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Summer has almost come in Italy; maybe it’s too early, but the thermometer cannot lie and reads about 30°, a perfect temperature to enjoy the sun and the beach. Therefore, it’s the right moment to talk about a delightful series made in Japan, which has put the Summer as the absolute protagonist of the affair. I’m obviously referring to Boku no Natsuyasumi, literally My Summer Vacation, developed by Millenium Kitchen and published by Sony on each one of its consoles.

The series started 11 years ago on Playstation; as a tradition the subsequent releases maintained, the first chapter was released in Summer, on June 22, 2000, in order to fit better its atmosphere with the period when videogamers should have played it. The game simulated a Japanese boy experience during his Summer holidays in late 70s; players had to organize his days and activities, such as make friends, collect bugs and explore the countryside, while observing the rules of the uncle where the boy was a guest. I’ve played this game later on with the remake on PSP and I can assure that the feeling created is very special and the reproduction of the Japanese culture is perfect within an experience which makes the players remember the childhood in every of its aspects.
At that time, the game was a sleeper hit: it starts with just 27.757 copies the first week but it ends with slightly over the 200.000 mark (Famitsu data), becoming a cult game among Japanese videogamers; the result is particularly meaningful since My Summer Vacation was out almost 5 months after the PS2 launch so it should have been overcome by the new console and its line-up but this didn’t happen, also because PS1 still run well with important releases (Final Fantasy IX, Dragon Quest VII). But surely something had caught the audience in their hearts, in fact the following episode showed a great performance on the market.

Exactly two years later, Boku no Natsuyasumi 2 was released for PS2; this game acted as a sort of reboot: the same structure of the prequel (the same protagonist as well, Boku) but a different setting, an island town instead of a farm in the country. By the way, the story was deeper, with more characters to manage with and more locations to visit; obviously, there were also more situations, such as the swimming, and new daily events.
Starting with approximately 130.000 copies (a way bigger debut than the first one, thanks to the reputation gained over time), the game ended with almost 380.000 units sold, becoming one of the best selling SCEJ games at that time, just behind Gran Turismo and Hot Shot Golf; this result was reached by selling until late September, showing how the series has been seen as a typical Summer appointment.

For the continuum of the series, the platform chosen was PS3; but before the third chapter, a remake of the first one had been released on PSP during 2006 Summer and it went to sold almost 100.000 copies, by debuting with just 25.000 units; not too bad, considering the small PSP installed base presented 5 years ago.
Finally, on June 2, 2007, Boku no Natsuyasumi 3 came out on PS3; with enhanced graphics and a lot of mini-games to play (even with cows!), this entry delighted videogamers in the first years of the new Sony home console. Unfortunately, the sales showed a decline from the previous episode: about 80.000 copies of the game were sold but there were also kind of legs because it began with just 27.000 copies.

To bring the series back to its brightness, Sony thought to shift console and then PSP became the referring platform of the series, supported by the good sales of the remake. Two years later, the fourth Boku no Natsuyasumi made its debut on PSP; events were placed in a costal village during the 80s and some interesting features were introduced, such as a taiko drum mini-game and tai-chi classes. Was the choice of the platform right? Aboslutely yes, in fact almost 140.000 copies of the game were sold, starting from 56.680 units in the first week and almost doubling the LTD (i.e. Lifetime Total Date) of the previous episode. After that, another remake was developed by Millenium Kitchen, always for PSP, and this is the latest entry in the series. The PS2 chapter was remade to exploit the handheld console features and appeared in the chart on late June; as far as we know, the game sold roughly 45.000 copies, but this is the result after just three weeks so considering the usual pattern of the series, it’s plausible to think of a higher actual number (BREAK NEW: the Media Create Top500 just published says that the game has sold throughout the 2010 almost 64.000 copies).

Here, a recap of the series sales throughout the years (first week / LTD):

  • 22/06/2000, Boku no Natsuyasumi (PS1) 27.757 / 209.083
  • 11/07/2002, Boku no Natsuyasumi 2 (PS2) 132.978 / 379.653
  • 29/06/2006, Boku no Natsuyasumi Portable (PSP) 24.866 / 96.651
  • 05/07/2007, Boku no Natsuyasumi 3 (PS3) 27.208 / 75.869
  • 02/07/2009, Boku no Natsuyasumi 4(PSP) 56.858 / 137.785

Along the main entries, there were also some re-edition at budget price: the first one on PS2 which sold 57.634 copies; the second one always on PS2, with 8.713 copies as the second week and the remake on PSP with 38.016 units.

The series had a momentum during the PS2-era, and it lost something with the following entries; the more modest success of the latest Sony platforms had surely some effect, but I think that My Summer Vacation had already expressed its true spirit with the PS2 episode; anyway, the decision to put the series on a handheld console revealed to be good, and maybe this is the dimension the game fits better, due to its nature which doesn’t rely on graphics or online gaming but on memories, not only concerning the youth but only a particular way of thinking video games during the 90s, a key factor which brought to the leadership handheld consoles in Japan.

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The “Iwata Asks” interviews have become famous showing how funny is the fourth president and CEO of Nintendo. In this episode concerning the new games out in store in a few days (March 13th in North America, March 26th in Europe), we can read that Iwata had some important roles during the establishment of Pokémon as a brand. He says: “Studying the program for the Pokémon battle system was part of my job.” In fact, Iwata-san was the director of HAL Laboratory, Inc. when Pokémon Stadium was in development and he was in charge to port the battle system over from Green and Red to a new Nintendo 64 game.

The thing that caught my attention is the development of the first games of Pokémon (Red and Green, followed by Blue 9 months later, and the second generation with Gold and Silver). Shigeki Morimoto from GameFreak says: “Actually, at that time (i.e. 1999) we had very few programmers. That wasn’t just the case for Gold and Silver but for Red and Green as well. There were only about four programmers.
Well, four is a very small number for a game with such those contents. It’s impossible to think that Nintendo was conscious about the success the game would have had. Only some years later the release of Green and Red, Pokémon became a commercial phenomenon in all over the world and worthy of major efforts.

It’s interesting to read this brief excursus on Pokémon history. When Green and Red made their appearance on Japanese market in the February 1996, it seemed that Game Boy might have reached the end of its life. Fourteen years later, we could say that Pokémon was the third system seller (killer application is a so obsolete term) of the handheld Nintendo console after Tetris and Super Mario Land, and the game that made Game Boy popular again among video gamers.

I have only talked about some short topics in this post, for the entire interview, check here.

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