Monday, June 26, 2017

Finch Owl Pocket SP (Famicom, 2017)

My friend Finch had me on a Splatoon episode of his podcast late last year and was kind enough to tap me for the cover image! The subject of the design was of course something near and dear to my heart: fake games.

Famicom nerds (or Japanese people) will know that I based this largely off of the art from the Mario Bros. and Golf box art, with an obvious squid kid twist. Drawing in this style is hell of fun to do.

An earlier design before we decided to go with a more Famicom referential look

I'm hesitant to recommend anyone hear my awful voice/awful opinions but you should listen to Finch's podcast! Check it out here.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Illustration Collection 01

I was doing random sketches from simple prompts; this one was "traveler"

Hey! Sorry, no video game stuff today...though Ribbon Black is ostensibly a gaming art/history/culture blog, it's technically kind of a personal portfolio/art dump for me. Here are some things I've done recently, a mix of fanart, original characters and one-offs. Thanks very much for looking.

Lina Inverse from Slayers (first anime I ever bought!)

Undyne from Undertale. Not super crazy about this...the pose is too stiff

Baby; I liked working with these colors!

Hilgrade, one of my guys. She's a magician that can summon poisonous plants

Thursday, June 22, 2017

8-Bit Shugei - Dragon Quest Shadowbox Fun

Do you know about 8-bit shugei? Meaning literally "8-bit handicraft", it's retro-gaming themed DIY art encompassing any number of formats such as perler beading, cross stitch, papercraft, sculpture etc. This has been going on long before there was a word for it of course; before I learned the term earlier this year, I made one for my brother as a handmade Christmas gift.

I was never an RPG kid (I'm not an RPG adult, either) but the one game me and my older brother could always agree on was Dragon Warrior 4 for NES. I really can't articulate what a big impression the game left on 7-year-old me; the huge enemy sprites had so much personality and character. The story captured my imagination like Mario Bros. couldn't (the cliffhanger ending of chapter 2 when Princess Alena returned home to find her castle completely deserted was downright haunting) and the world-spanning plot with multiple playable characters left me feeling like they were my friends.

Anyway, in recent years my extended family has adopted a tradition of hand made "secret santa" gifts so that people can get personalized presents and we don't have to spend 2K Moneys buying shit for everyone. When I drew my brother's name this past Christmas I had a good idea!

Okay, I didn't have a good idea until the last minute. But this isn't bad for a night's work!

Real 90's Kids know that this shadowbox mimics the battle screen from classic Dragon Quest games. I believe there's a technological reason for the black backgrounds in these games--maybe enemy sprites were actually displayed on the NES' background sprites layer to cram more huge graphics onscreen than would normally be allowed? My ignorance is showing; by all means let me know if you have an answer.

For my project I used three of my favorite enemy designs: Mad Clown, Babble, and the OG monster, Slime. All the graphics were drawn in Photoshop, printed onto photo paper and mounted on stacked foamcore of varying heights.

When you don't want ugly white edges on cut out paper things--carefully run a black marker along the edges.

More black foamcore for the background!

everybody in the pool

To finish it off I took some brown craft paper and using my girlfriend's linocutting materials I carved out some cute little stamps for the wrapping:

My brother liked it; and bizarrely enough, the day before I even gave it to him he bought me a copy of Dragon Warrior 4, filling an important gap in my NES collection!

If you're interested in seeing some 8-bit shugei from other people check the Twitter tag I linked up at the top, or look at this excellent spotlight by my friend Oliver on Minus World.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cosmic Smash Undiscovered Secret Characters?? UPDATED

I know the title is very clickbait-y, but I've been searching online and can't find a single reference to this, so it may be new to you: Cosmic Smash has a secret character!

Okay, I know how this looks. Blurry cellphone photo, bad angle--I panicked and was playing on a real Dreamcast and wanted to get evidence in case I couldn't replicate the secret.

But look at this shit! It's the worker characters that you can see building the "cosmic bus" stages during the credits scene at the end!

After beating the game and completing one of the secret 1-on-1 final stages, I started up a new game. Usually, the game opens with the announcement "Welcome To Cosmic Smash". This time, though, the announcer said "We Want Cosmic Smash", a line that I don't remember playing elsewhere in the game. Unfortunately I lost before completing the game again so I didn't see if something else happens.

I immediately fired up a Dreamcast emulator to see if I could repeat my performance, and...I can't. I'll keep trying but so far I'm mystified! This is everything I can think of that I did when it appeared.

-Beat the game taking this route:

-score was unremarkable; I got around 800,000 and placed 2nd behind a previous top score
-I didn't get the perfect rally or the perfect trick smash bonuses, so score isn't a factor at all
-sat through the entire credits sequence
-let the title screen demo play through once after the game went back to title
-started a game afterward and was playing as the secret character 

I tried repeating all these steps on emulator to get better screenshots and as of yet I haven't been successful. I'm EXTREMELY EXCITED to discover this after playing for years (you should have heard this sad nerd yelling alone in his room when it happened) and if anyone else has info on this I'd love to hear about it.

For all I know this a well known secret that I somehow couldn't find on google. If someone comes in with an "of course you can, asshole" I'd be a little embarrassed, but solving the mystery would be worth it. Let me know if you've ever unlocked the secret Cosmic Smash character before!

ADDENDUM: I looked up the phrase the game announcer says when the character is unlocked, "We Want Cosmic Smash". Try it! I got a single result on Google: a dead website called Cosmic Bus 777.

THE PLOT THICKENS! There's at least one person on the internet who has done this. There's even a secrets section (and info on the different Trick Smashes, which I'd love to read more about). However, none of the links work; the domain has expired.

I guess my next step is to track down this AJ 187 character who used to run the site, or maybe try to find the secret documented on a Japanese site.



I took this to Twitter and within an hour and a half a very helpful fellow (@sebmal) pointed me not only toward AJ 187's Twitter profile, but showed that actually had saved the secrets page, giving me much more information than I was even looking for.

Not only was the secret character above unlocked via a cheat code that I accidentally entered by pure chance, there are in fact six secret characters in the game.

My balls were flattened. So, with extreme gratitude to AJ 187 of Cosmic Bus 777, let's have a look at em!

Cosmic Smash secret character codes (input at title screen)


L = Left
R = Right
U = Up
D = Down
A = A (or whatever you have the normal swing mapped to)
X = X (or whatever you have the jump mapped to)

NOTE: You can put these in as slowly as you need to--and you'll need to take your time on some of them--so don't rush.

Worker #1 (Solid white spacesuit and transparent red racket)
Code: L R L R L L R

Yellow Man (looks like a test character; all yellow body and racket is attached to hand)
Code: D U D U D D U

Silver Man (same as default character...but chrome!)
Code: R L R L R R L

Bear (a bulky figure with a brown furry texture map, holding a giant fish instead of a racket. nice)
Code: U D U D U U D

Toshiaki Miida (worker from the credits scene--Sega logo on back, Cosmic Smash logo on front. swings a laptop instead of a racket)
Code: D A X A X A X A X A X A X A X A X A X A X U

Katsuyasu Andou (worker from credits scene--Japanese text on back, Cosmic Smash logo on front, swings a huge cellphone. the Cosmic Smash logo flashes different colors!)
Code: L U R D U D U R D U L D R U L U R D U D U R D U L D R U A

Thanks again to AJ 187 for compiling this useful info on his original site!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Pen Pen TriIcelon (Dreamcast) Manual Differences and Weird Stuff

Who'd have thought I would have this much to say about PenPen TriIcelon?

Looking through the game's English manual I was actually shocked at how colorful and fun it was; often times localizing a game from Japan would result in a boring, stripped down manual, or worse: bringing a color manual to the US and making it black and white.

PenPen's manual, on the other hand, is so nice that I knew it must have been a direct translation from the Japanese. And I was right...almost.


This is kinda super weird: Infogrames brought over PenPen's busy, colorful manual almost exactly, but with one particular omission: two of the Course Owners (basically the "mascot" of each stage) are SMOKING IN THE MANUAL!!

Don't even worry, Infogrames put a stop to THAT SHIT right away. This is a noble enough gesture--they wouldn't want to be a bad influence on the three children who bought PenPen TriIcelon--but in localizing PenPen, they didn't see fit to make any changes to the actual game. You know, the part that kids are actually going to see.

And again...baffling caricatures like Unga Pogo are still A-OK! Don't even worry about THAT



Here's a typo I found amusing--in the characters section, Pen Pen Sneak is listed as "female", even though the bio refers to him as "he". Are we seeing another Birdo situation?

I thought there might be something going on here, but looking at the manual he's listed as male. 0/10 nice job Infogrames.

This omission is kind of irritating and there was no need for Infogrames to make it! Check out the three stats in the character bios denoted by stars in the scan above: this is each character's ability in Sliding, Waddling and Swimming. However, this actually useful information was taken out of the US manual? Infogrames why

Lastly for this section: I wouldn't call it a mistake, but they really did basically just translate the Japanese manual for the most part--all of the screenshots are from the Japanese version of the game.

New in the English Manual

I MAY find a few surprises? yes or no, it's a simple question

Not much new before, for the most part the only real changes between the two manuals are in page order and censoring the smoking characters. However, the English manual teases secret characters and levels with a luxurious two-page spread that honestly is kind of a waste of space.

Lastly we have a relic of the late 90s: the Help Line phone service. Most developers and publishers had these! Did anyone ever use them? The only time I ever called a hint line was when I was about nine years old. I don't think it was developer-specific though, just a generic Hot Tipz To Win service; I couldn't get past the mine cart level in Sega Genesis Taz-Mania because I didn't know you could press forward to speed up. I was, and remain, a dumbass.

I wish I had called some more of these before the internet made them obsolete though! Wonder if Infogrames still maintains their help line?


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Weird Sports Games 4 - Pen Pen TriIcelon (Dreamcast, 1998)


Pen Pen TriIcelon (General Entertainment, 1998)

Pen Pen TriIcelon (Ice Triathlon, get it) received deservedly mixed reviews, but I can think of one award it deserves: clunkiest title ever. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the confusing title hurt its sales in the US (in Europe it was simplified to the less irritating Pen Pen).

This game should be seen and heard in motion to fully appreciate. I think the developers were trying to make something cute and funny and influenced by American cartoons...I think. What they ended up with is something off putting at best and straight repulsive at worst. Look at this shit:


I know I'm charmed!

Okay, so the character design leaves something (a lot of something) to be desired, but Pen Pen is incredibly colorful, fascinating to look at, and let's be real--if it weren't also kinda grotesque I probably wouldn't remember it today. The characters bounce and stretch in cartoonish ways that you didn't see very often in 3D games.

The Music


Nightmarish. I mean it's actually well done, just...exhaustingly wacky and loud, and I'd say the magnified American cartoon influence on this game is most strong in the sound department.  God Bless This Hot Mess:

Actually, I can recommend something similar but better to this game's OST, and like Pen Pen it's also American style toon music from Japan! Plus-Tech Squeeze Box is a great "picopop" electronic band that makes similar high-energy, zany music:

Oh yeah...that's exactly where you wanna be.

The Game


What about the actual game, though? Actually...I'm into it. A racing game through deranged amusement park style tracks with even more deranged space monster birds! I love small, arcade style games that polish up their small amount of content by always giving you new things to look at or slight variations on the core gameplay.

For example, the "Tri" in TriIcelon (ugh) refers to three sports that I assume space penguins love to play--waddling, swimming, and belly sliding, each with their own control schemes and obstacles. How does it control, you may ask? Pretty bad. Let's get into the game modes!

Sliding: The most fun event by far. It's the fastest and most rewarding mode to do well in! Glowing boost powerups are scattered around the track--make use of them if you want the lead. Drifting and proper rhythm in swinging your arms is crucial to keep your penguin's speed up, making the skill ceiling in this mode a bit higher than the others. Think of it kinda like a snowboarding game.

What is this unholy place I've ended up in
Waddling: Some bullshit. Waddling is the weakest event but the one where you can most easily screw over your opponents as you now have a dashing attack. Unfortunately, because Pen Pens are about as bad at sprinting as real penguins are, avoiding all the walls, ledges and pinball bouncers strewn about this leg of the course can be frustrating.

Character designs aside the game looks beautiful
Swimming: Similar to the sliding event, but now you're moving vertically as well as horizontally through an obstacle packed river/underwater tunnel. As with the other modes a big key to doing well is hitting the boost spots, though it's a little tougher in this event. Not as challenging as sliding, but not bad!

As mentioned, theme park attraction feel of each of the four courses enhances the weirdness of the atmosphere and fills the stages up with colorful and interesting things to deal with. Something about this is right up my alley! I just love small games with lots of visual variety.  The overwhelming oddness of the game as a whole really gives Pen Pen that unique, idiosyncratic Dreamcast flavor.

Here's something unique, too:

Not Touching This One

Jesus. Come on, General Entertainment.

My shock at this guy being the owner of the Jungle stage is second only to the fact that Sega gave this the OK to bring to America with no changes! Now I KNOW that nobody else but me played this game. Ignorance aside, some of the other characters are pretty cool, like the vaguely sinister Bambi Mask:

Just a bunch of fun loving, totally normal looking creatures
By the way; do any of these characters look at all familiar to you, Dreamcast Fans? Maybe from one of the best games of all time, Climax Graphics' Blue Stinger??

Why on Earth are PenPen characters in this game too??

Honestly, I can't figure out what's going on with the development of Pen Pen TriIcelon. The characters in Pen Pen are featured prominently early on in Blue Stinger, and Pen Pen seems like exactly the kind of bizarre and tone deaf game Climax Graphics would make. The thing is, Pen Pen was developed by a company called General Entertainment, and Climax's name appears nowhere in the game. Why the crossover between these two? In the end, I guess game just recognize game.

However, when you boot up Pen Pen the company name that appears is not even General Entertainment; it's a company called Land Ho! They were probably just an internal team within General Entertainment. In any case, who could care about all this; I've got one more strange little thing to mention here...

The Weird Loading Screens anyone else inexplicably creeped out by the loading screens? Something about these hideous bastards being in the real world just doesn't sit right with me. And judging by the insignia on those mailboxes, these photos were taken in Sweden. But...why? What a mysterious game.

Give Pen Pen TriIcelon a try, preferably with at least one friend; as with many Dreamcast games, it's got 4-player splitscreen. For all the shit I talk on it, it really is a fun game that's worth seeing just for its oddness.