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Column: Roboto-Chan

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Zone of the Pretenders

June 3, 2008 4:00 PM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers the functional issues that have plagued Konami's ZOE games and where they originated from.]

zoe_vo_edit.jpgIn December of 1999, SEGA released a nigh-on arcade perfect port on their ill-fated Dreamcast for Virtual On Oratorio Tangram. Like the Saturn port of its precursor, it also featured a bespoke controller to emulate the arcade version’s original setup: a pair of twinsticks. It was critically lauded by almost all Japanese (and many Western) publications and did quite well in terms of sales too.

The thing with the Virtual On series though is that they've always been focused around human multiplayer. In that regard they are practically peerless. As to their singleplayer "experience"; it's almost been an oversight.

Even Hajime Katoki's mecha design was forcibly restrained for the various Virtuaroids, as the 1995 original had very stringent polygon counts which set the aesthetic. The first two Virtual On games in fact are almost exercises in functional minimalism.

Yet Virtual On, as a series, has had a remarkable amount of design-based progeny over the years but in the case of Oratorio Tangram such “offspring” would only be a few years away.

Cue Hideo Kojima…

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Zeta no Ronde

March 20, 2008 4:00 PM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, sometimes by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. And sometimes not. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers the problems with releasing games outside the cultural cocoon they were created within.]

senko_360_cover.jpgSenko no Ronde is a game that has caused a fair amount of confusion since it’s Western release on the 360. The traditional shoot-em-up fans think it’s awful, whereas the Virtual On crowd seem to be fine with it. Ultimately, the problem with it is the absence of the pop cultural mythos that gave it context within Japanese arcades, as it’s not trying to be either a shoot-em-up nor a Virtual On clone (though it does bear similarities with the latter).

Like many mecha games it’s trying to give form to something that has never actually existed in the real world. The issue is that without the understanding or knowledge of this inspiration the game is caught partially with its mechanical pants down. This is not to say that Senko no Ronde is unplayable without knowing its functional roots but the learning curve is made far more obtuse than it was actually intended.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Wrestling with robots

March 4, 2008 8:00 AM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, sometimes by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. And sometimes not. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers the the recent release of yet another Armored Trooper VOTOMS game and the developer responsible for its creation.]

yukes_logo_small.jpgDeveloping mecha games isn’t easy, not only do you require a team of incredibly knowledge individuals that have an almost innate understanding of the mecha mythos but you also need that expertise tempered with a common sense approach to games design. Outside of Japan, you’re going to be hard pressed to find a team that can bring the best out of the genre. Even within the land of the rising ninja, there are a lot of developers that lack the nowse to pull it off.

So when a developer renowned for its wrestling games is slated to develop a game that celebrates quarter of a century of real robot anime, certain negative assumptions are made. In this case, those assumptions were thankfully wholly without merit.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': American Civil War II (Only in Japan)

December 11, 2007 4:01 AM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, sometimes by Christopher "TOLLMASTER" Bruso, a known procrastinator and giant robot fanatic. And sometimes not. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers Metal Wolf Chaos, a mecha run-and-gun starring the President of the United States. No, seriously.]


metalwolfchaoscover.JPG Informed (or jaded) gamers consistently bemoan Japanese titles which fail to make it overseas. Japan has been, and still is, the center of the console gaming market, and many titles developed for this market are not considered for an international release for a plethora of reasons. Some titles may be too entrenched in Japanese culture to translate faithfully for other markets; other games may cater to niches in Japan which do not exist on the same scale in other countries; and sometimes works are turned down for release simply because it is thought that the overseas market cannot currently support another title in a particular genre.

Thus the English-speaking gamer often misses out on landmark titles such as those in the Sakura Taisen series, which has at least five "main storyline" games, along with numerous side games and constant re-re-re-releases. Despite pressure from hordes of wailing fanboys and even occasional exposure from mainstream games journalists, the games just never make it over.

In Sakura Taisen's case, it's easy to see the reason why: succinctly, it's a steam mecha tactical RPG that is also a dating sim featuring women who are actors in a Japanese theater when not fighting demons. While there may be a niche market for such an experience in Europe and North America, the game could end up being too far out of left field for many gamers, and thus the company doing the localization would be taking a major financial risk. Sakura Taisen can be said to be "too Japanese" to make it to the United States.

The same cannot be said about Metal Wolf Chaos, which features the US President in heavy mecha armor on a rampage across the United States.

The only thing more perplexing about the lack of release for Metal Wolf Chaos in the United States is that it was released only in Japan. Mirroring the inexplicable creation of 1942, an early vertical shmup developed by the Japanese that had a US fighter taking down Japanese carriers and battleships, From Software, mostly known for their excellent Armored Core series (and the mostly unknown by Westerners Another Century's Episode series, covered previously on this column), had created a game perfect for the American market, by making it take place exclusively from an American point of view, and made it for the Xbox, a US-centric console.

But while 1942 made it to the United States, and was merely a strange game for a Japanese developer to make, Metal Wolf Chaos--a game taking place in America, starring the US President, parodying United States politics--was enjoyed exclusively by the paltry number of Xbox owners in Japan.

I mean: did the Japanese get the joke about Florida recounts, or what?

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Whatever Happened To Artdink?

November 13, 2007 12:02 AM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column, sometimes by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. And sometimes not. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers the elusive developer Artdink and their suitably surreptitious return to the mecha gaming genre.]

artdink_logo.jpgIn the middle of 1995 an interesting entry into the mecha gaming pantheon was unleashed upon an unsuspecting Japanese public. It was a mecha game set in the third person that didn’t actually allow you direct control of your creation. Instead, you programmed its AI to fight on your behalf. Now, as I write this several young games designers are probably running for the holy water and garlic, but having a game based around programming actually worked.

The game was Carnage Heart and it was so successful that it spawned a total of four other games. The developer responsible for this otherworldly combination of programmed centric design was that of Artdink, and it’s only until recently that they’ve re-tried their hand at mecha gaming - though this time they’ve had to work within the biggest mecha license of them all.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-Chan!': Zone of the Enders: Fist of Mars

October 25, 2007 12:02 AM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by TOLLMASTER, an individual affected by Mecha Obsessive Disorder since a young age. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars, an inexplicable Super Robot Wars clone for the Gameboy Advance that somehow managed to find its way into English.]

Zone_of_the_Enders_The_Fist_of_Mars_Coverart.jpgWhen you talk about mecha games, the conversation eventually turns to the Super Robot Wars series. I don't think there is anything quite like it anywhere else in fandom; you can make a comparison to superhero crossover fiction, but while that gets bogged down by conflicting themes and confusing plots, the Super Robot Wars series just barely avoids these problems by realizing exactly what it is: fan wish-fulfillment.

But as epic as Super Robot Wars is, I'd prefer to ease my way into talking about it, so I thought I'd today pay attention instead to a red-haired stepchild of Super Robot Wars, based on Hideo Kojima's red-haired stepchild of a mecha series, Zone of the Enders. Most people know of the first game as 'the free PS2 game that came with the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo' and many never realized a sequel later appeared, and even fewer know that there was a Gameboy Advance turn-based strategy game based upon it. So today the spotlight's on Zone of the Enders: The Fist of Mars, a game whose existence no one can rationally explain as anything other than 'Hideo Kojima is a rabid mecha fanboy in disguise.'

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Steambot Chronicles Gains More Steam

October 2, 2007 4:01 PM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by TOLLMASTER, after an extended leave of absence involving issues economic, legal and medical. Fear not, for his BURNING SPIRIT is now aflame! The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers Bumpy Trot, localized in the United States as Steambot Chronicles, a particularly charming PS2 game with a unique sense of exploration and friendliness towards less hardcore gamers.]

t1g1rc.jpg Recently, at the Tokyo Game Show, a small video game company namedIrem showed footage of a new title, Bumpy Trot 2. Except, those of us with keen memories will know that this is not a new title at all, but one that was playable at last year’s TGS, and now only exists in preview video form—possibly because of the jump from the intended platform of the PS2 to the PS3. The new graphics look fantastic, but when compared to the other next-gen games previewed at the show, Bumpy Trot 2 didn’t stand out.

However, it was never the graphics that a small but obsessive number of fans raved about. Bumpy Trot 1, released in the United States as Steambot Chronicles, was a typical Atlus release—that is, an interesting title with an excellent localization but was woefully underproduced and largely unrecognized by gamers at large.

With Irem’s affirmation that a sequel is indeed in production—that the game wasn’t cancelled, which many assumed from the year long silence—but being redesigned for the PS3 (alongside a PSP “sidestory” type game for those gamers without the underperforming PS3 console) I thought it would be prudent to discuss the PS2 original, and why this game, made by a company known mostly for creating R-Type back when arcades still existed, deserves a second chance at stardom.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': Mobile Suit Metroid

September 18, 2007 8:03 AM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers yet another Gundam tie-in but one that excels with its controls in a similar manner to that of the latest Metroid.]

sensen_cover1.jpgAfter the hellish release of Gundam Target in Sight, gamers (outside of Japan) still perceive Gundam tie-in games to be something wholly evil; a mechanical plague of functional mediocrity if you will. This ill-conceived point of view was covered in a previous column by my forbearer Ollie Barder, showing that there are a number of excellent Gundam games available.

Gundam MS Sensen 0079 was released for the Nintendo Wii and it has very quickly earned its place amongst the more accomplished Gundam games. Developed by Team White Dingo (who were also responsible for the Blue Destiny trilogy on the Saturn, Rise from the Ashes on the Dreamcast and Lost War Chronicles on the PlayStation 2) Sensen 0079 uses their signature first person approach to mobile suit control and like Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the use of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk is superlative.

More after the jump...

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': King, King, King Gamer!

August 7, 2007 4:03 PM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a fortnightly column by a mysterious individual who goes by the moniker of Kurokishi. The column covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This edition covers a recent TV anime series where the skill of one gamer literally saves the human race.]

overmanad.jpgThe real robot revolution led by Yoshiyuki Tomino had a pretty bleak narrative outlook for most of the eighties and nineties. All the series he created invariably had the entire cast summarily bumped off, to the point he was given the nickname of “Kill ‘em all Tomino”. He also went a bit weird towards the end of the nineties.

Exiting that chrysalis of weirdness into the new millenium, Tomino started to create real robot shows that were markedly different from his previous apocalyptic visions (for a start a lot less people died). If anything Tomino became more innovative and open to newer ideas from the younger generation. One recent series in particular, that of Overman King Gainer, actually went so far as to have a super hardcore gamer as the nerdy protagonist.

Naturally, this crossover of contemporary gaming pop-culture into the world of robot related anime is something that warms my black heart.

COLUMN: 'Roboto-chan!': You Got Your Mecha in My Wargame

May 23, 2007 4:37 PM |

['Roboto-chan!' is a (hopefully) fortnightly column formerly ruled with an iron fist by Ollie Barder, but recently stolen off him by Christopher Bruso, alias TOLLMASTER - it covers videogames that feature robots and the pop-cultural folklore surrounding them. This week's column covers Activision's 1995 PC title MechWarrior 2, a simulation-style mecha game that somehow became a hit in a time long past, practically introducing mecha games to the Western audience.]

mech2box2.JPG Americans love big things. Americans are a radically diverse people, but wherever in the United States you go, you'll find an appreciation for scale, even in unlikely places such as the South (I, for one, consider the monster truck fan to be a relative of Homo mechotakus, or the giant robot anime fan). It was only a matter of time before the United States would notice similar appreciation for size in their neighbor across the sea in the genre of giant robots, and attempt to create a work in that genre, combining both Japanese and American elements.

Add to this humanity’s universal penchant for war and explosions, and you got a game called MechWarrior 2, many Westerners’ first experience with the mecha video game genre, and one that is still fondly remembered those gamers lucky (or wise) enough to have played it.