Monday, May 20, 2013

Underdressed Teenage Girls and Robot Ninjas

I suppose those two things sum up the Japanese videogame experience quite nicely. Both of them will be on display today. Throw in tokusatsu heroes, golf games, mahjong, manga adaptations, turn-based/action RPGs, and panty shots, and you have summed up Chronturbo Episode 4.

Just like Chrontendo and Chronsega we've moved Chronturbo into a decent sized HD format on Youtube, so you can totally watch it fullscreen on your big-ass monitor and not have it look like shit. The Youtube version is here.  As always, I still recommend downloading the 60 frames per second h.264 version from 60 frames per second is the only way to experience the full glory of these things. Find it here.

Chronturbo 3 covered January through March of 1989, and Episode 4 basically takes us through the next three months. We actually reach the first week of July, which was just a little bit before the TurboGrafx-16 was released in the US. But for the moment, let's discuss the CD-ROM² add-on.

At first glance, its another Dragon Quest clone.

Despite being the most important technological innovation we've seen in the entire Chron series, the CD-ROM² hasn't born much fruit yet. There was a port of Street Fighter, which didn't make good use of the medium, and was a terrible game to boot. This was followed by one non-game and one barely-a-game (Bikkuriman Daijikai and No Ri Ko.)  In March Hudson gave us a very high quality release with Space Adventure Cobra, but this was mostly a menu-based adventure game. Finally, in June, Hudson produced their attempt at a killer app for the CD-ROM²: Far East of Eden: Ziria, a massive, ambitious Dragon Quest style RPG.  Far East of Eden outdid DQ in every department (except originality, I suppose.) Big name voice actors were brought in to record the game's many dialog scenes and its colorful, animated charterers were much more detailed than any found on a Famicom game. Musical legend Ryuichi Sakamoto created some of the in game music.

High res graphics set this apart from Famicom RPGs
 Far East of Eden ended up becoming quite successful in Japan. The second game in the series was massively popular, so much so that it ended up at the number 12 spot on that Famitsu readers' poll I discussed earlier. That puts it well above Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI or any Mario game! It's a shame than none of the Far East of Eden RPGs received a US release, or even a fan translation.

He's right behind you!

The other  game is a little different, but also quite important. Valis II may be a bit more familiar to you, since it was released in the US, by NEC. While not a great game, it is the first platformer for the CD-ROM², as well as the first third party published title.  It helped introduce a popular feature to consoles: the anime-inspired cutscene featuring skimpily dressed young ladies. By the end of its lifespan, the PC Engine was kept afloat by games based around naughty cutscenes. Also, since Valis II was one of the first CD games to be hastily dubbed into English, it started the grand tradition of really awful videogame voice acting.  This tradition continues to this very day.

A highly unlikely outfit.

As magnificent as Far East and Valis II are, they stand cold and shivering in the shadow of a far greater game: Gunhed/Blazing Lazers from Compile and Hudson. There is no denying the fact that Blazing Lazers is The Shit. Don't take my word for it. Google "best 10 TurboGrax games" or something, and check out the lists that people have put together. This is one the best games for the system and everyone knows it.

Cool robots = rad
What makes Blazing Lazers so great? Simple: radness. Try it yourself. Turn on the game and ask yourself, "Is there anything happening here that is not rad?" The answer will always be, "Nope. Every single thing on the screen is completely rad." Sure, some of the earlier shoot-em-ups we've seen have been pretty darned cool, such as Xanac, Salamander, R-Type, etc. But here, Compile just dialed up the coolness to extreme levels.

Space bubbles = also rad.

Bad Games:

The PC Engine is not known for its kusoge. There were some awful PC Engine games, and Energy and Jinmu Denshou would qualify as awful games by almost anyone's standards. Yet, there is one thing that redeems them: the music. Many of the main Famicom kusoge such as Athena or Super Monkey Daibouken have these ear-piercing, screechy, tuneless, music tracks. Yet Energy, despite being an ugly, buggy mess, manages to serve up some sick tunes. Jinmu Denshou -- an unpleasant Space Harrier clone which tries to integrate bits of platforming into the shooting action -- also has a pretty well done musical theme.

I have no idea what's going on here.

The RPGs:

Aside from Far East of Eden, we have two lesser RPGs, Makai Hakkenden Shada and Susano-ou Densetsu. Data East's Hakkenden is based on the same classic Japanese novel as SNK's Satomi Hakkenden, which we covered in Chrontendo 41.  The unusual thing about this game, is that rather than modeling itself after Dragon Quest, it is instead an extremely blatant rip-off of Falcom's Ys. Of course, the PC Engine version of Ys wouldn't be released until December 1989, making Hakkenden the Missing In Action to Ys's Rambo: First Blood Part II.

It's just like Ys, only terrible.

Susano-ou Densetsu, from Hudson, is a bit more original, though it is based on a Go Nagai manga, and is named after the Shinto deity.  In the world of video games, Susano-ou will familiar to Megami Tensei fans. It's a pretty large game, in terms of cartridge space (and price), but was overshadowed by Far East of Eden, which came out shortly afterwards.

This looks a wee bit like Dungeon Explorer.

The Golf Games:

Two golf games this time around: Hudson's Power Golf, which had colorful, dynamic box art (in Japan) and Naxat's Naxat Open, which had boooooring box art, and did not get a US release.  I suppose Power Golf is nominally the more interesting of the two, but both are just standard console golf games.

Arcade Ports from Namco:

Namco tends to focus on ports of earlier arcade games when it comes to its PC Engine releases. This time they dig deep into their vaults and pull out a port of Pac-Land, the pioneering game which is not that much fun to play nowadays. But it was the first Pac-man game to break away from the "running around in a maze" genre,. Instead it went on to create many of the conventions  of the side-scrolling platformer.

Ghosts flying airplanes?!

Wonder Momo is an odd, single plane beat-em-up with a tokusatsu theme. Like a lot of similar games, such as Sega's My Hero, it focuses heavily on knowing enemy patterns and finding the correct rhythm. It is also one of the most common HuCards in Japan, according to Kevin Gifford.

Yes, part of the game is a guy who tries to take an up-the-skirt photo.

Final Lap Twin - now here's an interesting one. Final Lap was a perfectly typical racing arcade game from 1987. For the console version, Namco decided to add an RPG mode. The results are very much like an improved World Tennis - that weird tennis RPG from Chronturbo 2.

Yes, this is somehow a racing game.

The Rest:

Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag -  The first Human published game! Having developed numerous games for other publishers, Human finally struck out for themselves with the first game in their long running wrestling series. Several key members of Human worked on Nintendo's Pro Wrestling, and Combination Tag resembles that game more than it does the later Fire Pro games. The high degree of customization that defined the Fire Pro series is not yet in place.

Screenshots of wrestling games often look a little risque.

Cyber Cross - You are a Japanese superhero. You walk from left to right and punch aliens that are walking from right to left.

Not much to see here.

Ninja Warriors - Port of the Taito arcade game that had the big, long screen, like Darius. It's basically Rush N Attack with ninjas minus most of the fun.

Wai Wai Mahjong - A mahjong game with colorful graphics and goofy characters.

There we have it. By my reckoning we'll need three more Chronturbos to finish off 1989. But that'll be a little while. Right now we need to deal with the next Chrontendo, which will feature a long-awaited game from Nintendo. Until then, check out Chronturbo 4 on Youtube and Archive.


Raffa said...

Thanks Doctor, I've been looking forward to the return of the Sparkle ^_^

elblanco said...

Yes, I NEEDED this.

Helm said...

Thank you for another wonderful episode. Blazing Lasers is pretty awesome yes, yet a bit too long (it actually puts me in some sort of trance playing it because it's very easy for people who play modern shoot em ups) and I actually liked even the bad games on this episode, besides a tose golf game. I'm starting to get a hold of what makes the pc engine so fun, it's that even the bad games are charming in their quirky way, whereas on the NES it doesn't feel the same, there's a lot of soulless titles.

Brain Breaker said...

Damn, I'm still only up to Chrontendo 38, so I can't watch this one yet. That's the price I pay for being so slow on the uptake, I suppose.

True story: I actually imported Tengai Makyo when it was first released (still have that original copy somewhere, complete with the now morbidly discolored and decaying foam divider/insert). I still only read/spoke a little Japanese at the time, but I loved it anyway. I also somehow convinced a couple of my stoner metalhead friends that since it was on CD and called "Far East of Eden", that it was somehow related to "South of Heaven" and actually featured stuff like Slayer and Death as part of the game soundtrack. They were pretty disappointed when it finally arrived, to say the least. I'm not sure why I thought that was so funny... I guess that's just the kind of jerk I was back then. In any case, aside from this and Ys, having the CD add-on back then actually felt like a bit of a waste, even to me.

Re Helm: I actually completely disagree with that. I feel that is was the 16 bit era when things started getting too slick and soulless, what with that whole shooter glut, all the generic "Lippy the Lion" type mascot platformers and those awful SFII clones. The 8-bit stuff had much more atmosphere and raw innovation to me. I realize that opinion probably puts me in a small minority these days, but I guess I can't help it. I'm old!

Chris Sobieniak said...

It's a shame Namco never ported "Pac-Mania" to the PC Engine, that was y favorite game!

Nils B-film said...

Oh, more Chronturbo awesome! The kusoge porno music scene was a highpoint... and the final reveal of Blazing Lazers was very funny. It's always a blast seeing a new episode up.

PaulNoonan said...

Yay Chronturbo. Blazing Lazers is great.

elblanco said...

This episode was amazeballs.

Knurek said...

Great episode, as usual.

I'm not sure what PC Engine emulator you're using, but I can tell that it doesn't do the Fire Pro Wrestling music justice.

On the actual console it uses some nifty tricks to make the chip instruments used sound like a real guitar.

Mr. Snrub said...

As a Turbo 16 fan, I love all of these videos.


Keep up the good work, big boss man!

Erich Beckmann said...

Every time there is a new Chron, my work day becomes infinitely more exciting.

Skymaster T said...

Any time underdressed robot ninjas and teenage girl back to back golf games are involved, you know the Doctor is in the house.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Knurek, I'm using Ootake for the PC Engine emulation. A lot of people consider it the best of the PC Engine emulators, but obviously, no one program will play every game perfectly. I'll check out Fire Pro on something else, to compare.

Kamiboy said...

Huzzah, you actually managed to squeeze in Gunhed this episode.

I was not sure whether there would be room for one of the system's defining games. Not to mention the one which certainly spearheaded the system's retrospective raison d'etre among modern gamers.

Personally though of the shooters I've played on the system I consider the likes of CD Denjin and Super Star Soldier to be more fun. That is mainly because they are so damn hard.

Super Star Soldier is damn near impossible once you get to the last stage. That boss rush before the final boss is designed by the deuce.

I guess in a sense Gunhed has a much more balanced difficulty, but one tends to remember great adversity more fondly in hindsight.

Chris Sobieniak said...

Thinking about Pac-Man's appearance through the years, outside the Hanna-Barbera cartoon show I remember well, it seems Namco wanted to stick to a certain look for the yellow orb that we often see many times. This is the one of him wearing the red Astro Boy-ish books, the orange mitts, the long "Jughead" nose and the Mickey Mouse-like "pie eyes".

Of course when re-interpreted by western distributors of the game, you often ended up with designs like this hideous beast!

Of course when they did Wreck-it Ralph, they ultimately went with the look we all probably associated far more simply out of that simplicity of the first game (somehow it made me have more respect for the look of Q*bert and his pals if only because they were just liket hey always were in the game).

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear another video from you, DS. I really enjoy all your work and appreciate the time you spend on them. And I kinda missed your voice, haha.

Jeff J. Dotson said...

Hello Mr. Sparkle, or Dr. Sparkle or whatever. Ive maratoned the whole series in the past two (maybe three) weeks and I really enjoyed how dedicated you were to covering every Nes/Famicom game (Along w/ others like thee turbographics).

Of course long breaks are always understandable, given the crap I'm sure you've run into during your treck through the drek ('Course the gems and classics probably make the travel worth while, right?). Anyways you've got yourself a new fan.

On a different note, I enoy reading the beer blogs you post as well.