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Ghost Glories

by Todd Ciolek, Jan 12th 2011

I see that rumors are still flying around the PlayStation Phone, the Droid-based portable device that further smudges the line between cell-phone games and what some still deem “real” games. Then again, I haven't made much distinction between the two since the first cell-phone game that impressed me: Cartel Wars.

GameLoft released Cartel Wars back in 2003, when cell-phone games were still mostly cheap diversions on par with primitive Game Boy Color software. Cartel Wars was better than that, though. It resembled an overhead shooter much like Ikari Warriors, shrunk down for a cell-phone screen and crammed with all sorts of explosions. Sadly, all I could do was watch videos of it.

See, I never actually played Cartel Wars. It wasn't supported on my cell, and I wasn't about to change carriers and phones just for a game that was only notable because it was running on a Motorola flip. Like most cell-phones games of that era, Cartel Wars is all but forgotten, as I can only find some reviews and the above box art. And I don't mind, because I doubt Cartel Wars would interest me much when compared to the cell-phone games of today.

NEWS

NINTENDO 3DS GETS LAUNCH TITLES, OTHER TITLES
There were no grand, shocking revelations about the Nintendo 3DS at Nintendo World 2011, but some little details were divulged around the same time. For one thing, the 3DS is no marvel of battery life: it runs about three to five hours with 3DS games, and up to eight hours if you're playing regular DS games on it. DSi games are also backward-compatible, as they can be moved over to the 3DS if they're previously purchased on a DSi.

Nintendo laid down the lineup for the Japanese launch of the 3DS, which will ship February 26 alongside Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Nintendogs + Cats, Ridge Racer 3D, Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle, Samurai Warriors Chronicles, Pro Evolution 3D Soccer, and Leap Out! Puzzle Bobble 3D. Yes, there's no Kid Icarus, as it won't land until summer at the earliest. Tecmo's Dead or Alive Dimensions hits Japan in March, though, so it might make the American and European launches for the system.

And now comes the bad news: it's all but confirmed that the 3DS will be region-locked. So that expensive system that you import from Japan in February won't be able to run any 3DS games you might pick up at your local Best Buy later on. Some expected this, as certain DSi games weren't region-free, either. But it's a disappointment that handhelds, which have long ignored regions, are now just as restrictive as consoles.

Not that this will keep any developers from working with the 3DS. Namco Bandai will deliver Gundam The 3D Battle for the system in March. A mecha combat game, it draws from the robot staples of the original Gundam, Z Gundam, and Char's Counterattack. If past system-launch Gundam games are any indication, Gundam The 3D Battle is in the running for the worst title of the first 3DS wave, but we'll reserve final judgment.

Nippon Ichi recently announced a Bikkuriman Kanjyuku Haoh game for the 3DS, based on the line of stickers that, coincidentally, features Disgaea characters among the Bikkuriman cast. Imageepoch, the developer behind the Luminous Arc series, also has a strategy-RPG in the works for the system, and it's a likely that NIS will release it in North America. The Bikkuriman game, on the other hand….

Lastly, Arc System Works will bring BlazBlue Continuum Shift II to the 3DS, and it's listed as a “fighting game plus visual novel.” That's a fairly accurate gauge of the story-intensive BlazBlue, though one wonders how they'll wedge all of the game's visual excess into a 3DS title. It's due in the spring, at least.

HAGGAR AND PHOENIX JOIN MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3
We're in the home stretch for Marvel vs. CAPCOM 3, and the latest two roster announcements are CAPCOM's Mike Haggar and Marvel's Phoenix. Yes, that's “Phoenix” as in “X-Men psychic Jean Grey, who no one really likes” and not “Phoenix Wright, who everyone wants to see in this game.” Ah, disappointment.

Mike Haggar is, of course, the wrestler-turned-mayor of Metro City in CAPCOM's Final Fight series. That franchise went into a downward spiral somewhere around Final Fight 3, but Haggar still has plenty of fans, perhaps more so than Cody, Guy, Maki, or any other Final Fight character adopted by the Street Fighter series. His repertoire of attacks is straight from Final Fight, right down to the jumping piledriver, spinning clothesline, and blunt lead-pipe beatings.

Phoenix gets a bunch of fiery attacks as well as a shield, and she seems heavy on the aerial moves. Not to editorialize past the point, but I don't remember Jean Grey or Phoenix placing too highly among everyone's favorite Marvel characters. Even when I was a kid glued to the X-Men cartoon every Saturday, I thought Jean Grey was one of the dullest characters on the show. I never got what Wolverine saw in her.

Anyway, this leaves only a few empty spots in the Marvel vs. CAPCOM 3 roster, and there'd be much speculation if it weren't for a list of characters that slipped out back in November. It's proven accurate so far, and it says that the remaining fighters will be Hsien-Ko from Darkstalkers, Akuma from Street Fighter, the towering robotic Sentinel from X-Men, the move-copying Taskmaster, and the game's boss, world-devouring Galactus. Much of this is supported by other news (Xbox Achievements confirmed another Darkstalkers character in the game), and it's all in keeping with CAPCOM's previous additions. And there's one more interesting rumor: Phoenix Wright and his rival Miles Edgeworth appear in lawyer She-Hulk's ending.

SAILOR MOON RETURNS IN GAME FORM, IS VAGUELY ITALIAN
Popular anime series of the 1990s apparently never died. They just became video games. Rurouni Kenshin's already returning as a PSP fighter, and now Namco Bandai's unveiled a new Sailor Moon game for the DS. That part makes sense, but I don't think anyone expected the game to show up in Italy before anyplace else.

Judging by the subtitle, Sailor Moon: La Luna Splende turns the Sailor Moon R series into a side-scrolling action game. And a rather primitive-looking one at that. Still, it has all five Sailor Moon heroines and Lord Kaspar (the Italian name of the villainous Malachite), and I expect that'll be enough for fans who haven't played a Sailor Moon game in years. I also expect that this will turn up in Japan before long, even if it skips North America. No matter what happens elsewhere, La Luna Splende is coming to Italy in the spring.

REVIEW: GHOST TRICK

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

It's strange that Ghost Trick's cover doesn't mention that it's the creation of Shu Takumi, the man behind the Phoenix Wright games. For an industry overly concerned with aping the big-budget excesses and unironic violence of cinema, the Phoenix Wright games succeeded almost entirely on the strength of their stories. And not bombastic stories which prove Games Are Art, mind you. No, they're stories that spur players on with a procession of endearingly bizarre characters mixed with comedy that's offbeat without getting embarrassing. It's a series that finds surprisingly warm humor in shocking murder cases, and Ghost Trick is from the same mold. At its start, pointy-haired hero Sissel is dead and rather laid-back about it all.

Of course, Sissel's soul survives. While his body lies slumped cartoonishly in a junkyard, his spirit roams the physical world. Guided by a mysterious desk lamp, Sissel possess all sorts of mundane things, from umbrellas to handguns to those little drinking bird figures. Manipulating these objects helps Sissel move around and, when the time is right, thwart murders among the living. Yet it's his own demise that weighs heaviest on his mind. Unfortunately, dying brings on localized amnesia, and at first Sissel can't recall just who he was and why anyone might've murdered him. Only by following a string of vaguely connected characters can he learn the truth.

And so Sissel becomes guardian angel to Ghost Trick's lineup of would-be victims, starting with Lynne, the young detective who was apparently investigating whatever business left Sissel dead. Like Maya Fey to Phoenix Wright or Kay Faraday to Miles Edgeworth, she's the overeager sidekick in many of Sissel's investigations, and she's just the first of many ever-so-slightly strange figures in Ghost Trick's world. The lineup includes a flamboyant police investigator, a self-absorbed novelist, an overexcited dog, and a series of methodical assassins to stymie.

Ghost Trick strikes off from the traditional manga look of the Ace Attorney series, opting for brightly colored backgrounds and two-dimensional comic-book stylings. While static portraits carry the conversations, the characters are amazing to watch during gameplay, as everyone moves with detailed animation and telling idiosyncrasies. It's all the more impressive for its confinement to a small DS screen, and the creeping strains of the soundtrack fit it perfectly.

There's still an adventure game lying under all of that, and Ghost Trick follows the rules of its genre. Each stage sets out various items for Sissel to maneuver, and he can hop through telephone lines to reach other locations. It's all a matter of basic trial and error, but Ghost Trick also keeps an hourglass going, and you're screwed if you can't undo a character's grisly fate within the time limit. This leaves limited room for experimentation, though the game lets you continue from the middle of a scene. And unlike most adventure games, there's rarely a point where you're stuck at an apparent dead end, cursing the obtuseness of its design.

Yet the game's big puzzles of logic and umbrellas wouldn't hold much appeal without an intriguing story. Ghost Trick lacks the focused courtroom antics of Ace Attorney, but it tells a much more complex tale, weaving in and out of various lives and crime scenes. Sissel and Lynne are amusing even in the game's excessive explanations (something Ghost Trick unfortunately shares with Ace Attorney, along with a just-adequate translation), and the supporting characters show Takumi's knack for absurdity. And despite all of the murderous events and some late-stage twists in the story, Ghost Trick is a comedy at its core, even when shotgun-toting assassins are squashed by wrecking balls.

And that's what makes Ghost Trick such a pleasure. It's challenging, but it's never unfair. It's strange, but it's never forced in its humor. It's clever, unique, and altogether charming. And even though it's not laden with replay incentive, there's no denying that it's a great ride the first time. There aren't many games like Ghost Trick, but one can only hope for that to change.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

LITTLE BIG PLANET 2
Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Platform: PlayStation 3
Players: 1-various
MSRP:$59.99/$79.99

Sackboy, the smiling rag-doll star of Little Big Planet, didn't really catch on as Sony's new mascot. At best, he rates barely above Alex Kidd and Keith Courage as game-industry icons go. But that didn't make Little Big Planet any less of a success, and Sony's expanding the whole idea of the game for the sequel. The original let players design their own side-scrolling, action-platform games, but Little Big Planet 2 stretches that play field to include RPGs, puzzle games, racing, and shooting, all customizable down to the status displays. Players can also program their own Sackbots to fill the stages and tag along behind Sackboy avatars. There's also a grappling hook for Sackboy and other characters to use, and I've always thought that grappling hooks improve a game. Oh, and all of the original Little Big Planet's levels will be playable in the second game, just in case you were worried about your meticulously designed Punky Skunk tribute. For an extra twenty bucks, the special edition gives you Little Big Planet bookends and 11 extra Sackboy costumes, including outfits from Ratchet and Clank, Tron: Legacy, Toy Story, and all-purpose Muppets. And there's a plush Sackboy. He'll fit right in with all of those Harvest Moon stuffed animals.

MINDJACK
Developer: feelplus
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3
Players: 1-2
MSRP:$59.99

Mindjack can't dodge comparisons to The 3rd Birthday, the next Parasite Eve game. Both are Square Enix action titles where players can jump into enemies and bystanders, controlling them as allies in battle. But they're a little different in tone: The 3rd Birthday has a dingy modern setting, with heroine Aya Brea switching bodies thanks to some mystic micro-organisms within her. Mindjack is much more direct: it's set in the year 2031, when a glittery cyberpunk world of skyscrapers and monorails is under the control of mind-hacking (not jacking) tyrants. Fortunately, the technology flows both ways, and a band of rebel government agents, led by the generic Jim Corbijn, can seize control of just about anything from common citizens to mechanized robot gorillas. Or they can just pummel and shoot enemies the old-fashioned way. Mindjack looks like today's typical Western game, somewhere between the stiff futurism of Deus Ex and the realistic robots of Front Mission Evolved. Perhaps that's why it's coming out in North America before it hits Japan. If it's not new territory for games in general, it's at least a new direction for developer feelplus, better known for making Lost Odyssey and porting No More Heroes. And if nothing else, Mindjack has some amusingly awkward voice acting.

Also Shipping: The PlayStation 3 version of Mass Effect 2


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