Thursday, September 29, 2016

Manual Stimulation: Son Son II (PC Engine)

Considering how wonderfully colorful Son Son II the PC Engine game is, you could be forgiven for assuming Son Son II the PC Engine instruction manual follows suit.

Unfortunately, it doesn't. Or at least it doesn't do so fully. Instead, it does so in fits and spurts.

Its first few pages are a perfect reflection of that. Although the spread seen below features three really nice illustrations, the rest of the acreage on hand is mostly white space and black text.

That's less true when it comes to the spreads that follow, but even then it'd be hard to argue that there's a whole lot more black and white on those pages than there are colorful pieces of art.

At least the pieces of art that are there are easy on the eyes. Granted, I've rarely come across a drawing of a collectable in-game item I didn't like, so maybe I'm alone in finding them appealing.

(Speaking of game items, my friend, Jess, recently published a great blog post about Capcom's long history of silly, strange and intriguing power-ups. I'd definitely recommend reading it if you find such things interesting.)

I also really like the enemy depictions that are showcased in the scan above. The only thing I don't like about them is there are only 11 of them.

Oh, well, at we got those 11, right?

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Don Doko Don, Parasol Stars and Parodius Da!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Why did I wait so long to play Dragon Quest VII? (or, a few thoughts on the just-released 3DS port of Square Enix's mammoth RPG)

I have a strange history with the Dragon Quest series.

As a teenager, I devoured every piece of information about the first game's three-years-in-coming North American release I came across. My older brother and I bought it as soon as it hit store shelves and quickly beat it. (Actually, he beat it. Although I played the game, known here as Dragon Warrior at the time, through to the final boss, I never vanquished him. Later, my brother took care of it while I watched.)

You'd think that experience would've prompted us to buy and similarly burn our way through the second, third and fourth Dragon Quest--er, I mean Dragon Warrior--titles. For whatever reason, though, we didn't.

In fact, we (or, rather I) ignored every other Dragon Quest game that was released in English until Dragon Quest IX hit the streets in my neck of the woods in 2010. This time, I not only reached the end credits on my own but put more than 100 hours into it along the way.

I intended to follow up that experience my battling through the DS remakes of Dragon Quest IV, V and VI--or at least one of them--but you know what they say about best-laid plans.

Did I partially make up for the misgivings detailed above by pre-ordering the North American 3DS remakes of Dragon Quest VII (and Dragon Quest VIII) as soon as I was able to do so last year? I'd like to think so.

Even better, in my mind, is that I crammed the Dragon Quest VII cartridge into my trusty 3DS as soon as the former arrived on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago. Fast-forward to today, and I'm about seven hours into this portable adventure.

I'm enjoying the journey so much at the moment that I'm beating myself up for not playing the game sooner. That's mainly because of the characters and the story.

Actually, I think my favorite aspect of Dragon Quest VII right now is the little vignettes you have to complete while advancing the overarching saga. Some of them are silly, some of them are surprisingly poignant (the first one, especially)--and all of them enjoyable. Or at least that's been the case with the handful I've encountered up to this point.

Those aren't the only reasons I'm busy kicking myself for passing on Dragon Quest VII for so long. A few others include Akira Toriyama's adorable monster designs, Koichi Sugiyama's magnificent soundtrack and the stellar visual upgrade provided by ArtePiazza's crack team of artists and developers. In fact, this version's aesthetics make it the most appealing Dragon Quest to date as far as graphics are concerned--in my humble opinion, of course.

Anyway, I know I've got a long, long way to go before I see this game's credit roll, but I have absolutely no doubt I'll get there eventually.

How about you? Are any of you also playing the Dragon Quest VII 3DS remake? If so, what do you think of it so far?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Surprise! The Year of the GameBoy Continues: Bubble Ghost

OK, so every year seems to be the "Year of the GameBoy" around these parts. Sue me!

The fact is, I'm still madly in love with Nintendo's first portable system and its fine catalog of games. Sure, the latter includes a slew of crappy titles, but the same can be said of most handhelds. Plus, for me, the GameBoy's best gems are so enjoyable they make it easy to overlook its unplayable turds.

Speaking of my on-going love affair with this brick-like device (I'm talking about its design here, not its abilities), I've currently got a burr up my butt about whittling down the GameBoy portion of my lengthy gaming bucket list.

That's why I recently acquired the cart that serves as this post's focus, actually. Well, that played a role, at least. Also relevant: Bubble Ghost's adorable cover art.

And it is pretty darn adorable, wouldn't you agree?

To be honest, I'm not sure which piece of Bubble Ghost GameBoy box art I like more: the one created for Japan or the one created for North America and Europe.

Regardless, both are easy on the eyes. And both sport the same oh-so-appealing logo.

In terms of overall packaging, though, I've got to go with Japan's GameBoy port of the game. I like that it offers up random pops of color--such as the hint of teal at the top of its box front, or the vibrant pink that's splashed across its side flaps.

That same pink shows up as an accent color on the game box's back side, while a shockingly bright yellow blankets the remainder of its surface.

Similarly appealing hues can be found on every piece of Bubble Ghost's packaging. A case in point: the subdued, bubblegum-y pink featured on the game's instruction manual. Also, the banana yellow that covers its cartridge label.

OK, so the copy I recently bought and that's on display throughout this post isn't immaculate. I don't mind that as much as you might imagine. Sure, I'd love it if it were in perfect condition, but as long as it doesn't look like a dog chewed on it, I'm OK with a couple of creased manual pages or a few frayed box edges.

After all, what really matters is that the cartridge is works. And that's exactly the case here. Which is great, as Bubble Ghost is yet another of those intriguing titles that is perfectly suited to the GameBoy.

That probably sounds funny to those of you who know a bit about its history. For those of you who don't, Bubble Ghost began life in 1987 as an Atari ST game. In that release, and the numerous other PC ports that followed in the original's footsteps, players controlled the titular ghoul using a mouse.

A press of the space bar or shift key prompts the little guy to blow out a puff of air in those versions--which is important, as this is what allows you to guide the bubble mentioned in the game's title through the many halls of a haunted house.

In this GameBoy iteration (remake, really), developed by Opera House, the system's directional pad moves the pixelated specter and its face buttons produce the needed puff of air.

The latter control scheme works surprisingly well. Also, the GameBoy's archaic hardware doesn't do much to hold back Bubble Ghost's graphics or gameplay. In other words, this cartridge is well worth checking out if you're like me and you're still interested in playing decades-old handheld games.

See also: previous 'Year of the GameBoy' posts about Noobow, Peetan and Tumblepop.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Aural Gratification #2: 'Ghetto' from Gekisha Boy (PC Engine)

IREM's Gekisha Boy--or Gekibo, as I believe it used to be called in Japan--is one of those games all PC Engine fans should play.

Unfortunately, complete copies are pretty pricey these days. Also, the game has yet to hit Nintendo's Virtual Console for any system (3DS, Wii and Wii U) or in any region.

Does this mean you should go grab the ROM and play Gekisha Boy--which translates to Photograph Boy--on your emulator of choice? Sure, if that'll float your boat. IREM the game-maker basically closed up shop in 2011, so it's unlikely Gekibo or any of the company's other great titles will be re-released anytime soon, so emulation is likely to be the only avenue for most folks who want to experience this weird "action photography" game.

Just be prepared to face a stiff challenge no matter how you decide to play this 1992 offering. Successfully finishing its many stages is no easy feat, as doing so requires you to control its protagonist--his name is David Goldman, according to Wikipedia--as well as a reticle using the PC Engine's directional pad.

The good news here is that all of the time you're sure to put into beating Gekisha Boy's tough-as-nails levels means you'll become well acquainted with its soundtrack. Speaking of which, my favorite of its tunes is the one showcased in the video above. I love that it's kind of spooky--like something you'd listen to around Halloween.

Have any of you played Gekibo? If so, let me know what you think of it by leaving a comment below.

See also: my first 'Aural Gratification' post about 'Salad' from Panic Restaurant (Famicom)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Manual Stimulation (Parodius Da!, PC Engine)

Before we begin to prattle on about this PC Engine game's instruction manual, let's take a second to bow our heads in honor of the fact that the world's unlikely to get another game in Konami's wacky Parodius series.

That's a shame because all of the Parodius games Konami made and released between 1988's Parodius: Tako wa Chikyū o Sukū for MSX and 1996's Sexy Parodius for the original PlayStation (and arcades)--we'll just ignore all of those pachinko games the company put out over the last decade--were more than worth the price of admission.

This 1992 release may be my favorite of them all. Granted, the PC Engine port of Parodius Da! is missing a few of the arcade original's stages, but its chaotic omake bonus level makes up for it.

Its fabulous manual eases some of the disappointment associated with this semi-downgraded port, too.

Don't take that to mean it's all that and a bag of chips. It doesn't sport nearly as many adorable illustrations as the Famicom version's booklet. And it doesn't kick off with a multi-page comic strip like the Super Famicom release's manual. Still, it's cute and colorful enough that most folks should enjoy flipping through it now and then.

The "story" spread above helps prove that point, I think. Hell, so does the regrettably tiny depiction of Takosuke (the series' iconic octopus character) hoisting and shooting a machine gun.

The illustrations on the following pages, which show off and explain the game's power-up items and abilities, are interesting in that they're in a style that's quite different from the rest of the art that appears in the Parodius Da! instruction manual.

That's not a bad thing, mind you. Still, I can't help but wish they were sillier or livelier--like the ones included in the Famicom booklet I linked to earlier.

Somewhat strangely, the designers who created the Parodius Da! manual devoted two whole pages to explanations of the game's bell power-ups. I suggest that's strange because these explanations presumably took the place of artistic representations of its enemies and bosses.

Oh, well you can't have everything, right? And at least we're treated to one last top-notch illustration before the booklet wraps up with some pithy stage descriptions.

Want to see how the Parodius Da! PC Engine case and HuCard stack up to its manual? Check out my latest "Nice Package!" post, which features photos of of both--as well as some additional commentary on the game itself.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Rainbow Islands, Pop'n Magic and PC Genjin

Friday, September 16, 2016

Help me solve the mystery of Bubble Bobble's many Famicom Disk System releases

When the NES port of Taito's classic quarter-muncher Bubble Bobble hit North American store shelves back in late 1988, its PCB and ROM were packed inside the standard gray cartridges that are now considered iconic.

The game's Japanese release, however, was quite different. First, it happened a year earlier--just before Halloween in 1987. Second, the game wasn't sold on one of the brilliantly colorful carts that defined Nintendo's Famicom on that side of the pond. Instead, it was sold on one of the banana-yellow diskettes that defined the Japan-only Famicom Disk System.

That's just part of the story, though. How so? Well, most people who have any interest in Bubble Bobble or Nintendo's 8-bit consoles know that Taito offered Japanese consumers an undeniably fabulous limited edition version of the game.

This LE, showcased in the photo below, included a copy of the game and a larger-than-usual instruction manual--both of which were stuffed within a soft plastic pencil case that featured the Bubble Bobble logo and adorable depictions of main characters Bub and Bob.

But that's not the only version of Bubble Bobble that was made available to Famicom Disk System owners. Another was included in a thick plastic case (it's nearly twice as thick as the typical FDS case) and came packaged with a manual that's smaller--and, uh, pinker--than the one made for the above-mentioned LE.

The mystery I'm looking to solve here is this: was this last version of Bubble Bobble FDS released alongside the LE as that region's "standard edition"? And if so, why do copies of it rarely pop up on auction sites like eBay or even in online photos?

In fact, I've come across so few of them over the years that I've long assumed they were bootlegs. I'm now pretty sure they're official, but that doesn't answer the questions I posed a couple of paragraphs ago.

Is it possible more limited editions were produced for Bubble Bobble's Famicom Disk System port than standard ones? Or is there some other explanation to all of this?

If you have an idea--even just a guess--as to what that may be, please share it in the comments section below.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I'm really looking forward to Dragon Quest Builders; how about you?

I wasn't sure what to think when Dragon Quest Builders was first unveiled last summer. I love the whole Dragon Quest aesthetic, but I haven't exactly been bowled over by Minecraft or its many pretenders, so it took me a good long while to realize I could have a blast with Builders.

If I hadn't come around yet, I'm pretty sure the game's latest trailer (below) would've done the trick.

I'm especially enamored with Dragon Quest Builders' character and creature models. The town-building and resource-collecting aspects look interesting, too, although I'm still not entirely sold on them. (I liked, but didn't love, that component of Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, and I'm somewhat worried I'll be similarly underwhelmed by it here.)

How about all of you? Are any of you planning to buy either the PS4 or Vita version of Dragon Quest Builders upon its North American release on Oct. 11? If so, which version will you get?