Friday, January 24, 2014

More Awesome Japan Only Famicom Releases

Almost the minute I finished making my recent post about 20 Japan only releases for the Famicom which I like I was already coming up with titles that I realized should have been on it.  So I`ve decided to add another post here with some of the other great ones that slipped my mind.

I should note that my definition of `Japan only` is a bit loose here.  Some of these were released in Europe or had later releases on other consoles sometimes under other titles.  Some, like Yume Penguin Monogatari are `pure` Japan only releases that never made it anywhere else on any console other than the Famicom, while others might not have reached that level of exclusivity.  What they all have in common though is they weren`t released on the NES in North America.

Anyway, here we go, in no particular order.

Battle City

This game is awesome.  The only reason it wasn`t on the top of my previous list is that I didn`t know it had never been released on the NES.  How could they not have released this game on the NES?  You control a tank and it is probably better than controlling a tank would be in real life, even if you could use it to run over the car of a neighbor you don`t like with it or something fun like that. It plays a bit like a puzzle game almost, you have to figure out how to position yourself so as to best defend a little base against enemy tanks blasting their way through varying maze-like screens.  Really really fun.

Door Door

This is a really awesome game that I have had a copy of for a while but only recently gotten into.  It is a kind of puzzle/platformer in which you have to open and close doors in order to trap enemies.  You wouldn`t think a game about opening doors would be much fun but it actually is. It is another one of those games that my wife played as a kid and she is much better at it than I am (her friend down the street, Sumire chan, had a copy of it and she used to go over to play it at her place.  I have learned a lot about Famicom history via stories of Sumire chan, who I have never met and probably never will.  Life is interesting like that sometimes....)

A Week of Garfield

This game is insanely difficult.  Since I did a post on it recently I won`t add much to what I wrote there, except to say that this has my favorite character death face plant of all.

The Goonies

I have no idea how I forgot to put this in the first list, I love this game.  In addition to being a kind of cool platformer, this game is notable for having an awesome 8 bit version of Cindy Laupher`s theme song from the film as background music.

Gradius 2

This is a really awesome horizontal shoot em up. I like the first Gradius a lot, but this one is even better. I have never gotten anywhere close to finishing it but maybe someday....


I like this game a lot.  It is a sequel to a game called Warp and Warp, which was released overseas but which I have never played.  This one only got a Famicom release.  It is hard to explain in words, basically you play Warpman and you have to shoot enemies.  Yup, I suck at accurately describing video games in a way that allows you to mentally visualize what the game-play is like.  Sorry, that is why I don`t do many reviews on this blog. 

Anyway, one thing I really like about this game is that it has a cooperative multiplayer mode which allows two people to play simultaneously, which is quite fun - especially as every time you shoot the other player (who is on your side) he gets temporarily zapped.

Super Arabian

I have to admit I am a bit unclear if this was strictly speaking a Japan-only release as apparently there was an earlier game called `Arabian` released overseas which sounds similar.  Anyway, assuming it was, this is a cool game.  Platform arcade style - it kind of reminds me a bit of Popeye. 

Anyway, those are a few more Japan-only releases.  I will definitely be doing at least one more of these posts as I just noticed Sky Destroyer on my shelf.....

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Famicom Rarity Find! Battle Formula!

I did a little retro game shopping at an actual store yesterday and made an amazing discovery:  Battle Formula!  And cheap!

I have been on a quest to find this game for years now.  I have only come close on two occasions.  The first time was a couple of years ago when I visited the Mandarake in Kitakyushu, which had a copy in their glass case for I think 12,000 yen or so if I remember.  I couldn`t afford it so passed, but oh how I wanted it.

The second time was about 3 months ago when I bit on a copy on Yahoo Auctions.  The copy in question was pretty beat up, with a bit of damage on the front and a completely messed up back.  I dropped out when the bidding got up to about 8,000 yen or so, I don`t know how much it ended up going for.

There are a few reasons I have wanted this game so bad.  First, it is one that I need for my full Famicom set.  Second, look at that cover art - it is totally awesome.  Third, it is a pretty cool game.

So when I found it there - a copy in perfect condition no less - for a mind blowing 3000 yen (about 30$) tears of joy came to my eyes:
I don`t know why they were selling it so cheap, the game is easily worth 5 times that.  I think this was just another case of me lucking into a really cheap find - the first time this has happened since good old Omocha Souko closed down almost 2 years ago. 

I think Battle Formula might be the hardest regular game in the Famicom catalogue to find if you exclude all the limited edition, gold version, not-sold-in-stores rarities.  There is only one copy of it on Ebay, compared to three copies of Recca and about a billion copies of Gimmick!  On Yahoo Auctions there is also only one copy, going for 15,000 yen.  So I am super happy to be able to cross this off my want list without having to take a bank loan or anything.

I am however left with the problem of not having a suitable display case or anything for this beauty, which I think is now the highlight of my Famicom collection.  My apartment is so crowded I just can`t do my carts justice display-wise.

I think I need to get some sort of special case to keep it in that will properly reflect the high regard I hold this baby in.  I am currently leaning towards something along the lines of this:

I would need to hire 4 full time Ark-bearers with this option though, not to mention the cost of supplying them with the proper outfits and accoutrements.  This is a bit out of my price range now, so my copy of Battle Formula will temporarily be stored in a box on a shelf until I figure out what to do with it. 

Anyway, I`m so happy about this!  My goal of collecting all the Famicom carts has passed another milestone!

Friday, January 17, 2014

20 Japan-only Famicom Releases that I Kind of Like

I have a lot of Famicom games.  Living in Japan I have never noticed much distinction between the ones which were released only in Japan and the ones which were released everywhere - I`ve pretty much had equal access to all of them since I first got into the Famicom about 5 years ago.

Nonetheless I figured it would be cool to do a post about some of the Japan-only releases that I like.  I`ve chosen 20 of them to highlight in this post.  I thought I would do a `Top 20!` list or something but abandoned the idea.  It is too hard to rank them and there are so many worthy ones that making a list of only 20 is going to leave a lot of deserving ones out.  So this is basically just a list of 20 Japan-only Famicom games in my collection which I kind of like.  Some of them are actually total crap games like Transformers Mystery of Comvoy which I nonetheless like for its awfulness.  Others are actually really fantastic games to play, like Crisis Force.

In terms of numbers, most of the Japan-only releases are games that are probably of limited interest overseas - Pachinko, Mahjong and RPG games.  I have avoided these in this list and focused on games that were playable without Japanese language and which have something - be it good game play or some bizarre feature - that I thought made them interesting.  Generally I`ve also ignored the super-expensive rare stuff and focused on games that can be found cheap (Crisis Force is about the only game on here that goes for more than $15 or so loose, most of them are way cheaper than that).

Anyway, here they are, in no particular order.

Gorby No Pipeline

This is one of those games that is awesome on two levels.  First, it is a pretty good puzzle game.  In a Tetris/Dr. Mario -ish type of way, pieces of pipe fall from the top of the screen and you have to arrange them so as to make a pipeline pumping water from one side to the other.  Its fun, though it would have benefited from a multiplayer option.  The second way it is awesome is the ....everything else about it.  It is a game named after a Soviet Premier and featuring him prominently on the cover art, birth mark and all.  Enough said.  Awesome game.


This is one of those games which I cannot understand why it was never released on the NES.  It is a kind of Boulder Dash type game in which you dig through dirt in order to collect various things and make it to the end of the screen.  As it is a puzzle game you have to do things in correct order, otherwise you end up trapped.  I like this way more than Boulder Dash though, its just a lot more fun.  The sound effects are really great too.

Binary Land

This is another game that should have been released for the NES but for whatever reason was not.  It is actually one of my favorite games and I keep a copy near my Famicom at all times.  You have to simultaneously control two penguins as they move through a maze and arrange it so that they meet at one point at the exact same time.  It is kind of aunique way of structuring a game and it works.


This game rocks.  It is a really good platformer, you control an armadillo.  He can curl up into a ball and hurl himself around, which makes for a very unique attempting-to-control-a-game-character experience.   I don't know why this wasn't released on the NES.

Bird Week

I wouldn`t say that this is a really fun game to play, but I thought it deserved mention because it is both cute and unusual.  You play a bird who has to feed her young.  The birds are cute.  It is kind of neat.  Therefore I like it!

Bomber King

Bomber King is kind of an overlooked game.  If I had to describe it simply, I would say "Bomberman, but not as good."  Actually that kind of sums it up sufficiently.  Not as good as Bomberman, but sometimes I like to play it.

Crisis Force

Crisis Force is a really good shoot em up.  The graphics are impressive, almost what you would except from a Super Famicom game.  Unfortunately it is a hard one to come by since it was released relatively late in the console's life and didn't become a huge hit. 

Devil World

 Technically this isn't a Japan only release since I think it was sold in Europe, but it never made it to the NES in North America so I'm including it anyway.  It has a lot of religious stuff in it, but not in a preachy way.  Its basically a maze like game that looks a bit like Pac Man but has some unique features (notably the need to avoid getting squished against the edge of the screen as the wall moves) which distinguish it.

Dough Boy

 This is not a fun game to play.  Whenever somebody compiles a "Worst Famicom Games" list, this is on it.  I think this criticism is somewhat overstated.  To be sure, it sucks, but once you get used to sucks a bit less.

Flying Hero

Returning to games that are actually fun to play, we have Flying Hero.   I like this game a lot.  You control some firefighters carrying a tarp who have to catch (or bounce) stuff falling out of the windows of a burning building.  The game play feels a lot like Arkanoid actually, but the look is completely different.  You put out the fire by bouncing stuff into the burning windows, which doesn't make much sense but I like that.

Front Line

 And back to games with a bad reputation.  I actually like Front Line.  You are an infantryman and basically you have to shoot the enemy while running across the screen towards their base.  Thematically it is similar to Dough Boy, but this is a much better game.

Ganbare Goemon

 I play this game, and the sequel, a lot with my wife.  She had it as a kid and is much better than me.  It is an adventure game and is the only game on this list which requires a bit of Japanese to complete.  It has a really good cooperative mode, which most Famicom games lack.

Hello Kitty World

There are a lot of Hello Kitty themed games for the Famicom, but this is the only one I like.  It is conceptutally a bit like Balloon Fight. Kitty Chan is suspended by balloons and you have  to avoid having her (his?) balloons popped.  It is simple and actually not bad to play.

Hi no Tori

This game I play more often than any game on this list except for Binary Land.  It is an awesome platformer.  You play Gaou, who basically does a bunch of platformer stuff as he moves in an exciting way from the left of the screen to the right of the screen.  The most innovative feature is that Gaou can vomit up these concrete blocks which he can use to make stairs to climb over stuff.  Its really neat.

I also like this game for the mood it creates.  Somehow with the limited 8 bit graphics and sound they do a good job of giving it an ancient Japan feeling.  

Joy Mecha Fight

This is a neat game.  You control a very unique looking character who bascially engages in one-on-one fights Street Fighter style as he advances.  I haven't played this game enough to actually become good at it, I always use the easy level and never get far.  I like it though.  

King Kong 2

 There was no King Kong 1 video game, this is actually from the movie King Kong 2, released in 1986 (the game's cover art comes straight from the movie poster).  You control King Kong as he fights screen to screen in an attempt to ultimately rescue his girlfriend.  Its a somewhat enjoyable action game, I haven't seen the movie but apparently it strays from the script quite a bit!

Route 16 Turbo

 This is a fun game that I play a lot.  It is a maze game in which you control a car that has to navigate various mazes in order to collect items while avoiding being hit by enemy cars that are chasing you.  I'm not sure why it was never released overseas, but it may have something to do with the fact that the walls on one of the mazes are noticably arranged to look like swastikas (which in Japan are a fairly common sight since they are an ancient symbol used to denote Buddhist temples on maps).

Sekima II

 This game is awesome mainly because it is based on an 80s Japanese heavy metal band who come from another dimension and use heavy metal music to propogate satan.  That is not the story of the game - that is the story of the actual band this game is based on.  Which is totally awesome!!

Transformers Mystery of Comvoy

Suckiest game ever.  But I like it.  I was in Osaka last year and my wife and I started playing this game at a retro game shop and that was the moment I realized that sucky games can be fun too.

Yume Penguin Monogatari

This must be the most well-known Japan only release on the Famicom.  Its a really good platformer based exclusively on not eating food that is constantly being thrown at you.  It is relatively easy to finish, as evidence by the fact that a guy as bad at video games as myself has actually completed it.

Star Wars

The Namco Star Wars game on the Famicom is pretty awesome.  It is a very fun platformer and it has that weird place in Star Wars nerd-dom too since it completely messes up the storyline from the film and introduces all sorts of oddities (Darth Vader turning into a scorpion, a level populated by frogs, etc).

Takeshi's Challenge

How could I not include this game?  Worst game of all time or act of sheer genius?  Hard to tell, but this is a must have game.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Week of Garfield Party Idea: Kuso Game Marathon!

A Week of Garfield is one of those games that if you haven`t played it, you really don`t know what you are missing.

I am not sure if I mean that in a positive or a negative way. Over on GameFAQs it is one of the worst reviewed games around, getting an average rating of 2/10.  The reason for this is its difficulty.  This is a massively hard and frustrating game.  Garfield is hyper sensitive to being touched and you only have one life so you have a life expectancy somewhat akin to that of a First World War fighter pilot on the Western Front.  This probably explains why it was never released on the NES, despite the character`s massive popularity in the US back in the 80s (ironically in Japan Garfield was never a well-known character).

That said, it is also one of my favorite games for the Famicom.

The reason for that I can sum up with a quick anecdote.  I had some American friends over a couple of months ago, two of them were video game fans familiar with the NES.  We played a few of the normal classics - Rockman, Makai Mura, some of the Kunio games, etc.  But the game that got the biggest positive reaction by far?  Week of Garfield. 

The reason I think can be summed up by the fact that the game is crazy difficult in a way that is just really really amusing.  It is a  side scrolling platformer and you contorl Garfield:

 If it is your first time playing it what will probably happen is that you will move Garfield forward for about 5 seconds, then you will encounter a mouse and a worm.  You will probably accidentally touch one of these which will cause Garfield to do a hilarious looking face plant:

 Then the screen will immediately flash `Game Over` and that is that.

I`ve never seen people laugh so hard at how bad a game was.  The thing is, Garfield manages to be a bad game whose awfulness actually makes you kind of like it.  Something about the sudden unexpectedness of how fast the game ends just makes it a great group activity.

To be clear: this is not a game you want to play all the way to the end unless you are a member of one of those Catholic sects that views playing this game as an acceptible substitute for self-flagelation.  You will grow to hate it.  But in small doses, it is hilarious to watch someone play.

This gave me the idea for a good Famicom party activity - a Kuso game marathon.  A `kuso` game is what Japanese call awful games for the Famicom and other old consoles.  Week of Garfield is a prominent member of the kuso game club.  Platformer kuso games like this generally suck if you play them alone, but in a group they are actually quite fun.

So if you have a video game get together, I think it would be cool to try to organize some sort of kuso game marathon.  A few other titles that come to mind are Transformers Mystery of Comvoy and Spelunker - insanely difficult games that result in almost immediate death to first time players.

The built in quick death actually makes these games ideal for parties.  Watching someone play a game they are good at can be, if we are all honest, about as interesting as watching paint dry.  It is fun for the person playing, but for everyone else they are just kind of waiting their turn.  If the guy spends 30 minutes playing Spartan X all the way to the end, that is just going to bore people.

The fact that kuso games kill you immediately eliminates that - every 30 seconds or so you will be changing turns, meaning that it will be a fast paced activity ideal for a party.  And it also lends itself to friendly mockery of people who die quickly while at the same time giving those people an excuse not to take that personally - it is the game`s fault that they die so quickly after all.

Related Posts

Famicom Party Game! Loads of Fun!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Getting Ripped Off on Yahoo Japan Auctions: Buyer Beware

OK, got me some complaining to do and since I have a blog, I`m going to do it here.  

I finally got ripped off in an online transaction!  It happened on Yahoo Auctions.  It was kind of a big purchase so I`m going to whine a bit about it in a transparent bid for sympathy.

I also thought this would be a useful excuse to do a post about something that has sort of been in the back of my mind for a while – the complete lack of buyer protection on Yahoo Auctions.  So fear not, this post will not be an entirely narcissistic exercise in complaining about first world problems.

Now, getting ripped off in any deal always sucks, but I`m going to do something I don`t normally do here and actually heap some praise on Ebay and Paypal for a change.  I`ve been an active Ebay user for a few years now (as a buyer) and in the few instances where I`ve had a complaint about a transaction I have always been able to get it resolved to my satisfaction.  A couple of times I have received an item that was either damaged or not as described and both times the seller gave me a refund almost within minutes of me contacting them with my complaint.

I think the main reason Ebay sellers are so accommodating is that both Ebay and Paypal have pretty effective dispute resolution mechanisms that provide them with an incentive to act that way.  If they ignore a complaint not only will they get negative feedback, but they also run the risk of Paypal forcing them to refund the buyer`s money.  Those are some pretty powerful tools and, while not perfect, I think they do heighten the overall trustworthiness of Ebay as a marketplace.  The downside of course is the fees they charge, but that is another story.

On Yahoo Auctions it is a completely different story, which I can illustrate by doing a little complaining here.  Basically what happened was this.  A few days ago I was looking for an AV Famicom console only (ie no controllers, cables, etc).  I found one with a BIN price that, with shipping, would set me back about $60.  This was a pretty high price for just a loose console without anything else, but I needed one on short notice so I decided to go for it. It was from a seller I had done business with in the past without problems so I let my guard down and just hit the BIN button, paid for it and waited. And it came.

When I opened it I noticed right away something was wrong.  It was dirty, which was OK since I had been able to see that in the photo.  What wasn`t visible in the photo was the fact that on the back of the console there was a big chunk of the plastic that had broken off and was nowhere to be found.  Furthermore when I plugged it in I found that it was dead to the world.  No amount of fiddling around would bring it to life: the Famicom was a paperweight.

I immediately got out my laptop and double checked the listing.  It did not say anything about it being broken or mention the damage on the back and the price it was being sold at certainly suggested it was a working one.  On the other hand it did not say that it had been tested and the dealer`s boilerplate language said `I sell old stuff, I do not guarantee their condition – judge for yourself by what is in the photo.`  Oh, what a fool I had been....

No kidding Mr. T, no kidding.  I kind of realized that I was screwed right there but I thought I would send him a message just to see what, if anything, he would do.  As a seller myself I have had a couple of games that I sold get broken in transit and both times I either gave a full refund or sent a replacement at my expense, so I thought at the very least he might apologize or offer at least a partial refund.  All I said in the message was that the Famicom was not working and that there was a broken part on the back that had not been visible in the photo.

Shortly thereafter I got what I sort of expected to receive – a tersely worded reply saying that I should have read the fine print more carefully.  About the broken part he said it was my fault for not having asked him before making the purchase if there was anything broken which was not visible in the photo.  About the Famicom not working he simply said tough luck, it wasn`t his problem.

Even though I had kind of expected it, the message was a bit like waving a red flag in front of a bull to me.  I went from calm to this in about 0.00001 seconds:

I immediately started to familiarize myself with Yahoo Auctions` dispute resolution process in order to determine how I could make some sort of complaint.  This was an extremely easy and quick task for me to accomplish since it turns out none exists.  Basically the guidelines simply says something to the effect of  “Yahoo Auctions does not get involved in disputes between buyers and sellers.  Please just work it out for yourselves…”  (the “…” at the end is actually in the guidelines!)

So in other words if you get ripped off on Yahoo Auctions by an unscrupulous buyer you have no recourse unless the unscrupulous buyer suddenly becomes a nice guy and gives you your money back. 

The only thing you can do is leave negative feedback, and you better believe I left some negative feedback.  I have been very reluctant in the past to give anything less than great feedback to sellers on Yahoo Auctions because in another example of them screwing over buyers, retaliatory negative feedback against buyers is not only the norm, but in fact a much stronger weapon than it is on Ebay (where it is not allowed to begin with).

So I left the guy a negative feedback.  It says

“This guy is selling broken Famicoms.  I feel like I have been scammed, it is really awful.  Everyone please be careful with this guy.”

(ファミコンが動かないものを売っている。 非常に、詐欺に会ったような感じで 最悪である。皆さまお気をつけ下さい。)

Then the retaliation started. First, sellers on Yahoo Auctions have a curious power to “cancel” transactions even on things which have already been sold.  And bazubazu1023 did exactly that.  I would love it if cancelling a transaction meant that the buyer got his money back, but it doesn’t.  All it does is shield the seller from any further communication from you while allowing him to keep your money.   

Then I got the negative feedback, which pissed me off because I had a perfect record up until then.  It says:

“This guy isn’t Japanese, he doesn’t understand anything.  I cannot believe you would ignore what is written and leave such a feedback.  Don’t harass me just because you cannot accept things.  You have been blacklisted, I will not deal with this person anymore.”


“Blacklisting” is an option for sellers on Yahoo Auctions, which basically prevents you from bidding on their stuff in the future (which is fine with me).  The unvarnished racism in the feedback was a nice parting touch from a guy who took $60 from and left me with a piece of garbage.

And just to piss me off more, Yahoo Auctions actually allows sellers to not only leave negative feedback on a current transaction but also to retroactively recall positive feedback they had left for transactions in the past which have nothing to do with the current one, so my overall score actually went down by two instead of one (I had bought some games from him about a month ago).  It doesn`t work both ways though - he gets to keep the positive feedback I had left him on that transaction. 

Anyway, the moral to the story is of course buyer beware, especially on Yahoo Auctions.  The system really is out of whack there, to the point that a buyer who has been ripped off not only has no way of making any sort of claim, but can`t even leave negative feedback without suffering reputational consequences of their own.