The X Button
Running Free

by Todd Ciolek, Oct 1st 2008

Last week brought a new character to Street Figher IV. Well, he's new to the game itself, but Gouken goes all the way back to the days of Street Fighter II rumors, when Electronic Gaming Monthly suckered in far too many young readers with this chicanery.

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Looking at it now, I'm ashamed that I didn't immediately notice the name of “W.A. Stokins” or the hometown thereof, or that there was an article on EGM's April Fool's Contest located directly beneath this phony Sheng Long piece.

It also reminds me of the characters I wanted to see in future Street Fighter games. A friend and I once devised an Australian martial artist whom we thought an excellent addition to the lineup. Her name would be Sheila, and she'd have moves like the Kangaroo Kick, the Koala Bear Hug, a boomerang-tossing attack, and maybe a throw where she'd pick her opponent's pocket. And her background would have aborigines and Mad Max bikers wrestling crocodiles in front of Ayer's Rock and the Sydney Opera House. Hey, if CAPCOM could envision Indians as fire-breathing, rubber-armed monks, we could get away with stereotyping Aussies.

Of course, we came up with Sheila a long time ago: in 2006. And CAPCOM still refuses to listen to us.

NEWS

STREET FIGHTER IV GETS ANIME, A REAL GOUKEN
A trailer for the Street Fighter IV anime prequel showed up last week, featuring a rather willowy Chun-Li explaining just how her father's demise motivated her to enter a worldwide martial-arts tournament. However, the real news for old-fashioned Street Fighter fans was the revelation of Gouken, the legendary martial-arts master who trained Ken and Ryu, as an unlockable character. This all goes back to EGM's notorious April Fool's prank, which in turned stemmed from a mistranslation that had Ryu talking about defeating “Sheng Long,” a phrase too many took to be a reference to some secret fighter. Well, after all these years of jokes and rumors, a Street Fighter game has Gouken. True, he showed up in the game's earlier anime trailers, but years of in-jokes and rumors made us all a little cynical about it.

GHIBLI ANIMATES A NEW DS RPG
You'll seldom see video games based on Studio Ghibli films, a fact purportedly owed to Hayao Miyazaki hating some Nausicaä computer games that let players shoot the film's innocent nuclear forest creatures back in the '80s. Whether or not this is true, Studio Ghibli usually doesn't trifle with video games; at most, you'll seen something like the Jade Cocoon series, which had character designs by Ghibli regular Katsuya Kondo. Yet Ghibli's now collaborating with prolific developer Level-5 (Dragon Quest VIII, Rogue Galaxy) on a DS RPG called Ni no Kuni: The Another World.

It's a pretty Ghibli-ish tale: out to save his mother, a plucky boy travels to an ornate phantasmagoria, where he befriends a cute little gremlin and meets Packers fans (seriously, that looks like a cheese hat up there). Ghibli staffers will provide the animation and artwork for the RPG, though the smart money says that Miyazaki himself will have nothing to do with a brain-rotting video game.

SEGA GIVES SHAPE TO INFINITE SPACE, THE SEVENTH DRAGON
In contrast to Ghibli's selective collaborations in the game industry, Gonzo and Production I.G do all sorts of work there, and the two studios are now creating short films about Infinite Space (a.k.a. Infinite Line), Sega's new DS RPG. Perhaps Sega's attempt at courting jaded Phantasy Star fans, Infinite Space presents its hero, the white-haired Yuri, with over 150 different ship designs to take from planet to planet. It's the first RPG developed by Platinum Games, the new Sega-sponsored company formed by CAPCOM expatriates Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil), Hideki Kamiya (Okami), and Atsushi Inaba (God Hand). The first Infinite Space short hits the official website on October 17, though the game won't arrive until spring.

Also scheduled for next year is The Seventh Dragon, the stealthily announced DS RPG from Sega producer Rieko “Phoenix Rie” Kodama and longtime game composer Yuzo Koshiro. A far cry from Kodama's Phantasy Star highlights, The Seventh Dragon is a dungeon hack much in the style of Etrian Odyssey, with which it shares director Kazuya Ninou. All of the characters are nameless ciphers, defined by their classes and their identically faced designs provided by Mota. It's not the game many longtime Sega fans were expecting, but Etrian Odyssey fans would be wise to follow it closely.

TREASURE GOES BACK TO BLEACH
Before we get to the Bleach fighter that hits the DS next week, it must be mentioned that Treasure's working on their third fighting game drawn from Tite Kubo's manga series. Dubbed Bleach: Versus Crusade, the Wii title looks to be a one-on-one brawler, albeit one influenced by the four-player battles of the DS games. Each player apparently gets a “partner character” for various team-up attacks and other maneuvers. The game supports Wi-Fi play, and anyone who hates using the Wii remote and nunchuk for fighters can switch to the Classic Controller or GameCube pad. It may not live up to Treasure's DS offerings, but it's hard to imagine Bleach in better hands.

DRAGON BALL: THE ANIME: THE MOVIE: THE GAME REVEALED
Finally, it appears that a game based on the Dragon Ball movie may be inevitable. A recent bit of PR about Twentieth Century Fox's new senior vice president of “new media” refers to “Dragon Ball” (one word now, it seems) among the properties the company views as prime console-game material, along with Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian. It's the most preliminary of preliminary announcements, of course, and we'll likely never hear of a live-action Dragon Ball game if the film tanks at the box office.

WEIRD-ASS IMPORT ROUNDUP: SEPTEMBER

CHI'S SWEET HOME
(NEC Interchannel, DS)
I maintain that it's impossible to hate Chi's Sweet Home. Even if the idea of an adorable kitten's mundane adventures doesn't appeal to you, the show at least has the courtesy to never waste your time; each episode of Chi's squeaky-voiced escapades clocks in at three minutes. I get the impression that the Chi's Sweet Home DS title was designed along the same lines: Chi wanders around, Chi plays games, and Chi gets showered with affection. Players can also go the Nintendogs route by petting Chi, playing with her, and generally giving her the attention that all cats demand. However, the majority of the game consists of Chi stumbling into various mini-games, including the time-honored pastime of animal sumo wrestling. No, really.

PRINCESS MAKER 5
(Gainax, PSP)
In true that Gainax saved itself from bankruptcy by making series like Gunbuster and Nadia back in the late '80s and early '90s. But you know what else rescued Gainax during its fragile years? PC games like Princess Maker, in which players shepherd a royal heir from her infancy to a variety of grown-up careers, some creepier than others. Princess Maker 5 breaks with tradition slightly by letting you assume the role of an orphaned princess's father or her mother. After your young charge's protectors fob her off on you, it's your job to school her properly, monitor her interactions with helpfully stereotyped classmates, and fight a few basic RPG-style battles against the creatures that killed the poor girl's family. The game's many paths lead to over 50 endings, and there's even an “otaku” rating to track just how geeky the princess is and how much you've failed as a parent.

X-EDGE
(Compile Heart, PS3)
Pronounced “Cross Edge,” X-Edge isn't strange because of its design, as it's a fairly rudimentary RPG. It is, however, notable for slapping together characters from five different series: Morrigan, Demitri, and Felicia from CAPCOM's Darkstalkers; Etna and some Prinnies from Nippon Ichi's Disgaea; Misha, Shurelia, and Aurica from Gust's Ar Tonelico; Roseluxe, Liliane, and Marie of Gust's Mana Khemia and Atelier games; and Meu from Idea Factory's Spectral Souls (plus two unique character unlikely to be remembered beyond X-Edge's sphere). After a storyline suitably crams all of these characters into a vast orgy of in-jokes, the game sends them off to battles in which every party member assigning different attacks to the PS3 controller's four shape-denoted buttons. It seems to invite button-mashing not unlike Namco X CAPCOM, a promising yet pathetically easy crossover strategy game from 2005. If X-Edge is similarly undemanding, it'll still please anyone who wants to see Morrigan kick around stuffed devil-penguins. A North American release may seem unlikely, but if a publisher over here will take a chance on the even more obscure mash-up of Chaos Wars, there's a sliver of hope for X-Edge.

RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 10-5

BLEACH: DARK SOULS
(Sega/Treasure, DS, $29.99)
Treasure's first Bleach DS game was one of the best portable fighters around, and it left little room for improvement as far as the basic play mechanics went. That's why the sequel, Dark Souls, refines and adds to the original's well-woven gameplay. The card system is expanded to let players tap into four power-ups at once, and there's a new, out-of-canon storyline that should prove just as interesting as a Bleach movie plot (i.e., not at all). Yet it's the enormous cast of characters that ropes in many a Bleach fan, and Dark Souls comes with 17 new playable cast members, including battle-thirsty Ikkaku, flirtatious Matsumoto, bratty Kisuke, passive Ururu, morose Izuru, the inimitable Don Kanonji, and even a hatful of Hollows. For the players with no idea who any of those people are, Dark Souls comes with an in-game encyclopedia that supplies the voluminous backstories of Bleach.
Get Excited If: You won't need that encyclopedia in the slightest.

GUILTY GEAR 2: OVERTURE
(Aksys/Arc System Works, Xbox 360, $59.99)
Being a Guilty Gear fan takes a lot of faith. We've sat through the failed Guilty Gear Isuka, the messy Dust Strikers, the tepid Judgment, and the rush of upgrades to the admittedly excellent Guilty Gear X2. But now Arc System Works has the true Guilty Gear 2, and it's their boldest move yet. Abandoning the constraints of a 2-D fighter, Overture is a field-based 3-D action game in which the player, controlling mainstay Sol Badguy most of the time, treads into combat while commanding legions of soldiers against similar enemy forces. In the tradition of Dynasty Warriors, there's plenty of time for up-close attacks from Sol and the five other playable leads, even though you're always required to keep an eye on your servants. The storyline also shakes things up, ignored most of Guilty Gear's cast to find Sol and his rival, Ky Kiske, mixed up in a plot involving Ky's flag-wielding son, Sin, and the franchise's ever-looming villain, who we know only as That Man. Guilty Gear 2's reviews could be charitably described as “mixed,” but a lot of fans, myself included, will give this a chance even still.
Get Excited If: You own at least one Guilty Gear soundtrack.

THE LEGEND OF KAGE 2
(Square-Enix/Taito, DS, $19.99)
The original The Legend of Kage did one thing right: jumping. It was an otherwise middling game on the NES and in the arcade, but the Kage of the title sure could jump long and high, soaring through forests of ninja foes. The Legend of Kage 2 uses the two screens on the DS to re-capture those floaty, long-range jumps, and Taito's also decided to improve the original's limited gameplay, as Kage and his co-ninja Chihiro have 30 different abilities, from shurikens to spells that create shadow doubles. The game's only a dozen levels long (24 if you count Chihiro and Kage's run-throughs separately), but its challenges lie in old-school memorization. It's not as reckless as The Legend of Kage was 22 years ago, but anyone who played the original could tell you that more deliberate pacing is definitely a good thing in this case.
Get Excited If: You had the gall to tell your third-grade friends that The Legend of Kage (which you owned) was better than Ninja Gaiden (which you didn't).

SAM AND MAX: SEASON ONE
(Dreamcatcher/Telltale, Wii, $29.99)
No, they're not anime. In fact, it would take such a stretch to link Sam and Max to Japanese gaming that I'm not even going to try. Yet it's hard to imagine Sam and Max striking disinterested chords in anyone who enjoys a thoroughly offbeat graphic adventure game. Indeed, many anime fans likely remember Steve Purcell's original Sam and Max comics, the 1993 LucasArts game, and perhaps even the short-lived cartoon. Telltale's new Sam and Max titles have already made the rounds through GameTap, but the Wii version presents an excellent opportunity to grab the first six-episode “season” in a convenient package. With its emphasis on conversations and loose-logic puzzles, it's all very much a endearing and cartoonishly violent adventure.
Get Excited If: You ever complain about how LucasArts and other companies stopped making graphic adventure games.

SILENT HILL HOMECOMING
(Konami, PS3/Xbox 360, $59.99)
In truth, the sixth proper Silent Hill game (not counting that digital comic or the arcade shooter) will be on store shelves this very week at the earliest, and it's gone through a lot to get there. Homecoming saw its position as the fifth Silent Hill usurped by a PSP game, and it even weathered a shift in developer names, as the original team at The Collective became Double Helix Games. After all of that, Homecoming has emerged as the first Silent Hill where you'll play a combat-trained hero: Alex, an ex-soldier who heads back to his hometown of Shepherd's Glen and finds that it now bears an unmistakable resemblance to the mist-shrouded Silent Hill. Alex wields his scavenged weapons with greater efficacy that previous Silent Hill stars, but he's still lost in two different worlds; one a foggy, mysteriously vacant small town, the other a nightmarish dimension full of warty-headed nurses and blade-handed spiders. Silent Hill games have tried to catch up to the beloved second installment for years, and Homecoming's developers are playing to a tough crowd. At least they can throw in Pyramid Head for some easy points.
Get Excited If: You got the UFO ending in the first Silent Hill or the dog ending in Silent Hill 2.

SPECTROBES: BEYOND THE PORTALS
(Disney/Jupiter, DS, $29.99)
Spectrobes has Disney's name plastered all over its cover art and website, but the game beneath was developed by Jupiter, the Japanese outfit that's making a name for itself with Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and the not-half-bad The World Ends With You. And let's be honest: with its big-eyed characters, flashy sci-fi atmosphere and Pokémon-style monster collecting, Spectrobes may as well be rooted in the same Japanese ground that gave us Yu-Gi-Oh! and Bakugan Battle Brawlers. Beyond the Portals brings back the space-police heroes and RPG-like focus of the first Spectrobes, and that includes battles in which officer Rallen and his recruited Spectrobe beasts run straight into action-based melees with enemies.
Get Excited If: You're still young enough or shameless enough to play the first Spectrobes on your DS in public.

EXTRA LIVES: URUSEI YATSURA: LUM'S WEDDING BELL

Today's undiscerning young anime fans may know Rumiko Takahashi solely for Inuyasha, but there will always be some nosy old-timer on hand to remind the multitudes that Urusei Yatsura was Takahashi's first big series, and perhaps her most approachable one. After all, it's quite easy to grasp the unsubtle basis of any Urusei Yatsura episode; Ataru is a shiftless wad of hormones, Lum is his justifiably jealous alien fiancée, and there's never a lack of outlandish plot devices around them. It's maddening for anyone seeking a complex, closure-heavy plot, but Urusei Yatsura lends itself to all sorts of spin-offs. Jaleco wanted to make one of them back in 1986, just as the TV series was wrapping up its 195-episode run.

Jaleco couldn't get the license for an Urusei Yatsura arcade game. So they made one anyway and changed a few things. The developers called it Momoko 100% (left) and didn't try terribly hard to hide its roots. In this side-scrolling platform-jumper, Momoko spends various phases of her life running through a burning building, starting off as a preschooler and getting older with each level. As music that totally isn't Urusei Yatsura's opening theme plays on, Momoko seeks out escalators and trampolines to get her to the roof and her rescue, all while she's hounded by assorted creatures and forced to defend herself with what's either a pea-shooting straw or an actual firearm. Like the typical arcade game of 1986, Momoko 100% is a repetitive, brightly colored maze run, designed to grab money and do little else.

When the time came to port Momoko 100% to the Famicom (Japan's NES), Jaleco suddenly found the rights to Urusei Yatsura. Momoko was out, and Lum was reinstated, along with a storyline that involved an earthquake, a rift in time, and a plot contrivance that forced the green-haired alien princess to live her life out again. Jaleco wasn't about to design a new game, of course, so Urusei Yatsura: Lum's Wedding Bell finds her reliving that life in Momoko's invariably flame-engulfed institutions of learning, starting with “infant school” (there's a joke about Japan's educational system there) and culminating in that highest of aspirations for all women: marriage.

Some things changed, of course. The 8-Bit version of the game scales back the arcade graphics to the same primitive grade seen in early Famicom titles, while the music is a constant warble that sounds vaguely like Urusei Yatsura's opener. The drop in visual quality is understandable, but other problems aren't so easily excused; Jaleco tried to replicate the background details from Momoko 100% in Lum's Wedding Bell, resulting in garish colors that often hide Lum and the enemies she faces.

This wouldn't matter if Lum's Wedding Bell had sturdy play mechanics, and yet it never gets itself together for that. Lum fires lightning bolts, but the game's engine is so malformed that they won't always hit enemies correctly. Jumping is also awkward, particularly when dealing with the trampolines that propel Lum up one level. Even though grabbing an energy shield can protect her for a limited time, most of the levels see Lum dying after one hit or slipping into the roaring flames below. And, like many mid-1980s games with arcade sensibilities, there are no continues. You've got three lives, and you'd better save them and any extra ones for the latter stages.

It's a crawling, frustrating, hopelessly ramshackle bore of a game, but most anime fans of the 1980s probably didn't care. They'd seen the commercial (above) and wanted to watch Urusei Yatsura and all of its characters brought to crude pixel life on their Famicoms. Sadly, there aren't many familiar faces here outside of the ending, in which Lum, clad in a wedding dress, dashes into a church and kisses Ataru, who promptly falls over. The game then begins anew, as though nothing had actually ended. Yes, it's just like the Urusei Yatsura TV series.

There's more to Urusei Yatsura games than Lum's Wedding Bell, as the series also inspired a PC Engine title and a stunningly animated graphic adventure for the Mega CD (Japan's Sega CD). This leaves Lum's Wedding Bell the weakest of the pack. It's interesting to see an icon of '80s anime mixed into an old-school arcade port, but the results will satisfy no one in search of a good Urusei Yatsura game on an old Nintendo system. If you want that, you'll have better luck hacking Super Mario Bros. 2 to turn Princess Peach's hair green.

Prices on second-hand Famicom games have gone up in recent years, pushing Urusei Yatsura: Lum's Wedding Bell into the $20 range. If you're paying that much for something so unsatisfying, at least make sure the seller throws in a box and manual. And maybe a bonus copy of Bad Dudes.


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