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