Super Street Fighter II4Q2020 issue

Super fight­ing fun again

Though I play a lot of fight­ing game series, I keep com­ing back to Street Fighter. I don’t know if it’s out of habit or because I’m com­fort­able with the series’ sys­tems, but I find myself inti­mately famil­iar with the Cap­com cre­ation. It started with Street Fighter II for SNES, not the arcade. As the series moved along incre­men­tally, so did I and I dis­cov­ered the upgrade. The home port of Super Street Fighter II for SNES was one of the best and that acco­lade still stands after nearly 30 years.

Though Cap­com still hadn’t learned to count to three and Super Street Fighter II reeks of milk­ing the fran­chise for all it was worth, it’s tech­ni­cally a good port. This is the best ver­sion of the arcade expe­ri­ence before Super Turbo, and the SNES, despite its prob­lems with cen­sor­ship, is the best ver­sion you’re going to get. Super is where you’re intro­duced to the four new chal­lengers, who add some inter­est­ing ele­ments. Each of their fight­ing styles are already rep­re­sented in the game with other stal­warts, but they’re fun to play, nevertheless.

The music has hit its peak here, too. It’s the same as the orig­i­nal Street Fighter II and Hyper Fight­ing, but it’s Street Fighter at peak Street Fighter. That also applies to the con­trols. It’s the Street Fighter that you know and love but cleaned up just a tad.

My main gripe with the game is the fact that it’s not Street Fighter III, which it would have been if not for the insis­tence of Cap­com not count­ing ahead. Cap­com knew it had a win­ner on its hands but repeat­edly milked the fran­chise until there was noth­ing else to wring from it. Super would absolutely have been great if not for the fact that Super Turbo came a year later and there had already been two other incre­men­tal iter­a­tions of the game pre­vi­ously. That cheap­ens Super to a degree all around. How­ever, given that Super Turbo did not come home from the arcades for the SNES, Super gets a boost in nos­tal­gic factor.

What you need to take away from SSFII is the refine­ment of the Street Fighter II expe­ri­ence, and this is where it shines. Every­thing about Street Fighter II was at peak con­di­tion and refined to a tee with this iter­a­tion. Yes, this is pre-Turbo super moves and spe­cials but in a way that makes it the last true unspoiled Street Fighter II expe­ri­ence. It was so good that later Street Fighter games attempt to repli­cate this ver­sion with modes that play like Super with no super moves and most, if not all, of its mechan­ics. That’s how you know it’s a defin­ing moment in a series’ lifes­pan. It’s a super fight­ing game for a super sys­tem that still holds up.

Batman Returns — 4Q2020 issue

Dark Knight’s sec­ond out­ing a rous­ing adventure

As a Bat­man fan, I hold a spe­cial place in my heart for most of the big-screen adap­ta­tions of the Caped Crusader’s fight to clean up Gotham. Bat­man Returns, despite its prob­lems, is at the top of the list in terms of favorite aes­thet­ics in a Bat­man film. That said, I wasn’t sure if I felt the same affec­tion for the game version.

The story is the same as the film: You, as the Dark Knight, bat­tle the nefar­i­ous Pen­guin and his equally fool­ish part­ner Cat­woman as they join forces to take over Gotham and wreak havoc. Because you are tech­ni­cally supe­rior (and richer) than your foes, you have an arse­nal at your dis­posal that helps you take out the crim­i­nal ele­ment that is doing the bid­ding of the med­dle­some bird man and trou­ble­some minx. Really, if you’ve watched the superb film, you shouldn’t be at a loss here as to what you need to do. It fol­lows the plot exactly, includ­ing the encoun­ters that Bat­man has with lesser hench­men. Being a game based on a movie prop­erty some­times has its perks.

Con­trol­ling the Dark Knight is much like you would expect from watch­ing the movie. Bat­man is easy to guide around, though there are a few spots where the direc­tions and what to do could be a lit­tle more clearly pointed out. How­ever, Bat­man is fluid and moves quickly enough that get­ting around Gotham to take on the Pen­guin and Cat­woman isn’t much of a problem.

Returns, fore­most, is stun­ning visu­ally. Much like the film, the game’s graph­ics are top-notch and evoke that well-known Tim Bur­ton feel. The graph­ics are so well done that it almost appears that they were taken directly from the movie and inserted into the game. The col­ors are rich and pop when nec­es­sary in the game’s color palette, though it doesn’t stray far from the movie’s muted col­or­ing too much.

Much like the graph­ics, the sound is also spot on and close to the movie’s back­ing tracks. Of course, there are a few appro­pri­a­tions because you’re not get­ting a full orches­tra with com­poser Danny Elf­man on the SNES chip, but the music is suf­fi­cient and gets the job done.

Bat­man Returns is a decent adven­ture set to the tune of the pop­u­lar sequel on the sil­ver screen. It’s a paint-by-the-numbers sequel with gor­geous, rich visu­als that some­how man­age to do the movie ver­sion jus­tice in the 16-bit era. It’s com­fort­able and easy going, so you’re not miss­ing any­thing if you’re look­ing for the best fol­low up that fea­tures Bat­man. The Bat, the Cat and the Pen­guin have a good adap­ta­tion on their hands with this 16-bit recre­ation of Gotham.

Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 — 4Q2020 issue

DDR Extreme bet­ter sec­ond time around

I’m a DanceDanceRev­o­lu­tion fan from way back when, in that time and space before the U.S. really dis­cov­ered the series and when we dealt with hastily put-together mixes that didn’t really cap­ture the feel of DDR. Ah, those were the heady days of 2002. Alas, DDR finally blew up in the U.S., and we finally started receiv­ing mixes much like Japan. The prob­lem was, we were get­ting them years after the fact, and when we did get them, they were mostly lack­ing — bro­ken, incom­plete messes that you were bet­ter off pre­tend­ing didn’t exist. That, my friends, is where we join our story already in progress with Dance Dance Rev­o­lu­tion Extreme 2.

Never mind that there is no DDR Extreme 2 in Japan. We’re going to set that aside for a minute to focus on the fact of why it exists in the U.S. DDR Extreme 2 is borne of the fail­ure of Kon­ami to do right by its fans out­side of Japan. We received DDR Extreme in 2004, a full two years after the orig­i­nal was released in arcades and for PlaySta­tion 2 in Japan. That game is absolute garbage: It’s noth­ing like what Japan received, which is a game that’s much closer to the arcade ver­sion of Extreme. We received a bro­ken and changed-for-the-worse song inter­face, miss­ing and weird songlist and grad­ing mechan­ics that were excised as of DDR 5th Mix. Now that you’re all caught up, you should see the rea­son why we needed a do-over game of sorts. That’s where Extreme 2 comes in.

Extreme 2 is a decent addi­tion to the U.S. con­sole DDR library of games. It fea­tures the song wheel inter­face and restores the 5th Mix grad­ing mechan­ics. The song list is great, too, finally fea­tur­ing at least some of the songs found in the Japan­ese ver­sion such as Car­toon Heroes (Speedy Mix), Irre­sistible­ment, Speed Over Beethoven and Para­noia Survivor/Survivor Max, which were all new to Japan­ese Extreme when it was released. It closely mir­rors the home release of Japan­ese Extreme, which meant Kon­ami was finally tak­ing the U.S. mar­ket seriously.

Because it’s so close to the Japan­ese ver­sion of Extreme (editor’s note: We reviewed this title in the 2Q2013 issue), we’re going to skip the focus on how it plays other than to tell you that the tim­ing win­dows remain loose as they always are in the U.S. ver­sions, if you care about that sort of thing. From expe­ri­ence, it’s much eas­ier for me to get an A grade on Para­noia Sur­vivor in the Amer­i­can ver­sion than in the Japan­ese ver­sion. The Amer­i­can ver­sions always have had more loose tim­ing win­dows, and it makes play­ing a lot eas­ier. The options are pretty much the same, though you will have to spend time unlock­ing songs because, as with pre­vi­ous U.S. releases, it’s miss­ing the Sys­tem Data Sup­port fea­ture found in the Japan­ese ver­sions. That fea­ture unlocks a pre­vi­ous game’s data using the cur­rent game. While this would have been help­ful in Extreme 2, it’s not so bad to have to play through the Event mode or Dance Mas­ter mode, though you will be tired of cer­tain songs after the fifth time through.

And Dance Mas­ter mode is where you may spend a decent amount of time try­ing to unlock cer­tain things. Dance Mas­ter is not a ter­ri­ble mode but some of the con­di­tions are not easy and require an inti­mate knowl­edge of DDR. If you’ve bought this ver­sion, chances are you are expe­ri­enced enough with DDR for this not to be a prob­lem, but for the unex­pe­ri­enced this might be a tedious exer­cise in, well, exercise.

And, because many of the servers are now down, we can’t really com­ment on the online modes. While active they were inter­est­ing and fun to play against oth­ers using the early pre­cur­sor to PlaySta­tion Net­work, but alas, 15 years later there are no servers for Extreme 2, so that’s a loss. You aren’t really miss­ing any­thing there because there is always the lat­est ver­sion of DDR and Step­ma­nia, which are imme­di­ately supe­rior to a 15-year-old game.

DDR Extreme 2, an anom­aly itself, is an OK addi­tion to the U.S. library. Though I fault Kon­ami and its U.S. branch heav­ily for screw­ing up DDR Extreme enough to have to do a sec­ond go-round, the well-rounded redone songlist kind of makes up for the extremely bor­ing mess that pre­ceded Extreme 2.

Mario Kart Tour — 4Q2020 issue

Mobile Mario Kart still stuck at start­ing line

Grow­ing up as a gamer, there was always a series I could count on to pro­vide a lot of enjoy­ment: Mario Kart. High qual­ity, fun rac­ing ensued as did a famil­iar­ity with the sys­tem that made up rac­ing in the Mush­room King­dom. But as time has marched on, there are dark clouds over the king­dom and it’s not nec­es­sar­ily Bowser’s fault for the fool­ish­ness for once; it’s Nintendo’s greed.

Mario Kart in mobile form has always been a safe bet for the Nin­tendo rac­ing fan. Being able to race with your favorite Mario char­ac­ters and take it on the go? Where do I sign up? But Mario Kart Tour, the lat­est mobile prop­erty for the gam­ing giant, is not a fun tour … er, trip. It’s Mario Kart for the SNES dumbed and watered down with gatcha ele­ments tacked on for good measure.

Mario Kart Tour takes the usual Mario Kart for­mula and adds things like gatcha pulls to unlock spe­cial char­ac­ters, karts and glid­ers, usu­ally in the high-end cat­e­gory, as well as level up your estab­lished ros­ter. The gatcha pulls are obnox­ious because it’s depen­dent on luck of the draw using real money to fund the pulls. The real money — that you’re pulling out of your wal­let — is spent in the form of rubies, which allow you to pull from pipes pos­si­bly con­tain­ing the high-end items in batches of one pull for five rubies or 10 pulls for 45 rubies. Though the rubies are mod­er­ately priced, it’s the fact that you must buy the rubies or com­plete some­times ridicu­lous chal­lenges to get rubies that makes it beyond the pale.

And, just as infu­ri­at­ingly, there’s the character/kart/glider sys­tem that’s tied to the stages cho­sen for each tour. Each level has three or four spe­cific char­ac­ters that are favored on this track. Usu­ally, the char­ac­ters that are favored are the fla­vor of the tour; that is, a char­ac­ter or vari­a­tion cre­ated espe­cially for the spe­cific tour. As always, they are high-end and exceed­ingly hard to acquire. Because this is tied into the pipe pulls, it’s also a cash grab designed to pull in the most ded­i­cated who have the most money and time to spend fid­dling around with a mobile game. These “whales,” as they are called in online cir­cles, keep this cash grab going and endorse this con­tin­ued behav­ior from Nin­tendo, which, in all hon­esty, is atrocious.

In addi­tion to the tool-like single-player mode, there is the mul­ti­player mode from hell. I wish I could some­how con­vey the trash-like qual­i­ties of mul­ti­player in words, but I’m at a loss with­out get­ting an FCC fine for pro­fan­ity. The mul­ti­player plays like garbage and ignores any sort of mechan­ics that Tour attempts to cre­ate in the single-player cam­paign. It is utter chaos in every match and those lucky enough to do well have to be doing that with sheer luck. It can’t be from actual skill and good mechan­ics, because Tour is miss­ing the mark in both areas.

The mechan­ics, lack­ing in skill and refine­ment, are a seri­ous prob­lem. Now, I’m cog­nizant of the fact that this is a mobile game, so we’re not talk­ing pre­ci­sion like a main entry would have. How­ever, this is rough even for a mobile game. Often, drift­ing is dif­fi­cult and ultra mini-turbos are next to impos­si­ble. Given that I’ve mas­tered the drift­ing fea­ture in Mario Kart with every entry start­ing from the Nin­tendo 64 days, I shouldn’t have this much trou­ble main­tain­ing a drift. The combo sys­tem, while inter­est­ing and a great fea­ture, is not refined as well as it should be. There should be a meter that shows me the length of time between combo actions and how much time I have left if you’re going to tell me that I have a time limit on those actions. Some­times, com­bos drop inex­plic­a­bly, ruin­ing a run at a chal­lenge that requires a cer­tain number.

Equally prob­lem­atic are the weapons sys­tem and the AI level. I tend to race com­fort­ably on 100cc, but I will race on 150cc and 200cc (with a pur­chased Gold Pass) if I’m work­ing on improv­ing scores in the bi-weekly ranked cups. In the months since I’ve begun play­ing, I’ve noticed the aggres­sion of the computer-controlled karts steadily creep­ing up, which is a prob­lem. It’s mostly notice­able on the weekly favored track, which quickly gets infu­ri­at­ing when you’re try­ing to main­tain a rank­ing and the com­puter is hell bent on keep­ing you from achiev­ing this goal. The weapons sys­tem plays a large part in this because it’s nearly impos­si­ble some­times to receive your character’s spe­cific weapon or a frenzy or even a use­ful frenzy despite your char­ac­ter more than likely being a high level.

Also low­er­ing Tour’s fun fac­tor is the char­ac­ter sys­tem. As in other games in the series, there are a vari­ety of char­ac­ters from the Mush­room King­dom and Nin­tendo in gen­eral that can be and have been added to the ros­ter. The sheer vari­ety is great but the need to unlock and pay for these vari­eties is the prob­lem. It’s greedy as hell that you have to buy rubies to pos­si­bly unlock a char­ac­ter to do well in the fea­tured tour track or mag­i­cally come up with the ways to earn them, which are far and few in between. Basi­cally, Nin­tendo wants you to spend money and they’re not afraid to pimp out Mario Kart to achieve this goal, so they’ll nickel and dime you constantly.

And I hope you love a lot of the tracks already pulled into Tour because track vari­ety is lack­ing. There are a lot of not-fun tracks that seem to be repeated quite often. That decreases the enjoy­ment of rac­ing because you know you aren’t going to want to mess around with a cup that has an obnox­ious track (I’m glar­ing at you, 3DS Rain­bow Road).

Visu­ally, Tour is fine. It looks like Mario Kart and has all the ele­ments of the rac­ing god we’ve come to know and love. As a mat­ter of fact, the game looks like a bet­ter ver­sion of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8, just below Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch. Those oft-repeated tracks are gor­geous recre­ations of old faith­ful favorites from the SNES, Nin­tendo 64 and Game Boy Advance titles with a few new cities of the world tracks thrown in the mix. In the begin­ning there were a lot of dif­fer­ent city tracks, but because of the pan­demic, work on the tour has been kept to already estab­lished tracks from the series that can quickly be con­verted for use in Tour.

Musi­cally, Mario Kart is known as hav­ing a banger sound­track for every game. Tour doesn’t slouch in that depart­ment with the new tracks, but it does mess up with some of the older tracks. I’m not quite sure how a game can get one part of the sound­track right but mess up the other parts, but Tour some­how man­ages to do it. Any of the new tracks that were cre­ated for Tour are excel­lent. The menu themes are excel­lent, as well, with new tunes mixed in with remixed favorites from pre­vi­ous games. But then you get to an older track, let’s say Koopa Troopa Beach from the SNES. It does not sound the same as the orig­i­nal ver­sion at all. The pitch sounds off by a few notes, as if some­one recre­ated it for Tour and kind of, sort of remem­bered the way the orig­i­nal sounded. Rain­bow Road from the SNES has the same prob­lem. It sort of resem­bles the orig­i­nal tunes but also … not really. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to get from tour to tour, so I don’t nec­es­sar­ily get my hopes up in terms of music qual­ity when I see an older track announced.

All my prob­lems with Mario Kart Tour are fix­able, but that’s up to Nin­tendo to work on and decide if it’s worth it this far in. With increas­ing fre­quency, how­ever, I find myself say­ing this might be the part of the Tour that’s my last stop.

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.

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.