The X Button
Gear Protection

by Todd Ciolek, May 22nd 2013

Last week I asked readers about the low points of their Nintendo DS libraries, and some folks posted their answers in the forums. Reader Craig Gabrielsen actually sent me an e-mail with his picks, and I'd like to share them below.

Here are my off-the-cuff personal nominees:

-Devilish. A remake of a Genesis/Game Gear Breakout variant which has you actively moving your paddle through stages whilst keeping the ball alive and using it to kill monsters and such along with breaking bricks. The physics are all over the place and the visuals are less attractive than the original, but for some reason I can't bring myself to get rid of it, even though I've finished the thing.

-Feel the Magic XY/XX and The Rub Rabbits. Controls are very spotty for some of the games and the subject matter is somewhat embarrassing, though I think it's their heavy dose of "Sega Weirdness" that keeps them in my DS drawer.

-Little Red Riding Hood's Zombie BBQ. Not a terrible game all told (especially for the few bucks I got it for), but obviously it's the shamelessly goofy theme that's kept me from selling it.

-Every strategy/RPG I own. Mentioning these not because they're bad games, but because I'm almost certainly never going to have time for any of them. Nearly ten of them languish in my collection at last count, and I used to have a few more, none of which I ever finished. Granted, the DS isn't the only offending system in this regard, but it's probably the most condensed example.

That's a rather well-considered list. I actually forgot that Devilish was re-released on the DS—and with far less scary cover art than the Game Gear title!

I thank all of the people who mentioned the worst DS games that they just can't toss aside. Reader Paul Soth also reminded brought up the buggy initial pressing of SNK vs. CAPCOM: Card Fighters DS, and that brings to mind the equally un-finishable first-run copies of Bubble Bobble Revolution. And that brings to mind a comforting thought: if a game actually lets you complete it, it's technically not as bad as a release-day Bubble Bobble Revolution.

NEWS

GUILTY GEAR XRD -SIGN- IS A REAL THING
Guilty Gear couldn't stay away for long. Arc System Works turned to the shiny new BlazBlue for a few years, and rumors flew that the rights to Guilty Gear were caught up in some squabble between Arc System Works, Sammy, and Sega. But Guilty Gear remained the most able fusion of heavy-metal nonsense and anime-styled fighting games, and it was only a matter of time until Arc sorted things out for a sequel.

All we've seen so far is a short trailer for Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-, but it's quite striking. As callous bounty hunter Sol Badguy banters with his former comrade Ky Kiske, one might mistake the characters for Guilty Gear's typically detailed 2-D sprites. Once they start fighting, however, the game reveals that it's a 3-D fighter recreating a hand-drawn look to stunning effect.

Little is revealed about just where the game lies in Guilty Gear's bizarre chronology, though fans already took clues from Sol and Ky's slightly new appearances. Ky's kerchief and ponytail seem to predate his longer hair in Guilty Gear 2. On the other hand, Sol lugs around a sword larger and cruder than the Fuuenken he carried in previous Guilty Gears, and that new sword bears the words “Bullet Heaven Patent Pending Jan 15, 2187.” That would put it a year after Guilty Gear 2. This is why pondering the Guilty Gear timeline is a good way to go mad.

Then there's the trailer's post-credits piece, which briefly shows Millia Rage swiping around her prehensile hair before glimpsing Eddie (or rather, the corpse of Zato-1, which Eddie animates). Like Sol and Ky, she dons a slightly new outfit, including a pillbox hat that makes her look just a little more like Maetel from Galaxy Express 999. And what's up with that sign on her hat?

Of course, the most pressing matter is just where Guilty Gear Xrd will land. Arc System Works has yet to announce if the game's coming to current systems or the next generation. Evidence suggests the former, as series director Daisuke Ishiwatari once alluded to making a new Guilty Gear for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. I'll be glad to see it anywhere. After numerous minimal fighting-game upgrades (more on that later!) and the mystifying, perhaps underappreciated Guilty Gear 2, Guilty Gear Xrd is a welcome revelation.

MICROSOFT CONFUSINGLY DUBS NEW SYSTEM THE XBOX ONE
In news that certainly will be overshadowed by the announcement of a new Guilty Gear, Microsoft revealed the next member of the Xbox family: the Xbox One. Yes, we often refer to the original Xbox as the Xbox-1, but that was never its Microsoft-sanctioned name. The official Xbox One is an entirely new machine designed to meet the entertainment demands of modern consumers and do whatever the Xbox 360 did, only prettier.

For one thing, Microsoft's big exhibition emphasized the Xbox One's all-in-one multimedia capabilities before discussing any games. The console has a Blu-Ray player, Wi-Fi, HDMI, and 8 GB of memory, all things one would expect in a modern console, and it's able to switch between TV shows, games, music, and movies with simple voice commands. The console also includes a fancier version of the motion-sensing Kinect, which may have more success as a varied interface unit than a games platform.

And what of the games? Microsoft promises at least 15 exclusive titles in its first year, with eight of them being all-new properties. The Xbox One's coming-out party acknowledged only familiar heavy hitters, though; Microsoft had Forza 5 on deck, and Electronic Arts showed off admittedly impressive footage of the next NBA Live, Madden, FIFA titles, plus the newly acquired UFC line. Activision provided the closing number with Call of Duty: Ghosts, which takes the first-person shooter series into a world where America's military and global presence are hobbled by some calamity. The game's trailer made much of a trained military dog that accompanies the player's squad of tenacious veterans.

Many wondered how the new Xbox might handle used games, and Microsoft offered a vague solution. A brand-new Xbox One game includes an access code that allows the game to be installed on a system (which is required in order to play it) and links that game with a player's XBox Live account. In order to play the same copy of the game on a different system with a different account, you'll have to purchase the game again through XBox Live. This presumably applies to used games as well, but Microsoft also promises that players can sell their unwanted Xbox One games online. How? They're not saying just yet. Even less encouraging is the news that the Xbox One isn't compatible with Xbox 360 games or XBox Live Arcade titles.

Microsoft is planning a worldwide launch for the Xbox One later this year, which presumably translates to “in time for holiday shopping.” I can only hope the advertising makes plain that the Xbox One is a new system, lest children across the nation wake up Christmas morning and unwrap vintage-2003 Xboxes. At least they can play Panzer Dragoon Orta.

DOWNLOAD REVIEWS: APRIL AND MAY

BLACK ROCK SHOOTER
Developer: Imageepoch
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Sony PSP/Vita
MSRP: $19.99

Black Rock Shooter: The Game is perplexing in concept. The title character, originally created by the artist huke, is a pale, glowing-eyed slip of a girl who lugs around an enormous assault cannon, so why not put her in…well, a shooter? But developer Imageepoch specializes in RPGs, and so Black Rock Shooter: The Game meets the idea halfway. Upon awakening in the ruins of civilization, the laconic Black Rock Shooter finds herself fighting alongside a military unit that may well be the last vestige of the human race. Her battle against mankind's alien exterminators takes her through various wrecked cityscapes full of rapacious mecha. That much is typical of post-apocalyptic anime, but her method of fighting isn't.

The game's combat proves an inventive crossbreed as Black Rock fires, dodges, defends, and pulls off special attacks with simple button presses. The mix of targeting enemies and timing attacks requires more reflexes than the typical RPG, and menus rarely clog the gunplay. There's also a good sense of balance to the equation, as dodging and shooting indiscriminately overheats Black Rock's systems and leaves her at the mercy of ravenous robo-beasts. Imageepoch also throws in driving stages with Black Rock's elaborate, Batman-ish motorbike.

It's unfortunate that Black Rock Shooter: The Game can't tie it all into a larger triumph. While the battles are fun, they're also a bit repetitive once an enemy type's attack patterns are decoded, and the bike-riding levels are far too limited in their attacks. The overarching design suffers more; city layouts are unremarkable, and the game's various missions dredge up all sorts of inane scavenger hunts and errands (including a “talk to everyone!” directive). Black Rock Shooter: The Game's story isn't without its creative points, but far too much of it is mired in cliché supporting characters and even more stereotypical villains. In its best battles, the game captures the streamlined, rapid-fire anime cavalcade that Black Rock Shooter seems born for, but there's not much to brace it.

GUILTY GEAR XX ACCENT CORE PLUS R
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platform: PS Vita
MSRP: $14.99

The marginal upgrade is a tradition among fighting games, dating all the way back to Street Fighter II: Championship Edition. Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R, however, is even more marginal than most. You won't see any new characters or major twists to the Guilty Gear mythos. Aside from a new look for the life bars, the only real aesthetic difference from Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus is the Mayship background, where the assembled pirate girls are changed to a slightly more wholesome lineup.

So what does the R signify? A bunch of little alternations to each character's moves and priorities. This essentially confines the game to the competitive elite, the sort of players who'll be excited to see that Baiken has an expanded Tatami-mat attack or that I-No can now dash twice in the air. There are indeed many small changes to discover, and the controls are ever so slightly more responsive.

Here's the problem: the game has no online play. It features only ad-hoc multiplayer, so you're limited to going up against hardcore Guilty Gear fans in the immediate area. This would be a grievous issue in any modern fighter, and it's especially crippling when competitive gameplay nuances are the sole attraction. Accent Core Plus R is still Guilty Gear, and it's still the same enjoyable salad of vibrant effects, delightfully strange characters, even stranger attacks, and squalling guitar rock. Yet there's no reason for fans to grab this unless they'll enjoy obsessing over the subtle adjustments to Jam's wall-bounce combos or Sol's Tyrant Rave maneuvers. They're better off holding out for an online patch, settling for Accent Core Plus on consoles, or looking forward to Guilty Gear Xrd.

THE STARSHIP DAMREY
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Level-5
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (eShop)
MSRP: $7.99

The Starship Damrey begins with a warning: “This game contains no tutorials or explanations.” It's technically true. You awaken inside a cryogenic capsule aboard a spaceship, with only a photograph and a terminal to provide vague hints about your identity and predicament. Yet it isn't long before the starship's AI helps you out, first walking you through the computer system's reboot and then informing you of the situation: your capsule can't be opened, so you're forced to explore the ship by operating the only viable service robot. And then you find the first dead crew member.

Kazuya Asano and Takemaru Abiko, makers of several Chunsoft “sound novel” titles, craft a suspenseful little ride in The Starship Damrey. Despite the easily grasped interface, the game leaves players in the dark where it matters most: the mystery of just what happened to the Damrey. The early sections of the game hint at everything from computer malfunctions to actual ghosts, and it's no less creepy when taken in through the lens of a remote-controlled robot. It is, however, more than a little tedious. The ship's robots are sluggish automations with a limited range of vision, and you'll often have to back up and reorient the camera just to properly scan a door, grab an item, or squish a space leech. Said robots are also capable of carrying only one item at a time, which leads to a fairly simple progression of puzzles.

For those who can tolerate a limited interface, The Starship Damrey's ominous environments provide a worthy tribute to the exploration-heavy adventure games of old. It's just a bit too realistic. Sometimes video games need to be smooth and implausible.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

The May drought continues, though at least Insomniac's four-player shooter Fuse comes along for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It's got Jennifer Hale and Steven Blum! Yes, a lot of games have them, but no others have them during this particular week.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter. He'll probably talk about Guilty Gear an awful lot.


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