Where this film exists:
I'm there day one.
If you hadn't heard, today is Street Fighter Day. As we fans have been waiting for SF4 on the home consoles, so we have been waiting for the Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix (likely a record for name length in videogames, the Xbox actually has to abbreviate the title to fit it onscreen).HD Remix is, naturally, a remake of fan favorite Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. I've been more than doubtful about this game in the year or so since its announcement: ST is one of the last games out there that really needs a remake. It's not a perfectly balanced game-- and such an ideal is unreachable anyway-- but it is the refined essence of one of the most infuential videogames ever made. It's been refined and it's been played for 13 damn years without really needing much help: does one really mess with Super Turbo? Couple this with the new high-definition artwork by Udon Comics not quite fitting in with or living up to the original sprites, and I was a bit worried.
The artwork is a little better than it looked like it would be, but there's a clash between the game and the graphics that have been overlaid on it. None of the animation has actually been changed here, as animations are too important to a game like this to mess around with. Instead, every frame has simply been redrawn. For example, SF2 has always had really choppy backgrounds with simple two-frame animations. It looks really normal on a 1995 videogame, but now it sticks out like a sore thumb. Character animations also suffer to varying degrees, and the quality of the art varies from character to character: Chun Li, or all people, looks surprisingly bad.
This is why I actually bought the game. You can see that the game has been extensively worked over: the designer is a tourney SF player who's been an open book about his changes to the design, testing them extensively with the community and adjusting accordingly. Most of the characters have some fun new trick, like Guile's new long-range flash kick or Ryu's fake fireball. These aren't things that will really wow anybody who isn't sold on it, but if you're already interested in ST, these are really interesting tweaks that even the playing field by weakening the strong characters (but only a tiny bit) and making the weak characters strong. The result is almost a new game, but in practice it plays more like a very big and rather late patch for people who have already been at this for a while.
This isn't to say that there's nothing for the beginning Street Fighter dork: in addition to changing unnecessarily complex and often overlapping special move motions to more reasonable ones, ST's notoriously strict inputs have been made more lenient, so for example, you don't have to worry about jumping by accident while you attempt a spinning piledriver, or missing that game-winning dragon punch. If you are, by chance, just looking to get into fighting games, this is the best in imaginable: a really easy game to get into, but more importantly a deep, well-made game with loads of human competition available online. Well worth your $15.
I just want you guys to know that. It is a very attractive entertainment proposition, is what I'm saying. I got it for a birthday gift. Or I bought Legend of Kage 2 and my buddy paid for Etrian Odyssey 2. One or the other. Twenty dollars were involved.
So we have another revival. This time it's not of a franchise, but of a seriously ancient game: Taito's arcade classic The Legend of Kage. Back then, a game only needed a simple premise, and Kage's premise was "high-jumping ninja". Hold up on the stick and tiny Kage would go floating about a screen and a half into the air. It was pointless and dangerous to do so as opposed to simply running through the stage, of course, but it was a good time.
Anyway, Taito's done their nth remakes of Arkanoid and Space Invaders on the DS, but this is, as far as I know, the first time they've officially come back to Kage since 1984, and developer Lancarse (interviewed here) opted to rebuild it from the top. The names-- the hero, the rival, and the kidnapped princess- are all the same, but the designs are more the modern Japanese videogame style: you know, bare-chested pretty-boy ninjas with color-coded scarves, that kinda thing. The game also offers a female protagonist with a completely different weapon set, but I've hardly played as her.
You might want to draw the comparison to the latter-day Castlevania games, but thankfully this isn't a pushover action-RPG item-collecting simulator. What they've put together is a new game that's not just superficially true to the classics: a short, sweet arcade action game. It plays to Kage's greatest strength by structuring the game vertically: you will always be on the bottom screen, but the top screen offers a full view of the area, including ledges above. The level design is reminiscent of the early Sonic games, where there were always two or three paths through a level, each stacked on top of the other. Like the original, you can just run through a level until you're stopped and forced to kill a certain enemy, but why not run on buildings? Why not jump between the trees? It feels good, man. Just go ahead and do it.
And it's a pleasure to do all this because the character is gracefully animated and controls beautifully. Kage's jump is less floaty, more precise, with an air dash so you can run right up to the guy you want to kill. His little spinning dagger from the arcade game has been replaced with a proper sword, and he can fling shuriken the whole way as is proper for a ninja. As you go along, Kage gets more moves and learns magic spells-- you construct these yourself in one of those Nintendo-mandated touchscreen minigames-- which make him a little bit stronger, but never make the game easy.
The levels are built for high-scoring by chaining kills as fast as possible (kind of like Dodonpachi, I guess), but if you're not finding the perfect line for score attacking, they offer little variety. The game really shines at the end of the level, when Kage goes up against a series of good old-fashioned NES-style bosses. They've got patterns, you know? Their damage is high, your damage is low, and ninja magic is extremely costly and only somewhat effective. You've really got to learn the pattern and avoid damage as opposed to just attacking blindly until you win. The last few bosses in particular have a great ramp-up from tough to DS-throwing by the very end. I put the game down when I died within one pixel of killing the last boss after an hour on the subway trying to do it. I'll get that bastard. Just you wait.
The game has an art gallery mode where you unlock pictures with specific feats: it indicates that there are both hard and expert modes. Looking forward to it.
This went on my Twitter, but Twitter handled the link pretty poorly. It's not safe for work and it works better than anything I could possibly say to illustrate "the horror of otaku". I think it's magnificent. Difference is color of a tail. Despite the urge you may get from this, please do not make a hole in your skull so that you can then pour bleach directly into your brain.
I like the opening animation of Baldios. It's a good opening. It's got an explosion right off the bat, and then a song about things that are blue, and why things that are blue (hope is also blue) are great. It also takes the position that the English word "blue" is particularly awesome. Then it exhorts the organization Blue Fixer to save tomorrow, and then states the name of the robot with a flourish. It is assumed, furthermore, that Baldios must also save tomorrow. Sounds like a robot anime to me.
Anyway, some cool guys saw fit to start fansubbing the Baldios TV series. Then the same cool guys decided "Man, why don't we just do the movie instead?" This was probably the smart decision: you see, the Baldios TV series simply ends. It doesn't finish, as that would imply closure. Baldios just ends, at an important juncture where the viewer must assume that all is lost. If you'd like to spoil the scene in question for yourself-- and I recommend you do so-- the scene is on Nicovideo here, and I've also uploaded it to Youtube for those of you without Moontube accounts.
Christ! What a bummer! That said, taking the whole story into account, it's clear that Baldios wasn't supposed to end where it did: even with what happens, the plot is completely unresolved. If I had to speculate-- and this is the Internet, we don't do research here-- I would guess from the unusual episode number (32) that Baldios was cancelled early. To fix this, a Baldios movie was released that fills in the real ending. In the movie, the entire TV series, including the finale, is covered in about an hour and ten minutes, leaving the rest of the two-hour film to resolve the ending. It goes okay, I guess.
Baldios is about the people on the ruined planet S-1: our protagonist, Marin Reagan (played by the late, smoove Kaneto Shiozawa) is the son of a scientist who's working to restore the environment. Unfortunately for Dad, and for the planet, S-1 is overthrown as a result of a military coup. Evil leader Gattler decides it would be rad as hell if S-1 just invaded the first planet it saw, and everybody is pretty much with him on that one. From here, robot anime tropes take over: Marin's dad gets him on their experimental spacecraft and he pursues the people of S-1 to earth. On top of that, the spacecraft just happens to combine with a couple of vehicles that the government organization Blue Fixer had lying around. The chief engineer decides right away that the robot's name will be Baldios. And only Marin can pilot it!
A better name might have been Robot Not Appearing In This Film: when they realized they had to condense the plot to an hour, the robot was about the first thing to go. Baldios is only involved in three very quick battle scenes, because the movie's having a hard enough time fast-forwarding through this story. Things simply happen, with little context and less explanation. The viewer is expected to have already seen all this stuff anyway, and to be about as anxious as the creators are to get to the new stuff. And I dunno, you'd think that if they made this movie just to make this ending, if they fast-forwarded through everything just so that they'd have time for it, that Baldios wouldn't have such a lousy ending. Spoilers are behind the cut, but my spoiler-free summary of the Baldios movie's ending is "Seriously? Come the fuck on."
Guilty Gear 2 is an RTS and an action game: a buddy compared it to DotA, which the game is likely modeled after, except for the melee fighting. The RTS part is pretty simple, the action part is pretty complex, and together they are a little bit bewildering, especially since, as we said, the campaign mode doesn't really help you figure out how the game works. Once it's over, you're left with the mission mode, which mostly consists of campaign mode levels, except you can play as characters other than the ones the story obligated you to play as before. So that's not much help. If you want to figure out how to play Guilty Gear 2, the best thing to do is just go into Exhibition mode and fight the computer over and over again, working your way up from the lowest difficulty. Also, let the game run into demo mode and take a look at what the people in those full match replays do. Very educational stuff: also completely undocumented.
Don't bother going online until you have a real handle on the game: because there are so few people playing this game (mostly Japanese), it's hard to get a match and the skill level is very high. You are not going to have time to learn anything because you will be dead.
Let's take it from the top: the player character is a "Master" who both orders and leads an army of summoned monsters into battle. As in any normal RTS, you need resources (mana) to summon units, buy character upgrades and items, and you get more mana by taking over towers (here called ghosts) at key points on the map. The units have a simple rock-paper-scissors relationship, and with more mana you're able to summon stronger units. The match is split into five five-minute rounds and ends when one Master's lifebar is drained to zero, either by repeated attacks to the base (the masterghost) or the death of the Master (you lose about a third of your bar every time this happens). None of this is unusual in and of itself.
What shakes up the play and makes it interesting is the role of the Master. You're summoning and ordering your troops via a menu, but you control the Master directly. The Master can assist their troops in battle, take enemy towers, or directly fight the enemy Master. You can definitely draw a parallel to Dynasty Warriors here, but the combat is much deeper and summoned units don't stand around waiting to be killed like the ones in DW do.
There are two combat modes: one is the crowd-control attack mode that's pretty directly DW. Very easy to use, very effective against big crowds, but the damage is crap. If you really want to hurt something, you have to lock on to them, at which point you can move forwards, backwards, and in a circle around them: the movement system first seen back in Ocarina of Time all those years ago.
You can't really afford to overlook the lock-on mode in this game: it is the core of the fighting engine. It's also where all the GG elements are hiding: Sol and Ky have most of their usual signature moves, and surprisingly, they all work more or less the way they did in GGXX. Ky's fireball stuns enemies, Sol's dragon punch really goes through incoming attacks, and so on. Furthermore, there's a really meaty combo system here, with juggles and Roman Cancels (renamed to Modern Cancels I dunno why) and all the ultra-precision pinball wizard kinda shit you'd expect from GG.
Also, Masters can get around the map much faster than their troops can: dashing actually makes your character control like a kart racing game, complete with a drift button and the possibility of crashing into walls and such. It's definitely strange, but it's also the only efficient way to get around: you're going to quickly realize that the Master has a lot of work to do in this game, and time is of the essence.
As a result of all this, the Master is one of the most powerful and destructive forces on the map. You can't really lay back and let your strength go to waste: it's best to be all over the field, helping your troops out and screwing up things for the enemy Master. When you have a free moment, make your orders, but make them quick. Of course, the enemy Master is running around too, and you're frequently going to end up fighting them. Here, I should note that the awesome GG music that you've probably been missing starts to play. Player-versus-player combat is obviously different from Guilty Gear the 2D fighting game, but it's still about mind games and aggression. I would have liked to have throws, but oh well.
Different Masters are good at different things: for polar opposites, there's Sol, who's an absolute beast in direct combat who doesn't get a lot of mana to summon units with, and Valentine, who excels at swarming the map with small units but will lose miserably in single combat. The rest of the characters fall somewhere in between, for a bit more balance. Characters and maps are in pretty short supply here, and insult to injury, one character and one map are paid DLC. This was pretty uncool, but I paid up the character (map is unreleased here, far as I know) because this game probably didn't sell well anyway.
One of the things you notice after a lot of matches in this game is that even though the models appear subpar for this generation (likely owing to the number of them that the game often has to have onscreen: the framerate never drops), the character design and animations actually have a lot of the character that you saw in the 2D Guilty Gear: it's just that because the game is 3D, you rarely ever get a good look at them. Diehard GG fans will probably be able to pick out moves and characters that have been indirectly transplanted in from GGXX, like Zappa's dog (Zappa himself does not appear, sorry guys).
Anyway, the game's pretty deep, but like I've said, you really have to find it yourself. With better single-player modes, the game might have been able to communicate what it was about more easily, but as-is, it looks like only absolute Guilty Gear diehards and people with soft spots for neglected videogames (oh hi) will ever actually play it. Not to mention how active this fall has been for major videogames: GG2 is already effectively lost in the shuffle. Unless you buy it, because I told you to.
Even though I've loudly decried the thing in the past. I don't write up every geek thing I do, obviously, and doing so takes time, so what you're going to see from the Twitter feed is instant impressions on stuff as I consume it. I have a lot of damn videogames right now, for example, so expect to hear about that kinda stuff. In fact-- YOU MIGHT ALREADY BE. The username is Sasuraiger.
By the way, I just remembered that this is the two-year anniversary of this website. It's been a good run, and let's hope for some more running, okay? Everybody have a party. I'll go get a six-pack but you can't have any.
I don't think there's any other way to describe the single-player mode in this game. In theory an extended tutorial for a very complicated game, Guilty Gear 2 kind of forgets to teach you how to play the game about halfway through in favor of some strange, memorable setpieces, ranging from the 2D overhead shooter level (I shit you not) to the finale, which appears to have been ripped directly from Sonic Adventure. Don't ask me, man. Campaign mode is quite a ride, but when you're done you still have no idea how to play Guilty Gear 2. This is only one of its flaws.
The other really big problem with the story mode is, well, its story. GG2 has a lot of cutscenes: so many, in fact, that some missions consist only of a cutscene, which must be watched or skipped in order to proceed. The presence of opening credits over and early cutscene suggests that this is some kind of cinematic presentation, but the direction is limited to the camera standing idly by while talking heads prattle on and on. Most of the discussion is inane technobabble-- this chord isn't anything like the magic i've seen before, I've got to rewrite the circuit so we can tune the frequency and break the barrier-- and as a result of the poor storytelling, the whole mode is a serious drag to sit through. There are some tidbits for GG fans, but nothing significant really happens, and (SPOILERS FOR A SURPRISE TO NOBODY) the game ends with a "to be continued".
Should I go ahead and make note of the voices here? The US release is happily bilingual, with an English dub provided by the usual anime dubbing suspects. On the Japanese side, Jouji Nakata of Hellsing fame plays Sol. One big problem that both audio tracks have is the extreme repetition of lines. Arc was always good with this problem in their fighting games: characters would have random voice sets that kept you from hearing VORCANIC VAIPA the same way over and over again. They kind of forgot to do that in this game. If you're playing Sol one really annoying part comes to mind: on the second hit of his normal 3-hit combo, Sol yells SHUT UP. English or Japanese, he says SHUT UP. He says it every time. He also does it when you press a direction + attack.
SHUT UP. SHUT UP. SHUT UP. SHUT UP. Sometimes when they were talking about unusual magical time signatures during the cutscenes, I'd think of SHUT UP, over and over again. You really do understand my feelings, Frederick.
I'm going to make a post or maybe more about Guilty Gear 2: it's been rejected by its fanbase and received decidedly mixed reviews from the pros, which is unfortunate because the game actually turned out to be quite good. First I'm going to talk about how and why this game exists, which is pretty much everybody's first question when they hear about it.
Like every fighting game franchise with a complicated backstory, Guilty Gear has worked itself into a tough spot where its gameplay and its story are actually at odds. The GGXX series is a lasting arcade success in Japan and one of the gold standards for competitive fighting games. Unfortunately, once a game hits a sweet spot the way GGXX did, it can't do anything radical. It can't progress its plot, for example: people die later in the GG continuity, and you can't exactly take that character out of the game, screwing everybody who's enjoyed playing that character since GGXX's release back at the beginning of the decade. King of Fighters ran into this problem with its cast of characters: fan favorites appeared in one game and were killed off in the ending of the same game, for example. The solution was ultimately to make a game that ignored continuity, with all the characters everybody wanted to be able to play as. Guilty Gear XX, over the course of its upgrades and rebalances, has already become that game.What a mess, though! This is why Virtua Fighter doesn't bother having a plot.
Arc experimented with their golden goose exactly once, with the release of Guilty Gear Isuka, which turned Guilty Gear into a 4-player free-for-all. This is actually a pretty good idea if you build an entire new game around it-- see Bleach DS 1 and 2 for the best realization of this idea, from the people who came up with it-- but grafted onto the Guilty Gear engine without much further thought, it's a lazy experiment and a bit of a mess. The game bombed spectacularly in the arcades (but if you have a Nico account check out this match video), and Arc went right back to the XX series. Since then, the Guilty Gear franchise didn't really move: that is, not until Arc confused the hell out of everybody by announcing that Guilty Gear 2 would be an action/real-time strategy hybrid set in the future of the GG timeline. The only returning playable characters would be Ryu and Ken equivalents Ky and Sol. So this is kind of like Street Fighter 3, except more so. The game proceeded to bomb at retail in Japan and come out in the West about a year later, where it has received middling reviews, when indeed it's been reviewed at all. I must assume the game is likewise bombing. That's a shame, because there's definitely a lot here. It's just that the presentation is a bit... off. We'll get to why that is in the next post, about the campaign mode.