This Week in Games
Onward to 2019

by Heidi Kemps,

What all did you guys do for Christmas? Me, I watched awful things with my significant other, including the MST3K riffing of Santa Claus, a bit of the old DiC early 80s Japan/America live-action coproduction Photon (with mechanical designs by Shinji Aramaki!), and – to top it all off – the 1983 sex-and-videogames “comedy” Joysticks.

We're both big on arcade games, and Joysticks is ostensibly all about those, telling the tale of a town's hip-and-happening arcade that is in the crosshairs of a local business leader (played by bad movie and MST3K favorite Joe Don Baker) who wants to shut it down because… he just doesn't like it, really. Hijinks ensue as the arcade regulars work together to save their favorite spot.

Oh, and there are boobs. Lots of boobs.

See, this was the time period right after Animal House and Porky's were big hits, and you can see the influence of both of those films in Joysticks pretty heavily: A John-Belushi-like chubby slob who's a gaming savant, a nerdy virgin who finds himself in all kinds of wacky sexual situations, a stubborn hard-headed villain who gets humiliated and emasculated by the plucky young leads… and a lot of sequences involving topless women that go on far longer than they should. It's less of a film about videogames than a generic early-80s raunchy sex comedy script they mad-libbed videogames into because they were the hot thing at the time.

But when they do show games, it's, uh… weird. One sequence has the arcade's young manager playing the bizarre “adult” dot-munching game Streaker with two topless, nubile young women, and the film cuts between the game and the girls desperately trying to look like they're playing it while focusing in really hard on their bare, jiggling breasts. Later, there are competitions that take place between the arcade's patrons and villainous goth punk videogame gang leader King Vidiot (played by Jon Gries who, years later, would be Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite) in special head-to-head gaming arena that would have been comically expensive to build in 1983. The games featured in these battles are Satan's Hollow and Super Pac-Man – neither of which really set the world on fire – and if you're familiar with either title, you'll see lots of mistakes in the edited footage. (This was the part the boyfriend got angriest about.)

So, yeah, Joysticks is awful, even by the low bar set by videogame movies and early 80s sex comedies… but, at the same time, it's weird and interesting enough to be worth watching at least once. If you can get together a bunch of like-minded game nerds for a bad movie night (and they don't mind the very questionable attempts at humor often found in these kinds of films), it's worth a viewing just to admire the custom Pac-Man wipe they made.

HEIDI'S DON'T-TAKE-THESE-AS-GUARANTEED 2019 GAME PREDICTIONS

As I expected, it's a slow news week… so instead of newsblurbs, I've prepared a bunch of my personal predictions for the gaming world in 2019. In a year's time, we can come back to see how shockingly right or hilariously wrong I was!

RIGHTS HOLDERS AND STREAMERS WILL START BUTTING HEADS MORE

Over the past few years, we've seen publishers and rights holders throwing their weight around when it comes to streaming video games. We all remember back when Atlus Japan demanded Persona 5 not be streamed shortly after launch, right? And if you've played Dragon Quest XI, you've no doubt seen the warning that you can't stream the game for the purpose of listening to the music, since increasingly burdensome composer Koichi Sugiyama doesn't want you to. And then there's The Tetris Company stepping in and causing havoc with Tetris streaming and gameplay videos, particularly Tetris the Grand Master footage. And, of course, there's ongoing speculation whether Toei and/or Shuseisha are intervening to cause cancellations of Dragonball FighterZ tournaments.

Many of these rightsholders – usually Japanese – seem to be thinking that if a streamer makes money off showcasing their game, then they should also be making money, which… well, yeah, that's not how it works, guys. Alas, I feel like this is going to get worse before it gets better, and it'll take a big boondoggle (like the real possibility of DBFZ not appearing again in EVO) before things can change.

MORE HIGH-PROFILE SWITCH PORTS WILL HAPPEN

If there's one thing the Switch has proven, it's that people are willing to compromise on game performance if the console itself provides an experience you can't get elsewhere. Yes, games like Diablo III and Skyrim don't look as nice or run as well on Switch as they do other platforms, but the portability, ease of use, and appealing form factor of the system more than makes up for it. As more companies begin to realize this, we're going to start seeing more and more big games appear on Switch in various forms. They might not look as good, but they'll come with additional bells and whistles to make up for it… and you'll be able to take them with you wherever you go, too! If a new Switch with better specs launches this year, as is heavily rumored, that's all the better, since it means the ports can improve, too.

What are some games that could be getting the Switch treatment? Well, given that Shin Megami Tensei V is coming to Switch and Joker's in Smash Ultimate, I think that a Persona 5 Switch edition with a bunch of new content (ala P3 Portable and P4 Golden) is highly likely. Ubisoft and Nintendo have a good relationship, as well, so I feel like getting a few of the recent Assassin's Creed games on Switch would work out for both companies. Smaller fan-favorite series like Hyperdimension Neptunia are good contenders to make the jump as well. In the “wishful thinking” department, I'd really like some on-the-go Yakuza action, but I feel like Sony is a little too involved in the franchise nowadays for that to happen.

LOOTBOXES WILL GET MORE GOVERNMENT ATTENTION

We've already seen lootbox bans in Belgium and restrictions in a few other territories, but I feel like 2019 is the year where America and/or Canada will get involved with legislating the sale of gacha/lootboxes/whatever you want to call them. A few states have already moved to investigate them, which means there could very well be legislation enacted at the state level in the US either banning them outright or restricting their sales to over-18s or over-21s. Of course, you can expect game companies to wage legal war against said restrictions with all their strength, leading to more media attention and the possibly of investigation and discussion on the federal level. Unless, of course, the ESA or a similar organization makes moves to try and set standards for lootboxes, but I feel like that's not going to happen until the threat of legislation forcefully extracts their heads from their asses.

E3 WILL BE REALLY DULL

2019 feels like it might be the beginning of the end for E3 as we know it. Sony's not there. Big companies like EA are cutting back. More and more companies can't justify the expense of a big, flashy, expensive booth. But perhaps the biggest issue of all is that this is one of those end-gen years: we know companies are working on new hardware platforms and developers are taking the first steps on projects for those new platforms, but the odds of us hearing much news about said platforms is slim. As a result, we're going to be seeing a lot of end-of-console cycle games, but not much in the way of new announcements. The exciting stuff is probably coming in 2020, but will companies come back to E3 for it, or will they announce it on their own terms?

WE MIGHT SEE A BIT MORE OF THE FFVII REMAKE, BUT IT WON'T BE OUT FOR A LONG TIME YET

Now that Tetsuya Nomura's finally pushed Kingdom Hearts III out the door, he says he'll be returning to work on the Final Fantasy VII remake, and that we might actually see more of it quite soon. Of course, if he's only now getting back to it, that means it probably has a significant ways to go in development still. Given Nomura's track record, it'll probably be a couple more years at least. But hey, you might get to see a CG teaser with Tifa in it sometime in the summer! That's progress, right?

SHENMUE III WILL BE A DISASTER

You know, for a game that's less than a year out and was heavily promoted and funded on Kickstarter, we have seen shockingly little of Shenmue III. I mean, yeah, it's typical for Japanese developers to only show off games when they're further along in dev… but we've seen almost nothing for gameplay in Shenmue III, and that does not bode well to me. The open-world genre has evolved by leaps and bounds since the days of Shenmue II, and in the era of Red Dead Redemption II, Spider-Man, and Yakuza, Shenmue’s clunky interactions and gameplay are antiquated in the worst way. If they're sticking to that style of gameplay in Shenmue III, then… yikes.

Remember the internet erupting in mockery and disbelief at the state Mighty No. 9 was in when it launched? If my gut feeling about Shenmue III is true, that's going to be nothing compared to what will happen when this game hits. And if that does happen, well, the era of the big-target Kickstarter game will probably be kaput.

I think Bloodstained’s going to turn out fine, though. It might not be mind-blowing, but I feel like it's going to be fun and nice to look at, at the very least.

WINTER SHOOTING WONDERLAND: GAME TENGOKU CRUISIN’ MIX SPECIAL

If you're from my generation of anime fans, you probably remember how special anime con game rooms were in the late 90s. Somebody would definitely have a collection of weird (and likely pirated) Saturn and PlayStation games from Japan, and you'd grab something out of the binder, pop it in one of the setups, and give it a spin, having no idea what it was but hoping you'd discover some sort of hidden gem. That's how I first came across Game Tengoku for Saturn, and it proved to be an experience to remember: a crazy-wacky shooting game filled with bizarre characters that had you blowing up robots and catgirls in an arcade. Of course, back then I didn't realize it was a port of an arcade game, nor did I know that all these characters were references to obscure-ish Jaleco titles. It was cute, colorful, and had silly cutscenes that I couldn't understand, but certainly looked like the goofy comedy anime I was eating up.

Fast forward to almost twenty years later, and here I am again with Game Tengoku’s modern re-release, Game Tengoku Crusin’ Mix Special. Does it live up to my weeaboo teen memories of being entranced by its strangeness at an anime con? Well… yes and no.

Game Tengoku tells the story of Yuki Ito, a young employee at a Japanese arcade, who finds her machines being taken over by evil scientific mastermind Genius Yamada. Afraid of getting docked pay, she combines a bunch of arcade PCBs (coincidentally, all Jaleco) to summon their heroes and battle against Yamada's army of rogue arcade games. Craziness and a whole lot of gaming in-jokes are bound to ensue!

The idea of a big arcade-game crossover wasn't new – Taito, Namco, and Konami had all done it before – but part of Game Tengoku's charm is the obscurity of its cast: Jaleco was never a particularly big player in the arcade business even in their best years, so seeing them take the likes of Momoko from Momoko 120%, the pig from Butasan, and Jeynus from Exerion and turn them into dysfunctional 90's comedy-anime characters just feels appropriate. I mean, it's not like they're butchering these characters: there was barely any character to butcher.

This cast of arcade misfits goes on a shooting-game adventure through six stages of vertically scrolling action, with each stage (and the accompanying enemies) themed after a particular type of arcade game, all while dodging enemy shots, collecting power-ups and “option” augments, and figuring out how to collect point bonuses in rapid succession for maximum score potential. The easy-to-grasp gameplay and scoring mechanics will appeal to those who are tired of the rolling curtains of bullet-hell shots that have come to represent the genre in modern days. The doesn't mean it's not challenging, however: enemies can creep in quickly, and bullets move fast, so a mix of reflexes and good old-fashioned memorization is a must.

This release of Game Tengoku has a good amount of content to it: besides an improved port of the original arcade game (with optional DLC characters, including the ship from Toaplan's Tatsujin), it features the complete Saturn version of the game (“Classic Mode”), which added numerous fully-voiced cutscenes, more character sprites and animations, and two all-new stages. It's also got a mode where you can look at materials related to the games the characters originate from, all while they talk, at length and in character, about their titles. (I'm really surprised they brought up the unusual and rather notorious tie Momoko 120% has to Urusei Yatsura.) All this voiced content is completely subtitled, too!

Alas, that Saturn version I played at the anime con years ago is probably the weakest part of this compilation. While the cutscenes are fun (and jam-packed with all the anime comedy clichés of the era), the game suffers immensely from being forced onto a horizontal screen, making everything larger and giving players less room to maneuver. While the two new stages have great theming, they suffer from some terrible design. The karaoke level in particular is genius in concept and miserable in execution: you're dodging lyrics sung by a character in the background, but they come in from all over the screen and make evasion an exercise in pure frustration. The Saturn version has a lot of the interesting content, but its issues make it significantly less fun to play than the revised arcade port, and that's a shame. (At least continues are unlimited so you can power through and unlock all the cutscenes.)

While the package isn't perfect, if you're like me and you have a soft spot for 90s character design, obscure arcade history, and that excited feeling you used to get when you put a strange new Japanese game in a Saturn, Game Tengoku Cruisin’ Mix Special is an absolute must-buy. Heck, if any of the above applies to you, you're definitely in this game's target audience. But even if you didn't spend your teenage years investigating 32-bit imports, there's a fair bit of fun to be had with Game Tengoku, especially if you're looking for a more basic shooter with a goofy theme. It's available for PS4 and Steam right now, so if you got some store credit for Christmas, it's certainly worth considering.

And that's all for 2018! I'll see you all again after the ball drops. Enjoy the holiday weekend!


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