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After Dark

by Todd Ciolek, May 21st 2014

We're into the home stretch of the Drakengard 3 Contest, as entries must reach me ( toddciolek at gmail.com) by the end of the day on Thursday, May 22. Here's one more look at the big box of Drakengard books (and an 8-bit soundtrack) that you can win!

And here's another look at the rules.

Your entry should be a short story of about 500 words. Is it 600 words? Eh, that's OK. How about 700? That's cutting it close. And 800? Nope.

Your entry should be about the Drakengard 3 cast. Try to avoid making it about your amazing original character who was never mentioned before but is liked by everyone instantly.

Keep it relatively lighthearted and humorous. Relatively. That's a weasel word.

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. The box weighs about 14 pounds, so take that into account.

This should be an original story written for the contest. I'll be checking to see if your entry was the toast of a fan fiction forum three months back.

One entry per person. You can send in a later entry to replace an earlier one, though, because nothing is ever finished, only abandoned.

There's only one big Drakengard 10th Anniversary Box to give away, but the first three runners-up all get prize packs featuring other dragon-centric games, including Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter and Lair.

And I still don't have any entries for the Bonus Contest, so you stand a good chance of winning that if you just write “DRAGON FARTS” two hundred times. You'll also have the start of a spec script for Drakengard 4.

NEWS

AMPLITUDE KICKSTARTER GOES DOWN TO THE WIRE
Everyone likes to see a favored Kickstarter break its fundraising goal on the first day, but we media jackals enjoy a dramatic sprint for the finish line. And that's where the Kickstarter for Harmonix's Amplitude revival finds itself. At this writing, it's about $200,000 away from its goal. The distance may seem too great to close in the next two days, but the funding went up drastically since Monday.

Harmonix hopes to fashion a modern version of Amplitude, the PlayStation 2 rhythm game that saw players piloting a Beat Blaster ship along a colored track, matching up the beats to various parts of a song. While it was a critical success and a cult favorite, Amplitude didn't get a sequel. Harmonix aims to fix that with an Amplitude reboot for the PlayStation 3 and 4, but the Kickstarter price is a little high—and, according to the developer, it's still just half of the new game's overall development cost. It's possible that some publisher will sweep in and nab the game, as that happened to Flying Hamster II, but at the moment Amplitude's rebirth depends on Kickstarter.

HYRULE WARRIORS LINES UP DEVELOPMENT TEAM, INNATE ABSURDITY
Hyrule Warriors is important. It gives Tecmo KOEI a major Wii U title, it takes the Zelda series into hack-and-slash territory, and it shoots for the unstoppably successful Dynasty Warriors fan base in Japan. That's why Tecmo KOEI is throwing both Dynasty Warriors developer Omega Force and Team Ninja at the project. Team Ninja's Yosuke Hayashi and Omega Force's Hisashi Koinuma are producers for Hyrule Warriors, with longtime Zelda caretaker Eiji Aonuma supervising the project. One or all of these individuals likely looked at Zelda and said "You know, this needs more fighting."

Hyrule Warriors finds Link spirited off by a witch named Shea, and he's dropped into spacious battles against dozens of Zelda-series foes, effectively mimicking the Dynasty Warriors formula. But will it have the puzzles of a Zelda game? Or the varied playable characters of the recent Dynasty Warriors titles? Will we get to control Sheik, Impa, Wolf Link, Tingle, Midna, or the elusive Bucket Mouse? For a game that's due out in Japan this August 15, Hyrule Warriors remains pretty vague on the details. But that's why we have E3 just around the corner, isn't it?

Edit: Famitsu reported that, yes, Impa appears in her hardy warrior form (hobbling matron Impa has yet to be confirmed), and she's one of many playable characters. Zelda might not be among them at first, since she requires rescue. The charactets switch their fighting styles to suit different weapons, and there's a two-player mode that incorporates the GamePad. Oh, and the Japanese special edition comes with a Triforce clock.

A BOY AND HIS DOG JOIN PERSONA 4 ARENA ULTIMAX
The best thing about Persona 4 Arena Ultimax? The arguments it starts. As a fighting game that draws in characters from Persona 3 and 4, Ultimax can't possibly include every major cast member. So many Persona fans may feel slighted that Ultimax's latest addition is not Fuuka, Shinjiro, or, as a long shot, Vincent from Catherine. The new character is a team of Ken Amada and the dog Koromaru.

Yes, the two of them function as a single character for gameplay purposes, and the arrangement is probably more like the simultaneously playable twins of Chaos Code than Nakoruru and Galford's summonable pets from Samurai Shodown. Ken and Koromaru join Yukari, Junpei, Persona 4's Rise, and the all-new Sho Minazuki as additions to the Persona 4 Arena cast in Ultimax, which arrives here in the fall.

BOOK REVIEW: DARKSTALKERS OFFICIAL COMPLETE WORKS

Darkstalkers didn't work out quite like CAPCOM intended. A cartoonish tribute to classic movie monsters and other mythic creatures, the series did well enough for a few years. It spanned three solid games and some tweaked re-issues and compilations, but Darkstalkers never had the widespread appeal of Street Fighter, and it hasn't seen any proper new games since 1997's Darkstalkers 3. Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono is clearly fond of the series, but his promises that “Darkstalkers are not dead” grew less frequent after last year's Darkstalkers Resurrection repackaging failed to meet CAPCOM's sales aspirations.

It seems that Darkstalkers won't get a new game, but it sticks around in guest appearances and the occasional merchandise. And Udon's recent Darkstalkers Official Complete Works is the most extensive piece of memorabilia for any Darkstalkers fan.

The book chronicles the Darkstalkers series in just about every respect: game profiles, interviews, notes from the creators, and illustrations of numerous character cameos. It's front-loaded with big, splashy contributions from familiar artists. Original CAPCOM designers like Gouda Cheese (aka Bengus), Kinu Nishimura, and Akira “Akiman” Yasuda (whose reputation makes Polygon's Street Fighter II: An Oral History a must-read) revisit the Darkstalkers characters they helped create, and they're joined by Udon artists and several manga authors. Mami Itou's absence is a tad strange, given her past Darkstalkers work, but the artists that made it in provide varied and appealing takes on the Darkstalkers lineup of werewolves, vampires, ghosts, yeti, and other mollified horrors of the night. Well, most of them are appealing. Hyung-Tae Kim's vision of Morrigan and Lilith is hideous.

Darkstalkers artwork tends to be suggestive, of course. Cat-woman Felicia is practically naked, while Morrigan, the apparent main character of the series, is a succubus whose costume runs out of material as it goes up. There's plenty of that within the Official Complete Works compendium, but it seems a tad less ridiculous than the cleavage armor and techno-bikinis donned by women in other games. Perhaps that's because Darkstalkers plays on an established pop-culture vein of cinematic monsters (as the rumor goes, it started off in the hopes of using actual Universal creatures). It's still silly to see Morrigan lounging around in that outfit, but she's not too far from Vampira, Elvira, and just about any schlocky old movie with demonic women.

And there's no denying the skill of the artists. CAPCOM employed some of the industry's most talented illustrators during the 1990s, and Darkstalkers let them cut loose in ways that Street Fighter or the latest Marvel game never permitted. True to the squash-and-stretch look of the games, the artwork's full of detail: Lord Raptor's emaciated, toothy zombie torso, B.B. Hood's basket of submachine guns and explosives, or Donovan's strange poses and fanged sword. Even the more conventional designs, like Rikuo or John Talbain, show exaggerated proportions that came through nicely in the game. Many of these illustrations are paired with comments from the artists. Some are detailed, while others find Gouda Cheese or Akiman remarking on how much fun it was to draw these characters. It's easy to believe them.

Darkstalkers: Official Complete Works packs in art of just about everything from the games, even backgrounds and sketches for such obscure characters as Dee (an evil Donovan seen only in the PlayStation 2's Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection) and Baraba (an unused werewolf rival for John Talbain). The later pages of the book have interviews, including an rather amusing one with Akiman, and a collection of Darkstalkers appearances from other games. Recent ones like Project X Zone and Cross Edge are here alongside promotional illustrations from obscure Japan-only campaigns. We're spared the sight of the Western Darkstalkers cartoon, but there's an entire section of designs for the four-part Night Warriors anime series. It may have been a bore after the first episode, but it had some danged nice artwork.

This new Darkstalkers collection includes most of the art in Udon's previously released Darkstalkers Graphic File. In fact, Official Complete Works enlarges the most interesting part of Graphic File: early designs for the characters. CAPCOM's rough drafts are presented in all their bizarre variety. A cyclops version of Sasquatch, a fish-headed Rikuo, and a towering Devil Man version of Morrigan (which explains her head-wings) make for a compelling glimpse of just how Darkstalkers might've turned out, and here it's just a bit clearer.

Does Darkstalkers: Official Complete Works replace Darkstalkers Graphic File? Not entirely. The new book has nearly all of the older one's full-color art, but it doesn't have Graphic File's collection of screenshots, movelists, and endings. That likely won't bother many Darkstalkers fans, though I do miss Graphic File's gallery of the various manga and figures that were released in the heyday of Darkstalkers. It was a nice feature for those of us whose finances and décor don't allow for bookshelves lined with Felicia and Sasquatch toys.

Even if it doesn't gather every last bit of Darkstalkers debris, Official Complete Works is an exceptional piece for anyone fond of Darkstalkers or CAPCOM's history of first-rate artwork. Some might also see it as a bittersweet memento of the series, a reminder that there probably won't be enough new material to justify a third Darkstalkers artbook.

Yet Darkstalkers: Official Complete Works is a pretty reminder that some series aren't meant to last forever and go through dubious revivals with each new game generation. Darkstalkers had a good run for a fighter, and it lives on by Morrigan and Felicia popping up in some CAPCOM cell-phone puzzle games or crossover RPGs. The Darkstalkers titles are still charming today, their artwork still impresses, and I suspect both will hold up just as nicely in the future. If that's all Darkstalkers ever is, I'm fine with it.

Darkstalkers Official Complete Works is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

MARIO KART 8
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: May 30
Stanley the Bugman: Still MIA
MSRP: $59.99

Nintendo fans and detractors alike turn each notable Wii U release into The Big One, The One That Could Save the System, or even The Make or Break Moment for Nintendo's Beleaguered Console. However, the drably titled Mario Kart 8 got a push from within Nintendo itself, as both company president Satoru Iwata and UK brand manager Roger Langford pointed to it as a very important title. It's not unprecedented, either; Mario Kart 64 had a significant role in pulling the Nintendo 64 out of its post-launch doldrums. Perhaps Mario Kart 8 can do the same for the Wii U.

That's an awful lot to lay on a game that's just about Mario and Donkey Kong driving go-karts and throwing Koopa shells at each other. Of course, the races involve far more vehicles: hang-gliders, bikes, and the all-new ATVs join the lineup of customizable rides. Mario Kart 8 also emphasizes anti-gravity driving, as the racers tear around upside-down and sideways tracks, and the newer courses see them flipping over mid-air, dashing down alternate paths, plunging underwater, and hurling all sorts of weapons at each other. Among the usual assortment of homing shells and bob-ombs and ink-spraying Bloopers, the characters also pick up such new items as boomerang flowers, piranha plants that nip other racers, and shockwave horns that spreads destruction out before you.

The character lineup plays it safe, with standard Mario characters and their baby incarnations available at first. Others are unlockable, including Lakitu, Metal Mario, Super Mario Galaxy's Rosalina, and the Koopa Kids (who've made quite the comeback in recent years). Mario Kart still hasn't expanded to the obscure reaches of the Smash Bros. series, but give it time. Maybe Samus Aran and Captain N will race around in Mario Kart 9.

MIND ZERO
Developer: Acquire/Zero Div
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: May 27
Working Title: Peersona
MSRP: $39.99

We'll get it out of the way: Mind Zero looks a lot like a Persona game. Mind Zero has a squad of high-schoolers summoning otherworldly creatures. Mind Zero has boxy labyrinths to explore in a first-person view. And Mind Zero has battles wherein those teenage demon-hunters summon forth their supernatural allies to take down enemies.

Mind Zero's powerful specters are called MINDs, which stands for Major Inner Node Displacement. They're no-good denizens of an alternate dimension known as The Inner Realm, and they're responsible for a string of oddly motivated crimes in the human world. But they're not all bad. Humans can make contracts with certain MINDs, and placid student Kei Takanashi takes up the offer. So do several of his classmates, including bubbly Sana Chikage and dopey Leo Asahina. They join up with private detective Yoichi Ogata to investigate MIND-related cases—which usually lead to some squared-off, perversely decorated dungeonscape.

Hunted by government agents and more arcane entities, Kei and his allies traverse two worlds. The group investigates crimes by talking to characters in the Outer Realm (which we know as the human world), then plunges into the Inner Realm for some dungeon-hack gameplay. The Vita's touchscreen comes into play for such practical uses as slicing open doors in the demon world. Mind Zero might not be Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, but it's as close as you'll come until this fall.

WATCH DOGS
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: PC (Windows), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: May 27
Underscore: Unnecessary
MSRP: $59.99 (regular release), $129.99 (limited edition)

Open-world action games normally give you moral freedom. You can be a righteous crusader or a murderous, rarely punished monster, but the game doesn't push one way or the other. Watch Dogs tries to sell itself as a modern outlaw fantasy, one where players can be either Internet-hacking vigilante heroes or complete assholes. Yet just about everything shown of Watch Dogs emphasizes the asshole abilities of its alleged hero: staging traffic accidents, spying on housewives and repairmen, stealing cars to run missions for criminals, and just manipulating and destroying anything you want.

Watch Dogs follows the annoyingly named Aiden Pearce, a renegade hacker intent on sniffing out a conspiracy that spans most of Chicago. By breaking into the city's all-monitoring computer grid, Aiden can induce power outages, take over security cameras, infiltrate exclusive clubs and secured facilities, and snoop on just about everyone's smartphone conversations. As he's rapidly declared a criminal by the city's corrupt elites, Aiden pals around with crooks, assassins, other hackers, and various malcontents with a vested interest in blowing things up. His reputation rises and falls with his misdeeds, though he's still free to be a jerk in general. A city-wide rampage that leaves eleven cops dead might affect Aiden's public image a bit. Swiping and smashing some guy's Android to keep him from calling the police? Probably not a big deal in Watch Dogs.

The spacious city and third-person shooting provide much of the gameplay in Watch Dogs, but the bonus attractions are robust. A versus mode has one player hacking the other's gameplay session in secret, while an eight-player brouhaha provides more traditional contests. Aiden also uncovers varied mini-games, including a hellish drag race and the chance to pilot an enormous spider-mech. It's hard to avoid being a jerk while controlling a huge mechanical arachnid in downtown Chicago, but adept players might manage.

Also Available:
The Sly Cooper Collection arrives on the PlayStation Vita. It has the three PlayStation 2 Sly Cooper titles in HD and…well, that's about it. But it's a nice fit for Vita owners and those worry-wart players who fear being dubbed furries if anyone sees them enjoying Sly Cooper on a large screen.


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


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