Author Archives: Jeremy Parish

Ever Oasis producer Koichi Ishii on building on (and standing apart from) Secret of Mana

The 3DS keeps chugging along despite the looming shadow of Nintendo Switch: The little handheld that wouldn’t say die. Nintendo’s latest release for the platform arrives tomorrow: Ever Oasis, an action RPG developed by Grezzo.

Grezzo has been one of Nintendo’s most faithful partners for the 3DS era, though their name doesn’t get as much play as an independent publisher like Level-5, Atlus, or Square Enix. However, chances are quite good you’ve played at least one of the studio’s collaborations with Nintendo, as they’ve had a hand in multiple 3DS Zelda games. Not only the remakes of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, but also the original work Tri Force Heroes.

Grezzo and Zelda has always struck me as a perfect creative love connection, given that Grezzo’s president is none other than Koichi Ishii. Formerly of Squaresoft and Square Enix, Ishii oversaw a variety of projects at his former studio. While many of those games are quite highly regarded — for example, Final Fantasy — Ishii is almost certainly best-known for being the director of the first few Seiken Densetsu/Mana games. Of all the action RPGs to bite Zelda‘s style, the early Mana titles always felt the most fully realized (even if they had a tendency to stumble beneath the weight of the naked creative and technical ambition Ishii’s teams invested into them). Combining action-oriented combat with role-playing mechanics like turn-based attack limitations and proper skill and experience systems, the Mana series eschewed Zelda’s puzzle-dungeon design in favor of a more systems-driven approach. And it was very good.

Ever Oasis sees Ishii stepping away from Zelda and looking back to his own creative roots. When I demoed Ever Oasis a couple of months ago, my first impression was that it felt like Ishii’s attempt to recapture some of the Mana series’ glory with a new adventure that draws heavily on those games’ mechanics and vibe. You’re out to restore life to a desert world with the help of a water spirit — nature’s power and its elemental avatars being a trademark theme of Mana — which you accomplish by action-driven combat with a pair of A.I. companions. After spending more time with the adventure, however, I realize that’s not an entirely fair view of the game. While those elements certainly play a large part in Ever Oasis, the overall flow of the game feels more like a world-building simulator combined with an action game. It’s not exactly ActRaiser, but certainly you’ll find a touch of that spirit here as you recruit villagers to help build your oasis town and win the affection of your citizens by performing various tasks for them (both mundane and heroic). While the game has some frustrating flaws — it’s ponderously slow to get going, and the interface feels bizarrely clunky coming from someone who has the Mana series’ brilliant ring menu concept in his c.v. — it merits a look for anyone interested in a game that toes the line between multiple genres.

But what creative debt does Ever Oasis truly owe to Mana? Ishii was kind enough to field some questions and shed a little light on how his new adventure game came to be.

Retronauts: Ever Oasis feels in many ways like an evolution of the concepts you helped establish in the Mana series. Given our focus on the history of games, I hope you’ll allow me to explore that line of questions for a bit. So, first, what can you tell about how Ever Oasis builds on your previous work as a creator?

Koichi Ishii: This world goes in a different direction than the past ones, but the building process was the same.

When looking back on my career, Final Fantasy inherits from its predecessor, whereas in the Mana series, we changed the world every time. We were striving to create a real-time RPG like: Command RPG <- Mana Series -> Action>. I guess it’s more of a “transformation” than an “evolution”. This time rather than focusing on the party strategies, we aimed for a party action battle that’s beginner-friendly by making it easy to switch between characters. We also wanted the players to feel how much the characters have matured throughout the course of this game.

R: What initially inspired you to begin designing action RPGs?

KI: We thought real-time combat would make the battles feel more realistic as well as convey the tension of the battle better than menu-based combat. We felt that the former is superior to the latter, so that’s why we started designing RPGs with real-time combat. Real-time combat also offers more variety with each encounter, and introduces new types of strategies, like character positioning.

R: Unlike most action RPGs of the 8- and 16-bit eras, yours felt more like true RPGs, with multi-character parties and experience/leveling mechanics. What inspired you to explore that specific interpretation of the genre?

KI: As much I love a perfect hero with no flaws, I feel that weaknesses and flaws make the character seem more human and make it easier for players to relate to the character. When you try to think of ways to make up for such shortcomings, you realize how amazing it is to have friends on your side. Working together and sharing the same goals and beliefs with others is difficult to do in rea life. You can’t maintain a good relationship without having compassion for others.

In a RPG, each character has a role and together they overcome challenges by utilizing each character’s skill. We’ve always wanted to make the character’s feelings easily imaginable to the player even if it’s not being obviously portrayed. In the original Final Fantasy, we had the characters fall down to their knees when their HP got low. We hoped that action would convey that the character wants to save his friends. We think battles and relationships amongst the characters will vary depending on what characters are selected to form the party.

R: While Grezzo has worked on several action RPGs, those have been Zelda games created in partnership with Nintendo. In your opinion, what sets Ever Oasis apart from your previous projects with Nintendo?

KI: What’s unique about this game is that oasis management and the adventure cycle which run on opposing systems are firmly tied in with the world. It also creatively brings together Nintendo’s quality and Square’s flavor.

We hope the audience can find how we utilized our experience working on Zelda and also feel that this is definitely my work based on what I’ve done in past titles.

R: When the Mana series debuted, it was unusual to see A.I. companion characters in games like this. What kind of challenges have you had to overcome through the years as you created increasingly sophisticated computer-controlled ally characters?

KI: A.I. has evolved dramatically in recent games. In order to improve the precision of A.I., a fast hardware processing speed is required. For the Mana series, we had to be creative with the bare minimum, but it’s always hard to determine if each character is fulfilling their role. Ever Oasis centers on the characters you control. We try to keep it balanced, so players don’t feel stressed from switching characters around.

R: Did you consider incorporating a multiplayer element? 

KI: We did like the idea of a multiplayer element, but first and foremost, we wanted to focus on determining the basic game cycle and bringing the play experience to life. A multiplayer element was incorporated into Secret of Mana, but this was under the assumption that friends, siblings and family members would be playing together. The time you have to play with family and friends as a child isn’t a large chunk of time. That “time” turns into precious memories. So, that’s why we incorporated this feature. We would love to incorporate a multiplayer element if we ever got to make another game.

R: Ever Oasis strikes me as a heavily systems-based game: Day/night, questing, town-building and more. How do you make such complex design accessible to new players?

KI: The world within the game exists because of the relationships among various elements, and these elements also help bring the world to life. That’s how we’ve been seeing it since the original Final Fantasy. The planet is formed from the elements: Fire, earth, water and wind. Because of that, there are crystals, and the creatures and objects on the planet exhibit those characteristics. Thus, a correlation is established. By having all that go through the system, it turns into a game experience.

In Ever Oasis, the repeat of Interest -> Action -> Result will allow players to gradually experience the world and hopefully they’ll eventually feel that this is how it’s supposed to be.

R: It’s unusual to see this sort of open-world action game on a portable system like 3DS. What advantages and disadvantages have you encountered while working with this software/hardware combination?

KI: Rather than a general open-world concept, I think we felt more strongly about making it feel like you’re walking inside a diorama. By being able to see the world from your standpoint, you can even see the soil layers. We wanted the players to be able to have fun imagining how the terrain and structures were formed in the desert, so that’s why we made it like this.

R: What would you describe as your driving creative vision for Ever Oasis?

KI: Most likely because I have yet to find a convincing solution for creating a digital fantasy world. I was determined to make that kind of world back with Final Fantasy XI. First there is only the basic foundation of a world that the creator made. By having users enter this world, circulation begins and the economy starts running. Also, population density changes as various user purposes intertwine with one another.

I feel that my motivation is to “create an ever-changing world within the rules of the land.”

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Hide the children: It’s NES Works Gaiden #07

A few months ago, I received a patron request to create a video on a “controversial topic.” So I thought to myself, “Alright, I should do something on that sketchy corner of the NES rental section they used to have at Hastings.” I’d cover the Panesian trilogy, perhaps, and some other less blatantly objectionable material, like Menace Beach by Wisdom.

As I began sourcing ROM files for the episode — because there is no possible way I could afford to shell out the roughly $2500 it would cost to acquire those four games for a video that would stall out at 2500 views — I was surprised to discover that one of the critical pieces didn’t seem to exist online in any form. Menace Beach saw release in Japan under the name Miss Peach World courtesy of Hacker International (who also released the Panesian games in Japan, because it’s a small world after all)… but I couldn’t find that ROM anywhere. A few delicate inquiries confirmed that it’s never been publicly dumped or released — not for any respect of copyright or good taste, because you can find ROMs for plenty of other Hacker-published games (some of which contain content in much worse taste). I guess the game’s obscurity, rarity, and cost have prevented it from making its way online.

Then I recalled seeing a tweet by Retronauts ally and Video Game History Foundation cofounder Steve Lin in which he tweeted a photo of the game, complete in box, which he had picked up for a remarkably reasonable price during his last trip to Japan. So, thanks to Steve, this video project slowly evolved from being a roundup of smutty NES bootleg games into a piece laser-focused on a single weird variant of Menace Beach/Sunday Funday. I didn’t really discover any new information about the game, but I am 100% positive that I’ve created the only HD footage of the game that exists on the internet. Maybe even in the world, for the moment! To be honest, that’s really not the claim to fame I was seeking in life, but I guess we take what we can get.

Anyway, yeah, this video is slightly unsafe for work due to the presence of 8-bit lady-nipples. Hacker International made their version of Menace Beach a bit saucier than the original, so exercise caution if someone uptight or particularly impressionable happens to be standing over your shoulder while you’re watching this. It’s all pretty harmless, but we are a puritanical people, ya know?

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Retronauts episode 104: Chronicling metroidvania

This week’s episode treads somewhat familiar territory, though we approach it from a different direction than usual. We’ve explored the Metroid series in fairly exhaustive detail, and we’ve also covered most of the Castlevania series. But what of their babies? What of — yes — metroidvania?

As this is a genre near and dear to the hearts of the Retronauts East crew, we’ve spelunked back into the ancient past to explore and discuss the very beginnings of the genre… games that paved the way for exploratory action-RPG platforming, even if they didn’t quite manage to realize the concept themselves. This is a podcast about games like Zork and Montezuma’s Revenge, not about Symphony of the Night (despite certain people’s best efforts to derail the conversation to being about that vaunted work!). In fact, we went into such detail on these games that we only made it halfway through the intended list of works I put together in advance. Guess that means there’ll have to be a part two…

…besides, we recorded this before Nintendo announced their Metroid II remake, so obviously there’s much more to say on the topic now.

MP3, 51.8 MB | 1:52:48
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Episode description: Benj Edwards and Chris Sims join Jeremy for what was intended to be a quick overview of 8-bit games that helped define non-linear platforming but ultimately gets bogged down in exploring side paths… as in any metroidvania worth its salt, really.

This episode’s tunes come from a variety of early NES exploratory platformers: Rygar, Legacy of the Wizard, and maybe a few others that slip my mind at the moment. In any case, it’s a big, sprawling, mess of an episode, and in my opinion that works in its favor. So give it a listen, eh?

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With ARMS, Nintendo is smart to recognize that nostalgia isn’t always best

When Nintendo revealed its first big, original, Switch-exclusive creation ARMS back at their NYC console reveal event in January, the reaction seemed to be more or less universal: Why didn’t they just call this game Punch-Out!!? ARMS belonged to a frustrating trend during the Switch debut wherein Nintendo took concepts clearly based on their classic properties, scrubbed away all overt connections to history, and repackaged them with a new, modern look. Where 1-2-Switch was totally WarioWare, ARMS was definitely Punch-Out!! Bob even brilliantly referred to it as “horny Punch-Out!!“:

It was strange, watching Nintendo cleanse Switch of its own heritage, especially as the NES Classic mini-console was selling like gangbusters. Millions of people have just revisited Punch-Out!! via that device (and millions more long to do so, an experience now forever denied by Nintendo’s decision to kill the NES Classic before it ever truly lived). Why not capitalize on the brand’s reappearance in the pop culture mainstream with a modern-day sequel?

But no; ARMS instead introduces an entirely new cast of 10 fighters, not including bosses and future downloadable add-on brawlers. Despite revolving around a premise that could potentially elevate the Punch-Out!! concept to the next level — motion-based fisticuffs, a brilliant advance over the Wii Punch-Out!!‘s great Balance Board support — there’s not even a hint of that storied arcade/NES favorite to be seen here. No Little Mac cameos, no cheeky text callouts that I’ve seen, not even a fuzzy-looking Bald Bull hiding in the crowd scenes. ARMS completely divorces itself from its obvious spiritual antecedent, and as someone deeply invested in the history of video games and the observation of landmark works, I have to say… it was probably the smartest move Nintendo could have made for the game. What I initially pegged as a senseless and irresponsible decision has proved to be anything but.

ARMS isn’t Punch-Out!!, and I don’t mean simply in the sense that it has a different name and cast. It is functionally and fundamentally a distinct work unto itself, and the creativity that radiates from ARMS in every respect would have been completely suffocated by the need to adhere to a 30-year-old brand. I can’t imagine that ARMS made it all the way through its conception and planning stages without someone at Nintendo saying, “You know, this game would make a lot of sense as a Punch-Out!! sequel.” Heck, it even could have kept its sci-fi look — it’s not like the idea of a spaced-out Punch-Out!! sequel hasn’t been explored already. But Punch-Out!! brings with it certain expectations, like somewhat sensible boxing mechanics… and while I do think Little Mac’s dodge-and-counter style would be an extraordinary fit for Switch’s advanced motion controls, his tiny little arms wouldn’t be able to, say, fire independently across an arena to punch an opponent 30 meters away.

There is a tendency among Nintendo fans, and I admit I’m guilty of this myself, to expect the company’s games to conform to our expectations as we grow older. I think Nintendo fell into that trap themselves in recent generations, attempting to mine nostalgia and familiarity with sequels and reboots, especially on Wii U. For the most part, those efforts didn’t pay off. Meanwhile, Splatoon was their one creation that came from nowhere, and it managed to become a huge hit; it’s popular in the West, but it’s currently a top-five gaming franchise over in Japan, a country where multiplayer-only arena shooters have never had any real traction to speak of. While Splatoon could easily have come into the world as a multiplayer Super Mario Sunshine spinoff, Nintendo let its designers do their own thing. Those designers then came up with the sarcastic, pun-spewing sisters Callie and Marie and, more importantly, the endearing squid/kid dichotomy. More than simply being characters, Splatoon‘s Inklings tie into and shape the game’s play mechanics, allowing players to explore a unique tactical concept by vanishing into puddles of paint and swimming around below the surface as a squid. Splatoon without transformation and submerging would simply be another arena shooter. Since it was allowed to become its own unique thing, it fired up imaginations and caught on in a big way, clearly exceeding Nintendo’s own expectations for the game.

ARMS has the potential to do likewise. Like Splatoon, it features a cast of interesting new characters (with a pretty even mix of male, female, and indeterminately alien pugilists to control). Its vibrant visual style, which relies on bold yellows and other primaries, neatly fleshes out the color wheel when set up alongside Splatoon’s purples and greens. And most of all, it will remind you of classic Nintendo concepts, but it quickly sets itself apart with design ideas and play opportunities that would have been impossible if the company had simply continued mining its back catalog. ARMS is a comic take on boxing, like Punch-Out!!, but there’s no way that gatekeeping Punch-Out!! fans would have accepted a sequel that involves things like controlling a young girl in a robot suit as she punches missiles toward a robot policeman and his mechano-K9.

You also wouldn’t be see Punch-Out!! title journeys broken up by matches that take the form of minigames. Nope. No way would the fans stand for that.

ARMS embraces a ridiculous, over-the-top style (within its long, rubbery embrace)… but perhaps most importantly, it allows players to control more characters than a single scrawny dude in green boxing shorts. Again, the cast of ARMS consists of a wide variety of pugilists, including four different women, several men of varied body types (from slim to shredded), and a couple of weirdos like the gelatinous Helix. Anyone should be able to find a character they relate to within the game’s cast, which will absolutely be a key to its success. I’m fairly certain that Overwatch has done more to convince developers that it’s essential to give players the opportunity to imprint on their own favorite character from among a varied cast than thousands of games-press thinkpieces on the importance of character diversity could ever hope to accomplish. Of course, immense playable lineups have been a standard fixture in fighting games since Street Fighter II exploded onto the scene, but Overwatch revolutionized the nature of those characters and their relationships… and, perhaps more essentially, it played up the importance of highlighting those characters and hyping them up to ignite players’ imaginations. ARMS is the first new Nintendo invention of the post-Overwatch era, and they clearly took notes from Blizzard.

The overwhelming positive response that arose after Nintendo revealed Twintelle a few weeks back underscores this fact. She immediately became a fan-favorite to the point that the company hastily made her playable during the pre-release “test punch” demo weekend. Was it her confident attitude? The fact that she attacks with ropes of prehensile hair rather than the freakish extensible arms of the rest of the cast? The camera’s tendency to focus on her curvaceous, leather-clad backside? Well, yes, all of those things factored in (especially her backside)… but in asking around about her meteoric rise to public acclaim, I was told by several people that it boiled down to the simple fact that it’s so rare to see a person of color — and a woman, at that! — presented in a game without any tired or offensive stereotypes. Sure, she’s thicc (as the kids these days say), but in a sensible (not exaggerated or pandering) way. More importantly: She’s a tough, capable, elegant woman with dusky skin. You sure wouldn’t find someone like her in Punch-Out!!, a franchise that trades entirely in racial and cultural stereotypes.

Of course, ARMS still has Min Min, the Chinese fighter whose arms are made out of coiled ramen noodles by default. Baby steps, I suppose.

I’d like to see Next Level Games take another crack at Punch-Out!! someday, but I’m glad this wasn’t that game. I don’t doubt that, should it be a hit on Switch, 20 years from now we’ll find ARMS just as locked into its ways and trapped by its own legacy as Punch-Out!! is today. And maybe that’s OK. Nintendo seems to have crafted a specific creative process in recent years: Come up with an idea and iterate on it in tiny increments, while saving the new ideas for new games. I do miss the days of the NES, when sequels like Super Mario Bros. 2Zelda II and Metroid II demonstrated no fear in casting aside the structure and rules of their predecessors… but given those games’ black-sheep status among fans, and even the negative backlash franchise spinoffs like Luigi’s Mansion and Federation Force have taken on the chin in more recent years, I suppose I can understand why Nintendo prefers to play it safe with sequels. Games like ARMS and Splatoon allow the company’s designers to invent in ways that tradition and expectation make impossible under the umbrella of established brands. It doesn’t always work out — for example, 1-2-Switch lacks a personality and would have been a lot more interesting as a WarioWare title — but when it does work, as with ARMS, I’m happy to see Nintendo intuiting when it’s best to let go of the past.

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Capcom enters the ring on NES Works, falls flat on face

E3 kicks off properly today in Los Angeles, but the inevitable grind of video game hype can’t stop Retronauts Video Works from maintaining its steady schedule. In addition to the daily livestreams I’m hosting this week, I’ve also posted a slightly extended-length NES Works that explores a fairly momentous occasion in the NES’s life: The arrival of Capcom on the platform.

Would that their debut were a little more inspiring.

Ah, but Capcom would find its way in time. Sometimes it just takes a while to get on the right track, and Capcom definitely had a rocky beginning here with 1942. Still, despite the mediocrity of this particular conversion, the underlying quality of the original arcade game still comes through. By the time Capcom had a year of NES publishing under its belt, they’d have sorted out the secret of expressing that high standard of excellence on humble home console hardware.

In the meantime, brace your years and shield your eyes for… this.

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Retronauts episode #103: A game music primer

Since moving over to a weekly schedule, the Retronauts podcast has been tackling classic game music reviews once a month. We sort of jumped headlong into this venture without really stopping to explain some of the basics of collecting and listening to classic music, though. With this latest episode, we’ve tried to remedy that oversight by bringing aboard pro-level music enthusiast/collector/blogger James Eldred of the sites Lost Turntable and Mostly Retro to go over some of the essential basics of getting your retro game jam on… regardless of the size of your budget or the depth of your enthusiasm. From free listens to high-cost hi-fis, this episode breaks down the fundamentals of collecting or simply enjoying retrogame music in the modern age. Think of this as a companion piece to the high-fidelty classic gaming episode, but with a specific focus on music.

As a backup feature, I’ve also included an in-depth look at two recent music LP releases: Ship to Shore’s Darius and DataDiscs’s absolutely stunning Gunstar Heroes double vinyl set. Both are worth looking into for fans of game history and music, but I’d go so far as to call Gunstar Heroes essential.

MP3, 49.3 MB | 1:40:07
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Episode description: Game music expert James Eldred shares some helpful advice on finding and building a collection of classic soundtracks. Plus: In-depth with Ship To Shore’s Darius and the DataDiscs Gunstar Heroes set.

Music in this episode comes from the two featured soundtrack releases (Darius and Gunstar Heroes). They’re direct vinyl rips, even… albeit highly compressed and normalized and downsampled in order to fit podcast requirements, so that doesn’t matter at all. Also, James asked me to note that the Ship to Shore Darius LP release does not contain arranged versions… an understandable mix-up, given that he’s basically been doing a Darius soundtrack kegstand recently. Drunk on Zuntata.

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It’s time to revisit a forgotten Game Boy creation — in English

About a year and a half ago (has it really been that long!?), Game Boy Works (née World) reached into the depths of Japan-exclusive software and came up with a true deep cut: A deeply Japanese dungeon-crawler RPG called Ayakashi no Shiro.

It seemed an enormously promising game considering its platform and vintage, but the extremely dense non-English text (which even rendered English loanwords like “potion” in more traditional Japanese script) kept me from making a whole lot of progress into the quest. If only someone would create a fan translation of this, I sighed, I could give it a more thorough examination.

Imagine my surprise when someone took me up on that. A fan translator by the name of summvs found themselves as intrigued by Ayakashi no Shiro as I was and decided to do something about it. The result is that, as of today, you can now play an English-language adaptation of Ayakashi no Shiro on your very own Game Boy (assuming you have a hack-friendly flashcart, of course). It’s been given the new title of Doman’s Revenge, and aside from a mysterious late-game overflow bug mentioned in the readme file, it appears to be a comprehensive localization of the game.

Needless to say, I definitely intend to revisit it for Game Boy Works. But that’ll take a while. In the meantime, you can check out the game for yourself by downloading the language patch in this forum thread.

And, of course, I’m unspeakably happy to see Game Boy Works help spread awareness and spur action for forgotten games. This is the kind of thing the entire project exists for, and I hope this isn’t a one-time incident. Huge thanks to summvs for taking up the baton and bringing an intriguing little slice of video game history to a wider audience.

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Mega Man Legacy Collection 2, it turns out, is an internal Capcom joint

One of the most curious revelations about the freshly announced Mega Man Legacy Collection 2? Its developer… or rather, who is not its developer. The original Legacy Collection and its follow-up, The Disney Afternoon Collection, were developed by Digital Eclipse on their purpose-built Eclipse Engine. While those games all originally appeared on Nintendo Entertainment System, my understanding was that the Eclipse Engine was meant to encompass and reproduce a number of additional game platforms — meaning, in theory, it could potentially handle the wide variety of hardware encompassed by Legacy Collection 2. However, according to Digital Eclipse’s Frank Cifaldi, the new anthology will be produced by someone else.

This revelation, of course, raises two big questions. First, if not Digital Eclipse, then who? And second, will this other developer’s work be up to snuff? While the first Legacy Collection had some notable flaws, especially on 3DS, it still presented the first six Mega Man games with remarkable clarity. It’s pretty hard to find retro compilations treated with the same care and respect lavished upon the Legacy Collection. Japanese powerhouse M2 (best known for their incredible SEGA 3D Ages projects) has always been reliable, and Rare did a pretty solid job with Rare Replay a couple of years ago. Beyond that, though, the quality of retro reissues plunges quickly on the other side of Digital Eclipse’s projects, typically relying on shaky emulation and sometimes even stolen code. Unless it was farmed out to M2, how could Legacy Collection 2 begin to hope to match (let alone exceed) the quality of its predecessor?

As it turns out, that may not be an issue after all. I reached out to Capcom to learn more about the origins of the upcoming collection, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Capcom is handling it themselves.

“The original collection was developed using the Eclipse Engine which specialized in faithfully reproducing NES games,” said a company representative. “Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 includes games that span several generations and a number of original platforms, adding to the complexity and scope of the project. This collection is being developed internally at Capcom Japan. Fans can expect a similar approach to the original MMLC, with both collections celebrating the original gameplay experiences in a faithful way.”

While this doesn’t absolutely guarantee quality, the fact that this compilation marks a shift (however temporary) to internal development for retrospective packages seems like good news on several fronts:

  • Internal developers are likely to maintain a high standard of quality. If nothing else, they’ll presumably have access to better resources than an external studio would.
  • Capcom has a fairly proven track record when it comes to dusting off old code, as with the recent (by all accounts internally produced) Ultra Street Fighter II for Switch.
  • In the event of errors, an internally developed product seems more likely to be patched. The minor troubles that affect the original Legacy Collection could have been fixed up after launch, but evidently the logistics and finances of outsourcing material to an external studio prevented that from ever happening.
  • And finally, it suggests that Digital Eclipse’s projects proved successful enough to entice Capcom into bringing compilation projects in-house — which would hint at the prospect of these collections becoming a more significant element of the company’s business as a whole.

Of course, this doesn’t resolve all of our concerns with Legacy Collection 2. For example, regarding the absence of various other Mega Man titles that would have made perfect sense for inclusion in this compilation, Capcom will only say, “Mega Man Legacy Collection and MMLC2 focus on collecting the classic numbered games in the series.” In other words, no Mega Man & Bass for you, despite it falling very much into the core games lineup.

And no, there’ll be no Switch version for you, either… at least, not yet, according to Capcom: “There are no plans for a Nintendo Switch version at this time. Right now we’re focusing on developing the game for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.”

And finally, those hoping for a chance to play the bonus material exclusive to Mega Man 8‘s insanely expensive Saturn version (two extra battles against returning bosses from the original Mega Man) are out of luck. “For Mega Man 8, the team felt it important to use the initial release version of the game,” Capcom’s representative says, “so the PS1 version is included in this collection.”

Oh well. On the plus side, the company confirms that all downloadable content from both Mega Man 9 and 10 will be accounted for. So no, Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 won’t quite hit all the points Mega Man enthusiasts are hoping for… but at the same time, the project still appears to be in good hands.

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Hey, Pikmin! feels like a flashback to the old days of handheld adaptations

I demoed the next entry in Nintendo’s Pikmin series — Hey, Pikmin!, not the long-promised Pikmin 4 — back at the same event where I took the 2DS XL handheld system for a test drive. Of all the games Nintendo showed off at that press event, Hey, Pikmin! left me the most bemused. There was something naggingly familiar about it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what, precisely, that was.

As denoted by the lack of a numeral in its title, Hey, Pikmin! doesn’t go out of its way to be a proper follow-up to Wii U’s Pikmin 3. On the contrary, while it carries forward certain key franchise concepts — you control tiny Captain Olimar and coax a tiny army of colorful plant people to do your bidding — it plays nothing at all like the innovative series whose name and visuals it adopts. In place of Pikmin‘s usual sprawling mix of real-time strategy and top-down action, Hey, Pikmin! swings the camera down and locks it perpendicular to the ground, effectively transforming its viewpoint into that of a 2D platformer.

Except Captain Olimar isn’t really the platformer action type; he wears a jetpack that can allow him to hover momentarily and reach higher ground. However, the jetpack responds sluggishly and has considerable recovery time, so it’s hard to imagine Hey, Pikmin! will contain much white-knuckle platform action. Besides, the game does carry over one critical element from the console originals: Making your way through the world involves the recruitment, use, and occasional sacrifice of countless little colorful plant-men.

In practice, this means Hey, Pikmin! amounts to a sort of puzzle platformer set in the Pikmin universe. Olimar remains about as helpless as ever, so you’ll need to toss and summon pikmin in order to accomplish everything from clearing paths to fighting huge monsters. The game makes interesting use of the dual-screen nature of the 3DS (or 2DS, as the case may be): Controls are based around a touch interface, so Olimar himself appears to be effectively restricted to the lower screen. However, many elements critical to completing a given stage — be they bombs needed for blasting strategic points or debris needed to create bridges — appear on the upper screen. To manipulate them, you need to lob pikmin up there… maybe one at a time, maybe a dozen.

Everything works more or less as you’d expect it to in a Pikmin game. Differently colored pikmin possess different strengths and weaknesses, and they’ll all stand around lost and helpless if you stray too far from them. Your pikmin pals will lift and carry objects, perform simple tasks of engineering, and basically pathfind their way around. They’ll also go to the mats with any creatures they find roaming around, launching into an attack that will either result in their own deaths or the transmutation of waddling monsters into valuable resources. The biggest difference is that the side-scrolling 2D perspective changes the fundamental nature of the game from a free-roaming quest to forage for goods across a massive world into a linear stage-by-stage journey.

Will it work? It’s hard to say. The demo stages I’ve played seem to unwind well enough, but I can’t honestly predict whether or not this limited approach to Pikmin will maintain interest for a couple dozen stages. A big part of what makes the console originals interesting comes down to the persistence of and planning required to navigate large spaces. Which route do you take, and which pikmin do you bring with you? Can you venture forth, accomplish a critical task, and make it safely back to your base before dark? By breaking your actions into small, self-contained stages, the need for long-term management largely evaporates. It’ll take some legitimate effort to ensure Hey, Pikmin! sustains its appeal throughout its latter stages, and developer Arzest doesn’t have the most inspiring track record in that regard.

Still, it’s not impossible to think Hey, Pikmin! could work out. I eventually managed to pin down the nagging sense of familiarity this game gave me, and I realized this entire endeavor is a flashback to the Game Boy Color era. Think back to handheld games from 1998 to 2001: Console games had made the transition to polygons and 3D, but the Game Boy hardware remained mired in its decade-old 8-bit design. Game Boy had always played host to scaled-down conversions of console titles, but the technological delta between Nintendo 64 and Game Boy was much, much larger than the one we’d seen between the NES and Game Boy back when the handheld system made its debut. Rather than giving us the visually cramped ports of console hits we saw in the early Game Boy era, GBC developers generally created entirely new games with their “ports” of N64 and PlayStation hits.

First-person shooters became slow-paced top-down action games. 3D adventures became sidescrollers. And so forth. Most of these reinventions left Game Boy owners scratching their heads — Perfect Dark as a clumsy isometric shooter? Turok as an NES-style side-scroller? — but every once in a while, the overhaul worked. I was always impressed by how well Tomb Raider scaled down to handheld; Core Design very sensibly took stock of the franchise and unraveled the fundamental concept back to its origin point. The result was a game that played very much like Prince of Persia, which had largely inspired the design of the original Tomb Raider in the first place. It wasn’t as good as Prince of Persia (in large part due to the decision to make Lara Croft’s sprite take up as much of the screen as was physically possible, leaving the action cramped and uncomfortable), but it was a far sight better than most 3D-to-2D console-to-handheld conversions of the era.

I suppose the question now is: Will Hey, Pikmin! follow in the steps of Tomb Raider for Game Boy Color and stand on its own merits? Or will it be as unsatisfying and off-the-mark as that Perfect Dark conversion? Given the methodical, puzzle-like design I experienced in the Hey, Pikmin! demo, it definitely falls closer in spirit to the former. Still, Nintendo has attempted to squeeze an open-world console adventure into a 2D portable format once already in recent memory, with the lackluster Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash. Hopefully Hey, Pikmin! will fare better. And hopefully the dual console/handheld nature of Nintendo’s Switch means that once the 3Ds family fades away, the Game Boy-era rule of compromised portable conversions will at last be dead and buried. We’re all for respecting the medium’s heritage here at Retronauts (obviously), but some traditions are better off abandoned.

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The ridiculous new frontier in game music fandom

Next week’s episode of the podcast — the one currently up on Patreon for cool people who support the show that way — will be another Retronauts Radio entry. This one’s a little different than usual, though. While it does present an overview of a few new classic game music releases (DataDiscs’ Gunstar Heroes and Ship to Shore’s Darius), the bulk of the episode consists of music collector and expert James Eldred walking me through the basics and the ProTips of collecting and enjoying game music, whatever the preferred format.

Mostly, we cover the ins and outs vinyl LPs, compact discs, and digital releases. However, there is one other music format that gets a brief mention, and, well… it’s frankly kind of ludicrous.

As it happens, James was kind of enough to share an example of this format — which, it turns out, has become all the rage over in Japan of late. He had a copy of Symphonic Suite: Dragon Quest IV on hand that he didn’t want anymore and passed it along to me. It comes in a nice-looking plastic clamshell case imprinted with the game’s logo in gold, a typical Dragon Quest class act for sure.

At first glance, this looks like a very nice, minimalist CD collection. Alas! That is not the case at all. Instead, you open up the set and find…

…cassette tapes? Yes indeed. This is an aspect of classic game music releases I’ve never really thought to consider before; I didn’t start importing game music until the late ’90s, by which point the CD ruled all. And while I’ve occasionally spotted vintage game music LPs from the early ’80s, it never quite occurred to me to question whether LPs were the primary delivery format for game soundtracks and arranged albums in that late ’80s interim period as vinyl faded but CDs hadn’t quite gone mainstream.

I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The late ’80s was when I began acquiring music I liked in earnest, and I wasn’t buying records; the format was already on the outs by then. I certainly couldn’t afford CDs at that point. They were incredibly expensive circa 1987, like $18-25 apiece… and that’s in actual 1980s money, not inflation-adjusted prices. So like most kids, I bought cassette tapes of the music I loved. More portable than records, half the price of CDs, and easily copied and swapped with friends, tapes were the de facto music format for teens between the mid ’80s and mid ’90s. That’s 10 years of tape dominance! And while Japan tended to be ahead of the curve for consumer tech than the U.S. in that period, it’s not like our respective markets were that different. So of course Japan had a booming cassette tape music market… which means, of course, that commercial game soundtrack releases were shipping on tape as well.

Not only that, but as the Symphonic Suite demonstrates, they were being treated with the same love and respect as any other format. Enix put some real effort into these tapes, disposable as the format may seem. Both of the cassettes come with elaborate fold-over liners that wrap around the outside of their respective cases. The set also contains a booklet of sheet music in case you want to play along to the recordings with the your own personal orchestra, as well as some stickers and other ephemera.

According to James, tape collecting is the hot thing in Japan right now. I know there’s a bit of hipster interest here in the states in reviving the cassette format, but it seems Japan beat you guys to the punch. Not only are vintage tapes incredibly sought after, they’re also incredibly expensive. I’d never seen a cassette section in Japanese music shops prior to my visits this year — which isn’t to say they weren’t there, simply that they didn’t stand out — but now entire walls are given over to the format. Would you pay $20-30 dollars for a used tape manufactured in 1991? A format that degrades with use and time alike? I wouldn’t, but evidently quite a few people would.

For a very brief moment after opening up this soundtrack box, I had an urge to pick up a handful of vintage game soundtracks on cassette — literal game tapes, if you will — as I figured it would be a cheap way to add a few amusing curios to my collection. But no, vintage game soundtrack cassettes run anywhere from $20-50 (and up) depending on condition, scarcity, and desirability. That’s far too steep to work as a whimsical pick-up, I’m afraid. I’m only too happy to leave cassettes to the cassette collectors. Nostalgia may be a hell of a drug, but I’d definitely have to be high to pine for the days of fragile, noisy, clumsy tape cassettes.

Besides, I only have the one tape deck these days.

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