The X Button
All E3, All The Time

by Todd Ciolek, Jun 3rd 2009

Tomorrow will mark The X Button's first year here at Anime News Network, and I'm not about to let it pass without doing something for my readers. Check this out.

It's a rebate coupon issued by Vic Tokai in 1988, giving you money back if you buy Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode and/or Bump 'N Jump for the NES. It may seem a quaint piece of Golgo 13 merchandise and a valueless relic of the NES era, but take a close look at the text. There's no expiration date. This coupon is still valid. You can print it out, buy the games, and then mail this thing off to get five dollars. If you can find a local store that sells old NES games, you probably won't pay more than a few bucks for Golgo 13 or Bump 'N Jump (and you shouldn't pay more, because Golgo 13 is awful and Bump 'N Jump gets boring after about 30 seconds). You'll get those games for next to nothing.

Sure, Vic Tokai stopped making video games in 1997 and no longer has an American office, but they're still around in Japan. Send their central branch your coupons and receipts, and they'll be legally required to give you money.

NEWS

We're right in the middle of E3, so a disclaimer is in order: this column goes up Tuesday night, and any news that arrives after that will have to face my ruthless criticism next week. Here's what we've seen so far.

MICROSOFT'S PROJECT NATAL TAKES ON THE WII
The oddly named Project Natal was the centerpiece of Microsoft's E3 presentation, as it openly attempts to outdo Nintendo's Wii technology. Using a camera sensor mounted near a TV, Project Natal allows players to interact through motion-capture interfaces without the use of controllers. The promotional video also promises facial recognition, voice recognition, and, well, the chance to put yourself in ugly dresses. Some of these features are bound to disappoint in practical application, but it seems like a valid competitor for the Wii.

TWO NEW METAL GEAR SOLID GAMES SURFACE
Hideo Kojimak is rarely one to tip his hand early, so most in the audience weren't upset that his preview of Metal Gear Solid: Rising lasted about fifteen seconds, just long enough to show cyborg Raiden largely as he appeared in Metal Gear Solid 4. Solid Snake was noticeably absent, but that means little in a series so known for actively screwing with players.

It's actually bigger news that Metal Gear Solid: Rising is coming to the Xbox 360. Granted, the original Xbox got Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance, but that was well after the original game showed up on the PlayStation 2. Rising might not be an exclusive, but it's definitely not holding out on the Xbox 360 version.

Meanwhile, the PSP gets another Metal Gear Solid, one entitled Peace Walker. Like Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, it's set after Metal Gear Solid 3, taking place in the 1970s. The storyline will supposedly follow the creation of Outer Heaven, the micro-nation and soldier sanctuary established by Big Boss. Metal Gear fans will remember that the very first Metal Gear took place in Outer Heaven, so Kojima might be working his way toward a remake of some kind. Peace Walker's out in 2010.

These new Metal Gear Solid games had a little thunder stolen by the rumor that Kojima might be working on the next Castlevania game, entitled Lords of Shadow. It could be an overzealous marketing leak, though the fan infighting alone would make a Kojima-directed Castlevania worth the trouble.

SONY: THE PSP GO, THE LAST GUARDIAN, AND A MOTION CONTROLLER
Everyone knew about the PSP Go prior to E3, but Sony's presentation solidified some details: the system is a sleek PSP redesign with a slide-up screen (similar to the T-Mobile Sidekick and other cell phones) and no UMD slot. It does, however, have 16 GB of flash memory, and Sony's poised to make future PSP games fully compatible with the PSP Go. It'll be $250 when it arrives on the first of October, which seems a bit steep next to the currently $170 PSP.

Even for those who stick with the old-model PSP, there'll be Resident Evil Portable and Gran Turismo Mobile for the system. Resident Evil Portable arrives in 2010, and that's really all anyone knows about it at this writing. Gran Turismo Mobile was described in more detail: 800 cars, 35 courses, and four-player local multiplayer. It'll be out alongside the PSP Go itself.

The trailer for Project Trico, the new game from director Fumito Ueda (Shadow of the Colossus, Ico), leaked about a week before E3, showing off a kid, his giant pet griffin, and music from the Coen brothers movie Miller's Crossing. Sony showed a better version of that trailer at E3, revealing that the game's title is The Last Guardian and that it'll be out next year. It's exclusive to the PlayStation 3, of course.

Not to be outdone by Microsoft's Project Natal, Sony announced a new motion-sensing feature for the PS3's PlayStation Eye peripheral. Tech demos showed off the system's ability to put a player's image and actions into a game, well beyond what the PlayStation Eye already does. For those keeping track of the system wars, this means that all of the current console will soon have their own motion-control devices.

NINTENDO: MARIO, METROID, GOLDEN SUN, AND A HEALTH MONITOR
The word was that Nintendo would show a new Mario game at E3, and they did. In fact, it was a minor curiosity for longtime followers of the company. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a logical step, but Nintendo's last two systems got a single major Mario game each; the Nintendo 64 never had Super Mario 64 2, and the GameCube didn't see Super Mario Sunshine 2. But the Wii gets Super Mario Galaxy 2, and the trailer promises planetoid exploration similar to the original's gameplay. According to Shigeru Miyamoto, “90 percent” of the stages will be new, with the rest being older levels with new objectives.

Another Mario game was announced, though it's in familiar territory. New Super Mario Bros., the DS revamp of the original Super Mario Bros., is coming to the Wii with a four-player feature. Four different Mario avatars can either cooperate or attack each other while traipsing through recognizable Mario stages, aided by the flying functions of the new Propeller Suit. Nintendo was evasive about the game's online mode, which a game like this sorely needs. It may not be a new Mario adventure like Galaxy 2, but a traditional multiplayer Mario title is something I wanted to see way back in the NES days.

For years, Metroid fans have looked to Nintendo for news of Metroid Dread, the never-officially-announced follow-up to the 2-D wonders of Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Mission. Well, you're not getting that, Metroid fans. What you're getting is Metroid: Other M, a third-person, 3-D action game for the Wii. The trailer is full of strange sights for Metroid games. For starters, it shows what might be a young Samus Aran, along with an awful lot of human characters for the Metroid universe (is one of them Adam Malkovich from Metroid Fusion?). Secondly, Samus is shown headlock-slamming a dragon-like space pirate.

Perhaps this shows the influence of the game's developer, Team Ninja. They're known for the Dead or Alive series and the modern Ninja Gaiden games, and the Tecmo studio is working on Metroid: Other M with Yoshio Sakamoto. One of the lesser-appreciated talents within Nintendo, Sakamoto directed Super Metroid, Fusion, and Zero Mission. So he knows what makes a good Metroid.

Metroid isn't the only Nintendo property returning to the fore. Remember Golden Sun, the somewhat generic but well-received series of Game Boy Advance RPGs? Well, it's coming to the DS. It'll be in 3-D, with super-deformed characters that look a little like those in the Matrix-developed RPGs Final Fantasy III and IV. Is Camelot, the studio behind the original Golden Sun games, developing this new title? Will it have an interesting main character this time around? We'll find out when the game arrives in…you guessed it, 2010.

One last oddity from Nintendo is the Wii Vitality Sensor, a small fingertip covering that plugs into the Wii remote and monitors the player's pulse and, uh, “inner balance.” Assuming that Nintendo hasn't been overrun by new-age cultists, it's an interesting addition to the Wii Fit lineup.

FINAL FANTASY XIV IS PROBABLY NOT WHAT YOU WANTED
Square's big surprise of E3 was clearly Final Fantasy XIV Online, and not in entirely favorable ways. The “Final Fantasy XIV” part appeared first during Square's demonstration, and then the “Online” subtitle materialized and caused a noticeable drop in applause. The game looks like Final Fantasy XI polished up with PlayStation 3 visuals, and it'll be showing up on Sony's console next year, with a PC version following.

Another surprise: Final Fantasy VII is available on the PSP, as in “right now.” The game went up on the PLAYSTATION Network during Sony's big E3 address, and while it may disappoint those hoping for a sparkling Final Fantasy VII remake, it'll at least make people think twice before paying sickening sums for the game's PlayStation version on eBay.

Neither announcement took much attention away from Final Fantasy XIII. Square had huge banners showing Lightning, Snow, and Vanille thirty stories tall, and a new trailer showed up, completely in English. Note the glimpses of new characters (including a kid who looks like Final Fantasy XII's Vaan), the rampant crystalpunk jargon, and heroine Lightning's apparent persecution complex. Yes, Lightning, the world's out to get you. This footage was shown under Sony's aegis, though Square reiterated that the “Coming 2010” line from those building-high posters applies to both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game.

IN BRIEF: POP'N TRADEMARKS, PROJECT EDEN, SHIREN, AND MONKEY ISLAND
Fans of Konami's Pop'n Music often grouse about how this line of music games has never hit American consoles, and you can't tell them that last year's Xbox Arcade release Beat'n Groovy was an Americanized Pop'n Music. They'll reply that Beat'n Groovy was a nightmarish bastardization of Pop'n Music with mediocre songs and Bratz mannequins. These people were probably glad to learn that Konami has trademarked Pop'n Music for North America, possibly for another shot at Xbox Arcade.

Q Entertainment always gets my attention upon announcing a new game, since the studio is headed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi and other people who created Rez and Lumines. They're currently working on something called Project Eden, which was one of the code names for Rez. Other details on the game are scarce, but I imagine we'll find out more quite soon. In the meantime, go buy Rez HD on Xbox Arcade.

Shiren the Wanderer became a cult hit in North America last year by showing up on the DS, where everyone loves dungeon hacks. Shiren the Wanderer 3 for the Wii went ignored, but the E3 festivities made plain that it's coming here through Atlus. It won't be out until next spring, which should give fans ample time to check out Demon's Souls, another dungeon-crawler from Atlus.

E3 saw a lot of news that doesn't exactly fit into this column's focus on anime-related Japanese stuff, but I'm going to mention some things anyway: Bioshock 2 looks amazing, Ozzy Osbourne is voicing a character in Brütal Legend, Kratos from God of War is a character in Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny for the PSP, and there are two different Monkey Island games in development. One is a multi-part sequel from Telltale Games (makers of the new Sam and Max titles), and the other is remake of the original The Secret of Monkey Island by LucasArts.

Yes, LucasArts itself is making adventure games after ignoring their classics for eleven years. Hell yes.

WEIRD-ASS IMPORT ROUNDUP: MAY

CLAYMORE
Developer: Digital Works Entertainment
Publisher: Digital Works Entertainment
Platform: DS

It's strange that this is the first game based on Norihiro Yagi's manga. Perhaps a gritty medieval-fantasy series has a hard time scoring game licenses today when its mostly female cast doesn't blush and flash panties every nine seconds. This DS offering tracks Clare, the steely-eyed heroine familiar to anyone who's tried the Claymore manga or anime, as she races around side-scrolling levels, slicing through harpies and giants and various other yoma creatures. The top screen of the DS displays these festivities, while the touch-screen lets the player manage Clare's power levels. She'll also run across her fellow Claymore hunters, Teresa and Ophelia among them, and finishing the game unlocks some of them as playable heroines. The story sticks to the manga for plot, while adding some CG movies and art that resembles the Mad House anime more than Yagi's scratchy style.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Not good, unless Claymore ends up on Adult Swim.

DAYS OF MEMORIES 3
Developer: SNK Playmore
Publisher: SNK Playmore
Platform: DS

SNK is not above making games for the sort of fan who obsesses over video-game women. Before taking it to extremes with the witch-groping Doki Doki Majo series, the company put out the Days of Memories games. In these dating simulators, the female cast members of various SNK fighters become love interests for a lead character who always has hair over his eyes. Most of the characters also become schoolgirls in the process, making them all the more desirable to the otaku crowd. In some ways, it's a cloying charade that actively robs SNK icons of their unique designs and individual traits, reducing them to mollified dating-sim stereotypes instead of fierce, competitive fighting-game stereotypes. On the other hand, it's amusing to see both male and female characters from The King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, and other SNK games crammed into a pat high-school adventure. The Days of Memories line started off as episodic cell-phone games, and the third collection has the seventh, eighth, and ninth chapters. It's composed of conversations and still images (usually of prurient nature), neither of which puts the DS stylus to heavy use. Still, the SNK enthusiasts may want this for the novelty as they prepare for The King of Fighters XII's U.S. release.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Non-existent. As with the Doki Doki Majo games, SNK Playmore's North American branch pretends that Days of Memories doesn't exist.

ORE GA OMAE WO MAMORU
Developer: Design Factory
Publisher: Idea Factory
Platform: DS

It's common for modern games to mix strategic battles or RPG elements with romantic, choose-your-adventure conversations, but Ore ga Omae wo Mamoru (which translates to “I will protect you,” I believe) combines the trappings of an "adventure" simulator with a side-scrolling action game reminiscent of the DS Castlevania titles. When not discussing matters with the game's regally attired cast, a pale-haired hero named Len leaps and slashes through castles and dungeons, all to bring the world of Eden back to its fairy-tale glory. Despite the potential dating portions and the whole “protecting” angle, Ore ga Omae wo Mamoru seems to be aimed at fans of pretty-boy manga and anime. Len's far more elegant than the most feminine Castlevania hero, he appears to be shirtless under his cloak, and he has an older male partner named Velse to assist him in his adventures as well as their inevitable fan-comic appearances.
Chances for a Domestic Release: Marginal, but Idea Factory has a toehold on America's cult-RPG scene with Spectral Souls 3.

RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 6-7

CLASS OF HEROES
Developer: Zerodiv
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PSP
MSRP: $39.99

A lower-profile release from the Atlus 2009 catalog, Class of Heroes aims to do for the PSP what the Etrian Odyssey games did for the DS: make the system irresistible to fans of dungeon-crawlers. While there's a light storyline about youngsters enrolling at an academy for fantasy adventurers, Class of Heroes is a dungeon hack with all of the usual ingredients: player-named heroes, basic visuals, 75 different labyrinths to map, and a thousand varieties of collectible goods. Creating characters leads to an impressive array of different races. Every humdrum swords-and-sorcery game has humans, dwarves, elves, and maybe halflings. Class of Heroes has those, of course, but it also adds in Sprites, Felpies, Erdgeists, dragon-winged Drakes, presumably demonic Diablos, and presumably angelic Celestians.
Get Excited If: You hate it when RPGs name and define characters for you.

THE LEGENDARY STARFY
Developer: Tose
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: DS
MSRP: $34.99

The Legendary Starfy is the fifth game in the Starfy series, but it's the first one released in North America, as the previous four were judged too graphic and disturbing for occidental audiences. No, that's not true; Starfy has always been an adorable starfish who goes on adventures with talking clams and happy mermaids, and I have no idea why Nintendo waited until now to bring him out in the U.S. The Legendary Starfy finds the sky-dwelling invertebrate hero helping a rabbit from outer space by traveling various side-scrolling levels. This is accomplished by Starfy donning various animal suits and becoming a fire-breathing dragon, an egg-laying chicken, a floating ghost, or a swimming seal that stabs cute little aquatic enemies with blades of ice. The Legendary Starfy has the tone and approach of Nintendo's Kirby series, though Starfy is perhaps even simpler in the challenges set before the player. But he might be even cuter.
Get Excited If: You dislike action-platform games that don't actively cheer you up.

MIAMI LAW
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Platform: DS
MSRP: $29.99

Between CAPCOM's upcoming Miles Edgeworth spin-off and Aksys Games' Jake Hunter titles, the DS is facing a potential excess of police-procedural adventure games, a situation I never thought I'd see on a modern system. Miami Law follows two investigators in a terrorism-related case: Miami cop Law Martin gets stylus-based shootouts and other action-oriented diversions, while FBI agent Sara Starling apparently gets to interview suspects and look through case files and solve puzzles. At least she's not stuck at the office making coffee for men. Miami Law also presents some interesting touches in its story, as it's the first project handled by Gaijinworks, the translation company founded by former Working Designs head Victor Ireland. I must admit that I'm interested to see just how Miami Law's localization stacks up, and how a Japanese developer takes on American law enforcement.
Get Excited If: You want Phoenix Wright with more shooting.

Also Shipping Next Week: Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled, the game that looks like an old Super NES RPG from Japan but is, in fact, a modern DS RPG from Canada.

EXTRA LIVES: DIRTY PAIR: PROJECT EDEN

It's been argued that the Dirty Pair series was ahead of its time. Its cleavage-baring heroines, Kei and Yuri, had their wacky sci-fi adventures in the mid-1980s, well before the anime industry grew its own subculture devoted to underdressed women and nerdy references. If that's a dubious point, Kei and Yuri clearly arrived too soon to get any good video games. In 1987, anime-based games were primitive in design and rarely even looked good, as it would be years until CD-based software could recreate the atmosphere of an animated series. Yet Dirty Pair: Project Eden came out in 1987, and so it got a lousy Bandai-made game for the Famicom Disk System.

I could describe Dirty Pair: Project Eden as a side-scrolling action-shooter in the vein of Contra, but that would only mislead someone into imagining a fluid, enjoyable NES game with Kei and Yuri dashing through explosions and swarms of alien foes. No, this Dirty Pair: Project Eden is a stilted, crawling mockery of that idea. After a cutscene briefly establishes the storyline, Kei and Yuri leap across a landscape of rocks and exploding balls of fire, all rendered in the bland visuals of first-generation Famicom games.

Get past that, and it's on to a slightly different sub-stage of gray backgrounds and interminable music. These exercises introduce the game's few power-ups, none of which can enliven anything. There's a bracelet for temporary invincibility, a briefly powered-up gun, a bar that blocks enemies, and a perfume bottle that summons an armed skiff for Kei and Yuri to pilot together. Unlike a lot of anime-based Famicom twaddle of its day, the games lets two people play simultaneously, with the first player defaulting to Yuri. That would count for something in a better game.

Dirty Pair: Project Eden improves slightly in its second stage, which sheds the monotonous side-scrolling for a maze. Yuri and Kei explore a primitively decorated base room by room, gathering disks and unlocking doors. It plays like a bumpier version of Sega's first Zillion game with a slightly 3-D feel, as the two heroines jump and fire in diorama-like surroundings. Once that's done, the game turns to another side-scrolling level, and then there's another maze for the finale. Yes, there are only four stages.

Switching play styles can't lose the real problems: the enemies are still boring, the soundtrack is still terrible, and the game is still a horrible chore. As with other anime tie-ins, Dirty Pair: Project Eden manages the stunning feat of being both monstrously dull and unceasingly hard. One hit kills Yuri or Kei, booting them back to the start of a side-scrolling stage (or, inside the mazes, the room in which they died). Despite the potential of the two-player mode, it snags on a really stupid design choice: if either player dies, it's back to the start of the level for both of them. The fun of co-operative games lies in a loose sense of teamwork, and such games succeed only because they don't penalize you too much for the other player's mistakes. Just ask anyone who played Contra, Lifeforce, or any other two-player NES title with a younger and less coordinated sibling.

In my five minutes of painstaking research for this article, I was surprised to find no other games based on The Dirty Pair. Did this Project Eden hackjob do that much damage? Or did Kei and Yuri just slide out of the spotlight too quickly for Bandai to try putting them into a better game? Whatever the case, Dirty Pair: Project Eden would have a hard time making itself less enjoyable. It'd have to be based on Dirty Pair Flash for that.

Dirty Pair: Project Eden lurks around auction sites for about $25. If you want to play it as Nintendo and the law intended, you'll need a Famicom Disk System, a Twin Famicom, or some other console that accepts Famicom disks. You'll also need to hate yourself in some small way.


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