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For a Ride

by Todd Ciolek, Sep 12th 2012

I previously mentioned that Nintendo Power is closing, and it now seems that its final issue will arrive this December. A number of former employees have posted their recollections of the magazine at various sites, and the most interesting retrospective came from Howard Phillips. Known for his bow ties and exceptional skill with games, “Gamemaster” Howard was Nintendo Power's most prominent editor, and each issue ran a comic featuring him and the mag's smart-aleck mascot, Nester.

Phillips recently began posting some fascinating Nintendo memorabilia on his Facebook pages, including brochures showing the original version of the NES (above), when it was called the Advanced Video System and came with a keyboard, tape deck, and wireless controllers.

Also astounding is a never-before-seen Howard and Nester comic, given to Phillips when he departed the magazine for a job at Lucasfilm Games. It was drawn especially for the occasion (presumably by Shuji Imai, who shared comic duties with Katsuya Terada), and it was clearly not meant to run in a family magazine. After years of tolerating Nester's cocky attitude and incorrect game tips, Howard finally lets him have it.

You can see the rest of the comic and many other brochures at the Gamemaster's Facebook. And yes, that's a Nintendo-backed knitting machine in one of the brochures.

NEWS

CAPCOM REVIVES RUBY HEART, HOPE FOR A BETTER FUTURE
CAPCOM's latest round of GREE-based mobile games has all the usual suspects. There's Minna to CAPCOM All Stars, a social game featuring all sorts of CAPCOM characters. There's Minna to Houkago Soul Hunters, a multiplayer demon-hunting title with card-based combat. And then there's Minna to Daikoukai Frontier, by far the most interesting of the bunch.

It's interesting simply because that woman at the fore is Ruby Heart, one of two original characters introduced in Marvel vs. CAPCOM 2 (technically Ruby was the main character, but no one noticed). Putting her in a new game, even a simple social game, is a rather nice gesture by CAPCOM. It would be even nicer a gesture if they added Marvel vs. CAPCOM 2's other new character, the sombrero-sporting cactus Amingo. But he might not fit with the game's swashbuckling theme.

Sadly, none of these three mobile games is scheduled for a North American release. However, CAPCOM will bring out three other GREE titles: Resident Evil Vs., Dead Rising: The Survival, and Monster Hunter: Massive Hunting. Dead Rising: The Survival and Monster Hunter: Massive Hunting are both portable takes on their console progenitors, while Resident Evil Vs. (above) resembles Resident Evil Mercenaries in its team-based battles and familiar characters (including Chris, Jill, and Claire). All three games should be out on Android and iOS by the end of the year.

ERYI'S ACTION OUT NOW, HARD AS HELL
Nyu Media wasted little time with their second wave of localized Japanese indie games. Eryi's Action, the first of this fall's releases, arrives on the PC through GamersGate, Desura, and its own website this Friday. Crafted by Xtal Sword, it's a brutally hard platformer. How hard is it? Well, Eryi starts off the game in her pastel-hued country house. As she walks to the exit, a giant pan falls from above and kills her if you're not careful. She can die in her own home.

In the first stage alone, Eryi is beset by spike traps, deadly flowers, a falling windmill, and blocks that hold bombs and other enemies. This is one of those fiendish games that wants to utterly destroy you every step of the way. So go and have some fun with it.

SQUARE TRADEMARKS CIRCLE OF MANA, WHATEVER THAT IS
So what's the latest in trademark-related speculation? Square Enix's Circle of Mana. The whole Mana series went silent after 2007's Heroes of Mana and Dawn of Mana, and even before that people were complaining that Square just couldn't rekindle the magic of Secret of Mana on the Super NES. There's no word on what the newly trademarked Circle of Mana might be, but I'd suggest a disappointing cell-phone game at this point.

MOBILE MATTERS: SEPTEMBER

DRAKERIDER
Developer: Witchcraft
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: iOS Devices
MSRP: $6.99 per chapter, $20.99 for the full game

Most of Square Enix's mobile RPGs stick to the familiar: we have ports of Final Fantasy games and The World Ends With You, and we have the traditional mechanics of Chaos Rings. Fortunately, Drakerider tries out a new idea or two. Those ideas aren't found so much in the plot, as it involves another reluctant young hero facing his world-saving destiny. This hero is a silver-haired tracker named Aran Lawson, and he's hired to retrieve a strange woman from some cultists. The entire thing goes astray when the woman, an unblinkingly formal mystic named Quory, gives Aran the power to summon a dragon—which promptly shows up and destroys everything around it. The dragon then ferries Aran and Quory around the world, hunting down monsters collectively known as the Dread (thus recalling Panzer Dragoon, or a less creepy version of Drakengard). The game looks quite sharp for an iPhone diversion, and it's all arranged a bit like a PlayStation-era Final Fantasy, with simple, branching dungeons and a nice, open-skied overworld to fly across.

Drakerider's real innovation lies in the battle system. Aran's dragon Eckhardt is loosely under his control, thanks to a web of chains that pop up on the battle screen. By flicking at the chains and watching a multicolored meter, the player dictates Eckhart's automatic attacks, be they healing spells, fiery breath, or some other ability. Eckhardt's demeanor tends to slide down the meter with each action, however, and once he hits the red, he slips into a berserk state and attacks anything (his master included). It's a novel twist on RPG combat, but Drakerider's battles tend toward the simple and repetitive. Eckhardt's mood-meter and attacks change slightly as Aran equips new weapons and abilities, and there's an extensive map of skills to be unlocked. Drakerider's experiment doesn't always pay off, yet it's worth sampling for those in need of a new approach to RPGs. It's also easy to try; Square's pricing is exorbitant, but they're giving away the first chapter for free.

FINAL FANTASY DIMENSIONS
Developer: Matrix Software
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: iOS Devices
MSRP: $2.99 for the first chapter, $9.99 each for the other three, or $28.99 for the full game

If Drakerider stands on the foundations of PlayStation-era RPGs, Final Fantasy Dimensions viciously attacks those nostalgia for the genre's more distant eras. Dimensions opens with a rolling introduction and music straight out of the original Final Fantasy. It then launches into scenes of forests and airships that would fit right into Final Fantasy IV. And it curtly introduces characters before letting the player rename them, just like Final Fantasy VI did. Much like any Final Fantasy that transfixed Super NES owners until the dim hours of the morning, Final Fantasy Dimensions finds its youthful heroes living in the shadow of an empire, namely the seemingly benevolent Avalon. It's not long before they're launched on a far-reaching quest that involves crystals. Along the way, they'll get into numerous turn-based battles and master skills in various jobs.

Final Fantasy Dimensions isn't a carbon-copy of some older Final Fantasy, though. The central eight characters are divided into warriors of Light and Darkness, often separating friends and family: main character Sol lands in the Light camp, while his pal Glaive is in the Dark one, for example. Certain job classes are only available to Light or Dark warriors, and there's a lineup of other party members to gather, among them Gram the Dark Knight, Barbara the dragoon, Gawain the alcoholic ex-knight, Argy (Argy?) the android, and Matoya the dancer. It's riddled with callbacks to Final Fantasy lore, and the battles have the same sturdy progression as the franchise's best titles. Dimensions is a bit on the easy side, however, and the game's touch-screen controls sometimes disagree with the characters' four-way movements. As with Drakerider, Square Enix is portioning it out several ways. The game's prologue is free, and the rest of it runs nearly thirty bucks.

CASEY DUCK: BUTTER DUCK
Developer: Zyqued Games, probably
Publisher: Zyqued Games
Platform: Android, iOS Devices
MSRP: Free!

Casey Duck: Butter Duck has no links to major game franchises. Casey Duck: Butter Duck has no tie-ins to popular movies or cartoons. Casey Duck: Butter Duck has only a duck with a stained tie and an insatiable hunger for dairy products. When his meal of butter is stolen by a chipmunk, Casey Duck sets off through three levels filled with hostile woodland creatures, angry fish, and large bags of “poison duck repellant.” He eventually finds his butter at a nearby farmhouse, but a horrifying twist ending sets everything up for a sequel.

The iPhone and Android have hundreds of games ostensibly similar to Casey Duck: basic, low-budget side-scrollers that pitch themselves as pursuits “for kids and kids at heart.” Yet there's something curious about Casey Duck: Butter Duck, a game seemingly driven solely by the idea of a duck that puts butter at the core of his being. Casey flaps through largely empty stages, pecking enemies until they squeak and vanish. The game can be finished in seven minutes, and every post-stage score screen gives you a “combat rating.” And then there's the gloriously overdone Casey Duck theme song, where we're told that the duck lives entirely on butter and ghee, which is pretty much liquid butter. Is this some strange attempt at teaching kids about the dangers of food obsession and unhealthy eating? One thing is certain: in all the game industry, there is nothing quite like Casey Duck: Butter Duck.

ALSO AVAILABLE
Megaman co-creator Keiji Inafune recently brought a new game called J.J. Rockets to the Japanese iPhone and Android. The game's very much in the fashion of a 2-D Megaman vehicle, but here players control an armored 1950s superhero version of the President of the United States, tackling three-minute missions that normally involve giant mutants.

The hero doesn't appear to be an actual U.S. President. Rather, he's a fictional politician, like the stars of Metal Wolf Chaos and Liberation Girl. Sadly, J.J. Rockets is available only through Japan's Mobage network, putting it beyond most American players for now. Still, this is one game that seems made for this country.

For those still waiting on a U.S. release of Imageepoch's Black Rock Shooter: The Game, there's some solace available on iOS devices. Petite Rock Shooter: Pursue the Mystery of the Sexy Planet is in the vein of Angry Birds, only with a diminutive version of Black Rock Shooter launching bullets at flying enemies and, at end of each stage, a giant, scantily clad woman. She has various projectiles and costumes at her disposal, and most of them cost extra.

It hardly compares to the PSP game, but the basic version of Petite Rock Shooter is free. Though it's supposedly just for Japanese iTunes users, there's nothing stopping Westerners from plucking it off the iTunes Store.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

KIRBY'S DREAM COLLECTION
Developer: HAL Laboratory Inc.
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii
MSRP: $39.99

What made Kirby succeed where other cute, unpretentiously designed game characters failed? Why didn't Mr. Gimmick or Blobert or Trip World's Yakopoo catch on as Kirby did? Perhaps it was Kirby's subtly disturbing concept of a little pink blob who swallows and digests his apparently sentient foes in order to gain their powers. Or perhaps it was just the fact that Kirby was backed by the biggest game company on the planet. Bingo.

To celebrate two decades of promoting Kirby, Nintendo put together a compilation of six notable Kirby side-scrollers. The original Kirby's Dream Land for the Game Boy is a short and easy introduction to Kirby, who at this point couldn't yet gain new abilities from the enemies he inhaled. Kirby's Adventure is longer and slightly tougher NES title, and it allows Kirby to derive new attacks from his consumed opponents. Kirby's Dream Land 2 introduced animal friends (specifically an owl, a hamster, and a sunfish) that Kirby could ride, and Kirby's Dream Land 3 used similar style in a Super NES game. Kirby Super Star is held high by many Kirby fans due to its variety of sub-games, which range from full-length action titles to boss rushes and briefer diversions. As the awkwardly applied numerals suggest, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is a Nintendo 64 entry, and it presents a side-scrolling game with 3-D graphics. Dream Collection adds a number of completely new “challenge stages,” and it comes with a Kirby timeline, a special 48-page Kirby booklet, and a 45-track CD of Kirby music.

What doesn't this collection have? Quite a few Kirby games, in fact. Kirby's Pinball Land, Kirby's Dream Course, Kirby's Block Ball, Kirby's Star Stacker, and Kirby's Tilt 'N Tumble are all absent, as are the obscure Kirby's Toy Box sports games released on Nintendo's Japan-only Satellaview service. Kirby's Avalanche is also missing, which is a bit strange—even though it was a revamp of Compile's Puyo Puyo, Nintendo had no trouble putting it on the Wii's Virtual Console. The collection doesn't include anything from the Game Boy Advance onward, so there's no Kirby Air Ride or Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. Nor will you see obscurities like the Nintendo 64 version of Air Ride or the unreleased Kid Kirby for the Super NES. But Nintendo has to draw the line somewhere.

LA-MULANA
Developer: GR3 Project/Nigoro
Publisher: EnjoyUp Games
Platform: WiiWare
MSRP: 1000 Wii Points (about $10)

So what's the story behind La-Mulana? Well, it's an side-scrolling adventure game originally created by a three-man team and released on PCs back in 2006. Arranged with the same structure as Metroid and Cave Story and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the huge levels of La-Mulana sprawl in all directions, and every new ability opens up another sector of the game. La-Mulana is also considerably harder than any of its forbears. The game throws puzzles, difficult platforming, and some downright cruel tricks at the fedora-sporting archeologist Lemeza, who's scouring the ruins of La-Mulana for clues about the origin of human civilization. Aside from the unforgiving traps, La-Mulana also houses helpful villagers, numerous treasures, and various weapons. All of these are usually just a means to finding new regions full of deadly hazards. As with many of the old games that inspired La-Mulana, you learn by dying. Over and over.

Of course, the real story behind La-Mulana involves the WiiWare version of the game. It was released in Japan last summer, and it was scheduled for an American release through Nicalis, the same publisher that brought Cave Story to WiiWare and DSiWare. Yet the game was delayed several times, and Nicalis canceled the port earlier this year, citing the widespread ossification of the WiiWare market. The developers at Nigoro disagreed with this, and so did publisher EnjoyUp Games. They're now releasing the WiiWare version of the game, which shows off the same revamped graphics and soundtrack as the enhanced PC version that arrived this summer. The game's also a little easier than its original form, thanks to some smoother control and a convenient scanning feature for Lemeza's portable computer (which references the old Japanese MSX). Of course, the WiiWare version can't be modded as easily as the PC revamp, so there'll be no editing the La-Mulana ruins to look like a Super Mario Bros. level.

STREET FIGHTER 25TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION
Developer: CAPCOM
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
MSRP: $149.99

Several CAPCOM games are turning twenty-five this year: Bionic Commando, Black Tiger, Avengers, Tiger Road, and a little something called Megaman. Yet it's Street Fighter that gets a lavish anniversary collection. As with the Kirby compilation, this isn't a complete roundup of the entire Street Fighter canon. Between the game discs and the download codes, you'll get Street Fighter X Tekken, Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition, and Super Street Fighter II HD Remix. And if you pick up the PlayStation 3 package, you'll also find codes for four PLAYSTATION Network titles: the PlayStation versions of the three Street Fighter Alpha games, plus the PSP edition of Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max. That might seem overkill, but remember that the PSP version has Maki, Yun, Ingrid, and Eagle.

Of course, the true appeal of this set lies beyond the games, which any devoted Street Fighter geek already owns. Those fans are drawn to the collection's art tribute book, Ryu statue (with a light-up base!), Ryu belt replica, handsome display box, and 11-disc soundtrack set. There's also a Blu-ray pack that includes an all-new Street Fighter documentary, plus Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, the anime shorts for Super Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter IV, and the Street Fighter animated series. Yes, the American one that spawned all of those M. Bison jokes. That's a fair amount of conspicuous consumption for $150, even if it's missing a number of Street Fighter titles. In fact, the original 1987 arcade game isn't part of this collection. Even if it's aged terribly, it started all of this.


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