The X Button
Vanishing Point

by Todd Ciolek,
This may be the first X Button to arrive on Thanksgiving, due to the new schedule. I'd like to use the opportunity to mention Thanksgiving-themed video games, but I've noticed a problem. There aren't any.

It's rare to find games distinctly based on holidays, even though you'll see a few for Thanksgiving's two biggest neighbors. Halloween is the stage for Costume Quest, and it's easy to fit the occasion to just about any monster-filled game, be it Darkstalkers, Resident Evil, or Countdown Vampires. The Christmas season has its share as well, including the smarmy Christmas NiGHTS, the obscure Daze Before Christmas, and adaptations like Die Hard or Home Alone. But Thanksgiving games? You'll have to dig into cheap mobile apps for those. Or you could resort to an eating-themed game like Pac-Man or Yume Penguin Monogatari (below), in which a fat waterfowl's worst enemy is food.

Thanksgiving just doesn't lend itself to the nature of a video game. Movies that evoke the holiday tend to be family comedies, Thankskilling excepted, and that just doesn't fit the parameters of a survival-horror odyssey or a side-scrolling platformer that well. But I'll keep looking. Maybe there's a conversational adventure game where you try to keep your relatives from bursting into tableside rants about how every politician since Henry Kissinger is a space alien.

NEWS

DEAD OR ALIVE XTREME TOO NAUGHTY FOR NORTH AMERICA
Well, I think we're all out of controversy this week. Xenoblade Chronicles X. Fatal Frame, and Street Fighter V are slightly edited, and everyone knows it. So we can just move on to more important matters.

Oh, wait. Koei Tecmo stated that Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 won't come to North America or Europe. When pressed further, the company's Facebook community manager replied “Do you know many issues happening in video game industry with regard to how to treat female in video game industry? We do not want to talk those things here. But certainly we have gone through in last year or two to come to our decision. Thank you.”

This immediately outraged Dead or Alive fans as well as the sort of people deluded enough to use the term “Social Justice Warrior” as a pejorative. They complained that Koei Tecmo had capitulated under current trends that question just how video games portray women, and that Xtreme 3 was now a casualty of the feminist onslaught. It's a game in which the women of Dead or Alive play volleyball, duel by bumping rear ends, spin hula hoops, and generally prance around in exceptionally slight swimwear. It's a sexist and ribald piece of work that just recently announced such features as tanlines and breakable bikini strings, though it's really no worse than what you might see on the typical TV show without a Nick Jr. logo.

It's odd that Koei Tecmo would grow reluctant to localize Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 due to concerns over sexualized characters when the physiques of the widely available Dead or Alive 5's women are just as exaggerated and many of the costumes are practically bikinis. While I'm hardly a fan of Dead or Alive in aesthetics or excess, I think it's eclipsed by many localized games when it comes to mistreating women. Senran Kagura and Criminal Girls are much worse offenders, and I'd spare little time criticizing Kasumi and Tina's bikini slips when Akiba's Trip exists.

Many misguided souls point to some dastardly cabal of feminists and bloggers and Kotaku journalists who scheme to rob the world of fun, as though they're the villains from Doozy Bots. Yet as far as I can tell, no one in the press specifically called for Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 to be martyred for the sake of game-industry sexism, and most of the negativity around Dead or Alive 5 is constrained to side comments in game reviews.

Indeed, many of the people painted as "Social Justice Warriors" openly don't care one way or the other about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. Koei Tecmo seemed apathetic toward localizing it as well. The game never was announced for the West, and producer Yosuke Hayashi only alluded to an “adjusted” North American version if demand merited it. Is Koei Tecmo merely overreacting to a market shift? Or are they covering up the fact that they don't think Xtreme 3 would sell over here? And what happened to the prairie dog from the first Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball? It was my favorite character.

Whatever the cause, Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 went from a minor, indulgent spin-off to a catalyst for geek turf wars. Importer Play-Asia kicked the hornet's nest with a Twitter post attributing Xtreme 3's status to “SJW nonsense” while entreating fans to buy the English-subtitled Asian release through Play-Asia. Some vowed never to import from the company again, but Play-Asia nonetheless gloated over its swelling follower count on Twitter. Meanwhile, two offers arrived. HuniePot, makers of the explicit puzzle-dating game HuniePop, publicly pledged $1 million for the North American rights to Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, while retailer Instacodez vowed $2 million for the chance to bring the game in Europe.

At this writing, debate over Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 continues, its jiggling exploitation and perfunctory volleyball matches now the stuff of bizarre moral crusades. If nothing else, I'd like to hear more from Koei Tecmo's community manager, who didn't really want to talk about issues of sexism. A lot of people are talking now.

DISASTER REPORT RETURNS IN SEVERAL WAYS
We lost a lot when Irem stepped out of the video-game industry: a new Disaster Report game, a Steambot Chronicles sequel, and our long-simmering hopes for Superior Soldiers II. Fortunately, Irem's games didn't stay down. Disaster Report director Kazuma Kujo and a pack of other Irem employees formed a studio called Granzella, and they even bought the rights to Disaster Report from Irem's disinterested leadership. And now Granzella's efforts bear fruit.

Granzella and Bandai Namco's Project City Shrouded in Shadow has an awful lot in common with Disaster Report, as it unfolds in an urban landscape held hostage by some giant otherworldly shadow. Its protagonist is an ordinary citizen, and the populace has no apparent defense against this supernatural menace. Well, Granzella has time to think of something. Project City Shrouded in Shadow doesn't have a release date or even a decent name just yet, though Bandai Namco has it on track for PlayStation 4 and Vita editions.

If you want another Disaster Report in full, Granzella has that as well. Disaster Report 4 Plus: Summer Memories is a remake of the PlayStation 3 original that Irem canceled (along with Steambot Chronicles 2) after the Tohoku Earthquake. The game sends players through a city newly shattered by natural disaster, and survival depends on everything from dodging debris to using the toilet regularly. Other survivors appear to aid the protagonist (or ask for help), and the scenery changes as the day continues. It's headed to the PlayStation 4, and there should be a trailer along very shortly.

STRANIA DUAL-WIELDS ITS WAY ONTO STEAM
You might've forgotten Strania by now, if you ever noticed it in the first place. It slipped out onto the Xbox 360 back in 2011, and it didn't get as much attention as it deserved. It's a vertical-scrolling mecha shooter from G.Rev, makers of WarTech, Kokuga, and a chunk of Ikaruga. That's a good pedigree already, and Strania builds on it with solid stage design and a weapon-swapping system that lets the player's robot cycle through three weapons at a time—and grab new ones as they float down the screen, like in Einhander.

Strania appeared on Steam this week, and it's only nine dollars for the time being. That's not cheap by Steam standards, and it's just a little less than what Strania cost on Xbox Live four years ago. Yet it's a fair price for a good shooter, and it's a sign of things to come from the G. Rev catalog. Maybe we'll get a Steam version of that Border Down game all of the holdout Dreamcast fans were importing back in 2002.

MISSING IN ACTION: CUT FROM THE CAST

It takes a lot to kill a video-game character's career once it's started. If they're part of a successful series, they'll stick around in some capacity. Castlevania never leaves the Belmont family far behind, Mortal Kombat seldom does without its original cadre of fighters, and even the most obscure Resident Evil protagonists are fair game for remakes and sequels.

Some don't make it. They had places in prominent game series, yet they were dumped because of time, space, legal problems, and reliable old popularity contests. The recent Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 barred longtime fixtures like Lei Fang and Tina from the initial roster after fans ranked them too low. And it's not the first game series to make surprising cuts.

BIG THE CAT
Series: Sonic the Hedgehog
Last Major Role: Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (2010)

Sonic the Hedgehog games have hordes of characters that fell by the wayside, though only the most devoted of fans call for the return of Ray the Flying Squirrel or Tiara Boobowski. The most prominent name to drift into obscurity may be Big the Cat, even if hosts of Sonic followers will tell you that he doesn't deserve any better.

Sonic Adventure proved an important point for the series: debuting on the Dreamcast, it was the impressive 3-D Sonic outing that Sega needed (and never got) during the Saturn period. Alongside familiar characters like Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles, Big seemed a strange choice: a rotund, fishpole-carrying lummox who chased his pet frog around. Big sounded dumb, and his fishing segments were needless and awkward. Players marked him as the worst part of Sonic Adventure, though he'd occupy slightly more useful roles in Sonic Heroes and Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood.

Big moved to background spots not long after that, with his last playable appearance in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. This was no accident, as Sega brand manager Ken Balough revealed in 2012 that Big was retired, and the lumbering cat was limited to cameos ever since. There were no legal issues or creative disputes to blame; people just didn't like Big.

SODOM
Series: Street Fighter / Final Fight
Last Major Role: Final Fight Revenge (1999)

Street Fighter abounds with underused characters. Ask any devoted Capcom fan and you'll learn why Necro and Twelve should be in Street Fighter V, why Skullomania is the best thing ever, why Ingrid is a veritable goddess, and, in my case, why Maki could've been huge if Capcom had stuck her in Super Street Fighter II instead of a Final Fight sequel.

Sodom fits right into that. Like several other Street Fighter characters, he started off as a level boss in Final Fight, and his backstory expanded upon coming to Street Fighter Alpha. He's a captain in the Mad Gear gang as well as an utter otaku, obsessed with Japanese culture but prone to misusing the language in his win quotes and armor décor. He's pretty much That Guy from every Japanese college course.

What sets Sodom apart from the other underused Street Fighter characters? He's the only name from the Street Fighter Alpha series who hasn't reappeared in Street Fighter IV or V, and a terse rumor suggests that he's quit the street-gang business to open a restaurant. Why exclude him so? His moves aren't terribly interesting, but he's a visually striking combatant whose weapons could lend themselves to new features in Street Fighter V. And mocking Japan-fixated nerds seems to be in vogue these days.

DR. COSSACK
Series: Mega Man
Last Major Role: Mega Man 4 (1991)

The Mega Man games introduce new characters in rigid fashion. Each NES title brings along new robot masters, plus one assistant for its title hero. The robot masters usually don't survive the game, but the sidekicks do. Dr. Cossack and his daughter Kalinka don't match that formula.

Mega Man 4 did its best to fool players by pitching Dr. Cossack as a new antagonist, but the truth soon emerged: recurring lunatic Dr. Wily kidnapped Kalinka and forced Dr. Cossack to take down Mega Man. And that was it for the Cossack family. They appear regularly in the Mega Man comics, but subsequent games rarely acknowledge them beyond cameos and a Rockboard spin-off.

The fact is that Dr. Cossack wasn't necessary. Once the Wily conspiracy unravels in Mega Man 4, Dr. Cossack becomes just another benevolent scientist—and the series already has one. Cossack is the Poochie in the recurring conflict between Dr. Light and Dr. Wily, and he merely gets in the way. Perhaps he could've turned into a renegade inventor with grayer morals than Light or Wily, but the Mega Man games rarely concern themselves with broader themes. That stuff is for the comics.

NISA AND GUST
Series: Neptunia
Last Major Role: Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk. 2 (2012)

The Neptunia series survives on its characters, most of whom are anime techno-heroines who personify game systems and publishers. It wouldn't be in the line's best interests to drop any of those embodiments of nerd history, but the recent Neptunia games shed a few.

The original Hyperdimension Neptunia introduces Nisa, a blue-haired superheroine who symbolizes Nippon Ichi Software in her name and her resemblance to the penguin Prinnies from Disgaea. As a supporting character, she periodically appears to give overenthusiastic and inept advice to the downtrodden. Then she flies into a fury when anyone mentions her small cup size, because the Neptunia games like to bury the occasional good joke beneath a bunch of terrible ones.

Nisa showed up in the first two Neptunia games, only to disappear from the third as well as a remake of the second title. A shift in publisher might be to blame, as Nippon Ichi Software no longer handles the Neptunia titles in Japan. But that didn't stop NIS from rehiring its namesake. Nisa appears as a bonus character in Disgaea D2, Disgaea 4, and Disgaea 5.

The same can't be said for Gust, a childlike inventor and avatar of the company that developed the Atelier and Ar Tonelico series. Not long after Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2, Koei Tecmo bought Gust (the company). This ruled out Gust (the character) appearing in future Neptunia offerings, though Gust (the company) slipped her into the first run of their RPG Knights of Azure.

WART
Series: Super Mario Bros.
Last Major Role: Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)

Every kid who grew up on Super Mario Bros. 2 eventually learned the truth: the game wasn't a Mario game at first. It initially saw release in Japan as an Arabian fantasy platformer called Doki Doki Panic, and Nintendo overhauled it to feature Mario characters for the West. That didn't keep it from becoming part of Mario canon as well as a favorite among kids who wondered why so few of the later titles didn't let them control Toad or Princess Peach.

Despite the game's odd origins, you'll see several Super Mario Bros. 2 enemies as Mario series regulars: Birdo, Shy Guy, and Bob-omb, to name three. Yet you won't see Wart, the ultimate villain in Super Mario Bros. 2's dreamland invasion. An insidious frog emperor with a monster-generating dream machine, Wart's foiled by his own invention at the end of the game. And that's it for him. Aside from some Super Mario Bros. 2 re-issues (including a Satellaview remix), a brief appearance in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, and mentions in later Mario games, Wart is nowhere to be seen.

Wart's absence stems from one unfortunate truth: he didn't really do anything. Super Mario Bros. 2 affords him no personality, and there's nothing about Wart that isn't better conveyed by the spiky turtle tyrant Bowser. By the time Super Mario Bros. 2 came along, Bowser was the default Mario villain, and so he remained in later Mario games and ill-devised movie adaptations.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

XENOBLADE CHRONICLES X
Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: December 4
No One Liked: Chu-Chu
MSRP: $59.99 / $89.99 (special edition)

Xenoblade Chronicles deserved success for many reasons, not least of all its mixing of complex gameplay into breezy exploration and a fascinating world. I also think its overall size helps a lot. Bloated or not, it's a massive undertaking, and that stokes nostalgia for the days when you would pick up a pricey RPG on the Super NES or Sega CD and know that you'd be playing it for the better part of the year. Chrono Trigger and Lunar II won't seem nearly as long if you play them today, but Xenoblade Chronicles is there, and its legitimately huge.

Xenoblade Chronicles X offers an even larger realm to explore. It's the planet Mira, where a spaceship crashes after fleeing the destruction of Earth. The survivors build a colony called New Los Angeles and set out to explore the surface, perhaps discovering clues about the two alien races whose war left humanity homeless in space. The player crafts an avatar with limited personality, but he or she is joined by white-haired sidekick Elma, teenage genius Lin, a native Nopon creature named Tatsu, and other party members.

Together they venture across the sprawling landscapes of Mira, encountering hostile creature that range from simple lizard-wolves to enormous airborne centi-dragons. It's five times the size of the original Xenoblade, and the real-time battles follow a similar routine of characters carrying out automatic attacks while the player is free to direct them with more elaborate moves. It resembles the streamlined pace of an online RPG, and this time around it actually has multiplayer for up to four partners (and online trading for up to 32). Better yet, players don't have to walk everywhere. In due time, they acquire giant transforming robots called Skells, and those make it easier to travel. And fight as well.

Some fumed over Nintendo's decision to take out Lin's more suggestive outfits as well as a breast-size adjuster for the character-creation menus. Those are poor reasons to pass up a vast and richly rendered game like Xenoblade Chronicles X. If you need cause to worry, here's better motivation: the game looks to be less daring in its ideas than Xenoblade Chronicles, which was less daring than Monolith and director Tetsuya Takahashi's unhinged Xenosaga trilogy…which was less daring than Takahashi's over-ambitious Xenogears. But if it gains broader scope, smoother gameplay, and jet-mecha in the tradeoff, I can't argue. Well, I can, but not too loudly.


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


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