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  • Takin’ off again

    Posted on January 20th, 2010 keving 1 comment

    Sorry to jet on you again, but I’m on vacation for the rest of January, skiing in Tahoe. Above is some footage from last year.

    Maybe I’ll update a bit during this time, but to be frank, I probably won’t! (I’m doing my January the Nintendo way — in hibernation, am I right, guys??!!)

    In the meantime, why not review some of the PC Engine coverage I’ve generated so far, all 61 articles of it?

    See you folks later!

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Cobra: Kokuryuoh no Densetsu

    Posted on January 20th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    Cobra: Kokuryūō no Densetsu
    (コブラ 黒竜王の伝説)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 3/31/89
    5980 yen
    CD-ROM (78.12MB + 9 tracks)
    Genre: Adventure
    PC Engine FAN Score: 24.90 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “Cobra, the hero, infiltrates the Queen Love in order to steal a secret treasure, but the ship is swallowed up by a giant scow built by an ancient race to capture marauding monsters. Cobra explores the city inside as he searches for a way out.”

    Buichi Terasawa is one of the few Japanese comic artists that you can say “moved the medium forward” and have evidence to back that statement up which doesn’t involve boobs or panty shots — although he’s drawn his quota of both.

    After getting his start assisting in Osamu Tezuka’s manga department during the mid-’70s, he debuted in the pages of Shonen Jump with Space Adventure Cobra, a series that’s continued on-and-off to this day in comic and anime form. (The official English name of the series changed to Cobra the Space Pirate once Terasawa switched publishers in 2008.) He was one of the first mainstream Japanese artists to bring computer graphics into manga, producing his first full-color digital comic in 1995, and he was also one of the first (in 2001) to distribute his work online. Rare among manga artists, he also participated actively in the development of both PC Engine games based on his work: this one, and Cobra II: Densetsu no Otoko, ported to the Sega CD and released in America under the name The Space Adventure in 1995.

    This video has both captions and annotations. Make sure they’re both on!

    All that makes it a bit surprising to discover that Cobra is classic macho-man adventure that’d be right at home in a Depression-era pulp magazine. Cobra is every bit the Golden Age space superhero, right down to that skin-tight outfit with the boots and everything. He constantly smokes a cigar (even in zero-G), he’s got a super-powerful laser gun inside his left arm, and if all his high-tech gadgetry fails him, then — oh, yeah — he’s still got enough brute strength to break out of metal restraints, all Superman-style.

    Terasawa’s genius lies in the way he took this very traditional all-American superhero, ready to be packaged into an issue of Detective Comics alongside The Bat-Man and Crimson Avenger, and basically threw him into the movie Barbarella. Things like skirts and mink coats don’t exist in the Cobra universe; women are uniformly long-haired, decked out in bikini-inspired spacewear, and aching to get into Cobra’s pants as soon as possible. Considering Cobra came out during (and was heavily buoyed by) the Star Wars craze, it’s fascinating how Terasawa didn’t draw much direct inspiration from that film at all. His take on science fiction involves zero highbrow morality nor religious symbolism. It’s based around two core tenets: scoring hot chicks, and kicking ass — and in that way, it’s even more successful at providing silly escapist fantasy for men than George Lucas at his best.

    Kokuryūō no Densetsu (“Legend of the Black Dragon King”) is a pretty faithful retelling of a story arc that originally ran throughout 1981 in the Shonen Jump manga. Cobra’s hitched a ride on the tourist cruise ship Queen Love at the behest of his partner, Lady Armaroid, in order to steal a ring from an ancient civilization. Along the way he gets swallowed into an enormous, self-contained garbage ship, so big that an entire human civilization exists inside; you spend most of the game trying to find a way out.

    The game itself is a pretty standard menu-based adventure, one geared more toward telling a story than posing a challenge. It’s a marked improvement over No-Ri-Ko in that respect, providing a solid weekend’s worth of entertainment. The art, which Terasawa provided much of the design for himself, is pretty brilliant throughout, but the real highlight here is the voice acting. Cobra is the first game (I think) to have real actors provide voices for a video game, and the titular character is handled by the biggest of them all — the late Yasuo Yamada, the original Lupin III and essentially the guy who invented the idea of “voice actor” as a profession in Japan. Yamada voiced Cobra at Terasawa’s request in this game and its sequel, and he provides a memorable performance, delivering that perfect mix of bravado and gravel that Harrison Ford nailed for his own Star Wars scoundrel role.

    Chronologically, Cobra is the first CD-ROM² System game I’d actually feel confident in recommending to others. It’s more a “digital comic” than a game (the sequel was a great deal more challenging), but it’s still a pioneering experience and a harbinger of assorted amazing things to come for the medium. It’s made me want to read a great deal more of the manga, too, and that’s a lot more than most Japanese licenses do for me these days.