Welcome, everyone, to Japan Service—a new column here on EGM where I’ll be taking a look at some of my favorite finds when it comes to news, announcements, or interesting tidbits from the world of Japanese gaming.
Throughout my years of playing video games, I’ve long had a love for the weird and wonderful creations of those talented developers living on the other side of the Pacific ocean from me. While the Japanese industry has changed quite a bit over the years—and not always in a good way—it’s still a source for some of the most interesting, creative, or downright bizarre experiences you can have with our favorite form of digital entertainment.
The rules for what I’ll be covering in Japan Service are simple: it has to be developed in Japan*, it has to be based around or focused on a title or franchise of Japanese origin, and/or it has to be something that wouldn’t be big enough for us to write a dedicated news posting to it.
* I reserve the right to be a liar and break this rule at times in order to talk about other Asian-developed games.
The Japan-focused indie gaming event BitSummit MMXIV took place recently, with 5,000 visitors and nearly 130 developers attending the three-day event.
Some pretty big news came out of the show. Keiji Inafune and Takuya Aizu (Inti Creates) coming together to make Azure Striker Gunvolt, a new action platformed for the 3DS eShop. Vita versions of La Mulana and the upcoming sandbox action RPG Airship Q. The Xbox Indies shooter Prismatic Solid coming to PS4. Demonstrations of Unity support for PS4, PS3, PS Vita, and PS Mobile.
Unfortunately—and no offense to any of those things—I lost all interesting in everything else the moment I heard the next announcement: developer Dracue Software is doing a PS4 remake of Assault Suit Leynos.
Assault Suit Leynos, a Masaya-developed 1990 release for Genesis/Mega Drive, was known as Target Earth here in America—and it was awesome.
This week, everybody is talking about Dark Souls II and its difficulty, but Leynos was kicking players’ asses years before From Software even made their first game. It was hard—so hard, in fact, that I never came close to beating it without the invincibility cheat.
And yet, even thought I played the entire game like a punk, unable to ever die, I still had a blast with it. Every stage was something new and different, and the scope of the adventure you and your robotic Assault Suit went on felt bigger and more epic than most other games of the era. On one stage, you’re helping to ensure that colonists get to escape shuttles safely as you try to escape Ganymede; the next, you’re floating around in space, protecting the fleet by taking out an enemy assault force.
I was definitely Sega over Nintendo back in my youth, so I’ve got a lot of fond memories in my heart for the Genesis and its library. Seeing Assault Suit Leynos come back makes me happy. Now, if only someone could give me an update to Herzog Zwei and/or Trouble Shooter.
If you’re a fan of Sega’s 3D Classics for the 3DS–and, really, if you’re a human being, you like classic Sega games, and you appreciate when companies put actual effort into things, you should be—then this week brings good news.
The tenth Sega 3D Classic has been revealed, and it’s none other than Fantasy Zone: Opa-Opa Bros. One of the two games (the other being Twin Bee) to help create the “cute ’em up” genre, Fantasy Zone mixed challenging side-scrolling shooter action with bright colors, cheery worlds, and adorable enemies (to send screaming in pain into oblivion).
For the Sega 3D Classics version, players will be able to select between three different screen modes (fullscreen, 4:3, and a CRT-esque Classic setting), varying difficulty, Japanese or US game modes, and—once the game is completed—Opa-Opa and his brother Upa-Upa. (Playing at Upa-Upa is said to offer up weapon selection via the 3DS’ touchscreen.)
And now, for some totally obscure trivia! So back in the day, Opa-Opa was seen as a mascot of sorts for Sega (until getting upstaged by the more mascot-friendly Alex Kidd). In 1987, Sega teamed up with famed Japanese anime production company Tatsunoko Production to create a TV series called Zillion—which Opa-Opa would end up guest starring in. Zillion the cartoon was based around Zillion the product, a LaserTag-esque light gun toy that Sega produced. (Like many cartoon both in Japan and here in the west, the show was made specifically to try to help sell toys. Oh, and the team that made Zillion at Tatsunoko? They end up being called Production I.G, an extremely well known and respected anime production house.)
The futuristic laser guns used in the Zillion anime were directly modeled after the Zillion toy light guns—but so was the light gun for Sega’s 8-bit console, the Master System. The Japanese game developer would go on to also produce two Zillion titles for the Master System, but—in an odd turn of fate—neither had anything to do with the Zillion-inspired light gun peripheral.
I first saw the Zillion anime many, many years ago, long before anime was really a mainstream (or well known) slice of life here in the States. Knowing nothing about it or its connections to Sega, it was really bizarre not only to see the Sega light gun in a cartoon, but Opa-Opa as well.
Sega 3D Classics: Fantasy Zone hits Japan’s 3DS eShop on March 19th. Hopefully, the previous batch of 3D Classics sold well enough in the West for Sega to bring this (and 3D Afterburner) over.
Finally, some sad news. In 2011, Namco Bandai announced ShiftyLook, a cross-media division whose goal was to “take the unused, ‘sleeping’ video game characters of our past and bring them back first with webcomics, and then – once they had gotten enough traction – expand into other media like web animation, games, and merchandise.”
ShiftyLook was home to a number of interesting takes on Namco’s classic franchises, including a resurgence of the often-forgotten arcade release Wonder Momo, and the wonderfully bizarre dating sim Namco High (which was developed in conjunction with Homestuck creator Andrew Hussie).
“I’m happy to say that we’ve done this with Wonder Momo, Bravoman, and some other very cool characters, which are now beloved not just in gamer circles, but at conventions, art groups, and many, many places we’d never expect,” reads the announcement on ShiftyLook. “That said, now that we have successfully revived so many franchises, the heavy lifting is completed – and so is our work. We battled the video games abyss and won, which means it’s time for us to move on and let the hit-makers play with some new toys.”
Here’s a list of how things will shake out from here, according to the site:
- BRAVOMAN: Binja Bash! on the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Appstore: In-app purchases available until March 16, 2014; download available through March 30, 2014
- Namco High on ShiftyLook.com: Purchase available via Crunchyroll through March 28, 2014; servers shut down (no longer able to play) on June 30, 2014
- ShiftyLook comics: Bravoman ends at #300; Wonder Momo ends at #200; Katamari ends at #150; Galaga ends at #100; Valkyrie ends at #100; Klonoa ends at #65; Tower of Babel ends at #26; Dig Dug Vol. 2 ends at #18
- ShiftyLook website: No more updates after March 20, 2014; servers shut down on September 30, 2014; forums close on March 20, 2014
- Wonder Momo video game: To be released on schedule on select digital download platforms
- Wonder Momo anime: Stays on Crunchyroll and YouTube to view for free worldwide
- Bravoman, Wonder Momo, Katamari, and Galaga books: Releasing as scheduled by UDON Entertainment
- Bravoman, Wonder Momo, Katamari, and other apparel: Stays available on WeLoveFine.com
- Katamari and Galaga plush toys and rugs: Stays available on Squishable.com
- 03.18 – Shin Megami Tensei (iOS)
- 03.20 – Yumi’s Odd Odyssey
- 03.25 – The Witch and the Hundred Knight (PS3)
- 04.01 – Ragnarok Odyssey ACE
- 04.15 – Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars (Vita, 3DS)
- 04.22 – Demon Gaze (Vita)
- 04.29 – Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle (PS3)
- 04.30 – Steins;Gate (PC)
- Spring – Monster Monpiece (Vita)
- Spring – Wonder Momo (PC, Android)
- Summer – Akiba’s Trip: Undead & Undressed
- Fall – Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
- Fall – Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth
- Fall – Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
- 2015 – Persona 5
- 2015 – Persona 4: Dancing All Night
- ??.?? – XBlaze Code: Embryo