This week’s Video Chronicles feature couldn’t have been timed more fittingly, although I admit the scheduling was nothing more than a coincidence: Popeye for NES, wherein a mumbling spinach junkie attempts to rescue his lady love from the burliest of competing suitors. If things had gone as originally intended, though, this game might have been something completely different; Donkey Kong would have been a Popeye game, making Popeye and Olive Oyl gaming’s original romantic couple… and also meaning Mario would never have existed. Now there’s an alternate timeline worth contemplating.
Playing Popeye for this production gave me a better appreciation of the game. I’ve always considered it a lesser work by Nintendo, but it’s better than I’d originally given it credit for. Not a timeless great, certainly, but decently ambitious.
Tuesday is normally Video Chronicles Day, but this week I’m on Japan time. Which means… this should have been up on Monday, not Thursday. Well, I’m also on jet lag time, as well as really nasty cold time. So… just forgive me this one scheduling glitch.
My hope is that you’ll find the quality of the content justifies the delay:
We’re just about through the NES debuts of all of Famicom’s launch-day titles, and also just about through the NES Donkey Kong trilogy. While this is all pretty well-trodden territory, you’ll be pining for the delightful excellence of the Donkey Kong series once we hit Urban Champion. Mark my words.
One really great thing about Game Boy World: Finding strange obscurities that intersect with things I love. Example for today: Battle Ping Pong.
Have you ever heard of Battle Ping Pong before today? I’m going to go ahead and say, “No, you haven’t.” This one was pretty tough to track down (not quite as hard as Hong Kong, since a search on eBay for “Game Boy” “Hong Kong” nets you a lot of Asia-region releases and bootlegs, but still tough), because evidently most people haven’t heard of it — even in Japan. It was worth it, though! It’s one of the very first games created by developer Quest, one of my absolute favorite game studios of yore. Quest created Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, and their key personnel has had a hand in the likes of Final Fantasy XII and Crimson Shroud. Quest is awesome. Well, was awesome. R.I.P., Quest.
Battle Ping Pong isn’t really all that awesome, though. This was clearly put together in the “walk before you can run” phase for the studio, and it’s pretty interesting as a curio. But it’s actually kind of crummy as a table tennis sim. It feels weird to use the words “Quest” and “crummy” together in the same mental breath, but, well, sometimes that’s how it goes.
Fortunately the next Game Boy World episode covers a game that, I hope, will bring us out of the doldrums of import obscurity. Please look forward to it in a few weeks.
Another week, another video… specifically, another video about Donkey Kong.
Might as well get used to it. Good Nintentions is about to hit a thick patch of Nintendo arcade classics, including two more Donkey Kong games, Mario’s first solo outing (which is, of course, a Donkey Kong spinoff), and Popeye, which is what Shigeru Miyamoto originally wanted Donkey Kong to be. That big ape cast a big shadow over Nintendo’s early console days.
I appreciate the fact that this video has sparked comment debate over which home version of Donkey Kong was best — Nintendo’s NES game looked most faithful, but plenty of people will vouch for other platforms where the game included all levels, animations, and music. Of course, Nintendo could easily put this debate to rest by releasing an official version of the arcade game that isn’t locked inside a grindingly tedious 3D platformer, or by making Donkey Kong Original Edition widely available. Wouldn’t that be swell?
The ongoing absence of a proper release of such a pivotal title remains pretty baffling. Knowing Nintendo, they’re going to make Original Edition one of their “free” sample titles for the Switch’s subscriber service, which ceases to be freely playable after one month, but not actually offer the game for sale. That would be awful, but somehow perfectly in keeping with the way things have been going for the archival travails of Donkey Kong.
In the course of my chronological console library video projects, there are certain Big Ones: Games that carry considerable weight, whether that’s historic or merely psychological. This week’s Good Nintentions tackles a game that possesses both kinds of weight: The original Donkey Kong.
This video is ostensibly about the NES version of the game, but in practice I barely even touch on that adaptation. There’s a great deal to be said about Donkey Kong, and I tried to say as much as I could here. The NES version analysis will have to wait until next week’s episode, I’m afraid.
I’ve written quite a lot about Donkey Kong over the years, and I’m perfectly happy to make this video retrospective a sort of final statement on the subject. It probably won’t be, but it could be, is what I’m saying. Anyway, please enjoy.
Game Boy World makes its 2017 debut today. I would like to say the subject at hand is inspirational and sets a great precedent for the year, but that would make me a heckin’ liar. On the contrary, this latest Game Boy release is all kinds of mundane. Not wretched, not enjoyable, just kinda there, a legacy of a publisher’s willingness to peddle a fairly popular license without giving much thought to the quality of the problem attached to it. It’s a shame, because I really like the Patlabor franchise and think it could make a heck of a game in the right hands.
To add to the sorrow: This YouTube video has unfortunately been blocked by Bandai in Japan due to my inclusion of some footage from the anime franchise being covered here. If you happen to be one of the rare few who watch Game Boy World from Japan, I apologize. You can watch via Libsyn instead:
Either way, you’re in for an 11-minute video of which about 7 concern how cool Patlabor (the anime) is, while the rest kind of offers a perfunctory critique of how tedious Patlabor (the Game Boy game) turned out to be. I scraped as much game discussion as I could out of this, but there’s a weird element to the game in which you’re given a password after completing a stage which does not function as the password for continuing the game. I had intended to take the time to translate the dialogue in an attempt to figure out what I needed to do in order to advance, but time constraints kicked in and this is as far as I made it. Patron Max Smith shared a Nico Nico link that shows footage from later in the game and… it’s all the same thing. Just dull turn-based robot fights from start to finish. So, no great loss.
Next episode concerns a game that maybe isn’t great but is definitely weird and comes from an interesting developer, so I’ll try to make up for this episode’s shortcomings there.
Today’s a Tuesday, which means it’s (1) the day Bison visits Chun-Li’s village and (2) the day a new episode of
Good Nintentions Retronauts Video Chronicles goes live. This time around, it’s a look at Mach Rider for NES:
Like Donkey Kong Jr. Math, Mach Rider exists in a state of quantum actual-release-date flux. Nintendo says it launched one date (Oct. 1985); every other source from the time says it launched considerably later (anywhere from March to August 1986). So, I’ve grouped it with Math as a provisional 1986 release and called it a day.
For the most part, this video focuses on the game’s design and how its racing tech (and uncredited development staff) appears to tie it to an older Famicom game that never shipped in the U.S.: F1 Race, which like Mach Rider was co-developed by HAL. Everything I’ve come up with is, unfortunately, speculative, but it’s not difficult to connect the dots and see how one game might have served as the foundation for the other, given the common staff, similar tech, and seemingly U.S.-oriented aesthetics and design of this game.
As for Mach Rider itself, it’s decent enough. I’ve never been able to find much to love about it myself, but I came into it later. I imagine it was probably a heck of a showcase for the console’s capabilities back in 1986. The game moves fast when you’re in 4th gear… maybe too fast. The lack of any actual scaling technology in the NES hardware means that obstacles on the road become extremely hazardous due to positional ambiguity. It becomes difficult to judge how far away objects are from you and where on the road they actually lie, laterally speaking. It feels kind of shabby to criticize the game, though — this was an early NES game running on bare hardware with no cartridge enhancements, and while it’s certainly no Out Run, it’s an impressive example of what the most accomplished NES programmers could achieve without add-on aids. That it’s ultimately only so-so as a game puts it in good company with far less spectacular-looking releases of the era; at least this one has visual pizzazz going for it.
And a brazen Rush reference. That counts for a lot, in my book.