The X Button
Temporal Tempers

by Todd Ciolek, Jul 16th 2014

You'll see a lot of old-fashioned sprites this week, be they in Kickstarter projects or Pac-Man's palm. Some contend that neo-retro pixel art is an overused fad, one that leeches off our inbuilt fondness for the games we once played on the NES and Super NES and Atari Lynx. And I think the part about Nostalgia is true at least.

Yet I'm not so sure that neo-retro art is overused. It's often employed by designers and artists who couldn't afford to put together fancy modern game graphics, and that's not a bad thing. Sprites are hardly an effortless or cheap path, but their nature allows developers to realize ideas without needing a bloated budget or a marketing department's say-so.

Retro-styled sprites also help set games apart. So many modern creations try to imitate the visual style of other mediums. When they fail, they look like awkward mockeries of films or comics or some dreadful direct-to-video ripoff of the latest Pixar endeavor. When they succeed, they're tough to distinguish from their inspirations. On appearances alone, the likes of Halo, Assassin's Creed, and big-money Final Fantasies could all be CG movies.Traditional pixel art is something that video games can call their own.

What's more, modern neo-retro games improve on the sprite art of old. A lot of NES games have indistinct amoeboid pixel masses for their main characters. Look at Kick Master, for example. Just what's happening to the hero when he jumps? Most of today's offerings wouldn't make that mistake.

NEWS

EVO BRINGS A NEW TEKKEN, NO NEW STREET FIGHTER
The Evo 2014 tournament brought some news about Tekken 7. It's coming, it's running on Unreal Engine 4, and it's once again about Mishima family history. That's about all the trailer established, though it shows Tekken's return to traditional animation and evil dinosaurs.

Wait, my mistake. That's from Tekken: The Motion Picture. The actual Tekken 7 trailer is a vaguer thing full of fancy CG overkill. It consists mostly of Kazumi Mishima alluding to her jerkface husband, pointy-haired magnate Heihachi Mishima. Then her son, Kazuya Mishima, confronts his dad amid volcanic rubble and those static-thunder noises that every movie trailer needs these days. But it's the new Tekken, folks!

Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono, in friendly rivalry with Tekken's Katsuhiro Harada, also took the Evo stage. Alas, he didn't say much beyond jesting about Street Fighter's “Ultra” upgrade lagging behind Tekken, now on its seventh numbered game. He promised a Street Fighter announcement “soon,” which may be tied to that PlayStation 4 game currently occupying him. Or maybe it's just a sequel to the Ono-produced Chaos Legion. I'm sure someone out there wants that.

SMASH BROTHERS DRAWS ON FIRE EMBLEM, NOSTALGIA
Many Nintendo-raised kids first discovered the Fire Emblem series through Super Smash Bros. Melee. Sure, they could've imported the earlier games or seen the lame two-part Fire Emblem anime series that ADV Films brought over in the late 1990s, but Melee put Roy and Marth in a popular fighting game and gave the obsessed a chance to tell all of their friends exactly who those two characters were. And now that Fire Emblem can stand on its own feet worldwide, Super Smash Bros. hasn't forgotten about it.

The latest newcomers to the Super Smash Bros. roster are Lucina and Robin of Fire Emblem: Awakening. Lucina, shown above with Palutena in one of the odder new screenshots released by Nintendo, is the time-traveling daughter of Prince Chrom (who appears in some Super Smash Bros. attacks), and Robin is the default name for the player's avatar, available in both male and female forms for Super Smash Bros. Fire Emblem fans will point out that Lucina is a lot like Marth in looks and moveset, but director Masahiro Sakurai mentions that Lucina is a little shorter and easier to control in her attacks.

Nintendo also revealed two more key things: Captain Falcon will return for Super Smash Bros., and Pac-Man's taunting move causes him to summon other classic Namco sprites. Mappy, Xevious, Galaga, Dig-Dug, Taiko Drum Master, Dragon Buster, and the undeserving Sky Kid are represented so far, and I can only hope Sakurai and his crew will work The Legend of Valkyrie and The Outfoxies into the game.

PERSONA 4 ADDS MARIE, BLAZBLUE ADDS AND RE-ADDS OTHERS
There's nothing the X Button likes more than new characters in fighting games, so it's time to discuss the newest addition to Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. It'll include Marie, the Hot Topic schoolgirl introduced in Persona 4 Golden. Famitsu reports that she'll attack foes with her Kaguya Persona and a purse full of accessories.

I actually thought Marie was a brat for most of Persona 4 Golden, but she'll be a DLC addition to Ultimax—and therefore easier to ignore for those who dislike her. Of course, if Atlus is going to add her to Persona 4 Arena, they'll have to add Labrys, the first Arena's original character, to the next Persona 4 spin-off. It's only fair.

Meanwhile, Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma gets two more playable characters: Celica and Lambda-11. Celica appeared in a bunch of story scenes in Chrono Phantasma, and she'll use her Ex Machina robot, Minerva, during fights. Lambda-11 is one of several pointy-footed, sharp-winged mechanized women in BlazBlue. She was previously playable in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift, but the storyline later pushed her aside and kinda replaced her with Nu-13 as far as gameplay goes. She'll be back in Chrono Phantasma, and not necessarily in the form shown above. Both of them will show up in the arcade version of the game in the fall. As for the home edition, I suspect it'll be a Chrono Phantasma II deal instead of DLC.

KICKSTARTER REPORT: TIME CHASERS

MIGHTY TACTICAL SHOOTER
Status: Unfunded
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Ends: Thursday, July 31

It's an idea that just about everyone's hatched in the midst of a particularly cruel old-fashioned shooter: wouldn't it be great to pause the game and somehow strategize your way through the vicious sheets of enemy bullets, instead of just dodging around in panic? Mighty Tactical Shooter does that. It looks like a typical neo-retro summoning of Defender or Scramble, with simple pixel ships and even tinier characters. It's not a shooter in the typical sense, though. At any point, players pause the game and guide the ship with targeting reticles and defense gauges and fuel meters and missile arcs. Just about every piece of shooter gameplay is broken down into commands and resource management, and players direct the ship's resources through shields, weapons, and repair systems.

It sounds like the exact opposite of everything that makes a shooter fun, but Mighty Tactical Shooter opens itself up to all sorts of puzzles and strategic boss fights that, as creator Johnny Marshall points out, wouldn't really work in a reflex-driven, fast-paced shooter like Einhander or Progear (or even a slower one like Pulstar or R-Type). The game also promises a bleak storyline, since the player's ship is a humble prototype, and it crashes on a planet filled with hostile creatures and susurrating, red-eyed aliens. That's entirely true to Mighty Tactical Shooter's genre mix—shooters don't need plots, but this is really a strategy game, isn't it?

TEMPORUS
Status: Unfunded
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Ends: Sunday, July 20

Temporus, like Mighty Tactical Shooter, breeds a hybrid from classic genres. It's all about a small space explorer (who could've stepped out of Baraduke or Air Fortress) heading back to a homeworld that's suddenly under attack. Once there, the biosuited protagonist travels through time to reveal the newly demolished world's sad history. It's also about treading through different gameplay modes: ruins are side-scrolling mazes with treasures to find and dark terrors to confront, and they're interspersed with shooter stages. The main ship looks a little large to effectively dodge, but perhaps it sates that rarely realized desire to spend a shoot-'em-up at the controls of a massive deep-space battleship instead of an agile yet puny fighter.

Everything in Temporus sports damned impressive pixel work, inviting comparisons to such thickly detailed creations as Last Resort and the Metal Slug series. The soundtrack even has the '80s pop overtures of the Rayxanber games, and the stretch goals include a remix album. Some of these extras (including little ship models) seem a bit premature, as Temporus hasn't cleared its funding yet. Less than a week remains for backers to support this one, and I'll hope it'll get more attention among fans of gloomy space adventures and really nice sprite art.

TIMESPINNER
Status: Funded!
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4, PS Vita
Ends: Friday, July 25

It's pretty easy to pick out Timespinner's influences. The gothic scenery, the jointed behemoth bosses, the little numbers that rise from damaged enemies…it's all Castlevania. There's a bit of Chrono Trigger in the premise and touches of Demon's Crest and Megaman here and there, but most of what's on display brings to mind the side-scrolling Metroidvania-style games sired by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. And that's just fine as far as I'm concerned. I don't see Konami making any Castlevanias like that at the moment, after all.

Timespinner begins with a scene that I can't resist comparing to Krull or perhaps Vay: heroine Lunais and her mother find their sleepy fantasy-realm village under attack not by orcs or rival kingdoms, but by spaceships from another planet. Faced with this threat, they flee to an ancient temple that holds a time-travel contraption. Her mom doesn't make it, but Lunais is sent across dimensions and driven to seek revenge. She attacks with everything from energy fireballs to giant swords, but her most useful ability lies in stopping time. By freezing enemies and bits of the stages, she finds her way through puzzles and uncovers new areas, the natural path of any Metroidvania deal.

The spritework in Timespinner is all fairly impressive in mimicking stuff from the Super NES era in greater detail, so much so that I at first wondered if Lunar Ray Games actually stole sprites for things like the crowned crow merchant and the Byzantine mecha-panther. I'm sure they didn't. It's a credit to the game that it evokes classics so closely, and I look forward to dissecting those sprites on an up-close Vita screen.

CLASS OF HEROES 2G
Status: Open for orders
Platforms: PlayStation 3
Ends: Sunday, July 27

The Gaijinworks and Monkey Paw release of Class of Heroes 2G isn't really a fundraiser. It's a call for orders of the game, a PlayStation 3 version of the PSP dungeon-delver Class of Heroes 2. The two publishers brought out the PSP title last year, and I found it to be a perfectly serviceable maze-driven RPG. It's a bit light on plot and personality, though that's not for the localizers' lack of trying—it has the same snide undertones and goofy description that Working Designs brought to games (before the company disintegrated and founder Victor Ireland moved on to Gaijinworks, that is). The 2G version of the game has a new stage called Dark Gate, more monster species, and some other extras. Most interesting is a dual-screen option that lets players use a Vita or PSP as a controller, with the handheld's screen showing details about the battle. Just like a Dreamcast VMU!

The important thing about the Class of Heroes 2G sale? It's your only chance to own a physical copy of the game. Fifty bucks buys a serially numbered physical copy with a two-sided cover, a manual (a rarer and rarer sight these days), and the assurance that Monkey Paw will produce only enough copies to fill orders for the game. That might make Class of Heroes 2G the rarest commercial release for the PlayStation 3. Of course, the exact same game will be out on the PLAYSTATION Network in due time, but there's something to be said for the collectors out there.

ALSO RUNNING…
For another tale that extends across different time periods, you can support Epanalepsis, a point-and-click adventure about three different narratives enchained by technology. Wild Wild Pixel unfolds in an Old West wasteland, with a point-and-click interface and an interactive tavern skit, ala Grim Fandango's beat poetry. Lastly, there's Bulb Boy, an adventure game where the characters speak in pictures and the protagonist looks like something from a Tim Burton episode of Adventure Time.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

Not much is headed here next week, but Wayforward's charming platformer Shantae: Risky's Revenge made its Steam debut this week! It's a great little side-scroller with a shapeshifting genie star, maze-like levels, a dog named Waddle Bell, and a new Magic Mode that shifts Shantae's strengths! Elsewhere, Atlus has the dungeon hack Abyss Odyssey, and there's a Destiny beta that seems to have a lot of players aboard.


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

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