War on Wheels

December 31st, 2013

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Say, it’s been a while since we’ve had a good old-fashioned ROM release. Here’s Jaleco’s canceled War on Wheels for the NES.

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Created in a bid to cash in on the brief and inexplicable roller derby resurgence of the late ’80s, War on Wheels paired team-based racing gameplay with hand-to-hand combat mechanics. In the game, players battle opponents as they race around an indoor track, pausing occasionally to pound on rivals in close-up, Blades of Steel-like fight sequences.

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By the time War on Wheels was slated to debut in 1991, the roller derby television series Rollergames had ended its first and only season, and young Americans had moved on, priming themselves for a future brimming with pogs and Image Comics.

War on Wheels earned low review scores when it was featured in Video Games & Computer Entertainment magazine, and otherwise received minimal coverage from print publications at the time. The tepid response from reviewers and the waning popularity of roller derby itself prompted Jaleco to cancel the game prior to its release, shelving it alongside other stalled projects like Squashed and Bashi Bazook: Morphoid Masher.

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Developed by veteran Amiga studio Sculptured Software, War on Wheels has much in common with Sculptured’s other 1991 NES release Eliminator Boat Duel, and shares the same brand of unappealing character art. The team attempted to spice up the experience with over-the-top brawling and in-game cutscenes, but overall, the project came up short in comparison to contemporary releases like Battletoads and Batman: Return of the Joker. It also failed to live up to the standard set by Konami’s similar 1990 release Rollergames, which had the good sense to wrap its license in the context of a side-scrolling platformer.

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War on Wheels is simplistic in execution, with gameplay consisting of skating to the left and attacking opponents while jumping over grooved floor sections. You’ll notice that there’s quite a bit of sprite flicker when there are more than two characters on the screen at once, and characters often tumble over each other on contact, resulting in a jumbled mess of appendages that wink in and out of existence as the NES’s hardware attempts to make sense of the carnage.

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Starting in the second period of each match, War on Wheels throws in ramps, floor hazards and other traps, making it play like a more stilted version of Namco’s Metro-Cross. It’s here that the game really starts to drag; you’ll soon find yourself thinking, “Jesus, how many more rounds do I have to play before this thing ends?”

The team dynamic adds some depth to the game, but strategy basically boils down to replacing low-stamina teammates between rounds. It’s not like teamwork plays much of a role during gameplay, anyway. Your teammates occasionally brawl with the competition if they happen to meet on-screen, but otherwise do little to help you score points.

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The fight sequences and Double Dribble-inspired cutaways help to break up the action, but otherwise, War on Wheels becomes boring almost immediately. More dynamic presentation might have helped — the game could have thrown in quick transition sequences showing your skater rounding corners, but instead, gameplay drags across the same neverending stretch of track while you hope to god that no one pushes you into a wall, as the AI during the fight sequences is brutally unfair.

Crowd interaction also does little to impact the game, aside from the occasional annoyance at a thrown bottle or bomb hitting your skater in the head and knocking them out for a few seconds. There’s no background music, either, which really helps to drive home the pointlessness of the whole thing.

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Despite a strong showing in the first period, the LA Illegals (side note: what the hell?) faltered in the second half, apparently forgetting how to score points as they succumbed to the rubberbanding AI of the Oakland Outlaws. I won’t play this game again, but maybe you’ll get some entertainment out of it. While there are worse games in the NES’s library, we didn’t miss out on anything worthwhile when this one was canceled.

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For more tales of Jaleco’s bungling misadventures through the 8-bit era and beyond, check out SCROLL 08.

[Reproduction credit: coinheaven]

Dream and Friends

December 31st, 2012

Maybe it’s about time I explained this whole “Dream and Friends” thing.

Capcom’s DuckTales for the NES is my favorite video game. Everything about it is perfect, and nothing will ever surpass it.

It wasn’t always perfect, though. DuckTales went through a number of changes during development, as seen in a prototype version discovered several years back. The core gameplay mechanics and level design were largely finalized by the time the beta edition made its way to reviewers and strategy guide authors, but it was hampered by some minor issues and awkward dialogue that hadn’t yet been fully localized.

This in-progress version of DuckTales is fascinating, and it remains one of my favorite prototype discoveries to date. It’s interesting to see how minor tweaks to a mostly finished product made it so much more memorable and impactful. The iconic Moon level theme was sped up for the retail release, for instance (an unquestionable change for the better), and the rewritten dialogue is instantly recognizable for kids who grew up watching The Disney Afternoon.

My favorite difference between the prototype and retail versions of DuckTales is the ending, in which Scrooge McDuck claims that for all his adventuring, for all his discoveries, and for all his wealth, the most important treasure of all is…

Happily, the prototype version’s ending text was translated for DuckTales’ Japanese release, which concludes with the “DREAM AND FRIENDS” line, still in English. The Japanese version of DuckTales, by the way, is titled “Wanpaku Duck Yume Bouken,” or “Naughty Duck Dream Adventure,” which is just wonderful.

Here’s a somewhat speedy, non-tool assisted playthrough of the prototype version of DuckTales. I’m not a speedrunner by any means (I’m sure it’s been done faster), but I’m pretty happy with the results.

2012 is over, and things are looking up. Pursue your dream, and treasure your friends.

Virus (Dr. Mario Prototype)

October 26th, 2012

First-party prototype cartridges for Nintendo Entertainment System games are difficult to come across. For whatever reason, though, several distinct prototype versions of Nintendo’s 1990 puzzler Dr. Mario are known to exist.

Why is this the case? I have no idea. Frankly, it makes no damn sense whatsoever.

Originally titled “Virus,” the first discovered build, which has modified gameplay mechanics and a different cast of characters, turned up in Norway in 2008.

Another version was discovered in Texas in 2010, and sold for $2,238.98 to a private collector. Hell, even Nintendo Power’s gamemaster himself Howard Phillips owns a copy.

Recently, yet another version of Virus was included as part of an auction for a PlayChoice-10 arcade unit in Georgia. While it’s unusual that so many copies of a Japanese-developed, first-party Nintendo game have been discovered in the West, Lost Levels’ Frank Cifaldi notes that Nintendo-owned Chuck E. Cheese restaurants in the Seattle area were once used to playtest NES games during development, which might explain the existence of the PlayChoice-10 version, at least.

You can download the PlayChoice-10 version of Virus here.

 

Despite being later in development than previously discovered prototype versions, this copy of Virus has several differences from the retail version of Dr. Mario.

 

Both the title screen and the pre-game options menu are different. The music tracks aren’t yet named, and the speed setting is known as the “sick level.”

 

In Virus, a bonus counts down with every pill dropped, and it awards a point value after you clear the final virus from each level. This mechanic was removed prior to Dr. Mario’s release.

 

The virus characters are in an early state. They hang out in an oval (changed to a magnifying glass in Dr. Mario), and while they animate, they do not move in a circular motion, as they do in Dr. Mario.

Also, the yellow virus was redrawn for the retail release, because his nose totally looked like a penis.

Bring up the options screen for the two-player mode and you’re greeted with a familiar tune: it’s the menu music from Nintendo World Championships 1990! This track was also used in the Japan-only Famicom release Hello Kitty World. Nintendo was quite fond of that song, apparently.

 

Dr. Mario’s two-player win music isn’t yet implemented in Virus. Instead, the game uses the background music from Dr. Mario’s single-player intermission scenes. These scenes are not found in Virus.

 

Other differences Lost Levels members have noted:

- Mario’s sprite is different.
- The game keeps track of pills above the screen, so if you rotate them and one goes off the top, it’ll fall back down when there’s room.
- The highest levels allow pills up to the third line of the bottle, so you have to clear them horizontally (there’s no room).
- The background doesn’t switch colors to indicate difficulty level.
- The pill drop timer in hard mode is 10 frames in Virus, as opposed to 14 in Dr. Mario.
- Song A (“Fever”) is longer in Virus than it is in Dr. Mario.
- Two unused music tracks are present in the Virus ROM.

Technical details and changed graphics are documented at The Cutting Room Floor. Notice any other differences? Post about them in this thread at Lost Levels!

[Research credit: kap, kevtris, Skrybe, Xkeeper, ArnoldRimmer83, BMF54123]

Casey Duck: Butter Duck

August 29th, 2012

As someone who reports on mobile apps for an indie games news site, all sorts of innovative ideas and fun concepts are e-mailed to me daily. I’ve seen side-scrolling platformers, platformers with physics puzzles, platformers starring mascot characters, platformers about collecting things, and platformers where you pay the developers extra money so that you don’t have to collect as many things.

I don’t think anything could’ve prepared me for Casey Duck: Butter Duck.

According to developer Zyqued Games, “Casey Duck: Butter Duck is a fun mobile game, starring Casey Duck and his quest for his butter.” You can play it for free at Zyqued’s website. It’s also available as a free app for Android devices, the iPhone and iPod Touch, and for the iPad as Casey Duck HD.

I should mention that Zyqued’s marketing slogan is “Play or Else.” You may not have realized it when you woke up today, but your continued personal safety hinges on whether or not you play Casey Duck: Butter Duck within the next 48 hours. I hope you make the right choice.

Once you play the game, you might be surprised to discover that it’s not a marketing tie-in commissioned by, like, Land O’Lakes, or something. No branding is involved here; some creative spirit simply had an idea for a game about a duck — who, according to the game’s theme song, “eats only butter and drinks just ghee” — and then a team of designers, artists, and programmers sat down and made that game.

Then they released it for free. Zyqued’s website has minimal advertising, and the apps are ad-free, as far as I know. How does Casey Duck supplement Zyqued’s revenue stream? I have no idea.

Oh, would you like to hear the theme song for Casey Duck: Butter Duck?

Marvelous.

The game itself finds Casey Duck searching for a savory stick of butter on the other side of his pond. Casey has no less than five attack moves at his disposal, which he can use to beat up on any lesser mammals he encounters during his quest. The journey is pretty easy up until the last level, after which it becomes stupidly difficult. And then it has the gall to end on a cliffhanger.

Below is a full playthrough of Casey Duck: Butter Duck. Sit back, crack open a jug of ghee, and slake your lust for butter as you watch this one.

[To keep up with the latest Casey Duck: Butter Duck news, please visit the official thread at Lost Levels.]

Kids On Site: The Rise And Fall Of Mr. Fruit

June 27th, 2012

As you may have heard, I played quite a few full-motion video games as a kid. This is one of the weirdest.

Kids on Site is an FMV game for children that was released for the Sega CD in 1994. It’s all about construction equipment, because kids are totally into that stuff. It has simple controls and no real gameplay — it’s basically a series of demolition scenes interspersed with brief comedy skits featuring a cast of goofball adult actors.

I’m not sure I would even call this an “educational” game, since it doesn’t really teach the player anything. It’s essentially a video game version of those “hours and hours of tough trucks and huge trains!!” DVDs that are sold for kids, and as far as I know, it’s the only game of its kind.

Anyway, Kids on Site was on sale at around the same time Slam City dropped in price, and my parents bought it for my younger brother. He played through it a few times (and, okay, I may have played it too), and I suppose it did a decent job of whatever it was trying to do. Longplays.org recently uploaded a full playthrough of the game that’s worth watching, if you’re into that sort of thing.

However, the longplay doesn’t include Kids on Site’s Easter Egg scenes, which — up until now — I’m pretty sure were only known to my brother, myself, and the game’s development staff. Today, it’s time to reveal Kids on Site’s hidden secrets.

To activate these scenes, you need to achieve several strikes in a row during the wrecking ball bowling minigame. You might never know that there’s a reward for doing such a thing — the exact same video clip plays every time you get a strike, and odds are good that you’ll move on to something else after a couple of tries.

If you’re a bored five-year-old, though, you may rack up several strikes in a row. It’s not difficult; getting a strike involves a single timed button press. Get three strikes in a row and this guy shows up.

We’ll call him Mr. Fruit.

Get six strikes in a row, and Mr. Fruit will make another appearance. He’s a great addition to the game’s cast, and you’ll learn to love him as you would love a trusted friend.

At this point, if you’ve mastered the art of Kids on Site and are able to get nine strikes in a row, the Mr. Fruit saga reaches an unfortunate conclusion.

I’ve collected all of Mr. Fruit’s scenes in the video above. Please join me in remembering him at his best, and not for what he became.

Breaking: Scottie Pippen Ousted As Mayor Of Slam City

May 22nd, 2012

I didn’t have anything new to post about this month, but in a shocking recent development, Dream and Friends reader and Slam City with Scottie Pippen evangelist sebmal has become the second person in the world to beat Scottie Pippen in an FMV basketball match.

Also, here’s a Slam City dance party.

This is inspiring. Clearly, there is much work to be done in the field of Sega CD documentation.

Golden Nugget (Starring TV’s Batman)

April 16th, 2012

How do you make a gambling sim interesting?

The rules for traditional gambling games are firmly established, and there isn’t much you can do to make them more exciting. Nowadays, you can appeal to a broad audience with mobile apps, online multiplayer modes, and social networking features, but I’d imagine that it was quite a challenge back in the ’80s and ’90s.

This was the problem developer Point of View faced when creating Golden Nugget for the original PlayStation. Their solution? The game shipped with an interactive full-motion video thriller starring Adam West.

Strangely, this feature is only mentioned briefly on the back of the game’s jewel case, and you could easily overlook the fact that it exists at all. The game dumps you into a standard gambling simulation mode at startup, and the “start adventure” option is buried in an obscure menu in a part of the casino you might never visit.

Golden Nugget’s adventure mode isn’t a last-minute throwaway addition, though; it features more than half an hour’s worth of live-action video, forcing the game to be released as a two-disc set. It was filmed entirely at the Golden Nugget Las Vegas casino, too. Its existence is both puzzling and fascinating.

Golden Nugget’s gameplay is nothing special, but the video segments are really something else. In the game, you play as a professional gambler, and Adam West is “Hugh Swain,” who is basically Batman. There’s some story about a stolen computer chip and chaos theory and…look, you really need to see this. I stitched together all of Golden Nugget’s FMV sequences below. Watch it all. It’s worth it.

Takeshi’s Challenge, Part 4

March 31st, 2012

Image credit: Masao. Thanks, Kishi!

[Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.]

I can’t tell you exactly what happened over the next 48 hours. I have a general idea of how things unfolded, but the details are sketchy. Unemployed and now homeless, I wandered back over to Azemichi, where some quantity of alcohol was consumed.

From what people tell me, there was apparently some kind of incident at Dick’s Pachinko afterward.

There was yelling, and by the time it was all over, I somehow found myself in possession of a shamisen.

Also, I’m apparently banned for life.

Back at Azemichi — that’s today’s third visit, if you want to be a jerk about it — I managed to talk Chad into plugging in the karaoke machine.

(He later told me that he would never let that happen again.)

I found my groove soon enough, though. Something about this song always gets me a little weepy. Chad says that tears rolled down my face as I sung it for the third time in a row.

I tried to launch into an encore of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” but the audience was having none of it. Things got a little rough.

And then it all took a strange turn.

Read the rest of this entry »

Takeshi’s Challenge, Part 3

February 24th, 2012

[This entry is dedicated to my brother. It's his birthday today! Also, I guess this series is going to become a full playthrough, eventually. Previous episodes: Part 1, Part 2.]

My boss feigned surprise for all of two seconds before accepting my resignation.

And just like that, it was over. For my ten years of service to the company, I was given 500,000 yen — a pittance, really.

Luckily, I’d managed to funnel a nice 100,000-yen bonus my way after accidentally upping the interest rates on a few of our high-balance accounts some months back. I felt a little guilty about it at first, but considering that my severance pay was a goddamned disgrace, it was only fair.

You ever walk around town on a weekday afternoon with several hundred thousand yen in your pocket? It feels nice. It makes you want to explore the neighborhood and toss some money around.

I’d passed by this place every day on my way to work, but never went inside before today. These guys offered everything from foreign language instruction to guitar lessons to jazz dance practice. I didn’t have anything else to do with my afternoon, so I decided to sit in on a few classes.

I picked up a little bit of Hintabo while I was there. It’s sort of like Pig Latin, only more confusing.

Next up was a lesson on hang gliding. “Why not?” I reasoned. “Sure beats trying to sit through Yakuza vs. Yakuza.”

I jumped at the chance to learn a few shamisen chords. I always liked the way that thing sounded.

I also learned how to breakdance and picked up my pilot’s license. It was a productive day.

The sun was setting by the time the place closed, but I wanted to see what else had sprung up in the neighborhood since I’d last visited.

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A Birthday Wish

February 14th, 2012

It’s my birthday, and that means I get to post about whatever I want. With that in mind, here are the top three Internet rhythm game videos that have animals in them.

This first one is fairly straightforward. A pudgy cat observes in bored silence as its owner hits every note in a hard Guitar Hero song. His post-song celebration is obviously not appreciated.

I love this one, and I can’t explain why. A guy repeatedly plays a distorted segment of Rush’s “Working Man,” as a rather large iguana watches with interest.

It’s the collision of specific yet incongruous interests that makes this beautiful. I can’t guarantee you that this is the first Internet video in which a man practices a warbly, fake guitar solo for a cover of a Rush song while being observed by his pet iguana, but it’s the only one I’ve found so far.

I wonder if the iguana’s impressed? It’s hard to tell.

This final video really speaks for itself. Not even Linkin Park’s acclaimed blend of rap and rock can stop kitten cuddles.