The X Button - Lasting Legacyby Todd Ciolek,
I've seen far too many game websites and magazines disappear over the years. It's never easy in either case, but I think the websites have it worse. Magazines at least leave some tangible, permanent volume for you to revisit. It's harder to go back to old websites. They might stay up for a year, perhaps two, but eventually they'll be nowhere but an archive of broken images and scattershot layouts. And that's if they're lucky.
So I hope there's some way to preserve Joystiq. News of its closure seeped out last month, and this Tuesday brought the above image and the announcement of the site's formal shutdown. It's terrible news that leaves a lot of good people without work, and it puts an end to a reliable source of video-game coverage. I always found Joystiq to be solid, amusing, and largely free of pandering.
We're at a strange point for websites of any kind, and it's particularly contentious as readers debate precisely what they want out of geek news sources. All too often the answer is “something I agree with completely and never find challenging.” I'm not sure if that's the future of video-game coverage, but I know that particular future will be a little darker without Joystiq.
MONSTER BOY REVIVES WONDER BOY, MONSTER WORLD, HOPE IN THE FUTURE
Westone's Monster World and Wonder Boy games are fantastic creations, side-scrolling action games that layer excellent craftsmanship with precious details. The whole complicated web of Monster World and Wonder Boy and their various adaptations (including Hudson's own Adventure Island) came to an apparent end with Monster World IV, a delightful and yet still underrated Sega Genesis offering. However, they continue to inspire new titles here and there. Game Atelier's Flying Hamster II: Knight of the Golden Seed was one of them. It had a similar side-view gameplay and expressive charms, and its Kickstarter closed early due to the game finding a publisher. Since then, the game's found more than that: it's changed entirely to Monster Boy and the Wizard of Booze, a spiritual follow-up to the Wonder-Monster industrial complex.
Game Atelier dubs their new Monster Boy an “official part of the series,” and it's not hard to understand why. Even though Sega owns the Monster World and Wonder Boy names, Game Atelier enlisted the aid of Ryuichi Nishizawa. Co-founder of Westone and director of most of the company's Wonder Boy and Monster World creations, Nishizawa is just about the best person to have aboard for a thematic revival of the series. And Monster Boy certainly looks the part of a modern Wonder Boy III, with its hero's sword-and-shield and multitude of alternate forms. Early screenshots even show a tropical stage straight out of the original Wonder Boy. He's gone from a hamster to a human, but that fits with the many curious forms the Wonder Boy games took over the years.
I am conflicted, though. I was perfectly content with how the Monster World games wrapped up; Monster World IV's fantastic quest and cute coda formed the best sendoff a game ever might want. Yet I'm glad to see the series live on in some fashion. Even the new translation of Monster World IV (get it for Wii, PS3, or Xbox 360!) hinted that things weren't completely over.
Just one problem: the Wizard of Booze? That sounds like something out of a fan-hacked ROM of Dragon Warrior, not the successor to the gently charming Monster World games we like so much.
LANGRISSER LIVES, SOMEHOW
Langrisser appeared to be over. The series of strategy-RPGs has its fans, of course, as it stretched from the Sega Genesis (we knew the first game as Warsong) all the way to the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast. Yet developer Career Soft appeared to have forsaken the series in favor of the Growlanser games. Growlanser has the same type of suggestive Satoshi Urushihara artwork, the same type of suggestive title, and a strategic RPG approach that's slightly reminiscent of Langrisser. Yet developer Extreme isn't finished with Langrisser, and they have a new 3DS game to prove it.
The new Langrisser returns to the strategy-RPG focus of its predecessors, with battle grids and cutscenes that'll remind many of Fire Emblem. The game unfolds in a heavily flooded world, and hero Ares (Alex, maybe?) totes around a sword called Excalibur and seeks his long-long childhood friend. I expect said friend is Elma, the girl next to him in the magazine layout. Langrisser games never shied from clichés, though the latest appears to go without Satoshi Urushihara's artwork. The new artist, Hiroshi Kaieda, preserves a few traditions, however, as Rosaria and Towa's outfits head to straight to the Absurdly Armored Amazon files. There's no news on a U.S. release, though it's hardly beyond the range of Atlus, XSEED, or Aksys.
CLUB NINTENDO DISGORGES ONE LAST ROUND OF REWARDS
Club Nintendo promised one last round of material goods and digital games to last loyal fans until its closure in June. And it delivered. On February 1, the Club threw out a whole pile of rewards like a threatened sea cucumber barfing up its own innards.
The merchandise ranges from 3DS pouches and game cases to more elaborate finery like Mario t-shirts, Zelda messenger bags, various posters, and a set of Animal Crossing playing cards. And that's to say nothing of the vast lineup of downloadable games to be had for Club Nintendo points. For the Wii U, Club members can get Yoshi's Island, Super Punch-Out, Golden Sun, F-Zero, F-Zero Maximum Velocity, Ice Climber, Volleyball, Tennis, Golf, Ice Hockey, Baseball, Pinball, NES Open, Clu Clu Land, Wario's Woods, Urban Champion, Dr. Mario, Donkey Kong 3, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, the Lost Levels version of Super Mario Bros., Yoshi, Wrecking Crew, Metroid, Balloon Fight, Kid Icarus, Zelda II, Excitebike, Donkey Kong Jr., Punch-Out, Pilotwings, Super Metroid, Super Mario World, Earthbound, Nes Remix, Dr. Luigi, Wii Fit U, The Wonderful 101, Game & Wario, and Wii Party U. The available Wii downloads are Clu Clu Land, StarTropics II: Zoda's Revenge, The Lost Levels, NES Play Action Football, Art Style Cubello, Doc Louis' Punch-Out, Mario Golf, Starfox 64, F-Zero X, Super Smash Bros., Mario Tennis, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, Mario Party 2, Paper Mario, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, 1080 Snowboarding, Super Punch-Out!, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Pilotwings, Super Metroid, Super Mario Kart, ThruSpace, Eco Shooter: Plant S30, Snowpack Park, Excitebike: World Rally, and Fluidity.
If you want 3DS games, your possible Club Nintendo rewards are 3D Classics: TwinBee, 3D Classics: Kid Icarus, 3D Classics: Excitebike, 3D Classics: Urban Champion, 3D Classics: Xevious, Sparkle Snapshots, Ketzal's Corridors, Looksley's Line Up, Kersploosh!, Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters, Brain Age Express: Math, Brain Age Express: Sudoku, Brain Age: Concentration Training, Crosswords Plus, Fluidity: Spin Cycle, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again, Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder, HarmoKnight, Dillon's Rolling Western, Dillon's Rolling Western: The Last Ranger, Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword, A Kappa's Tail, Tokyo Crash Mobs, Super Mario Land, Super Mario Land 2, Baseball, Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters, Metroid II, Tennis, Golf, Donkey Kong, Mario's Picross, Radar Mission, Wario Land II, Punch-Out!, Mario Golf, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong 3, Donkey Kong Jr., The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Super Mario 3D Land, New Super Mario Bros. 2, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, Starfox 64 3D, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and Kid Icarus: Uprising.
That's a darned impressive sendoff for Club Nintendo, which is why the website spent the last few days fritzing out as members clogged it with demands for their parting gifts. You'll want to navigate it all if you need limited merchandise like posters and pouches, but those who are after downloadable games are better off waiting for the traffic to clear. Clu Clu Land and Urban Champion aren't going anywhere.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: JANUARY
KENKA BANCHO 6: SOUL & BLOOD
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
The Kenka Bancho series had its chance here. Atlus released the third game as Kenka Bancho: Badass Rumble in 2009, yet this didn't catch on with North American players. Perhaps the whole stereotype of a high-school delinquent brawling his way to the top of the national rankings didn't lodge properly with this nation's psyche, where the stereotype of a teenage tough evokes demolished mailboxes and drunken joyrides more than steely staring matches or rooftop brawls.
Kenka Bancho 6: Soul & Blood is once again about the idealized bancho, the hardened delinquent who shakes up an entire school with his two-fisted suavity. The hero this time is Daigo Asahina, a transfer student initially dismayed with his new stomping ground. Before long, though, he's living the life of a teenage Yakuza protagonist or a Persona avatar. He can get into fights with rival punks and see a story unfold through comic-panel cutscenes, of course. Fights are carried off with kicks and punches and word balloons, but the most memorable part of a Kenka Bancho dust-up remains the stare-down. Players lock eyes with a rival and engage in a duel of laser-beam gazes and timed button taps.
There's more to do around Daigo's school and town, though. He can play volleyball, tennis, card games, go surfing and fishing, and gain new costumes to change out of his humdrum school uniform. In Persona 4 fashion, he can study, work part-time, join high-school clubs, and hit on girls—though his main attentions seem to lie with Chihiro Nanase, a coworker from his summer job. There's a variety of other thugs to encounter, and a broader tale to unfold before Daigo. No classic Japanese high-school delinquent can go without a tragic backstory.
Import Barrier: There's a good amount of dialogue—even the staring matches have exclamations. And there's the 3DS region-lock to get around…
Domestic Release: No word on one. Atlus doesn't seem interested.
Prediction: Daigo has a heart of gold.
THE LEGEND OF LEGACY
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Go ahead and call The Legend of Legacy an imitation of Square Enix's Bravely Default. It applies at first, as Legend of Legacy has the same large-headed characters and the same simplified evocations of traditional Final Fantasy titles. Yet there's a good reason for the similarities. FuRyu built most of The Legend of Legacy's staff from old Square Enix members: designer Kyoji Koizumi, background artist Misako Tsutsui, illustrator Tomomi Kobayashi, monster designer Ryoji Shimogama, composer Masashi Hamauzu, and writer Masato Kato all worked on various Square Enix titles, from SaGa and Final Fantasy to Chrono Trigger and Xenogears and Parasite Eve 2. So if it's a rip-off, it's an honest one.
And when you dig into it, Legend of Legacy isn't so much a Xerox of Bravely Default. It has more in common with Square Enix's SaGa games, including the recent DS remakes of the first two SaGas. It unfolds on the isle of Avalon, a mysterious realm that, unsurprisingly, just materialized one day. Players pick one lead adventurer and swap out party members from the other six available characters: flirtatious treasure-seeker Liber, amnesiac Bianca, implacable knight Garnet, cocksure bounty hunter Owen, flirty alchemist Eloise, spirit medium Meurs, and a well-mannered frog prince named Filmia.
In other ways, The Legend of Legacy fixes some annoyances in similar RPGs. Enemies are visible on the map before battle, and the turn-based combat is driven by an elemental system. The four color-coded powers are displayed on the lower 3DS screen, and their mixture changes when characters use their spirit arts. The prime element influences the efficacy of certain attacks, and it makes for a dynamic flow.
Import Barrier: Aside from the pesky region lockout, The Legend of Legacy has much of its dialogue and menus in Japanese. But if you've played Bravely Default or the Final Fantasy III and IV remakes, you can figure it out.
Domestic Release: No one's grabbed The Legend of Legacy yet, but it did well in Japan. XSEED Games previously localized FuRyu's Unchained Blades, so they're the prime suspect for a North American release.
Prediction: Bianca's lost memories are somehow connected to the mysteries of Avalon.
PATRIOT OF UKIYO
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Platform: PlayStation 3
As Kenka Bancho sates the Japanese market's periodic need for a streetwise high-school brawler, Patriot of Ukiyo fills the quota for samurai action spectacle. It's protagonist is one Ryoma Sakamoto. Students of history will remember him as an influential revolutionary during the turbulent mid-1800s period known as the Bakumatsu. Patriot of Ukiyo remembers him as an amnesiac swordsman who must recover his memories amid a storyline loosely based on actual history.
Patriot of Ukiyo plays it much like Way of the Samurai or the samurai-themed Yakuza Kenzan, albeit with fewer side attractions and more emphasis on swordplay. Ryoma's attacks vary in speed and power, and he can launch enemies for mid-air combos. A power meter enables rapid takedowns of multiple foes, and Ryoma's numerous weapons introduce new skills that the player can name. True to the hedonistic urban connotations of the term "ukiyo," numerous seedy attractions await the memory-wiped Ryoma. It's in both the general storyline and the mini-games, one of which has our hero deftly slicing the clothes off women to create suggestive little tableaus. I'm sure someone will argue that it's all very artistic and historically accurate.
If Patriot of Ukiyo lacks the impressive character animation of a Yakuza title, it at least preserves one essential touch of realism. Passers-by on the street will grunt or cringe if you run into them. Foreigners even shout “Excuse me!” when you walk by, “Ohhh SHIIIIIIT” if you run past, and “Forgive me!” if you rough 'em up a little.
Spike Chunsoft actually delivers two samurai games to start off the year, as Patriot of Ukiyo's companion title, Ronin of Ukiyo, comes out February 11. It follows one Yoshijiro Okita as he investigates murders amid the Shinsengumi. I expect it'll have just as many English-speaking tourists to rile.
Import Barrier: Swordfighting's not hard to grasp, but the story's impenetrable without any knowledge of Japanese. At least the PS3 version is region-free!
Domestic Release: Not too likely, but if we got Way of the Samurai 4 over here…
Prediction: Ryoma's lost memories involve his true origins as a superhero from another planet. Stranger stories have been made out of the Bakumatsu.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
NEW NINTENDO 3DS XL
Release Date: February 13
Nintendo's rarely good with naming systems, particularly when it comes to handhelds. The Game Boy and the Game Boy Advance had a certain winsome quality, but the Nintendo DS and its successors are fairly drab in their titles. By this point, we shouldn't be too critical of the latest portable upgrade being the New Nintendo 3DS—or the New Nintendo 3DS XL, which is what we'll get in North America.
What's new? Most interesting to me is a second analog nub on the 3DS, even if it seems too small to give the system the same dual-joystick control you'd get on the Vita or any modern home-console controller. The two new shoulder buttons, called ZL and ZR are along the same lines: useful, but on the small side. The New 3DS also uses closer face-tracking for its 3-D effect, presumably making it smoother and less of a distraction that you'll shut off in twelve seconds. Internally, the processor is a little faster, and there's support for Amiibo figures. So when you knife some hoarder over a Rosalina Amiibo at Target, you can use that toy on your New 3DS as well as your Wii U.
The 3DS does not come with an AC adapter, however. It's compatible with the chargers for every Nintendo handheld going back to the DSi, and Nintendo implicitly expects New 3DS owners to have one of those systems already. Of course, you'll still have to buy a new charger if you plan on selling your old 3DS (and most of us would). I assume Nintendo will pursue a similar tactic with their next handheld and sell each button individually.
As with most Nintendo upgrades, the New 3DS has only a few launch titles. One of them is Bandai Namco's Ace Combat Assault Horizon Legacy+, a slightly enhanced version of the 2011 flight combat-sim. It uses the handheld's extra buttons and, interestingly, the Amiibo element. True, the various figurines only enable new skins for the game's jets, but it's interesting to see another company jump into Nintendo's new toy goldmine.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: MAJORA'S MASK
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Platform: Nintendo 3DS / New 3DS
Release Date: February 13
Best Mask: The One We Wear Every Day
The Legend of Zelda series is at its best when it forgets to be happy. Zelda games are all about the triumphs of exploration and intuition; solving that puzzle, finding that heart container, and so on. Yet there are wonderful, depressing moments in the series, including the finale of Link's Awakening and a good chunk of Majora's Mask. By no coincidence, both games were fashioned in part by Yoshiaki Koizumi, and both games are about worlds ending.
Majora's Mask sends the green-clad, elfish Link to a doomed land called Termina. A mischievous creature called the Skull Kid has set the entire realm on a collision course with a moon that now resembles a grimacing, craterous Mad Ball, and Link is given only three days to put things to rights. His quest offers dungeons and traps in 3-D scenery much like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and various masks transform Link and provide him new abilities. A mask salesman directs Link on his journeys and teaches new songs…and he's almost as creepy as the game's ostensible villain.
Yet Majora's Mask isn't so much about plunging through the stygian strata of a well-designed dungeon as much as it's about the stories Link uncovers along the way. It's a game of little vignettes about the creatures of Termina and how they face the imminent destruction of all they know. On the perpetual brink of an apocalypse, Link saves Deku royalty, finds lost fairies, recovers treasures, and brings friends together, even if it's just for a few final moments. Link can reset the three-day stretch with a song and give himself more time, but that also gives everyone longer to wait for the inevitable.
It nearly goes without saying that the 3DS version of Majora's Mask looks a lot better than the Nintendo 64 original, and it plays better in some ways. Items are easier to use, saving is more convenient, and the lower 3DS screen displays information that once clouded the gameplay. The environments of Termina are expanded here and there, and the game offers the same hint-granting Sheikah Stones as Nintendo's Ocarina of Time 3DS revamp. The camera also handles better, particularly if you're playing it with the extra analog pip on the New 3DS. It doesn't amount to a drastic revision, but Majora's Mask stands by itself. It's a strange, somber outing for a series typically wrapped in escapist glories, and that alone makes it worth revisiting.
MONSTER HUNTER 4 ULTIMATE
Platform: Nintendo 3DS / New 3DS
Release Date: February 13
Best Monster: Cookie
Ah, Monster Hunter, the handheld kingmaker. Some may challenge you, but they can't get quite so many people hunting Tigrexes and Zinogres together during their morning commutes or idle evenings. It doesn't have the gruesome decor of Soul Sacrifice or the grim anime-eyed futures of God Eater or Freedom Wars, but perhaps that's its strength. Monster Hunter is a simple, malleable fantasy that's just as a dark as you choose to make it. Maybe you're striking down noble creatures of the wilderness for no reason. Maybe you're just getting together with friends and taking on what looks like a living mountain with horns.
Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate chooses not to call itself Monster Hunter 3DS for good reason, but the developers venture further beyond the flat-plane movement that often restricts these multiplayer monster slaughters. Characters can attack in the air, latch on to monsters, and climb around the terrain much easier than they could in previous Monster Hunters. For their part, the beasts are a little smarter when it comes to dealing with mobs of pesky humans. Capcom also expands the overall world with multiple base camps, and it promises a larger storyline than other titles. Two new weapons appear as well. The Insect Glaive is a double-ended polearm that looks like a mantis claw (or a Sectaurs action figure accessory), and it can be used for vaulting as well as attacking. The Charge Blade, this season's version of the Switch Axe, changes between a sword and an axe, and both versions can build up power for special moves. With all of these improvements, it's odd that Capcom removed the underwater fights from the last Monster Hunter. Then again, underwater monsters creep me out something horrible.
Also notable is Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate's built-in online mode, which allows multiplayer through the 3DS itself (as opposed to linking through a home system). That'll make it easier to find companions for hunts, though there's still something to be said for unexpectedly bonding with a fellow train passenger over a Barroth's snarl.
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