Friday, April 21, 2017

In honor of the 28th anniversary of GameBoy's Japanese release, here are a handful of my all-time favorite GB games

A little birdie (OK, so it was this NeoGAF thread) told me this morning that the Nintendo GameBoy launched in Japan 28 years ago today.

If math isn't your forte, that means the Japanese GameBoy was released all the way back on April 21, 1989.

Given my love for Nintendo's first portable game system (see my "Year of the GameBoy" posts for a taste of how I feel about this handheld), I thought I'd publish a post that discusses some of my favorite GameBoy titles in honor of today's milestone.

Astro Rabby--This choice is sure to raise a few eyebrows, as I know folks who think it's a bit of a turd. Still, I really enjoy playing it--flaws (like its hair-pullingly frustrating bonus levels) and all. Some of that enjoyment is derived from the uniqueness of Astro Rabby's gameplay--which puts you in the paws of a robotic rabbit that hops through space via a top-down, auto-scrolling stages in search of "power-up parts"--I have to say, although I also have to say it's simply a lot fun to soar through this 1990 release's levels while its peppy soundtrack plays in the background. For more on why I like this game so much, read my Astro Rabby review. Also, see my "Year of the GameBoy" post about it for photos of its box, cartridge and instruction manual.

Balloon Kid--By now, it should be clear that I not only love this Balloon Fight follow-up, but that I've loved it since it was first released in North America 27 years ago. After all, I recently published a post that explained why Balloon Kid helped shape my taste in video games. It's far from perfect, of course--the scrolling is choppy and there are only eight stages to complete--but it's such a nice change of pace from the typical platforming fodder that fills the GameBoy's library that its imperfections are barely worth mentioning. To learn more about this game's pros and cons, check out my Balloon Kid review.

Burning Paper--How this game has flown under the radar for so long--it first hit Japanese store shelves in early 1993--is beyond me. I guess its pedigree (for lack of a better word) could have something to do with it. A company called Pixel developed Burning Paper, while LOZC G. Amusements published it--and neither had even slightly pinged my radar before I first became aware of this game. Regardless, I think it deserves a spot on every write-up ever published about GameBoy games you need to play thanks to its arcade-y, Patchwork Heroes-esque action and its shimmering background music. Also worth noting: Burning Paper's beautiful packaging.

Catrap--This may well be the best game Asmik ever developed or published. Even more impressive: Catrap (Pitman in Japan) is one of the best, most interesting titles released for the GameBoy during the system's 14-year reign. If you've never played it, it's an action-puzzler that sports adorable graphics and animation as well as brain-busting gameplay. Bonus: Pitman's box, cartridge and instruction manual are every bit as precious as its in-game visuals.

Donkey Kong--I have to imagine a lot of GameBoy owners passed on buying and playing this title back in the day because they assumed it was just a black-and-white port of Nintendo's classic quarter-muncher of the same name. That describes the cart's first few levels, but after that this portable entry in the Donkey Kong series reveals its true colors as a puzzler-platformer of nearly unrivaled quality. Although I'd of course recommend picking up a physical copy of Donkey Kong for GameBoy (due in part to its pretty packaging) as a result, a digital copy (available via the 3DS eShop) will only set you back $3.99 at the moment, so go that route if you're no longer in the market for actual GB carts.

Great Greed--True story: not only did I not play this Namco-made RPG back when it first hit store shelves in my neck of the woods, but I wasn't even aware of its existence at that time. Now that I've played through a good chunk of it (you can read some of my thoughts on the experience in these old posts), I'd actually go so far as to call it one of my favorite role-playing games from that era. It's beyond antiquated, and the text in the North American version (I can't comment on the text in the Japanese original, known as Bitamina Oukoku Monogatari) is so stilted and simple it's often difficult to decipher what's being said, but its breezy, one-on-one battles are such a blast and its soundtrack is so blissful that these missteps are easy to overlook.

Osawagase! Penguin Boy--Much like Burning Paper, above, this Natsume-developed title features gameplay that appears to have been inspired by Qix. Don't worry if you find that Taito product to be a bore; Osawagase! Penguin Boy (Amazing Penguin outside of Japan) is a far zippier affair. It's also far cuter, thanks to the beret-wearing penguin that serves as its protagonist. In the end, if you're looking for a GameBoy cartridge that'll entertain you whenever you've got a couple of free minutes, or if you're any kind of Pac-Man or Pengo fan (both of are represented here, along with the aforementioned Qix), you'll want to give Osawagase! Penguin Boy a try as soon as you're able.

Painter Momopie--Speaking of Pac-Man, this Sigma Entertainment effort easily could be described as a clone of that world-conquering Namco classic. In fact, I did just that in a recent post about my five favorite Pac-Man clones. Painter Momopie sets itself apart from everybody's favorite dot-chomper, however, by basically inverting its predecessor's gameplay (your goal is to fill each screen--with paint--rather than empty them) and by being set in what looks to be a witch's home or academy. (Do you know Japanese? You'd help me immensely if you checked out the first page of the Painter Momopie instruction manual and then educated me on its backstory.) Curious to learn more about this Japan-only release from 1990? Read my Painter Momopie review. Also, ogle the game's packaging here.

Tail 'Gator--The good news about Tail 'Gator, which was renamed Shippo de Bun while being prepped for Japanese release: it's yet another top-shelf GameBoy title that is unlike pretty much every other game made for Nintendo's first handheld. The bad news: even loose cartridges go for a pretty penny these days. (Don't even think about buying a complete-in-box copy unless you're a serious collector or you're willing to part with a good amount of money.) So, your best bet, should you want to become acquainted with the single-screen platformer-esque action of Tail 'Gator or Shippo de Bun, is to play it using an emulator. I know that won't be the most appealing option for many of you, but I'd recommend it anyway given the compelling nature of this Natsume GB cart.

Do you have a favorite GameBoy game or two (Japanese or otherwise)? If share, let me know about them in the comments section of this post.

See also: 'Some of my favorite SNES games in honor of the system's 25th anniversary' and 'Seven ways you can celebrate the 27th anniversary of the PC Engine's release'

Monday, April 17, 2017

I'm never again selling a game system via eBay and here's why

If you've occasionally poked your head into the comments section of this blog or followed me on Twitter for any length of time, you've likely heard me say I never sell consoles or games once they're in my grubby little hands.

Although that isn't far from the truth (for the last decade or so, I've only sold doubles of games or games I really dislike and know I'll never want to play again), I made a few exceptions earlier this year when my husband and I decided to pack up our stuff, sell our home, quit our jobs and travel the country for the next eight to 12 months. (For more on this situation, read this post.)

One exception involved me auctioning off one of my 3DS systems via eBay.

I had five at the time (embarrassing, I know), and I rarely used this particular one, so I figured, "why not sell it to someone who would actually enjoy it?"

Before I continue, I need to say that this 3DS basically was in brand-new condition. I'd only played it a few times and, as such, there were no marks or scratches of any kind on its screen or body. The system's outer box and its contents were similarly pristine.

Anyway, someone recently bought it. Thrilling! I quickly packed it up--protecting it as much as I was able with bubble wrap and the like--and sent it on its way.

Nine days later, I got an email from eBay. The gist of its message: the buyer wanted to return the 3DS and be given a full refund because it wasn't working.

I was stunned. After all, I tested the system immediately before I shipped it and knew nothing at all was wrong with it. Still, I thought I'd be OK. While setting up the eBay auction for this system, I checked the box that informed interested buyers I wouldn't accept returns. Also, like I said earlier, I knew it was in perfect working order when it left my hands.

Note: this isn't the 3DS being discussed in this post
I did wonder if maybe something had happened to the package as it made its way from me to the buyer, but that didn't worry me because I'd paid for insurance (out of my own pocket, I should add) that would come to my rescue in such a case.

After exchanging a few messages with the buyer and doing a bit of research, though, I was back to despairing. First, I found out the package was not damaged during shipment, which meant that insurance I paid for was now all but useless. Second, I discovered that eBay pretty much always backs buyers in this sort of situation--meaning I may well be forced to accept the return and cough up a full refund.

That would've been fine with me if I believed my old 3DS was broken or otherwise made dysfunctional in transit, but I didn't. Instead, I was worried the buyer had done something to damage it and wasn't fessing up. (Which in my mind would mean it's his or her problem, not mine.)

The problem is, I have absolutely no proof the system I sold was in perfect, nearly new condition before I shipped it. Sure, I have photos of it from various angles (a few of which showed both of its screens in action), but even the most recent of them were taken a couple of months ago, just before the auction in question first went live. But I have no video footage that could be used to prove I hadn't knowingly and purposely sold a defective item. (And even if I did have it, would it really help me?)

My main fears: that the buyer had somehow damaged the system and that I was going to have to take it back--leaving me with a broken 3DS that obviously would be of little interest to anyone on eBay or elsewhere.

Thankfully, after hearing more from the buyer, I think it's possible I'll be able to fix the problem he or she is experiencing without too much hassle. Even if that's how the situation plays out, though, there's no way I'm re-listing the system.

Also, I'm now of the mind that I'll almost assuredly never sell a game system through eBay again. Although it seems like this particular buyer isn't trying to pull a fast one on me, what's to stop someone else from doing so down the road?

The fact is, there's nothing stopping someone from doing so in the future. Worse, there's little I could do before or after I list an item to protect myself as its seller from such a scam artist.

So, I'm basically done selling game hardware on eBay. And I may be done selling games (expensive ones, especially) on eBay, too. Which is too bad, as I've never had a bad experience as an eBay seller before now.

Should you follow in my footsteps? That's up to you. I would warn you to do whatever you can to protect yourself from situations like the one I just went through (I'm still going through it, actually, as it's yet to be fully resolved) before you auction off any of your games or consoles, though, especially if they're worth a bit of money.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Raise your hand if you, too, are excited about all the 3DS games still coming out this year

I know many--most?--people are focused on the PS4 and the Switch these days, but I'm still plugging away at 3DS (and, er, WonderSwan) games.

As such, yesterday's European, Japanese and North American Nintendo Directs made me quite happy.

In fact, I have a feeling the 3DS games mentioned in those broadcasts, as well as a few that were announced or revealed earlier, will keep me and my bank account nice and busy through the end of 2017 and beyond.

Speaking of which, here are the upcoming 3DS titles I'm planning on buying (and playing) in the coming months:

The Alliance Alive--This spiritual successor to The Legend of Legacy has been a known quantity for some time. It won't hit the streets (in Japan) until June 22, though, so it's still an upcoming release. Anyway, I know not everyone loved The Legend of Legacy, but I really enjoyed it. The Alliance Alive seemingly takes that rather simplified 2015 title and turns it into a full-fledged JRPG. I'm not altogether enamored with that, as I liked The Legend of Legacy's bare-bones approach to the role-playing genre, but I pre-ordered it long ago anyway. Should Atlus or some other publisher decide to the bring the game to North America, I'll likely buy it a second time--especially if its packaging is as beautiful as that of its predecessor. (Here's a look at The Legend of Legacy's Japanese packaging, and here's a look at its North American packaging.)

Culdcept Revolt--Here's a 3DS game I never thought would leave Japan. After all, the DS version of Culdcept was a Japan-only affair, as was the 2012 3DS title of the same name. So, when NIS America revealed its plans to bring Culdcept Revolt to my neck of the woods (it'll hit digital as well as retail store shelves in North America on Aug. 29), I nearly fell out of my chair in shock. Which is kind of surprising in itself, as this will be my first Culdcept experience. I have a hard time imagining I'll hate a card-based board game that combines elements of Monopoly and Magic: The Gathering, though, so I'm not too worried I'll wind up thinking I wasted my money on Culdcept Revolt.

Dragon Quest XI--I've eagerly awaited this game ever since I sank my teeth into Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS. That was the first mainline Dragon Quest title I'd played since the original, and it so impressed me that I put at least 100 hours into it before turning my attention to something else. Will I do the same with Dragon Quest XI, which is due out in Japan on July 29? I sure hope so. It's quite possible I'll fall short of that goal due to the language barrier (I'm not holding my breath on a North American localization, so the current plan is to pre-order the Japanese version as soon as allows me to do so), but I can guarantee you I'll give it my best shot.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon 2--Full disclosure: although I've had a copy of the first Etrian Mystery Dungeon since it hit North America a couple of years ago, I've yet to actually play it. Hell, I'm pretty sure I haven't even opened its case. Still, I'm excited about this just-announced sequel (due out in Japan on Aug. 31). Why? I'm a big fan of roguelikes, for one. Also, I like that this follow-up will include the "farmer" class that made its debut in Etrian Odyssey III. There's no way I'm going to import the Japanese version of Etrian Mystery Dungeon 2, though, so hopefully Atlus will bring the game--along with Etrian Odyssey V--to North America sometime later this year.

Ever Oasis--For whatever reason, this Koichi Ishii (creator of Square Enix's ages-old Mana series) game interests me the least out of the many that are discussed in this post. I'm not entirely sure why that is, to tell you the truth. I mean, I love Ever Oasis' art style and I like that it allows players to control three characters at once (à la one of my favorite games of all time, Secret of Mana), so why on earth am I not more stoked about its impending release (June 23 in North America and July 13 in Japan)? I don't know, but I'm buying it regardless--or at least I will once Amazon opens up pre-orders.

Hey! Pikmin--Does the world really need a portable, side-scrolling Pikmin game? I can't say I wanted one before Hey! Pikmin was first shown off last year, but now that I've seen what's possible with such a title, I'm champing at the bit in anticipation of its release. Admittedly, Hey! Pikmin's visuals give off a strong Arzest vibe, but thanks to the game's uniqueness and potential I'm willing to give it a chance even if it turns out the makers of the meh-tastic Yoshi's New Island also had a hand in producing this adventure.

Layton's Mystery Journey--If Layton's Mystery Journey doesn't ring a bell, how about Lady Layton? Yep, it seems the folks at Level-5 have decided to rename this Professor Layton spin-off, which is being prepped for Android and iOS as well as the 3DS. Although the 3DS version is supposedly going to see the light of day in all regions, only the Japanese iteration currently has a release date (July 20). Fingers crossed it's released physically once it finally makes its way to North America.

Miitopia--I probably shouldn't be surprised Nintendo has decided to make this Tomodachi Life-esque RPG available to 3DS owners outside of Japan, but I am. Although the aforementioned game from 2014 ended up being a surprise hit around the globe (that's been my impression, at least--let me know if I'm off-base here), I assumed the company would pass on publishing this similar effort in the West thanks to the dwindling 3DS audience and the booming Switch one. At any rate, I was wrong, and Miitopia will arrive on store shelves here and elsewhere later this year.

Monster Hunter Stories--I know a lot of folks would have rather seen a localized version of Monster Hunter XX pop up in yesterday's European and North American Nintendo Directs. I, on the other hand, lit up like a Christmas tree when I realized this spin-off was leaving Japan. (It's coming to this West this fall.) Granted, I've always been a sucker for portable RPGs, especially ones that feature appealing art styles. Those aren't the only reasons I'm interested in Monster Hunter Stories, mind you. I'm also interested in it because it looks like it'll serve as a more accessible entry point to Capcom's long-running MonHun series.

RPG Maker Fes--Much like Culdcept, I've never played an RPG Maker game. Given that, I'm not sure what to expect when I start my way through this 3DS entry, which will hit the streets here on June 27. (You can snag a copy of RPG Maker Fes at Amazon, if you'd like.) Even so, I pre-ordered it because I want to support its localization and because I like the idea of being able to play one of these titles on the go. Plus, this may be the last RPG Maker game to both be developed for a console (or handheld) and released outside of Japan.

The Snack World: Trejarers--Another Fantasy Life-ish RPG for the 3DS? Sign me up. Actually, I don't know for certain that The Snack World, out on July 13 in Japan, will be anything like that 2014 title. It definitely looks like it in the video footage that developer and published Level-5 has released so far (you can see the Nintendo Direct segment devoted to it here), but that doesn't mean a whole lot. Assuming the final product is at all import-friendly (and doesn't require you to buy the Amiibo-esque accessories that have been shown off for it so far), I may pick up a Japanese copy of The Snack World in the weeks or months following its release in that region. If not, I'll wait for it to come to the US--assuming that ever happens.

Are you looking forward to playing any of the games mentioned above? If so, which ones--and why?

See also: '15 North American and Japanese 3DS games I'm planning to buy (and play) later in 2016 or at some point in 2017'

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Welcome to WonderSwan World: the WonderSwan Color system

Before I start sharing my experiences with the many WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color games already in my collection, I thought I should say a few words about the WonderSwan system.

Actually, I can't say anything about the original, black-and-white WonderSwan system (released all the way back in 1999), as I've never played one. For the same reason, I also can't say anything about the third piece of WonderSwan hardware, the SwanCrystal, which hit Japanese store shelves in 2002. (I plan on buying one of the latter in the next few months, by the way, so hopefully I'll be able to chat about it soon.)

What I can talk about here: the WonderSwan Color system. It made its debut (in Japan, of course) in late 2000--just a year and a half after Bandai shipped the original model of its GameBoy Color competitor.

As its name implies, the WonderSwan Color added a color screen to the mix. That screen is a tad larger than the one built into the original WonderSwan, by the way--2.9 inches (diagonally) compared to about 2.5 inches.

Actually, the WonderSwan Color hardware as a whole is a bit bigger than that of its predecessor as well. I can't pass along the exact dimensions of either system right now, but the WonderSwan Color is approximately the same size as two iPhone 5Cs stacked on top of each other.

Besides that, the WonderSwan Color is powered by a single AA battery (which allows for around 20 hours of play) and, mostly importantly and intriguingly, offers users a bevy of buttons and control inputs.

The most curious of those input options are the pair of split directional pads situated along the left side of the system. To be honest, I have a feeling they're not really split d-pads. Instead, they're probably just buttons arranged to look like and simulate a pad. Regardless, you use them to control movement while playing WonderSwan games (and quite adroitly, I might add), so I guess it doesn't matter if they're really split directional pads or not.

At any rate, the cool thing about this particular grouping of buttons is they let you play a WonderSwan system horizontally or vertically. (When the system is held vertically, the left set of buttons act as the system's d-pad, while the right set act as action buttons.)

Now, you can't just switch between the two willy-nilly. Most games stick to one orientation for the entirety of the experience, with the majority forcing you to hold your WonderSwan horizontally, like a GameBoy Advance, PSP or Vita. Don't fret if the ability to play handheld games vertically has you excited, though; a good number of WonderSwan titles require you to hold your system in that position. (A handful of examples from my own collection: Puzzle Bobble, Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party and Tane wo Maku Tori.) Also, a select few--including Kaze no Klonoa: Midnight Museum and Makaimura--incorporate both orientations into their gameplay.

Some words of warning about playing WonderSwan games with the system held vertically: it's not all it's cracked up to be. Don't get me wrong, it's unique and interesting, but it's not always enjoyable or comfortable, mainly because the system is so small. (If your hands are tiny, you may not have any problems holding it. But if your hands are on the larger side, prepare for some uncomfortable moments while playing vertically oriented WonderSwan titles.)

Still, experiencing portable games in this manner is such a breath of fresh air that I think it's worth dealing with the occasional hand cramp it's bound to cause.

That's nothing compared to the main issue associated with using a WonderSwan Color, which is its screen isn't illuminated. Although recent portable game systems like Nintendo's DS and 3DS, or Sony's PSP and Vita, feature backlit screens, all three of Bandai's WonderSwan models follow in the footsteps of older handhelds--like the GameBoy or the Neo Geo Pocket--by utilizing screens that are only visible under plenty of ambient light. (And in the case of the original WonderSwan as well as the WonderSwan Color, you have to futz with the system's contrast wheel before you can see anything clearly, even in perfect lighting conditions.)

This may not sound so bad if you've never tried playing a handheld without a backlit (or frontlit) screen, but believe me, it can be a challenge. I often feel like I have to squint to see what's going on even in perfect lighting.

Given that, I can't exactly recommend everyone run out and buy a WonderSwan Color along with a pile of WonderSwan cartridges, as I imagine most people who are used to more modern portable gaming hardware will find it difficult to fully enjoy Bandai's offering.

If you've spent plenty of time with a GameBoy or GameBoy Color or GameBoy Advance in recent months or years, though, and as a result you're basically aware of what you'll be getting into with the WonderSwan Color, go ahead and buy one. (Or, better yet, spend the extra cash needed to pick up a SwanCrystal, as it supposedly sports the best screen of the bunch.)

Before you do that, though, you may want to wait until I've written about a few of its games. Thankfully, I'm planning to publish "Welcome to WonderSwan World" posts about a slew of titles--such as Clock Tower, Engacho!Puzzle Bobble and Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party--over the next couple of weeks.

See also: more photos of my WonderSwan Color system and collection of WonderSwan games

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Nice Package! (Landstalker, Mega Drive)

Sega's (or maybe I should say Climax Entertainment's) Landstalker is one of a small handful of games that really defined the 16-bit era for me.

As much as I loved the 8-bit systems--oh, boy, did I (and still do)--the color and resolution bumps showcased in games produced for their 16-bit successors blew my teenage mind.

If you aren't old enough to have lived through the transition from 8-bit to 16-bit gaming, compare the Famicom port of Konami's TwinBee to Pop'n TwinBee for the Super Famicom. Or compare, say, the battles in any of Enix's first four Dragon Quest titles to those in Tengai Makyou II: Manji Maru for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM2 system.

When Landstalker was first shown off in the gaming magazines I pored over as a youngster, I compared it to the likes of Square's Final Fantasy Adventure and Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Those titles were (and continue to be) gorgeous in their own right, of course, but back when Landstalker was released, especially, its aesthetic looked light years beyond what they offered up.

To be honest, I can't say I enjoyed playing Landstalker as much as I enjoyed playing Final Fantasy Adventure or A Link to the Past (the isometric perspective in Climax's effort often makes things awkward), but that's a different story.

At any rate, I'll always have a soft spot for Landstalker. Which I guess helps explain why I recently picked up a complete-on-box copy of the Japanese Mega Drive version of the game. (And before that, I bought copies of two other great Mega Drive games: Shining Force and Shining Force II. I guess I should add Shining and the Darkness to the pile ASAP.)

Would I have picked up a copy of Landstalker even if I hated the game? Given its eye-popping packaging, probably.

Hell, the cover art alone is worth the price of admission in my humble opinion, though its cart label (above) certainly is no slouch.

The Landstalker Mega Drive manual is a looker, too, as the photos included in this post hopefully prove.

Even the back of this Japanese game's box, below, is easy on the eyes.

Speaking of which, I love that someone at developer Climax named Landstalker's isometric engine. (That would be "Diamond Shaped Dimension System," or "DDS 520," for the curious.) Sadly, I don't believe they ever used it for another Mega Drive or Genesis game.

Are any of you Landstalker fans? If so, what are your favorite aspects of this 16-bit RPG?

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts