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The X Button
The Hardest Walk

by Todd Ciolek,

The recent Nintendo Direct brought a lot of news, but one sad announcement awaited later on: the Year of Luigi ends March 18. Shigeru Miyamoto said so on Miiverse.

If nothing else, the Year of Luigi was an interesting case of Nintendo playing along with the fans. There's a long history of nerd gags about Mario overshadowing his greener, higher-jumping brother. In fact, the above art dates back to the July 1994 issue of EGM2, and even then it was a bit of an old joke.

Yet it was only recently that Nintendo turned the whole idea into a promotional gimmick, complete with new Luigi's Mansion, Dr. Luigi, and a Luigi variant of New Super Mario Bros. Wii U. The company even plans a little post-celebration homage, as the April 25 round of NES Remix games will feature Super Luigi Bros.

What else might Nintendo do before the Year of Luigi ends? Will Luigi marry Princess Daisy? Will he get his own version of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show opening? Whatever it is, it won't be as dark as what some fans have envisioned for years.


Little Mac deserved better. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out sold itself primarily with its titular heavyweight champ, but Little Mac was the player's avatar, and Nintendo could employ him in ways that they couldn't use Tyson's likeness. Yet Little Mac didn't land any licensing deals or regular roles in the Captain N cartoon; King Hippo did, but not Little Mac. Perhaps it was some submerged guilt that led Nintendo to open their February Direct presentation with Little Mac getting a spot in Super Smash Bros for the Wii U and 3DS.

Nintendo put together a substantial introduction for Mac and his trainer Doc, with particular attention paid to Samus Aran towering over Mac. That's canonical, too; Samus is supposed to be six-three or something. Anyway, Mac's moveset reflects his pugilist background, and he gains a one-hit knock-out uppercut when his power meter is full. All of this nicely distracted the Nintendo faithful from the fact that Super Smash Bros. still doesn't have a release date.

Other tidbits emerged during the Direct: Mario Golf World Tour and Kirby Triple Deluxe hit the 3DS on May 2, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate will be out for the system next year, and Game Boy Advance titles will soon arrive on the Wii U's Virtual Console. The GBA lineup starts in April with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Yoshi's Island: Super Mario Advance 3, and the criminally underrated Metroid Fusion.

Monolith Soft's X and Platinum's Bayonetta 2 showed off new footage. The former looks a lot like a prettier version of Monolith's well-received Wii RPG Xenoblade, though the addition of giant robots doesn't seem to change the battle system that much. Bayonetta 2 introduced a new ally for its title character in the form of a hooded kid seemingly filched from Final Fantasy X, but everything else about the game—the monster bosses, the surfing levels, the hair-based magic—is all Bayonetta.

Nintendo also threw in some surprise releases. Level-5's Inazuma Eleven, long a success in Japan, was immediately available on the 3DS eShop. The same went for Steel Diver: Sub Wars, which finds Nintendo testing the free-to-play strategy. Sub Wars gives the player two submarine models and two missions for free, while the full version has 18 sub types, many more missions, and a full crew for the submersible.

One more surprise release awaits this week: Weapon Shop de Omasse, the last of Level-5's Guild01 games. Created by comedian Yoshiyuki Hirai, the game follows a father-son team of blacksmiths as they forge weapons for various RPG adventurers.

The most intriguing detail emerged in Nintendo's Direct showing in Japan. The next Ace Attorney game is coming to the 3DS, series creator Shu Takumi is making it, and it'll be a big change for the line of offbeat legal-thriller games. I've actually liked what Takeshi Yamazaki and Motohide Eshiro did with Dual Destinies, but it's nice to see Takumi return to his baby.

Weapon Shop de Omasse isn't the only ambush release this week. Cult-favorite developer Treasure mades a Steam debut yesterday with Ikaruga, a name that should be familiar to any fan of 2-D shooters and the Manichean school of philosophy.

Why's it so Manichean? Well, Ikaruga divides all of its enemies and projectiles into light and dark versions, and the player's ship can switch between the same shades. A light ship absorbs light bullets and damages dark-colored foes, and a dark-flipped ship has the opposite effect. It's all laced up with Treasure's typically intricate level design.

You may have played Ikaruga on the GameCube, the Dreamcast, and XBox Live, but it's only ten bucks on Steam for those who've never tried it. More importantly, it presents a new venue for Treasure, a developer that's tried to adjust to the modern era by porting their older titles to new platforms. Ikaruga could be the start of a new line of Treasure reissues…or maybe that new shooter they've had in the works for years.

Also scheduled for a release this week is Idea Factory's Monster Monpiece for the Vita. It's a strategy-RPG with card battles, but it's best known as The Game Where You Rub Anime Girls To Power-Up Their Cards, and also The Game That Idea Factory Censored For North America Because Some Of Those Cards Were Too Filthy. It'll be available only as a download, and Idea Factory's been understandably quiet about it. [Correction: Monster Monpiece isn't shipping this week, and has no concrete release date yet.]


It's all too easy for games and developers to drop from view. The industry's constant churn of news often obscures companies that aren't releasing screens, announcing games, or working on something prominent enough to have reporters waiting at the mailbox each morning. So it's time to check in on a few names that haven't been seen in a while.

Mistwalker knew some rough moments in the past. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi founded the studio not long after leaving Square Enix, and his first projects were the high-profile Xbox 360 RPGs Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. Blue Dragon became a multimedia success, but the same didn't hold for other Mistwalker attempts. ASH: Archaic Sealed Heat bombed on the DS, and the Xbox 360 game Cry On died before anyone really saw what it was. Yet Mistwalker got a second start aboard the Wii, where Nintendo backed Sakaguchi and AQ Interactive's The Last Story. Traditional in its plotting and bold in its combat, The Last Story is a charming reinvention of the fantasy RPG, and XSEED's North American release proved to be its best-selling title ever. It was overshadowed by Monolith's Xenoblade, but…eh, I like The Last Story just a little bit more.

However, The Last Story was Mistwalker's last big project, and it was originally released in 2011. Some of Mistwalker's low profile might reflect the company's idea-smith status. They primarily traffic in concepts, writing, and music, while another developer handles the programming. And they haven't had many collaborators lately.

Status: Mistwalker's still alive through iOS games, but even that seems hazy. The company released Party Wave and Blade Guardian in 2012, and most of their future exists as hints and allusions. Composer Nobuo Uematsu mentioned discussions with Sakaguchi last year, and The Last Story lead designer Takuya Matsumoto talked about the team's fondness for the Wii U while stressing that they haven't done anything for the system yet. With Monolith now toiling on a Wii U RPG, it's strange that Nintendo hasn't primed Mistwalker for another game. Strange and dispiriting.

Prediction: I suspect Mistwalker will have a Wii U game before long, and I hope it's not a sequel to The Last Story. As much as I liked it, that game wrapped up nice and neat. Start anew, I say.

It's somehow satisfying to remember that a Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs game still exists, to know that a somewhat obscure adaptation of a highly obscure anime series can become a modern game on the strength of its fans and the devotion of one company. Of course, the Saber Rider game has existed only in screenshots and preview videos since its 2010 announcement, and it's jumped from the Game Boy Advance to the DS to just about every current platform.

Footage of the Saber Rider game showed on-foot rail shooting in the vein of Sin and Punishment, plus one-on-one battles between the Ramrod mecha and similarly large robot. Developer Firehazard Studio promised a third type of gameplay: shooter levels similar to the running sequences. Little has been seen of the game since a 2012 trailer, however. Firehazard's website is gone, the official website's posters haven't been updated, and IGN lists the Saber Rider game as canceled.

Status: Alive. The developers maintain official Twitter and Tumblr feeds about the game, and they confirmed that it's still in development.

Prediction: I'd really like to see Firehazard put out a decent Saber Rider game, and not only for the fans. It'd also be a fine example to anyone itching to revive some old cartoon. Want to make a video game out of Mighty Orbots or Giant Gorg or SuperTed or Piggsburg Pigs? Maybe you can.

Well, no one's forgotten about The Last Guardian. It remains a prestige game among prestige games. It's the latest creation from Fumito Ueda, whose Ico and Shadow of the Colossus give him one of the best critical reputations in the game industry. It promises to be the heartbreaking tale of two young souls: one a human kid, the other a towering baby griffin. Their journey is apparently driven by the same naturalistic, interference-free approach that made Ueda's previous games such darlings. We have to avoid concrete terms when describing it because no one outside of Sony has confessed to playing it. In fact, the game's development started in 2007, and it's since weathered many delays, much speculation, and Ueda technically leaving Sony and staying on as a contracted developer to finish The Last Guardian.

Status: Despite rumblings of the game being “on hiatus,” the last word was that the game is still lurking somewhere and inching forward. In October 2013, Sony Worldwide Studios President Shūhei Yoshida told Games Industry International that the game was going through a “re-engineering.” That's all that Sony has to say for the moment, and they likely won't say more until convention season picks up.

Prediction: Priest-Commander Katrina Mokai was nearly prepared as she stepped from the magnalift. Her blast armor needed only a slight tug around the shoulders, her gravity harness just one galileon more. Nothing could be done about her eye. The flare from a Micromecha's plasma lens had clipped it during the Battle of Saint Drake, and it would be stimsealed for another three weeks. She didn't mind. Let the crew talk of it. Perhaps she'd get a nickname.

Nearly everyone had massed on the observation deck. The Sevchenko was one of the smaller attack corvettes in the fleet, and the crew numbered less than fifty. Mokai stepped before them and tapped the amplifier at her neck.

“His Holiness Pontiff Tretton VII has declared this a holiday throughout the Sce Empire,” she announced.

As the crowd before her broke into murmurs and applause, she looked through the deck's wide dome. Below them, the surface of New Syrene cut an arc from the sun's purple glow. Other cruisers drifted nearby: the Adlehyde, the Hopperhead, the Joe Chin. All of the Empire's ships and worlds and colonies no doubt were afroth with the same news that she now delayed for just one moment longer.

“This is due to a glorious event, one that surely foretells our victory over Softspace.” She raised two fingers above her forehead in ceremonial salute. “The Last Guardian finally shipped.”


Developer: Mercury Steam
Publisher: Konami
Platform: PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Release Date: February 25
Sypha: Just sits at home in this continuity
MSRP: $59.99

There's little tragedy about the vampire lord in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Mary Shelley peppered Frankenstein with sympathy for its malformed monster, but Count Dracula's original incarnation is just a jerkass out to suck blood and corrupt Good English Women. And while some adaptations of the Dracula story turn the title creature into a brooding, misunderstood figure, the Castlevania games favor the spirit of Stoker's vision. Dracula's a maniacal villain throughout the series, unless you count Lament of Innocence's unfortunate origin story, the Kid Dracula platformers, or the moments when Symphony of the Night's Dracula gets mopey and quotes the Gospel of Matthew.

Lords of Shadow set that aside, just as it set aside a lot of Castlevania traditions. A relaunch of Castlevania in modern action-game guise, Lords of Shadow has its own continuity, its own style, and its own version of Dracula. The original Lords of Shadow played out from the view of Gabriel Belmont, a knight who contended with monstrous creatures and his inner demons, and, in a twist I trust I'm not spoiling for any interested parties, became Dracula. Or Dracul, as he called himself. You know what he means.

Lords of Shadow 2 has players controlling Gabriel-as-Dracula in his original medieval time as well as the modern era, with various other reinvented Castlevania icons returning from the first game and the Mirror of Fate side-story. The developers promote the game's open-world element, though the combat still shows plenty of the original's God of War influences. You can see it for yourself in a Lords of Shadow 2 demo where our antihero switches between weapons, brutalizes his foes, and dismantles a thundering, castle-smashing clockwork robot by scaling it and hacking at obvious rivets and seams. This being Castlevania, though, Dracula also drains his staggering enemies of blood, and he ultimately short-circuits the siege mecha by vomiting night itself onto a crystal engine. He also quotes that “What is a man…” line while watching an army assail his fortress. Presumably there wasn't a Bible quote to fit that.

The game also dances with controversy in God of War fashion, most obviously in a scene where Dracula slaughters a family and hopes to disturb the player. Kid Dracula would not approve, but as long as Lords of Shadow keeps selling, Konami doesn't care what Kid Dracula thinks.

Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: February 28
Best Lost Civilization: The One Under Antarctica
MSRP: $39.99

Let's see how the Azran society from Professor Layton's new game stacks up against other long-buried civilizations brimming with crystalline secrets and horrifying truths. Well, the Azrans crafted all sorts of scientific and architectural wonders, several of which appeared in prior Professor Layton games, so that puts them on par with the Atlantis-inspired cultures seen everywhere from Disney movies to Dean Koontz novels. Azran remnants also mask technology that modern capitalists and megalomaniacs are all too eager to weaponize, just like the antediluvian lasers seen everywhere from Castle in the Sky to that one episode of Inspector Gadget. Lastly, we have a mysterious Azran girl freed from an icy slumber of untold millennia, much in the manner of the ill-fated young women uncovered everywhere from Mega Man Legends 2 to Origin ~Spirits of the Past~. Clearly, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy has its checklist filled.

The Azran Legacy does more than cast light on a mystery hinted at many times before in Professor Layton lore. It's the last leg of a prequel trilogy that leads into Professor Layton and the Curious Village and explains why his assistant Emmy isn't around in the games that followed. It's also a convenient frame for over 500 puzzles, and there's the core of any Professor Layton game. These various logic and spatial challenges range from color-matching tests to aerial gunnery, and new mini-games arise in a dress-up test, a gardening simulation, and a squirrel's run through a nut-heavy obstacle course. A treasure-hunt mode also lets the player share items with other 3DS owners. It doesn't let players create their own puzzles, but that's just asking for trouble.

Developer: Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: February 25
What's an Exsphere: Dunno
MSRP: $39.99/$99.99 (special edition)

Tales of Symphonia is the rare Japan-born RPG that was far more important in North America than its native land. Symphonia was a success in Japan, to be certain, but there the Tales series already rode atop the ever-rising tide of Tales of Phantasia and Tales of Destiny. The name was far less known in the West, and yet Symphonia had many advantages. It was a 3-D anime RPG on the Gamecube, a system that had few such attractions, and it was backed by Nintendo's dollar and a voice cast that included Jennifer Hale, Scott Menville, and Cam Clarke. Through Symphonia, many RPG fans came to know the Tales standards of appealing characters, fierce-paced battle systems, and a storyline held together with spit and nonsense and techno-fantasy jargon.

It also helped that, amid all of the talk about Exspheres and Desians, Tales of Symphonia was a solidly enjoyable game. It adapted the Linear Motion Battle System of its predecessor into limited 3-D arenas, where players attack and defend with all of the fluid commands one would find in an action game. It also brought the innovations of a Tales game to life with 3-D models and voice acting. It may be a conventional story that moves small-town swordsman Lloyd Irving and relentlessly sweet Colette Brunel around the world, but they recruit all sorts of endearing warriors to their cause. A decade later, characters like Zelos Wilder and Sheena Fujibayashi still pop up where other Tales side-players are forgotten.

There's far less affection among fans for the Wii follow-up, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. It's not so much a problem with the battle system, which expanded well beyond the original's combat and added recruitable monster allies. Most of the resentment lands on new protagonists Emil Castagnier and Marta Lualdi, who roam around and meet the first Symphonia's characters. While the Wii of 2008 was just as lacking in strong RPGs as the Gamecube of 2004, Dawn of the New World couldn't capture the first Symphonia's allure.

Both games get shiny new coats in Tales of Symphonia Chronicles. The compilation looks better, offers both Japanese and English voices, and has the various improvements and side quests found in the Japan-only PlayStation 2 port of the first Symphonia. Will it be enough to stand alongside Vesperia and Xillia and the upcoming Xillia 2? And if it doesn't, will fans buy the special edition anyway, just for the figures and soundtrack and fully translated mini-novel?

Also Available:
Square Enix and Eidos Montreal's reboot of the Thief series arrives with its unpretentious title. Recurring protagonist Garrett remains a stealthy man of many unsavory talents, and this new Thief gives him a “focus” mode for slowing time and…well, making the game a bit easier. You can ignore it if you prefer the way of older Thief outings

Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you want.

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