The X Button
Wii U Ready

by Todd Ciolek,
There'll be no X Button next week, due to my covering the San Diego Comic Con in all its crowded, blistering splendor this weekend. If you're there, you can see me host a panel for Goichi “Suda51” Suda, creator of delightfully weird games from The Silver Case and Killer7 to Ranko Tsukigime's Longest Day and Liberation Maiden. The Art of Japanese Video Game Design covers both artwork and creative sensibilities behind the games of Suda and the rest of Grasshopper Manufacture, as seen in Last Gasp and PIE's new book.

The panel starts in Room 8 at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, and Suda's signing autographs at three separate sessions throughout the weekend. Check it out as I ask pressing questions about the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. references in Killer7!

NEWS

MEGA MAN LEGENDS IS BACK, TWICE OVER
Mega Man fans heralded the spiritual return of the series in Keiji Inafune's Mighty No. 9, but let's face it. What we really wanted was a third Mega Man Legends. The other Mega Man sub-series, from the original line to Mega Man X to Battle Network, had their shots and ran their courses. By contrast, Legends stopped after two games and a spin-off, and the last title ended with Mega Man stuck on the moon. We wanted closure, or at least a game that carried on the spirit of the canceled (or rather, never actually greenlit) Mega Man Legends 3. We get the latter.

Inafune's latest project is Red Ash: The Indelible Legend, and it's pretty much Mega Man Legends. A collaboration with Studio 4°C, Red Ash takes place on an Earthlike planet reeling from its Robot World War. Humans regularly fend off hostile machines, but now KalKanon, a lumbering city-like giant robot, encroaches on the colony of Great Slope. The authorities are ready to blow it to pieces, but explorers Beck, Call, and Tyger are convinced that a priceless treasure lies within KalKanon. So they're out to raid it before the callous government destroys it—or KalKanon destroys much more.

Observers will note that Beck and Call are reimaginings of their Mighty No. 9 counterparts, just as Mega Man Legends had new versions of Mega Man and Roll. They'll also note that Tyger is Teisel Bonne from the Legends games, that the Gofer sidekick is a Servbot (with a questionable black-faced design), and that there appears to be a Tron Bonne lookalike in the design sketches shown during the video. Even the name plays off the Japanese title for Legends: Rockman Dash. Yes, it's Re-Dash. And that's what we want, dammit.

Problems appear upon closer inspection, though. Red Ash is a 3-D action game like Legends, but it's hard to get a sense of that in the KickStarter video and the black-and-white mockups. It invites much more work than Mighty No.9, and I wonder if Inafune, his Comcept studio, and the game's developers can manage it. Moreover, the Kickstarter describes Red Ash as the “prologue chapter” in a larger saga, and prologues aren't known for being long. Developer Hyde is a wild card, too, as their catalog ranges from Natsume's Hometown Story to Otomate visual novels, with few big-budget action titles in between. On the other hand, Red Ash at least has stable talent aboard: art director Kazushi Ito, game director Masahiro Yasuma, interface designer Yukiko Kawanabe, and background artist Miki Kijima all worked on the Legends games. And when taken on its own appearances, Red Ash looks downright charming.

Is Inafune overextending his reputation and the goodwill of Mega Man fans? Mighty No. 9 isn't out yet, and early impressions suggest that it'll be solid but not the spectacular rebirth of Mega Man. Inafune's pushing not only a Legends revival but an anime series to go with it, as Comcept and Studio 4°C assembled a second Kickstarter for Red Ash: Magicicada, a 3-D animated…pilot. The KickStarter's $150,000 goal would fund a five-minute episode. Like the Red Ash game, it looks fun, with spindlier versions of Beck, Call, and Tyger, the last of whom resembles Batou from Ghost in the Shell even more in the anime version.

It's what Mega Man Legends fans want. But maybe it's a bit too much of that.

DIGIMON RETURNS, FOR REAL THIS TIME
In a less conflicted case of fan desires fulfilled, Bandai Namco announced a U.S. release for Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth. The Digimon franchise, long dormant in North America, perked up slightly with the release of the simplistic fighting game Digimon All-Star Rumble last year. Cyber Sleuth, a PlayStation 4 and Vita title, is much more welcome, however, as it's a full-blown RPG where teenagers roam a virtual world and befriend little digi-monsters. Its world explores the glossy cyberspace element of the franchise, one we've seen in past Digimon games, Digimon anime, and Mamoru Hosoda's Summer Wars. Yes, Hosoda reheated some of his Digimon work for that.

Cyber Sleuth might also manage to bring in non-Digimon fans, as its premise and Suzuhito Yasuda designs seem a little more complex than Pokemon. It plays up its teens-meet-monsters idea a little bit like a Shin Megami Tensei, but instead of demonic pacts and psychological terror, the heroes find talking star-sprites and pint-size Tyrannosaurs. You'll see it on shelves next year…for the PlayStation 4, that is. Vita owners get it digitally or not at all.

If nothing else, Cyber Sleuth makes me wonder if companies will revive other slumbering monster-raising series of decades past. Could we get another Monster Rancher game over here? And what about Fighting Foodons?

NINTENDO AND SONY'S FIRST BORN FINALLY FOUND
A fascinating discovery and possible hoax presented itself last week. In the early 1990s, Sony and Nintendo planned to make a CD-based attachment for the Super NES, and they would call it the PlayStation (or Play Station, which will be important later). The two companies parted ways, and Sony used the PlayStation name and research for its own separate CD console which, of course, became a pillar of the game industry. As the story went, Sony made a few hundred prototypes of those Super NES hybrid PlayStation consoles and decided to destroy them all after Nintendo left and the deal fell through. But what really happened to those test versions of the original PlayStation?

Last week, Denver resident Dan Diebold posted photos of what looks for all the world like the Sony-Nintendo version of the PlayStation. Diebold's father, a maintenance worker and packrat, reportedly rescued the console from a swift disposal while working for Advanta Corporation, which just so happened to be run by former Sony president Olaf Olafsson. The unit resembles mock-ups of the official Nintendo-backed PlayStation that circulated in the early 1990s. It also comes with a Super Famicom test cartridge and a significant amount of yellowing. Anyone who owned a launch-window Super NES could tell you a thing or two about yellowing.

Naysayers point out that Diebold's recovered unit doesn't match the mock-up (above) in every precise detail, such as the “Play Station” logo being one word on the half-yellow old console. They also claim that the unit's authenticity won't be solidified until its owner opens the system or powers it up. Others simply find the discoverer's story far too close to those playground legends about uncles who worked for Nintendo.

Diebold hasn't turned on the system, since he has to hunt down a power cord for the proto-Station. He vows to dig deeper into the console once he's back in his home city, so perhaps then we'll see just what this intriguing piece of history has inside. Could the test cart have some unreleased game on it? Might there be a burn of the early CD-based Secret of Mana lodged in its tray? If nothing else, it's fun to imagine that boxy little machine being on every kid's wish list for an alternate-dimension Christmas of 1994.

STATUS CHECK: THE WII U

The Nintendo Wii U walks a hard road. Yes, it's backed by a large and profitable anchor of the game industry, but it's struggling in the shadow of an older sibling. The Wii was a stunning breakthrough, a friendly, Apple-ish console with a motion-sensing controller that drew mockery, stupefaction, and some earnest excitement among us. Some sneered up until the Wii's last days, but no one could deny its success. It showed up in living rooms that hadn't seen game consoles since the NES. It brought third-party support like Nintendo hadn't known in over a decade. It also brought a deluge of dreadful low-budget bilge exploiting the system's casual appeal with everything from Ninjabread Man to Alvin and the Chipmunks, but that's the price of success. And the Wii U hasn't paid it yet.

You'll see far fewer disposable cash-ins on the Wii U, but you'll find a paucity of good third-party games. There are excellent Nintendo-made offerings like Super Mario 3D World, but it's rare to see a Wii U outing from another source. It's nothing new for Nintendo; they steadily backed the Nintendo 64 and the GameCube even when many outside developers looked elsewhere, and they'll do it for the Wii U. They'll even sponsor a Bayonetta sequel that Platinum never would've made otherwise. Yet this leaves the Wii U devoid of strange, daring, and sometimes unpolished games like Fragile Dreams, Lost in Shadow, No More Heroes, Castle Shikigami III, Little King's Story, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, and yes, even Final Fantasy: The Crystal Bearers to some extent. They made the Wii's catalog a treasure buried under a thousand copies of Petz Horse Club. Even Nintendo isn't backing unknowns like they did on the Wii. Don't expect to see follow-ups, either in name or general style, to Sin and Punishment: Star Successor, The Last Story, or Pandora's Tower for the Wii U. And I'll never stop complaining about that.

Is the Wii U flagging? Relatively, yes. This May saw the console surpass 9.5 million unit sold worldwide. It's a proud number at face value, but it's paltry for a Nintendo-backed system that came out in 2012. The Wii surpassed 100 million in its lifetime, the GameCube did 24 million, and the PlayStation 4, released a year after the Wii U, now sits at 22 million. The Wii U lurks around the same territory as the Xbox One and the long-gone Sega Saturn—which history shall one day revere, mark my words.

The Wii U still outsells the Vita by far, but perhaps the Vita is better off. No, really.

The Vita, while clearly undersupported by Sony, has a better supply of games that offer something new in appearance, if not content. Titles like Lost Dimension, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy, and Amnesia: Memories may not step too far outside of their anime-flavored genres, but they at least present original stories and characters. Nintendo has a reputation for reusing Mario, Zelda, Kirby, and the rest of its beloved milieu to the point of tedium. You'll see the same faces in most of the Wii U's catalog, even when the underlying gameplay is imaginative and fresh. I would argue that it's the fans' fault for rarely supporting new series when Nintendo rolls them out, but sometimes they come through. Xenoblade Chronicles X is the ambitious successor to the Wii's cult-fave Xenoblade Chronicles, and it might be the Wii U's most interesting game.

The Wii U seems headed for the same rung as the GameCube or Nintendo 64, both systems that were largely supported by Nintendo and given only occasional notice from other companies. In terms of its catalog, the Wii U has the Nintendo 64's heavy lean toward games published either by Nintendo or by a Nintendo-backed collaborator. Yet it doesn't have the Nintendo 64's relevance to a console generation; for all of its deprivations, the Nintendo 64 was a fixture of the late 1990s game industry. The Wii U has the GameCube's presence, lagging behind Sony's current system and standing about on par with Microsoft's, but it doesn't have the GameCube's support. There are no Tales games or Soul Calibur outings from Namco, no Phantasy Star online RPGs from Sega, and no Final Fantasy spin-offs from Square. The Wii U gets the worst of both systems. It has the same dependably fun games that you'll find on any Nintendo system beyond the Virtual Boy, but it doesn't have much more.

Even its look might set the Wii U back a little. The system's big innovation is its touch-screen controller, a creative meld of iPad and stock Nintendo controller. However, the console itself is, true to its name, a beefier version of the Wii. It's hard for the average customer to tell the decks apart at a glance. The Super NES was uncreatively named, yes, but it looked different in many ways. The Wii systems seem even closer internally. The Wii U is backward compatible with the Wii, right down to a built-in Wii menu. It's unlikely that great numbers of buyers judge it on looks alone, but every parent who tells kids “Don't you already have this?” is another parent less likely to buy this.

Any discussion of the Wii U must point out that Nintendo is hardly hurting for money because of the console—or anything else. The company has over $10 billion in cash reserves. The Wii U's shortcoming is more of an image problem. It's a reminder that Nintendo can't follow up the Wii's success, and as they consider forays into mobile games and other areas, it reflects badly on the Wii U.

Among those other areas, the Amiibo line is easily Nintendo's most visible hit. They're mere figures that interact with games in Skylanders fashion, but they're a craze, especially when it comes to the rarer figures. Some chided Nintendo for a lack of originality, yet the move paid off. With Nintendo shipping over 10 million figures since last year's debut of the line, the Amiibo toys may be a greater success than the Wii U will ever be.

Nintendo seems too quick to give up on the Wii U. Already the company talks about its successor, the NX, and company president Satoru Iwata vows not to repeat the mistakes of the Wii U's lacking launch. The Wii U has a modest lineup headlined by Starfox and Xenoblade this year, with a new Zelda surprisingly absent from the company's E3 2015 lineup. Yet Nintendo seems to be the only real chance for the Wii U to turn itself around. The system needs wider support, and if other companies don't come to the system willingly, Nintendo should drag more underappreciated cult favorites aboard. It's not too late for the Wii U, as long as Nintendo realizes that.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DECEPTION IV: THE NIGHTMARE PRINCESS
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Platform: PS Vita (digital) / PlayStation 3 (digital) / PlayStation 4
Release Date: July 14
Best Princess: Sonia Nevermind
MSRP: $39.99

The Deception series likes that odd line between cruel and comical. The player is invariably cast as an avatar of darkness—sometimes sympathetic, sometimes not—who must devise cunning traps and lay them out in absurd combinations of Tom & Jerry violence. It's one thing to hear enemies squeal and scream as they're caught in a cleverly laid castle contraption, but it's another to see them blinded by a horse's mask, snagged on a chandelier, and catapulted into a wall, complete with cartoonish tweets and bonks.

Deception IV: Blood Ties carried on this tradition by letting players control scantily clad demonic scion Laegrinna and her three hellish servants: Veruza, Caelea, and Lilia (also scantily clad). Each of the sidekicks pursued a different method of torment in their surprise attacks, whether it was full-on savagery or the sheer embarrassment inflicted. Comical or not, their quest had the grim goal of freeing the devil's fragmented and imprisoned soul, and their stages were largely medieval vistas of castles halls, buttresses, and balustrades.

The Nightmare Princess takes things further into comedy. It introduces a new trapmaster in Velguirie, and unlike most Deception protagonists, she's able to fight her questing enemies efficiently in hand-to-hand combat. Traps remain her best weapon, however, and The Nightmare Princess adds new stages in which to rig them. A hospital, a playground, and a gym present many opportunities for Rube Goldberg torments, from a batting machine to an operating table. It makes for sillier methods of attack than any Deception before, and players can customize the dupes who wander into their traps. And if they want a different protagonist, the game offers Deception II's Kagero, Voltron's Trapt's Allura, and Deception III's Reina. If you want the least evil of them, I'd point to Reina. She got a raw deal.

GODZILLA
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3 (digital) / PlayStation 4
Release Date: July 14
Does It Have Gamera: No, Shut Up
MSRP: $59.99 (PlayStation 4)

Bandai Namco's new Godzilla game really seems to understand the movie monster, and that might be a problem. As I've noted before, Godzilla and his other lumbering, city-demolishing companions are big and unwieldy creatures. Godzilla films rely on slow, dramatic pacing when it comes to their monster battles, and Godzilla himself seems deliberately sluggish even when he's ripping off a giant lobster's claws or blasting King Ghidorah into the ionosphere with his breath. And that doesn't lend itself too well to a traditional video game. But Godzilla wouldn't be Godzilla if he moved like a Ninja Gaiden hero, and producer Shunsuke Fujita knows that. His Godzilla game aims to capture the monster as popular culture and film celebrate him. Godzilla stomps around spacious cities and squares off against a wide array of hideous foes, powering up and growing larger as he causes chaos. That comes with a price, of course: the more the player destroys, the fiercer the humans' military defenses become. At first they're insectile annoyances, but all of those tank brigades and helicopter swarms can be a bother when you're trying to indirectly save the world from Gigan and Anguirus at once. Ungrateful little shits, those humans.

Godzilla stocks itself with varied beasties from film lore, including Mothra, King Ghidorah, Destoroyah, Gigan, Anguirus, Rodan, Battra, Biollante, Hedorah, SpaceGodzilla, Mecha-King Ghidorah, and the amazing Jet Jaguar. Godzilla and MechaGodzilla get four different incarnations apiece, reflecting their different film appearances over the years. The game's modes range from pure destructive endeavors to three-player online brawls (in the PlayStation 4 edition, anyway), and players can unlock profiles as well as alternate viewpoints that envision the monster-sown decimation from a human's ground-level perspective. Some modes limit you to using Godzilla and his alternate forms, but hey…it's his game.


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


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