This Week in Games
Mappy New Year!
by Heidi Kemps,
Holy crap, it's 2020! That's two twenties duct-taped together! I'm starting off my new year at MAGfest, where I'm helping host two panels: A discussion of Japanese music-based video games on Friday at 5:30 PM and a panel all about obscure Taito arcade games on Sunday at 10 AM. If you're at MAGfest, stop on by and say hi!
This year is already set to be pretty bonkers: the first third of the year is absolutely stacked with gigantic new releases and we're likely to see more concrete details on upcoming consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X as E3 rolls up. By year's end, we'll probably be in the next console generation! The future is almost here!
But seeing as how I'm a bit retro-minded, why don't we take a little trip to the past?
2020 is the year of the rat in the Chinese zodiac. If you play gacha mobile games, you've probably noticed them marking the occasion by introducing several lucrative mouse-themed characters showing up to try to separate you from your precious gemeralds. That's cute and all, but when I think of videogames and rodents, there's only one man…. Erm, mouse that comes to mind. And that's our friendly neighborhood Micro Policeman, Mappy!
Mappy’s history is an interesting one. For starters, the character of Mappy wasn't originally designed for videogames: he first existed in the early 80s as a robot for micromouse mazes. Micromouse is a form of robotics that has programmers and robot developers designing a small unit that can navigate a physical maze. Namco has always had a hardware-oriented experimental side, and with the aid of ace mechanical designer Shigeki Toyama, they created a micromouse robot that was… an actual mouse. Clever!
Mappy would roll around mazes, popping balloons with images of cats on them. He was definitely an attention-getter, as he had a lot of character for a simple little robot. Eventually, it was decided that Mappy would star as the lead character in a game concept rolling around Namco called “Panic House.” Thus was born the eponymous game that people most remember Mappy from.
One thing that really made Mappy stand out at the time was that he was a distinct, memorable character at a time when games didn't really have many marketable heroes. Pac-Man was big, but Pac himself was a nondescript pizza-shaped amorphous blob. Q*Bert… Q*Bert was just kind of unsettling. Donkey Kong put its characters front and center, but at the time, the ape was more popular than the lead character. Mappy, though? Mappy was colorful, recognizable, and represented in-game through masterful pixel art by game graphics pioneer Hiroshi “Mr. Dotman” Ono. There's a lot of personality in Mappy’s visuals, from the little stereos and Mona Lisas you pick up to the reactions of the enemies as they're whacked with doors and bouncing around the house.
Mappy never saw quite the same amount of success as Namco's blockbuster Pac-Man, but he's still quite fondly remembered, and has made numerous cameos across various Namco properties to this very day. Sometimes I wonder if Mappy is more of a pioneer in the “animal mascot platformer” field than we give him credit for. It wouldn't be the first time Namco made something influential in the early 80s that history has largely forgotten.
Well, now that we've waxed nostalgic, let's take a look at the news that's been accumulating over the last two weeks. With the Christmas holidays in the West and the New Year's holidays in the East, there hasn't been too much in the way of announcements, but there's still some worthwhile news to talk about.
DAI'S GREAT ADVENTURE IS GETTING EVEN BIGGER
Dragon Quest might be the most famous videogame series in Japan, but its success didn't come overnight. Part of what really pushed Dragon Quest onto its path to becoming a Japanese cultural touchstone was its promotion in Shonen Jump. Jump-affiliated creators Yuji Horii and Akira Toriyama were involved in Dragon Quest, so the two had close relations from the very beginning. Years later, that relationship would become even more ingrained when Jump began running an original Dragon Quest story called Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibōken. It wasn't based on an existing DQ game -- instead, it took the elements of Dragon Quest and used them for an original fantasy manga. It worked out beautifully: Dai no Daibouken became one of Jump's biggest comics at the time, a TV anime and a few movies of Dai were produced, and Dragon Quest became ever more entrenched in Japanese pop culture.
The various Dai no Daibouken media wrapped up in the 90s, but you can't keep a good adventurer down. Dai himself recently appeared in Jump Force as a playable character, but announcements at Jump Festa ’20 revealed that things are finally coming full circle and Dai no Daibouken is getting a videogame adaptation, along with a new anime series. Here's a trailer!
While we know there's a game coming, that's… about it, actually. No details on platform or game type yet, though I suspect it'll remain a traditional RPG… and a Switch version seems obvious, right? It's like that system was made for Dragon Questing.
GUNSLINGER STRATOS IS COMING HOME, FINALLY
So hey, have you heard of Gunslinger Stratos? Maybe you watched the totally underwhelming anime several seasons back and completely forgot it existed. Yeah, I don't blame you at all there! But one thing you maybe didn't know is that Gunslinger Stratos is originally really friggin’ rad arcade game. Just look at this cabinet!
It's a third-person team deathmatch style game, only you've got an actual, physical gun peripheral you use for aiming and shooting, and by taking it apart and arranging it in different ways, you can change the way your weapon works. It's super cool, and the kind of experience you only really get at arcades – however, unless you're fortunate enough to be near a Round 1, you probably won't see it outside of Japan.
However, according to a translation from Gematsu, you all will be getting a chance to try Gunslinger Stratos in another form very soon. Square-Enix posted on the official Gunslinger Stratos website that a console and PC version of the game is currently in development, and that more details will surface after the new year. Awesome! Though I do worry part of the game's fun will be lost without the cool physical gun peripheral to play around with. We'll just have to see how that turns out, I guess.
XENOSAGA REMASTERS AREN'T HAPPENING ANYTIME SOON
Tekken creator Katsuhiro Harada is known as something of a troll, but he's also very blunt when he needs to be. Usually this comes in the form of telling off people on Twitter being jerks or asking for stupid things, but this time, he seems more sympathetic to long-suffering fans of the Xenosaga RPG franchise from Namco and (now Nintendo-controlled) Monolith Soft.
This actually progressed to the remaster's plan, but failed in a profitable market analysis.— Katsuhiro Harada (@Harada_TEKKEN) December 26, 2019
Sorry guys, This plan will be difficult to resurface... https://t.co/0CRJJDPl5Z
Rumors had been circulating for a while that a Xenosaga series remaster was in the works, but the tweet above kind of puts the kibosh on those hopes. Basically, the market just isn't right for those games at the moment. I can certainly see where he (and the people who made the judgment) are coming from: a cutscene- and dialogue-heavy series of JRPGs with a hard sci-fi slant and all manner of weird imagery and terminology does seem like a pretty hard sell, especially when the enthusiasm for the games’ original release waned significantly after the first episode.
The thing I'm personally most disappointed about, though, is that without a Xenosaga series re-release, we'll never see a new limited-edition package with MOCCOS 2.0.
Please, Harada, find out some way to bring back the great demon goddess of PVC figures.
Well, I think that about does it. What are you fine folks looking forward to in gaming this year? Discuss in the forums below, and enjoy the first few days of 2020! I'll have some Granblue Fantasy articles from my Japan trip up for you soon, so keep your eyes peeled!
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