Extra Credits: Youmais

Wow, has it really been a year since I wrote an absurd amount of text about Raimais? Well, I guess it’s time to finally get to the last bit that I’ve been putting off.

Ohhhh boy.

In 1988, the PC Engine’s base wasn’t quite there yet, the MegaDrive was on the cusp of launching, and the Super Famicom was still a ways off. However, the Famicom, and to a lesser extent the FDS, were going very strong. It made sense financially for companies to port their arcade games to the FC… even if the platform couldn’t do anything close to an accurate port.

There were several approaches taken to dealing with the FC’s lack of arcade horsepower. Some developers tried to port as much of the gameplay and graphics as they possibly could, aware that cuts and compromises were inevitable. Other developers took the arcade game as a base, but heavily rearranged and added things to the game to make for a similar — but different — experience. Finally, there were the ports that threw out everything except the concepts and characters, making completely different games that just happened to have the same title as popular arcade titles.

Taito was a big fan of option B. They did a lot of ports of arcade games to the Famicom Disk System that had notable, distinct differences from their arcade originals. Most folks are aware of Bubble Bobble and Kikikaikai’s FDS incarnations, but few are aware that Raimais got this treatment as well — probably because it’s under a different name: Youmais, or Yuu Maze if you go from a straight kanji/kana reading.

No, seriously, though — calling it Yuu Maze is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. It says Youmais right there on the menu, and it’s a Raimais reinterpretation! Have you people even heard of ateji?

Unfortunately, Yuu Maze is the title you’re more likely to find this game listed under in English, though I steadfastly refuse to use that. It’s Youmais or nothing, and I’m sticking to it. Fight me, nerds.

ANYWAY. Youmais is fundamentally similar to Raimais in its premise and underlying gameplay. There are numerous differences between the two titles, however, and I’ll get to those in more detail shortly. But the biggest difference is how aggressively mediocre Youmais is.

If you’re wondering why it’s taken me so long to write about this game, it’s because playing it feels like a genuine chore while knowing how much better Raimais is. I decided a few weeks ago I was finally going to suck it up and get this written, when suddenly, I was made aware of pure propaganda claiming Youmais is a mindblowing revelation on a FDS disk.

Well, as self-proclaimed Number One Biggest Raimais Fan On-Line, I can’t let that stand unchallenged, now can I? So come with me as we take a look at how Youmais compares to its big sister. (Spoilers: not well.)

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Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders: The Epic Journey from F2P Hell

I think anyone who follows this site knows that I’m something of perfectionist: when I don’t have any editorial constraints, I’m the sort of person who will nitpick at something until it comes out just right. Sometimes, I feel like a piece is perfect almost from the get-go. Other times, well, it takes a while before I can mold a piece of writing into something I’m satisfied publishing. A lot of the stuff I cover here doesn’t see a lot of attention anywhere else, after all, and I want those folks who come here from a Google search on obscure gaming subjects to walk away feeling completely satisfied. So when I write a big ol’ piece about Raimais or MC Hammer’s video game influence or weird as hell Virtua Fighter OVAs, I want it to be really, really good.

So when Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders originally came and went as a Japanese-exclusive F2P mobile game, I wanted to write a lot about it. I would be the only person memorializing this odd little game chock-full of Taito fanservice in English, after all, and it would be my duty to preserve a little piece of gaming history most others would overlook. I’d done something similar for Bubblen March, another Taito F2P game that died suddenly months after I wrote about it, but in this case, I wanted to do it better.

Unfortunately, my perfectionistic tendencies kicked into overdrive, and while I poked away at it for months on end, I never really felt satisfied with the piece as a memorial. I was the sole person enshrining this game’s memory, dammit, I had to do the best job I could, and I would have rather not posted anything at all than posted something I wasn’t happy with.

But then a funny thing happened: out of nowhere, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders was reborn as a global paid app on iOS and Android. For about $5, you can play the game with no further strings attached.

It was a weird relief: I didn’t have to hold myself responsible for preserving the game’s memory outside of Japan, because now it not only existed again, but was available in roughly a dozen different languages. It’s received a fair bit of word-of-mouth and good initial reception, too. However, I still think there’s something to be looked at here, since many of the people now playing the game didn’t have an opportunity to see how the game was transformed in its unlikely revival.

I think it’s finally time to sit down and talk about Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders.

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Raimais (Taito, 1988)

(Updated 8-29-17)

Raimais is a special game to me.

A constant throughout my life is loving the hell out of games that few other folks seem to. No, I’m not talking about kusoge, here – I’m talking about games that are actually good, but which are unknown and unpopular. Case in point: my enduring love affair with Fighting Vipers 2.

That’s far from the only obscurity that really stokes the flames of burning game love within me, however. Over the years, I’ve come to have a deep appreciation for Taito’s late-80s and early-90s catalog, with a few titles in particular standing out as treasures that have gone most unrecognized by even devoted retro fans. But while one of my favorite lesser-known games, Night Striker, has seen a recent resurgence in popularity — well, in Japan, anyway — there’s another Taito title that wormed its way into my heart that remains mostly buried in their sprawling back catalog: a little game called Raimais.

Raimais, at first glance, doesn’t seem like the sort of game somebody would develop a deep affection for. It looks like a fairly standard-issue dot collection maze game  — a genre that had mostly fallen out of favor when the game hit in 1988 and seems even more dated now. But there’s a lot about this game that’s interesting, from how it aims to modernize one of the earliest gaming formulas to its rather unusual-for-the-time cutscenes and surprise ending… along with how its tendrils crept into another Taito title we’ve covered on this site. Not to mention its strange console offshoot…

Yeah, there’s a lot to cover here. So much, in fact, that I’ve actually had to separate this into several smaller pages. (Yes, the biggest article on gaming.moe so far is for a Taito obscurity that even Japanese players don’t discuss much. Is that really a surprise?) So, without further ado, let’s brave the labyrinth!


Rika and Organizer by Ashley Riot

soghrika

Mspaint Rika and Organizer by Ant.

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Art by Nina Matsumoto

Art by Hayame

Art by Keeterz

Send me more Rika fanart! I’ll post it here!

Special Thanks to: Zekuu, Ant, Tom James, mauve, Suddendesu, mountainmanjed, and Mark J

Interview: Hisayoshi Ogura of Ogura Hisayoshi Ongaseisakushow and Taito/ZUNTATA

(日本語版はここです。) La traduction française est ici.

One of the biggest names in classic game music – and one that persists to this day – is Taito’s house band/music production arm, Zuntata. Among the many storied composers who have worked for Zuntata over the decades is Hisayoshi Ogura, known to fans of the group as OGR. Ogura and his avant-garde game music was crucial in establishing Zuntata as one of the pioneers of arcade sound design with soundtracks like the Darius series, Ninja Warriors, The Legend of Kage, and Galactic Storm.

I’ve been a huge fan of Ogura’s work for a very long time, and I’m elated to finally have the opportunity to talk with him about his amazing body of work and present it to readers. Ogura’s compositions don’t get quite as much admiration in North America as they do in Japan and Europe, and I hope by bringing awareness to his work through this interview that more people will listen to his amazing classic game music. (To that end, I’ve included links to iTunes and Amazon music stores in places to help facilitate the acquisition of soundtracks he’s worked on!)

Very special thanks to Zekuu for helping to arrange this interview, along with Jason Moses and Feelwright and Co. for helping with translation/editing.

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Arcade Road Trip: Grinkers Grand Palace (Eagle, Idaho)

I’ve mentioned Game Center CX more than a few times in my writing, and for good reason – it’s a fantastic show that everyone who enjoys older games will appreciate. But while the most popular segment of the program among most fans is the Arino’s Challenge portions, I personally enjoy the “Tama-ge” bits a lot more. In these parts of the show, Arino travels to visit various arcades, large and small, across Japan. It’s a wonderful combination of travelogue and nostalgia, showcasing the (sometimes very odd) places where arcades turn up, the games and atmosphere that make that particular arcade experience interesting, and the people who maintain these game centers. It’s both inspiring and a bit depressing, as the number of mom-and-pop arcades in Japan has been plummeting over the last decade. Oftentimes, it feels like Arino’s travels are an attempt to encourage people to help preserve a dying cultural institution (the segment’s title means “You should visit this game center sometime”).

When I was a teenager, I used to love doing what Arino did during my family’s trips across the country – looking up arcades in the area, visiting them, and seeing what they had to offer. (I was especially devoted to this when Virtua Fighter 3 was really, really hard to find in North America outside certain urban areas – my hunts were often targeted towards finding that particular game.) Nowadays, this is hard to do, because the state of Western arcades is utterly miserable. Most arcades these days – the ones that are still around, anyway – are parts of massive “entertainment centers” that make far more off of redemption games than dedicated video cabinets, and what they do have for games is often old and suffering from disrepair. But there are enthusiasts out there trying to find ways to preserve the more traditional, video-game-focused arcade experience: one of the more popular modern concepts is the “barcade,” a combination of pub/eatery and retrogaming arcade catering to an older clientele.

Generally, most of my experiences with said “barcades”1 have been kinda blah – the alcohol part doesn’t do much for me since I’m one of those irritating teetotalers, and the game selection is generally pretty similar across many of these establishments: Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, a bunch of Donkey Kongs, some Space Invaders, probably a Tapper or two to fit the bar theme, Robotron 2064, and a Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat to get some 90s kid cred. These are good and all, but they’re also pretty easy to find. What I’m interested in are titles that you don’t see everyday, particularly Japanese games from the mid-late 80s – stuff that came out after the crash-correction of the Western video game market in the earlier part of the decade and is considerably less common as a result.

I discovered one such arcade on a recent trip. While I spent most of my life in Iowa, my parents retired to the Boise area in Idaho a couple years ago, so I went to visit my parents there over Mother’s Day weekend. My dad suggested stopping by a few arcades while I was there, and one of them was a place called the Grinkers Grand Palace in the Boise suburb of Eagle. It’s nestled into a corner of a strip-shopping center that doesn’t look like the kind of place that would host a bar-arcade. When I stepped inside, however, I knew I had found someplace very special. So today, I’m going to imitate our beloved Kacho Arino and tell you: you should go to Grinkers sometime!

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  1. Note that I’m referring to the “barcade” as a concept – there is an actual chain of these sorts of places called Barcade in the NYC area, which I hear are pretty awesome. Don’t confuse the two!

Japanese Free-to-Play Hell: Bubblen March

My dear sister recently moved into a new job out of the country, and bequeathed unto me her iPhone. Up until that point, I’d been using Android phones, and while I still prefer the Android OS as a whole, one of the big things that iOS offers is ease of switching between music/app store territories. Just make a new Apple ID account, throw in a random overseas address, and BAM! You have a new account in whatever country you please, and can download pretty much anything from their stores. Actually paying for said apps and music is another story, since you’ll need someone to buy you iTunes cards from that territory, but there’s still ample free apps for you to grab if you don’t want to go through the trouble.

As we’re well aware, Japan’s mobile gaming industry has eagerly embraced the free-to-play model, and being the brave soul that I am, I’m trying to wade through that muck in the iOS app store and see if any free-to-play spinoffs of beloved franchises getting  are actually worth a damn. Yes, a lot of free-to-play games are garbage, and I say that having defended the model as not completely terrible: It’s all about implementing it correctly, in a way that makes the player feel satisfied, not strongarmed, to spend money on a service. Taito’s shown that they can do that well with Groove Coaster Zero, a fantastic free-to-play music game that offers numerous tracks as paid expansions. I’d recently seen a few of their upcoming mobile game announcements: a Wizardry roguelike, Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders (it kills me that this isn’t out yet), and a match-3 puzzler called Bubblen March. Being the Bubble Bobble nerd that I am, Bubblen March immediately caught my attention, and it wasn’t long before it was sitting on my iPhone’s app set.

I’ve been playing for a couple weeks now, and my feelings towards Bubblen March are… complicated, to say the least.

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Syvalion Extra Credits: Sybubblun for X68000

bbx68k

While consoles were the dominant forms of at-home gaming in Japan, proprietary personal computers were also quite popular amongst the more tech-inclined and older players (in other words, people who could afford them). Before Windows and MacOS became the standard systems most folks across the globe used, Japan had a whole mess of fragmented PC platforms from manufacturers like Sharp, Fujitsu, and NEC. I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on old Japanese PCs – it’s an area of gaming I’m still actively learning about and researching, but when I find interesting things about the systems and the games they played host to, I definitely want to share.

One such thing involves the port of Bubble Bobble for the Sharp X68000, a platform that played host to both a lot of amazing arcade ports and original titles. Bubble Bobble is an example of the former, a practically arcade perfect transplant which had creator Fukio “MTJ” Mitsuji himself aiding in the port.

The porting team at DEMPA didn’t stop there, however. With MTJ’s aid, they added a hidden “expert mode” with 20 brand-new levels… and a facelift connected to one of MTJ’s other titles.

Thus, Syvalion and Bubble Bobble had a beautiful crossover baby, and they named it…

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Syvalion (Taito, arcade, 1988)

The first thing I said to myself when getting this site up and running was “oh boy, I can’t friggin’ WAIT to talk about old Japanese Taito games!” And the first of said Taito games I want to look at is one that is oft overlooked in the West: Syvalion.

Syvalion

Syvalion was another creation of the late Fukio “MTJ” Mitsuji, who is perhaps best known for Bubble Bobble but was responsible for numerous Taito masterpieces (though personally, I’ll confess to wanting to like Rainbow Islands a lot more than I actually do like it). Syvalion is the third game by the Taito “Bubble Team” and considered another one of MTJ’s great works.

You’ll be hard pressed to see any affection for it outside of Japan, though. Syvalion doesn’t seem to have received any international releases, though a prototype “world” set of ROMs for use with MAME is floating about online. This is the only English version available, though the localization is… rough, to say the least. (So about par for the course for Taito arcade titles of this era.) It’s a truly fascinating game, though, so a closer look is certainly in order! Continue reading