Friday, December 30, 2016

My most popular posts of 2016

I know this is a pretty self-serving write-up, but I'm publishing it anyway in the hopes it'll make folks aware of some interesting posts they missed earlier in the year.

Which posts, you ask? The ones on this blog that earned the most views in 2016, that's which ones.

Oh, and I've decided to put them in alphabetical order rather than in order of most views to least--in case anyone's curious.

CIB Sunday: World’s Longest 5 Minutes Limited Edition (Vita)

Five overlooked Japanese GameBoy games you need to play as soon as possible

Five overlooked Japanese PlayStation games you need to play as soon as possible

Four reasons I'm planning to nab one of those adorable Nintendo Classic Mini: NES consoles once November rolls around

How to succeed in Pocket Card Jockey without really trying (or, here's what you need to do if you suck at this quirky 3DS eShop title)

Let's chat about Zero Time Dilemma's cover art

Manual Stimulation (KiKi KaiKai, PC Engine)

Nu-Bo, Nuubou, Noobow, New--oh, whatever...

Six 3DS games I'm looking forward to playing at some point in 2016

Some of my favorite SNES games in honor of the system's 25th anniversary

I'm planning to publish follow-ups to a few of the above in 2017, by the way. Can you guess which ones?

Other than that, thank you for viewing these and all of my other blog posts so many times this past year. I greatly appreciate it, as always.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Six games I bought and regrettably failed to play in 2016

I bought a good number of games this past year. Although I played as many as I could, the majority were lucky to leave their packaging for more than a couple of minutes.

I wish I'd spent quality time with all of them over the last 12 months, of course, but the following six are most responsible for my current pangs of regret.

Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry's Wonderland 3D (3DS)--I only bought this game a few weeks ago, so I probably shouldn't feel bad that I've failed to play it. Regardless, I do. Who can blame me, though? After all, this 3DS remake of the Tose-developed and Enix-published GameBoy Color cart of the same name (well, without the 3D part) is as bright and colorful as can be. Also, the monster recruiting, fighting and breeding that are at the center of Terry's Wonderland look and sound like a lot of fun. Bonus: the game's now fully playable in English, as the screenshot above showcases. Learn more about and download the required patch here.

Grand Knights History (PSP)--I'm pretty sure my eyes popped out of my head when I first caught a glimpse of this game back in 2010 or 2011. Which should be completely understandable, as Grand Knights History is drop-dead gorgeous just like every other game Vanillaware's ever made. The thing is, the initial enthusiasm I felt for this PSP game quickly faded into the ether when I read that connecting to Japanese servers (apparently a near-impossibility for people in other countries) was a must. Apparently that's not entirely the case, though, so now I'm back to desperately wanting to play this tantalizing RPG.

htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary (Vita)--I've long been a sucker for games with unique art styles, and this Nippon Ichi Software-made title fits that bill and then some. Unfortunately, I've heard that htoL#NiQ's gameplay isn't quite as enjoyable as its graphics. That isn't why I failed to play it this year, however, No, that would be because I basically ignored all of my Vita cartridges (and digital titles) in 2016. Thankfully, I plan to give those games--and my pink-and-white Vita--lots of love in 2017. Don't worry, I fully intend to let you know what I think of The Firefly Diary's dark adventure after I've plugged away at it for a bit.

Okaeri! Chibi-Robo! Happy Richie Oosouji (DS)--Full disclosure: I have no real experience with the Chibi-Robo! series. My goal is to rectify that sometime next year by playing as much of the Japan-only Happy Richie Oosouji as I can handle. Accomplishing that should be a lot easier than it would've been if I'd picked up a copy of the game on or around its 2009 release, as a patch that translates its text into English hit the Internet in May.

Tomato Adventure (GameBoy Advance)--Speaking of English translation patches, it's a crying shame no one has created one for this Japan-only game. Why? It was developed by the wizards at AlphaDream, best known for Nintendo's long-running Mario & Luigi RPG series, for starters. Also, it's beyond adorable, as the screenshot above proves. Thankfully, it seemingly was aimed at youngsters, so I'm hoping I'll be able to understand enough of its text to make my way through it in 2017.

Xi Little (WonderSwan)--If Xi doesn't mean anything to you, maybe Devil Dice does? That's what the first Xi game (for the original PlayStation) was called when it was brought to North America in 1998. (Oddly, the second Xi title was renamed Bombastic when it made the same trek a few years later.) Anyway, the plan is to pop this sucker--and all of the other WonderSwan cartridges I've acquired in recent years--into the translucent black WonderSwan Color system I bought late last year as soon as possible in the new year.

How about all of you? Which games did you buy and then fail to play this year?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My favorite games of 2016 that weren't actually released in 2016

Well, this is the last of my "favorite games of 2016" posts.

I'm sorry the previous pair--here's one, and here's the other, if you've yet to read them--were so 3DS-centric, by the way. The fact is, other than the couple of hours I put into the Chrono Trigger DS port early this year, most of my "gaming time" in the last 12 months was devoted to 3DS titles.

Aside from the occasional "old" game, I mean.

Speaking of which, the titles discussed below, all of which were released before 2016 (most were released years, if not decades, before), are the ones I enjoyed the most this year.

Dragon Buster II (Famicom)--No one's ever going to call this one of the Famicom's best games. Hell, only a handful of folks are likely to call it one of the system's many overlooked gems. Still, there's no denying it's an intriguing title that's worth exploring if you've had your fill with that 8-bit console's "classics."

Just make sure you don't go into Dragon Buster II thinking the experience is going to be on par with, say, The Legend of Zelda or Faxandu or Crystalis. This cart has nothing on that trio in pretty much any area--music, graphics or gameplay. I spent a good number of hours with it in 2016 anyway, though, because I find its stark, dungeon-crawling action strangely captivating.

You see, Dragon Buster II is one of those games that offers players very little information. You're plopped into labyrinthine stage after labyrinthine stage with no map and no direction or assistance other than "find the key that'll allow you to leave." Said key is hidden inside a random enemy, which means you have to stalk each cavernous locale until it appears.

That Dragon Buster II compels despite its barebones premise, and despite its low-rent visuals and utter lack of backing music, goes a long way toward explaining why I devoted so much time to it this past fall.

Great Greed (GameBoy)--I've been meaning to play this Namco-made RPG (known as Bitamina Oukoku Monogatari in Japan) ever since some kind soul brought it to my attention in the comments of an earlier post--or maybe it was on Twitter or Facebook?--a number of years back.

Why did I wait until 2016 to bite the bullet and give it a go? I honestly don't know, although I have a feeling I dragged my feet for a good, long while because I was turned off by Great Greed's one-on-one, Dragon Quest-esque battles.

I'm now kicking myself for being so foolish, as the enemy encounters here are both snappy--and not just because there are so few participants--and a lot of fun. On top of that, the game's soundtrack is shockingly good and its many environments are wonderfully atypical for the genre. (My favorite is an old record factory--complete with spinning disks that have to be strategically traversed.)

Admittedly, the text in the North American version is rough--to the point of being nonsensical most of the time--but even that generally adds to Great Greed's charm. Sadly, I've yet to beat the game, but I'm planning to do just that early in 2017.

Monster Manor (3DS)--My 3DS Activity Log says I've put more than 35 hours into StreetPass Mii Plaza games so far this year. Almost all of that time was spent with the Prope-made Monster Manor, I can assure you.

Although it's not a game you can play for long, all of my five- and 10-minute stints with it apparently added up over the course of the last 12 months.

Monster Manor's the only StreetPass Mii Plaza title I still return to with any regularity, by the way. (Well, other than Puzzle Swap.) Why? I love its part Tetris, part RPG gameplay, for starters. I also love its wacky assortment of guns (the weapon of choice in Monster Manor). Its colorful cast of ghoulish baddies is a plus, too.

Sigh, I'm going to be so sad if this kind of experience isn't replicated on the Nintendo Switch.

SaGa Frontier (PlayStation)--It's been years since I last played SaGa Frontier. Which is a shame, as this weird, non-linear RPG is one of my all-time favorite games. As for why I returned to it earlier this year, that would be the fault of a guy named finchiekins. He approached me a few months ago about playing SaGa Frontier concurrently, with the goal being to record a podcast about it in 2017.

Sadly, I'm nowhere close to completing my playthrough of Lute's story. Still, I'm getting a kick out of revisiting some of my favorite locations in the game, like Koorong, Manhattan and Shrike. I'm also having a blast reacquainting myself with Kenji Ito's rocking soundtrack. More than anything, though, I'm loving SaGa Frontier's mind-blowing battles, which to this day make me giddier than those found in pretty much any other RPG.

Honestly, if I could play this on my Vita, I'd probably plunk more hours into it than any other game in 2017.

Which games--old or new--did you enjoy the most this past year? Share your thoughts and feelings on them in the comments section that follows.

Monday, December 19, 2016

My favorite 3DS games of 2016 that aren't Pocket Card Jockey

A couple of days ago, I declared Game Freak's Pocket Card Jockey, the weird 3DS eShop title that bravely combines horse racing (and breeding!) with golf solitaire, my favorite game of 2016.

That endearingly odd 3DS game isn't the only one released in the last 12 months I thoroughly enjoyed, of course. Here are three others that fit the same bill:

Dragon Quest VII--Including this recently released remake of Square Enix's classic PlayStation RPG from the early 2000s probably strikes some of you as odd. After all, it's just as often annoyed me as thrilled me in the 50-plus hours I've put into it so far. (Examples of both reactions to the game can be found in this post and in this follow-up.) Still, I like its island-hopping (not to mention time-traveling) adventure more than I hate it, so I think mentioning it here is warranted. Plus, the only game I've played more in 2016 than Dragon Quest VII is Pocket Card Jockey, so it actually would be kind of weird if I ignored it in this post. I mean, you don't devote nearly 60 hours to a game that's irredeemably terrible, right?

Witch & Hero II--Although I prefer the more straightforward gameplay of the first Witch & Hero to the more convoluted gameplay of the second, that doesn't mean Witch & Hero II is a dud. On the contrary, it's sure to be a blast for anyone who enjoys retro-tinged titles that don't require a ton of time or attention. Both Witch & Hero games were inspired by the tower-defense genre, by the way, with the first title slipping players into the shoes of a knight who has to protect a petrified (as in turned to stone, not paralyzed by fear) witch, and the second one allowing players to control both adorably pixelated characters as they do their darndest to fight off swarms of similarly eye-catching baddies. (Additional musings on the sequel can be found in my "five thoughts on Witch & Hero II" write-up from March.)

Yo-Kai Watch--As has been the case with Dragon Quest VII, my mid-2016 playthrough of Yo-Kai Watch was not entirely pleasant. For the most part, though, I found myself both charmed and captivated by the latter, Pokémon-esque RPG. That's mainly due to the game's setting, yo-kai (the game's catchable characters) and battles. I grew especially fond of Yo-Kai Watch's amusingly interactive enemy encounters in the 40 or so hours I plopped into my cartridge earlier in the year--even if they did a number on my 3DS' lower screen. (For more of my thoughts on this Level-5 product, read my "three things I like and dislike about Yo-Kai Watch" post.)

Honorable mentions: The Battle Cats POP!, Final Fantasy Explorers, Kingdom's Item Shop, Return To PoploCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale and Unholy Heights

Friday, December 16, 2016

My favorite game of 2016: Pocket Card Jockey

How on earth could I name Game Freak's Pocket Card Jockey my favorite game of the year?

It was a pretty easy decision to make, actually. After all, I played this 3DS eShop game more than I played any other in 2016. Just as importantly, I enjoyed playing it more than I enjoyed playing any other game over the last 12 months.

As for what prompted me to play and enjoy Pocket Card Jockey so much in that time, that's not so easy to explain. Why? A lot of praiseworthy components are packed into the game, so summarizing them requires more than a quippy sentence or two. Still, I should be able to do it in a handful of paragraphs.

For starters, the best thing about Pocket Card Jockey--and the aspect that caused me to devote more than 60 hours to it in 2016 (and put just as many hours into the Japanese version, Solitiba, in 2015)--is its addictive nature.

Meaning, of course, it's one of those games--like, say, Tetris or solitaire or mahjong--that you pick up when you have a few free minutes, and before you know it you've sunk an hour or two (or more) into it.

Granted, Pocket Card Jockey is one part solitaire (golf solitaire, to be more specific) and one part horse breeding and racing, so I guess its addictiveness probably shouldn't have come as such a surprise. (To learn more about how this game plays, read my Pocket Card Jockey review from a few months ago.)

Another reason this title is so marvelously compelling: its soundtrack. I fully understand if you assumed a digital 3DS game filled with cards and thoroughbreds would feature subpar music, but that's far from the reality of the situation. You can thank composer Go Ichinose (of Pokémon fame) for that. The jazzy, catchy tunes he created for Pocket Card Jockey not only get you in the mood to play as long as your eyes--or, in my case, your husband--will allow, but they also worm their way into your brain to the point you'll likely find yourself humming them at the most random times.

Does Pocket Card Jockey look great, and is that also partially responsible for why I'm declaring it to be my favorite game of 2016? Obviously. The same can be said of its controls, by the way, which work well and put the 3DS' many input methods to good use.

At the end of the day, though, it's how developer Game Freak deftly combined all of the above-mentioned elements that made me choose Pocket Card Jockey as my favorite game released this year. Everything meshes so well you revel in the overall experience while playing it rather than obsess about--or even notice--individual components like graphics and music.

With all that out of the way, do yourself a favor and grab your 3DS, buy this game from the eShop (current price: $6.99--believe me, it's worth every penny) and give it a whirl. Oh, and read through my Pocket Card Jockey guide if you want to fill your trophy case.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A little heads-up about me, this blog and 2017

You may have noticed me grousing here and on Twitter about being busy and stressed out over the last couple of months.

As annoying as it likely was, there were reasons for the whining. One of them: my husband and I decided to sell our house. Another: we decided to quit our jobs.

Now we're preparing to head out on an adventure that will take us to a number of different US towns and cities and will take up most, if not all, of 2017.

Don't worry, this doesn't mean I'm killing this blog. On the contrary, I'll likely publish posts more frequently than I have in years. And not only that, but the content of those posts should be meatier--or at least more interesting and informed--thanks to the fact I'll probably play many more games than I have in years.

Speaking of which, I'm planning to introduce a couple of new columns or series to this blog in early 2017.

I'm planning to do a lot more of the above in 2017

Rather than aping my "Aural Gratification," "Manual Stimulation" or "Nice Package!" series, though, these will be more akin to my "Year of the GameBoy" posts. In other words, they'll focus on specific game systems. Can you guess which ones?

One downside to this soon-to-start 2017 sabbatical: I won't have access to all of my many systems or games for nearly a year. The bulk of my "collection" will be in storage while the hubs and I are on the road.

Still, I'm bringing a bunch of games and systems with me. Specifically, I'm bringing my Japanese and North American 3DSes, my DS Lite, my Japanese PSone (I think), my Vita and my WonderSwan Color.

I'd love to bring my PSP, but its pesky UMDs pose a serious problem for a guy who has to cram a year's worth of treasured gaming possessions into a medium-sized duffel bag.

Anyway, that's what is in store for me, this blog and my gaming habits next year. If you'd like to keep track of the non-gaming portion of this upcoming adventure of mine, by the way, follow me on Instagram.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Nice Package! (Hatena Satena, GameBoy Advance)

This obscure, Japan-only puzzler from 2001 was one of eight titles I included in my recent post full of #HudsonMonth game recommendations.

Why do I think people should play it? For starters, its gameplay is similar to that of the ever-popular Picross.

Also, the visuals and audio offered up by Hatena Satena are light years beyond what you'll see and hear in your typical Picross title. Need proof? Check out this "let's play" video of the game.

Another reason I think folks should play--or at least buy a copy of--Hatena Satena is that its packaging is stunning.

I'm especially impressed with its box cover, which can be seen in the photo above. My personal favorite element of it: the logo, which is so heavily stylized that it's nearly impossible to decipher.

I also like the cover's depictions of Hatena Satena's adorable, Super Milk Chan-esque cast of characters, of course--the part-alien, part-octopus protagonist, in particular.

Speaking of whom, his or her smiling face also can be found on the game's cartridge label.

The snapshot above offers a glimpse of Hatena Satena's instruction manual. Unfortunately, the majority of this booklet is filled with text and screenshots--much like the manual that was produced for a similarly overlooked (and sadly Japan-only) GameBoy Advance puzzler called Guru Logi Champ.

The back of Guru Logi Champ's box is a bit of a bummer, I've got to say. Why its artists and designers couldn't have continued the front cover's brilliance on the reverse is beyond me. I guess someone at Hudson decided the space had to be covered with explanatory text instead.

Have any of you played Hatena Satena? If so, please share your thoughts on it in the comments section of this post. Also feel free to share your impressions of Guru Logi Champ, if you've played that GBA puzzler.

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts about Guru Logi Champ and Hitsuji no Kimochi

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The best box art of 2016

This past year was a great one for games. It also was great for game cover art--as the following examples hopefully prove.

Culdcept Revolt (3DS)--To be totally honest, I originally chose to include this piece of box art in this post because it's awash in red. I've since come around to appreciating that the game's cast of characters aren't huddled around the middle point of the illustration, which seems to the case for most Japanese cover images these days. Add in Culdcept Revolt's slick logo, and you've got yourself an obvious winner.

Dragon Quest Builders (PS4/Vita)--What's not to love about Dragon Quest Builders' Japanese cover art? After all, it sports a top-notch logo, a charmingly stylized main image and is so sweetly colorful it could give you a toothache. Sadly, Square Enix's designers gave it an extreme makeover when prepping the game for release outside its home country.

Final Fantasy XV Deluxe Edition (PS4)--I've drooled over Yoshitaka Amano's work since I learned he was responsible for the key art for one of my all-time favorite games, Final Fantasy VI. What he conjured up for Final Fantasy XV's Deluxe Edition may not be quite as mind-blowing as those aforementioned creations, but it's still completely gorgeous and very much worthy of being mentioned in a write-up such as this.

Ikenie to Yuki no Setsuna (PS4/Vita)--This may be my favorite of all the box arts mentioned in this post. I love that it's subtle. I love that its designers weren't afraid of white space. I love the pop of color provided by the lone tree in the upper-right corner. I love the logo, which straddles the line of looking handwritten and looking like a computer-enabled font. And, oddly enough, I love the feeling of loneliness it evokes.

The Last Guardian (PS4)--Please note that I'm talking about the Japanese "First-Press Limited Edition" here. As in, the chartreuse-tinged label affixed to the cardboard outer box shown in the photo above. That's the only cover image associated with this long-awaited release I find at all appealing, by the way.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Manual Stimulation: Bomberman (PC Engine)

To be frank, there aren't a whole lot of reasons to buy, own or play the first PC Engine Bomberman title in 2016.

In fact, I can only think of three reasons at the moment: 1) you're a huge fan of this Hudson-made series, 2) you have a bunch of friends as well as a bunch of PC Engine (or TurboGrafx-16) controllers and 3) you're trying to fill out your HuCard collection and this game is the best of what's left on your dwindling wish list.

Actually, I just came up with another reason: you like Bomberman's iconic cover art, which can be seen in the scan above. (As always, click on it to take a much better and closer look at its contents.)

OK, so maybe I'm being a bit harsh. The first Bomberman isn't a complete turd, after all. Still, it pales in comparison to later titles, like Bomberman '93, Bomberman '94 and Saturn Bomberman.

That's mainly because the play fields, power-ups and enemy selection in this entry fail to display the imagination and creativity that seemingly helped produce the aforementioned sequels.

Thankfully, fun can be had despite the fact that it's all rather vanilla. Plus, nabbing a copy of this version of Bomberman these days won't cost you an arm and a leg (unlike a lot of other PC Engine or TurboGrafx-16 games) and it'll also net you the surprisingly appealing instruction manual that's displayed throughout this post.

Admittedly, the Bomberman depictions in this manual are kind of wonky, but the other illustrations on hand go a long way toward making up for it.

Also, the folks who designed Bomberman's booklet covered its handful of pages with some nice pops of color.

Could this particular PC Engine instruction manual be better, flashier, more fabulous? Of course. Even as is, though, it's got more going for it than Rainbow Islands' or Parasol Star's manual, so at least there's that.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Bikkuriman World, Dungeon Explorer, Hana Taaka Daka!? and The New Zealand Story

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Nice Package! (Guru Logi Champ, GameBoy Advance)

While researching and writing my post of #HudsonMonth game recommendations--which includes a brief mention of this unfortunately obscure puzzler--over the weekend, I came to the shocking realization that the only photo I've published of Guru Logi Champ since acquiring a copy of it in early 2010 is of its cartridge. (Here is the post in question, in case you're curious.)

That's a real shame, as not only is Guru Logi Champ one of the best GameBoy Advance titles around, but its box, cartridge and instruction manual sport some of the best cover (or label) art around.

Don't take my word for it. A single glance at the photo below is all you should need to be convinced of the greatness of this Compile-made game's packaging.

If that's not quite enough to sell you on it, check out the following:

Yes, the flaps on Guru Logi Champ's box feature depictions of the game's adorable duck-like characters.

Those same creatures are plastered across the GameBoy Advance puzzler's instruction manual, too, as you can see in the snapshot above.

Guru Logi Champ's cart label is a slight variation of the main cover art. Hey, at least there's a little difference--too many publishers of GBA games used the same designs on both surfaces, in my experience.

If you'd like to learn more about this 2001 release, by the way, you can do so by reading my Guru Logi Champ review. Also, you can ogle the most interesting pages of the game's instruction manual in this "Manual Stimulation" post. And if you'd like to see a few more photos of its box and cartridge, check out this Flickr album of mine.

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Get your piping hot #HudsonMonth game recommendations here!

In case you weren't already aware, December is "Hudson Month," according to my friend Anne Lee (of the Chic Pixel blog).

What does that mean? Basically, it means you're supposed to play one or more games made by the now-defunct developer and publisher Hudson Soft sometime this month and then blog or tweet about the experience (using #HudsonMonth in the latter scenario)--if you're willing and able, of course.

If Hudson Soft doesn't ring a bell, maybe the names of some of the company's most famous releases will: Adventure Island, Bomberman and Bonk's Adventure.

Although there's nothing wrong with playing through one of those titles or their sequels for this game-along, there are many other--and oftentimes better--options available to you, such as the following:

DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibouken (Super Famicom)--There weren't many side-scolling platformers made for the Super Famicom or SNES that can compete with Nintendo's own Super Mario World or Yoshi's Island. DoReMi Fantasy is one of the few. Greatly helping matters is this cart's gameplay, which is reminiscent of Mizubaku Daibouken's. Physical copies (loose or complete) tend to be absurdly pricey these days, but that's not a problem if you've got a Wii or Wii U, as DoReMi Fantasy can be bought from both of their online shops for just a few bucks.

Hatena Satena (GameBoy Advance)--If you like Picross or even that old standby, Minesweeper, you'll love this 2001 Japan-only GameBoy Advance title. That's because Hatena Satena combines elements of both of those popular puzzlers, and the resulting effort more than stands on its own. Even better, Hatena Satena has a funky aesthetic that puts that of its predecessors to shame. Relevant aside: Compile's Guru Logi Champ will provide you with even more Picross-y thrills should Hatena Satena not fully satisfy your craving.

Kororinpa (Wii)--This is one of those early Wii games that made full use of the system's motion-sensing controller. In fact, Kororinpa is played by twisting and turning the Wii Remote to do the same to the title's labyrinthine levels--with the goal being to roll a ball (or something resembling a ball, at least) from each stage's entrance to its exit. That's harder than it sounds, of course. Thankfully, the game's colorful backdrops and chipper background tunes help take the edge off some of its tension. Bonus: cheap copies of both the first Kororinpa and its sequel can be bought via eBay these days.

Monster Lair (TurboGrafx-16)--If you're a PC Engine aficionado, you likely know this game by its original name, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair. Whatever you call it, though, it's a great little game that's one part platformer and one part shoot 'em up. There's more to Monster Lair than its intriguing gameplay, though. The game's also a real looker thanks to its liberal use of color and its big, bold sprites. Its soundtrack is pure bliss, too. Relevant aside: I saved up and bought a pricey TurboGrafx-CD add-on as a teen solely because of this game.

Nuts & Milk (Famicom)--This single-screen platformer (don't be fooled, it's nothing like Bubble Bubble) was the first third-party game to be released for the Famicom. Despite that, and despite the fact that Nuts & Milk is just as fun as many classics from the same era, maker Namco never brought it to North America. Thankfully, it's easy enough to play in 2016 and beyond no matter where in the world you live. Actual carts are both abundant and cheap (on eBay and the like), or of course you can go the old "boot up the ROM" route. (If you own a Japanese 3DS, Wii or Wii U, you can buy Nuts & Milk from that region's Virtual Console. Unfortunately, the same can't be said if you own a recent Nintendo system that originates from North America or Europe.)

Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom (NES)--All you really need to know about this 1991 release: it's an old-school point-and-click adventure starring anthropomorphic pieces of produce. That alone should make you sit down and play it, in my opinion. If that's not enough, consider its grin-inducing visuals and its jaunty soundtrack. Also, Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom can be picked up quickly and cheaply via the Wii eShop if you have that Nintendo console or the Wii U. Why the higher-ups at Konami (which now owns Hudson's intellectual properties) have yet to slip the game onto any region's 3DS eShop is beyond me.

Saturn Bomberman (Saturn)--If you play just one of the games discussed here, let it be this one. In my humble opinion, this is the best, most enjoyable Bomberman game to ever see the light of day. Plus, its graphics are so adroitly drawn and animated they'll make you tear up. As for Saturn Bomberman's music, I can't say it'll make you cry, but it'll definitely help set the mood for a properly thorough play session. If you're without a Sega Saturn and a copy of this game, by the way, you can buy the next best thing, Bomberman '94 for the PC Engine, from the Wii eShop or the PlayStation Store.

Star Parodier (PC Engine)--I fell in love with this overhead, vertical-scrolling shoot 'em up the second I found out one of its selectable ships was a PC Engine system that takes down oncoming enemies with HuCards and CDs and deflects their projectiles using controllers that double as as shields. (You can choose to pilot Bomberman, too, curiously enough.) Sadly, that's about the wackiest thing you can say about Star Parodier. The rest of its content is quite a bit less intriguing than similar games like Parodius and Pop'n TwinBee. Still, this Super CD-ROM2 title is well worth checking out if you're a fan of the shmup genre in particular or cute games in general.

Are you a fan of a Hudson Soft-made or -published game not discussed here? Let me--and others--know about it in the comments section below.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Five overlooked Japanese GameBoy games you need to play as soon as possible

Of all the "five overlooked games you need to play as soon as possible" posts I've already published here and will publish in the coming weeks and months, this is sure to be the easiest to write.

After all, as much as I love the FamicomPC Engine and PlayStation, and as much as I know about their extensive game libraries, I know quite a bit more about the GameBoy's catalog at this point--especially when it comes to that portable's more obscure titles.

Speaking of which, the following five carts are among the GameBoy's most painfully ignored, in the opinion of yours truly. All are Japanese, but don't let that keep you from giving them a try. You don't need to know a lick of the language to beat any of them.

Astro Rabby--Before I say anything else, I have to warn you that one small aspect of this Cyclone System-developed game will make you want to rip out your hair. Thankfully, it can be ignored. Also, the rest of what's on offer in Astro Rabby--forced-scrolling, overhead action that puts players in the shoes (paws?) of a robotic bunny who hops through space in search of the stolen parts that'll allow him to fly--is enjoyable enough that it more than compensates for the bitter taste left by the above-mentioned bonus rounds. Still not convinced its worth your while? Boot up Astro Rabby simply because its interstellar stages are littered with Super Mario Bros.-esque question blocks.

Burning Paper--Of all the games discussed here, I consider this one to be the most disappointingly overlooked. That's mainly because Burning Paper's gameplay is unlike that of any other GameBoy title I've played. Hell, it's unlike that of any other game I've played, period. Imagine an inverted Space Invaders mixed with a dash of Qix (or even Patchwork Heroes) and you'll be close to understanding what it's like to play Burning Paper. Unfortunately, whatever image you conjure up won't let you hear this old LOZC G. Amusements-published cart's far-better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be soundtrack, so you really have to buy a copy of the game (or boot up a ROM) to get the full experience.

Noobow--This slow-paced puzzler-platformer is the perfect pick-up for someone who wants a unique portable title that won't tax their reflexes. In fact, you're never even forced to time a jump à la Mario while playing Noobow. Here, all you do is move the titular character left and right using your GameBoy's d-pad. As you do that to work your way through each of this Irem-made title's stages, you encounter various obstacles and objects. A single press of the system's A or B buttons generally prompts Noobow to pick up whatever object is in front of him, and another press prompts him to set it down or use it in some fashion. Successfully reaching the end of each level is more challenging than you probably thinking, especially when you consider this game was aimed at kids.

Painter Momopie--As far as Pac-Man clones go, Painter Momopie is neither the best nor the worst in the world. Still, I recommend checking out this Sigma Entertainment-developed release because: a) its cast of characters is surprisingly appealing for such an under-the-radar title (especially the titular Momopie--I mean, what's not to love about a broom-toting witch?), b) its soundtrack is wistful in a way most game music isn't and c) its gameplay tweaks the aforementioned quarter-muncher's just enough to make things seem fresh and interesting. I'm also pretty fond of the quaint cottage-like environs that double as Painter Momopie's stages.

Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe: Ohanabatake wa Dai-Panic--Just like Astro Rabby and Burning Paper, it's not easy to explain Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe's gameplay in a quippy sentence or two. Actually, I'm not sure I can explain it in an entire paragraph. Thankfully, Hardcore Gaming 101 devoted an entire page to this Technos-made head-scratcher. All you really need to know, though, is it's a unique experience that's well suited to the GameBoy hardware and screen. Also, its angelic protagonist and cadre of baddies (if they can be called that) are beyond cute.

Enjoy this post? Keep your eyes peeled for a similar one in the coming weeks that'll shine a light on five overlooked North American GameBoy games I think you should play as soon as possible.

See also: five favorite pieces of Japanese GameBoy box art and five favorite pieces of North American GameBoy box art

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Five favorites: North American GameBoy box art

A couple of years ago, I published a post that highlighted five of my favorite pieces of Japanese GameBoy box art.

This post, of course, focuses on five of my favorite pieces of North American GameBoy box art.

Balloon Kid--I know some of you will look at Balloon Kid's cover art and declare it to be an abomination. And I can understand that--to an extent. Its depiction of the game's pigtailed protagonist is a bit odd, to say the least. The illustration of the giant, bug-eyed fish that's attempting to eat Alice (the aforementioned heroine) is even worse. Still, I like the overall image, thanks in large part to its liberal and adept use of color. I'm also a big fan of the game's bold and subtly creative logo. (Bonus: the entirety of Balloon Kid's instruction manual can be seen here.)

BurgerTime Deluxe--This is one of the few instances where I prefer a GameBoy title's North American box art to its Japanese counterpart. (You can see the Japanese BurgerTime Deluxe's cover in this old post.) Not only that, but I think this particular example of packaging design may be my favorite of all the ones included in this post. I want to say the logo is the star here, but the illustrations of Peter Pepper (he's the guy in the funny-looking white hat) and BurgerTime Deluxe's angry, anthropomorphic ingredients are pretty stellar, too. I even like the purple backdrop that supports the whole she-bang.

Dig Dug--This selection will raise a few eyebrows, I'm sure. It's quite a bit darker than and nowhere near as cute as what most people would expect to see splashed across the cover of a GameBoy port of this Namco arcade classic. That's probably a big part of why I like it so much, to be honest. There's more to it than that, though. I also appreciate the skewed perspective that puts one of the game's iconic Pooka enemies front and center. Admittedly, the protagonist's mouth-tongue-whatever-it-is freaks me out a tad, but I'm willing to overlook it for the rest of what's on offer here.

Mole Mania--This piece of box art really looks like something the designers at Nintendo would cook up, doesn't it? It's stuffed to the gills with cute characters, it's positively doused with pastels and it's got an adorable logo plastered across its top half. Could the artists who created it have removed the main mole's unibrow? No doubt. Still, Mole Mania's cover is a keeper even with the little guy's questionable grooming habits on display. By the way, if you'd like to see how this game's North American packaging stacks up to its Japanese packaging, check out this post.

Wario Land--Full disclosure: I've barely played any of the first four Wario Land games. I can't even tell you why that's the case. I guess I've just always gotten my fill from Nintendo's Mario-centric platformers. Anyway, the Wario Land series' covers certainly aren't responsible for me ignoring its games. The one made for this first entry is a knockout, wouldn't you agree? Some may say it's busy, and I can't (completely) argue against that, but I personally think such a bombastic design works in this particular context.

So, what do you think of these examples of North American GameBoy box art? Do you like them, too--or do you hate them?

If it's the latter and if you can think of pieces of North American GameBoy box art you prefer, let me know about them in the comments section of this post.