Saturday, September 10, 2016

Nice Package! (Son Son II, PC Engine)

As is true of a surprising number of PC Engine games, I turned up my nose at Son Son II for a good long time before coming around to it.

Which is strange, as in many respects it's the kind of game I usually fall in love with at first sight. After all, it's a platformer, its protagonist is cute as can be and it's slathered in bright, beautiful colors.

So why wasn't I a fan of this 1989 release until recently? One odd reason is that I used to really dislike games with HUDs or status bars that cover large swaths of the screen, which is very much the case for Son Son II. (To see what I mean, check out a few of screenshots over at

Thankfully, I was able to put those negative feelings aside when I gave the game a second chance a year or two ago. And during that particular playthrough I came to the conclusion that Son Son II's actually pretty great.

Why? Although I described it as a platformer earlier, it is not a straightforward one. The focus here is on exploring each stage's long, winding and secret-filled maps. That makes the experience a lot more interesting than your typical side-scroller.

In the case of Son Son II, it also makes the experience quite a bit tougher than it would be otherwise, as the game is the opposite of a cakewalk.

Still, it's very much worth playing and owning. The latter's especially true when you consider Son Son II's packaging--i.e., its cover art and HuCard label.

Speaking of the former, which can be seen in this post's first photo, it's easily one of my favorite examples of PC Engine cover art.

It gives potential buyers and players a great idea as to what they're going to see and deal with when they boot it up on their trusty PC Engines.

I've got to admit I'm a bit disappointed the artists and designers at NEC Interchannel (the game's publisher; Capcom developed it) simply copied and pasted Son Son II's main illustrated onto its HuCard label.

At least they decided to change things up while producing its instruction manual--a sample page of which is showcased in the snapshot above.

Don't worry, I'll show off the rest of it in an upcoming "Manual Stimulation" post. I'll warn you now, though, that Son Son II's manual, while lovely, is distressingly short. Oh, well, anything is better than what we get these days, wouldn't you agree?

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts about Hana Taaka Daka!?, KiKi KaiKai and Parodius Da!

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Aural Gratification #1: 'Salad' from Panic Restaurant (NES)

Along with Great Greed (GameBoy) and SaGa Frontier (PlayStation), I've spent a good amount of time playing Panic Restaurant for the NES in the last week or two.

This isn't my first experience with Taito's food-centric platformer, mind you. In fact, I've been a fan of the erstwhile Wanpaku Kokkun no Gourmet World for ages--since the year or so after its release.

Although I like many aspects of Panic Restaurant--its spot-on visuals, thematic dedication and pinpoint controls among them--I think its soundtrack may be the best of the bunch.

At the very least, the tune that plays throughout Panic Restaurant's third stage, "Salad," stands out for boldly bucking the trend of cheery, boppy tracks that support every other level.

In particular, I love how this track complements the nearly barren kitchen that serves as the stage's setting. It's echo-y and lilting and even kind of chilly--all of which go hand in hand with the cool hues that coat the surrounding environment.

Are any of you also fans of this piece of game music? Or maybe you're fans of the title that contains it? Either way, share the love in the comments section that follows.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Manual Stimulation (Pac-Land, PC Engine)

I've said it before--or at least I've suggested it before, such as in this recent post--but it's worth repeating: Pac-Land doesn't get enough love.

That's not to say there aren't reasons for that lack of affection and attention. After all, the 1990 TurboGrafx-16 port of this Namco-made Pac-Man platformer, originally released in the arcades five years earlier, was roundly ignored on this side of the pond.

The TG-16's dearth of sales had a lot to do with that, of course, as did the game's age by that time. Also, Pac-Land in any form could be described as antiquated, difficult and repetitive.

Still, I think it has just enough positive attributes to be worth checking out if you're a fan of the genre. The main ones: its graphics, which look like something pulled from a Saturday morning cartoon, and its infectious soundtrack.

It also has a pretty great instruction manual, as you'll see if you continue scrolling through this write-up. Granted, that's not going to help you enjoy playing the PC Engine version of Pac-Land, but it should help you feel better about owning a copy (if you happen to buy one, that is).

The highlight of Pac-Land's booklet, in my humble opinion: its abundance of color. Although I've liked a lot of black-and-white PC Engine manuals over the years--the ones made for Don Doko Don, Mizubaku Daibouken and The New Zealand Story are good examples--I usually prefer a bit of color.

Well, there isn't a single black-and-white spread in this particular manual. Hell, there's only a couple of black-and-white illustrations--both of which can be found in the scan below.

Every other page of the Pac-Land instruction booklet features illustrations awash in color. Some of them aren't of the highest quality, mind you, but as my mom's always told me, nothing's perfect.

Thankfully, most of the art that's on offer here is nice enough that no one should regret spending $10 to $20 to obtain it (along with the game's HuCard and outer case, naturally).

Now that I've wasted a number of sentences discussing and dissecting the quality of the art that appears in the Pac-Land manual, let's change course a bit and chat about the theme that surrounds that art. Specifically, I'm talking about the game's odd "alpine aesthetic," for lack of a better phrase.

Don't see it? Look at every single depiction of Pac-Man in the scans shared in this post. The old pellet-chomper sports some sort of mountaineering hat in all of them. He also spends a surprising amount of time leaping from log to log and traipsing through forests and fields in this side-scrolling adventure.

That's just a side note to the rainbow-swathed drawings and screenshots scattered throughout this booklet, though.

And although I can't say I like them more than the ones included in another Namco PC Engine instruction manual, for Valkyrie no Densetsu, they're better than what you'll find in less thrilling manuals--Parasol Star's is an unfortunate example--so you won't hear me complaining anytime soon.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts