This Week in Games - Winter Shooting Wonderland

by Heidi Kemps,

Hey everyone! It's getting colder, the holidays are getting closer, and we're still enjoying an extremely fruitful time for games. Everything is just so good right now!

Just as a heads-up, I'll be taking a break from the column next week, as I have scheduled surgery for a kidney stone that's been dogging me for the last six months. I'll still have some text next week in the form of a mini-review, but the task of writing up everything that gets announced at The Game Awards will fall to the hands of whatever poor shmuck Zac gets to fill in for me, heh heh. Enjoy watching that hot mess!

Anyhow, let's look at some newsworthy items!

HAJIME TABATA ESTABLISHES JP GAMES

Hey, remember Hajime Tabata leaving Square-Enix a couple weeks ago? Well, he registered his new company, JP games.

Yeah, there's… not much more to report about this right now. At least we have a logo. Yay?

ANCIENT UNEARTHS TWO NEW SWITCH GAMES

Last weekend saw the Ancient Festival take place in Tokyo. It was an event dedicated to the works of game music maestro Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage, Actraiser, Etrian Odyssey, etc.) and his company, Ancient. The big draw for the event was a live concert of Koshiro's music performed by the New Japan BGM Philharmonic Orchestra, which was simulcast on YouTube… and let me tell you, it was fantastic. Hearing Streets of Rage and Actraiser music performed by a live orchestra is a transcendent experience. Sadly, if you missed it, you're probably going to have to wait for a Japanese DVD/CD release to get the chance to see/hear it again.

That wasn't the only thing happening at Ancient Festival, however. Ancient themselves announced two new games. The first is a new Switch installment of their Mamotte Kishi series called Susume!! Mamotte Kishi: Hime no Totsugeki Serenade. If you haven't played one of these games before (It released on XBLA Indies as Protect me Knight and 3DS as Gotta Protectors), Mamotte Kishi is a delightfully wild four-player action/tower defense game with a decidedly retro look and sound. The Switch, with its portability and multiplayer capabilities, feels like a perfect platform for this game, and I hope a Western release comes sooner rather than later.

The other game, also for Switch, is a colorful action/RPG called Royal Anapoko Academy. We don't know much about this one save for the fact that it's a colorful, turn-based multiplayer RPG comprised of numerous short episodes.

Anyway, if you can't tell, I'm a big Koshiro fan, so I'm always happy to see him and Ancient making great music and developing awesome games. I'll be on Switch Mamotte Kishi day one.

FIGHTING GAME NEWS ROUNDUP: SNK'S FUTURE IS TOLD TO US NOW

All things considered, it's a small miracle that SNK in its present form still exists, given the company's legendary troubles in the early aughts. But current-day SNK seems to be doing quite well for themselves, and they've got some big plans for the future, which they announced to investors at a meeting in South Korea.

We learned a couple of things at this meeting. For starters, the new Samurai Shodown will be multiplatform: it'll be appearing on Xbox One, PS4, and Switch. It'll be interesting to see if there will be differences between the consoles: the Switch version of SNK Heroines ran at a lower framerate, so I feel like Samurai Shodown might also take a performance hit. But who knows?

Perhaps even more exciting, however, is the reveal of a King of Fighters XV for 2020. Yeah, they're starting work on this one early! KoFXIV was subjected to derision for its perceived graphical inferiority, so I get the impression SNK wants plenty of time to make sure this one looks as nice as possible. In any case: New KoF confirmed! Wooooo!

Tekken 7 also had some announcements over the weekend, such as a first look at gameplay featuring Negan from The Walking Dead in an, uh, interesting trailer:

Meanwhile, the last few question marks on the roster have been revealed: Marduk, Armor King, and a freshly exhumed Julia will be available as DLC. Marduk and Armor King are available as we speak, while the Walking Dead DLC is coming later.

Also, you should definitely watch the finals of the Tekken World Tour and respect our new bear overlords.

WINTER SHOOTING WONDERLAND, PART 1: MERRY KETSUIMAS

Throughout the month of December, I'll be looking at the wealth of arcade shooters that have released recently. First off is perhaps the highest profile release of the bunch: M2 and Cave's Ketsui: Kizuna Jigokutachi ~Deathtiny~. I've got a bit of history with this game.

I was studying abroad in Japan when Ketsui first hit arcades there, and from the outset it was clear that the game was something special. Touhou hadn't yet become a phenomenon, so the prevailing shooter aesthetic was still ships and mecha, but Ketsui's decision to put its attractive male pilots front and center in its promo materials was a smart one, drawing in normal arcadegoers with little interest in STGs and curious fujoshi alongside the faithful Cave fans. Little did these folks know, as they dropped in their 100 yen, that they were going to be playing one of the most brutally challenging shooters made to date.

But somehow, this difficulty didn't scare players away after their first attempt. If anything, it added to the game's mystique. Players, myself included, fell in love with this intensely demanding shooter, learning how to weave through ribbons of neon-colored bullets while hoarding piles of score boxes dropped from destroyed enemy craft. Sometimes I'd come into an arcade and see someone who was absurdly good at the game playing it, blowing through the first few levels of Ketsui’s crushingly difficult second loop like it was child's play, and feel inspired seeing them: if I work at it, maybe I'll be that good someday!

Alas, once I left Japan, I wasn't able to get my Ketsui fix for a long, long time. It would be years before an even somewhat accurate console port materialized, by which time Ketsui was widely regarded as one of the best shooters ever made. (Honestly, I think the game's lack of availability contributed to its legendary status.)

Ketsui Deathiny on PS4 is the latest port of the game, and it's the best by leaps and bounds. Master emulation and porting house M2 spent the better part of a year polishing this release, and the love they had for this game shows everywhere. Ketsui is already an arcade classic, and everything about the presentation here makes it even better.

Ketsui tells the tale of four young pilots on a suicide mission to destroy the evil EVAC corporation. They pilot heavily-armed helicopters that boast a powerful lock-on shot alongside the usual rapid-fire bullets and limited smart bombs. Using the lock-ons wisely is crucial to your success, as they decrease mobility but do lots of damage very quickly. There's an elaborate scoring system, too, though trying to explain it makes it sound a lot more difficult than it actually is. Once you feel it, you get it.

This is one of those games that comes at you, guns blazing, almost from the get-go: the ribbons of enemy fire begin from the middle of stage one and only get more ferocious the further you get. The combination of bleak yet bright visuals, a memorable soundtrack, and crushing difficulty is intoxicating: every time your attempt at a run fizzles out, you feel like you can – no, should do better, and that next attempt is going to be it.

Ketsui Deathtiny seems to understand that feeling, as it's packed with stuff especially for people who want to absolutely master the game. You can customize your playfield with a variety of “gadgets” that give detailed information about many facets of the game, or you can go into the AC Challenge and Bond-Building modes that let you practice different parts of the game's five stages and learn patterns, movement, and strategies for problem areas.

But if you do happen to find Ketsui’s notorious difficulty intimidating, fear not: there's a specially-arranged Super Easy mode to give you a feel for the game before you take the training wheels off. (You can also fight the True Last Boss in this mode without the strict requirements of the standard game.) There's also Deathtiny, the titular “remix” mode that changes up the way the game's scoring and bombs work to create an interesting new experience for longtime fans.

There are other things worth mentioning, such as a wealth of display and music options, but I think it's obvious by this point that I really like Ketsui and really, really like Ketsui Deathiny. The game is about 4000 yen on the Japanese PSN Store, and well worth it, in my opinion – but you can also snag a physical copy from importers that includes all the game's DLC and an artbook for 6800 yen. No matter how you choose to buy it, Ketsui Deathtiny is a game that should be in the library of everyone who appreciates a good arcade shooter and a merciless challenge.

NEW RELEASES

This is a great week if you're a fan of retro-styled stuff and remasters of underrated gems from last gen. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, a spiritual successor to the Wonderboy series (with the blessing of the original developers, even) is hitting Switch, PS4, and Steam. While I have yet to try it myself, buzz is overwhelmingly positive. Against all odds, it appears that the Toki remake is also releasing on Switch, though I fear the years of effort poured into it will all feel futile when people realize it's a remake of friggin’ Toki, a game that I can't imagine too many folks remember fondly. Competitive shooting classic Twinkle Star Sprites is coming to Switch as well, which I thoroughly recommend to anyone who likes shooting games, cute characters, and baffling localizations.

If the Atelier games are your bag, there's a collection of the Arland trilogy games coming to PS4, Switch, and Steam. It's a good place to start if you haven't played an Atelier game before – the Arland trilogy, consisting of Atelier Rorona, Totori, and Meruru, is considered one of the strongest Atelier sub-series. The Last Remnant Remastered, a revamp of one of last gen's most underappreciated RPGs, is also coming to PS4 this week.

As far as new stuff goes, Persona fans will be getting Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight this week on both PS4 and Vita. I get the distinct feeling that these will be Atlus's last Vita games (the Vita version of 13 Sentinels was recently axed), so you folks still in that little fort on Vita Island will want to grab them.

Oh, I guess there's something called Smash Bros Ultimate too. I think that game might have potential, if it doesn't totally fly under the radar!


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