The X Button
Psycho Power

by Todd Ciolek,
Well, the preliminary round of the Nintendo World Championships is over. As most people expected, it wasn't a gaudy spectacle like the 1990 Championships. How could it be? The original Nintendo World Championships came at the height of Nintendo's rule, when the company held sway over a childhood realm uncompromised by online rabbles, corporate cynicism, or real market competition. So the Championships returned in modern circumstances. At eight Best Buy locations across the country, hundreds of players of widely varying ages lined up to shoot for the highest scores on Ultimate NES Remix.

It's a little strange that Nintendo based the competition around old NES games—specifically, a three-part test spanning Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Dr. Mario. Yet Nintendo always likes to sell nostalgia, whether it's the actual NES titles on the Virtual Console or a new Mario game's revival of Tanooki suits. So it's fitting for both the kids of today and the adults that may have attended the original 1990 competition. I only wish Nintendo had shown more variety in the specific challenges. Two Mario games with the same coin-collecting goal? Why not have the player shoot flying nose-creatures in Kid Icarus or complete a lap on Excitebike?

I didn't attend any of the qualifying events, because I'm laz…er, bound by journalistic abstention. Yet I asked a friend of mine to document the important part of the Nintendo World Championships: the free stuff you get just for entering. Contestants received a Lego kit, a foldable Fossil Fighters paper monster, and some Splatoon and NES Remix Posters. That's a little more generous than the original 1990 qualifiers, where evidence suggests that only semi-finalists got baseball caps, Mario pins, and Nintendo Cash (not an internationally recognized currency). Free Legos aren't a bad giveaway for an event that tied up a few Best Buy game departments for one Saturday.

The Nintendo World Championships finals are set for Los Angeles on June 14, right before the E3 palaver. The Legend of Zelda will be among their challenges, so the finalists should brush up on bombing Dodongos. Meanwhile, those of us who didn't qualify can still play the same Championship mode in Ultimate NES Remix. Let's see what my score is.

Oh my. That just so happens to be much higher than any of the finalists. Technically that score doesn't count, as I reached it outside the competitions. However, I would not object in the slightest if Nintendo wanted to give me a free trip to the Los Angeles finals or perhaps just some Nintendo Cash good toward any brand new NES game. I've had my eye on Crystalis and Super C at the local Kay Bee Toys.

NEWS

NINTENDO SHOWS NEW DR. MARIO, CHIBI ROBO, AWKWARD FIRE EMBLEM BATHING
The recent Nintendo Direct came in the midst of a new rumor: Nintendo's mysterious NX console will use the Android operating system. Nintendo debunked that report swiftly, but it still reminded many that there's another Nintendo system in the wings and that it's largely unknown. What else did Nintendo talk about? An August release date for LBX: Little Battlers eXperience on the 3DS, the revelation of Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and the announcement of a new free-to-play Wii U action game called Project Treasure.

Project Treasure's first trailer plunges through a zombie-filled tomb, with promises of four-player teams slicing and blasting enemies during a race toward riches. The characters are equal parts Uncharted's Hollywood mundanity and Devil May Cry's silliness, though it's hard to tell just how much of a backstory it'll have. And no, it doesn't involve Treasure, makers of Gunstar Heroes and Sin and Punishment. I worry about Treasure these days.

Nintendo sprung a surprise with Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure for the 3DS. It's pretty much Dr. Mario and Dr. Luigi combined, with the pill-dropping approach of the former plus the optional L-shaped capsules of the latter. The miracle cure of the title lets players wipe out viruses in columns and small blast radii, and multiplayer makes it easier to screw with others. It's out on June 11.

The Chibi Robo series remains an endearing low-key sideshow in Nintendo's thoroughfare, and the new Chibi Robo: Zip Lash has one of my favorite gimmicks: a grappling hook. Well, it's not just a grappling hook. It's a plug that Chibi Robo uses to scale heights, snatch items, destroy certain blocks, and bounce off walls. Will Chibi Robo work well as a side-scroller? Even if it doesn't, the Nintendo faithful will buy the retail edition just for the exclusive Chibi Robo Amiibo figure.

The biggest chunk of Nintendo footage concerned a Japanese trailer for Fire Emblem if, latest in that line of fantasy strategy-RPGs where characters die permanently if you're not careful. The player controls a prince or princess born in one kingdom but kidnapped and raised by the royals of another. It'll hit the Japanese market in two different versions, just like Pokemon; one allies the player with the easygoing nation of Hoshido, another the other sticks with the more belligerent land of Nohr, and a third DLC mode gives you a Switzerland option and shuns both camps. A later release will have all three routes, and with any luck that'll be the version Nintendo releases in North America.

Fire Emblem if recalls the first Suikoden in some of its details. The player's royal avatar commands a trail of servants, including a suave Butler named Joker and an annoyingly passive maid named Felicia. The game also presents a huge customizable castle for the player to explore close-up and fill with stores, crops, and, of course, bath houses that inspire all sorts of comically uncomfortable chats among comrades. Popular Fire Emblem characters like Marth, Robin, Lucina, and Ike can visit the town as long as the player stacks the right Amiibo figure on the 3DS. Good luck finding those Amiibo now.

Nintendo also confirmed that Bravely Second End Layer will come to North America next year. The original Bravely Default is Square Enix's tribute to old-school RPGs, and the sequel picks up several years later. Like a lot of Final Fantasies, it invokes visitors from the moon—in this case, a woman named Magnolia Arch.

The important thing, as shown in the game's first English screenshots, is that Edea Lee still says “Mrgrgr” when vexed. See? She's saying "Mrgrgr."

NEW GG XRD EXPANSION ADDS LOST JACK BROS. RELATIVE
A Guilty Gear Xrd expansion was all but guaranteed. I say “all but” because there remained the chance that the game would flop, that Arc System Works would implode, or that the Guilty Gear name at last would incur costly lawsuits from the many heavy-metal bands it references. None of those things happened, so we have Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator on location test in Japan this week.

Unsurprisingly, Revelator introduces one all-new character for each returning one, a time-honored measure in fighting-game expansions. The returning pickup is Johnny, cocksure pirate king and object of pirate-girl May's possibly doomed affections. He looks a lot like he did in older, traditionally animated Guilty Gear titles (and his Xrd cutscene appearances), and early screenshots show him preserving the iaido-esque swordplay that keeps his blade sheathed much of the time.

The new face is Jack-O, a young woman who wears a Jack-O-Lantern mask, drags a Jack-O-Lantern ball-and-chain, and has a pointy-rimmed halo topping her ensemble of belts and bellbottoms. I racked my brain and search engines trying to figure out the heavy-metal allusion. Then I realized that Jack-O's name and white suit recall a certain talented, ill-fated pop icon instead of Quiet Riot or Ostrogoth. I hope she has a moveset straight out of Sega's old Moonwalker games.

I doubt that Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator will let things stand at two new characters, and I hope they'll observe a steeper ratio of old characters to all-new ones. The next familiar face in the roster will mostly likely be Dizzy, and I don't want to wait through three or four original creations before Baiken, Anji, Jam, and Bridget all come back.

NATSUME CONTINUES HARVEST MOON ARMS RACE
Natsume's internally made Harvest Moon: The Lost Valley lost the first round of the Harvest Moon Wars. It wasn't a terrible game, but it couldn't match the experience and breadth of Marvelous and XSEED's Story of Seasons, essentially a renamed title from the real Harvest Moon developers. Natsume will not be beaten so easily, however. They're rallying with Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories, and they're taking the fight beyond the 3DS.

Natsume promotes Seeds of Memories as “a classic Harvest Moon game with modern twists,” and they look to have most of the essentials down. Players run a farm and raise animals, including a bobcat, and side attractions include fishing, cooking, mining, and befriending villagers. Here lies the title's meaning: players endear themselves to the locals (and possibly stir lost memories) by giving them specific items related to their hobbies and personal histories. Seeds of Memories also aims to correct one of The Lost Valley's big problems: a shallow dating pool. Instead of three potential spouses for each side, Seeds of Memories promises five single men and five single women. Now let's hope there's an actual town to explore this time.

Most interesting is Natsume's choice of platform. Rather than stay on the 3DS, Seeds of Memories heads to the Wii U, the PC, and Android and iOS mobile devices later this year. Harvest Moon games rarely see such multiplatform attacks, and it makes this arms buildup all the more fun to watch.

IMPORT ROUNDUP: MAY

CROSS ANGE: RONDO OF ANGELS AND DRAGONS TR.
Developer: Shade
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PS Vita
A.K.A.: Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryu no Rondo TR.

Let's not rehash the controversy behind Cross Ange, shall we? The show's content aside, the concept behind Cross Ange, which unfolds in a high-tech fantasy realm where transforming jet-robots take on enormous dragons in the air, is a reasonably good idea for a video game. This Vita offering runs with that. Players pilot customizable para-mail fighters into 3-D aerial battles against immense dragons (or DRAGONs, because it's an acronym), and they can switch from their jet-like forms to their cooler, Escaflowne-ish mecha incarnations. The action resembles Artdink's Macross games, though it's not quite as fast in pacing or as smooth in controls.

Mecha-dragon dogfights fill up only party of Cross Ange: Rondo of Angels and Dragons Tr., of course. The player sees much of the game through the eyes of Naomi, a fresh recruit in Arzenal's legion of scantily clad women pilots. The second episode of the anime series shows princess-turned-pilot Ange donning a bikini flightsuit that belonged to a dead woman named Naomi, and the game works around that in apparently non-canonical fashion. Naomi meets most of the pilots from the series, and the ensuing antics involve melodrama as well as shared ice cream sundaes and costume parties. Players can also strengthen bonds between Naomi and her comrades by talking to them and tapping them with the Vita's screen. Precisely where the player touches them is a matter of personal preference.

All of this comes from Shade, a developer that started up as an offshoot of the esteemed Quintet in the mid-1990s. Shade abandoned original games like The Granstream Saga and Brightis long ago, however, and they've dealt in anime spin-offs for over a decade. Such is the cost of survival in the game industry.

Import Barrier: Lots of conversations crop up, but you won't be so confused if you're after the mecha-piloting combat and nothing else. You'll just be bored by all of the talking.

Domestic Release: Unlikely, but Sentai and Madman licensed the actual show. Perhaps it'll blossom into the next Attack on Titan...but it probably won't.

Dragons: Plenty, but they're often second-banana sights next to the mecha pilots and impractical attire.

DOWNTOWN NEKKETSU JIDAIGEKI
Developer: Million
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
A.K.A.: Downtown Hot-Blood Period Drama

I normally put the titles of imports in English, but I'll leave Downtown Nekketsu Jidaigeki in Japanese. The two phrases are slightly idiomatic: “Nekketsu” means “hot-blooded” and often applies to young punks, while “Jidaigeki” refers to a genre of historical dramas, specifically those set in Edo-era Japan. I could play with the phrasing and call it “Street-Smart Samurai Saga,” but that would just confuse people looking for the game. And the Downtown Nekketsu series is already confusing in a way. It's also known as the Kunio-kun series, and it includes brawlers, sports titles, motorcycle racers, and even a puzzle game where food falls like Tetris blocks. The best-known offerings in the West came along during the NES era, when Super Dodge Ball, Nintendo World Cup, and everyone's beloved River City Ransom introduced the English-speaking world to the blocky-headed thugs of the Kunio-kun canon.

Most of us remember River City Ransom fondest, thanks to its fluid controls, elaborate neighborhoods, and little shops selling karate lessons and free smiles. Technos Japan followed it up in 1991 with Downtown Special: Kunio-kun no Jidaigeki da yo Zenin Shugo, which took the concept of River City Ransom back to Edo-age Japan. It never came to North America. Technos is gone, but Million shouldered their games and marched on, and Million fashioned a sequel to that 24-year-old Famicom game. Succinctly dubbed Downtown Nekketsu Jidaigeki, it follows hero Kunimasa and his pal Tsurumatsu through the cities and countrysides of old Japan. They'll fight much like River City Ransom's leads, as they punch, kick, and pick up and throw anything they can find. It's a lot like the original game, though players now have a sword attack and the chance to add two more brawlers to the team. It also looks a lot sharper than the Famicom offering, but the blockhead characters remain in effect. Perhaps Million could do more with the Kunio-kun name, but I've seen too many once-prominent games and developers fall completely into shadow. At least this keeps the series alive.

Import Barrier: The 3DS has a pesky regional lock, and Downtown Nekketsu Jidaigeki has modest amounts of dialogue, including its own beady-eyed narrator.

Domestic Release: No Kunio-Kun games came out in English after 2010's River City Super Sports Challenge, and nostalgia for the series seems to begin and end with the original River City Ransom. In other words, don't count on seeing Jidaigeki on the 3DS over here.

Dragons: Largely metaphorical.

PSYCHO-PASS: MANDATORY HAPPINESS
Developer: 5pb
Publisher: Mages
Platform: Xbox One

I enjoyed Psycho-Pass, but I'm pretty sure I had no choice. True, the series walled itself up in cop-show clichés, thoughtless exposition, and heavy-handed social commentary. Yet it hit all of my nerd pressure points with its cyberpunk future, relatively dignified heroine, and cool transforming guns capable of turning criminals into bloody vapor. So it was a foregone conclusion that I'd at least like parts of Psycho-Pass. I understand if some people didn't. And I understand if they'll dislike the first full-sized video game based on the series. Heck, a lot of people won't even notice it, since it's an Xbox One exclusive and it's only available in Japan. The Japanese public likes the Xbox One about as much as the Japanese public likes root beer or discussing their nation's World War II atrocities.

Psycho-Pass: Mandatory Happiness goes the predictable route in being a dialogue-heavy games. That's perhaps fair, as the series had far more conversations and drama than it did crook-evaporating action. It also plays by the usual standards of anime-based games in introducing two new characters: Takuma Tsurugi and Nadeshiko Kugatachi. They work with the other officers of the Public Safety Bureau in a future where an omnipresent (and poorly guarded) computer system monitors and sorts citizens according to their mental states and criminal potential. It's all a utopia gone too far, of course, but Mandatory Happiness doesn't go the length of the anime series. Taking place around the sixth episode, it pits the two new investigators and the rest of the show's cast against a new enemy and leads them to a secluded island. One has to get away from a perfect society somehow.

Mandatory Happiness is creative not so much in its choice of genre, but rather in the way it's presented. The game uses the Kinect to track the player's motions, while a nearby tablet or smartphone can register the player's fingerprints, relay calls from characters, and overall bring a new interface to the whole equation. You can play it the old-fashioned way, of course. Psycho-Pass seemed to value the traditional.

Import Barrier: Lots of dialogue unfurls throughout the game. If you're fine with that, you'll find the Xbox One to be region-free.

Domestic Release: Psycho-Pass hasn't done bad for itself, but that might not be enough to pull a text-heavy game over here. Still, Mages set up an English website for the game, and perhaps they figure that an Xbox One title is best off heading to other regions.

Dragons: None in sight. Maybe someone has a tattoo.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

OPERATION ABYSS: NEW TOKYO LEGACY
Developer: Experience Inc.
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: June 9
Inevitable Bad Pun: The game is/isn't abyss-mal
MSRP: $39.99

You're almost set for launch, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy. Let's just go over the last-minute checklist. Have you properly endangered Tokyo? Yes, I see that citizens and entire buildings disappear in mysterious events called Sprawl Terrors, while a strange cult absconds with students from a particular academy. All well and good. And is the only valid defense against this menace a cadre of mostly teenage agents with special abilities? Check. And do they tromp around randomly generated dungeons? Perfect. You're good to go.

Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy roots around the same bin of monster infestations and imperiled Tokyo wards that supplied RPGs like 7th Dragon 2020, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters, and about half of the Shin Megami Tensei series. Your party of adventurers joins the Xth, the Xion Transhuman group, in their fight against the invading creatures, here called “Variants.” They're all cast as typical RPG classes: monks, knights, samurai, various mages, and assassins. Yet they're created through Blood Codes, which imbue warriors and sorcerers with the genetics of historical figures, including Florence Nightingale, Genghis Khan, and Joan of Arc. So when you plunge into an eerie warren of Shibuya hallways in search of demons, your team will be prepared to drive the English out of France or slaughter so much of the civilized world that global carbon levels drop appreciably.

Developer Experience Inc. styles Operation Abyss much like a modern hellscaped version of their fantasy-themed Demon Gaze. Your protagonist has a round of Xth comrades with actual names and personalities, but most of the dungeon crawls revolve around your customized party roaming streets and corridors of the titular, Variant-filled Abyss. The turn-based battles see characters using their class-based attacks and unique Blood Code abilities, and it's possible to combine your moves. The artwork is detailed, if not highly animated, and the game has a wealth of boxy, randomly arranged mazes for players to trek. For the dungeon-hack fan, it may well check all of the right boxes.


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


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