Sunday, June 2, 2019

Vib Ribbon Press Kit - full disc contents!


So, a few years ago I made a post about a Vib Ribbon press kit I found by chance on ebay around 2003. I posted the most interesting things (a lot of fun key art of the characters) but left a few things out (also, the single photo I took was terrible).

Three years later and there's still almost no information about this kit online! Most of the search results just point back to my blog. After digging through the CD more I found an interview with Masaya Matsuura, the designer of Parappa the Rapper and Vib Ribbon. A quick online search of some of the text shows that this interview doesn't appear to exist at all on the internet..so, I feel that in the interest of preserving the CULTURE it's my duty to put this information up for everyone to see.

Most of the more interesting images are on my previous post, but at the end of the article I'll link you to a dump of the entire disc!

The Game



First thing we have in the collection is a copy of the game itself. I was really hoping that it'd be a unique disc design or have something new in the game itself, but it appears to be identical in design and content to the final PAL release.

There is an alternate demo version of the game that has a specific option for playing a stage with music by DJ Cam (a musician who did a promotional collaboration with the game) if you have a copy of the PAL PS1 "Registered Users Demo 08" disc, however. This is just the normal game though!

DJ Cam Loa Project Meets Vib Ribbon



This CD includes an eclectic mix of music from DJ Cam, running the gamut from jazz funk to reggae. Track 5 is a song specifically made to be played in Vib Ribbon, but to be honest it doesn't feel like Vib Ribbon to me at all and this music just isn't my kind of thing. The other four tracks are easy enough to find on Youtube.

However! Because Track 5 doesn't seem to exist online AT ALL (other than on one or two gameplay videos), here's a direct CD rip for you to enjoy.



Press Information August 2000



Here's where the interesting stuff is.


Photos and interview with director, Masaya Matsuura





In addition to several promotional photos, the press disc includes a couple of text files with a Vib Ribbon press release and a short Q&A with Masaya Matsuura. I'll post a link to the entire interview at the end of this article, but here's a snippet:

-----------------------------

Q.    Where does vibri come from?

A.   If we were to say that the world of digital data has dimension just like that of ours, vibri would be a character who accidentally popped out from the digital world and into ours.

All digital data, whether it be an image, sound, or program, is similar in that they take the form of data in 0s and 1s.  We human beings can decode data by using programs to show them as sound or images, but vibri on the other hand, decodes and recognizes the data in different ways.  Therefore, particular changes or transformation in the music would, for example, translate into obstacles for vibri while taking a walk.  This would be the sort of underlying concept for vibri.

-----------------------------

The interview also talks about Matsuura's original vision for the game, the reason his company is named NanaOn-Sha, and insights into the creation of the soundtrack!


Key Artwork

This is the most fun part of the disc. As before, all of this art will be be provided in a link at the end of the article but here are a couple selections!




Work-In-Progress Cover Art


This image had its own folder in the disc as well. It says "WORK IN PROGRESS" but from my comparisons it seems to be identical to the final PAL cover art.

Full disc dump:




If you're still reading, you're interested enough in this piece of Vib Ribbon history that you probably want to see the rest right? It's my pleasure to provide it here; there are a few more odds and ends on the disc that I didn't mention above. Enjoy!


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Hudson Soft's original Caravan trilogy

Hudson's All-Japan Caravan Festival...a legendary series of competitions held yearly throughout the 80's and 90s. It was established at the height of the shoot-em-up's popularity, and this shows in the lineup. Before Bomberman became the face of Hudson, the first three years of the competition revolved around the Famicom shooters Star Force, Star Soldier and Hector '87 (known in the west as Starship Hector). Here's a little history lesson!



Star Force (1985 Tehkan)

While not the first autoscrolling shootemup (that honor I believe goes to Konami's Scramble in 1981), it's definitely one of early influencers on the genre.

Star Force is often spoken of in the same breath as 1986's Hudson's Star Soldier, and for good reason; however, Star Force was originally developed by a completely different company called Tehkan (better known later as Tecmo, and currently known as Koei Tecmo). Hudson ported Tehkan's arcade original to the Famicom a year after its release, and while Tehkan later went its own way with Star Force 2, Hudson took several cues from the original and made history with the Soldier series.

 

I think Star Force probably gets short shrift in the face of its more famous spiritual sequel, but there's still a good time to be had with even such a simple game. Compared to more sedate contemporaries like Namco's Super Xevious, both the player and enemies feel zippier with the ability to fire as fast as you could press the button (when closer to the top of the screen at least; when at the bottom, the number of onscreen shots was limited). It was also known for having an impressive 22 different enemy types, each with their own pattern of movement. The simple controls and satisfying explosion sounds make this game hold up surprisingly well!



Star Soldier (1986 Hudson)

With Star Soldier, Hudson built upon the earlier Star Force formula and made the game its own. Functionally very similar to the previous game with one very unwelcome (in my opinion) addition: the ability to fly beneath the terrain, rendering the player invincible but unable to attack. I think there's a simple trick to doing this at will, but more likely you'll be doing it on accident at the worst possible times.

Star Soldier keeps the large enemy variety and large bosses, while rewarding the player with not just two (as in Star Force), but four levels of shot power. Fully powering up your ship and being able to autofire in all directions is still fun.


Star Soldier is the most famous subject of Hudson's Caravan competitions (until Bomberman took over, that is) and was the game that cemented the legendary reputation of Toshiyuki Takahashi, a Hudson employee also known as Takahashi Meijin, or "Master Takahashi" for his ability to supposedly fire 16 times per second. Takahashi Meijin is an interesting story that I won't go into here, but look him up!



Hector '87 (1987 Hudson)

This is the one they don't talk about so much. In some ways Hector '87 seems like a step back from the previous game; the graphics are improved and stages alternate between vertically and horizontally scrolling a la Konami's Life Force, but the pacing feels slightly sedate and the player's ship design is decidedly un-hype, leading to a less compelling overall package. Although the player feels more sluggish, enemy attacks are severely increased! Thankfully you have a health bar now (which honestly is the weirdest thing about this game).

One interesting choice is Hudson's decision to give the player a standard shot and a bomb to hit ground enemies, just like Xevious. However, they also did away with weapon power-ups entirely, which...sucks.


In Hector '87's favor, however, the game allows players to choose 2 or 5 minute "caravan mode" from the title screen, making it even easier to practice for competition.


After Hector '87, Hudson would move the Caravan onto the PC Engine console. Other than 1988's Power League baseball game, the Caravan would continue to revolve around shooters for quite a while longer, including the excellent Final Soldier (for my money the best in the Soldier series).

If you want to try some no frills retro shooting, give the original trilogy a try!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

I'm glad Namco stopped making their cover art like this

Absolutely nobody: "..."
Mid-90's Namco:




Here's something I've never seen anybody talk about: In the young days of the North American PS1, Namco came out kicking by releasing ports of their early-90s arcade games. Can you detect the subtle pattern in the cover art*?

Yes, like Nintendo's celebrated "Black Box" launch titles and Capcoms "gridline screensaver" cover art, it seems like Namco was angling to establish a House Style for their western releases. While "Terrified Person Wearing Headgear while tiny renders of in-game vehicles float in their eyeballs" doesn't exactly explain to me what the game is about, you knew you were getting a Namco product when you saw it.

guys.....you good??

However, concurrent with these releases were other Namco games (such as Tekken and Air Combat) that did not follow this short lived trend, and after the release of Starblade Alpha in late April 1996 Namco seems to have abandoned it entirely. In fact, Ridge Racer only used this cover in the version of the game that came bundled with the Playstation console; subsequent standalone releases had the standard car cover.

Perhaps Namco quickly saw how limiting the style was and how little it did to actually market the game to potential buyers? Pehaps the plan all along was to have only these three games share a similar cover, but what would tie them together? Other games like Air Combat would have been a perfect candidate for Man In Helmet style.**


Contemporary games that used more descriptive cover art

This is just a bit of ephemera that other Namco maniacs might find interesting. Fortunately for them (and us, those covers are freaking me out), as far as I know they stopped using this style after those three games....HEY WAIT A SECOND



*actually, the helmet man on the Starblade Alpha cover art was only used on the manual, while the actual box art was a more conventional image of the GeoSword ship. I guess at that point they were phasing out the concept, but wanted to keep it there in some capacity?

**UPDATE! Remember how I said that Air Combat should have used this style of cover art? Turns out the hid it on there too; Ian on Twitter let me know that even Air Combat uses the Helmet Man...but only on the back of the manual and case.



Thanks for the tip Ian! Now I'm going to have to dig and see how many more of these they made...

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Zombie Revenge (Dreamcast, 1999)

**Hey guys; as expected, I missed ANOTHER October Horror Games month! I've been busy lately, what with moving 1600 miles across the country to start a new job at a game studio in California. I do plan on finishing these though! Stay tuned.**



Known mostly its over the top horror atmosphere, location-specific enemy damage and absolutely ludicrous voice acting, HotD is one of the elder statesmen of the light-gun genre. Think of it as a good version of Crypt Killer (does anyone besides me think about Crypt Killer?). Most of the franchise plays it straight; move through a variety of locations on rails, clowning on zombies and mutants with a fun and satisfying selection of firearms. Every one of the light games absolutely rules.

However, once in a while Sega likes to mix it up and we'll get a strange spinoff title such as the The Typing of the Dead, The Pinball of the Dead, the odd minigame collection (featuring two zombies in love!) House of the Dead EX, and today's exhibit, 1999's Naomi/Dreamcast title Zombie Revenge.

There's still a whole lot of shooting for a beatemup

The game is full of setpieces and novel situations, like this deathtrap room

Unfortunately, Zombie Revenge is the weakest spinoff of the franchise. The light-gun theme (and first-person viewpoint) is dropped in favor of a beat-em-up style of gameplay similar to Sega's own Dynamite Cop, released the previous year. Control the excellently named Stick Breitling (the standard man character), Linda Rotta (the standard woman character) or Rikiya Busujima (a ki wielding force of nature who resembles a 1970's Japanese crime movie archetype, specifically actor Yusaku Matsuda) and prevent the confusion in the city during a zombie outbreak.

Per the HotD Wiki, Zombie Revenge was originally titled Blood Bullet: The House of the Dead Side Story and Zombies Nightmare, two way cooler names.

Is it good?
Zombie Revenge is a sharp looking game, with detailed character models and decent looking environments (mainly grimy urban areas) and a few sick boss designs. There's even a stage in the latter part of the game where you revisit Curien mansion from HotD 1, complete with the classic stage 1 theme and the iconic run through the mansion courtyard!

Disappointingly, the bosses do not follow the trend of being named after tarot cards here, other than our pal Magician

WE HAVE GUNS NOW

There are lots of arcade style gimmicks, such as rescuing civilians and pulling the brakes on an out of control train while your partner holds off an endless wave of enemies. The presentation side is flashy, goofy and well done.

On the other hand, the gameplay leaves me cold. The combat feels stiff and repetitive; I don't feel that each character's arsenal is varied enough to really empower the player. Gunplay, which is actually a large part of the combat--it's still House of the Dead after all--is similarly unsatisfying. The visceral fun of blasting zombies to pieces from the mainline games does not translate at all in Zombie Revenge.

Speaking of not feeling empowered, the difficulty in this game is very uneven and in my (and many others) opinion is difficult in a cheap way. Come for the atmosphere, not the gameplay.

A full playthrough should run you around 45 minutes or so and boyoass do you feel every one of those minutes. Honestly if it were a little shorter and breezier I think the game would do well for it.

I'm glad the big ghostly head from Crypt Killer got a job in Zombie Revenge

Even Stick can't believe that's his name


Is it scary?
Shit no; any other HotD game is scarier than this one, and there are no scary HotD games. This franchise has always been more of a B-movie experience than actual horror...rundown mansions, over the top violence, mad scientists, bad acting. On that front, Zombie Revenge does exactly what it set out to do. I suppose the time limit could be nerve-wracking if that sort of thing bothers you. It doesn't help that an alarm noise plays incessantly when it's time to move on and the announcer will straight up yell THERE'S NO TIME when the clock starts running low.


Should you buy it?
Welllll, that really depends on the person. I don't think it's an extremely good game, but it is a spectacle, and as of now you can find it on ebay for around $30 USD. For House of the Dead fans I say go for it! For everyone else, I would recommend Dynamite Cop if you want a DC beatemup.


Also, someone on the development team was a big Desperado fan if that helps influence your decision at all!