Sunday, July 14, 2019

A whole lot of thoughts on Ever Oasis for the Nintendo 3DS

I bought a copy of Ever Oasis all the way back in early 2018--when Walmart was clearing out its stock of 3DS games for some reason or other. Sadly, it sat on a shelf, unopened and unloved, until a couple of weeks ago.

While considering which game I should take on vacation with me at that time, my stress-addled brain kindly reminded me of Ever Oasis. So, I stuck the cart into my trusty OG 3DS and tossed the whole she-bang into my carry-on bag.

Surprisingly, I avoided both like the plague on my nine-hour flight as well as throughout the rest of my two-week vacation. I came to my senses on the trip home, though. Not only did I start my way through Ever Oasis during this lengthy leg of the journey, but I put more than four hours into its desert-focused adventure before I landed in Austin.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you may have seen the posts I've published in the week-plus since I returned home that extol Ever Oasis' virtues. None of them went into much detail about why I've enjoyed the title so much up to now (or which aspects have done their darndest to keep me from enjoying it), though, so I thought I'd rectify that here.



It's gorgeous--Visually, Ever Oasis reminds me of a trio of other games I similarly adore: Fantasy Life, Miitopia, and Secret of Mana. All three are cute as buttons and feature chibi-ish character and enemy designs, of course, but that's only part of what I'm talking about here. The main aspect that ties these four titles together for me is they all use warm, soft color palettes that call to mind sherbet and beachy sunsets. As a result, I basically never tire of looking at them--Ever Oasis, in particular.

The soundtrack gives off serious Secret of Mana vibes, too--And by that I mostly mean there's a breezy, laidback feel to the bulk of it. The rest is made up of atmospheric tunes and tunes that are bombastically epic. All in all, it's an pleasingly eclectic soundtrack that cuts its own path while also offering a bit of nod to one Hiroki Kikuta forged many years earlier.

Fighting in Ever Oasis is a ton of fun--In fact, combat in this game feels a lot like the combat that's front and center in another 3DS game I just mentioned, Fantasy Life. I'd argue it's even more satisfying here, though, thanks to the fact you typically control a three-member party, and each party member tends to hoist different weapons and have different abilities that can be put to creative use while exploring as well as in battle.



I love the unique weapon designs--I'm especially smitten with the hammers wielded by Ever Oasis' portly, frog-like Serkah characters. One has a spiky cactus for a head. Another is capped with a giant pinecone. All of them put a smile on my face. The same is true of many of this game's other weapons, too--from its bolas, to its bows, to its magical wands. Sadly, only Serkahs can use the aforementioned hammers, but that's a pretty minor complaint, all things considered.

That said, I think there are too many weapons in Ever Oasis--I can't believe I'm saying such a thing, to be honest. Usually, I welcome any and all weapons an RPG is willing to throw at me. In Ever Oasis, though, you have to craft--or "synthesize"--the vast majority of them out of materials you collect while in the field. Only a select few can be bought from one of the game's rarely encountered merchants. As a result, you quickly build up a sizable cache of weapon "recipes" that overwhelms more than it impresses.

On the flipside, I wish there were more outfits in the game--I've found about seven turbans so far and maybe 15 coats or robes. That's not a whole lot, especially compared to the slew of weapons Ever Oasis offers up. Still, I'd be fine with this dearth of clothing options if what was available were more useful. Instead, the coats and robes and turbans are purely superficial. Accessories like anklets and rings and mirrors do boost your defenses in a couple of ways, but they're not visible during play--another big bummer for me.



The strategic aspect of the dungeon-crawling here is surprisingly engaging and intriguing--It's quite Zelda-esque in this regard. In fact, one could argue it one-ups Nintendo's classic series now and then thanks to the vast number of ways you can solve its puzzles. An unfortunate downside of this aspect of the game: you have to switch out party members with annoying regularity. Doing so is a lot easier than it could be thanks to the game's "aqua gate" function, but it's still pretty exhausting.

Speaking of which, I'd like this game even more than I do now if I could switch out party members via the pause menu--Considering the "aqua gate" mechanism I just referred to is far from realistic, I wish Ever Oasis' developers had taken things one step further and let players change party members quickly and easily via the game's pause menu.

That seems to be Ever Oasis' only missing "quality of life" component, however--Ever Oasis may fumble a bit with the above, but it makes up for it elsewhere. Don't like gardening? Ask some of your residents to handle it for you. Restocking their shops--or "Bloom Booths"--with materials you gather while spelunking is made similarly easy after a certain point. Early on, you have to go door to door to accomplish this task; later, it requires little more than the press of a button. The game is full of such shortcuts, and they help make it as tedium-free as possible.



I could do without a lot of this game's town-building and NPC-pleasing--Many like to describe Ever Oasis as a spiritual successor to Square Enix's Mana series. And while that makes some sense--especially since Secret of Mana's director, Koichi Ishii, also served as this title's director--it only tells half the story. That's because overworld-stalking and dungeon-crawling are just a part of Ever Oasis' gameplay loop. The other part focuses on town-building, material-gathering, and NPC-pleasing. Those actions are a nice diversion at first, but for me they became increasingly tiresome and time-consuming as I delved ever deeper into the game.

It's a crying shame you can't recruit any of the adorable Noots as party members--As much as I like the designs of most of Ever Oasis' controllable characters (of which there are many), I can't help but feel sad the developers of the title didn't allow players to add even one of the game's cute-as-hell Noot beings to their dungeon-crawling parties. Maybe they saved it for a sequel?

Note: the screenshots showcased here are from this wonderful Ever Oasis walkthrough and guide

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Manual Stimulation: Gunpey (WonderSwan)

Considering how much I usually love portable puzzle games, I am disappointingly inexperienced with and uneducated about Gunpey.

On the one hand, I can understand it. Gunpey isn't the most interesting looking puzzler around--despite being one that's played with the WonderSwan turned sideways, in so-called "portrait mode."

On the other hand, I can't understand it, as the game was made by the esteemed Gunpei Yokoi.





Not that he made it himself, of course. He made it with a number of former Nintendo colleagues who helped him start a company called Koto.

At any rate, their maiden release hit Japanese store shelves alongside the original WonderSwan model on March 4, 1999.





Unfortunately, Gunpey's status as an early WonderSwan release is reflected in its rather ho-hum instruction manual, scans of which can be seen throughout this post.

This manual also reflects what I said earlier about Gunpey being far from an eye-popping puzzle game.

How so? Well, most of the acreage here is covered in text. The rest is covered in black-and-white screenshots. A pop of color can be seen now and then, but that's about it.





Which is strange, as Gunpey stars a small handful of mascot-y characters that could've livened things up a little--or a lot.

Instead, the designers who worked on the Gunpey manual ignored them almost completely.

Oh, well. At least a number of screenshots included here showcase them. (Click on and zoom in on the scans immediately above and below to see what I mean.)





What else is there to say about the Gunpey instruction booklet? Not much, if you ask me.

A bit more can be said about Gunpey the game, though. For example, although it began life on the WonderSwan, it eventually made its way to the WonderSwan Color, the original PlayStation, the PlayStation Portable, and the Nintendo DS as well.

Also, a few months after the original iteration released, a version featuring San-X's Tarepanda character released for the WonderSwan, too.





Finally, some of you might like to hear how Gunpey is played. The gist: you move line fragments vertically along a grid in order to create a single horizontal line that stretches from the left edge of the WonderSwan screen to its right edge.

Like I said earlier, hardly the most thrilling of premises for a puzzle game.

Still, my limited time with it has been enjoyable enough, so if you have a WonderSwan and you're itching to play a puzzler on it, you could do worse than pick up a copy of Gunpey.

See also: 'Manual Stimulation' posts about other WonderSwan games, including Crazy Climber, Lode Runner, and Engacho!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Five reasons I would've paid full price for the Switch version of Dandy Dungeon if Onion Games had forced me to do so

I downloaded and started playing Onion Games' Dandy Dungeon the second it hit the Apple App Store in early 2017. (OK, so maybe it wasn't the exact second. I certainly bought it that same day, though.)

Why? Because Yoshiro Kimura--of Chulip, Little King's Story, and Moon: Remix RPG Adventure fame--not only had a hand in designing it, but served as its director, too.

Also, Kazuyuki Kurashima acted as Dandy Dungeon's art director, and Keiichi Sugiyama handled its music and sound design.

If those names don't mean anything to you, Kurashima previously crafted the character designs for games like Freshly-Pickled Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland and UFO: A Day in the Life, while Sugiyama worked on such classics as Daytona USA 2001 and Rez.



Sadly, although I adored most of the handful of hours I put into the mobile version of this roguelike puzzler, some of its "free to play" elements eventually got on my nerves.

Fast forward to a few months ago when word started spreading that Dandy Dungeon was Switch-bound. Despite my mixed reaction to the original release, I couldn't help but get excited about the prospect of giving it a second chance on what's currently my go-to game system.

Thankfully, those murmurings proved to be true for a change, and Dandy Dungeon is now due to hit the Nintendo Switch eShop on June 27. (Heads up: if you pre-purchase it before that date, you'll only pay $17.50, or 30 percent less than the usual price of $24.99.)

As you've hopefully gathered from this post's headline, I won't be paying anything for it. That's because the folks at Onion Games kindly gave me a free copy.

That's awesome, of course, but even so I'm here to say I would've paid full price for this Dandy Dungeon Switch port if the company had snubbed my request. Why? Here are five reasons:



It's deliciously simple--Dandy Dungeon's gameplay basically consists of being sent into dungeons made up of five-square-by-five-square rooms and then drawing a single line that takes the digital representation of the game's protagonist, Yamada-kun, from their entrances to their exits. There's a bit more to it than that, but only a bit. Such straightforward simplicity may sound boring, but it's not. Helping matters immensely: each room of each dungeon is randomly generated--or at least they seem to be randomly generated. Also, you can finish one in seconds at best or minutes at most.

It's crammed full of content--I can't tell you how much, sadly. That said, I've put just over 20 hours into this iteration of Dandy Dungeon so far, and I have a feeling I've got at least that much more to go before I hit its end credits. (Assuming it has a credit roll, of course.) Granted, some--maybe even a good chunk--of that time has been spent grinding, but I'd argue that grinding in Dandy Dungeon rarely, if ever, feels annoying. On the contrary, it's often surprisingly gratifying, as every trip through a particular dungeon leaves you a tad wiser about its (and your) strengths and weaknesses.

It's cute as a button--Kurashima-san sure knows how to make sprites adorable, doesn't he? That was true in Super Mario RPG, it was true in LIVE A LIVE, and it's true in Dandy Dungeon as well. And the sprites here aren't just statically cute, either--they bounce and lunge and wiggle in ways that'll put a stupid, sappy grin on your face, too.



It's completely bonkers--If you've ever played any of Kimura's other joints, like one of my favorite games of 2018, Black Bird, you know they tend to be bizarre. Dandy Dungeon is no exception. You may have already heard the game's story, which focuses on a 36-year-old guy who hates his job, loves his much younger neighbor, and turns to both for inspiration as he makes his own RPG. At home. In his underwear. That's just the start of Dandy Dungeon's journey to Weirdo Land, however. Its enemies, bosses, even its armor and weapons regularly qualify as eyebrow-raising--though rarely in a scandalous way.

Its soundtrack is subtly incredible--Those of you who played and loved Black Bird might approach Dandy Dungeon expecting a similarly "out there" soundtrack. That's not exactly what you'll get, but don't let that stop you from looking forward to it anyway. What's so subtle about this game's music, you ask? Mainly, it's that most of Dandy Dungeon's tunes are wink-wink-nudge-nudge riffs on classic Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy tracks. They're great and all, but they're unlikely to blow you away. As for what will: the handful of fully original compositions, like the Middle Eastern-esque one that plays whenever a rare monster appears on a stage.

See also: 'Onion Games' Black Bird is the dark Fantasy Zone clone I didn't know I wanted or needed'

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Five (more) questions with the makers of Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe

A little over a week ago, I published an interview with Simon Larsen and Lukas Erritsø Hansen, the two guys who, along with musical artist potato-tan, made the homebrew GameBoy gem known as Tobu Tobu Girl.

If you read through that interview, you know that I conducted it over a year ago. I conducted this one, which focuses on the GameBoy Color-compatible Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe, far more recently--just a couple of days ago, in fact.

Speaking of which, you can learn more about--and back a boxed release of--this colorized and otherwise enhanced version of Tangram Games' flagship title via the Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe Kickstarter that ends on May 4.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe title screen

The Gay Gamer: What prompted you to make a deluxe version of Tobu Tobu Girl? Also, when did you make the decision to go this route and when did you get started on it?

Simon: We had been toying around with this idea all the way back when the game was early in development but never went beyond some some colored mock-ups. Tobu Tobu Girl was our first GameBoy project, so we already had our hands full making it work on the DMG.

It wasn't until First Press Games approached us in late 2018 suggesting a "deluxe" version to go with the physical release that we actually started working on it. The (non-GameBoy) game we were working on at the time was not really working out, so this seemed like a nice distraction. As much as we like the original grayscale version, the DMG screen is not very suited for the fast gameplay of Tobu Tobu Girl, so we always felt like the game was best played on a GameBoy Color or Advance anyway. That seemed like a good reason to make a proper colored version.

Early Tobu Tobu Girl color mock-up

The Gay Gamer: Is Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe simply a colorized version of the original game, or is there more to this project than that?

Simon: Besides the obvious addition of colors, a lot of the in-game graphics have been overhauled, both in the grayscale and color versions.

We are also working on some larger additions to the game that we unfortunately can’t reveal too much about yet since some of it is tied to the Kickstarter stretch goals. But we promise there will be some really cool new features regardless of whether any of the stretch goals are met.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe "Clouds" stage

The Gay Gamer: Have you encountered any problems or issues while turning the original game into Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe? If so, can you talk about a few of them and how you overcame them?

Lukas: While at first glance it might have seemed pretty straightforward colorizing the four-shade graphics of the original game, it did come with its share of challenges. Since no (eight-by-eight-pixel) tile can consist of more than four different colors, and no more than eight unique four-color palettes can be present at any time, I had to rework a lot of the tile-based assets from the original.

Especially the score tally screen illustrations were heavily altered to fit the color restrictions, as you would have a tile consisting of the background color, outline, skin, skin shade, jacket, and the shading on the jacket. In the grayscale version, these are just four colors, whereas in the color version I would often end up having tiles like these with five or six different colors.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe "Space" stage

Another problem was the issue of choosing colors that would present well on the GameBoy Color screen. The RGB colors do not translate to the GameBoy Color screen like they would on a standard monitor and generally look more washed-out. Although most emulators have ways of emulating this effect, none of them really seemed to emulate it that closely, so this led to a lot of trial and error.

Simon: On the programming side, this process has mostly been fairly simple. Most of the effort went into writing and rewriting tools for getting the assets into the game. All the new assets increased the amount of data in the game quite a bit, so we had to restructure the ROM’s layout to make everything fit nicely. This hasn’t been a major issue though, since cartridges for the physical release--and any decent flash carts--have way more memory available than we’d ever need.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe "Dream" stage

The Gay Gamer: Tobu Tobu Girl was made to the original GameBoy's specifications. Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe is being made to the GameBoy Color's specifications. Surely this means your next project will be Tobu Tobu Girl Advance, made to the specifications of the GameBoy Advance? Seriously, though, do you ever see yourselves making a proper sequel to Tobu Tobu Girl?

Simon: For now, I doubt we will ever make a sequel. We have already put more time and energy into Tobu Tobu Girl than we ever planned to, and I think I speak for both of us when I say we’re ready to do something else. Overall, we are also pretty happy with the final design: each enemy serves a specific purpose and I think the game allows a decent amount of player expression with only a few core mechanics. If we would ever decide to make a sequel, it would be because we wanted to make a fundamentally different game.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe menu screen

The Gay Gamer: Can we ever expect to see Tobu Tobu Girl or Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe for sale on the Nintendo Switch (or even the 3DS) eShop? If so, when? And if not, why?

Simon: While that would be pretty cool, it is highly unlikely. I don’t think Nintendo would ever allow any emulated games on the eShop. And even if that was the case, I hear getting games certified for consoles is also huge pain. We are making games for fun, not for profit, so we would rather put that energy into making something new.

See also: the Tobu Tobu Girl review I wrote for Hardcore Gaming 101

Friday, April 19, 2019

Check out the Tobu Tobu Girl review I wrote for Hardcore Gaming 101

To those of you who are sick of me writing, tweeting, or otherwise chatting about Tangram Games' Tobu Tobu Girl, I'm sorry.

Don't worry, I'll return to blogging and blathering on about other games soon enough.

In the meantime, please consider reading the Tobu Tobu Girl review I wrote for Hardcore Gaming 101. I think it'll help you understand why I adore the game so much.

Speaking of which, one of the reasons I love Tobu Tobu Girl is that it reminds me of Nintendo's Balloon Kid. As I say in my HG101 review of the former, "both [games] star plucky girls. Both begin with loved ones--a brother in Balloon Kid, a cat in Tobu Tobu Girl--carried away by balloons. Both feature gameplay that regularly makes you feel like you’re a pinball ricocheting around the screen."


That's where the similarities end, though. Again, from my review: "Whereas Balloon Kid is a unique spin on the side-scrolling platformer genre, Tobu Tobu Girl is an arcadey, twitchy, high-score-chasing affair that’s akin to Ferry Halim’s Winterbells. Much like that 2006 effort, the main objective in Tobu Tobu Girl is to quickly climb the screen by bouncing off anything and everything in your path. In Winterbells, that means bells and birds; in Tangram Games’ title, it means birds, bats, ghosts, and even aliens."

On a related, note, Tangram Games recently teamed up with First Press Games to launch a Kickstarter for Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe, a GameBoy Color-enhanced reworking of the original.

Although a free, open-source ROM of Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe will be released in a few months, backers of this Kickstarter will receive physical (boxed) copies of the game.

See also: 'Ten questions with the guys behind the best GameBoy game you've probably never played, Tobu Tobu Girl'

Friday, April 12, 2019

Ten questions with the guys behind the best GameBoy game you've probably never played, Tobu Tobu Girl

Back in late 2017, a little two-man company called Tangram Games released a homebrew GameBoy title called Tobu Tobu Girl.

I became aware of Tobu Tobu Girl just before it hit the internet (digitally) and Tangram Games' shop page (physically), but ignored both iterations for some time after that because I assumed it wouldn't be very good.

In the immortal words of Vivian Ward, Julia Roberts' character in Pretty Woman, "Big mistake. Big. Huge!" You see, after I finally got around to trying Tobu Tobu Girl, I basically spent the next six or so months slapping myself silly for failing to nab a boxed copy of it.

If only I'd watched GameBoyle's BoyCurious Tobu Tobu Girl review earlier. In it, host Mat declares this to be one of the best titles he's played on Nintendo's first handheld game console. That sounds like a ridiculous claim, I know. But after putting more hours than I'd like to admit into it, I can say with some confidence that Tobu Tobu Girl actually is one of the finest GameBoy games around.

Tobu Tobu Girl both looks, feels, and sounds--this last bit is thanks to artist potato-tan--like something Nintendo or maybe HAL Laboratory would produce. Every single aspect of it is as clean and tight as can be. Even better, it's endlessly enjoyable and entertaining--quite a feat when you're talking about a title with just four stages, each of which can be finished in under a minute.

Now you know why I can't seem to shut up on Twitter about the recently launched Kickstarter for Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe, a GameBoy Color-enhanced reworking of the original.

In an effort to raise awareness about both Tobu Tobu Girl and the just-mentioned Kickstarter for its colorized follow-up, I'm finally publishing this interview I did with Tangram Games' Lukas Erritsø Hansen and Simon Larsen well over a year ago.


The Gay Gamer: You first started work on Tobu Tobu Girl back in 2014, as part of the third GBJAM game jam. Did you come up with the idea on the spot, specifically for that event? Or had you been thinking of it for a while beforehand?

Simon: The idea was something we came up with during the jam. We wanted to make a game with a musical element, where everything in the game would be synced up to the music and parts of the music would be produced by player’s actions. Sort of like a 2D platformer meets Rez. Though what we ended up submitting for the jam was nothing like that. In the end we didn’t even manage to put in any sound at all.

The Gay Gamer: The version of Tobu Tobu Girl you produced for GBJAM 3 was pretty different from the one you made available to the masses in late 2017. Why did you change it so drastically? Were you unhappy with how the GBJAM 3 version looked or played?

Simon: I think the main reason was simply that the initial idea wasn’t very fun. We initially wanted everything to sync up to the music, but that quickly proved too restrictive so we moved in a more puzzle-like direction. After the jam, we still weren’t very happy with how the game played and kept tweaking the design until we at some point decided that a more arcadey and twitchy gameplay style was simply more fun and closer to something we’d enjoy ourselves.

Lukas: Regarding the look of the game, we did intend to keep the style and assets from the jam version. However, during the time that we were working on the game I was at a point of rapidly improving my drawing and spriting skills. About two years into the project, I just couldn’t stand looking at the game, and as such redrew just about every sprite.


The Gay Gamer: Can you explain some of the biggest changes you made to the game from its 2014 build to its 2017 one? For instance, the early version was kind of like a single-screen puzzler, while the latest version is more of a twitchy score-attack game. Also, the early version didn't have an HUD, while the latest one does--and you moved it from the bottom of the screen to the side during development. How did you settle on those alterations?

Lukas: We early on decided to change the core concept to something more akin to Winterbells. I think having some kind of scrolling was important to us at the time. In the early version you navigated the screen by simply bouncing on enemies, like in the jam version essentially. At some point we decided to add power-ups to the game, an include that on one hand added a lot of variation to the game but also muddied the concept a bit. In the end we took the power-ups we found added most to the game and incorporated them into the set of core mechanics, the dashes and “boosting.”

Simon: The HUD was added when we introduced power-ups. The player would collect orbs scattered throughout the level, and once they had gathered enough, they would be rewarded with a random power-up. The HUD was added in order to show the player how many orbs they had collected, as well as their progress through the stage. Problem was, the HUD covered more than 10 percent of the screen vertically, which made the game significantly harder, so we had to move it to the side instead. Luckily, this also made the progress tracker much better, as it would now move up vertically along with the player.


The Gay Gamer: Did you look to any existing games for inspiration while creating the first version of Tobu Tobu Girl? If so, which ones?

Simon: I think I’d been playing a lot of Rez and Electroplankton at the time and was in love with this idea of the gameplay influencing or possibly even creating the music as you play. However, in terms of the actual gameplay I don’t think we were really inspired by anything in particular.

The Gay Gamer: And how about the current version of Tobu Tobu Girl--did your sources of inspiration change at all when went to alter its gameplay?

Lukas: I was playing a lot of Ultra Street Fighter 4 at the time. There’s a character in that game that relies heavily on these sort of teleport-like dashes. I really wanted to try to imitate the snappiness that I felt playing that character. As strange as it may sound that ended up being a defining point in the design process. When it came to the actual implementation of that core mechanic, that took quite a few tries and approaches before arriving at what ended up in the game.


The Gay Gamer: The first thing that struck me when I saw footage of Tobu Tobu Girl was how much it reminded me of Nintendo's Balloon Kid. Specifically, your game almost seems like a sideways take on that GameBoy classic. Is that connection intentional or accidental?

Simon: Completely accidental. Neither of us actually knew about Balloon Kid when making the game, but I can definitely see where the comparison is coming from. I think Upwell--as in, Downwell but upwards--is more fitting, though that wasn’t something we were really aiming for either.

The Gay Gamer: What does the "tobu tobu" part of this game's name mean? A quick check of Jisho.org says "tobu" usually means to fly, soar, or jump. Did you have any particular translation or localization in mind when you came up with the title Tobu Tobu Girl?

Simon: We don't really have an “official” translation but it is supposed to mean something like “Jump Jump Girl.” The title is an homage to Japanese titles like Noby Noby BoyDoki Doki Panic, ChuChu Rocket! We are obviously very inspired by Japanese games in general and we wanted the title to reflect that. Same goes for the box art--both for the jam version and the final release.


The Gay Gamer: Did you encounter any particular problems or issues while making either version of Tobu Tobu Girl? If so, what were they--or what were the worst--and how did you overcome them?

Lukas: Graphics-wise the main challenge came partly from the limited sprite and tile count, and partly from the limited color palette. Making sure the sprites are easily readable from the background was a problem and something I don’t think we entirely succeeded at. In regards to the sprite count, I don’t think there’s any animation used in the actual game that has more than two frames. Due to the limited tile count, I probably spent more time reducing and keeping each background to the allowed amount of tiles than I spent drawing them.

Simon: Perhaps the biggest challenge was getting the physical edition ready. You obviously can’t just call some company and have GameBoy cartridges made in 2017, so figuring out how to do that in a feasible and affordable way was quite difficult, and at some point we were convinced it would never happen. Even something as simple as getting high-quality manuals and cardboard boxes manufactured in such a small quantity was not trivial. These challenges are ultimately the reason why the game was so long in the making. In the end it was definitely worth it, though.


The Gay Gamer: What are the main challenges of making a GameBoy game that plays on actual hardware? 

Simon: The main challenge was definitely to make sure the game ran at a nice and stable frame rate. Tobu Tobu Girl game is fairly fast-paced and even the slightest slowdown is very noticeable and is likely to throw you off and kill you. Often we would add some new feature only to have the game suddenly slow down. Then we would have to either optimize it, remove it, or get rid of something else. This can of course be quite frustrating, but it also helps you prioritize which elements are really necessary.

Another big challenge was the music and sound effects. The GameBoy does not really have any functionality for this--you can only tell it to play a certain frequency with a certain wave form at a certain volume. In order to add music, we had to implement a sequencer, which is basically a small program responsible for playing the right notes at the right time. potato-tan, the game’s composer, would write all the music in some weird music notation language we based on MML (Music Macro Language) that we could then convert into something the sequencer understands.


The Gay Gamer: Are you two GameBoy fans yourselves, or did something else spur you to develop a GameBoy game in 2017?

Simon: I used to be a pretty big GameBoy fan. I rarely play on it anymore, but I still adore it quite a lot. It was the first console I owned, so there is obviously a fair amount of nostalgia involved as well. However, I think the main reason is simply that it seemed like a fun challenge. I had played around with making GameBoy homebrew all the way back in 2010. Later in 2013, we wanted to participate in the second GBJAM game jam and decided it would be more fun to make an actual GameBoy game. We ended up making an (also unfinished) prototype of a GameBoy game called Super Catacombs. About a year later, we once again participated in GBJAM, this time working on what would become Tobu Tobu Girl.

Lukas: I’ve only very recently acquired a GameBoy, though I did own one as a kid. In that regard I’m not much of an actual GameBoy or even retro fan. The main draw was the challenge of making the game run decently on actual hardware. That meant seriously limiting frame count on animations and very laboriously reducing the count of unique tiles on each background.

See also: previous 'ten questions with...' posts featuring auntie pixelante, Peter Bartholow (of Indivisible fame), Dudedle Studio, the guys who created Wizorb, the guy chiefly responsible for the English fan translation of Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love, and the makers of THE 'DENPA' MEN 2

Friday, April 05, 2019

Don't miss your chance to own one of the best GameBoy games around: Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe

I haven’t said much (if anything?) about it here, on Twitter, or on Facebook, but I absolutely love Tobu Tobu Girl.

If this is the first you’re hearing of it, Tobu Tobu Girl a homebrew GameBoy title that was made by Tangram Games--though potato-tan produced its brilliant soundtrack--and released back in late 2017.

In a nutshell, Tobu Tobu Girl is an old-school arcade-action game. I like to think of it as Nintendo’s Balloon Kid turned on its side, although that description isn’t entirely accurate. Still, hopefully it puts a pleasant picture in your head.

Why am I bringing up all of this now? Because the guys at Tangram just launched, with the help of with First Press Games, a Kickstarter for Tobu Tobu Girl DeluxeTobu Tobu Girl Deluxe basically is a GameBoy Color-esque reworking of the original title--though like any GBC game, it’ll play on original GB hardware, too.



Anyway, between now and May 4, people can pledge money toward physical copies of Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe via the Kickstarter in question.

For $55 or more, you can secure a “Regular Edition” copy of the game, which includes a cartridge, a cartridge case, an outer box, an inlay that holds the cartridge and case, an instruction manual, and a collector’s coin.

For $70 or more, you can secure a “Limited Edition” copy of Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe. This version includes all of the above plus a double-sided poster and potato-tan’s marvelous soundtrack pressed onto a pair of mini-CDs.

Not quite ready to drop that kind of cash on a game you’ve yet to play? Go try the original release of Tobu Tobu Girl. The ROM is free and should be playable on any GameBoy emulator.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Manual Stimulation: Hoshi no Kirby (GameBoy)

I don't know about you, but something I expect from any Kirby game manual is a ton of adorable illustrations of the pink puffball himself.



Sadly, the Hoshi no Kirby instruction manual disappoints mightily in that regard.



Sure, it offers up a few nice Kirby drawings, but I thought I'd find a lot more than a few in this particular booklet.



Oh, well. It's still worth ogling. One case in point: the rather fabulous border that lines each and every page of the Hoshi no Kirby--Kirby's Dream Land elsewhere in the world--manual.



Seriously, it's bubblegum pink and it's filled with stars. What more could you ask for in this kind of situation?



This booklet is similarly filled with screenshots of the game, of course. Normally that would prompt an unenthusiastic yawn from me, but here they're colored to complement the rest of the manual's color scheme, so instead it produced a mildly appreciative nod of the head.



This next page, on the other hand, is like a stab through the heart. No one at HAL Laboratory or Nintendo could be bothered to whip up some line drawings of Hoshi no Kirby's items?



The game only has a handful, after all. Plus, I can't imagine reproducing them in illustrated form would be much of a challenge.



To be honest, the only illustrations that impress here are found on the Hoshi no Kirby instruction booklet's last couple of pages.



These pages detail the game's five stages, by the way. Speaking of which, I love their names--especially "Float Islands" and "Bubbly Clouds."



Now that you've taken a gander at the Japanese Kirby's Dream Land manual, what do you think of it?

See also: my Hoshi no Kirby review, some photos of the Hoshi no Kirby GameBoy cartridge and box, and scans of the Hoshi no Kirby Famicom manual

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Manual Stimulation: Nontan to Issho Kuru Kuru Puzzle (GameBoy)

Fun fact: Pokémon developer Game Freak had a hand in making the Super Famicom version of this adorable puzzler.

They seemingly had nothing to do with the original GameBoy release, though, which hit Japanese store shelves back in early 1994.



So who made it? Access, a company I'd never heard of before I started researching this post.



Sadly, I can't tell you how the two titles compare to one another. Based on what I've seen of the Super Famicom iteration, its gameplay mirrors what's offered up by the GameBoy cart.



As for what Nontan to Issho Kuru Kuru Puzzle's gameplay is like, imagine your typical match-two puzzler. (Yes, I said "match two" and not "match three" here.) Then alter that image in such a way that you can flip each of the game's pieces to see their backsides.



Sadly, that aspect of Nontan to Issho Kuru Kuru Puzzle isn't as thrilling as it may sound, but it still adds a unique twist to this overdone--at the time, in particular--genre.



With that out of the way, let's focus on the Nontan to Issho Kuru Kuru Puzzle instruction manual.



As you can see, it's very yellow-orange. It also features some nice illustrations of cute animals.



I think it could feature a lot more of the latter, though. I also think it could feature bigger and better illustrations of the game's puzzle pieces.



In the end, the Nontan to Issho Kuru Kuru Puzzle manual is more about explaining how to play the game than it is about forcing oohs and aahs out of readers.



To be honest, I can't blame the designers at Victor Interactive for going this route. Instruction manuals are supposed to educate people, after all.



Still, a little visual pizzazz would've gone a long way here, if you ask me--especially given this game's youthful target audience.

See also: photos of Nontan to Issho Kuru Kuru Puzzle's box and cartridge