Friday, October 28, 2011

Ashley Davis x Umihara Kawase

I've been meaning to publish a post about the following illustration for ages, but all of you fellow bloggers know how it is: Other things have popped up since it first caught my attention and served to push it down my longer-than-I'd-like-to-admit "to publish" list.

Anyway, enough about that. The point of this post is to shed some light on an awesome, game-inspired illustration, so let's get to it.

The awesome illustration in question (below and here) was produced by the similarly awesome Ashley Davis, by the way.

So, why am I all hot and bothered by Davis' drawing? Because it focuses on a couple of characters from one of my favorite games from the 16-bit and 32-bit eras, TNN's Umihara Kawase.

For those of you who've never heard of this gem of a game (which has been released for the DS, PlayStation, PSP and Super Famicom), here's Davis' short-but-sweet description of it: "Umihara Kawase is Bionic Commando if Rad had a bouncy fishing line instead of a robotic arm. It’s super hard, but incredibly fun!"

Not enough info for you? Check out this article at Hardcore Gaming 101.

I'd also suggest you check out Davis' tumblog, No Marios Allowed!, if you haven't done so in a while--especially if you're a fan of Bubble Bobble, Flicky, Mappy, Mischief Makers and No More Heroes.


The Great Gaymathon Review #42: Final Fantasy VI (Super Famicom)

Game: Final Fantasy VI
Genre: RPG
Developer: Squaresoft
Publisher: Squaresoft
System: Super Famicom
Release date: 1994

Whenever I'm asked to name my all-time favorite RPG (admittedly, it doesn't happen often), I nearly without exception answer, "Final Fantasy V." Whenever I'm asked to name what I consider to be the best RPG ever made, though, I usually point to that game's sequel. (Sometimes I point to the seminal EarthBound instead.) There are a number of reasons for that, of course. One is that Final Fantasy VI features some of the best graphics seen in a Super Famicom game (something that can't be said about its still-quite-attractive predecessor). Another is that it features one of that system's best soundtracks, courtesy of the incomparable Nobuo Uematsu. Neither of those things would matter much to me, though, if the game's story and gameplay sucked. Thankfully, that's far from the case. In regards to the former, for instance, VI's gritty, steampunk-ish story is among the best of any Final Fantasy game. (Its kick-ass opera sequence is worth the price of admission alone, in my humble opinion.) Its gameplay--which centers on an "Active Time Battle" system that's an evolution of the one first introduced in Final Fantasy IV--is pretty great, too, although less revelatory than its story. Anyway, although I consider Final Fantasy VI to be the best RPG ever made (or at least the best one I've ever played), it isn't perfect. For starters, I find it to be less fun than its forebear--thanks in large part to the fact that the former lacks the crazy character customization that served as the foundation of the latter. Also, VI's second act drags a bit due to its open-endedness. Considering those two quibbles are the only ones I could come up with in regards to Final Fantasy VI, though, it should be clear that this is about as close to a quintessential RPG as you're likely to get.

See also: Previous 'Great Gaymathon' posts

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Three more PC Engine games that I want to like, but can't

A few weeks ago, I published a post about three Namcot-made PC Engine games that I want to like but can't. Well, here are three more such games--although, in this case, only one of them was produced by the folks responsible for Pac-Man.

1. Batman (1990)

Why I want to like it: It's a Batman game. Duh! Also, I rather like the look of the Batman sprite and the top-down view of the action--a welcome change from all of the side-scrolling efforts (like this one and this one) that flooded the market following the success of Tim Burton's 1989 film.

Why I can't: It's pretty darn boring. It starts off well enough, but after a few levels your eyes glaze over (or at least mine did) due to this Sunsoft-developed title's dreary, repetitive environs and yawn-inducing gameplay.

2. Deep Blue (1989)

Why I want to like it: Well, there's the game's box art, for starters, which intriguingly shows a fish-shaped ship firing at a gigantic octopus. And then there are its in-game graphics, which are--in screenshots, at least--similarly intriguing thanks to their gritty, somewhat-realistic sheen.

Why I can't: Unfortunately, those gritty, somewhat-realistic graphics are awfully repetitive in action. That's the least of this Pack-in-Video-made title's problems, though. Much more offensive than its graphics is its gameplay, which pits your slow, underpowered fish-sub against hordes of speedy, zig-zagging gill-breathers that are nearly impossible to avoid.  

3. Marchen Maze (1990)

Why I want to like it: Anyone who has been visiting this blog for more than a day or so likely knows I'm a sucker for cute games. Well, this Alice in Wonderland-esque release definitely fits into that category thanks to its bubble-blowing, pigtailed protagonist and a cast of "baddies" that include sunglasses-wearing mushrooms and pink, wind-up-toy penguins.

Why I can't: This game may be cute, but it's no cakewalk. In fact, it's frustratingly--and often cheaply--challenging. You're constantly being barraged with bullets and other obstacles that send you over the brink (each stage is a platform that floats in space) and eat up one of your precious lives.

It should be noted that none of the above-mentioned games are terrible. On the contrary, each of them contain one or two or even three elements (such as graphics, music or overall concept) that make me think they could be completely enjoyable--if only they didn't contain a number of flaws, too.

See also: 'Three PC Engine games I want to like, but can't'

Konami's Beyond the Labyrinth (3DS) has some classy box art

I've had my eye on Beyond the Labyrinth since it was announced earlier this year. Not because it's being made by the folks at tri-Ace, mind you, but because it's supposed to be some sort of dungeon-exploring RPG.

I say "supposed" because a lot of the game is still a mystery--despite the fact that it's due to be released in Japan on Jan. 19.

Anyway, I'll continue to be interested in the game even if it ends up being nothing more than a slightly interactive 3D movie--thanks in equal parts to its cheery protagonist and its classy cover art (above).

Here's hoping that classy cover art appears on the North American version of Beyond the Labyrinth, should, you know, Konami decide to bring the game to our shores at some point.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's that time of year again

And when I say "that time of year," I'm talking about the time of year when I spend way too much time searching for games that will put me in a Halloween mood.

Speaking of which, here are four "spooktacular" games--two of which I've played before and two of which I haven't--that I'm hoping will scratch that itch in the lead up to this year's All Hallows' Eve:

Cotton 100% (Super Famicom)--This Super Famicom-based shmup, developed by Datam Polystar and published by Success (or is it the other way around?) in 1994, stars a broom-riding witch who is obsessed with candy and who has to fly through all sorts of dark and dreary environs in order to collect a bunch of missing gems. Could there be a more perfect game to play during this spooky-and-sweet season?

Jigoku Meguri (PC Engine)--The point of this pixelated platformer, developed and published by the folks at Taito in 1990: To help a portly monk complete a perilous trek through hell. It all sounds suitably horrific, I know, but in reality said trek is more cuddly than creepy. Still, the game is more than spooky enough to earn a spot on this list.

Splatterhouse Part 3 (Mega Drive)--Originally, I planned to include Namcot's Spatterhouse 2 in this spine-chilling playathon. After reading some negative reviews of that title, though, I decided to include the series' third installment, released in 1993, instead--mainly due to the fact that "Part 3" is less linear than its predecessors and, as such, allows the game's Jason Voorhees-like protagonist to explore each stage.

Sweet Home (Famicom)--I played through a bit of this survival-horror RPG, released by Capcom in 1989, last Halloween, but regrettably put it away after the holiday vanished into the ether like a vampire at sunrise. I say "regrettably" because Sweet Home is one of the most terrifically tense Famicom titles I've ever played. Anyway, hopefully this year I'll stick with it long enough to see an ending screen.

See also: 'Halloween-ish HuCards (and CDs)'

I think I've changed my mind about Ice Climber

I don't know how you spent your weekend, but I spent a good chunk of mine playing Ice Climber. Why? Well, mostly because I wanted to make sure I didn't completely waste my hard-earned money when I bought a copy of the Famicom version of this Eskimo-centric platformer the week before.

So, what's the verdict? Given my previously expressed opinions of the game, you could be forgiven for supposing my answer would be something along the lines of, "What have I done?" In fact, though, I'm feeling pretty darn good about my purchase.

I don't know what changed, but after years of dismiss- ing this Kenji Miki-designed title as a difficult-to-control turd I'm starting to think it's actually a difficult-to-control treasure.

OK, so treasure is likely too strong a word to use in regards to Ice Climber, but so is turd. Yes, the stiff, Mario Bros.-esque jumping mechanism can make things mighty frustrating (to put it mildly), but after you accept and get a hang of that fact the game becomes a lot more attractive.

After all, said jumping mechanism, while a smidge maddening, is, in my mind, the only negative aspect of this rather ancient release (it hit store shelves all the way back in 1985). Its title and end-of-stage tunes, composed by Akito Nakatsuka, are surprisingly and appealingly jazzy, for instance, while its graphics--its parka-wearing protagonists, Popo and Nana, and the cross-eyed vegetables they're tasked with rescuing, especially--are undeniably cute.

All that said, I won't hold it against anyone who refuses, for whatever reason, to join me in standing behind this strange little game.

See also: 'Second chances: The New Zealand Story' and 'Why I'm not yeti a fan of Ice Climber (har har)'

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Great Gaymathon Review #41: Balloon Fight (Famicom)

Game: Balloon Fight
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
System: Famicom
Release date: 1985

What a difference a decade makes. I distinctly remember renting the North American version of this game, one of the first released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, on a few occasions as a teen, and each time I did so I turned it off after about 15 minutes wondering, "Why in the hell did I rent this again?" For some reason, the Joust-esque gameplay of its main campaign bored me back then. To tell you the truth, it still bores me today. That's not to suggest there's something wrong with that mode, mind you--it ably apes (i.e., rips off) the feel of the aforementioned Williams Entertainment arcade classic while covering up its apocalyptic aesthetic with such cheery adornments as balloons, bird masks (well, that's what they look like to me) and, uh, a big, grinning fish--but it's just not my cup of tea. What is my cup of tea, at least these days, is the game's "Balloon Trip" mode. For those of you who have never played this mode, it places players in a forced-scrolling (from left to right) stage and tasks them with avoiding sparks and collecting balloons for as long as possible. It's completely maddening, of course, but it's also completely addicting--in that "I'll just play one more round" kind of way. Another aspect of Balloon Fight that's sure to bring you back again and again: Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka's cheery, chunky, propulsive soundtrack.

See also: Previous 'Great Gaymathon' posts

China Warrior + Takahashi Meijin + toy turtles = one awesome PC Engine commercial

True story: I've never played Hudson's oft-criticized, PC Engine-based fighter, China Warrior (known as The Kung Fu in Japan).

I'm actually planning to right that wrong soon, but until that day arrives I'll content myself by watching and re-watching the following commercial, which features, at one point, Takahashi Meijin and a quartet of toy turtles.

Hopefully it's made clear to folks who understand Japanese why the "16 shots per second" star is shown, in a commercial that was supposed to prompt gamers to run out and buy a side-scrolling brawler, sitting atop a pile of said reptiles?

Note: This post originally appeared on my other gaming blog,

Monday, October 24, 2011

I take back what I said previously: 7th Dragon 2020 doesn't look so bad

I can't say I was all the excited when I first laid eyes on the PSP sequel to one of my most-desired DS games, 7th Dragon.

Although the original was a deliciously retro RPG developed by imageepoch and published by Sega, its sequel, 7th Dragon 2020, has always appeared to be a more modern beast--which means, of course, that it eschews the pixels its predecessor so embraced in favor of polygons.

Anyway, the disappointment brought about by imageepoch's decision to make 7th Dragon 2020 more wow-worthy prompted me to all but ignore the title ever since it was announced earlier this summer.

That all changed after I watched the following "character make video" (whatever that means) via

Would I still prefer 7th Dragon 2020 to be a two-dimensional wonder like its forebear? Yes, but I'd be lying if I said the trailer above didn't at least somewhat pique my interest in the title, which will be released in Japan in just a few weeks (on Nov. 23, specifically).

The question is: Now that my interest has been piqued, will the game eventually see the light of day outside of the Land of the Rising Sun or will it suffer the same Japan-only fate as its pixel-loving predecessor?

I think we all know the answer to that one, don't we? Sigh.

Cool custom consoles

You know, I've always thought my bog-standard Dreamcast, GameBoy Advance SP and PlayStation systems were pretty slick ... and then I came across the custom-painted consoles seen below.

This Parodius-branded PlayStation may be my favorite of the bunch:

That said, this Samba de Amigo-inspired Dreamcast is awesome, too:

And then there's this slick, Scott Pilgrim-themed GameBoy Advance SP:

All of these were created by French artist Oskunk, by the way. To see more (many more!) of his creations, check out his blog,, and/or his Flickr photostream.

(Via and