Friday, October 17, 2014

Japan's Monster Hunter honeymoon may be over


I've monitored (and participated in) Japan's love affair with Monster Hunter for most of the franchise's lifespan. From the series's ubiquitous handheld presence on Tokyo commuter trains, I've been conditioned to assume that nothing could break the spell that the "hunting action" phenomenon has woven over Japan's gaming public.

But history has taught us that, if anything is capable of souring gamers' opinions of Capcom, it's Capcom. More cynical fans of franchises like Street Fighter and Biohazard / Resident Evil have accused the publisher of squeezing money out of its customers by releasing streams of paid DLC and updating popular titles piecemeal, rather than putting an earnest effort into creating new games. Of course, Capcom isn't the only game company that does this, but its recent treatment of Street Fighter IV has been a particularly sore subject with some fans.

Now the public has turned a critical eye on Monster Hunter 4G, which came out last weekend (and which many are calling a small update to Monster Hunter 4, albeit for a ¥5800 ($54.45 US) price tag. Customer reviews on Amazon.co.jp have been brutal so far:


As of Friday afternoon (Japan time), the game's customer review average is only about 2.38 stars out of 5 (after 428 reviews, more than a third of which garnered a score of 1 out of 5 stars). This is in direct contrast to the previous 3DS title in the series, Monster Hunter 4, whose ratings bar graph looks like 4G's bar graph inverted.

Players cite a number of reasons for being dissatisfied, but a recurring theme in the reviews is the overblown difficulty level. Capcom often allows gamers to port player data from one MonHan game to the next, so that seasoned players don't have to feel like they're always starting over. But in order to challenge these players, the game apparently features quarry described by reviewers as too fast, too strong and cheap. Quests that in previous iterations were described as "challenging" have now become stressful, particularly when playing solo.

Many customers also express dissatisfaction with the amount of content. There is a consensus that the amount of value offered by MH4G deserves a price tag of about ¥1500, not ¥5800, and should have been marketed as a DLC expansion to MH4.

I'd offer my opinion but I'm not a professional game critic and the Amazon reviews have scared me enough to stop me spending my money on the game. And yes, Famitsu loved MH4G (giving it straight 9's in their Cross Review system for a total of 36 out of 40), but I haven't valued Famitsu's opinion for years, nor should anyone.

I repeat, Famitsu is garbage.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Part 4

Edward engages in "Tomb Raider shit" and a pool party. Meanwhile at Abstergo, my boss might be a demon.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Soundtrack September: Super Mario Bros. 3

Game: Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)
Platform: NES/Famicom
Composers: Kondo Koji

Previously honored in Soundtrack September for his later work on A Link to the Past, Kondo Koji was also the composer behind the game widely regarded as the greatest Super Mario title of all. Here, Kondo used the tried-and-true 8-bit trick of using PCM drum samples to add power and character -- not only for kicks and snares, but also rim shots, wood blocks, timbales and timpani. His soundtrack gives each of the game's eight map screens a unique theme, in a variety of styles including reggae, disco and bossa nova. The soundtrack during gameplay is memorable as well, now cemented in most NES-era gamers' minds as a classic. (The first time I heard this game's funky take on the old Underworld music from Super Mario Bros., I was pretty impressed.)

I'm not sure why, but most of the music in this game is in the same key (C major). Kondo wasn't a trained musician, so it's possible he wrote predominantly in this key due to it being his "comfort zone" on the piano.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Soundtrack September: Super Metroid

Game: Super Metroid (1994)
Platform: SNES
Composers: Yamamoto Kenji, Hamano Minako

Regarded by many as the pinnacle of storytelling in the Metroid series, Super Metroid does a better job than its NES and Gameboy predecessors of using music to depict the extraterrestrial loneliness associated with being the only human on the entire planet. While "Hip" Tanaka's heroic theme for Samus and Satie-esque Norfair waltz were iconic on their own, Super Metroid used the sound processing power of the SNES to deliver healthy a dose of atmosphere to every area in the game.

Playing through this game, while (in my memory) not as daunting a task as navigating the original, was a memorable experience, thanks in large part to the soundtrack. From the creepy opening sequence, to the horrific death throes of Crocomire, to the cathartic final battle in which the all-growed-up "baby" Metroid joins forces with you against the Mother Brain, this game saw the series taken to new cinematic levels, riding on a flying carpet of sound.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Soundtrack September: Double Dragon Neon

Game: Double Dragon Neon (2012)
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Composers: Jake Kaufman

If Guilty Gear is a fighting game-shaped love letter to 80s glam metal, Double Dragon Neon is a fist-shaped valentine to the decade in its entirety. The self-aware reboot of the 1987 beat-em-up (which is often called the "grandfather of beat-em-ups," despite having been preceded by Renegade) is on a mission to grab the hearts of all 80s kids. Air guitar, high fives and the aforementioned neon contribute to the overpowering aura of trickle-down radicality that permeates Neon's every stage.

The music does more than its fair share. Kaufman has succeeded in not only doing justice to a few tunes from the original, but also in rejuvenating the franchise with music so 80s sounding, it sounds like Gorbachev's aerobics tape. It sounds like Jesse "The Body" Ventura took music lessons from Oliver North. It sounds like...Manuel Noriega...doing something? I don't know. I'll stop.

Highlights include "Neon Jungle" (third video below), which has more than enough cowbell, and "Pick Yourself Up and Dance" (fourth video below), whose hyperactive keyboards bring to mind Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder.