Category Archives: Video

Chubby Cherub reconsidered, kinda

The game Chubby Cherub, when it bobs to the surface of the collective conscious at all, tends to be treated as one of those NES games that makes a nice, easy target for a few softball jokes, and little more. I mean, come on: It stars a fat, naked angel eating candy and avoiding dogs. I suppose any concept can make for a great game, but it’s an early third-party release for NES, so the chances of it having turned out well were pretty nil. I don’t remember if Seanbaby ever made fun of Chubby Cherub… but if he didn’t, that just underscores how unremarkable it is. It would have been perfect fodder for his pioneering “let’s insult slipshod NES software” work in the ’90s.

Personally, my only memories of the game involve being annoyed at its omnipresence on that fateful summer of 1988 as I scoured the country in a desperate search for Castlevania, not realizing Castlevania was (1.) temporarily out of print and (2.) about to get a new manufacturing run. When what you really want is gothic horror but all you can find are candy-obsessed flying babies, it’s hard to hold a kind thought in your heart about the flying babies.

Anyway, going into this week’s video project armed with nothing but an awareness of the fact that Chubby Cherub is widely reviled and hails from the same developer/publisher combo as last week’s M.U.S.C.L.E. Tag Team Match, I was pleasantly surprised that it’s merely a mediocre game rather than an aggressively terrible one. The action moves at a sluggish pace and the overall design feels lopsided and unfair, but it’s not without a bit of merit. Like the video says, I could see kids back in the day having an OK time with this one — and indeed, several commenters have confirmed that they did, indeed, have a not-entirely-painful experience playing this game when they were young. Plus, if nothing else, I had an excuse to talk about vintage anime thanks to the game’s origins.

Speaking of which, I considered throwing these snapshots I took in Nakano last week of vintage Obake no Q Taro merchandise into the video:

Those are some hefty prices for a few chunks of painted plastic. They don’t begin to compare to the outlandish premium prices attached to Chubby Cherub, though. The cartridge is trending toward $100, and complete copies have been selling in the $500-1500 range of late. That’s a lot of money to pay for a game that maybe isn’t terrible but definitely isn’t great.

And on that note, thanks once again to Steve Lin for lending me his boxed copy of the game for documentation!

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After over 20 years and 25 games, is the original Worms still fun?

Yes, it is.

After a much needed quiet week following the release of that hour-long Duke Nukem Forever documentary, the Kim Justice channel is once again on the move today with a little video that’s all about Worms — specifically the very first Worms game, made at the request of a patron who most certainly adores the series. Worms is undoubtedly very successful as far as British video game series — indeed, it’s one of the last from the Amiga that’s still standing today, despite coming so late in the computer’s life (development on the game was started on the Amiga, although strangely this version came out last — not arriving until December 1995). It is also undoubtedly a big contributor to Team 17’s continued existence as one of the longest lived independent studios in the game.

One of the difficulties of covering Worms as a series isn’t the sheer amount of games, it’s that most of the games are pretty damn similar. They’re all very casual games based off of an artillery game formula that’s as old as the creation of computer games itself, although really came to prominence with Wendell Hicken’s DOS game Scorched Earth in 1991. Talking of which, one of the highlights of this video was playing Scorched Tanks — a great Amiga version of the classic that came out on an Amiga Power coverdisk back in the day, featuring all of the original’s customisation and what feels like 100 different weapons…definitely worth checking out. And so is the original Worms, if you haven’t played it in a while — one of the good things about the similarity of Worms games is that you can go to almost any of the “good” games in the series and have fun because they all follow the same formula of bazookas, grenades, high-pitched voices and exploding sheep.

Ah, Worms. The only game where the Royal Family can call up an airstrike on their rivals in a world made of spaghetti.

The video also touches a few more bases such as The Director’s Cut, a rare Amiga-only update of the original that actually introduces a lot of the most famous weapons and mechanics from later games — everything from Holy Hand Grenades to backflipping actually come from this obscure 1997 game, which makes it feel something like an Amiga version of Worms 2. This video also reminded me of the “multiplayer wars”, which happened at around the same time as the more famous bit wars —  at a time when games loved to lay claim to as big a multiplayer number as possible, Worms claimed 16 through hotseating. A team could consist of four players, each assigned to a single worm! But hey, why stop there — why not assign 2 players to 1 worm? Or 4? I think they undersold it somewhat. Of course, you’ve got to fit all of these people in the room so it might get a tad uncomfortable in there…just having 1 player to a team’s usually fine.  There’s more in the video but obviously that shouldn’t be spoiled — hopefully you enjoy it on this fine Monday morning! Do feel free to leave your memories of the time your brother gave you a dead arm after a jammy bazooka shot took out half of his team in the comments.

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The sad day that third parties arrived on NES

For the next few weeks, Retronauts Video Chronicles will be mired in October 1986. Although U.S. release dates from the 8- and 16-bit eras have proven to be depressingly vague — we can pin releases to the month, and not always accurately, but precise days are out of the question — whichever day in October 1986 saw the American debut of third-party publishers for NES will live in infamy. Until we somehow can narrow that event down to a specific date, though, I’m afraid we simply have to indict the whole month.

Third parties, of course, have proven through the years to be essential to the success and survival of any platform. With the NES, though, that wasn’t a given. The biggest precedents Nintendo had to go by were the terrible impact unregulated third-party releases had on Atari, and the wildly variable quality of Famicom third-party titles in Japan — not exactly the most encouraging standards to work against. Nevertheless, the company decided not to shut down third-party releases for NES but rather to wrangle absolute control over them. It was a bold and daring concept… not entirely without precedent, but certainly something that had never been attempted at the scale and scope Nintendo aspired to.

Obviously, it worked out pretty well for them. Nintendo is still around today, and the concepts they laid down for third parties continue to serve as the standard for an entire industry. Love it or hate it, licensing under watchful first-party supervision is a fact of video game life these days.

That said, you certainly would not have expected Nintendo and its licensing scheme to have made it this far based on its debut releases. Those first four games to hit the market in the U.S. without the familiar Black Box branding were not good… well, there’s one exception to that, but yeah. Bad times all around. Here’s the first of them, if we’re going by original Japanese release dates: M.U.S.C.L.E. Tag Team Match by TOSE and Bandai. It’s based on the toy line by the same name (and the manga that inspired it), and this game is very much the M.U.S.C.L.E. to Black Box Pro Wrestling‘s G.I. Joe: Simple, primitive, and clumsy. The analogy does break down along the way, I admit. M.U.S.C.L.E. toys possess a certain charm and appeal that the game lacks.

Things would get better from here, but really — not an inspiring proof of concept.

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Yo Capcom, bring on the “Disney Afternoon for Game Boy Collection”

I’ve been working on a review of The Disney Afternoon Collection. It should be up sometime this week; I’d been wanting to hold off on posting until I’d had a chance to put this video together:

And now that I have, I feel like a hold a slightly more informed perspective with which to judge the Collection. Well, OK, not really. This is a mere footnote, not some essential magnifying lens.

DuckTales for Game Boy is, in broad strokes, the same game as the NES release that serves as the crown jewel of the Collection. Look at the details, however, and it’s more of a remix: Same overall goals, same control scheme, same enemies and challenges and general flow, but with all the individual pieces of each stage shuffled around. The game moves a little more slowly and its physical locales are somewhat more compact, and weirdly enough this all works in its favor. DuckTales on Game Boy works (at least, aside from the awful mine cart physics, which are bad on NES and intolerable on GB to the point of nearly breaking the game), and it offers a rare example of an NES game adapted to the diminutive handheld without needless compromise. It’s not perfect, but it gets a lot of things right that many, many other developers fumbled back in the day.

It’s a different enough game, and bodes well for Capcom’s other NES-to-Game Boy Disney conversions, that I’d really like to see a follow-up Afternoon Collection focused strictly on those ports. I doubt Capcom would ever go to the trouble of licensing those releases for reissue; we’re far more likely to see a compilation of their other Disney titles. But a boy can dream, right?

Anyway, DuckTales was a welcome point of light in my efforts to chronicle the Game Boy library. I’ll be taking a break from Game Boy Works for a couple of months in order to wrap up NES Works 1986 and put together the corresponding print edition compilation, but there are some interesting releases on tap once we get back to handhelds.

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Kim’s video corner: The story of Duke Nukem Forever

As a fair few of you know, I make videos for the Internet — usually long and drawn out ones. Now that I’m on Retronauts, I have one more space to show them off, along with a lil’ bit of editorial to go along with it. And so, here’s today’s video — it’s not necessarily retro, but it deals with an old and once loved character, and a game that’s development cycle started over 20 years ago and went on for nearly 15 years. It’s the long, often painful story of Duke Nukem Forever.

This 60-minute long video is the first entry in a new series for the Kim Justice channel called The Agony and The Ecstasy, that will deal with projects that went through similarly long and/or painful development cycles. I picked the name (a common saying that I believe originated from Irving Stone’s 1961 biography of Michelangelo) to represent the hills and valleys in such projects — the good and the bad, the pleasure and pain, the agony and the ecstasy! Plus it sounds good and suitably epic. I have quite a few rough ideas for other projects in the series, not all of which are games — Jurassic Park: Trespasser, L.A Noire, Orson Welles (in general, really) and Go Set A Watchman are a few of the subjects I’m thinking about for future videos.

The video is split in half somewhat: The first sections go into the development of the game itself. Thankfully there are a lot of resources available on Duke Nukem Forever online — every trailer, screenshot and a whole bunch of interviews and forum posts have been preserved on the Internet for eternity, and 3D Realms itself have still kept their news archives online all the way back to 1996. Despite the game’s lengthy cycle — during which the game was rebooted no less than six times — it wasn’t too difficult to keep track of the timeline, and show the project’s evolution, especially when compared to all the other titles that 3D Realms head honcho George Broussard was inspired by. One of the major factors for DNF’s lengthy development was a serious case of featurecreep — whenever Broussard saw something he liked in another game, whether it was the physics engine in Half-Life 2 or snow levels in The Thing, he wanted that to be added to DNF. The end result is almost like a series of ideas that don’t actually come together — in all the time that was spent on making DNF, I wonder how much of that was spent on working with a design document that specified a beginning, a middle and an end to the work. The answer, in all likelihood, is “not a lot”.

We tried to reach the Duke for comment, but he thinks that he’s way too cool for this website. He is wrong.

When the game was eventually released in 2011, it was a critical flop — bashed left and right by just about anyone with a pen and a career in the industry. However, Duke Nukem Forever certainly does have its fans — for some the presence of the Duke and the blasting of many an alien (and hey, you certainly do that a lot in the game) makes for a good time! However, I am not a fan of the game for various reasons. You’ll find a lot of criticism that centres around the Hive level, what with its impregnated women and breasts on the wall, and that’s certainly a part of my vid — largely because the whole thing is an ugly, toneless mess. But more than anything offensive, DNF just feels like it’s completely out of time. I don’t think there’s any real nostalgia for the sort of FPS games that came out in the wake of Half-Life 2 — games with an overabundance of physics puzzles or lots of subsections such as platforming, or driving — and that’s the time Duke Nukem Forever comes from, around about 2004 or so. If I wanted an FPS where I largely just blast things and have fun doing it, I’d sooner play the new DOOM. However, in a few years there may well be a nostalgic trend back towards the HL2 style, at which time DNF could undergo a critical reappraisal. You never know!

The other problem is with Duke himself, and how his creators see him. It’s not an issue so much of Duke being a 90’s character with, again, all that “political incorrectness” gubbins and so on — more that the way Duke is presented is with somewhat misguided reverence. We’re all supposed to think he’s awesome, everyone else in the world (except those damn Cycloids and a corrupt President) thinks he’s awesome, and most of the game’s humour is based around Duke being awesome. Jon St. John in the booth may do a good job of voicing the character as usual, but there’s only so much you can get from a character who’s one trait is…well, that they’re awesome. That wasn’t necessarily the impression I got back in the days of Duke Nukem 3D.  I rather wish that the game had at least tried to prick the ego of the Duke somewhat, made him more of a ridiculous character in a saner world, because…well, he IS ridiculous. His name’s freaking Duke Nukem, for crying out loud. Something just…well, it went wrong over time — and the end result is more ego trip than parody.

Of course, all of this is in the video — and it’s certainly worth watching, even if I say so myself. I’m proud of the end result, and I hope that people will enjoy it! I should note, mind you, that this video does deal with a game where the sight of breasts is common, not to mention plenty of gibs as aliens get various limbs blown off and all that — meaning that this video is not really safe for work. I probably wouldn’t take an entire hour out of my day to watch this video at work in the first place, but then it’s not like I’m your boss! Whatever you choose to do, have a good one, and hope that the Duke has better days ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Game Boy Works: A (side) pocket full of miracles

I have to admit, the past few episodes of Game Boy Works were not quite as painful as I had expected. I don’t like sports, sports don’t like me… and yet, tackling games about skateboarding, baseball, wrestling, and now pool all in a row somehow didn’t destroy me. It helps that there was just enough weirdness in there to keep things interesting — I mean, that Skate or Die game was downright bizarre. I can’t say I’m sad to be moving along to other subjects now, however. I think there’s maybe a single sports release among the next dozen Game Boy Works titles, and honestly I could go for a few mundane puzzlers right about now.

That said, Side Pocket was a pretty decent way to wrap this blitz of jocularity. It’s a nice, low-key game with chill music and probably the best physics programming I’ve seen on Game Boy.

Honestly, playing this just a few months after reviewing Yakuza 0 shows how little billiards games have evolved over the decades. Of course, pool in Yakuza 0 was a minigame, not the entire work (as it is here) — but even so, those modern-day gambling side contests really demonstrate what a great job Data East did of translating pool into video form way back in 1986. There’s not really that much more you can do with pool beyond what Side Pocket presents. Also, the conjunction of Yakuza 0 and Side Pocket in my life demonstrates that I am just as lousy at the 1986 version of the sport as I am its 2017 rendition, but that’s neither here nor there.

Reviewing Side Pocket for Game Boy makes me pine for a modern portable update to the series. I know Data East doesn’t really exist anymore, its properties having been absorbed by G-Mode, and all those classic Data East franchises exist now as nothing more than archival material to be churned through and reissued with no real thought to evolution. But still… a modern Side Pocket for, say, Switch would be pretty great. Especially since you could set up impromptu multiplayer contests as demonstrated by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Ah well; at least you can download this version of the game for 3DS Virtual Console. That’s not quite the dream fulfilled, but it’ll do the trick in a pinch.

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Today’s Gintendo plan: Billionaire ducks, Millionaire cocktails

I’ve been a little lax on streaming lately, I realize, but I’m back in action this afternoon. The next Gintendo broadcast will take place this evening at 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. PT), and will feature a highly relevant game: Disney’s DuckTales. Ah, but this isn’t the game that just saw a re-release last week via the excellent Disney Afternoon Collection! (Review forthcoming, by the way.) This is the game that was acknowledged in the Collection but not included, which is to say, the Game Boy port.

As usual, you can watch this afternoon on YouTube.

I’ll be digging into the design of DuckTales for Game Boy in an episode of Game Boy Works next month, but in the meantime, I’m going to try and complete this game for once. I skipped DuckTales back in the day; the wretched Mickey Mousecapade turned me off to the prospect of pairing Disney and Capcom altogether, so I missed out on a game that turned out to be pretty good. So I’ve never actually finished DuckTales, just played it in fits and starts since first trying it out a few years ago (but never in fits and finishes, if you see what I’m saying). Maybe today will be the day? Or if not, you can at least marvel at a rare NES-to-Game Boy conversion done right.

This being Gintendo, I could think of no more appropriate drink pairing for a game starring Scrooge McDuck than the classic Millionaire cocktail. Yes, I know, Millionaires don’t contain gin, but whatever. Considering the scale of Scrooge’s wealth, I suppose it would be more appropriate to go with Employees Only’s variant recipe, the Billionaire, but that calls for a rather esoteric ingredient, absinthe bitters… so no go. Anyway, it’s a classic game based on an even more classic comic, so the classic cocktail seems the way to go.

So join me! Or check in sometime later to watch the archive! It’s all the same in the end.

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Retro(ish)nauts: A look at three NEW Famicom releases

A little something different for Good Nintentions NES Works Gaiden this week: It’s a look at a Japanese release per usual — three Japanese releases, in fact — but these are not classic games. They run on Famicom hardware, yes, but all three have shipped within the past year. The third title in this episode shipped this month, in fact! I had to make room for it at the last minute, because the episode was already in production when my copy arrived

8Bit Music Power, Kira Kira Star Night DX, and the shiny new 8Bit Music Power Final all have their quirks, but that’s mostly to do with production issues. Rather than re-flash existing NES donor ROMs the way most publishers who produce posthumous carts do, Columbus Circle seems to have fabricated their own, and the results are rather dubious. While these carts theoretically run on original hardware, there seem to be even odds of the games either running without an issue, simply not working, or frying your hardware. The latter outcome hasn’t been corroborated, but I’m willing to believe it after my own experiences. Fortunately, the Analogue Nt Mini works great — which is not an inexpensive solution, admittedly, but I’ve come to regard the Mini as an essential piece of gaming hardware. So it’s nice that it can handle these quirky carts

That being said, however, if you ever do have the means to play them (or let them play, as the case may be), I highly recommend all three. As you can see in the video, only one of these is a proper game, but all three are really lovingly assembled and feature some spectacular music. In fact, you can look forward to hearing more of 8Bit Music Power Final on the next episode of Retronauts Radio.

Anyway, please give the video a look, and let’s hope that we’ll see more releases of similar ambition and quality (build notwithstanding) for NES and Famicom in the future.

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The Game Boys of summer

No, don’t worry, no Don Henley here. Just a video about a portable baseball title for this week’s Game Boy Works:

This is yet another one of those “little chubby dudes take the field” baseball titles. In fact, this is the “little chubby dudes take the field” title: Famista, as in Family Stadium, also known as R.B.I. Baseball. While pretty heavily based on the design of Nintendo’s NES Baseball, the Famista series quickly eclipsed its source material in terms of both sequels and endurance. All those sequels rarely made their way west, though; for example, this was the first of three (I think) Famista games for Game Boy, but it was the only one to reach the U.S. As it turns out, Americans don’t seem to gravitate to short, waddling blobs when it comes to sports games.

Something I didn’t mention in the episode is that this release was published in the U.S. by Bandai, who would of course eventually merge with developer Namco. By no means was this unusual, though. In the early days of the Game Boy, Namco and Nintendo were still somewhat on the outs after their conflict over Famicom licensing, and Namco didn’t have much of a home publishing presence in the U.S. Tengen picked up a lot of Namco NES releases to publish unofficially in the States, thanks to the two companies’ mutual connection to Atari, but Bandai snagged quite a few for official licensed production as well. However, this is the first time we’ve seen the Namco/Bandai partnership in action on Game Boy. And the last, so far as I can find! So please enjoy this tiny taste of our corporate future in the form of a so-so baseball game.

Episode description: The Game Boy gets its third baseball title, unsurprisingly making the so-called “thinking man’s sport” also the most prolific “gaming boy’s sport” as well. You may know this franchise better as R.B.I. Baseball, but since that particular bit of branding had become associated with unlicensed provocateurs attempting to undermine Nintendo’s lock on the U.S. market, publisher Bandai unsurprisingly went with a different title.

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It’s Skate or Die on Game Boy… Works?

With this week’s video chronicles installment, we begin our transition from the wild west frontier days of similarly inspired but dissimilarly treated video projects to the grand unifying vision of… WORKS. In case you missed my explanation last week (and clearly quite people did, if YouTube comments are anything to go by), here’s the deal: As part of the general movement of Retronauts into something respectable (nay, viable), we’re rebranding these video projects and their accompanying books from the hodgepodge of “Good Nintentions,” “Game Boy World,” “Mode Seven” and so on to a single multi-facet venture: Works. Game Boy Works, NES Works, etc. It has no impact on the content of these videos, just the intro/outro, the title typography, and the naming.

See? Ultimately, it’s business as usual.

I have to say, though, Skate or Die: Bad ’N Rad was not at all what I was expecting. I fiddled around with the original Skate or Die as a kid and expected more of the same: A sort of freeform skateboard simulator. This was not the case at all. Rather than presenting a portable adaptation of Electronic Arts’ popular skating game, Konami created something entirely new from the ground up, with the only real connection between the two being the top-down stages (which bear a loose resemblance to the stage select portion of EA’s game — but even then, the stage select in Skate or Die used absolute “tank” controls whereas the top-down portions here use relative inputs).

It’s a strange creative choice, to be honest. Surely there would have been less work involved in, and more money to be gleaned from, a faithful adaptation? And yet, here’s this. There’s a vague, hard-to-pin-down element of New Orleans aesthetic here that makes this feel like some bizarre hybrid of skateboard and The Adventures of Bayou Billy, and it makes me wonder whether Konami already had a kooky skateboarding platformer in the works and decided to take take advantage of the Skate or Die license by slapping it on an unrelated game? But then again, they held the Skate or Die licensed for a couple of years before Bad ’N Rad arrived, and the development on this game couldn’t possibly have taken more than nine or 10 months to complete. So, man, I don’t know what the story is here. I just know it’s a strange and interesting game, and I wish it had turned out better than it ultimately did.

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