Famicom Hidden Gems

famicom-hidden-gems

With the upcoming release of the Nintendo Classic Mini: Family Computer flashback system, Source Gaming is here to provide a small list of seven obscure Famicom and Famicom Disk System titles that any in all Nintendo and classic gaming fans should make some time to check out. Each of these titles only requires minor knowledge of the Japanese language at best or have translation patches available.*

For convenience, the common asking prices for each original cart on online shopping sites have also been provided.** If you know of any Famicom titles that you think others would enjoy please make them known within the comments section as they could show up in future articles.

*Please do not post links to any illegal sites within the comment section.

**These prices are primarily based on listings from Yahoo Japan Auctions & Amazon.jp and are not necessarily the definitive market going rates.

Adventure Island IV/高橋名人の冒険島Ⅳ – Hudson Soft (1994)

Minor Japanese Text, Fan Translation Exists, ~$150

Also known as Master Takahashi’s Adventure Island IV, this is both the last game in the NES Adventure Island series and the last fully licensed Famicom game. In this adventure, as Master Higgins, you attempt to rescue your friends after they are kidnapped and hidden away by an evil Eggplant Wizard.

Unlike previous games in the series, Adventure Island IV is an exploration styled action platformer similar to other titles on the system such as Metroid, Legacy of the Wizard, and Uforia. Master Higgin’s journey to find his friends will take him throughout the islands’ six main locals, gathering power-ups and weapons such as a spear, an umbrella, and his trademark skateboard along the way. Once rescued, Master Higgins’ dinosaur friends can be used as power-ups, increasing his mobility, firepower, and even granting him the ability to fly or swim. The dinosaurs can help make short work of bosses and most enemies, however, as they die in one hit, they cannot be used recklessly. The series’ titular hunger mechanic also makes a return, and while players still need to collect food from fallen enemies, the meter no longer drains automatically. Instead the meter is used to restore health (eight pieces of food equals one heart) and affects the difficulty of various mini-games that are sometimes required for progression.

Compared to most titles in the same genre, Adventure Island IV is fairly linear in terms of progression as certain areas will be blocked off until you defeat the proceeding boss. The map system also helps players have a general idea as to what their next objective is. Backtracking for extra items and power-ups is kept relatively low and be further minimized through skilled use of the game’s checkpoint system. Adventure Island IV serves a great title for easing players into the sometimes intimidating Metroidvania genre and is a modest finale for the historic Famicom system.

Arumana no Kiseki/アルマナの奇跡 – Konami (1987)

Fully Playable, Disk System Exclusive, ~$30-50

In what could be best described as Castlevania meets Bionic Commando, Arumana no Kiseki places you in control of the adventurer Kaito as he attempts to rescue a village by reclaiming the magic jewel: Arumana. The obvious similarities to the movie: Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom are unabated throughout.

Like most action platformers, Kaito can jump and attack with various weapons that can be collected throughout each stage such as daggers, pistols, and bombs. However, what makes Kaito himself differ from other characters from the era is his trusty grappling hook which he can shoot out at any time in a 45 degree angle to hang on or climb up to higher platforms. This mechanic is by no means perfect and does have a slight learning curve, but it feels rewarding when mastered and adds to the fast-paced gameplay.

Unfortunately the game’s biggest source of difficulty comes from the continuously respawning enemies and booby traps that appear in your way. Often placed in areas that require tricky grappling or in spots where there’s little time to react, the enemies in this game tend to feel cheap and unfair. Mixed with limited ammo and limited continues, this game does tend to come off as too frantic for its own good at times. Recently, NES reproduction fans have been able to port this to a cartridge format allowing for Konami fans to try this forgotten classic for the first time.

Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa/バイオミラクル ぼくってウパ – Konami (1988)

Fully Playable, ~$30-45 (Disk System)/~$90 (Famicom), Wii Virtual Console Exclusive

One day, the infant Prince Upa accidentally breaks an urn containing an evil demon named Zai. After Zai steals the lifeforce of all the adults and kidnapping his fellow babies, Upa is given a magic rattle from a fairy, also contained within the urn, and is forced to crawl into action.

Using Upa’s rattle to attack enemies, players cause enemies to humorously inflate like balloons. Enemies will stay inflated for a few seconds before exploding allowing them to act both as extra platforms to move across or, in a manner similar to Koopa shells in Super Mario Bros., bump into to launch as a projectile. Players must be careful, however, as these projectiles can bounce back and harm Upa as well. Mastering this mechanic is crucial for progression in certain areas as well as against certain bosses where inflated enemies have to be launched at specific angles to deal damage.

Featuring seven worlds with three levels each, this game is surprisingly diverse for a game released before Super Mario Bros. 3. Upa & players will find themselves crawling/swimming/digging through worlds made up of giant cakes, dairy products, Lego Bricks, etc. and levels that involve reversing gravity, trampolines, vertical scrolling, and small mazes. For fans of the platforming genre, Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa is that rare game that is both oozes charm and polish.

This game was rereleased in cartridge format in 1993. This version features the addition of an Easy Mode and minor graphical/sound changes. The Disk System version of this game is available on the Wii Virtual Console.

Fire Emblem: Gaiden/ファイアーエムブレム外伝 – Nintendo (1992)

Moderate Japanese, Fan Translation Exists, ~$13

The second game in the increasingly popular Tactical RPG series, Fire Emblem: Gaiden takes place on the continent of Valentia located west of Archanea from the previous game (the references to the first game are minimal). Here you control the two armies of the childhood friends: Alm & Celica as they attempt to defeat the aggressive Kingdom of Rigel and investigate the disappearance of the Goddess Mila. Like any sequel should, this game improves on the original in just about every way: a more developed narrative that plays out between five story chapters rather than scenarios, better enemy intelligence, more diverse locations & maps, and a varied upbeat soundtrack.

The biggest difference between this game and other games in the series is the complete revamp of the item system. Rather than have the clunky & hardware limited item system of the first game, arguably its largest shortcoming, Gaiden attempts to minimize item management by having characters not need weapons equipped to attack. Instead weapons act more like power-ups, increasing offensive abilities when one is equipped. Magic (both offensive & supportive) in this game is gained by leveling up. Once a magic spell is learned it can be selected at any time, though in turn it will cost HP to cast (all mages have access to a HP stealing attack to balance this out). Additionally promotions & stat bonuses are now performed at special sanctuaries that can be found throughout the game. Other notable features include the first appearance of a world map, three-tiered promotable classes, visit-able towns/dungeons, and re-playable maps.

Arguably the least played game in the series, Fire Emblem: Gaiden is often seen in the same light as other black sheep NES/Famicom sequels. Ultimately the game doesn’t deviate from the series’ core gameplay at heart and smartly uses the hardware limitations at the time to its advantage. Newcomers to the series will most likely find this easier to pick up and play than the giant maps of Genealogy of the Holy War or dealing with the frustrating fatigue mechanic of Thracia 776.

Moon Crystal/ムーンクリスタル– Hect (1992)

Fully Playable, Minor Japanese, Fan Translation Exists, ~$150

This game places you in control of Ricky Slater as he sets off to rescue his friends and family after they’re kidnapped by the evil Count Crimson in his attempt to control the power of an artifact known as Moon Crystal.

An action platformer in the same vein as Prince of Persia, albeit with tighter controls than its spiritual predecessor, Moon Crystal is most notable for just how beautiful is it. Characters & enemies all have multiple frames of animation. Levels often feature multi-plane scrolling.  Ninja Gaiden styled anime  cutscenes help round out its somber story & soundtrack. Ricky himself only comes equipped with a small dagger to fight enemies off with, but players can increase his attack range, health bar, and grant him the ability to double jump through collecting power-ups hidden in each stage. Players sadly lose their power-ups upon losing a life, but thankfully each stage is relatively short and checkpoints are often placed close to important items.

Unfortunately, the game’s biggest flaw and greatest source of difficulty comes from stiff jumping and movement brought on by the extra animation frames. While this poses little difficulty during stages, it puts players in a handicap against most bosses where near pixel perfect timing is needed to evade attacks and fight back with Ricky’s small dagger.  A short but sweet game, Moon Crystal is a beauty to behold and should appeal to many an anime fan.

Summer Carnival ’92 Recca/サマーカーニバル’92 烈火 – Naxat Soft (1992)

Fully Playable, ~$250, Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console Exclusive

Released as a part of the second of three Summer Carnival game competitions held by Naxat Soft throughout Japan in the early 1990s, Recca/烈火 (meaning “blazing fire”) is a vertical scrolling shoot ‘em up that stands out from the competition thanks to its speed and difficulty.

Recca offers three main modes to choose from: Normal Mode, Score Attack, and Time Attack. Normal Mode features three stages each with a boss & mini-boss and a final boss rush stage. Players have five main weapons and five secondary turret weapons mapped to the B & A buttons respectfully. If the main weapon is not fired for a select amount of time, it turns into a large bomb that can temporarily block enemy fire. Pressing the select button changes the speed at which your ship moves across the screen.

On top a disorienting background and heavy techno chiptunes, Recca will immediately catch players off guard with how fast and fluid the game feels despite featuring a large amount of sprites on screen. Players will be shocked at how little breathing room is given to them with enemies come flying in and out at a near ludicrous speed and bullets constantly filling the screen. If the game wasn’t hard enough already, seven remixed stages are made available upon completion of Normal mode.  A hidden mode called “Zanki Attack” continues the trend further with 50 lives and enemies who explode into more bullets.

Due to its limited release Recca is one of the rarest standard Famicom cartridges out on the market. Nintendo, however, has since ported it to the 3DS Virtual Console allowing for a new generation of gamers to experience the same blazingly fast gameplay and difficulty that pushed the Famicom to its limit.

Konami Wai Wai World/コナミワイワイワールド – Konami (1988)

Fully Playable, Minor Japanese, Fan Translation Exists, ~$20

Potentially the first major video game crossover title, Konami Wai Wai World is a one to two player side scrolling platformer that brings together an all-star cast of Konami characters to rescue Konami World from the threat of an alien invasion.

Upon starting the game, players will only be given control of Konami Man & Lady. To unlock the other heroes: Simon Belmont, Goemon, Fuuma (Getsu Fuuma Den), Moai (Gradius), Mikey* (The Goonies) and King Kong*, players must locate a key within six themed stages to free them from their captivity. Once assembled, players must travel into outer space, with help from Twin Bee & the Vic Viper (Gradius), for a final showdown with the alien menace.

*Due to licensing issues, these characters are replaced by Upa (Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa) and Penta (Antarctic Adventure) in later ports.

Each of the eight playable characters has their own abilities as well as obtainable extra weapons based upon their original game series. For example: Konami Man can fly, Simon can attack at a distance with his whip, Fuuma can destroy blocks with his sword, etc. Each character does have their own health bar, however, upon death or a game over it takes a large amount of in-game currency to revive them. Unfortunately due to awkward hit detection and limited projectile attacks, losing any one character often forces players to grind for money or restart from the last password save.

Konami Wai Wai World is sadly brought down by its somewhat cheap difficulty. Regardless, this game succeeds as a nostalgia trip for classic gamers and is worth checking out for its fan service alone.

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