Saturday Summaries 2018-07-21: Decennial Anniversary Edition

From the daily series of reminders of just how old we all are comes the news that Giant Bomb turned ten years old this week, if you consider a very specific definition of what Giant Bomb is. There's a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in those ten years, and Rorie and the editorial team have done a fine job curating the highlights in the site's anniversary round-up here.

I've been trying to think of a way I could honor its ten years that didn't invariably involve talking about myself and/or my presence on Giant Bomb throughout the last decade. I've decided that it's functionally impossible for me not to talk about myself, however, so I'm splitting the distance by talking about ten video games - one released each year of the site's existence - that I may not have found or appreciated without the site's help and involvement. In some cases, they're games I was always going to like but that affection was elevated further by Giant Bomb's involvement.

So glad Jeff and Vinny took a chance on Chie amd co.
So glad Jeff and Vinny took a chance on Chie amd co.
  1. 2008 - Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4: It all started here for a lot of us, drawn to the site's mammoth playthrough of a little JRPG for an outmoded system that would nonetheless become one of the site's most enduring (so to speak) features. I'd already played Persona 3 by this point and was way the fuck on board for its sequel, but I dare say that watching their playthrough was almost more enjoyable than playing my own.
  2. 2009 - Demon's Souls: It was Giant Bomb and Vinny in particular that sold me on Demon's Souls, from a developer I had every reason to be wary of after playing Evergrace and Enchanted Arms (which I still sorta liked). I'm glad I followed their advice, because it was the first step in a peril-fraught journey through some of the greatest, most atmospheric, and most rewarding action-RPGs I've had the fortune of playing. A few years later, Giant Bomb graced us with Brad's own lizard-chasing playthrough of the game, letting me fall in love with it all over again.
  3. 2010 - Deadly Premonition: Where do you even start with Deadly Premonition? Probably with either of the Endurance Runs that the site produced, each conveying the confusion and horror of two different pairs of GB alumni as they struggle to make sense of Swery's deliciously weird "Silent Hill by way of Twin Peaks" adventure game. It's still the best bad game I own.
  4. 2011 - Bastion: A lot of big 2011 games didn't require much convincing, from Dark Souls (I was salivating for it after Demon's), Skyrim, Portal 2 and Yakuza 4. Other happy surprises, like Xenoblade Chronicles and Trails in the Sky, saw hardly any coverage at all. While I didn't love the game itself, I can't fault how comprehensive Giant Bomb's coverage of Bastion was, giving you all you could ever want to hear about the game prior to its release and letting us have insight into the Indie game development process in general.
  5. 2012 - Binary Domain: Despite being made by the Yakuza team, I might well have missed this sci-fi third-person shooter completely if it wasn't for the fuss Giant Bomb made about Big Bo and his talent for stating the obvious. I didn't expect to like Binary Domain, but then I didn't expect to like Vanquish either and I sure was proved wrong there. While not the greatest game, I found it infinitely more preferable than Gears of War and its other imitators, and I thank Giant Bomb for selling me on it by yelling expletives into its mic interface. (You better believe Sleeping Dogs and Spelunky (XBLA) are very close runners-up here, by the way.)
  6. 2013 - The Swapper: Hard to pick between The Swapper, Gunpoint and Gone Home, all of which were Indie games that got repped hard by the site. Vinny's love of the Swapper was perhaps the most personal and potent of that trio, though, and I've been steered towards many a great game with strong narratives due to his pressing.
  7. 2014 - Jazzpunk: I'm going to have to give this one to Jazzpunk, a game I never would've believed was as funny as it was without Alex Navarro, the site's legendary grump, convincing me otherwise. You might notice that with most of these years, I didn't need so much convincing for their AAA games - which were promoted everywhere - than I was the smaller games that resonated with certain staff members who then fought for them whenever it was required.
  8. 2015 - Super Mario Maker: I didn't realize I needed a Super Mario Bros. level editor in my life until Giant Bomb's significant coverage of the game, and the great content they wrought from same, got me on board the Maker train. While I had fun crafting my own Mario levels, the game's true value came from seeing what everyone else had done, not least of which the stages created with the help of the Giant Bomb community directly from the "Giant Bomb Makes Mario" suggestion streams and from those talented creators in our midst directly. Jeff and Dan proved particularly adept at it, as Patrick Klepek would discover to his ultimate chagrin.
  9. 2016 - Hitman: As someone who's never been a particularly big fan of stealth games, I'd given most of them a wide berth. Yet all the same, I was coerced to some degree into trying Metal Gear Solid to keep up with Dan and Drew's Metal Gear Scanlon feature, and sold on the prospect of the new Hitman episodic game by everyone on staff discovering it at their own pace. Even though I must've seen that tutorial boat assassination four or five times, the way Dan, Brad, Vinny and Jeff each approached it in their own discerning way was a wonder to behold. So too was the game they created to pull random victims, murder implements, and conditions out of a hat for a few unique challenges.
  10. 2017 - Prey: I'm still catching up with 2017's enormous back-catalogue, with a great deal of last year's best games left to delve into, and those that I have played like Nier Automata, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Persona 5 were always going to be games I was going to play regardless of the site's effusive praise for them. One game I might not have checked out otherwise was Prey, a sci-fi variant of Arkane Studios's balance of first-person stealth and combat in a well-developed world full of environmental storytelling seen in Dishonored. The site seemed way more positive about it than they had been with Dishonored, which was all the encouragement I needed. (What Remains of Edith Finch and Night in the Woods are two other games the site convinced me to check out, but I didn't include them here because I've yet to actually play them.)
  11. 2018 - N/A: A weird confession I have to make here is that I've yet to play a single game released in 2018. I can't really argue that any of the Giant Bomb staff members have sold me on a particular 2018 game if I've not gone out to buy it and play it based on their recommendation. Instead, here's some potential future purchases that are so far inspired more by Giant Bomb's coverage than by my own research and predilections: Subnautica, Into the Breach, Chuchel, Celeste, and Minit.

Since we've now moved back into the site's present, how about we take a look at some of this week's blogging:

  • The Indie Game of the Week was another false start with Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition from Massive Damage. An Indie turn-based strategy space sim, Halcyon 6 felt like a streamlined version of something like Master of Orion, where building a fleet and exploring the galaxy is often secondary to keeping your homebase safe from harm and ensuring it's well-stocked with the resources it needs to keep going while your brave crew are off boldly going where no-one's been in a while. I grew tired of it fairly quickly once I realized how much grinding and uneventful courier runs would be required to get anywhere, but I commend the game for its look and the amount of depth it has in its systems, even if it doesn't really feel like explaining a lot of itself from the jump. Wasn't really my thing, ultimately; my endless quest to find a strategy sim as appealing as Master of Magic continues.
  • I have in mind that spinning Autobot/Decepticon logo whenever I say this, but we once again have switched over to the Sega Mega Drive this week with Mega Archive: Part IV. This fortnight's batch of fifteen Sega Mega Drive games contains a few well-known names and slightly more obscure entries in the pre-Sonic era of the system, including the very well-received ports of Strider and Super Monaco GP, the slightly less beloved Rastan Saga II, Shadow Blasters, and Klax, another Japan-only shoot 'em up with XDR: X-Dazedly Ray, and the Miami Vice-themed and Jeff Gerstmann sorta-favorite Bimini Run. We're also seeing fewer games developed by Sega directly - just three this time - as more third-party developers flock to the fledgling system, including a great number of games from Sega's arcade rivals Taito and Namco. Part IV also introduces Activision (during perhaps the lowest ebb of its existence) and future Tales creators Wolf Team as first-time MD developers. It's another wiki rundown packed with Sega history, so be sure to check it out.

Addenda

Movie: Dark Star (1974)

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There's a certain subgenre of science fiction I'm into that I've taken to calling "space chillin'". In more elaborate terms, it's a type of science fiction (and occasionally non-fiction) that focuses to some extent on the drudgery and tedium of space travel, but in a way that is either mined for comedy or used to build suspense towards some cataclysmic system failure or an alien attack. A lot of 1970s sci-fi tends to feature this format after the success of 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey - films like Silent Running, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, Solaris, and The Black Hole all had long stretches of downtime that aimed to represent the realities of space travel, with astronauts trying to hold onto their sanity while crossing vast distances of unremarkable nothingness. Consider also the quieter moments of shows like The Expanse, Cowboy Bebop, Ulysses31, and others, which only helped to enhance the "hang out" sensation of those shows between their busier action scenes and dramatic moments.

Dark Star fits this specific vibe so perfectly that I'm surprised I've never seen it before now. It's an oddly prescient movie too, mocking a number of sci-fi tropes that in some cases only became tropes after it was released. The film was originally the student project of Dan O'Bannon and John Carpenter that managed to procure enough money to become a professional movie, if only barely. It features four astronauts (technically five) who have all become slightly insane from the boredom of a multi-decade space mission in which they use artificially intelligent bombs to clear out wayward planets that may pose a threat to humanity's future colonization of those systems - e.g. planets heading irrevocably towards the system's star, causing long-term ramifications. When we meet them, they're all heavily bearded (besides one, who has made his obsessive personal grooming part of his psychosis) and clearly running on autopilot, barking various status updates and science terms in a monotony that suggests they've been doing it for quite a while.

I'd liken the movie to another quasi-student film with no budget, Kevin Smith's Clerks, in that nothing really happens in the movie until the very end, and most of the time you're just hanging out with these characters, listening to them make jokes and opine about their lot in life while occasionally getting into some hijinks. Likewise, the strength is in the ensemble cast of relative nobodies: Lieutenant Doolittle is the acting ship's captain after their commanding officer Commander Powell dies before the movie begins, and has completely checked out of the mission and ceased to care about anything besides dropping bombs and playing on an improvised organ created from bottles filled with various amounts of water to create different tones. Sergeant Pinback's the accident-prone and neurotic whiner that the others can't stand, and makes it apparent during a video diary confessional that the real Pinback killed himself before the mission started and he just got mistaken for him. Corporal Boiler endlessly trims his facial hair, smokes cigars (which is a feat on a spaceship), plays knife games and at one point brings out the ship's emergency laser rifle to play target practice to chase away his boredom. The final crewmember, Talby, has become so fascinated with the cosmos that he refuses to come down from the ship's observation dome, wanting nothing more than to see the mythical glowing "phoenix asteroids" passing by.

I'm fairly sure the movie is poking fun at 2001 in particular, twisting the awe and majesty of space travel into something hopelessly mundane and boring, but this sort of approach would go on to influence a great many other sci-fi productions that treat space travel as yet another job. Dan O'Bannon would go on to write the screenplay for the original Alien, taking a certain sequence from Dark Star where Pinback has to chase a crappy alien jerk shaped like a beach ball around the ship and turning that into a much more tense alien slasher movie. The crew of the Nostromo aren't too dissimilar from the Dark Star's crew: a group of working stiffs, bored out of their minds, trying to amuse themselves on their long voyage while their junker of a ship slowly falls apart from overuse. John Carpenter, meanwhile, would also become known for his various sci-fi outings like The Thing and Escape from New York as well as a whole host of other classic horror movies, though perhaps renowned most of all for the terse GOTY lists he's written for this site. It's a bit surreal then that these two masters of horror started off with a movie so benign and goofy that it literally ends with a man frozen in a block of ice hurtling into space while someone else enters a planet's atmosphere surfing on a piece of burning debris. I'm glad I finally got around to watching it, as another piece of classic 1970s sci-fi cinema to check off my list.

Game: Yakuza 5 (2012/2015)

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Yep, still playing Yakuza 5. It's the Game That Never Ends, after all. That isn't to say I'm bored of the game quite yet - the episodic nature of its different protagonists in different cities at least retains enough novelty from chapter to chapter to keep me on board - but it sure feels like I've been playing it a long time now. Last time we discussed Kiryu and Saejima's chapters, the cities they're living in, and their "side-stories": what feel like entire secondary games bolted onto the core Yakuza experience of beating people up, eating at restaurants to restore health, getting drunk, and maybe playing some pool or blackjack. This week, I'm going to talk about the other three protagonists: perennial kidnapping victim and wannabe idol-in-training Haruka Sawamura, suave moneylender and kicking expert Shun Akiyama, and the goofy and gallant former baseball star and current broke dirtbag Tatsuo Shinada.

Haruka's chapter represents the greatest shift we've seen in the series so far, as most of the usual content - fights, drinking, hostesses - have been excised due to the fact that Haruka is still a child. Instead, her chapter is all about her dream of becoming an idol - a catch-all profession for charismatic young women in Japan that can cover singing, dancing, acting, TV presenting, modelling, and apparently even stand-up comedy - and realizing that dream through a lot of practice and hard work. I won't go into her story stuff specifically - it's really endearing and cute, until it's suddenly and dramatically not - but most of her chapter is spent completing "jobs" and taking part in choreographed concerts. There's a strong rhythm game aspect here, and the game does you a solid by giving you a difficulty toggle that's irrespective to the game's overall difficulty - the idea being that you could be confident in your ability to hand some street thug his ass, but maybe not with elaborate rhythm game dance-offs. To the game's credit, it has two different formats for its rhythm game: the first is Haruka by herself, where she has to click the buttons as they slide in from various directions. It's not too dissimilar from the karaoke mini-game that's been with the series forever, though framed in a way that it doesn't block Haruka's dancing which is some smart design now I'm thinking about it. The other are the dance-offs, in which you "fight" an opponent by building up your heat gauge and activating special dance moves that either buff you or debuff them. The way they make this mode harder is by forcing you to switch "lanes" to where the button presses are, moving between four lanes with the D-pad while also hitting the correct face buttons at the right time. There's a much larger margin of error here: it's not important to get a perfect score, just outperform your opponent. Other Haruka-exclusive mini-games include a handshaking event, where you have to shake hands with fans for as long as you can before a bouncer shows up to shuffle them along, various TV interviews where you have to be careful with your responses, and one very dubious TV show that films idols running as fast as they can through various courses. The game was smart to stick Haruka's chapter right in the middle of the game, breaking up the usual pattern of fights and detective work that typify everyone else's chapters, and while I got a little bored of performing the same three songs I appreciated the big departure from the norm.

Haruka's chapter was almost too wholesome for words. She just wants to dance good and make friends!
Haruka's chapter was almost too wholesome for words. She just wants to dance good and make friends!

Akiyama's chapter, meanwhile, is far more mundane. He sort of shares chapter 3 with Haruka, being able to go into parts of the same city - the fictional Sotenbori district of Osaka - that she cannot, and occasionally working in tandem on various story goals. Akiyama's chapter is notable for being the shortest of the five: he only shows up halfway through Haruka's chapter, and doesn't have a "side-story" of his own. He still has a fair share of substories and training under military nut Saiga again, but the time you spend with him is so much shorter that it's very difficult to hit the max experience level with him, which I did easily with the other characters. It's a shame too, because he might be my favorite character to fight as: his kicking-based style is so much faster than the other characters, and can be effortlessly combo'd. Yakuza 5 also introduces "launch striking" to Akiyama's repertoire, allowing him to launch enemies into the air and combo them for as long as his heat meter lasts. Akiyama's fighting style is suited for beginners, hence why he's the starting protagonist for Yakuza 4, so it was really something to take the reverse path and go from Saejima's more tank-like fighting style (which is harder to work with, at least initially) to Akiyama's breezy beatdowns. Akiyama is just cool as hell too, as a guy so sharp that he always seems to know that the deal is, which makes it another bummer that his chapter is relatively short.

Then there's Shinada. In truth, I've not spent too much time with him yet or fully explored his stomping grounds of Kineicho (a fictional district of the real-life city of Nagoya) and I've yet to start his side-story, which I assume ties into his past as a former baseball prodigy. When we're introduced to Shinada, he's getting hounded by moneylenders he's in debt to, and in a hurry to conduct an interview with a middle-aged prostitute he's become attached to as part of his second career as a freelance journalist covering the adult industry. Despite his sort of weaselly situation, he's this ripped hunk of a guy and deceptively clever when it comes to certain matters, correctly identifying that a priceless antique baseball bat was actually a fake due to its composition, picking up on the fact that a hapless employee was being conned by his superior after a conveniently expensive breakage. One challenge that I've not had before in this series is the fact that Shinada is permanently broke: he even refuses to enter stores early on, remarking that he wouldn't be able to afford anything anyway. For the first few hours of his chapter, his money count has been in the three figures, which in yen equates to a child's pocket money. However, Shinada's fighting style is something I've not seen before: one that prioritizes weapon usage. Yakuza 5 has this odd new system where you can grow more proficient with weapons with use, reducing the amount they get worn down per hit and improving their damage as you level them up. I've not had to worry about weapons so far - everyone does well enough with their fists and feet - but Shinada's weapon skills are all high to begin with, due to his past as a professional sportsman no doubt, and he's given an iron pipe with infinite durability almost right off the bat (so to speak). Even without a weapon in his hands, he has this formidable "meteor tackle" that can be comboed into other attacks. I'm looking forward to using him more in this chapter and discovering more of his backstory, as the game's only truly new protagonist.

Look at this big goof. What's he hiding? How many people am I going to brain with baseball bats in his portion of the game?
Look at this big goof. What's he hiding? How many people am I going to brain with baseball bats in his portion of the game?

I'm hoping that next week is the last with Yakuza 5, though not wholly optimistic about that. Again, that isn't to say I dislike the game or have burned out on it quite yet - I'd have stopped if that were the case - but I'm always looking forward to the next new game I play. I haven't decided what it will be, besides something shorter, but I can consider my options as I finish up Shinada's chapter and move into the finale. Next week will also see the return of Indie Game of the Week and SNES Classic Mk. II, and I also hope to have the second half of E3 2018's Trailer Blazer list completed by then and outta my life. See you next time.

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Indie Game of the Week 79: Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition

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Something I always appreciate about the Giant Bomb guys is their willingness to break out of their bubbles once in a while. Patrick made a point of it back when he was still with the site, occasionally trying genres that he previously had no interest in to see if either they had matured to the point where he found them palatable or he had, switching priorities for what he wanted from a game as he got older and his life got busier. More recently, "New Dan" has been playing more games he wouldn't normally touch (to say nothing of his recent forays into anime), Alex took a chance on Persona 5 despite his dislike of RPGs and found it to his liking, and even Jeff has found room in his heart for some terrible Garfield games, albeit with a certain amount of irony.

Personally, I keep wanting to break into the deeply tactical turn-based strategy empire sim, and I try to do so every couple of years. My favorite PC game of all time is actually one of those: 1994's Master of Magic, a wizard-infused Civilization clone from which I borrowed my avatar. Master of Magic nailed the deliberate global strategizing of the genre as well as featuring suspenseful turn-based battles between large forces of units. Despite being so ambitious that cracks were showing wherever it packed in more ideas and concepts than it could perhaps manage, it had the perfect blend of RPG-style exploration and looting, tactical combat that was more than simply throwing troop stacks against each other like the worst game of Pogs, and long-term planning that required you to consider the necessity of each new structure built and each new unit trained, as well as the added wildcard factor of spells to fling around. When I delve back into this genre, I invariably look towards other fantasy strategy-sims built from the same cloth or those directly purported to be inspired by Master of Magic, such as Warlock: Master of the Arcane, Age of Wonders, or Eador: Masters of the Broken World, but nothing's really stacked up.

So instead, I figured I might want to look to the stars for a Master of Orion clone instead. Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander is functionally that, and I was drawn to its decent pixel art and turn- and ship-based combat. Right out of the gate it's been a little overwhelming with the options it gives you; like many games of this type, it doesn't expect you to win on your first attempt, but learn enough to make the second and third attempts that much more fruitful. I've slowly been building up the titular spacestation (and last bastion of humanity) Halcyon 6, clearing out rooms for new facilities in an XCOM manner while recruiting officers and constructing ships for them to captain, who go out and procure resources from nearby nodes and chase off the occasional pirate or eerie alien fleshship that threatens same. There's a distinct time management aspect too: every action requires an officer's involvement, and every action carries with it a certain timeframe. As you get more officers, you learn to ensure that everyone is always doing something before you let time's march resume, even if it's just flying back and forth to corral resources back to your HQ. I've not yet decided how best to separate my ships: I don't have enough officers for multiple three-ship parties (the maximum number of ships for each fleet), and sticking all my space eggs into one space basket seems unconducive to getting work done, even if it means greater odds of survival against an enemy fleet.

So much stufffffff. Some of these nodes can't be used until you clear out the enemies that have taken over, and the last time I tried I almost got wiped out. Maybe I'll get four guys and then send three of them on a round tour of my system to clear everything out while the last holds the fort.
So much stufffffff. Some of these nodes can't be used until you clear out the enemies that have taken over, and the last time I tried I almost got wiped out. Maybe I'll get four guys and then send three of them on a round tour of my system to clear everything out while the last holds the fort.

Right now, I'm looking at a long haul of endless resource runs in order to get what I need to recruit new officers and build new ships and/or structures at my base. One possibility is to evacuate some of the nodes so I don't have to protect them or ferry resources back and forth, and instead use that manpower to create manufacturing plants back in the home base as an alternative acquisition method. I'm still wary of sending people off on their own or leaving too few defenders behind in case the pirates or "Collective" (a traditionally human-hating robot faction whose current diplomatic affability I trust about far as I can throw it) come calling again. My ever-present concern is that I'll end up irrevocably locked into a path of death because I didn't work towards some life-saving objective in time, instead wasting it on procuring resources I didn't need or completing missions that don't pay off. Such is often the case with this genre, I suppose.

I don't dislike Halcyon 6, exactly, but it's yet another game of this type that didn't jibe with me the way Master of Magic did. It lacks a strong exploration element - clearing rooms on the Halcyon or investigating new nodes always leads to predictable rewards, and only very rarely do I end up with some valuable and unexpected prize - and the combat just goes from 0-60 immediately with all its status effects and resistances and tactical considerations, not really letting you in on a ground floor variant before ratcheting up all the extra systems and features to observe. That I'm expected to spend a lot of time flying to and from production nodes for the resources I'll need to get anything done makes any future prospects for the game seem undesirably tedious too - I'd much prefer if they just mailed me those resources on a regular basis so I wouldn't have to dedicate one of my guys to it. I'm thinking I'll just chalk this up as another failed attempt to break into this genre and try again with something else in a few more months and/or years. (I have a few similar games in my Steam library awaiting the IGotW treatment, so we may be seeing another one much sooner than that.)

Rating: 3 out of 5. (Customary "add a point if this is completely your bag" disclaimer, since it definitely has a certain pace to it that the traditionally far more patient fans of strategy games would appreciate more than me)

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Mega Archive: Part IV: From Super Monaco GP to Burning Force

On the last Bombcast but one, Alex said something curious regarding the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and its best known game, Sonic the Hedgehog. Specifically, he called Sonic one of the system's earliest games. The reason I call it curious I because I feel like it's an erroneous fact that a lot of people nonetheless share because of the general perception of the machine and how relatively unremarkable its console library was before Sonic came along. We're 65 games into the Mega Drive library (as of this episode), and yet we're still several months and many more Mega Archive episodes away before Sega's sassy blue rodent is due to whizz into our lives - while it may have become a game frequently bundled with the system since then, the Mega Drive existed and prospered long before it.

That's partly why this series is fascinating to me: when I first encountered the Mega Drive at a friend's house, Sonic the Hedgehog had already been released and was the first thing my friend wanted to show off. If you weren't a Mega Drive kid who was there from the jump I'm sure your own introduction to the system was similar. That's probably why we think of the system corporealizing into being the moment Sonic happened, because what did it really have before then? That's what I'm discovering here - a whole other life that the Mega Drive had prior to Sonic Team's debut and the legacy they would go on to weave.

This episode's block continues to cover the latter half of 1990, moving from the slow late summer to the busy late autumn. It's still the quiet before the storm: two major events would occur on November of 1990 that would greatly affect the system's fortunes, but it had the rest of the year to itself more or less. One thing to note for this July-October period is that the Mega Drive would be joined by a new sibling: the Sega Game Gear, Sega's answer to the wildly successful Nintendo Game Boy, was released in Japan in October of 1990. That's a whole other Wiki Project though...

Part IV: 051-065 (August '90 - October '90)

051: Super Monaco GP

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  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 08/09/1990
  • NA Release: September 1990
  • EU Release: January 1991
  • Franchise: Monaco Grand Prix
  • Genre: Driving
  • Theme: Motorsports
  • Premise: The system's initial F1 game (and car racing game, for that matter) is a strong first step for what would become one of the Mega Drive's most revisited genres, pushing the system's limited sprite-scaling tech to its limit and giving F1 fans a reasonable proximity of a career in an F1 team.
  • Availability: There's not much call for a game based specifically on the 1989/1990 season of F1, but the game does have a 1992 sequel and a 1995 compilation rerelease.
  • Preservation: Monaco GP is actually one of Sega's oldest properties, which made it an ideal choice for a big flashy reboot once they had better tech to work with (the Sega X arcade board and the 16-bit Mega Drive). I couldn't care less about F1 games, but it is remarkable how much better the sprite-scaling is here than in some of their earlier arcade conversions.

052: Rastan Saga II

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  • Developer: Opera House
  • Publisher: Taito
  • JP Release: 08/10/1990
  • NA Release: June 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Rastan
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: Leap into a world suspiciously like the Hyborian Age with Rastan, a sword- and shield-wielding warrior of little fear and even less clothing. Contractor Opera House worked on this so-so Mega Drive port of Taito's brawler.
  • Availability: The Mega Drive version's never been rereleased, but the original arcade version is available on Taito Legends 2 for PS2, Xbox and GameCube (as Nastar Warrior).
  • Preservation: I think if you were going to play Rastan Saga II today, you'd best stick with the arcade game in that Taito Legends 2 compilation. It doesn't seem like a particularly good conversion between its stiff movement, bad platforming and single-frame animations. I recall the PC Engine version being marginally better when I covered that for a previous Wiki Project.

053: Shadow Blasters / Shiten Myouou

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  • Developer: Cyclone System
  • Publisher: Sage's Creation/Sigma Ent. Inc.
  • JP Release: 08/10/1990 (as Shiten Myouou)
  • NA Release: August 1990
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: Fantasy/Martial Arts
  • Premise: Four heroes are chosen by God to defend mankind from the evil Ashura. They all have names like Leo and Tiffany. We're doomed.
  • Availability: Original MD/Gen cart only.
  • Preservation: Cyclone/Sigma are very clearly aping Sega's Mystic Defender here, which is a game I'm not sure was good enough to invite imitators. It has that similar risk vs. reward system where your charged shots are far more powerful, but having to sit there building them up leaves you vulnerable to the throngs of monsters swarming in. Not particularly great, but it does earn bonus points for calling its kunoichi "Tiffany". That's something I'd expect from the likes of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

054: Michael Jackson's Moonwalker

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  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 08/25/1990
  • NA Release: August 1990
  • EU Release: September 1990
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Crime
  • Premise: Michael Jackson is here to *checks notes* save children in this licensed action game from Sega based on the 1988 movie of the same name.
  • Availability: Unlikely to see a rerelease, let's just say.
  • Preservation: For as controversial as this game might appear now, and ultimately pretty tragic too, it's not all that bad. The arcade game was better, if only because it benefited from being even weirder, but this was sort of a reimagining of Shinobi (with a magical dancing shapeshifter in a sharp white suit instead of a ninja) that was helped considerably by some great animations and workable renditions of the King of Pop's music.

055: XDR: X-Dazedly-Ray

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  • Developer: Affect
  • Publisher: Unipacc
  • JP Release: 08/26/1990
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Shoot 'em Up (Horizontal)
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: Planet Sephiroth was a chill place until the Guardia decided to invade, and now it's had to launch the XDR to defend itself. All shoot 'em ups have the same plot with different proper nouns. Shocker, I know.
  • Availability: Japanese Mega Drive only.
  • Preservation: You couldn't be further from "beggars can't be choosers" when it came to Mega Drive shoot 'em ups. That's probably why a lot of the also-rans, like XDR, didn't even try to break into the international market with the competition available. A mediocre Gradius clone, XDR has little to recommend it despite not being abjectly awful. It's forgettable is what it is, even with that bizarre name.

056: Klax

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Namco & Tengen
  • Publisher: Namco & Tengen
  • JP Release: 09/06/1990
  • NA Release: 1991
  • EU Release: November 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Theme: Abstract
  • Premise: A colored block stacking game in which you see the blocks rolling down the conveyor belt way in advance. Klax is the noise the klaxes make when they klax their way towards you.
  • Availability: As well as a huge number of contemporaneous releases for other systems, Klax was also part of Midway Arcade Treasures for PS2/Xbox/GameCube.
  • Preservation: Atari were really stretching for some simple but addictive puzzle game to fill the gap left by the issues surrounding their publishing of Tetris, which they still technically owned the rights to but also technically didn't. So they had computer game developer Dave Akers knock together Klax over a weekend, which he was happy to do because his last game (this one) almost killed him. I've never held any great affinity for Klax like I have for Tetris or Columns or Dr. Mario, and neither has anyone else I've ever met, but I'm sure there are Klaxheads out there. It certainly sold well enough across its dozens of ports. Curiously enough, the Japanese version of Klax was developed and published by Namco instead, and in some respects is an entirely separate game but for the fact it still looks and plays like Klax.

057: Insector X

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Hot-B
  • Publisher: Hot-B/Sage's Creation
  • JP Release: 09/07/1990
  • NA Release: October 1990
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Shoot 'em Up (Horizontal)
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: Alien insects are invading and if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That's what this one guy in a bee outfit is doing. Ant-Man & Wasp in cinemas now.
  • Availability: As with the previous Taito game, Rastan Saga II, you can pick up the arcade version in the Taito Legends 2 compilation for PS2, Xbox and GameCube. The Mega Drive version never saw a rerelease though.
  • Preservation: This is pretty funny. We've seen games that had their graphics edited for the North American market either because it had some anime license with no international presence or because the typically cutesy look that goes into some Japanese games wasn't thought to appeal to a global audience. Insector X is a case of the latter, except both the Japan and North American versions were changed. The port's developer Hot-B (which is a great name to have when working on an insectoid shoot 'em up) decided to toughen it up for probably no other reason than wanting to put their own spin on it. It's still a Taito shoot 'em up, so it's not bad, but what an odd thing to do with someone else's IP.

058: Space Invaders '91 / Space Invaders '90

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Taito
  • Publisher: Taito
  • JP Release: 09/07/1990 (as Space Invaders '90)
  • NA Release: 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Space Invaders
  • Genre: Shoot 'em Up (Single-Screen)
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: Space Invaders is back and modernized for the 16-bit era. You'd think a shield gauge and power-ups would make this easier, but nope.
  • Availability: It somehow managed to avoid all the Taito and Space Invader compilations.
  • Preservation: Taito aren't stopping, huh? They were pretty infatuated with the Mega Drive around this time, porting as many of their arcade games over as they could find. This is technically a Mega Drive original, though it's building on the gigantic 1978 arcade hit that made Taito a household name. Adding new elements like a health gauge, power-ups and varied enemy types to contend with really adds a lot to the original experience, and it's a practice Taito would continue to fine-tune in the many Space Invaders successors to follow.

059: Hellfire

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Toaplan
  • Publisher: Masaya / Seismic / Sega
  • JP Release: 09/28/1990
  • NA Release: November 1990
  • EU Release: May 1992
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Shoot 'em Up (Vertical)
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: It's [2998 CE] and the [Black Nebula] controlled by the evil [Super Mech] threatens mankind's colonist expansion into the stars. Only [Captain Lancer], his ship [CNCS1] and his ultimate weapon [Hellfire] can stop them!
  • Availability: As well as the MD/Gen version, there are the Japan-only arcade and PC Engine CD-ROM versions. Nothing newer than that though.
  • Preservation: Hellfire's got this cool system where you can cycle firing modes, reaching enemies in multiple directions. It eventually becomes a necessity to keep switching around in later levels and even in boss fights. Unfortunately, they kinda botched this port by having you respawn earlier in the level instead of on the spot where you died like in the arcade version, making it far harder than it needed to be. Darn.

060: Strider

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 09/29/1990
  • NA Release: November 1990
  • EU Release: May 1991
  • Franchise: Strider
  • Genre: Platformer/Brawler
  • Theme: Sci-fi / Cyberpunk
  • Premise: Strider Hiryu is tasked with saving the world from Grandmaster Meio with his trusty Cypher weapon and various robotic animal companions in this rad as hell cyberninja arcade game.
  • Availability: Lots of places. The Mega Drive port was available on Wii Virtual Console, and the arcade version can be found in the Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2 compilation. There's also the 2014 remake, available on Xbox One, PS4, and Steam.
  • Preservation: This near perfect adaptation of the arcade Strider from Capcom was a coup for Sega and their campaign against Nintendo, and at this time was probably the best game of its type for the system. The large detailed sprites, the lightning fast pace, and unusual verticality are all preserved here and like Ghouls N' Ghosts the Sega Mega Drive was pretty much the best way to play that particular Capcom arcade game in your own home.

061: Rainbow Islands Extra

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Aisystem Tokyo
  • Publisher: Taito
  • JP Release: 10/05/1990
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Bubble Bobble
  • Genre: Platformer
  • Theme: Fantasy
  • Premise: Bub and Bob return in their human forms to chase after the nefarious Dark Shadow that previously cursed them with bubble dinosaur bodies. Instead of bubbles we have rainbows, which operate both as projectiles and as platforms needed to climb the game's vertical-scrolling levels.
  • Availability: As one of Taito's most beloved games, Rainbow Islands has shown up several times in recent history, either as part of a compilation (Taito Legends) or a remake (Rainbow Islands Revolution for DS, Rainbow Islands Evolution for PSP, and Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure! for WiiWare and XBLA). I don't think this specific Mega Drive version or the arcade variant it was based on were ever rereleased though.
  • Preservation: Rainbow Islands for sure holds up. The gameplay's simple enough once you get used to the rainbows' fragility - you can't jump on 'em - but you'll eventually uncover a few of the game's secrets as you play and start to appreciate the game's depth. The "Extra" mode doesn't really do much but restructure the later stages to make them easier and put them first in the order, which essentially lets you see what the end-game enemies and bosses are like in case you were never good enough to get there with the game's original level order. It's a bit flickery and laggy as ports go, but it retains the look at least.

062: Bimini Run

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Microsmiths
  • Publisher: NuVision
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: 10/10/1990
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Vehicular Combat (with boats!)
  • Theme: Espionage/Crime
  • Premise: "Kenji, come in!" This Miami Vice-styled action game has Kenji and his partner Luka chase the evil Dr. Orca across various islands off the coast of Florida, destroying enemy ships and radio towers from the bow of their red speedboat.
  • Availability: North American Genesis only.
  • Preservation: Bimini Run's only the second Genesis game we've seen so far without a Japanese release. Microsmiths were formed from ex-Activision people and didn't last long (though its staff quickly found other positions in the industry), but they left us with this ambitious proto-Desert Strike-but-in-a-boat where you're given constant updates from HQ to complete objectives across a persistent map. It's another Jeff favorite also: here's his 2012 Encyclopedia Bombastica on the game if you wanted more information.

063: Final Zone / FZ Senki Axis

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Wolf Team
  • Publisher: Wolf Team / Renovation
  • JP Release: 10/12/1990 (as FZ Senki Axis)
  • NA Release: December 1990
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Final Zone
  • Genre: Shooter (Top-Down)
  • Theme: Sci-fi - Mecha
  • Premise: In the future, weapons of mass destruction have been outlawed and combatants instead fight in mecha suits, called New Age Power Suits. The player's role in this isometric top-down shooter is to eliminate the last few WMDs on Earth.
  • Availability: MD/Gen cart only.
  • Preservation: Mega Archive welcomes Wolf Team to the feature. Like Square, it was one of those versatile hard-working Japanese devs that didn't really get anywhere until their big JRPG break - in Wolf Team's case, that was the 1995 Super Famicom RPG Tales of Phantasia, which spawned a franchise that continues strong today. A lot of Wolf Team's games were strategy-related, like the Zan series, but Final Zone resembles more of a Masaya Assault Suits action game in practice. This Final Zone is actually a spin-off in the series - the first was computer only, and the second was released for the TurboGrafx-CD. I guess it seemed odd to TGCD owners that Final Zone II was released earlier than Final Zone.

064: Slaughter Sport / Fatman

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Activision
  • Publisher: Sanritsu Denki / Razorsoft
  • JP Release: 10/12/1990
  • NA Release: December 1991
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Fighter
  • Theme: Sci-fi / Horror? Definitely "Weird".
  • Premise: Welcome to Mondu's Fight Palace, an intergalactic arena for the strongest and weirdest warriors in the cosmos. Do you have what it takes to beat Mondu himself?
  • Availability: It was originally a PC game, but I don't think anyone's champing at the bit to get it added to GOG or Steam.
  • Preservation: Anyone hoping for a Street Fighter or a Mortal Kombat as the system's first fighter game is out of luck, because what you got was this sublimely weird and acutely awful MS-DOS fighter with an aesthetic that feels vaguely cribbed from Marvel's Mojoworld or some long-forgotten 2000AD strip. It has a few novel ideas, like capturing the "souls" of defeated fighters before you could use them and betting on your own matches to earn fight money for power-ups, but the actual gameplay is this broken mess where you can either complete the game in minutes or get defeated endlessly in the first battle. Apparently Activision was going through some hard times in 1990 and this buggy version of the game could well have been the work of its Japanese publisher, Sanritsu. One for Giant Bomb's science team to investigate, for sure.

065: Burning Force

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Nova
  • Publisher: Namco / Sega
  • JP Release: 10/19/1990
  • NA Release: 1990
  • EU Release: December 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Shoot 'em Up (Z-Axis)
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: The Mega Drive Z-Axis shooters are back, only this time it's a Namco property. Help Hiromi pass her space cadet exam over a week of high-octane exercises.
  • Availability: Namco has what feels like a hundred compilations but Burning Force isn't on any of them as far as I'm aware. There was a 2009 Virtual Console release of the arcade version, but it's Japan-only.
  • Preservation: I'm sure we'll be seeing Hiromi in a future episode of JeffRud's NamCompendium series, but it seems Burning Force didn't really make much of a splash for Namco despite being a fairly cool take on the Space Harrier formula with a great soundtrack, fluid movement, and a cute heroine that would join Namco's stable of female mascots along with Wonder Momo, Valkyrie, and Druaga's Princess Ki. She'll show up later in the Japan-exclusive PS2 strategy-RPG Namco X Capcom, itself a precursor of the Project X Zone games for 3DS.
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Saturday Summaries 2018-07-14: The PS3's Not Dead Edition

After a deeply unpleasant week for a number of reasons (some dental-related, some heat-related), I'm looking forward to some peace and quiet to push ahead with Yakuza 5 - which might take me the rest of the year at the pace I'm moving, let alone the rest of July - and catch up with a lot of other backlog items across various media during the drought each summer brings. I think that's going to be my intro this week; I'm really not feeling it this month.

All right, maybe I can indulge in some backlog retrospectives, since that's always a comfortable subject for me. Since I took the trouble of setting my PS3 back up to play Yakuza 5, I had a quick glance at all the other games sitting on the ol' XMB (that's the Xross Media Bar for all you post-post-millennials reading this) that remain unplayed. Many of these inevitably find their way onto my annual "Lists of Shame" with multiple consecutive appearances, though since buying the PS4 a few years back I've not been particularly assiduous in finishing my previous course before starting the next, so to speak.

What follows is a quick rundown of the unplayed PS3 games I own and my level of desire to complete them (in letter grade form) if I'm being brutally honest with myself:

Dare I add even more anime to my life? I guess if Dan and Jeff can do it...
Dare I add even more anime to my life? I guess if Dan and Jeff can do it...
  • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance - I was supposed to start this one shortly after completing Metal Gear Solid V back in 2016, to finish a "Mento Reacts" series of MGS blogs (and so I can watch the Metal Gear Scanlon series without worrying about spoilers). Instead, I mostly forgot it existed, thanks in part to 2016 being the year I bought my PS4. As someone who primarily plays MGS for the spectacle and only secondarily for the actual gameplay, MGR would appear to deliver ample amounts of both, so it it's definitely one of the PS3 games I intend to complete. Eventually. (A-)
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel - Part of a not-inconsiderable list of JRPGs I've let pile up, Cold Steel is regularly given rave reviews by various people on my Twitter feed trying it out for the first time, and I always feel a slight pang of regret that they got around to it before I did despite owning the game for a couple of years now (and watching the sequel go on sale several times since, which I refuse to buy before playing the original). Trails of Cold Steel shares a lot of DNA with Trails in the Sky, a game I thoroughly enjoyed and has its own sequels I really need to check out. I feel like I did my due diligence to Falcom this year by playing Ys VIII (also incredible, provided you have a version that isn't completely busted) but there's always room for more of their RPGs. (A-)
  • Steins;Gate - Probably my most recent PS3 purchase, bought because I've been interested in some of the better regarded visual novels out there in my ongoing probe into the many ways a video game can effectively tell a story that a movie or book could not. Visual novels are certainly more book-like than any other sub-genre of adventure game (I mean, it has "novel" right in the title), but the visual accompaniments and - for Steins;Gate especially - the amount of timeline deviations from player decisions elevates it to an extent. I am slightly intimidated by it still, if that's the right word, because of the amount of extra material there is out there in its franchise. If I let myself get sucked in, that could be another huge expansive fandom to draw away my attention. (B+)
  • Tales of Graces F - Graces F by all accounts is one of the more middling Tales entries, and I've just relegated it to the backburner again by recently purchasing Tales of Berseria - a far better regarded entry. Yet, I'm someone who adores this franchise and regularly regrets that so few ever seem to get localized into English and sold somewhere accessible to Europeans. I've played nine of the sixteen core entries: the other seven include Tales of Destiny 2 and Tales of Rebirth (both Japan only), Tales of Legendia (Japan and North America only), Tales of Hearts (commercially available here but only for the Vita, a system I don't own), Tales of Xillia 2 (available, but I haven't bought it yet), and Tales of Graces and Tales of Berseria (the two I do own but have yet to play). There will come a time, soon I suspect, where I'll have run out of Tales again. If for no other reason, I bought Graces to ensure that doesn't happen. (B)
  • The Last of Us - I'm really dragging my heels with this one. I know it's a well-made game - even if it wasn't by Naughty Dog, it's been hit with so many accolades regardless - but I'm not sure I have it in me to deal with how bleak and unpleasant the subject matter is supposed to be. Misery's sort of my default state, not to become too much of a downer, so I hardly need to invite more of it into my life. Yet, there are certain games that make all those "n Games to Play Before You Die" lists, and The Last of Us is regularly one of them. I sort of owe it to myself to see what the fuss is about, even if I eventually decide I can't finish it. Maybe when that sequel comes out. (B-)
  • Catherine, Rage, Tokyo Jungle, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgement, Malicious, Atelier Rorona: Alchemist of Arland, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and several PS1 RPGs - At this point, I'm less inclined to make any big promises about completing these. Some, like Catherine and Atelier Rorona, have remastered versions if I'm really invested in playing them. Others, like Rage, Malicious and Vandal Hearts: FoJ, have such so-so reputations that I might be safe in skipping them, as much as I'd like to see what the original Rage is like before its sequel shows up. The one item on that list that makes me rueful are the PS1 games that - for some reason - have yet to be rereleased on PS4. They include some classic titles like The Legend of Dragoon, Threads of Fate and Wild ARMs 2 that have all aged a lot, but there are definitely times when I just want to sink my teeth into a PS1-era JRPG I've not seen before, as someone who grew up loving the things. It almost feels like there are new JRPGs coming out with that particular era in mind - most notably this year's Lost Sphear and Octopath Traveller. Since I'm so well-stocked for JRPGs right now it'll probably be several years before I run out again, and by then these games will be even older and more antiquated. I might be better off seeing what the nostalgia RPG industry of today has for me instead. (C-F)

Speaking of nostalgic RPGs, we have a double dose of exactly that with this week's blogging:

  • The Indie Game of the Week was another self-inflicted disappointment with Kingsway, an RPG with a neat framing gimmick - literally, as it involves managing desktop windows - but hampered by roguelike mechanics I've long grown antipathetic towards. My eternal hope is that a game's strengths are enough to overcome my distaste for the endless cycle of rebirth that roguelikes are predicated on, but they're never sufficient. Fortunately, as already stated, I have plenty of regular RPGs to play elsewhere so I think I can stick to platformers, adventure games and other miscellany for this feature in the near future. (As for the game: I think it's great but for the roguelike elements. I'd happily play it to its conclusion if it was built for single one-and-done style runs.)
  • It's another SNES week with the SNES Classic Mk. II and Episode XIV: Soul-fége (I did not get enough credit for that pun FYI) looks at a couple of games that this feature seems to see regularly: a Japanese-only cutesy platformer (which this time was Hudson's DoReMi Fantasy: Milon's DokiDoki Adventure, the sequel to Milon's Secret Castle for NES) as the Candidate and a much-loved JRPG from my back catalogue (Quintet's Soul Blazer, the first in a series of SNES RPGs that are very important to me) as the Nominee. In the midst of a hellish week, it was nice to shut myself inside my wheelhouse for a spell.

Addenda

TV: Black Lagoon (Season 1)

The least fan-servicey picture of Revy I could find.
The least fan-servicey picture of Revy I could find.

There are times when I might pluck something out of my enormous backlog on nothing but a whim, though I've noticed more frequently of late that those choices are less than random: for instance, I might grab a game off the shelf because the series it belongs to has suddenly re-entered the zeitgeist with news of a sequel or a remaster. I suppose there is an element of FOMO about it; I already get that a lot of that with brand new releases that I stubbornly refuse to shell out full price for, not until months later when it becomes part of a sale or otherwise depreciated in value and everyone's stopped talking about it.

Black Lagoon was an odd case like that - something that I'd added to a list of anime to check out back at the start of this year - but only became relevant suddenly in the past week because of its presence in Giant Bomb's Anime Expo panel, where Dan was immediately smitten by the audacity of a flying boat firing torpedoes at a helicopter. The actual series is marginally more serious than that, though it can still be silly and indulgent in the ways you'd expect (and hope). Based around the South China Sea, the crew of the Black Lagoon ship - otherwise known as the Lagoon Company - are either a group of pirates, smugglers or mercenaries depending on who is paying them for what job. We're introduced to the team - Dutch, the pragmatic leader; Benny, the chill tech guy who has long since acclimated to this life; and Revy, the gun-toting borderline psychopathic muscle of the team and easily the one who sees the most focus by the show, no doubt due to her being a half-dressed femme fatale - via the team's newest member, the quiet but hardly timid Japanese salaryman Rock.

The first season of twelve episodes are really a bunch of shaggy dog stories meant to introduce this setting, this mercenary team, and their various allies and enemies in the underworld of this corner of the planet. There's a definite Cowboy Bebop vibe to the composition of the team and to the way episodes tend to progress at various speeds depending on the emergency of the current situation. There'll be quiet (if suspenseful) dialogue scenes one moment, and fast-paced car chases and shoot-outs the next. It doesn't quite manage "cool" to the same degree as Cowboy Bebop (and, honestly, that'd be a difficult bar to pass) but it does its earnest best to be as entertaining as possible, while still finding room for a little character development and weaving longer story threads that may come to fruition far later on. It sounds like the second season intends to stick more to the episodic adventures rather than the character development, which is a shame in some ways but perhaps what its audience wanted most from the adaptation. At any rate, there's only one more season left (and a brief OVA series to follow) so I'll probably catch up with it all soon enough.

Movie: Westworld (1973)

Brynner's really great in this. Showing the world what you can do with a determined android character a decade before Arnie's T-800 came along.
Brynner's really great in this. Showing the world what you can do with a determined android character a decade before Arnie's T-800 came along.

I saw this movie for pretty much the same reason as Black Lagoon: the second season of the Westworld TV show has been in heavy discussion of late and it reminded me how much I've been meaning to finally watch the original movie source. It's also another on the "Simpsons reference" checklist, invoked notably Season 5's "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" (in which Bart is witness to a non-crime at Freddie Quimby's birthday party, but only after being chased by a robotic Principal Skinner across some incongruous desert wastelands just outside the town of Springfield) and Season 6's "Itchy & Scratchy Land" (where the android Itchys and Scratchys go insane in a futuristic theme park where nothing can "possib-lie go wrong" and start terrorizing the guests, specifically the Simpson family). I've been listening to the Talking Simpsons podcasts heavily of late, and I've found myself building a mental checklist of movie references to investigate later.

Westworld is what I would consider classic 70s sci-fi: take a great futuristic high-concept premise, in this case a theme park filled with realistic androids that let you act out your fantasies, and then expand that to a lean feature-length movie with plenty of suspense if not too much out-and-out action. Director and writer Michael Crichton, who would find even greater success taking the same idea and supplanting robots for dinosaurs with Jurassic Park twenty years later, does a great job in building the tension of what's going to happen, with more than half the movie simply setting the stage for what Westworld is (it's actually one of three "sets", along with Medievalworld and Romanworld, that comprise the high-price resort Delos) and the portentous mechanical problems the resort's higher-ups try to sweep under the rug. When the inevitable does happen, it's staged almost like a zombie movie: you see snippets of the immediate devastation of the malfunctioning robots turning on the guests, but it's over very quick and the rest of the movie is eerily silent as the last few survivors escape their pursuers.

Now, there was plenty I knew about the movie going in. I knew Yul Brynner, known only as "the Gunslinger", was the movie's chief antagonist who chases the main protagonist Peter Martin halfway across the park. I knew about James Brolin's role as Martin's friend John Blane, who had already been to the park once and was determined to show his buddy a good time and help him forget about his divorce. I knew about the high-tech (for the 70s, at least) underground of the park, and its network of stark white tunnels. Honestly, almost all of that came from the above Simpsons episodes, which were evidently Westworld references but not ones I immediately recognized without knowing the source material. However, there were a few surprises: I didn't know Dick Van Patten - a comedic actor who pops up in a lot of Mel Brooks movies, like the King of Druidia in Spaceballs, and has a similarly comic relief role here as a nebbish banker trying his best to be a Wild West badass - was in this movie, and I barely recognized a very young Majel Barrett as the sassy madame of Westworld's robot brothel. I didn't recognize Peter Martin's actor, Richard Benjamin, but he apparently became better known as a director after the 1970s.

Reading about the movie after having seen it revealed some fascinating details. Apparently Crichton was incredibly stressed about the success of the movie, re-editing large parts of it to make it less dull and tossing out an alternative ending where the Gunslinger is destroyed by a medieval torture rack. The heavily pixellated "robot vision" filter used to show us how the Gunslinger views the world with his infra-red eyesight employed a very primitive form of digital image processing, and was apparently the first film to do so, which I feel like is a precursor to the extraordinary effects employed on Jurassic Park - it's apparent to me now that any fan of Jurassic Park owes themselves a Westworld viewing as well, as there's plenty of connective tissue, right down to Crichton's underlying message that business executives will happily ignore any and all warning signs of an unpredictable new technology if it interferes with their bottom line (which was kinda the moral of Congo too, albeit with killer gorillas instead of dinos or robots). At any rate, I'm happy to have checked off another significant 1970s sci-fi movie from my To Watch list, and filled in another major missing cultural touchstone regularly invoked by classic The Simpsons.

Game: Yakuza 5 (2012/2015)

No Caption Provided

I really think I underestimated just how long one this particular Yakuza game was going to take me. With something like fifty legit hours on the clock (it's actually closer to 80 but I do leave this PS3 on a lot, which probably isn't recommended in this hot weather) I'm still on the second "part" of the game, of a total of five parts not including the finale. Each of these parts feels almost like a full game on their own so far; definitely the size and scale of a more compact open world game, like an InFamous Second Son.

I completed Kazuma Kiryu's part last week, and this week - whenever I've had the chance to play - has been Taiga Saejima's time to shine. In addition to another interminable prison sequence, Saejima's section of the game can be broken up into two sections: the time he spends with traditional mountain hunters, following a story related to a reclusive outsider and the "monster bear" Yama-oroshi, and then the time spent in Sapporo's fictional Tsukimino district chasing leads relating to a certain newsworthy event that was first mentioned at the end of Kiryu's chapter (which suggests that all these parts aren't necessarily happening concurrently). The city stuff is about what you'd expect: though there's only a few story-critical locations to check out, the tiger's share of Saejima's substories are found here along with a lot of other minor side-quest stuff like treasure map collectibles and mini-games. I appreciate that the cops, which made Saejima's chapter in Yakuza 4 a chore and a half, are far less ubiquitous here. Saejima just inconspicuously walks around them now, rather than being forced into a foot chase mini-game each time.

The hunter side-story was a lot more involved, however; like Kiryu's taxi-driving, it felt like an entirely different game bolted onto this one. Saejima's mountain hunting reminded me a lot of D2, the very strange Kenji Eno game that juggled a ridiculous story about genetic mutants with the more quotidian tasks of hunting for game in the setting's snowy wilderness and getting it back home before freezing to death. As you complete more objectives in Saejima's hunter mode - hunting specific creatures, rescuing other hunters, setting up traps and snares for smaller animals - you acquire better gear for tackling the harsh climate, allowing you to head out further from the starting location and eventually finding the lair of Yama-oroshi and finishing it off in a fist-fight. Until that point, though, Saejima was shooting the various deer and bears he came across, which relied on first-person aiming and stealth to properly maximize the hauls you were taking back to the village. It was definitely a departure from what I'm used to with Yakuza - there have been guns in the series' past, but they're used like any other street-fighting weapon and are fairly rare to boot - and might have been a holdover from the Yakuza game immediately before this one (from our perspective, at least): the zombie-killing non-canonical spin-off Yakuza: Dead Souls.

Still to come are the sections for Akiyama, the only other returning protagonist, and newcomers Haruka and Shinada. Haruka technically isn't new - she's Kiryu's adopted daughter, more or less, and has been in every game so far - but this is her playable debut. I'm really curious to see what her chapter is like, given most of what everyone else gets up to (street fights, seducing hostesses, drinking in bars) will no longer be applicable. Shinada's a complete wildcard who I know nothing about, beyond the synopsis breakdown of being a down-and-out former baseball star. I'm looking forward to playing all three for different reasons, even if I'm temporarily leaving the series' two biggest badasses behind for a while. All the same, I can't get too far ahead of myself: I've got about an hour left of Saejima's storyline to go (plus any last minute secondary stuff to sort out) before Yakuza 5 can introduce its next game-sized segment.

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Indie Game of the Week 78: Kingsway

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Ah, we've once again come upon a certain recurring theme of Indie Game of the Week, wherein Mento is so entranced by an RPG's mechanics and/or gimmicks that he neglects to notice that the game is a clearly defined roguelike, and an insistent one at that. It's like buying a brand new chocolate bar because you were wowed by the packaging without reading the fine print that says "contains mint", and the last thing anyone wants from their candy is the flavor of toothpaste reminding them that they're rotting their teeth. This is all just a roundabout way of me admitting that I've fucked up again: while I love Kingsway's concept as "the Mac RPG to end all Mac RPGs" (though aesthetically the game's desktop is closer to Win95), I'm really growing tired of roguelike concepts dominating every Indie RPG I pick up these days. Again, it's hardly Kingsway's fault if I fail to notice the "roguelike" tab on the game's storefront page, but I really show know better by now.

Kingsway, to back up a sec, is an RPG that finds its nostalgia in an archaic interface, notably that of dozens of little window pop-ups for each individual aspect of the RPG experience: the map screen, the status bars, the inventory, the character's paper doll for equipment, the quest log, and so on. There's not nearly enough room on the screen for them all, so you prioritize by keeping the windows open that you need at the moment and either closing or minimizing the rest until they're required. The game knowingly compounds this window confusion by adding several extra for moving around the world map, fighting enemies, investigating an enemy's loot, and the occasional trap that forces you to tap "dodge" on a small but quickly-moving window before the trap (or spell, or enemy special attack) hits. You can also find yourself in multiple combats at once, each with a separate attack window floating around the screen demanding your attention. It's sort of like if someone took the experience of de-virusing an elderly relative's laptop and turned it into a traditional fantasy RPG. Of course, the one detriment to creating a deliberately trolly game is that you have to be a willing recipient of that trolling in order to play it.

I definitely picked the right avatar for my character. She is not having any of this bullshit.
I definitely picked the right avatar for my character. She is not having any of this bullshit.

Unfortunately, the game isn't content to rest on its windows gimmick alone. It also insists on various roguelike hooks, up to and including a strict time limit for your adventuring, a permadeath state with no capacity to save, items that can be passed down from adventurer to adventurer as well as the occasional permanent "starting gift" unlock (making the game more of a "roguelite" in practice), and a certain game design philosophy that has you learn by dying. For instance, the big story quest of the game is to light three beacons - each guarded by the ghost of a powerful knight - and reach the King's castle before the time limit expires, which resembles an ominous tentacled shadow coming in from the west (though at no great alacrity it must be said - unlike One Way Heroics, there's still plenty of time to loot and dungeoneer to your heart's content). Knowing that time was of the essence, I made a beeline for one of these beacons after a dungeon or two brought me up to a respectable level 7 with an almost full set of magical equipment, and I was completely trounced. Escape was impossible for whatever reason, and so I faced the end of my run after about an hour of building this character up. No "you should be this tall before fighting this boss" warnings, no indication as to a level requirement; the game simply assumes that you'll learn from this experience and try a different tactic the following run.

And that's what's so tiresome about roguelikes. You're seeing the same content over and over, starting from scratch every time, and there's no real sense of progression because it can all be stripped away from you at any moment. Maybe it just speaks to how I enjoy RPGs - I love those early sections where you're fighting a rat over a half-nibbled set of leather gloves because it's better than your current situation of wrapping poison ivy around your hands for protection, but I also like being that end-game badass who is stomping on everything they come across on the way to the final boss. Having to build myself back up after every unpredictable defeat is a major bummer, especially with how many games I want to get around to this year, and so I find myself joining that unlucky level 7 heroine of mine in leaving the game forever. As I've stated many times before for this feature, I aught to pay more attention to when a game tells me it's a roguelike; I learned this lesson quick about tower defense games (which I also hate), so why is this one not sinking in?

Rating: 3 out of 5. (Feel free to add a point if you're a roguelike fan, though. I think the windows concept is neat.)

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The SNES Classic Mk. II: Episode XIV: Soul-fége

The SNES Classic had a sterling assortment of games from Nintendo's 16-bit star console, but it's hardly all that system has to offer a modern audience. In each installment of this fortnightly feature, I judge two games for their suitability for a Classic successor based on four criteria, with the ultimate goal of assembling another collection of 25 SNES games that not only shine as brightly as those in the first SNES Classic, but have equally stood the test of time. The rules, list of games considered so far, and links to previous episodes can all be found at The SNES Classic Mk II Intro and Contents.

Episode XIV: Soul-fége

The Candidate: Hudson's DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Adventure

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Yeah, I'm back on my cute platformer bullshit. You know that thing where Kirby always looks mean and tough on all the North American and European box art of his games? I imagine that image problem is precisely why we never got half the adorable, pastel-tinted, low-key platformers that the Super Famicom saw in great quantities, like so many kittens tumbling out of a big sock. No matter, because that was remedied for this episode's Candidate game DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Adventure from Hudson, which was one of a handful of Virtual Console games to be released globally despite being an untranslated Super Famicom exclusive.

If that kid in the dorky Keebler Elf hat looks familiar to you NES owners out there, this Milon is indeed the Milon of Milon's Secret Castle fame. Even though it's a direct sequel, DoReMi Fantasy is a little bit of a departure, with a more standard linear stage format and less of all the milling around confused for hours shooting bubbles everywhere to look for hidden items. Certain aspects have been retained for the sake of Milon's super strong brand: he still fires bubbles, which renders enemies incapacitated for a brief time Bubble Bobble style, and he can also jump on them to create temporary platforms. There are power-ups to collect, some that last until you lose a life and others that stick with you until you eventually game over. Milon's health system is represented by colored overalls: red for one hit, blue for two, and green for three. Getting hit drops you down a color, though there are usually (but not always) plenty of health boosts to be found across stages. At the end of each of the game's seven worlds is a boss (there's two in World 7), and these fights tend to be a little more taxing than you might expect, especially if you wander in without full health.

But those are the broad strokes. DoReMi Fantasy actually has some clever depth to its design that isn't immediately apparent; they're more like small quality-of-life decisions that you wouldn't expect to see in such an otherwise rudimentary 16-bit platformer. Decisions like having power-ups you don't need transfer into the game's coin equivalent that gives you an extra life upon reaching 100. If you have max lives, hitting 100 again will confer upon you a brief Star Man-style invincibility instead. Nothing is ever wasted, even if the item you just collected goes through several forms before you get anything out of it. Likewise, there's little touches like how Milon will freak out mid-air like Wile E. Coyote if he's about to drop down a large pit (regardless of whether or not there's something at the bottom), giving you a small window of opportunity to get him to terra firma. The one time the game let me down was in reaching a barrier that could only be destroyed with a charge-up attack; this was something the game never introduced, despite introducing every other world-specific hurdle early on (like climbable surfaces, and whether or not you should be on the lookout for false exits that reset the stage).

This happened. Yes, it was weird.
This happened. Yes, it was weird.

Graphically, the game looks fantastic. It has a certain cutesy style I previously mentioned, but Milon and the enemies are well-animated and there's some evident work put into the design of each world's aesthetic and the backgrounds and level geometry of individual stages. Musically, the game's a lot like Plok from last week: half of it is the peppy, upbeat music you'd expect from a mascot platformer game of its type, and the other half is this chilled ambience with the occasional rhythmic snippet that feels like an experimental jam sesh at the local jazz hut. You can listen to a couple of these BGM here and here; the game only has around a dozen stage tracks total, so you hear them all a lot, but these ones are definitely not of the norm. I looked up the composer, Jun Chikuma, and she's one of Hudson's most prolific musicians: she did a considerable number of Bomberman games, for instance. It's possible she maybe had a little more free rein to let loose here.

But now I'm starting to cannabalize my P.O.G.S. rundowns. Let's see what those judgemental little discs have to say this time:

  • Preservation: While it does have some tight design and a really attractive 16-bit pixel style that looks about as hand-drawn as you can get anything to look on a 16-bit system (Yoshi's Island and Kirby's Dream Land 3 excepted), there's a certain "of its time" feeling to the game's sort of threadbare mechanics. I'm not suggesting it needs spacewhipper tech or RPG elements to feel modern, but while there's nothing much wrong with it there's a certain lack of depth that a newer platformer would endeavor to find. 3.
  • Originality: DoReMi Fantasy has a disadvantage in this category simply for the reason that its predecessor, as flawed as it was, was a more novel take on a platformer. DoReMi feels safe in comparison; a game clearly riding the coattails of Super Mario World and other mascot platformers of that ilk, with its power-up system and sequential stage format that really only had a world map so you could revisit past stages for items you'd missed. All the same, if we're just comparing it to other SNES platformers, then it mix of ideas and abilities does flesh it out somewhat. It also does this curious thing where every last normal level of a world is a maze with unique (and usually creepy) enemies that feels like the game's take on SMW's Ghost Houses. 3.
  • Gameplay: While I think the game is uniformly excellent, there are a few weird difficulty spikes here and there. Like, auto-scroller stages that don't have nearly as many health power-ups. Or how much harder the game becomes whenever you lose the glide boots, which had me tempted several times to keep track of where I last found a pair so I could quickly jump back into that level, grab them, and then leave (you definitely need to do this for health if a boss fight is coming up). The bosses, meanwhile, demand a lot from you: not just pattern recognition, but learning to get around their enormous hit boxes and take your hits where you can. I spent an awful long time on a sun and moon tag team boss (gee, I wonder where they got that idea) because their attacks were relentless and the window to hit them was so small and fleeting. Still, there's something to be said for platformers you couldn't beat in a day. 4.
  • Style: Really, the animation and music are top-notch here. I wasn't expecting too much, especially of a Milon game, but it really surprised me with how sophisticated it felt. Some of that's due to the release date - March 1996, which is very late for the system, and well into the PS1/Saturn era - but I think Hudson were uncharacteristically devoted to this little elfin twerp after what I can only hope was a divisive reception to the original Milon's Secret Castle. Little touches like the animated champagne towers in the Food World or the way the chef boss is sketched in one line at a time like the intro to Kirby's Adventure (with this great fake Mario Paint track) - the game isn't lacking for dedication and effort. 5.

Total: 15.

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The Nominee: Quintet's Soul Blazer

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I realize this feature's been suspiciously Quintet-free, barring the appearance of ActRaiser all the way back in the very first episode. I am building towards the rest of the library of the developer I would consider to be the SNES's most consistent in terms of quality, but it's going to require a lot of putting into works just how profoundly these games affected me as Lil' Mento. Illusion of Time especially, which did so much to sell me on the immersive storytelling potential of a JRPG, and its even superior sequel Terranigma. Before we get started on those two, however, we should head back to where the Soul Blazer series started with, perhaps predictably, Soul Blazer.

Soul Blazer isn't afraid to start weird and get progressively more so. You don't get much preamble, instead showing up in a metaphysical dimension and getting commanded by a deity - perhaps ActRaiser's protagonist - to save the world by recovering it piece by piece from where they're trapped in the dungeons beneath the land. You then get a small tutorial on how the game works - simply murder creatures pouring out of an enemy spawner until the spawner runs out, and activate the now-exhausted spawner for a random surprise - before the game drops you in a grassy field with no landmarks except a cave entrance, and letting you explore from there.

Anyone in the know about Quintet's Soul Blazer series is that they have strong themes of environmentalism and rebirth. Each protagonist is invariably trying to restore the world to its former glory, taking on the agents of destruction that would rather leave it a barren lifeless wasteland, and through their actions slowly returning vigor to their surroundings. In Soul Blazer's case, the protagonist will activate extinguished monster spawners to suddenly rebuild a structure back in the featureless grassy field on the surface, or bring back a human, an animal, or a plant back to life. Some of these characters then help you in some way, offering a place to rest if you should run low on health or precipitating the next progression-vital step. Others simply relay hints or thank you profusely for bringing them back to life. What was once an empty field becomes a bustling village full of grateful faces. It's a powerful means of rewarding the player; not through stronger equipment, leveling up, or fantastic wealth - though you get plenty of all three through incidental means - but by witnessing the significant effect on the world and its populace that the player is enacting. That it would also be the basis of my favorite JRPG of all time - Level-5's Dark Cloud 2 for the PlayStation 2 - and my favorite Indie game of all time - Re-Logic's Terraria - is no accident: I really get a visceral sense of reward from actively aiding people and helping their world flourish, even if they're just mindless NPCs who have three or four lines of dialogue at most.

I'll admit, as the first room you ever see, it's a little awe-inspiring. What does it all mean?
I'll admit, as the first room you ever see, it's a little awe-inspiring. What does it all mean?

The gameplay of Soul Blazer isn't a slouch either. Though it's fairly basic to begin with, it's easy to get overwhelmed early if you rush in with your sword swinging. For one, enemies move fast and your range is pathetic, forcing you to respect distance to avoid getting surrounded. A little later, you resurrect a tool shop owner who will give you a free medicinal herb whenever you run out: these automatically heal you when you hit 0 HP, like The Legend of Zelda's fairies, and the game gets marginally easier from then on. The combat system would see a massive upgrade in Illusion of Gaia, and another in Terrangima, but even this early on in its evolution it has enough quirks and challenges as an action-RPG to keep you on your toes - it's also a refreshing departure from the system's many turn-based RPGs.

I could maintain this effusive encomium for another paragraph or five, but let's make it official by invoking our old friends the P.O.G.S. system:

  • Preservation: Exceedingly well. Soul Blazer has a sharp, clean look that is helped by the amount of distance it maintains from the playable character and the field. It looks mildly like a 16-bit Gauntlet in practice - a game I'm sure was a major inspiration, given all the spawners - but the unique hook of having your rewards be (literal) surface-level cosmetics that you're nonetheless invested in finding really sets it apart from everything else on the system. That we still have dungeon-crawling RPGs coming out today that moonlight (so to speak) as town-building sims is a practice that owes no small debt to Soul Blazer. 4.
  • Originality: Well, as was already stated, the game's big innovation was having the player restore the village that they would normally rest and recuperate at between dungeon runs. It's sort of like if Wizardry only allowed you to rest at the Inn after completing the first level of the dungeon and receiving the Inn as a reward. That idea is still in its inchoate stage here, but had evident potiential in spades - Dark Cloud would greatly expand on its scope, letting the player place and decorate new buildings and fixtures as well as complete landscaping puzzles. 5.
  • Gameplay: Unlike its many spiritual successors, there is no "gameplay" part of its town-building quotient. That all happens automatically as rewards for defeating enemy spawners. The core game is simply destroying those spawners by taking down the enemies that come out of them - each of which usually has their own attack patterns to learn - and making forward progress. There's a certain recursiveness to the dungeon design - you're rarely expected to plow through the whole dungeon in one go, instead taking the time to head back to the village to recover and see what's new, before jumping back in close to where you left. It's solid but relatively straightforward hack n' slashing. 4.
  • Style: The game's look does have a certain staidness about it, due to the way it zooms out and makes characters look indistinct. The spritework is uniformly great though, especially with the monsters, even if some of the dungeon design can be a little uninspired. I'd say graphically we're still approximately in ActRaiser town - Quintet's trademark font is still here, which the internet dubbed "Lunchtime Doubly So" after a Douglas Adams reference - but unfortunately lacks that game's large and detailed sprites for its action stages. Musically it's just sort of whatever; its sequels will be a lot more impressive in that department. A little plain all around, but maybe that just helps the great concept at its center stand out all the more. 3.

Total: 16.

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Saturday Summaries 2018-07-07: Eternal Switch Edition

It's become something of a running joke of late that everything should be on the Switch. That's in part spurred on by Nintendo themselves, who have recognized the great expanse of nothingness between the release of Super Mario Odyssey and every other major first-party property of theirs, and have wisely decided to fill that gap by remastering and porting various Wii U games to the system in the hopes of a second lease of life on some underrated classics (from an underrated console, I'd have to say).

As a Switch owner, I have my own thoughts about what I'd like to see on the system. I don't think there are necessarily any games that wouldn't work on the platform, besides obviously those that are too technologically demanding. You could theoretically play DS, 3DS, Wii and Wii U games on it between the Switch's touchscreen, the motion sensors in the Joycons, and the way a TV could act as a second screen, thus hypothetically making it a home for every video game Nintendo's ever produced. Nintendo officially scrapped the idea of Virtual Console on Switch, but I suspect they're taking a long hard look at the success of their mini-consoles and compilations like Sega Genesis Classics and the various Mega Man Legacy Collections and figuring out how to sell value-priced compilations from older Nintendo systems on their own terms. (I, of course, had some ideas a while ago about how they could pull that off.)

This sure was a lot of words to appease my own buyer's remorse. How can I feel bad about buying a Switch if it's the last console I'm ever going to need?
This sure was a lot of words to appease my own buyer's remorse. How can I feel bad about buying a Switch if it's the last console I'm ever going to need?

What I instead want to see from the Switch is an unprecedented longevity; it's found its niche as a system that doesn't need to keep up with the Joneses to be a success, with first-party games that look as good as they're ever going to need to given that Nintendo rarely aim for realism, and with an already dedicated fanbase comprised of both the hardcore Nintendo regulars and previously-lapsed fans who simply want more of what they missed on generations prior (or to double-dip on those they bought years ago, and really if you have that kind of spendthrift audience you've hit the jackpot). The Switch could potentially last for decades on the strength of an endless procession of excellent if technologically undemanding third-party Indie games and Nintendo's own modestly engineered output, becoming the home of thousands of the best games ever made in the past and present. I realize it's not cost-effective for Nintendo to cease making new consoles, as each new cycle tends to build hype and shift a lot of units, but let's say it's 2020 and Sony and Microsoft are announcing the PS5 and Xbox Two at a time when no-one's really in the mood for any more consoles, with all this hand-wringing over "video games over streaming services" and how the strength and versatility of the PC format is rendering the traditional console platform obsolete; I think there'll still be a niche for a high quality Nintendo platform with a huge extant library that'll have enough games to keep you entertained indefinitely, provided you're not some gadget-obsessed yuppie looking for the next big shiny thing.

The Switch could be the console to end all consoles, or at least all Nintendo consoles. I think it has that potential if it manages to procure the enormous library to match, which all depends on Nintendo finding a more sensible and cost-effective delivery system for their old games than the Virtual Console. If Nintendo ever feels the itch to improve something, they could always take a second swing at the Switch's lackluster Online Service or a better digital storefront, instead of spending all that R&D revenue on a brand new system and having to once again tangle with trying to sell a skeptical audience on its weird divisive control quirks ("telepathy controls?!") and re-encountering the same old difficulties procuring third-party interest, when the Switch already has both those challenges in the bag. Just sayin'.

Talking of just saying things, here's a lot of things I just said earlier this week:

  • The first Indie Game of the Week for the second half of 2018 was Fault Milestone One, a fairly typical visual novel that's heavy on images and story and light on everything else. I'm not opposed to reading (or anime, given how often it pops up in the "Addenda" section of these summaries) but on the whole I think I prefer my visual novels to have a little more meat on their bones. The detective work of Ace Attorney, for example, or the puzzles of Zero Escape. Another VN I've been waiting to get into is Steins;Gate, which apparently does a lot with branching paths and time-travel, so I hope I get more out of that than I did with Fault. All that said, I enjoyed my time with Fault Milestone One for what it was, and will probably pick up its sequels if an opportunity to grab them cheap presents itself.
  • It's Sega's time in the limelight this week, which means the appearance of Mega Archive Part 3. The Mega Drive is picking up steam towards the middle of 1990, with this third batch of fifteen releases coming out within four months of one another: a relatively short period which will continue to get shorter still in future installments. We're already seeing that the salad days of the system were rife with shoot 'em ups: these were often the most technologically challenging arcade games for home conversions at the time, and were frequently a genre the NES couldn't effectively pull off, especially where parallax scrolling was involved. Sega launched their system with several arcade shoot 'em ups of their own, most notably Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade, and its reputation as the best home platform for shoot 'em ups went on to define it in its early years. We'll see how much longer that image lasts in the updates to come.

Addenda

Movie: 22 Jump Street (2014)

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There was a time not too long ago where every 70s/80s TV was getting an ironic comedy movie adaptation filled with contemporary comedic actors and various cameos from the original shows. The earliest (and easily most successful at accomplishing this sort of ironic detachment to the source material) I can think of is The Brady Bunch Movie, which reintroduced America's favorite wholesome 1960s family to the less innocent 1990s. Since then, the TV show-to-movie parodies have varied considerably in quality, but 2012's 21 Jump Street from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the Clone High and The Lego Movie guys) was a standout for just how brutally unfair they treated the original show's premise of two adult cops entering a high school as undercover students for a sting operation. Even more so, they found an unexpectedly able comedic talent in handsome leading man-type Channing Tatum, happy to play up his image of a ripped but not particularly bright hunk. Jonah Hill as his nerdy partner who provides the "brains" of their particular partnership, Ice Cube and Nick Offerman as their impatient superiors, and a cast of teachers and students full of comedy ringers all made for an excellent cast who could carry the fourth-wall breaking jokes and vaguely insincere drama concerning the central relationship.

22 Jump Street sought to continue that streak of irreverence with a lion's share of jokes at the premise's expense, and in particular the idea of sequels where they just "do the same thing again" but with a higher budget as the duo get enrolled in a college to find the source of yet another lethal synthetic drug WHY-PHY ("Work Hard? Yes - Play Hard? Yes"). I might say that if you found all the fourth-wall jokes cloying in the first movie, like just how often a random student remarks on how Hill and Tatum look like 40-year-old narcs, it's going to get a lot worse in this one. Frankly, I kind of love the idea that these two directors were brought back to make a movie that no-one wanted just because the first one was popular, even if it doesn't quite come off as fatalistic as that. Everyone's clearly having fun still, for one, and the new cast of undergrads and lecturers - including a single scene with Patton Oswalt, who disappears from the movie shortly afterwards - are every bit as game as the first batch. The major players in the movie still manage to earnestly pull off the more down-to-earth moments, but it's hard to be sincere when you're making jokes about a character with a potentially plot-important tattoo that turns out to be a fish to honor his old high school football team "the Plainview Red Herrings", or having a wacky chase scene in front of the "Benjamin Hill Center for Film Studies". The irreverence for the original show's premise that permeated the first movie now appears to extend to the first movie itself, and the idea that it needed any sequels at all. If it wasn't for Deadpool 2, I might even say that 22 Jump Street's montage of unlikely additional sequels was the best mid-/post-credits sequence I've seen this year.

I feel like if you were a big fan of Clone High's sarcasm, both in how it ripped apart teen drama concepts like Very Special Episodes (every Clone High episode was a "Very Special Episode") and in how little faith it had in its own conceit of cloned famous historical figures attending a modern school together, then 22 Jump Street is about as close as you're going to get to a movie extension of that odd manifestation of the creators' amusing self-loathing. To any other movie-goer, it'll probably come off as very indulgent and silly, though not lacking for great goofs and comedic acting. As a lesser sequel to a cheesy TV show movie adaptation, 22 Jump Street is definitely the kind of movie that is easy to dismiss and forget, but I'm personally glad I remembered it existed.

Game: Yakuza 5 (2012/2015)

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It's been dawning on me just how massive Yakuza 5 is promising to be. I had hoped since the brief mention last week that I'd have made some significant progress in Kazuma Kiryu (and friends!)'s fifth outing, but it's proving to be a considerably larger experience by design. Series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi stated that Yakuza 5 was intended to be the GTA: San Andreas of the series; mechanically speaking, Yakuza doesn't really compare to GTA beyond the fact that they both operate in cities and have a story concerning the underworlds of same, but in this case he was specifically talking about how much the geography had expanded to cover multiple locales each as well-realized as series mainstay Kamurocho, based on the Shinjuku red light district of Tokyo.

Yakuza 5 has fictional districts based in the major Japanese cities of Osaka, Sapporo, Nagoya, and Fukuoka (in addition to Tokyo), each of which represents a different personal journey of the player characters currently inhabiting them: Fukuoka's "Nagasugai" is where an incognito Kiryu is eking out a living as a taxi driver to support the Sunshine Orphanage back in Okinawa; Saejima breaks out of jail again in the snowy northern island of Hokkaido, exploring a remote mountain village as well as Sapporo's "Tsukimono" district; new character Shinada is in Nagoya's "Kineicho" region, trying to raise himself up from a penniless and disgraced former baseball star into something better; and moneylending charmer Akiyama and perennial damsel in distress Haruka are in Osaka's "Sotenbori", attempting to kickstart Haruka's career as an idol.

So far, I've only concluded the opening chapter of Kiryu's time in Fukuoka and am still in the early stages of Saejima's time in Sapporo. That first chapter alone took somewhere in the region of 20-25 hours, though granted I was getting myself waist-deep in the various optional substories, mini-games and other city exploration activities. As well as those substories, which are where the game can cut loose and throw some comedic little missions the player's way to break up the more dramatic main storyline, each character also has the somewhat synonymous "Side-Stories". These are unique to each character and setting; for instance, all of Kiryu's Side-Stories concern his job as a taxi driver, splitting between missions where you carefully drive a taxi around Nagasugai while observing stop signs and using indicators for turns, and race missions which inevitably devolve into Initial D drifting parodies where you can optionally choose to have Daytona USA's "Let's Go Away" playing in the background. While I haven't progressed far enough with Saejima's story to get to his side-stories, I get the sense that it's going to involve hunting bears and stags in the Hokkaido tundra by suplexing them into submission.

It's the kind of wonderful nonsense that the Yakuza series delves into early and often, just in far greater quantities than I'm used to. Yakuza 2 had experimented with producing other regions the characters might visit, and Yakuza 4 introduced the idea of having multiple protagonists with separate stories, substories, and fighting methods, but Yakuza 5 looks to combine both to make a truly expansive game. In addition, the developers still found time to correct some of the series' long-standing issues, greatly streamlining the character progression, making the more compelling attacks and special moves available earlier and with additional "climax" moves that require a special gauge to build up through completing heat actions, and making several mini-games (and the game's trophies) far simpler to accomplish, as well as tossing in genuine Sega arcade games like Taiko Drum Master and Virtua Fighter 2. It's a surprisingly accessible entry in the series, given how deep the storytelling becomes with five different perspectives on the same conspiracy scattered across Japan (and how much that story is contingent on prior entries; Yakuza 5 also happens to be the first game in the series to not do the "reminiscing" gallery of cutscene flashbacks to previous games with a voiceover summary of their events, which doesn't help in keeping all the plot details straight).

At this point, I've decided to follow each character's set of substories and side-stories, and complete most of the very reasonable trophy requirements, and maybe call it there. I've tried for 100% completion in Yakuza games in the past, most notably Yakuza 2 and Yakuza 3 to various self-destructive ends, but Yakuza 4 was the first to really dissuade me of doing absolutely everything, partly because of its size and partly because there were additional trophies for completing the game a second time on a harder difficulty - not something I'm prepared to do for any 80+ hour game, regardless of how much I enjoyed it. The usual completion percentage factors - eating every meal at every restaurant (and across five cities, that's asking a lot), completing all the heat actions (and of course each character has their own unique heat actions), completing every mini-game to a certain high bar of success, snatching all the Sega toys out of every claw machine in the world (I'm just going to do this one anyway - Nintendo Badge Arcade awoke something terrible inside me), crafting all the weapons (way more reasonable this time with the revamped Kamiyama Works investment system), romancing all hostesses, taking down all the opponents in the underground fighting coliseum, and various collectibles like locker keys, treasure map scraps, tourist photos, and so on. It was a lot back in the previous games, and it's even more overwhelming here, so I'm going to take it easy lest I burn out long before the conclusion of the game's story. Taking small breaks between each character's chapters might not be a bad idea either - this is definitely going to be more like a marathon than a sprint, albeit the kind that's ultimately rewarding given how much wacky, brutal goodness is packed into each Yakuza game.

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Indie Game of the Week 77: Fault Milestone One

No Caption Provided

I swear I didn't pick an anime visual novel to coincide with Jeff and Dan's Anime 101 panel at Anime Expo this week, especially given how little I'd want to type a sentence that said "anime" three times, but it is true that I've been meaning to check out more visual novels of late. I've been interested in how much gameplay and interactivity plays a role in some of the big-name VNs, and how that often correlates to the minimal amount of same in "walking simulators" like Dear Esther and Gone Home (despite the fact that fans of the prior tend to be very critical of the latter, blind to their own hypocrisy). That's part of a longer journey I've been on in the past decade into different ways video games (especially Indies) can tell stories as their chief directive, as an adventure game fanatic from far enough back when there were only the two types: games that emphasized story and characters that you had to progress with a text parser, and games that emphasized story and characters that you had to progress by pointing and clicking on things.

Fault Milestone One is a true, dyed-in-the-wool visual novel in the sense that there's practically zero interaction beyond clicking to get to the next dialogue box. There's exactly one choice in the game, the result of which I don't think makes much difference at all. In the most literal sense of the term, you're reading a book wherein various anime characters pop up whenever it's their turn to speak (or whisper in sotto voce [or think to themselves]). To abbreviate the story very quick: Princess Selphine and her bodyguard Ritona are the apparent sole survivors of an attack on Selphine's mana-infused country of Rughzenhaide, orchestrated by some powerful "manakravters" (as in, manacrafter or magic-user, but more Germanic - there's a lot of gratuitous German in anime, I've found). Ritona teleports the two of them out of there, but her contingency spell backfires and sends them halfway across the planet to a part of the world that has far less mana to work with, and so humanity there has learned to prosper through science and inventions instead. While there they meet a strange but friendly young woman named Rune and try and figure out a way home when the episode-specific arc (as opposed to the series-wide story of Selphine's pursuers) kicks in.

Ritona's the serious and reserved one, while Selphine is the more free-spirited type. At least, that's how it seems on the surface.
Ritona's the serious and reserved one, while Selphine is the more free-spirited type. At least, that's how it seems on the surface.

If this game is said to have any challenge, it's in parsing what's going on, keeping up with the game's jargon, and figuring out what all the different dialogue box types mean. It'll keep tossing around terms like "manakravte", "mind-dives", "aerolinguistics", "transidian" or "Sanne'Ajrizda" at an alarming frequency. It reminds me quite a lot of Tales of the Abyss (in more ways than one, in fact) and how frequently that game would get all jargon-heavy and you'd need to stop and pay attention when a crucial plot cutscene is rolling, only for the characters to drop it all in the next scene and go try on hats or eat bonbons or whatever cute slice-of-life anime shenanigans these games delve into during their downtime. It wouldn't be so bad if you learned all these terms in a more natural way, but even though Fault comes with its own in-game "encyclopedia" glossary it'll still halt conversations dead to explain the workings and origins of whatever magical concept is relevant to the current conversation. That aspect of the storytelling can be a little awkward as a result.

When the game gets going, though, and starts with the revelations and flashbacks, it becomes more engaging. This particular episode concerns Rune and her origins, and the game spends an incredibly long time - though in terms of a full novel, it's probably just the first third of the book or so - on the backstory of her, her CEO brother, their deceased parents, their CTO mentor, the various other folk living in the town of Kadia where the protagonist duo teleport close to, and eventually bring back the mysterious assailants from the prologue as a cliffhanger for Fault Milestone Two. In some ways, acclimatizing players to all this magical lingo by starting in a non-magical town is a smart move, in part because the more magically-inclined can explain how everything works to those that are less so without it feeling too much of a expository plot contrivance for the reader's sake, but also because it helps ground the inaugural adventure of this party before the shit hits the fan and more intricate magic gets involved. It's a fairly grim story too; one with violence and family drama that doesn't quite end well, but at least ends on a hopeful note.

This shit's like a whole other language. Still, I'm not going to turn my nose up at a work of fiction that requires a little extra study.
This shit's like a whole other language. Still, I'm not going to turn my nose up at a work of fiction that requires a little extra study.

All the same, I couldn't help feel while playing it that this was someone's epic JRPG that they couldn't make happen with the resources available to them, so they cut out the majority of what would cost money - the gameplay, the character models and animations, etc. - and kept the story. There are definitely times when I just want a JRPG to deliver the next block of story without forcing me to go through some kind of superfluous ice cave dungeon or boss encounter, but then the reverse is often true too (it also greatly depends on the JRPG and the comparative quality of its story and its combat/gameplay, to be fair). Fault Milestone One has a fine story that's told well, but it's on a considerably different plane than something like the Zero Escape games, or Ace Attorney, or Danganronpa, or even something like Doki Doki Literature Club with how your decisions made some small difference to the way the story unfolds in those games. I think if the story's good then that's all that really matters, but I might just stick to visual novels with a little more gameplay depth from this point onward. (Well, except that I'm kind of invested in Fault's story and characters now, so I might see about grabbing Fault Milestone Two eventually.)

Rating: 3 out of 5. (Though maybe add a point if minimally-interactive VNs are your deal.)

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Mega Archive: Part III: From Darwin 4081 to Cyberball

Howdy Mega Drivers to another episode of the Mega Archive. We're continuing to update the wiki and spackling over gaps in our coverage of Sega's most successful console in the period between its Japanese launch and the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, the killer app that brought the system to new heights. Speaking of its Japanese launch, we're creeping closer to the console's 30th anniversary in October, so I'm hoping to reach my intended milestone by then at the very least.

You might notice that the periods of release for each episode have been getting shorter. Part III is a mere four months between April and July, during which not a whole lot else was happening in the world of video gaming. The Mega Drive was handily trouncing the TurboGrafx-16, making huge inroads into the NES's long established fanbase, and still had a few more months left to go of being the big dog before Nintendo could unveil their own 16-bit successor to level the playing field. Personally, I was still knee-deep in computer gaming at this time - my beloved Atari ST would serve me well into the 90s.

With today's batch of fifteen, I think we're definitely seeing a favored genre emerge. The Mega Drive would eventually be known for its versatility in that field, offering something for everyone, but right now there's definitely a lot of shoot 'em ups jostling for attention.

Part III: 036-050 (April '90 - July '90)

036: Darwin 4081

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 04/07/1990
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Darwin
  • Genre: Shoot 'em up
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: After capturing the enigmatic biological force of "Evol", one planet starts manufacturing special evolving shapeships to conquer another, who in turn is forced to retaliate with their own design.
  • Availability: The original arcade version was part of the Data East Arcades Classic compilation for Wii.
  • Preservation: Known in the arcades as Super Real Darwin (which is also what I call any fatal accident caused by someone's own stupidity), Darwin 4081 is Sega's own take on Data East's arcade shoot 'em up franchise. Apparently they didn't feel their system had enough shoot 'em ups yet. Besides a power-up mechanic based on collecting DNA and "evolving", it isn't all that different from all the other vertical shoot 'em ups for the system. The original game would've been three years old at that point, making it an odd choice for a conversion.

037: Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom / Toki no Keishousha: Phantasy Star III

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 04/21/1990 (as Toki no Keishousha: Phantasy Star III)
  • NA Release: 04/20/1990
  • EU Release: 1991
  • Franchise: Phantasy Star
  • Genre: RPG
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: Prince Rhys must chase after his kidnapped fiancee Maia in what ends up being the first act in a multi-generational story about the survivors of Planet Palm, destroyed in Phantasy Star II.
  • Availability: Like Phantasy Star II, III is available in most of the big Sega compilations - Sega Genesis Collection, Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, and Sega Genesis Classics - as well as Wii Shop releases and trilogy bundles for Game Boy Advance and Sega Saturn.
  • Preservation: I have very little experience with Phantasy Star prior to PSO, but even I know that people didn't seem to like this one much. The short development turnover between this and its predecessor might explain why the game feels so rudimentary and underdeveloped - a certain lack of finesse that people were expecting from Sega's flagship RPG franchise by this moment in history. Still, the "generations" idea would find strong footing in the genre from then on - Dragon Quest V and Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, for instance.

038: Psy-O-Blade

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Graphic Research
  • Publisher: Sigma Entertainment
  • JP Release: 04/27/1990
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Adventure / Visual Novel
  • Theme: Sci-fi / Anime
  • Premise: The crew of the Septemius 2 is investigating the mysterious disappearance of the Septemius 1, which ceased communications about six light years out of the Solar System. As crewmember Keith McDonnell, it's up to the player to solve this mystery.
  • Availability: Never released overseas. Only options are the JP Mega Drive version or its previous incarnations as a computer game.
  • Preservation: This would be the Sega Mega Drive's first (proto) visual novel, the sort of adventure games that Japanese companies were developing that had a heavy emphasis on plotting and moving forward by completing dialogue and action scenes. Because it's heavily text-based, I would say it's impossible to enjoy if you aren't fluent in the language, except it saw a fan translation relatively recently. If classic VNs are your thing, or violent sci-fi/horror anime OVAs from the 80s for that matter, it might be up your alley.

039: DJ Boy

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Inter State
  • Publisher: Sega / Kaneko
  • JP Release: 05/19/1990
  • NA Release: 1990
  • EU Release: 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: Crime
  • Premise: DJ Boy has a fight-race to get to across the city, but rival gang members aren't making it easy for him. Like a Japanese take on The Warriors with more rollerskating, except nowhere near as fun as any of that sounds.
  • Availability: Besides the Genesis ports and the arcade original, nothing. Who'd even want to rerelease it?
  • Preservation: Our first Kaneko game. Not exactly a powerhouse, Kaneko's probably best known for its terrible licensed games, terrible games that don't use licenses, and endless softcore "Gals Panic" QIX clones which are also terrible. They also made that Power Moves fighter game, the one with site favorite Warren. DJ Boy was a fairly weak (and kinda racist) brawler that tried to immerse itself in urban Americana as its gimmick. I would say of all the games we've seen so far on the Mega Drive, this one's aged the least well.

040: Whip Rush

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Vic Tokai
  • Publisher: Sega / Renovation
  • JP Release: 05/26/1990
  • NA Release: 1990
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Shoot 'em up (Horizontal)
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: The mystery behind three missing human colony ships is solved by the sudden presence of alien motherships hailing from the system they were lost in. The motherships are pissed and have Earth in their crosshairs, but the tiny but powerful Whip Rush ship is here to stop them.
  • Availability: Mega Drive/Genesis only.
  • Preservation: The mid-tier devs continue to flock to Sega's popular new system, and Whip Rush heralds the debut of Vic Tokai, the game development wing of a large natural gas company. Vic Tokai is another developer that produced a few middling, semi-obscure games - they're mostly known for Decap Attack for Mega Drive, or Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode and Clash at Demonhead for NES - but it indicates that the Genesis was picking up steam. Whip Rush is another power-up based horizontal shoot 'em up for a system not lacking for them, but at least it was built specifically for the system: that meant graphics and mechanics that took advantage of the system's strengths, rather than being a compromised arcade port.

041: Tel Tel Mahjong

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Chat Noir
  • Publisher: Sunsoft
  • JP Release: 06/08/1990
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Mahjong
  • Theme: Chinese myth dragons n' shit
  • Premise: Play mahjong against CPU opponents or online tile jockeys in this basic four-player version of the gambling-friendly board game.
  • Availability: JP Mega Drive only.
  • Preservation: Mahjong games rely on realism and the intelligence of the computer opponents, so pretty much any 16-bit mahjong game will seem hopelessly basic to an audience who cares about playing at a semi serious level. As of writing this, I'm several hours into Yakuza 5, a modern game where I can walk down a street and play a much better version of competitive mahjong than this game can muster. I will give it kudos for being the first four-player mahjong game for the system, as well as the first Mega Drive game capable of online play via a special modem peripheral that was only available in Japan (North America would eventually get the similar Sega Channel eventually, however).

042: Thunder Force III

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Technosoft
  • Publisher: Technosoft
  • JP Release: 06/08/1990
  • NA Release: 06/07/1990
  • EU Release: N/A
  • Franchise: Thunder Force
  • Genre: Shoot 'em up (Horizontal)
  • Theme: Sci-fi
  • Premise: The ORN Empire is still ORNery at the Federation, leading to the continuation of the hostilities of Thunder Force II.
  • Availability: It got ported a few times shortly after release, most notably for the SNES as Thunder Spirits and in a Saturn compilation, but nothing more recent than that.
  • Preservation: Like Whip Rush, Thunder Force III benefits from being made especially for the Mega Drive and taking full advantage of everything it could do. It also has the advantage of following the flawed Thunder Force II, which gave Technosoft a lot of feedback to work with to improve this sequel, not least of which was taking out those horrible top-down stages with the difficult-to-avoid barriers. What we ended up with was one of the best shoot 'em ups for the system, which is extra remarkable given how every other Mega Drive game seems to be one right now. You don't have to take my word for it though: Jeff's played this three times on various Old Game shows if you ever wanted to see it in action.

043: Twin Hawk / Daisenpuu

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 06/23/1990 (as Daisenpuu)
  • NA Release: N/A
  • EU Release: 07/25/1990
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Shoot 'em up (Vertical)
  • Theme: Modern Military
  • Premise: Shortly after the end of WW2, a military dictator plots to take over the small European nation of Gorongo from his island base. His one weakness is his lack of air superiority, so the Prime Minister of Gorongo sets up a special aerial task force to take him down: Twin Hawk.
  • Availability: Besides an enhanced port for PC Engine CD-ROM in 1991 (which is Japan only, but can be played on American Turbo-CD/TurboDuos), there's nothing but the Mega Drive versions and the original arcade game.
  • Preservation: I thought this looked familiar. Twin Hawk (or Daisenpuu) is best known for its Mega Drive incarnation, but was also released on PC Engine which is where I first encountered it. It's an arcade game too, of course - one quirk of its cabinet was its vertically-aligned monitor - but the console ports do what they can without forcing players to turn their CRTs over. It's a fine example of the genre, another Toaplan classic like Truxton from our last episode, but both the PC Engine and Mega Drive have so many shoot 'em ups to choose from already. (One unusual feature? This was one of the few games to make it to the European Mega Drive but not the American Genesis.)

044: Columns

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 06/29/1990
  • NA Release: 06/30/1990
  • EU Release: 1990
  • Franchise: Columns
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Theme: Ancient Greece/Rome
  • Premise: Sega's decision to break into the falling blocks puzzle genre brought us this highly influential match-3 game with an Antiquity theme. Originally a computer game, the original developer Jay Geertsen sold the rights to Sega where it found a much larger audience.
  • Availability: As one of Sega's most accessible games, Columns has been featured on every major Sega Mega Drive compilation - Sega Genesis Collection, Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, and Sega Genesis Classics. If compilations aren't your thing, you can buy it on its own (and its sequel Columns III) from Steam.
  • Preservation: With such a simple look and premise, Columns joins the likes of Tetris and Puyo Puyo in being effectively ageless. The appeal of these games, as well as your own preference, really comes down to how quickly your brain processes information and which information it processes first. For instance, Tetris is more about spatial recognition - knowing from a glance at the current wall where an oncoming block should fit - while Columns relies more on perceiving colors and setting up diagonals ahead of time in a Connect Four style.

045: Ghostbusters

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Compile
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 06/30/1990
  • NA Release: 06/29/1990
  • EU Release: 1990
  • Franchise: Ghostbusters
  • Genre: Action/Platformer
  • Theme: Horror/Comedy
  • Premise: Sometimes shit happens, someone has to deal with it, and who you gonna call?
  • Availability: Original Mega Drive/Genesis cart only.
  • Preservation: Also known as The One Actually OK Ghostbusters Game (until the 2009 Ghostbusters game, which was also actually OK), Compile's take on New York City's finest exorcists-for-hire had them traverse platforming levels as these super deformed bobblehead versions of Peter, Ray and Egon (no Winston to be found; maybe the developers only got half an hour into the movie?). It's nothing too special, but in terms of movie license games it's practically a masterpiece. (Oddly enough, I only just recently played another Japanese chibi-fied take on a 1980s movie: Super Back to the Future Part II. Sadly not as good.)

046: Budokan: The Martial Spirit

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Electronic Arts
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • JP Release: N/A
  • NA Release: July 1990
  • EU Release: 1990
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Martial Arts
  • Theme: Pro Sports
  • Premise: It's martial arts season! Train your karate and kendo skills for the ultimate competition at the Budokan arena in this very Japanese game from... Electronic Arts?
  • Availability: Original cart only.
  • Preservation: Well, look who's decided to show up. The EA of the 16-bit era is not too dissimilar to the EA of today, in that they have a lot of big name properties that appeal almost exclusively to a western market, mostly by way of annual sports franchises like Madden NFL and FIFA. This, a martial arts game with a Japanese name that did not come from Japan nor was ever released there, is their first Sega Mega Drive game. It won't be their last. (Boy, that sounded vaguely threatening.)

047: ESWAT: City Under Siege / ESWAT: Cyber Police

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sega
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 07/14/1990 (as ESWAT: Cyber Police)
  • NA Release: 07/13/1990
  • EU Release: 1990
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Action
  • Theme: Sci-fi / Crime
  • Premise: Cyber Crime is getting out of control, and only the Cyber Police can help. Unfortunately, "Cyber Crime" mostly refers to online identity theft and the like, so there's only so much a hulking mechanical exosuit can do to stop it.
  • Availability: Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection and Sega Genesis Classics both have it. As with most games on the Sega Genesis Classics compilation, you can also buy it separately from Steam.
  • Preservation: ESWAT's another Jeff favorite that's been on the site at least twice, telling a sort of Robocop story that doesn't have the vicious murder of the protagonist after the first stage - rather, the squishy cop with a pistol is given a promotion to the ESWAT division. It's a bit more of a slow burn as a result; the first few levels are rough, but gets better once you have the ESWAT suit and more weaponry and armor to work with.

048: Phelios

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Namco
  • Publisher: Namco
  • JP Release: 07/20/1990
  • NA Release: 1990
  • EU Release: 1991
  • Franchise: N/A
  • Genre: Shoot 'em up (Vertical)
  • Theme: Ancient Greece
  • Premise: Apollo must mount Pegasus and rescue Artemis from the terrible beast Typhon. Those sure are four Ancient Greek mythology names picked out of a hat and mad-libbed into a shoot 'em up story.
  • Availability: It was available on Wii's Virtual Console, but only in Japan.
  • Preservation: It's odd how the mythology/fantasy shoot 'em ups play an awful lot like all the other shoot 'em ups, with a familiar power-up system and some harsh bullet-hell difficulty (even with a health bar). Guys, this is the fifth shoot 'em up this entry, I'm running out of ways to say "it's pretty much like the other shoot 'em ups". But hey, this is the first Mega Drive game from Namco, who would continue to port over some strong games to the system's library.

049: Batman: The Video Game

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Sunsoft
  • Publisher: Sunsoft
  • JP Release: 07/27/1990
  • NA Release: June 1991
  • EU Release: July 1992
  • Franchise: Batman
  • Genre: Brawler
  • Theme: Crime / Superhero
  • Premise: Batman is called into action to bring down the Joker, his most dangerous foe yet. Prepare to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight!
  • Availability: Mega Drive/Genesis cart only. Batman has a better track record for video game adaptations than most superheroes, but even so it's still a bit too spotty for a compilation.
  • Preservation: Sunsoft created three different games based on the 1989 Batman movie for the three big consoles of the era. Most folk are familiar with the NES version, which is a platformer in the Ninja Gaiden mold, but the Mega Drive version is more like a standard brawler. Not terrible, but doesn't really take advantage of the character's acrobatics. (Sunsoft's PC Engine version, meanwhile, is just ridiculous.)

050: Cyberball

No Caption Provided
  • Developer: Tengen
  • Publisher: Sega
  • JP Release: 07/28/1990
  • NA Release: 1990
  • EU Release: 1990
  • Franchise: Cyberball
  • Genre: Football
  • Theme: Pro Sports / Sci-fi
  • Premise: It's the future! We still have football, but now we get robots to play it after science conclusively proved that they can't get concussions and/or permanent spine injuries. Hooray for science!
  • Availability: Mega Drive/Genesis cart only, unless you can find an arcade cabinet (or one of the weaker computer/NES ports).
  • Preservation: It was hard to nail the American release date for this one. An issue for EGM put it at June 1990, but that wouldn't have made sense given it had to be adapted from the Japanese release - the game was supposed to work with the Sega Modem peripheral (like Tel Tel Mahjong, above), but that functionality had to be stripped out the NA and Europe versions after it was decided that the peripheral wouldn't be available there. It's just sci-fi football (the American kind) if you were wondering; apparently it was a big hit in the arcades, kinda like a proto-NFL Blitz with more robots.
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Saturday Summaries 2018-06-30: Q3 Preview Edition

Man, the halfway point to another crummy year. What's worse is that, unlike last year, this one doesn't seem to have nearly the same wealth of great games coming out as a distraction from the burning trash fire that is our present reality. Maybe I'm being too harsh (about the games, not reality) and that the third quarter of the year could have some sneaky surprises for us all as we emerge from the unremarkable shadow of an underwhelming E3. I know there's at least five games out over the next three months that I'm aiming to play eventually, and many more that will pique my interest if and when the price is right.

Between all the JRPGs and Giant Bomb's Crunchyroll panel, it's going to be one heck of an anime summer. GB's putting the
Between all the JRPGs and Giant Bomb's Crunchyroll panel, it's going to be one heck of an anime summer. GB's putting the "nani?!" in "shenanigans".

So let's get started with July or, as I like to call it, "Summer Heat Hell Month The Sequel". Despite landing smack dab in the middle of the summer slump, it's surprisingly packed. We start with Red Faction Guerrilla: Re-Mars-tered Edition, a rerelease of one the best open-world games from the previous console generation in how it indulged the player's more destructive side with plenty of fragile environments to bring down via hammer or other means (though the hammer is really the MVP). Next is a cavalcade of JRPGs with Sega's Shining Resonance Refrain, the first Shining game to come to the west in what feels like a decade at least; the PC port of Ys: Memories of Celceta, the only "new" Ys I've not yet had the pleasure of playing due to its status as a Vita exclusive until now; and Octopath Traveler, the fancy-looking 2D scenario-based JRPG exclusive to Switch. Beyond that we also have the Mega Man X Legacy Collection - two of them, in fact - for fans of the slightly more convoluted SNES/PS1 spin-off franchise, and the newest entry in the sadness porn SRPG series that is The Banner Saga 3. I've yet to play The Banner Saga 2, and I'm still not sure I have it in me to suffer through another series of dilemmas with no positive consequences. There's also a handful of worthwhile ports showing up: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for Switch (with that New Donk City level!), No Man's Sky for Xbox One (they had to wait a while, but at least they get the benefit of having a finished version of the game actually worth playing), and Titan Quest for Switch (which sounds weird until you realize it received a much-improved ten-year Anniversary Edition recently, and that's the version getting ported to consoles).

"I've come to take your soul, ma cherie".

The oft-sweaty August can suck a bag of phallic objects also - I might suggest popsicles, since they're seasonal - but at least there's some darkness at the end of this tunnel of uncomfortably warm light (I'm doing like a summer reversal thing). Only a handful of significant releases here compared to the months that sandwich it, but they're nothing to sneeze at (unless you have my seasonal allergies, which are the one thing that makes summer even better). The big highlights are WarioWare Gold and Yakuza Kiwami 2: not exactly "new" games in the strictest sense, but welcome summertime prospects nonetheless. Speaking of not-quite-new, August will also see the refreshed We Happy Few, which promises to be more like what its trailer promised rather than the uninspired survival crafting game its Early Access version delivered, and there's also Overcooked 2 which will no doubt stick to the original game's manic multiplayer cookery for the most part while adding new stages and recipes to work with. Finally, we have the promising Death's Gambit, which - like Salt and Sanctuary - appears to be a grim 2D spacewhipper/Soulsborne variant with a great pixel aesthetic. (There's also more ports - Yakuza 0 for PC, which should be an exciting franchise debut for those snooty weirdos who refuse to play console games, and Okami HD for Switch, which really feels like the system where it belongs.)

I am so goddamn ready for a new Valkyria Chronicles. It's been a hot minute.
I am so goddamn ready for a new Valkyria Chronicles. It's been a hot minute.

Ah, wonderful, temperate September. Fewer kids around, fewer household objects melting, more TV and video games coming out. A lot more, in fact, as the following list of mostly JRPGs is going to add a whole other page to my back catalogue. Starting with a showstopper, we have Dragon Quest XI, the first big console release in the venerable series since Dragon Quest VIII from 2004. I really like Dragon Quest for its goofy pun monsters and simplicity, but I just can't seem to get into its portable RPGs with all their squinting at small screens and uncomfortable grips that make it difficult for the extended play sessions that the genre demands. Other JRPGs include the Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna ~ The Golden Country standalone expansion (I can safely skip this, since I've yet to play XC2 proper); Metal Max Xeno, another exciting precedent as it belongs to this super-layered series of Mad Max-inspired vehicular-based RPGs that have never been released outside of Japan until now; and Valkyria Chronicles 4, which looks amazing and will be the first VC sequel I'll get to play (VC2 was another Vita exclusive, while English-speaking territories were deprived the fantastic VC3). For the more anime-averse, we have Insomniac's expansive Marvel's Spider-Man, Square Enix's brutally efficient Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and the first episode of DONTNOD's weepy magical realism adventure serial Life is Strange 2. There's also Star Control: Origins, which I have mixed feelings about but might just pick up anyway because it's more Star Control, and the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, which could be the excuse I need to get into a 3D platforming powerhouse franchise I missed the first time around.

(Honorable mentions go to Underworld Ascendant and Dead Cells, both of which are hinted to have Q3 releases but nothing determined as of writing. The first is something I've only recently decided I must play after completing the two Ultima Underworld games it homages, while the latter is Jason's beloved spacewhipper roguelite that's due to leave Early Access any month now.)

Blog City USA is here, everyone. In our hearts and in our souls. But also below, if we're being a bit more literal:

  • The Indie Game of the Week was Guild of Dungeoneering, a 2015 game that has a sort of Rogue Legacy approach to a persistent state roguelite (that is, you buy things outside of adventures that stick around forever) and some smart ideas. As much as I liked the combat - it's simple but not easy, which reminded me of a board game like HeroQuest or something like Paper Mario - I got tired of starting over with an unequipped level 1 character each time. It has a repetitive structure that, while I can empathize with why that decision was made, sort of robbed the game of any vitality for me. One of those unusual cases where I might recommend it to someone who plays games for different reasons than I do.
  • The Tuesday revolving slot turned back around to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and SNES Classic Mk. II: Episode XIII: Plok and Marty hits a new low with the disappointing anime-themed licensed game based on the movie of the same name, Super Back to the Future Part II. Great movie, but the developers of the era just couldn't make a good game adaptation happen even though they had hoverboards, flying DeLoreans, and alternative timelines to work with, which baffles me to no end. The second game was Plok, which is another nostalgia kick I'll admit to being more fond of than it perhaps deserves. A ludicrous challenge level and middling gameplay isn't enough to take the sheen off that majestic soundtrack though, which remains one of the system's best.

Addenda

TV: The Expanse (Season 3) + Archer (Season 9 - "Danger Island)

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The summer media drought is here, which means all my favorite TV shows are ending and will be replaced with static images of sunshine with the caption "you should go outside and be in this" until September rolls around again. I talked at length about the second season of Legion a couple of weeks ago, and since then two more great TV seasons have concluded: Season three of Syfy's The Expanse and season 9 of FX's Archer.

This season of The Expanse has been phenomenal. To recap the concept of the show, since I already went into a lot of detail with my season 1 & 2 review, it works to establish the current de facto politics and technology of its version of humanity's nascent spacefaring era - in short, there's the complacent Earth, the militaristic and frontier spirit-infused Mars, and the hardscrabble but proud "Belters" that operate in and around the asteroid belt and the moons of the gas giants beyond - and then adds new layers of complications to that fragile balance of peace by introducing an alien organism, the protomolecule, of which its purpose and effects are unknown. Each season, based on a series of novels but not in a way that necessarily correlates to one season per book, has this slightly less stable version of Star Trek's universe try to understand and withstand whatever the protomolecule is up to this week, while a small crew of protagonsits invariably find themselves deeply involved with the current predicament.

Season 1 was a lot of body horror, as we come to understand the protomolecule as being this hostile force that takes over biological and mechanical for its own ends. Season 2 explored it further with the background of an all-out Earth-Mars war, giving it some semblance of sentience by combining it with human beings to create these ghoulish "hybrids", which eventually culminated in a ship-like construct building an enormous ring. Season 3 explores what that ring is and what it was built to do, bringing the protomolecule arc to an end while introducing a whole new realm of possibilities. To put it another way, the show has started as a hard sci-fi universe that's had to accept, gradually, that it's actually more like a fantasy sci-fi universe where constants like physics and gravity aren't as reliable as everyone thought. It's a great idea - and it's still true to its roots, and you'll rarely find near-future space travel as accurately depicted as you do here - but one that takes a semi-stable world and continues to batter at it with a hammer that says "everything you know about science is wrong because aliens". Despite all this, it has a very human center also: the cast is great, though they didn't always start that way, and season 3's guest stars in particular - Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell and Alphas's David Strathairn - have really added a new level of depth to the show.

It's been called a Game of Thrones in space, and not in a reductive way. Both shows have a certain hard layer of grit to them, and neither is squeamish about suddenly killing off a beloved cast member (though The Expanse has eased up on that more recently), but both have this certain addictive serial quality where you want to keep watching to see what happens next partly because of the way it keeps escalating events but also because it's written in such a smart way that it's difficult to predict what's to come, as it'll often eschew clichés or any kind of easy tidy conclusion. I'm so glad Amazon picked it up after Syfy dropped it like the dumbasses they are; I've promised not to make any guillotine jokes about Jeff Bezos for a whole year as thanks.

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Then we have Archer's ninth season, or "Archer: Danger Island", the second season in a row where the real Archer is trapped between life and death after an apparently fatal shooting at the end of season seven and imagines a whole new setting of the show in his dying thoughts. This has really been an excuse for showrunner Adam Reed to experiment with some new genre formats for the last few seasons of the show - he plans to end it after the tenth, or at least walk away as its creative lead - with season eight delving into some classic 1940s noir and season nine following a similar path with some 1930s adventure serial action which riffs on the Tales of the Gold Monkey 1980s TV show (and, I imagine, the somewhat similar 90s Disney cartoon TaleSpin, which was itself based on the manga (Hikoutei Jidai) that eventually lead to the Ghibli movie Porco Rosso. Definitely a rich fiction of animals flying airplanes during or close to WW2).

This season was a lot of fun because of the way Reed could indulge in some genre-apropos ideas with the cast that he's been developing for nearly a decade now. As with last season's noir trappings, the original cast have been tweaked but are still recognizable for the most part. Pam's gone from overweight but still badass HR official to a hulking mechanic side-kick, Cheryl's still an unstable rich woman but one that starts the show having cut herself off from high society and forced to work for Mallory Archer, who now runs a hotel instead of a spy agency. Most drastic has been Krieger's change from amoral scientist and possible Nazi clone to a sapient parrot named Crackers, who is given way more lines as a sort of Greek chorus to whatever Pam and Archer are doing. It's a great chance for Lucky Yates, the voice actor for Krieger, to have a larger role in the proceedings, even if he can't do much to affect the plot as a sarcastic bird. He definitely gets a lot of the best lines in the show, if nothing else. The weaselly Cyril Figgis, meanwhile, becomes a sinister Toht type as the depths of his Nazi depravity become clearer as the show moves towards its final destination of a trapped temple with a priceless idol in its deepest sanctum. It gets very Wolfenstein, somehow.

One benefit of these self-contained seasons is that their stories can start and end in a perfectly planned-out way, with the last few moments of the season spent setting up where season 10 will take place: on a starship, quietly floating in the depths of space with the usual crew just waking up from their stasis sleeps. I'm looking forward to it, though I'm also slightly sad that the show might be over after that. I'll miss how well this cast works together with their humorous back and forths, and the show's great editing and unusually esoteric references.

Movie: Snowpiercer (2013)

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I was reminded the other day that I hadn't seen Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer yet; it's somehow been very unobtainable, possibly because of its South Korean co-production origins. My lousy movie streaming service has been very cagey with world cinema, not that I'm necessarily part of the "subs and sobs" clique of serious world drama purveyors but I'd like the occasional eastern action movie to make its way over. Fortunately, it's been out long enough now that finding a digital copy was less of an issue.

As to the movie itself, well... it's like that one GoldenEye train level, only a lot longer and weirder. Speaking of video games (as I frequently do), I actually thought the premise and literary background of Snowpiercer - in which a massive supertrain cuts through the tundra of a post-apocalyptic frozen Earth - may have been shared with an Atari ST game I had named Transarctica. Turns out they're both from French novels produced in the 1980s and based on the same general idea? (Le Transperceneige, 1982 = Snowpiercer and La Compagnie des Glaces, 1980-2005 = Transarctica.) The movie has Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, and John Hurt (RIP) collectively make up the "tail section" of the titular train, in which each train compartment is progressively wealthier and more privileged as you approach the engine at the front. The tail section survivors subsist on a weird black gelatinous protein bar and frequently get visited by the forward compartments, only for them to take away children or enact some sort of punishment. The whole movie is essentially the tail survivors coming up with a plan to take over the train, and being increasingly horrified by the ridiculous extravagance of those living closer to the front.

The South Korean representation in the film comes from Song Kang-ho and Go Ah-sung, a father/daughter pair of technicians who can short circuit the dividing gates between compartments but demand a hallucinogenic drug as payment. The two have their own little side-plot going in the background of Chris Evans's revolution, and it pays off towards the end as the tail section residents dwindle down and more of the train's secrets are revealed. It's a well staged movie, one where there's new revelations and drama with every train compartment explored, and the acting is universally excellent. In addition to the tail section cast, you also have Tilda Swinton as one of the least pleasant "only following orders" unempathetic officious types and Alison Pill as an overenthusiastic teacher instilling in her wards a fanatic fervor for the train and its creator (I've only seen her in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, where her character Kim Pine had almost the exact opposite personality).

The real star of the movie is the world-building and pacing, however. Sci-fi is a difficult genre to get right because so much of its effectiveness is built on suspension of disbelief; it's not enough to create outlandish sets at great cost or replicate the movement of the train by building a sound stage mounted on gimbals, but to have a world that makes a sick sort of sense in the way Snowpiercer's does but still leave enough mystery in just how everything is assembled that you can surprise and horrify a gradually more invested audience. It's not quite a horror movie, and while it's plenty violent it's not really a gory movie either, but it features a similar degree of tension and suspense as well as an almost overwhelming sense of dread of what is about to happen to these plucky survivors, especially once you realize it's the type of movie where they're going to get picked off one by one.

Director Bong Joon-ho is someone I was familiar with but hadn't seen any of his movies prior to Snowpiercer; he's also known for the horror movie The Host and the bleak family drama Mother, neither of which belong to genres I normally enjoy, but I might check out the movie he directed after this one called Okja, which looks to be a slightly more lighthearted story about a girl and her giant super pig? It features a similarly global cast as this movie and saw rave reviews, so I'll have to pencil it in for later this year or next.

Game: The Last Guardian (2016)

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In short, because this week's Saturday Summaries has already gone on long enough, The Last Guardian doesn't quite live up to its potential. I suspect that's because the game's development had to be sped up towards the end, having been in development hell for quite long enough, and some needed gameplay tweaks were missing as a result.

To backtrack a little, The Last Guardian is the newest Fumito Ueda game - the auteur behind ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, whose visual style makes it immediately apparent that you're playing one of his games - and concerns an unnamed boy and a mythological beast called Trico. Forming an initially uneasy alliance that eventually deepens into a strong bond, the duo find a way to escape Trico's vertiginous "Nest" home by moving ever upwards, the reason being that the Nest sits inside a crater and the top of its walls are only accessible from the Nest's highest point, the imposing White Tower at the center. Trico is greatly injured from the outset, his burned wings no longer working, so the pair have to work their way up via walls and bridges and perches in various states of disrepair, contending all the while with hostile suits of magical armor that are determined to cut Trico down and abduct the boy through a magical portal that spells certain doom. It's a little convoluted, but fits well enough within Ueda's fairytale worlds of ancient magic and fantastical creatures.

While the game looks stunning and Trico is a very appealing character in terms of how it's animated and the way you empathize with it like it's a dumb pet that occasionally eats you (we've all been there), there's a mechanic where you have to command it to perform actions in order to continue - say, making it sit down so you can climb its tail down to a lower platform, or having it reach up to a higher location to get up there yourself - that the developers clearly had trouble getting right, and only mostly works in the finished product. It leads to puzzles where you're not sure if you're missing something or that the game just flat out refuses to do what it's supposed to, which is supremely irritating. There's also a lot of button-mashing in QTEs and during combat (you have to wriggle free if one of the armor suits grabs you) that I hate doing to my controller, which is already starting to suffer from a unresponsive left analogue stick. The path forward isn't always apparent either, especially if it requires using Trico to get to some out-of-reach spot in the environment, and the game can drag if you need Trico to perform a lot of long jumps to make progress, because he'll often just sit there and scratch himself instead.

I think the most dispiriting thing for me was the trophies. They're often the game's first impression, if you're like me and want to take a cursory glance at what's required before starting, and many of The Last Guardian's trophies demand speedrunning the game or clearing it without dying (neither of which would be fun if the game's mechanics worked perfectly, let alone the state TLG's in) as well as repetitive tasks like pulling the heads off enemies twenty times instead of just a couple, many of which would need to be grinded out. I ended the game a fair distance from a full trophy set, which doesn't bother me much these days but still symbolised a certain rushed feeling about the game.

I'm totally still of the mind that Ueda should have all the money to develop whatever he wants, and I hope The Last Guardian's lukewarm reception doesn't deter him too much because he's a valuable voice in an industry where too few auteurs are given the resources to realize their visions. He has since left Sony and there's only so much you can do in the Indie tier of game development, but I'm hoping he finds a way to continue building his elaborately beautiful worlds, even if his ambition can evidently get the better of him sometimes.

(Oh right, I've also started Yakuza 5. It's my summer Yakuza playthrough showing up like clockwork. More on that in the Summaries to come; I suspect it won't be a game I complete in just a week.)

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