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by Todd Ciolek, Nov 6th 2013

The PlayStation 4 arrives next week, and with it comes an alleged new generation of video games. Yet there's one piece of the PlayStation 4 hype machine that's decidedly familiar. Have a look at Knack, eponymous lead of one of the system's more notable launch games.

Look familiar? He might if you remember the original PlayStation's awkward early advertising. You see, Knack's spiky visage resembles Polygon Man just a little.

Polygon Man served as one of two initial mascots for the PlayStation in North America, as this was an age when systems still needed mascots. He appeared in several ads for the PlayStation's first round of games, usually dropping some bon mot about Ridge Racer or Battle Arena Toshinden. He was swiftly retired for several reasons: the higher-ups thought him low-tech, he didn't hail from any specific game, and people were writing letters to complain about him. Polygon Man was gone well before Crash Bandicoot even arrived, though he recently appeared as the final boss of PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.

Who was the other would-be mascot for the PlayStation's first year? Sofia from Battle Arena Toshinden. She disappeared from the marketing after a few ill-advised stabs at sex appeal, and she didn't re-emerge in Battle Royale or even the recent Tōshinden revival for the Wii. But hey, maybe she'll make a background cameo in Killzone: Shadow Fall.

NEWS

GOD EATER 2 HAS OLD EATERS, NEW EATERS
What title would God Eater 2 wear in North America? Would it be Gods Eater Burst 2, as the original God Eater Burst was re-named? Or would it discard continuity and risk the blasphemous label of God Eater 2? The answer is, of course, that it doesn't matter because no one's announced a domestic release for the game. That's unfortunate, because God Eater 2 looks like it'll impress anyone who enjoyed the original, which I still consider the best thing to come out of the Monster Hunter clone labs.

God Eater 2 takes place three years after the first game, and it finds the world demolished yet again, this time by a plague known as Red Rain. Ornate monsters called Aragami once more stalk the decaying wreckage of human civilization, and hunters from a group called Fenrir once more head out to destroy these beasts. This time, the stars are from a special Fenrir detachment called Blood, led by the sharply dressed Julius Visconti and his bodyguard Ciel. Accompanying them are the laid-back Romeo Leoni, the grouchy veteran Gilbert McLane (who's all of 22), the amnesiac Nana Kazuki…and a bunch of characters from Gods Eater Burst.

The returning hunters include Soma Schicksal, Alisa Illinichina Amiella, Kota Fujiki, and the lesser-seen Erina der Vogelweid and Kanon Daiba. In the original Gods Eater Burst, a younger Erina showed up to grieve after her conceited older brother Eric died the line of duty, while Kanon was known mostly for shooting her allies during combat.

Fenrir receptionist Hibari also returns in a supporting role, as does mechanic Licca in all her adorable grime. Know what I liked about Licca in the first game? She was one of the few characters genuinely upset when Eric got his fool self killed. Most of the cast were reticent jerks about it. Anyway, many of the God Eater 2 characters, old and new, now have their own Persona-style story arcs wherein the player-created hero can befriend them.

God Eater 2 wraps all of this around the player's customized avatar, and there's a lot added this time around. Beyond the expanded options for a character's appearance, a new system of Blood Arts lets the player equip multiple skills and raise their levels in battle. Some skills are mundane combo-builders, others allow bouncing-bullet attacks and more interesting moves. Further improvements were made to the God Arc weapons that transform from blades to cannons; they're now available in shotguns, charge spears, hammers and other flavors, each with specific abilities. God Eater 2 is also spread evenly across the Vita and PSP, as the two systems have cross-platform play. It's out in Japan next week, and there's a demo available right now…on the Japanese PLAYSTATION Network, of course.

BLAZBLUE: CHRONO PHANTASMA GETS A SPECIAL EDITION FOR NORTH AMERICA
It's tough to unpack the various plot threads of BlazBlue, but here's the important part: Chrono Phantasma is the third full game in the series, and it throws in five new characters. The mercenary Bullet uses throws a lot, towering ex-con Azrael exploits opponents' weaknesses, the elegant Amane wields his kimono sashes as a weapon, rebellious nobleman Kagura switches fighting styles mid-battle, and Izayoi is an alternate form of Tsubaki Yayoi, hijacked by an ancient weapon. That happens at times in BlazBlue. Two other characters are on hand as downloads: long-term villain Terumi and catgirl scientist Kokonoe.

The U.S. version of BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma gets a special edition when it arrives here in March. A $79.99 package includes a Nendoroid figure of vampire girl Rachel Alucard, an artbook, a soundtrack, and two exclusive pieces for North America: a fold-out move guide and a bonus Blu-Ray disc containing interviews with BlazBlue creator Toshimichi Mori. Aksys Games also hints at a few other features on the disc, and perhaps one of them will be a guide to the convoluted backdrop of BlazBlue in entirety.

WII MINI HITS AMERICA THIS MONTH FOR SOME REASON
You may remember the Wii Mini, provided you're the type that needs to own each and every specific iteration of a game console. It's a red-lined repackaging of the Wii, minus the GameCube compatibility and any online options. This strange redesign arrived in Canada last year and in the United Kingdom this past March, and it's out in the U.S. this month.

The Wii Mini retails for $99.99 and includes a red remote as well as a copy of Mario Kart Wii. Lacking any Internet access, the system won't let you play online or download any games—and a Wii that will runs about forty bucks more. Yet the Mini may present a good package for parents and those above-described system-variant collectors. Trust me, they exist.

THE DISINTERESTED BUYER'S GUIDE TO THE PLAYSTATION 4

Game systems have it tough at launch. They're usually priced too high, given an uninspired library, and bothered by a technical snag or two. Naturally, everyone scrambles to buy these shiny new gewgaws anyway, which prompts shortages and perhaps even small-scale rioting.

In that light, the PlayStation 4 isn't bogged down all that much. It runs $400, a hundred less than the PlayStation 3 originally cost, and that gets you a 500GB hard drive, a region-free console, the Dualshock 4 controller, the usual hookup materials (with HDMI cables instead of A/V plugs), the PlayRoom show-off software, and a little headset. It doesn't include the camera accessory pictured above, though. That's an extra sixty bucks.

Annoyances persist all the same. Unlike the PlayStation 3's network, the PlayStation 4's requires a PlayStation Plus subscription to play online, though you can run Hulu and Netflix without a Plus account. The PS4 also isn't compatible with games from any previous PlayStations, though Sony plans on making PlayStation 3 games accessible through a Gaikai streaming service next year.

Will the PlayStation 4 draw crowds and camera crews? Of course. But the system doesn't have the shiny new multimedia gadgetry that its two nearest ancestors did. The PlayStation 3 ran Blu-Rays at a time when Blu-Ray players were nascent and expensive. The PlayStation 2 did the same with DVDs. The PlayStation 4…well, it'll run Blu-Rays and DVDs. Considering the push toward streaming services, though, it might not need to do much else.

This leaves the PlayStation 4 entirely reliant on its game lineup, which is dotted with a few standouts. Let's have a look at just what this nation's consumers will be fighting over in Best Buy parking lots shortly after midnight this November 15.

KILLZONE: SHADOW FALL
Developer: Guerilla Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: November 15
Allegories: A-yep
MSRP: $59.99

Every PlayStation console gets a first-person shooter at launch. The PlayStation 3 had the unremarkable Resistance: Fall of Man, the PlayStation 2 had the not-so-bad Timesplitters, and the original PlayStation had Kileak: The DNA Imperative for those unfortunate early adopters who couldn't find anything better. The PlayStation 4 has several first-person shooters, but the only one exclusive to the system is Killzone: Shadow Fall, the latest in Sony's b-lister saga. Killzone started off as a rather obvious attempt at mimicking Microsoft and Bungie's Halo, with a similar vision of interplanetary warfare portrayed largely through the down-and-dirty conflicts among foot soldiers. It didn't catch on quite like Halo has; no one's making animated omnibus movies about Killzone, after all.

Yet Killzone has its fans, and they'll find that Shadow Fall switches a few things around. It sets itself up thirty years after the events of Killzone 3 and the destruction of the homeworld of the Helghast, mutated descendants of human colonists. Helghast refugees poured onto the planet Vekta, where they now share a city with the far more conventionally human inhabitants. A wall divides the Vektan and Helghast regions, and tensions run understandably high. Players are cast as Shadow Marshal Lucas Kellan, who's stuck at the heart of conspiracies in a city on the verge of civil war. Is it an allegory for Cold-War Berlin, modern-day Israel and Palestine, or another conflict? Probably all of them.

Killzone: Shadow Fall brings back many weapons from prior games to aid its personal brand of destruction, and it adds a hovering robotic sidekick called the OWL. The floating little drone allows our good Shadow Marshal to hack computer terminals, attack enemies remotely, hide you from sight, and zipline across fields and corridors. Shadow Fall also has a sturdy multiplayer angle, allowing up to 24 new PlayStation 4 owners to participate at once. And there's one other important feature: the PlayStation 4 controller's Move indicator changes color with the player's health. Brings back memories of the Dreamcast pad, that does.

KNACK
Developer: Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: November 15
Anti-Goblin Bias: A-yep
MSRP: $59.99

A new PlayStation console doesn't necessarily need a cuddly, running-jumping action game “for kids of all ages,” but it doesn't hurt. Knack fits right into that slot, presenting a world of humans at war with technologically savvy goblins. The cartoonish humans' prime weapon is Knack, a mechanized muppet that some scientist built from ancient relics. The resulting war is a shade odd in design; it's all bright, Pixar-esque appeal on the surface, but the gunships and artillery and mechanical warriors suggest a modern-day war. No matter.

Knack's mysterious relic-based structure lets him assimilate all sorts of powers and items from his environment. Originally a three-foot creature suitable for stuffed animal prototypes and other merchandise, Knack grows by grabbing whatever he can; break a wall and the bricks expand his body, snatch some glowing crystal shards and Knack gains whatever powers they might house. He's also able to switch between his various sizes, as a button-tap breaks him into his components and lets him slip through small spaces. Like most games that follow the 3-D Mario mold, Knack offers both smaller, platforming-jumping levels and battles against large, nasty bosses. It's set apart by Knack's variable size. Sometimes he's the impish underdog racing across conveyor belts and tightropes, at other times he's a monstrous golem of debris, hurling goblin tanks and soldiers around like so many dollar-store playthings. Knack's level design doesn't break off it new directions, but it shows off the wide vistas and impressive detail possible on the new generation of game systems. Kid-safe, focus-tested creation or not, Knack certainly has its place in the PlayStation 4 launch.

RESOGUN
Developer: Housemarque
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: November 15
Like Defender: A-yep
MSRP: TBA (Free with Plus Membership)

A number of downloadable games await PlayStation 4 owners on the PLAYSTATION Network, but they're all available elsewhere: on PCs, on the Xbox One, or even on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Resogun, however, is only on the PlayStation 4. It revives the arcade classic Defender in a glitzy new form, stuffing with all sorts of glowing effects and tiny, usually deadly particles. Your ship speeds through looping 2-D levels, blasting enemies in two directions, grabbing human survivors, and ferrying those humans to rescue pods. You're also free to toss the humans toward their safe havens, as they're apparently sturdy enough to survive a little mid-air collision.

Little happens in Resogun without some glittering explosion, usually wrought by the player's versatile weapons and boosting abilities. Far greater is the variety of enemies, and the level bosses recall the titans of Gradius and R-Type with their glowing cores and multi-stage attacks. Resogun may not move systems on its own, but it aims to do for the PlayStation 4 what Geometry Wars did for the Xbox 360 eight years ago: take a familiar shooter concept, cram it with flashing sensory overload, and stand out in gallery of unimaginative ports and letdowns. At the very least, it's a good incentive for the PlayStation Plus service. Subscribers get it free.

THE REST
A system's launch is an ideal time for publishers to swamp it with ports, and so the PlayStation 4 receives Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition, Madden NFL 25, Battlefield 4, FIFA 14, Just Dance 2014, Minecraft, NBA 2K14, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Need for Speed: Rivals, NBA Live 14, Skylanders Swap Force, and Angry Birds: Star Wars. Yes, that's a fifty-dollar launch-day PlayStation 4 version of Angry Birds: Star Wars, offering only 20 levels beyond what you'd get on an iPhone.

On the PLAYSTATION Network, new PS4 owners will find Blacklight: Retribution, War Thunder, DiveKick, Escape Plan, flOw, Flower, Contrast, Pinball Arcade, Super Motherload, Putty Squad, Warframe, Minecraft, Tiny Brains, and Sound Shapes. It's a good selection (Sound Shapes in particular), even though there's little that can't be had on other systems. That's the nature of system launches, though. You're paying for the console first, the materialist prestige second, and the games third.

NEXT WEEK'S OTHER RELEASES

MARIO AND SONIC AT THE SOCHI 2014 WINTER GAMES
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: November 15
Strangely Absent: Big the Cat
MSRP: $49.99

By this point we've gotten past the novelty of seeing Sonic and Mario side-by-side in a video game, but I for one remain amused by the idea of them teaming up for the Olympics, venting long-dormant grudges under the aegis of international sportsmanship.

Like the other Olympian matchups of Mario and Sonic characters, the Sochi selection is a multiplayer experience, relying as much on others as a good round of Mario Party. The event lineup encompasses snowboarding, a four-member bobsleigh, freestyle skiing, ski jumping, speed skating, curling, ice hockey, skeleton, a short track, skiing moguls. Characters also take part in dream events, which add specific stages and distinct Mario and Sonic themes to regular sporting competitions. New to the series (and to the real Olympics) is the snowboard slopestyle event, while the figure skating now allows characters to skate in pairs—which makes for some preposterous combinations.

Indeed, half the pull of the game's many events is seeing them acted out by the same characters who otherwise gulp fireflowers or spin through checkerboard countryside. The lineup features Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Wario, Waluigi, Bowser, Bowser Jr., Sonic, Amy, Tails, Knuckles, Blaze, Vector, Silver, Shadow, Metal Sonic, and the Doctor Formerly Known as Robotnik. It seems strange that the series denies fans a full-scale crossover, with Samus Aran and Kid Icarus and the cast of Burning Rangers. That's why we have the Smash Bros. series, I suppose.

Also Available:
DuckTales Remastered, a precious reimagining of the NES DuckTales, gets a full retail release for the Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Either the game sold well enough as a digital release to merit such treatment, or CAPCOM figures that a packaged DuckTales title makes a better Christmas gift than a download cryptogram.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you want.


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