Arcade of My Youth: Cap'n Bogey's Golf & Games

A woman knocked on our door one summer evening in 1992. She was circulating a petition against the planned construction of a huge arcade and mini-golf course that would be built not far from our neighborhood. As a Concerned Citizen, she felt that it would lower property values and promote delinquency in the delicate suburban environs of Beavercreek, Ohio. 

I feel bad for that woman. Not only did my father, a man so cautious he balked at giving his credit card to Blockbuster, decline to put his name on the petition, but her visit guaranteed that arcade one more customer: I couldn’t wait to visit Cap’N Bogey’s Golf & Games. 


Cap’n Bogey’s was close enough to our neighborhood to worry overprotective homeowners, and that meant it was within easy walking distance. Every weekend I’d hike there, usually early enough to avoid major crowds, and spend far too much time lost in a maze of arcade cabinets. My sister would tag along, but I’d make her walk a good distance behind me. Because you needed to look as cool as possible when you arrived at Cap’n Bogey’s.  

There were many arcades in the Dayton suburbs, but compared to the typical nook in a mall or the back room at a pizza joint, Cap’n Bogey’s wasn’t just an arcade. It was a kingdom. The main building surrounded itself with a golf course, bumper-boats, and batting cages. Inside, the first floor was devoted to a snack bar and redemption games, with everything decorated in white, blue, and occasionally pink. I usually walked past such juvenile distractions and made straight for the upper level and the genuine arcade games.

This was the 1990s, and that put me right in the middle of the fighting-game craze. Street Fighter II had started it in 1991, Mortal Kombat had cemented it in 1992, and within a few years every arcade had a wealth of head-to-head fighters and the coin-op industry was bigger than it had been since the early 1980s.

Cap’n Bogey’s arcade was stocked with every genre, including four sit-down Dayton USA cabinets, two T-Mek machines wired for versus play, the elaborate foot-pedal setup of Time Crisis, and the glorious driving-shooting hybrid of Lucky & Wild. Yet it was the fighting games that drew me. The gaming magazines of the day couldn’t stop hyping up the latest Street Fighter or Darkstalkers or Samurai Shodown or Virtua Fighter, and the first place to see them was the arcade. This was well before consoles were on par with arcade hardware, and unless your parents bought you a $600 Neo Geo home system, the arcade versions were always just a little bit better.

Some of these games would vanish within a month, but the big names stayed and took me through the heights of an arcade renaissance and its whimper of an ending.

Is Killer Instinct the best fighting game of the 1990s? Hardly, but I think it’s the best example of a 1990s fighting game. Rare and Nintendo fashioned it with CG-rendered visuals that looked impressive in early 1995 but awkwardly plastic by that September. The game boasted every possible stereotype in its lineup: a Predator-like robot, a mystically powered ninja, a boxer, a velociraptor, a low-detail ice alien, an equally low-detail fire mutant, and, of course, a female character whose signature finishing move involved pulling open her top to give her opponent a heart attack. I'd say that the 1990s were a different time, but in this case I'm not sure that applies.

I actually learned to play fighting games on Killer Instinct. I’d enjoyed Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, but I was never particularly good at them, rarely pulling off a special move more complicated than jamming a button really fast. Killer Instinct was approachable enough that I could pull off the special moves and even trigger the extended combo attacks that made the game’s announcer yell BLASTER or AWESOME. And when I went back to playing Street Fighter Alpha or The King of Fighters ’95, I actually understood what was happening.

There’s a better reason I remember Killer Instinct well. One Saturday, local radio station Z-93 set up a contest with a Super NES and the newly released port of Killer Instinct. The previously selected participants didn’t show, so the station held a quick lottery and drew names of five random arcade patrons. I threw my name in and, thanks to the relatively light crowd, I got picked.

The contest wasn’t an actual tournament. Instead of facing each other, the five of us just played solo, using the ninja Jago, to see who could rack up the highest score in a single match. This was clearly planned by someone who still thought that video games were in the score-driven heyday of Pac-Man and Space Invaders, even though an actual fighter like Killer Instinct was all about beating an opponent and showing off an ULTRA combo.

And I won. I managed to perform a bunch of combos and Jago’s finishing move, which put me well ahead of the other participants. I got a nearly new Super NES and made a brief appearance on the radio. To this date it remains the nicest thing I’ve won in a contest, eclipsing the cake I got at a county fair when I was five and even the used DVD of Steel Angel Kurumi Encore that I received in a trivia challenge at Anime Central.

In retrospect, spending all my time in the upper-level arcade of Cap’n Bogey’s wasn’t as practical as visiting the lower-level, where at the very least I could have played skee-ball, earned tickets, and exchanged them for prizes. Yet that day I walked out with a game system and the assurance that, for once, no one could tell me that I’d wasted my time at an arcade. 

Valkyrie Elysium: The First Profile

Gosh, I really wish someone would make another Valkyrie Profile game. It's been over a year since Valkyrie Anatomia shut down, and that was a mobile game with all the expected baggage. It's gotten to the point where I'll latch on to any unrelated name with Valkyrie in the title, like Square Enix's newly announced Valkyrie Elysium.

Oh wait. Elysium actually IS a new Valkyrie Profile. It has the signature series silhouette in its logo, after all.

Yet the game's initial trailer doesn't show much immediate connection with earlier Valkyrie Profiles. We're told that Odin has summoned a valkyrie to ferret out the reasons for the apparent ruin of the worlds both below and above. And as Valkyries are wont to do, she’ll roam the land and recruit the souls of brave and dead mortals to join her cause. 

It’s the same premise as the original Valkyrie Profile, but Elysium has an apparently new heroine and a new emphasis on combat. The first trailer shows off a 3-D action game in which the blonde heroine (who’s seemingly not Lenneth Valkyrie OR her sister Silmeria) leaps and slices and dashes around. Square Enix’s initial writeups promise that her einherjar recruits can join her in battle, though there’s only a flash or two of that in the trailer.

As many have critically observed, Valkyrie Elysium doesn’t look so great. The scenery is sparse well beyond an intentionally bleak landscape, and the battle system doesn’t show enough to set it apart from any other brawler where you might juggle enemies for mid-air combos. It resembles a routine mid-level action game from the PlayStation 2 or PlayStation 3 era.

And I'm looking forward to that. The rising budgets of the modern game industry eroded a lot of the middle ground over the past generation, bifurcating the market into indie creations and expensive triple-A blockbusters. In its primitive looks and apparently ambitious plot, Valkyrie Elysium hearkens back to an era where developers didn’t worry if their ideas were too big for their budgets—an era of Bujingai, Gungrave Overdose, Red Ninja, Spy Fiction, Nano Breaker, Folklore, and other 3-D action games with unique styles and compelling mechanics wrapped up loose and cheap, like a Christmas present from a younger sibling.

Developer Soleil Game Studios seems new and untested, but their catalog is awash in B-level action. Games like Wanted: Dead were once commonplace, and though they couldn't stand next to polished, lengthy, and balanced blockbusters, they could at least share a store shelf.

That’s why I’ll refrain from judging Valkyrie Elysium on appearances. It’s always the part of a game that interests me the least. I’m more intrigued by the prospect of Valkyrie Profile’s button-jabbing, combo friendly RPG battles morphing into a faster-pacer action game. I’m looking forward to seeing just what Elysium does with the whole concept of valkyries, a myth seldom explored fully by video games. If I were hung up on how nice a game looked or how smoothly it ran, I might have discarded Nier, Pandora’s Tower, Advance Guardian HeroesDrakengard 3, or perhaps even dear Gravity Rush. How disturbing.


Besides, Valkyrie Profile fans must admit that we weren't getting another game in any fancier packaging. Valkyrie Anatomia lasted four years but now seems largely forgotten. Covenant of the Plume, the DS strategy-RPG, earned far less of a following than it deserved. And even Valkyrie Profile 2, the last outing for consoles, didn’t catch on like the original. We're lucky to have a new Valkyrie game, opaque as it may be in referencing the original series. 

Of course, there are links to be found. You’ll see the field of weeping lilies that figures prominently into Valkyrie Profile motifs, and the official art and the last shots of the trailer show a halberd-wielding, raven-tressed armored figure who's a dead ringer for Hrist. She's the grouchiest of the three Valkyrie Profile sisters--and the only one who didn't get her own game.

The main illustration implies that she’s equal to the protagonist, though I'm afraid that 1980s cartoons like G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, She-Ra, Beverly Hills Teens, Visionaries, and Lady Lovely Locks conditioned me to assume that all fictional dark-haired women are innately evil. I'm not sure if I'm kidding.

And what about the new valkyrie heroine? My nutty suspicion is that she's related to the amalgam Valkyrie we saw at the end of Valkyrie Profile 2, when Hrist, Lenneth, Silmeria, and human princess Alicia all combined into one warrior like little Norse toy robots. That likely won't bear out in the game, but I should get it out there just in case I'm right and Square Enix owes me a payoff to keep me from suing. I'm pretty sure that's how spoilers work.

I might never be able to fully hate anything that involves Valkyrie Profile, but I think there’s some valid anticipation here. Valkyrie Elysium looks like a potentially cool new take on a favorite series and the sort of mid-range action game I’d like to see more often. And hey, the music’s nice.

Bounty Arms: The Hermie Hopperhead Connection

So what's new with Bounty Arms? Nothing major, as you might expect when it comes to a PlayStation action game canceled back in 1995. However, I made a Twitter post about how Data West’s Bounty Arms is chief among my video-game white whales, edging out Mega Man Legends 3 and Ultimate Journey and even Super Dog Booby


It received a decent number of likes for a game that never got noticed much when it was viable and in development, and I'm grateful for all of the responses—even the one from somebody who wants to see Bounty Arms heroines Chris and Rei as muscular circus clowns. Sometimes the best way to keep an obscure video game alive is through equally obscure predilections.  

So it's a good time to discuss Bounty Arms. In the absence of real news, I'll just speculate about the connection between Bounty Arms and Yuke's.   

Yuke’s is best known these days for their extensive lineup of wrestling games, but they’ve tried all sorts of genres since Yukinori Taniguchi founded the company in 1993. Taniguchi figures tangentially into Bounty Arms’ history, as he worked on a number of Data West titles, including Rayxanber III and the LaserActive shooter Vajra.  

The first Yuke’s game unrelated to wrestling was an early Japan-exclusive PlayStation action-platformer called Hermie Hopperhead. While perhaps not a genre trailblazer in its depictions of a red-haired kid jumping on enemies and hatching allies from eggs, Hermie charmed GameFan founder Dave Halverson so thoroughly that he vowed to put it in every issue of his magazine until a publisher brought it to North America.   

This did not come to pass, but before giving up, GameFan ran an extensive interview with Taniguchi and Sony’s Tetsuji Yamamoto. They discuss a lot about the company’s history, and there’s one interesting detail for the Bounty Arms files.  

Yamamoto mentions that Taniguchi was working on “some boring project” before they developed Hermie Hopperhead. Might this refer to Bounty Arms?  

I doubt that for two reasons. One: the timeline doesn’t quite add up, as Taniguchi had founded Yuke’s and apparently stopped working with Data West in 1993, years before Bounty Arms was announced or canceled. Two: I refuse to believe that anyone would find Bounty Arms boring, even in jest.   

Yet there’s another connection. I’ve previously speculated about a former Data West staffer named Kenji Nakamura—and how he may be the same as Kazuhide Nakamura, who directed the first Vajra and designed or directed the three Rayxanbers. Even when sticking to separate credits, Nakamura directed Vajra 2, the last game Data West released before starting up Bounty Arms, and I suspect his departure was either a result of or the reason for Data West canceling it.   After leaving Data West, Nakamura joined Yuke’s. And what was his first game contribution there? 


Yep. Nakamura was a designer on Hermie Hopperhead. And that brings more speculation from me. Did he leave Data West to work on a new game at Yuke’s? Was he lured away by the opportunity to make a side-scroller about a street-savvy tentacle-haired boy and his battle against garbage enemies? Did Hermie Hopperhead kill Bounty Arms?  

Probably not, but it’s still interesting to play Hermie Hopperhead and other Yuke’s games that involved Nakamura, looking for any common ground or residual influences of Bounty Arms. I’m particularly curious about EOE: Eve of Extinction, a PlayStation action game with Nakamura as scenario creator and lead designer. It’s fallen into such obscurity that I can’t even remember if I ever played it, but I’m still driven to investigate for the sake of the Bounty Arms Preservation Society. And because the English version has a nice lineup of then-ubiquitous voice talent. Cam Clarke! Kim Mai Guest! Jennifer Hale!  

A few notes for those just learning about Bounty Arms: You can download the only known playable demo of the game here. And if you want to trick it into playing the entire first stage, check out these directions. And then you can devise nonsensical theories of your own!  

Little Things: Quarter Back Scramble

Lately I've grown interested in football games of the NES era, specifically those developed in Japan. At that point football (that'd be American football) hadn't proven nearly as popular in Japan as baseball or soccer or possibly even badminton, so I'm intrigued by what Japanese developers of the 1980s envisioned when crafting a sports game primarily for Americans.

Quarter Back Scramble: American Football Game is a great example. Aside from the capitalization of “Quarterback” in its delightfully blunt title, it's mostly on point in its gridiron depictions, and it was scheduled to come out here as Mike Ditka's Big Play Football. It's also the work of Natsume, and its graphics and soundtrack even recall the slick appearances and punchy sounds of action titles like Shadow of the Ninja and S.C.A.T. 

Yet Natsume made one very strange decision with Quarter Back Scramble, and you'll see it as soon as you press start. 

A woman in full Playboy bunny attire inexplicably poses next to the game's initial menu. She'd be right at home in a casino game of this era, but I have no idea what she's doing in a football title. There's a lot written about the sexist depictions of NFL cheerleaders, but I can find no record whatsoever of possible connections between Playboy costumes and football. Even the risque sights of the XFL cheer squads and the Lingerie Bowl were years away from Quarter Back Scramble's 1989 release.  

Natsume evidently wanted some sex appeal to accompany those staid gameplay options, but why not just show a cheerleader? Perhaps some confused programmer thought the rabbit-eared cocktail waitress regalia actually was the sort of thing football cheerleaders wore, but I doubt that, considering that a conventionally garbed cheerleader shows up in the game’s intro. Or perhaps Natsume just had leftover graphics from a canceled anthology of blackjack and poker games, and damned if they were going to waste them.

There are other amusing details in Quarter Back Scramble. I like the Pony Canyon logo in the middle of the field, as though the music publisher (and purveyor of many a crappy Famicom game) bought an entire football stadium. And like many sports games without official team licenses, Quarter Back Scramble had to make up its roster. You’ll pick from the Denver Miles, the Los Angeles Arks, the Chicago Forces, the San Francisco 50s, the New York Subways, and, my personal favorite, the Washington DC Hogs. With the real-world Washington team just about to announce a new name, I can only hope they’ll dig deep and reference a 1989 video game. 

I also appreciate Natsume’s rendition of the referee. Instead of a detached face or a stiff single image, he’s a squat little goblin in the super-deformed tradition of many an anime gag. And his expression relays that he’s not about to tolerate any guff from the more evenly proportioned football players.  

And then we have the game’s curtailed journey overseas. Accolade planned to release it on the NES as Mike Dikta’s Big Play Football but quietly canceled it. Footage of the American version shows only a few changes: the teams now have their official names, and the NFL logo replaces the Pony Canyon motif in the stadium—as well as the bunny-girl on the menu screen.  

However, Hidden Palace and the Video Game History Foundation recently released a prototype of the American version before Ditka and the NFL license were attached. It’s almost identical to the Japanese release, complete with rabbit-eared women inviting fans to Pony Canyon Stadium to watch the Denver Miles play the Washington Hogs. Accuracy aside, that would’ve been much more memorable for American NES owners than just another realistic football game.  


Clockwork Aquario: Emerging From The Depths

Clockwork Aquario is finally out. It's been a long wait, and I'm not just talking about the 28 years since the game went through some awkward arcade location tests and disappeared. It was 2012 when Westone co-founder Ryuichi Nishizawa found Aquario's source code and gave us a tantalizing look at Huck Londo, Elle Moon, and a robot named Gush...though they had slightly different names.

Nine years, slightly different names for Gush and Huck, and an extensive restoration project later, we have Clockwork Aquario on the Switch, PS4, and Steam just as it was meant to be in arcades back in 1993. I expected to like it at least a small amount, since I'm a fan of Westone's charming style and would probably put Monster World IV in my ten favorite games. 

Well, I love it more than I ever expected. My review goes into more detail, but the short of it is that Clockwork Aquario has everything I want from a side-scrolling action-platform runny-jumpy game. The enemy-tossing mechanic is a lot of fun, and Westone built the game with big, bright wonder and glued it together with a colorful energy that they couldn't do in, say, a Sega Genesis title.

I note that Clockwork Aquario is very short and doesn't really go that far with its ideas, lacking even a basic puzzle to solve by chucking foes around. Yet it's such a joyful, entrancing experience that such flaws never struck me as such, and it was only through forced nit-picking that I found any odd hit detection (stage four's flying fish) or the fact that Huck and Elle play mostly the same, with only Gush offering a bigger, slower target and a different style. It may have been designed as a simple bout of arcade escapism, never all that tough or that complex, but Clockwork Aquario has won me over so much it's joined the ranks of Games I Probably Won't Ever Shut Up About. I'll just have to make some room by rearranging Gravity Rush and Trouble Shooter.

Of course, I had to second-guess myself about  Clockwork Aquario's legacy overshadowing the game itself. It's a romantic reassurance to see a canceled game revived and completed and released to the world, as though some low-level time travel let us reach back decades and put a small injustice to rights. 

There's an assumption that canceled games are mediocre, messy, or otherwise lost for a good reason. That strikes me as specious. If you're cynical enough to assume that missing games deserve their fate, you should realize just as cynically that the game industry (and the entire entertainment industry, for that matter) routinely cancels things for vague and capricious reasons. Perhaps a narrowly chosen test audience hated it. Perhaps the publisher ran out of money. Perhaps an executive didn't have breakfast that morning and decided to nix a project because the lead programmer took their parking space. Or perhaps, as in Clockwork Aquario's case, it was a perfectly chipper action game when no arcade-goers really wanted that.

So Clockwork Aquario is wonderful both for what it is and what it suggests for other canceled games. True, this was a special case: the creators preserved a good percentage of the game and helped restore it. Yet I can't help but imagine how many other unreleased games might be waiting out there for a push onto modern systems. Might we see Bandai's The Ultimate Journey for the NES? Or SIMS' Devil Buster for the Sega Genesis? Or maybe someone will touch up and release another arcade relic, like Toaplan's Distopia. If so, I hope it gets the same treatment as Clockwork Aquario.

Fuga: Melodies of Steel, Memories of the Middle Ground

Fuga: Melodies of Steel belongs to the endangered species of middleweight video games. Neither a lumbering blockbuster nor a small-scale indie curio, Fuga is part of the Little Tail Bronx series that CyberConnect2 dearly loves and manages to visit about once a decade, and it’s their first independent release. It’s also priced at forty bucks and available only digitally, so it’s exactly the sort of title that may easily go neglected. And it shouldn’t. 

True, the game is niche by design. The previous Little Tail Bronx titles, Tail Concerto and Solatorobo and the obscure Little Tail Story, were joyful, bright-colored creations, but Fuga digs deep into a nightmarish animal-people vision of World War II.

It never outright says that, but the allegory is apparent even before a gentle arcadia of villages, farms, and cat-folk named after foods is invaded by the Berman Empire, leaving a pack of kids to seize a mystical tank and head out for revenge. There's no dog-person demagogue named Badolf Bitler, but subtlety was never the aim here. 

I reviewed Fuga months ago if you'd care to read my in-depth opinion, and I remain impressed by the way the game weaves simple tank battles and resource management into a small-scale social simulator. When not strategizing through the basic but hazardous showdowns with Berman armored units, you're helping the characters bond adorably over laundry and maps and the chicken farm that the tank somehow supports.

It all feels like a throwback to the Saturn and PlayStation era, when a developer could experiment and have the results on store shelves right next to the latest Marios and Maddens and Final Fantasies. The modern industry has plenty of room for independent, risk-taking creations, but rampaging budgets and triple-A releases have swept away that fascinating substratum of strange, inventive, and possibly flawed games that major publishers sometimes decided were worth the creative risks.

Today, unorthodox games usually get only online releases or limited-edition physical copies that don't earn the same attention. I think we’re better off overall, with hundreds of games that wouldn't even have been made twenty years ago, but I miss that level playing field. 

Self-publishing isn't the only chance Cyberconnect2 took with Fuga. I am perhaps the wrong person to ask about its use of an anthropomorphic version of World War II, complete with dog-people fascists conducting horrific experiments, spouting off about racial purity, or, in the case of the Dr. Mengele analogue, hiding his feline visage out of self-loathing. I always like it when something cute or allegedly lightweight dares to embrace sensitive material, no matter the incongruities. When others are offended or embarrassed, I remain amused and even impressed by something like Xenosaga's reckless integration of religious figures. That's another story for another time, though.

Yet even with characters who look like Polly Purebred: She-Wolf of the SS, Fuga doesn’t mock of any of its wartime traumas. It’s far more grim than its predecessors, and its cheerful scenes of characters forging friendships and fishing for scrap metal hit harder simply because they’re just respites from the looming horrors of a massive war. What could be incoherent instead fits together very well.

So I'd recommend Fuga: Melodies of Steel, whether you go for its digital release or wait for a physical copy that no one seems to be planning as of yet. It's a charming game, and it's also a visit to a place most publishers rarely go these days. CyberConnect2 cared enough about Fuga to put it out there themselves instead of waiting who knows how long for a larger company to notice, and for that I wish the game all the success a furry tank battle RPG could possibly have in this day and age.

Happy Gravity Rushoween

Regular visitors to this site might have noticed certain subtle hints that I like the Gravity Rush games. How much do I like them? Well, I ended up on Retronauts to discuss the series. As the podcast points out, Gravity Rush falls just outside of their ten-year cutoff, but I think it's worth that little bend in the rules.

I also think Retronauts is ahead of the historical curve in talking up Gravity Rush. True, the series did not become an evergreen Sony title like Ratchet & Clank or Gran Turismo or a certain mythology-mauling disgrace that I loathe too much to name. Yet it has everything an enduring cult classic needs: unique gameplay, gorgeous worlds, memorable characters, and just enough mystery and depth to invite speculation and sequel hunger even after Gravity Rush 2 wrapped up almost everything. There may never be another Gravity Rush game, but I don't think it'll ever go without a strong and potentially obnoxious fan base. And I'll always do my best to be part of that.

I'm also on the new Retronauts episode about Addams Family games, in which it's revealed that Fester's Quest might not be the weirdest game in this category. Uncle Fester fighting aliens is offbeat, but that TurboGrafx-16 outing is an entirely new world of baffling decisions. By the way, I have to correct myself. In the podcast I mention that Fester's Quest had a poster in Nintendo Power. Technically, it just had maps on the back of a poster. A minor gaffe on my part, but I don't want any avid collectors haunted by the suggestion that their old Nintendo Powers are incomplete. 

So that's my way of wishing everyone a happy Halloween. If you're in search of something appropriate to play, check out my older entry about Darkstalkers and other suitable holiday games. Or you could just fire up Fester's Quest.

A Dino Land Discovery

My previous entry sunk deep into the history of Dino Land, a middleweight pinball-video game from Telenet Japan and Wolfteam. While it had little time in the spotlight, Telenet used the Dino Land characters as mascots for their Cosmic Fantasy arcades. I recounted tales of people getting prize figures of the game’s protagonists, Bunz and Meeshell, and I wondered if we’d ever see evidence of them. 

Well, longtime reader Chris Tang (@strikeharbinger on Twitter) came through with amazing, incontrovertible photo evidence that those Dino Land figures existed. He even had some original tickets, a flyer, and a carrying bag from the Cosmic Fantasy Restaurant and Game Resort in Hawaii!


You’ll note that Bunz and Meeshell are molded so that their hands link together, making for an adorable pair of plastic toys and possible wedding cake toppers. Perhaps Dino Land wouldn’t be the number-one choice for a Telenet-themed reception, but I don’t think anyone will make bridge-and-groom figures of Earnest Evans and Annet Myer any time soon. 

I’m very glad to see these little collectibles. Dino Land may not be remembered among the best Telenet and Wolfteam offerings, but I’m fascinated that a company’s arcade briefly appropriated them for mascots. It’s a reminder of just how much odd video-game merchandise popped up in the 1980s and 1990s—and how little of it is documented well. The Japanese game market was compact enough that a publisher could crank out short runs of toys, t-shirts, or other promotional trinkets that would soon be forgotten by anyone who didn’t stop by a particular arcade or subscribe to the right fan club. As the push to preserve old video games and their attendant media expands into new horizons, we shouldn’t forget their toys, the proof that someone believed in a game enough to capture it in plastic.

Now, with this mystery laid to rest, I think I’ll see if anyone has the art cards from the Battle Mania Daiginjou cassette soundtrack.

Dino Land: Token Prehistoric Pinball

Telenet Japan has a good reputation if you know where to look. Aided by developer Wolfteam and its American publishing arm Renovation, Telenet dug out a fine little niche on the Sega Genesis in the early 1990s. Much like mid-tier anime OVAs rented from Blockbuster, Telenet’s action titles were flashes of an intense, bizarre realm beyond the conventions of the early 1990s. If they weren’t consistently well-crafted, games like Valis, Gaiares, Final Zone, Sol Deace, El Viento, Granada, and Arcus Odyssey were stylish and engaging enough to earn cult followings and, once the game-collector scene mutated beyond all control, command high prices. 

Dino Land isn’t among the upper tier of Telenet and Wolfteam fare in reputation or inflated eBay auctions. It’s a pinball game stocked with little dinosaurs, a far cry from the intergalactic wars and boomerang-slinging Peruvian sorceresses of other Renovation releases. For a while in 1992, however, it was the perfect game. 

It’s a cute enough treatment of pinball, with prehistoric levels crawling with dinosaurs and their equally fearsome relatives. As in Alien Crush and Devil’s Crush, players send a ball flying across a unorthodox multi-level board, defeating little enemies and triggering secrets.  

The actual ball, however, is a coiled-up Mesozoic armadillo named Dino-Bunz, and he’s out to rescue his pink girlfriend, Meeshell. If you land in the right spot, Bunz will unroll himself and march off into a boss fight, also played out in pinball form. And while most of the game occurs in the main jungle board, triggering its slot machine in the right way can warp Bunz to undersea or aerial pinball fields with bosses of their own.

It's too bad that Dino Land doesn’t do enough with its little creatures. The multiple stages and bosses are an interesting conceit, but the general flow of the game grows monotonous while too much of the scenery is only briefly charming. Compared to the spidery xenomorphs of Alien Crush or the monstrous imagery of Devil’s Crush, Dino Land seems bland in both looks and music. It’s actually more fun to watch the little protagonist scuttle around the board and high-score screen than it is to play the pinball. 

Even the dinosaurs aren’t varied enough. You’ll see a giant sauropod and some assorted genetic carnivores, but there’s nary a Triceratops, a Stegosaurus, or a Velociraptor to be seen. Bunz, Meeshell, and their non-combatant friend Malchi are all of an indeterminate arma-dino species, though they’re similar enough that I can declare them honorary Ankylosaurs.  

Yet there's more to Dino Land than a mere pinball simulator.

Unsung Game Creators: Takeru, Part 2

The second half of Unsung Game Creators’ Takeru feature is now up! While the first part was modestly hopeful in chronicling the developer’s side-scrolling action games Cocoron and Little Samson, the conclusion delves into the legacy of Nostalgia 1907, an adventure game that brazenly ignored just about every popular trend of its era. It’s a fascinating title for that reason as well as its own ambitions, but as we see, it wasn’t what the market really wanted.

We capped off the video by pointing out a unique thing about Takeru: they didn’t develop any licensed games. Just about every smaller developer, from Treasure to Wayfoward, funded their future cult classics by taking on projects based on movies, cartoons, and anything else that might have turned the heads of casual customers.

I won’t say that this was Takeru’s only mistake and that they should have canceled Little Samson and farmed out their esteemed ex-Capcom talent to making video-game versions of whatever TV shows or films looked at them twice. After all, they could have picked up Stunt Dawgs or A Far Off Place just as easily as a Jurassic Park deal. And perhaps Takeru just wasn’t around long enough to land any licenses.

As always, we’re thankful for every like, view, comment, and subscription we get—and for the patience subscribers showed during the long delay for this video. We’ll tackle some shorter subjects next, and they’re not quite as depressing as this one!