The X Button - One Reasonby Todd Ciolek,
Holiday shopping soon commences in full, and I have a little suggestion for the younger game-players on your list: Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. From what I've played, it's a solid enough game in the Mario mold, and it's crafted largely for kids—who probably watch the corresponding Pac-Man cartoon already.
There's one more reason to consider Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. For a limited time, Namco's online store will include a Pac-Man hat with your purchase of the game. I've seen these before, and they are brilliantly stylish. And even if you give the game to someone, there's no law saying you can't keep the hat for yourself.
At the very least, it's a better idea than pointing them toward the new Bubsy game. The password is “bubsyaddict,” by the way.
NEW DANGANRONPA SCREENS SHOW ANGER, CONFUSION
NIS America landed the Vita version of Danganronpa not so long ago, and the publisher just now announced a release date for it: February 11, 2014. The press material describes Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc as a “mystery adventure game,” and that's a pretty fair assessment. We would also accept “crazy weird anime-murder game that everyone talks about on Tumblr.”
NIS America also released several screenshots of the translated Danganronpa. Some are amusing out of context.
Others seem a tad confounding with their highlighted text, but it's part of Danganronpa's system of dialogue and investigation. The main character, an average kid at one of those ominous elite high schools, pokes around for information by working away at particular words and phrases, a bit like the “press” command in the Phoenix Wright games. And then the murders start…
NIS America also shared the North American cover art for Danganronpa. I could point out how it's noticeably devoid of the anime-lookin' characters from the game, but I'd also have to note that this is pretty much the same as the original PSP version's Japanese cover. Besides, NISA has a limited edition for those who want the artbox treatment.
NAMCO HIGH COMBINES CHARACTERS INTO DATING DILEMMA
The term “dating simulator” often carries unflattering assumptions, if not pointed disdain from critics—critics other than myself, that is, since I'm always objective. Shiftylook's free browser-based Namco High, however, is not the typical dating simulator in purpose or appearances. In place of the typical gamut of coquettish schoolgirls and dashing upperclassmen, there is a lineup of familiar faces from Namco games, starting with the Galaga ship.
Others announced so far include a gloomy version of Lolo from the Klonoa games, an alarmingly upbeat version of the eponymous heroine from the Valkyrie action-RPGs, a Meowkie from the Mappy series, and, as the government-mandated bad boy of the game, Anti-Bravoman. The player controls a cousin of the Katamari Damacy protagonist, freshly transferred to Namco High. The resulting romantic entanglements and drama (including a rival school called Evil Namco High) are overseen by creative director Andrew Hussie, the man behind the voluminous and highly popular Homestuck webcom…er, multimedia endea…uh, whatever Homestuck is. It's a bit of able bet-hedging on Shiftylook's part, as Hussie's involvement guarantees the attention of Homestick's fan legions, and possibly even some cameos by its characters.
Hussie isn't the only webcomic talent involved, as the writing staff includes Ananth Panagariya, Magnolia Porter, and Brian Clevinger. The artists span a similar array, including some of the illustrators from ShiftyLook's own webcomics and animated series. Shiftylook's made a name by revamping classic Namco arcade stars for the modern era, and Namco High might be their most inventive creation yet. It's apparently headed for release just before the holiday shopping season, which could mean as early as next week.
THE DISINTERESTED BUYER'S GUIDE TO THE XBOX ONE
Microsoft clearly prefers to forget about the Xbox One's first appearances. Initial plans called for a console steeped in intrusive ideas. It would link games to the user's Xbox Live account, thus making it harder to run used software, and it would need to connect online once every 24 hours. The resulting outcry prompted Microsoft to abandon both ideas, resulting in an Xbox One that handles second-hand games and online modes much like the Xbox 360. There's still one caveat—your new Xbox One needs to connect online at least once when it's first set up.
Rough start aside, the Xbox One hopes to plant itself at the heart of converging media. The console can run multiple applications in various windows, whether they're inbuilt programs or feeds from devices plugged into the Xbox One's HDMI ports. The system also plays up the Kinect, the motion sensor that went under-used on the Xbox 360. The Xbox One's Kinect has a sharper camera capable of unnervingly close observation of the player, and audio commands play a much greater part in running the console. Every Xbox One comes with a Kinect, plus a wireless controller, a headset, and various hookups this November 22. For some, the Kinect excuses the Xbox One's $500 price tag, a hundred more than the rival PlayStation 4. For others, it's a reason to favor Sony's system…or maybe a Wii U.
Are the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 all that different? Both of them run DVDs and Blu-Rays, both are boxy little designs, and both require a paid subscription to play most games online. Oh, and neither has backward compatibility with previous systems. Like Sony, Microsoft alludes to supporting some older games through a digital service, but physical copies of, say, Bullet Witch won't run on an Xbox One. So there's some solace for the poor kids whose parents mistakenly buy them a vintage-2001 “Xbox 1” off eBay. At least they can play Phantom Dust.
The Xbox One's launch lineup has a few strange holes. There's no Halo or system-exclusive Halo facsimile to rival Sony's Killzone: Shadow Fall, and the same applies on the kid-friendly front, where nothing on the Xbox One counters Sony's Knack. Yet there are some intriguing titles in the Xbox One's first wave, including the return of two lesser-seen series.
Developer: Grounding, Inc./Land Ho!
Platform: Xbox One (Live Arcade)
Release Date: November 22
Panzer Dragoons: Still Good
The four proper Panzer Dragoon games remain excellent. They may be rail shooters confined to paths, but they're also journeys through a primitive, fascinating world that resembles Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind with its Moebius influences sharpened up (by Moebius himself, in fact). Crimson Dragon doesn't have quite the same alien design. Instead of a world scorched bleak and angular by calamities, it's set on a distant planet explored by dragons and their human riders, more Anne McCaffrey than Hayao Miyazaki. But it's the creation of Yukio Futatsugi, the man behind the first three Panzer Dragoon games.
Such heritage is immediately obvious in Crimson Dragon's approach to shooting. In either a rail-driven mode or free-flying control, the dragon's rider can rotate to shoot the enemies swarming from all directions, and the game supports battles and cooperative adventuring for three players. Crimson Dragon features the same slow-charging gauge for destructive dragon attacks, but it adds numerous other weapons to the mixture. Players also evolve the dragon as it progresses through the game's levels and, if the smartphone Crimson Dragon was any indication, unravels secrets about this planet o' dragons.
Crimson Dragon began as a Kinect-reliant shooter on the Xbox 360, but Microsoft since shifted it to the Xbox One and gave it a controller-based scheme. It still functions with the new system's Kinect, but there's nothing stopping the Panzer faithful from picking up the controller and going at it just as they did on the Saturn or Xbox years ago. Crimson Dragon may not turn heads like Forza or Battlefield upon the Xbox One launch, but it's easily the system's standout for a certain breed of fan.
DEAD RISING 3
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: November 22
Frank West: Maybe Later
Complaints about Dead Rising 3 emerged shortly after its first trailer. It was too dark, the complaint-makers said, too lacking in the schlocky fashions of the first Dead Rising's shopping-mall outbreak and the second's zombie-themed game show. Admittedly, the first glimpses of Dead Rising looked joyless, depicting mechanic hero Nick Ramos in an ashen cityscape roamed by hordes of zombies. He found guns, picked out routes to safety, and…well, he didn't skateboard through the undead while wearing a Mega Man arm blaster, that's for sure.
Perhaps we're a little quick to put down Dead Rising 3. Its introductory level is the stuff of today's straight-faced horror films instead of today's irony-rich horror films. Armed with only a good, weighty wrench at first, Ramos meets up with other survivors in the zombie-filled city of Los Perdidos, California (presumably near the alien-filled city of San Drad, California). Yet it doesn't take long for the game to trot out the improvised arsenals of past Dead Risings, as Ramos patches together a sledgehammer, a skill saw, and whatever else can be bound together with duct tape. He's also able to sprint, save anywhere, and drive all sorts of vehicles—and even combine those vehicles just as easily as he does weapons. Dead Rising 3 also incorporates the new Kinect's sound and motion sensors; once they're on, the game's zombies will pick up on any noises the player happens to make. The game also dispenses with time limits and escort missions, something which proved bothersome in the original Dead Rising. So the third in the series promises a few improvements to go along with its murkier tones.
Developer: Double Helix/Rare
Platform: Xbox One (Live Arcade)
Release Date: November 22
Where is Tusk: Who cares
MSRP: $19.99 or $4.99 per character
For years the promise of another Killer Instinct flipped between a joke and a pipe dream. Rumors of a third game swirled around, and Conker: Live & Reloaded hinted that Rare and Microsoft remembered the series. But there was no sign of Killer Instinct, and some thought that was for the best. It was a creature of the mid-1990s, when fighting games and plastic rendered graphics briefly reigned, and there it had best stay. Microsoft disagreed, however, and the first big surprise of the Xbox One's debut was the return of Killer Instinct.
Repeating its forbears, the new, un-numbered Killer Instinct takes after contemporary Street Fighter a bit. It employs a six-button layout, and moves are done by those familiar rolling “fireball” motions and charge inputs. Moreover, Killer Instinct seizes on Street Figher IV's use of 3-D characters in a fixed, 2-D plane; combos and other excessive attacks switch the viewpoint around, but the flow remains much the same as it was in the side-view fighters of Killer Instinct's heyday. The roster includes seven of the original game's characters redesigned to varying degrees: Jago, Spinal, Orchid, Glacius, Chief Thunder, Sabrewulf, and the yet-to-be-seen Fulgore. The all-new spidery, aerially focused Sadira takes the eighth slot, though Microsoft hints that other familiar Killer Instinct characters will return in the game's second “season.”
This brings us to the third Killer Instinct's unorthodox pricing. The demo includes one character for free: it's Jago at first, but he'll trade places with others. Extra characters run another $4.99 each, but you can buy the whole bunch for $19.99 (six at launch, the other two later). A forty-dollar Ultra Pack includes all of this plus alternate costumes, accessories, and, no lie, the original arcade version of Killer Instinct, with Cinder's infinite combo and everything. For those extremely devoted fans of the series, who've long pondered the moral struggles of Glacius, there's a Pin Ultimate Edition with a display case, a pin folder, and a sixty-dollar price tag.
Ryse: Son of Rome may be the Xbox One's biggest launch exclusive as far as action games go. It follows a fictional general named Marius from childhood to the height of his military career, and it does so with extensive battles and gruesome style; think Gladiator fed through the God of War meat slicer. Like Crimson Dragon, Ryse began as a Kinect-exclusive title for the Xbox 360, only to be prettied up and given a conventional controller option for the Xbox One.
Among other exclusives, Forza Motorsport 5 seems a good show-off title with its extensive multiplayer and 200 initially available cars. LocoCycle, available on Live Arcade, aims for the opposite of Forza's realistic tone; it's all about a sentient motorbike that can transform into a robot, and a mixture of racing and shooting unfolds on the game's tracks. Also on Live Arcade is Powerstar Golf, Microsoft's fast-and-loose links title reminiscent of Hot Shots Golf.
Much like the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One fattens up its launch catalog with ports: Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Need for Speed: Rivals, NBA Live 14, NBA 2K14, Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14, Skylanders: Swap Force, Zoo Tycoon, Zumba Fitness: World Party, and Just Dance 2014. Oddly enough, there's no Angry Birds: Star Wars in sight.
THIS WEEK'S LAST-MINUTE RELEASE
SENRAN KAGURA BURST
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS (eShop only)
Release Date: November 14
Real: Afraid So
Strange as it sounds, it's possible to get the wrong idea about Senran Kagura Burst. With the briefest glance at it, you might see only the chipper face of a ninja girl, take in the T rating, and assume that this is another lightweight action game with perhaps some mildly risqué costumes or dialogue. To dispel these misconceptions, take a closer look or visit the game's website, where all the heroines are crossing their arms like they're in a Wheel of Time novel. See, Senran Kagura Burst is a game that germinated in creator Kenichiro Takaki's mind as a single overriding thought: breasts in 3-D.
Senran Kagura Burst thoughtfully attaches women to these 3-D breasts, of course. The students of Hanzo Academy (not Hanzo High School, mind you) range from the cheerful Asuka and the scatterbrained Hibari to the all-too-friendly Katsuragi, whose sexual harassment of her cohorts aims to amuse us, disturbingly enough. At the unscrupulous Hebijo Academy we find their rivals, including the frilly gun-nut Mirai, emotionless Hikage, and the sword-bedecked Homura, who's less than diligent in being Asuka's nemesis. They wear (and lose) multiple outfits throughout Senran Kagura Burst, and the game rarely passes up an opportunity to showcase bouncing, jiggling, wobbling, gyrating, heaving, swelling, swaying, swinging, rolling, bobbling, thrashing, swirling, throbbing, undulating, wardrobe-ruining, eye-rolling, dignity-destroying, reality-defying cartoon breasts.
Senran Kagura Burst also attaches a game to all of this. It's a side-scrolling brawler with a heavy emphasis on showing off—and not always to the point of creepy titillation. Each heroine has a specialized method of attacking, including air combos, wide-range movies, and unlockable arts. The ridiculous proportions of the characters are matched by their elaborate weaponry, whether it's Mirai's gothic dress full of firearms or the seven swords Homura carries. Burst is also two titles in one; the original Senran Kagura: Skirting Shadows follows the alleged good ninja of Hanzo, while Senran Kagura: Crimson Girls focuses on their rivals, totaling 140 missions. So there's substance to Senran Kagura Burst, in a way. But don't get the wrong idea about it.
NEXT WEEK'S OTHER RELEASES
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: November 19
Misspelled as: Aquapizza
For the typical American fighting-game fan, Aquapazza may as well be an entirely original creation. It combines characters from assorted Aquaplus and Leaf games: Tears to Tiara, Utawarerumono, Comic Party, To Heart, White Album, Kizuato, and Routes. All of these are well off the domestic radar. For the anime fan, however, series like Utawarerumono, To Heart, and Comic Party will conjure up recollections of the anime bubble, as they were released during the height of American anime publisher hubris, when everyone still thought you could sell a show that no one really wanted at thirty bucks for each four-episode DVD. Ah, memories.
Aquapazza requires no knowledge of these disparate contributors, because it's still a fighting game. There's no need to parse the backstories of the grappler schoolgirls, tribal archers, comic-geek schoolgirls, cat-people swordswomen, Valkyrie-ish warrior schoolgirls, and even a robot schoolgirl. Yes, Aquapazza trades on the popular conventions of modern anime, and it's no accident that the developer is Examu, makers of the pandering Arcana Heart series.
Yet Examu also knows something about the inner workings of a fighter, so Aquapazza is reasonably complicated. Main characters pair up with partners from the assorted Aquaplus series, and each ally has some unique contribution to the fisticuffs. The standard special-move gauges also have Splash Arts available when a character's on the ropes, and the Active Emotion System rewards players who go on the offensive. Defending too much makes characters depressed, and that leaves them open to Guard Crush attacks and other damaging moves. Yes, feelings are important in Aquapazza. It's based partly on dating simulators, after all.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: A LINK BETWEEN WORLDS
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 22
Sequel or Prequel: Both
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past arrived in a simpler time for the series. The Zelda name comprised only two previous titles and a lousy cartoon back in 1991, and it made the Super NES debut of A Link to the Past a momentous thing. A Link Between Worlds can't carry that same allure. It comes to us when Zelda games are rampant in number and diverse in style. Yet it's also something many of us wanted but never received in those Super NES days: a sequel to A Link to the Past.
A “sequel” in the typical Zelda sense means that A Link Between Worlds is set numerous generations after the original game, introducing a new round of characters. They fill the same roles, of course: Link is still the plucky, green-clad hero and Princess Zelda is still the imperiled monarch of Hyrule—though this time she's threatened by a wizard named Yuga. Instead of traveling to the Dark World, a fixture of A Link to the Past, Link switches between Hyrule and its alternate-reality kingdom of Lorule, ruled by a purple-haired Princess Zelda lookalike named Hilda.
Aside from the dimensional shifts, A Link Between Worlds offers Link a new method of navigating tricky areas in dungeons. By transforming himself into a paper-thin drawing, he attaches to walls and shifts around like a sentient hieroglyph. This sequel breaks with Zelda tradition by letting Link traverse the dungeons in whatever order he chooses, which requires him to rent hookshots, magic rods and other special tools from the lapine merchant Ravio. A Link Between Worlds makes the questionable choice of replicating the Super NES game's sprites with unimpressive, low-detail 3-D, but we don't play Zelda games just for looks, do we?
SUPER MARIO 3-D WORLD
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: November 22
Cat Goombas: Frightening
One might interpret the recent Mario games in terms of the new suits they introduce. The Koopa shell-suit from New Super Mario Bros. ? A neat concept, but it's not implemented right. The penguin suit from New Super Mario Bros. Wii? Excellent, if limited in its use. The squirrel suit from New Super Mario Bros. Wii U? A cute repackaging of the capes and raccoon tails from prior Mario titles. What then shall we make of the cat outfit in Super Mario 3-D World? It lets Mario and company climb walls, which could introduce many new innovations to the layouts of a 3-D Mario game. On the other hand, it makes the characters look like they're wearing pajamas or suiting up for a furry convention.
Super Mario 3-D World has more than cat outfits in store. It follows the open level designs of the excellent Super Mario 3-D Land for the 3DS, which mixed the typical invention of a side-scrolling Mario game into three-dimensional stages. Super Mario 3-D World includes all of the power-ups from the 3DS game, such as the Boomerang and White Tanooki suits, while adding the cat suit and a cherry item that summons a doppelganger of the player's chosen character. World further broadens the idea with four players, and unlike the New Super Mario titles, it gets the character mix right: Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad. It's just like it was in Super Mario Bros. 2, with none of those extra Toads to unbalance the scheme of things.
Continuing through Nintendo's holiday-season blitz, we find the rare Mario Party game for a handheld system. Mario Party Island Tour arrives on the 3DS with both direct multiplayer and StreetPass options for its various mini-games. Perhaps those games work better on consoles, but Island Tour at least makes it easy for multiple 3DS users to share a single cartridge.
The first Adventure Time game proved an engaging action-RPG, and the second, Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW, takes the series into the realm of overhead dungeon hacks. The multiplayer title sends Finn, Jake, Marceline, Ice King, Flame Princess, and other characters through a hundred levels of Gauntlet-like challenges, all animated with WayForward's typical charm. It arrives on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and PC, though only the 3DS version gets a special BMO steelbook.
Some might think Soul Calibur 2 HD Online unnecessary when we're currently on Soul Calibur V, but there's a good case for preserving Soul Calibur 2. It's a solid enough fighter that delivers the grandiose, weapon-based combat of the series while dodging much of the garish excess that plagued later games. The HD Online version even preserves Heihachi and Spawn as bonus characters, who admittedly made more sense than Yoda or Darth Vader in Soul Calibur IV.
Lastly, November 21 brings the downloadable "Turnabout Reclaimed" case for Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies. Set before the game's other trials, it sees a newly reinstated Phoenix Wright defending a killer whale on murder charges. That alone is worth $5.99 in my book.
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