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  • Ten million points

    Posted on July 28th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    I’d like to talk about Gradius for the next few entries.

    The original Gradius arcade game, officially released May 29, 1985 to arcades, is a milestone to both the genre and the industry at large. Outside of Japan, though, I think a lot of people are more likely familiar with the NES port, which is frankly not all that great when compared to the other ones that hit Japan home systems — the MSX version is wonderful, for example, but I’ll get to that later.

    Gradius is also the sort of game where nothing random ever occurs, and you can therefore put together patterns to get your ship through the entire game without going anywhere near danger. You can see the basic pattern for the first loop through the game in the video above, a simple “I busted out my PCB for the first time in a while” job that thankfully includes the entire “Morning Music” startup sequence.

    In the mid-80s, achieving a score of 10,000,000 points in Gradius was seen as something of a status symbol. The feat takes about 7-8 hours of straight playing and requires you to beat the game and loop through the stages 20 to 21 times, depending on how diligent you are with padding your score when possible.

    When Gradius came out, this was seen as a superhuman feat, because when you die, you lose all power-ups and restart at a checkpoint which often ensured another rapid death. This is especially true in the second or third loops, where for a while, gamers considered it completely impossible to recover and survive if you died after certain checkpoints. Since Gradius is strictly deterministic, however, arcade maniacs eventually figured out patterns for how to “recover” from every checkpoint in every level of the game — pull them off correctly, and you’re guaranteed to survive long enough to get your power-ups back every time. These patterns were originally disseminiated in assorted self-published doujinshi, then reprinted in monthly mag Gamest when it debuted in 1986. They made achieving 10 million points less of a god-like challenge and more of an Asteroids or Defender-like test of concentration and perseverence.

    The above video is an example of a ten-million-point run, sped up 9x so you can watch the whole thing in about 45 minutes. The player dies several times during the session, but has no problem reaching the mark because he’s got the patterns ridiculously well down for every stage. It’s an oddly mesmerizing movie to watch.

  • Wario’s Woods (Nintendo, 2/19/94)

    Posted on July 21st, 2010 keving 3 comments

    The only NES game (at the time of release) to sport an ESRB rating, Wario’s Woods was always sort of doomed to a minor presence in the litany of Nintendo puzzle games put out over the years. I guess it can’t be helped, given that it’s sort of like Puyo Puyo except rather slow-paced and about a hundred times more difficult.

    Regardless, seeing it played well is still a sight, and so here’s a guy playing in Endless Mode and finding out what happens once you roll over the stage count at 256. The video starts at Round 240.

    Only wimps take the coins.

  • Do you need 100 GameCubes?

    Posted on July 20th, 2010 keving 8 comments

    Or 40 Famicoms? Or 20 Nintendo 64’s? 100 N64 controllers, maybe? Or how about 100 Super Famicoms, with 400 controllers and a random selection of 2000 loose SFC carts to go with it? (Presumably there are a lot of Romancing SaGas and Super Mario Worlds in that pile.)

    All this and more is up on Yahoo! Auctions over in Japan at the moment from a seller based in Osaka, presumably either the owner of a used-game shop that went out of business or the repo man who wound up inheriting all of his inventory.

    There was a time when the seller’s collection of 20 Famicom network adapters was worth its weight in gold in the Japanese collectors’ market, but a combination of warehouse finds and a general price depression in 8-bit games has lowered the price a great deal. It’s sort of like how the NES market is right now — a few titles are worth tons, but the majority is no more than a few hundred yen or so each.

    Amusingly, he has only eight Mega Drives available in his vast flog-off, and there’s no Saturn or Dreamcast stuff whatsoever. Nintendo stuff has a tendency to clog up used-game shop shelves, I suppose.

  • Oops

    Posted on July 14th, 2010 keving No comments

    You know what the Flicky means! I’m real busy with real work and need to break from here for a little bit. Be back shortly.

  • Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally (Nintendo/HAL Laboratory, 4/14/88)

    Posted on July 12th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    Nintendo’s shot at copying Out Run…or perhaps Victory Run, more accurately speaking. Japan was going through something of a rally fad during the late ’80s, mainly because on-board rally computers got cheap and kei cars became powerful enough to be useful for racing under rally conditions. Nintendo also did a reasonable job simulating hills and winding roads with the engine behind this game, better than Yuji Naka managed with the Master System port of Out Run, although it’s still a little jerky.

    This game isn’t exactly a simulator — you can choose from one of three cars at the start, and picking up enough ! marks on the road lets you unleash the “Hot Dash” turbo mode. Hot Dash keeps your car from slowing down in snow or desert stages, which is important because the sports car (the fastest in the game) performs pretty poorly in these conditions.

    3D Hot Rally also marks the game debut of Soyo Oka, a female musician (there were a surprisingly large of these in the Japan industry from the very beginning) who worked at Nintendo from 1987 to 1994. Her contributions to Pilotwings, Super Mario Kart and so on are probably better known, but the little ditty that plays during the races here is remarkably catchy as well.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Gunhed

    Posted on July 8th, 2010 keving 5 comments

    Gunhed
    (ガンヘッド)
    (Blazing Lazers)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 7/7/89
    Price: 5800 yen
    Media: HuCard (3 Mbit)
    Genre: Shooting
    PC Engine FAN Score: 24.10 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A standard vertical shooter, much like the other shooting games used in the Caravan. Based off the film of the same name, although none of the movie’s elements are used in the game. An exhilaratingly powered up shooter.”

    Gunhed, the 1989 Japanese live-action SF flick, is not very good. You can tell it’s trying very hard, but it can never quite shake the fact that it’s, well, a low-budget ’80s SF flick, one that wouldn’t be out of a place in a late-season episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I like the film for those qualities, but many don’t. Heaven knows director Masato Harada didn’t like the English VHS release I saw back in the early ’90s, one that was extensively edited to remove most of the very Japanese bits; that’s why that version is directed by “Alan Smithee” instead. (ADV, my former bosses, released a much better DVD in 2004.)

    Hudson and Compile’s video-game version of Gunhed has absolutely nothing to do with the film — you’re piloting a spaceship, for one, while the Gunhed shown in the movie is a robotic tank — and it’s far, far better off for it.

    It’d be fair to say that Gunhed helped shift a lot of PC Engines in the summer of 1989, and not simply because it was the competition game for the Summer Caravan that year. It’s also one of Compile’s best releases ever, packed with everything that makes a Compile shooter so good: a numerical power-up system, changes to upgrade weaponry at regular intervals, and really fast vertical scrolling. It’s also one of the longest shooters they’ve ever made, with a full run taking around an hour to complete assuming you don’t continue. (It’s no coincidence, I don’t think, that stages 5 and 8 — both very slow-scrolling levels — are also the most boring and frustrating to me.)

    You’ve got four main weapons to choose from: the standard Star Soldier five-way beam, a half-moon rapid-fire beam which later got lifted wholesale for Donpachi, an undulating lightning shot that I remember thinking was totally “next generation” back in the time, and some useless orbs that fly around your ship. You’ve also got Gradius-style options called “multibodies” (or, as the in-game voice calls them, “Mmrnh Bnhh”), optional shields, and upgradeable homing missiles. These missiles are secretly the best weapon in the game, because they home in on enemy bosses even before the hit detection kicks in — they make things so much easier, and once they’re fully upgraded, it’s like you can beat the game blindfolded. Sort of. Not really.

    Gunhed is a product of the age, and as such, it’s kill-or-be-killed. None of this “only the center dot of your ship has hit detection” stuff — your entire spacecraft explodes if anything overlaps with it, and that’s that. On the other hand, you’re never asked to perform a lot of fancy bullet dodging in this game, not even in the later stages. It’s a careful balance Compile has pulled off here, and it results in an exhilarating shooting gallery, especially in the high-speed stages 3 and 4. (It’s no accident that the Caravan competition version started in stage 3, probably because of all the destructible blocks and things. Competition HuCards were given out to Caravan champions as prizes, and like the Nintendo World Championships cart, they’re now pricey collector’s items.)

    Really, this is one of those very few PC Engine games that’s so universally praised worldwide that I don’t have much to say which hasn’t already been written elsewhere. The graphics are great, the music’s thumpy and catchy, and it’s just a perfect game to turn your brain off and blast away with. Man, the summer of ’89 was an awesome time to be a PCE owner, wasn’t it?

  • Caravan / Summer Carnival

    Posted on July 6th, 2010 keving 6 comments

    I wanted to write about Gunhed (aka Blazing Lazers) next, but since Gunhed was the official game of the 1989 Hudson Nationwide Caravan (ハドソン全国キャラバン), I probably better explain that first. The video above recaps the first 9 years of the event, winding up with some rare footage of the HDTV version of Bomberman Hudson worked with NHK to unveil at the 1993 show.

    For a generation of Japanese dorks my age, summertime essentially meant the Caravan — watching it, participating in it, buying the official game of the event so you could get as much practice in beforehand as possible. The first installment of Hudson’s all-Japan competition/tour was held in 1985; Star Force was the official game of the event. That was followed by Star Soldier and Starship Hector in the next two years, but Hudson switched formats to the PC Engine from 1988 onward. The game they chose for the ’88 Caravan: Power League — apparently not a tremendously popular decision, so they went right back to shooters starting in ’89.

    The format of the tournament was single-elimination, with the first few qualifying rounds played with a two-minute time limit and the quarterfinals onward played with a five-minute time limit. Gunhed, while a great game in its own right, was a bit of an unpopular choice because you couldn’t play the game in the time-limit Caravan mode on the standard home version. That was fixed with Super Star Soldier, the Kaneko-developed 1990 game.

    In 1991 Naxat decided to hold their own multi-location tournament, the Summer Carnival, to compete with Hudson’s Caravan. The ’91 Caravan had Final Soldier (a brill game) and the Carnival had Compile’s PCE Spriggan (a similarly brill game). 1992 was a similarly bountiful summer, with Naxat’s ridiculous FC game Recca (and the terrible PCE game Alzadick) and Hudson’s Soldier Blade.

    The Summer Carnival ended in 1993 with Kaneko’s NEXZR, and after that point, shooters began to lose their spot as the #1 genre in the mind of console-game kids. Subsequent Caravans used whatever the latest Bomberman game was for their competitions, except for three years’ worth of trading-card game events and one very odd year where they used Tengai Makyo ZERO for some reason. The Caravan breathed its last in 2000, by which time its position as a dominant game event in Japan was long gone;  another Caravan was held in 2006 to celebrate Bomberman coming to the DS.

    Considering how hot it gets in most of Japan during the summer, I can find no better way to pass the time than holding vast shoot-em-up high score competitions. It beats lying in front of the fan in your underwear all day.

  • Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari (Technos Japan, 4/25/89)

    Posted on July 1st, 2010 keving 3 comments

    There’s been a lot of activity in TASsing the Japanese version of River City Ransom lately. The current top TAS for the US port beats the game in six minutes, 53 seconds, but for Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, that time’s gone down to 5:53:32, just over a minute quicker.

    A few of the tricks you’ll see in the video above:

    – Riki (aka RYAN) is picked instead of Kunio (aka ALEX) because that makes the conversation with the girl on the bridge go quicker, to the tune of about 8 seconds.

    – Previous TAS runs involved Riki earning enough cash to buy Stone Hands, which lets him rapid-fire punches — a good, relatively cheap way to power up your character. This time, though, Riki instead purchases the Isis Scroll from the hidden shop in the tunnel. This bargain-basement ($20) item upgrades how much damage you cause when you throw objects at people.

    – Pressing left and right at the same time causes your character to do crazy things in this game, usually resulting in him falling off the screen and dying. This TAS uses that to kill off Riki after buying the Isis Scroll; this puts him back at the last mall visited, which is faster than actually running back there.

    – It turns out that your throwing stat is used to determine damage not only when you throw a weapon or item, but when you kick it as well. To be more exact, when you kick an item and it strikes an enemy, it causes the same amount of damage as the last time you threw an item and struck an enemy. Therefore, you can do a jumping-dash-throw weapon at an enemy for max damage, and then spend the rest of the game kicking garbage cans at guys and one-hit killing everyone except for bosses…which, wahey, is exactly what happens here!

    I hereby rename this game The Adventures of Ricky Rude and His Magical Garbage Can.