Posted on March 15th, 2010 4 comments
Release Date: 4/27/89
Price: 6500 yen
Media: HuCard (4 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 23.36 / 30.00
Kōgien: “An original game with a lot of innovative ideas, especially in the fighting patterns and visual scenes. An RPG with an emphasis on story events, it gives you EXP after story scenes, saving you from having to grind out levels.”
Right now, as I write this (not in 1989, when this RPG was released), there’s a major controversy brewing over the future of manga in Japan. This Thursday, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly will be voting on a measure that, while lacking any direct legal penalty, defines “provocative depictions” of manga characters under 18 years old as child pornography and encourages publishers to restrict them. “Great,” you say, “the less creepy junk in manga the better, right?” Maybe, but a lot of mainstream, household-name manga authors (including people like Doraemon’s Fujiko Fujio whose work has never wandered anywhere near pornography) are protesting the statute nonetheless, concerned that it’s written too vaguely and could be a slippery slope to more restrictions on expression in the future. [UPDATE: The measure has been tabled until June at the earliest.]
One of the manga artists speaking up against the statute is Gō Nagai, a veteran whose mark on the modern scene is massive. His first big hit was Harenchi Gakuen, a school gag comic that toed the line of good taste and made Nagai the enfant terrible of the then-brand-new Shonen Jump magazine’s artist stable. His work took on a darker, more violent turn as the 70s wore on, beginning with his work on the Devilman anime and culminating with comics like Violence Jack and 1979’s Susa-no-Oh, the series that finally earned him a Kodansha Manga Award.
I’ve never read Susa-no-Oh, but Susa-no-Oh Densetsu is based on it and apparently picks up the story after Nagai’s manga first ended in 1980, famously closing with a massive cliffhanger that he never bothered resolving. (Nagai later claimed the move was deliberate and wrote more Susa-no-Oh stories later on for a variety of magazines.)
You play Shingo Susa, a kid with problems — he’s got superpowers connected to the evil deity Susa-no-Oh, who’s been unleashed and divided into three monsters by his rival Uryu when the game begins. (It’s all depicted in the lavish intro sequence below.) The world’s totally Mad Max, complete with a sub-quest where you must refine your own gasoline in order to power an airplane, and your three-person party fights with swords, machine guns, hand grenades, and a small selection of ESP powers.
To be honest, I’m not too sure why Hudson bothered licensing Nagai’s manga for this game. The designers assume knowledge of the manga, but don’t use it to craft anything besides your typical sort of 8-bit console RPG. There are a lot of neat ideas here gamewise, though; no doubt thanks to the involvement of Hiromasa Iwasaki, who worked on Ys Books I & II and Tengai Makyo II (which this game actually resembles a little bit). The world has day-night cycles (Dragon Quest III was pretty much the only JRPG to feature that up to this point); the battles are tactical in style; you can even hire mercenaries to shore up your party before you find some real allies. These are all pretty novel features for a 1989 console release, and they — combined with the challenge level and the storytelling, both decent once things get rolling — make the game engaging through to the end.
Click the above video to check out the opening few minutes. This is the second four-megabit game after Space Harrier, and you can definitely tell where Iwasaki and crew used that extra space. The game itself is standard JRPG, but at least the intro is brutally Nagai.
Posted on March 14th, 2010 No comments
GI has the big cover story, but GamePro arguably has the more memorable cover-story text.
Posted on March 10th, 2010 2 comments
Part of an occasional series where I translate the oddly poetic Japanese dating-site spam I get in the mail. I wish I got more sometimes.
My name is Yuka Mita; I’m a 32-year-old housewife with one child.
My life has been perfectly average lately — every day, I do the chores around the house, watching TV to while away the time. The other day, though, I looked at myself in the mirror and a thought suddenly crossed my mind: “Am I just going to keep growing older like this?” The face in the mirror was familiar enough, but for that one moment, it looked different from usual.
I’ve given everything I had to my motherly duties, and I believe I’ve tried my best for my husband. But I never want to forget the happiness I feel when people look at me as a woman. No matter how old I get, I want to be the same woman I was when I was born — that’s how I’ve been thinking now.
I have run out of patience with my husband. Would you be able to look at me as a woman — as a girl, and a girl alone?
I have a child and I don’t want to destroy our family, so we have to be honest with the role of our relationship in our lives. I’d like for both of us to fully respect each other’s private matters.
My photo and full profile is published below.
My desire to be seen as a woman is always with me, and my body shape isn’t that far removed from what it was in my twenties.
If we could start just by talking about the trivial things in our life and build from there, that would be wonderful. I’ll wait for you to contact me.
I’ll save you, Yuka!!! I just turned 32 and everything, too!!! :'(
Posted on March 9th, 2010 2 comments
Posted on March 9th, 2010 17 comments
I’ve got fond memories of this. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that it’s my favorite “sprite-scaling” arcade racer of all time; certainly it’s the pinnacle of the sub-genre, which got its start with Out Run back in 1986. It’s packed with awesome little details, from the hilarious voice work to the way your avatar adjusts his gloves right after the start of the game — and no, you can’t control the car while he’s doing this.
The first game on Sega’s System 32 platform (and therefore the first 32-bit arcade game ever), Rad Mobile is neat partly because of its sheer length. A successful trip through Out Run takes about six to eight minutes; crossing the USA in Rad Mobile takes up to eighteen. It’s a test of concentration, especially in the later stages where the roads narrow and get packed full with cars driving at high speed and switching lanes without signaling — a very realistic simulation of East Coast traffic, even today.
Sega released a port called Gale Racer for the Saturn in Japan, but it’s not very good — I mean, the cars are 3D models, for Chrissakes.
Also worth noting: This game actually beat out Sonic the Hedgehog, the Genesis game, to market by about five months, making this (believe it or not) the character’s video-game debut. Wikipedia has no citation for this, but my copy of Famitsu DC’s Sega Arcade History — itself a collector’s item these days, going for 5000 yen or so in the aftermarket shops — confirms the dates.
Posted on March 3rd, 2010 3 comments
As if to answer yesterday’s prayers, I managed to track down a video of someone (Japanese, of course) finishing Marble Madness, the arcade original, at very high speed while recording his hands working the trackball. The three minutes and change it comprises are jaw-dropping.
“Recorded 12/30/2008 at Shinjuku MIKADO. ‘Marble Madness is a sport,’ as they say, so I threw up a video I had handy. An utterly stupid mistake on the last stage keeps me from finishing with 99 seconds, but otherwise it’s a relatively decent run. If I can get a flawless run on video, I’d like to update this.”
I knew about the Silly Maze shortcut, but not the one right at the very end. Sheesh!
Posted on March 2nd, 2010 1 comment
Marble Madness, Mark Cerny’s first game-industry credit, is a game near and dear to my heart. People still link to the archived Video-fenky page where I described in detail how to beat the secret stage in the Commodore 64 version. The world it portrays is remarkably well-defined, especially for its time — clean, calculated, wonderful, and merciless. I’d like to think its visual style still influences modern stuff like Mirror’s Edge to this day, but ah, wishful thinking will only get me so far in our modern, shiny, Hollywood-ized game industry, won’t it?
The Amiga version, coded by Larry Reed (who may or may not be the Larry Reed who codes for Crystal Dynamics nowadays), is worth special note. It was the Amiga’s “killer app” for much of the system’s early life in the US, the one title that stood out as massively superior to any other home gaming experience. Even though the Amiga debuted at $1295 (compared to $300-ish for a full C64 hardware set at the time) and Commodore attempted to position it as a professional/business computer, they still used media of the Marble Madness port in much of their advertising. As a kid growing up in the northeastern US, I remember playing only two Amiga games: this one, and Turrican, both of which blew my NES-addled mind.
I never really followed the Amiga the way I should’ve, and I’m in the midst of teaching myself the ins and outs of its game library, a process that I’m sure will happily occupy my free time for eons to come. Along the way, I came across the above YouTube video, demonstrating a pretty astonishing annotated speedrun of the Amiga Marble Madness. The non-TAS-enhanced player winds up with a final score totaling over 200,000 points, which is about 2.5 times what an average player manages in a complete runthrough. Seeing the player wrangle his trackball in person must be a thing of technical beauty, like a master seamstress at the loom or a mile-long line of Toyota assembly robots churning out Camrys. I wish I was there.
The review on the right is from an autumn 1986 issue of Amazing Computing magazine. Click the cut to view another look, this one from the March/April 1987 edition of Amiga World — one of my favorite reviews ever for the sheer looneyness lurking between the lines.
Posted on March 1st, 2010 3 comments
Release Date: 4/21/89
Price: 5200 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 21.12 / 30.00
Kōgien: “The player controls Momo as she fights off advancing enemies. Enter the whirlwinds that appear from the left side of the screen to transform into Wonder Momo and upgrade your strength and defense. A port of the arcade game.”
Wonder Momo is the most common PC Engine game in God’s creation. It’s not quite the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt of the PCE’s library, but it’s definitely the StarTropics. If you pay for a complete copy — doesn’t matter how much — then you overpaid. Up until about 2001, one could take a stroll into Akihabara and find entire shipping cartons of Wonder Momo (six sealed games in each carton) on sale for 50 yen.
It’s therefore a vital part of every PCE fan’s collection, for the simple fact that if you somehow didn’t trip over a free copy somewhere along the line, then cripes, man, you just ain’t trying hard enough.
Like Dragon Spirit and Yōkai Dōchūki before it, Wonder Momo is a port of a 1987 Namco arcade game, one that wasn’t a massive income success but had a massive impact on the impressionable minds of ’80s arcade rats. If you haven’t played it on MAME, the basic idea is this: You’re Momo, a magical lady from the planet Lolicott (ugh), and you fight tokusatsu enemies onstage in front of an audience of rabid otaku, all wearing identical white bandannas. It’s funny to think that creepy Power Ranger fan subcultures existed in Japan way back in 1987 — and was prevalent enough that Namco parodied it, right down to the pudgy photographer trying to nab upskirt shots of our innocent hero. That photographer’s probably stuck in with a wife, one or two kids, and a dead-end middle management job nowadays. Scary.
There’s a real game here, though, and it’s classic Namco — simple mechanics that require robotic hand-eye coordination to master. Wonder Momo, like the better Game & Watch titles, is all about time management. You have to carefully observe how each enemy moves and attacks, figure out how to dispatch them all as efficiently as possible, and keep a cool head as the monster waves accelerate in speed. Your “Wonder” gauge, the bar that governs how long sweet, innocent Momo can become arse-kicking dervish Wonder Momo, becomes both your best friend and bitterest enemy. Learning the exact right moment to transform (too soon and you’ll run out of Wonder and be a sitting duck; too late and you’ll die from massive, overwhelming enemy attack before you have a chance to pull off the transformation) becomes key from the second half on. Better players can devise patterns for both of these core gameplay aspects, since each stage throws the same sequence of bad guys at you every time. Just like Ken Uston’s classic Pac-Man patterns, you can use those rote bits of joystick input to beat the game with your mind on cruise control — eyes connected directly to the nervous system, connected directly to your fingers — once you memorize them well enough.
Not that you can execute these patterns in any home port. Sadly, the PC Engine version (like Namco’s other PCE ports) is heavily cut down from the arcade — voices are cut entirely, along with assorted enemies and four out of the original’s 16 stages. Even the PlayStation version, released exclusively in Japan as part of Namco Museum Encore (1997), isn’t quite right — Momo’s Wonder Ring moves faster than in the arcade version, which destroys all the patterns for defeating bosses. 24 years on, if you want a perfect port, it’s still MAME or nothin’. (What the PCE version does have are cutscenes featuring Momo in skimpy clothing. I can’t complain about that too loudly, I suppose, but it woulda been nice if they used the ROM space to add those missing enemies, at least.)
I’ve chosen a video from the second half of the PCE Wonder Momo to demonstrate the Game & Watch-y aspect of its gameplay. Note how this player defeats each enemy wave in nearly the exact same way every time, deviating from the patterns only long enough to eliminate any unforeseen threat that’s blundered onscreen. It’s a thing of beauty to see in motion, it is.