Sunday, 22 May 2016

Retro Japan Computer Special - MSX Computers + Games

Back in the early eighties when I got my first computer, the ZX Spectrum, I wasn't really aware of computers globally. I knew about Atari, Commodore and Texas Instruments from the US along with most of the popular UK computers but not much else. I did hear about MSX and I knew it was a computer usedby people in Japan. That was as far as my knowledge stretched and it didn't stretch much further over the years. For a long time my knowledge of Japanese hardware was limited to the Sony Playstation, my first console, and, to a lesser extent, Nintendo and Sega consoles mainly because I had an Amiga in the late eighties and a PC in the nineties.

I now know that MSX was not a computer from Japan but a standard for home computer hardware made in Japan which was introduced in 1983 after an ASCII Microsoft executive noticed the success of the VHS standard for VCR's. It was quite popular not just in Japan but also around Europe, South America and The Middle East in countries such as Spain, Brazil, Kuwait, France, South Korea, Russia (previously USSR), The Netherlands and Finland.

Similar to when PC standardised computer hardware was introduced in the US, with manufacturers such as Dell, Olivetti and Gateway, MSX computers were built by a whole host of famous manufacturers including Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Casio, Hitachi and Samsung. The standards were further upgraded in 1986 (MSX2), 1988 (MSX2+) and 1990 (MSX Turbo R). Over 5 Million MSX-based computers were sold world wide.


CPU: Z80A @ 3,579 MHz
ROM: 32 KB
RAM: 8 KB min (Usually 64K)
Video Display Processor: Texas Instruments TMS-9918/TMS-9928/TMS-9929
Video RAM: 16 KB (Max res: 256×192 pixels with 16 colors)
Sound chip: General Instrument AY-3-8910 (PSG)
Connector for tape/data recorder.
Centronics interface (for connecting printers and other parallel devices)
One joystick/mouse connector min. (Usually two)
One expansion port min.
Keyboard with at least 70 keys (inc. 5 function keys with 10 programmable functions and 4 arrow keys).

Additional - MSX2 (1986)

ROM: 48 KB
RAM: 64 KB min
Video Display Processor: Yamaha V9938
Video RAM: At least 64kB (usually 128kB)
Sound chip: Yamaha YM2149 (PSG)
Clock chip: Ricoh RP5C01 (or compatible)
Disk Drive: 3.5" Floppy disk drive

There are no shortage of games for MSX computers and many of them do not require you to know any Japanese. In any case if you look hard enough to can find English language versions of many top games too. So here are thirty great games, in alphabetical order, that you can play on MSX computers. If you have a PC you can also play these games using the MSX emulator found here.

Aka Moai No Hiho (The Secret Treasure Of Moai) - Casio 1986

Puzzle platformer where you must reach the stage exit by destroying and climbing over blocks. Some blocks reveal special items which are usually required to reach the exit. You must also climb over and destroy blocks in the right order or you may not be able to reach the exit. Stages get harder and harder and are inter-spaced with bonus stages where you collect diamonds for points.

Aleste (Power Striker) - Compile 1988

Vertical scrolling shoot 'em up with six stages and eight different types of weapon. Collecting the same number over and over again will upgrade the strength of that particular weapon. Ammo is not unlimited so you also need to keep collecting the same type of ammo to ensure it doesn't run out. There are end of stage bosses which need to be destroyed piece by piece. This game also had a very similar sequel released the following year.

Athletic land -  Konami 1984

Flick screen platformer where your character has to get past all the obstacles within a set time. Obstacles range from ropes over a pond, trampolines, falling conkers, rolling balls, water filled pot holes and fountains with platforms.

Buru To Marty Kikiippatsu (Inspecteur Z) - HAL Labs 1986

Platform game that was also released in Europe as Inspecteur Z. You must enter the tower block and retrieve bombs whilst either shooting or avoiding the enemies that pop out of the many doors on each level. You must also jump over various obstacles, such as beds and try not to jump and bang your head on ceiling fans. You can also duck to avoid enemy bullets.

C-So! - Compile 1985

Flick screen platformer where you have to collect items such as flowers or cherries while being pursued by evil creatures. Each level contains see-saws which can be used to splat the creatures onto the floor or ceiling, springy beds which allow you to bounce between gaps and doors which warp you from one door to another. You must collect all the items and a set quota of creatures to reach the next level.

Come on Picot - Pony Inc 1986

A fairly unique flick screen platformer with the type of game play I haven't seen too often where your side-kick blob does all the work for you. It can be called to you, It can be used as a shield, It can be used to stand on as a ride and it can be pushed around the screen to destroy enemies.

Eggerland Mystery - HAL Labs 1986

In this puzzle game you must guide your character, Lolo, through a series of tile filled rooms collecting all the heart blocks to open and gain the contents of a jewel box. Lola can also use a magic shot weapon should one be obtained. Water is another obstacle and there are also green blocks that can be pushed around too.

Fairy - ZAP 1985

Action game where you must clear out the creatures that have infested your house and garden over four stages. Stage one is caterpillars you must poison in a garden of leaves. Stage two is throwing your shoe at mice in the dark cellar with the help of a torch. Stage three is throwing your shoe at spiders in the attic. Stage four is shooting at aliens that are running around your house.

F-1 Spirit: The Road to Formula 1 - Konami 1987

Top down Formula 1 racing game where you can also choose to drive other cars in other types of races such as stock, rally, endurance, F3 and F3000. You can select the track, number of laps and difficulty level You can also customise cars engines, tyres and suspension.

Hinotori (Firebird) - Konami 1987

Vertical scrolling shoot 'em up where you must find keys to reach the lair of the phoenix. There are 6 stages filled with various enemies and power ups for weapons and special abilities, in the form of feathers, that you must explore to find the keys.

Hustle! Chumy - Compile 1984

Single screen platformer where your mouse must navigate various ladders and platforms eating all the cheese on the level whilst avoiding little guys, robots, rabbits, bats and turtles. You can throw cans and kill some of the creatures but they respawn after a few seconds. You can also jump very far which makes you move faster. This is quite important as the more cheese you eat the fatter and slower you get. You can use the garbage chute at the top of the screen to get to the bottom. Once all the cheese has been collected you must go back into your mouse hole.

Iga Ninpou Chou Mangetsujou no Tatakai (Super Ninja) - Casio 1986

Side scrolling platformer where you can jump, duck and throw ninja stars at your enemies who attack from left and right. I found that ducking often was a good strategy. Without this sophisticated Ninja manoeuvre you never last long.

King's Valley 2: The Seal of El Giza - Konami 1988

Puzzle platformer sequel where you must collect all the treasure in the room by cutting and drilling your way through the pyramids blocks. You must do this in the correct order or you may become stuck in the room. You also have mummies that roam around the pyramid to deal with. That's where the throwing dagger comes in handy.

Knightmare - Konami 1986

Vertical scrolling medieval style shoot 'em up where your knight has to destroy cannonballs, bats, red knights and other enemies whilst collecting various power ups from question mark slabs which change your weapon or cause a special effect for a limited time.

Koneko no Daibouken: Chibi-chan ga iku - Casio 1986

Platformer in the same vein as Mario but with a cat, jumping flowers, avoiding caterpillars and other enemies. Unlike in Mario in this game you can shoot and destroy the enemies too.

Kyokugen - M-Kai 1997

Vertical shoot 'em up developed in the main by one person. You can select different ships which each have their own style of fire power, stats and pilot. Enemies drop items for points and power ups. each of the six levels have various backgrounds and enemies along with the obligatory boss enemies.

Magical Tree - Konami 1984

Platformer where you try to reach the top of a tree whilst being attack by owls, bees and other nasties. You can collect fruit and other items for extra points.

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake - Konami 1990

Stealth game where you try to sneak past guards as it's more difficult to find the weapons to kill them. You can punch them and stay out of sight by crawling behind various objects.

MopiRanger - Konami 1985

Maze game where water flows in certain directions diverting you down certain paths. You have to rescue your friends whilst avoiding your enemies. There are some blocks in the maze that you can push to trap your enemies but unfortunately there is also a chance of trapping yourself too.

Nemesis 3: The Eve of Destruction - Konami 1988

The usual Gradius / Salamander / Nemesis style horizontal shoot 'em up from Konami released exclusively for MSX machines. Known as Gradius 3 in Japan.

Payload - ZAP 1985

Plays like an early top down version of Euro/Amercian Truck Simulator You must choose your delivery contract and drive carefully without crashing or breaking the rules which can lead to police fines. You also need petrol and repairs to your vehicle if it becomes damaged.

Penguin Adventure Konami 1986

Sequel to Antartic Adventure where your penguin must follow the trail on each stage, jumping holes, avoiding sea lions and collect fish. The stages have more varied trail borders than it's predecessor such as forests, mountains and caves. The fish you collect can be used to gain weapons and other items from shops.

Pippols - Konami 1985

Vertical scrolling shooter and maze game hybrid which works better than you would expect. You can move up and down the maze, jump left and right when a gap appears and shoot hearts at your enemies. Some enemies use the maze too and move from one column to another whilst others fly over it in regular shoot 'em up style patterns. At the end of each stage you have a choice of paths each leading to a different next stage.

Pleasure Hearts - M-Kai 1999

Horizontal scrolling shoot 'em up developed by the same guy who made Kyokugan. So polished that it doesn't look like an MSX game at all. Numerous parallax scrolling landscapes filled with a huge variety of enemies, upgrades, power ups and stage bosses is what you can look forward to.

SD Snatcher - Konami 1990

Based on the same story as Snatcher but an RPG rather than an interactive story. During combat you can target a particular part of your enemies body for different penalty effects. This game also has anime style graphics instead of the realistic graphics of the game is was based on. The SD stands for 'Super Deformed' which I believe refers to the characters heads in the game.

Space Manbow - Konami 1989

Horizontal scrolling shoot 'em up where some enemies leave power ups behind which increases your ships fire power. There are many different enemies on each level which ends with a spectacular looking big boss.

The Treasure of Usas - Konami 1987

Puzzle platformer where for each level you have to choose a short blue guy or a taller pink guy whose different abilities make each of them more suited for certain levels. The pink guy jumps higher and the blue guy is faster. You jump, crouch and shoot dodging moving statues and destroying zombies that rise from grave stones. You can also push blocks around to stand on to reach otherwise inaccessible objects. It's game over once guys come to a sticky end.

Youkai Yashiki (Haunted Boynight) - Casio 1986

Platformer where your little boy must jump and shoot his way through a grave yard and into a haunted house avoiding or destroying the likes of fireballs, monster tongues, twin antennae aliens, killer teddies and bats collecting enough tokens to make a key and defeat the end of level boss to escape.

Yuureikun (Mr Ghost) - System Sacom 1988

Quite a strange horizontal scrolling shoot 'em up where you are a ghost with a side kick that you can throw at enemies to destroy them or you can reverse ram them yourself. You can break blocks by ramming them and collect items and bonus points. End of level bosses need to be reverse rammed several times to destroy them.

Zanac EX - Compile 1986

Vertical scrolling shoot 'em up where you can collect different weapons and power them up to destroy the many waves of aliens and bosses throughout each level. The action is smooth and frenetic. (Note: I couldn't find the cover for EX so you get the earlier version, AI, instead)

Honorable mentions, that are probably already on many other Top MSX games lists, which I either haven't had the chance to play or find a bit overrated are :-

Aleste 2, Aleste Gaiden, Antartic Adventure, Boggy 84, Car Fighter, Castle Excellent, Comic Bakery, Druid, Eggerland 2, Exoide-Z: Area 5, Final Justice, Flash Splash, Guardic, Gulkave, Hole In One Pro, Kings valley, Knightmare 2 - Maze of Galious, Metal Gear, Nemesis 2, Raid On Bungeling Bay, Rise Out, Road Fighter and Sky Jaguar.

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