The X Button Eating Well
by Todd Ciolek,
MST3K, as it's commonly abbreviated, still enchants many with its premise of a good-natured guy launched into space by mad scientists, who feed him terrible movies in a convoluted bid for world domination. The laid-back hero, played first by show creator Joel Hodgson and later by Michael Nelson, endures the cheeseball films by mocking them with his robot companions. It's a brilliant show that touches on all sorts of humor, and it's probably my favorite TV series of all time. Rarely do I put together a column that doesn't have some vague MST3K reference in the title tags.
Fans often call for Mystery Science Theater 3000's return, since the series went out in 1999 with much of its potential intact. The staff moved on to other projects, including the very MST3K-like Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax, but many still wanted a full MST3K revival. Now Hodgson has a Kickstarter for exactly that.
I retain some doubt about it. It'll have a new host and characters, and Hodgson has said that the original cast will be “invited back to write, produce, and do cameos.” Yet the Kickstarter shows only Hodgson so far, and it doesn't have the same appeal as the old MST3K episodes. I'm actually a little mad—genuinely nerd-mad like I rarely get—at the write-ups from Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo. Tom in particular sounds creepy and out of character. It's like seeing a Cowboy Bebop sequel where Jet Black is a sex offender.
Nevertheless, I'm excited to see Mystery Science Theater 3000 on track for a revival, and it's already three-fourths of the way to its initial funding goal. I can think of dozens of films I'd love to see lambasted on the new show, from Bloody Trail to Diatron 5. I hope they start with a full treatment of The Green Slime, a delightfully cornball 1968 piece that Hodgson used for the original MST3K pitch video.
And if I need to tie this to video games, MST3K actually cut a promo for an Official PlayStation Magazine demo disc. You can watch the whole thing here. It's a fun trip back to an era when I didn't need anything but Mystery Science Theater 3000 and video games. That's not true anyway...not entirely, anyway.
STREET FIGHTER V BANS BUTT BEATINGS, BOTHERS BIASED BUMS
Capcom alters Street Fighter V with each build and beta test, but the latest one kicked off a controversy. In the newest release, Cammy's introduction now angles the viewpoint so as not to show her crotch so blatantly, while Rainbow Mika's Critical Art saw two cosmetic changes: she no longer slaps her butt before the move, and the grand finisher changed so she and her partner Nadesico aren't holding their opponent's legs apart any longer.
And this brought about much complaining, plus a few apparently genuine threats to cancel Street Fighter V pre-orders. It's all nonsense, though I do admit that Mika's new finisher loses some of its visual impact. The original spread-legged version looked more comical, like some old Daffy Duck headplant gag. Now it looks more like an action figure stuck in the ground, or a circus acrobatic feat gone wrong. But that's a minor loss at best.
Some point out that Street Fighter V is already awash in sexualized female characters, that Mika and Cammy and newcomer Laura are all voluptuous and scantily clad. So why bother removing a buttslap or tilting a virtual camera? Fighting games go for idealized excess more than any other genre. They're creatures of the id, conjuring a surreal tempest of sex and violence, and that's part of what makes them fun. That's true, but there's a limit to just how far sexuality can go before it's off-putting, and Street Fighter V steps over that line very often.
Moreover, neither edit detracts much from the characters. My least favorite part of Ultra Street Fighter IV is the unavoidable pre-match closeup of Cammy's butt, partly because it's so blatant and partly because it doesn't match Cammy. She's an laconic special agent and former assassin; why would she wear a skimpy battle leotard and practically sit on the camera? Mika is less serious in demeanor and style, of course. She's a pro wrestler with a goofy costume and catchphrases and general gusto. Sexuality is an undeniable part of the wrestling scene, but it's only part of it. For Mika, the buttslaps and jiggling breasts override the delightfully outlandish element of pro-wrestler appeal, and the more Capcom balances that out, the better.
ZODIAC ARRIVES IN FINAL FANTASY STYLE
Zodiac: Orcanon Odyssey is a mobile RPG, but its ambitions run high. The development team ranges from Paris to Tokyo, and the staff includes a bevy of RPG vets: writer Kazushige Nakajima, and composers Nobuo Uematsu and Hitoshi Sakimoto. The creators at Kobojo are clearly in love with the genre; even when CEO Mario Rizzo spent his days crafting Everquest vignettes at Sony, he'd go home and play Final Fantasy XII.
Now Rizzo and the rest of Kobojo have the classic RPG tribute they always wanted. Zodiac presents a gorgeously illustrated fantasy realm where a warrior named Cael is launched on a journey by an incident surrounding mysterious crystal shards. His companions include his knightly older sister Ulan, the winged warrior Kadyn, the towering beastman Dag, and Eko, a mer-mage who wears a diving suit on land. A landsuit. A walking suit. Whatever you call it.
Zodiac uses familiar sights, right down to the Final Fantasy crystal deal, but it looks handsome and sounds halfway fun. It's also out on iOS today, with Android, Vita, and PlayStation 4 versions to follow.
THE ADVENTURE OF VALKYRIE IS REBORN, BUT MAYBE NOT HERE
Project X Zone 2, that immense five-way collision between game companies, ships this week in Japan. It'll be out in North America early next year, when we'll see if the strategy-RPG does justice to a crossover cast that ranges from Mega Man X and Street Fighter to Saturn pitchman Segata Sanshiro. One thing we won't see here is Project X Zone 2's pre-order bonus game: a 3DS remake of Namco's The Adventure of Valkyrie.
The Adventure of Valkyrie started off as a Famciom action/RPG in 1986 and inspired The Legend of Valkyrie arcade game a few years later. The two combined in an Adventure remake for the PlayStation's Namco Anthology series, and that seems to be the basis for Project X Zone 2's revamp. In this downloadable extra, players control Namco's adorable Valkyrie heroine as she frees a fantasy realm from evil dominion, and she gets help from Xiaomu, the wisecracking, fox-spirit spellcaster whose kitsune hair looks like a big Pikachu tail. Xiaomu's been a staple of crossovers since Namco X Capcom, and she's fully playable in sprite form throughout this new Adventure of Valkyrie. Bandai Namco confirmed to me that the bonus game won't be part of Project X Zone's North American release, but hey, both Xiaomu and Valkyrie are in the central game, along with dozens of other characters.
IMPORT ROUNDUP: OCTOBER
7TH DRAGON III CODE: VFD
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Some games openly glamorize dragons: they're heroes in Emerald Dragon and Breath of Fire, faithful steeds in Panzer Dragoon, or sidekicks in the Lunar series. Sega's 7th Dragon series never spared any sympathy for giant, scaly fire-breathers, though. The dragons are invasive alien monsters that dominate the planet, seed it with noxious xenoflora, and otherwise run roughshod over the human race. The truth of their conquest is a little more complicated than straight villainy, but even so 7th Dragon does little to reverse anti-dragon biases promulgated by our modern media.
Dragon stereotyping aside, 7th Dragon III: Code VFD spans three realms in one game. In the current era, humans form an international task force to clean up the remnants of that distant floral war against the dragons. The second chunk of the game jumps back 12,000 years to the alternate lost world of Atlantis, an undersea nation powered by crystals and peopled by a race known as the Rushe. The third part heads 5000 years beyond the game's present day, and it's another parallel reality, here showing how the world would progress if the dragons had taken over completely. As things turn out, it would've been just like the original 7th Dragon game. It's a Mobius Strip!
The latest 7th Dragon may not have original settings—it's yet another Atlantis that runs on crystals—but it carries on the earlier game's dungeon-hack ways. Characters are large-headed creatures during combat, supplemented by more detailed portraits from artist Shirow Miwa, and they span eight classes and over 32 customizable designs. Those classes include the heavy Vanisher warriors, melee God-Hand fighters, gun-toting Agents, and other mages and samurai. New this time are the Duelists, who lay traps by using magical cards, not unlike Yu-Gi-Oh or Duel Masters. It's all built around a robust battle system that's just a little flashier than the typical dungeon crawl, and the game even lets characters go on dates with other party members. There's no dragon dating, though. That'd be weird.
Import Barrier: The battles have the familiar rhythm of enemy attacks and player turns, but the dialogue and the more intricate menus remain in Japanese. At least the basic commands are in English.
Domestic Release: The entire 7th Dragon series is seemingly allergic to North America, even though many other dungeon hacks arrive here: Demon Gaze, Etrian Odyssey, and Operation Abyss. Perhaps that's part of the problem. Sega grew conservative in their localizations over the past few years, and no one's stepped up to claim a 7th Dragon title.
Dragons: Plenty of 'em. You'll also face mutant rats and rogue security machines and other RPG standards, but the dragons are the real stars here.
GOD EATER RESURRECTION
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PS Vita
You might remember the original God Eater. It came here in its improved Gods Eater Burst form in 2011…and, well that was it for these shores. The God Eater games continue on in Japan, and they even inspired an anime series that you can watch streaming in the usual places (even though it's mediocre aside from looking good). Yet Namco Bandai hasn't seen fit to release another game here, even though God Eater has lapped itself with Resurrection, a PlayStation 4 and Vita remake of the game we knew as Gods Eater Burst.
Resurrection recasts the first God Eater game with new graphics and manifold tiny enhancements. It still follows the impractically stylish members of Fenrir, an organization that hunts down invading Aragami creatures in a world that's not doing so well. The cast includes such posturing hunters as the laconic Lindow Amamiya and the haughty Alisa Illinichina Amiella, but the player controls a male or female hunter of their own customization. Every Fenrir member gets a God Arc, a massive hybrid weapon that changes from a melee instrument to a firearm to a pair of enormous jaws that devours Aragami for their nutritious power-ups. Resurrection improves the original's PSP look and revives the story here and there, adding an epilogue that leads into God Eater 2. Combat also benefits from the sequel's six weapon categories, mid-transformation moves, and better opportunities to consume monsters.
As they've done with other anime-game unions, Bandai Namco offers a “Cross-Play” bundle for Resurrection, including the PS4 and Vita versions as well as an anime Blu-Ray volume. Future releases will package the later anime episodes (assuming Ufotable gets around to making them) with God Eater Off-Shot games, each of which lets the player take in-game photos of God Eater characters Lindow, Alisa, Souma, Shio, Kouta, and Sakuya. It's a largely shallow bonus for those truly dedicated fans, though I am aghast at the lack of a Licca Kusunoki installment. Nothing suits fashionable photography like a grease-flecked mechanic rooting through broken monster swords.
Import Barrier: You'll be right at home if you played the original Gods Eater Burst, and even unaccustomed Monster Hunter fans should grasp the gameplay easily.
Domestic Release: It's strange that God Eater, one of the best Monster Hunter rivals around, can't get a ride to America. Bandai Namco has announced nothing so far, and I suspect they can't find a place for it in their schedule of anime tie-ins, Tales RPGs, and Pac-Man revamps. That, or Gods Eater Burst sold a lot worse than I've gathered.
Dragons: Plenty of fierce reptilian Aragami can pass for dragons.
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Nippon Ichi Software
Platform: PS Vita
A.K.A.: Night Watch
Yes, we have horror games about exploring a house full of zombies, roaming a town half-swallowed by hell itself, and fending off vindictive specters by capturing them on film. To my knowledge, however, no horror game built itself around a little girl's search for her lost dog—at least not with such a deceptive picture-book overtone as Yomawari.
A girl's dog wanders off one night, and she trudges home without her pet. Her older sister heads off to find the dog but never returns. So the young heroine goes back out with only a flashlight and a bunny backpack to guide her. The neighborhood is drastically changed in the darkness, as creatures and spirits and otherworldly things all seem to scuttle just on the edges of a flashlight beam. Ghouls jump out of the bushes, one-eyed fishes bob in the river, and a giant buglike horror might sweep onto the screen the moment the protagonist turns away from the wrong stretch of street.
Yomawari presents few offensive maneuvers against the creatures of the night; in her search for her dog, the heroine has no firearms or magic cameras. She progresses by finding the right path, tossing objects to distract the nightmarish denizens, or just running like hell when something grotesque startles her. It's carried along with haunting allure. The human leads are squat and innocent, like something out of a child's storybook, but the creatures and creeping pace stand well apart. Yomawari resembles NIS's Firefly Diary in its juxtapositions of cute leads and grim, insidious worlds, minus Firefly's reliance on occasionally tedious puzzles. Consider it a creepy alternative to Yo-Kai Watch.
Import Barrier: Yomawari relies more on visual and audio cues than text, even in its Crayola map of the neighborhood. And Vita games are region-free!
Domestic Release: NIS America is surprisingly quiet about Yomawari, despite it being an apparently easy localization. It's likely we'll see it brought over next year.
Dragons: There are some traditional dragons in the mix, though Yomawari's creatures lean more toward classic Japanese yokai than Westernized giant lizards.
NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES
MOCO MOCO FRIENDS
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 17
Stuffed Animals: Not That Kind
Moco Moco Friends is a brave, brave little game. It's a cute and inoffensive tale about young girls gathering together living toys and traveling through dungeons, and yet the timing is bold. Moco Moco Friends clearly imitates Pokemon in its smorgasbord of cuddly little creatures, and it's a dungeon crawler arriving in North America three days before Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon...which is both a Pokemon game and a dungeon crawler. It may be all fluffy critters and pink hats and magical wands that look like smiling cats, but Moco Moco Friends is ballsy as hell.
Of course, there's nothing combative about Moco Moco Friends. It's set in a world called Dreamtopia, and humans live in harmony with sentient stuffed animals called Plushkins. Magicians who befriend these creatures are Plushkin Masters, and the youthful students of the Plushkin Magic School compete in their plush-recruiting prowess. The academy's lowest scorer is a narcoleptic dope named Moco, yet she still manages to graduate and soldier on among her fellow alumni, whose quirks range from random singing to unvarnished academic jealousy.
As with many dungeon crawlers, Moco Moco Friends starts players off in a central city, from which they'll explore numerous caves and ruins. Battles are turn-based and involve the Plushkin using their special skills to attack other Plushkin, who smile cheerfully even when they're being smacked in the face by an energy bolt. And so Moco Moco Friends will remain happy, even when Pokemon trounces it in the market.
POKEMON SUPER MYSTERY DUNGEON
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 20
Koalas Lead The Way: On This Sunny Day
The Dynasty Warriors series often gets credit and blame for adapting its style to suit everything from Mobile Suit Gundam to The Legend of Zelda, but Spike Chunsoft's Mystery Dungeon line is older and nearly as broad. Its habits of randomly generated dungeons and harsh penalties spread into spin-offs for Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Etrian Odyssey, and, of course, Gundam. And that's to say nothing of the games inspired by the Mystery Dungeon ethos but not actually made by Spike Chunsoft. That way lies everything from Sakura Wars to TwinBee.
The formula works just as well for Pokemon. Players start off Super Mystery Dungeon by choosing one of 20 Pokemon to control (technically, you're a child turned into a Pocket Monster) and traverse dungeons one floor tile at a time. Enemies move only when the player does, which creates some strategic back-and-forth in the game's battles. Combat includes a Pokemon's elemental attacks and weaknesses, just as the central Pokemon RPGs do, and players can stack up moves when multiple creatures are recruited and brought along on dungeon treks.
Compared to the earlier Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, the sequel makes minor improvements. Players can save inside dungeons, combo attacks can make previously ineffective moves hit hard, and both Mega Evolution and Fairy Pokemon are on hand. In fact, the game features 720 Pokemon critters to encounter in the game's various dungeons. The headliners are, of course, the 20 selectable Pokemon at the start: Bulbasaur, Pikachu, Charmander, Squirtle, Torchic, Mudkip, Totodile, Treecko, Cyndaquil, Chikorita, Chimchar, Piplup, Riolu, Turtwig, Snivy, Tepig, Oshawott, Chespin, Fennekin, and Froakie. I'd go with an Oshawott. They remind me of The Adventures of the Little Koala.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: November 17
Stella Glow isn't just another strategy-RPG with a noble hero and a panoply of dateable young women around him. It's also the last work of Imageepoch, a developer with an average catalog and a bizarre end. The company created the Luminous Arc series, the earlier 7th Dragon titles, and the disastrous Time and Eternity, but much of their catalog held middle-ground RPGs like Fate/Extra, Arc Rise Fantasia, Black Rock Shooter: The Game, and Sol Trigger. Imageepoch filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, just as CEO Ryohei Mikage seemed to drop off the face of the earth. This invites speculation about Stella Glow and just how it'll reflect Imageepoch's final days. Will it be a vindicating exit like Cavia's Nier or a pitiable failure like Knights Contract, which couldn't even get a proper apostrophe during Game Republic's dying throes? All signs point to Stella Glow being…well, an Imageepoch game.
Stella Glow's fantasy realm is a fallen world, but it's not because of an apocalyptic war or a plague of monsters. It's due to an eroded power of song, a mystical force that ensured prosperous times for the human race. A thousand years after the initial song crisis, civilization is threatened by a witch named Hilda and her mastery of the ancient music, and only a cadre of witch-songstresses can set the world to rights (no, this isn't Drakengard 3). A young Regent Knight named Alto has the curious task of gathering all of the witches together and destroying whatever evil presents itself. On the side, he forges new bonds with his allies, and Hilda might be among them. She's just trying to destroy the world, after all—not necessarily succeeding.
The battle system in Stella Glow isn't too far from Luminous Arc's general ideas, with large-headed characters taking part in grid battles and unleashing attacks in cutaway duels. The most useful part of a battle lies in the various witches' songs, which improve their allies' abilities. And for witch songs, they're not so bad. Yasunori Mitsuda of Chrono Cross and Xenogears is on the soundtrack.
SWORD ART ONLINE: LOST SONG
Developer: Artdink / Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PS Vita
Release Date: November 17
MSRP: $59.99 (PS4) / $39.99 (Vita)
Hollow Fragment and Infinity Moment weren't terrible attempts at turning Sword Art Online into the video game it always partly was. Yet they were predictable and constrained and just weren't...well, Online, were they? Hollow Fragment allowed for local multiplayer, but neither game let the player explore an online world like the fictional MMORPG envisioned in the Sword Art Online novels and anime series. Of course, that MMORPG kidnaps users and kills them in real life if they lose the game, so perhaps Bandai Namco assumed that fans would be naturally afraid of the Internet.
Sword Art Online: Lost Song stages both online multiplayer and solo campaigns in the realm of Svart Alfheim, a mass of floating islands in the larger frame of ALfheim Online. Unbearably perfect protagonists Kirito and Asuna head there with the major Sword Art Online characters, including prior games' Strea and Philia (and even the heretofore manga-exclusive Lux). Svart Alfheim brings up a new struggle and new characters to match: Seven is a professor studying the online realm, Sumeragi is her sword-wielding Undine helper, and Rain is a deceitful Leprechaun dual-wielder. Note that she's a Leprechaun in Sword Art Online's elflike, winged, normal-sized capacity, and not in the diminutive, gold-hoarding sense of Warwick Davis or Darby O'Gill And The Little People. What a different game that would make.
True to the aerial scenery of Svart Alfheim, the three-character parties can explore on foot or unfurl their wings and take to the sky. Combat is possible in either mode, and the flying mechanics recall Artdink's Macross shooters (minus the Itano Circus missile storms). Players aren't limited to controlling Kirito, either, as other Sword Art Online regulars and fully customized avatars are playable. This means that Lost Song loses the dating side-games of its predecessors, but those were a bad influence. Kirito and Asuna are married and have a daughter, after all.
With Mario Maker serving as Nintendo's big Mario salvo for the holidays, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash plays mop-up in the Christmas rush. It retains the rules of its predecessor while adding a Mega Battle mode where mushrooms appear on the court and make Mario and company larger. The roster includes regulars like Mario, Luigi, Daisy, Peach, Toad, Donkey Kong, Wario, and Waluigi, with new additions in Rosalina, Toadette, and a Sprixie Princess. I'm still waiting for Wart from Super Mario Bros. 2 to make his tennis comeback.
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