Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus — Issue 41

First time’s a steal for Sly Cooper

Ever since the now-Sony Inter­ac­tive Enter­tain­ment intro­duced the PlaySta­tion 2 to Amer­i­can gamers in 2000, the news sur­round­ing the new gam­ing con­sole ranged from a strong suc­ces­sor to the PlaySta­tion name to the “Dream­cast Killer,” refer­ring to Sega’s bow­ing out of mak­ing gam­ing con­soles for the home mar­ket. While this was true, Sony was build­ing up a rela­tion­ship with a lit­tle-known gam­ing stu­dio called Suck­er Punch to intro­duce a char­ac­ter that would suc­ceed Sony’s oth­er well-known char­ac­ter, Crash Bandi­coot. The result: “Sly Coop­er and the Thievius Raccoonus.”

Though we’re jump­ing into the remas­tered ver­sion for the PS3, the base game is a result of what would hap­pen if you put anthro­po­mor­phic ani­mals togeth­er with Ocean’s Eleven and Splin­ter Cell games. The sto­ry is that Sly Coop­er along with his team of Bent­ley Tur­tle and Mur­ray Hip­popota­mus are try­ing to recov­er the Thievius Rac­coonus, a scared book passed down in the Coop­er fam­i­ly that records skills and tech­niques used to steal valu­ables from oth­er thieves. 

At age 8, Sly was to inher­it the book, but a group known as the Fiendish Five appeared that day, killing his moth­er and father and tak­ing all the pages of the Thievius Rac­coonus, scat­ter­ing them across the world. Now old­er and wis­er, Sly, Bent­ley and Mur­ray begin their quest to recov­er the Thievius Rac­coonus and destroy the Fiendish Five. 

The game­play takes time to adjust to, but it is sim­ple. You can either use the d‑pad or left ana­log stick to con­trol Sly while using the square but­ton to use his cane to strike, and the X but­ton to jump and dou­ble jump. Sly also gets some help look­ing around his sur­round­ings with the help of the in-game cam­era by using the right ana­log stick. 

You pick up var­i­ous objects such as coins, extra lives, and bot­tled clues to cre­ate gear, solve puz­zles, and learn new skills. Sly also has a spe­cial sneak­ing tech­nique that acti­vates in times of need. Fair warn­ing: Sly does not have a life bar. If he falls in water or gets hit by an ene­my, you will lose a life. This adds to an already chal­leng­ing set­up. The graph­ics are well drawn and appear crisp in every lev­el while the cut scenes pay trib­ute to the Ocean movie series. Suck­er Punch took great care in the lev­el design, which made the game seem more like an ani­mat­ed movie. 

The music was ener­getic and relaxed enough for me to take my time play­ing espe­cial­ly when Sly per­formed a sneak­ing maneu­ver. The music was so top tier that I’m sold on a sound­track CD to make a playlist. Voice act­ing was excel­lent with Kevin Miller as Sly, Matt Olsen as Bent­ley and Chris Mur­phy as Mur­ray, adding to the theme of expert thievery. 

Sly Coop­er and the Thievius Rac­coonus is a game that aims high and grabs replay val­ue and fun. If you want to escape bore­dom and pull off a caper with the Coop­er gang with great rewards and brag­ging rights, jump into the adven­ture instead of try­ing to be a real thief. 

It’s a steal of a game.

Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 — Issue 39

Gun­dam sec­ond game not yet there

Pre­vi­ous­ly, I reviewed Dynasty War­riors: Gun­dam 3, which set the stage for me to try the oth­ers in the series. Lit­tle did I know, I would be learn­ing a valu­able les­son: Not every pop­u­lar fran­chise will always have best-sell­ers. An excel­lent exam­ple would be Dynasty War­riors: Gun­dam 2.

Gun­dam 2 fol­lows the same ros­ter of char­ac­ters in var­i­ous entries in the Gun­dam uni­verse, includ­ing some char­ac­ters and mobile suits that were only fea­tured in Gun­dam movies. To com­pen­sate for a lack of a sto­ry­line, DWG2 has two modes: Sto­ry, where you can play as one of a select group of char­ac­ters from their respec­tive Gun­dam series; and, Mis­sion, where you choose a char­ac­ter with var­i­ous mis­sions set in the uni­ver­sal cen­tu­ry time­line and you can inter­act with var­i­ous char­ac­ters from oth­er series. As you move along, you gain expe­ri­ence points to increase your lev­el and col­lect var­i­ous mobile suit parts. There is also a chance to earn new skills just like DWG3 as you advance to high­er levels.

Gun­dam 2 also spe­cial mis­sions where you can fight against oth­er oppo­nents to earn licens­es to pilot dif­fer­ent suits, earn the trust of oth­er char­ac­ters to fight beside you and acquire high­er-lev­el parts for mobile suits. The mobile suit lab and ter­mi­nal fea­tures help you to keep up with chang­ing events and cur­rent devel­op­ments with dif­fer­ent mobile suits.

What I like about Gun­dam 2 is that every char­ac­ter is legit in the Gun­dam uni­verse, which made me won­der if I saw the actu­al Gun­dam series with that char­ac­ter. Also, the open­ing cin­e­ma was high qual­i­ty, show­ing off the minor suits such as GMs and Zakus, who were observ­ing the OG RX-78, Strike Free­dom and Nu Gun­dam suits doing bat­tle while the Saz­abi and Psy­cho Gun­dam lurked in the shad­ows. Addi­tion­al­ly, I also appre­ci­at­ed Nam­co Bandai, Sun­rise and Koei retain­ing the orig­i­nal Eng­lish voice actors to reprise their respec­tive char­ac­ters; this gives DWG2 the need­ed cred­i­bil­i­ty as an offi­cial Gun­dam video game.

How­ev­er, despite the good, the bad parts stick out like sore thumbs. When I try to fight in oth­er bat­tle­fields, I’m restrict­ed in mov­ing, which weak­ens my attacks, and leaves me vul­ner­a­ble. Also, the in-game cam­era was VERY unhelp­ful, espe­cial­ly in boss fights with giant ene­mies where I was pilot­ing my mobile suit on low ener­gy while run­ning and avoid­ing attacks by giant ene­mies like Psy­cho Gun­dam, Big Zam, and Queen Mansa. I also found cer­tain parts of the game have unre­al­is­tic time lim­its to fight ene­mies to achieve cer­tain objec­tives. Final­ly, I found the biggest insult to me as a Gun­dam fan was the graph­ics; these feel like cheap knock-off paint jobs of Gun­dam and low­er-rank mobile suits alike. To be fair, the asso­ci­at­ed pilots look like their ani­me coun­ter­parts, but the suits were not giv­en the same treat­ment. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I would also be remiss if I did not include the LONG wait to obtain skills, unlike in DWG3. I could unlock and pur­chase new skills in addi­tion to lev­el­ing up char­ac­ters more effi­cient­ly via train­ing ses­sions in the lat­ter game’s shop.

There are hits and miss­es that the qual­i­ty assur­ance teams should have noticed, but there are bright spots such as music and voice act­ing being excel­lent. I would still play Gun­dam 2 when I have free time, but Bandai Nam­co did such a rush job on it that I feel jus­ti­fied almost not rec­om­mend­ing it. I’m just glad that DWG3 is a far supe­ri­or prod­uct and sticks to the essen­tials that make Gun­dam, well, Gun­dam. Dynasty War­riors: Gun­dam 2 is on the way but not quite there.

Yakuza: Dead Souls — Issue 39

Yakuza and zom­bies mix well

In my vast inven­to­ry of inter­ests, mafia movies are one that would make me curl up on a week­end after­noon with pop­corn, drinks and oth­er treats in hand. While I know that some famous mafia movies and tele­vi­sion series are being devel­oped into video games, Sega’s Yakuza series is already a per­fect com­bi­na­tion of action, adven­ture, and the mafia. I was thrilled to com­bine my love for the series with zom­bie ele­ments in Yakuza: Dead Souls.

Set a year after the events in Yakuza 4, an unknown dis­ease out­break in the dis­trict of Kamurochō has affect­ed its res­i­dents, turn­ing them into zom­bies through bites. As a result, the Japan­ese Ground Self-Defense Force has been called in to assist with the slow and expand­ing quar­an­tine. Dur­ing this chaot­ic time, cer­tain ene­mies of the Tojo clan have arisen to take advan­tage of Kamurochō’s suf­fer­ing. The fate of Kamurochō and Japan rests in the hands of four men: Shun Akiya­ma, a loan shark try­ing to save his sick recep­tion­ist; Goro Maji­ma, a feared yakuza and con­struc­tion com­pa­ny own­er who is fight­ing his own infec­tion; Ryu­ji Goda, a dis­graced yakuza and takoy­a­ki chef whose clan has a tie to the out­break; and, series pro­tag­o­nist Kiryu Kazu­ma, who runs a children’s orphan­age and returns to Kamurochō when his adop­tive daugh­ter is kidnapped.

Dead Souls is an open-world game that com­bines action, adven­ture, and sur­vival hor­ror ele­ments. The plot is one akin to samu­rai movies where there are four chap­ters with four parts for each char­ac­ter with the final chap­ter reserved for Kiryu. Con­trols for move­ment and the game cam­era are sim­ple with the ana­log sticks. You will also be giv­en “mem­os,” a list with spe­cial sec­tions to teach you basics such as using weapons, eva­sion, and close quar­ter com­bat, which help when fac­ing off against the legion of zom­bies. I appre­ci­at­ed the abil­i­ty to lev­el up each character’s attrib­ut­es through use of soul points that upgrades abil­i­ties to car­ry more items, improve knowl­edge of zom­bies, weapons mod­i­fi­ca­tions and pro­tec­tive gear, and mas­ter advanced close quar­ter com­bat techniques.

As the game pro­gress­es, your cur­rent char­ac­ter will be assist­ed by three NPCs: Reiko Hasekawa, a researcher who offers infor­ma­tion and rewards for com­plet­ed tasks; Gary “Buster” Holmes, a firearms expert who helps the pro­tag­o­nists and their tem­po­rary com­pan­ions with gun train­ing; and, Ren­ji Kamiya­ma, weapons sell­er and mod­i­fi­er of weapons and pro­tec­tive gear who can also be used as a pawn­bro­ker to buy rare items.

I also appre­ci­ate the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of var­i­ous zom­bie ene­mies; that orga­ni­za­tion method can help you plan the appro­pri­ate strat­e­gy or sim­ply avoid con­tact with them. While you’re run­ning around Kamurochō, pay atten­tion to the music. It’s one of Sega’s best sound­tracks in the mod­ern era and puts the Yakuza series among Sega’s go-to ros­ter of great soundtracks.

The graph­ics are OK for the time when it released. It’s good for an open world game, though there’s room for improve­ment. Though, com­pared to oth­er games at the time, Yakuza: Dead Souls doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly out­shine the com­pe­ti­tion; it just mere­ly com­petes. The only real prob­lem I have with Dead Souls is the inclu­sion of sce­nar­ios where you must chase down peo­ple while fend­ing off zom­bies. I know a yakuza got to make his mon­ey, but Sega was putting these char­ac­ters in dan­ger­ous con­di­tions with­out any pro­tec­tive gear, which is slight­ly unrealistic.

Dead Souls is great to play on a day off or slow week­end, though I would offer two pieces of advice: Do not play late at night, and do not play while COVID-19 is still around. It’s a nice attempt to mix mul­ti­ple gen­res. I can say this with no doubt: Sega’s got a smash hit ready to secure all bags and show its com­pe­ti­tion why it does not pay to under­es­ti­mate the Yakuza.

Fun Facts:

* Yakuza is the term giv­en to transna­tion­al crime orga­ni­za­tions based in Japan. They are also known as” boryoku­dan,” which the Japan­ese police advise for pub­lic media to use when cov­er­ing yakuza-relat­ed sto­ries. The yakuza also call them­selves “ninkyo dan­tai,” or chival­rous groups.

* Accord­ing to Japan’s Nation­al Police Agency as of 2020, there are at least 25,900 active yakuza mem­bers, despite rigid leg­is­la­tion aimed to com­bat yakuza involve­ment with the Japan­ese pub­lic. These mem­bers are account­ed among the three major yakuza fam­i­lies: Yam­aguchi-gumi, Somiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai.

* Yakuza groups have been known to oper­ate in major U.S. cities and use Hawaii as a hub to con­duct var­i­ous legal and ille­gal enterprises.

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.

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.

Katamari Forever — 3Q2015 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Gamespot.com

Retread re-roll

The sit­u­a­tion may have changed slight­ly, but the premise is still the same in Kata­mari For­ev­er, the fifth game in the quirky series. Whether or not you’re into the “if it’s not broke then don’t fix it” method of gam­ing will deter­mine if you can stand anoth­er trip to the cos­mos with a katamari.
Just in case you haven’t played a game in the series, let’s get a refresh­er. Kata­mari titles involve rolling up a sticky ball with every­day objects to increase the ball’s size. The larg­er the ball, the more pleased some­one is — usu­al­ly the King of All Cos­mos. That’s because the king is an idiot and rou­tine­ly destroys some­thing relat­ed to his job of pro­tect­ing the cos­mos. His lack of com­mon sense and coor­di­na­tion usu­al­ly means the Prince of All Cos­mos — that’d be you, the play­er — has to cre­ate new stars and recon­struct the cos­mos. This premise has worked for the past four games, and it’s real­ly no dif­fer­ent sto­ry­wise except for the addi­tion of the cousins to help in appear­ance only (added in We Love Kata­mari) and the fact that the king has been replaced tem­porar­i­ly by the Robot King of All Cos­mos. Absur­di­ty thy name is Katamari.
Noth­ing has real­ly changed, mechan­ics-wise, either. There are a few addi­tions to the reper­toire of the Prince, such as the Prince Hop and the King Shock, but oth­er­wise you’re still rolling along to pick up items to make your kata­mari grow. The series isn’t known for its growth and this is a major rea­son why. While it’s easy to con­trol the Prince and maneu­ver the Kata­mari, there still should be some inno­va­tion at this point, five games in.
The sound­track also suf­fers from stag­na­tion. Kata­mari Dama­cy, the first game in the series, was known for hav­ing a great sound­track. As a mat­ter of fact, we’ve laud­ed the sound­track relent­less­ly through­out our lifes­pan at GI. But try as we might, we’re still try­ing to under­stand why there isn’t as much cre­ativ­i­ty used in the musi­cal por­tion of a game that con­jures so many dif­fer­ent cre­ative thoughts. The music of the first game inspired so much, yet by the time of For­ev­er, it seems that well has grown dry. It’s still a good sound­track, but I was expect­ing more from this.
Over­all, if you still love pick­ing up a con­troller to save the cos­mos and cre­ate kata­mari, you’ll prob­a­bly be work­ing to stop the Robot King of All Cos­mos. Oth­er­wise, you’re not real­ly miss­ing any­thing you haven’t already seen. Keep rolling by this one if you want a fresh experience.

LittleBigPlanet — 3Q2015 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Gamespot.com

A class in mas­ter crafting

There are always games that come with a cer­tain amount of hype. These are the titles that every­one raves about but wind up on your nev­er-end­ing pile of shame. You’ll prob­a­bly buy it but nev­er actu­al­ly get around to play­ing it or play­ing it long enough to see what all the fuss is about. Lit­tleBig­Plan­et is one of those such games.
Quirky is the first adjec­tive I’d use to describe the plat­form­ing game fea­tur­ing Sack­boy, an anthro­po­mor­phic crea­ture that’s fea­tured front and cen­ter at the heart of the game. Sack­boy can be Sack­girl as well, and that’s part of the charm of the game. It can be what­ev­er you want it to be and do just about any­thing you want it to do, in the name of get­ting from point A to point B. The quirk­i­ness comes in the fact that the envi­ron­ment in which it does so is all about Play-Share-Cre­ate. The lev­els of Lit­tleBig­Plan­et are meant to be user-cre­at­ed and shared for online play among the LBP com­mu­ni­ty, so the depth of the game is imme­di­ate­ly obvi­ous and worth the price of admis­sion alone.
Con­trol­ling Sackboy/girl is sim­ple, yet not with­out its prob­lems. It’s much like play­ing any plat­former of the past 20 years and the con­trol scheme is sim­ple and intu­itive in let­ting you fig­ure out what to do and how to apply it lat­er. Where it fal­ters is the jump­ing mechan­ics. While obvi­ous and sim­ple, the jump­ing does feel slight­ly off and floaty, which is a prob­lem in a game that relies on that mechan­ic to car­ry it. It’s annoy­ing to have to re-do sec­tions of a lev­el sole­ly because of a missed jump, and that detracts from the core experience.
While the mechan­ics could use tweak­ing, not much else needs work. The sound­track is fan­tas­tic and fits the game per­fect­ly. It’s a good mix­ture of indie folk and pop, and it imme­di­ate­ly reminds of the bril­liance that is Kata­mari Dama­cy. The graph­ics are also in the realm of per­fect and evoke a cer­tain sort of charm that begs more playthroughs just to see what devel­op­er Media Mol­e­cule could come up with next. It’s breath­tak­ing and sim­plis­tic, like a child’s world come to life, and begs to be admired.
Lit­tleBig­Plan­et is one of the few games of the past few years that demands to be played and war­rants pur­chase of sys­tem just to play it. If you haven’t both­ered to play it by now, you need to stop what you’re doing and get on it. It has its minor prob­lems but they’re noth­ing to keep you from enjoy­ing what’s con­sid­ered a mas­ter­piece. It’s worth every moment of its Play-Share-Cre­ate moniker.