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Friday, May 6, 2011

Nintendo Color TV Game Block Kuzushi (任天堂 カラー テレビゲーム ブロック崩し, 1979)

The last of the four video games in the Nintendo Color TV Game series released in Japan at the end of the 70s is definitely the most interesting. The earlier Color TV Game 6 and TV Color Game 15 from 1977 are of note because they represent the first endeavors by Nintendo in the video game market, but from a design point of view (game play as well as packaging) they are not very original; just well executed pong clones. Color TV Game Racing 112 (1978) already looks more exciting and its game play is all right, but it is its successor, Color TV Game Block Kuzushi, which takes the crown.

Nintendo Block Kuzushi (1979) with CTGA-901R adapter

Nintendo Color TV Game Block Kuzushi (任天堂 カラー テレビゲーム ブロック崩し) was released in 1979 and oozes 70s design and appeal.

The Japanese word "kuzushi" (崩し) stems from "kuzusu" (崩す) which means to break or to demolish, so the translation of "Block Kuzushi" (ブロック崩し) is "Block Breaker".

Block Kuzushi manual

The model number of this game is "CTG-BK6". This, of course, is short for "Color TV Game Block Kuzushi". The "6" in the model number refers to the six game variants this game offers, as advertised on the box as well as on the game housing.

The six game variants are shown on the left side of the top of the box

Block Kuzushi was obviously inspired by Atari's 1976 arcade smash hit "Breakout". Atari's arcade release was followed by a number of home conversions by Atari and others, including this one by Nintendo.

Block Kusushi is the first Nintendo video game to feature the company's name prominently on the housing. The Color TV Game series started as a cooperative effort together with Mitsubishi, but at the time of Block Kusushi this had moved completely in-house, and the Nintendo name on the front was fully deserved.

The game was launched in 1979 with a retail price of ¥13,500.

The game retailed initially for ¥13,500

The price was soon reduced to ¥8,300, in order to address fierce competition. The price for pong clones was quickly coming down and Epoch also successfully released a block game called "TV Block".

Console price drops already occured in the 70s

Besides the fact that Block Kuzushi is the first video game to wear the Nintendo logo on its chest, it is historic for another reason: the involvement of video game genius Shigeru Miyamoto. A recent industrial design graduate from the Kanazawa College of Art, he had started in 1977 in the "Creative Section" of Nintendo and initially worked on various graphical design assignments. In 1979 his industrial design training came to good use when he was tasked with the design of the housing of Block Kuzushi.

Block Kuzushi - front

Shigeru Miyamoto did a great job. The round shapes work really well, and the design of the control panel is clean, clear and beautiful.

Block Kuzushi - back

The design is functional, playful and inviting. The colors of the orange body, black control panel and white control buttons also go nicely together.

Block Kuzushi - left side

If this shape and color does not shout "seventies", then what does?

Block Kuzushi - right side

On the right side we find the cable to connect to the TV and the connection for the external power adapter. On the bottom there is a switch to select the RF output channel.

Block Kuzushi - bottom

Like the other games in the Color TV Game series, Block Kuzushi is powered by a 9V adapter (CTGA-901R) which had to be bought separately for ¥1,500.

The controls on the front are - from left to right: serve button, power switch (up is on, down is off), reset button, game selector, number of balls selector and paddle controller.

After the console has been switched on, a game is started by selecting the required game variant from the six options, setting the required number of balls per game (3, 5 or 7) and hitting the red reset button.

Game variant "6" selected, with 5 balls per game

Next, each of the available balls is "served" by pressing the big serve button on the left. This brings the ball into play. The objective of the game is to use the "racket" displayed at the bottom of the screen (a blocky white line) to bounce the ball (a blocky white square) towards the colored blocks at the top of the screen. Upon hitting the blocks, these will disappear ("break").

Serve button (サーブボタン)

The racket at the bottom of the screen can be moved horizontally by turning the big white controller on the right.

Racket controller

Depending on the point of contact between ball and racket, the ball will take a different trajectory after bouncing, as explained in diagram below (taken from the game's manual). Please note the very square "ball" (ボール) in this picture.

Move racket, bounce ball

The six game variants offered by Block Kuzushi are all single player games. Where the multiple game variants included in most of the pong clones (including Nintendo's TV Game 6 and TV Game 15) were all very similar (up to the point that calling them variants was sometimes laughable), these six variants all offer a unique and fun challenge.

Game 1 ("Block Out" or "ブロックアウト"): The standard game. Hit a block and the ball bounces back and the block disappears. If you miss the ball when it returns, you lose it, and need to serve a new ball. Continue until all blocks are gone or you run out of balls.

Game 2 ("Block Easy" or "ブロックイージー"): Similar to game 1, except that a line of blocks is missing. As a result, less blocks need to be hit in order to clear the screen, but more importunately, this extra open line allowed for extra "rapid block breaking" when the ball would start bouncing between the blocks, something that is only possible between the top line and the top of the screen in the standard game.

Which of the six games do you fancy?

Game 3 ("Block Safe" or "ブロックセイブ"): Another variant of the standard game, this adds a line of blocks at the bottom of the screen, protecting the ball from disappearing when it is missed by the racket. Each of these "safe blocks" can only help you once, after which it disappears. This gradually reduces the safety net.

In game variants 1 to 3, points are awarded based on the color of the block (2, 4 and 8 points per block).

Game 4 ("Block Through" or "ブロックスルー"): This variant throws a whole new challenge. It is a time based game, in which the objective is to clean the screen as quickly as possible. As soon as the first ball is served, a timer starts counting up. The counter will stop when all blocks are gone, or when the counter hits 999. The lower the score, the better. When a block is hit, the ball will not immediately bounce back, but continue its course (hitting other blocks on its way) until it hits the top or side of the screen. Hence the name "block through". You have an unlimited number of balls in this game variant.

The six different game options of Block Kuzushi

Game 5 ("Block Lighter" or "ブロックライター"): Here there are four special flashing pink blocks in the middle of the top line. The objective is to remove these blocks by hitting them, leaving as many as possible of the other blocks untouched. So avoid hitting anything but the pink blocks. When all four pink blocks have been hit, your score will be calculated based on the remaining blocks; the more blocks left, the better.

Game 6 ("Block Killer" or "ブロックキラー"): Combining the concept of game 4 and 5, this game variant challenges you to remove four special flashing blue blocks in the middle of the screen as soon as possible, against a counting timer.

An interesting game feature (for all game variants) happens when the ball hits the top of the screen, rather than a block. This triggers the racket to shrink to half its size, only to regain its normal dimensions after a ball has been missed and a new one served. This makes the final stages of the clearing of the screen quite tricky.

The score is kept on the top left side. The middle of the screen shows the previous score (rather than a high score) which is updated at the end of each game. Although Block Kuzushi does not feature an actual two player game, displaying the previous score facilitates head to head play.

The game variants explained in the manual

The asymmetrical design of the Block Kuzushi console, with the racket controller on the right side, poses some problems for left-handed players. The manual offers some suggestions on how to operate the console in this case: side-ways or even back-to-front.

How to play when you're a lefty

During the introduction of Block Kuzushi, promotional competitions where staged in department stores.

Block Kuzushi medal of honor

When successful during this competition, you would be awarded a special Block Kuzushi medal.

The medal was accompanied with a commemorative note, underlining the achievement.

This medal signifies that you are a block breaking master

As part of the marketing campaign for Block Kuzushi, a colorful leaflet was produced (check it out here) as well as a TV commercial.

(Video uploaded by Youtube user ksoik)

One final note of warning to all collectors and other folks interested in obtaining a Block Kuzushi. Please be aware that the plasticizers in the RF cable of this game, added to keep them flexible, have a habit of damaging the orange casing upon prolonged contact. These plastic softeners more or less "melt" the hard plastic case, leaving ugly marks. When buying a second hand item, always make sure to check for this type of damage, which easily occurs if the cable has been stored on top of the case for a long period of time or, even worse, when it has been wound around it.

1 comment:

  1. Hello! Just want to say I discovered your blog via Famicomblog and have to say I love it! For such a relatively new blog, you already have so many fantastic posts! As a Nintendo fan, I salivate over your wonderful collection and as a fan of sixties and seventies design, the box art and toys are just wonderful to look at. Keep up the work and thank you so much!