This Week in Games - The Unseen World of Pokemonby Heidi Kemps,
We're getting close, folks. E3 is just around the corner. In fact, the official E3 Twitter account thinks it's already here. Can you feel the excitement in the air? Are you eagerly anticipating more weird Kojima short films starting Norman Reedus, weird skits starring the Nintendo Treehouse crew, and Microsoft basically having jack squat for compelling exclusives?
As the anticipation for press conferences ramps up, the pre-E3 leaks seem to have calmed down a bit, but the most interesting news of the last week involves leaks of a different sort.
Pokemon Gold and Silver had a somewhat troubled development: GAME FREAK was tasked with following up on a megahit title and expanding the scope of the game significantly, which proved somewhat difficult on the aging Game Boy hardware. They'd hoped to get the games out by the end of 1997 to capitalize on Pokemania at its height, and they showcased a playable work-in-progress demo of the game at Nintendo's SpaceWorld show that year.
However, Pokemon Gold and Silver didn't release in 1997. In fact, the games didn't release until 1999. The delay was a huge risk for Nintendo, as the popularity of Pokemon could cool down within that time. In the end, though, it gave GAME FREAK time to shape the games into fantastic follow-ups -- with a little programming help from Satoru Iwata himself.
But remember that SpaceWorld demo I mentioned above? The original ROMs for it were recently found, dumped, and shared online, and they reveal a work-in-progress game that's very, very different from the final product.
The demo is very basic, but with the help of debugging tools, you can see some of the ideas the developers were experimenting with: travelling across the whole of Poke-Japan, having the main character ride a skateboard, and tons of mini-games.
Perhaps most interesting to Poke-fans, however, are all the early monster designs featured in the game. Some are early incarnations of critters that would appear in Gold and Silver (and future generations), some are baby versions of well-loved original generation Pokemon, and some… well, some are just weird and lovable in their own little way.
You can see a full list of the demo's Pokemon, along with many other details about the demo, over on The Cutting Room Floor. It's easy to guess why some of the designs were altered or removed entirely: the fire and water starters are really nondescript, Girafarig's design would have been hell to try and adapt in the anime, Remoraid and Octillery look a little too much like real-life weapons for a kids’ game, and somebody at Nintendo likely said “look guys, if we're selling this game on having a bunch of new Pokemon, maybe having a significant chunk of them be existing Pokemon babies isn't a good idea.”
But… man. This little dude. I love him! I really hope we see him someday, but Shinx already fills the electric/cat mold, so probably not.
Also of note is that a huge archive of Japanese PC games from the mid-late 90s – some so rare as to be considered unreleased – was also recently leaked online. I'll admit that my Japanese PC game knowledge is lacking compared to console and arcade stuff, so I'm not familiar with too many of these titles, but they certainly look interesting. Perhaps someday I'll make a Japanese Win9X virtual machine.
THE TETRIS EFFECT WANTS TO CONTROL YOUR BRAIN (IN A GOOD WAY)
Sometimes you just wake up in the morning and say to yourself, “boy, I wish there was a new psychedelic Tetsuya Mizuguchi gaming experience announced today.” At least, that's what I do sometimes… that's normal, right?
Well, today was my lucky day, because Tetsuya Mizuguchi's putting his distinct (T-)spin on one of the world's most beloved games. The Tetris Effect – which is named after a real-life phenomenon – is Tetris like you've never seen it before, filled with music and imagery that accentuates the falling blocks. Playing Tetris – like, seriously playing Tetris – already puts folks in an interesting mental state, so seeing how Mizuguchi plans to take that further makes me very excited. Yes, it's not Tetris the Grand Master, but it doesn't have to be, because it looks amazing in its own right.
THERE'S PROBABLY A TALES OF VESPERIA REMASTER COMING
So there's a mysterious protected URL on Bandai-Namco's Tales Channel website: "tov10th.tales-ch.jp". I have no idea how people manage to find this stuff – do they just spend hours typing in every combination of letters they think could hold clues to an announcement? But that's not what's important here. What we can surmise from those letters is that Bamco is doing something for Tales of Vesperia’s 10th anniversary, and that something is more likely than not a modern console and PC remaster.
If this is the case – keep in mind, this isn't confirmed yet – it would be fantastic. Tales of Vesperia is best known as a 360 exclusive, but PS3 owners in Japan got a later port that added a wealth of new content, including new party members. A remaster would no doubt give audiences outside of Japan access to the good stuff for the first time. It's also, in my opinion, the best Tales game by a country mile, with a fantastic cast of characters, an engaging story, and a frenetic combat system that isn't weighed down by too many obtuse systems.
Also of potential interest: there was a list of leaked Soul Calibur VI characters that included Vesperia hero Yuri Lowell. It was dismissed because, pffft, Vesperia’s a 10 year old game, why would they put Yuri in? Now, though… it seems a lot more plausible. Seriously, though, they had Tales of Symphonia characters in mostly-forgotten spinoff Soul Calibur: Lost Swords, it's about time we get a Tales face in the main series.
Sega and Atlus, who are two different brands of the same company these days, announced their joint E3 lineup, and it's looking mighty sharp. Shining Resonance Refrain, Sonic Team Racing, Valkyria Chronicles 4, and Yakuza Kiwami 2 will all be playable, while Catherine: Full Body will also have a new trailer.
However, Atlus has teased two additional, as-of-yet unannounced titles to be revealed… today. When this column goes live. Which means once you're reading this, you'll already know what they are. I suppose the smart money's on the Persona 3 and 5 dancing games, so… hey, more dancing, woo. Are they going to bother with the Vita versions, though?
Meanwhile, I wonder what's going on with 13 Sentinels…
FIGHTING GAME NEWS ROUNDUP: MAXI-MUM FORCE
God, I'm sorry for that pun. I just couldn't resist. Anyway, Maxi is joining the cast of Soul Calibur VI, making for yet another classic character's return.
Also, Luong is apparently coming to SNK Heroines, though apparently she was leaked so we're not supposed to know that yet. Since there's a good chance the trailer's going to be taken down, I'm not going to embed it here, but you all know how to use Google, right? Right.
BLAZBLUE X TAG BATTLE (PS4, Switch, PC)
Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite may have landed with a wet thud, but the concept of team-based crossover fighters lives on in Arc System Works’ latest. Controlling a team of two characters from Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY, you take part in wild two-on-two battles that really, really put the “anime” in “anime fighting game.” (And that's not even taking into consideration the crazy story, which is so very anime.)
One of the big selling points of the game is its accessibility: a standardized control scheme, dumping a lot of the arbitrary systems from the various games, and simplified inputs. It's also a bit cheaper that the typical new release, since a lot of the characters are being sold as optional DLC – a decision that's earned a fair bit of ire from some fans. (I've also been hearing that a few of the yet-unannounced DLC characters have been rendered usable in the PC version by hackers. Whoopsies.) However, initial reaction to the game seems positive, and it'll be interesting to see it at EVO this year.
NOBUNAGA'S AMBITION: TAISHI (PS4, PC)
It's easy to forget that KOEI (now KOEI-Tecmo) wasn't “the Warriors company.” Their bread and butter, for many years, were intense historical strategy games: Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Uncharted Waters, and Nobunaga's Ambition, among others. It's safe to say that if KOEI hadn't made a name for themselves adapting these historical sagas as turn-based strategy epics, we wouldn't have the Musou we know and love today.
Nobunaga's Ambition Taishi is the first release in this series for quite some time: the last one released five years ago in 2013. It puts you smackdab in the middle of Sengoku era Japan, where you control either the Big N himself or one of several other daimyos of the time. Not much more to say here – you either love this sort of game or you don't, and if you do, this will scratch your itch nicely.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY NEW RELEASES: If, for some reason, you don't have enough PC roguelikes, Idea Factory's Sorcery Saga: Curse of the Great Curry God is releasing on Steam this week. If you don't have enough roguelikes on Switch, then Sekai Project's A Magical High School Girl might be your thing. Happy Birthdays, an upgraded port of life/god sim Birthdays the Beginning, is also hitting Switch.
That's all for this week. We'll have two columns next week, one covering press conference announcements and one for when E3 wraps up. My body... is ready.
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