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  • Memorial Day

    Posted on May 27th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    …held on May 31 this year, is a chance for Americans to commemorate those who gave up their lives to defend their country.

    But we’re Americans, right? We don’t like to think about dead soldiers; we like to think about victories. And fireworks.

    Along those lines, I present you a video of the home-run sequences from about 30 Famicom games. Because God dammit, we’re Americans. (And the games are Japanese. But ignore that.)

  • High School! Kimengumi (Sega, 12/15/86)

    Posted on May 26th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    I’m in the midst of recording more chip music into MP3 format for my portable player, and I finally remembered this time around to snag the main tracks from this Japan-exclusive Master System release, an adventure game based on a quintessentially ’80s Japanese gag manga/anime.

    There isn’t much to say about the game itself, which can be beaten in five minutes and completed with a maximum score like the above video in under ten. Pony Canyon ported this game to the MSX2 platform in 1987, which strikes me as ranking up there with Mathias Rust’s plane trip as the most foolhardy endeavor of that year.

    I like the music nonetheless, some fine stuff from Katsuhiro Hayashi (a.k.a. FUNKY K.H.). Hayashi joined Sega in 1984 at the age of 18 and stayed on for four years, creating such memorable Sega soundtracks as Super Hang-On, Galaxy Force, and the SMS titles Rambo and Black Belt. You can tell his Sega 8-bit output immediately thanks to that “dit-dah dit-dit-dah” drumline that he uses in what seems like every single track.

  • Mega Game 101, the Action 52 for the 21st century

    Posted on May 25th, 2010 keving 1 comment

    The next PC Engine game on the docket is Tengai Makyō ZIRIA, which is going to take a while, so why don’t we discuss this little sucker for a bit instead? (I find that when you’re shopping for fun gadgets, Fry’s and the Apple Store have nothing on the local Vietnamese supermarket.)

    After poking around the Internet for information, it turns out that the Mega Game 101 (メガゲーム百一式) has been on sale in Japan since January, mainly at discount-store chain Don Quijote, for the equivalent of about twenty bucks. It’s yet another plug-and-play game controller that runs off a standard Famicom-compatible all-in-one chip. There’s no cartridge port, and the device is meant to run on three AA batteries. (There’s a port for a standard AC adapter, but you’ll be bored of the thing long before the batteries run out, so…)

    Dozens of these devices have floated around Chinatowns and Big Lots over the past decade, but this one’s unique because all 101 games are original. Not good, mind you, but at least original. Most of the games are very short, control jankily, and feature plinky out-of-tune music. Some either reset at the end or seemingly go unplayable after a couple stages, much like a lot of stuff in the infamous Action 52.

    I’m a bit surprised that someone hasn’t gone and dumped the ROM on this sucker yet, but until then, someone on Nicovideo has uploaded a video digest of all 101 games. Part 1 is above. You may notice that any music that doesn’t sound China-janky was ripped from other games — WONDER RABBIT uses the bonus-stage tune from Nintendo’s Devil World, for example. The hero of DUNE WAR is one of the foot soldiers you get to run over at the very beginning of Konami’s Jackal.

    I’m a big fan of the realistic graphics on the POLICE DOG LASY title screen. Stick around for MAD XMAS, too; it’s worth it.

    Here’s part 2. Game 51 is an advanced lawnmower simulator, which makes me wonder if the designer is a closet fan of the ZX Spectrum.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Jimmu Denshō

    Posted on May 24th, 2010 keving 5 comments

    Jimmu Denshō

    Maker: Bigclub
    Release Date: 6/28/89
    6700 yen
    HuCard (4mbit)
    Genre: Action
    PC Engine FAN Score: 18.55 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A sort of warring-states version of Space Harrier, but the hero can only jump and cannot fly all around the screen. The game is also not forced-scroll, so you can go in reverse to pick up items you missed.”

    After its founding in 1987 and before their Genesis games began to draw overseas attention, Wolf Team’s primary business lay in the Japanese PC marketplace. There they became very much the Psygnosis of their scene — they made titles with beautiful visuals and lavish intro sequences that took up an entire disk, but boasted gameplay that was often nothing short of torture. PC gamers got repeatedly gypped this way, in an era before one-star Amazon reviews and support forums full of irate nerds, but nobody could deny that Wolf Team games were great for showing off what your fancy PC-8801 was capable of to your less wealthy friends.

    Jimmu Denshō is a spin-off of Yaksa, a swords-and-samurai action RPG that was Wolf Team’s first PC release as an independent company. Yaksa is best known for a three-and-a-half-minute-long intro that knocked Japan’s collective socks off in 1987 and is still pretty nice to look at today. It’s also infamous for being a slow, sleep-inducing mess once you get around to playing it. Wolf Team couldn’t just port that junk to the PC Engine — the audience already knew the game wasn’t salvageable, and there wasn’t enough HuCard space for the intro anyway. So instead, they did the logical thing — take Iori, one of the heroes from the original, and put him into a Space Harrier clone.

    A what?

    No, those screenshots aren’t lying to you — Jimmu Denshō is a flat-out Space Harrier ripoff. Not at all a good one, either. Iori runs tirelessly forward through every stage, swinging his sword at ninjas and yōkai and giant spidery bosses. No, his default sword doesn’t fire shots. That would be too fair. (Hitting anything with it is a daunting task, and even when you earn shot power-ups, they go away if you’re hit too many times.)

    The stages are more complex in setup than Space Harrier’s, but not in any sort of good way. Several levels repeat forever until you figure out what Iori’s supposed to do, and others constantly throw “warp back to start” traps careening forward while you’re trying to deal with the bullet-hell onscreen. Iori can run backward (i.e. toward you), which is a neat feature and theoretically a nice way to defend yourself, but it’s turned off in some stages and can’t be relied on in a pinch.

    Worst of all is the inclusion of platform elements. In a Space Harrier game. One hellish stage requires you to stick to a tiny path that snakes forward and frequently makes violent turns without warning; falling off it causes damage and runs you the risk of getting thrown back to the start of the level. I’m not sure how anyone could have completed this section without cheating — the hand-eye coordination required is nothing short of superhuman.

    But, like all the Wolf Team games of this era, Jimmu is saved by its looks. The game doesn’t have any fancy intro, but the audiovisual package is  top-notch and helped along immensely by the brooding, experimental soundtrack. The music was composed by Masaaki Uno, Wolf Team’s resident go-to man for sound and the guy who would give Motoi Sakuraba his first game work a few years later. His stuff is very un-PC-Engine-like and is a lot closer to the FM synthesized sound you heard in lots of Japanese computer games back then — complex, atmospheric, and not afraid to take center stage. Uno’s soundtrack is the sort that gets better with repeated listens; I couldn’t really take the Stage 2 tune at first but it’s grown on me like kudzu in a Georgia backyard.

    As the video shows, the rampant slowdown that splays out across Jimmu is often the only thing that keeps Iori in one piece. It’s led me to conclude that Wolf Team may’ve been founded a bit too early — their staff was remarkably talented, but until the 16-bit platforms came along, their ideas always got bogged down in  implementation.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Cyber Cross

    Posted on May 20th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    Cyber Cross

    Maker: Face
    Release Date: 6/23/89
    6300 yen
    HuCard (3mbit)
    Genre: Action
    PC Engine FAN Score: 20.14 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “An action game whose visuals and setting is designed to appeal to tokusatsu fans. Collect certain items to transform and power-up your attack.”

    Between Shubibinman and Energy and all the rest, the PC Engine very quickly became the go-to console if you were a fan of tokusatsu stuff. Not if you were a child fan of the genre, mind you — more if you were the sort of “grown-up pal” who snapped pictures at shopping-mall stage shows and argued the finer points of henshin poses with your friends at McDonald’s.

    I say this because while the PC Engine didn’t have too many shonen anime or tokusatsu-license games in the beginning, it did have a lot of original action games in those genres. These games often tended to be really short on gameplay, but were still well-loved by the sort of nerds that adopted the PCE early on. Why? Because they prominently featured all the stuff adults like about kids’ shows — the wild costumes, the over-the-top moves, the cheesy little details that make Super Sentai a dirty pleasure along the lines of pro wrestling and The Price is Right.

    Cyber Cross borrows a little bit from all over this genre of Japanese TV, from the spandex power-ranger outfits to the cyber-enhanced superheroes seen in the Metal Hero series. (You may’ve noticed by now that Wikipedia is ridiculously detailed when it comes to this stuff. This isn’t even the Japanese-language version, either.) Your hero, wearing the unzipped letter jacket and fingerless gloves that immediately identify him as a bad-arse tokusatsu protagonist, can transform into one of three different fighters by grabbing the right power-up. These color-coded good guys each wield a different a weapon — laser sword, galactic phaser, or some sort of electrified boomerang — that can be charged up if you hold down the II button long enough.

    It’s the complete tokusatsu package graphically — day-glo city backgrounds, music that changes after you transform, thousands of insect-themed bad guys to mow down, recurring villains that get replaced with other recurring villains once you kill them. It’s maybe appropriate, given how every cliche in the book is included here, that the gameplay itself is also kind of repetitive, a straight imitation of Bad Dudes vs. DragonNinja that even copies your character’s slow walking speed and annoyingly imprecise range.

    Face released a sequel to this game, 1990’s Cross Wiber, that’s a fair bit more well-known among PCE fans. That’s for good reason, too — Cyber Cross isn’t a terrible game, but between the repetitive action and lack of cutscenes or other distractions to spice up the proceedings, it doesn’t seem quite like a complete package.

  • Posted on May 19th, 2010 keving 2 comments

    So…tired…but no worries, normal updating will return very shortly.

  • Smooth “Selling” (get it?!!)

    Posted on May 17th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    Magweasel is now a year old, and I must admit to forgetting one of the main reasons why I launched it in the first place — to build a showcase for the office cabinet full of old E3/CES promotional material I have. While the great majority of the collection isn’t half as exciting as AMAZING SETA HELPS RETAILERS Volume 1, much of it is so old that it’s beginning to ignite twinges of — dare I say it? — nostalgia for the ’90s whenever I go diving through the files. Case in point: this fold-out flyer from the 1995 Winter CES shilling Ocean’s Waterworld.

    As a high-schooler in 1995, my impression of Kevin Costner was that he was a self-centered, egotistical washout who liked to produce meandering snorefests starring himself. That period of his career was short-lived, honestly, but if you were unfortunate enough to grow up in the midst of it, that’s likely still the gut feeling you’ve got about the man. It’s perhaps a bit unfair, because Waterworld — despite being a  US box-office flop and certifiably a terrible movie — was a big hit overseas and wound up becoming very profitable for Universal, which still has special-effects stage shows modeled after the film running in three of their theme parks.

    You can see why a company like Ocean would be excited about nabbing the game license. This was a company that practically built itself off big-ticket game licenses in Europe, among them RoboCop, Batman and The Addams Family (the C64 version of which I pirated off a BBS in 1992 and played to completion — hey, I was young, and it never got an official NTSC-compatible release anyway). Those few decent games, however, were dwarfed by all the crap licenses Ocean released over the years, and Waterworld was their last major shot at the “genre” they helped to pioneer. Presumably, developing movie games for the PlayStation generation was expensive enough that it stopped making financial sense for them.

    Waterworld eventually came out on the SNES, Game Boy, and the Virtual Boy of all things, for which it was a launch title. Steven Kent called the Virtual Boy Waterworld the worst game ever made in an article once; I’d disagree with that, but it’s certainly the worst Virtual Boy game ever made. Genesis and Saturn versions were announced but never released; the Genesis ROM is easily available, but the Saturn version isn’t and I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t close to finished, a victim of Sega mucking around with the Saturn’s US release date.

    Ocean’s Saturn project has nothing to do with the games Interplay had developed for the 3DO, PlayStation and PC at the same time. Not much is known about this lost title, except that it apparently has a “fully dynamic virtual ocean with staggeringly dynamic water surface,” which would make it kind of unique among Saturn games, wouldn’t it?

  • 15 years ago…

    Posted on May 14th, 2010 keving 8 comments

    I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I missed a notable milestone back on May 11 — the 15th anniversary of the Sega Saturn’s North American release, more or less.

    The particulars are already well-known to most game historians, but in case you aren’t familiar with the story:

    • Sega of America president/CEO Tom Kalinske announces in early ’95 that the Saturn will come out on September 2; Sony then announces a September 9 release for the PlayStation.
    • At Kalinske’s keynote address, held 8:45 am on May 11 (the Thursday of E3 1995), the president announces that the Saturn’s actually on sale right now at select retailers for $399.
    • The move seriously backfires. The Saturn’s library is starved for releases through the summer. US third parties, not tipped off to Kalinske’s release-date shift, are angry that Sega robbed them of the chance to release launch titles.  Retailers that weren’t selected for the launch are even angrier; Kay-Bee refuses to stock the Saturn entirely for a while.
    • Sega sells 80,000 Saturns by September 9; Sony sells 100,000 PlayStations (which had its price dropped to $299 in response to the Saturn’s MSRP) during its own launch window. Sega thus loses the generation’s console war practically before it began.

    I happened to fish this out of my shelves the other day. It’s a cardboard newspaper holder with a humorous Saturn-themed cover (you can read it by clicking on the top image). I don’t know how it was distributed — I need to look into this detail later — but it seems logical to assume that Sega set up a deal with some hotel near the LA Convention Center to place it on guestroom doorsteps on the morning of May 11.

    As you can see, the holder comes complete with a vintage copy of USA Today from May 11, 1995. Top stories include Terry Nichols‘ indictment, public debate over talk-radio hate speech, and United Airlines raising their fee for canceling flights to $50 (they now charge $150). The Life section has a PR-y story about the upcoming 3D game-console revolution: “For the first time, video games approach reality: You’re in the driver’s seat, behind the punches, atop a dragon. The 16-bit games to date are two-dimensional environments with pedestrian colors; Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s PlayStation use multiple 32-bit processors, giving them power beyond the average PC and rivaling that of the advanced computers developers use to conjure video game magic.”

  • A bit more about…

    Posted on May 11th, 2010 keving 5 comments

    Fire Pro Wrestling, Human’s first independent game release.

    Fire Pro’s design roots undoubtedly lie with the original Nintendo Pro Wrestling, and there was some discussion in the comments about whether Human themselves developed Pro Wresting on a subcontractor basis or not. I’ve done some more research since then, and I’ve come up with a definitive answer — it wasn’t Human, but it was the company that became Human (they went by the name TRY back then), and the same programmer/designer is behind both games.

    Here are some excerpts from an interview with Masato Masuda, the top man behind Fire Pro during its entire history, as published in Volume 11 of CONTINUE.

    Q: So you started out as a programmer.
    A: Right. At the time, people who could code games also wound up writing out the designs for them.
    Q: Is that how the process worked with Pro Wresting?
    A: It was. That was made mostly by myself and someone else who drew the graphics. I thought up the game system and programmed it by myself. […] When you watch wrestling on TV, you start to notice that most casual fans drift toward the villains instead of the good guys. When my friends and I played Pro Wrestling, there was always at least one guy who wanted to be The Amazon. There’s something about his biting and illegal weapons that’s really easy for people to get into. It made me realize how important the heel role was to the whole thing.
    Q: The game itself was pretty popular, too. It sold a lot of copies in the US.
    A: Oh, it was crazy in the US. According to
    Famitsu, it was the number-one game over there for about two months. I was so happy about that; it felt sort of like I had the #1 music single in the US or something.

    As I touched on briefly in my Fire Pro review, the chief difference between Masuda’s first two wrestling games (besides the viewpoint) is how they control — Pro Wrestling is all about quick button mashing, while Fire Pro forces players to keenly hone their timing skills to pull off moves. It’s a small improvement that made the resulting game much fairer, much more reliant on skill then luck, and ultimately much more successful. In Japan, anyway.

  • Some more notes on Valis II

    Posted on May 6th, 2010 keving 2 comments

    ferricide wrote the following comment to yesterday’s Valis II piece and was blocked by my spam filter, which is sad because it deserves an audience. (I also swiped the picture above from him.)

    this game blew my fucking MIND. it was the second CD game i bought for my turbografx and it was everything my 13 year old brain could have wanted at the time. i still adore it, despite its obvious mediocrity.

    it’s got a certain je ne sais quoi. it has the darkness and grimness that anime was so into, in the 80s, that seemed so fresh and exciting to my young teen brain.

    like, reiko’s dead, there are dudes getting cleaved in half in the cutscenes… wtf is going on here? quite nice and highly ambient. tokyo at night!

    it’s obviously a point that’s getting made again and again these days, but the abrupt and confusing story added a lot. that the super lengthy over explicative cutscenes of today lack, spelling everything out… it seemed more mysterious and cool.

    also, the super attention to detail and the ridiculous badassery of magus is awesome. that full-screen sized pic of him, which is just a scrolling image, is amazing.

    That was the thing that sort of bugs me about Valis II, though — the fact the story doesn’t make any sense. I mean, why is Yuko fighting this random lady in the intro, and why’s she not particularly pissed off afterwards when she shows up again in ghost form? I suppose you can infer from the context that Reiko is Yuko’s friend who’s forced by the evil Rogless (did I get that spelling right?) to duel against our hero in the original Valis, but it’s just…a bit unclear.

    But then, that was part of the allure of anime around this time, wasn’t it? You didn’t mind if you didn’t catch every single detail because you watched it for the feel — the dark cityscapes, the cyberpunk/fantasy references, the sexy scenes. It was cool because it was so exotic or forbidden to 1989-era America, a time when Muppet Babies was still on first-run broadcast. I need to run through my old issues of COMPUTE!, come to think of it, to see if I can find the blurry black-and-white ads for stuff like Urotsukidoji in the back again.

    I do agree that there’s still a certain allure to this approach, though. You could even put Valis II on the extreme end of a hypothetical storytelling spectrum that I’d guess would have Mass Effect on the other end.