The X Button
Might Be Wrong

by Todd Ciolek,
I could talk about Hideo Kojima leaving Konami, about how the next Harvest Moon War will shake out, or about how neat Undertale is. However, there are more pressing concerns. Fatal Frame: Maiden of the Black Water is out in North America, and by all reports Nintendo and Tecmo Koei removed at least one thing from the game.

To be more accurate, Nintendo and Tecmo Koei removed several things: skimpy bikini costumes that the heroines could wear. Present in the Japanese release of the game, the swimwear is missing from the North American release. In its place, Nintendo added costumes based on Princess Zelda's dress and Zero Suit Samus' blue tube-sock of an outfit. And some fans are irate.

Is this censorship? Technically, yes. Nintendo and Tecmo Koei have removed costumes that might be deemed objectionable by some, and that meets the dictionary standard for censorship. It's led some to bring up the Bravely Default outfit changes from last year, and once again I must oppose Fatal Frame's alterations in theory but support them in aesthetics. I dislike it when a work is changed for commercial reasons, and yet I don't see the value in the game's original costumes. They're a little bit creepy, particularly when the designers aimed to play up the sexuality of women being doused in water and scared out of their wits. I prefer Zelda and Metroid costumes.

Of course, some people are distressed just because the Zero Suit reminds them of Metroid: Other M. They're still stung over that one.

NEWS

KOJIMA AND KONAMI FINALLY MAYBE SORTA ACTUALLY PART WAYS
Well, Hideo Kojima finally left Konami. Maybe. Konami is currently claiming that Kojima is merely on vacation, but other sources have it that the man in charge of the Metal Gear series has all but officially departed the company. If that's true, it fulfills the longstanding rumors that Kojima would exit the company because of development problems with Metal Gear Solid V. Or because Konami had canceled Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro's survival-horror game. Or became Konami, like many other companies, is ditching traditional development and looking to the more profitable realm of mobile games. So yes, there are plenty of reasons for Kojima to leave Konami. Perhaps he's just biding his time until his contract expires in December.

It's happy news for some, who are free to imagine Kojima joining Nintendo or Platinum Games or maybe picking up the ailing Treasure studio, Konami expats themselves, and forming a bold new development house. Yet it's a little sad. Kojima spent nearly 30 years with Konami, from the days of simple action games like Penguin Adventure and the canceled Lost Warld. All of his projects, from Snatcher and Policenauts to the indulgent strata of Metal Gear, are Konami properties, so Kojima can't take them with him.

NINTENDO NX STIRS UP NEW SPECULATION
In other news closer to rumors, Nintendo's next system is slightly more solid. Software kits for the console, still codenamed the NX, recently went out to some developers, and the Wall Street Journal reported that the unit will be some hybrid of a handheld system and a home console. That technically describes the Wii U that we all know (and the short-lived Neo Geo X, for that matter), but the Wii U's tablet-sized, touch-screen controller doesn't have the range of an actual handheld. It would make sense for Nintendo to consolidate the strong handheld presence of the 3DS and the console woes of the Wii U. Handhelds are losing ground daily to tablets and smartphones, so the successor to the 3DS faces steep competition. A new handheld might fare better if it's part of some new breed of system.

Most interesting are the reports that the NX, whatever its final name may be, is due out in 2016. That points to Nintendo replacing the Wii U within four years of its debut, and it suggests that the company's big showings for late 2016 will be NX titles or cross-platform releases. And this leads to speculation (and only speculation) that the next major The Legend of Zelda game we saw at E3 in 2014 will get the same treatment as The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which came out for the GameCube as well as the Wii.

Where does this leave Wii U owners, who probably hoped Nintendo would give their console at least five years of support? It's a harsh blow…if you're the sort who buys a system right at launch. Most people don't, and I imagine many would let Nintendo's next system build up for a good year or two before nabbing one. Heck, I'd hold off until they announce a third Sin and Punishment game. That would put the NX miles ahead.

FINAL FANTASY: BRAVE EXVIUS IS YET ANOTHER MASHUP
If Nintendo was slow to admit that mobile games are a major force, Square Enix threw down a path of roses long ago. Final Fantasy spin-offs have appeared on cell phones and tablets for over ten years, and many of those games deliberately court the aesthetics of Super NES RPGs. Brave Exvius, due out today in Japan, fits roughly into that mold. It finds three heroes on a quest to save the world of Lapis: Rain is an idealistic knight from Grancelt Kingdom, Lasswell is his swordsman friend, and Fina is the requisite Mysterious Woman, here freed from a slumber inside of a crystal. That's better than having a crystal inside her, like in that weird Final Fantasy V anime OVA.

The big draw of Brave Exvius is the way Lapis pulls in characters from other titles. Previous Final Fantasy mobile games have done this, but Brave Exvius gives them new sprites and broader roles in battle. The above shot alone features Cyan from Final Fantasy VI, Vaan from Final Fantasy XII, and Kuja from Final Fantasy IX. And there's a white mage named Lea or Rea, who might reflect the character class from the original Final Fantasy.

It all seems to be working. Brave Exvius has three million registered users from the Japanese beta test alone, and Square plans to give out a free character: Terra on her presumably overpowered Magitek armor. Too bad there's no English version of Brave Exvius yet. An armor-mounted Terra would be nice for Final Fantasy VI fans who, like me, were a little miffed that the characters only rode those mechanized suits in one or two dungeons.

A MIGHTY NUMBER'S UP

It's hard to play the Mighty No. 9 demo. There's nothing stopping you from a technical angle, of course. It runs just fine, and the controls seem as precise as the Mega Man games it strives to emulate. The narrative within isn't upsetting or intolerable, as it follows the Mega Man cliché of robots running amok and leaving a lone hero, here named Beck, to unravel their rebellion.

No, Mighty No. 9 is hard to play because I just can't shake the feeling that the game is doomed.

Mighty No. 9 emerged in 2013 as a Kickstarter success, raking in over $3 million with the promise of Keiji Inafune, who'd produced Mega Man titles for years, re-launching the whole series in a new guise. It had nice art and an undeniable anime charm to it. Beck was a leaner, modern successor to a childhood favorite, somewhere between the Astro Boy aesthetic of the original Mega Man and the detailed tech of the Mega Man X series. And he had a robot-girl counterpart named Call. Get it? Eh?

Problems set in, however. The first controversy was nonsense, as backers took issue with the feminist inclinations of Mighty No. 9's community manager. Yet more sensible concerns followed. Inafune, always casting his net wide, pitched a Mighty No. 9 animated series and feature film, plus a Kickstarter for Red Ash, a spiritual revival of the Mega Man Legends titles—and all this before Mighty No. 9, the actual game, came out. And then there were delays. The game slipped from this year to early 2016, with a demo offered to placate Kickstarter backers. Then the demo got delayed.

And how is the demo? Well, it feels very much like a Mega Man game. As with Beck himself, the gameplay lands somewhere between the original series and the more futuristic X line; Beck hops and shoots like an NES hero, but he also dashes and clings to ledges like a slightly more refined Super NES icon. That dash maneuver figures into the game's biggest enhancement, as Beck's best line of attack is to blast enemies until they glow, then dash through them to absorb their energy. Naturally, he also gets new weapons and powers by defeating level bosses, and those new acquisitions make the game easier for him. It's a system that's served Mega Man over almost three decades.

I find that Mega Man games have to work exceptionally hard to be awful, to wear the inherently enjoyable formula down to something I'll hate. A few of them are inept enough to reach that bedrock of loathing, but Mighty No. 9 isn't among them. The dash mechanic is fun even if it's seemingly built for speed-runners, and the level design offers nicely scaling challenge. I wish that the designers had given up all pretense of setting Beck apart and just given him X's wall-grab technique, but the game works well on its own terms—and those of the Mega Man canon. It has potential.

Yet Mighty No. 9 seldom looks like the game the Kickstarter promised. A mock-up screen (top) suggested a flashy modern Mega Man side-scroller with neat little details and backgrounds, right down to those traffic-cone things peeking out of their container. No one really expected the actual game (bottom) to look that sharp, but Mighty No. 9 is noticeably primitive beyond such comparisons. Characters stand around and gesture feebly during cutscenes that often serve little purpose—does Beck really need two scientist caretakers?

And those characters are misshapen. Beck and Call were cutely proportioned in official Mighty No. 9 artwork, but they have freakishly big hands in the game, as though they're wearing huge novelty foam fingers in baseball stands. Doctor Sanda, presumably meant to be a jolly Tezuka-esque archetype, resembles some DeviantArt weirdo's inflation-fetish artwork. Mighty No. 9 looks like a PlayStation 2 game boosted into high resolution. It looks like an Xbox Live Arcade game from the last console generation. And that's not what most Kickstarter fans were expecting.

The Mega Man series resorted to throwbacks before and did it well: Mega Man 9 is an enjoyable action game deliberately molded like an NES title. But it's also built with graphics in 8-bit fashion, and it's easier to do that well than to fashion a modern 3-D action game in the Mega Man tradition. Perhaps Mega Man just feels better with sprites. It's easy to see the series in 20xx, a new Steam action game that looks as close as one can get to old-fashioned Mega Man X titles. Its stages are randomly generated and its look is unabashedly pilfered from Capcom's series, but it superficially resembles traditional Mega Man than Mighty No. 9.

Let's be honest: Mighty No. 9 couldn't be the modern equivalent of what Mega Man's best games were to their eras. Times have changed, the market has expanded, and, barring some time-travel accident, longtime fans will never again be children picking Mega Man 2 out from an aisle of Toys R Us placards or renting Mega Man X from Blockbuster three times before beating it—and then asking for it as a Christmas present.

Mighty No. 9 needs to stand apart from that tempest of nostalgia, but I doubt that most fans will give it the chance. And why should they? Mighty No. 9 pitched itself as Mega Man reborn, and that set expectations too high to match. Perhaps the final game will go further, with enhancements that include a co-op mode starring Call. But even if it does, will anyone care?

THIS WEEK'S RELEASES

CODE: REALIZE – GUARDIAN OF REBIRTH
Developer: Otomate / Design Factory
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PS Vita (and TV)
Release Date: October 20
Herlock Sholmes: Hey, wait a sec...
MSRP: $39.99

Next week is thin on new games, but I shouldn't worry. I missed one for this week, so I'll just put it in here and no one will notice! In truth, Code: Realize – Guardian of Rebirth deserves some attention. It's a visual novel on the Vita, which is rapidly turning into a haven for offbeat Japanese games, and it deals with a motif I've always enjoyed: bizarre portrayals of history and classic literature.

Visual novels often require troubled heroines, and Code: Realize chooses Cardia, a young woman isolated in a mansion. There's a reason for this: her body contains a toxin that destroys just about anything it touches, which greatly erodes her ability to attend debutante balls or play Twister. Sulking around gloomily ever since her father left home, Cardia is captured by royal guards and rescued by Arsene Lupin. This particular version of Lupin is a dapper thief with little cogs on his top hat and coat, and of course, he's a handsome young man. That goes for most of the game's other revisions of literary and historical figures: rifle-toting Abraham Van Helsing seeks revenge on a certain someone, bespectacled Victor Frankenstein is a wanted criminal with ties to the British Crown, Impey Barbicane (of Verne's From the Earth to the Moon) is a cocky fellow in search of some lost treasure, and Herlock Sholmes (is that really necessary?) seems to be on Cardia's side only half the time. And her new landlord is a strange nobleman known as Saint-Germain, a name that should ring a few bells.

Cardia's out to find her absent father and figure out why she has amnesia, presumably so she can stop being a walking acid vial. For how else will she know happiness with the many possible love interests before her? The game branches toward multiple endings depending on Cardia's decisions and taste in men, and some extra scenarios await afterwards. As a visual novel or dating simulator or whatever you prefer we call it, Code: Realize of course relies on illustrations, dialogue, and narration to move it along. I think the North American game market wants that a lot more often these days, judging by how many more visual novels are headed here.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

Well, there's a new game called Halo 5 coming out, and it finds recurring hero Master Chief missing and a new Spartan operative named Jameson Locke searching for him. It's big on multiplayer gameplay, though this new Halo reportedly does away with local split-screen co-operative play. There go those fond memories of chaining together Xboxes and taking over the conference room's TV when the boss left for the weekend.

Among the ports and reissues, you'll find the delightful old-fashioned platformer Shovel Knight the on Wii U and 3DS—in retail versions, no less. Meanwhile, Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 3: V Generation comes to Steam on October 30, introducing a new audience to techno-anime heroines based on video-game systems. It's not to be confused with Sega Hard Girls.

While it's not an actual game, I must put in a word for Capcom's new Ultra Street Fighter IV costumes. Due out next week, they're all Halloween-themed, and they range from a Frankenstein overhaul for Hugo to a Wicked-style witch outfit for Rose.

And yes, Dan gets the best costume. Capcom has 44 outfits available in a single twenty-dollar bundle, and you can buy them in four-dollar packs if you only want one particular costume. That's expensive for purely cosmetic changes, but it's ideal for anyone nerdy enough to run a Street Fighter tournament at a Halloween Party. Or you could just play Darkstalkers.


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


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