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Launch Day

by Todd Ciolek, Nov 15th 2012

If you listened to ANNCast last week, you likely heard that the contract for the Tatsunoko vs. Capcom fighting game recently ended. This means Capcom can't reprint the game or put it up as a digital download. So the current stock of the crossover fighter, released on the Wii in 2010, is all we have. Copies are sitting on Amazon right now for about twenty bucks, and that's as cheap as they're likely to get.

If you want Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, now's the time. And there's good reason to want it if you like Capcom characters, Tatsunoko superheroes, or the whole idea of tag-team crossover fighters. It's fairly simple in its gameplay, like a less manic Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but it's a solid creation and a nice tribute to Tatsunoko. And hey, you can run it on the Wii U.

NEWS

MATSUNO LEAVES LEVEL-5, SHOCKINGLY ENOUGH
It seems like it was only yesterday that Yasumi Matsuno joined Level-5. In fact, it was just last year that he threw in with the maker of Professor Layton and Rogue Galaxy. After leaving Square in the middle of Final Fantasy XII's development and spending years as a freelancer, Matsuno turned up at Level-5 in the summer of 2011. His first project there was Crimson Shroud, an RPG in the four-game omnibus titled Guild 01. And now Matsuno's moving on yet again.

In announcing his departure from Level-5, Matsuno took care to tell Twitter followers that he's “in perfect health.” It was perhaps necessary, considering the strange career he's had. As the director of Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics, and the Tactics Ogre series, Matsuno had gained quite a favorable reputation by the time Square tapped him to direct Final Fantasy XII. But Matsuno left the company in 2005, with “health reasons” being the official cause. Whatever the reason, Matsuno didn't do much for the next few years beyond writing the script for Platinum Games' MadWorld. He's supposedly working on a new project with an unidentified company now, and I hope we'll find out what that is very soon.

The one bright spot in all of this: Matsuno confirmed that he's finished work on the overseas version of Crimson Shroud, which should appear on the 3DS eShop by the end of the year. It's being translated by Alexander O. Smith's Kajiya Productions, the same outfit that's handled all of Matsuno's game since Vagrant Story.

PLAYSTATION PLUS ARRIVES ON VITA, OFFERS GRAVITY RUSH, LESSER GAMES FOR FREE
The PlayStation Plus program has a simple angle: pay the subscription fee, and you get discounts as well as Free! games. It'll be available on the PS Vita next week, and Plus members instantly get six games, two of which are Gravity Rush and the PSP game Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions.

Personally, I could play those two games for the rest of my life and be happy, but Plus members also get Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Jet Set Radio HD, Wipeout 2048, and Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack. The only catch, of course, is that you have to stay a member of Plus, which runs either $17.99 for three months or $49.99 for a whole year. Now, you could get Gravity Rush and Tactics for about fifty bucks total and have them permanently, Plus or not. But it's not a bad deal for subscribers.

SCREENSHOTS OF THE WEEK: MACROSS 30: THE VOICE THAT CONNECTS THE GALAXY
Macross 30: The Voice That Connects the Galaxy was announced for the PlayStation 3 in September, with the vague promise of bringing together all sorts of Macross characters in the style of Super Robot Wars. The game's an action-RPG from Artdink, makers of the Macross Triangle Frontier shooters for the PSP.

Now the first batch of screenshots shows several playable characters and their transforming jet-mecha: Hikaru and the VF-1S from Macross, Isamu Dyson and the YF-19 from Macross Plus, Nekki Basara and the VF-19 Valkyrie from Macross 7, Alto Saotome and the VF-25 from Macross Frontier, and somehow Shin Kudo and the VF-0A from Macross Zero.

Most of all, I like this shot of Minmay, who seems easily occupied by simple shiny objects and bright lights.

FEATURE: THE WII U LAUNCH

How does the Wii U's November 18 launch compare to other Nintendo consoles? To be certain, its initial library is stocked better than the GameCube's paltry lineup, the Nintendo 64's two-game debut, or the Wii's curiously Mario-Free! arrival. And yet the system itself lacks that undeniable novelty that's come with previous Nintendo newcomers. The Wii announced a potential revolution with its motion controls, and the Nintendo 64 stunned the industry with Super Mario 64 (before the post-launch drought set in, anyway). The Wii U seems an expansion, resembling a Wii with HD graphics, better stats, and a unique controller.

The controller commands most of the attention, with its cross-breeding of normal controls and an iPad-ish touch screen. The system works just fine with regular Wii remotes, but the Wii U controller allows for some novel new interactions and, of course, self-contained gameplay. It also works with Nintendo's new TVii service, which streams programs through the system and, if you like, to the controller screen in your lap.

If you can find a Wii U unclaimed by preorders or zealous early adopters, it'll run $299.99 for an 8GB white console or $349.99 for a 32GB black model that includes Nintendo Land and some stands. Memory is expandable, of course, so you're essentially paying more for convenience and a pack-in. The launch catalog features nearly thirty games, ranging from Nintendo-made standouts to the usual hangers-on.

NINTENDO LAND
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
MSRP: $59.99

Just as the original Wii shipped with Wii Sports, the pricier version of the Wii U ships with Nintendo Land. It's a similar collection of mini-games with a charming device to frame it: all the game is an amusement park for player-made Mii icons, and each attraction is based on some Nintendo title. As Miis roam the grounds, they can team up in certain games, compete in others, or take on a solo challenge. The game offers a dozen such rides, ranging from the familiar to the obscure. The sights of Metroid Blast should be familiar, as it finds the player with the Wii U gamepad manning Samus Aran's ship while four other participants use Wii remotes to control Samus-suited Miis and take down the airborne vessel (a sixth player can stand around and whine about “the baby” for that authentic modern Metroid experience). Meanwhile, The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest lets four players hack away at monsters while a fifth uses the Wii U pad to target them with a bow and arrow. Simpler pursuits await in Mario Chase, where four players, all dressed like Toad, run after the fifth player's Mario-garbed avatar, presumably seeking revenge for all of those times he used Warp Zones and left them trapped in other castles.

Nintendo Land's other multiplayer attractions include Pikmin Adventure, where the Wii U pad commands small Pikmin and the Wii remotes control larger ones. In Luigi's Ghost Mansion, players use flashlights to hunt a spirit controlled by the Wii U Pad. Animal Crossing:Sweet Day puts Wii remote users in control of candy-hunters, with the wielder of the Wii U Pad directing two candy guards. Among the single-player attractions, there's the trolley racing of Donkey Kong's Crash Course, the high-speed F-Zero rush of Captain Falcon's Twister Race, the scavenger hunt of Yoshi's Fruit Cart, a recreation of the NES game Balloon Fight, and a rhythm-game called Octopus Dance. Lastly, Nintendo's little-seen 1986 action game Nazo no Murasame Jo returns as Takamaru's Ninja Castle, in which players use shuriken and samurai swords to keep enemies at bay. If you're tracking such things, this is the closest that Nazo no Mursame Jo has ever come to a Western release.

NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. U
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
MSRP: $59.99

The cynical surely will point out that New Super Mario Bros. U looks a lot like New Super Mario Bros. Wii. And so it does. But that is never the point of any Mario game. And the storyline is never the point either, because this new Mario has pretty much the same premise as the last: Bowser raids Princess Peach's castle and carries her off, in the process hurling Mario, Luigi, and their Toad allies into a large Super Acorn tree. That is not important, for Mario games all are more about the level design and the new ideas on display. The first such idea goes back to those acorns. They bestow the Flying Squirrel suit, which enables Mario to glide through the air, double-jump, and climb walls. Several new Yoshis also appear: the Bubble Baby spews bubbles that turn enemies into coins, the Balloon Baby inflates grotesquely to carry players through the air, and the Bulb Baby Yoshi clears up dark areas with its bioluminescent powers. Regular Yoshi is also on hand, as are the Fire Flower, Ice Flower, Penguin Suit, and Mini-Mushroom. Oh, and the regular mushroom. But has there ever been a traditional 2-D Mario game without that?

Mario games are also increasingly about multiplayer, and New Super Mario Bros. U allows up to five participants in its side-scrolling levels. Four players control Mario, Luigi, Blue Toad, and Yellow Toad (the latter two of whom desperately need real names) with Wii remotes, with the fifth uses the Wii U pad and observes the others like a meddlesome deity. As the four characters make their way through stages, the Wii U pad wielder taps the touch screen to create blocks and stun enemies. Of course, this helps or torments the other players equally, so it's bound to be the most contentious way to go through the game. And Nintendo said the Wii U pad would prevent arguments.

TANK! TANK! TANK!
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
MSRP: $49.99

Tank! Tank! Tank! likely won't be anyone's first choice when it comes to picking out a Wii U game. Yet all of the system's high-profile games emphasize multiplayer, and so new owners may find themselves looking for some other title that's best with four players taking part. That's where Tank! Tank! Tank! will come in. Based on an arcade game from 2009, it drops four tanks (resembling the hero of Tiny Tank not a little) into a cityscape and encourages them to destroy each other. The tanks handle well, battles move quickly, and weapons are plentiful. They include plasma shells, missiles, and machine guns, though it's more fun to play with the laser beam, flamethrower, and a single enormous missile called Colossus. To personalize all of this, players can create pilot portraits by photographing themselves with the Wii U pad's camera. And no, the game doesn't limit you to using someone's face. Make your cat, houseplant, or vintage El Topo poster into a tank pilot if you please.

Mutual destruction isn't the only aim of Tank! Tank! Tank! The game lets players team up against other tank brigades or take part in full-blown boss battles. These encounters throw the tanks into combat against a giant mechanical dragon, spider, or some other city-wrecking menace worthy of fighting Gamera or Godzilla. There's no big rubbery friend-to-all-children to save the day, so your tanks must coordinate their attacks and avoid being devoured by the monster. And if they are devoured, respawning doesn't take very long. There's no online multiplayer mode to be seen, though, and playing it with a squad of computer-controlled opponents or allies doesn't have the same impact. So make sure you have the friends and the Wii remotes before grabbing this.

SONIC & ALL-STARS RACING TRANSFORMED
Developer: Sumo Digital
Publisher: Sega
Platform: Nintendo Wii U/PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
MSRP: $39.99

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed will appear on the PlayStation and Xbox 360 as well, but its debut coincides with the Wii launch quite nicely. A sequel to the surprisingly good Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, the game expands the whole concept of a Mario Kart-ish racer. Characters zip around in little cars (or stranger four-wheeled vehicles), but their rides can transform into flying crafts or boats. The race tracks usually let players switch between all three forms, changing from plane to car to hovercraft while taking in the Sega-throwback scenery. The stages are all based around titles from the company's history, ranging from Super Monkey Ball courses to an After Burner stage that leads through the air, across the seas, and onto the decks of aircraft carriers. And there's also a Panzer Dragoon course where dragons snap at passing motorists. It's the closest Sega will get to a new Panzer Dragoon game. Sigh.

The character lineup for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed dips into Sega's past decades. Naturally, there's a good chunk of Sonic characters: the hedgehog himself, Tails, Amy, Knuckles, Shadow, and Doctor Robotnik Eggman. The rest of the roster features AiAi and MeeMee from Super Monkey Ball; Beat and Gum from Jet Set Radio; Nights and Reala from NiGHTS; Ulala and Pudding from Space Channel 5; Amigo from Samba De Amigo; Joe Musashi from Shinobi; Gillus Thunderhead from Golden Axe; Vyse from Skies of Arcadia; B.D. Joe from Crazy Taxi; and two guest stars: Ralph from Wreck-It Ralph and Danica Patrick from…uh, real life. Wii U owners can also use their Miis, and Xbox 360 owners their avatars. Yes, Sega didn't get too obscure, and as with Sony All-Stars Battle Royale, one certainly complain about all the neglected characters. Shenmue's forklift-piloting Ryo doesn't show up this time, unless he's hidden well. The game doesn't have any actual Panzer Dragoon racers, either, and I don't see the stars of Burning Rangers, GunValkyrie, Streets of Rage, Wonder Boy/Monster World, Girl's Garden, or the first great Sega game, Pengo.

ZOMBIU
Developer: Ubisoft Montpelier
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
MSRP: $59.99

Is the cover of ZombiU a little too direct? I realize it's a game about the undead running amok in England, but isn't it a bit stereotypical to go with a zombified British Foot Guard, bearskin hat and all? Why not add in some zombies wearing bowlers and playing cricket while having tea and crumpets and discussing last night's East Enders? Anyway, ZombiU is particularly brutal in dropping players into the midst of a zombie outbreak. As the member of a survivalist group called The Ravens of Dee, you're sent out into undead-filled streets in search of survivors and the causes behind this entire catastrophe. It somehow involves secret societies, science gone mad, and the works of 16th-century scholar-alchemist John Dee, who apparently saw all of this coming.

ZombiU doesn't go for the resilient life meter and healing herbs of Resident Evil; one bite from an undead lurcher can technically kill your character, who then turns into a zombie. This makes you start over with another survivor, encountering your previous avatar in grimy, brain-eating form. And with the game's multiplayer feature, others can hunt down your now-undead protagonist and steal your supplies.

The Wii U pad's touch screen plays into the supply angle, and you'll use the touch-screen to monitor your items, weapons, and helpful Virucide. It also comes in handy when you're decoding door locks or scanning the environment for shambling monstrosities. The multiplayer modes use the touch-screen for commanding an army of zombies, while other players control armed survivors. It might not do for the Wii U what Resident Evil did for the PlayStation sixteen years ago, but ZombiU remains the most interesting original game of the Wii U's first wave.

AND THE REST…
Among the multiplatform games stopping by the Wii U, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge is an allegedly improved version of the game that hit the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 earlier this year. The Wii U edition features several side stages where players control Ayane instead of protagonist Ryu Hayabusa. Other ports feature smaller enhancements for the Wii U. Mass Effect 3 Wii U Special Edition allows players to command parties with the pad's touch-screen, while Batman: Arkham City: Armored Edition employs the screen as a scanner. Elsewhere, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 brings Nintendo-themed costumes and the return of the Tekken Ball mini-game. The lineup also features Scribblenauts Unlimited, Assassin's Creed III, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Disney's Epic Mickey 2: The Power of 2, Darksiders II, Funky Barn, and Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper.

Amid all of these adaptations, Ubisoft has an original party game with Rabbids Land, a fitting counterpart to Nintendo Land. ESPN Sports Connection fits a similar niche, providing the closest equivalent to Wii Sports on the new console.

The rest of the Wii U lineup is occupied by the typical suspects: Madden NFL 13, FIFA Soccer 13, Just Dance 4, Sing Party, Game Party Champions, Wipeout 3, Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2013, and Transformers Prime: The Game. And there's Skylanders Giants, which I suspect will be one of the biggest sellers of the Wii U's first holiday season.

NEXT WEEK'S OTHER RELEASES

ADVENTURE TIME: HEY, ICE KING! WHY'D YOU STEAL OUR GARBAGE?
Developer: Wayforward Technologies
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Platform: Nintendo 3DS/Nintendo DS
MSRP: $29.99/$39.99 (Special Edition)

I trust that most of you know this isn't some slapdash take on Adventure Time. It's made by Wayforward, a developer with a penchant for excellent 2-D art and classic tributes. And you'll see both in Hey, Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage? Based on Pendelton Ward's delightfully strange (and subtly post-apocalyptic) Cartoon Network series, the game follows oddly hatted human kid Finn and his shape-shifting dog Jake through the Land of Ooo. They ostensibly set out to deduce the Ice King's motivations for building a princess out of stolen garbage, but their quest leads them to all sorts of characters from the cartoon. As in most Adventure Time episodes, it's hard to say just where things will end up.

WayForward clearly patterned the gameplay after Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, with a top-viewed overworld that gives away to side-scrolling action whenever Finn and Jake enter towns, caves, dungeons, or any battle. Both of them discover abilities as the game presses on, with most of Jake's maneuvers giving the pair access to new areas. In that regard, it's not too far from A Boy and his Blob (which, coincidentally, WayForward remade a short time ago). Players can also customize their skills to some extent, as power-up stars boost health, attack, and defense. And for the connoisseur of Adventure Time merchandise, the special edition has a bestiary, a sword-shaped stylus, and a Zelda-like map all packed into a steelbook case. Now let's see if Wayforward makes a game based on The Bravest Warriors next year.

PERSONA 4 GOLDEN
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Platform: PlayStation Vita
MSRP: $39.99

Atlus is intent on reissuing every Persona game in portable form, and sometimes it's for good reason. The PSP version of Persona 3, for example, is the best treatment of the game, thanks to a direct battle interface and the option to play as either a male or female protagonist, with appropriately branching storylines. Persona 4 Golden doesn't revise its PlayStation 2 source material quite as thoroughly, but perhaps that's because there wasn't as much to improve. Persona 4 creates the highlight of its franchise as it drops a player-named protagonist (OK, he's called Yu officially) into a rural town that hides both a serial killer roams and a world of extradimensional demons. Break it into constituent pieces and you'll find a randomly generated dungeon hack, a high school full of potential girlfriends for the main character, and a jejune tale of crime-solving, monster-summoning teenagers. Combine them, however, and Persona 4 becomes a relentlessly intriguing hybrid of RPG and social simulator. The mundane side of the social simulator capably plays off the murder mystery, and the characters grow deeper as their psychological issues spawn dungeons in a surreal realm accessed by television sets. There's a twisted, perhaps unintended sense of pop-art magical realism about Persona 4, setting it well apart from the typical RPG.

Persona 4 Golden presents the Playstation 2 version of the game with numerous little enhancements. There's no new heroine for the player to control, though. Instead, Golden adds a supporting character named Marie, who has a bit of a temper and dresses like a Hot Topic discount bin. She's not a playable party member, but she's a new Social Link, along with the police detective Adachi. Golden also adds more animated cutscenes, motorcycle transportation, gardening, bug-catching, a bonus epilogue, and numerous new get-togethers for the game's core cast. Battles now feature tag-team attacks and extra summonable Persona allies, including some Ultimate avatars. The city of Inaba now has more for the player to take in, and there's even a quiz-show mini-game. And for those who already went through Persona 4, you can skip through to the new material fairly quick. Those same fans will also note that Teddie and Chie's original voices were replaced by the actors who took over the roles in the recent Persona 4 Arena. So that's one way that the PlayStation 2 version differs.

PLAYSTATION ALL-STARS BATTLE ROYALE
Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio/SuperBot Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3/PlayStation Vita
MSRP: $59.99/$39.99

PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale drew some criticism for mixing Sony characters in a rather blatant imitation of Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. fighting games. Some even compared it to Atari Karts, the Jaguar racer that imitated Mario Kart but couldn't come up with any established Atari icons beyond Bentley Bear. Not that Sony is quite as bankrupt when it comes to decent characters, but there's a bit of desperation in the All-Stars roster. There are obvious choices, of course: Kratos from God of War, Cole from Infamous, SackBoy from LittleBigPlanet, Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal, Nathan Drake from Uncharted, Nariko from Heavenly Sword, Sir Daniel from MediEvil, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Fat Princess, Parappa the Rapper, Sly Cooper, Sony mascot Toro, and, as Free! downloads for a two-week period, Kat from Gravity Rush and Emmet Graves from StarHawk. Yet it's hard to imagine many players demanding Killzone's Colonel Radec or Ape Escape's Spike. All-Stars even gave up and borrowed characters from multiplatform titles: Raiden from Metal Gear Solid, Heihachi from Tekken, Dante from Devil May Cry, and a Big Daddy from Bioshock.

The developers might've dug deeper into the Sony catalog. Perhaps Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are too dignified for a fighter, but what about or Jen from Primal? What about the heroes of LocoRoco, Jeanne d'Arc, Wild Arms, Motor Toon Grand Prix, Arc the Lad, Okage, Gunners Heaven, Jumping Flash, Dark Cloud 2, or even the first PlayStation game, Crime Crackers? And what of Battle Arena Tōshinden's Sofia, perhaps the shortest-lived Sony mascot? I suspect she's not doing much nowadays.

Unashamed in taking after Super Smash Bros., PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale drops up to four characters into various stages inspired by Sony titles. These combatants knock each other around the scenery, building up power meters with all of the damage they inflict. Once they've gained enough energy, it can be released in highly destructive super moves. The game can be played across the PS3 and Vita, on top of the usual online features. And for all of my complaints about obscure games going ignored, All-Stars features one amusing relic: the final boss is Polygon Man, the swiftly abandoned original spokes-head for the PlayStation.

Also Shipping:
Square Enix's Hitman: Absolution arrives on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC with its many different ways to kill characters who probably deserve it. The PC version of Assassin's Creed III is also coming for those who didn't grab and complain about the console versions.


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