This Week in Games: You Should Be Playing Better Fanservice Games

by Heidi Kemps,

It's going to be an interesting weekend for game announcements. The Game Awards will be broadcasting tonight, and amongst all the cringe-inducing advertising there should be some big game announcements and trailers -- including, most likely, something new from Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding. Honestly, though, I'm more eager to see what's happening not long after at the Playstation Experience. Sony's frequently used this event to highlight announcements for smaller, fan-favorite games and promising titles from Japan, which speaks a lot more to my personal tastes. Sadly, Sega already confirmed no further Yakuza localization announcements will be happening yet, so that's a bummer.

Still, there's a lot going on this week already!

QUICK LOOK: TINY METAL

Let me get this out of the way first: I suck at Advance Wars. I love myself a good strategy-RPG, but man, me trying to play any Advance Wars game would look, to an observer, like some serious clownshoes nonsense. Despite being a total fraud, though, when a Kickstarter for Advance Wars-like game Tiny Metal appeared last year, I backed it at a low tier -- even though I'm terrible at Advance Wars, I really want Advance Wars-style games to exist and flourish. And since Nintendo seems to have relegated the franchise to the Island of Misfit IP next to F-Zero, well, it's up to fans of this sort of gameplay to carry the torch.

The Kickstarter didn't succeed, but the project was able to push through, and it's slated for release on PC, PS4, and Switch quite soon - December 21st, to be precise. While there's been a fair bit of controversy over where the funding for the project came from post-Kickstarter, I'm putting that aside for now and taking a look at a PC demo that was given to all of the game's former backers.

Jumping into the campaign demo, you'll see that the game puts a lot of emphasis on story -- there's a fair bit of dialogue you have to click through before you get to the combat. Out of a wider story context, it's a bit irritating -- but hopefully it'll be more interesting when the characters and world are more firmly established over the course of a bigger campaign.

Gameplay-wise, you'll see a lot of similarities to -- and some key differences from -- Advance Wars off the bat. You control many of the same unit types -- infantry, ground vehicles, and air attackers -- and try to claim territory while routing enemy troops in turn-based battles. Strategically claiming buildings and factories will provide you with places to create more troops and recover existing units' health, which can give you a huge advantage. One major difference, however, is the persistence of "fog of war" -- in the demo stages I played, you never get a clear view of the whole map at once, necessitating the use of radar units to find hidden enemies. You also have new and interesting options when it comes to attacking, such as a coordinated attack using two units at once on a single foe and a strike that knocks a unit back one space (at the cost of some of your defensive and counter capabilities).

One thing I didn't see in Tiny Metal, though, was anything like the CO Powers in the Advance Wars games. Given that this is a demo (and one I was, admittedly, pretty bad at), they may be something that comes up later in the game, but I'd be pretty sad if they didn't exist. CO Powers added a lot of fun and personality to the characters and gameplay of Advance Wars, and I think Tiny Metal would be weaker without them.

I'm eager to see how Tiny Metal pans out -- it looks pretty solid so far, but I may not be the best judge of it. At the very least, I hope its existence convinces Nintendo and Intelligent Systems to consider the prospect of an Advance Wars revival.

EDITORIAL: YOU SHOULD PLAY BETTER FANSERVICE GAMES

Originally, my Quick Look this week was going to be the recent PS4 release School Girl/Zombie Hunter, but after playing it for bit, I just felt a whole lot of nothing. It's a game that does what it says on the tin, delivering zombies and fanservice in a schlocky B-movie styled universe, but everything about it, from the gameplay to the dialogue to the visuals, is just so aggressively mediocre. This sort of thing has been done before -- and better -- so why would you play this?

Of course, the answer to that question is right there in the title: School Girl/Zombie Hunter. People want to play a game about schoolgirls in skimpy clothes fighting zombies, of course. But SGZH comes from a not-so-great lineage: it's one of many, many fanservice-laden games made by Tamsoft, a developer who got big after creating Toshinden back in the PSOne days. Since that series was effectively buried in the late 90s, they've shifted gears to making really bland budget games, and now have found an even better niche of making really bland fanservice action games. Onechanbara, SGZH, a few recent Neptunia titles, and several of the Senran Kagura games are all Tamsoft joints, and they all have something in common: they're dull as hell to play.

It's frustrating to try and talk about these games, since any negativity is often met with a knee-jerk reaction of "oh, you just don't like sexy games." No, that's not it at all. What I'm against are soulless, dull Tamsoft action games trying to cover their failings with boobs and fanservice. (And you can always tell it's a Tamsoft game you're playing even without seeing the logo, as their titles just have an indescribable essence of mediocrity you can feel practically seeping through the controller as you hold it.)

This is something I've been thinking about a lot over the past few days, as it was also announced that Omega Labyrinth Z -- you know, the roguelike game about the girl whose boobs get bigger as she levels up -- is getting a Western release. (I'm honestly wondering if the game's going to make it past the ESRB unscathed.) While I haven't played the original, Japanese-only Omega Labyrinth, I know several folks in both the west and Japan -- whose opinions I trust -- who have, and a lot of their opinions were… quite harsh. Maybe Omega Labyrinth Z is an improvement, but given the original publisher (D3) has a pretty spotty track record outside of Earth Defense Force, I'm not very hopeful.

I really don't get it. Are folks really so blinded by the thoughts of CERO-guideline-skirting suggestive situations and partial nudity that they'll ignore really flawed games? Apparently so. Remember when people threw a fit over Dead or Alive Extreme 3 not coming stateside, only to discover that the game was a lazily cobbled-together mess of mostly pre-existing assets and microtransactions? Yeah.

But people do get very, very defensive about these titles. I can see digging Senran Kagura for having fun characters and dialogue, but what is there to defend in something like School Girl/Zombie Hunter? It really is all titillation, zero gameplay.

Here's the thing, though: There are lots of games with sexy elements that are also fun to play! Need some intense action with your fanservice? Bayonetta's got you covered. If you want an engaging adult RPG, Mangagamer's got the Rance games for you (with actual sex, too!). Want a solid action game with anime lesbians? Valkyrie Drive's got your number. And hey, Dead or Alive 5 has plenty of sexy girls (plus sexy dudes!) while also being a great fighting game. (Plus it has the good DoA girls in it, unlike DoAX.) Why settle for bad fanservice when good fanservice exists? Quite frankly, you deserve better.

GEESE HOWARD DEBUTS IN TEKKEN 7 TO PREDICTABLE EXCITEMENT

The Geese Howard reveal trailer at EVO was one of my favorite gaming moments of 2017, hands down. Team Tekken sure knows how to cut a great teaser, and seeing a huge hall of fighting game fans collectively lose their mind over a beloved SNK villain joining the party was fantastic. And guess what -- he's available to download right now. The news that Geese was officially in the roster came just under the wire last week, and since then, folks have been having an extremely good time decking out one of the baddest final bosses of all time in all of the goofy crap Tekken 7 has to offer.

The next guest character, FFXV's Noctis, is slated to debut sometime in early 2018. Who's coming after that? We don't know, and Tekken overlord Katsuhiro Harada is notorious for leading folks on -- he's dropped hints about Virtua Fighter's Lau and Sarah and Yakuza's Kiryu, but future reveals might be someone else completely off the radar like Noctis. Or who knows, it could be a absentee fan-favorite character -- lots of people are hoping Julia Chang isn't dead. (She's totally dead, though.)

Speaking of characters assumed dead...

MEGAMAN RETURNS FROM HIS SLEEP CAPSULE

Was there anyone who wasn't pessimistic about Capcom's Megaman 30th anniversary stream announcement earlier this week? Considering the 25th anniversary consisted primarily of, well, nothing, and we've seen little of our favorite blue robot besides retro compilations and licensed goodies since, it was easy to be pessimistic. And then there was that whole Mighty No. 9 mess, where a Kickstarter (with hugely overblown expectations) for a Megaman-like title delivered a game that's the physical manifestation of "meh."

But Capcom came prepared to dispel that dark cloud in their 30 anniversary livestream. Not only did they come out swinging with the announcement of a Megaman X compilation, they dropped the crash bombshell that Megaman 11 is in the works at Capcom Japan as a 2.5D sidescrolling platformer.

My feelings here are cautiously optimistic. I definitely would have preferred a traditional sprite-based game, though the art direction in MM11 so far looks to be quite solid. What I'm more bothered by is how slow the game seems to play at this point. Classic Megaman games were never super-fast-paced, but they do rely a lot on quick reactions for movement and dodging hazards -- and the extra animation needed for 3D models often leads to more sluggish-feeling controls and slower-paced action overall. The track record for previous Megaman games in 3D (Megaman X8, Powered Up, and Maverick Hunter X) is also rather mixed.

Still, if the MM11 devs look at some of the bad stage design in Mighty No. 9 and say "okay, let's be sure not to do that," we're already starting off on the right foot.

MY HERO ACADEMIA GRADUATES TO LICENSED GAME STATUS ON SWITCH AND PS4

Okay, it's not the first My Hero Academia game (there was one on the 3DS already), but the announcement of My Hero Academia: One's Justice has got a lot of series fans in an excited tizzy. There's very little info besides a few screenshots (not even a trailer yet!), but it's easy to imply that it's a free-roaming combat game. No Western release has been announced yet, but given MHA's popularity in Western fan circles, I definitely wouldn't count it out. (It certainly seems like it has more international clout than The Seven Deadly Sins, and Bandai-Namco's putting the game adaptation of that one out here, so...)

What's particularly interesting is that developer Byking is said to be involved with MHA:One's Justice. They're perhaps best known for their previous work on some of the Gundam Vs games, but their more recent offerings are the Japanese arcade hits Gunslinger Stratos and Magician's Dead, both of which you have probably never played unless you have a Round One arcade near you. (You might have seen the Stratos anime, at least… though if you have, I'm sorry.) These folks know their free-roaming versus combat games, so there's a considerable chance this game will be, at the very least, enjoyable.

MOBILE GAME SPOTLIGHT

There's one new packaged game worth talking about this week: Tokyo Xanadu eX+, an enhanced version of a PS Vita title released this summer that Dustin talked about a fair bit. Otherwise, we've got a bunch of Switch download games that are mostly ports and re-releases. It's official now: We're in the holiday the dead zone for new games. So, instead of writing about the scant few new releases, I'm going to take the time to highlight some recent mobile games that I feel are worth talking about instead.

PUZZLE FIGHTER

Publisher: Capcom

Type: Free-to-play with in-app purchases

I wasn't sure what to think of the idea of a free-to-play Puzzle Fighter on mobile devices when I first heard about it, and now that I've been playing it for a bit… well, honestly, I still don't know what to think of it. Fundamentally, it's still the Puzzle Fighter we know and love with a few new ideas: team assists, gem affinities that grant bonuses, and an alternate way to win matches (by depleting an opponent's energy rather than just filling their board with crap), among many other things. The visual style's been getting a lot of flak, but I must say, it looks better in motion than in stills.

The problem is that it's buried under a lot of standard free-to-play caveats. Having character and costume unlocks from paid transactions would be one thing, but the fact that every character has a bunch of skills that must be independently leveled up (by collecting cards and spending in-game coins) and do more damage from said levelling veers uncomfortably far into pay-to-win territory. You're still not going to get very far if you can't make a good gem combo, but at high play levels I can see this being an issue. It's also quite grindy: there's only a handful of single-player missions each day, and daily bonus rewards from multiplayer matches also run out quickly, further encouraging the spend. It might be better to wait and see what sort of adjustments Capcom makes to the title over the next couple of months before you go all in.

MILLION ONION HOTEL

Publisher: Onion Games

Type: Paid app ($3.99)

Puzzle-action games on mobile are a dime a dozen, and there are very few real gems in the mix. (That wasn't a Puzzle Fighter joke, I swear). But Million Onion Hotel's a hidden delight among a very crowded genre. Created by Yoshio Kimura of Chulip and Little King's Story, Million Onion Hotel is perhaps best described as a mix of of whack-a-mole and Yoshi's Cookie. Tap the screen to collect onions in a grid and eliminate enemies and obstacles, all while trying to create colored lines from where you've harvested your produce, all while a clock ticks down. Create several lines at once and you can score some big bonuses while extending your clock. The action gets fiercer and the enemies tougher the longer you go, and the big boss battles are quite tough for even the fastest of fingers. Million Onion Hotel is truly a top-tier timekiller. (Fair warning, though: there's some pixel nudity and "adult situations" in the cutscenes. Nothing super explicit, but it might raise an eyebrow if you're playing it at holiday Mass.)

AKA TO BLUE

Publisher: Tanoshimasu

Type: Paid app ($7.99-$8.49)

Do I ever love a good arcade-style scrolling shooter. Sadly, the genre's been rather neglected on mobile lately aside from Cave's Japan-exclusive Gothic wa Mahou Otome (which is a personal favorite mobile title of mine). However, upstart developer Tanoshimasu recently released Aka to Blue, a visually striking bullet-hell game exclusively for mobile that's really, really good. Playing as one of the two titular characters, you blast your way through several levels, skillfully weaving your way through bullet curtains by dragging your finger across the screen to move your craft. (It sounds more awkward to control than it actually is -- the precision of touch-screen controls for a crazy bullet-hell shooter is actually a lot more natural-feeling than you think.)

Besides bullet-dodging, Aka to Blue's main gameplay focus is using bombs to score big points and wipe enemy hordes off the screen. Shooting stuff and cancelling out black enemy bullets with your own charges a bomb gauge, and releasing the bomb into a swarm of enemies when it reaches high levels will yield a shower of golden bonus items. Of course, it's probably better to master survival first before going hog-wild on score attempts, because Aka to Blue is certainly no walk in the park. But if a fast, challenging arcade shooter with lots of depth and no microtransactions sounds like something you'd enjoy, you should definitely do yourself a favor and pick this one up.


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