it’s not from your dad Wall
I once described the SNES version of Wall as not “the most faithful” but “the version that best fits on consoles”. Maybe I keep it, but I have a contender for the less faithful. While the NES got a decent version of Wall, the Famicom for some reason got a completely different one. This is not the only time this has happened. The case of the NES/Famicom disparity of manic mansion it is another equally confused One.
Wall on the Famicom was developed by Konami for most of the team that would create games like Lagrangian point Y batman returns. A talented team without a doubt. It is clear that the development team played Wallbut they didn’t seem that interested in replicating the game.
We have to protect Grandma’s house!
Wall is an arcade game from Atari about building fortifications with Tetris blocks. In single player mode, the goal is to defend your castle from invading pirate ships. Wall on the Famicom it’s about a variety of things, none of which involve ships. For example, easy mode has Little Red Riding Hood fortifying her path to Grandma’s house. Medium is medieval fantasy, so you’re fighting dragons. Finally, the hard mode is the Japan of the Sengoku era. Weird.
But while the modes are labeled by difficulty, make no mistake, each is its own unique, short campaign. The goal of each is largely the same, but through clever level design, you’re presented with little wrinkles to deal with.
There are several ways to win each of the stages. You generally fight against two types of enemies; the big ones that destroy your fortifications and the small ones that get in your way. One way to win is to destroy all the bigger enemies, since the smaller ones can’t knock down walls. Another is to earn points by capturing as much territory within your walls as possible. Some levels push you into a particular type of victory, for example by setting the goal score too high to get the limited number of turns you have.
Stop giving me ‘S’ blocks
There is also a story told in cutscenes between levels; something else that I haven’t seen in any other version of Wall. Once again, each difficulty level has its own individual story to go along with its unique aesthetic. Considering the arcade version of Wall was developed as a three-player confrontational title, I can’t say I’ve ever considered the narrative as a possible way to improve, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
It’s funny to me that instead of just picking one aesthetic and sticking with it, Konami decided that they would give us multiple flavors. None of them really match the medieval Europe of the original, and while the gameplay is almost restrictively similar, they all have their own progression and layout. It’s almost a demonstration of how Atari just stuck to one theme. An example of how the Wall The series could go on. In a sense, it’s the sequel we never got. Wall on the Super Nintendo they may have taken the formula and made it more suitable for consoles, but on the Famicom, they just put a lot of sugar in the recipe.
As I mentioned before, the game is somewhat limited. Not that it wasn’t in its original incarnation, but at least there, it had the excuse of being just a quarter. I think a lot of it comes down to what they could fit on the screen. While the arcade original was a single screen title, the SNES version added scrolling to allow for larger levels. On the Famicom, everything feels much more comfortable. There doesn’t seem to be much territory to conquer or fight. It makes the game look almost cheap.
This carries over to multiplayer. Although the rules are largely the same as in most two-player versions, the fact that the maps are so condensed really affects the strategy. You can definitely do better in terms of multiplayer. Wallthough most won’t let you choose your aesthetic.
More could have been done with the ideas that were used to mutate Wall, but it doesn’t seem like it was a priority for Konami. While there were obviously plenty of talented people on the project who put their love into it, there are indications that the company saw it as nothing more than a sink-or-swim game port. It wasn’t even put into the usual Konami custom cartridge, instead using the generic Famicom style. Everything’s fine, Wall; you are still loved.
Completely out of script
if you do not like me Wall before, the Famicom version is not going to change your mind. However, if you like or even love Wall, then you should do yourself a favor and try this flavor. It’s interesting to see a developer look at a game that he was porting and decide that he wanted to do something different. Normally, he would attribute this to hardware limitations that can’t replicate the experience, but Jaleco managed to get it right in the western version.
There is a translation if you want to enjoy the cutscenes or at least navigate through the menus. There is a surprising amount of text when you consider that there was no story in the original versions.
As for whether or not we’ll ever see a real location, I wouldn’t count on that. Considering it was a licensed port, you probably need to get Konami and Wall current rights holder (I think it’s WB) to make a deal. Even then, how much demand is there for an obscure port of Wall. When was the last time we saw a port of Wall in any of its iterations? Midway Arcade Origins in 2012? Yes.
On a final note, I’m not done with my Wall exploration. Apparently, Jaleco did a Game Boy port and went pretty far off script too. Exclusive to Japan, too. Why did we only have to deal with pirates in the West?
Check out previous Famicom Fridays here.