Welcome back, everyone! With Autumn creeping ever closer, we’re seeing the last of the big games getting released this summer. As you read this, my retrospective on the Armored Core series should be out by now. It’s very gratifying to see the series finally get accepted almost on a mainstream level. Between Armored Core, Witch of Mercury, and the massive success of the Gridman anime, it really feels like mecha‘s hitting with folks in a big way. Who knows, they might even bring back Another Century’s Episode. In the meantime, have you played Super Robot Wars 30? It’s a great entry point for the Super Robot Wars series. It’s a great time to enjoy mecha, man.
CAPCOM Faithful Celebrate Maki’s Birthday
I know I’ve talked up some baddies of the gaming industry before, so we’re doing that again. This time, though, it’s for a… much more obscure character than we’ve talked about before. Street Fighter is known for having its story threads run extremely deep, across several gaming franchises and even into other of CAPCOM‘s other fighting games. Chief among these spin-offs was Final Fight; originally planned to be released as Street Fighter ’89, it told the story of a trio of brawlers (one of them a canonical “former Street Fighter”, Mayor Mike Haggar) as they rescue Jessica Haggar from the Mad Gear Gang. All of the characters–save Jessica–eventually became playable in some form in future CAPCOM games; Cody and Guy went on to become proper Street Fighter characters, with Cody even having a tragic rise-fall-and-re-rise involving him being jailed for starting too many fights. Guy, however, stuck out–largely because he’s a ninja wearing Nike Dunks. His lore runs pretty deep, too–Street Fighter 6 newcomer Kimberly trained with him, hence why she also has the Nike-ninja aesthetic (just one of the many reasons why she’s so wonderful). Anyway, Guy has a third childhood friend–Maki!
Much like Guy and the latter-day Kimberly, Maki’s got the Nike Dunks (but precious little else). August 28th, according to CAPCOM, is her birthday. Maki debuted in Final Fight 2, where she had to save her mentor as well as Guy’s fiancé. She also made a single playable appearance in Street Fighter courtesy of Alpha 3. I earmark Street Fighter specifically because her only other playable appearance is CAPCOM vs SNK 2. She’s been a background character ever since.
And yet, plenty of people seem to come out in droves to celebrate Maki, an obscure Street Fighter character who’s only had a handful of appearances in the entire series. Heck, the recent news of her birthday has revitalized hopes that she’ll possibly make an appearance in Street Fighter 6 alongside Kimberly or Sakura. I guess it goes to show the strength of characterization that Street Fighter boasts; these are all goofy characters, but they’re all connected in the weirdest ways. One of Dhalsim’s kids is pen-pals with Guile’s daughter, Chris. There’s a whole ongoing arc about Cody and his failed relationship with Jessica from Final Fight (long story short, they’re never getting back together, which is a ballsy move).
I don’t have much to say about Maki because there’s frankly not a ton to say about her, but the fact that CAPCOM‘s art team still gives her the time of day (and fans still rally at her call) says a lot about her. Here’s hoping she does come back soon.
A.K.I. Gets Release Date For Street Fighter 6, If You’re Gonna Do The Majima Bark-Thing Please Do It Somewhere Else
Folks have been thrilled for A.K.I., the newest character to be added to Street Fighter 6. Small wonder, she leaves an impression with her unique design and snake-like movements. For everyone who had it bad for Juri (who has sadly become considered to be a bit of a poser as far as “bad girls” are concerned), A.K.I. is there to scoop folks up and ruin their lives. She’s easily one of the sexiest recent characters in fighting games, and it’s not even because she has a scandalous outfit. Goes to show, it’s all in the attitude. CAPCOM knows folks are itching for A.K.I., and graciously gave fans a release date: A.K.I. drops on September 27th!
A.K.I. slithers her way into #StreetFighter6 on September 27! 💅🏻
Feeding off orders from her master, she injects poison into enemies that dare stand within striking distance. You can’t fix her, but she will fix you. pic.twitter.com/azqsn51lS3
— Street Fighter (@StreetFighter) August 30, 2023
Pack it up, people who spam “I CAN FIX HER”, a company used the line. And kudos to Faye Mata for absolutely killing it with the roll. Anyway, a lot of folks have pointed out to A.K.I. looking and playing rather similarly to F.A.N.G. from Street Fighter 5, with a bit of Balrog thrown in (what with the claw). People have also pointed to her low-crawling move resembling Chin Gentsai’s similar maneuver from King of Fighters. CAPCOM is leaning into the F.A.N.G. and Balrog references further with the themed fighter pack releasing alongside A.K.I.; releasing on September 1st, the pack has all kinds of goodies like an A.K.I. emblazoned photo frame for your avatar, a stylish cheongsang outfit, stickers based off of A.K.I. and F.A.N.G., as well as the musical themes for A.K.I., F.A.N.G. and Balrog. Also, for some reason, it includes an old CAPCOM game–SonSon, an arcade game based on the Monkey King’s many misadventures. You probably better recognize SonSon from Marvel Vs CAPCOM 2, where SonSon’s granddaughter SonSon is playable, along with her grandfather’s size-shifting staff. I’m not clear on the connection between SonSon and A.K.I.–maybe because she’s from China? I dunno.
Regardless, the braying hounds fiending for A.K.I. don’t have to wait much longer. A.K.I. drops on September 27th; it’ll be interesting to see who releases next because A.K.I.’s hype is tough to match.
Macross: Shooting Insight Loses Major Character For American Release
It’s been a while since we got a Macross game in the US. We saw some Robotech games in the early 00s, when Harmony Gold was seriously trying to bank into the wave of 80s nostalgia while also trying to push the infamously-awful Robotech: The Shadow Chronicle film. There was that Robotech side-scrolling shooter on GameBoy Advance by Lucky Chicken studios–it was bad, and it was the first game I ever got for my GBA. And it inexplicably got an HD Remaster on the Nintendo Switch eShop. There were also Robotech: Battlecry and Robotech: Invasion on home consoles, which didn’t move the needle much either (though they did feature the voice of my man Cam Clarke). There have been a ton of Macross games, ignoring the bullcrap Robotech license that Harmony Gold has been pushing since the 80s, but those mostly got released in Japan. Which was why Macross: Shooting Insight was so special for a generation of mecha fans: it’s a Macross-based shooter featuring characters, pilots, vehicles and music from across its many eras (Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Macross Plus, Macross Frontier, Macross Seven, Macross Zero and Macross Delta).
… Though that needs a big fat asterisk at the end, because while Macross: Shooting Insight is coming to the US, it looks like anything from Macross: Do You Remember Love? is staying in Japan. It’s particularly egregious with the promo art, as there’s a big empty space in it where Lynn Minmei would be. Sure, it gives us a better view of Sharon Apple, but the implications aren’t fun. As any long-time mecha fan would know, Harmony Gold has secured partial ownership over anything from Super Dimensional Fortress Macross (and by extension, Macross: Do You Remember Love?) courtesy of their stranglehold on Robotech. And Harmony Gold has violently squatted on those rights but hard for decades now to an extent that even licensing the later Macross anime is a challenge. Many have argued that even if Harmony Gold didn’t exist, Macross would still be an uphill licensing battle given the music rights, which might be true–but that doesn’t mean Harmony Gold isn’t a massive pain in the ass, just like now. This is like making a Transformers game that can’t use the G1 characters. It’s like a Mobile Suit Gundam shooter that doesn’t feature anything from the original show.
The Japanese version is promoting the DYRL stuff, with the recent news that it’ll feature stages, characters, vehicles, and music from that movie. But the English website and news has been completely mum about it. Now, to be clear: there is no concrete confirmation that the content has been stripped for the US release. But if the promo art is giving Minmei the Stalin treatment, it’s easy enough to arrive at the conclusion.
We can all thank Harmony Gold for this sequestering of this seminal part of mecha history and for making a recent celebration of this venerable series incomplete in the US, as far as I’m concerned. They might actually put out something with the words Robotech printed on it within the next couple of years, but frankly I don’t give a rip. It’s more trouble than it’s worth, and we’ll all be popping the biggest bottles when we finally get confirmation that Harmony Gold is no more. Until then, if you want the DYRL content, you’ll have to import the Japanese version.
Macross: Shooting Insight will release on PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Steam this January 25th, 2024.
Cave Story+ To Be Given Out For Free on Epic Game Store
We’ve given Epic Game Store a lot of heat in the past, I think (not for no good reason, I am not sure if they have a shopping cart for their storefront yet). But one thing they’ve done to get people to use their platform more is give out free games. Is it desperate? Kinda (looking at you, Gamepass). Does it open the door for folks to try all kinds of weird, unusual games they might never have tried before? Oh, sure. And this week, they chose a particularly fun one to share: for one week starting from August 31st, players can get the old indie-darling, Cave Story+ on Epic Game Store for free!
Cave Story has quite a long tail to it–I remember discovering it in an issue of Newtype USA back in 2006. Created entirely by one lone developer, nicknamed “Pixel”, it’s an ambitious Metroidvania with a surprising amount of depth to it. It’s also freeware–Pixel originally distributed it for free on his website, and it was thusly picked up by a small cadre of American fans and translated into English (also distributed for free). The game tells the story of a network of caves nestled in a floating island up in the sky; as the robot warrior Quote, you explore the caves and try to protect a small village of rabbit people known as the Mimiga from an evil entity known only as The Doctor, who plans to mutate the Mimiga and use them as an army to overrun and control the surface world. It features a wealth of loveable characters, like the giant ambulatory bar of soap named Balrog to the brave and noble sword-bearing Mimiga named King; to Curly Brace, a gynoid who turns out to be Quotes best friend and the only person he’d ever trust his back to.
Much of the game revolves around looking for and using a variety of guns to mow down waves of enemies while you explore the caves. Unlike the actual Metroid, these guns sadly don’t pull double-duty, so it’s not like you’re unlocking new doors with the Bubbler. But these guns behave incredibly differently: the aforementioned Bubbler shoots out a single bubble that floats in front of you, the Machine Gun can shoot enough to keep you airborne for short periods if you shoot underneath you while jumping, and so on. Guns can be improved by picking up EXP from monsters, sometimes making them act completely different upon reaching Level 3–for example, at Level 3 the Bubbler just shoots out a continuous stream of protective bubbles that hover around you… that eventually pop into bolts of lightning that shoot out at enemies if left untouched. Weapons also lose EXP if you take damage, encouraging smart play with monsters. But again: weapons are pretty creative. One weapon, like the Nightmare, actually becomes weaker with further EXP, forcing you to take damage to keep it at its most powerful state.
The story takes a bit of a weird turn, however; Cave Story was eventually licensed by Nicalis, who went on to release it in the US for a variety of platforms and versions. There is, for example, a 3D remake of Cave Story, for… some reason (I am too attached to Pixel’s 2D art to even consider playing it), along with Cave Story+, a remaster that updates and touches up some of the art–this is the version Epic is distributing. The Nicalis connection was always… fraught, at least once it came to light that Nicalis’s CEO was responsible for a ton of exploitative behavior. Rumors began to float around that Nicalis had “stolen” the trademark to Cave Story from Pixel and that his subsequent release, the astounding Kero Blaster, was somehow an allegory for his experiences with Nicalis… but these accounts are rather unsubstantiated, and there doesn’t seem to be as much proof for it in the latter-day.
All this is to say that Cave Story+ is not a game to be missed. Sure, you can play the original (in English) even for free if you know where to look–after all, it’s freeware. But hey, getting the updated remaster from Epic for free isn’t a bad deal either. Give it a look, it’s one of the most charming games you’ll ever play.
August 2023 Nintendo Direct: Super Mario Wonder
We’re getting way closer to the release of the upcoming Super Mario Wonder. Folks were intrigued the moment the new trailer dropped and we saw Mario turn into an elephant. This week, Nintendo dropped a short but sweet Direct going over the basics for this new platformer.
I do have to say that while the Direct was enlightening… it seems like Nintendo is having a hard time selling this game. Make no mistake, I walked away with a far better understanding of Super Mario Wonder, but also, it feels weird for Nintendo to be so basic when discussing it. Make no mistake, I love accessibility, I’ll shout about Dark Souls needing an easy mode and I don’t care how many Gamers™ it pisses off. But also, I feel like the extremely basic approach these kinds of Directs feature doesn’t quite suit the audience. This vocabulary feels like the kind of thing you’d use for people who don’t normally keep up with the latest gaming news… which doesn’t seem to be the kind of audience that would normally hound after these Directs in the first place. I feel like the John Q. Public‘s of the world would just pick up Super Mario Wonder for their kids sight-unseen, devil take the new features. It happens, normies play games too guys! Which is why I don’t understand Nintendo‘s approach. Like, sure, give us the rundown, but don’t pretend that telling us that this platformer has Cave levels, Ice levels, Fire levels, and a Swamp level is somehow a tremendous revelation. Folks have made the comparison to the Sonic the Hedgehog series, which tends to be much more on the same wavelength as its audience. They’ll sprinkle in the memes and reference stuff from the fandom all the time (see: the Sanic drawing in the live-action movie, the Sonic Boom cartoon referencing the controversy over Sonic’s arms being the “wrong” color). I didn’t lose any sleep over Nintendo not making Bowsette canon (it was never going to happen, quit fooling yourself), and I’m not gonna do the “Shrek” thing and try to help meme Waluigi into relevance. But still, you’d think Nintendo would lean into stuff like Toad’s horrible singing, Bowser being embraced by the fandom as a loving father (or just being Daddy™ in general) after all these years. Hell, even Disney acknowledged the whole “Pluto and Goofy are both dogs”-thing. Multiple (canonical) times, even! It’s led to there being this detachment between Nintendo and its audience. Mario is a huge character, we’ve long since passed the point where more children recognize him than Mickey Mouse, and Nintendo has always maintained their franchise‘s image with a death grip. But also… hey man, throw us a bone. Give folks a pat on the back every once in a while. It’s not a slippery slide. We just wanna laugh together about the time Luigi chiseled an officially-sized football out of a stone (even if it wasn’t official weight).
Anyway, what’s new in the Mushroom Kingdom? Well, Bowser continues being the Nintendo equivalent to Disney’s Pete and steals the Flower Kingdom’s Wonder Flower, merging with his castle and unleashing all kinds of wild chaos across the kingdom. Mario and company go through your average set of platformer level themes to collect Wonder Seeds to beat him. The actual set-up seems to be a bit of a mix between the general platforming of the usual 2D Mario games and the collection-based system of the 3D games; Mario and company can not only earn Wonder Seeds by completing courses, but also by completing the many whimsical challenges posed by the in-stage Wonder Flowers. These can be numerous, from a brief stint where pipes wiggle around like inchworms to outright changing the perspective of levels. The Direct shows one fascinating example where Mario and company walk on the level’s walls in an overhead perspective while the level continues to play in a side-on perspective. There’s a ton of creativity at work with the level set-ups. Most importantly, later stages are barred by Wonder Seeds, requiring you to have enough to play them. It’s a good system and it encourages mastery.
Another curious twist inspired by other Mario games would be the badges. Fans of Paper Mario would remember them as accessories that gave Mario new attacks or changed their behavior. I think this might be the first time they’ve been added to a Mario platformer. The application is exciting: you can only equip one badge at a time, but these can still change the nature of the game. Examples shown included badges that let characters shoot grappling vines to grab onto ledges and walls, a badge that makes your characters constantly run forward at top speed (with the bonus of being able to run mid-air for a bit), and badges to turn completely invisible. You can buy badges with currency earned in-game or by clearing Badge challenges.
Characters? Characters. Mario-Mario and Luigi-Mario are playable, as well as Princess Peach and Princess Daisy. In reference to Nintendo‘s prior mistakes with the New Super Mario Bros. games, you can also play as either a yellow Toad or a blue Toad. Also, Toadette is back–no word on her Super Crown power-up being brought back (and I think the Bowsette folks put the nails into that coffin). But also, almost half the playable roster consists of four differently-colored Yoshi’s and the return of Nabbit. And I’m not gonna complain, we need all those Yoshi colors. Yoshi even controls as you’d expect: they can do the flutter-jump, lick things up with their tongue, and spit them back out. In a new twist, a Yoshi can even ride another Yoshi. But also, Nabbit and the Yoshis aren’t affected by power-ups and take no damage, relegating them to the “Easy Mode”-characters. Again: I am That Bitch™ that will fight tooth and nail for accessibility here at This Week in Games, but it’s a shame that the most interesting characters in a platformer are relegated to being the “Easy Mode” crew and there’s no way to change that. I get it, Nintendo doesn’t have any kind of canonical “Fire Yoshi” or “Super Nabbit”… but, uh, making those would be one heck of a thing to make fans happy. Otherwise, the two plumbers and princesses have the same controls; the Direct made no mention of things like Luigi jumping higher or Peach being able to float around.
Speaking of power-ups, we got further insight into the Elephant form. For one thing: yes, all the humans can turn into elephants. It also adds a bevy of new abilities: you can swat enemies with your trunk, you can run over large pits, and it makes it easy to break bricks. The Elephant form can also store water in its trunk for… all kinds of things, actually. Super Mario Wonder is using the idea of throwing water around as a nifty ability for things like cooling lava to make walkable platforms or spraying flowers to make them bloom into bursts of coins. There’s also the Bubble power-up, which lets you throw bubbles that can trap enemies or be used to extend your jumps. Finally, there’s a drill that lets you hide underground–or in the ceiling.
One nifty thing I saw was how Super Mario Wonder handles online play. While the co-op is exclusively local (deal with it), playing online lets you see the shadows of other active players in the level. Shadow-players can share items with you, or even revive you if you’re floating around as a ghost. Doing so increases their Heart score, which is a basic indicator of how much you’ve interacted with other players. I like this! Nintendo games have always played around with asynchronous multiplayer, and while this mode doesn’t feature any kind of meaningful way to troll people (and let’s be real: Nintendo co-op isn’t complete if you can’t be a total troll to your besties), it’s still a fascinating approach for a platformer. It has to be said: Nintendo looked at the specters and messages from the Souls games and adapted them into a platformer. You can even set up standees of your characters to serve as beacons for other players who need a quick resurrection. There’s also the option of setting up impromptu races between yourself and other shadow players.
All in all, it’s looking like Nintendo is working hard to make Super Mario Wonder a real slam-dunk from the get-go. We also know that further stages will be available as DLC–no word on characters, though. I had hoped that we’d see some discussion on the new voice actor for Mario and Luigi–mum’s the word on that too, sadly. Nintendo must be waiting for the right time for that one. Super Mario Wonder hits store this October 20th…
… But this October 6th, Nintendo will be releasing a Mario-themed Switch OLED model! The skin is a little basic, featuring little more than a red color scheme and Mario’s cap. Might as well put a little horn on it and call it Char’s Custom Nintendo Switch (it lets you play Mario Kart 8 three times faster!). I do, however, like the hinge hiding a tiny cache of coins on the inside–eagle-eyed fans will recognize that as the coins you find underground in Stage 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. A better 1-1 reference than we’ve had before, to be sure.
Let’s wrap up with some quick tidbits
That’ll do it for this week, I think. I’m currently working on two reviews for folks at the moment, and they’re both for fun games–look forward to ’em! For folks who already have pumpkin spice available near you, enjoy it! Be good to each other, I’ll see you in seven.
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.