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Kick of the Spider Woman

by Todd Ciolek, May 5th 2010

I've probably said before that I don't care for old-school RPGs in the vein of Dragon Quest. The level-grinding, the rudimentary combat systems, the barely existent storylines, the slow pacing, the random battles…they do nothing for me. So it's an exceptional achievement when an old-fashioned RPG doesn't drive me away.

The latest one to not instantly repel me is Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, an Xbox 360 original game built in the Dragon Quest mold of simple graphics and simple battles. In a stroke seemingly taken from the obscure RPG Last Armageddon, Breath of Death VII is set in a world of monsters and undead creatures, as they're all that's apparently left after the nuclear demise of the human race. The hero's a mute skeleton warrior, his first ally is a ghost researcher, and their recruits are all a bit more appealing than many big-budget RPG casts. It's also given a satirical bent, aimed less at the often-ridiculed constraints of RPGs and more at video games in general, from the expected Symphony of the Night mockeries to what looks like a Phantasy Star IV tribute.

Fortunately, Breath of Death VII is made with a modern touch for well-paced gameplay: the battles aren't too frequent, and the game doesn't lag when it comes to building a four-character party and wandering around. At six or so hours, it doesn't waste your time, either.

A review of Breath of Death VII is perhaps pointless, as it costs a whole dollar on XBox Live. That's less than many of today's arcade games demand for five minutes of riding a fake plastic jetski or fighting a vampire ninja, and it's a fair price for an enjoyable escape from the annoyances of many RPGs new and old.

NEWS

IVY THE KIWI DOES SOMETHING KIWI-LIKE ON ITS WAY TO AMERICA
I planned to put Prope's Ivy the Kiwi? in last month's roundup of import games, but I figured that it was guaranteed an American release. And Xseed proved me right by announcing Ivy the Kiwi?, question mark and all, for the Wii and Nintendo DS this summer.

Ivy the Kiwi? is the creation of Yuji Naka, who will forever be introduced as the co-creator of Sonic the Hedgehog. Yet Naka's done more than just Sonic games, and Ivy the Kiwi? is far from a slick hedgehog speedway. It's a side-scrolling action game starring a baby kiwi, whose journey back to its mother is guided by a player's plant-creating abilities. A whisk of the stylus creates up to three vines on the screen at once, and they serve as various methods of propulsion for the flightless bird. In other ways, it's a typical Naka game, with kiwi feathers to collect and enemies to non-violently defeat.

ARC RISE FANTASIA HAS A DUB, SUCH AS IT IS
I avoided talking about Arc Rise Fantasia's dub last week, as it's not terribly nice to condemn part of a game before it's even out. Yet I doubt that Ignition will re-record the voices before this thing hits the Wii in the summer. Unlike text translations, voice-work is rarely revised during development.

If Arc Rise Fantasia presents itself as a shiny modern RPG, the acting here hearkens back to the PlayStation era, when North American publishers had all sorts of voice-heavy Japanese RPGs and inadequate resources for dubbing them. Arc's localization recalls those of Grandia, Star Ocean: The Second Story, Xenogears, The Granstream Saga, and other RPGs that perhaps deserved better. So hey, it's not bad. It's nostalgic.

BADMAN 2 SHIPS, GETS NEW NAME
I'd like to know why someone complained about the title of Holy Invasion of Privacy, Badman!, NIS America's dungeon-making strategy game. Can it really stir legal problems when it doesn't mention Batman by name? That aside, the re-named sequel, What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord?! 2, is out today, and it delivers another round of digging, monster-raising, and trap-laying to protect an apparently defenseless evil overlord.

NIS America recently released the game as both a PSN download and a UMD, satisfying those who demand physical, disc-based media for their PSP games. Sure, they're paying $10 more for that version of What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord?! 2 (and the original game packed in), but collectors have paid far more for far dumber reasons. Trust me on that.

THE COLLECTIVE SUBCONSCIOUS OF 1988'S CHILDREN MAKES A GAME
A little flash game called Super Mario Crossover recently made its way through many online circles, and for good reason: it's the game every American kid wanted back in the heart of the Nintendo era. It's Super Mario Bros. as we all knew it on the NES, but with playable characters from most of the console's big franchises: Contra, Megaman, Metroid, Castlevania, and The Legend of Zelda (Ninja Gaiden is noticeably absent). Countless ROM hacks have covered similar territory, but Super Mario Crossover's elaborate tributes put it well above other efforts. It's well though-out, and all of the characters have unique attacks unlocked by grabbing mushrooms and fireflowers. Try it before Nintendo's lawyers get to it.

REVIEW: SUPER STREET FIGHTER IV

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Players: 1-2 (online)
MSRP: $39.99

Capcom's treading into dangerous territory with Super Street Fighter IV. Revisions and upgrades dulled the furor over Street Fighter II in the 1990s, with the “Super” version seen by many as the breaking point. So, after pulling off an excellent comeback with Street Fighter IV, Capcom tried to avoid the same mistake by making Super Street Fighter IV far more than a mild improvement. And Capcom succeeded. An upgrade it may be, but it's an amazing one that fixes, refines, and adds things at every angle.

Street Fighter IV was a return to tradition on Capcom's part. After 1997's Street Fighter III ditched most of the franchise's familiar characters, Capcom played it safe: Street Fighter IV was Street Fighter II for a new 3-D era, with the original twelve characters and time-honored 2-D gameplay powering a slickly cartoonish surface. Super removes very little and adds ten characters. Two are new, and eight are cherry-picked from the franchise's history: T. Hawk and Dee Jay from Super Street Fighter II, Adon from the original Street Fighter (and Alpha), Guy and Cody from Final Fight (and, uh, Alpha as well), and Dudley, Makoto, and Ibuki from Street Fighter III.

Of the two new faces, Hakan is the weirder one: a Turkish oil wrestler with pupil-less eyes, hair like a Katamari ball, and boundless, gregarious energy. He's a grappler, but with holds that often involve squeezing opponents until they rocket from his grip like oil-soaked hockey pucks. Juri's another great addition, as a Korean Tae Kwon Do expert whose wheeling, air-diving moves combine the arsenals of Jam Kuradoberi, B. Jenet, King, and Chae Lim. Better yet, she's bluntly evil. With her spidery costume and cruelly playful attitude, she's a cackling, fuming, and entirely refreshing change from Capcom's usual gamut of cheerful and steadfast women.

In fact, it's disappointing that Capcom's didn't opt for more new characters, though the returning cast are all well-realized in the same splashily animated style. New moves show up here and there, but they're all familiar territory to veteran players, and even lesser-liked faces are viable. Adon, Cody, and T. Hawk may be among the more forgettable combatants this side of Street Fighter EX 3, but they're unique and enjoyable to play. The original Street Fighter IV characters aren't changed to any great extent, though they get gameplay nudges and new animated story bookends.

Super Street Fighter IV halfheartedly addresses one of Street Fighter IV's biggest problems: a lack of interesting moves. Each character previously had one Super and one Ultra move, fueled by separate gauges. All fighters now have two Ultras apiece (or more, in Gen's case), though the game goes the Street Fighter III route and forces you to pick only one each time you start off with a character. It preserves the strategy of things, but there's some obvious preference in the Ultras. For example, it's hard to imagine anyone choosing Juri's power-up Ultra over her brutal ensnaring whirlwind kick. Super fixes another minor annoyance by having the entire roster unlocked from the start. And if you actually want to play through the game with everyone, you'll find new endings and a slightly easier version of Seth to battle. Slightly.

If Street Fighter IV's online play was adequate, Super's is exceptional. There's a variety of new features, including a well-developed replay mode. Also welcome is the option for online players to jump in when you're pounding through the single-player game, just like that time you spent an hour playing Street Fighter II at Putt-Putt Games and just made it to M. Bison, but then some 25-year-old guy with a beard and terrible B.O. popped in a quarter and beat you in thirty seconds with Vega. Then you kicked the machine so hard that it reset and they threw you out of the arcade, so you tossed all of your tokens into the goldfish pond in front of the Chinese restaurant next door and felt pretty stupid about it later that night. Your online experience in Super Street Fighter IV will be noticeably more pleasant.

In fact, the only thing really missing from Super is Street Fighter IV's opening theme, “The Next Door – Indestructible” by long-term boy band Exile. Few people really liked it when they first turned on Street Fighter IV, but it's since grown on the community, and Super doesn't feel the same with a generic techno-pop intro track. The voice acting has the same action-cartoon charm as it did in the original, with Jessica Strauss giving Juri a perfectly nasal purr while Adon sounds like a gruffer version of the Monarch from The Venture Bros., courtesy of Taliesin Jaff…er, T. Axelrod.

Super Street Fighter IV may not find a home with everyone who already owns Street Fighter IV, but by all rights it should. It's large enough to be considered a new game in its own right, it's fairly priced, and its few oversights are easy to forgive. Even if it doesn't have every character or every in-joke in the franchise's history, this is still the best that Street Fighter can be.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

LOST PLANET 2
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Players: 1-multiplayer (online)
MSRP: $59.99

I maintain that the best part of the original Lost Planet came when a woman named Luka was told that the hero's past “might create a rift between you two.” With a straight face and a serious voice, Luka responded “And it's FAST becoming a CANYON!” Lost Planet 2 shows no such poetry in its trailers, but this sequel's setting itself far apart from the first game. Lost Planet was a game of frigid wastelands where players had to constantly grab heat-generating power-ups. All of that's gone in the sequel, because the planet E.D.N III is now a well-forested world where freezing to death isn't a worry. Other pieces of the first game are still around and greatly improved: the enormous Vital Suit mecha are more varied, the customization is much deeper, and the multiplayer angle now lets up to four players tackle the story mode and the giant creatures lumbering around. Said story spans six different chapters (plus a bonus one that wraps up the first Lost Planet's plot), each focusing on a different character. All of them come together for the game's climax, though it's too much to hope they'll all yell their own unforgettable ripostes.
Get Excited If: You bought Lost Planet and then the Colonies edition.

3D DOT GAME HEROES
Developer: Silicon Studio
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1
MSRP: $39.99

In the growing subculture of retro-themed RPGs, 3D Dot Game Heroes reaches for a simpler, cozier era when everyone was ripping off The Legend of Zelda. Not that there aren't creative elements at play in the overhead viewpoint and basic sword-hackery of 3D Dot Game Heroes. For one thing, you're free to use any hero you can slap together with the game's pixel-like building blocks, complete with his or her or its own customized attacks and foibles. The game's world is also a broad, secret-filled place where you're free to uncover dungeons and slay enemies, forming a nice change from today's somewhat linear RPGs. It doesn't do that much beyond taking the Zelda template and rebuilding it with little polygon boxes and lots of mini-games (which are, of course, also patterned after classic titles), but that's the whole point of a nostalgia ride like this.
Get Excited If: You drew your own Zelda hero, NES-sprite-style, when you were a kid.

NARUTO SHIPPUDEN: ULTIMATE NINJA HEROES 3
Developer: CyberConnect2
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PSP
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $39.99

I'm a little disappointed that these Naruto fighters weren't released under the title Narutimate Heroes, as they're known in Japan. Narutimate gives off that perfect, totally-extreme-1990s air that fits Naruto all too well. But that's water under the bridge. CyberConnect2's Naruto fighters are decent games no matter what title Namco Bandai gives them, and they expand incrementally with each new edition. Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3, for example, doesn't shake up the franchise's 3-D gameplay much, but it has new multiplayer modes, including both four-player battles and three-player co-operation. The roster's at 50 characters, adding Obito Uchiha and a younger version of Kakashi, and the game's story follows the Shippuden arc for its main drag. It also spins off two substories created especially for this game and, in all likelihood, ignored by the Naruto fans who won't play Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3.
Get Excited If: You'd play as a Christmas-themed Kakashi if CyberConnect2 added him.


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