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The X Button
Hard-Boiled Detective Pikachu

by Todd Ciolek,
I have the winners of my recent games-as-art contest, but I'll save them for this column's last stretch. That's because I have another contest to run!

Bandai Namco's mobile game Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle starts up its Super Warrior of Destruction Boss Event today, introducing a high-powered version of Broly that players can face until February 11. And that merits a giveaway. Five randomly chosen winners will get 10 Dragon Stones each.

To enter, just send me an email (toddciolek at gmail.com) telling me your favorite character from the Dokkan Battle roster, which consists of Goku, Gohan, Vegeta, Goten, Trunks, Android 17, Android 18, Cell, Majin Buu, and Broly. You don't have to explain why you like the character or why he or she is better than a random denizen of one of those city blocks mercifully evacuated before Nappa blew it up. Just give me the character's name and your username and user ID for Dokkan Battle, and you're good.

You have until 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday, February 10 to get your entries to me, so I think you'll have plenty of time to decide. Best of luck!


Word of a Pokemon Detective game leaked out over a year ago, complete with screenshots of Pikachu pacing around a warehouse and looking like a half-melted Marshmallow Peep. It drifted off the radar for so long that some speculated about its cancellation. But Nintendo didn't nix it, and thank goodness or that.

Great Detective Pikachu unfolds in a world where Pokemon and humans live in circumstances far more mixed that the typical Pokemon game. Instead of being treated as pets and weaponry, the creatures hold jobs, commit crimes, and, in Pikachu's case, investigate wrongdoings. He's partnered with a fresh-off-the-train kid named Tim, and together they solve mysteries involving both species. Tim handles the human side, while Pikachu takes on the Pokemon. Their cases involve interrogations and evidence hunts, plus button-tapping events here and there.

Pikachu's a detective in the hard-boiled tradition, too. He hits on women, yells at drivers, and generally comes across as a gruff veteran cop instead of the marketable little apple-cheeked electric rat he's always been. In an amusing touch, most of the humans hear him spout his pika-pika verbiage instead of actual words, but Tim can understand him fine.

Great Detective Pikachu arrived just this week on the Japanese 3DS. Nintendo hasn't announced an American date, but the game's Pixar-ish character design suggests something intended for an international audience. The game's already catching plenty of attention here, with one fan petition asking for Danny Devito to play the grumpy, womanizing, coffee-swilling Pikachu.

What was it that kept the 7th Dragon games from North America for so long? We saw dungeon-crawler RPGs aplenty, including Etrian Odyssey as well as lesser-knowns like Unchained Blades and Demon Gaze, and none of those had Sega's backing. Perhaps that was the problem. Sega went through some tough times recently, and there wasn't room to localize a post-apocalyptic RPG when a new Aliens game went through the game-industry equivalent of catching fire and crashing into an orphanage.

Well, Sega has new plans for the 7th Dragon series. The latest, a 3DS outing called 7th Dragon III Code VFD, will show up here this summer. It drops players into a world ravaged by alien dragons and tasks them with dialing that back. A party of player-customized characters travels to three different eras: modern Tokyo, the future utopia of Eden, and ancient Atlantis. All of these periods offer randomly arranged dungeons to explore, and the available characters range from conventional mages and warriors to hackers and pop idols. Between this and the upcoming 3-D Classics Collection, Sega's not having a bad year so far.

If you're hunting for games to support on Steam Greenlight, I'd direct you to something called Battle Crust…and not just because the name is hilarious. It's a vertically scrolling shooter with a power-up system that looks somewhere between R-Type and Grind Stormer.

Being a deliberately sprite-based game from a smaller studio, Battle Crust doesn't look so much better than dozens of other games from the distant age of Cho Ren Sha and Viper Phase 1 and Layer Section. Developer Picorinne Soft previously made Infinos, a decent side-scroller in the fashion of R-Type and Rayxanber, and Battle Crust seems much sharper. Besides, it's called Battle Crust! You can tell Greenlight voters “don't cut it off!” And if people ignore you after that, they're just jealous of your wit!


Developer: Bandai Namco Games
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: PS Vita

In search of something nice to say about The Asterisk War: The Academy City of the Water, I came up with this: it meets quota right away. Within the first story beat, the hero spots the pink-haired heroine half-dressed, gets knocked across campus by one of her spells, and accidentally gropes her in the middle of the ensuing fight. With those clichés met, the tale can delve further into light-novel standards by establishing its hero Ayato as an unassuming student who somehow has strange, remarkable abilities as well as an admiring coterie of childhood friends, student-council presidents, and fiery princesses from fictional European countries.

The Asterisk War invites a video game with its premise, however, as the Academy City of its title finds super-powered students dueling for rank and possibly course credit. Rather than make a straight fighting game, Bandai Namco turned the idea into an arena battler where two characters take on rival teams in 3-D environments. The scenery is sparse, but you're able to dash around, attack from a distance, and launch aerial combos. Another player can join in for cooperative or head-to-head matches, and characters progress through training outside of battle.

Of course, The Asterisk War would be no sort of faithful adaptation if it didn't include some dating-sim element. While it sports an original storyline, it follows all of the anime and light novel characters, including artillery specialist Saya Sasamiya, precognitive Claudia Enfield, sword-wielding Kirin Todo, and, of course, the hot-tempered royal Julis-Alexa Marie Florentia Renate van Riessfeld. Ayato spends time chatting with them when not in battle, and the game offers multiple endings depending on which heroine likes him best. That's all standard issue, true, and Asterisk War doesn't even look particularly good for a Vita game.

Import Barrier: The Vita has no regional lockout, but the Japanese version of the game has a lot of text in its menus and general palaver.

Domestic Release: Bandai Namco considered an English translation for the game's Asian version, but an actual North American edition remains unlikely.

Key Weapon: Every energy weapon in fiction imitates lightsabers to some extent, but The Asterisk War is a little more blatant about it than most, with a “Star Wars Festival” as well as telescoping laser-blades.

Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 3 / PlayStation 4 / PS Vita

I hope that Super Mario Maker sets off an avalanche of titles letting players make versions of popular (and not so popular) games. If Dragon Quest joins the throng, how long before we can create our own worlds in Final Fantasy, Metroid, Persona, or Trouble Shooter?

In truth, Dragon Quest Builders sprang more from Minecraft than Super Mario Maker, but the underlying fascination remains. It takes off from the alternate ending of the original Dragon Quest, in which the hero (and the player's save file) came to a bad end if he joined forces with the villainous Dragonlord. Builders envisions the two foes arriving at a truce…which the Dragonlord immediately breaks by slaying the hero and plunging the land of Alefgard into a monster-fueled nightmare.

The player's avatar, male or female, starts off with a barren land and a few rough outlines, but he or she can till the soil, break down the environment for raw materials, and make everything from cabins to castles. The monsters that throng around the countryside range from standard enemies to actual denizens with their own little demands and desires. While you might contend with dragons and bash metal slimes for their mineral components, you'll also help a Hammerhood find its lost brother.

Import Barrier: No version of Dragon Quest Builders has a regional lockout, though the quests and directives remain in Japanese. If you're accustomed to Minecraft, however, it's not very hard to construct things.

Domestic Release: Square Enix has said nothing yet, but they're certainly more willing to bring over Dragon Quest off-shoots these days.

Key Weapon: In this case, it's a block.

Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PlayStation 4

The original Yakuza is a little rough around the edges. It's an all-encompassing tale of an honorable thug, and that includes a vast criminal underworld of street brawls, gambling, hostess clubs, and arcades. Not all of its pieces work. The game's combat isn't exactly Virtua Fighter, and knocking around punks often feels like as much of a mini-game as the UFO catchers and batting cages.

Yakuza Kiwami aims to repair this. It retells the original game's story with the visual sheen and improved mechanics of the later Yakuza titles. It still follows career criminal Kazuma Kiryu, who once took the fall for a murder and lost his place in the Tojo crime syndicate. Released from prison, he hunts for his ex-fiancee and his fellow gangsters, and he lands at the middle of a mystery involving an orphan named Haruka and ten billion yen that went missing from the Tojo coffers.

Kiwami's battle system sticks closest to the recent prequel Yakuza 0, allowing Kazuma to pick up new techniques and combat methods—though the game pulls a Metroid and renders Kazuma rusty due to his time in jail. It also throws in an ongoing thread with rival Goro Majima, who shows up disguised as cops and club hostesses and other citizens just so he can test Kazuma's brawling mettle. Another new additon: a mini-game where the player collects cards depicting scantily clad women and watches them wrestling like combative beetles on a treestump while actual giant bugs applaud. No one ever said gangsters had tasteful pastimes.

Import Barrier: Despite the region-free nature of the PlayStation 4, Yakuza Kiwami is best enjoyed with a good grasp of Japanese.

Domestic Release: Sega's not saying yet, but they sprung Yakuza 5 as a surprise release and plan to bring Yakuza 0 over here. Buy 'em if you want Yakuza Kiwami.

Key Weapon: A baseball bat. For several reasons.


Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PlayStation 3 (digital) / PC (digital)
Release Date: February 9
Next: A Legend of The Galactic Heroes Fighting Game
MSRP: $59.99

Omega Force finds reliable trade in turning major anime lines into large-scale brawlers, but I wouldn't have predicted The Heroic Legend of Arslan as their next project. Berserk, Dragon Ball, and Ruin Explorers were all good contenders as I saw it, but the powers that be chose Arslan, which hasn't had a game since the Sega CD. It makes solid sense, though: Yoshiki Tanaka's novels stretch back to 1986, yet Arslan has a new manga and a new anime series, and both feature copious battlefield theatrics.

The Heroic Legend of Arslan is ostensibly based on the Persian saga Amir Arsalan, though filled with its own invented fantasy flourishes. Its title prince is a little too nice to rule the kingdom of Pars—he's friendly even to kidnappers—but he's soon shaken by a war and the capture of his jerkwad father. Fortunately, he's not alone. His dedicated retainer Daryun, gadabout bard Gieve, archer priestess Farangis, tactician-turned-painter Narsus, and Narsus' bickering young fan base, Alfarid and Elam, all join him. And they're playable in Warriors of Legend, plus the villainous Silvermask, his stooge Zandeh, the Sindhuran spy Jaswant, and the Pars soldiers Kubard, Tus, Kishward, Zaravant, and Isfan. That's a small cast compared to the lineups of Gundams and One Piece pirates typically seen in these anime adaptations, but Arslan's just getting started here.

The Dynasty Warriors method remains in effect for this Arslan brawler, as characters tear through legions of enemy troops. Sometimes they'll use conventional swords and shields, and sometimes Narsus will whip out a paintbrush and easel to strike down an oncoming phalanx (as usual, Arslan leaves it vague as to whether they're shocked at the painting's crudity or overcome by its craft). The game lets its major characters cut loose in their particular fashions, and battles include swappable weapons and horses to ride. Skirmishes also feature special areas that enable a character's Mardan Rush mode, which calls upon mounted soldiers, spearfighters, or distant archers. If it lacks the entire cast, I'm sure we'll see more if Arslan becomes a dominant force in the anime industry. At the very least, the series deserves more attention than the latest cavalcade of boob jokes and fumbling high-schoolers.

Developer: CyberConnect2
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC Release Date: February 9
Pre-Order Thing: Glow-in-the-Dark Poster
MSRP: $59.99

Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 carries somber news: it's the end. It's not the end of Naruto, of course, as that'll continue until we see spin-offs about the yellow-haired ninja's great-grand-daughter's weekend gardeners, and I'm sure it isn't even the end of Naruto video games. Yet it's reported to be the last Ultimate Ninja Storm title and the last Naruto game from CyberConnect2 for the foreseeable future.

Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 continues the tradition of arena brawls interspersed with more elaborate battles against towering monsters and their underlings. Three-character teams clash in open spaces and use all sorts of ninja weapons and signature attacks, and players can now swap between shinobi in the middle of combat. They'll no longer select from three different fighting styles, but there are many jutsu attacks to equip and employ, plus the chance to wreck an opponent's costume (or avoid it if you're quick enough). There's a roster of over 75 different characters to explore, including the rarely appearing Hanabi, and that's not counting variants on the same fighter. And if you reserve the game, you get Naruto's son Narutot and Sasuke's daughter Sasukid as bonus characters! Wait, their offspring are actually named Boruto and Sarada, respectively. My mistake.

Of course, the Ultimate Ninja Storm games are known for their amazing cel-shaded look, and the fourth has downright gobsmacking imagery on display. Climactic boss battles heap one impressive challenge atop another, usually with button-sensitive quick-time commands, and even the standard ninja-versus-ninja brawls look crisp and cartoonish. That's one reason to lament CyberConnect2 taking a break from Naruto; their anime-based games always have a polish and attention to detail, and they never feel like the gruntwork that licensed games must be for so many other developers. Worse yet, we won't see Hiroshi Matsuyama, president and CEO of CyberConnect2, dressing up as Naruto for promotional appearances. If only every game-company president did that.


Wow. Contests are often hard to judge, but this one presented the toughest decisions I've had to make here. I asked for humorously pretentious essays about how certain video games are True Art, and you all came through. I pared things down to three winners, and yet I think everyone who entered deserves accolades. Well, everyone except for some of the Worst Entry crowd, but that was the point.

The grand prize goes to Charles DeYoe and his look at F-16 Fighting Falcon for the Sega Master System. I didn't even remember the game, but Charles ensured I'll never forget it now.

This game is overlooked on the grounds that it is generally considered "not fun" or "unpleasant." This design choice transforms what could be a generic flight simulator into a powerful anti-war statement under the guise of entertainment.

The game first makes the player feel the weight of bureaucratic decision-making imposed upon individual combatants via a unique "two controllers for one player" setup. The requirement of a second controller forces the player to experience firsthand the unnecessary expenses the military makes in the name of improvements. But the improvement is quickly revealed to be a ruse because with two controllers, the game of war feels like chaos.

The graphics are another bold choice. While the player is initially filled with excitement with an appealing title-screen, the display of the game itself is surprisingly featureless. Instead of attempting to give a sensation of flying, the creators opted to make the display primarily numbers. This inspires a strong sense of ennui. Instead of going on a thrilling adventure, the player is treated to a monotonous grind. This emulates the sensation of battle-fatigue; killing isn't fun, it isn't even interesting, it is mundane as all sense of one's humanity is torn away.

The sound further contributes to the sense of banality: instead of music, F-16 Fighting Falcon has a loud buzzing white-noise soundtrack. It never goes away, echoing the message that war is never something to be enjoyed. It carries on eternally, grinding on the psyche of soldiers and nations that engage in it.

The first runner-up is Craig, who scrutinized another game that I'd forgotten: D-Force for the Super NES.

Life, we are told, is a scrolling shoot-em-up. Brief, often unforgiving, but governed by simple, irrefutable principles, and those who most devotedly adhere to them will rightly and inevitably prosper.

All those years ago, Asmik knew better, and tried in vain to warn us of what was coming.

Greeted by the detached countenance of Boomer (whose hapless sad-sack twin, Buster, seldom shares the spotlight) and a screen-filling brick wall (though the adjoining street keeps shrewdly out of sight), a gaping hole is violently blasted through the facade. A solitary helicopter - privately-chartered and taxpayer-subsidized, no doubt - repeatedly and effortlessly ascends or descends to a completely separate plane of existence, miles away from any inconvenient obstacle: dodging bullets in pursuit of incremental power-ups is for suckers. This is how the other half lives.

The alarm is sounded again and again throughout every leg of the journey, and the crippling slowdown is, of course, not merely hardware-related. From dinosaur-infested pre-history (brutal, pitiless Darwinism, as old as life itself) to a cut-rate facsimile of ancient Greece (ground zero of Europe's credit collapse), from an evasive, track-bound aggressor (reminiscent of the railway robber barons of old) to shamelessly recycled assets (meet the new boss, quite literally the same as the old boss...but AAA rated!), where does it all finally end? A fleeting opportunity to slap a few crude letters onto the big board.

In D-Force, the “D” stands for Derivatives, no matter what the establishment would have you believe.

Our other runner-up is Chris Farris, who tackled a game just about everyone knows…but perhaps not in this way.

Shapes and Orientations

We struggle to "fit in" to society in every aspect of our identities, but none so critically judged and difficult to quantify as our sexual orientations. There have been many treatises on this subject as society's opinions on predilections have swayed ever forwards, but none were so potent at the turn of their own era as Alexey Pajitnov's deeply personal magnum opus: Tetris.

Tetris sees the player constructing a sample of a social structure, and it is easy to see the symbolism of "fitting in" inherent in the design, but once we are made aware of each block shape's representation of a distinct sexual orientation, their relation and effects become even more distinct. The "straight" piece (the most obviously-named allegory of the group) most easily "fits in" with the crowd, and is seen as the most desirable. Meanwhile, the "L-block" pieces are representative of bisexuality, able to pass for "straight" to those that would disdain any other identity, but "sticking out" just enough to disrupt social structure. The "zig-zag" and "T-block" pieces represent male and female homosexuality, respectively, seeming to fit in with only their own to those limited in their belief of these social roles. Finally, asexuality is shown by the "square" piece, with its difficulty to mingle with the hypersexual identities of the other blocks.

Amongst all this disparate structure, however, we find the true life lesson of Tetris: A line of full connection is cleared, symbolizing our ability to erase conflict through understanding, and emphasizing the point that our differences disappear in the face of a true desire to connect with each other.

And for the Worst Entry division, Chaps claimed the dubious prizes with this tongue-in-cheek interpretation of a movie-spawned relic.

Let's go Bowling, Baby: The Other AAA Rockstar Game

Rockstar Games has many titles that question our place in a world of excess, greed, and power, but many have failed with gender issues and do not tackle the challenges women face in education and the workforce. This is not the case in Rockstar's Gameboy Color classic, Austin Powers: Oh Behave!

The game's sex appeal is a misnomer as Austin is there to help motivate the player towards an inclusive gaming experience. Your identity in the game is gender-neutral as Austin wants to make sure you are comfortable in a judgement-free gaming experience. Austin's Pad is organized like a computer desktop to help encourage involvement with STEM education in computer science. For those interested in art, you can create their own masterpiece for wallpaper as well as watch movie clips for textual analysis.

Platforming segments of the game focus on the player's role in controlling Austin as he symbolically annihilates the patriarchy in the form of icons from stereotypically male jobs such as construction, trash collection, and Fat Bastard. Other minigames are included for mental stimulation with maze and puzzle exercises. Oh Behave! is a compelling, intellectual game that provides an experience that educates players and empowers women, baby, yeah!

Those are the winning entries, but I'll have the rest of the general essays up next week, followed by the Worst Entry submissions. Keep reading!

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

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