Nintendo Power's Greatest Gossip Gremlins

Nintendo Power had a fascinating look in its early years. It was, of course, a promotional sheaf for all things Nintendo, but the magazine’s staff enjoyed an unprecedented relationship with Japanese publishers. With that came artwork and layouts rarely spotted in America.

Within Nintendo Power you’d see spindly Clash at Demonhead heroes, plastic Blaster Master and Metal Storm models, Mega Man robots somewhere between an American cartoon and a Japanese comic, and lavish art for the lesser-known likes of Astyanax, Code Name: Viper, and Legacy of the Wizard. And you’d see the detailed illustrations of the now-respected Katsuya Terada adorning features for Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, and Ultima. Even the comic-strip adventures of Howard and Nester, the former based on Howard Phillips and the latter a bratty little mascot, had distinct manga styling. Nintendo Power wasn’t just a bundle of previews and tips and news about video games that would define an embarrassing volume of childhoods. It was a kaleidoscope gaze into another realm.

The Gossip Gremlins had a small but memorable role in this. No doubt borrowed from Japanese publications, the Gremlins were fanciful critters who popped up at the bottom of Nintendo Power’s Pak Watch previews section. They spouted tidbits about games too early to have plentiful screenshots or solid details, giving the magazine a cute package for random information.

The Gremlins also offered some of the most creative art in Nintendo Power, as they weren't based on actual games. Unburdened by commercial demands, the artists cut loose and drew marvelously odd creatures from the heart of Japan’s late-1980 pop culture. And I picked out my favorites.
January/February 1989 
If the Gossip Gremlins rarely came from real NES games, many were cut from the same aesthetics. The Eye Knight is a perfect example, familiar enough to make young readers wonder if they'd encountered such a creature in The Legend of Zelda, Dr. Chaos, or the inner reaches of Deadly Towers that few had the patience to reach.

An armored warrior with a huge Technodrome iris where his face should be? That’s almost too good of a design to waste on a blurb about Defender of the Crown—a blurb that’s half inaccurate, since the game isn't really about Robin Hood.

In fact, Nintendo Power liked the Eye Knight enough to use him (her?) twice. The creature shows up again in the March/April issue to mention some news about Hi-Tech. Too bad, Eye Knight. You deserved to be skewered by Link in Zelda II, not reduced to bandying Chessmaster rumors.

May/June 1989
That large-lipped pink goblin seen in the Gossip Gremlins intro turned out to be their most frequent contributor. She (he?) showed up in later issues, often sporting binoculars or an excited expression, and my favorite is her appearance in a roller skate converted for highway use.

The footwear car underscores the whole “gremlin” theme of the characters. Most of these little gossip-mongers didn’t look like miniature monsters, but the shoemobile is a neat little creation, like something you’d see in Gremlins 3: The Revenge of George.

By the way, "that distinctive LJN style" might've been a diplomatic way of saying that the Back to the Future game looked like garbage. Which it was.

July / August 1989 
The Gossip Gremlins seldom reflected the news they delivered, but every now and then the two converged in delightful ways. Meet Bord, a cumbersome vehicle who told Nintendo-addled kids all about a Bigfoot game. That game turned out awful, but Bord looks great.

He has personality well beyond his brand name, a legality-dodging joke you’ll see everywhere from Mystery Science Theater 3000 to anime series. I especially like how you can’t tell if he’s a personified truck or if he merely has a big red blob for a driver.

September/October 1989
This insect-mawed alien told a simple joke: a creature sweltering inside a human costume inside an astronaut suit. And just to assure the kids that he wasn’t some Giger-ish abomination hatching grotesquely from a man's innards, there’s a zipper. Consider yourselves prepared for the insane conspiracies of the 1990s, children.

Double-disguised alien has nothing to with Bases Loaded II, apart from his possible experience with Bio-rhythms. Nor does the little parrot in a bicycle-plane have any relation to the news; in the full page, he doesn't even have a word balloon. But Nintendo Power liked him anyway.

September/October 1989
Susie is among the few Gossip Gremlins to have an actual name. Outfitted with either strange headgear or a cat-ear band, she rides a four-wheeler with her logo on the side. The artist even drew some debris for her vehicle to toss around!

In fact, Susie and her ATV show much more detail than the usual Gossip Gremlin, making me wonder if she had a larger role in the Japanese magazine that spawned her. Was she a publication’s mascot or a recurring character? Or did her creator merely give Susie a few more touches in the hope that she’d catch on and get her own regular comic, perhaps even in the pages of Nintendo Power? If it’s the latter case, my sympathies go out to that artist. It would be good ten years before manga catgirls drew demand outside of college anime clubs and furry conventions.

Perhaps Susie fell short of Nintendo Power stardom because she lacked a proper helmet. If she'd been a major character, how many kids might die convinced they could off-road in cat ears? Probably none, but Gossip Gremlins should set a good example.

November/December 1989
The Gossip Gremlins served two purposes. They let Nintendo Power cram in extra snippets of news, and they provided a cuddly deflection if those snippets were wrong. Readers would forgive errors more readily when they issued from helicopter turtles or a talking blob of ancient Play-Doh. That’s what happened with this freshly unsealed golem and his blurb about Asmik.

The clay figure presents Asmik’s new mascot, a sketchily drawn dinosaur named “Bronty.” That dopey pink flipper-dragon would pop up on the title screens of Asmik games like Wurm: Journey to the Center of the Earth and Conquest of the Crystal Palace, but his name isn’t Bronty. He’s known as Asmik-kun in Japan, and he’s called Boomer in the U.S. and in his Game Boy outing, Boomer’s Adventure in Asmik World. Nintendo Power used his earlier North American name, possibly cooked up by executives who hadn’t checked the copyrights on “Bronty.”

It didn’t make any difference, since Boomer’s Adventure was the only Boomer game Asmik released in the West. Sorry, Boomer. Not everyone can be a Captain Commando or a Blue Randar.

January/February 1990
A classic car driven by a pointy-eared Gremlin makes for a routine illustration in Nintendo Power…until one notices that there’s a second, identical Gremlin driving the car in the opposite direction. It’s a neat, entry-level Escherian detail for the readers who look closely.

Children of the Nintendo Era will note that the most intriguing Gossip Gremlins often discussed the worst games of the NES library. So it’s fitting that the goblin drivers spout off about the notoriously awful Total Recall game. That doesn’t matter, because they’re good enough to stand on their own. If the Gossip Gremlins ever became pull-and-go Happy Meal toys or gashapon trinkets, you’d see the double-driving imps right there alongside the Lips Goblin's shoe-car and Susie's quad-bike.

May/June 1990
Certain Gossip Gremlins got more interesting in retrospect. This caped dog-warrior isn’t a very creative design by the standards of 1990, but his attached word balloon is notable now. The U-Force, which opened like a suitcase to sense motion on two panels, was a flop among NES peripherals. While it’s compatible with many NES games, titles made specifically for the U-Force are elusive. U-Force Power Games, a collection of small diversions, never materialized, and this Nintendo Power kobold mentions two other games likely canceled after the U-Force flopped.

Appearing next to an actual Dragon Quest slime, the kobold speaks of a first-person fighting game and an RPG that used the U-Force’s motion sensors. It’s possible they were released without the U-Force support, but I can’t think of any NES game that matches this dog soldier’s description of the martial-arts game. The RPG could be a number of NES releases, but Broderbund, makers of the U-Force, didn’t release any such NES games after 1990. So that kobold left us something to ponder.

May/June 1990
In terms of rumor-mongering, no Gossip Gremlin tops this fanged sandwich. The critter itself is cutely horrific, a delight for those kids fresh off their eighth or ninth VHS viewing of Beetlejuice. But it’s what the burger says that’s important.

The monstrous double-stack chatters about the upcoming NES games from Mediagenic, which was Activision’s brand at the time. The first three games all came out, but what about the last one, a “Japanese action classic” called Winchester? Speculation runs rampant as to what this could be, whether a bungled translation or a port of some action game so obscure that even the Internet doesn’t remember it. Whatever it was, it’s the weirdest gossip these Gremlins ever found.

September/October 1990 
I'll close with a personal favorite. This mermaid is utterly conventional in design and far from the pseudo-monstrous “gremlin” motif, but her word balloon delivered the most exciting Gossip I could imagine back in 1990.

I was a fervent member of the Nintendo cult as a kid, and Mega Man 2 was my favorite game. This was the first I’d heard of Mega Man 3, and I was enraptured. It promised 20 robots and named eight of them! Shadow Man! Needle Man! Magnet Man! Hard Man and Top Man didn’t sound so interesting, but Capcom could’ve called them Abscess Man and Long-Division Man and still dominated my dreams for months.

When Mega Man 3 actually arrived and had only eight new robot masters, I felt slightly cheated for a good minute or two. Technically, the game has over twenty robot bosses if you count the initial eight, the eight Doc Robots that recycle the Mega Man 2 cast, and the five stage leaders from Dr. Wily’s castle.

So you were right, Mega Mermaid. Sneaky, but right.

What became of the Gossip Gremlins? They disappeared from Nintendo Power by the end of 1990, swept aside in a design overhaul that gave the magazine a cleaner, more angular look. That trend continued in the years that followed, and the editors gradually cut down on goofier Japan-born doodles and original illustrations in favor of official artwork (though Terada stuck around long enough for a great Secret of Mana feature). By the late 1990s, Nintendo Power artwork was mostly commonplace and familiar. It looked more professional, but something was missing. And it wasn’t just the Gossip Gremlins.

Mega Man's Legacy

The Mega Man Legacy Collection is not the first time Capcom reissued and repackaged the initial six Mega Man titles, but it might be the most precise. Capcom and Digital Eclipse intend to preserve Mega Man’s initial outings just as they were on the NES, complete with slowdown and flicker and various filters. It’s an important step in game archiving and presentation, and the press releases and interviews liken it to the Criterion Collection and its artful packaging of notable movies. And Michael Bay’s Armageddon.

That’s a close comparison, but the Mega Man Legacy Collection lacks one essential piece of a Criterion set: a long and possibly misguided explanation of a film’s cultural importance. Capcom plans to release a physical version of the Legacy Collection next year, so there’s still time to outfit its instruction manual with an essay about Mega Man’s inner meanings.

And I have just the essay.


Coping Mechanisms

Mega Man easily rose above the field. In the early generations of NES games, his introduction was a complex cartoon adventure among primitive arcade hand-me-downs and repetitive side-scrollers hard to flatter as original games. Here Mega Man threaded appealing music and memorable stages into a tale of a robot hero whose arsenal of weapons swelled as he defeated foes, each victory offering another toy for the player’s experimentation. It remains engaging, no matter the advancements of the years and other Mega Man titles.

Yet Mega Man's first game resonates as more than an amusing triumph. His is a story of survival in the face of a threat far fiercer than spiked pits or mad helicopter-robots. As he hops those pits or shoots those robots, Mega Man faces a life torn apart by childhood trauma.

The background for the original Mega Man  differs between the Japanese and American manuals, particularly when it comes to the villainous Dr. Wily and Mega Man’s creator, Dr. Light. One has it that Wily is Light’s jealous rival; another casts him as Light’s bitter former assistant. No matter the roots of his enmity, Wily’s goals are the same. He fosters a revolutionary army of evil machines, and he steals six of Light’s own robots to lead it. This leaves Light with only the domestic androids Rock and Roll to resist Wily, so Rock outfits himself for combat and becomes Mega Man.

With that, Mega Man’s family is shattered. Wily and Light are his parents; one manipulative and evil, the other supportive but ineffectual. So too are his siblings divided. Bomb Man, Cut Man, Guts Man, Fire Man, Elec Man, and Ice Man all side with Wily, forcing Mega Man into battle against them. He even steals from them, swiping each brother’s weapon and turning it against another.

The game grants the renegade robots no dialogue, but their names tell volumes. Like Mega Man, they’re the results of a broken home, an acrimonious parental split that makes them choose between an ambitious lunatic and an ineffectual sap for their father figure. Each deals with this fractured youth in a different manner, and all of them fail. Ice Man is frigid and distant. Fire Man is aggressive and temperamental. Elec Man is energetic and careless. Bomb Man is repressed and explosive. Cut Man is acerbic and angry (and possibly self-harming). Guts Man is large and overbearing. In real life, he’d devour steroids and drive an SUV the size of a battleship. In Mega Man, he just tosses rocks and goes down after a bomb or two strikes home.

Yet their coping methods aren’t entirely wrong. Mega Man learns as much as he makes his way through the game and gains a new weapon with each robot master he defeats. He completes his odyssey only by using those weapons when appropriate; the Guts Power might remove huge blocks, or the Ice Beam might freeze columns of fire. Mega Man needs the right response to whatever the world throws his way, and he finds it only by emulating his misguided brethren in small and appropriate doses.

Mega Man’s journey grows even more abstract after his kin fall by the wayside and Dr. Wily himself emerges in a keening UFO, his brows bobbing with paternal disdain. His fortress pits Mega Man against aggressive temptations and subconscious insecurities at each level’s end. The first stage summons a one-eyed giant block by block, its phallic implications obvious. The second pits Mega Man against an identical copy of himself. The third slips Mega Man into a watery, womblike chamber where he must eradicate ovum-shaped sentries. Then we come to Wily himself, who capitulates feebly once the clown-nosed chrysalis of his battle chariot is wrecked. He’s just as much a fragile pretender as the robot masters he turned evil.

Later Mega Man games became faster and looked better, expanding the lineups of robot masters to face and allies to recruit. Yet they never reclaimed the acute symbolism of the first Mega Man, where emotionally broken robots strut their armaments and are destroyed. Mega Man Powered Up, a PSP remake, puts a cuter face on the tragedy, making it possible to rescue the robots (in a telling stroke, one does this by using Mega Man’s default weapon). It’s a cuddly solution, but the original story holds no such optimism. As in the real world, far too many children are devastated by a manipulative and unloving parent, and only the shrewd and fortunate can make it through without exploding in a pixelpuff of misspent energy.

In the face of betrayal and abandonment, Mega Man survives. It isn’t easy. His first game may be the toughest of the six presented in this anthology. Yet he can make it through, and he need only look within for the right weapons. There’s real hope inside Mega Man, and it endures just as well as his games.


That should do it. All I need is a byline: Kid Fenris is head of game criticism at

A Leap Ahead

I reviewed Lost Dimension earlier this month, and it was a tough game to judge. It has novel ideas and flows pretty well, but it just doesn’t make an impact. Hunting a traitor in your midst is intriguing. The battles are fast-paced and fun. On the whole, however, Lost Dimension can't summon the memorable characters or intricate approach that an interesting game really needs. It passes through like a cereal commercial.

Yet I’ll say this for Lost Dimension: it lets you stand on someone's head.

Technically, only one character in the game can do this. Lost Dimension puts you in command of an elite squad of psychic soldiers infiltrating the fortress of a world-dominating villain, and one of the special agents is Nagi Shishiouka. She’s a laconic and efficient woman who’s spent perhaps too much time as a military operative, and she glides around the battlefield in her impractically long combat dress. Position her just right, and Nagi can perch on a teammate’s head. Sadly, she can’t attack from that position. Nor can the other characters move with Nagi atop.

Standing on another character’s head is a feature too often ignored in video games. Plenty of action cavalcades let players leap momentarily upon an enemy, but it’s usually just a means of attacking. Seldom is it merely a neat trick to be enjoyed. And I think that’s a shame.

I first discovered this technique in Super Mario Bros. 2. The original Super Mario Bros. had Mario defeating enemies by hopping on them, but the second game, based on an unrelated Japanese title and overhauled for North America, gave its heroes the chance to jump on a foe and pick them up…or just use them for transportation. Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool Peach can hitch a ride on just about every creature that isn’t a boss or a spiky Porcupo, and as a kid I liked to see just how far this symbiosis would take me in the game. We have YouTube channels dedicated to speedruns of classic games, but I'd like to see someone try to beat Super Mario Bros. 2, or even just a level of it, without touching the ground.

Another game with this underappreciated motif? Xenogears. It’s a big, crazily ambitious RPG so stuffed with ideas that it practically explodes. That’s why some people hate it. And yet among the medieval mecha wars and floating cities and past lives and godlike supercomputers and card games and walrus sailors there’s one idea that not even the most jaundiced Xenogears critic could knock: you can jump on someone’s head.

Unlike most of its RPG contemporaries, Xenogears lets its playable characters jump around. This leads to awkward platforming later on, but it also makes it possible to leap on many things: beds, tables, rocks, livestock…and other people. It can’t be done on everyone, but many of the average citizens you encounter are perfectly fine with a martial artist or skyborn solider stationed on their heads. Even better, some of them will walk around with you aboard. If only you could pick up and toss the townsfolk like Super Mario Bros. 2’s Shy Guys and Ninjis.

Even Chrono Trigger’s Lucca, making a pedagogic guest appearance, can host a Xenogears protagonist on her helmet. And then she apparently dies, because robots level the town and Lucca isn’t seen among the survivors. Perhaps she just ducked back through a time portal, but that’s a debate for another time.

Hopping on passersby is enough to make Xenogears a resplendent classic in my book. In fact, if anyone tells you that Xenogears is bad and that Chrono Cross is a better game, look ‘em square in the eye and ask if Chrono Cross lets you jump on someone’s head…or jump at all, for that matter. Then say “Despite our disagreement, I enjoy reading US Gamer, Mr. Jeremy Parish.”

I doubt that these three games are the only ones in which you can stand on someone, friend or foe, for no reason other than amusing yourself. And if there are more, I’d like to know about them. Wikipedia needs a page about this. Perhaps several.

Rygarfield: The Third Impact

I realize that I let Rygarfield fall behind schedule, as I've made only two strips in fifteen months. I’m not worried, though. All of the best webcomics and many of the terrible ones go on long, largely unexcused hiatuses, so it’s only natural that Rygarfield reflect its medium. And I think the third strip is the best yet!

Abysmal webcomics aside, making Rygarfield led me to appreciate the NES version of Rygar more and more. It already occupied a special place in my nostalgia, since it was the first NES game I saw nearly in its entirety. A neighbor kid had mastered most of it, and he spent one afternoon showing me the whole game up to the final boss. I was so fascinated by the sprawling scenery, the cool monsters, and the little secrets that I didn’t realize I never actually got to play the game. Rygar may as well have been a crude pixel movie for me.

More to the point, Rygar is highly impressive for a 1987 NES offering. Most of that period’s worthwhile games came straight from Nintendo themselves; the majority of third-party titles were simple arcade derivatives or crude side-scrollers. Yet Tecmo recast the boring arcade Rygar as a spacious NES quest that mixes overhead stages with horizontal stuff, offering the player RPG-ish leveling and an arsenal of neat accessories (well, the grappling hook is neat; the rest are rarely used). The creatures encountered are remarkably varied, and there’s a lot to explore as each new item opens up previously impassible areas, like some fantasy-themed Metroid. It even has one of the earliest floating castles in an NES game!

I’m surprised that Rygar didn’t become a series-launching cult classic along the lines of Castlevania or Mega Man. Tecmo tried a PlayStation 2 remake, but it doesn’t count.

No matter. I’m sure that Rygar will see a parasitic resurgence once Rygarfield lands itself a movie deal, a low-budget CG cartoon, and fields of merchandise. Maybe someone will make bootleg T-shirts that show Rygarfield peeing on, say, a Sega Master System.

A Lack of Lunar, Elucidated

The first two Lunar games remain cases of RPG clichés done unimpeachably right. They button up every little part of the genre that grew old during the early 1990s, but they do it all with exceptional artwork, grand music, likeable characters, and cinematic aplomb (oh, and goofball Working Designs localizations that I still find irresistible). That’s especially true of the second game, Lunar II: Eternal Blue. In fact, in the whole skein of RPGs where plucky young heroes meet mysterious, blue-haired women, Lunar II is the best damn RPG where a plucky young hero meets a mysterious, blue-haired woman. And you can quote me on the box.

The original Lunar: The Silver Star gets most of the attention when it comes to remakes, but you’ll find that Softbank’s Lunar artbook, source of early production art and other things, grants a touch more space to Lunar II. For example, the second game gets this comic strip by artist Akari Funato. In it we see Eternal Blue protagonists Hiro and Lucia visiting their makers at the Game Arts offices.

It’s easy to follow if you have even a minor understanding of Japanese and game-development gags, but here’s a rough translation anyway.

Lucia: Welcome to the development room for Lunar II! Today, we'll check out the demo!

Lucia: “Please press button.” Press a button to begin, huh?

(Sound effect: Potch!)

Staff Member (off-panel): AAAAUUUUGH! YOU ERASED ALL OUR DATA!

I like this comic for several reasons, and the precious button-jabbing onamatopoiea of “Potch!” is only one of them. It’s also a humorous glimpse of just how fragile game preservation can be. Companies were often sloppy about archiving data in decades past, and today one might hear that a small developer or major publisher no longer has the source code for a famous creation. It may well be that the original data files for Panzer Dragoon Saga or Bouncer vanished just because someone hit a button they should’ve have.

There’s even more to the comic. Since Lucia and Hiro are both characters in the game currently under development, Lucia is deleting their own existence by accidentally wiping the computer at hand. In a far more graceful handling of the concept than Star Ocean 3, this comic brings video-game characters face to face with their own digital mortality. Hiro, dimly aware of this, dashes from the scene in some instinctive attempt to outrun his impending obliteration. Lucia, however, confusedly ponders the metaphysical issues raised here.

Funato also provided this art of Hiro praying for Lunar II’s safe completion while Althena, the goddess introduced in Lunar: The Silver Star, sheepishly brushes off his intercessions. This is highly appropriate given Lunar II’s jaundiced view of religion.

The question of divine meddling aside, Lunar II came out just fine. Funato drew several Lunar manga before moving on to original titles like the Victorian murder mystery Under the Rose and Desert of Stars. She didn’t go back to Lunar comics, possibly because there was no call for them after the 1990s. As far as I know, no one actually wiped out Lunar II’s data stores, but that doesn’t matter. When it comes to remakes or PlayStation Network reissues or even new comic strips, Lunar II may as well not exist.

Five Amiibo I Would Buy

Nintendo’s Amiibo figures drive people mad. You might not suspect that from a glance at the Amiibo displays in Target or Toys R Us, where plastic effigies of Mario and Link and other popular Nintendo marketing tools are in good supply. It’s the rarer figures, often based on less prominent characters, that send collectors into fits. Otherwise honest adults camp outside of Wal-Marts, refresh pre-order webpages like lab rats, rip open shipping boxes before store employees can touch them, and forge pre-sell tickets so they can trick some unsuspecting Toys R Us cashier into reserving them an exclusive piece of plastic and microchips.

The Amiibo craze isn’t quite as insane as the Star Wars frenzies of the late 1990s, but it’s approaching that critical mass. And, as with all waves of consumer hysteria, it’s fun to sit back and watch.

Have I bought any Amiibo figures? Nope. I don’t have any Wii U games that interact with them, and none of the character selections compels me. I like Bowser and Luigi and Kirby just as much as any kid who grew an overactive video-game fixation like a brain tumor twenty years ago, but I don’t like them quite enough to buy a twelve-dollar figure that I can’t put to its intended use. Yet there are indeed some Nintendo characters that I’d buy in Amiibo form, interactivity be damned. I doubt I’ll see any of them, but they’re all under Nintendo’s aegis in some way. That makes them extreme longshots instead of mere ridiculous fantasies.

Pandora’s Tower is the darkest thing to come out of Nintendo since the finale of Mother 3. True, Nintendo only funded and co-produced Pandora’s Tower while Ganbarion, an outfit known mostly for One Piece games, did most of the work. Yet Nintendo had to approve the idea of a priestess named Elena suffering a curse that gradually mutates her, which sends her boyfriend Aeron into a ring of towers suspended above some hellish fissure. He slays beasts and brings their organs back to Elena, who must devour them (reluctantly at first, then rapaciously) lest she turn into some misshapen horror. All with the Nintendo seal of quality, of course.

Aeron and Elena are good kids, but the most interesting character from Pandora’s Tower is Mavda…or rather, Mavda and her husband. Mavda is a mysterious peddler who knows way more than she lets on, and that giant skeletal nightmare on her back is her spouse, rendered monstrous and gibbering by some alchemic misadventure long ago. He’s a nice fellow, though! And he and Mavda would make the most delightfully unorthodox Amiibo.

That won’t happen, of course. Pandora’s Tower is pretty obscure already, as Nintendo didn’t even publish it here. And Mavda and Mr. Mavda are far too elaborate a pair to capture in Amiibo plastic. But I’d like to see Nintendo try.

One of the strangest fascinations of my childhood: porcupines. I thought they were the best animals ever, next to the long-extinct ankylosaurus. Perhaps my subconscious hoped to warn me that I needed thicker skin in the adolescent years ahead. That was lost on me, however. All I knew was that Super Mario Bros. 2 had an enemy called Porcupo, and I couldn’t wait to face them. I even vowed that I wouldn't kill them. Porcupines aren't predators, after all. They don't deserve a barrage of deadly turnips.

Imagine my disappointment when Porcupos showed up rarely in the game. They’re nowhere near as common as Shy Guys or Bob-ombs or Birdos, and you can miss them entirely if you use the game’s warp vases. No wonder I wanted to make my own porcupine-centric game.

Porcupo didnt lodge in the grander Mario canon. Shy Guys and Birdo drive around in Mario Kart, but no one remembers Porcupo. Only my younger self really liked them. So if Nintendo actually made a Porcupo Amiibo, I would be powerless before that unfulfilled phantom of my childhood.

I really like Treasure’s Sin and Punishment shooters, and I’m peeved that the second one, Star Successor, apparently sold so poorly that we’ll never get a third. Yet I don’t know if I’d buy actual toys based on Sin and Punishment. Yasushi Suzuki’s art is exquisite, but the base designs for the heroes and villains range from stock anime looks to really dumb outfits.

Dumb is what Star Successor hero Isa (left) wears, anyway: shorts and boots that make him look like the star of some low-budget cartoon where a space-faring kid and his dog fly around and/or learn about the solar system. However, I think heroine Kachi (on the right) merits an Amiibo for her more defined period attire. Between the hover board and the pink jeans jacket, she’s a vision of late-1980s pop future fashion. It was an age when many just assumed that Jordache and Members Only would dominate sartorial trends well into the human race’s intergalactic era.

That would make Kachi a good Amiibo in concept, but probably not in reality. From what I’ve seen, the more realistically proportioned characters in the Amiibo lineup, such as the Fire Emblem heroes, often have the faces of bootleg anime figures. So it’s best to leave Kachi in the Back to the Future II storyboards.

If someone threw money my way and made me get an Amiibo, I’d probably pick Mega Man…or Metroid star Samus Aran. Metroid was my favorite of Nintendo’s major properties in the NES days, when its stark mazes and plethora of space monsters snagged me just a little tighter than Mario or Zelda. And nothing, from the Captain N version of Mother Brain to the cutscenes in Metroid: Other M, made me give up on Metroid.

But a Samus figure would be too predictable. I’d like another Metroid hero, even if there aren’t many aside from Samus. No one wants Armstrong Houston from Nintendo Power’s Super Metroid comic, for example. So I would turn to the Etecoons and Dachoras. They appear to help Samus in Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, and they'd make desktop decor that anyone would find cute.

I like The Last Story a good deal. Maybe I shouldn’t. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi went for clichés at every turn in his Wii RPG (and his last big-budget RPG). Our hero is Zael, a young mercenary who dreams of knighthood. Our heroine is Calista, a count’s niece who has to be rescued more often than any woman should in today’s video games. I dug the game anyway. Maybe it’s the battle system, which folds ideas from action games and cover shooters into an RPG spread. Maybe it’s the exceptionally likeable supporting cast, from the nature-loving mage to the hard-drinking ladies’ man. Maybe it’s just the well-done British voice acting. I’d play through Sword of Sodan and the old PC version of Mega Man if they had affable Brit accompanyment.

Zael and Calista make an appealing couple, both in the game’s traditional fairy-tale pandering (including a take on Dragon Quest’s “Dost Thou Love Me?” vows) and Kimihiko Fujisaka’s original artwork. This makes them too detailed for a mere Amiibo to do justice, but even compromised sculpts would be worth the effort.

Of all the entries here, Zael and Calista stand the best chance of becoming Amiibo. They’re both trophies in Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U, along with other seldom-venerated characters. Nintendo doesn’t seem to remember The Last Story enough to reissue it, but Sakaguchi’s mobile game Terra Battle kept it alive with a really hard (and temporary) side-quest that lets players recruit Zael and Calista. Nintendo could take a hint from that. And then I’d be standing in line outside Target or weaseling my way into GameStop pre-orders. No rush, Nintendo.

My Super Famicom Vacation

Not so long ago, I thought about visiting Japan once more. That idea fizzled due to a lack of time and money, but in the aftermath I decided to list all the things I want to do on such a trip. Everything I devised, whether it involved seeing Hokkaido in the winter or trying out weird arcade prize-grabbers in their native habitats, required me to be within the actual borders of Japan.

Yet the list had one feasible, low-priority entry: buy some cheap old video games. It’s very easy to find imported games on eBay these days, and many of them aren’t even expensive. Sellers frequently put up lots of potentially decaying cartridges and start the bidding low, counting on their exorbitant shipping fees to turn a profit. I watched for a few weeks before deciding on my inexpensive and possibly damaged vicarious Japan-trip shopping spree: a bundle of four Super Famicom games.

Were these games that I’d buy on a trip to Japan? Well, one of them is. The others are just a sampling, the Super Famicom version of those cheese-and-sausage platters you’ll get at Christmas now and then. Let's unwrap it.

Condition: Decent front, faded back
Working: Yes

F-Zero was very important to the Super Famicom’s Japanese launch in 1990. It was slightly less important on the Super NES a year later. The Super NES had a wider array of games when it arrived in North America, but on that November 1990 morning at Japan’s toy and electronics shops, the world's first Super Famicom owners had F-Zero, Super Mario World, and nothing else.

Both were necessary. Super Mario World was the better game, and yet it looked and played like a prettier version of Mario’s older, regular-NES outings. F-Zero was something new, a dizzying futuristic racer that did things Nintendo’s old hardware never could. You played Super Mario World much more, but you showed F-Zero to parents and friends who scoffed that this “Super” Nintendo was the same old circus.

Today, F-Zero wants for impact. It’s a solidly designed game, but so much has happened since its debut. It doesn’t have weapons or a split-screen multiplayer mode, and the player gets only four different hovercraft to control. The designers make the most of what was brand-new hardware, though you'll note that later courses are just tighter, meaner versions of previous tracks. It’s a show-off game.

The Japanese version of F-Zero is the same as the U.S. version, aside from a slightly different ending. The cartridge label, however, sports an elaborate tagline entirely in English: “THIS IS THE FIRST ADVENTURE OF OUR NEW HERO ‘CAPTAIN FALCON’. LITTLE IS KNOWN ABOUT HIM, EXCEPT THAT HE WAS BORN IN THE CITY OF ‘PORT TOWN’ AND HAS BECOME THE GALAXY’S GREATEST PRIZE HUNTER.”

It’s odd to see Captain Falcon built up as an enigmatic Samus Aran, since F-Zero has no story mode. The hovership-selecting screen doesn’t even list the craft’s pilots. And why’s it so important that our hero was born in “Port Town”? Did Nintendo hope that Captain Falcon would be their next breakout star? Well, he’s in Super Smash Bros., so that counts for something.

Will I keep it? Ehhh. It’s straightforward fun, but I’m not attached to F-Zero. I don’t really need to prove the technical prowess of my Super NES to anyone now.

Condition: Filthy front, clean back
Working: Eventually

Konami’s Twin Bee series is yet another long-running moneymaker that’s huge in Japan and scarce in North America. In fact, only one Twin Bee was released over here, and we knew it as Stinger on the NES. Europe also saw more Twin Bee games than North America, in a strange reversal of the usual trickling effect seen in 16-bit localizations. This doesn’t nettle me as badly as a certain other game that skipped my home country, but we’ll get to that later.

Like a brighter, better version of Stinger, Pop’n Twin Bee is a merry vertical shooter that sends its two semi-anthropomorphic ships through levels full of panda projectiles, pastel underwater arcologies, trudging pineapple soldiers, and endlessly upbeat music. I’d call it a cute-‘em-up, but I never liked that term.

There’s more to it than pink hippos and mad scientists, of course. Pop’n Twin Bee has plenty of ideas: close-range punch attacks, satellite followers, and power-up bells that change their bestowed ability as you bounce them across the screen with your shots. It even has a “couple” mode where enemies prefer to target one player, presumably the more skilled of the two.

Pop’n Twin Bee isn’t bad at all, but something bothers me. You know how games like Xevious and Dragon Spirit and the rightfully forgotten XX Mission give you separate shots for aerial enemies and ground-based ones? I hate that. Can’t we, the players, assume that whoever is piloting that starfighter or helicopter or dragon is skilled enough to fire on terrestrial and airborne targets without our help? It’s a needless separation that rarely makes a shooter more interesting. The Twin Bee titles do  this, so Pop’n Twin Bee has the same discrete weapons. At least it's forgiving in its shot detection. Yes, even the bullets are laid-back.

Will I keep it? Probably not. It’s worth playing through once, but I’m sure I can find someone who likes Twin Bee games more than I do.

Condition: Dirty label, faded all over
Working: Yes

An observant soul once noted that “RPGs are the sports games of Japan.” Just as you’ll find Madden and NHL titles aplenty if you look for old video games in North America, retro-hunts in Japan turn up cheap RPGs aplenty. While I’m not sure if RPGs are the most common find in the Japanese market (what about pachislot games?), they’re much easier to come by there. This Chrono Trigger cartridge would command ridiculous eBay prices were it the North American version, yet its Japanese equivalent probably goes for less than a vending-machine soda in its native land.

Of course, it’s still worth playing. It’s Chrono Trigger, the inventive time-travel RPG that brought together major talents from both Square and Enix, who by 1995 dominated the genre. Chrono Trigger is breezy, compelling, and backed by some of the best music and visual design to hit the Super NES. If you want proof of its quality, look to the insufferable twits who’ll tell you “There’s only one Japanese RPG I like,” as they swirl the “Japanese” part like it’s a mouthful of spider venom. Their next words will be Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, or perhaps Panzer Dragoon Saga. Clearly, Chrono Trigger has undeniable appeal.

My Chrono Trigger isn’t in the best condition, and upon starting it up I saw save files from previous owners. This made me suspect a degraded battery, but the game recorded progress just fine. Whoever sold it simply wiped out the saves. That was thoughtful, but a little disappointing.

Will I keep it? I think so. I own Chrono Trigger on the DS, but there’s something comforting about having the original cartridge on hand, worn as it is.

Condition: Pretty nice
Working: Yes

This brings me to the real reason I picked up these four cartridges. One of them is Tenchi Souzou. It's known as Terranigma in England, France, Germany, Australia, and, well, a lot of countries that aren’t the U.S. or Canada. That’s because Nintendo never released it on these shores, despite their having a perfectly valid English translation. This remains a terrible oversight, as Terranigma is the third, final, and best part of an unofficial trilogy that includes Soul Blazer and Illusion of Gaia. It’s all the work of Quintet, a talented studio that made innovative, thoughtful action-RPGs during the Super NES era and then drifted off into puzzling obscurity. Their current Schrodinger status is one of the biggest mysteries in the game industry.

Playing Terranigma makes its creators’ vanishing all the sadder. It’s an action-RPG that sends its hero Ark from a warped hollow earth to the newborn world above, and it succeeds as much as a melancholic saga of chaos and renewal as it does a fun little game in the overhead-view tradition of Zelda, Crystalis, and Secret of Mana. It's the work of a developer at the top of their craft, and its late-stage Super NES graphics and music ably evoke the fragile wonder of creation and the inevitable loss that all change brings. I’d call it the best Super Famicom game never released in North America, a shortsight not even amended in this era of Virtual Console reissues.

Enough people want Terranigma to make it very expensive today, but you can land the Japanese version for much less. It’s easily the best find among these four games, and the cartridge is in surprisingly good shape. I halfway suspect that the seller pegged Tenchi Souzou as the centerpiece, the prize in a box of old cereal, and padded out the auction with three weather-beaten cartridges serving as a mound of stale Cookie Crisp. I don’t care, of course, because a Super Famicom grab-bag was precisely what I wanted.

Better yet, this Tenchi Souzou cartridge has old save files! It’s always great to encounter someone’s record. The rise of CD and DVD media obviated the need for saved games, but you’ll see them still on the 3DS, the DS, and just about any old cartridge RPG. Whenever they appear, you’re given the task of deducing the former owners’ personalities and value systems based on nothing more than how long they played and what they named their characters. This culminates in you deciding which file to delete to make room for your own. Propriety suggests that you bump off the one with the shortest playtime, but I see to it that any save with a name like “SHITMAN” or “BUTTZ” is first for the chop. The only exception is Final Fantasy V, where Buttz is an acceptable transliteration of the main character's name.

At least two players enjoyed this Tenchi Souzou cartridge before me. MIX made it all the way to the game’s bizarre pseudo-historical China, while Tsunami only lasted a few hours and took Ark to the planet’s surface. Even so, Tsunami was a better player than I. It took me 45 minutes to make it past the first tower.

Will I keep it? Yes, of course. This was the Super Famicom game I wanted most, and if I came back from Japan with Tenchi Souzou alone, I’d call it a good haul. Besides, MIX and Tsunami left me a challenge, and I don't want to disappoint them.