December 31, 2013

RushJet1 Puts One Last Album "Out There" for 2013

RushJet1 - Out There

In the mood to cap off the year with some retro NES bleeps and bloops? Chiptune artist extraordinaire RushJet1, known for tons of quality Mega Man re-imaginings as well as original works like Forgotten Music, has just the thing. His latest, Out There, just released today! Here's the concept, from the album's Bandcamp page:

Ever wondered what it's like in outer space? Ever wondered whether there's life on other planets out there? In RushJet1's second 8bitpeoples release, humans venture into space to find out and begin colonizing other planets. All is not well, though, as war ensues over control of a newly-found abandoned alien planet with advanced technology. What will the fate of the human race be? Recorded straight from the NES, these tunes were specifically written with the hardware in mind.

Head on over to RushJet1's album page before the remaining grains of 2013 slip through your fingers! Or, if you can't make it until next year, no problem -- the music is all available to listen to online for free, or download at any price you deem fair.

Sword Art Online II Teaser Takes Aim at 2014

Sword Art Online II

Happy New Year!!  Hope everyone's having a fun (and safe) night as we count down the final moments til 2014. Is it just me, or does the number 2014 suddenly sound very future-y? We've still got a while to go before our video games start running on Sword Art Online's virtual-reality Nerve Gear, though. Until then, we'll have to remain content with speculative fiction. Good thing Aniplex just put out a teaser trailer for Sword Art Online II!

Seems like the show will take a dramatic departure from the high fantasy setting of the games featured in the previous season. Personally, I much preferred the eponymous game environment that made up the first chunk of the series, as opposed to Alfheim Online in the second.

It will be interesting to see where this third arc takes the story. If it follows the light novel series, we're heading into the highly competitive Gun Gale Online. According to Wikipedia, "It is a virtual game world with a main focus on guns, although melee weapons like lightsabers and knives also exist. From all the games it is the most competitive one as the money earned there can be exchanged for currency used in the real world, drawing high-tier professional players to make a living from it."

The bullets start flying in 2014.

December 30, 2013

Project Nimbus Preparing For Takeoff

Project Nimbus

I have to admit, if I were to guess where the next great anime-inspired, mecha sci-fi shooter title was coming from, Thailand might not have been first on my list. However, indie developer GameCrafterTeam has blown that expectation out of the sky with a very impressive-looking entry called Project Nimbus. This free-flying aerial combat game will take players soaring through the clouds above the ruins of a war-wracked planet, piloting robotic suits called BattleFrames in intense mid-air dogfights.

Though the game has come a long way since development began in December of 2012, and it's already looking incredibly polished, the team has put up a Kickstarter campaign in an effort to make sure the end product gets the refinements it deserves. As of this writing, they're over halfway to reaching their £6000 goal (that's roughly $10k in Canadian dollars) and hopefully the latest trailer will encourage enough backers to chip in the remaining amount.

Project Nimbus wears its anime influences on its sleeve, without going overboard with it. The BattleFrame units have that distinctive, larger-than-life flair that mecha fans will appreciate, while not quite approaching the zany amount of impracticality one might see in a Gundam series or Xenogears. The designs range from mass-produced to exotic, while graphical concerns like colour and lighting are highly realistic and gorgeous. Weapons seem to stick to relatively sensible choices like machine guns, homing missiles and drones. I didn't see any robots wielding laser swords, though the the giant Patriot boss at the end of the first chapter does sport an ostentatious wingspan:

There will be a lofty amount of different BattleFrame designs and models in the game, ranging in size and weapon loadouts. One of the really neat aspects of Nimbus is that each unit eventually becomes unlocked for your characters by completing missions, ensuring a lot of replayability and unique challenges for repeated runs.

Project Nimbus

What has me intrigued, aside from the combat, is the promise of a good story. The population is split into three warring factions, each vying for supremacy of the embattled world. Throughout the plot, players will assume the role of characters on different sides of the conflict, aiming to reestablish peace in spite of the avarice of humanity. This "heroes on both sides" concept is one of my favourite aspects of mecha anime, and it's in design choices like this that I see Project Nimbus becoming a worthy tribute to the genre. Another good thing is that the game isn't simply a vehicle for competitive multiplayer, like so many shooters these days. GameCrafterTeam is focusing strictly on a quality single-player campaign, with possible multiplayer modes being considered afterward.

The game is already green-lit for release on Steam, though no solid date is set as of yet. Still, English voice actors are being hired and the devs seem to really have a clear vision, so I expect progress to go smoothly provided they have the funding. If you're a fan of sci-fi mecha anime, or looking for a fast-paced action experience, head over to their site and take a look at what they're working on.

Project Nimbus (Development Progress Blog)

Project Nimbus Kickstarter

December 29, 2013

Random Encounters: Top o' the Year to Ya!

For many, we've reached not only the end of 2013 but a transitional phase from one gaming generation to another. The term "generation," though, is a word that is quickly losing its meaning. It really only refers to an arbitrarily-defined, vague time period in which certain game consoles are thought to compete with one another in the same context. Increasingly, we're seeing systems like Nintendo's Wii or DS overlapping different gens, and the smartphone and PC space seem to hold no regard for the definition whatsoever. Outside of video games, the term is certainly meaningless -- are there "generations" of toasters or refrigerators? What "gen" of books are we on, now? It makes me wonder if this is one of the last traditional gaming "generations" we will see.

Still, there's no harm in grouping games together while it still makes sense to do so, for the purposes of reflection. We'll start off today's round-up of stories from around the web with a look at some hidden gems that didn't perhaps didn't get their fair 15 minutes of fame (or at least not their due sales).

The 100 Most Overlooked Games of the Generation

GamesRadar's piece had me agreeing with a lot of their choices, especially in Valkyria Chronicles, Folklore, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Retro Game Challenge, and Lost Odyssey. Some others I really can't speak to, though I think puzzle-platformer Offspring Fling should have been on the list. And where's Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning? It did make headlines quite a bit, but mainly for its publisher's infamous financial scandals and not so much for being a masterfully-crafted action RPG. And how about indie fan game Rokko Chan? She really needs some more recognition!

The 30 Best Comics of 2013

I really need to get over to Dorkly more often -- their animated shorts always crack me up, and their comics are usually a cut above, too. They've compiled their choice of the 30 best comics of the year (I've linked to the top 10).

Is 11,000 Games Enough?

The Huffington Post reports on Buffalo, NY's Michael Thomasson, who made the Guinness Book of World Records for owning the largest collection of video games in the world. And I thought my Steam backlog was getting up there!

Finally, Chess 2: The Sequel!

Wired GameLife brings us the story on David Sirlin, who decided it was high time for the game of Chess to get a much-needed update. His new set of rules for Chess 2: The Sequel are designed for use with a standard Chess set, but promise to minimize over-reliance on familiar move sequences and minimize draws while promoting a more organic approach to strategy. Apparently, players may choose from any of six different army make-ups, rather than the standard one everyone's been playing with for centuries.

December 28, 2013

This is Breath of Fire 6. Apparently.

I was never a hardcore superfan of Breath of Fire, but I did play around a bit with Capcom's JRPG series over the years, and I enjoyed many aspects of it. It had some novel character ideas and fun mechanics I could appreciate, but nothing that truly hooked me for an extended period. Still, even I am a little offended by the announcement of Breath of Fire 6, which at this point is looking more and more like a superficial attempt to latch a familiar brand name onto an unnecessarily "social" browser/mobile product. Where is the little blue-haired guy named Ryu, who turns into a dragon?

Some recent media has popped up on Capcom's official Japanese page for the game, and I shared my early assessment of it over on Feel free to take in a few shots of the screens and artwork, and see what I had to say.

Breath of Fire 6 takes a sharp departure from tradition (

December 19, 2013

Random Encounters: Recent Highlights in Gaming News

In case you didn't catch the buzz the first time around, here are a few highlights from the gaming news of the past few days:

George Takei guest stars on Co-Optitude

Whether you still think of him as Sulu, or simply the de facto king of the internet, George Takei has certainly made a name for himself with the youngsters. He takes his open-minded class and sense of humour over to Geek & Sundry's gaming series Co-Optitude for a round of Mario Party 4 with Felicia Day. He may be a little inexperienced at the game, but damned if he isn't a good sport.

Earthbound's Onett rendered in stunning 3D

When I first saw 3D designer Christopher Behr's incredible rendering of the town of Onett from the SNES game Earthbound, I assumed I was looking at an actual miniature model town he'd crafted in real life. It's so toy-like, and the lighting is so well done -- it's as if one could reach in a pick up these cute, little figures. Boy oh boy, do I even dare imagine what it might be like to see these scenes animated, or even play a version of the game with graphics like these?

New Japanese Zelda ad is just like old Japanese Zelda ad

As Kotaku's Jason Schreier points out, there is a suspicious familiarity to a Japanese advertisement for 3DS title The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. And that familiarity is... rap! As the game is a sequel of sorts to the SNES's  A Link to the Past, I guess Nintendo thought it would be fun to reference that game's original television commercial as well. I'm glad they did, because that commercial is awesome. I wish more game ads had costumes and monsters and choreographed dancing...

It finally happened: Zelda and Dynasty Warriors had a baby

No, it's not April 1st. This is real. Dynasty Warriors developer Tecmo Koei is teaming up with Nintendo to produce what looks to be a very combat-heavy new concept for everyone's favourite green tunic-wearing hero. Not the worst idea in the world, but I sure found it unexpected. At least he doesn't appear to be fighting in ancient China, and after Solid Snake appeared in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, anything goes!

NES Remix is suddenly a thing

Yesterday, Nintendo announced the existence of a new game for the Wii U eShop. They also announced that it is totally out, right now. NES Remix is a mishmash of bite-sized challenges that present segments of gameplay from several classic NES games, altered with novel quirks or specialized goals.

December 18, 2013

Dragon's Crown Diary #2

This is the second installment of my Dragon's Crown Diary. Click here for the first installment.

So, perhaps one of the most noticeable things about this game, right off the bat, is the ridiculous character proportions. I get it, this is a highly fantastical world rendered through deliberately larger-than-life caricature -- and it wouldn't be the first video game to star anatomically-questionable figures. It's just hard not to be a little embarrassed at having this game running whilst female friends are in the room, and explaining to them: "Yes, this is the game I am into now." After all, here are a couple of the images that flash at you in the first minutes:

Yeah, that happened.

I mean, it's kind of cool that the axe-wielding Amazon is actually built solid, but was it absolutely necessary to give her a scalemail bikini? I can buy the Sorceress as the sultry, bewitching type, but why does each of her breasts have to be literally the size of her own head? It's as if the usual trope of "scantily clad, abnormally large rack" wasn't quite enough for them -- they had to crank that dial to eleven!! Again, I know this is not a realistic game, and one could argue that the proportions of the male Fighter are equally ridiculous, but not in the same way. His monumental shoulders and titanic suit of armor make him look menacing, and certainly don't warrant him a NSFW warning the way most of the females in the game might. Anyhow, I don't mean to dwell on this topic (TotalBiscuit speaks for about 25 minutes on this topic, and still barely manages to offer a 101 crash course on the issue). Aside from some questionable designs, that's really not what the game is about. It's just something that a new player simply cannot ignore, and it colours one's first experiences of the game significantly.

But enough of that, let's get to the actual game!

It's actually a lot of fun, though naturally the learning curve and story progress can be artificially drawn out if you're with a few friends and you're all trying to learn your characters amidst all the four-player, screen-sharing pandemonium. As with many multiplayer co-op games, I sometimes find it hard to keep track of where my character is on the screen. Is it just me? At least we don't all look like nearly-identical, green, mutant turtles, so that helps.

In some ways, it feels a lot like being a kid again and going head-to-head with waves of baddies. Hurried lines like "No, don't get that food, you don't need it!" buzz about the room. Plenty of weapons, armor, and magical accessories drop from chests, the rank and quality of which we surmise might have been dependent on the quality of our performance in some way, though perhaps not. Some aspects of the game remain a mystery in the beginning, like why there are runes carved into the wall in some places, or which skills are the best investments, though this becomes revealed in due time. Dragon's Crown isn't punishingly difficult from the start, though it does require your attention, and we did have a few desperate scrapes when allies went down during boss encounters.

One thing which I find quite enjoyable, though I probably shouldn't, is waving a little pointing hand around the field using the right stick. Hovering over several and various spots in the environment reveals hidden gold and treasures, which both act as currency in town and count toward your final "score" (experience points) at the end of the stage. You also use the pointer to direct Rannie, a non-combat NPC companion thief, to unlock doors and chests for you by clicking L1. You can also hit L1 on certain key spots to detect passageways to secret chambers, though it's up to you to judge where those might be. This can add an exciting element of discovery to the proceedings, though I would imagine it can be tedious upon repeated excursions into the same dungeons (and probably doesn't sound all that great via text). The degree to which one obsesses over these details is largely optional. You're rewarded for doing it, but not punished for cutting corners when you're feeling impatient.

Balancing equipment drops across a party can be interesting, as no character can equip everything. Each class has their own specific weapons, but armor and accessories are often shared between a couple of characters (for example, boots may be worn by the Elf or Amazon, while gauntlets are for the Fighter and Dwarf). Deciding who could benefit the most from an upgrade, and taking into account defensive and offensive bonuses on gear, promotes constructive teamwork.

Gaining levels accrues skill points, which can be spent on purchasing and upgrading various abilities from any of two pools: a class-specific category, and a common set of skills available to all. As an Elf, I had a number of good options including a powerful charge shot for my bow, increased quiver capacity, a strength upgrade for my melée kicks dependent on the defense rating of my boots, a whirlwind of elemental magic, and a vial of poison which I could equip as a "skill item" to enhance my arrow and dagger attacks with additional periodic damage. New skills, and higher tiers of existing ones, are accessible at higher experience levels.

As for the common skills, there are more generalized features such as health boosts, higher replenishment rates from food, coins counting toward the experience "score" at the stage's completion, and the like. They are less specialized, but very useful for any play style. I suspect many of the survival-based traits really come in handy if playing solo.

Of course, there's more to tell than what I've covered so far, and more depth and attention to detail than what first appears on the surface. Next time, I'll share some of my solo play experiences and expound on more features that become unlocked with further progress.

December 17, 2013

Dragon's Crown Diary #1: A Prelude of Punches

I've always had a penchant for side-scrolling brawlers, perhaps more than anyone ought to. Having grown up in the heyday of the genre, a younger me was content with the simple "walk right and punch badguys" formula of so many games like Double Dragon, Final Fight, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles titles. Those games are still fun to pick up every now and then, but even when they were fresh there was a part of me that would have appreciated more spice.

Sure, River City Ransom on NES is the one infamous exception, for introducing character growth and shops run by friendly NPCs. And then there's my guilty pleasure, Dragon View for SNES, which is for all intents and purposes a (kind of bland) RPG that just happens to stage its dungeons and battles within "brawler" confines. Aside from those, almost all of these beat-'em-ups seemed a little too comfortable with the conceit that monotonous, repetitive fighting was a perfectly satisfactory thing to build a genre around. That could be part of the reason these games gradually became much more rare, as other types of genres became more complex. Or, it could be that the addition of deeper combat and expanded gameplay simply caused the genre to disperse and be subsumed by the likes of Diablo, Yakuza, Onimusha, and other fashions of action RPG.

Lately, there has been a bit of a niche resurgence of interest in side-scrolling brawlers, thanks largely to digital rereleases of classics and the rise of indie "retro" gaming in general. Castle Crashers was at the forefront of the movement for the genre, offering accessible hack-and-slash action packaged in zany humour. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was essentially a love letter to River City Ransom, and like Crashers it offered the chance to earn upgrades to character stats, gear, and skills. One of the key factors that unites the genre is the reliance on 2D visuals, an art which Vanillaware and Atlus have demonstrably mastered in their recent offering Dragon's Crown.

Like its spiritual ancestors, Dragon's Crown is a 2D, side-scrolling beat-'em-up. Up to four players can choose any of six character classes to take into battle against hordes of enemies in a chaotic arcade-style melée, with each dungeon usually culminating with a huge boss monster. Enemies, crates and treasure boxes hide gold coins and health-replenishing food. In that sense, at least, it plays similarly to the classic games that inspired it -- but of course, there are further complexities which put more meat on the bone and transform the experience into something more substantial.

From the outset, the six distinct character classes already offer a wide variety of play styles to choose from, and come with recommended difficulty curves. For example, the basic Fighter can both take and dish out a lot of damage and is described as an "easy" class to play, while the tricky sorceress is considered a support role for more experienced gamers. This is no mere matter of "walk right and punch badguys," either. There are elements of crowd control and tanking, item and equipment management, skill specializations to suit your preferred style, experience levels to gain, and tons of hidden secret passages and treasures. The result is a great game that finally succeeds in retaining the familiar feel of a side-scrolling brawler, while gradually piling on layers of depth that might be appropriate for a true action RPG.

When I first sat down to try out the game with some friends, I couldn't help but opt for the lithe and dextrous Elf. Some of her signature abilities include powerful, ranged archery attacks, poisonous venoms to apply to arrows and daggers for damage over time, and a short-range burst of elemental magic. Although she was labelled one of the most difficult character types, I wasn't about to let that stop me.

Accompanied by a beguiling sorceress, a towering amazon, and a hardy dwarf, I left the village tavern ready for a grand adventure. Let's go, little Elf! May your arrows fly swift and true!

December 9, 2013 News, Holiday Music!

Just thought I'd share, I have recently been hired to write for I'll be covering video game stories there, so please check it out!

My first story is about some albums of fun, game-themed holiday music that I think anyone can enjoy -- especially if you're partial to old-school 8-bit sounds. You can read the story right here, or click the individual album links below:

8-bit Christmas (Rush Coil)

8-Bit Jesus (Doctor Octoroc)

Wintertunes (Various Artists)

The 8bits of Christmas (The 8bitpeoples)

X'Mas Collections Music from Square Enix (Various Artists)