The X Button
Universal Defender

by Todd Ciolek, Dec 14th 2011

It's always fun when the game industry is thrown into a panic by some minor news. And that sure happened last week when a Wired interview found Shigeru Miyamoto mentioning that he considered “retiring from my current position” at Nintendo and wanted “to be in the forefront of game development again.” This, of course, led some people to claim that Miyamoto was leaving video games forever, which in turn provoked all sorts of overreaction and rending of garments, and not just from geeks who didn't read the interview carefully enough.

In testament to Miyamoto's influence, this hint of him vacating his supervisory post caused Nintendo's stock to drop two percent. The company's PR folks were quick to clarify that Miyamoto is simply spending slightly less time supervising projects and more time training the younger staff at Nintendo. And then a lot of people felt a tad silly.

NEWS

FUMITO UEDA REALLY DID LEAVE SONY
Unfortunately, this next piece of news doesn't seem to be the result of overreacting fans: according to Gamasutra, Fumito Ueda, director of the much-lauded Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, is departing Sony Computer Entertainment smack-dab in the middle of developing his latest subtly rendered adventure game, The Last Guardian.

Fortunately, Ueda's still The Last Guardian's director. He's under contract to finish it, and the game keeps on looking like an amazing tale of a boy and his giant baby griffin. However, this means that Ueda's unlikely to stick with Sony after The Last Guardian is completed, and I hate the idea of the freelancer's life befalling the man who made my favorite game of the last decade. Yasumi Matsuno spent years in freelance purgatory after leaving Square Enix's Final Fantasy XII (probably my second favorite game of the last decade), so I hope Ueda has a new gig lined up after The Last Guardian hits the PlayStation 3 this year.

METAL GEAR RISING SEEKS REVENGEANCE
Metal Gear Rising broke with a few Metal Gear conventions from day one. Unveiled on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the spin-off stars Raiden, who was first the hero in Metal Gear Solid 2 and then a screwed-up cyborg in Metal Gear Solid 4 (to symbolize fans' dislike of him). It was also plenty violent, and a trailer showed Raiden slicing mercilessly through soldiers and consuming their mechanical implants—rather direct for a series where players have always had the option of avoiding or knocking out enemies. Now there's a new name for the game, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and a new trailer to go with it.

The whole thing starts off with somewhat mundane scenes of mercenaries milling around dusty streets. But then Raiden shows up, and all hell breaks loose. He dices up cars and giant Metal Gear Ray-ish walking tanks, and he's able to pull off all sorts of moves that poor old Solid Snake never could. Best of all, this was revealed as the work of Platinum Games, makers of Vanquish, Mad World, and the most amazing action game of this generation: Bayonetta. That all but guarantees some excellent gameplay, no matter what concerns Revengeance raises about moral issues, Raiden's mental state, or the sheer silliness of the word “Revegeance.” It's due out next year.

OH YEAH, THE VITA'S ALSO COMING OUT
It seemed only a short time ago that Sony announced the Vita, the PSP successor with front-and-back touch screens, a motion sensor, and, joy of joys, two analog sticks. And now it's arriving in Japan this Saturday, December 17. The model with 3G online service (from DoCoMo) runs 29,980 yen (or $385), while the Wi-Fi version costs 24,980 yen (or $320). Yes, the exchange rate is really that bad. Gone are the days when you could just assume that 100 yen equaled a little less than a buck.

That said, the days of underfed system launches are also gone. Far from the time of the Nintendo 64's three-game Japanese launch, the Vita has a lineup of 26 titles. Some are familiar names: Dynasty Warriors Musou Next, Ultimate Marvel vs. CAPCOM 3, F1 2011, Power Smash 4, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II Plus, Michael Jackson Experience HD, Hot Shots Golf 6, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention, Katamari no Bita, Lord of the Apocalypse, and, of course, Ridge Racer. Others are less well-known in the West: Fish On, Niconico Douga, Shinobido II, Project N.O.E.L.S., Monster Radar, Minna to Issho: Friend Network, Dream Club, Sangokushi Touch Battle, Shin Kamaitacho no Yoru, Sawari Makuru, @field, Dark Quest, Yusha no Kiroku, and Square Enix's amusingly titled Army Corps of Hell, pictured above.

They'll all run about $75 at current exchange rates, so perhaps early adopters outside Japan are best off waiting for local Vita launches. The system arrives in the U.S. on February 22, with the Wi-Fi model priced at $249.99 and the 3G one at $299.99. It'll have an even larger lineup of games, and the brawler Gravity Rush (above) is scheduled to be one of them.

IN BRIEF: AGAREST 2 COMES WEST, IREM SINKS DEEPER
Aksys Games drew attention by packing a pillowcase and a suggestive mousepad with the U.S. release of Record of Agarest War, Compile Heart's hybrid of dating sim and strategy-RPG. Aksys might not do the same thing for the sequel, but they're still releasing it for the PlayStation 3 in North America next summer. Record of Agarest War 2 features the same mix of RPG and courtship, plus a revamped battle system and…well, a heroine-massaging mini-game that uses the PlayStation Move. Perhaps it won't even need a naughty mousepad to find its audience.

Oh, Irem. This is painful to watch. The company's game division had a rough 2011, canceling both Disaster Report 4 and Steambot Chronicles 2 after the Japan earthquake. Now they've reportedly sold the rights to their Spelunker series to Tozai Games. Irem's also removing their Spelunker titles from the PLAYSTATION Network, and even their Doki Doki Suikoden lounge, based on a poorly received dating-sim, is closing. Only the pachinko-based Pachi Para lounge remains. And that's a sad state for the company that's crafted enjoyable games from Squoon to R-Type to Steambot Chronicles.

DOWNLOAD ROUNDUP: DECEMBER

JURASSIC PARK: THE GAME
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platform: XBox Live/PLAYSTATION Network/PC/iPad
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99/$39.99

Yes, it's that time of year. New releases are thin on the ground, and I've decided I'd sooner write about a Jurassic Park title than an XBox Live game that's just Pong with anime-girl artwork. Jurassic Park: The Game is also notable for the horrible shitstorm it caused when two Telltale Games staff members reviewed it glowingly at Metacritic. The reader backlash was swift and possibly a little two harsh, as the game's been savaged by many who are simply upset at Telltale's covert operations. Is it really that bad? Well, it adapts the most appealing part of Jurassic Park by setting itself during the events of the first movie. Jurassic Park: The Game avoids nearly all of the established characters and sticks to new events, as park veterinarian Gerry Harding and his daughter Jess are stuck on the island after hacker Dennis Nedry (who's only seen in the game post-mortem) shuts off the power. The two of them band together with other stranded park staff and secret agents, finding their way through the puzzles and quick-time events of an adventure game.

Telltale's made some decidedly enjoyable story-driven adventures in the past, but the developer can't quite do the same for Jurassic Park. Perhaps that's because the franchise doesn't lend itself to clever puzzles and witty humor as well as Sam & Max or Wallace & Gromit. While the game is blessedly free of scenes where raptors are defeated by the power of teenage gymnastics, it's still much like a cheap licensed novel in the story department. This tends to drag down the game mechanics as well, as they're solid but not terribly remarkable. And it also highlights one of the grander annoyances with the Jurassic Park films: no one is armed all that well.

SONIC CD
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: XBox Live (now)/PLAYSTATION Network(Dec. 20)/PC/iOS
Players: 1
MSRP: $4.99

Ask a Sonic the Hedgehog fan about the best game in the series, and you'll probably get a long and frightening explanation about how one of Sega's icons went from stunning action-platform games to mediocre 3-D hackery where he's in love with a human princess. Somewhere in all of that, however, you'll probably hear either Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or Sonic CD praised as the apex of the whole franchise. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 already arrived on the PLAYSTATION Network and XBox Live, and now Sega's giving the same treatment to Sonic CD. While many showcase games for the Sega CD were tedious full-motion-video slogs, Sonic CD simply took the mechanics of a traditional Sonic and enhanced them with CD-based music and a unique time-travel mechanic. Sonic still spins and dashes through colorful stages of evil robots, but convenient signs allow him to travel to the past and future of each level. If the right enemies are destroyed in the past, the future levels are also altered, and so is the overall tone of the game.

For Sonic CD's debut on PSN and XBox Live (and more), Sega upgraded the game's graphics to a hi-res mode, though players can switch it off if they prefer the original. The game's Japanese soundtrack is also intact, which should soothe longtime Sonic geeks still smarting over the music used in the American version back in 1993. Sega also adds Miles “Tails” Prower as a playable character once the game's completed, which brings the whole experience just a little closer to Sonic 2. The XBox Live version of the game should be up at this writing, and it's hard to imagine Sega screwing up a remake that needs as little meddling as Sonic CD.

VOLTRON: DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE
Developer: Behavior Interactive
Publisher: THQ
Platform: PLAYSTATION Network/XBox Live
Players: 1-5
MSRP: $9.99

Voltron: Defender of the Universe takes no great risks in pumping the player full of nostalgia. It has the exact same title as the '80s cartoon staple (spliced from a more violent anime series), and it even starts with the cartoon's original opening. Not a newly animated CG version of the intro or anything like that, mind you. It's the same slightly washed-out footage that opened every episode of Lion Force Voltron in the 1980s. This carries over into the game itself, where clips of the show play, phrases like “Megathrusters are go!” flash on the screen, and the pause button summons Peter Cullen's baritone to reassure you that Voltron will be back after these messages.

Beyond all the courting of Voltron fans, the game is routine. All five lions are playable in Robotron-like overhead stages, where one analog stick controls the creature and the other controls the direction it fires. Take too many hits, and the lion's pilot jumps out and runs around (also using Robotron controls) until the lion cools down enough to re-enter. It never quite reaches the giddy appeal of a cornball giant-robot cartoon, though there's something to be said for having five players tear through a battlefield at once. Less inspiring is the one-on-one mode that pits Voltron against a single Robeast. It looks (and plays) like a tech demo from 2004, and it's unfortunate that it's the showcase for the fully formed Lion Force Voltron. I can still sympathize with the designers, though. It's hard to create intricate levels when your lead character towers above just about every enemy and obstacle in the established universe.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

TRINE 2
Developer: Frozenbyte
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: XBox Live/PLAYSTATION Network/Mac/PC (Steam)
Players: 1-3
MSRP: $14.99

I can't help but see a bit of Cadash, Taito's old side-scrolling adventure game, in the Trine series. Much like Cadash, Trine distills the elements of a fantasy title down to platform-jumping and combat, though it adds more puzzles. And much like Cadash, Trine has several distinct character classes with distinct specialties: jovial Pontius is an armored knight with several melee weapons, weary Amadeus is an creative wizard, and incorrigible thief Zoya has arrows and a grappling hook. Trine doesn't have Cadash's references to Carl Sagan (for the TurboGrafx version) or uniform dialogue that refers to a female character as “a brave man,” but some things are lost over time.

Trine's three playable characters return for sequel, and it's once again a journey through 2-D stages rendered in beautiful 3-D style. The glowing environments brim with detail, and the various characters all offer good variety, using weapons and spells to solve puzzles just as often as they destroy foes. The storyline offers little attraction, though it's good-natured about it all, and Pontius sounds like he stepped out a Discworld cartoon. It's also not half-bad as a multiplayer game, though only the Mac and PC versions can share a gaming session. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are still worlds apart.


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