Posted on May 29th, 2009 No comments
Be back next week at the latest.
Posted on May 27th, 2009 15 comments
Release Date: 2/5/88
Price: 4900 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 21.04 / 30.00
Kōgien: “An action game where the hero Tarosuke, who’s fallen into hell, must journey back up to heaven. Features multiple endings. The hero can fire spirit beams, but charging up first allows him to fire more powerful beams. An early PC Engine title.”
Namco’s first PCE game. Also the first real “third party” title on the PCE. Also the first game chronologically to rate over 20 points on the PCE FAN scale. Also the first arcade port that people really cared about. This also came out on the Famicom a few months later in Japan; the PCE and arcade versions are available now on the Japanese Virtual Console.
By the way, “NAMCOT” was the label Namco used for its home releases in Japan from 1983 until early 1995. Don’t ask me why.
Tarosuke has been a naughty kid. A very, very, very naughty kid. Naughtier than, like, OJ. So God decided to teach him a lesson by transporting him to the entrance of Buddhist Hell while he was sleeping so he can be given final judgment by the Great King Enma. This is his story.
Yōkai Dōchūki was a departure for Namco when it hit arcades in early 1987 — and I’m not talking about all the religion and olde-Japan references, since Genpei Tōmaden had just come out the autumn before. It was one of the the first Namco games to drop scores entirely (The Return of Ishtar was the same way, and Genpei had a score count that was largely useless, which I’ll discuss when I get to that PCE port), it had a stat display that took up literally half the screen, and it had a free-roam element to its five levels that made it unique among the platformers of the day.
The difficulty level on the arcade game was off the charts, though, and the title enjoyed support from only the hardest of the hardcore. As a result of this, the PC Engine version, while pretty close to the original graphically, is a heavily simplified game — to the point where most gamers can beat it given a few hours’ worth of practice — while the Famicom port was more faithful to the arcade game’s layout. Arino managed the feat in one episode of Game Center CX, although he got one of the bad endings (see below).
Posted on May 26th, 2009 2 comments
Did you know QVC had a Japanese channel? Did you know that they had a very amusing exchange with a customer live on TV several days back that’s become a viral-video sensation over there? Now you do!
QVC Japan is a bunch of wimps and has been removing the video (depicting two hosts selling an “18K Italian-Made Fancy Chain Necklace”) left and right across YouTube and Nicovideo, although people are re-uploading the clip to Nico on a pretty frenetic basis — Streisand effect, Asian style. Here’s a currently active Nico link.
I am too lazy to re-upload the sucker to YT and do my own subtitles, but here is a transcript:
Hostess: All right, we have a customer on the line. This is Ms. Hiraga from Tokyo. Hello?
Hostess: Ah, Ms. Hiraga, good evening!
Hiraga: Good evening.
Hostess: So, which of Today’s Special Values are you…are you buying the necklace?
Hiraga: The necklace.
Host/Hostess: Thank you very much!
Hostess: If I may ask, how many of them did you purchase?
Hiraga: Five of them.
Hostess: (sticks hand out, fingers spread) Five of them! Thank you very much! Um, are you going to be using them for a party, or for presents?
Hiraga: For a family gathering.
Hostess: A family gathering?
Hostess: Oh, that’s wonderful!
Hiraga: No, it’s not wonderful. It’s not wonderful at all. It’s nothing unusual.
Posted on May 23rd, 2009 12 comments
Release Date: 1/22/88
Price: 4500 yen
Media: HuCard (1 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 18.19 / 30.00
Kōgien: “The graphics, which evoke a creepy, sinister mood, are memorable. Your progress is saved via password. This is used for several secret codes, but their sheer length can also be called one of the game’s memorable traits. An early overhead-view PC Engine RPG.”
The PC Engine’s very first RPG…and, coincidentally, the first game released for the system that I don’t really like. In Japan, it’s been re-released both on mobile phones and in the local Virtual Console library.
Among nostalgic Japanese gamers, this is a game that conjures up a great deal of emotion. When it was first shown off in magazines as the PCE’s premiere RPG and all that, the impression it left with its incredibly dark, brooding atmosphere was…well, unique. Everyone knew the PCE had better graphics than the Famicom; that was beyond question. What would an RPG look like on this system, though? At the very least, you could imagine journeying through an epic tale set in a great big, colorful world. Emphasis on colorful. This game is not colorful. Gears of War is brighter. You could’ve seen that from the preview screenshots alone.
Still, the gamers of late 1987 waited patiently. This is the first RPG for the PC Engine, after all. Of course expectations were going to be huge. So imagine what it was like to buy the game on launch day and be greeted with this title music alongside some sort of weird HR Giger-inspired title logo. Bizarre, is what it is.
The story’s relatively straightforward. Your kingdom’s in danger, and you’re a plucky lad who swears to God that he’ll find the evil holy sword known as Necromancer and smite the monster boss most hatefully. Gameplay is turn-based, and your party has a maximum of three people in it — you, and two NPCs you choose out of a pool of five at the beginning of the game, each with his own strengths and weaknesses (the only real innovation Necromancer offered at the time).
So you leave town and walk around this drab, realistic world map. Monsters appear — and whoa, they’re kind of animated! But the real surprise comes when you beat them and they spurt blood before disappearing (even enemies that shouldn’t technically have blood). Wow! Crazy! Real blood in my video games! It was easy to surprise Japanese RPG fans back then, what can I say? The simple fact that Necromancer’s human characters are realistically proportioned and not the stocky squares of Dragon Quest was enough to blow their minds.
A dark, brooding, Giger-ish game world with realistic graphics. If you had nothing else to play (and on the PCE in early 1988, you didn’t), it was playable. Until you got a load of the game’s 25-character passwords that never worked. Battery saving? That’s for pussies!
Click the above video to get a feel for the audiovisuals, undoubtedly the most memorable part of what’s otherwise an unmemorable 8-bit RPG. If you really want, you can keep clicking through the series to watch a playthrough of the whole game with the level-grinding edited out.
Posted on May 23rd, 2009 No comments
Posted on May 22nd, 2009 1 comment
Sometimes I’ll take humorous 2ch threads and translate them for laffs. This is the first in the series.
Subject: Things you notice for the first time when living alone
1 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/07/30(水) 15:35:54 ID:nIOaO9tu
You can’t do anything when you’re out of money
You can’t stomach anything besides lowfat milk
Cornflakes become your main sustenance
4 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/07/30(水) 19:33:52 ID:vp9ob/xf
The amount of pubic hair you have
16 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/08/02(土) 06:10:31 ID:L2Ck6Ac3
Sausage is a lot more expensive than you thought
26 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/09/09(火) 10:29:53 ID:q+fyD5+U
Sit around like you do at home and the place gets filthy in the blink of an eye.
Not cluttered, but filthy.
It’s horrible in here besides where I sit
8 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/07/30(水) 22:29:53 ID:lUQE5MM6
The toilet in your bathroom gets gross instantly
with hair, and dust, and hair and things
10 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/07/30(水) 22:55:32 ID:zHdLU90B
The Internet is God.
13 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/07/31(木) 11:25:13 ID:CMoI70I1
The two weeks it took to get the net connected in here were torture. Seriously
11 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/07/30(水) 23:01:01 ID:D844wCRY
You have to buy your own toilet paper
17 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/08/02(土) 07:30:46 ID:9sh96Bul
You can jerk off as much as you want
19 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/08/02(土) 09:08:14 ID:k+QKKEPl
The fact that I have no money management skills whatsoever.
Not that I spend much anyway, so I don’t need them that much.
Also, I am going to kill the neighbors next time they start screaming on their balcony.
32 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/09/12(金) 20:33:09 ID:/KxclMAf
You can’t put a cold pack on your back
36 ：774号室の住人さん ：2008/09/15(月) 00:56:12 ID:RpCbT+uA
I come home at night and drinks have not magically appeared in my refrigerator
Posted on May 22nd, 2009 7 comments
Release Date: 12/28/87
Price: 4500 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 15.49 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A nostalgic game, but the controls and feeling of speed are still excellent. The hills you go up and down during the race are extremely smoothly simulated. The four gears and endurance ratings on parts also give the game a realistic feel.”
The final release of 1987, and also the first racer to hit the PC Engine. I may be overlooking some other obscure release, but I don’t think Hudson made another console racing game after this until the PS2’s Bomberman Kart in 2001.
This is also the first serious attempt to simulate Dakar Rally-style racing on consoles, and maybe in the entirety of video games. Not that things are that much different from OutRun and other sprite-and-raster racers of the era, but there is a pretty decent level of depth here for a 1987 game — stage-based rallying, day/night racing, on/off-road racing, car damage, car parts that wear out over time and require replacement, the rally-ish emphasis of hitting the target time over simply being the fastest dude on the track, and so forth. (The graphics also aren’t bad — the uphill/downhill effect is pretty remarkable for a 2D racer.)
This is a game that doesn’t reward insanely quick driving. Instead, remaining steady is the key here, choosing your car parts wisely (ie. preparing a lot of replacement brakes, because you go through them like I go through bottles of Shiner Black) and taking a seasoned, patient approach to the road as you try to pass by the lorries, police cars and motorcycles driven by enormous people that share the rally path with you. You can’t even afford to floor it completely on straightaways, or else you may grab GNARLY AIR on a hill and torch your suspension.
All the extras tacked on to the classic OutRun formula make this a surprisingly hard game, the reason why it was ranked so low by contemporary gamers. Night driving is painful, for example. The road’s hard to see (especially in desert stages), none of the other cars believe in using their headlights after dark, and it’s terrifying rough on your joints. That’s why making it through the night to the end of the checkpoint, on time no less, is so exhilarating when you pull it off. Doubly so, in fact, because you get to hear the boppy car-maintenance music as your reward. Seriously boppy. In fact, this may be my favorite PCE tune out of the 1987 games. You just can’t get enough of that harsh computer-y lead that kicks this tune off. I had to change a tire today (true story) and couldn’t get this out of my head throughout the entire hot, sweaty ordeal. Bliss.
The above video, a championship victory that takes about 23 minutes from start to finish, shows you everything you need to know as a budding Victory Runner. Note how the player destroys his brakes early but deals with it by having his foot halfway on the pedal whenever the road is curving more than half a degree at a time.
Posted on May 22nd, 2009 2 comments
Release Date: December 1987 sometime
Price: 99,800 yen
A PC with Built-in PC
NEC was, in the end, a personal computer company. As a result, the PC Engine scene is packed to the gills with hardware and accessories, to the point where that “PC” in the title wasn’t just bravado but likely reflected an effort on NEC’s part to make the console a cheap home computer in the Japanese marketplace.
I’ve already discussed the “Core Concept” that drove the PCE in the beginning. It largely ended in failure, but also resulted in a few pieces of hardware that are rarer then hen’s teeth — which, I suppose, is part of the collector attraction for the system in the first place. This is one of those pieces.
If you thought NEC was the only PC Engine hardware manufacturer, you’re in for a shock — apparently, as long as you got the license from NEC-HE, then any company could insert the PCE’s hardware into their own stuff and manufacture whatever the hell they wanted. Such compatible devices were called “HE-System Machines,” and there were only two third-party machines released in this line — Pioneer’s LaserActive in 1993, and this bugger, the X1 Twin from Sharp. (NEC themselves also released a PC monitor with a built-in PC Engine, and it says something about NEC’s marketing strategy that this arguably isn’t even the silliest PCE thing they released.)
I, myself, have never seen an X1 Twin in person. Most people haven’t. I’m just cribbing the photo and description printed in the hardware-catalog section of one of the 1997 Super PC Engine FAN magazine-books.
The Sharp X1 was a series of 8-bit Z80-CPU computers released in Japan starting in 1983, one marketed as a home computer. Sharp called it a “PC Television” in advertising, reflecting the fact that the X1’s monitor included a built-in TV tuner, and plainly it was targeted for gamers and other hardcore users…assuming they could afford the 150,000 yen the thing cost in its original configuration. The series got an upgrade with the X1 Turbo in 1984 and eventually evolved into the X68000 line, one that achieved almost-legendary status among Japanese gamers until Windows machines finally won the market for good.
This machine, the X1 Twin, was marketed as “the response to the X1’s fifth birthday.” It was released just after (almost simultaneously, really) with the PC Engine console, as you can tell by this flyer (left) that shows no software besides launch titles Shanghai and Bikkuriman World.
Exactly why Sharp thought that licensing technology from NEC, its chief competitor in the home computer business at the time, would be a great idea for its new PC is a mystery to me. The only connection here is that Hudson developed the BASIC interpreter that shipped with the X1, sort of like how Microsoft did the BASIC for most Western 8-bit computers. Maybe Sharp, like a lot of other third-party hardware makers in Japan at the time, thought the PCE had a chance to take over the Famicom’s enormous market overnight and just wanted to get in on the ground floor any way possible.
As for the hardware itself? Like I said before, I’m really not sure what Sharp was thinking with this thing. If this is their “response,” then it’s the wrong one. Similar to the Tera Drive and Amstrad Mega PC that came later, this is a computer that just happens to also let you play console games on it. If you think you can control the PCE with the computer, or have RGB output from the PCE, then forget it. The X1 and PCE hardware run completely separately from each other, including different video outputs; the only thing they really share is a power supply. Another side effect of this structure is that you cannot expand the PCE inside at all; you can only play HuCards, and since there’s no backup RAM, there’s also no saving any of your games (not that this became an option for PCE games until backup memory became standard in ’88 or so).
The X1 Twin was the final computer released as part of Sharp’s X1 series. While Sharp has a history of mashing hardware together and calling it “Twin” (cf. the Twin Famicom), I still can’t see any reason why this bit of hardware exists at all.
Speaking of consoles installed within PCs but running on different video outputs and sharing nothing with the computer portion apart from the AC supply, the PC-FX board NEC released in 1995 for their PC-9821 computer is the exact same deal. What was the point? The 3DO Blaster was a lot kinder to end users in this regard, no doubt, and has the added benefit of being marginally more useful as a game platform than the PC-FX.
Posted on May 22nd, 2009 3 comments
Release Date: 11/30/87
Price: 4500 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 19.96 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A side-scrolling action game starring the Kato-chan Ken-chan comedy team. The characters are drawn oddly realistically, giving them a unique look. Performing some sort of action on the obstacles in the game leads too all sorts of results.”
Kato-chan Ken-chan and the TG16’s J.J. & Jeff are largely the same, with just a few graphical differences to eliminate the toilet humor. Instead of farting, the US version features a spray can as an auxiliary weapon, which inadvertently makes the game just a smidge easier since you don’t need to be facing backwards to fire the spray can at enemies.
The heroes of this game are real people, Cha Kato and Ken Shimura of Japanese comedy group The Drifters. At the time, the pair were heading up Kato-chan Ken-chan no Gokigen TV, a variety program running Saturdays at 8pm on the TBS network. This was the follow-up show from 8-ji da yo! Zen’in shugo, another variety show that ran from 1969 to 1985 and largely helped to define the zany lowbrow humor that most people tend to think of when they hear the words “Japanese television”. Gokigen TV is semi well-known in the US for being the first show to feature humorous home videos sent in by viewers, which led to Vin Di Bona licensing the concept for America’s Funniest Home Videos, a show I found breathlessly entertaining as a kid but wonder how I managed to take for so long nowadays.
Around the time this game came out, Gokigen TV was the number-one comedy on the tube, recording a 36.0% share with its 11/21/87 episode — the 4th best rating achieved by a variety show in Japanese history. The show lasted until 1992, by which time other variety series were kicking its arse in the 8pm Sunday time slot. Kato/Ken followed up immediately with another show, but that fizzled out in half a year, ending The Drifters’ 23-year stint at TBS. (The station dropped the Saturday variety timeslot entirely in 2008.)
Moving on to the game, the object is to control madcap detectives Kato/Ken (they did a detective spoof sketch pretty much once per episode of Gokigen TV) as they solve a kidnap caper, which for some reason involves going through 24 stages of platform Armageddon. It’s simple “athletic action” in the Wonder Boy tradition, and it’s pretty well made — nice-looking, incredibly difficult, and featuring a lot of the trademark gags seen on the show. (Those enormous faces are cute, too.)
Unlike Hudson’s Adventure Island (which came out on the Famicom less than a year before this), Kato-chan Ken-chan has a wealth of complexity to its stage design. You can jump on, kick, or fart/spray-can enemies, and stages can take place across multiple fields and even connect back and forth with each other. There are official Mario-style warp zones, tons of secret doors and such, keys to find, and so on and so forth. This takes a game that’s built to be hard from the start and makes it positively fiendish at the end. That, and the characters control just a wee bit differently from each other — Ken (aka “Jeff”) is a bit faster but skids around a lot more than Kato (aka “J.J.”).
The music rocks, of course. Hudson was firing on all pistons for these first few titles, I don’t know. Tell me this song doesn’t make you feel a little sad. Go ahead. I dare you to lie to me.
Here’s the latest TAS for the game. Prepare to see Ken Shimura do things that would probably send him to the hospital if he tried them out nowadays.
Posted on May 21st, 2009 3 comments
Release Date: 11/21/87
Price: 4500 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 16.68 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A fighting game. Each character is uniquely detailed, and the size of them gives you an impactful experience. Each enemy is drawn realistically and show off a variety of moves. An exhilarating experience, recommended to help you blow off steam.”
Aw hell yeah! Here it is! The game that defined the PC Engine’s first couple of months! The game that showed how much more powerful the PCE was than that lame-o Famicom! The game that NEC used all the time in its TurboGrafx-16 TV spots, back when they could afford TV spots! Oh god, that box art is making me want to beat some asses right the hell now!
People across the world have, sadly, very negative opinions about this game. They say it’s too hard to control, or too boring, or too much of a ripoff of every other action game of the time. Maybe they’re right. I don’t have the guts to try and deny any of that. But I am still recommending THE Kung Fu to you because it houses a soul — yes, the soul of Bruce Lee, the Dragon himself!
The instruction booklet talks about how “Wang, burning with justice, stands up to fight against the evil Dark Empire,” but that’s all just a front. Forget about it. I call the hero of this game “The Dragon.” You just have to look at the dude’s pose in the title screen to see why. I don’t care if Hudson swears otherwise or if I lose every connection to the game industry because of it, because it doesn’t matter. He is The Dragon, and since I am controlling him, that means I am The Dragon. Hwa-chaahhh!!!
I don’t care how finicky the controls are, or how boring the game is, or anything. As long as I know I’m The Dragon, it doesn’t matter. People need to stop thinking about the game and start feeling it instead. Even if most of the minions you fight don’t actually attack you at all, even if the bosses are half palette-switched “twins,” even if The Dragon is completely unable to execute a low kick for some reason, even if simply grabbing a box of oolong tea is enough to replenish his energy, even if I can’t stop thinking about that bastard who’s always just offscreen throwing all these plates and nunchucks and crap at me! It doesn’t matter anymore! All right, maybe a little! But being The Dragon lets you enjoy it all the same! Don’t think, feel!!!
THE Kung Fu is, strictly speaking, a martial-arts action game, but really, down in its core, it’s more like Dragon’s Lair than anything else. Everything in the game is scripted, every object and wimpy non-attacking attacker coming at you at the same moment, in the same order. It’s a giant memory game, and once you get a feel for how things come at you in five levels and the way each individual object moves, all that remains is to draw up a flowchart and hone your skills enough to follow it perfectly, and there you go. The boss battles are a bit more exciting, but not by very much. There’s a total of 36 levels — four worlds, three stages in each, and the game has three “quests” — and after you go through the game a third time, the message “GIVE UP!” (i.e. I give up! You must be a video whiz!) is displayed ominously onscreen.
The music is worth special mention — it’s fantastic and, as a previous commenter noted, incredibly atmospheric for a 1987 console game. I could listen to the in-game soundtrack forever and ever, and frequently do while I train topless in my living room.
Here’s a true Dragon not thinking, but feeling his way through the second half of the game’s first runthrough. Once again, bonus points for his impressive memory and for beating the game on a real machine. Check out his crazy moves against the drunken-master at the end. Are you feeling the Asian vibe yet? Do you think you could take on Chuck Norris?