Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Unveiling (drumroll): Donkey Kong Hockey!! And Why Game Boys suck.

Christmas has come and gone!!!

So here it is, the grand unveiling of my present:
Donkey Kong Hockey!!!!

Nobody quite guessed it right, though I give Bryan partial marks for guessing that it was a Game and Watch and to Famicom Freak for guessing that it had something to do with Donkey Kong.

This is the most amazing thing. Ever. I love it. It is the most brilliant thing human hands have ever created. If I were to create a religious cult based on the idolatrous worship of some tangible entity, it would be devoted to my Donkey Kong Hockey. It is that good. My wife, who gave it to me, is the best! I have reserved a privileged position for her in the hierarchy of deities in the Church of Donkey Kong Hockey Pantheon.

This thing is even more awesome than it appears in the above photo. Look, it opens up:Wow, its got two controllers inside! And you can unwind them. A lot:
And then it snaps closed and you've got a nifty little mini-console:It came with a cool box too:
If you don't have one of these, go out and buy one. Somebody found an unopened caseload of them so they are pretty much the cheapest Game and Watch you can get.

Seriously, this is one of the best designed things I have ever seen. The controllers unwind and wind up flawlessly and it is so easy to use. Its crazy how efficiently they pack up too, despite having to carry the two controllers the unit is roughly the same size as a GameBoy:
This leads me to a rant. My basic premise: Compared to Donkey Kong Hockey - made in 1984 - Game Boys (and subsequent handhelds) suck.

Let me explain why.

I have to preface this rant by saying that I love playing games in multi-player mode. I think of gaming primarily as a social activity that I can do with someone. Of course sometimes I play games alone, but far and away I have the most fun when I play with somebody else.

Now, lets just run quickly through what you need to do to play Dr. Mario (for example) in multiplayer (2 player really) on a Game Boy:
First: Buy a Game Boy.

Then: Buy another Game Boy.

Then: Buy Dr. Mario.

Then: Buy another Dr. Mario.

Then: Buy a Cable to connect the two Gameboys.

Then: Try to arrange a time when you will have all of the above items in the same place at the same time.

Then: You can play Dr. Mario in multiplayer mode on the Gameboy.

Now lets compare that process with what you need to do for two people to play Donkey Kong Hockey:
First: Buy Donkey Kong Hockey.

Then: You can play Donkey Kong Hockey in multiplayer mode.

(Bangs head on table repeatedly).

So, in other words, in 1984 Nintendo had literally created the perfect portable handheld device with which two people can play a game together at the same time. I mean, this thing is insanely good - the controllers work flawlessly, they are easy to pack up, they don't waste space, etc etc.

Then what do they do when it comes time to introduce a cartridge based portable system? Junk all that and make something that is insanely difficult and expensive to play in multiplayer mode of course.

I can think of two reasons why this horrible retrogression occurred:

One: The GameBoy like most handhelds is mainly designed to be played alone by people riding on subways and buses. In light of this they probably reasoned that they could make the units a bit cheaper and maybe a bit more durable by not including the extra controllers and that is why they did it.

Two: More money (see "how to play Dr. Mario in multiplayer on a GameBoy" above).

Its probably a bit of both of these, but all I can say is what a waste. Could you imagine how awesome a GameBoy would be if it had little controllers you could unwind and play with a friend? Yeah, REALLY awesome.

Not that I blame Nintendo, the Game Boy was an incredible success, selling tens of millions of units while Donkey Kong Hockey sold more like tens of thousands of units. But it would have been nice, that's all.

I'm going to be taking a long train trip with my wife pretty soon. My Game Boy is staying home. Donkey Kong Hockey is coming with us. We played it for a while yesterday and it was insanely fun. Its a real simple game (Hockey, basically), which is often all you need to be kept entertained. Vive la simplicity!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mega Bargain of the Day: Famicom Basic, Family Trainer and Climber Stick

Its been a while since I've put up a post filled with some good old fashioned "Shopping Porn for Famicom collectors" - which, if I'm honest, is really what this blog is all about:)

Today's trip to good old Omocha Souko, readers will be glad to know, has provided ample fodder for such a post.

I went in today to do my usual rounds. I was massively excited on getting to the game section to see that they had created a new retro game "junk" section filled with piles and piles of good old stuff for between 50 and 300 yen per item.

You might remember 3 months ago they did something similar, putting out huge piles of boxes of retro game stuff for 50 yen each. That was the last time I went on a mega shopping spree, getting boatloads of stuff. After about 5 or 6 weeks pretty much everything from those piles had been sold, with the remainder just tossed onto shelves with their regular inventory, so for the past few weeks Omocha Souko hasn't had a proper junk section.

Today's new junk bin wasn't as good as that one in September, but it was pretty good. They didn't have any games and there weren't any particularly exciting consoles (piles of Super Famicoms, Playstations, Saturns, N64s and even Game Cubes for 300 yen each but without any controllers, etc.). They had a lot of controllers separately for 100 yen each and AC adapters/ AV cables for 50 yen.

But I didn't buy any of those.

I only bought 3 items. For a grand total of 300 yen (about 3$ US). This is what I got:
These were pretty cool. First up was Family Trainer, a Bandai game which is kind of an early version of Dance Dance Revolution and all those pad-type ones. It is also the fore-runner of the Power Pad for the NES:
It didn't come with the manual, but the thing itself was in pretty good shape. I love the box. I have a real soft spot for 80s toy ads that have kids in amusing 80s clothes, like these ones on the back of the box: socks. And short shorts. Brings me back.

Anyway, next up was the Family Basic:
I couldn't believe this was only 100 yen. This actually wasn't something they just got in new, they've had it for sale for a long time, sometimes in the glass case. It was lovingly wrapped, CIB with the manual on the outside. They had tested it and it had this lovely handwritten sign made specifically for it:
Underneath the new 100 yen price tag you can see the old price of 3,980 yen just peaking out.

This turned out to be a really good buy not just for the unit itself but for the goodies stuffed into the book: Handbills!

One for version 3 of Family Basic:
One for the Famicom Data Recorder:
And one for the Family Basic itself:
The manual is pretty cool too. I really like it because it reminds me of my own childhood. My dad bought a Vic 20 in the early 80s and later got an Apple IIC. He had a lot of programming guides and stuff that I used to look at with utter incomprehension as a kid. They were way over my head, the type of thing only dads understood how to use. They looked pretty cool though and this guidebook reminds me of them. The photography, the font, the multicolored characters written at a slight angle: Even though the language is different, it looks so familiar: The unit itself is in pristine condition:
Rounding out my shopping day, I found this little guy right at the bottom of one of the big crates:
Its called a "Climber Stick" and was released by Nichibutsu, the same company that made the game Crazy Climber, so I assume its for use with that game. You can just snap it onto a regular Famicom controller:
I haven't tried it yet but I'll probably go dig up my copy of Crazy Climber to see how it works. I rather like it, goes well with my growing collection of "oddball Famicom accessories" that I'm slowly accumulating!

Related Posts:
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Kousenjuu Electro Safari
- Mega Bargain of the Day: 3 Consoles and a Game for 10 Bucks
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Exorcising My Twin Famicom Demons
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Another Square Button Famicom

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry F'ing Christmas

The "F" of course stands for "Famicom".
Anyway, happy holidays. For the purposes of celebrating the occasion I tried decorating my tree with some Famicom carts. They aren't bad as tree decorations, except that they fall down a lot. And have nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas.
I took them down after taking these shots, they are incredibly hard to balance on a cheap plastic tree like ours. You really need hooks or something.
Its kind of a shame that there aren't any Christmas themed Famicom games. They'd make for nice decorations I'm sure. Antarctic Adventure has a winter theme going for it at least. Hmmmm....I should have tossed Ice Climber onto there too but didn't think of it at the time.

Anyway, only 4 more days to go. Last chance to guess at what my present is. Answer will be revealed sometime after Christmas.
Happy New Year, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Festivus for the rest of us, and whatever else you happen to be celebrating at this time of the year.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Famicom Console Wars

Pictured above are the five distinctly different types of Family Computer console that I own. From left we have:

AV Famicom
Square Button Famicom with Famicom Disk System
Regular Round Button Famicom
Red Twin Famicom
Black Twin Famicom

There are a lot of other variants that I don't have and probably don't know about but anyway, these are the five that have fallen into my hands over the years.

I'm a little torn about which one I like the best. The one I use the most is the AV Famicom:
My preference for it is purely functional though. It gives a clearer picture and is easier to hook up than the old RF switch-dependent Famicom, so I use it more.

I like the look of the old Famicoms much better than the AV Famicom though:
The AV Famicom is much sleeker than the old red and white, but I don't view that as a positive thing. Aesthetically the two versions are worlds apart. The AV Famicom, in terms of its design, shares much more in common with the XBox 360 than it does with the original Famicom, even though they are the exact same console on the inside.
The Twin Famicoms for their part are very much the dark horse candidates of my Famicom consoles. I've been so frustrated by the fact that I still can't play them (lacking the necessary AC cables). Chronologically their release falls in between the original Famicom and the AV Famicom, though the overall "feel" of their design makes me categorize them with the old school Famicom rather than the AV one. They look nothing like the old school Famicom, but they share with it a certain "clunky and colorful" appearance that I find very endearing. Give me clumsy over sleek any day - at least so long as it doesn't affect the console's performance.

I feel that if I ever get them working they'll probably be the ones I'll rely on and like the most....but I'll never know for sure until I get a bloody AC adapter for them. Oh, and then I may find I'm in need of a new belt for their disk systems, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

One curious thing that really separates the Twin Famicoms from the others, as Bryan at the Gay Gamer noted recently when he got his, is their size. They are basically only slightly smaller than a regular Famicom and an FDS put side by side:
Obviously that is because inside they are a regular Famicom and FDS put side by side. Still though, I kind of wonder why they chose to orient them like that instead of stacking them, like you do with a regular Famicom/FDS combo:
It would dramatically reduce their profile and save a lot of shelf space - which readers of this blog will know is one of my over-arching concerns in life. I'm sure they had some valid technical or cost related reasons for doing it the way they did, but still. Would have been kind of nice.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

70s films and the Famicom: Daikaijyu Deburasu

In terms of cover art, my favorite Famicom cart (at least out of the ones I have - 636 and counting) is a little-known game called Daikaijyu Deburasu. I don't particularly like the game itself. Its a strategy game in which you control an army tasked to defend Tokyo from a giant monster which has been hatched from an egg that fell into the sea from outer space (a good review of the game in English can be found here). Good story, but I'm not a fan of the strategy genre, so I don't really play it.

What I love about it though is this:
This is very retro. Actually, it was very retro when they made it 20 years ago. So now it is, like, "double retro" or something.

Oh wow, I just blew my own mind.

Anyway, I like it because it looks like something taken out of a movie poster from a Toyo film from the 70s. Which, coincidentally, is what I bought today and oh so want to share with everyone. As Famicom collecting dovetails nicely with the more general retro-Japanese-nerd-stuff collecting genre, I hope you won't mind the momentary detour from the regularly scheduled Famicom content of this blog.

I was wandering around Omocha Souko this afternoon. They have a substantial non-gaming section that sometimes turns up a few gems. A new box full of junk in their toy section caught my eye and in it I found a bag containing these:
They are a bunch of postcards produced by Toyo and NTV in the early 70s and a poster for the movie Godzilla vs. Megalon, released in 1973. They were in pretty rough shape, but for 200 yen for the lot (about $2), how could I say no?

Japanese films certainly had some extraordinary, if odd, heroes and villains in the 1970s. Here we have Gari Gari and Bero Bero lovingly depicted in front of the backdrop of....a....generic gray studio completely bereft of any decor:
Its not entirely apparent from the photo if they are meant to be fighting or engaging in some sort of mating ritual. Gari Gari seems to be biting Bero Bero's head while Bero Bero impotently tries to fight back with his double tongue, which couldn't have been much of an effective weapon.

Here we have Sanda fighting a giant octopus in a very epic-looking scene:
And I think this is Ultraman, though there are so many Ultraman rip-offs out there that I'm not sure if this is him or one of the rip-offs. Whoever he is, he is dealing with a creature known as Giradorasu:
And here we have Mekanigongu in an as of yet undefined relationship with a rather pleasant looking helicopter:
What I really love about these postcards from the point of view of a Famicom collector is that they provide an excellent visual window into the shared cultural experience of the makers of many of the Famicom's great games.

The guys who made Famicom games in the 80s had, as children in the 60s and 70s, been raised on films in which these were the heroes and villains. This is reflected in a lot of Famicom games, not just Daikaijyu Deburasu. Its not hard to see the roots of some Famicom characters in these cards - Donkey Kong for example would have fit in nicely in any one of these movies.

Anyway, I really like these cards. Actually, I like them so much that they almost make me dislike my copy of Daikaijyu Deburasu.

I mean, these things are so campy and cheaply made that they fall into that "So bad they are, make that awesome" category. These films were so poorly made that they are legend. The "goofs" section of Godzilla vs. Megalon at IMDB for example contains entries such as:

"Obvious wires in numerous monster scenes."


"The Jet Jaguar suit that is kicked back and forth by Megalon and Gigan is empty - the arms flail and bend at the wrists, showing that there is no one inside."

The kind of sloppy stuff you would expect to see judging on the quality of the postcards and posters above.

The Famicom Daikaijyu Deburasu cover though? It actually looks...kind of professional. Which, in a weird way, makes it less charming than the ridiculously bad art in some of these postcards.

Oh, what am I saying? I still love this game's art. It is, after all, the perfect companion piece for my new old movie postcard collection.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Famicom Storage Mark II: The Kitchen TV

I was so happy with how my new Famicom shelving in my living room worked out that I decided to give the spare Famicom hooked up to our humble little kitchen TV the same treatment.
These are slightly different dish racks than the ones I got for the living room (which were sold out, I got these at a different 100 yen shop). Actually I like these ones better anyway. They hold 8 carts each (the ones in the living room hold only 7) and the pegs are slightly closer together so I didn't need to glue "rails" onto the sides to keep the carts on.
Also these ones are a bit better quality, if you look at the living room photo you'll notice the row on the right is slightly crooked because the pegs aren't even (and one of them was missing a peg to boot). I might just re-do the living room with these.

Well, I will if the 100 yen shop gets more of them in, I bought all the ones they had on the shelf. The cashier must have wondered just how many dishes a guy can dry at once to need so many.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Guess the Christmas Present

As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, my wife purchased my Christmas present out of the exclusive Mandarake glass case. It now sits wrapped in red beneath our tree, waiting patiently to be opened by me.

Anybody care to take a guess as to what it might be? Here is a picture of the present next to a Famicom cart for scale:
I'll give you a few hints:

1) It was made by Nintendo.

2) It was released in 1984.

3) It was released both in Japan and overseas.

4) If you look at the pictures of the glass case in the Mandarake post linked above, it isn't there (they have another Nintendo retro-game glass case that it came from).

5) I won't tell you the exact price, but it was less than 10,000 yen (about $100) and it came complete in the box.

No physical prizes for the correct answer, just the respect that goes with having successfully displayed your wrapped-box-content-guessing prowess.