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First Impressions: Kirby: Planet Robobot

by Todd Ciolek,
This week brought news about The Last Guardian, a notable game on two counts. It's the next game from one of the industry's most acclaimed creative minds, and it got delayed an awful lot.

This is also another opportunity for me to feel old, because I remember a time when delays weren't such a big deal. Of course, publishers delayed games during the NES era of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Us kids just didn't notice as much. And if we did, the delay might be a few months at worst. Games were simpler back then, and so were we.

Few NES games saw delays for years at a time, but one good example recently came to light. Happily Ever After, a Filmation animated movie that picks up after Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, was slated for a 1990 debut, and Sofel commissioned an NES game to accompany it. Problems arose when Disney sued Filmation over the movie, and the process delayed Happily Ever After until 1993. Sofel postponed the game to match the film's release, and they planned to ship it for the NES as late as 1993, when just about every other publisher had moved on to the Super NES. Sofel apparently reached their limit and canceled the game not long before the movie came out, leaving ASC Games to release a different Happily Ever After title on the Super NES.

The NES version of Happily Ever After emerged last month through Nintendo Player, and the game appears complete. It's a mediocre side-scroller that's at once very tough and very boring: Snow White has a short-range cape twirl for her default attack, and the levels are full of repetitive enemies that easily bring her down. The game's developer isn't credited, but most guesses favor Atlus. Their frequent collaborator Hirohiko Takayama did the soundtrack, and one cut from Atlus' Friday the 13th NES game even shows up in Happily Ever After.

Even if the game's average, it's always interesting to see lost pieces of your childhood dredged to the surface. If Happily Ever After had hit the market in 1990, young players might've given up on the first stage and filed the whole thing away as a disappointment. Instead, it's a somewhat compelling obscurity.

The movie is terrible, by the way. Among animated big-screen travesties of the early 1990s, it's down there somewhere between Rock-A-Doodle and Freddie as F.R.O.7. Maybe Sofel knew that.

NEWS

THE LAST GUARDIAN BREAKS ITS CHAINS AND REARS ITS HEAD
Might The Last Guardian actually come out this year? Signs point to yes. Both IGN and Edge magazine sat down with the game, director Fumito Ueda talked about it extensively, and Sony gave it a 2016 release window. Yes, that's still vague, but for something delayed as long as The Last Guardian, a confirmed arrival this year is like finding a shrink-wrapped copy on your doorstep.

The latest previews and videos reveal a new details about The Last Guardian's tale of a giant griffon and a human boy escaping a fortress. For one thing, their adventure is narrated by the boy in his later years, lending retrospective advice and pretty much spoiling the fact that the kid doesn't die. Trico, the griffon, also denotes mood changes with its eye color; for example, red means it's not happy.

Most interesting is the revelation that Trico's a weapon, and not just because it's a huge griffon-beast. The boy can use a mirror to direct Trico's attention to objects (and possibly enemies) and have the griffon destroy them with a tail-launched energy bolt. That may also explain why Trico is chained up when boy first finds the beast. Ueda hasn't said more about this, as he clearly wants to leave much of the game up to the player's discovery. And that's just fine as long as we're getting it this year.

TWINKLE STAR SPRITES SQUEAKS AND PEEPS ONTO STEAM
The Neo Geo was as macho as a mere 1990s game console could get. It was in the violent arcade library, in the titles like Fatal Fury and Mutation Nation, in the phallic bosses of Cyber Lip and Last Resort, and in the magazine ad where a woman in lingerie got huffy and jealous of the Neo Geo itself. More's the irony that one of the best Neo Geo games is a sugary-cute shooter called Twinkle Star Sprites.

Twinkle Star Sprites may be a shooter in its most immediate terms, but it arranges itself as a two-player puzzle game. The screen is divided to give each player a vertically scrolling field, and the two players can't directly attack each other. Instead, they send projectiles and enemies to the opposite playfield by proficiently gunning down foes; rack up combo hits on an adorable flock of cloud creatures, and you'll send fireballs and possibly even a boss over to your opponent's side. And since everything's wrapped up in precious Parodius-style charm, you won't feel so bad about dumping chaos on the other player.

Ported to the Dreamcast and Saturn, Twinkle Star Sprites gradually assembled a cult following. Perhaps it'll get larger now that the game's available on Steam for eight bucks. It's the Neo Geo original and not the enhanced Saturn version (which added more options, a new character, and a second disc of extras), but it's still loads of fun.

WATCH THIS SPACE FOR WONDER BOY
Wonder Boy and Monster World, a collection of games far more charming than their generic names suggest, seemingly ended twice over. Monster World IV announces the conclusion of the series (and then teases with an “Or is it?”), and the creators of the games, Westone Bit Entertainment, declared bankruptcy back in 2014. Yet Wonder Boy and Monster World survived, first as the upcoming Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom, and now as an actual remake of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap.

At this writing, the newly formed studio Lizardcube has a website and an adorable placeholder image, promising to show off their remake sometime today. I have high hopes for it, as Lizardcube co-founder Ben Fiquet is a talented artist, and Omar Cornut, the other co-founder, is such a Wonder Boy fan that he tried reverse-engineering the original game's physics.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: KIRBY: PLANET ROBOBOT

By Heidi Kemps
Very few game franchises are as consistent as the Kirby series. Whenever you get a game featuring the rotund pink puff, you know you're getting something that will be at least solid. Yes, not all Kirby titles are created equal, but the bare minimum level of quality for a Kirby title (including the multitude of spinoffs) is awfully high. And going from what I've played so far of Kirby: Planet Robobot, that isn't going to change anytime soon.

Planet Robobot sees the colorful, surreal world of Popstar beseiged by its newest set of invaders: the mechanical beings from the Haltmann Works Company. Once again, Kirby sets out on a grand platforming adventure to save the day with tight controls and delightful play mechanics. This time around, though, the usual fluffy, candy-colored environments and distressingly cute foes are replaced with gears, machines, and robot parts. If you just looked at the backgrounds, you could easily mistake Planet Robobot for a Sonic game.

Much like Kirby Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot's 2D stages make use of 3D elements in fun and creative ways, like having a laser from the foreground blasting onto a specific area, or sections featuring moving platforms that shift from the foreground to the background. (This is one 3DS game that you'll definitely want the 3D slider cranked up for.) Thankfully, unlike Triple Deluxe, there's a distinct lack of puzzles utilizing shoehorned-in motion controls... at least, I haven't encountered any yet. Instead, most of your gimmicky, puzzley needs will be served by Kirby's new Robobot armor.

The closest comparison to said armor I can think of is the Ride Armor from the Megaman X games: the speed and general control scheme feel very similar. There are some key differences, though: Kirby's robot, much like Kirby himself, is able to assimilate enemy powers. Scan a fire enemy, and your Robobot's big ol' punching arms will transform into flamethrowers, while a Cutter enemy will grant you a pair of ultra-destructive sawblades to wreck things with. The robot can also pick up large boxes and undo giant screws that litter the landscape (and appear on a few XL-sized enemies). You can customize the mech a bit, too: sticker collectibles can be found in each stage (or purchased with 3DS Play Coins), and can be slapped on the arms of your mech to give it a more personalized feel.

Beyond the mecha, the are a few new powers for Kirby to play with: Doctor is a fun little set of skills that lets Kirby mix and store potions for later use (as well as smack enemies with pills Dr. Mario-style), while Poison abilities focus on doing minor, gradual damage to enemies they make contact with. While it almost feels like there are too many abilities sometimes (and sadly Circus, perhaps the worst Kirby copy ability ever, is still around), the constant cycle of acquiring new abilities to suit your current situation makes sure that the action never feels stale and the you always have the option to use something you're comfortable with when fighting tougher bosses. Amiibo support means that you can scan in a figure at any time to get instant access to an ability if you really want it, though you're restricted in home many times you can use it per stage.

There's only one thing that's souring me on Planet Robobot so far, and that's the framerate. I'm not big into the ongoing framerate wars—I don't care if a game runs at 30 or 60 FPS, I just want the framerate to be consistent so I don't have a jarring gameplay experience. Unfortunately, the framerate in Planet Robobot isn't consistent: while it usually runs at 60 FPS, it drops precipitously in places where a lot is going on, particularly when Kirby and his mech are onscreen, only to spike back to 60 FPS for a few seconds before dipping again. It's distracting to the point where I'd take a locked 30 FPS over constantly swinging back and forth.

Beyond the framerate, though, I haven't found much to complain about in my play experience yet. The platforming formula that powers the Kirby games is just so darn good that even minor iterations on it make for really fun experiences. There's some nice fanservice for longtime series fans, too: your first big boss encounter is a hellish robotic re-imagining of perennial Kirby villain Wispy Woods, and you'll be hearing some fantastic remixes of music from previous games throughout. If you're looking to kick off the summer in classic platforming style, this is no doubt the game you'll want to be looking at.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

ATELIER SOPHIE: THE ALCHEMIST OF THE MYSTERIOUS BOOK
Developer: Gust
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PS Vita
Release Date: June 7
Voynich Manuscript Still a Mystery
MSRP: $59.99

The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book? C'mon, Sophie. Other alchemists in Gust's Atelier series preside over cities or towns or the broader concept of dusk. All you get is a magic book, which one assumes any alchemist worth the title would have in the first place.

To be fair, the book in question isn't a conventional tome of spells and runes. It's an enchanted volume that manifests as a white-haired woman named Plachta, and Sophie, a small-town alchemist, sets out on a quest to recover Plachta's memories and return the she-book to fully human condition. They're joined by swordswoman Monika Ellmenreich, tailor-spearfighter Leon, alchemist knight Julio Sebald Leidenschaft, puppeteer mercenary Fritz Weissberg, and layabout shopkeeper Oskar Behlmer. Some join Sophie in the game's menu-driven RPG battles, and others are just there for support.

This being an Atelier game, Sophie harnesses all sorts of ingredients and spells in crafting new items. As she plunges herbs and trinkets and sundries into a cauldron, she creates everything from new weapons to outfits for Plachta. In fact, the game developed an entire system called Dollmake for dressing Plachta. Sophie apparently is the type who treats her friends like Barbies. We all know someone like that.

Atelier Sophie also follows the series tradition of exceptionally nice characters artwork, this time provided by illustrators Yuugen and NOCO in a team-up. The in-game models look sharp, though the town and field environments still seem a little empty. That's another Atelier tradition.

GUILTY GEAR XRD: REVELATOR
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PlayStation 3/ PlayStation 4
Release Date: June 7
Leap the Cook: Still Not Playable
MSRP: $59.99

Guilty Gear fans knew this was coming. The original Guilty Gear Xrd brought the series into stunningly animated 3-D fashion, but it was merely the first step. It lacked a number of characters from older Guilty Gear titles, and so it falls to upgrades and semi-sequels to put them all back into place. It's a little like losing half your action figures and finding three of them out in the backyard every fourteen months.

Revelator introduces six new playable characters to Xrd's lineup. Pirate leader Johnny was a given considering how much he showed up in Xrd's cutscenes. Also re-introduced is the delightful chef and fistfighter Kuradoberi Jam, with the Manichean-winged Dizzy waiting as a downloadable bonus later. Long-term antagonist Raven is at last part of the roster, and he's joined by two all-new characters: Kum Haehyun is a young woman inside the outer shell of a robotic old man, and Jack-O is a white-suited woman with a carved-pumpkin mask. Both a Halloween and a Michael Jackson reference, yes.

Not that Revelator is just a batch of new characters. It returns to the long-winded storyline begun in Guilty Gear Xrd, which further explored the future envisioned in earlier Guilty Gears and the aftermath of a war between humans and artificial lifeforms. Schemes continue to hatch among series antagonists, and a lot of them involve Ken/Ryu protagonists Ky Kiske, who's now a king and a dad, and Sol Badguy, who's still a bounty hunter and sort of a jerk.

Revelator also touches up Xrd's combat system. Guilty Gear was always relatively easy to grasp and difficult to really master; each character presents a largely different play style, and the complexities of shields and dashes and Roman Cancels layer it on really thick. Revelator introduces a Stylish Mode that makes it much easier to pull off attacks, automatically guard, and just have stupid with all the air pirates, flag-wielding mercs, and prehensile-haired assassins named after Queen members or heavy metal bands. Of course, it also lowers a character's defense and makes certain special moves all but inaccessible. Everything has a price.

KIRBY: PLANET ROBOBOT
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: June 10
Bots Master: Kirby
MSRP: $39.99

Heidi already told you all about Kirby: Planet Robobot, so I'll fill this space with my personal recollections about the pink puffball. As a kid, I bought the original Kirby's Dream Land right before a car trip, figuring that it'd last at least for the few hours it took to drive from Ohio to Michigan.

It didn't. I finished Kirby's Dream Land in less than an hour, dying perhaps once or twice. This wasn't the biggest mistake I'd made in selecting new Game Boy games (R.C. Pro-Am probably takes that crown), but I felt cheated. The experience cast Kirby as a disposable, childish thing in my eyes, and that image stuck even after Nintendo put him in everything from the puzzle game Kirby's Avalanche (which is really Puyo Puyo) and a golf game.

Of course, I relented. I liked Kirby just fine by the time Smash Bros. and Kirby 64 came along. I rented Kirby games, and I was always amused by the mixture of his adorable simplicity and the fact that he's basically devouring his enemies and stealing their powers. Yet never owned another Kirby game until someone gave me Kirby's Epic Yarn for the Wii.

Some part of me still thinks of Kirby as the pushover that barely filled 45 minutes of that car trip. And yet that's often what I want nowadays. After playing a bombastic RPG, a violent shooter, or a legitimately draining and inventive game, I want something cute and short and simple. And there's Kirby.

ODIN SPHERE LEIFTHRASIR
Developer: Vanillaware
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation 3/ PS Vita
Release Date: May 31
Pooka: Not Rabbity Enough
MSRP: $79.99 (special edition) / $59.99 (PS4) / $49.99 (PS3) / $39.99 (Vita)

I wanted to like the original Odin Sphere. During my Anime Insider days, I even lobbied for a double-sized preview of the PlayStation 2 game just so we could use more of its gorgeous artwork. And Odin Sphere looked great on other fronts, being a side-scrolling action game from the makers of the impressive Saturn offering Princess Crown.

Make no mistake, Odin Sphere is a pretty game in any form. It showcased some of the most beautiful 2-D graphics on the PlayStation 2, from its petite, smoothly animated playable cast to the towering dragons and gods that awaited in boss battles. An action-RPG with heavy overtones of Norse myth, it broke itself into smaller side-view stages with plenty of side diversions, from the rapidly growing vines of healing fruit to the kitchens run by rabbit-eared Pooka in aprons.

Unfortunately, the gameplay struggled. Slowdown took its toll on the pretty surface, and enemies rapidly overwhelmed the player. I didn't really care for the playable characters, who include a dutiful valkyrie-princess, a prince cursed with a Pooka's form, a gloomy knight, and a crossbow-wielding fairy. But that's just me.

Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir promises to fix some of this. Aside from making the already detailed graphics hi-definition, the new port adds extra items and levels while bringing the gameplay closer to Vanillaware's smoother Muramasa and Dragon's Crown. And that's the important part.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Mirror's Edge Catalyst arrives on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC next week, returning Faith Connors to her parkour-combat races through a futuristic cityscape. The sequel lets Faith use a quicker mix of martial moves and bullet-dodging tactics while running (with a Batman-like avoidance of using firearms). It looks even slicker than the vertigo-baiting original, though some fans cried foul at Catalyst locking away abilities that Faith had from the start of the first Mirror's Edge. Perhaps she'll be a quick re-learner.


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


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