The X Button - Vice Versus

by Todd Ciolek,

You might have noticed that last week's column skipped one of this week's releases. There is a good reason for this.

I'm not a raving zealot when it comes to the Sega Dreamcast. I'm not one of those denial-stricken nutjobs who swear that it was the greatest system ever and that it was brought down only by some secret pact forged by Sony, Next Generation Magazine, and the Worldwide Communist Gangster Computer Game God. But the Dreamcast was a capable system well ahead of its time, and it was host to many excellent games. So the recently released Dreamcast Collection is a great idea, a chance for us to rediscover the best offerings from Sega's last system.

So what's on it?

Four games. Four Dreamcast games: Crazy Taxi, Sonic Adventure, Sega Bass Fishing, and Space Channel 5: Part 2. Even when you consider that the collection was limited to Sega's own titles, there are at least a dozen notable exclusions: Jet Grind Radio, Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram, Seaman, Chu Chu Rocket, Fighting Vipers 2, Daytona USA 2001, Rez, the Shenmue games, Virtua Fighter 3tb, Crazy Taxi 2, Zombie Revenge, Sega GT, The Typing of the Dead, and the various 2K sports titles. Oh, and Skies of Arcadia, even though I can't stand it. That's not even counting Dreamcast games from other publishers, like Bangai-O, Maken X, or Capcom's many excellent arcade ports. Really, Sega, you could at least throw in the second Sonic Adventure, overexposed as it may be.

So I ignored this collection. Come back next week, when I expect Nintendo to release a Best of the Nintendo 64 Collection consisting entirely of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Yoshi's Story, Tetrisphere, and Cruisin' USA.


I didn't expect Sega to back a 2-D fighter. The company's past attempts in the genre fell short; no one remembers Golden Axe: The Duel or Dark Legend, you know. Sega's had far better luck with 3-D fighters like Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers, and my favorite of the group, Last Bronx. But it wasn't a Last Bronx sequel that Sega showed off at the recent AOU exhibition. It was the anime-style 2-D fighter called Chaos Code.

Well, Sega's only promoting the game. The developer is FK Digital, a largely unknown Australian outfit that's scraped together a decent-looking fighter over the past two years. First announced back in 2009, Chaos Code has a solid if unspectacular look, and footage of the game shows plenty of smooth fighting. The pre-match options let players select from a variety of different attacks, and there's apparently distinction between “run” and “step” methods of dashing (described by the game as “bounce”). The characters, all of them chasing a mysterious form of energy called Chaos Code, are cut from standard anime design, though there's a Predator-ish cyborg ninja, plus twins who fight like a single character. The standout so far is an Italian chef named Peperoncine Bravo.

It shows a bit more promise than the usual 2-D fighter fueled by anime aesthetics, but Sega and FK Digital are venturing into rather crowded territory. With Arcana Heart 3, Under Night In-Birth, that Koihime Musou turd, and the latest version of BlazBlue all vying for player attention, Chaos Code may well be swamped. It'll get its chance, however slight, when it hits arcades this summer.

Acquire's upcoming action title Akiba's Trip is yet another game that can't decide if it's mocking the modern otaku playground of Akihabara or merely exploiting it. The evidence in its favor: the game finds a young man attacked by vampires during a visit to Akihabara's many electronics stores and game shops. He's rescued by a suspiciously pale girl named Rui and introduced to an underground cabal of vampire hunters. As their newest member, our hero takes on the bloodsucking creatures through the amusingly direct method of a) beating them up and b) tearing off their clothes so that they disintegrate in sunlight (Akiba Strip, in other words). The game also lets the main character clothe himself in all sorts of odd costumes, a throwback to the customization in Acquire's Way of the Samurai series.

The evidence against: The game's version of Akihabara is full of maids and other cosplaying women, and one expects they'll figure into the game's vampire-stripping battle system. Then there's the latest trailer, in which the game recreates the Akihabara tradition of greasy nerds angling their camera lenses up maids' skirts. And it's all presented with only the limpest attempt at satire. Whatever it may be, Akiba's Trip is out for the Japanese PSP in May.

For those unfamiliar with niche Japanese developers, you can just remember that Cave makes shooters. Lots of them. So many that Cave's now certified by the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the most bullet-hell shooters. So they have a reputation to uphold. Cave's newest shooter is Akai Katana Shin, and it's headed to the Japanese Xbox 360 in May.

The original Akai Katana arrived in arcades last year, with its horizontal perspective and blimp-and-biplane artwork drawing comparisons to Cave's Progear no Arashi. Using four attack buttons, Akai Katana lets players deflect bullets and, in another Progear-ish feature, switch between different types of projectile. The Xbox 360 version, dubbed Akai Katana Shin, bumps up the graphics to widescreen HD and adds a yet-to-be-disclosed gameplay mechanic. It also includes the unenhanced game for those of us not insane enough to spend hundreds on an arcade board. Akai Katana Shin's console version is region-locked, unfortunately, making it harder for Western players to import. Some are already asking for a localization from Aksys Games, which published Cave's Deathsmiles in North America last year.

Cave isn't just out to make shooters, as its new Xbox Live Arcade release is a simple action game called Nin2-Jump. Or Nin Nin Jump, I guess. In an eye-catching turn, the game shows hero Nin-Ja and the game's various enemies as shadows against ornate backgrounds, while an audience of silhouettes looks on and reacts to Nin-Ja's accomplishments. I can only hope that Cave sneaks in a few Mystery Science Theater 3000 references.

Aside from jumping, Nin-Ja uses a grappling hook to make his way through levels, though he can also build up a power meter and, once it's full, tear around with abandon. In Cave fashion, he also racks up huge glowing points as he slays foes and clears stages. Nin2 Jump is a unique change for Cave, and it'll be available in North America later this year.

Cave's most surprising announcement of the week was a graphic adventure game called Instant Brain, one of those “visual novels” that involves plenty of dialogue, description, and revealingly dressed girls. This futuristic mystery follows Zenya Harataki, a white-haired young man stricken with amnesia, that all-too-common malady among game protagonists. Unable to remember his previous life as an ace reporter, Zenya tracks down people connected to an incident that apparently wiped out his memories. His allies are, of course, all young women, and he also carries what appears to be a barrel-less revolver. Maybe that's what cameras look like in Instant Brain's strange future.

Instant Brain comes to the Xbox 360 in Japan this year, with a PC port very likely. A North American release is far less likely, though an outfit like MangaGamer could get a hold of it.

Square registered Vagrant Story, Legend of Mana, Xenogears, and Threads of Fate for the PlayStation Network months ago, and this week the company decided to begin its PSN onslaught with the most controversial of the four. So for ten bucks, you can find out if Xenogears is a heartbreaking masterpiece or a pile of pixelly crosses and giant robot model kits.

Xenogears is that sort of RPG: a polarizing attempt to combine typical Final Fantasy tones with mecha, reincarnation, button-mashing battles, anime cutscenes, high-concept science fiction, and a web of Gnostic-Christian-Jewish references. Even some of its fans admit that the game's a mess, particularly when the second disc skips entire dungeons and important scenes (a result of the game's rushed production cycle). But there's a lot to Xenogears, from the robot-upgrading to the preposterously broad scope of its story. I'd recommend it to any fan of crazily ambitious video games. Even if you hate it, at least you'll be out only ten dollars instead of paying five times as much on eBay or stealing it online.


Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: Xbox 360/PlayStation 3
Players: 1-2

Welcome to this column's review of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. I'm your host. Who am I? Well, I'm the part of Todd's brain that likes to play fighting games for the competitive aspect, for the challenge that comes with refining techniques and mastering a character's unique strengths.

And I'm your other host. I'm the part of Todd's brain that likes fighting games because they're fun and crazy and full of fireballs and robots and ninja werewolves. I know the world history of the Guilty Gear universe better than the American Revolution, and I buy dreadful comics just because they're based on my favorite fighters. I also complain when a fighter's story isn't particularly well-written. And sometimes I do play these things for the plot, thank you very much.

Your parents must be so proud. As for the game at hand, I think Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is an often-too-successful exercise in giving players exactly what they want. Capcom's Versus games have always been about overkill, especially when compared to the more measured and careful brawling of the Street Fighter series. The Marvel fighters are filled with easily done combos, aerial strikes, tag-team play, and special attacks that fill the screen with lasers and robot panthers. And Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has loads of that. Except for the robot panthers, that is.

Yeah, because they didn't put Hiryu from Strider in this game. That sucks.

That's not to say Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is shallow. Capcom crammed it with all sorts of techniques, including the tag-team combo opportunities from previous games. Players can swap out characters in mid-air, call them out for special attacks, or fuse them into one large combo that's equal parts Iron Man, Chris Redfield, and She-Hulk. There's also a complicated system that determines how projectiles clash: one might overpower the other and pass through, or the two might cancel each other out. And then we have the X-Factor moves. They grant characters temporary healing as well as speed and attack boosts, with the intensity thereof much greater when you've lost a team member or two. So there's a lot going on in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and the on-screen chaos makes it all seem more complicated than those allegedly more refined fighters.

Which is nice and everything, but you know what? Some people still care more about the roster. It's a huge promotional battle royale between a comic-book titan and the industry's biggest fighting-game company, and it has all sorts of potential for great crossovers. It's a game where you can pit a team of Doctor Doom and Chun-Li and Deadpool against the massive, super-cheap end boss, Galactus! You can unite Viewtiful Joe, Okami's Amaterasu, and Devil May Cry's Dante to avenge Capcom driving away the people who created those three games! You can, in theory, put together a lineup of Darkstalkers werewolf Jon Talbain, X-Men's Gambit, and Alien vs. Predator's Linn Kurosawa!

Those last three characters aren't in the game.

And that's my point: everyone has a favorite character that they want to see in this, and the game's lineup might not have him, her, or it. At 36 characters, it's a huge game, but not as huge as Marvel vs. Capcom 2. And while I'm sure no one at Capcom even considered Linn Kurosawa for Marvel vs. Capcom 3, some of their choices are just lame. Why put in the Bionic Commando remake's Nathan Spencer, when no one liked him half as much as the original Bionic Commando guy? Why Trish from Devil May Cry instead of Lady, who isn't nearly as reminiscent of Dante ? And why put in Akuma, who's in nearly every modern Street Fighter, instead of an original Capcom creation like Marvel vs. Capcom 2's Ruby Heart?

You're nit-picking. I'm sure many fans will fume about the absence of the guy from Black Tiger or whatever, but you can't really fault the lineup's variety of gameplay. Characters from previous fighting games haven't changed too much, but the newcomers are all diverse breaks from the usual Ryu-and-Ken stuff. She-Hulk has a running game. Amaterasu switches elemental attacks. Dante has a huge arsenal of moves. And yes, Nathan Spencer's grappling arm has some clever uses. And there's X-23, who's shockingly fast and, from what I've seen, very popular.

Eh. Who's X-23 again? The daughter of Wolverine and a Hot Topic store? She's such a boring design.

Maybe, but she's not boring to play, is she?

Well, no. But there's another issue. I mean, most people don't expect stunning stories from Marvel vs. Capcom, but a lot of the game's atmosphere feels half-hearted. Sure, it's all gorgeous, and yet it's empty at times. The characters all riff off each other, and it's sometimes great, sometimes so-so. Only about half of the endings are actually funny.

You should be grateful there are endings at all.

And the backgrounds are also inconsistent. Some of them, like the Mega Man Legends spread, are full of life. Others are just big, pretty wallpaper. And the music's nothing particularly memorable.

And does any of that make the game less enjoyable to play? Aren't you admitting that Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has no real problems?

Hey, some of us like our games with personality. At least I can put Hsien-Ko, Morrigan, and Felicia on the same team and pretend the game is really Darkstalkers 4, and the new monster characters are M.O.D.O.K., Taskmaster, and Captain America.

So do you cry yourself to sleep on Darkstalkers bedsheets every night or something?

Shut up. I bet you have petty complaints, too.

I wouldn't call them petty, not when we're dealing with the people who played Marvel vs. Capcom 2 religiously for the last ten years. The biggest problem with Marvel vs. Capcom, in serious terms, is that it isn't balanced as well as hardcore fans will invariably demand. For example, there's the matter of Sentinel. Now, Sentinel was one of the three best characters in Marvel vs. Capcom 2: he was big, he was powerful, and he dominated the screen. If any character needed to be taken down a notch for Marvel vs. Capcom 3, it was Sentinel. But that didn't happen. He's still really overpowered, with no major weakness for inexperienced players to counterattack. And now everyone's using him just because he's cheap.

Not me. I'm using Sentinel because he's a big-ass robot. His head sorta looks like the Gurren Lagann, and he shoots his fist like a Nadesico mecha. Remember Nadesico?

No, not really. But to get back to Marvel vs. Capcom's competitive angle, there's another problem: the online play is crippled. Well, the actual matches pass the test, but getting to them is a hassle. You can't check an opponent's connection speed before fighting them, and it takes too long to reach even a random match. It's much worse than the helpful interface that Street Fighter IV uses. In fact, it gives credence to the fan theory that Capcom rushed Marvel vs. Capcom 3 to the market.

Do you still like the game?

Yes. It's hectic and messy, but it's also entirely faithful to everything laid down in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. There's plenty to learn, plenty to master, and, for Capcom, just a few things to improve.

Yeah, it's an excellent fighter and all that. But it doesn't really push my Capcom nerd buttons the way I expected. I suspect that I won't be playing it half as much as I did Super Street Fighter IV.

What if they put in Strider Hiryu?

Well, that changes everything.

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