The X Button
by Todd Ciolek,
I am once again stymied in my attempts to criticize Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It may be yet another rapid upgrade foisted on us as a full game, but I can't be too hard on it now that it's brought back my favorite Darkstalkers character. Well, sort of.
Someone cracked open Ultimate's downloadable content a little early, revealing a bunch of alternate costumes. Among them is a new color scheme that makes Okami's Amaterasu look like Jon Talbain from Darkstalkers. Other new outfits put Arthur from Ghouls 'N Ghosts into the samurai armor of Bishamon, another Darkstalkers regular (with another outfit creating a skeleton Arthur), while Zero gets a Mega Man X suit that, technically, puts Mega Man into the game at long last. I imagine that'll please Mega Man fans in the same vague, conciliatory way that Darkstalkers references please me.
SONY WORKS OUT UMD PASSPORT PROGRAM FOR VITA, NO ONE HAPPY
The game industry has grown used to backward compatibility in new systems, a common practice since the days of the PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Advance (and, if you want to get technical, the Atari 7800 and the Sega Genesis Power Base Convertor). So there was much speculation about how Sony would handle the Vita's compatibility with the PSP's UMD games. The Vita can run PSP titles, but it has no UMD drive for disc-based games. However, Sony has a solution for PSP owners who want to run their UMD games on their brand-new Vita. Before the Vita arrives in Japan this December, PSP owners can download a program that registers their UMDs on the PlayStation Network. Once they're registered, PSN versions of those games can be downloaded to a Vita…at a reduced price.
It's this last detail that has riled PSP owners, who essentially must buy games twice if they want to use them on their Vita handhelds. Sony's announced these “reduced prices” only in Japan so far, and they range from 500 yen to 1500 yen for older titles. Prices for Western markets weren't revealed at this writing, but they're likely to follow the same structure. Of course, PSP owners can always keep their old systems, just as we had to keep our NES and Sega CD systems when we bought Super NES and Sega Saturn systems back in the day. Kids today, y'know.
FINAL FANTASY XIII SPECIAL EDITION ANNOUNCED, FIXES EVERYTHING
Final Fantasy XIII left quite a few players disappointed, but Square Enix has at long last figured out the reason for the game's unkind reception in North America: it didn't have a special edition.
Joking aside, Square Enix has a reasonably impressive Final Fantasy XIII special edition in store for January 31. For $79.99, you get the game, a four-disc soundtrack, and a 20-page artbook. Other retailers get specific bonuses for reserve orders: GameStop has a new outfit for Serah, Amazon has a downloadable Omega boss battle, and Best Buy has a novella that explains just how the hell Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 are linked.
Of course, there's still the question of whether Final Fantasy XIII-2 will amend most of Final Fantasy XIII's problems. While the battle system is built on the same foundation of pre-set character roles and team-based strategy, the world itself is expanded, monsters can be recruited and customized, and, in a touch that I always enjoy, the characters can actually jump. Still, it's evident that Final Fantasy XIII-2 is run by much the same aesthetics as Final Fantasy XIII's visual design, so those fond of Tetsuya Nomura's habits won't be won over by this sequel. Opinions will be divided once again in just a few months.
IN BRIEF: SIMPSONS ARCADE ON LIVE, FROM MAKING GUNDAM UNICORN, ABOBO'S BIG ADVENTURE
Konami's 1991 brawler based on The Simpsons is popular even today, whether due to the license or Konami's typically dependable programming. Konami would be right to bring the game to Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, and that's what a recent rating from Australia's Classifications Board suggests. The listing even has the developer as Backbone Entertainment, the same outfit that ported Konami's X-Men arcade brawler to Live and the PSN last year. Nothing's confirmed yet, but it would be interesting to see how The Simpsons beat-'em-up fares today. It's a snapshot of the show as it was in 1991, with some designs and characters that wouldn't endure into the current age.
Gundam Unicorn has most of the promotions, toys, and guest spots due a new Gundam series, but it hasn't yet received a video game all to itself. From Software, developers of Armored Core and Dark Souls, are amending that with an action game based on the OVA series. The new title, slated for the PlayStation 3, revealed three playable characters: confused young hero Banagher Links, no-nonsense Neo Zeon pilot Marida Cruz, and ridiculously named antihero Full Frontal. The game's due out next year.
Lastly, I must mention the game that everyone's talking about. Saints Row 3? No. Skyrim? No. The game of which I speak is Abobo's Big Adventure, a Flash-based tribute to the NES era. It finds Double Dragon boss Abobo fighting through various levels based on NES classics, all to rescue his son and fan the flames of late-1980s nostalgia. The trailer sends up Balloon Fight, Mega Man 2, Kid Niki, The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. Kung-Fu Master, Double Dragon, and even the Game Over screen from the arcade version of Ninja Gaiden.
OPINION: THE PROBLEM WITH THE 3DS
The Nintendo 3DS isn't like the company's more recent systems. Yes, it resembles the DS more than a little, adding a circular analog pad and an internal gyroscope to the older handheld's design. Yet the new system's use of stereoscopic 3-D is a relatively novel venture in the world of portable games. Nintendo's often flirted with 3-D effects, dating back to Famicom games and the doomed Virtual Boy, and the path's a thorny one. Last month, Nintendo announced a loss of $925 million for its fiscal year so far. Several things were at play: a strong Yen, increased competition from mobile games…and the slow start of the 3DS.
Not that the 3DS is another Virtual Boy. Since the March launch of the 3DS, Nintendo's moved 1.7 million systems in North America alone. And while that's a solid success, it's perhaps not good enough for Nintendo's successor to the DS. Once again, several things are to blame. The 3DS launched at $250 (before abruptly dropping to $170), and to the typical consumer, it doesn't look that much different from the DS. Most crippling of all, the 3DS faces the same limited software lineup that dogs any new platform in its first year on the market. Most of the launch games were ports or simple showcase titles, and it's only at the system's first Christmas that Nintendo's stepped up with Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. Every Nintendo system needs a Mario adventure.
Elsewhere, the Nintendo 3DS hasn't shown much from other companies, most of whom have yet to release their stronger titles. This holiday season brings Konami's Doctor Lautrec, Sega's Shinobi and Sonic Generations, and not much else. Some developers have even canceled projects. Bomberman 3DS seems tied up in Konami's takeover of Hudson, and THQ shuttered Saints Row: Drive-By. The most lamented of lost 3DS games is Mega Man Legends 3, but that one should be blamed entirely on Capcom. Yes, I'm still mad.
In fact, the greatest foe of the 3DS may be the DS itself, which still hasn't sputtered out entirely. While it's entered its final leg of obscure RPG releases and disposable cash-ins, it's still widely available and approachable. The 3DS, creative as it may be, offers an optional 3-D effect that's lost on many players (and even carries an advisory for children under six, bringing back memories of the Virtual Boy). The DS alienates nobody, and neither does the PSP.
The 3DS also hasn't grown to fill the niche of Japan-made oddities in the same way the DS did. Japanese RPG developers fled to the DS and PSP when modern systems proved too expensive, but the 3DS doesn't offer the same sanctuary just yet. Nor have North American publishers risen to translate the system's Japanese curiosities or RPGs like UnchainBlades Rexx (above). The 3DS probably doesn't have to worry about surviving in the Japanese market itself, though. It's getting a Monster Hunter game, after all.
In all likelihood, the 3DS will weather its rough start just fine. It has several strong titles ahead in 2012, and it's still a fairly powerful handheld. Most important of all, it has Nintendo's apparent support, and Nintendo's stood by most of the systems that it didn't swiftly cancel after six months. But if it's going to prove itself, the 3DS will do it with decent games rather than mocked-up 3-D effects.
THIS WEEK'S RELEASES
Developer: Griptonite Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Like many Sega staples, the Shinobi series saw its share of rough times. It did well from the 1987 arcade Shinobi up through Shadow Dancer and Shinobi III on the Genesis. Then the hokey live-action digitized Shinobi Legions on the Saturn set the series back so far it even missed the Dreamcast. Shinobi got back on track with a decent PlayStation 2 edition, but that was a good nine years ago. Now Sega's remembered Shinobi once again, and the newest revision of the series returns to side-scrolling action games. Of course, it's dressed up in modern stylings and the effects of the 3DS, and it imagines itself as a prequel. The main character, Jiro, is the father of longtime Shinobi lead Joe Musashi. Not that Shinobi's ever had an intricate storyline.
This new Shinobi is fairly eclectic in its references. The game retains the katana, throwing daggers, and magic from the older Shinobis, but it also includes a parry system for deflecting attacks, and a score-multiplier that rewards players who avoid getting hit. The game even breaks out horseback races, surfing stages, and a shuriken-toss in between the regular stages. It also shares its predecessors' fondness for cinematic touches, as Jiro uses missiles as stepping stones and does battle on the wings of a jet fighter. It may look a little more abstract than the Shinobis of decades past, but this 3DS prequel seems to have its heritage well in hand.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
DYNASTY WARRIORS 7: XTREME LEGENDS |
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Platform: PlayStation 3
How different would this installment of Dynasty Warriors be if Xtreme Legends titles were “extreme” in the perfect sense of the term—1990s superhero comics? Would Jiang Wei, Lu Bu, and the rest of the franchise's medieval Chinese warriors be turned into grimacing, steroid-fueled cyborgs guzzling All Sport and screaming every line? Would the woman on the cover become a wasp-waisted, white-eyed siren locked in a grotesque posture that conveniently hid both of her feet? Would it be all that different from the actual Dynasty Warriors, where familiar names of Chinese history are reimagined as overpowered battlefield terrors? Yes, it would.
Like the Xtreme Legends upgrades before it, this one expands on the most recent Dynasty Warriors, adding three new characters, six new weapons, and a few new moves. Characters can pull off evasive turns and aerial combos in battle, and there's a new line of scenarios that explore various arcs of the story. The gameplay remains Dynasty Warriors through and through, with one (or two to four) characters charging into battle against hordes of soldiers. And that's Xtreme enough.
THE KING OF FIGHTERS XIII|
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
It's fitting that the covers of The King of Fighters XIII feature K', Mai Shiranui, and Vice—all characters who should've been in The King of Fighters XII, but weren't. In fact, The King of Fighters XII was a rushed, half-finished prototype of what might've been a decent fighting game, and XIII may well be that game. For one thing, it has most (but not all) of the major King of Fighters characters, and it fits into the larger story arc within the franchise. It's staged as the last chapter of a story that began in The King of Fighters 2003, and it revolves around the white-blond Ash Crimson's attempt to claim the powers of Orochi clan members and…you know, I suspect that a lot of King of Fighters fans don't even care that much. But XIII has amusing pre-match conversations between characters, and that's always been the best thing about the “plot” of The King of Fighters.
More to the point, The King of Fighters XIII fixes a lot of its predecessor's play mechanics. The Critical Counters and Guard Attacks of The King of Fighters XIII are pushed aside, and they've given way to the Hyperdrive Meter. A gauge separate from a character's standard Super Meter, the Hyperdrive Meter can be used for combo-helping Drive Cancels, the even more combo-friendly Hyperdrive Mode, or the damaging Neomax super moves. That, and just about every returning character's moveset was revised in some way. Fortunately, The King of Fighters XII's best feature isn't mucked with: the hand-drawn look is still amazing, and there's more of it in The King of Fighters XIII.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: SKYWARD SWORD |
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Next week sees that Thanksgiving tradition of a new Zelda game. It may not happen every year, but Nintendo likes to release a major Zelda title right before the holiday shopping season begins in full. Skyward Sword is indeed a major Zelda, closing the Wii's career just as Twilight Princess helped start it five years ago. While Nintendo describes it as a prequel to Ocarina of Time, the game has yet another revision of Link, and the story's yet another slightly familiar recast of the Zelda formula. He's still pointy-eared and green-clad, but he's now a kid who grew up in the floating isles of Skyloft. A mysterious sword leads him to new lands, eventually requiring him to rescue his childhood friend Zelda.
Skyward Sword is the first Zelda title to make extensive use of the Wii Motion Plus, so much so that the special edition of the game includes a gold Wii Remote Plus (and a compilation of Zelda music). Aside from wielding a sword in motion-sensing gameplay, players also upgrade Link's accessories by collecting items and locate treasures with the sword. The overworld, which Link can explore on bird-back, has a multitude of dungeons that expand as Link gathers new items, leading to a Metroid-like system of returning to previously visited areas. And, of course, there are puzzles and mini-games aplenty, with Skyward Sword becoming the first Zelda title with bird racing. There's a Thanksgiving joke there, but I'm too proud to make it.
TEKKEN HYBRID |
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: PlayStation 3
If we may continue to judge fighting games by their covers, the box art for this Tekken Hybrid package highlights one of the more common complaints about the Tekken: Blood Vengeance 3D film: it centers on Ling Xiaoyu and Alisa Bosconovitch at the expense of more interesting parts of the Tekken canon, such as the boxing dinosaur. Another common complaint is that Blood Vengeance 3D is even worse than the abysmal Tekken anime, but there's more to this package than a CG movie. Hybrid includes an HD remake of Tekken Tag Tournament, an early PlayStation 2 spin-off of the Tekken franchise. Unlike other games of the PS2 launch, Tag Tournament still has a following today, and the Hybrid version upscales the graphics.
Hybrid also offers Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Prologue, a preview of the upcoming sequel to Tekken Tag Tournament. It's limited to four characters: Devil Jin, regular Devil, and, of course, Xiaoyu and Alisia. That makes for a limited sample, but the characters get alternate outfits related to Blood Vengeance 3D, and those outfits are reportedly exclusive to this little package deal. For those who like Tekken (or Blood Vengeance) enough to take a chance on Hybrid, there's a special edition with soundtracks and an artbook.
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