This Week in Games
Strange Romance

by Heidi Kemps,

Hey folks! Well, TGS is over, and that means… we're into that slow news period where everyone's too busy getting all their hot holiday-season releases out to really make any big announcements. At least we've got a release date for The Last of Us 2 and the FF7 remake cover, I guess?

But yeah, pretty slow news week for the most part! One thing I wanted to touch on a bit, though, was the recent reports about misbehavior at publisher Nicalis. This news broke around the time TGS was starting in a bombshell Kotaku article, and more and more business partners and developers have since spoken out against the lousy treatment they've been getting. Nicalis is perhaps best known for publishing Cave Story and Binding of Isaac, but it seems that if a game's not a cash cow on par with those two titles, their interest in ongoing support dries up. I mean, hell, how long have they been sitting on 90's Super GP?

Some folks have complained that these articles haven't reported on the allegations that Nicalis took the rights to Cave Story from its creator, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, through underhanded means. While this is a rumor that gets passed around a lot – and Nicalis has been caught red-handed using fan-made material for Cave Story in its re-releases without credit – it's also very difficult to corroborate in any official manner. Pixel isn't speaking publicly about it, perhaps because he's been saddled with a bunch of non-disclosure agreements. Nicalis isn't going to just say “yeah we basically stole this” because that would look awful. Basically, nobody can say with 100% certainly what happened with the Cave Story rights. Pixel's followup game, Kero Blaster, is about a hapless worker struggling to meet expectations under a boss he can't understand, so you can perhaps draw your own conclusions.

FIGHTING GAME NEWS ROUNDUP: MORE BLAZBLUE X TAG BATTLE COMBATANTS JOIN THE FRAY

CEOtaku is this weekend and we'll be getting some new Guilty Gear news there, but Arc decided to give us some anime fighting game news a little bit in advance! How kind of them!

The latest batch of Blazblue X Tag Battle character DLC has been announced, and while there aren't any new guest characters in the mix (insofar as you can call anyone in this game a “guest character”), a bunch of old favorites are returning to the battlefield. From Blazblue comes Celica and Susanoo, two of the more recent additions to that game's roster. Persona 4 Ultimax delivers us both Elizabeth and Adachi. Finally, Hilda from Under Night In-Birth (who I can't believe wasn't actually in the game yet) will round out the new cast additions.

Meanwhile, SNK's doing another plug-and-play Neo Geo thing. This all-in-one joystick unit was shown off during TGS, but only recently has the game list been revealed, and… it's basically all fighting games. All SNK/ADK fighting games, I should note: fan favorites like Waku Waku 7, Fighters History Dynamite, and Voltage Fighter Gowcaiser are nowhere to be seen. But hey, if you want to play all the good original King of Fighters installments on an easy-to-carry unit, this is for you!

THIS WEEK IN GAMES SPECIAL: WEIRD, WACKY, SILLY ROMANCE GAMES THAT AREN'T AWFUL

God, I haven't been able to go anywhere online this week without hearing about that stupid Colonel Sanders dating sim.

There are hundreds of excellent visual novels that struggle for coverage on big websites, but Kentucky Fried Chicken can crap out a cynical advergame playing on the tired “HA HA DATING SIMS SURE ARE A WACKY THING” sentiment and get oodles of undeserved press. As someone who likes visual novels and has to constantly fight to get them proper coverage, it's infuriating.

“But I like wacky dating sims!” you say. Hey, I do too! The thing is, I can recognize the difference between a soulless effort meant to sell me fast food and something genuine that the creators put a lot of effort and care into making. We've seen a lot of deserved blowback recently against half-assed “ironic” romance games that sell solely on a bizarre concept, so it can be hard to tell at a glance if there's actual substance to that crazy idea.

So, for this week's column, I've decided to make a list of “weird” romance-themed games that are actually worth your time. Some are short, some are long, some require… effort to play, but they're all unique experiences you'll have a fun time with.

HATOFUL BOYFRIEND

The much-beloved pigeon dating sim Hatoful Boyfriend is, perhaps, what most folks tend to think of when you mention “a weird dating sim.” After all, it's a game where the heroine is in a strange world where intelligent pigeons and humans coexist, depicting the romantic interests of this salacious interspecies romance as photorealistic bird JPGs on drawn backgrounds. Surely this game's just a joke, right?

Well, no. I mean, yes, the concept is inherently silly, but the goofy visuals and setting belie something far more interesting underneath. Hatoful Boyfriend expertly uses its bizarre premise as a springboard by which to turn the conventions of romance games on its head. By the time you finish the final route and learn all of this world's secrets, you'll believe in true avian love.

WARIO DATE

Wario's got a new get-rich-quick scheme. He's done trying to sell video games and steal money from exotic locales – instead, he's going to scam people he knows by pretending that he has a romantic interest in them! Brilliant! I mean, we know folks like Waluigi and Bowser are absolutely starved for real affection and would make easy marks. But will Wario just dump his victims when he's got his cash, or will he discover the love his life has been lacking?

Wario Date is a delightful little adventure in Mario universe, with a lot of genuinely funny bits and plenty of memorable character moments. Being a fangame, it's free to download online (just don't tell Nintendo!), and is a perfect distraction for a few hours. So what are you waiting for? Wario's got some romancing to do!

NAMCO HIGH

Man, I really miss Shiftylook. Earlier in the decade, Namco-Bandai decided it wanted to do stuff with a bunch of its dormant IPs, turning stuff like Wonder Momo, Bravoman, Sky Kid, and, uh… Warp Warp into webtoons, comics, and flash games. It was a lot of fun and gained a solid fanbase, but just as it felt like it was really taking off with a new Klonoa web manga, the whole thing was suddenly shut down.

Namco High was, perhaps, the peak of Shiftylook. With Homestuck creator Andrew Hussie acting as a creative director, the game brought together a whole bunch of art and writing talent to create a fun alternate-universe high school dating adventure where you romance really, really obscure Namco characters.

Unfortunately, when Shiftylook died, the servers for Namco High went down with them. The base game has been archived and includes all romanceable characters (including a few Homestuck guests), so provided you can get it working (it's browser-based and a bit finicky in things like Chrome), you can enjoy it almost like you would have in 2013! (Don't worry, we won't tell anyone about your gray-makeup-cosplay Homestuck phase.)

PACAPLUS

Would you be able to stay with the love of your life if, one day, they turned into a big, fluffy alpaca? An alpaca that only you can see? That's the question posed by Pacaplus, a strange but charming little game about a boy, a girl, and their shared love of alpacas. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy and girl go to petting zoo, girl comes back as an alpaca and nobody else seems to notice.

Pacaplus isn't as lengthy or ambitious as something like Hatoful Boyfriend, but it's pleasant and doesn't go completely overboard with the weirdness like so many “ironic” romance games do – the story's actually pretty normal in a lot of ways besides, you know, the alpaca thing. It's worth checking out if you can grab it cheap on a Steam sale, but I don't know if I'd pay full price for it.

GIRLS CLUB

“Okay, what the HELL is this?” is what you're probably saying. To put it succinctly: Girls Club is a weird romance sim/party game made for the ill-fated Phillips CD-I that is beautifully, aggressively 90's in every way imaginable. It's ridiculous and fun as hell.

You and three other players (either your school sleepover pals or CPU opponents you choose in-game) take turns describing various facets of your dream boyfriend, then watch assorted, extremely goofy FMV clips of various dudes and decide which one floats your boat. If you can guess which man your friends picked for their would-be partner, you earn points, and whoever wins at the end of the game gets to go on an elaborate dream date. The experience is layered throughout in thick 90's cheese, from the slang to the fashions to the stereotypes of your CPU opponents and the “ideal men” you'll be forced to pick from. Yes, it was meant for young girls of the mid-90s, but it's almost more fun nowadays as a “multimedia” showcase of the era's delightful kitsch.

Don't believe me? Check out a few stream archives of Girls Club from the Retro Pals and the Big Bad Game-a-thon.You'll see just why this game secretly rules, and come to appreciate the pure energy given off by the best opponent, Monica.

Sadly, unless you either have a CD-I or a very good emulation setup, playing Girls Club won't be easy. I'm secretly hoping that somebody like Jackbox gets the inspiration to turn Girls Club into a proper online streaming/party game, because boy oh boy is this game fun to participate in!

Well, that about wraps it up for this week. With September drawing to a close, did you have any favorite releases from this month? Post your thoughts in the forum!


discuss this in the forum (13 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

This Week in Games homepage / archives