Thursday, May 25, 2017

Five favorites: Famicom leading ladies

Here's an admission that should shock no one: I've preferred female protagonists in video games to male ones since my earliest experiences with the medium.

Unfortunately, NES games that let you play as a girl or woman were far from common--or at least that was the case for the ones I owned or rented back in the day. Metroid is an obvious stand-out, as is Super Mario Bros. 2, but other than that pair? The only additional examples that come to mind at the moment are Athena, Ice Climber (you can control Nana in two-player mode), Mickey Mousecapade (in a way) and Final Fantasy (I'm one of those folks who have always considered the white mage to be female).

Thankfully, I'm no longer a kid, which means imports are no longer off limits. That's a big deal, because Famicom games weren't as sexist as their North American counterparts--as should be evident by the time you finish reading the following blurbs about five of my favorite female protagonists to grace the Japanese iteration of Nintendo's 8-bit console.


Altiana (Space Hunter)--Full disclosure: I've never actually played this Kemco-made, flick-screen action game, but I've long wanted to give it a try. Admittedly, its gameplay looks a bit rough (see it action here), but its spritework--protagonist Altiana's, especially--is right up my alley. I know some folks wish the in-game version of Altiana looked a bit more like the version showcased on the Space Hunter box cover, but I think she looks great in both forms. Plus, based on the footage above, she seems to be a kick-ass-and-take-names kind of gal, which means I'd bow down to her even if her sprite was gnarly. (To learn more about this Japan-only release from 1986, check out Video Game Den's Space Hunter write-up.)


Clarice (City Connection)--What do I like least about this console port of Jaleco's arcade classic? That you only get a glimpse of its main character, the blue-haired lady in the screenshot above, between stages. Sure, the rest of City Connection also is as cute as can be, but I find Clarice's design to be so pleasant that it's a real shame players don't get to see more of it. Oh, well, at least she's the star of this banana-yellow Famicom cartridge. After all, how often does a driving game--even one that's more of a platformer than a racer--feature a female protagonist? (Bonus content: I first rented the NES iteration of City Connection back in the day because I thought its logo was adorable.)


Lum (Urusei Yatsura: Lum no Wedding Bell)--I've got to be honest here: I don't know a whole lot about the Urusei Yatsura manga and anime series in general or the Lum character in particular. (Besides what I've read on Wikipedia, I mean.) That unfortunate ignorance hasn't kept me from lusting after this Jaleco-made platformer, though, which is a remake, of sorts, of the same company's Momoko 120% arcade game. Chiefly responsible for the blossoming of that long-distance love affair: Hardcore Gaming 101 writer Neil Foster's declaration (in this article about Momoko 120%) that both Lum no Wedding Bell and its predecessor are "more or less standard arcade flair in the Donkey Kong vein." Add to that the fact that the blue-coiffed Lum can zap on-coming baddies with lightning bolts, and the appeal should be as clear as day.


Myu (Insector X)--Before I say anything else, I've got to give a shout-out to the 1CC Log for Shmups for educating me as to this red-headed gal's name. Before I came across the post linked to above, I assumed this 8-bit reimagining of Taito's quarter-muncher of the same title simply referred to her as "girl," or something similarly lazy and disappointing. Speaking of disappointing, Insector X's character-select screen suggests players should only choose Myu if they're girls themselves. Ugh. On a positive note, at least a female option exists. Related aside: I prefer Myu's design to that of her male cohort (his name is Anny) many times over.


Sayo (Kiki KaiKai Dotō Hen)--I've had a soft spot for the Shinto shrine maiden that serves as this Famicom Disk System's protagonist ever since I played through Pocky & Rocky with wide-eyed gusto as a teenager. That soft spot only grew when I became aware of the PC Engine port of the original KiKi KaiKai. (FYI: you can peruse the entirety of that game's instruction booklet in this "Manual Stimulation" post.) In the beginning, I liked Sayo because she was cute. Later, I came to appreciate that she single-handedly sets out to rescue not just one god, but seven of them, in this multi-directional shmup--which differs from both the arcade original and the aforementioned HuCard release in a number of important ways--with nothing more than a fistful of o-fuda scrolls.

Do you have any favorites when it comes to women who have starring roles in Famicom games? If so, let me know which ones in the comments section that follows.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The best PC Engine game manuals (I've seen)

NEC's PC Engine was and is beloved around the world for a lot of reasons, including the console's small footprint, its credit card-sized cartridges (called HuCards) and its eclectic library of games.

Another reason that should be added to that list, in my opinion: the drop-dead gorgeous instruction manuals that were packed inside many PC Engine game cases.

Speaking of which, I consider the manuals below to be among the system's best. Before you start scrolling through them, understand that this post shouldn't be considered exhaustive. I certainly haven't flipped through every PC Engine instruction manual in existence, after all. I have pored over a good number of them, though, so I'd say my thoughts on the matter are as valid as anyone's in this area.

With all that out of the way, here are my personal picks for "best PC Engine game manuals."



Don Doko Don--Something you need to know right off the bat when it comes to the instruction booklets produced for this system's games: the ones that accompanied Taito-made and Namco-made titles are the most impressive. I especially like Taito's PC Engine manuals. They're crude in a way that Namco's aren't, but I find that aspect to be surprisingly charming. Don Doko Don's is a perfect example of this. It's bursting with monochromatic depictions of this single-screen platformer's protagonists, enemies, bosses and items that are simple, yet captivating. To see the entirety of this HuCard's how-to pamphlet, by the way, check out my "Manual Stimulation" post devoted to it. You also may want to spend a few seconds or even minutes ogling The New Zealand Story's manual, which is similarly appealing.



Hany on the Road--It's a crying shame that this oddball platformer's instruction manual is so short. Not only is it full of vibrant color and adorable enemy illustrations, but it features a handful of wow-worthy clay models. A few more pages of the latter would've been warmly welcomed by yours truly. Still, the artists and designers at publisher FACE deserve kudos for offering up a booklet that's more beautiful than it has any right to be, regardless of its length. (FYI: the whole she-bang can be viewed here.)



Mizubaku Daibouken--In some ways, Mizubaku Daibouken's manual impresses me more than Don Doko Don's. As nice as the latter title's booklet is, the former's is a lot more adventurous. For starters, it kicks off with a multi-page comic that shares the game's backstory. It also uses eye-popping illustrations to introduce Mizubaku Daibouken's many worlds (see above) and explain its controls. That it wraps up with black-and-white doodles of some of this arcade port's enemy characters is the icing on the proverbial cake. Experience all of the above for yourself by perusing my "Manual Stimulation: Mizubaku Daibouken" write-up.



PC Genjin 2--Why did I choose PC Genjin 2's instruction booklet over those of the series' first or third entries? For me, the original PC Genjin's manual is a smidgen too safe. No one would use that word to describe the ambitious PC Genjin 3 manual, but I feel pretty comfortable calling it "a bit much." I love that it's bursting with color, and I appreciate its enemy illustrations, but taken as a whole it's nearly seizure-enducing. The PC Genjin 2 pamphlet provides some of the same thrills but without the headache that's sure to follow in their wake.



Pop'n Magic--I guess it shouldn't be a huge surprise that the manual made for a Bubble Bobble clone is as cute and colorful as can be. That said, the ones produced for genre mates Rainbow Islands and Parasol Stars are flat-out duds, as far as I'm concerned, so I'm fine with expressing some shock at the verve showcased in this Riot release's how-to booklet. The spread above is my favorite of this pamphlet's many pages, but that's not to suggest the remainder are stinkers. Decide for yourself by taking a magnifying glass to my "Manual Stimulation: Pop'n Magic" post.



Valkyrie no Densetsu--As I've said before, Namco's PC Engine games haven't always been favorites of mine. Thankfully, I pulled my head out of my butt some time ago and realized the bulk of them are well worth owning and playing--even if they aren't perfect replicas of their arcade counterparts. In general that's due to their attractive graphics and gameplay, but it's also due to their beautiful manuals. Valkyrie no Densetsu's (see it in all its glory here) is the best of the bunch, if you ask me, but even turds like Barunba came with booklets capable of taking your breath away.

For more awesome PC Engine game manuals, check out these "Manual Stimulation" posts or head over to Video Game Den and peruse that site's HuCard and CD-ROM2 sections.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Coming soon-ish to a DS near you: a fan translation of Irozuki Tincle no Koi no Balloon Trip

Most Nintendo fans know about two of the Tingle games the company published for the DS a few years back.

The first, of course, was the Zelda-esque Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, which hit the streets of Japan in 2006 and Europe in 2007. The second, Tingle's Balloon Fight DS, also was a 2007 release, although it never left the Land of the Rising Sun. (If you'd like to see some snapshots of the latter title's case, cartridge and instruction manual, by the way, you can do so here, here, here and here.)

Well, Nintendo offered up a third DS game to Tingle fans two years after Tingle's Balloon Fight dropped. Its name: Irozuki Tincle no Koi no Balloon Trip, which apparently translates to Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love.

Unlike its predecessors, this title isn't an action RPG or a rehash of an arcade classic. Instead, it's a point-and-click adventure game.

As if that weren't appealing enough (I don't know about you, but I've long been attracted to point-and-click games), the story that envelopes the gameplay of Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love is based, at least in part, on The Wizard of Oz.

Combine all of the above with a rather glorious art style (see screenshot on the right) and you've got a game that looks to be right up my alley--if my understanding of Japanese were in a more advanced state than it currently is, I mean.

Thankfully, I probably won't have to wait another year or two to stumble my way through Balloon Trip of Love's oddball story. That's because an English fan translation of the Vanpool-developed game is rapidly approaching its finish line.

Unfortunately, no one really knows when the patch containing Balloon Trip of Love's English translation will be offered up to the masses. Considering the most recent update on its progress suggested the project was nearly 80-percent complete, though, I have to imagine a release by the end of this year is a possibility.

In the meantime, you can keep an eye on how things are going by checking out the translation team's blog at tingletranslation.blogspot.com. (Threads devoted to their efforts can be found at gbatemp.net and romhacking.net as well, if you're curious.) Something else to keep an eye on: my upcoming interview with the person heading up this ambitious project.

See also: my Tingle's Balloon Fight DS review

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Welcome to WonderSwan World: Special Glamour Shots® Edition

Three WonderSwan-focused posts in a row? Seriously?

Yes, seriously.

I guess you could say I have Bandai's Japan-only GameBoy competitor on the brain right now. Don't worry, I'll write about something else in the next few days. (In fact, a couple of half-finished, 3DS-centric posts are staring at me, begging to be wrapped up, as I type this one.)

In the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy ogling the following photos I recently snapped of my WonderSwan Color system and a selection of the WonderSwan games I brought on the road with me this year.



I took these photos in a Palm Springs (California) hotel room, by the way. Its decor didn't exactly lend itself well to such snapshots, so I improvised a light box by going to a nearby Walmart (don't judge), buying a large piece of white poster board and then laying it on a table near our room's main windows.

Granted, that isn't a whole lot different from what I did to nab game and console photos back when I lived in Seattle. There, I placed items on a white, well-lit IKEA table that also effectively replicated a light box.


Anyway, enough about that. I promised WonderSwan Glamour Shots®, so let's focus on them from here on out, shall we?

The first two showcased here are of my translucent black WonderSwan Color system. It's a real beauty, isn't it? Honestly, I'm head-over-heels in love with this handheld's design. Strangely, I think I like the look of the original WonderSwan best (it's a tad sleeker and smidge more minimalist than its two successors), but the Color is pretty sweet, too.


If you'd like to see a few photos of the WonderSwan Color's box, by the way, you can do so by checking out my first "Welcome to WonderSwan World" post or this Flickr photo album. (The latter includes shots of a number of WonderSwan game boxes, cartridges and manuals, too, in case that sort of thing interests you.)



Monday, May 15, 2017

Welcome to WonderSwan World: Clock Tower

When it comes to video games, I tend to prefer cute, quirky and whimsical ones to those that are more realistic or serious.

When it comes to movies, though, I tend to prefer those that are tense and scary to almost anything else.

Seriously, I've been a horror-film buff since I rented and watched a VHS tape of the first Nightmare on Elm Street as an early teen.

For whatever reason, my interest in scary movies has rarely translated to me playing scary games. That's not because I think the latter are unappealing, mind you. Actually, I've found a ton of scary games intriguing over the years. Almost every time I start one, however, I quickly become overwhelmed to the point that I have to turn the damn thing off.


A relevant case in point: the original, Super Famicom version of Human Entertainment's Clock Tower.

I've tried to play this point-and-click survival-horror game on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, each one ended rather abruptly--usually around the first time the series' unimaginatively named antagonist, Scissorman, shows his face and grotesquely (some might say comically) massive weapon of choice.

Say what you will about my inability to deal with those scissor-on-girl encounters, but the fact remains that trying to run away from a murderous maniac using a cursor controlled by a directional pad is stressful--or at least it has been for me.

Is that still true with Clock Tower for WonderSwan? (That's the full title of this port, by the way. For whatever reason, a lot of game publishers followed that same naming convention while prepping ports of games for Bandai's oddball handheld.) Yes and no.

Don't get me wrong, this portable version of Clock Tower freaks me out every bit as much as its console counterparts did and continue to do. I've done my best to get over that, though, so I can write the post you're reading right now.


Before I get into my feelings on this WonderSwan cartridge, here are a few tidbits you should know about it:

* This iteration of Clock Tower was made for the original WonderSwan system, so it's in black and white rather than in color like its Super Famicom and PlayStation predecessors.

* A company called Kaga Tech developed it. To be honest, I'd never even heard of Kaga Tech before I started doing research for this write-up. Is or was the company at all related to Kaga Create, which produced titles for everything from the Famicom to the Saturn, or that outfit's parent firm, Kaga Electronics? I believe so, as Naxat (Soft) published this port, and Naxat was the public-facing name of Kaga's gaming devision. Regardless, GameFAQs tells me Kaga Tech at least made a bunch of WonderSwan games as well as a few for the GameBoy, GameBoy Advance and PlayStation during its heyday.

* As far as I can tell, Clock Tower for WonderSwan is a shockingly faithful conversion of the 1995 original. Some concessions were made so the game could run on WonderSwan hardware, of course--such as the aforementioned lack of color, a lower resolution and a minimalist head-up display (more on that last one in a second)--but besides those, everything else seems to be in place.

Don't take that last bullet point to mean this handheld iteration of Human Entertainment's cult classic is near-perfect. It's not.

Although it looks surprisingly great in black and white, and although it controls as well as could be expected of a point-and-click game that requires players to use a d-pad, its protagonist, Jennifer, moves as though she's wading through knee-deep molasses. (To see what I mean, check out this video of Clock Tower for WonderSwan in action. For comparison's sake, here is footage of the Super Famicom version.)


That alone will be a deal-breaker for some, I'm sure. For me, it's mostly been an occasional annoyance. Usually, I'm fine with it; at other times, I daydream about my Clock Tower cart suddenly igniting and melting into a pool of unrecognizable goo.

Regardless, Clock Tower for WonderSwan's slowness is a shame, as every other aspect of the game is captivating. OK, so at first I didn't like that it no longer displays Jennifer's portrait, which in the Super Famicom and PlayStation versions depicts the orphan girl's stamina and stress levels. After a bit of reflection, though, I decided Kaga Tech's (or Naxat's, if you prefer) substitution--three dots along the edge of the screen that appear and disappear depending on how worked up Jennifer is or isn't--is perfectly serviceable.

Other than that and the previously discussed lack of speed? Not much to grouse about, if you ask me. I personally love the moody, low-tech look of this port and I've never really run into any issues with moving Jennifer about via my WonderSwan Color's weird directional pad and A and B buttons. (For the curious: the d-pad controls a cursor, while pressing the A and B buttons allows you to walk or run toward the cursor, examine the environment, pick up or use items and fight off Scissorman.)

I'm also now a big fan of how Clock Tower of WonderSwan progresses. Following a brief intro, you (as Jennifer) are left alone in the titular mansion. Silence surrounds you. The only sounds you hear are those of Jennifer's feet walking along wooden and carpeted floors. That is, until Scissorman makes his first appearance. Then both background music and panic kick in, and the race to find Jennifer's fellow orphans and escape their supposed new home begins.


I've yet to accomplish that last task, and I have a feeling I'll need to refer to a guide to do so, but I'm perfectly OK with that.

In the meantime, I'm getting a kick out of exploring Clock Tower--both the mansion in particular and the game in general--while also trying to avoid or fend off the incessant Scissorman, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Are any of you Clock Tower fans? If so, have you experienced this WonderSwan release? Regardless, please share your thoughts and opinions on those topics or anything I've said here in the comments section below.

Also, if you'd like to see photos of Clock Tower for WonderSwan's box and cartridge, you can do so via this Flickr photo album of mine.

See also: my 'Welcome to WonderSwan' post about Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party