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.


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  2. Wow, I am now officially addicted to Binary Land. What a neat concept!

  3. Great post Sean, thanks for giving me some tips for future reviews! I've already taken a look at Bomber King and Crisis Force. I like the former but it has some control problems and is far too hard for my liking but the latter is great. A decent quality shmup would surely be a given for a US/UK release? By the way, my favourite Japan-only Famicom/NES game (so far) is Robocco Wars - do you like that one? :)

  4. NJD - Yeah, Binary Land is fantastic!

    Simon - Thanks! I agree with your assessments of Bomber King and Crisis Force. I think Crisis Force was just a bit too late in the Famicom/NES lifetime to have gotten a release on the NES.

    I have a copy of Robocco Wars kicking around somewhere I think, but I haven`t played it. Actually I didn`t even realize it was a Japan-only release.

    Now that you have mentioned it I definitely have to try it!

  5. Bomber King is in fact also not Japan-only; it was released at least in Europe as 'RoboWarrior'. I owned both it and Devil World as a kid!

    Regardless though, a delightful list of games for sure. Good reputation or not, every game on this list is worth owning if only for the awesome label artwork! I don't own any FC stuff (yet), my collection is mostly focused on MD, SFC and Saturn, but I definitely want to start collecting Famicom stuff as well in the future - carts like these sure make great display pieces!

  6. RoboWarrior is far less rage-inducing than Bomber King (>.<)

  7. Even more good reasons to own a working Famicom!

  8. Josef- Ah, I didn`t know Bomber King was Robo Warrior. Well, I guess it goes in the Devil World category then - Japan/Europe-only!

    Anyway, yeah, the artwork on some of these are great. The Famicom cart is one of the most displayable retro video games out there!

    SImon - so Robo Warrior is a bit easier then? I have had that Bomber King rage thing, I almost always bomb myself :)

    Logan - exactly!

    1. Robo Warrior definitely came to the US too. I have a US copy of it.

  9. Why is robo warrior less rage inducing than bomber king? I think they are identical. It was released in the US in 1988... It is one of the love/hate games. Literally, I both love AND hate it. Have blogged about it twice...

    Nice personal list. There's obviously a lot more games that could be added but why try to make some ultimate list. It could be of interest to note that many Namco games were only released in Japan even though they are perfectly playable! Such as Warpman, the Dig Dug games, and Battle City.

    I know there is universal hate against Dough Boy, so I wanted to say that I appreciate it. One just has to learn how to set the bombs without suicide.

    --- FredJ @ Japanspel

  10. Japanspel - AH, I had no idea that Battle City was a Famicom-only release. That is one of my favorite games, I just assumed it had also had an NES version. What were they thinking in skipping that one? Warpman too.....

    I will have to amend this list to include some of those Namco ones...

  11. After reading this I had to try quite a few of them out; sadly via emulation. Any chance for a list of Famicom Disk System games that were never released outside of Japan?

  12. I wonder if there is such a list out there? I only have a few FDS games so I don`t think I could do justice to the system, but it might be a future project!

  13. i played crisis force online on an game site... it was AWSOME!!!
    played transformers... it sucked
    Front Line Bird Week and dough boy also sucked
    binary land and devil world were ok
    need to try out famicom star wars

  14. One theory I have about some of these games is that they're pretty cute - and it's long been shown that Japanese prefer cute games while Americans prefer grittier or edgier games. Just take a look at how the western package art for Kirby games always adds angry eyes!

    It also explains how so much of the NES library got imagery with big, muscular men or photorealistic people whereas the Famicom versions might have more cartoon-y looking pictures.

    Oh and wow do I love "Mystery of Convoy." That game slaps you so hard with its awfulness that it becomes awesome!

  15. The cuteness factor definitely sells better in Japan than....anywhere else in the world!