Friday, May 25, 2012

Manual Stimulation: PC Genjin 2 (PC Engine)

As much as I like the instruction manual made for the first PC Genjin game (see it in all its garish glory here), I like the ones made for its successors even more.

One reason for that: PC Genjin's manual is painfully short. Also, it's surprisingly mundane. Given this PC Engine platformer's over-the-top in-game graphics, I expected its manual to include similarly wacky imagery. Sadly, that's not the case.

Calling PC Genjin 2's manual "wacky" may be a bit of a stretch, but it's certainly wackier than the one created for its predecessor. It's also quite a bit more colorful--a fact that's made clear with a simple glance at its cover.

The manual's first real inside page is mighty colorful, too. I especially like the pop-up effect its designer(s) employed.

Although I've always felt a bit crotchety (you know, in a "you whippersnappers get off my lawn!" sort of way) about the way PC Genjin's graphics were cleaned up and otherwise changed in PC Genjin 2, I'm far less conflicted about the overhaul ol' Genjin himself received in that interim. (To see what I'm talking about, compare the illustration below to the ones found here.)

The main thing of note on the following two pages of the PC Genjin 2 manual, in my opinion: The drawing in the lower-left corner of the first page that seems to show Genjin in drag. (To be honest, I'm not sure if players are supposed to think he's in drag or if we're supposed think he's literally turned into a girl. I prefer the former possibility, so I'm going with that.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Acquisition #132: Engacho! (WonderSwan)

Just over a month ago, I mentioned in this post that I recently developed a bit of an obsession with the Bandai WonderSwan. I also mentioned that I've already picked up a few games for this Japan-only handheld, which was first released in 1999.

One of those games, as I'm sure you surmised after reading the headline above, is the WonderSwan version of NAC Geographic Products' amusingly gross puzzler, Engacho!

I've owned the PlayStation version of this title, which tasks players with leading a frightened boy through tile-based stages while avoiding the putrid characters that can be seen on the box above, for some time now (read a brief review of it here) and I've enjoyed what I've played of it, so when I saw this portable port pop up on eBay I couldn't help but pick it up.

I haven't played it yet--I'm still waiting for the perfect SwanCrystal to appear on eBay--but I like what I've seen of its black-and-white graphics so I'm looking forward to doing so soon.

In the meantime, I'll just stare at the game's packaging, which is pretty swell, don't you think?

I also quite like the little cartridges (above) on which WonderSwan games appear, and the plastic sleeves that protect them. The cartridges are about the size of GameBoy Advance cartridges, by the way--in case any of you were wondering.

To see a few more snapshots of this particular pick-up, check out my Flickr photostream.

See also: previous 'Acquisition #123' posts

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

'Ancient Egyptian Plumber'

Mario-inspired t-shirt designs pop up with such regularity these days that most folks probably stopped caring about them long ago.

It's hard not to care about a well-produced Mario-inspired t-shirt design, though, and in my humble opinion the one below (and here) fits rather snugly within that category.

The quality of this particular design, titled "Ancient Egyptian Plumber," isn't all that surprising once you realize it was produced by the Los Angeles-based artist who answers to both "herky" and "Lucky1988."

Another reason to like herky's/Lucky1988's creation: The tongue-in-cheek article that promotes it over at

CAIRO, Egypt – An illustrated tapestry recently unearthed here seems to suggest that plumbing, long believed to be a primarily Roman invention, may in fact have originated in ancient Egypt.  

Depicting a leaping figure wearing boots, a cap, and a form of ancient Egyptian overalls, the illustration indicates that Egypt can claim credit for the now-iconic plumber archetype.  

“It’s remarkable how contemporary the plumber figure looks,” says Prof. Martin Etcharles of the University of Shigeru. “It looks like something that could have been drawn in the early 1980s in Japan.”

The tapestry is believed to date from the reign of Pharaoh Bowserkhamun III, during the so-called Mushroom Dynasty. Etcharles says that the whole field of plumbing archaeology has been electrified by the discovery.  

“Of course, there’s always the possibility we’re getting too fixated on this plumber character,” he says. “But we wouldn’t be the first to do that.”

Cream-colored tees featuring this "Ancient Egyptian Plumber" can be picked up here for $15, while "natural" totes can be bought here for $12. Both are only available until Saturday, May 26, so get your butt over to pronto if you want one.

See also: More of Lucky1988's designs

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Five favorites: Bubble Bobble clones

Is Fukio Mitsugi's Bubble Bobble the best single-screen platformer ever made? I believe so, but that doesn't mean it's the only example of the genre worth playing. Cases in point: each of the so-called "Bubble Bobble clones" (I'm not a huge fan of this phrase, by the way, despite the fact that I used it in the headline above--more on that in an upcoming post) below more than hold their own against the Taito-published arcade classic that possibly-maybe inspired them.

1. Chip Chan Kick! (PC-FX, 1996)--This particular clone is solely responsible for me wanting to add a PC-FX to my console collection. Why? Well, it's chock-full of the kind of charm and craziness that one expects from this genre, for starters. Surprisingly, I'm not all that enamored with the pig-tailed protagonists, but I do like the Puyo Puyo-esque blobs they chuck at baddies. (When one connects, the baddie in question becomes confused and can be finished off with a kick.) Everything else about this game is pretty par for the course (I mean that in a good way) except for its end-of-level bosses, many of which are huge and all of which take a lot of hits before raising a white flag.

2. Parasol Stars (PC Engine, 1991)--For the longest time, I thought this Taito-made title paled in comparison to its predecessors, Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands. Today, I'm not so sure about that stance--thanks to the strategic element that's added to the game via the creation and collection of its "miracle icons." Regardless, this one is special, with adorably crafted enemy sprites, color-splashed backdrops and a can't-get-it-out-of-your-head soundtrack. The only criticisms I can level at Parasol Stars: a few of its bosses could put up a better fight (I'm lookin' at you, Loch Ness Monster-ish leader of world three) and it would be nice if there were a way to jump down from platforms.

3. Pop'n Magic (PC Engine CD, 1992)--As I mentioned in this recent post, Pop'n Magic hasn't always been my cup of tea. In fact, I used to find it downright boring. After giving it a second chance, though, I discovered there's a lot to like about this title, which seems to turn to both Bubble Bobble and Parasol Stars for inspiration. (Pop'n Magic's blue-haired protagonist encases foes in bubbles and then tosses them at each other in order to get rid of them.) One thing this game has that its fellow clones don't: beautifully animated backdrops.

4. Rod Land (Arcade, 1990)--Don't worry, I didn't include this Jaleco-made game simply because of its "suggestive" title. Actually, that title is by far the worst thing about this quarter-muncher, if you ask me. The best things: the awww-inducing (get it?) enemies--including walking sharks and what appear to be bow-sporting leeches--and the main character's ability to bash them to kingdom come using her trusty rod-whip doohickey. Sure, Rod Land's backdrops are the stuff that yawns are made of and its soundtrack is a bit bromidic, but the rest of what's on display here is of the first order.

5. Zupapa! (Neo Geo, 2001)--Never heard of this one? No worries. It's a fairly obscure addition to the genre. It's also a very worthy addition to the genre, though, with flashy graphics and frenetic, toss-things-at-your-foes gameplay that calls to mind the first game mentioned in this post, Chip Chan Kick! Zupapa! sets itself apart from that title by giving its Zooks (the aforementioned, toss-able "things") a ton of personality. (Leave them alone and they'll start juggling or fall asleep; throw them around too much and they'll run away from you.) Also, touching an enemy that's been stunned by one or more Zooks creates an explosion that can take out other enemies--a tactic that's expertly employed during this delightful game's boss battles.

Honorable mentions: Don Doko Don (Arcade/PC Engine), The Fairyland Story (Arcade), Nightmare in the Dark (Neo Geo) and Wani Wani World (Mega Drive).

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bubble Bobble + Chack'n Pop + Parasol Stars = single-screen platformer perfection

Consider my mind blown.

What blew it, you ask? The video below, which showcases the "secret" levels in Parasol Stars that only can be accessed after meeting certain conditions (i.e., grabbing three star icons in world eight) before defeating the almost-final boss, who I believe answers to "Dark Shadow."

I didn't know about these extra stages until recently because, well, I've yet to beat this über-saccharine PC Engine game. I've made great strides toward doing just that in the last week, though, due in large part to discovering--finally!--how beneficial it can be to match the "miracle icons" that pop up in pretty much every level. (Before, I grabbed them willy-nilly.)

Anyway, back to why Parasol Star's bonus worlds blew me away (well, besides the fact that they exist): For starters, world nine pays homage to this game's forebear, Bubble Bobble--with stage 9-1's layout aping that of Bubble Bobble's first level. Along the same lines, world 10 harkens back to another of Taito's classic quarter-munchers, Chack'n Pop. (Unsurprisingly, stage 10-1 is a dead ringer for Chack'n Pop's opening salvo.)

Also partially responsible for blowing me away: The new background tunes--one bright and boppy, the other rather haunting--that accompany players through the aforementioned stages and the surprise appearance, at the business end of world nine, of Hyper Drunk.

Sadly, despite my improved Parasol Stars performance--I now routinely get to the sixth world before using up all of my continues, whereas I used to flame out in the third--I doubt I'll be racing through these extra levels anytime soon. Hell, at this point I'd be ecstatic if I could experience this game's "bad ending"--shown in the video above--which actually looks pretty darn good to these eyes. (Granted, I'm a sucker for end credits that spotlight a game's cast.)

Related aside: Those of you who are now as enamored with Parasol Stars as I am may enjoy watching this complete playthrough of the game many consider to be Taito's greatest PC Engine release.