The X Button Fighters History
by Todd Ciolek,
Last week I recommended that all of you buy Garou: Mark of the Wolves on Xbox Live. This week I may owe some of you an apology. See, Garou is still an excellent fighting game, but the online play, the main reason to buy the game on Xbox Live, is noticeably lacking. The interface uses only simple, one-on-one matchups instead of a lobby, and you're basically screwed if you don't have a good connection. So, uh, sorry about that.
I'm now hesitant to recommend The King of Fighters '98 Ultimate Match without reservation. It's showing up on Xbox Live Arcade this Wednesday, and, like Garou: Mark of the Wolves, it's a great fighting game (I said as much when I reviewed the PlayStation 2 version months ago). Unfortunately, it's going to lose a lot if the online versus mode isn't solid, and so I must abstain from telling people to go and buy it until I've played it. Because I know you all hang on my every suggestion.
I'll make up for this by sitting here and playing Garou online while you all go off to Anime Expo this weekend and meet Daisuke Ishiwatari and Toshimichi Mori of Arc System Works. Be sure to pelt them with questions about Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, Queen songs, cross-dressing nuns, and an obscure PlayStation brawler called Crisis Beat. You'll make me proud.
HOLY INVASION OF PRIVACY, BADMAN! GOES DOWNLOAD-ONLY
NIS America's upcoming Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do to Deserve This? will inevitably get attention for its title, but beneath that lies a really inventive game, a strategic dungeon-designer where you lay out underground warrens to vex the good-hearted heroes hunting down a evil overlord. While digging out these mazes, your character positions monsters, from easily generated, low-HP slimes to beasts that require more complex recipes. NISA also filters the game through a humorous localization, mocking all sorts of fantasy clichés.
Badman is also joining the recent spike of PSP games sold only as PlayStation Network downloads. Pointing to the success of the game's PSN demo, NIS America decided to sell Badman as a strictly online title when it comes out July 16. Like the similarly download-only Patapon 2, Badman will be $20. This may well rob Western gamers of a box that reads Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman! What Did I Do to Deserve This?, but it's a less risky way for publishers to put out niche titles like this.
Speaking of downloadable NIS America games, Mana Khemia: Student Alliance for the PSP was criticized by many (including me) for its sluggish pace and load times. Perhaps that's why the game is headed to the Hong Kong PlayStation Network as a downloadable title, presumably with better loading. It remains to be seen if NIS America will bring it to the domestic PSN.
TOSHINDEN'S MAGNIFICENT COMEBACK STILL UNDERWAY
That new Toshinden game still lives. It's laid low for months, but Siliconera reports that the 3-D fighter is in development with Dream Factory, the studio that once became a critical darling for Tobal No. 1 and the amazing Tobal 2. Then they cranked out a long chain of disappointing fighters and brawlers, including Ehrgeiz, Crimson Tears, Appleseed EX, and The Bouncer. Perhaps Dream Factory will return to proper form with this new Toshinden, though all they have to show at the moment is another helping of character designs, one of which looks a lot like Guilty Gear's Ky Kiske.
Another interesting detail: this new Toshinden isn't just a game. The manga anthology Dengeki Maoh recently started up a Toshinden series, and there's a preview on Dengeki's website. It looks…well, it looks better than the Toshinden anime. I'll give it that.
DETAILS EMERGE ON NEW TINGLE GAME
Fans of Tingle, the capering man-child sidekick of several The Legend of Zelda games, will no doubt be delighted at the details of another DS game starring the aspiring pixie, or whatever he is. The rest of us will just stare at Irozuki Tingle no Koi no Balloon Trip (“Sexy Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love”), a DS adventure game in which Tingle seeks the woman of his dreams, often finding failure and arrest records in the process. Conversations apparently play a big role in the game, though it could just as easily be an action-RPG similar to the last Tingle-centric game, Freshly Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland (I never tire of typing that title). It was never released in North America, and Tingle's new dating simulator might meet the same fate.
To promote Tingle's latest, Nintendo released the Too Much Tingle Pack (right), a collection of Tingle-themed mini-games on the DSiWare service. Well, they're not games so much as they're tools for telling fortunes, tracking time, calculating sums, flipping coins, and decorating DSi photos with dancing Tingle puppets.
IN BRIEF: A SQUARE ENIX TEASER, SUIKODEN TRADEMARKED AGAIN, AND AGAREST SENKI IN EUROPE, LAST REMNANT's FUTURE IN DOUBT
Here's yet another Square Enix teaser site for a new game. You know the drill: watch the counter and check recently registered trademarks for likely suspects. The front-runner so far is Four Warriors of Light, which was filed in Japan at the start of this month. Keep visiting the site, or at least watch Japanese game magazines, which sometimes beat Square Enix's countdown timers to the punch.
Speaking of trademarks, Konami re-established the “Genso Suikoden” title in the USA, a move that could hit at another Suikoden game, a re-issue of the first two games on PSP, or just a precautionary measure to keep another company away from the Suikoden name. Don't get your hopes up.
Agarest Senki for the PlayStation 3 has no North American release date yet, but if you really, really want to play Idea Factory's dating-RPG for the PlayStation 3, you can always import an English version from Europe. The game, in which a hero named Leonhart fights combo-heavy battles and sires new heroes by hooking up with various heroines, streets in the United Kingdom on August 21.
Just to end the news on a downer, Square Enix's The Last Remnant is looking less and less like it'll hit the PlayStation 3. Originally planned as a multiplatform release, Akitoshi Kawazu's strange big-budget RPG has only arrived on the PC and Xbox 360 so far. Despite its attempts to appeal to Western RPG fans, The Last Remnant wasn't a major success critically or commercially (I was planning to review it here, but I honestly lost interest when the game killed its best character and gave you a mostly identical gameplay replacement). Square Enix might just be moving on without porting the game to the PS3, if remarks by CEO Yoichi Wada are any indication.
REVIEW: RAIDEN FIGHTERS ACES
Developer: Seibu Kaihatsu/Guilti/Success
Publisher: Valcon Games
Platform: Xbox 360
Raiden's day in the sun is long over. The original 1990 game and its sequel were among the few vertical shooters to find mainstream success after Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat conquered the arcades for most of the decade, but Raiden lost its meager hold somewhere around Raiden DX in 1995. A properly named Raiden III didn't emerge until ten years later, and it was disappointing in every way. Somewhere between Raiden II and III, Seibu Kaihatsu introduced the Raiden Fighters trilogy, making a few improvements to the Raiden formula and, unfortunately, failing to catch much attention. Home versions of the Fighters titles were no-shows for a long while, but they turned up in a compilation for the Xbox 360 last year and, shockingly, a North American publisher released it here.
Raiden and its sequels never screwed around with the basic shooter idea, leaving Raiden Fighters, Raiden Fighters 2, and Raiden Fighters Jet all pretty approachable. Your ship, chosen from at least a half-dozen diverse models, has forward-firing attacks, bombs, and up to two pawn ships (or dragons) that shadow your main craft. Many of the ships have default gunfire in two forms, switched by grabbing power-ups, and holding down the firing button powers up a special burst of missiles, lasers, or spinning aerial mines (or dragon's breath). There's also a selection of point-boosting medals to grab while you're ripping through flying fortresses and shredding armored supply trains. Simple, no?
The appeal of Raiden Fighters lies not so much in the somewhat routine levels as it does in the lineup of ships you've got. The first Fighters introduces seven jets, including those from Raiden II and the easily ignored Raiden spin-off Viper Phase I, and each of them has a unique attack. The default five ships have two types of shot each (while the guest-star fighters have only one), and they vary in speed and size. Some are quick, laser-spewing wonders, some are slower bombers, and at least one can shoot down enemy bullets.
The selection grows in Raiden Fighters 2 and Jet, which expand to over a dozen selectable ships. Raiden Fighters 2 also adds team-up attacks for its two-player mode, wherein the players' two fighters can charge up shots together and unleash powerful new strikes in bizarre, destructive aero-coitus. Even when going it solo, the variety is refreshing, as you can switch to a new ship every time you continue. If you want to play the game like the older Raidens, pick the Raiden Mk-II and its knotty purple homing laser. If you want a screen-sweeper, try the Hell Diver. If you're an old Raiden fan who remembers the dragon bonuses hidden in the game, you can even play that dragon, Miclus, complete with fairy pawn-ships and fire breath.
All of the selectable planes conveniently distract from a flaw common to all three Raiden Fighters games: they're not much for looks. Raiden, Raiden II, and Raiden DX shared a futuristic style that was cool to junior-high arcade rats in 1992, but the Fighters series trades that in for an aesthetic that hovers somewhere around World War II technology. While there's nothing deficient about the visual quality, the designs fail to impress. You'll see generic planes, flat tanks, and far too many uses of the same boring cannon turret. Even the bosses are mostly standard-issue. The soundtrack, while appropriate, isn't terribly memorable either.
Yet aesthetic appeal really doesn't matter to the dedicated shooter fan, and that fan will find a lot to like in each Raiden Fighters. The stages, drab as they are, provide lots of bullet-dodging, point-building opportunities, and testing each ship is half the fun. For the player with only a passing interest in shooters, there's still great pleasure in running through the game while experimenting with the fighter lineup. Raiden Fighters Aces also refuses to let you walk completely over it, and it uses a method straight from the ports of Psikyo games like Gunbird 2. Each Fighters is an arcade game, but you can only credit-feed it up to the last stage. From that point on, you have finish it on one continue or you're booted back to the final level's start. I prefer the continue-earning feature that Treasure used in Ikaruga (where each hour played gave you another credit), but Raiden Fighters Aces still provides some much-needed difficulty.
Just as the wide array of ships elevates the Raiden Fighters series, a spread of extra options enhances the entire package. For the serious player, there are high-score boards online, plus the option to post replays of your own bullet-evading prowess. There's also a bevy of display choices, including more scanline tweaking than I ever thought possible. About the only thing missing is an option to play a two-player game with one controller, using one analog stick and two shoulder buttons for each craft. It was the only good thing about Raiden III, and it would've been great fun in a Fighters game.
The Raiden Fighters series wouldn't be my first choice for a home port among arcade shooters (that spot still goes to ESPra.de or ESP Galuda II), but I can't fault Valcon Games for picking it up. Despite a bland appearance, each game is a solid, replayable challenge for both the genre devotee and the curious Xbox 360 owner who hasn't touched a shooter since Raiden II at a Wal-Mart fifteen years ago. It's especially easy to recommend Raiden Fighters Aces at its $20 price tag. Even if it's not the best of its genre, the trilogy is fast, cheap, and hard to turn away.
RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 7-5
BIT. TRIP CORE
Yes, next week is a slow one for games, sending me into the treacherous territory of things that weren't made in Japan. Shocking, I know. But hey, Gaijin Games has a Japanese word in their name, right? The developer's Bit. Trip Beat was hardly the first game to make rhythmic action out of deliberately simple looks and bleeping chiptune tracks, but it did it remarkably well, playing out like a musical, one-paddle round of Pong. Arriving a few months later, Bit. Trip Core approaches the same idea by planting a crosspad in the middle of the screen. Each tab on the Wii remote's d-pad fires a burst of laser in one of the four cardinal directions, and zapping a procession of dots, lines, and zigzags creates a tuneful array of notes. It's the sort of simple game that excels on WiiWare, and it's accomplished with the sort of basic sprites and techno-CG backdrops that made Rez so entrancing.
TALES OF MONKEY ISLAND, EPISODE 1|
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
MSRP: $34.95 for all five episodes on PC, TBA on WiiWare
Telltale bit off quite a lot by making another game in the Monkey Island series. Not that the developer didn't do a good job with Sam and Max, another comedic adventure-game series made famous by LucasArts, but the Monkey Island franchise is both more popular and more delicate. The last game in the series was easily the weakest, and you can hear all about it by mentioning Escape from Monkey Island to any Monkey Island fan. Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, the first episode of Tales of Monkey Island, is set a few years after Escape, and it finds oft-bumbling pirate Guybrush Threepwood fighting back an outbreak of zombies on local isles. It's an adventure game like the Monkey Islands before: you move Guybrush around, you talk to people, you examine things, and you combine and use items in puzzles. Yet it's the writing that really sets a good adventure game apart, and I hope Tales has what it takes. It's already hit a little setback with its visual design, which looks like a mix of stiff 1997 computer graphics and an old Rankin-Bass cartoon.
Further proof that the DS market is a niche-game paradise: a developer actually made a Violence Jack title, and a publisher brought it to North America. While it may owe its existence to Ryuhei Kitamura's upcoming live-action Violence Jack movie, Seta's DS game is based largely on Go Nagai's groundbreaking manga and the critically acclaimed OVA series it inspired. A beat-'em-up in the tradition of Guardian Heroes and Final Fight, Violence Jack sends its murderous, wild-haired hero and his usually short-lived allies through a biker gang showdown, a vicious slum, and an earthquake-buried city. The graphics match the quality of the best Super NES and Sega Genesis brawlers, and the game occasionally breaks out video clips from the anime, showing off plenty of surreal carnage and other horrors. There's even a four-player versus mode that features every character from the regular game, and, one would hope, a few of Nagai's more famous creations.
EXTRA LIVES: ORGUSS
Super Dimension Century Orguss is the modestly successful middle child of Big West's three Super Dimension 1980s anime series. It didn't have the enduring reach of Super Dimension Fortress Macross and, unlike its siblings, it didn't get adapted into the Robotech trilogy, but Orguss was popular enough to finish its TV run. In comparison, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross got canceled and, according to my research, didn't inspire any video games.
Orguss, however, got a simple shooter on the SG-1000, Sega's series of Japanese console-computer hybrids that only came to North America as the Sega Master System. Much like Sega's Golgo 13 game on the same hardware, their take on Orguss plays it simple: you're flying over land, sea, and enemy fortresses while shooting primitively rendered enemy mecha and anything else that pops up. The Orguss itself, which some American kids owned as a toy in the 1980s without realizing its heritage, can transform from a jet fighter into a mecha during flight, and it's perhaps the only on-screen icon that looks interesting. Toys must be sold, after all.
Both the jet and robot forms of the Orguss fire the same tiny shots, but there's a difference in their play styles. The robot Orguss can hover around most of the screen and fire somewhat rapidly when the attack button is held down. The fighter Orguss requires button-slamming to fire continuously, and it can't get too close to the ground. However, it moves the screen forward much faster than the mecha does, and that's very important.
Enemies routinely pop up to snipe at the Orguss, but the true foe is each level's time limit. While there are checkpoints from which you can continue after getting shot down, the timer never resets, and you're pretty much screwed if you spend too much time in robot form. Even as a jet, you'll likely reach the end of a level with seconds to spare as you unload on a small enemy base. Then it's on to the next stage, which will be much like the stage before it, except with a few new hazards.
Orguss isn't terrible for its day, but it's still a relic of a primitive era, when simple, reflex-based shooters and maze runs dominated the industry. Only the classics of that era are worth visiting today, and Sega's Orguss game doesn't really qualify. It lacks a real soundtrack, variety, or any anime-emulating details. There are no proto-moe android girls, no women with squid tentacles in their hair, no wacky dragon-aliens, and no songs about gypsies and when exactly you're coming home.
As an anime series, Super Dimension Century Orguss is a good watch for Macross fans, with solid designs and some really ridiculous names (and a hilariously terrible dub from early Animaze regulars). Sega's game is, at best, a minute's worth of enjoyment. Some SG-1000 games went on to become popular titles on the Sega Master System. Orguss was not picked for this honor, and North America missed nothing.
Orguss isn't easy to find, running around $30 when it shows up. It's not worth the effort unless you're building a library of every SG-1000 game. In that case, you'll find it merits playing once, just to make sure the cartridge works.
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