The X Button
by Todd Ciolek,
There's a lot of talk about the Vita these days. Some predict its demise and some just think it needs more games, but everyone agrees that the handheld is overdue for a damn price drop. And that's what it got. Sony announced yesterday that the Vita is now $199.99, and those Vita-specific memory cards are cheaper across the board.
If you're motivated to pick up a Vita now, I implore you to get Gravity Rush. It's a fantastic action game that's like very little else, and it's terribly fun even when you don't do anything in the game. Yes, even messing around with heroine Kat's gravity-centric powers is fascinating. It also boasts some impressive world design, so much so that I chose to represent the game with the above Takeshi Oga illustration instead of a screenshot.
What else is good on the Vita? Well, Sound Shapes is neat, Lumines is always worth trying, and what I saw of Soul Sacrifice seemed decent. Did I forget anything? Feel free to tell me so in the comments!
PERSONA 4 ARENA ADDS MORE PERSONA 3 ARENA
This is a summer for location tests. First Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- shows up, and now the updated version of Persona 4 Arena sashays its way into a Japanese arcade. It seems intent on evening the roster; the original game had the principle cast of Persona 4 and a couple Persona 3 representatives, but the new update adds two characters from the older game. Junpei Iori wields a bat and other baseball-themed attacks, while Yukari Takeba uses a bow and wind-based moves. Perhaps she also freezes up in terror during her first fight. Man, that was a low point in Persona 3.
The upgraded Persona 4 Arena also introduces two different play styles for each character. The normal type plays with regular bursts and combos, while the new Shadow type goes into brief rampages that grant unlimited SP skills, boosts, and free-form combos. There's apparently more to be revealed, as the game's still early and without proper screenshots (so we're stealing Famitsu's) or an official title. I suggest Persona 4 Arena: Wait Two More Updates Before We Finally Make Rise Playable.
GAMESCOM BRINGS NEWS, NO MAJOR FIGHTS
The first day of Gamescom did not see Sony and Microsoft executives brawling in the aisles in some grudge match leftover from E3, but there were surprises. The biggest one was a Shadow of the Beast remake for the PlayStation 4. The original game was available on nearly every system back around 1990, but today it's remembered about as often as Puggsy or Blades of Vengeance. At least the remake has the original's gruesome, spare style in effect, and that's a good fit for today's market.
Rime was the most interesting new title of Sony's showing. Developed by Tequila Games, the open-world action game strongly resembles Fumito Ueda's Ico. And since Ueda's The Last Guardian is nowhere to be seen, Rime's presence is much appreciated.
Sony also laid down the launch details for the PlayStation 4. It arrives November 15 in North America, and the standout exclusive titles all come from Sony: Knack, Killzone: Shadow Fall and Driveclub. There's also a lineup of downloadable games, most of which will be available on Steam and other formats. Oh well. I'm sure someone will be glad to get Minecraft on their launch-window PlayStation 4.
INTERVIEW: ULTRA STREET FIGHTER IV'S MATT DAHLGREN AND PETER ROSAS
There's no denying that Street Fighter IV did well for Capcom. It's spawned two expansion sets already, it has a considerable following, and it inspired Capcom to get back into other fighting games. Yet the same can't be said for Street Fighter X Tekken, which was hampered by balance problems and Capcom's unfortunate decision to hide a bunch of content in the hopes of selling it later. Its troubled reception, coupled with the tepid sales of a Darkstalkers compilation, apparently sent Capcom back to the reliable bastion of Street Fighter proper.
That's where Ultra Street Fighter IV enters the picture. It offers five new characters, four of whom were re-introduced already in Street Fighter X Tekken, and it aims to adjust the character balance into the most even playing field possible. Capcom's Senior Project Manager Matt Dahlgren and Senior Community Specialist Peter “Combofiend” Rosas answered a few questions about the latest Street Fighter developments.
Why did you decide to make Ultra Street Fighter IV?
Matt Dahlgren: From a Capcom standpoint, our intention was to have Arcade Edition be the final update. However, we're very surprised at how active and thriving the community is to this day. At the recent Evolution tournament, Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition had the highest number of entrants, and we've had a lot of requests for additional content. In order to keep the community going, you've got to give them more content to digest.
Ultra Street Fighter IV's undisclosed fifth new character has a lot of people talking. When might we find out who it is?
Dahlgren: It'll be a little bit later down the line. Our ship date is early 2014, so we don't want to spill the beans too early.
You've said that this character was never before playable in a Street Fighter game or any other fighting game, right?
Dahlgren: They're brand new to the Street Fighter franchise.
But not necessarily all-new…
Dahlgren: [Laughs] We'll leave it there!
Compared to something like Marvel vs. Capcom, Street Fighter generally draws from only itself, Final Fight, and perhaps the canceled Capcom Fighting All-Stars. Will the new character expand that continuity?
Dahlgren: The character's a very natural fit for the Street Fighter universe. It's a character that R&D was thinking about for some time and wanted to bring to fruition.
When it comes to the game balance, what have fans requested the most?
Peter Rosas: We had about 18,000 respondents in our Capcom community and about 12,000 from Japan. Anything that was requested that didn't make the characters outlandishly strong.
How outlandish do the fan requests get?
Rosas: Well, the sky's the limit, but one request is “Give T. Hawk a bow and arrow.”
How about the requests for new characters? Do fans prefer suggestions from Street Fighter III or the original Street Fighter?
Rosas: There are a lot of requests for characters that weren't too popular in the first place. There's a lot of interest in Alex. The Third Strike characters seem to get a lot of requests, like Q. I think people liked them because they were different.
Dahlgren: Very, very diverse.
Rosas: I've seen all sorts of speculation about who they think the fifth character is. They've thrown out every name imaginable.
Did anyone request Linn Kurosawa from Alien vs. Predator?
Rosas: You're the first.
Will Rolento, Elena, Poison, and Hugo undergo any major changes for Ultra Street Fighter IV, or will they play pretty much like they did in Street Fighter X Tekken?
Rosas: Their properties will be changed for Ultra, since Street Fighter X Tekken was a little different. So we're going to tweak them.
Dahlgren: New animations, new combos, new focus attacks.
Will we see more Street Fighter X Tekken, or is it being folded into Street Fighter IV with this new update?
Dahlgren: It comes down to fan feedback. Right now our focus is on Ultra Street Fighter IV, but if, after it comes out, the community for Street Fighter X Tekken is thriving…you never know what the future might hold.
The PlayStation 3 version of Street Fighter X Tekken had more bonus characters than the Xbox 360 version. Will Ultra Street Fighter IV do the same thing?
Dahlgren: It will be the same game across both consoles. No exclusive content.
What about the new modes you're adding to Ultra Street Fighter IV?
Dahlgren: We're not talking specifically about what the new modes are, but we can say that the content for Ultra will be more robust than the additions for Arcade Edition. I'm pretty sure that no one is going to anticipate the modes that we're putting into this game.
The new characters will have their own story modes, correct?
Dahlgren: The story mode will stay the same, and we'll have ending sequences for the new characters.
What would you say is the fan reaction to Ultra Street Fighter IV so far?
Rosas: I think they're happy to see that we're listening to them and giving them what they want. They're also glad that the game has a digital upgrade path for just $14.99.
The physical release of the game will be a basic edition, right? No special deluxe set or anything?
Dahlgren: Yeah. It's a great entry point if people are just trying the game for the first time. It also includes over forty dollars of DLC, so every costume we've released so far will be on the disc. That comes in handy for tournament organizers.
And the new characters get extra costumes as well, I see.
Dahlgren: There's a preorder incentive for the retail version of the game, where you'll get new costumes for each of the characters. They're all designed by Udon.
How closely do you work with Udon when it comes to the games?
Rosas: We have a great relationship with Udon, and they're extremely talented artists, so they have some input into what the new costumes look and feel like.
Not to trick you into giving away the new character, but if there were no restrictions, which character would you put into Street Fighter?
Dahlgren: I think I'd go with Q. He's just so different from anything else that's out there, and he's a very popular character.
Rosas: There's too many to choose from. I can't narrow it down.
Dahlgren: How about a character named Peter Rosas? You'll get the Seth treatment.
Rosas: I was just thinking about that guy Retsu from the first Street Fighter, how he was a total scrub character. He never even had specials! So the sky's the limit with that character because he was just a dummy character. There's so much to work off if you brought them to Street Fighter IV. Even Sean from Street Fighter III. I think if he were brought into the game he'd do some serious damage.
Are there any characters you think are too strong right now?
Rosas: Well, there are the ones who are regarded as the best, like Fei Long, Seth, and Cammy. So they'll be looked at a little more closely, but we have to make sure that the adjustments don't make them too weak.
Do you plan to do anything more with Marvel vs. Capcom 3?
Dahlgren: We're currently focused on Street Fighter IV, so there's nothing to share about future Marvel updates.
Nor anything new with Darkstalkers, I guess.
It was mentioned on Capcom Unity that the company had run its course with reissues of older fighters, like Marvel vs. Capcom Origins and Darkstalkers Resurrection. Will we see any more of those?
Dahlgren: We're holding on that for a little while. I think it's time to lay off a bit and let the demand grow back up.
Did anything surprise you at the recent Evo tournament for Street Fighter IV?
Rosas: The top eight was so diverse. Seeing a Makoto in the top eight was something I thought would never happen. Seeing an Evil Ryu there was also surprising. And, much to everyone's surprise, seeing a Hakan…who actually won! Because the character's highly under-represented.
So is Hakan due for any changes?
Rosas: The changes are all being made to his non-oiled moves. Hakan players have stated that Hakan's the best in the game when he's oiled, but the disparity between his oiled and non-oiled form is too high, so we're trying to close that gap?
How about Juri, the other new character from Super Street Fighter IV?
Rosas: She'll be a bit more effective. We're changing a few attack animations in terms of their hit boxes.
What about Yun and Yang, who were actually overpowered at first and later nerfed a little?
Rosas: There's not much to change about Yun, since he's still really strong. Yang, on the other hand, was hit a little too hard by the nerfs, so some of those changes will be reversed.
How did you get into Street Fighter in the first place?
Rosas: I was walking home from school one day, and I stopped by a bowling alley. There were all of these guys crowded around a machine, and it turned out to be Street Fighter II. I liked what I saw in the game, and I liked the whole atmosphere in the crowd. I didn't even get to play that day. The crowd was too much! But I found the game in my local donut shop a few days later, and I got to play it before anyone else got there.
Dahlgren: My story's very similar, though my first encounter was at a Pizza Hut. I had some older friends who were very excited about Street Fighter, and we all went over to play it. I think I won with a perfect once, and that was it. I was hooked.
What's your favorite fighting game? Not necessarily a Capcom one.
Rosas: My favorite is probably Capcom vs. SNK 2 because it really solidified my fundamentals in fighting games. It's where I had my epiphany in fighters. I was like “Oh, now I understand what I'm doing wrong!”
Dahlgren: From the Capcom side, I'd say Marvel vs. Capcom 3. I'm also a big fan of the Tekken series as well as Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Rosas: And also older games like WeaponLord and Primal Rage. Those were so underplayed.
So if you did yet another new enhancement for Street Fighter IV, what would you call it?
Dahlgren: Oh man, that's tough. I think Ultra Street Fighter IV leaves it in a pretty good place. Part of the intention was that we knew our name was getting too long, and it was kind of a meme at this point. Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition Version 2014 just didn't have a very good ring to it.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
FINAL FANTASY XIV: A REALM REBORN
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: August 27
MSRP: $39.99 (PS3), $29.99 (PC)
It's easy to see the title of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn as a blatant apology, as the original Final Fantasy XIV may go down as Square Enix's biggest mistake of the current era. An online RPG much like Final Fantasy XI, the fourteenth chunk of Square's flagship series debuted in 2010, apparently finished only in the barest technical sense of the word. The game was a mess of awkward controls, bug-filled gameplay, and poorly integrated progression. So numerous were complaints that Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada remarked that the game “greatly damaged” Final Fantasy's already shaky reputation, and the company was quick to circle its wagons. There would be a new Final Fantasy XIV, Square Enix promised, and it would wipe away the foul taste of its predecessor.
How does A Realm Reborn vow to fix the mistakes of the past? Well, it uses a new graphics engine, and the game's areas were redesigned and expanded into over 40 different zones. The interface is also new and diverges depending on the platform; the PC version uses the reliable point-and-click method while the PlayStation 3 edition allows for easier navigation with a controller. Characters can pick from new jobs and new races (including male cat-people), and new servers should fix many of the glitches that brought down Final Fantasy XIV. A Realm Reborn's storyline follows the more interesting events of the first game, namely the awakening of a giant dragon imprisoned on an ancient orbiting prison. Those aren't the only familiar Final Fantasy elements in the game, either; it still has everything from chocobos to a helpful old man named Cid. Some things about Final Fantasy never change, and perhaps they shouldn't.
HATSUNE MIKU: PROJECT DIVA F
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: August 27
Yes, this is it: the long-awaited North American debut of a Hatsune Miku video game. I trust that Hatsune Miku needs little introduction, but here's one anyway. She started off as the mascot for the Vocaloid synthesized-singing programs, a chirpy computerized voice that recreated any sort of song you might feed into the software. An immense fandom slowly gathered around this, making Miku and her fellow Vocaloid spokesgirls unexpected online stars. In a broader cultural impact, Miku is a curious study. She's cutesy enough to appeal to hardcore otaku, but stylish enough to clutch the mainstream appeal that lands her concerts and Domino's Pizza endorsements. It inspires comparisons to virtual idols like Sharon Apple and Rei Toei and Megazone 23's Eve, yet the joke grows somewhat alarming when you realize that all of those characters were predicting the future.
Project Diva F is more than a music generator, of course. It's a full-blown rhythm game where the player matches a song's beat by tapping buttons just right. In fact, the Project Diva system is a bit more dynamic than the structured matching of Dance Dance Revolution or BeatMania. As Miku and her fellow virtual overlords cavort in various music videos, symbols fly in from all corners of the screen, and the player must tap them when they overlap with a certain spot. It uses the timing typical of rhythm games since the days of Parappa the Rapper, but the various angles demand a little more attention to the entire playfield. New to this PlayStation 3 version of Project Diva is a star-shaped “scratch” symbol that denotes a flick of the analog stick. It sounds like a minor change, but it's an important one when musical notes attack from everywhere. Naturally, Sega won't neglect the Miku fans who want more than a rhythm game. Reserving Project Diva F gets you two snow-themed costumes and ten PlayStation 3 backgrounds.
KILLER IS DEAD
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: August 27
One day Goichi “Suda51” Suda will make a game called Cybercock in Boobland, and it will consist of nothing more than a suggestively designed robot rooster navigating a world of gigantic cartoon breasts. Critics will praise his adept mockery of the game industry.
Today is not that day, as Suda51 instead offers Killer is Dead as the latest in his long tradition of simultaneously lampooning and sating the staples of trashy cinema and its video-game descendants. The game stars Mondo Zappa, a man whose cybernetic arm and swordfighting ability make him an effective assassin in the ranks of the Bryan Execution Firm. His various missions take him to locales as distant as the moon, and all of them look rather striking in the game's heavily shaded style. He's assisted in his day-to-day work by his fellow executioner Vivienne (who apparently dons eight sets of arms for her gunplay) and his ditzy live-in secretary Mika Takekawa. The game further plays up its Bond influences with a cast of “Mondo Girls,” and that brings us to the most controversial point of Killer is Dead. When he's not off killing things, Mondo goes on Gigolo Missions with various women: the shy geisha Koharu, the mysterious film-noir escapee Betty, the oddly nicknamed Brazilian “Pheromone” Natalia, and, of course, a Naughty Nurse. Mondo romances them by offering presents and, well, staring at them, sometimes with x-ray sunglasses. Like other Suda51 excesses, it's somewhere between creepy and laughably absurd. Don't worry—Mondo's seeing them in their underwear satirically.
The other side of Killer is Dead finds Mondo taking down various targets in a flurry of sword slashes, building up to devastating “final judgment” combo attacks. It resembles Devil May Cry just a bit, though the thick shadows always bring to mind Suda51's previous Killer7 and No More Heroes. Mondo's abilities also grow beyond swordplay, as the Gigolo Missions offer upgrades to his cybernetic arm. The admittedly goofy-looking limb morphs into a drill, a chargeable energy weapon, a freeze-ray, and a plain ol' bang-bang. His foes similarly escalate into familiar Suda51 nuttiness, ranging from a somewhat cliché demonic Alice in Wonderland to a hellish Thomas the Tank Engine and a lumbering giant who's apparently stolen the Earth itself. No one ever said that Suda51 thinks small.
LOST PLANET 3
Developer: Spark Unlimited
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: August 27
Lost Planet 3 is a game about sacrifices. For one thing, there's the struggle of its everyman lead, Jim Peyton. In the hopes of providing a better life for his family, he heads off to work on the distant planet of E.D.N. III. He receives little recordings from his wife and child, and he needs every scrap of motivation to keep going on E.D.N III, which is a much harsher place prior to the events of Lost Planet and Lost Planet 2. JIim pilots an enormous robotic machine called a Rig across the surface of the planet, and there's plenty to threaten him beyond the ever-present danger of freezing to death. It's a small but notable departure from the fatherly roles seen in recent games. Instead of proving his devotion by murdering those who threaten his family, Jim's just working a dangerous job each day.
Capcom's also making a sacrifice with Lost Planet 3. The original game was a summer-movie ride straight down to its hokey dialogue, and the sequel succeeded through multi-player online battles against E.D.N. III's giant creatures. Lost Planet 3 is slower, lonelier, and more concerned with Jim's discoveries about the planet and the the mining company that employs him. Gone are the heavily armed battle-mechs of previous Lost Planets. In this prequel, Jim's Rig is a lumbering beast armed with drills, claws, and other utilitarian devices. It's still well-suited to fending off the planet's native Akrid creatures, as smaller beasts can be picked up by the Rig and larger ones provoke all-out slugfests. Jim also leaves the Rig to explore on-foot, and he's equipped with the typical Lost Planet assortment of firearms and a limited grappling hook. Despite the game's emphasis on plot-driven discoveries, there's still a sturdy multiplayer mode offering team matches, survival contests, ten-player battles, and some combat mechs closer to those of Lost Planets past.
There's one more sacrifice at hand, and that's Lost Planet: EX Troopers. The gleeful, manga-styled action game hit the 3DS and PlayStation 3 late last year, but Capcom decided not to release it on these shores. While some fingers pointed to localization-resistant sound effects, it's also likely that Capcom didn't want to take any attention away from Lost Planet 3. Perhaps EX Troopers will have better luck coming here if Jim's more somber journey is a success.
NEW SUPER LUIGI U
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Release Date: August 25
I am sorry to report that New Super Luigi U does not take place at a college for video-game sidekicks, where Yoshi and Tails and Trouble Shooter's Crystal lecture classes of aspiring second bananas. No, New Super Luigi U is an overhaul of New Super Mario Bros. U, the side-scrolling platformer that saw us through the otherwise dim launch of the Wii U. This remodeling, part of Nintendo's ongoing Year of Luigi, doesn't change the overall flow of the game, but the 80 new stages are all much more difficult than the challenges of New Super Mario Bros. U. For example, all of the levels give players only 100 seconds on the clock, and there are no mid-course checkpoints. There's also a lot of green everywhere. Can't imagine why.
On top of the spike in difficulty, New Super Luigi U follows the same multiplayer approach as New Super Mario Bros. U: up to four players can join in the course, and one of them creates mid-air blocks with the Wii U's touch-screen controller. By any reasonable calculation, this will turn the inevitable squabbling and accusations of a typical New Super Mario Bros. U session into a complete bloodbath. The game also removes Mario entirely, as the cover denotes, and replaces him with Nabbit, the thieving rabbit-eared creature from the original game. All of the characters play a bit more like Luigi, complete with his high-jumping, low-traction physics. Yet if you must have your precious Mario mechanics in the gameplay, the game has an option for reverting to them…once you've beaten it the Luigi way. Hey, it's his year.
SWEET FUSE: AT YOUR SIDE
Developer: Idea Factory/Otomate
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: Sony PSP
Release Date: August 27
Sweet Fuse: At Your Side is not the first American release for an “otome” game, the in-vogue term for titles ostensibly aimed at female players. Aksys Games previously brought out several Hakuoki games, which tell of a young woman caught in a Bakumatsu-era conspiracy of drugs, demons, and handsome men. Yet that seems as straight-faced as Masterpiece Theater when compared to Sweet Fuse: At Your Side, the latest Aksys localization from Idea Factory's Otomate label.
Players are cast as a young woman named Saki Inafune by default, and she happens to be the (apparently fictional) niece of game developer Keiji Inafune. Not stopping at making games like Soul Sacrifice and Yaiba, he opens a theme park called The Gameatorium, but a villainous monster named Count Hogstein takes over the premises and kidnaps the esteemed designer. In her attempts to rescue her uncle, Saki joins up with several devastatingly attractive men: by-the-book detective Subaru Shidou, shy pop star Towa Wakasa, introverted game geek Kouta Meoshi, veteran journalist Ayumu Shirabe, fortune teller Kimimaro Urabe, brash bodyguard Ryusei Mitarashi, and the mysterious Makoto Mikami. Hogstein tests them all with puzzles that resemble twisted versions of popular games, though the play mechanics are driven mostly by dialogue and branching plotlines. Those various story paths lead to fourteen different endings, all to suit the romances Saki might explore.
While Sweet Fuse is comfortably ensconced in the realm of pretty-boy dating simulators, it's hardly a routine outing. Aside from the bizarre premise of a cartoonishly lethal theme park, Sweet Fuse adopts a few traits from the Phoenix Wright games. Saki has a particular gift for insight, and it manifests in screen-filling effects like “What's Wrong With You?” in the midst of a deadly puzzle or some tense debate with her hunky co-stars. That should appeal to just about any fan of comically offbeat games.
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