Friday, February 20, 2009

Four PSP Games I Really Hope Don't Suck

Over the past couple of years I've been holding the PlayStation Portable to a standard which, unfortunately, it usually doesn't reach. Sony's powerful little bundle of portable fun, as I have said on several occasions, would be the perfect vehicle for countless titles (especially fighting and puzzle games) which, for what ever reason, never make it onto the PSP roster. But even in the face of repeated disappointment, I won't lose hope. This spring will see a handful of new PSP titles that currently have me crossing my fingers, knocking on wood and throwing salt over my shoulder in hopes that they just don't suck too bad.

Title: Shin Sangokumusô: Multi Raid
Scheduled release: Feb. 26, 2009

Kôei, developers of about a thousand nearly identical action games set in Feudal China, will release what I hope will be a refreshing, new addition to the Musô family next week. This new title, sporting a healthy roster of 36 playable characters and placing a new emphasis on multiplayer gameplay, had better not suck because I'm probably going to buy it. (Hmmm, I should probably download the demo before I go shelling out any money.)

FUN FACT! The game's title was originally intended to be Shin Sangokumusô: Multi Revolution. Thank goodness Kôei realized this title was ridiculous and took the noble step of reducing its length by six whole letters. I'm hoping against hope that this game's sequel bears the title Shin Sangogkumusô: Panty Raid and involves stealing undergarments from Zhen Luo.

Title: Fate/unlimited codes PORTABLE
Scheduled release: June 2009

This is a 3D fighting game with chaotic capitalization going on in its title. To be honest, I haven't allowed myself to get acquainted with Capcom's Fate franchise, but that's irrelevant. It's a fighting game. It has cute girls in it. It has more depth than the Bleach: Heat the Soul series. I WANT IT. And as such, I want it not to suck.

Title: Makai Senki Disgaea 2 Portable
Scheduled release: March 26, 2009

I spent a lot of time playing the PSP version of the first Disgaea game. If you can get past the foolishness this series tends to pass off as "humor," it's a solid turn-based strategy RPG with strong character design and astonishing depth. The successful release of Disgaea on PSP proves that this portable is a viable vehicle for a number of PS2-native titles.

Title: Sunday vs. Magazine: Taisen Action
Scheduled release: March 2009

Konami takes a cue from the highly successful Jump comic-based DS fighting franchise and offers this cel-shaded orgy of comic character fisticuffs. This fighting game combines licenses based on manga periodicals Shûkan Shônen Sunday and Shûkan Shônen Magazine. Expect characters from titles like Hajime no Ippo, Negima and InuYasha to come and represent.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

...But I'm Also Fair and Balanced

Now that my initial Street Fighte IV mania has cooled a bit, I see that my Thursday night post doesn't mention any of what I don't like about the game. So here's a quick list:

  • As cool as it is to be able to set the language of each character's voice (during both fights and cutscenes), the English voices are consistently bad.
  • I still feel like there aren't enough moves for each character, especially supers.
  • Nitpicky, but when Zangief does his big spinning piledriver to finish a fight, the victim's humorously exaggerated expression of agony usually isn't visible at the K.O. moment. This wasn't so in the arcade version.
  • The Xbox 360 controller makes it pretty much impossible to do Guile's ultra combo, and there's no way I'm buying one of those monstrous arcade sticks
  • Some of the in-game move lists are incomplete and/or inaccurate.
  • The title theme song is annoying, although I guess I can forgive that because it's performed by well-meaning J-pop giants EXILE (of "Choo-Choo Train" fame).
  • The animated scenes that bookend each character's story mode are some of the worst anime I've seen since Samurai Shodown: The Motion Picture.
  • No final boss should ever be called Seth, unless he's hell-bent on making this the best Chrismukkah ever.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I'm the Strongest Blogger in the World!

A vast conspiracy to empty my wallet is afoot. The perpetrators are none other than the developers and publishers of all these "must have" video games that keep coming out. They got their foot in the door with Gears of War 2. They got their hand in my pocket with Call of Duty: World At War. They made a gutsy grab for my money with Fable 2. Now, adding insult to bankruptcy, the video game industry hits me with its very own 20-hit ultra combo finish.

Street Fighter IV was released today for Japanese Xbox 360 consoles.

When I first played the arcade version last summer, I thought it was all right, but just all right. It had nice character animation, tight controls and suitably high production value all around, but my honest first impression was that it was just a (mostly) cosmetic upgrade to the franchise. It didn't have enough playable characters, it didn't have enough moves, and where the hell was Cammy?

Little did I know that Capcom would eventually sweeten the deal for console owners by pouring a bunch more characters into the roster, adding a solid online infrastructure and giving players plenty of fun things to unlock. Now I think it's safe to call SF4 one of the best fighting titles the Xbox 360 has overall. And I'm not just saying that because I can't afford to buy any others at this point.

Some features I found pleasantly surprising in the console version of the game include:

  • The ability to set each character's voice to either English or Japanese
  • An option to allow online opponents to "buy in" while you play against the CPU in Arcade Mode
  • Strong English localization (especially in the post-fight screens, which are genuinely funny)
  • The fact that my Blanka skills of yesteryear somehow still prove relevant against today's competition

I'm going to be playing this one an awful lot, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Comments Experiment

I'm going to experiment for a few weeks with allowing anonymous comments from unregistered users. The idea is to get a better picture of how many regular readers I have. If my blog becomes a swamp of spam ads for Chinese herbal fertility medicine as a result, I'll go back to registered users only.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Neko Cafe

From the country that brought you maid cafes (coffee shops where nerds go to be spoon-fed hayashi rice by staff dressed as maids) and host clubs (overpriced bars where lonely women go to be fawned over by guys with spiky hair and eye makeup) comes a new breed of uniquely Japanese business innovation: The neko cafe.

Neko is Japanese for "cat," and a cat cafe is just what it sounds like: A place where customers can drink tea or coffee while playing with the cats that "work" there. These businesses have begun to spring up in numerous locations in Japan, a country where most people are prohibited by their landlords from owning pets. One such neko cafe, called Coccolare, recently opened in Shimokitazawa, close to where we live. Yesterday, Fiance and I made it our duty to investigate the neko cafe and subsequently BLOW THE LID OFF it.

As I expected, the interior of a neko cafe turned out to be little more than an oversized "living room" full of chairs, sofas and scratching posts. Customers pay by the hour (¥1300 yen a piece, one drink included, in our case) to lounge around in this room and enjoy the company of about twenty full-grown cats. A laminated card at each table shows a "rogues' gallery" of their kitties, giving each cat's name, age, breed and a brief description of its personality. Off to the side sits a rack full of cat toys. There are bookshelves full of cat-related literature, and a screen on which looped video images of cats being aw, so cuuute! are projected non-stop.

My main concern after first hearing about neko cafes was that having a constant stream of strangers coming in all the time would be very stressful for the animals. Contrary to my expectations, however, the cats all appeared very relaxed and -- in true feline fashion -- indifferent to the presence of the customer. Not that they were antisocial...they just didn't seem to pay much attention to us for the most part. One or two customers even had cats jump up on their laps. And, not surprisingly, at least half of the cats were asleep for the entire hour we spent there.

This "wiener cat" was the newest addition to Coccolare's staff

A gigantic tabby that looked like a lion

When a cat falls asleep in a Japanese earthenware pot, it's called neko-nabe