Hello all and welcome to This Month in Retro! Today, I am taking you back to July 1991, a month after which Sonic the Hedgehog started his domination of the video game market. While everyone was recovering this month from the idea that something could counter the big N on the home console market, Atari had set their sights on dominating the handheld market by upgrading the Atari Lynx into the Atari Lynx II. Although it was a massive upgrade with a slick new model, a better screen, and better battery life, we all know how it ended up like pretty much anything Atari. It is a shame though, because the Atari Lynx II is arguably one of Atari’s best systems ever–not that it’s too hard to accomplish that but still.
The other industry happening was that ASCII Entertainment Software Inc acquired NEXOFT corporation, a publisher with a small library of games. Some of those games are true hidden gems though, like Gun-Nac and Faria: A World of Mystery & Danger!. ASCII Entertainment Software was the U.S. division of the now-defunct ASCII Corporation, but ended up becoming Agetec Inc. Some of the games they published include the first two King’s Field games, Armored Core: Project Phantasma, Aerogauge, and many more.
The game side of this month didn’t have too many outstanding games, but there are still a few neat little gems to talk about. As with the first edition two issues back, I’ll be splitting it up in two categories: games that came to the west for the first time, and games that have never left Japan to this date. That means that unfortunately I won’t be talking about Final Fantasy II… IV… whatever, as it released in July in Japan but has seen a western release only a few months later. I’ll be taking a look at some of the best games, the worst games, and some of the hidden gems, together with documenting their sales, scores, and achievement sets if available. Do keep in mind that the early 80s and 90s were all documented rather poorly, so scores may not always reflect the true quality. Of course, I’ll be going in-depth when this is the case.
Also, I talked about the Atari Lynx II earlier and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some games released this month for the system, but release dates for these games have also been documented extremely poorly so I unfortunately won’t be talking about any of them. If you have a good place that documents release dates for the Atari Lynx II or any other system, please let me know through a direct message on either Discord or RetroAchievements!
As usual I would like to start with the most critically acclaimed game of the month, and surprisingly… there weren’t a lot of candidates this month. A lot of the games this month either went under the radar or were just received as average. So consider me quite surprised to see that the number one game of this month was a forgotten mascot from the 90s!
|Bonk’s Revenge (PC Engine)|
|Release dates||JP: July 19, 1991
NA: July ??, 1991
|Average score||85.6% (Mobygames)|
It’s Bonk time baby! The mascot of the TurboGrafx-16 stars in his second 2D Platforming adventure through prehistory, where half of the moon had been stolen by his evil nemesis King Drool. To retrieve it, Bonk must use that oversized head of his for… anything you can imagine, like slamming it into enemies or climbing surfaces. Bonk is weird okay. He also attains new forms by eating meat, becoming closer to being PETA’s nightmare every day. Bonk’s Revenge plays it relatively safe by being similar to the original game, but just… better. Don’t fix what isn’t broken after all. Not only were the critics at the time pretty positive about the game, but even fans nowadays still agree that the game holds up very well. Bonk would have one more adventure on the TurboGrafx-16 afterwards, after which he set his sights on the SNES and Game Boy. Those games would unfortunately be the final time we would see Bonk in the west however (aside from digital re-releases), as he was later relegated to mobile adventures and then… nothing. The prehistoric kid belonged to Hudson Soft after all, which now means that Bonk is in a jail known as Konami. May he rest in peace.
The game has an achievement set available, testing the player’s skills in minigames and expert mode. It is important to note that the different difficulties do not necessarily represent a tougher game, but how much you will see of the game. Practice ends after the first level, while intermediate ends after the fourth stage. So TL;DR: Play expert mode, and don’t let the name scare you away!
But then, we have an interesting twist. Next up is a game from a popular RPG series that actually scored pretty well at release, but reviews beyond the 2000s brought it down much lower. I generally don’t include reviews from far beyond the original release because they are not respective of how the game was received at the time, but it certainly is interesting to see how opinions have evolved over time!
|Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (Mega Drive)|
|Release dates||JP: April 21, 1990
NA: July ??, 1991
|Average score||85.8% (Mobygames, Average from 9 reviews)
Only a year after the success of Phantasy Star II, the third game in the series released in Japan. This game would continue to build on what the two previous games had accomplished, being a sequel set in a distant future. And when I say distant future, I mean that it’s not only set a thousand years after the previous game (as events from that game do matter), but even more than that given it follows the story of three generations. At critical points throughout the game, the current main character gets to decide who he wants to marry, after which their kids will end up becoming the next main characters. As a result, the game feels more like a collection of side stories than a connected narrative. As for gameplay, this remains mostly the same 2D exploration game with a turn-based battle system, but with new features like auto-battling. Critics at the time were very pleased with the game, so how did the game suddenly lose its popularity in the current years not just among critics, but regular fans as well? One aspect that the critics pointed out is that it was made by a different team than the previous two games, resulting in a different style. But when asking the fans, their issues lay mostly with how slow the gameplay is. It ended up becoming a very divisive game in the end, with some calling it the worst of the original series while others see it as an overlooked gem. What camp do you fall in?
The achievement set covers the entire game, with each achievement having the name of which character gets it behind them for easier navigation. I don’t know too much about this set, but I’ve gathered that there are no missable achievements. Don’t take my word for it though, as there are multiple endings and, as mentioned before, you play through it with three different generations of characters!
So far, we took a look at a TurboGrafx-16 game and a Mega Drive game. The big N is still missing, which could probably be attributed to the SNES not being released in the west yet. Westerns games still had to play on the NES and Game Boy for a few months longer, but there were some games released on there this month as well!
|Little Mermaid, The (NES)|
|Release dates||NA: July 01, 1991
JP: July 19, 1991
|Sales||At least 500,000|
|Average score||63.3% (Mobygames)|
Capcom is at it again with their licensed games based on Disney’s movie, today’s subject being The Little Mermaid. This one is a bit more interesting though, as you can’t really make a platformer with a girl who has fish legs. Although it would have been funny seeing Ariel struggling to jump around and then falling on her face all the time. Or is that just me? Anyway, the reasonable idea was to make this still a side-scroller, but with free underwater movement. Ariel can flap her legs around to create bubbles that trap her foes, then throw them in four directions. It’s a solid concept for what it is, but Capcom had a specific audience in mind for this game so it is very short and not too difficult as a result. That, and its release date is probably why the game is slightly overlooked, but people who have played the game are pretty positive about it. After all, easy games every now and then can be nice too right? As usual with Capcom games, the game was ported to the Game Boy a year later. Both versions have a RetroAchievements set!
Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to the easy difficulty the set itself also isn’t very difficulty. It has a very high mastery rate, and even the no-damage bosses don’t really pose a lot of problems. If you want quick easy free points for a game that isn’t garbage or shovelware or both, then this is the game for you! Someone did propose to make the set more challenging with achievement concepts in the forum though, so maybe we could see a revision for it some day?
While we’re on the subject of licensed games, we also come across one of the arguably least critically acclaimed game of the month. After all, it is a lightgun game on a system that doesn’t even allow the usage of a lightgun! But that said, least critically acclaimed game in this case still means that it’s an average game. There weren’t really any truly horrendous games this month!
|Punisher, The: The Ultimate Payback (Game Boy)|
|Release dates||NA: July 01, 1991|
|Average score||58.6% (Mobygames)|
Based on the NES version, The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback is an over-the-shoulder railgun shooter for the Game Boy starring, you guessed it, The Punisher. It is pretty faithful to the original NES version, though this version comes with Spiderman and that automatically makes it better.. even though it makes absolutely no sense. But contrary to what I said before, the original NES version couldn’t be played with an NES Zapper either so they didn’t try to actually convert something that wouldn’t work. As for the game itself, Frank Punishment Man goes through various New York City locations to shoot several Marvel characters known from his origin story. The game mostly got criticized for being short with very light players assistance, and the lack of faithfulness to the source material. As for how its looked upon nowadays… good question! I have no idea! The game is not really being talked about a lot anymore. But given that its based on a licensed character, we wouldn’t really have to worry that an underwhelming character would result in him never getting any video games anymore.
The Retroachievements set is looking to be a classic achievement set for arcadey games: get high scores and complete stages. While it doesn’t cover anything ordinary, it’s a solid set for a simple railgun shooter like this one. The average completion rate for the set is pretty high, so with a bit of practice you can definitely master this game as well.
I’m going to quickly cover some other neat little games before I move on, as July 1991 didn’t really have many other noteworthy games to be talking about. To be exact, most games I haven’t talked about yet ended up being ports that released on pretty much every console at the time. So before we move on to the land of the rising sun, here’s some more games!
|High Speed (NES)|
|Release dates||NA: July ??, 1991
EU: March 24, 1994
|Average score||68.7% (Mobygames)|
You know that one company Rare? You know, the one that made Banjo-Kazooie and stuff? They sure made a bunch of interesting stuff before they moved on to becoming a partner for Nintendo. Like a Pinball game based on a machine with the same name! Of course, since this is a game, they could let their creative go loose a bit more with a police-themed game, like having helicopters fly around for bonus levels. The reason I mention this game specifically is because it is a genuinely great looking game on the system. As for everything else… well, it’s Pinball! Another game that definitely won’t blow you away but if you like Pinball, it’s worth giving a shot. It doesn’t have a set yet on RetroAchievements however.
|Battle Unit Zeoth (Game Boy)|
|Release dates||NA: July 01, 1991
Battle Unit Zeoth is a sidescrolling futuristic shoot ‘em up where the player takes control of a mecha. The interesting aspect about this game however, is that the mecha is always descending, so the player has to carefully propel it through the air with jet boosters. It’s basically Flappy Bird except better! All joking aside though, this ended up becoming a pretty overlooked game with almost no reviews at all–both from critics and from fans. So if this sounds interesting to you, give it a try as there is a set for the game on RetroAchievements! And yet again, we have a set very much reminiscent of the arcade days: get high scores, and go through the game killing as much as possible while taking no damage as well. The game is fairly short, so take your time and master every aspect and you’ll be done in no time!
While the western side didn’t really have an astonishing line-up of games to offer, the Japanese side had a surprising amount to offer! Most of the interesting games ended up being either Platformers or Shoot ‘em Ups, so if those interest you, I got a bunch to talk about today. More interestingly than anything though, almost all of the games I’m sharing with you today do have sets on Retroachievements! So let’s work down the list of what games I personally find really interesting and see where we end up, starting with…
|Magical Taruruuto-kun (Game Gear)|
|Release date||JP: July 05, 1991|
…Magical Taruruuto-kun! Of course I would start with a super duper cute game, who do you think I am? I am talking about the Game Gear version specifically by the way, because there were four games released for different systems with the exact same name. But what makes this one stand out is that, unlike its counterparts, it’s a horizontal Shoot ‘em Up! Based on the manga with the same name, Magical Taruruto flies through colourful stages with his bat-like wings to throw uh, magic I guess, at a bunch of silly enemies. There’s unfortunately little information about the game on the internet, and perhaps unsurprisingly as a result, the game has never seen a fan translation. Not that it’s really needed though, since it’s very light on story and you usually know what you have to do in Shoot ‘em Ups anyway.
The RetroAchievements set will test not only if you can beat the game, but if you can do it without losing lives as well as beating the bosses without taking damage. It’s a pretty short game, so repeated playthroughs won’t take too long as a result. You can definitely see me playing this game in the near future as it’s super adorable and I have a weak heart. And if you’re interested, the Genesis version of the game also has an achievement set! That game is a platformer, but if you liked the source or this game, you’ll probably end up liking that one too.
Shall we stick to licensed games for the time being? Another fairly well-known series from the early 90s saw a platforming game on the Famicom, namely Samurai Pizza Cats!
|Kyatto Ninden Teyandee | Samurai Pizza Cats (NES)|
|Release date||JP: July 19, 1991|
The three main characters of the anime appear in a 2D Platformer for the famicom, with the specialty here being that you can switch between any of the three characters on the go, as well at the Otasuke members. All characters have unique special abilities to them to help them progress through an overall very solid platformer. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that its developed by the studio behind Ninja Gaiden, Tecmo. This is shown by the general reputations the game has under western retro gamers, citing it as one of the better licensed platformers the system has seen. Many people were able to play it thanks to an excellent fan translation, which is definitely welcome for this game as it has a bit more (comical) dialogue than most other platformers at the time.
Due to its popularity, the game also has one of the more detailed achievement sets on the system. It ranges from just beating the levels, to beating them on a secret hard mode with only specific characters, to not using some of the in-game mechanics to beat a level. If that set somehow is unable to satisfy you, there’s also a subset to function as the real challenge, asking you to not take any damage in stages and attacking only using ninpo. If you want to discover why this licensed game is so beloved, now is a better time than any to find out!
Alright, that’s it for the licensed games. It really shows how two of the better games we never got this month were licensed games, but we’re definitely not stopping there. This month had a bunch more to offer, like a platformer where you play as a… car?!
|Banishing Racer (Game Boy)|
|Release date||JP: July 26, 1991|
Yeah, I didn’t make that up. While we’ve seen our fair share of crazy concepts in the current age, Banishing Racer was ahead of the competition by letting you play as a car through a platformer. Though it sounds more interesting than it really is as there is little actual car things to do in the game. Grab any regular platformer where the character can jump, replace them with a car and voila, there’s your game. That doesn’t mean its a bad game of course, as its a solid platformer in its own right that does take the car theme pretty seriously, as every enemy is basically upcoming traffic. A pretty tough platformer too, as its one hit and back to the start! I can’t blame them though, that makes complete sense. You don’t go driving into traffic and then find a random power-up to restore your car’s damage either now do you?
The set however… is very basic. Beat every level and that’s basically a mastery for you. Don’t let that deceive you as some levels can get pretty tough but yeah, I would definitely like to see a more interesting set in the future.
Alright, there’s one last Platformer to go and then we’re done with that genre. Sorry to all non-Platformer fans, but it’s evident that it was the most popular genre at the time after all!
|Ganso!! Yancha-Maru (Game Boy)|
|Release date||JP: July 11, 1991|
Ganso!! Yancha-Maru is the sequel to the arcade- and NES game Kid Niki: Radical Ninja, or known in Japan as Kaiketsu Yancha Maru. That game made it over to North America, but the sequel is something the west has never seen. That said, it is a game pretty similar to the original game: a simple 2D Platformer with a main character that has a spinning sword in front of him to attack enemies with, and a princess to rescue. The platforming and levels themselves are good enough but nothing outstanding, but that’s more than enough for most people. This is another game that has not seen a translation, but is very light on text so you should have no problem understanding what is going on.
Like the last game however, the set here is pretty simple: beat the game and you’ll have almost everything. I’m not sure if a lot more can be done with the game as it is pretty short but hey, I’m looking forward to it happening!
Before I move on to the quick round of games, there’s one final game to talk about in a pretty well-known franchise. And hey, it’s not a Platformer or a Shoot ‘em Up for once!
|Downtown Special: Kunio-kun no Jidaigeki da yo Zenin Shugo! (NES)|
|Release date||JP: July 26, 1991|
The sequel to River City Ransom and part of the Kunio-Kun/River City franchise (which is a massive franchise I still can’t wrap my head around trying to piece it together), Downtown Special is another Beat ‘em Up with very similar gameplay to the game before: easy to play and understand, with a lot more freedom given to the player in terms of character growth, techniques, and a more open structure to game progression. Instead of street gangs in modern Japan however, this game takes place in a historical play during the Edo period. It was a fairly popular game in Japan that saw many re-releases, but none of them have ever made it to the west. River City Ransom had limited popularity at the time of its release, so that probably was one of the reasons behind it. Nowadays that game is seen as a classic with a cult following, making it no surprise that a fan translation was released as early as 1998.
The achievement set is very varied, ranging from story- and gang achievements to maxing out the player’s stats. Truly, it will bring out almost everything the game has to offer, and that’s what I love to see. The achievement creator has also published a general guide on the forum so be sure to check that out!
And that leaves us with two more games to talk about. I’ve grouped these two together as they are both Shoot ‘em Ups without an achievement set and also without a translation… but given they are Shoot ‘em Ups, you don’t really need a translation. They are also fairly unknown, so maybe they are to your liking if you are a Shoot ‘em Up fan?
|Seirei Senshi Spriggan (CD) (PC Engine)|
|Release date||JP: July 19, 1991|
Seirei Senshi Spriggan was originally meant to release in the west, but that unfortunately never came to be. That said, I am slightly cheating here as it did come out on the PC Engine Mini only two years ago, but the game is still in Japanese so I’ll count it. The game was developed by one of the kings of the Shoot ‘em Up genre, Compile. The unique factor of this game however, is that the mecha the two main character pilot comes with three out of four elemental orbs that results in a wide variety of unique combinations for the main weapon. The combination of medieval themes combined with sci-fi is also a welcome addition. The game is very beloved in the Shoot ‘em Up circle for the PC Engine, and would make for an excellent addition of RetroAchievements.
|Vattle Giuce (Game Boy)|
|Release date||JP: July 12, 1991|
What is a Vattle Giuce? Beats me. I wish I could tell you, but we’re entering very obscure game territory where the most information I could find are a few comments left on various forums. It’s obscurity is probably for good reason as it isn’t necessarily that interesting, but it’s an early Game Boy game that allows you to switch altitude so that’s pretty interesting. It looks pretty good and there’s a slight fantasy theme so that’s right up my alley. I haven’t played it yet, and thus I have little to say about it as a result, but if this ended up getting a RetroAchievements set I definitely wouldn’t be objected to!
And that’s it for this month! Personally speaking, not a lot of the Western-released games this month were too ground breaking. Bonk’s Revenge was a solid platformer and Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom was an RPG with mixed reception, and I’m going to assume that both of them were also the big hitters for this month. Unfortunately none of the games I’ve talked about today had sales figures, aside from The Little Mermaid getting a vague comment that it has more than 500.000 copies sold. So yeah, definitely blind assuming.
Given that both the Platformer and Shoot ‘em Up genres are some of my favourites, the Japanese side of today’s month interested me far more. Magical Taruruuto-kun and Kyatto Ninden Teyandee are both on my playlist of games I’ll probably be playing very soon, but the other games are also ones I’ll be picking up eventually. What surprised me the most is that almost all worthwhile titles from this month already has a set available on RetroAchievements! It really shows the quality from this month’s games huh?
I hope you enjoyed this month’s edition of This Month in Retro! Unfortunately due to a surgery and a swollen foot I wasn’t able to do extensive research on all the titles as well as make an interesting paragraph, but I’m hoping that will not plague the next month, where I’ll be taking you a bit further ahead to August of 2000!
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