The X Button
Nyu Age

by Todd Ciolek, May 2nd 2012

Do you own a 3DS? Are you a member of Club Nintendo? Well, you'll be pleased to learn that you can get the 3-D remake of Urban Champion at a discount this month. For 150 points of otherwise non-negotiable Nintendo currency, you'll receive a needless 3-D revamp of Nintendo's first really bad NES game.

And that gives Urban Champion its legacy. The NES carried several first-party duds during its first year in North America, and Urban Champion surpassed all of them in its dull recreation of a street brawl. Many lousy Famicom games had the good graces to stay in Japan, but Nintendo saw fit to inflict Urban Champion on the U.S. In doing so, they made Urban Champion the bearer of two truths over the years: Nintendo makes lousy games as well as good ones, and early NES games will be remembered for decades to come, regardless of their quality.

Fortunately, 3DS owners can also get Pictobits at a Club Nintendo discount this month. That's a much better game.

NEWS

SEGA RACER ADDS TRANSFORMING VEHICLES, SECOND-STRINGERS
Someone at Sega surely regrets that the company didn't rip off Nintendo's Mario Kart from day one. While Super Mario Kart was a feather in the Super Nintendo's cap back in 1993, Sega only made the halfhearted Sonic Drift games in response. But Sega's tried harder since then, and 2010's Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing was a huge kart-racer buffet of Sega characters. The less narcissistically titled Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed expands on it with new characters and shape-changing vehicles.

Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed features karts that turn into planes or boats, allowing for a similar range of courses. It also brims with Sega characters, including both the obvious Sonic characters and lesser-seens like Jet Grind Radio's Beat. The first two new additions are Golden Axe's Gillus Thunderhead (who last appeared in Sega Superstars Tennis) and Skies of Arcadia's Vyse (who last appeared in Valkyria Chronicles). Strange rumors put Vectorman and Ristar in the game, but they've yet to materialize. There's no racer from Panzer Dragoon either, but my personal favorite Sega franchise did inspire one of Transformed's stages.

More characters and stages will be announced before the game's launch late this year, and Sega's spreading it all over the Vita, the 3DS, the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the PC. It's not too late for Sega to add Papri from Girl's Garden, the knight from Pit Pot, and one or more Burning Rangers.

ATLUS READIES SOUL HACKERS 3DS PORT, SUMMONS DEVILS, AND SO FORTH
The Devil Summoner series is a rural province in Atlus' vast Shin Megami Tensei empire, at least as far as North America goes. Both Raidou Kuzunoha games were released here on the PlayStation 2, but the earlier two Devil Summoners didn't make it. The first of them, released on the Saturn in 1995, is still a Japanese exclusive (despite a PSP port). However, Atlus is sharpening up the second, Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, for the 3DS. It has new animation, faster loading, extensive voice acting, and a better chance of coming to America.

Set in a world just a shade more futuristic than the regular Persona series, Soul Hackers trots out the popular cyberpunk snare of virtual reality. In this case, it's a game called Paradigm X, and it somehow infects the game's protagonist with several different souls. While investigating the forces behind this online conspiracy, the player exorcises the lost spirits through vision quests. You're accompanied by Hitomi, a woman who shares a body with a white-haired, mercurial demon-lady called Nemissa. And you're armed with a gun computer which, in another cyberpunk stroke, bears the odd abbreviation of GUMP.

Soul Hackers has long been One That Got Away among Western RPG fans. Neither the Saturn nor PlayStation version of the game was localized back in the 1990s, and Shin Megami Tensei fans even took it upon themselves to translate the game. If Atlus has a U.S. release planned, we'll likely hear about it before the 3DS Soul Hackers hits Japan this August.

XSEED CANCELS GRAND KNIGHTS HISTORY IN U.S.
Grand Knights History turned quite a few heads last year, and not just because of Vanillaware's typically gorgeous artwork. It did well on the Japanese PSP thanks to its multiplayer strategy-RPG angle, which lets players command troops for one of three factions in a complex medieval war. It was scheduled to come to the U.S. courtesy of XSEED Games, but it fell out of sight months ago. And now XSEED dropped the game.

In an e-mail to various gaming press sites, XSEED stated that the "development resources" needed to localize the game simply aren't there. This could refer to Vanillaware lacking the time and staff necessary to make an English version of the game, seeing as how the developer's also busy with the long-delayed Dragon's Crown. At least that one's still in the works.

IN BRIEF: CLASS OF HEROES 2 KICKSTARTER FAILS, CONCEPTION MIGHT COME HERE, LA MULANA MIGHT NOT
MonkeyPaw Games' John Greiner and Gaijinworks' Victor Ireland discussed their The Class of Heroes 2 Kickstarter project quite a bit in the last month, especially on our own ANNCast. Sadly, the project fell considerably short of its goal, gathering $96, 951 of its desired $500,000. This means there'll be no “deluxe” edition of the game with English voice-overs and fancy packaging, but we'll still see a digital release of Class of Heroes 2 in the future.

Of all the late-stage PSP games to emerge in Japan, Conception: Please Bear My Child seems an unlikely prospect for an American release. That's because it's an RPG where a displaced high-schooler spiritually impregnates twelve different women and takes the resulting children off to explore dungeons. However, Spike Chunsoft put out an English press release for the game, uploaded a promotional video, and mentioned “TBA” release dates for North America and Europe. This may all come to nothing, but it's more than anyone's said about Last Ranker or 7th Dragon 2020.

La Mulana isn't quite as famous as Cave Story, but they share a similar history: both of them recreated old-fashioned sprite art well before it was a small-studio trend. Unfortunately, La Mulana isn't getting the same treatment as Cave Story in the West. Nicalis, the troubled localizer of Cave Story, canceled a long-running attempt to bring La Mulana to WiiWare in North America. At least there's a translated PC version in the works.

INTERVIEW: NYU MEDIA'S SEON KING

It's hard to avoid grim news of how the Japanese game industry is suffering in North America. Yet you wouldn't know it from looking at Japan's independent sector. And it's a lot easier to look at it today, thanks to a rise in North American studios publishing indie games (or “doujin” games as some like to call 'em) in North America. Rockin' Android and Carpe Fulgur have localized lesser-known titles like Gundemonium and Recettear, and Nyu Media joined the parade late last year.

Nyu Media's stable now features Astro Port's shooter Satazius, FLAT's eXceed shooter trilogy (below), and the social-adventure game Cherry Tree High Comedy Club, with all three available through a number of PC download services. More games lie ahead, and Nyu Media founder Seon King tells of the company's past and future.

How was Nyu Media founded? We understand you first registered in 2010.

Seon King: The company was registered in 2010 but really kicked into motion after I left CAPCOM in October 2011. I wanted to realize an ambition to work with Japanese doujin circles and roped in two friends with video games and entertainment experience to work on their respective areas of expertise. We started with a core team of three people, including myself, and we're up to five now.

How do you go about licensing games by independent (“doujin”) developers? What sort of legal issues do you encounter?

First, we pick games that we like, that really stand out in their genres, and will likely be well-received by overseas gamers, then it's really just a matter of contacting the developers directly, usually by email, and making a proposal. We haven't encountered any legal issues yet, but it helps that myself and another of our staff are very familiar with intellectual property licensing.

We've seen numerous stories about how the Japanese game industry is losing ground in today's market. How do you think the Japanese doujin scene is doing today, compared to the mainstream Japanese game industry?

There's no question that the overall Japanese video games market has been contracting for a while now and I've heard from doujin developers that the doujin scene also seems to be shrinking. If that is the case, though, my impression is that the rate of decrease of the doujin scene is much slower than the mainstream market.

Doujin games aren't nearly as widely recognized or accepted as indie gaming overseas. One factor that has stilted the growth and awareness is that digital distribution isn't widely accepted in Japan. This really is unfortunate because the doujin scene today would be so much more developed if digital download was a better established channel in Japan. Conversely, digital distribution is huge overseas and there is tremendous opportunity for doujin games to find success with overseas gamers.

Doujin games are sometimes stereotyped as being pornographic, even though the games in Nyu's library certainly aren't. Have you found that stereotype to be a problem when selling them in the West? For example, there seems to be an adults-only game with a title similar to Fighting Fairy.

It really hasn't been a problem for us because the genres of our games aren't typically associated with pornographic content. We only heard about the adults-only game after we announced we would localize Edelweiss' game. Thankfully, the awareness of the adult game seems to be quite low, but in any case, Fighting Fairy was only ever a working title for us. The feedback we've had from gamers has been resoundingly in favor of keeping the Japanese title, so we'll almost certainly go with that.

On that note, could you tell us a little about Fighting Fairy (above) and Ether Vapor Remaster, the next two titles in your lineup? What led you to pick those up?

Both games are by the doujin circle Edelweiss who are among the best of the best doujin developers active today. Fighting Fairy—working title!—juxtaposes a cute fairy protagonist and light tone against some pretty brutal beat-'em-up gameplay. The fighting system features very robust and satisfying combo mechanics that let you juggle and knock enemies into other enemies as well as RPG-style leveling up and an intermission where you can purchase new techniques and attributes with mana collected in the stages.

Ether Vapor Remaster is an enhanced version of Edelweiss's original Ether Vapor. It's an arcade shooter with gorgeous 3D graphics and a multi-perspective camera system, which means that the gameplay varies depending on the stage. The gameplay includes across vertical scrolling, horizontal scrolling, three-fourths view, behind-the-ship view and even cinematic view in the bonus stages. Also, the visual direction of the stage progression is awesome. It starts with quite a modest over-sea stage, but—not to give too much away—the later stages of the game feel epic.

Both games have extremely high production values and very tight, fun gameplay. We're extremely excited to work with Edelweiss and bring both of these games to gamers outside of Japan.

Cherry Tree High Comedy Club (below) is an interesting game to localize, as it doesn't fall into familiar genres like shooters, RPGs, or fighters. What game do you think is its closest relative over here? Phoenix Wright?

It was in some ways an unusual choice, but Cherry Tree High was actually the very first game we licensed. Based on what doujin titles were out there, we knew that shooting and action games would be well-represented in our final slate of games, but we wanted to have more varied, balanced portfolio. Cherry Tree High's strong visuals, focus on story and dialogue and engaging world really stood out and made it an easy choice to pursue. It wasn't the first title to be released, but we regard it as Nyu Media's first title and we're very grateful to the developer, 773, for the opportunity.

Lastly, could you tell us a little about yourself as a gamer? How did you discover the doujin scene?

My gaming roots are in home computers, primarily the Commodore 64, and arcade games, in particular Shinobi, Twin Cobra and Street Fighter. These days I mostly play games on my PC and Xbox 360. I usually have one recent hit game and one classic game on the go at once, but of course my backlog of games to play is growing faster than I can get through them. Genre-wise, I tend to favor twitch-gaming, but enjoy spending some quality time with an RPG once in a while.

I discovered the doujin scene while I was working for CAPCOM Japan in 2004. I would make trips to Akihabara and Denden Town to geek out over the figures and games and was vaguely aware of doujin games from those trips. One day a friend at CAPCOM introduced me to the doujin specialist store Tora No Ana, where I saw packaged doujin games lined up and I was just entranced. To think groups of friends could make games that were so professionally done and looked so much fun; it was just amazing to me. That was the point that I realized I really wanted to work with doujin groups. Games are, of course, the first priority, but in future I would love for Nyu Media to work with other doujin media such as anime and music.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASE

PHANTOM BREAKER
Developer: 5pb.
Publisher: 7sixty
Platform: Xbox 360
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $39.99

Phantom Breaker is notable in several small ways. It's the first fighting game made by 5pb., a company known mostly for semicolon-abusing visual novels like Steins;Gate and Chaos;HEAd. It's also one of the first releases from 7sixty, a new North American label under Southpeak Interactive's banner. And Phantom Breaker is the sort of game rarely brought to these shores. In other words, it's an anime-styled fighter with a largely female cast and no big names to push it. Taking one of the quickest route to a fighting-game backstory, Phantom Breaker finds its entire cast brawling over the right to have a wish granted. And, surprise of surprises, all but two of these combatants are teenage girls: sword-wielding Mikoto, magical superheroine Mei, ninja Yuzuha, crazed amnesiac M, vengeful knife-fighter Ria, naginata-hefting priestess Waka, and a half-dozen other anime stereotypes. The developers also tossed in some of 5pb.'s better-known properties, as Chaos;HEAd's Rimi Sakihata and Steins;Gate's Chris Makise also show up in the roster. And so this becomes the first Steins;Gate game to be officially released in English, if you want to see it that way.

If the lineup lacks originality, Phantom Breaker at least follows the fighting game tradition of giving each character different incarnations. In selecting a fighter, players can choose a fast, weak version that sets up combos easily. Or they can opt for a slower, harder-hitting warrior who soaks up more damage. Phantom Breaker also looks the part of an anime-influenced fighter, as giant portraits of the characters flash on-screen when they pull off particularly damaging attacks. Aside from that, the game doesn't look all that impressive, and early reviews suggest that it'll fall well behind other recent fighters in the competitive arena (to put it politely). Still, 7sixty aimed this one at the collector, as it ships with a soundtrack, an illustrated guide, and a desk calendar. Collectors are strange people at times.


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