Saturday, May 28, 2011

Nintendo Color TV Game Racing 112 (任天堂 カラー テレビゲーム レーシング 112, 1978)

In the early days of video arcade games, three genres stood out in terms of popularity. Number one has to be shooting games (with examples like Space Wars, Space Invaders and Nintendo's own Sheriff), followed by racing games and sport simulation games (including Pong!). All three genres have remained popular ever since.

Early arcade racing games include Taito's Speed Race (1974) and Atari's Night Driver (1976).

In 1978 Nintendo brought the video game racing experience to living rooms in Japan, with the introduction of Color TV Game Racing 112 (カラー テレビゲーム レーシング 112).

Nintendo Color TV Game Racing 112 (1978)

It is one of the first home video game with an actual steering wheel. The Coleco Telstar Arcade, which also featured a steering wheel (as well as a gun), was released one year earlier in the US.

Racing 112 is the third of the four games in the Nintendo Color TV Game series. It followed TV Game 6 and TV Game 15, both from 1977. Like all games in the Color TV Games series, it is a dedicated game machine with hardwired game play and a fixed number of game variants.

Color TV Game Racing 112 and Color TV Game Block Kuzushi

Racing 112 is a big game, with a big box (check out the size difference with Block Kuzushi in above picture).

What's in the box

The console features a steering wheel and gear shift for single-player game mode, and two paddle controllers for two-player mode.

The model number of Racing 112 is "CTG-CR112". The box exterior contains the Nintendo name in the copyright notice, as well as in large kanji ("任天堂").

A price drop to ¥12,500 required the existing stock to be sticker-ed over

The game price was originally set to ¥18,000, but quickly lowered to ¥12,500 to ensure competitiveness. The price would eventually be further reduced to ¥5,000.

Later versions of the box have the lower price printed on them

When opening the box, we see the console firmly packed between two polystyrene pieces.

The steering wheel is included loose, to reduce the dimensions of the game and prevent an even bigger box.

Color TV Game Racing 112 manual

The steering wheel can be mounted easily on the console, and taken off again after playing.

The manual includes assembly instructions

Like all other Color TV Games, the set includes an RF-switch. In the 70s, TV sets were still produced primarily for watching television broadcasts. They were not yet designed to take input signals from multiple devices, and only had a single input (intended to be connected the an antenna). A video game like Racing 112 could be connected directly to this input, but this would require the antenna cable to be removed and moved back again before and after playing the video game.

RF switch included with Color TV Game Racing 112

Enter the RF-switch. This device allowed both the video game and antenna to be connected to the TV at the same time. With the switch you would select which of the two input signals you wanted to pass on to the TV. Once installed you would have no more messing about with cables before and after play.

In 1978 a typical video game manual contained many pages with instructions on hooking up the console to your TV set. Today life has become somewhat simpler, thanks to TV sets with multiple AV inputs. And with the current widespread availability of cable TV, who remembers roof-top antennas?

The console measures an impressive 43 centimeters wide. The steering wheel is 18 centimeters in diameter. The casing has a nice off-white and brown color combination and feels very solid. The widened and raised body underneath the steering wheel gives a real dashboard-like feel to the controls left and right of it.

The "Racing 112" name is included on a bright metal faceplate on the front. Like the two earlier Color TV Games, the Nintendo name is still not displayed prominently; only on the box and on the bottom of the console.

The gear-shift and steering wheel on the front-side of the console are used to control one of the one-screen cars in single-player mode. The gear shift has two positions. First gear is up.

Second gear is down.

On the back-side we find two cups for storing the paddle controllers when they are not used, the output cable (to connect to the TV through the RF-switch) and a connector for the power adapter.

Racing 112 requires an external 9 volt power adapter, which had to be bought separately. It is the same adapter (model CTGA-901R) used by all games in the Color TV Game series.

A note on the inside of the box explains the compatibility of
the required power adapter with TV Game 6 and TV Game 15

When switched to two-player mode, the two paddle controllers are used to steer two on-screen cars. These controllers have a good length cable, which is fixed to the console.

The paddles are well-designed and the turning knob has a good size, allowing precise control of the cars.

The objective of the game is to pass as many cars on the track as possible with the player controlled car(s), without crashing into any of them. Every car passed scores a point.

Game variants are selected using the many switches on the control panel on the right.

The top left switch on the control panel is used to select the game mode (ゲームセレクト). The left and middle positions are single-player games, the right position is the two-player mode. The two versions of the single-player mode are "spacious course" (広いコース) and the more difficult "narrow course" (狭いコース).

The top middle switch sets the speed (スペード). From left to right: low (低), medium (中) and high (高) speed. In two-player mode this sets the fixed speed of the game. In single-player mode this defines the top speed of the player's car (reached when switching to second gear with the gear shift). The low speed is not available for single-player mode. The relation between the game mode options and the speed options is indicated by the green and yellow bars above and below these switches.

The red button on the top right is used to start the game (スタート).

The left-most switch in the bottom row is the power switch "電源" ( up is on, down is off).

The other four switches in the bottom row manage special game elements and allow the player to further refine the difficulty level to his or her own taste. From left to right: zigzagging of opponent cars "ジグザグ" (up is yes, down is no), touching the guard rail causes a crash "ガードレール接触" (up is yes, down is no), bad road "悪路" (up is yes, down is no) and number of cars "車の量" (up is many, down is few). The really tough players will set all these switches in the up position.

TV Game 6 had six game variants. TV Game 15 had fifteen. After looking at all these switches and related settings, one question remains: does Racing 112 really have one-hundred and twelve game variants, as the name suggests?

It turns out this is actually true, though many of the variants are simply permutations of the same game elements.

Let's do the math. There are seven game modes it total; four single-player modes (spacious or narrow course combined with medium or fast speed) plus three two-player modes (low, medium or fast speed). With the four difficulty switches it is possible to select sixteen different options (2x2x2x2).

So, seven game modes with sixteen difficulty options each brings the total to one-hundred and twelve game variants (16 x 7 = 112).

The manual includes an overview of the 112 game variants

Color TV Game Racing 112 is a fun and challenging racing game. As one of the earliest Nintendo home video games it was rightly honored with a mini game in Wario Ware Inc for Game Boy Advance.

Racing 112 mini game in Wario Ware 

Also check out this Racing 112 leaflet.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Nintendo Ultra Coaster Game and Captain Ultra Coaster (ウルトラ コースター ゲーム, キャプテン ウルトラ コースター, 1967)

In previous blog posts we have seen that super heroes were very popular toy themes in the late 60s and early 70s in Japan. Nintendo obtained rights to use characters from the hot television shows of this era, like Kamen Rider and Ultra Man, and used these for, amongst others, the E-clock electric clocks and N&B Block building sets.

In other posts we discussed some of the first toys Nintendo created: the Rabbit Coaster Game and New Coaster Game tumbling bean games.

Today we will take a look at two games which combine these two topics: super heroes and tumbling beans.

Nintendo Ultra Coaster Game and Captain Ultra Coaster (around 1968)

The games I am talking about are Ultra Coaster Game and Captain Ultra Coaster.

Nintendo Ultra Coaster Game

The first of the two is Ultra Coaster Game (ウルトラ コースター ゲーム), which is based on monsters from the Ultra Q television show (ウルトラQ, 1966).

(Video uploaded by Youtube user bagel68)

Ultra Q was a sci-fi / monster show, somewhat similar to The Twilight Zone, but with more monsters. It is the first in a string of Ultra television shows and would be followed by Ultra Man, Ultra Seven and lots of others.

The game cost ¥1,000 when it was released, which must have been around 1967. Although it was only sold in Japan, the name is featured in English on the side of the box.

The Ultra Coaster Game includes three plastic figures: two are tasked to keep the tracks in the air, while the job of the third one is to scare the passing tumbling beans.

The hairy guy on the right most probably is Goro (ゴロ), the giant monkey (a distant cousin of King Kong).

The fellow in the middle looks very much like the Red King (レッドキング), who is actually from the Ultra Man show. Can someone confirm this?

The third one is Ragon (ラゴン), a pretty scary sea monster from the Ultra Q episode "Undersea Humanoid Ragon" (海底原人ラゴン).

Nintendo Ultra Coaster Game

Upon opening the box the first thing you notice is that the monsters are not nearly as colorful as they are pictured on the front, all going for a more-or-less single-color look, with very sparse painted accents.

Assembly instructions are provided on the inside of the box top.

As a game, it is very similar to the Rabbit Coaster Game, although it has one less track level (three instead of four).

Nintendo Ultra Coaster Game

The game is prepared by placing the beans in the starting piece; one bean per lane. Pressing one of the two white buttons releases the beans, after which they start their race down.

A shifting metal ball bearing in each of the beans makes it tumble, as it rolls down the track. When the beans drop from the top level to the middle part of the track, they pass Ragon's mouth.

Halfway the middle track, the beans speed past the Red King's piercing eyes. They appear unfazed by this.

Just before the beans make it to the finish line, they slip underneath Ragon's behind.

Note the "Nintendo" logo on the bottom left of the finish piece

The second game is Captain Ultra Coaster (キャプテン ウルトラ コースター).

Nintendo Captain Ultra Coaster

It is based on the television show "Space Special Effects Series: Captain Ultra" (宇宙特撮シリーズ キャプテンウルトラ).

(Video uploaded by Youtube user Caballer01970)

Captain Ultra was a space adventure show that first aired in Japan in 1967, one year after Star Trek started in the US.

The box features the familiar "Nintendo Game" logo. All other lettering is in Japanese katakana.

Just like the Ultra Coaster Game, the Captain Ultra Coaster sold for ¥1.000 and came with three figures. But this time it wasn't only monsters: the hero of the series was one of the figures included.

As an aside, the space craft pictured on the left of the box front is Captain Ultra's mode of transportation. It was called "Spiegel", allegedly after the German weekly (although the rational behind this escapes me), and could break into three separate space vehicles.

That's Captain Ultra on the left. The monster with the funny hands is the alien Bandel (バンデル星人).

Not sure who the dinosaur monster on the right is, but he doesn't seem to be too pleased about his current predicament, with track pieces attached to his nose and inserted into his belly.

When we open the box we see the track pieces, a small box with tumbling beans and the three plastic figures.

Assembly is not too difficult. The instructions provided on the inside of the box aren't really needed.

The Captain Ultra figure is nicely painted with good detail. The two monster are a bit more basic.

This Captain Ultra looks quite young. Not sure if he should operate that space craft.

When the Captain Ultra Coaster set is fully assembled, besides a fully functioning bean tumbling track, we also created a nice space scene, with Captain Ultra facing two adversaries.

The beans follow the action as they move from monster to hero and back.

Captain Ultra has pulled his laser gun and is ready to zap. But he looks uncertain, not sure of the consequences of firing a shot. And so they stand, locked onto each other. While the beans tumble on, towards the finish line.

These early Nintendo games are somewhat strange (who ever came up with the idea to replace the track stands of the original Rabbit Coaster with these figures?) but definitely spectacular. The box designs are gorgeous and the assembled toys are fun to look at and to play with.

Nintendo Ultra Coaster Game and Captain Ultra Coaster

For more Nintendo bean tumbling fun, check out the posts on the Rabbit Coaster Game, New Coaster Game and N&B Block Coaster.