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The X Button
Real Drives

by Todd Ciolek,

The Battletoads occupy a strange land between grudging respect and unending shame. Their games aren't all that bad: the NES original has a lot of variety despite its piercing difficulty, and most of its spin-offs are above average. The Battletoads themselves, on the other hand, are grotesque creatures from an age where companies pumped countless cartoon characters and video-game mascots full of toxic levels of “attitude” in an attempt to spawn the next Ninja Turtles. It's the sort of thing that inspires pranks and eye-rolling, and I didn't expect it to inspire a revival.

And yet that's happening, at least at the legal stages. Microsoft applied for the Battletoads trademark earlier this month, suggesting that someone's thinking about a new game. It wouldn't be the first time; a Battletoads revamp for the Game Boy Advance died in the early stages, and you can find a prototype version of it. Perhaps Microsoft will take things further, but these sorts of trademarks don't guarantee actual games, you know.

What sort of game might a new Battletoads be? Would it play out like the revived Killer Instinct, which posed itself without any irony? Or would it make fun of itself, fully aware of just how ridiculous the early 1990s mascot binge looks today? If tries for pure, relentless '90s parody, it'll be hard to top the one-off Battletoads cartoon.


The recent Nintendo Direct presentation sealed up some details about upcoming games: Code Name S.T.E.A.M. will be out in the spring, Splatoon will follow in the second quarter, and some of the upcoming Amiibo toys will work with Mario Kart 8 and Hyrule Warriors. Yet Xenoblade Chronicles X seemed the star of the show. Bayonetta 2 is out, a new Metroid is nowhere in sight, and the next Zelda's a good way off. It's time to push Xenoblade Chronicles X out of the nest, and Nintendo will do that early next year in Japan.

For now, Monolith Soft is in the last development phase of its Wii U follow-up to an ambitious Wii RPG. The original Xenoblade Chronicles unfolded on the surface of two enormous creatures, but X trades that in for a more conventional space opera. The human race flees the Earth amid a vast interplanetary war, and a fleet of refugees lands on a distant world. Players control a customized hero, recruit a party, and venture around the lush, dangerous world. The battles look to be a smooth reworking of Xenoblade's real-time fights, and players can jet around in giant mecha that transform into jets. Players can also use the Wii U gamepad's screen to peer around the terrain, which sounds ideal for anyone who insisted on seeing every cranny of the first Xenoblade's world.

The setting also seems broader than the original Xenoblade, which limited humans to a few towns in the vast wilderness. Xenoblade Chronicles X has the larger and much more modern colony of New Los Angeles to explore, with its own suburban backyards and quaint little bodegas!

The trailer didn't elaborate on the characters of Xenoblade Chronicles X very much, and it seems that the game's built to suit both solo players and online meetups. There's a story to help along, but the player's blank-slate avatar makes me wonder if we'll care quite so much about that. So far we only have names and faces for the supporting cast. Going from left to right, that's Rin, Elma, a yet-anonymous burly mustached guy, and the player's red-haired hero. Oh, and the little Nopon creature is named Tatsu. Design-wise, he's the most interesting character thus far.

Rodea the Sky Soldier became a very strange disappearance case. Kadokawa Games announced it for the Wii and 3DS back in 2011, and it shows promise. An aerial action game from Yuki Naka, co-creator of NiGHTS and Sonic the Hedgehog? Sure, why not? Yet it vanished from Kadokawa's release schedule, even though Naka stated that his Prope studio had pretty much completed the game. Well, it's back, and it's going where we expected: to the Wii U as well as the 3DS.

Famitsu confirmed that the game's headed for a Japanese release next spring, and it looks much like it did back in 2011. That's not a drawback, though: Rodea has a colorful, skyfaring atmosphere, and the gameplay sees its hero bouncing from one midair point to another. There's no U.S. release just yet, though fans of Naka's work should hope for one—especially if they're disappointed in the recent Sonic Boom games.

All of this Battletoads and Rodea talk overshadows the return of a far more obscure creation: Square's Racing Lagoon. A hybrid racer RPG, it arrived on the PlayStation during the company's glorious experimental period in the late 1990s. That period brought us many wonderful games, but Racing Lagoon is seldom counted among them. Most rank it alongside CyberOrg and Soukaigi as games that Square was right to leave in Japan. But Square remembers Racing Lagoon, and they announced a crossover with their smartphone title Shissou, Yankee Damashii.

It makes sense: Shissou is a game about young punks who tear around on motorcycles and maintain their silly pompadour hairstyles, and that fits into Racing Lagoon's world of fast cars and teenage arrogance. Will Square revive other PlayStation-era games in the same manner? I wouldn't mind a smartphone version of Einhander or Internal Section, no matter what crossovers were involved.


Status: Funded, and pretty darn quickly
Platforms: PC
Ends: Friday, January 9

Like it or not, Clannad heralded a new era. Together with Kanon and Air, it formed a trilogy of visual novels that helped thrust the idea of cutey-cute “moe” phenomenon to the fore. That idea was nothing new, but developer Key gathered a following with melodramatic visual novels that received their own anime series, comics, and various spin-offs. You may have seen Sentai Filmworks' anime releases or played a fan translation of the original Clannad, which finds a brusque high-school kid meeting and bonding with five girls. Yet there's never been an official English version of the visual novel that started the whole thing, and Sekai Project wants to deliver that through a Kickstarter for a Steam release of Clannad.

Sekai's $140,000 Kickstarter price seems a bit high for a visual novel, but the project's founders attribute that to the assorted licenses, voice actors, and development options. Sekai promises all of the same voice acting as the original (with no dub, of course), and the backer rewards include artbooks and soundtracks as well as the usual physical release. Still, Key's old titles seem outdated in appearance even for moe creatures—the characters have that hideous scrunched-face look that puts their mouths practically between their eyes. Most of today's aren't-they-cute schoolgirl stories opt for less jarring illustrations. Is there really enough of a following to support a translation of Clannad?

Apparently so. The Kickstarter passed its funding mark in about a day. And I choose to look on the bright side of that. Even if you don't care about Clannad, it's a good sign for other groups looking to localize older Japanese games—and not just visual novels! If Clannad and its mopey, big-chinned schoolgirls can succeed on Kickstarter, other games surely could.

Status: Unfunded
Platforms: NES, PC, Mac
Ends: Thursday, November 27

Lizard is among the scores of Kickstarter games that try to look like old NES titles. There's one difference, however: it's an actual NES game. Part of the Kickstarter funding includes a working Lizard cartridge that you can stick into your NES and play just like it's 1988 and you don't have to care about anything but video games and catching Duck Tales. Of course, it'll also be available on the PC and Mac, but there's something to be said for tactile authenticity.

And there's more to Lizard than getting a big grey slab of NES game. It's a cute side-scrolling title that sprawls out in all directions, much like Ufouria or Metroid, and it lets players don different lizard skins (though the change happens when one lizard vomits up a human-shaped avatar of consciousness into another) and gain new abilities. The demo has a swimming lizard, a regular lizard, the above-pictured Lizard of Bounce, and possibly a few that I didn't find. It's a solid foundation, though the lizard's floaty jumps don't quite agree with it taking only one hit before it skeletonizes in defeat. Like other new NES creations, Lizard also looks like an early title from the system's lifespan, more Metroid and Kid Icarus than Little Samson or Ninja Gaiden III. Yet that adds to the surreal undertone of things. Immobile pandas, boot-wearing lizards, and dark caverns could be the stuff of a weird stop-motion short as much as an NES artifact.

Status: Unfunded
Platforms: PC
Ends: Saturday, December 6

Piloting a giant robot would be tremendously complicated in real life, and that's why nearly all video games, Steel Battalion excepted, simplify the whole process. Override isn't taking the easy path. It lets you control a huge mecha, but you'll do so by maneuvering the arms and legs of the Watchbot. A single player can man the machine with a controller, but it's possible for four players to join together and pilot the Watchbot one limb at a time. It looks so easy when Voltron and Goshogun do it, but with Override you'll learn the awkward truth.

Override's early footage seems a tech demo, but the final game hopes to pit the Watchbot and its crew against giant invaders as well as day-to-day tasks. It sounds a lot like Robot Alchemic Drive, a divisive PlayStation 2 game where players directed giant mecha with a remote control. Override appears more hands-on in its approach, and if it can pull of a convincing co-operative mecha action game, it'll have that field pretty much all to itself.

Late to the Party has an intriguing premise: a woman forging a career in espionage in the Baltic remnants of the Soviet Union. As a newly recruited KGB agent, she juggles alliances with her contacts and the local marks through elaborate replies to their dialogue. It has the look of a late-1980s computer game and a fairly good pedigree: the developers previously made the Kickstartered RPG Unrest.

And here's something for Earthbound fans: a fanzine, a guide book, a remix album, and a documentary, all about Shigesato Itoi's beloved RPG series. You Are Now Earthbound is a tribute to the undying affections of Mother and Earthbound fans, and it looks far beyond simple tributes. The documentary includes an interview with Itoi himself, and the Kickstarter's steadily climbing toward an actual Earthbound convention. Maybe it'll reach the coveted laughing-tomato stretch goal! And maybe it won't mean anything! That's Earthbound for you.


Developer: Sega/Crypton Future Media
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PlayStation 3/PS Vita/PlayStation TV)
Release Date: November 18
Localization Score So Far: Miku 2, Sonico 0.
MSRP: $49.99 (PS3) / $39.99 (Vita)

I regret to inform Hatsune Miku's loyal public that the virtual pop idol has not become a world-dominating superstar. Her performance on the Letterman Show was befuddling and surreal, and she has yet to marry Bono or Kanye West in a real-life vision of William Gibson's prophetic Idoru. But her handlers at Crypton Future Media are undeterred in their ambition of making Miku a hit in North America, and so her capering unrealism prompted Sega to localize games like Project Diva F 2nd.

As with the original Project Diva F, the sequel is a fusion of music videos and virtual-idol appreciation. Miku runs through her songs with the varied grace of a pop icon: strumming a guitar in a cat's cradle of virtual hearts, gyrating before a crowd of glowsticks, twirling through the sky like she's the star of Sega's own NiGHTS, or just living up to that Internet meme about her waving a leek to the strains of “Ieva's Polka.” As she and her other Vocaloid stars cavort, PlayStation button icons sweep across the screen, and matching them keeps the song afloat and Miku's mechanical heart from breaking. The initial mix has about 40 songs, nearly half of which are from earlier Project Diva titles. But Sega promises a bunch of extra material, including costumes and artwork as well as songs.

The other side of Project Diva F 2nd has the player interacting with Miku and other Vocaloids through the Diva Room. Players can decorate the place, play mini-games, and just keep Miku happy. She seems pretty easy to please for a pop star, though. Perhaps all she wants is her CPU bay air-dusted once in a while. And should you reserve this new Miku game, you get some bonuses: spare characters Neru, Teto, and Haku, plus a module that dresses Miku up in red, white, and blue. See, America? She's reaching out to you.

Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 21
Best Pokemon: Flareon, I guess.
MSRP: $39.99 (individually) / $79.99 (two-pack)

The cover at left is no mock-up. You can purchase both versions of the new Pokemon game together. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire retail separately if you want, but I'm sure some kids will demand the two-pack for the 200-potion bonus code (that's a hundred for each game) and the assurance that they'll have every Pokemon creature this remake has to offer. Instead of building up a collection by trading for the rare or version-exclusive monsters, they'll have the entire set waiting. They probably bought both Pokemon X and Y last year, the little brats.

Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are fairly extensive remakes of the Game Boy Advance outings Ruby and Sapphire. The story unfolds in much the same manner: a young hero or heroine explores the Hoenn region, gathering wild-caught Pokemon as well as domesticated critters that trainers cruelly barter. The central story remains unchanged in most respects, but the game looks radically different: cartoonish modern 3-D replaces the sprites of the old games, a new radar system tracks naturally occurring Pokemon, and the player can customize a base of operations. The game technically doesn't introduce any new animals, but the “mega evolution” versions of existing creatures might qualify as fresh sights—and they'll provide the game's new flecks of storyline. It also brings out an enhanced flying ability that, once instilled in a captive Mega Latios, lets players float to any map location. Yet players might pay more attention to a special Pikachu sidekick. Still an icon of the series after all these years, the little rat dresses up in various costumes to learn new moves and inspire cosplayers at anime conventions.

Developer: HAL Laboratory/Game Arts/Sora Ltd./Bandai Namco
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Release Date: November 21
The Last Story: Just a trophy
MSRP: $59.99

You can buy Super Smash Bros. on the 3DS right now, so why bother waiting for the Wii U version? Both versions have the same lineup of popular Nintendo characters (plus Mega Man, Pac-Man, and Sonic!) bashing each other around elaborate side-view stages that also recall familiar video games. Well, the Wii U version has a Smash Tour board game mode, a Special Orders challenge mode, and a two-player co-operative Event Mode. It also has special eight-player stages in contrast to the 3DS version's four-player fights. And there's one major Wii U edition feature that its 3DS relative doesn't have yet: Amiibo compatibility.

For those unaware, the Amiibo are Nintendo's response to the vast popularity of Skylanders and Disney Infinity toy-game fusions. They're figurines of Nintendo characters, all Super Smash Bros. rosters so far, with bases that let them interact with games. In the case of Super Smash Bros., popping an Amiibo onto the Wii U gamepad brings up the corresponding character within the game, and he or she can be played regularly, used as a sidekick, or set to fight as an AI combatant. Amiibo also learn as they go, so players can build a particular figure into a powerful fighter and set it against rival ones. The first wave of Amiibo toys arrives the same day as the Wii U's Super Smash Bros., and it features Mario, Link, Fox McCloud, Yoshi, Pikachu, Princess Peach, Kirby, an Animal Crossing villager, Samus Aran, Donkey Kong, the Wii Fit Trainer, and Prince Marth. The second wave follows in December with Diddy Kong, Captain Falcon, Princess Zelda, Little Mac, Pit (aka Kid Icarus), and Luigi, whose year is long over. I'll be surprised if there aren't rabid consumer outbreaks over these Amiibo, as parents, Nintendo fans, and eBay profiteers hunt for that coveted Princess Peach or Kirby.

A few previously released games use the Amiibo figures in limited ways, and the New Nintendo 3DS, due out in North America next year, will have built-in Amiibo compatibility. For now, Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U is the prime showcase for Nintendo's new gadget. And it'll probably be a fun game, if the 3DS version is any indication. It has a likeable mix of Nintendo staples and more obscure characters (like Shulk from Xenoblade and the Duck Hunt Dog), and it shows Mega Man more affection than he's seen from Capcom in years. Even less popular games contribute trophies to the game. It's strange that the Ice Climbers aren't playable in the Wii U version, since director Masahiro Sakurai stated that they were removed from the game due to the limitations of the 3DS. Then again, Ice Climber was never a big priority for Nintendo.

Dragon Age: Inquisition arrives on PCs, the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation 4, and the Xbox family. It positions the player's customized character as the head Inquisitor of a force tasked with stopping incursions from the bizarre and savage Fade dimension. BioWare promises a larger world, more player choices, and, of course, a whole bunch of allies for the player to control in battle and seduce by the campfire.

Adventure Time: The Secret of the Nameless Kingdom debuts on the 3DS, PlayStation 3, the Vita, the Xbox 360, and the PC. It's an overhead action game in the style of Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW, and it sends Finn and Jake to new Ooo territories with new princesses. It's made by WayForward, who made Shantae and Mighty Switch Force and, uh, the previous Adventure Time games! It's also the first Adventure Time game without a wacky subtitle.

Far Cry 4 shows up in the usual places: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. It drops players in the thick of a rebellion against an oppressive dictator in Nepal, where they can ride elephants when not engaging in the usual gunplay and close-range combat. You could always ride the gunnery-pachyderm in Metal Slug 3, but that's a bit more trouble.

If you want something genuinely different, keep an eye out for Never Alone, a puzzle-platformer where players control a girl and a fox seeking the source of a world-swallowing blizzard. It's based on Inupiaq legends, and its style is subtle and impressive. You can get it next Tuesday for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

For those PlayStation 4 owners holding out for Akiba's Trip, the game arrives there after hitting the PlayStation 3 and Vita. It tells of vampires infesting Akihabara, with the player's only recourse being to beat them, strip them, and let the sunlight pacify them. Of course, a lot of these vampires happen to women…

Lastly, the PC version of Valkyria Chronicles is out right now on Steam. Its unique take on strategic RPGs led to a longer series with anime shows and sequels, but none of them had the same impact as the original (though, to be fair, Sega never localized the third game). If you've never bothered with it before, the first Valkyria Chronicles awaits on Steam for twenty bucks.

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

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