The X Button
Bizarre Love Triangle

by Todd Ciolek, Sep 4th 2013

I heard about Salty Bet last month, and I thought the idea quite banal. The site streams matches in MUGEN, that game engine that lets fans turn anything into a 2-D fighting-game character, whether it's a slightly tweaked Street Fighter icon or an MS Paint drawing of robot Mark Twain. The fighters all run on AI, so site visitors participate only by betting fake money and yelling at each other in an accompanying chatroom.

And now I can't get away from it. A good deal of the fun comes from the random matchups. Many of them involve pint-size Naruto or Dragon Ball Z characters hilariously kicking each other until the timer runs out, while other fights boil down to some overpowered superhero or SNK boss steamrolling an opponent. It's amusing to see just what people come up with for fan-made characters, and every now and then something remarkable manifests.

It also helps that Saltybet requires little attention. You can glance at it, place a bet, and then let it run in the background while you turn to more meaningful tasks. Of course, you can watch the fights and take in the chat, which captures fighting-game fans in both their amusing over-excitement and, unfortunately, their off-putting misogyny and racism. It's hard to resist predicting both the fight results and the betting odds, all in the hopes of reaping a big play-money payout with some unlikely character. I'm hoping to see fan-made versions of Valkyrie Profile's heroine or Sergio Aragones' Groo.

NEWS

MIGHTY NO. 9 GETS AS CLOSE TO A MEGA MAN REVIVAL AS THE LAW PERMITS
Keiji Inafune didn't rely too heavily on his Megaman cred after leaving CAPCOM. In the years since he departed the company and founded a studio called Comcept, Inafune's made action games like Yaiba and Soul Sacrifice, with only his iOS side-scroller J.J. Rockets really cutting close to Megaman territory. But Inafune can't escape the character he shepherded throughout his days at CAPCOM. It's time he made another Megaman title the only way he can: by slapping a different name on it.

Mighty No. 9 is technically and legally not Megaman, but the parallels are clear. A heroic little robot named Beck is the only one of nine mechanical masters to escape a corrupting virus, and he's forced to take out his fellow machines by swiping their powers for use in various side-scrolling stages. That's Megaman in concept, but Inafune mixes in a new idea: Beck's acquired powers actually transform him, turning him into a tank, a hammer, or some other shape. That presents some interesting changes to the Megaman formula, and Beck apparently has access to abilities beyond the usual boss-given weapons.

Much of Mighty No. 9 reflects the original Megaman, including Inafune's collaboration with former CAPCOM employees like level designer Naoya “Tom Pon” Tomita, art director Shinsuke Komaki, and composer Manami Matsumae. The game repackages other elements of the franchise; the boss designs recall Megaman X's Mavericks, and the proposed art for Beck's partner Call (yes, that's the joke) includes not only a facsimile of Megaman's Roll, but also a pink-haired robot who wears an Eddie-like backpack and looks like Aero from the unjustly axed Megaman Legends 3.

The project's already a success in one sense: the Kickstarter passed its $900,000 mark in under two days, and the game seems well on its way to reaching a number of stretch goals. The initial PC version of Mighty No. 9 has a generously estimated release date of Spring 2015, and developer Renegade Kid already offered to help port it to the 3DS. I hope it does well enough that we see Mighty No. 9 Legends in a few years.

NINTENDO ANNOUNCES 2DS, DRAWS APATHY
There's one important thing to remember about Nintendo's newly unveiled 2DS: if you're reading this, you're probably not its intended audience. Your children might be, though. Everything about the 2DS suggests the younger set: the handheld plays 3DS games without the 3-D effect that could potentially harm kids' eyes, it lacks the hinged design that children tend to break, and it's priced at a manageable $129. It's evidently Nintendo's attack on the encroachment of tablets into the realm of handheld games. The 2DS is meant for parents who want something that plays Pokémon, costs a third of an iPad's going rate, and won't let kids download porn or run up equally obscene app purchases.

Of course, there's no reason the system won't appeal to the older gamer who doesn't care about Nintendo's 3-D experiments or a convenient, foldable design. The only concern, I think, is that the controls are mounted toward the top of the system, meaning that kids will hold the 2DS there…and possibly drop it a lot. Nintendo will find out if that's a liability after the handheld ships on October 12.

BRAVELY DEFAULT BRINGS ENHANCEMENTS, NEW TITLE TO THE U.S.
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy left a curious gap in the 3DS library last year, when it emerged as an extravagant Square Enix RPG with impressive looks, old-fashioned battles, and, well, no confirmed U.S. release. Fortunately, Nintendo got tired of waiting last May and announced a 2014 release for the game. Now the title's Twitter feed suggests that we'll get the newly enhanced version of Bravely Default, subtitled For the Sequel, under the title Bravely Default: Where the Fairy Flies.

The new version of Bravely Default offers a few more options as players tread through the game's tale of adventurers, crystals, empires, and other things we all liked back in the oldest Final Fantasies. The enhanced version of the game has options to speed up combat, auto-battle, and, best of all, lessen the rate of random encounters. Equipment screens are more helpful as well, and the backdrops of towns and cities look a bit sharper. Will Bravely Default do well without Final Fantasy in its title? Will it do well with “Where the Fairy Flies” in its title? I think it will.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: AUGUST

JOJO'S BIZARRE ADVENTURE ALL STAR BATTLE
Developer: CyberConnect2
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure looms over the game industry. While Hirohiko Araki's voluminous manga inspired only a handful of games to date, you'll see its influence everywhere from Persona to Street Fighter, with many in the game industry pledging their fondness for the series. There's no more obvious a pledge than CyberConnect2's new JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle. It's fashioned with the same attention that the developer pays their Naruto fighters, but the results are considerably different.

For one thing, the Jojo's characters are detailed in ways Naruto combatants rarely are. Araki's designs are spectacular creations of outlandish fashion and hairstyles, and CyberConnect2 recreates it all in masterful, heavily shaded graphics. It's made all the more impressive by the game's extensive cast. Over thirty characters are available from the manga's various story arcs, though the more popular ones are favored. From Part One, there's Jonathan Joestar, Will A. Zeppeli, and Dio Brando. From Part Two, there's Joseph Joestar, Caesar Zeppeli, Esidisi, Wamuu, and Kars. From Part Three, Jotaro Kujo, Muhammad Avdol, Noriaki Kakyoin, Hol Horse, Jean Pierre Polnareff, and a nastier version of Dio. From Part Four, Josuke Higashikata, Okuyasu Nijimura, Rohan Kishibe, Kosaku Kawajiri, Koichi Hirose, and Akira Otoishi. From Part Five, Giorno Giovanna, Diavolo, Narancia Ghirga, Bruno Buccellati, and Guido Mista. From Part Six, Jolyne Kujo, Hermes Costello, and Enrico Pucci. From Part Seven (a.k.a. Steel Ball Run), Johnny Joestar, Gyro Zeppeli, and Funny Valentine. Lastly, Part Eight contributes only Josuke Higashikata. But don't despair if your favorite isn't in the initial lineup! CyberConnect2 is perfectly willing to expand it with downloadable characters for you to buy. Iggy, Pannacotta Fugo, Shigechi, and Kira Yoshikage are already planned. Even BAOH, star of one of Araki's early manga, is waiting in the wings.

Far from the chaotic arena fighting that composes much of CyberConnect2's Naruto games, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle strikes closer to Street Fighter IV. Characters face each other on 2-D planes, but they're able to sidestep attacks or, in keeping with Jojo's tradition, pull off a Stylish Move that effectively parries an oncoming blow. On top of the usual attacks, each character uses “style” button that varies with his or her choice of martial arts; Ripple fighters reveal powered-up versions of their regular moves, Stand fighters summon their alter-ego to change their attacks, and horseriders jump on their mounts to gain speed and size advantages. Special moves are pulled off with the rolling motions familiar to anyone who's played Street Fighter, and each character has two straight-from-the-manga super moves, naturally called Heart Heat Attacks and Great Heart Attacks. There's no denying that All Star Battle is a complex fighter. Is it a well-balanced one? That may take a little longer to decide.

Import Barrier: Very little stands in the way of Jojo's fans importing the game. There's no regional lockout, and as fighters go it's not hard to learn.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Not so bad. Namco Bandai's clearly willing to release niche fighters as digital-only titles, like their upcoming Saint Seiya: Brave Warriors, so perhaps they'll do the same for All Star Battle.

Strangest Design: In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure it's very hard to choose, but I think Giorno Giovanna's hair stands out as one of the oddest coiffures in the series.

HOT-BLOODED TOUGH GUY KUNIO: FIGHTING CONCERTO
Developer: Million Co. Ltd.
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Many remember Technos Japan's Kunio-Kun games from the NES era, though not as a specific series. They were known by different titles in different genres, and most kids quickly noticed how the same blocky characters appeared in Super Dodge Ball, Nintendo World Cup, Crash 'N The Boys: Street Challenge, and the esteemed River City Ransom. The last of these remains one of the biggest cult classics of the NES, and that may be why Million, owner of old Technos properties, put together a new Kunio-Kun game in the same spirit: Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio: Fighting Concerto. This 3DS outing recalls River City Ransom instantly with opening scenes of street toughs sparking a turf war, and the resulting brawl, scripted by Kunio-Kun creator Yoshihisa Kishimoto, sends Kunio through various Tokyo districts full of equally square-headed thugs.

Kunio-Kun SP's central mode plays much like River City Ransom and all of those other Kunio-Kun brawlers that Technos never brought to North America. It's easy to dash, jump-kick, and pick up and toss any weaponlike objects that fall to the ground. Enemies also utter dialogue upon defeat, though their lines seem more elaborate than River City Ransom's classic “Barf!” exclamation. Stores offer upgrades (and, we assume, free smiles) and restorative meals while Kunio and his companions bash their way around, and the heroes can take on part-time jobs when defeated goons don't leave enough cash behind them. In tribute to other Kunio-Kun games, the multiplayer modes include a dodgeball battle with over thirty characters, and there's also a general-purpose four-player slugfest for those who prefer less sportsmanlike diversions. It's all a rather reassuring tribute to Kunio-Kun games as we knew them twenty years ago.

Import Barrier: The 3DS remains region-locked, and the game needs a little knowledge of Japanese to decode the menus and modes. As for the story, you could always pretend it's River City Ransom and that everyone has names like “Alex” and “Slick.”

Chances of a Domestic Release: The last Kunio-kun game to reach North America was River City Soccer Hooligans in 2010. This makes Aksys the most likely localizer, and they have no plans for the game right now.

Strangest Design: Possibly the guy at the upper-right of the cover, who carries a gun and looks a little like the protagonist of Retro City Rampage.

ROMEO VS. JULIET
Developer: QuinRose
Publisher: QuinRose
Platform: Sony PSP

Certain people will blanch and groan and vow terrible revenge at the idea of Romeo and Juliet turned into a dating simulator about vampires. But you know what? Screw 'em. Romeo and Juliet already became just about everything in years past: a futuristic war comic by Stan Lee, an episode of DuckTales, and, yes, an anime series set on a floating island. Complaining about an overtly liberal adaptation is stodgy and pointless.

Of course, it's also true that Romeo vs. Juliet crams just about everything from Shakespeare's classic into the standards of a visual novel with a female audience in mind. The fair Verona of this game is caught up in a war between vampires and humankind, and the Capulet family are experts in fending off the bloodsuckers. Pink-haired Juliet is working toward her vampire-hunting degree (which apparently involves dressing like a nun) when she runs into Romeo, handsome scion of the Montague vampire clan. Yet this is not the limit of the game's romantic options; Juliet also gets close with Mercutio, Benvolio, Prince Escalus, and perhaps even that Paris clod she's arranged to marry. With Juliet's new relationships come the game's various storyline paths and endings, presumably including one where the two young lovebirds and the majority of their friends don't end up dead.

For this simultaneously drastic and conventional adaptation, the entire cast is envisioned with the anime flourishes of visual novels (albeit with some horribly drawn firearms), and some of the interpretations go further than others. The game's version of Benvolio gets an eyepatch and military regalia, while Romeo's servant Balthazar is now a purple-haired maid girl. Oh, and Shakespeare himself shows up…as a blond-tressed doctor and source of comic relief. That's a bit more flattering than what we saw in the Romeo X Juliet anime series.

Import Barrier: Running Japanese games never bothered the PSP, but there's an awful lot of talking in games like this.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Not all that bad, considering what Aksys is up to with Otomate's Hakuōki and Sweet Fuse, though QuinRose doesn't have the same relationship with U.S. publishers.

Strangest Design: The apparently original character Lawrence Globus, who walks around with a bandolier of machine-gun rounds on his formal vestments.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

KINGDOM HEARTS HD 1.5 REMIX
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: September 10
MSRP: $39.99

Will Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix catch you up entirely on the franchise's ever-growing sugary birthday cake of Disney staples and Square Enix stylings? Well, not quite. But it'll come close. Remix includes Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, the heretofore Japan-only expanded version of the original Kingdom Hearts. Final Mix added a few extra scenes and at least one new boss, mostly to set things up for Kingdom Hearts II. Also included is Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, the PlayStation 2 remake of a Game Boy Advance Kingdom Hearts that's equally heavy on the preamble for Kingdom Hearts II. Lastly, there's a two-hour compilation of the storyline from Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, a DS game that…yes, it also takes place before Kingdom Hearts II. So this 1.5 Remix collection isn't so much a summary of the whole series as it is a primer for Kingdom Hearts II, which we'd bet on seeing in an HD re-release before Kingdom Hearts III rolls around next year.

This Remix adds other minor improvements on top of sharpening up the collected games. The controls are now much closer in line with Kingdom Hearts II. The viewpoint is easily managed with the controller's right thumbstick, and both combat and exploration are easier with context-sensing commands. Those are small changes, but they're welcome updates to the original design choices of the first Kingdom Hearts, now over ten years old. Of course, such enhancements won't win over those uninterested in the Kingdom Hearts saga. It's still the upbeat tale of teenagers wielding keyblades in battles with negative emotional personification and Disney villains, all with the tone of a kid-hero manga series. For those curious, though, this is an opportune place to start. Then you'll understand when people inevitably joke about the next Kingdom Hearts having a Song of the South stage.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you have no moral objections to him.


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