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The X Button
Yet More Heroes

by Todd Ciolek,

Among the twenty thousand new games Square Enix has in the works, I'm looking forward to The Third Birthday more than any other. The Final Fantasy XIII spin-offs are still vague, and I haven't been a Kingdom Hearts fan since 2003. The Tactics Ogre remake for the PSP trumps them all, but that's a game I've already played in some way. The Third Birthday is both all-new and an interesting return to the Parasite Eve series. It's also an action-RPG set in modern times, and that means that heroine Aya Brea uses all sorts of firearms instead of fantasy weapons. Plus, she can hijack the bodies of nearby people and change outfits all the time.

And one of those outfits is a maid costume. I refuse to put up a picture of that, so here's a shot of Aya dressed like Lightning from Final Fantasy XIII.

It's true that previous Parasite Eve games never shied away from sex appeal. When Parasite Eve 2 hit in 2000, more people talked about its shower scene than its Resident Evil play mechanics. And The Third Birthday already covered similar ground with Aya's other outfits, which can be damaged and shredded in battle. But if there's any line to be drawn, I'm drawing it at a maid costume and all it represents. I can only hope the outfit's a downloadable extra, which will make it that much easier to ignore.


Capcom continues to dole out new Marvel vs. Capcom 3 characters at about two per month, and we in the gaming press continue to write about them. That's what happens when nine years pass since the last Marvel vs. Capcom. We're even excited about the characters people predicted months ago, such as She-Hulk and Zero.

Some fans didn't even want She-Hulk, as they were worried she'd just be a clone of the Incredible Hulk. Well, she's not, judging by the trailer. She uses plenty of dashing and aerial attacks, she throws cars at her enemies, and she quips about her day job as a lawyer.

Zero, Capcom's favorite robot with hair, gets his laser sword, a shadowy super move, and what sounds like Johnny Young Bosch voicing him. Zero looks a lot like his Tatsunoko vs. Capcom incarnation, and he's apparently the representative of the Mega Man X games, just as Tron Bonne stood in for the Mega Man Legends series. This leaves an unannounced delegate from the regular Mega Man line, and I think we can call guess who that'll be.

Of course, everyone's far more concerned about the characters that Capcom's hasn't announced. Fortunately, GameStop spoiled at least one surprise by revealing a special edition of Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. $69.99 gets you a steelbook case, an art print, a bonus comic, and, a month after the game launches, the download codes for Resident Evil's Jill Valentine and Marvel's cyclopean squid-alien Shuma-Gorath. GameStop also says it arrives February 15.

There are others, of course. Screenshots of Mike Haggar were spotted in a Capcom development blog last month, and some hopeful fans posit that She-Hulk means the Capcom side will also get a lawyer. And that would be Miles Edgeworth because he's better than Phoenix Wright. But I think there's a larger hint here with She-Hulk's appearance. What lesser-known but oft-demanded Marvel superhero guest-starred in several issues of She-Hulk?

That's right.

Always one to make new characters into relevant announcements, Capcom also introduced the new heroine of the upcoming 3DS game Mega Man Legends 3. Everyone already knew what she looked like, as her design, submitted by Mega Man: Star Force artist Shinsuke Komaki, was the winner in a competition held by Capcom.

Now she has a name: Aero Sephira. And she has a slightly new look courtesy of Mega Man Legends 3 artist Tokiko Nakashima. [Update: Capcom changed her name from Aero to Sephira shortly after the announcement.]

I'm not sure if that's an improvement, but no matter what she looks like, Sephira's showing up in Mega Man Legends 3 as a headstrong 14-year-old pilot with only a cursory interest in machines. She's also infatuated with a certain “powerful” character who isn't yet identified. I bet it's Gutsman.

Phantom Brave is often overlooked among Nippon Ichi Software's RPGs, possibly because it diverges from the norm. It has the usual hyper-cute characters, but the battles play like a strategy-RPG minus the grids, and that can be a jarring change for some. NIS hasn't given up on the game, though. It went from the PlayStation 2 to the Wii, and now it's going to the PSP.

Phantom Brave: The Hermuda Triangle is based on the Wii version of the game, but it gains five new characters: Hero Prinny from Disgaea, Unlosing Ranger from the game of the same title, Makai Kingdom's Zetta, Phantom Brave's Castille, and Asagi, a woman last seen impersonating demon-penguins in the Prinny action games. It's out here in March.

I like the way MonkeyPaw Games thinks: they're releasing PlayStation Network versions of original PlayStation games that are either somewhat expensive or import-only. Sure, they're brought out mediocrities like Gaia Seed and Shienryu, but they've also given us cheap downloads of Alundra and the original Arc the Lad. And now they've got Money Idol Exchanger and Sonic Wings Special.

Sonic Wings Special mixes together the three games in the Sonic Wings series, which North America knew as Aero Fighters. Those games range from the somewhat generic original game to the not-half-bad Neo Geo conclusion of Aero Fighters 3, which has a lot in common (including staff members) with Psikyo games like Gunbird and Strikers 1945. They're standard shooters, but there are worse ways for genre fans to spend six dollars. I only hope the English dialogue from Aero Fighters 3 is in there, so players can appreciate Spanky the Dolphin.

Money Idol Exchanger is another lesser-known from the Neo Geo days. It's within the '90s vein of games about cutesy anime girls, but it also turns the ideas of the typical falling-block puzzler into a race to build larger coins, make cash, and, of course, crush your opponent. It's also six bucks, and it's a good bet for fans of Bust-A-Move, Puyo Puyo, Magical Drop, and even obscure titles like Puzzle de Pon.


Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 3/Nintendo Wii
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $59.99

The Sengoku era was a turbulent time for Japan. Lasting from the 15th through the 17th century, it was an age where warlords fought bitterly over rule of the land, an age where warriors became legends, an age where revolts and catastrophe threatened to tear the fledgling nation asunder. It was also an age where samurai carried rocket launchers and drill-spears and twin-bladed electric chainsaws, and it was an age where they worried about their failed marriages while carving through hundreds of enemies at a time. At least that's what Sengoku Basara tells us.

Capcom's Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is actually the third proper-numbered game in a franchise that's had a lot of fun at the expense of the Sengoku period. The major leaders and elite warriors of the era, no matter who they were in real life, are re-imagined here as sleek ninja, towering armored giants, and mercenary women. The game's initial lineup of playable characters has one-eyed, six-sword-wielding Data Masamune, spear-wielding Sanada Yukimura, firearms specialist Magoichi Saica, vengeful samurai Mitsunari Ishida, ball-and-chained rebel Kanbe Kuroda, and a brawler version of Ieyasu Tokugawa, who in actual history founded the centuries-spanning Tokugawa Shogunate. In Samurai Heroes, he sends waves of soldiers flying with his punches and hangs around a mecha-armored version of Honda Takadatsu. Honda's story is unlockable later in the game, as are the tales of spear-fighter Keiji Maeda, archer-oracle Tsuruhime, floating mystic leper Otani Yoshitsugu, chain-slinging pirate Motochika Chosokabe, plantlike ring-fighter (and reported fangirl favorite) Mori Motonari, and other delightfully bastardized superhero versions of medieval Japanese figures.

It's no secret that Capcom stole Sengoku Basara's main idea from Koei's Dynasty Warriors series. Both drop a high-powered character into battle against an entire army, one primarily made of easily dispatched foot soldiers. Hacking through enemies builds up a Basara meter for special attacks, and a green “hero time” gauge lets characters slow time and pound on enemies without being set back by any damage. Battles are most commonly won by taking over enemy camps and defeating commanding officers, and it opens the way to each stage's imposing boss. The game's story has the characters all bouncing off each other in a web of alliances, betrayals, and nasty little grudges, and you'll often fight someone you were just controlling in another plotline.

It's also no secret that the Dynasty Warriors games get monotonous, as players routinely slice through one wave of not-very-bright warriors after another. Yet Capcom breaks up some of Sengoku Basara's tedium. The enemies show decent variety, with rock-throwing giants and gatling-gun samurai popping up among the archers and spear-men. The levels also offer different takes: a loving couple's food stores must be captured to weaken them, the Saica campground brims with tripwires and spike-traps, and one stage has Kanbe running from a powerful samurai's chainsaw blades on his way to the real boss. You're often free to race past any dimwit enemies you don't want to fight, and actually fighting them is surprisingly fun. Each character has an expanding roster of special moves and weapons, with the progression making each story mode interesting.

The actuall storylines, however, are good ol' overblown samurai bathos. While this is a war steeped in bright-colored tragedy, Capcom rarely forgets the humor that comes from turning historic figures into yapping anime warriors. Characters banter about food, laundry, and domestic squabbling during the chaos of battle. Even when the comedy's pained, it's still preferable to bland drama. And the characters are just too cocky, melodramatic, and openly ridiculous to shun. It's a shame that the previous games' bazooka-firing version of missionary Saint Francis Xavier didn't make it into Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes, but there's still an army of samurai and warlords won over by the joys of “Xavism.” The only real disappointment is Nobunaga Oda, who is once again a demonic conqueror that can't stay dead. You know, just like in 90 percent of the anime, manga, and video games that feature Nobunaga Oda. One of these days, his descendants are going to sue for libel.

Despite its inspired gameplay, Samurai Heroes still gets dull in the long run, as you're using the same character for lengthy stretches of plot. It's a problem that could be alleviated by letting players switch between characters on the fly, but the closest the game comes in its team-up attacks and co-op mode. Old-school brawlers like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, the direct ancestors of the Dynasty Warriors family, let players change characters mid-game; if you lost while playing Mike Haggar, you could switch to Blaze or Gillus Thunderhead or Linn Kurosawa or Deadeye Duck. It's a minor point, but it kept beat-'em-ups from going stale over an hour-long session. With no easy swapping, Samurai Heroes is best played in short trips, alternating between story arcs.

Capcom fills Samurai Heroes with plenty of glowing effects and sharp attacks, evoking the delightful historical inaccuracy of Magoichi whipping out a stone-forged rocket launcher and blanketing the screen in explosions. The scenery's polished but rarely interactive, and the soundtrack has all the booming quality it should. It's strange that Capcom didn't throw in Japanese voice acting, though. The English track is done fairly well, but a game set in warring-states Japan needs its original language. Though Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage had both Japanese and English options, Sengoku Basara's anime angle apparently wasn't important enough.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes is still a humble brawler beneath all of its flash and wonderfully mangled history, and it won't charm those who've written off the entire Dynasty Warriors model as a critic-proof relic. And yet, like Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage, it has a furious cartoon energy that's quite enjoyable. And where else will you see the future ruler of Japan flying around on the back of a giant, mecha-armored samurai? Nowhere, I think.


Developer: Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Players: 1
MSRP: $49.99

Some still argue that Donkey Kong Country wasn't a particularly great action-platformer, and that it just looked good. That's…well, actually, that's true, but it shouldn't keep Nintendo and Retro Studios from turning the ideas of Donkey Kong Country into an excellent side-scroller in its Wii sequel. The premise is the same as the original game (Donkey Kong's bananas are stolen!), and players once again control the larger, sturdier Donkey Kong and the smaller, more agile Diddy Kong. The game has many of the same sights as the original, including mine-cart levels and rides through barrel cannons, and it all looks great; even the conventional stages have background sights like attacking airship attacks and giant, tentacle-waving octopi. Just like in the original games, the two-player mode lets Diddy and Donkey tackle levels together, though Diddy can ride on his protector's back in certain situations. They did add a feature from New Super Mario Bros., where players can let the game's AI (personified here as Super Kong) finish a stage for them if they can't make it through. I hope everyone ignores that feature, because it's no fun at all.

Developer: Game Republic
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Players: 1
MSRP: $39.99

If you're looking forward to Fumito Ueda's The Last Guardian, you're probably also dismayed that it won't be out until Christmas next year. But there's a temporary fix in Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom. The game follows an explorer making his way through a the ruins of a formerly prosperous city-state, and he frees a giant bigfoot-like beast called Majin along the way. A plant-covered remnant of the land's better times, Majin obeys the player's commands to a limited degree, and manipulating him is sometimes a matter of bribery and coercion. The two characters work together to solve the game's various puzzles and traverse the various caves and castles in their path. Combat also relies on cooperation; Majin hits hard but slow, and he needs his handler to fend off smaller, quicker enemies. It's a rather pretty game, and there's also the challenge of learning just how this kingdom became quite so forsaken.

Developer: Bottle Rocket/Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99

This new Splatterhouse has walked a hard road, perhaps appropriate for a game where a mortally wounded college student is brought back to life by a hellish mask and forced to gruesomely slaughter a legion of ghouls, undead, poltergeists, and other cinematic borrowings. The game, a remake of the parent-distressingly violent 1988 arcade (and Turbografx-16) game, began development at Bottle Rocket a few years ago. Then Namco Bandai yanked the game from the studio's hands in 2009, citing “development issues,” and supposedly turned it over to the folks behind the Afro Samurai game. And then some Bottle Rocket staffers were contracted to help finish the game. All of this overshadows the savage new tone of Splatterhouse. The original was graphic for its day, but the remake has a hulked-out Rick tearing monsters apart, crushing their heads, strangle-decapitating them with their own limbs, and really earning the “intense violence” part of its ESRB rating. Destroyed foes grant Rick new techniques, and there's lot to see in the half-demolished mansion that holds his abducted girlfriend. The game also comes with the original Splatterhouse trilogy from the days of the Genesis and TurboGrafx-16, just in case players want to return to a more innocent time of punching zombies in half.

Also Shipping: Raving Rabbids: Travel in Time (Wii), Drawn to Life Collection (DS), and Gran Turismo 5 (PlayStation 3).

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