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Wonder SwanCrystal MADE IN JAPAN

For American readers the Wonder SwanCrystal may be one of the least familiar of consoles. It is the 3rd handheld released by Bandai, the first and second being the WonderSwan and the WonderSwan Color. The WSC is a slight improvement of its predecessors with a higher quality, though not backlit, color screen and a slightly more curvy design. WSC is about the same size and shape of the original GBA though at about half the processing power and cost. The combination of price point and library of games was perhaps the reason that WonderSwan was able to capture 8% of the handheld market in Japan. The library was largely made up of some very excellent Squaresoft RPGs. The system began to flourish before Nintendo finally made amends with Squaresoft allowing the WSC to finally be crushed by the massive power of Nintendo. The main thing you need to know about WSC is that it’s a Japanese handheld made for the Japanese market and hence all the games are in Japanese. This means that if you want to play Final Fantasy IV, Front Mission, Riviera: The Promised Land, Romancing SaGa or any of the many other excellent RPGs available you need to be able to read Japanese. This leaves the non-Japanese reader with a scant number of options that are not reading intensive. Rockman EXE WS, Mr. Driller, and Golden Axe are about it, with a few other games that are compatible, which were released for the WonderSwan. I personally only own two games that I can figure out how to play enjoyably with no knowledge of Japanese, those being Pocket Fighter and Mr. Driller. Foreign languages make me feel like a moron. If foreign languages do the same for you, you may want to avoid WSC.

Pocket Fighter was published for the original Wonderswan which is a black and white portable. Unlike the Gameboy Color which could display original Gameboy games in color the WSC has no option to colorize original Wonderswan games. The black and white graphics of Pocket Fighter are a bit difficult to see without direct bright light and the controls feel a bit mushy and unresponsive. The latter issue is because even though the WSC has two sets of + pad positioned buttons, in addition to the NES-like A and B buttons, they are in fact individual buttons. Control schemes have changed over time but the eight way digital + pad of the original NES has made an appearance in some form on nearly every piece of gaming hardware since it appeared on the NES. The WSC’s choice of individual buttons is a bit of a curious departure but by no means cripples the handheld. It’s not as difficult to play with the buttons as playing an action game on a cell phone but it is a bit weird.

My WSC has a bit of trouble powering on sometimes which I assume is a unique defect of my individual unit. When the power button on the front of the unit is depressed sometimes the sidebar of the screen will flash black but not actually power the unit on. The other power related issue, one that presumably affects all WSC, is that it does not work with rechargeable 1.2V AA batteries but requires a 1.5V AA battery. I believe that 1.5V AA rechargeables are available however most rechargeable NiMH and NiCad AA batteries are 1.2V. Weaksauce. The only bright point is that a rechargeable power pack is available and that the WSC only needs one AA to run.

The only other bit of hardware weirdness is the sound. The sound is basic mono 16 bit audio without any problems with the quality. The curiosities relate to the hardware itself. Firstly, rather than a volume knob or dial the WSC has a sound button that switches between four volume levels. The other curious sound related hardware issue is that there is no headphone jack. There is a proprietary EXT. port that was used both for a headphone adaptor as well as a snap on mini turntable that was released with Beatmania. I repeat, Beatmania for Wonderswan featured a snap on mini turntable. How rad is that? I totally want that. It has to be at least 100% cooler than the Guitar Hero fret attachment that is allegedly being released with the upcoming NDS version of Guitar Hero.

Mr. Driller is a much more excellent game then Pocket Fighter for WSC. My first exposure to Mr. Driller was on the WSC and I was greatly impressed. The game should not be enough to convince a non-Japanese reader to purchase a WSC because, since Mr. Driller’s original appearance in arcades in 1999, it has appeared in various forms on PC, GBC, GBA, GameCube, NDS, Dreamcast, PSX, Cellphone, and is slated to appear on Xbox Live this Spring. As an alternative to the WSC version I highly recommend Mr. Driller 2 on the GBA. That said, it is an awesome game that is very fun to play on WSC.

Here is my understanding of the plot based upon both the GBA and WSC versions of the game as well as the video bellow. Keep in mind this is probably much more accurate then my understanding of Mappy. Subterranean aliens threaten to bury the earth under millions of tons of colorful plastic cubes so the UN calls in Susumu Hori AKA Mr. Driller, the son of Dig-Dug and world’s greatest driller. Susumu’s hyper intelligent talking dog Puchi is all like “Shit yeah he’ll save the world! Mr. Driller is the world’s greatest driller!” Susumu is like “Hold up Puchi, I’m not drilling anything looking like this. Where is my pink drilling jumpsuit?” Puchi is like, “Don’t get your panties in a knot, I just took it out of the wash.” Mr. Driller, properly suited up, drills to the center of the world where the subterranean aliens live. Once he meets said aliens he is like, “Cut it out guys!” The subterranean aliens are like, “Don’t you like colorful cubes?” Mr. Driller is like, “Who doesn’t but for serious, they are tres’ gauche.” Aliens are all like “What a dick.” But are secretly so crippled by Susumu’s impeccable fashion sense that they stop making cubes out of pure shame. End of Game!

Once powered on the graphics are easy enough to see even under less then perfect lighting conditions. Even though the menus are in Japanese there are few enough options and enough English to make getting into the game easy enough. The game itself is a very simple puzzle game, with its roots in Tetris, that merely requires a player to continuously burrow toward the bottom of the screen using a drill that destroys sets of similarly colored adjacent blocks that make up the ground. As sets of blocks are destroyed, blocks that have not been destroyed will fall filling in the empty spaces or being caught by similarly colored block sets. When the falling blocks land on a similarly colored set of blocks and make a set of four or more the set will be destroyed. This basic mechanic is fairly easy and a careful player would have no problem burrowing were it not for the additional twist of an air timer that requires the player to pick up air canisters or suffocate. The game is basically a race downwards from air canister to air canister while trying not to be crushed by falling blocks.

In the final analysis I wish I could read Japanese.

2 comments:

  1. It is so great to see someone else into portable gaming.
    I know that at the time you posted this, two years ago, that only two games was known by you for this neat little system. I am hoping that you have found more games. Here is my list,
    Digimon Battle Spirit
    Digimon Battle Spirit 1.5
    Battle Spirit: Digimon Tamers
    Digimon: Veedraman Verson (English)
    Buffers Evolution
    Guilty Gear Petite 1
    Guilty Gear Petite 2
    Puyo Puyo 2
    Bust-A-Move
    Klonoa: Moonlight Museum
    One Piece Swan Colosseum
    Lime Rider Keroikan
    SD Gundam Operation UC (repetitive shooter action, leveling up for character)
    Pocket Fighter
    Gundam Seed
    Awkward as it is with button control setup, I find it a fun little system. Other games that I do not have, I am sure would be good for anyone that is an English only gamer, like Crazy Climber, Magical Drop, Rockman/Megaman and there is also a racing game available.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is so great to see someone else into portable gaming.
    I know that at the time you posted this, two years ago, that only two games was known by you for this neat little system. I am hoping that you have found more games. Here is my list,
    Digimon Battle Spirit
    Digimon Battle Spirit 1.5
    Battle Spirit: Digimon Tamers
    Digimon: Veedraman Verson (English)
    Buffers Evolution

    ReplyDelete