The X Button
by Todd Ciolek,
Who's looking forward to the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection in September? I certainly am. Yes, I know it's just an HD PlayStation 3 edition of two games already available on the PlayStation 2. Shut up. Both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are fascinating adventures, even without invoking any Games As Art claptrap, and I'm eager to play Shadow with a consistent frame rate. I think I'll draw the line at importing the Japanese edition of the collection, though it has an nice artbook, separate cases for each game, and a classy slipcase.
It's unfortunate that there's no company doing for games what The Criterion Collection does for movies (or what Bandai Visual tried briefly and expensively to do for anime). A lot of major releases get special-edition packaging and bonus discs covering the storied history of Final Fantasy or BulletStorm, but there's no unified procession of classic and notable games reissued with extensive behind-the-scenes material and tasteful packaging. We joke about it, but I suspect a lot of us would buy something like Panzer Dragoon Saga or Grim Fandango all over again if they were given the Criterion treatment.
It'll never happen for several reasons, ownership rights chief among them. Yet it'd be great to see a collection that preserved and polished all sorts of important games from Pengo up through Portal 2. Perhaps it'd also include Duke Nukem Forever. Hey, even the Criterion camp let in a Michael Bay movie.
SOLATOROBO COMING TO THE U.S. AFTER ALL, OR SO WE THINK
Many people, myself included, were dismayed that Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, CyberConnect 2's promising action game for the DS, wasn't seen at the recent E3. Well, it appears that Solatorobo was actually there. It's just that no one could talk about it until now. Siliconera and NintendoLife both report that the game's headed for a U.S. release, even if they can't disclose the publisher. Proving that nothing is hidden from devoted game nerds, someone already found that the domain “solatorobo.com” is owned by Xseed Games. More details of the American release will reportedly emerge in the coming weeks, and the game arrives in Europe this July, courtesy of Nintendo's Euro branch.
Why so much palaver about a late-stage DS game? Well, Solatorobo is a follow-up to Tail Concerto, a PlayStation action game and the debut of CyberConnect2 (then known merely as CyberConnect). Tail Concerto was a charming game with no substance, but Solatorobo improves on everything. The game tracks a dog-man named Red and his multi-purpose robot as they explore floating islands inhabited by various beast-people. There's a lot to be done, as Red's mecha can throw things, fly, and pull off various special attacks. Red's also capable of going around on foot, and there's an elaborately designed world to see and a few secrets to uncover—such as the way that dog-and-cat folk can turn into actual humans. It's all put together with nice design work, some excellent music, and the overriding sense that CyberConnect2, long wasted on Naruto games and middling RPGs, really wanted to make Solatorobo all these years.
So it's good to see Solatorobo picked up by a certain North American company. The only real worry is that some players will be put off by the animal-people characters. That's why it's important for Solatorobo fans to show that they're not creepy nutcases. When you reserve your copy, be sure to wear clean cat ears, make polite conversation by asking the clerks their opinions of the hottest female characters from Sonic the Hedgehog, and refrain from peeing on the carpet as you trot out of the store on all fours.
GAME REPUBLIC FOUND DEAD, INTERNET MEMES QUESTIONED
The most depressing stories in the game industry most often involve something shut down before its time: a game canceled in a near-finished state, a magazine or website abandoned by its publishers, or a game company forced out of business. The economy has driven a lot of game developers under, and the latest to fade is Game Republic.
No minor startup, Game Republic emerged in 2003 under the direction of Yoshiki Okamoto, whose work stretches from Konami's Gyruss to the success of Street Fighter II. And Game Republic had big guns behind them: Sony published their first offering, Genji: Dawn of the Samurai, in 2005, and Microsoft backed Every Party the same year. Game Republic then worked with everything from licenses like Brave Story: New Traveler and Dragon Ball: Origins to their own Folklore and Dark Mist, yet they couldn't find a hit franchise. Only Genji received a sequel, and it's now remembered only because of that giant enemy crab's weak point and the resulting meme.
Dogged by the closing of business partner Brash Entertainment, Game Republic had trouble getting attention in recent years, even when they were trying new things. The developer's last two projects branched out a little by exploring two-character cooperation: Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom found a human thief guiding around a huge, sasquatch-like beast, while the less-lauded Knights Contract paired a medieval warrior and a reincarnated witch. Sadly, the unkind reception for Knights Contract closes Game Republic's career. The developer's website and offices were shut down, and there's no word of Okamoto's next venture. Let's hope that he and the rest of Game Republic surface elsewhere, as every depressing closure in the game industry seems to lead someplace new.
NORA AND THE TIME STUDIO HAS NOVEL IDEA, LONG TITLE
Nora and the Time Studio: The Witch of the Foggy Forest looks the part of a typical Japanese RPG: it stars a young girl named Nora who runs her own magical laboratory out in the woods, where she crafts all sorts of goods and has all sorts of little lighthearted adventures. But Nora and the Rather Long Subtitle is also the work of Shigeo Komori, fresh off the well-received dungeon hacks in the Etrian Odyssey series. Etrian Odyssey has a varied selection of fans in spite of its cutesy surface. To keep up that presentation, Komori brought along Etrian illustrator Yuji Himukai to draw the characters, Atelier series writer Shinichi Yoshiike to script the game, and Atlus to publish the whole thing for the DS.
The game's resume may not stand out by itself, but Komori devised an interesting premise for Nora and the Time Studio. Instead of just mixing elements together, Nora controls time itself. She can speed up the temporal flow to age tinctures or rot meat, or she can rewind an object's shelf-life to break it down into its component parts. There's also an RPG to be played as Nora goes exploring with the warrior Karuna, the beast-kid Keke, the adventurer Lutz, the ore hunter Elsie, and the amnesiac mage Mellow. It's not quite Chrono Trigger, but Nora and the Time Studio may well have just as much beneath its surface as Etrian Odyssey. It's out next month in Japan, with no American release in sight. The Atlus backing gives it a better chance of coming over than most recent DS RPGs, at least.
SAINT SEIYA GOES DYNASTY WARRIORS, SHUN STILL NOT REALLY A GIRL
The Dynasty Warriors series is well-suited to many anime, as it's all about slashing through entire battlefields full of enemies. There are Gundam installments and a Fist of the North Star treatment, and now there's a Saint Seiya game in a similar style from publisher Namco Bandai. [Note: The developer of the game is actually Dimps and not Tecmo Koei, as previously reported.] Set for the Playstation 3 this fall, Saint Seiya Chronicle follows the anime series that captivated many children in Japan during the 1980s (and failed to do so in America two decades later). Seiya, Shiryu, Hyoga, Aldebaran, Shun, and Ikki are all depicted as playable characters, though that likely won't be the entire roster. Also likely: Saint Seiya Chronicle never coming to North America.
DOWNLOAD ROUNDUP: JUNE
Cave is a strange company. In recent years, Cave has tried to introduce its many shooters to North America, and ESPgaluda II, Dodonpachi, and an original Mushihime-sama game all hit the iPhone. When it comes to full-fledged console games, though, Cave's throwing its weight behind the Deathsmiles series. Yes, the Deathsmiles games are those side-scrolling shooters filled with cutesy anime girls that give many a mainstream player pause. Whatever the logic, Cave licensed the original Deathsmiles to Aksys last year, and now Cave's put the Japanese version of Deathsmiles 2X on the Xbox 360's Games On Demand service. The game sends several young witches into a Christmastime aerial battle against the forces of Satan Claws, resulting in many huge explosions of enemy bullets. Fortunately, the heroines are all armed with two different types of attack, enemy-seeking familiars, and the ability to fire left or right. The last of these options may not sound very impressive, but it's highly refreshing in the world of horizontal shooters and their fixed, forward-firing ways.
It's a shame that Deathsmiles 2X looks noticeably uglier than Cave's previous efforts, reflecting a 3-D visual composition instead of the developer's typical sprite-based style. And while it's full of the intense, bullet-dodging grace that Cave does rather well, it's also a bit pricier than most of the shooters on Xbox Live (and it's entirely in Japanese). Devoted fans of the genre will get over the untranslated text, the awkward look, and the rampant creepy anime-fan concessions. Casual players might not be so easily swayed—and they'll find that Trouble Witches Neo delivers much the same thing at a third of the price.
SUPER STREET FIGHTER IV: ARCADE EDITION
The “Arcade Edition” subtitle has dubious meaning here. This installment of Super Street Fighter IV first arrived in arcades last year, but it could just as easily (if less concisely) be called Evil Ryu and Oni Akuma and Yun and Yang Edition. The update adjusts the minutiae of combat and adds a new channel of high-level matches to be viewed, but the true selling points are the four new characters. Granted, Evil Ryu and Oni Akuma aren't all that new; most of their moves cover familiar ground, though they're given enough unique touches to stand on their own. Yun and Yang are far more interesting. They're not the most striking characters from Street Fighter III, but they're quick, varied, and rather fun to play (and apparently overpowered). It's a slim upgrade for those who want a larger roster, preferably with Street Fighter IV versions of Elena, Rolento, and other characters from the franchise's history.
But Arcade Edition has a lot for those devoted to tournaments and other competitive hobnobbery. The upgrade adjusts the character balance in countless ways, setting a few new priorities, fixing some exploitable openings, and basically forcing just about every player to tweak strategies for his or her favorite character. That's how Arcade Edition truly sells itself to the Street Fighter faithful. There's also a full version of the game shipping next week, which likely won't interest anyone but PC owners, who went without Super Street Fighter IV. As for me, I'm just buying the Arcade Edition upgrade so I can do that one move where Yang rolls across the floor and then kicks the other guy into the air and it's totally awesome.
WIZARDRY: LABYRINTH OF LOST SOULS
The Wizardry series is the prodigal son of Western RPGs. Created in 1981 by Andrew C. Greenberg and Robert Woodhead (the latter of whom went on to found AnimEigo), Wizardry went through eight games and countless ports in North America. Yet it was even more popular in Japan, where Wizardry spin-offs number nearly two dozen titles on as many systems. So it makes a certain cosmic sense whenever Wizardry comes home, clad in the finery of Japan's game industry.
Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls makes a few concessions to modern RPG trends: the characters, all crafted either by players or at random, have stylish looks that evoke anime design without being cheap about it (though the female dwarves unfortunately resemble ten-year-old girls). That's all surface polish, of course, as this is a Wizardry game through and through. Story's kept to a minimum as players recruit a party, plow through complex labyrinths, encounter all manner of creatures, gain levels, and…well, die a lot. Such are the rules of the dungeon hack, and Wizardry insists on careful strategies and level-building. Fans of modern RPGs will wonder where the theatrical summon spells and fully voiced cutscenes are, but Wizardry has much to offer anyone who's been through dungeon rides like Etrian Odyssey and emerged wanting more.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
DYNASTY WARRIORS: GUNDAM 3
Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 brings back half-fond memories of the Anime Boom Years, when North American game companies were willing to bring over all sorts of anime-based titles, including Lupin: Treasure of the Sorcerer King, Rave Master, and many flavors of Gundam. Those days are long gone, and naught remains but mementos like Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3.
OK, so the game's U.S. release probably has less to do with a bygone era and more to do with the simple, financially reliable appeal of cutting through hundreds of enemy soldiers in a single round. It works in untold installments of Dynasty Warriors, and it works when those soldiers are replaced with apparently auto-piloted enemy mecha from the Gundam world. The third Gundam off-shoot has the same massive battlefield melees, with new touches in the gameplay: emergency dashes and chain attacks are minor improvements, but players can also bring a companion robot into battle and call upon its pilot for special moves. Koei mentions over 300 missions of varying objective in the game, plus an online mode that allows four-payer cooperative combat.
And then there are the newly playable mecha. The rosters from past Dynasty Warriors: Gundam games are preserved here, and the latest additions include the Physalis and the Full Vernian Zephyranthes from Gundam 0083; the Gedlav from V Gundam; the Double X from the largely ignored Gundam X, the Death Army from the still-underrepresented G Gundam, the Deathscythe Hell, the Heavy Arms, and the Tallgeese from Gundam Wing; the Kapool from the well-meaning mess that is Turn A Gundam; the Knight Gundam from SD Gundam Gaiden Sieg Zion Hen; the Acguy from the original Mobile Suit Gundam; the GINN from Gundam SEED; and the Raiser, the Susanowo, the Arios, the Cherudim, the Seravee, and the oddly named Reborns from Gundam 00. And let's not forget Gundam Unicorn, which contributes the Sinanju, the Kshatriya, and two versions of the Unicorn to the game. Conveniently, you can rent episodes of Gundam Unicorn on the PlayStation Network when you're not playing Dynasty Warriors Gundam! It's like those Saturday mornings where you'd go from watching Captain N cartoons to playing Mega Man or Castlevania.
RESIDENT EVIL: THE MERCENARIES 3D
This isn't the upcoming Resident Evil game set during the zombie-stuffed final days of Raccoon City—that's Operation Raccoon City. And it isn't the one that's all about Jill Valentine's adventure in between Resident Evil 4 and 5—that's Resident Evil Revelations. No, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D is a 3DS revamp of the Mercenaries modes from previous Resident Evils, which makes it the least interesting of the franchise's upcoming harvest.
Yet The Mercenaries 3D has its place. There's no extensive preamble about kidnapped Presidential daughters or bizarre incidents. Players are dropped into an area swarming with brain-starved zombies and tasked with killing the local boss or simply slaying as many undead as possible. The game features only 30 such missions in eight locales, though there's co-op play and a lineup of familiar characters: Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Rebecca Chambers, Barry Burton, Claire Redfield, Albert Wesker, future Resident Evil 4 boss Jack Krauser, and masked Umbrella security solider Hunk. The giant block of Tofu from Resident Evil 2 is apparently not invited this time. But there's the option to fire while you're moving, going against the Resident Evil standard. And that's better than a block of processed, knife-wielding soy.
Also Shipping: The complete version of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.
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