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Tower Records

by Todd Ciolek, Jun 1st 2011

We stand at the end of an era for the gaming industry…or at least for Hudson, that industrious company behind Bomberman, Bonk, and some other accomplishments unjustly ignored. They're not closing down or anything like that, but Takahashi Meijin, perhaps Japan's most famous professional gamer of the Nintendo era, left his longtime position at Hudson.

Toshiyuki Takahashi started his career at Hudson 28 years ago, and in the mid-1980s he became a minor celebrity on account of his gaming abilities, symbolized by him firing 16 shots per second using a standard controller button. This was an ideal way for Hudson to promote its Star Soldier games, and Takahashi Meijin (“Meijin” meaning “master”) was soon the company's spokesperson. He appeared in the Hudson-backed anime film Running Boy Star Soldier no Himitsu (which we discussed here), a TV series, and several Hudson games. Of course, his most notable role came as the cap-wearing, oddly frowning hero of the Adventure Island line. His fame didn't spread to North America, where the Adventure Island lead was renamed Master Higgins, but Takahashi remains one thefew game-industry bigwigs to become an actual game character. Not even Nintendo's Howard Phillips can claim that.

Takahashi departed Hudson on apparently good terms, and he'll keep updating his 16-Shot blog. He's also allowed to keep calling himself Takahashi Meijin, so long as he doesn't use the title in an actual game. Takahashi hasn't announced any specific projects, though he's working on something with model Haruna Anno, and his most recent blog post has a shot of him and model Momoko Tani. So let's all toast Takahashi by playing one of the old Adventure Islands. Perhaps not by coincidence, Super Adventure Island was just released for the Wii's Virtual Console.

NEWS

SHINOBI HEADS TO 3DS, NO MARIO-OH JOKE SPOTTED
Shinobi is squarely in the middle when it comes to Sega's old properties. Sega fans don't call for its revival as often as they do Streets of Rage, traditional Phantasy Star, and, for some misguided reason, Shenmue. Neither is Shinobi as forgotten as Burning Rangers, Dynamite Dux, and Mr. Bones. So Sega could make a case for reviving Shinobi, and that's what being done on the 3DS.

Developed by Griptonite Games, Sega's Shinobi 3DS revives the side-scrolling style of its classic inspiration, but the backgrounds are all vividly austere 3-D. Gameplay has the usual share of jumping and close-range attacking, but any Shinobi fan knows that kunai-throwing and magic-casting are key to the franchise. So Shinobi 3DS has those, as well as a familiar mini-game involving ninja stars. The hero, the father of the original Shinobi's Joe Musashi, can also deflect attacks by timing them properly.

The game has the look of the classic games made modern, even if its lead character's design isn't as striking as that of Hotsuma from the 2002 Shinobi revival. Then again, Shinobi 3DS likely won't have so many irritating pits on its first stage. Even if it does, it's headed our way as early as this fall.

MONSTER WORLD IV IN NEW SEGA COLLECTION, OTHER GAMES NOT AS IMPORTANT
Sega releases classic collections a little more often than the next game company with a decades-old catalog, and they're usually the same assortment: the Sonic titles, the Streets of Rage series, some Phantasy Stars, Ecco the Dolphin, Vectorman, and maybe Ristar or Shining in the Darkness. The Sega Vintage Collection is much the same idea; it's a line of old Sega games reissued for the Wii's Virtual Console and the PLAYSTATION Network. There's one difference, though: the Sega Vintage Collection has Monster World IV.

Monster World IV is the final game in the Wonder Boy/Monster World/Monster Lair series and, sadly, the only one never officially released in English. It's also the high point of the whole franchise. A side-scrolling action-RPG from the Sega Genesis days, it follows a young woman named Asha and her pet Pepelogoo (both names may get alternate translations in Sega's new release) on a quest that involves cleverly designed dungeons and unique play mechanics that use the ever-growing Pepelogoo. It's altogether quite charming in an old-fashioned way, recalling a time before irony and “moe.

The rest of the Sega Vintage Collection covers familiar ground: Wonder Boy in Monster Land from the arcade, Wonder Boy in Monster World from the Genesis, Alex Kidd in Miracle World from the Sega Master System, and Revenge of Shinobi from the Genesis. They'll start coming out late this year and continue into 2012. The Xbox 360 is curiously absent from Sega's plans for the Vintage Collection, even though the ESRB evaluated Monster World IV for the console.

DISASTER REPORT PRODUCER DITCHES IREM, STARTS OWN STUDIO
Irem is, to put it delicately, not in favorable circumstances. The company's finances are reportedly secured by the pachinko industry, but their game development struggles badly. Disaster Report 4, the latest in Irem's novel survival-adventure series, was canceled in the wake of the recent earthquake, and the forever-in-development Steambot Chronicles 2 followed suit. And now Irem's lost producer Kazuma Kujo.

Kujo worked on all of Irem's major titles from the past few years, as the producer and designer for R-Type Final, the producer of the Disaster Report games, and the main planner of the original Steambot Chronicles. He's now at his own studio, Granzella. The new developer hasn't announced any projects yet, and one should hope that the images on its site are just placeholders. Kujo's clearly capable of more than a generic version of Dead or Alive Extreme.

Let's return to Irem, a company now short one prominent producer. Their releases have dwindled to a PachiPara Slot game and the unflattering Doki Doki Suikoden (more on that one below). Will Irem return to R-Type now their two other mainstay series are gone? Will they revive Moon Patrol, Kung-Fu Master, or Sub Rebellion? And will they still make the best April Fool's Day jokes in the industry?

IN BRIEF: OTOMEDIUS GETS ON TRACK, ARCANA HEART 3 GETS EUROPEAN PACKAGE DEAL
The North American version of Otomedius Excellent spent a lot of time on Konami's backburners, but it's now ready for release. And in a special edition, no less. Due out on July 19, the shooter will include a soundtrack, an artbook, and…a two-sided pillowcase. That last item isn't so much of a surprise, as Otomedius is a side-scrolling shooter that stars numerous scantily dressed anime girls drawn by Sgt. Frog creator Yoshizaki Mine. It's Gradius for the modern anime pervert, and Konami knows it.

Making the Otomedius package less shocking, Zen United announced the release of Arcana Heart 3 for the European PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. While North America saw only a downloadable PS3 edition of Arcana Heart, Europeans get it for both systems, with an artbook, soundtrack, and character cards in the bargain. Then there's the “Suggoi Oppai Fan's Edition,” which adds a “Super 3-D Boobie Mousemat” featuring Chinese android Mei-Fang. Only 500 sets of this embarrassment will be available, and I'm not sure if Zen United has overestimated or underestimated the wants of Arcana Heart fans worldwide. They'll find out, as this special-edition can be shipped outside of Europe.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: MAY

AKAI KATANA SHIN
Developer: Cave
Publisher: Cave
Platform: Xbox 360
Players: 1-2

Akai Katana Shin is a momentous release for Cave. You see, Cave makes lots and lots of shooters, but they've only made three horizontal shooters: Deathsmiles, the now-on-Xbox-Live Deathsmiles 2X, and the underrated Progear no Arashi. And now Akai Katana Shin, an Xbox 360 port of the arcade Akai Katana, joins this elite branch. All jests aside, Akai Katana Shin is a bit more striking in appearances than the typical shooter, as the vaguely steam-tech planes and backgrounds give a nice sense of depth with 2-D sprites (not unlike Progear, if I may say so). Of course, Cave still smothers the screen in colorful, enemy-fired bullets all the time and gives the player a semi-complicated remedy for them. Akai Katana lets three selectable fighters shift between two modes: the standard planelike form has decent attack power and refills its energy meter as it destroys foes, while the defensive form (aptly dubbed “Ninja Mode”) generates a shield or, if you hold down the fire button, unleashes some powerful, score-raising blows. It requires a careful balance of point-chasing and pure survival, and a new “Zetsu” mode adjusts some of the game's rules. The Shin edition also includes a new stage with its own original boss, and there's a special first-run package with an soundtrack and a higher price tag.
Import Barrier: All versions of the game include regional locks, so Cave fans can't run Akai Katana Shin on their off-the-shelf American Xbox 360 units. At least the game's not hard to understand in its play mechanics.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Cave made inroads over here by bringing Nin2-Jump and Deathsmiles 2X to XBox Live Arcade, but many of their shooters stay in Japan. Akai Katana Shin appears to be one of them.

AKIBA'S TRIP
Developer: Acquire
Publisher: Acquire
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1

Akiba's Trip highlights an all-too-common malady of Japan's game industry: a decent premise marred by the wrong kind of audience pandering. Developed by the people behind the Way of the Samurai series, Akiba's Trip (say it fast to get the joke) plunges an average young man into the hidden side of nerd mecca Akihabara. With the help of a wan girl named Rui, our hero joins a secret club dedicated to fighting the vampiric creatures invading all of the Akiba sector's maid cafes and softcore anime porn stores. As these monsters resemble humans, the chosen method of fighting them is to whip off the clothes of suspected vampires, allowing the noonday sun to blister their skin. Of course, our hero must first bludgeon his targets with everything from boxing gloves to rice cookers before unleashing one of these strip-fighting combos. Despite trailers that mimic the visual stylings of Persona, Akiba's Trip truly capitalizes on Akihabara itself—and all of the nerdery that festers there. A lot of the vampire foes are young women who must, of course, be stripped in public, and the game makes no effort to restrain that element. The battles are also rather messy brawls, with multiple characters smacking and de-clothing each other. The underlying idea of geeky vampire-hunts has merit, but Akiba's Strip heads the wrong way. And one doubts that it was the concept alone that put the game atop the sales charts in Japan.
Import Barrier: The story's almost all in Japanese, though the gameplay's easy to grasp.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Suggestive content will likely spare us from a localized Akiba's Trip, though NIS America set a precedent for itself by releasing a game with “Operation Panties” in the title.

DOKI DOKI SUIKODEN
Developer: Irem
Publisher: Orange Peel
Platform: Sony PSP
Players: 1

Japan often sees games like Doki Doki Suikoden, a school dating-simulator with suggestive interactions and roots in a classic story. In this case, that story is the same legend that inspired Konami's Suikoden RPGs, but instead of recruiting 108 warriors, Doki Doki Suikoden has 108 girls for the player to romance. Why does this piffle merit discussion? Because it's by Irem, a game developer that usually has more to offer. But Irem's fallen on hard times and canceled creative titles like Steambot Chronicles 2 and Disaster Report 4. Their best bet for a moneymaker is now Doki Doki Suikoden, which actually started out as an April Fool's joke in 2001. In testament to the unaware self-parody of Japan's game industry, Irem later decided to turn a gag into an actual product. So Doki Doki Suikoden is something of a mock-RPG, where players roam school grounds with parties of female classmates. Each battle that ensues is a simple slap-down where girls shred each other's clothes, paving the way for the hero to comfort or exploit them. Yes, the days of Moon Patrol and R-Type are well over for Irem. All one can do now is cling to the hope that Doki Doki Suikoden will make enough bank to fund a game that doesn't involve schoolgirls reduced to their underwear. Considering the low ratings that the game earned in Famitsu, don't get your hopes up.
Import Barrier: Conversations are a good portion of the game, and they're all in Japanese.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Zero, unless Konami has a particularly cruel streak and brings this here as the newest Suikoden game.

PANDORA'S TOWER: UNTIL I RETURN TO YOUR SIDE
Developer: Ganbarion
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Players: 1

For a company with such a fastidious reputation, Nintendo backs some decidedly gruesome Wii games in Japan. Last year saw Sandlot's Zangeki no Reginleiv spray blood all about, and now Pandora's Tower presents a visceral concept: a young priestess named Ceres is cursed to change into a monster, and her only hope of dodging her fate lies in eating the flesh of monsters themselves. She and her pal Ende, a former soldier, retreat to a tower where Ende must slay the local creatures and feed them to Ceres (without even cooking them, it seems). His quest is unabashed in its inspirations. While everyone looks like anime-styled RPG characters, the brutal combat and hideous bosses recall God of War. The weapons also borrow freely; Ende has swords and axes, but his most useful armament is the Oreichalkos Chain, which functions as a grappling hook, a melee whip, and a harvester of monster meat. Fresh kills are essential to progressing, as the game ends if Ceres doesn't get proper beastly food within a certain amount of time. Ende and Ceres also converse throughout the game, and it's important to keep up the heroine's spirits as she's forced to devour raw monster innards. Developer Ganbarion's resume includes mostly One Piece games, but Pandora's Tower may be their breakout. The premise is intriguing, and the Oreichalkos Chain promises some versatile gameplay.
Import Barrier: Dialogue's in Japanese, but the play mechanics are easy to grasp. In fact, it almost seems like Ganbarion was aiming for international appeal…
Chances of a Domestic Release: The grotesque imagery may lead Nintendo of America to ignore Pandora's Tower, just as they've ignored Zangeki no Reginleiv, Xenoblade, and The Last Story. Still, the Wii sorely needs some original action games this year, and Nintendo may announce something at the upcoming E3. If not, a European version isn't out of the question.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

INFAMOUS 2
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: SCEA
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99

The original Infamous proved that some things work best in games. Its tale of an everyman granted superpowers would be trite in a comic book, but Sucker Punch Productions turned that idea into open-world exploration of superhero abilities and moral decisions. Infamous 2 changes its venue from a fictionalized New York to a fictionalized New Orleans, but its focus still remains on the abilities of main character Cole—and just what the player does with those abilities. Many decisions lead to throwing cars at helicopters and surfing on telephone wires, but each choice decides just how Colege's karma fares. And if the first game was any indication, there's an ending for each side of the good-evil equation. In fact, Cole's choices affect his actual superpowers, granting him control of fire or ice and visibly turning him into more of a hero or a villain. The opposition ranges from spicy Cajun thugs to spicy Cajun rock giants to a huge, city-crushing Cloverfield-style creature (which is perhaps not of spicy Cajun origins). While the game's apparently a solo experience in its story, players can create and share their own missions online. Assuming the PLAYSTATION Network can handle that.

RED FACTION: ARMAGEDDON
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Publisher: THQ/Syfy Games
Platform: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/PC
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $59.99

Not to judge something by its cover, but seeing “Syfy Games” beneath Red Faction: Armageddon's title isn't reassuring. It suggests the game version of a Syfy Channel Original Movie, where rubbery CG shark-octopus beasts terrorize unconvincingly acted space marines on the Raptor Planet. That could actually make for a fun video game, but it wouldn't be Red Faction: Armageddon. Taking place some fifty years after the last Red Faction game, Armageddon finds the human colonists of Mars driven underground by a stormy planet surface. Darius Mason, apparently the result of a modern-hero-name generator, starts off in the tunnels of Mars, meeting both human foes and a long-slumbering alien threat. Most of the game's scenery can be destroyed, from power generators to bridges and walls. More impressively, it can be rebuilt with Darius' Nano-Forge machine, opening up all sorts of neat advantages. The rest of his arsenal is similarly impressive, from a magnet gun to a singularity launcher, and players can even commandeer the now-standard massive robotic suit. The most striking weapon, however, is Mr. Toots, a toy unicorn that farts hyper-destructive lasers at the enemy. Yes, really.

SUPER STREET FIGHTER IV ARCADE EDITION
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $14.99

This version of Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition is technically an expansion pack. It's also technically a test of just how far Capcom can push the success of Street Fighter IV. The first Super upgrade added ten characters, but Arcade Edition has a mere four, and only Yun and Yang of Street Fighter III are new additions. Evil Ryu and Oni Akuma are just alternate versions of Street Fighter mainstays, at least as far as appearances go. Of course, they're different in play mechanics, and so is the rest of the game, with slight changes to characters and the overall balance of things. That's what your $15 gets you if you already own Super Street Fighter IV, and you can download the Arcade Edition as an attachment for the previous games. If, for some truly odd reason, you possess an interest in Street Fighter IV without owning any of the games, the complete Arcade Edition will be available on June 28 for nearly three times as much. And if you're awaiting the release of Arcade Edition for the PC (which the earlier Super upgrade skipped), you'll need to have a connected Games for Windows Live account or else make do with just 15 of the game's 39 otherwise-available characters. So Capcom's pushing things with Arcade Edition. Will this be the upgrade that finally turns fans away? Will it signal the end of the Street Fighter Renaissance, just as Super Street Fighter II Turbo did for the franchise's first reign? All I know is that I played Yang an awful lot in Street Fighter III, so I'm still interested in Arcade Edition. Technically.


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