Youll have to forgive Emu Zone if this months column is a little disjointed, because your intrepid reporter has spent the whole time wading through websites where all the text looks like this:

Ă̂͂ 肩ȁH ̈TԂɈ

(thats a direct cutnpaste quote, there), and his brain appears to be broken. Excitingly, though, its all been worth it, because this month Emulation Zone is proud to present its beloved readers with something a little bit special a lost Super Mario Brothers game. But well get to that in a moment.  First, the thrilling backstory.

One of the most obscure corners of the zany, lovable world of emulation is the one devoted to Japanese home computers. For obvious reasons, the Japanese dont tend to be very fond of computers as a leisure device, so the country has always been the worlds biggest console stronghold. Nevertheless, there have been Japanese computers, and where there are computers people will play games. So, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a whole little gaming subculture grew up around machines like the Sharp X-1, the FM Towns, and the NEC PC-80 series. And where theres a gaming subculture, you can be sure therell also be some emulator authors.

The emulation of Japanese home computers, though, is a daunting world for us saucer-eyed Westerners. The vast majority of the emulators are written in Japanese, with Japanese options and menus, Japanese documentation and Japanese home pages.  And since the emus themselves, being of computers, are rather more complex to use than console emulators, your chances of being able to get them actually working without a pretty comprehensive knowledge of kanji are fairly slim, hence the dearth of information about both the machines and some of the weird and wonderful games they can play.

Thank heavens, then, for the Japanese Computer Emulation Centre - a sparse and basic website which offers just enough of a sliver of information to tip the balance and enable the English-reading gamer to get a foot in the door of this strange but excellent world and your friendly neighbourhood Emulation Zone. You need wander the virtual streets of Japanese computing as a clueless and befuddled tourist no longer just hold Emu Zones hand while we make the merest of scratches on the surface of Nippon computing for you, and see what we can reveal.


Look! Just look how much fun Japanese computers are!

This ish: some of Emu Zone's most exciting pictures ever.

The Sharp X1 - like other Japanese PCs, but more red.



The earliest Japanese micro to boast and noteworthy gaming was the PC-6001 from NEC (the same people whod later bring us the PC Engine), also got an unsuccessful US release as the NEC Trek. Arriving in 1981, while we were all still impressed with the black-and-white, mute, 1K Sinclair ZX81, the Trek offered colour graphics, 16K of memory and impressive sound facilities for the time. Namco welcomed the machine with a special version of Xevious, their arcade hit of the same year, charmingly entitled Tiny Xevious to acknowledge its reduced nature.

The PC6001 - Aw, ain't it cute? Xevious: tiny


Konamis Nemesis (known as Gradius outside Europe) series of games contains one of the most twisted and confused videogaming bloodlines this side of Bubble Bobble (and theres an entire Emulation Zone to be written about that one some day soon) - although there have been around 20 identifiably different games in the series, the imminent latest incarnation for PS2 is numbered just Gradius 5.

One of the series many detours along the way came via the MSX line of computers (which were released worldwide, but flops outside Japan), where a port of the original arcade game was followed by two sequels both exclusive to the format. 1987s Nemesis 2 was a particularly fine effort, stretching the machine to its limits, and it was clearly a shame to limit its audience to the small number of non-Japanese people who ever bought an MSX.

So in 1990, Konami decided to (very slighty) extend the games reach by bringing a revised and enhanced version of it to the Sharp X68000, the pinnacle of the Japanese computer industry and a machine easily capable of more than holding its own with the likes of the Amiga and Atari ST. (Sharp were NECs main competitors in the Japanese computer business, setting their MZ series up against NECs machines before the X68K came out, but we dont have the room to go into those now.)

However, Nemesis 90, as the new incarnation was called  - odd in itself, since it was a Japan-only release and should have had a Gradius billing - saw the difficulty level of the MSX game ramped up to extraordinary heights, leaving even experienced Nemesis players struggling to get off the first stage, and the game languished in obscurity.

However, some dedicated fans wouldnt let the matter lie, and in 1994 released one of the most impressive unofficial hack games of all time, in the form of an X68000 port of the original MSX Nemesis 2. Taking full advantage of the X68Ks capabilities to vastly improve the graphics, sound and scrolling of the MSX version, but retaining its somewhat friendlier difficulty level, they rescued the excellent stages hidden beyond the skills of most Nemesis 90 players and came up with a superbly accessible game far more enjoyable than its official parent.




Nemesis 2 on MSX: Not too pretty.

The unofficial X68K port: Prettier.

The official Nemesis 90: Prettiest, but impossible.



But heres our star. A game so obscure that even the internets most supposedly definitive Mario sites know nothing about it, your very own never-sleeping Emu Zone has uncovered one of gamings true rarities for the enjoyment of you, the readers of PC Zone. Super Mario Bros Special was licenced by Nintendo to veteran Japanese coders Hudson Soft, and released in 1986 for the NEC PC-88 series, the successors to the PC-6001.

Boasting graphics and (especially) sound on a par with the NES and coin-op versions of the game, SMB Special was nevertheless a very different kettle of mushrooms. Most obviously, it came with a completely different set of levels to the original game. But more significantly, the PC-88 wasnt up to the job of smooth scrolling, so SMB Special is actually a flick-screen game. Kick a Koopa shell in Special and it wont skitter away off the screen, itll bounce off the edge and come zooming back at you whether there was an obstacle there or not, which can be very disconcerting if youre near the right-hand edge when it happens.

Combined with the slightly frisky controls, this change makes SMB Special a fantastically hard game, more so even than the better-known Lost Levels incarnation of SMB which came out in Japan and later made it to these shores as part of the SNES Mario Allstars compilation.




It's lucky for history that we're here, eh?







Youll be doing well to get this far.






Hes going to hurt himself like that.



Emulation Zone is brought to you in association with the International World Of Stuart Foundation.