Friday, August 29, 2014

Five TurboGrafx-16 memories in honor of the system's 25th anniversary

I may not have the best memory in the world, but I'll probably never forget how I felt in the months, weeks and days leading up to the North American release of NEC's TurboGrafx-16, a games console that straddled the line between the 8-bit (think the Nintendo Entertainment System) and 16-bit (Sega's Genesis and the SNES) generations.

Specifically, I don't think I've ever been more excited about a system's launch than I was around Aug. 29, 1989, which is when the TurboGrafx-16 first hit store shelves on this side of the pond.

A lot of that "Turbo fervor" had been fanned, of course, by the magazine articles I'd read--over and over and over again--about this console's two-year-old Japanese counterpart, the PC Engine, and its extensive catalog of odd- and brilliant-looking games, including the handful that are mentioned below.

Sadly, and stupidly, after enjoying it for a good number of years, I sold my TurboGrafx-16 collection--which at one point included the base system, the pricey CD attachment, a TurboDuo and 30 or so games--via an ad in our city's main daily newspaper around the time of the Sega Saturn's Japanese release. (In fact, I used the money I made from this sale to buy an import Saturn--which I later sold to pay for a Dreamcast.)

Rather than dwell on that rather negative memory, though, I'd prefer to focus on a few positive ones, such as the following, on this, the 25th anniversary of the release of NEC's quirky and woefully under-appreciated (in this region, at least) console:


1. I'm one of about three people who enjoyed The Addams Family game--Don't get me wrong, even as a teen I knew this US-made (back when such a thing was considered the opposite of a good thing) action title was a turd, but I liked it all the same. I have a feeling some of that was due to my interest in the 1991 film this release was based on, but I also think it had something to do with this ICOM-developed game allowing users to explore the iconic Addams mansion and its grounds. That isn't going to be enough to make most folks fall in love with this often-iffy tie-in, of course, but it was more than enough for me at the time.


2. I bought my very first Japanese game (Detana!! TwinBee), along with my first converter cart, for this aesthetically challenged system--I can't remember the name of the retailer, sadly, but I know I had to place the order over the phone, and I had to borrow my parents' credit card to pay for it. Also, my mom had to help me modify the converter cart, as at first it didn't fit into the HuCard slot of my TurboGrafx-16 system. As for my memories of the game itself? Actually, it kind of bored me. Detana!! TwinBee isn't a bad shoot 'em up, of course, and it's grown on me in the ensuing years, but it's also nowhere near as thrilling as similar games like Parodius Da! or Coryoon.


3. I've always regretted not playing It Came From the Desert, J.B. Harold Murder Club and Magical Dinosaur Tour--Actually, I finally added the Japanese version of Murder Club to my collection late last year, but of course I've yet to play it. Still, at least it's a possibility at the moment. Anyway, you're probably wondering why I wish I'd played two TG-CD titles that have been heavily derided over the years? I'm not sure, to be honest. I think it's likely to be related to nostalgia, as all three of these games were released at a time when games featuring digitized video and the like were viewed as the future of the medium. It's clear now that view was a false one (to put it mildly), of course, but at the time some of these games were surprisingly appealing. Or at least they were to me.


4. The main reason I picked up the TurboGrafx-CD peripheral was for Monster Lair--Admittedly, by the time I finally wandered, awestruck and slack-jawed, into the local Toys "R" Us (man, those were the days) to pick up this mammoth add-on, Ys Book I & II had entered my consciousness as well, but that doesn't change the fact that Monster Lair is the game that pushed me to hand over $400 for it. Was it worth the price of admission? Well, no, not when you put it that way, but I never regretted either purchase, I'll tell you that much. Also, I still have a special place in my heart for this odd shmup-platformer hybrid and play it fairly regularly, so I'd say the original purchase more than served its purpose.


5. I didn't much care for Parasol Stars the first time I owned it--I'm guessing this may be the most shocking of all the TurboGrafx-16 memories I share in this post. After all, Parasol Stars now is one of my all-time favorite games (despite the fact that I think it pales in comparison to its predecessors, Rainbow Islands and Bubble Bobble). If memory serves, my parents bought this for me as a birthday or Christmas gift--without me asking for it, I should add. (Maybe they knew me better than I knew myself at that point?) I remember gamely giving it a go on a few occasions, but I also remember finding it a bit too precious and also not all that engaging. Thankfully, I've since come to my senses.

Do any of you have any TurboGrafx-16 memories you'd like to share? If so, please feel free to do so n the comments section below.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shall We Do It? (THE 'DENPA' MEN 3 and three versions of Rainbow Islands)

Those of you who've read the last few "Shall We Do It?" posts I've published may be wondering why I didn't include Tomodachi Life in this installment's header. That would be because I recently--as in, this past weekend--stopped playing it. I wouldn't go so far as to predict that I won't pick it up again, but I have to imagine I'll no longer check in on my island's inhabitants every single day as I previously was compelled to do.


I'm pretty much done with another 3DS game that's received a lot of play on this blog over the last few months, too--with the game in question being THE "DENPA" MEN 3. That's not because the bloom is off the rose, so to speak, or because this digital RPG has otherwise lost its appeal, mind you. No, it's because I finished this game within the last week or so.

By the way, it may interest some of you to hear that, in the end, I put more than 40 hours into this sucker. That's quite an accomplishment when you consider I nearly gave up after getting stuck around the seven-hour mark. It only got better and better after that unfortunate hurdle, thankfully, and now that the adventure is over I've got to say it was well worth the time and effort I put into it.

Does that mean I'd heartily recommend THE "DENPA" MEN 3 to all who own a 3DS? No, it doesn't. On the contrary, I have a feeling some of its quirks would turn off a lot of those who wander into it without ample warning. If you like RPGs with turn-based battles, though, and if you're not an easily annoyed gamer, it's possible you'll get as much enjoyment out of this title as I have so far.


As for what I've been playing now that both THE "DENPA" MEN 3 and Tomodachi Life have been put to bed, well, the header above kind of gives it away, doesn't it? Of course, the header doesn't mention which versions I've been playing, so at least there's a bit of new information I can share here.

In that regard, the Rainbow Islands ports I've been playing the last few days are the Famicom, GameBoy Color and PC Engine ones. The latter iteration is the one that's been getting most of my attention, thanks in large part to the fact that it's pretty much arcade-perfect, but the Famicom conversion has gotten a good amount of play, too.

Going back to the PC Engine version of this Taito classic, whose subtitle is "The Story of Bubble Bobble 2," I actually reached its end--the real, "good" one, too, not the "bad" one that's encountered if you failed to collect all of the game's "big diamonds"--for the first time ever a couple of days ago. The last few stages alone--one of which is an homage to The Fairyland Story, while two others pull enemies and other aspects from Darius and Bubble Bobble--were worth the price of admission, if you ask me, as were the song and animation sequence that accompanied the game's credit roll.


I can't say I've been as enamored with the Famicom and GameBoy Color ports of Rainbow Islands at this point, but I'm still enjoying them more than you might think given their various deficiencies. The GBC version, for instance, feels a bit "off" in terms of its controls (jumping, especially) compared to every other iteration I've experienced, but it looks so good--better than its Famicom or Sega Master System counterparts, that's for sure--that for the moment I'm willing to ignore that niggle.

The Famicom release, on the other hand, controls well enough--although not perfectly--but is a bit of a letdown in the graphics department. Actually, that's not an entirely fair assessment, as individual sprites--Bob, Bub and their enemies, especially--look pretty darn nice, all things considered. There are so many fewer colors used here than in the arcade original, though, that the overall impression is a disappointing one.


Honestly, I could fill this post with comments on and impressions of Rainbow Islands for the Famicom, but I don't want to do that, as it's already plenty long. Instead, why don't I round them up and share them in a "Second Chances" write-up that I can publish in a few days?

See also: previous 'Shall We Do It?' posts

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Five new and old 3DS games I'm planning to pick up between now and the end of 2014

Hearing that Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley finally was available for pre-orders (over at Amazon, for instance) yesterday prompted me to consider just how many 3DS games I'm still planning to pick up through the balance of this year.

One of them is the aforementioned Natsume release, of course. As for why I'm looking to add The Lost Valley to my ever-growing 3DS games collection, despite the fact that I've never before played a Harvest Moon title (although I've long wanted to, believe me), the only answer I can come up with at the moment is that it's giving me good vibes. Specifically, I like its odd art style--which harkens back to the Nintendo 64 era, in some ways--although I like its Minecraft-esque gameplay, too.

The four other 3DS games I'm pretty sure I'll purchase--or ask for as birthday or Christmas gifts--between now and the end of 2014:


Fantasy Life--I've wanted to play this Level-5 RPG ever since I first heard about it back in 2010. In fact, I've wanted to play it so much that I bought a copy of the Japanese version late last year that I've yet to unseal. (Hey, at least it was cheap.) Don't worry, there's no chance my copy of the North American version of the game, which will hit store shelves in this neck of the woods this October, will remain unopened for more than a few minutes once it's in my possession. After all, I'm pretty sure it's going to be the next 3DS title I put more than 30 hours into before moving on to something else (such as The Lost Valley, perhaps?).


Kid Icarus: Uprising--Why has it taken me so long to acquire this one, and why am I finally doing it now (or soon)? My response to the first question is that I've always been a little wary of Uprising, mainly due to all of the complaints I've heard and read about its controls, while my response to the second question is that enough people I trust have assured me in recent weeks and months that the game's worth checking out even with its sometimes-awkward control scheme. Toss in the fact that I've been a Kid Icarus fan since the beginning, and it should be easy to see why I'm still keen on this follow-up.


Kirby: Triple Deluxe--My original plan, before Triple Deluxe was released in early May, was to pick up a copy of it at launch. That didn't happen for various reasons I can't currently recall (I'm guessing a biggie was that I spent the money intended for Kirby on a Japanese GameBoy title or two), unfortunately, but I'm still very much interested in playing this portable platformer--especially since it has more than a passing resemblance to Kirby's Return to Dream Land, a Wii release I absolutely adored.


Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call--Speaking of games I absolutely adored, the first Theatrhythm Final Fantasy has been one of my most-played--as well as most-enjoyed--3DS titles so far. I'm expecting to have a similar experience with this sequel, which will hit North American store shelves on Sept. 16. As much as I'm anticipating that date, I have to admit I'd be anticipating it even more if the amazing special-edition system that accompanied Curtain Call's Japanese release had made its way to our shores as well.

What, no mention of two other big 2014 releases, Persona Q and Super Smash Bros. for 3DS? Actually, I'm very likely to buy them, too, but probably not until sometime in 2015--along with A-Train: City SimulatorHatsune Miku: Project Mirai Remix and hopefully a couple more currently unknown games.

Are any of you looking forward to any 3DS games in particular between now and the end of the year?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Manual Stimulation: Rainbow Islands (PC Engine)

I have some good news and some bad news to share with you in terms of this PC Engine port's instruction manual. Let's start with the good news: Rainbow Islands' manual is in full color--unlike many of the ones produced for this system. The bad news: the illustration that appears on its front and back covers is the only one to be found in all of its 14 or so pages.



Still, let's not dwell on the negative. Although this CD-based title's instruction manual pales in comparison to its gameplay, I think it's worth checking out anyway. (As always, click on the scans shared here if you want to take a better or closer look at them.)



Unfortunately, the manual's "story" page, above, isn't as interesting as it probably would've been had Taito published this game instead of NEC Avenue. After all, Taito had a history of producing PC Engine manuals that featured plenty of charming, if strangely childish, illustrations. (The one packed along with the company's PC Engine ports of Don Doko Don, Mizubaku Daibouken and The New Zealand Story are good examples.)



Under NEC Avenue's care, though, Rainbow Islands' manual is crammed full of color screenshots rather than illustrations of any ilk. They're nice enough screenshots, it has to be said, but who on earth would rather encounter screenshots than illustrations while flipping through a game manual? Not me, I'll tell you that much.





At least the designers responsible for this instruction manual provided readers with looks at a good number of the game's stages--and even what I'm guessing is one of its endings, based on the colorfully congratulatory screenshot seen in upper-right corner of the page below.



That said, I would've exchanged all of this manual's color for a few doodles or drawings or other pieces of art. Oh, well, you can't always have everything, can you?

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts

Monday, August 25, 2014

I'd rather have a Dragon Quest Slime stress ball, but these Cactuar, Chocobo and Moogle ones will do in a pinch

I can't say I've ever had much interest in owning or even using a stress ball, but I'm giving the idea serious consideration after setting eyes on the Final Fantasy-themed ones that can be seen throughout this post.


If these were plushes or something of the sort, I'd point to the Chocobo and Moogle varieties as potential purchases, but what kind of monster would I have to be to enjoy pulverizing the faces of those adorable mascots?


I probably wouldn't have the same problem squishing Cactuar's noggin between my fingers, though, so let's say that's the one I'd go with if I were to go ahead and buy a Final Fantasy stress ball.


Shopncsx.com is selling these beauties for $15.90 apiece, by the way, with orders expected to begin shipping sometime next month.

Friday, August 22, 2014

I guess you could say I bought Bubble Bobble's GameBoy port because of its box art

Have I ever badmouthed Bubble Bobble's GameBoy port in this space before? I'm going to guess I haven't, but who knows. Regardless, it's not the best version of this classic Taito property. It's not a total stinker, but its average graphics and flicker-filled gameplay relegate it to the lower tier of Bubble Bobble releases, in my humble opinion.

All of which likely will prompt at least a few of you to wonder, so why'd you pick up a complete-in-box copy of this sucker recently? The header above mostly gives it away, I'm afraid, although to be honest the prospect of being able to own and stare at this Japanese GameBoy title's beautiful box art (below) wasn't the only reason I bought it.


Another reason was that I wanted to give this portable single-screen platformer a second chance, despite my earlier, rather negative experiences with it.

And then, of course, there was the simple fact that copy seen throughout this post was pretty darn cheap--as in, somewhere around $10 (not including shipping).



Totally random aside: I really like the bold font that appears on the sides of this box. (The symbols spell out Bubble Bobble, by the way--or, Baburu Boburu.)

The blue banding is a nice complement and addition to the cover art, too, I think.


As is often the case with these old Japanese GameBoy boxes, the back side isn't nearly as thrilling as the front side. It's always nice to see that big, beautiful Bubble Bobble logo, at least.

Have any of you played this version of Bubble Bobble before? If so, what do you think about it? Also, have you played Bubble Bobble Junior (aka Bubble Bobble Part 2)? I actually far prefer the latter to the former, even though it's also far from a perfect portable Bubble Bobble experience.

See also: 'Where have you been all my life, Cave Noire?'

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I know next to nothing about Freedom Wars or its mascot, Propa-kun, but I kind of want this adorable sofubi figure anyway

Freedom Wars, for those of you who've never heard of it, is a Vita game that was developed by SCE Japan Studio and released in that part of the world in June. (It'll hit store shelves of one sort or another throughout Europe and North America this October.)

Here's a brief summary of the game pulled from its Wikipedia page: "Set in the distant future at a time when the majority of humankind are imprisoned in penal city-states known as Panopticons that wage war against one another, Freedom Wars involves players cooperating together to fight against enemies and contribute toward their Panopticon."


OK, so that isn't really the most illuminating of synopses. Still, word of mouth related to the game is pretty positive, so it's still occupying a space on my surprisingly lengthy Vita wish list.

Another reason I may pick up a copy of Freedom Wars after I acquire a Vita: its mascot, "Propa-kun," is all kinds of adorable, as evidenced by the sofubi figures based on the character that are now being sold--for just under $37--by folks at shopncsx.com (and elsewhere, I'm sure).

Each figure is nearly six inches tall and made out of soft vinyl, in case you're curious. Also, the folks at NCS expect pre-orders to ship sometime in November.