Sunday, January 27, 2013

"An Eternal Loop of Horror and Death"

Your patience will be rewarded today with a new episode of Chrontendo. Yes, Episode 46 is finally ready.

As always, a high quality h.264 60 frames/sec version may be found on here. (or rather, it will be in about a day.) And a streaming version in 30 frames/sec can be viewed on Youtube here. Just like the last episode of Chronsega, it will be available in HD at 720p.

This episode finds us precisely in the middle of 1989, as we cover a clutch of US NES releases from June, followed by July's Famicom releases. As I point out in the video, the popularity of the NES in the United States was nearing its peak at this time. One indication of this was the increasing number of game released for the NES. The ceaseless demand for product, combined with a huge backlog of Japanese games led to a flood of titles for the console in 1989-1990. In June 1989, for example there were around 15 NES games released, four of them US exclusives, compared to six games released in Japan that same month. Of those four games, two were crap, one was simply devoid of any interesting qualities, and the last one was Monster Party.

I've discussed Monster Party before, but it really stands out among the US-only games we've seen so far. Aside from just being really damned weird, Monster Party has a surprising amount of of blood and gore for a game with the Nintendo Seal of Approval on it. My theory?  Certain big-name companies with close ties to Nintendo (such as Bandai) did not have to adhere to Nintendo's rules quite as strictly.

Monster Party is made of pure nightmare fuel.

It isn't clear why Monster Party never recevied a Japanese release. As many of you will know, a beta version of a planned Japanese verison of Monster Party was discovered several years ago. The cart has never been dumped/released to public, but we do have this video of the first level, which shows the game's original bosses were blatantly taken from popular movies.

Monster Party also has a shockingly dark ending, which depicts our hero Mark meeting a gruesome death. The developer, Human (i.e.: Bandai's "good" developer, as opposed to Tose) returned to the horror genre 6 years later with Clock Tower. It's interesting to note that Clock Tower was also heavily indebted to a western horror movie, Dario Argento's Phenomenon.

Mark's rather unsettling fate.

The other standout game today comes from a publisher with a much better reputation. Willow, from Capcom, is an action-adventure game in the Zelda mode, based on the Ron Howard/George Lucas film of 1988. The movie met with critical indifference and performed underwhelmingly at the box office, but it did receive three videogame adapations: a boring PC game from Mindscape, an solid platformer from Capcom, and the Famicom/NES game.  Willow will not win any awards for originality, but from an aesthetic perspective, it easily beats the other Zelda clones we've seen so far. With its muted color scheme, and detailed, animated backgrounds, it's one of the best looking games for the console.  The music is also phenomenal. Only the fact that it lacks the originality and freshness of Mega Man 2 or Bionic Commando keeps it from being top-tier Capcom.

Fantastic presentation makes willow stand out from other Zelda clones

A few other games also stand out this episode:

Dragon Ninja/Bad Dudes

The personalized getaway copter is a nice touch.

Quite frankly, if this game had been released under its Japanese title, Dragon Ninja, and all references to ninjas kidnapping president were removed, hardly anyone would remember Bad Dudes today. In the post Double Dragon/River City Ransom age, Bad Dudes seems just a little old-fashioned. The levels are completely unimaginative, and the same enemies appear over and over in every level. It does retain a certain level of cheesy '80s charm, but when you consider that Final Fight, the arcade Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Golden Axe all came out in 1989, you realize just how far behind the curve it was.

White Lion Densetsu/Legend of the Ghost Lion
Faria: A World of Mystery and Danger

Ghost Lion is not the most original game is terms of art direction.
People always complain that no JRPGs received US releases back in the NES days, yet here are two counter-examples. White Lion Densetsu messes with the stardard JRPG mechanics. You receive no experience points after battle, weapons cannot be equipped, only used in battle as items, and battles rely heavily on summons rather than other party members. Despite having an original battle system, White Lion nevertheless lifts a few of its sprites pretty much directly out of Final Fantasy.

One odd thing about Legend of the Ghost Lion is that it is reasonably well-documented online; it has a wikipedia page, vidoes on Youtube, and various reviews. Yet no one seems to mention this one important fact: it was based on a movie! Piramiddo no Kanata Ni: White Lion Densetsu was a 1988 film directed by Koichi Nakajima. The director, while hardly a household name, did have at least one other notable credit. He was the first assistant director on Paul Schrader's Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters and was somehow involved in the Ridley Scott/Mike Douglas Japanese crime drama, Black Rain. Unfortunately, I could find virtually no info on the White Lion movie.

Faria - not the best looking RPG on the NES.

Faria draws a bit of inspiration from Zelda, but also from Falcom's Ys. The hero/heroine even looks a bit like Aldo from Ys. Faria was developed by Game Arts, who we'd previously encountered as the developer of Thexder. In the 90s they would get a reputation as an RPG company, thanks to the success of the Lunar and Grandia series. Game Arts brings a puckish sense of humor to Faria, with a plot twist involving poisoned caviar and a princess who resembles a caterpillar. Another notable name on the credits is Akihiko Yoshida, a fellow who will turn up as the character designer in many of Yasumi Matsuno's games, such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story.

In terms of bad games, only a couple really stand out.

I've already discussed Beam Software's Airwolf, published by Acclaim. It's a sort of like a worse version of Top Gun, with the awful "land on the aircraft carrier" part replaced with a pointless helicopter landing part. It's not so much bad, as it simply lacks any distinguishing or noteworthy features. It is completely unrelated to the Famicom Airwolf of the US computer game.

Oof! Faceplant, dude.

Regular Chrontendo viewers will know of my dislike for Epyx's "Games" series. So I assume you will not be surprised to find out I didn't care for the Rare/Milton Bradly release of California Games?  This is the second version of California Games we've covered -- Sega released their own version for the Master System a bit earlier. I still find the game to be totally bogus, dude.

Other games this episode:

Oishinbo: Kyukyoku no Menu 3bon Syoubu

Food journalists have a lot of run-ins with the police.

A Japanese style adventure game, based on a food themed manga. We are fortunate enough to a have a solid translation of the game by The Snark. Unfortunately, being a Tose title, Oishinbo is not of the highest quality, with lumpy looking character art and bog-standard game design. Still, how many other video games make you choose the right method for gutting a monkfish and perparing its liver?

Hissatsu Doujou Yaburi
Tenkaichi Bushi Keru Nagūru

Tenkaichi Bushi Keru Naguuru doesn't exactly have a diverse roster.

We have not one, but two fighting game/RPG hybrids this episode! Hissatsu Doujou Yaburi from Sigma Entertainment resembles earlier fighting game hybrids, such as Culture Brain's Hiryū no Ken/Flying Dragon The Secret Scroll games (see Episode 33.) Tenkaichi Bushi Keru Nagūru uses a more RPG-ish top down overworld. It was developed by Game Arts, Masanobu Endo's company, so it has the better pedigree of the two. Neither one, however, works very well as a fighting game, due to the generic characters and slow, unresponsive controls.

Shin Moero!! Pro Yakyuu
Kyuukyoku Harikiri Stadium Heisei Gannenhan

Shin Moero!! or possibly Kyuukyoku Harikiri Stadium. I forget which.

Alright, we had two RPGs, two fighting games, so why not two baseball games? Shin Moero!! is the latest in the Tose/Jaleco series known as Bases Loaded in the US. It's the third game in the series, but should not be confused with Bases Loaded 3, which was actually the US version of the fourth Moero!! Pro Yakyuu game. Not only did Shin Moero!! never get a western release, it also dropped the behind-the-pitcher camera from the first two games, and replaced with a weird 3/4 perspective view of the batter and pitcher.

Kyuukyoku Harikiri Stadium Heisei Gannenhan is another entry in Taito's baseball simulation series. Aside from the odd name, the game also features a cool 3D sculpture of a baseball player on the box art. Both games feature wall-to-wall annoying Ōendan music.

Zenbei!! Pro Basket/All-Pro Basketball

Another sub-Double Dribble basketball game hits the Famicom. This one is from Vik Tokai and Aicom, the developer of Jaleco's Hoops. Apparently Aicom couldn't figure out how to program full-court scrolling, ala Double Dribble, since Hoops featured half-court basketball and All-Pro uses a bizarre trick to avoid showing the entire court. When your player crosses the half-court line, the game freezes and the screen goes black for a moment. When everything reappears, the camera has moved 180 degrees and is now facing the other direction. This is annoying and confusing as can be.

Perfect Bowling

Even in a bowling game, they managed to squeeze in a panty shot.

A decent, if not particular exciting bowling game from Tonkin House

Igo Shinan
From Hect, an instructional Igo game. Someone must have been buying copies of this thing, since Hect released four sequels for the Famicom.

Shooting Range

Is it really a good idea to shoot the lollipop out of Frankenstein's hand?

A US only Zapper game from Tose/Bandai. It's just about the most generic Zapper game imaginable.

There were have it, another Chrontendo. Up next will be Chronturbo 4, which will carry us through June 1989 on the PC Engine. 


Roto13 said...

We're up to Chronsega 46 already? Did we skip some?

Doctor Sparkle said...

A little typo on Archive, I'm afraid. That should be fixed soon.

killias2 said...

I can't wait until the 60fps version is up. I've been checking this site a lot lately in anticipation of a new episode....

Jonathan said...

Attention government! Please begin subsidizing this man immediately so we needn't wait this long between episodes of this important project.

Unknown said...

Thank's, this should be mandatory material on all schools.

Loki said...

Great video. The face in Monster Party reminds me of Large Marge

Skymaster T said...

I think you're wrong, Dr. S. Not to be creepy, but she isn't wearing any panties.

Luke said...

One of the best episodes yet, in terms of both content and game selection. I loved Willow back in the day, couldn't get into Ghost Lion, and vaguely remember Faria. Surprised that Faria is so obscure nowadays with the Yoshida and Game Arts connection.

Also this video had me bidding on a Monster Party cart, never played that one but it looks awesome.

Jonothan said...

I like how Faria dodged the bullet of being the first NES RPG with a female protagonist by making her a man with a curse.
Also, that SD fighting RPG's art style reminds me of early Peanuts, particularly with the faces.

Steve Cochrane said...

As always, great video!

The "oooo" sound you mentioned for the final castle of Willow is the triangle wave, which is mainly used for bass in NES chiptunes but is occasionally taken to a higher register for melody/harmony. You can hear it used this way to great effect in the Mother / Earthbound Zero intro, one of my very favorite NES tunes:

Knurek said...

Great episode, what you're doing is greatly appreciated.

I've noticed you started using scanlines filter. Why not go for the full genuine experience and apply blargg's NTSC filter as well? :)

Raffa said...

Thanks Dr.Sparkle for bringing some joy to this rainy day.
Always a treat when a new Chron- is released ^_^

Kamiboy said...

Knurek, you've clearly never owned or seen vintage gaming hardware played on quality professional grade CRT's such as the SONY PVM series via RGB connectors. If you had then you would know that the scanline filter is the only modification emulators need to apply to the image in order to accurately emulate the way these games were supposed to look.

All those ghastly NTSC filters do is emulate how rubbish CRT's looked when hooked up via composite or, heavens forbid, RF.

Any system I connect to my suit of PVM CRT's looks unbelievable. The image is so sharp and vibrant that you'll never be able to tolerate looking at old video game any other way.

Canageek said...

So, Dr. Sparkle, did you see they are making a new Fist of the North Star game? I thought you might be interested in hearing about it, since you've had to play all the old ones.

Doctor Sparkle said...

I've actually always had some scanlines in Chrontendo. Maybe with they are now more visible in the HD version? I don't use them for the Sega or TG-16 games though. And I'll never add any crazy NTSC/RGB filters, since those things make everything look hell of ugly.

That new Fist of the North Star has an <50 rating on Metacritic, so it's following in the grand tradition of its awful ancestors. Next Chronsega we should reach Last Battle, which I think is the last FoTHS game for some time.

Canageek said...

Speaking of games I never would have heard of without out: Ys I & II are coming out for modern machines, and you can pick which versions graphics and sounds you want to use:

Kamiboy said...

Doctor Sparkle, I've noticed that the scanlines on your game videos are very, very weak.

I play all my vintage systems on proper CRT's and I can assure you that the scanlines that I see on my CRTs look nothing like what I see in your videos. It does not matter which resolution of your video I choose either, the scanlines are very anemic.

Vintage games up until the PS2 generation display in a sort of none standard signal called 240p.

As you might know NTSC televisions were designed to display 480 vertical lines of resolution. So older consoles only used half of those lines to display graphics while the other half, that being every other line, remained unused, in other words remained dark. Those dark gaps between each displayed line is what people call scanlines.

For proper scnaline emulation the emulator should render to a 480 vertical resolution with every other line being a dimmed version of the one above it.

The amount of dimming is a question of balance but it should generally be around 70-80%.

That will get you an decent approximation of what these games were designed to look like on CRT TV's back in the day.

Do you run your emulator in higher resolution than 640x480? That might be the problem as your scanlines look too thin to my eyes, as if they are being applied to the game display after it has been scaled or something.

If you let me know which emulator you use I could take a look at its settings and maybe figure out how to fix the scanline issue.

That is if you feel they need fixing at all.

Nate Kiernan said...

With a name like Bad Dudes, it's no wonder people paid it little mind. Then again, it was the 80s...I'd rather not think about that...

Mr. Tose said...

Hey, Dr. S! It's me again! You said you were going to cover Strider in the next Chrontendo, is that correct? Up until recently, it was a US only game, but a prototype/demo of the Japanese version has recently surfaced.

Usually games would stay in Japan and remain unreleased elsewhere, but rarely is a game released worldwide, but not Japan. I suppose LJN's games are also of the second variety.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Mr. Tose - interesting about the Strider proto. I would assume that many US only games developed in Japan by companies like Bandai and Capcom were at least considered for Japanese release. Strider had a manga published in Japan, you think that would guarantee release of a Famicom game. Capcom did put out some less than spectacular games in Japan, so I don't see why Strider got the axe over there.

neko said...

Hello, Doctor. Thank you for continuing with Chrontendo. I enjoy your videos greatly. I would like to thank you especially for making them available on

Have you had any thoughts about including accompanying plain text transcription/annotation or subtitles for folks with difficulty understanding speech, or searching for specific descriptions of games? (Both me, I'm afraid :) )

Thank you for your attention.

Anonymous said...

Just finished White Lion ... UGHH SUBCON!!