Sunday, June 25, 2017

Shall We Do It? (Ever Oasis demo, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters, Metroid II and Miitopia demo)

Sorry it's been so long (over a week!) since I last published a post. I can't even give you an explanation--or at least I can't give you a good one.

Of course, I was on the road for three days early in the week (my husband, cat and I made our way from Austin, Texas, to Madison, Wisconsin), but I've hardly run myself ragged in the last four or five.

Something I've managed to fit into my currently far-from-busy schedule: a bit of quality time with my trusty 3DS. Specifically, I've put a good number of minutes, if not hours, into the following demos and games:

Ever Oasis demo (3DS)--Of the four 3DS demos and games I'll discuss here, this is the one I've enjoyed the least. Which is a shame, as every aspect of the Ever Oasis demo is at least "nice."

I especially like the art style, although the character-switching gameplay is pretty appealing, too. The thing is, I didn't find the latter to be as appealing as I expected it to be before I started my way through the (disappointingly short) demo.

If I were forced to describe Ever Oasis' gameplay with a single word or phrase, I'd probably go with "by the numbers" as far as Secret of Mana-ish titles are concerned. Which is too bad, as I thought that component of the game would help set it apart from other action RPGs that've been released for the 3DS.

On a more positive note, I've read that after a slow start, Ever Oasis eventually hits its stride in impressive fashion, so my current plan is to find a way to pick up a copy of it by the end of the year.

Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters (GameBoy)--Although I've been a fan of the original Kid Icarus since it was first released in North America back in 1987 (I even included it in my "10 Most Influential Games" series of blog posts), I've long avoided this 1991 sequel.

Why? The main reason is that it never looked very appealing to me. Playing a Kid Icarus game in black and white just seemed wrong to me after basking in the beautifully colorful--and weird--landscapes of the NES title. Plus, Pit's sprite here has always looked a little off to me.

After a Twitter friend recently heaped praise on Of Myths and Monsters, though, I decided to finally give it a go. And you know what? I've had a blast with it so far. I can't say I prefer this GameBoy game's sprawling stages to the comparably straightforward ones found in the NES offering, but I'm enjoying them all the same. A similar comment could be made about Of Myths and Monsters' soundtrack, which is acceptable but never approaches the brilliance of the Hirokazu Tanaka tracks that fill the original.

Still, I'm loving this handheld Kid Icarus overall--to the point where I'm now hitting myself for giving it the cold shoulder for so long.

Metroid II (GameBoy)--Here's another portable sequel to a console classic I'm only now playing for the first time. Again, that fact boggles my mind as much as it probably does yours. After all, I was obsessed with both the original Metroid and Super Metroid for the SNES as a youngster (beating both multiple times, I should add).

Unlike Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters, I can't say I've avoided Metroid II because of what I considered to be below-par graphics. In fact, I've always thought Metroid II looked pretty awesome. Regardless, I dragged my feet on playing it until late last week.

So far, I think it's a better game than Of Myths and Monsters. Although Metroid II is a black-and-white affair, it still feels like a visual upgrade to its NES-based predecessor--something that can't be said of Kid Icarus' GameBoy follow-up. Also, I love the way Metroid II twists the gameplay of the first Metroid and Super Metroid just enough to make it feel unique. (I'm talking about this game's "track down and kill X number of Metroids" focus, of course.)

Despite the above, I'm not entirely convinced I'll stick with Metroid II until its end credits, but I'll certainly do my best to finish it.

Miitopia demo (3DS)--After reading a few impressions of the Japanese version of Miitopia, I fully expected to dislike this Tomodachi Life-esque RPG--to the point that I canceled my pre-order for the North American release. After putting nearly three hours into the demo that just hit my region's eShop, though, I'm back aboard the Miitopia hype train.

Chiefly responsible for that change of heart: the aspects I thought I'd hate--no real overworld to explore, battles that are mostly hands-off--don't bother me at all. Hell, I actually find these tweaks refreshing after playing a number of overly traditional RPGs in the last year or so. On top of that, Miitopia sports a surprisingly bold art style, a soundtrack that's more charming than it has any right to be and a gloriously subtle sense of humor. I've heard the full game isn't overly long, but that's OK with me--especially if it ends up being a short-but-sweet experience.

Have you played any of these games or demos? If so, share your thoughts on them in the comments section below.

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

I'm stoked about the unveiling of Sushi Striker (3DS), and not simply because some of its characters are beefy studs

What's Sushi Striker, you ask? A sushi-themed puzzler that's being developed for the 3DS by indieszero (of Electroplankton, Retro Game Challenge and Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy fame).

Nintendo revealed it a couple of days ago during E3 2017 and at the same time mentioned it will release sometime in 2018.

Unfortunately, it's not yet known if Sushi Striker (full title--Sushi Striker: The Way of Sushido) will be sold via retail or if it'll be relegated to the 3DS eShop.

What is known, beyond the aforementioned facts, about this "conveyor belt sushi puzzle action" game (that's Nintendo's official description of it) is that it's stuffed to the gills with musclebound studs.

Don't believe me? Feast your thirsty eyes on the following:

I don't know about you, but the last guy is the most visually appealing to yours truly.

Not into men? No worries. The game also features a bevy of attractive women--as is made abundantly clear in Sushi Striker's first trailer.

Does any of the above have you salivating over the 2018 release of this yummy-looking (in more ways than one) puzzle game? Chat about it with me and others in the comments section of this post.

See also: 'The best 3DS eShop games you've never played (or, 10 overlooked 3DS eShop games you need to try as soon as possible)'

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Manual Stimulation: Astro Rabby (GameBoy)

I haven't been shy about declaring my love for the Japan-only GameBoy title known as Astro Rabby lately.

Late last year, I included it in a post about five overlooked Japanese GameBoy games I thought people should play as soon as possible. And a couple of months ago, I mentioned it again in a write-up celebrating the 28th anniversary of GameBoy's Japanese release.

Granted, I haven't always felt so positively about this Cyclone System-made and IGS-published game. When I first played it a few years back, I was far from impressed by it. That said, I changed my tune after returning to it some months later and giving it a second chance. (The second set of impressions can be found in this "Shall We Do It Again?" post.)

If this is the first you're hearing of Astro Rabby, the gist is it's an overhead action game that's unlike anything else I've ever played. For starters, each space-based level (viewed from an overhead perspective) scrolls forward automatically. Your goal, as the titular "rabby," is to not only keep up with that forced movement, but to leap into the air to avoid the baddies and to smash into the Super Mario Bros.-esque question-mark blocks that dot the planetary terrain.

The latter are an especially important aspect of Astro Rabby, as hidden within one of those blocks is a "power-up part" that not only bolsters the abilities of the game's big-eared protagonist but also allows him (and you) to move on to the next level.

Except for the game's disastrously annoying bonus stages, all of the above is surprisingly exhilarating and enjoyable.

Also enjoyable, of course, is Astro Rabby's instruction manual. Its front and back covers, showcased in the first scan (above), are especially so, if you ask me, although I also love the character illustrations included in the second scan, which details the game's story. (Sorry, my Japanese skills aren't yet advanced enough for me to translate it for you.)

Actually, cute illustrations are par for the course in the Astro Rabby manual, with the ones above being my favorites.

Admittedly, IGS' artists could have included many more of them in this booklet. Instead, they filled the majority of its pages with low-quality images (photos?) of in-game sprites.

Even they provide some charming moments, though--like the "enemy" sprites highlighted on the left-hand page of the spread above.

The "panel" sprites seen on pages nine and 10 of the Astro Rabby instruction manual (below) are less thrilling, perhaps, but at least they're educational. In particular, they let you know you should avoid the one on the right-hand page that looks like a cracked brick.

You see, if you jump on a single panel too many times, it crumbles away. Step or jump into the resulting hole, and you lose a life.

Page 11 of this game's manual describes its handful of collectible items. As far as I can tell, the "S" one improves Rabby's speed, the "J" one enhances his ability to jump and the "B" one either increases his bullet stock or makes his bullets more powerful. Oh, and the last item is a 1-up.

Don't be fooled by the adorable illustration that takes up half of the Astro Rabby manual's second-to-last page (below). It relates to the game's previously maligned bonus stages, which means it's evil.

Thankfully, failing to successfully complete said bonus stages (and believe me, you will fail to successfully complete them) won't keep you from progressing to the next proper level. Still, they're so infuriating that any reference to them gets my blood boiling.

With all that out of the way, if you're up for learning more about this oddly endearing GameBoy import, I'd highly recommend reading my Astro Rabby review. Also, photos of the game's stellar box and cartridge label can be ogled in this "Year of the GameBoy" post.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe, Totsugeki! Ponkotsu Tank and Snow Bros. Jr.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Nice Package! (Mizzurna Falls, PlayStation)

I've been obsessed with Mizzurna Falls since I first read an article about it on the now-defunct Eastern Mind blog a number of years ago.

You might think it piqued my interest because it's often described as being something of a precursor to the 2010 cult classic, Deadly Premonition. In reality, the thing that initially attracted me to Mizzurna Falls, which released in Japan (and only in Japan) in 1998, was its captivating cover art.

There's just something about its wintry landscape, and the illuminated town that's nestled among its shadowy mountains and trees, that made me want to own and play this game.

I also was drawn to its odd title and even odder subtitle (the latter being "Country of the Woods and Repose"). And then, of course, I couldn't help but find the Twin Peaks-esque story--that focuses on the mystery of a missing girl--and open-world gameplay alluring.

Another intriguing aspect of Mizzurna Falls: it was developed and published by Human Entertainment, the same company that gave the world the classic survival-horror title, Clock Tower.

Not that the two games are at all alike. Oh, Mizzurna Falls has an unsettling air about it, but I wouldn't say it ever even approaches the terrifying heights of Clock Tower.

Given the above, it shouldn't be too surprising to hear this game's instruction manual is a bit quirky. My favorite spread is the one highlighted above, which details the titular town's map.

I also like the pages near the end of Mizzurna Falls' manual, which offer up English and Japanese lyrics to the title's theme song.

For some dumb reason, I failed to take a photo of the Mizzurna Falls game disc when I snapped the others showcased here. I'd take one now, but I didn't bring the CD with me when I left Seattle early this year. (It's currently in storage--and won't be reunited with me until sometime this summer.)

I can tell you that you're not missing a whole lot. The disc basically depicts the same scene printed on the Mizzurna Falls manual cover--only in black and white rather than in color.

Oh, well, the gameplay embedded on that disc is what's important, right? And Mizzurna Falls' exploration-heavy gameplay is--or at least seems to be, I've only played a small portion of it so far--pretty special.

I'll try to share some more detailed impressions of Mizzurna Falls once I get my hands on its CD again in a month or two. At that time, I'll also scan its instruction manual and share the resulting images in a future installment of my "Manual Stimulation" series.

In the meantime, I'd highly recommend reading the Eastern Mind blog post I linked to earlier. It's more than a review; it offers up all sorts of background information and in-depth analysis that help explain why Mizzurna Falls is so impressive--especially for a 19-year-old game.

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts about The Adventure of Puppet PrincessMoon: Remix RPG Adventure, Ore no Shikabane o Koete Yuke and PoPoLoCrois Monogatari.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The best 3DS eShop games you've never played (or, 10 overlooked 3DS eShop games you need to try as soon as possible)

Now that the Nintendo Switch is out and the company's previous portable game system is slowly heading to the grave, I thought I'd finally publish a post about the 3DS eShop titles I think have been most depressingly overlooked during that handheld's lifetime.

Attack of the Friday Monsters!--Originally intended for Level-5's aborted second Guild series compilation, this game eventually saw the light of day as an individual eShop release. That's a big deal because it means you can access it for just a few bucks ($7.99, to be exact) rather than $30 or $40. And believe me, $8 for this little slice of faux nostalgia is a real bargain. I say "faux nostalgia" because, well, I doubt many Western gamers who play Attack of the Friday Monsters! will have experienced 1970s Japan--this game's probable setting. The gameplay embedded within that setting, by the way, is divided between exploration and card battles. Although the latter aspect is enjoyable enough, the former--which involves running around the fictitious town of Fuji no Hana and chatting with its many inhabitants--is the highlight here.

Crimson Shroud--Oh, hey, another 3DS eShop game that began life on one of Level-5's Guild series compilations. This one, however, is Yasumi Matsuno's take on a digital tabletop RPG. (Matsuno is best known for acting as the director of Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII.) Don't worry, you needn't be a fan of tabletop or pen-and-paper role-playing games (like Dungeons & Dragons) to enjoy Crimson Shroud, which first hit 3DS eShops around the globe in late 2012. An interest in the RPG genre in general wouldn't be a bad idea, though, especially since Crimson Shroud will set you back around $8 for what'll likely end up being a five- to 10-hour playthrough (longer if you decide to tackle the "new game plus" that unlocks after beating its main campaign).

The 'DENPA' Men 3--Before I say anything else about this eShop title, let me say this: I actually like the first 'DENPA' Men game more than the pair of sequels that followed in its wake. (Here's my review of The 'DENPA' Men.) I have a feeling most people will prefer the second and, especially, third 'DENPA' Men games to the original, though, which is why I'm recommending the most recent one here. For the uninitiated, The 'DENPA' Men 3, like its predecessors, is a unique turn-based RPG that has players use their 3DS systems' AR functionality to find and capture the titular characters from the world around them. Once you've nabbed enough to form a party (up to eight, eventually), you wander an overworld, explore dungeons and battle enemies just as you would in pretty much every other RPG in existence. The difference in The 'DENPA' Men 3 (as well as in the earlier 'DENPA' games): the bulk of its battles involve your colorful band of big-headed party members running toward and slamming their noggins into opposing baddies. OK, so most of them can hurl magic spells at foes, too, but head-butting is the big differentiator here. Still skeptical? All three of the DENPA' Men titles can be taken for a spin via free-to-download demos. Should you like that experience, I'd strongly recommend handing over $9.99 to buy either the first or third of the series' releases.

Gotta Protectors--To be completely honest, I haven't put as much time into this portable sequel to Ancient Corp's stellar Protect Me Knight: Mamotte Kishi (for Xbox 360) as I'd like. I say that because the hour or two I've spent with Gotta Protectors (known as Minna de Mamotte Knight in Japan) were thrilling. Of course, I've long liked these real-time tower-defense games, so keep that in mind as I slobber all over this particular one. As for what's so great about Gotta Protectors, the fast-paced, responsive, princess-protecting action that serves as its backbone is the first reason I'll toss at you. Also, both its 8-bit-ish graphics and soundtrack are right out of my teenage dreams (that's a good thing). The only negative associated with this digital title, in my opinion, is that it's $12.99 price tag is a bit steep if you're not a fan of the genre or if you're not entirely sure this example will be your cup of tea.

HarmoKnight--I've got to be honest here: I wanted to like this Game Freak product more than I did. And, really, who could blame me for getting pumped up about a digital title that's equal parts platformer and rhythm game and that was made by the company behind the world-conquering Pokémon series? As for what keeps HarmoKnight from being as perfect as I imagined it'd be, the main criticism I'll offer up is that it often feels "cheap"--with enemies and obstacles flying at you from all directions, often without warning. So why am I recommending it here? Because it's not a total clunker. It art style is captivating, and its soundtrack is, by and large, scintillating.  Plus, there aren't many games out there that combine these two genres, so I can't help but feel like the few in existence need to be supported--even those that are less-than-perfect.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Anyone looking for a few #PuzzleGameMonth recommendations?

Although platformers and RPGs continue to be my favorite types of games, I'm pretty much always up for playing a good puzzler.

The five brain-busters below fit that bill and more. As such, I think any one of them would be worth playing as part of Anne Lee's latest "community game-along" that's devoted to the puzzle genre. (For more information on this month-long event, go to

I've spent a good amount of time with all of these games, by the way, so rest assured they have my personal seal of approval (should such a thing hold sway over you, of course).

Moai-kun (Famicom)
Guru Logi Champ (GameBoy Advance)--I've mentioned this Compile-made title a couple of times in the past. (Most notably, in my recent post about overlooked GameBoy Advance games you need to play as soon as possible.) To be honest, though, I feel like I should've written about it more, as it's easily one of the best puzzlers to be published for Nintendo's GameBoy successor. What's so great about it? For starters, it offers up a unique twist on Picross' gameplay. Also, it's wonderfully colorful and features a cast of characters that's as cute as it is silly. The cherry on top of all this puzzling goodness: Guru Logi Champ's box, cartridge label and instruction manual knock it out of the park, too.

Loopop Cube: Lup Salad (PlayStation)--Although Guru Logi Champ is at least somewhat of a known quantity thanks to its Compile connection, this similarly impressive PlayStation release from Datam Polystar continues to fly under the radar. Not that Loopop Cube and the above-mentioned GBA game are at all alike. This Japan-only title combines light platforming action with the gameplay of a match-three puzzler. Add to that its cute-as-a-button aesthetic (mirrored in Loopop Cube's packaging) and some catchy background tunes, and you've got an import that should have a much higher profile than it currently does. By the way, if you're not in the mood for buying and playing Japanese PSone games, you can pick up Loopop Cube: Lup Salad for the DS or PSP, too.

Magical Puzzle Popils (Game Gear)--Of all the puzzle games showcased here, this Tengen-developed and -published one is my favorite. Like Loopop Cube, Magical Puzzle Popils (released outside Japan as Popils: The Blockbusting Challenge) is one part platformer and one part puzzler. You don't match blocks in the latter, though; instead, you do whatever's needed to get the "hero" protagonist to the princess who's marooned somewhere on each and every stage. Usually that means punching or kicking blocks out of your way, but sometimes it also means climbing or descending a ladder. Don't worry, it's a lot more fun than I've made it sound here. Plus, it looks great--similar to Bubble Bobble, actually, which makes sense, as the same man (Fukio Mitsuji) headed up both games--and sports a stellar, earworm-worthy soundtrack. (Bonus: virtually flip through Magical Puzzle Popil's instruction manual.)

Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke (PSP)
Moai-kun (Famicom)--I know, I know. I just slobbered over this Konami cart in my most recent "Manual Stimulation" post. What can I say? I've got Moai-kun on the brain. Also, if any Famicom puzzler is worth mentioning in a write-up such as this, Moai-kun is it. This Japan-only release from 1990 isn't the prettiest puzzle game to see the light of day on Nintendo's first real console, but I'd argue it's the most interesting. Once again, the focus here is on hopping to and from platforms, destroying blocks (using your noggin, à la PC Genjin) and rescuing loved ones. Don't worry if you'd like to try Loopop Cube, Magical Puzzle Popils and Moai-kun, by the way. Although all three are puzzler-platformers, they provide different enough experiences that you won't feel like you're playing the same game.

Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke (PSP)--I'd include this PSP title, made by Silicon Studio and published (only in Japan, naturally) by From Software, even if it were a total dud. That's because its cover illustration, right, is among the best produced for Sony's first portable system. Also, its Ukiyo-e art style is beyond gorgeous. Thankfully, Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke's gameplay is just as captivating as its more superficial components. Explaining why that is would take too many words, so I'm going to suggest you check out if you're curious to know more. Just know that if you've still got a PSP and you're at all into games that try their best to overheat your brain, you'll get your money's worth out of Onore no Shinzuru Michi wo Yuke.

See also: my trio of #PlatforMonth recommendation posts

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Manual Stimulation: Moai-kun (Famicom)

Three years ago, I declared--in this post--Moai-kun's box art to be among my favorites as far as Nintendo's Famicom is concerned.

Well, now I'm declaring this Konami-made puzzler's instruction manual to be among my favorites as well.

This time, though, I'm going to go a step further and say that the booklet showcased in the scans below is one of my all-time favorite game manuals, period.

Some of you likely will feel the same way about it once you finish perusing this post. Hell, I'll bet at least a few of you will feel that way about it after taking in the front and back covers of Moai-kun's manual.

One of the best things about this how-to pamphlet, if you ask me, is that every single page of it features an illustration or some other piece of art.

The pops of color and the additional elements that keep each two-page spread from being anything even approaching boring only add to the appeal of this Moai-kun instruction booklet.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Welcome to WonderSwan World: Engacho!

In a way, it's too bad Engacho! for WonderSwan is so childishly gross.

Look past the boogers and butts and spit and sweat--all of which are present in both this portable release and its console counterpart (check out my Engacho! for PlayStation review if you want to learn more about that version of the game)--and you'll see one of the best WonderSwan puzzlers around.

Not that turning a blind eye to the more disgusting aspects of Engacho! is a requirement, mind you. I personally love the spritework showcased in this WonderSwan cartridge. I know not everyone will feel the same way when they're first introduced to it, though.

Still, the WonderSwan iteration of Engacho!--developed and published, in 1999, by NAC Geographic Products Inc.--is well worth a try no matter what you think of its aesthetic. That's because its gameplay is quite unlike anything I've experienced in a puzzle game.

Here's my attempt to explain why that is as succinctly as possible: to begin with, your goal, as Sunzuki-kun (he's the pie-faced kid in the middle of the screenshot above), is to make your way from each stage's entrance to its exit. As is so often true with such things, that's easier said than done--thanks to the members of the colorfully named "Oops FIVE" (the foul quintet that flanks our intrepid protagonist on the game's title screen), in this case.

Sunzuki-kun shares space on each board with one or more of the above-mentioned characters and must avoid colliding with them as he creeps toward the finish line. The penalty for failing to stay out of their way? See the screenshot below.

If you're wondering where the "puzzle" aspect of Engacho! comes into play, that would be in how the "Oops FIVE" baddies move. The one that's little more than a giant, slobbering tongue--with Mickey Mouse ears--mirrors your steps. (If you walk to the left, so does he--or she.) The flying butt, on the other hand, does the opposite of whatever you do. The other two--one looks like a weightlifter with really hairy armpits, and the other looks like Mr. Potato with a runny nose--head 90 degrees perpendicular (left or right, respectively) to wherever you move.

Also worth noting here: Engacho! progresses similarly to a roguelike, with Sunzuki-kun taking just a single step, followed by the game's freakish monstrosities taking a step of their own.

Plop a small handful of the "Oops FIVE" onto a single stage and it should be easy to see how successfully advancing to its exit can become complicated.

Sounds pretty interesting, right? Making Engacho! even more so is that it offers up hundreds of levels over its four modes of play.

Those modes, by the way, are called "training," "puzzle," "" and "battle." The first teaches you the game's basics, the second is its main mode, the third pits you against Sunzuki-kun's father and the fourth lets you compete against another human player (via the WonderSwan link cable).

In the end, yes, playing Engacho! may make you a bit squeamish, but if you can choke down your disgust you'll find a content-rich puzzler that works your brain in way that most such games don't.

Curious to know what "engacho!" means, or why it doubles as this WonderSwan cart's title? Check out my post (the comments section, especially), "What in the hell does 'Engacho!' mean, anyway?" Another option: read through the first section of this Engacho! walkthrough.

If that's not enough, ogle photos of Engacho! WonderSwan's outer box and cartridge, or virtually flip through its instruction manual. And if you're looking for snapshots of the PlayStation version's packaging, here you go.

See also: previously published 'Welcome to WonderSwan World' posts about Clock Tower, Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party and the WonderSwan Color hardware

Monday, May 29, 2017

My 10 Most Influential Games: Kid Icarus (NES)

Although a number of its initial releases lured me and my older brother to the NES in the year following its North American release, none had a more powerful pull on us than the pair of Nintendo-made "Adventure Series" games known in the West as Metroid and Kid Icarus.

I was especially drawn to the latter title, which was made by Gunpei Yokoi, Satoru Okada and Yoshio Sakamoto, among others, and which first hit store shelves here in July of 1987. (Just a month before Metroid and The Legend of Zelda, in fact.)

There are all sorts of reasons for that, of course. A rather stupidly superficial one is that, right off the bat, I was a fan of Kid Icarus' magenta logo. (Hey, I've never been shy about my love of the color pink.)

Also catching my eye early on: the cover art's depiction of Pit. I was keenly interested in Greek mythology back when Kid Icarus was released, so a game that allowed me to play as an angel who has to traverse a world full of crumbling stone pillars, fantastic creatures and even goddesses--Medusa among them--quickly commanded my attention. (Speaking of the creatures that populate this game, you can see illustrations of all of them in the Hikari Shinwa: Parutena no Kagami GameBoy Advance instruction manual.)

And then there were the write-ups in Nintendo Power and elsewhere that showcased Kid Icarus' colorful locales. Purple bricks and stone, red-checkered floors, pink and green clouds--my younger self thought the game looked like a dream.

I know most folks today don't think Kid Icarus plays like a dream, but I thought it did back in the day. (Hell, I still kind of think it now.) After all, Pit controls pretty darn well, if you ask me. Specifically, he's easy to maneuver--except for when you find yourself on one of the icy ledges that pop up in a number of the game's levels--and he reacts quickly to commands. (I can't imagine anyone describing Kid Icarus as floaty or sluggish.)

Is that why I consider it to be influential? Not really. One aspect of Kid Icarus that did help shape my taste in video games, though, is its difficulty. Admittedly, it's sometimes (some may say often) "cheaply" difficult, but in general I think it just asks a lot of those who decide to play it. In some cases, that means perfectly timing jumps and arrow shots; in others, it means memorizing stage layouts (refer to this site if you need help) and enemy placements.

Regardless, Kid Icarus--along with its silver-box, "Adventure Series" sibling, Metroid--made me realize that while I like my games to be at least somewhat cute (or even simply colorful), I also like for them to be at least somewhat challenging.

Kid Icarus also prompted me to realize and embrace that I prefer action-platformers that dare to be a bit different to those that toe the line. Straightforward efforts that ape Super Mario Bros. are all well and good, but this game took that classic's basic components and built upon them tenfold. Rather than having stages scroll almost exclusively from left to right, Kid Icarus offers up ones that scroll up, down and all over the place. It even features maze-like dungeons that sprawl in all directions and need to be conquered at the end of each four-level world before you can move on to the next one.

Another of Kid Icarus' unique quirks that helped set the tone for my love of platform games that veer from the beaten path: the bow and quiver of unlimited arrows Pit uses to dispatch foes. For whatever reason, that's always struck me as far more interesting and thrilling than, say, Mega Man's "Mega Buster" or Simon Belmont's whip.

Unfortunately, despite all of the above, and despite the fact that Kid Icarus was chiefly responsible for shaping my taste in video games (oddball platformers, in particular), I've barely experienced it and its brilliant Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka soundtrack in the last couple of decades.

Truth be told, that's mostly because I'm now slightly terrified of it. The last time I attempted to work my way through its technicolor worlds, I struggled to complete its third stage.

Still, I've never been one to shrink away from a challenge, so I'll do my best to boot up some version of the game in the coming days and weeks. Here's hoping this playthrough will be more successful than the quickly aborted ones of the not-so-recent past.

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Five favorites: Famicom leading ladies

Here's an admission that should shock no one: I've preferred female protagonists in video games to male ones since my earliest experiences with the medium.

Unfortunately, NES games that let you play as a girl or woman were far from common--or at least that was the case for the ones I owned or rented back in the day. Metroid is an obvious stand-out, as is Super Mario Bros. 2, but other than that pair? The only additional examples that come to mind at the moment are Athena, Ice Climber (you can control Nana in two-player mode), Mickey Mousecapade (in a way) and Final Fantasy (I'm one of those folks who have always considered the white mage to be female).

Thankfully, I'm no longer a kid, which means imports are no longer off limits. That's a big deal, because Famicom games weren't as sexist as their North American counterparts--as should be evident by the time you finish reading the following blurbs about five of my favorite female protagonists to grace the Japanese iteration of Nintendo's 8-bit console.

Altiana (Space Hunter)--Full disclosure: I've never actually played this Kemco-made, flick-screen action game, but I've long wanted to give it a try. Admittedly, its gameplay looks a bit rough (see it action here), but its spritework--protagonist Altiana's, especially--is right up my alley. I know some folks wish the in-game version of Altiana looked a bit more like the version showcased on the Space Hunter box cover, but I think she looks great in both forms. Plus, based on the footage above, she seems to be a kick-ass-and-take-names kind of gal, which means I'd bow down to her even if her sprite was gnarly. (To learn more about this Japan-only release from 1986, check out Video Game Den's Space Hunter write-up.)

Clarice (City Connection)--What do I like least about this console port of Jaleco's arcade classic? That you only get a glimpse of its main character, the blue-haired lady in the screenshot above, between stages. Sure, the rest of City Connection also is as cute as can be, but I find Clarice's design to be so pleasant that it's a real shame players don't get to see more of it. Oh, well, at least she's the star of this banana-yellow Famicom cartridge. After all, how often does a driving game--even one that's more of a platformer than a racer--feature a female protagonist? (Bonus content: I first rented the NES iteration of City Connection back in the day because I thought its logo was adorable.)

Lum (Urusei Yatsura: Lum no Wedding Bell)--I've got to be honest here: I don't know a whole lot about the Urusei Yatsura manga and anime series in general or the Lum character in particular. (Besides what I've read on Wikipedia, I mean.) That unfortunate ignorance hasn't kept me from lusting after this Jaleco-made platformer, though, which is a remake, of sorts, of the same company's Momoko 120% arcade game. Chiefly responsible for the blossoming of that long-distance love affair: Hardcore Gaming 101 writer Neil Foster's declaration (in this article about Momoko 120%) that both Lum no Wedding Bell and its predecessor are "more or less standard arcade flair in the Donkey Kong vein." Add to that the fact that the blue-coiffed Lum can zap on-coming baddies with lightning bolts, and the appeal should be as clear as day.

Myu (Insector X)--Before I say anything else, I've got to give a shout-out to the 1CC Log for Shmups for educating me as to this red-headed gal's name. Before I came across the post linked to above, I assumed this 8-bit reimagining of Taito's quarter-muncher of the same title simply referred to her as "girl," or something similarly lazy and disappointing. Speaking of disappointing, Insector X's character-select screen suggests players should only choose Myu if they're girls themselves. Ugh. On a positive note, at least a female option exists. Related aside: I prefer Myu's design to that of her male cohort (his name is Anny) many times over.

Sayo (Kiki KaiKai Dotō Hen)--I've had a soft spot for the Shinto shrine maiden that serves as this Famicom Disk System's protagonist ever since I played through Pocky & Rocky with wide-eyed gusto as a teenager. That soft spot only grew when I became aware of the PC Engine port of the original KiKi KaiKai. (FYI: you can peruse the entirety of that game's instruction booklet in this "Manual Stimulation" post.) In the beginning, I liked Sayo because she was cute. Later, I came to appreciate that she single-handedly sets out to rescue not just one god, but seven of them, in this multi-directional shmup--which differs from both the arcade original and the aforementioned HuCard release in a number of important ways--with nothing more than a fistful of o-fuda scrolls.

Do you have any favorites when it comes to women who have starring roles in Famicom games? If so, let me know which ones in the comments section that follows.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The best PC Engine game manuals (I've seen)

NEC's PC Engine was and is beloved around the world for a lot of reasons, including the console's small footprint, its credit card-sized cartridges (called HuCards) and its eclectic library of games.

Another reason that should be added to that list, in my opinion: the drop-dead gorgeous instruction manuals that were packed inside many PC Engine game cases.

Speaking of which, I consider the manuals below to be among the system's best. Before you start scrolling through them, understand that this post shouldn't be considered exhaustive. I certainly haven't flipped through every PC Engine instruction manual in existence, after all. I have pored over a good number of them, though, so I'd say my thoughts on the matter are as valid as anyone's in this area.

With all that out of the way, here are my personal picks for "best PC Engine game manuals."

Don Doko Don--Something you need to know right off the bat when it comes to the instruction booklets produced for this system's games: the ones that accompanied Taito-made and Namco-made titles are the most impressive. I especially like Taito's PC Engine manuals. They're crude in a way that Namco's aren't, but I find that aspect to be surprisingly charming. Don Doko Don's is a perfect example of this. It's bursting with monochromatic depictions of this single-screen platformer's protagonists, enemies, bosses and items that are simple, yet captivating. To see the entirety of this HuCard's how-to pamphlet, by the way, check out my "Manual Stimulation" post devoted to it. You also may want to spend a few seconds or even minutes ogling The New Zealand Story's manual, which is similarly appealing.

Hany on the Road--It's a crying shame that this oddball platformer's instruction manual is so short. Not only is it full of vibrant color and adorable enemy illustrations, but it features a handful of wow-worthy clay models. A few more pages of the latter would've been warmly welcomed by yours truly. Still, the artists and designers at publisher FACE deserve kudos for offering up a booklet that's more beautiful than it has any right to be, regardless of its length. (FYI: the whole she-bang can be viewed here.)

Mizubaku Daibouken--In some ways, Mizubaku Daibouken's manual impresses me more than Don Doko Don's. As nice as the latter title's booklet is, the former's is a lot more adventurous. For starters, it kicks off with a multi-page comic that shares the game's backstory. It also uses eye-popping illustrations to introduce Mizubaku Daibouken's many worlds (see above) and explain its controls. That it wraps up with black-and-white doodles of some of this arcade port's enemy characters is the icing on the proverbial cake. Experience all of the above for yourself by perusing my "Manual Stimulation: Mizubaku Daibouken" write-up.

PC Genjin 2--Why did I choose PC Genjin 2's instruction booklet over those of the series' first or third entries? For me, the original PC Genjin's manual is a smidgen too safe. No one would use that word to describe the ambitious PC Genjin 3 manual, but I feel pretty comfortable calling it "a bit much." I love that it's bursting with color, and I appreciate its enemy illustrations, but taken as a whole it's nearly seizure-enducing. The PC Genjin 2 pamphlet provides some of the same thrills but without the headache that's sure to follow in their wake.

Pop'n Magic--I guess it shouldn't be a huge surprise that the manual made for a Bubble Bobble clone is as cute and colorful as can be. That said, the ones produced for genre mates Rainbow Islands and Parasol Stars are flat-out duds, as far as I'm concerned, so I'm fine with expressing some shock at the verve showcased in this Riot release's how-to booklet. The spread above is my favorite of this pamphlet's many pages, but that's not to suggest the remainder are stinkers. Decide for yourself by taking a magnifying glass to my "Manual Stimulation: Pop'n Magic" post.

Valkyrie no Densetsu--As I've said before, Namco's PC Engine games haven't always been favorites of mine. Thankfully, I pulled my head out of my butt some time ago and realized the bulk of them are well worth owning and playing--even if they aren't perfect replicas of their arcade counterparts. In general that's due to their attractive graphics and gameplay, but it's also due to their beautiful manuals. Valkyrie no Densetsu's (see it in all its glory here) is the best of the bunch, if you ask me, but even turds like Barunba came with booklets capable of taking your breath away.

For more awesome PC Engine game manuals, check out these "Manual Stimulation" posts or head over to Video Game Den and peruse that site's HuCard and CD-ROM2 sections.