Wednesday, November 19, 2014

About Damn Time

Update:  Chrontendo Episode 48 is now up on Archive. Despite Youtube now having 60 fps capabilities, downloading the Archive version is still the way to get the best looking form of Chrontendo.

Your eyes do not deceive you. There is, in fact, a new episode of Chrontendo available for your viewing pleasure. If it's any consolation, this episode is absurdly long. Longer than Chronsega 8. A little over an hour and 50 minutes.  This is mostly due to the 1989 arcade roundup, which is a good 50 minutes or so by itself.

The exciting news is that Youtube is now supporting  60 FPS videos in the 720p and 1080p formats. At the moment, this option is only available in Chrome, and, apparently the Nightly version of Firefox.  If you click on the gear to choose your desired resolution and see a "60FPS" next to 720p, then you know your browser supports it. Episode 48 may be found on Youtube here.

A downloadable 60 FPS version will be available on in the near future.

1989 was a banner year for coin-op games. It was the year beat-em-ups took over arcades. We'd already had Double Dragon, a massive hit a couple years prior. But '89 saw the release of Golden Axe, TMNT, Final Fight, and so on.  It wouldn't be long before Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat created a fighting game mania that swept beat-em-ups into the dustbin of history, but for 2-3 glorious years beat-em-ups were the kings of the arcade.

The glory days of beat-em-ups

Aside from beat-em-ups, we have a number of interesting shoot-em-ups, most notably Zero Wing and XMultiply. Also, puzzle games, such as Klax, Atari's polygonal 3D sci-fi racer, Stun Runner, Capcom's peerless action game, Strider, and many others.

As for the Famicom/NES, the results are a little less promising. Episode 48 covers the tail end of August 1989 and most of September. There were a lot of US only games in September, so we cover half this time and will pick up the rest in Episode 49.  At this time, there were really no US companies developig NES games, so instead we get treated with stuff from the UK (Rare and Zippo) and Australia (Beam Software.)

In terms of notable games, we mostly have two Japanese-developed ports of successful US computer games: Kemco's Uninvited and Pony Canyon's Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar. Uninvited the third and final of the three Icom Simulation games released for the system. LIke Shadowgate, it is noted for its colorful, unfair, and frequent deaths.

Ultima IV: Quest for the Avatar was once a serious contender for "greatest RPG ever made." Today it feels like one of the better old school RPGS: better than Wizardry but still sort of tedious. The gimmick here is that instead of just killing everyone, you need to morally improve your character. This is mostly done by killing lots of monsters, but also by giving gold coins to beggars you meet in town.  Pony Canyon's port gives it a Dragon Quest inspired makeover.

On the flip side of the coin, we have a few US-only pieces of crap.  Hi-Tech's Hollywood Squares (developed by Rare) and LJN's Sesame Street ABC (from Rare associates Zippo Games.) Both are quickly knocked off pieces of crap that are best ignored, though Sesame Street is actually a little brazen in just how little content it gives you: a mere two minigames.

To reach the deepest depths of horrible game design we must turn to Beam's Bad Street Brawler. A port of a computer game released under several names, including (the Lou Reed inspired?) Street Hassle, BSB is game design at it's laziest. A tediously repetitive single-plane beat-em-up, BSB almost cruises by just on it's weirdness. Aside from the fact that the protagonist looks completely different in-game than he does  on the title screen and the between-level illustrations, BSB has trench coat clad flashers giving you powerups, and gorillas attacking you with bananas. Character designs have been radically altered from the computer version; what was originally a little old lady throwing a purse at you is now a very short circus strongman throwing dumbbells at you. Unfortunately, all this wackiness can't distract from the sheer monotony and frustration of the game.

The rest:

American Dream

Japanese game design at its wackiest.  Another game in Coconut's Pachio-kun series, American Dream dispenses with pachinko entirely and instead gives you an pseudo-RPG where you conquer New York by playing slot machines. (gambling tip: slot machines are for old ladies and scrubs. Don't play slots.) American Dream finds itself in the unfortunate category of games that are both apeshit crazy and boring as hell. Hardcore Gaming 101 covered this one a few years ago.

Gekitou Pro Wrestling!!/Tecmo Wrestling

Tecmo had some very popular sports series, such as Tecmo Bowl, but their wrestling game never took off.  Its most notable feature is the announcer doing nonstop commentary.

Marusa no Onna

A high quality Capcom adventure game, based on the popular Juzo Itami movie, A Taxing Woman. Capcom would release another Itami related game later in 1989.

 Idol Hakkenden

Also a high quality adventure game, developed by Natsume. This is another game based on the novel  Nansō Satomi Hakkenden, though the samurai of the novels have been replaced with young singing 'idols.'

Chuuka Taisen 

This the third time we've encountered this Chinese themed shoot-em-up. It's still not very good.


A sort-of port of Data East's arcade game. Totally unremarkable, but the ZX Spectrum version was one of the best selling games on that system, for reasons understood only by the British.

Jordan Vs Bird: One on One

Milton Bradley hired Rare to port the EA computer game to the NES. Inferior sequel to the much loved One On One, with Micheal Jordan swapped in for Dr J.

Ochin ni Toshi Puzzle Tonjan!?

Oddball puzzle game mixing Sokoban, mahjong tiles and pigs.

Racer Mini Yonku: Japan Cup

Not even a real racing game. Konami and Tamiya bring you this game about racing little electric toy cars.

Tanigawa Koji no Shogi Shinan III

The final game we'll see to bear the name of the famed shogi master Tanigawa Koji.

Next up: I'll be unveiling a couple miscellaneous vids, unrelated to gaming. Then it's onto the new Chronsega.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Housecleaning and Announcements

Right. I know that everything has been pretty quiet on the Chrontendo front for quite some time.  It sure feels like Chrontendo has become the Dresden Codak of videogame blogs lately. Let me assure you that at least it's not turning into the Achewood of game blogs. Not anytime soon, anyway.

Hell, if Chronogamer can suddenly bring back his project after a few years, I can keep this one going.

Chrontendo Episode 48 is completely recorded and is being edited now. I'm not going to speculate about an actual release date. Depends on how things go in the personal life.

I'll be doing a bit of maintenance on this site, such as updating links etc. Most of you will be aware of this, but another big player entered the chrono-gaming arena a while ago.  Jeremy Parish started doing a Game Boy video series, in a very sensible one-game-per-episode fashion. The series starts here:

Currently he's up to 18 games. So anyone hoping I would do a chron-Game Boy thing now has a perfectly acceptable alternative.  Parish even sounds a bit like me.

I know there are a number of  other chrono type gaming projects out there. I  have a bad habit of finding out about one, thinking that I can remember it instead of bookmarking it, and then forgetting what it was called. Please fill me in on any that you know about, so I can add them to the links.

I also have a couple non-gaming projects going on, one of which has already surfaced.  The Jaxxon Appreciation Society is an in-depth look at Marvel's Star Wars comic book series, which ran from 1977 to 1986. Jaxxon was, of course, the bipedal green talking rabbit that appeared in the series. My inspiration was Matt Yezpitelok's Superman '86-'99, dedicated to the John Byrne reboot era Superman comics. JAS just launched last week, and so far it's got the first two issues in the can.

Also in the works: more frequent updates to the Chrontendo Tumblr. Specifically, regular status updates, to let you know how upcoming episodes are progressing.

You may have heard that Youtube has unlocked 60 fps capabilities for HD videos. At the moment, this only works on Chrome. I'll upload Episode 48 in 60 fps form and see how it works. I sure hope it will be compatible with other browsers soon.

That's it for today. Check back soon.

Monday, April 28, 2014

You Input is Requested

Those of you who read the Twitter feed have already seen this, but I'm soliciting opinions from folks who have clear memories of playing SNES games on the real hardware.

You might be wondering why I'm asking about this. Please don't read anything into this. I'm just looking for input on representing SNES games.

The video below is around 8 minutes, and asks you to chose from three options on three different games. Your choices should not all the be same letter, so if you say "B is best on all three," I'll be suspicious. The best way to see the video is by downloading the full version from the link below. The video is pretty damn big, 500 MB but Mega usually downloads really fast.  Just click on "Download to your computer," and it will start downloading, and THEN ask you where you want to save the file. That seems backwards, I know.!b8B3nY4Q!M4dLltMAi1dADBSXkJQ2DH8JrgWO_jBRMxTQx85fnSE

If downloading is not an option, you can watch it on Youtube here:

However, the YT version will be have been reprocessed and will look different than the original video.

Just tell me in the comments below, or on the Youtube comments, which version looks/sounds the best for each game. I'm curious about the colors on Zelda. I remember the colors being quite soft and pastel-like, but I'm not sure which version looks the most accurate.

Thanks for your assistance.

And, yes, I know how hilarious it is that I missed that first coin in Super Mario World. I haven't played that game in years, OK?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Beertendo goes British!

Hello everyone! Today brings the return of Beertendo, with a very special episode. But first, a few announcements.

Don't bother checking the site for an April Fools Day post/video/etc this year. I think we can all agree that this kind of shit is played out. If I think of anything clever next year, maybe I'll work up a little somethin' somethin'. If you are absolutely starving for April Fools content, I suppose you can always rewatch the Chron-CD-i video.

Also, Chrontendo Episode 48 has obviously not dropped yet, despite it's promised arrival date of 3/21/14.  I was originally hoping Ep. 48 would be a quickie episode, but I've decided to add in the 1989 arcade game roundup. Anyway, it's coming along, and will hopefully be complete soon. To tantalize you guys further, I'll point out that Ep. 48 will feature American Dream, Coconuts Japan's pseudo-RPG slot machine game! Starring your favorite 8 bit mascot, Pachio-kun! Please contain your excitement.

Try to contain yourselves, people

Today, however, we are pleased to announce the thrilling fucking return of Beertendo, a recurring feature where I drink beers, and ... write about them. This installment will look at the wonderful, horrible world of British beers! To maintain the British theme, please keep Arne's Rule, Britannia on repeat while reading this post. Maybe picture me wearing a Beefeater outfit, or perhaps dressed like Austin Powers.

The story of British beer is one of glory and grandeur, followed by inevitable decline, much like the Empire itself. Many of the styles we Americans drink today originated in England: porters, stouts, pale ales, barleywines, etc. During the early years of the USA, British ale was the primary inspiration for our own beer, and this remained true until the influx of German immigrants in the second half of the 19th century. Like so many other things, brewing in the UK suffered during the rapid industrialization of the 20th century.  By the 1960s, a series of corporate buyouts, takeovers and mergers had consolidated the country's brewing industry into 6 major brewers. Today, many of the great British breweries have been absorbed into same multinational conglomerates that own the big North American and European beers. Additionally, lagers have displaced traditional ales as the preferred style among young British beer drinkers. As a result, if go into a typical London bar nowadays you'll find Heineken, Guinness, Stella Artois, Bud, and Foster on tap, just like you would anywhere else in the world. While quite a few traditional breweries still exist in the UK, many of the legendary British ales, such as Bass No. 1, Thomas Hardy's Ale, or Courage Imperial Russian Stout, stopped production some years ago. (Though after a 30 year hiatus, Wells and Young's began brewing Courage IRS again recently - for the US market. Though they did start selling it the UK again a year later.)

English beer fanatics rebelled against the lager encroachment in the early 70s. The Campaign for Real Ale was launched to promote traditional British brewing. The Great British Beer Festival, a yearly beer competition, was launched a few years later.  Today, "real" ale, meaning cask brewed ale, has a pretty solid fan base in the UK, and a decent selection of these beers are imported into the US.

Those of you who were around in the mid-90s might recall that British beers were considered pretty hip at the time. Drinking Bass or Newcastle* was a sign of sophistication. My wife actually liked some swill called Watney's Red Barrel.  Perhaps your town had, like mine, a British pub type establishment which served Fuller's, Courage and Worthington, along with fish and chips and shepherd's pie. Today, however, I''m going try a few smaller English beers, all of which fall into the "real ale" style.

Bluebird Bitter is probably the most well known beer from Coniston Brewing Company, a brewer founded in the mid '90s that specialized in ales for the CAMRA crowd. The bottle states that it is "Award Winning," and Coniston's site lists an impressive number of medals from various beer festivals.

It pours a nice orange color with a thin head of foam that resolves into a slender ring with a bit of lacing. I got very little smell from it. Bluebird has a relatively light body with that sort of creamy feel that British brewers seem to value so much.

It definitely has that distinct, British flavor to it. It might be the Challenger hops. It's a very pleasant, unassuming beer. Sort of a earthy malt flavor with a wee bit of bitter hops and a slight metallic taste. Alcohol is pretty low, 4.2%, though Coniston's website claims a shockingly low 3.6%.  Mild flavor. It's not really a memorable beer, however. It seems like an average pale ale style beer to me. I'd rate it "good" but it almost seems....just a little too timid.

Next up is Adnams Broadside. Adnams is a Suffolk based brewer that's been around since the mid 1800s. Broadside seems to be their flagship ale, and has won "Best Bitter" awards at the Great British Beer Festival, and similar festivals. It's a dark golden color, with a bit more alcohol that Bluebird: 6.5%.  Again, it produces a head that quickly disappears.

Sorry, had to use a stock photo.
Much like Bluebird, it's a very creamy, slightly sweet beer. As is typical of British beers, the malt is forward. Hops are pretty subtle. There's sort of a woody, nutty flavor. Just like the Bluebird it has this metallic aftertaste that seems characteristic of British beers.

Again: this beer is good tasting , but so polite, almost unassuming. It doesn't make you jump out of your chair and scream "damn! that is one fine tasting beer!"

Moving along, we have Fuller's 1845.

Another stock photo. I was ill prepared for this post.
Jeez, i guess the British like putting years on their beer bottles - Broadside sports a prominent "1672." Some major nostalgia for the glory days of the empire I'd wager. In the case of Fuller's, 1845 was the year the brewery was founded.

At 6.30 ABV it's a bit stronger than the typical English beer. 1845 is a bit darker than the other two ales, but has the same rapidly vanishing head, though the Fuller's starts out pretty thick and foamy at first.
Compared to Bluebird or Broadside, the Fuller's is bursting with flavor. Very prominent roasted malts and yeasts dominate. The hops are pretty slight, but one thing that stands out is the molasses flavor, with sort of a licorice aftertaste. There are hints of a old musty, woodsy taste. In my opinion, this beer is much more interesting than the two above. Fuller's seems a bit more aligned with the tastes of US beer drinkers. You often see it at British themed bars in this country, and a wide range of Fuller's brews are readily available in US stores. All the Fuller's beers I've had have been very tasty, with the Fullers Vintage being my favorite. The funny thing is that despite Fuller's being around for over 150 years, both Vintage Ale and 1845 were introduced in the 1990s.

My takeaway from this is that it's clear that beer geeks in the US and UK have pretty different tastes. Traditionally, European beers are very malt-orientated; in the US we tend to downplay the malty, bready flavors, and instead, hoppy beers are enormously popular.  The American beer scene is much less beholden to tradition, and bizarre beer experiments are the norm. Big, powerful, high-alcohol beers are prized in the US, while in the UK they tend to go for smoother, more subtle flavors. There are many, many fantastic beers from the UK, but many of the CAMRA-endorsed cask ales I've had were a little on the underwhelming side.

If you were to ask me what my favorite British brewer is, I'd say Yorkshire's Samuel Smith Brewery, without hesitation. Smith's greatest accomplishment must be the mighty, mighty Yorkshire Stingo. A "strong ale" at 9.0% ABV, Stingo is huge, bursting with flavors: malty, fruity, sugary, oakey. Pretty much everything you could want in a British beer. It's brewed only once a year, and is a bit pricier that other Samuel Smith ales, but it's clearly worth it. Smith's stuff is readily available in the US, and I see it even in places like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. If you've never tried the Oatmeal Stout, Imperial Stout and Taddy Porter, get these beers NOW. They are a steal.

I'd rate these beers as:
Bluebird Bitter: B
Adnams Broadside: B
Fuller's 1845: B+
Yorkshire Stingo: A-

Checking on BeerAdvocate, I see readers rate these as 87, 86, 92 & 92 respectively. RateBeer gives them a 67, 91(!), 99 & 97.

*No longer brewed in Newcastle, and now owned by Heineken.