Nintendo Switch and Splatoon Madness in Japan Part 1

While I mostly focus on retro stuff on this site, I’ve recently gotten back into modern Nintendo games. And there is nothing more modern, more Nintendo, and more Japanese than Splatoon, a game about punk-rock fashion-conscious highly evolved transforming squid children playing ink-shooting games in a post-apocalyptic future world. Oh, and it features singing idol girls and is set in a suspiciously Shinjuku/Harajuku looking city.
The first Splatoon was huge in Japan, despite the fact the console it was released on, the Wii U, was not. It was a crossover cultural hit with huge merchandising success, and is easily the highest selling home console game in the current generation in Japan, selling more than even huge names on PS4 like Final Fantasy and more recently Dragon Quest.

On top of this, Nintendo’s new system, the Switch, is also a huge hit, having been constantly sold out since launch. Recently these two things combined with the release of Splatoon 2 on Switch. And as expected, Japan has gone crazy for it.

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Nintendo has gone all out with ads for the game, with many TV spots, ads running in trains…

   

…and standard posters around the city.

But what sets the Splatoon 2 campaign apart are these: Fashion ads for the in-game brands.

Merchandise

You can’t really go anywhere that sells toys or games or trinkets of any sort without coming across Splatoon merchandise. It is everywhere in all cities countrywide.

   

   

   

Many companies without a licence are using the ‘rainbow paint’ motif to sell their gaming wares too.

   

In store displays and ads

      

Tie-ins

You can buy all sorts of licenced snacks and drinks

7-Eleven has a promotion to get exclusive in-game gear if you buy the game from them (they sell download code cards) or with certain product purchases.

   

You get a Splatoon badge and a code which can be redeemed on the Switch eShop, and the gear gets dropped off as a package in Inkopolis Square in the game.

Tower Records

The biggest tie-in with a store is probably Tower Records.

The initial Japanese pre-release Splatoon demo was itself a tie-in, as Tower Records sold the in-game t-shirts for the Rock vs Pop theme.

The Shibuya store in particular looks like this:

   

And had a performance tie in with Wet Floor, an in-game band.

While not nation wide, there is a possibly even larger Splatoon tie-in event with Kyoto Aquarium, which I’ll cover in a future article.

Next article: Splatoon 2 launch day.

Game Shop 1983 (ゲームショップ 1983) Sapporo

Outside of the known ‘game districts’ in Tokyo and Osaka, specialist video game shops are a bit harder to come by these days. You have Yodobashi and Bic Camera for new games, and all the HardOff/HouseOff/BookOff variations, but you have to look a bit harder for specialist stuff.

I’ve recently been travelling in Hokkaido, and came across this tiny slice of old-school Akiba in Sapporo – Game Shop 1983.

It’s a tiny place, packed with stuff in that haphazard ‘run by an enthusiast not a businessman’ way. The guy who runs it is nice though, and the prices are not insane.

All eras are represented, from Famicom through to modern stuff.

The classic ‘drawers of loose carts’ format.
Some copies of the new ‘Neo Heiankyo Alien’ game mixed in with actual vintage releases…

It’s so cramped and…unkept… it reminds me a lot of the game shops in the Golden Arcade in Hong Kong more than most Japanese shops.

In a cute touch it seems you can get a papercraft version of the shop. They were all out at this moment however.

Not much more to say about the place, but it’s worth a visit just to see this: the Dreamcast Karaoke unit version of the ‘Tower of Power’

Portable Nintendo Multiplayer – then and now

Nintendo’s Micro Vs. System series was the cutting edge way to enjoy multiplayer gaming on the go in 1984, combining the multiplayer fun of the Famicom with the portability of the Game & Watch line.

With (semi) detachable controllers for player 1 and 2, each unit only played one game, but quality engineering made the whole thing very cool.

Thirty three years later, the more things change, the more things stay the same. The idea has been reborn as one of the key features of the new Nintendo Switch.

If there’s anything Nintendo loves, it’s revisiting old ideas. Dual screens, stereoscopic 3D, and now on-the-go multiplayer have all made multiple appearances in the company’s history. The hybrid Switch has finally fulfilled the promise of the Micro Vs. idea.

     

Similarly, in the 80s, handheld Zelda was a massive compromise. Now there is no compromise.

     

In a sense, all of Nintendo’s gaming history has been pointing here. Exciting times.

Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer (ニンテンドークラシックミニ ファミリーコンピュータ)

Finally a mini Famicom has been released!

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Hmm not that one, one that plugs into your TV and plays Famicom games!

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No? How about a high quality production made by Nintendo themselves?

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Okay so the concept of a ‘mini Famicom’ isn’t exactly unique. There have been quite a few ‘mini Famicom’ systems released over the years by Nintendo and others, including two Famicom versions of the Game Boy Advance SP, the fancier one on the left being a super-exclusive run of only 200.

famicomminisp1    famicomminisp2

But here’s the latest mini Famicom – the Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer.

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It’s a tribute console, built as a small Linux computer running an emulator with thirty pre-installed classic games. It powers via USB and outputs a 1280×720 pixel picture, upscaling the original 256×240 resolution of the games. It’s the Japanese counterpart of the Nintendo Classic Mini NES, and much like the western equivalent appears to have been a huge hit.

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The box is identical in size to that of the Nintendo Classic Mini NES

The thirty built-in games cover the entire run of the original Famicom, but there is definitely a focus on earlier titles.

  1. Donkey Kong
  2. Mario Bros.
  3. Pac-Man
  4. Excitebike
  5. Balloon Fight
  6. Ice Climber
  7. Galaga
  8. Yie Ar Kung-Fu
  9. Super Mario Bros.
  10. Zelda no Densetsu
  11. Atlantis no Nazo
  12. Gradius
  13. Makaimura
  14. Solomon’s Key
  15. Metroid
  16. Akumajou Dracula
  17. Adventure of Link
  18. Tsuppari Ozumo
  19. Super Mario Bros. 3
  20. Ninja Gaiden
  21. Rockman 2
  22. Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari
  23. Double Dragon II
  24. Super Contra
  25. Final Fantasy III
  26. Dr. Mario
  27. Downtown Nekketsu Koushinkyoku: Soreyuke daiundoukai
  28. Mario Open Golf
  29. Super Mario USA
  30. Kirby’s Adventure

Right from the start this one is a classy affair, with the packaging and presentation matching up to the original as perfectly as possible.

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Even the manual is a tribute.

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Without context, a photograph of the device itself could be confused for an 80s Famicom even by a fan.

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Nintendo has done some vintage style television commercials for the new console

It’s not quite as small as the NES Mini, at around a 2/3 scale of the original.

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The obvious reason for this is that unlike the NES Mini’s full size replicas of original controllers, the Mini Family Computer controllers are also scale models.

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It’s a take on the mid-period Family Computer, as it has round controller buttons, but lacks the Famicom Family ‘FF’ branding on the left of the front faceplate that Nintendo introduced to the console in 1988.

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Round buttons, but a minor incorrect detail – they are convex compared to the original buttons which were concave.

While the controllers are tiny they remain perfectly usable – the directional pad and buttons are identical in size to those of a Game Boy Micro.

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From the front the system is almost identical, but it is missing the instruction stickers for power and eject buttons and expansion port cover. Which begs the question: did Nintendo mean for owners to remove these stickers on the original models?

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Of course the major change is the back of the system, with new micro USB power and HDMI video output replacing the ancient original selections.

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Just like the original, it is designed for the players to sit near the console to play since the controller cords are very short. The reset button is used to switch games on the mini, so it makes sense here to use long HDMI and power cables and sit near the console.

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Like the western NES Mini, games are selected from a menu, and boot pretty much instantly. There is a save state feature, allowing saving at any time into four slots per game with various cute animations. A brand new mid-80s style 8-bit tune plays in the menu, it’s the same one as the NES Mini and will get stuck in your head.

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There are three scaling options for the games, all of which have issues. 4:3 is the default and displays the games in the correct aspect ratio, but you end up with minor scaling artefacts when scrolling. A pixel-perfect mode allows for no scaling artefacts, but the graphics are stretched vertically.

And there’s a ‘vintage’ mode which applies a scan line effect as well as approximations of various composite/radio frequency noise that you would experience on original hardware. The vintage mode is actually very well done, but more of a novelty since half of the point of a new device is to get a cleaner picture.

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There are some minor emulation issues such as sound lag (and a couple of frames of overall lag), but the presentation is pretty solid overall. It’s not going to replace an RGB modded Famicom and Framemeister combo for dedicated retro enthusiasts, but is still very well done for the price.

Here’s the original Nintendo trailer, which covers most of the basic features in depth.

It’s a very cool toy, and a great collectors item. However in my opinion the classiest ‘mini Famicom’ ever remains the Famicom Game Boy Micro, as that thing is a work of art.

My mini Famicom collection:

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Nintendo Color-TV Game Racing 112 (カラーテレビゲームレーシング112)

First there was the Color TV-Game 6, then the Color-TV Game 15. And the final Nintendo single-game console release was the Color TV-Game Block Breaker. I was missing one – until now.

The biggest, and perhaps coolest of the Color-TV game range, 1978’s Nintendo Color-TV Game Racing 112 (カラーテレビゲームレーシング112)

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It’s a huge game, due to the realistic wheel and gear stick. The wheel is removable for transport so it can fit in a smaller box, but the box is still huge, here it is next to a Famicom for scale.

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The centrepiece of the system is obviously the wheel.

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On the right side of the system is the game modes panel. You can select between one or two player modes, track width, speed level, enemy car behaviour (zig zagging or straight lines), if hitting the barriers counts as a crash, road hazards, and if there are one or two opposing cars at once. Down is the easier position for each of the option switches. The red button is reset/start.

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And on the left is the two position gear shift.

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In terms of design, it’s pretty much a straight clone of Taito’s 1974 arcade game Speed Race, which was the first ever game with a scrolling background effect. You view the track from above, and steer left and right to avoid the other cars on the road. It scrolls quite smoothly, the moving effect being provided by trackside ‘stripe’ markers.

Personal side note: I remember playing Speed Race in a local (ish) arcade in the late 80s/early 90s. The arcade, know as ‘Funland’ opened in 1970 as a pinball parlour (even before there were video games) and collected and maintained games from every era over the years. I didn’t appreciate at the time, but that arcade’s maintenance of old machines gave me some early gaming history lessons!

Back to Racing 112. There are two major variations of the one player game, with wide and narrow roads. You must pass the other cars without hitting them, and last as long as you can. The feature switches allow you to adjust speed, number of cars on the road (one or two per screen/wave) and the way the cars move (straight or in patterns).

Just like the paddles in the previous Color TV games, the Steering wheel is an analogue controller, so the steering speed changes based on how far you turn the wheel. The gear shift is digital, and simply allows you to move between two speeds

It’s pretty basic, but compelling, and the basic gameplay formula remained popular well into the mid 80s with the likes of  Midway’s Spy Hunter, Konami’s Road Fighter, and Sega’s Action Fighter.

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The two player mode doesn’t use the steering wheel, but instead two paddle controllers, which you can pull out from storage slots on the back. You stay at only one speed in two player, but while all game modes remain intact, it’s basically just a head to head for score, as the two players stay on their own track and do not interact with each other.

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ctvr112_3

ctvr112_0225
Paddle storage slots

Just like all the other consoles in the CTV series, it connects via a hardwired RF cable and tunes to the same Japanese channels (1/2) as a Famicom, and uses an external 9V power supply which was sold separately and compatible with all models. A Famicom compatible power supply works perfectly too.

The Color-TV Game 6 had six Pong variations, and and the Color-TV Game 15 had either seven or about 20 Pong variations depending how minor a variation counts. Does Racing 112 have one hundred and twelve racing game variations? Technically yes, something like that. In an era where adding a feature like zig zagging cars might mean a whole new release (Super Zig Zag racing Turbo III!) saying there were over 100 game variations isn’t actually false advertising.

The Color-TV line ended the following year with the awesome Block Breaker, which was also the first game to feature the Nintendo brand on the casing. But for going all-out, it’s hard to beat the Racing 112.

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ctvr112_0227

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ctvr112_1  ctvr112_7

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(Almost) every Nintendo console ever released in Japan

With my recent acquisition of a Color TV-Game Racing 112, My collection now includes almost every major revision of every Nintendo home console ever released, complete in box.

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  1. Wii U
  2. Wii
  3. Gamecube
  4. Nintendo 64
  5. Virtual Boy (I’m counting it as a console, since it is really not portable)
  6. Super Famicom Jr.
  7. Super Famicom
  8. Famicom AV
  9. Round Button Family Computer
  10. Square Button Family Computer
  11. Famicom Disk System (a separate platform, but not a console)
  12. Color TV-Game Block Breaker
  13. Color TV-Game Racing 112
  14. Color TV-Game 15
  15. Color TV-Game 6 CTV6G (orange)
  16. Color TV-Game 6 CTV6S (white)

A small confession: My Wii U is not a Japanese model.

There were a few more minor revisions of the consoles along the way – FF logo/non FF logo Famicom, output changes, different coloured consoles of various sorts (even shapes like the Pikachu N64), but these are all the major Japanese revisions. The Wii Mini revision was not released in Japan.

There’s one major item missing – the Computer TV-Game. I’ll almost certainly never get one of these. This ‘console’ is incredibly rare, insanely expensive, and its questionable if it was even a consumer product since it was literally an arcade game with TV out. It sold for ¥48,000 in 1980. For comparison the Color TV Game Racing 112 was selling for ¥5000 in 1980, and the Famicom launched in 1983 for ¥14,800.

The Sega set is on its way, but will take a few more years I think. So many revisions…

Nintendo Color-TV Game 15 (カラー テレビゲーム15)

Released one week after the Color TV-Game 6, the Color TV-Game 15 was the ‘deluxe’ model. Or perhaps the 70s equivalent of the NES ‘Action Set’.

CTV15_8792

It was apparently designed to be the more profitable of the two consoles, offering more features for ¥15,000, vs ¥9,800 for the Color TV-Game 6. It dropped to half the price eventually, and outlived the CTVG6, as can be seen from the updated price listing in the later Color TV-Game Block Kuzushi manual.

ColorTVGameBB_9

It’s not too much larger, but has a more stylised design and detachable controllers for a more comfortable playing session. The first model was made of orange plastic that matched the orange CTVG6. This is the second model, which is a reddish orange colour.

CTV15_8807

The controller cords are the standard Japanese controller cord length (short) so you still needed to sit near the console to play. The controllers are pretty decent paddle controllers, definitely higher quality dials than the original white version of the CTV6.

CTV15_8806

You can still power the console by batteries or a standard 9V power supply.

CTV15_8809   CTV15_8810

The 15 in the name is something of a misnomer. There are really about seven Pong variations, adding various board options, along with additional paddle number, size and speed changes. There are far more that 15 game types if you count every possible variation, so I’m not sure why they drew the line at 15.

CTV15_8808

Here’s a look at the basic board variations:

CTV15_8796 CTV15_8797 CTV15_8798 CTV15_8799 CTV15_8800 CTV15_8801 CTV15_8802 CTV15_8803

CTV15_8804 CTV15_8805

It doesn’t quite have the cachet of the ‘first Nintendo’ CTVG6, and isn’t anywhere near as cool as the beautiful Block Kuzushi. But it’s still a nicely engineered Pong game which is more comfortable to play and has more game options, so can be a fun retro afternoon sometime.

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