Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Five favorites: Japanese PlayStation box art

Of all the "retro" game systems I currently collect, the one about which I'm the least knowledgable is the original PlayStation--especially when it comes to the subject of Japanese cover art that was produced for that groundbreaking console.

Still, I think I've come across enough examples of the above to publish a post such as this.

Should you have any favorites that aren't highlighted here, though, by all means let me know about them in the comments section below.

Boku no Natsuyasumi--To be perfectly frank, I'd like this particular piece of box art a lot more if it ditched the English text and even the "contrail" logo that takes up a smidge of space in the lower-right corner. Even in its current state, though, I'm pretty darn smitten with it and the cheery, nostalgic vibe it gives off to viewers.

Eldergate--There are a bunch of Konami-made PlayStation covers that could be mentioned here, but I'm going with Eldergate's because it features a sumptuously colored--and not at all clichéd, which can't be said of many of its counterparts, especially today--illustration.

Mad Panic Coaster--Could you describe this selection as a bit garish? Yes, I suppose you could. It's long been a favorite of mine regardless, though, due to its unique layout--it takes the eye a few seconds to recognize the roller-coaster car along the bottom edge--and bold use of color. (Although I wouldn't have complained if the logo had been made a bit smaller.)

Mizzurna Falls--Here's another piece of cover art that I've been a fan of since I first laid eyes on it (while perusing this review at easternmind.tumblr.com). There's something so ... moody about it that really appeals to me. Plus, it features snow-covered mountains, which always earns an approving nod from me.

PoPoLoCrois Monogatari--This is the perfect way to portray an RPG's contents on its box art, if you ask me. We've got dragons (two of them, I think), a varied party of adventurers (the dudes and the dudette situated between the dragons) and dramatic dose of magic--unless, of course, that orb is something other than a "wall" or "protect" spell.

Add in the abundance of color and clean composition and you've got yourself one attractive cover illustration. In my opinion, of course.

See also: 'Five favorites: Japanese DS box art,' 'Five favorites: Japanese PSP box art' and 'Five favorites: Japanese Wii box art'

Monday, September 22, 2014

EarthBound on the brain

You know what I'd like to play on my 3DS sometime soon? No, not Fantasy Life--although I'll definitely be ripping into this role-playing game's packaging and popping its cartridge into my pink-and-white XL as soon as it arrives on my doorstep late next month.

In fact, the game that's currently topping my 3DS wish list isn't even a retail release; rather, it's a digital one--or it would be this time around.

As for which digital title I'm talking about: it's EarthBound--although I kind of gave that away in the header above, didn't I?

In any case, why has Nintendo made its classic RPG available to folks who own a Wii U but not to those who own a 3DS? I have no idea, but I hope they rectify the situation in the near future.

While all of us Wii U-less EarthBound fans wait for that to happen, we may as well content ourselves by ogling the following pair of illustrations that were inspired by this Shigesato Itoi-made masterpiece.

This first piece was produced by Orioto and is called "Night Visitor." (See it in all its original glory here.)

The colorful creation above ("Psychic Kids"), on the other hand, was concocted by Ry-Spirit. (Take a closer look at it here.)

See also: 'Thanks to my recently completed EarthBound playthrough, I can't get this tune out of my head'

Saturday, September 20, 2014

I'm not completely sure what's going on in this crazy MH4G x Animal Crossing 'collaboration trailer,' but I (think I) like the looks of it anyway

Of all the collaborative content the folks at Capcom could've announced for Monster Hunter 4G (Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate elsewhere), this one--involving Isabelle and Resetti costumes for the 3DS game's felyne characters--has to be the most surprising. Or at least the most "out there."

Thankfully, it appears as though the costumes shown off in the trailer above, as well as the previously revealed Sonic the Hedgehog armor and Taiko no Tatsujin hunting horn, will be offered to those who pick up the North American version of the game as well, although Capcom has yet to say how that will be accomplished.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Let's talk about three Taito-made PlayStation titles: Pop'n Pop, Puzzle Bubble 2 + Puzzle Bobble 3DX

As much as I've long loved Taito's earliest console efforts--such as the titles the company made and released for the Famicom, PC Engine and even Mega Drive--I haven't been able to say the same about the titles that flowed from their offices during the 32-bit era (and after) until recently.

That's mostly because I lacked a general awareness of this portion of Taito's output, I have to admit, but it's also because the few releases I was aware of from this period--like 1991's PuLiRuLa1995's Psychic Force and 1996's RayStorm--failed to impress me the way predecessors like Bubble Bobble, Don Doko Don, Elevator Action and Insector X did.

A couple of months ago, you could have thrown the company's many Puzzle Bobble sequels onto the same pile as the one that contained PuLiRuLa, Psychic Force et al. What's changed in the interim? Well, I bought and played a few of them, for starters.

Specifically, I bought and played Taito's (Japanese) PlayStation ports of Puzzle Bubble 2 and Puzzle Bobble 3DX, both of which can be seen in the photo above.

I'm still not the biggest fan of the way Taito's artists decided to alter Bub's and Bob's designs around this time, but at least the gameplay of this pair of Puzzle Bubble titles makes up for these artistic miscues.

The other Taito-published PlayStation title included in the aforementioned photo (as well as the one above), by the way, is 1998's Pop'n Pop.

Wikipedia describes this colorful arcade port as "a hybrid of Puzzle Bobble and Space Invaders," and that's a pretty spot-on assessment based on my enjoyable experience with it so far.

Of course, I probably would've picked up a copy of Pop'n Pop even if its disc contained nothing more than high-quality scans of its beautiful cover art and manual illustrations.

Speaking of which, I love the adorable pieces of art that accompany this game's character bios. (The characters highlighted on the page above are Hipopo and Tamasun from Mizubaku Daibouken, as well as Chack'n and the missus--she's literally "Miss Chack'n"--from Chack'n Pop.)

A few more of Pop'n Pop's cast of playable characters can be seen in the photo above, including Kiki Kaikai's Sayo-chan, Phee Phee from The New Zealand Story, one of Don Doko Don's dwarves and Bubby (or is it Bobby?) from Rainbow Islands.

Moving on from Pop'n Pop, here's a better look at Puzzle Bobble 2's cover art. I don't know if you can make it out in this photo, but the colorful bubbles look to be actual marbles--an effect that's surprisingly pleasing in person.

Puzzle Bobble 3DX's disc is surprisingly pleasing, too--or at least I think so. Sure, it's a bit barren, but I've rarely been one to complain about minimalist approaches to such things.

Have any of you played any of the games mentioned in this post? If so, please share your own thoughts on them in the comments section below. (Oh, and feel free to share your thoughts on some of the other Taito-published titles discussed here, such as PuLiRuLa, Psychic Force and RayStorm, too.)

See also: 'Recommend me some Taito-made Famicom, PC Engine and GameBoy titles'

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Second Chances: Don Doko Don (Famicom)

To those of you who are a bit confused as to why I'm devoting a "Second Chances" post to a game I've previously--and frequently--praised, both here and on Twitter, here's the deal: the version of Don Doko Don that I've so often celebrated was the PC Engine conversion released in 1990.

On the other hand, the Famicom port of this Taito-made single-screen platformer--which is a lot like Bubble Bobble, but with hammer-weilding garden gnomes instead of bubble-blowing dinosaurs--has long left me feeling a little cold, and mainly because, at first glance, it's a lot less easy on the eyes (and the ears, too) than either the aforementioned PC Engine release or the arcade original.

I've warmed up to it in recent days, though, although I'm not entirely sure why. Actually, that's not completely accurate. What I mean is that I know why I've come around to it--I now rather like its aesthetic, with the possible exception of the protagonist sprites--but I'm not sure why I currently find something appealing that I used to consider fairly disappointing.

Maybe I just opened my heart to its minimalist charms, or maybe I realized that the PC Engine version isn't as grand (in terms of its appearance) as I earlier considered it to be--or maybe it's a bit of both?

One complaint I will level against this iteration of Don Doko Don: a handful of its enemy sprites are larger than, say, their PC Engine equivalents, which wouldn't bother me normally, but in this case the increase in size seems to throw off the balance on some of its stages. For example, baddies who, in other versions of the game, eventually would work their way toward the bottom of the screen tend to get stuck near the top in the Famicom port, and the resulting mass often causes the player to put him- or herself into more perilous positions than would otherwise be required.

This isn't even close to a deal-breaker, of course, but it is a minor source of aggravation--or it has proven to be one for me--and, as such, I thought I should mention it here.

Despite the above-mentioned quibble, I now consider myself to be a pretty big fan of the Famicom conversion of this great single-screen platformer--to the point that I'm planning to pick up a copy of it once I have the funds.

Here's hoping that once I get my grubby little hands on one, its instruction manual is at least as nice--and full of adorable illustrations--as its PC Engine counterpart, if not a bit nicer.

See also: previous 'Second Chances' posts

Monday, September 15, 2014

Six shoot 'em ups I'd recommend to anyone participating in #Shmuptember

On Friday, I published a post in which I shared my thoughts on six shoot 'em ups I've been playing as part of blogger Anne Lee's #Shmuptember game-along extravaganza.

Today's post, on the other hand, will focus on blurbs about six titles I'd recommend to others who are participating--or who are considering participating--in this smhup-centric event. (I guess you could say I recommend the shoot 'em ups showcased in Friday's post, too, but I think the ones included here may be more palatable to your average gamer.)

Each of the following titles are of the "retro" variety but, really, what else would you expect from me given what I typically write about on this blog?

Also, all but one of these shoot 'em ups were only released in Japan. Sorry about that. Thankfully, every one of them is easily emulatable, assuming you're OK with going that route. (If not, I'd suggest looking for loose copies of Pop'n TwinBee or Super Fantasy Zone, as they're sure to be the cheapest of this bunch.)

With that out of the way, let's get to some shmup recommendations.

Galaga '91 (GameGear)--Could you play the PC Engine version of this awesome Galaga reboot? Sure, why not. I didn't want to include two PC Engine games here, though, so I decided to recommend this surprisingly adept port. Thankfully, the GG iteration appears to include everything of note that can be found in its "big brother," so if you've got one of Sega's brick-sized handhelds (or if you enjoy emulating its games on other systems), you could do worse than give this cart a go sometime during #Shmuptember.

PC Denjin (PC Engine)--Better known as Air Zonk to North Americans, this wacky horizontal shoot 'em up provided me with all kinds of enjoyment and excitement as a teen. I return to it fairly regularly even as an adult, of course, and for a bunch of reasons, including its cartoonish cast of companions and enemies, its eye-popping use of parallax scrolling and its rockin' soundtrack.

Pop'n TwinBee (Super Famicom)--This pastel-coated, top-down shmup was one of the first Japanese games I ever imported, and it was worth every penny. (I paid over $70 for it, if memory serves. Remember, though, this was back when it was first released and eBay was but a twinkle in Pierre Omidyar's eye.) After all, it offers everything a person could want from a 16-bit cute 'em up: colorful environments, challenging-enough gameplay and cheery tunes.

Sexy Parodius (PlayStation)--Full disclosure: I love every single Parodius game Konami ever published, and that includes the tough-as-nails MSX version that introduced this now sadly moribund series to the world. That said, this entry--which has been ported to the Saturn, PlayStation and PSP--is my favorite of the entire bunch. Should you not have one of the aforementioned systems, though, don't shy away from trying another Parodius title, such as Parodius Da! for the PC Engine or Gokujō Parodius for the Super Famicom.

Super Fantasy Zone (Mega Drive)--Don't get me wrong, I love the original arcade version (and its perfectly acceptable PC Engine port, too) of this Sega-made smhup and its odd, wrap-around stages, but this 16-bit sequel improves on nearly every aspect of it. One the fence as to whether you should pick up an actual copy of Super Fantasy Zone or play an emulated version (which includes the Wii Virtual Console release) of it? Something that may sway you in favor of the former option is its wonderful box art.

Twinkle Star Sprites (NeoGeo/Saturn/Dreamcast)--Is this an overhead shoot 'em up or a puzzle game? Actually, it's a bit of both, which may help explain why it's one of my all-time favorite games. (OK, so the candy-coated visuals and vivacious soundtrack are partially responsible for this, too.) Sadly, although it was released for the Wii Virtual Console in Japan a number of years ago, it never made its way to any other region. As such, emulation's probably going to be the best bet for most interested parties, as both the (Japan-only) Dreamcast and Saturn iterations can be pricey.

See also: 'Six shoot 'em ups I'm playing as part of #Shmuptember'

Friday, September 12, 2014

Six shoot 'em ups I'm playing as part of #Shmuptember

Welcome to #Shmuptember, everyone! Wait, do you mean to tell me you don't know what #Shmuptember is?

In that case, here's a little explanation: #Shmuptember is the most recent of blogger Anne Lee's "community game-along" events that tasks willing participants with playing any and all shoot 'em ups that strike their fancy and then sharing their experiences with others--be it in blog posts, podcasts, Tweets or via some other form of social media.

Given the love I've long felt for this genre, I'd be remiss if I didn't put a slew of shmups through their paces this month. In fact, I've already spent a good amount of time with six of them. Continue reading for a few thoughts.

AeroStar (GameBoy)--An intriguingly odd example of the genre due to the fact that it combines traditional overhead-shmup trappings (flying a plane, shooting anything that finds its way on screen) with the most noteworthy elements of Data East's arcade classic, Bump 'n' JumpSpecifically, the majority of the average Joe's or Jane's experience with AeroStar is spent scuttling along roads of various widths while oncoming enemies attack from all angles. Every so often, though, the road falls away and they're forced to launch into the air--but only for a limited amount of time. The game's definitely held back a bit by the GameBoy hardware--a fact that's most plainly observed in the stuttering quality of its scrolling fields--but never to the point that it becomes unplayable or even unenjoyable.

Darius Plus (PC Engine)--I've always thought of this game as being an example of "Deep Blue done right." After all, both games feature a bevy of aquatic settings and foes, although Deep Blue does a lot more with both of those aspects than its Taito-made counterpart. Still, Darius Plus has always had better word of mouth attached to it than Pack-in Video's oft-vilified effort. My rather limited impressions of Darius Plus so far support the notion that it's a better shmup than Deep Blue, but only just, as neither one appeals to me all that much at the moment, I have to say. Here's hoping that changes, and for the better, before #Shmuptember comes to a close.

Insector X (Famicom)--As much as I love (or at least want to love) the aquatic-themed shoot 'em ups discussed in the bullet point above, both of them currently pale in comparison to this insect-themed example of the genre. Although this version of Taito's Insector X isn't quite "arcade perfect," it ably holds its own when it comes to every aspect that matters. I especially like that players are able to choose boy or girl pilots--and that said pilots make adorable little faces while shooting at the similarly cute arthropods that zip and zoom around the screen. This horizontal shmup's bosses are worth noting, too, both for their appealingly cartoonish designs as well as for their screen-filling girth.

Ordyne (PC Engine)--Is this Namco-made game a cute 'em up (à la Parodius and TwinBee) or more a straight-laced shmup like the other games mentioned in this post? It's often hard to tell while playing it, which is a real shame. Personally, I wish its designers had decided to lean more heavily toward adorable than traditional, as examples of the latter are a dime a dozen, especially on the PC Engine. Even in its current state, though, I've got to say I quite like Ordyne. It's colorful, it's got funny-looking enemies (always a plus in my book) and it's acceptably enjoyable. Sure, it could be more engaging or exciting--like its Konami-made counterparts, for example--but it's hard to whine about that when the rest of it is able to bring a smile to your face.

Steel Empire (Mega Drive)--I remember reading about and seeing screenshots of this HOT*B-made title way back when it was released, but that's about it. I wasn't much of a smhup fan at the time--well, aside from cute 'em ups like Pop'n TwinBee and the like--so I never even downloaded and played a ROM of it until recently, when it popped back onto everyone's radar due to the just-released 3DS remake. As great as this new version may be (and I've only heard good things about it), the 16-bit original's pretty great, too, thanks to its original ideas (one of the selectable ships is a dirigible), steampunk-inspired visuals, tight controls and challenging gameplay.

Tenjin Kaisen (GameBoy)--If ever you've wanted to play a shmup that embodies the look, theme and feel of Koei's Samurai Warriors (Sengoku Musou) series, well, here you go. Actually, you may want to try this one, called Mercenary Force in North America, even if you've never dreamed of such a thing, as it should prove interesting to both musou fans and noobs alike. The main reasons for that: players begin by hiring four "mercenaries" that represent five different occupations (for lack of a better word) and offer varying amounts of health and weaponry. After that, it's off to battle, with the aforementioned quartet basically acting like "options" in your typical shoot 'em up. (They even can be rotated into various positions, depending on the situation at hand.) Some are sure to look at the graphics on display here and groan a bit, but they're far from bad and, if my experience is any indication, they're likely to improve over time.

So, that's some of what I've been playing--and will be playing--throughout #Shmuptember. Which shmups are you planning to tackle?