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Mobile Suited Up

by Todd Ciolek, Feb 5th 2014

Cave did a fairly good job of selling itself in the West. Only a few full-blown console versions of those slick 2-D Cave shooters made it out here, but the iOS and Android versions of ESP Galuda II, various flavors of Dondonpachi, and the all-new Bug Panic were very accessible. Sadly, we may not see many more Cave offerings on these shores. Not unless Natsume commissions Princess Debut 2, that is.

Last month, the Twitter account for the English version of Cave World announced that the feed and the site would close on February 28. Cave will continue to update the Japanese Cave World, but this suggests that Cave no longer sees a point to supporting the Western mobile-device market. After all, a Twitter account costs nothing to keep active, so its closure seems like turning out the light after the factory shuts down and all of the machines are sold for scrap. It's doubly sad because Cave never put together a mobile version of ESP Ra.De., which I still consider their best creation. If Cave is finished with North America, I only hope they'll leave up ESP Galuda II for everyone to enjoy.

NEWS

CYBERCONNECT2 INTRODUCES LITTLE TAIL STORY, BRONX OPTIONAL
CyberConnect2's Little Tail Bronx series treads the outskirts of mainstream success. Tail Concerto and Solatorobo may not be particularly challenging games, but their world of sky-dwelling cats and dogs is a charming one, sort of like a Richard Scarry take on Castle in the Sky. It has a dedicated fan following, and I'm sure only a small fraction of that is due to the whole furry thing.

That following may be a tad disappointed to learn of CyberConnect2's Little Tail Story, a mere smartphone RPG in which players customize their dog-and-cat avatars and band together to fight monsters. Characters can advance through various classes: soldiers, mages, hammer-wielding warriors, and other cuddly little versions of fantasy staples. As it's a mobile RPG, the characters lack the detail of Tail Concerto and Solatorobo, and the battles are typical encounters where players use team-up attacks and swap out party members. Only the soundtrack, as heard in the trailer, has the punch of Solatorobo's score.

Little Tail Story arrives on Japanese cell phones in the spring, with no overseas release in store at the moment. This isn't necessarily the limit of the Little Tail Bronx series, either. Strelka Stories, a mysterious piece of Little Tail canon announced in 2010, is still out there.

RANKO TSUKIGIME HAS A LONG DAY, COOL PLATFORMER
How about that Short Peace, eh? Four great-looking short films, one of them up for an Oscar? That makes it all more satisfying to see Namco Bandai Games (or Bandai Namco Games, as it'll be known in April) announce the omnibus film for a U.S. release alongside the fifth and final piece of the project: Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day. Produced by Suda51 and the good people of Crispy's (Tokyo Jungle), the PlayStation 3 game sends part-time assassin Ranko dashing through side-scrolling levels full of dizzying nonsense.

Ranko's day sees her riding a hoverbike, outrunning a giant Pomeranian, taking on a dragon in the center of Tokyo, and, generally racing around like a Strider ninja to strike down enemies. In all of her exploits, it's the visual effects that damage foes the most, and destroying bits of her surroundings sets off chain reactions that hit even harder. It's a glitzy piece of neon overload in motion, and director Yohei Kataoka (also of Tokyo Jungle) seems intent on mixing in every major chunk of Japanese pop culture. It'll be one to watch for when it arrives this spring.

CORRECTION: HYPER CRAZY CLIMBER DELAYED
Here's a little note about Hyper Crazy Climber, profiled in the release list last week. MonkeyPaw Games announced that the game won't make its February 4 release date. Due to some legal hurdles, it won't hit until the spring. That'll be well after the rest of MonkeyPaw's Retro Rush titles, but maybe it'll arrive in the middle of a dry spell.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: JANUARY

ARABIANS DOUBT
Developer: QuinRose
Publisher: QuinRose
Platform: Sony PSP

Countless otome games stake out familiar ground by surrounding a resolute heroine with handsome, available men, but QuinRose's Arabians Lost at least did all of that in the guise of Middle-Eastern fantasy. That's a rarer venue than, say, a high school inexplicably stocked with charming upperclassmen. Arabians Lost: The Engagement on Desert found Aileen Olazabal, the rough-and-tumble princess of the Gil Qatar kingdom, making a bet with her royal parents: if she proved herself a profitable enough businesswoman, she could avoid an arranged marriage. This, of course, led to her meeting up with all sorts of men: her uptight tutor Lille Sluman, casino magnate Roberto Cromwell, master assassin Curtis Nile, and merchant-doctor Shark Brandon. She also ran across her old childhood friends Stuart Sink and Tyrone Bale, who became the heirs to rival business empires. Arabians Lost proved resilient enough to jump from the PC to the PlayStation 2 to the DS to that favored ground for otome titles, the PSP. And now it merits a sequel there.

Arabians Doubt: The Engagement on Desert assumes one of the original game's happier endings, in which Aileen won the wager but didn't yet choose a husband on her own. She's also temporarily in charge of the kingdom while her parents are away, and all of the principal would-be boyfriends from the first game return to help her in matters of state. Arabians Doubt introduces two new bachelors: foreign prince Jared Balthasar and his attendant Theodor Law, the latter of whom just so happens to be Aileen's old boyfriend. Their various quirks and compromising situations play out with the typical images and dialogue favored by the genre, and they lead to multiple storylines—including, we're sure, one where Aileen doesn't marry anyone and leaves that open for a third game.

Import Barrier: There's plenty of text to sift through, but your PSP won't put up a fuss about playing it.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Minimal. Otome games get more attention these days thanks to Aksys releasing Hakuōki and Sweet Fuse, but no QuinRose creations have appeared in English.

Worst Boyfriend Material: Probably Jared, since he appears to be Aileen's second cousin. You don't want your royal family to end up like the Spanish Hapsburgs, Aileen.

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM EXTREME VS. FULL BOOST
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3

Head-to-head Gundam combat games fulfill a very specific need. They tap into that inherent nerd desire for arguments over which robot or superhero or sci-fi icon would win in a fight. You can debate whether Gundam Alex could take on Gundam Heavyarms Kai all you like. You can point to stats and schematics and canonical evidence. Yet the most satisfying way to hash it out is to take up a video game and pit them against each other, with nothing but gameplay imbalances and your own piloting ability to decide things.

The Gundam Vs. series is the best settler of arguments a fan could want. Two-mecha teams fight it out in spacious arenas swiped from Gundam lore, and a point system forces players to balance their mobile-suit pairings. The game's simple enough to be played with a standard arcade joystick and buttons, and it's easy to learn the interplay of boosting, guarding, activating sub-weapons, and pulling off special versions of close-up attacks and long-range artillery. Taking damage fills an Awakening gauge, and activating it even halfway full makes a mecha faster, stronger, and possessed of a fuller boost meter. That boost meter also comes in handy when players need to cancel moves, allowing for all sorts of surprise attacks. New to Gundam Extreme vs. Full Boost is a technique that turns a dodge into a melee attack…and leaves a rainbow contrail in your mecha's wake.

Let's not beat about the bush, though. A Gundam game is defined by its robot lineup. Full Boost expands its predecessor's lineup to ninety-eight mecha, representing just about every point in the Gundam universe. The popular series contribute plenty of mobile suits, and even off-shoots like MS IGLOO and Hathaway's Flash are included. Most of the new additions are supporting mechs, antagonists, or variants from previously well-supplied series, such as the Throne Drei from Gundam 00 or the TV version of Gundam Wing's Wing Zero. Yet you'll see obscurities like the Efreet Custom from The Blue Destiny, and first-run buyers get Gundam Sentinel's Ex-S Gundam as a free bonus. Mobile Fighter G Gundam still seems a touch underfed, with only four robots from its world-spanning cast of bizarre and offensive stereotypes. Well, Bandai can't put every robot into the series…yet.

Import Barrier: Not bad at all. The PS3 is region-free, tutorials lay down the basics, and you'll even find some fellow players online in North America and Europe.

Chances of a Domestic Release: There's no word of it yet, but if Dynasty Warriors: Gundam can show up here, why not this?

Worst Boyfriend Material: Char is a solid contender, but let's go with Heero, the creepiest little assassin kid among all of Gundam Wing's creepy little assassin kids.

SENGOKU BASARA 4
Developer: CAPCOM
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: PlayStation 3

I can't imagine the producers of Sengoku Basara being all that jealous of the Dynasty Warriors series. Dynasty Warriors may boast more games and more fans who regularly snatch up each new installment of repetitive battlefield chaos, but Sengoku Basara has its own following, its own fan base, and its own two-season anime series.

Sengoku Basara 4 keeps up its deliberately overblown vision of Japan's Warring States period. It's not just in the stylized, gracefully attractive characters, most of whom are based very loosely on real historical figures. It's also in the way they carve a path through rival armies and wartime politics. Gluttonous, fearful Hideaki Kobayakawa whips a frying pan off of his beetle-like armor and belts around rival soldiers. Gun-slinging Saika Magoichi thinks nothing of pulling out a rocket launcher in the midst of battle. And Honda Tadakatsu, an esteemed Tokugawa general who supposedly fought over 60 battle without serious injury? He tears around in steampunk robo-armor. It's enough to make newcomers like Ii Naotora, Goto Matabee, and Shibata Katsuie seem humdrum. The acrobatic Shima Sakon and deer-themed Yamanaka Shikanosuke fit right in, though.

Sengokua Basara 4 also maintains the reckless atmosphere that defines both it and the realm of Dynasty Warriors. The generals once again show delightful panache as they slice through legions of mindless soldiers, and the storyline branches in several ways, offering half-serious drama, animated cutscenes from Production I.G, and a few nonsensical cul-de-sacs. Upgrading weapons and raising war funds sees players through the conflict, and each lead warrior has a partner tagging along, all the better to stage combo attacks and trade the spotlight.

Import Barrier: It'll run on a PS3, but there's a great deal of kanji to decipher in the menus alone.

Chances of a Domestic Release: Puzzlingly low. CAPCOM has announced nothing for Sengoku Basara 4, despite having released its immediate predecessor in 2010. Not even a digital-only release, CAPCOM? Really now. Dynasty Warriors gets to visit North America as often as it wants.

Worst Boyfriend Material: Hmm. Probably Oda Nobunaga. I think he's up to something.

Also Available:
Klon furnishes a sequel to the lesser-known shooter Karous with Karous: The Beast of Re:Eden. As a 3DS title, it's broken down into many smaller missions, plus a training mode where players can test out the game's arsenal of swords and traditional shooter firing. A shame that the 3DS is region-locked.

Imageepoch's Toshin Toshi: Girls Gift RPG for the 3DS is a remake of a rather racy title from the Japanese PC scene of the 1990s. It may begin with a young hero throwing himself into a tournament to win over his beloved, but along the way he meets and romances a number of other women, and the growing harem improves the player's chances in battle. A North American release for this new Toshin Toshi seems unlikely, but that's what people thought about Monster Monpiece and Conception II.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DANGANRONPA: TRIGGER HAPPY HAVOC
Developer: Square Enix/Silicon Studio
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: February 11
The Culprit: The Butler
MSRP: $39.99

It's a classic premise of murder mysteries: complete strangers stranded together by contrivance and divided by gruesome killings. Spike Chunsoft likes the idea an awful lot, considering its use in their creations, from Banshee's Last Cry to Virtue's Last Reward. The plot device shows up again in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, though it's not alone. Here we also find an exploration of high-school stereotypes under lethal duress, a Battle Royale run through the Phoenix Wright engine. The game unfolds at the imposing Hope's Peak Academy, which gathers together elite students from various other schools. Makoto Naegi finds himself there, but not because he's special—he just won an entrance lottery. He's a little out of place among his classmates, who include the nation's best students in the fields of hall monitor, pop star, baseball player, fashion model, swimmer, computer programmer, novelist, martial artist, and…uh, “fanfic creator.” Yet all of them have one thing in common. They're trapped inside the surprisingly dingy school by Monokuma, a remote-controlled stuffed bear.

The villainous bear avatar informs the students that they only way out is to kill a classmate and get away with it. After the murder's committed, the survivors must gather to pin down the culprit. If they flush out the killer, the guilty party is executed in some comical fashion. If they're wrong, the killer goes free and the rest of the class dies. It isn't long before someone takes up the offer.

A good chunk of Danganronpa consists of conversations, and Makoto picks out clues from the environment as well as his chats with the rest of the doomed students. When the murders occur and the trials begin, the game shifts to more active mini-games: accusations become letter-shooting galleries, arguments become beat-matching music simulators, and figuring out a killer's method is just a matter of shifting around picture puzzles. The story's strewn with all sorts of twists, and Rui Komatsuzaki's artwork makes just about every character look either guilty or psychotic. Except for the towering, musclebound, Kenshiro-like Sakura Ogami. She's perfectly moe.

LIGHTNING RETURNS: FINAL FANTASY XIII
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Release Date: February 11
Best Outfit: Hammer Bros. Suit
MSRP: $59.99

Director Motomu Toriyama and Square Enix really, really want you to like Lightning, and they don't care how you do it. You can like her as the exasperated heroine who dragged around a party of misfits in Final Fantasy XIII. You can like her as the patron god-warrior who sat on the sidelines in Final Fantasy XIII-2. You can like her as the reluctant savior of a time-warped world in Lightning Returns. You can like her as the instrument of a fast-paced battle system. You can like her as the dress-up doll who dons a Final Fantasy VII getup or poses fetchingly in cat ears and a miniskirt. It doesn't matter as long as you like Lightning enough to buy the last stretch of Final Fantasy XIII's bloated saga and convince Square Enix that it hasn't all been a waste of time and money.

Lightning Returns unfolds at the end of all existence, or at least a week or so away from it. Raging tides of chaos have broken up the world and mashed it into a place known as Nova Chrysalia. In the hopes of beating back the entropic force and restoring reality (and her deceased sister, Serah), Lightning travels this strange land, fulfilling the wishes of its people and slowly piecing together just what's behind the world's crazy-glued state, the mysterious deity Bhunivelze, and the impish girl who looks a lot like Serah. Lightning's journey is tracked in the game's hours-as-days system, and she can earn a maximum of thirteen hours in which to save the world. So she's slightly worse off than Flash Gordon.

The battles of Lightning Returns trim down the controllable characters to Lightning alone, but she's effectively an entire party. Each outfit she changes into brings a new array of attacks, all conveniently tied to different buttons, and she can switch between any three different Schemata (in other words, costumes) during battle. It puts the game closer to an action title than either previous Final Fantasy XIII, and Lightning's also able to hop around and ambush enemies before she takes them on in separate battle screens. The apocalyptic countdown and Lightning's godlike status are reminiscent of Valkyrie Profile, though perhaps not in the best sense. I don't recall anyone who liked Valkyrie Profile saying "You know what made this game great? The time limit."

Good or bad, this seems to be the end of whatever Final Fantasy XIII was. Perhaps now our heroine can move on to Lightning Retires, where she sits around in Moogle-print pajamas and reads old Dave Barry columns. Additional pajama designs will available as DLC for $1.99 each.

ONE PIECE: ROMANCE DAWN
Developer: Three Rings
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 11
Yo: Ya-Yo
MSRP: $39.99

The sprawling pirate saga of One Piece invites action-game adaptations with its lineup of goofball adventurers and superhero-grade powers. Yet the overall tone of the series is one of long voyages and exotic isles, and that calls for an RPG as far as Namco Bandai is concerned.

Romance Dawn may share the name of Eiichiro Oda's original draft for One Piece, but it's the official story throughout. It follows Luffy from his childhood ambitions of piracy all the way to the Marineford arc, collecting a playable party of Zoro, Nami, Sanji, Usopp, Tony Tony Chopper, Franky, Brook, Nico Robin, and Portgas D. Ace. Other One Piece characters appear in supporting roles, and over thirty familiar bosses pop up along the way. Toei also threw in a bunch of animated cutscenes for particularly important moments, and I imagine that's helpful to those One Piece fans who want to relive the anime without rewatching heaven knows how many episodes.

The battles of Romance Dawn let Luffy and his crewmates run around in limited circles while the player mashes attacks mapped to the 3DS face buttons. Some recognizable special moves aim to please One Piece fans, and the walls of a battlefield can play a slight role in damaging opponents. It's a lineup of features now standard in many other RPGs, and Romance Dawn adds other standard attractions: randomly generated dungeons let the party grind for level boosts outside of the regular stages, and spoils of combat can be tinkered into new items. Perhaps there's not much to see beyond a recreation of One Piece on the 3DS, but that may be what some young fans want. If they want it in a retail version, however, they'll have to get it through GameStop or Namco Bandai's online store.

TOUKIDEN: AGE OF DEMONS
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo KOEI
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: February 11
Alternate Title: Dynasty Hunters Burst
MSRP: $39.99

Making a Monster Hunter clone isn't terribly difficult as long as you flavor the basic idea a bit. For example, God Eater took the multiplayer hunts of CAPCOM's best-selling series and gave them a faster pace and a sci-fi anime bent. Soul Sacrifice took the concept to a dark fantasy realm of blood pacts and horrifically transformed humans. And now Omega Force takes a turn with Toukiden: Age of Monsters, a darker version of the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors aesthetic.

Toukiden drops the players into a land inspired by Japanese myth and ravaged by unwholesome beasts all classified as Oni. Some are clearly based on actual oni legends while others are vaguer fantasy-creature derivations, and they range from trivial grunts to the same sort of behemoths that fill many Monster Hunter attractions. These are stalked by Slayers, humans who muster a thin defensive border between the monster hordes and the civilized world. There's a lineup of fellow hunters seemingly pulled off a Dynasty Warriors sketchpad, yet players get to customize their own characters and quest alongside AI-controlled allies or actual friends. Toukiden supports both ad-hoc and online play, so it covers that prerequisite for any Monster Hunter knockoff.

Will Toukiden find its niche? It'll have a hard enough time getting noticed next week, going up against a new Final Fantasy and a little cult favorite called Danganronpa. Yet there's something to be seen here for Monster Hunter fans. The selection of weaponry is limited, but each type or armament has a fairly deep assortment of tactics. Tackling monsters is also a little easier than usual thanks to an optional psychic x-ray that highlights large creatures' vulnerable body parts. Perhaps that'll appeal to an audience eager to play Monster Hunter in a Dynasty Warriors costume.

WOLF FANG
Developer: Data East
Publisher: MonkeyPaw Games
Platform: PLAYSTATION Network
Release Date: February 11
Best Weapon: The Laser, As Usual
MSRP: $5.99

The North American arcade version of Wolf Fang opens with a particularly amusing mistranslation. It sets the player up as a mecha pilot sortieing out against the evil forces of “Lagnalok," as though the localizers though that Ragnarök was a copyrighted term and feared reprisals from Norse mythology's besuited Viking attorneys. The PlayStation version of Wolf Fang draws on the Japanese arcade release, so it doesn't have any references to Lagnalok. But it has a new rendered intro plus the intermissions and multiple endings that were yanked out of the arcade game's English edition. That's a fair trade.

It's important to get the best possible version of Wolf Fang, because it's an excellent treatment of the side-scrolling mecha shooter. Surprisingly complex for an arcade title, Wolf Fang lets the player build a mecha from a selection of hoverjets, wheels, beam swords, pilebunkers, grenades, and four different screen-sweeping bombs. And that's not counting the lasers and spreadshots and tiny jetpack-wearing commando allies you can pick up during the stages.

Wolf Fang tackles the same sort of grim Gundam-like future warfare as Cybernator, Metal Warriors, and the rest of the Assault Suits extended family (and the now-available Gigantic Army, for that matter). The side-scrolling levels simulate a mecha anime series in brief, from the armored gunships that disgorge robot sprites to the chipper bridge operator who briefs you on boss encounters. Your assembled mecha is a little large for the screen, but at least it can take a few hits before it explodes. And when it does explode, the pilot jets around trying to reassemble a combat machine. It's an equitable challenge when compared to the relentless nature of many arcade money-gobblers. Perhaps Wolf Fang was really a console game all along, just waiting to come home.


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

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