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by Todd Ciolek, Jun 15th 2011

Hey, do you have a PSP? Do you like it? I sure like mine. It could use a better battery and a second analog nub, but I enjoy the PSP's crisp screen and the way it has everything from remakes of Castlevania and Tactics Ogre to original creations like Lumines and Gods Eater Burst. So it saddens me to admit this: the PSP is on its way out in North America.

Well, it's not completely finished. Sony's still selling systems, and some high-profile releases will fill the time before the PlayStation Vita arrives. Yet we're seeing the end of an age when the PSP could support all sorts of interesting niche titles and offerings from Japan, where the PSP remains quite viable. Sega isn't translating Valkyria Chronicles 3, Atlus hasn't said anything about Growlanser IV: Over Reloaded or Gungnir, and you'd best forget about playing the PSP versions of games like Black Rock Shooter, 7th Dragon 2020, and UnchainBlades Rexx in English. To their credit, Atlus is soldiering on with Persona 2: Innocent Sin while Xseed continues to release Falcom RPGs like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter (and an undisclosed PSP title), but they can't take many chances on lesser-known PSP titles. It was a bit dismaying to write about Nude Maker's potentially interesting Terror of the Stratus and realize that, nope, this won't make it to North America.

The same thing is happening to the DS, but it's holding on to shelf space as the PSP's share retracts at Toys R Us and Target. So it's time to look back on the PSP's life, get ready for major titles like Final Fantasy Type-0, and considering importing any Japanese games that catch your fancy.

NEWS

KIRBY WII AND RHYTHM HEAVEN FILL IN NINTENDO'S SCHEDULE
I must admit that Nintendo's E3 lineup disappointed the hell out of me, just because it didn't include Pandora's Tower, Xenoblade, Solatorobo, The Last Story, or any other Japanese titles that venture outside of proven franchises. But I'll give Nintendo credit for sticking with some properties that might not always do well in North America, and they did exactly that by bringing Kirby Wii and Rhythm Heaven to E3.

Kirby games may be reasonably successful, but Kirby Wii has a checkered development history stretching back to the Gamecube days. The game was once presumed canceled, but it's not the first Kirby offering to linger in development for years (see Kirby's Air Ride). Yes, Kirby Wii is still in the works, and it's still a colorful sidescroller about a precious pink blob who devours his enemies to gain their powers. Kirby Wii supports four players, much like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and the characters include Kirby standbys like Meta Knight and King Dedede. The game joins the DS title Kirby: Massive Attack (or is it Mass Attack?) on Nintendo's schedule for 2011.

The Wii version of Rhythm Heaven was a nice surprise, featuring numerous musical mini-games that took advantage of the Wii's remote and the audio capabilities of a home console. The challenges in the game are much like those in the Game Boy Advance and DS precursors, juxtaposing goofy mundane tasks with cat pilots playing aerial badminton. Nintendo's booth had only the Japanese version of the game, and there's no release date or official English title just yet.

LEVEL-5 BUILDS A GUNDAM AGE RPG
A new Gundam series will soon be upon Japan, and with each new Gundam series comes a spate of new video games. Not waiting for Gundam AGE to prove itself come October, Namco Bandai plans to debut an RPG as part of a multimedia campaign of Gundam AGE manga, toys, an arcade card-battle game, and probably even some Gundam-themed candy. And they've hired Level-5 to make the Gundam AGE RPG and even assist with the series proper.

Level-5 President CEO Akihiro Hino will script the Gundam AGE TV show and the related RPG. While known mostly in the West for making RPGs from Dark Cloud to Dragon Quest VIII, Level-5 also worked several anime productions, including the films based on their own Professor Layton games. Their influence shows in Gundam AGE, evidently aimed at a younger audience than the recent Gundam Unicorn. The Gundam AGE RPG has no platform and release date at this writing, and its chances in North America depend on just how willing Bandai is to try selling another Gundam over here.

The upcoming Level-5 RPG won't be the first Gundam AGE game to appear, as Namco Bandai plans on releasing two related titles in Japanese arcades. One is Gage-Ing Battle Base, essentially a cabinet that interacts with kids' Gundam model kits. The other is Gundam Triage (above), a card-battle game that features Gundam AGE robots and pilots alongside characters from past Gundam series. Don't expect either to show up in North America, unless your local Dave & Buster's is desperate for new attractions.

NUDE MAKER MAKES PARTLY NUDE SCI-FI MECHA GAME
Nude Maker is in the running for most amusingly named game developer, but that's not all the studio does. Nude Maker also ventures off the beaten path with games like CAPCOM's intensely complicated mecha sim Steel Battalion and Sega's intensely complicated space-opera RPG Infinite Space. Now working with Konami, Nude Maker and director Hifumi Kono head back to the SCI-fi stage with a new PSP game called Terror of the Stratus.

Famitsu lists the game's genre as “action SCI-fi,” though nearly all we've seen of the game details its story and animated scenes. Terror of the Stratus is set in 2058, amid an invasion by the Memes, aliens that are doing a darned good job of eradicating humanity. Players control Imperial Task Force 6, a squad of soldiers and mecha pilots who all bear some level of Meme infection. Commanded by a royally connected woman named Misogi Takanosu, the unit includes involuntary recruit Seishiro Kudan and his childhood friend/rival Takumi Yagami. Along with the rest of the group, they take on Meme forces in lunar colonies and landscapes. That's often a difficult task, as the Memes don't exist in the conventional sense—they're information. Yeah, I don't quite understand it either.

Nude Maker deserves its reputation for complex gameplay, though it's hard to tell just how Terror of the Stratus might embody that right now. The game's trailer and official site pay more attention to Satelite's animated cutscenes, Katsumi Enami's character designs, and a voice cast that stars Aya Endo as Misogi, Akira Ishida as Takumi, and Mamoru Miyano as Seishiro. Whatever Terror of the Stratus might be, it probably won't arrive in North America's fading PSP market. The game stands a better chance when it hits Japan this September.

IN BRIEF: GRASSHOPPER MAKES EVANGELION MUSIC, DEATHSMILES HEADS TO IPHONE
Another Evangelion game would hardly merit mention here, but Rebuild of Evangelion: Sound Impact steps out of the usual gamut of Eva-derived pachinko and visual-novel titles. Sound Impact is a rhythm-action game with six different modes of play, and it's the work of Suda 51's Grasshopper Manufacture and composer Akira Yamaoka, who also collaborated on next week's Shadows of the Damned. In fact, Yamaoka's remixing 30 pieces of Evangelion music for the game, due out at the end of September.

Cave apparently has a lot of faith in Deathsmiles. The original side-scrolling shooter was the first Cave title released at retail in North America (or the second, if you count Princess Debut), and Deathsmiles IIX is now out on XBox Live. So Cave is now bringing Deathsmiles to the iPhone and iPod Touch, adding a mode featuring a new character named Tiara. There's no release date yet, but Cave's i-Whatever releases tend to sneak up on North America.

FEATURE: E3 2011, PART 2

CAPCOM
Apparently unsatisfied that Monster Hunter still isn't a runaway success in the West, CAPCOM debuted Dragon's Dogma (below) for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at E3. While the game was developed in Japan, it's a focused attempt at mixing the ideas behind Monster Hunter with the aesthetics of a Western RPG like Dragon Age. The game's E3 demo was heavy on grim, dragon-centric fantasy stylings and light on multiplayer—as in Gods Eater Burst, players can recruit relatively competent, computer-controlled allies for assistance in battles, and a lot of the fights against huge creatures go beyond repetitive hacking and spellcasting. Dragon's Dogma couldn't steal much E3 thunder from established Western properties like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but it's nice to see CAPCOM backing something new.

As for established CAPCOM franchises, Resident Evil figured heavily into the company's E3 lineup. Coming for the PlayStation 3, PC, and Xbox 360, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is a squad-based shooter set during the city-wide zombie outbreak of Resident Evil 2 and 3. It follows a team of Umbrella Company operatives who find themselves abandoned in the middle of the carnage, with both zombies and familiar Resident Evil heroes at their throats. The multiplayer aspect of the game shows promise, though it's clearly still a spin-off. The same goes for the 3DS-based Resident Evil Revelations, the franchise's other big representative at E3, though at least it's a spin-off featuring a major character, as it tracks Jill Valentine's journey prior to Resident Evil 5. It also hearkens back to the original Resident Evil games, with scarce weapons and a lot of puzzle-solving.

Other previously announced CAPCOM properties rounded out E3: Street Fighter X Tekken, the Namco-CAPCOM crossover, added Cole from the Infamous series as a hidden character in the PlayStation 3/Vita version of the game. There's no word on who, if anyone, will be his counterpart in the Xbox 360 edition, but I'm hoping for the cat hero of Blinx: The Time Sweeper. No one remembers Blinx. Slightly more interesting to fighting enthusiasts was the news that Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition now has a release window, arriving this summer for XBox Live and the PLAYSTATION Network.

Many weren't fond of CAPCOM's inexplicable reboot of Devil May Cry, now selectively capitalized DmC, when it debuted. Still, the game's E3 appearance shows that developer Ninja Theory is at least trying, and the game's environments have the glossy detail of their Heavenly Sword and Enslaved. The gameplay itself seems a lot like Devil May Cry, with assorted puppet-creatures and towering monstrosities to fight. Ninja Theory also seems to realize that no one likes the mopey, short-haired Dante they've introduced; he turns into the white-haired Dante during overpowered moments.

CAPCOM brought another hypermasculine action game to E3: Asura's Wrath (above). Initially dubbed an Asian God of War, the game put on a fairly impressive showing. As the tale of a vengeful, growling, six-armed deity, Asura's Wrath has stunningly overdone boss battles and a striking mixture of traditional Buddhist art and science-fiction imagery. It's slightly reminiscent of Ninja Theory's Enslaved, and there are press-the-button challenges to uphold the God of War connection. Still, developer CyberConnect2 is often underappreciated, and they're not holding much back with Asura's Wrath. Like the new Devil May Cry, it's headed for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

What was missing: A new Darkstalkers game, for one thing. Pipe dreams aside, CAPCOM's E3 showing was heavy on the fierce action games and light on the more humorous side of the company. Ace Attorney - Investigations 2 is staying in Japan, and Megaman Legends 3 was recently delayed for the 3DS.

KONAMI
Konami's major franchises had limited E3 showings. Metal Gear focused on the upcoming HD collection of the second and third Metal Gear Solids and Peace Walker, with a little attention paid to the 3DS version of Snake Eater. Silent Hill gets a similar HD repackaging of its second and third games, though Konami also showed off the newest Silent Hill for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Once again taking the franchise outside of Japan, Konami gave Silent Hill: Downpour (above) to the Czech outfit Vatra Games. Not that the premise is out of line with the series: Downpour features a convict named Murphy stranded in the town of Silent Hill after his prison transport crashes there. He's armed only with whatever disposable weapons he can scavenge, and he can even try to outrun the bizarre dimensional shifts that characterize the series. Vatra seems to have the Silent aesthetic down, though the combat may be purposefully clumsy once again. There's also some controversy about the music: the game's producer reports that singer/actress/ADR director Mary Elizabeth McGlynn will be back for Downpour, but there's a theme song by Korn. No kidding.

Noriaki Okamura has some explaining to do. His Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights (above) for the 3DS was Konami's most intriguing original property at E3, but it's a blatant imitation of Nintendo and Level-5's Professor Layton series at a glance. Dr. Lautrec himself is a cockier, mustachioed version of Layton, and he has an eager sidekick named Sophie, a Parisian underground to explore, and an atmosphere that recalls anime like Sherlock Hound and Nadia. The differences are all in the gameplay, though: Lautrec finds his way through catacombs in the style of a dungeon-hack, breaking into turn-based battles whenever he encounters an enemy. There are, of course, numerous puzzles for Layto…er, Lautrec to solve during his investigations. And, well, the game just looks like a Professor Layton rip-off. Perhaps no one will mind if Okamura, a veteran of Zone of the Enders and Metal Gear, puts together some decent gameplay with Lautrec's debut.

Otomedius Excellent spent the last year rattling around Konami's release schedule. Even though I played an English version it at Comic Con, I half-expected it to get canceled (just like Hudson's Bonk: Brink of Extinction, which I also played there). However, Konami is still bringing this side-scrolling Xbox 360 shooter out of Japan. It's Gradius modernized with wide-eyed anime heroines drawn by Sgt. Frog creator Yoshizaki Mine, and it might find a home with North American shooter freaks who can get past (or thrive on) the character designs. Konami also backed another anime-infused title at E3: Skullgirls, the colorfully animated fighter headed for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

What was missing: Metal Gear Rising, an action game starring Metal Gear Solid's Raiden, was absent, though it's still on track for a 2012 arrival. Konami also seemed to build up a new Zone of the Enders, as the first two games are getting reissued together in HD, but nothing materialized.

SQUARE ENIX
Square Enix's Japanese side had a miserable E3, and the company knew it. Executive Koji Taguchi even admitted that the E3 lineup was dominated by Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and other titles from the newly acquired Eidos. Square Enix had little more than Final Fantasy XIII-2, which at least seems to make amends for some of its predecessor's drawbacks.

In all fairness, Nintendo stole away Square Enix's second-biggest name by debuting some Dragon Quest games for North America. Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2 is a DS spin-off that revolves around raising and recruiting classic Dragon Quest beasts, and Nintendo's releasing it here in August. Also coming is the Wii's Fortune Street, the first English version of Square Enix's long-running Itadaki Street series. A Monopoly-style board game all about financing and developing little cartoon neighborhoods, Fortune Street features both Mario and Dragon Quest characters. It'll arrive here by the end of the year.

What was missing: Plenty. While Square Enix is concentrating on its most popular properties after some harsh financial news, it was a surprise to see an E3 pass without extensive Final Fantasy titles or a new Kingdom Hearts.

SEGA
As the latest game in the perpetually doubted Sonic franchise, Sonic Generations had a lot to prove at this year's E3. And it came off fairly well, with a 3DS version that recalls old-fashioned Sonic titles and Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions that add 3-D viewpoints without dragging down the game design. It could still go horribly wrong, but that's the risk with any new Sonic.

Sega also backed brawlers. The Xbox 360 revamp of Treasure's Guardian Heroes was on display, and Sega also backed Platinum Games' Anarchy Reigns. This hyper-violent action game offers extensive online modes, and the character roster includes original combatants as well as refugees from Platinum's black-and-white Wii bloodbath MadWorld: Jack, The Black Baron, Mathilda, Big Bull, and Leo are all playable. The House of the Dead Overkill, another Sega-endorsed display of carnage, is headed for the PlayStation 3 in an Extended Cut edition, offering PlayStation Move support and new stages.

What was missing: Valkyria Chronicles 3, the darkest installment yet of Sega's action-strategy series, was nowhere to be found. PSP games in general were in short supply at E3, with the system clearly replaced by Sony's new Vita handheld, and Sega isn't taking any chances.

NAMCO
Namco kept all of its franchises busy at E3. Tekken had Street Fighter X Tekken and Tekken Tag Tournament HD. Soul Calibur had Soul Calibur V. Ace Combat had the new Assault Horizon. Katamari Damacy had the iPad/iPhone-based Katamari Amore. The Tales series had…well, nothing at the show. But Namco did have an RPG that'll likely outsell any Tales release in North America: Dark Souls, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 sequel to the sleeper hit Demon's Souls.

What was missing: Despite the lack of Tales titles at E3, Namco previously confirmed that Tales of Graces F will come to the PlayStation 3 in North America. So fans should instead bug them about Tales of Xillia, the new and visually striking installment in the series. Lotsa luck, Tales fans.

ATLUS
Catherine was the star of the Atlus showcase at E3, through the company's suggestively outfitted booth and a playable demo—the latter of which will be available on PlayStation 3 and XBox Live before long. The King of Fighters XIII was also there in a somewhat surprising appearance, as Atlus suddenly announced its North American debut on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Shin Megami Tensei was well-represented; beyond the thematically connected Catherine, Atlus had Devil Survivor 2 for the DS and Devil Survivor Overclocked for the 3DS.

What was missing: Persona 2: Innocent Sin for the PSP wasn't there, but it's headed for a U.S. release later this year. Sting's upcoming PSP strategy-RPGs, Gloria Union and Gungnir, were also absent, even though Atlus brought out many of the developer's previous works.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME 3D
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Players: 1
MSRP: $39.99

I remember The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time quite well. Back in 1998, I bought a Nintendo 64 just to play the game. I even reserved the special gold edition. Yet by the time I reached the infamous water temple, I realized that I didn't care about Zelda—at least not as much as I cared about Metal Gear Solid, Xenogears, Guilty Gear and other games with "gear" in their titles. Well, this 3DS version is a chance to catch up with Ocarina of Time, as it includes just about everything the game's been up to since the Nintendo 64 days. It has the Master Quest version of Ocarina, and both forms of the game get boss-rush modes. Of course, Ocarina of Time is still a celebrated achievement on its own, and its novel puzzles and impressively large world introduced a young generation to Zelda and cemented the franchise for the older crowd back in 1998. It's an expansion of the basic Zelda plot, wherein pointy-eared Link saves a land called Hyrule from a villain named Ganon, but the musical and time-travel elements set it off on its own. The 3DS edition of the game isn't merely cosmetic, as the gameplay now suits the gyroscopic 3DS, letting players move the system to aim Link's bows and slings. It's a fair invitation to rediscover Ocarina—or to see if you like it any more thirteen years later.

SHADOWS OF THE DAMNED
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99

The magnificent mess of Killer7 hit back in 2005, and the game industry still hasn't figured out if creator Goichi “Suda51” Suda is making brilliant games or just making fun of them. He's probably doing both, and as long as he does it as stylishly as he did in the No More Heroes series, no one will stop him. His latest, Shadows of the Damned, reunites him with Killer7 collaborator Shinji Mikami (of Resident Evil fame), and it's even more brazen. It's ostensibly about demon stalker Garcia Hotspur and his attempts to rescue his girlfriend Paula from hell itself, but Shadows is also about crass and ungentlemanly humor. Garcia's armed with a bone-firing rifle called, of course, the Boner, and his trip through hell covers all manner of suggestive scenery, narrated by a skull-like sidekick named Johnson (ala Planescape Torment). Beyond that, there's a survival-horror challenge to the journey, as Garcia uses light to solve various puzzles and destroy certain foes. When he's not bone-gunning them to shreds, that is. It's a strange sort of game, at once grim and stylish and amusingly lowbrow. You might think Suda's laughing at anyone who buys this, but rest assured that if the game's actually good, he's laughing with you.


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