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Retrospective Monday

Columns000

Title: Columns
Year: 1990
Platform: Sega Genesis (Mega Drive)
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega

In my early days of gaming, I was a pretty hardcore Nintendo fan. 

It wasn’t until years after the Nintendo 64 came out that we bought a Sega Genesis (Toys R Us was still selling new ones at the time, and I remember the day vividly). 

Along with the console, we bought two cartridges, a Sega collection cart with Golden Axe and Columns, the Sega Genesis 6-Pak, I believe, and Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994). 

The Sega Genesis, or Mega Drive, seemed like a much more mature console than the SNES or NES, as all the games I encountered (Golden Axe, Bloodlines, Columns, and later, the Phantasy Star games) had these unappealing, more realistic visuals that differed greatly from their Nintendo counterparts. Even bright and stylish Sonic games were less appealing and had a more mature visual style than the early Mario games.

Columns is the focus of this article, and my experience with it. 

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Wall Street Kid Opening

Title: Wall Street Kid
Year: 1990
Platform: NES
Publisher: SOFEL
Developer: SOFEL

Mike went to a pretty wild flea market over the weekend, returning two NES carts richer: Monster Party, 8-bit horror classic and one of my favorite platformers, and, uh, Wall Street Kid…? 

That’s a name I hadn’t heard in almost a decade.

Wall Street Kid is a game I had when I was very young, one of those used three bucks NES cartridges kids buy because the picture looks mildly entertaining (or just because we couldn’t believe there was a game about being a “wall street kid”). It was a game my brother and I would play very rarely, and only for ten minutes at a time, one of the games that seems like it might be funny to play for a bit, then quickly becomes too tedious to be novel.

Casino Kid (NES)

Casino Kid (NES)

It’s one of the few old games I never returned to as I got older, looked at it with new perspective. Would it charming, humorous, or just awful? Would it be worthy of my kind of “weird NES game” seal of approval? 

The game was developed by SOFEL, a Japanese communications company that dabbled in Famicom and apparently Game Boy games before fading into obscurity. Their first title, Casino Kid (or $1,000,000 Kid: Maboroshi no Teiou Hen), which is based on an unpopular manga, was released in 1989, with a sequel, Casino Kid II, released in 1993. The sequel was a very late NES game, but rumor has it the game was supposed to be released in 1990 and titled The Prince of Othello…!

The games were obviously shoddy casino simulators, but had cool “JRPG walking around” segments, which I’m a sucker for. Mediocre sprites, but still cool. The garish checkered floor is to die for.

The US Wall Street Kid was released in Japan as The Money Game II: Kabutochou no Kiseki, and it was a sequel to SOFEL’s earlier game, The Money Game. The game’s scant Wikipedia article has this to say:
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Jim Power - The Lost Dimension in 3D (USA).001
Title: Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D
Year: 1993
Platform: SNES, MS-DOS
Developer: Loriceil(s)
Publisher: Electro Brain

Someone on a game forum recommended this to me and I hadn’t heard of it, so I wasn’t sure at first why he recommended it. The topic of discussion was frustrating SNES games, but there are frustrating games that are difficult but satisfying, there are overly obscure games, unforgiving games, and sometimes games with just awful design. Which one was Jim Power?

Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3-D is I guess a misleading title. It recalls to mind something like beloved The Lost Vikings (1992) or Virtual Bart (1994), video game narratives that feature time travel or virtual realities, narratives that have no rules. Jim Power promises 3D, as well, whatever that could mean on the SNES (Star Fox?). 

Jim Power - The Lost Dimension in 3D (USA).008

The game was developed by French developer Loriceil, who came out with a handful of Commodore 64 and MS-DOS games in the 1980s that probably not a lot of people have ever heard of and a few hits like Golden Eagle (1991) on MS-DOS. Eric Chahi, who later designed Another World (1991) had his start at Loriceil, so the studio isn’t too obscure. 

In 1992, the studio came out with what seems to be their biggest hit, Jim Power in Mutant Planet, which was co-developed by Digital Concept, and features music from the incredibly talented Chris Hülsbeck, who worked on the Amiga/C64 version of R-Type and sci-fi run and gun Turrican (1990). A year later, The Lost Dimension in 3-D would be released.

Wikipedia seems to go to great lengths to make sure its readers are aware that Lost Dimension is not a sequel to Mutant Planet. The two have the same first level, though Mutant Planet looks, sounds, and maybe plays much better. Hülsbeck’s music can be heard in Lost Dimension, but it gets a bit garbled in the translation, though I might be biased. The first level’s theme is my favorite, and it’s pretty rockin’.

Jim Power - The Lost Dimension in 3D (USA).032

Both games have a striking resemblance to Turrican, both in terms of gameplay and sound. It’s funny to think that Loriceil wanted to make a Turrican-clone and actually went out of their way to get Hülsbeck to do the sound, but I’m just speculating. 

According to this, publisher Electro Brain actually packaged stereoscopic Nuoptix 3D glasses with the game, which would make the parallax scrolling backgrounds appear 3Dish. I can’t even imagine this. I felt so sick after playing it for about three hours and went straight to bed.

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Kickle Cubicle.075
Title: Kickle Cubicle
Year: 1990
Platform: NES
Publisher: Irem
Developer: Irem

I first heard of Kickle Cubicle a few years ago when Mike McCabe included it on his list of favorite games. I was surprised that A. an NES game with alliteration in its title had eluded me for so long and B. that there was an Irem NES game released in North America that I had never played.

Irem, known for their R-Type horizontal space shooters, had a small output of excellent NES games, including Deadly Towers (1986), The Guardian Legend (1988), Metal Storm (1991), and apparently action-puzzler Kickle Cubicle.

Kickle Cubicle.026

From what I can gauge, Kickle Cubicle is based on a Japanese arcade game called Meikyūjima, or “Labyrinth Island,” which is also its Japanese Famicom name. The game looks a good deal like HAL’s Adventure of Lolo (1989), a series Nintendo should revisit one of these years (Lolo confirmed for Brawl?), with its tile grid-based, block-pushing puzzle action.

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Legacy of the Wizard.040

Title: Legacy of the Wizard
Year: 1987 (JP), 1989 (NA)
Platform: NES, MSX
Publisher: Namcot, Brøderbund
Developer: Nihon Falcom, Quintet

A bit of history: in the mid to late ‘80s, the big three names in RPGs in Japan were Enix, Square, and, not Atlus, but Nihon Falcom. Falcom, who most people know for the Ys series (which range from great to awful), but they actually got their start in the RPG market with their action-RPGs, the Dragon Slayer series. Released for the FM-7 computer (and later the PC-88, with an MSX port by Square) in Japan, Dragon Slayer became the smash hit of 1984, and it can be seen as one of the original action-RPGs.

Legacy of the Wizard.047

Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family is the fourth installment of Falcom’s series, released in 1987, around the time that Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished Omen (oh boy), the first Ys game came out. For its North American release (NES), it was retitled Legacy of the Wizard, and I’m not sure how it was initially critically reviewed, but Falcom must have felt like they were on top of the world.

After doing some research, I also realized that Quintet was involved with Legacy of the Wizard, which adds some intrigue. Quintet, known for developing the flawless ActRaiser (1990), among other SNES RPGs, apparently first had their hand in Legacy of the Wizard. Well, it better be good then.

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Destiny of an Emperor.035

Title: Destiny of an Emperor
Year: 1989
Platform: NES
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom

Over the years, I’ve played through a lot of NES RPGs. From ones in the sort of obscure category, like Sweet Home (1989), Ghost Lion (1992), and Radia Senki (1991), to the more obscure, never-been-translated ones like Niji no Silkroad (1991) and even the truly bizarre Otaku no Seiza: An Adventure in the Otaku Galaxy (1991), I thought I had covered most of the big ones.

Surprisingly, I had completely missed Destiny of an Emperor, which actually did have a North American release and seems to be at least semi-popular with the NES RPG crowd. The first time it was called to my attention was on cly5m’s website, who describes the game as a “high-speed Dragon Warrior with history instead of fantasy.” And that’s exactly what it is.

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Three Stooges.019

Title: The Three Stooges
Platform: NES
Date: 1989
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beam Software

 

I recently discovered the Johnny games, a series of old Game Maker games made by Kimberly Kubus (Sparlatacus), through a labyrinth of dead links starting at cly5m’s (of Seiklus fame) website. While I couldn’t find any of the games online or even any footage of them, I played through one of cly5m’s fangames, Johnny’s Odyssey, which revolves around a great “game mechanic” and has a wonderful, MSPaint aesthetic. While having nothing to do with Johnny, the games and their aesthetic and the hushed internet murmurs surrounding them reminded me of another game, a Cactus game, which pushes the MSPaint aesthetic into a new level of internet gaudiness and punk flamboyance: Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf is essentially a series of progressively difficult minigames set to the tunes of band Fucking Werewolf ASSO.

It’s a really tough game that I’ve never been able to beat, but its spastics are legendary and have been on my mind all week.

So what does this have to do with The Three Stooges, some Activsion licensed game for the NES? The Three Stooges, an NES port of a Cinemaware Commodore Amiga game, is also essentially a series of progressively difficult minigames, only instead of surreal, glittery punk, it has a Columbia-era, 1930s Three Stooges aesthetic. And yet, the game is every bit as untamed and non-sequitured as Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf. It’s surprising, really, because on paper, The Three Stooges seems more like an archaic ancestor to Mario Party or something, but it’s more Fucking Werewolf than anything, but because of its grounds in reality, it’s even more grotesque.

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