This Week in Games - Don't Dig Up Your SNES

by Dustin Bailey,
The Netflix Castlevania has some real problems—chief among them its over-reliance on 90s-approved gruesome edginess—but gosh darn if I didn't end up being super into it. It's an adaptation that both respects the source material and creates its own spin, which is so rare in video game conversions that I'm willing to forgive nearly anything else when it happens. I can't wait for season two, though it seems I'll have little choice in that matter. Luckily, I can count on 2017's roster of SNES games to keep me nostalgically entertained in the meantime—maybe.

Unholy Night: The Darkness Hunter

I wasn't expecting to see multiple original Super NES releases in 2017. The most significant of those is obviously Star Fox 2—even accounting for the leaked prototype, the SNES Mini will mark the first ever release of the complete game. But that infamous sequel isn't the only Super Nintendo game getting a proper release over 20 years after the death of its host console. Unholy Night: The Darkness Hunter joins those ranks, and it has the impressive pedigree of being a new fighting game from former SNK staffers.

But don't get too excited. Unholy Night is a ragged mess of game that's only distinguishable from legions of romhacks and pirate carts by virtue of a colorful cast. It barely upholds the standards of “basically functional,” leaving the likes of Power Moves and Clay Fighter standing as sterling classics of the SNES library. That shouldn't be surprising, particularly if you've seen the choppy footage of the Japanese release, but it's a shame Unholy Night can't stand up as any more than a mere novelty.

The box is properly dressed up in American SNES-style art and colors, though without any legally actionable Nintendo branding. The interior contents, however, are Super Famicom-style, with a plastic tray housing a cartridge and a mini-sized full color manual. The cart itself is in PAL-style rounded housing—distinct from Super Famicom carts by the tabs in the back—that features glossy transparent plastic that's a lightning rod for fingerprints. Inside the manual, you get your first glimpse of Unholy Night's tremendously lousy English, which even lacks the charm of other infamous localizations, feeling instead like the result of a quick-and-dirty evening with Google Translate.

But the true darkness doesn't begin until you start playing. It's a three-button game—light, medium, and heavy attacks, back to block, and the option to charge your super meter—and it controls basically like you'd expect from any post-Street Fighter II fighter, with each character enjoying some some special moves executed with quarter-circles, half-circles, and charges. The problem is that it feels terrible. Movement is constantly choppy, input is super-sluggish, and it seems every third frame just likes to say “nah” to your button presses. It's a fighting game where you never feel like you have full control over your character, which makes any good points that it might present basically irrelevant.

Perhaps luckily, those good points are few. The one thing Unholy Night has is a cast and world with some personality—though you could cynically toss them off as Darkstalkers rejects. It's very much a 90s anime aesthetic, particularly when you look at the main character— who is literally named Blaze, with hair and 'tude to match. The cast is pretty tiny, though, with three heroes, three villains, and a boss character, making any long stay with the game immensely repetitive.

And even if some of the art looks appealing in stills, that charm disappears once you see them in motion. The animation is incredibly limited, with most attacks built out of only one frame, and those frames get used and reused throughout the entire list of specials and supers. Take Blaze's basic special, Dash Slash, which is just a heavy attack animation that has some fire on it. Maybe the most egregious example is the throw, which is just a light punch that makes your opponent appear on the other side of you.

There are theoretically more advanced mechanics, from guard cancels to combo links, but I'll be damned if I can suffer through the agonizing basics to figure out the minutiae. Even the super meter seems awkward and ill-considered—it charges so fast and fights are over so quickly that there's no reason not to constantly use your wildest abilities at all times. Heck, if you start flailing enough, it's pretty easy to start interrupting supers with more supers, and I've got no idea if that's a bug or a feature.

Then there are the little things, like how if you enter the Versus screen with only one controller, you're frozen there until you turn the console off. The backgrounds have the awkwardly pixelated look of the digitized stages from Mortal Kombat. A miniscule soundtrack has you listening to the same tune through battle after battle after battle. Unholy Night is so, so bad, and at a $50 retail price even the novelty of buying a new SNES game in 2017 starts to seem very, very shaky.

NEWS

SPLA-TUNE INTO THE LATEST SWITCH ANNOUNCEMENTS

A new Nintendo Direct hit late last week, and has proven that there's no limit to what the internet will get horny for. It used to be that you had to hit bizarre subreddits and sketchy ad-filled imageboards to find people talking about how hot Midna is. Now five seconds on Twitter is enough to learn about the world's rapidly-developing fetish for squid girls.

Oh, yeah, and Splatoon 2 is out in a couple of weeks. That Direct was the last big info dump before the game's release, and there's more to it than the reveal of a character everyone's scarily into. Notably, the Nintendo Switch Online app was detailed, telling you exactly what features you'll be missing out on if you're not into the whole smartphone-pairing thing. Yeah, people with the disposable income necessary to buy video game consoles probably also have smartphones, but the notion of separating game features into a secondary device is crazy, even by “Nintendo attempts online” standards. But hey, Splatoon is a lot of fun and the sequel looks cool. You'll be able to dig into it with a free Splatfest running this Saturday—July 15th—that will offer a few hours of inky battles.

But Splatoon isn't the only big Switch game of the Summer, and Nintendo has just put out the first significant update for Arms. The most notable thing is making Max Brass—the story mode's penultimate boss—playable, along with a selection of new arms, but some of the smaller changes are actually way more interesting. Snake Park, a wild stage that's fun but definitely not balanced, has been removed from the ranked match rotation and swapped out with a new arena, and that's a pretty good indication that Nintendo's listening to community feedback. Also, there are detailed patch notes which actually break down all the smaller balance changes, which is sadly refreshing in the world of console games.

FIRE PRO WRESTLING RETURNS

I only got into wrestling within the past few years—yes, I only started watching this absurdity in adulthood—so the notion of a time when wrestling games were good is entirely foreign. All I remember of No Mercy is that one dude with the sock and mask seemed super creepy (I still kinda feel that way about Mankind, honestly), and even the cartoonish charms of something like Saturday Night Slam Masters were lost on me.

But joy of joys, because Fire Pro Wrestling is back for the first time in a decade (the less said about the XBLA game, the better). Spike Chunsoft has released Fire Pro Wrestling World on Steam, and it seems like this might be the series' ultimate form. Fire Pro is best remembered for its immense customizability, letting you recreate the looks and movesets of everyone from John Cena to Giant Baba, and by getting this thing on PC—with Steam Workshop support—the roster possibilities are endless. Also, it plays well, splitting the difference between adapting the pace of pro wrestling's scripted in-ring drama and entertaining game mechanics.

I haven't had the chance to dig in yet, but by all accounts this is a terrific rendition of what might be the best wrestling series the world has seen. It's also notable for being a rare Early Access release from a Japanese developer. That might be a point of caution for some, but it seems like the right move for a rendition of Fire Pro—the fundamentals are all there, and what's left are more arenas and more customization options. And at this point, any respite from the relentless mediocrity of the official WWE games is a welcome one.

YES, HE'S ACTUALLY CALLED DOOMFIST

I sigh longingly every time I think of Overwatch. I stuck with it much longer than I usually do games of its type, but the reality of doing a lot of writing about games is that you don't get a ton of time to stick with any one release. That makes keeping up with a competitive game and its constantly shifting balance and meta—and its expanding roster—a nearly herculean task. Thus, only with the greatest lament do I announce that there's been another new addition to the Overwatch roster, who along with Orisa and Sombra I may never get the chance to play.

His name is Doomfist, which is the most radically dumb name this side of the monster that killed Superman, and I couldn't be happier with it. He's presented as the universe's biggest bad, and the animated short that serves as introduction shows Doomboy brutalizing and apparently murdering all your favorites. Doomfist, of course, is actually a title bestowed on the bearer of the—actually, you should probably just read a wiki for that.

Doomsbro naturally slots into the offense category, and his titular weapon means most of his attacks are melee-focused—save for the shotgun shells that fire from between his knuckles. Damage from any special abilities charges Doomy Crews' shields along the way, giving a temporary defensive boost for staying in the middle of the action. Sounds like a fun collection of abilities, and I hope those of you still in the midst of your Overwatch days enjoy. He's available in the PTR now, and should be joining the regular roster soon.

UPCOMING RELEASES

YONDER: THE CLOUD CATCHER CHRONICLES
Developer: Prideful Sloth
Publisher: Prideful Sloth
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PC
Release Date: July 18
MSRP: $19.99

Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is an open-world exploration game without combat, but with a healthy helping of farming, fishing, and cooking. Coming from a developer without a track record there's reason to be cautious, but it's set in an adorable world brimming with personality and the promise of Zelda-style exploration in a game similar to the Harvest Moons and Stardew Valleys of the world is an intriguing one.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Yeah, I'm stretching for releases this week. Small scale JRPG Asdivine Cross makes the leap from mobile to 3DS this week, while YouTube's Game Grumps are putting out a memey, Westernized take on dating sims with Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator.


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