Saturday, October 29, 2011

Only in Japan: Spelunker and Spelunker 2 Yuuja he no Chousen

For a while now I`ve been thinking of doing some posts on Famicom games that were only released in Japan. I recently picked up a copy of Spelunker II, which gives me the whole Spelunker series of two carts. A fitting place to start I guess.

The first Spelunker is a game that for some reason remains quite popular in Japan. My wife played it when she was a kid and has a lot of fond memories of it.
It is, however, massively difficult and frustrating. You are a miner in an underground series of tunnels armed with a drill. Touch anything and you die. Time that jump wrong and you die. Fall off even the tiniest of ledges? You guessed it. You die.

I turned it on just to see how far I`d get before writing this piece. I didn`t make it past the first level. I can never get those jumps timed right.
Spelunker 2 I had never played before today and I just plugged it in not really knowing anything about it. It is nothing like the first Spelunker.
The first thing I noticed is that you don`t die instantly whenever you mistime a jump or touch an enemy. You have a power metre that is quite forgiving.
The gameplay is quite different too. Instead of the drill you have in the first Spelunker, in this one you have a sword. You have to go around and collect various things, which probably do something, though I didn`t get far enough to find out what. Some of the game is underground, some of it on the surface and you can explore around quite a bit.

In my game, a few snakes in the first underground level weakened me a lot and a pair of wild boars on a surface level finished me off after 3 or 4 minutes of play. Relative to how long I usually last when playing the first Spelunker, that seemed like an eternity.

Anyway, these are pretty interesting games, particularly to any of you who like frustrating, awful gaming experiences (at least in the case of the first Spelunker). I rather like the carts themselves. Those early Irem carts with the red LED quite appeal to me. The artwork on the labels, especially the pink ghost on the first Spelunker, really won me over.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Donkey Kong Game and Watch: Yet Again, More Stuff

My daily sacrifices to the gods of video game shopping bargains are really paying off these days. Yesterday Omocha Souko had tossed another classic Game and Watch right into their 300 yen junk bin. Donkey Kong!

The front plate is a bit scratched but otherwise it is perfect. It works great and has the battery cover! Get!
It is quite a good game too. The gameplay is quite similar to the first level of Donkey Kong on the Famicom. You just run up the screen, jumping over barrels as usual. When you get to the top though you have to jump at the right time to grab this swinging crane hook. The Donkey Kong Jr Game and Watch has a similar device at the top, only in that one you need to grab a vine.
The orange color scheme is decent enough, though I do prefer the green white and red of Donkey Kong Jr or the Blue of Donkey Kong Hockey. For 300 yen though I definitely can`t complain.

Related Posts:
- More Stuff: Donkey Kong Jr and Snoopy Tennis Game and Watches
- Mario Bros. Game and Watch Hits the Road

- The Unveiling: Donkey Kong Hockey Game and Watch

Monday, October 24, 2011

More Stuff: Donkey Kong Jr and Snoopy Tennis Game and Watches

I`ve been in to Omocha Souko almost every day this week and in an amazing run of luck every time I have found some new bargain they have put out. Today was no exception. In their 300 yen junk bin today I fished out two vintage Game and Watches: Donkey Kong Jr. and Snoopy Tennis.

I really love Game and Watches but only have a small collection of them so far, so I was pretty psyched to be able to score a pair for only 600 yen. The prices for these usually start from about 3000 yen each and can go much higher.

Snoopy Tennis unfortunately turned out to be a dud. The screen is completely messed up and though it makes game sounds when turned on it is basically useless. These are the risks one takes when purchasing stuff from the junk bin! Its too bad as I really like the look of the unit:
Donkey Kong Jr on the other hand turned out to be a major score, which more than made up for that. I put some batteries in and found that it works perfectly. It has a couple of small scratches but is in otherwise great condition. I love the green and white color scheme accentuated by the red buttons:
One thing I like about the design of these types of Game and Watches is that they have little stands on the back that allow you to display them easily like I have it in the photo above.
Donkey Kong Jr also had the battery cover, which was a cool bonus. A lot of Game and Watches (like my Snoopy Tennis) have lost them over the years.

Its a great little game. The gameplay is somewhat similar to the game`s Famicom version in that you have to jump and climb vines to avoid little alligators and birds as they come at you. I`ve been playing it for the past hour or so and quite enjoyed it.

I didn`t get this with it but found an image of the original handbill for this game which is just as aweseome. They originally sold for 4800 yen, not a bad deal!

Related Posts:
- Mario Bros. Game and Watch Hits the Road
- The Unveiling: Donkey Kong Hockey!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bandai Intellivision: This Could Be the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Here she is, my newest console in my constantly-expanding collection: the Bandai Intellivision.

If you are familiar with the Mattel Intellivision then this is basically the exact same thing only in a different box.

I love really early pre-Famicom systems and when I first saw this at Mandarake a few months ago I knew I had to have it. The problem was that it was that it was a bit too pricey for me at the time. It had pride of place in Mandarake`s new location, and this very one was even featured on their store`s website here.

When I went in this week and saw that they had cut the price in half though - that was my cue. Cha-ching!

This thing is awesome on so many levels, I just can`t count them all. When I took it out of the box the thing looked brand new:
I don`t think anyone has ever even played this one before, there wasn`t a scratch on it:
Oh god, look at that wood grain panelling! Just look at it!
I miss the days when all household entertainment devices had false wood grain panelling. They really should bring that back.

Gotta love `em controllers too. Very hard to use but they look so retro that I`m willing to forgive that shortcoming:
The box is amazing too. Its got these two characters:
The guy on the left looks quite skeptical, but look at how much fun the girl on the right is having. She knows what time it is! Its Intellivision time, baby.

It also has screen shots of a couple dozen or so games on the front cover, which is an aweseome thing to put on a box:
The back of the box is a bit less exciting but there it is for you if you were curious:
This thing was REALLY complete in the box. I got the manual:
A 32 page color catalogue of all the games that would have been worth the price of the whole thing just for that photo on the cover:
It has the original warranty card that still hasn`t been filled out:
And an envelope addressed to Bandai head office for the customer to mail the above warranty card to. It is specifically addressed to the Intellivision branch:
For some reason I love the fact that this was still in there!

Anyway, perhaps I should say a few words about the Japanese version of the Intellivision as most people probably don`t know that it was even released in Japan. There is a very good write up about the history of the Bandai Intellivision on Intellivision World. The basic story is that Mattel marketed the system in Japan through Bandai beginning in 1982. The unit price was a whopping 49,800 yen each, and you can imagine what the Famicom`s release a year later with a price of 14,800 yen did to that.

The system never made it off the ground here and today they are quite hard to come by. An Ebay search for the phrase `Bandai Intellivision` turned up exactly zero hits for me just now, and even a search of Yahoo Japan Auctions in Japanese only turned up one console and one game (Q-Bert) for sale. According to Chris Kohler at Wired, these usually sell for about 400$ in Akihabara. I got mine for about 75$, which was a pretty major score.

The only down side is that while I now have a beautiful and complete Bandai Intellivision, I also have exactly zero games to play it with. I asked the guy at Mandarake who sold it to me if they had any games and he just said ¨uh, no¨ with a look that indicated I should have known that before I asked as nobody has games for this thing. D-uh. As with most unsuccesful consoles, the games for this one are extremely rare and expensive.

The up side is that the Japanese Intellivision is 100% compatible with Mattel Intellivision games released in North America. In fact the games released in Japan were actually North American carts packaged with Japanese instructions and they never released any Japan-only games for it.

Thus, in an unusual turning of the tables for someone who is used to being surrounded by mountains of retro games at local shops, I`ve just spent the last hour on Ebay ordering up a few titles from sellers in the US. I bought ten games from one seller who offered decent shipping to Japan. This gives me the distinction of being the first person in the history of mankind to have retro video games sent to Japan from America rather than the other way around.

Related Posts:
- Bringing a New Console Home on the Subway from Mandarake
- About a Virtual Boy
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Sega SG-1000 II

Bringing a New Console From Mandarake Home on the Subway

For a guy who complains a lot about how many retro consoles he has, I sure do buy a lot of them.

Today I bought another one. I was downtown this morning on some business after the completion of which I managed to sneak into Mandarake. I like to visit there once a month or so when I`m in the neighborhood just to see if they have anything new.

Today they didn`t have anything new per se, but they did have a new price on something that had been there for a while. It was something that I had wanted for a long time but had been needing a bit of an extra nudge to actually go through and buy the thing. A 50% reduction in price was, it turns out, enough to do it for me.

The console in question was on display in their glass case. The Mandarake glass case is awesome - nothing but the best in retro video game consoles in all of Fukuoka go in there. I love it when I can actually buy something out of there. The prices are nowhere near as cheap as the junk bins in other stores, but it makes me feel like a big shot to be able to get something out of the glass case.

Unfortunately they don`t allow photography in the store so I couldn`t take any pictures of the case. I did however photograph most of my trip home via the subway system with my new console in tow.

First we entered the underground shopping complex that leads to the station:
On arriving at the station we purchased our ticket at the machine:
Then we got on the train, which was quite crowded. Somebody with a similar looking bag from Mujirushi sat opposite us:
Then we got off after only one stop to transfer trains. We had to wait on the platform for a little while:
The next train wasn`t so crowded so we had quite a bit of room to ourselves:
Finally we arrived at the station near my home and took the escalator up and out of the subway system:So there you have it - my newest console brought home by Subway. Fascinating, I know.

You may wonder what my new console is. I`ll give you a few clues.

1. Its heavy.
2. It isn`t a handheld, it connects to a TV (with an RF switch, not AV cables).
3. It was released in the early 1980s.
4. It was also released in the United States. The American version was much more succesful than the Japanese one.
5. Beat Takeshi appeared in TV commercials for it.

I`ll do another post about it tomorrow.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Famiclone Wars Part 2: the Next II

The Next II is one of the more common Famiclones floating around out there. You can buy them at the major retailer Don Quixote for a little under 2000 yen and used ones pop up at retro game shops from time to time.

Like the Famulator it retains the color scheme of the original Famicom, but other than that there isn`t much attempt to make it look like the Famicom. It is kind of just a generic looking box:
As you can see from the photo on the box in the top photo of this post, they come in two versions, basically just reversing the same color scheme on each.

Size-wise it is about the same as the Famulator and with a cart inserted it looks quite small:
This Famiclone comes with 9 games built into it. If you turn it on without a cart inserted you go directly to the game select menu:
I gave each of these a try and almost all of them are complete rip-offs of officially released Famicom games. You`ve got Lode Runner, Super Star Force, Circus Charlie (twice - they made a different game for two different levels of that one), Tennis, Mappy and a couple others that I didn`t recognize but assume they are also stolen. The names are changed and they made some basic changes to the graphics, but the games are instantly recognizable. The sound effects are directly lifted from the originals. This is what the Mappy clone looks like:
I find this very surprising since these things aren`t black market finds and are sold at major retail chains throughout the country. As someone with a bit more than a passing knowledge of copyright law, I can confidently say that these are all massively illegal and I am surprised that Namco, Hudson Soft, etc haven`t sued the makers (and Don Quixote) for producing and marketing them.

Anyway, that is just an aside that doesn`t really have anything to do with the Famiclone itself. The controller on the thing is designed similarly to the Playstation controller:
In terms of functionality it works fine. The buttons are reasonable quality, though it does make a rattling sound when you shake it.

I don`t particularly like this sort of design though. It works fine on a Playstation, but when I play Famicom games I want a controller that at least looks like it was made in the 1980s.

A lot of Famiclones try to copy the design of modern consoles like this and I wish they would stop. It is just so.....nouveau riche. It is to video game console design what Greco-Roman decorative fountains are to suburban American home gardens. This trend must be stopped.

Related Posts:
- Famiclone Wars Part 1: The Famulator
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops V: Don Quixote and Village Vanguard
- Mahjong Famiclone

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Famiclone Wars Part 1: the Famulator

Among the other things I have picked up at Omocha Souko recently have been a pile of Famiclones. Literally a pile of them. Look at that picture above. See? A pile.

Anyway, I thought I`d devote a few posts to doing mini-reviews of each of them. Famiclones are kind of an interesting sub-genre of the Famicom world. There are a ton of different ones out there, many released since Nintendo`s patent on the Famicom expired in 2003, making the technology part of the public domain.

These usually retail for between 1500 and 2500 yen at various retailers like Don Quixote and Village Vanguard. The thing I like about Famiclones is that they come in a ton of different colors, shapes, sizes and levels of commitment to not violating intellectual property rights. So there is a lot of variety out there.

I thought I`d start at the top of the pile with this Famiclone, the Famulator:
Out of the four Famiclones I have this one bears the strongest physical resemblance to the actual Famicom. The red and white colors are about the same and that belt where it says Famulator across the front looks quite similar to the one on the front of the Famicom. It even has a bit of the clear plastic starting to separate from the red plastic, which commonly happens on the real Famicom too.

In terms of size though, the Famulator is much smaller than the actual Famicom, a fact that you really notice when you put a cart into it:
I gave it a go with Space Invaders there. The controller is quite small and simple in design:
For a Famiclone though I was surprised at how good the controller was. It is quite sturdy and the buttons feel right, providing the right amount of resistance to the touch.

When I tried to remove Space Invaders after finishing though I did notice that it is quite difficult to take carts out of the thing. I had to really wrench on the thing to the point that I was worried about breaking it before I got it out. The opening you put the cart into is quite small and doesn`t allow much wiggle room which probably explains why it was so hard.

Another feature worth noting is that this Famiclone doesn`t come with any built in game software of its own, you can only play it if you put a cart in.

Anyway, this is a pretty decent Famiclone. Small, attractive and with good controllers, but without any software built in and with some cart-removal difficulties. In the next post I`ll look at the next Famiclone - the Next II.

Related Posts:
Fukuoka Famicom Shops V: Don Quixote and Village Vanguard
Mahjong Famiclone

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

In Search of the Square Button Famicom Revisions

This post is about an interesting little bit of archeological research that is being conducted into the hidden history of the Famicom - the revisions.

Revisions are basically just that - revisions. Over the course of the Famicom`s lifetime Nintendo was constantly revising the insides to deal with technical issues as they cropped up. Each time they did a revision they would number the board with whatever revision it was. Due to the fact that these were numbered sequentially (ie starting from 1), it is possible to establish a timeline of these revisions in relation to the development of the outwardly visible changes in the console - most notably the switch over from square to round buttons.

My interest in this was sparked by jpx72 over at Famicom World, to whom I sold my old square button Famicom a few weeks ago. To me it was just a broken old Famicom that I had no use for which I was glad to get rid of. To him it was an important piece of history that was of immense interest. His enthusiasm piqued my interest and I began to learn more.

He directed me to this thread over on Famicom World where you`ll find a little debate going on. The posters there have been slowly trying to piece together the history of these revisions based on Famicom consoles they have found. Square button ones, being the earliest Famicoms issued, are of particular interest.

Their research so far has found that consoles from the 5th revision were the last to have the square buttons. From revision 6 they started having round buttons.

What made my broken old square button Famicom so interesting to jpx72 was that after he recieved it in the mail he discovered that it was from the 3rd revision. Until then the earliest square button Famicom that anyone on Famicom World had been able to find was from the 4th revision.

So my little old square button Famicom confirmed that the 3rd revision had in fact been sold to the public. As of now nobody seems to have a confirmed sighting of a 1st or 2nd revision Famicom.

Anyway, among the avalanche of recent bargains I`ve been finding at Omocha Souko has been another square button Famicom. This gives me two in total, including the one I got a few months ago which is in great condition.

After procrastinating for the longest time I decided that today was the day to actually open up these two square button Famicoms and see which revisions they were.

The new one I opened first. This is what the board looks like:
The revision number can be found in the lower left hand corner:
You can see that little 05 there, which means it is a 5th revision console, the very last before the round button ones came out.

I then cracked open my other one and discovered this:
It is a 3rd revision one! This means that it is tied with my old one that I sold to jpx72 as the oldest revision square button Famicom out there! I don`t know why but for some reason this fills me with an immense sense of satisfaction!

Anyway, this is just my little post about a very interesting bit of research being done into the history of the Famicom. Maybe someday a 1st or 2nd revision board will be found.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Boxed Famicom Games and the Problem of Collection Creep

When I first set out on my mission to collect all of the carts ever released for the Famicom (1055 in total, of which I have just short of 700), I intended to only collect them loose.

Over the years though I have accumulated a fair number of boxed Famicom games. A little over fifty of them.
The first I got was Gradius, which remains one of my favorites. I bought it mainly because I needed Gradius and happened to find a boxed one going cheap, so I figured `why not`?
This process has repeated itself about fifty or so times with each of the boxed games I have acquired. Unlike the loose carts that I need, I don`t specifically go looking for boxed games. But when I see a nice one that looks good and the price is right I usually pick it up.
This presents a bit of an existential problem to my collecting mind. What, exactly, is it that I am collecting? With my loose carts the question is pretty easy to answer - I am collecting all of them. By definition, therefore, any loose cart that I don`t have is one I need. Its a very simple equation.
With boxed games though that simplicity and clarity of purpose vanishes. Collecting all of the boxed has never been a serious option - I have nowhere near enough money to do so. The ones I do possess provide no evidence of any method to the madness with which I have collected them. They are a random selection of impulse purchases made at various times and selected based on an amorphous amalgum of subjective criteria that I could not put into words if asked to do so.

In other words, they are just a random bunch of games that I liked the look of.
This is an example what I like to call `collection creep` and it happens with pretty much every collection I have ever started in my life. You start out collecting one thing with a specific goal of just collecting that one thing. But as you go about doing so, you start to find other, similar, things from time to time and you end up buying them as well. Slowly the amount of these `other things` which you possess start to dominate your collection, making a mockery of your original goal. The boundaries of what you collect creeps outward until it becomes absolutely massive.
The process with my current collection has gone something like the following, arranged in order with the first being my original collecting goal and the last being my current collecting goal:

1. Collect only loose Famicom carts of games I like.

2. Collect loose Famicom carts of all the games released for the Famicom.

3. Collect all the Famicom games loose and also a few boxed Famicom games.

4. Collect all the Famicom games loose, a few boxed Famicom games, and a few Super Famicom games I like.

5. Collect all the Famicom games loose, a few boxed Famicom games, a few Super Famicom games and some PC Engine games.

(a few intermediate steps ommited)

38. Collect all retro video games ever made.

Well, my current goal isn`t really to collect every retro video game ever made, but it now seems that pretty much any retro video game out there which I don`t have and which looks cool is fair game.

The end result is that I now have more retro consoles than I can count and a massive horde of games. This month alone I have added two more consoles (the Virtua Boy and Sega SG-1000-II) to the collection! It never ends. If I lived in a larger house this wouldn`t really be a problem, but being in a Japanese apartment with limited storage space - well, I won`t bore you with my tales of closet woe.

Anyway, any of you out there looking to start a collection - beware the perils of collection creep!