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  • Age of Stupid

    Posted on May 18th, 2009 keving No comments

    Age of Conan survives one year, gains unspecified growth

    090518-conan

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Bikkuriman World

    Posted on May 18th, 2009 keving 3 comments

    0360Bikkuriman World
    (ビックリマンワールド)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 10/30/87
    Price:
    4500 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Action
    PC Engine FAN Score: 19.76 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “An action game with RPG elements. The object is to defeat Black Zeus, the personification of evil waiting in the final level. A port of the arcade game Monster Land. The characters have been changed, but the content is largely the same.”

    Largely, a port of Wonder Boy in Monster Land with characters from the Bikkuriman series of anime, tradable stickers, and other bits of 80s merchandise shoehorned in. The retail price is the same as Shanghai, although that game’s half the ROM size.

    03640363

    This is a remarkably faithful port of Westone’s original arcade game. Almost. There’s a trick in the arcade game where, if you flicked the joystick left and right on top of a point where money appeared, you’d sometimes be awarded with 68 gold, which made your shopping a remarkable deal easier. Apparently this was a bug, not a feature, ‘cos it’s removed here — and what’s more, the game seems to be stingier with money overall, so you’re pretty much always short unless you reconsider your shopping pattern fully.

    Other than that (and some cut-out animation and an extremely simplified ending), it’s a perfect port and not a terrible showcase piece for the PCE at the very beginning. A kind of obscure showpiece, but…

    US gamers, if they were introduced to Wonder Boy in Monster Land at all, got their intro through the Sega Master System port released in 1987. That version (along the computer ports Activision released in Europe) actually lacked a lot of the arcade game’s soundtrack, which is a shame ‘cos there’s a lot of good stuff in there. My favorite tune in Bikkuriman is the desert theme — one that got used in about half of the SMS port’s levels, but is far rarer in the original.


    Part 2

    Here’s a guy beating Bikkuriman World without dying or even using the life potion you start out with. Things start to get hairy starting midway through. I forgot that the game doesn’t even give you the chance to buy armor until Round 3.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] PC Engine FAN

    Posted on May 18th, 2009 keving 61 comments

    pcenginefanxI’ll be mentioning this magazine at least once in nearly every I ♥ The PC Engine entry, so I should probably go into depth on it a little more.

    PC Engine FAN was the longest-lasting magazine in Japan exclusively dedicated to NEC systems, beating out rival mags Gekkan PC Engine (Shogakukan) and Marukatsu PC Engine (Kadokawa Shoten) to the market by a month in late 1988. Published by Tokuma Shoten, the mag started out as a separate department of Family Computer Magazine, Tokuma’s flagship console publication; the “FAN” name was also used by sister titles MSX FAN and Mega Drive FAN.

    Most of PC Engine FAN’s covers were either drawn or designed by Akemi Takada, an artist and illustrator who’s best known overseas for her contributions to the Patlabor anime series. Takada began her run by drawing original compositions based on whatever hot game was being discussed inside, but after 1993 the magazine created Mana, a sort of anime-girl mascot, and made her the main subject of most covers. Near the end of the mag’s run, Tokuma released a CD-ROM that had hi-res versions of all the covers that featured Mana, along with a few audio tracks of her singing. (That’s her up there, dressed as Chun Li, in mid-’93.)

    Gekkan and Marukatsu folded with their respective January 1994 issues, making FAN and Dengeki PC Engine the entirety of the PCE-specific marketplace. Dengeki renamed itself to Dengeki G’s Engine (currently Dengeki G’s Magazine) in 1996 and became a multiplatform mag devoted to “girl games,” but FAN couldn’t do this since Tokuma already had a gal-game mag, Virtual IDOL, in its lineup. In the end, both PC Engine FAN and MSX FAN became targeted primarily toward amateur software developers for their final years, although that trend didn’t last long — PC Engine FAN closed up with its October 1996 issue, with two specials released late on in ’97.

    A lot of the PCE’s history in Japan is intertwined with PCE FAN. Kazuhiro Ochi drew a Cosmic Fantasy manga in it for a year or so. The magazine sold a second pressing of Magical Chase via mail-order after the original publisher went bankrupt almost immediately after releasing the shooter classic. And so on.

    A PCE game’s “PC Engine FAN Score” in my entries is the average score for the game as rated by readers who sent in scores to the magazine. The score’s out of 30 and divided into six fields, from character design to “addictiveness” (netchuudo) and value for money. I have these average scores for most, but not all, of the PCE library, and while PCE FAN’s readers had a tendency to rate gal-games high and the more obscure, obtuse releases lower, it’s still a reasonably accurate guide to what’s good and crap in the PCE library. Generally speaking, if a game’s PCE FAN score is over 20.00 then it’s very solid; if it’s over 25.00 then it’s a vital part of any PCE owner’s collection.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Shanghai

    Posted on May 18th, 2009 keving 6 comments

    3090

    Shanghai (上海)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 10/30/87
    Price:
    4500 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (1 Mbit)
    Genre: Puzzle
    PC Engine FAN Score: 19.13 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A puzzle game where you must remove identical pairs of mahjong tiles from the edge of a multi-layered pile until none remain. There are extra conveniences in this game, like a Help function that tells you which tiles are available for taking.”

    This and Bikkuriman World are the two launch titles for the PC Engine in Japan. Despite this, Bikkuriman World is marked “Vol. 2″ in Hudson’s PCE titling and Shanghai is “Vol. 4.” Hmm.

    3093

    “Shanghai” is the world trademark for the mahjong-solitaire computer game created by Brodie Lockard in 1981 and marketed commercially by Activision beginning in 1986. All told, about ten million copies of Shanghai games have been sold worldwide. In Japan, System Soft released Shanghai on the local PC platforms in 1987 and Sunsoft released it in arcades and on the Famicom late that year, but Hudson seems to have worked out their own rights in order to make the PCE version. (I originally thought Hudson sublicensed the rights from Sunsoft, but there’s no copyright text to back that up and Sun’s arcade game actually doesn’t have much in common with this implementation.)

    The question of Shanghai’s origins is actually a really hot topic, or was back in the mid-90s when there were dozens of shareware clones filling up bargain-bin CD-ROMs in every computer store in America. The very short version of the tale:

    • Brad Fregger, producer on the original Mac Shanghai, wrote in 1998 that Brodie told him the game was based on an old Chinese mahjong variant called “The Turtle.”
    • There is Chinese-language book of mahjong history, written in 1984, that describes a very Shanghai-like solitaire game “played by children” too young to follow all the intricacies of full-on mahjong. This seems to back up Brodie’s statement.
    • However, Brodie himself later denied saying anything like that to Fregger, implying that he came up with the idea independently instead.
    • It was important for Brodie to maintain this, because otherwise Activision didn’t have a leg to stand on in pursuing Shanghai clonemakers. (They didn’t chase every single freeware programmer, of course, but they did slap C&Ds down on anyone foolhardy enough to use the word “Shanghai” in the title of their clone.)

    There is a very long history page that outlines this little piece of drama as it unfolded on Usenet’s rec.games.mahjong in 1998. If you have a lot of free time, use Google Groups to poke around that era. (Way before 4chan or Something Awful were even conceived, Usenet posters had trolling down to a science.)

    Anyway, this particular port is Shanghai at its dead simplest. Only one table configuration, and the game doesn’t expressly tell you when there are no legal moves left (you have to use the Hint function to find out). I’m not sure why Hudson needed 128KB to program this. …At least the music is good. I like “Melody 2″ the best, but the ending jingle is refreshing, too. Below is a YouTube vid of someone successfully completing a game, just in case you really want to see the dragon at the end. The sound falls out of sync halfway through, but I give the uploader credit for recording off a real machine.