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Crowdfunding in Zombie Space

by Todd Ciolek,
Last week brought important news for the world of game-company mascots. Hideo Kojima remains coy about his first game after his departure from Konami, but the creator of Metal Gear and Snatcher (and, yes, Policenauts gave us a better look at his company logo's character.

Ludens, as the character is called, first appeared on the Kojima Productions logo as a skull inside a helmet, but a new image shows Ludens in a full suit of centurion-astronaut armor. It's a neat design, and once again it makes me imagine a game wherein the Roman Empire survived another few millennia and spread into space. Kojima described Ludens' attire as the “extra-vehicular activity (EVA) creative suit,” which of course led people to speculate that he's making a Neon Genesis Evangelion game. Probably not.

Meanwhile, Masamitsu “Moo” Niitani returned to restart Compile, the shooter-crafting company he founded in 1982. Compile's talent scattered to the wind in the 1990s and the company collapsed in 2003, passing on its name to Compile Heart. Yet Niitani has a new company called Compile-O. That's pronounced “Compile Maru.”

Niitani's new venture has a website and an upcoming puzzle games called Nyokinyoki, which Niitani boldly hopes will rival Tetris and his own Puyo Puyo in impact. Compile-O also has a mascot: a small, happy mammal that could be either a chipmunk or a squirrel. And this isn't the only Compile-related news this week.

NEWS

ALESTE RETURNS ON PAPER AT LEAST
Trademark filings are rarely exciting, but they often herald important things. And I think the most interesting trademark so far this year comes from M2, which registered the Aleste series.

Why do I think that? Created by Compile, the Aleste games are among the best shooters of an age when the genre soared and magnificent specimens visited the Super NES, Sega Genesis, and TurboGrafx-16. Aleste shooters took on many names across these systems, including Space Mega Force on the Super NES, Power Strike on the Master System, and, for the best of them all, M.U.S.H.A. (above) on the Sega Genesis. They're fast-paced, immediately enjoyable, and swamp the player with power-ups as well as loads of oncoming enemies. There's rarely a relaxed or unimpressive moment in the Aleste series.

And M2? They handle old games better than anyone in the industry. They're best known for re-engineering Sega's 3D Classics line and Westone's Wonder Boy/Monster World games, pulling off some impressive programming feats in the process. They also fashioned Konami's older games into the all-new Gradius Rebirth, Contra Rebirth, and Castlevania Rebirth on the Wii.

So is M2 out to repackage old Aleste shooters on modern systems? Or will they make an all-new game in the style of M.U.S.H.A. ? Does this deal include all Compile shooters, like the closely related Zanac, Sylphia, and Spirit Soldier Spriggan? Is this related to Compile founder Masamitsu “Moo” Niitani founding a new company called Compile-O? Maybe, maybe, maybe.

And am I more excited about this than I am about most of the games that actually exist beyond paperwork? Yes, I am.

WILD GUNS RELOADED PUTS HOLES IN THINGS ONCE MORE
Natsume remembers their old catalog. They do so partly out of necessity, now that the Harvest Moon series is locked in a three-way war with itself (now called Story of Seasons) and Stardew Valley. I don't care precisely why Natsume rummages through their closet, however, because it brought us Wild Guns Reloaded.

The original Wild Guns came out for the Super NES, but it was very much an arcade game at heart, inspired by Cabal, Blood Bros., Konami's G.I. Joe and any other shooter where characters ran in the foreground and used a little crosshair to blast things. I'm still not sure what to call them. Gallery shooters? Blast-and-forth shooters? Cabalities?

Whatever they're called, Wild Guns might be the best one of them this side of Treasure's Sin and Punishment. Set in a high-tech American West, Wild Guns starts with cowboys and saloons and then adds towering robots, covered wagons on tank treads, armored locomotives, and other futuristic embellishments. The best part? You can shoot everything. The sign over a bar? The broad side of a steam engine? A tiny wanted poster? When you're not blasting Road Warrior buggies or cyborg gunmen, you can blow holes in every piece of the scenery.

Natsume USA announced Wild Guns Reloaded as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, showing nothing beyond the logo. They stated that its staff includes some of the original game's crew from Natsume-Atari, which is technically a different company than Natsume USA (though the two work together here). Reloaded is also a mixture of remake and sequel, so it'll likely feature the original's heroes: Clint and Annie. I hope we still get to pick different color palettes for them, and I hope Annie still looks slightly deranged.

FINAL FANTASY BRAVE EXVIUS HEADS WEST
In an effort to write about mobile games that aren't Valkyrie Anatomia (which, by the way, passed the million-download mark), I turn to Square Enix's Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius. It's an RPG mashup of characters and monsters from various Final Fantasies, and Square Enix says it's headed to iOS and Android devices in the West this summer.

Square Enix put up a website for Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius and offered registration for the game earlier this week. It's an RPG with free-to-play options and trio of all-new characters: the nobel-minded knight Rain, his comrade Lasswell, and a curious, crystal-encased woman named Fina. Every cunningly packaged crossover needs a few original characters. even if the major draw lies in recruiting better-known Final Fantasy characters to your party, the better to show off their new 2-D sprites. Let's see if Square has the gumption to include anyone from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

CROWFUNDING FILES: ZOMBIE SPACE GIRLS

FABULAR: ONCE UPON A SPACETIME
Status: Unfunded
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, maybe Vita
Ends: Friday, June 17

If there's one mash-up I always like, it's the Dune-like mixture of distant spacefaring futures and archaic medieval power structures. Spread the human race across the galaxy with an apt level of technology, then shackle them to emperors and nobles and feudalism. Gets me every time.

Fabular: Once Upon a Spacetime doesn't go for a half-realistic vision of starships and lightspeed travel dominated by viscounts and dueling. As the title implies, it's more of a fairy tale in its journey across a galaxy where space stations have castle turrets and ornate ships strike each other with swords and axes just as easily as they launch lasers and missiles.

Instead of a straight-line space opera, Fabular sets players loose in star systems much like FTL: Faster Than Light. One's chosen adventurer (Knight, Assassin, or Cleric) gets a suitable starship and sets forth, dealing with some encounters through a Star Control-like dialogue system. Other encounters get nastier, and there the game spins into overhead-view combat with direct control over a slightly anthropomorphic ship's melee weapons and long-range attacks. It's a neat twist on the usual violent space voyage, and it seems to know that it doesn't have to make sense.

STARFLINT: THE BLACK HOLE PROPHECY
Status: Unfunded
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, maybe Vita
Ends: Friday, June 17

A good point-and-click adventure game needs good scenery. It also needs good writing, good pacing, and humor that doesn't involve Internet memes unfunny in 2005. But good backgrounds always catch the eye first of all. And Starflint: The Black Hole Prophecy has those.

Starflint also has an amusing trailer where an self-aware and over-French robot introduces the game. It follows the space-pirate Trixie and the slacker delivery boy Fr…uh, Flint as they encounter a bizarre black hole, run afoul of the intergalactic police, and quip when they analyze their environments.

Starflint draws from classic LucasArts adventure games for its influences, and that's pretty much the best place to go for the genre. Sci-fi touchstones like Star Wars, Cowboy Bebop, and Firefly (no Blake's 7?) fill out its inspirations, but I also detect some old Heavy Metal/Metal Hurlant magazine issues in the broth. That makes for fantastically detailed backdrops with a touch of humor, though it also puts Trixie in the same sort of risque attire that nearly every Heavy Metal comic heroine had to wear. No one called those comics kid-safe, and Starflint makes the same proclamation in its trailer.

UNDEAD DARLINGS: NO CURE FOR LOVE
Status: Unfunded
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, maybe Vita
Ends: Friday, June 17

You might have seen Undead Darlings: No Cure for Love before. It gave rise to a Kickstarter last year, but it failed to garner enough funding. It returns now with more to show for itself, including a larger staff, more background detail, and, most importantly, gameplay footage.

Undead Darlings picks up after a zombie apocalypse, though it doesn't latch onto a band of fully human survivors. The largely unseen protagonist, Reggie, awakens to a hangover and the news that zombies have dismantled civilization, leaving only a few humans…and half-zombies that include his childhood friend, Pearl. The two of them trek out into the aftermath, joined by five other pale young women who still retain their humanity despite zombie infections. Really, they're so white that I would've assumed them to be ghosts. But they're demi-zombies, and they're searching for a cure.

The exploration portions of Undead Darlings play out like a dungeon crawl from Experience Inc. (Demon Gaze, Stranger of Sword City), as the characters explore streets, shopping malls, and other locations overrun by frequently comical creatures. Reggie himself doesn't fight in battles; being fully human, he's most susceptible to zombie bites, so the six semi-undead girls take up positions and strike at enemies in a combat system patterned after Phantasy Star IV.

The other half of the game finds Reggie and the rest of the characters conversing in the text-driven fashion of a visual novel, which leads to various dialogue options. The crew ostensibly follows routine Japanese RPG hyper-cute heroine conventions, including a ditz savant and a goth who makes her stuffed bear talk, and the dialogue is a mishmash of pop culture references and goofball character humor. No surprises there, since project director Nick Doerr is known for (and sometimes derided for) his localization work on Hyperdimension Neptunia games.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

THE LAST BLADE 2
Developer: SNK / Code Mystics
Publisher: SNK
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PS Vita
Release Date: May 24
Swery65 Motif: Doomed Blonde
MSRP: TBA

It's a strange thing to call a fighting game dignified. However intricate they may be, fighting games are all about beating an opponent unconscious with punches or tonfas or glittering fireballs. When you're just out to hit someone harder than they hit you, elegance and subtlety soon reach their limits.

The Last Blade games push those limits. Staged in the thick of Japan's 19th-century upheaval, they find an assortment of samurai, wanderers, government agents, and general misfits clashing in one-on-one battles. It plays out like a typical weapons-based fighter, most closely resembling Samurai Shodown, but the two The Last Blades offer selectable fighting styles and a parrying maneuver. And either one is intricate a fighter as SNK ever made, with elaborate special moves and a wide variety of characters. If you want a samurai who powers up like a Dragon Ball Z hero, that's fine, but you can pick a turtle-toting hermit or a shadowy warrior with a pet owl just as easily.

And The Last Blade 2 is gorgeous. It's among the final games the original incarnation of SNK created before its fall in 2000, and it shows masters of 2-D sprite art at the top of their form. Leaves flutter in a graveyard at sunset. A yippy mystic summons an army of oni to trample her opponents. A shinsengumi operative takes on a stone-fisted giant in a rapidly burning home. The beautiful backdrops and detailed character animation mix with a restrained and gentle soundtrack, matching period samurai dramas to a degree that should be beyond a mere 2-D fighting game. And while there's only minimal plot and a hokey translation, fans of Hidetaka “Swery65” Suehiro may enjoy seeing his early work in the game's scenario. Even back then, blonde women didn't survive his works.

The Last Blade 2 saw some odd censorship when first brought to North America. On both the Neo Geo and Dreamcast, the off-the-shelf U.S. version of the game removed blood and special finishing moves, making it impossible to play a small story arc where Hibiki gradually turns from a dutiful daughter to a resolute killing machine. The PlayStation 4 and Vita editions will let players switch on the blood, presumably fixing SNK's long-running oversight. No longer will series fans feel like they're playing Mortal Kombat on the Super NES.


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


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