25 December 2009

I Am Become Curly, Destroyer of Worlds!

Chrontendo Episode 22 is here at last, and it's another epic installment. Primarily this is due to the aforementioned bonus content - which turned out to be longer than anticipated. Lately, I've been attempting to give the games featured in Chrontendo at bit more historical context - by showing alternate versions, and so on. Going forward with this idea, I decided to take a look at video games at other platforms.

A quick note - everything seems to be OK at the moment with the video files. As always, the best looking version is the 539 Meg AVI file. There is also a very large MPEG-2 version, but don't bother as it's worse quality than the AVI. The Ogg and MPEG-4 should suffice for those looking for smaller files.

In this episode, we'll begin with a feature looking at computer games of 1987, or at least, what I perceived as the highlights or major releases of that year. Out of necessity, we are sticking to western systems. The release history of the MSX and PC-88 are still pretty murky, at least outside of Japan.

1987 was an interesting time for home computers. When the PC first exploded in the late 1970s, a riot of confusion ensued - with countless models and manufacturers vying for a piece of market share. There was the TRS-80, the TI-99, the Commodore PET and VIC-20, the Apple II, not to mention computers from Atari, IBM and countless others; all of these were incompatible with each other. Overseas, regional brands achieved a certain level of success. By 1987, the market had been thinned out a bit. The older giants, the Apple II and Commodore 64 were not quite dead. Commodore's Amiga and the Atari ST were duking it out for next-gen supremacy. The IBM PC clone, which would achieve total domination in the next few years, pretty much killing every competitor except for Apple, would soon switch to state of the art VGA display standard. For a brief time, however, developers needed to contend with multiple platforms with dramatically different capabilities.

Here for example, we see Wizardry IV for the Apple II and Dungeon Master for the Amiga, both released in 1987. It's almost as if the 2600 and Genesis were competing systems.

Aside from those two games, we'll also see Pirates!, Maniac Mansion, Shadowgate, Leisure Suit Larry, Police Quest, Skate or Die!, California Games, and a number of lesser known games. Most intriguingly, we'll check out Virus and Driller, two very early attempts at full polygon-based 3D.

The next logical step will be a look at 1987's arcade games. This will work its way into a future episode soon. As for now - let's consider some actual Famicom games.

Episodes 22's Grand Champion:

Arabian Dream Scheherazade/Magic of Scheherazade

Wow. I'd played a little of this game before; it seemed like a typical Zelda clone. But upon further inspection it became revealed that Scheherazade was one of the most innovative and unusual games for the Famicom thus far. Not content to rip off Zelda or Dragon Quest, Scheherazade manages to rip off both of them simultaneously. While also ripping off Link to the Past and Chrono Trigger, years before those games came out. Your party grows to 12 playable characters, including a robot (in ancient Arabia! Is this "sandpunk?"), an animated doll with a pumpkin head, two genies, a bottle with arms and legs, and a cowardly shrimp. I wonder if Scheherazade took some inspiration from the Wizard of Oz books? While the game certainly has moments that cause the veins in your head to pop out, I'm willing to overlook that in favor of the high degree of creativity on display. All this from frickin' Culture Brain?! Maybe those guys have promise.

Also Good:

/Life Force

Remember back when the Famicom had tons of shoot-em-ups? Like around Chrontendo episode 7-10 or so? Since then, we've had a serious decline in the number of games in which flying ships shoot other flying ships. However, Konami remedies that with this port of their Gradius sequel. Why is the game called "Salamander" when there is a giant snake of some sort depicted on the cover art? It's sort of confusing, but I do discuss this during the episode itself.

Famicom Mukashi Banashi: Shin Onigashima

Last episode, I mentioned a Nintendo game you've never heard of.. Well, now you've heard of it. Nintendo steps outside its platformer-and-sports comfort zone and makes an adventure game. That is, a Portopia style adventure game. Always doing its own thing, Nintendo gives Shin Onigashima a setting straight out of Japanese folklore, particularly Momotarou and Taketori Monogatari. This is definitely the most Japanese game we've seen for the Famicom; even the text runs vertically and from right to left. In a rather unheard of move, Nintendo released the games two discs separately - one at the beginning of September, the other at the end. While unknown outside of Japan, it was popular enough to receive re-releases on the Super Famicom, GBA and Virtual Console

Digitial Devil Story: Megami Tensei

First game in Atlus' long running RPG series. I mentioned this last post, remember?

Bio Senshi Dan: Increaser Tono Tatakai

The other Atlus developed game this episode. Never released in the US, but.... Jaleco completed an English translation and then scrapped it. Luckily, unlike Higemaru Makaishima, I remembered the English version and used it for this episode. I suppose this would be an ideal time to give a shout to Lost Levels. Unlike myself, LL's Frank Cifaldi seems to be genuinely knowledgeable about video games, and his site is undoubtedly where I first heard of the unreleased localizations of Higemaru and Bio Senshi Dan. For some reason, the main site has not been updated in a while; all the action is currently in the forums.

Kyonshiizu 2

Ok, not technically a good game. However, I gave a tease about this recently by posting a video clip from Hello Dracula. So what's the story with that clip? Well, Kyonshiizu 2 is based off the sequel to Hello Dracula, a Taiwanese (not from Hong Kong, as the fellow who made the video clip seems to believe) film, originally titled 幽幻道士2. There were actually several sequels made; I'm not sure of the details, but the films somehow found themselves broadcast as a mini-series on Japanese TV, under the Kyonshiizu name. Kyonshi is simply the Japanese name for Jiang-shi, what you and I would call a "hopping vampire." These things turn up in video games from time to time. We've already seen them in Kung Fu Kid from Chronsega 3. Even Mario has encountered them - in Super Mario Land to be exact.

So anyway, this is a perfect example of what I like about this gig. Upon booting up Kyonshiizu 2, it seems like just just another baffling Japanese graphic adventure game. Now we know the back story behind the game, which is probably more interesting than the game itself! I was quite amazed when I realized the connection to a semi-obscure cult kung-fu movie like Hello Dracula.

Naturally, Episode 22 has a few dogs as well.

Photon: The Ultimate Game on Planet Earth

This preposterously titled dud from Takara came out the same day as Transformers: The Head Masters - August 28th, the same day as Castlevania 2 and Kiki Kaikai. I guess that proves there is some sort of karmic balance in force in the world of video games.


Ugly as hell first person RPG-like game from Toei and Bear's, the good folks who brought you Hokuto no Ken. SWAT actually has an interesting premise: you control a four member SWAT team assigned to take out terrorists holed up in an office building. You encounter the terrorists in in Dragon Quest-y turn based battles. It turns out Bear's/Shoei System can't do RPGs any better than they can action games.


OK, maybe this game isn't really that bad. But the opening sequence, ripped off directly from Dragon Quest, with your Tyrannosaurus Rex shaped mech standing in a throne room, taking instructions from a king, then marching down the stairs and chatting it up with NPC dinosaur mechs who are hanging around the palace, nearly had me falling off my chair laughing. Once you head out onto the overworld, you'll see Zoids is a combination of DQ and Battlezone! From Micronics, naturally.

Other games this episode:

Tsuppari Oozumou

One of the very first sumo video games. This Tecmo titles plays like a wrestling game with less mobility and fewer moves. It does have plenty of almost nude fat guys however, so if that's your thing....

Star Gate/Defender II

HAL ports Williams' 1981 arcade game. It's been a while since we've seen a port of a game this old.

Spy Hunter

For some reason, there is a brief run of ports of ancient arcade games in fall 1987. Expect some more over the next few episodes. This one's a US only release from Sunsoft.

Spelunker II: Yuushahe no Chousen

This original title is nothing whatsoever like the original Spelunker. Its more like Super Pitfall, though better. Irem, like SNK, is having a pretty unimpressive run on the Famicom so far.

Ide Yosuke Meijin no Jissen Mahjong

Episode 22's requisite mahjong game? Check. From Ide Yosuke, the John Madden of mahjong games.

Family Trainer - Manhattan Police/Street Cop

A police brutality simulation game for the Family Trainer. Unlike most other FT games, this was released in the US by Bandai themselves.

So, feel free to go to archive.org to stream or download Episode 22.


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