Friday, December 23, 2011

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: PC Engine Hyper Catalog 4 (1993)

Christmas Day approaches, and as it's Friday, I've managed to find a Japanese import disc with a seasonally appropriate theme.  PC Engine Hyper Catalog 4 is not a game, per se, but an edition of a periodically issued reference/demo disc with lots of cool stuff onboard.  While most of the content is in Japanese, the back cover of the disc insert advertises the "PC Engine Monthly Magazine for Game Freaks" -- in English.  I presume this ad refers to another publication, as I don't think this CD-ROM would have come out monthly.  And I don't know how many issues were produced, but I can say with reasonable certainty that Shogakukan and PCI produced at least 4 of these discs -- this one is from Winter of 1993.

And while I'm personally more inclined to wish my diverse circle of friends "Happy Holidays!" than "Merry Christmas!", this is definitely a Christmas issue, not a generic holiday theme.  It opens with Christmas-y music as an odd purple dinosaur (no, not that one) scoots out of the way as our boy and girl hosts appear -- all quite nicely animated.  Note the Christmas stockings, stars, bells, and... yes, Christian churches in the title screen's background:

The disc actually opens with a neat trick, as the PC Engine startup CD-ROM menu seems to tilt and rotate into the background when we press the RUN button -- but if we boot with an alternative system card, like the TurboGrafx-CD, the impressive effect is revealed as a pre-rendered sequence, not a real-time image warp.  Past the title menu, our friends spot Santa claus zooming through the skies over Tokyo, and rush to see what he has left under the tree.  A candy cane cursor provides access to the selectable gifts:

The centerpiece of this PC Engine CD-ROM disc is the Hyper Catalog of games, with prices, genres, and brief text details -- but no images.  If I could read Japanese, this would be a really valuable resource; one assumes it was updated in each issue of the series, so that PC Engine otaku would have a reasonably current and complete database available.  We can search by vendor and other categories, and see brief summaries and reviews.  Today, we have the internet and the fabulous PC Engine Bible, so I'm not really feeling left out.  But in 1993 this must have been the (Hudson) bee's knees:

From a cost-effective vintage gaming perspective, the disc's best feature is the series of demos onboard.  Some are playable excerpts of the full game, others are non-interactive animated promos -- but all of these are fun to look at, and may save collectors a few curiosity purchases.

First up is Gojira - Bakuto Retsu Den, a.k.a. Godzilla:

We only get to pit Gojira against a few of his traditional foes from the popular Toho kaiju films -- Rodan and Anguirus -- but it's a pretty healthy sample of the game:

Next up is Super Darius II, second in Toho's series of robotic fish-themed shooters:

We're allowed to play one level, after which the demo game is over whether we beat the boss fish or not.

Next up is the intro sequence, complete with its excellent music, from Falcom's RPG Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys.

We see some character dialogue sequences during the demo, and we also get to take control of the Ys series' hero Adol and putter around town a bit, although none of the shops are open for business (the owners appear briefly to tell us, I presume, that we should buy the actual game), there don't seem to be any substantial quests on offer, and of course we can't save or load.

The PC Engine had no shortage of RPGs, and an interactive demo of Irem's Sol Moonarge presents a lighter, more comical example of the genre:

Next up is a "SPECIAL VERSION" of Hudson's classic Bomberman '94 -- I'm not sure what makes it special, really, but it's preceded by a mock disclaimer apparently denying the existence of the game.

It's good, clean Bomberman fun:

 We also get a preview of Konami's dating sim, Tokimeki Memorial, due to arrive in 1994:

Which can come off a little creepy to Western eyes:

We also get to see the opening for the anime/manga adaptation Yawara! 2:

The first Yawara! game was a digital comic; this one has more game elements, as we can play a quiz game, or participate in a slow-moving, serious round of judo:

Next up is a PC Engine adaptation of one of the first true deathmatch games -- Faceball, popular on the Atari ST once upon a time:

The 3-D graphics are primitive, but the PC Engine pulls off this occasionally intense two-player battle:

We also get to try out fighting game Flash Hiders, a coin-op adaptation which doesn't hide much of the flash and features a few female characters who, er... like a bowl full of jelly, y'knowhatI'msayin?

Finally, we get a sample of the classic PCE hex-based strategy game Nectaris, known in the US as Military Madness:

It's a good bundle of gaming -- nothing full-length, but plenty of variety and a great way to sample some of what was hot on the PC Engine circa Winter 1993.  I will have to pick up more of these PC Engine Hyper Catalog issues as I run across them.

Merry Christmas!

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