts, complete with a sing along chorus, groovy organ riffs, Zappa-esque goofiness, and sudden change in tempo and mood halfway through the song.  A stone cold classic in my opinion, though some, such as Julian Cope, disagree. Enjoy!