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Samurai Champs

by Todd Ciolek, Oct 20th 2010

It seems that I missed a few things by taking last week off. The most important might be the release of Sonic 4's first episode on all three systems.

This isn't just another Sonic release; this is Sega's actual Sonic 4, and as such it attempts to return Sonic to his glory days of 1994, before the failed Saturn sequels and the camera problems and the human princesses who wanted to kiss him. And, well, Sonic 4 is a lot like the original games. And some people are disappointed.

And there's the real problem with Sonic: he's a rock star who should've died from a heroin overdose back in 1995. Sonic was quite the punk rebel back in his day, when his fast-paced style lured kids away from the predictable, Beatles-ish safety of Mario. But Sonic couldn't keep it up. He's had successes like Sonic Rush, but he's attracted a fan base that doesn't really want him in any form: not the simple, straightforward approach of Sonic 4, but not the preposterous fantasy of 2006's Sonic the Hedgehog. They just want to be 12 years old and playing the Sega Genesis on a lazy summer afternoon, and Sonic can't give them that anymore.

NEWS

PROFFESOR LAYTON FIGHTS PHOENIX WRIGHT, ROUND ONE
Are crossovers a cheap way for game publishers to farm out their characters? I don't care if they are, because CAPCOM and Level-5 are doing Professor Layton X Ace Attorney for the Nintendo 3DS.

Another thing about crossovers: the companies involved don't even have to show much of the game to get people excited. For example, Professor Layton X Ace Attorney's first trailer just shows Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey running into Layton and his own assistant, Luke. Then a blonde girl watches a city burn.

The game is set in Labyrinth City, where the real world and an illusory one intertwine, and a mysterious “story teller” presides over it all. Both Layton and Phoenix Wright are at odds with the town: while Layton's solving puzzles, Phoenix comes to the defense of a woman accused of witchcraft. Cheap cash-in or not, an Ace Attorney handling of the Salem Witch Trials sounds amazing.

Level-5 also announced a 3DS version of their mobile-phone game Kyaba Joppi, or “Cabaret Girls.” Here players guide a young woman through the depressing world of hostess clubs, where she entertains all sorts of guests. The most interesting are the anime cameos: the heroine's club is frequented by Joe from Ashita no Joe, Kintaro from Salaryman Kintaro, Kaiji from Kaiji, Shinichi from Nodame Cantabile, Fukuzou from Warau Salesman, Hanma from Baki the Grappler, and Lupin and Fujiko from Lupin III.

Another Level-5 offering, Fantasy Life was confirmed for the 3DS after lingering in development for the DS over the past year. Artist Yoshitaka Amano is now attached to the fantasy-world simulation, along with composer Nobuo Uematsu. Level-5 has yet to elaborate on the gameplay, but more details should emerge. That's assuming that the game isn't delayed again and moved to Nintendo's time-traveling 4-DS in 2015.

NEW MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3 CHARACTES TAKE CHANCES
In other crossover news, Marvel vs. CAPCOM 3 gained four more characters in time for the New York Comic Con. Arthur from Ghosts N' Goblins and Nathan Spencer from Bionic Commando join the CAPCOM side, while M.O.D.O.K. and Magneto join the Marvel camp.

M.O.D.O.K. is the standout here, being a recurring Marvel villain who can control minds and generate force fields. More importantly, he's a giant head with tiny arms and legs, and that makes him an interesting prospect for a fighting game.

Nathan Spencer, on the other hand, is a strange and not entirely welcome inclusion. No one sensible would argue with a Bionic Commando character being in Marvel vs. CAPCOM, but why the star of the recent Bionic Commando that no one really liked all that much? At least he's guaranteed to play like no other character on the roster, thanks to his grappling arm.

PRINNY 2 PUSHES NEW BOUNDARIES, PERHAPS SHOULDN'T
January will be an historic month for the game industry, for it is then that Prinny 2 will become the first game released in North America with the word “panties” in its title. No, Panty Raider: From Here to Immaturity doesn't count. That was singular.

Prinny 2: Operation Panties, Dood! is a cute side-scroller starring a lineup of demon penguins. It just so happens that they're sent on a mission to recover their cruel master Etna's stolen underwear. I didn't expect NIS America to censor that particular detail, even though Erna looks unsettlingly young (a fact that makes her her creepier fans point out that she's really thousands of years old). I am, however, surprised that they mention the panty-based plot right in the subtitle. At least no one can say the game blindsided them with its purpose.

But perhaps the true purpose of Prinny 2 is to expand the action-platform mechanics of the first game. Players still get a horde of Prinnies to use as lead characters, and there's a new “Baby” level of difficulty for anyone who complained about the first game being difficult. It's reminiscent of the Ghosts 'N Goblins series, but perhaps Prinny 2 won't be quite as tough.

INTERVIEW: SENGOKU BASARA: SAMURAI HEROES

Many Japanese game franchises don't get a second chance to make it in North America. Some don't get any chance at all. But Sengoku Basara's getting a fresh start after Devil Kings, a Westernized fantasy revamp of the first Sengoku game, flopped in America and Europe. CAPCOM recently brought the latest in the series, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes, to the Wii and PlayStation 3 with all of its stylish feudal Japanese characters intact. The game also coincides with FUNimation's release of the Sengoku Basara anime series.

Will Sengoku Basara hit it big in the West? Why do women like the series so much in Japan? Will we see another P.N.03? We put these and other questions to producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi during the San Diego Comic Con.

Anime News Network: How did Sengoku Basara get started?

Hiroyuki Kobayashi: We wanted to make a game based on the Sengoku period in Japan. In Japan it's very popular to have movies and TV shows about the Sengoku period, but there weren't really many games. So we thought it'd be good to focus a game on that era.

What influence did the Devil May Cry series have on Sengoku Basara?

Certainly there's a little influence, since I worked on the first Devil May Cry. After that was completed, I had some time to sit back and thought that I'd really like to make another game similar to Devil May Cry. So, when I first started creating Sengoku Basara, Date Masamune was called “the blue Dante” by the development staff.

Were you involved with the release of Devil Kings for the U.S.? What did you think of that?

I was slightly involved, because at the time we were making the first Sengoku Basara, we felt that it was maybe “too Japanese” for the American public. In Japan, obviously the characters are well-known historical figures, but in America they were just crazy, wacky samurai and ninja. So we felt it was better to just make it into this completely different world, and that's how Devil Kings came about. Unfortunately, it didn't do as well as expected, so this time we thought we'd just go with the game as it was, and hope that people appreciate for what it is.

You've mentioned that Sengoku Basara has a large number of devoted female fans in Japan. Why do you think that is?

Well, at lot of the people who come to the events are women. But, in reality, most of the people who actually buy the games are men. But the reason for women liking Basara is probably the same reason there are female fans for Devil May Cry, where the main character, Dante, is very stylish, very cool. In Basara we've got all of these really hot guys, but unlike Devil May Cry, the difficulty level is not as high. DMC is very hardcore action, but Sengoku Basara is a little more accessible to the audience.

You previously mentioned that women are perhaps turning to the characters in these games because they find Japanese men disappointing.

I did say that Japanese men are not as dependable as women would like them to be, so maybe that's where the fantasy goes, into something like Sengoku Basara. Both in Sengoku Basara or Devil May Cry, we try to make the characters dependable and cool.

Which characters are the most popular?

Date Masamune is the most popular character across the board, without a doubt. But for women, they particularly like Mori, and men particularly like the giant robot, Honda.

Some game developers put in female characters because they think they'll be appealing to female players. Were you going for that with Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes?

Just the opposite, actually. We put in the two new female characters mostly to attract the male audience. We've got one who's kind of sexy, and one who's kind of cute. So it's not so much for the women.

Do you see a similar fan base, both male and female, embracing Sengoku Basara here in America?

In America, we think it'll be similar to Devil May Cry, where the majority of the fans were men and a smaller amount were women. In Japan, it's a little bit more balanced, but we took a look at the people playing at E3 and Comic-Con, and it's mostly men.

If Samurai Heroes does well, do you think some of the older Sengoku Basara games, like the 2-D fighter Sengoku Basara X, might come here?

We'll see how the sales go here and in Europe. The Sengoku Basara anime is also coming out at the same time as the game, so we'll take a look at the fan reaction to the anime as well. So the future of the series depends on that.

You worked on Dino Crisis, P.N.03, and Under the Skin in addition to Devil May Cry and Sengoku Basara. Would you ever want to return to one of those games?

Right now, I'm busy with Sengoku Basara and other projects. But if I had the time, I wouldn't mind going back to survival horror.

THIS WEEK'S RELEASES

BLAZING SOULS: ACCELATE
Developer:Idea Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99

Yes, that's Accelate. As far as I can tell, the word was invented by video games and German marketing companies, but today we're lucky when RPGs have any comprehensible terms in their proper-noun glossaries. Accelate is part of Idea Factory's increasingly translated Spectral Souls franchise, though one doesn't need previous grounding in the series to understand the game's premise: some powerful deity has decided that the human race just isn't being proactive enough in effecting its core connectivity as a team player, so mankind's getting downsized in favor of newcomers called Human Genomes.

This comes as a shock to the main character, a hunter named Zero (or maybe Zelos, which is what it says in the official Aksys trailer), and his gang of rogues, elf catgirls, angel boys, ninja-maids, gloomy martial artists with Deep Dark Pasts, and the other types of supporting character one sees in an Idea Factory RPG. The combat driving it all is strategy-RPG fare, with tiny characters unleashing Disgaea-style special attacks. The game promises the usual item-crafting and monster-raising, along with uncommonly interactive battlefields which can be altered by the player before skirmishes.

DRAGON BALL Z: TENKAICHI TAG TEAM
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Bandai
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $39.99

I feel sorry for the people who violently loathe Dragon Ball Z, because it's never going away now. You'll have to endure the constant reissues of the show, the people who remember it as the last anime they ever watched, the cries of little kids threatening to do a “kaio-ken times a million” on their friends in the toy aisles at Target, and, of course, the annual fighting games. So get ready for another round of those games, because the first Dragon Ball Z fighter arriving this season is Tenkaichi Tag Team.

The gameplay is similar to the Budokai Tenkaichi series, but Tag Team emphasizes its two-on-two battles in ad-hoc multiplayer. Naturally, there's also a lineup of single-player challenges and story-mode recreations of the finest moments from Dragon Ball Z's literary drama. One can't say the game skimps on characters, either: Tag Team has over 70 of them, including kid Gohan, the Androids, teenage Gohan, the Ginyu Force, adult Gohan, several forms of Buu, and, I assume, an elderly Gohan laying waste with his Super Saiyan cane, his Super Saiyan Lawrence Welk reruns, and his little plastic Super Saiyan daily pill container. It looks decent enough for a PSP fighter, even if there'll certainly be a Tenkaichi Tag Team 2 by this time next year. For now, though, this is a suitable apology to PSP owners for the Dragon Ball: Evolution fighter.

NARUTO SHIPPUDEN: ULTIMATE NINJA STORM 2
Developer: CyberConnect2
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $59.99

Ah, Naruto games, a comfort those who see no end in sight for these dark times facing the anime industry. After all, it can't be so bad if a franchise like Naruto is still popular enough to inspire new video games every few months. And Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is a sold enough brawler for those who still enjoy Naruto enough to actually buy those games. Sure, they may have seen most of the game's 44 playable characters before, but there's also a new crossover entry: Tekken 6's Lars Alexandersson.

We should've seen that one coming. Naruto creator Masashi Kishimoto designed Mr. Alexandersson's alternate outfit in Tekken 6, and now Lars is wearing that outfit in Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (I'd prefer to see Kuma, Jack or the Tekken anime's dinosaurs unleashed on the Naruto world, but Namco clearly thought otherwise). Guest stars aside, Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 shows CyberConnect2's dependable programming in a fast-paced fighting engine that once again ably recreates much of Naruto's trademark ninja puffery. There's also a new Drive Meter, though it's really just around to enable impressive multi-character attacks.

TIME CRISIS RAZING STORM
Developer:Namco
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1-8 (online)
MSRP: $49.99

My favorite gun game will probably always be Elemental Gearbolt, but until someone remakes it for a modern console, there's usually a new Time Crisis to play. Razing Storm headlines this latest collection, but Namco also threw in Time Crisis 4 and Deadstorm Pirates. Everything's nicely replicated from the arcade, and all three games are compatible with the PlayStation Move and its pistol attachment (which, let's face it, is the only proper way to play this sort of thing). Razing Storm branches out from previous Time Crises entries by letting players blow up just about anything they see on the screen, and the PS3 port includes a story mode that gives the game the feel of a first-person shooter, along with a plot to ridicule.

As for the rest of the collection, Time Crisis 4 is the arcade blaster, seen in its 2007 PS3 port and in movie theater lobbies across the nation. Deadstorm Pirates might be the most interesting part of this anthology: it rewards players for cooperating, and its arcade version featured a rumbling seat and a huge wheel controller. I doubt that either is included in that Razing Storm box, but Deadstorm Pirates remains interesting. As much as the Internet has beaten pirates into an insufferable cliché, I'm glad to see a light-gun game that's not about zombies or terrorists.

VANQUISH
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Players: 1-online
MSRP: $59.99

Vanquish is a sign of the times. It's no secret that Japanese developers are courting Western tastes more and more these days, and Vanquish takes great pains to hide its origins and imitate those macho American shooters that everyone's playing. Its tale of futuristic far finds a former football star named Sam Gideon running around in shape-changing armor while grizzled commanders yell MOVE MOVE MOVE, the only woman present barks at him through his headset, and gunfire explodes all around.

But Vanquish also tries to set itself apart: instead of ducking for cover and firing from behind columns and corners, Vanquish encourages players to move, dodge, and shoot constantly. The game's recovery system is forgiving, and Sam's cybernetic, Casshern-ish combat suit lets him dash and enjoy brief spurts of slow-motion invincibility. Of course, it's a sharp-looking game, with gleaming, bullet-riddled scenery and designs that belie only vague anime influences. It doesn't look unique enough to stand out from the Gears of War milieu, but Vanquish is clearly betting on its gameplay to do that.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

CRAFTING MAMA
Developer: Cooking Mama Limited
Publisher: Majesco
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99

Poor Cooking Mama. She hasn't been the same since Cooking Papa passed away. Now all she does is sit in her easy chair and sew things, always with that creepily huge smile on her face. In truth, Crafting Mama isn't just about sewing. Pottery, bead-stringing, papercraft, and other pursuits are explored in the 40 mini-games that make up Mama's new domestic endeavor. Each step involves some measure of rotating, rolling, tapping, or otherwise manipulating the DS stylus, and Mama's disappointment awaits anyone who botches her directions. If it sounds stupefyingly bland…well, that's what they said about the original Cooking Mama. And now here we are, with a third Cooking Mama out now and Babysitting Mama arriving next month. I'm not joking.

Z.H.P.: UNLOSING RANGER VS. DARKDEATH EVILMAN
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Sony PSP/PSN
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99

Aside from having a title I'll never tire of hearing, Z.H.P. is an interesting fusion of two genres: the cute strategy-RPGs of the Disgaea family and the rigidly challenging world of dungeon hacks, plus a sentai-show/Power Rangers flavor. The story, of course, is pure NIS parody: the titular Darkdeath kidnaps an infant destined to save the world, and his rival Unlosing Ranger is…well, hit by a car. But his abilities are bequeathed to a passerby who finds himself facing Darkdeath, with only a bunny-hatted sidekick and the former Ranger's ghost to help him.

The gameplay stitches together bizarre antics with dungeon-hackery: every level is fraught with traps, every weapon breaks after so many uses, and just about every action takes up some of our hero's energy. So our hero, who never says much of anything, has to stay stocked-up on treasures, armaments, and healing items. The Disgaea touch shines through, too: this new Ranger faces Darkdeath several times throughout the game, with each battle becoming some new homage to classic titles. Also intriguing is Z.H.P.'s use of post-traumatic stress disorder: if the hero's killed by an enemy, he'll be revived with a specific fear of that type of monster, making him more vulnerable to their attacks. That's either a horrible idea or an awesome one, and I'd like to see how Z.H.P. will play it.


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