Airwolf — 4Q2020 issue

Let this low-fly­ing mess stay grounded

As a child of the 1980s, there was one major require­ment I had to know: the major prime time action shows and what nights and net­works that they came on. Two of those shows were Knight Rid­er on Fri­days on NBC and Air­wolf on Sat­ur­days on CBS. These two shows were so pop­u­lar that Acclaim Enter­tain­ment was able to get license rights from Uni­ver­sal Tele­vi­sion to devel­op video games for both shows. In a pre­vi­ous issue of GI, we reviewed Knight Rid­er for the NES in the Tor­ture of the Quar­ter sec­tion. Could Air­wolf break this curse of pop­u­lar shows turned into hor­ri­ble games? It was time to find out.

Air­wolf fol­lows the plot based on the TV show in that you take the role of Stringfel­low “String” Hawke, who is giv­en a mis­sion by the CIA to res­cue pris­on­ers of war from unknown ter­ror­ist groups using the top-secret heli­copter known as Air­wolf. As String con­ducts the mis­sion, he finds out that one of the pris­on­ers being held is his long-lost broth­er who was declared miss­ing in action dur­ing the Viet­nam War. This gives him added incen­tive to car­ry out his giv­en mission.

Airwolf’s game­play is a sim­u­lat­ed first-per­son view that was applied to the Knight Rid­er game. You have the view of Air­wolf that is clear enough to see your ene­mies and to attack ene­my strong­holds such as air­craft tow­ers, pris­on­er camps and repair depots. How­ev­er, this is the game’s Achilles’ heel. Con­trol is not flex­i­ble when you need it to be dur­ing dog­fights with ene­my air­craft. You’re required to shoot first or destroy air­craft tow­ers if you don’t fire your lim­it­ed mis­siles with pre­cise tim­ing. The inflex­i­bil­i­ty rears again when you land at a pris­on­er camp land­ing gen­tly and still die.

The graph­ics were OK, but they were akin to flight sim­u­la­tor games that were high­ly pop­u­lar dur­ing the ’80s. To give Air­wolf a frac­tion of a chance for a good review, I found the debrief­ing scene excel­lent, giv­ing me the appro­pri­ate data of destroyed ene­mies, res­cued pris­on­ers and inter­cept­ed missiles.

Sad­ly, I was ENRAGED that Acclaim could be this slop­py with a fran­chise such as Air­wolf. Don’t get me wrong, Acclaim did go on to make bet­ter video games based on pop­u­lar fran­chis­es, but like Knight Rid­er, Air­wolf failed to show me any redeem­ing rea­son for replay.

Air­wolf — like Knight Rid­er — are games that are rec­om­mend­ed only for the diehard fans of the ’80s that want to relive the action-packed nights of their child­hood. While I loved both shows, unfor­tu­nate­ly their action-packed for­mu­la that pro­duced major rat­ings for TV did not trans­late well into video game for­mat. Acclaim did learn well from these mis­takes, but they gave the first Mas­ter­Class les­son in video gam­ing of being care­ful with pop­u­lar fran­chis­es. If you want my advice, skip both games and play them on read­i­ly avail­able emu­la­tors; you’ll save time and hard-earned money.

Fun Facts

  • Air­wolf was cre­at­ed by Don­ald P. Belis­ario, who was known for pop cul­ture-wor­thy shows such as Quan­tum Leap, Mag­num, P.I., JAG and NCIS, which is still air­ing on CBS.
  • The actu­al Air­wolf was based on a Bell 222 heli­copter designed for cor­po­rate trav­el, emer­gency med­ical trans­port and util­i­ty trans­port. A full repli­ca of Air­wolf was on dis­play at a Ten­nessee avi­a­tion muse­um but has since been sold to a pri­vate col­lec­tor in Bel Aire, Calif.
  • There were numer­ous ver­sions of Air­wolf made for var­i­ous home sys­tems, but a side scrolling arcade ver­sion was devel­oped by Japan­ese devel­op­er Kyu­go in 1987. Acclaim released the NES ver­sion a year lat­er, after the show went off the air four years earlier.

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse — 4Q2020 issue

Drac­u­la slays in thirds

Castl­e­va­nia. The name alone is well renowned to vet­er­an gamers world­wide as one of Konami’s mas­ter­piece fran­chis­es, hav­ing expand­ed from the NES to var­i­ous gam­ing con­soles and a glo­ri­ous revival in ani­me form thanks to Net­flix. As a video game vet­er­an myself, I know of the many bat­tles between the GOAT vam­pire hunt­ing Bel­mont fam­i­ly and the infa­mous prince of hor­ror mon­sters, Count Drac­u­la. Ever since I was exposed to the first Castl­e­va­nia game, I fell under its spell, want­i­ng my chance to place a stake into Dracula’s chest. I final­ly got my chance to do so when I got my first game, Castl­e­va­nia III: Dracula’s Curse for the NES.

In Dracula’s Curse, you take on the role of Trevor C. Bel­mont, fore­fa­ther of series hero Simon Bel­mont, who is called upon to save his vil­lage of Warakiya from Drac­u­la and his res­ur­rect­ed army of dark­ness. Trevor has one small but pow­er­ful advan­tage with him: the abil­i­ty to trans­form into three part­ner spir­its: Alu­card, Dracula’s for­got­ten son; Grant Denasty, pirate ter­ror of the seas; and, Sypha Bel­nades, vam­pire hunter/mystic war­lord. Along with this shaper-shifter abil­i­ty and equipped with the mys­tic whip and Pol­ter­geist ax bequeathed by the Pol­ter­geist King, Trevor sets off into the night ready to do bat­tle against Dracula.

Game­play is basic like most action-plat­form­ing games with sim­ple moves such as mov­ing left and right with the con­trol pad, jump­ing with a but­ton, and attack­ing with basic weapons by using com­bi­na­tions for spe­cial weapons. These con­trols have spe­cial des­ig­na­tions for Grant, con­trol­ling how high he can jump and climb walls, and for Alu­card, who can trans­form into a bat. To give this team of vam­pire hunters an extra advan­tage, Trevor can upgrade his mys­tic whip to a long-ranged chain whip and can use var­i­ous Warakiya items such as the ban­shee boomerang, bat­tle ax and a pock­et watch that tem­porar­i­ly freezes ene­mies. Sypha has her mag­ic staff as her main weapon in addi­tion to using ele­men­tal orbs that can pro­duce fire, ice and thun­der attacks. Grant has use of the dag­ger, but he can only use the mys­tic ax as his sec­ondary weapon. Alu­card has use of a destruc­tive ball that can be upgrad­ed to shoot three directions.

While I appre­ci­ate these effec­tive tech­niques to dis­patch the undead, there were flaws such as learn­ing to time each attack or risk falling off a stage. Also, whichev­er part­ner spir­it Trevor teams up with, the part­ner takes dam­age, cre­at­ing a strug­gle to sur­vive in cer­tain stages. I also learned that you col­lect stone hearts to pow­er weapons and if Alu­card is your part­ner, he would turn into a bat. That’s fine but that skill eats up your hearts and if you run out, he could turn back into human form putting him and Trevor in a MAJOR bind.

Adding to the frus­tra­tion, there is a time lim­it to com­plete each stage, adding either chal­lenge to game­play or mak­ing you curse and smash your con­troller to pieces.

A word to the wise: Dracula’s Curse is chal­leng­ing but LOOK hard for spe­cial items such as leg of were­wolf, which refills your life meter; and, the invis­i­bil­i­ty potion that also gives tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion to give you the upper hand. Also, if you must go up a row of stairs, ALWAYS press up on the con­trol pad to walk oth­er­wise you will fall and lose a life.

The game’s music is excel­lent, stay­ing true to the series’ theme of clas­si­cal hor­ror. If you heard a Castl­e­va­nia theme before, you won’t hear any­thing new here. This isn’t Castl­e­va­nia IV just yet, after all. The replay val­ue is there although it will require you to have patience to and excel­lent strate­gic skills when choos­ing paths to take and part­ner spir­its to work with.

Castl­e­va­nia III: Dracula’s Curse is an exam­ple of how Kon­a­mi built a respect­ed fran­chise in its ear­ly days with­out dis­re­spect­ing their devel­op­ment staff and let­ting them do what they do best. Dracula’s Curse is good but not with­out its quirks and flaws. If you love old-school plat­form­ing in the Castl­e­va­nia con­trol vein, jump in and part­ner up to take on Drac­u­la once more.

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.

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.

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.

1942 — 2Q2019 issue

Pacif­ic bat­tles fly in 8‑bit form

Capcom’s warfight­ing 1940 series reminds me of the good times when arcade gam­ing ruled my week­ends and I was for­tu­nate to find some rare gems that lat­er became gam­ing clas­sics. Dur­ing that time, I played 1942 in the arcade and on the NES and walked away from this expe­ri­ence with some valu­able infor­ma­tion: 1. The first game in a series may or may not guar­an­tee future suc­cess; and, 2. The cre­ators of some of our favorite games had to cut their teeth on low-tier games before they received the big breaks that made them what they are today. One of those games is 1942.

1942 is a ver­ti­cal-scrolling shoot­er that takes place on the Pacif­ic front of World War II. You take con­trol of a P‑38 Light­ning plane assigned to go to Tokyo and destroy the Impe­r­i­al Air Force fleet.

Game­play of 1942 is sim­ple: You can move either ver­ti­cal­ly or hor­i­zon­tal­ly. Con­sist­ing of 32 stages, the P‑38 will be chal­lenged by Ki-61s, A6M Zeros, and Ki-48s with a long-range bomber known as G8N as lev­el boss­es. To give the P‑38 Light­ning a fight­ing chance against these planes, it can do air rolls or ver­ti­cal loops. If you time your attacks right, some planes will drop upgrad­ed fire­pow­er or an escort team of two small­er fight­er planes to com­bat the relent­less assault from planes that WILL attempt to knock you out of the skies, espe­cial­ly if you’re just tak­ing off from your air­craft carrier.

While I liked 1942, there are some issues that annoyed me. Tim­ing of move­ments, includ­ing the ver­ti­cal drops and air rolls, must be pre­cise because of the high chance of being shot down by ene­my planes. Also, you must watch for attack­ing planes in front and behind as the Ki-48s are mas­ter­ful at get­ting the unsus­pect­ed into close-area shootouts, which will reduce the num­ber of lives quickly.

The music qual­i­ty of 1942 is an acquired taste as the repeat­ed use of a snare drum made me think that Cap­com phoned in a lack­lus­ter drum beat, which made me turn the vol­ume down to con­tin­ue play­ing. The chal­lenge is decent since you will be on your toes to avoid ene­my fire non­stop. It has strong replay val­ue and would be a great time-killer as a nos­tal­gia trip for arcade vet­er­ans. Also, it’s a great exam­ple for those who want to know how side-scrolling games played a major impact in the gam­ing world.

1942 serves not only as an icon in gaming’s hall of fame but also dou­bles as one of Capcom’s entries into the gam­ing world. It helps that 1942 was the start of look­ing at Cap­com as an up-and-com­ing game com­pa­ny want­i­ng to expand beyond its home of Osa­ka, Japan.

Fun facts:

    • The P‑38, Ki-61, A6M and Ki-48 were actu­al war planes used heav­i­ly in the Pacif­ic Con­flict between the U.S. and Japan. The com­pa­nies who built them — Lock­heed Mar­tin, Kawasa­ki, and Mit­subishi — are well-estab­lished in the defense indus­try and con­tin­ue to play vital roles in var­i­ous areas of aero­space technology.
    • 1942 was Yoshi­ki Okamoto’s debut game for Cap­com. He was also the orig­i­nal game design­er of Konami’s Gyruss. Because of inter­nal dis­putes involv­ing pay, he was fired from Kon­a­mi. After 1942’s suc­cess, Okamo­to remained at Cap­com where he played an impor­tant role in pro­duc­ing Final Fight, Street Fight­er II and Biohazard/Resident Evil. He retired from game devel­op­ment for con­soles in 2012 and is cur­rent­ly devel­op­ing games for var­i­ous mobile devices.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm — 3Q2018 issue

The ulti­mate beginning

Naru­to Uzi­ma­ki. From 1999 to 2017, Shon­en Jump Magazine’s hyper­ac­tive nin­ja knuck­le­head had a major impact on the geek cul­ture scene as well as ani­me and man­ga. From graph­ic nov­els, to oth­er nov­el­ty mer­chan­dise and video games, many ani­me fans world­wide fol­lowed his rise from out­cast of his nin­ja vil­lage to its leg­endary sav­ior. Dur­ing Naruto’s rise, there were many video games for var­i­ous sys­tems that fol­lowed every adven­ture of our blonde, blue-eyed hero and his friends. I got the oppor­tu­ni­ty to play one of the Naru­to-based games after a recent game shop­ping expe­di­tion when I found Naru­to: Ulti­mate Nin­ja: Storm.

Ulti­mate Nin­ja: Storm is a hybrid con­sist­ing of fight­ing and role play­ing game ele­ments. Free Bat­tle mode allows you to choose one main fight­er with two back­up char­ac­ters against anoth­er play­er or the console’s choice of char­ac­ters in var­i­ous stages tak­en right out of the Naru­to uni­verse. Free Bat­tle also allows you to earn extra cash if you defeat their oppo­nents using var­i­ous moves known as nin­jut­su. The extra coinage will be need­ed in the role play­ing mode, Ulti­mate Mis­sion Mode, dur­ing which you con­trol Naru­to in var­i­ous mis­sions that involve episodes 1 to 135 of the ani­me series. 

I found every­thing from the cin­e­mat­ic intro to actu­al game­play excel­lent. Nam­co Bandai brought their expe­ri­ence in mak­ing games like Tekken and Soul Cal­ibur and com­bined it with Masashi Kishimoto’s guid­ance in devel­op­ing the per­fect exam­ple of a video game based on a pop­u­lar ani­me fran­chise. Every stage, land­mark and char­ac­ter are por­trayed per­fect­ly in the game mak­ing me as if I was trans­port­ed to the Hid­den Leaf Vil­lage. The con­trols are easy and will help you pull off some up-close cool com­bos when cer­tain but­tons are dis­played. They’re also great dur­ing the explo­ration of Ulti­mate Mis­sion Mode as you’re try­ing to find hid­den items and mis­sion locations. 

Anoth­er cool thing about the game was that the music from the ani­me series was not only kept intact, but also was done in Dol­by Dig­i­tal Sound. The voice act­ing in the game is high cal­iber thanks to Nam­co Bandai work­ing with Viz Media and Stu­diopo­lis Inc. to bring togeth­er the orig­i­nal Eng­lish voice actors to reprise their respec­tive roles. Even with the excel­lent Eng­lish voice act­ing, you can also play the game in Japan­ese with Eng­lish sub­ti­tles for a more authen­tic feel. Any­one who has not played a Naru­to video game will find it per­fect for either a hot or rainy-day after­noon, or a friend­ly fight­ing game tour­na­ment at any ani­me convention.

Nam­co Bandai did an awe­some job of bring­ing Naru­to to the PS3 in addi­tion to pub­lish­ing addi­tion­al games based off this icon­ic fran­chise. For now, Naruto’s jour­ney to be hok­age has end­ed suc­cess­ful­ly, with a son ready to take up his own chal­lenges. Ulti­mate Nin­ja: Storm is a great start show­cas­ing Naruto’s ear­ly adventures.

Devil May Cry 4 — 3Q2018 issue

Dev­il’s in the details: DMC4 a nice break from Dante

Capcom’s “Dev­il May Cry” series is a game that has basi­cal­ly rede­fined the term “hack-and-slash” in video games. With the first three games using hack-and-slash style as well as action-adven­ture ele­ments, I won­dered what new sur­pris­es would the fourth install­ment of the series bring and to which system? 

DMC 4 fea­tures demon-hunter extra­or­di­naire Dante, but the sto­ry and main char­ac­ter has changed for a more intense expe­ri­ence. Tak­ing place in a remote island town called For­tu­na, you assume the role of Nero — a younger ver­sion of Dante — who is a mem­ber of the Order of the Sword. The Order of the Sword is a mil­i­tant reli­gious orga­ni­za­tion formed to destroy demons based on the actions of the Demon-Knight Spar­da, who rebelled against the demon under­world to pro­tect human­i­ty. At a recent cer­e­mo­ny to hon­or Spar­da, Dante smash­es though a sky­light and kills the priest lead­ing the cer­e­mo­ny, set­ting off a chain of events that would not only put Dante and Nero on a col­li­sion course with each oth­er, but also would lead both demon-hunters through a greater mys­tery to find out the true inten­tions of the Order and to stop a more vicious plot of a demon-invasion.

While Dante’s role in DMC 4 is not as the main char­ac­ter, he does still play a key role in the game as a playable char­ac­ter in cer­tain scenes. Nero is not to be tak­en light­ly either as his arse­nal con­sists of his Dev­il Bringer arm, his mechan­i­cal sword Red Queen and his dou­ble bar­rel revolver, Blue Queen. Nero can gain an extra advan­tage to accom­plish his mis­sion by gath­er­ing “Red Souls,” DMC’s orig­i­nal game cur­ren­cy, and “Proud Souls,” a new cur­ren­cy. After a mis­sion is com­plet­ed, Pride Souls can pow­er up Nero’s tools rang­ing from extend­ing the Dev­il Bringer’s reach to more pow­er­ful shots from the Blue Queen. The con­trols for Dante and Nero are easy to use thanks to the PS3’s Six Axis controller’s built-in ana­log fea­ture, which I found help­ful with cam­era issues from time to time. 

The excel­lent detail that is used in each lev­el comes to life in the back­ground and cin­e­mat­ic scenes. These were done with high def­i­n­i­tion tech­nol­o­gy that will make you feel like you are play­ing with a mas­ter­piece of art instead of a video game. Capcom’s sound team brings their A‑game again. Each sound and vocal effect com­bined with Dol­by Dig­i­tal Sound gives an orches­tral qual­i­ty to the game. Cap­com did a great job in voice and motion cap­ture for DMC 4. John­ny Yong Bosch (Bleach, Street Fight­er IV) brought Nero to life and Reuben Lang­don repris­ing his role as Dante.

Dev­il May Cry 4 shows what Cap­com is capa­ble of doing when they let their devel­op­ment team do its job: make their games enjoy­able. DMC4 is a chal­leng­ing, but enjoy­able way to kill free time when you want to get your demon-hunt­ing on. The replay val­ue is strong espe­cial­ly if you are a vet­er­an DMC play­er; this game is worth your hard-earned cash.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory — 1Q2017 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GiantBomb.com

Max­i­mo con­tin­ues the quest to res­cue the princess

I have a love and hate rela­tion­ship with Cap­com. For every game they devel­op and pub­lish that will be a smash hit by being more cre­ative and stick­ing to the basics, they churn out five or six copies of the same game with­out break­ing any new ground (i.e. Street Fight­er V). I won’t even men­tion how they stud­ied the Kon­a­mi code of dis­pos­ing of one of their great­est game series and its leader. With this view of Cap­com off my chest, let’s look at a game that is orig­i­nal and has become a suc­ces­sor to the clas­sic games Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins and Adven­ture Island: Max­i­mo: Ghosts to Glory.

You take the role of said char­ac­ter, Max­i­mo, who, after return­ing from a bat­tle to pro­tect his king­dom, finds out that his main lady Queen Sophia is cap­tured by his once-trust­ed advis­er, Achille. To make mat­ters worse, Achille has devel­oped a drill that has pierced the under­world, allow­ing him to cre­ate an army of undead mon­sters to ter­ror­ize the king­dom. All is not lost as is seems that as Max­i­mo was free-falling, the Grim Reaper makes a deal for him to return to the liv­ing world in exchange for return­ing the lost souls to the under­world. Max­i­mo accepts and begins his quest to free Sophia and restore the peace tak­en by Achille. 

Max­i­mo retains the ele­ments from Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins and Adven­ture Island but allows free­dom to explore all of the stages thanks to its 3D design. Max­i­mo has the abil­i­ty to run, jump and crouch to avoid ene­mies and is eas­i­ly con­trolled with use of the ana­log con­trol stick. Max­i­mo is also ready for bat­tle with his trusty sword and shield, which can be thrown at approach­ing ene­mies and capa­ble of wip­ing out all ene­mies on the screen if the right pow­er-ups are applied. In addi­tion to his sword and shield, Max­i­mo has his armor which, if all the parts are gath­ered, he becomes invin­ci­ble for a brief period. 

A heads up: Make sure that Max­i­mo keeps his armor as long as pos­si­ble since like Arthur in Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins, if Max­i­mo takes too many hits, he would be down to his box­ers, which would lead to his death if he takes anoth­er hit. Also, con­trol­ling Max­i­mo is not dif­fi­cult, but some prac­tice is rec­om­mend­ed to get adjust­ed to mov­ing around. 
The stages are excel­lent­ly designed and guar­an­teed to make you feel that you’re in Maximo’s world. The game’s music is an enjoy­able mix of orig­i­nal and remas­tered tracks from the orig­i­nal Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins. The chal­lenge lev­el is ridicu­lous­ly high, guar­an­tee­ing great replay value. 

Max­i­mo: Ghosts to Glo­ry is one of those type of games that will please fans of old-school adven­ture gam­ing who want to play the genre with the lat­est tech­nol­o­gy. In my opin­ion, Max­i­mo is also a exam­ple of what Cap­com can do when they allow cre­ativ­i­ty to flour­ish instead of always milk­ing their gold­en fran­chis­es to death. 
Well done, Cap­com. Well done.

Devil May Cry 3 — 1Q2017 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GiantBomb.com

Dance with the dev­il in Dan­te’s rebound adventure

When I final­ly got my own copy of Dev­il May Cry 3, I read that it brought back the melee action that made the first game awe­some to play, but it raised the bar for future install­ments of Capcom’s demon-slay­ing series. Was the praise heaped upon DMC3 well deserved or was this anoth­er way of Cap­com milk­ing a great game series dry for more cash? I got my answer in Dev­il May Cry 3: Dante’s Awak­en­ing, Spe­cial Edition.
Set as a pre­quel to the orig­i­nal DMC, we find our fear­less demon hunter Dante begin­ning to set up shop when a mys­te­ri­ous man named Arkham arrives with a invi­ta­tion from Dante’s broth­er, Vergil. This “invi­ta­tion” turns into a demon-style, reveal­ing that Vergil has not only helped in res­ur­rect­ing a ancient demon­ic tow­er, but also he wants Dante’s amulet to open a por­tal to con­nect the human and with the demon worlds. Dante, of course, is not pleased and sets off to stop Vergil and his plans of world domination.

DMC3 starts from the begin­ning as an explo­sive non­stop melee with brief but impor­tant tuto­ri­als for play­ers to mas­ter Dante’s moves and his sig­na­ture weapons. In addi­tion to the tuto­ri­als, four dif­fer­ent com­bat­ive arts called “styles” are avail­able to Dante, giv­ing him var­i­ous abil­i­ties to increase the pow­er of var­i­ous guns, strik­ing weapons, dodge attacks, and unleash­ing hand-to-hand com­bat with dev­as­tat­ing results. Once Dante defeats a cer­tain boss, he will be able to use them in the form of unique, var­i­ous weapons. There is a lock-on fea­ture to direct­ly tar­get ene­mies that, with prac­tice, will be a valu­able tool to rip ene­mies apart. Also in the spe­cial edi­tion, there are two modes of play: Nor­mal, which is basic DMC speed; or, Tur­bo, where EVERYTHING is clocked up 20 times the nor­mal speed of the game to test your skills. Also, you can play the game not only as Dante, but also as Vergil, who has some seri­ous weapon­ry and moves that would make Jubei Yagyu be in awe.

The game music fits each lev­el with a Phan­tom of the Opera type of feel while the bat­tle scenes uses an electronic/heavy met­al beat that heats up the bat­tles. My only issue is that it’s repet­i­tive every time I fight ene­mies, but it’s well done nonethe­less. The voice act­ing in DMC is top-notch thanks to Reuben Lang­don as Dante and Daniel South­worth (Pow­er Rangers: Time Force) as Vergil. Both actors did the motion cap­ture and voice work for their respec­tive characters.

With the good comes the bad, how­ev­er. While I appre­ci­ate the use of ana­log con­trol in addi­tion to mov­ing the screen cam­era around, the con­trols are tank-like. That is frus­trat­ing because if I’m sur­round­ed by ene­mies, I’m easy pick­ings. Also, the auto­mat­ic fir­ing abil­i­ty of Ebony and Ivory is still in DMC3 but it requires rapid press­ing instead of the flu­id ease found in the first game. I also had to stock up (and I mean STOCK UP) on red orbs to pur­chase pow­er ups for Dante and his weapons or learn new moves since the game was try­ing to do a stick-up job every time I need to make some upgrades. For­tu­nate­ly, I could replay each mis­sion to get more orbs or lev­el up.

DMC3 lives up to its high praise guar­an­tee­ing plen­ty of chal­lenge and replay val­ue when you just want to get medieval on things but legal­ly. This Spe­cial Edi­tion is a no-holds barred adven­ture in demon-slay­ing with the best in the busi­ness. If Cap­com wants to do a movie for Dev­il May Cry, I’m for it, but do it right; in oth­er words Cap­com, stick to the sto­ry and the pay­day bonan­za will take care of itself.