Stay Sharp! •••with SC Denshi System Techō games

This thread is eventually about (pretty obscure) video games, I promise.

On January 19th, 2022, tipped by a friend who had a friend who had a friend who owned a video game store, I was able to acquire, literally through the backdoor of the store, in a shady alley, paid in cash to avoid any tracking in their inventory system, a Sony PlayStation 5.

Now let’s go back a few decades. The development of transistors, integrated circuits and LCD screens throughout the Seventies changed the daily life of hundreds of millions of citizens around the world, just as globalization and hypercapitalism kicked in fifth gear with the rise of Japan as a new economic superpower and the political emergence of Reagan and Thatcher in two of the West’s leading economies.

Two important gizmos resonating with yuppie culture were:
① pocket notebooks and organizers such as the famous [Filofax](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filofax) brand allowing you to micromanage phone numbers, bank account details, storing those new fancy credit cards and all other aspects of your Very Important Life^TM
② pocket calculators, those devilish little wizards from Texas Instruments, Sharp and Casio allowing you to figure out the bill at the end of a good steak shared with your fellow Wall Street bankers.

Naturally, some of these notebooks (🇯🇵手帳 _techō_) and Filofax-like pocket organizers (🇯🇵システム手帳 _system techō_) even included a case to store and carry one of these practical pocket calculators along with you.

Well! Unsurprisingly, Casio and Sharp each thought "why don’t we just add organizer features to our pocket calculators?" and so were born 電子手帳 (_denshi techō_) and 電子システム手帳 (_denshi system techō_), "electronic organizers", the perfect companion to yuppie culture and Bubble Era Japanese white collars.

From the mid-Eighties all the way to the arrival of modern PDAs in the mid-Nineties, electronic organizers were the high-tech alternative to boring old handwritten notebooks. But since it wasn’t all that convenient to type everything on a small keyboard and access information on a small screen, electronic organizers started adding features such as kanji dictionaries, birthday reminders, translation assistants, Excel-type tabulating programs, public transports information etc. Each model trying to outdo the other with clever new features adapted to a specific segment of the population.

With this context in mind, here is what Sharp released in 1987:

https://youtu.be/G3v7sLwla7g

You may have recognized that one of the celebrities endorsing Sharp’s new electronic notebook above is Insert Credit darling Itoi Shigesato, who much later made a fortune off the ほぼ日手帳 _Hobonichi Techō_, [his own take](https://www.1101.com/store/techo/en/) on the culture of personal organizers.

What the younger Itoi is promoting above is the Bware series _Denshi System Techō_. Starting with model PA-7000, and quickly followed with the PA-8500, this new series of personal assistants revolutionized the burgeoning electronic organizer market by introducing optional IC cards which could be purchased separately and exchanged to boost the electronic organizer with different optional features. In turn, this allowed Sharp to keep the costs of the core machine low, and release new models (about a dozen or so in total) that remained compatible with the same cards.

Sharp even opened the door to third party publishers releasing their own cards, and openly stated their goal to reach the absurd number of over 1000 different software available through IC cards (_Spoiler_: this did not happen). Other hardware makers such as Panasonic eventually adopted the same format for their own electronic organizers, hoping to benefit from the extensive software library. Here is the logo that indicates compatibility with "SC Denshi System Techō" IC cards:

[upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/jCSLVRF.png]

This unbridled optimism wasn’t entirely unfounded. The Bware series Denshi System Techō was a commercial success with over 4 Million units sold by March 1990, and Sharp was very keen to compare this milestone with the 2 Million PC-98 computers sold domestically by the same time frame.
(To provide a point of reference, Sharp’s flagship computer, the X68000, had only sold around 130.000 units by September 1991.)

As such, Sharp considered its Denshi System Techō a new kind of personal computer ecosystem and aimed to reach software sales comparable to a successful home PC.

However, software adoption wasn’t as spectacular as its hardware: in the same time frame as the 4 Million units, just under 3 Million IC cards had been sold. That’s less than one card bought per user on average. Sharp banked on annual card sales (2.5 Million) outpacing machine sales (1.8 Million) for the first time the following fiscal year, but I do not know if they succeeded, and everything indicates 1991 would become the peak of the Bware Denshi System Techō ecosystem’s career and cultural significance.

Nevertheless, even if we dismiss various memory upgrade cards and other non-software releases, there were still a couple hundred of these different IC cards released on the market, and some of them were indeed third party software, and some of them (about 30 or so) were video games.

[upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/jZPUoXI.jpeg]
[size=8]Atlus! Bandai! Victor! I know some of these names![/size]

So, fun fact: this excavation started a month ago on January 21, 2022 – two days after I got my PS5 – when @"tanuki"#593 mentioned the PC Engine version of Puzzle Boy (a.k.a. Kwirk) [in another thread,](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1282-plz-point-me-towards-pce-enlightenment/14) and it had me realize I did not own the PC Engine version of Puzzle Boy, and started looking for it, but instead fell upon this odd thing: the Denshi System Techō version of Puzzle Boy.

[upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/UkhNNSG.jpeg]

Which led me to educate myself about this whole business you have read above. I now own a few different units, which you can find for pretty cheap if you are cautious and patient: my first PA-8600 cost me only 6$ or so. Software is a tougher and costlier ordeal, especially if you are aiming for "Complete In Box" condition, which I wanted at least for a few games in order to study the product and also access software listings provided inside.

For a while, I could not find a lot of relevant information online about the Denshi System Techō games, even in Japanese, and so I ended up buying a (pretty enjoyable) book published by Softbank in 1991 about the story of this device, which is where I got the sales numbers and PC-98 story from. You’ll see the book in another picture later but here is the ISBN just in case: ISBN4-89052-161-5.

However, the book mentions how the competition reacted to Sharp’s success with similar devices such as the Casio DK-5000, the NEC NEC PI-ET1 or the Kyocera Renafo. It’s while looking for _these_ machines online that I fell upon [this fantastic research and discussion from last year at the HP Museum forum.](https://www.hpmuseum.org/forum/thread-16524.html) I sure f***ing wish I had seen _that_ three weeks ago rather than bumbling through purchases and reading an entire book… Anyway. That’s why I have not touched my PS5.

>

In future posts: let’s talk about some of these games more in detail! Also: it’s very inconvenient to start a thread on a mobile phone!

### List of game software released on SC Denshi System Techō cards:

|||||||| |-|-|-|-|-|-|-||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||
IDTitleEnglish titlePublisherCompatibilityReleasePrice (w.o.Tax)
PA-3C03(S)倉庫番SokobanRiverhill Soft41989?¥7000
PA-3C04(S)電脳麻雀Computer MahjongSunsoft4^21989¥7800
PA-3C06(S)テトリス[Tetris](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1334-stay-sharp-with-sc-denshi-system-techo-games/5)BPS4^2December 1989?¥7000
PA-3C07(S)プロゴルフ[Pro Golf](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1334-stay-sharp-with-sc-denshi-system-techo-games/16)Bandai4December 1989?¥8000
PA-3C12(S)麻雀倶楽部[Mahjong Club](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1334-stay-sharp-with-sc-denshi-system-techo-games/9)Bandai4-¥7000
PA-3C20(S)詰め将棋Tsume ShōgiScapTrust4-¥7500
PA-3C22(S)パズル大迷宮Puzzle DaimeikyūASK4-¥6000
PA-3C27(S)上海IIShanghai IISunsoft4-¥7000
PA-3C30(S)ロードランナーLode RunnerNaxat Soft4-¥7200
PA-3C31(S)パズニックPuzznicTaito4-¥5000
PA-3C34(S)THE BASEBALLThe BaseballCoconuts214-¥9800
PA-3C36(S)フォートレスFortressVictor4-¥7800
PA-3C37(S)パズルボーイ[Puzzle Boy](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1334-stay-sharp-with-sc-denshi-system-techo-games/4)Atlus4-¥6600
PA-3C38(S)オセロ&2ゲームOthello & 2 GamesVarie4-¥7500
PA-3C41(S)プレジデントPresidentHot•B4-¥8500
PA-3C43(S)ポケットクエストPocket QuestASK-1993-
PA-3C48(S)イベントクイズ 篠沢教授の超脳力クイズEvent Quiz: Professor Shinozawa's Super Brainbusting QuizLog4-¥8500
PA-3C51(S)倉庫番2Sokoban 2Riverhill Soft4-¥7000
PA-5C01(S)ハトリスHatrisMicro Cabin8-¥6000
PA-5C02(S)囲碁名鑑 第1巻Igo-Meikan Vol.1Hector81991.1.10¥7000
PA-5C03(S)ラスベガスLas VegasASK8-¥7500
PA-5C04(S)CARD GAMESCard GamesCoconuts218-¥8600
PA-5C05(S)山村美紗サスペンス 京都財テク殺人事件[Yamamura Misa Suspense – The Kyoto Zai-tech Murder Case](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1334-stay-sharp-with-sc-denshi-system-techo-games/20)Hector81991.10.1¥7700
PA-5C06S100%まるごとクイズ100% Marugoto QuizSunsoft8~4-¥8000
PA-5C07(S)プロゴルフ2Pro Golf 2Bandai8-¥8000
PA-5C08(S)ハイパー電脳麻雀Hyper Computer MahjongSunsoft8-¥7800
PA-5C11(S)フラッピーFlappyCemic8-¥6000
PA-5C12(S)ソリテアSolitaireHector81993.11.26¥8000
>

(As of November 1993)

>
  • * Some cards released before November 1993 may still be missing
  • >
  • * Only cards categorized as "games" by Sharp are included
  • >
  • * English title translations are mine and some [editorial choices](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1334-stay-sharp-with-sc-denshi-system-techo-games/19) were made
  • >
  • * It will take me a bit more time to double check and pin down the release timing for each game
  • ### About compatibility marks:

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/ePMpfPE.jpeg]

    ||| |-|-|||||||||||||||||||
    SymbolCompatibility
    2Software compatible with all IC-compatible models, but will display at 1/2 size on the screens of machines other than the PA-7000
    4Software compatible with all IC-compatible models except the PA-7000
    4^2Software compatible with all IC-compatible models, but display is compromised on the PA-7000
    8~42Software compatible with all IC-compatible models, but display is compromised when not used on Hyper Denshi System Techō models
    8~4Software compatible with all IC-compatible models except PA-7000, but display is compromised when not used on Hyper Denshi System Techō models
    8Software compatible with Hyper Denshi System Techō models only

    >

    As far as I can tell, the digits don’t refer to any different technology or memory space inside the IC cards, but rather to the numbers of lines of text that the OS of the machine can display on the screen. So a first generation PA-7000 with its puny 96x32 screen can only display two consecutive lines of text, while a DB-Z PA-9500 with a massive 192*145 screen (the first Hyper Denshi System Techō model) could simultaneously display eight lines of text from the same software.

    ### Some resources:

    ■ Found [here](http://www.areanine.gr.jp/~nyano/zauhistory.html#pas), a list of all Sharp devices compatible with IC cards. This is specified on the third column from the right (only devices with "IC" are compatible).

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/XgiWd52.jpeg]

    ■ Found [here](http://www.areanine.gr.jp/~nyano/zauhistory.html#pas) (same page), a family tree of all Denshi System Techō hardware revisions.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/zyoOjvW.jpeg]

    ■ Found [here](https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?vanity=315946768421263&set=a.696276350388301), a software catalogue from November 1993.

    [Kyoro’s Room](http://kyoro205.blog.fc2.com/), an essential blog covering the topic of weird Sharp devices over the years and great resource of information on the different models of Denshi System Techō machines.

    ■ Akuji’s research on IC-card compatible hardware circa 2021〜2022 (not specifically focussed on video games):
    [English version on HPmuseum.org](https://www.hpmuseum.org/forum/thread-16524.html)
    [Russian version on Leningrad.su](http://www.leningrad.su/calc/cforum.php?page=4&topicid=2886)
    [Zaurus devices on the r/OldHandhelds Subreddit](https://www.reddit.com/r/OldHandhelds/comments/sr51ze/may_i_present_you_the_whole_family_of_sharp/)

    ■ Some [additional research](https://www.twitter.com/gdri/status/1417973326715277317) from GDRI last summer.

    Latest update: 2023.9.19

    This exciting and unfamiliar!! I look forward to seeing what these games look like, and I hope I can get my hands on one of these somehow…

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/RKgus3o.jpeg]

    Yay, it’s **Puzzle Boy**! But let’s start by talking about the device a bit more in detail. As I mentioned above, the first IC card-compatible device was the PA-7000. It was quickly followed by the costlier PA-8500. The major difference between the two was that the PA-8500 doubled the internal memory from 16KB of RAM to 32KB.

    The two models were then revised respectively to the PA-7500 and the PA-8600, which you see above and was the first machine I got. It’s basically a slightly refreshed PA-8500 with a better contrast. One important thing to note with Sharp’s subsequent revisions is that more recent models did not necessarily imply better performance, as Sharp always wanted to offer both a lower cost entry point version and one or two more expensive high memory versions in their catalogue.

    Some models eventually introduced not only higher spec (with up to 128KB and even 256KB of RAM for the fancier revisions) but also bigger screens. This led to the arrival of _Hyper Denshi System Techō_ cards, which would make use of the larger display space and memory. Those cards were often not compatible with earlier models. I have identified 6 games so far which require Hyper Denshi System Techō compatibility (you should see them eventually in the table above this post), and a few other games that were only backwards compatible under certain conditions and restrictions. We’ll talk much more about one of these Hyper Denshi System Techō games in this thread eventually.

    You may wonder how the machines are powered. They seemingly all use flat CR-type batteries, which is extremely convenient as these are still cheap and common nowadays. The exact battery requirements vary slightly from model to model, but all revisions follow the same idea: two or three batteries are used to power the device while a separate battery is used to handle memory.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/EJ8jwKJ.jpeg]

    In the case of the PA-8600, the machine is powered by two CR-2025 batteries and the memory is saved by a CR-1616 battery. Unlike a Saturn which can be powered on and played even if the memory battery is dead, the PA-8600 will not operate (it will shut down immediately following a stern error message) if the memory battery is _kaput_. Each unit has a slightly different battery replacement and factory reset process, which is conveniently explained (in Japanese) behind the back panel of the machine.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/E8fUBNW.jpeg]

    As you can see, inserted cards could be seen through a plastic glass window and it seems like there are buttons "printed" on them. What’s happening here is that the transparent plastic is a touch sensitive panel, and virtual buttons are mapped to the areas above the instructions printed on the card. Some games are really finicky about this, or possibly all my working units have deteriorated enough that the translucent touch panel is not working so well anymore. Fortunately, most of the games released on the Bware devices don’t require any quick reactive input from the player. Several of the games also seem to repeat the controls on the keyboard (although I can’t remember if Puzzle Boy does it and I can’t tell you now because I am an idiot and left the game at the office).

    About the software itself: Puzzle Boy for the SC Denshi System Techō, released in 1991, is pretty much the same game as the first Puzzle Boy (a.k.a. Kwirk) for the Game Boy, released in 1989. Same modes, same features, same puzzle stages which you also saw in the Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne mini-game (although that one only had the first 50 stages if I recall well).

    Due to the refresh rate of the screen and the less convenient input method, movements around the maze are much less snappy than on the Game Boy. There is also [no music,](https://youtu.be/tA-_yAt3hy8) as the device is incapable of melody or tone – just a simple strident beep you can (fortunately) turn off at any moment. Finally, the screen space is smaller than a regular Game Boy, and therefore this version uses way more scrolling (which does not marry well with the slow refresh rate).

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/kITni0U.jpeg]

    You can see, on the right of the screen above, three arrows indicating in which directions the screen can scroll. This seems to be an OS-level feature of the Denshi System Techō as different games from different publishers use the same arrows at the same locations for the same purpose. The “sound on” ♪ icon would also appear there.

    The conclusion is going to become a recurring motif of this thread (unless I am ran over by a truck or something) but Puzzle Boy is an excellent game and this is probably the worst possible way to play it.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/L1wiiUF.jpeg]

    From a gaming perspective, the Denshi System Techō is especially interesting for being a portable device with interchangeable software stored on physical media that predated both the Nintendo Game Boy and the Atari Lynx by a couple of years.

    Obviously one huge difference is that Sharp’s device is not a dedicated games machine, but its existence is presently so poorly documented that a typical conversation about the history of handheld gaming will skip directly from 1989 back to the [MB Microvision](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microvision) (1979) – or maybe if you’re lucky the [Epoch Game Pokecom](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epoch_Game_Pocket_Computer) (1984) – as if nothing happened in between, bar the advent of Game & Watch and other LSI games.

    By now, I think you’ll agree the evolutionary link between Sharp’s machine and the Game Boy is much more evident timing-wise, industry-wise (their screen and CPU share the same manufacturer!) and even software-wise. Case in point: handheld Tetris.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/LaY1I0e.jpeg]
    [size=8]Hey! Here’s the book I mentioned earlier.[/size]

    Now, I wish –oh boy I wish!– I could give you some kind of scoop about the Denshi System Techō version of Tetris predating the Game Boy version, upending [one of the most notorious and sanctified business stories in the lore of video games.](https://youtu.be/_fQtxKmgJC8) Sadly, there are many, many Tetris fans and therefore **Tetris** happens to be the most well documented Denshi System Techō game around the Internet; according to [this page](https://tetris.wiki/Tetris_(Sharp_Wizard)) of the Tetris Wiki, the Sharp version came out in December 1989, six months after the Game Boy version.

    It’s pretty hard to track down information about the exact release date of Denshi System Techō software but I suspect they base this information on the back of the game’s box, which mentions the hardware compatibility list (with PA-8600, PA-8500, PA-7500 and PA-7000) to be correct "as of December 1989". Oh well! The revolution is postponed.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/5yANfCi.jpeg]

    On the other hand, one great thing about Tetris being so well documented is that I can steal so many pictures and screenshots which will do a much better job of showing the game than the poor-ass pics I took myself last week! I will of course remove any of them as long you can prove you own the NFT of the picture in question. Most of the great pics below come [from the HP museum thread](https://www.hpmuseum.org/forum/thread-16524-page-2.html) mentioned in the OP.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/4gVhpjE.jpeg]

    Tetris was published by Bullet Proof Software, but I suspect it was in fact developed by Sharp themselves. You have certainly already noticed its pretty unique feature by now: the game is displayed sideways. This is also a testament to the ingenious versatility of the transparent touch panel system, which allowed the card to simply print the instructions sideways and map the panel accordingly.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/9MeeV9C.jpeg]

    The exact width isn’t easy to pick up on screen but the well does maintain a conventional 10 blocks width and sports an uncharacteristically long 22 blocks high. By comparison, the traditional Tetris (from either BPS or Sega) typically went for 10x20 around that time, and the Game Boy version settled for 10x18. Modern TTC guidelines set the standard playfield as 10x20.

    This additional height is put to good use. Every 20 lines cleared (filling the gauge on the right), the game goes up a level (filling the gauge on the left). Instead of speeding up the fall of tetrominoes, which the primitive LCD screen could not bear without blurring the action at the expense of the player, it literally _goes up a level_: the whole playing field goes up one row, [*façon* Plus Plum.](https://youtu.be/5zr_EW-PUDQ) So passing four levels (80 lines) would get you back to a 10x18 playing field, just like the Game Boy version.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/ZUwvijP.jpeg]

    The Denshi System Techō version of Tetris obviously doesn’t feature hard drop, of piece hold. It does show a preview of the next piece, which is truly random as all these old games would go (so you could get three T pieces in a row, for instance).

    The tetromino lock confirmation is surprisingly more lenient than I expected for a Tetris of that era on that kind of hardware, allowing to slide a piece horizontally or rotate a piece one last time on contact with the ground. There is however one huge caveat that completely changes the meta of the game compared to modern versions: as with all the original BPS adaptations (Famicom, PC-88, MSX etc.) from 1988, you can only rotate the pieces counter-clockwise. This has pretty big implications on what you can do on the last frame before the lock, as well as your defensive options at (once again: literally) higher levels. It also severely hindered my few lame attempts at confirming the absence of T-Spin.

    Obviously no music either, _yada yada_, but also no local multiplayer, even though the Denshi System Techō does have data transfer capability, thanks to Sharp’s CE-300L link cable:

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/ttKiJSV.jpeg]

    These little drawbacks add up, and once again the Game Boy version ends up leagues ahead in the end.

    I have not mentioned it until now but the Denshi System Techō also had a limited release in both Australia (not sure about New Zealand) and North America, under the brand Sharp Wizard. Sharp brought over a handful of games – one of them being Tetris. While it does not fix any of the issues above, the International version does slightly improve the legibility of the tetrominoes by taking inspiration from the Game Boy look and widening their blocks to a wider 9x9 dots, with a cute empty dot in the middle.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/2ghzbQm.jpeg]

    Now, to show you I wasn’t rambling aimlessly in the introduction: the Game Boy is almost always discussed by gaming historians and industry analysts from the perspective of how much it sacrificed, compared to home consoles and the NES in particular, in order to present the minimum viable gaming experience at the lowest price point and with the most efficient energy consumption in mind.

    I think it is just as important to study the Denshi System Techō – and some of its competitors we’ll address a bit later in this thread – to figure out instead what the Game Boy refused to let go.

    The Game Boy’s "archaic" black & white screen is seen as both its smartest gamble and its weakest point but its 160x144 dot matrix grid, 4 levels of grayscale, and contrast dial sure come as a pretty big step up compared to the single color, 96x64 dot matrix standard set by Sharp two years prior.

    The Game Boy refused to sacrifice sound and music, even including an audio jack port, which in turn had a considerable impact on the device’s size, weight and manufacturing costs. But playing on the Denshi System Techō confirmed I cannot imagine [Tetris](https://youtu.be/qlqCuVZG2sg) or [Puzzle Boy](https://youtu.be/tA-_yAt3hy8) without their soundtracks.

    Furthermore, consider that Nintendo favored the more versatile but also longer manufacturing lead times of ROM chip cartridges, over both Sharp-like Integrated Circuit cards and HuCard/BeeCard-like EEPROM cards. The Game Boy is not just a marvel of restraint, but more-so a marvel of choices.

    >

    In the next episode: mahjong and D E E P[size=11] [/size]L O R E.

    Wow, this thing is SUPER COOL! I really want one even though I‘m not sure how easy to get any of the games might be.

    I’ve always loved old calculators and low-key dream of having a collection from the 70s and early 80s. Not sure how much I'd be able to use the planner features being an American with kindergarten-level Japanese knowledge.

    But to be able to use it to play Puzzle Boy and Tetris is rad!

    this is the kind of thing that would get me to buy a console rather than remain a recent PC convert! It looks incredible

    Wow! Just when I think I had seen every variation of Puzzle Boy.

    Thank you for starting this thread and for the research, this is fascinating. Portable computing before smartphones was such a weird and varied time. That said, I don't miss it (like trying to organize my contacts and calendars with my 2003-era PocketPC device; it didn't have wifi internet, but hey it did have turn-by-turn GPS!).

    Lest I forget that the USA had some of its own weird mobile computing devices, I did have this thing in the late 80s: an electronic dictionary that we kept on top of the box for when we played Scrabble. It had hangman and other guessing games built into it for entertaining myself when it wasn't my turn. It was called the Franklin Language Master LM-2000. https://jsyang.ca/franklin-electronics/promotional/pdfs/F-1268.1992.pdf

    Now that Elden Ring some poorly anticipated distractions and a few piping hot work-related emergencies have been properly taken care of, I’d say today is the perfect day to bring out the dead…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WaYCdQ8FOQ

    … and return the the sharpest matters at hand. As I hinted about seven weeks ago, it’s time to talk about **Mahjong Club**.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/VF3u1Ry.jpeg]
    A wise person at Konami once asked: [_What is Mah-Jong for you? Merely something to try one’s luck? A source of living? The ultimate table game that reflects the universe? The meaning of life? You have to try it for yourself._](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nBhhCe5YsE)

    Luckily for _you_, the hobby has been turned into video games for at least four decades. There are debates about what constitutes the first true mahjong game. The only consensus is that almost certainly started in the arcades.
    ① IPM’s **PT Reach Mahjong** (1979) was a Breakout clone with a mahjong theme. It was the first game to use mahjong tiles and some of its tile combination rules.
    ② Data East’s **DS Telejan** (1981) allowed humans to play a digital version of mahjong on television screens, rather than using tiles and a table, but it had no A.I. so to speak.
    ③ Alpha Denshi’s **Janputer** (1981) was the first conventional mahjong arcade game allowing a human player to face a CPU, but it limited the playfield to two players rules.
    ④ Sanritsu’s **Jantotsu** (1983) was the first video game to truly simulate a conventional four player reach/_rīchi_ (i.e. standard Japanese rules) mahjong experience against three computer A.I.s.
    [size=10]I am using the "Jan" transcription for the game titles above, since that’s their most common roman restranscription, but note the word "jan" is pretty much interchangeable with the "jong" of mahjong.[/size]

    https://youtu.be/5loMxeYFUGo

    From my own research, I’d give 1983 credit as the true kickstart year for video game mahjong, not only because of Jantotsu but also because it saw the release of several very influential home releases.

    There is of course Nintendo’s **Mahjong** (August 1983), released just a month after the Family Computer. This was Yamauchi’s trojan horse to convince dads about the merits of buying a Famicom for their kids, and ended up selling an astonishing 2.13 million units, making it to this day the best-selling standalone mahjong game in Japan’s history.

    https://youtu.be/skY_GZAEc2U

    Around the same time, a fledging computer store turned development house from Hokkaidō, Hudson Soft, released the first competent 4 players (🇯🇵4人打ち _4nin-uchi_) version of mahjong on home computers: **Jan-Kyō**. While Hudson became the Famicom’s first third party publisher with Nuts & Milk in Summer 1984, they would also be hired by Nintendo to port a Famicom version of Jan-Kyō in November 1984, under the more famous and straightforward title **4nin-uchi Mahjong**.

    https://youtu.be/yCEYBfKo53o

    Also a million seller. Yet somehow, neither of these successful games should be considered the most influential Nintendo-published mahjong game of the Famicom era. That credit instead belongs to **Computer Mah-jong Yakuman**.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/cyFkFKf.jpeg]

    I highly recommend [this article from the Before Mario blog](http://blog.beforemario.com/2011/03/nintendo-computer-mah-jong-yakuman-1983.html?m=1) for some additional info and pictures, but since some of the information provided within is incorrect, let’s recap the important stuff here.

    Developed by Yokoi’s Game & Watch team, Yakuman was positioned as a premium portable computer game and a single unit was priced at ¥16.800; which means it cost almost as much as a brand new Famicom (¥14.800) with Mahjong (¥3800). The name Yakuman, originally a term designating [the strongest hands in _rīchi mahjong_](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_mahjong_scoring_rules), had already been used by Nintendo since 1964 for [mass market plastic mahjong sets.](https://youtu.be/MpCPPhdW9UU)

    The computer game included an extremely basic A.I. opponent which basically started with a hidden _tenpai_ hand (one tile away from winning) that you would need to beat before they could complete it. More importantly, two Yakuman units could be interconnected thanks to a communication cable patented by Yokoi – indeed the first of its kind in video games – which allowed for two human players to face each other.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/PzQKJUf.jpeg]

    In order to display the many different tiles, Yakuman also forwent the simple Sharp LCD screen used for Game & Watch and instead went for a fairly advanced dot matrix technology, which Sharp would later re-use for the Denshi System Techō. Crucially, Nintendo also went through the effort of adding the famous A〜M dials and dedicated action buttons made popular by Janputer in the arcades two years prior. Unquestionably a premium portable experience for 1983.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/0ZZf95J.jpeg]

    So for those following at home, Yakuman pioneered both the link cable and the use of dot matrix LCD on a Nintendo handheld, two ideas that would become pillars for the Game Boy six years later. Unsurprisingly, one of the four launch games of the Game Boy, in April 1989, was a mahjong game called **Yakuman** which also made use of the Game Boy’s link cable, allowing for two players to battle.

    https://youtu.be/6Kv1jnIWkBg

    [size=10]Some of you may also recognize [this jolly Chinese stereotype fellow](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakuman_(video_game)) from [the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate spirits](https://www.ssbwiki.com/List_of_spirits_(Others)#Yakuman_Player) collection.[/size]

    1983’s Yakuman is (vaguely) remembered in Japanese pop culture today as yet another strike of genius from Nintendo: the first handheld mahjong game and the introduction of portable multiplayer, wow! … However, the former achievement is factually incorrect: Yakuman was not the first LCD mahjong game. (Gasp!) It was beaten by at least a couple of weeks, thanks to our protagonist and the publisher of today’s game: Bandai.

    https://youtu.be/G1AjQ24Ai_I

    As one of Nintendo’s fiercest rivals in the toy market, Bandai Electronics was very quick to jump on the LCD game / LSI game bandwagon. For instance, the very first Gundam "video" game was a LSI adaptation of Gundam released in 1981.
    [size=10]See [the Taito’s Lupin III thread](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/938-yo-what-the-fuck-lupin-iii-1980-taito) for more on early Anime adaptations.[/size]

    By early 1983, other competitors such as Gakken and Tsukuda had already released electronic adaptations of board games (Poker, Othello, etc.) and so Bandai took on the challenge to become the first to release a LCD mahjong game. According to specialists, it seems **Perfect Mahjong** came out around August 1983, so around the same time as Famicom’s Mahjong, whereas Yakuman came out in the Fall of that year.

    Bandai had figured out two things before Nintendo: they used a similarly "cheating" opponent starting with a hidden *tenpai* hand, to make up for the impossibility to program competent A.I. on such hardware, and they also used a dot matrix LCD screen to display the different tiles (although I am not sure who manufactured the screen for Bandai).

    However, two weaknesses doomed Perfect Mahjong to remain in Yakuman’s shadow. For starters, it obviously lacked that revolutionary multiplayer experience, which meant you were stuck playing with a dumb, cheating A.I. Secondly, Perfect Mahjong did not make the effort to include the A〜M button interface, turning the discarding of tiles into more of a hassle than its competitor. Despite these differences, both devices came out at the same price (although you’d need to shell out an additional ¥2800 for Yokoi’s communication cable). There is frankly no blatant injustice in Yakuman being more fondly remembered.

    Nevertheless, Bandai is not one to give up so easily and so they kept releasing improved versions of Perfect Mahjong over the years, while Nintendo was content with dropping out of both the LCD and arcade markets to focus on the Famicom and NES. **Perfect Mahjong II** (1985) predictably added the A〜M interface, a multiplayer mode, and 4nin-uchi rules. **The Mahjong III** (1988) added several A.I.s and lessons, as well as different rules. That version was later repackaged into a slimmer and cheaper **The Mahjong IV** (1992).

    All of this to say: by 1989, Bandai had a pretty strong and possibly unmatched experience in portable dot matrix mahjong. Now, I am not sure whether they had an old grudge against Nintendo, whether they thought it was pointless to fight against the Game Boy version of Yakuman, or whether they had a very poor acumen regarding which hardware would become a true gaming juggernaut for the following years, but Bandai decided to apply this knowledge to the Denshi System Techō instead!
    [size=10](I guarantee you this introduction was way longer than the actual blurb on the game itself.)[/size]

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/Gsa3Qhd.jpeg]

    While I can’t prove it, I am pretty confident that **Mahjong Club** (1989) was developed by the same people (whether working at or under contract with Bandai) responsible for **The Mahjong III** (1988). The card’s "face buttons" faithfully reproduce its buttons, the Advice feature seems remarkably similar in its description and the tiles’ designs follow the same simplification per pixel conventions – not that you could do much differently on a 96x64 dot matrix grid.

    It’s interesting to compare Mahjong Club with the Game Boy’s Yakuman. Crucially, once again, Mahjong Club gets defeated in the multiplayer component. And Sharp’s screen for the Game Boy, both in contrast and resolution, makes the playing much more comfortable on Nintendo’s machine than on its own device. Mahjong Club can’t even display the player’s full hand without scrolling… So the comparison looks like a wrap.

    But over the years, Bandai has accumulated a bunch of features which are sorely lacking in Nintendo’s game. First and foremost, Mahjong Club follows the standard _4nin-uchi_ rules introduced since Perfect Mahjong II, instead of Yakuman’s limited 1v1 _taisen mahjong_. Mahjong Club has more settings available to tweak the rules. Its A.I. is also more complex, with twelve different player profiles instead of the five difficulty settings found in Yakuman.

    And most importantly (to me anyway), Mahjong Club has an actual lore! These twelve A.I.s are identified, both in the game and in the manual, as separate characters which are each given a face, a name, a power level, and a short background biography – including how many years they have been playing mahjong! All of them will also blurb out short, personality-revealing monologues before they take you on.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/wl7d147.jpeg]

    So here you have Mami the 17 years old high-schooler who recently fell in love with mahjong, Sexy Aya the nightclubber that tries to win by using your own rejected tiles, Tsuppari Yamada the history buff that screws up constantly, Trendy Ishida the playboy, Father Tako the buddhist monk that looks a bit like an Octopus and tries to play and live the "adequate" way, Mr Lucky the weird foreigner that [*chombo*](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_mahjong_scoring_rules#Chombo)es a lot, etc. All the way to Master Chin, the 77 years old Chinese mahjong master who has been playing mahjong for 64 years. Ain’t that neat?

    Furthermore, considering that pretty much any single Bandai game released before Mahjong Club either used an existing IP, merely adapted an IP into an original game for the US market (e.g. Dragon Power and Chubby Cherub), adapted an original game IP from a different publisher (e.g. Hyper Lode Runner, their first Game Boy title) or featured player avatars without any real background (e.g. the fitness games on the Famicom), these Mahjong Club opponents are definitely among the very first original video game characters ever created at Bandai. Sexy Aya in Smash!?

    >

    Next episode: this time, Bandai takes a shot at golf.

    Interesting weekend find which I’ll drop here and now since I don’t expect to dig much further into it:

    Maybe you are aware of another fad that hit technophile Japan between the mid-80s and mid-90s: Pocket Computers (or _Pokecom_) which taught hobbyists and students to program in BASIC, Assembler or C language. I know a few prominent game programmers in Japan have begun their path to development with this kind of gizmo at school or at home.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duMa0QjJt5o

    If you bought magazines like Pokecom Journal, you could find game program listing of amateur games, similar to what had happened about a decade prior with LOGiN on personal computers. For example, here is the impressive shoot’em up **Multiple Organ Failure** (what a title!) for Casio’s 16-bit FX-890 series, provided in the 1995 #1 issue.

    https://youtu.be/zPhziwVhKmg

    Anyway, back on topic: around 1987〜1988, Sharp’s entry price lineup of Pokecom hardware (the PC-13 and PC-14 series) shared some of their innards with their Bware lineup of pocket organizers. As a result, it was very easy to convert one’s program to the other and that generation of Sharp Pokecom became the go-to device for programming hobby software on the Sharp Denshi System Techō, thanks to rewritable BASIC cards.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/xHgI8wC.jpeg]

    https://youtu.be/U2pfy1B8BH0

    This led to a programming contest in Pokecom Journal, in the dated June 1989 issue, that was tied directly to the Denshi System Techō.

    https://www.twitter.com/HiroTkh4/status/1516049307916730372

    The grand prize would get the "usual" ¥1 Million reward (about $7500 around that time) but also be promised an IC card conversion of their software if the port was reasonably feasible. The results were announced a few issues later…

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/3WUgv1u.jpeg]

    First prize went to a video game, the shooting game **Heavy Metal** developed by (dōjin circle?) CRISIS software for the Sharp PC-E500 series. The E500 series immediately succeeded the PC-13 and PC-14 series (one such model is the one shown in the very first video of this post).

    I don’t know if Pokecom Journal eventually kept their porting promise. [As far as I understand](http://www.jibunde.com/pokecom/index.php), the E500 lineup was more advanced than PA-7/PA-8 pocket organizers and so it is possible a Denshi System Techō version of Heavy Metal would have been impossible in 1989 anyway.

    However, Heavy Metal did eventually see a [commercial release via Compac](http://pasopia700.blogspot.com/2012/08/pc-e500-heavy-metal.html?m=1) (no relation to Compaq) in a floppy disk-based compilation intended for the E500 series and there is, to my astonishment, a good quality video on Youtube for that version!

    https://youtu.be/TyEDAmEnHyQ

    >

    @“chazumaru”#p58733 Other hardware makers such as Panasonic eventually adopted the same format for their own electronic organizers, in hopes of benefiting from the extensive software library.

    Here is another example with Hitachi’s CrosMedia DT-H1, seemingly a clone of the Sharp Bware PA-8800. It seems to be the only model Hitachi ever released? There is almost zero documentation or archive online for this machine so hard to tell… Best bet would be to dig through old issues of Pokecom Journal but they are not so easy to find.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/GD756qC.jpeg]
    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/rSMCAlf.jpeg]
    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/Ss3pGky.jpeg]

    The first two comparison pictures above actually come from another "clone" of sort. Forum dweller "Akuji", who appears to be a native Russian speaker, duplicated his Denshi System Techō thread from the HP Museum message board on [the message board of University of St-Petersburg’s official(?) website](http://www.leningrad.su/calc/cforum.php?page=4&topicid=2886) in December 2021 – note the use of « Leningrad » and .su country code which suggest this active website and its pretty cool [online museum](http://www.leningrad.su/museum/main.php?lang=0) predate the fall of the Soviet Union!

    As promised earlier, we are going to talk about GOLF! but the post was getting a bit too stuffy so let me spin out one of its chunks into its own topic. Take a look at the package for Pro Golf.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/xMwzElV.png]

    Now take another look. Notice anything different?

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/26ZTTLX.jpeg]

    So, the top one is the original print, version PA-3C07. The bottom one is a reprint, PA-3C07S. "S" might be for 再版 _saihan_ (reprint). I am pretty sure you all noticed the difference.

    There is a slightly more subtle change though. At the bottom right, the logo that indicates compatibility with “SC Denshi System Techō” IC cards is different.

    ### SCシャープ電子システム手帳

    _SC Sharp Denshi System Techō_

    ### SC電子システム手帳

    _SC Denshi System Techō_

    It seems the "Sharp" version of the logo has been in use only very briefly, possibly only in 1989.

    The earliest models of Denshi System Techō hardware (e.g. PA-7000, PA-7500) do not feature any logo of the card format. You would also not see any format logo printed on the early cards. Timing-wise, it seems the necessity to identify the cards with the logo began when Casio introduced a competitor, the DK-5000, using a similar system of replaceable cards. It stands to reason that Sharp, retailers and consumers would all have wanted a way to identify which cards were compatible with their respective device.

    I suspect the very short shelf life of the logo’s "Sharp" version is actually related to the post just above this one. Around 1990, Sharp began licensing its format and hardware to companies like Hitachi and Panasonic. These partner companies probably requested that the card format logo should adopt a more generic name, as part of the licensing deal. Indeed, it would have been odd to see "Sharp" written – even in Katakana – on a Panasonic device.

    The arrival of licensed clones is also when the SC Denshi System Techō logo began appearing on Sharp devices; I cannot find any media of a Denshi System Techō device using the old "Sharp" version of the logo, but I’ll keep an eye on this detail (and welcome any input).

    I am not sure how quickly packaged software using the "Sharp" version was replaced with reprinted packaged software using the "generic" version of the logo: did they recall some copies? Did they wait to sell the first batch? In any case, this detail also tells you Puzzle Boy (PA-3C37S), Tetris (PA-3C06S) and Mahjong Club (PA-3C12S) shown in my posts earlier were all reprints.

    Here is a picture confirming that the original print of Tetris (PA-3C06) also used the older "Sharp" logo. You may also notice the two games happen to have product codes PA-3C06 and PA-3C07 respectively, despite being supposedly from different publishers, but let’s open that can of worms another day.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/W0cdPhL.jpeg]

    Some (boring) book keeping: I have started adding detailed information and resources in the second post of this thread. We will probably reach a case where some information found in the second post contradicts later posts, as my understanding of the device improves over time. This will be troublesome for some readers but getting the most helpful information at the top of the thread is probably the most convenient set-up for this thread.

    Eventually I’ll work on a table listing all known games but I may get my work cut out for me by falling on the right web page or printed catalogue so there is no rush.

    If it's any help, a while ago, I tried to dredge up whatever software I could find that was released:

    https://twitter.com/gdri/status/1417973326715277317

    Thanks @“gdri”#p68957 ! I already have three slightly bigger posts that I need to take care of first, but I will definitely go back and dig into it later this month once my backlog is free. And good to know Micom was covering the subject as well! Older issues of Micom are way easier to find than old issues of PJ.

    >

    @“chazumaru”#p68832 As promised earlier, we are going to talk about GOLF!

    Well! Life, uh, uh, found a way to get me busier in the second half of 2022 and so I must apologize for the unintended cliffhanger.

    New year, new _techō_ for many Japanese, as well as a few Western enthusiastic fans of the [very much alive](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1818-shigesato-itoi-1950-2022) Itoi Shigesato. But if you had an electronic organizer instead, you would not need to change a thing. And you could even play GOLF!

    The SC Denshi System Techō has received several golf applications, such as an IC card offering a database of many Japanese golf courses and a record of your past performances, but it has also received two proper golf games from Bandai, **Pro Golf** and its sequel **Pro Golf 2**. As of the writing of this post, I only own the first game which seems to be one of the most popular and easy-to-find games on the system.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/KP5HP2W.jpeg]

    Bandai’s Pro Golf is a pretty competent golf simulator, akin to Intelligent Systems and Nintendo’s [Golf for the Game Boy,](https://youtu.be/jsVLagtDoJw) which was probably released a few weeks before this game (November 1989 in Japan). I cannot prove exactly when Pro Golf came out but the original PA-3C07 release (see a few posts above) has the same "information correct as of December 1989" warning on its device compatibility notice, as the one which could be found on the packaging of [Tetris](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1334-stay-sharp-with-sc-denshi-system-techo-games/5).

    I suspect Tetris and Pro Golf were part of some sort of Christmas’89 double billing killer releases, akin to Virtua Fighter 2 and Sega Rally for the Sega Saturn in 1995. This must be corroborated somewhere inside a December ‘89 Mycom or Pokecom issue so I am hopeful we could confirm it in the future.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/YoBA3DP.jpeg]

    In the case of Pro Golf, the aforementioned "device compatibility notice" was pretty important indeed because this game was only compatible with SC Denshi System Techō devices released from 1988, namely the PA-8500, PA-7500 and PA-8600 (an upgraded 8500 released just in time for Christmas ‘89). Owners of the original PA-7000 were therefore left in the dust, as confirmed on page ❹ of the game’s booklet above.

    >

    [size=11]このカードは、PA-7000では使用することはできません。[/size]

    However, the main reason I took this picture is the three screenshots below the warning, which summarize the experience pretty well. It’s a conventional golf game, with the usual power bar three steps confirmation sanctified in Golf for the Famicom. Despite the hardware’s modest resolution, the game does a pretty good job depicting the power gauge, the ball and the course when each of them matter.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/hRMBcan.jpeg]

    In the case of Tetris, Mahjong Club or even Puzzle Boy, there is frankly little reason choosing the SC Denshi System Techō rather than playing the equivalent competitor title on a Game Boy. Pro Golf pulls out more of a genuine fight against Golf and which game is the best might depend on your priorities.

    Both games only include a single 18 holes course, but Pro Golf offers more options on how to tackle its course. The player can choose between a [Skins game](https://www.bunkered.co.uk/golf-news/what-is-a-skins-game-in-golf), a Strokes Play match (i.e. a basic versus mode) or a full tournament at the Bandai Open, complete with an option to save your progress.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/9WrzfFu.jpeg]

    All these modes can be played alone against a CPU or include a second player, playing in turns. I am not sure why it limited the option to only two players in hot seat mode but maybe the device cannot keep too many played strokes in memory.

    If you play against a CPU, the game offers [yet again](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1334-stay-sharp-with-sc-denshi-system-techo-games/9) three among the earliest original Bandai video game characters: [size=11](image above from top to bottom)[/size] Ireki the putting master, Yosejima who always keeps the ball on the green, and Tobisaki the powerhouse.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/mUobgvI.jpeg]

    Unlike Nintendo’s Golf and most other 2D simulations which display the holes with a bird view & vertical scrool, Pro Golf opts for bird view & horizontal layout instead, allowing the wide screen of the machine to display more visual information at once. As you can see above, the booklet even provides a helpful visual guide of all 18 holes.

    Another advantage of Pro Golf is how well it uses the touch panel. The software maps 13 different virtual buttons on the panel, allowing for quick and comfortable menu navigation yet precise strokeplay with the big fake D-pad and the carefully isolated shot button. With many action or even direct interaction games, this interface is a mess. With a quasi-turn based, few inputs-based genre like golf, it works fine.

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/FjPT3BD.jpeg]

    Now, you may be thinking “_hey! I don’t remember seeing this specific device before_” and “_boy! that device’s screen looks bigger than the other ones!_” and maybe even “_geez, isn’t that yet another different Denshi System Techō logo?_

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/wfMgN8D.jpeg]

    (OK. You were probably not thinking all that. Please play along.) Well, next time on this thread, let’s talk about this big boy PA-9700 and our first _HYPER DENSHI SYSTEM TECHŌ_ game.

    I’ll need a bit more time before I can cover the next game (hopefully before GDC kicks in).

    In the meantime, here’s an interesting 30min history lesson from [Asianometry](https://youtube.com/@Asianometry) on the rise and fall of Sharp in about a century of existence. It weirdly makes no mention of their long involvement in Nintendo hardware but it does briefly mention the Denshi System Techō(!), under its Western name as the "Sharp Wizard" [size=11](_see the_ [_post on Tetris_](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1334-stay-sharp-with-sc-denshi-system-techo-games/5) _above_)[/size].

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK7bGdUcibM

    show me anything SHARP!

    they made really nice CRTs that are automatically a hipster pick since it‘s not SONY

    You posted this right on time for me. always took note of SHARP just like I do all the eastern CRT manufacturers I’ve come across, but also this morning I was looking into the SHARP X1 for the first time!

    It took me almost an entire year to make good on my promise but I finally wrote down a list of all the SC Denshi System Techō games I could track down so far, based on personal purchases and the listings founds in some of the packages. Might be of interest to @“gdri”#170 notably.

    [u]Some notes:[/u]

    ① One tricky issue is some games disappeared from later listings, including listings found in reprints of old games like Tetris. I noticed this when I realized I own Shanghai II which is nowhere to be found on later listings.

    ② I am still conflicted how to transcribe 電脳麻雀 in English.

  • * Dennō Mahjong?
  • * Electronic Mahjong?
  • * Computer Mahjong?
  • * A.I. Mahjong?
  • * Cyberbrain Mahjong?
  • For now, I went with Computer Mahjong.

    ③ We’ll likely come back to 100% Marugoto Quiz later in this thread as I own the game but I am still puzzled why this game apparently only has a PA-5C06S version (and no regular PA-5C06 release). Might be a typo from Sharp, but there are a few other non-game cards afflicted with the same symptom in their listings.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/1sCGbX7.jpeg]

    Here is our first game exclusive to the Hyper Denshi System Techō standard, which is kinda the SuperGrafX of the Denshi System Techō. I will elaborate on the hardware in the second half of this post but let’s focus on the game first.

    **Yamamura Misa Suspense – Kyōto Zai-tech Satsujin Jiken** ("The Kyoto Zai-tech Murder Case") by Hector was originally a Famicom game, and one of those many detective adventure games derived from the smash hit Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken (→see [Jeremy Parish’s excellent video retrospective](https://youtu.be/59RhEFhSzHs) for more context on its release and influence).

    https://youtu.be/ljHkB8bbwk8

    Following the success of Portopia, different publishers opted for the licensing of famous crime novelists to both secure a good story and capitalize on their fame to get noticed in the crowd of similar releases.

    Irem went with Nishimura Kyōtarō (a prolific novelist who passed away last March) and Taito opted for Yamamura Misa, a female author specialized in "touristic" / "scenic" crime stories, all centered around the city of Kyōto and its most memorable sight-seeing spots.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/LGRe1tu.png]

    Kyōto Zai-tech Satsujin Jiken was the third game in this specific series (apparently all developed by TOSE), and released in November 1990, a few weeks before the release of the Super Famicom in Japan. The genre was fading in popularity by then and that might be why Hector published this third episode instead of Taito. The game must have been scarcely produced because it is now one of the pricier Famicom cartridges in Japan. (I certainly gave up trying to get one in the preparation for this write-up.)

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/VPpyuKE.png]

    The story is original to the game, but takes inspiration from various Yamamura stories. In the Famicom version, your faceless and player-named avatar is an office lady and amateur sleuth who gets involved in solving the murder of a friend from her high-school days.

    I’ll get to the rest of the plot a bit further down below but, first, I need to digress about the two Taito games that preceded Kyōto Zai-tech Satsujin Jiken – there’s an interesting payoff in sight, I promise you.

    In the Taito games, the player avatar is also an original character, unique to that story. However, in both games, the protagonist is assisted in their investigation by Catherine Turner, a young, rich and beautiful blonde New Yorker who is one of Yamamura’s three great detectives (they are all female). In those games, she acts as [the ever helpful sidekick](https://www.twitter.com/ProZD/status/1614892976362356742) made a trope of the Japanese mystery genre since Portopia.

    Catherine is a freelance author / journalist working in Japan for some non-descript foreign press agency but, in her debut novel, she was just a visiting foreign student who also happened to be the daughter of the vice president of the United States! Oh my!

    Catherine is unsurprisingly super wealthy; she basically would not need to work but enjoys being nosy and getting into trouble with cases that have nothing to do with her. She’s often seen taking advantage of her VIP status, using her "*gaijin* card" to circumvent expected Japanese manners or feign ignorance, and seeing her general bravado and wits solving the weird murder cases she constantly comes across.

    Catherine’s a pretty interesting character considering she was created by a Japanese woman in the late Seventies, and became sort of a Girl Boss detective right smack into the pop culture trend of showcasing powerful (caucasian and mostly blonde) working women in Hollywood during the Eighties. I think there’s a whole feminist angle to these novels and indeed to this game that I am probably not the best equipped at tackling, but feel free to dig into that topic further on your own free time.

    Although he does not appear in every novel, Catherine’s usual "Watson" is Hamaguchi Ichirō, a no-nonsense straight man (in all applicable ways) who was initially a brillant university student tasked by his principal to become Catherine’s escort / bodyguard / translator, due to her sensitive VIP status.

    Obviously, there is a romance aspect to their odd couple dynamic: she’s both infuriatingly brazen and wicked smart, he’s boringly down to earth but wiser than her and always reliable. They quickly become an item in the books, but always with a hint of will they / won’t they (get serious and marry) to keep some tension going.

    It is also important to explain that Catherine and Ichirō’s relationship, from a detective novel aspect, is much more balanced than the traditional tropes of the master detective and their assistant. Apparently, Ichirō often outsmarts Catherine and generally has a better sense of how to traditionally proceed with a police investigation, even if it is Catherine who usually ends up being the ace solving each affair.

    I am sorry to go "[The guy who has only seen Boss Baby](https://twitter.com/afraidofwasps/status/1177301482464526337?lang=en)" on y’all but, based on my short research, their couple dynamic really strongly reminds me of [Suzumiya Haruhi and Kyon](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haruhi_Suzumiya) and I am now personally convinced Yamamura’s books have had a strong influence on Tanigawa Nagaru’s work.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/6rhZWhG.png]

    In the Famicom version of Kyōto Zai-tech Satsujin Jiken, a big departure from the Taito-published episodes is that Catherine does not appear at all in the game. Both the player avatar and her improvised assistant are just young women from Kyoto trying to solve their friends’ murder. Note that the original character in the first two games was more gender-neutral but, in Kyōto Zai-tech Satsujin Jiken, you are explicitly playing as a young woman. I am not sure how many adventure games had already offered that situation by 1990.

    Anyway, I suspect this casting choice was heavily criticized at the time of the Famicom version’s release, because one huge change (improvement?) of the Denshi System Techō version is that now you play as Catherine herself, despite most of the plot and many of the dialogues being the same as the Famicom version.

    I assume it was indeed much simpler for TOSE and Hector to retroactively turn the protagonist into Catherine rather than to make her the assistant (given that your friend is helpful but clearly not much smarter than you and definitely not a wealthy foreign journalist).

    Nevertheless, I would guess people who had not played the Famicom version probably wondered why Catherine didn’t rely on Ichirō or another regular friend from the novels as her sidekick. I also suspect some of Catherine’s characterization in the game betrays the identity swap, but I’ll leave that judgement to true *Meitantei Catherine* fans. Let’s get back to the story.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/kpmcDLZ.jpeg]

    Set in the scorching Kyōto summer, the game starts as ~~a young office lady~~ Catherine is meeting up with two high-school friends on a lazy Saturday afternoon, near the [Nanzen-ji](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanzen-ji)’s famous aqueduct, for [Tanabata](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanabata).
    {*wait, I thought Catherine arrived in Japan during college? Err whatever*}

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/uCmngyM.jpeg]
    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/GK9aYNr.jpeg]

    Natsuko, a budding TV actress and this game’s sidekick, is already here with you but your friend Yumiko is uncharacteristically late. She had been admitted to Tokyo University (= she is very smart and headed for a promising career) and then proceeded to join an elite pharmaceutical company back in Kyoto, so its not her style to miss an appointment and oops she’s dead. You barely get a second to check her corpse and surroundings when Inspector Kariya arrives on the scene and nothingtoseeheres everyone.
    {*Kariya is pretty much the Inspector Lestrade of the Catherine series, so it was a cool cameo in the Famicom game but it now makes zero sense that he would not already know Catherine. But I’ll stop here with this kind of remark, you got the point.*}

    Pretty quickly, you’ll figure out that the mystery of Yumiko’s murder is linked to some insider trading scandal involving her pharmaceutical firm. That is pretty topical: in early 1990, right at the burst of the economic bubble, the Japanese financial world was hit with a wave of insider trading scandals.

    The *Zai-tech* mentioned in the game’s title is a term which became popular in mainstream media around that time, referring to the speculative financial investments using the support of computers (財務テクノロジー *zaimu technology*) which arose after [the 1984 deregulation of the Japanese financial market under the pressure of the U.S. government.](https://www.bis.org/publ/econ26.htm)

    I have read some reviews (for the Famicom version, obviously) complaining that this game, past the introduction at Nanzen-ji, misses the usual "local charm" of Yamamura’s novels by barely making use of Kyoto’s unique appeal. Indeed, the story is largely a corrupt big firm affair which could have happened in any other city. But at least, the plot was admirably topical when the game initially came out.

    Another cool surprise about this version is that it fleshes out the story and especially the first scenes wonderfully. There is, to my astonishment, a full [guide for the Famicom version](https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/nes/579847-yamamura-misa-suspense-kyouto-zaiteku-satsujin-jiken/faqs/51203) on GameFAQs but you would not be able to progress in the Denshi System Techō port if you followed it blindly. Several scenes were added, for the better as far as I can tell, to flesh out some relationships and improve some transitions in the story, such as giving better context to how you figured out some relationships, or how you found certain clues.

    Another frequent complaint regarding the Famicom version is that it looked slightly worse than the two Taito games, with pretty simple graphics and weak-ass art direction for a 1990 game. Here again, the Denshi System Techō version is unarguably a glow up, both technically and stylishly.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/Thec4iW.png]
    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/jmv4pTM.jpeg]

    Not only that, but the Denshi System Techō features full kanji and katakana support, making the text much more legible than the Famicom version (provided you get a good view of the non-backlit, cheap DMG screen).

    Even better: the game is fully compatible with Denshi System Techō machines featuring a touch screen! So instead of awkward controls or menus, you can directly tap on the screen and choose your actions, and investigate items shown on screen. Nintendo DS-style ! In 1991!

    So far, I have introduced games which have largely been compromised compared to their closest equivalent on Famicom or Game Boy. Kyōto Zai-tech Satsujin Jiken for the Denshi System Techō is not only better than the Famicom version, it also blows out of the water any adventure game on the Game Boy until maybe… Tokimeki Memorial Pocket in 1999? This 1991 game feels like playing something from the WonderSwan era.

    So what’s happening here, and what’s up with the "touch screen compatibility" that I had never mentioned in a Denshi System Techō game until now? Let’s talk about hardware. Let’s talk about the Hyper Denshi System Techō.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/wlQfmtm.jpeg]

    Released in 1990, the "DB-Z", also known as the PA-9500 (it’s the right one on the picture above), was the first model to feature the Hyper Denshi System Techō logo, highlighting its superlative specs. Sharp encouraged publishers to release their own cards taking advantage of that new hardware, and some software from the Denshi System Techō library is only compatible with Hyper Denshi System Techō machines.

    We have already discussed some games which were not compatible with the original PA-7000 earlier in this thread. As the compatibility exceptions grew, Sharp established a compatibility icon standard to help out consumers figure out on what machine each software could be played or not.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/8bwNPnq.jpeg]

    Refer to [the newly edited second post of this thread](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/1334-stay-sharp-with-sc-denshi-system-techo-games/2) for a detailed explanation of these icons, including what the digits mean, but in summary:
    ① The Hyper Denshi System Techō models can play any card.
    ② Cards with the [size=11]**8~4**[/size] symbol run better on the Hyper Denshi System Techō models.
    ③ Cards with the [size=11]**8**[/size] symbol run only on the Hyper Denshi System Techō models.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/8SubeFv.jpeg]

    As of the writing of this post, I have identified seven [size=11]**8**[/size] cards and two [size=11]**8~4**[/size] cards among all the games released between 1989 and 1992. That’s not a lot, but it would indeed put the Hyper Denshi System Techō on par with the SuperGrafX catalogue, so…

    Games exclusive to the Hyper Denshi System Techō could benefit from a minimum screen size of 192×145, far above the standard 96×64 available to most games. By comparison, the Game Boy (all the way to the Game Boy Color) was stuck with a 160×144 screen, and the WonderSwan used a 224×144 screen.

    In terms of memory, the Hyper Denshi System Techō jumped to a minimum RAM of 128KB (256KB for some models), instead of 8KB for the Game Boy, 32KB for the Game Boy Color and 64KB for the WonderSwan.

    As mentioned above, the Hyper Denshi System Techō models also included a resistive touch screen, pretty much the same tech as a Nintendo DS, and even had their own tiny stylus.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/Q9KWrTZ.jpeg]

    Once again: This machine came out in 1990! Kyōto Zai-tech Satsujin Jiken came out in 1991! We’d only get the Nintendo DS in November 2004!
    (A Nintendo DS also cost three times less at launch than a DB-Z, to be fair.)

    On the PA-9700 which has been used for my review, the stylus can be slotted back cleverly within the inner hinge of the machine via a pivotable sheath, which is frankly not super convenient in practice, but pretty cool.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/foabeyD.jpeg]

    The remaining issue is that the Hyper Denshi System Techō models still did not include any form of proper sound chip, so this port of Kyōto Zai-tech Satsujin Jiken does not feature the soundtrack of the Famicom version.

    Another hurdle you may be wondering about is saving your progress. Based on my experiments, as long as you keep the IC card in your Denshi System Techō, the game stays in a sort of sleep mode when you turn the machine off or leave the game to check one of its OS-level features.

    If you do remove the card, there are two options available to you. You can restart from a specific chapter in the story, which involves a simple 4 digits password, or you can visit your friendly café owner and request a longer 36 digits code to save exactly where you are. Not the most convenient, especially in an era without smartphones to take a quick screenshot of the code, but serviceable.

    [upl-image-preview url=https://i.imgur.com/4puQJpx.jpeg]

    Besides these two hardware-inflicted hurdles, Yamamura Misa Suspense – Kyōto Zai-tech Satsujin Jiken is pretty much the crown jewel of this part-time gaming system, as far as I can tell.

    Unfortunately, by the time Hector’s game came out, it was probably clear that Sharp’s dream of establishing a new software standard had failed. Japanese adults were indeed buying these clever and expensive electronic organizers, but they were not really indulging in the whole IC card swapping and collecting bit that could have unlocked a bunch more interesting ports like this one.

    >

    Incidentally, this weekend marks the first anniversary of this thread!


    >
    >

    I am going to get pretty busy in the coming weeks/months so I am not sure when is the time and fitting topic for the next update, but maybe I’ll combine a few shorter reviews of games that don’t deserve a thorough exposé on their own.