Turn Based #13: Gettin’ Jiggy With It

Professor Icepick: Hello everyone and welcome to the last Turn Based of the year. I’m Professor Icepick and this time, I’m joined by two more to discuss a topic that… while I’m not exactly well-versed in, it still must be done.

We’ve recently seen a resurgence in video games styled after the classics from previous generations. And while the 8-bit and 16-bit era that defined my tastes have certainly gotten their day in the sun, the greater market is moving onto the days of the fifth generation, when 3D platformers with an emphasis on collectables — dubbed “collect-a-thons” —  like Super Mario 64, Spyro the Dragon and Banjo-Kazooie ruled the world. While I wasn’t particularly fond of this genre back in my day, I’ve come around to it and I’m talking to two die-hard fans of this style of game. But there’s got to be more to this revival than just recreating the games of the past (looking at you, Yooka-Laylee) so together, we’ll be discussing just what our ideal collect-a-thon would look like in the 21st century. So without further ado, let’s get started.

SNESMasterKI: I actually wouldn’t say I’m a diehard fan of collectathons, I like them because they’re platformers, but generally prefer linear ones if I have a choice.  However, there has been a recent game that used the formula so perfectly that I can actually see it evolving into something I’d choose over linear platformers.  That game of course is Super Mario Odyssey.  Hundreds upon hundreds of collectables that can be absolutely anywhere, that should have been a nightmare, but the game managed to balance it so well that I have undertaken the mammoth task of 100%ing it four times to date.

I could (and have) spend an entire article raving about everything it did right, but for now I’ll focus on one thing.  The fact that there is (almost, stupid purple coins) never anything that you absolutely can’t get guidance towards.  Once you’ve scoured a level, you can get hints and spend coins for more specific hints to find every one of the moons.  My ideal collecthathon avoids that moment where you have 99/100 items collected and now have to search an entire level with no idea where to look.  That’s the most important thing to me.

Dariwan: I enjoyed collectathons because I felt like there was a lot to do in them. Collecting different things to get powerups and stuff was exhilarating as a child. While the only one I can think of that i’ve played recently was Super Mario Odyssey, I remember fondly the one collectahon that everyone hates. Donkey Kong 64. I feel like if you have multiple characters playable like DK64, you need to have roles for each of them and have them all viable and useful at different points in the game. The way DK64 did bosses I feel like did this well, but with the actual collectibles themselves (bananas, coins, and bonus levels) this could have been done better. Also maps for certain really hard to find collectables or hints of any kind in-game are also a necessity in these kinds of games; as, said previously, being 99/100 and not having any clue of what to do to find that last piece is really frustrating and can make you quit the game.

Icepick: As I mentioned earlier, I was never really that big on collect-a-thons. Back in the fifth gen, I tended to stick more to proper 2D platformers like MegaMan 8 or the occasional hybrid “2.5D” game like the Crash Bandicoot trilogy or Tomba. My issues tended to stem a lot less from the actual nature of the collectibles themselves (though they were annoying) and more about the open-world nature of the level design. It was less that I’d get lost and more about being unable to figure out where to go next and what to do. I mean, games like Super Mario 64 at least gave us objectives in each “level”, but that was an exception to the rule.

Having said all that, I do agree that it’s baffling how long it took for games to consider adding counters to display how many collectibles had been found in each area. Seems more like poor design than “classic” difficulty to me.

KI: Well, telling you how many of each collectable are in each area has actually been standard in the genre from the start (you’re thinking of Metroid style games, those took forever to add this).  The issue is that the levels themselves can get so big that the counters don’t help.  One of the worst examples of this was the blue coins in Super Mario Sunshine, you were told how many remained in a level, but the levels (and variations of them between main missions) were too big for that to be helpful.  The minor moons in Super Mario Odyssey use a nearly identical concept, but through hints make it work.  Yooka-Laylee actually had a great solution to this problem with one of its collectables, you could buy an ability where once you had most of the 200 per level minor item, the remaining ones would give an audio cue when you were near.  This fixed what could have been an absolutely horrible experience.

But going back to what we like instead of dislike, Dari, you acknowledged the problems DK64 had with collectables, how would you fix DK64 to make everyone like it as much as you do?

Dari: As I said before, DK64 could have not had split areas with 1 or 2 (even 3 in a couple) places per Kong. if the Kong is the main area, let that be the only character that has collectables in the area.  Also unless there’s a small side area, that’s the only way you should allow multiple characters to get collectibles. it’ll make the game more linear but it won’t have 3 characters fighting for the same area and having to switch characters 3-4 times in the same area just to collect. I feel like that was the main issue of DK64.

Icepick: Granted, I’ve only experienced DK64 indirectly, but I’m not sure if that would be enough of a change to mitigate the wider issues. Either allow the player to switch characters on the fly or separate each area into a simple area where a single Kong is necessary and increase the number of “switch barrels”, particularly right between areas. Even then, the level design didn’t seem all that good, especially when compared to the Donkey Kong Country games that preceded them.

In all honesty, I think my big issue with level design in terms of collect-a-thons is that despite being fairly non-linear and built for exploration, it’s not uncommon for progression to be locked behind something… and that’s usually the collectibles themselves. That’s probably the one thing I respect about Super Mario 64: despite choosing a single objective, it was possible to clear an entirely different one in most stages.

KI: One issue with level design in collectathons is that you need to be able to backtrack at all times, which limits how dynamic and complex level design can be.  There are a couple of solutions to this, both excellently demonstrated in Super Mario Odyssey.  One is fast travel, this greatly reduces the stress on level design having to be non-linear, if getting back to a peak would take an unreasonable amount of time, just warp to it.  Another is sub-levels, my ideal collectathon would be littered with entrances to small, linear areas of pure platforming goodness.  Those are the ultimate reward for exploration, more gameplay.

Dari: I agree that fast travel would be great for collectathons and would help a lot, especially when the areas are huge and you need to get back to a certain spot to find something. That was another main problem with collectahons that Icepick bought up. Gating using collectibles. I feel like DK64 could have did it best. Use a main collectible (the golden banana) to gate progress. and have everything else be secondary. It seems like they had to add more collectibles to the gating which doesn’t help anything. Mario Odyssey did it best with the moons. Have a certain amount of moons? Continue on! Good for you! I feel like having too many collectibles is also a problem. DK64 had Golden Bananas, Regular banaanas, and different types of coins. How many collectibles is too many collectibles? Icepick can probably glean from his Hat in Time knowledge to answer that one.

Icepick: The problem with not gating any sort of progression — be it the ability to further progress through the game or even unlocking new abilities — behind specific types of collectibles is that it makes them feel superfluous. If the only point to collecting enough of a specific item is just bragging rights, then what’s the point?

I think A Hat in Time might be my favorite collect-a-thon of all time and it manages to get collectibles correct in my view. You’ve got yarn balls that can be used to craft new hats and the timepieces themselves just block progression to new worlds. It’s got secret platforming-centric stages with inconsequential story sequences hidden via secret collectibles all their own. In other words, the collectibles are there, but AHiT avoids feeling like it blocks off progression while managing to make sure that nothing feels redundant.

KI: I tend to prefer not having to unlock new abilities, at least not if backtracking will be required.  Stuff like Banjo-Tooie’s way of handling it drove me crazy, I was never sure if I had done everything I could in an area because so many things were blocked until you did something in a later level or got a new ability.  Once again, Mario Odyssey did this perfectly for me, the capture system meant you constantly got new abilities throughout the game, but never had to backtrack for them.  And the game made it completely clear when you had done everything you could for the time being in an area.  If a game is going to require backtracking, always make sure the player knows when they’ve done everything possible for the time being.

Dari: I like having to unlock new abilities, it’s more to the fact when games decide to force a puzzle of sorts with that new ability and then just assume you know how to use it perfectly and then add on to it with more new abilities. it’s like a bad algebra problem. Adding more variables doesn’t make it easier or more fun to figure out. Devil May Cry and God of War did this better, but i feel like games like DK64 and Mario Odyssey handled new skills better than most. Gating and backtracking also annoy me greatly for the same reason KI gave.  Moving on to another topic, how do you feel the way bosses are handled in collectahon games?

I feel like the way DK64 handled them was great (but probably only in that particular game with multiple characters).

Icepick: Bosses? I’d say that they’re pretty unmemorable, at least from a gameplay standpoint. Super Mario 64 is a pretty good example. Most of the bosses are pretty forgettable outside their appearance and the sole exception, Bowser, is hampered by an annoying gimmick that doesn’t really make that much of an impact elsewhere in the game.

It seems like a vast majority of boss fights I’ve seen in the genre are built as a platforming challenge, rather than a proper fight. Effectively jumping around, dodging obstacles, projectiles and bottomless pits, until the boss in question takes a break and leaves themself open to a pitiful attack. Even A Hat in Time falls victim to this sort of thinking, which is a damn shame. I feel like even other 3D platformers like the original Sonic Adventure handled their boss fights better than the vast majority of the collect-a-thon genre and let’s be honest: boss fights have pretty much never been the Sonic the Hedgehog’s strongest suit, especially in 3D.

KI: There are a handful of collectathons that had good bosses, Banjo-Tooie and Super Mario Odyssey being the first two that pop into my mind.  Platformers in general have difficulty making combat focused bosses, but if your character has enough combat abilities (the myriad of projectiles in Banjo-Tooie, the different forms in SMO) it can be done.  And yes, Donkey Kong 64 handled bosses well at least in comparison to its other categories.

Bringing up a new topic, how big do you like the levels in collectathons to be?  For once SMO isn’t my go to example of my preference, I’d say the original Spyro games, with their dozens of modestly sized levels, are actually what I’d pick as my first choice.  Especially if there’s a hub world with more linear levels to be discovered within it, which the Spyro games had.

Dari: What a surprising opinion, I thought you would go with a wide sprawling world not unlike a sandbox game. I like the way Banjo-Kazooie and DK64 did it. some of the worlds are a bit too big, which means that they’re long, and the collectibles are a bit too numerous. I feel the bigger the worlds, the worse the collectibles get, which means the more boring the game is. Hub worlds are nice but I feel like that makes backtracking worse, I also hate when collectibles have to be bought back to the hub world for it to count. If we collected it, it should be collected!

Icepick: Personally, I prefer the hub format with smaller sub-areas along various routes, personally. Granted, I also prefer traditional stage select menus in order to move between major areas, as opposed to being forced to cover the entire game world “on foot”. Much like the closest thing collect-a-thons and other open-world games have to a 2D counterpart — the humble “Metroidvania” — warp points are a godsend.

I guess that leads to a question of my own: how do you guys feel about secret “true endings” being locked behind collecting every single collectible in the entire game, bar none? I mean, I understand why one would tie something like that to a game focused around collecting items, but man, does it get annoying when the game seems like it’s actively working against you — whether by making it nigh-impossible to figure out where the missing items are located or losing all progress if you die before reaching a save point.

KI: I like having some acknowledgment of getting every item in a game, that can of course backfire if getting everything is obnoxious, but I hate that whether you get a special ending for 100% or not.  Super Mario Odyssey has countless layers of unlockables/rewards for milestones, and I think that works well since you still feel like you accomplished something even if you didn’t get absolutely everything, while the game still acknowledges true 100% completion.  Hiding secret endings behind a main collectable and not requiring every single item, like in the Banjo games, can also work.  In general, I care more about the journey than the reward, and I want the whole journey to be enjoyable.

Dari: I feel like both of you made great points. I also feel like some of this kind of takes away from the point of a collectahon. Collect the items and save the day. If a game can do something like that simply without overcomplicating everything; I feel like that’d probably solve most of our problems with the “bad’ collectathons. Maybe fusing Metroidvania’s successes and blend them with the collectathon it’ll work too. Anyway. I feel like it’s time to wrap this up.

Icepick: Interesting final thought there, Dari. While many games have attempted to create a proper 3D Metroidvania, perhaps using the collect-a-thon platformer as a basis might work better than other genres.

With that being said, I’d like to thank my colleagues for their thoughts on the topic. While we didn’t quite “fix” the issues with collectathons, perhaps some enterprising young developer looking to build the next Banjo-Kazooie will stumble across this article and take some of our suggestions to heart.

But what do you think? Do you think collect-a-thons need to be salvaged or left in the dustbin of history? Or do you think that they’re perfect just the way they are and deserve a comeback on a mass scale as-is? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2020

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2019 was an interesting year. It had its ups and downs for gaming. It was the end of a perilous decade of gaming that left some gamers in a bad heap most of the time. I feel like 2019 was best called the ‘end of an era’ as it started well and kinda sputtered its way to the end. They had a bunch of releases and a lot of delays. But now that’s over and now there’s a new year to look forward to! And from what a bunch of developers are telling us, this decade looks to be starting to be really promising!

Without further ado, here’s my top 10 list of most anticipated games of 2020! Continue reading

Retrospective: MegaMan ZX

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There’s an interesting trend I’ve noticed with regards to the MegaMan franchise. With the exception of Legends, most iterations of the franchise can be separated into pairs. There’s an originator series, which provides a set of building blocks, which is generally followed up with a successor series, which tweaks everything for the next generation of hardware. The most obvious example of this would be the Classic series, which started off on the Famicom (NES) in 1987 and the X series, which debuted in 1993 on the Super Famicom (SNES). There’s also the Game Boy Advance’s Battle Network hexalogy and its sequel series on the DS, MegaMan Star Force – the games I intend to cover next year. But the Game Boy Advance had a second MegaMan series to its name… and by extension, so did the DS. My last retrospective was on the MegaMan Zero series, which had all 4 of its games on Nintendo’s final handheld in the Game Boy line and if you haven’t guessed it yet, now I’ll be covering both games in the MegaMan ZX series.

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My collection of ZX memorabilia. Not as big as the Zero one, but much more complete.

Once again developed by the fine people at Inti Creates, the ZX duology arrived on the scene at one of the worst possible times for a brand new MegaMan series: a point when the video game market was absolutely saturated with the Blue Bomber and his various offshoots, particularly the Battle Network series. As such, these games are among the most niche releases in terms of official MegaMan titles. However, as I mentioned in the MegaMan Zero Retrospective, Capcom has announced a Legacy Collection containing all four Zero games and both ZX games in a compilation set to launch on PC and all three major consoles next year. But as much as I’m hoping that this renewed exposure may be the advent of a much larger ZX fanbase, I am getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s delve into what is currently the shortest – and may very well be the most obscure – MegaMan series in existence.

But before that, a small tidbit: apparently, “ZX” was meant to be pronounced “sechs” in the original Japanese release, like the German word for the number 6: a fitting choice given that it’s the sixth iteration of MegaMan. Personally, I always said “zee-ecks” – a choice that was backed up by an English language title call – and I have no intention of changing. Anyway, onto the retrospective! Continue reading

Retrospective: MegaMan Zero

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I’m sure that it’s clear by now that I’m a huge fan of the MegaMan series. After all, I’ve already done two massive retrospectives over the past couple years and did one more (so far) for this year. But when it comes to my favorite iteration of the Blue Bomber, I generally say that honor goes to the original, Classic series. However, I can’t really claim to be completely confident in that answer, because out of all of the other spinoffs and alternate timelines, there’s actually one more set of games that could arguably take the prize as my favorite of all-time. If the title didn’t give it away, I’m talking about the MegaMan Zero tetralogy, the fifth take on Capcom’s classic franchise. These four games were developed by Inti Creates, a small studio comprised of ex-Capcom staff, founded back in May 1996. However, Inti Creates owed as much to MMZ as the other way around: the MegaMan Zero games were Inti Creates’ first project to be released outside of Japan, extending their reach worldwide. Indeed, their time with the scarlet swordsman would build a following that would take them from indie developer working on projects for other companies to publishing their own games.

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Also, the 2000’s was the Golden Age of me collecting physical goods.

Better still, it was announced earlier this year that the Zero games will be re-released once again in a brand-new collection across all major modern platforms. That’s right, after years of waiting, the entire MegaMan Zero series will be available on non-Nintendo platforms for the first time ever! If I were still on the fence about which retrospectives to handle this year, that announcement would have easily clenched it in Zero (and ZX’s) favor. But that’s enough of an introduction for a series that needs none: it’s time for me to discuss the only MegaMan franchise that made me waver in my loyalty to the original. Continue reading

Retrospective: MegaMan Legends

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It’s December again and you know what that means? It’s time for another retrospective based around what may not be your favorite video game franchise of all time, but certainly is mine. That’s right, as a tribute to December 17th, 1987 – the very beginning of a franchise that has endured through ups and downs for over 30 years now – I began dedicating Decembers on Retronaissance to the MegaMan franchise. I’ve already covered my beloved Classic series two years ago and last year, the X games got their due. However, I’ve now reached an impasse: the next step in these retrospectives isn’t quite as obvious as one might expect. While the original incarnation of the Blue Bomber and his futuristic little brother are clear counterparts to one another and make for a clear and concise timeline, the remainder of variations on Akira Kitamura’s most famous creation aren’t quite as straight-forward as the first two.

The obvious path would be to continue covering the remaining series in the order they were released. And if you haven’t guessed by now, as Legends was the third iteration of the franchise to release, it may seem that I’m taking that path. However, the fourth series of MegaMan games – MegaMan Battle Network – ended up creating its own separate timeline, completely distinct from the narrative that started back in 1987. Of course, many people assumed that the Legends games were also blazing their own trail as well, until years later, it would be made clear that it was simply a far-flung future from the original franchise, so far removed from the classic 20XX era that it could easily be mistaken from something completely distinct from its progenitors.

The other obvious option would be to cover the remaining games in the order they’re supposed to take place in-universe, wrapping up the original timeline before covering the alternate universe covered in Battle Network and its own successor. It should be obvious that I’ve already decided against this option: Legends is at the far end of the original MegaMan timeline, with at least one series (though most would argue two) taking place between the MegaMan X games and Legends. Instead, I’ve decided to take a third option, opting to my favorite aspects of both choices. I’ll be wrapping up the original timeline with Legends, the Zero tetralogy and the ZX duology this year and next year, I’ll be jacking into cyberspace with Battle Network and Star Force to round out my look at these old games. Hopefully, by 2021, I’ll have enough material to do a retrospective on the games that have come out since my first MegaMan retrospective. Continue reading

Whatever Happened to the MegaMan of Tomorrow?

I think it’s safe to say that when December rolls around, I tend to hyperfocus on MegaMan. Granted, when the site itself started, my first major series was the “Mega Rants”, a monthly series of rants directed at various facets of the Blue Bomber’s legacy. Not to mention my recent batch of MegaMan-themed Retrospectives – 3 years and counting – which have been massive undertakings, but still fail to scratch my itch regarding one of the first video game franchises I ever fell in love with. Quite simply, I’m a Mega Maniac, so even with the retrospectives, I tend to like writing extra articles to show my love for one of Capcom’s best.

In the past, I’ve discussed various aspects of the greater MegaMan franchise. I’ve talked about series with the potential to make a return and even how Capcom could approach further compilations – which makes me particularly happy that they followed much of my template with the upcoming Zero & ZX Legacy Collection – but what about a proper future for MegaMan? After all, Capcom hasn’t been content with resting on their laurels when it comes to experimenting with how to further expand upon the series’ conventions since 1993. And while the most logical step would be an entirely new and fresh take on the Blue Bomber for the 2020s, perhaps the best direction to look is in the past, with existing iterations of the character who have yet to have a spotlight all their own?

Of course, it wouldn’t be one of my listicles if I don’t stick to a set of rules throughout. This time, the criteria will be fairly simple. I’ll be looking at various incarnations of MegaMan that have not appeared as the main role in a traditional MegaMan-style video game. That means that characters from alternative forms of media, cameos in other games, game concepts that didn’t come to fruition and even non-traditional video games will be open for discussion. However, I’ll be omitting candidates that are clearly meant to be 1:1 recreations of existing MegaMen, which unfortunately disqualifies the Archie Comics and Ruby-Spears iterations on Classic MegaMan from consideration. With that in mind, I’ve managed to come up with five candidates for future games and I’ll be discussing pitches for each of them. In this regard, I’ll be answering three questions: who are they, why do I think they would be a viable choice for a game and how would I approach a video game based around them? With that being said, let’s get on with it, and there’s no better way to start such a list than with the character inspired the list in the first place…

Bad Box Art MegaMan

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Who?

An underappreciated figure that has technically existed since 1988 – so basically, for as long as I have – BBA MegaMan was infamous in the first place for being the main focal part of one of the worst video game box arts of all time. Fast-forward to 2010, when MegaMan Universe was announced and multiple iterations of MegaMan were set to be playable characters. And while the game was cancelled the next year, this wasn’t the end of his story. The character ended up appearing in the PlayStation 3 version of Street Fighter X Tekken the following year as a guest character alongside Bandai Namco’s Pac-Man… and this was when Bad Box Art MegaMan cemented his place in my heart.

While the character’s classic design was (somehow) meant to be a serious, albeit poorly drawn, take on what was essentially a 40-something-year-old man in ill-fitting blue and yellow spandex, the SFxT iteration of the character leaned heavily into the ridiculousness of the concept. He became overweight and somewhat cowardly in presence, was given a backstory that heavily aped that of MegaMan Volnutt and a bossy gold-digging partner in the form of Roll. Supposedly, BBA MegaMan’s presence in the fighting game was all the brainchild of then-series steward Keiji Inafune before his departure from Capcom, as traditional iterations of the character had made several appearances in fighting games and Inafune wanted something more unique. Unfortunately, this appearance came at a time when public confidence in Capcom’s handling of the franchise was at an all-time low, so many fans took this fat, bumbling take on their beloved hero as a swipe, either at the once-lionized Inafune or more commonly, at the IP itself.

Why?

Quite simply, ever since I locked eyes on the character, I fell in love with him and hoped against all logic and the mounting backlash associated with this incarnation of the Blue Bomber that one day, he may receive a spin-off game of his very own. But since this basically boils down to “because I said so” and that makes for a pretty lame reason, I’ll set aside my own personal bias and come up with a more legitimate answer.

Honestly, it would be an interesting way to explore the character’s past and how different cultures viewed him upon his release. Honestly, there have already been several iterations on the character that experimented with the core design, but most of them either go dark and grimmer or full-on kid-fiendly and toyetic. It’s high time we got a MegaMan that poked fun at some of the more ridiculous aspects of the franchise outright.

How?

Honestly, I’d do it by way of recontextualizing the original formula for the Legends days through the lens of more modern game design. Take the combat from modern third-person shooters (wasn’t Lost Planet supposed to be a test for future Legends games?), implement progression mechanics from action games – maybe use the shop system from “character action” games like Devil May Cry as opposed to the more ubiquitous skill trees seen elsewhere in the genre – and replace the JRPG elements with their modern day equivalent: an open-world setting. Most importantly, even the gameplay itself shouldn’t take itself too seriously. Err on the side of fun and effectively treat the game like one part parody, two parts deconstruction of overly modernized takes on classic games.

MegaMan: Fully Charged

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Who?

After being announced for years, the long-awaited (or dreaded) MegaMan cartoon finally came out in 2018. I’ll be honest, aside from a few clips, I haven’t really watched it yet – but I’ll be rectifying that sometime next year. Either way, it was apparently another in the long line of “modern Western cartoons that completely reinvent classic Japanese video game franchises”, and from what I’ve seen, it seems to fall somewhere between Sonic Boom and Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures in terms of quality.

The title character from this series is Aki Light, who assumes the mantle of MegaMan as his superhero secret identity. The only other person that seems to know about his secret identity is his human sister Suna, though you’d have to assume that his creator, Dr. Thomas Light, would know something about his secret robot powers anyway. And instead of the insidious Dr. Wily – who appears to just be one of Aki’s classmates in this continuity – MegaMan has to face off with Sergeant Night, a veteran of the robot wars of the past who feels nothing but hatred toward humanity’s robotic creations… but is still totally more than willing to rely on various Robot Masters to respark these wars once again.

Why?

Let’s be honest, MegaMan started out as a series directed at children and I feel like the last time the series actually tried to cater to that audience was with the Battle Network games. I guess you could argue that the Star Force games tried too – they even got a couple anime seasons out of it – but that wasn’t nearly as big of a success among kids as Rockman.EXE was in Japan. I’m not really that big on the cartoon myself, but if Capcom decides to take another multipronged approach with the Blue Bomber, it would probably make a lot more sense to cater to multiple demographics, as opposed to just sticking with their traditional strategy of pumping out flavors that only apply to niche sub-factions within an already small fanbase.

How?

I think this may be our best opportunity to revisit bringing the Blue Bomber into the third dimension, with a proper 3D platformer – not a bad idea, considering that we seem to be undergoing a recent renaissance in the sub-genre. After all, Legends is the most prominent example of a 3D MegaMan game and it was its own beast rather than a straight recreation of the traditional MM formula in 3D. In fact, the only game that even attempted anything like this was MegaMan X7 and that experiment was a complete and utter failure. But just because Capcom was unable to deliver on the concept in the past doesn’t mean they should never try it again.

The best example of what I would be looking for in terms of inspiration of this game would be Ratchet and Clank, which blends inventive long-range weaponry with 3D platforming action. You could even incorporate Aki’s limitations of only being able to access three weapons at a time into some clever puzzle-solving or strict platforming mechanics, either limiting players to a specific set of weapons necessary to clear a stage or, better still, multiple ways of clearing obstacles with different abilities. Worst case scenario, they could incorporate some kind of weapon switching kiosk or some kind of a computer interface in areas that require specific weapons to progress.

Rockman Ability

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Who?

The newest of this batch of misfit MegaMen, this familiar fellow hails from 2018’s Pachislot Rockman Ability – a pachinko machine licensed by Capcom to Enterrise and Spiky, two companies that created similar machines based on other Capcom properties like Street Fighter and Resident Evil. Effectively taking place in yet another alternate timeline, this MegaMan was built to combat the “Wily Numbers” after the fact and was facing a losing battle, until the Dr. Light of this continuity (who is Thomas Light’s daughter) discovers two mysterious robot sisters, Roll and Trancy, abandoned outside her laboratory. Equipped with similar powers, these two new robots fight along Rock, and together, the trio manage to turn the tide.

Seriously, this just feels like one of those continuities where classic characters are twisted well beyond their traditional forms, but not to the point of total unrecognizability. The characters take design cues from multiple iterations of each respective character – mostly leaning on characteristics from the Classic, X, Battle Network and Star Force series for inspiration – while still aiming for something that is both unique and inherently related to MegaMan. Turning Dr. Wily into a total sleezeball while replacing Dr. Light with his daughter (who looks a bit like C. Viper with bigger… hair) are interesting tweaks and that’s barely scratching the surface. In fact, Ability technically gave us the second female Robot Master: the kunoichi Coin Woman.

Supposedly, there were rumors circulating regarding a mobile port of this game earlier this year, but nothing has come of it just yet.

Why?

Honestly, it just seems like too interesting of a concept to leave languishing in a pachislot machine… particularly one that apparently needs a mobile port to reach a wider audience. Besides, it’s not like this is the first time the MegaMan series had a major refresh: remember the Battle Network games? I’d say that Rockman Ability is about as much of a change to the core concepts of the franchise as those games back from the days of the Game Boy Advance.

…besides, some of those designs are really interesting. I really dig the Rogue-inspired Blues design and the cougar that is Dr. Emilia Right. Seriously, check out this write-up on the game: it’s the closest Westerners will get to seeing it in action.

How?

Frankly, I think this game might work best as an attempt at trying to modernize the traditional MegaMan 2D platforming gameplay for more modern audiences. Granted, MM11 tried to do something like that by including the Newcomer and Casual difficulty settings – still think those names should’ve been swapped – but what I’d consider for a Rockman Ability console game would involve far deeper changes than that. I’m not sure exactly what kind of changes this would entail, but whatever needs to happen, it would require a full-on recontextualization of the core tenets of the Classic and X series, directed toward a 21st century audience.

…although, I’m beginning to doubt that Fully Charged is getting a second season and most of Ability’s cutscenes seem to take place in fully realized 3D environments. So, if my other ideas don’t pan out, they could also just use Rockman Ability for the aforementioned 3D MegaMan platformer instead.

Maverick Hunter

FPSX

…Wait, What?

Now I know what you’re thinking, but please hear me out. The Maverick Hunter I’m referring to isn’t the abandoned attempt at remaking the previous MegaMan X games – that was “Maverick Hunter X”. Maverick Hunter, on the other hand, was a failed pitch from the people at Armature Studio, a developer that was founded by some ex-Retro Studios staff after the third Metroid Prime game finished development. And to be honest, it was an attempt to rebrand classic Japanese franchises to appeal to edgy Western audiences in the most tone-deaf way imaginable, much like Capcom’s own Devil may Cry, Bionic Commando and perhaps most infamously, Konami’s Bomberman: Act Zero.

The project was set up by Keiji Inafune before his departure from Capcom as a part of his push toward “Westernizing” the company. And while the game is essentially a reboot of the MegaMan X series, I think it’s safe to assume that with the character’s redesign (crafted by Adi Granov, the man who designed the original concept for the Iron Man armor in the 2008 film) would’ve prevented anyone from confusing the two takes on the character. X and Zero were set to be joined by a “Bruce Willis-like” human police officer as a sidekick and the game was set to be a trilogy, with the final game taking elements from the MegaMan Zero games. It would’ve shifted to Zero’s perspective as he is forced to take down X after he became incredibly powerful and intelligent over the course of the first two games.

Regardless, the project was only in consideration for six months back in 2010, long before the known cancellations. However, MH’s existence wouldn’t be revealed to the general public until 2013 – well into the Blue Bomber’s extended hiatus.

Why?

I’m not going to lie, when I originally heard about this project, I had a lot of hate in my heart for the MegaMan X fanbase. From what I’ve been assured is an absolutely miniscule minority over 30 trillion times by other fans of that particular sub-series, I’ve seen nothing but the most blatant and aggravating entitled whining if any other iteration of MegaMan receives even the slightest attention, be it in the form of a long-awaited sequel to a pair of cult classic games or even a comic book. With that in mind, I called Maverick Hunter “the game the X fanbase deserved”. And I’d be lying if I said at least a tiny piece of me still didn’t feel that way.

The thing is, what started as a spiteful love would eventually blossom into something far more genuine. I’ve seen a few fan projects try to place some form of the Blue Bomber into a first-person perspective, but most of them have utilized existing games as a base. Considering just how well Metroid Prime worked, I have to wonder if something similar could work for MegaMan. And while the concept art comes off as edgelord bait, it wraps back around to being delectably ridiculous – just like DmC.

How?

I mean… just use the original concept: make a first-person MegaMan game. It doesn’t even have to use the original concept, but let’s face it, first-person shooters are incredibly unpopular in Japan, so leaning toward a Western audience would have been a smarter move for a project like this. Maybe just tone down the more stereotypical edgy aspects and design the game after what Western audiences actually like, as opposed to relying on a woefully out-of-touch perspective.

Rockman Xover

RockmanXover

Who?

No, this isn’t a joke. The one original project featuring some version of the Blue Bomber between his semi-retirement in 2011 and the glorious MegaMan 11 in 2018, Rockman Xover (pronounced “Crossover”) is a game that will forever live in infamy. In fact, its debut was so controversial, people actually petitioned Capcom’s American and European branches to prevent the game’s release in their respective regions. Announcing a mobile auto-runner for the series’ 25th anniversary was an ultimate sucker-punch from Capcom that has only been forgiven in recent years with the publisher’s renewed interest in the series as a whole providing a necessary salve to cement the healing.

The sad part is that, the idea behind this game wasn’t necessarily its undoing and I’ve seen a lot of fan projects use the concept in a variety of new playstyles. Several MegaMan villains from various time periods and universe have joined forces to wreak havoc across history, trapping several heroes beyond space and time. To combat this threat, Drs. Light and Cossack team up to build a new breed of robot, OVER-1, a mass-produced Reploid with unlimited potential that can be unlocked by collecting Battle Memory – data that details heroes and enemies from throughout the series’ history. Accompanied by Cossack’s now-teenage daughter Kalinka, the player’s OVER-1 travels to various points in MegaMan history to set things right once more.

While the game was much maligned in the West, it apparently didn’t do so poorly in Asia. The game was released and managed to remain active for three years. Not bad for a mobile game that received major worldwide backlash due to being an underwhelming 25th anniversary celebration for a series that had been all but written off by the copyright holder. I never played Xover myself – well, unless you count that “fan recreation” that circulated after the game was first announced.

Why?

Honestly? Because it’s the closest thing to a canonical crossover between MegaMan continuities that I’d be willing to accept. I know that comes across as a lame answer but considering the fact that Xover is itself a game built around exploring aspects of the existing MegaMan franchises in a single game – even ones from alternate timelines – that’s really my only answer. Revisiting OVER-1’s adventures through time and realities is the ideal way to handle a “MegaMan Generations”-style game in my opinion. Seriously, I’m uncomfortable with the sheer amount of people who want to see a “let’s kill off Classic to usher in the X series” game! If we’re going to do a crossover, let’s at least make a fun one that’s barely canonical… if at all.

How?

In what is sure to be my most boring answer yet, Xover would probably work best in the traditional 2D MegaMan style. Maybe lean more into the X series’ overall design philosophy. After all, OVER-1’s design seems to borrow a lot from X in general, looking like a fur-lined tracing of the Blue Bummer himself. Plus he’s apparently a Reploid… despite being built by two roboticists that died before those were a thing. Either way, given the fact that X was used as a template to design the Zero and ZX games anyway, it just seems like a perfect baseline. Whether or not Capcom would add various other MegaMen as playable characters is something I can’t really predict personally. While it would add to the crossover feel of the game, it might force them to design specific stages with certain characters’ abilities in mind, which could lead to a final product that feels like a whole bunch of smaller games as opposed to a single cohesive adventure.

As you can see, even discounting games that people are already waiting for – my hopes for a ZX3 have skyrocketed since Fall – there’s plenty of potential left in the MegaMan franchise. But what do you think? Which one of these projects sounds the most appealing to you? Did I forget any particularly interesting incarnations of the Blue Bomber? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

A PC Port Wishlist Carol

Well, it’s the last month of the year again and you know what that means. It’s time for my yearly vanity piece, which is little more than port-begging, poorly disguised as a seasonally appropriate Christmas wishlist. While I’d never go so far as to call this exercise meaningless at this point, we’ve just reached a point where the vast majority of the games I care about seem to get PC versions announced alongside the other versions. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of old games that I long to see on there, but these days, I’m less worried about whether the game is coming to PC and more worried about whether or not they took a bribe from Epic Games or if the game’s publisher is trying to junk up the PC ecosystem with another half-baked launcher.

Of course, the whole point of this article is to temper some of my constant pessimism with some good vibes. And the best way for me to chase the blues away is by bragging about the haul I’ve gotten since we last met in August. For starters, I accidentally left one announcement off of August’s haul: the Mighty Switch Force Collection means that Mighty Switch Force 2 has finally come to PC! One of my all-time favorites, the MegaMan Zero and ZX sub-series are receiving their own Legacy Collection on all four major platforms, including PC – despite the fact that when the trailer leaked from the PlayStation Network, people automatically assumed it would be a PS4 exclusive. Inti Creates kept the hits coming with Blaster Master Zero 2, and we got two more surprises: Square Enix decided to bring Dragon Quest Builders 2 to Steam, while INSIDE SYSTEM brought The Legend of Dark Witch Renovation – the previously Switch exclusive remake of the first game in the series – over as well. Granted, I wish we could have also gotten previous games in the DQ Builders and Dark Witch series as well, but beggars can’t be choosers.

However, it’s been all quiet on the console front for the moment. A bit surprising, considering the game-grabbing spree the Switch has been on lately. Aside from that, there wasn’t really much else that happened in terms of PC announcements. Stadia has added a new wrinkle to my paranoia about games coming to PC exclusively on terrible platforms but considering how poorly the technology has been received so far and the fact that their exclusivity plans are a lot less concrete than those on EGS, I think those fears may be unwarranted. That’s all that really comes to mind, except for some crummy cowboy sequel finally coming to PC and something about a game that involves delivering packages no longer being a PS4 exclusive, but those both sound pretty lame to me.

So, this year’s lineup is going to be a little different from last year’s. I’ll be starting with the five announcements of the year that I consider the most impressive of the year. After that, I’ll be taking a page from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – as if the title didn’t already give that away. First, it’ll be a look back at games from yesteryear that I would love to see live again via GOG. Next comes the feature presentation, this year’s wishlist with 10 (or so) games that I’d like to see ported to PC at some point. And finally, I’ll take some time to revisit some games from previous lists that weren’t so lucky and just hope to keep their memories alive, so they don’t end up lost to time when their current platforms cease to be. With a sunny outlook like that, I can’t possibly fail!

Top 5 Successes of 2019

Time for another round of bragging about what I would consider the best PC port-related announcements of the year.  I’ve got a few honorable mentions this year. The twin announcements that Super Robot Wars V and X would be making their way to PC via Steam may very well have topped this year’s list… if not for the fact that they’re region-locked to Asia. Likewise, the aforementioned MegaMan Zero/ZX Legacy Collection seems like a big coup, until you realize that it’s coming to everything simultaneously and thus, is not a port. And while Red Dead Redemption 2 making its way to PC (via several storefronts) may be the biggest PC news of the year, I honestly would’ve only cared if the original Redemption had made it. Or better yet, if they went all the way back to the first game: Red Dead Revolver!

5. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes – Grasshopper Manufacture/MARVELOUS! (Switch)

This may seem like an odd choice to start with, but the fact of the matter is that while the game has a mixed reception behind it – mainly due to the fact that most people automatically assumed it was going to be a proper NMH3 – I decided to give it the number five spot due to what it represented. Before Let It Die made its way to PC, Grasshopper Manufacture’s output on PC was fairly scarce. Sure, we got both of the Silver Case remakes, but it would be foolish not to put visual novels on PC. Aside from that, we had, what? Killer is Dead? I can’t think of anything else. So even if Travis Strikes Again isn’t the best game Suda 51 ever produced, it certainly paints a picture that tells me that PC will be considered for future releases.

4. Yakuza Kiwami 2 – SEGA (PlayStation 4)

While Sega’s output on PC managed to nab them the top spot last year, Kiwami 2 manages to make the list because it represents that both Yakuza 0 and the original Kiwami sold well enough for Sega to continue porting other games in the series to my platform of choice. It would’ve ranked higher on the list if we got additional confirmations. The Yakuza 3-5 Remasters are finally making their way to the West, but they’re currently still only officially slated for release on the PS4. Yakuza 6 was leaked for PC awhile ago, but it seems like Sega’s approaching that intelligently: waiting until the previous games in the series’ canon are available on PC before releasing it. Judgment would’ve been nice but considering that it just came out in the West this year, it seemed unlikely to get announced for PC this year. After all, porting older games in the series to PC rubbed their diehard fanbase on PlayStation the wrong way, so it’s probably for the best that they don’t court even more controversy.

…having said all of that, porting Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise would’ve given them the number one spot on this list, no question.

Of course, since then, Sega recently announced that all 3 of the Yakuza games currently on PC are coming to Xbox One next year. Maybe they decided the potential revenue that could be obtained by making Yakuza a multi-platform IP far outweighs the cries of “controversy” from a few unhinged Sony fanboys. I hope that means we get even more Yakuza announcements on PC in 2020.

3. SNK Remains Committed to PC

I know that whenever I’ve discussed entire companies and their overall PC output for the year in past lists, they’ve exclusively taken first place. But this year, I’m willing to make an exception. Originally, I intended to give SNK the nod simply for confirming a PC version of Samurai Shodown 2019 before the game’s release and implying that their future games would be PC-bound as well, but honestly, they’ve had a lot of other awesome PC-related news this year. SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, Metal Slug XX and the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection received PC ports of their own this year and some of their games have been appearing on GOG recently.

In fact, the only reason that they ended up only getting the number three spot is due to the fact that they’ve essentially been maintaining the course they started when they ported The King of Fighters XIII to Steam. I wouldn’t have bothered congratulating most other companies for continued support like this, but given SNK’s long-time fear of piracy, it’s encouraging that they’re managing to stick it out.

2. Catherine Classic – Atlus/SEGA Europe (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

I know it may seem odd for a single game to beat out an entire company’s output, but it’s more about what Catherine Classic’s PC release represents, as opposed to the game itself. Granted, I loved the original Catherine when I played it back on the Xbox 360, but there’s some substantial baggage here.

As far as I’m concerned, Atlus is the final boss of the detestable practice of Japanese companies refusing to even consider porting their games to PC. Remember, Atlus dug in their heels so deeply, that they used their American branch to try to shut down a PS3 emulator because they had the nerve to showcase that it could run the inferior version of Persona 5… and then to add insult to injury, they gave us empty lip service about considering releasing the game on PC themselves “at some point in the future” before just dropping the subject entirely.

Enter Sega Europe: the division of Sega that spearheaded the entire push into PC ports. With Atlus under new ownership, it gave Sega’s European branch the in they needed to get their hands on something. And sure, a Persona game would’ve been a lot flashier, but it also would’ve been harder to sneak under the radar. Catherine was already getting a remake this year, so why not just give PC owners the “inferior” old version? Genius. Absolute genius. And better still, Sega even said they were happy with the game’s sales on PC and looking into porting even more Atlus games to PC at some point.

And with that, the last piece of the puzzle falls perfectly into place. I’d been hoping that Sega buying out Atlus would destroy their whole reluctance to explore multi-platform releases, I just didn’t realize it would take so long.

1. Inti Creates Returns to PC

I know that some of you are looking at this and wondering how this could be my top pick. Why is Inti Creates’ recent return to the realm of PC gaming important enough to warrant my top spot on this list? Simply put, I’ve been a fan of the company since 2002 and when they put the original Azure Striker Gunvolt on Steam, I was over the moon… until I realized that the port wasn’t of the best quality. Sure, they eventually fixed the game up, but after that, the only other games we received from them were some of their works from other publishers. It seemed that their partnership with PC was nothing but a brief fling, now just limited to their licensed games and GalGun, which honestly aren’t really my thing. Fast-forward to this year. Even if you (rightfully) discount next year’s MegaMan Zero/ZX Legacy Collection – the very games that made me fall in love with Inti in the first place – their output has turned around exponentially. We got their latest game, Gunvolt Chronicles: Luminous Avenger iX; their attempt at redeeming Mighty No. 9, Mighty Gunvolt Burst; and both Blaster Master Zero games, inadvertently bringing Sunsoft into the fold as a publisher. Seriously, the only games we’re missing since they went full-on independent are the second Gunvolt game and the recent Switch exclusive, Dragon: Marked for Death.

Past: Remembrance of Good Old Games Past

While I decided to go in a different direction for August’s PC port-related article, I still wanted to do another one of these lists. So, I decided to just cram it straight into Christmas. It fits with the whole theming of a Christmas wishlist, especially given the fact that my second list has been a complete and total dud thus far. That being said, here are 10 more old PC games I’d love to see GOG bring back to us. This might actually be the final list on this topic: it’s getting harder to track obscure older PC releases that I actually care about.

Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller – SEGA

It’s another one of those weird cases, where the game came out on PC in Japan and Europe but not North America for some reason. Either way, I love me some Crazy Taxi and while the first game in the series is generally considered the best, I wouldn’t turn down the latest mainline entry in the series. The licensed music in the soundtrack and presence of real-world businesses and locations might make a straight re-release into a nightmare, but Sega hasn’t even considered GOG as a possible avenue for their PC games (new or old) yet anyway.

Cyber Troopers Virtual On – SEGA

Another game from the storied “Sega PC” line from my childhood, I always loved playing Virtual On the few times I’d seen it in arcades. Granted, I did include the far more recent port of Virtual On – originally available on Xbox 360, but recently ported to PS4 in Japan – in an earliest PC port wishlist, but frankly, just so long as I can get the game on modern PCs again, I don’t really care how it happens. Besides, it’s not like this is the first time I ever doubled up on games like this. Both versions have their merits anyway: the Sega PC line is inherently nostalgic to me, but chances are that the more recent console port is better optimized for modern systems. To be perfectly honest, I’d probably just end up buying both versions anyway.

Mr. Driller – Namco (Bandai Namco)

While researching August’s list, I was surprised to discover that the Mr. Driller PC port was, in fact, released in the West. I think I already made it clear that I’m a big fan of the game, so saying anything more would just be repeating myself.

State of Emergency – VIS Entertainment/Global Star Software

I’ll be honest: for the most part, I’ve never really liked Rockstar’s major releases. In fact, my two favorite games from the label were sixth-generation titles that flew under the radar for most people. And while Red Dead Revolver never received any form of PC port, the same could not be said about State of Emergency. Essentially a 3D beat-‘em-up that somehow felt like it belonged in an arcade even more due to the addition of a time limit, SoE may not have set the gaming world on fire like many of Rockstar’s other games from the era but it did keep me entertained the few times I rented it.

Stupid Invaders – Xilam/Ubisoft

When it came to Saturday morning cartoons, I tended to favor Fox Kids growing up. Space Goofs was one of those shows that I honestly assumed I just imagined from the later days of the program block. I remember seeing ads for a game based around the series on Dreamcast, but I had no idea it also had a PC version – though considering it was an adventure game based on a European property, I guess that shouldn’t have been too surprising. Still, it seems like it might be an interesting game to play.

You might think it’s insane for me to ask for a licensed game but considering the fact that Xilam was the animation studio behind the game, it seems like it could be possible.

Resident Evil 1/2/3 – Capcom

Yeah, believe it or not: the first three Resident Evil games had PC ports. And while we do have the remakes of the first two games on Steam – and if rumors are to be believed, a third REmake may be in development as well – the original versions still offer their own unique experiences, particularly in RE2’s case. Capcom’s output on GOG has been… unusual, to put it mildly, so hopefully they consider putting more of their older games on the service at some point.

Fox Hunt – 3Vision Games/Capcom

Okay, now I’m just being ridiculous, aren’t I? I only remember hearing about this game because Capcom Unity brought it up as one of their more ridiculous projects from the fifth generation. A full-motion video game telling the story of a man who knows a whole lot about TV shows (but little else) being recruited by the CIA to find a terrorist who wants to blow up Los Angeles. Their only lead is that the suspect went uncredited in a few TV shows. Since it appears to be the developer’s final game, I wonder if Capcom even has the rights to re-release it.

Silent Hill 2/3/4: The Room – Konami

Honestly, I was surprised to find that the mainline Silent Hill games from the sixth generation of home consoles had PC ports. I’ve heard claims that these releases could even be used to create “proper” HD remasters of the classic games, as opposed to the disastrous collection Konami released some years back. Much like the first two Metal Gear Solid games, it just seems odd to me that Konami wouldn’t even consider just pumping these out onto GOG, but then I quickly remember that they’ve been screwing up just about everything for a long time now.

Dance Dance Revolution – Konami

Surprisingly, there was a time when I was into DDR. Granted, most of my time with the game came in the form of a fan project known as Stepmania (which I mostly just offloaded onto the Xbox a friend of mine modded), but I still had fun with it. Imagine my surprise when I discover that the original Dance Dance Revolution had a PC port – and released exclusively in North America, no less! Like, I know that there have been several better games in the series, but the sheer novelty of owning a PC copy of the game is totally worth it. Hell, I’m sure they even have USB-compatible dance pads at this point, so I can dance like it’s 2002 with absolutely no fuss.

Fatal Fury 3: Road to the Final Victory – SNK/Kinesoft

I’ll be honest, this was a last-minute addition to the list when I realized I’d made a mistake on my first draft. Yet somehow, it didn’t even end up being my oddest pick overall. Fatal Fury 3 was one of those few games that SNK ported to PC way back in the day and due to its relative obscurity – typically only resurfacing after most other games in the series – it would be interesting to see it get a modicum of spotlight, even if it’s just headlining a niche service like GOG. The fact that the PC port was near arcade-perfect doesn’t hurt my desire for the game either.

Present: Our Feature Presentation

Eleventh verse, same as the first. I’ll be looking at games from the seventh (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and the portables) and eighth (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, Switch, et al.) generation of console hardware. There will only be one game per company and multiple games in a series count as a single entry, as long as all of the games listed appear on the platforms I listed above. I’ll be ignoring first-party games as well, aside from Microsoft – which makes sense, considering how they’re also the platform holder for Windows PC, the dominant operating system for the platform. I mean, these days it looks like Sony is trying to bleed Epic dry by milking their exclusivity deals like Ubisoft, but honestly, that makes the prospect of getting Insomniac’s Spider-Man game on PC outright disgusting to me.

Dragon: Marked for Death – Inti Creates (Switch)

I mentioned earlier that there were two Inti Creates games I’m still waiting to see ported to PC and Gunvolt 2 was on a previous list. This space was originally going to be reserved for Blaster Master Zero 2, but they ended up beating me to the punch on that one. I remember comparing this game to Guardian Heroes when it was first announced, but in practice, it looks more like a cross between Capcom’s old Dungeons and Dragons beat-‘em-ups and the MegaMan Zero and ZX games. That’s a winning combination as far as I’m concerned.

Judgment – SEGA/Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio (PlayStation 4)

I guess some people might consider this request to be redundant, considering how I’d already asked for the Yakuza series itself a couple years ago. Still, while Judgment takes place in the Yakuza universe, Sega appears to be considering expanding on it with a sequel all its own down the line. Besides, if I wanted the Shin Megami Tensei games, I’d put in a separate request for them as well, despite asking for Persona last year. Maybe a better argument regarding the redundancy of this request is that Sega’s been teasing that a PC port may already be in the works…

The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors – NatsumeAtari/Taito (PlayStation 4, Switch)

The Ninja Warriors – yes, I’m using the original name, deal with it – is one of my favorite side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups, so when I heard that it was getting a revamp similar to Wild Guns: Reloaded, I was excited. Unfortunately, at the moment, it’s only confirmed for PS4 and Switch, but considering the fact that Reloaded hit Steam awhile back, I’m optimistic that we’ll see Ninja Saviors on PC at some point. Still doesn’t mean I’m not going to hedge my bets and ask for it.

Shadows of the Damned – Grasshopper Manufacture (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

This has been a holdover for a long, long time. Like, I started considering this game back when these lists were bi-monthly. But there was always this caveat that prevented me from ever including it – namely, that since EA was the publisher, it might have just been an Origin exclusive – but this year, something changed. Well, to be honest, two things changed. First off, the characters appeared in Travis Strikes Again, which implies that the game’s ownership may not have been in EA’s hands, after all. But then, even later, EA announced that they were going to bring their games back to Steam moving forward. Sure, it’s probably a cynical cashgrab, likely inspired by Tim Sweeney’s claims of a “multi-store future”, but at least EA’s taking a less evil path. So yeah, either way, bring Shadows of the Damned – my favorite version of Resident Evil 4 – to PC.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox – Nihon Falcom (PlayStation 4)

Yes, I am aware that I’m playing fire by requesting this. But despite just how horribly NIS America’s port of Lacrimosa of Dana turned out – and believe me, if my experience during the free weekend taught me anything, it’s still an abomination – I’ve become a hopeless romantic for the Ys series over the past decade. Since Durante has his own studio now, I’m hoping whoever gets the North American rights to Monstrum Nox will contract them to make a killer port.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled – Activision/Beenox (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch)

Speaking of bad choices, Crash Team Racing’s recent remake started out living up to its originator’s legacy, but the addition of microtransactions post-launch has soured many people’s opinions on the game. Doesn’t mean I don’t still kind of want it though. I’d be willing to wait for some kind of a “complete edition” though. Though honestly, considering Activision’s recent pivot toward Battle.Net for their multiplayer PC games, I have to wonder if Crash Bandicoot would be on-brand for it or if they would just push it out on Steam.

Under Defeat HD+ – G.rev/Rising Star Games (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Arcade)

Another list, another random shoot-‘em-up I found poking around the internet that I think looks interesting. I mean, it’s a military-themed one, but I think the ability to turn your helicopter in all 8 directions seems pretty interesting. Under Defeat was originally released in 2005 in Japanese arcades and saw a port to the Dreamcast very late in the system’s life the following year. In 2012, there was an HD re-release on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, fittingly called “Under Defeat HD”. Then, a further improved version called “Under Defeat HD+” hit Japanese arcades back in 2013. Obviously, I’d want that version the most out of all of them, but I’d be willing to take the older console ports as well.

Cel Damage HD – Finish Line Games (PlayStation 3/4/Vita, Xbox One, Switch)

Cel Damage is a demolition derby type game – in the vein of classics like Twisted Metal and Vigilante 8 – with a cartoony aesthetic. It was originally released on all 3 sixth-gen consoles, but it recently made a comeback on all the platforms listed above. At this point, I just have to wonder if Finish Line Games has a beef with PC gaming in general, considering this game is on everything else.

Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley – Twisted Pixel Games (Xbox 360)

Honestly, the concept of a video game that parodies various styles of comic books alone makes me interested in this game. The fact that Twisted Pixel managed to mix beat-‘em-up combat, platforming and on-rail shooting mechanics just makes the game look that much more appealing, Too bad it’s still an Xbox 360 exclusive… but at least it’s backwards compatible with the Xbox One.

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins – Capcom (PlayStation Portable)

You didn’t really think I’d do one of these lists without a Capcom game, did you? To be completely honest, Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins was the only game in the series that I invested any real time into playing… likely because it’s the only game I owned as an individual title and not just as a part of some compilation. It was a bit more forgiving than previous games in the series considering it gave armors extra health, but the Japanese-exclusive “Goku Makaimura Kai” revision ratcheted the difficulty back up to classic levels. I keep wanting to go back to it but going back to my PSP just doesn’t seem that appealing to me. A port to modern platforms with upscaled visuals and even the first Western release of the Kai difficulty rebalance would be a nice way to gauge interest in the series. Hell, maybe Capcom could just make a full-on new GnG collection, including all the other games in the series and even the spinoffs like Gargoyle’s Quest and Demon’s Crest. But at this point, I think I’d be happy with a straight port of UGnG.

Future: A List of Games yet to Come

And finally, to wrap up this year’s festivities, we have a list of games from lists past that have yet to come to PC. Last year, I mentioned feeling iffy about doing the list by merely reshuffling the previous year’s list and taking out any games that had made it – this year’s lucky winner was Catherine, by the way – so this time around, I’ll be basing my decisions on recent happenings. That means that certain games have disappeared from the roster without making it into my grubby hands, but only because certain goings-on have made certain other choices just that much more palatable to me. But don’t worry, a few of my favorite dark horses have managed to avoid the cut, even if they are a bit lower on the list than they were in years past.

10. The “ReBirth” Trilogy – Konami/M2 (Nintendo Wii)

This may seem like a complete and total longshot but hear me out. For starters, Konami has recently been raiding their back catalog with three collections released on all 4 modern platforms. And do you know who handled two of those compilations? M2. As far as I’m concerned, that means there may be a chance that we could see some kind of a re-release for these games down the line – which is especially important, considering that WiiWare is no more. Still, this is an incredible longshot, which is why it just barely makes the list at number ten.

9. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 – Bandai Namco (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U)

I included this one for the same reason as last year. Tekken 7 is still chugging along with its third season of content and while Harada has remained steadfast that the game will remain the Tekken team’s priority for its entire lifespan, I still think it’s foolish to not even consider other avenues for monetizing the series… like, say, re-releasing earlier games in the series. Alas, TTT2 was considered a series low point in terms of sales, so Bandai Namco may be reluctant to revisit it.

8. Dragon’s Crown Pro – Atlus/Vanillaware (PlayStation 4/3/Vita)

At this point, this is essentially just the Atlus game that’s the highest priority for me. I already mentioned previously that Vanillaware hasn’t been opposed to releasing their games on PC and considering the fact that we’ve seen Sega themselves circumvent the publisher’s wildly anti-PC stance, I think there’s some potential here. Unfortunately, something tells me that when Sega Europe said they would look into porting more “Atlus games”, they might have been referring strictly to their games that were developed in-house.

7. Brandish: The Dark Revenant – Nihon Falcom/XSEED Games (PlayStation Portable)

XSEED remains committed to PC ports of the games they publish.  Heroland is a perfect example of this commitment: they somehow managed to announce a PC version at the eleventh hour, which they plan on launching simultaneously with the console versions. The problem is that, these days, they tend to be focusing more on porting newer games than raiding their back catalog. Given the fact that they still like to tout their previous relationship with Falcom – a partnership that brought both companies to prominence in the West – I don’t think a Brandish port is entirely out of the question. I just don’t think it’s super likely. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if they do another slate of mystery titles before a major conference like they’ve been doing in recent years.

6. No More Heroes 1 & 2 – Grasshopper Manufacture (Wii, et al.)

After announcing that Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes would be hitting PS4 and PC, Suda51 hinted in an interview with Dengeki Online that remasters of the original two games may be in the works, if talks with publisher Marvelous Entertainment go according to plan. While the Japanese interview only mentioned the PlayStation 4 for a potential release, I don’t think it’s entirely out of the realm of possibility that if the remasters get confirmed, we could see them hit other platforms as well, namely the Switch and, of course, PC.

5. MegaMan Powered Up/MegaMan: Maverick Hunter X – Capcom (PlayStation Portable)

I know it doesn’t seem fair to put this game above ones with, well, actual evidence behind them. But screw it, it’s my list. And the presence of the oft mentioned Zero/ZX Legacy Collection makes me believe that anything could be possible when it comes to future re-releases from the MegaMan series. But letting that upscaling technology that went into the PS2 games from the second MMX Legacy Collection go to waste just seems like a sin.

4. The Legend of Dark Witch Episode 3: Wisdom and Lunacy – INSIDE SYSTEM/M2 (3DS)

I mentioned recently that the remake of the original Dark Witch game came to Steam a little while ago. The surprising bit is that the developer essentially skipped over the third game in the series, moving straight to the remake, despite the first two games also being on PC via Steam. I decided to just make a little quip about it on their Steam forum and was surprised to receive an answer. I’m not sure if I understood what they said exactly, but it sounds like they’d be willing to port Wisdom and Lunacy over if we could prove that it would sell well enough. It’s not confirmation, but it at least tells me that it’s on their radar.

3. Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 – Inti Creates (3DS, Switch)

I mean, my reasoning here should be obvious, right? Inti Creates has jumped back onto the Steam bandwagon at full force this year. If anything, I’m surprised they didn’t manage to push this one out before Luminous Avenger iX came out. I guess the real question is whether they’ll just do an individual release or just replace the original entry for the first game with the Striker Pack. Granted, they did actually update the Steam version of the original Gunvolt to bring it in line with the features offered in the Switch version – which I believe was just payback for the fact that that version was clearly built from the PC release as opposed to the original 3DS version.

2. Rare Replay – Microsoft Studios/Rare (Xbox One)

At this point, it just feels like a matter of time. I can literally count the number of Xbox One exclusives I care about that have yet to make it to PC by flipping off an Englishman. And while that Dead Rising 3 spinoff seems incredibly unlikely to resurface in any form, Rare Replay is practically in my grasp at this point. Now granted, the rumors of the game going multi-platform have died down after Banjo and Kazooie made it into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but Microsoft’s overall pivot back toward treating PC gaming like a meaningful part of their business strategy has led to the latest game in the Gears of War series and the Halo remasters making it to PC. Honestly, I think the only thing holding Replay back at this point is the worry that the game might not be considered relevant anymore.

1. Splatterhouse (2010) – Bandai Namco (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Okay, I’ve tried to make it a point to keep my crazier conspiracy theories as far away from Retronaissance as humanly possible by banishing them to my personal blog. But for once, there’s actual evidence here. Back in September, Bandai Namco filed trademarks for “Encore” titles for some of their intellectual properties. So far, we’ve only seen one Encore title release in the West, Katamari Damacy Re-Roll was called “Katamari Damacy Encore” in Japan. They filed for five trademarks in total, but only three of them are recognizable to me and my fellow Anglophones: Mr. Driller – which had a logo included with the filing – Klonoa and Splatterhouse. Considering the fact that the only Splatterhouse game to come out in the past decade was the 2010 reboot, not to mention the fact that it includes perfect ports of the original three games, it just seems like the only obvious choice for any potential re-release. If Bandai Namco wants to go even further and make it the definitive package, they could throw in the Famicom spinoff Wanpaku Graffiti just to add even more value.

Haunt me no more, spirit! With these visions of games that may or may not be released on my platform of choice! I am a changed man – in the sense that I’ll continue to share the wealth by highlighting PC games that console gamers deserve to play on their own terms with a list each April. Until then, I guess I’ll continue to keep PC ports in my heart.

The Classic Mini Revue

With the Christmas season steadily approaching – some would argue it’s already started – my mind begins to turn back time to the holidays of times past. As it just so happens, many first-party video game companies (former and current) have begun looking to their past in order to build new successes in the present and future. While several companies have tried to make their own fortunes by licensing out their IPs for a quick buck, it took Nintendo building hardware internally to kick off the first successful batch of classic “mini console” releases with the NES roughly 3 years ago. Since then, other companies like Sony, Sega and even Konami have tried to build their own fortunes by bringing out mini consoles of their own, all fully stocked with a vast library of each system’s most popular and beloved games right out of the box. In a few cases, games that were rarities or even never officially released before were even added to the package, to give retro game collectors an incentive all their own to pick them up.

So, with the Sega Genesis Mini recently releasing and Konami’s own miniaturized take on NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 due out early next year, it seems like now would be a good time to do a little write-up on this most recent wave of nostalgic re-releases. I’m not planning on too complex of a listicle for this write-up – after all, my attention is still focused on my retrospectives due at the end of the year – but a brief overview of each console, ranging from 2016’s NES Classic Mini all the way up until the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, which may not be due out until next year, but we already have a full list of titles announced. As such, I’ll be looking at each mini console’s library, picking out a game I wish had made the cut – both first-party and a third-party release, based on which developers contributed to the mini consoles in the past – a game I wish had been omitted in its place, and in the cases where different regions had different assortment of games compared to the American release, the game I would have wanted the most from that particular line-up.

With all that being said, let’s start with the platform that kicked everything off, the NES Classic Mini:

NES Classic Edition

The one that started it all… well, as long as you ignore the mediocre licensed mini consoles of yore. Which you should.

Missed Opportunity (Nintendo): Wario’s Woods

Admittedly, it came down to this or Tetris – and as much as I love Tetris, the NES version isn’t the end-all and be-all. Wario’s Woods, on the other hand, is somewhat historically significant: it was the final NES game ever released officially in North America. This was hard to pick, because surprisingly Nintendo stripped out the vast majority of their usual assortment of “filler” games from the early days of the NES’s lifespan and instead delivered on the vast majority of the 8-bit behemoth’s killer apps.

Missed Opportunity (Third-Party): Mighty Final Fight (Capcom)

I mean, I guess I’d almost argue for more MegaMan games, but I decided against them due to the ubiquity of those games, especially with all the NES games being packaged in collections that are available on every modern platform and many older ones as well. Mighty Final Fight, on the other hand, is a rarity – not to mention it’s a far better game than the SNES port of the original arcade classic.

Waste of Space: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Honestly, Nintendo hit it out of the park when it came to narrowing down titles for their NES Classic, at least as far as I’m concerned, with the Western release. I would’ve expected that we would’ve seen the likes of Pinball or Golf on here as easy outs, but instead, I just decided to go with my gut and pick a game that I personally don’t like. It doesn’t hurt that, as I mentioned with the rest of the MegaMan games earlier, there’s a collection out containing all 3 NES Castlevania games (and then some) available on pretty much everything today.

Other Countries Have All the Luck (Japan): River City Ransom

Okay, so technically, what the Japanese version has that we lack isn’t River City Ransom, but rather its Japanese counterpart “Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari”. Still, considering the presence of Double Dragon II: The Revenge – which is objectively the best Double Dragon game on the NES – on both the NES Classic and the Famicom Mini, it means that Nintendo likely had the ear of Arc System Works, the current owner of all of Technos Japan’s intellectual properties. While I’m not sure that I would’ve traded DD2 for RCR, it just strikes me as a baffling decision given the game’s cult status.

Super NES Classic Edition

One good turn deserves another. Plus, an official release of Star Fox 2, a game that was literally scrapped at the last minute, showed us how willing Nintendo was to raise the bar. …maybe that’s why they haven’t done one since.

Missed Opportunity (Nintendo): Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

The fact that Nintendo just decided to include the original Donkey Kong Country and not its vastly superior sequel just baffles me. I mean, the original DKC was probably the most iconic entry of the trilogy, but when it comes to quality, the second game is in a league all its own. Granted, I generally just think it’s a waste for Nintendo to try to license the use of any individual DKC game and not just go for the full trilogy in general, just given how many hoops they have to jump through.

Missed Opportunity (Third-Party): Demon’s Crest (Capcom)

Admittedly, this one came down to Demon’s Crest or E.V.O.: The Search for Eden. And while E.V.O. is an interesting game that deserves a proper re-release, Demon’s Crest just barely edges it out in my opinion. Sure, most people would’ve probably said Chrono Trigger, but as you all should know by now, I’m not really that into JRPGs.

Waste of Space: Kirby’s Dream Course

This game is the odd one out in my opinion. While every other game in the SNES Classic’s line-up have at least some visible fan backing behind them – regardless of how I personally feel about certain games myself – if Dream Course has any sort of a fanbase, it certainly isn’t a very vocal one. It just seems like such an odd choice in general.

Other Countries Have All the Luck (Japan): Panel de Pon

I mean, we’re probably never going to see a proper re-release of the original Tetris Attack as we knew it. So, why not offer us the next best thing: the game they modified in the first place? It’s a puzzle game, so despite the fact that there’s a great deal of Japanese text in the game, it shouldn’t hamper international audiences’ enjoyment of the game.

NEOGEO mini

And thus, as SNK was reborn for the second time, they brought us the first mini console in the current wave from outside The House Miyamoto Built. Fortunately, things turned out better with this release compared to their previous partnership with Tommo, the ill-fated (and consequently illegal) NeoGeo X.

Due to just how many variants of this system exist, I’ll be using the line-up from the original “International Version” variant – the first one we got in the West – to make most of these determinations, though I’ll be keeping other variants like the Christmas Edition and the iterations recently released to advertise SNK’s recent Samurai Shodown game when making certain considerations. All things considered, there have been roughly 66 games released across 5 variants of the cabinet, so it may be a bit difficult to keep track of everything.

Missed Opportunity: Prehistoric Isle II

Before I explain my choice, I’d like to state that since SNK stuck to first party titles and games developed by ADK (which SNK outright absorbed during their Playmore days) for their line of mini arcade cabinets, we’ve only got one company to contend with this time. Having said that, choosing between Bust-A-Move and Waku Waku 7 (among others) would’ve been nerve-wracking.

Honestly though, while there are a few other games I considered, SNK did a good job of filling out their first-party library across at least 5 different variants of the hardware, but the truth is that at least 90% of the NeoGeo’s library consists of two genres: fighting games and shoot-‘em-ups. While the fighting games that were left out of every version of the little arcade cabinets aren’t my favorite and trying to determine who owns some of my favorite shmups on the system at this point in time has been a nightmare, I just decided to put my own preferences aside and give a shout-out to my editor who really loves this game.

Waste of Space: Metal Slug 2

Honestly, considering our version had Metal Slug 2 and its vastly superior enhanced port/remake, Metal Slug X, this was an easy choice. What’s even more bewildering is that several versions of the NEOGEO mini opted to include 2 instead of X. That’s just shameful.

Other Countries Have All the Luck (Japan): The King of Fighters ‘96

Since the original release is really the only version that hasn’t been properly made available to Western audiences, I decided to just compare it to every other model. Bafflingly, KoF ’96 was only made available in that initial release and hasn’t been added to any other variants since, despite clearly being one of the more popular games in the series, even outright codifying several of the series’ staple teams as they exist today.

PlayStation Classic

This was a disaster, though personally I appreciate that they used the pre-Dual Analog PS1 controllers for the package, as I have some serious nostalgia for those things. Still, these things have had their prices slashed so deep, it might be cheaper to just buy one of these on clearance than it would be buying a 3D printed replica case for a Raspberry Pi – and I mean, just the case.

Missed Opportunity (Sony): Um Jammer Lammy

At first, I considered giving the nod to Twisted Metal 2… but I’ve got a lot more nostalgia associated with the original in the first place and it seems like Sony was trying to keep things limited to one game per series. Um Jammer Lammy is one of those cult classics that I still feel like doesn’t get enough love, compared to its predecessor.

Missed Opportunity (Third-Party): MegaMan Legends (Capcom)

If only because it was apparently originally intended to be on there in the first place. Granted, I’m biased, but the PS1 Classic only came with the original pre-Dual Shock controller – which really limits the games that could work well on it. Also, the other MegaMan games that came out on the original PS1 have been re-released in compilations recently. I also considered Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but it’s already available on PS4 via Castlevania Requiem. I’m beginning to think that there are either some rights issues we aren’t aware of or Konami’s simply ashamed of the original English dub for some reason, despite it being the fan favorite.

Waste of Space: Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six

Honestly, a part of me just wanted to say “every single game that was released in PAL format for reasons I still don’t entirely understand”, but that feels like a cheat. I’ll be honest, for this one, I decided to ask myself two questions: “do I have anything resembling interest in this game?” and “would people riot if it were excluded?” In the end, it came down to Destruction Derby and Rainbow Six… and frankly, smashing cars into each other sounds way more entertaining to me than some espionage thriller.

…besides, it’s $10 on GOG and you don’t have to contend with the weird framerate issues inherent to PAL-region games. You can’t say that about Destruction Derby, despite it also having a PC version.

Other Countries Have All the Luck (Japan, et al.): G-Darius

I actually had this game on the PS1 when I was growing up and I freaking loved it. Such a shame that it was exclusively available on the version that was only available in Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Oh well, I guess they had to make room for heavy hitters like… Cool Boarders 2 and Rayman.

Sega Genesis Mini

If Nintendo set the bar and Sony tragically smashed into it, leaving countless casualties, then Sega clearly raised it to the extent where I doubt anyone can compete with what they’re offering here. It boasts more games than either the NES and SNES Classics, including several rarities – like the Sega Channel-exclusive North American release of Mega Man: The Wily Wars and Tetris, a game Sega only realized they couldn’t legally sell until after they started printing it – a menu theme composed by legendary game musician Yuzo Koshiro and three distinct regional variants. If the Genesis Mini has any fatal flaw, it’s that the opulence contained within may make future attempts at classic mini consoles seem inconsequential.

Missed Opportunity (Sega): Quackshot Starring Donald Duck

This one was difficult to narrow down, simply because while there is an obvious choice – Sonic 3 & Knuckles – there are clearly some rights issues preventing it from being re-released these days. On top of that, many of Sega’s first-party Genesis games have already been made available through the “SEGA Mega Drive and Genesis Classics” compilation, which is available on all 4 major modern platforms. Therefore, my best bet would be picking something that wasn’t present on either the current collection or the mini console.

In the end, considering that Sega was able to broker a deal with Disney to re-release both of their Illusion games, I found it kind of surprising that they didn’t consider something similar for Quackshot, which has a cult following in its own right. Granted, I’m not really familiar with the game, but I’ve heard good things from every person I’ve spoken too about it. Definitely feels like a missed opportunity.

Missed Opportunity (Third-Party): Rocket Knight Adventures (Konami)

Honestly, after they announced Castlevania Bloodlines and Contra: Hard Corps for the Genesis Mini, I waited with bated breath, hoping that we’d see the mighty Konami Genesis trifecta completed. Alas, it was not meant to be. The fact that Bloodlines and Hard Corps were also going to be present on multi-platform compilations just made that omission sting a little bit more.

Waste of Space: Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle

I recall seeing a poll on Twitter around the time Sega finished announcing the games present on the Genesis Mini, asking which game was the biggest waste of space on the console. The two games up for debate were Virtua Fighter 2 and Alex Kidd. While I think VF2 was the overall winner (well, technically the loser, but you get the point), I voted for Alex Kidd without even a hint of hesitation. I was never really that big on the series, but it doesn’t help that Enchanted Castle is easily the worst game with the Alex Kidd branding put on it. Besides, at least the argument could be made that VF2 is the third-best fighting game on the Genesis Mini – mainly because there are only two others —

Other Countries Have All the Luck (Japan): MUSHA

One of the best shmups on a system that already had an amazing line-up of them in the first place. This is technically on both the Japanese and Asian variants of the Mega Drive Mini, but to be fair, the games that were entirely exclusive to the former didn’t really grab me as much as one might expect. Maybe if Rent-A-Hero had an English translation…

Other Countries Have All the Luck (“Asia”): Alien Soldier

Alien Soldier, on the other hand, is a true Asian Mega Drive Mini exclusive. Developed by Treasure, the game is a side-scrolling shooter that focuses mainly on boss fights: almost like a proto-Cuphead of sorts. Fortunately, the game is available on the aforementioned compilation, so we’re not really missing out on that much compared to MUSHA.

TurboGrafx-16 Mini

With 57 games slated for the mini console upon its release in March 2020, Konami’s entry into this trend almost seems like overkill. Granted, it’s too early to tell, but this will either be the best thing the company’s done in years or just par for the course.  So really, there’s no downside here.

Missed Opportunity (Konami/Hudson Soft): Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys

I understand it comes across as an odd choice for a first-party game, but while Ys is the intellectual property of Nihon Falcom, they farmed out the entirety of both development and publishing for The Dawn of Ys to Hudson Soft. That, coupled with the fact that Ys Book I & II is present on the system’s line-up seems to imply that Falcom was ready, willing and able to license it, had Konami asked for it. Such a shame.

Missed Opportunity (Third-Party): Dragon’s Curse (…Sega and/or Westone, I guess)

I mean, Space Harrier and Fantasy Zone are already on there. Since the partnership with Sega clearly existed, I’m a little bummed out that they didn’t grab this gem as well. Granted, I guess I’m happy with the current-gen remake from DotEmu, but it would’ve been great to see this version make it as well.

Waste of Space: China Warrior

Honestly, I really grappled with the idea of including one of the Japanese-only titles that are being included in both versions of the mini console, but I decided against it for that very reason. In the end, I chose China Warrior, which is… fairly infamous, considering the TG16’s niche status in the West. I know my editor will appreciate this choice: each character takes up like a quarter of the screen.

Other Countries Have All the Luck (Japan): Tokimeki Memorial

…I’m not going to lie to you. Until I looked up the list today, I had forgotten that there was going to be regional differences between the libraries of the North American TurboGrafx-16 – and by extension, the European PC Engine CoreGrafx – and its Japanese counterpart, the PC Engine Mini, especially since many games were going to have both their English and Japanese iterations released on both versions. As it turns out, there were only two games that were different between versions and I think that for once, the West objectively made out like bandits this time. While Japan gets dating sim Tokimeki Memorial and JRPG Tengai Makyou II: Manji Maru, we get Konami’s classic shmup Salamander. I just ended up picking Tokimeki because it was the only game of the two that I recognized.

I have to wonder if the TurboGrafx-16 Mini will mark the end of the current mini consoles trend or if we’ll see more of them in the coming years. Admittedly, the main problem now is that the next logical step for the companies with more platforms to revitalize – namely Nintendo and Sega – have to contend with some major emulation roadblocks when it comes to their fifth-generation systems: the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn, respectively. To make matters worse, Sony nearly derailed this trend with its own piss-poor management of the PlayStation Classic, so chances are they won’t continue on with a PS2 Classic, should we ever reach a point where such a thing would be viable for mass production. It also seems a bit redundant to go back and cover platforms that were essentially skipped this time around – honestly, I’d probably only shell out for a Master System Mini if it were half the price of the Genesis. Personally, I’d like to see some all-in-one handhelds – especially the Game Boy, Game Gear and the NeoGeo Pocket Color – but I guess developing a “mini portable” is a bit redundant. I just hope that the companies in question don’t regress back to those shoddy, low quality plug-and-play systems that were farmed out to manufacturers with no sense of quality control.

 

 

 

 

 

But Is It Art? – Haunted Castle

Truth be told, I’ve been sitting on this topic for the better part of a year now. I came up with the original concept around the end of October last year, but by the time the idea bubbled up, I had a full plate for the month. Sure, I only contributed to two articles, but I also had a massive undertaking in last year’s batch of MegaMan retrospectives in front of me. Besides, SNES Master KI was writing up a storm at that point. But with far less content planned for the site this month and despite another massive retrospective in my queue, it’s finally time to break into the catacombs of my weirdest ideas and write an appropriately spooky article on a game that has been deemed frightening for all the wrong reasons.

But what is art? A miserable little pile of nonsense. But enough talk, let’s review… what the point of this whole series was. “But Is It Art?” was meant as a way to explore games that are commonly maligned as abominations from a different angle. After all, if video games truly are an artistic medium, then even the worst examples must have some merit from a creative standpoint. And that’s what this series sets out to do: take some of gaming’s worst travesties and examine them from a different critical lens, gleaming if they have any artistic merit. Whether it’s recontextualizing everyone’s favorite Bobcat into a deconstruction of the emerging “platformer starring an anthropomorphic animal with attitude” trend or if WCW’s final video game was a metaphor for its own imminent demise, But Is It Art explores the deeper truths that all but the most astute games journalists are incapable of seeing.

Today’s topic is Haunted Castle, generally considered among the worst games (if not THE worst game) in the Castlevania series – to the extent where it’s considered a blessing that it managed to avoid the Castlevania branding in the West… for reasons I still don’t entirely understand, as the series had already debuted in North America and Europe at that point. Haunted Castle was a game designed for the arcade in the late 1980s and it certainly shows, but Konami went above and beyond by implementing a strange limitation on the game’s continues, forcing the game to reset in all but one iteration of the game. A baffling move for arcade games in general, which generally allow even the least skilled players to brute-force their way through their challenges if they arrive with deep enough pockets, but not an uncommon practice for the publisher at the time. However, was this simply a glaring oversight on the part of the game’s developers or did Konami accidentally stumble upon the concept of the modern rogue-lite, decades before the concept would properly come to light?

Now, I understand just how odd this premise sounds on the surface. So, before we delve into the game itself, it would be helpful to determine just how the rogue-lite sub-genre is defined among the gaming population in general. Rogue-lites are loosely based around the “rogue-like” genre, which themselves are essentially clones of the classic 1980 computer game Rogue, developed by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman. While “rogue-likes” take much more care with emulating the concepts of the classic game, including dungeon crawling through randomly generated areas that appear blank until they’re explored and every action being rendered in a turn-based format, “rouge-lites” take a far more superficial inspiration from the concept, as implied by the designation’s name. Generally, rogue-lites are defined by randomly-generated layouts, high difficulty and most prominently, permadeath – that is, the fact that the player operates with an extremely limited number of lives (generally one) and if they run out, they have to restart the game from the very beginning.

If that last line stands out, dear reader, then you know exactly where I’m going with this. Granted, Haunted Castle was by no means the only Konami coin-op that operated on such a counterintuitive ruleset – apparently, the vast majority of Konami’s arcade offerings ran on a limited continues mechanic – but remember to factor in the stiff gameplay, which even the original NES game puts to shame, despite coming out on weaker hardware two years prior. And while Haunted Castle may lack the random stage layouts that are considered a rogue-like trademark, the stage layouts themselves do come across as somewhat random at times, albeit mostly due to the art design.

Having said that, I will now (as I often do) break down both of my assertions individually and address any counterarguments that come to mind. The majority of arcade machines – but especially those developed during the format’s heyday from the 1970s all the way into the late ‘90s – have been designed with one goal in mind: to separate as much money as humanly possible from the player before they decide to give up and move on. One might expect that resetting the player’s progress after about a dollar’s worth of credits would do even better to eat up quarters, that all but the most skilled players would continue to pump coins into Haunted Castle indefinitely.

Unfortunately, in practice, all this would likely do is demoralize all but the most masochistic players into quitting. After all, games have to utilize the same kinds of exploitative psychological tricks that casinos and other forms of gambling often employ to keep most of their devotees coming back again and again to keep quarters and tokens alike flowing into them. And one of the more important things to remember when encouraging customers – be they gamers or gamblers – coming back is perpetuating the concept that victory is always possible. Slot machines often cash out small cash prizes to keep their players hooked and arcade games did the same by keeping the player’s progress intact, while a timer slowly counts down to a game over. Granted, if the Konami of the late 1980s shared the same mindset as its modern-day counterpart, resetting the game after a set number of credits as a method to milk arcade-goers for as much money as humanly possible does sound like it would fall perfectly in line with some of the company’s more recent hair-brained schemes, but something tells me that the seeds that led to Konami’s fall from grace were not planted so early.

I would also consider comparing Haunted Castle’s gameplay to that of the later “Souls-like” games, which I’ve often seen compared to rogue-lites – though most games that are designated as “proper” Souls-likes are 3D, while 2D games in the style are often associated with the rogue-lites genre. Now, tell me if this sounds familiar: the player character has slow and awkward movement and attack mechanics that often leave them vulnerable in areas that frequently obscure their deadliest obstacles, and even the most minor enemies seem much stronger and better suited to the game world by default. Now, did I just describe Demon’s Souls …or Haunted Castle? Trick question: that description can easily apply to both games. Now, given the fact that Konami was able to create the arcade version of Contra on the same arcade hardware the year prior – and again, the original NES Castlevania the year before that – it seems entirely likely that the awkward mechanics present in Haunted Castle were a conscious choice on the part of the developers, much like many modern rogue-lites.

The last possible counterargument that I was able to conceive would be that Haunted Castle only counts as this sort of “proto-rogue-lite” if the game’s odd mechanics were done completely on purpose. This is a pretty weak argument on the surface. After all, several of gaming’s most beloved conventions were the result of unintentional design choices. The combo mechanic from Street Fighter II was an unforeseen consequence of the game’s programming and it ended up revolutionizing the entire fighting game genre to this day. Space Invader’s classic difficulty curve was the result of the programmers not accounting for freed up processing power. The rocket jump, the Spy class in Team Fortress 2, even Konami’s signature code were all the products of developer oversight, yet this doesn’t delegitimize them in the least.

Considering the fact that Haunted Castle was recently made available on all platforms through Konami’s Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection and was previously made available through Hamster’s Arcade Archives line of digital releases, perhaps a new generation may discover an appreciation for this obscure take on Castlevania. Granted, the version available in the compilation does have an option to play the game with a more conventional credits system for an arcade game, but the Arcade Archives version retains the option to play with limited continues, the way the game was meant to be played. Either way, this game is far more accessible these days than it has been for the past 30 years. Perhaps a new generation of hardcore gamers will herald Haunted Castle as the forebearer of today’s most difficult games. Now that’s a scary idea.

 

Of Axioms and Idioms: Janks for the Memories

It’s funny. When I first started doing these “Of Axioms and Idioms”, they pretty much dominated my output for quite some time. But ever since I decided to focus on other abandoned series, it’s been more and more difficult for me to write new articles in this style. It doesn’t really help that whenever I do end up coming up with a concept for this series, it tends to be accompanied by another idea that the people I look to for input tend to find more interesting than doing another “Of Axioms and Idioms” editorial. And then, by the time I finally see a lull where I can easily opt into finally writing down the idea, the passion I had for the concept in the first place has long since burnt out, leaving me at a loss for words when it comes to revisiting the idea several months down the line. Fortunately, this is not one of those times.

The truth is, I’ve always had an unorthodox interest in video games that can be called… “janky”. You know, games that don’t exactly run as smoothly as their successors or even their contemporaries. Sometimes, if a game is janky in just the right way, it just ends up feeling satisfying to me. I can’t really explain what it is about these games that draw me in… and more importantly, not all janky games are created equally in my eyes. The kind of games I tend to gravitate towards aren’t glitchy and broken, they just feel… stiffer than average. Maybe the animations last too long or don’t chain together properly. Maybe there’s a perceivable delay between when you’re allowed to interconnect actions. Or maybe, the game is just predicated on the idea that once you’ve made a decision about what to do, you have to see it through to the very end before you can make another decision.

I’ll be completely honest: my editor actually helped to inspire me to write about this topic. When I originally came up with the idea for this article, he had given up on Yakuza Kiwami for the second time, while I was thoroughly enjoying Yakuza Zero. The first time he gave up though, he said that he found the combat system to be annoying. Considering the fact that he’s something of an action game connoisseur and he tends to view gameplay as the only relevant aspect of any video game, it was understandable. But this wasn’t the first time he gave up on something due to what he perceived as distracting mechanics: I sold him my old copies of the Bioshock games and Infinite was the only game in the series he bothered to play to completion. However, by the time I was finally getting ready to write on this subject, my enthusiasm for the subject had dwindled significantly. Fortunately, he just so managed to bring up the fact that he gave up on Capcom’s recent remaster of Onimusha, a game I thoroughly devoured earlier this year. While his main gripe – the inability to skip cutscenes – is something that I can agree with (even if it didn’t affect me much in the first place), he also brought up complaints regarding the camera and more notably, the combat. While we have butted heads about the appeal of janky games several times in the past, having a far more recent example is perhaps the best motivator possible when it comes to reigniting my passion for a particular subject.

But in order to properly defend the concept of jank, we need a proper definition of it. In general, the word “janky” typically refers to something that is either of poor quality, generally bizarre or both. In terms of computing, it generally refers to a program being unresponsive or sluggish, generally due to poor interface design of the software itself. With video games, on the other hand, it’s a more of a flexible term. Based on what I’ve seen online, many people use “jank” to describe cases of odd game-breaking glitches, like horses randomly floating in the air, missing textures leading to faceless abominations or fail states triggering for inexplicable reasons. I don’t really agree with this definition for the term, because it makes these errors sound more like quirky accidents instead of the coding mistakes they truly are. Ironically, Porpentine Charity Heartscape, the organizer of an art exhibit based around video games called “Dire Jank”, had a definition that I consider far more valid. She defines jank as “the inevitable disconnect between real life and the systems that simulate life . . . In this era of hyper-photorealism, everything leaks jank. The harder they try to simulate everything, the more weird and broken it all feels.” As far as I understand it, it seems as though she considers it to be an uncanny valley between an ever-increasing emphasis on realism in video games, while still exuding a sense of artificiality that just becomes more and more prominent and disturbing as the gap between reality and the virtual shrinks. Not a perfect definition for my view on the concept, I admit. But it definitely beats “why me die for no raisin?” by leaps and bounds.

But maybe, trying to understand an attribute from an objectively subjective medium like video games is the wrong way to approach the concept. While many people seem to look down on video games that are classified as janky, there are some cases where I’d argue that unorthodox concepts led to some amazing games. For example, early games in the Ys series utilized “bump combat”, a mechanic that relied on players ramming into enemies off-center in order to deal damage without taking any themselves. I think it’s fair to categorize this as a jank mechanic, but I still think it’s fun all the same. Likewise, from what I’ve seen, combat is generally considered one of the weaker aspects of the Yakuza series. Granted, I’ve only played through Zero and am currently playing through the first Kiwami – which I’m told have the best combat in the entire series – but it reminds me of the Virtua Fighter games I’ve played. To put that in perspective, my experience with that series ended with the Dreamcast.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I break “jank” into its core perceivable elements. The most obvious choice is clearly the “stiffness” associated with controls. For a game to properly to be classified as janky, there have to be some pretty significant and unmistakable resistance in the game’s controls, almost to the point where it may not mesh thematically with more fantastical games, both in terms of setting and genre. Granted, this isn’t always an indication of jank: I’d argue that simulator-style games often employ even stiffer controls than the jankiest games out there, but that’s because it comes across as more realistic. After all, people can’t double-jump in real-life, right?

Likewise, I’d say that there’s generally an unorthodox sense of “weight” in the controls themselves. I would argue that this is distinct from “stiffness”, but it’s difficult to articulate why. Perhaps it’s more of an odd sense of gravity: things either become too “heavy” or “floaty” in many jank games, whether it’s the game’s jump physics in general (a traditional pitfall in many games) or even the player character’s abilities not meshing well with the game’s physics engine. Usually, it’s a case where the physics are far too complex to accommodate simplistic gameplay mechanics, leading to weird cases of ragdolling character models and other weird happenings. Of course, when the opposite occurs, it’s easy enough to reconcile the issues most of the time – and when it can’t be, it results in a game that’s not so much “janky” but rather broken.

However, the most recognizable aspect of jank in video games, at least as far as I can tell, revolves around the game’s animations. When animations last too long, there’s almost a sense of lag when it comes them, as if they add a sense that the player’s input no longer registers. I’ll be honest, that’s probably the element of jank that bothers me the most – and it’s probably the most prominent of the three as well. Even before the advent of 3D models and fully-formed animations, there were also games like Castlevania and Ghosts ‘n Goblins, which utilized stiff jump mechanics, even when compared to their contemporaries like Super Mario Bros. Of course, in that case, the stilted jump was probably a conscious choice on the part of the developers in order to cultivate a sense of difficulty. I’m not so sure that the more modern issue of stiff controls is quite as intentional. It’s almost as if the player loses control of their character for a moment during gameplay segments. At its worst, it almost feels like it’s removing the interactivity that’s at the core of the medium. Fortunately, most of the time it just leads to me putting myself into inopportune situations, which the game’s AI can easily exploit.

With these three core elements in mind, what then is the opposite of jank? One might assume that silky, smooth gameplay is the answer, but I don’t believe that’s the case. Even the most satisfying video games have a sense of resistance to their controls, operating under the game engine’s gravity and I’d say the vast majority of video games since 1985 have had animations in them. Then what is the opposite of jank in a video game? I’d argue that it’s “noclip”. I became familiar with the concept back when it was essentially a cheat code in first-person shooters, but it basically removes the player character from the game world at large. They can pass through solid walls (as well as floors and ceilings), don’t take damage from enemies or hazards (or even seem to recognize their existence) and are essentially rendered as ghosts, totally incapable of interacting with anything and everything, even the physics engine in most cases. This definitely removes the constraints of the first two elements of jank and to be honest, I do recall a few cases where the character was allowed to move around without the constants of any and all animations that would often wrest control from the player.

Granted, I think it’s incredibly disingenuous to assert that everyone who claims to hate jerky controls and wonky physics in video games simply want to fly through (both figuratively and literally) the entire game space with absolutely none of the consequences of interactivity present. Obviously, they want games that walk the edge between “jank” and “noclip” perfectly… and for the most part, that’s what I want too. I just happen to like playing the occasionally janky game as well. After all, as I said in the past – just because I can acknowledge a game is the best of its type or series, doesn’t mean it’s my favorite.