Back in the late 90s when I really started to expand my horizons in import gaming, there were two unobtainable machines: the Fujitsu FM Towns and the Sharp X68000. Both were computers. They were desirable because they played versions of games that were only whispered about in the darkest corners of gamer gatherings. Arcade perfect ports of Splatterhouse; more prefect versions of Gradius and Salamander that were available at the time. They were unobtainable because they were computers, and no import store carried Japanese computers. Heck, back then it was almost impossible to get a JIS keyboard for a Windows machine, much less get a whole system in the States; but my friend Matt actually managed it. He imported, at great cost, two FM Towns II computers (a model F and and MX); but only one monitor. I actually bought the MX off him but never used it, because… you guessed it! I didn’t have a monitor. Ah, gamer locgic. The desire to simply own.
Still, I had yet to play anything running on an actual X68000. Fast forward to 2011, and I finally come into my own with the FM Towns, and finding I enjoyed the system so much that I have since gone through six FM Towns II computers, and two FM Towns Marty systems (a consolized version of the computer that you hook up to your TV). But still, the X68000 was out of reach for me. Prices for the machine can easily run upwards of $500 in Japan. Plus, you have to figure in the cost of the monitor, and maybe a keyboard, control pad, joysticks… well, you get the picture. This week, though, I had a little visitor:
Yep, an X68000. Actually and X68000 XVI to be more precise. Oh, no, it’s not mine; I picked it up for a customer back in the States. This X68 is just passing through. But I was able to put it through it’s paces, and can give you all a little look at the machine.
It really is a beautiful, impressive beast. One of the reasons I always wanted to get my hands on one of these was because it’s what Capcom famously programmed their arcade games of the day on, thus Capcom arcade ports on the X68 are arcade perfect. Plus, it was the go-to machine for Konami as well, with titles so popular, they still garner admiration from fans for their playability and music. So it was with great anticipation that I plowed through around 20 games, waiting to be impressed. And the funny thing is, overall I wasn’t. Let me tell you what I found:
The X68 is a very well thought out and fantastically designed machine. It’s elegant in a way that few computers are now. It even has a retractable steel handle on top for… carrying? Anyway, it’s there and it’s cool.
Unless you have an HDD (listen up kids, computers didn’t always have hard disks), you have to have a disk in the machine in order to get it to do anything (the Towns is similar). X68s take 5.25” floppies. This, for me, is one big downside to owning an X68000, as some games can take up to 15 floppies; plus because of the fragile nature of the disks, they’re easily prone to demagnetization and data corruption, especially since they’re nearing 13 years of age! The computer has two drives, labeled 0 and 1, the 0 being what we in the States called the A Drive at the time (or Drive 1). You have to have a disk in here to run the game. If a game has multiple disks, the B Disk must be in drive 1 (also called B Drive or Drive 2 in the west) in order for the program to fully load. Interestingly enough, how the computer works it is it loads the 0 drive data fully into its memory, and then ejects the disk. That’s crazy stuff. One game even loaded the full contents of both drives into memory. That’s some serious RAM for the day going on there! (boy, I sound like a computer geek right about now^^;)
Interestingly enough, some games require only a control pad to be plugged in to play, and some require a control pad and keyboard. See, the X68000 controller doesn’t have a START or SELECT button, so the spacebar on the keyboard would serve that function. You can’t play Parodius on the X68 without a keyboard, but you can play Salamander. Weird. Just shows how the programming progressed over time, probably via user feedback.
The first game I’d like to show you is Star Wars. I’m an old school Star Wars fan, having been there for the original trilogy and having suffered through the Atari 2600 versions of Star Wars games. Because of the era in which it was released, I expected this to be similar to the NES Star Wars, maybe a platform adventure game. Boy was I wrong.
I was completely unimpressed by the beginning of the game. What a wonky opening crawl. And once the opening shots of the film appeared represented by vector graphics I was almost rolling on the floor in fits of laughter. But as the intro drug on (and it does drag on) the audio really impressed me. Voice. Lots of voice. Then I actually played the game… what a treat for an old gamer like me! Star Wars for the X68000 is a faithful expansion of the old Star Wars arcade game I played as a kid! It really took me back to putzing around the old Bally’s Arcade in Town West Mall in Wichita, Kansas. The levels do drag on a bit, with mission two requiring that you shoot more than 80 enemy whatevers to progress to the near impossible twitch shooting trench run. Plus, the control with the stock joypad is really stiff. Overall, though, I really enjoyed the game; but mostly for the audio.
Next comes one of my all time favorites, Puyo Puyo. Having played this, I can now say I’ve experienced every version of the first game in the series. I was quite tickled by that loading screen, where Carbuncle, the game’s mascot, psychedelically morphs into a puyo over and over and over… The game itself remains unchanged from other ports, Puyo is Puyo. What did strike me was how close this version of Puyo Puyo is to the PC Engine version, Puyo Puyo CD. A great version of the game, but the FM Towns version is still king.
The final game we’ll take a look at is a Capcom classic, Final Fight. Previously, I played the Super Nintendo version of the game, and the Sega CD’s Final Fight CD. Plus I played it in the arcade. Now I can say without a doubt that Capcom games on the X68 are where it’s at. What beautiful graphics, and a great soundtrack! Now, it’s only from memory, but I can’t tell a difference between this and the arcade version. There were noticeable changes from the US version I caught, including Cody’s captured girlfriend being shown in the intro being battered and stripped down to her bra. Plus, the character Poison is showing off a lot of under boob. I’m such as a kid I would have remembered under boob. I was that age. But the control is superb, and the gameplay challenging and fun. If I ever own an X68000, I will be getting this game.
I think the main reason why the Sharp X68000 failed to blow me away is that I was already so familiar with so many of its showcase games. And unfortunately, many of the games have been ported to other systems in better incarnations. I would say your money is better spent playing the Sega Saturn or Sony Playstation versions of Parodius, Gradius, and Salamander than playing them on the Sharp. Yes, the midi soundtracks are excellent, but graphically, the games are less than arcade perfect and sometimes suffer from flicker, something not seen in the 32-bit arcade perfect ports. What I’ll remember most from my experience is the music, which is also an unfortunate thing because midi soundtracks for X68 games seem to be released and re-released ad infinitum, and I can get into those for a whole lot less than the cost of the system. Still, I just barely scratched the surface of what the Sharp X68000 has to offer. If the situation arose where the planets alined and I had the space and money for a machine offered at a bargain price, I’d happily get one. Until then, though, I now know I can wait.