Saturday, July 01, 2017

Manual Stimulation: Tumblepop (GameBoy)

Given my nearly lifelong love of Taito's Bubble Bobble and its many copycats and clones, it might strike some of you as strange that it took me a couple of decades to come across and check out Data East's Tumblepop.

What can I say? It completely bypassed my radar between its arcade release in 1991 and when I finally became aware of the GameBoy port discussed here a few years back.

Speaking of which, you know what prompted me to take notice of this portable single-screen platformer? The brilliantly colorful art that's splashed across the cover of the Japanese version. (See it in all its glory in my "Yet Another Year of the GameBoy" post about Tumblepop.)

Admittedly, it's a bit of a bummer that the Japanese GameBoy port's manual cover isn't as vibrant as its box cover, but it's also not exactly shocking.

I say that because most Japanese GameBoy manuals were printed using just one or two colors of ink. Here, Data East's artists went with blue and green.

HAL Laboratory's, on the other hand, went with red and blue while producing Ghostbuster 2's Japanese GameBoy manual, and Asmik's designers went with blue and orange while making the Pitman manual.

At any rate, the pops of green and blue that are found throughout the Tumblepop booklet's interior are far more impressive than the cover art seen above, if you ask me.

I also really like the unique style that was employed to craft the many character illustrations that accompany those pops of color. The clown showcased on the scan below is a good example.

Thank goodness Data East allowed its designers to create these pieces of art, as the Japanese Tumblepop instruction manual is surprisingly meaty. Without an illustration here and there, flipping through it would be a lot less interesting.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Five more overlooked Japanese GameBoy games you need to play as soon as possible

Late last year, I published a post about five overlooked Japanese GameBoy games I thought all interested parties should play as soon as humanly possible.

The titles highlighted in the write-up were Astro Rabby, Burning Paper, Noobow, Painter Momopie and Taiyou no Tenshi Marlowe: Ohanabatake wa Dai-Panic, in case anyone would like a refresher.

At the time, I had no intention of following up that article. A couple of weeks ago, though, it struck me that I'd left more than a few sadly ignored GameBoy cartridges out of my original offering.

Will I ever publish a third? I'm not planning to, but who knows. There's no question there are more Japanese GameBoy carts that deserve to have the spotlight turned their way, so if I can corral five of them I may just push forward with yet another "overlooked Japanese GameBoy games" post.

In the meantime, I'd highly recommend you do whatever you need to do to check out the following:

Banishing Racer--I'm not so sure this game can be called "overlooked" at this point, especially among collectors. Still, I have a feeling your average Joe or Jane who only has a passing interest in Nintendo's first handheld system is completely unaware of Banishing Racer's existence, so I'd say it's as deserving of a mention here as any other Japanese GameBoy cartridge.

As for why I think those Janes and Joes should play this Jaleco-made offering, my main reason is it's a side-scrolling platformer that stars an adorable anthropomorphic car. Also, it sports a breezy soundtrack that's surprisingly easy on the ears.

Unfortunately, Banishing Racer is short (just five worlds with three stages in each) and tends toward being cheaply difficult, but controlling a car with googly eyes--which may or may not be "related" to the vehicle at the heart of another great Jaleco game, City Connection--far outweighs both of those negatives in my humble opinion.

Before you run off and try to hunt down a copy of Banishing Racer thanks to all the gushing I've done here, know that even loose carts can go for astronomical amounts these days.

Cave Noire--Oh, Konami. Once upon a time, you produced some absolutely wonderful games--like this one, in fact. Not that you bothered to bring Cave Noire to Australia, Europe, North America or any other region outside of Japan.

Of course, it's hard to blame the powers that be at Konami for giving the thumbs down to a localization of this portable roguelike. After all, the genre wasn't all that popular among console gamers in the early 1990s. (Cave Noire hit Japanese store shelves in 1991.) Thankfully, GameBoy systems were and continue to be region-free, so anyone who wants to put this curious title through its paces is free to do so.

As for what they'll encounter after booting it up: that would be a dungeon-crawling RPG that takes some interesting liberties with the pattern laid down by genre-maker Rogue. You see, Cave Noire is divided into four distinct dungeons. Each of these claustrophobic chambers focuses on a different victory condition: one tasks you with collecting a certain amount of money, one demands you save a certain number of trapped fairies and so on and so forth.

That combined with the bite-sized nature of the game's dungeons as well as its eye-pleasing visuals (which remind of Final Fantasy Adventure, aka Seiken Densetsu) and similarly adroit audio propels Cave Noire into must-play territory even if you don't know a lick of the language.

Kitchen Panic--Full disclosure: this Coconuts Japan-published (in 1991) game is the least impressive of all the ones highlighted in this post. Thankfully, you also should be able to pick up a copy of Kitchen Panic for less money than you'd have to pay to buy any of the other titles mentioned here.

As for why Kitchen Panic fails to thrill as much as, say, Cave Noire or Peetan, that would be because it's basically an arcade-y action game that doesn't provide a whole lot of depth. That's not to say it's not fun. If you're in the mood for a nice little Mario Bros.-esque score-attack game that sports cute backdrops and sprites (mostly of various insects), Kitchen Panic is as good an option as any that were produced for the GameBoy during its long life.

One last comment before I shut my trap and move on to the next overlooked Japanese GameBoy title: if you suffer from entomophobia you'll want to treat Kitchen Panic like the plague, as killing creepy-crawlies is the focus of this Bits Laboratory-made cartridge.

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