Much like my previous posts on Spectrum Holobyte
and Bullet Proof Software
, here's a quick retrospective on a criminally-underrated game company.
"Alright, Titannel. I'll bite. The hell is Japan System Supply?"
I'm glad you asked.
Japan System Supply was a game developer that made very few games. The three that I am covering in this post is well over 50% of their output. That's just the way the game industry goes: One day, you're making awesome games for the public gaming masses to enjoy, and the next, you're jumping ship to other devs for a pay-cut or you're braving unemployment.
That said, it is quite hard to get a lot of info about this company. Different websites have conflicting info on games the company has had a hand in making. I'm covering games that I know they actually made.
First off is a game that I can guarantee that you've never played:
(Credit for the above image goes to this
Bound High was supposed to be beautiful. It was supposed to be one of the saving graces of Nintendo's Virtual Boy, a console that had the potential to make a generation blind. It's a shame, because Bound High, like most Virtual Boy games, is really, really well-done. You play as Chalvo, a robot that can turn into a ball, Turrican/Metroid style, in a first-person perspective. The point of Bound High is to bounce around tiled stages, knocking enemies into the oblivion below the relative safety of the tiles. Later stages put things like wind direction and pinball bumpers in your way. It's a really nice little game, and one that is not only a great display of the Virtual Boy's strengths, but also a great display of just how badly the VB can disorient you. Motion sickness is very real, kids.
Like I said earlier, this game was not officially released, since the Virtual Boy kicked the bucket during the development of the title. A complete prototype of the game exists, though, and a bunch of enterprising individuals have gone and made reproduction Virtual Boy carts of the game.
That was not quite the end of Bound High, though, since the game's protagonist would show up in another game, this time for the still-monochrome but significantly less headache-inducing Game Boy...
Chalvo-55 was a Japan-only release for the Game Boy. It's a standard puzzle-platformer starring the protagonist from Bound High. This time, the game takes on a standard two-dimensional look, though the act of changing into a ball is still the main mechanic of the game. You use that to attack enemies and break through terrain to get to the end of stages and through the obstacles presented, sort of like Ball Kirby from Kirby's Adventure.
This particular game is one of my only imported Game Boy games (the other happens to be Star Ocean: Blue Sphere, but that's another show). My local retro game store got in a bunch of import Game Boy titles, and I jumped when I saw this one since I was such a fan of Bound High.
One thing to do to make the game feel a little closer to the Virtual Boy predecessor is to play Chalvo-55 on a Super Game Boy, and change the color palette to red and black. It's almost like you're living the dream.
Oh. Hey. Look at that! It's a game you might actually have played!
Chameleon Twist came out in 1997. As such, it is one of those very interesting games that only really could have come out in the heyday of generic 3D mascot platformers. In Chameleon Twist, you play as one of four differently-colored chameleons that have fallen through a magic portal into a world full of the same levels that are in every other 3D platformer. In order to make the game more interesting, the chameleons have also been turned into weird, badly-rendered humanoid creatures with long, prehensile tongues. You can run and jump, but your tongue stretches so far that you can use that to cross large gaps or pole-vault into secret areas. Something something Gene Simmons reference goes here.
Your primary method of defense is to lick up enemies with your tongue and fire them back at larger enemies. In fact, that is basically how most of the boss fights are done. The game itself is mostly a bog-standard 3D platformer, with all of the common flaws that early 3D platform games have (camera desperately needs to be analog, and the environments weren't exactly breaking any new ground, even back then). The tongue mechanic is also one that is very tough to get the hang of since it is something that would work much better in a two-dimensional game. Having to judge depth and space based on when and where you use the tongue to snatch enemies or cross a gap is very much a trial-and-error affair.
Despite the flaws, Chameleon Twist is a unique game, and it gets a lot of credit for being so. It's a game that, despite the flaws, is very near and dear to me, since I used to rent this game a lot. In fact, my copy that I own today is an ex-rental. Chameleon Twist was popular enough to get a sequel, which was aptly-named Chameleon Twist 2. Aside from some updated character models, the game was more or less an expansion pack to the first game.
This series would make an excellent comeback on the 3DS as a game in the style of Kirby: Canvas Curse, but since JSS is no longer around and I'm assuming that Sunsoft owns the rights to Chameleon Twist, they hold the fate of this very interesting franchise.
So, what happened to Japan System Supply? Hell if I know. This is just one of those companies that seemed to drop off the face of the earth. One thing is for sure, though: They clearly weren't afraid of taking chances.