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  • 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.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] The Ninja Warriors

    Posted on June 25th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    The Ninja Warriors
    (ニンジャウォーリアーズ)

    Maker: Taito
    Release Date: 6/30/89
    Price: 6200 yen
    Media: HuCard (3 Mbit)
    Genre: Action
    PC Engine FAN Score: 21.94 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A side-scrollingg action game in the same style as the arcade original, but the characters are smaller and the graphics overall more plain. The player can choose between a male or female ninja, both of which can attack with a kunai (dagger) or a limited number of shurikens.”

    In 1989, worldwide, children were infatuated with ninjas. It was just, like, ninja ninja ninja, all the time. Our parents played cowboys and Indians in the back alley; we played ninjas and some other ninjas in the cul-de-sac. You had to be there to fully understand it, trust me. The Official Ninja Homepage is hardly an over-the-top parody — it would’ve been treated at total face value by my 11-year-old, Ninja Turtle-lovin’ arse at this point in time.

    All this was true despite the fact that, even if they weren’t 80-percent myth in the first place, real ninjas would not go around wearing flashy red outfits and walking down the street in broad daylight. There’s nothing even remotely “shadow arts” about that nonsense. We didn’t care. We preferred them that way, in fact.

    The Ninja Warriors marks both the height of this slightly skewed ninja sensation and the apex of Taito’s technical achievements of the late ’80s. The 1987 arcade version was the second game after Darius to use a three-monitor setup for a wide-screen effect that completely wowed me at the time but must have cost a fortune for the operator in electric bills alone. The screens were filled with huge characters that animated with astonishing smoothness. The music, sampled shamisen and all, was spectacular; it took other arcade devs a good couple of years to catch up with Taito in sound hardware expertise. The game itself was…hard, yes, but a mixture of pattern management and a bit of help from the control system (things get a lot easier once you realize that your ninja’s invincible during a flip) allowed you to get pretty far on a single credit once you picked up the basic skills. (Not even that could get you through the last level, though, a stage that combines a fiendish time limit with your ninja’s worrisome lack of urgency climbing up and down stairwells.)

    The PC Engine port scored high enough in the PCE Fan rankings, but frankly it doesn’t stand the test of time the way the earlier Kyūkyoku Tiger has. The music’s super sparse — something that can’t be helped, given the difference in sound tech, but surely Taito could’ve managed a better job than this. The graphics are okay, with a surprising amount of animation intact, but most of the little details from the arcade version’s backgrounds are gone. Few, if any, of the strategies from the arcade game can be applied here, something that always annoyed hardcore gamers during this era. Worst of all, there’s no tank in stages 2 and 4 — one of the most jaw-dropping bits of the original when you had to fight it, and an enemy that made it into both the 1993 Mega CD version and the 8-bit computer ports released by Virgin in Europe. Given the PCE’s powerful sprite capabilities, there’s no excuse, just like there’s no excuse for the flicker that plagues the game whenever four or so characters are onscreen.

    Still, Taito got the most important thing right with this port — the atmosphere. The world of The Ninja Warriors is desolate, oppressive, and brutally fatal. You are a merciless murder machine in a bedsheet, and you have to be, or else you’ll explode spectacularly at the hands of 150 knife-wielding African-American soldiers. For the consummate ninja junkie of the late 1980s, few other games slaked your thirst in such a comprehensive manner.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Tengai Makyō Ziria

    Posted on June 15th, 2010 keving 9 comments

    Tengai Makyō Ziria
    (天外魔境ZIRIA)

    Maker: Hudson
    Release Date: 6/30/89
    Price: 7200 yen
    Media: CD-ROM² (141.58MB + 3 audio tracks)
    Genre: RPG
    PC Engine FAN Score: 25.68 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A sort of Eastern charm pervades the story, which features fire-tribe child Ziria as he faces off against the 13 members of the Great Gate sect with his friends Tsunade and Orochimaru. An RPG with a flashy team behind it, including director Hiroi Ohji and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.”

    This, along with the later Ys I/II, established the PC Engine CD-ROM² System as a truly viable game platform in Japan. It’s the first RPG ever released on the CD-ROM format (I’m not going to count No-Ri-Ko as an RPG), and it’s also the first installment in the Tengai Makyō series, one which never really came out here but has stayed alive in Japan since its inception, most recently in a 2008 compilation released on the PSP. In my opinion, though, Ziria is important for another reason — it’s the first real “mega-RPG” project, a JRPG where the graphics were a main sell right alongside the gameplay, and in that way it had the same effect on Japanese gamers in 1989 that Final Fantasy VII had on the worldwide audience in 1997.

    It’s interesting that Ziria wound up doing all this for the PCE, because the game wasn’t even a game at all in the beginning. Instead it was a movie script, or at least the outline of one, penned in 1986 by Teruhisa Hiroi (better known as Hiroi Ōji these days) for media outfit Red Company. Hiroi had an idea for a non-samurai samurai flick — a dramedy that took all the samurai/ninja/shogun legends of Japanese folklore and bunched them all together Alice in Wonderland-style — and he figured it’d work best as a live-action feature film.

    Hiroi’s pitch was turned down by movie studio Daiei in the summer of ’86, but he got a connection via Daiei to animation firm Tokyo Movie Shinsha soon afterward. Hiroi and Red Company then restructured the script to work as an anime series instead, a project that occupied the remainder of the year for them. Torajiro Tsujino, who worked for TMS as an animator back then, went on board as art designer for the project, creating the colorful, exaggerated samurai-era “Jipang” you can still see in the series today — “a foreign observer’s skewed view of old Japan,” as Hiroi put it. (This world-view has stayed constant through the whole series except in Daiyon no Mokushiroku, which turns the tables and portrays 1890s-era America as imagined by Japanese people without the benefit of a world-history textbook.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Jimmu Denshō

    Posted on May 24th, 2010 keving 5 comments

    Jimmu Denshō
    (神武伝承)

    Maker: Bigclub
    Release Date: 6/28/89
    Price:
    6700 yen
    Media:
    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
    (サイバークロス)

    Maker: Face
    Release Date: 6/23/89
    Price:
    6300 yen
    Media:
    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.

  • 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.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Valis II

    Posted on May 5th, 2010 keving 73 comments

    Valis II
    (ヴァリスⅡ)

    Maker: Telenet Japan (Shin-Nihon Laser Soft)
    Release Date: 6/23/89
    Price:
    6780 yen
    Media:
    CD-ROM2 (5.73MB + 53 audio tracks)
    Genre: Action
    PC Engine FAN Score: 24.24 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A popular PC Engine action game, and also a port from computers. The CD-ROM format allows for extravagant visuals throughout, turning the heroine Yuko into one of the PCE’s most popular characters.”

    The first PCE game from good ol’ Telenet Japan (日本テレネット), but definitely not their first ever — the outfit opened for business in October 1983 and didn’t officially shut down until late 2007, approximately 150 game releases later. The company had its greatest international success during the 16-bit era, during which they released PC and console games under a needlessly large number of labels — Telenet, Renovation in the US, Wolfteam (the current Namco Tales Studio) on Japanese PCs, RIOT seemingly at random, and finally Laser Soft (and maybe one or two more I’m forgetting).

    These company names weren’t just for the hell of it, either: Shin-Nihon Laser Soft was a joint venture between Telenet and Japanese electronics retailer Yodobashi Camera, formed in 1988 to release titles on the PCE CD and other next-generation platforms, although Telenet bought out Yodobashi’s share in the subsidiary pretty quickly. (At the risk of confusing readers even more, it should be noted that Atlus handled most nuts-and-bolts development of Valis II on this platform, while Telenet themselves worked on the MSX and X68000 versions.)

    Why II, though, a question that Electronic Gaming Monthly asked in its preview coverage but never answered? Simple: Telenet released Valis: The Fantasm Soldier back in 1986 on Japanese computers, porting it to the Famicom in 1987. II was the sequel to that, and while it was multiplatform, the PC Engine version was evidently the most successful because Valis III (1990) and IV (1991) both picked the PCE as their lead platform. (Telenet then remade the original Valis for the PCE in 1992, thus making our favorite console the only destination you need to explore the saga of the warrior or Valis and the otherworldly land of…hey, are those her panties I’m spotting when she’s jumping?)

    From the get-go, Valis was made to appeal to the sort of nerd audience that was buying OVAs by the handful in the late ’80s, the kind with tentacles and all-girl spacefaring alien races. Few other games until this point, after all, starred a sexy blue-haired teen in a Japanese school uniform who switches over to a skimpy battle bikini after the first level. Yuko Aso, played by veteran actress Sumi Shimamoto in Japan (though she sounds a little like my mom in the TurboGrafx-16 release), is a prototype for the video game bishojo; Valis was one of the first non-porn games in Japan that really sold based on the attractiveness of the main character.

    Later games added things like magic attacks and slide moves, but Valis II is a pretty basic slash-’em-up. You can pick up magic items, but they’re so limited-use that they hardly become a major factor in gameplay. The chief hallmark of this series is the sheer pain handed out by the non-boss minions Yuko runs into as she bikini’s around each stage, and it’s even worse in II because everything deals so much damage — I mean, God forbid the warrior of Valis find something to protect her bare thighs and lower torso, right? This makes the game one of patterns and memorization, and of repeating a level until you’re able to get through it blindfolded with your toes on the controller.

    Your main savior in Valis II is the extra lives you receive every 50,000 points (later games dropped the score system entirely). Since Yuko is resurrected immediately upon dying, this allows you to build up your life count whipping demons during a stage then flail wildly at the boss, letting your superior endurance win the battle instead of bothering to learn attack patterns. This doesn’t make the last level any easier, mind, what with the classic “final boss with two body forms” gimmick and the elevator of death that Yuko falls off of at the slightest brush with any monster.

    The anime fans who bought this game, though, would’ve forgiven everything. That’s because the graphics on the cutscenes are, for the time, pretty mind-blowing. Poorly detailed, yes — I just noticed that Yuko’s head and hips are the same diameter in that shot up above. Also, the scenes occupy only about a third of the screen most of the time. Still, no matter. They’re visually stimulating and accompanied with synced CD-quality voice, which was unheard of in 1989 outside of Cobra. The music is a great, too, and still stands up to scrutiny today — it’s got that dark-yet-poppy feel that nearly every anime OVA soundtrack was sporting back then. (Telenet Japan would later pool all the cutscenes into one disc and release it under the name Valis Visual Collection in 1993 for fat-fingered otaku too wimpy to actually play action games.)

    Overall it’s easy to see why Valis, along with the Tengai Makyo series, became the main public face of the PC Engine CD-ROM in these early months. It’s got everything nerds want — right down to the voice cast giving you secret greetings after the ending (a feature unsurprisingly cut from the US version) — and it’s a decent action game to boot. I don’t think anyone would call it a classic if it came out on HuCard instead, but sometimes packaging really does make all the difference.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Fire Pro Wrestling

    Posted on April 27th, 2010 keving 7 comments

    Fire Pro Wrestling:
    Combination Tag
    (ファイヤープロレスリング
    コンビネーションタッグ)

    Maker: Human
    Release Date: 6/22/89
    Price:
    6300 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (3 Mbit)
    Genre: Sports
    PC Engine FAN Score: 22.57 / 30.00

    Kōgien: “A well-done early game, despite its pedestrian graphics. You can choose from a roster of 16 wrestlers, each with his own set of moves. A wide variety of attacks are available.”

    The final week of June 1989 was a defining moment for the still-fledgling PC Engine. Why? Because two games came out that week, one after another, that eventually grew into two of the console’s most triumphant and fondly remembered series. This is one of them. The other: Valis II, released June 23. Whether your thing is high-school girls in skimpy clothing or thirty-something sweaty men in skimpy clothing, the PCE’s got you covered — what other console can say that?

    Fire Pro Wrestling is the first game ever published by Human, one of the most colorful mid-tier game companies that ever existed. Founded in May 1983 as a software subcontractor, the tiny outfit worked on a variety of Famicom titles, mostly for Bandai. Stadium Events, the most expensive NES game ever? That was Human’s work, as was most of the other Family Fun Fitness/Power Pad stuff that Nintendo themselves didn’t develop.

    Human had its heyday in the early ’90s, when Fire Pro and Formation Soccer both hit their stride and became the top titles in both of their genres. The era saw the company host a lot of very young talent, much of which is still in the business today. Goichi Suda (Suda51), current head of Grasshopper Manufacture, got his start working on Fire Pro. Hifumi Kono, designer of Infinite Space on the DS, got his start making games like Human Grand Prix and Clock Tower, both SFC titles originally. Chiyomaru Shikura, president of Japanese publisher 5pb., is a Fire Pro alumnus, as are Masahiro Yonezawa and Yutaka Hirata, both affiliated with prolific DS dev SUZAK (Wario: Master of Disguise). Kenichi Narusawa, a fairly well-known porn star and producer who once played Shinji in an X-rated remake of an Evangelion doujinshi, worked at Human right up until they filed for bankruptcy protection in November 1999. It must’ve been a very lively office environment.

    But before all that, there was the original PCE Fire Pro Wrestling, an unpolished game but one with all the features that made the series notable already in place. At its core, it’s an update of Nintendo’s Pro Wrestling, retaining the emphasis on timing and move combos instead of the mindless button-bashing that symbolized this genre through most of the ’80s. The exhaustive edit functionality that is Fire Pro’s modern-day trademark didn’t come until Fire Pro Wrestling 3: Legend Bout (1992), but the 16 wrestlers this game shipped with — and the fairly large move list they wielded — is a pretty remarkable stable for the time. (World Championship Wrestling on the NES was similarly impressive, but Fire Pro was released first by a few months.)

    Also remarkable, and perhaps one reason Human never bothered with scoring an official license: This is the first wrestling game where you can make competitors bleed visibly with the right moves. This didn’t show up in any other title until the PlayStation era, I don’t think. For hardcore Japanese rasslin’ fans, this feature alone made Fire Pro stick out from the pack, and thousands of them across the nation spent their Saturday nights in the summer of ’89 repeatedly hammering the heads of CPU opponents into turnbuckles.

    This is still a pretty primitive game by any standard — the computer AI is a complete pushover, and there’s nothing to do apart from choose some wrestlers and have them beat each other up. The seeds of a classic are here, however, and even though they didn’t grow into viny chair-wielding death plants until the Super Famicom era, one still has to appreciate the roots being formed here.

    Human isn’t a household name in the US — erm, come to think of it, it was never a household name anywhere, at any point in written history — but they enjoyed a hell of a ride through the industry for a decade, and this is what kicked it off.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Wai Wai Mahjong

    Posted on April 16th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    Wai Wai Mahjong
    (わいわい麻雀)

    Maker: Video System Ltd.
    Release Date: 6/19/89
    Price:
    5800 yen
    Media:
    HuCard (2 Mbit)
    Genre: Board
    PC Engine FAN Score: 19.92 / 30.00
    Kōgien: “A two-player mahjong game with normal and tournament modes. Normal mode lets you select from three difficulty levels, while tournament mode pits you against opponents that gradually get harder.”

    In a few years, I’m going to be drowning in crap PCE girl-mahjong games. I know it all too well; I’m completely aware of the inevitable perfect storm of tiles and boobies lying in ambush for me, and yet I feel powerless to stop its advance. Ohhh, if only I had paid more attention to that how-to-play-mahjong feature in the first issue of GameGO! Then I wouldn’t be faced with this catastrophe in the waiting!

    Even if I were completely up on the rules of mahjong (the last time I seriously tried to play was in 2001), I would likely not be too excited by Wai Wai Mahjong, a board-game sim with very few amenities. It’s straight two-player mahjong, with a cast of weird-looking challengers and a shop offering a variety of “helper items” (i.e. ways to cheat the random tile generator), but no real story to glue it all together. From the presentation to the gameplay, everything’s pretty bland and 8-bittish.

    If anything’s noteworthy about this release, it’s that Kyoto-based Video System is behind it, one of three PCE games they published. For the longest time, I thought Video System was a Korean outfit, and I really can’t explain why I labored under that misconception except that Super Volleyball looked like a B-league Asian game to me back in middle school. I’ve since fully savored the charms of what’s inarguably the best 2D volleyball sim ever made, but not even that classic was enough to save the company (an offshoot of Japanese arcade distributor Visco founded in 1984) from obscurity for its long history. If anyone in the States knows them now, it’s for the Aero Fighters series of arcade shooters — which aren’t bad, of course, but c’mon, they ain’t Super Volleyball.