The X Button
Delay of Games

by Todd Ciolek,
The deadline for the latest X Button contest draws near, as you all have until midnight Friday to submit your entries! It's for the sake of art, after all!

We've all heard arguments about how video games are Art With a Captial A, so I want your humorous write-ups about why a particular video game is art…in a way it clearly isn't. You can argue that War Gods is about humankind's collective crisis of faith, that Super Mario Bros. 2 is about Cold War dictatorships, or that Persona 4 is really about the pork product industry. It doesn't matter what idea you come up with, as long as you put a funny, halfway plausible spin on it and follow the rules.

The first-place package includes four artbooks: Darkstalkers Graphic File, Super Street Fighter IV Official Complete Works, and PIE International's Character Design Book and Character Design Book 2015. Also included are Nier for the Xbox 360 and Drakengard 3 for the PlayStation 3, two games that I enjoy to the point where I could make partly earnest academic arguments for them.

Two runners-up get Nier for the Xbox 360, and I even put together a bundle for the worst entry I receive. If you send in a terrible writeup (and put “Worst Entry” in the subject line), you might win Bullet Witch for the Xbox 360 and Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z for the PlayStation 3. No, they're not great, but they're both bad in vaguely interesting ways.

Of course, there are rules to follow:

-Your submission should be an original creation. It's OK to dust off an idea you've had in mind for years, but I'd prefer if you don't rehash something from an old forum gag.

-Your entry should be about 200 words long at most. It's fine if you go a little over, but you should avoid writing a term paper.

-Keep things relatively tasteful. True art often goes to disturbing places, but don't get too graphic.

-I normally ask winners of previous contests to avoid entering later competitions, but it's been over a year since the last contest. With the exception of ANN employees and game-industry folks, anyone can have a go this time around.

-Readers are welcome to enter regardless of location, but there's a catch. If you win first place and you're outside of the U.S., you'll have to pay for shipping. Sorry, but these books are heavy.

-Only one entry counts per person. You can send later entries to replace earlier ones, however, and you can enter the general contest and the worst-entry division with separate essays.

You have until the end of day on Friday, January 29 to send me (toddciolek at gmail.com) your entries. It may encourage you to know that I've received slightly fewer essays for this competition than I have for past contests. In fact, I have only three submissions for the Worst Entry division so far, and one of them is the laziest entry I've seen since someone wrote “Dragon Farts” a hundred times and mailed it to me. I sincerely love my readers.

NEWS

SUPER MARIO ADVANCE 4 SHOWS UP ON ESHOP, EXTRAS INTACT
I can understand why some people ignore the Virtual Console. It puts a lot of semi-rare older games on modern Nintendo systems at a price well below what you'll pay for most of the actual cartridges on eBay. Yet the Virtual Console games amount to emulated ROMs most of the time, and many see no reason to pay for something they can download for free with little to no effort. Yet there are times when Nintendo goes well beyond the usual Virtual Console release, and Super Mario Advance 4 is one such occasion.

In a bout of confusing nomenclature, Super Mario Advance 4 is the Game Boy Advance version of Super Mario Bros. 3. It's better-looking than it was on the NES, and it used Nintendo's short-lived e-reader cards to add bonus levels to an already excellent game. However, many of those levels were hard to come by; only twelve of the cards came out in North America, where the e-reader attachment flopped, and even the Japanese market made several cards available in limited quantities. The Wii U Virtual Console version of Super Mario Advance 4 amends that. All 38 bonus levels are available here, and they're not just retreads of Super Mario Bros. 3 stages. They bring in elements from other Mario titles, so you can face down Charging Chucks and pluck vegetable ammunition from the ground! That's not bad for a Virtual Console game.

Of course, someone already hacked the new Wii U release so that you can patch it into a ROM of Super Mario Advance 4, but I think we should give Nintendo some credit and buy the Virtual Console title. It fits a Wii U controller screen nicely.

Also new to the Wii U Virtual Console is Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure, a cute Capcom adventure game from 2007. It didn't catch on, and Neither Zack nor Wiki ended up in the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 roster, but I find it an amusing curiosity from a time when Capcom tried new things more than once a year. Its Virtual Console price is a little more than you'll pay for it second-hand, but at least you won't have to worry about a scuffed, stained disc gumming up your system.

FIRE EMBLEM FATES FORGOES FACE-FONDLING FEATURE, FANS FUME
I assumed that Nintendo would edit the latest Fire Emblem game in North America. I thought it would be something minor, like draping a curtain across a half-naked archmage or twisting a translation just enough to placate a T-rating. Others predicted deeper cuts, and they were right. Nintendo revealed this week that Fire Emblem Fates with arrive in North America without the option to pet and pinch the faces of your friends, family, and battle comrades.

Fire Emblem Fates casts you, the player, as a hero or heroine who was abducted from one royal family and raised by another, and your allegiance lies in different places over the game's three different versions. In all incarnations of the game, however, you can build a castle, recruit allies, and forge bonds of friendship and, in some cases, romance. In the Japanese version, one can grow closer to other characters by touching their faces on the lower 3DS screen as they sigh, murmur pleasantries, and exude little musical notes. According to Kotaku, Nintendo decided that Fates will go without this feature in North America and Europe. Some readers emailed Nintendo themselves and got a response about how the mini-game's removal "has yet to be announced," but that seems to be deliberately vague public-relations spin.

On the one hand, the face-petting feature was weird to begin with, and it got more than a little unnerving in the Japanese edition of Fates, particularly when players could suggestively tweak the noses and pinch the cheeks of their step-siblings and blood relatives. The game's better off without that subtext. Fire Emblem Fates already panders really hard to modern anime stereotypes, starting with a cutscene where the player smacks face-first and first-person into stepsister cleavage, but caressing your family's faces is more than a little creepy.

On the other hand, removing an entire feature from Fates seems a major cut, and one wonders why Nintendo simply couldn't restrict the flirty face-pokes to character interactions less likely to creep out the player. It would be silly to bond with a fox-eared warrior or a gluttonous, heavily armored knight by prodding their visages, but it wouldn't be so far from the dating options in a Persona or Mass Effect.

Nintendo also mentioned changes to a scene featuring the player's avatar and the warrior woman Soleil, who has a penchant for flirting with other women. At one point Soleil seems frustrated that her weakness for cute girls impairs her battle prowess, so the protagonist spikes her drink with a potion that causes her to see every person she encounters as the opposite of his or her sex. It's played for laughs, but Nintendo sensed troubling undertones and announced that the English version of the game will have “no expression which might be considered as gay conversion or drugging.” It's a minor edit, and it's probably for the best.

SAKAGUCHI REVEALS MYSTERY ARTWORK, GOLEM FACES
It's always nice to see new games revealed in hints and context-free artwork. It brings back memories of learning about new games through tiny blurbs in game magazines, where the writers clearly didn't have anything beyond a game's developer and a nice illustration. That's pretty much what we know about Mistwalker's next title. Founder (and Final Fantasy creator) Hironobu Sakaguchi was part of a creative media class at The University of Hawaii West O'ahu Library, and he showed off a few illustrations from a yet-to-be announced Mistwalker title.

The artwork comes from Kimihiko Fujisaka—no surprise there, since he illustrated Mistwalker's Terra Battle and The Last Story. Sakaguchi hopes that the game in question will show up on a current system (as opposed to a mobile device, apparently), and he's aiming for graphics that retain a sketchy look even in 3-D appearances. Gematsu also dug up a video of Sakaguchi discussing the nameless title, but it's since been pulled. If nothing else, I'm glad to get word of Mistwalker making more games, and I like the image of the happy family clustered beneath a possibly-benevolent, possibly-insidious, possibly-skeletonized creature. I hope we'll hear more about it, even if it ends up canceled like Cry On.

THE ART OF DELAY

Mighty No. 9 was delayed. Again. It's the latest of many setbacks for the game, which began as a remarkably successful Kickstarter from Mega Man producer Keiji Inafune and slowly became a steady slide of expectations. It's evident that Mighty No. 9 won't look as good as some backers clearly thought in the Kickstarter's early days, and it remains to be seen if it'll capture the gameplay and charm that a spiritual revival of Mega Man really needs. Delays sure don't help it, especially when they're for the minor bump of online matchmaking quibbles, but do they really matter in the long run?

Inafune and Mighty No. 9's staff are apologetic about the latest delay, but these things happen. Just about every major title slips a little from its broad initial projected release date, and there's little more than token grumbling when a Final Fantasy or Persona or The Legend of Zelda takes a few months longer. It's become a tradition among Nintendo titles in particular, with the latest delays pushing Star Fox Zero for the Wii U into April.

There was time when delays weren't such an obvious part of the video-game cycle, but many of us are too young to remember this. In the years before the Internet dominated just about everything, release dates were far more elastic and uncertain. Game magazines were the primary sources for news, and they grouped upcoming titles into nebulous months of release. For the young, Nintendo-crazed audiences of the late 1980s and early 1990s, games apparently materialized on store shelves as if they were brought by fairies. At most, you could pore over a book of estimated release dates that Babbage's or Software Etc. might keep on the counter, and if a game fell further into the future, there was no one to complain to beyond the unfortunate clerk—who was probably just as chagrined that Breath of Fire slipped into August and left Super NES owners without a good summertime RPG.

Once online news took over, everyone learned about delays in much greater accuracy, and we had far more places to complain about them. Release schedules grew more precise, websites relayed every protracted development issue and discrepancy, and games themselves grew more ambitious. The rapidly growing world of A-list development stretched budgets and visions, and no one had a good estimate of how they'd match up with release dates. Resident Evil 2 underwent a complete overhaul, abandoning most of the original design work and emerging as the richly satisfying action-game counterpart to the first game's horror flick. Meanwhile, Daikatana switched graphics engines, endured a notorious marketing campaign, and became legendary for the disappointment and ridicule it sowed upon its long-delayed release.

Other companies embraced the inevitable. Working Designs found a niche in localizing RPGs and action titles, often pushing back games to the point where some termed them “Working Delays.” The company joked about this at times, weaving a “Yes, really” stinger onto a Lunar 2: Eternal Blue preview, while president Victor Ireland remarked “Delays are temporary. Mediocrity is forever” and even worked the phrase into the PlayStation revamp of Lunar: The Silver Star (above). Working Designs' small size and penchant for long localizations prevented them from competing too closely with XSEED, NIS America, and other publishers that arose after the PlayStation era, but their reputation for delays is now a minor notch in their legacy. Today, people remember Working Designs much more for the Lunar RPGs, Popful Mail, Elemental Gearbolt, lavish packaging, pre-order punching puppets, and localizations that mention Baywatch and Euro Disney in fantasy RPGs.

Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto had much the same to say during the Nintendo 64's development; “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” Of course, delays contributed to the Nintendo 64's weakened state; Nintendo postponed its debut from 1995 to 1996, and that gave Sony well over a year to anchor the PlayStation as a solid usurper. Yet that doesn't matter so much now. Miyamoto's Super Mario 64 is still a better game than it would have been without the extra months of development, and that holds true for a lot of Nintendo titles. Even today, Nintendo's pushed-back games seem comfortable in their assurance: fans will forget all about delays as long as the game delivers.

Nintendo rarely comes up shy of expectations, but then again Nintendo rarely delays a game for over a year. Other companies don't have as much control. Final Fantasy XII spent six years in development, with writer-director Yasumi Matsuno departing the project and leaving Square Enix to stitch together the remainders. The final game certainly isn't bad; it's actually one of my favorites from the last decade. Yet the third act of Final Fantasy XII makes it easy to tell just when Matsuno walked out of the room and everyone shrugged through the missing pieces.

It could've been worse. You can't mention long-delayed games without bringing up Duke Nukem Forever. It spent fifteen years in development, switching developers and engines, and the final game, released multiplatform in 2011, became a fiasco to rival Daikatana.

It's hard to feel sorry for Duke Nukem Forever with its tasteless humor and generic design, but I'll always have a jot of sympathy for another high-profile game left in the oven too long: Silicon Knights' Too Human. Originally planned as a PlayStation game in 1999, it moved to the GameCube as Silicon Knights hung around Nintendo and made Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Then Silicon Knights struck a deal with Microsoft and moved Too Human to the Xbox 360. It arrived at last in 2008, nine years after its inception.

Too Human has a halfway interesting futuristic Norse setting, yet it fails to make good on its design ambitions or the promises of its long development. For that, Too Human was torn to shreds just about everywhere. Unlike some other long-delayed mediocrities, Too Human is almost fascinating in its oversights. It feels like a crazily ambitious movie filled with weird indulgences, like a long, unskippable cutscene where a valkyrie recycles the player's avatar every time he dies. I always like seeing valkyries in games, and even I found that part painful. But no matter. In a few years, I'm sure people will defend Too Human as a neglected masterwork, much like how movie nerds find ways to lionize every film better than Pod People.

We've grown inured to the delays that come with modern game development, but Kickstarter presents a new breakthrough in stoking our resentment. As it asks us to contribute directly to a project, we're granted a personal monetary stake in the matter…and we're all the more likely to reach for tar and/or feathers when a Kickstartered project hits delays.

Yet even Kickstarter's newly fomented outrage tapered off in recent years. Many big-name projects saw delays, and a lot of backers lapsed into the familiar rhythm: we'll gripe that we're not getting a game on time, but as long as we actually get a game, we probably won't complain about delays. We'll complain about other things. Slipping a few months is a minor offense compared to the Kickstarter organizers who've delivered lousy work or simply stuffed all donations in a suitcase and hightailed it for the nearest border.

So Mighty No. 9 doesn't have to worry about delays one way or the other. As I pointed out months ago, it's a troubled game dragging a lot of high expectations. If it lives up to Inafune's vision or turns out a hideous mockery of all that Mega Man fans hold dear, it'll be on account of the level design, the graphics, and the overall personality of the piece. A few months of online maintenance won't tip the scales. For Mighty No. 9 and all other games, there are always bigger problems than mere delays.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DIGIMON STORY: CYBER SLEUTH
Developer: Media.Vision
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PS Vita (digital only)
Release Date: February 2
Best Digimon: The Dragon Guy from Media.Vision's Crime Crackers
MSRP: $59.99

There's a lot behind Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth. It's Bandai Namco's honest apology to the Digimon fans who've gone years without any proper Digimon games localized (last year's Digimon: All-Star Rumble doesn't really count), and it's the chance for the Digimon base to make good on their promises. Cyber Sleuth's trip to the West came about in part because of a fan petition, according to producer Kazumasa Habu, and it'd look bad for the Digimon faithful (and fan petitions in general) if the game still flopped. And then whatever would we tell Digimon Otis?

Habu described Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth as an offering for slightly older fans, and it looks every bit the teenage counterpart to the kid-level Digimon outings of ten years ago. Filled with neon cyberspace vistas and the designs of Suzuhito Yasuda, Cyber Sleuth casts players as one of two young hackers: the guy is Takumi, and the girl is Ami. Neither of them is very astute about trusting anonymous people online, because they're willing to use a Digimon-catching device given out by a complete stranger in a chatroom. Yet that gadget opens up a new world, and soon the hero or heroine is befriending digital creatures and exploring the half-virtual, half-physical realm of Cyberspace Eden.

Players roam virtual realms with three Digimon tailing them, and battles put a trio of ally monsters against hostile creatures, and it's easy to swap Digimon in and out of the front lines. Those Digimon evolve and feed in pixelly farmlands, and they unleash extensively animated attacks in battle. The roster packs in 240 Digimon, and only a few of them seem to be cheap variations. It might not drawn in casual RPG players who prefer the theatrics of Final Fantasy or Dragon Age, but Cyber Sleuth seems to care about Digimon fans above all.

GRAVITY RUSH REMASTERED
Developer: Project Siren / Bluepoint Games
Publisher: SCEA
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: February 2
Best Ending: Ice Cream
MSRP: $29.99

I'd say that Gravity Rush Remastered will be the best game of 2016, but that would be premature. There are manifold high-profile releases headed our way this year, and who's to say that the crown won't go to Persona 5, No Man's Sky, or possibly Gravity Rush 2? Then there's the disqualifying factor of Gravity Rush Remastered being a largely unchanged polishing job on a Vita game from 2012. I just happen to like it.

Gravity Rush is by no means a small-scale creation, of course. It finds its heroine Kat awakening as an amnesiac superheroine with powers over gravity; this lets her toss around objects as well as manipulative her own personal inertia to fly and run around any available surface. She can go just about anywhere in the floating, multi-part city of Hekseville, and she steadily uncovers secrets while fighting off shadowy horrors from another dimension. It remains one of my favorite games on the modern era: Kat's put through occasionally routine courier missions or fights that drive the player's viewpoint to spasms, but Gravity Rush surges on its gameplay, its likeable characters, and its well-imagined surroundings. It's remarkable fun to coast through the sights of Hekseville, designed like one of the artier French comics spied in Heavy Metal and dotted with signs in the game's fictional language and concept. You'll find longer and more detailed things out there, but when it comes to just playing a game in sheer directionless joy, I always return to Gravity Rush.

The PlayStation 4 version of Gravity Rush may not change anything in terms of the original game's layout, but it all looks substantially better, and the conventional controls dispense with the Vita version's bizarre backscreen sliding mechanics (which may be the only reason the original Gravity Rush can't run on a PS TV). This Remastered edition also includes the original's downloadable extra missions and costumes, and a gallery.

As a Gravity Rush nerd, I must point out that the U.S. version of Remastered is pretty short on extras. The Japanese and Asian versions get special-edition sets with Kat Figma toys and bonus comics, while the West is lucky to get a physical release of the game. That physical version is available only through Amazon, by the way, so collector types should nab it or resign themselves to digital copies once Gravity Rush is given its due and the game becomes fabulously rare.

MEGADIMENSION NEPTUNIA VII
Developer: Idea Factory
Publisher: Idea Factory
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: February 2
Needed: A Pippin Heroine
MSRP: $59.99

The Neptunia series traffics in oddball cartoon heroines who represent some video-game system or company, but it's lasted years without casting a neon-haired technogirl as the Dreamcast, Sega's last and most cultishly beloved console. Well, Megadimension Neptunia VII fixes that by introducing Uzume Tennoboushi, a fearless brawler who represents the Dreamcast in both her everyday and super-powered Orange Heart incarnations. Naysayers will point out that the world already has a Dreamcast heroine in the Sega Hard Girls series, which crosses paths with Neptunia in a Vita game, anyway. Others will point out that it doesn't matter because the Sega Saturn is superior as both a console and a Sega Hard Girl, and from there the arguments never stop.

Megadimension Neptunia VII plunges the world of Gamindustri (yeah, yeah) into a difficult time, when nasty Internet rumors have layabout heroine Neptune and her fellow game-console goddesses worried about revolutions. Being the avatar of an unreleased Sega system, Neptune solves this problem by promptly disappearing into a realm called the Zero Dimension, where Uzume and her Dreamcast-inspired powers are the only surviving defense against the menace of the Dark CPU. So begins another odyssey of in-jokes and conveniently risque plot points, as Neptune marshals a force of allies who represent everything from the PSP to Idea Factory itself. Each of the major game-system heroines gets an upgraded third super incarnation atop her day-to-day and powered-up versions, and these Next Forms apparently represent the new generation of consoles. I assume Neptune's Next Purple form is based on the Sega Quasar that the company would've released in a happier dimension's 2014.

The latest Neptunia follows the RPG mechanics of prior games, offering turn-based battles and parties of four. Characters roam as the player directs within a limited area, and the pull off customizable combo strings that expand with newly learned moves. Players also craft items and equipment (of course), and a bonus mode mimics the frustrating action game and alleged classic Spelunker with a dungeon called Neplunker. This is a series that loves its references, after all. Perhaps the next Neptunia will have a superheroine based on the Neo Geo. She'll pick fights all the time, get bored after half an hour of anything, and have a weakness for expensive bootleg collectibles.

NITROPLUS BLASTERZ: HEROINES INFINITE DUEL
Developer: Examu
Publisher: Marvelous/XSEED Games
Platform: PlayStation 4 Release Date: February 2
Unjustly Ignored: Amanda Werner from Blassreiter
MSRP: $39.99

I wonder how history will remember crossover fighting games like Aquapazza, Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax, and the latest in line, Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel. Will fans keep them alive for the characters they pull from anime, manga, light novels, commercials, and other video games? Will cabals of competitive players revive them for tournaments? Or will they slip into obscurity, leaving future generations to recall them as often as present generations recall Aggressors of Dark Kombat, Superior Soldiers, Knuckle Heads and other lower-tier entries of the last major fighting-game craze?

Here and now, however, Nitroplus Blasterz Heroines Infinite Duel is here and ready to sell itself largely with a lineup pulled from various series all somehow linked to publisher Nitroplus. Many casual anime viewers will recognize Saber from the Fate series, and others will know mascot Super Sonico from her numerous model kits and other pandering appearances. It'll take more dedicated fans to recall the history of Ignis from Jingai Makyo, Anna from Gekko no Carnevale, Mora from Vampirdzhija Vjedogonia, Ruili from Kikokugai: The Cyber Slayer, Saya from Saya no Uta, Ein from Phantom of Inferno, Al Azif from Demonbane, Echika from Tokyo Necro, Muramasa from Full Metal Daemon: Muramasa, or OKSTYLE mascot Ouka. And that's just the playable roster, which also includes Heart from Arcana Heart and Senran Kagura's Homura as downloadable extras. Nearly twenty support characters drop into matches for momentary attacks, and the lineup ranges from visual-novel characters like Dragon from Dra†Kol and Yoishi Mitsurugi from Phenomeno to anime heroines like Akane Tsunemori from Psycho-Pass, Amy from Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, and Angela Balzac from Expelled From Paradise. Each playable lead can take two partners into a match, so plenty of combinations arise.

Nitroplus Blasterz Heroines Infinite Duel is the work of Examu, makers of Aquapazza, Arcana Heart, and the now-forgotten Daemon Bride. This is a study that specializes in hyperactive anime fighting games with plenty below the surface, and so Nitroplus Blasterz Heroines Infinite Duel has more than just uppercuts and tornado kicks. The fighting system uses light, medium, and heavy attacks, plus two extra buttons: one escapes attacks, and the other pushes an opponent away entirely. Infinite Blast moves break up an opponent's onslaught (you'll have to supply your own Killer Instinct “C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER”) and you can pile up super moves as well as combination moves with your chosen sidekicks. The game's backgrounds look strangely vacant, but the character animation is presentable at the very least. I'm surprisingly amused by Super Sonico's insistence on always cuddling a cat, even when she's punching and kicking and pulling off 20-hit combos.

I for one think the game needs Angel from Angel Cop swearing and shooting her way through everything. NitroPlus co-created Blassreiter, which was directed by Ichiro Itano…who also directed Angel Cop. So there's her connection.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
You'll find Tales of Symphonia HD on Steam. It's a sharper-looking version of the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which was originally a GameCube release and, for a time, the most popular Tales title in North America. You can find the HD version of Symphonia (and its less-respected sequel) on the PlayStation 3 already, but Steam users can't be ignored in this day and age.


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


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