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Poachers beware! Spanky is coming to get you!
In this unreleased Super Famicom puzzle game from Natsume, a young aristocratic lady orders her servant Sebastian to bring her all the animals from around the world. Unfortunately for them, feisty feline Spanky (or is that Spunky?) is following right behind. At each locale is a new rival for Spanky and another opportunity to free the animals from their caged existence.
Spanky no Orifuru Puzzle! looks like your standard falling block puzzler. Match a colored key with animals of the same color to clear them from the screen. The better you play, the more junk blocks drop on your opponent's side of the screen. If your opponent's side fills up first, you win.
This is another one of those unreleased games that got little to no press at the time. If it weren't for a video that appeared on Youtube in 2010 (see below), I might not have gotten around to writing this post many years later.
According to the video description, Spanky "has no ROM cartridge;" does that mean a ROM file is in the hands of a select few? Not much else has turned up since the video was uploaded.
Given the game's low profile, you might be surprised to find out that Natsume USA showed it off at Winter CES in January 1995 (four months before the first E3, incidentally). It was featured in the 1995 Video Game Preview Guide, a supplement included with US magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly (see right).
Natsume was set to publish Spanky, but another name appears on the title screen — Workman. I assume this is the name of the developer, and I assume it is the same Workman profiled on this site. Workman was a company founded in 1993 by former Now Production staff. Despite the Natsume connection, this probably has nothing to do with Spanky's Quest, which starred a monkey.
Taito Grand Prix is not just a game; it's a lifestyle simulation. Compete in races for prize money, upgrade your car, and move up the ranks. I feel like Mario Andretti already.
Formula One: Built to Win from Seta is not just a game; it's a lifestyle simulation. Compete in races for prize money, upgrade your car, and move up the ranks. I feel like Mario Andretti already.
Talk about déjà vu. It's uncanny how similar these two games are, right down to the modes of play and cars you can drive. But why is this?
For a long time, I thought perhaps there was some staff cross-pollination between the developers. Evidence suggests Now Production was responsible for Taito Grand Prix, while evidence points to Winkysoft as the culprit behind Formula One. Both companies were in Osaka, and both companies made games for Taito.
Maybe Formula One started out as a sequel to Taito Grand Prix? Incidentally, Formula One never came out in Japan, and Taito Grand Prix never left.
I suppose the most likely explanation is that Formula One is just a big ripoff of Taito Grand Prix. But don't let me color your judgment. Take a look...
Post updated May 14, 2021
Everyone's got to start somewhere, and everyone includes Kan Naito.
Naito is better known as the founder of Climax Entertainment, the company behind Landstalker, Dark Savior, and Runabout, but he made his professional debut as a teenager back in 1983 with this MSX title. (He wrote about it in his column in Mega Drive Fan magazine.)
It's a rather simple game: Drive your car down the road, avoid other cars, and pick up fuel.
It's also somewhat counter-intuitive because the faster you drive, the less fuel you use. You need to step on the gas right away, or you will drain quickly.
Car Race was published by Ample Software, where Naito was working part-time. Yuichiro Itakura and future Genius Sonority president Manabu Yamana also worked there. Itakura left and started Zap, where he was joined again by Naito and Yamana. Naito and Yamana then headed over to Chunsoft, where they worked on Dragon Quest games, and the rest is history.
Post updated December 15, 2020
The Sharp X68000 is renowned for its high-quality arcade ports, but they can't all be winners.
Take Chase H.Q....please. Just look at it. The sprites are all pixelated, the scaling is choppy, and there are no branching paths. The music is pretty rockin', though.
One tweet alleges the X68000 version of Chase H.Q. was supposed to be published by Dexter under the name Chaser H.Q. So far I have not been able to substantiate that.
Instead, it was released as a genuine port via Brother's Takeru vending machines through Tierheit, which was actually a brand used by developer Falcon. Falcon did not develop it, however; it was by a group called RAY-NET.
I'm not sure if it's accurate to call RAY-NET a doujin group; the aforementioned tweet refers to them as an "amateur group." They also wrote tools and music drivers that were also used in games like the X68000 version of Pipe Dream.
(Presumably people have beat these games, just not on Youtube where we can all see it and get the credits.)
An obscure game even in Japanese circles, I think. It's a third-person shooter with a lot of text. Fortunately, I did find someone who said they worked on it at Gingham Soft.
Someday I need to write up a post about Wing Arms for the Saturn (or maybe this is enough). It's a 3D flight game featuring WWII-era aircraft where you shoot down other planes and ships and such. It was by a little-known developer called Bell that had some former T&E Soft members on staff.
Programmer Tetsuya Yamamoto revealed in The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers: Volume 2 that Wing Arms is essentially an update of a PC (Japanese DOS/V) game Bell made called Musashi. While Wing Arms has different missions, the sole mission of Musashi is to sink a giant battleship. There's very little information about Musashi, but I did find a page with some screenshots.
A few months later, I noticed another Bell programmer had a game called Formation Attack on his Facebook profile. I figured this was some other game. Then by chance I found an ad for it in Computer Gaming World Issue 121 (see right). It looks to be the US version of Musashi.
There's no proof this ever came out, and I've never even heard of Spunky Computers U.S.A. before. It's an odd name and an odd logo, and I can find no record of such a company existing.
Hmmm...I suppose this post had no point to it, but what else what do you have to do?
I previously told you about a lawsuit Atari Corp. launched against Sega of America in 1993 that alleged infringement of a patent concerning horizontal scrolling (US patent #4,445,114; originally filed by Atari, Inc. back in 1980). As part of a settlement, both companies agreed to a cross-licensing deal. This meant Sega games could appear on Atari systems, and Atari games could appear on Sega systems. Would Sonic have his own game on Jaguar? That sure seemed like a possibility.
As it turns out, Sonic was not even on the table (see previous post on the lawsuit), and according to Atari president and CEO Sam Tramiel in a November 1995 interview with Ultimate Gamer, there was one additional catch — the games had to be at least a year old. He went on to say they'd have to wait for games like Virtua Fighter, even though the arcade version of that came out in 1993. Since this deal only seemed to apply to home games (again, see previous post on the lawsuit), they probably had to wait for the Saturn and 32X versions to become available.
This also meant Sega had to wait for — if they wanted it — Kasumi Ninja, which was released in December 1994 (or so the Internet says). In the meantime, they licensed some of Atari's arcade favorites — well, the home versions of them. These would be released in a collection for the Game Gear and Genesis simply called Arcade Classics.
Development duties fell to a small contractor near Chicago called Al Baker & Associates, which did Disney's Bonkers: Wax Up and Taz in Escape from Mars for Game Gear. From the old Al Baker & Associates website:
"Sega wanted three Atari classics converted to the Genesis with as much integrity as possible. Each game would have two play modes: the orginal [sic] game and an updated version.
(Given the hockey variations included [and the fact it's called Ultrapong in-game], Pong appears to be based off of Atari's Ultra Pong (Doubles) system.)
Keep in mind when Sega's compilation was released. The year was 1996. It was the early days of emulation on PCs, Digital Eclipse's Williams Arcade Classics was out, and the Namco Museum series was on its way. Retrogaming was on an upswing.
Then again, this was also the twilight period after the Saturn came out when most people, and even Sega, stopped caring about the Genesis and Game Gear. For that reason (not the lack of games), and that reason alone (because everybody was itching to play Pong again), Arcade Classics — the only product to come out of this Sega-Atari licensing deal — was quickly forgotten.
Post updated May 29, 2022
Back in 2010, I interviewed programmer Scott Marshall, who worked on Ghoul School, R.C. Grand Prix, and Genesis Frogger, among other games. He also adapted the Game Boy version of Monopoly (originally developed by Sculptured Software) to the Game Boy Color. I posted his comments on Frogger years ago, but not Monopoly. Here's what he had to say about the "colorization" process:
Colorizing Monopoly involved:
Monopoly was one of several monochrome Game Boy games re-released for the Game Boy Color by Majesco. (See our Morning Star Multimedia entry for more adaptations.) This Cutting Room Floor article compares the different versions of Game Boy Monopoly including another Game Boy Color update that came out in Japan months before the US release. (I did not ask Marshall if he had anything to do with that.)
This is what I would call one of the quintessential TurboGrafx-16 games, as far as the US market is concerned, because it makes me question the judgment of those who decided to release it over other, better games.
Deep Blue is the saga of a "Fish Attack Sub" that takes on evil aliens and the aquatic life that have been mutated in their wake. It's like Darius...kinda.
As soon as you turn the game on, you're immediately struck by the ostentatious presentation. Music worthy of any undersea epic accompanies large, detailed graphics that make for great screenshots on the back of the box. It's clear why NEC decided to bring this one to the States.
Unfortunately, all that 16-bit, next generation flair is undermined by the game design, which consists almost entirely of shooting at wave after wave of enemy fish that move in repetitive patterns. They don't shoot; they just ram into you. If you're not careful, it's easy to get overwhelmed.
On the plus side, you have a power gauge and can take multiple hits. You also heal automatically over time. If you can get the hang of things, this is a playable game, but it's understandable why most people don't like it.
Deep Blue was originally released in Japan by Pack-In-Video. The developer has been harder to pinpoint because there are no credits, but it was a company called Hi-Score Media Work, publisher of the game magazine Hi-Score. (You can read more about Hi-Score Media Work in my Zombie Hunter post.)
A writer who once worked for Hi-Score magazine tweeted the following in 2021:
"When I was working at Hi-Score, I remember K-san was working on the program in the development room next door. I often saw him being rushed by his superiors, as the development seemed to be lagging behind. By the way, the editorial department was not involved in the development of the game, and I remember that we only played it briefly. (We were not asked to debug anything.)"
He also said in 2020 that "K-san had little knowledge of STG [shooting games]."
In 2017, animator Itsuki Imazaki posted sketches and a design proposal (written by the aforementioned K-san? ) on Twitter.    According to the replies here, he was working in the Hi-Score editorial department at the time.
Yasuo Torai did the original package illustration for Deep Blue, as well as the original source character design, logo design, and manual cover illustration for Zombie Hunter, and illustrations for Hi-Score magazine.
Post updated May 11, 2021
Someone posted a nice little surprise on Twitter — two lists of Atlus games they received when they interviewed at the company years ago.  The first is a list of games developed for other companies going back to 1986, when Atlus was established. Well-worn ground on this site, but it's nice to have official documentation straight from the source. Yes, Atlus toiled away as a contract developer in its early years, making games like Karate Kid for LJN in between bigger projects like Megami Tensei and Xexyz.
Games like Megami Tensei showed that Atlus had more going on than a lot of contractors, which brings us to the second list. These are original titles that were self-published, starting in 1989. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Below is a translation of the lists, followed by some notes and observations: [more...]