The X Button - Equal Crimeby Todd Ciolek,
Is it time for another contest already? I think it is. The last one was about Drakengard 3, which is a fairly gruesome and depressing game even when it's funny. So this contest needs something happy. And what's happier than the frolicsome pirate adventures and idiotically wide grins of One Piece? Not much.
I have three copies of One Piece Unlimited World Red to give away. I assume that you all know about (and dislike) the way 4kids sanitized and mucked with One Piece many years ago, censoring things and adding an infamous opening song to make it more palatable to American kids. So that forms your challenge: pick an anime series and explain just how you'd change it to make everything kid-safe. The more absurd and strained your suggestions, the better!
A few rules apply, of course. It's up to you to decide on your pitch's format, but it needs to be around 200 to 500 words regardless of layout. It should deal with an anime production never before mollified for American broadcast sensibilities (it's fine if it was dubbed or officially released), and it'd be best to choose something familiar to most of us nerds instead of picking some unknown OVA from 1987. I wouldn't get into anything pornographic, though I'll leave that to your discretion. You're free to map out a censored cut of The Duchess of Busty Mounds if you really want.
Entries must reach me (toddciolek at gmail.com) by midnight EST on Thursday, August 14. The contest is open to anyone in any region of the globe, except for employees of Bandai Namco or Anime News Network. Oh, and I'd suggest that the winners of recent contests abstain from this one. Give someone else a chance.
TRI-ACE HAS A NEW, FREE, POSSIBLY INTERESTING GAME
Poor ol' tri-Ace. They were one of the most ambitious RPG developers of the past console generation. While other companies slunk off to the lower-budget, lower-risk venue s of the DS and PSP, tri-Ace tackled the market head-on with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games: Star Ocean 4, Resonance of Fate, and Infinite Undiscovery. None of them caught on, even though Resonance of Fate isn't bad at all. This sent tri-Ace to handhelds, to Konami's Frontier Gate and Beyond the Labyrinth. Those didn't catch on either, and so tri-Ace gave up original games, working on Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIII sequels, some Little Battlers stuff, and Sega's upcoming Phantasy Star Nova. But tri-Ace shall not fade into backroom development so easily. Their new creation is a free-to-play Vita game called Judas Code.
Judas Code is another of those post-apocalyptic shooters, though in this case it's two apocalypses that shear down the planet to ashes and ruins. First World War III starts, and then an enormous alien pillar called Longinus (ohhhh, I get it) shows up and wreaks horrific environmental damage. In this nasty new world, the player controls a new recruit (male or female) in an advanced outfit called the Regenerators. Joining the Regenerators puts you in the midst of firefights in the wreckage of civilization, but at least there's a nameless, green-haired AI woman to help you through it. Just be sure to name your character something Biblical, like Ehud or Bathsheba!
The single-player campaign of Judas Code runs like a 3-D shooter, one where characters take cover, snipe targets, and complete missions for rewards. Stranger still, multiplayer battles use cards of various defensive and offensive attributes. Sounds like two games in one, don't it?
Judas Code is due out this summer in Japan, and we've no word of an English release. I hope tri-Ace can make something of it. I was never a fan of Star Ocean, but tri-Ace created the Valkyrie Profile series, and for that I'll always like them. So even if Judas Code isn't exactly a novel spin on Norse mythology, it's still a sign of life.
ULTRA STREET FIGHTER IV GETS NEW COSTUMES, WACKINESS
Capcom's Comic-Con announcements were fairly minor. The Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist web show got another series, entitled The World Warrior. Tekken X Street Fighter is still in the works. And Link's wardrobe will be available in Monster Hunter 4 for the 3DS. The most interesting things to look at were the new “Summer Vacation” costumes for Ultra Street Fighter IV. They'll be available next week alongside the retail version of the game, and some of them are great. Some aren't.
The most noteworthy is Cammy's skirt-and-jacket ensemble, because it's the most dignified outfit she's ever worn in any Street Fighter game. Well, unless you count her outfit in Final Fight Streetwise, but everyone prefers to forget that game.
Design-wise, the best of the bunch is probably Zangief's scuba-cosmonaut-I-don't-know getup. Is it a reference to Street Fighter EX's Doctrine Dark? I suspect not.
I also like Makoto's new overalls and Wario-esque cap. She looks ready to fling some rocks and Molotovs during a political rally turned riot! Or maybe she's just going to show us all that skateboarding really is a crime.
The worst of the bunch? I'm going with Juri's new costume. It's just cheap and lazy. Instead of something that plays off her spidery motif, we get some lame nightclub wear with a web-pattern scarf. Even the schlub in the background doesn't want to take a photo of it. But you don't have to agree with me. Check out gallery of new outfits and pick your least favorite!
TAIL CONCERTO GETS AN ARTBOOK, DON'T CALL IT FURRY
If someone asked “which PlayStation game is the least likely to get an artbook in this day and age?” with me around, I'd answer…well, maybe Eternal Eyes, T.R.A.G., or some canceled project like Bounty Arms. In fact, Tail Concerto is a better candidate than most. It's a charming cult-fave action title, and developer Cyberconnect2 kept it and the rest of the Little Tail Bronx series alive through the 3DS action game Solatorobo, the mobile game Little Tail Story, the Mamoru-Kun public safety campaign, and that Strelka Stories thing that's still in the works.
Now there's an artbook detailing the lush sky archipelago and cat-and-dog people of Tail Concerto. Well, a new one, anyway. Cyberconnect2 already released some art collections and strategy guides that detail the series (including something called The Kemono Books), but this new volume will have over a hundred supposedly never-before-published illustrations from the original Tail Concerto. Will it have rare early design work drastically different from the final game? I sure hope so.
OPINION: STRIP MINING
Next month brings the North American release of Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed, an action-adventure game where the player roams the streets of Akihabara and attacks other people. There's a reason for that: the district, long famed as a nexus of electronics vendors and otaku shopping, is infested with vampires, and you must combat them by beating them down and stripping away their clothing. This exposes them to the sunlight and, as legend posits, destroys their vampiric existence.
Akiba's Trip is a game that satirizes and panders at once. It mocks the obsessive, undesirable element of otaku while faithfully recreating it, so it's unsurprising that a good number of the disguised vampires are female. In fact, boss battles against women end with up-close shots of them disrobed and helpless before the player and/or the light of day. These images are also available for the player to capture and use as in-universe smartphone wallpaper.
This is sexist at the very least, and XSEED Games apparently agreed. They asked developer Acquire to give the same treatment to the game's male bosses, and so the North American version of Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed will have just as many special images of men being disrobed and defanged. XSEED hopes that the game will offend less when it exploits its male characters just as much. Akiba's Trip has the player stripping all sorts of people, from businessmen to street punks, and now the game's most risque moments reflect that.
It's a nice gesture, but it misses the point. Akiba's Trip is unsettling not merely because players get zoomed-in looks at defeated women; it's unsettling because your character can violently disrobe them in the first place. The entire concept raises grotesque allusions to sexual assault and street harassment, and it's not mitigated by bringing male characters into the mix. Even when the attacks are played off as comedy (and in the game's defense, they're bloodless and often silly), it's a touch alarming to pick out seemingly random strangers and pound them to the point where you can tear off their attire. That's an uncomfortable way to conclude a fight with any opponent.
Akiba's Trip isn't really evening the score, either. Its new cutscenes pay cursory notice to those players who like images of attractive men, but the game's still promoted as a male-centric fantasy. The hero is a guy, his teammates are mostly women, his closest ally is a mysterious pale-haired girl who smooches him minutes after they meet, and the game's cover art shows an Akihabara maid with her costume half-shredded.
This is hardly the first game to blend sexuality and violence to misogynistic effect. A great many titles raise the issue, however mildly, by having scantily clad female opponents. The tradition goes back even farther than the garter-clad women in Robocop vs. The Terminator or the dominatrix thugs in Vendetta, but it's rarely carried to explicit, intentionally disturbing lengths. It's collateral damage from the ridiculous sex-kitten costumes women often wear in video games.
Yet there's a far uglier trend in games that suggestively reward players for beating up women—or getting them beaten up. It usually takes the form of ripped clothing or some close-range image of a defeated character, an idea that winds back through Variable Geo, Fighting Vipers, Illbleed, Rumble Roses, and just about any other game with female characters and "battle damage." Its modern champion is Senran Kagura, a horribly successful series about ninja girls who just can't keep their costumes together. XSEED's releasing that as well.
Sometimes the idea stems from an attempt at character growth. SNK's Art of Fighting debuted in 1992 with a tuxedo-clad bartender named King. When defeated by a special move, King loses a selective stretch of fabric from her top, thus revealing that she is really a woman and not terribly proud of that. King's whole backstory is a mess of self-loathing that, in a real plot, might criticize the rampant sexism of the martial-arts community and society at large. Too bad Art of Fighting came around long before its genre even approached story modes.
SNK also kept King's destructible formal wear longer than necessary. Well after it was clear that King was a woman no longer posing as a man, her top would still be ripped away against her will if a powerful move drained the last of her health meter. While Art of Fighting 2 had all of its characters lose bits of clothing, the first installments of The King of Fighters inflicted the feature on King. Only in 1996 did SNK abolish the idea. Yet when The King of Fighters XIII rolled around with gorgeously animated revisions of many series regulars, both King and her teammate Yuri could lose their outerwear upon defeat. There's no tradition like a shameful tradition.
This brings us back to Akiba's Trip and its problem of representation. Whenever someone points out how unrealistic women look in many video games, it's all too common for naysayers to reply that the same games often parade around perfectly sculpted men in barbarian battle speedos and superhero spandex. This ignores the fact that such idealized Adonises are usually as much heterosexual male wish-fulfillment as the accompanying sex-object women. Akiba's Trip doesn't quite fall into that, since some of its new images seem targeted at beefcake connoisseurs. They just don't change what's unpleasant at the game's core.
Akiba's Trip is no triumph of equality, but XSEED's additions at least try to fix a problem all too common in the entertainment industry (not just the video-game sliver of it, mind you). And despite how the game turns out, the attempts at balance at least make a point: if a lot of games are going to invoke violent-toned sex appeal, better that they invoke it on as many sides as possible. Yet it'd be nice if more of them tried not to invoke it at all.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
There won't be much new on the shelves, but Ultra Street Fighter IV will be available in one complete retail release for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Yes, the Ultra upgrade came out months back, but this version is a convenient bundle of just about every Street Fighter IV incarnation to date (except the brand-new costumes, that is). It'll come in handy for tournament organizers, folks in the middle of switching console preferences, and anyone who's never tried modern Street Fighter.
Among digital releases, Nintendo reaches back into its history with The Mysterious Murasame Castle, an early Famicom Disk System game never before available in North America. The Legend of Zelda and Metroid went from the FDS to the Nintendo Entertainment System that all American kids loved, but The Mysterious Murasame Castle and its overhead vision of samurai questing were denied (perhaps because the game did poorly in Japan). Come next week, though, you can play it on the North American 3DS and craft some false nostalgia.
The Mysterious Murasame Castle isn't the most obscure thing arriving on the 3DS, though. That distinction goes to Steel Empire, a sharpened-up port of Hot-B's old Sega Genesis offering. It's a horizontal shooter journey through a fanciful world of zeppelins, biplanes, crude little tanks, and other mild revisions of early 20th century technology. While there are many other Genesis shooters more deserving of remasters, Steel Empire has some unique sights in its alt-history stages. Starfish's port has 3-D effects, adjusted difficulty, and a nicer look all around. It also has a price tag of $29.99, and I'm not sure if any remade shooter from the Genesis era is worth that much today. Well, M.U.S.H.A. is.
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