The X Button - Tried and True

by Todd Ciolek,

I don't care what anyone says: I like April Fool's Day in the gaming industry. Well, I agree that it's tiresome for websites to post fake news stories, but it amuses me when game companies take advantage of the occasion and re-work their properties. That's why my favorite gag of this past April 1 was Platinum Games' old-school version of Bayonetta.

Of course, if this fake Bayonetta were really faithful to Ghosts 'N Goblins and other hard-as-nails action games of the 1980s, Bayonetta would die after one hit and the whole thing wouldn't be any fun at all.

No April Fool's Day is complete without Irem. This year, the company announced the delay of Semifinalist Fantasia, an online RPG that was never formally announced in the first place. To complete the elaborate prank, a demo of the game was staged on the PlayStation Home network. Not bad for a company that still can't get Steambot Chronicles 2 up and out the door.


Nintendo and Monolith Soft's upcoming Xenoblade isn't really the successor to Xenogears, Xenosaga, or any other previous Monolith RPG. Still, it shares that pseudo-franchise's love of big, theatrical settings. A new trailer for the game shows godlike giants hacking at each other, and then the whole thing turns into some medieval-fantasy Starship Troopers, with robotic bug creatures tearing through ranks of ill-prepared human soldiers.

Fortunately, there's a squad of heroes on hand to take up swords and succeed where their better-armored comrades' firearms have failed. No actual gameplay is shown and the valiant warriors depicted aren't the main characters, but the cinematic punch is quite impressive, and it implies that the game's original title, Monado: Beginning of the World, relates to these gods and the small band of heroes we see. Xenoblade's out this spring in Japan, and I'm pretty sure it'll come to North America. Rumors still suggest that it'll be called Monado in the West, but I suspect someone will realize very soon that Xenoblade is a much better name.

A bullet-hell shooter, with its waves of gunfire and demanding precision, sounds like an ill match for the iPhone. But that won't stop Cave from releasing ESPgaluda II for Apple's device this April 10, and, shockingly enough, it looks pretty good. There's an arcade mode and an iPhone mode, the latter of which challenges you to actually run into bullets.

The game looks quite similar to the arcade original and its Xbox 360 port, and it might just play well enough with the touch-screen. It's only $4.99 as well, compared to the $70 you'd pay for the Xbox 360 version. I don't regret buying that version, but I'm curious to see just how the game fares on the iPhone.

Speaking of Cave shooters, Aksys is clearly going all-out with their release of Deathsmiles, a horizontal shooter starring a gaggle of gothic-lolita girls. The game ships in a box set with a 15-track soundtrack CD and an Xbox 360 faceplate depicting the aforementioned gothic-lolita girls. Also included are the Deathsmiles Black Label extra modes, which Japanese buyers had to download on their own. All of this for only $49.99.

But what if you're into shooters and not so much into the cute-and-creepy style of Deathsmiles characters? What if you just want to enjoy the game's system of point-boosting “counter” bullets fired by destroyed enemies? Well, you'll just have to buy the box set and throw it in the closet, because it's the only version of Deathsmiles that Aksys will release in North America.


Monster Hunter is one of those series that gets only rudimentary notice in North America even though it's staggeringly huge in Japan. Revolving around multiplayer quests to take down towering behemoths, the original Monster Hunter and its PSP spawn were all massively successful with their action-RPG questing, and the Wii edition of the game, Monster Hunter Tri, is the console's best-selling title released by a company that isn't Nintendo itself. All in Japan, of course.

Monster Hunter's appeal is hard to deny. Perhaps it owes some popularity to the idle hours many Japanese players endure on the train, but there's a great sense of collective victory in Monster Hunter. It's built on the same angle as a multiplayer RPG, with much of the world-building and social aspects boiled down to characters teaming up to tackle fierce and overpowering creatures. There's a limited plot and little in the way of pre-established heroes and heroines, and that's just the way it should be for such a game. In fact, just about every detail, from the player-gathering areas to the weapons on show, plays toward the huge monsters that fill the franchise's ever-expanding bestiary.

Monster Hunter Tri has the same idea as the half-dozen games before it: you're given hunting tasking and a huge linked world in which to track down your target. Dying during the quest cuts your pay and gets you unceremoniously dumped back at your camp, and you've only a limited time in which to take down the monster. Of course, you can go it alone and reap rewards all for yourself, but you won't get places as quickly, or as enjoyably, as you will with a group of players. In fact, there's a split-screen mode for two-players in addition to the usual online co-op.

Tri makes a few changes, of course. The weapons available to player-created characters include swords, hammers, lances and three different classes of bowgun, though the gunlances from previous games were cut. Tri adds the switch axe, a simple machine blade that shifts from an axe to a large sword at the touch of a button. Yes, it's the weapon we all wanted when we were 12 years old and playing Dungeons and Dragons.

New elements are also at work beyond the hacking and slashing of monster hunts. Instead of a training area, there's a coliseum where various quests are managed and up to two players can tackle them offline. There's also a farm for hunters to run, though it's a mostly hands-off affair in Tri, where the ubiquitous odd-job cat-people called Felynes tend crops for their human overseer.

The Wii's classic controller makes for an excellent alternative to the Wii remote and nunchuck, and WiiSpeak actually allows players to talk to each other instead of using keyboards and pre-selected phrases. The game system itself is generally intuitive, with the glaring exception being the camera. There's no lock-on feature that I could find, and creatures frequently move in and out of one's viewpoint. When fighting multiple enemies at once, it's almost better just to whirl your weapon around and pray for an opening.

Yet it's the monsters that everyone's after, and Tri includes eighteen all-new ones to take on. Better still, players can fight some of them underwater. This seems a minor improvement, but there's a dreadful sense of helplessness when you're floating around a huge, agile predator full of teeth and territorial rage. As someone who could barely make it through the submerged fight against the electric eel in Shadow of the Colossus, I suspect that Monster Hunter Tri holds terrible, terrible things.

Tri looks good enough to get its job done. The giant creatures all behave quite convincingly, and they're often fun to watch even when you're not slaying them (because, really, who could slaughter a mother Parasaurolophus and her…whatever baby Parasaurolophi are called). Of course, Tri's online component isn't up and running yet, and it's hard to say if the game can handle the usual Monster Hunter parties.

It's unlikely that Monster Hunter Tri (I refuse to call it Monster Hunter 3 Tri, no matter what the logo says) will hit North America as hard as it did Japan, where it earned a perfect score from Famitsu and broke sales records. All the same, it's a blessing to fans of the series, and an eye-opener to Wii owners who want a decent multiplayer attraction. Just don't let the underwater hunts scare you away from it.


Developer: Success
Publisher: Natsume
Platform: DS
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $19.99

Squishy Tank's cover will seem quite familiar to anyone who followed Japan's web cartoons several years back. These tanks are the stars of Yawaraka Sensha, a series of shorts about armless tread-creatures and their whimsical adventures. The “soft tanks” fell out of sight a while ago, but they're not so dated that their puzzle-action game can't find a home on the DS. The puzzle aspect consists of little more than tapping three blocks of the same color, and the game's pull lies in the various tank-related mini-games, plus a mode where players can touch a large squishy tank with the DS stylus. I don't know what exactly is accomplished by prodding a defenseless war machine, but it might be more interesting than another color-matching puzzler.
Get Excited If: You paid money for Squishy Tank merchandise back in 2008.

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