Naruto Clash of Ninja 2 — 3Q2020 issue

Retro Naruto revis­its Chunin Exams arc

When it comes to the Naruto video game fran­chise, com­pli­cated con­cepts have never been part of the equa­tion. There’s noth­ing remotely hard about any of the games under the ban­ner and almost all are known for their pick up and play abil­ity. So, it stands to rea­son that the Naruto: Clash of Ninja series is easy to start and get into it, and that rea­son­ing is cor­rect. Clash of Ninja 2 con­tin­ues the acces­si­bil­ity that the series is known for.

Naruto is a great long-running starter series if you’re just get­ting into anime. The basic premise of the anime is the basis of Clash of Ninja as well: A strong-willed boy from a world of nin­jas strives to be the best he can be and one day become the leader of his vil­lage. Because of a dev­as­tat­ing attack on his vil­lage the night he was born, Naruto is orphaned and ostra­cized by his fel­low vil­lagers while host­ing a crea­ture known as the Nine-tailed Fox. He grad­u­ates from his village’s acad­emy and is placed on a team fea­tur­ing his crush Sakura and his rival Sasuke while learn­ing team­work and the ways of nin­jutsu. Clash of Ninja 2 fol­lows the first half of the series, with Naruto work­ing with his team­mates through the Chunin (first level) exams that the ninja acad­emy grad­u­ates face.

Clash of Ninja 2 does an admirable telling the begin­ning part of the story of Naruto, story-wise. Because the begin­ning of Naruto is sim­ple to under­stand and fol­low, the punch of char­ac­ters and addi­tions aren’t over­whelm­ing, and it’s easy to keep up with the action and char­ac­ter moti­va­tion. Every­one is rec­og­niz­able from the anime and it’s easy enough to actu­ally fol­low the story and learn more about the anime with­out the filler that the series is known for.

Graph­i­cally, Clash of Ninja looks just like the anime, which is a bonus in its favor. The game is gor­geous and bright, and it accom­plishes the goal of mak­ing you feel like you’re play­ing the anime instead of a game. Like­wise, the music and voice act­ing are great and feel and sound like they were pulled directly from the anime’s soundtrack.

Mov­ing around within Clash of Ninja 2 is a solid expe­ri­ence. It’s easy to pull off moves and com­bos, and coun­ters are easy to under­stand and get the hang of with a lit­tle prac­tice. My only prob­lem is that every­one seems to play the same way, so there’s not much vari­ety in the movesets. The char­ac­ter you choose is merely cos­metic with the movesets and mechan­ics not chang­ing from char­ac­ter to char­ac­ter. Other than that, the abil­ity to jump right in and get to work is a wel­come and refresh­ing change of pace in a cat­e­gory of gam­ing known for its sometimes-challenging mechanics.

Even though there have been more games released in the Clash of Ninja series and other Naruto fight­ing games added to its lengthy reper­toire, Clash of Ninja 2 is just where you need to start if you’re want­ing to get into fight­ing games and have a love for anime or Naruto. With a wealth of modes, great visu­als and facil­i­tated abil­ity to ease into game­play, this is one well-regarded ninja.

Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 — 3Q2020 issue

Gun­dam, Dynasty War­riors carry on tradition

“Gun­dam, what a strong sound­ing name.”- Lacus Clyne, Mobile Suit Gun­dam SEED/SEED Destiny

Next to my love for Mega Man, I’m also a fan of the Gun­dam series. Since 1979, the space mecha anime has brought thought-provoking per­spec­tives on issues of human­ity and war, and has cre­ated a stan­dard for all sci-fi series, espe­cially anime with sci-fi and mecha ele­ments. Through var­i­ous series, mer­chan­dise (includ­ing video games for var­i­ous con­soles) and other media, Gun­dam and its stu­dio, Sun­rise Inc., has secured its place among the GOATs of global pop cul­ture. Lyn­d­sey and I have also taken a lik­ing to the Dynasty War­riors game series. I thought: “What would hap­pened if a Dynasty War­riors game was made with Gun­dam ele­ments?” I got my answer in Dynasty War­riors Gun­dam 3.

In DWG3, you play as a cho­sen indi­vid­ual who has been selected to a pass a test of skill and deter­mi­na­tion. Your requests come from a mys­te­ri­ous Gun­dam suit that asks why humanity’s exis­tence in the uni­verse should con­tinue. This test is con­ducted in four orig­i­nal story arcs that pair char­ac­ters from var­i­ous Gun­dam series such as the MS Gun­dam, Gun­dam Wing, G Gun­dam, Gun­dam 00, Gun­dam Uni­corn and oth­ers who have heroic, vil­lain­ous or neu­tral opin­ions to this mys­te­ri­ous Gundam’s test. These arcs also con­tain side mis­sion that explains each rep­re­sented series’ his­tory, rein­force a group’s cama­raderie or dis­plays each mobile suit’s spe­cial abilities.

Con­trol of these suits is easy whether you use the PlaySta­tion 3’s ana­log sticks or con­trol pad. Shoot­ing and melee attacks are flaw­less, and good con­trols help to pull off some dev­as­tat­ing com­bos to drive oppo­nents back for a moment. In true Dynasty War­riors form, your char­ac­ter will have a part­ner or part­ners with sim­i­lar abil­i­ties and lesser suits to help take down cer­tain key areas of stages. I’m sug­gest­ing three pieces of advice when play­ing: Plan to take places such as repair hang­ers, suit fac­to­ries and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tow­ers ASAP; know when to team up with your com­rades to take on stronger suit; and, keep an eye on your side map to avoid being lost.

At the end of each stage, your char­ac­ter will be shown how many expe­ri­ence points he or she earned and how much gold was col­lected. These ele­ments help you to earn new skills and more stronger suits. To help your char­ac­ter out, there is a tuto­r­ial stage with prac­tice mis­sions that will help them earn more points or to refresh basic skills.
The graph­ics were designed as if you are play­ing in an actual Gun­dam episode with spe­cial detail given to the suits and their sur­round­ing envi­ron­ments. Namco Bandai and Koei did a great job with keep­ing the game’s for­mula sim­ple: Keep Dynasty War­riors ele­ments intact while adding Gun­dam elements.

The sound is on point with the addi­tion of Dolby Dig­i­tal Sound ensur­ing that every sound effect stays true to Gundam’s legacy of high-level anime action. Credit should also be given to the Ocean Group for assist­ing with voice cast­ing, which included some of the orig­i­nal anime Eng­lish voices per­form­ing their respec­tive char­ac­ters for the game. The replay value of DWG3 is very high and is per­fect for a Gun­dam enthu­si­ast or for a friendly scrim­mage at your local anime convention.

Gun­dam is and will always be the absolute stan­dard bearer in sci-fi mecha anime. DWG3 is an exam­ple of how to build an anime mas­ter­piece and present it for a dif­fer­ent medium. With its 40th anniver­sary, the Gun­dam name has earned the respect of many anime fans new and old with a qual­ity title such as Dynasty War­riors Gun­dam 3 to carry on the Gun­dam tradition.

Fun facts

  • Gun­dam was not Sunrise’s only smash hit. They con­tin­ued the trend with the Big O, Cow­boy Bebop, Out­law Star and Code Geass, dis­play­ing Gun­dam design traits in each of those shows.
  • Gun­dam has made its Hol­ly­wood appear­ance recently in the movie “Ready Player One” and will do so again in a live-action movie being devel­oped and co-produced with Leg­endary Pic­tures (Pacific Rim, Poké­mon: Detec­tive Pikachu, Hang­over trilogy).
  • Brad Swaile, Richard Cox, Brian Drum­mond, Michael Adamwaite and Kirby Mor­row are five mem­bers of the Eng­lish voice cast that reprised their orig­i­nal respec­tive roles. Swaile and Cox played Amuro and Kai in the orig­i­nal Gun­dam and returned to voice Set­suna and Allelu­jah in Gun­dam 00. Mor­row and Swaile also played Trowa and Qua­tre while Drum­mond voiced Zechs/Milliardo Peace­craft in Gun­dam Wing. Adamwaite voiced Rib­bons in Gun­dam 00.

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax — 3Q2020 issue

Anime fighter cre­ates clash of titans

If you’re a fight­ing game enthu­si­ast like myself, you’re happy to see the com­mu­nity enjoy­ing main­stream suc­cess now in the esports land­scape. For many years, it was rel­e­gated to a fringe activ­ity, some­thing only nerds with noth­ing else bet­ter to do and a lack of hygiene were known for enter­tain­ing. Now, it’s all over the place and there’s money to be earned. But this is now a professional-grade enter­prise and anime games are tak­ing cen­ter stage. One of the best? Dengeki Bunko: Fight­ing Climax.

The game series that I lov­ingly refer to as that “all-star anime fight­ing game” is a blast to play. You choose from 19 playable and 30 assist char­ac­ters from var­i­ous anime series who team up in duos to fight each other. Even if you’re mildly into anime, there are some well-known stars of the medium and some obscure names that will make you do a lit­tle research. For instance, your favorite edi­tor is an anime junkie and has seen or heard of most of the series with some stand­out selec­tions that she’s per­son­ally watched: Oreimo, Boo­giepop Phan­tom, The Devil is a Part-Timer and Toradora. There are oth­ers like Sword Art Online that are main­stream enough to draw in even the newest anime watcher.

So, how does it play? Much like you’d expect an anime game to play: Super floaty physics and off-the-wall attacks that feel like they do a ton of dam­age but prob­a­bly don’t in terms of fight­ing games. The game feels good once you start play­ing, and like most games of the genre, there are lev­els to the play sys­tem. You can come in on the ground floor of fight­ing game knowl­edge and be able to play and then there’s com­pet­i­tive fight­ing game-level of play that requires inti­mate knowl­edge of the game’s sys­tems. That range serves the game well as a draw for mul­ti­ple groups and it’s a tes­ta­ment to Sega’s devel­op­ment prowess.

The voice act­ing, a major part of a project like this, must be top notch and it is. Because Sega gar­nered most of the ani­ma­tions’ voice actors, there’s a high level of con­sis­tency and gloss over the game’s audio. The back­grounds are also faith­ful to the dif­fer­ent anime series, so expect to be wowed with the pro­duc­tion values.

Over­all, if you’re into anime enough to go to con­ven­tions reg­u­larly or just hav­ing a pass­ing inter­est, Dengeki Bunko: Fight­ing Cli­max is a good buy. Yes, it’s got that “super anime” feel to it, but there’s a solid engine and mechan­ics wrapped up in an extremely gor­geous pack­age that deserves to be played here. This fancy fan-service fighter is enough to make an otaku like myself sit up and take notice.

J-Stars Victory Plus — 3Q2020 issue

Jump into this fan­tas­tic anime series brawler

If you’re a manga afi­cionado like me, you’ve heard of Shonen Jump mag­a­zine. For 50 years, Japan-based pub­lisher Shueisha Inc. brought to the world to leg­endary char­ac­ters such as Son Goku, Mon­key D. Luffy and Naruto Uzi­maki. With these char­ac­ters and their respec­tive series, they became overnight hits in Japan with var­i­ous movies, mer­chan­dise (includ­ing video games) and sep­a­rate graphic nov­els. It was only a mat­ter of time that the SJ phe­nom­e­non would branch out to the rest of the world being pub­lished in var­i­ous lan­guages includ­ing Eng­lish. Shonen Jump, undis­put­edly, has become the stan­dard of intro­duc­ing new anime and manga series. J-Stars Vic­tory VS+ is an exam­ple of that stan­dard.

Pub­lished by Namco Bandai and co-developed with Spike Chun­soft, J-Stars takes more than 50 char­ac­ters from 32 series within the Shonen Jump uni­verse and pits them against each other in var­i­ous loca­tions within each SJ series. The story mode con­sists of each SJ char­ac­ter prepar­ing for the “Jump Bat­tle Tour­na­ment,” devised by the god of Jump World to deter­mine its strongest cham­pi­ons who will defend it from evil forces pos­ing as strong fight­ers.

Within the story mode there are four arcs: Dynamic with Luffy, Hope with Naruto, Inves­ti­ga­tion with Toriko and Goku and Pur­suit with Ichigo. Regard­less of the arc you choose, your char­ac­ter and their respec­tive com­rades will face off against oth­ers to obtain essen­tial parts for your pro­vided ship and badges required to enter the tour­na­ment. I like the story mode, and I also like that the arcade ver­sus mode is an option when you just want to pit char­ac­ters against each other to see who would win.
Con­trol is sim­ple, which has your char­ac­ters roam free dur­ing bat­tle to pull off their sig­na­ture moves along with a Dragon Ball-styled map to track the battle’s progress. How­ever, the down­side is the game cam­era: It moves wildly about and con­stantly requires adjust­ment. At the end of each suc­cess­ful bat­tle, your char­ac­ters not only gain expe­ri­ence points, but also gain cur­rency called “jump coins,” which upgrades skills and cloth­ing and unlocks var­i­ous theme music and addi­tional char­ac­ters to strengthen your team.

All of the sound in the game is cour­tesy of Namco Bandai’s excel­lent sound depart­ment and the use of Dolby Dig­i­tal. There isn’t an Eng­lish voice track in J-Stars, but the Japan­ese voice track for each char­ac­ter is per­formed per­fectly, as if you’re watch­ing a Shonen Jump anime. J-Stars Vic­tory VS+ is per­fect for an anime con­ven­tion tour­na­ment or if you want to spend a day with friends immers­ing your­selves in Shonen Jump lore.

This anime-infused brawler is another tes­ta­ment to Shonen Jump’s recog­ni­tion of being a leader in global pop cul­ture and how anime and manga are quickly becom­ing visual arts that aren’t just for kids.

Fun facts

  • J-Stars Vic­tory+ was billed as the “ulti­mate Jump game,” com­bin­ing past and newer jump titles.
  • Unlike “Tat­sunoko vs. Cap­com: Cross Gen­er­a­tion of Heroes,” licens­ing for all the Jump char­ac­ters was not a seri­ous issue. Accord­ing to pro­ducer Koji Naka­jima, the real prob­lem was deter­min­ing actions for char­ac­ters that do not fight. Solv­ing this prob­lem required numer­ous nego­ti­a­tions with Shueisha and the respected licensee for each series to deter­mine what was and was not accept­able for those characters.
  • J-Stars Vic­tory VS + intro­duced the “new class” of SJ series such as The Dis­as­trous Life of Saiki K., Gin­tama, To Love Ru and Reborn!. These titles have been licensed for North Amer­ica by var­i­ous anime and manga distributors.

Retro Replay — Vampire Darkstalkers Collection — 3Q2020 issue

A bit­ing good collection

Col­lec­tions come a dime a dozen these days. Every­one wants to have a pack­age of their best fight­ing games and then upsell them for the next cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions since the cur­rent con­sole might not have back­ward com­pat­i­bil­ity. Cap­com is no stranger to this, hav­ing released sev­eral Street Fighter col­lec­tions over the years. The final game series to get this treat­ment was Dark­stalk­ers aka Vam­pire in Japan with the Vam­pire Col­lec­tion.
For those who are unini­ti­ated, Cap­com does make fight­ing games beyond Street Fighter: Vam­pire doesn’t get as much due and press as Street Fighter but is just as good. But let’s get into the meat and pota­toes of why you’re here: Is the col­lec­tion any good? I can resound­ingly answer yes. It’s every­thing you’d want of the Vam­pire series, includ­ing games that never made it to the U.S.

Mak­ing up the col­lec­tion are Vampire/Darkstalkers, Vam­pire Hunter/Darkstalkers 2, Vam­pire Savior/Darkstalkers 3, Vam­pire Hunter 2, Vam­pire Sav­ior 2 and what Cap­com calls a hyper ver­sion of Sav­ior 2, which pits all ver­sions of the char­ac­ters against each other. In those five games is a deep fight­ing game engine with great mechan­ics and an inter­est­ing sto­ry­line that invokes mon­sters of mythology.

The game­play style didn’t change too much between games but it’s unique and has char­ac­ter enough to encour­age even the most hard­ened street fighter to come back and learn more. There are advanced tech­niques such as Dark Force and chains to learn as well as movesets that require some con­troller gym­nas­tics to mas­ter. The char­ac­ter design in each of the collection’s games is a bit wonky from the age of Capcom’s over­styl­ized car­toon­ish era of hand-drawn sprites but it doesn’t look terrible.

The best thing about the series — other than the game­play — is the sound­track. Hunter 2 and Sav­ior 2 never made it to the U.S., and Dark­stalk­ers in gen­eral didn’t do as well as Cap­com would have liked. And that’s why this col­lec­tion is a must-buy item. You won’t see this in Amer­ica, and it should be. The games are pre­sented in their orig­i­nal form with all ver­sions avail­able. This pack­age is worth find­ing and importing.

In the Groove — 2Q2019 issue

Groovy com­pe­ti­tion in rhythm game market

Just when Kon­ami thought it had the mar­ket cor­nered on rhythm games along came In the Groove. The series took the for­mula of timed arrows, music and dance charts and finessed it into bet­ter charts and sen­si­ble rat­ings; or, you know, things Kon­ami lacked after eight games. In the Groove didn’t nec­es­sar­ily per­fect the mar­ket prod­uct but it intro­duced com­pe­ti­tion in a nice pack­age that still holds up today.

ITG has the same for­mula as Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion: Arrows are timed to a song to rise (or drop, depend­ing on the song mod­i­fi­ca­tion used) to meet hold­ers. You’re judged on the tim­ing of your steps and either pass the song or fail based on the cumu­la­tive score and effect of your tim­ing. Let’s not get it twisted, though: DDR and ITG are the same thing. Given that ITG cribs a lot of its ele­ments from the orig­i­na­tor of the rhythm dance game genre, you aren’t likely to see any­thing new or mind-blowing when it comes to ITG.

Where ITG shines par­tic­u­larly, how­ever, is the inter­face and the song choices. There’s a lot to like in those dif­fer­ences. The song wheel inter­face — which presents songs for play — is crisp as are the song titles. The graph­ics appear to mimic the best parts of the DDR inter­face, which is help­ful since DDR made an ill-advised change to its look shortly after. It’s also the intri­cate details such as being able to see a song’s BPM while choos­ing song mods.

In the Groove’s musi­cal selec­tion is no slouch, either. Many songs sound like some­thing in DDR’s cat­a­log; for exam­ple, there’s a series of remixes that imme­di­ately calls to mind the Para­noia sig­na­ture series of DDR. There’s a lot to like with a vari­ety of gen­res represented.

ITG shines also in its acces­si­bil­ity: If you can play DDR, you’ll be able to pick up ITG. It’s not hard to under­stand since it’s using the same engine as DDR. How­ever, the main playa­bil­ity draw comes in its song charts. ITG’s song charts make sense and are intu­itive and aren’t hap­haz­ardly done or pun­ish­ing. The dif­fi­culty sys­tem also makes sense — intro­duc­ing charts with a higher dif­fi­culty than the stan­dard 10 level sys­tem that DDR used at the time — which is a must have in a danc­ing game.

While ITG is a wel­come change of pace from DDR, there are some nit­picks that bother me about the series in gen­eral. First, some of the song mods avail­able aren’t the most help­ful. I’m not keen on silly mods like mines being a default in songs. Thank­fully, there’s an option to turn off the mod, but it shouldn’t be a default part of songs at any dif­fi­culty. And, like­wise, the use of three and four arrows simul­ta­ne­ously — which requires a hand to hit at all arrows at once — is obnox­ious. If a song requires it, I usu­ally steer clear of it. That’s not good for the song list and replay value if I’m skip­ping tracks, and it’s damp­ens my enthu­si­asm for an oth­er­wise great soundtrack.

ITG gets its point across with inter­est­ing game­play addi­tions, a good sound­track and crisp inter­face. With a few more iter­a­tions of the series after its intro­duc­tion, ITG is great as an alter­na­tive on the rhythm game dance floor.

Wrath of the Black Manta — 2Q2019 issue

Ninja copy fails Black Manta

Peo­ple were appar­ently wild about nin­jas in the ’80s. Really wild. I’m guess­ing this because it seems to be a mil­lion and one games about nin­jas that were made in the 1980s. These were all made with var­i­ous degrees of suc­cess in get­ting the point across about the ninja expe­ri­ence. Out of the coterie there were two that stood out: Ninja Gaiden, a time­less clas­sic in the way of the ninja arts; and, Wrath of the Black Manta. Note that we did not use any sort of kind trib­ute for the lat­ter. There is myr­iad rea­sons for this distinction.

Wrath of the Black Manta is your stan­dard adven­ture game cen­tered on find­ing miss­ing chil­dren in New York City, the appar­ent bas­tion of all evil and where the most heinous crimes take place in the video game world. A drug fiend named El Toro is hell­bent on turn­ing these chil­dren into addicts and it’s up to you and your ninja skills to make Toro get down or lay down with the War on Drugs.™

The premise is run of the mill, the con­trols con­fus­ing and clunky and the action extremely repet­i­tive. The back­grounds do change from level to level and there is a lot of ground to cover. But, all you’re going to do is walk around search­ing ware­houses for chil­dren and gang­ing up on infor­mants from the car­tel to get infor­ma­tion. What should be an absolute clean sweep is a clus­ter because get­ting that infor­ma­tion with­out being killed from ridicu­lous hits is a nightmare.

The fact that most of the action is ripped off from the infi­nitely bet­ter and more inter­est­ing Ninja Gaiden doesn’t help here because you’re going to die a lot from ter­ri­ble jump­ing and those afore­men­tioned hits from ene­mies. The sound­track also does Manta no favors as it’s just barely ser­vice­able. Even the art is ripped off from some­where else: Word on those mean streets of NYC is that some of the art was taken straight from the book “How to Draw Comics the Mar­vel Way” when the Japan­ese ver­sion was ported to the U.S. I’m guess­ing they thought no one would notice, but it goes over with the sub­tlety of a ton of bricks. Speak­ing of a lack of sub­tlety, the obvi­ous “stay away from drugs, kids, if you want to live” mes­sage and the hit-you-over-the-head irony of char­ac­ters named Tiny (a in no way sur­pris­ingly large boss char­ac­ter who tries to stomp you to death in the first level) means you’re in for a long ride with this whether you want to or not.

The key to this bat­tle is, if you want to play a ninja adven­ture just play the released at the same time Ninja Gaiden. Gaiden is far supe­rior in every way and has more appeal in terms of story. Wrath of the Black Manta is the poor man’s Ninja Gaiden and is in no way stealthy enough in its sub­tlety to earn any sort of title of ninja anything.

Mega Man X Collection — 2Q2019 issue

A mega col­lec­tion of Blue Bomber greatness

I’m a huge Mega Man fan. If allowed to, I would dec­o­rate GI head­quar­ters in every room with gear resem­bling Capcom’s infa­mous Blue Bomber. After Mega Man’s last adven­ture on the NES, I found that dur­ing the tran­si­tion from 8-bit to 16-bit gam­ing a new char­ac­ter known as Mega Man X would appear, giv­ing the Mega Man series a new chap­ter set years after the orig­i­nal. While I played a few MMX games when it was on SNES and PSOne, I real­ized that I liked the X series but won­dered if Cap­com would do a col­lec­tion for the PlaySta­tion 2. My wish was granted in Mega Man X Collection.

MMX Col­lec­tion is sim­ply as adver­tised: A col­lec­tion of the first Mega Man X games released. It con­sists of MMX and MMX2 from their SNES debut; MMX3 — another SNES game that was ported to PSOne; and MMX 4, 5 and 6, which were released for PSOne. There is also an unlock­able game, “Mega Man Bat­tle and Chase,” an exclu­sive never released out­side of Japan.

In each MMX game, you take con­trol of “X,” a new ver­sion of the Blue Bomber cre­ated by Dr. Light years after the orig­i­nal Mega Man. X is a more pow­er­ful ver­sion of our blue titan but with free will. 100 years later, after Dr. Light’s death, X was found by Dr. Cain, a robot­ics expert who devel­oped robots based on X’s design known as “reploids.” How­ever, this began a rise of rebel­lious reploids, known as mav­er­icks, which led to the for­ma­tion of a group known as mav­er­ick hunters to stop them. Alas, the mav­er­ick hunter’s leader Sigma became a mav­er­ick (and the series’ main vil­lain), forc­ing X to team up with another mav­er­ick hunter named Zero to stop Sigma’s plan for global domination.

Con­trol of X is sim­ple as any reg­u­lar side-scrolling game, espe­cially with the option of switch­ing between the ana­log sticks or direc­tional but­tons. X’s main weapon, the X-Buster, and other weapons he acquires from a level boss can be pow­ered up in addi­tion to find­ing upgraded boots, hel­met and armor via secret areas in each level. Using a sub screen, I appre­ci­ated that it was under­stand­able and sim­ple in orga­niz­ing items and weapons since, in other side scrolling games, look­ing for needed items is time con­sum­ing and morale-draining. Zero is also playable in MMX 4, 5 and 6 where con­trol­ling him is a guar­an­teed good time as he is not only equipped with his own Buster weapon, but also his sig­na­ture Z-Saber cuts ene­mies down to size.

The graph­ics have been refreshed, ensur­ing that a thought­ful bal­ance of action-adventure and anime-styles ele­ments are intact. Capcom’s music depart­ment did an awe­some job remix­ing each game’s sound­tracks. With the amount of detail put into this game, the replay value is high, espe­cially if you’re want­ing to get deeper into the Mega Man lore.

The Mega Man X Col­lec­tion is the per­fect answer for a devoted fan­base of the Blue Bomber. While the MMX series may be in ques­tion, I hope Cap­com hears Mega Man’s fans’ calls to con­tinue his leg­endary return to gam­ing as the MMX col­lec­tion is a great way to con­tinue Mega Man X’s hunt.

Cool Spot — 2Q2019 issue

A refresh­ing platformer

Every so often there will be a licensed game that’s actu­ally worth some­thing. It will have a great sound­track and decent con­trols and not be so obnox­iously unplayable that legions of older gamers remem­ber it with a cer­tain hatred that burns deep within their soul to be passed down through gen­er­a­tions to come. Cool Spot, licensed from Pepsi part­ner 7UP, is the excep­tion to the norm. If you’re expect­ing a half-baked idea of plat­form­ing solely because it’s a mas­cot, think again. This romp to release sen­tient lit­tle red dots is actu­ally not half bad and has genre-redeeming qualities.

Cool Spot starts off innocu­ous enough. Spot must res­cue its friends, who are trapped through­out 11 lev­els in cages. Why its friends are trapped, we’ll never know but it’s up to Spot to res­cue them and lec­ture you about not drink­ing dark sodas. Spot’s tra­ver­sal through these 11 lev­els is noth­ing short of amaz­ing despite the ram­pant prod­uct place­ment. It’s sur­pris­ingly good, with solid con­trols that don’t make con­trol­ling Spot a chore, and com­pe­tent sim­ple mechan­ics that don’t get in the way: It’s mostly jump­ing and shoot­ing mag­i­cal sparks at ene­mies and barred gates. The life sys­tem — hilar­i­ously denoted by an ever-peeling and dete­ri­o­rat­ing pic­ture of Spot — is more than gen­er­ous and there are helper power ups galore to get through lev­els. The lev­els them­selves have a lot of depth and are timed just right with enough time to explore or get the bare min­i­mum expe­ri­ence in the search for Spot’s miss­ing friend.

While Spot might be on a prod­uct placement-filled jour­ney, it’s a lushly drawn trip. Cool Spot is no slouch when it comes to the audio-visual depart­ment. The back­grounds are drawn with Spot mov­ing through an obvi­ously human world at about 25 per­cent of the size of every­thing else. It isn’t big at all but the world sur­round­ing it is and it shows in the sheer scale, though my only gripe with the game comes here: The back­grounds, while beau­ti­ful, are recy­cled except for a few stages. At least the first three stages are repeated and reused, just with new stage names and some recol­or­ing in spots.

While you’re soak­ing up the beauty of it all, how­ever, the sound­track is rock­ing in the back­ground. Cool Spot is one of the best sound­tracks for the Super Nin­tendo and should be in every gamer’s library. Mag­nif­i­cent pro­duc­tion val­ues, crisp audio and nice, deep bass lines make for some inter­est­ing tracks that don’t sound like stan­dard 16-bit audio. Tommy Tal­larico, pre-Video Games Live fame, put obvi­ous love and care into the audio and it shows. It’s one of the best sound­tracks for its time.

Cool Spot has a lot to offer in the way of good ’90s plat­form­ing. If you can work around the prod­uct place­ment and shilling for the 7Up brand, you’ll find an uncom­pli­cated hop-and-bop with depth and a bang­ing sound­track that’s sur­pris­ingly refreshing.

Animal Crossing Pocket Camp — 2Q2019 issue

Camp­ing with friends

My love affair with Ani­mal Cross­ing began in 2003, a year after the Game­Cube ver­sion was released in the U.S. It wasn’t enough to merely start a life with a char­ac­ter — known as Rubes(kitty) — in my pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated town known as Tokyo; I had to col­lect every­thing in my cat­a­logue, build my house into a man­sion and catch every insect and fish just for com­ple­tion sake. In the ensu­ing 16 years, I have played every iter­a­tion of Ani­mal Cross­ing avail­able. So, you can imag­ine my pal­pa­ble joy when a mobile ver­sion of Ani­mal Cross­ing was announced in 2016. Cue Ani­mal Cross­ing: Pocket Camp in 2017, and I’m still going strong in my quest to build the per­fect camp.

Pocket Camp is a spin­off of the main Ani­mal Cross­ing series but retains ele­ments of the series. Famil­iar tasks such as pay­ing off your debt for your liv­ing quar­ters, com­plet­ing requests for ani­mals that visit or improv­ing your finances through item sales are abun­dant in the Pocket Camp land­scape. New to the series is the timed rota­tion of the ani­mals that are in one of four loca­tions scat­tered around the land­scape. Four ani­mals will be in these loca­tions with options to talk to you and request items; whether you choose to give them the spe­cific items they request or just chat it up for expe­ri­ence points is up to you. Also new are the afore­men­tioned expe­ri­ence points. Each ani­mal has a meter that gauges their friend­ship level with you. The higher the level, the more rewards they give in exchange for items they request. The rewards are also new, usu­ally in the form of Leaf Tick­ets and raw mate­ri­als that are used in craft­ing fur­ni­ture and clothes that can be used to dec­o­rate your camp site and RV.

Pocket Camp, in its most sim­plis­tic form, is a dumbed down portable Ani­mal Cross­ing main game that requires inven­tory man­age­ment and micro trans­ac­tions. And it’s a sat­is­fy­ing way to get that quick Ani­mal Cross­ing fix. Much like the main series, it’s relax­ing and fun to pop in and check with the camp site to see what’s hap­pen­ing, pick up some gifts or get involved in fes­ti­vals and events at my own leisure. Time is still mea­sured real­is­ti­cally, and insects and fish are still viable at cer­tain times, though the sea­son require­ment is not in use. Money is still prac­ti­cally around every cor­ner, and it’s eas­ier than ever to pay off the debt of upgrad­ing your hum­ble abode when rare bugs and fish are more plen­ti­ful this time around. It’s also quite nice to be able to buy items from other play­ers world­wide in an item mar­ket­place with the Mar­ket Boxes option. The econ­omy that has devel­oped still has some work to do, but the abil­ity to find rare insects, fruit, shells and fish for sale from other friends and strangers is a great start.

For a long­time Ani­mal Cross­ing player, the fun in Pocket Camp is imme­di­ately there but not with­out some caveats. After a cer­tain point, the in-game cur­rency of Bells ceases to be a prob­lem. While scarce in the early going, Bells aren’t an issue once the final upgrade for the RV is obtained and paid off. I now reg­u­larly have about 1.8 mil­lion Bells on hand daily and can’t spend it fast enough on things other than craft­ing and a rare item inven­tory econ­omy that has con­ve­niently sprung up in my friends list. This is like the issue of Bells in the main series so while it’s not sur­pris­ing, it’s still an issue that needs to be reme­died with more things to do. And, the price of Leaf Tick­ets is a bit much. Their addi­tion is help­ful, but their pric­ing should be adjusted. Also, in-game cur­rency should be allowed to be used to buy Leaf Tick­ets. That would give another rea­son to hoard money later in the game.

While it might not be a main­line game, Ani­mal Cross­ing: Pocket Camp is still a neat and wel­come addi­tion to the Ani­mal Cross­ing fran­chise. With its con­tin­ued updates and addi­tions, the Ani­mal Cross­ing pop­u­la­tion is still growing.