The X Button - Fist Bumpsby Todd Ciolek,
We begin with this week's Game You Should Download. It's called Guwange, and it should be out on Xbox Live this Wednesday.
Why should you download it? Well, it's a Cave shooter, and Cave shooters are, at the very least, well-structured and entertaining. They're also filled with neon bullets that blanket the screen, and even though Guwange is set in a feudal Japanese hellscape, it's still crammed with those bullets.
Guwange's also an on-foot vertical shooter, not unlike Ikari Warriors or Pocky and Rocky, and so it doesn't play quite the same as ESPgaluda, Mushihime-sama, or other Cave shooters where characters fly through the air. The characters, each possessed by a shikigami, can fire in eight directions and toss out their patron demon for remote attacks. It's not Cave's finest, but it's a capable shooter free of schoolgirls or nurses or whatever Cave's dealing in nowadays, and the Xbox Live port includes an arrange mode, dual-analog support, and a bullet-slowing feature. And it's only ten bucks.
If you prefer an all-new Cave offering, you can wait a week and get Mushihime-sama: Bug Panic for the iPhone and iPod Touch on November 18. It's another ground-based shooter…or rather, a tosser, as Reco, heroine of two Mushihime-sama shooters, is now throwing bombs at her insect enemies rather than mowing them down with gunfire.
Bug Panic is $3.99 for its first four days on the market, and it's all translated so you can understand the complexities of chucking explosives at bullet-spewing beetles, along with the story of a human “bug queen” who blows up the insects she apparently rules. Sorta like the exact opposite of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
RUNE FACTORY OCEANS COMES TO WII, PLAYSTATION 3
With Rune Factory 3 arriving on the DS this week, now's the time to look at the next game in this vaguely related Harvest Moon spin-off. Rune Factory Oceans is arriving on the Wii and, in a first for the series, the PlayStation 3.
Its stage is slightly more aquatic than the usual fantasy-themed Rune Factory, and players have a choice of male or female leads, named Azel and Sonia, respectively. In another first for the series, players control both characters over the course of the game, switching between them as needed. As with all Rune Factories, both Azel and Sonia can date various supporting characters, though Azel has a wider range of choices.
Half of a Rune Factory game involves dungeon-raiding, and Oceans has a variety of locations to explore. What's particularly interesting is the method of exploration: Azel and Sonia ride around on the back of a giant named Ymir. Monsters can be fought on Ymir's back, and the plantlike behemoth can actually move islands around. Rune Factory Oceans hits Japan in February, and Natsume likely has an English release already in mind.
NEO GEO HEROES ULTIMATE SHOOTING GREENLIT FOR U.S.
The King of Fighters: Sky Stage came out on Xbox Live a little while ago, with awful voicework and everything. Yet fans might want to hold off on buying it, especially if they want Neo Geo Heroes Ultimate Shooting for the PSP.
Ultimate Shooting contains the entirety of Sky Stage, an overhead shooter with branching level progression and a lineup of The King of Fighters stars: Kyo Kusanagi, Athena Asamiya, Iori Yagami, Kula Diamond, Terry Bogard, and Mai Shiranui. Ultimate Shooting adds a new story mode, a “challenge” mode, and some options to enable vertical-screen viewing and two-player modes on a PSP. Oh yeah, it also has four new SNK characters: Marco from Metal Slug, Akari from The Last Blade, Iroha from Samurai Shodown, and SYDIII, a green-haired woman who's apparently the pilot of (or maybe an anthropomorphized version of) the SYD III from the old SNK shooter Alpha Mission. Yes, there's nothing that today's market can't turn into an anime girl.
SNK hasn't made one of those fancy-pants official announcements for Neo Geo Heroes Ultimate Shooting, but the ESRB already approved it. Those who still want an SNK shooter on Xbox Live can also wait for Trouble Witches Neo, a port of the side-scrolling 2007 shooter. Reminiscent of the old-school Cotton games, Trouble Witches has its broom-riding heroines dodging bullets while maneuvering magic circles on-screen to change enemy shots into money. Naturally, all of the characters, bosses and all, are hyper-cutesy anime girls. It's out this winter.
IN BRIEF: VAAN'S IN DISSIDIA, MEGA MAN LEGENDS 3 INVITES FAN WORKS
Do people still hate Final Fantasy XII's Vaan? Well, they shouldn't. While he was the most irritating of the game's main characters, he was also a well-adjusted kid and, unlike other Final Fantasies, the script treated him like the precious little moron he was. And now he's in Dissidia 012: Final Fantasy, along with Tifa Lockhart and Lightning all of the original game's lineup. Sure, he's not Ashe or Balthier, but Vaan's getting a new costume designed by Yoshitaka Amano. And I cannot avoid looking forward to that.
Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune may have departed Capcom, but the development of Mega Man Legends 3 goes on. In fact, Capcom's asking fans to design mecha for the game, just as they asked for Mega Man boss ideas back in the 1990s. Details are available in Capcom's devroom for the game, so read the instructions carefully before sending off your obscene, unusable entries.
REVIEW: FIST OF THE NORTH STAR: KEN'S RAGE
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
America never really embraced Fist of the North Star. Not as a long and intensely violent manga, not as a long and intensely violent anime series, and not even as a short, hilariously dubbed (and intensely violent) animated movie. But there's hope in Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage. It's a video game, and video games make rampant bloodshed, moronic storylines, and senseless machismo entertaining in ways that other, allegedly superior artforms never could. But it's also a Fist of the North Star game based on the Dynasty Warriors series, and that comes with a few problems.
Ken's Rage knows its limitations when dealing with Fist of the North Star's massive saga. The game charts martial artist Kenshiro's journey through a nuclear-blasted wasteland, as he searches for his lost fiancée Yuria and finds only a plethora of bulked-out, murderous thugs. Fortunately, Kenshiro's a master of the Hokuto Shinken martial arts, which in technical terms means that he can punch bad guys until they explode. Ken's Rage takes Kenshiro up through his battle with his adopted brother and brutal despot Raoh in its Legend Mode, while a Dream Mode throws in sub-stories focusing on other characters: Raoh himself, Kenshiro's former friend Shin, gun-wielding jerk Jagi, sharp-handed Rei, nice-guy Toki, warlord Thouzer ("Souther" in other translations), and Mamiya, the only woman allowed in this parade of Butch Deadlifts.
Whether following Kenshiro's central tale or pursing another character's arc, the game sticks to the Dynasty Warriors model: huge battlefields sprawl before the player, and they hold hundreds of simple-minded warriors, plus a sturdier sub-boss or two. And while the game sometimes tasks you with protecting helpless villagers or breaking through certain walls, everything's accomplished by punching, kicking, or sniping enemies to pieces. And since this is Fist of the North Star instead of some stylized ancient China, all of the enemy thugs meet horrible, bloody demises. In Kenshiro's case, enemies bubble and explode just after our hero explains that they're already dead.
To its credit, Ken's Rage goes beyond thug-exploding pursuits. Each character has a distinct method of attack, from Ken and Rei's straightforward approaches to Mamiya and Jagi's crossbows and shotguns. Characters can dodge, jump-kick, block, and unload a variety of combo strikes and charged-up attacks in battle, and there are motorcycles to be ridden and large blunt (and sometimes explosive) objects to be tossed around. There's also an upgrade chart on which to spend each warrior's acquired skill points. Like a more sensible version of Final Fantasy XII's license board, each purchased square grants some improved stats or abilities while revealing new options around it. There's one more surprise waiting in the game's boss encounters, where the nastiest Fist of the North Star contenders must be finished off with rapid match-the-button presses.
Unfortunately, Ken's Rage suffers the same major flaw that's brought down all but the best brawlers ever since the days of Double Dragon. It's repetitive. Every stage is long but stocked with similar assortments of enemies and scenery, and no matter how many techniques you upgrade, it still gets tedious when you're roaming a level and bashing the same foes over and over. This is a genre that's best enjoyed in short bursts. Ken's Rage rarely allows that, as most stages eat up half an hour.
The game also isn't particularly hard outside of its boss encounters. In keeping with the rules of a brawler, run-of-the-mill thugs are stupid as hell. They stand around patiently while you pound their comrades into pieces, and they seldom show complex attack patterns. Then again, dumb enemies keep the game's loose controls and occasionally awkward camera from getting in the way of its grisly pleasures. And it's entirely faithful to a manga series where post-apocalyptic punks usually decide to fight a guy even though they've just watched him make 30,000 people explode.
And that gives Ken's Rage an edge over other Dynasty Warriors-inspired fare. It's simply more satisfying to pound your way through a phalanx of clearly evil Mad Max marauders than it is to slash aside ancient Chinese foot soldiers. This holds especially true when Kenshiro's spouting one-lines about how how “life is a privilege, and you don't deserve it.” Ken's Rage is sluggish at times and lazy in its design, but it nails the bloody panache of Fist of the North Star. The game's characters look solid despite the drab backgrounds, and there's ample voicework in both English and Japanese. The dub is quite melodramatic, more from the underlying script than the performances, but it's a good fit even in the chatter of doomed enemies, who often reconsider their choices in life seconds before erupting into geysers of blood and viscera.
Will Ken's Rage appeal to the newcomer who dimly remembers Fist of the North Star only as an old Game Boy game? Perhaps. It's hard to deny the spectacle of this nuked-out bloodfest, even if it's all entirely superficial. The game certainly won't win many over with its abbreviated story, told with plenty of static conversations and rushed scenes. That'll likely provoke complaints from those who still insist that Fist of the North Star has a complex and rewarding plot.
Ken's Rage can't escape the drawbacks so common to its genre, and it never touches the varied gameplay of competitors like God of War or even Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes. But it doesn't really have to. It's a gruesome, endearing slice of silly manga overkill, with a punch that's lacking in most of the better-made brawlers out there. Faint praise as this is, Ken's Rage is one of the best games to come from Fist of the North Star, and that's not something any fan should ignore.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
MARIO VS. DONKEY KONG: MINILAND MAYHEM
The Mario vs. Donkey Kong series asks us to consider Pauline, the woman kidnapped by the titular ape of the original Donkey Kong. She was swiftly replaced by Princess Peach and Zelda in the official Nintendo canon of damsels in distress, perhaps because Nintendo wanted to downplay Donkey Kong after fending off a lawsuit from MGM. Miniland Mayhem isn't just about Pauline's depressing career. The game lets players direct tiny versions of Mario, Toad, Peach, and Donkey Kong (and Pauline) through action-platform levels. The Minis, as they are known, aren't terribly bright, so they require conveyor belts, springs, and other Donkey Kong implements in order to traverse the game's many levels. Naturally, players can also create their own stages and show them off via wireless play, where friends will try to solve them. I'd compare it all to the original Lemmings, but then no one would understand and I'd just feel old.
NARUTO SHIPPUDEN: DRAGON BLADE CHRONICLES
Hey, Naruto fans! Remember Koyuki from Ninja Clash in the Land of the Snow? Or how about Hikaru from Guardians of the Crescent Moon Kingdom? They're part of Naruto's line of briefly prominent characters who appear in one movie or video game and are never seen again. The latest of these disposable co-stars is Akari, a red-haired girl who introduces Naruto to his latest action game's dragon-intensive storyline. We'll never hear from Akari after this, but the game includes a lineup of prominent Naruto ninja, though this isn't some 50-character fighter. It's an action-adventure game where players run through the story mode as either Naruto or Sasuke, with different plotlines for each of them. Yet both of them progress in abilities the same way: by equipping different scrolls and discovering new components of the Dragon Blade that gives the game its title. Not that Eighting could leave out one-on-one fighting entirely; there's a versus mode in there as well.
NARUTO SHIPPUDEN: NARUTO VS. SASUKE
Yes, it's the ultimate showdown between Overeager and Angsty. In truth, this Naruto entry merely recounts the Naruto-Sasuke rivalry of the early Naruto Shippuden story arc, but it's sure to foment some debate among the young Naruto fans who, in simpler times, would be plotting the overthrow of the government instead of studying fictional ninja. Naruto vs. Sasuke is a side-scrolling action game in the vein of the Ninja Council series, and the standard running, jumping, and kunai-throwing is aided by the player's four-ninja team. There's a constant rotation of Naruto characters, and the four under the player's control can be swapped in and out as one pleases. There's also the option to combine characters' abilities, and the game includes a four-player combat mode.
NINE HOURS, NINE PERSONS, NINE DOORS
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors seemed an unlikely prospect for American audiences, as it's one of those text-reliant “adventure” games with a smattering of puzzles. And that's what makes it so intriguing. I hesitate to compare it to the Saw films, but the game does involve nine kidnapped strangers who awaken on a ship together. Each one of them has a numbered bracelet and, more to the point, an internal bomb that's set to explode if they can't escape. In order to get out, teenage lead Junpei has to unite his fellow hostages, who include a street punk, a large gentleman, and a demure girl from Junpei's past. Cracking the ship's locks requires a mixture of logic puzzles and conversations, as every member of the group has something useful to contribute. Despite the puzzles, Nine Hours Etc. Etc. is still story-driven at heart, with plenty of narration and quibbling between the characters. So it helps that those characters are designed by former Capcom artist Kinu Nishimura.
Yes, it's another Sonic game, and another attempt to reclaim those glory days of 1993, when Sonic games were respected industry events, and when Sega hadn't yet duped anyone into buying a 32X. Funny thing is, Sonic Colors shows more promise than a lot of Sega's other awkward Sonic revivals, and I'm serious this time. The game dismisses most of the annoying supporting characters and dials everything back to Sonic himself (with some help from Tails) facing down Eggman in an intergalactic theme park. Gameplay mixes the side-scrolling of familiar Sonic games with controlled 3-D action, and it all moves as quickly as Sonic should. Sonic also has new abilities thanks to the Wisps, small creatures confined in Eggman's theme park. A cyan wisp turns Sonic into a bouncing laser, a green one lets him hover, a yellow one allows him to drill into surfaces, and a purple one…well, turns him into a werehog like in Sonic Unleashed. Perhaps Sonic still has some baggage to shed, but critical reception has favored Colors so far.
Also Shipping: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (Xbox 360/PS3)
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