Posted on May 30th, 2011 5 comments
I think the month of June is gonna be tough on updates in general. Forgive me. I mean, I’m not even technically finished with May yet, and the only thing that keeps me going is the intense amount of scaling and rotation this video delivers for me.
Posted on May 24th, 2011 3 comments
Stay on standby! Sorry!
Posted on May 20th, 2011 6 comments
Some kids will do anything to avoid reading books. It’s understandable. Writing a book report on Oliver Twist is no fun at all; watching Oliver! on VHS is. (Voice of experience here. I think. I can’t remember the details, except that I got like a C- in the end.)
One can therefore see why a novel like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a book that tends to wind up on Japanese school summer reading lists all the time, was targeted for manga-ization. What’s perhaps more surprising is that this isn’t a recent thing — Osamu Tezuka, the original manga gentleman, did it in 1953.
Tezuka’s Tsumi to Batsu is a bit of an abridged version of the original. It’s about a third as many pages and cuts out pretty much everything except the juiciest events — the ones Tezuka was safe depicting in a book meant for little children, at least. Although it features a lot of originality in the storytelling (the climactic scene, with Raskolnikov coming to terms with himself in the midst of a hopelessly crowded Petersburg public square, is particularly memorable), the book was not a great success. It turned out to be the last one-off book Tezuka ever wrote, subsequently devoting his full attention to running manga like Jungle Emperor.
His heart wasn’t really in it anyway, one could say. He only wrote it because Osaka-based publisher Tokodo asked him to — the second manga-ification he did after Goethe’s Faust in 1952. No, really, they tried to make Faust into a kid’s manga nearly sixty years ago.
“Faust sold surprisingly well, maybe because it was such a rare thing,” Tezuka wrote in 1978. “Crime and Punishment came next, but by that time, I was finally just beginning to get a few regular gigs at magazines and I found it hard to find the time to write one-off properties like this one any longer. The book wound up taking a year to produce, and the results didn’t sell nearly as well when published. I think that’s because the story’s main themes are too hard to encapsulate and there really just isn’t enough action. However, I don’t think I received nearly as many compliments from kids and adults for any other comic I had written at that point, which was odd to me. It’s such a poorly-drawn piece of work, but simply having Crime and Punishment in manga form was such an adventure to people. I think they were thankful for the experiment more than anything else.”
Like with a lot of other things, it turned out Tezuka was just ahead of his time. Like with Classics Illustrated in the US, there was a major boom in late-’50s Japan for comic adaptations of classics like Tom Sawyer and The Three Musketeers, most of them of low quality done on the cheap by no-name children’s book artists. By then, though, Tezuka’s reputation as the hottest manga writer in the country was already well cemented.
Posted on May 19th, 2011 2 comments
Sorry about all the videos lately. I keep on coming across games I want to talk about.
Shinobi might be my favorite among all the ’80s Sega arcade games. It’s a tough choice — it’s competing against both Space Harrier and Out Run, after all — but I have to go with this one. There’s no better personification of the era it’s from. It’s got 16-bit visuals, FM sound, side scrolling, and lots of ninjas. Yet it’s so much more refined than every other ninja game of the time. The music’s got this very smooth, muted groove to it that’s more Miami Vice than fighting game, and that reserved feel extends to the graphics, too — very few bright colors, no innocent bystanders, no trash on the ground, some kind of Warhol thing going on in the first stage’s background. In the flash and blare of late-’80s arcades, it stood out in the way that it didn’t stand out. Taito’s The Ninja Warriors is kind of similar in visual style, and I’d like to think that’s not an accident.
Like Gradius and Dragon Spirit, Shinobi is an arcade game that Japan’s Gamest magazine spent several issues in early 1988 dissecting apart like a frog in bio class. Nothing is random to enemy placement or movement patterns in this game, and as long as you’ve got a good memory and enough coordination, you can finish the entire game without remarkable trouble.
If you’re a master (like the guy who recorded this real-time play is), then you go through as many stages as you can without using a shuriken. I was in awe of this the first time I saw a guy do it at my local arcade over two decades ago. I didn’t think it was remotely possible, even though the idea should’ve occurred to me long ago — after all, the color-coded ninjas that appear starting in Mission 2 are a lot easier to defeat at close range with punches or your sword. All of the non-boss stages in this video are completed without using shuriken, although the player does use ninja magic strategically once or twice.
Humorously, not even this player can successfully complete any bonus stage apart from the first one. Even if you know the pattern, it requires the sort of precision last seen with some of the hairier Pac-Man routines Ken Uston printed in his book. (The player in this video gets killed by the very last guy in the third, though, heartbreakingly.)
This playthrough takes around 16 minutes, which is longer than the TAS record of 10:30 or so, but watching a human do this is a lot more fascinating to me. (You might want to look up the TAS on YouTube anyway, though. It features a very clever method for skipping most of the third boss battle.)
Posted on May 18th, 2011 8 comments
A video that made me laugh mightily (you’ll see why in the second half), but which I haven’t had a chance to bring up since I wrote a piece on Russian game magazines over on GameSetWatch a year ago.
Back when I ran my NES page (which I now see somebody’s put a Google ad bar up on — where’s my share of that sweet cash, man?!), I used to wonder what on earth these ridiculous pirate hacks were made for. I’m starting to realize that, while X-in-1s and Street Fighter II wannabes were spread all across Southeast Asia and the Middle East, the prime market in terms of gamer population was really the post-USSR region, even if doing business up there was the pain in the ass it undoubtedly was.
Watching this TV clip (the same YouTube user has uploaded a bunch more), I can only imagine the real difficulties Russian kids had back then, trying to figure out which Mario games were “good” and which were copies of something else they’d already purchased.
Posted on May 17th, 2011 1 comment
This playthrough of Rastan doesn’t have the highest visual clarity on the net, but it’s both very quickly played (while not losing a life) and is based off the Japanese version, which has a great deal of story content that was cut out for the US and European versions.
The symbolic music for this game, one that became quite a bit more popular in the US than Japan, was the debut effort of Masahiko Takahi (Mar.). He was involved with a number of Taito arcade titles in the late ’80s and early ’90s, including Night Striker and Superman, the arcade the one they released in 1989. He went freelance after that, and I’m having a lot of trouble finding out what he’s done since his Taito days, sadly.
Looking back, Rastan took a pretty standard gameplay formula and executed it to perfection. That’s still true today, even though a good player like this one can pretty much blow the game right open, making even the bosses look like fools.
Posted on May 16th, 2011 2 comments
Maker: NEC Avenue
Release Date: 8/25/89
Price: 5400 yen
Media: HuCard (2 Mbit)
PC Engine FAN Score: 19.76 / 30.00
Kōgien: “A game that simulates growth process from street racer to F-1 Driver. The story, which has you saving money as a street racer and going from F-3000 to F-1 races, is interestingly unique.”
As mentioned in previous entries, Japan was in the grip of a massive Formula One obsession at almost precisely the same time the PC Engine was viable in the marketplace. It kicked off in 1987, when the Japanese Grand Prix returned to the Suzuka Circuit, and symbolically ended with the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, just as the PC-FX was released and the last major PCE releases were hitting the market. The flow of F-1 games was pretty constant on the PCE, and it was the same story in arcades, most of them behind-the-car sims housed in enormous sit-down cabinets like Namco’s Final Lap (1988).
Capcom’s F-1 Dream (1988) was a bit different. It was a straight overhead game controlled with a standard eight-direction joystick, and with its chubby little cars tooting around a bouncy, curvy track, it didn’t look much like an F-1 game at all. And it was…sort of popular. Not terribly. Just a little, and then chiefly thanks to how it realistically started players out in F-3000 before promoting them to the big leagues. The cutesy graphics, though, made it a prime candidate for a PCE port — from an audiovisual standard, the arcade and home versions are pretty well identical.
The PCE version goes a bit further than that, however. In addition to the F-3000 bit, the home F-1 Dream starts you out on the street racing route, even having you hire your own mechanics and bet on the results of your own races. You start with nothing but $10,000 and what looks like a souped-up VW bug from overhead, and the odds are frankly against you — the mechanics (each specializing in tires, steering, engines or suspension) are incredibly expensive to hire and suck even more money out of you when upgrading your car, which leaves you eternally poor and scrounging around for cash to bet with. This wouldn’t be a great concern if you could drive your way to victory more often, but your street-race challengers are all incredibly talented. They almost always have better acceleration, and if you make a couple mistakes, they drive right off the screen, turning F-1 Dream into what looks like a rally race across the mountains.
As if all that weren’t enough, the controls in this game take some serious getting used to. Steering is handled with the control pad, but F-1 Dream is the sort of overhead racer where you press up to turn the car upward, right to go toward the right side of the screen, and so forth, instead of the standard behind-the-wheel controls. This means you’re crashing into junk all the time at the start, which is dangerous, because if the G/B meter on the bottom of the screen expires, your car explodes and you’re out of the race. (G/B is short for Gas/Body, which is all rolled into one parameter for the purposes of this game. Odd, I know.)
I suppose the purpose of the street-racing segment is to help introduce all these novel concepts to the player before the “real” racing starts. But things are so difficult from the get-go, I imagine the majority of players ran out of money before making it anywhere near an actual race car. Exhausting your bank account automatically puts you into the F-3000 races, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing, but if you didn’t have the cash to hire any mechanics during the street bit, there’s no way in hell you’re going to win the first F-3000 race, and it’s Game Over right after that. You need to win on those mountain passes, and win constantly — in fact, I’d say winning all 15 possible street races is far more difficult than making it big in F-3000.
The tacked-on street mode, in other words, was probably a serious mistake on NEC Avenue’s part. Not only is it too frustrating to serve as an effective introduction to the game, it also has adverse effects on the F-3000/F-1 segments, the part of the game that’s actually from Capcom’s original. The visuals and controls are faithful enough to the arcade, yes, but they really ain’t kidding about the title here — F-1’s gonna be nothing but a dream to anyone who plays this.
Posted on May 12th, 2011 6 comments
Still working, but here’s another long video that you’ll want to watch for purely non-ironic reasons. It’s the laserdisc version of Capcom Game Syndrome, a 1989 release that’s basically a video walkthrough of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Strider and Forgotten Worlds.
This is actually the first time I’ve seen the arcade version of Strider all the way through to the end. I played the Genesis port extensively and it’s kind of fun to play spot-the-difference between the two titles. I have to say that outside of the pauses in between scenes, Sega did a pretty tremendous job fitting this game into 8 megabits. I do miss the multilingual voiced cutscenes, though.
Posted on May 10th, 2011 4 comments
Work’s got me beat at the moment, so why don’t you let Donn Nauert’s smooth voice guide you through the wonderful world of NES secret tricks for the next half-hour or so instead?
Posted on May 6th, 2011 6 comments
Rocket Coaster is a compilation of software packages released by Taito for their D3BOS arcade system, which Taito first introduced in 1991 despite what that previous link says. Short for “Dynamic Direct Dimension Burst Out System,” the hardware combined a fully-enclosed motion simulator, a laserdisc player, and some 68000-based hardware to allow for interactive rides and the like — a VT simulator of sorts, a genre that had a mild boom in the early ’90s with things like Virtuality and Sega’s R-360 system.
Unlike the R-360, though, Taito’s D3BOS allowed for no user input — it was just a ride, allowing punters to climb in, strap on, and enjoy getting whirled around a bit as they watched the best CGI 1991 could offer them. Titles were themed along the lines of roller coasters, dune buggies, spaceships, and even skiing. Although there was no gameplay whatsoever, the ride allowed two people to climb on at the same time, which I suppose makes it good if you’re out on a date in Odaiba or somesuch.
The system was deployed chiefly in Taito-owned arcades and Cannonball City, a small indoor theme park the company ran in Machida, Tokyo that attempted to recreate the atmosphere of an American city. The complex only lasted a year or so, and the system — which sold for around 15 to 20 million yen each — lasted about as long.
Chances are the D3BOS would be completely forgotten were it not for Taito taking some of the footage they made for it and repackaging it into Rocket Coaster, a racing game for Pioneer’s LaserActive system. A complete playthrough is above. It’s half an hour long, but if you like early CGI and background music with a lot of orchestral hits, it’s a must-watch.