The X Button All Shot Up
by Todd Ciolek,
This column didn't miss very much by taking last week off. Sure, rumors flew about Nintendo's new system, and someone mentioned the PLAYSTATION Network going down. Yet the biggest news by far was CAPCOM's announcement that a prototype version of Mega Man Legends 3 will be up for public consumption.
When the Nintendo 3DS eShop debuts in May, users can download a playable Mega Man Legends 3 preview. Instead of Mega Man (who's apparently still stuck on the moon), it features sky-pirate Barrett roaming around, fighting off Servbot attacks, and meeting up with Roll and new heroine Aero. Staying true to the “prototype” idea, the package even includes unfinished areas of the game and a debug menu that gives Barrett special abilities. The Japanese version of this preview will run players about 200 yen, and the English version's expected to cost three bucks or so.
Many see this as CAPCOM's rather cynical plan to promote Mega Man Legends 3: pretend that the game isn't yet approved, then put out a demo and tell fans to buy it if they ever want their precious Mega Man Legends 3. That may be true. But here's the thing: it's still an excellent opportunity to show CAPCOM that you, the player, actually want Mega Man Legends 3. Companies routinely cancel or approve products with little direct input from consumers, but Legends 3 stayed close to its supporters from the start, with CAPCOM polling fans about character designs and voices. Now's the time to actually put up some money. Or else don't complain if Mega Man Legends 3 gets canceled.
Of course, I also like the idea of playing through an early version of Mega Man Legends 3. Such things are usually kept from the public at large, and it's fun to screw around with a game that's still strewn with bugs and half-done environments. Moreover, games often change quite a bit after their prototype stages, so this sample of Mega Man Legends 3 will be different from the final product's first few hours.
And it's cheap. Well, that's assuming you already paid $249.99 for a 3DS. You all did, didn't you?
PLAYSTATION NETWORK NOW SENTIENT, HAS LAUNCH CODES
Of course, the second biggest news of the past week involved the PLAYSTATION Network going offline and staying that way. A security breach was apparently the cause, and the party behind it gained access to user IDs, addresses, PSN passwords, and, potentially, credit card numbers. At this writing, the PSN is still down, Sony's still scraping together damage control, and anyone with a PSN account is watching his or her credit card transactions.
DEATHSMILES 2X CLEARED FOR AWKWARD NORTH AMERICAN RELEASE
Just how well did Deathsmiles, Cave's gothic-lolita shooter, do in North America? It's hard to say: the sequel's coming here, but Aksys Games apparently isn't handling it, despite bringing out the original (with the unforgettable tagline “Lolis Smile Back”). Deathsmiles 2X is now in Cave's hands, as Siliconera dug up an ESRB rating that states as much.
Cave made inroads in the domestic market last year, bringing out some XBox Live titles as well as iPhone versions of their revered shooters. The first Deathsmiles, however, was a bit of a risk for Aksys Games, especially with the deluxe packaging seen above. Cave is taking a chance by foisting the sequel on North America, as Deathsmiles always seemed an odd choice for their first full-retail shooter on these shores. It's a competent side-scrolling game, but the characters are all big-eyed, nearly mouthless underage anime girls, and that tends to scare off a lot of fans. The bug-fighting heroine of Mushihime-sama and the gender-swapping laser fairies of ESPgaluda would be fare more palatable by comparison. Cave still wants to bring Deathsmiles 2X over here, and it's not clear how they'll do it. Deathsmiles 2X was a disc-based game when it hit the Japanese Xbox 360, but is Cave prepared to make it a physical release in North America? Well, they've taken the first step.
SONIC GENERATIONS RETURNS TO ROOTS, MEANS IT THIS TIME
There are three types of dissatisfied Sonic the Hedgehog fans. The Progressive Type wants Sonic to explore new concepts but finds Sega's efforts unsatisfactory. The Nostalgic Type fears change and wants nothing but to play Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or 3 over and over. And the Third Type is disappointed that Sonic isn't yet full-blown furry porn. The Third Type is insane, so Sega's mostly tried to please the Progressive Types with the past decade's Sonic entries. The responses were unenthusiastic, so now it's time to court the Nostalgic Types, who get the collected greatest-hits of Sonic Generations.
Sonic Generations recreates what Sega considers the most memorable Sonic levels in the franchise's 20-year history, with two different playable Sonics. One is the vintage-1992 model with spin dashing moves. The other is the modern Sonic, who speeds around equipped with homing attacks, speed boosts, and a tendency to kiss human women. It's coming sometime this year for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Here's hoping it's tested more thoroughly than Sonic's 15th Anniversary game.
NENDOROID GENERATION BRINGS ANIME TOYS TO PSP RPG
In an example of just how closely connected Japan's game, anime, and toy industries are, Namco Bandai announced a PSP game based on the Nendoroid toy line, source of super-deformed figures inspired by popular properties. An RPG set in part at a school, Nendoroid Generation draws in huge-headed, toylike recreations of popular characters previously immortalized as Nendoroids: Saber, Rin and Rider from Fate/stay night; Nanoha and Fate from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha; Haruhi, Yuki, and Mikuru from Haruhi Suzumiya; and Black Gold Saw, Dead Master, and the title heroine from Black Rock Shooter. Yes, they're all female characters. Even Dead Master.
Nendoroid Generation's battle system allows for various combination attacks, and there's also a dancing mode. The game is without a release date, and it's likely that a few more characters will be added. Virtual singer Hatsune Miku is a pretty popular Nendoroid figure, come to think of it.
NINTENDO'S NEW SYSTEM IS COMING
…And that's pretty much all we know for certain right now. Apparently now called Project Café, the next Nintendo console will debut at the upcoming E3. Everything else is speculation: the touch-screen on the controller, the Wii backward compatibly, the online capabilities, the Betamax attachment, etc. We'll find out more in a few months, but for now, the best we can hope for are more leaked images that aren't obvious Photoshop shenanigans.
IN BRIEF: LAST GUARDIAN SLIPS, CLASSIC SQUARE RPGS GO ONLINE, BLAZBLUE IS PORTABLE, KEIJI INAFUNE RETURNS
Two unfortunate delays were announced this past week. The Last Guardian, the upcoming PlayStation 3 adventure game from Fumito Ueda, slipped from a holiday 2011 release, presumably to sometime in 2012. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 3's double-pack remastering of Ueda's previous games, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, won't make its spring 2011 release date.
Square RPGs from the 1990s have steadily filtered out to the Wii's Virtual Console and PLAYSTATION Network, and the next two games in the pipeline are Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. The PlayStation version of Chrono Trigger with its loading times and mostly unnecessary anime cutscenes, will be arriving on PSN in Japan this Spring, with a U.S. release following later in the year. It's out on the Wii's Virtual Console tomorrow for Japan, with a European debut (and, one can hope, a North American one) to follow. Final Fantasy VI's revival is a tad more complicated: it's coming to North America on two fronts, but it'll go by its original Super NES title of Final Fantasy III on the Wii's Virtual Console, while the PSN version is just Final Fantasy VI. They're both fantastic evidence of why many young nerds came out of the Super NES era with a zealot's love of Square RPGs.
Speaking of which, Square's Threads of Fate was released for the PLAYSTATION Network, and it's another recommended experience. While not as momentous as Square's best-known games, Threads of Fate holds up as a sturdy action-RPG that tracks two separate characters: the shapeshifting Rue gets the better gameplay, while the pumpkin-phobic princess Mint is just more fun to follow around. It deserves a shade more recognition than it's acquired over the years, and making it a six-dollar PSN download will rectify that problem. Or at least it will if the PLAYSTATION Network ever comes back online…
Like all fighting-game upgrades, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift rewards those who wait. The original Continuum Shift arrived on consoles last year, and players had to pay extra for characters like werewolf butler Valkenhaym and boxing squirrel-girl Makoto. Now those two characters, along with magical girl Platinum the Trinity, will be available in one convenient package: BlazBlue Continuum Shift for the 3DS and PSP. It even features all of the gameplay tweaks of the game's 1.03 version, plus a new story mode. The downside? Both games are on portable screens, and that's bound to lessen the impact of BlazBlue's sharply animated fisticuffs. No matter the trade-off, Aksys has both versions arriving on May 31.
After leaving CAPCOM last year, Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune made a few interesting moves, forming two separate development studios, Comcept and Intercept. Now he's back in a new game from another company. Compile Heart added him as a summonable character in Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk-2, PlayStation 3 sequel to the recent RPG where game consoles and companies became anime heroines. Inafune's also fielding questions on Compile Heart's website. Ask him just how Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk-2 fits into his rant last year about Japan's stagnant game development.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: APRIL
BULLET SOUL TAMA TAMASHII
Bullet Soul Tama Tamashii plays a pivotal role in developer 5pb.'s new game plan. Once a dedicated trafficker in visual novels like Steins;Gate and Chaos;HEAd, 5pb. is moving beyond semicolons with their newly formed Mages conglomerate. They're branching out into fighting games like Phantom Breaker and shooters like Bullet Soul. For rather obvious inspiration, the developers looked to Cave's stable of shooters—and to their thick curtains of neon bullets that rain down on players. And to that end, Bullet Soul's built for the quick gratification that comes from spewing powerful projectiles across an equally well-armed fleet of enemies. The game's playable characters include the sword-wielding Zenichi, the garter-wearing police officer Yun, and the apparently 17th century European Monarch Sadaharu. Designed by manga author Akio Watanabe, all of them get various power-ups to tear through the game's five stages, and they're also able to “cancel” oncoming enemy fire or boost their points by getting closer to shots. It's all accompanied by a snythy guitar-rock soundtrack co-written by Kenji Ito (who's better known for scoring Square's Romancing Saga games). Bullet Soul's style-over-substance approach drew some criticisms from the shooter faithful, who contend that the game is better off as a cheap XBox Live Arcade title. If that's true, Bullet Soul at least has some appeal in its extremes.
DRAGON QUEST MONSTERS JOKER 2 PROFESSIONAL
Here's a test of just how popular Dragon Quest is in North America. Sure, Nintendo's backing Dragon Quest IX and the remake of Dragon Quest VI on the DS, but what about those Dragon Quest spin-offs that Enix churns out in Japan? What about the third Rocket Slime game or the game before us, the Professional version of Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2? Part of the Dragon Quest Monsters series, the game focuses on the various slimes, zombies, drakees, and other beasties that fill the Dragon Quest games. The re-nameable hero Joker collects these creatures, trains them, and even combines them under circumstances that we assume are best undescribed. Joker uses a turn-based battle system similar to regular numbered Dragon Quests, though it abandoned the random encounters that bothered some (or just myself) in other Dragon Quest games. It's not that far from Dragon Quest's own Pokémon series, and Professional is a minimal upgrade in that capacity: there are 100 new monsters, new skills for returning ones, and new areas to explore. Other than those additions, it's not that different from Joker 2.
Shooter storylines are even more irrelevant than the normal action-game narrative, but there's something amusing about Qute's Eschatos. Drawing on the apocalyptic studies of eschatology, the game has the moon itself turning purple and eroding away. It's all a prelude to alien invasion, of course, and Eschatos soon has the player piloting jet fighters through stream of enemy bullets. Players can switch between concentrated and wide-angle weapons at any time, and the game rewards those astute enough to take out enemies quickly. Not content with a single plane of vision, Eschatos also shifts its viewpoint around, panning over hillsides and cityscapes and the outer reaches of the atmosphere. Qute speaks of 26 different stages in the game, along with various modes for replaying it. What's caught many an eye is Qute's inclusion of two old Wonderswan shooters, Judgement Silversword and Cardinal Sins. Judgment Silversword, influenced somewhat by Radiant Silvergun, was the winner of Qute's indie Wonderswan game contest back in 2001, and it's since become a sought-after release for anyone who bothers to collect Wonderswan titles. Cardnial Sins is an updated version of Judgment Silversword, and it was previously available only on the WonderWitch download service. That's not a bad set of extras.
THIS WEEK'S RELEASES
Trouble Witches Neo hails from the world of Japanese indie shooters, or “doujin” shooters as fans like to call them for some reason. The original Trouble Witches was released to niche fanfare back in 2007, but Studio Siesta worked hard to promote the game outside of small circles, and an ally emerged in SNK Playmore. Trouble Witches Neo sends eight magically empowered young women, each suiting a different modern anime stereotype, careening through massive fusillades of bright bullets. To protect themselves, the title witches use their own assorted attacks as well as magic barriers of varying sizes. These fields of sorcery slow down oncoming bullets and transform them into coins. Instead of merely boosting the player's score, those coins are used to buy cards that, in turn, grant the witches more powerful attacks. It's a slickly produced little shooter that rises above its indie origins, at least in visual quality, and it's bound to remind some old-schoolers of Cotton and Magical Chase.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
BANGAI-O HD: MISSILE FURY
The Bangai-O series was born for modern consoles. It's been around since 1999, of course, but the hi-definition quality of today's TVs and game systems really benefits Bangai-O's main idea: a missile-spewing robot destroys all in its path, and everything's shown from such a distance that all of the mecha, power-ups, and other on-screen characters are really, really tiny. While the microscopic viewpoint didn't keep the original Bangai-O or the DS-based Spirits from impressing, the all-new Missile Fury is the first game in the series to take advantage of its wide viewpoint. It's not just about looks, either. The Bangai-O games are all about destructive abandon: jetting around a level, picking the right angle of attack, and then letting the Bangai-O robot spew hundreds of missiles (or lasers, or bouncing balls) at once. And then certain enemies launch their own hundred-missile salvos, so you've got to launch another hundred, and by then the system itself is grinding to a halt under the screen-choking weight of all the missiles. Bangai-O is also known for crafty level design, and Missile Fury bundles a lot of different weapons to use in over 100 pre-made stages. The game's greatest strength, however, may be the level-editor mode, which allows players' creations to be shared online, no matter how obscene their stage architecture might be.
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