Saturday, April 04, 2020

Manual Stimulation: Don Doko Don (Famicom)

Don Doko Don is one of those old games that avoided pinging my radar for a lot longer than it should've done.

Granted, this series hardly is a household name outside of Japan--despite the fact that Taito, the company responsible for developing and publishing it, previously gave the world Space Invaders, Qix, Chack'n Pop, and Bubble Bobble, among other classics.

At any rate, I remained blissfully unaware of Don Doko Don's existence until sometime after I became obsessed with the PC Engine.

You see, Taito ported this single-screen platformer, which stars a pair of mallet-wielding dwarves, to NEC's diminutive console less than a year after its original arcade release in 1989, and just two months after the Famicom port that's the subject of this post.

Why didn't I hear about Don Doko Don for the Famicom before I heard about its PC Engine iteration? I haven't the slightest idea.

At any rate, and as you might suspect, the instruction manual that came packed inside copies of the Famicom port of Don Doko Don is quite similar to the PC Engine port's manual.

The two booklets aren't identical, however. Take the spread above. The pair of illustrations you see here are completely different from the ones you see on the corresponding pages of Don Doko Don's PC Engine booklet.

For the record, I prefer the unique illustrations in the PC Engine release's manual to the ones used in the Famicom release's manual.

All that said, most of the drawings in these two manuals are the same. Generally speaking, though, the ones in the Famicom manual are given a bit more space to breathe than are the ones in the PC Engine manual.

The drawings highlighted on the last few pages demonstrate to readers Don Doko Don's main gameplay loop, which involves whacking enemies with your trusty hammer, picking up their smooshed bodies, and then tossing them at other unsuspecting foes.

The next handful of spreads focus on educating players about the particulars of each Don Doko Don stage. For example, the first world is forested, contains trees that spit out baddies, and features a multi-jack-o'-lanterned boss.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A few thoughts on the six games I've finished so far in 2020

I came up with what I thought was a brilliant (if also unoriginal) idea for this blog about six months ago: I'd write and publish micro-reviews of all the games I finished in 2019.

Coming up with the idea proved a lot easier than following through with it, though, as I finished 19 games last year. Producing the pair of posts I just linked to took loads of work despite the fact that I limited each write-up to just a handful of sentences.

So, I'm doing things a little differently in 2020. Rather than cram all of these pithy critiques into the last few weeks of November or December, I'm spacing them out a bit.

As such, here are some thoughts on the six games I've managed to beat in the first three months of this year. Look for a similar post to appear in late June or early July--assuming I complete at least a couple more titles between now and then. (That's not a given considering Animal Crossing: New Horizons is doing its darndest to take over my life.)

Alice in Wonderland (DS)--Every single time I ask people to recommend DS games, a handful of them implore me to play this 2010 release. Did their vociferous advice prove accurate in the end? I'd say so. Although this iteration of Alice in Wonderland has its fair share of flaws, overall it's a gem. Truth be told, I'm not sure what my favorite aspect of it is: its Tim-Burton-by-way-of-Okamiden aesthetic, its Metroidvania-plus gameplay, or its near-perfect length. Regardless, I'm glad I finally got off my lazy butt and gave it a try.

Detective Pikachu (3DS)--Here's another game I dragged my feet on playing for far too long. Per the usual, I can't really tell you why. I guess I assumed it would be so "kiddie" it would be boring? Well, it's definitely aimed at a younger audience, but that didn't keep me from having a blast with it. I especially liked how it tweaked the adventure-detective genre in some surprising and intriguing ways. Oh, and it gets bonus points from me for looking great and not overstaying its welcome. (I finished it in less than 20 hours.)

Heroland (Switch)--I don't know about you, but I often have a better time with games I begin with low expectations than I do with games I dig into after anticipating them for months or years. Heroland fits into the latter category. Given that, I shouldn't have been surprised when I didn't immediately love it. It did surprise me, though--probably because the bulk of it (including its adorbs graphics, its jaunty OST, and its quirky gameplay) is my cup of tea. I came around to this weird mashup of a board game and an RPG in the end, but I'd still have a hard time recommending it to others--particularly at full price.

Hey! Pikmin (3DS)--I know everybody and their brother seemingly loves to shit on this portable Pikmin spinoff, but I'm not one of them. On the contrary, I adored the nearly 13 hours I devoted to Hey! Pikmin early this year. Oh, it's far from perfect, that's true, but it's also true that its pros far outweigh its cons--or at least they did for me. Chief among the former, by the way, are Hey! Pikmin's painterly art style and the puzzle-heavy nature of its side-scrolling action.

Pokémon Shield (Switch)--I've had a real hit-and-miss history with the world-conquering Pokémon series. After adoring, and finishing, the very first game way back when, I responded to almost every subsequent release with a shrug and a yawn. Or I did until I played, and beat, Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! in late 2018. As much I as loved that remake, I loved Pokémon Shield even more--so much so I've already put over 80 hours into it. The highlight for me: the thrilling and endlessly explorable "Wild Area." No joke: probably half of my Shield playthrough has been spent in this sprawling region thus far.

Raging Loop (Switch)--Although I had a feeling I'd enjoy this horror-tinged visual novel, I never dreamed I'd fall head over heels for it. What changed between when I first became aware of it and when it dug its claws into me? I got pulled into its Groundhog Day-esque story, for starters. I also got to know its curious cast of characters. Even its initially off-putting art eventually grew on me. Still not convinced? How about this: despite the fact that it took me about 30 hours to reach its end credits, I'm already looking forward to playing through Raging Loop again. If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.

Have you finished any games this year? If so, which ones? And what did you think of them? Let me know in the comments section of this post.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Manual Stimulation BONUS: Hello Kitty World sticker sheet

I'm a sucker for games, especially old Japanese games, that come packed with sticker sheets.

Sadly, I don't own too many of these treasured goods. In fact, I can only think of four examples at the moment: Detana!! TwinBee, Loopop Cube: Lup Salad, PoPoLoCrois Monogatari, and Rhythm Tengoku.

Four examples other than the one I'm discussing and highlighting in this very post, I mean.

Funnily enough, I didn't even realize I owned this sticker sheet until I pulled my copy of the 1992 Famicom game out of the closet to scan its instruction manual.

To my utter surprise, stuck inside the pages of the Hello Kitty World manual were the stickers you see here.

Truth be told, I'm a bit miffed this precious sticker sheet focuses entirely on Hello Kitty, aka Kitty White.

Granted, she's the star of the show--er, game--and this sheet only contains eight stickers, five of which are pretty darn small, so the lack of any Mimmy or Tippy stickers makes some sense.

Something that makes a lot less sense: none of these stickers directly refer to Hello Kitty World. (Erm, except the one at the top.) It's almost like Character Soft, the publisher of this Balloon Kid knockoff, just took a few existing Hello Kitty illustrations and slapped them onto the sheet you're ogling now.

All that said, I'd rather get a sticker sheet than not get one, so please don't take what I've written so far to be serious complaints.

See also: scans of the Detana!! TwinBeeLoopop Cube: Lup Salad, and Rhythm Tengoku sticker sheets

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Manual Stimulation: Hello Kitty World (Famicom)

I've been a huge fan of Hello Kitty World ever since I first became aware of it well over a decade ago.

This isn't because I adore Hello Kitty, mind you. Although I think she's cute enough, I'm hardly obsessed with her or anything of the sort.

I am slightly obsessed with the Character Soft-published Famicom game that stars Kitty-chan (as well as her sister, Mimmy), however; or at least I've been obsessed with it at various points in the last 10 or so years.

The reason: it's basically a re-skin of one of my all-time favorite GameBoy games, Balloon Kid.

OK, so this Japan-only release from 1992 is more than just Balloon Kid with Alice's sprite swapped out for one that resembles the iconic Sanrio character. It's not a whole lot more than that, though.

For example, the playfield in Hello Kitty World is, or appears to be, much larger than the one in Balloon Kid. Also, the former seems a tad slower than the latter, though that, too, may just be an illusion.

Sadly, I can't tell you how Hello Kitty World's story, which is shared with readers of the game's instruction manual via the pages that precede this sentence, differs from that of Balloon Kid, or even if the two differ at all.

Speaking of the Hello Kitty World's manual, the spreads above and below explain this game's controls, start screen, and more.

And the next two pages of this instruction booklet discuss Hello Kitty World's dearth of collectible items.

I believe the following spread further educates players about how Hello Kitty World works, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

10 unfinished games I want to return to in 2020

Although I've gotten better in recent years at not only playing, but finishing, the games I buy, a few still fall through the cracks. By which I mean I walk away from some titles before I reach their end credits.

I'm OK with that now and then. For example, I failed to beat both Penny-Punching Princess and Umihara Kawase Fresh! in 2019, but I have no interest in returning to either of them.

I also failed to beat Dandy Dungeon, Dragon Quest XI S, and World of Final Fantasy Maxima after starting them last year, but I desperately want to rectify matters in 2020.

Here's why, plus similar info on seven other unfinished games I hope to get back to and wrap up between now and the end of December.

Contact for the Nintendo DS

Contact (DS)--I explored a good chunk of this Grasshopper Manufacture-made game back in 2015. Sadly, I don't remember much about my previous Contact experience other than I mostly liked it. Mostly. (If memory serves, a difficulty spike, or at least a tougher-than-usual boss, irritated me rather severely near the end of my 11-hour playthrough.) That's enough for me to want to give it a second chance, though--especially since I do remember loving its looks.

Dandy Dungeon (Switch)--While coming up with the list of titles that serve as the backbone of this post, it struck me that I rarely walk away from games because I hate them. In most cases, I leave them behind when I go on vacation, when I become obsessed with a book, or when work briefly takes over my life. That first reason is what caused me to drop Dandy Dungeon after putting more than 20 hours into it last year. I've been struggling to go back to it ever since, and I'm honestly not sure why. The only answer I can come up with is that maybe I got all I wanted or needed from the game in the time I spent with it in 2019. Hopefully that's not the case, but I'll find out one way or the other should I manage to boot up my save file again in the next few months.

Dillon's Dead-Heat Breakers for the Nintendo 3DS

Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers (3DS)--I devoted a good seven or so hours to this bizarre Dillon's Rolling Western follow-up in late 2018, and though I enjoyed what I encountered then, I only played the game for another hour in 2019. Typically, I don't recall why I walked away from it at that point, but I'm pretty sure another game was to blame. Something I do recall is that I was finding Dead-Heat Breakers a bit repetitive around the time I dropped it. Still, I want to know how its curiously post-apocalyptic tale ends, so I'm going to do my best to slip back in the saddle as soon as possible.

Dragon Quest XI S (Switch)--I have a real hit-or-miss history with the Dragon Quest series, which probably goes a long way toward explaining my ho-hum reaction to the initial eight-ish hours of Dragon Quest XI S. For the record, I adored both the first and the ninth game in the series, but found the seventh too long by at least half. Why am I currently leaning toward the latter with XI S? The lone culprit that comes to mind right now is that it's too just sleepy for me. In a way, I appreciate and respect that it's not as peppy as, say, Pokémon Sword and Shield, but I also wouldn't complain if it were a smidge more energetic. Regardless, that shouldn't keep me from Dragon Quest XI S' finish line forever.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the GameBoy Advance

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GameBoy Advance)--Against my better judgment, I started this Final Fantasy Tactics spinoff shortly after I started its sequel. Only one game could survive such an endeavor, and in this case, the one left standing was the DS follow-up. I don't expect to leave my aborted playthrough of the original hanging for long, though. I loved Tactics A2 so much that I spent more time with it than any other game last year, so I'm expecting to feel similarly moony about this precursor.

Great Greed (GameBoy)--I've started this Namco-made RPG numerous times since first becoming aware of it many years ago. None of those playthroughs ended with me watching Great Greed's credit roll, however--despite the fact that I adore pretty much every aspect of it. I especially like its snappy, one-on-one battles and its eclectic soundtrack. So, I'm going to take another stab at it sometime this year. Hopefully this time I'll make it far enough to marry either the king or the chief of bodyguards.

Great Greed for the GameBoy

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)--I put more than 10 hours into Breath of the Wild back in 2017 and 2018, and both stints absolutely thrilled me. Sadly, both stints were rudely interrupted by vacations. As I've already made painfully clear, that's often all it takes the break the spell a game has on me. I always--or almost always--intend to return to these discarded adventures, but only rarely do. I have no idea when or how I'm going to buck that trend with Breath of the Wild, but I promise to try my hardest to make it happen in 2020.

My World, My Way (DS)--I gave over 10 hours of my life to this Global A-made RPG in early 2015. At the time, I was knee-deep into #ADecadeofDS, a blog series I started to celebrate the existence and impressive game catalog of Nintendo's first dual-screened handheld system. As part of that series, I played a DS title for a week--and only a week--and then reported how long I spent with it, what I thought of it, and more. I was so taken with My World, My Way that I ignored my self-imposed "week only" rule and played it for seven more days. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough for me to reach the game's climax. The question is: when (not if) I circle back to it this year, will I start fresh or return to my woefully unfinished save file?

My World, My Way for the Nintendo DS

VA-11 HALL-A (Vita)--I own way too many copies of this cyberbunk-tinged visual novel to have never completed it, but that's the embarrassing truth of the matter. The only way to save face, I guess, is to force myself to finish it sometime this year. The thing I'm most looking forward to re-experiencing during my latest run at VA-11 HALL-A: its sublime OST. I'm pretty sure I could listen to some of its tracks for hours on end without tiring of them.

World of Final Fantasy Maxima (Switch)--Given how long I hemmed and hawed over buying a copy of World of Final Fantasy Maxima, it's amazing I ended up adoring the 26 or so hours I spent with it in 2019. It has its share of flaws, but none of them have bothered me much. In fact, the only thing that's bothered me about this odd Final Fantasy offshoot is the sinking feeling that I'll be completely lost when I jump back into the fray after so many months away. Fingers crossed those fears are proven unwarranted.

See also: Five 3DS games and 10 Switch games I want to play in 2020