Sunday, January 22, 2017

Nice Package! (Bubble Bobble, Famicom Disk System)

Last fall, I published a post in which I asked folks to help me solve the "mystery" of Bubble Bobble's many Famicom Disk System releases.

Or at least I thought Taito's classic single-screen platformer had earned a number of FDS releases. In reality, it appears it earned just two: a limited edition that offered buyers a copy of Bubble Bubble's Famicom port plus a larger-than-normal instruction manual and the version that's showcased in photos throughout this write-up.

The second iteration could be purchased for a nominal fee from one of the many Famicom Disk Writer Kiosks (learn more about them at Nintendo installed in game stores across Japan from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s.

This "Disk Writer" version of Bobble Bobble has long intrigued me thanks to its two-tone, watermelon-colored manual.

I mean, anyone who has ever visited my Twitter or Tumblr pages knows I'm fond of pink things. Of course, I'm also fond of adorable things--and how else would you describe the cover imagery that's highlighted below?

To be honest, I'd probably have sought out a "Disk Writer" copy of Bobble Bobble's Famicom Disk System port even if its instruction booklet's paper was the color of pea soup thanks to its "lucky cha-cha-cha wow!" tagline.

Thankfully, it's not. And as is hopefully plainly evident in the snapshot below, this booklet's pink-and-green palette looks especially great when employed on its interior pages.

Speaking of which, this particular page of Bubble Bobble's manual highlights some of the game's many point items. 

My very next blog post will be filled with scans of this manual, by the way, so keep an eye out for it if you get a kick out of stuff like that.

In the meantime, here's one last look at the contents of the "Disk Writer" iteration of Bubble Bobble for FDS. It has to be noted that the plastic outer sleeve may not have been part of the original package. Regardless, I'm keeping it, as it does a great job of protecting both my Bubble Bobble disk and the game's instruction booklet. 

If you'd like to take a closer look at the aforementioned game disk, you can do so here. Or you can check out its colorful cover slip here

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts about City Connection, Otocky, Pizza Pop! and Rainbow Islands

Friday, January 20, 2017

Five overlooked Sega Game Gear games you need to play as soon as possible

So few titles were made and released for the Sega Game Gear that it's hard to believe any of them could be considered overlooked.

The fact remains, though, that the masses basically ignored this brick-sized "portable" system, so it's probably safe to say they did the same to its meager (compared to its main competitor, Nintendo's GameBoy) games library while the bulky handheld was on the market from the early to mid 1990s.

And not only that, but the masses continue to ignore the system and its catalog. Think your average game fan turns his or her nose up at the GameBoy (and, believe me, they do) these days? At least they've likely heard of Nintendo's first handheld. The same can't be said of the Game Gear or the overlooked "gems" discussed here.

Alien Syndrome--I have a feeling a lot of people pass on this version of Sega's Alien-inspired run-and-gun shooter because they assume it's a turd. In reality, it's better than both the NES and Master System ports of the 1987 arcade game. Sadly, the Game Gear iteration of Alien Syndrome offers platers just four stages, but they're challenging--and fun--enough that most who give it a shot won't care. (Bonus: the Japanese release sports a superb piece of cover art.)

Berlin no Kabe (aka The Berlin Wall)--If you're a fan of single-screen platformers, you'll adore this portable reimagining of Kaneko's oddly named quartermuncher from 1991. Not only is Berlin no Kabe cute as can be, but its gameplay is a breath of fresh air. I mean, what's not to like about creating traps for a colorful cast of baddies by using a hammer to smash holes in the floor beneath their scampering feet?

Bubble Bobble--Here's another Game Gear title many folks likely ignore because they imagine it's not worth their while. Or maybe they think it's just a port of the Master System version of Taito's classic arcade game. Whatever the reason, those who own a Game Gear but have yet to pick up a copy of Bubble Bobble are doing themselves a disservice. This remake (of sorts) features miniaturized stages and full-sized Bub, Bob and enemy sprites, which results in a strangely unique--as well as strangely enjoyable--experience.

Ganbare Gorby! (aka Factory Panic)--Honestly, I'd consider this Sega-made oddity worth buying and playing even if it weren't much fun thanks to the fact that its protagonist resembles former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. Thankfully, it is fun. Although its box cover suggests its a puzzler, a more accurate way to describe it would be to call it an arcade-style action game. (Not enough info for you? You press switches to change the course of a series of conveyor belts, with the goal being to deliver products like bread and meat and medicine to needy citizens.) Ganbare Gorby! isn't groundbreaking, to be sure, but it's also not a bad way to waste a bit of free time.

Magical Puzzle Popils--Made by Fukio Mitsuji, the man who's chiefly responsible for giving the world both Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands, Magical Puzzle Popils (Popils: The Blockbusting Challenge in Europe) is the best Game Gear cart around in the opinion of yours truly. Unlike the aforementioned titles, Popils is a brain-busting puzzle game with eye-pleasing graphics and an ear-pleasing soundtrack.

See also: five overlooked GameBoy, Famicom, PC Engine and PlayStation games you need to play as soon as possible

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Nice Package! (Shining Force II, Mega Drive)

Although I've been a fan of Sega's 16-bit console--the Genesis in North America, and the Mega Drive elsewhere--since it first came out in the late 1980s, I only began "collecting" for it last year.

Even then, I've only got three Japanese Mega Drive games at the moment: the first Shining Force, the sequel highlighted here and the similarly styled ARPG, Landstalker.

All three titles have me wondering why it took me so long to start buying Mega Drive cartridges. After all, as the photos in this post hopefully show, as well as those found in the "Nice Package!" write-up I published about the original Shining Force, Sega produced some stellar packaging for its Japanese 16-bit games.

Now, I can't quite say I prefer Shining Force II's box art, above, to that of the first Shining Force, but I still like the former a lot. Maybe if Shining Force II's main illustration took up the entirety of its case's cover I'd find it more appealing?

I also prefer Shining Force's side spine to that of its sequel.

Both games' cartridges sport rather snazzy labels, thankfully, with Shining Force II's on display in the snapshot below.

One area where the Japanese Shining Force II ably competes with the SRPG series' initial entry is its instruction manual.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the section of the Shining Force II manual that showcases that game's colorful cast of characters.

The back side of Shining Force II's Japanese case probably is the least impressive part of its packaging, but that's OK. Most of the rest of it is nice enough that it's easy enough to overlook.

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts

Monday, January 16, 2017

If you could only buy three of these 3DS games, which ones would you get?

Now that we've all (mostly) got the excitement surrounding "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017" out of our systems, let's chat about something else.

Today, the "something else" consists of helping me figure out which of the following six North American 3DS games I should buy this week.

What can I say? I have a few "free" bucks to blow, and I want to blow them on a few more titles for my favorite handheld.

I really only have enough to pick up three of the 3DS games mentioned below, though, so keep that in mind while coming up with your suggestions.

Corpse Party--I actually pre-ordered the North American 3DS port of Corpse Party well in advance of its just-in-time-for-Halloween release date. I canceled it before the game hit the streets, though, as I knew I wouldn't be able to play it by the end of the year. I also wasn't a huge fan of its $49.99 asking price. I'm still not a fan of it, to be honest. Still, I'd really like to play this iteration of Team GrisGris' iconic survival-horror title, so I'm including it here as a possibility.

Kid Icarus: Uprising--I know it's bizarre that I've yet to play this long-time-coming sequel to one of my all-time favorite NES games. At first, my disinterest was due to all of the online whining about Uprising's quirky controls. Later, it was due to there being too many new 3DS titles coming out that I wanted more than this "old" one. Now that the system's time as a "relevant" system is nearing its end, though, I'm itching to pick up a few of the gems that were released early on in its existence.

Kirby: Planet Robobot--Although I used to turn up my nose at the Kirby series, that all changed after I finally played my first real entry. (That would be Epic Yarn for the Wii, by the way. Previously, I'd played--and loved--Canvas Curse for the DS, but that's hardly a traditional Kirby game.) I've read only positive reactions to Planet Robobot, so I figure I should consider giving it a go, too.

Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World--I've got to be honest here: I'm pretty sure I'll buy this 3DS port of Woolly World whether or not any of you suggest I do so. Yoshi games have long had a hold on me, even when they've ended up being stinkers. That said, if some of you really hated the Wii U version of this title, let me know. After all, the portable iteration surely is going to look worse than the original, and I doubt it's going to play better, so I probably should pass on it if the consensus is it's a turd.

River City: Tokyo Rumble--I've been on the fence about Tokyo Rumble since it was first announced for North American release. As for why I've failed to buy it until now, that would be because I'm just not sure I'll enjoy its gameplay over the long haul. In the past, brawlers have bored me to tears, and even though this new River City title is priced well enough, that won't mean much to me if I tuck it away after putting just a few hours into it.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers--The last thing I need right now is another JRPG in my backlog. None of the ones currently residing there are set in modern times, though, and only a few are dungeon-crawlers. So, Soul Hackers is as deserving of consideration as any other 3DS game discussed in this post. The question is: does it deserve to be bought?

So, what do you think? Which of these 3DS games should I get?

UPDATE: I've made my decision, and the games I'll be ordering are Kid Icarus: Uprising, Kirby: Planet Robobot and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers.

Although I initially thought I would choose Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World over Kirby, I went with the latter in the end because it's currently cheaper than the former ($33 compared to $40), and I have a feeling Yoshi will see a similar price cut (even if unofficial) in the coming months. Also, based on what many of you said here, on Facebook and on Twitter, it sounds like Planet Robobot is a better, more enjoyable platformer than Woolly World.

Anyway, thank you helping me with this dilemma. Hopefully I'll be able to share impressions of all of these titles soon!

Friday, January 13, 2017

A few thoughts on 'Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017'

Before last night's "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017," I was about 75 percent sure I'd buy Nintendo's next console-handheld hybrid upon release.

Although it pains me to say it, that number steadily plummeted as I watched the presentation in question--to the point that I'm now all but certain I'll wait until late in the year--at the earliest--to pick up a Nintendo Switch.

To help explain why that is, here are some thoughts on various aspects of the system and its launch that were touched on during this event:

The release date--Most rumors suggested the Switch would launch in mid or late March, so March 3 (worldwide, at that) sounded pretty darn good to me. Or it did before I decided against a day-one purchase.

The price--In my dreams, Nintendo would sell the Switch for $199. I knew that was highly unlikely, though, so my hope was that the system would initially sell for $249--without a pack-in game. So imagine my disappointment when company president Tatsumi Kimishima revealed early on during last night's presentation that the system alone (well, along with a dock, two Joy-Cons, an AC adapter and some cords) will cost $299.99. For me, that's too much. Not too much for me to afford, mind you; rather, it's just more than I'm willing to pay right now.

The pack-in games--1, 2 Switch and Arms are pack-in games, right? Wrong? What do you mean? Nintendo isn't including either of these newly revealed (and questionably interesting) Switch titles with the system, you say? That's bizarre, I say--especially when 1, 2 Switch looks like a $5 digital offering at best, in my humble opinion. In reality, it appears Nintendo's going to try to sell it for $49.99. Good luck with that. Oh, and I offer up the same comment as a reaction to Arms' $59.99 asking price.

The launch lineup--The most depressing element of "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017" for me was that it became increasingly obvious as the event wore on that the hybrid system would hit the streets alongside a meager selection of games. The new Mario title, Super Mario Odyssey, which most expected would be available from the get-go? Actually a "Holiday 2017" release. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe? Late April. Splatoon 2? Sometime this summer. Even Arms won't be out on March 3. That leaves 1, 2 Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the latest Just Dance, Square Enix's I Am Setsuna (now there's a head-scratcher--not that I'm complaining) and a couple of other third-party titles. Admittedly, Breath of the Wild looks astounding, and likely will be enough for most folks (especially outside of Japan), but I personally would've liked a few more first-party options on day one.

The first-party titles--I've got to say, I expected Nintendo to show off a lot more of its own in-development Switch games than it did last night. Most of the ones the company did present to the public--The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey and Xenoblade Chronicles 2, in particular--looked great, no doubt about it (although I'm not in love with the new Xenoblade's character designs). When you consider that Super Mario Odyssey won't be out until the end of 2017, though, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 won't be out until who knows when, it's hardly a stunning first-year lineup from the company that's probably going to have to supply the bulk of Switch content.

The third-party presence--This isn't my first time at the Nintendo rodeo, so I went into "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017" fully aware that third-party developers and publishers once are likely to give the cold shoulder to the company's latest piece of gaming hardware. I saw very little last night that made me think otherwise. That's not to say there weren't pleasant surprises. Square Enix's Project Octopath Traveler (being made by the same team that produced Bravely Default and Bravely Second) looks stunning and could single-handedly push me to buy a Switch if it proves to be an exclusive. Also piquing my interest: a new Shin Megami Tensei, No More Heroes 3 and Dragon Quest Heroes 1 & 2. Sadly, that's pretty much the extent of the third-party efforts that appealed to me aside from the promise of a new Taiko no Tatsujin title and the already announced Dragon Quest XI.

The price of Switch games--This has been one of my biggest worries since it was revealed that the Nintendo Switch would straddle the line between being a handheld and a console. Would its games be priced like 3DS games or Wii U games? At the moment, it seems like they'll lean toward the latter,  given what we know about 1, 2 Switch, ArmsBreath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. (All but the first title will cost $59.99.) That disappoints me. Still, I hold out hope that easier-to-swallow price tags will be attached to smaller Switch games.

The game cases--No joke: one of the highlights of the last two days has been finding out that Switch game cases look a lot like PSP game cases. I've always loved the slender profile and see-through appearance of the latter, after all. Plus, the few examples of Switch cover art I've seen so far (Breath of the WildMario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2) look really nice stuck inside of them.

The accessories--I don't know why, but it kind of surprised me when Nintendo revealed it would sell colored Switch Joy-Cons at launch. Even more surprising to me: the cost of extra Joy-Cons. A single Joy-Con will set you back $50; a pair will cost you $80. Want a second dock? I hope you have $90 burning a hole in your pocket. Oh, and the Pro Controller many Switch owners are sure to want? Each one will carry a $70 price tag. In the immortal words of the amazing Madeline Kahn, "woof!"

The operating system--In hindsight, I can understand why the bigwigs at Nintendo decided to gloss over the Switch's OS during last night's presentation, as it's not really the kind of thing that'll sell people on the company's shiny new console. At the time, though, I was sad to only get a glimpse of it. Thankfully, what was shown of the Switch OS looked clean, uncluttered and modern.

The paid online service--One of the stranger portions of the "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017" for me saw Kimishima revealing that the company eventually will require paid subscriptions for online play. That in and of itself isn't terrible, as both Microsoft and Sony have done the same for years. Of course, Nintendo's track record when it comes to such things is far from great, so telling future Switch owners they'll need to pay to play on line--without explaining why it'll be worth the cost--seems more than a bit weird to me. Who knows, though, maybe the company has something great, or at least competent, in the works for Switch's online service.

The end of region-locking--Nintendo may have disappointed me in many ways with this latest look at the Switch, but one thing it did that brought a huge smile to my face was make it clear the system will be region-free. That's a huge deal for someone like me who likes to import games and, as such, has suffered (relatively speaking, of course) during the 3DS and Wii U eras.

The Switch's battery life--As rumored, the Switch's battery life--of two-and-a-half to six hours, depending on the game--isn't going to blow anyone away. It also shouldn't horribly disappoint anyone, however, considering the original 3DS and even the New 3DS offer up similarly anemic battery-life stats. Would I have preferred the Switch's battery to be more robust? Of course, but I'm also fine with what we're getting here.

The overall presentation--I had a really good feeling about things before the event actually began. The light show and DJ-sourced music that preceded Kimishima's entrance were cooler than what I've come to expect from Nintendo. Unfortunately, all of that faded into the background--literally and figuratively--when the company president started to speak. He's no Iwata, is he? Neither is Yoshiaki Koizumi, it has to be said, though he's definitely far more engaging than his superior. Their lack of stage presence wasn't responsible for the "Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017" being a bit of a snoozefest, though. No, the responsibility falls on the overall structure of the event, which at best made it seem boring and at worst made it seem like a train wreck.

In the end, although I still consider the Nintendo Switch to be a curious piece of gaming hardware, I'm currently not planning to buy one until either the price of admission comes down or a title is released that I can't live without.

How about you? Did you pre-order a Switch as soon as you were able after last night's presentation, or will you do so shortly? Or maybe you're in the same boat as I am, waiting to see how things pan out for the Switch before committing your hard-earned dollars toward one?

Regardless, let me and others know what you think about those questions as well as all of what I touched on above in the comments section below.