The X Button
Paint a Vulgar Picture

by Todd Ciolek, Nov 12th 2008

Yes, it's another edition of The X Button, starting with some judiciously chosen news stories. One thing that I won't be mentioning among the news pieces below is Square's supposed unveiling of Final Fantasy VI's Terra (a.k.a. Tina) and Kefka (a.k.a. “I'm spelling his name 'Cefca' because I'm a lunatic who refuses to accept official English translations”) for Dissidia: Final Fantasy. Why not? Because we already knew that they were going to be in Square's little Final Fantasy fighting game, and it isn't real news. That's why not.

No, I don't care how unintentionally amusing the screens are. It's not going in the news section.

NEWS

NAMCO BANDAI SWIPES SOUL EATER FOR FIGHTER
Soul Eater's already getting a Wii action-conversation game called Monotone Princess courtesy of Square Enix, but that apparently wasn't good enough. Namco Bandai's now making Soul Eater: Battle Resonance for the PlayStation 2 and PSP. It's a more traditional 3-D arena fighter in which meister-students and their living weapons clash in the colorful, Tim Burton-ish locales of the Shinigami Weapon Vocational School and the world that surrounds it. The two versions are mostly identical in gameplay, though the PSP one gets an ad-hoc versus mode and the PS2 title has clips from various Soul Eater episodes.

As with the Wii incarnation of Soul Eater, Battle Resonance's chances over here depend on who eventually buys the anime and whether or not it ends up on TV, much like that other popular series where shinigami are a major plot device.

LAST BULLET BRINGS SNIPING TO THE DS
Fans may clamor for another sniping-filled Golgo 13 game or at least a return of Konami's Silent Scope, but the closest they'll come on the DS is Furyu's upcoming Last Bullet. Much of the game consists of choice-filled conversations detailing the life of college girl and part-time assassin Karin Hibiki, but her craft come to the fore as players control her aim through a sniper's scope on the lower DS screen. It's similar to Silent Scope's setup and the arcade Golgo 13 games, but unlike The Man with the Custom M-16 and the Voice of a Movie Star, Karin is apparently a fairly normal girl with an efficient, red-eyed murderer slumbering inside her. The moe-spattered artwork also suggests that Karin will be blushing and fighting skirt updrafts just as often as she's picking off rogue diplomats from three city blocks away. Still, the mixture of branching plots and touch-screen assassinations sets Last Bullet apart, and Furyu, a developer of many cell-phone games, is apparently trying hard to make their first DS title a standout. Perhaps Karin will discover that she's the illegitimate daughter of world-renowned assassin “Kolgo 14,” who's bound to have sired a few bastards in all his years of proficient, expressionless carnality.

STREET FIGHTER IV BETTER NOT HAVE ANY MORE CHARACTERS
I do believe that CAPCOM might finally be done announcing new and returning characters for Street Fighter IV. Really. See, here's the character-select screen, with all of the portraits filled in for the game's Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, due out in February.

Fei Long and Cammy have finally shown up, and CAPCOM added two more Alpha series characters: the scarf-swinging Rose and the multi-styled Gen (the latter of whom was technically around in the original Street Fighter, but no one counts that). I would have preferred Rolento, but he's more of a Final Fight character anyway. And yes, this is CAPCOM's way of admitting that Dee Jay and T. Hawk were the least popular choices in Super Street Fighter II.

REVIEW: NARUTO: CLASH OF NINJA REVOLUTION 2

Eighting's original Naruto: Clash of Ninja set a new standard on the GameCube back in 2003. Though it never approached a “serious” fighting game, it was far better than what anime fans expected in titles based on their favorite series. Clash of Ninja helped usher in a new sub-industry of surprisingly fun fighters drawn from popular anime like Zatch Bell, One Piece, Bleach, and, of course, more Naruto stories. Yet Clash of Ninja has been coasting for a while, and it's in need of new material. Clash of Ninja Revolution added the remote-swinging that everyone expects with a Wii fighter, but its sequel aims to entice fans by focusing on a fresh batch of Naruto characters.

Not that the story in Revolution 2 really matters. In the tradition of past anime-based games, the plot here is an apocryphal tale about an invasion of Hidden Leaf Village that conveniently sets up battles between Naruto characters and their brainwashed comrades. It's all tied up with the village's cover-ops Anbu ranks (who are essentially ninja among ninja), and they also provide some of the new characters. Anbu regular Yugao Uzuki makes her fighting-game debut in Revolution 2, while the all-new Anbu ninja Towa and Komachi put in masked appearances. The villains include the renegade ex-Anbu member Kagura and the weapons dealer Bando, and, like the heroes, they're all playable. Created deliberately to give the game something new for Naruto fans, the new cast members are as fully detailed as familiar Naruto faces, and they're often more fun to play. Yugao's quick and combo-friendly, and Bando pulls off a great Space Adventure Cobra reference with the huge two-piece cannon he carries.

When it comes to controlling these characters, several options arise. You can swing around a Wii remote and a nunchuck, shaking the remote to perform light attacks and following the on-screen motions during a character's special move. It's a bit awkward, as the nunchuck's joystick makes dashing difficult, and mapping a basic attack to the remote's motion ensures that you'll be shaking it constantlyduring a match. Fortunately, you can just pull out a Wii classic controller or a GameCube pad and play Revolution 2 as you would any older Naruto: Clash of Ninja fighter.

Even with more precise control, the Clash of Ninja series has never been an exact science. Characters bounce around the 3-D arenas, and it gets far too chaotic during 4-player matches to be any deeper than a Smash Bros. bout. But that's the fun of it. Revolution 2, like its predecessors, is a lightweight fighter, where mastering combos and holding your own in a tournament isn't half as appealing as simply pounding an enemy with Rock Lee's Hidden Lotus dive or ripping through a crowd of opponents with one of Yugao's graceful slices. It's at its best in multiplayer, where four characters can slam each other around, unleashing powerful blows and lining the ground with Revolution 2's new paper bombs.

Revolution 2 is not about gorgeous visuals, as it lags behind the anime-replicating quality of the Xbox 360's The Broken Bond or the PS3's Ultimate Ninja Storm. But that's only noticeable during the story mode's stiff conversations, and the game pulls of its battles with all the flash a Naruto fighter could possibly need. The soundtrack backs everything well, and the voices are all from the anime, with the new characters played just as ably as the reappearing cast. The dialogue might stir some groans at times, but it's never the actors' fault. Rather, it's the fault of superhero-comic lines like “Thanks for the assist.”

The Naruto fans who've held off on buying a Wii fighter will be well-served by Revolution 2, and the new ninja make it a slightly more worthy upgrade than the usual Naruto annual booster shot. Like previous Clash of Ninja titles, Revolution 2 is a puffball fighter that works best with three other players battling with and swearing at each other. This isn't a massive overhaul of the Clash of Ninja series, but at least it's headed in the right direction.

RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 11-16

ANIMAL CROSSING: CITY FOLK
(Nintendo, Wii, $49.99)
Much like the bustling community of Hello Kitty (see below), Animal Crossing's city is a friendly, foliage-heavy place full of adorable franchise characters like Tom Nook and Blathers and the muffin-baking Kiki. There's also a fortune-telling shop, an ATM, a theatre, and a museum where you can import everything you've collected in Animal Crossing: Wild World on the DS. The gameplay seldom strays from the pursuits of previous Animal Crossings: build and decorate a home, and stay on good terms with your animal friends. However, City Folk is first to use Nintendo's Wii Speak (sold separately, of course), which lets town-builders talk to each other as they visit the locales created by their friends. No, there's still no declaring war or imposing economic sanctions on rival towns. This isn't that sort of game.
Get Excited If: You couldn't care less about Kid Icarus or Punch-Out sequels just as long as there's a new Animal Crossing.

CASTLEVANIA: JUDGMENT
(Konami, Wii, $49.99)
I doubt that anyone will buy Judgment because they expect a good fighting game. They'll buy it because they like awful things, or because they like Castlevania too much to let even an ill-conceived 3-D fighter slip past. Judgment at least has something of interest to those devoted fans, as it features a cast of characters drawn from past Castlevanias, all of them redesigned by Takeshi Obata. This results in slender, gothic versions of Simon Belmont, Alucard, Dracula, Camilla, the disturbingly young Maria Renard, Castlevania: Bloodlines' Eric Lecarde, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia's Shanoa, the werewolf guy from the second widely hated Nintendo 64 Castlevania game, and Castlevania III's Grant DaNasty and Sypha Belnades, plus a few surprises and original Obata characters. The game drops two of these warriors into an arena, where they fight it out with a lot of flashy attacks and Wii remote-waving. There's online play, and the game links up with Ecclesia on the DS to unlock extras in both titles. Judgment might not be such a disgrace after all, though it's likely that the old-school Castlevania fans, stubborn as they are, will hate it regardless of quality.
Get Excited If: You like just about any Castlevania game. Even Legends.

DYNASTY WARRIORS 6
(KOEI, PS2, $29.99)
Question: do Dynasty Warriors fans actually keep each game in the series? Or do they trade them in for newer Dynasty Warriors titles, the way Madden fans sell the previous year's game for 65 cents when the latest one arrives? Perhaps followers of Dynasty Warriors can find reasons to hang on to past titles despite owning the sixth, which changed a few things about the series when it arrived on the PS3 and Xbox 360 earlier this year. The new Renbu system boosted a character's attacks as they killed foes in quick succession, effectively taking the place of regular combos. The PS3 and 360 versions also let the characters swim for the first time in the series, but that's been yanked from the PlayStation 2 version, which, of course, doesn't look as nice. However, it still lets you hack through hundreds of enemies with cathartic ease, and there lies the true appeal of Dynasty Warriors.
Get Excited If: You're not about to buy a new game system just for a Dynasty Warriors game.

HELLO KITTY: BIG CITY DREAMS
(Empire Entertainment, DS, $29.99)
Why did Hello Kitty take root in America decades ago when other Japanese imports like Noozles and The Littl' Bits vanished into the ether? Because Hello Kitty had the backing of a huge company like Sanrio and lots of merchandise to flood toy stores, I'd say. Hello Kitty also has that blank-slate quality that strikes a deeply invasive chord with kids and a lot of kawaii-toy connoisseurs. Big City Dreams is clearly for the youngest of Hello Kitty collectors, as it finds her meeting familiar Sanrio characters through both mini-games and her exploration of what is, I'm sure, a city free of any and all modern urban social problems. Even the normally hateful and abusive penguin Badtz-Maru is smiling on the game's cover. Something is amiss.
Get Excited If: You need a DS game as a present for a kid whose parents view Pokémon and Hamtaro as satanic.

THE LAST REMNANT
(Square Enix, Xbox 360, $59.99/$39.99 on Amazon)
With no Final Fantasy spectacle arriving this year, The Last Remnant is Square's major holiday release and an experiment in tailoring a Japanese RPG to be an international hit. The Last Remnant lands in Japan, Europe, and North America on November 20, and the game caters to occidental tastes with a less-whiny-than-usual hero and a title cobbled together from focus-group words. It's still a J-RPG in many ways, though, since the hero, Rush Sykes, is out to rescue his younger sister and learn just what his connection is to the white-haired, red-clad Conqueror whose forces are overrunning the world. That world includes a variety of races, from four-armed wolfish people to frog-men, though the most surprising party member is Emma Honeywell, a 41-year-old woman who's a general and, unlike the majority of female warriors in J-RPGs, actually dresses for combat. The battle system kicks out short, random encounters in favor of massive, strategic clashes where morale is key and dozens of warriors can take to the battlefield. Many of the game's designers hail from the often-derided SaGa series, so it's hard to say if The Last Remnant will truly be the mainstream success Square so obviously wants.
Get Excited If: You've wanted a Final Fantasy with full-scale battles and at least one sensibly attired female character.

LUMINOUS ARC 2
(Atlus, Ds, $39.99)
One could argue that Yasunori Mitsuda's slipped a bit in popularity. His soundtracks for Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, and Chrono Cross made him huge in the eyes of many RPG geeks by the start of this decade, but his recent music's been paired with lower-profile stuff like Deep Labyrinth and the first Luminous Arc. This doesn't make Mitsuda's compositions any less impressive, and they're put to good use in the second Luminous Arc. The story plops a newly magical knight in the center of a war between beasts, a kingdom, and a witch who doesn't cover up very much, and it all results in countless tactical battles in familiar strategy-RPG trappings, with online play against others. Outside of the battles, hero Roland chats with comrades to raise their stats, and he can even get “engaged” to witch allies, which apparently involves wedding gowns and lots of dewy-eyed romance instead of pacts with the devil and burnings at the stake. And for those of you in it just for the music, there's a soundtrack CD included.
Get Excited If: You were disappointed that Final Fantasy Tactics didn't let Ramza marry anyone.

METAL SLUG 7
(Ignition/SNK, DS, $29.99)
This may be the seventh main Metal Slug, but it's also SNK's fourth attempt at getting the series back to the heights reached by Metal Slug 3. The fourth, fifth, and sixth slugs were disappointments, though Metal Slug 6 wasn't doing so badly until it hit a really tedious stretch where you have to dig forever and ever and it's just so boring and….well, anyway, Metal Slug 7 puts the franchise's highly detailed visuals and cartoony style on the DS, where the transition has upset some critics and SNK fans who just can't get over the Neo Geo being dead. The playable characters all return from Metal Slug 6 (including Ralf and Clark from The King of Fighters and Ikari Warriors, with Leona still oddly absent), and the series adds a truck and a new robot to the assortment of Slug vehicles that characters can ride. Plus there's a combat school where you can take on various challenges and gradually win the heart of your instructor, Cynthia. Then you're both court-martialed for fraternization.
Get Excited If: You've played through every Metal Slug, and even a few Metal Slug knock-offs.

NARUTO: THE BROKEN BOND
(Ubisoft, Xbox 360, $59.99)
The Broken Bond is neck-and-neck with the PlayStation 3's Ultimate Ninja Storm for recreating high-end Naruto animation with 3-D visuals, but The Broken Bond proves a little more ambitious in gameplay. Instead of a straight fighter, it's an action title that has Naruto and his various ninja allies scurrying around towns and through forests, playing out scenes from Naruto V: The Search for Sasuke or whatever that part of the anime was called. The combat progresses like a fighting game, but with a greater focus on cinematic views and quick-time button jabs similar to those “press THIS button” challenges that cropped up in Resident Evil 4 and Shenmue. There's also an extra versus mode with over 25 Naruto characters. That's not quite as many as a full-blown Naruto fighter, but they're called extras for a reason.
Get Excited If: You prefer the Naruto games' versions of the story to the filler-laden anime.

RUNE FACTORY 2: A FANTASY HARVEST MOON
(Natsume, DS, $29.99)
I appreciate Rune Factory's bluntness in subtitles. This is indeed a fantasy Harvest Moon, transporting the daily work of a farmer's life into a medieval anime world where an empire was overthrown in the first game. For the second, a humble village boy is kicked off on a quest by the arrival of a strange girl on his doorstep. Said quest involves the usual dungeon-scouring and monster-fighting, but this is still a Harvest Moon game, so there's farming, mining, livestock-tending, and other chores to be done. The hero also marries halfway through the game, with the player then continuing as his son or daughter and forging a new path to farming superiority.
Get Excited If: You prefer a Harvest Moon that lets you kill imps and slimes.

SONIC UNLEASHED
(Sega, PS2/Wii, $39.99/$49.99)
BioWare's well-received Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood put the hedgehog in his most acclaimed game since the Genesis days, so it's only a matter of time until Sega ruins things with a horrible new Sonic title. Sonic Unleashed might not be it, though. The game returns Sonic to his 2-D source with side-scrolling stages that emphasize speed much like Sonic Rush did, and these throwbacks are interspersed with 3-D levels that look a bit more polished than the rear-view courses of past Sonic games. Then again, the game also has a day-to-night flow that turns Sonic into a werehog by the light of the moon, and there's a new sidekick, the fox-like Chip, for fans to drag through all sorts of art and fiction. What's more, the game's being delayed in Japan, but not in the U.S.
Get Excited If: You'll give any Sonic game a chance so long as there's no human princess around to kiss him.

EXTRA LIVES: SAILOR MOON

I never liked Sailor Moon. In the dark days of the mid-1990s, when any anime on TV was novel, I still thought Sailor Moon was awful and mocked my sister for enjoying it. And then I went off and watched Wicked City or Tenchi Muyo! while my sister and her friends sat around discussing how Sailor Mars incinerated someone in a scene so violent it was edited out of the American cartoon. I didn't even like Sailor Moon after I noticed that it was partly aimed at male fans, and that a lot of the Sailor Moon video games reflected this. I would never have been caught playing Banpresto's licensed arcade game if I had found it in a bowling alley or mall corner, but the nation's many Sailor Moon fans would've loved it.

Programmed by an obscure company called Gazelle, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is a beat-'em-up not very far removed from Final Fight or Double Dragon. Pick one of the five original Sailor Scouts, and she'll wander through a side-scrolling level full of ninja, demons, and usually female netherworld monstrosities. The backgrounds span junkyards and grimy streets (as though Gazelle was making another game that they quickly turned into Sailor Moon), but there's also familiar territory in schools, arcades, and other venues that recreate scenes from the series, or at least the style thereof. The level two boss is straight out of that episode where Molly's mother turned into a demon and tore up a jewelry store, and the fourth stage ends in a showdown with a harpy at Tokyo Tower.

To deal with all of this, there's a basic repertoire of punches, jumps kicks, dashing strikes, throws, and downward aerial moves. It's the same assortment found in just about any marginally good Final Fight rip, and it seems strangely limited for a group of superheroines with elemental attacks. You won't see Sailor Jupiter hurling lightning or Sailor Mercury launching tidal waves with destructive abandon, as their signature moves are limited to powerful, screen-wiping blows that call up some large animated portrait. These specials are available only after you've collected scarce crystalline power-ups, so it's rare that you'll actually get to watch all five versions of each character's super move. Instead, they'll mostly roundhouse kick and combo-punch their way through the levels, much like your typical street punk out to rescue his girlfriend from a rival gang.

Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is dragged down further by a wearisome assortment of enemies. You're hounded in each stage by a similar array of masked assassins, plant-women, ice demonesses, and capering, tennis-racquet-wielding elf-men, with the occasional harpy, hooded mobster, or head-throwing marionette popping up. Gazelle at least tries to compensate by throwing lots of them at you. Up to a dozen foes can swarm you at any given moment, and taking them out in groups becomes one of the game's few pleasures.

Yet there's very little to do but fight. Most beat-'em-ups allow you to destroy pieces of the scenery for power-ups or smack enemies around with improvised weapons, but there are no such distractions here. The game's also longer than the usual six-stage brawler, and it only makes the routine onslaughts of easily smacked-aside opponents all the more dull. Gazelle was formed by ex-employees of Toaplan, an arcade developer that created many acclaimed shooters, but their only brawler was the marginalized Knuckle Bash, made shortly before the company imploded. Perhaps Gazelle just wasn't up to the task.

Not that devoted Sailor Moon fans in America would have cared. They were willing to import overpriced Sailor Moon games for the PlayStation and Super Famicom, so they'd gladly have thrown money into an arcade cabinet just to see the completely non-existent ending of a Sailor Moon game. But did they? There's a European version of the game easily parsed by an English-speaking audience, and some websites hold that Sega brought out a U.S. version back in 1995, yet I can find no record of anyone playing it in a domestic arcade.

Making a Sailor Moon title at the height of its Japanese popularity didn't help Gazelle that much. Their only other notable game was a shooter called Air Gallet, and a few of their staffers moved on to Cave, another company of Toaplan ex-pats. Among them was Junya Inoue, manga artist and architect of Cave's utterly amazing ESPrade. He was a mere graphics artist on the Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon game, and there's little of Cave's style here.

Sailor Moon's heyday ended long ago in both Japan and the West, making it easy to examine its more disposable by-products. The Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon arcade brawler is one of them, a dreary, unsatisfying grind that would've commanded attention only when young fans were shelling out truckloads of money for Sailor Moon dolls and Sailor Moon dress-up wands and Sailor Moon playing cards and bootleg Sailor Moon soundtracks. The game missed out on an eager American audience, but that audience didn't miss very much.

Unlike many arcade brawlers of the 1990s, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon wasn't ported to any home console. Arcade kits aren't too common, and there are still plenty of Sailor Moon fans around to drive the price up. Of course, you can always resort to MAME and similar arcade emulators.


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