the pc-engine is god’s favorite console, part 3

I’ve spent this past week dealing with the aftermath of being bitten by the Namco bug. If I’m not playing an old Namco arcade game, I’m playing an entry in the Namco Museum series, or I’m playing Tekken 7, or I’m playing Ridge Racer 7. Turns out, at risk of sounding like I’m fangirling over a major corporation, I just really like Namco stuff. I like Namco stuff bad enough to spend actual money on the free-to-play Pac-Man 99. Worth it.

Namco also made a bunch of games for the PC-Engine, God’s Favorite Video Game Entertainment System. 25 to be precise. Thought I’d cover a few here.

Genpei Toumaden- Kan no Ni/Samurai Ghost (US Name)

I’ve written about Genpei Toumaden before. Multiple times. It’s a strange, frustrating, tedious, awesome, wonderful, amazing game that pisses me off and also kicks ass. It also got a sequel exclusive to the PC-Engine. Kan no Ni takes place entirely in “Big Mode” from the first game; large, individually animated sprites getting into sword fights with each other. There’s no more platform-based “Small Mode,” or the overhead transitional levels where you could change your progression route. There’s no more worrying about keeping your sword sharp, so you can swing and hit as many rocks and armored enemies as you want. There’s no more dealing with the underworld and Enma-Daioh if you fall down a pit. Money has a significantly reduced use. It’s all action with mild platform navigation. Kan no Ni is a much more focused, straight-forward game as a result.

The weird thing about that is that it is both a better and worse game as a result. Better in that it’s arguably a better game to play, having less bull shit to deal with and worry about before you make it to the end of the game. But it is worse in the sense that Genpei Toumaden’s personality is gone, leaving a game that looks cool and plays fairly well, but it’s not the same. The original game was fucking weird, even by the standards of skee-whoa wacky Japan, and was awesome for it. It was like playing someone’s fucked up dream. What made it, and other Namco of the era by extension, so great was that these were all games that looked simple to play, but were all weird as fuck, and had all this cool hidden shit underneath the surface; Genpei Toumaden had hidden levels where the development team would pop up and leave you a message, for example. Even when you found everything the game had to offer, explored every route and every variation of those routes, is still feels like there is more that players have yet to discover. I love that. I love games that can maintain a sense of mystery despite literally decades of having been blown wide open. Kan no Ni doesn’t have this. It is extremely cut and dry, and again, while it is a good game, it’s not the same experience. It’s too normal. That being said, it’s still worth trying out. I mean, it’s still a pretty good game to play, but not a good one to experience.

Bravoman

Bravoman is a port of an arcade game that really isn’t all that good. It still maintains that sense of Namco Weirdness, with its control set up using six-buttons like a fighting game, dedicated to how far you punch and how high you jump, and generally looking weird and having animation that is way too fluid for its own good. It plays like shit, but it’s maybe worth checking out in MAME for a couple levels.

The PC-Engine port? Whoa, that is its own animal. It’s more or less the same, in terms of level design. No, where Bravoman shines is that it looks, sounds, and plays like it’s a bootleg; as if some pirates took Galaxian hardware (a once-popular arcade board to make bootlegs from) and made an ill-executed attempt at a mascot game. Namco is and was a company with a lot of money. They have some of the best artists in the business under their employ. A number of their games from the 80s and 90s look good today, and it’s funny that Bravoman is as ugly and low-tech as it is. I don’t bring any of this up as a complaint, mind you. I love it! I love how Bravoman looks so incredibly amateurish!

I love Bravoman’s aesthetic because it gives off this chaotic energy that I love about video games. This concept of simply making shit. Does it look like shit? Yes. Does it play even worse? Oh yeah, you better believe it. Does any of this matter, as the game itself is at least an interesting mess? Fuck no! Bravoman is Kusoge to the max. It is dogshit, and it is amazing. Punch a telephone box in stage one, and it talks to you. If you keep punching your ally who delivers health-restoring rice balls, he will get mad and actually stop showing up at the end of stages. It’s the little details. It’s a damn shame Bravoman hasn’t been seen in any games since, at least outside of Namco x Capcom, a game that deserves either a re-release outside of Japan, or a fan translation that isn’t absolutely unreadable bull shit.

Tower of Druaga

Unlike the sequels and ports so far, Tower of Druaga on PC-Engine is a full fledged remake of the original arcade game. Back when the word “remake” meant something other than “95% of 2021’s release calendar.” Here’s the thing: Druaga is one of those games, like Hydlide, that is absolutely beloved in Japan, and thoroughly hated over here. And like Hydlide, I fucking love Tower of Druaga. Yes, the game is obtuse. Yes, the first two floors are an absolutely slow-ass drag. I don’t care, Tower of Druaga is amazing. It’s my favorite game in Namco Museum Volume 3, I love the Game Boy version, it’s my current “theme” in Pac-Man 99, and it’s my favorite game in this post.

Aside from updating the art, Druaga PCE, as I will call it, because I do not want to type out “Tower of Druaga PC-Engine Version” over and over, made a couple quality of life changes. The first one is that the default walking speed has been increased, meaning that you don’t have to find the hidden treasure chest in level 2 to move at a faster speed than a story being told by Grandpa Simpson. The other change is that you get a cryptic hint at the beginning of every level. For those who have not played Tower of Druaga, most levels would have a secret treasure chest. In order to actually finish the game, you needed a specific set of items that could only be acquired through these chests. To actually find said chests, you would have to do any number of things: killing certain enemies, standing still for five seconds, hitting a wall, walking in specific and unmarked parts of the level, taking damage, all sorts of things. Of course, the original game never actually told you that these chests existed, let alone how to find them. This led to communities forming in arcades, as players would try to find the solution to any given level, and share these secrets in notebooks and such. But obviously, because Druaga PCE is a console game pre-internet, you can’t really not be that obtuse to the player. At least not without also being a tremendous dickhead.

Much as I love the original Druaga, it is a pain to have to have notes nearby while I play, because I don’t have the capacity to remember how to find secrets in 60 fucking levels, so Druaga PCE is sometimes the better alternative. Plus it has something the other versions of the game don’t have: HARDCORE NUDITY!!

nanja monja…

I’ve been a bit back-handed about the other two games in this post, but I am telling you right now: Play Fucking Druaga PCE. Definitely among the best Namco games on the system, and one of the better games on the system in general. It was never officially released in English, but there is a good fan translation that you can find pretty easily by clicking here.

That’s it for this one. I’ll come back to the PC-Engine again soon enough. Until then.

valis 2

There exists, mostly in the 16-bit era (though one could extend that all the way to the PS2 days), this particular aesthetic. It’s a look that’s a bit hard to explain, but I will try my best. I’ve referred to it as a “late-night” aesthetic. Dark graphics, music that goes ridiculously hard, some cool body horror shit, nice amounts of blood, at least a moderate amount of jank, that sort of thing. Like the video game equivalent of an exploitation film, or an angry queer zine. The Sega Mega Drive and the NEC PC-Engine were the absolute best at this (honorable mention to “Psycho Dream” on the Super Famicom), with lots of games that perfectly fit this mold of dirty, violent games that you play on a Saturday night, right before the midnight an*me block airs on TV. For some better examples, check out my post on pre-Sonic Genesis games.

Valis 2 is a game that almost matches this description perfectly. I’ll explain that “almost” later. This grungy looking action game starring a girl in a chainmail bikini, shooting and stabbing large monsters in this weird looking hellscape. It is extremely cool.

That’s pretty much it to Valis, really. At worst, it’s a competently made shooter. But that’s not what’s important; sometimes, there’s more to a game than solid mechanics and design. It’s style. It’s attitude. Valis 2 is loaded with these things. This has never been an especially deep series, mostly relying on its cutscenes and sex appeal to turn some heads.

I guess I should probably give some context here for the younger readers: Valis 2 was released in 1989. I did an extremely brief amount of research to see what else came out around this time. This game was released two months before the Sega Mega Drive, and around the same time as NES games like Duck Tales and Castlevania 3. At the very least, Valis should be recognized for being ahead of its time. I mean, this was a CD game released at a time when most PCs didn’t even have a CD drive. Animated sequences and music with actual instrumentation (or at least a really good synthesizer) long before it was the norm. Granted, these cutscenes were not full-screen, and were surrounded by this ugly green border, but they are animated, which is something games weren’t really doing at the time.

Even now, I’m still kind of blown away by the presentation. The first level throws you right into things: fighting a bunch of monsters in the middle of the city at night, while this extremely awesome, pumping tune plays in the background. Then after you defeat the first boss, you do a Magical Girl transformation into your battle bikini and continue to kick ass. It’s almost very cool.

Valis 2 is a great representation of this strange transitory time of the late 80s into the early 90s. This time where technological limitations eased up a little bit, allowing directors and artists to go hog wild with their ideas, putting all the blood and tits and swear words they want into these games. A time when developers wanted to aim for an older audience, or at least aim towards endlessly immature and easily entertained idiots like myself. Give me some cool, murky visuals and pumping music to kill things to.

I’ve been putting off the elephant in the room this whole time, so let me go off on this right now: I keep stressing the word almost. This is almost a great game. This is almost a great aesthetic. What keeps Valis 2, and the Valis series as a whole, from being as awesome as it could be is the sexualization of its women. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not some prude whose face will melt like a nazi from Indiana Jones if I so much as see half a boob; the fact that I have written multiple posts about pornography will attest to that. Normally, some hot girls in skimpy outfits killing things is right up my alley. You find a way to convert this concept into a liquid form and inject it into my veins, and it would be a stronger drug than heroin.

No, the problem with the sex appeal of Valis is that Yuko, the main character, is only sixteen years old. That’s fucking gross. I had assumed that she was at least eighteen, which isn’t much better (I don’t fuck with anyone under 21), but it’s also not much worse. According to the Valis fan wiki (because goddamn everything has a fan wiki these days), Yuko is sixteen throughout all of the games, except for Valis 4, the one game where she’s not a playable character. This means that not only is she sixteen in this game, running around in a battle bikini, but she’s sixteen in the PC-Engine remake of Valis 1, where you see her underwear every time she jumps. This also means that she was sixteen in Valis X, the fucking actual straight up porn game. The appeal of Valis is that the main character wears little clothing, but also the main character is a child. This might sound appealing if you’re a Libertarian or if you’re Hideki Naganuma, but not so much for the rest of us. Either have your j/o material be an adult, or go in the opposite direction with a non-sexual Magical Girl set up. You absolutely cannot have it both ways on this.

With that massive disappointment out of the way, it’s a fucking shame. It’s a shame because other than that, Valis 2 is really good! The worst you can say about it is that maybe the levels are a little too flat and monotonous. Luckily, this version of the game keeps the titillation to a minimum, so it’s a bit easier to put it out of your mind. I’m told that the computer versions of the game are significantly more risque in that regard. I say “I’m told” because I can’t get the X68000 version of the game to actually fucking work, so I’ll take that claim at face value. As it is, I do hate that Valis has that shadow over it that a lot of other games in this sub-genre I just made up manage to avoid. I wish I could like this game more.

I’m also taking the time to talk about the Sega Genesis port of the game. Somehow, someway, I played this as a child. I saw the cover at the video store, and knew that this was the game I wanted to rent for the weekend.

Valis SD, or Syd of Valis as it’s known over here, because the localizers didn’t give a fuck, is a cutesy reinterpretation of Valis 2. It also sucks really bad. It controls like shit, taking a single hit will cause you to fly all over the screen like a ping-pong ball, hit detection is a joke, and it does the Ninja Gaiden bull shit of having an enemy immediately meet you as soon as you make a precarious jump. Not a fun game by any stretch.

Of course, I was a kid, and didn’t know any better. I still liked it a lot, to the point of renting it multiple times. And I’m pretty sure I never made it past level 3 in any of my attempts. These days, I can finish it with almost no problem, but I’m not really enjoying myself when I do it. It is bad. The exact opposite to how fun the PC-Engine game is. At least the art style discourages the whole “please masturbate to these children” thing.

I really just want to shit-talk the localization, or lack thereof, because I can only say “this game is really fucking bad” so many times. I had mentioned being attracted to the game’s cover for whatever reason my child brain liked about it. As an adult, I’m only just now finding out that I was attracted to the cover of a completely different game.

This is actually the cover to a PC-Engine game called Sugoroku ’92 Nari Tore Nariagari Trendy. Yuko is now “Syd,” because nobody knew that “SD” meant “Super Deformed,” as in the art style the game used. Fun fact: because I was a stupid child, I didn’t know that “Syd” was an actual name, so I pronounced the title “Side” of Valis. In addition, a bunch of dialogue was left in Japanese. Whoever at Renovation, or Telenet, or whatever one of the six hundred different sub-labels that company had was in charge of translating this game gave up and went to bed pretty early on.

To its credit, Syd of Valis at least has the multiple costume/weapons inventory that the computer games allegedly have, giving it an iota of depth. And it has this fucking great looking turtle:

love this turtle, man

I guess in the end, Valis 2/Valis Syd SD are games I wish I liked more, but can’t. That’s either due to being gross, or being absolute dog shit to play, respectively. Valis 2 on the PC-Engine is still an important game, but maybe scrub your hands with soap and water after you’re done playing.

the pc engine is god’s favorite console, part 2

Been meaning to do another one of these posts, but then I get distracted by something shiny and write about something else. But luckily for all of us, it’s snowing outside, cold as fuck because my heat’s not working for some reason, and I ain’t got much else to do this weekend, so I’m going to do another PC-Engine write up woo hoo.

Kato-chan and Ken-chan

This game rules. It’s one of those platformers where you are constantly having to move forward, as your health is always draining. So something like Adventure Island or Wonder Boy (if you haven’t played those games, then what the fuck are you doing here?). This is also a licensed game, starring two Japanese comedians: Cha Kato, and the late Ken Shimura (RIP). Over here, they’re mostly known for being the reason that America’s Funniest Home Videos exists. As such, the game itself has this goofy comedic tone to it.

And by that, I mean there’s lots of shitting and pissing and farting everywhere.

You hold down on the d-pad, and your fart cloud can kill an enemy dead in their tracks. You run from point to point, dodging bird shit, large boulders that look like globs of shit, getting power ups out of public bathrooms, dealing with enemy flies (which are attracted to shit), avoiding falling bed pans, there’s just lots and lots of shit everywhere. If that’s too low-brow for you, first of all, go to hell, and second, maybe you’re better off playing something more your speed: Flower, Gravitation, Journey, or some other bull shit made for people who have never had fun a day in their lives. I might be a Serious Artist, but I will still appreciate poo-poo pee-pee humor.

Anyways, the game is fun as hell. At least until you reach the last stage, which is the worst Mario Lost Levels bull shit imaginable. But otherwise it’s great.

Batman

Hey, it’s a Batman game by Sunsoft! Say what you will about Batman the character, Sunsoft made some good shit in his likeness. You’ve no doubt heard of the other Batman games, but you might not be familiar with this one, at it was never released outside of Japan. You may that find that odd.

Or not.

Batman on the PC-Engine is pretty much a less cerebral Bomberman (ironic, given that you play as the World’s Greatest Detective). You walk around, all short and stubby, shooting Batarangs at enemies while picking up boxes of who knows what off the ground. That’s about it. After what feels like a million levels, you move on to the museum, and restore paintings that have been vandalized by the Joker’s henchmen. It’s a little off the beaten path, to say the least, and would certainly explain why we never saw the game.

bruce wayne has enough money to invest in that hell hole known as arkham asylum, yet he can’t invest in fixing gotham’s road infrastructure so that cars don’t drive about 100 through a “walk” signal.

This is kind of a short write-up. Mostly me saying “ha ha hey, look at this weird Batman game!” If you’ve played Bomberman to death, and are getting tired of Cratermaze, you might like Batman.

Right, can’t forget the sick version of the NES Batman music:

 

Now, a couple of you will probably stumble across this post while doing a Google search for info on the PC-Engine, or to be precise, what its best games are (to ensure this, let me game the SEO real quick: PC ENGINE BEST GAMES COCAINE PORN SEX). You don’t care about some weird obscure shit with loads of jank to it. You want me to get to the “good” shit, the objectively best titles on the system. First of all, idiot, there is no such thing as an “objective opinion.” Second, fine, I’ll kowtow to you apes, you fucking animals for a moment. Here it is, the best game on the PC-Engine:

It’s Rondo of Blood. Of fucking course it would be Rondo of Blood.

Like, what else were you expecting?

Rondo is the best game on the PC-Engine. By a mile. I would even go so far as to claim it is the best Castlevania; even better than Symphony of the Night. I know that there are some people who are wrong that will claim Super Castlevania IV is the best, but they are wrong, Gabi. It’s Rondo.

You could probably write an entire book around Rondo’s sense of design. The level design. The two characters that play vastly different from one another, without detracting from the game itself. The secret areas that reward you for being curious and looking around. Plus the great sprite art and music. Everything comes together in this tight, focused package. For as great as Symphony is, it’s all over the place. By the end, you have a warehouse full of armor you’ll never wear and weapons you’ll never use. Most of the hidden areas in that game don’t really make a whole lot of sense; as if it’s normal for Dracula to have a spare bedroom in the ceiling of his coliseum. Rondo has a vision, and runs straight for the goal. Also Michiru Yamane is a QAnon follower, so SOTN gets knocked down a few spots as a result.

Aside from just being a fucking great game, I appreciate all the little touches in Rondo. The way levels are designed around feeling like an actual place, in addition to being a series of obstacles. Being able to do stuff like read signs. It’s such a little thing, but it tickles a pleasure center in my fucked up brain. Discovering things like Richter being able to extend the range of his whip, or Maria’s secret Hadouken. Or finding that room in the boat level that leads to a mystery door that was probably part of an area cut for time.

A series of little things that build up to one good thing. That’s Rondo of Blood. A shame they don’t make them like this anymore. But for the love of God, stay as far away from the PSP remake as you can. That one is garbage.

That’s three more PC-Engine games worth checking out. Three more games on God’s Favorite Video Game System. Please play the PC-Engine. I don’t give a fuck if you emulate it, buy the PC-Engine Mini, or import an original one at an exorbitant price, just play the fucking thing.

the pc-engine is god’s favorite console

I am not currently home at the moment. I’m spending a week out because of job reasons, so instead of sitting in front of my high-end Gamer PC, I’m struggling to run PC-Engine ROMs while trying to have more than one internet tab open on a shitty laptop from 2014. This thing struggles even looking at the menu for Retroarch, and Bizhawk stutters like a motherfucker, so I had to travel back in time and play these games on my old cracked version of Magic Engine. Remember that emulator? I still think it has the best UI.

Something that I said before when I complained about F1 games was that, despite those games being decent to shitty, the PC-Engine is still very much God’s Favorite Video Game Entertainment System. Trying to think of what the system’s best game is is impossible, so I won’t be doing that. Instead, I will be writing about a bunch of its games that made an impression on me.

Parasol Stars: giving beer to children.

Parasol Stars fucking rules. Is it the best game on the PC-Engine? No. Does that matter? Again, no. It’s a cute little game where you play a fat kid that picks things up with his parasol, then shooting said things at other things. You pick up fruits and alcohol and crowns and money and all types of brightly colored shit. There’s all these obtuse scoring mechanics and hidden items you need to get in order to actually finish the game.

When I was still a hot shot on Tumblr (a term I use derisively), I spent a lot of time talking about PC-Engine games, and this was one of the more talked about ones. The reason for this was that every Friday, I would get fucked up on about one or two vicodin (I weigh about 130, drugs don’t have to work very hard to take effect on me), make some ramen and iced tea, watch wrestling, and then play this game. That was my night for about a year. Sounds kind of sad when I describe it out loud like this, but it was a fun time. I got to be a home-body, doing things I liked, and then there was a cute video game that pleased my addled brain with its bright colors. And no, I don’t take pills for fun anymore. Don’t drink, don’t pop shit. Doesn’t make Parasol Stars any less good, though.

VERDICT: this game rules. Check it out.

Genpei Toumaden: why no, nobody knows what the fuck this game is about

I very briefly brought up Genpei Toumaden when I wrote about the Namco Museum Collection. But I didn’t really go too in-depth on it.

Let me reiterate what I said then: this game is weird. It’s another one of those games that manages to make perfect sense, yet also makes no sense whatsoever. You play as an undead Samurai, based on a real life samurai named Taira no Kagekiyo, who goes across Japan, fighting other real-life samurai and daimyo who are all also now creepy-looking undead creatures. It’s a side-scrolling action game with a unique, creepy visual style. Makes sense so far, right?

Then the perspective changes, and the sprites are bigger, and your character does that really ugly thing where a character has individual body parts that animate that never looks good.

Then there are levels that are top-down. In these, you fight enemies that spawn from gourds and puddles of water. Then at the end, you choose a torii gate to enter, that will take you on one of the many different paths the game has.

So far, this makes sense. On a mechanical, actually-playing-a-game level, this is extremely normal, maybe even by the numbers. But when you apply this to a game with an unusual and outright creepy art style (on the Genpei Toumaden episode of Game Center CX, even Arino was weirded out by some of the levels), abrasive music and voice samples, and an extremely haphazard sense of level design, it’s really out there.

Then you fall down a pit. In most games, this results in a lost life, or a full-on game over. Here? No.

Instead, you fall back down into Hell. You fight a few enemies, then make your way to the end. There, you meet Enma Daiō, the king of Hell, and he presents you with a series of boxes. Pick the right box, and you go right back to the surface like nothing ever happened.

Pick the wrong box?

Game Over! Play More Serious!

I realize that I’m probably making this game sound really interesting. That being said, let me make this perfectly clear: Genpei Toumaden is a bad game. The controls are terrible, enemies come at you from all angles faster than you can react, you bounce from one end of the screen to the other if you get hit, it’s possible to fuck yourself into an unwinnable situation in the first level. This was an arcade quarter-muncher that, for better or for worse, was almost perfectly translated to a console. It’s bad, yes. But you still absolutely need to play it. Genpei Toumaden is something that needs to be experienced; it feels like outsider art, at times.

VERDICT: I’m shrugging my shoulders and shaking my head at the same time.

Deep Blue: it’s a game about fish

This is another weird one. Deep Blue is a side-scrolling shooter where you are a fish that shoots at other fish. What makes this weird is that you are the only fish in the ocean that shoots. The other fish are all realistic looking, and are content to swim at you as fast as possible.

you don’t even look like a real fish!

I don’t have nearly as much to say about this as I did Genpei Toumaden, but the spirit is the same here. It makes sense, from a game perspective, but then gets weird when you stop and think about the concept, and then actually play the game. Aside from the player sprite, everything is as realistically depicted as the PC-Engine would allow. You slowly swim from one end to the other, with this background music that manages to sound both calm and like the soundtrack to a dissociative episode. Even on a system loaded with shooters, good and bad, Deep Blue still manages to stick out amongst the crowd.

VERDICT: not especially good or fun, but another PC-Engine game worth looking at from an experimental perspective.

That’s it for this entry. Spent way too many words on Genpei Toumaden. The PC-Engine had a number of amazing games. But even its bad games had something to offer. This is why the system was fucking amazing, and certainly deserved better than what it got here in North America.

Parasol Stars legitimately rules, though.