I am not currently home at the moment. I’m spending a week out because of job reasons, so instead of sitting in front of my high-end Gamer PC, I’m struggling to run PC-Engine ROMs while trying to have more than one internet tab open on a shitty laptop from 2014. This thing struggles even looking at the menu for Retroarch, and Bizhawk stutters like a motherfucker, so I had to travel back in time and play these games on my old cracked version of Magic Engine. Remember that emulator? I still think it has the best UI.
Something that I said before when I complained about F1 games was that, despite those games being decent to shitty, the PC-Engine is still very much God’s Favorite Video Game Entertainment System. Trying to think of what the system’s best game is is impossible, so I won’t be doing that. Instead, I will be writing about a bunch of its games that made an impression on me.
Parasol Stars: giving beer to children.
Parasol Stars fucking rules. Is it the best game on the PC-Engine? No. Does that matter? Again, no. It’s a cute little game where you play a fat kid that picks things up with his parasol, then shooting said things at other things. You pick up fruits and alcohol and crowns and money and all types of brightly colored shit. There’s all these obtuse scoring mechanics and hidden items you need to get in order to actually finish the game.
When I was still a hot shot on Tumblr (a term I use derisively), I spent a lot of time talking about PC-Engine games, and this was one of the more talked about ones. The reason for this was that every Friday, I would get fucked up on about one or two vicodin (I weigh about 130, drugs don’t have to work very hard to take effect on me), make some ramen and iced tea, watch wrestling, and then play this game. That was my night for about a year. Sounds kind of sad when I describe it out loud like this, but it was a fun time. I got to be a home-body, doing things I liked, and then there was a cute video game that pleased my addled brain with its bright colors. And no, I don’t take pills for fun anymore. Don’t drink, don’t pop shit. Doesn’t make Parasol Stars any less good, though.
VERDICT: this game rules. Check it out.
Genpei Toumaden: why no, nobody knows what the fuck this game is about
I very briefly brought up Genpei Toumaden when I wrote about the Namco Museum Collection. But I didn’t really go too in-depth on it.
Let me reiterate what I said then: this game is weird. It’s another one of those games that manages to make perfect sense, yet also makes no sense whatsoever. You play as an undead Samurai, based on a real life samurai named Taira no Kagekiyo, who goes across Japan, fighting other real-life samurai and daimyo who are all also now creepy-looking undead creatures. It’s a side-scrolling action game with a unique, creepy visual style. Makes sense so far, right?
Then the perspective changes, and the sprites are bigger, and your character does that really ugly thing where a character has individual body parts that animate that never looks good.
Then there are levels that are top-down. In these, you fight enemies that spawn from gourds and puddles of water. Then at the end, you choose a torii gate to enter, that will take you on one of the many different paths the game has.
So far, this makes sense. On a mechanical, actually-playing-a-game level, this is extremely normal, maybe even by the numbers. But when you apply this to a game with an unusual and outright creepy art style (on the Genpei Toumaden episode of Game Center CX, even Arino was weirded out by some of the levels), abrasive music and voice samples, and an extremely haphazard sense of level design, it’s really out there.
Then you fall down a pit. In most games, this results in a lost life, or a full-on game over. Here? No.
Instead, you fall back down into Hell. You fight a few enemies, then make your way to the end. There, you meet Enma Daiō, the king of Hell, and he presents you with a series of boxes. Pick the right box, and you go right back to the surface like nothing ever happened.
Pick the wrong box?
Game Over! Play More Serious!
I realize that I’m probably making this game sound really interesting. That being said, let me make this perfectly clear: Genpei Toumaden is a bad game. The controls are terrible, enemies come at you from all angles faster than you can react, you bounce from one end of the screen to the other if you get hit, it’s possible to fuck yourself into an unwinnable situation in the first level. This was an arcade quarter-muncher that, for better or for worse, was almost perfectly translated to a console. It’s bad, yes. But you still absolutely need to play it. Genpei Toumaden is something that needs to be experienced; it feels like outsider art, at times.
VERDICT: I’m shrugging my shoulders and shaking my head at the same time.
Deep Blue: it’s a game about fish
This is another weird one. Deep Blue is a side-scrolling shooter where you are a fish that shoots at other fish. What makes this weird is that you are the only fish in the ocean that shoots. The other fish are all realistic looking, and are content to swim at you as fast as possible.
I don’t have nearly as much to say about this as I did Genpei Toumaden, but the spirit is the same here. It makes sense, from a game perspective, but then gets weird when you stop and think about the concept, and then actually play the game. Aside from the player sprite, everything is as realistically depicted as the PC-Engine would allow. You slowly swim from one end to the other, with this background music that manages to sound both calm and like the soundtrack to a dissociative episode. Even on a system loaded with shooters, good and bad, Deep Blue still manages to stick out amongst the crowd.
VERDICT: not especially good or fun, but another PC-Engine game worth looking at from an experimental perspective.
That’s it for this entry. Spent way too many words on Genpei Toumaden. The PC-Engine had a number of amazing games. But even its bad games had something to offer. This is why the system was fucking amazing, and certainly deserved better than what it got here in North America.
Parasol Stars legitimately rules, though.