The X Button
Hyper Bullet Nostalgia

by Todd Ciolek, Apr 29th 2009

I've become a bit cynical about the merchandise that publishers give away with video games, but there's one type of bonus trinket I can't turn down: art books. I always like getting a look at the illustrations that went into a game's production, and such books are a lot more convenient than free t-shirts or action figures or body-pillow covers. Art books can inconspicuously slide into a bookcase instead of hanging unworn in the closet or lying in a junk drawer until you sell them on eBay for seventy-nine cents.

So I'm glad to see that Aksys and GameStop are offering a BlazBlue art collection with online pre-orders for the game, though I had to study the cover for a while before I realized that it shows BlazBlue character Noel Vermillion instead of art from some Korean Beatmania game. In BlazBlue's case, changing the look of the frequently generic characters might not be unwelcome.

NEWS

MURAMASA IS STILL COMING HERE, SO CALM DOWN
Game geeks can be a panicky bunch. Last week, XSEED Games announced that they were handing off Vanillaware's stunning Wii action-platformer Muramasa: The Demon Blade to another North American publisher. Some fans read about two words of that and shrieked that there'd be no U.S. release for Muramasa and also that the world hated 2-D games and therefore deserved to burn. Well, there's no reason to worry: the new publisher is Ignition Games, and the game's set for a September release. And now I have an excuse to post some more Muramasa screens.

Please don't suck, Muramasa. I know a lot of people enjoyed Vanillaware's action-RPG Odin Sphere, but I found it repetitive and clumsy. The demands are even higher when you're making a more straightforward action title like Muramasa.

IGNITION ALSO HAS TECMO'S NOSTALGIA
Tecmo announced Winds of Nostalgia in Japan last summer, and the RPG slowly drifted out of the public eye despite some promising names attached. Among them are mechanical designer Takuhito Kusanagi and director/artist Keita Amemiya, who created Tweeny Witches and the Iria/Zeiram franchise (which ties into this week's Extra Lives). It's also put together by Matrix (Avalon Code and the Final Fantasy DS remakes) under the supervision of Red Company staffers who've been behind major RPG titles like Sakura Wars and Tengai Makyo. Well, Ignition noticed all of that, and they have the game coming here as Nostalgia in September.

Many RPGs flirt with steampunk aesthetics, but Nostalgia devotedly burrows into an alternate 19th-century world of airships and gear-filled Victorian cities. The game initially tracks Eddie, a London kid who takes to the skies in search of his missing father, inadvertently recruiting the self-centered young witch Melody, the ponytail-sporting street punk Pad (who, in testament to the prevalence of absent parents, is looking for his mother), and a demure, magically gifted woman named Fiona. The characters are all rendered with the same big-headed polygon style that Matrix used in Avalon Code and Final Fantasy IV, and the game includes on-foot battles as well as clashes between Eddy's customizable airship, the Maverick, and flying enemies. Nostalgia's aerial combat has drawn comparisons to Sega's Skies of Arcadia, though one would hope Nostalgia's storyline and random battles aren't nearly as tedious.

ZONE OF THE ENDERS CLINGS TO LIFE
There are people out there who hang on Hideo Kojima's every word, and they all paid attention when the creator of Metal Gear Solid remarked last week that he'd like to make another Zone of the Enders game. He even suggested that fans write Konami to request it, which doubtless loosed a flood of requests for the next Zone of the Enders.

And there's a good reason for that. To recap, the first Zone of the Enders game was a brief, poorly glorified technical showcase that most people bought for the enclosed Metal Gear Solid 2 demo, and Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner was a much-improved and strangely under-printed mecha-action marvel with clever stage design and throwbacks to Konami icons like the Vic Viper of Gradius fame (pictured at right in phallocentric robot form). What of the Game Boy Advance spin-off, The Fist of Mars? It's a decent strategy title, but when people say they like Zone of the Enders, they mean Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner. While Kojima remarked that Zone of the Enders is waiting behind several other projects, it's also apparently a well-liked series at Konami, meaning that fans might just get another game full of Mars-Earth wars and sleek robots...sorry, Orbital Frames with huge, suggestively placed cockpits. Konami is never going to live down that design choice.

IN BRIEF: GUNSTAR HEROES ON XBLA, EDGEWORTH GAME IN THE U.S.
Much of the recent attention around XBox Live Arcade and the PLAYSTATION Network centers on CAPCOM bringing out Marvel vs. CAPCOM 2 this summer, but there's also word of Treasure's Gunstar Heroes coming to XBLA soon. This is less notable news when you consider that, unlike Marvel vs. CAPCOM 2, Gunstar Heroes is already available on the Wii's Virtual Console. Still, it'll have those achievements that the kids seem to care about, and, unlike Marvel vs. CAPCOM 2, playing Gunstar Heroes with others won't involve them slaughtering your team with Cable, Wolverine, and Sentinel's attacks if you dare to use any characters who aren't Cable, Wolverine, or Sentinel. Because Heaven forefend that you play the game for casual fun instead of making it a race to use the cheapest attacks possible. Not that I am bitter.

Remember when the title Ace Attorney Investigations showed up in trademark lists and everyone thought it referred to the Phoenix Wright spin-off starring Miles Edgeworth? Well, they were right. It comes out in the winter, and players can watch Detective Dick Gumshoe and key-wearing thief Kay Faraday (as she will be known in English, anyway) follow Edgeworth around adventure-game scenery as he shouts “Eureka!' in addition to the time-honored “Objection!”

WEIRD-ASS IMPORT ROUNDUP: APRIL

DISASTER REPORT 3
Developer: Irem
Publisher: Irem
Platform: PSP

The Zettai Zetsumei Toshi series isn't terribly strange, since its first game came to North America as Disaster Report and the second arrived as Raw Danger. The third one doesn't have a harrowing new English subtitle yet, though it has much the same premise as the last two: an earthquake leaves a Japanese city in ruins, and you've got to escape it in the most challengingly realistic way. It's survival horror done with disaster-movie flair, where a fire extinguisher or a crowbar proves more useful than an automatic shotgun. Under the player's direction, newcomer Naoki and musically inclined nursing student Saki gather survivors and emergency equipment while facing one narrow escape after another in the wreckage of the city. A stress meter keeps track of just how well the characters evade tragedy and just how nice they are to their fellow survivors, presumably affecting the ending. There's also a four-player mode that emphasizes cooperative rescues, though I'm sure you can screw over others by eating all of their carefully rationed wheat crackers.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Very, very good. So good that everyone's already calling it Disaster Report 3 (me, I just prefer typing that to Zettai Zetsumei Toshi). There's no word yet on the publisher and the possible Americanization it might undergo. It'd be hard to top Raw Danger, which accidentally changed just about every character's hair to blond.

LAST BULLET
Developer: FuRyu
Publisher: FuRyu
Platform: DS

Last Bullet's cover does little to set it apart from dozens of other adventure games full of blushing young girls, but take a close look and you'll see that those are rifle rounds floating about the heroine, Karin Hibiki. A student doing her best to get over unpleasant childhood memories involving parental deaths, Karin is roped into working as a sniper by a shadowy organization. Her mission briefings and everyday social life play out with standard character cutouts and dialogue, while the sniping scenes use the DS touch screen to steady Karin and pick off targets. The game does its best to mimic reality: wind rattles Karin's aim, her ammo is limited, and the DS microphone will apparently pick up sounds that could give away her position. Of course, this is a modern game by a developer versed mostly in cell-phone attractions, and Karin's sniping missions involve her changing into all sorts of outfits, with a magical-girl-anime getup apparently giving her the most grief. Just in case the game's target audience isn't apparent, early customers got a poster of Karin slipping on some sniper-issue socks. That aside, there's a good idea or two in Last Bullet, and it might tide over any sniping-game enthusiasts until that Golgo 13 game arrives on the DS this summer.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Not that great. Ignition brought out the half-adventure Lux-Pain, but that was backed by Marvelous. FuRyu has no such connections.

RHYTHM DE RUN RUN RUN
Developer: Alpha Unit
Publisher: Alpha Unit
Platform: DS

Rhythm De Run Run Run isn't the least bit shy about ripping off Nintendo's Rhythm Tengoku games, which recently came to North America with Rhythm Heaven for the DS. Rhythm De Run Run Run offers the recurring theme of running, but it's still a collection of mini-games interwoven with music-syncing gameplay. The footraces take on many forms, including a rapid gauntlet of samurai foes, a chalkboard-based chase between classmates, the hot pursuit of a truck-mounted toilet, and a track meet where the player's unfortunate character has to leap water pits and giant penguins while his opponents jump regular hurdles. The mini-games may be played by using only the microphone, and Alphaunit's official YouTube trailers make it plain that you can employ just about any noise-making device. Even a cat.

Then again, if you can get cats to meow on command (or do anything on command, really), you clearly have talents beyond the mundane, game-playing scope of humanity.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Good to excellent, depending on how well Rhythm Heaven ultimately does.

RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 5-3

MAGICIAN'S QUEST: MYSTERIOUS TIMES
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Platform: DS
MSRP: $29.99

The cover art should be enough to tell everyone that Magician's Quest is really Animal Crossing blended with some Harry Potter leftovers. Players design cute little avatars and send them off to a wizardry school full of humans and creatures who babble in the Animal Crossing dialect that sounds like it's from a helium-sucking dream sequence in Twin Peaks. There's a full town to go along with the campus, including a beach, a market, and all sorts of mini-games, plus online multiplayer. So what sets it apart? Well, you'll find a stealth-game haunted house, an increasing stockpile of magic spells to learn, and the promise of some mild relationship-building gameplay. So perhaps there's a little of Persona 3 and 4 in the game.
Get Excited if: You complain about Animal Crossing rehashes but buy them anyway.

PATAPON 2
Developer: SCE Japan Studio/Pyramid
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PSP
MSRP: $19.99

The original Patapon is a unique pleasure: a strategy game where little hieroglyphic-anime creatures march into side-view battles while their master, the player, jabbed buttons in time with the game's music. This amalgamation of ideas worked shockingly well, so Patapon 2 uses the same approach, enhancing the original instead of remaking it. The sequel emphasizes cooperative multiplayer campaigns, something that the original lacked entirely, and adds three new combat Patapon types and a customizable Hero Patapon…a Heropon. There, I said it. Sony will make Patapon 2 the first PSP game released in North America only as a downloadable title on the PLAYSTATION Network, though you'll still be able to pick up an in-store voucher for it, just in case you're a lunatic who has to have some physical proof of every game you own.
Get Excited if: You've longed to set your adorable Patapon legions to pillaging and decimating friends.

EXTRA LIVES: HYPER IRIA

Iria - Zeiram the Animation is a relic of 1990s anime. A six-part OVA series based on a live-action monster film, Iria aired on the Sci Fi Channel, inspired an UltraCity 6060 episode, drew in some fans, and was largely forgotten by the time a new decade rolled around. It wasn't much of a series, but it had some memorable settings, character designs by Masakazu Katsura, and all sorts of cool weapons. In other words, it might have been better off as a video game. Banpresto put that idea to the test with Hyper Iria, released on the Super Famicom in 1995.

It's best to approach Iria - Zeiram the Animation's story as an excuse for a cute bounty hunter and her gun collection to chase a silent, hideous, wide-hatted monster across a solar system or two, and that's what Hyper Iria does. Apparently set after the events of the anime series, the game sees Ir>ia hunting Zei>ram and his various spawn across five stages and change, helped by the computerized spirit of her formerly human friend Bob. There's a cameo by her semi-rival Fujikuro, though her sidekick Kei is curiously absent.

Hyper Iria recreates the mechanized laboratories and tropical cities of the anime as side-scrolling mazes, with Bob guiding Ir>ia to various bosses and plot points. On her way there, she faces all sorts of robotic sentries, laser turrets, giant insects, and clumping remnants of Zei>ram him/her/itself. Most of the enemies, bosses included, are relatively dumb as 16-bit villains go, and so it's up to the stages themselves to wear Ir>ia down. The true challenge lies in finding the right path with enough health to survive the level-ending battle.

Banpresto was clearly determined not to waste one of the Iria OVA's best features: the weapons. Hyper Iria gives players access to just about every implement of destruction Ir>ia used in the anime, including her stubby Blade Runner pistol, her talisman-festooned rifle, her helicopter-seed bombs, and many other types of mines and grenades. Ir>ia's also well-equipped beyond her weaponry, as she can dash, punch and kick in various combinations, from a sliding strike to a linebacker-style charging attack. In the same store that sells all of her weapons, she'll also find high-jump boots and her fan-like steel cape, the latter of which lets her glide through the air. It's a shame that Ir>ia can take only three guns and three other power-ups into battle, though stockpiling weapons would've made the game too easy.

Hyper Iria's massive arsenal is a fair exchange for the game's somewhat stiff controls. For all of her dashing, flipping, double-jumping exuberance, Iri>a can't evade attacks all that easily, and the enemies are always positioned to get in plenty of cheap hits. Hyper Iria requires you to take it slow, and that makes the game's frequently repetitive enemy lineups a bit grating. At least it offers the occasional shooter level, wherein Ir>ia flies her umbrella-like glider through simple phalanxes of mecha.

Hyper Iria looks and sounds plain at first. The soundtrack never gets memorable, the colors are muted, and the level backgrounds don't impress beyond the panoramas in the flying scenes. Take a closer look, though, and you'll notice some nice animation, from the curling steam in the factories to the way Ir>ia's hair and chest bounce every time she fires a gun. Masakazu Katsura would surely have approved of such detail.

Compared to Super Metroid and other great maze-oriented action games from the Super NES era, Hyper Iria isn't a standout. Compared to the average anime-based game, however, it's amazingly well-designed and enjoyable, if a little short. No one really noticed it in the game-filled clusterf*ck of 1995, but it's since risen to the upper tier of lesser-known Super Famicom games. Banpresto even returned to Iria in 1998 with Zeiram Zone, a strange 3-D action title for the PlayStation. Yet Hyper Iria ranks above it and perhaps above everything else that's featured Iria and Zeiram. Sometimes video games are the answer.

Hyper Iria is somewhat rare among Super Famicom imports, with a cartridge running $30 or so. Maybe that's due to sellers instinctively jacking up prices on any title with an anime-like female character on its cover. Or maybe people actually want the game.


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