The X Button Import Roundup with Shin Megami Tensei
by Todd Ciolek,
My favorite part of the Nintendo Direct? Kirby: Planet Robobot. It's another side-scrolling Kirby offering, one that lets the pink piece of puffery jump into giant robots and adopt various new powers. And that's on top of the usual Kirby methods of inhaling enemies to gain new abilities.
Kirby Planet Robobot looks fun, and it has a bonus boss-battle mode where four players each choose a Kirby and an RPG-ish class. It's also compatible with amiibo—both the existing figures and Nintendo's new line of Kirby figures.
Other highlights? A new Paper Mario appeared with the name Color Splash, and while it's showing up surprisingly soon after the Paper Jam crossover, the game's messy painting methods are intriguing. Another standout: Azure Striker Gunvolt 2. The original is an enjoyable Mega Man descendant, and the sequel imitates even more with the now-playable Copen, who uses fallen bosses' powers and dashes into enemies to target them. That sounds exactly like Mega Man (and its upcoming spiritual descendent Mighty No. 9), but I think the industry can use a few more modern games in that capacity.
MAYA FEY RETURNS TO ACE ATTORNEY, ALL SEEMS RIGHT
When I reviewed the latest Ace Attorney game, I compared the series to a long-running TV show: it's formulaic and comfortable, but still wonderfully entertaining. Well, if Ace Attorney 6 is the latest episode, this is the point where the studio audience gets up and applauds like frothing lunatics at a favorite character's return. And I would clap right along with them.
Maya Fey, the longtime assistant of downtrodden hero lawyer Phoenix Wright, returns for the sixth Ace Attorney. She appeared only in brief allusions for the fourth (Apollo Justice) and the fifth (Dual Destinies), and while she was in Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, that took place in the time frame of earlier games, if it was canonical at all. Ace Attorney 6 shows an older Maya, presumably more experienced as a spirit medium, meeting up with Phoenix during his trip to the nation of Kurain, and she has a role prominent enough to land her on the game's cover.
Of course, Ace Attorney 6 introduces several all-new characters in its tropical realm. Kurain's superstar prosecutor is Nayuta, and the nation's Princess Leifa appears in court with a water mirror that reveals a murder victim's final visions. And there's Bokuto, a monk and tour guide who Phoenix defends on his first case in Kurain. These are their Japanese names, of course, so the English version might go with more accessible puns for the new cast.
As for other returning characters, Ace Attorney 6 finds Apollo Justice taking on domestic cases while Phoenix is away, and assistant Athena Cykes appears along with medium Pearl Fey, prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, magician Trucy Wright, and ineffectual gimmick Klavier Gavin. Bashful maid Jinxie Tenma, who was a minor character in a Dual Destinies case, also shows up again. Larry Butz is, as of yet, unconfirmed, but Ace Attorney games are always braced by cameos. And alternate costumes, too. For the latest game, Athena gets a Tres Bien maid-waitress outfit (ugh), Apollo gets Ryunosuke's uniform from The Great Ace Attorney, and Phoenix gets a Furio Tigre suit. And what does Maya get? Something good, I hope.
Ace Attorney 6 comes to the 3DS on June 9 in Japan, and Capcom has an English version planned. I'd hope for a physical release this time, but perhaps we're lucky to get it localized at all. The Great Ace Attorney, a prequel by series creator Shu Takumi, still isn't on Capcom's domestic radar. And all series fans (and fan translators) remember what happened with Ace Attorney Investigations 2.
ZERO TIME INTRODUCES FAMILIAR CAST IN AT LEAST ONE WAY
Going by appearances, it's not that hard to make the cast for a Zero Escape game. Take a mask or two, some visible cleavage, and at least one face that looks entirely too innocent. And there you are. That's what the lineup from Spike Chunsoft's Zero Time Dilemma suggests, though there's a reason some of the characters are familiar.
As its predecessors did, Zero Time Dilemma pits a mismatched array of characters against a bizarre test of loyalties and logic. Nine members of a Mars mission simulation find themselves locked in a bomb shelter, outfitted with bracelets, and taunted by a masked man who tasks them with escaping…which requires six of them to die. The group and the storyline are divided into three teams, each led by one of the game's protagonists. The mercurial Carlos forms Team C with Junpei and Akane from Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. Peacemaker medic Diana heads Team D with Sigma and Phi from Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. Q, an amnesiac boy in a mask, is on Team Q with a young couple: Eric and Mira. The teams also have a dog named Gab, and he's useful in squeezing through ventilation ducts.
Zero Escape fans are no doubt familiar with Sigma, Phi, Akane, and Junpei, though Zero Time Dilemma remains coy about just how they might have changed (Phi still calls Sigma “old man,” so there's that). Director Kotaro Uchikoshi describes this as the final game in the series, so explanations and yet more twists will be in order. One thing strikes me off the bat: Spike Chunsoft replaced the marvelously talented Kinu Nishimura with Rui Tomono as character designer. Tomono's a good artist, but Nishimura's distinctive style was one of Zero Escape's strongest suits. No matter. It's not so much how the characters look. It's how they hide bizarre secrets and screw over each other.
THE COLECO CHAMELEON IS NO MORE, IF EVER IT ACTUALLY WAS
The Coleco Chameleon was all too much of a throwback. A company called RetroVGS pitched it as a return to the 1990s and the cartridge-based systems that dominated half of that era. The Chameleon promised new games, compatibility with older system libraries, and, in a bizarre turn, titles that never needed bug fixes. Even if it used the same mold as Atari's short-lived Jaguar, the system got attention from game collectors and those who never though they'd see another Coleco console.
A failed indiegogo campaign made some buyers wary, and more doubts arose after RetroVGS tried showing off the alleged system in public. A Toy Fair exhibit raised questions about what was inside a Coleco Chameleon prototype that was playing only Super NES games (the best guess: an actual re-cased Super NES). And when RetroVGS uploaded new photos of a transparent Chameleon, the Atari Age forums noticed that the internal circuits looked just like a DVR capture card from a PC.
Now the Chameleon is gone. Coleco representatives posted a public demand for RetroVGS to show them a valid prototype within seven days. A week later, Coleco announced that the project “will be terminated.” The RetroVGS Facebook page is currently down, as is the company's website. And that seems to be the end of things.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: FEBRUARY
KAMEN RIDER: BATTRIDE WAR GENESIS
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / PS Vita
AKA: Kamen Rider Battride War Sousei
Kamen Rider Battride War Genesis comes over a year after Kamen Rider Battride War II, a battlefield brawler that might've turned out well had it been finished in either level design or bug testing. As it was, the game dropped scads of Kamen Rider characters into repetitive stages, and it satisfied only those Kamen Rider fans who could stomach lazy gameplay for the sake of watching Kamen Riders from all eras fighting an evil theater ghost.
Genesis doesn't lack in its predecessors' strong points, as it expands an already substantial roster of Kamen Riders. Introduced in Genesis: Kamen Rider Ghost, Kamen Rider Mach, Kamen Rider Specter, Kamen Rider Joker, Kamen Rider Super-1, Kamen Rider Black RX, Kamen Rider X, Kamen Rider Amazon, Kamen Rider Drive, Kamen Rider Chaser, Kamen Rider Stronger, Kamen Rider 2, Kamen Rider V3, original Kamen Rider Takeshi Hongo, and Skyrider, who apparently thinks he's too good to have a proper name like the other Kamen Riders. And that's to say nothing of their various forms…or the older games' twenty-plus Kamen Riders, previous side-characters made playable, and a heap of supporting superheroes.
Genesis tracks a simple story wherein Kamen Riders are disappearing from all existence, with the solution lying in time travel and copious team-ups. Kamen Riders pull off their signature moves in fields of slow-witted foes, and Genesis makes it easier for the heroes to switch off with other characters or attack while riding vehicles. The entirely new stages of Genesis show more varied terrain than prior games, but this remains a Kamen Rider showcase above all, and in that it's mostly for the fans.
Import Barrier: All three versions of the game will run on domestic systems, and the combat isn't hard to understand. The dialogue and in-jokes might be, but the Kamen Rider faithful likely know every possible reference by now.
Domestic Release: With no Kamen Rider shows airing over here, Kamen Rider Battride War Genesis has just as much of a chance for localization as the two previous Battrides games. So don't bet on it.
Best Name: Kamen Rider Gatack, whose moniker recalls Bill the Cat from the recently relaunched Bloom County.
Platform: Xbox One
If someone asked me “just what the hell is a vertical shooter?” I would park them in front of a Raiden cabinet. In fact, that's what a lot of arcade-goers did in the early 1990s, and they turned Raiden into a staple of the genre. Many shooter standards crystalized in the first two Raiden games, and their influence shone through in successors from Cave's series-starting Dodonpachi to Marble's Hotdog Storm, which, despite its name, was swiftly forgotten. Raiden never again reached those heights, but it stayed alive even after the disintegration of its parent company, Seibu Kaihatsu, and step-company Moss is now on the fifth properly numbered Raiden.
Raiden V eases players into its latest abode. The first two stages introduce the Raiden complement of three major weapons: a wavy, minigun-like bullet stream, a straight blue laser, and a twisty purple beam. The player can power up all three of these to ten levels of efficacy. And since Raiden's still a vertical shooter, the playfield borders fill up with score readouts, radar displays, cheers from fellow players, the occasional appearance of Seibu Kaihatsu's dragon mascot Miclus, and the impassive faces of your commanding officers. Hey, something has to go there.
Raiden V tries to evoke a modern recast of its classic predecesors, and it halfway succeeds. The stages offer familiar lopsided tanks and triangular bombers, but the 3-D backgrounds also pivot around castles and over fields of lava. Tiny bonus-point medals drift around the screen, and it's sometimes hard to tell them apart from actual enemy fire. Still, it's a pleasantly challenging game once the first few levels zip by, and that's what shooter nuts want these days.
Import Barrier: Raiden V is region free, and it's quite approachable to anyone who slipped a quarter into Raiden at some point in the last 25 years.
Domestic Release: Moss CEO Toshinobu Komazawa mentioned a Western release, though no official date is yet attached. Considering how the Xbox One's sales hover below those of certain discontinued vacuum cleaners in Japan, a worldwide release is a good idea.
Best Name: The Raiden bonus-point sylph, here named “Fairly.”
SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI IV FINAL
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Well, that's a mighty nice cover you have, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Final. Very punk and anti-establishment. No one's going to confuse you with the button-down vanilla Shin Megami Tensei IV, though some might mistake you for an album by an early 2000s funk-metal band with a name like Slitback. But that collage serves a purpose by reminding us that Final isn't a cheap expansion of Shin Megami Tensei IV. It's a sequel to the original, and perhaps a demolishing of it.
Final unfolds not far into Shin Megami Tensei IV's version of the 2030s, a few decades after an angel-demon war forced Tokyo to conceal itself within a huge rock carapace. While foraging for supplies and hunting for monsters, the protagonist dies and, in Shin Megami Tensei fashion, becomes the avatar of a demon—and thus a soldier in a war between the seraphs, the devils, and a new alliance of deities. He's joined by his childhood friend Asashi and some characters from the original Shin Megami Tensei IV, including the noble warrior Isabeau and the ghost of upper-class jerk Navarre, who apparently drowned while peeping in a women's bath.
The hero, named Nanashi by default, endures his god-slaying quest by dragging his various allies into menu-driven battles against monsters, and it's possible to befriend demons or override an enemy's turn by building up “assist points.” It's also dressed in much the same style as its gloomy predecessor, with grotesque monsters on both sides of the heaven-hell conflict. The difference? Final's playing in the ruins of the original game.
Import Barrier: Being an RPG, Final has plenty of dialogue and menu text to endure. Oh, and 3DS games are region-locked.
Domestic Release: Normally quick with Shin Megami Tensei localization announcements, Atlus hasn't said anything about Final. Between Persona 5 and the crossover Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, they may be worried about overdosing on Shin Megami Tensei this year.
Best Name: Amid angels and demons named with typical Kabbalistic flourish, the humbly named supporting human Skins returns from the original game, and his face is even more a patchwork of flesh. That counts as comedy relief in this series.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: March 18
Most Wanted: Flareon
It's hard to believe that Pokken Tournament is technically the first Pokemon fighting game. Yes, the core of Pokemon involves pitting two little monsters against each other, and people called it “cartoon cockfighting” as far back as 1998. Yet Pokken Tournament is a fighting game in the most traditional sense: you pick a Pokemon and control it directly in 3-D brawls against other Pokemon. It's a little like Tekken if the only available characters were the bear and the boxing kangaroo—and they were much cuter.
Not that Pokken Tournament lacks in typical Pokemon trappings. Players customize a human avatar and travel to various locations, sharpening their little beasties' skills with each fight. Of course, those fights aren't menu-driven battles of attrition; the Pokemon race around 3-D playfields and unload attacks on each other. They'll flail and punch at first, but their moves soon build into the same sparking energetic powers you'll see in the more familiar Pokemon titles. Each main Pokemon fighter can bring along a team of two sidekicks, and they'll provide boosts and moral support.
The central roster is a little anemic, consisting of Pikachu, Gardevoir, Charizard, Blaziken, Mewtwo, Machamp, Gengar, Sceptile, Weavile, Lucario, Braixen, Chandelure, Garchomp, Suicune, Shadow Mewtwo, and Pikachu Libre. Nintendo aims to compensate in several ways. Additional fighters will come along later, there are many more Pokemon available as assists, and Pikachu Libre is exactly what it sounds like: a Pikachu in a Mexican wrestling costume. I have no idea why that's not on the game's cover.
SENRAN KAGURA: ESTIVAL VERSUS|
Publisher: XSEED GAMES
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PS Vita
Release Date: March 15
Breakout Star: Homura, apparently
MSRP: $59.99 / $49.99
Don't worry, image-conscious Senran Kagura fans! XSEED and Marvelous commissioned a new illustration for the North American release of Estival Versus. It's a beach shot of the four heroines, but the salacity of what's within isn't apparent at the most careless glance. Open the special edition, however, and you'll unleash an Ark of the Covenant of collectible cards, soundtracks, and an art book, all featuring the implausibly buxom ninja of Senran Kagura.
Estival Versus follows the lead of Shinovi Versus in its gameplay, as it turns the ninja loose in battlefields swarming with equally curvaceous enemies in equally fragile clothing. The playable leads are not all ninja in the old masks-and-shuriken capacity; Senran Kagura spans just about every stereotype, fetish, and conceivable weapon. Yozakura wears a kimono and two enormous piledriver gauntlets. Ryobi favors dresses and rifles. Yumi tosses around icy attacks. Estival Versus introduces new playable characters with the hammer-wielding Hanabi, the drumstick-wielding Renka, the coffin-wielding Ryoki, the dolphin-wielding Kafuru, and the ninja grandmother Sayuri. They're all substantially endowed. Yes, even the grandmother, who morphs into a younger incarnation for purposes of combat and titillation.
As an action game, Estival Versus improves on the viewpoint controls and comical excesses of its predecessors, though its entry fee remains steep. It's not the actual cost of the game. It's the fact that every character is a walking, talking mass of excuses for pandering nonsense at best and cartoon misogyny at worst. The game never misses an opportunity to show them losing their clothing, wincing in agony, or landing naked and exhausted in a basketball net. That's the sort of game Senran Kagura is, and no cover changes will wash that away.
Samurai Warriors went many years without an Empires expansion, even if the larger Dynasty Warriors series hasn't. Samurai Warriors 4 Empires for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Vita adds defter strategy to the down-and-dirty battles of the series' main brawlers, though the alternate version of the storyline isn't driven so much by characters as it is by loyalties and player decisions. In fact, you can create your own heroes to take part in key conflicts of the Sengoku period, just in case you care to rewrite history that much.
Cosmopolitan sports and possibly facile displays of goodwill ensue as Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games arrives on the 3DS and Wii U. There the two mascots, once rivals, and their friends take part in swimming, volleyball, gymnastics, soccer, BMX racing, and other events. It still seems incomplete without a full spread of Nintendo and Sega characters. Any Olympic event would improve with Samus Aran and a Panzer Dragoon dragon in the mix.
One of last year's more interesting obscurities, htoL#Firefly Diary is a side-scrolling puzzle adventure, and it's out for the PC next week. It's slow and likes to bump off the character, an antlered amnesiac named Mion, but its world is intriguing.
Shantae and the Pirate's Curse showed up just about everywhere, even eyeing the Chameleon at some point. It'll be on the Xbox One next week, and it's well worth a shot for anyone who wants a good side-scroller and somehow avoided this one on the 3DS, Wii U, PC, or Amazon Fire. Shantae's a spirited half-genie heroine, and her world is a colorful realm with marvelously animated sprites and lots to explore in that mazelike Metroid style. That world can go a little too far in cramming itself with busty cartoon women, but hey, it's not Senran Kagura.
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