The X Button Eclectic Sheep
by Todd Ciolek,
Super Street Fighter IV may be no more than a cherry atop 2009's Street Fighter IV sundae, but it's working hard to convince us that it's a viable game. It adds ten new characters, or rather, eight old characters and two new faces. One is Juri, a Taekwondo fighter of insidious intent. The other, who was just confirmed by Capcom, is an oil-covered Turkish wrestler named Hakan.
Even by the standards of Street Fighter, Hakan is ridiculous, as most of his grappling moves involve his foes sliding across his oil-drenched body. One attack has him bear-hugging an opponent so tightly that he or she rockets into the air and falls to the earth, all through the power of oil. And he's exactly what the game needs after a bunch of somewhat serious additions. Not that I don't appreciate Juri. She's evil, you know.
METAL MAX RETURNS, SOMEONE PROBABLY CARES
Data East's Metal Max, not to be confused with the fairly decent cartoon Mighty Max or the unspeakably awful cartoon Fantastic Max, is yet another RPG series that rarely makes a peep outside of Japan. The PlayStation 2 incarnation, Metal Saga, saw a U.S. release through Atlus, but the first Metal Max game, the sequel, and the original's remake, Metal Max Returns, all remained Japanese obscurities. But now there's a Metal Max 3 for the DS, and it just might show up over here.
Why should anyone care? Well, the Metal Max games aren't your usual swords-and-spiked-hair RPGs; they're set in post-apocalyptic worlds where battles are waged with tanks, robots, rocket launchers, and other ramshackle modern weapons. Beyond this setup and a focus on customizing machines, Metal Max prefers fairly basic RPG mechanics with blank-slate characters, so think of it as early Dragon Quest by way of The Road Warrior.
Metal Max 3 doesn't look much sharper than the last numbered Metal Max on the Super Famicom, though the game's bleak overworld appears to be 3-D. Its none-too-original storyline concerns an amnesiac protagonist awakening in the middle of nowhere and assembling a cast of allies, but at least those allies include mechanics, bounty hunters, and war machines. And while Data East is no more, several Metal Max staffers from the old days are returning to develop the third main installment for Kadokawa Games. It's out in Japan this summer, and anyone who enjoyed (or even bothered playing) Metal Saga should hope for a North American release.
VANQUISH NOW SLIGHTLY LESS BORING
The recently formed Platinum Games has favored American audiences just as much as Japanese ones with their titles: Mad World, Bayonetta, and, to some extent, Infinite Space (see below). Yet Vanquish surpasses all of them in occidental sensibilities, as it looks like the sort of metallic shooter that American developers crank out constantly. It's full of men in futuristic armor skulking around and sniping at each other, all to keep an orbital death ray from frying New York City.
Vanquish poses an interesting arsenal, though: the main character's armored suit effectively transforms to form new and better weapons. It's also the creation of Shinji Mikami, the man behind Resident Evil, so perhaps there's more at work here than space marines…well, lower-orbital marines shooting things. It'll be out for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 this winter, and I wouldn't be surprised if it hits North America first.
IN BRIEF: DISGAEA INFINITE DELAYED, RED STAR COMING TO PSP
Disgaea Infinite sees a brief delay, as it'll now hit the PSP in June. The game's a step into text-and-art adventure territory, as it lacks the strategy-RPG play of previous Disgaeas. Instead, the focus is on a Prinny penguin possessing others in order to find the truth behind an assassination attempt. Then again, I imagine that some people play Disgaea games for the goofball storylines, anyway.
Finally, anyone with an interest in action games should watch for a PSP version of The Red Star this spring. It's based on a stylishly rendered comic about Not Russia, and it's a smooth brawler-shooter inspired heavily by Treasure titles. The PlayStation 2 version's been out for years as a budget game, but the PSP port will be a convenient download.
REVIEW: MEGA MAN 10
Developer: Inti Creates
Platform: Wii/PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Mega Man 9 was a naked appeal to nostalgia, a new Mega Man game built to look and play as though it sprang fully formed onto the NES back in 1993. Yet it was also a well-designed apology for the mediocrities of Mega Man. To those who grew up with the games, Mega Man 9 offered a look into some strange world where the series hadn't grown lazy after Mega Man 2 and 3. Yet if Mega Man 9 showed where the franchise should've gone after the first three games, Mega Man 10 shows where it unfortunately went.
Not that Mega Man 10 betrays any major dictates of the series. It's still a competent side-scroller with eight initially selectable stages, and the boss of each gives Mega Man some novel new weapon. Amid a rebellious outbreak of the Roboenza virus, Mega Man faces the apparently infected robots Pump Man, Solar Man, Blade Man, Nitro Man, Chill Man, Strike Man, Commando Man, and, of course, the electric Sheep Man. It's all dressed up as a convincingly NES-like vintage, with basic sprite graphics and bleeping, semi-catchy music. Like Mega Man 9, this latest game even strips away some of Mega Man's moves, including the slide and charge-able blaster. Those are given to Proto Man, who's fully playable as a second character.
The bosses of Mega Man 10 offer plenty of chances for interesting levels: Nitro Man is a motorcycle-mecha, Strike Man is a sports-themed robot, Blade Man lives in a medieval castle, and Sheep Man is…well, a sheep. So it's quite disappointing when so little of the game proves interesting. Most of the levels present unimaginative challenges and repeat them often: Strike Man's stage lazily squanders the ridiculous sports-robot angle, while Nitro Man's just throws buses and wheeled things at the player. The levels sometimes present branching paths, but only Commando Man's stage, with its screen-sweeping sandstorms, offers any real novelty. Mega Man games are at their best when they're springing strange bosses or deadly new traps on the player; few fans will forget being chased by a giant dragon across tiny platforms or shooting through a reverse-gravity field of spikes. There are no such moments in Mega Man 10, not even in the crawl through Dr. Wily's castle.
Mega Man 10's largely uninspired stages highlight another problem: plenty of familiar enemies. It's one thing to put Mets (a.k.a. Hard Hats) into every Mega Man game, but Mega Man 10 recycles a number of older foes and introduces minimal variations on others. Far too many of the enemies are just stationary cannons or hopping drones. The mid-stage bosses don't liven anything up, though one of thelevels in Dr. Wily's castle brings back bosses from the first nine Mega Man games in a disappointing fashion.
Indeed, Mega Man 10 may bother longtime fans of the series more than newcomers, as the weapons that Mega Man gets from bosses range from boring to reused. The best, Pump Man's water shield, is a variation on the same spinning barrier that we've seen since Mega Man 2. Other weapons don't work as well as they should: Sheep Man's Thunder Wool, for one, is hard to aim and ineffective unless you're attacking a stationary enemy.
Even the story of Mega Man 10 disappoints. Yes, no one has ever cared about the plot of a Mega Man title, but at least Mega Man 9 had its share of amusing references to previous games. It also struck some Astro Boy chords by making its bosses manipulated robots who just didn't want to be scrapped. Mega Man 10 hatches a bland little story about a “Roboenza” virus that infects the world's robots, including the housekeeping Roll (sorry, Roll, you're playable only in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and other fighting games). The robot masters have no motivations and little personality (even Sheep Man isn't all he could be), and the game's ending is a short, unrewarding blip.
Uncreative as the game can be, it's no pushover. Mega Man 10 can get fiendishly hard at times, particularly in the spike-filled confines of Dr. Wily's castle or the windy dunes of Commando Man's stage. The dedicated Mega Man fan will get a good challenge, and the neophyte may be frustrated enough to use the game's easy mode, which puts bridges over many pits and spiked floors.
The most irritating thing about Mega Man 10 is that it's far from terrible. It's nicely balanced, mildly complex, and controls well. It doesn't do that much wrong, really. Like Mega Man 4 and many games after it, Mega Man 10 just coasts on the whole idea behind the series, confident that some craftily designed stages and new weapons will rope in fans and anyone who wants a decent, NES-style action game for just ten bucks.
For those who want more, Mega Man 10 will have plenty of options. Aside from Mega Man and Proto Man, rival robot Bass will be available as a playable character next month, along with three bonus stages that might just bring back some lesser-seen Mega Man villains. Of course, you'll have to pay for all of this, and a fully outfitted Mega Man 10 download will push $18.
Pricing aside, Mega Man 10 lacks the inspiration that made Mega Man 9 such a charmer, suggesting that Inti Creates and Capcom ran dry from making two Mega Man titles within two years. Mega Man 10 is a decent challenge when taken on its own merits, but Mega Man games are capable of so much more. And Capcom needs to prove that with Mega Man 11.
RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF 3-14
FRAGILE DREAMS: FAREWELL RUINS OF THE MOON|
Publisher: XSEED Games
That's an awkward word-smoothie of a title, but this adventure game, known simply as Fragile in Japan, has an interesting take on the whole post-apocalyptic angle. Instead of plunging a player-created lead into a nuked-out world of mutants, Fragile focuses on quieter exploration through the eyes of a young man named Seto. After the death of his adoptive grandfather, Seto wanders the ruins of the civilized world, now overrun with fog and lacking in people. One of the first faces he meets is a willowy girl named Ren, but the survivors include more than humans. Seto faces ghosts and other creatures, with the Wii remote imitating a flashlight, metal detector, and assorted bludgeoning objects. Fragile Dreams recalls Silent Hill in its approach to armaments, but the real selling point might be the gorgeous environments of the game's vacant towns. It's something to see, at the very least.
Developer: Platinum Games
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1-2 (Wi-Fi)
Don't be put off by the somewhat generic anime characters on the cover of Infinite Space. It's not your typical military simulation or single-direction RPG. There's a massively ambitious setting and a tale about a young hero's struggle to command his own spaceship, but the real point of it all is in building your own star cruiser and traveling the galaxy. Ships can be customized extensively, and the same goes for the cast of characters that crew these vessels. Battles involve both ship-to-ship laser barrages and boarding-party fights, and there are ample opportunities for both in the game's huge array of star systems. It's all quite challenging, almost like a dungeon-hack, and some of the more detailed elements may prove tedious for anyone wanting a direct hack-and-slash RPG. Oh well, there are plenty of those out there. Infinite Space is something more rare: a science-fiction RPG that really lives up to its scope.
Developer: Game Freak
Platform: Nintendo DS
You're right to think you've seen these games before: Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver were released back in 2000, and Heart Gold and Soul Silver are actually remakes. Numerous tweaks were made: some characters are cut, some scenes are shuffled around, and some minor parts of the story (yes, Pokemon games have those) play out differently. Mostly, it's a excuse to replay Gold and Silver with overhauled graphics and many of the new features seen in more recent Pokemon games. Captured Pokemon can talk with the player's character and follow him or her around, just as Pikachu did back in that Pokemon Yellow game that every kid bought back in 1999 even though it was really the same thing as the other two Pokemon games. My apologies for bringing that up.
RESONANCE OF FATE|
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Resonance of Fate is the other big RPG of this month. In testament to Sega's marketing prowess, it's shipping just a week after Final Fantasy XIII, which everyone will surely have finished in time to buy this. In this case, “big” basically means that Resonance is the rare J-RPG that dares to show up on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. Most Japanese RPG developers are sticking to the DS, but tri-Ace boldly marches forth with big-budget twaddle like Star Ocean 4 and Infinite Undiscovery. Not that we should judge Resonance of Fate so quickly. For one thing, it's set in a dilapidated city of the future instead of some generic anime candyland, and it's closer to the grim and gray neighborhoods of Midgar from Final Fantasy VII. Wealthy citizens and shadowy organizations scheme to control this last bastion of humanity, and this doesn't bode well for four characters, including an escaped biological experiment and a military veteran who's over 25 and looks it. Another good point: Resonance of Fate was crafted by many staffers from Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, a game with an excellent battle system. Resonance's combat revolves largely around customizable (and disappointingly modern-day) firearms, and enemy encounters are extensive, free-roaming shootouts. It makes for an interesting mixture of strategic positioning, defending, jumping, and stringing together massive combos just to show off. Tri-Ace still hasn't fixed the problem of stiff, waxy-looking characters, but at least there's gameplay to drive them.
SPECTRAL FORCE GENESIS|
Developer: Idea Factory
Platform: Nintendo DS
If Resonance of Fate and Final Fantasy XIII are dominating March's RPG supplies, Spectral Force Genesis might be the month's lowest-profile release. The Spectral Force series is perpetually on the fringes, and jackasses like me always bring up the fact that the dreadful Spectral Force anime was the franchise's introduction to North America. But let's be fair: Spectral Force Genesis goes beyond the usual strategy-RPG battles for some political maneuvering and resource management similar to Dragon Force or a lighter version of the Nobunaga's Ambition series. In between defending borders and levying taxes, players do battle through clashes between battalions of faceless soldiers led by specific characters, with overpowering anime attacks breaking through the milling ranks. All of this commotion deals with Neverland, the perpetual Spectral Force stage where angels and demons can go to war alongside medieval knights and fantasy versions of Third Reich officers. So Spectral Force might not be generic after all.
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