The X Button
Import Roundup with Super Robot Wars

by Todd Ciolek,
Anime Expo saw Aksys Games announce Steam versions of several titles, including XBlaze Lost: Memories, Tokyo Xanadu, and Aegis of Earth. By itself that isn't major news. Plenty of games head to Steam these days.

Yet this small development reminds me that we've seen more and more Steam cross-traffic in recent years. Previous generations had a greater divide between computer and console, with all sorts of odd little exclusives popping up on home systems without coming to computers (and vice versa). Sure, you'd find PC versions of popular games like Mortal Kombat or Final Fantasy VII, but if you wanted the latest Tales RPG or some even more obscure Japan-made offering, you'd get it only on a console.

That's no longer the case. Bandai Namco regularly has their latest titles, from the new Naruto fighter to God Eater 2, on Steam shortly after the console versions hit, and titles from many other publishers filter out in time. Of course, games stay exclusive to consoles when they're first-party offerings from Sony or Nintendo. Yey Microsoft is no longer in that phylum. At E3, just about all of their Xbox One offerings had PC versions waiting in the wings.

Is this vindication for those Steam users who still toss around the term “PC Master Race” and predict the demise of console games the same way street lunatics predict the fall of civilization? I'm sure both will happen someday, but I suspect that consoles will last as long as they're convenient and stocked with things you can't get on a PC. And when one of those things is Gravity Rush 2, I'll keep my PlayStation 4.

No, this wasn't just an excuse to mention Gravity Rush.

NEWS

ADVENTURES OF MANA TAKES TO THE VITA
I appreciate Square Enix's attempts to recapture the allure of old Mana games. I really do. Yet I suspect that the first two titles in the series worked magic possible only in the early 1990s, when Seiken Densetsu (released here as Final Fantasy Adventure) was the first real epic on the Game Boy and Secret of Mana was such a marvel among Super NES games that you could sit and watch the title screen unfurl a dozen times over. We live in a much more crowded age, an age where an action-RPG with beautiful pastoral imagery and richly somber music doesn't stand out so much.

Square Enix continues to try, though, and their latest is one of the most impressive Mana revivals to date—all the more so because it's an iOS and Android game. Adventures of Mana is a remake of the original Seiken Densetsu/Final Fantasy Adventure, and it's actually Square Enix's second such attempt. Yet Adventures sidesteps many problems introduced by the Game Boy Advance's pretty but muddled Sword of Mana, as it sticks closer to the original. The gameplay gains some combo attacks and other background features, but it retains the quick-paced appeal of whacking at Rabites, Mushbooms, and other creatures almost too cute to slay for experience and gold.

The remake's graphics are the stuff of basic 3-D mobile games (or the DS Final Fantasy remakes), yet it stays true to the original game's storyline and catchy soundtrack. As a black-and-white Game Boy outing, the first Seiken Densetsu had little room for dialogue, and Adventures of Mana realizes that such brevity favors a simple RPG storyline. It might be the best Mana journey made in over twenty years.

Adventures of Mana came out for iOS and Android months ago, but it recently dropped onto the Vita in North America—a release motivated by fan requests, according to Square Enix. At $13.99, it's a little more than the mobile versions, but that's not so bad compared to some of Square Enix's other pricing demands.

IDOL DEATH GAME TV LEAVES LITTLE ELSE TO BE SAID
Some titles defy all attempts to ignore them. Idol Death Game TV is a good example. D3 Publisher and Witchcraft just announced it for the PS Vita and showed a few screens, but that's enough to merit some discussion.

Idol Death Game TV fills up on the frilly dresses and cutesy singers of Japan's idol industry, but all is not well. Though the Dream of Dreams competition normally decides the best of the idol group known as Project 47, this year's contest puts the troupe members in a bizarre mansion and forces them through Death Concerts where an unpleasant demise awaits the loser. The contest also keeps a Pepto-pink creature called Doripaku on hand to explain the details. It looks like the Sneers from The Raccoons or the elephant from The Mouse and His Child.

Due out in Japan this October, Idol Death Game TV clearly apes the devices of Danganronpa and Zero Escape with the veneer of The [email protected], and the game may pander to pop-idol expectations as much as it challenges them or mocks the entire pop-music industry. But it's called Idol Death Game TV.

METAL SLUG ANTHOLOGY LOADS UP ON THE PLAYSTATION 4
If you've followed SNK, you've likely seen a few of their better games on the PlayStation 4: The King of Fighters 2000 and The Last Blade 2 arrived not so long ago, and Metal Slug 3 showed up last year. In a strange development, this week brought the PlayStation 2 version of Metal Slug Anthology to the PS4.

It sounds like a decent offer: the first six Metal Slugs for twenty bucks, as opposed to paying $14.99 for just Metal Slug 3. Still, you'll note that the Metal Slug games slide in quality after Metal Slug 3, with the fourth and sixth coming off as particularly lacking. The best Metal Slug entries (the first, X, and 3) are all on Steam and periodically go on sale, so the Anthology isn't as good a deal as it might appear.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: MAY & JUNE

MY HERO ACADEMIA: BATTLE FOR ALL
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

No one can feign surprise here. My Hero Academia is all about a plucky kid making his way in a world dominated by superheroes with varying “Quirk” powers, and that lends itself to a fighting game like Dan Doh!! lends itself to a golf title or Fire Investigator Nanase lends itself to a blaze-battling action game. Neither of those games actually exists, I'm sad to say, but we have a My Hero Academia offering right here on the 3DS.

Battle For All abbreviates the My Hero Academia anime/manga storyline, rapidly introducing us to the earnest, Quirk-deficient Izuku Midoriya and setting him to fight his classmates, rival heroes, and, for the initial training mission, his superhero idol, All Might. New characters join the story-mode roster as Izuku defeats them, and the game's playable lineup invites Ochako Uraraka, Katsuki Bakugou, All Might, Tenya Iida, Shouto Todoroki, Yuga Aoyama, Denki Kaminari, Kyouka Jiro, Momo Yaoyorozu, Shigaraki Tomura, Eijiro Kirishima, Minoru Mineta, and Tsuyu Asui. And a bunch of assistant fighters, of course.

Considering the superhero theatrics of any given dust-up in My Hero Academia, Battle For All looks surprisingly flat. Characters chat in static backgrounds with limited animation, and battles progress along the same simple combos as the more routine Dragon Ball Z fighters. It makes an effort to capture the idiosyncrasies of various characters, but they struggle to come through with marginal comic-book sound effects and the occasional burst of manga speedlines. At least there's something to see on the 3DS touch screen. Every hero's power appears there, whether it's the fire-and-ice abilities of Shouto or Katsuki's hand grenades.

Import Barrier: The fighting poses no real challenge, but the 3DS remains region-locked.

Domestic Release: My Hero Academia's only starting to get traction over here, so there's a chance Bandai Namco will bring over Battle For All if the series lands on Adult Swim. Then again, they might have a better game to localize by that point.

Best Sight: Tsuyu's frog, which spends most of any match just staring at you.

SUPER ROBOT WARS OG: THE MOON DWELLERS
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4

There are several reasons I wish the Super Robot Wars series was popular in North America. The most trivial: parents across the nation would watch their kids playing the latest Original Generation collision of giant-robot attacks, and they'd ask patronizingly “Is this the game with Voltron and Gundam?” And then their kids would explain that, no, this is an Original Generation installment of Super Robot Wars, so it has unconnected mecha and characters instead of the casts of Gundam or Mazinger or Nadesico. And those kids would go on and on about the minutia of the Original Generation sub-series until those parents were sorry they'd ever asked.

The Super Robot Wars series may be known foremost as a mashup of anime's popular giant robots, but the Original Generation spin-off is a major force on its own. Its latest outing, Moon Dwellers is another strategy-RPG that introduces a new lunar threat to its world of squat, high-powered robots and their pilots. The plot draws a lot from Super Robot Wars Judgment, so its protagonist is teenage mecha-jockey Touya Shiun, and his prime robot is the Granteed. The expansive cast includes Calvina Coulange and Festenia Muse in the Bellzelute, Touma Kanou in the DaiRaiOh, Rio Mei Long in the Exbein Gunner, and…well, plenty of other robots. Moon Dwellers even includes the male and female versions of prior Super Robot Wars protagonists, making them twins. Akimi Akatsuki and Akemi Ataksuki pilot the Soul Saber GG, while Raul Gureden and Fiona Gureden command the Excellent Gunstriker. Even Haken Browning, the cowboy-hatted hunter introduced in the Endless Frontier spin-off of a spin-off, shows up in the Gespenst Haken. That could create some dimensional paradoxes, but these are giant-robot pilots. I assume they have things in hand.

As is typical of a Super Robot Wars game, tiny incarnations of the mecha arrange themselves on battle grids. While strategy remains important, the focus of each conflict lies in the extensively animated special attacks the robots wield. Larger versions of the machines pose and crackle and launch massive energy beams while equally well-animated versions of their pilots fill the screen with battle cries and aggressive posturing. Even the character portraits shine with the gloss of illustrator Akihiro Kimura.

If the game itself doesn't play to mecha-nerd expectations enough, there's a special edition with an artbook, a soundtrack, and a Blu-ray disc packed into a box illustrated by Masami Obari. The Blu-ray is one of those picture-drama deals with images and voices but no interaction, and it shows the women of Super Robot Wars frolicking at beaches and hot springs. It's called Beach Dwellers, so I hope it includes scenes of little battle-mecha defending sand castles and scaring off crabs.

Import Barrier: The game isn't region-locked, but if you wait until August you can import an English-language version for the PlayStation 4.

Domestic Release: That seems about as far as Bandai Namco is willing to take Super Robot Wars. You won't see a localized version hyped at GameStop, but you can order it without much trouble.

Best Detail: The brief shot of the Granteed's fist sprouting a crystal before it punches an enemy.

TAIKO NO TATSUJIN: DOKODON MYSTERY ADVENTURE
Developer: Taiko Team
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

If current trends continue in Japan's game industry, we may well see dungeon-RPG spin-offs for everything. Street Fighter. Cyborg Justice. Steins;Gate. Lightning Legend. Yeah Yeah Beebiss I. Nothing seems off the table, because the Taiko no Tatsujin series (briefly known here as Taiko Drum Master) paved the way with three RPGs based on rhythmic taiko-drum games.

The third such spin-off, Taiko no Tatsujin: Dokodon Mystery Adventure finds heroes Don and Katsu visiting a museum and witnessing an artifact heist by the Sorcery Society of Hexaglia. As the world around them unravels in comical fashion, Don, Katsu, and the varied companions travel all across the world in an attempt to recover the treasure and keep the time-space continuum from smushing all history into one mess of moai heads and ancient Greek heroes.

Being based on a rhythm game, Dokopon Mystery Adventure arranges its battles to the beat of a virtual taiko drum. Players match the pulse of music with the 3DS touch screen as little Don and Katsu icons hurl across the upper display in time with the battle at hand. Up to eight characters can join in the fights, and the overall success of their attacks matches the player's musical ability. Which means I'm not very good at it.

Dokodon Mystery Adventure also crams itself with guest stars: Nintendo's Kirby and King Dedede, Yokai Watch's Jibanyan, some Monster Hunter Felynes, Phoenix Wright, a handful of Touhou heroines, Assassination Classroom's Koro-sensei, and Rakitama, a hamster-like creature from Kamisama Minari: Himitsu no Cocotama. Rakitam must be popular.

Import Barrier: It's more lenient than a regular RPG in terms of text, but the 3DS regional lockout strikes again.

Domestic Release: Considering that Bandai Namco hasn't released a Taiko no Tatsujin game here in almost twelve years, the odds aren't good for an RPG spin-off.

Best Detail: Don and Katsu customizing themselves with, among other things, a Dogu mask. You can pretend they're Huitzil from Darkstalkers!

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

7th DRAGON III CODE: VFD
Developer: Imageepoch / Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: July 12
Last Dragon: Bruce Leroy
MSRP: $39.99

Let's pause a moment and remember Imageepoch, the source of the Luminous Arc series, the 7th Dragon line, and an oddly joined name. Imageepoch fell apart last year amid debts and a strange disappearing act by founder Ryoei Mikage, but their biggest creations survive them. Undeterred by Imageepoch's fall, Sega finished and released the fourth 7th Dragon title, which is actually called 7th Dragon III Code: VFD.

Dragons once again threaten the world in the 7th Dragon series, but at least they're different from the usual knightly foes. They're alien dragons, and their invasion comes with a plague of deadly flowers strewn across the world. Ostensibly recruited by an international defense force, the player selects a party of varied combat experts and travels through time, from Tokyo circa 2100 to a 12000-year distant Atlantis to a medieval Eden that's actually 7000 years in the future. While the player's chosen lineup of characters has little influence, they meet up with established characters…including ethereal emissaries of a planet destroyed by the dragon menace. Time and space hold little sway over 7th Dragon III Code: VFD.

Stalking dragons in each of the three periods, players control a group of nine characters divided into three different teams. The first of them takes the vanguard in battle, attacking and defending and casting techno-spells in turn-based combat. It's a dungeon hack across the board, albeit one with more flourishes than normal—the large-headed characters break out their attacks with flashing energy bursts. Party members span eight different classes: Samurai use swords, God-Hands fight hand-to-hand, Agents use pistols and computer hacking, Duelists summon monsters in Yu-Gi-Oh! fashion, Rune Knights unsheathe magical blades, Mages cast spells, Banishers get heavy armor and polearms, and Fortuners wield the power of death itself. That's quite a leap from the little pointy-hatted wizards from the original Final Fantasy.

ASSAULT SUIT LEYNOS
Developer: Dracue
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Platform: PlayStation 4 (digital)
Release Date: July 12
Physical Release: Coming in September
MSRP: $19.99

Assault Suit Leynos wasn't a defining title on the Sega Genesis. Champions of the console don't mention the game, known here as Target Earth, nearly as often as they do Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Herzog Zwei, or even Alisia Dragoon. But Target Earth brought Genesis owners mechanized space war in superior form, and the formula worked well enough for Masaya to carry it onward into Cybernator (Assault Suits Valken) and several sequels—oh, and LucasArts' closely inspired Metal Warriors.

The PlayStation 4 remake of Assault Suit Leynos returns to the original, covering much the same Gundam-style saga of a war waged across the solar system. While the Earth colonies and the Chron cyborg army have battleships and fighters at their disposal, the defining weapons are heavy armed mecha known as assault suits. The player's unit comes with a jetpack, a machine gun, missiles, grenade launchers, laser-like rifles, and other heavy artillery. It's all used in the game's side-scrolling stages, rife with explosions, machines, and the inevitable battlefield tragedy that no Gundam derivative can do without.

Assault Suit Leynos looks very much in line with modern side-view shooters like Gigantic Army and Armed Seven, though Dracue put a brighter sheen on the game's numerous robots and machines. Characters now have voices, whether they're overexcited bridge operators or gloating enemy officers, though you're free to turn that off and head for the Classic mode.

More than anything, Assault Suit Leynos is tough. It's a shooter from the days when beating a game meant memorizing levels and sharpening your reflexes, and if you didn't like it, you could only hope that the store had a forgiving return policy. We see plenty of difficult games today, but there's no substitute for an unforgiving 2-D shooter.

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: EXTREME VS FORCE
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PS Vita (digital)
Release Date: July 12
To The Extreme: Hooked
MSRP: TBA

In some slightly tweaked alternate reality, the Gundam collection of TV shows and robot toys came to America in the 1980s and evolved with that nation's tastes. So it became Gundam EXTREME in the mid-1990s, right alongside G.I. Joe and Ghostbusters. In our dimension, however, this never came to pass, and so Gundam had to turn into something Extreme without bulked-out superhero pilots and lots of screaming.

Not that Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS Force is insignificant. It marks the first time this decade that a Gundam game shows up in North America without the Dynasty Warriors name doing the heavy lifting. It's also linked to the Extreme VS series, a popular crop of arena-style fighting game featuring familiar mobile suits from various Gundam series. Here the roster of 30-plus robots samples from nearly every major Gundam from the original series through Iron-Blooded Orphans, with favoritism shown to Gundam Unicorn. I say “nearly” because Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket gets left out in the hall, despite it being the best Gundam series. Victory Gundam and Gundam X make the list, but not 0080.

Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS Force follows the conventions of its larger series: take a mecha into a battlefield against other machines, strafing and circling them as you attack. Robots come with boosters that enable dashing and jumping, though they still move with a hint of robotic weight. Force also plays up strategic squad tactics as much as it does the conventions of an action game, as players can customize and arrange different mobile-suit squads during battle.

Yet Force's release remains puzzling. Fans seem to prefer the PlayStation 3 editions of Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS, which offer tighter controls and more in-depth techniques, and Force is really just a spin-off. If Bandai Namco hopes to give Gundam games a stronger foothold, they're banking on a title for the Vita…which is (let's face it) hardly at the fore of the game industry. But hey, Gundam fans should pay attention all the same.

MONSTER HUNTER GENERATIONS
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: July 15
Monster World: Wonder Boy Land
MSRP: $39.99

If people tell you that Capcom is fading, that the company slid grievously from the all-cylinders quality of the two previous decades, you can tell them a few things.

First of all, you can tell them they're right. Capcom isn't what Capcom once was. But you can tell them that Phoenix Wright, though in its comfortable syndicated-TV years, is still entertaining, and that Street Fighter V isn't so bad despite its struggle for validation. Then you can mention Monster Hunter, the aircraft carrier of Capcom's modern fleet. Of course, Nintendo will publish Monster Hunter Generations in the West, which in turn doesn't reflect too well on Capcom.

Generations makes no drastic changes to the Monster Hunter design. Customize your hero or heroine, equip them with armor and weapons, and set out to stalk and slay creatures in cooperation with up to three other characters (controlled by players or AI, of course). In the primitive climates of the Monster Hunter realm, Generations spans four villages, with the local fauna headlined by four hulking creatures: the huge flying wyvern Astalos, the mastodon-like Gammoth, the more terrestrial wyvern Glavenus, and Mizutsune, who's a leviathan but looks more like an enormous ferret-poodle.

It follows that Generations establishes four hunting styles: Striker Style lets you use more Hunting Arts, Aerial Style lets you jump over a creature and pelt it with gunfire (and perform other, less spectacular mid-air feats), Adept Style offers counterattacks, and Guild Style is the balanced, least interesting option offered to the unadventurous. Generations also improves the weapon-upgrade system, shedding the specific item requirements for a method that demands broader classes of materials. Both online and local multiplayer options await, and Generations puts its Felyne cat-folk in playable roles, as befitting their marketable nature.

On that subject, Monster Hunter Generations borrows costumes and characters from certain Nintendo series, with one getup resembling Fire Emblem's Marth for human characters (and you can pretend it's Lucina, too). More attention goes to the Toon Link outfit, which turns a burrowing, whiskered, tail-sporting cat warrior into the hero of The Legend of Zelda series. Capcom doesn't go ignored, either, as Felynes can equip a costume based on Amaterasu from Okami. I'd like to see Capcom expand outfits to evoke more obscure characters from their vast history (Santana Laurence! Yellow Iris! Fatman Joe!), but I have to be fair. Capcom has a hard enough time handling even their popular names these days.


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


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