This Week in Games - GameCenter CX

by Dustin Bailey,
There's no shortage of new games out right now, but it's perhaps a shameful admission that I've been spending more and more time digging into the retro side of things. I picked up a lot of early Nintendo Power volumes not too long ago, and I've been of a mind to start a magazine-driven chrono-gaming project through a big swath of Nintendo's history. As it stands, though, I've just been playing the first couple of stages of Super Mario Bros. 2 over and over again. You don't need me to tell you the Doki Doki Panic story, but I will say that us Americans definitely got the better end of that deal.

The other way I've been spending my leisure time is by watching people play old games. Yeah, there's a little bit of Youtube there, but the primary source has been a Japanese TV series that's been sadly forgotten in the West. Let me offer a little reminder.

Opinion: You Should Watch GameCenter CX

I've been watching a lot of GameCenter CX. The live-action Japanese show has been running for more than a decade now, producing over 200 episodes. The central premise is that Arino—a comedian cast as the chief of a fictional company called GameCenter CX—has to challenge various old game titles, for reasons that are barely explained and best left unexplored. Every episode sees him trying to beat another game ranging from a well-known classic to an obscure piece of kusoge, constrained by time limits determined mostly by the show's own production schedule.

The rub is that while Arino is a game aficionado, he's very bad at them. Most challenges go for the full length of their twelve-plus hour shoots, seeing Arino increasingly rely on the research, strategies, and gameplay skills of a rotating cast of assistant directors. It's entirely silly, often dramatic, and occasionally heartwarming. Take, for example, the plight of AD Inoue, who came on board in season five. He wasn't a game fan, saying only that he enjoyed games "a normal amount." His early attempts at helping Arino were failures, often spectacular ones, earning him the derision of fans and the rest of the cast. Until, with tears in his eyes, he manages to redeem himself by teaming with Arino to defeat the Famicom version of Yokai Dochuki.

Since we're now awash in Youtube Let's Plays and Twitch live streams, the idea of a TV show about a dude playing video games seems more than a little antiquated, but there's a tremendous amount of heart in Arino's weekly challenges. There's an ironic use of overly dramatic music for especially tense boss encounters, a narrator who's at once supportive of Arino and dismissive of his gaming skill, and a general tendency to treat the completion of Famicom games as a matter of life and death. But when he and his assistant directors manage to pull out a miracle win moments before a production deadline would mark the challenge a failure, it's impossible not to revel in their success.

On top of the challenges, the show is filled with segments documenting Japan's arcades, from the biggest game centers all the way down to a little family-owned store with a Metal Slug cabinet on the sidewalk. It's the nerdiest travel show ever, spending time documenting UFO catchers and coin-op gambling machines along side local food and the people who populate these often unseen corners of the country.

There's nothing else quite like it, even with untolds hours of videos about video games on the internet. There was a brief attempt to bring the show West in 2011, when Kotaku ran official, English-language versions of a dozen of the show's episodes. When the rights lapsed the next year, Discotek Media put out a DVD containing those episodes, though apparently the release failed to gain enough traction to for further releases. The show's biggest legacy here is the Nintendo DS title Retro Game Challenge, which sees you completing a variety of challenges in new, retro-style games at child Arino's behest.

If you're looking for a legit way to watch GameCenter CX in English, that DVD set is the only option, and luckily it seems to be remaining in print. A part of me continues to hope that Crunchyroll or a similar service will pick up the show and bring us an official way to watch an increasingly massive array of these as-yet-untranslated episodes, but such hopes have—so far—been in vain.

NEWS

BREATH OF THE WILD IS GETTING AN EXPANSION PASS, AND DLC WEPT FOR THERE WERE NO MORE WORLDS TO CONQUER

When the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launches on March 3rd, you—yes, you!—will have the incredible opportunity to spend additional money to receive extra content for the game. $19.99 will get you two content packages. The first launches in the summer, promising a hard mode, a Cave of Trials challenge, and an as-yet-unspecified new map feature. The second pack comes in the winter, featuring a new story and dungeon. Buying the pass also causes bonus treasure chests to spawn in the Great Plateau, including an exclusive Switch logo shirt that I'm sure will be great and not at all gaudy or incongruous with the tone of the game.

Fans are naturally up in arms because getting angry about the existence of DLC is what the internet does. And to be fair, that first pack in particular sounds like the kind of bonus that would previously have been included in the base game, with hard modes and extra challenges having been a staple of recent Zelda re-releases. It's not Nintendo's first foray into digital expansion content, though. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U had a bunch of paid characters and stages, and the Zelda-meets-Dynasty Warriors joint saw a similar season pass scheme.

My general feeling here is… apathy? I've got minimal interest in a hard mode or combat challenges, and while extra stories and dungeons sound cool there's no telling how substantial those additions will actually be. And as far as logo T-shirts go, I think I might be more easily coerced to pay in order to keep them out of the game. In any case, it's pointless to get bent out of shape over an addition so insubstantial—until, of course, it turns out Ganon was hidden behind the paywall the whole time.

STEAM IS GIVING GREENLIGHT THE RED LIGHT

You may remember the days when Valve curated the games available on Steam themselves. It was possible to browse the store, choosing between a variety of recent releases to find the game that's right for you. Then Greenlight happened, offering smaller developers a chance to get onto Steam by what amounted to a popularity contest—get enough votes, you got on the store. The Greenlight gate gradually opened wider and wider until basically anything was allowed on Steam. 40% of Steam's total library was released in 2016 alone. As I write this article in the early afternoon, over 20 games have already been released today.

And now Valve intends to let the floodgates swing all the way open. They're doing away with the community-driven Greenlight, replacing it with something called “Steam Direct.” Valve says the new sign-up system will be similar to opening a bank account, requiring some verification and tax info before being able to distribute your game. There will also be a “recoupable application fee” for each title submitted, but Valve is still trying to determine what that fee would be, currently saying it might be anywhere from $100 to $5,000.

I'd offer a conservative guess that about half of Steam's current library is basically unplayable garbage, and that percentage ain't gonna get much better as a result of less oversight. But is that a bad thing? The same loosening of regulations has offered a chance for relatively obscure niches like VNs to shine, and even if there are a thousand Bad Rats and Bloody Boobs out there every week, it's tough to argue against a platform open enough that success stories like Stardew Valley can continue to happen.

The problem, of course, is that with all that garbage to sift through it becomes increasingly difficult to find the gems. If you're into a particular niche like the aforementioned VNs, then Steam's current discovery options do a decent enough job connecting you with other similar games. But if you're looking for anything cool that doesn't have a direct connection to what you already play, all I can say is “good luck.” That's a sentiment I also express to indie developers, who are having to compete in an increasingly crowded market for even an ounce of notice. An optimist might say that the good stuff rises to the top, but not every good game will get a fair shake among this much competition. From Valve's perspective, more games means more total sales, and pinning the decision about what's worthwhile on a single company just makes the indie success stories even harder to achieve.

THE YAKUZA SERIES IS GETTING A LIMITED REPRINT

This story is basically to say that some decade-old PS2 games were once again in manufacturing earlier this week. Likely capitalizing on the recent success of Yakuza 0, a North American retailer called Video Games Plus ordered a bunch of copies of the first four games in the series, selling them new at new game prices.

While you might balk at paying $50 for a PS2 game these days, Yakuza 2 in particular saw an especially limited release in the West, and prior to this used copies were were regularly selling in excess of $120. Yakuza 3 isn't in quite the same ballpark, but with no digital version of the PS3 game available, physical copies here too were slowly starting to climb up in price.

If the recent cavalcade of Yakuza announcements have gotten you interested in the series, then right now is the time to start picking them up, as we're getting a rare break from the rapidly-inflating collector's market. But hey. Sony. Sega. Sure would be nice if the non-collectors out there could pick up the digital editions on PSN. You've got that PS2 Classics line, we know the emulator works.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

BERSERK AND THE BAND OF THE HAWK
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita / PC
Release Date: February 21
MSRP: $59.99

The latest in Omega Force's increasingly prolific line of licensed Musou titles, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk will bring the large-scale battlefield action to the brutal medieval world of the classic franchise. Playable characters include everyone from Guts to Griffith, in a story spanning from the iconic Golden Age Arc to the Hawk of the Millennium Arc. There seems to be a close relation between this game and the Golden Age film trilogy, so take that as you will, Berserk.

HALO WARS 2
Developer: 343 Industries / Creative Assembly
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: February 21
MSRP: $59.99

“All units.” The original Halo Wars wasn't a revelation when it launched on Xbox 360 in 2009, but it was an interesting and mostly successful experiment in home console RTS gaming. Halo Wars 2 takes the action to a time parallel to the current Halo trilogy, offering up thirteen story missions and a series of online game modes.

PSYCHONAUTS IN THE RHOMBUS OF RUIN
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: February 21
MSRP: $19.99

Do we still talk about VR? Is it still a thing? Double Fine certainly hopes so, because they're about to release a VR-focused spinoff for the long-dormant Psychonauts franchise. Instead of 3D platforming, Rhombus of Ruin plays more like a point-and-click adventure, which is certainly in keeping with the studio's historical strengths. This VR adventure promises to bridge the gap between the original and Psychonauts 2, which I totally forgot was happening until this precise moment.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
On top of all that, the previously PC-exclusive prequel story of Ys Origin also makes its way to PS4 on the 21st.

Catch you cats next go 'round!


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