Another update on this article on my now never-ending quest to collect a series of Konami Famicom character cards from the 80s.
Recap: at some point starting in 1987, Konami decided to include a collector card with all their Famicom titles. Each card had an illustration related to the game; some cards featured screenshots or pieces of screenshots, others had artwork of scenes in the game.
But one lucky day I found a regular small boxed game with the card. And now I have a card for all twenty of the games that came with one!
On top of this, I picked up a beautiful near mint copy of Dragon Scroll (ドラゴンスクロール) in Ikebukuro, which came with a different card to the one I had, so now I have entered the murky waters of collecting multiple cards per game.
Dragon Scroll also came with these great advertisements for various Konami games and sountracks. Pretty cool when you have almost every item on a vintage ad!
This Japanese site (which I found because it flatteringly used this site as a source) has nicely collated most of the available cards, so this journey may go for many more years. Another great site Video Game Den also has good info on the available cards.
You don’t have to look too far into 80s Japanese gaming to see that the biggest competitor to the Famicom was not the Sega SG1000 or Mark III – but a console-like home computer platform – the MSX. Invented by Microsoft Japan, MSX was designed to be a standard platform for computer manufacturers, for which Microsoft could provide the operating environment and sell their other software. In effect an early version of the racket they later managed worldwide with Windows.
I became aware of the MSX in the late 80s, when many of the catalogues and promos that came with my imported Famicom games featured ads for MSX games.
What got many Japanese gaming enthusiasts’ attention early on were the big Konami franchises like Akumajou Dracula (Castlevania) and Metal Gear that got early entries on the platform. Many Hudson Soft game series started on MSX as well.
What’s nice about MSX computers is that they bear much more resemblance to consoles than lots of other 80s PCs. Most are standalone, single piece units with the keyboard built in. This model is one of the most compact models – so even with the built-in keyboard it’s smaller in size than many consoles.
They were designed to be plugged into a TV, so there’s no looking around for specific retro monitors or video converters. Most MSX computers have standard composite AV out, and many have RGB out, allowing for a great quality picture via any RGB capable TV (or modern scalers like Micomsoft XRGB units).
Probably best of all, MSX computers feature a cartridge slot, and while this design feature was present in many 8-bit and 16-bit computers, unlike most of the others a good deal of the best software for the platform was released on cart. This means plug and play simplicity, and less fiddling around trying to get old floppy disks to work.
Power wise, there are two main generations of machine, the MSX and the MSX2. The MSX was first announced in June 1983, and features similar graphical and processing power to the Sega SG1000 and several other platforms that used the same basic design, including the Colecovision and the ZX Spectrum. While there are some good games (including the first ever Parodius game) MSX1 games are fairly primitive, mostly featuring 1/2 colour sprites, and little scrolling. The lack of hardware scrolling makes the many shooter games on the platform very choppy, as they ‘scroll’ 10+ pixels at a time. Ultimately, just like the SG1000 it is dramatically outclassed by the Famicom in terms of gaming, despite the Famciom being released earlier.
The MSX2 was introduced in 1986, and is much closer to the Famicom. It can produce more detailed graphics and features more colours, but usually at a lower framerate, so games feel more choppy. In a pretty huge design oversight for a post Super Mario Bros platform, the MSX2 hardware is still not capable of horizontal scrolling. As such, a huge number of games for the system utilise Legend of Zelda or Montezuma’s Revenge ‘flip screen’ style progression. This heavily influenced the way many games were designed for the system, and Metal Gear as we know it today was created around these limitations.
Is the MSX worth it as a pseudo-console retro gaming machine? Absolutely. There are heaps of great games, and the hardware is easy to get and easy to use. It can be confusing because there are a lot of different MSX models, but really any MSX2 model will cover 95% of games. The biggest downside is the price of games. The software typically sold less so is in much shorter supply than the main console platforms, and it has a very dedicated fan base, so prices for top titles these days are sky-high.
Akumajou Dracula for MSX2
I originally got an MSX2 just to play the alternate version of the original Akumajou Dracula. The MSX2 versionwas released mere weeks after the Famicom Disk game, so they were clearly developed in tandem. The typical MSX flip screen design element is present, and realising the limitaions of the platform for action games, the designers instead focused on other things, and turned it into a Goonies style puzzle adventure. Instead of just fighting enemies and passing platforming challenges, you also have to collect hidden keys to open doors and progress to the next part of the level. It’s really a lot of fun, and a completely different take on the same basic levels. It’s more rough around the edges, but also more interesting.
The big question is – which Akumajou Dracula reigns supreme? Famicom Disk, or MSX2?
The short answer is the Famicom Disk version, by a small margin, it’s just such a solidly designed classic game. While it’s mostly due to the platform, if you play the Famicom version immediately after the MSX2 version, while the graphics are a slight downgrade, the smoothness and responsiveness really hits you, it’s just a more refined game. The music is also marginally better on the Famicom, despite the game not even using the extra FDS sound channels.
The MSX version is still great however, and a completely different experience. And what’s most interesting is that the Famicom Disk-only sequel Dracula II: Noroi no Fuuin is clearly a sequel to both games. Simon is wearing his red gear from the MSX version, and it expands on the exploration and puzzle elements of that version that were not present in the Famicom original.
Similar to Smash Ping Pong, Circus Charlie is a Konami arcade game that was released on the Famicom, but published by another company. In this case the publisher is the mysterious Soft Pro International, who dropped a few 8-bit games in the 80s then disappeared.
In the game you play as Charlie the clown, and must perform various stunts for the crowd over five levels. The first level has Charlie riding a lion and jumping through rings of fire.
There’s also tightrope walking, trapeze, balancing balls, and a strange level where you jump onto trampolines from the back of a pony.
It’s very much in the early 80s arcade mould of simple, short levels which repeat after a loop, and the goal after seeing each level is simply to get the high score (think Donkey Kong).
It’s a relatively faithful adaptation of the arcade game. Five out of six levels are intact, and they play almost identically, despite the move from vertical to horizontal orientation.
But while sound effects and music are pretty much on par, the graphics have taken a pretty big hit. Gone are the bright, colourful tones of the arcade, replaced with a sad, drab circus right out of the Communist Bloc.
Matching the early Famicom arcade heritage gameplay and presentation, Circus Charlie comes in the original small size Famicom box, much like the first Nintendo games, and the original Konami orange package line.
Circus Charlie was later released in original arcade form in the compilation packages Konami 80’s Arcade Gallery on the original Playstation and Konami Arcade Collection on Nintendo DS. The Playstation version is pretty much the go-to if you want to experience Circus Charlie properly. The DS version is a nice novelty but to view the game in correct vertical resolution you need to hold the DS sideways which is pretty awkward.
As for the Famicom release? It’s still pretty fun, in that pre-Super Mario Bros arcade gameplay kind of way. It is however extremely rare. I bought the only boxed copy I have ever seen.
Konami’s first Famicom line was basically a direct copy of the Nintendo template, except with consistent orange colouring. There were seven games in the series, and this is the complete set Road Fighter, Antarctic Adventue, Hyper Sports, Twinbee, Hyper Olympic, Yie Air Kung Fu, and Goonies.Goonies was somewhat of a transition game – it skips the uniform ‘FAMILY COMPUTER’ branded sides of the preceding six releases and started the short-lived ‘puppy face’ icon period. The next Konami release was Gradius, which is I believe the final Konami release to feature the old 70s style logo.The next evolution is shown here in King Kong 2 – which maintained the size of Gradius and introduced the new Konami logo.Contra is an early example of the final evolution, with the artwork framed by a bright colour which covered the rest of the box, and the Konami logo on a white background in the top left corner. Almost every Konami game for the rest of the Famicom generation followed this final template.
This is a follow up to a previous post on the Konami collector cards.
Recap: At some point starting in 1987, Konami decided to include a collector card with all their Famicom titles. Each card had an illustration related to the game; some cards featured screenshots or pieces of screenshots, others had artwork of scenes in the game.
After much searching, I have now almost completed the set! While there were multiple cards per title in some cases, I’ve only collected one per game.
It seems unlikely I’ll ever get a complete copy of Exciting Boxing. It came in a huge box with a novelty inflatable controller, and commands insane prices online now.
This is the full set of Konami Famicom Disk System games.Up front you can see the two games I covered recently – Smash Ping Pong (which was published by Nintendo), and my custom designed Goonies/Twinbee ‘retail’ box, housing the official Disk Writer releases of those two games. There’s also the DoReMikko box up the back, and disk at the front.
Some true classics here. There’s the obvious brilliance of Arumana no Kiseki, Akumajou Dracula, and Ai Senshai Nicol, and the awesome shooters Falsion and Gyruss.The sports games are top notch as well, I love Exciting Soccer and Konami Ice Hockey in particular, while Exciting Basketball has fantastic music missing from the NES version. Exciting Baseball and Exciting Billiards are great too.
Really every game has its merits, from the cutesy platformer Bio Miracle Bokette Upa, the creative spin on the Breakout formula in Nazo no Kabe: Block-kuzushi, the alternative layout of NES Jeep shooter Jackal in Final Command, to the flawed but revolutionary Dracula II.Konami. In the 80s and early 90s they were Nintendo’s equal.
DoReMikko (ドレミッコ) is a game I never thought I would ever be able to obtain. It usually goes for hundreds of dollars. But a few months ago on I unexpectedly won an auction on Yahoo Japan for a complete copy, far below usual price!
The name DoReMikko is a play on ‘Do Re Mi’ – the anglicised versions of the first three notes of the Solfège scale (probably most well known from the song in the musical The Sound Of Music).
It’s a music game/software package for the Famicom Disk System that came with a keyboard controller. The keyboard is pretty nice quality, if a bit small.
There are three main modes.
First up is Concert Mode. Here you can play along with a Gradius melody medley with a full band accompaniment.
You can select the instrument the keyboard sounds like, and set tempo and style, everything from rock to country to techno (and a strangely 4/4 waltz). More options are available in a menu, allowing you to adjust various parameters of yours and your accompaniment’s instruments. You can also record your performances to disk.
If you’re into 8-bit music, it’s pretty fun to fiddle around with the instrumentation, limited as it is.
The instrument you pick affects the animation that plays. Including a full Chuck Berry/Back To The Future style stage rock-out if guitar is selected.
Next up, Solo Mode is a simple keyboard-only mode. You can only select Piano or Organ, and play without accompaniment.
So what’s the point? Well, this mode gives the entire system’s audio capabilities to the keyboard. Effectively it allows you to use your Famicom (with extra Disk System audio channels) as a digital keyboard, allowing up to 10 notes to be played at once in full synth quality. It also features the recording functionality of concert mode. It’s fairly limited, but would have been impressive in 1987 for the price, quite a decent way to record your compositions.
Finally, there’s ‘Play Along’ mode. Each of the boxes contains the accompaniment to a song, and these songs have their music written out in the game’s manual. The keys light up on the keyboard on screen, helping you learn to play the piece. Of course the highlight is once again the Gradius medley.
Overall there isn’t too much to it. It’s actually more useful as a tool to write music on than as a game for entertainment. It’s so trivial today to make quick digital recordings, but in 1987, on the cheap Family Computer, it must have been some budding musicians’ dream come true.