The X Button Cat's Cradle
by Todd Ciolek,
The X Button skips next week due to the Christmas season. In the grand tradition of this column, I think I should leave you all a present that has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays. So here's one of my favorite video game advertisements.
You should click on that to see the full-size ad for Crime Wave, because only then will you appreciate all of the little details: the screaming villain, the bored daughter of the president, the tastefully arranged buffet of guns and coke, and the pajama-clad Hulk Hogan and his leaf blower squaring off against a ten-year-old karate student in pink. Also note the copy, which exclaims that you, the player, have had a GUT-FULL of all that gosh-darned crime in the titular crime wave.
Crime Wave, a PC game from 1990, is amusing enough without the ad. Assembled from digitized graphics and lazy side-scrolling shooter gameplay that resembles a clumsier NARC, it evokes that bygone era where game companies were convinced that stiff and pixelized images of real actors were a path to a prosperous future. Feel free to spend next week tracking down Crime Wave, though you'll find that it doesn't live up to its magazine ad. Few things could.
DRAGON QUEST VI COMING VALENTINE'S DAY
For a while, Dragon Quest's future in North America was in question. Square Enix released the DS remake of Dragon Quest IV, underproduced the Dragon Quest V remake, and then let Nintendo publish the all-new Dragon Quest IX. That must've worked, because Nintendo's bringing out the DS version of Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation just in time for Valentine's Day.
As the only main Dragon Quest game without an official English release, Realms of Reverie doesn't yet have the cult following of Dragon Quest V or the nostalgia of older Dragon Quests. This sixth installment also arrived at the end of the 16-bit era, so it attracted slightly less attention that usual back in 1995. Of course, for a Dragon Quest game “less attention” means “still moved a few million copies and was Japan's best-selling game for whatever year it saw release.” Realms of Reverie works with the familiar Japanese RPG conceit of amnesia, as a band of heroes trek around a medieval fantasy world in the hopes of recovering their memories. Along the way, they jump back and forth from reality to a dreamlike mirror universe, and the answers lie in both dimensions. It's a traditional Dragon Quest game in its turn-based battles, and the various character classes can actually be combined into new fields of study.
Of course, it's appropriate that Nintendo's releasing the last never-translated Dragon Quest game, as they brought out the first one in a Nintendo Power promotion back in 1989. Dragon Quest never caught on back then, but I maintain that it would have if the American version of the Dragon Quest cartoon hadn't folded due to legal problems.
Meanwhile, Square Enix released Secret of Mana for the iPhone this week. While it lacks the three-player feature that made the original so endearing, it's an otherwise faithful port. This would be slightly more interesting if the original Super NES version of Mana, multiplayer support and all, wasn't already out on the Wii's Virtual Console, but that's not as easy to play while waiting at the airport. Square has Final Fantasy Tactics lined up next for the iPhone, and Chrono Trigger was announced for cell phones in Japan, making an iPhone version a little more likely.
NEW GUILY GEAR GAME COMING, STARRING NAKED MUPPET
I think Arc System Works hates me and anyone else who still likes Guilty Gear. That's why Arc made a game called Furo Jump!! Guilty Gear Gaiden for the Nintendo DSi's DSiWare service. It's a side-scrolling action game, and it doesn't feature Millia Rage or Anji Mito or any prominent character from the Guilty Gear fighters. Instead, it stars Chimaki, a muppet-like creature who popped up in Guilty Gear 2: Overture.
Furo Jump!! has Chimaki racing through various simple stages by riding bars of soap and snapping a towel at anything in his path. That's pretty much it: there's none of the crazy heavy-metal references or preposterous cartoony attacks that made Guilty Gear so memorable. There's just a radish-like gremlin with a Hitler mustache and a leaf over his crotch.
That gremlin's coming to the North American DSi shortly, as Aksys Games picked up his outing. Perhaps to spare Guilty Gear fans the disappointment, Aksys renamed the game Towel-Slappin' Pro-Jumper. There's no release date yet, but the ESRB rated it, so DSi owners will be able to enjoy it soon. Meanwhile, Arc System Works continues to make A Lamer Version of Guilty Gear, also known as BlazBlue.
RUROUNI KENSHIN: SAISEN ANNOUNCES LINEUP
Details were sparse at first when it came to Rurouni Kenshin: Saisen, a PSP fighter based on Nobuhiro Watsuki's manga and its attendant anime. For fans, it was enough that any game company remembered Rurouni Kenshin in this day and age. The game was revealed last month as a 2-D fighter with 3-D graphics, and a new trailer from Namco shows off the first round of playable characters.
The roster has most of the heroic characters down, with Kenshin, Kaoru, Yahiko, Sannosuke, Saito, Aoshi, Misao, and Seijuro. They're joined by villains like Sojiro, Anji, Usui, Shishio, Isurugi, Kamatari, Fuji, Jinei, and, apparently, Enishi. If memory serves, he didn't show up until the last act of the series. Anyway, the game uses 3-D characters in a well-defined plane of combat, and the flurries of strikes and brush-stroke effects bring to mind Street Fighter IV. Saisen will be out in Japan on March 11, with an American release unlikely. But as long as game companies are resurrecting once-popular anime from the 1990s, we can hope for fighting games based on Martian Successor Nadesico, Serial Experiments Lain, and Outlaw Star.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: DECEMBER
Remember the Shadow Hearts games? Those PlayStation 2 RPGs with timing-based battles and hilariously warped versions of actual historical figures? Well, they lasted through three trips (four if you count Koudelka) before the developer disbanded. But Matsuzo Machida, the writer and director of the first two Shadow Hearts, has yet another RPG that puts a fantasy spin on the visual trappings of the Progressive Era. Arms' Heart is openly billed as “steampunk,” which means lots of clockwork and factories and goggles and coal-powered laser guns, but it's a traditional RPG set in Europe…sorry, Europa. That's where a secret society's rule is shaken up by an open-shirted hero named Jena and his retinue of allies: the audaciously garbed flapper Odette, a hammer-hefting gentleman named Dredd, and a squat mage-mechanic named (I think) Precira. Much like Shadow Hearts, Arms' Heart has a “Howling Gear” system that uses spinning wheels to decide success in combat. When facing the enemy, the player stops three revolving cogs at once. If they line up with the right indicator, the enemy takes damage. It's promising to see the Shadow Hearts ideals still alive, but a preview video of Arms' Heart looks terrible, as though Hamster transplanted a cell-phone RPG from 2002 onto the PSP.
DODONPACHI DAI-FUKKATSU 1.5
Cave's shooters span all sorts of styles. You have the techno-Byzantine fairies of ESP Galuda, the petal-cover lingerie models of Pink Sweets, and the grotesque pig-pajama superheroines of Muchi Muchi Pork. Yet Dodonpachi is Cave's largest series and perhaps its most approachably generic. Early Dodonpachi games were all no-nonsense, Raiden-ish jet fighters and tanks, but later games introduced huge-eyed female pilots, and Boogiepop Phantom artist Kouji Ogata drew some cybernetic young women to serve as Dodonpachi Dai-Fukkatsu's towering, transforming level bosses. That aside, Dai-Fukkatsu preserves Dodonpachi's choice between regular shots and a concentrated laser, and players can switch from one to the other anytime. They can also use the Hyper Counter and Counter Laser, which allow players to destroy and block oncoming enemy bullets with shots of their own. The game even opens up new paths for the most skilled players (i.e. those willing to master the game or find bees hidden throughout the stages). It's always about bees, isn't it, Dodonpachi? The 1.5 version of Dai-Fukkatsu doesn't change the original arcade version much beyond some gameplay tweaks. In fact, there's a Black Label version of it coming to the Xbox 360 in January, and it has a few more enhancements.
SHIREN THE WANDERER 5: FORTUNE TOWER AND THE DICE OF FATE
Yes, it's called Fushigi no Dungeon: Fuurai no Shiren in Japan, but this series is simplified to Shiren the Wanderer in the West, where many hold it up as a fine exemplar of the dungeon hack. Steadfast in its challenges, Shiren the Wanderer uses randomly generated labyrinths and a battle system where enemies don't move until the player does. This allows the gameplay to focus on minutiae and judicious item management, and dying sets you back to square one. This fifth Shiren adventure finds the title hero and his ferret sidekick Koppa trekking through various mazes in the company of Tao, a girl wearing a Panda-patterned outfit. Shiren's soon joined by an elegant samurai, a young ninja, two fox-women, and a fat, rifle-toting cat named Gen-San. All of them accompany Shiren into battle, using their special abilities to keep Shiren alive and fend off enemies. Shiren the Wanderer 5 also packs in a two-player cooperative mode, a nice addition in the occasionally lonesome world of dungeon-hackery.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
Dungeon-crawler fans are likely awaiting the next Etrian Odyssey, the next Shiren the Wanderer, or maybe even the next installment of the apparently defunct Izuna series. Well, none of those will arrive in North America this month, but there's Dungeon Raiders, a Zelda-like blend of maze combat and puzzles. OK, so it's actually an iPhone game thrown onto the DS, but it has the groundwork of an action-RPG as players control a mage, a thief, and a huge warrior named Extermino. Each has his predictable uses, though the game certainly doesn't take itself seriously, as evidenced by the “speed fart” spell (there's a lot of that attempted humor on the iPhone today). It's not the proudest sight for the genre, and UFO's release schedules tend to be rough guidelines more than actual dates. Still, there's not much else on the RPG front next week.
RELEASES FOR THE WEEK OF JANUARY 2
GHOST TRICK: PHANTOM DETECTIVE
Platform: Nintendo DS
Capcom's wise to play up Ghost Trick as the new creation of the man behind Phoenix Wright and the Ace Attorney series, though some fans might be in for a surprise. Ghost Trick has little of the courtroom back-and-forth of Ace Attorney, though it still puts a darkly humorous spin on cold-blooded murder. It's also primarily about one murder: that of a beaky blond man named Sissel. His spirit wanders the world of the living, seeking out his killer and unraveling other sinister plots along the way. With the help of a talking desk lamp and a still-living detective named Lynne, Sissel's able to manipulate physical objects and prevent crimes, and every good deed puts him a step closer to discovering the reason why he was killed. The characters are every bit as eccentric and snippy as a Phoenix Wright lineup—perhaps more so, as Ghost Trick's two-dimensional cartoon style casts an abstract and vaguely (dare I say it) haunting atmosphere upon the game. It's an inventive game that looks and, for the most part, plays unlike anything else, and I hope it won't be dismissed by Ace Attorney fans afraid of the unfamiliar.
LOST IN SHADOW
Platform: Nintendo Wii
It's a shame that developers don't rip off Ico a little more often. Yes, games should be creative and original and all that, but Ico's world of shadows, empty castles, and compellingly minimalist gameplay is a place worth revisiting even secondhand. While Lost in Shadow doesn't directly imitate Ico to the letter, the style is there: a captive boy's shadow is sliced from his body in some arcane religious ritual atop a gigantic, golden-lit tower. The shadow then hunts through the tower for his missing memories, all in the hope of reaching the top and becoming human once again. Using the Wii remote, players can control the lighting and shadows in the tower, unlocking various puzzles and uncovering the recollections of your human form. A helpful sylph creature accompanies the shadowy hero through the tower's action-platform environments, and they're all traversed not by exploring ledges, engines, and other structures, but by moving through the shadows of those same structures. Hence the title. It's a unique premise in spite of its Ico commonalities, and between this and Ghost Trick, 2011 is off to a novel start.
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