Hello all and welcome back to This Month in Retro! Today, we’ll be taking a trip back to September of 1989, where… nothing too interesting happened actually! After all, only a month prior is when NEC launched the TurboGrafx-16 in America, while Sega took their opportunity to release the Sega Genesis. It’s not too surprising then that the industry would take their chance to cool down a month after. Fortunately, we still have a bunch of interesting games to look at!
As usual, I will be taking you through both the games released this month in the west, as well as the games that have to this day never left Japan. Surprisingly however, the number of Japanese-exclusive games this month is actually really low, so this month is a bit of a “TMIR Lite” edition. Don’t think I’ve used that term before, looks cool. I will also be talking about the reception the games got from critics- and players like, though do keep in mind that everything released during- and before the third generation of gaming is a bit scarce in information, so sales numbers are the like may not be accurate or not even present. But we’ll find that out along the way; let’s talk about games!
Wait… can you hear that? There, in the distance! It’s… the Nepiki Bias Alarm, or NBA™ for short! Of course when I saw this game pop up on the list of releases, there was no doubt in my mind it would be the first game to talk about today.
|Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap (Master System)|
|Release dates||NA: September ??, 1989
PAL: October ??, 1989
|Average score||85% (MobyGames, 23 reviews)|
Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap is the third game in Sega’s Wonder Boy franchise… kinda. This series is somewhat of a confusing mess that I definitely won’t go into today to preserve my sanity, but it is a series full of wonderful games (pun 100% intended). This game is no exception, often seen as one of, if not the best entry in this series of non-linear platforming that is not too much different from the Metroidvania genre. This is because our hero Wonder Boy is cursed by the first dragon he fights, transforming him into a Lizard-man. Over the course of the game, our hero is able to transform into a multitude of other animals, such as a mouse and a hawk, that all give him vastly different traversal options that in turn have their uses in previously-visited areas. All of this is accompanied by a fun action 2D platformer, where the hero either fight as an animal or slays his enemies with his trusty sword that he can upgrade over the course of the game alongside his armour, sometimes as a reward for exploration and at other time bought from the shops with currency that the enemies drop. As hinted at before, the game received critical acclaim across the board, not only at the time but retrospectively as well. It’s not too surprised then that the game would see a lot of re-releases such as on the Game Gear and TurboGrafx-16 (under the name Dragon’s Curse), as well as an excellent remake on all modern platforms called Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. And if you are from Brazil, you might also know this game as Turma da Mônica em o Resgate, where the game’s characters are replaced with characters from the Brazilian comic book series Monica’s Gang. I don’t know why either but hey, it’s the same game at its core and that’s what matters most.
You can also use this version to play the achievement set! This set by developer MGNS8M will cruise you through everything the game has to offer, from the bosses to every upgrade you can do to your arsenal. Add to that a bunch of secrets to be found and some boss challenges, and you’ll have a set that will keep you entertained through its fun runtime!
From one great game to the other, the NES also saw a good amount of interesting releases this month. One of these is one of the more popular licenses games from around this time–and for good reason!
|Release dates||NA: September ??, 1989
JP: January 26, 1990
PAL: December 14, 1990
|Average score||83% (MobyGames, 26 reviews)|
DuckTales is a popular animated show that started airing in 1987. Like many, I have watched this show many times and have the intro song (or at least, the Dutch variation) stuck in my head whenever I hear the name. This show became very popular and paved the way for many Disney cartoons to follow under the “Disney Afternoon” block, such as TaleSpin and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. It’s unsurprising a video game adaptation would follow, and what a good one it was. Developed by key personnel behind the Mega Man series, DuckTales features our favourite money-loving Scrooge McDuck doing what he does best: traveling around the world to find lots of treasure before his rival Flintheart Glomgold does. This will bring him to places such as Africa, the Himalayas, and even the Moon which has one of the catchiest 8-bit tunes out there. And though he may be an old duck, that will not stop him from pogo-sticking through the stages in a smooth platformer. Given that some of the Mega Man developers were involved, it’s unsurprising that the platforming saw a lot of praise from critics and players, with the non-linear stages being the cherry on top. With it being featured on a lot of lists of best NES games near the top, as well as becoming Capcom’s best-selling video game on the console, DuckTales is definitely a must-play even if you are unfamiliar with the source. It was followed up by a well-received sequel that unfortunately launched a bit too late in the system’s lifespan. Both games are also available on the Game Boy, as well as ported in the Disney Afternoon collection on modern platforms together with games based on the before-mentioned cartoons. Finally, there is the excellent remake by WayForward which I can definitely recommend.
Due to being a shorter game, the achievement developers were able to go all-out with the challenges. Aside from progression and finding secrets in all the levels, there are separate challenges for not picking up any treasure, avoiding all enemies, not ever pogoing, and not losing a life. And of course, the multiple endings are covered depending on how much treasure Scrooge has picked up over the course of his journey. RA users think highly of this set with the challenges being just the right difficulty, so just like the game itself, it is certainly worth checking out!
Squaresoft would also show their nose again this month… but probably not with the genre you are thinking of!
|King’s Knight (NES)|
|Release dates||JP: September 18, 1986
NA: September ??, 1989
|Average score||50% (MobyGames, 6 reviews)|
If you look at the title and at the badge and still think this is an RPG then I am sorry to disappoint. Just like you when I first saw this, it screamed RPG to me–which would be logical with Squaresoft being the developers. But nope! King’s Knight is actually a shoot ‘em up of all genres! It follows a basic “Rescue the princess!!!@” storyline, where four completely different characters set out to rescue her. You need to make it through a level as each and make sure they survive, because they are all essential to beating the game where they join forces in the final level. The screen scrolls automatically, with the characters avoiding damage while dishing them out, picking up power-ups or power-downs, and finding secret entrances to caves that also have something essential for the final level. As you might have guessed, the game is somewhat challenging due to how little room it leaves for failure, even if the controls are smooth and the gameplay itself not necessarily being that difficult. This led to the game already not being the most well-received at release, but being even more panned retrospectively. There are almost no positive reviews to be found by players online, making this a mostly ignored game… but not forgotten. After all, it is one of Squaresoft’s earlier titles and did have an interesting idea going for it by combining shooting gameplay with RPG- and platforming elements. Square-Enix did acknowledge its existence by remaking it on iOS as a promotion for Final Fantasy XV, but that unsurprisingly didn’t last long.
The set does take advantage of it being both a shoot ‘em up and an RPG. You need to not only clear all levels but do so without taking damage, while also bringing every character to the maximum level of 20. There are also some additional challenges like beating the final boss without weapon- and shield upgrades. The game doesn’t have a lot of masters yet… but realistically speaking I don’t think that will change anytime soon either. But please do prove me wrong!
While thinking of the final game to talk about for today on the western side, I came across one that I didn’t think much of by just looking at the name. Watching footage of each game ultimately gave my opinion an 180, because this? This is my jam.
|Air Fortress (NES)|
|Release dates||JP: August 17, 1987
NA: September ??, 1989
|Average score||60% (MobyGames, 11 reviews)|
That’s right, the final game we are talking about today is Air Fortress. Once I realized it’s another one of those hybrid-genre games, I knew everything I needed to know. In this game, a herd of monstrous “Air Fortresses” invaded the galaxy, consuming everything in their path, and now it’s up to our main character to infiltrate them and put an end to their conquest. He approaches them in horizontal shoot ‘em up stages, shooting their way through and avoiding damage to reach the air lock, as even just one hit destroys the ship and consumes another chance. Along the way, the player finds ammunition that can be used when inside the fortresses, which converts the game into a 2D action-adventure/run-and-gun game. With his trusty jetpack, he can freely move around through these mazes to destroy enemies and security systems with his gun, find the core, and then get out as quickly as possible before being consumed by the explosion. Rinse and repeat this for more fortresses that progressively get more difficult, and you have a neat little game on your hands. At least, I think so? On release it got mixed reception, though most of the negative points were directed at the presentation side. However, the other common complaint regarding the challenge ramping up real quick, as well as neither of the gameplay styles being particularly interesting may hold a bit more weight. The fans are somewhat more positive on the game retrospectively, but do note these specific complaints as well so do keep that in mind.
The achievement set tasks you with destroying every fortress… and then realizing there is a second quest! Take care of that as well, and make sure to enter every fortress in both modes without crashing during the shoot ‘em up section. A straightforward set that will certainly test your skill!
Other interesting western releases this month
Games with achievement sets
|Adventures of Dino Riki, The (NES)|
|Back to the Future (NES)|
|Fester’s Quest (NES)|
|P.O.W.: Prisoners of War (NES)|
|Who Framed Roger Rabbit (NES)|
Games without achievement sets
|Black Bass (NES)|
|Hollywood Squares (NES)|
|Battle OutRun (Master System)|
|SpellCaster (Master System)|
There weren’t a lot of Japanese-exclusive games released this month so I thought I wouldn’t have much to talk about today… but it turns I still have a few. Unfortunately one that I did want to talk about, Chuuka Taisen, technically got localized on the Master System as Cloud Master and also remade on the Nintendo Wii, and I can’t stretch my own rules that much. Only one of the games I’ll be talking about has a set, so let’s start with that one!
|TwinBee 3: Poko Poko Dai Maou (NES)|
|Release dates||JP: September 29, 1989|
TwinBee is a long-running series of mostly shoot ‘em up games, of which only a few made it to the west, such as the second game which got localized to Stinger and is also available on RetroAchievements. The first game eventually got localized as well on the Nintendo 3DS, but the third game so far remains Japanese exclusive. Like its predecessors, TwinBee 3: Poko Poko Dai Maou has a verical-scrolling orientation for its shoot-em-up gameplay, although it does ditch the side-scrolling stages from the game prior. Unlike that game, you can also only play with two players this time, but that’s good enough for me as I don’t think I’d quickly find two other people to play this game with, let alone one. That said, what might make this game more appealing than the previous games is its considerably easier difficulty by given the player more settings to play with, as well as a new system called the “soul reviving system” that allows the player to recover their power-ups after losing a ship–which, if you are a shmup player, you know how much of a lifesaver that can be as a death usually means it’s back to scratch. I couldn’t find much opinions from players however, but the ones I did find did mention that the game is really short. Depending on who you ask, that can be either a curse- or a blessing, but that’s something we’ll have to find out ourselves!
After all, we do have an achievement set for the game! And thanks to achievement developer Falcus, what is considered a short game now has substantially more meat on its bone with playthroughs on multiple difficulties, as well as a second loop to go through. Of course, you need to get a specific amount of points as well, and check out all the upgrades to TwinBee’s arsenal. If you are looking to get more into cute ‘em ups, this looks to be a good set to start with! Do keep in mind that this game does not have a fan translation, but you’ll definitely be fine without.
Next up is a game that, by looking at the title, looks like something that should have been localized or even made in North America. But nope, it’s quite the opposite!
|American Dream (NES)|
|Release dates||JP: September 23, 1989|
The American Dream has different interpretations depending on who you ask. For this game, it’s to get stinking rich. Not too surprising when you see it stars the literal Pachinko ball character, Pachio-kun. As a spin-off of that franchise, the ball goes to New York City, starting in the poorest district and gambling his way up to the top. Indeed, gambling is quite literally all that you will be doing, be it through card- or dice games or on the slot machines. Insert shocked Pikachu face here. This is probably a good time to mention that during the 80s and 90s, gambling games were very common in Japan, and almost every month there would be a Pachinko game or something Mahjong/Shogi-related. I’ve purposely avoided talking about them before now because they never get translated and are kind of samey, but lo and behold, this game actually did get a fan translation! For what it’s worth it’s probably one of the more detailed gambling games of the console, but I couldn’t tell you if it’s any good; there are barely and internet opinions, and I can guarantee you this is something I am 100% not interested in. So whether it will be good or not is going to be… a gamble. Hahaha okay next game.
Finally, we have another game to bring me out of my comfort zone: an idol game! But I’ll try my best to sell you on the game!
|Idol Hakkenden (NES)|
|Release dates||JP: September 14, 1989|
Idol Hakkenden is an adventure/visual novel game where a zaibatsu tycoon owner (zaibatsu is basically the heart of economic and industrial activity in the Empire of Japan pre-World War II) falls sick and sees her end approaching. With three daughters, only one can be the true heir so they get challenged to see who can perform the best in the industry. With the two eldest daughters being geniuses who would win this easily, the youngest daughter instead opts to become an idol. But in an industry that it booming with talents, she has to work her way to the top while a plot is ongoing that could ruin her music career. All of this is done in a visual novel style, where the dialogue chosen impacts the course of the game and are often related to in-game puzzles as well. For such a text-heavy game, we are fortunate enough that the game does not just have one, but two completely separate fan-translations available! The game does not have any set requests yet at this point of writing and is therefore fairly unknown, but maybe this write-up will bring it to the attention of the right people?
That was a pretty good month all-around! The western side had some really interesting releases this month, with both Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap and DuckTales being some of the better 8-bit games out there, as shown by the reputation they still have today with remakes and all. But even some of the games I didn’t talk about today even though I really wanted to are certainly worth checking out, like Battle OutRun and Back to the Future.
I was surprised going this far back in time led me to so few Japanese-exclusive titles, given that the Famicom is full of treasure still waiting to be uncovered. I wouldn’t say this month really had a lot of treasure, but that may also be because most of these games just simply aren’t my thing. With Idol Hakkenden having two dedicated translations, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a complete hidden gem!
And that’s it for this month’s edition. Next month we’ll head a bit into the future, where we will ask you…
…What is a man?
See you next month!
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