The X Button
by Todd Ciolek,
Next week will see a lot of new releases, but nothing quite matches the purported debut of Mega Man 9. By surreptitious design or pure luck, Capcom stoked fan desire to incredible heights through hinting at many of the details. We first saw the robot masters in black-and-white headshots, and it was only through the game's official soundtrack that we got a look at their full forms. Capcom's even played up the roots of Mega Man's NES days with deliberately horrid Americanized art and a press package fashioned just like an old NES game.
It makes me worry that we're expecting too much from Mega Man 9. The game certainly evokes that old NES feel while adding an item shop, a female boss and a bunch of other things that should've been part of the franchise 15 years ago. But what will we do when Mega Man 9 is just a fun game instead of the perfectly crystallized form of everything we've ever liked about Mega Man? Will we complain about how Concrete Man looks like Guts Man, or how ridiculous Hornet Man is? Will we pout and fume when the game fails to recapture that cozy Christmas-morning triumph of ripping the cellophane off Mega Man 3, shoving it in the NES, and not getting up until we'd taken down Top Man?
Some people will, but I won't be among them. I'll just tell myself that Galaxy Man's “Black Hole Bomb” weapon is a Gunbuster reference, and this will make Mega Man 9 perfect in my eyes.
KARAS, LOST PLANET JOIN TATSUNOKO VS. CAPCOM
Technically, no one announced the new fighters in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes. It was only through a combination of the copyright lines, the arcade game's move list, and some player-shot footage that Karas' title hero and Lost Planet's PTX-40A mecha were confirmed as part of the cast. Karas makes a lot of sense, as the OVA series was Tatsunoko's 40th anniversary project and their last big superhero creation that wasn't a remake. Hell, it waspractically a fighting game already.
I have no idea why the PTX-40A is here. Clearly the Capcom side needed some large mechanical thing to counterbalance Tatsunoko's Gold Lightan, but Jin Saotome's Blodia mecha from Cyberbots (and Marvel vs. Capcom) or the G-Kaiser from Tech Romancer would've been much more fun. I suppose that Lost Planet is recent, however, and Lost Planet must be paid homage. Maybe they'll make it up to us by adding Dead Rising's Frank and a horde of zombies.
SEGA ANNOUNCES NEW PHANTASY STAR, HINTS AT ANOTHER RPG
Phantasy Star Zero exists to crush your hopes. The title suggests something connected to Phantasy Star I through IV, but this new DS game has much more in common with the recent, neon-hoodie style of Phantasy Star Universe and Phantasy Star Online. Announced last week, Zero is another multiplayer RPG with glossy, futuristic characters, a Pictochat-style communication system, and Wi-Fi connections for up to four systems. The character art is by none other than Toshiyuki Kubooka, who also designed characters for Giant Robo and the only two Lunar games worth remembering.
Of course, Zero just makes it all the less likely that Sega will return to the pure RPGs of the old-school Phantasy Stars, and their now-grown fans will, for once, be right when lamenting that they just don't make RPGs like they used to. Phantasy Star is dead. Long live Phantasy Star.
Yet hope remains elsewhere. Sega also announced "Dragon," a new RPG with music by Yuzo Koshiro (Ys, Actraiser) and character designs by this guy. Most of the excitement around this is due to producer Rieko “Phoenix Rie” Kodama, the woman who brought us all of the good Phantasy Stars along with the Magic Knight Rayearth Saturn game and Skies of Arcadia. All we have so far is a website with a dragon silhouette and some Koshiro music that sounds like a Sega Master System game. More details will arrive in next week's Famitsu, with the message “We are making RPG now!” to tide us over until then.
BLUE DRAGON PLUS LANDS A U.S. PUBLISHER
Blue Dragon's had a rough ride. As Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi's attempt at dethroning Dragon Quest, the original Blue Dragon RPG met with a mixed reception among Xbox 360 owners. The cartoon and toy line appeared to give Blue Dragon a second wind, but the show's on “hiatus” at Cartoon Network. Now Blue Dragon Plus gets a chance to turn things around, or at least it will when Ignition Entertainment releases it in North America next year. A strategy-RPG for the DS, Plus features most of the cast from the original Blue Dragon, though their shadow-monster avatars now battle it out on grids. Ignition promises about 30 hours of gameplay and a controllable party of 16 characters, but the biggest technical marvel may be the hour of video that's crammed into Plus.
SPOTLIGHT: THE NEW FACES OF NARUTO: CLASH OF NINJA REVOLUTION 2
It's often hard to tell Naruto fighters apart. On the GameCube, PSP, PlayStation 2 or Wii, all of them draw from the same colorful mass of ninja from Masashi Kishimoto's manga and its anime spawn. For Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2, however, Tomy and developer Eighting went beyond the usual batch of headliners and supporting regulars. As producer Nobby Matsuo and product specialist Glenn Stotz tell it, the game's new characters come from a lesser-known pocket of Naruto lore. “We decided to go ahead and do an original storyline, and one of the concepts that came up was the Anbu team,” said Matsuo. “The Anbu aren't very prominent in the TV show. They're a black-ops operation. They handle a lot of assassinations and the espionage stuff, and they report under the leader of Hidden Leaf village. No other game has really brought them up to the forefront.”
Yugao Uzuki, one of the three Anbu specialists in Revolution 2, may be familiar to the more obsessive Naruto fans. The girlfriend of the instructor Hayate Gekko, Yugao was a blip on the radar in the Naruto anime, but her appearance in a few episodes convinced Matsuo that she should make a fighting-game debut in Revolution 2 . “She never existed in any of the other Clash of the Ninja series, so we basically had to start from the ground up and come up with a concept: what her special attacks were going to be and whatnot,” Matsuo recalled. “Eighting has said that she's one of the fastest characters they've ever created for the game.”
Matsuo and Eighting also added two brand-new Anbu members: Towa and Komachi. Like Yugao, they wear dark Anbu-ninja garb and masks based on Chinese Zodiac animals. Since they look so much alike, the developers took care to set them apart in gameplay.
”We wanted to differentiate them significantly,” Matsuo said. “You'll note that Towa is fairly hand-to-hand in combat. We wanted to give him unique abilities and I think Eighting did a really good job. Towa's special ability is using tattoos and running chakra down them, creating chakra-based weapons with that. With Komachi, we had her do more ranged attacks, as she has these dagger-like hairpins that she can control.”
Also new to the game are a round of exclusive villains. Matsuo and Stotz declined to go into detail about the bosses, though they include Matsuo's favorite of the new bunch. Players will find out more about the lineup as the game approaches its October release date, though sniffing around online suggests that the word “bazooka” might figure into one boss's arsenal.
Never-before-seen characters aren't the only addition to Revolution 2. The game features the usual spate of survival modes and mission-based challenges, along with a tag-team feature that allows characters to pair up for dual attacks. There's also a new weapon in the mix: paper bombs. Characters can throw them at foes or plant them on the ground, remotely detonating them later in the match.
“It's still a tactical element, because you can't use them frivolously,” Stotz explained. “You have to go into a stance that leaves your defense wide open. It takes chakra to throw them, and it takes chakra to detonate them.”
In an increasingly crowded fall release schedule, Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2 may have to scramble for attention with Ubisoft's Naruto: The Broken Bond for the Xbox 360 and Tomy's own Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2 for the DS. Yet there's no question that Revolution 2 has something to offer the Naruto devotee in search of something or someone they haven't seen before.
“We're trying to make this really significant for a North American audience,” Stotz said. “A lot of the Naruto license-based stuff comes straight out of Japan, and while we wanted to maintain that, we also wanted to give something fresh to the fans.”
RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 9-21
(Sega, DS, $29.99)
Dinosaur King may not be the next Yu-Gi-Oh! among American kids. At best, it'll sell some merchandise and get some voice actors paychecks before it slips into history, recalled twenty years hence by a few overly nostalgic adults who'll confuse it with DIC's Dino Squad. Hey, it's still more popular over here than Sega's last big-in-Japan kids' property, the beetle-based Mushiking. So Dinosaur King gets a DS game, one that simulates the arcade version's dinosaur collecting with a lineup of a hundred fossils to be excavated. Once they're dug up and brushed off by using the DS stylus and microphone, the same heroes from the Dinosaur King TV series take their Mesozoic beasts into Pokemon-esque battles against an evil scientist's
Get Excited If: You've written 4Kids to demand an uncut Dinosaur King DVD release.
DISGAEA DS |
(NIS America, DS, $29.99)
Strategy-RPG nuts are still divided on Disgaea; some think it's a riotously funny and enjoyable tactical excursion through a demon realm, and others think it's a grinding, insufferable chore aimed at OCD sufferers and sex offenders. Mind you, Disgaea came out in 2003, so there must be something to a game that can keep people arguing for five years. Nippon Ichi Software keeps the debate alive by porting the game once more, and the DS version is a faithful recreation of the original, which follows angry little underworld ruler Laharl, his deceitful subordinate Etna, the angelic interloper Flonne, and a lot of evil penguins. Their story is half a satire of RPG clichés, but it's the gameplay that won Disgaea most of its non-creepy fans. It's grid-driven strategy, littered with character-throwing, combo-making, deliberately-game-breaking techniques. The DS port is pretty much the PSP version, with the extra “Etna Mode” re-telling, multiplayer battles, and some new characters and items.
Get Excited If: You have Disgaea for the PS2 and the PSP. And a stuffed Prinny displayed next to them.
HI! HAMTARO HAM-HAM CHALLENGE|
(Natsume/Crave/Marvelous, DS, $29.99)
Really, Hamtaro, haven't you done enough damage? Years ago, you managed to convince children around the world that hamsters were adorable, benevolent creatures, and many of those children had to learn the hard way how real hamsters can be hateful, inbred little monsters that eat their dead and bite their owners. Now Hamtaro is out to inculcate another batch of fans with Hi! Hamtaro Ham-Ham Challenge. Make no mistake, this is aimed at the very young. It's primarily a collection of extremely simple mini-games, and it even uses parental controls to reward its apparently preschool-age target audience for their accomplishments, perhaps to test their ability to care for an actual hamster. Just get them a guinea pig or some degu, mom and dad.
Get Excited If: You're six years old and enjoy singing the Hamtaro theme nonstop until reprimanded by your elders.
KIRBY: SUPER STAR ULTRA|
(Nintendo, DS, $34.99)
Nintendo often likes to give Kirby a determined frown in the U.S. box art for his games, but Super Star Ultra has the little pink wind tunnel smiling with joy. Good for him. The original Kirby Super Star is sometimes overlooked among Super NES classics, mostly because it came out after everyone had given up on the system. It's still a fun little collection of short games, including a remake of the original Kirby's Dream Land GameBoy game and an airship duel against the MetaKnight (recently seen in Super Smash Bros. Brawl). It's a fun title brought to even greater heights by a power-up system that lets Kirby inhale enemies and use them to create sidekicks or new powers. The DS version adds a few extra modes, from a handful of mini-games to a new mode wherein MetaKnight is playable.
Get Excited If: Kirby Super Star kept you playing your Super NES back in 1996, even after your friends all had PlayStations.
LOST IN BLUE: SHIPWRECKED|
(Konami, Wii, $29.99)
Remember Survival Kids, a lesser-known GameBoy Color game from 1999? Me neither, but it was the seed of Konami's Lost in Blue games and their stark portrayals of marooned teenagers resorting to scavenging and mild disagreements in order to survive. The first Lost in Blue demanded that the hero sexistly lead the half-blind heroine around the island, Ico-style, but equality has reigned in more recent entries in the series. The first Wii-based Lost in Blue delivers its statements on gender roles by sticking its hero and heroine with animal sidekicks: the boy gets a monkey and the girl gets a dog. Both pets prove useful in hunting down food, and the game supports two players for its mini-games. The visuals resemble those of a late-generation Nintendo 64 title, however, and that may keep it from evoking the atmosphere of a gentle desert island.
Get Excited If: You thought Lord of the Flies needed more trained monkeys.
MEGA MAN 9|
(Capcom, WiiWare/Xbox Live Arcade/PSN, $10)
News about Mega Man 9's release is scarce, but if reports are at all true, we'll be playing it on the Wii next Monday, with the Xbox 360 and PSN versions presumably arriving some time around then. Whenever it shows up, Mega Man 9 will be a daring experiment in deliberately courting nostalgia and simple design. Granted, it's not all a throwback. There's a store, a set of Xbox Live achievements, and a load of new robot masters and hazardous devices to destroy Mega Man. We're all hoping for a masterpiece that makes up for Mega Man 4 through 8, but even a simple diversion will be worth the pittance it commands.
Get Excited If: You can hum Wood Man's stage music from memory.
RHAPSODY: A MUSICAL ADVENTURE |
(NIS America, DS, $29.99)
Released on the PlayStation in 2000, Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure was a game trapped between worlds. Its advertising campaign, over-cute songs (fully redone in English, no less), and lack of difficulty suggested an RPG for 8-year-old girls, but the frequently sarcastic translation threw a bone to the older fans, who were pretty much the only ones to notice Rhapsody before it became eBay gold. The DS version leaves the story largely unchanged: a musically inclined girl and her puppet sidekick try to show up a haughty rival and rescue a prince, resulting in giant pancake attacks and musical numbers aplenty. All of those songs are left in Japanese this time around, however, while the drama-related voices stay in English. The battles, which involved strategic grids in the original, are now straight-on RPG fare, making an already easy game even simpler. Rhapsody may not charm mature RPG followers like it did in 2000, but it'll have an easier time finding young fans.
Get Excited If: You have magical-girl anime songs on your iPod.
TIME HOLLOW |
(Konami, DS, $29.99)
Originally scheduled to come out during a busy week in August, Time Hollow is now coming out during an even busier week this month. It's worth noticing in the middle of all this, as Time Hollow sees Junko Kawano returning to the time-travel premise that made her adventure game Shadow of Destiny one of the first good PlayStation 2 titles. Seven years later, Time Hollow has the luxury of a DS touch-screen, a theme song, and animated cutscenes. Its hero, Ethan Kairos, gets to draw his own rifts in the time-space continuum, sending him on bafflingly elaborate quests to solve mysteries and prevent tragedies by changing the past ever so slightly. He may make some horrible mistake and spawn a present-day Japan ruled by intelligent house centipedes, but I think that Kawano prefers subtler twists in her time travel.
Get Excited If: You worked your way to every possible ending in Shadow of Destiny.
WARIO LAND: SHAKE IT! |
(Nintendo, Wii, $49.99)
The imperatively titled Shake It! is a spiritual sequel to 2003's Wario World, only without Treasure (Gunstar Heroes, Bangai-O) developing it. Normally that would draw some snide remark from me, but the programmers at Good Feel maintain the spirit of Wario World and every other Wario title. In contrast to Mario and Luigi's elegant goomba-stomping, Wario smashes, stomps, and shakes the crap out of everything. For a Wii game, it's surprisingly traditional, with 2-D stages that hit Wario with a variety of goals. Players can steamroll through to the ending (animated by Production I.G) with relative ease, but only by fulfilling every level's objectives will they see the whole of the game.
Get Excited If: You bought a Virtual Boy just for the first Wario Land.
WARRIORS OROCHI 2 |
(Koei, PS2/Xbox 360, $29.99/$49.99)
I sometimes wonder about the fan base for Koei's Dynasty Warriors franchise and its many off-shoots. Does each sub-series have its insular defenders? Do the Samurai Warriors fans look down on the Dynasty Warriors set? Do they all huffily disdain Dynasty Warriors Gundam for bringing robots into their medieval-era tales of wide-scale Japanese or Chinese warfare? Anyway, Warriors Orochi 2 is another crossover between the Dynasty and Samurai sides of the Warriors world, featuring characters and levels that, in the game's hysterical plotline, have all been displaced by the evil Serpent King. Both the old stages and five new ones are full of blessedly dim enemies just waiting to march into your three-character team's whirling blades, and that's really what we want out of Dynasty Warriors more than anything. Orochi 2 also brings in a versus mode, complete with tag-team battles.
Get Excited If: Dynasty Warriors prompted you to read Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
EXTRA LIVES: ZENKI FX: VAJURA FIGHT
Kishin Douji Zenki began in 1992 as a manga by author Kiku Tani and artist Yoshihiro Koiwa, but the series didn't take off until three years later, when it launched a 51-episode TV anime, an OVA series, and a bunch of video games. A superhero tale in monster-hunting garb, the TV show follows Chiaki, a teenage girl who controls the powers of an ancient demon named Zenki. Even though few people cared about Zenki by the end of the decade, it was the Hot New Thing among anime circles in 1995, and Hudson Soft decided that it just might punch up the ailing PC-FX. NEC had launched the system late in 1994, but no one wanted to make games for it when they could develop for the PlayStation, Saturn, or the soon-to-arrive Nintendo 64. So, in December 1995, those desperate PC-FX owners got one of the system's few notable titles with Zenki FX.
Unlike other anime-based PC-FX games, Zenki FX isn't some thrown-together “adventure” deal rife with dull conversations. It's a unique brand of two-player action game, half Street Fighter II and half platform-hopper. The entirely dismissable story finds Chiaki and Zenki, who's an angry little brat in his everyday form, rushing to help a friend and squaring off against a bunch of cackling demons. Players can control either Chiaki or Zenki, each of whom has an assortment of special moves performed with fighting-game motions. Chiaki uses projectiles and kicks most of the time, while Zenki prefers up-close attacks despite his small stature. Zenki is ultimately more useful, as a bangle power-up turns him into a full-fledged demon lord. Chiaki can grab the same item, but it only summons Zenki for a one-time attack.
A side-scrollers go, Zenki FX is a rapid procession of one boss after another. Sure, there are short intermissions where Chiaki and Zenki pound demons at a construction site or smash through skeletons in a subway car, but these are mere distractions from the game's demonic leaders, who appear in one-on-one battles straight out of a fighting game. Zenki and his schoolgirl guardian tangle with a harpy atop a plunging airplane, outrun a hideous car-beast, and eventually fight a comic-relief frogman before taking on the apparent monster-emperor-of-the-week. It's all carried off with large characters, detailed backdrops, an anime-accurate soundtrack, and lots and lots of voice acting.
It would all be impressive if the game lasted more than 40 minutes. In truth, it seems even shorter due to the pushover bosses. Only the car-creature and the final round present any real challenge, while the other major villains spend more time talking than they do dishing out any imposing attacks. There's little replay value aside from Chiaki and Zenki's differing reactions to the story, and though Hudson threw in some hidden bonuses (including an opening that the voice actors re-recorded in Kansai dialect), none of them makes the game longer or more interesting.
Zenki FX would've been ignored on a more crowded playing field, but it won plenty of attention simply by being a PC-FX action game. The system's meager library was sagging with video-heavy anime titillation by 1995, and PC-FX owners soon realized that the console would never be much more than a niche attraction. Zenki FX was arguably the PC-FX's last real stab at relevance. A few RPG ports and a shooter visited the system in 1996, but few in the gaming public bothered with them.
While there are other Zenki games out there, including three Super Famicom releases and a Game Gear title, it's Zenki FX that's noticed most often. It's all part of the PC-FX's mystique, the fascinating obscurity of its brutish little life on the edge of the game industry. Zenki FX is an underfed idea struggling in a mediocre game, and it will interest only the few existing Zenki fans and PC-FX owners. Then again, that's more attention than most anime-based games ever get.
Unlike good ol' Battle Heat, Zenki FX is shockingly expensive, commanding about $250 whenever it pops up on eBay. It isn't worth that no matter how much you like Zenki, but collectors who view their libraries as investments can count on it to hold that price. Like the anime that spawned it, Zenki FX probably won't see a revival.
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