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The X Button
Alchemic Drive

by Todd Ciolek,

Next week marks the two-year anniversary of The X Button, and I'm going to honor this occasion in the laziest way I can think of: I'm taking next week off.

I should probably do something to keep readers busy while I'm gone, so I'll do the the second laziest thing I can think of: I'll run a contest.

Our prize package begins with a Street Fighter IV Snuggie, or as the box puts its, “a comfortable, cozy fleece blanket with convenient sleeves,” because the Snuggie label wasn't good enough for Street Fighter. It's a remarkable piece of merchandise from the recent Street Fighter renaissance, and, as long as you keep it in the box, it's sure to be worth five hundred thousand dollars on whatever version of eBay we'll use in 2039.

The prizes also include two fine pieces of anime merchandising. One is the stuffed mascot of the 2007 New York Anime Festival, still sealed in her plastic bag. The other is the first and only volume of Anime X-Plode, an anthology of mostly horrible songs trying to ride that big, big wave of anime popularity that crested back around 2004. Its cover marks the only point in history when anyone in his or her right mind grouped Demon Lord Dante and Stratos 4 among “the best in Japanese animation.” I'll also throw in a few other anime soundtracks, like the first Neon Genesis Evangelion OST and a Silent Möbius thing I've never properly identified.

In order to win this marvelous and historic prize package, all you need do is write about Street Fighter. To be precise, I want you to write a poem about Street Fighter. Using any form of original verse, pen a Street Fighter tribute in 200 words or less. It can be about a character, a particular game in the series, or T. Hawk's crouching roundhouse kick. It doesn't matter.

Entries will be judged on humor above all else, so feel free to come up with the most deliberately atrocious poetry you can. ANN employees and people I personally hate are disqualified from entering. Entries are limited to one per reader, and you'll have until midnight on Monday, June 7 to send me (toddciolek at gmail.com) your poems. See you all in two weeks!


In title alone, Knight's Contract would make an interesting sequel to Demon's Souls, but it's really just Namco Bandai's latest shot at joining the genre of blood-drenched action games on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Developer Game Republic worked in the realm before with Genji and Clash of the Titans, but never with this medieval-fantasy stage or such copious violence.

The game follows Heinrich, who was a witch-killing servant of the alleged public good until Gretchen, one of Heinrich's former victims, showed up alive and vengeful and bearing a curse of immortality for Heinrich. Plot contrivances force the two of them into an alliance, of course, and the gameplay finds Heinrich and his scythe-like sword protecting Gretchen in the midst of a zombie-demon outbreak.

And that outbreak is bloody. How bloody? This bloody.

Knight's Contract sounds amusingly like Ico with rampant monster-disemboweling and black-metal-music-video angst, though the game borrows from countless other modern spectacles of gore. There are pop-up torture machines similar to Bayonetta, giant bosses on par with God of War, and a promotional screenshot that apes an overused scene from Gears of War.

It's not clear yet if Gretchen is playable or just a tagalong, though she's obviously capable of throwing around destructive witchery. Also in question is Heinrich's immortality and how it affects the actual gameplay. No matter how Knight's Contract works it out, the game's already on track for a 2011 release in North America, Europe, and Japan.

Well, some people must've bought Virtual On Oratorio Tangram on XBox Live, because Sega's convinced that there's also a home for Virtual On Force on the 360.

I will admit that I've never played Virtual On Force, as it's an arcade release from 2001. It sounds promising, though, as it revolves around two-on-two team battles and lets you use all sorts of variations on familiar mecha from the Virtual On series. Then again, Force also inspired Virtual On Marz for the PlayStation 2, and most Virtual On fans hate Marz like Star Wars fans hate The Phantom Menace. At least we'll find out first-hand when the game arrives in the winter.

The Another Century's Episode series comes from the same marketing playbook as Super Robot Wars, throwing mecha from all sorts of popular anime into one orgy of video-game warfare. Unlike the strategy-RPG mashery of Super Robot Wars, Another Century's Episode games are action titles, made by the Armored Core team at From Software. The first three games in the line came out on the PlayStation 2, and now From and Banpresto have Another Century's Episode R for the PlayStation 3.

The lineup has a few names from previous Another Century titles: Z Gundam, Char's Counterattack, Gundam Seed Destiny, and Overman King Gainer. Most of the lineup is new, though, as Banpresto added robots from Macross Frontier, Macross Zero, Crossbone Gundam, Code Geass, Super Dimension Century Orguss, Aquarion, and…uh, Full Metal Panic! (does anyone watch that one for the mecha?). Another Century's Episode R is also set on a new stage: the planet Eria, where the pilots of all of these robots band together against a common foe. Namco Bandai's bringing it out in Japan this August. Don't expect a North American release, for the same reasons no one publishes the Super Robot Wars games with anime-derived mecha.


Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Platform: Nintendo DS
Players: 1-2

Well-read historians will remember that a Captain Tsubasa game was released in the U.S. back in the days of the NES. It was heavily Americanized and renamed Tecmo Cup Soccer Game (in honor of the real-life Tecmo Cup soccer tournament that draws teams from around the globe each year), but it was still a Captain Tsubasa game at heart, and it used an RPG-like interface so as not to alienate casual game-playing manga readers. Captain Tsubasa: Gekitou no Kiseki, arriving just before the soccer manga's 30th anniversary, is a shade more colorful. Tsubasa Oozora and his teammates must still be managed, equipped, and directed with some strategy, but it's carried off with ridiculous manga-style imagery, including a goal kick that has a tiger running in the ball's wake.
Import Barrier: The game's DS interface demands a little knowledge of Japanese, to say nothing of the storyline.
Chances of a Domestic Release: The days of diced-up, whitewashed, heavily altered anime games are long gone, and no one in North America cares that much about Captain Tsubasa. It's much bigger overseas, though, so perhaps there'll be an English version somewhere in the world.

Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PSP
Players: 1

Among the new games based on the second Fullmetal Alchemist series, To the Promised Day is the first one to tackle the breadth of the anime and manga's storyline. It doesn't throw in everything, but this RPG includes just about every major character and early plot device, and most of the cast can be recruited into Ed and Al Elric's party. This includes Lin Yao, Yan Fan, and the rest of the Xing delegation, who were excluded from the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime series so scriptwriter Shō Aikawa could cram in more Nazis. Of course, it wouldn't be that much fun if the game was exactly like the anime, so players can take the story into all sorts of tangents and non-canonical fantasies, even resulting in scenes of Ed marrying Winry. To the Promised Day is almost closer to a strategy-RPG than yet another Final Fantasy clone, with large battlefields and button-tapping attack moves. It also looks fairly impressive for a PSP RPG, as the plot's carried by 3-D cutscenes as well the typical talking-head conversations.
Import Barrier: The story's all in Japanese, though that shouldn't phase anyone who's been through the Fullmetal Alchemist anime or manga.
Chances of a Domestic Release: A Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood fighting game is coming to the PSP in Europe, but there's surprisingly little talk about anyone releasing it or To the Promised Day in North America. Keep writing letters to FUNimation and Destineer, kids!

Developer: G. Rev
Publisher: G. Rev
Platform: Xbox 360
Players: 1-2

Putting Senko no Ronde Duo here is a sad reminder that the original Senko no Ronde bombed and bombed hard when it was released as Wartech in North America. More's the pity, since the Senko no Ronde games are intriguing hybrids of arena fighter and bullet-fury shooter. Two mecha, seen from overhead, float around an aerial battle space, dashing and stabbing and hurling all sorts of colorful fire at each other. The sequel introduces partners in combat, as each fighter is joined by an assistant mecha pilot. The Xbox 360 version even reverses the roles with “Command Mode,” in which players instruct their chosen Rounder robots in lieu of full-on, up-close control. The artwork's also straight from modern anime trends, and G. Rev's backing the story mode an awful lot for a shooting/fighting game. For proof, check out the limited edition's drama CD.
Import Barrier: You'll miss out on the story, such as it is, but the gameplay's not hard to pick up. Sadly, G. Rev didn't spring for a region-free version of the game.
Chances of a Domestic Release: Ubisoft's Wartech dropped to $9.99 after just a few months on the market. That says it all.


Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99

Billed as an “espionage RPG,” Alpha Protocol brings to mind the Bourne movies, James Bond, and, well…nothing to do with anime or anime-like games. Yet developer Obsidian Entertainment's staff had a hand in several well-received RPGs when they were at Black Isle. Some of them even worked on Planescape: Torment, and that's all the reason I need to cover whatever they're doing now. They've made Alpha Protocol claim the ground between realistic action games and dialogue-driven RPGs in its tale of a government agent abandoned by his keepers. When not taking on missions and messing with people who've been messing with him, undercover rogue Michael Thorton chats with other characters, and the player chooses if he's straight-laced, charming, or just a big ol' asshole. True to its spy-thriller inspirations, Alpha Protocol also jumps to Moscow, Rome, the Middle East, and other favorite scenes of car chases and espionage. Besides, it's published by Sega, so some of the money you spend on Alpha Protocol goes toward that huge Shenmue 3 fund that I'm sure Sega is hoarding.
Get Excited If: You bought the 24 and Bourne Conspiracy games and feel that the industry owes you something better.


Developer: NIS
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PSP
Players: 1
MSRP: $19.99

Disgaea Infinite is a “visual novel,” and it's perhaps the most high-profile visual novel yet translated into English and served to North America at large. Visual novels are a hard sell, as the occidental public is largely uninterested in choose-your-path games powered by little more than dialogue, artwork, and the occasional animated scene. Still, this is Disgaea, with its underworld of demons, angels, exploding penguins, and self-mockery. Disgaea games are often as much about their comedy as their strategic depths, and Disgaea Infinite is pretty much all comedy, ensuing as a Prinny penguin-demon investigates an assassination attempt on demon king Laharl. Using a magic watch, the Prinny manipulates time and psyches, possessing various characters and making them do all sorts of bizarrely out-of-character things (the game's official site openly admits that the idea comes from the 2008 visual-novel Infinite Loop). Despite the game's text interface, it's dressed up a lot like a traditional Disgaea, with little sprite characters attacking and quibbling with each other.
Get Excited If: You ever wanted to just skip the battles in a Disgaea game.

Developer: CAPCOM
Publisher: CAPCOM
Platform: DS
Players: 1
MSRP: $29.99

The Zero games were once some of the better-kept secrets of the Mega Man franchise; all of them are competent side-scrolling action games, but they never quite caught on like the original Mega Man series or the Mega Man X line. Perhaps that's for the best, because instead of cranking out tiresome sequels in the Zero path, CAPCOM's putting all four of the games in one DS collection. In the loose-knit and largely unresolved story canon of Mega Man, Zero is set a hundred years after the X titles, and it pits Zero and his former comrade X against each other in a war between Reploid robots and the regime of Neo Arcadia. The games are typical Mega Man: side-scrolling action, steadily increasing powers (brought about by collecting cyber-elves), and a new idea with each successive title. As with other Mega Man sequels, the games do blend together in terms of style and recurring bosses (two of whom resemble Mega Man 9's Splash Woman and Tornado Man), but that just makes a package deal all the more convenient.
Get Excited If: You're tired of Mega Man games that actually star Mega Man.

Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Platform: PSP
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $39.99/ $49.99 (Collector's Edition)

No one really thought that Metal Gear Solid 4 was the last game in the series, did they? Of course they didn't. Granted, Peace Walker is actually a prequel, sandwiched in between Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and the original Metal Gear (the old, made-in-1987 Metal Gear that's calling out for a remake at this point). It finds Naked Snake, a.k.a. Big Boss, in the middle of a guerrilla war in Costa Rica, where yet another strange military faction has gotten its hands on experimental weapons. He's joined by an assortment of international misfits, including Japanese mercenary Kazuhira and a peacenik teenage hippie named Paz. The real hook for Peace Walker is its multiplayer mode, which presents a choice of four different Snakes with varying abilities. It also tasks two players with cooperating as they sneak around, even letting them hide in cardboard boxes together. And that's enough to make Peace Walker one of the PSP's biggest releases for this year. In fact, the game's shipping with a special camouflage PSP for $200, while the collector's edition includes an artbook and, if you reserve it, a bandana.
Get Excited If: You're going to get that bandana just so you can wear it, tap it and say “Infinite ammo.”


Armored Trooper Votoms is often overshadowed by Mobile Suit Gundam in the history of realistic robot anime, but credit must be given. Gundam pushed the industry toward more down-to-earth depictions of giant mecha, but Votoms really solidified the idea. If it's now a bit on the boring side, Votoms has at least aged better than the older relics of Gundam, and it's hard to deny that the Scopedog and other VOTOMS mecha have a stubby, grounded battlefield charm that the Gundam franchise often lacks. Votoms just doesn't have nearly as many video games, and what games it has are often dull.

To its credit, Votoms: The Battling Road never makes its robots into anything they weren't in the anime series. After all, the mecha here are serious little walking tanks that don't fly or transform or crush enemy robots' heads with their burning hands. The game even has the bleak, cramped look typical of Votoms' war-weary future. Using a rotating battlefield similar to those scene in Mario Kart or F-Zero, The Battling Road has various mecha scooting and firing around a play area that's viewed on half of the screen, with a large cockpit display eating up the rest of the player's view.

The game's clipped little story leads through various sights from the Votoms anime, rarely exploring anything properly. But no one was really here to re-live the show or see new space-opera venues unfold. Votoms fans just wanted to ride in a Scopedog simulacrum and, in testament to the show's realistic grit, spend time tuning it up. And that's where The Battling Road hits its first snag: control is almost too faithful to the Votoms idea of a lumbering, ground-based mecha. The player's robot can boost across the ground, but turning is awkward and aiming is even harder. It's a frustrating affair to get through the game's first battle, which has you facing well-armed foes that can rotate and fire quickly.

When not throwing the player into deathmatches, The Battling Road offers more focused runs through enemy blockades. These are slightly more cohesive: players press ever forward, dodging or shooting down oncoming foes until a boss shows up and another truncated cutscene pops up. Then it's off to upgrade your mecha with a menu system that's rarely more complicated than equipping a Dragon Warrior character. Compared to the extensive options in, say, the original Front Mission, The Battling Road is just plain empty.

The game may look crowded and small, but at least there's a reason for that: two-player battles. For something from the Super NES age, The Battling Road has a decent spread of versus modes and various stages. The control's still awkward, and the graphics are squished (and the music is utterly generic), but it's always better to share a mediocre game than to slog through it alone.

Armored Trooper Votoms moved on to other games, including a PlayStation 2 shooter and a few guest appearances in Sunrise's Brave Saga titles. The Battling Road is barely worth mention, and even Votoms fans will have more fun with the Front Mission games, Cybernator, or Metal Warriors. They won't get the tubby soldier-bots of Votoms in those offerings, but they'll get everything a good mecha game should have.

For those who must have a full collection of Votoms merchandise or Super Famicom games, nice and complete copies of Armored Trooper Votoms: The Battling Road can be had for under ten bucks online.

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