The X Button Dark Tidings
by Todd Ciolek,
My apologies for missing last week's X Button. I was indisposed, but now I've come back just in time to see Square Enix President Yoichi Wada resign.
This wasn't a terrible shock in light of Square Enix expecting to lose 13 billion yen for the fiscal year that ends on March 31. Wada's culpability is up for debate, but it's very true that Square Enix hasn't enjoyed the same reputation that the company had when Wada first joined as CEO in 2000. Recent releases like Sleeping Dogs and even Tomb Raider didn't live up to Square's forecasts, and the Final Fantasy series is mired in overcooked sequels and the enigma of Versus XIII.
Changes are clearly in order for Square Enix, but it's hard to say just what will transpire under Wada's replacement, former representative director Yosuke Matsuda. Should Square finally greenlight that Final Fantasy VII remake everyone keeps talking about? Should they give Final Fantasy V a proper 3DS remake instead of a cheap-looking smartphone port? Or should they set out with a bunch of new projects like an RPG called Last Legacy?
CAPCOM ANNOUNCES DUNGEONS, DRAGONS, DUCKTALES
Many expected big announcements from Capcom at PAX East. Prior to the convention, we caught word that the company's old Dungeons & Dragons side-scrolling brawlers would head for modern systems. Sure enough, Capcom unveiled Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara for Xbox Live, Wii U, PlayStation Network, and PC.
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara collects the original Tower of Doom and its sequel, Shadow over Mystara, delivering both arcade titles in the same style as the recent Darkstalkers and Marvel vs. Capcom ports. The games are presented with multiple viewing options, including an arcade-perfect mode, and four players can participate online. Multiplayer is particularly important for the games, which stand as Capcom's deepest explorations of the Final Fight formula. The four different character classes (or six in Mystara) vary in their play styles like any beat-'em-up archetypes would, but they also grab items, gain experience, and use fighting-game motions for attacks. The two titles were previously compiled for the Sega Saturn, but that version remains a high-ticket import even today. Chronicles of Mystara will go for a much cheaper $14.99 in June.
A much bigger surprise awaited in Duck Tales Remastered, an HD overhaul of Capcom's beloved old NES game. This isn't a mere port, either. Wayforward Technolgies, makers of Shantae and Double Dragon Neon, revised the game with 3-D backgrounds, voice acting from the cartoon's cast, and a more open, Metroid-ish layout to the stages. This may seem heretical to those who cherish the brief wonders of the original Duck Tales, but the game played around with non-linear stage design, and I really think it'd benefit from more exploration (and, dare I suggest it, a final level that isn't just reused territory). Less appealing are the game's backgrounds, which look somewhat wan compared to the 2-D characters. Maybe they'll perk up before the game's summer debut on XBLA, PSN, Wii U, and maybe PCs.
Capcom had a few more things on their schedule: another upgrade for Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, the vague promise of a new Mega Man, and an expansion that puts Left 4 Dead characters into the PC version of Resident Evil 6. Noticeably absent was any mention of another Strider game. A logo (above) and an achievement entry supposedly popped up on Xbox Live and Steam earlier this month, yet Capcom didn't mention any Strider sequels or revamps at PAX. If that image is the work of pranksters, I don't find it funny. You can joke about a Bloody Roar revival if you please, but I hold Strider sacrosanct.
DRAKENGARD 3 EMERGES FROM CAVIA'S COLD ASHES
On the subject of game announcements that first seemed to be jokes, Square Enix revived the Drakengard name for a third title. Drakengard 3 was as likely as another Bullet Witch, since developer Cavia disbanded a while ago. Besides, the first two Drakengards left behind strange reputations. The original is remembered only for its relentless carnage and unnerving plot twists, and the second is mostly forgotten despite its improved gameplay.
Yet Drakengard 3 (or Drag-on Dragoon 3, as it's known in Japan) is a real PlayStation 3 game, and it's reuniting some Cavia staff. Yoko Taro, the twisted mind behind the original stomach-turning Drakengard and the much more interesting Nier, returns to direct and script the third game, Kimihiko Fujisaka (fresh off The Last Story) handles the character designs, and Keiichi Okabe's on the soundtrack. However, the actual development studio is Access Games, best known for Deadly Premonition and Lord of Arcana.
Taro's fondness for the grotesque is apparent in the game's heroine, Zero. A warrior bound to a dragon named Mikhail, Zero has an artificial arm, a flower blooming from one eye, and a knack for gaining power when she's doused in blood. Previews also state that she starts relationships with "a number of men." These are non-platonic relationships, we assume.
Zero's hedonistic ways often put her at odds with her younger sister One (yes, really). Preferring a life of thoughtful study to Zero's path of killing and screwing, One hopes to pacify the world by drawing together various Utatai, divinely infused women who can wield song as a weapon. One is an Utatai herself, and unfortunately so is that troublemaker Zero.
Drakengard 3 returns to its predecessors' mixtures of dragon-flight combat and brutish on-foot battles, though perhaps with greater emphasis on the latter. Early screens show much violence and somewhat primitive character models (some mistook it for a PSP title), and it's unknown just what sort of craziness Taro will go for this time. Drakengard was little more than shock value and Nier was genuinely creative in its turns, but Taro's vowed that his new creation is “not Drakengard or Nier.” That alone has some fans interested in the game, which arrives later this year in Japan, and only in Japan thus far. Despite all of us in the press calling it Drakengard 3, Square Enix hasn't announced the title for North America or Europe.
NEW ETRIAN ODYSSEY HAS AMNESIAC HEROINE AND POSSIBLY A ROCKIN' DOG NAMED POOCHIE
The Etrian Odyssey games don't hide their appeals to the modern market. They may be taxing little dungeon hacks driven by a player-created party, but the titles include all sorts of character art that fits right into current anime-game stylings. Yet Atlus and series director Shigeo Komori decided that it's time to take things further, and so the aptly named New Etrian Odyssey: Millennium Girl for the 3DS features a more defined protagonist. The player still names him, but he has a background as a spear fighter and an explorer-for-hire. He soon meets up with the game's heroine, an amnesiac gunner named Frederica Irving.
Other characters follow: cool-and-collected medic Simon York, loyal alchemist Arthur Charles, and gluttonous paladin Lakuna Sheldon. While the idea of a firmly characterized party flies in the face of prior Etrian Odysseys (in which you named and customized party members), the game still allows the adventurers to switch classes around and pick up a motley horde of skills. Komori also swears that the core gameplay is largely unchanged, which presumably means series fans will get their fill of hazardous, manually mapped mazes. This New Etrian Odyssey is out on June 27, and I'm confident in saying that Atlus will release it here. Well, probably. I think. I'm pretty sure.
DOWNLOAD REVIEWS: FEBRUARY-MARCH
Developer: Souvenir Circ
Publisher: Nyu Media
Platform: PC (GamersGate/Desura)
Croixleur cuts to the chase with refreshing speed. Sure, there's an opening text crawl that explains the Adjuvant Trial, which determines a nation's leadership by sending two women warriors against many levels of monsters. And yes, there's an introductory scene of heroine Lucrezia Visconti exchanging parried pleasantries (and strangely Sapphic subtext) with her rival and former childhood friend, Francesca Storaro. But then it's off to the real challenge, and Luc's dumped into one arena after another stocked with increasingly nasty foes. She's outfitted with a well-controlled repertoire of dashes, projectile attacks, and whirling moves. There's also a lineup of swords and other edged weapons to discover as she makes her way through the Trial, though the arms rarely add anything to her attacks.
There simply isn't much to Croixleur beyond that surface. Luc brawls with shadowy mages, lumbering suits of armor, and other creatures whose attacks grow faster and fiercer with each level, but the underlying gameplay shifts very little. The game feels like an extended demo, a gauntlet of enemies without puzzles or labyrinths to occupy players between fights. While it all looks sharp and runs smooth, the flow of battle grows repetitive even when it toughens up and smacks players back to the start upon continuing. In an attempt to summon some urgency, the game gives players only 15 minutes to make it through the Trial, yet memorizing enemy behavior and perfecting a strategy only highlights the comparatively simple ways of it all. Croixleur actually functions better as a violent playground without rules or end goals. It's enjoyable to smack around a few throngs of witless goblins, but not for very long.
Developer: Capcom/Iron Galaxy Studios
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade/PlayStation Network
MSRP: $14.99 (1600 Points)
Darkstalkers fans are a patient lot. In the 15 years since Darkstalkers 3, they've endured a terrible American cartoon, a mostly dull anime series, at least one awful manga, and a few reissues that just don't fill the void. They've also put up with Darkstalkers being largely ignored by Capcom, apart from Street Fighter producer Yoshinori Ono's earnest but seemingly ineffective promises that “Darkstalkers are not dead.” Well, he wasn't lying. Capcom revived the franchise for Darkstalkers Resurrection, a compilation of the arcade Night Warriors and Darkstalkers 3. As with the company's Marvel vs. Capcom two-fer from last year, both games are presented with accurate emulation, different display options, some new artwork, music remixes, and online play.
But what about the actual games? Darkstalkers uses the same six-button groundwork as Street Fighter, but the surface here is a loving salute to the monster archetypes of Hollywood and folklore: vampires, werewolves, sasquatches, succubi, zombie rockers, catgirls (of course), and other creatures, all of them rendered with the magnificent animation and backgrounds that Capcom did so well in the late 1990s. Much of the game's visual appeal is in the little details… Felicia catching butterflies in her win poses, Dimitri turning each character into a unique vampiric victim during one of his special attacks, or the sasquatch tribesman building a snowman off to the side in one of the backdrops. The fighting mechanics rely more on outlandish cartoon attacks than your average Street Fighter descendant, but there are deeper elements to be found, particularly when Resurrection lets players gain levels by mastering various moves and strategies. Nor are the two games all that similar in play; Darkstalkers 3 breaks out of the fighting-game mold with its temporary, character-specific powers and single-match combat.
It's an excellent repackaging of two often-overlooked fighters, even if it's not technically complete. See, Darkstalkers 3 went through several iterations in the arcade and swapped out characters with each revision. Previous home versions, like the Saturn and Dreamcast ports, just threw all of the characters in together. Resurrection uses the arcade version of the original Darkstalkers 3, which excludes hellish alien Pyron, ancient robot Huitzil, and cursed hunter Donovan. They're in Night Warriors, so the only truly absent character is Cecil, the precious orphan boy who tags along with Huitzil in Darkstalkers 3 and bawls when the robot loses. That's a minor absence to harp over, but like I said, Darkstalkers is all about the little details.
PHANTOM BREAKER: BATTLE GROUNDS |
Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
MSRP: $9.99 (800 Points)
Phantom Breaker: Battle Grounds is shameless in its hooks. Based on a 2-D fighter that still hasn't arrived in North America, Battle Grounds offers a lineup of cutesy, clichéd anime heroines, from the schoolgirl ninja to the warrior-maid, and they brawl through round upon round of brainwashed citizens. And it's all done up in deliberately retrograde fashion, imitating the beeping, catchy soundtracks and sprite art of the NES era. Of course, the game is far smoother and more detailed than any old game could hope to be (even on the Master System), so it's a rather calculated chunk of nostalgia, much like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game with the modern otaku level cranked even higher. Pandering aside, Battle Grounds starts with good foundations in its gameplay. The four heroines (plus a few extra ones) get useful arsenals of combo attacks, special moves, a blocking-and-deflecting shield, and agile maneuvers. Battle Grounds also skirts the usual belt-scrolling brawler approach and adopts a two-plane system, allowing the characters to jump between the background and foreground.
While it's evidently inspired by classics like Guardian Heroes, Battle Grounds can't quite close the deal. The enemy lineup includes mind-controlled versions of every stereotype from ganguro girls to Choaniki-ish bodybuilders, but the level design is frequently uninspired and tedious. The most interesting feature may be the game's customization system, which presents a branching skill tree fed by the player's limited point supply. The four-player mode also provides plentiful chaos, albeit with less convenient customizing. In that light, Battle Grounds is almost too faithful to its roots. Like many of the multiplayer brawlers that crammed arcades circa 1990, it's only a modest time-killer best shared with others.
THIS WEEK'S RELEASES
Developer: Game Freak
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: March 28
Was Pokemon the worst thing that happened to Game Freak? That's the theory among the fans of Pulseman, Mendel Palace, Smart Ball, and the other action games crafted by Game Freak before Pokemon dominated the developer and its founder, Satoshi Tajiri. They stepped outside of Pikachu's looming and marketable shadow with the 2005 side-scroller Drill Dozer, but it was forgotten far swifter than it really deserved. HarmoKnight, their latest non-Pokemon experiment, is a side-scroller as well, though it's just as much of a rhythm game. Players control a young warrior named Tempo (no relation to Sega's forgotten grasshopper hero) out to rescue the musically-themed world of Melodia. He's joined by a rabbit sidekick named Tappy, an archer named Lyra, a drummer named Tyko, and…well, you can guess the motif that HarmoKnight adopts.
Tempo's journey leads through numerous side-view stages where every action backs the soundtrack: grabbing purple notes sets off chimes, jumping sounds a little zipping noise, and each defeated enemy or background sight adds a distinct tone. Tempo and his note-shaped war mace aren't the only methods of making violent music, either, as he'll occasionally trade off with his supporting cast. The melody-matching gameplay may restrict the stages a bit more than the typical Mario-style platformer, but it also makes HarmoKnight a far less common find. And perhaps it'll inspire more Game Freak creations that aren't Pokemon.
LUIGI'S MANSION: DARK MOON|
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: March 24
Luigi's Mansion is already out and we already reviewed it, but let's not deny Luigi the attention. You know, he wasn't always the timorous wreck that we see in Luigi's Mansion and other modern Mario games. The first attempt at characterizing Luigi came with the 1986 film Super Mario Bros.: the Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach, and it shows Luigi as a somewhat greedy, down-to-earth type when compared with the more headstrong Mario. Of course, Luigi still leaves most of the fighting to Mario during the movie, so perhaps the role of cringing second-banana was inevitable for him. In fact, Nintendo's reveling in it this year. The next Mario & Luigi game focuses on Luigi, and it's preceded by a sequel to Luigi's Mansion, the 2001 GameCube game that once seemed consigned to the forgotten ranks of Wario's Woods and Hotel Mario.
The first step in Nintendo's Luigi-focused plans this year, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon returns to the same ideas as the GameCube non-showcase. Local ghosts turn bad (well, worse) after the Dark Moon is broken, and Luigi hunts them down in several different mansions. He's outfitted with a chargeable stroboscope for stunning ghosts and a Poltergust vacuum for capturing them, but the tools also play into the game's new focus on solving puzzles (when Luigi isn't shrinking in fear, that is). It's a cute little side attraction for the Mario series, and Luigi's fans can take solace that he's getting a better deal than Princess Peach.
POKEMON MYSTERY DUNGEON: GATES TO INFINITY|
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release date: March 24
Here's a reason to feel sorry for GameFreak's HarmoKnight: it's launching a few days after the latest Pokemon title, which, in a cruel stroke of fortune, wasn't even made by GameFreak. Chunsoft crafted this dungeon-heavy RPG, and it most likely will occupy young Pokemon fans just enough for them to overlook poor HarmoKnight. That said, there's no question that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity is acutely tailored for the younger crowd. It's very much the heir to Chunsoft's Mystery Dungeon titles, and it's brewed from the usual ingredients: randomly arranged mazes, simple back-and-forth battles, and an emphasis on careful planning to survive each labyrinthine crawl.
Of course, this is a Pokemon game, so the typical brutality of a dungeon hack is diminished many times over. This results in a cuddly little title where Pokemon band together in small parties to explore dungeons. The player's role is apparently that of a human given Pokemon form (which is a bit disturbing considering the more extreme Pokemon-obsessed folk), and his or her avatar must quest about to make the Pokemon realm a happier place. With its frequent save options and undemanding tasks, the game is far more forgiving than Shiren the Wanderer, Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, or…well, just about any other “Roguelike” game. Indeed, Gates to Infinity is even simpler than the first Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, as it allows only one quest at a time. Perhaps that'll send some youngsters over to HarmoKnight.
All of the above games will pale before Bioshock Infinite this week, as it arrives on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. The PC and Xbox 360 also get Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin, the fifth major expansion for Square Enix's long-lived online RPG. Oh, and you can nab Atelier Totori Plus for the Vita and Natsume's release of Carnage Heart EXA for the PSP. They slipped out on the PlayStation Network during my absence.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
Nothing much, aside from Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Previously released on the Wii U, it's an enhanced version of the game that hit the 360 and PS3 last year, and now Tecmo's come full circle in their attempts to make it less of a flop. Also on deck is Double Dragon 2: Wander of the Dragons for Xbox Live Arcade. It's a 3-D remake of the old beat-'em-up, and it…well, it doesn't look as self-aware as Double Dragon Neon.
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