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This Future Is Disappointing, Part #89: look at Jet Set Radio then look outside your window. Are a colourful cast of rollerbladers grinding down rails wound around your home and spraying neat tags? Of course not. But hey, at least all and sundry can now have a bash at JSR for free, as Sega have made it free for a little while on Steam. Also going free are platformer Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit and ye olde Golden Axe. Grab ‘em now and they’re yours for keepsies!
Ecco the Dolphin a game in which a porpoise saved sea animals and talked to magic crystals, was a rare case of a 16-bit game that was a quiet, meditative experience. Creator Ed Annunziata and his team have turned to crowd-funding for the game's spiritual successor, titled "The Big Blue."
The Kickstarter project (via Polygon) is aiming for a $665,000 goal over the next 34 days. The team is already thinking about stretch goals too, in the form of making the game an MMO--but obviously it has to clear the hurdle of its initial goal first.
Much like Ecco, the game will focus on exploration and puzzle-solving, but you'll be playing as all kinds of sea creatures, or even swarms of creatures at a time. The game hopes to launch in April of 2014 on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices. If you just can't wait a full year, you could try out the prototype now.
The Big Blue boasts not only Annunziata and Laszlo Szenttornyai from the original Ecco games, but also Spencer Nilsen, who composed the original Ecco scores, and Bear McCreary, for composing the scores to The Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica.
Annunziata had previously talked about the game conceptually, and at that time mentioned he wanted to try Kickstarter.
The beat 'em up genre flourished in the nineties, with Capcom and Konami leading the way on the SNES and on the SEGA Genesis, as well as with a huge amount of great arcade games that never got a home console port.
We've selected some of the most amazing titles from this wonderful era, the ones that had the most detailed graphics and most impressive animations.
Dozens of other beat 'em ups came out in addition to those ones. Show us your picks in the comments below!
A video game's opening stage or starter zone has an extremely important role: it sets the tone for the rest of the game. Getting it right is essential. Below, we've collected some of the best-looking and most iconic starting zones, first stages and opening missions.
Post your picks for the most intense, best made and most beautiful first levels below with visual support.
Raise your hands if you spent a whoooole lot of time playing Golden Axe on your Sega Genesis. I sure did and never in my wildest dreams did I think it could be finished in under ten minutes.
That's exactly what Jason 'honorableJay' Feeney does in this speedrun video hosted at Speed Demos Archive. Feeney offers up insights from his time with the classic brawler on the video's homepage. Here, he brings up my most hated part of Golden Axe:
The first 4 stages give you a chance to fill up on your magic/health after the completing the stage. The problem with these stages is the fact that the thief patterns are random. There is nothing I can do but pray I don't get a bad pattern. This is the only spot in the game with random elements, making them the most frustrating at times.
Man, I hated those thieves! I'm saving the entire realm, assholes. You should be giving me stuff! Jerks.
Golden Axe [Speed Demos Archive]
You've got concept art with a pinch of news this morning, as Superannuation points out the portfolio of Kiwi artist Christian MacNevin, which contains images from a pitch for an Altered Beast remake that Sega never picked up.
They're...interesting, to say the least, but I'm just as interested in MacNevin's other fantastic pieces for projects as diverse as PlayStation Home and panda robots.
You can see more of Christian's art at his personal site.
To see the larger pics in all their glory (or so you can save them as wallpaper), right-click on them below and select "open in new tab".
Sega has been keen on releasing its classic Master System and Genesis games lately. The Monster World Collection recently leaked out, and now it appears more games are coming to the Xbox 360. The Pan European Game Information (PEGI) board has rated another three titles.
Siliconera reports that Super Hang-On, Golden Axe 3, and Streets of Rage 3 have recently been rated, which is a pretty certain signal that they're coming. Sega hasn't formally announced the games for Europe or here in the States. But like the ESRB, PEGI has a long and proud history of spilling the beans on upcoming game announcements. We'll probably see some word of these titles soon.
Three classic Sega Game Gear games head this week's Nintendo eShop update.
Sonic the Hedgehog: Triple Trouble, Shinobi and Dragon Crystal both launch this Thursday as downloadable games. Sonic costs €5 / £4.50, Shinobi costs €4 / £3.60, and Dragon Crystal costs €3 / £2.70.
On the Wii Virtual Console, Capcom's Mega Man 5 launches for 500 Wii Points. DSiWare puzzle game Hints Hunter launches on the 3DS eShop and the DSi Shop for €2 / £1.80 or 200 Nintendo DSi Points.
Meanwhile, 3DS owners get the fourth Shaun the Sheep 3D clip, called Bitzer over easy, created in 3D by Aardman Animations. The third part in a series of Kid Icarus Anime clips is also available from Nintendo Video. It's called Thanatos Rising, and features Pit and his battle against one of Medusa's minions.
The first two Game Gear titles to launch on the 3DS eShop will likely be Shinobi and Sonic Triple Trouble.
Both have just recieved fresh ESRB ratings (spotted by TinyCartridge).
Their launch will be the first time non-Nintendo platform games have become available on the 3DS Virtual Console.
Nintendo first announced it would start dusting off Game Gear titles early last year. Turbografx-16 games were also promised.
Sega has launched new games in both the Shinobi and Sonic series for 3DS during the past year, so it makes sense to start mining the back catalogue with these.
Both games were rated "E for Everyone", with Shinobi featuring "animated violence".
Some games age well, and some just age; take a look at Shinobi. The 1987 arcade game and its home console sequels are, in the memory, death-defying adventures through samurai death mazes, a precision gauntlet. But these days, Shinobi plays worse than the memory. It feels like an archaism rather than a forerunner.
Perhaps that undersells a series that has seen 12 (!) entries, including this kind-of-reboot for 3DS by Griptonite Games. Shinobi has dabbled in full 3D combat with the highly fiddly PS2 games, but here the depth is purely visual. This is a 2D platformer that wants nothing more than to hit the nostalgia button.
That's not to say the illusion isn't good. Shinobi's action may be 2D, but its locations have a depth of scenery and a neat eye for angle-turning tricks that, even now, is sadly uncommon on 3DS. The crisp cartoon reworkings of the 16-bit enemies jump out on these stages, lending the violent animations real hoof.
This man-to-man combat is what Shinobi 3DS does best. But what it does most is flutter around it, prioritising repetitive platforming and boring distance combat over what proves to be its only real strength. It's clearly intended as a kind of homage to the years of Shinobi 3, from the reworked blocking mechanic to a rather dated (and repeated) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gag.
Up close, it can work brilliantly: fast, fluid slices through enemy after enemy with perfect blocks leading to devastating counters. The parry is a quick press of the 'R' shoulder button, which you can remap to another button for preference, and which deflects incoming attacks in a generous timing window. In straight fights, it's a clinical and satisfying tool, a trigger that lends a Zen-like calm to the most frenetic encounters.
But the further Shinobi gets, the more it messes things up. A defining characteristic of the series, and one this game clearly aspires to, is a stiff challenge. But a stiff challenge is not always the same as a fair challenge, especially when mixed with unnecessarily stingy checkpointing.
You will rarely die from combat in Shinobi; instead, your allegedly universe-conquering ninja will fall soundlessly to his death, again and again. This is not a game built for platforming, but there is an awful lot of platforming - most of which, it has to be said, seems to be re-textured from a bare few templates.
Shinobi's leap has more vertical lift than horizontal movement, so despite a double-jump that rescues some situations, the platforming is a series of misjudgements waiting to happen. The momentum of the character is never quite right for these intricate timing tests, and the wall-jump proves quite the trick to master, but you can just about learn to fudge through.
Until the later levels, that is, where it seems most jumps come with a free henchman waiting to knock you into the pit o' doom. It becomes almost comical how cheap this gets. Shinobi's stages are split up into anything from three to five sizeable sections, for which you have five lives on Normal difficulty - a continue puts you back at the start of the gauntlet. As frustrating as the platforming is, and it is very frustrating indeed, this constant replaying of previously cleared sections is the real twist of the knife.
It makes clear how rote everything about Shinobi's design is: what you first play as trial-and-error quickly becomes a game of Simon Says - jump here, throw there, parry now. Shinobi's combat is quick and changeable enough to remain enjoyable, but next to something like The Dishwasher this is simple fare indeed - combos are a matter of mashing the same button, stealth kills are entirely scripted, and the magic system is an afterthought.
Certain sequences move away from the core 2D play, typically featuring Shinobi riding something fast into the screen. There's an undeniable visual flair on show here, but despite trying various levels of the 3D effect the precise positioning of pickups always seems elusive - which seems to rather argue against the whole idea of 3D. Irrespective of that, these sections are a trudge: the archetypal vehicle section, once played and soon forgotten.
All that keeps your interest is the combat, where the sword's cuts and slices have real heft and timing those parries adds a welcome layer of strategy. But it's a system too often hemmed in by overly scripted level design. Progression works out more like a step-by-step puzzle than a brawl, with enemy positions memorised and neutered over continues and continues of play.
The same goes for Shinobi's otherwise neat Streetpass idea: unlockable challenge levels. These become available as you pass other Shinobi players or cash in play coins, and are courses that demand a very linear set of actions to complete, during which one hit will kill you. It all begins to feel rather punitive.
But perhaps I am a yellow-bellied lily-fingered pantywaist. If Shinobi is channelling the spirit of its simpler forebears, part of that is this uncompromising stance towards the player: learn to execute perfectly on these obstacle courses, or fail. You can call it the Mega Man philosophy, and it's clearly behind the challenge here.
If you enjoy replaying previously completed sections because of an annoying platforming bit later on; if you enjoy being surprised by cheap enemies; if you enjoy memorising attack patterns that never show a hint of imagination; if you enjoy a game built around jumping precision with just-ever-so-slightly wonky controls - then you'll enjoy Shinobi, and be a man my son.
But is it enough to make an old series feel exciting again? Shinobi may have fancy visuals and more than a few neat 3D tricks, but the design underpinning it is archaic, like the last 20 years of 2D platformers never happened. Even on these terms, an equivalent as old as Super Probotector has 10 times the ideas on show here. To call this a bad game would be grossly unfair, but it's a truly unexceptional one. For a series like Shinobi, that is dishonour enough.