Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pocket Zaurus: Juu Ouken no Nazo

One of the things that I enjoy about the Famicom is the sheer amount of games that are available for the console. Many of these games can be purchased for just a few dollars and even if you're buying them from an overseas seller the shipping usually isn't too bad since the carts are small and light.

From time to time I'll take a chance on a game, especially if I'm already buying something else as another game doesn't usally effect shipping too much. Enter Bandai's Pocket Zaurus: Juu Ouken no Nazo.

Going into this game I knew nothing about it, only that it was a side scrolling action game. I grabbed this quite awhile ago and it was shelved immediately, only to recently be played for the first time. Judging from the art on the cart's front label I was looking forward to playing the game. Seeing the little dude holding a large boomerang I thought may this could be Power Blade-esque? 

Nope. The game plays nothing like Power Blade, one of my favs on the NES. You control what appears to be some type of green dinosaur boy. You walk left to right and can attack with a short range projectile attack. You'll notice at the bottom of the screen is a large black area that lists your lives, health and score. Throughout the game other words will appear here, but since I can't read Japanese I have no idea what it half the text is saying. 

After doing a little research it appears that the words that pop up are a type of quiz. I think it may effect the story (which I still can't figure out) and you can earn power up items with correct answers.

I played for about a half hour and while it wasn't boring, I couldn't quite get in a groove. It just seemed like your mediocre NES era action game. Nothing special to stand out in a crowed library for the system.

The 2nd level started off as a side scrolling shmup and instantly I thought maybe the game had potential. This part of the game felt a little like Fantasy Zone, however the shooting part was short lived as it wasn't long before I was flying over the ground and my character jumped out of his round little ship. I tried to keep playing the game and figure it out, but after continuing a few times I just lost interest. I'll revisit the game again at a later date to see if I can get any further, but for my first playthrough let's just say the grade I give the game is "I" for Incomplete.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

8 Bit Art - Yea or Nay?

Many Target stores have started carrying video game related items in the electronics department such as retro clone consoles, wallets, keychains and sticky note art. You may have seen these packs of 8 Bit Art at your local store.

Several weeks ago I found these packs of "art" had been moved to the toy aisle. I was hoping they had been clearanced from their original $4.99 price point, but they hadn't. I was with my wife and she thought it was pretty cool, so I grabbed the different packs they had available to determine which one to get. All three available were from the original Super Mario Bros. series. There was a larger Fire Mario, a small jumping Mario and the one I purchased.

This product is just what it says it is...sticky note art. However the sticky notes aren't very sticky and just like a Post-It note, the adhesive is only on the top part of the paper. So you guessed it, they don't adhere to the wall at that well. While putting them up on the wall, I was constantly fighting pieces falling off and I become quite annoyed. The package comes with 3 stacks of sticky notes, red, brown and peach. There is also a paper measuring strip that helps you line up the art on your wall. The process of putting the image together wasn't that bad, but make sure you have a level handy so you make sure you get everything straight from the beginning.

Once I was able to get the image complete and I stepped back, it didn't look that bad. I didn't get some of the squares perfectly straight so my OCD started to kick in and annoy me. I thought the finished product looked good, but how long would it last on the wall? I'm sure you are wondering the same.

Other than a few pieces falling off, the image stayed up on the wall for several weeks, I recently decided to remove it as I wanted to get some customer framed canvas squares with game logos hung on the wall where Mario was. By the time I removed the small sticky notes, many of them were curling up. I don't think Mario could have lasted much longer. 

Overall I believe Mario stayed on the wall for about a month. Honestly this is longer than I thought. It's a great idea, but the execution just seemed to fall a little short. Now had each sticky note square had better or more adhesive, then perhaps I'd have a different final opinion. Have you worked with one of these kits? What was your experience with it? 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Reproduction Spotlight: Mega Box Reproductions - NEC PC Engine & PC-FX

Reproduction video games seems to have become a topic that is widely debated. For the gamer who just wants to play a game on original hardware, it's a blessing. For the collector who has the original (rare) game, reproductions can hurt the value if their...dare I say investment? 

For me this is nothing new. When Takara, the original manufacturer of Transformers toys started re-releasing many of their original toys, the "value" of the original toys on the secondary market took a nose dive. While this was temporary with toys, it seems to be temporary with video games too. There will always be those who want the real, authentic product.

The thing about that is there are many video games these days that are just stupid expensive. One of these games is Zenki for the NEC PC-FX. This is one of the few games that an English speaker like myself can play on a system that is widely full of dating sims, strategy games and visual comics...all heavy in the Japanese language. Zenki can fetch well over $500 USD on the secondary market...if you can find it.

Several months back I ran across Jon Stover, owner of Mega Box Reproductions in a Facebook group. I sent him a direct message asking if he was able to make reproduction games for the NEC PC-FX. He said he had never done so before, but thought it was a possibility. I first had asked him if was possible to make a custom case for a disc only game I had purchased on eBay, PC Engine Fan Super CD-Rom Vol. 3. You see, this "game", or sampler disc contained a playable demo of Tyoushin Heiki Zeroigar...or better known as Super God Trooper Zeroigar. 

(click on the images for a larger view)


This game is (sadly) the only shmup released on the PC-FX. I've been dying to play it ever since I learned of it's existence. One day my eBay search for the sampler finally yielded a result so I pulled the trigger on this disc only release. Jon said he thought he could help me out, but I needed to supply him with the cover and back. I did several Google image searches and finally found what I needed. The cover/booklet had a vertical orientation, which was different, but ultimately proved no problem for Jon to print up. He did a great job creating this jewel case for me, including the spine. I know some people don't care how a game looks on the shelf, but I could stand just having a naked case for this disc.

After I had got the ball rolling on this one, I started to wonder if Jon could make a reproduction of the actual Zeroigar game. After several DMs on Facebook and sending him a few more images, he was able to create a reproduction for me. The first one used an English patch of the game and unfortunately it was a little glitchy, so he quickly offered to send me another disc. This one played perfectly. Check out the great job he did with both the case and the disc art.

I had no idea that Jon was going to also make the spine sleeve for the game. This was a very nice treat to receive! If you've never played the game, there are a lot of anime style cut scenes that advance the story of the game. The first time I played I watched most of the scenes as it's interesting, but since I ended up w/ the original version w/ Japanese dialog I couldn't really figure out what was going on. The gameplay itself is above average. It isn't nearly as good as some vertical scrolling shmups I play on the system's predecessor, but it isn't bad. I'm so glad to own this because I just didn't see myself dropping $200 USD on this game.

While Jon and I exchanged messages via Facebook regarding these two projects, I also asked him about one other...Zenki. Yes, the fabled, super expensive side scrolling beat 'em up. Now that I had given Jon some practice w/ PC-FX games he thought he could tackle this project as well. Unlike Zeroigar that came packaged in a standard jewel case, Zenki was released in one of Hudson's larger overized clamshell type cases. I just happened to have a donor game (Angelique Special) so I gutted the case and put the game, manual and insert aside and awaited for my package to come. Jon did a great job making sure the insert he printed up wouldn't be damaged in transit. Once I assembled the packaging, I was amazed. Jon did a great job recreating the insert...of course with a few small changes here and there to denote it was a reproduction.

I'm not sure why Hudson used these larger cases for some of the PC-FX library of games, but I personally love them. It gives you that Neo Geo like feel and they look beautiful on your gaming shelf. The game is really fun to play and I do plan on doing my own review for the blog at some point. I highly recommend you head over to Jon's Etsy store, Mega Box Reproductions and order your own copies of these two highly sought out, English friendly, expensive games. Yeah it would be cool to brag that I owned the originals, but at the end of the day I do like to play games and this is a great way to do that.

Mega Box Reproductions also offers more than just what I have shown. Since he made these for me he as also branched out in to Sega Saturn games. There are several expensive shumps I'd like to try eventually. I have purchased a few PC Engine reproductions he's made and just like the work he did on these PC-FX games, the PCE games are just as beautiful and play perfectly.

(click on the images for a larger view)

I haven't spent as much time w/ Fray CD as I would like, but so far it's a fun game and I've enjoyed what I've played. Beautiful packaging. I particular love how be makes the spines blend in with other Super CD-Rom 2 games.

I love this Macross game. A side scrolling shmup, this one I sat and played for about an hour the day it arrived in the mail. Colorful images, beautiful packaging, including the disc art. 

As you can see Jon Stover does some BEAUTIFUL work with his NEC reproductions. While Fray CD or Macross aren't that difficult to find and the prices of the originals aren't out of reach for some, I can't recommend him enough for the PC-FX reproductions be made. If you have the console and you can't speak/read Japanese then surely you are like me and limited with the games you can actually play and enjoy. Zeroigar and Zenki are both great games that unless you have a lot of expendable income, won't be playing anytime soon...unless you head over to his shop and place your order today.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Transformers: The Headmasters

Transformers: The Headmasters
Takara (1987)

If you follow my toy blog then you'll know I'm a pretty big fan and collector of Transformers. When I first learned that there was a Transformers game released for the Nintendo Famicom I was beside myself. Then I played the game. Let's just say it's easily one of the worse video games I've ever played. Even this Transformers fan can't make excuses to enjoy the game...even though I wanted to like it.

If Takara didn't learn their lesson with their first Transformers Famicom effort, The Mystery of Comvoy, they tried again. This time however they released a game on Nintendo's Famicom Disk System and went with the Headmasters theme.

The game looks and plays a lot like the original, but this time you control Rodimus Prime instead of Ultra Magnus. The game does let you choose which planet (level) you'd like to play. I remember you had Cybertron, Earth and a few other planets to choose from, but if I'm being honest the game is so bad it doesn't matter which planet you go to as they all leave a lot to be desired.

If there are any redeeming qualities for this game over The Mystery on Comvoy, it's that you have a health meter. No more one hit kills. You also get to play as the other Autobots that you rescue and being that it's a Disk game you can save at certain points in the game. Of course these redeeming qualities only come into play if you can make it anywhere in the actual game! Just like it's predecessor, this game is tough as nails and pretty unforgiving. This is one of those games that'll make you want to hurl your controller across the room in frustration.

After about 10 minutes I had to call it quits. When a game is so difficult that you can't make any progress it just sucks out all the fun. I tried and tried and tried. I really wanted to like this game, but I just can't recommend it at all. Maybe as a display piece if you're a Transformers fan (it isn't the easiest game to come across), but if you are just a fan of video games all I can say is stay away, very far away! If you want to play a good Transformers video game, my recommendation is the Playstation 2 "Armada" game or the War for Cybertron games on the PS3/Xbox 360.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Asheville Pinball Museum - Asheville, NC

Tucked away in downtown Asheville, NC is a very cool place that all pinball and video game enthusiasts must check out for themselves at one point or another, the Ashevlle Pinball Museum. Inside this building you'll find vintage pinball tables going back to the 40's all the way up to more modern tables. In the back you'll find two different rooms full of vintage arcade cabinets. There is also a bar if you get thirsty. Best of all, it's only $15 per adult for unlimited play!

This section of downtown Asheville is a little more upscale than I would have thought it'd be. Perhaps this is why this "arcade" is called a museum, so the city would allow it to be downtown. Don't get me wrong, there is a bit of preservation and history going on inside too. Above each pinball table is a small sign that gives you some history. 

When you first walk in you are greated to a little seating area right in the middle. Opposite are a bunch of classic tables from the 40's. These were just for display purposes. Many of these tables are so old that I imagine finding replacment parts is next to impossible.

 Arlington - 1937

The oldest machine in the museum, this one had a framed article that accompanied the table with some interesting information that I never knew.


 Humpty Dumpty - 1947

 Marjorie - 1947

 Select-A-Card - 1950

Yacht Club - 1953

Four Million B.C. - 1971

 Sonic Mars Trek - 1977

Star Battle - 1978

On each side of the room were several tables lined up side by side for your enjoyment. On the left side of the room, the right side had several older tables that were set up for free play. I particularly found Buccaneer and Wizard! to the really fun.

King of Diamonds - 1967

Nip-It - 1973

Air Aces - 1974

Sky Kings - 1974

Wizard! - 1975

The card above this machine mentioned that Fonzy played this table on early episodes of Happy Days, even though the machine wasn't released in the mid 70's and the show took place in the 50's.

Capt. Fantastic - 1976

Opposite the 60's/70's tables were a collection of tables from the 80's/90's. This is where I started my journey around the room. The Creature from the Black Lagoon and High-Speed were my favorites in this section. The Twilight Zone was cool, but it was hard to follow as your ball would "disappear" on the table, only to shoot out from another area you weren't expecting it to come from. The Terminator table was cool, however the physics seemed off. The ball would jump all over the table. At times when I was playing the ball would hit the plexi-glass on the top of the table!

Space Invaders - 1980

This table was much wider than the others on the side aisle. Based on the same coin-op franchise, I thought this would be a great table to play. Sadly it failed to capture my attention and was hard to finish out one game. Next.

High-Speed - 1986

My first exposure to this pinball title was actually on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). I love the sound of the squeeling tires peeling out as you launch the ball. This table had some of the best sound effects, in my opinion, of all the tables in the room.

Taxi - 1988

I may not have watched much of the television show this table was based on, however I found it to be a pretty entertaining table.

 Terminator 2: Judgement Day - 1991

Creature from the Black Lagoon - 1992

Fish Tales - 1992

Twilight Zone - 1993

Across the front of the museum were a few more tables. Iron Man, based on the first two movies of the Marvel Comics character was located in the corner. It proved to be a popular table as one woman had to sit there and play it for at least 30 minutes straight. Once I got a chance to play, I was a little disappointed. It wasn't a bad table, just wasn't as good as I hoped. Thankfully some of the other Marvel based tables didn't disappoint.

Xenon - 1980

 Cyclone - 1988

Iron Man - 2013

The right side of the room had some of the best and newest tables to choose from, however there were a few older machines worked into the mix. X-Men by far was my favorite on this side, followed by the modern KISS table and Ghostbusters.

Pitch & Bat

This was an interesting game. I can't remember what year it was released, but you got to chose the pitch and then swing the bat ala pinball. I was horrible at it, but some younger kid kept coming back to this table time and time again while I was on that side of the museum and was much, much better than me!

Hercules - 1979

This table is pretty rare as only 200 tables were made. It was currently down for repair on my visit, but I overheard one of the workers tell someone that they hoped to have it operational again very soon. This machine was much larger than most of the tables and looked to be a lot of fun. I wished I would've been able to play it.

 Silverball Mania - 1978

When I first saw this game and is lavish, silver artwork I thought it was a table based on the cosmic Marvel character, the Silver Surfer. Turns out that I wasn't that far off according to the sign above the machine.

Back to the Future - 1990

Michael J. Fox didn't want his likeness used in the game, so the artist had to render the Marty McFly character on the marquee and on the table to resemble his son! This was a fun table, but I didn't get to play it as much as I would have liked as it was popular with many people there during my visit.

Cactus Jack's - 1991

Bram Stoker's Dracula - 1993

 X-Men - 2012

X-Men was one of my favorite tables to choose from. It had multiple levels and paths for the ball to travel and on many occassions I found myself having to keep up with 3 or 4 balls at the same time.

Metallica - 2013

It was really loud in the museum so it was hard to tell if this Metallica table was playing the band's music. I'm not a fan of the band so I didn't find this table to be as entertaining as another legendary rock band's table.

Ghostbusters - 2016

One of the more popular tables in the museum was no doubt Ghostbusters. My wife enjoyed this table too. At one point she scored a certain point level were the table let out this blood schrilling scream that startled her! I later heard it as I was playing the X-Men and I couldn't believe how loud it was.

Opposite Dracula and Back to the Future were three MAME machines. Each cabinet had the monitor set up in vertical orientation and contained a lot of different games. There were a ton of different Pinball FX tables, but oddly enough there were also several shooters (shmups) to play. Too bad the joysticks just weren't responsive enough to really enjoy these games.

The front corner of the museum featured a few machines that always seemed crowed. I had to constantly wait for these tables to open up for a change to play.

The Incredible Hulk - 1979

This table looked awesome, but wasn't as much fun to play as I hoped. It's noted for being the first super hero themed pinball table.

KISS - 1979

KISS has never shyed away from marketing themselves on just about anything. This appears to be one of the first pinball machines that featured their likeness. It was a fun table to play, but couldn't hold a candle to the more modern version.

Haunted House - 1982

My first first discovered this game and couldn't wait for me to try it out. This was the only table that had 3 layers of table. The ball once launched would end up in a small graveyard like area. There was one small flipper in this area. Once the ball dropped out, it would go down to the 3rd and bottom layer. Here the table was reversed and the flippers were at the top of the table. If you missed, the ball would then come up to the main level where you had 4 flippers to control. Keep in mind you had two sets of flipper buttons on the side of the machine so remembering which button operated which level's flippers could be trying at times!

KISS - 2015

If X-Men wasn't my favorite, this more modern KISS table would be it. After you start you game and before you launch the ball, you can use the flippers to select the song you want to play. Detroit Rock City, Rock 'n Roll All Night, Shout It Out Loud and many others could be chosen. This made the table that much more enjoyable, at least to me. Funny how I knew more KISS songs than I thought after playing this table multiple times.

 Checkpoint - 1991

Game of Thrones - 2015

These two tables were wedged in on the right side of the museum. Checkpoint was one of the few tables I saw that wasn't from Bally, Stern or Midway, but from the now defunct company Data East. This table had several features that I didn't see anywhere else. Instead of a simple start button, you had a car key to turn to start the game. While you played, the table would vibrate and shake as lights would go off all over the table. It was a cool feature, but a little distracting at times.

 Star Trek - 1978

Doctor Who - 1992

Star Trek: The Next Generation - 1993

The only machines that I didn't get around to playing were these three that were in the front left corner of the museum, near the bar. I'm not a fan of either Doctor Who or Star Trek so I didn't feel too bad not giving them a try.

If pinball wasn't your cup of tea, there are two rooms in the back that house several different vintage arcade cabinets. I believe every game is in it's original cabinet, or at least has the original graphics on the side of the cabinet. I found this to be visually appealing to my eyes. 

The first room several games, such as Crystal Castles, Defender, Frogger, Q-Bert, Tron, Dig Dug, Pole Position and Joust to name a few.

The far back room had some great games and is the area I spent the most time (between these two rooms). My wife and I played Area 51 all the way through to the end. I also enjoyed playing Time Pilot and Commando. There was a cocktail table Ms. Pac-Man that I played with my wife. I was surprised at how well I did considering I haven't played Ms. Pac-Man in the arcade in a very long time. Right before my wife and I left, I played one last round of the X-Men pinball. While I was playing this little kid came up and asked me if I knew what Street Fighter was. I said "yeah". He then asked if I was any good. I said "well it's been a long time since I've played". He then asked if I'd play him. I went to the back and we fired up a two player game. We played probably 10 rounds and I won 8 of them. Mind you this was the non-Turbo edition of the game so pulling off moves was tougher than I thought it should've been. We talked about games and such since he liked fighters. I asked him if he had a Sega Saturn or Dreamcast and he uttered at the top of his lungs "I wish!" Then he said, "those are old" (pauses and looks at me) and said "how old are you?!"

I was quite shocked to see this Konami classic in the corner. I still can't fathom why a port of Aliens never made it to home consoles in the 90's. This run and gun game was a lot of fun to play, however being an arcade game that is meant to eat quarter after quarter you have to be prepared for a tough challenge.

At some point during our 4 hour visit to the Pinball Museum, my wife headed to the ladies room. When she came back she couldn't wait to show me the decor inside the restroom. Wonder Woman adorned the walls and there was even a small pinball table there. Not sure if it was playable. 

Overall this was an excellent afternoon I spent with my wife. We both got a lot of enjoyment out of our visit and we definately got our money's worth in our opinion. I don't know how often they change out the tables or arcade machines in the museum, but I wouldn't hesitate to pay them another visit at all. The staff was very nice and you could tell they took pride in keeping the equipment in top condition. If you are a fan of pinball and vintage arcade games I don't see how you couldn't enjoy a visit to the Asheville Pinball Museum. Once your done playing and you've worked up an appettite, there are plenty of great places within walking distance to grab a bite to eat or get a drink. Look them up on Facebook if you want more information.