Saturday, April 29, 2017

Welcome to WonderSwan World: Rainbow Islands Putty's Party

Before you get too excited about this portable reimagining of Taito's classic quarter-muncher--and Bubble Bobble sequel--from 1987, I have to share the following, potentially buzz-killing details:

* A company called DigitalWare developed this version of Rainbow Islands. Besides Putty's Party, the only other releases on its resume are a small handful of "Simple" series games for the PS2 and DS. (In other words, neither legendary developer Fukio Mitsuji nor anyone else at Taito had a hand in this "port.")

* Less damning than the above, but still plenty relevant to this conversation: a company called MegaHouse published Putty's Party (in 2000). The only other games it helped bring to the masses are another WonderSwan game (Tetsujin 28-gou) and a trio of fairly random, Japan-only DS titles.

* Unlike basically every other Rainbow Islands game around, Putty's Party is rendered in black, white and a few shades of gray.

* As far as I'm aware, Putty's Party doesn't include all 10 of the arcade original's islands.

Sorry for that last "as far as I'm aware" bit, but up 'til now I've only been able to complete the game's first four islands (Darius, Doh's, Insect and Monster)--which, intriguingly, can be tackled in any order.

Unfortunately, simply finishing those islands doesn't cause any new ones to appear. My gut tells me more are revealed if you manage to nab all seven collectible diamonds on each of the initial isles, but I can't say that with any certainty since I've yet to accomplish that far-from-simple feat.

As for what I think of the stages I have experienced, well, let's start with a positive impression. An obvious one is that Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party is played with the WonderSwan system held sideways, so its screen is oriented vertically. That may sound gimmicky, but it's not. In this game, as in others made for Bandai's would-be GameBoy competitor, it lets you see quite a bit more of the playfield than you would if everything were depicted horizontally.

Speaking of which, the playfields in Putty's Party--as well as every other visual aspect of the game, really--are surprisingly impressive. I want to call them "arcade perfect" besides their lack of color, but I'm not sure that's technically true. Regardless, they look better than most Rainbow Islands ports of the time. (I'm also rather fond of the manga-inspired intermission screens that follow every stage, I've got to say. They're completely static, but they're also well-drawn and add a welcome bit of flair to this release.)

One caveat I've got to add to the above: the protagonist Putty's sprite isn't quite up to snuff, in my opinion.

Another component of Putty's Party that disappoints, at least at first, is its controls. I've always thought the arcade original seemed kind of stiff, especially while executing jumps, but this WonderSwan version feels even more rigid. It's also noticeably slower than its quarter-munching predecessor, which is sure to increase the annoyance felt by some players.

Here's the thing, though: after a while, and after accepting its existence, the stiff slowness of Putty's Party stopped bothering me. That's not to say I now "like" it, mind you, but I also don't hate it to the point of wanting to smash my WonderSwan Color to smithereens, so I'll call it a wash, if not exactly a plus.

I've also come around to another of this port's quirks--that being how the third (of four) level of each island offers up gameplay that's subtly and strangely different from what Rainbow Islands veterans are used to encountering. For example, water starts flooding Insect Island's third stage basically from the word go, adding an element of tension that usually only pops up if you dillydally or otherwise take too long to reach an area's summit. The third stage of Doh's Island, on the other hand, requires you to expose a secret door that acts as an exit rather than climb to a giant treasure chest in the sky to escape.

Although curious, I wouldn't describe either of these additions as entirely welcome. Still, they provide a unique take on Rainbow Islands' traditional gameplay, so I it's hard to discount them completely.

Given all of the above, I'd warn against spending too much money on a copy of this game if you're at all uncertain you'll enjoy it due to its eccentricities. (I can't help but assume the majority of WonderSwan owners will not respond to them as favorably as I have.)

That said, if you've, say, spent time with Nintendo's Ice Climber and it didn't cause you to put a controller through a wall, and if you aren't horrified by the idea of a colorless Rainbow Islands, you could do worse than add Putty's Party to your WonderSwan collection.

See also: my first 'Welcome to WonderSwan World' post about the WonderSwan Color system

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My 10 Most Influential Games: Final Fantasy V (Super Famicom)

I've got to say, I had a hard time deciding whether I should write about Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IV or Final Fantasy V here.

Why? Well, as far as the original Final Fantasy is concerned, it was the first console RPG that really grabbed me. I played Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest now days) before Final Fantasy and liked it well enough, but I preferred Square's effort to Enix's in almost every way.

Specifically, I liked that Final Fantasy provided players with four-person parties--a far cry from Dragon Warrior's solo mission. Also, players could assign classes or "jobs" to party members at the start of the former, while they were stuck with a seemingly generic "hero" in the latter.

Add in Final Fantasy's visible weapons and spells--neither are present in Dragon Warrior/Quest--and it should be easy to understand why younger me found Square's 8-bit RPG so fascinating.

Still, I wouldn't say Final Fantasy turned me into an "RPG fan." Sure, I liked the genre a whole lot more after I played through that game than I did before I played through it, but platformers and shmups continued to be my go-to genre until, well, the release of Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy II in my neck of the woods).

Speaking of Final Fantasy IV, although there's no question it pushed me further into "RPG fan" territory, it didn't really shape my taste in games--role-playing games or otherwise--moving forward.

Yes, I adored the first 16-bit entry in Squaresoft's Final Fantasy series, but if I'm allowed to be honest, it mostly just beefed up the superficial components of earlier Final Fantasy games. And in terms of its gameplay, it could be argued that Final Fantasy IV regressed a bit (or a lot) from its Japan-only, Famicom-based predecessor.

Final Fantasy V, on the other hand, seemed to my teenage self to be a real evolution from the titles that came before it. OK, so I couldn't fully understand its story at the time, but it resonated with me all the same. I especially appreciated how it featured a character--Faris Scherwiz--that defied gender roles.

I also found myself in awe of Final Fantasy V's soundtrack, which has always struck me as being more wistful than that of your average RPG.

This game's story and soundtrack weren't what influenced my taste in video games, though. So which aspects did? The best example I can offer up is its expansive job system. Final Fantasy III featured a similar (albeit less impressive) system, but I didn't play it until the DS remake was released in North America in 2006.

As such, I considered Final Fantasy V's pick-and-choose job system mind-blowing when I encountered it in the early 1990s. (It was one of the first games I ever imported from Japan. I still have that copy, by the way; it's showcased in the photos seen throughout this post.)

I especially loved how the Final Fantasy V job system allowed you to mix and match classes and skills. Want one of your party members to be a White Mage who can wield an axe? Spend some time as a Berserker until you've gained the "equip axes" ability and then make use of it after you switch over to the White Mage job.

Or maybe you want someone in your party who can use a pair of bells in battle? Have him or her take on the Ninja job until they've learned the "dual-wield" ability and then enable it as a Freelancer--especially after they've acquired, say, a Rune Chime and a Tinkerbell.

Although I can't quite say an RPG needs to have a highly customizable job system to attract my attention and otherwise appeal to me in a post-Final Fantasy V world, I can say without hesitation that my shortlist of favorite role-playing games is filled with titles that fit that bill. (A few cases in point: Bravely DefaultDragon Quest IXFinal Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light and Final Fantasy Tactics.)

Another way in which Final Fantasy V helped shape my taste in games: it solidified my love of RPGs that feature bevy of weapons that are visible in battle.

I first became aware of that interest after I acquired the coral sword in the first Final Fantasy, appropriately enough, but it wasn't until I experienced Final Fantasy V's plethora of axes, bells, hammers and harps that it blossomed into a full-on obsession.

Were any of you similarly influenced or enchanted by this 1992 release? If so, share why and how it impacted you in the comments section of this post.

See also: previous '10 Most Influential Games' posts about The 7th Guest, Balloon Kid and Bubble Bobble

Friday, April 21, 2017

In honor of the 28th anniversary of GameBoy's Japanese release, here are a handful of my all-time favorite GB games

A little birdie (OK, so it was this NeoGAF thread) told me this morning that the Nintendo GameBoy launched in Japan 28 years ago today.

If math isn't your forte, that means the Japanese GameBoy was released all the way back on April 21, 1989.

Given my love for Nintendo's first portable game system (see my "Year of the GameBoy" posts for a taste of how I feel about this handheld), I thought I'd publish a post that discusses some of my favorite GameBoy titles in honor of today's milestone.

Astro Rabby--This choice is sure to raise a few eyebrows, as I know folks who think it's a bit of a turd. Still, I really enjoy playing it--flaws (like its hair-pullingly frustrating bonus levels) and all. Some of that enjoyment is derived from the uniqueness of Astro Rabby's gameplay--which puts you in the paws of a robotic rabbit that hops through space via a top-down, auto-scrolling stages in search of "power-up parts"--I have to say, although I also have to say it's simply a lot fun to soar through this 1990 release's levels while its peppy soundtrack plays in the background. For more on why I like this game so much, read my Astro Rabby review. Also, see my "Year of the GameBoy" post about it for photos of its box, cartridge and instruction manual.

Balloon Kid--By now, it should be clear that I not only love this Balloon Fight follow-up (it's actually known as Balloon Fight GB in Japan), but that I've loved it since it was first released in North America 27 years ago. After all, I recently published a post that explained why Balloon Kid helped shape my taste in video games. It's far from perfect, of course--the scrolling is choppy and there are only eight stages to complete--but it's such a nice change of pace from the typical platforming fodder that fills the GameBoy's library that its imperfections are barely worth mentioning. To learn more about this game's pros and cons, check out my Balloon Kid review.

Bitamina Oukoku Monogatari--True story: not only did I not play this Namco-made RPG back when it first hit store shelves in my neck of the woods (as Great Greed), but I wasn't even aware of its existence at that time. Now that I've played through a good chunk of it (you can read some of my thoughts on the experience in these old posts), I'd actually go so far as to call Bitamina Oukoku Monogatari one of my favorite role-playing games from that era. It's beyond antiquated, and the text in the North American version (I can't comment on the text in the Japanese original) is so stilted and simple it's often difficult to decipher what's being said, but its breezy, one-on-one battles are such a blast and its soundtrack is so blissful that these missteps are easy to overlook.

Burning Paper--How this game has flown under the radar for so long--it first hit Japanese store shelves in early 1993--is beyond me. I guess its pedigree (for lack of a better word) could have something to do with it. A company called Pixel developed Burning Paper, while LOZC G. Amusements published it--and neither had even slightly pinged my radar before I first became aware of this game. Regardless, I think it deserves a spot on every write-up ever published about GameBoy games you need to play thanks to its arcade-y, Patchwork Heroes-esque action and its shimmering background music. Also worth noting: Burning Paper's beautiful packaging.

Donkey Kong--I have to imagine a lot of GameBoy owners passed on buying and playing this title back in the day because they assumed it was just a black-and-white port of Nintendo's classic quarter-muncher of the same name. That describes the cart's first few levels, but after that this portable entry in the Donkey Kong series reveals its true colors as a puzzler-platformer of nearly unrivaled quality. Although I'd of course recommend picking up a physical copy of Donkey Kong for GameBoy (due in part to its pretty packaging) as a result, a digital copy (available via the 3DS eShop) will only set you back $3.99 at the moment, so go that route if you're no longer in the market for actual GB carts.

Osawagase! Penguin Boy--Much like Burning Paper, above, this Natsume-developed title features gameplay that appears to have been inspired by Qix. Don't worry if you find that Taito product to be a bore; Osawagase! Penguin Boy (Amazing Penguin outside of Japan) is a far zippier affair. It's also far cuter, thanks to the beret-wearing penguin that serves as its protagonist. In the end, if you're looking for a GameBoy cartridge that'll entertain you whenever you've got a couple of free minutes, or if you're any kind of Pac-Man or Pengo fan (both of are represented here, along with the aforementioned Qix), you'll want to give Osawagase! Penguin Boy a try as soon as you're able.

Painter Momopie--Speaking of Pac-Man, this Sigma Entertainment effort easily could be described as a clone of that world-conquering Namco classic. In fact, I did just that in a recent post about my five favorite Pac-Man clones. Painter Momopie sets itself apart from everybody's favorite dot-chomper, however, by basically inverting its predecessor's gameplay (your goal is to fill each screen--with paint--rather than empty them) and by being set in what looks to be a witch's home or academy. (Do you know Japanese? You'd help me immensely if you checked out the first page of the Painter Momopie instruction manual and then educated me on its backstory.) Curious to learn more about this Japan-only release from 1990? Read my Painter Momopie review. Also, ogle the game's packaging here.

Pitman--This may well be the best game Asmik ever developed or published. Even more impressive: Pitman (Catrap in the West) is one of the best, most interesting titles released for the GameBoy during the system's 14-year reign. If you've never played it, it's an action-puzzler that sports adorable graphics and animation as well as brain-busting gameplay. Bonus: Pitman's box, cartridge and instruction manual are every bit as precious as its in-game visuals.

Shippo de Bun--The good news about Shippo de Bun, which was called Tail 'Gator when it was released in North America: it's yet another top-shelf GameBoy title that is unlike pretty much every other game made for Nintendo's first handheld. The bad news: even loose cartridges go for a pretty penny these days. (Don't even think about buying a complete-in-box copy unless you're a serious collector or you're willing to part with a good amount of money.) So, your best bet, should you want to become acquainted with the single-screen platformer-esque action of Tail 'Gator or Shippo de Bun, is to play it using an emulator. I know that won't be the most appealing option for many of you, but I'd recommend it anyway given the compelling nature of this Natsume GB cart.

Do you have any favorite GameBoy games (Japanese or otherwise)? If so, share your thoughts about them in the comments section of this post.

See also: 'Some of my favorite SNES games in honor of the system's 25th anniversary' and 'Seven ways you can celebrate the 27th anniversary of the PC Engine's release'

Monday, April 17, 2017

I'm never again selling a game system via eBay and here's why

If you've occasionally poked your head into the comments section of this blog or followed me on Twitter for any length of time, you've likely heard me say I never sell consoles or games once they're in my grubby little hands.

Although that isn't far from the truth (for the last decade or so, I've only sold doubles of games or games I really dislike and know I'll never want to play again), I made a few exceptions earlier this year when my husband and I decided to pack up our stuff, sell our home, quit our jobs and travel the country for the next eight to 12 months. (For more on this situation, read this post.)

One exception involved me auctioning off one of my 3DS systems via eBay.

I had five at the time (embarrassing, I know), and I rarely used this particular one, so I figured, "why not sell it to someone who would actually enjoy it?"

Before I continue, I need to say that this 3DS basically was in brand-new condition. I'd only played it a few times and, as such, there were no marks or scratches of any kind on its screen or body. The system's outer box and its contents were similarly pristine.

Anyway, someone recently bought it. Thrilling! I quickly packed it up--protecting it as much as I was able with bubble wrap and the like--and sent it on its way.

Nine days later, I got an email from eBay. The gist of its message: the buyer wanted to return the 3DS and be given a full refund because it wasn't working.

I was stunned. After all, I tested the system immediately before I shipped it and knew nothing at all was wrong with it. Still, I thought I'd be OK. While setting up the eBay auction for this system, I checked the box that informed interested buyers I wouldn't accept returns. Also, like I said earlier, I knew it was in perfect working order when it left my hands.

Note: this isn't the 3DS being discussed in this post
I did wonder if maybe something had happened to the package as it made its way from me to the buyer, but that didn't worry me because I'd paid for insurance (out of my own pocket, I should add) that would come to my rescue in such a case.

After exchanging a few messages with the buyer and doing a bit of research, though, I was back to despairing. First, I found out the package was not damaged during shipment, which meant that insurance I paid for was now all but useless. Second, I discovered that eBay pretty much always backs buyers in this sort of situation--meaning I may well be forced to accept the return and cough up a full refund.

That would've been fine with me if I believed my old 3DS was broken or otherwise made dysfunctional in transit, but I didn't. Instead, I was worried the buyer had done something to damage it and wasn't fessing up. (Which in my mind would mean it's his or her problem, not mine.)

The problem is, I have absolutely no proof the system I sold was in perfect, nearly new condition before I shipped it. Sure, I have photos of it from various angles (a few of which showed both of its screens in action), but even the most recent of them were taken a couple of months ago, just before the auction in question first went live. But I have no video footage that could be used to prove I hadn't knowingly and purposely sold a defective item. (And even if I did have it, would it really help me?)

My main fears: that the buyer had somehow damaged the system and that I was going to have to take it back--leaving me with a broken 3DS that obviously would be of little interest to anyone on eBay or elsewhere.

Thankfully, after hearing more from the buyer, I think it's possible I'll be able to fix the problem he or she is experiencing without too much hassle. Even if that's how the situation plays out, though, there's no way I'm re-listing the system.

Also, I'm now of the mind that I'll almost assuredly never sell a game system through eBay again. Although it seems like this particular buyer isn't trying to pull a fast one on me, what's to stop someone else from doing so down the road?

The fact is, there's nothing stopping someone from doing so in the future. Worse, there's little I could do before or after I list an item to protect myself as its seller from such a scam artist.

So, I'm basically done selling game hardware on eBay. And I may be done selling games (expensive ones, especially) on eBay, too. Which is too bad, as I've never had a bad experience as an eBay seller before now.

Should you follow in my footsteps? That's up to you. I would warn you to do whatever you can to protect yourself from situations like the one I just went through (I'm still going through it, actually, as it's yet to be fully resolved) before you auction off any of your games or consoles, though, especially if they're worth a bit of money.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Raise your hand if you, too, are excited about all the 3DS games still coming out this year

I know many--most?--people are focused on the PS4 and the Switch these days, but I'm still plugging away at 3DS (and, er, WonderSwan) games.

As such, yesterday's European, Japanese and North American Nintendo Directs made me quite happy.

In fact, I have a feeling the 3DS games mentioned in those broadcasts, as well as a few that were announced or revealed earlier, will keep me and my bank account nice and busy through the end of 2017 and beyond.

Speaking of which, here are the upcoming 3DS titles I'm planning on buying (and playing) in the coming months:

The Alliance Alive--This spiritual successor to The Legend of Legacy has been a known quantity for some time. It won't hit the streets (in Japan) until June 22, though, so it's still an upcoming release. Anyway, I know not everyone loved The Legend of Legacy, but I really enjoyed it. The Alliance Alive seemingly takes that rather simplified 2015 title and turns it into a full-fledged JRPG. I'm not altogether enamored with that, as I liked The Legend of Legacy's bare-bones approach to the role-playing genre, but I pre-ordered it long ago anyway. Should Atlus or some other publisher decide to the bring the game to North America, I'll likely buy it a second time--especially if its packaging is as beautiful as that of its predecessor. (Here's a look at The Legend of Legacy's Japanese packaging, and here's a look at its North American packaging.)

Culdcept Revolt--Here's a 3DS game I never thought would leave Japan. After all, the DS version of Culdcept was a Japan-only affair, as was the 2012 3DS title of the same name. So, when NIS America revealed its plans to bring Culdcept Revolt to my neck of the woods (it'll hit digital as well as retail store shelves in North America on Aug. 29), I nearly fell out of my chair in shock. Which is kind of surprising in itself, as this will be my first Culdcept experience. I have a hard time imagining I'll hate a card-based board game that combines elements of Monopoly and Magic: The Gathering, though, so I'm not too worried I'll wind up thinking I wasted my money on Culdcept Revolt.

Dragon Quest XI--I've eagerly awaited this game ever since I sank my teeth into Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS. That was the first mainline Dragon Quest title I'd played since the original, and it so impressed me that I put at least 100 hours into it before turning my attention to something else. Will I do the same with Dragon Quest XI, which is due out in Japan on July 29? I sure hope so. It's quite possible I'll fall short of that goal due to the language barrier (I'm not holding my breath on a North American localization, so the current plan is to pre-order the Japanese version as soon as allows me to do so), but I can guarantee you I'll give it my best shot.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon 2--Full disclosure: although I've had a copy of the first Etrian Mystery Dungeon since it hit North America a couple of years ago, I've yet to actually play it. Hell, I'm pretty sure I haven't even opened its case. Still, I'm excited about this just-announced sequel (due out in Japan on Aug. 31). Why? I'm a big fan of roguelikes, for one. Also, I like that this follow-up will include the "farmer" class that made its debut in Etrian Odyssey III. There's no way I'm going to import the Japanese version of Etrian Mystery Dungeon 2, though, so hopefully Atlus will bring the game--along with Etrian Odyssey V--to North America sometime later this year.

Ever Oasis--For whatever reason, this Koichi Ishii (creator of Square Enix's ages-old Mana series) game interests me the least out of the many that are discussed in this post. I'm not entirely sure why that is, to tell you the truth. I mean, I love Ever Oasis' art style and I like that it allows players to control three characters at once (à la one of my favorite games of all time, Secret of Mana), so why on earth am I not more stoked about its impending release (June 23 in North America and July 13 in Japan)? I don't know, but I'm buying it regardless--or at least I will once Amazon opens up pre-orders.

Hey! Pikmin--Does the world really need a portable, side-scrolling Pikmin game? I can't say I wanted one before Hey! Pikmin was first shown off last year, but now that I've seen what's possible with such a title, I'm champing at the bit in anticipation of its release. Admittedly, Hey! Pikmin's visuals give off a strong Arzest vibe, but thanks to the game's uniqueness and potential I'm willing to give it a chance even if it turns out the makers of the meh-tastic Yoshi's New Island also had a hand in producing this adventure.

Layton's Mystery Journey--If Layton's Mystery Journey doesn't ring a bell, how about Lady Layton? Yep, it seems the folks at Level-5 have decided to rename this Professor Layton spin-off, which is being prepped for Android and iOS as well as the 3DS. Although the 3DS version is supposedly going to see the light of day in all regions, only the Japanese iteration currently has a release date (July 20). Fingers crossed it's released physically once it finally makes its way to North America.

Miitopia--I probably shouldn't be surprised Nintendo has decided to make this Tomodachi Life-esque RPG available to 3DS owners outside of Japan, but I am. Although the aforementioned game from 2014 ended up being a surprise hit around the globe (that's been my impression, at least--let me know if I'm off-base here), I assumed the company would pass on publishing this similar effort in the West thanks to the dwindling 3DS audience and the booming Switch one. At any rate, I was wrong, and Miitopia will arrive on store shelves here and elsewhere later this year.

Monster Hunter Stories--I know a lot of folks would have rather seen a localized version of Monster Hunter XX pop up in yesterday's European and North American Nintendo Directs. I, on the other hand, lit up like a Christmas tree when I realized this spin-off was leaving Japan. (It's coming to this West this fall.) Granted, I've always been a sucker for portable RPGs, especially ones that feature appealing art styles. Those aren't the only reasons I'm interested in Monster Hunter Stories, mind you. I'm also interested in it because it looks like it'll serve as a more accessible entry point to Capcom's long-running MonHun series.

RPG Maker Fes--Much like Culdcept, I've never played an RPG Maker game. Given that, I'm not sure what to expect when I start my way through this 3DS entry, which will hit the streets here on June 27. (You can snag a copy of RPG Maker Fes at Amazon, if you'd like.) Even so, I pre-ordered it because I want to support its localization and because I like the idea of being able to play one of these titles on the go. Plus, this may be the last RPG Maker game to both be developed for a console (or handheld) and released outside of Japan.

The Snack World: Trejarers--Another Fantasy Life-ish RPG for the 3DS? Sign me up. Actually, I don't know for certain that The Snack World, out on July 13 in Japan, will be anything like that 2014 title. It definitely looks like it in the video footage that developer and published Level-5 has released so far (you can see the Nintendo Direct segment devoted to it here), but that doesn't mean a whole lot. Assuming the final product is at all import-friendly (and doesn't require you to buy the Amiibo-esque accessories that have been shown off for it so far), I may pick up a Japanese copy of The Snack World in the weeks or months following its release in that region. If not, I'll wait for it to come to the US--assuming that ever happens.

Are you looking forward to playing any of the games mentioned above? If so, which ones--and why?

See also: '15 North American and Japanese 3DS games I'm planning to buy (and play) later in 2016 or at some point in 2017'

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Welcome to WonderSwan World: the WonderSwan Color system

Before I start sharing my experiences with the many WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color games already in my collection, I thought I should say a few words about the WonderSwan system.

Actually, I can't say anything about the original, black-and-white WonderSwan system (released all the way back in 1999), as I've never played one. For the same reason, I also can't say anything about the third piece of WonderSwan hardware, the SwanCrystal, which hit Japanese store shelves in 2002. (I plan on buying one of the latter in the next few months, by the way, so hopefully I'll be able to chat about it soon.)

What I can talk about here: the WonderSwan Color system. It made its debut (in Japan, of course) in late 2000--just a year and a half after Bandai shipped the original model of its GameBoy Color competitor.

As its name implies, the WonderSwan Color added a color screen to the mix. That screen is a tad larger than the one built into the original WonderSwan, by the way--2.9 inches (diagonally) compared to about 2.5 inches.

Actually, the WonderSwan Color hardware as a whole is a bit bigger than that of its predecessor as well. I can't pass along the exact dimensions of either system right now, but the WonderSwan Color is approximately the same size as two iPhone 5Cs stacked on top of each other.

Besides that, the WonderSwan Color is powered by a single AA battery (which allows for around 20 hours of play) and, mostly importantly and intriguingly, offers users a bevy of buttons and control inputs.

The most curious of those input options are the pair of split directional pads situated along the left side of the system. To be honest, I have a feeling they're not really split d-pads. Instead, they're probably just buttons arranged to look like and simulate a pad. Regardless, you use them to control movement while playing WonderSwan games (and quite adroitly, I might add), so I guess it doesn't matter if they're really split directional pads or not.

At any rate, the cool thing about this particular grouping of buttons is they let you play a WonderSwan system horizontally or vertically. (When the system is held vertically, the left set of buttons act as the system's d-pad, while the right set act as action buttons.)

Now, you can't just switch between the two willy-nilly. Most games stick to one orientation for the entirety of the experience, with the majority forcing you to hold your WonderSwan horizontally, like a GameBoy Advance, PSP or Vita. Don't fret if the ability to play handheld games vertically has you excited, though; a good number of WonderSwan titles require you to hold your system in that position. (A handful of examples from my own collection: Puzzle Bobble, Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party and Tane wo Maku Tori.) Also, a select few--including Kaze no Klonoa: Midnight Museum and Makaimura--incorporate both orientations into their gameplay.

Some words of warning about playing WonderSwan games with the system held vertically: it's not all it's cracked up to be. Don't get me wrong, it's unique and interesting, but it's not always enjoyable or comfortable, mainly because the system is so small. (If your hands are tiny, you may not have any problems holding it. But if your hands are on the larger side, prepare for some uncomfortable moments while playing vertically oriented WonderSwan titles.)

Still, experiencing portable games in this manner is such a breath of fresh air that I think it's worth dealing with the occasional hand cramp it's bound to cause.

That's nothing compared to the main issue associated with using a WonderSwan Color, which is its screen isn't illuminated. Although recent portable game systems like Nintendo's DS and 3DS, or Sony's PSP and Vita, feature backlit screens, all three of Bandai's WonderSwan models follow in the footsteps of older handhelds--like the GameBoy or the Neo Geo Pocket--by utilizing screens that are only visible under plenty of ambient light. (And in the case of the original WonderSwan as well as the WonderSwan Color, you have to futz with the system's contrast wheel before you can see anything clearly, even in perfect lighting conditions.)

This may not sound so bad if you've never tried playing a handheld without a backlit (or frontlit) screen, but believe me, it can be a challenge. I often feel like I have to squint to see what's going on even in perfect lighting.

Given that, I can't exactly recommend everyone run out and buy a WonderSwan Color along with a pile of WonderSwan cartridges, as I imagine most people who are used to more modern portable gaming hardware will find it difficult to fully enjoy Bandai's offering.

If you've spent plenty of time with a GameBoy or GameBoy Color or GameBoy Advance in recent months or years, though, and as a result you're basically aware of what you'll be getting into with the WonderSwan Color, go ahead and buy one. (Or, better yet, spend the extra cash needed to pick up a SwanCrystal, as it supposedly sports the best screen of the bunch.)

Before you do that, though, you may want to wait until I've written about a few of its games. Thankfully, I'm planning to publish "Welcome to WonderSwan World" posts about a slew of titles--such as Clock Tower, Engacho!Puzzle Bobble and Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party--over the next couple of weeks.

See also: more photos of my WonderSwan Color system and collection of WonderSwan games

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Nice Package! (Landstalker, Mega Drive)

Sega's (or maybe I should say Climax Entertainment's) Landstalker is one of a small handful of games that really defined the 16-bit era for me.

As much as I loved the 8-bit systems--oh, boy, did I (and still do)--the color and resolution bumps showcased in games produced for their 16-bit successors blew my teenage mind.

If you aren't old enough to have lived through the transition from 8-bit to 16-bit gaming, compare the Famicom port of Konami's TwinBee to Pop'n TwinBee for the Super Famicom. Or compare, say, the battles in any of Enix's first four Dragon Quest titles to those in Tengai Makyou II: Manji Maru for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM2 system.

When Landstalker was first shown off in the gaming magazines I pored over as a youngster, I compared it to the likes of Square's Final Fantasy Adventure and Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Those titles were (and continue to be) gorgeous in their own right, of course, but back when Landstalker was released, especially, its aesthetic looked light years beyond what they offered up.

To be honest, I can't say I enjoyed playing Landstalker as much as I enjoyed playing Final Fantasy Adventure or A Link to the Past (the isometric perspective in Climax's effort often makes things awkward), but that's a different story.

At any rate, I'll always have a soft spot for Landstalker. Which I guess helps explain why I recently picked up a complete-on-box copy of the Japanese Mega Drive version of the game. (And before that, I bought copies of two other great Mega Drive games: Shining Force and Shining Force II. I guess I should add Shining and the Darkness to the pile ASAP.)

Would I have picked up a copy of Landstalker even if I hated the game? Given its eye-popping packaging, probably.

Hell, the cover art alone is worth the price of admission in my humble opinion, though its cart label (above) certainly is no slouch.

The Landstalker Mega Drive manual is a looker, too, as the photos included in this post hopefully prove.

Even the back of this Japanese game's box, below, is easy on the eyes.

Speaking of which, I love that someone at developer Climax named Landstalker's isometric engine. (That would be "Diamond Shaped Dimension System," or "DDS 520," for the curious.) Sadly, I don't believe they ever used it for another Mega Drive or Genesis game.

Are any of you Landstalker fans? If so, what are your favorite aspects of this 16-bit RPG?

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts

Monday, April 03, 2017

Manual Stimulation: Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe (GameBoy)

Considering how well Nintendo's GameBoy sold outside of Japan, the number of quality titles that never left the handheld's home country amazes me.

Technos' Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe: Ohanabatake wa Dai-Panic is a great example.

Its gameplay is difficult to describe, as it's unlike anything I've played before or since. If forced, I'd probably defer to something like "single-screen arcade action," but of course that doesn't give anyone much of an idea as to what they'll experience should they pick up and play a copy of this 1994 release.

Would calling it a cute tower-defense game help at all? That's basically what Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe is, although even that doesn't completely do its gameplay justice.

For some additional detail, read this 2014 write-up of mine: "Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe: Ohanabatake wa Dai-Panic is both a mouthful and an eyeful." I'd say more here, but I want this post to focus on the game's adorable instruction manual.

And it is adorable, don't you think? That's mostly due to its wonderful illustrations, of course, but I'd say it's also due to the pastel hues its designers used while printing it.

Actually, it's a good thing those pastels are present, because they really spruce up a few of the manual's handful of humdrum pages and spreads.

The map seen on the page below shows off the many different lands that host Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe's stages, by the way.

One cool thing about this game's stages is you can tackle them in whatever order strikes your fancy.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

My 10 Most Influential Games: Bubble Bobble (Arcade)

Although I have a pretty good memory, I'm rarely able to recall my first experiences with specific video games.

Thankfully, that's not true of my introduction to Bubble Bobble.

As I'm sure I've mentioned here before, my hometown has a rather nice bowling alley that my friends and I visited regularly while we were growing up. Tucked into its back corner were a slough of arcade cabinets and pinball machines, and we spent as much time playing them as we did bowling.

Among the games that gobbled up our hard-earned allowance money: Gauntlet, Karate Champ, Paperboy, Pole Position, Ring King, Xenophobe--and of course Bubble Bobble.

To be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure what drew my attention to Bubble Bobble's cabinet for the first time. I have a feeling it was the game's glorious, ear-wormy jingle, but it very well may have been its adorable, rainbow-coated visuals.

Something I remember clearly about my initial experiences with this classic quarter-muncher: I absolutely sucked at it. Although I blame some of my ineptitude on not fully understanding Bubble Bobble's rules right off the bat, but mostly I blame it on my life-long discomfort with using a joystick. (Ironic, right? Seriously, though, I've always preferred using a d-pad.)

Still, I kept coming back to it, and over time I got better and better at this Fukio Mitsuji-made (for Taito) title.

So, how did it influence my current taste in video games? It did so in a couple of ways, actually.

One is that it hurled me down the path toward loving games that feature collectible food items. Ms. Pac-Man showed me to its entrance (thanks to the level that offers up a pretzel rather than a piece of fruit, strangely enough), but Bubble Bobble and its bowls of sherbet, corndogs, sushi and martinis pushed me well inside.

Ever since, I've drooled over almost any game that includes such nabables. A few examples: Coryoon, Monster Lair, The New Zealand Story and Parasol Stars. (For more, read my old post, "the 10 fruitiest games (of which I'm aware).")

Bubble Bobble shaped my current taste in video games in another way as well--by opening my eyes to the wonderful world of single-screen platformers. (Here are some of my favorites, in case you're curious.)

Was Bubble Bobble the first single-screen platformer to see the light of day? Not by a long shot. A game called The Fairyland Story--also published by Taito, interestingly enough--beat Bub and Bob to the arcades by at least a year, and I wouldn't be surprised if a handful of other titles could claim the same.

Regardless, Bubble Bobble introduced me to the genre that's now one of my favorites. And not only that, but in the ensuing decades, it's served as a point of comparison for every other single-screen platformer that's come my way.

Naturally, none of those wannabes have quite stacked up to this 1986 release. I think that's because the game they so desperately try to ape is supremely focused and straightforward.

A case in point: unlike most of the games that have tried to snatch its genre-king crown over the years, Bubble Bobble keeps its control scheme simple. You can jump, you can blow bubbles, you can hop on bubbles--and that's basically it. (OK, so some levels let you pop bubbles that send lightning bolts at enemies or cover platforms with swaths of fire, but they're in the minority. The bulk of the game's levels force you to focus on the trio of aforementioned actions.)

Also, Bubble Bobble's stages never take up more than a single screen (hence the name of the gaming genre that contains it). And then, of course, there are its timeless graphics and its grin-inducing background tune.

At the end of the day, though, the aspect that keeps me coming back to Bubble Bobble, and that causes me to label it "influential," is its unfailingly enjoyable gameplay. Even when one of its stages is kicking my butt (an all too regular occurrence, I'm afraid), it never stops being fun.

I can't say that about too many games, can you?

See also: previous '10 Most Influential Games' posts about The 7th Guest and Balloon Kid.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Introducing: Welcome to WonderSwan World

I'm not sure anyone asked for this, but here it is anyway: a new blog series in the vein of my "A Decade of DS," "Year of the GameBoy" and "10 Most Influential Games" projects.

(Both the "10 Most Influential Games" and "Year of the GameBoy" efforts will continue in the coming weeks and months, by the way. In fact, I'll publish my next entry in the former series in just a couple of days.)

So, what will I write about in future "Welcome to WonderSwan World" posts? Bandai's Japan-only WonderSwan portable gaming system, of course--as well as its library of black-and-white as well as color titles.

I certainly have enough to cover in these write-ups. I've been buying WonderSwan games for a number of years now--hell, I'd already acquired 10 by the time I published this post in mid-2015.

That number jumped to 16 (I think) after I obtained a translucent black WonderSwan Color system and a handful of complete-in-box cartridges via eBay later that same year. (You can read all about that experience, and see photos of the auction's contents, in "the 'Tumbleweed Portable Club' (of lonely WonderSwan owners) has another member.")

At any rate, my "Welcome to WonderSwan World" posts will differ a bit from my "A Decade of DS" and "Year of the GameBoy" ones. The plan at the moment is for them to focus on a single game at a time, first and foremost. Also, they'll offer up relevant historical details on the titles in question as well as gameplay explanations or descriptions.

I'm not thinking of these write-ups as reviews, by the way, although you'll definitely walk away from them knowing whether or not I'd recommend others buy and play the games at their center.

With all that out of the way, I hope at least some of you enjoy this new series--even if this is the first you're hearing of this wonderfully (and oddly) named handheld.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Nice Package! (Seiken Densetsu 2 and 3, Super Famicom)

Square Enix's recent unveiling of the Seiken Densetsu Collection for Switch (due out in Japan on June 1) prompted me to think about a few games I haven't pondered in years.

Specifically, it prompted me to think about Seiken Densetsu 2 and 3, which were released for the Super Famicom in 1993 and 1995, respectively. (The former came to North America later the same year it hit Japan, while other regions had to wait until 1994.)

Actually, I mostly thought about Seiken Densetsu 2, known as Secret of Mana in the West. That's because I've never played the third Seiken Densetsu game, although I was keenly aware of and interested it in the run-up to its Japanese release.

Anyway, back to Seiken Densetsu 2, I remember when it first started appearing in North American game magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly and DieHard GameFan, which often referred to it as Final Fantasy Adventure 2.

I loved everything about it from the word go--the colorful backdrops, the surprisingly large (for the time) character and enemy sprites, the plethora of useable weapons and the real-time combat.

I'm pretty sure my brother and I obtained this game as soon as we were able, which likely meant I received it as a birthday gift or we got it for Christmas.

Regardless, we spent a lot of time playing through it together shortly after it hit store shelves in our neck of the woods.

Is there any chance I'll finish Secret of Mana--or Seiken Densetsu 2--if I pick up a copy of the Seiken Densetsu Collection for Switch? (You can pre-order it via, by the way.) I kind of doubt it, but who knows?

Far more likely would be for me to finish the first Seiken Densetsu--renamed Final Fantasy Adventure when it was brought to North America--or even Seiken Densetsu 3.

Speaking of the original Seiken Densetsuhere's a post I wrote and published about its beautiful packaging (outer box, cartridge and manual) a while back.

Of course, this post is supposed to be about the beautiful packaging the folks at Square Enix--Squaresoft back then, actually--produced for Seiken Densetsu 2 and 3, so maybe I should start talking about that.

On that note, I think the photos included throughout this write-up are pretty self-explanatory, don't you think?

One comment I'd like to add: Seiken Densetsu 2's box art (see top photo) is one of my all-time favorites.

Also, the clay models of that game's main characters, which can be seen in the snapshot of its instruction booklet, have always brought a smile to my face.

Seiken Densetsu 3's manual is pretty awesome, too--its cover, especially.

What do you think of the boxes, cartridges and manuals made for Seiken Densetsu 2 and 3? And what do you think of the games themselves, if you've played them?

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts about Cid to Chocobo no Fushigi na Dungeon (DS), Final Fantasy (Famicom) and Shining Force (Mega Drive)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Manual Stimulation: Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank (GameBoy)

I knew going in that Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank's instruction manual would have a hard time topping its delightfully colorful cover art.

Did that slight lowering of expectations prompt me to like this Japanese GameBoy game's manual more than I would have otherwise? Perhaps.

I'm pretty sure I would have come around to loving it eventually, though, given the number of cute illustrations that are tucked inside of it.

Before we get to those, let's focus our attention on this manual's cover. Its three-tone aesthetic is nice, don't you think?

I also like that it offers up an expanded view of the art that graces the front side of Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank's outer box.

As for the cute illustrations I mentioned earlier, one example (the best of the bunch, really) can be seen in the above.

I don't know about you, but that clown tank (at least I think it's supposed to be a tank) on the left reminds me of Tumblepop's Japanese cover art.

Another adorable drawing appears on the second page of Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank's instruction booklet. Though small, it depicts the titular vehicle wearing a bow tie.

That would surprise me--if I didn't know the folks at HAL Laboratory made this GameBoy title.

Yes, the same company that's given the world the Adventures of LoloBoxBoy! and Kirby series also produced this short-lived gem. (It only has four levels.)

Don't take Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank's brevity as a sign that it or its North American counterpart (published here by now-defunct Electro Brain), Trax, should be avoided.

On the contrary, its snappy gameplay more than makes up for its lack of stages--or at least that's my personal opinion on the matter.

Do its outer box and instruction booklet also make up for this game's lack of content? I'd say so, but I'd also say it depends on how much you have to pay to obtain them (by buying a complete copy).

Have any of you played Trax or Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank? If so, what do you think of the game? And what do you think of its Japanese manual?

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Bubble Bobble JuniorBurgerTime DeluxeGhostbusters 2 and Snow Bros. Jr.