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Extra Seconds

by Todd Ciolek, Jun 13th 2012

I'll assume that everyone reading this has seen the trailer for Wreck-It Ralph, as it stands at the magical nexus between animated films and video games. Many geeks are overjoyed at the variety of characters represented in the movie, which features a 1980s arcade-game villain in the midst of a career crisis. Some sensitive souls are quick to point out a problem in a scene where Ralph visits a bad-guy support group. See, it shows Street Fighter's Zangief prominently, and Zangief isn't a villain. Well, not unless you count the live-action movie and the syndicated cartoon it inspired. But hey, he's Russian. That's close enough for a movie rooted deeply in '80s nostalgia.

Others made an interesting observation about Ralph's little support group. Early shots of the scene showed Doctor Wily from the Megaman series sitting next to Zangief and Bowser. In the trailer, however, Wily is nowhere to be seen. Conspiracy theories soon emerged: CAPCOM, not content to cancel two of Megaman's games and mock him in Street Fighter X Tekken, is now out to efface any positive exposure for their once-favored mascot.

E3 2012, PART II

SQUARE ENIX
Square Enix's prettiest E3 trinket wasn't a game—at least not yet. Agni's Philosophy is a tech demo that shows off Square's latest adventures in computer-rendered wonderlands. It's reportedly all done in real-time graphics, but no current system could actually run the trailer's full details: a magical cult summons a creature in a dusty mountainside temple, some armed men invade the ceremony, and one of the cult's acolytes, a red-clad young woman, takes off with some important crystal thingamajig.

It's all pretty much a standard Final Fantasy cutscene minus the actual plot, though some of the imagery recalls modern war simulators that deal with shooting terrorists in dusty villages. The sole interesting point comes in the last shot, which reveals there's a high-tech city on the other side of the mountains. Speculation's run rampant about Agni's Philosophy and its heroine being a test-drive for Final Fantasy XV. No such thing is confirmed, but anyone who liked the video can tell Square that.

The other notable Square Enix announcement was much the opposite in terms of technology. Final Fantasy Dimensions is an iOS and Android game, and it looks deliberately primitive in order to sate those pangs of nostalgia for a time when Final Fantasy IV and VI were all you wanted in life. In fact, it's a bit too primitive, as the sprites and backgrounds have a stiff, flat-colored look that doesn't touch the more vibrant characters of Final Fantasy VI.

In its favor, Dimensions has the same job system that made Final Fantasy V (and to a lesser extent, Final Fantasy III) so memorable in gameplay. Characters can specialize in a variety of classes, including specific pursuits for Light-allied and Dark-allied characters. The game was originally released on Japanese cell phones as Final Fantasy: Warriors of Light and Darkness, and the main quest is supported by additional chapters that introduce new characters. It's out this July, so we'll see then if it's some subtle revenge on anyone who's complained too loud about the superiority of old-school Final Fantasies.

In fact, most of Square's E3 surprises were mobile titles. Demon's Score is a rhythmic shooter game in which an under-clad heroine and her familiar jet down castle hallways, all while the player taps the screen to neutralize enemies in time with the music. It's a bit like Elite Beat Agents with firearms and swords, and that comparison alone makes it one of the more intriguing titles in Square's stable. It's out for iOS and Android platforms this summer.

Another iOS and Android title, Drakerider stays closer to typical Square Enix outings, with a cast of typically styled anime-RPG characters. The gameplay, however, appears to include flying stages as well as some on-foot battles (or at least on-foot cutscenes) in a mix that recalls Panzer Dragoon or the Drakengard series. It's also due out in the summer.

SEGA
Sega had the most unlikely guest at E3: an actual Hatsune Miku game. Japan's green-haired, subtly unnerving virtual pop star appeared via Hatsune Miku Project Diva f, a rhythm title for the PS Vita. The demo had two translated songs for E3 goers to sample, delivered in Miku's electronic tones.

Yet this was not a preview of a Hatsune Miku game bound for North America. It was just a test of the public's interest in the whole property. The title arrives in Japan on September 30, and perhaps there'll be enough of a push to get it released here. At the very least, it was something new for the Vita at E3.

KONAMI
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance drew most of the attention among Konami's E3 showings, and it wasn't always in flattering terms. The game looks sharper than ever, as developer Platinum Games picked up the project from Konami's internal teams and gave it an effective panache. Wearing the the cyborg-ninja getup seen in Metal Gear Solid 4, once-despised protagonist Raiden graphically cuts through soldiers and artillery, and the combat takes on a complexity that rivals Platinum's Bayonetta.

Yet it's seemingly contrary to the ideals of Metal Gear Solid, which always leavened its battlefield carnage with humorous asides and non-lethal methods of taking out foes. Revengeance apparently cares less for pacifism, encouraging players to sneak up on a soldier just to slice him in half and pull out a chunk of cybernetic spine for a power-up. The familiar Metal Gear cardboard box also appears, but now it's a place for enemies to hide—and Raiden can behead them as they cover in fear. Players could be nice and spare them, of course, but the brutality of Revengeance almost seems closer to God of War than anything Solid Snake ever did.

Konami also rolled out Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. No, not Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate for the 3DS. That one's a different game the middle of the Lords of Shadow sub-series. Lords of Shadow 2 is the direct sequel to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game that reimagined the Castlevania mythos in ways that did not sit well with some fans. But the results (and sales) sat well with Konami, so the sequel returns Gabriel Belmont to his life of fighting off creatures of the night. Developer Mercury Steam promises better combat this time around, plus an actual conclusion to this Lords of Shadow thing.

As for Mirror of Fate (above), it's shaping up to be a slightly more traditional take on Castlevania, presenting a 2-D game with 3-D graphics. The developers are quick to emphasize that it's not a “Metroidvania” deal, but the game offers plenty of exploration as four different characters hack through Dracula's castle in various time periods. Trevor, Simon, and the newly announced Alucard fill three of those spots, with the fourth still unrevealed. Smart bets are on Maria or Richter. Or maybe Sonia Belmont, the former matriarch of the clan who was erased from the mainline Castlevania's continuity.

CAPCOM
There were few brand-new sights in CAPCOM's lineup, though most of the previously announced titles looked decent, including Resident Evil 6 and Lost Planet 3. Most contentious was the Devil May Cry reboot, or DmC: Devil May Cry, as it's called. In gameplay, it doesn't look so bad. The standard combat and boss battles give off an intensity similar to the better Devil May Cry game, and developer Ninja Theory improved their style a bit from Heavenly Sword to Enslaved.

The problem, however, is Dante's introduction. It's one of the most embarrassing displays of video-game “attitude” since the age of Bubsy and Awesome Possum. The reboot's half-angel, half-demon hero has all the appeal of a smug asshole teenager messing with the police during Spring Break, and the trailer reaches the point where one wonders if the whole thing is a parody. The original Dante was a bit of a jerk, but in a cheesy, comfortable manner borrowed from Buichi Terasawa's Cobra. DmC's Dante acts as though he's based on the self-insert hero of some angry kid's webcomic.

NATSUME
With much of E3 devoted to the collective bloodshed of Splinter Medal Duty 3: Advanced Warpeople of Honor, Natsume couldn't have chosen a better time to pull out a 3DS and mobile title called Project Happiness: My Hometown. it's the latest work of Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada, and it doesn't fall very far from his most famous projects.

As in Harvest Moon, the player's male or female avatar makes his or her way in a gentle country town. But there's no farm to be tended. Instead, there's a store to be run, with all of the work that implies. The game's trailer is quite laid-back, the art's from Pokemon's Atsuko Nishida, and Final Fantasy's Nobuo Uematsu provides the soundtrack. For those who still prefer farming, Natsume plans to release Harvest Moon: A New Beginning for the 3DS later this year.

NON-E3 NEWS

TIGER & BUNNY BECOMES MERCHANDIZED GAME BASED ON MERCHANDIZED ANIME
Was Tiger & Bunny a success? I can't tell because I'm used to successful anime series inspiring a horde of fans demanding that everyone they know must watch the show, which in turn inspires other fans to claim that said series is overrated garbage. That never happened on a large scale for Tiger & Bunny, but I suppose it must be a success, because now it's getting a PSP game.

Tiger & Bunny: On-Air Jack, due out September 20, is a brawler in its PSP form, with players controlling corporate-sponsored superheroes Wild Tiger and, apparently, Barnaby Brooks Jr. in various urban battles. It's strange that they're the only playable characters shown in screenshots thus far, since the series had quite the lineup of superheroes. Perhaps they'll be revealed as the game near release. On-Air Jack also allows players to put screencaps of the game on social networks, and it'll be further promoted by mini-games on smartphones and websites. And for a show about corporate sponsorship compromising personal identity and social justice, that's somehow fitting.

PHANTOM BREAKER: BATTLE GROUNDS COMES TO NORTH AMERICA, POSSIBLY BEFORE THE FIRST PHANTOM BREAKER
Phantom Breaker keeps missing release dates here in North America, and the latest slip has it coming out in August or September. Developer 5pb. is unfazed by this (or the Japanese version's icy reception), and they're putting together an XBox Live Arcade brawler in the vein of Castle Crashers and Guardian Heroes. It's headed to these shores, judging by its official site.

Phantom Breaker: Battlegrounds: Cocoa's Nightmare Attack fashions a four-player slugfest using Mikoto, Waka, Itsuki, and Yuzuha from the original Phantom Breaker. In big-headed form, the heroines trudge through cities and hack away at similarly deformed thugs. The game's four-player capabilities are found in both the main drag and the extra battle royale. It's due out in 2013, which will put it well after the U.S. release of the first Phantom Breaker. Probably.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

POKEMON CONQUEST
Developer: Tecmo KOEI
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $29.99

Nintendo endures frequent complaints that the Pokemon series has ossified, maintaining a steady and predictable flow of cute little RPGs about cute little pet monsters. Well, Nintendo found a fix for its repetitive franchise: blend it with another company's repetitive franchise. Pokemon Conquest is greatly inspired by Nobunaga's Ambition and other KOEI-made games about feudal Japan, and it sprinkles the cartoonish creatures all over the noble lords and tragically doomed retainers of 16th-century Japan. As with many a Pokemon game, you choose a male or female avatar and set out on a quest to defeat other Pokemon trainers and their collections of brawlsome animals. In Conquest, however, your opponents are all warlords and warriors somehow connected to Oda Nobunaga (who was history's greatest villain if anime and video games are any indication). Most of these warlords join your side once defeated, and it's all part of assembling an army capable of defeating Nobunaga and his Zekrom. Sure, historians have yet to concede that Hideyoshi Toyotomi chummed around with an apelike Monferno or that Gracia Hosokawa owned a pink, tapir-like pet called a “Munna,” but those historians don't known everything.

The gameplay of Pokemon Conquest blends the two franchises accordingly. Players move around maps that depict the various fortresses and battlefields of a nation at war, and the actual combat unfolds as Pokemon are deployed in strategic form. With their warlord trainers looking on, the creatures unleash their attacks and special moves, and it's a pleasantly expanded change for those who remember only the limited one-on-one duels of the original Pokemon. It's hardly as complex as a full KOEI war simulation, and Nintendo's open about targeting younger players with Pokemon Conquest. Kids should learn about the gruesome struggle to unify feudal Japan, even if it's done through the eyes of a Pikachu.

STEEL BATTALION: HEAVY ARMOR
Developer: From Software
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $59.99

The original Steel Battalion was something to see. The game itself was a relatively realistic mecha simulator, but its controller was the true wonder: a massive three-panel array that did its best to recreate the cockpit of a military-grade giant robot, right down to the foot pedals and the shielded eject button (which had to be pressed before your machine exploded, or else your entire game was over). Steel Battalion and its online-only sequel were mad, indulgent experiments by producer Atsushi Inaba (God Hand, Infinite Space), and we thought we'd never see its like again. We were partly right. CAPCOM's never making another controller that dwarfs the console it connects to, but they don't have to do that to revive Steel Battalion. This time, the motion-sensing Kinect provides the interface for Heavy Armor.

Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor isn't entirely bound to the Kinect, however. Set in a future where microbes threw technology back to the combustion engine, the game puts you at the helm of a walking tank, with a crew to command and a full cockpit to navigate. The tank's basic motions are handled with an actual controller, but the motion-sensor comes into play for the game's most interesting parts. When you're gesturing around, you're dousing fires in the cockpit, dropping down to repair a piece of the lumbering tank, popping open the hatch to shoot enemy boarders, pulling pieces of shrapnel from your crewmates, or perhaps even slapping them to calm them down. Heavy Armor's world gives off the 1950s grit of Ring of Red more than the computerized tone of the original Steel Battalion, but there's no question that the same boundaries are being pushed here. A four-player mode is also available, though the Kinect apparently won't allow you to hive-five other people through XBox Live.


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