Summer Games Done Quick is a thing that’s happening right now, and I can’t help but find a bit of irony in the fact that, in the quest to be able complete games as quickly as possible, a lot of these runners have poured hundreds of hours into individual games. Many of these titles would be considered “short games,” things you’d wrap up nicely in a couple of hours with some adequate gaming skills if you were playing “casually.”1 Being short, however, is often considered a detriment to a game’s quality. Even with our massive backlogs of unplayed Steam Sale acquisitions and potentially ill-advised Amazon purchases Cheap Ass Gamer alerted us to, we still somehow view not getting a long game as a detriment.
But you know what? That way of thinking is wrong. Short games are friggin’ fantastic and I want more of them.
As we’re all quite aware, the much-anticipated Mighty No. 9 released this week, and, well, it’s been kind of a mess. The review scores are middling, it’s been raked over the coals all across YouTube and Twitch streams, and everybody who thinks they can make a quick grab for nerd attention by hopping on the trainwreck du jour has been making half-assed (and sometimes shockingly misinformed) digs at the game since its release.
But here’s the thing: there’s a lot more to MN9’s problems than just some angry yellman screaming about how Keiji Inafune scammed people out of four million dollars. I’m not trying to say “you shouldn’t be let down by MN9,” because it’s not my right to police your personal feelings. But I do think it’s important that people understand that there’s a lot to take into account when thinking and talking about this game. There are countless valuable lessons to learn here: about how games are made (and why they sometimes don’t live up to expectations), of keeping hype in check, and why putting money up for anything sight-unseen is a risk you really need to consider carefully.
I’ll be real here: I’m not a huge fan of most of Konami’s shooters, mainly because most of the stuff from the Gradius school of design punishes you harshly for any matter of mistake. I do, however, really like the Salamander/Life Force series, mainly because it doesn’t have those checkpoints placed strategically in the areas most impossible to clear when you’re powered down to nothing. (I also dig Gradius V for the same reasons.) Oh, and also because the soundtracks in them are amazing.
Gradius’s release in 1985 came at a time when sound hardware was beginning to evolve to a point where musicians could make songs that were far more musically complex than the 10-second loops ripped off of some public domain ditty. Konami was one of the leaders of this zeitgeist in the arcades alongside Namco, Sega, and Taito, and Gradius was among the first games that made people sit up and take notice of what game music could sound like. Hell, it was impressive from the point where you booted it up and waited for that bubble memory to heat up.
The musical legacy continued throughout the series and into its spin-offs, which brings us to Salamander 2, released in 1996. This was just a couple of years before Konami would begin releasing games like Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution, and future Bemani maestro Naoki Maeda (along with arranger You Takamine) was already beginning to hone his craft in the game’s many uptempo, synth-heavy tunes. In fact, there’s one tune from Salamander 2 that I’m sure the VJ crowd knows very well, and it’s this one!
This song, “Sensation,” was remixed and later appeared in Keyboardmania 3rd Mix (and the PS2 home port, Keyboardmania II, which contains music from the arcade 2nd and 3rd Mix). This was not done by Maeda, but rather Shinji Hosoe, who has had a long and fruitful career in game music (and is one of the key figures behind game music label SuperSweep).
I’ll be honest: I don’t really like this particular remix. I know, I know, it’s sacrilege to say you don’t like a Shinji Hosoe song… or a piece of Bemani music. But something about it just feels off. Maybe it’s the different instrument samples sounding kinda weird, or maybe because it hits so many of my arranged game music pet peeves (“let’s cut out the backing instruments here, it’ll sound great!”).
But you know what? Sensation isn’t even my favorite Salamander 2 song. It’s this one, from later in the game:
It’s got that same fast tempo and heavy synth, but a very different mood to it: it feels more trepidatious, because now you’re further along in the game and shit has gotten real. If Sensation is all about “HELL YEAH LET’S KICK SOME MID-90S PRERENDERED CG ENEMY ASS,” Speed is like “Well crap, we’re really in this one for the long haul, aren’t we? Hope you’re ready.” There’s also a something kind of big and sweeping about it, especially when you hit that bridge of music before the track loops. Pretty great, if you ask me.
Naoki Maeda, like a lot of key Konami talent, is off doing other things these days: last I heard, he was at Capcom working on an arcade game called Crossbeats Rev. (I don’t remember even seeing this one on my last Japan trip, which leaves me a bit worried as to how it’s faring in the market.) Given that Konami’s keen to piss their valuable IPs away, it’s doubtful we’ll ever get any new music in this style… unless, of course, they make a Salamander pachislot. At least the sound could be nice, right?
Holy crap! Did you all see that the long-rumored HD remake of Final Fantasy XII Zodiac Job Version is finally happening?! You all have no idea how excited that makes me! Depending on what day of the week you ask, Final Fantasy XII is my favorite Final Fantasy (alternating with FF5, and hey, the Four Job Fiesta starts soon, so sign up for that!) It’s gonna be so great to revisit FFXII again with all the new additions from the Japanese re-release and spruced up visuals and Fran and Balthier, oh my GOD! Two of the best characters in the whole series!
And, in typical Square-Enix fashion, with the announcement of a new game comes a couple of new figures! They’re making an all-new Balthier and a Judge Gabranth to join Fran, released quite recently in their Play Arts Kai line.
Play Arts Kai, for the unaware, is a “revision” of Square-Enix’s old line of Play Arts figures, which they distributed around the mid-aughts both in Japan and abroad. Said figures mostly had a reputation for being kind of mediocre: hard to pose and stand, with emphasis on looks over function. Kai figures were supposed to fix these problems: they were bigger, more poseable, and featured some incredible detail in the sculpts. Yet the early Play Arts Kai figures also faced harsh criticism: they looked great in their shiny, elaborately designed packaging, but the visual appeal faltered once you got them out and tried to pose them like you saw in the promo pictures.
I’ve mostly avoided Play Arts Kai since the early figures, and since then, plenty of companies have jumped into the market to release well-sculpted, articulated figures geared towards fans and collectors. “Surely, the advancements made by other companies in this market has influenced Square-Enix to improve their own product line!” I thought. And hey, those pictures looked pretty good!
Square certainly seems confident in the quality of its pieces, too – in fact, the official MSRP for Fran in the United States is $120. One hundred and twenty U.S. dollars! That is no chump change, no siree. Of course, I ordered her from Japan at a discount, because I at least attempt to be somewhat frugal with my stupid nerd stuff. I can’t say there wasn’t some hesitation with my preorder… but it’s Fran, and Fran is so rarely recognized, even by her own creators! I waited eagerly for her to grace my doorstep.
Then she arrived. And now I am here to warn you, dear readers: Don’t believe Square-Enix’s lies.
It’s usually the games you love – or the games that are really, really bad – that are the easiest to write about. When you’re singing praise, the words seem to flow effortlessly from your pen – and the same goes for when you’re telling everyone about a phenomenal piece of hot garbage.
But Pocket Card Jockey for the 3DS? Hoo boy. I mean, how do you even begin to sell this concept of horse-racing sim solitaire to people? That sounds like the most aggressively boring thing on the planet. In actuality, though, it’s an amazingly complex and deep game! …with a huge mess of intertwining game systems that sounds like complete gibberish if you try to describe them rather than showing them.
But by god, I’m gonna try. Because you know what? Pocket Card Jockey is already one of the best games released in 2016. No horsin’ around.
The world of competitive gaming has existed for ages, yet it’s only recently that it’s become big business globally under the nebulous banner of “eSports.” eSports is very quickly turning into a huge moneymaker, but it’s also a field that’s going through some serious growing pains: bad contracts for players, shady team managers and sponsors, cheating and rigged game scandals… basically, all of the problems that plague more physical sports, but with additional internet drama attached due to the online-connected nature of many of these titles (and the online presence of the players and companies).
But what happens when the game itself is the subject of scrutiny?
Japan doesn’t have quite the reputation for being an eSports hub as other Asian countries do, but the field is definitely growing: numerous local teams have been formed, an eSports square has opened in Akihabara, League of Legends has been making a Japanese push, Daigo Umehara is a bestselling author… and that’s just a handful of examples. Longtime competitive gamers are seeing a lucrative market, which has some of them are saying “Hey, why can’t my competitive game be eSports, too?”
Such is the case of competitive Puyo Puyo. Much like the Smash Bros. series, Puyo has gone through numerous iterations, but a subset of the most die-hard players swear by one particular installment: Puyo Puyo Tsu, the second game in the series. Among other things, Tsu introduced the “offset” rule that allows players to counter each others’ garbage drops by assembling combos of their own. Versus matches of high-level Puyo Tsu are mesmerizing to watch as a result:
Sega, however, is more keen on promoting their current version of Puyo than Tsu, leaving competitive players feeling a bit left out – there’s not really a good way to play Puyo Tsu online, much less any sort of streamlining to aid competitive play. That’s where Magical Stone comes in. Basically, it’s a puzzle game that’s ~heavily inspired~ by Puyo Tsu, only with a few additions to make the game more eSports-friendly. In fact, there’s already an eSports team for the game with a few top Puyo players onboard!
…Or, there was, anyway. See, things got… complicated. Friend of the site Gosokkyu alerted me to ongoing drama surrounding Magical Stone via Twitter, and having a passing interest in the Japanese competitive puzzle game scene, I wanted to dig into things a bit more. So, I invited him here to share his knowledge of just what went down with this game — while the controversies have garnered some press on the Japanese side of things, Western eSports coverage completely overlooked Magical Stone. And that’s a shame, because this is an example of what can go wrong when you try and elevate your game to the big leagues — and both players and developers could stand to learn from it.
Jeez, do you know how long I’ve wanted to do a proper figure review on this site? I’ve done plenty of reports on interesting gaming stuff coming from the Wonder Festivals, but I haven’t really sat down to review a complete product yet. The main reason is that my photography setup isn’t particularly ideal: I don’t have a mini-booth or anything for shooting pictures in, and my best camera is my iPhone 6S. For reviews like these, photography is a pretty crucial element.
But, eventually, I felt like I just had to suck it up and make do with what I had on hand. After all, pictures might be worth a thousand words, but I could also write thousands more words to go with them if I had to!
Of course, then I had to choose a subject. There were two figures I really wanted to talk about, one smaller and fairly inexpensive and another that was positioned as a more high-end product. I figured we should start with the smaller one first — not only did it turn out to be the better piece overall, it’s also one of Nintendo’s most beloved characters, with a new game due out just a few months from now.
So hey, I just wrote an anime review about Osomatsu-san, the recent reboot of a classic gag manga/anime that was a massive hit overseas. Remember how I mentioned that there were two Osomatsu-kun anime series before it, one from 1966 and another from 1988? Well, as you might already know, 1988 was the launch year of the Sega Megadrive in Japan. The console launched in October of that year with Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade, impressive renditions of popular arcade titles, while a very faithful port of Juuouki/Altered Beast followed soon after in November. But here’s a factoid for you: the fourth-ever Megadrive game, released a little under two months after the console’s debut, was a licensed game based on Osomatsu-kun.
Titled Osomatsu-kun: Hachamecha Gekijou (“Nonsense Theatre”), the game features a bunch of familiar series characters: the Matsuno brothers, Totoko, Chibita, Iyami, Hatabou, and so on – in new and bizarre roles in a strange-as-hell series of fantasy settings.
It’s also an astounding pile of garbage. And I played all of it.
The irony of anime being easier to legally enjoy than ever before, thanks to online streaming and simulcasts, is that I’m actually watching less anime than I did when I was younger. I’m not sure why, either. Maybe it’s because the flood of new series that comes out with each season is overwhelming. Or maybe it’s because I’m an old fart who prefers the general look and stylings of anime from the 80s and early 90s. Or hell, it could just be that the list of hundreds upon hundreds of games I want to examine is higher priority. As a result, there’s a lot of stuff I want to watch, and fully intend to watch… someday. Mostly stuff folks online have given high praises, like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Ore Monogatari, Tatami Galaxy, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, and a whole shitload of Gintama. (And maybe some Ushio and Tora too, y’know, to satiate my love of out-of-left-field throwbacks.)
My viewing habits have changed, too: rather than buying DVDs volume by volume as I did in the early aughts, I prefer to binge-watch batches of stuff when the time arises. I make a few exceptions: I eagerly ate up SeHa Girls when it came out, and I’m watching the adaptation of Jojo part 4 weekly. Generally, though, I like my anime in meaty chunks — which is how I opted to view the subject of today’s article. I watched most of the first half of Osomatsu-san before I left for my Japan trip, and blazed through the rest of it last weekend in-between some writing, which was probably the ideal way to consume this show: Once you get a taste of the Matsuno brothers, you want another hit of it as soon as possible.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi was, at one point, known as a wunderkind for making great arcade racing games (and later Saturn ports of said racing games) before transitioning into a developer at the forefront of the intersection between music and games with titles like Space Channel 5, Lumines, and Rez. These days, he’s got a new company – Enhance Games – and is currently working on Rez Infinite, a re-imagining of perhaps his most beloved title for the PlayStation VR platform.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Mizuguchi at this year’s Game Developers Conference, not long after he gave his postmortem presentation on the production of Rez. Without further ado, let’s chat with Tetsuya Mizuguchi!