Friday, August 08, 2014

Pithy impressions of a handful of long-ignored PC Engine platformers: Berabo Man, Doraemon, Dragon Egg, Genji Tsushin Agedama, Momotaro Katsugeki and Pac-Land

I guess you could say that Anne Lee's #PlatforMonth has inspired me a bit since it was announced late last month. In the last week, I've not only written and published a pair of posts crammed full of platformer recommendations for folks who are planning to participate in this particular "community game-along," but I've also--gasp!--played a number of games that could be considered part of this most classic of genres.

Because the bulk of the platformers I've played in the last few days have been of the PC Engine variety, I thought I'd compile my (sometimes pithy) impressions of them here.


Chozetsu Rinjin Berabo Man--There's no denying this side-scrolling platformer, known as Bravo Man in the States, never much appealed to me before TheGameroomBlitz suggested it in the comments section of this recent post. To be frank, screenshots of it (and, really, video of it, too) make it look like a complete turd. That, combined with the rather terrible word of mouth that surrounds this Namco-made HuCard, has been more than enough to keep me from giving it a go. Until last week, I mean. So, now that I've finally played it, what do I think of it? Surprisingly, I kind of like it. It's a low-rent game, no doubt about it, and it has a whole host of issues--the super-hero-ish protagonist is large and slow, the graphics are on the messy side--but it also has a certain charm to it that makes it more enjoyable than it has any right to be. In large part, that's due to Berabo Man's elastic limbs, which are used to dispatch enemies in lieu of a more traditional gun or laser, but for me it's also due to this game's curious cast of characters, which includes absurdly small tanks, cartoonishly squat ninjas and some other odd-looking creatures that look remarkably similar to Fantasy Zone's Opa-Opa.


Doraemon Nobita no Dorabian Night--Here's another PC Engine platformer that I've ignored over the years due to what I considered to be subpar graphics. In action, though, they're actually rather nice, if still slightly rough around the edges. Nobita no Dorabian Night's gameplay is similarly "acceptable," with some aspects being pretty interesting--Doraemon's stun gun being one of them--and others, like the overall blandness of the action at hand, being less so. At the end of the day, Nobita no Dorabian Night feels like PC Genjin's less accomplished cousin, which isn't exactly the worst thing you could say about a PC Engine platformer, if you ask me.


Dragon Egg!--Like the titles mentioned above, this NCS-developed platformer isn't all that impressive at first blush. The dark graphics and stiff controls made me think I was playing a bottom-shelf Mega Drive (Genesis) game early on, which wasn't what I was expecting based on some of the positive impressions I've read elsewhere. A few stages later, though, my opinion did a 180. That's when I'd collected enough power-ups to transform the lowly egg the Sayo-chan-esque protagonist had been using as a weapon up to that point into a small, Yoshi-like dragon who gladly popped his head out of a sack and aimed his fiery breath at any and all enemies in her path. That one detail was enough for me to add this game to my lengthy "to buy" list (so far I've only experienced it via emulation), despite the fact that I've only completed a few levels so far.


Genji Tsushin Agedama--What kept me from giving this colorful conundrum (it's part shmup, part platformer, after all) a proper once-over until recently? I honestly have no idea. It couldn't have been its graphics, which are both well drawn and brilliantly hued. Maybe it was its mouthful of a name, which just doesn't have the same appealing ring to it that games like Bravo Man and Dragon Egg! do? Regardless, I'm now beating myself up over that idiotic oversight, as Genji Tsushin Agedama seems to be a real gem of a PC Engine game (based on the few stages I've played through thus far, at least). The auto-scrolling levels do take some getting used to, it has to be said, but once that's out of the way the game is a thoroughly and surprisingly enjoyable romp.


Momotaro Katsugeki--Here's a HuCard I first played a few years ago due to a random recommendation I can't fully recall at the moment, only to find it decidedly underwhelming. Upon picking it up again last week, though, I had at least a slight change of heart. I still find it less thrilling than some folks do, but I now appreciate all of the things it brings to the PC Engine-platformer table, such as its colorfully diverse backdrops and its similarly varied actions and obstacles. This is another game that brings to mind the famed PC Genjin (Bonk's Adventure outside of Japan) series, by the way, and not only because of its visuals, although the titular Momotaro's projectile weapon (a peach-flinging sword, I believe) helps to give Katsugeki a different feel than its prehistoric predecessor.


Pac-Land--I have surprisingly vivid memories of encountering the arcade version of this game for the first time in a faraway arcade as a teen. This was back before the Internet clued us into every last release, mind you, and as such the very sight of a Pac-Man-themed platformer blew my young mind. I share this because I have a feeling it'll help explain my decades-long interest in this particular title, which is unabashedly derided by pretty much every other person on the planet. Yes, the bulk of Pac-Land's graphics look as though they were created by a five-year-old with very little artist talent. Yes, its gameplay alternates between boringly basic and hair-pullingly challenging (in the "cheap" sort of way). Still, I get a kick out of booting it up and running through at least a handful of its stages every now and then. That may be nostalgia talking, I admit, but I honestly think there's a little more to it than that--although probably only just a little.

Have any of you played the aforementioned PC Engine platformers? If so, please feel free to share some of your thoughts on them in the comments section below.

If you haven't played some or even any of them, maybe you should consider doing so as part of Anne's #PlatforMonth game-along event?

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Praise the f$%kin' goblins, a sequel to Ancient's Protect Me Knight is set to hit the Japanese 3DS eShop this September

Although I was really excited when it was revealed that Yuzo Koshiro's company, Ancient, was going to release a retro-tinged tower-defense title--called Mamotte Knight in Japan and Protect Me Knight elsewhere--for the Xbox 360's indie-games service, I have to admit that I barely played the resulting effort after I downloaded it in 2010.

That's not a comment on this pixel-packed game's quality, mind you. Actually, I rather enjoyed what little I played of it. The fact is, though, that I just didn't use my Xbox 360 very much, and as such titles like this one suffered (by being ignored).

I doubt that's going to be a problem with the expanded 3DS sequel that the folks at Ancient recently announced--complete with a September release date--via their Twitter account.

Sadly, this game--to be called Minna de Mamotte Knight, I believe--is going to be a Japan-only affair at first, although the person in charge of Ancient's Twitter output already has informed followers that the company hopes it'll eventually be able to bring it to Western 3DS eShops, too.

As for what will differentiate the digital-only Minna de Mamotte Knight from its predecessor, according to a couple of NeoGAF threads (here's one and here's the other) the 3DS game will feature "about 10 times" as much content as the Xbox 360 one, a handful of new characters (the buff dude on the right isn't one of them, by the way, as he appeared in the first Protect Me Knight) and four-player local co-op.

Should you want to see a localized version of this sure-to-be-quirky title on non-Japanese 3DS eShops, I'd suggest aiming a Tweet at @AncientGames_JP at your earliest convenience.

Note: the "f$%kin' goblins" mentioned in this post's headline is an homage to one of Protect Me Knight's funniest lines--in which the game's damsel in distress demands that the titular warrior to "DEFEAT F$%KIN' GOBLINS!"

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Where have you been all my life, Cave Noire?

Considering I was a pretty big fan of the GameBoy back when it still could be considered a "current" machine, it surprises me how many of its more curious releases flew under my radar.

Pitman (aka Catrap) was one, until recently. Painter Momopie was another--as were Noobow and Hoi Hoi (Stop That Roach! in the States) and a whole slew of others.

It makes a good bit of sense that most of the above-mentioned titles avoided catching my attention, of course, as they either were Japan-only affairs or were given such low-key releases in North America that they likely avoided catching the attention of the majority of this continent's GameBoy owners, too.

How on earth, though, did I fail to become aware of Cave Noire until sometime last year, when I read about it on Kimimi's now-defunct blog? (Thankfully, she still can be found over on shinjuforest.blogspot.co.uk--occasionally.)


I mean, it was made and published by Konami, for crying out loud. Granted, the Konami logo doesn't mean a whole lot these days--unless you're a really big Metal Gear or football (soccer) fan--but back in the early 1990s, which is when Cave Noire hit Japanese store shelves, it meant quite a bit to folks who had any interest at all in the hobby known as gaming.

Whatever the reason, I was completely unaware of this portable roguelike until recently, as I just finished saying. As for why that's a shame: well, for starters, its packaging is really awesome--as the photos included above and below should make clear.


Cave Noire's manual is pretty great, too. Unfortunately, I was too lazy to snap more than a single photo (below) of it for this post. (Don't worry, I'm going to devote a "Manual Stimulation" write-up to this sucker soon.)

The real star of the Cave Noire show, though, is its gameplay (check out some video of it here), which is refreshingly unique even today--23 years after it was first released. In fact, I don't think I've ever encountered a roguelike that plays like this one does, as it basically consists of bite-sized chunks of roguelike goodness.


Just like pretty much every example of this niche genre in existence, Cave Noire focuses its attention on the crawling and conquering of dungeons. (I believe the ones here aren't completely randomly generated, as is the case in most roguelikes, although I may be wrong.) Where this portable offering differs from its genre counterparts, though, is that it's broken up into four different dungeons. Two of them task players with collecting various amounts of gold or orbs, one forces them to kill a certain number of enemies and another involves freeing caged fairies. Accomplish the task at hand and you're allowed to exit--after which you're given the choice of diving back in or heading to one of the three other dungeons that are at your disposal.


Most treks take just a few minutes--as in, five or 10--by the way, which makes Cave Noire feel a lot less tedious than some roguelikes I've played. Plus, it's perfect if you have the attention span of a mayfly, as I seem to these days.

Sadly, I'm pretty sure Cave Noire is M.I.A. on all of the 3DS' regional eShops, so the only way to experience it at this point is to track down an actual cart (which shouldn't set you back too much dough) or download the ROM and then play it using your favorite emulator. Whichever option you choose, though, you shouldn't walk away disappointed.

See also: 'What can I say, I've always been a sucker for games that feature enemy flan...'

Monday, August 04, 2014

#PlatforMonth game suggestions for some systems that aren't the PC Engine

In my last post, I discussed a handful of PC Engine platformers that I think would be well worth playing as part of Anne "apricotsushi" Lee's just-announced #PlatforMonth game-along.

Today, I'm going to share some #PlatforMonth recommendations for a few other systems--namely, the Famicom (NES), Mega Drive (Genesis), Super Famicom (SNES), PlayStation and, of course, the GameBoy.


Don Doko Don 2 (Famicom)--I've long considered this to be a rather under-appreciated gem given its pedigree (made by the masters at Taito, follow-up to sort-of-classic Don Doko Don) and its overall quality. I'm guessing the lack of attention from the Famicom set stems, in part, from the fact that this sequel's basically a straight-up, side-scrolling platformer rather than the single-screen sort like its predecessor. Plus, Don Doko Don 2 doesn't do a whole heck of a lot to separate itself from the Famicom-platformer pack. Still, I've always found it to be an enjoyable little romp that sports a bit of that "classic Taito" look as well as a unique gameplay hook--involving the same hammer used to such success in the first Don Doko Don--for the genre.


Marvel Land (Mega Drive)--It took me a while to warm up to this console port of Namco's amusement-park-themed arcade title from 1989. I'm not sure why that is, to tell you the truth, as the game's appreciably bright and colorful and the princely protagonist calls to mind the kind of characters Sega was known for during its heyday. Maybe it's because the first few levels are far from thrilling? Thankfully, I eventually found a way to work through my ho-hum feelings for this cart and I now consider it to be one of my favorite platformers for Sega's 16-bit system.


Nail 'N Scale (GameBoy)--I only just discovered this Data East-made game, which was released in Japan (in 1990, with its North American release coming in 1992) as Dragon Tail, a few weeks ago thanks to a recommendation made by someone on Twitter, I believe. Regardless, I'm glad it found its way onto my radar, as it's a surprisingly unique entry in the platforming genre largely due to the fact that its hat-wearing main charatcer can climb--and sometimes destroy--the walls that populate each stage by shooting spikes into them.


Shake Kids (PlayStation)--OK, so this platformer recommendation is on a different level than the ones I've made so far--as in, this one's a far less polished and accomplished offering, to be completely honest. That said, I think people who get a kick out of undeniably odd Japanese games will enjoy the time they spend with On Demand's Shake Kids, what with its cocktail-shaking protagonists and poor man's Rankin/Bass aesthetic (to put it nicely)--as long as they don't spend too much money to acquire a copy of it.


Spanky's Quest (Super Famicom)--Is this Natsume title really a platformer? Probably not, or at least not entirely, but it features enough of the genre's tried-and-true elements that I think it warrants being included here. For those of you who've never heard of it, Spanky's Quest (Hansei Zaru: JirĊ-kun no Daibouken in Japan) stars an adorable monkey who subdues enemies by tossing various kinds of sports balls (baseballs, soccer balls, volleyballs) at them. Don't worry, it's far more engaging than it sounds--and it's so darn cute that I think it would be worth checking out even if it weren't. (Oh, and a similar game was released for the GameBoy, too--as Spanky's Quest in the West and Lucky Monkey in Japan.)

Have you played any or all of the above-mentioned platformers? If so, do you agree with my assessments of them, or do you feel differently?

Also, if you were asked to do so, what are some of the platformers you'd suggest to people who are planning to participate in this #PlatforMonth game-along?