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The Third Dimension

by Todd Ciolek, Mar 23rd 2011

Last week, I mentioned several game-related fundraisers that will aid victims of the Japan earthquake, and another such effort arose recently. It's called Play for Japan, and it features all sorts of rare items, many of them signed by game-industry figures. If you've ever wanted a copy of Super Mario Kart that Shigeru Miyamoto doodled all over, there's no better time to get it.

NEWS

GUN LOCO CANCELED
Many expected Square Enix to delay Gun Loco for the Xbox 360. We didn't really expect Square Enix to cancel it outright. That's what happened, though; the odd run-and-gun game, focusing on multiplayer matches on a planet of crazed convicts, is now off the schedule entirely.

One could point to the recent Japan earthquake that prompted Irem to drop their upcoming survival-adventure game, Disaster Report 4. Gun Loco was set in half-destroyed cities swarming with murderous prisoners, so perhaps Square Enix deemed it an impolitic venture. Or maybe it was just an unprofitable one. Gun Loco didn't generate much excitement when it was shown to the public, though it had some intriguing points. The idea of a parkour-style shooter was novel, and the characters had a unique look, being Brothersworker action figures that were scanned and modeled into the graphics engine. It was an original game from a company that relies on tested franchises too often, and it's a shame to see that go.

Farewell, Mifune. May your creepy plastic-rabbit gaze haunt someone's nightmares. That's the only way Gun Loco will live on.

ROCKET SLIME 3 ANNOUNCED FOR 3DS
Slime Mori Mori Dragon Quest made a daring move in focusing action-RPG play around the Dragon Quest slime, a smiling little creature that has no arms, legs, or head. Yet the whole idea worked surprisingly well, and the second game, released here as Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime (below), certainly has fans. They'll be glad to know that Rocket Slime 3 is headed for the 3DS.

Slime Mori Mori Dragon Quest 3: The Great Pirate Ship and Tails Troupe, as it's known in Japan, sends its blue slime hero on an ocean journey. Over the course of the game, players can customize a sailing vessel and take on rival ships. It also supports the Streetpass feature of the 3DS, though Square Enix hasn't announced if players will be trading items or waging slime-based warfare.

The third Rocket Slime has no release date yet. At any rate, the 3DS is turning into the system of long-denied fan dreams. First there was Megaman Legends 3, and now it's getting Rocket Slime 3. I await Strider 3, Chrono Trigger 3, Tomba 3, Guilty Gear 3, Lufia 3, and Trouble Shooter 3.

WIZARDRY COMES HOME AGAIN
Wizardry has a special place in Japan's RPG scene. While it's an American-born series, the Wizardry line proved popular in Japanese circles throughout the 1980s, inspiring the first cases of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. It wasn't long before Japanese developers made their own Wizardry spin-offs, and there's even a Wizardry anime OVA lurking in the obscure depths of 1991. And just to bring it back around, Wizardry co-creator Robert Woodhead later helped start AnimEigo.

Another piece of this great circle of nerdery fell into place this week when Xseed Games revealed plans to bring an English version of Acquire's Wizardry: Labyrinth of the Lost Souls to the PLAYSTATION Network. Released in Japan in 2009, the game sticks to the dungeon-hack approach of classic Wizardry, with a distinct anime look to the art. No matter its inspiration, it's still a Japanese game.

LEGEND OF MANA NOW ON PLAYSTATION NETWORK
Well, Square Enix is no longer lagging when it comes to the North American PLAYSTATION Network. They haven't released Einhander or Ehrgeiz or any Japan-exclusive games from their PlayStation days, but they're bringing out a more familiar title every few weeks. This time, it's Legend of Mana.

Legend of Mana isn't an awful game. It's just a disappointing one that flies in the face of what many Mana fans want: a cohesive, story-driven action-RPG in the vein of Secret of Mana. In contrast, Legend is a fragmented tale where players shape a world and explore various intertwined plot threads. Perhaps that's not so much a problem as the battle system, which is greatly simplified compared to previous Mana games. Downfall of the Mana series or not, it's out on the PLAYSTATION Network right now, and it's only six dollars.

IN BRIEF: DEVIL SURVIVOR 2, ATELIER MERURU ANNOUNCED
Devil Survivor just became yet another sub-series in the Shin Megami Tensei line. While the original strategy-RPG Devil Survivor heads to the 3DS in an Overclocked edition, Atlus has Devil Survivor 2 in development for the regular DS. The first news about the game concerns the characters. The lead, named by the player, stumbles into devil-related society while returning home one night, and he's joined by two classmates: the jokester Daichi and the seemingly perfect honor student Io. The game adopts the game grid-based strategy of the first Devil Survivor, with a new system for tracking the storyline. It's due out in Japan this summer.

Speaking of series within series, Gust announced another Atelier game, the last in a trilogy related to the fantasy realm of Arland. Atelier Meruru features a new title heroine as well as those of the two previous games: Atelier Totori's lead is older and teaching current heroine Meruru, but Atelier Rorona's alchemist is, for some reason, now a little girl. Atelier Meruru features a revamped battle system with a shifting turn order, and the franchise's typical alchemic item-making is in full effect. It arrives in Japan this June, possibly with a different transliteration. Will it become Atelier Merle? Atelier Mell? Atelier Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders?

FEATURE: THE 3DS LAUNCH

New game systems often aren't about the actual games. When the 3DS arrives on March 27, most of its early adopters will be putting down their $249.99 to see what it's like to play something in glasses-free 3-D. The game is just a means to an end.

This isn't a new trend. After all, when did a game console last launch with a real system-seller, an impressive title that earned critical plaudits and held up over time? Was it the Xbox and Halo? The Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64? Or the PSP and the fortunate accident of Lumines? It's been far too long since a launch title really amazed us, and the 3DS won't break the chain. The system's most interesting points are built in: the gyroscope, the accelerometer, the analog pad, and, above all else, the autostereoscopic 3-D effect it gives to games.

Not that the first round of 3DS titles is terrible. There are good system showcases to be found, along with a few ports that do more than dump a well-tested game onto a new platform. Like other launches for Nintendo handhelds, the 3DS is supplied well, with 18 titles hitting stores next week (and some this week, in fact). And we detect a few standouts among them.

PILOTWINGS RESORT
Developer: Monster Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1
MSRP: $39.99

Poor Pilotwings. As Nintendo's glorified tech demo, it's trotted out whenever the company needs a short, simple game to show off a new system's visual qualities. And then Nintendo forgets about Pilotwings completely. It happened with the first Pilotwings on the Super NES and again with Pilotwings 64 on the Nintendo 64. Now it's happening with Pilotwings Resort on the 3DS, but this time there's no fancy new Mario game to overshadow Pilotwings. Yet Resort is still largely a test drive for 3DS owners. Player-created Mii characters pilot biplanes, hang gliders, and jetpacks through various aerial obstacle courses, with trinkets lying around to be gathered. For those who hate item hunts, Resort also has a free-flying mode, all the better to exhibit the 3-D nature of the aerial manuevers. It would be the ideal game for bundling with the 3DS itself, but Nintendo can't make money off that.

SAMURAI WARRIORS CHRONICLES 3DS
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: KOEI
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1
MSRP: $39.99

Here's a test for Nintendo's new system. The 3DS can handle simulated 3-D without glasses, but can it choke down the chaos of a Samurai Warriors game, where players send dozens of soldiers flying across the battlefield? I suspect that it can; Omega Force spent the last decade making these games, and they could probably crunch a Samurai Warriors or Dynasty Warriors into an Atari Lynx at this point. So Samurai Warriors Chronicles should deliver that particular brand of hack-and-slash gameplay. For this 3DS title, players control a customized main character, male or female, along with three other leaders from prior Samurai Warriors titles. The top screen depicts these characters in the midst of combat, and players can switch between them at any point in a fight. The lower screen shows maps and other information. Chronicles also uses Streetpass to act out brief battles between your chosen four-warrior band and those of any closet Samurai Warriors fans you happen to pass in public.

STEEL DIVER
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $39.99

Steel Diver is the most interesting game of the 3DS launch. For one thing, it's an in-house Nintendo creation that's not a rehash of some older property. Better still, it takes advantage of the system beyond the 3-D angle. Steel Diver's main mode presents a side-scrolling underwater stage on the upper screen while players manipulate the control panel on the bottom screen, steering the sub, arming its weapons, and even fixing leaks on the vessel. The game also lets players look through a periscope as they torpedo ships above, with the system's gyroscope changing the point of view as the 3DS itself is moved. A multiplayer mode uses the periscope feature to the fullest, as each player gets a naval fleet to maneuver and sink on a Battleship-style grid. There's a lot more to Steel Diver than Pilotwings, though the game industry often gives submarine games the unceremonious brush-off. Remember Sub Rebellion, In the Hunt, or Squoon? Well, most people don't.

SUPER STREET FIGHTER IV
Developer: CAPCOM
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $39.99

I cannot lie: as much as Steel Diver interests me, my first choice among the 3DS launch roster is Super Street Fighter IV: 3-D Edition. That's because I'm an unquestioning man-child who prefers the familiar. And I know what I'm getting here: a port of the fighting game that I played more than anything else last year. CAPCOM's done a remarkable job of shrinking the game's cartoonish look down to 3DS standards, and most of it hasn't changed. There are still 35 characters, from the iconic Ken and Ryu to newcomers like the spider-ish Juri and the gregarious oil wrestler Hakan. However, CAPCOM didn't include any new characters; not Yun or Yang or even some cheap palette-swapped Evil Blanka. But no matter. The game's 3DS additions include a 3-D mode which shifts the player's viewpoint to an over-the-shoulder stance that, from early reports, doesn't really do that much for the game. The 3-D Edition has a more promising feature in its StreetPass compatibility; like many Nintendo 3DS games, players can pit their characters against other 3DS owners without actually pulling out and fiddling with the system. And for a competitive game like Super Street Fighter IV, that's a welcome addition.

AND THE REST…
Nintendo's third contribution to the 3DS launch is Nintendogs + Cats, and the latest installment of this pet-raising simulator is available in three varieties: Toy Poodle, French Bulldog, and Golden Retriever. Sega contributes a Super Monkey Ball game, using the system's gyroscope to control the wobbling, bubble-encased creatures. As expected, Namco has Ridge Racer 3DS, and Square Enix delivers a classic adaptation from its Taito arm with Bust-A-Move Universe. It's little more than the same color-matching challenge as previous Bust-A-Move titles, but perhaps players will want a puzzle game for their new system. It'll bring back memories of Tetris on the Game Boy.

Not to be caught stingy, Ubisoft has four games for the launch, and the most promising is a 3-D version of the well-regarded platformer Rayman 2, dubbed Rayman 3DS. Also in the company's roster are the racer Asphalt 3-D with Streetpass multiplayer, the strategy game Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, and the dinosaur-fight showcase Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3-D. Sports games are on hand as well, with Konami supplying Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 and Electronic Arts providing Madden NFL Football. EA also has a 3DS version of The Sims 3. Thanks for not calling it The Sims 3-D, EA.

Among the popular and potentially unpopular licenses arriving on the 3DS, we find Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars from LucasArts. And then there's Hop, based on the upcoming Easter-themed CG film about bunnies fighting chicks. At least it's not a Mars Needs Moms game.

NEXT WEEK'S OTHER RELEASES

DYNASTY WARRIORS 7
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: KOEI
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $59.99

Numbers are always misleading in video game titles. After all, there are far more than five Resident Evil games, and Final Fantasy's borders expand well beyond a mere fourteen entries. So the Dynasty Warriors family has many distant members: the Xtreme Legends and Empires veins, the Samurai Warriors sister series, the BladeStorm off-shoot, and the Gundam and Fist of the North Star tie-ins. That's why many are weary of Dynasty Warriors. Yet others are not, and for them Dynasty Warriors 7 is yet another foray through the battlefields of Ancient China, where anime-filtered versions of Romance of the Three Kingdoms characters cut through entire armies. This seventh properly numbered installment favors the PlayStation 3, using the system's PlayStation Move controller. Other than that, the two versions are essentially the same game. There are few new characters, the story mode allows more freedom, and the gameplay returns to a more liberal combo system instead of the “renbu” power meter last seen in Dynasty Warriors 6. Those may not be drastic changes, but they're likely important ones for anybody still paying attention to Dynasty Warriors.

LEGEND OF HEROES: TRAILS IN THE SKY
Developer: Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1
MSRP: $39.99 (special edition)/$29.99 (regular edition)

At last there's an RPG that exposes the horrible secret of chemtrails, which the One World Government and the Reptilians are spraying from airplanes above as you read this. Or perhaps it's just another Legend of Heroes game. We lean towards the latter theory, seeing as how several Legend of Heroes games were already released over here. The original came out for the TurboDuo under the title Dragon Slayer, and Namco Bandai released all three games in the Gagharv sub-trilogy on the PSP a few years back. Don't remember them? That's because they're…well, boring. The Legend of Heroes games are often clichés among clichés, bland even in a genre that embraces familiar tropes as often as RPGs do. But Trails in the Sky is the start of a new trilogy, and perhaps it'll improve. The battles are solid RPG stuff, at least, with characters moving around fields to unleash regular attacks and build up powerful strikes. It's all in the service of heroine Estelle, who's one of those seemingly ordinary and happy village girls living in a placid medieval-fantasy nation. But Estelle's father was a tide-turning hero during a war against invaders, and he's hiding a few secrets about his past and the game's other main character, teenage warrior Joshua. Estelle and Joshua's journey may not be markedly original, but it's stocked with dozens of prominent characters sweeping into the story. Falcom's clearly focused on that in lieu of visual appeal. Trails in the Sky began life as a PC game back in 2004, and it doesn't aim for the graphic capabilities of, say, Crisis Core. But the PSP perks things up a bit while adding battle voice acting, new animations, and an in-game newspaper. There's also the chance to use the game's save data in future installments of the series, just in case Trails in the Sky breaks the Legend of Heroes habit.

MOON DIVER
Developer: FeelPlus/AQ Interactive
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PLAYSTATION Network
Players: 1-4
MSRP: TBA. Probably $14.99

Moon Diver was originally called Necromachina in North America, but then someone must've looked at the game and decided that it wasn't as gothic and vampire-infested as a name like Necromachina implies. So now it's called Moon Diver here and everywhere else, keeping in line with designer Kouichi “Isuke” Yotsui's best known works: CAPCOM's arcade Strider and its lesser-known (but more insane) spiritual sequel, Cannon Dancer. Set for the PLAYSTATION Network next week and XBox Live in April, Moon Diver has much in common with the Strider ideal. For one thing, it stars five agile, wall-climbing, color-coded ninja whose swords leave behind massive laser-sharp arcs. It's also a cosmopolitan tale. The game begins in Barcelona, where the four heroes take their first stand against a world-conquering villain called Faust. This gives him an army of mechanized creatures, apparently formed from rebelling inanimate objects, to throw at the player. Each ninja lead has different quirks, but all of them can charge up attacks, double-jump, and perform various special moves called, seriously, MoonSaults. Team-up strikes are also available, and up to four characters can combine their abilities for a special MoonSault. Multiplayer modes go against the solitary focus of Strider or Cannon Dancer, but Moon Diver evidently has cooperative play in mind. At the least, it's good to see Yotsui back in action-game territory. Maybe this'll open the door to Strider 3.

THE 3RD BIRTHDAY
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99

Aya Brea had it rough among Square heroes. She showed up in two Parasite Eve games and Chocobo Racing during the PlayStation days, but Square spent most of the last decade ignoring her and her series. Fortunately, that series has its fans, and if their prodding didn't make Square develop The 3rd Birthday, the company was at least convinced enough to upgrade it from a cell-phone gewgaw into a full-blown PSP sequel. And this is the third Parasite Eve, no matter what it's called. A 3-D shooter at its basic level, the game finds Aya to be a still-youthful amnesiac caught in a war against creatures called Twisted. As the monsters raid New York, Aya holds them off with a variety of weapons and her body-jumping Overdrive ability, which lets the player directly control supporting characters and random passersby. Aya's arsenal includes all manner of customizable modern weapons, and she's even able to take over tanks and helicopters when she mentally leaps into the pilot's body. Aya's clothes also get shredded when she takes damage. But don't worry: she has a variety of already revealing outfits, ranging from the relative protection of Lightning's Final Fantasy XIII getup to maid costumes and very limited armor. Such is the price of Square reviving a second-string series in today's market. But if The 3rd Birthday comes through, we'll be nice enough to ignore its superficial problems.


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