Columns

I had to give a presentation at work recently, and I really sweat those things. I decided I would help myself look forward to the day by planning to go to Akihabara after the presentation was finished. I went to my favorite vintage computer shop – BEEP – and looked through their stuff for the first time in a long time. BEEP used to be a weekly visit for me because my customer was located in Okachimachi – about a 15-minute walk to Akihabara. But Covid19 changed a lot of things.

Anyway, I rarely buy anything from BEEP because it’s awfully expensive, but their “junk” items are often reasonably priced. I picked up a few tape games for the FM-7 and FM-8, and an unexpected find – some J3100 software. The J3100 software was only 330 yen! There were four or five identical sets, and they included the games Tenka Toitsu and Columns. I picked up two sets in case one didn’t work, and at that price, why not?

Columns is an extra special game for me because my friends and I used to play it many hours at a time in hotly contested battles at my old apartment in California. This isn’t exactly the same version but it is close and contains many of the best elements of the game I used to play.

Playing on this system is always a bit bittersweet. There’s only the PC internal speaker for sound so often you’re playing in silence or with simple beeps for sound effects. But at least you get to look at the beautiful plasma screen!

As I have mentioned before, it’s really hard to get a good capture of the plasma screen. The oranger-looking shots are a bit closer than the redder-looking ones.

Cloud Kingdom for FM-7

This is one of the more unique games I’ve come across for the FM-7. I picked it up quite a while ago but if memory serves, I believe it came in a lot of several games. The box and tape are in good condition, but unfortunately it’s missing the manual.

It’s a colorful game with crisp, highly detailed graphics. You play a bird-mounted warrior and travel around the clouds looking for enemies amid cloud formations and fortresses, and shoot them with arrows. If you hit an archer, he falls satisfyingly from the castle.

The combination of bird flapping physics and arrow trajectory makes it rather challenging, and capturing a screenshot without pausing is all but impossible. One thing that seems a little absurd is that if you fall below the clouds, you die. I guess your bird can’t fly below cloud level… because that’s the sky down there.

Once in a while, you find a screen with some sort of bonus. Also, beware of surprise hands!

Dig Dug for MZ-1500

My MZ-1500 has seen quite a bit of use recently, not owing much to its own game library, but because it is MZ-700 compatible, and unlike the MZ-700, it is ready to connect to external tape drives. This allows me to play my MZ-700 tape games that I’ve converted to .wav files.

But I also kind of recently got a real, original MZ-1500 game. It’s an arcade classic – Dig Dug – but it doesn’t seem to be very popular on the MZ-1500. It’s a little lackluster in some ways, the character, enemies , rocks, and vegetables are well drawn and animated, but the background is made up of solid colors so doesn’t provide any of the texturing to the dirt that other ports do. The gameplay difficulty level is a little harsher than other ports, too, I believe.

The box is also in awful condition (although much of the smashed portion seems to be obscured by the angle). So due to its rarity it wasn’t dirt cheap (see what I did there?), but it was considerably less expensive than other games for the system I’ve seen.

QuickDisks are double-sided, so the way many of these games work is to load the data for the PCG (programmable character generator) and then instruct you to flip the disk over to load game program. But the game doesn’t actually detect if you’ve loaded the PCG data or not, so if you just load the second side, the game will work fine, you just can’t see your character, the enemies, the rocks, or the vegetables. In other words, they put a lot of effort into the PCG graphics and then left the main screen to an intern.

Sharp X1 D 3″ Disk Lot

Some of the hardest things to find are Sharp X1 D disks. If you’re not familiar, the X1 D uses 3″ disks, as opposed to 3.5″ disks. Physically quite different and totally incompatible. Even as blanks they’re rare and usually expensive. I found these on Mercari, and even after talking the guy down 25%, I still wouldn’t say I got a great deal on these or anything, but there were many (a lot of 19) and I hope to get most of my money back by selling my duplicates and some blanks.

The breakdown was 8 blanks or copies and 11 original game disks. The first relief was that there didn’t appear to be any scratches or mold on them. That’s a good start. The second step was actually testing them.

It was a bit of a daunting task, but I tested all disks in one night, including taking photographs of all games and other processing, finishing at about 4am! The originals all work, including the main system disk, which was a giant relief. A couple of the copies didn’t work initially, but upon testing a few times and deciding it was best to format them, they are all working fine now.

As for the blanks, I formatted each one and wrote the simplest of programs to test saving, loading, and deleting from each disk. No problems.

The system disk is probably the most valuable and I already have a copy, so its successful operation is key to getting a good chunk of my money back. I wrote a simple program and ran the system demo, and used the above utility (called “Utility”) to duplicate the system disk, in an effort to test it as best I could. The sleeve was from my own copy, this one didn’t come with one.

Next up in order of interest was Xevious. Not that interesting because I already have it. It was the first game I got for my X1 D. But this copy also works. It’s a solid port of a decently fun game, making good use of the X1’s graphics.

And then in no particular order, I tested the remaining nine games. Two of the games are in a series called “Meruhen” (Japanese take on the German “Märchen”, or fairy tales), which I believe eventually spawned a fairly popular game, called Meruhen Maze. It’s easy and not inaccurate to say it’s for kids, but it’s really rather well done, with crisp, colorful graphics and unique gameplay.

Here is Meruhen Part I, which involves a sheep herder trying to corral her sheep into her gate, and a series of animal siblings where you play a slightly nervous sibling trying to get your share of food.

And here’s Part II, this one includes three games. The first one you play a pig who is trying to grow plants that turn into butterflies. Other animals are trying to take the flowers, so you have to douse them in water so they run away. The second game you try to throw bananas at monkeys carrying numbers, so that the numbers you hit add up to a multiple of 10. And finally, you play a rabbit running through a forest to find someone that the pig wants to talk to, first by finding something that the requested animal wants to eat, then finding the target animal. It’s all very cute.

Tired of fairy tales? Good news is we’re now onto the more typical games, but I gotta say this guy has good taste, there are a lot of gems in here that I’ve never heard of before. Here’s one translated as “The Bank”, but the Japanese reads “bank robbery”, and it’s really quite a satisfyingly violent game. You have to shoot the bad guys three or four times, or else their mutilated bodies reform and you have to shoot them again. Later, different kinds of enemies come out, like a robber-driven car or an exploding-barrel tosser. This game seems to have gotten an English release, as well, called Machinegun Joe vs. The Mafia.

One game I was curious about was Donkey Kong 3: The Great Counterattack. Donkey Kong 3 was a game from back in the day that just didn’t make a huge impression on me. But this version does. The arcade classic takes place in a greenhouse, but this version takes place in a variety of outdoor scenes. Although the X1 is far more graphically capable, it looks like these images were made using a CGA palette, with the fuller palette only being used on the surrounding text and the characters.

Another one in the lot was Enma Daio (Judge of the Afterlife). You play a character opening up graves and… passing judgement? Or grabbing things to throw at your enemies, who, much like your own character, are quite cute. I had a pretty tough time trying to figure this game out, though. The title screen (which isn’t much of a title screen) leads me to think there’s more to this game, but I haven’t gotten out of the graveyard.

There were a pair of disks called Game Pack II and Game Pack III, each containing two games. I guess these are similar to the Mastertronic 2 on 1 releases in days of old.

Game Pack II has Gang Man, where you play a gangster driving a car and shooting out the window at other gangsters who are shooting back at you out of the windows of their cars. It’s pretty difficult, even from level one, the other gangsters often get me within a couple of seconds, but it’s noteworthy for its big car graphics that maneuver fairly smoothly around the screen, and the short bonus clock ratchets up the intensity. The other game is Power Fail, where you try to repair a power grid that the “bad old man” comes along and breaks. You can use two tools, a set of pliers to repair the grid, or a hammer to bop the bad old man on the head so he can’t move for a while.

And Game Pack III comes with a theme – animal games. The first one is Kaeru Shooter, or Frog Shooter, and the other is Za Spider, or The Spider. Kaeru Shooter has a 3D perspective but the graphics and gameplay are pretty simple. You see something, you shoot it. The Spider looked like it was going to be a Tempest style game at first, but it turned out to be more similar in gameplay to Centipede.

Flight Simulator I thought for sure was going to be an immediate “sell it” game for me, because I find flight simulators to be dreadfully boring. But this was pretty light on the “simulation”, and pretty heavy on the “things to shoot”, but it managed to strike a different enough balance that it didn’t feel like a standard space shooter. It’s pretty fun, so I’ll keep it for now. Similar to Jelda, reviewed elsewhere on this site. Pretty cool aesthetics, and one of few games to come with a real cover and instructions.

And finally, there was Maharito the Magician. It a witch-on-a-broom twist to a horizontal shooter game. A little unexpectedly, in my opinion, instead of zapping someone with a magic beam or a fireball, you hurl hammers at your enemies.

By 4am I was getting a bit tired, but it was a good experience and I found a lot of treasures in this lot. Looking forward to playing some more!

Pasopia Goodies

There was a small bundle of items related to Toshiba Pasopia on Mercari for a while. The price would go down, then the seller would find some more related items, so the price would go up, and then back down. Eventually it hit a pretty sweet spot and the guy agreed to a small discount, so I bought it.

My Pasopia doesn’t get a whole lot of love because software is rare and expensive, and it doesn’t have much of a fanbase like its peers such as PC-8001 or (maybe?) FM-8, so even searching for software online is not a very fruitful endeavor. So this was a pretty unusual collection of treasure. It has two games: The Golf and Pro Racer, the original system demo tape, and a T-BASIC reference card.

Pro Racer is the only game that is actually completely new to me. The demo tape and The Golf I had already found online. Pro Racer is a very simple game that makes use of the primitive graphics available on the system. Still, fun to play around with once in a while.