The X Button
Lost in Anime Licenses

by Todd Ciolek,
Pac-Man turned 36 years old this May 22, and there are a few ways to celebrate. You can dress up as Pac-Man and run around alleys until the authorities intervene. You can listen to "Pac-Man Fever" and its varied remixes. You can ignore the occasion entirely like an old grouch. And you can talk about your favorite Pac-Man games and memories thereof.

My pick is Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures, a side-view puzzle game for the Super NES and Genesis. It captures Pac-Man in his cartoonish humanoid form, as he wanders around a town and solves mundane little puzzles that gradually turn into a larger conflict. You don't control Pac-Man directly; instead you wield a slingshot and guide him by plinking various objects.

And that makes the game a unique marvel. Pac-Man reacts with adorable, squawky-voiced charm at the player's actions. Bop a sleeping dog and it'll chase Pac-Man down the road. Shoot a milk bottle on a fence, and Pac-Man will regard it quizzically before picking it up. Knock on the door of a house, and Pac-Man will go inside and help a little girl named Lucy move a couch. Fire your slingshot at Lucy, and she'll burst into tears while Pac-Man glares at you and storms off.

Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures is easily available, too! The Wii and Wii U have it on the Virtual Console, and any store that trafficks in old games should want under five bucks for the Genesis release and under ten for the Super NES one. And hey, the Super NES version has the original Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man (while the Genesis one has an all-new Pac Jr.), just in case you want to go back even further.

So what's your favorite piece of Pac-Man history? I suppose someone will say K.C. Munchkin just to be clever.

NEWS

MIGHTY NO. 9 GETS AN ATTITUDE
Mighty No. 9 faced all sorts of problems. One delay ensued after another. A nonsensical controversy erupted about sexism. Most taxing of all, the game's backer audience went from elation over a Mega Man successor to the grudging admission that the game looked cheap and had the gameplay of an average Mega Man X outing. Now Mighty No. 9 sees that cruelest setback: lousy advertising.

The latest trailer for Mighty No. 9 isn't so bad if you hit mute. It shows off the game's dashing mechanic, and it looks slightly better than previous glimpses of Mighty No. 9 (which is scant praise, I know). Turn up the volume, however, and you're greeted with a Hicksian-sellout rant that extolls the game in flashcut irony so obnoxious it loops around and devours itself. It sounds like something thought clever by a terrible webcomic's author, but this apparently went through several approval stages. And it drops a joke about anime fans on prom night! The cheek of it!

It's a bizarre case of a game trying to bite every hand that might've fed it, and a backlash is already underway. That's atop the existing backlash from fans who expected a faithful Mega Man reinvention every bit as pretty as the Kickstarter mockups. Comcept clearly wants to make up for Mighty No. 9's lack of personality; the character models range from hero Beck's bland look to the amateurish builds of the human characters. But this isn't the way.

And, as someone on Twitter pointed out, the explosions look like pizza. In fact, the official Sonic the Hedgehog Twitter feed picked up on this.

Even Sonic thinks you've lost your footing, Mighty No. 9. That's not good.

ROMANCING SAGA 2 AT LAST COMES TO NORTH AMERICA
Romancing SaGa 2 comes from a long line of RPGs that taunted North American fans of the genre. It also comes from a long line of experimental outings, but that's secondary to its history of torment. In the 1990s, RPG nuts pored over magazine spreads of Square-made Super Famicom games that never seemed to come out in English, and if Romancing SaGa 2 wasn't the most demanded holdout (I'd say that was Seiken Densetsu 3), it was certainly a tempting carrot on a stick for anyone with a Super NES and an overactive interest in RPGs.

Well, Romancing SaGa 2 is no longer the province of half-done fan translations and unlocalized imports. Square Enix put it on iOS and Android platforms this week, offering an extensive visual upgrade of the original game as well as new character classes and a little garden to tend. The original game is among the more accessible SaGa titles. It follows a multi-generation story where children can inherit their parents' battle skills, and there's plenty to uncover when developing characters' abilities. And the story twists the usual Square RPG plot nicely: seven legendary heroes who once saved the world return to it as hellborn tyrants, intent on conquering the lands they once defended.

Square Enix's translated Romancing SaGa 2 release runs $17.99, which is downright ridiculous for a mobile game (if we had the Vita version, that'd be more reasonable). Even so, there's a lot to the game, and I hope it'll encourage Square Enix to remodel and localize other long-denied RPGs from the Super Famicom. Bahamut Lagoon? Treasure of the Rudras? Or maybe a certain Seiken Densetsu title that I mentioned already?

WONDER BOY MIGHT RETURN, AGAIN
Hey, who's up for another Wonder Boy game? I'm not talking about the spiritual successor Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, though that's coming along nicely over at FDG Entertainment. There's another Wonder Boy descendant in the works, if recent artwork from the newly formed studio Lizardcube is any indication.

The Paris-based developer was founded by game designer Omar Cornut (Soul Bubbles, Tearaway) and comic-animation artist Ben Fiquet (Les Chevaliers de la Chouette, Soul Bubbles). Their first project is reportedly linked to a “popular old Japanese game license,” and the artwork on their website shows the above smoking, eyepatch-sporting pig.

Why is that important? Because that pig is straight out of Wonder Boy III, a classic from Westone's Wonder Boy/Monster World series. Westone went under in 2014, but co-founder Ryuichi Nishizawa stayed active, and it would not surprise me if he and Lizardcube had something planned. In fact, Gematsu linked the drawing to an old forum post that Cornut made about a Wonder Boy III remake. Nothing ever stays secret on the Internet, and I'm thankful for that fact when it brings Wonder Boy and Monster World games to light.

MISSING IN ACTION: DOWN THE ANIME HOLE

Japan's game developers face hard times. The fickle demands of the mobile market, the threat of rising budgets, and the economy proper all exact routine prices, often leaving smaller companies lost and desperate. And many of them end up in one of the few reliable ports in the industry: licensed anime games.

Not that anime-based games are an ignoble station. While an unfortunate reputation still clings to any game based on a movie or TV series, their quality ultimately rests with the developer, and some recent anime-derived games are stunning in certain ways. For example, CyberConnect2's Naruto and Jojo's titles are among the most visually remarkable games in recent memory.

Yet it's a shame to see promising developers work with nothing but anime licenses. And that's currently happening among some of the gifted game studios lucky enough to still be around.

CRAFTS & MEISTER
Crafts & Meister started off with promise and Capcom expatriates. Founder Noritaka Funamizu was a producer on the Monster Hunter series, and in his exodus he brought along producer Katsuhiro Sudo. Clearly out for sure bets, the studio began by making games based on Dragon Ball Z, Gundam, and less enduring anime like Code Geass and Star Driver.

The developer's major original debut came with 2011's Earth Seeker. Like other Japanese studios, Crafts & Meister saw the Wii's rampant success as an opportunity to explore new ground, and Kadokawa Shoten backed them. Their creation? An RPG called Earth Seeker, which finds the last survivors of humankind's collapse crashing on a planet and steadily exploring it in the company of little alien gremlins. Earth Seeker's inventive designs set it apart, but that wasn't enough to stir more than mediocre sales in Japan. It caught eyes among U.S publishers, yet nothing materialized. In some ways, it resembled a less ambitious version of Monolith Soft and Nintendo's Xenoblade Chronicles, and that put it far down on the list of desirable imports.

Now:
After Earth Seeker fumbled, Crafts & Meister returned to anime, kicking off the successful Gundam Breaker series for Bandai Namco Games. In between, they've made lower-budget diversions like Freshness Zombies on mobile devices and the giant-racing game Simple DL Vol. 37: The Kyojin Hashi for the 3DS. Most recently, they published the Android game Motto Oshioki: Punching Girl, in which a schoolgirl beats up subway perverts…who apparently enjoy that. Whatever would the little Earth Seeker gremlins think?

GANBARION
Ganbarion had no qualms about plunging into anime licenses. The studio set down roots in 1999 and soon got to work on One Piece: Grand Battle games, an Azumanga Daioh offering, and even the anime-influenced Vattroller X for the Game Boy Advance. While turning out several One Piece games, Ganbarion also made the DS crossover fighter Jump Super Stars. You might've even seen it on the shelves at Best Buys throughout North America.

Like Crafts & Meister, Ganbarion made their boldest moves on the Wii. Contracting with Nintendo, Ganbarion producer Chikako Yamakura had twisted idea: an action game where a warrior raids a series of haunted towers and kills monsters for their flesh. He takes it back to the woman he loves, as consuming monster organs is the only way she can delay a curse that's turning her into an ancient horror. Pandora's Tower is a clever and frequently grotesque game, and the tower forays benefit from a grappling chain controlled by the Wii's motion-sensing remote. The fact that Nintendo backed it never fails to amuse me.

I still think that Pandora's Tower will be an endlessly analyzed and vaunted cult favorite someday, but that day isn't here yet. For now, Pandora's Tower is a moderately well-received action game that failed to launch Ganbarion to new heights. It saw a Western release thanks to XSEED, but it never reached the same reverence as fellow late-stage Wii games like The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles. That, combined with Nintendo's reluctance to back unproven new ideas on the Wii U, sent Ganbarion back to the anime trenches.

Now:
Ganbarion worked closely with Nintendo and Bandai Namco, making Wii Fit U for the former and a number of anime games for the latter. Aligned with One Piece again, the developer crafted Unlimited World RED and Super Grand Battle X, plus a World Trigger title. Ganbarion is currently at work on Dragon Ball: Project Fusion for the 3DS, and their only recent original game is the mobile puzzle title Golondia.

RACJIN
Some game developers change names for legal reasons, others for public-relations purposes—such as Westone renaming themselves from the unmarketable “Escape.” Racjin, on the other hand, just thought their original name, Racdym, was too hard to pronounce.

As Racdym, the developer started off in the mid-1990s with a Neo Geo fighting game based on the long-running Tengai Makyo comedy-RPG series. They soon turned to the PlayStation with mostly original titles…in the technical sense, anyway. Yusha: Heaven's Gate and Critical Blow proved standard 3-D fighting games, but Trap Gunner stood out. An overhead action game that played out like a vicious anime Spy vs. Spy, it maintains a small but dedicated fandom. That ensures it'll never see a sequel.

Shortly before switching their name to Racjin, the developer created the original Snowboard Kids, an unpretentious, enjoyable racer that took a few bolts from Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing's frames. As the PlayStation 2 loomed, Racjin began working with other properties: Bomberman, Wizardry, Fullmetal Alchemist, and even a newcomer series called Naruto. In between, they managed to make Irem's cult-fave underwater shooter Sub Rebellion.

Now:
Racjin kept busy. The company seldom makes even an original mobile game, but they've added more names to their licensed catalog: Bleach, Mario and Sonic's Olympic games, the third Touch Detective title, the Mama games, and even some Square offerings. Racjin put together the DS remakes of the second and third SaGa games (we knew the originals here as Final Fantasy Legend II and III), and they most recent developed Final Fantasy Explorers. Still, Racjin steps out into new ground from time to time; they made last year's now-obscure Moco Moco Friends dungeon RPG for the 3DS.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

ONE PIECE: BURNING BLOOD
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PS Vita / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: May 31
Not Pictured: Fairy Tail
MSRP: $59.99

Bandai Namco made One Piece games an annual sight during this console generation, but it's been a while since we saw a dedicated One Piece fighting game like Burning Blood. What was the last one released here? One Piece: Grand Battle on the PlayStation 2? That was over ten years ago. Time to feel old, though not as old as Pac-Man.

Many things changed in that decade, and Burning Blood has a lot to show off. It puts together highly detailed characters in the fashion of Eiichiro Oda's comic, right down to the cartoonish grins and the bizarre physiques that range from the Brook's skeletal frame to the half-mechanized Franky and the preposterously pneumatic builds of Nami, Boa Hancock, Nico Robin, and…oh, just about every heroine in the One Piece universe. More importantly, it gives all of its forty playable characters the chance to show off their attacks. The rotund Gecko Moria spreads tendrils and bats all about, Sengoku turns himself into Gold Lightan a glowing golden giant, and the rubbery-limbed Monkey D. Luffy now has access to his bloated, veiny, half-metal Gear Fourth incarnation. Oda knows a thing or two about body horror.

One Piece: Burning Blood avoids the 2-D restrictions of the standard fighting game, instead favoring 3-D arena battles similar to CyberConnect2's Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm titles. Characters face each other one-on-one or in teams of three, and their attacks can be reinforced in several ways. Fighters with the Logia Devil Fruit abilities can negate opponents' attacks, but a Haki move can cancel out the Logia Guard. The storyline is an abbreviated version of One Piece arcs, of course, and dedicated fans will note that it's the first game with Koala in playable form. Whether it finds the true depth of a competitive fighter or stays a novelty (like a Pirate Warriors game minus the throngs of enemies), there's no denying that Burning Blood looks the part of a One Piece outing.

ALSO AVAILABLE
Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus arrives on the PC this June 1 in a cavalcade of busty ninja slicing through standard brawler levels of dimwit enemies. The game appeared on the Vita back in 2014, and the PC version includes all of its downloadable extras and general shamelessness.


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


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