Welcome back, everyone! Apologies for the sudden absence last week; with Thanksgiving being when it was, it wasn’t quite possible to get a column out. So I’m hoping folks had a fun time with people they love. And I’m also hoping people have had fun with Pokémon Scarlet/Violet! By all accounts, it’s the most fun the series has been in ages and the most absolutely jank it has been in ages. I side-eye the extent to which people hold GAME FREAK to task for the game being in the state it was in when Bethesda got a pass on releasing broken content since 2011—but it’s not fair that the game was in the condition it was in upon release. What is GAME FREAK doing? Whatever is going on, they need to fix their management. My colleague MrAJCosplay reviewed the game earlier this week; check out their review for more insight.
Also: as reader Tintor2 (kindly!) pointed out, I neglected to say anything about the fighting games nominations for the Game Awards last column. Mea maxima culpa; I honestly forgot about the category. In my defense, I’m a casual fan of fighting games (most of what I know, I’ve learned from Maximilian Dood, the McMuscles Flophouse, and Castle SuperBeast). I don’t have the raw know-how on fighting games that my predecessor Heidi had (which, I’m happy to say, you guys have been very accepting). But, in the name of writing wrongs: yeah, Sifu getting nominated for “Best Fighting Game” doesn’t feel right. Sifu seems more like a brawler like River City Girls or Double Dragon, and I wouldn’t call those “fighting games,” but Geoff does whatever’s most convenient for him.
Xenoblade? Xenoblade. I met my newest favorite character!
Valdi charmed me with his passion for machines and cute relationship with his Mechafriend. He just might be my favorite Hero unit so far (more so than Ethel). I’m praying nothing terrible happens to him; I’ve already got reams of headcanon of Lanz being a big brother to Valdi and teaching him how to bench-press stuff and smash bricks with his forehead. I’m hoping this is the standard for the rest of the Hero units.
Yuji Naka Arrested For Insider Trading, Now He’s “Gotta Go Fast” To Prison
Yuji Naka hasn’t exactly been on people’s Christmas card lists for a while. Balan Wonderworld was a bomb upon release of somewhat biblical proportions, but it also laid bare many of his office politics that might have led to the game being the way it was. And his reputation precedes him: he was partly responsible for the rift between Sega‘s American and Japanese branches that ultimately led to Sega‘s continued failures and departures from the console market. Naka specifically denied claims that he refused to allow the American team behind the ultimately-canceled Sonix X-Treme to use the NiGHTS: Into Dreams engine on pain of him leaving Sega, which is suspiciously specific enough to sound like that was precisely what happened. He also blotted out Naoto Oshima from an old dev team photo when he (Naka) tweeted out about NiGHTS‘s 26th anniversary. (For the record: Oshima designed the Sonic the Hedgehog character way back when—Naka only made the original Sonic tech demo, which didn’t originally feature Sonic.) Also-also, Naka went and blabbed about Michael Jackson having worked on Sonic the Hedgehog 3’s OST, confirming decade-old rumors while giving folks at Sega serious aneurysms. So, uh, not very simpatico as of late. Naka has wanted to sue Square Enix for what he feels was unfair treatment related to Balan Wonderworld, but uh… looks like that might be on the back burner ‘cuz Naka-baby’s in some serious trouble with the law now.
FNN: Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office arrested 57-year-old game creator Yuji Naka in context of insider trading related to new installment from popular Dragon Quest franchise.https://t.co/KhsPBB676m
— Takashi Mochizuki (@6d6f636869) November 18, 2022
Apparently, during his tenure at Square Enix, Naka may have caught wind of Dragon Quest Tact being developed by Square Enix and Aiming. At the time, knowledge of the game wasn’t public. Naka then allegedly bought 10,000 shares in Aiming before Dragon Quest Tact’s release. The shares were valued at 2.8 million yen (just a hair under $20,250 USD). For folks who don’t know much about the stock market (or haven’t seen the Eddie Murphy movie Trading Places), this is insider trading, and while laws may vary, it’s considered illegal when the info in question isn’t publicly known.
It’s still too early to know what’ll happen to Yuji Naka, but if his reputation wasn’t already in tatters, this definitely won’t help. It’s a shame; while his attitude and decisions led to the failure of Balan Wonderworld and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, the games had an undeniable charm that I’d have liked to see built upon. Also, Rodea The Sky Soldier really did get sabotaged by outside forces. But hey, at least we have some excellent memes out of this!
Microsoft Acquisition of Activision-Blizzard Possibly Facing Challenge From Federal Trade Commission
It’s weird to see antitrust laws getting any lip service in this day and age, given that so many big U.S. companies have acquired so much around them. Microsoft acquiring Activision-Blizzard was already under a lot of scrutiny from fans, considering how much Microsoft already owns and how many studios Activision-Blizzard has dragged into its amorphous mass. But while the deal hasn’t been finalized yet, it seems it may have tripped some flags over at the Federal Trade Commission: last week, news broke that the FTC was “possibly” looking into challenging the acquisition. Right on Thanksgiving Eve, even!
Exclusive: The FTC is likely to file an antitrust lawsuit to block Microsoft’s $69 billion takeover of video game giant Activision Blizzard, per three people with knowledge of the matter https://t.co/c2AECmKPCT
— POLITICO (@politico) November 23, 2022
Three anonymous sources are cited as claiming that there are some moves to give the deal some pushback. This comes from some complaints on Sony‘s and Google‘s behalf; Sony claims that Call of Duty being made exclusive to Microsoft‘s consoles would be massively disadvantageous to Sony, while Google (no stranger to antitrust claims worldwide) claims that Microsoft‘s Game Pass service intentionally runs worse on Google Chrome. While Microsoft has claimed that Call of Duty would continue to be released on Sony consoles, you’d be excused for not believing them. It’s pretty easy to see them do some kind of “timed exclusive” to weasel their way out of it. And that’s just Call of Duty; that doesn’t cover any potential releases or games that might come out in the future.
This isn’t the first time Microsoft has been under antitrust scrutiny; back in the early 2000s, Microsoft‘s massive expansions into the world of operating systems and program acquisitions triggered another wave of antitrust claims (so much so that they made a thinly-veiled suspense movie about the whole thing called—what else—Antitrust). This was long before Microsoft entered the video game console market. This also comes after Microsoft acquired Bethesda Studios, which in and of itself already puts a bunch of videogames potentially outside of Sony or Nintendo‘s reach (although, do we want more of them…? Let Microsoft keep that dross locked up in an ivory tower, for all I care).
The Microsoft/Activision-Blizzard deal is still on hold while the matter is investigated in other parts of the world. As for the FTC, the soonest we’d ever hear on the subject is in early December. At the time of writing, there has yet to be any development. We’ll make sure to keep you posted.
Team Ninja Says, “Read My Lips: ‘No New Dead or Alive or Ninja Gaiden
Hey, it’s been a while since Team Ninja has given the world a new entry to their famed action and fighting series! Last week, Team Ninja was present at G-Con x IGC, where they gave a presentation on their goals moving forward. One panel of their slideshow underlined their plan to “Reboot Popular Franchises” while showing images of Kasumi from Dead or Alive 6, and Ryu from Ninja Gaiden. Gematsu reached out to them for clarification and actually received further word from Team Ninja’s creative director Tom Lee:
The statement is a lot of corpo-speak for “I know we made it look like we’re making new games in these franchises, but we don’t have anything we can talk about. Please don’t ask again.” And that’s fair enough. Dead or Alive 6 was disliked by pretty much everyone; gamers who already weren’t playing Dead or Alive weren’t impressed by its third-rate fighting mechanics being insulated by boatloads of ridiculous nickel-and-diming for costumes, while people convinced that anyone who doesn’t like Dead or Alive is some militant Quaker who faints at the sight of an ankle hated that Dead or Alive 6 toned down the cheesecake that totally isn’t the point of the game, you guys (but you shouldn’t tone it down or else you’re a Bad Person™). Meanwhile, the Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection was better-received by fans at the cost of unfortunately missing a few features from the original releases that fans liked; calling it a “mixed bag” doesn’t feel right, but also, I didn’t even know that collection had even come out in the first place.
So, what does this mean for the pillars of Team Ninja’s success? I think they need to rethink a few things. Much of Team Ninja’s identity hinged around Tomonobu Itagaki and his outspoken nature (and his unapologetic sleaziness). Once he was frogmarched out of Team Ninja, it felt like DOA and Ninja Gaiden lost out a little on their technical finesse… inasmuch as DOA‘s broken counters and Ninja Gaiden‘s arrogant nature had “finesse” (remember when Itagaki claimed that people who couldn’t hack it with Ninja Gaiden were “like dogs”?) There’s room for these franchises, but Dead or Alive needs to decide what it wants to be and how it wants to do it. It doesn’t even have to stop being the “sexy” fighting game; look at King of Fighters (hel-lo Ángel), give people an actual fighting game while you’re at it and don’t nickel-and-dime them for individual costume components. Meanwhile, Ninja Gaiden might want to take a few cues from its character action peers and be accessible to people.
Dead or Alive doesn’t have to stop being “sexy,” and Ninja Gaiden doesn’t have to stop being “hard” Team Ninja needs to find the right balance for these games. And sometimes, you have to let the fields lay fallow for a bit. Kasumi and company will be back, and Ryu will be back; the good people at Team Ninja need a moment to put their spin on things. Team Ninja did great by taking the Souls-like formula and mixing it with intricate combos and the Ki Pulse system to make the Nioh games (while having a killer sense of style and action). And as much as I may take the piss on DOA and Ninja Gaiden: I want people who like those games to have a new entry in those series that gets them excited. You guys have better odds than me: I ain’t never getting that third Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja game. If Team Ninja’s loyal fans can get the sequels they deserve and pop into my comments excited to play them, I’ll call it good. And if Team Ninja ever decides to cross over with SNK again and adds Ángel to Dead Or Alive 7 like they did with Mai Shiranui and Kula Diamond, I will join you guys on the couch for a few rounds of button-mashing. Sure, Ángel and Lisa Hamilton are really similar, but if a fighting game can have four ninja, you can have two Luchador-flavored fighters. (Besides, Ángel is more “The Rock” than she is “El Santo.”)
Nintendo Reveals More of Super Mario Bros. Film; Chris Pratt Still Sucks, Everything Else Is Good
Nintendo hosted a short (read: less than 10 minutes) Direct this past week focused on a new trailer for the Super Mario Bros. movie. And it’s got plenty to look forward to… I think?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Pratt still sucks. In what feels like a very deliberate response to tremendous fan outcry, the trailer gives Pratt vanishingly few chances to do more than yell in pain as he gets pummeled in a variety of ways. We still hear him sleepwalk through “Let’s-a go!” and “Wahoo!” on his way to cash his royalty check, and yep: it’s as lifeless as ever. I’m a stick-in-the-mud; I’m perfectly fine kvetching about it until the cows come home, but what surprises me is that everyone else is, too. I expected some folks to walk away saying, “Eh, it’s growing on me,” but if anything, the trailer reaffirms how much people feel that Pratt was miscast in the role. I’m surprised, to be frank. Pratt’s laughing all the way to the bank, but he’ll be remembered as the worst part of an otherwise enjoyable movie.
And the sad thing is, he’s an anomaly for the role: the Japanese dub apparently features Mamoru Miyano as Mario, which sounds fun. We’ve also gotten a chance to hear some of the other Marios from other languages, and they excel at showing off just how devoid of charisma Pratt is in the role. Famously, the French dub has a freaking amazing Mario.
We also got to hear Charlie Day as Luigi, and while it’s just Charlie Day being Charlie Day, even he can get away with it because, at the end of the, er, day, Charlie Day is leagues more entertaining and charming than Chris Pratt. (Two words: “Pepe Silvia”). Some promotional images on the Internet have shown the complete “Facebook Minions Meme”-tier taglines they’ve made up for the movie, most infamous being Luigi’s “Get Luigi’d”; “Mama” Luigi Mario deserves better. Hell, even “Terminal Seven” would be better for the guy. That said: some images have shown the Mario bros in Brooklyn; acknowledging them as being from Brooklyn is an excellent nod to old, established lore. We also have some images floating around showing Pauline in Brooklyn, possibly as the mayor.
Speaking of Pauline: Donkey Kong! Miyamoto emphasized how much he wanted Donkey Kong in this flick, and we get to see the first member of the DK Crew, er… clean Mario’s clock. I didn’t have “Chris Pratt Freaking Dies” on my Bingo card, but I ain’t saying “no”…
Miyamoto underlined how Donkey Kong had been redesigned for this film—the first significant redesign he’s ever had since Donkey Kong Country way back on the SNES. And the new look isn’t radically different; if anything, it takes all the essential cues from the Donkey Kong Country design while giving it some subtle homages that call back to the original Donkey Kong look. And I can also see a bit of Seth Rogen in the new look (it’s the chin). I’ve seen some people be a bit iffy on the redesigns for Mario, Luigi, and Peach, with some claims that the realistic movement and textures look too uncanny on such cartoonish proportions; I mildly agree with that. But Donkey Kong looks great. If Nintendo has been particularly hands-on with this movie, I can see it with DK—and for a good reason, Donkey Kong was Nintendo‘s original claim to fame in the video game market, and he was Miyamoto’s first character.
Also: the trailer has some other bits of DK fanservice, like an old ape that might be Cranky Kong. A later kart-racing sequence reveals—of all things—freaking Funky Kong. And eagle-eyed fans have spotted Diddy, Dixie, and Swanky Kong in the crowd in Donkey Kong’s poster for the film. That’s a lot of fanservice to pack in! And we haven’t even touched on, y’know, a kart racing sequence in an obvious nod to Mario Kart. Mario’s riding his traditional red go-kart, and the famed Rainbow Road inspires the track we see.
So, that leaves the other big drop: Princess Peach.
Again: I can see where people come from with not quite gelling with her odd mix of cartoony proportions and realistic movement and textures. But it doesn’t bug me too much. And while Anya Taylor-Joy is a bit too subdued and girlbossy as Peach (I mean, people have loved Peach for being a bit of an openly-ditzy airhead since forever, let her be an airhead!), she’s channeling a ton of Peach’s attitude from the Super Mario Adventures comic that ran in the pages of Nintendo Power long ago. Folks can claim that Princess Peach has been girlbossed—and she has been because That’s How You Write Princesses In 2022™—but Peach has a reputation for being a firebrand. Super Mario Adventures had Peach willing to throw down with Bowser at a moment’s notice, with Toads having to hold her back from slugging the Koopa King across the face. And that’s just the comic—even in the games, Peach has a history of being in the fray. She was playable way back in Super Mario Bros. 2, she was a party member in Super Mario RPG, and she had tons of playable sequences in the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games where she used her cunning to help piece apart villainous plans (and help Mario, while she was at it). The trailer even shows Peach in her Fire outfit—we had to wait decades to see what Peach looked like when using a Fire Flower in the games, and the movie… shows it. (Provided, I’m willing to bet it’s just Peach showing off what the Fire Flower is to Mario so he can use it during a climax.) So, all in all, Princess Peach is done her due diligence. The movie is also setting its sights high, with Princess Peach mentioning “galaxies”; I wouldn’t be surprised if a possible sequel shoehorned Princess Rosalina in, but I don’t want to see Rosalina in these movies before Daisy and Sarasaland are introduced. (And hopefully, Daisy is tan.)
All in all: yeah, there’s a ton of fanservice here, but that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 movie sure was a fun time in theaters.
Sin Comes Home From University Long Enough To Visit Guilty Gear Strive
So, I know I snarked something awful at Dead or Alive earlier (full disclosure: I love Honoka). However, I still feel bad for not mentioning the Game Awards’ Fighting Game category last week, so here’s a freebie for folks: Sin’s back in Guilty Gear!
The son of Ky Kiske and Dizzy (and, by extension, the grandson of both Sol Badguy and Jack-o), Sin’s back to wave his flag. He’s put on a few pounds, so he’s taking on after his grandpa more than anything else; in a move that made tons of lore-fans squeal, he even has access to Sol’s old Tyrant Rave super. More importantly, one of his lines of dialogue in the trailer reveals he’s in a hurry because “Mom’s waiting.” Is Dizzy soon to return to Guilty Gear too? Fans hope so, and I’m with them, if only because I’m hoping her theme is either an update to Awe of She or a brand new banger that speaks to her development as a character (like what Bridget got with The Town Inside Me). Still: flag-boy is back, he’s hungry, and he’s driving his family insane. Two Strive characters to go!
Code Mystics Teases New Game With Countdown; Maybe New Killer Instinct?
Killer Instinct is a game that passed me by entirely when it came out, so I can’t claim to have any nostalgia for it. I can, however, give it a ton of credit for taking what Street Fighter 2 established and expanding upon it with dedicated combo moves, launchers, combo breakers, and the like. It wasn’t a Mortal Kombat that only had gore and digitized actors for graphics; Rare put a lot of effort into it. The 2013 Killer Instinct revival would bring back all of the best elements from the classic games while expanding upon the mechanics for what was, according to fans, one of the finest fighting games around. And then… nothing. From what I can gather, the game did well, but Microsoft was pretty mum on a revival for years and years, to the chagrin of one Maximilian Dood, who even launched the #BringBackKI hashtag last year in an attempt at drumming up fan support for a sequel.
Between that and #FreeMVC2, Max is two-for-two on rallying the fighting game fans to bring back beloved classics…, or so it seems. This past week, Code Mystics (a developer studio best known for handling gaming ports) teased fans worldwide with a website ending with “ki,” and a timer…
Now, Code Mystics has already been teasing fans with the Killer Instinct carrot for a bit; a brief look at their Twitter reveals a tweet demonstrating what appears to be fragments of the Killer Instinct logo, in both “Scanline” and “CRT Screen,” renders. There’s also the image of a few 90s-era CG models of arcade-goers playing a 3D render of a classic Killer Instinct arcade cabinet, flanked by apparently new art of Killer Instinct premium-girl Black Orchid. As Maximilian Dood points out, we know it’s new art because it’s Orchid’s KI1 pose while she’s in her KI2 outfit. Also, the incriminatory link is on a poster in the background, and the linked website has the purple lightning classic of the 90s-era Killer Instinct games (it even looks appropriately fuzzy, like it’s been downgraded to fit on a SNES cartridge). At the time of reading, there will no doubt be news on this, but we’ll be sure to keep readers posted. This is one of those things with unfortunate timing that will sadly fall after our weekly deadline, so future Jean-Karlo will be sure to follow up on this story as it develops.
While ports of the classic Killer Instinct titles might not be what fans necessarily wanted from Code Mystics (even I have to admit, it’s weird the 2013 reboot hasn’t gotten a sequel yet), this is still something. And as Maximilian Dood pointed out, when the Marvel Vs CAPCOM 2 cabinets were revealed, something is better than nothing. It might not be the outcome you wanted, but it’s nevertheless a good outcome. In Mahvel‘s case (according to Max), a lot of the folks at CAPCOM who’d normally fight for an MVC2 being made aren’t there anymore. With Marvel being Disney’s IP farm now, it’d take some serious connections between CAPCOM and Disney for anything to materialize—and that’s not there right now. Something similar might be the case with Killer Instinct: the right person might not be at the right place at the right time, so The Powers That Be remain dormant and unaware of how much this is a thing that folks would embrace. At the very least, Killer Instinct ports are a thing fans can rally behind. In addition, Code Mystics is known for adding much-needed rollback netcode to older fighting games, whether it’s a new Killer Instinct, a plug-and-play device, a port or a retro-sequel, this is going to play well.
Dead or Alive, Guilty Gear Strive, Killer Instinct… what do you guys say, did I make up for last week? ^_^
Let’s wrap up with some quick tidbits:
As a heads-up to my readers: I will not be writing This Week In Games next week. Although I’m loathed to take a week off from my duties before we’ve even hit the six-month mark (more so after taking last week off), I need to take a break. I haven’t had any vacation or rest in the six years since I graduated, and I think I’ll indulge myself now that the opportunity is available. It helps that this Tuesday will be my 33rd birthday. I’ll still be working on one particularly cool and exciting thing, but past that, I’ll be taking time to myself. I’ll reflect on where I am in my life, hopefully, catch up on my personal writing, and sit down to assemble that Dynazenon Moderoid I got a few months ago while I watch what friend-of-the-column Daryl Surat calls Meitantei Columbo, and unwind while watching my favorite 🌸VTuber’s🐺 streams. And, y’know, Xenoblade Chronicles 3. It sure would be nice to reach Chapter 5! I’ll be back in two weeks, ready to hit the pavement and talk shop with you guys.
I’ll still be poking around on Twitter and in the comments, so don’t be a stranger. Ring in December with a smile; remember to bundle up and salt your sidewalk. Be good to each other; I’ll see you in… well, fourteen, I suppose.
This Week In Games! is written from idyllic Portland by Jean-Karlo Lemus. When not collaborating with AnimeNewsNetwork, Jean-Karlo can be found playing JRPGs, eating popcorn, watching v-tubers and tokusatsu, and trying as hard as he can to be as inconspicuous as possible on his Twitter @mouse_inhouse.