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  • More Marble Madness madness

    Posted on March 3rd, 2010 keving 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!

  • The Tower of Druaga (Namco, June 1984)

    Posted on January 17th, 2010 keving 12 comments



         IN A TOWER

       TO HELP KI IN

    The Tower of Druaga is quite possibly my favorite Namco game of all time. It introduced the concept of role-playing games to a wide Japanese audience before Dragon Quest existed; it has neat characters and audiovisuals; it’s oddly addictive; it’s a direct challenge to hardcore players from hardcore game developers.

    Masanobu Endo, designer of Druaga, began working on the game as a side diversion while he was busy learning assembly language on the 6809, the chip Namco was slated to use in their arcade boards starting with Super Pac-Man. From here I’ll let Endo explain the rest, from when he answered questions publicly on 2ch in 2001:

    “In order to get this game released to the public, I wanted to follow these core concepts:

    – Keep costs low by making it a ROM swap for Mappy boards that weren’t earning any longer
    – Make it seem like a straightforward maze game on the surface
    – Include RPG and adventure elements
    – Give the game an ending to keep players from going for hours on one credit

    Basically the company wanted to get some more earnings out of old Mappy boards, so they’d be happy even if they only sold about 2000 upgrade kits. It was a ripe opportunity to experiment. I was lucky that they had enough free staff at the time to assign a full-time programmer to the project — we worked at a breakneck pace and got the game done in about half a year, which made the accounting people pretty happy.

    So, really, the difficulty of the game didn’t affect the project getting greenlit one bit — I mean, this was a C-grade ROM swap, after all. It wasn’t going to make or break the company either way, and the fact that such an epoch-making title got created in that situation really shows how much Namco cared about the craft of video games, I feel. The only mistake, if you could call it that, is that we had planned to install the game only in Namco-owned arcades, but it wound up earning so much that we actually had to manufacture new boards to satisfy demand.”

    Yes, Druaga is ridiculously difficult. No, there’s no way you could ever figure out how to get all the treasures singlehandedly. But Druaga succeeded in 1984 because it forced arcade rats to work together, writing down their discoveries in public notebooks and pooling their wits (and 100-yen coins) together to get to the end. It created a community, in other words, just like Street Fighter eventually did — one that wrote strategy guides and dojinshi in droves. In a way, Druaga solidified the concept of a “game fandom” in Japan more than any other individual game.

    It’s a game I like enough that I beat it on Virtual Console Arcade back when it came out — and I figured I’d take a Japanese walkthrough of the game and annotate it for your entertainment. The video’s in 4 parts and each part should play automatically after the previous one ends. Hope you enjoy watchin’ it.

  • The New Zealand Story (Taito, September 1988)

    Posted on November 13th, 2009 keving 5 comments

    One of my favorite Taito arcade games, and also one that had a lot of okay home ports (I memorized all the warps in the NES’s Kiwi Kraze back in the day) but no really definitive ones until MAME. The PC Engine version is missing assorted enemies and the Heaven stages; the Mega Drive version features different stages; the Amiga version, probably the most commercially successful one ‘cos it was packed in with the computer in the UK for a while, has nerfed balloons (hah); even the X68000 version sports weapons and enemies that work a little different from the original.

    This is one of those games that punishes you because it loves you. The controls when riding balloons are ridiculously difficult. Learn the warps, and things get easier — as you’ll see, you don’t need to actually complete a level until 3-1.

    A lot of people don’t know about Heaven because it tended not to show up in the home ports we got out West. After 2-4, if you lose your last life by getting hit with a projectile weapon, Tiki will be sent to one of three Heavens depending on what stage you reached. For “heaven,” it’s a pretty dangerous place. If you can reach the goddess at the end of the Heaven stage, you’ll get a special sort of Game Over; if you can find the secret exit out, you’ll fall all the way back down to Earth, get rewarded with one more life, and warp on to the next stage. (The player in this video takes advantage of this to skip most of 4-4, which is a huge pain in the ass and definitely the hardest stage in the game.)

    The slightly unforgettable music, so lovingly remixed by Tim Follin for Kiwi Kraze, was composed by Yasuko Yamada, her first work in games. She hasn’t done much for the game business lately; her most well-known credits are probably Bust-a-Move 1 and 2. (Randomly, she also seems to be responsible for the soundtrack from the first Flintstones NES game.)

  • Baraduke (Namco, July 1985)

    Posted on November 4th, 2009 keving 6 comments

    With its most recent version upgrade, Nico Nico Dōga now allows inline movie linking from any site, including Magweasel. (Until now, you could inline nicovideo movies only on Japanese blog domains that had agreements with the site; that requirement’s been removed.)

    This means that I can now link lovely, long, full-sized TAS and classic video-game clips (of which Nico has about a million) without requiring you to fill out a complex Japanese-language form in order to get an account. Great news for everyone, I think you’ll agree. (Don’t forget to click the “…” balloon on the lower right to turn off scrolly Japanese reader comments.)

    To celebrate I want to talk about Baraduke, a 1985 game that Namco never ported to anything until Namco Museum Volume 5 in 1997. The game was designed by Yukio “Takky” Takahashi, who also worked on Genpei Tōmaden and later contributed to assorted D3 Publisher games; the programmer was Yoshihiro “Kissy” Kishimoto, who later became famous as the chief mind behind the Family Stadium series. Yuriko Keino, who (along with Junko Ozawa) revolutionized the concept of “game music” in arcade titles like Dig Dug and Xevious, handled sound in this game; Ozawa herself is the voice behind “I’m Your FRIEND-O” at the beginning.

    As you watch the above video, you’ll probably note that Baraduke looks a lot like Metroid, from the atmosphere to the color of the hero. This game came out a year before Metroid, and considering the similarities (including the twist at the ending if you stick around for it), you can’t help but wonder if Nintendo took at least a weensy bit of inspiration from this game.

    This runthrough is all about getting as high a score as possible, which means two things: the player racks up extra lives like a fiend (since they’re transformed into points at the end), and he also shoots down the first 20 Paccets he sees, which unlocks hidden pickups — actually unflattering portraits of Kissy and Takky — worth a total of 30,000 points. That’s nothing to sniff at in Baraduke, which is pretty frugal with the points, but shooting all these Paccets means going without any shield upgrades whatsoever for the opening of the game, which makes things extremely difficult around Floor 10 or so. (This was one of the few arcade games, really, where enemy bullets were as quick as yours. That makes things seem nearly impossible for beginners, then and now. If you don’t believe me, try it.)

    Here’s the second half, starting at Floor 31. Note how the largest level in the game (31) is immediately followed by the smallest (32). Also note the Pac-Man stage a little before the halfway mark.

  • Onna Sanshirou (Taito, October 1985)

    Posted on September 14th, 2009 keving No comments

    This game is so cute. I can’t stop watching for some reason.

  • Black Tiger (Capcom, August 1987)

    Posted on August 27th, 2009 keving 2 comments

    Part 2 Part 3 Nicovideo account req’d. How to get one. Click the “…” balloon on the bottom to turn off scrolly comments.

    One of the two games that inspired SonSon II, which I covered last week. Yep, again.

    For a 1987 arcade game, this one has a great deal of RPG elements. The setting is pure, hard, manly fantasy, with you bashing up enemies and opening treasure chests and all of those stereotypically RPG-y things. You can also buy weapons, armor and medicine at shops, something that it seemed like every video game in 1987 fell over themselves to implement somehow.

    Remarkably, Black Dragon (the Japanese name for Black Tiger) and Sega’s Wonder Boy in Monster Land hit Japanese arcades on the same month, sharing a lot of the same RPG/action fusion elements. Sega’s game is a fair bit cutesier than this one, though, the game that served as the foundation for later titles like Magic Sword and the D&D series.

    SonSon featured a few hidden characters, but Black Tiger is packed to the gills with ’em — cows, Yashichi (and its cousin Sakichi), “Pow,” bamboo sprouts, barrels, dragonflies, the main character from Sidearms, and so on and so on and so on. There’s also a hidden octopus, which (rare for Capcom titles) made an appearance in this game and this game only. See if you can find it in the videos!

    The music of Black Tiger is another Tamayo Kawamoto work — a very interesting soundtrack, one that takes a common theme and produces variations on it as you go through the levels. Very movie-like for 1987.

  • SonSon (Capcom, 1984)

    Posted on August 23rd, 2009 keving 2 comments

    Nicovideo account req’d. How to get one. Click the “…” balloon on the bottom to turn off scrolly comments.

    One of the two games that inspired SonSon II, which I covered last week. Capcom was born as an independent entity in 1984, when Irem founder Kenzo Tsujimoto left his company after a hostile takeover and created a new one chiefly with ex-Namco employees; this is their second game ever and the first one that Yoshiki Okamoto (fresh from Konami, where he did Time Pilot and Gyruss) created for them.

    In an interview segment aired on an episode of Game Center CX, Okamoto explained that SonSon didn’t start out as a Journey to the West-themed game, exactly. Instead, the concept began as simply a game that featured a pig (because Capcom thought that a pig character would be readily accept among American and European audiences) and a monkey (because they figured Japanese people would like monkeys more).

    I’m not sure it amounted to anything, considering I never heard of SonSon until I started collecting Famicom games in Japan. The Micronics-developed Famicom port is an awful, flickery mess, but the arcade game is much better.

    Like pretty much all Capcom titles in the ’80s, SonSon features the “Pow” and Yashichi symbols prominently. Okamoto stated that these symbols were part of an effort to give Capcom’s games something unique and immediately identifiable. That worked a lot better, I think. Some power-ups from this game, including the bamboo sprout, would themselves become regulars in subsequent Capcom titles as well. (The “Yashichi,” by the way, is meant to be a pinwheel. It’s named after Kazaguruma no Yashichi, a ninja that appears in Mito Koumon and uses shuriken with pinwheels on ’em as his weapon.)

    SonSon is a simple co-op shooter with deceptively complex scoring rules. The entire playfield is littered with non-random small foods worth 10-100 points each. Pick up six of these, and a “jumbo food” worth 1000-10,000 points appears depending on the point value of the small food you grabbed. “Pow” (which turns all enemies onscreen into jumbo food) appears in certain rare locations or if you eat 8 jumbo foods; the bamboo sprout shows up when you walk over certain locations. The Yashichi, worth 4000 points (it’ll sometimes display other point scores up to 10,000, but a bug prevents you from actually earning anything besides 4000 points), shows up if you can clear out a fortress within 20 seconds.

    Click on the above video to see what co-op play meant in 1984-era video arcades. Also click it to hear some early work from Tamayo Kawamoto, a lady who handled a lot of Capcom’s soundtracks around this era (Commando, Black Tiger, Legendary Wings, Tiger Road, Ghouls’n Ghosts, Forgotten Worlds, etc).

  • Pitfall II (Sega, 2/1985)

    Posted on July 22nd, 2009 keving 3 comments

    Classic gamers (real ones, not people who think the Super NES is classic) have always seen David Crane’s Pitfall II: Lost Caverns as one of the best Atari 2600 games ever made — or, at least, one of its greatest technical achievements.

    Lesser known is that Sega took the Pitfall II name and made an arcade title (later ported to the SG-1000 console) that…well, it’s sort of like Pitfall, but it plays like someone played Crane’s original, told another programmer all about it in detail, and then that programmer created his own version based off that description. All the individual elements are there, but they come together to form something remarkably different.

    Check out the video above for a full playthrough of this rather odd take on the game. (If you want to see more of this kinda thing, have a look at Sega’s home port too.)

  • Flicky (Sega, May 1984)

    Posted on June 8th, 2009 keving 2 comments

    Nicovideo account req’d. How to get one. Click that “…” word balloon on the bottom to turn off scrolly comments.

    I’m just a weency bit too late for this, but Flicky turned 25 years old last month. (I am old.)

    To celebrate, here are the Game Area 51 folks with an all-but-flawless run through the game’s 48 distinct rounds. After this, the game starts over, with Round 49 a faster version of round 1 and so on. (Round 97 is a repeat of Round 49, and the game continues anon until the level counter flips past 255 and the game sticks you back in Round 1. If you get to this point, you are a Flickymaniac.)

    Flicky had many ports, the most accurate being the 1989 Mega Drive/Genesis version that had its roots in the Japan-only Game Library modem service. The bonus-round music was different between the arcade and MD versions for some reason, but both are catchy in their own way.

    You ever hear a tired local-market sportscaster say that a baseball player is “so good, he makes it look easy”? That’s what happens with this video. Game Area 51 makes Flicky look like it’s for children, but load it up, and you realize that the normal laws of physics and momentum have no place in the plucky blue sparrow’s confined world, and it takes herculean efforts to stop him with any accuracy. Try it.

  • Runark / Growl

    Posted on May 12th, 2009 keving No comments

    Nicovideo account req’d. How to get one. Click that “…” word balloon on the bottom to turn off scrolly comments.

    Runark (Growl outside of Japan) is the most ridiculous Double Dragon clone ever. It has a great deal of good ideas — throwing tons of enemies (probably over a thousand) at you, putting you in a variety of ever-changing situations, exhibiting a few neat subtle graphical touches.

    It’s all overshadowed by the fact that it’s the early 20th century and you’re an extremely unbalanced animal-rights activist who uses grenades and rocket launches to kill hundreds and hundreds of poachers (mainly newsies and girls in miniskirts), saving your beloved animals from their assault. Except for bats, because screw those bastards. The enemy also has clown-car-like tanks that can hold nine people at once. And so on. (Taito actually censored the dismemberment in the 2005 rerelease included with Taito Memories 1 on the PS2.)

    Game Area 51 is a group on Nico that posts videos of arcade games played really well. Not TASed, just really well. The above video shows them beating Runark in about 15 minutes without taking a single hit. It turns out the whip is the most powerful weapon in the game, the only one that lets you attack (a bit unnaturally) in two directions. Simon Belmont is super jealous.