Tag Archives: video chronicles

Hide the children: It’s NES Works Gaiden #07

A few months ago, I received a patron request to create a video on a “controversial topic.” So I thought to myself, “Alright, I should do something on that sketchy corner of the NES rental section they used to have at Hastings.” I’d cover the Panesian trilogy, perhaps, and some other less blatantly objectionable material, like Menace Beach by Wisdom.

As I began sourcing ROM files for the episode — because there is no possible way I could afford to shell out the roughly $2500 it would cost to acquire those four games for a video that would stall out at 2500 views — I was surprised to discover that one of the critical pieces didn’t seem to exist online in any form. Menace Beach saw release in Japan under the name Miss Peach World courtesy of Hacker International (who also released the Panesian games in Japan, because it’s a small world after all)… but I couldn’t find that ROM anywhere. A few delicate inquiries confirmed that it’s never been publicly dumped or released — not for any respect of copyright or good taste, because you can find ROMs for plenty of other Hacker-published games (some of which contain content in much worse taste). I guess the game’s obscurity, rarity, and cost have prevented it from making its way online.

Then I recalled seeing a tweet by Retronauts ally and Video Game History Foundation cofounder Steve Lin in which he tweeted a photo of the game, complete in box, which he had picked up for a remarkably reasonable price during his last trip to Japan. So, thanks to Steve, this video project slowly evolved from being a roundup of smutty NES bootleg games into a piece laser-focused on a single weird variant of Menace Beach/Sunday Funday. I didn’t really discover any new information about the game, but I am 100% positive that I’ve created the only HD footage of the game that exists on the internet. Maybe even in the world, for the moment! To be honest, that’s really not the claim to fame I was seeking in life, but I guess we take what we can get.

Anyway, yeah, this video is slightly unsafe for work due to the presence of 8-bit lady-nipples. Hacker International made their version of Menace Beach a bit saucier than the original, so exercise caution if someone uptight or particularly impressionable happens to be standing over your shoulder while you’re watching this. It’s all pretty harmless, but we are a puritanical people, ya know?

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Capcom enters the ring on NES Works, falls flat on face

E3 kicks off properly today in Los Angeles, but the inevitable grind of video game hype can’t stop Retronauts Video Works from maintaining its steady schedule. In addition to the daily livestreams I’m hosting this week, I’ve also posted a slightly extended-length NES Works that explores a fairly momentous occasion in the NES’s life: The arrival of Capcom on the platform.

Would that their debut were a little more inspiring.

Ah, but Capcom would find its way in time. Sometimes it just takes a while to get on the right track, and Capcom definitely had a rocky beginning here with 1942. Still, despite the mediocrity of this particular conversion, the underlying quality of the original arcade game still comes through. By the time Capcom had a year of NES publishing under its belt, they’d have sorted out the secret of expressing that high standard of excellence on humble home console hardware.

In the meantime, brace your years and shield your eyes for… this.

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And now for something completely different: A good TOSE/Bandai game

Between Game Boy Work (World) and NES Works, I’ve tackled quite a few games developed by the mystery humans at TOSE and the heartless suits at Bandai, and they have universally been pretty bad. Likewise for games from Bandai-affiliated publishers like Banpresto and Bandai Shinsei (which transmuted into Yutaka before our very eyes!). They’re all based on licenses, and they’re all bereft of those little grace notes we expect in our video games. You know, like “fun factor” and “play value”.

Well, there are no such things as absolutes in this world, as we see with Ninja Kid. It’s a TOSE/Bandai joint based on a license, yes, but it’s shockingly decent.

As in, I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent capturing footage for this one! I didn’t think such a thing was possible, but here we are. After the miserable bitterness of M.U.S.C.L.E. and Chubby Cherub (and Tag Team Wrestling, though that was someone else’s fault), this game proved to be a refreshing sorbet of completely tolerable design choices and competent programming. Is it a classic for the ages? No, but even in the year 2017, you could play it and not feel like someone was trying to destroy your zest for life. Sometimes, you gotta take victory where you can find it.

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On NES Works: Third parties continue to grapple with the idea of quality

The NES Works series continues powering through the NES 1986 library in a desperate race to Gradius, aka the one genuinely excellent third-party release from the latter half of the year. I have to say, this project has given me a new appreciation for Black Box games.

I became an NES owner at the end of 1987, by which time there were enough great post-launch-era releases available that the Black Box games had a distinct whiff of the archaic about them. The unified packaging design Nintendo initially used for its own releases worked great as branding in the early days, setting the NES apart from competing platforms, but it became something of an impediment once more sophisticated releases began to arrive from other publishers. Nintendo recognized it, too, and they began to phase out the Black Box format around the time I picked up the console: Zelda shipped in a gorgeous gold set, Metroid and several other 1987 releases came dressed in silver, Punch-Out!! broke the box art boundaries with a full-bleed photo of Mike Tyson, and Ice Hockey used the Black Box style in blue with a photo replacing the pixel art. By the time Super Mario Bros. 2 shipped at the end of 1988, the only remaining vestige of the Black Box style was the skewed typography for the logo and subtitle — and even that would end up abandoned by the wayside with 1989 releases like Dragon Warrior and Faxanadu.

All of this is to say, Black Box games felt like old news by the time I acquired an NES, and I’ve had a hard time giving them a fair shake due to that perception. But despite their simplicity, they demonstrate a lot of interesting and inventive ideas. And nothing has driven that home quite like these early third-party releases for the system.

One of the more famous anecdotes about the NES library is that Howard Philips served as a sort of localization filter to weed out the bad games and make sure only the best Japanese titles were brought into English. I am increasingly curious to know whether that policy and process were in place from the beginning, or if Nintendo asked Philips to begin weeding out the garbage after these first few releases hit the ground with the wet, jarring sound of a million weeping children. I am generally able to find some merit in questionable old games by viewing them through the perspective of their time and place — see last week’s Chubby Cherub video for an example — but I honestly can’t find anything redeeming about Tag Team Wrestling, even if I try to adopt the mindset of an eight-year-old circa 1986. It’s bad now, and every documentarian instinct I have tells me it was also bad then.

On the plus side, it only gets better from here. At least until the opportunistic Western publishers arrive on NES in 1988. But that’s a full year of increasingly good Japan-origin games to look forward to on NES Works. So that’s good!

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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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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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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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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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