Not to be confused with The Faery Tale Adventure.
It's not like anyone sane would get these games confused... Unless you're the writer of Gaming Hell, who has done this on more than one occasion. Feel free to laugh along with me.
Now here's a game that was unlucky, at least in hindsight. I'm not much of a gambler, but I'm willing to wager that you never hear the name The Fairyland Story without the name Bubble Bobble in the same breath- this 1985 obscurity was the foundation from which Taito built their second most famous game, and has been overshadowed ever since, somewhat unfairly. Both games share very similar elements- the single-screen rounds, having to kill everything on a round to move on, and a focus on doing odd things to enemies before wiping them out- but they go about it in very different ways. As is often the case with precursor games such as this, Bubble Bobble has gone on to be ported to every console under the sun and celebrated endlessly for its greatness (and rightfully so) while The Fairyland Story has been pretty much forgotten by all but the die-hard Taito fans, such as this unbelievable player who breaks the score display, earns fifty extra lives and pulls off some very strange glitches in a single play through. Damn, even the game's Facebook page only had 9 likes when I wrote this, and it hasn't increased much since! (No, I'm not one of them, and it's not like Facebook is an accurate way of establishing a game's popularity, but I'm working with what I can get.)
In the fine Gaming Hell tradition of doing the opposite of everyone else, let's talk about The Fairyland Story.
Let's get the easy joke out of the way, there are no fairies in The Fairyland Story- instead, as Ptolemy the witch, you must return peace to the land of by making your way through 101 rounds and defeating Dracolisk at the end to retrieve the holy diamond. Naturally, each round consists of platforms, enemies to kill (ranging from generic pig soldiers, ghosts who phase in and out of existence, and mages who can turn Ptolemy into just a hat and a tiny pair of feet) and later on, teleporting doors that sometimes hide the sinister human-eating worm. Without the special items that periodically appear, Ptolemy's only form of defence is her very short-range magic spell which will turn enemies into delicious cakes. From there, you can either pelt them with the spell again repeatedly to make them disappear, or push them off a platform, which will crush them (and make a very satisfying sound effect). Like the rocks from Dig Dug (which the game took inspiration from directly which I didn't know before I made this observation, wow) cakes can also be used to crush other enemies, and this is the core of the scoring system- crush more than two enemies at once and you'll spawn a medal, either bronze, silver or gold, and until you die, each one you collect adds to a score multiplier (up to 9). Needless to say, if you can pull it off consistently, this will absolutely sky-rocket your score, but the moment you cark it, you're back to square one, and you have to restart the round!
As you can see, the mechanics are pretty basic. Aside from a few of the special items that change things around a little (one of the potions turns Ptolemy into a enemy-chomping mouse, and one of the scrolls lets her use a fireball attack that can earn you some obscene points if you get a lot of enemies in a row) there's not much to the game on the surface, and the skill-based techniques that helped make Bubble Bobble so playable ('kissing' enemies by bubbling them up-close, the bubble jump) aren't here at all, with the exception of the 'short hop' (move the joystick as you pass through a platform to cut the jump short) which is essential for reaching certain awkward platforms. Hell, Ptolemy's jumping is so restrictive (when you jump, you'd better be committed to the direction you've picked unless you can short hop) that you can't even use it to avoid enemies very well! If you don't dig any further than this, then it's easy to write it off, with only its personality-filled characters making it stand out from Bubble Bobble (Ptolemy has a variety of death animations, and everything looks adorable and very smoothly animated). That's the thing, though- while having quick reactions is a big help, The Fairyland Story is more interested in what's in your noggin, 'cause this ain't just a platformer, this is more like a puzzle game.
It's all in the enemy mechanics- Ptolemy can walk on top of foes safely (as long as they don't jump upwards, and they give you plenty of warning when they do), they'll home in on her when they get the chance (often in a certain pattern), and when you cake an enemy, they'll stay put until they break out of it. Putting these mechanics together (and the fact that dying makes you restart the round) creates a game where half of it is about turning things into cakes, and the other half relies on manipulating the enemy's movements, and figuring out how you can get them where you want them to be in order to either reap a huge points bonus or just avoid them until you can finish them off- almost every round has a place where you can get a load of points from a group of enemies, you've just got to find it and corral them there. Even if you ignore the cake-smashing-for-points mechanics for a moment, this baiting element can be seen throughout the game, with many of the later rounds requiring you to exploit the AI just to get them in range or ride on a bunch of them like a train to reach power-ups. There's also the worm, who sneaks out to eat you- if you bait an enemy to get eaten by him, you'll get 7000 bonus points. Put the points system back in, and catching the AI out becomes the main focus of the game- far more so than in Bubble Bobble, actually, 'cause manipulating enemies there is really easy. In fact, the game's main issue is that, because of its reliance on the AI being pig-headed, sometimes certain enemies will get caught into a loop until you move Ptolemy to a specific part of the board, but by the time you're 30 or so rounds in, you'll be so used to moving her to strange parts of the round to get the enemy's attention that this becomes natural.
Of course, this also makes the game pretty difficult. As we should know by now, I like it when a game smacks me right in the puss with a decent challenge, and The Fairyland Story delivers on that front. It's the very definition of a risk-versus-reward game- while pelting enemies with the magic spell to make them disappear is the safe way to play it, there's barely any points in it. Go for baiting the enemies, luring them to where you want, and you have to put it all- your life, your round progress and your score multiplier- at risk. Because of this, pulling it off makes you feel powerful, as you essentially have to outsmart the game and be ready to react to any change in the enemy behaviour. Only rarely does it feel like it's not your fault if you screw up- most of the time it's inattentiveness that will end you- but this makes victory all the sweeter. Hell, even if you just play with the mindset of surviving for as long as possible, the game's pretty tough- the enemies follow you aggressively when you're in their sights, and it doesn't have any of the concessions that you see in games like this, like floaty jumps and respawning mid-level.
All this means that the game is far more reliant on repeat plays and memorisation of enemy behaviour than Bubble Bobble, but since the AI tends to be fairly consistent (if pig-headed) with repeat plays, it balances out a tad. More importantly, pulling off these crazy moves feels satisfying, and even when I kept failing the same level (the last three rounds are particularly brutal, even when you do figure it out) I kept plugging away at it, determined to not let the game beat me. The major criticism of the game in this department is that there's a small handful of rounds where winning is much quicker if you get lucky with the special items- the tiara that rains stars down in particular is a bit too helpful on some rounds. There is an attempt by the game to mitigate this, however- according to this Japanese guide, there is some kind of internal, unseen experience system, possibly tied to how many steps Ptolemy takes during a stage, that dictates the kinds of items you will see, with some of the more absurd items like the earthquake-causing Book of Death only appearing at higher experience levels... With the caveat that this experience value can overflow if you play too well for too long, reverting to less powerful items.
So with The Fairyland Story, you get a pretty challenging game that, while it has a few flaws, is very satisfying to conquer, one that rewards patience and planning. If that's the case, then what is it that Bubble Bobble does so much better? Accessibility for players of any skill level, I'd say. Bubble Bobble's main draw is that while it's pretty tough and there's a lot of skill-based techniques you need to learn, as well as a whole boat-load of secrets to discover (it has almost five times as many secret items as its predecessor), it's also simple enough for two players to pick up and play. Bubble 'em up and pop 'em together for big scores! Squabble with your so-called best friend over points! Ptolemy's adventure, on the other hand, is not nearly as enticing to people unwilling to approach it the way it needs to be approached- as a puzzle-action game reliant on manipulating the enemies to reap the most points out of them while also not dying, not even once- and since there's no simultaneous two-player mode, the feeling of co-operation (or competition) is lost. Essentially, Bubble Bobble is the kind of game that anyone in an arcade can walk up to and play straight away and be kinda good at it, while The Fairyland Story requires more thought and patience to even get through, let alone get a decent score, especially since it's got a more stop-start feel to it than Bubble Bobble. The fact that you have to restart each round once you die only reinforces the idea that you need to approach this more like a puzzler...
... An idea undermined by the fact that it's an arcade game. Much like The Tower of Druaga, The Fairyland Story is a game better played at home, where you have the time to study each round and work out the best way to get the most points, something that Bubble Bobble doesn't suffer from. If anything, the game's arcade origins hurt it, because it leads to silly things like the over-the-top bonus you get for killing Dracolisk, the time limit, and being unable to continue once you beat Round 98! This is a dick move that Taito would continue well into the '80s (see also: Operation Thunderbolt, Special Criminal Investigation, Rastan) but it probably hurts The Fairyland Story the most, as you really need to be able to practice those final few rounds (especially the final battle with Dracolisk, which really hammers home the fact that this is more a puzzler than an action game). Having played the likes of Kaiten Patissier and Ganbare! Natsuki San! on Xbox Live Indie Games a lot, I can't help but think The Fairyland Story would work well with their home console-style structure- a whole glut of levels available from the start (with the option to play in order or one at a time) but with your best times/scores for each round recorded and par times/scores available to give you something to keep practising for. Fortunately, the miracle of emulation means that you won't be losing a million 10p pieces to beat the game, and one of the home computer versions of the game does alleviate this problem somewhat, but it's a shame that its early '80s arcade roots actually impact The Fairyland Story negatively.
Let's wrap this love-in up then, as I've written way too ruddy much about an obscure 1985 arcade game no-one really cares about. Basically, while comparisons are inevitable, The Fairyland Story is not Bubble Bobble. It didn't have nearly as much of an impact on the arcade gaming scene because a lot of the core elements of Bubble Bobble- the co-operation and multitude of secrets- aren't present, and it isn't nearly as friendly or approachable as its bubble dragon-themed successor. However, it takes things in a very different, more puzzle-like direction, one that hasn't been seen nearly as often as the Bubble Bobble formula, so it's certainly appealing in the sense that it's a little different. It's an off-putting approach for many players, for sure- the fact that you have to restart upon death might seem a bit cruel, but it's one of the most important elements in the game if you ask me, as it forms part of the challenge- but for those willing to play it in an uncompromising, score-focused way (and willing to put up with some flaws, like the rare blips in AI behaviour and overpowered items), The Fairyland Story offers a great challenge with some fascinating score mechanics at work and some of the most adorable sprite animations from the 1980s.
It's not as tightly made as Bubble Bobble, but at least it's better than Chack'n Pop!
For being a game about turning enemies into cakes, The Fairyland Story is awarded...
In a sentence, The Fairyland Story is...
Different enough from Bubble Bobble to be worth it.
And now, it's that time, folks!
First, what was thought to be an unused staff roll is actually used.
A code found on this JP page that has loads of great Fairyland Story info reveals that the game's staff roll can be seen simply by holding the Magic button down as soon as the Game Over message appears (if your score makes it to the ranking screen, hold the button after entering your last initial too). Pull it off and before the game begins its attract mode again, you'll get a very brief character list/staff roll as shown above and in this video we made of it because we were that excited to finally see this stuff used. With help from @slawbrah and @_kimimi, we also got their roles translated, which you'll see in a second.
The most important name here is ONIJUST.H, usually credited as simply Onijust in other Taito games, real name Hiroshi Tsujino although this was only revealed decades after the facr. He's one of the more prolific names to appear in Taito credit sequences, and while the arcade version credits him with planning and design, the MSX port upgrades him to game and character design, a role he filled in other Taito games (Plump Pop and Cadash). As for the other names, most of them show up in other Taito arcade games, often as directors, such as Masaki Ogata (Dead Connection and The Ninja Warriors), Hikio Hatano (Kiki Kaikai) and Toshiyuki Nishimura (Superman)- we have a possible list of who's who on this separate page for your perusal.
The strangest thing is that three of them- Tsujino, Nishimura and Ogata- went on to create The Ninja Warriors.
Of course, the big name missing here is Fukio 'MTJ' Mitsuji (1960-2008), seeing as The Fairyland Story is so similar to Bubble Bobble, his greatest creation. We can only assume he was paying attention to Ptolemy's story when designing Bubblun and Bobblun's fantastic journey.
This means that the only unused content in the game is this cross, as seen on The Cutting Room Floor Wiki.
Next, home ports!
Due to the game's lack of popularity- especially since a year later Bubble Bobble would eclipse it- ports of The Fairyland Story are pretty thin on the ground. Compared to the 10+ Bubble Bobble home ports at the time of release, The Fairyland Story received a grand total of two. Both of which appeared on obscure computer systems, and neither of which made it to the West.
The first to come out was the MSX version in 1987, presented by Hot-B (who were pretty tight with Taito- as well as developing Insector X for them, they used Taito's L-System hardware for their Play Girls games and the unreleased prototype Cuby Bop, and about a decade later distributed Graffiti Kingdom in the US) but published under their GA Yume / GAMU name which some sources stated was their internal development team (including us, ohohoho!) but was just the name they published under until a few years later (and is not to be confused with Game Arts, who were also quite prolific on the MSX).
The MSX is a surprisingly competent system in the right hands (specifically those of Konami) and this version of The Fairyland Story is pretty good- not even close to the arcade in terms of graphics, of course, but it offers a fairly good replication of the basic mechanics. It's a little bit slower, and the AI isn't quite up to speed, but it does it well enough. It also has a slightly different round order, with some new ones thrown in (one of them is designed around Chack'n from Chack'n Pop) and there are two new enemies- one stronger golem, and one that can turn Ptolemy into a cake. Somewhat infamously the game has a new 'bad ending' you get if you use contiues to clear the game, telling you the Holy Gem was not found and that 'YOU CANNOT REPEAT YOUR LIFE', but beating the game on one credit gives you the true ending (good work on this one, Lee!). That's rough! Aside from that new ending wrinkle, it's quite an impressive port, considering the hardware, and was the only port for quite some time.
In 1991 (by which point Taito had updated their logo), the game was ported to the Sharp X68000 published by SPS (seriously, what arcade ports didn't they publish for the X68000?) and developed by OeRSTED and, like most ports to the system, it's incredibly accurate- while I noticed some absolutely tiny colour changes, aside from that I could lie and say these screenshots are from the arcade game, and no-one would know. In terms of extras, unlike the SPS-published port of Märchen Maze, you actually get a few options- you can change the number of lives per credit, whether you can continue or not (and this version lets you continue on the last three rounds!), the screen resolution, and, critically, you're allowed to start from any previously-reached round- yes, even Rounds 99-101. This is easily the best part of this port, as it lets you practice any stage freely. It also saves your high scores, which is nice, although it's rendered somewhat pointless if you start on the final stage because of the sick million bonus points you get for murdering Dracolisk. Also, there's an Arrange version of the soundtrack. I'll be blunt, the original arcade music is pretty feeble- the tunes themselves are decent, just done in by the weak hardware. The Arrange version is considerably more stompin', though, sounding like it's done on Rainbow Islands hardware, and that's probably why I recorded one of the songs myself to share. It's good.
To end the contemporary home ports... It's often said that there was a Famicom / NES version of the game in development, but it was cancelled.
The only source for the longest time was this Japanese page of cancelled NES games.
However! It made it far enough to be included in Nintendo's internal review system and it was the lowest ranked third-party game. Whoof!
... But it does exist. At least, one version of it does.
In June 2022, Gaming Alexandria, Forest of Illusion and Hard4Games banded together to dump a prototype of the Famicom port of The Fairyland Story, with more info and a general history on Gaming Alexandria. I'll summarise the story briefly but Gaming Alexandria has the full story: advertised in Family Computer Magazine Issue 8 in 1986 (using an arcade screenshot of course), the Japanese release was cancelled for unknown reasons. Someone on the 2chan imageboard claimed that the port was cancelled for quality concerns and efforts moved to the MSX port instead. Four years later in 1990, The Fairyland Story would appear on an internal Nintendo of America lot-check with the publisher listed as Hot-B who were involved with the MSX release but ultimately it didn't get released there either, probably because trying to release a 1986 game in 1990- a port of a game very few played in America anyway- wasn't going to go anywhere in that market.
As for this specific dump, it was discovered in a job-lot of Famicom carts on eBay just sitting there out in the open, and with a little help from Hard4Games was dumped for all and sundry to play. Curiously, the version we have uses a 24KB ROM size while the NOA lot-check-submitted version uses a 48KB ROM size. This later version of the game may have been expanded upon in some way but unless a dump of it shows up in the future, we'll never know. What we have right now though is fascinating in its own right as the title screen and font used bear an uncanny similarity to that of the Famicom port of Chack'n Pop which was made by TOSE. It's entirely possible Taito were banking on TOSE to crank out another quick arcade conversion but canned it when they didn't like how it was going.
You can find more on the specifics of the dumping process and the ROM size stuff in Hard4Game's video.
For now though... Let's take a look at what we've got.
It's unclear where in development this version is, although it does have a level skip feature (press Select, although be careful, it's prone to soft-locking the game) so it's definitely not release-candidate material. What's really striking about this version is how bad it looks and sounds- there's no backdrops beyond stark blackness, the music and sound effects are very grating and rough, it's not a looker at all. The best element here is Ptolemy who keeps most of her charming sprites and expressions (she even still rides in on her broom). The other thing that strikes you is the level designs- this version has 50 rounds that eventually start looping but they appear to be different from the arcade original and vary wildly in terms of difficulty. Some in particular are designed in such a way that you'll very easily get trapped in chasms with no way out if you step a foot wrong, and that's not the later rounds- that's from the first ten. All that said... This actually plays very close to the arcade game. There's a couple of idiosyncracies for sure- you can push cakes a little further off platforms than normal for one and I'm pretty certain the experience system isn't really here- but it generally feels close to the arcade game which is something you didn't always get for ports like this. There's even new content here- every ten rounds you get a bonus round where you get to destroy pre-made cakes for extra points. The presentation is rough but the heart of the game remains, so it's impressive TOSE (if it was them) managed to get this far with it. Worst third-party NES game though? There's way worse released games out there (that same listing apparently put City Connection at the bottom too, clearly we can dismiss it).
If you'd rather not fork out for ageing Japanese computers to get your Fairyland Story fix, there's a few more options out there for you. First, the game's been included in three of Taito's retro collections- in order of release, it's in Taito Memories Joukan Vol. I (PS2, 2005, Japan only- it's the one with the blue cover), Taito Legends 2 (PS2 / Xbox / PC, 2006, Europe and US only) and Taito Memories Pocket / Taito Legends Power-Up (PSP, 2006, all regions). All these versions implement the 'no continues beyond Round 98' rule, so watch out, and this is based on MAME code apparently so the sound emulation is not 100% accurate. Additionally, the Xbox version of Taito Legends 2- only released in PAL territories- has possibly the funniest quirk in any arcade collection. On the Xbox Dashboard, you can choose to play in PAL-60hz- if this option is disabled, Taito Legends 2 will play all its games at 50hz, and so the gameplay and music will be slower!
Sod digging out your old games consoles for a game of (cake) soldiers, though! The Fairyland Story finally got a proper modern rerelease via Hamster's rather excellent Arcade Archives series on Switch and PS4 in 2020. These releases are, as frequently noted by this very website, fairly barebones but mostly pretty accurate, and this seems a little better than the implementation in MAME with notes in the songs not being sustained as long (although this requires a little further investigation as others note the game sounds a little echoey, but still an improvement- thanks to Taito superfan Lee for their dilligence on this matter, in particular sending along real PCB footage for how the game is meant to sound, with some sound effects definitely being different in the ACA release). For extras, you get a basic manual, a Caravan Mode for a five-minute scorerun, a Hi-Score mode with only one credit, and all modes have online leaderboards for you to challenge the world to. Pretty happy with this, in any case.
Last but not least, The Fairyland Story was included as part of the standard set of 40 games in the Taito Egret II Mini, a plug-and-play tabletop arcade cabinet full of classic Taito games. The sound emulation is still a bit askew compared to the real PCB but this is a pretty good version and, as long as you're using the right power supply the input lag ain't bad. Not much else to say about this version, it's probably something more for Taito super-maniacs but it's worth it if you are, like me.
Let's end on some I don't have access to. Of course, there was an obligatory feature-phone mobile port that I'm not able to play. Distributed on J PHONE-brand phones in 2002 on the Gameselection service by Taito, it's... Small. As you can see from the screenshots above, it's really, really small. Hey, mobile phone screens weren't always these ginormous things you get with your fancy iPhones, you know? Additionally, the game does have a level select feature for rounds you've already cleared (the player has no points fighting Dracolisk). You can also see more on an archived version of the Gameselection range that shows The Fairyland Story, as well as other Taito games on the service like Front Line (seriously?) and Crazy Balloon (seriously?) but the big thing here is a video of the port in action from a YouTube channel that specialises in mobile phone port footage! At last. The music is especially chunky and crusty in this version, you love to see it.
The other one is a plug-in-and-play things- the game was included in Retro Arcade: Space Invaders (no, not that other one, this one was by Jakks Pacific rather than Radica). The emulation is apparently a step-up from other similar models, at least according to this gentleman although I'll be honest, I'm not sold on that sound emulation. I'm also not sold on the idea of forking out to get one of these things just to take some poor-quality screenshots. Gaming Hell is made on a budget, by which I mean, I'm cheap.
Well... There was one other port, of sorts. There's an unlicensed PC game by the name of Fairy Land (although the program bar actually calls the game Fairyland Story) that was developed (apparently) by Game Over Games, the people also responsible for Bubble Bobble Nostalgie, and published by a sinister company called Alawar. I'm unable to determine exactly when it came out as there's no year on the title screen, but if this page is anything to go by, it came out in 2000. There's also a physical release for sale on this page although its legitimacy is doubtful. In any case, this is a very, very loose adaptation, with the score mechanics, levels and enemies all in place, but the physics all over the shop, especially jumping. Also, the charming graphics have been replaced by sprites that look sub-MS Paint quality, although the music is a funky remix of the main Fairyland Story theme. Needless to say, it's not very good (from what I played, at least- I could only find a demo) but it's just bizarre to see a remake like this from so long ago, especially since the game is so obscure.
Now for some minutia that doesn't really fit anywhere else.
For years I've wanted to know if The Fairyland Story actually had a flyer produced for it. It would seem that such a thing doesn't exist, as whenever anything like that is included with other games such as the Taito Egret II Mini and the unlockable flyers in Elevator Action Deluxe, The Fairyland Story doesn't have one. However, there was an instruction card made for the game- a faded-out version of it appears in any unused space on the screen when playing The Fairyland Story on Taito Legends: Power-Up, and there's a tiny picture of it above, taken from this page. It's not much, but it's basically the only official non-in-game art of Ptolemy outside of home port manuals... And it looks like she was supposed to be a redhead all along. Huh.
The other is this garage kit (a home-made assembly model kit) of Ptolemy! Sure, I don't remember her having a scarf, but this has got to be her, right? If we're reading the page we found it on correctly (watch out, some of the pictures are not safe for work, unless your workplace needs nude statues of Neon Genesis Evangelion characters) this garage kit appeared at Summer Wonder Festival 2000 (a gathering of garage kit fans and producers to sell their wares). Probably goes without saying that the chances of finding it now are slim to nil.
Due to the fact that this page is already too long, we've constructed a separate page to catalogue Ptolemy's cameos in other Taito games.
Use this knowledge wisely.
If there's one thing this site needs, it's more reviews of Taito games. Or, rather, more reviews of good Taito games.
Ooh, do Mega Blast next, I've heard it's terrible! But for now, it's back to the index.