Sunday, September 14, 2014

Un-American #1 - Dig Dug




I suppose before diving straight into this game, I should get who I am and what I do out of the way. My name is Josh Stewart, and I've been following Questicle since its earliest days. Dylan has moved on to the massive undertaking of playing everything for every Sega console, but I'm sure you already knew that. In the time since starting Sega Does, though, he was looking for a few good men (you want the truth, you can't handle the truth, etc) to write about games that didn't make their way to the US. I jumped on the offer immediately, then in true fashion (if you knew me personally, it would be so fitting) took forever to actually get my business together on what I wanted to do.

After a lot of careful deliberation, I've realized that on top of releases that simply never made it to the States, there were quite a few games that were altered conversions of Famicom titles, some with major differences (like Doki Doki Panic, which I'm sure I'll never need to cover), and some with marginal differences (oddly inspired by myself beating Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then realizing that the game's stages were totally reordered from the Japanese version). On top of that, there are some games that obviously just never made it here that are quite intriguing such as Europe's New Ghostbusters 2 or Nintendo's Japanese release Devil World, and legendary prototypes for unreleased games like Drac's Night Out (Featuring the Reebok Pump!), Bio Force Ape, and the recently unearthed Japanese prototype for Monster Party (Halloween is on the way already, so keep your eyes peeled). To start with, though, I'm going with one that's just extremely strange.


          
            Feel the rhythm! Feel the rhyme! Bust out your Namcots: it's Diggerin' time!


The NES was loaded to the brim with ports of classic arcade games. From their own titles such as Donkey Kong and Popeye, to third-party greats like BurgerTime, Paperboy, the NES was known just as much for solid ports of arcade games as it was for original titles like Metroid and Zelda. As a kid, I played these constantly, but it wasn't until a few years back, browsing the Virtual Console on the Wii's Shop Channel, that I realized an absolute classic arcade game - one that seemed to be on every platform, including the Commodore 64, Atari 2600, 5200, AND 7800 - never seemed to make it to the little grey box we loved so much.

Namco's classic Dig Dug was never released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. There was a Famicom release of the title (which is what I noticed on the Shop Channel), but what would keep the NES version from seeing a release compared to the horrendous 2600 port?

The game starts as one would expect, with a regular black title screen and an attract mode showing some basic gameplay. Okay, looks just like Dig Dug to me, not sure what the difference is here. So I hit start, play through a few rounds, and it all makes perfect sense to me in that moment. Every version of Dig Dug I have ever played begins with Dug running across the face of the earth in the blue sky before digging into the earth to inflate horribly mutated creatures to their ultimate destruction. The 1985 Famicom release, however, is a different story.



                                   Journey to the center of one freak nasty planet.


This is the darkest version of Dig Dug imaginable, not only in color, but in tone. The sky is charcoal black, and not just because it's night. This is a seared sky in the post-apocalypse. Dig Dug is one of the only survivors in the world, and a savior of humanity. He wears a full-body HAZMAT-style suit to hunt the horrifically mutated creatures under the earth's crust. With each stage cleared of mutants, a new flower is able to grow on the surface of the planet.

Clearly Namco thought that this "I Am Legend"-esque world of Dig Dug was simply too much for American consumers to handle in the early years of the NES. The stark, painful reality of nuclear apocalypse was overwhelming enough in the height of the Cold War. We needed real heroes, like Patrick Swayze and all those high schoolers in "Red Dawn," not whatever Dig Dug was.

Or perhaps I'm just overthinking this. Namco probably never felt the need to port the game because the other console releases (like the dreadful 2600 version) simply didn't sell well. That said, I'm sure the black sky just had to do with the hardware limitations of the NES and how many colors could be on-screen at one time. One palette change sure can make all the difference in the active imagination of an insomniac, though. 



                         "Where have all the flowers gone?... oh wait, there they are."


Other than that one change, this is your absolute basic Dig Dug, through and through. You run around through dirt, dodge rocks and fire, and pump up creatures until they explode. With each stage, the difficulty increases: more monsters and rocks show up and they all try to escape to the surface faster.

Dig Dug is generic fun and good to play for about five minutes at a time. I suppose since this is a complete release, I should produce a rating, despite the fact that I never once thought about this until coming to the end of the review. To keep things simple and familiar, we'll go with the same letter rating system as Dylan's reviews. 


Final Rating: B


Oh, and if for some reason you feel the need to follow me on some form of social media, I'm pretty easy to find. You can find me on Twitter as @Brakywaki, and I'm also a moderator on Screwattack under the same name. On top of that I occasionally do a podcast (mostly about movies) called MENtertainment Weekly, where you can hear me in all my true crudeness.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lost in the Minus World - Review # -3: AD&D: Dragons of Flame

Greetings, players! It is I, your friendly Dungeon Master, otherwise known as Matthew. I remain locked away within the depths of Questicle's own Temple of Elemental Evil, but have no fear! For soon the ancient and eldrich magicks needed to escape and enact my vengeance shall be at hand! And then we'll see just how well Sega Does! MWAHAHAHAAA!!!

You know, it's not much of a secret, but early attempts at converting PC games to home consoles were usually poor. Once in a while a decent port from the PC would show up, but for every Sim City on Super Nintendo came dozens of crummy RPG's, most of which carried the Dungeons & Dragons license. That's a shame, because anyone whose sole encounter with D&D stems from the garbage ports on the NES likely has a poor perception of what D&D brings to the table. The game world can be so much more than ugly poop brown color palettes and horse jumping simulators. D&D games can be captivating, magical experiences that stick around long in the memory. The kind of games that keep fans talking decades later. The kind of games you want to play again the moment you finish them.

Well, I think we've got something special for you today to help change your minds on both D&D games and PC-to-console ports. So come along, friends! Let me take you to the days of high adventure!




                                                      Ohhhh... crap. Nevermind.



        Yep, I *totally* remember the epic battle with giant hornets from the Chronicles trilogy.


PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Pony Canyon

DEVELOPER: Atelier Double

GENRE: Action RPG

RELEASE DATE: 1992


The world of Dragonlance beckons! In this Japan-only sequel to Heroes of the Lance, players are once again set loose on the realms of Krynn, tasked with guiding the legendary companions of yore on an epic quest to save the world from the evil Verminaard. If you're a nerd for the books, the plot here is essentially the second half of Dragons of Autumn Twilight. And if you're not boned up on the lore, well, let's assume we're going to kill a bad guy because... reasons.

On the surface, Dragons of Flame bandies an action RPG aesthetic not too dissimilar to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. You'll navigate overworld maps, battle swathes of enemies on 2D action screens, and occasionally enter larger dungeon areas to find keys or treasure. But while Zelda II is analogous to a classy Hollywood feature with appropriate production values, Dragons of Flame is like a low budget direct-to-video knockoff with Treat Williams and Lou Diamond Phillips at the top of the bill. (Or maybe I should say a disappointing animated film with Lucy Lawless as Goldmoon? Hmm...)

Some of the mechanics from Heroes of the Lance were tweaked to make Dragons of Flame easier to play, but a pinch of sugar can't disguise the bitter taste. You're still looking at the same fugly set of graphics and character display taking up half the damn screen. Still hearing the same dull sound effects. Still fighting the same annoying Draconians who throw Hadoukens at you and back away when you approach. The magic system remains as poor as it was in HotL, requiring you to pause the game in the middle of battle and navigate clumsy menus to find the spell you want. It's a sin the developers failed to replace the spellcasters' physical attacks with magic spell attacks, because let's be honest - there's no way in the Abyss that Raistlin and his nonexistent strength can take down a troll by hitting it with his staff.

Which reminds me: since when did the all-powerful Raistlin Majere resort to lobbing puny Magic Missile spells at bats in order to survive anyway? That's like Darth Vader picking up a blaster pistol instead of wielding the dark side of the Force. Gandalf using morning breath to fell an orc. Chuck Norris KO'ing someone with anything but a roundhouse kick. Hulk Hogan beating someone with a finger poke. These things just don't happen.

So while Dragons of Flame isn't the worst D&D-based game to show up on the NES, it's hardly going to ignite your interest in the Dragonlance setting, nor will it compel you to pick up a bunch of oddly shaped dice to play games of make-believe with strangers. I think the best I can hope for with this review is that it might get you to check out The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All. Treat Williams was a treasure in that one.


3 Bigby's Interposing Hands out of 7



                         TASSLEHOFF! YOU'VE CREATED A TIME PARADOX!


Matthew Conway talks THAC0 and the Vancian magic system on Twitter at: @Mattaconda

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lost in the Minus World - Review # -2: Zooming Secretary


 Hello again, Nintendo fanbodies! MC here, still locked inside Dylan's panic room. Still eating Snickers bars for sustenance. Still wondering what the upside was to take on this gig in the first place...

But enough of my problems – today should be celebrated as a momentous occasion! It's Questicle.net's first foray into the murky waters of homebrew NES games! True, the site has covered a number of unlicensed titles, from questionable Bible-themed board games to renegade versions of Ms. Pac-Man, but even the worst of the unlicensed games usually had a small team of people working on the development side and at least some pittance of bankroll behind the project.

On the other hand, most NES homebrews are one or two person jobs worked on for little to no compensation. They're labors of love by enthusiasts and serve as a means for a coder or an artist or a musician to further hone their craft. They're the games you play once you've plumbed the depths of the NES library, not knowing whether you'll get another crummy snake game or the next Retro City Rampage.

We won't look at every single NES homebrew out there – the field is too vast and there's far too many games in a half-finished state to make that task remotely feasible. But the notable releases (for better or worse) may be featured in this series from time to time, provided I can get the air conditioning working in this room.




Good to know Mikhail Gorbachev landed an office job after the fall of the Soviet Union.




                               Paul McCartney's “Another Day”: the Video Game.


PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: PinWizz and Shiru

DEVELOPER: Shiru

GENRE: Arcade

RELEASE DATE: Dec 28th, 2011


Have you ever dreamed of typing out endless TPS reports for a soulless corporate machine? How about sitting with a phone surgically attached to your ear all day, dialing out an endless quantity of mundane appointment confirmation calls while the best years of your life slowly drift into the ether? Or maybe you're like me and you just wanted to see what it'd be like to be Dolly Parton in 9 to 5 for one day?

Well, dream no longer, friends! You can live out all of these fantasies and more with the much-needed secretary simulator known as Zooming Secretary, a homebrew that invokes the classic arcade games from the earliest days of the NES. Work your way up, up, up the ziggurat lickety-split by running around the office answering phone calls. (I like to imagine you're working in the same office suite as the Wall Street Kid.) Every time a phone rings an icon will appear over the phone telling you the information the caller wants. You'll need to run over to the appropriate filing cabinet, collect the files, and bring them back to the phone before time expires. Complete a set number of calls to move on to the next stage, but miss too many calls and you'll be back on the streets combing the newspapers for job advertisements.

These seemingly simple workday tasks are complicated by your co-workers, each of whom has a different means of keeping you away from the phones and closer to the breadline. Take your overbearing boss, for instance. He thinks he's helping by shouting overcomplicated instructions at his employees, but in reality all he does is slow you down. And then there's Chatty Cathy, whose constant prattle will confuse your poor secretary and cause her to mix up the files she's carrying. Swing the momentum back in your favor by triggering a speed boost power-up when you run past the coffee machine, then rack up some extra points in the bonus stages, where you'll discover you're working too hard and are now dreaming about answering phones.

The simple arcade mechanics coupled with the early 80's style graphics and sounds make it hard not to love Zooming Secretary. If you're the type who fancies chasing high scores in games like Mario Bros. or Popeye, you'll want to try Zooming Secretary. You can download the game for free here: http://shiru.untergrund.net/files/nes/zooming_secretary.zip.


7 Swingline staplers out of 7



                     And that's why unemployment figures are rising again, folks.


Matthew Conway can be found talking even more nonsense on Twitter at: @Mattaconda

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lost in the Minus World - Review # -1: Titanic

 
Hello, NESQuesters! I'm Matthew Conway, writer of various internet blog-things of no consequence and full-time Retro Gaming Rain Man. I'm here because the proprietor of this fine website asked me to pen a few guest articles for him while he's busy doing other things. I'll never forget when I got the call from Mr. Cornelius. Our conversation went something like this:
 

Dylan: "Michael."

Me: "Uh, it's Matthew."

Dylan: "Michael, I'm a busy man so I'll get straight to the point. I need some more content on Questicle while I'm out in Los Angeles. Trying to secure my multi-million dollar book deal AND sell the movie rights at the same time is taking longer than I thought it would."

Me: "Wait, I knew about the book, but... they want to make a *movie* about your Nintendo blog?"

Dylan: "Damn straight! I hear Tim Burton wants to direct, but I'm holding out to try and get Todd Holland on board."

Me: "You... you want the director of The Wizard to make your movie?"

Dylan: "Shutup! Don't judge me or I'll have your ass in court! You have any idea how much stroke I have now, son? You know anyone else who reviewed all the American Sammy games AND plays the baddest game of Lee Trevino's Fighting Golf on this planet?"

Me: "Well, no, I suppose not..."

Dylan: "So listen, Mitchell, you're gonna do some content for me. Review some of those weird requests the crazy kids in the comments section keep asking for. Like the California Raisins game. Or any of the 639 Japanese mahjong games. Or the nude hack of the California Raisins mahjong game. I don't care what you do, just get over here and do it, okay?"

Me: "Um, well, okay. But you'll remember the little people once your book and movie deal is finished, right?"

Dylan: *click*
 

And so here I am, with carte blanche on the weird and wonderful world of unlicensed NES oddities, rare imports, romhacks, de-makes, etc. It's a little strange being locked inside Mr. Cornelius' basement, but I'm sure the Snickers bar and can of Tab soda he tossed down the stairs will hold me over until he gets back from L.A. In the meantime, I have some games to review! And first on the list is...
 
 
 
                                                Too soon, game. Too soon.
 
 
 
                                     I wasn't even supposed to be here today! 
 


PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Shenzhen Nanjing Technology

DEVELOPER: Dragon Co. / Nice Code

GENRE: Platformer

RELEASE DATE: 2005 / April 15, 1912
 
 
 
"Titanic" - the James Cameron movie - is the story of Rose and Jack, two star-crossed lovers from the Montague and Capulet clans on a voyage across the sea of green to find the remnants of the Yellow Submarine. Along the way they meet Celene Dion, who sings "My Heart Will Go On" at a shopping mall to an audience of teenage girls and weepy soccer moms for six hours on repeat.

Yeah, leave it to Hollywood to turn one of the most tragic maritime disasters in recorded history into a complete work of fiction. Then leave it to a Chinese pirate game company to turn said fiction into a Prince of Persia-style platformer for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Uh, no, I didn't quite follow my own logic there either.

At any rate, Titanic - the video game - plays much like any run of the mill platforming game on the NES. You have a choice between Jack or Rose as your character, though both play identical, thus your decision comes down to which idle animation you prefer. Rose looks as if she's hunching over to whistle at her imaginary pet dog whilst Jack does an awkward head-bob which makes it look like he's either suffering from a serious medical condition or he's headbanging to Pantera records. The character animation is smooth at first glance, but do not be deceived, the control is not. Like the aforementioned Prince of Persia, jumping must be precise. You can hang off ledges like the good Prince, but you'll need to line up your jump perfectly and say a Hail Mary or two if you want to make it. Forward jumps are also a pain, although it was through the awkward forward jump that I discovered a number of glitched areas where you can jump through supposedly solid objects and cheese your way through certain parts of the game. And that's what you get when you don't have the Official Nintendo Seal of Quality on your cartridge, folks.
 
 
 
                                I *definitely* wasn't supposed to be in here today...
 
 
Since we're talking about a sidescrolling platformer, there are enemies to contend with, and there's no chance to grab a weapon and bash them. Instead, you're left to jump, dodge, and occasionally duck out of the way from rats, electrical currents, furnace flames, falling light bulbs, flying axes, and blocks of ice. For the most part, I applaud the developers' sense of creativity here. They needed enemies of some variety, and they (mostly) stuck to real-world things that you'd have to contend with if you were trying to climb from the lower depths of a massive ship up to the top deck while it sinks. Simon Belmont flying axes aside, the enemies are more coherent with the source material than, say, those damn killer bees in Back to the Future.

The first few stages of Titanic are repetitive enough to lull the player into a false sense of security, but the game livens up with some ambitious level design as you advance. We're talking a screen push stage, swimming stages, 'find the object' stages with different doors to explore, and even a final area on the deck of the ship which features multiple levels to explore via climbing ropes and ladders. None of this is particularly great in actual play, mind you, but I still appreciate the ambition on the part of the developers, who were very likely working on the most threadbare of budgets.

Platoon aside, Titanic is one of the more bizarre choices for a movie-based video game adaption on the NES. And given the game's 2005 release date, it's not as if someone tried to strike while the iron was hot. (Unless the Chinese bootleg market is just now catching up on American films from 1997, in which case I eagerly anticipate the upcoming Jungle 2 Jungle bootleg video game.) Titanic is nowhere near hidden gem or undiscovered classic status, but it's worth a look if you're up for some esoteric gaming or you really have a hankering to control a pixelated Kate Winslet in a video game.
 

4 Gilligans out of 7
 
 
  
               Not quite as grim as Friday the 13th's game over screen though...
 
 
 
Matthew Conway can be found on Twitter at: @Mattaconda
 
 
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The Quest to Review Every Nes Game by Dylan Cornelius is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.