Raimais (Taito, 1988)

(Updated 5-5-17)

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!

soghrika

Mspaint Rika and Organizer by Ant.

raimais_web

Art by Nina Matsumoto

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

Special Thanks to: Zekuu, Ant, Tom James, mauve

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

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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