Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Now there's a Tearaway trailer.

And somehow just as informative as the nine-minute preview.

Killzone: Mercenary looks less shitty than any other FPS on the Vita.

And by that I mean actually pretty good.

And suddenly, Skulls of the Shogun is out.

Skulls of the Shogun is an XBLA game that's been on my radar for what feels like two years - it's popped up at trade shows here and there, and anyone who lays their hands on it has nothing but good things to say.  It's a stylish, cartoony strategy RPG with sick tracks by The RZA.

Today, suddenly, I learn that it's out!  It dropped today on XBLA (and Windows 8 and Surface), while I'm up to my chin in some hot Ni No Kuni action.  Still, I'll have to check my XBLA balance and see if I can snap this up.  If there's one thing I love about my 360, it's stuff like Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Bastion, Mark of the Ninja and this.

I know - the video gives you no idea what the game is actually like.  Click the Skulls of the Shogun tag at the bottom of this post to check out the older gameplay vids.

Devil May Cry accolades trailer.

Just in case you'd forgotten that it's way awesome.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Yes! Yes! Oh God, Yes!

I have been peeing myself, each day and ever so little, after the announcement that Japan was getting a Vita port of the Vanillaware Wii title Muramasa: The Demon Blade.   I love my Vita, I adore Vanillaware, and... 

It's getting localized.

Aksys actually have a pretty decent recent history of localization efforts.  They've handled all the BlazBlue titles, and dip their toes in weirder works like Record of Agarest War and DeathSmiles.  They generally do a pretty decent job of putting together nice packages for the local otaku.

What is Muramasa Rebirth?  Don't believe the official announcement - Muramasa Rebirth is not "the follow-up to the critically acclaimed hit Muramasa."

It's not a sequel in any way, shape or form.  It's Persona 4 Golden.  It's Bionic Commando: Rearmed.  It's the exact same game with a spattering of niceties added on top, for good measure - in this case, the Japanese release will have four "additional scenarios" or campaigns for four new characters.

Nekomata Okoi the two-tailed cat girl, Gonbee the country bumpkin, Arashimaru the ninja and Rajaki the imp.

They don't mention that those additional scenarios are DLC - and have been confirmed as separate DLC for North America.

It also takes a bit of digging to find the news that instead of pressing up on the D-pad or analog stick to make your character jump, they'll be using an actual jump button this time - thank God.

But let us not look this gift horse in the mouth.  Muramasa is a slick, gorgeous, incredibly well-presented game that I cannot frickin' wait to play through again on the Vita's hot hot screen.


Annnd here's thirty-five seconds of gameplay because it's one thing to see screenshots, but an entirely different affair to understand how gorgeous these games are in motion.  Note Momohime using her sword swings to deflect the incoming kunai.

I wouldn't pay much attention to the Amazon listing for it - June 15th has got to be a placeholder date.

Still - $39.99. I can so dig it.

The Hitman HD Trilogy kind of has the best packaging ever.

It comes in a side-opening slip cover - rather akin to most any series bluray set. It's about 20% taller than your standard PS3 case - but you won't find a standard PS3 case inside.  What you get... a hardcover book.  A beautiful hardcover book with striking art on the front and rich, glossy pages within.  Pages featuring fan art from some of the 'net's greats, inspired by the classic moments of the Hitman trilogy.

Click to embiggen.

Imagine my surprise when the incredible Patrick Brown's art greets me - it's just a damn shame they shrunk them down instead of making each a full-page affair.

The blurbs beneath each picture are the artists' words, discussing what they find striking and inspirational about Hitman.

And just around the time you've forgotten that you're not actually looking at a mere art book...

You turn a page, and there's the game.

Rather like those lovely collector's editions of classic movies you find sometimes, a'la Pillow Talk or The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

As a general rule, I hate non-standard game cases.  I have one game in my collection with that hideous red Greatest Hits case (Burnout Paradise - a gift from my brother), and the rest are entirely uniform first-edition games.  I have steelbook cases for like, a half-dozen titles in my library, but they all get put in a drawer because presentation counts.

But this..?  This is probably the single best job of packaging a game I've ever seen.  I would love for more games to come in packages like this - packages that acknowledge that we love these games.  That are evidence that we're not the only ones who look beyond the pixels and polygons to see classic moments of artistry and emotion.

Square Enix - I'm no fan of yours, but - you did a fantastic fucking job on the Hitman HD Trilogy's packaging.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hitman HD Trilogy launch trailer.

Ahhh it's nice to be reminded of the gorgeous music Jesper Kyd put together for this series, back in the day.

Dead Space 3 launch trailer.

Because when you think Dead Space, you think "Phil Collins cover."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Game Diary - Ni No Kuni.

Reviewers are telling me Ni No Kuni is a lot like Dragon Quest and a lot like Pokemon - two franchises I've never played.  Y'know what Ni No Kuni feels like?

It feels like almost every JRPG you've ever played.  It's like ultra-soft four-ply facial tissues.  It's warm porridge with brown sugar on top.  It's the next book in the series of children's books you read as a child - and I'm not talking novels like Harry Potter, I'm talkin' Berenstain Bears or Mr. Men or Beatrix Potter.

It goes down smooth.  It's so gentle and wholesome.

It's like the answer to "what is studio Ghibli?"  Studio Ghibli is Disney, minus the racist and sexual overtones.

Like nearly all good Ghibli fare, it has a darkness at its center - an uncomfortable fact-of-life, an unbearable pain that allows the rest of the affair to achieve a certain emotional resonance - but as an RPG it's...

I don't want to say "boring" - but it's... formulaic.  That's the word.  It strictly adheres to the formula of Every Popular JRPG Ever.  It's like Call of Duty, if Call of Duty were a JRPG.

That's not necessarily a bad thing - it means it adheres to certain standards of conduct.  It won't discourage or shock you with its mechanics or systems.  Everything is as it should be, in terms of designs - and it's quite certain to take no risks and break no new ground.

But that's fine.  That might even be great, given the near-total dearth of JRPGs getting localized in the West. We finally get one of the big ones, and it's a triple-A entry.  It's polished to a shine.

Really, the only thing I kind of dislike about Ni No Kuni is the battle interface, where you have to flip through speech bubbles while enemies are beating on you to change your tactics.  At first I thought this was some carry-over from the Nintendo DS version where I could have simply tapped the combat option I wanted, but no - it's unique to the PS3 game.  A strange choice, that.

But, while Ni No Kuni is careful to take no risks and is so self-assured as to be almost bland, it remains a very, very well-done kind of bland.

We've all had chocolate cake a million times, and chocolate cake can be a bit boring - but when someone makes a chocolate cake that's excellently well-constructed and designed... well, that's still a delicious cake.

And a welcome treat, when your sweet tooth has been denied for so long.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Best of 2012 - Best Vita games.

It's January 26th and far past the time my GotY posts should have been done - so today we're doin' it up fast & dirty.

best vita games

Honorable Mention
Uncharted: Golden Abyss

I'm not even going to bother singling one out, here.  If you want fun new platforming mechanics, breezy exploration and gorgeous presentation - the best game on the Vita is...

If you're into RPGs, the best game on the Vita is hands-down....

And the year's most immaculately-constructed, beautifully-presented, honed-to-a-razor's-edge Vita game is...

All three games are beautiful, but all represent very different kinds of beauty in terms of gameplay.  Persona 4 is an epic novel you can cuddle up with, whiling away the hours as you grind your way through turn-based battles and lover's hearts.  Gravity Rush is a groovy fantasy of freedom and flight, and Rayman may be adorable cartoons on the surface, but it's a hard-core split-second-timing platformer that rivals the very best the genre has to offer.

If you have a Vita but don't have these games, you're doing it wrong.

Friday, January 25, 2013

What happened to Ninja Theory's portrayal of women?

About two-thirds of the way through DmC, I found myself troubled by the game's girls - and looking back at the developer's history, that represents a surprising about-face.  Above you'll see Kai (foreground) and Nariko from 2007's Heavenly Sword.  Both are injected with huge amounts of personality by Lydia Baksh and Anna Torv, respectively, and both feel like relateable, rounded character.

Kai is a mentally-damaged misfit, due to some unexplained past trauma, who carries around the mother of all crossbows on her back and enjoys playing Twing-Twang with enemy forces.  Nariko was shunned by her community all her life - as her cursed gender was seen as a harbinger of the apocalypse - who goes on to single-handedly oppose the warlord who threatens to rule the world.

Strong women.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (2010) featured Trip, who was somewhat more stereotypical than her predecessors.  Trip is thoughtful, intelligent and tech-savvy, but she can't throw a punch to save her life.  The fact that she spends a great deal of the game clambering on the back of the hulking, savage Monkey for protection from the game's beasties does lend her an air of the damsel in distress...

...but the truth of Trip's matter is that she is the leader, the decider, the moral authority of Enslaved.  It is she who chooses to enlist Monkey's assistance via the threat of lethal force, it is she who calls the shots throughout the game, and she who carries the entire story.

A strong woman.

Mundus (left) and Lillith in DmC (2013).

In DmC: Devil May Cry, a woman/female demon's sexuality - or otherwise, ability to seduce - tends to be a defining feature.  The demon mummy Lillith is Big Boss Mundus's right-hand harpy, who serves more as a narrative feature than a character.  She lives only to please her man, get violently fucked by him, and bear his evil child.

One should note, when that child - and so, her connection to power - are risked, she folds in to a pile of wimpering sobs.

The Succubus

The Succubus is another of Mundus's pets - in this case, a gigantic bug-thing that secretes a foul ooze to be distributed to the masses via popular soft drink (heheh, Futurama).  I won't belabor the point of a lady whose greatest strength lies in corrupting and befogging the minds of men - but that's fine!

After all, demons are demons and demons are bad folk.  They suck!  It's fine for evil to be evil - 'cause we've got Kat.

Kat sports a low-cut top and short shorts because science, I guess?

Kat is our Basil Exposition.  She's the guiding voice in your earpiece, and Dante's connection to humanity - but in classic Ninja Theory style, it's important that we understand her as a person.  With a hood over her eyes and a weird star where her third eye should be, Kat's capable, knowledgeable assistance sees our hero through his trials - laying a bread-crumb trail of mystery as she occasionally mentions how she would go to Limbo to escape her "nightmares," where she was eventually rescued by Virgil.

Limbo - your relaxation destination.

Dante asks her about it a couple times, but she dodges the question until they're driving along on their way to one demon-extermination gig or another, and she finally pulls back her hood to reveal a mop of brown hair.  This is Kat allowing Dante to see all of her, as it were, and she explains that her inciting incident - the trauma that cracked her psyche and drove her to find solace in Limbo - was sexual abuse at the claws of the demon who ran her foster home.

And with that, the penny drops and every lady in DmC: Devil May Cry is now, in one way, shape or form defined by their sexuality.  Either as a tool to corrupt (Succubus), as a path to power (Lillith), or as The Victim.

Taking any of these characters as individuals, I have no problem.  I dig the concept of The Succubus, Lillith's motivations are crystal-clear and I've honestly met many women very much like Kat - and likely, so have you.  Individually, they work just fine.

Together they form a theme that is not present in the rest of DmC's narrative - the sexuality of a woman both as a threat to be destroyed and a weakness to be conquered - and applies only to its three ladies.

If exploration of sex and sexuality were central to DmC's themes, I'd have less of a problem with it.  If The Succubus, Lillith and Kat were only part of a larger conversation the game was having - a conversation with balance to counter-weight the themes detailed above - I'd have less of a problem with it.  But it's not.

DmC: Devil May Cry is Dante's origin story, and when Kat says "I know exactly who you are - you are Dante," we love her.  When Dante stands up for Kat, detailing her bravery and heroics, we agree with him and cherish her.  Taken as an individual, she's another strong Ninja Theory character in another strongly-written Ninja Theory game.

As part of DmC's trinity of ladies, Kat is part of a somewhat disturbing conversation - unseen, elsewhere in Ninja Theory's work - that condemns the female gender as inherently weak, or a tool of evil.

What the F, Ninja Theory?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The South Park game lives, Vigil Games not so much.

A letter from THQ's president and CEO:

"To All THQ Employees:
We now have the answers we've been seeking through our financial restructuring and
Chapter 11 case. While much will be written, here are the facts of the bids and auction
that occurred today:
  • Yesterday morning, we received a competing bid for the operating business,along with Clearlake's offer, and numerous offers for separate assets.
  • During an auction process that lasted over 22 hours, the final conclusion was that the separate-asset bids would net more than a single buyer for the majority pf the company.
  • Shortly, we will, present the results to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, which must concur with our assessment.
  • The proposed sales of multiple assets is as follows :
  • Sega agreed to purchase Relic (they paid $26.6 million)
  • Koch Media agreed to purchase Volition and Metro (they paid $22,312,925.00 for Volition, $5,877,551.00 for Metro)
  • Crytek agreed to purchase Homefront ($544,218.00)
  • Take 2 agreed purchase Evolve and
  • Ubisoft agreed to purchase Montreal (studio - $2.5 mil) and South Park ($3,265,306.00)
We expect these sales to close this week. 
Some assets, including our publishing businesses and Vigil, along with some other
intellectual properties are not included in the sale agreements. They will remain part of
the Chapter 11 case. We will make every effort to find appropriate buyers, if possible.
What this means for employees 
We expect that most employees of the entities included in the sale will be offered
employment by the new owners. However, we cannot say what these owners may
intend, and there will likely be some positions that will not be needed under the
new ownership. You should receive notice this week or early next week if the new
owners intend to extend employment to you. Please note that the terms of your new
employment, including pay and benefits, may be different from the current terms of
your employment with THQ. 
If you are an employee of an entity that is not included in the sale, we regret that
your position will end. A small number of our headquarters staff will continue to be
employed by THQ beyond January 25 to assist with the transition. THQ has sufficient
resources to pay these employees for work going forward, and we will be contacting
these employees immediately to ensure their continued employment during this
transition period. We are requesting the ability to offer certain severance pay to
minimize disruption for employees of non-included entities as they determine the next
steps in their careers. 
We know you will have many questions about this news. We'll be meeting tomorrow
when we return to talk through this announcement and to answer any questions you
have. You will receive a benefits fact sheet and FAQs with answers to some questions
that may be on your mind. Please review these materials closely. 
A personal note 
The work that you all have done as part of the THQ family is imaginative, creative,
artistic and highly valued by our loyal gamers. We are proud of what we have
accomplished despite today's outcome. 
It has been our privilege to work alongside the entire THQ team. While the company
will cease to exist, we are heartened that the majority of our studios and games will
continue under new ownership. We were hoping that the entire company would remain
intact, but we expect to hear good news from each of the separate entities that will be
operating as part of new organizations. 
For those THQ employees who are part of entities that are not included in the sale, we
are confident that the talent you have displayed as part of THQ will be recognized as you
take the next steps in your career. 
Thank you all for your dedication and for sharing your talent with the THQ team. We
wish you the best of luck and hope you will keep in touch. 
Brian Farrell
Chief Executive Officer
Jason Rubin
Well shit.  Those goddamned Canadians had better not mess up South Park.

Game Diary - Ni No Kuni.

Launch trailer!

I hopped back and forth between the Japanese and English voice work last night and I think I'm gonna' stick with English.  It works fine, and allows greater time to enjoy the visuals.

The game, meanwhile, starts... slow.  I've put three hours in, and am quite certain I've not seen a quarter of all the mechanics and options the game has in store for me.  Perhaps this is the price one pays for spending time with a game which can also be enjoyed by folks under ten - interminable tutorials, mountains of explaining text to wade through - but it hasn't yet dampened my enthusiasm.

But!  But but!  But The Cave is out now!

But the Metal Gear Rising demo is available!

But Dead Space 3's demo is up!

Hopefully I'll spend some time with those tonight, 'cause Ni No Kuni is likely to dominate the next two weeks of my time.

...I wonder how much time it would take to beat The Cave..?  I don't want to ignore that one.

Oooh, I hope I can finish this RPG before Dead Space 3 drops.

Bayonetta 2 behind-the-scenes featurette.


New Wonderful 101 trailer.

You remember The Wonderful 101, don't you?  The thing (RE2, DMC, Okami, Bayoneta director) Hideki Kamiya is making for the Wii U, right?

Wind Waker HD official, coming to Wii U.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is one of the Nintendo titles I've always wanted to play - that, and Majora's Mask - but given that Majora's Mask seemed very similar to Ocarina of Time, I felt I was safe to skip it.

Still, when there are public outcries or fan trailers put together of HD Zeldas, it's The Wind Waker that's somehow always at the front of the pack.  This seems to be, to Nintendo gamers, the equivalent of us getting an HD up-port of Okami.

This is very, very cool.

The announcement was made as part of today's Nintendo Direct video - embedded below - in which the other penny drops.  Nintendo is giving us this Zelda because their other HD Zelda won't be coming out for a long time.

Also interesting - the New Zelda is supposed to "challenge the conventions" of the Zelda franchise - specifically, the need to tackle dungeons in a certain order and the fact that you "play by yourself."

Ugh.  A multiplayer Zelda.  Just shoot my childhood in the head.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Last of Us gets two special editions, and I want both.

This one has a sweet lookin' art book, and is $79.99.  (Click to embiggen.)

This one has a sweet-lookin' 12" statue, is exclusive to GameStop, and costs $159.99

I'll definitely be getting the Survival Edition - I cannot ignore art books for games - but, wickedly, I kinda' want to get... both of them.

That's a lot of faith, granted - but I wonder if I won't end up considering it a loss, if I don't.

Nah, probably not.  Best to just stick with the art book.

The Last of Us is due to drop May 7th, 2013.

I'm no Call of Duty fan,

but I am definitely a Peter Stormare fan, and I approve this message.

A new Ghost in the Shell animation is coming.

Above is all we know about it.  Well, someone obviously knows more than I do - 'cause they can read Japanese and perhaps understand what all that text means - but let's not mince facts.  This website is advertising a new GitS animation, and I will have to see it.

Monday, January 21, 2013

One more thing.

As if the below review wasn't long enough - here's more about DmC.

If you played Heavenly Sword, you'll remember the titular weapon is somewhat similar to New Dante's, in that it takes different forms.  Without applying an alt button (L1 and R1, in this case), the sword is a normal, close-range, medium-damage and medium-speed weapon.

With L1, it becomes a wide-range, fast, low-damage weapon.  With R1, it becomes a giant two-hander for heavy, slow, powerful attacks.

And, weirdly, DmC does the exact same thing - it's just L2 and R2 instead of L1 and R1.  The L-trigger accesses your sweeping, floating angelic weaponry, while R2 opens up your crashing, bashing, heavy demon weapons. I told that to Blue today, and he said "so it plays like Heavenly Sword?"

"Oh, God no," I said, "not at all - not even a little.  It plays like Devil May Cry.  It works really, really well."

Amazing that an interesting idea from a mediocre brawler can resurface with such delightful execution.

And now it's on to Ni No Kuni.  Reviews have freaked me out, a little bit - apparently the game starts off slow, and in the later chapters becomes incredibly challenging.  I hope I'll be able to finish it before Dead Space 3 happens.