Between Grasshopper‘s involvement in the recent Samurai Shamploo, Nanaon-Sha‘s DS version of Tamagochi, and a publishing deal with Q Entertainement for their handheld games, the Bandai side of BandaiNamco has recently been the home of many studios of a rather outcast nature, prone to cult followings by a few gamers. The publisher is going one step further in that direction by having Dream Factory produce a new title for them. Dream Factory, I remind you, was the ex-darling of the fighting game scene with their groundbreaking Tobal series. Alas, their following entries Ergheiz and The Bouncer kind of killed the buzz around them, and a large chunk of the original staff had left when Kakutou Choujin – seen by many as the studio’s nadir – came out on Xbox (though we did find a defender of the game). Their latest known production was the largely unnoticed Yoshitsuneki for Banpresto in late 2005. With the forthcoming Kakutou Bijin Oolong, Dream Factory is adapting a recent manga and anime featuring a young and bosomy girl that enjoys breaking arms and fighting grizzlies with her crazy martial arts techniques. According to competent authorities, it’s a rather poor license – one of those B-grade shounexploitation series that get broadcast at an hour when correct animations and clever storylines are not a major preoccupation for the young male viewer. Dream Factory has been working on some UFC and Pride fighting games after Kakutou Choujin, so it should play close to those. Check some images on GameWatch.
I might have noticed it a bit too late, but the famous actor and director… no wait I am mistaken, the famous programmer and game designer Ron Gilbert will be visiting Paris, France this week with Clayton Kauzlaric for business matters. Gilbert is beloved by all for SCUMM, Maniac Mansion and the early Monkey Island games, among other achievements within the adventure genre. Kauzlaric worked on games such as Secret of Evermore, Total Annihilation and the recent Voodoo Vince. The duo is responsible for the webcomic Grumpy Gamer, available on Ron Gilbert’s weblog of the same name. They are apparently cruising the world to find some publisher for a project of theirs. I guess Nobilis might be their target in France, or at least would be a clever contact for their mentioned “adventure/RPG” game. My reason for mentioning this ovious decoy for a romantic trip is that Gilbert and Kauzlaric evoked the possibility of a casual meetup with fans, which has finally been planned for next Saturday. The meetup is in part organized by Nordine and Lama, two fine gentlemen from the Push-Start community. It’s a pretty cool idea, and they apparently still have room for a few people who would want to come with them… though you should hurry up as their official deadline for taking part was last night. So if you live in or plan to visit Paris around that date, and if one of your lifelong dreams was to meet some of the few respected members of the industry, register at the Push-Start forums and ask politely.
From the usual sources, doujin and freeware highlights of the last few days… or weeks (sorry I’ve been busy). Arguably the two most popular names of the japanese freeware scene are in the spotlight again. Pixel, which gained international fame with his mesmerizing action-adventure game Doukutsu Monogatari (a.k.a. Cave Story), is back at it with a not yet named shoot’em up(?) project. There is a useful and up-to-date translation of his comments which you can find here. And this weekend, the cult-followed Kenta Cho released his newest game: Mu-cade (or more accurately, μ-cade). Cho recommends the use of a joypad with two sticks to appreciate the game. Here is good opportunity for Xbox 360 users to try their nifty joypad on a PC, as Mu-Cade shares some similarities with the Xbox Live! Arcade hit (and rather vapid game in this writer’s opinion) Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. An intriguing echo considering how Bizarre Creations’ little software seemed inspired in part by Kenta Cho’s earlier works. And as we announced last january, Globule uploaded a free version of Cubic 3 on the circle’s website.
Rectangle‘s Raiders Sphere series has set the doujin standard for flight sims in the arcade tradition à la Ace Combat. The game is popular enough to have its own wiki, IRC channel and a quite active 2ch topic. After numerous updates for the second episode, the circle finally announced Raiders Sphere 3rd. Not much information has been unveiled yet. To proceed on 3D doujin games, there are a bunch of interesting polygon-based fighters to watch for this year, such as Fatal/Fake, for which you can see a bunch of new screenshots here. There’s also a new demo version of Iron Duel to download. And last Comiket’s freshest game, Gunners Heart, is now available at Toranoana.
On the more traditional 2D front, check the websites of Arm Joe and Monster for respectively an upgraded version and an online trial to download. Roni also noticed Axel City, made with Fighter Maker. Looks sweet. Shooter fans would rather download the sample tunes made available for the promotion of Suguri‘s official soundtrack, and check out new images from promising projects such as Rayging Blue 2, Magical Pop, and Ichigo Citron’s Melon Squash. That last game will be released on March 10 but, according to Roni, the circle accepts international preorders (which is uncommon enough to be worth mentioning) by sending them a mail in english at the address “otoiawase~at~w-canvas~dot~com”. Whereas fans are waiting for a trial of Murasame‘s next project , the popular and almost decade-old circle released a nice freeware called Starleaf (go here and download the link next to the little banana). Murasame were the guys responsible for Dicing Knight, winner of the WonderWitch GP2002 and last official game of the WonderSwan. There’s also a nice run & gun in the news, Saagyuda! from Milk Tank, but beware for plenty of un-worksafe material. You can download a trial version and demo movies here.
Finally, two disturbing aspects of Japanese subculture meet again (remember Mimipan?) as cute, underaged and royally dressed girls will battle for territorial supremacy in Moeshimu ~Europa Bishoujo Sensen Ijou-ari!?~, a bizarre war simulation from Sylph, focusing on the European conflicts of WW2.
Spring 2006 will be an interesting time for japanese baseball fans, as the genre’s two historic series plan to seduce them with different approaches. With over 13 million games sold since its Super Famicom debut, Konami’s Pawapuro series is by far the most popular baseball series in Japan. Yet its sales have been suffering in comparison with Konami’s other major sports franchise, Winning Eleven. The Japanese professional baseball league keeps fading in popularity. Younger generations are more attracted to soccer and most of the talented Japanese baseball players have left for the (North-American) Major League Baseball. As we said in June 2005, it was therefore inevitable that the studio in charge of the Pawapuro series, PawaPuro Production (ex-Diamond Head), has ended up working on a Major League version of Pawapuro. Jikkyou Powerful Major League (already nicknamed “Pawamajor”) will feature all teams, stadiums and players of the MLB. It will include the series’ trademark Success Mode, a very popular adventure mode with a different scenario in each episode. Though there is almost zero chance of it happening because of the game’s peculiar aesthetics and the current exclusive deal between TakeTwo and the MLB, this is also the first time a Pawapuro game has the potential to be localized in the US market. Pawamajor should be released in japan this spring, though no precise date has been confirmed yet.
In early April, PawaPuro Production will also release Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyuu Portable on PSP. It will be compatible with the PS2 versions of Pawapuro 12, Pawapuro 12 Ketteiban and the forthcoming Pawapuro 13 (to be released in Summer 2006). This version is quite anticipated by fans because it seems to follow the evolution of the main series, whereas previous handheld episodes developed their own gameplay and modes under the ‘Pawapoke’ (Power Pro Kun Pocket) license. From the Gameboy Color to the Nintendo DS, the Pawapoke spin-off series created its own audience and legacy. Two episodes were released on DS in 2005, Pawapoke Koushien and Pawapoke 8. They both sold poorly (and were rather disappointing), and as a consequence Konami is coming back on GBA with their newest episode Pawapoke Dash. This one will be released at the end of next march. Aside from two Saturn games and one Dreamcast edition, the Pawapuro games have traditionally been released on Sony and Nintendo machines. At the last TGS, Konami announced they would pursue the main series on Playstation 3 but held no announcement concerning the Revolution.
Before Pawapuro kicked in, the most popular baseball series in Japan was Namco’s Family Stadium series. The “Famista” games on Famicom pretty much set the basis for how to turn baseball into a videogame, and Pawapuro took a lot from the series. Though Nintendo’s Baseball on Famicom is actually the most successful japanese baseball game of all time with 2.35 million copies sold, Family Stadium is considered by japanese consumers as the grandfather of modern baseball games and the only other series to have had passed the million mark with a single episode – and did so three times. Famista totalled over 2 million copies sold, Famista’87 did around 1.30 million and Famista’88 ended just above 1 million. Yet unlike Konami, Namco has had issues with its series and failed to keep it highly popular over the years. The publisher has progressively switched to a more realistic approach (both in terms of gameplay and representation), mostly to set itself apart from Pawapuro. Since 2002, Nekkechuu! Pro Yakyuu has been Namco’s main sports series on PS2. Its solid sales make it the second most popular baseball series behind Pawapuro, though it is tailed by Konami’s own “realistic” representation of japanese baseball, Pro Yakyuu Spirits (which is actually an offspring of a long series of games that one could argue began with the excellent Yakyuu 68 on Sharp’s X68000, which itself was inspired by Jaleco’s popular Moerou!!Pro Yakyuu series on Famicom, but I don’t want to bother you with too many anecdotes).
After a first attempt at changing the series name in 2005 with Baseball Live! 2005 and its tepid sales, Namco decided to finally revive the legacy of Famista. Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the original game, Pro Yakyuu Nekkesta 2006 will feature a “Famista 2006″ mode that will go back to the gameplay and sprites of the Famicom version. You can see some examples on GameWatch. In contrast, the other modes will feature some of the most realistic character models on the PS2. To be released in march, it will compete with Konami’s Pro Yakyuu Spirits 3, released around the same period on PS2 and Xbox 360.
I personally don’t care about baseball.
One year ago, Ecole released an arcade version of Melty Blood: Re-Act for the NAOMI platform, co-developed with the original creators, Type-Moon. Rumors of a port for PS2 started soon after, due to the company’s comments on a console version, but it hasn’t been until today, almost one year later, that it has been officially announced via Famitsu Magazine. No DC this time, you see. Thanks to Game Boku Tenin no Tawagoto.
Compiled from US media, you can see them all here. They confirm that it’s a Capcom USA product (most likely using a partial emulator) which will suffer from the ‘fake-low res syndrome’ once again. A low-res-designed game needs a true low-res display to get a proper on-screen presentation, and the American company also fails to realize that ‘Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold’ was the name they used for the Western version of Street Fighter Zero 2 Dash, not Street Fighter Zero 2 Alpha (the actual game included in this compilation) despite the popular belief. They both were enhanced versions of Street Fighter Zero 2, the former for the domestic market, the latter for the arcade one, but with certainly different features. Even more amusing, though, is the fake, nonsensically-illustrated flyer they have invented for this game and the select screen. Does Capcom USA hate the fan? They probably hate even themselves. Some Street Fighter II Dash Turbo screens for the Xbox Live Arcade have also appeared, by the way.
Among japanese publishers, Capcom¹ clearly is the biggest supporter of the PSP right now. Its AreKore series received rather tepid results but the publisher has finally been rewarded with the success of Monster Hunter Portable, a game with high sales, and the first major hit for the console in Japan (and Monster Hunter Dos on PS2 is apparently enjoying very strong sales for its debut, installing the series as the publisher’s new hot IP). They unveiled two new PSP games at their Capcom Press Event in Las Vegas. Power Stone Portable is a compilation of the two rather cultishly loved Dreamcast fighters, whereas Capcom Puzzle World will feature a few arcade hits such as Super Puzzle Fighter IIX and a few Mitchell² games: three episodes of their famous Pang series, and the rather obscure Block Block. This one was a “tatefuu block kuzushi” or, if you prefer, a breakout-like game using a vertical screen display. Will they go for the vertical mode for the PSP? <Brandon’s note: This game will actually be in the US Capcom Classics collection for PSP, I’ve been told. And in the US one at least, they have a variety of display options, including a vertical mode.> There is also a very hot GokuMakaimura trailer to watch.
¹Speaking of Capcom: they plan to bring adaptations of all three GBA episodes of Gyakuten Saiban (Phoenix Wright) to US cellular phones later this year. No words on the original GBA versions being eventually brought to the western world in their natural form. (via GA-F)
²Speaking of Mitchell: their DS adaptation of Puzz Loop will also be released in the USA this spring, under the name Magnetica. (via dsdsds.net)
You read about it everywhere, now read about it here! Nintendo will launch a rather classy Mother 3 Deluxe Box for the japanese launch of the GBA game on April 20. Aside from a copy of Shigesato Itoi’s much awaited sequel to Earthbound, people who pre-order the box will get a red Gameboy Micro with a Mother 3 faceplate, and a cute badge. Starmen.net is providing a complete translation of the game’s japanese website, including a newish update with screenshots.
It’s never a bad thing to check out applications for trademark patents, since it gives an idea about what some companies may have in mind for the next few months. Some of these names end up being filed only to use for completely different and unexpected reasons, but you never know… For instance, it won’t surprise anyone that in late 2005, Nintendo submitted names to Japanese copyright authorities such as “Dairantou Smash Brothers” (and its nickname “SmaBro” – better known as Super Smash Bros. Melee), “Luigi”, “Wario”, “Made in Wario”, “Donkey Konga”, “Yoshi”, “Famicom Wars”, “Ten Eighty” or “Metroid”. Those would be obvious upcoming titles on either DS or Revolution or both. Same goes for Bandai copyrighting a new Digimon game.
However some other applications might be a tad more surprising, such as Konami registering “Snatcher” again to wreck havoc with Kojima fans (and register a mysterious “i-Revo” next to it) <edit: let me precise this – though they are directly under each other in the list, it under no circumstance implies they are inevitably connected. Also, Gamasutra has an entry on i-Revo>. Meanwhile Namco seems in the spirit of reviving old licenses with entries such as “GalagaLive”, “GaPlus”, “Pac&Pal”, “Pac-Mania” and adding “Dream Food Stadium” and “DFS” to their list of demands. Don’t get your hopes too high, but at least you’ve been warned.