Retro or Reboot?: Pocky & Rocky

If there are any regrets I’ve had while writing articles for Retronaissance, it would simply have to be the fact that I’m overzealous when deciding to begin new series. It’s not to say that I don’t like the concept of writing multiple pieces based around a single cohesive theme – quite the opposite, in fact. My problem is that I always seem to decide to start them off with only an idea or two to explore. I always sort of take my ability to come up with new ideas that relate to these categories on a whim for granted, but in reality, coming up with topics that I deem both suitable and interesting is a difficult undertaking. As such, I would often exacerbate the problem: introducing more series with the expectation that they’d be easier to write for. Sometimes this ends up working to my advantage – I’ve got quite a few concepts lined up for a few existing series – but when it doesn’t, it only adds to my guilt. As such, I’ve decided that this year, I’m going to try to restart a few of these abandoned series – or at the very least, give them proper follow-ups – and what better place to start than with good old “Retro or Reboot”?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written one of these articles, so it’s only fitting that I review exactly what Retro or Reboot entails. I’ll be looking at a series – with a minimum of two games – that has fallen victim to a significant hiatus. In the past, I’ve considered only games that haven’t seen a new release since the sixth generation (the days when the PlayStation 2 ruled the gaming world), but since the present generation has finally come into its own, I’ll amend this to involve anything that hasn’t been revived since the seventh generation: Xbox 360, PS3 and the Wii. Anything newer than that still has a chance to be revisited after all. Generally, I’ll favor series that only managed to exist during a single generation – it’s just easier to find a cohesive theme when you don’t have to worry about deviations like the 3D Castlevania games or the 2010 reboot of Splatterhouse when considering a franchise’s core concept. I also tend to prefer older franchises, simply because I’m more likely to be familiar with them. In the end, I craft two proposals to revive the franchise: one retro-themed proposition which simply tries to maintain as much of the originals’ concepts as possible and the other a total reboot that tries to reimagine the series with modern conventions. Of course, both proposals can be best described as fantastical pie in the sky wishing, but these are meant to be happy articles, soul-crushing reality be damned!

This article’s topic is Pocky & Rocky. Developed by Natsume, the P&R series is a perfect example of the shoot-‘em-up sub-genre colloquially referred to as the “cute-‘em-up”. The games play similarly to a specific style of shmup where players are capable of freely roaming the stage at their own pace – other examples with similar gameplay include Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Commando and Shock Troopers. Some time ago, the Nopino Goblins went on a rampage. A young Shinto priestess named Pocky managed to put an end to the mayhem, restoring the peace. One day, a Tanuki named Rocky came to Pocky’s temple, asking her for help. The goblins had lost their minds and began their rampage anew. The two team up to find out just why the spirits run amok once more. The second game involves the harvest festival, attended this year by Princess Luna – not that one –  the princess of the moon when she is kidnapped by a gang of demons, led by an oni named Impy. This time, Pocky and Rocky are joined by two new partners, Bomber Bob and Little Ninja. While I personally didn’t own a Super Nintendo when I was a kid, my cousin did and he had both games, so I have fond memories of them from my childhood. Years later, I got to play them again and they definitely held up. Unfortunately, the games haven’t been re-released since: Natsume expressed interest in putting them on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service, but they claim that Nintendo wasn’t interested in releasing any titles from that platform.

Retro

The funny thing about this is that I’ve already got a perfect framework to base the entire concept around. Recently, Natsume did an enhanced port of Wild Guns: Reloaded – currently on the PS4 and coming soon to PC via Steam – which took the original game and rebuilt it, optimizing it for larger resolutions, adding new characters and stages and beefing up the multiplayer to allow for up to 4-player cooperative play. With such a product already existing, why not expand on its core concept with another classic Natsume game? I normally try to title these concepts and this time around I actually have a perfect title: “Pocky & Rocky: Resurrection”. You know, because the enemies fought in this game are mostly various spirits and other creatures generally associated with the afterlife? Besides, the series hasn’t been active since the Game Boy Advance days – so I think that constitutes “Resurrection” in the title.

Speaking of, that brings up a potential issue with the entire concept. You see, the Pocky & Rocky games are actually sequels in a series of games that were originally created by Taito. Known as “Kiki Kaikai” in Japan, the series originated in Japanese arcades in 1986. Here, the character we know as “Pocky” was referred to as Sayo. Taito would eventually release the game on both the MSX2 computer and the PC Engine and even develop a remake for the Famicom Disk System. After that point, the games that would become the Pocky & Rocky games were developed by Natsume who also published the games in both Japan and North America. These two games improved the gameplay of the series significantly: the original Kiki Kaikai games were slower affairs with stiffer controls. They were also the first games in the series to allow for simultaneous multiplayer play: the previous games in the series only allowed 2 players with alternating turns. The only direct follow-up to these two games was a Game Boy Advance game developed by a third company, Altron. This game was published in the West as “Pocky & Rocky with Becky”, including a third character – “Becky”, Pocky’s nigh-identical friend who first appeared in the Famicom game – though the gameplay itself more closely resembled the original arcade games, to my dismay.

There was another attempt at licensing the Kiki Kaikai name for another title – but by this point, Taito had been purchased by Square Enix which led to an argument over the rights to the name of the game. The game would eventually be released as “Yuikinko Daisenpu” – or Heavenly Guardian as it was known in North America – and is clearly meant to be a spiritual successor. This begs the question: would Natsume be able to make a new game in the Pocky & Rocky series? After all, they re-released the GBA game with little problem, but would Square Enix be willing to license the rights to Kiki Kaikai for a worldwide release or would Natsume have to perform some kind of trademark wrangling in order to get a new game made in the first place? Given the fact that Square-Enix has previously tried to license out the rights to various Eidos properties, allowing independent developers to make pitches for new games in those franchises, I think that there may be a chance that they may be more open to licensing out the property, especially to a former collaborator like Natsume.

The funny thing about this concept is that I’d argue it would work even better with Pocky & Rocky than it did with Wild Guns. They have two games to work from, as opposed to one, offering a wealth of existing content to delve from – after all, both games were pretty much built with the same game mechanics in mind, so utilizing the stages from both games under a shared framework should be completely possible. Throw in some additional brand new stages on top of that like Wild Guns: Reloaded did, and you’ve got a perfect retro revival on your hands.

I’d argue that the gameplay should resemble the original games as closely as possible, but by the same token, take into account various advances we’ve seen in video games since the SNES days. Of course, there were some slightly different mechanics between both P&R games: the single-player in the original allowed you to play alone, while the sequel gave you an AI partner of your choice, that could be thrown as a bomb attack for massive damage or taken control of, offering Pocky an additional hit point. The first game gave each character a health meter and allowed them to power up their shots in two ways – either a spread shot or a flaming shot which did more damage. The second game depicted Pocky’s health via her clothing, allowing her to don additional armor for an extra hit point and added new power-ups like bunny ears that enhance Pocky’s speed and a flashing block that would allow her to switch out her partner for a different character, including those that could be unlocked by finding them while playing the game. Due to these improvements, I would suggest using the second game as the revival’s basis, but offer two different single-player modes: one with a partner (representing the second game) and a solo mode (for those that preferred the first game). Better yet, in the former, you’d be able to choose any of the partner characters as your main – which could allow Pocky to act as a partner character. I originally considered adding in an alternate control method – one akin to twin-stick shooters – before I quickly realized that this would completely break the balance of the games. From the series’ conception, players have only been able to aim in the direction they’re moving, a mechanic that is of the utmost importance when enemy placement is considered. As such, I’d have to insist that Natsume maintain the original control scheme from previous games if they decide to take this route.

Obviously, a multiplayer mode is a must. In fact, keeping in line with single-player mode, there should be individual modes relating to both of the previous games. The first game gave each character their own unique health and extra lives, while the second game only allowed the second player to play as Pocky’s partner – only capable of taking a single hit of damage, but having an infinite set of lives, not unlike the Sonic & Tails mode in Sonic 2 and 3. I’d also suggest adding a 4-player mode (based on the first game’s multiplayer), just like the one found in Wild Guns: Reloaded. This time, however, I’d say that Natsume should try to balance the difficulty levels based on how many players are playing at a time – as the game constantly being balanced for 4 players was the chief criticism I heard levelled at Wild Guns. I’m probably a bit biased, but I’d also love to see an online multiplayer mode in addition to the classic couch co-op mode found in Reloaded. Of course, considering how small of a company Natsume is, a mode like that might be a massive undertaking – but it would be a nice touch all the same.

The graphical style is a simple decision: just use the same graphics from the old SNES games, like Wild Guns: Reloaded did. Upscale the graphics so that they look good at the higher resolutions modern platforms can display, but keep the character to playing field size ratio intact, while rendering the game itself in widescreen. Fortunately, the shift to widescreen shouldn’t have as much of an effect on the game as it did with Wild Guns, just due to the difference in genre. Likewise, the sprite work found in both games is similar enough that they should be easy enough to incorporate into a single title and any new artwork should be drawn to match the existing style.

Ideally, I’d want P&R: Resurrection to include both original games in their entirety: storyline, stage progression, boss fights, effectively acting as both an archive of the original games as well as their evolution. On that note, I’d love to see a “third” story added to the mix – with an all-new assortment of stages, as opposed to the few new levels thrown into Reloaded. In addition, throwing in a sort of “remix mode” that would throw a random assortment of levels from all three scenarios would be another awesome bonus feature that would certainly add hours of replay value.

Reboot

The first issue with trying to conceive a modern take on Pocky & Rocky is simply that it’s hard to think of a modern genre that could easily represent it. After all, the classic beat-‘em-ups of the golden age of arcades clearly share DNA with modern character action games, and even the shoot-‘em-ups of yore could easily be turned into rail shooters for big-budget releases today. However, what of the run-and-gun variant of the shmup? After all, part of the appeal there is having full control over the playable characters, while both standard shmups and rail shooters both rely on the screen scrolling constantly, pushing the player along designated paths. A better question: what’s the modern equivalent of a cute-‘em-up? In spite of the second game’s “Angry Kirby” packaging, the in-game graphics still maintain a light-hearted appearance. The Bomberman: Act Zero treatment clearly isn’t going to work with this one – granted, it didn’t even work with Bomberman in the first place.

My basic concept involves a lot of genre blending. Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any game that plays particularly like this – if anyone does, let me know in the comments – but essentially, it’d be a cross between an action game and a twin-stick shooter, essentially using some elements from a third-person shooter to bridge the gap between those two disparate genres. Essentially, we’d be looking at a game that offers quick mobility, emulating that of the SNES games – you could even incorporate the slide as like dodge maneuvers common in the action genre – but also allows for easy shooting controls. Ideally, the second stick would be used to both direct and aim Pocky and Rocky in a 3D environment, while either a face or shoulder button would be used to fire shots. Likewise, the items used to deflect enemy shots – Pocky’s “magic stick” and Rocky’s tail – would likely be expanded upon, expanding on what the melee attacks both characters were capable of in the previous games, while being sure not to overshadow the long-range attacks.

Originally, I considered basing a reboot of Pocky & Rocky on a third-person shooter. The problem with that is that games of this genre generally have clunky controls, which would be incredibly counterproductive when trying to translate a game like Pocky & Rocky into a modern design. After all, even among run-and-gun/shmup hybrids, both P&R games had remarkably responsive controls. The only game I could think of that even came close to what I was trying to achieve was Red Dead Revolver – itself originally conceived as a modern reboot of Capcom’s Gun.Smoke – but a modern take on P&R would require a much smoother and arcade-like interface. This led me to consider contemporary genres known for their responsive controls – and the action genre struck me as the best choice. Likewise, shooting is much more complex in the third-person shooter genre, so a simpler design choice was necessary and nothing is simpler than twin-stick aiming.

The graphics probably wouldn’t need to be all that complex – and any major release out of Natsume would likely lack the budget for anything ornate – so instead, I’ll discuss the type of art direction I’d like to see in this “big budget” reimagining of one of the cult classics from my childhood. First, I’d rather see an over-the-shoulder camera as opposed to the classic overhead view. If they wanted to retain the overhead view, they’d be better off going with the retro-themed revival. Besides, it would be interesting to see the world of Pocky & Rocky from a more direct angle. As for the game’s art style, I think the game should be done in 3D with cel-shaded graphics. I’m torn about how the art direction should take form beyond that point: either a colorful anime style or a graphical style evoking traditional Japanese paintings (not unlike Okami) would work for me.

As for potential developers, I’m kind of at a loss. Natsume doesn’t really have too many partners that they can commission to develop something like this and the project’s scope is also likely beyond the capabilities of their internal teams. As usual, my gut tells me Platinum Games would be a perfect choice, but given the caliber of publishers that have hired them in the past, they’re likely outside of Natsume’s budget. The best I can think of would likely be some random indie developer. The only team that really comes to mind would be The Game Bakers, the team behind the sleeper hit Furi – a game with an even faster pace than what I would expect from a Pocky & Rocky revival. Having said that, I’m almost certain that there may be some Japanese indie dev I’ve never heard of that would be a perfect fit for this concept.

It feels good to write another one of these and I’m happy to say that I’ve got even more ideas for Retro or Reboot in the pipeline. What did you think of these ideas? Would you rather see “Pocky & Rocky: Resurrection” become a reality or does a more modernized take on the series excite you more? Do you disagree that Pocky & Rocky is worth reviving in the first place? Do you have an even better idea for either concept? Are you also excited that Wild Guns: Reloaded is coming to Steam this year? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

First Impressions

These past few months, I’ve been working on a couple more retrospective articles not unlike the one I wrote for The Legend of Zelda back when Breath of the Wild launched last month. In addition to writing a far larger than average article, I’m also left researching various things, simply to jog my memory for games I haven’t played in quite some time, so I’ve had little time to write much else aside from a post on my side blog and another list in what’s quickly become my April Fools tradition. The one upshot to all of this is that I was running low on topics to write about outside of said retrospectives and in the process of writing them, I’ve had time to think of new topics to write on. In fact, the topic for this very article was inspired by a trend I noticed while writing one of the retrospectives.

Effectively, I was researching the fan reception of one of the games I was writing for – a game that I specifically remembered being considered the worst of its series – and found that, unsurprisingly, the game had its own set of fervent defenders. Some of the people defending the game in question made the argument that it was, in fact, the first game in the series that was truly the low point of the series and that most people gave it a pass simply because it was the first game in the entire franchise – and therefore, was owed a great measure of respect, as the series itself wouldn’t exist without it. Obviously, the argument raged on after that, but I must admit the statement gave me pause. I’d felt this way about the originators of various other classic series: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, MegaMan …the list goes on. Yet somehow, an obscure flame war on some internet forum actually made me reflect upon it. Many fans of video game series do generally afford the first games of the franchise in question a greater extent of leniency than all other games in the series.

I mean, the reasoning is understandable. Being the first release in a series means that not only have the basic gameplay mechanics not been completely established, as the games that start series generally end up being far more experimental in nature, simply because they were often developed as stand-alone titles in the first place. As such, it’s dishonest to compare them to their sequels: after all, most sequels tend to build on whatever framework the original had. You know the old metaphor, “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants”? Same basic principle here – the clear majority of video game sequels wouldn’t be able to reach their level of quality without learning from both the mistakes and successes of earlier titles.

Of course, that leads to the major question at hand: do we overcompensate when it comes to discussing these first games? It does seem entirely possible that when looking back at the games themselves, especially in the case of longer-running series, we’ll often forgive bizarre design choices, stiffer controls, blander level design and other short-comings, simply because they were the originators of their respective franchises. Of course, this is particularly evident in series where there is a designated black sheep – a later game in the franchise that is despised by the fanbase in general, no matter how many lone wolves claim that they actually liked it, either due to contrarianism or genuine love for the game in question.

The weird thing about this is that this level of protectionism only seems to apply to the first game in the franchise, as opposed to earlier games in general. It’s as if, by the time the second game rolls around, every aspect had better be perfected or else the game itself is considered garbage. Take the second Ace Attorney, for example – despite the fact that we only received the enhanced port of the first game, people judged the second game far more harshly. As such, people would ignore the improvements Justice for All made compared to its predecessor’s gameplay, such as increased complexity, a higher difficulty level and the addition of the “Psyche Lock” mechanic.  Instead, most player reactions concentrated on the game’s flaws, particularly some story elements that were not considered on-par with those of the first Ace Attorney. You’ve also got to consider many cases where the second game was a complete departure from the first game’s base concept, though this will often yield softer criticism than incomplete refinements of existing formulas. Yet, in other forms of media that gravitate towards a more serialized approach, missteps in the process of development are generally more easily forgiven. Why then are video games so different?

Is the reason for this standard practice merely consideration for the game’s age and relative simplicity compared to its follow-ups or is there more to it? Could nostalgia play a role? The fact is that while there is a case for nostalgia being attributed to some cases of blatant protection – Legend of Zelda, Virtua Fighter and Metroid all come quickly to mind – this isn’t particularly a rule of the case. I mean, I honestly doubt that many people attribute any lasting nostalgia to games like the original Tekken or Bomberman, but even new fans of a series avoid scrutinizing these early iterations harshly. On the other hand, there are cases where there are objectively worse games later on in the series, which kind of muddies discussion about the first game’s flaws – it’s kind of difficult to pick apart a game if one of its successors is obviously flawed in ways even the original managed to avoid.

This phenomenon is particularly strange when you consider video game genres and sub-genres in general. While the first game in a beloved series will often be given a pass for their various shortcomings, the same is not always true for games that originated entire genres. For example, Pac-Land could be said to be one of, if not the, earliest attempts at creating a side-scrolling platformer, but doesn’t receive nearly as much love as the original Super Mario Bros., which popularized the genre in general. The same can be said for Karate Champ with regards to the fighting game genre: it’s generally viewed as a curiosity as opposed to hailed as a legitimate game, despite creating many of the conventions the genre enjoys to this day. Likewise, I’ve heard few discussions of the history of RPGs mention the Atari 2600’s Dragonstomper, perhaps the earliest example of the genre appearing on home consoles. Most discussions favor discussing Dragon Quest, or worst case scenario, the original Final Fantasy. This would seem to imply that age is not the only factor that causes people to be protective of the first games in these series, likely because these games are so obscure, they aren’t really under attack either. Still, it feels a bit hypocritical that if earlier games are considered important, these trailblazers aren’t afforded the same privilege.

While writing this article, I also considered if there were any major examples of series originators that missed out on these protections. I racked my brain, trying to think of multiple examples, but in the end, I could only think of one: the original Street Fighter. For the longest time, most people’s knowledge of the series started at “Street Fighter II” and for some reason, no one ever seemed to question what had happened to Street Fighter “One”. I’m not sure what people thought – maybe they figured that the “two” was referencing that there were two fighters in a match? I’m not entirely sure. Basically, back in the 90s, if someone mentioned “Street Fighter”, you knew they were talking about SF2, period. Of course, I had limited knowledge of the original Street Fighter game – but that came in the form of a port that managed to be worse than the original in every respect. These days, however, knowledge of the original 1987 arcade game is a lot more common, albeit tinged with copious amounts of vitriol. I’d probably argue that it’s almost a comedy of errors that Capcom still celebrates the franchise’s anniversaries on the original Street Fighter’s release date. Nonetheless, perhaps it’s the fact that it isn’t afforded any respect that made Street Fighter stick out in my mind: at best, I’ve seen people request characters that are forever tied to the game reappear in later titles as fully playable characters, as they are considered concepts too good to be left as unplayable characters in a game no one likes.

Maybe the true reason for handling the first game in a series so gently is less due to hostility towards follow-ups, but simply done with the purpose – subconsciously or otherwise – of making sure that these games don’t end up like the original Street Fighter. In the end, these games definitely hold an important place in the history of not only the franchises they started, but in the case of some particularly old series, video game history itself. I guess when you take that concrete level of importance into account, it’s easy to see how an attempt at treating these gaming giants with well-earned respect can quickly go overboard – nostalgia filter or no. Likewise, bashing a game simply because the ones that followed it improved on the formula isn’t particularly fair. However, by that very same token, holding a sequel accountable for “not doing enough” to improve on its precursor by criticizing it excessively doesn’t strike me as the proper response either. In the end, I guess it’s just better to keep a firmer grasp on context in general when documenting a series’ evolution, regardless of medium.

Top 10 Games I Want Ported FROM PC II: The Secret of the Ooze

Last year, I decided to change things up when it came to my long-running series of PC port wishlists by doing a list of games that would be great games currently available on PC, but not consoles. I have to admit, I actually had a lot of fun doing it – looking back on lesser-known games that were only available on PC just struck me as a much less futile endeavor than constantly mooning about games that might never get re-released in any format, let alone on PC. At least with PC, there’s always an odd chance that maybe at some point, one of the console manufactures will stumble across one of these obscure gems and decide, “Hey, this could work well on our system” and pay someone to port it to their current platform. Considering the sheer length of your average PC game’s shelf life, I’ve got plenty of material for future lists: I’m even considering making this into a yearly tradition.

First things first, let’s go over what’s been announced since the last time I discussed this – both in terms of console releases and PC. Considering the topic of this article is focusing games being ported from PC to console, that seems like the logical place to start. As I already mentioned, both Ys Origin and Kero Blaster were announced for PlayStation consoles back in December – since then, Ys Origin released on PS4 in February and is expected to hit the Vita on May 30th. Kero Blaster still lacks a release date, but another game being handled by the same publisher (Playism) that didn’t quite make the list – Momodora: Under the Reverie released on March 16th and 17th on the PS4 and Xbox One respectively. Likewise, a game I originally intended to include on this year’s list: Pocket Rumble will be released on Switch sometime in the near future. Ironically, I would’ve suggested putting it on a Nintendo platform anyway, simply due to the lack of fighting games on the platform and the low-definition graphics seemed like a better fit for Nintendo’s core audience. An even bigger surprise came less than a week before this article was set to post: Lethal League is hitting both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on May 10th, adding another win to what I had originally intended as a joke article.

Fortunately, time has been kind to the PC platform as well. First and foremost, when NIS America announced their obtained the localization rights to Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, they also announced a release on Steam. This news is particularly inspiring, considering it comes hot off the heels of the fact that the Steam version of fellow Falcom title Tokyo Xanadu – being localized by Aksys Games – will be based on the PS4 release, Tokyo Xanadu eX+. Both games are expected to release late this year and I cannot wait for both games. The only thing that could make me happier would be PC ports of the 2 modern-era Ys games currently missing from PC – and XSEED did mention they had some big PC news coming up soon, so I guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Other good news include de Blob making its way to PC on April 27th, courtesy of the good folks at THQ Nordic and Blitworks. To make matters even better, Blitworks may have also leaked the existence of a port of the game’s sequel, which means that soon we could have the entire duology! Finally, Arc System Works teamed up with FK Digital to bring Chaos Code -New Sign of Catastrophe- to PS4 and Steam with a new online mode. Not to mention they confirmed that the “REVELATOR 2” upgrade for Guilty Gear Xrd will be hitting Steam alongside the console versions. It’s encouraging to see how ASW has embraced PC gaming. O

With those musings out of the way, let’s get onto the actual meat of the article: the next ten games I’d like to see ported to console from PC. Same rules as last time – we’re mostly going to be looking at relatively recent PC games, specifically those released during the seventh and eighth generations of video game consoles, that have not appeared on home consoles by the time this article has been posted. I’ll also be discussing which platforms I’d consider the best choice for these games if they do actually manage to make it to at least one platform.

Carrie’s Order Up!

Best described as a cross between Pac-Man and Tapper, Carrie’s Order Up is a fun little throwback to old-school gaming with graphics I’d liken to a lost Neo-Geo game. Players take on the role of Carrie, a crab waitress trying to raise enough money to keep the restaurant where she works afloat. The gameplay is simple enough: customers come into the restaurant, usually ambling around looking for the perfect seat; they place their orders which are made by Carrie’s coworker Calcia and Carries brings them to the right customers to keep them happy. But watch out! Once Carrie gets started, she doesn’t stop and bumping into customers is a big no-no. Fortunately, she can twirl to bypass customers, but using it too much leaves her dizzy. Plus, if the customers aren’t served in time, they’ll also leave angry. The game’s a mere $3 yet offers a great value at that price: in addition to the standard arcade mode, there’s an endless mode and tons of other unlockables.

Best Platform: I’d have to give this one to the Switch, no contest. The cutesy aesthetic coupled with the classic arcade-style of gameplay seems like a perfect recipe for getting lost in the shuffle on Sony – and I doubt Microsoft would ever want to pursue this style of content. Meanwhile, I could see Nintendo advertising this as one of their “Nindies”, perhaps not enough to receive a special announcement in a direct, but definitely a dedicated section in one of their sizzle reels.

Xanadu Next

Okay, now if you want to get technical, Xanadu Next has technically already been on home console – in fact, it was the first time it was available in English. Unfortunately, the system in question was Nokia’s N-Gage and from what I’ve heard, that port wasn’t exactly representative of the original PC game. From what I’ve heard, Xanadu Next has been described as a cross between Metroidvanias, Diablo and Falcom’s own Ys series. There’s no doubt in my mind that console gamers would want to get their hands on that kind of action.

Best Platform: PlayStation 4 and maybe the Vita, if it hasn’t died at that point. Falcom’s had a poor track record with Nintendo-original releases – ranging from as far back as Ys III on the SNES all the way to the ports of Ys I & II on the DS. Given the fact that Falcom gave up on their history of PC gaming to survive in Japan’s console-centric market, a tryst with the Xbox brand is laughable. No, just like Ys Origin before it, I could see Xanadu Next on Sony platforms – I’m just going to assume it won’t happen until after DotEmu has backported all of the Ys games currently available on Steam back to PlayStation all over again.

Super Killer Hornet: Resurrection

Here’s another game where I’m technically cheating by including it: both the original Super Killer Hornet and its remake appeared on the Xbox Live Indie Games service. However, given the fact that XBLIG is set to be taken down later this year – not to mention the fact that it wasn’t that big a priority for Microsoft in the first place – it seems like now would be a good time to try again. SKH:R is an odd mixture, focusing equally on fast-paced shmup action and mathematics. You see, power-ups like score multipliers, options and shot upgrades are tied behind completing simple math problems: first you collect a number with an operator, then a second number to complete the formula, then you’re given the choice of three answers. Answer correctly and you get upgraded. It may sound boring, but the game gets hectic pretty quickly considering this is all happening during a typical shmup.

Best Platform: This one’s going to be difficult. On the one hand, the game does have history on the Xbox brand, but it’s not exactly a stellar one. PlayStation has apparently tried to encroach upon Xbox’s former status of best console for shmups, but I’m not sure if they’d go for something quite like this – granted, the graphical style might be right up their alley. Nintendo, on the other hand, might be open to this unique title – so I guess I’ll give it to the Switch by default, though I wouldn’t count out a PlayStation release as well.

The Wonderful End of the World

I think the best way to describe The Wonderful End of the World would be if Katamari Damacy were less Japanese, made on a smaller budget but at least 90% as quirky. Made by the good people at Dejobaan Games – who have also brought us such games as AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, Drunken Robot Pornography and Tick Tock Bang Bang – The Wonderful End of the World takes place, well, exactly at that point: a demon with a fish for a head is going to eat the world and all that inhabits it. Fortunately, you’re thrust into the role of a puppet that can absorb anything it touches – and everything you absorb only makes you bigger. You’re in a race against time to save as much of the world as you can before it’s all over. A short game, but a fun one all the same – probably my favorite of Dejobaan’s entire library, even if it’s not their most popular title.

Best Platform: Another hard choice. Dejobaan hasn’t really strayed from PC and mobile development throughout their existence. I’d imagine that Sony would probably be happier to prod Bandai Namco to make a new Katamari game and this game doesn’t really seem like the kind of Microsoft would go out of its way to put on Xbox. Nintendo’s Switch just strikes me as a the most viable option by default, just because I think the game’s quirkiness would be a good fit. Honestly, if Dejobaan were to start releasing games on console, I’d wager they’d probably go for something a little more contemporary.

Camera Obscura

I’m a huge fan of platformers – from the twitchy ones that require perfect hand-eye coordination and reflexes to the puzzle ones that force you to rack your mind. Camera Obscura is clearly of the latter camp, but it’s got some unique mechanics: players take on the role of a lone photographer scaling a ruined tower, the failed work of a long since passed cult planning to reach the sun itself. On your trek, you’ll have to face off with wild animals that have taken refuge in the abandoned obelisk, as well as crumbling architecture and traps left behind by the structure’s creators, armed with nothing but your trusty camera. However, this is no ordinary camera: it’s capable of creating afterimages of the world around you – allowing you to bridge gaps, climb ledges, create floating platforms and ever crush deadly monsters between objects in the real world and your copies. But will this ability be enough to scale the tower’s 57 floors?

Best Platform: Once again, I could see this working best on the PlayStation 4, though I wouldn’t rule out releases on the other two consoles. The puzzle elements are a pretty solid match for Nintendo or Sony, but I feel like Sony would probably jump on this one before Nintendo, simply due to the grungier take on pixel art present in the graphics. While Microsoft did get their hands on Fez and Braid – both noted as inspirations for Camera Obscura in its own Steam page – before anyone else, they just don’t really seem like they’re going out of their way to bag pre-existing indie games at this point, preferring to finance their own.

Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge

Perhaps this is a bit of an odd choice, but we’ve seen games of this style released on home consoles both in the past and fairly recently. Starting life as a direct remake of an old computer game called Phantis developed by a little-known company call Dinamic Software, Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge absolutely oozes early 90s western PC game. Players are thrust into the role of heroine Serena S who is inspired to strike revenge on a dangerous alien planet …because someone trolled her on the internet. The gameplay in each level is split into two phases: a side-scrolling shmup inspired by games like R-Type and a side-scroller run-and-gun not unlike the Turrican games of old. Considering its classic artstyle was handled by Andrew Bado, a former alumnus of WayForward and Gameloft and its soundtrack was provided by the incomparable Jake “virt” Kaufman, Ultionus not only feels like a classic ‘90s Amiga throwback, but looks and sounds like one too.

Best Platform: I’m going to have to go with PlayStation this time around. As a similar Amiga exclusive, Psygnosis’s Shadow of the Beast received a remake on PS4 not that long ago, there’s at least precedent to allow something like this to hit the platform. Also, given the fact that main character’s design is brimming with fan service, it might be better suited for Sony’s platform simply due to the perceived maturity of the game’s design in general.

Terrian Saga: KR-17

Another game clearly evoking the spirit of early ‘90s PC games, KR-17 is somewhat evocative of western retro platformers like Commander Keen, the old Duke Nukem games and Jack Jackrabbit. Boasting over 60 levels across 9 worlds, varied level designs, a storyline that’s interesting without bogging everything down, mind-bending puzzles and precision run-and-gun gameplay, Terrian Saga delivers an impressive package at a reasonable price point.

Best Platform: This time, I’m a bit torn. On the one hand, this game seems to have “Nindie” written all over it, with its clear retro style, relatively family-friendly tone and its tendency to achieve “Nintendo hard” levels of difficulty at times. On the other hand, the game’s developer is currently working on getting their next project on both PlayStation and Xbox in addition to PC. I guess because of that, I’d give the edge to PlayStation 4, but I could definitely see this game doing quite well on the Switch too.

Devil’s Dare

If there’s one type of game that never really managed to adjust to the death of arcades, it would have to be the humblest of video game genres – the beat-‘em-up. An entire genre built from the ground-up for the sole purpose of bilking the young and young-at-heart out of entire GDPs worth of quarters, the transition to the console era didn’t do the genre any favors: games had to choose between unlimited continues – which defeats the entire purpose of the games – and a set number of limited continues, which just leaves me disappointed. Devil’s Dare thinks differently: opting for a perma-death mechanic instead. Continues cost in-game money, which can be obtained by performing well. Run out of continues, and the game deletes your save. It’s an interesting concept in my book. Even if the rest of the game’s components aren’t quite the pinnacle of the genre, I think it’s still worth sharing with a wider audience.

Best Platform: I’d honestly be willing to go with the Xbox One on this one, simply because of the game’s gritty yet retro tone. I’d recommend a slight overhaul of the base gameplay and that kind of an undertaking might make the effort to port Devil’s Dare to new platforms more of a Microsoft-friendly project, simply due to their obsession with “getting things first”. Label it as “Devil’s Dare DX” or something along those lines and I’m sure the folks at Xbox would lap it right up.

Owlboy

Developed over the course of nearly a decade as a love letter to old-school platformers, Owlboy dubs itself a “hi-bit game”, due to the fact that it recreates the classic look of 16-bit games at a much higher resolution and with much more fluid animation than what was possible back when 2D pixel art was the apex of its popularity. Players take on the role of Otus, a young anthropomorphic owl. Unfortunately, he struggles with living up to the expectations set for him, because he was born mute. When sky pirates show up, things only get worse and Otus must set off on an adventure. Fortunately, Otus has friends in the form of various Gunners, whom provide him with cover fire while in flight.

Best Platform: This is perhaps the most difficult decision of them all, but I’m going to have to give it to the Nintendo Switch. While you’d think that the fact that the game was built in XNA would make it a shoe-in for Xbox, you’ve got to remember that Microsoft discontinued the service and it isn’t compatible with the Xbox One. Likewise, while PlayStation would likely want to pursue getting this title, much of the game’s inspiration comes from various Nintendo properties, including Kid Icarus and the Tanooki Suit in Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s also fair to bring up that D-Pad Studios, the game’s developer, did consider console ports back in 2013, when the game was still in development – not to mention the fact that ports to both Mac and Linux were released this year – so who knows just where this gorgeous game might end up in the future?

Environmental Station Alpha

Developed by small Finnish studio Hempuli Oy, Environmental Station Alpha is a Metroid-like, pure and simple. It boasts a minimalistic pixelated artstyle, ambient music and solid, yet simple gameplay. Alas, it’s still a Metroidvania – and we’ve reached the point where the independently developed Metroidvania has become a cliché unto itself. Still, when Tom Happ – the man who single-handedly developed Axiom Verge, the last Metroid-like indie to escape being deemed “unoriginal” – says that ESA is worth checking out, I’m not going to argue with him.

Best Platform: The Switch or possibly the 3DS, no question. This game totally evokes the look and feel of a Metroid game and Nintendo would be foolish to not at least try to get their hands on this game to quell that particular fanbase’s hunger. I’m fairly certain that a significant portion of both the PS4 and Xbox One’s core audiences might be turned off by the primitive graphics – though, Vita fans will beg for just about anything.

There you have it, 10 PC games I’d like to see ported to consoles. No honorable mentions this time – might need to save those games for next year after all. I already own every game on the list, but of course, that’s not really the point of this list – it’s less about getting the games myself and more about sharing them with a much wider audience. You know, better to give than to receive and all that mumbo-jumbo. Having said that, it was probably more fun to do this article than the last one: I had already blown through most of my obvious choices last year, so searching for new games that weren’t already on console was pretty fun. Not to mention the fact that actually seeing some of those titles I picked last year getting console ports – that definitely made things more exciting this time around. I wonder which (if any) games will make it over out of this batch. You know, aside from Pocket Rumble, considering that got announced before I started writing this article.

Retrospective: The Legend of Zelda – Part I

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Welcome to the first in a sporadic series of retrospectives I’m planning on doing. Considering that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild releases today, it seems only fitting that I start with the Zelda franchise. This is, by no means, a complete look back on the entire series. While I do plan a follow-up in the future to round out the remainder of the series, as of right now I’ve only played through many but not all of the Zelda games. In addition to the ones listed below, I’ve also managed to play Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds. So, given the fact that I’ve played what could potentially be considered the first half of the Zelda franchise – a bit less, honestly – I figured I might as well cover my thoughts on the franchise’s early days in honor of its latest release. Continue reading

Of Axioms and Idioms: A Breath of Fresh Err

Well, I said I had a second topic in this series and I’m going to use it. Welcome to another entry in “Of Axioms and Idioms” – the series where I detail some of my more less-specific opinions when it comes to video games. Last time, I detailed how playing later games in a series retroactively ruined their predecessors if I’m not familiar with them in the first place. While this seems obvious in hindsight (sequels are supposed to improve upon previous iterations in the series), it is one of those issues that seems to plague me on a wider scale – not merely effecting how I see series of games, but rather entire sub-genres.

Today’s topic is a little more complex and probably more rigid than the previous entry. When it comes to “bad games” in a series – that is, the ones that are generally considered the worst of their series – I’m generally more forgiving of them the more they deviate from their franchise’s standard formula. Quite simply put, if a game is experimental and bad, I’m far more likely to accept its shortcomings and look upon the game more favorably compared to games that are just a shallow and/or flawed recreation of the series’ pinnacle.

The two games that inspired this article were the fourth and fifth games in the Ys series, both released on the Super Famicom. While Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys for the PC Engine is generally considered among the best games in the entire series, the Super Famicom’s Mask of the Sun was developed by Tonkin House – who previously handled the SNES port of Wanderers of Ys, which is generally considered the worst of the fourth-generation console ports. Both games had similar design philosophies: taking inspiration from the first two Ys games. However, the SFC version took more inspiration from the earlier PC releases of those games, which required significantly more precision when landing attacks. This didn’t translate that well given both the Super Famicom’s simpler control scheme and the comparatively more forgiving Ys: Books I & II, which predated Mask of the Sun by almost 4 years. This led the SFC version of Ys IV to be considered among the worst games in the series.

Its sequel, Ys V: Kefin, Lost City of Sand, didn’t fare much better in terms of reception. Discarding the traditional “run-and-bump” gameplay that the series popularized in favor of a more traditional “hack-and-slash” attack mechanic common to action RPGs, Ys V was a significant departure from its predecessors’ established formula – much like the aforementioned Ys III. However, unlike Ys III, this game would have a much more permanent effect on the series – with future games adopting the more standard attacks system, though handling it much better. Ys V’s controls were terrible – Adol’s slashes felt less responsive than those from the original Legend of Zelda in 1986. The jumping mechanics were awkward and worst of all, different sword upgrades would change the style of Adol’s attack: a horizontal slash or a “stab” (though, I thought it looked more like a “poke”) with more forward range. Throw in a magic system that’s essentially useless and you’ve got Kefin in a nutshell. Due to the lack of any other releases, Ys V is generally considered the worst game in the entire franchise – but due to the lack of any companion titles or remakes, it’s kind of an unfair comparison.

Honestly, at first glance, I would probably say that it’s hard to determine which of these two games is worse overall. They’re both essentially blights on their franchise – but neither game really did that much damage to the overall reputation of Ys. Looking back though, I’d probably say that I may have enjoyed Ys V slightly more and my reasoning is simple. Mask of the Sun attempted to recreate gameplay I had seen earlier, but was less competent in the process. It effectively tried and failed to achieve the same level of quality from a previous iteration in its franchise, which gave it no reason to exist. Ys V, for all its flaws, at least attempted something new for the franchise. It may have also have failed miserably, but it tweaked the series’ formula and tried something new. Ys IV had a blueprint for success: its counterpart on the PC Engine proves that. Ys V had no plan, no established formula to follow. While its experiments failed miserably, they led to further games and better titles down the line.

My next example may be a little controversial, as pretty much no one considers one of these games bad anymore. However, for quite some time, it was considered fashionable to bash the Western version of Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as Super Mario USA in Japan) for not being the “true” Mario 2. This title belonged instead to Japan’s Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels elsewhere). The latter is essentially a level pack, with insane stage designs that far exceeded what was possible with the original’s controls left intact. I’d go so far as to say that it’s essentially just a less-playable version of the first Super Mario Brothers. Meanwhile, Super Mario USA was an improved reskin of a Fuji TV collaboration game known as Doki Doki Panic. I know, everyone knows that old story. What’s more interesting, however, was the later reveal that Doki Doki Panic was based on a scrapped Mario prototype that focused more on vertical platforming. So, in the end, Super Mario USA could be considered more of a Mario 2 than the “official” Lost Levels.

Another example is a bit odd: the sixth and seventh games in the MegaMan X series. Let me make myself perfectly clear: I completely despise MegaMan X6. It’s probably the worst MegaMan game Capcom ever made in-house. While X7 seems to be considered a worse game overall, it at least had the excuse of attempting to recreate the classic action of the MegaMan platformers in 3D. It’s hard to argue that it failed in this regard. X6, on the other hand, had absolutely no excuse to be as terrible as it was. It was built using the engine of my favorite game in that entire sub-series (MegaMan X4). X5 may have been a downgrade from its predecessor, but X6 crashed and burned. Terrible level design, unbalanced boss fights, the addition of X’s awkward Z-saber attack, the ability to get completely trapped in an area if you lack the right power-up – the only redeeming factor was probably the soundtrack!

There are even cases where swapping genres can work out well for a series. Take, for example, Double Dragon. After the disappointing Sacred Stones, Super Double Dragon was an attempt to recreate the magic of the first two games. While the SNES had a legendary amount of quality beat-‘em-ups, Super Double Dragon not only failed to stand out among its contemporaries, but even faltered in comparison to its predecessors. Conversely, when Technos Japan attempted to make a Double Dragon fighting game for SNK’s NeoGeo platform, it turned out well: despite the sheer amount of competition in that genre on NeoGeo, “Double Dragon” would do so well that it eventually received a spiritual sequel, Rage of the Dragons. Of course, Tradewest – Double Dragon’s publisher in North America – attempted their own fighting game earlier – Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls. The less said about that one, the better.

This even applies to games that are generally considered dead-ends. While I liked both the NES Zeldas more than I expected upon playing them, I think I had a slight preference for Zelda II. Frankly, I’m almost certain that that’s because the original Zelda presented itself as a more primitive version of the other 2D games in the series, while Zelda II was strikingly different. Zelda II was effectively a side-scrolling action RPG, compared to the top-down adventure formula that most of the early games in the series encapsulated, and that difference made it stick out a bit more in my mind. The same could be said for Ys III: Wanderers from Ys – to the extent where I constantly compared Zelda II and Ys III while playing both. It doesn’t hurt that they were considered evolutionary dead-ends in their respective series – and by extension, inherently terrible – but to me, they were simply interesting deviations. Even more ironically, both games were followed by what was generally considered the early masterpieces of their respective series: A Link to the Past and The Dawn of Ys, respectively.

Unlike my “Bayonetta May Cry” axioms, there’s a method to my madness. If a successful formula has already been established for a series, ruining it with a mediocre follow-up that attempts to hit the same note should be impossible. Let me be clear: I’m not talking about games that simply don’t live up to their predecessors and are lambasted as retreads. I’m talking about games in existing series that attempt to recreate their established formula and fail miserably. The MegaMan games for DOS are a perfect example – they were intended to resemble the popular NES games, but failed on pretty much every level. When a series’ formula has been established, there’s a blueprint for success. If the game deviates from that formula in a meaningful way – by changing core mechanics or even switching genres, there’s at least an excuse for a piss-poor final product. There’s just no excuse if a company’s creating a copy-paste of a previous title and manages to create something objectively inferior to what came before.

There’s a corollary here as well. Bad games using established formulas can be toxic to long-running series: there’s always the chance that it won’t simply be considered a bad game, but rather the formula itself has gotten stale and repetitive. On the other hand, development mishaps in a title that deviates from the norm can yield better results down the line. The aforementioned Ys V is a perfect example of this – the following games in the series also utilized “hack and slash” and platforming elements and improved vastly over their SFC predecessor, essentially creating a new trilogy of games that are arguably better than even The Dawn of Ys.

Of course, judging whether something is a bad game or if the entire formula has gotten stale gets harder to judge when there’s a generational gap between games. It’s relatively easy to tell if a game is legitimately worse than its predecessor if they were released during the same generation, especially if they’re both on the same system. Comparing an NES game to its sequel on PS4 makes it hard to determine whether the game suffered from being recreated imperfectly or if the original game itself was simply considered good for nostalgic reasons. Obviously, there’s a chance that the formula itself could just become inherently stale and in need of alteration or outright rejection for the series to survive. Of course, this would have little effect on the quality of the original game itself – it’s a simple case of diminishing returns, nothing uncommon when it comes to video games in general.

In the end, I guess it’s a matter of taste. For some people, deviating from an established formula is essentially considered betrayal of what made that particular series great in the first place. I can respect that difference in opinion, but I believe that at the very least failing in an entirely new way is, at the very least, more interesting than watching someone incompetently recreate a game I liked. More importantly, what do you think? Do you agree that failing in a different way is at least more interesting than second-rate reruns? Are established formulas the key to success? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

 

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2017

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Well, 2016 is almost over, and while there were some great games released, I mainly just want this year to end and to focus on the future (or gaming’s future, anyway).  Thankfully, 2017 in gaming fills me with a sense of true optimism (as opposed to forced hope) that I haven’t had in a long time, lots of series that haven’t had an entry (or a satisfying entry) in years are returning and while Nintendo has a lot less representation on this list than my ones from previous years, things should Switch on that front very early in the year.  So, let’s hurry up and get our focus to the new year.  I’ve decided to handle games from previous lists that got hit by delays with a rule that games can only appear on my lists twice, so Zelda won’t be showing up this time.  Let’s get this started!

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The Year Without a PC Port Wishlist

Christmas has pretty much always been my favorite holiday, especially when I was a child. I was a greedy little boy while I was growing up: one of my favorite holiday traditions was always writing up my list to Santa on my computer. Sure, some years I’d get overzealous and start thinking about it as early as August, but I’d always have a lot of fun just writing the list itself. I’d always try to sort things in the order I wanted them, but that was actually part of the fun for me: one week I’d really want some action figures, the next some new video game caught my eye. The downside to starting a list that early is that as time goes on, new items catch your eye. Even the greed of a child has its limits, so I would often have to pare down my list, trimming the items I could “do without”. (Gotta love child logic, am I right?) In a sense, I think those PC ports lists I wrote for a long time were the evolution of that favored Yule tradition, but eventually I got tired of doing them. Too much wishing, not enough getting. I’ve taken a hiatus on them and now, it’s been over a year. Instead of making an entirely new one, why not look over my previous works and analyze them a little? This year, I’ll be recounting my 5 favorite success stories, my top 10 most wanted and the game on each list I’d consider the most important (excluding those on the aforementioned lists) plus a brand-new one for good measure!

Before we get started (fittingly enough, with my favorite success stories), I’d like to start with some recent successes as well. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was released on PS4 earlier this month and it will also be hitting both the Xbox One and Steam in March. Meanwhile, Garou: Mark of the Wolves was also recently released on PlayStation consoles via CodeMystics, but surprise, surprise: an entirely different port hit Steam soon after, from the good folks at DotEmu. In fact, it was such a surprise, I actually had to change a list entry because of it. The DotEmu port is less fancy than the CodeMystics port, but apparently, not only does the Steam version have a more solid netcode, but it’s also getting immediate bugfixes to iron out some of its bizarre glitches. Funny how that works. I expected that to be the last bit of news I got on the PC end of things, but I was wrong: The Legend of Dark Witch 2, another game I’d been salivating over the prospect of seeing a PC port is announced to be hitting Steam sometime during “Q4 2016”. One last big surprise for me.

You’ll also remember that this past April, I did an “April Fools’ Day” article, revolving around 10 PC games I’d like to see receive console ports. Well, like many of my jokes, this one ended up biting me in the ass. During the PlayStation Experience, Ys Origin (the only PC-exclusive Ys game) was announced to be hitting both PlayStation 4 and, amazingly enough, the Vita on February 21, 2017 with the port being handled by the good people over at DotEmu who are utilizing XSEED’s English translation and coming up with original French, Italian, German and Spanish translations as well. (As an aside, DotEmu’s also bringing a favorite of mine – the NeoGeo classic Windjammers – to the same platforms. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a PC port down the line!) You’d think that would be enough, but the world wasn’t done having fun at my expense: soon after, it was revealed that the indie platformer Kero Blaster would also be coming to the PS4, thanks to its publisher Playism. They’ll also be bringing Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight to PS4, though release windows for both titles have not been announced. Continue reading

Of Axioms and Idioms: The “Bayonetta May Cry” Syndrome

I have this tendency to start new series on the Retronaissance blog seemingly at random, only to let them die. I think my main problem is that I come up with a topic that I would absolutely love to revisit on multiple occasions, I come up with one topic to serve as a pilot article for the prospective series and then when it comes right down to it, I’m either unable to think of a good follow-up or a severely limited number of viable subjects for future pieces. Here’s hoping this one ends up surviving.

Welcome to the first article in a new series, “Of Axioms and Idioms”. These articles will essentially act as a soapbox for various “rules of thumb” I appear to have. Odd quirky choices that have affected my personal taste in video games and specific trends I’ve pinpointed. These aren’t going to be simple revelations – so don’t expect articles on why I love arcade-style games over their simulation counterparts, why I love fighting games or why I detest most turn-based RPGS – more along the lines of specific aspects that transcend genres, companies and generations.

The topic of this first article is simple, yet more than likely incoherent: a certain phenomenon I generally refer to as the “Bayonetta May Cry” syndrome. Essentially, playing later games in a franchise/genre, has a certain tendency to paint earlier iterations in such a negative light, that I’m completely unable to enjoy them. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is a prejudice I wholeheartedly acknowledge. Of course, on the surface it probably seems obvious: I’ve never heard of a case of a video game sequel not attempting to surpass its original.

“Bayonetta May Cry” seems like an odd way to phrase it, but I mainly identify it as such due to the events that led me to fully realize and articulate exactly what was going on. I was playing the original Devil May Cry on the PS2 for the first time. Unfortunately, by that point, I had already played through the original Bayonetta on Xbox 360 and it had painted a very vivid picture of what to expect of “character action games”, a sub-genre which DMC trailblazed. Unfortunately, DMC1 did not live up to the hype and as such, I never ended up finishing the game. I may want to do so at some point, but only on my terms – perhaps if Capcom decides to port that shiny HD collection to PC?

There are some other examples that come to mind. Obviously, I played Street Fighter II long before the original (or at least, a real version of the original) – but that’s so common, it’s not worth mentioning. Tekken 1 and 2, on the other hand, seems a lot more interesting. While I did encounter Tekken 1 first (in an arcade on vacation), Tekken 2 was the first game in the series I played. The evolution that went on between these two games is amazing – the graphics, the gameplay, everything but the roster had changed immensely. Likewise, you’ve got the Capcom vs. SNK duology: the first game was alright, but playing the second game first: with its extended roster, the expanded number of fighting styles and the complete overhaul of the ratio system, CvS2 surpassed the original in every way.

Aside from Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, perhaps the best example of this feeling happened with Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series. While I did technically start The Sacred Stones first, playing Awakening on the 3DS pretty much confirmed that I would never be looking back on it. The best part about this one is that I can even track my opinions of it. At first, I thought Sacred Stones was alright, a bit slow compared to other strategy-RPGs I had played at that point, but not bad. After playing Awakening, however, I decided there was no looking back: too much had improved and I was completely looking forward. The ability to pair up units alone confirmed that I would never go back to the GBA title and made me glad that I hadn’t paid a single cent for it – after all, I had received it as a 3DS Ambassador bonus.

Of course, it’s all contextual: I’m a lot more forgiving when it comes to retro games – or at least, what I consider to be retro games. Anything before the 5th generation (Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation) are generally safe, as well as the Dreamcast due to its short lifespan. The rest of the 6th generation – the PlayStation 2, the GameCube and the original Xbox – are more of a blind spot for me. I understand that they’ve been gone for roughly a decade now, but it feels like they were the beginning of what the current generations of consoles built themselves upon, a clear break from the earlier generations. It doesn’t help that that was the generation where I essentially felt out of mainline video games, preferring to stick to portables and classic retro for the time being.

I’m certain this bias has pretty much always existed in the back of my head. It’s part of the reason I’ve always liked playing series “in release order” as opposed to doing what most people suggest and start with the latest game in the series before working backwards. I’m completely convinced that playing later games earlier will ruin the earlier games in a franchise for me, though there have been some cases where this has not come to pass. For example, I played the TurboGrafx-16 version of Ys Books I & II after Ys I & II Chronicles+ on Steam. I enjoyed the TG-16 version a lot, despite Chronicles+ being a longer game, with more responsive controls and superior graphics. There were some things I’d argue that Books I & II did better than the later release – best example would be the fact that the leveling system was balanced to account for both games.

Still, I worry that game mechanics and features that I grow to rely on and expect in later entries in a long-running series may end up spoiling me. More importantly, I’m worried that it may color my outlook on the earlier games, because I’ll be unable to realize whether I hate it because it lacks features I’ve come to expect or if the game is legitimately bad. Of course, that’s something that anyone who focuses on retro games would have to worry about, whether there is nostalgia for the subject matter or if it’s an unfamiliar release. It’s important to keep this kind of thing in mind.

Of course, the truth is it’s for the best that I’ve realized this bias of mine. It helps me to compensate when playing older games. This came into play this past year, when I finally decided to livestream Final Fantasy 7 – one of the three games I’d consider the most beloved (if not overrated) of its generation, alongside the original Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time. When playing the game, I promised not to compare it to more modern turn-based RPGs I liked: games like Undertale, Evolution Worlds and the first two Paper Mario games. I decided to compare it to its predecessors – Earthbound, Super Mario RPG – as well as a contemporary game: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, originally released a few months before FF7 was in Japan. It didn’t help matters (I still ended up hating FF7), but at least I avoided the pitfall of judging the game against modern games that should have surpassed it.

Of the odd preferences and quirky opinions I could possibly discuss in this series, this one would have to be one of the more negative ones. Comparing older games to later iterations in their series or genre is clearly unfair, but the problem would have to be that it’s common. When you consider that there are younger gamers enjoying the medium, some that weren’t even alive during the 5th and 6th generations, it’s completely understandable: few people my age like watching films from before they were born, so why should kids today be forced to appreciate games that are clunkier and less refined than those that are available to them on a wider and more regular basis? The one upshot to that is that by acknowledging it, I can avoid unfairly judging older games by forcing them to live up to unfair standards and hopefully this will allow me to judge them more fairly, even in retrospect. Maybe one day, I’ll even go back to playing the original Devil May Cry.

10 Games I’d Like To See Re-Released #06: Konami

After a long stint of writing longer articles, I always like coming back to these wishlists. Sure, it’s little more than an exercise in greed, but they’re cathartic for me: it’s always nice to remember old games that I wish we could access in these modern times. For whatever reason, I’ve got a certain intuition that making these lists increases the chances of these games seeing the light of day once again.

As with last time, I’ve decided to moon over recent PC ports and announcements in these re-release articles, since my PC ports wishlist series has been put on hiatus for the time being. First off, we’ve seen two more Steam iterations of classic NeoGeo games readily available on Humble Store: The Last Blade came out at the end of August, while Shock Troopers 2nd Squad came out at the end of September. Both versions have added online multiplayer, as has become common with these re-releases. We’ve also seen the release of Cave’s classic shmup Dodonpachi Resurrection (which I mentioned in a previous list) on Steam this past month, courtesy of the good people at Degica. Nippon Ichi Software announced that it will be bringing the second Disgaea game (rechristened Disgaea 2 PC) to Steam early next year, with all the additional content available on the PSP – including some characters that were exclusive to the Japanese version. Finally, we’ve got some news from the good people at XSEED. Xanadu Next, a Falcom action-RPG, which was originally announced for Summer 2016 will finally be releasing on November 3rd. They also announced two new PC ports: Senran Kagura: Bon Appétit! – a music-rhythm spinoff to the fanservice-laden brawler – will be hitting Windows PC on November 10th, while Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel, a fighting game crossovers starring female characters from various visual novels, will be hitting PC “this Winter” with additional features like additional victory animations, animated backgrounds and the ability to save Training Mode menu settings between sessions.

Once again, let’s go over my constraints for this series of articles. I’m going to be looking at games from the 6th generation of video games (Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox) and earlier, as games from later generations are still easy to get a hold of. To maintain focus, I’ll be looking at one company for each article and considering the fact that I live in North America, I’ll be focusing on games that haven’t seen a legitimate re-release in my own region – I’ll just ignore any talk of importing these games from Japan and Europe. Unfortunately, this means that games that have seen re-releases on services like Nintendo’s Virtual Console and Sony’s PlayStation Classics have technically already been re-released, regardless of their quality (or lack thereof) compared to a full-on remaster. The important thing is that they can be accessed by modern audiences, no matter the quality – sorry, Zone of the Enders. I’ll also discuss any possible improvements that could be made to the games with re-releases.

This time, we’ll be looking at Konami – a fitting choice, considering they made the Castlevania series, considering the time of year. Of course, these days I guess the truly terrifying thing about Konami is their status within the video game market. These days, they seem to be focusing more on farming out their intellectual properties to make Pachi-Slot machines. What few video games they’re still making are…at best, misguided. Things weren’t always this way though, and it’s safe to say that Konami still has plenty of games trapped in their vault that should be re-released. These are but merely 10 of them.

Castlevania Bloodlines (GEN)

This would have to be my number one choice, the game that I figured was the biggest missed opportunity for the original iteration of the Virtual Console. We saw the other two major 16-bit era Castlevanias hit the Wii’s Virtual Console: Super Castlevania IV for the SNES and Dracula X: Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine-CD, as well as the SNES’s inferior copy of the latter. Of those three games, Bloodlines was always my favorite: Eric LeCarde’s unique playstyle was a fun contrast to the traditional Belmont style of John Morris. The gameplay was akin to those of the NES games, albeit with improvements. I think one of my favorite parts was the fact that this Castlevania managed to take place outside of Castlevania’s general setting of Transylvania, with Morris and LeCarde travelling to Greece, France, Italy, Germany and England.

I personally feel like each of those three major 16-bit Castlevanias had a strength unique to itself: Super Castlevania IV dropped the stiff controls of the older games and had the best control of the series. Rondo of Blood focused on secrets, with multiple paths, alternate stages and even a hidden character. Bloodlines, however, I felt had the best level design: long sprawling stages, with deviating paths suited for each of its playable characters and unique design gimmicks for each stage. Hopefully, we’ll see it return someday.

Potential Improvements: I’d honestly be fine with just a straight port on this one, though at this point, it will probably be difficult. The modern iterations of the Virtual Console no longer support Sega Genesis and the only platform capable of doing straight emulations of Genesis games is SEGA MegaDrive & Genesis Classics on Steam, which currently has no officially supported third-party titles.

If we did get an enhanced port, I’d love to hear a rearranged version of the classic Bloodlines soundtrack, so long as the classic Genesis FM synth returns as an option. Likewise, the ability to choose between the Japanese and Western balancing would be appreciated.

Rocket Knight Adventures/Sparkster/Rocket Knight Adventures 2 (GEN/SNES)

Despite being considered a cult classic these days, the Rocket Knight franchise was a victim of its times. Released at that point in time where Sonic the Hedgehog had kicked off the “platformer starring an animal mascot with attitude” trend, the original Rocket Knight Adventures was generally considered to have been cut from the same cloth as such gaming losers as Bubsy Bobcat, Awesome Possum and Aero the Acro-Bat. Anyone who looked past the superficial similarities, however, was rewarded with one of the best games the Genesis had to offer. While the original was my personal favorite, the other two games were also great – better than the mediocre 2010 reboot on 7th generation consoles.

Potential Improvements: Once again, I’d be perfectly fine with a straight re-release in this game’s case, especially given the aforementioned reboot, which rubbed me the wrong way. While Sparkster for the SNES is still within the realm of possibility for re-release via the Virtual Console, the Genesis games have less readily available means for legal emulation.

Contra: Hard Corps (GEN)

Last Genesis game, I swear. While most people are fond of the Super Nintendo’s Contra III: The Alien Wars, I had more of a soft spot for the Genesis’s Hard Corps. Taking place in a futuristic dystopia, with robotic soldiers and gun-toting werewolves, Hard Corps ditched the more contemporary setting and in my opinion, it benefitted from it. I’m still surprised that a few years back, it managed to get a sequel: Hard Corps Uprising, developed by the good people at Arc System Works, no less!

Potential Improvements: I was generally more of a fan of the Japanese version of this game, which allowed the characters to take multiple hits before dying, as opposed to being one-hit wonders like the Western versions and earlier games in the series, so the ability to choose between those two versions would be great. Likewise, as with all Contra games of that era, the European version was rebranded as Probotector, replacing the organic protagonists with robotic counterparts, so it would awesome to see both themes in the same release – albeit with the proper framerate, as opposed to the slower one associated with European releases of that era.

Sunset Riders (Arcade)

One part Rush’n Attack, two parts Contra – Sunset Riders is one of those games that were so popular, you would have guessed that they would have gotten a sequel, but somehow they just didn’t. Utilizing the same style of two-plane stages seen in games like Shinobi and Rolling Thunder, Sunset Riders was effectively one of the more interesting games Konami released in the arcades. Since we’ve already seen a re-release of the SNES version, I thought it would be interesting to see the original Arcade version make a comeback as well.

Potential Improvements: Online multiplayer, the usual round of graphical filters and an adjustable amount of credits, leading to multiple “difficulty settings”. Basically, a similar release as the old Simpsons and X-Men arcade games from last-gen.

Kid Dracula (FC/GB)

Kid Dracula’s an interesting concept. Effectively a more comedic take on the Castlevania franchise, the Kid Dracula duology puts players in the role of Kid Dracula, Dracula’s child (who may or may not grow up to be Alucard of Symphony of the Night fame), as he tries to retake his rightful throne from the demon Galamoth. We only saw the release of the second game for Game Boy outside of Japan, but having both games re-released would be great.

Potential Improvements: If they manage to get the first game re-released, I’d love it if Konami were to completely translate the game – sure, the story’s not important, but small details like that are important to me. Other than that, straight emulations would be appreciated.

Contra (NES)

I’m still in shock that this game hasn’t seen a straight re-release (outside of course as a bonus in Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS), but considering that game’s long out of print, I think it fits with this list. Like I’ve said in previous articles, the original Contra is probably one of the three games that most shaped my gaming tastes overall. I just find it weird that Super C got re-releases on both Wii and Wii U, while the original – the more famous of the two NES releases – hasn’t seen anything in a long time.

Potential Improvements: I guess it would be interesting if they included both the NES and the arcade versions of the original Contra together: that would be an interesting contrast. Both arcade Contras were re-released last generation via Konami Classics on Xbox 360, but aren’t available on modern platforms. Likewise, it’d be cool to see a release with the previously mentioned Probotector reskin released in Europe – again, at the proper framerate.

Vampire Killer (MSX)

I’ve always been somewhat interested in this game, despite never having the opportunity to do so. This was the very first revamp of the original Castlevania – but while most of the future versions maintained the same basic gameplay concept while rearranging the stage designs and locales, Vampire Killer totally reimagined it. Many people consider Simon’s Quest to be the original prototype for what would eventually be called the “Metroidvanias”, but Vampire Killer for the MSX has it beat. In this iteration of Simon Belmont’s first adventure, players are tasked with exploring Castlevania, looking for various keys and items to progress, allowing the stages to progress in far less linear fashions.

Potential Improvements: Just a straight port would be fine, though honestly if they decided to give it the “Castlevania Chronicles” treatment with revamped graphics and a remade soundtrack, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

Snatcher (Sega CD)

Possibly the second most famous game associated with Hideo Kojima – sorry again, Zone of the Enders – Snatcher was an early example of a visual novel more than a standard point-and-click adventure game of its era. However, its storyline was so engrossing to many that it would eventually become a cult classic. There have been multiple releases of this game across various platforms, starting with Japanese computers PC-88 and the MSX2 and later released on the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn. However, the only official English release of the game was the Sega CD version.

Potential Improvements: Once again, the main concept that comes to mind would be to include every iteration of Snatcher – preferably with brand new translations, just like Rondo of Blood had in Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. It would also be great if the MSX2 game SD Snatcher – meant to be both a slight reboot and conclusion to the original release of the game (which ended on an annoying cliffhanger) – were also included. SD Snatcher reimagined the visual novel as a cutesy RPG, with variations on the original game’s plot, a welcome lack of random battles and a unique battle system.

Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon/Goemon’s Great Adventure (N64)

I’m still kind of baffled by the Goemon series. Referred to as “Ganbare Goemon” in Japan and “Mystical Ninja” elsewhere, there have been a literal truckload of releases due to its extreme popularity but very few have seen released outside of Japan. North America got a game for the Super Nintendo, one for the Game Boy (Europe lucked out with a second!) and two N64 games. Considering we’ve already seen re-releases for the other games in the series via the Virtual Console, it’s only fair that we also receive the remaining games already available in English, right?

Potential Improvements: Straight ports seem like the best way to go on this one. I can’t think of anything to add, unless Konami decides to do a massive Goemon collection with all new translations of the Japan-exclusive titles. That seems outside the scope of something they’d be willing to do though, so let’s just stick to hoping for straight-up Virtual Console releases.

Getsu Fuuma Den (FC)

Another game of interest to me, Getsu Fuuma Den is effectively the Murasame no Nazo to Castlevania’s Legend of Zelda: a similar game concept that looked like a great deal of fun but was strictly released in Japan due to fears that cultural differences would lead to poor sales. The game thrust players into the role of warrior Getsu Fuma on his quest to recover the three Pulse Blades to avenge the death of his brothers and defeat the evil demon lord Ryuukotsuki, who escaped hell and took over the Earth. The game relies on an overhead map system, not unlike Super Mario Bros. 3, but the action stages themselves effectively play like a more action-packed NES Castlevania game. They’re short, but there are many more of them and a certain level of exploration on the overworld is necessary to beat this game.

Potential Improvements: Bare minimum, I’d want just a full English translation. Of course, if Konami wanted to get on my good side, they would do a full-on remaster, like Castlevania Chronicles or The Dracula X Chronicles. Best of all, they could still include the original Famicom version (with that aforementioned translation) as a bonus unlockable.

As usual, before I wrap this up, I’d like to mention some honorable mentions. First, there’s the Parodius series – as much as I would have loved to have put these on the main list, there are just too many of them to choose from, so I’d probably just want a full-on collection of every game in the series. Next, Castlevania Legends for the original Game Boy. Most people tend to prefer Belmont’s Revenge when talking about early portable CVs, but I think we can all agree that Legends deserved a re-release way before the abysmal Adventure. Finally, there’s Pop’n Twinbee: Rainbow Bell Adventures for the Super Nintendo. A fairly standard Konami platformer, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – just not good enough to make the main list. Likewise, I’d like to give a shout-out to the Bonk’s Adventure, Bomberman and Bloody Roar series: while they’re technically Hudson Soft properties, Konami owns their vast library of IPs, which is a crying shame.

I guess in the end, this was probably the most bittersweet of these lists I’ve had to write. Konami’s currently in a bad place right now: if not in terms of finances (they still seem to be in a good place there, at least for the moment), then definitely in terms of corporate climate. Proclaiming that they were ditching the video game market in favor of pachinko machines and mobile games (before immediately backpedaling), abusing their employees and effectively becoming so much of a super-villain, I’m sure it would make the heads of Activision, EA and Ubisoft blush like schoolgirls. Konami still holds the rights to many series I like, so their recovery would be in my best interest. Unfortunately, at this point it just feels like the only way for these old games to survive is by burning Konami to the ground.

Made To Be Broken

A few months back, I wrote a piece about how both my feelings of nostalgia and general malaise towards more recent generations have cropped into how I view the medium of video games as they move forward: that is, negatively. Needless to say, there are just certain trends that are making me feel burnt out and I somehow long for what I remember as gaming’s “Wild West” era. While I was conceiving the piece, I was persuaded to split it in half and the previous article dealt with the more loose and open nature of the console market in general, focusing on just how many companies tried to break into the video game market in an effort to revolutionize it, but ended up as “also-ran” footnotes in the ever-lengthening history of video games.

This time around, I’ll be focusing more on oddities within the games of this time period themselves – games that would clearly be indies if they were made today. Though for the most part, I’ll be focusing on various cultural shifts that happened during this time period, many of which have had reverberations that affect the medium to this day. Perhaps if some of these events hadn’t happened, video games as a whole would look completely different. Shifts that may very well have only happened due to the sheer fluidity of the format at the time they occurred, things that may have even been impossible if they happened today.

One of the reasons I decided to write these articles in the first place was due to a story I had read online that just amazed me. It involved the cult classic D, an avant-garde full-motion video adventure game released in 1995 on the 3DO, Sega Saturn, PlayStation and PC – the latter has recently been re-released on Good Old Games. The game’s creator, the late Kenji Eno related a story to 1UP about the game’s development. He actually added the game’s story late in the game’s development and it involved cannibalism, a taboo subject in many parts of the world. In order to assure that the game was released uncensored, Eno submitted the game for approval late, sending a copy without the story segments. He then switched that copy with the full game, sending it to be printed out. I am just awed by this story: if anything like this were to happen today, the game would have likely have been recalled and every original copy would have likely have been destroyed.

Indeed, the entire landscape of the video game market changed back in 1993. Due to the controversial video game releases of Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, both in their full unaltered state on various Sega platforms, there was a congressional hearing over whether or not video games with “controversial content” should have been completely banned. That’s right, the United States Congress threatened to ban video games with violent or sexual content, not unlike Germany or Australia’s wide array of video game regulation. In the end, a compromise was made: the video game industry decided to self-regulate content and educate parents on the type of content the products they were selling contained, in order to allow them to make informed purchases of material they deemed appropriate for their children. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was founded the following year in 1994. It was later joined by Japan’s Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (CERO) in 2002 and Pan European Game Information (PEGI) in 2003. In the end, this was probably a net positive overall, but what I find ironic about this was that Sega was putting ratings on their games before the ESRB was even established.

Night Trap and D were both what were referred to as “full-motion video” (commonly abbreviated as “FMV”) games, utilizing the then-cutting edge ability of CD-based consoles to create an entire video game experience using video clips. Typically, these games utilized live-action footage, thus creating “graphics” that trump even modern video games in terms of realism. Of course, this would generally come at the cost of complex gameplay experiences: gameplay was rarely more complex than the quick-time events we’ve seen in video games for generations. Of course, we’ve recently seen a resurgence in the genre, via indie developers. Though this time around, it would seem that the games made in the revival are less about providing graphical fidelity and more about creating “art” – scare quotes intended.

Of course, the existence of FMV games as a genre brings up another point. This may just be a matter of my own perception, but it seemed like there was a time when popular titles would lead into entirely new genres. I remember watching the “first-person shooter” genre blossom from the more derogatory “Doom clones”. Street Fighter II, while not the first fighting game, cemented various aspects of the 2D fighting game genre. These days, it seems like we never surpass the “clone” phase of this evolution: the closest we’ve gotten is the deluge of “crafting” games in the wake of Minecraft, but this generally just leads to games in existing genres adopting its unique elements.

Likewise, another thing I’d consider to be better in “the good ol’ days” would be the limitations put upon developers. In generations past, developers were generally only limited by whatever hardware they were developing for. This would generally lead to clever solutions to problems: arcade games would be entirely overhauled if they weren’t suitable for consoles, various perspective cheats would be used to create amazing graphical tricks and sometimes even entirely new hardware could be added to offset whatever limitations the systems in question had. Meanwhile, in the modern era, developers seem to have the exact opposite problem – an amazing amount of power to work with, but generally held back by the far more mundane problem of a lack of resources. Strict deadlines, a lack of manpower or finances: these are the major bottlenecks that plague today’s developers. In an era where it seems like we’re getting less and less for the same amount, it’s just sad to consider that we’re effectively being cheated out of the best possible games of this generation for such bland reasons.

In the end, perhaps the reason that video games as a medium feels far less elastic and much more deeply rooted in various traditions is due to the simple fact that they have a history now. Much like how early motion pictures were far more inventive than modern films, video games have gone through their own set of growing pains and settled on various frameworks. While adhesion to whatever institutions that have taken root in the industry are obviously not mandatory, they’ve effectively become a groove that the industry as a whole have settled into, effectively creating the landscape we know today.