Thursday, March 23, 2017

Manual Stimulation: Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank (GameBoy)

I knew going in that Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank's instruction manual would have a hard time topping its delightfully colorful cover art.

Did that slight lowering of expectations prompt me to like this Japanese GameBoy game's manual more than I would have otherwise? Perhaps.

I'm pretty sure I would have come around to loving it eventually, though, given the number of cute illustrations that are tucked inside of it.

Before we get to those, let's focus our attention on this manual's cover. Its three-tone aesthetic is nice, don't you think?

I also like that it offers up an expanded view of the art that graces the front side of Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank's outer box.

As for the cute illustrations I mentioned earlier, one example (the best of the bunch, really) can be seen in the above.

I don't know about you, but that clown tank (at least I think it's supposed to be a tank) on the left reminds me of Tumblepop's Japanese cover art.

Another adorable drawing appears on the second page of Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank's instruction booklet. Though small, it depicts the titular vehicle wearing a bow tie.

That would surprise me--if I didn't know the folks at HAL Laboratory made this GameBoy title.

Yes, the same company that's given the world the Adventures of LoloBoxBoy! and Kirby series also produced this short-lived gem. (It only has four levels.)

Don't take Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank's brevity as a sign that it or its North American counterpart (published here by now-defunct Electro Brain), Trax, should be avoided.

On the contrary, its snappy gameplay more than makes up for its lack of stages--or at least that's my personal opinion on the matter.

Do its outer box and instruction booklet also make up for this game's lack of content? I'd say so, but I'd also say it depends on how much you have to pay to obtain them (by buying a complete copy).

Have any of you played Trax or Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank? If so, what do you think of the game? And what do you think of its Japanese manual?

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Bubble Bobble JuniorBurgerTime DeluxeGhostbusters 2 and Snow Bros. Jr.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Five more overlooked PC Engine games you need to play as soon as possible

First, my apologies for pretty much only including HuCards rather than CDs in my two "overlooked PC Engine games" posts. (Here's the first one, in case you missed it earlier.)

The fact is, these days I have far more experience with PC Engine HuCards than I do with CDs--especially when it comes to ones the masses have largely ignored. (This is quite the turnaround from when I was a teen and owned a TurboGrafx-16. At that point in my life, I much preferred the system's disc-based games to its cards.)

With that out of the way, here are five additional PC Engine games I think deserve a lot more attention than they currently receive.

Dragon Egg!--Before I get to why you should play this NCS-published HuCard, please understand it's probably the "worst" of the five games discussed in this post. It's also likely to provide the most limited thrills--thanks to the fact it can be breezed through in an hour or less if you're properly skilled. Still, I've had a soft spot for it ever since I first played it a few years ago. Why? Its female protagonist and her dragon companion (who doubles as both a weapon and a form of transportation, depending on how much he's powered up) are the main reasons, although its "early Mega Drive" graphics and gameplay aren't far behind.

Final Match Tennis--It probably seems strange that I would include a tennis game here. And, really, if you loathe the sport this HuCard depicts (in an arcade-y way), you're unlikely to get much enjoyment from it. Everyone else, though, should give Final Match Tennis a chance. It's easily one of the most accessible--not to mention fun--tennis games around, in my opinion, with only Super Tennis for the SNES (Super Tennis World Circuit for the Super Famicom) topping it. One area where this Human Entertainment-made card bests that TOSE-made cart: its snappier gameplay, which helps keep points, games and matches from becoming boring.

Genji Tsushin Agedama--At first glance, Genji Tsushin Agedama appears to be your standard 16-bit side-scroller. That assessment goes out the window as soon as you advance past the game's title screen. To begin with, almost all of its stages are of the auto-scrolling sort. Also, its power-up system is more like something you'd experience in a shoot 'em up (think Gradius or R-Type). Add to this backdrops that are as bright and colorful as can be plus some nicely drawn and animated enemy sprites, and you've got a PC Engine title that should have a far higher profile than does right now.

Makai Prince Dorabocchan--I turned up my nose for a long time at this platformer because I assumed it was nothing more than a poor man's version of Konami's Akumajō Special: Boku Dracula-kun. And, in a way, that's basically what it is. That doesn't mean it's a stinker that should be avoided like rabid skunk, though. It's not as graphically appealing as the aforementioned Famicom (and GameBoy) title, but it makes up for its comparably basic visuals with stages that provide players with an ample number of surprises and boss battles that are fun as they are thrilling.

Mesopotamia--Of all the PC Engine games highlighted here, Mesopotamia likely is the least ignored of the bunch. That's because Atlus both developed and published it (in North America, it's name was changed to Somer Assault). Also, this HuCard is as wacky as any to be made for NEC's Japan-conquering console thanks to its odd protagonist (if it can be called such a thing), which looks like a pink Slinky that can shoot bullets. To make your way through its many maze-like environments, you crawl end-over-end along their walls, floors and ceilings. One bummer: enjoying the scenery isn't an option due to the unfriendly (meaning tight) time limit that's imposed on each and every stage.

See also: previous posts about overlooked Famicom, PlayStation, Game Gear, GameBoy, GameBoy Advance and DS games

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Shall We Do It? (Balloon Kid, Dragon Quest Builders, Yomawari: Night Alone and more)

After beating Dragon Quest VII, Kirby: Planet Robobot and Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World in recent weeks, I decided to ignore my ever-growing pile of 3DS games and focus on some other handheld titles in my backlog for a bit.

If you'd like to read my thoughts on my Dragon Quest VII playthrough, by the way, you can do so here. This post, on the other hand, focuses on my experiences with Kirby: Planet Robobot and Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World.

As for the games that are currently monopolizing my time, here are a handful of impressions that'll hopefully give you an idea as to what they're like and whether or not I'm enjoying them so far.

Balloon Kid (GameBoy)--Although I play the first few stages of the GameBoy Color version of this title fairly regularly (on my Japanese 3DS), I haven't played the black-and-green original for quite a while. In the wake of my "most influential games" write-up about it, though, I thought I should boot up the latter again. So I did. Two hours (spread over about four days) later, I beat its final boss and grinned from ear to ear as its end credits scrolled by.

This latest Balloon Kid playthrough made me ponder the game in a way I hadn't previously. For instance, it didn't hit me until this most recent jaunt through Pax Softonica's title that the difficulty of its stages leaps rather than progresses. I guess that shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, as I played the game a ton when it first came out in 1990. The thing is, I was in my early teens then, and at that point in my life it took a lot for a side-scroller of any sort to shake me. My reflexes have slowed a tad in the ensuing years, so the transition from Balloon Kid's fifth to sixth stage this time around was tough.

Something else that struck me over the last couple of days was that, in many ways, Balloon Kid is half-baked--and this obviously is coming from someone who loves and respects the game in its current "unfinished" state. I say that for a few reasons. One, it features just eight levels. (The whole she-bang can be wrapped up in less than two hours if you've got the skills.) Two, its level design is all over the place. On the positive side, you've got the first stage and its pencil-shaped buildings as well as the fourth stage, which takes place in the bowels of a whale. On the negative side, the rest of its stages are disappointingly clichéd in terms of their themes.

Still, the overall journey through Balloon Kid is so charming and so different from pretty much every other side-scrolling game in existence that it's easy enough to overlook those niggles and focus on the fun at hand. Which is just what I did earlier this week--even when I found myself dying over and over and over again in the game's final three stages.

Dragon Quest Builders (Vita)--Of all the games discussed here, this is the one I've put the most time into over the last couple of weeks. In fact, I've already devoted around 12 hours to this portable Minecraft clone. That number would be a good bit higher if I hadn't dedicated myself to finishing Balloon Kid or starting (at long last) Link's Awakening, but don't expect me to complain about that.

Anyway, back to Dragon Quest Builders. Before we move on, you should know I've never played any version of Minecraft. I put many more hours than I should've into the Minecraft-esque Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, but that's hardly the same thing. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that I can't comment on how good or bad Dragon Quest Builders is as a Minecraft clone. Which may be just as well.

At any rate, I love Builders so far. I love its rather languid pace and "do whatever you want" attitude. I love its aesthetic. Surprisingly, I love its town-building component. (I'm usually not a huge fan of such things.)

More than anything, though, I'm loving just running around its world, battling iconic Dragon Quest baddies and gathering materials from the earth around me. I probably should have accomplished more by this point in my playthrough (I'm still in the first chapter, though I've leveled up my town a number of times and it currently has four inhabitants besides myself), but I'm in no particular hurry to finish this game, so I'm fine with slowly savoring the experience for now.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (GameBoy)--I have a feeling a lot of people will be shocked to hear I've never played this portable Zelda adventure before now. Hell, it even surprises me. As for why I've ignored it for so long, I wish I could tell you. My assumption is that I'd recently played A Link to the Past and assumed Link's Awakening would be too similar to it to be worthwhile. Or maybe I'd moved on from the GameBoy by the time of this cart's release? That was 1993, after all. Whatever the case, I passed on buying it then, and I continued to do so until I purchased a digital copy from the 3DS eShop earlier this year.

As of now, I'm about three hours into its adventure. My verdict thus far: I think it's great. It looks and feels to me like a portable cousin to A Link to the Past at the moment, although that's not to suggest Link's Awakening is a carbon copy of its 16-bit counterpart. It actually offers up a number of unique quirks that help it stand out not only from A Link to the Past but other top-down Zelda games as well. Some of my favorites: the Super Mario Bros.-inspired enemies, the side-scrolling segues and the intriguing abilities (Link can jump!) and accoutrements (the BowWow that accompanies Link for a time early on) players acquire.

Obviously I'm still at the beginning of this Zelda title, so it's hard to say if I'll still adore it after I finish it (or even if I'll finish it), but right now I'm finding it thoroughly engrossing, and I look forward to seeing what's in store for me and Link as I continue to explore its dungeons and overworld.

Yomawari: Night Alone (Vita)--No one ever said I was the brightest bulb on the tree when it comes to how I spend my hard-earned cash. Case in point: although I've had a boxed Japanese copy of this Nippon Ichi Software-made game (see photos of its case and cartridge here) since it first hit the streets in late 2015, I just bought a digital copy of its North American release--despite the fact that I've yet to even boot up the aforementioned import cart.

Hey, whatever gets me to finally play the game, right? And play it I have--for about two hours, I'd say. That may not sound like a lot, but it's definitely been enough for me to get a good feel for what it has to offer.

Speaking of which, Yomawari is a conundrum--or at least a curiosity--so far. On the one hand, it's surprisingly cute. Some may say it looks kind of cheap and "mobile-like," too. I wouldn't argue with those folks, but I also wouldn't agree with them. For me, Yomawari looks great, especially since the adorable aspects of its aesthetic help make its more hideous aspects as shocking as possible.

"Shocking" is a key word here, because you will be shocked while playing Yomawari. In general, Yomawari is about exploration. Your dog runs away, your older sister goes missing (while trying to find the previously discussed pup) and you head out after both of them in the dark of night. Unfortunately, you're not alone as you stalk the town that serves as this game's setting. Filling the streets and alleys and parks and other locales alongside you are ghosts and ghoulies that are more nightmarishly designed that you'd probably assume based on the rest of Yomawari's visuals.

These spooks and specters aren't just apparitions, though. Once they see you, they give chase. Fail to avoid or get away from them (they can't be fought) and they'll kill you--represented by blood that splashes across the screen. Such deaths are pretty common, if my experience is anything to go by. I'd say I died about five times within the first hour of my Yomawari playthrough. Granted, some of that was due to me not fully understanding the game's rules. (Very little is explained at this title's outset, so you have to figure out almost everything on your own.) Some of it, though, was due to the game not being a pushover.

As much as I'm enjoying Yomawari right now, I can't help but feel it may eventually wear out its welcome and grow tiring. Regardless, I'll keep plugging away at it and let you know as soon as possible whether that's the case or not.

In the meantime, have you played any of the games mentioned in this post? If so, what are your thoughts on them? Also, what are you playing now? Let me (and others) know in the comments section below.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Nice Package! (Final Fantasy, Famicom)

Final Fantasy may not have been my first console RPG--that would be the original Dragon Warrior, er, Dragon Quest--but it certainly was the first console RPG to blow me away.

Don't get me wrong, I adored (and continue to adore) Dragon Warrior. It's chiefly responsible for developing my current appreciation of both turn-based battles and grinding.

While Enix's game started me down the path of becoming an RPG fan, though, Square's counterpoint took me the rest of the way.

Why? I preferred Final Fantasy's four-member parties, for starters. I also liked that it let you choose the "occupations" of those characters. The quartet being visible during fights was another plus for me.

This may sound strange given how people feel about such things today, but back then I was pretty smitten with Final Fantasy's NES box art, too.

I now know, of course, that the game's North American cover imagery, despite its coral-colored logo, has nothing on its Japanese counterpart.

Strangely, although I've been aware of this fact for ages now, I only recently used it as an excuse to buy a copy of the latter.

That's hard to believe while perusing the photos showcased here. Yoshitaka Amano's illustration is beyond gorgeous, of course, but that's not the extent of this release's positive attributes.

Also impressive (to my eyes, at least): its icy Japanese logo. I'm pretty fond of the English logo that fills most of this box's side flaps, too, I've got to say, though I'd never choose it over the original.

As for the Final Fantasy Famicom instruction manual, it's sweet as well. Not as sweet as it could be, I have to admit, but it contains enough pages like the one above to be worth the price of ownership.

One last comment and then I'll shut up: I like how the back of this title's box displays a couple of sample screenshots. It reminds me of Epic's Flying Hero, which is one of my favorite examples of Famicom game packaging.

And, really, anything that makes me think of that under-appreciated gem deserves all the praise that can be heaped upon it.

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts about the City Connection and Rainbow Islands ports

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Manual Stimulation: Snow Bros. Jr. (GameBoy)

I don't know about you, but I really love the instruction manuals that were made for Japanese GameBoy games.

I especially love the ones that utilized two-tone or "spot color" printing. The manual showcased in this post is a good example, with others including the booklets that were packed inside copies of Kitchen Panic, Painter Momopie and Penguin Land.

To achieve this effect, just two ink colors--rather than the more traditional four--are used during the printing process. In most cases, one of the ink colors is black, although that's not always true. Two cases in point: Bubble Bobble Junior's manual features blue and green ink, while The Tower of Druaga's features red and green. (Although I spot some black ink on the cover of the latter as well.)

Intriguingly, the artists at Naxat Soft went with either orange or yellow ink (I honestly can't tell which) when they prepped the instruction booklet that would be sold with their GameBoy port of Toaplan's Snow Bros.

I say intriguingly because most such manuals I've come across to date prefer cooler colors like blue and green and purple.

At any rate, I think the effect here is rather pleasing. Plus, it complements the rest of the game's packaging, which leans heavily on primary colors. (To see what I mean, check out my post from a few years back that highlights Snow Bros. Jr.'s outer box and cartridge.)

There's more to the Snow Bros. Jr. booklet than its use of spot color, of course. For instance, it also provides readers with a bevy of adorable illustrations.

Appropriately, they remind me of the similarly rough drawings that can be found in many of Taito's PC Engine manuals--such as Don Doko Don, Hana Taaka Daka!?, Mizubaku Daibouken and The New Zealand Story.

I'm particularly fond of the sushi and item illustrations that can be seen in the scan above, although the one in the lower-right corner deserves all kinds of kudos for so humorously depicting either Nick or Tom--the names of Snow Bros. Jr.'s "cool" protagonists--being accosted by one of the game's baddies.

Aside from the lovely art, this booklet dutifully explains how to play this pint-sized Snow Bros. port. There's not much to it, really--you hit the GameBoy's A button to jump, and its B button to toss snowballs at baddies. Also, once you've encased an enemy in a fully formed snowball, you can kick it with one more B-button press.

That simplicity helps make Snow Bros. Jr. both easy to play and thoroughly enjoyable. Sure, it lacks the brilliant (sometimes garish) colors of the arcade original and its console counterparts, but that doesn't stop this portable iteration from being just as much fun.

Even if that weren't true, I'd still be glad I own a copy of this Japanese GameBoy title. For starters, its cover art makes me swoon. Also, a four-page manga takes up the final section of its manual.

Unfortunately, I can't translate its story for you. I know the first few panels of the first page introduce Nick and Tom and describe their main methods of attack, but that's it. If any of you have the ability to summarize the tale told in the scans above, by all means do so in the comments section of this post.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Bubble Bobble, BurgerTime Deluxe and Ghostbusters 2