Octurbo: Cho Aniki

Well, it's come to this. I figured I ought to cover Cho Aniki eventually, what with the TurboGrafx-CD being the very system where this whole sorry affair of beefcake shoot 'em ups originated. For the uninitiated, Cho Aniki ("Super Big Brother") is a side-scrolling shoot 'em up that borrows a page from Parodius' book in bewildering the player with its visuals as a means to trip them up and cause them to prematurely game over. Prematurely do something, anyway. I talked about how random stuff appearing out of nowhere would occasionally be your downfall in Lords of Thunder, and Cho Aniki is that concept multipled by infinity. It's the game Shadow Kanji Tatsumi would make, if he had his druthers.

Then again, I hear it's the PS1/Saturn game where this series really starts to go off the rails. In comparison, the first Cho Aniki is practically a somber documentary on the perils of obsessive bodybuilding and steampunk gone awry. At any rate, I wasn't about to pass up something as historically significant as the first Cho Aniki game. For a system that didn't seem to get too far in the US, it sure was the origin point for a lot of interesting franchises.

This Octurbo is Rated PG-13 for Posing Pouches

This seems a lot more serious than I was expecting. That guy is very big.
Oh, never mind. I was worried for a moment that I put the wrong CD in.
Welcome to Cho Aniki! I'm playing on Normal. I suspect I might not live to regret it.
Your playable characters are Cecil Harvey and Terra Branford, meeting years before the Dissidia crossover. Actually, it's Idaten and Benten. I don't know who they're supposed to be.
The game immediately begins with these flying cages. You start between those two upper left ones and will die within seconds unless you move out of the way, which feels super cheap. Welcome to Cho Aniki! Again!
Enemies start showing up fairly soon, and it's a mix of birdmen and Metal Slug mechs so far.
The first boss (or mid-boss, I suppose) is this creepy thing. All those creepy weird bald guys. Is this where Cargo: the Quest for Gravity got it from?
Though it doesn't seem like you're doing any damage, persist shooting the front and it'll crack to reveal the boss's weak point. Already I'm having trouble dodging these bullets, and they don't give you a lot of room to move around in.
After the boss is this fast descent with... you know what, we'll gloss over the green fellow and talk about Samson, the little orange guy in the speedo. Samson and Adon are essentially Options in this game, but they would go on to become the mascots for the Cho Aniki series (as well as starring in the next game, Ai Cho Aniki).
I eventually bump into... what I guess is a Tengu wearing a fedora. Riding a mechanized tree branch.
Midway through the fight, he loses his log and his, uh, face. I'm not sure who Mr. Topknot is.
It's not apparent from the screenshots, but this game has a very schizophrenic pace, dropping you in and out of boss fights without a second's notice. The music follows suit. Oh man, the music in this game... I'll save that for later.
Next boss is- You know what, screw it. Your guess is as good as mine. A spider tank run by two balding guys, let's go with that.
This giant mechanical samurai is fairly unremarkable in comparison, but at least it looks cool. It's apparently powered by liquefied muscle energy.
Once you blow the head off, Topknot shows up again. Him and his two hands are spectral, so they flash a lot. Made grabbing a screenshot a handful.
I didn't cap the last one, but these overview screens give you some idea of what you'll be facing next. There's no hints about how to destroy them, but I've found that shooting at bosses a whole lot seems to work so far.
Look at this beautiful knight sky. Oh shut up. How are you supposed to caption giant rampaging chess pieces shooting smaller chess pieces at you without chess puns? You can't, last time I checked.
The way this guy plays the harp with his stubby little arms is disquieting. This whole game is disquieting.
Nice looking background this time, though it doesn't make enemy bullets any more visible.
Next guy is this half-sun, half-mechanical floating island powered by a bodybuilder. A Cho Aniki boss, in other words.
The veneer peels away to reveal a whole bunch of guns. It switches from drills to lasers to machine guns, though they're all easy enough to avoid if you don't float directly in front of them.
Next this is this disturbing angelfish. I had legit trouble with this one, because it fires a lot of bubbles at you. These bubbles move fast but are destructible, which means your best bet is to stay somewhat parallel with the fish's mouth and zap them once they appear. All these giant blue bolts don't make it easy though.
What's most jarring is how the background comes back completely different after each mid-boss. Now it's some kind of medieval aqueduct?
I... fuck, I give up. I gotta hand it to this game, it comes up with some weird-ass bosses. And there's that muscleman canister again.
I believe I've had all I can take of Cho Aniki. I'll stop it here before I'm forced to gun down Buff Thomas the Tank Engine.

That's Cho Aniki. I think. I'm still confused, but I suppose the vaguely "H.G. Wells by way of John-Paul Gaultier" visual stylings of this game start to seem normal after a while. Like I said earlier, the weirdness of the PS1 sequel easily supersedes this one. As a pure shoot 'em up it's not too bad, though very limited at the same time. Especially in comparison with its peers, given that the TurboGrafx was rife with superlative examples of the genre (like Blazing Lazers). The player can only upgrade their one weapon (I assume the other playable character, Idaten, has his own upgrade path) and Samson and Adon only seem to help out every now and again. They're mostly just there as bullet buffers.

For a game made famous by its idiosyncrasies, it's still a fairly solid if unremarkable shoot 'em up underneath. There's certainly nothing wrong with grounding the gameplay with some rudimentary fundamentals and then layering on the insanity with the visuals and presentation. I think making both sides of the equation as equally chaotic (say, with a byzantine power-up system) would just lead to a lot of confusion and annoyance. I may just be talking out of the hole on the top of my head, but I think Cho Aniki's appeal is that the game is easy enough to pick up and play, and you can enjoy the campy weirdness without worrying too much about what you're meant to be doing. Protip: Shoot everything.

  • Cho Aniki full soundtrack (listening to each track one after the other with all the weird tonal shifts gives you a pretty decent sense of what it's like when actually playing the game)

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Octurbo: Dungeon Explorer 2

This first week of Octurbo-CD has involved a lot of revisiting the TG-16 franchises of last year's Octurbo and getting some obvious choices out of the way. While that'll persist into week two somewhat, it has less to do with a lack of imagination but rather ensuring that we start with a sure and steady first footstep before wildly sprinting off into the terrifying unknown. In that vein, Dungeon Explorer II is one of those games I left as a "stay tuned" while penning the original Octurbo, and was one of the few items I had on a list of potential TurboGrafx-CD games to cover a year in advance. (Yeah, I actually plan out this stuff ahead of time. I feel like I might be killing the magic, here.)

Dungeon Explorer II is the sequel to Dungeon Explorer (well, doy), which was a game I found more enjoyable the more of it I played and the better acquainted I got with its systems. A then-modern take on a multiplayer console version of Gauntlet (the timing of this blog with the recent release of an even more modern take on Gauntlet is entirely coincidental), Dungeon Explorer merged that top-down frenetic Arcade action with standard RPG trappings such as leveling up and talkative NPCs and an overworld and an overarching narrative. Those trappings were largely superficial in some respects -- leveling up simply entailed finding gems after each boss fight, or collecting the occasional permanent stat boost through exploration -- but it enhanced the standard "shoot at monster spawners and move on" gameplay beyond a repetitive slog. I don't mind spelunking a few floors of beasties to shoot at, but knowing it would eventually culminate in a cool boss fight, a boost in stats and some additional story made it all the more enticing.

Dungeon Explorer II appears to be more of the same from what little I played, even graphically, though the addition of redbook audio music and overdramatic voiceovers has certainly improved my affection for the format. I'll save the rest for the screenshots themselves.

Dungeon Explorer 2: The Explorening

Welcome to Dungeon Explorer II! What, no elaborate anime intro this time?
This is a really cute way to do a selection screen. As this little skit involving all the heroes in the game plays out, it gives you a fair sense of their personalities, which the game proper doesn't spend much time considering. You obviously need some type of multitap peripheral for most of these options, but it's cool you can play with four other people at the same time. I have to wonder how you would settle arguments about who gets what power-up.
We recount the ending of the first game, when the brave heroes fought the dread lord Natas and recovered the Orb of Ora.
Hilariously, they play this fight out in real-time, as the three heroes run around in circles and manage to hit the bad guy every so often. I'm not sure if it was meant to look this uncoordinated.
Oddessia enjoyed a period of peace until... whatever the hell this is turned up.
Monsters! From every direction!
Man, they aren't sugarcoating it. Oddessia seems pretty boned.
A brave knight puts up a defense in the palace's throneroom, but...
He's no match for this white-haired androgynous bad guy. Goddammit, hasn't he ever been in an anime game before?
The King refuses to capitulate the Orb of Ora to this bishounen baddie. "You know how many Game Overs my ancestors went through for that thing?"
Pretty Elf Man respects the King's wishes, promising to only take the orb over his cold, dead body.
One cold, dead body later, and he walks off with the Orb of Ora, laughing maniacally. This is probably bad, right? It seems bad.
Meanwhile, we're on another continent somewhere talking about princesses getting kidnapped by Man-Bull. Man, that's some bull.
The King implores us, in wonderfully overwrought voiceover, that we need to rescue his beloved Princess Miriam.
Hunting around the castle, I find out a couple of things. The first is that the game has kept the black/white magic system, giving you some one-shot items for when the chips are down. Each character has a unique effect.
I also find some white magic and accidentally use it, but fortunately this barrier sticks around until I take enough damage to dispel it. It's pretty sweet.
This is what I like to see. The Royal Library gives you a whole bunch of backstory if you want it (beyond the intro cutscene), or you can just walk right on by.
It also apparently has this sweet home entertainment system. I couldn't get it to do anything, but I suspect this is where you'll be able to listen to music and watch cutscenes. Maybe that's an end-game thing.
Continuing my peregrinations around the starting town, I discover that I can teleport to other areas of the game. I'm guessing I need to visit them first. I also assume that this means that this town is a hub of sorts, sitting centrally surrounded by all the game's dungeons.
Here I am playing cards with the Grim Reaper. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Death loses, naturally ("Um, best two out of three!") and I get an extra life. The lives system carries over too, it seems: the player can die a finite number of times, but they lose all their temporary stat boosts each time they do.
We've been repeatedly told to head west to Norville: The Death Maze that the Princess is in lies somewhere to the northeast of that town. The ferryman is being a dick however. He asks us to kill the monster south of the village, because the princess of his kingdom being in mortal peril is apparently no big deal.
So now we finally see some gameplay. These red orb things are actually portals, which is to say they are monster spawners. We don't need to destroy them all, but it's the best way to avoid getting swarmed.
I'm going to assume the guy meant whatever creature is inhabiting Demon's Claw. Couldn't they have named it something less intimidating? It's my first dungeon. How about "Wuss Cave"?
The music gets noticeably more badass as we start on our first dungeon.
These boots are one of those temporary stat boosts I told you about. It increases AG (agility, I'm guessing) and makes me a little faster. Handy, but I'll need to avoid dying to hang onto it. Shouldn't be hard with all these barrier potions I'm picking up.
No, no, that's quite all right. It seems perfectly natural for you to be here, random NPC. He gives us a cryptic hint about some other monster that I hope I wasn't supposed to remember.
I can't get across to where those two power-ups are, but I then recall how dungeons work in this game. I'll be grabbing those on the way back to the surface, I surmise.
The boss cryptically talks about an entirely different enemy before deciding that the questions can wait until after I've been eviscerated. I suspect this guy isn't a master of interrogation.
"This guy" being a giant wolf. Though there's two of them, the beige one is simply a doppelganger that I can't hurt in any way. I guess the developers thought this fight was too easy with just one wolf.
And they'd be right. These XP jewels return from the prior game: they cycle through the four stat colors, letting you choose your preference. I'm going for AT (attack). I also get a huge boost to HP too, for the greater dangers ahead.
Told ya so. The axe was even more AT, while the crown gave me an intelligence boost. Not sure what I'll need that for, perhaps it governs the power of my magic?
Impressed, the ferryman drops us off on the other bank, at last. Happy I beat your tutorial dungeon now, jerk? (Honestly, I probably could've used the health boost.)
And our next destination becomes clear. I'd almost be tempted to detour to check out some of these other dungeons, except I expect to be killed immediately by all the high level monsters. I think this is a good point to stop, at any rate.

Well, that's Dungeon Explorer II. If you've gone back to check the first game's LP, you might've noticed how closely the two games resemble each other. I guess Atlus didn't feel like fixing what wasn't broke, but at least this one seems a lot more forgiving. Not that you could expect the first dungeon to be brutally unfair. I've also spent less time wandering around lost, so that's a plus too.

And, again, there's the music. It's a lot of fun, switching from schmaltzy town muzak to rockin' dungeon/boss themes, and it all sounds pretty good for 1993 (I say that, but 1993's Mega Man X and Secret of Mana have awesome soundtracks too). Have a listen, and I'll see you all next time:

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Octurbo: Beyond Shadowgate

Beyond Shadowgate is one of a few TurboGrafx-CD games I selected for this year's Octurbo because it builds on an old game I have a lot of fondness for. In this case, that would be the 1987 ICOM MacVenture game Shadowgate. Shadowgate has a reputation for killing its players over and over with something close to a sadistic reverie; a design decision I don't think was entirely a simple hold-over from the far less forgiving text adventures that ICOM's employees cut their teeth with. It may sound cynical, but if you're building an adventure game that dials up the unnecessary and random deaths some several magnitudes more than ought to be acceptable, it's more likely to create a lasting impression on the player. It also starts to come back around to funny again, like Sideshow Bob and his thousand rakes to the face, though maybe that's just the Battered Person Syndrome talking. Sierra would become the masters of the cheap and funny death in due time, but there's something about how easily the Grim Reaper finds you in Shadowgate that almost seems farcical.

Beyond Shadowgate may change a few things -- the game is now a third-person affair, letting you move around the screen and fight -- it still feels like the same old brutally unfair Shadowgate. The presentation's a little spotty in places (if you saw Ghost Manor from last year's Octurbo, Beyond Shadowgate feels graphically similar, which is to say fairly ugly with melon-domed characters) but it definitely gets the feel and personality right. Hoo boy, does it ever.

Shadowgate Doesn't Have Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis System. The Game Itself is Your Nemesis

Welcome to Beyond Shadowgate! What am I doing to this poor demon? Well, when you gotta go...
The intro recounts the story of Shadowgate (spoilers for a 27 year old game): The Warlock had just summoned the Behemoth from the netherworld, but is dragged down to Hell with it when the hero destroys the control crystal.
The hero returns home the victor and begets a royal lineage, all charged with protecting the secrets of Castle Shadowgate.
The most recent being this weenie, Prince Erik. He's just been informed that his father, the erstwhile King, has been assassinated.
Though as soon as he makes it home, he is arrested. The assassin framed him for the murder! The real killer is probably that sinister vizier guy! I've seen Aladdin!
Erik's younger sister Elizabeth knows he is innocent, and surreptitiously hands him an item as he is thrown in prison.
Beyond Shadowgate's two buttons lets you duck and punch, which isn't going to get me out of this cell any time soon. Time to test a few other buttons.
Most of the adventure game elements are directed by the Select button, of all things, including checking inventory and switching an icon from "look" to "interact with" to "use current item".
Using the matchstick Liz gave us, we start a fire and entice a guard in here. One swift punch to the back of the head later, and we're officially on a jailbreak.
Just had to pick up the guard's keys (and his bucket) and use them on the door to escape. Simple enough.
There's a couple guards patrolling the hallway when I get out, but they're mysteriously zapped in the face by this floating ball.
Which turns out to be the ghost of Erik's dead dad, King Aronde. He claims he'll keep an eye on us, which presumably is to say he'll be watching us die over and over. Eating ghost popcorn.
Checking the other rooms, I immediately interrupt something personal. Sorry! I'll see myself out.
This one had a guard in it. I'm starting to think that a medieval jail might be a dangerous place.
Oh hey, Death. Long time no see, buddy.
As if knowing how easy it is to die in this game, the developers very kindly installed a save system that lets you save anywhere. On multiple slots, even.
I couldn't get anything out of this fellow. I couldn't even steal his sweet green jammies.
A hole! I bet there's something awesome in here.
Yes! A corrosive slime that immediately kills me. Just what I always wanted.
Further to the right just leads to even more laughing guards. I think I'll try those first rooms again.
You can punch the torturer to death, though it's not easy to do without getting lashed a whole lot, and he can take more hits than you can. Best tactic I've found is to treat this game like Double Dragon and try to get close to them using the back/foreground to stay out of their range. I try talking to this guy (he gets out a single "Rosebud!". Cute) but I can't seem to do anything for him yet. I'll come back for you, my friend.
Likewise, the single guard in here isn't quite so powerful if you find a way around him. I grab this pepper from the table. It's not a sword, but it's a culinary weapon at least?
Jeez, I was gone three minutes. I guess I didn't notice the oven underneath the chair.
Getting less fond of all the skeletons, I sneak past the two guards in the corridor and get in this entirely new room with a skeleton in it. Could this be the exit?
Only one way to find out!
Oh, c'mon!
Right, let's just keep walking past these doors. Surely there's a way out somewhere?
I find a comely lass manacled to a wall. I manage to figure out that this big skull stick is a lever, finally.
And... she turned into this thing. At least it didn't kill me. Probably will later, though.
Whoa, an actual guy prisoner, not a monster or a skeleton.
He bugs out as soon as I tell him he can leave, and I get a free paddlebat out of it.
I can presumably distract a creature (of any age) with this. Still something vaguely anachronistic about it though.
This room has... nothing. Nothing whatsoever. Moving on, then.
I would like to get down this trapdoor, but there's a problem. This deer demon (deermon?) doesn't seem happy to see Erik, and I daren't get any closer. I would stand here and taunt him for a while, except I suspect I already know what this game does to smug players.
Remembering that there was another lever in the big hole room, I push it and drop the skeleton down the hole. The big plant can just munch of that instead for all I care.
I show him the full moon as I make the possibly unwise decision to squeeze through this pipe. There's only one other exit in this room, and it didn't go so well last time.
...and drop into a room with this weird scaly, spinny thing.
That... wow. I guess I'm not supposed to get in its way. The thing almost bisected me.
Escaping to the right leads me to this picturesque chasm. I suspect I might be in Shadowgate proper now.
Well this seems harmless enough.
Oh... crap.
Okay, so going right is out. What's to the left? This neat little wooden elevator.
Apparently Shadowgate is steam-powered. And the anachronisms keep on coming. Well, it has been several centuries since the first game, in all fairness.
Aww, I found this hungry little dinosaur guy. He latches onto my leg playfully as-
...Dammit. I think I'm done for today.

Beyond Shadowgate doesn't give you a whole lot of information about its surroundings, and I think adding combat to the game is ultimately detrimental because it's never quite clear if you're meant to avoid fights, meant to puzzle your way around them or meant to take out certain creatures because they need to go away before you can do something else in the area (that item on the ground near the caterpillar thing, for instance, won't allow itself to be picked up while the creature still lives). I'm also not clear what repercussions I'll be suffering by letting that she-beast wild, or letting that guy in the torture chair die. If it turns out to be one of those cases where I've made the game permanently unwinnable, that's not going to be fun for me. Especially if all the save slots get recorded over after such a stalemate event has already occurred.

Still, the game doesn't look too bad and it definitely keeps within the spirit of the original. It's interesting to note that the most recent Shadowgate remake, the ones the GB guys just checked out, already has a sequel in the works which it teased after the end credits: a sequel named "Beyond Shadowgate". It seems like an entirely original game, but you never know...

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Octurbo: Last Alert

It's been a Metal Gear sort of day around here, what with the new bonus edition of Metal Gear Scanlon and my impulse purchase of the MGS HD Collection (I gotta stay one step ahead of those guys, it's important for some reason). As such, for today's Octurbo I'm playing what I can only describe as elaborate Metal Gear fan-fiction. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest there was some back and forth going on here with this game and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, which was released the following year.

Last Alert (Red Alert in Japan) is a military-themed multi-directional top-down shooter from Japan Telenet (specifically Shin-Nihon Laser Soft, a subsidiary of theirs that focused on anime games for the TG-CD), like Commando or Ikari Warriors. It's actually not too bad in that capacity, either; the stages are fair, have plenty of power-ups and health refills, the bosses are diverse and it's even an RPG of sorts, letting your protagonist go up in rank after performing so many kills and mission objectives. The music's good too. From a purely mechanical perspective alone, I could easily recommend this game to fans of this genre.

Of course, Last Alert's claim to fame, or infamy at least, is its story and presentation. A commando unit gets wiped out by the mysterious Force Project: a group of mercenaries and terrorists bent on world domination. A shadowy government organization employs Guy Kazama, the bereaved brother of the leader of the commando unit, to go after them. What follows are a bunch of Rambo-esque missions into enemy territory that get wilder and more nonsensical as the game progresses. These cutscenes are all presented in the customary TG-CD anime style and the voiceovers are... well. Beyond mere words to describe. Suffice it to say, there's a reason Last Alert appears on a lot of "worst dubs" lists.

Nobody Can Screencap My Feelings!

"We put you up front because you're the only one with eyes. Stay frosty."
But oh no, treachery is afoot. The commando team is betrayed!
Even the leader guy buys it, albeit in a very PG-13 way. Platoon this ain't.
The culprits are these four jerks. Clockwise from top left: Chairman Steve, Mr Lee, Dr. Garcia and Colonel Kadat. Yes, before you ask, Mr. Lee has a racist voice.
The Force Project's logo is this big Jesus skeleton grasping the world. See what I mean about the Metal Gear influences?
"The only guy who can stop them? Him. Guy Kazama." "This guy, Kazama?" "No, Guy Kazama."
Welcome to Last Alert! You ain't seen nothing yet.
Here's the main Guy (sorry, I'll stop) in the graveyard. "I always thought we'd do everything together, even die." Suicide pacts are a hell of a thing, kids.
Agreeing to take down Force Project, Kazama does the Commando kitting out scene. We've been doing Octurbo-CD for four days and this is already the second Commando homage.
I guess it's the first Fist of the North Star reference though. Kazama looks ready to explode some heads.
I like these map screens. Each stage seems to have its own little diorama.
So this is Last Alert. Fairly Commando (the Capcom Arcade game this time, not the movie) so far.
Objects have height, but it's never completely clear what you can "shoot over". These barrels don't offer too much protection, for instance. At least they don't explode.
I just leveled up! Going up in rank confers all sorts of bonuses. It's just a simple health boost this time, but I'll get stronger weapons eventually too.
Health packs are the most useful pick-up. It's vital to maintain your Vital.
The first boss is this guy with a hostage. As far as I can tell, there's no way to hurt the hostage or get him killed. That's how to do a hostage fight.
Getting a bit battered by the constant gunfire, I bust out one of my sub-weapons. These are finite power-ups that sometimes drop from enemies. I try to save them for bosses, but they're handy for when you're surrounded too. The flamethrower's not actually that useful here, because you need to be near the boss and that puts you closer to his constant bullet output.
Well, that's good to know. I'm impressed they didn't typo any of this given how little attention they gave to the voiceover script, which sounds as if it had been put through Babelfish a few times.
Stage 1-2's a little more open than the previous area. I've got a wide open space and have to find the eight spots it wants me to blow up before moving onward.
X marks the spot. I'm not quite sure how the outside wall is a critical area, but at least I didn't have to go too far to find this one.
More power-ups. The grenades require a certain amount of distance, which makes them useful for bosses that don't move around much. The rockets are heat-seekers, so they're good for whatever situation.
I don't even have to aim this shit. It's awesome.
Wait, are these stealth bombers or Decepticons? Why do they have red-tinted windshields?
My favorite sub-weapon are these little Option guys. They fire when you do and even block hits for you.
All eight bombs are planted, so now it's time to depart. Fortunately, there's no indication of any time limit. I daren't risk it, all the same.
Now, I know I've made some facetious Metal Gear comparisons, but I think having the first boss be a gun-toting guy with a hostage and the second as a tank where the gunner is the real target is fairly far removed from MGS.
It takes a few seconds before the gunner shows up, however. It's actually a small mercy, since it lets you get used to dodging the tank's main cannon before adding the extra wrinkle of the gunner's constant machine gun fire. Since you only have half the screen to move around in, this is one of those boss fights you want to end quickly with some power-ups.
My colleague is a pretty sneaky sort, turns out. I swear I didn't see him once while in the hangar.
So yeah, even though this map looks like it might have a whole bunch of areas, this is the final one for Stage 1.
It's a forced side-scroller no less. Nothing fancy, just a run for the exit.
These guys are not happy you blew up all their airplanes though, so there's a last ditch attempt to murder you as you run for the airplane. Now it's starting to get a little Goldeneye.
Eventually, you catch up to the stealth plane (how fast are you running?) and can hop on to complete the stage.
Phew, short game. Thanks for sticking with it to the end, everyone!
Oh wait, more story.
"Damn you, you won't get away with... wow, those look comfortable as hell. That's some amazing stitch-work too. Where'd you buy these?"
The giant with the incongruously soft voice announces that the man is now the prisoner of Force Project. I guess blowing up one hangar wasn't going to be enough, was it?
Meanwhile, Secret Government Man and Anime Lady puts Kazama on the next flight north to go...
... RESCUE THE PRESIDENT. Sorry, just wanted to end on a MGS-style spoiler. I'm done playing now, for serious.

That's Last Alert for you. You really do need the voiceovers to get the most out of it, which is why I'll include a link to a commentary on the full game by those Retsupurae rascals Diabeetus and Slowbeef. It's a fun watch, and the game's a bit longer than you might expect. Also, if Hideo Kojima didn't borrow a few elements from this game's story for his famous series, I'll eat my green beret. Or maybe a raspberry beret. Or maybe just some raspberries (they're in season now!).

Last Alert, remember when I said I'd LP you last? I... may have been a little economical with the truth. A thousand pardons for the falsehood.

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Octurbo: Bonk III: Bonk's Big Adventure

Before we get too much further with Octurbo-CD, we ought to revisit a little bald friend of ours. I covered the first two Bonk games last year, so it feels only fitting that we tackle his third and final (well, as far as the TurboGrafx is concerned) adventure for the system, Bonk 3: Bonk's Big Adventure. Fortunately for our purposes, it was published as both a HuCard game and as an enhanced TurboGrafx-CD game, so we'll be checking out the latter version. Oddly enough, the CD version has no Japanese equivalent. My guess is that the TurboDuo crowd were reaching for new releases at that point: 45 licensed games total isn't a particularly impressive library.

Bonk became the de facto mascot for the PC Engine having been a character designed specifically for that purpose by developers Hudson Soft -- in Japan, he is known as "PC Genjin", where "genjin" means "primitive man". It may be a dumb pun, but it's easy to remember a character so nominally tied to their console of origin. To Hudson's credit, they attempted to create a platformer hero as distinct as possible, distancing itself from the obvious benchmark Mario in much the same way as Sega's Sonic did. Bonk has minimal jumping ability, but he has an array of offensive abilities like his trademark head bonk and various powered-up forms as well as a means to climb up walls and waterfalls. Stages in Bonk tend to be a little more open-ended for the sake of collectibles and secrets too.

I feel the new additions to Bonk III specifically are so minor that I might as well describe them in the screenshots themselves. And, of course, there's the new addition of redbook audio too.

The Little Round-Headed Buffoon That is Bonk

Welcome to- Oh, whoops. Sorry little guy. I guess this is a TurboDuo game after all.
Welcome to- Oh hell, it's this asshole again. What was his name?
Right, right. Welcome to King Drool III: King Drool the Third!
Bonk's having none of that. Yeah, I know, I see him, he's very big.
Welcome to Bonk III: Bonk's Big Adventure! For reals this is the last welcome.
Immediately after starting, we bump into Huey from the first game. He hasn't relapsed or anything, he just seems to be hanging out.
So the big gimmick of Bonk 3, so to speak, is that Bonk can grow in size. Like the super big mushrooms of more recent Mario games, Bonk's considerably stronger in this form. It's only temporary though. Kind of a more visually arrested form of the usual Starman invincibility.
Of course, there is a counter-side to this: the shorter Bonk form can fit through smaller spaces and will return to normal size once hurt. He's not actually any weaker in this form -- no bouncing off enemies or anything -- so it's entirely advantageous. Well, except your vertical jump is lower than ever.
Bonk still takes his rather straightforward approach to climbing walls. Always brush and floss, kids, and maybe someday you can scale a vertical surface with your teeth.
Your guess is as good as mine here.
All right, fine: Bonk still gets angrier whenever he eats meat, giving him even more offensive options. His ground pounds now freeze enemies and, as you can see, he can breathe fire for some reason.
I... I guess we're going ahead now?
Here's some of that freeze ground pounding in action. It also effects jumping those flame whatsits that are the bane of anyone playing a Bowser's Castle stage, so that's handy.
I got smushed by a falling block enemy and turned into a crab. Crab-Bonk's not a particularly dexterous form, but he shares the same smallness benefit as tiny Bonk. I wish Bonk could let us in on how he magically turned into a crustacean, but I guess he's being a little shellfish.
I came across a bonus stage by checking out a dead end. The goal of these is to reach the end, of course, but you also want to grab as many of those smiley faces as possible. All will become clear.
Of course, I have no idea where I'm supposed to go. There's plenty of stuff to pick up even if you do go down the wrong pipe repeatedly.
Bonk can't bite his way up every wall: solid walls like these bricks would be heck on his dental work. He can use repetitive flying head bonks to sort of wall-jump his way up, however.
1-2's a bit more of a maze than the first stage, but the game's fairly generous with health items to find. It's no big deal if you get a little lost.
Apparently 1-3 is the prehistoric version of Storage Wars. Stoneage Wars? I'll workshop that.
This bonus stage is a cross between Rampage and "Oh! My car!".
I mean, I suck at it, but it's still neat in concept.
We're all aboard the good ship HMS Anachronism. This stage got weird.
At least these badass skull elevators are back. Looks like we have a boss fight on our hands.
This stompy robot fellah ain't so tough. You need to stay away from his feet, but his head and underside are fair game. I retained my shorter form, making the latter option far more palatable.
Destroying the central part releases this upset looking guy. I'm sorry I broke your stompy robot little guy! Man, not even Robotnik's this big of a baby.
So, the smileys. If you collect enough, you play any one of these bonus stages. We've seen the first two already, so let's try Sky Diving. Here's hoping the game turns into Pilotwings.
Nah, not really. Sky Diving teaches you the importance of the mid-air flip, which can keep Bonk airborne for quite some time if you keep doing it. It makes collecting all these items easier, at any rate. If you get enough smileys, you can even try another bonus stage.
This green guy doesn't look like the sharpest improvised tool in the Neolithic archaeological dig site. I suspect the dinosaurs died out because they were all mentally deficient.
Honestly, I should be stopping now, but this stage is already fascinating. Is that a moth in a giant trash can? Where is this?
Yeah, definitely quitting time.

So that's Bonk 3. It's really more of the same, but it still holds up as well as its predecessors. I think the reason for why that is is because no game really tried to do what Bonk did before or after its heyday. 2D platformers underwent this odd evolution where the big games industry came to this spurious conclusion that they were no longer relevant: they had been usurped by 3D platformers, evidenced by how games of that format outside of the big mascot franchises continued to do less and less well. In actuality, and this is what all these Indie 2D platformer developers later discovered, the real reason 2D platformers went temporarily extinct is because no-one was making NEW ones. They were simply regurgitating the same tired elements of all the Mario also-rans that had come before and, with the occasional exception like Klonoa, the 2D format just wasn't seeing any innovative ideas.

So now we have a whole bunch of super successful Indie 2D platformers (which are getting a little a stale again, admittedly) and the reason is because they're all trying new things. Bonk persists because what it did still feels fresh and original.

Anyway, enough ranting about platformers. I don't have much to offer musically this time, since YouTube isn't being co-operative with finding soundtrack vids, so instead here's a Long Play of the CD version. You can enjoy the CD-quality music of the game with the added benefit of watching all the above screenshots in motion, kinda.

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Octurbo: Lords of Thunder

I'll admit it, when you don't know nothin' 'bout nothin' when it comes to the TurboGrafx-CD, it's hard to select a list of games you really need to check out. I'm thankful for the few suggestions offered so far; though it's easy enough to pick what look like winners from the 45 CD games released in the US (Protip: probably best to avoid the ports and licensed games), the 417 PCE-CDROM² games are a bit more of a jungle. My point being, is that I'll be checking out a lot of games I'm only tangentially aware of, if at all.

Lords of Thunder ("Winds of Thunder" in Japan) is not one of those games. I mentioned the CD format's capacity for improved music via redbook audio, and Lords of Thunder has one of the greatest VGM soundtracks I've ever heard. I hear it's sort of legendary how metal this game is. I'll be sure to link to a few tracks at the end, like before.

As for the game itself, it's one of those horizontal shoot 'em ups that came at a time when developers were introducing to the genre what I call "cinematic uncertainty", a phrase I used to describe Donkey Kong Country Returns' difficulty. What this means is that weird, unexpected and enormous shit will just appear for dramatic reasons and completely wreck you if you aren't able to anticipate it. While stages become a lot more exciting, they also depend far more heavily on memorization before you're able to conquer them reliably. If a random gigantic dragon appears out of nowhere, you need to know that the guy is coming and prepare accordingly, perhaps by hovering around the small part of the screen that its colossal body doesn't take up and jamming on that fire button, dropping a few bombs too for good measure. The visuals and music together make Lords of Thunder something of an intense experience, but it's clear I'll need to replay stages several times before I fully get into the swing of things. There's more, of course, but I'll save that for the screenshots themselves.

Instead, let me just ask you this: Are you ready to rock?

Lords of Guitar Solos

The game starts on this mysterious doodad and six gem-like sigils that appear to surround it. I suspect there might be six bosses and a big final boss. No, I didn't read the synopsis.
Ah, so peaceful, so pastoral. This isn't metal at all!
Yeah, that's more like it! Obelisks and maelstroms. Throw up those horns!
One anime decides he/she's had enough. He/she's really more into the gentler prog rock stuff, I'm guessing.
And takes to the skies in his/her standard issue flying jet armor and axe-sword. You know, normal knight stuff.
Turns out a few weirdos have been collecting under the giant monolith.
Seven of them, to be precise. Wait, was I off by one with my earlier prediction?
And then this priest dude summons the bad guy from Krull and it all starts getting a little too real.
Like "Holy shit that guy is big" real.
Welcome to Lords of Thunder! I don't need no configurations to know how to rock! (No seriously, is there a difficulty setting?) (Yes, but Normal is the lowest.) (Fukken metal!)
Well, it looks like I have a few options for where I want to start. I'll stick with the default, this deserty place. Seems like I might be decent at it?
These armors, turns out, define your weapon load-outs. I figured fire has to be the most damaging. I mean, makes sense, right?
There's also a shop before each stage. You can get a boost to health (useful if you barely scraped through the last boss fight), shields that take a few hits on your behalf (useful if you're going into a stage blind), power boosts that increase your weapon power from the offset, an additional bomb, elixirs which I think work like the fairies in Legend of Zelda and additional continues. You can't have too many of those, but they're a bit pricey right now.
The Fire Armor gives me this neat spread shot as the default. If I keep picking up power boosts, it'll change into something even more damaging.
In addition, I want to be collecting these gems for the next shop visit. It's easy to get distracted while grabbing them and get hit, though.
For instance, this sudden antlion is one of those things you ought to be giving your undivided attention to. As well as being the biggest threat on the screen, if you can kill it fast enough you'll get even more goodies. It's what I was saying earlier about playing a stage a few times so you know when these larger types show up.
Better watch out for the giant dragon crawler tanks too, while I'm at it.
The desert stage then takes a turn for the vertical as I fall through this hole. Those spiky guys are mining robots that are constantly falling from above, so I'm trying to stay away from that half of the screen.
The power-ups (you can see one there, they look like yellow stars with blue gems) will eventually upgrade your weapon. At the top right, you can see your health (blue pips) and power level (red pips). If it goes yellow, your weapon suddenly gets a lot more badass. You lose power level whenever you get hit though, sort of like Cave Story (or a bunch of other shoot 'em ups for that matter).
This jumping knight dude just completely ruins my day. He's not quite a boss, but he's persistent and will often get behind you, making it hard to destroy him quickly.
I didn't survive. Instead, I'm trying out the green Earth Armor. It has far more ground game going on, perhaps obviously enough, and the torrents of flame it summons are far more damaging to the low-lying enemies around here.
Though I got a lot further with this armor, this boss is kind of ridonkulous. If its fire breath doesn't get you, its lightning sword or pincer weiner will.
I'm trying a different stage instead, the aquatic Auzal. I also have the yellow Wind Armor on, which fires relatively weak lightning bolts out. I suspect this might be the armor to have if you're good at holding onto power-ups.
Whoa! What the hell, damn guy!
I didn't like Auzal. I'm trying the much safer-looking volcano zone Llamarada. Maybe Jeff Minter designed this stage?
The blue Water Armor is similar to the Fire Armor, but the spread is more focused. Having shots appear directly above and below you has a useful defensive aspect too. This is presumably the suit to wear if you're a wuss, like me.
Let's... let's not go into the volcano, guys. I'm very hurt.
It doesn't help that I'm immediately accosted by whatever the hell this thing is.
Daaaamn, died again.
You have a timer to make a decision here. It's the candles; they go out one by one. Honestly, though, unless you've saved up enough for an extra continue to replace the one you've just spent, there's no point if you still haven't beaten a single boss. It's not likely I'll be doing that today. I kinda suck at shoot 'em ups, if that's not clear.

Lords of Thunder is amazing, but at the same time requires a level of dedication I'm not quite prepared to lend to a single item in a daily series. I did get to the boss of that first stage though, so I bet I could beat him with enough perseverance and caution. Caution isn't really the sort of adjective that suits Lords of Thunder, though, as you'll come to understand once you listen to its music below.

While I do have a few more shoot 'em ups on the docket (there's so dang many, you can't swing an Option around without hitting one), they're all a little less serious than Lords of Thunder. And considerably less metal.

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Octurbo: Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo/Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

So begins a new series of Octurbo. Figured I might as well start with one of the best acclaimed PCE-CD originals, from one of the most prolific video games series that still sorta exists. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was released in 1993, but while it looked like a SNES game (like 1995's Dracula X, coincidentally enough. That one was based on this game) it certainly didn't sound like one. The game had Redbook audio, which essentially means the music was encoded like it would be on a regular audio CD that you could, once upon a time, buy from a store without feeling like a 50 year old. Now, I'm plenty fond of the chiptune stuff, but full CD quality Castlevania music is something to behold even now, and it must've seemed insane to hear it in a video game for the first time those twenty plus years ago.

Rondo follows the adventures of a new Belmont, Richter, as he chases after a freshly resurrected Lord Dracula in order to rescue his kidnapped fiancée Annette. Along the way, he can rescue a few other damsels in distress, but the game keeps them well-hidden for the sake of adding a bit of longevity; you have to seek them out through alternate paths and the like, and the game's not fully complete unless he saves all four, including Annette. There's a few other novel features too, but I'll get into them in the screenshots below. Importantly, this game is the direct predecessor of Symphony of the Night, perhaps the best Castlevania game ever made -- it can be a toss-up between that one and this one, depending on who you ask.

I'm half wondering if I should've left Rondo of Blood for last, partly so I could cover a horror game closer to Halloween and partly because I have to assume that it's all downhill from here. Still, you really ought to start with a showstopper. I'm sure that's how that phrase goes.

Rondo. It's Got What Vampires Crave.

I'm going to have to come to terms with the fact that every Turbo/PCE-CD game opens with an anime cutscene. That's a pretty nice shot of a gothic cathedral though.
The audio in this scene is German, with Japanese subtitles. Essentially, women are getting sacrificed by cultists led by that bad mother of a priest Shaft. Apparently this is what brings Dracula back.
Dracula (or Dracula's essence?) escapes to his eponymous domicile as the German voiceover intones something about fledermaus, and I'm suddenly back in middle-school trying to remember my German words for animals. For the record: a fledermaus, of the play Die Fledermaus, is a bat. Apparently this game has something to do with bats, huh.
Welcome to Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo! Oh god, that stupid Run button. All my Octurbo memories are flooding back.
Despite Rondo of Blood being one of the last of the "linear" Castlevanias, it's still a bit complex. It uses the branching paths of Dracula III, but expands the concept to include hidden damsels to rescue and alternate bosses to fight. As such, the game saves your progress and lets you retry stages to search for roads less traveled.
But first! We have more anime to watch. Richter pores over a map he downloaded from GameFAQs and considers his next move as the excellent theme "Overture", based on the Stage 1 and Richter's own leitmotif "Divine Bloodlines", plays.
"Dammit, I'm not going to remember where all the heart upgrades are by memory. I need that space to memorize the awesome speech I intend to give Dracula. To hell with this, I'm out. Where'd I leave my headband?"
Meanwhile, these colossal beasts are stomping around the nearby towns because terrible things happen to people for no reason when they live this close to Castlevania.
Animes are just running for their lives in every direction.
Can no-one save this peaceful burg from utter devastation?!
Oh yeah, I forgot about that dude.
Richter gets kitted out Commando style before charging into the fray. This is already the dumbest and best thing. Did we need to see the special vampire-killing boots he wears? Multiple shots of the headband?
And then he just kind of whips some skeletons in cool guy action poses and the intro ends.
Honestly, this seems like a much cooler way to start your game. Richter hurries through the night on his wagon while it rains cats and Deaths. I mean, dogs.
Nah, I meant Deaths. The Grim Reaper shows up to dissuade us from preventing the resurrection of his master, much like he'll do with Alucard in the sequel. That's a jaunty new pilgrim hat he's sporting there.
Richter doesn't feel like getting deterred today, though, and gives that old psychopomp what for.
A short cutscene takes over and Grimmy decides to shoot this thing at us. I figured this would be a Ripley/Super Metroid scenario, where he'd leave us half-dead and run off laughing. Nah, I just batted the thing out of the air and Death just kind of flew away dejected.
I suspect I might be a little too late to save this town. Most of it appears to be on fire.
Now the game begins proper. This first area is fairly gentle: these ape-like skeletons don't move particularly fast, giving us all the time in the world to catch our bearings and figure out what the buttons do. We can also practice stair climbing here, generally the bane of any Castlevania player. Well, them and Medusa Heads. Frequently simultaneously.
It's not quite obvious until this point but this is actually one of the towns from Castlevania II (& III), albeit in somewhat poorer shape. I wonder how all those colored crystals and laurels are helping them now?
The sub-weapons are still here, of course. I've always liked the axe for its utility and for being able to hit enemies and candles previously out of reach. Not always the best option for bosses though.
This is a really good looking game. I mean, maybe Super Castlevania IV just pips it with all its Mode 7 wizardry, but I definitely like the look of this conflagrant 18th century European town.
We meet a few of those colossi from the intro, which turn out to be some decidedly bumpy golems. They aren't that much tougher than regular monsters, really, though you do need to jump to damage them.
There's a neat parallax shot of Dracula's castle as you run across this screen, and you can spot a winged beast hurrying past you.
That winged beast would be the Wyvern, the first boss. Well, the first boss of this path anyway.
The boss spends a lot of time at the top of the screen, occasionally breathing fire and swooping down, and its during the parts where he swoops down that you can damage it with the Vampire Killer. Or you can just throw axes at the guy. It's the game teaching you early on that getting a specific sub-weapon and grabbing a bunch of hearts can be a workable solution to any boss, no matter how difficult they may initially seem.
Not that this guy is particularly tough even without the axes. The flame breath scatters randomly, making it hard to avoid, but it's a fairly predictable boss fight.
Why do I suddenly have a craving for BBQ chicken? Oh right, because BBQ chicken is awesome.
Like all Castlevania games prior to this one, an orb trans(sylvania)(vam)pires above your head and you can jump into it while doing a sweet pose.
I got the jumping part down, but I got kinda stuck crouching in mid-air. I'll give that one a "6" for style.
Stage 2 ought to be familiar, as it's the approach to Castlevania itself. We see two ravens in the top corner discussing between themselves what an ear-pulling contest has to do with anything.
Birds remain a consistent pain in the neck as they flap around you on random tangents, making them hard to hit with the decidedly horizontally-inclined whip. I'd rather not waste an axe either, since there's a lot of birds to get through. Just one of those things you need to practice.
I have to wonder why they let the drawbridge down for every determined do-gooder that comes along. Or, come to think of it, install all those save point rooms. I suspect Dracula's failing is his overconfidence.
We're firmly entrenched in classic Castlevania territory, as the Welcome Zombies march out to greet us.
One of the late-game bosses gets a little impatient and decides to charge us here and now. He seems to take damage from the whip, but it's a better idea to just run to the other side of the room, away from the rampaging behemoth.
Apparently this guy's already having a bad day. Just saying, you might want to stop before you run into the-
Oh, well, never mind. I guess I won't have to check it for secret alcoves now.
While running from the monstrosity, I picked up this key. It acts as a sub-weapon but doesn't actually do anything (you can still hit enemies with it though, which makes me wonder if someone hasn't tried to fight a boss this way).
I discard the key for something slightly more useful, this Cross of Coronado. It works as a boomerang, letting you hit enemies twice. It also has a pretty sweet Item Crash.
Ah, Wall Chicken. Where would the Belmont clan be without you? We've even added you to our coat of arms. "Three roasted chickens on plates, on a field of red."
More classic Castlevania monsters, living in the pool beneath the entryway as always. I appreciate that they stay a murky blue/green color before turning bright orange after jumping out of the water. Kinda like lobsters.
Ah. So this locked door is probably where that key goes. The key I left behind for the Cross of Coronado. Well, I lost today, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
I forgot to demonstrate the Item Crash earlier, but it's essentially a big showy super move you can do when trapped in a corner. Eats through hearts like no-one's business, so it's best as a reserve thing. Each sub-weapon has its own variation.
I admit, I did spend a few minutes trying to get up here after grabbing that chicken. Turns out you can just go around. Of course, the key's no longer here.
The music changes ominously while passing through this room. The game throws you a bone and gives you the holy water, which works well for the next boss.
Talking of bones, what is that vaguely lupine shape in the background?
That would be the Werewolf. Pro-tip: don't stand in the center of the screen, because that's where he lands.
I didn't catch him flipping and somersaulting around because I was too busy trying to stay alive, but Wolfie's one of those bosses you pray that you can get trapped into a pattern, because it's a tough battle of attrition otherwise. He's just too fast for you to predict what he'll do reliably. The little naked dude he turns into before dying seems a bit gratuitous.
No fancy mid-air orb catching this time. I've seen enough balls flapping in the wind for one night.
Speaking of Wolfman nards, I should probably wrap this up and put it away. We've seen enough of what Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is about.

Before we wrap up, however, here's a few bonuses:

In 1992, when the Turbo-Duo was released, the RAM that was used to run CD games was also increased. This resulted in the "Super System Card", which older TurboGrafx-CD systems would need in order to play newer games, sort of like that Expansion Pak for the N64. Because Rondo of Blood came out after 1992 it was one of those games that required the upgrade, usually referred to as "SuperCD" games on their box art to prevent people from buying games their older systems couldn't play.
If you tried to run Rondo of Blood on a TurboGrafx-CD without that Super System Card, you'd get this little practical joke. Richter is a super-deformed blob man who looks like something out of an early Treasure game.
The only enemies are these ridiculous triangular purple goons.
After about 30 seconds, you'd reach this screen where the poster behind you informed you that you needed the Super System Card in order to play the real game (either that or the Super CD-ROM2 system, which came with the Super System Card built-in). But wait, who is that heroine bouncing alongside Richter?
Well, if you weren't an idiot like me and actually kept the key, you could unlock that door we saw earlier and intrude on this awkward scene.
Trapped inside the forcefield is Maria Renard, sister of Annette, and would-be demon hunter. A petite blonde vampire slayer? Now I've seen everything.
Richter rescues her from Shaft, the purple-robed fellow we saw earlier. He manages to catch her without her sprite changing, which is impressive.
Yes, Japan, I'm sure that's how twelve year olds are built. Good grief.
Anyway, Maria refuses to leave her sister in the lurch, and so promises to help Richter out whether he wants her to or not.
And now she's a permanent second character. You can quit the game at any point (it saves automatically after each stage, don't forget) and switch over to Maria for a change of pace.
As you might expect from a tiny 12-year-old girl, she's considerably more powerful than Richter.
Her default attack is sending out a pair of doves, which (like Richter's Cross sub-weapon) hits twice as they fly out and return to Maria's hand. Though Maria has less health and gets knocked back a lot further, her increased damage output makes the exchange worth it. A glass cannon, in so many words. She has her own set of sub-weapons too with different behaviors, which means double the number of tactical options for bosses.
Also her wall chickens are wall sundaes. Cute!

And that's Rondo of Blood, or at least the first half of it. Well, the first quarter if you don't count all those alternate paths. There's a lot more to the game than meets the floating eye, it seems.

One of the new things I'm doing with this season of Octurbo is adding a few links to the game's music, if it stands out. In most cases it will. The redbook audio element of CD-based gaming is what a lot of developers jumped on when considering ways to take advantage of the new format, and so a lot more thought and money went into producing soundtracks.

Here's a smattering of tracks from the few stages I played of Rondo of Blood. It's mostly classic Castlevania music that has been dolled up to the nines:

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Octurbo: Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo/Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

So begins a new series of Octurbo. Figured I might as well start with one of the best acclaimed PCE-CD originals, from one of the most prolific video games series that still sorta exists. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was released in 1993, but while it looked like a SNES game (like 1995's Dracula X, coincidentally enough. That one was based on this game) it certainly didn't sound like one. The game had Redbook audio, which essentially means the music was encoded like it would be on a regular audio CD that you could, once upon a time, buy from a store without feeling like a 50 year old. Now, I'm plenty fond of the chiptune stuff, but full CD quality Castlevania music is something to behold even now, and it must've seemed insane to hear it in a video game for the first time those twenty plus years ago.

Rondo follows the adventures of a new Belmont, Richter, as he chases after a freshly resurrected Lord Dracula in order to rescue his kidnapped fiancée Annette. Along the way, he can rescue a few other damsels in distress, but the game keeps them well-hidden for the sake of adding a bit of longevity; you have to seek them out through alternate paths and the like, and the game's not fully complete unless he saves all four, including Annette. There's a few other novel features too, but I'll get into them in the screenshots below. Importantly, this game is the direct predecessor of Symphony of the Night, perhaps the best Castlevania game ever made -- it can be a toss-up between that one and this one, depending on who you ask.

I'm half wondering if I should've left Rondo of Blood for last, partly so I could cover a horror game closer to Halloween and partly because I have to assume that it's all downhill from here. Still, you really ought to start with a showstopper. I'm sure that's how that phrase goes.

Rondo. It's Got What Vampires Crave.

I'm going to have to come to terms with the fact that every Turbo/PCE-CD game opens with an anime cutscene. That's a pretty nice shot of a gothic cathedral though.
The audio in this scene is German, with Japanese subtitles. Essentially, women are getting sacrificed by cultists led by that bad mother of a priest Shaft. Apparently this is what brings Dracula back.
Dracula (or Dracula's essence?) escapes to his eponymous domicile as the German voiceover intones something about fledermaus, and I'm suddenly back in middle-school trying to remember my German words for animals. For the record: a fledermaus, of the play Die Fledermaus, is a bat. Apparently this game has something to do with bats, huh.
Welcome to Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo! Oh god, that stupid Run button. All my Octurbo memories are flooding back.
Despite Rondo of Blood being one of the last of the "linear" Castlevanias, it's still a bit complex. It uses the branching paths of Dracula III, but expands the concept to include hidden damsels to rescue and alternate bosses to fight. As such, the game saves your progress and lets you retry stages to search for roads less traveled.
But first! We have more anime to watch. Richter pores over a map he downloaded from GameFAQs and considers his next move as the excellent theme "Overture", based on the Stage 1 and Richter's own leitmotif "Divine Bloodlines", plays.
"Dammit, I'm not going to remember where all the heart upgrades are by memory. I need that space to memorize the awesome speech I intend to give Dracula. To hell with this, I'm out. Where'd I leave my headband?"
Meanwhile, these colossal beasts are stomping around the nearby towns because terrible things happen to people for no reason when they live this close to Castlevania.
Animes are just running for their lives in every direction.
Can no-one save this peaceful burg from utter devastation?!
Oh yeah, I forgot about that dude.
Richter gets kitted out Commando style before charging into the fray. This is already the dumbest and best thing. Did we need to see the special vampire-killing boots he wears? Multiple shots of the headband?
And then he just kind of whips some skeletons in cool guy action poses and the intro ends.
Honestly, this seems like a much cooler way to start your game. Richter hurries through the night on his wagon while it rains cats and Deaths. I mean, dogs.
Nah, I meant Deaths. The Grim Reaper shows up to dissuade us from preventing the resurrection of his master, much like he'll do with Alucard in the sequel. That's a jaunty new pilgrim hat he's sporting there.
Richter doesn't feel like getting deterred today, though, and gives that old psychopomp what for.
A short cutscene takes over and Grimmy decides to shoot this thing at us. I figured this would be a Ripley/Super Metroid scenario, where he'd leave us half-dead and run off laughing. Nah, I just batted the thing out of the air and Death just kind of flew away dejected.
I suspect I might be a little too late to save this town. Most of it appears to be on fire.
Now the game begins proper. This first area is fairly gentle: these ape-like skeletons don't move particularly fast, giving us all the time in the world to catch our bearings and figure out what the buttons do. We can also practice stair climbing here, generally the bane of any Castlevania player. Well, them and Medusa Heads. Frequently simultaneously.
It's not quite obvious until this point but this is actually one of the towns from Castlevania II (& III), albeit in somewhat poorer shape. I wonder how all those colored crystals and laurels are helping them now?
The sub-weapons are still here, of course. I've always liked the axe for its utility and for being able to hit enemies and candles previously out of reach. Not always the best option for bosses though.
This is a really good looking game. I mean, maybe Super Castlevania IV just pips it with all its Mode 7 wizardry, but I definitely like the look of this conflagrant 18th century European town.
We meet a few of those colossi from the intro, which turn out to be some decidedly bumpy golems. They aren't that much tougher than regular monsters, really, though you do need to jump to damage them.
There's a neat parallax shot of Dracula's castle as you run across this screen, and you can spot a winged beast hurrying past you.
That winged beast would be the Wyvern, the first boss. Well, the first boss of this path anyway.
The boss spends a lot of time at the top of the screen, occasionally breathing fire and swooping down, and its during the parts where he swoops down that you can damage it with the Vampire Killer. Or you can just throw axes at the guy. It's the game teaching you early on that getting a specific sub-weapon and grabbing a bunch of hearts can be a workable solution to any boss, no matter how difficult they may initially seem.
Not that this guy is particularly tough even without the axes. The flame breath scatters randomly, making it hard to avoid, but it's a fairly predictable boss fight.
Why do I suddenly have a craving for BBQ chicken? Oh right, because BBQ chicken is awesome.
Like all Castlevania games prior to this one, an orb trans(sylvania)(vam)pires above your head and you can jump into it while doing a sweet pose.
I got the jumping part down, but I got kinda stuck crouching in mid-air. I'll give that one a "6" for style.
Stage 2 ought to be familiar, as it's the approach to Castlevania itself. We see two ravens in the top corner discussing between themselves what an ear-pulling contest has to do with anything.
Birds remain a consistent pain in the neck as they flap around you on random tangents, making them hard to hit with the decidedly horizontally-inclined whip. I'd rather not waste an axe either, since there's a lot of birds to get through. Just one of those things you need to practice.
I have to wonder why they let the drawbridge down for every determined do-gooder that comes along. Or, come to think of it, install all those save point rooms. I suspect Dracula's failing is his overconfidence.
We're firmly entrenched in classic Castlevania territory, as the Welcome Zombies march out to greet us.
One of the late-game bosses gets a little impatient and decides to charge us here and now. He seems to take damage from the whip, but it's a better idea to just run to the other side of the room, away from the rampaging behemoth.
Apparently this guy's already having a bad day. Just saying, you might want to stop before you run into the-
Oh, well, never mind. I guess I won't have to check it for secret alcoves now.
While running from the monstrosity, I picked up this key. It acts as a sub-weapon but doesn't actually do anything (you can still hit enemies with it though, which makes me wonder if someone hasn't tried to fight a boss this way).
I discard the key for something slightly more useful, this Cross of Coronado. It works as a boomerang, letting you hit enemies twice. It also has a pretty sweet Item Crash.
Ah, Wall Chicken. Where would the Belmont clan be without you? We've even added you to our coat of arms. "Three roasted chickens on plates, on a field of red."
More classic Castlevania monsters, living in the pool beneath the entryway as always. I appreciate that they stay a murky blue/green color before turning bright orange after jumping out of the water. Kinda like lobsters.
Ah. So this locked door is probably where that key goes. The key I left behind for the Cross of Coronado. Well, I lost today, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
I forgot to demonstrate the Item Crash earlier, but it's essentially a big showy super move you can do when trapped in a corner. Eats through hearts like no-one's business, so it's best as a reserve thing. Each sub-weapon has its own variation.
I admit, I did spend a few minutes trying to get up here after grabbing that chicken. Turns out you can just go around. Of course, the key's no longer here.
The music changes ominously while passing through this room. The game throws you a bone and gives you the holy water, which works well for the next boss.
Talking of bones, what is that vaguely lupine shape in the background?
That would be the Werewolf. Pro-tip: don't stand in the center of the screen, because that's where he lands.
I didn't catch him flipping and somersaulting around because I was too busy trying to stay alive, but Wolfie's one of those bosses you pray that you can get trapped into a pattern, because it's a tough battle of attrition otherwise. He's just too fast for you to predict what he'll do reliably. The little naked dude he turns into before dying seems a bit gratuitous.
No fancy mid-air orb catching this time. I've seen enough balls flapping in the wind for one night.
Speaking of Wolfman nards, I should probably wrap this up and put it away. We've seen enough of what Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is about.

Before we wrap up, however, here's a few bonuses:

In 1992, when the Turbo-Duo was released, the RAM that was used to run CD games was also increased. This resulted in the "Super System Card", which older TurboGrafx-CD systems would need in order to play newer games, sort of like that Expansion Pak for the N64. Because Rondo of Blood came out after 1992 it was one of those games that required the upgrade, usually referred to as "SuperCD" games on their box art to prevent people from buying games their older systems couldn't play.
If you tried to run Rondo of Blood on a TurboGrafx-CD without that Super System Card, you'd get this little practical joke. Richter is a super-deformed blob man who looks like something out of an early Treasure game.
The only enemies are these ridiculous triangular purple goons.
After about 30 seconds, you'd reach this screen where the poster behind you informed you that you needed the Super System Card in order to play the real game (either that or the Super CD-ROM2 system, which came with the Super System Card built-in). But wait, who is that heroine bouncing alongside Richter?
Well, if you weren't an idiot like me and actually kept the key, you could unlock that door we saw earlier and intrude on this awkward scene.
Trapped inside the forcefield is Maria Renard, sister of Annette, and would-be demon hunter. A petite blonde vampire slayer? Now I've seen everything.
Richter rescues her from Shaft, the purple-robed fellow we saw earlier. He manages to catch her without her sprite changing, which is impressive.
Yes, Japan, I'm sure that's how twelve year olds are built. Good grief.
Anyway, Maria refuses to leave her sister in the lurch, and so promises to help Richter out whether he wants her to or not.
And now she's a permanent second character. You can quit the game at any point (it saves automatically after each stage, don't forget) and switch over to Maria for a change of pace.
As you might expect from a tiny 12-year-old girl, she's considerably more powerful than Richter.
Her default attack is sending out a pair of doves, which (like Richter's Cross sub-weapon) hits twice as they fly out and return to Maria's hand. Though Maria has less health and gets knocked back a lot further, her increased damage output makes the exchange worth it. A glass cannon, in so many words. She has her own set of sub-weapons too with different behaviors, which means double the number of tactical options for bosses.
Also her wall chickens are wall sundaes. Cute!

And that's Rondo of Blood, or at least the first half of it. Well, the first quarter if you don't count all those alternate paths. There's a lot more to the game than meets the floating eye, it seems.

One of the new things I'm doing with this season of Octurbo is adding a few links to the game's music, if it stands out. In most cases it will. The redbook audio element of CD-based gaming is what a lot of developers jumped on when considering ways to take advantage of the new format, and so a lot more thought and money went into producing soundtracks.

Here's a smattering of tracks from the few stages I played of Rondo of Blood. It's mostly classic Castlevania music that has been dolled up to the nines:

< Back to Octurbo-CD

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Welcome to Octurbo-CD

Last year, I undertook an investigation into the mysterious back-catalogue of the ill-fated TurboGrafx-16 console with a screenshot LP series named TurboMento-12, which eventually culminated in Octurbo; a far breezier daily series that stopped after about an hour into each game. While the NEC TurboGrafx-16 enjoyed more than moderate success in its home nation as the PC Engine, the TG-16 did not fare quite as well in the US. NEC didn't even try to sell the console in Europe and as a result the TG-16's been something of an enigma to me, a UK videogamesman. Wanting to better understand what I missed out on, I endeavored to look into its history, its high-profile games, its low-profile games, its low-brow games (that Lady Sword incident...) and a few PC Engine exclusives that didn't make the cross over to the States for (usually) explicable reasons.

Still a mystery.

However, what I didn't do last year was check out the console's CD library. NEC is famous for developing the first console with a CD-ROM drive in 1988: the creatively-named TurboGrafx-CD (and, in 1992, the Turbo Duo, which played both CDs and the original system's HuCards). The PC Engine equivalent is the even more creatively-named PC Engine CD-ROM2. This edition of Octurbo will look at as many of these CD games as possible or, to be a bit more realistic, about twenty-four or so. As before, I'll be taking a scenic route through some of its best-known (and lesser, forgotten) titles. It's worth noting that while the TurboGrafx-CD only saw 45 official releases (to the PC Engine CD-ROM2's 400+), the CDs were not region locked. You still had to know Japanese to play any of the text-heavy stuff like adventure games, visual novels or RPGs, but the few lines of backstory at the beginning of any number of great JP-exclusive shooters and action games for the system were an acceptable casualty (though the import fees were probably more of a dealbreaker). Just from a historical perspective, it's interesting to see how those early CD-ROM console developers handled having several magintudes more memory space to work with but the same limited computing/graphical power. At least the music was better. Redbook audio did a lot for VGM.

I've brought it up before, but there are some amazing resources out there for TG-16/PCE games and the discussion thereof. There's Hardcore Gaming 101, which is usually the best place to look if you need a lot of info on some obscurity or other; there's Chronturbo -- the sister series of Doc Sparkle's excellent Chrontendo -- which is an ongoing video series that explicates on every video game released for the TurboGrafx-16 and PCE in chronological order; The Brothers Duomazov, a trio of guys who are systematically challenging everything for the system and writing up their experiences; and I <3 The PC Engine, an intermittent and presently defunct series from video game historian VIP Magweasel a.k.a. former GamePro editor Kevin Gifford, who goes into detail about individual games and the history of the console also in chronological order. There's more, of course -- it seems the TG-16's mystique inspired more than a few people, especially those who followed its far more plenteous and varied PC Engine output -- but that's probably more than enough reading material. Hell, you still have all of the below to get through first. Chop, chop.

At any rate, I'll be using this blog as a contents page of sorts, adding new items to the table below and linking back to this page after every entry. Thanks for checking out some weird 16-bit CD games with me, everyone. Hope you like anime cutscenes.

01/10 - Castlevania: Rondo of Blood09/10 - Kaze Kiri: Ninja Action17/10 - Star Parodier
02/10 - Lords of Thunder10/10 - Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest18/10 - Motteke Tamago
03/10 - Bonk 311/10 - Valis II19/10 - Cosmic Fantasy 2
04/10 - Last Alert12/10 - Exile20/10 - Dragon Half
05/10 - Beyond Shadowgate13/10 - Minesweeper21/10 - Kaizou Choujin Schbibinman 3
06/10 - Dungeon Explorer II14/10 - Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams22/10 - Might and Magic III: Isles of Terra
07/10 - Cho Aniki15/10 - Strider Hiryu23/10 - Riot Zone
08/10 - No.Ri.Ko16/10 - Ys IV: Dawn of Ys24/10 - Godzilla
31/10 - Dead of the Brain 1 & 2
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Wiki Project: Super '93

Hey Wiki Pages and Wiki Squires, I have exciting news. Well, by a certain muted definition of exciting. Mildly intriguing news, let's go with that. I've just completed a Wiki Project that has taken nine months from start to finish. I haven't been working tirelessly on it day or night or anything, more as an occasional something to do while I listen to new Bombcast and MBMBaM podcasts, but it still required a lot of work and perseverance. Sorry, I'm making this sound like I climbed Everest or something. Let's start over:

At the start of this year, I began what seemed like a fairly simple task: Ensure that every SNES game from 1993 had a full wiki page. My definition of "full" for the purposes of this exercise included the following:

  1. Overview text. Most game pages ideally need an overview section (brief synopsis, basic history of releases, any pertinent facts about the game from a meta standpoint) and a gameplay section (actually gets into detail about how the game plays, its systems and features), but I kind of just left them with overviews in most cases.
  2. Deck. That little blurb at the top of the page that briefly describes the game. There's nothing too concrete in the rules about what that message ought to contain, but a simple single-sentence description of the game usually suffices. At least it does for my purposes.
  3. Screenshots. Just a smattering of gameplay shots, all the relevant box art and every title screen (for cases when a game changes its name after localization). We have an awful lot of sketchy .jpeg screenshots, unfortunately. Makes me wonder what decade they were taken in.
  4. Header image. The background shot, the one that goes behind the deck. This requires high-res screenshots, which is kind of a pull when you're dealing with a console that natively displays in a 320x200 resolution. Such a small image looks awful and blurry when blown up for a header image, considering most modern PC monitors use something like 1366x768 or higher as their default. It also means choosing the right shots that work well within the small target window that the site picks out for the display. We have a useful tool by mod @chaser324 that lets you "test" uploaded images, but I've gotten to the point now where I can feel it out well enough. Mostly.
  5. Full details. The side-panel that tells you the platforms, release date, genres, themes and so on. It's not always possible to fill out every field (especially aliases and franchises, given that they're not always applicable), but I try to ensure we have as much info as possible.
  6. Releases. Obviously, the game needs all its releases too. It's a database thing. Since the big site switch, there's now spaces for a developer and publisher for every release (publishers typically tend to change depending on region) so there's usually at least some work to be done here even on popular pages.

Now, the way I figured it, the Super Nintendo is one of the most popular consoles in the world. I fully expected every page to have at least half of the above already complete. I suspected I'd be filling in the occasional missing detail and adding a fancy new header image and then moving on. Yeah, that wasn't the case. Most Super Nintendo pages require a lot of work, it turned out. Even the big ones.

Because talking about old games is more fun than talking about updating the wiki pages of old games, I'm going to segue now into a list of highlights. I discovered many of these games for the first time while working on this project -- Japan's Super Famicom saw a lot more games than the US/Europe SNES ever did -- and while many are your standard baseball and mahjong nonsense, there's a few weird hidden gems in there too. I'll throw in some stats and stuff too, for flavor. You know, nothing brightens up an article like a bunch of numbers.

January

  • List of releases: 16
  • US Block: 2
  • Japan Block: 14
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 9

SNES highlight: The Super Nintendo release schedule of 1993 was a lot like the modern console release schedule of today: the first few months of the year were fairly mild, it picked up around Spring, became a drought in the Summer and then slowly picked up again around Autumn and continued strong until the holiday season peak. January saw an average number of releases, but it also saw a relatively small amount of games in the "US Block": those games that first appeared in the US. These include the ubiquitous Epyx sports mini-game collection California Games II (which was first released on PC three years prior, so I don't know what the delay was) and The Hunt For Red October game. Dated computer ports and mediocre license games is pretty much the US Block in a nutshell.

In most cases I'll picking a game that was released in Japan that month and saw a US release at some point later on. While they've been dislodged as world leaders in video game development in recent times, the Japanese really were the only ones producing anything of merit on consoles back in the early 90s. I realize what that sounds like, but it's more a demonstrable fact than any weeaboo protestation.

They didn't even try to make these cutscenes less anime.

The SNES highlight for January 1993 is Makeruna! Makendou, otherwise known as Kendo Rage. While not a particularly great game (slim pickings this month, I assure you), Kendo Rage is interesting because the localization team was asked to take something so incredibly Japanese as a sentai Japanese schoolgirl with a katana and make it more "American". Unlike many other Western makeovers, there wasn't much that ended up changed, and the game is still as anime as two Gundams surreptitiously rendezvousing under a cherry blossom tree. If nothing else, it demonstrated a hope that intensely Japanese games would be given more chances overseas, and many of the most memorable Super Nintendo games were those so unashamedly Japanese that they stayed with you.

"Hey, asshole!"

SFC highlight: The Super Famicom highlight, of the nine games that never (officially) left the Land of the Rising Sun, is Elfaria. Though it seems like a (El)fairly(a) standard JRPG, perhaps one that was never quite good enough to see a localization, I was amazed at the artwork when taking screenshots for it. Created by Susumu Matsushita, it reminds me of the European comics I used to read as a kid, like Goscinny/Uderzo's Astérix. I'd hazard a guess that much of the in-game artwork had a similar style. When Enix hired manga artist Akira Toriyama (he of Dragon Ball fame) to work on the character and monster designs of Dragon Quest, other developers saw his involvement as one of the many X-factors that made Dragon Quest so successful. As well as copying its first-person turn-based combat and other mechanics, JRPG developers would also frequently hire prominent artists from other fields (manga, anime) to give their own game a distinctive art style.

February

  • List of releases: 18
  • US Block: 3
  • Japan Block: 15
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 10

SNES highlights: The easy standout of February 1993 is Star Fox, the first entry into the 3D polygonal on-rails anthropomorphic animal space-sim series from Nintendo themselves. Nintendo actually sought outside help from UK developer Argonaut Games, which had created a polygonal shooter for Nintendo the previous year (1992's X) and were best known for their Starglider series.

Polygons! In my Super Nintendo!

Star Fox is the first game to use the Super FX chip, famously, and would lead the charge for a smattering of polygonal games for the system. Of course, it wouldn't be until the next generation of consoles when polygonal graphics would become the norm, but SNES developers were never one to shy away from exploiting the system's limited tools to create 3D-ish presentations. It was the sprite-scaling Mode 7 that got the most use, and pre-rendered 3D models after that. Sneaky stuff.

Honorable mentions: SimAnt, which failed to make the splash SimCity did for the SNES, despite having the more interesting premise. The US Block games were Cool World (based on that "adult" Roger Rabbit movie starring Brad Pitt), Harley's Humongous Adventure (I shudder to think how many SNES platformers used the cliché of micro-sized protagonists walking through normal households) and Hit the Ice (a parody ice hockey game, because that's a sport everyone takes too seriously).

Medama-Oyaji. Literally means "eyeball dad". He's Kitarou's dad, and an eyeball.

SFC highlights: The SFC stand out is Gegege no Kitarou: Fukkatsu! Tenma Daiou. The Japanese tended to fall into the similar trap of putting development speed over quality when it came to their licensed games, but Gegege no KItarou: Fukkatsu! Tenma Daiou -- based on the Gegege no Kitarou manga/anime about a yokai (spirit) boy who helps humans by fighting the worst the underworld has to offer -- is a visually arresting, challenging boss rush in the vein of something like Treasure's Alien Soldier. Boss characters seem to pop out around every corner, and many have interesting patterns or are so damn bizarre that it throws you for a loop. I saw most of what the game had to offer thanks to an episode of hit Japanese LP TV show GameCenter CX. It didn't get any less crazy after that first encounter with a giant blob with a dude's face on it.

Honorable mentions: Leading Company, a corporate life sim where the 80s still rule supreme. Can you make your rival businessmen destitute before it's time for your liquid lunch? How much more tastefully off-white can you make your embossed business card? Are those Huey Lewis MIDIs on the soundtrack? Also: Wally o Sagase!, where you literally (well, in-game) meet Waldo's maker in a metaphysical take on the world's favorite hidden person picture puzzle franchise.

March

  • List of releases: 31
  • US Block: 2
  • Japan Block: 29
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 14

SNES highlights: March was a busy month with thirty one releases, and the best SNES game of the lot is probably Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen. A Squaresoft joint, the game combines the turn-based RPGs the company was known for with a tactical real-time war sim, where troops would slowly march towards their destinations as you attempted to out-maneuver the enemy forces. It's all about choosing whether to stack one squad with your best units and hoping they trample everything in their way, or spreading the units around for equal growth and minimal casualties.

The game has some great artwork too.

The game was actually a semi-serious spin on Square's parody series Hanjuku Eiyuu. They presumably felt that the very Japanese comedy stylings wouldn't work as well overseas as a traditional Fire Emblem-y/LOTR fantasy warfare scenario.

Honorable mentions: Also released in March of 1993 was Chou Makai Taisen: Dorabocchan, best known to us as The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang. it's a top-down third-person shooter similar to Pocky and Rocky, that almost felt like a kid-friendly spin-off of the Castlevania series. In the original Japanese version, Spike apparently ate the hearts of his enemies (another allusion to Castlevania and its convention of a heart-based economy). The US version changed it to tomatoes. What is he, Count Duckula? The excellent SNES shoot 'em ups BioMetal and Pop'n Twinbee also came out this month.

Caught this guy jaywalking. A crime is a crime, perp!

SFC highlights: There were a bunch of interesting Super Famicom exclusives this time. The one I had the most fun grabbing images for was Edo no Kiba, one of two SFC games from 1993 that could be boiled down to "anime RoboCop". Like its Sega counterpart ESWAT, the player is this cool as hell cyborg cop who rockets through dystopian NeoTokyo beating up criminals with military-grade weapons.

Honorable mentions: Ihatov Monogatari is a bizarre little adventure game that doesn't rely on conflict to tell its story, and seems to be based on the posthumously published works of a long-dead Japanese author. This Hardcore Gaming 101 article goes into more detail. Metal Max 2 seems like a badass open-world JRPG with a post-apocalyptic setting that allows you to hire your own mercenary army of Mad Max dudes in tanks and trucks. Neugier: Umi to Kaze no Koudou is a top-down action RPG with QTEs that struck me as similar to Illusion of Gaia. JoJo no Kimyou na Bouken is the first ever JoJo's Bizarre Adventure game, and is a weird mix of an adventure game and turn-based fighter RPG? I guess a confusing genre mix is apropos for that particular anime.

April

  • List of releases: 19
  • US Block: 7
  • Japan Block: 12
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 6

SNES highlights: We calm down a bit in April with nineteen releases, and a much larger US Block than we've had previously. There's too many promising games here to choose a highlight, but I'll go with Breath of Fire because I'm a mark for that series. Capcom's Breath of Fire games are their take on a traditional fantasy RPG, albeit one where the main character can shapeshift into a dragon. The first Breath of Fire had some great graphics, a neat isometric view for its combat and the aforementioned dragon shapeshifting was sort of a heavy metal take on the summons of Final Fantasy: a temporary boost of otherworldly power to depend on in cases of emergency.

Honorable mentions: Like I said, this month seemed packed with great SNES games. Operation Logic Bomb is considered one of the best hidden gems on the system, a top-down shooter in the Metal Gear/Alien Syndrome mold with some trippy visuals in its partially-virtual cybernetic world and a bunch of novel features. Blizzard's best game, The Lost Vikings, also premiered on the system this month, as did Hudson's first super outing for their little anime Ted Kaczynski in Super Bomberman. Of course, we also got Wayne's World, Toys and American Gladiators this month too. April, she is capricious.

Is that Grounder?

SFC highlights: I'm going to give this one to Ryuuki Heidan Danzarb, a scenario-based sci-fi RPG from Pandora Box with some unspecified help from Gainax, the creators of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I've yet to delve too far into the game's fan translation, but it seems fairly varied with its different missions, each with its different tasks to achieve. A bit like Live a Live, another fan translated RPG worth checking out for its unusual design choices.

Honorable mentions: I'll (honorably) mention this one for sheer weirdness value, Action Pachio is a Pac-Man World take on Coconuts Japan's pachinko mascot Pachio-kun. Pachio-kun had until this game only starred in pachinko sims, on a never-ending quest to procure as many of his tiny inanimate brethren as possible. What's odder is that they built the game to be more like Sonic the Hedgehog, emphasizing speed and rolling around. It didn't seem too bad, honestly.

May

  • List of releases: 13
  • US Block: 8
  • Japan Block: 5
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 3

SNES highlights: The release schedule trickles to a relative crawl as Summer approaches. May is the first month where the US Block outnumbered the Japan Block. Still, for as few games as there were, there's still a few good picks here. My favorite would have to be the Super Nintendo adaptation of Shadowrun, a complex isometric RPG that you didn't see too often on consoles. It pre-dates the Infinity Engine series, even, making it very impressive indeed. The player had a few options when it came to upgrading their decker hero Jake Armitage, and the game required you be smart about things to avoid falling into its many pitfalls.

That it would go on to inspire the recent Shadowrun Returns (which includes an extended cameo from Jake) is a testament to how ahead of its time it was.

Honorable mentions: There's the console-exclusive sequel Final Fight 2, which drops Cody and Guy from the roster but at least keeps the important one; there's Super Turrican, the appeal of which continues to be lost on most Americans (not that I know either. It's the soundtrack, I think); and there's also Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind, which I just put here as a joke. The actual third honorable mention is Titanic simulator SOS (a.k.a. Septentrion), just one of many odd experiments Human Entertainment developed during their time. It's brutally difficult, rewarding repeated playthroughs as you gradually figure out where to go in the limited amount of time the game gives you to escape a sinking cruise ship. It also made for a pretty good GameCenter CX episode.

Mecha-Lion has this in the bag.

SFC highlights: Of the three Super Famicom exclusives this month, my hands are kind of tied with the highlight: Conveni Wars Barcode Battler Senki: Super Senshi Shutsugeki Seyo!. This sesquipedalian strategy RPG was the first SFC game to be compatible with the Barcode Battler toy, via a peripheral you could plug into a controller port. It's kind of neat to have a video game turn the barcodes you find on groceries into units for a strategy RPG thing, even if the game itself doesn't seem too hot. Kinda like those Monster Rancher games and CDs. Considering the only other two options were a Go game and a pachinko game, there's not much of a contest.

June

  • List of releases: 26
  • US Block: 13
  • Japan Block: 13
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 10

SNES highlights: I might've said the Summers were quieter. I lied. There were twenty six new games in June, which is the second largest amount of the year so far. This is due to both US and Japan Blocks going at full speed to draw in all the kids who don't like to go outside during the warmer months, I'd assume.

I can't help but mentally plan out which rows I intend to move first.

The SNES highlight this time is Yoshi's Cookie, because Yoshi gets too much shade thrown at him around here and Cookie is a deceptively addictive puzzle game.

Honorable mentions: Plenty to choose from here as well. Lufia & The Fortress of Doom (Estpolis Denki) isn't much compared to its sequel, but was appealing due to its cartoony artwork and simple mechanics in a time when JRPGs were finding early success in the wake of Final Fantasy IV (the JRPG localizations prior to FF4 were kind of niche. And now JRPGS are niche again, I suppose). Run Saber is a goofy, enjoyable action game that borrows more than a few pages from Strider's book with its acrobatics. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is the best looking Battletoads game, if you're one of a Rare breed actually fond of that sadistic series.

The only thing she loved more than her dear husband was not wearing seatbelts.

SFC highlights: Maybe it's not the greatest game, but for premise alone it's gotta be Gekitotsu Dangan Jidousha Kessen: Battle Mobile. In the near future, Mad Max-ian road bandits kill the wife of a newlywed couple on their honeymoon. The guy spends the next year souping up a red Interceptor, fills it with weapons and takes on the gang's leaders in a Spy Hunter-inspired vehicular combat game. The Japanese-fluent @pepsiman and the barely English-fluent Mento tried to decipher its word salad title and could only come up with "Breakthrough Bullet: Final Car Fight: Battle Mobile". Now, that's a title!

Honorable mentions: Props go out to Dragon Slayer: Eiyuu Densetsu II, the "lost" Legend of Heroes sequel that remains one of the few older games in the series to never see an English localization. Cosmo Police Galivan II: Arrow of Justice is both the other anime RoboCop game I talked about and the runner-up for best title this month. It's a more standard side-scrolling brawler than Edo no Kiba, which had you moving at incredible speeds with your jet boots taking down biker gangs.

July

  • List of releases: 28
  • US Block: 2
  • Japan Block: 26
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 14

SNES highlights: I have no idea what to tell you. Maybe Japan takes summers more seriously than we do, because the vast majority of the games released this month were in Japan. It's tough narrowing down a SNES highlight with that kind of traffic, but Super Mario All-Stars is a pretty safe bet.

Peach gets so mad if you stay on this title screen for too long.

A compilation of three of the best games for the NES (and the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2, dubbed the Lost Levels here) graphically enhanced is hard to beat, after all. All-Stars would go on to be bundled with most Super Nintendos going forward, usually coupled with Super Mario World on the same cart.

Honorable mentions: Almost too many to count. The best three would be the surprisingly decent co-operative puzzle game Goof Troop; the underappreciated Rocky Rodent from Irem, who changes his hairstyle to pass through levels; and the endlessly entertaining Street Fighter II Turbo, who some might claim is the best of the early iterations of Capcom's juggernaut fighter series.

SFC highlights: While it might seem like we're spoilt for choice here, there is only one true answer: Giant Bomb favorite Sanrio World Smash Ball!. The simple joys of watching a frog and a raccoon frenetically swat a flying disc back and forth cannot be overstated, and it's always a welcome sight whenever the Bomb Squad bring it out during a slow UPF.

Honorable mentions: While Sanrio World Smash Ball! doesn't have much in the way of competition, there's still a few interesting SuFami games in that enormous pile of July releases. Death Brade is an hilariously named arena fighter known elsewhere as Mutant Fighter, sort of like a mythology-based Pit-Fighter; Dai-3-Ji Super Robot Taisen is the first of Banpresto's crossover mecha RPGs to make it to the Super Famicom; and then there's the inscrutably anime Super Back to the Future II, a Japan-exclusive platformer that looks way more fun than the awful movie license dreck we got.

August

  • List of releases: 15
  • US Block: 0
  • Japan Block: 15
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 10

SNES highlights: Shockingly, the US didn't produce a single new game for the SNES in August, despite 1993 being one of the peak years for the console. That Summer slump in full force, I'd suspect. Japan kept us covered though, producing yet another batch of memorable titles.

The no-doubts-whatsoever highlight of August is Seiken Densetsu II, best known as Secret of Mana. Secret of Mana was, along with Final Fantasy IV, one of the benchmark JRPGs for the system and would help launch the genre as a force to be reckoned with in the US for the remainder of the Super Nintendo's relevancy. (The PlayStation's Final Fantasy VII would launch it to even greater heights, of course, but that's neither here nor there). Secret of Mana may well be one of the greatest games ever created for the Super Nintendo; a game that could be ethereally beautiful with its affecting soundtrack, visuals and story while simultaneously one of the goofiest and baffling experiences with its chaotic three-player mode and anime idiosyncrasies. It's the game that sold me on JRPGs forever.

Honorable mentions: With only five games that ever saw US releases on the list (actually, that's a lie, there's only four: the fifth saw a single international release for France, so I couldn't count it as a Super Famicom exclusive), there's not a whole lot of options here. Super Slap Shot seems like an entirely capable ice hockey game with close-ups for its fights and Nobunaga's Ambition began an entire genre of inscrutable strategy sims based in Sengoku era Japan (the SNES game is actually the second in the series, referred to as Zenkokuban or "Whole Country Edition" in Japan). Notable as well is that French game I mentioned earlier: a brawler based on Sailor Moon. Yeah, that Sailor Moon.

Defeated at his castle, Wario now contents himself with taking cheap shots at Mario.

SFC highlights: The only real choice here, and perhaps the only game anyone would've heard of, is the Japan-exclusive Mario & Wario. In this mouse-driven game, Wario drops a bucket on Mario's head and the player, as a helpful fairy, has to direct him and clear his path of dangers. It's a tough game that relies on timing and mouse control, and only gets more difficult in the later stages when they stop giving you checkpoints. It's another game that made for an interesting episode of GameCenter CX.

Honorable mentions: There's honestly not much else this month. There's a couple of baseball games and a couple of horse racing games; two genres that seem to make up most of the Super Famicom exclusives. Jutei Senki is a curious take on a Fire Emblem style strategy game where nature gods and mechanical beings fight each other. There's also a Super Famicom Kunio-kun dodgeball game, Kunio-Kun no Dodge Ball Dayo Zenin Shuugo!, which seemed like fun. Sword World SFC is interesting, in that it's a video game adaptation of a Japanese table-top RPG, sort of like the D&D video games we got over here.

September

  • List of releases: 31
  • US Block: 16
  • Japan Block: 15
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 12

SNES highlights: It's full steam ahead as Autumn begins and games start coming out again. The US Block is back in force, outnumbering the Japan Block once more.

Doesn't look like much, but Plok's got it where it counts.

My favorite of this bunch is Plok, a hero that throws out his limbs to hit enemies making him somewhat vulnerable if he misses. The game's quite challenging, in spite of its colorful and comedic countenance. It also sports one of the best soundtracks of any Super Nintendo game, created by the Follins brothers using every trick in their repertoire to get the most out of the SNES's SPC-700 sound chip. It's really gotta be heard to be believed.

Honorable mentions: I suppose I ought to mention Mortal Kombat, even if no-one particularly cared for the sanitized Super Nintendo version. Instead, the next best game by a very close margin is Zombies Ate My Neighbors, the LucasArts top-down shooter that had more B-movie charm than it knew what to do with. Third spot goes to, appropriately enough, the surprisingly decent advergame Cool Spot, devised by the folks who would go on to create Shiny Entertainment and the Earthworm Jim series.

Title screen says it all, really.

SFC highlights: Hmm, tough call. For historical reasons, I'm putting forward Torneko no Daibouken: Fushigi no Dungeon, a.k.a. Torneko's Great Adventure: Mystery Dungeon. As in, the first ever Mystery Dungeon game. Torneko's a portly gentleman who became my favorite character in Dragon Quest IV's roster: a merchant who would frequently rip off his customers with items he found after beating up monsters. Fushigi no Dungeon continues his avaricious adventures, hunting deep below the Earth for valuable treasures to fleece people with.

Honorable mentions: The awesomely-titled Kachou Shima Kousaku: Super Business Adventure is an otherwise dry multiple-choice visual novel where you have to make the best life decisions for a milquetoast salaryman. GS Mikami: Joreishi wa Nice Body is an interesting supernatural platformer based on a comedy anime about a wealth-obsessed exorcist. Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds: Kokusai Kyuujotai Juudou Seyo!! is curious for being a Japan-only adaptation of a popular British marionette TV show, like Team America played straight (and with less collateral damage to landmarks and actors).

October

  • List of releases: 34
  • US Block: 18
  • Japan Block: 16
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 13

SNES highlights: It's going to continue to get more serious as we move on, as more and more games are pushed out to meet the Holiday demand. Unsurprisingly, there's a few good ones here.

Fittingly, Game Room would get buried without any money whatsoever.

Sunset Riders, the Arcade game Jeff Gerstmann pined for up until the very end of Game Room, is a fun Konami shooter that got a fairly solid conversion for the Super Nintendo. It sadly lacks the four players of the original cabinet, but it's almost identical sound and graphics-wise. Well, besides all the customary Nintendo censoring. I remember loving many Konami Arcade games and being sad that their home versions never quite measured up, but Sunset Riders is one of the few they got right.

Honorable mentions: Some other excellent games from this month include Pac-Attack, a Tetris-like puzzle game based on another game that had characters that weren't going to be very recognizable to Western audiences (like the similarly westernized Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine). This month also saw a spate of EA Sports stuff, including NHL '94 and Madden NFL '94, back when EA were pretty much ruling the school for licensed sports games. Another honorable mention is Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I loved the sound quality in that series, even though I rarely survived the initial Hoth stage in this one. At least the first Super Star Wars had a grace period before dropping all the impossible jumping sequences on you.

SFC highlights: I'm just going to start listing weird stuff, since I didn't play any of these long enough to pick a clear winner. Miracle Girls is a very saccharine platformer that plays similarly to Little Nemo: The Dream Master for the NES, right down to stunning enemies with candies.

Ranma 1/2: Akanekodan Teki Hihou is a rare Ranma 1/2 game that isn't a fighter, like Hard Battle, but rather an RPG. Super Chinese World 2: Uchuu Ichibuto Daikai is the Japan-only sequel to Super Ninja Boy, and continues that series' bizarre sense of humor and kung fu action albeit as a fighter game rather than a brawler.

November

  • List of releases: 42
  • US Block: 16
  • Japan Block: 26
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 15

SNES highlights: It's going to get harder and harder to narrow down highlights as we see more and more releases as 1993 closes out. This month in particular has two games very close to my heart.

Kind of describes my life in a nutshell, really.

I'm going to have to say Illusion of Gaia is my pick for this month. The second game in Quintet's Soul Blazer series, Illusion of Gaia is a simplified but certainly not easy action RPG that superficially resembles The Legend of Zelda with its overhead view and puzzle-filled dungeons. It also has a gonzo story, sending the party (though you only ever play as Will and his two badass transformations) across the world to search for mystical statues needed to defeat an evil comet. All the dungeons in the game are based on famous landmarks, like the Wall of China and Angkor Wat. It's one of those games I wish I could show off to more people, maybe in the form of an LP. Ah, if only I had the video editing means. I'm sure other LPs of it exist.

Honorable mentions: Equinox was my second choice, an isometric puzzle-platformer styled like the C64 games that eventually made Rare a household name. Equinox is another game like Plok that was fortunate enough to be scored by the Follins brothers, and although it's mostly ambient music it still sounds phenomenal. Disney's Aladdin is another easy choice, as one of those rare movie licenses that had some talented folk behind it who actually gave a (street) rat's ass about the source material. I'll throw Patrick a brachiosaur bone with my final choice of Jurassic Park. It's perhaps not as good as the Genesis take (a similar case could be made for Aladdin, though I can go either way on that one), but the SNES version is curious for its inclusion of Doom-style first-person indoor sections.

The boss fights in these games are always the highlight.

SFC highlights: Well, let's see. I think a good choice would be Ys IV: Mask of the Sun. The Ys games are generally fantastic, and it's a shame IV and V were never localized at the time. Ys IV in particular has an interesting history, in that it's actually one of three Ys games with that numeral: Ys IV: Dawn of Ys shares the same story but plays very differently, and was released by Hudson for the Turbo CD (or the PC Engine equivalent, at least). Both games were replaced canonically with the recent third iteration, Ys IV: Memories of Celceta, which can be bought in the US and Europe for the PS Vita (and, hopefully soon, on Steam). Many accounts seem to suggest that MoC is the best Ys game made thus far.

Honorable mentions: There's Accele Brid, which is an unusual mech shooter where you fly through tunnels. The tube shooter wasn't really a thing on 16-bit consoles, since they couldn't pull off the necessary sprite-scaling technique at a sufficient speed (something that plagued every home console port of Space Harrier for the longest time). It was deemed good enough to get an Aeon Genesis fan translation, so it can't be all bad. There's also Super Uno, which is just Uno but kinda super? Seems very odd indeed that it was never localized. Maybe the developers didn't think it would sell overseas without webcam support? Rounding out the trio is Aretha, because I giggled at the name like a child. I know, I know, Aretha Franklin is (was? is) a person and the name actually means "virtue" in Greek. Still a child. The game itself doesn't seem too bad either, though it's more straightforward fantasy JRPG stuff. It has a female protagonist at least, which was (and still is) somewhat unusual. Weirdly enough, she's not called Aretha.

December

  • List of releases: 55
  • US Block: 12
  • Japan Block: 43
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 32

SNES highlights: December's launch schedule is just ludicrous. Fifty-five new releases in a single month, more than double of most of the others. It's not even the US that's responsible this time in their mad dash to find likely candidates for Christmas presents, as the vast majority are from Japan who don't even do the whole presents thing at Christmas as far as I'm aware. It's more like Valentine's Day for them from what I gather from all my Japanese animes. With cake. It's... look, I admire they found some way to make it fun that didn't involve carols and spending too much money.

I always thought Mega Man needed more backtracking and upgrades. I hear the Mega Man ZX games are even more SpaceWhipper-like.

As for the SNES highlight, we're really spoiled for choice here. However, realistically, I don't think there's any beating Mega Man X. I didn't get into the Mega Man X series at the time, but there's no denying the amount of craft in those games. The soundtrack's amazing too, easily one of the best in the entire Mega Man franchise, which is saying something.

Honorable mentions: Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge is worthy of mention for being a superior sequel to Battle Clash, which had been up to that point the only reason to buy a Super Scope. TMNT Tournament Fighters is beloved to a certain group of weirdos too, but there's definitely something appealing about playing out your "which Turtle is better?" arguments in a fighter game with a bunch of odd comic book-only characters to round out a supporting cast. I'll give the last slot to a curiosity pick: Firestriker, a title that possibly inspired Wizorb with its odd merging of an RPG and an Arkanoid "bat and ball" game.

I long for the day when Jeff figures out how to unlock this bad boy and beats Brad at his own Ninja Kid game.

SFC highlights: Though there's thirty two games to choose from, there's only one real choice: Battle Tetris Gaiden. The only SFC game that can compete with Sanrio World Smash Ball! for the affections of the Giant Bomb audience. What to know something interesting about this one? There's a way to play as the two boss characters with a simple button sequence on the character selection screen. From what I've heard, they're both even more unbalanced than Ninja Kid. It's only a matter of time until one of the crew figures out how to access them...

Honorable mentions: Well, I guess there's no denying the influence of Super Puyo Puyo. Though not the first Puyo Puyo incarnation, it would be the one to inspire many spin-offs, including Mean Bean Machine and Kirby's Avalanche. Ganbare Goemon 2: Kiteretsu Shogun Magginesu is the SFC-only sequel to The Legend of Mystical Ninja (one of my favorite SNES games) and not only has a plot similar to the N64 Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (one of my favorite N64 games) but also introduces Goemon's giant robot doppelganger Impact to the series. Dolucky no Kusayakiu is my pick for "what the hell, Japan?": a baseball game populated entirely by Coca Cola soft drink mascots, represented as anthropomorphized animals. In fact, because this month was so busy, here's two more honorable mentions: Zoku: The Legend of Bishin is another Mad Max-inspired post-apocalyptic vehicular combat-slash-brawler, though with the added twist that all the antagonists are tough female bikers. Kessen! Dokapon Okukoku IV: Densetsu no Yuusha Tachi is historically notable for being the very first Dokapon game, which are combination RPGs-board games, similar to Monopoly. The "IV" in its title refers to the number of human players it supports.

Unknown

  • List of releases: 7
  • List of Super Famicom exclusives: 1

SNES highlights: Welcome to the bonus zone. These seven games don't seem to have any specific release data; I only know that they came out some time in 1993. This is largely the fault of Europe, which didn't seem to keep records of any of their release dates (possibly because EFIGS translations meant games would be brought out in different countries within the PAL region over a period longer than a month). There's only six recorded Europe-premiering games, five of which are exclusive to the region.

Ahh, good old PAF.

The highlight? Well, I'd probably go with the SNES Asterix. It's a fairly solid platformer that wasn't released in the US because the indomitable Gaul doesn't have much of a presence there, but that's no mark against its quality.

Honorable mentions: Aren't too many of these. The Humans is a fairly fun puzzle game in the vein of The Lost Vikings or Lemmings, where you use your barely evolved cavemen to look for new inventions to further their intellectual growth. Might and Magic II is actually one of two Might and Magic II games released that year, one exclusive to Europe and one exclusive to Japan. (From what I've played, Japan's seems the more fun. They actually upgraded it.) Super Morph is another puzzle game, one that has you switching forms to get through a laboratory. It's kinda reminiscent of the many Indie puzzle-platformers you see on Steam today, like Puddle or Element4l.

What am I even looking at? Why is Yoshi in my house?

SFC highlights: Well, let's see, there's only one Super Famicom game without a definite date. That would be Yoshi no Cookie: Kuruppon Oven de Cookie. It's not quite a sequel to Yoshi's Cookie, but rather a remake that added a whole bunch of advergame stuff about Panasonic's Kuruppon Oven, including how to use your Kuruppon Oven and what to cook in your Kuruppon Oven. Weird stuff. It's also super rare, as only 500 copies were ever made. Needless to say, copies tend to fetch crazy high prices.

What's even weirder is that it's not even the only product-placement cookery advergame from Nintendo in 1993 either: Motoko-chan's Wonder Kitchen also came out that year. It's another game that teaches you how to cook delicious food with lots of close-up images. Like, did Japanese people have their Super Famicoms hooked up in their kitchens?

Anyway, that is the end of this little adventure to the misty pasts of 1993. The Super Nintendo would see even greater peaks in 1994 and 1995, before the success of Sony's PlayStation overshadowed it and Nintendo refocused most of their efforts on the Nintendo 64. As for future Wiki Projects of mine, I think I'll go for something a little less ambitious before moving onto the next year for Super Nintendo. I could do with a breather, honestly.

As could you all after reading this far. Thanks for checking out this monster of a war journal from the wiki frontlines and I'll catch you all later. (Octurbo's only a week away...)

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