News 2/2/2022: Konami, Link to the Past, Listicles

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

My cell walls are feeling kind of rigid at the moment due to a computer issue that caused me to lose the first draft of this post. All of my witty remarks, lost to the electronic void. You missed out on my entertaining usage of the phrase “odoriferous blorpy.” Truly we are in the worst timeline. It’s all left me feeling kind of cranky, let’s get through it quickly this week.

Ted Litchfield at PC Gamer on a RuneScape player playing a minigame for eight years and turn turning in all his progress at once. RuneScape is an early MMORPG that began in 2001.

Several things to do with Konami, a once-great publisher that’s become pretty hidebound lately:

Dustin Bailey at GamesRadar: fans are working on a PC remake of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. I’m sure this won’t get obliterated by legal threats. They should have gone with the cheeky route taken by The Transylvania Adventure of Simon Quest. The article mentions that its creators consider the fact that many townsfolk lie to you to be a problem, instead of awesome as it really is.

Charles Harte at Gamespot organ Game Informer says Dead Cells’ upcoming Castlevania-themed DLC is really big.

Also from Charles Harte, Konami is shutting down their recently-released game CRIMESIGHT, not just removing it from the Steam store but even making it unplayable. Great way to reward people giving you money, K. It’s not even a year old yet!:

Tyler Wilde, also from PC Gamer, on a $2,000 game on Steam and what it’s about. Summarized: it costs $2,000 but is short enough that people can finish it within the return period, and it amounts to a screed against women. Blech!

Dean Howell at Neowin: a fan-made decompilation of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past can now be compiled for Windows and (presumably if your device is jailbroken) Switch.

Christ Moyse at Destructoid tells us that Taito’s classic The New Zealand Story is coming to the Arcade Archives series. Gandalf could not be reached at press time for comment.

Two listicles:

Zoey Handley at Destructoid on the 10 best NES soundtracks. The list is Bucky O’Hare, Kirby’s Adventure, Castlevania 3 (Japanese version), Contra, Dr. Mario, Super Mario Bros. 2, Mega Man 2, Castlevania II, Journey to Silius, and… Silver Surfer?

Gavin Lane and the NintendoLife staff on the 50 best SNES games. The list is compiled algorithmically from reader scores, and can change even after publication. At this time, the top ten are, starting from $10: Donkey Kong Country 2, Earthbound, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV, Super Mario RPG, Yoshi’s Island, Final Fantasy III, Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Mario World on top.

Tom Phillips at EuroGamer mentions that the original developers of Goldeneye 007, recently rereleased after 25 years on Switch and Xbox platforms, were a bit miffed that they weren’t asked to participate in the festivities. At the time most of its developers were completely new to the game industry, and they’ve been generally snubbed by its publishers in talking about the new versions. Does feel pretty shabby, Nintendo and Microsoft!

Andrew Liezewski at Gizmodo talks about the graphics in an upcoming Mario 64 hack made by Kaze Emanuar. I’ve followed Kaze’s hacking videos quite a bit (I think one’s been posted on Set Side B before), and the optimizations they’ve made to Mario 64’s engine are amazing, not only eliminating lag but great increasing its frame rate and making it look better to boot.

And, at Kotaku, Isaiah Colbert reports on various things being done to celebrate Final Fantasy VII’s 26th birthday, including official recognition in Japan of “Final Fantasy VII day” and a crossover with Power Wash Simulator. Maybe they can do something about cleaning out all the grunge from Midgar, that city could use a bath.

Romhack Thursday: Gradius III using the SA-1 chip

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

First, I’d like to fill you in a bit on the world of supplemental chips included in cartridges.

The greatest advantage of cartridges as a software distribution medium is that you can include extra hardware in the cart that extends the capabilities of the system. The inclusions, ranging from a few extra logic gates controlling banking to static save RAM and batteries to supplemental microchips to entire coprocessors, goes back to at least the Atari VCS/2600, where they played a major role in extending that console’s lifespan. The VCS only had 128 bytes of RAM, a ROM address space of a mere 4 KB, and didn’t even have lines going out to the cartridge for writing to external memory. In spite of these fairly dire limits, regularly games for the system would far surpass what was expected by its creators, culminating in the DPC chip used in Pitfall II.

It’s not true that you can do anything with extra hardware in a cart, but you can push the limits quite far. The inclusion of extra circuitry in the cartridge is what allows Champ Games to make their amazing Atari arcade ports (such as Mappy and Scramble).

After the VCS/2600 fell out of popularity the NES came along, and extra chips of this sort became almost mandatory. The tales of Nintendo being hampered by the chip shortage at the time of the NES’s popularity limiting production are true, but are also somewhat self-inflicted. Legions of popular games required at least a MMC1, a chip that could have been included in the base console, or supplied in an add-on peripheral like a pass-through cartridge. But instead Nintendo chose to include one with every game that required it, and also MMC3s, some MMC5s, and a handful of other chips.

Then the SNES came along, and more extra chips entered the picture, most notably the DSP, the SA-1, and most famously the SuperFX. The SA-1, basically a coprocessor for the machine’s overworked Ricoh 5A22, a variant of the WDC 65C812, which was itself a 16-bit version of the venerable MOS 6502, is our focus here.

Extra chips in SNES carts weren’t nearly as essential as they were for most NES games, but there were still a good number of them. In the early days of the SNES extra chips like these were not hugely common, although a DSP was used even in one of the system’s launch games, Pilotwings. On the other hand F-Zero, a game remembered fondly for its great sense of speed, didn’t use any special chips.

The SA-1 was one of the more powerful of these chips. It was basically a second 65C812-type chip running at triple the main CPU’s clock speed, with a small amount of dedicated memory and some other minor features. Most famously it was used in Super Mario RPG, but it was also used in both of the SNES Kirby games.

The SA-1 wasn’t used in that many games, and it wasn’t even available for use, I think, in the system’s early days, which was a shame. The power of the SA-1 was quite great, if used correctly. SNES hacker Vitor Vilela has made a growing number of hacks that recode classic SNES games to use its calculatory prowess, and the difference is often quite dramatic.

There’s a lot of stuff there on his Github page that I’m going to save to present later, but one of their earlier projects, and one of the best I’d say, is his conversion of SNES Gradius III to use the SA-1. Gradius III is probably the SNES game in which slowdown is the biggest problem, it is not hard at all to get Gradius III into a state where the game slows down to half speed, or even one-third speed, simply by loading up on Options and powerups. As a difficult game where slowdown makes it much easier (and it may have been designed around it), and as a SNES launch title with great graphics and sound, it’s still playable without the SA-1, but you can nearly hear the processor creaking under the weight of all those projectiles and effects.

With the SA-1, all of that slowdown is just gone. It makes the game a fair bit harder, but also a lot more fun to play. See for yourself:

And now, look on in horror at a deathless playthrough of Gradius III with this hack:

Romhack Thursday: Gradius AC 2000 for NES

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Gradius for Famicom and NES is a well above-average port of a game for very different hardware than the arcade original. It was good enough that it was converted right back into arcade game, released for Nintendo’s Unisystem arcade hardware as Vs. Gradius. Graphically and aurally, it is quite similar to the arcade game.

It’s similar, but not identical. Now this hack doesn’t change the major downgrades from arcade Gradius. There is no vertical scroll in levels two or three, and you still can only have two Options at once. But in a variety of subtle ways, the game looks a bit nicer. In particular, the game’s text fonts being changed from the boring old font used on the NES back to the arcade’s snazzy line-drawing affair is a nice change.

The original version of this is quite an old hack, created back in 2000, but it has been periodically updated over the years, most recently changed in 2018. That’s a long period of support for a romhack!

Gradius AC 2000, by Kaison (romhacking.net)

A Retro-Focused Guide for Dance Dance Revolution Beginners

Image from Mobygames

Racketboy has a great article about getting started with Dance Dance Revolution at home. DDR is still kind of going in U.S. gameplaces from the 2016 release of “Dance Dance Revolution A,” but hasn’t received a home release in that country since the days of the Wii, in 2011. That leaves options to picking up a home machine, finding a version for an older console, or, of course, yarr. Thanks, Konami! Your attention to preventing access to your products is ridiculous and easily mocked!

The ultimate decision reached is to play DDR Max or Extreme 2 on a Playstation 2, and on a CRT if at all possible, but the article contains a number of options that may be more workable for you. Dance on!

DDR Beginners Home Guide for Retro Gamers

The Issues With NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The title refers to the original NES TMNT, not the arcade version or the NES game based on it. This is the version that Konami released under their Ultra label. It sold well (real well!) but is widely considered an inferior game for a number of reasons. Those reasons are the subject of these three videos, from Youtube channel Displaced Gamers. I recommend them, even if I think every place they say gamer it would be more proper to say player.

The first video:

In a long and difficult game, one of the hardest sections comes relatively early. The only swimming section in the entire game, players must maneuver their supposedly-aquatic surrogates through a difficult course that has imprecise movement, water currents, high damage, instant kill hazards, a strict time limit, and, as the video shows, buggy implementation. Many players in the NES era gave up at this point, which is rather a shame considering it’s only at the end of level two. This video examines the code and demonstrates why it’s so challenging, and how it could be made fairer.

The second video:

TMNT has notoriously floaty jumps, a low frame rate, and a fairly weird implementation of gravity. Any platform game that allows players to adjust their jump height according to how long the hold down the jump button is fudging its physics behind the scenes, but TMNT does it rather poorly.

The third video:

Displaced Gamers examines additional problems with the game’s timing, particular with that of its input reading and attack animation. Like the other two videos, they suggest code changes (sometimes in the form of Game Genie codes) that fix the problem, if you happen to have a fondness for 6502 assembly. (I do!)

If you’d like to try NES Teenage Mutant Turtles, it’s included in the “Cowabunga Collection” that was released for Switch, Xbox X/S and Playstations 4 and 5. Fortunately, it also includes twelve much more playable titles.

Romhack Thursday: Castlevania II Retranslated & Improved

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Castlevania II is an infamous entry in the series. While it’s the first Castlevania game to use the “Metroidvania” structure that would be more solidly associated with it after Symphony of the Night, there were a lot of… controversial elements? Townsfolk often lied to the player (in all versions of the game), and sometimes their hints were badly translated. A few places required the player to do arbitrary things without much prompting to proceed. And there were the timed scene transitions, between day and night, which some people have (rather unfairly I think) fixated upon as a major flaw.

There’s more. The Japanese version of the game came with a map of the countryside that was left out of the U.S. release, meaning, some locations in the game were not even given names that a player could discover in the game, which in a couple of places required them to guess which location was meant by a clue.

Part of the new prologue

To the rescue of a player trying to appreciate this game now comes Bisqwit, a.k.a. Joel Yliluoma, and his Castlevania II Retranslation project. It doesn’t remove the townspeople telling incorrect things (which was intended by the developers-why should a random villager happen to know for certain anything to do with destroying Dracula?), but it does make their hints more comprehensible, remove the reliance on guidebooks and FAQs that have interfered with the efforts of many to enjoy the game, and it greatly speeds the transitions between day and night. It even offers an animated prologue (wait from the title screen) and an in-game map, based on the one in the Japanese manual, to lend context to the player’s explorations.

The map. Pretty nice!

There are plenty of other new features too, such as an end-game report that gives your win time and SRAM-based (battery-backed) save games. Some of the new features require better hardware than the original game had, which may limit what devices can run it, so Bisqwit thoughtfully provides a website that allows the player to customize the modification to their liking. Go there, choose the options you want (which includes language – if the site isn’t in English click the button to the left) then click the Download button to get a version with features set to your requirements and/or liking.

Towns get more helpful signposts!

Lots of romhacks seem superfluous relative to the original game, but Bisqwit’s translation patches substantively improve upon the original game in many ways. It really is the best way to experience Castlevania II. If you’ve played it before you should give it a try; if you haven’t, I strongly suggest playing this version, instead of having to suffering through the original’s quirks. At the very least you it’ll mean won’t end up having to resort hunting up a thirty-five-year-old FAQ before the end.

And if you like the patch, why not have a look at Bisqwit’s Youtube channel, which has a lot of interesting technical content on it, much of it unrelated to video games?

The hidden clubeooks get more useful advice, and you can even enable a hint viewer that records the books you’ve found during the game!

News: 8/8/22: All Hail Raytheon

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

At NintendoLife, Alana Hauges notes a dispute between Corecell, developers of AeternoBlade II, and publisher PQube. It’s all a bit tl;dr, and that isn’t helped by the decision to put PQube’s lengthy response up front, undercutting Corecell’s arguments before we can even read them. In summary, Corecell claims PQube didn’t pay them for milestones, and PQube claims Corecell was unresponsive to their requests for fixes and offered to return rights. I mean, it’s rather they-said/those-others-said, but I note that PQube’s bring up the game’s poor sales, an irrelevant issue at best, is bad form. But we’re all busy blobbies and hey, here’s the next article.

“Here at Raytheon, this guy looks thoughtfully at this small bottle, no doubt full of some radioactive isotope or deadly poison. Notice our ‘Social Impact’ submenu, see we’re not evil!”

Even more depressing news, PC Gamer’s Ted Litchfield tells us that Girls Who Code, a non-profit dedicated to helping women get careers in the tech industry (good) was participating in a mentorship program set up by US arms manufacturer Raytheon Technologies (awful).

In more entertaining news, Vikki Blake at GameRadar mentions that Halo Infinite players have managed to discover a way to force a split-screen multiplayer for that game.

Isaiah Colbert writing for Kotaku informs us that Nintendo’s ending the gacha elements in their mobile game Mario Kart Tour. I’m glad to see this scourge of gaming slowly wane. Instead, players will purchase unlockables directly instead of hoping for lucky draws.

From Konami, resting on their late 80s/early 90s laurels for literally decades now!

Bryan at NintendoEverything has an interview with Chris Kohler of Digital Eclipse and Konami producer Charles Murakami about DE’s collection of 13 classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games. Digital Eclipse consistently does such good work these days and it’s a good recounting of the highs of the package and the work involved in bringing it to us.

“This guy is helping us put a tiny portion of our tremendous military profits into these boxes to feed to poor people. We’re actually good!”

Arcade Mermaid: Vs. Castlevania

Arcade Mermaid is our classic arcade weirdness and obscurity column! Once a month we aim to bring you an interesting and odd arcade game to wonder at.

You are reading the words of a Castlevania fanatic. Your standard fan who came into the series with the Igavanias will tell you its pinnacles are Symphony of the Night or, if they’re really trying to impress, Rondo of Blood. Truthfully, both of those are fine games. But I am of the opinion that the best the series has ever been was the first and third Famicom/NES games, and that series creator Hitoshi Akamatsu got a raw deal. The first game particularly is an especially brilliant gem among the jewels of the early Famicom’s library. Every moment of it shows care and attention to detail.

Just a few examples. While many people curse the stream of Medusa Heads that harry Simon Belmont at several places in the game, the game is actually quite sparing with their use, easing up with them at certain telling moments. One particular place this happens is climbing the staircases in the second stage of Block 3: while you’re on the staircases there, interestingly, the Medusa Heads don’t attack.

Also, the Fish Men in the first and fourth blocks, on the first loop, are kind enough never to jump from beneath the player’s location. And while on the second and later loops through the game they will happily emerge right beneath your feet and bump you into the water, there is a tell even for this: except for a brief section where there are no candles, Fish Men only emerge from the water directly beneath candle locations. (I gained a small amount of internet notoriety when an online friend pointed out where I had observed this fact in a Metafilter thread.)

I could go on, and will for a few more sentences, even though this kind of stuff makes for boring writing. The subweapons are very precisely designed, each filling a specific role in the game. All of the game’s platforms are supported by background elements, and when the player climbs stairs to a new area, background pillars in the upper area mostly line up with those from the lower area. You can see the crumbling spire that’s the site of the Dracula fight far in the background in block 3, half of the game before you get to climb up there yourself, and it’s such an iconic piece of level design that almost every Castlevania game that follows includes it. Much of its brilliance is recounted by Jeremy Parish in his book on the NES Castlevania games. (An earlier version of the Castlevania material can be seen linked here on the Internet Archive, but please consider his book if you are able to buy it.)

All of this is just preamble though, to the true subject of this post: the port for Nintendo’s Unisystem arcade hardware, Vs. Castlevania.

Castlevania is renowned as a tough game. While it only has six “blocks,” broken down into 19 stages, the game ramps up in difficulty pretty quickly through that thin territory. I’ve played through it all dozens of times. I’ve completed the game on one life before, but I still find the last level challenging. Even so, I’ve rolled both the score counter and stage counter. I’m good at Castlevania, not speedrunner-level, but, no offense intended to those who are, I have other things that I have to do. I cannot devote huge blocks of time to mastering individual games like I could as a teenager.

If you enjoy the original Castlevania, you might want to have a look at the Vs. variant, which is available via the Arcade Archives series for current consoles. Especially if you count yourself a master at it, this version will probably put you in your place.

In terms of hardware, the Unisystem is very close to a NES, and Vs. Castlevania doesn’t use any tricks that its home version doesn’t. Here is video of me playing through the first level:

The first block of Vs. Castlevania (Stages 00-03)

People familiar with the original will notice that the game looks slightly different. The colors are different, which is something that was frequently the case of the arcade versions of NES software. It’s likely that the Unisystem’s hardware is responsible for this: as a protection against bootlegging, which was rife in the arcade industry, each Unisystem arcade board had, in addition to the ROMs with the code for each game, a specific, custom PPU chip with the palette for that game embedded within it. People who copied the ROM chips into EPROMs in order to run a game without buying it from Nintendo would have something that could technically run, but the palette would be for the original game, not the copied one, and make the colors look funny. While I don’t know if this is true for Vs. Castlevania, it might explain the difference if the whole game had to use a single palette set.

Two major differences between Vs. Castlevania and its home version are immediately evident. One, in the first level enemies do four bars of damage on each hit to protagonist Simon Belmont. The first couple of levels of NES Castlevania are mostly just a warmup. Enemies in both blocks only do two bars of damage, meaning even without health powerups Simon can take seven hits without dying. The increased damage is the same as on the game’s second loop, after finishing the whole thing and starting from the beginning. The arcade sensibility, to keep players putting in money in order to learn the game and see its later stages, means it doesn’t have time to let the player acclimate themselves to its heated waters. The fire is lit; the soup is boiling.

Block 4 (Stages 10-12)

Even worse though is that, for each of the first three blocks of the game, the player only has 170 seconds to finish. It’s quite a shock if you’re used to the original, where time is practically never an issue! Even if you’ve mastered the levels on the NES, you’ll find, if you don’t constantly work towards reaching the door of each stage, you will easily run out of time. Expect the warning alarm to be ringing through the boss fights until you get used to the constant progress the game demands.

I don’t know what it is about the later blocks, but they have much more generous time limits, along the lines of the NES version. For these levels, the challenge goes back to surviving enemy attacks. Starting with Block 3, the game increases the damage done by enemies to levels never seen in the NES game even at its hardest: six bars, enough to kill Simon in just three hits. This makes Dracula at the end of the game quite a challenge.

If you manage to loop the game, you get to see something quite amazing. Desperate to end the player’s credit now, the game increases the damage done by enemies to eight bars, killing Simon Belmont in just two hits. More than that, the game pulls off the stops with nuisance enemies. You even have to face bats in the outside area before entering the castle! Take a look at this:

Block 1 revisited and the beginning of Block 2 (Stages 19-23)

The extra nuisance enemies are an especially interesting addition, since NES Castlevania never uses so many, even on the second loop and beyond. It’s exactly the kind of ludicrous challenge that people who have mastered the original game should seek out!

Castlevania is not the only Vs. game with substantial differences from the arcade version. Vs. Excitebike has many niceties over the home version, including some clever bonus stages. Vs. Balloon Fight in the arcade is a vertically-scrolling game, that played with two players gives each its own monitor. There’s lots mot to say about these games, but I’ve got to save some material for later.

Tutankham Returns

Tutankham Returns (itch.io link, $0) is a port/expansion of the classic Konami/Stern arcade game Tutankham. While Tutankham had only three levels, this has seven, but otherwise is much the same kind of thing. Compare the above to the original. It matches the original’s sound, graphics, and presentation exactly! The games have especially good sound design.

Creator Luca Carminati has a number of other recreations of classic games in itch.io, some, like a version of Tutankham Returns, for the Commodore 64. (Yes, it’s another Commodore post!) Of particular note is Bagman Comes Back (video, C64), a port of another neglected classic, with 24 different maps, compared to the original’s single three-screen board. Luca has been in this for a long time; he has a collection of Amiga games on itch that he made starting back in 1995!

Maze of Galious Enhanced

You want to know a great game that, statistically speaking, you’ve probably never played? Konami’s Maze of Galious for the MSX. It’s an early example of that genre we all now call Metroidvanias (Jeremy Parish, your royalty check is in the mail), and in Japan it was hugely inspirational. More recently, it was a direct inspiration for the La-Mulana games.

Well, more-recently-than-that, some romhackers have updated it to take advantage of the much more powerful MSX2 hardware. This results in much more detailed and colorful graphics and a number of other game improvements.

Playing it requires a rom of the original game (which you much seek out yourself), the patch file (here’s it’s GitHub site), and a patcher like Floating IPS. Or do you? Indie Retro News found a site that’s serving up the game and patch together, all ready to play!

Look at that murderous dungeon room. Now that’s what you call a video game.

If you’re prepared to patch the rom yourself and name it correctly (it’s explained on the project’s GitHub page), it can also be played in the online MSX emulator at webmsx.org.

So, what’s playing it like? Challenging! You have two characters, Popolon and Aphrodite, who have separate health and experience meters. Filling up your experience bar doesn’t actually improve your stats at all; it just heals that character up to full. And your characters’ jumps, while not as stiff as Simon Belmont’s, are not fully controllable in mid-air.

The two characters have subtly different abilities. Popolon’s attacks do more damage, he can jump higher, and his jump height varies according to how long the button is held. He’s also the only one who can push open doors. Aphrodite’s jumps are of constant height, but she’s also the only one who can survive in water! If one character runs out of health, the other can soldier on alone, but reviving the other is a difficult process.

Aww, they’re wearing matching armor!

In fact, the whole game is a difficult process! This is from that thankfully-brief time in the history of video gaming where developers seemed to revel in putting in secret features and hidden passages. Beating the final boss requires you find a very well-hidden item, the Cross, which is in a very secret passage. If you no longer have months to devote to finishing a game, you’re probably going to want to find at least a good FAQ for this one.

Via Indie Retro News.

Kimimi: TwinBee RPG

I’m a big fan of the work of Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster, who regularly finds the most interesting things to write about. Where she finds the time or energy I really don’t know. Maybe she eats batteries.

Recently she wrote about the obscure Japanese-only PlayStation game TwinBee RPG, coming on the tail end of that series’ anime-infused resurgence. A bit of a synopsis may be in order. Ahem:

TwinBee began as kind of the sibling game of Gradius, and had a similar, if somewhat less prominent, development in the years following its birth. It started as a kind of clone of Namco’s Xevious, which, as Jeremy Parish reminds us, was a lot more popular, and influential, in Japan than it was here.

TwinBee brought a number of advancements over Xevious: fun cartoony graphics, catchy music, two-player simultaneous co-op play, and, a thing that was very new to video games at the time, a powerup system. Not just picking up icons to increase capability either, but a skill-based system that involved juggling Bells with your shots until they changed color. It was a kind of counterpart to Gradius‘ more strategic system, but both games let players pick which abilities they wanted without just letting them jump right to full power.

TwinBee got three sequels on Famicom, including the game’s only official release in the US (other than a couple of Wii Virtual Console releases much later), renamed to Stinger. And all was well, for a little while.

Then, Konami decided that what TwinBee needed was a reboot, long, long before such things became ubiquitous. They restaged the setting to some time after the original games, and introduced teenage cousins Light and Pastel, and the infant Mint, to be the new pilots of the TwinBee ships. They kicked off this period with the arcade game Detana! TwinBee, which ramped all of the things that were special about the original arcade game way, way up.

TwinBee is one of those hidden bits of classic Konami lore that you have to know about to understand why people are fond of that period of the company’s history. It’s a far cry from the modern-day pachinko purveyor. Particularly WinBee pilot Pastel was a very popular character at the time, spawning a mini industry of products devoted to her.

Konami experimented with a number of alternate genres for TwinBee around this time. The best-known of these in the west is probably Rainbow Bell Adventure, a Sonic-style platformer for the Super Famicom/SNES that did see release in Europe, although in a degraded form. RBA is its own kettle of worms that we’ll probably talk about some other time. What matters to us is another of these experiments, and the subject of Kimimi’s article, TwinBee RPG, a self-insert kind of game thing, along the lines of the Game Boy Grandia game, or, on television, Captain N: The Game Master in the US, or Bug tte Honey in Japan.

These are all properties where one or more audience surrogate characters are warped through their television into Video Game World, and have Adventures. Indeed, the isekai style has long been with us. (Can flat-screens can serve as portals to gameworld, or does it have to be CRTs? You should probably check your TV’s settings for portal compatibility.)

Kimimi the Game-Eating She-Monster: TwinBee RPG

For more info, HG101 also did a piece on this game.

Here’s an extra, the first stage music to Detana! TwinBee, in all its amazing catchiness, composed by Michiru Yamane, who also wrote the music for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night:

Arcade Mermaid: Amidar

Arcade Mermaid is a recurring feature where we look at weird classic arcade games. The word weird has many meanings; sometimes it means bizarre or ludicrous, but sometimes it means of a really unusual design.

Our game this time easily fulfills multiple senses of the word. Konami’s Amidar was released in 1982, putting it near the end of the arcade boom in the US. It still came out early enough to get an Atari VCS/2600 port from Parker Bros., the source of many of the better arcade ports of the time that didn’t come from Atari or Coleco.

Odd Boards: Gorilla and Spearmen

Amidar‘s game world is both abstract and evocative. You’re a gorilla, tasked with collecting all the dots on a board made of lines, while evading hostile spearmen called “Amidar” (plural) and “Tracer.” Unlike as in Pac-Man, the playfield isn’t a maze as it is a bunch of adjoining boxes, with you and the enemies walking along their border lines.

People who have played a lot of Mario Party might find something oddly familiar about this layout. We’ll get to that.

When you collect all of the dots around one of those boxes, it fills in with a solid color. These boards you can play somewhat like Pac-Man. There are differences, though. The “turn the tables” mode that lets you attack your pursuers activates when you fill in the four squares in the corner of the screen. You only get one such period every level, and it takes a lot of effort and some foresight to achieve it. If the last box you fill in is one of those corners, you complete the level immediately and don’t get any bonus points for chasing down the enemies.

Even Boards: Paint Roller and Pigs

There is another kind of level in Amidar, however, that plays similarly, but with a significant difference. In these, for some reason, you’re not a gorilla but a paint roller, and you’re avoiding not natives but bipedal pigs. No reason is given for the change of graphics, although they’re still called “Amidar” and “Tracer.”

In these alternate boards, each of the rectangles has a number in the middle, which is a bonus score you earn for filling it in. On the gorilla boards, you only get points for collecting dots and capturing enemies during the attack period. Here, you get points for surrounding boxes and capturing them, so these score a lot better.

The trade-off, that makes these boards a lot harder to complete, is that you can’t just collect dots however and expect your progress to stick. There are no dots.

Instead, you have to extend the colored border away from already-colored lines, surrounding boxes one at a time. If you leave the border of the box you’re currently coloring, your progress will disappear! You’ll have to go back to one of your established lines and start over. Because you can’t just color them at any time but instead have to extend your territory out to them one box at a time, it’s a lot harder to take advantage of the attack phase granted by coloring the four corner boxes. It’s a lot harder in general. Most games end on Pig boards.

You have final aid to help you get through each level. Each board and each life, you get three uses of a “Jump” button that allows you to slip by the Amidar and Tracer. But, in keeping with a game where you alternate playing as a gorilla and a paint roller, the Jump button doesn’t allow you to jump over enemies. Instead, it causes the enemies to all jump, allowing you to pass beneath them.

Amidakuji

After you’ve played a couple of games of Amidar, you might catch on to an unusual property of the enemies. They don’t chase you. The have a specific route they follow through the board. Pac-Man may have patterns you can use to evade its ghosts, but Amidar makes the pattern followed by the enemies explicit, and the whole point of the game.

The motion of the normal enemies is entirely deterministic and uncaring of your location. Instead, they move in a specific, meandering pattern. They actually follow the routes of the Chinese “Ghost Leg,” or as it’s called in Japan, Amidakuji lottery. (You see? Amidakuji? Amidar?) They move down along vertical paths until they reach a horizontal intersection, which they will always take and then continue downward. When they reach the bottom of the board, they reverse their vertical progress, going up to reach the top again, still taking horizontal paths when they encounter them.

This is where Mario Party players might find this familiar. The Amidakuji lottery is simulated in the minigame Pipe Maze. In this, the four players are randomly arranged at the bottom of a network of pipes, and one of them must drop a treasure chest down one of the entrances at the top. The treasure travels down in the manner of the Amidar, and whichever player it reaches at the bottom gets the treasure.

The Amidakuji lottery has some interesting characteristics. It matches up each of the vertical paths at the top with exactly one path at the bottom. It doesn’t matter how many side connections there are, there will always be one way through for each path at the top.

To emphasize this, between each board of Amidar there is a bonus round that works more directly like the Amidakuji. You pick one of the routes for an Amidar to begin winding down, trying to guide it to a bunch of bananas at the bottom. Once you learn the knack of these stages it’s not hard to get the bananas most of the time. With your eyes, try to quickly trace the path in reverse, starting from the bananas.

The key to success at Amidar is focus and practice. With experience you’ll get better at figuring out where the Amidar will go in real time, and can avoid them more easily. Later levels increase the number of Amidar. Also, since a player can avoid the Amidar pretty consistently, there’s a failsafe timer in play. If you take too long to finish a level, the Tracer, which usually only moves along the outer boarder, will leave its patrol route and start following your prior movements through the level. This really starts to be a problem with Level 4. It’s good to save the corner blocks for when this happens.

Once you internalize the rules to Amidakuji, you may find yourself progressing deep into the game. I’ve been as far as Level 6! The game also has charming, melodic music in the style of Frogger. At the time of its release it was a minor hit for Stern, its licensee in the U.S., and now can be seen as a highlight of its genre.

Level 6! Notice how all the lanes at the top are blocked off. You have to squeeze by when they’re taking horizontal routes or use the Jump button to get by them.

A post-script. I searched for information on Parker Bros. Atari VCS port of Amidar, the only one made during the classic era of arcades, and found a page on the fandom.com wiki that gets many key facts wrong. It mentions coconuts: no version of Amidar has coconuts in it. It mentions the Jump button making enemies jump and not you: this is not at all evident in the VCS version. It mentions a bonus stage after every round: this doesn’t exist in the VCS version. This is one of the reasons I hate fandom.com!