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Crushing Hopes

by Todd Ciolek, Jun 5th 2013

Last week I talked about two Kickstarters I backed: the Time of Eve movie Blu-Ray and The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers. This week I'll talk about a Kickstarter that I probably won't back.

Armikrog is a stop-motion adventure game planned by Doug TenNapel , Mike Dietz, and Ed Schofield. All of them worked on Earthworm Jim as well as the claymated delights of The Neverhood and Skullmonkeys (and Boombots, but we shan't speak of that). Their new project bears the strongest resemblance to The Neverhood, as Armikrog is a puzzle-driven point-and-click adventure game that follows the explorer Tommynaut and his sightless dog Beak-Beak as they're imprisoned in an alien fortress. The Kickstarter's preview of the game shows off TenNapel's strange and charming style, while the voice cast features Rob Paulsen, Jon Heder, Veronica Belmont, and MST3K's Michael J. Nelson. Plus there's a soundtrack by Neverhood composter Terry Taylor.

So what's the problem? Well, Doug TenNapel isn't just the creator of Earthworm Jim, The Neverhood, Project G.e.e.K.e.R., and comics like Gear and Ratfist. He's also rather forthcoming in his opinions. Through his website and the comments on his Ratfist comic, TenNapel has made known his disapproval for gay marriage; in one oft-quoted post, he likened it to “letting a man take a dump in the ladies room.” He frequently defends his positions on Twitter, and a recent exchange saw him unapologetically employing the slur “trannies” and accusing his detractors of being unthinking and intolerant. They're intolerant of his intolerance, that is.

This brings up a troubling question: should you support something when you find its creator's views repulsive or harmful?

I have no doubt that many things I buy and enjoy might very well profit people with views I'd consider abhorrent. That's just the way the world works, and everyone's allowed to hold opinions as readily they're allowed to decry others. Yet a line is crossed when a creator's opinions bleed deep into the creation itself. Another is crossed when a creator promotes those opinions so openly and repeatedly that they overshadow the books, movies, TV shows, comics, video games, or whatever else I happen to like.

One example we're sure to hear more of in the coming months: Orson Scott Card. The author of Ender's Game and a lot of other science fiction and fantasy makes no secret of his views of gay marriage and other issues. He backed California's Proposition 8, which legally restricted marriage to heterosexual unions, so much that he advocated open rebellion if the measure failed. Among video games, it's very likely that composer Koichi Sugiyama uses some of his Dragon Quest money to promote public denials of Japan's World War II atrocities. For a contrasting case, there's Michael J. Nelson himself. He's a conservative by all accounts, but he doesn't fervently promulgate his views, and his humor in Rifftrax and MST3K is largely apolitical.

Of course, the Kickstarter will fund only Armikrog, and it's possible that TenNapel's views won't color the game at all. They certainly didn't color Skullmonkeys or The Neverhood. However, TenNapel's more recent comics, most obviously Ratfist, reflect his stances on politics, faith, and other subjects. There's no guarantee Armikrog will avoid that.

Every so often our nerd loyalties are tested, and we have to look beyond out favored entertainment to decide just where our money goes. And I think I've decided. I liked The Neverhood, but I'm not a big enough fan to risk my dollar promoting something I morally oppose.

NEWS

TALES OF SYMPHONIA GOES HD, SEQUEL JUMPS ABOARD
There's a long and possibly vehement argument to be had over which Tales game is the most popular in Japan, but here in America just about everyone agrees on Tales of Symphonia. It was very lucky in some ways, arriving on the GameCube at a time when decent, grand-scale RPGs were in short supply on the system (and elsewhere in the game industry, for that matter). It didn't hurt that the game has rather nice production values, enjoyable battles, and some top-notch voice work that makes players overlook just how nonsensical the storyline grows. So Namco Bandai, often hesitant to bring Tales games to North America, rubber-stamped a new PlayStation 3 remastering of Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World.

Aside from looking better, the HD versions of the two games feature new mid-battle portraits for each character's Arte attacks, plus some new Tales of the Abyss costumes. That aside, they're similar to the originals. Tales of Symphonia follows painfully nice heroine Colette Brunel as she and her friend Lloyd Irving try to reach a tower that restores the planet's lifeforce, while Dawn of the New World (which no one seems to like that much) unfolds two years later and stars two vengeful young adventurers named Emil Castagnier and Marta Lualdi, along with most of the first game's cast.

The two-game package is out in Japan this October, with the North American version arriving in 2014. Japan also gets a $100 special edition with a light novel, a greeting card, and five figurines of the games' main characters. We probably won't see such extravagance in North America, and it's not clear just what Namco Bandai will do about the voice acting. Dawn of the New World replaced some of the original's cast, but I suspect they won't bother re-recording anything.

DOUBLE FINE DEBUTS ‘MASSIVE CHALICE’ KICKSTARTER, SUCCEEDS ALREADY
Now for one more Kickstarter: Double Fine, which pretty much spawned the Kickstarter game trend with Broken Age, launched a second project last week. Massive Chalice is a strategy game where players control a monarch warring against demons, and the battle goes well beyond the turn-based combat. As a ruler, players also manage the kingdom's finances, research new weapons, and arrange marriages. The last of these is particularly important, as marriages result in children who go on to fight in place of their parents. It sounds a bit like Fire Emblem, and Double Fine also suggests influences from Final Fantasy Tactics and X-COM.

The best part? It's already funded. Massive Chalice's Kickstarter passed its $725,000 goal earlier in the week, and we still have over 20 days to donate to it.

FEATURE: E3 HOPES

Every Electronic Entertainment Expo brings doomsaying about the show: that it's not as big as it once was, that it still promotes unpleasant stereotypes, that the game industry itself is stagnant. Yet there's actually good reason to expect less from this year's unchecked glorification of the video-game market. Nintendo will forego a traditional E3 press conference in favor of two smaller media events, plus an hour-long Nintendo Direct special streamed to everyone. Meanwhile, Microsoft already announced the Xbox One and Sony the PlayStation 4, so any big news they'll roll out will focus more on games than the fan-enraging spectacle of the systems themselves.

But this doesn't mean it'll be boring. No, no, no. Everyone will be firing off their heaviest artillery. Nintendo needs to make the most of the Wii U's early start and build up the 3DS library. Sony needs to show up everyone with the PlayStation 4 while making them remember that the Vita's still alive. Microsoft needs to deliver some new Xbox One properties and clarify their stance on used games. And every other company, whether it's CAPCOM or Square Enix or Compile Heart, could use a decent showing.

Like any other geek, I can tell you what games would make this E3 one to remember. I'll draw the line at any outlandish choices, like a new Guardian Legend programmed by Treasure. Or a full-fledged Megaman game. We'll never get another one of those.

GRAVITY RUSH 2
Last year's Gravity Rush had everything I wanted: a remarkable setting, a likeable protagonist, and a unique gameplay idea backing both. It also had a viewpoint that refused to behave, but that was easily forgiven when Kat, the heroine, could use her gravity-defying powers to soar through a floating city of faux-European styling. It's the sort of game that demands a sequel. The storyline leaves much unclear in the end, and hints are dropped about the many ways it could expand. Gravity Rush 2 wouldn't even have to improve much beyond the camera system. Just give Kat more places to fly.

Will It Be There? There's a good chance. Gravity Rush director Keiichiro Toyama alluded to a sequel on Twitter last September without actually confirming one, and it makes a great deal of sense. The original Gravity Rush is arguably the best thing on the Vita, and Sony backed it enough to put Kat and her feline companion Dusty in their ill-fated PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Let's make it up to them with Gravity Rush 2.

FINAL FANTASY XV
The greatest mystery of E3 may be the nebulous “Final Fantasy” to be shown during Sony's press conference. But what particular Final Fantasy is this? Many point to it being a full-blown Final Fantasy XV, and even that raises questions. The next numbered Final Fantasy could be based on that Agni's Philosophy tech demo that Square Enix showed off at last year's E3, which didn't reveal much beyond a young woman escaping a military brigade in some cluttered cliffside town. Or it could be an entirely new Final Fantasy XV, a fresh start for all concerned.

Yet the most popular theory is that it'll be Final Fantasy Versus XIII rebranded as Final Fantasy XV. Square's worked on Versus for seven years, and we've seen little beyond the character introductions and some gameplay footage. It's logical to move the game to a new platform and rename it; the whole idea of a Final Fantasy XIII sub-series was a wash, and the somewhat modern stage of Versus would still fit within the frame of a numbered Final Fantasy. Putting it on the PlayStation 4 would also keep it away from Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns. Square Enix's third attempt to put poor Lightning in a well-liked game is still headed to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and it certainly doesn't need competition inside its own publisher.

Will It Be There? The best evidence for Versus becoming Final Fantasy XIII may come from fashions and perfumes. Roen, a Japanese clothing company, was originally tapped for design work on Versus back in 2008, and the firm's online bio mentioned them working on Final Fantasy XV earlier this year. In a turn less likely to be coincidence, there's a new eau-de-toilette named after Noctis, the hero of Final Fantasy Versus XIII. As game-industry legend Nick Des Barres observed on Twitter, other character-based Final Fantasy scents are branded with specific game titles, but the Noctis one is simply called “Final Fantasy” with no Versus in sight.

And yes, Square sells Final Fantasy perfume. They've done it for years.

THE LAST GUARDIAN
Yes, it's that time of the year when we fret and fuss over Fumito Ueda's The Last Guardian. The game turned many heads with its subtly beautiful look and restrained images of a kid meeting a giant griffin puppy, evoking the same air as Ueda's Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. And then problems arose. Ueda left Sony in 2011 but many were mollified by the news that he'd continue to direct the game as a freelancer. Less comforting was The Last Guardian's complete absence at last year's E3. Sony hasn't announced a release date for the game, and rumors fly that it's moved from the PlayStation 3 to the PlayStation 4.

Will It Be There? It doesn't look good. The Last Guardian popped up on an exhibition list at e3insider.com, but the game vanished after Sony Computer Entertainment Europe decried its inclusion as “pure speculation.” Perhaps Sony's just building up the uncertainty for a special rollout, complete with a life-size animatronic griffin that lumbers onto the E3 stage and inadvertently rampages through Los Angeles. That would make up for all the delays.

DARKSTALKERS 4
Things were lookin' up for the Darkstalkers series back in March. That's when CAPCOM released Darkstalkers Resurrection, bringing both Night Warriors and Darkstalkers 3 to XBox Live and the PLAYSTATION Network. This seemed like the rebirth of the long-dormant fighter franchise, celebrated for its amusingly detailed art, endearing monster-cinema characters, and…oh yeah, the gameplay is pretty nice as well. Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono even showed off some brief footage of Darkstalkers characters, and CAPCOM stated that the chances for a full-blown Darkstalkers 4 depended on how well Resurrection sold.

Will It Be There? Unfortunately, this lands in “probably not” department. CAPCOM's U.S. senior vice president Christian Svensson announced in April that Darkstalkers Resurrection didn't sell as much as it “really needs to be successful.” Unless things have improved in the past month, CAPCOM isn't planning another Darkstalkers. The most we'll see of the series at E3 will be Morrigan, Lord Raptor, and some other Darkstalkers characters popping up in Namco Bandai's Project X Zone.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW LEAF
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
Release date: June 9
MSRP: $34.99

Animal Crossing quickly established itself as Nintendo's cuddliest property. Mario, Pokémon, and even Kirby all involve some sort of conflict and violent underpinning (especially Kirby, come to think of it), but Animal Crossing wraps itself around the pure, friendly experience of a town filled with merry little cats and dogs and deer and hamsters, plus a human or two. Of course, there are still manifold opportunities to create tension and hardship in A New Leaf, as the player is mayor of an entire village. Street layouts are planned, shop hours are set, and the citizens can be made angry if you're really intent on that. But it's much easier to be happy about everything.

A New Leaf presents the usual variety of relaxing Animal Crossing diversions: diving, farming, bug-catching, fruit-harvesting, fossil-digging, and wandering about town. As the player expands the town, the various stores include a garden shop, a hair salon, a museum, and several establishment in Tom Nook's housing chain. This 3DS outing also introduces a new recycling shop, a café where the player can work, and a home showcase that picks up the residences of any Animal Crossing owners within StreetPass range. Of course, there's an entire house to be expanded and decorated at the player's direction, and it's possible to refashion everything from the mailbox to an entirely new room. Naturally, half the fun is sharing this creation with others, and players can give each other presents or meet up on a nearby island.

What, you've never played Animal Crossing before and the whole idea sounds boring? Well, that's what people said when they heard about the original game back in 2002, and few complained once they played it.

THE LAST OF US
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release date: June 14
MSRP: $59.99

Far from the gentle countryside and gregarious townsfolk of Animal Crossing, we find The Last of Us. This is not a happy game. This is the game that concluded its E3 showing with a man begging for his life moments before the player's avatar shot his face off. And then the crowd applauded. That was disturbing.

But perhaps it wasn't so much the fault of the game. From the look of things, The Last of Us doesn't want to be a hypermasculine power-fantasy shooter as much as it wants to be a downcast and harrowing and perhaps even meaningful journey through the ruins of civilization. The game opens twenty years after a worldwide fungal outbreak left cities abandoned and the human race largely sequestered in militant colonies. A veteran profiteer named Joel and a teenager named Ellie escape one of these quarantined cul-de-sacs and make their way toward a rebel outfit. In traversing the fungus-ravaged cities and byways, they'll meet the numerous victims of the spore-borne plague, which effectively creates…well, they're technically not zombies, but they may as well be. Perhaps more disturbing are the humans who make their way in this blasted wilderness, as they're driven to vicious extremes. If the designers hadn't admitted to borrowing from Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the game itself would tip that hand.

Post-apocalyptic stages are all too common in video games, but The Last of Us aims to explore one in rare depth. Joel and Ellie tread slowly through detailed portraits of decay: the rotting hallways of a hotel, an overgrown city block, a flooded underground stalked by blind, half-dead creatures. It all looks quite stunning in the little touches, and the game adopts similar approaches to combat. One can sneak around mutants and humans alike, but it's possible to toss objects to distract them, to subdue them with a Solid Snake maneuver, or to simply open fire (and waste your precious ammunition). Perhaps the game's survivalist viewpoint will appeal to the shooter fan all the same, but there's little in The Last of Us that aims to comfort.

MIGHTY SWITCH FORCE 2
Developer: Wayforward
Publisher: Wayforward
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (eShop)
Release date: June 13
MSRP: TBA

It wasn't long ago that the first Mighty Switch Force put a new touch on the whole idea of side-scrolling puzzle games. Heroine Patricia Wagon (har) possesses a unique siren helmet that switches the polarity of blocks throughout the game's levels, and that made for some inventive challenges throughout the original game. Patricia returns in the second Mighty Switch Force; she's now a firefighter and her nemeses, the Hooligan Sisters, are now innocent civilians trapped in flame-filled stages. Fortunately, Patricia still wields her block-switching powers throughout the game's cunningly arranged infernos.

As in Mighty Switch Force, the obstacles in Patricia's way are overcome by switching blocks, whether they're basic platforms or specialized squares that shoot objects (and enemies) in certain directions. The second Mighty Switch Force adds new blocks for directing the water from Patricia's hose, which leads her to rescue five imperiled Hooligan Sister in each stage. The real trick, of course, is pulling off a block-switch or enemy-launch quickly in mid-air, and that's where much of Might Switch Force draws its appeal. And it's hard to deny Wayforward's knack for adorable sprite work.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter. Have fun with it!


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