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  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Sengoku Mahjong

    Posted on June 18th, 2009 keving No comments

    3080Sengoku Mahjong
    (戦国麻雀)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 7/4/88
    Price:
    4900 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Board
    PC Engine FAN Score: 21.16 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “Two modes are available — a simulation where you attempt to conquer Japan, and a basic mahjong game. Both modes are peppered with advice from Japan’s warlords which really bring out their personalities. A basic four-player mahjong game.”

    This is the PC Engine’s very first mahjong game. The genre didn’t really kick off until Nichibutsu and anime chicks hit the system in earnest, so this is a pretty basic one-player affair. The main gimmick: You play against generals and courtesans from Japan’s Sengoku era and use your consummate mahjong skills to unite Japan under a single banner.

    sengoku-mahjong-j-001 Sengoku Mahjong

    I don’t really know how to play mahjong much so there is little else to say, but at least the three soundtracks available are pretty catchy.

    Have you noticed, by the way, that Hudson had some damn avant-garde box art in this early era?

  • Heavyweight Championship Boxing (Activision, 1990)

    Posted on June 17th, 2009 keving No comments

    Heavyweight Championship Boxing

    Just a little update today (been up since 3am), so you only get a little screenshot.

    Heavyweight Championship Boxing (called just Boxing ボクシング in Japan, where it was developed and released by Tonkin House) is a standard sort of 8-bit boxer in the style of Punch-Out!!. The main thing it adds is an overhead view when the fighters are maneuvering around the ring — the Punch-Out!! first-person view doesn’t kick in until you get close enough to your opponent. You’re also allowed a tiny little bit of customization with your fighter’s skills.


    Nicovideo account req’d. How to get one. Click that “…” word balloon on the bottom to turn off scrolly comments.

    I bring it up on Magweasel for two reasons: the adrenaline-laced in-game music, and the hilarious TAS linked to above. Did you know that midair combos were legal in boxing until at least 1990?

  • Quick notice

    Posted on June 16th, 2009 keving No comments

    In case you are a furry and/or Russian, this weblog now has an official LiveJournal syndicated feed to befriend.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Power League

    Posted on June 16th, 2009 keving 2 comments

    Power LeaguePower League (パワーリーグ)
    (World Class Baseball)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 6/24/88
    Price:
    4900 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Sports
    PC Engine FAN Score: 21.16 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A baseball game whose main draw is its bountiful selection of modes — versus, open, pennant, watch, and edit.”

    The first in what would eventually become a six-game-long series of Hudson PCE baseball sims. Also the only baseball title to see release on the TurboGrafx-16. (World Class Baseball has been on the Wii’s Virtual Console since 2007.)

    power-league-j-002 power-league-j-003

    This, alongside Jaleco’s 1987 Famicom release Moero!! Pro Yakyū (Bases Loaded in the US), established the “realistic” genre of baseball games as they existed in the 8/16-bit era, running in competition with the “toon” style represented by Family Stadium and (eventually) Konami’s Jikkyō Powerful Pro Yakyū series. The original Moero!! is infamous in Japan these days for being a bug-ridden mess, but its “like playing a TV broadcast” approach still made it a million-seller on both sides of the Pacific — probably why Hudson decided to clone it for the PCE instead of attempt to compete directly with Namco.

    The original Power League presents the field from a straight-on overhead view, an approach also taken by Sega’s Tommy Lasorda Baseball and by no other game in the history of mankind. Hudson switched over to a more traditional three-quarters view for the next game, which is appreciated, ‘cos the overhead viewpoint makes the game look pretty damn ugly. I don’t know how related it is, but the fielders are ridiculously slow with their relays, too — infield hits are extremely common off ground balls that are hit anywhere west of second base. (Things improved pretty quickly in the next game, though.)

    In its pursuit of realism, the Power League series has two unique trademarks — the edit mode, and the fact that every batter in the game takes a kannushi stance, keeping a very loose grip on the bat until the moment they swing (an extremely Japanese thing popularized by Hiromitsu Ochiai in the ’80s). Later Power Leagues would offer much more extensive editing, but this being the era before the PCE had any kind of memory storage, the first game only lets you change your teams’ starting members and batting order. Still, that’s a lot more than World Stadium allowed.

    This first game also has a very amusing bug, which wasn’t fixed for World Class Baseball. Place a pinch-hitter in for your pitcher and run through the inning. You’ll be asked to pick a new pitcher; instead, press I and II simultaneously, and you’ll see a phantom nameless pitcher throw a ball that goes straight down to the ground and stays there, essentially freezing the game and requiring a reset. Great for throwing the game with when you’re losing big.

    Finally (and most importantly, maybe): the first Power League has the best in-game music of the series, rivaled only by Power League V in 1992. Baseball games from this era, if they weren’t trying to copy the cheerleading you hear in real Japanese matches, had these crazy, frenetic soundtracks that sounded like something out of CBS Sports’ audio library. I adore ’em.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] R-Type II

    Posted on June 16th, 2009 keving No comments

    R-Type IIR-Type II

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 6/3/88
    Price:
    4500 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Shooting
    PC Engine FAN Score: 22.60 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “The sequel to R-Type I on the PC Engine. Input the password given at the end of I to bring your power-ups over from the previous game. Not a port of the R-Type II arcade game.”

    The second half of R-Type, which received a two-part release on the PC Engine due to technical or economic reasons. This should naturally not be confused with R-Type II, the “real” sequel Irem released in 1989.

    3013

    As discussed in the R-Type I entry, this card contains only Stages 5 through 8 of the original arcade R-Type. Once you finished the four stages included with R-Type I, you received a password that you could type into R-Type II in order to begin Stage 5 with your Force and all power-ups intact as they existed at the end of Stage 4. You were free to begin at Stage 5 without entering a password, of course, if you didn’t mind starting with zero power-ups whatsoever. (Would you like to start at Stage 5 of any 1980s shooting game without any power-ups?)

    I’m repeating myself at this point, but R-Type was the first “killer app” the PC Engine enjoyed, one whose arcade-perfect qualities attracted a lot of attention from gamers nationwide and no doubt helped the system establish a fairly large user base. Having your system-selling game come out five months after the system itself was released would be seen as an unbelievable marketplace blunder in the modern game biz, but having the second part of it come out another two months after that? Gamers back then were extremely patient, I suppose.

    r-type-ii-j-001

    Considering that this is the second half of a full game, it goes without saying that R-Type II is a ridiculously difficult shooter. The final page of the R-Type I manual tells players to “polish up your skills and watch out” for R-Type II, and it is not clowning around when it says that, either. Back in the day I could get to Stage 5 about half the time and never made it farther than the opening of Stage 6, which means that I’ve technically never played more than half of this HuCard without cheating. (snif) R-Type II plays running demos of Stages 5, 6 and 7 if you don’t start a game, but the Stage 7 demo looks pretty much like a TAS to my eyes. Never in a million years would I be able to copy the moves shown off during it.

    It still goes without saying that R-Type demonstrates a sort of raw power that you really just don’t see among the rest of the PCE’s library at this point. Those giant centipedal things that occupy Stage 5, for example, are still impressive, to say nothing of the impact they must’ve had on the Famicom generation of the era. It was a great port, and it set the stage for the shooter/action arcade ports that would form the “HuCard golden age” for the PCE’s next couple years.


    Nicovideo account req’d. How to get one. Click that “…” word balloon on the bottom to turn off scrolly comments.

    In case you missed it last time, here is a TAS of the full PCE R-Type, including the password interstitial in between HuCards.

    If you already saw that, however, how about another diversion? Here’s a comparative overview of the Stage 1 tune from all manner of R-Type ports:

    • Arcade original
    • PC Engine port, which I consider a fuller, deeper improvement on the original
    • Commodore 64 port, which does its own thing and I respect that
    • Game Boy port, which is hard, metallic and Game Boy-like
    • Sega Master System port, which proves that although the 8-bit technical wizards at Compile accomplished a great many things in their time, they completely failed to make the AY-3-8910 sound any good
  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Pro Yakyuu World Stadium

    Posted on June 15th, 2009 keving 1 comment

    Pro Yakyu World StadiumPro Yakyū World Stadium
    (プロ野球ワールドスタジアム
    )

    Maker: Namco
    Release Date: 5/20/88
    Price:
    4900 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Sports
    PC Engine FAN Score: 21.95 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “While gameplay modes are limited to single, multiplayer and watch mode, the controls are easy to work and the difficulty level is very approachable. A port of Famista, the famous Famicom baseball game.”

    Namco’s Pro Yakyū Family Stadium, the first Nintendo baseball game you’d actually want to play (and the title that provided the foundation for RBI Baseball), got a pretty bare-bones PCE port. It’s the first baseball title on the system by about a month.

    2863 Pro Yakyu World Stadium

    Namco had relased an arcade game with the same title a month or two previous to this, but this particular game has more in common with the Famicom original. It’s basically a slightly (very slightly) prettier version of the FC game, and it hasn’t aged well as a baseball simulation — fielder throws are maddeningly slow, and ground balls hit between second  and third have a tendency to turn into inside-the-park home runs. But, like I said, it was the first really playable console baseball game, so it’s culturally important.

    Family/World Stadium from this era featured ten teams — nine loosely based off Japanese pro baseball clubs, and the mythical Namco Stars whose roster is filled with characters from older Namco games. Neither teams nor names are licensed at this point (that didn’t happen until 1992), and some of the teams are amalgams of real clubs — the “R” team, short for “Railways,” is built from a mix of players for the three clubs owned by rail companies at the time: the Kintetsu Buffaloes (defunct in 2004), Nankai Hawks (now Fukuoka Softbank Hawks) and Hankyu Braves (now the Orix Buffaloes). There are also a few hidden teams accessible via passwords, ranging from all-time greats to clubs where everyone’s named after other Famicom and/or arcade games.

    One other note: World Stadium takes place in a domed stadium highly reiminiscent of the Tokyo Dome, which opened two months before the game was released.

  • “The Phantom of Akihabara,” Chapter 3: “Taboos”

    Posted on June 13th, 2009 keving 4 comments

    090613-akihabara1

    The history buff sighed. “What does freedom of speech mean, anyway? Is anything okay as long as you claim that it’s fiction? Or as long as the opposition groups don’t find you? Either way, the developers never bothered facing facts. Any form of entertainment’s going to offend someone, somewhere out there, but they kept on revising and recalling their work whenever any crap popped up. That’s why we’re all in this pile right now.”

    Here is chapter three (“Taboos”) of The Phantom of Akihabara: GAME OVER, a serial novel written by Yoshitaka Ohsawa between 2002 and 2004. You’ll want to start at chapter one if you’re new to the tale.

    In a collapsed Japan where all the “poison” has been removed from mass media, the otaku culture of the past finds a way to survive in the wreckage. Ryohei Takamizawa’s job is to find rare and out-of-print games for his nostalgia-happy clients. What’s he up to this chapter?

    Happy readin’.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] YuuYuu Jinsei

    Posted on June 12th, 2009 keving 4 comments

    4020YūYū Jinsei
    (遊
    遊人生)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 4/22/88
    Price:
    4500 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Board
    PC Engine FAN Score: 18.98 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A video-game version of the board Game of Life. The path you take through life all depends on the spinner. Twirl it to proceed the given number of steps and launch a variety of events. From employment to marriage, you’re asked to make major life decisions at regular points.”

    Further proof that NEC and Hudson perhaps did not start out as robustly as they really could’ve with the PCE’s software library — six months after the console’s release, and the only game that came out at all in April ’88 was a video version of The Game of Life (“Jinsei game” 人生ゲーム in Japanese).

    Yuuyuu Jinsei 4024

    As of 2007, over 35 million copies of The Game of Life have been sold worldwide. Ten million of those are in Japan, where it was introduced in 1968 by Takara and became an instant success, a glimpse of the American good life for a nation that (at the time) was growing its economy at dizzying rates.

    YūYū Jinsei (an official licensed version of The Game of Life) follows the board game’s 1980s Japanese incarnation relatively faithfully. If you’re familiar with the Art Linkletter-endorsed game, it’s a bit interesting to see the cultural differences between the US and Japanese versions. Instead of choosing between the “Business” and “College” routes (a steady paycheck or a luck-influenced one), you instead have to select between becoming a salaryman and earning $8000 a month or becoming a part-time bum (アルバイター arbeiter, this being the time just before “freeter” entered the Japanese language) and getting a chance to become a doctor, illustrator, airline pilot, etc. later on if you land on a lucky square. (The game’s pretty rewarding to players who invest in stocks or life insurance, another sign of the times given the ’80s bubble in Japan.)

    As in the board game, every player spins the dial and runs his station wagon across the board, gaining or losing money depending on where he lands. It’s a pretty straightforward sim of the original, the only real adornment being the humorous animated sequences that show up with every twist and turn, depending your childbirths, your car accidents, and the occasional criminal act you may or may not pull off.


    Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

    These animations are humorous enough that they make at least one trip through YūYū Jinsei worthwhile. (It’s also worth it to listen to the music, another classic example of the jazz-lounge thing Hudson had going through a lot of early PCE releases. My favorite selection is the name select tune — I feel like I ought to have a gin and T in hand while listening to it.) You can click through the 4-part video above to see a two-player match, Player One taking a conservative approach and Player Two (who takes the Master Takahashi avatar, of course) jumping on every risky decision that comes his way.

    YūYū Jinsei also has a hidden game tucked inside — a straight port of Cannon Ball, a 1983-era game for the MSX released by Hudson. (They sublicensed a port, called Bubble Buster, for the ZX Spectrum in Europe.) You can probably recognize the more popular game that was inspired by this one; Cannon Ball was the title that came up with the basic idea first. If you want to try it yourself, load up the game, bring up the player stats display, hold down I, II and Run, and press Select.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] AV Booster

    Posted on June 11th, 2009 keving 2 comments

    AV Booster
    (AVブースター)

    Maker: NEC Home Electronics
    Release Date: 4/8/88
    Price: 3500 yen

    avboosterA Relic From a Transitional Age

    The PC Engine, the brainchild of a computer and home-electronics manufacturer, had a lot of dedicated peripherals handling what were often relatively small tasks. The AV Booster is a classic example of this habit on NEC’s part, not to mention the earliest.

    The original 1987-release PC Engine (the “white PCE”) did not allow for composite AV output. Like with the Famicom, it output RF video by default, requiring you to connect a heavy cable to your TV’s antenna jack and set the system to “broadcast” on whatever TV channel wasn’t being used in your neck of the woods. Composite outputs hadn’t quite become standard yet and were largely reserved for high-end, large-size units. (The Famicom did not officially allow for composite video until the redesigned console launched in 1993, though there were hardware hacks published in the doujin scene before then. The NES, by contrast, had composite from day-one in 1985.)

    NEC-HE, being a high-end electronics maker, must have been thinking for a way to cater to this “videophile” audience from the beginning. That is no doubt why they released this AV Booster only about half a year after the PCE’s release. They were, after all, using the system’s superior graphics as one of their main advertising points — and even by this early point, the PCE’s game library was already leaning toward the hardcore, with quite a few ports of popular arcade games. The aim, in a way, was to convince gamers that playing the PCE on a state-of-the-art TV, in composite mode, was the obvious way to step up from the Famicom kid stuff.

    The PC Engine came built-in with an expansion connector on the back of the unit, the device that allowed NEC’s “Core” concept to spread its wings. Nearly all the many, many peripherals NEC later released (most of them named “[something something] Booster”) connected to this port. While not exactly the flashiest of peripherals, this was actually the first consumer device to use the PCE connector at all.

    avbooster2Things connected up like you see on the left. All you had to do is snap the AV Booster in place behind the PCE, and you had composite output and stereo sound. (The old RF connection method didn’t allow for stereo, ironic because many PCE games had stereo music even by this point, most notably Yōkai Dōchūki.) The composite cable was included in the package, and if your TV (like mine, back in the day) only had one composite audio input jack, you were instructed to use the white cord, not the red one. The Booster even included a small plastic cap for the single unused sound jack if your TV was mono only. They thought of everything.

    Although the AV Booster was a fine product for its time, it led to problems later on in the PCE’s career. This is chiefly thanks to Hudson’s Tennokoe 2, a popular memory backup device that also connected to the system’s rear port. You couldn’t use that and the AV Booster simultaneously, and if a game saved to the Tennokoe, then you had no choice but to play it with RF video.

    The problem was fixed with the CD-ROM System, which came with composite output and memory backup by default. For users not willing to upgrade, NEC Home Electronics later released the Backup Booster, a peripheral that combined backup support with composite output. However, this device was released in the same era as the PC Engine Shuttle and Core Grafx, both of which also had AV output jacks, so it was wholly unnecessary unless you wanted to stick with your white PCE come hell or high water. (Amusingly, NEC also released an RF Unit that allowed these two composite-only systems to output RF video. You could say they were trying to cover all their bases; you could say they had no particular sales strategy in mind with all the hardware they developed…)

  • Dude, calm down

    Posted on June 10th, 2009 keving 1 comment

    090610-guardian

    Gee whiz. Even Ueda doesn’t call it anything besides an “eagle.”