Friday, September 16, 2016

Help me solve the mystery of Bubble Bobble's many Famicom Disk System releases

When the NES port of Taito's classic quarter-muncher Bubble Bobble hit North American store shelves back in late 1988, its PCB and ROM were packed inside the standard gray cartridges that are now considered iconic.

The game's Japanese release, however, was quite different. First, it happened a year earlier--just before Halloween in 1987. Second, the game wasn't sold on one of the brilliantly colorful carts that defined Nintendo's Famicom on that side of the pond. Instead, it was sold on one of the banana-yellow diskettes that defined the Japan-only Famicom Disk System.

That's just part of the story, though. How so? Well, most people who have any interest in Bubble Bobble or Nintendo's 8-bit consoles know that Taito offered Japanese consumers an undeniably fabulous limited edition version of the game.

This LE, showcased in the photo below, included a copy of the game and a larger-than-usual instruction manual--both of which were stuffed within a soft plastic pencil case that featured the Bubble Bobble logo and adorable depictions of main characters Bub and Bob.

But that's not the only version of Bubble Bobble that was made available to Famicom Disk System owners. Another was included in a thick plastic case (it's nearly twice as thick as the typical FDS case) and came packaged with a manual that's smaller--and, uh, pinker--than the one made for the above-mentioned LE.

The mystery I'm looking to solve here is this: was this last version of Bubble Bobble FDS released alongside the LE as that region's "standard edition"? And if so, why do copies of it rarely pop up on auction sites like eBay or even in online photos?

In fact, I've come across so few of them over the years that I've long assumed they were bootlegs. I'm now pretty sure they're official, but that doesn't answer the questions I posed a couple of paragraphs ago.

Is it possible more limited editions were produced for Bubble Bobble's Famicom Disk System port than standard ones? Or is there some other explanation to all of this?

If you have an idea--even just a guess--as to what that may be, please share it in the comments section below.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I'm really looking forward to Dragon Quest Builders; how about you?

I wasn't sure what to think when Dragon Quest Builders was first unveiled last summer. I love the whole Dragon Quest aesthetic, but I haven't exactly been bowled over by Minecraft or its many pretenders, so it took me a good long while to realize I could have a blast with Builders.

If I hadn't come around yet, I'm pretty sure the game's latest trailer (below) would've done the trick.

I'm especially enamored with Dragon Quest Builders' character and creature models. The town-building and resource-collecting aspects look interesting, too, although I'm still not entirely sold on them. (I liked, but didn't love, that component of Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley, and I'm somewhat worried I'll be similarly underwhelmed by it here.)

How about all of you? Are any of you planning to buy either the PS4 or Vita version of Dragon Quest Builders upon its North American release on Oct. 11? If so, which version will you get?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Who else is stoked about SaGa: Scarlet Grace after seeing its first real trailer?

I've anxiously awaited the release of the latest entry in Square's oddball RPG series, SaGa, since it was first announced last September.

The game in question, of course, is SaGa: Scarlet Grace, and that's all fans like myself have known about the in-the-works adventure until now. Other than the fact that it's being prepped for the Vita, I mean.

Specifically, its release date has been an unknown quantity for ages. In fact, a lot of folks have declared the game dead thanks to the lack of information in this area.

Thankfully, that detail is revealed in SaGa: Scarlet Grace's first real trailer, below. (If you don't have the time or energy to make to the end of the teaser, the date is Dec. 15.)

Many more details are passed along in the video above as well. In particular, it showcases a number of Scarlet Grace's characters. It also offers a few glimpses at the game's battle scenes.

The highlight for me: the success with which Akitoshi Kawazu and team have been able to translate illustrator Tomomi Kobayashi's character designs into polygonal form.

Speaking of which, I'm planning to choose the beautiful Taria at the beginning of my first playthrough of SaGa: Scarlet Grace.

This obviously means I'm going to pre-order the game as soon as I'm able to do so. How about you? Also, I don't suppose some of you are looking to buy the mind-blowing $180 limited edition that'll be sold via

Monday, September 12, 2016

Shall We Do It? (Great Greed, Kingdom's Item Shop, Onyanko Town and SaGa Frontier)

I know it's no longer surprising to hear me say I haven't spent much time playing games in recent days and weeks.

Unfortunately, it's the truth--and has been for a while now. That's mainly because I went from being acceptably busy to ridiculously busy earlier this year when I was promoted at work (from senior writer to managing editor). Before, I pretty much never brought work home with me; now, I work basically every weekend and also some weeknights.

And when I'm not working, my attention's often pulled away from playing games to take care of all those boring things nearly everyone has to do on a daily basis--cleaning the house, cooking dinner, exercising, yadda yadda yadda.

Oh, and I have to maintain this blog.

I was able to shove most of that aside just long enough the last two weekends to put in some time with the following titles. Keep reading to hear what I think of those experiences.

Great Greed (GameBoy)--Until a couple of years ago (right before I bought a copy of Bitamina Oukoku Monogatari, the Japanese version of this portable RPG), I was completely unaware of Namco's Great Greed. Which is too bad, as I now know I would've loved working my way through it as a teen. (It was released in Japan in 1992 and crossed the pond the next year.)

Why? The main reason is the battles. They're as snappy as you're ever going to get in a turn-based RPG on the GameBoy. All of them are one-on-one tussles (the game's protagonist versus a single enemy) and they move along at a nice pace thanks to the fact that commands are mapped to the system's A and B buttons as well as its control pad. (A prompts you to attack, B causes you to dodge and the d-pad casts magic.)

On top of that, Great Greed has a surprisingly stunning soundtrack. And then there's its undeniable weirdness. Some of the themes and other things you'll encounter while playing it: time travel, flan enemies, environmental pollution, corrupt politicians and dungeons set in abandoned record factories. In other words, it's basically the best game in existence.

Kingdom's Item Shop (3DS)--I've got to be honest: I paid little attention to this ASOBOX- and PUMO-developed game between the time publisher Circle Entertainment announced and released it. In fact, it wasn't until someone asked me (in the comments section of this recent post) if I'd bought Kingdom's Item Shop that I was made aware of it.

That push prompted me to do a little digging, which brought me to the screenshot above. As soon as I saw that, I was hooked. That's because the scene in question reminds me of an old PC Engine CD title I've had my eye on for years: Monster Maker. Granted, the games are nothing alike--Kingdom's Item Shop is more of a store-running sim with some fun, fast-paced battles thrown in for good measure, while Monster Maker is a full-on, traditional RPG--but that's never stopped me from salivating over a game before.

Anyway, Kingdom's Item Shop is a whole heap of fun. There's no question it has that "mobile game" feel, but at least the feeling here is of quality rather than "cash in." Those fights I mentioned a couple of sentences ago are the highlight, by the way. They're not what you're used to, though; in this adventure, you give commands to for-hire combatants and then race around the battlefield picking up items and ingredients dropped by your foes.

Then you take your haul back to your shop and use those components to concoct enticing products--drinks, food dishes, weapons, clothes and more--for the titular kingdom's inhabitants to snap up. There may be more to the experience than that, but for the moment, that's it as far as I'm concerned. And I'm more than OK with that.

Onyanko Town (Famicom)--I've been curious about this Micronics-made and Pony Canyon-published cartridge for ages now thanks to its adorable box art. Why I waited until a couple of weekends ago to play it for the first time, I can't say.

Am I glad I've finally experienced it? In a way, yes. I say that because Oynanko Town's graphics, while simple, are miles better than what I'd expect from a developer that's never before pinged my radar. (I especially like the sprite of the dress-wearing mama cat that serves as the game's protagonist.) Its gameplay, which reminds of Namco's classic Pac-Man, also surprises.

On the other hand, Onyanko Town is far from a perfect game. While the main backing tune is catchy, it's also piercing and wears out its welcome after just a few minutes. Even worse is the slowdown that regularly brings the action on offer here to a crawl. That's a big deal because the point of the game is hunt down your baby kitten and then bring him (or is it a her?) back home without being accosted by the many dogs and butchers who roam each of the cart's expansive stages.

The latter issue is especially disappointing, as I could see Onyanko Town being held up as a treasured classic, or at least a hidden gem, if it weren't sometimes so frustratingly slow.

SaGa Frontier (PlayStation)--It's been a long time since I've played this wackadoodle, late-1990s RPG. So why am I returning to it now? Because my friend finchiekins suggested it.

OK, so there was more to the decision than that. After all, SaGa Frontier is one of my all-time favorite games. What can I say? I adore its absolutely bonkers, combo-filled battle scenes, which did the overkill thing way before Disgaea and its ilk entered the picture. Also, its Kenji Ito-composed soundtrack is beyond fabulous and deserves to be discussed right alongside the music created for two other Squaresoft greats, Final Fantasy V and VI. Finally, there's something undeniably cool about being able to play through an RPG multiple times using different protagonists.

Have SaGa Frontier's graphics stood the test of time? Hardly, but let's be honest: a lot of people considered it hideous when it first saw the light of day. In that context, I'd say it's no more ugly today than it was back then. Plus, I've always found its character sprites and (somewhat poorly) pre-rendered enemies rather appealing. Even if I didn't, I'm pretty sure I'd still look at SaGa Frontier lovingly thanks its many other positive traits.

See also: previous 'Shall We Do It?' posts