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The success of Midway's arcade blockbuster Mortal Kombat birthed many imitators. Would you believe some of them came from Japan?
Reikai Doushi (1988, Arcade)
While Mortal Kombat was the breakthrough hit that influenced a lot of games, it was not the originator of the digitized fighting form. Neither was Pit-Fighter. No, that honor goes to this little number by Home Data (now Magical) featuring a colorful cast of grotesque Chinese puppets.
Hey, it's a 3D platformer that came out before Super Mario 64 and before analog control was standard on consoles. That's pretty cool, right? Right?
In Floating Runner, you lead either adorable bounty hunter Lay or adorable priestess Cress on a journey to find seven crystals to save Crystal Land. Adorable enemies will try to stop you, but you can stop them with your adorable weapons.
As adorable as everything is, there are problems, and you can't blame them all on age. Some make the game unnecessarily frustrating to play at times and could have been avoided. Let's run down the list:
Better weapons and less ponderous stage layouts would have gone a long way in making a better game, but it's not all bad. The frame rate is brisk. The music is pleasant (though sometimes repetitive), as is the mix of flat-shaded and texture-mapped polygons. It's still a charming game.
For many years, it was a mystery who developed this pioneer software. There are no ending credits. Xing is the only Japanese company name that appears in-game or on the game, but they were just a publisher.
Modern technology allows us to look inside the data and find an unused T&E Soft copyright notice and list of credits. It's not clear if they were supposed to be displayed on-screen. It's bizarre that a company like T&E Soft would make a game like this and leave their name off.
Hydlide creator Tokihiro Naito talked very briefly about Floating Runner during his interview in The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers Volume 2. He didn't know anything about it, unfortunately; he was about to leave T&E Soft and had little interest in their in-house games. He said it may have been developed by the Osaka branch. A check of the names suggests that is the case. (T&E Soft's Osaka branch [formerly Xtalsoft] is where games like Red Alarm were also made.)
Post updated January 31, 2020
Towards the end of the Game Gear's life in Japan, Sega rebranded it the Kid's Gear in an attempt to market the system to children. One of the handful of titles released under this brand was Panzer Dragoon Mini, but there's nothing particularly cute about it. This is just Panzer Dragoon, stripped to the bare bones.
After you choose one of three dragons to control (not ride, apparently), it's on to the action. You make your way through several stages, shooting down enemies with either your regular shot or a lock-on laser. (There's no berserk attack despite the game coming out after Zwei.) Sometimes the camera shifts to the side, but that's about as exciting as it gets. (Even the R-Zone version had camera control.) There are mid-bosses and end bosses, but their attack patterns consist primarily of moving back and forth spraying bullets.
The backgrounds and especially the sprites look nice. The music is pleasant as well; whoever did these arrangements should be commended. (Hitoshi Sakimoto's works list says he only programmed the sound driver.) It's just a shame the game isn't better.
That's a tough thing to say, because it was clearly made by capable people. (My guess is the development period was very short.) All the evidence here points to Rit's as the developer; Rit's also made some original RPGs, most notably the Dragon Master Silk series, and worked on many of the old Shining games. In addition, the president of the company — the artist known professionally as Hiroshi Kajiyama (who passed away in 2018) — acknowledged working on the game on Twitter.
Some images from SMS Power!
Post updated March 11, 2020
I like me some video pinball; I've amassed a decent collection of video pinball games. So when I found out about a pinball game that involved GDRI veteran Opera House and only came out in Japan, I was interested. Actually, even if it isn't great, I want it.
But good luck finding it - not only is Pinball Spirits a Japanese exclusive, it's available only for Windows. There's a copy on Amazon Japan for under $60 US. Enjoy the cover shots at the link because that's all you're gonna see.
Such is the world of Japanese Windows games. They seem to be among the most poorly documented and poorly preserved, unless there's something going on that I don't know about (which is possible). At least shopping sites like Amazon have games listed.
There's more than just eroge. Did you know Konami released games like Henry Explorers (Crypt Killer) for Windows in Japan?
Fun fact about Pinball Spirits: It was produced in cooperation with the non-profit Tokyo Pinball Organization. Read more about them here.
The 32-bit generation was one abundant with rally racing games, from Sega Rally to Colin McRae Rally. Then there's Hyper Rally.
I've watched videos on Nico Nico Douga, but I will bite my tongue since I have not played the game. I do like the music; it sounds like '90s-era, T's Music buttrock, as heard in games like Lords of Thunder. Cross-referencing names in the credits with VGMdb, it is T's Music, so kudos for that at least.
Hyper Rally turns up on the website of Triad, a company headed by Minoru Yuasa, who worked as a sound producer and composer on many Telenet games. However, I can't read most of the rest of the names in the credits, so I can't determine their involvement at this time. (I can't figure out kanji.) Satoshi Hatsuya was the game's director and a graphic designer. He also worked on Steel Empire for the Genesis.
Credit to the creators/uploaders of the above videos
After Burner & After Burner II Tengen released After Burner in the US, and Sunsoft released After Burner II in Japan. Neither live up to their arcade counterparts, but they're both arguably better than the Master System game. As for the Nintendo releases, some places suggest one is a modified version of the other, but I'm not so sure.
Westone Bit Entertainment and related company Bit Angel filed for bankruptcy on September 24, 2014. Most know Westone for the Wonder Boy and Monster World series, but they did so much more. Let's take a look back at five of their notable titles:
According to an interview with Westone president Ryuichi Nishizawa, development took about two months to complete with a crew of three people. The final product is very much an old-school, arcade-style game that's rather easy once you get the hang of it, not to mention incredibly short. If it looped and got more difficult like many old arcade games, that might have been an improvement.
Parasitis has swallowed the planet Abadox, and Princess Maria. Your task is to make your way through Parasitis' body, save Princess Maria, and keep the rest of the universe from being consumed.
It's clear from looking that this is another shooter, and it's clear to shooter fans that this one's influenced by Konami's Life Force, what with its "organic" theme. The stages even alternate between horizontal and vertical perspectives.
Many people have complained about Abadox's difficulty. I'm reluctant to agree it's as hard as they say, but it can be frustrating. Like some other shooters, one mistake can cost you all your power-ups, and it's a chore to get them back. At that point, you might as well start over. (The game's not that long.)
Most of us can agree, however, that Abadox has a great soundtrack. It was provided by Kiyohiro Sada, who once worked for Konami. The game's director was Atsushi Okazaki, who apparently also had a stint at Konami. Neither appear to have been involved with Life Force.
The game was produced by manga artist Go Nagai's Dynamic Planning, but God only knows what that means.
As far as I can tell, the programming and graphics were done by I.T.L. The only graphic artist credited is Hidenobu Takahashi. It is unconfirmed whether this is the same Hidenobu Takahashi who directed Grandia.
Credit to the video's creator
Scantily-clad fairy princesses have been entombed and strewn about a God-forsaken hellscape. It's up to you to rescue them in the action/puzzle game Stormlord, a conversion of a British computer game.
I own the Japanese Mega Drive version and recently dug it out. While it's not raved about by Sega fans, it's really not that bad, but there's lots of trial and error. You'll have to play it over and over again until you know the levels backwards and forwards. (Which I did. I finally beat it!)
As you progress, you'll find items such as keys, honey, and umbrellas to overcome obstacles. You'll need to figure out how and where to use or swap these items. The game will be an ass at times and, for example, throw in an extra door, thereby giving you an opportunity to waste a key, thereby leaving you unable to complete a level. That said, I don't feel the designers were as obnoxious as they could have been, at least as far as delibrately tricking the player is concerned. There are some tricky jumps and obnoxious enemies, though.
The graphics are pretty good and look pretty close to the Amiga from which they were ported. The music (by Lars Norpchen), while not quite as good as some of the computer versions, fits the game. All sound effects are samples.
As stated earlier, Stormlord originated in the UK and was released on several computer platforms. The Genesis/Mega Drive version was developed in the US by Punk Development, product development arm of publisher RazorSoft.
The fairies in Stormlord were originally naked in the computer versions, but they were covered up in the Genesis/Mega Drive version. Kevin Seghetti, who programmed the game for Punk under contract, has stated RazorSoft censored them voluntarily. However, another source of mine alleged Al Nilsen, Sega of America's Director of Marketing, was the only one who took issue with the nudity, according to a memo. As a result, Sega would not put their name on the game.
Said source also revealed that Genesis Stormlord was one of RazorSoft's worst-selling titles, and about 25,000 units were produced. That didn't stop them from announcing a Genesis version of the sequel, with the name Keeper of the Gates to disassociate it from the original. Development was being handled by 21st Century Entertainment, the successor of Stormlord's original publisher Hewson, but apparently the team wasn't organized enough to bring the game to completion.
Telenet Japan published the Mega Drive version in Japan through their Micro World subsidiary, which specialized in publishing games from the West. According to my source, they did so under the condition that the difficulty was toned down. You can take more hits, and you may have more continues. (I counted about five. The US manual says two.) Maybe that's why I enjoyed it. If you want to play Stormlord and it sounds a little daunting, this may be the version to try.
It's a story ripped straight from today's headlines. The War on Drugs is underway, and you, special agent "Viper," must take on a powerful drug syndicate in South America. But all is not what it seems...
Capcom's Code Name: Viper (Ningen Heiki: Dead Fox [人間兵器デッドフォックス] in Japan) is probably most notable for being a big ol' Rolling Thunder ripoff, except now you get to shoot and jump at the same time. You also get to rescue hostages, but you don't have to if you don't want to.
As Capcom NES games go, Viper is better than Little Mermaid or TaleSpin. Objectively speaking, it's probably in the middle of the pack, but I'm more likely to pick it up than a Mega Man game. The graphics are nice, that trademark Capcom sound is there, and the game handles fairly well.
Arc System Works is confirmed to have worked on this. I assume they at least programmed it. (Do these look like Capcom graphics to you? The sound is Capcom, of course.) And because of that confirmation and other evidence, I think Arc probably also worked on the NES version of Rolling Thunder, which probably led to the Viper gig.