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  • Are you a bad enough dude to buy the April issue of Famitsu Xbox 360?

    Posted on February 26th, 2010 keving 2 comments

    Front

    Back

    Well, do you? Like, you know, without hiding the magazine between a couple of newspapers or something? Do you have the guts, the bravery to look the (female, did I mention she was female) clerk in the eye and say This, please! No, I don’t need a bag!

    Me, I can. That’s because every PC Engine mag looked like this by the end of 1993. I got experience!

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Energy

    Posted on February 26th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    Energy
    (エナジー)

    Maker: NCS/Masaya
    Release Date: 4/14/89
    Price:
    5200 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2mb)
    Genre: Action (or, according to the box, “ESP Adventure”)
    PC Engine FAN Score: 16.83 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “Use supernatural energy balls to defeat enemies as you proceed. Your abilities can be powered up with special items. An action game with adventure-style conversations and puzzle solving.”

    Energy is arguably the most so-bad-it’s-good game ever released on the PC Engine. It’s certainly one of the most harshly reviewed. Famicom Tsushin gave it 4/5/6/3 for a total of 18 points. Marukatsu PC Engine, Kadokawa Shoten’s monthly PCE mag, was a bit kinder with its 5/5/6/4 rating, but I can count on one hand the number of times Marukatsu gave out scores below 5/10, so the presence of a 4 up there indicates we’re into deepest, darkest kusoge territory with this one.

    f

    Like a man in arseless chaps taking your order at McDonald’s, Energy does not offer the best of first impressions. The game’s a loose port of Ashe (a PC-8801 title released by Quasar Soft), and for whatever reason, the developers thought it’d be a smart idea to copy the original’s habit of scrolling on a flick-screen basis as opposed to smoothly following the action. That wouldn’t be so bad, either, if it weren’t for how slooooooowly the game switches between screens — something that’s aggressively agonizing when not playing on an emulator with fast-forward.

    But that’s not the only way Energy makes you wait around. Everything seems to have a delay built into it here, similar to how the Colecovision made you wait 15 seconds before starting a game for no obvious reason. Beat a boss, and it takes about ten seconds for the program to notice and trigger the ensuing level or cutscene. So it is with the barriers in some rooms (top left screenshot), which only disappear several seconds after all the enemies onscreen are killed. You have to mash down the I button for about half a second to skip through dialogue, even. It’s just weird — as if the game’s always just a couple of instructions away from crashing and freezing — and it makes you appreciate how much more serious hardware companies were with third-party quality control over in the US.

    The controls are similarly wonky, often for no apparent reason. Your hero, an intrepid member of the “Demon-Busting Squad” (討魔隊) eradicating hideous monsters from a destroyed Tokyo, jerks around like a jackrabbit in heat whenever caught against a platform or wall, requiring a needless head start to jump up to a higher spot. Even more egregious is a point where you must travel through a long vertical section by executing a super-jump…somehow. I haven’t quite figured out how to trigger this super jump, and neither has anyone else judging by my Internet search, so instead you must hop around at random for half a minute before the game finally offers you forgiveness and propels your character upward like some kind of deus ex machina.

    But I suppose the real comedy is reserved for those who know Japanese. That way, you get a crystal-clear view of just how Mystery Science Theater-like this title is. Imagine the silliest episode of whatever Power Rangers season was on when you were eight years old, and that’s the plot of Energy. Three fellow “Demon-Busting Squad” members have gone MIA in Tokyo, and they rejoin you in ghost form for the final battle after a very silly telepathy-enhanced cutscene. Everyone calls you a “defender of justice” (正義の味方) in the dialogue, which sounds just as stilted in Japanese as it does in English. Some NPCs advertise Masaya’s other games instead of offer you valuable advice. There’s a cute idol-singer sequence halfway through for no reason.

    It’s pure camp, in other words, and gamers in tune with that sort of vibe will dig Energy immensely for the hour-ish it takes to complete. It’s the Earth Defense Force 2017 of its era, is the most succinct way to put it.

    Despite all that, Energy has really good music. (This stirring tune plays while you are riding on the back of some hideous, badly-drawn sea creature across two screens of instant-death water — fast-forward to around 5:15 in the above video to witness this triumphant scene.)

    It always seems like the worst kusoge have the most memorable soundtracks. The music in NCS’s PCE games is really identifiable, by the way, isn’t it? Just like how you can immediately tell a Konami or Capcom NES title by sound alone.

  • Pilotwings (Nintendo, 12/21/90)

    Posted on February 25th, 2010 keving 1 comment

    A Japanese TASser has uploaded a new runthrough of Pilotwings completed in 22 minutes and 27 seconds. He also uploaded a few videos of him screwing around which are, to be honest, a lot more fun to watch. Here’s one of them.

    Back in 1991, when my 13-year-old self camped out at a friend’s house to play his shiny new SNES, we’d do a lot of the exact same things you see in this clip — right down to figuring out how spectacularly we could crash the light plane upon landing. Ah, nostalgia! (I also like the demonstrations of him missing each license by a single point. I didn’t realize that was possible.)

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Makai Hakkenden Shada

    Posted on February 24th, 2010 keving 2 comments

    Makai Hakkenden Shada
    (魔界八犬伝SHADA)

    Maker: Data East
    Release Date: 4/1/89
    Price:
    5500 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2mb)
    Genre: RPG
    PC Engine FAN Score: 19.64 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “The hero is one of the hakkenshi, who goes on a journey to find his friends and defeat a mighty enemy. A Japan-style action RPG with a Satomi Hakkenden motif. The graphics, which take ample advantage of the PC Engine’s abilities, are worth noting.”

    Everyone reading this is familiar with Ys Book I & II. I’m reasonably sure of that. It, along with Akumajo Dracula X, is the release that largely defines the TG16’s place in gaming history. What’s a bit less known is that even before Ys received a PC Engine port, it was already getting cloned on the platform. Cloned very badly.

    Data East’s second RPG ever (the first being the original Glory of Heracles for the Famicom) is very loosely based on Nansō Satomi Hakkenden, an early 19th-century Japanese novel inspired by the Chinese classic The Water Margin. The novel featured eight samurai joining together and going on assorted exciting and manly exploits; in this game you’re one of the reincarnated hakkenshi and you must track down the other seven and seal away the evil witch Tamazusa.

    The gameplay is Ys, pure and simple. You bash against enemies to attack them, striking from the side or just off-center to keep your hero from taking damage — although the manual doesn’t explain any of this, perhaps expecting you to figure it out for yourself after several futile attempts at making the I or II buttons do something constructive. Nor does it mention that you can refill your energy by standing still Ys-style, a bit of a handy fact considering that you get very few chances to refill your energy otherwise.

    Two things stand out as you spend time with Shada. One, the programmers were probably too busy playing Ys on the PC-8801 to bother debugging their clone job. As you can see in the above video, dodgy collision detection often means that you take multiple hits from enemies and die when your sprites overlap in the wrong way — Ys had characters get knocked back after a successful attack in order to avoid this exact problem. It also makes conversing with villagers puzzlingly difficult, as you either run right over NPCs or wind up having to read their lines two or three times.

    Two, the game is as poorly written as it is designed. The seven fighters you work with never actually fight with your hero, the way they did in the novel — they just sort of disappear and/or help you open doors and such. Three of them don’t even carry the divine jewels (or shada) their characters are supposed to have from the original story. A Zelda Lost Woods-like section half an hour into the game will cause you to be stuck for days without external help. Enemies that you are completely incapable of damaging become pussycats after you gain a single level. A woman, apparently meant to be the heroine (you have long flashbacks about her in the ending), dies literally two minutes after you meet her. And so on, and so forth, and so on.

    Sadly, we’re still at the point where two megabits is the standard size for HuCard games, and in Shada’s case, Data East compensated for the small capacity by making the story very short and the puzzle aspects ridiculously unfair, hoping you’d feel satisfied with being really stuck instead of advancing the plot along. Considering that Ys is beatable by average people without relying on FAQs (at least, I did it back then), it seems unlikely that Japanese gamers at the time agreed.

    Like I’ve stated in the past, it was slim pickings RPG-wise for the PCE until about mid-1989. Real slim pickings. There’s a couple nice tracks tucked in here, though.

  • Box Art Disparity

    Posted on February 16th, 2010 keving No comments

    It always seems to be “one of those weeks” around here, which means that I once again haven’t had the wherewithal to do much over on this domain. Sorry about that. Plus, I like watching the Olympics.

    In the meantime, why not check out this article over on timewarpgamer.com about SNES regional box-art differences? If you like this site, it’ll be right up your alley, I promise.

  • “Can’t Wait for the Pole Vault Cartridge”

    Posted on February 14th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    Chicago Tribune December 11, 1987 Friday, SPORTS FINAL EDITION

    Copyright 1987 Chicago Tribune Company

    Now you can pretend you’re Carl Lewis, and you won’t even have to get a funny haircut.

    Bandai America Inc. of Allendale, N.J., has come out with “Stadium Events,” the second in a series of game cartridges in which people can participate.

    The game cartridges are used in conjunction with the company’s Family Fun Fitness control mat, which hooks into a Nintendo Entertainment System, which, in turn, connects with your TV set. It’s much easier than it sounds.

    Here’s how it works: The control mat is covered with large circles. You run in place on two of them. As you run, a computer-produced figure runs on the TV screen. As the little video guy approaches the hurdles on the screen, for example, you jump. The little man jumps, too. Jump late, or hit the wrong dot, and your little video man takes a dive and skins his little video legs.

    “Stadium Events” features the 100-meter dash, hurdles, long jump and triple jump. You can compete alone or against a computer opponent or another person running on the control mat.

    The Nintendo system is about $80. Bandai’s basic set-the control mat and a game cartridge-is $70 to $80. “Stadium Events” is about $30. It’s a small price to pay for fun, exercise and the chance to really bug the neighbors.

     
    Evidently neighbor-bugging is an activity in high demand these days.
     
    (Thanx to Mr. Cifaldi)
     

  • Terrifying NES User-Made Levels

    Posted on February 12th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    I would not want to be friends with anyone who made levels like these.

  • Hot update

    Posted on February 10th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    As noted around the net today, Halverson intends to re-launch GameFan.

    A lot more buzz seems to be focused on EGM, and it’s not much of a mystery why — EGM is a pretty new concept and it has something of an all-star staff, while the new GameFan is basically more of the same from Halverson, a mag that combines elements of Play and Geek Monthly into something that sounds a bit like — dare I say it? — PiQ. I’m not too optimistic that the market for PiQ is any better now than it was two years ago.

  • You know, something tells me that Play Magazine doesn’t exist any longer

    Posted on February 9th, 2010 keving 5 comments

    • Fusion Publishing, producers of Play and Geek Monthly, hasn’t published anything since the January Play (above)
    • The last print issue I got of Geek Monthly (subscription renewed in June ’09 or so) was way back in September; they apparently distributed their October and November issues in digital-only format while I wasn’t paying attention
    • Play has recently lost two key staffers — Greg Orlando went to PlayStation: The Official Magazine, and Brady Fiechter, who was sorta the editor-in-chief, has moved on to the new EGM project
    • A report on Geek’s Facebook page claims that readers are receiving notices that Fusion has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy (i.e. liquidation). I haven’t gotten my notice yet, but I certainly look forward to reading it and seeing exactly how impossible it’ll be to get a refund*

    Does this mean that I’m not gonna be producing “Dave Halverson’s Greatest Hits” for 2010? 🙁

    * Not like we did any such thing at PiQ, of course. But that was all out of my hands, I promise, having been laid off way beforehand! (Not that I was gonna spend my personal money to send out refunds, but…)

  • The Amazing Waldemar, King of All Polish Game Pirates

    Posted on February 9th, 2010 keving 7 comments

    I spent the past few minutes reading this interview with one Waldemar Czajkowski, a man who made a living in late-era Communist Poland selling and distributing compilations of pirated Commodore 64 games.

    He had a pretty spiffy small business going at the height of it, producing thousands of tapes and distributing them all over the country in his Volkswagen minivan. The operation was successful enough that he was able to buy a new car and condo with the proceeds — nothing to sniff at considering how far a zloty got you (or didn’t) at the time.

    Waldemar’s biggest problem? Procuring the cassettes to meet the demand for his game compilations, no small feat in a regime that didn’t exactly smile upon people recording things by themselves:

    In the first years of my business, getting any clean cassette was a real art! There was only a possibility to buy only already recorded tapes. If any of the music band from Poland during 1988-1990 period has won the Golden Plate, including the sale of cassettes, I can say that it is partly caused to me! [laughter] When I had some connections I’ve heard that in Szczecin on some street there is a shop selling haberdashery, where you could buy the cassettes! [laughter] Seriously! In the haberdashery! I went there and stood in the queue. At the counter I’ve asked for audio cassettes, thinking also, that for the moment the saleswoman will kick me out, but she came with a question: „Which ones? 60-minutes, 90-minutes long? [laughter] In such strange places I had to buy tapes for my production! When there was the possibility of placing an order in Stilon, it turned out that it was necessary to come with a lot of formalities, to write applications and wait for weeks to process the application. There were problems, for example questions like „Who are you? What is the company?”. Hence, in Stilon was really hard to order something.

    Waldemar kept his C64 pirate business going until 1994, when Poland finally got around to passing modern software copyright laws. He spent a few years afterward selling legal software, but — predictably — sticking with the law led to smaller profit margins and he eventually gave it up in 1997.

    Read the whole thing — it’s in kind of fractured English but is an endlessly fascinating peek into a scene people like me never had a taste of.