The X Button
Neon Babble

by Todd Ciolek, May 14th 2014

Last week's contest, henceforth known as the Big Box of Drakengard Bonanza, is still underway, folks! I've received about half a dozen entries thus far, and you've got until Thursday, May 22 to send in ( toddciolek at gmail.com) your stories! Here's a full list of the rules.

Your entry should be a short story of about 500 words. It's OK if you go over, but anything past 700 is pushing it.

Your entry should be about the Drakengard 3 cast. If you send in a story where Phoenix Wright meets Rumpole of the Bailey and offhandedly mentions “Drakengard 3,” I won't allow it. I'll read every word of it, but I won't allow it.

Keep it relatively lighthearted and humorous. Of course, Drakengard 3's humor varies from cute dragon songs to surprise evisceration, so it's up to you to decide the tone.

The contest is open to residents of the United States and Canada. You can enter if you live outside of the United States and Canada, but only if you're willing to pay postage on the grand prize, should you win. Bear in mind that the box weighs about 14 pounds, and shipping it could get expensive.

This should be an original story written for the contest. So no digging up an old Time Trax story and changing "Darien Lambert" to "the lady with the flower in her eye."

One entry per person. You can send in a later entry to replace an earlier one (writing is re-writing, after all), but only the most recent will count.

The grand prize is a Drakengard 3 10th Anniversary Box, which includes a Japanese copy of the game and a bunch of stories, art, and information about the entire sordid Drakengard universe. There are runner-up prizes, too!

Oddly, no one has entered the Bonus Contest. It's almost as though people don't want a copy of Pryzm Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn!

NEWS

NINTENDO REVAMPS POKEMON, COPIES SKYLANDERS, KICKS UP A FUSS
Pokémon games always make me feel a bit old. I was a hip and happenin' teenager when the series first arrived in North America, so I was far too cool to pick up a GameBoy and waste time hunting Pikachus, not when I could play mature games like Parasite Eve and Castlevania 64. So I don't have the same inbuilt fondness for Pokémon that I do for Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and other Nintendo standards.

Yet I know that a lot of Pokémon fans are aglow with speculation over Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, 3DS remakes of the Game Boy Advance's Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. Nintendo describes the games as reimaginings with “a dramatic story,” though all we've seen so far is some early footage of a Kyogre and Groudon sitting in the ocean. They'll be out everywhere in November, though!

More surprising was Nintendo's announcement of a line of interactive figures much like those Skylanders and Disney Infinity toys that kids and collectors all gather around. The figures will use the Wii U gamepad's Near Field Communication feature to interact with Wii U games, and they'll communicate with 3DS titles through an infra-red accessory. Nintendo showed only a Mario figure as a demonstration, but more will appear at E3. The first wave of Nintendo Figurine Platform toys will be in stores by the holidays, so expect fistfights at Toys R' Us and outrageous prices on eBay as Christmas rolls around.

These new announcements failed to distract from Nintendo's biggest news at the moment: the controversy over Tomodachi Life. The new 3DS simulation game allows little Mii avatars to do many things, and getting married is among them. Same-sex unions were possible in the Japanese version due to a bug, but that bug won't be in the North American and European releases. Facing complaints over the game allowing only heterosexual marriage, Nintendo issued an awkward defense about “not trying to provide social commentary,” then backpedaled with a more sincere apology, promising that any future Tomodachi Life games will offer a “more inclusive” experience that “better represents all players.”

Amid all of this Nintendo news, a fixture of the company's last generation will perish quietly next week. On May 20, Nintendo will shut down online multiplayer service for the Wii and DS. The Wii's online browser and video-streaming apps will still function, but you'll no longer be able to play Mario Kart Wii, Tetris Party, Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga, or any other Wii game online. I didn't use the Wii's online modes much beyond some Monster Hunter Tri, but now I wish I had. Maybe I can squeeze in a multiplayer session of The Last Story

LOST BONK GAME UNEARTHED AND DISPLAYED
Remember that Bonk revival that Hudson canceled a while back? No? Well, I remember it, dammit. It was called Bonk: Brink of Extinction, and it was to be a modern revision of those old TurboGrafx side-scrollers with the bald cave-boy who hits things with his head. Hudson dropped the game in 2011, though a seemingly near-final version was shown at conventions. I liked what I played of it. True to the older Bonk titles, it was very basic: Bonk struck enemies with his oversized head, nabbed fire-and-ice powers, and just sorta sauntered through placid, scientifically inaccurate prehistoric jungles and caverns. I doubt it would've launched Bonk's soaring rebirth as a game-industry mascot, but I was disappointed nonetheless when Hudson axed the game. It deserved a chance.

Well, Brink of Extinction isn't completely gone. Someone discovered a PlayStation 3 DEX unit with the game in its entirely, and you can see the start of a playthrough at this YouTube channel. Sure, it's not the same as playing it, but it's good to know that Bonk's near-comeback wasn't wiped from existence.

Now if only someone would find that unreleased and probably unfinished Bonk RPG.

H.R. GIGER PASSES AWAY
It saddens me to report the passing of H.R. Giger. Though he's best known for creating the signature beasts of the Alien films, Giger's art was respected worldwide for its striking use of light, shadows, and otherworldly psychosexual imagery. Beyond his own art, sculpture, and films, Giger's work appeared in album covers, furniture, novelty bar, and that amazing-looking Dune movie that Alejandro Jodorowsky never got off the ground.

Giger contributed to only two video games, those in the graphic-adventure Dark Seed series, but his influence stands out everywhere. It's in the later levels of the Contra games, the head-crabs of Half-Life, the giant alien orgy-tank from Chakan: The Forever Man, that weird final boss in the arcade version of Astyanax, and just about anything with a dark, skeletal backdrop or a bony, phallic monster. And that's just the realm of video games. Much like Jean Giraud, Giger leaves a legacy incalculable in its reach.

KICKSTARTER REPORT: SHINY PIP REVOLT

ADVENTURES OF PIP
Status: Unfunded
Platform: PC, Mac, Wii U, Xbox One
Ends: Wednesday, June 4

A scientifically estimated 153 percent of the games on Kickstarter use deliberately simplistic pixel art, but I'll give Adventures of Pip credit for making those little dots part of its actual story. An evil sorceress reduces an entire kingdom's people to solitary pixels, and one of them sets out to restore order. Along the way, he evolves from a single square and gains more detail with each level, changing to an Atari-era collection of dots, an NES-level avatar, and eventually to a 16-bit protagonist. Pip does this by absorbing the pixels of enemies, and there's plenty of opportunity to do that in the game's side-scrolling stages.

Adventures of Pip has nice spritework in its backgrounds and enemies, and developer Tic Toc Games includes a number of staffers from WayForward Games, makers of Shantae, Contra 4, DuckTales: Remastered, and other high-quality platformers. Its hero may look like another sprite throwback to a time already strip-mined for its nostalgic riches, but at least there's a good reason for that.

HOVER: REVOLT OF GAMERS
Status: Funded
Platform: PC, Mac. Linux, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Ends: Thursday, May 22

It's hard to believe that Sega's Jet Set Radio series spans only three games, considering how influential it remains. Clearly tired of waiting for Sega to announce a fourth title, Midgar Studio concocted Hover: Revolt of Gamers, a parkour-style action game that unfolds in a neon futurescape full of androids, aliens, and cyborgs facing off against rival gangs and a brutal city government that, in a stroke of evil not seen since the 1980s era of cartoon villainy, outlaws all video games.

Players dash through Hover's environments in a third-person view as well as a first-person mode similar to Mirror's Edge, and the game's weapon-free, go-anywhere aim recalls the streamlined, carefree punkery of Jet Set Radio. Particularly interesting is the player's ability to briefly rewind their actions, avoiding falls and other mistakes. Several different characters are on hand, and other players can jump into the game at any time. The developers even brought in Jet Set Radio composer Hideki Naganuma! Atop the usual PC-and-console support, the game will be compatible with that Oculus Rift headset, and the game seems likely to make its stretch goal for a Wii U version in the next few days. Unless the government bans video games, that is.

SHINESS
Status: Unfunded
Platform: PC, Mac, PlayStation 4
Ends: Sunday, June 8

It's no surprise that Shiness started off as a comic. Its manga-influenced mishmash of fantasy has mystically separated worlds, a naturalistic energy called Shi, an ancient cataclysm, and a plot that finds humans, monsters, and furri—er, animal-people questing together. Run “webcomic” through even the most inept search engine, and you'll get something like Shiness.

The actual game looks a bit more impressive, though. The environments and animation resemble Dragon Quest VIII or any other professional PlayStation 2 RPG in high-res form, and the Wakfu-style world of airships and cloudwhales and insidious human-run empires seems less clichéd when it unfurls in playable form. The battles seem inspired by the Tales series and Ni no Kuni, as characters string together attacks and vary their moves depending on their distance from an enemy. The game even devised a fictional language similar to that of the GNIPITTUP BAUT ZOEP ZEEP chatter of the Klonoa cast. Perhaps it's just the thing for the RPG fan weary of seeing hyooman characters getting all of the attention.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DRAKENGARD 3
Developer: Access Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: May 20
Working Title: How to Toilet Train Your Dragon
MSRP: $49.99 (regular release), $79.99 (already sold-out special edition)

Let's recap the Drakengard series. The original tried to fuse massive Dynasty Warriors battles and Panzer Dragoon rail-shooting with the grimmest storyline possible under an M rating. It's an awful game about awful things happening to awful people, but its overpowering nastiness and bizarre endings earned a cult following. Drakengard 2 improves a great deal in gameplay, but it didn't catch on; players who hated the first one ignored the second, and the original's fans were disappointed that the sequel's standard fantasy heroes weren't a pack of bloodthirsty, incestuous, baby-eating pedophiles. Then came Nier, a tangentially connected post-apocalyptic fantasy that plays with genres and wraps a brilliantly twisted story around likeable characters. Nier is one of this generation's most intriguing action games, and it's a good reason to be curious about just where Drakengard 3 goes.

Well, Drakengard 3 is out for blood. Set before the other two Drakengards and their mess of alternate endings and timelines, this prequel finds a bleak semi-medieval world ruled by six conveniently numbered song-goddesses called Intoners. Everyone is supposedly happy (except Four, but she never says anything about it so that's her own fault) until the eldest goddess, Zero, grabs herself a dragon and sets out to kill her sisters. Traveling to their kingdoms, she takes out the other Intoners, builds a harem from their male disciples, and banters callously with her allies and doomed enemies. Zero seems a horrible person in all respects, but she's in the right game; all of her sisters and their companions are messed up in one way or another. The sole exception might be Zero's childlike dragon Mikhail, who tells her to talk things out with her sisters instead of slaughtering them. And even he has a darker side.

Drakengard 3 plays most of this as comedy. In fact, the first line you'll hear is Mikhail squealing about how he has to pee. Drakengard and Nier director Taro Yoko said this would be “not Drakengard or Nier,” and I do think he was right. It's high time a game answered the nagging question of just how dragons relieve themselves.

That said, Drakengard 3 retains its predecessors' hybrid of on-foot battles and dragonflight. The grounded levels abandon Dynasty Warriors fields in favor of streamlined stages where Zero leaps, slashes, and switches between four different weapons at a time. She also enacts her Intoner powers in Devil Trigger fashion, shrieking and glowing and becoming a faster, stronger killing machine. Mikhail sometimes descends to help Zero during boss fights, and she can ride him to deal out heavier damage against large targets and massed armies. Other interludes see them flying through the air, complete with the dodging and lock-on fireballs that defined Panzer Dragoon. Drakengard 3's quality is not certain (fans in Japan are radically divided), but between its multi-genre approach and blood-drenched humor, it's like nothing else on the market.

MUGEN SOULS Z
Developer: Compile Heart/Idea Factory
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: May 20
Censored: Good
MSRP: $49.99 (regular release), $69.99 (already sold-out special edition)

The original Mugen Souls started all sorts of arguments about censorship, as the North American version removed a mini-game where the player bathed some apparently underage characters. Now Mugen Souls Z looms ahead, NIS America has once again pulled the bathtime diversions, and fans are once again ready to debate whether the edits are shameful or justified. And once again, I think NISA is in the right. I realize that one should oppose censorship on principle, but there's no valid defense for the game featuring this sort of thing in the first place. Are fans really, legitimately mad about NISA denying them the right to soaped-up anime girls? Is that the world we live in today?

The remainder of Mugen Souls Z carries over much from the original as little pastel-haired heroines travel from planet to planet and unleash immeasurable destruction in their wake. The protagonist this time is a coffin-toting goddess named Syrma, who sets out to find the solution to a curse that's plaguing her homeworld. She soon meets up with the first game's would-be galactic conqueror, Chou-Chou, and their retinue of goofball companions grows to include returning heroines, strange newcomers, and player-customized characters.

Mugen Souls Z remains an RPG, so Syrma and her comrades roam landscapes and get into battles with anything that opposes them. Combat involves unique character skills, team-up attacks, and Ultimate Soul moves in which Chou-Chou grows larger and deals out damage in the trillions. The heroine's G-Castle ship also comes into play, as it transforms into a giant robot and takes on similarly sized enemies. Lastly, there's the return of the Captivate attack, which requires characters to build up a meter and pull off various Fetish Poses to entice the enemy into a stupor. Yes, Fetish Poses. That's what the official site says. NISA hasn't censored the game entirely, after all.

TRANSISTOR
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Platform: PC (Windows), PlayStation 4
Release Date: May 20
Alphonse Mucha: Yeah, there's a hint
MSRP: $19.99

Supergiant's debut game, Bastion, violated the show-don't-tell rule, and it was all the better for it. A grizzled narrator described the game as it unfolded, from the hints of backstory to the player's inevitable mistakes. Transistor has the same voice, that of actor Logan Cunningham, but he's no longer the all-aware shepherd of the storyline. This time, he's a talking sword.

Transistor follows Red, a lounge singer who loses her voice and gains a mysterious blade through some bizarrely botched murder. The weapon, a glowing green slab of technology, contains the spirit of a recent victim, and he talks to Red as she makes her way around a city that's part cyberpunk, part vintage art-deco. It's a place of customized weather and cubist furnishings, of preternatural crime syndicates and motorcycle rides against glowing cityscapes.

Cyber-sword trailing sparks behind her, Red fights through diagonally viewed stages in two distinct ways. She can race around and hack at enemies just like all good protagonists do, but she also freezes her surroundings temporarily, plots out a combination of several attacks, and then watches it all unfold. Her weapon, the eponymous Transistor, mixes together various skills to make her more efficient in combat. It seems just as complex as the retro-cyberpunk world around it, and the interplay of the two leaves Transistor one to watch. Between this and Child of Light, it's a good month for women wielding oversized swords.

Also Available:
Suda51's Killer is Dead shows up on Steam this week. It's the Nightmare Edition of the self-indulgent action game, so it includes the Smooth Operator DLC, an extra difficulty mode, and a cutscene viewer that displays trivia about the characters, from the naughty nurse to the cyborg hero Mondo Zappa. It's that sort of game.

GungHo Online America has another round of PlayStation imports hitting the PSN: Dragon Beat: Legend of Pinball, Heroine Dream 1 and 2, Neo Planet, Sarara's Little Shop, and Tokyo 23-Ku Seifuku Wars. All of them are in Japanese, and simulation games like Neo Planet and Heroine Dream demand decent knowledge of the language. The same goes for Seifuku Wars, but there's a universal quality to a game about a bleak, riot-racked future Japan where school uniforms are outlawed.


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


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