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?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Who else is stoked about SaGa: Scarlet Grace after seeing its first real trailer?

I've anxiously awaited the release of the latest entry in Square's oddball RPG series, SaGa, since it was first announced last September.

The game in question, of course, is SaGa: Scarlet Grace, and that's all fans like myself have known about the in-the-works adventure until now. Other than the fact that it's being prepped for the Vita, I mean.

Specifically, its release date has been an unknown quantity for ages. In fact, a lot of folks have declared the game dead thanks to the lack of information in this area.

Thankfully, that detail is revealed in SaGa: Scarlet Grace's first real trailer, below. (If you don't have the time or energy to make to the end of the teaser, the date is Dec. 15.)

Many more details are passed along in the video above as well. In particular, it showcases a number of Scarlet Grace's characters. It also offers a few glimpses at the game's battle scenes.

The highlight for me: the success with which Akitoshi Kawazu and team have been able to translate illustrator Tomomi Kobayashi's character designs into polygonal form.

Speaking of which, I'm planning to choose the beautiful Taria at the beginning of my first playthrough of SaGa: Scarlet Grace.

This obviously means I'm going to pre-order the game as soon as I'm able to do so. How about you? Also, I don't suppose some of you are looking to buy the mind-blowing $180 limited edition that'll be sold via

Monday, September 12, 2016

Shall We Do It? (Great Greed, Kingdom's Item Shop, Onyanko Town and SaGa Frontier)

I know it's no longer surprising to hear me say I haven't spent much time playing games in recent days and weeks.

Unfortunately, it's the truth--and has been for a while now. That's mainly because I went from being acceptably busy to ridiculously busy earlier this year when I was promoted at work (from senior writer to managing editor). Before, I pretty much never brought work home with me; now, I work basically every weekend and also some weeknights.

And when I'm not working, my attention's often pulled away from playing games to take care of all those boring things nearly everyone has to do on a daily basis--cleaning the house, cooking dinner, exercising, yadda yadda yadda.

Oh, and I have to maintain this blog.

I was able to shove most of that aside just long enough the last two weekends to put in some time with the following titles. Keep reading to hear what I think of those experiences.

Great Greed (GameBoy)--Until a couple of years ago (right before I bought a copy of Bitamina Oukoku Monogatari, the Japanese version of this portable RPG), I was completely unaware of Namco's Great Greed. Which is too bad, as I now know I would've loved working my way through it as a teen. (It was released in Japan in 1992 and crossed the pond the next year.)

Why? The main reason is the battles. They're as snappy as you're ever going to get in a turn-based RPG on the GameBoy. All of them are one-on-one tussles (the game's protagonist versus a single enemy) and they move along at a nice pace thanks to the fact that commands are mapped to the system's A and B buttons as well as its control pad. (A prompts you to attack, B causes you to dodge and the d-pad casts magic.)

On top of that, Great Greed has a surprisingly stunning soundtrack. And then there's its undeniable weirdness. Some of the themes and other things you'll encounter while playing it: time travel, flan enemies, environmental pollution, corrupt politicians and dungeons set in abandoned record factories. In other words, it's basically the best game in existence.

Kingdom's Item Shop (3DS)--I've got to be honest: I paid little attention to this ASOBOX- and PUMO-developed game between the time publisher Circle Entertainment announced and released it. In fact, it wasn't until someone asked me (in the comments section of this recent post) if I'd bought Kingdom's Item Shop that I was made aware of it.

That push prompted me to do a little digging, which brought me to the screenshot above. As soon as I saw that, I was hooked. That's because the scene in question reminds me of an old PC Engine CD title I've had my eye on for years: Monster Maker. Granted, the games are nothing alike--Kingdom's Item Shop is more of a store-running sim with some fun, fast-paced battles thrown in for good measure, while Monster Maker is a full-on, traditional RPG--but that's never stopped me from salivating over a game before.

Anyway, Kingdom's Item Shop is a whole heap of fun. There's no question it has that "mobile game" feel, but at least the feeling here is of quality rather than "cash in." Those fights I mentioned a couple of sentences ago are the highlight, by the way. They're not what you're used to, though; in this adventure, you give commands to for-hire combatants and then race around the battlefield picking up items and ingredients dropped by your foes.

Then you take your haul back to your shop and use those components to concoct enticing products--drinks, food dishes, weapons, clothes and more--for the titular kingdom's inhabitants to snap up. There may be more to the experience than that, but for the moment, that's it as far as I'm concerned. And I'm more than OK with that.

Onyanko Town (Famicom)--I've been curious about this Micronics-made and Pony Canyon-published cartridge for ages now thanks to its adorable box art. Why I waited until a couple of weekends ago to play it for the first time, I can't say.

Am I glad I've finally experienced it? In a way, yes. I say that because Oynanko Town's graphics, while simple, are miles better than what I'd expect from a developer that's never before pinged my radar. (I especially like the sprite of the dress-wearing mama cat that serves as the game's protagonist.) Its gameplay, which reminds of Namco's classic Pac-Man, also surprises.

On the other hand, Onyanko Town is far from a perfect game. While the main backing tune is catchy, it's also piercing and wears out its welcome after just a few minutes. Even worse is the slowdown that brings regularly brings the action on offer here to a crawl. That's a big deal because the point of the game is hunt down your baby kitten and then bring him (or is it a her?) back home without being accosted by the many dogs and butchers who roam each of the cart's expansive stages.

The latter issue is especially disappointing, as I could see Onyanko Town being held up as a treasured classic, or at least a hidden gem, if it weren't sometimes so frustratingly slow.

SaGa Frontier (PlayStation)--It's been a long time since I've played this wackadoodle, late-1990s RPG. So why am I returning to it now? Because my friend finchiekins suggested it.

OK, so there was more to the decision than that. After all, SaGa Frontier is one of my all-time favorite games. What can I say? I adore its absolutely bonkers, combo-filled battle scenes, which did the overkill thing way before Disgaea and its ilk entered the picture. Also, its Kenji Ito-composed soundtrack is beyond fabulous and deserves to be discussed right alongside the music created for two other Squaresoft greats, Final Fantasy V and VI. Finally, there's something undeniably cool about being able to play through an RPG multiple times using different protagonists.

Have SaGa Frontier's graphics stood the test of time? Hardly, but let's be honest: a lot of people considered it hideous when it first saw the light of day. In that context, I'd say it's no more ugly today than it was back then. Plus, I've always found its character sprites and (somewhat poorly) pre-rendered enemies rather appealing. Even if I didn't, I'm pretty sure I'd still look at SaGa Frontier lovingly thanks its many other positive traits.

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