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    It's fun playing the acclaimed classics, but there's a certain thrill in discovering an old, half-forgotten video game gem, too...

    Feature Ryan Lambie
    Jan 17, 2018

    From the earliest computers to the PCs and consoles of the present, every system has its undisputed classics. The ZX Spectrum had things like Manic Miner, Chaos, and Deathchase. The SNES had such games as Super Metroid and Super Mario World. The Amiga? Cannon Fodder, Another World, The Chaos Engine, and many more besides.

    The sign of a true classic, of course, is that it's still hugely playable even years after its release - hence the enduring affection for so many of those games mentioned above. But while it's always worth visiting the medium's most respected titles, there's also a certain thrill in roaming further afield and discovering something you've never heard of before - much less played.

    A case in point: while idly scrolling through eBay on one of those phantom days between Christmas and New Year, I stumbled on an old Japanese NES (or Famicom) game called Hino Tori. The box was a bit battered, but the stunning artwork still shone through. The price was right, and the game was made by Konami, so I promptly purchased the thing.

    It was only later that I found out a bit more about this odd-looking game I'd purchased on a whim. Its full name is Hi no Toro Hououhen: Gaou no Bouken, which translates to Phoenix Chronicles: Gaou's Adventure. Originally launched in 1987, it's loosely based on a long-running manga series by the godfather of the medium, Osamu Tezuka (even if you've never heard of him, you'll know his most famous creation: Astro Boy).

    Hino Tori's 1987 release places it right in the midst of Konami's golden age. Around that point, it was busily putting out classic after classic, either in arcades or on home systems like the MSX or Famicom: games like Gradius, Salamander, Contra, Castlevania, and the original Metal Gear. Indeed, Konami's prowess at porting its own games to the NES is one reason why the console was such a hit - as good as Nintendo's own games were, the system probably wouldn't have done so well without some decent third-party releases. 

    Unlike those other games, however, Hino Tori was never released outside Japan - an odd state of affairs, given that even Konami's lesser games of the period made it to America. Hino Tori may have been based on a manga unknown to westerners, but it could have easily been revised slightly to appeal more to the American market. Konami's action game Mad City, for example, emerged in America with revised graphics and a new title: The Adventures of Bayou Billy.

    It's possible that Konami decided that Hino Tori was simply too steeped in Japanese folklore and local references to successfully translate. Indeed, play through the first level, and you may wonder what the hell's going on. The central character's a fairly unlovable-looking chap with a huge nose, long black hair, and magenta trousers. He isn't exactly Mario. The rest of the graphics are an acquired taste, too: an odd collection of rocks, snakes, and floating heads.

    Hino Tori's one of those games, though, where the unwelcoming front-end belies hidden depths. First, there's its really novel control system. The hero, Gaou, can defend himself from enemies by throwing spears either straight ahead or vertically - an ability that turns Hino Tori into something approaching a run-and-gunner, although without the ferocious turn of speed found in, say, Contra. Gaou's other party trick is his ability to create his own platforms - single blocks that he can spawn just about anywhere, thus allowing him to hop to higher levels and gather items. 

    The only drawback is that Gaou has a finite number of these blocks, though fallen enemies drop new ones, so it's unusual to run out of them unless you're really clumsy. The platform-making ability makes Hino Toriquite unlike any other action game of the period, since it adds an element of strategy and puzzle solving. It's telling that the game even allows you to destroy yourself by hitting select, since it's possible to trap yourself with your own platforms.

    Once you get the hang of the system, however, the platforms become pretty much indispensible, whether you're using them to dig your way out of a steep-sided pit, reach a high catwalk or even fight an area boss. "Emergent gameplay" wasn't really a term people were using in the 80s, but Hino Tori undoubtedly features a hint of it. The game's makers didn't necessarily expect its players to use the platforms as a means of staying out of a boss' reach, but it's a viable tactic if you feel like trying it out.

    The only other game of Hino Tori's vintage with a similar mechanic is Taito's classic, Rainbow Islands, though it's likely that Hino Tori beat that game to release by a few weeks or so. Rainbow Islands hit Japanese arcades in 1987, but Hino Toricame out on Jan. 4 that year. Besides, Hino Tori's platform-building is rather different from Rainbow Islands' curved, conveyor belt-like walkways. The emphasis there was more on speed and timing than strategy. 

    Hino Tori certainly looks less appealing than Rainbow Islands, though even this issue seems to ebb as the game goes on. Oddly, the better-looking levels are tucked away deeper into adventure, as cliffs and caves give way to exotic, sometimes surreal space landscapes and metallic future zones. Where most games of the era front-loaded all their best assets, Hino Tori tucks them away in later stages.

    You may be wondering, by now, just what links all these disparate elements. Who is this big-nosed guy we're controlling? Why do the blocks have angry faces? What's with all this time travel? It's here that our research took us down a bit of a rabbit warren.

    Gaou's an unlikely hero, even going by his backstory. He lost an arm and an eye as a youth, and as a grown-up, he killed his wife in the midst of a heated exchange. Filled with remorse, he learns to sculpt from a Buddhist monk, and sets himself the challenge of creating a large statue of a phoenix. The only trouble is, the statue's broken into 16 equally-sized bits, each stashed in a different time and place in history - and so Gaou hurtles around the world on a quest to track them down. 

    Those platforms with angry faces, then, are the fruit of Gaou's sculpting efforts, and the strange blocks you acquire at the end of each stage are the bits of phoenix statue. Collect the lot, and you've completed the game.

    It's a weird story, certainly, and not entirely faithful to Tezuka's sprawling source manga, either - though the game's journey through different time periods, from 9th century Japan to futuristic planets, is straight out of his Phoenix saga. Beyond the basics, you don't need to know too much more about the manga in any case - though a passing knowledge of Japanese culture may help you recognize some of the collectible items dotted through the game. Those odd triangles that give Gaou extra energy, for example, are onigiri, or rice balls. You can also spot these in some Alex Kidd games.

    It's details like these, we suspect, that would have been lost had Hino Tori been translated for western consoles. It's certainly difficult to imagine Nintendo of America signing off on a game which stars a reformed murderer as its can-do hero. 

    Still, Hino Tori's quirky touches give it a pleasing air of the exotic, and it's fair to say that its surreal level designs and enemies are quite unlike anything else on the NES. The game has depth, too, thanks in part to that block-building mechanic, and also the ability to smash up the scenery to find the secrets tucked away beneath. By jumping and then firing downwards, Gaou can dig out treasure chests with useful items inside, or better yet, uncover portals that take him to different time zones. It's only by finding these portals - which whisk the player back and forth across the various stages - that all the pieces of phoenix sculpture can be found.

    Quite by accident, then, your humble writer stumbled on what might be a half-forgotten classic from Konami's golden age. Sure, Hino Tori isn't perfect - its control system is fiddly at first, for one thing - but then, things like Castlevania and Contra have their flaws when viewed without the old nostalgia glasses on. It's difficult to track down the exact personnel who worked on Hino Tori, but it certainly feels of a piece with some of the great games that Konami was making in the mid-to-late 80s. (The music, part-written by Castlevania's Kino Yamashita, is as upbeat and catchy as you would expect.)

    Discovering a half-hidden gem like Hino Tori feels a bit like a lazy form of archaeology: you're idly scrolling through the listings on eBay, or Steam, or an app store somewhere, you take a punt on something you've never heard of, and it ultimately pays dividends. Of course, there are all those other times where you might have purchased a game and, within a few minutes, realized you've made a dreadful mistake, but even those forgotten hours seem worthwhile when, on those rare days when everything lines up, you stumble on a true hidden gem.

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    The classic RPG franchise is set to make a big return.

    News Matthew Byrd
    Jan 17, 2018

    Eurogamer is reporting that Microsoft has approved the development of a new big-budget Fable game. 

    Since former Fable developer Lionhead Studios was disbanded in 2016, Microsoft has asked Playground - developers of the Forza Horizon series - to develop this new Fable game. It seems that Playground is planning on assigning almost 200 people to work on the project out of their new offices in Warwickshire. 

    The first thing you should keep in mind about this new Fable game - besides the fact it hasn't officially been confirmed - is that it might be quite a long time before we ever actually see it. Early reports indicate that the game is in the earliest stages of development. In fact, it's currently believed that the team at Playground are still trying to assemble the full staff needed to work on this project. 

    However, Playground's Fable project appears to be an open-world RPG like the main Fable games up until this point have been. This isn't going to be another Fable Kinect title that uses the Fable name to sell something completely unrelated to the experiences that made the Fable name mean anything in the first place. 

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    Some of the people who worked on those classic Fable games indicated that they're not sure how to feel about the news that a new studio is going to work on the franchise. 

    "I have slightly mixed feelings," said Fable co-creator Simon Carter in an interview with Eurogamer. "On the one hand it's great for the UK games industry, and very pleasing that Fable isn't dead; indeed, it will be lovely to play one as a punter, without coming out in hives. On the other hand, it is a little curious to get rid of the team that is uniquely expert in making Fable, and then try and make Fable. Fable is a weird game, and a tough one to deconstruct for a new team. That said, the team in question is very talented, and I'm sure they'll do a fantastic job."

    It seems that the success of the PlayStation 4 exclusive title Horizon Zero Dawn may have inspired Microsoft to revive the Fable franchise after all these years. This report indicates that they now believe the market for such a narrative-driven experience may be stronger than they thought.

    It will certainly be interesting to see how Playground approaches this franchise given that it has had its ups and downs over the years. What exactly defines a classic Fableexperience can vary somewhat depending on which Fable fan you ask. However, we have a feeling this new game will at least attempt to take another stab at Fable's promises of a world that changes based on your influence. 

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    The studio sees videos games being as important as films moving forward.

    News Matthew Byrd
    Jan 17, 2018

    20th Century Fox has acquired developer Cold Iron Studios who will soon begin work on a new shooter based on the Alien franchise. The deal was reportedly made via FoxNext Games; the interactive entertainment division of 20th Century Fox.

    Cold Iron Studios is actually a relatively new studio that was started by former members of Cryptic Studios. You may remember them as the studio behind the conceptually brilliant - but ultimately doomed - MMORPG City of Heroes. The rest of the studio's staff largely consists of a hodgepodge of veteran talent who have worked on everything from Metroid Prime 3 to BioShock Infinite

    In an interview with, FoxNext Games president Aaron Loeb explained why Cold Iron Studios was the perfect choice to work on this new project. 

    "Cold Iron adds a whole dimension of game development and play to our arsenal: long play-session MMOs targeted to PC and console gamers," said Loeb. "The kinds of games Cold Iron develops will enable us to deeply explore the worlds of our franchises, starting with the Alien universe."

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    While that statement seems to suggest that this Alien project could eventually become an MMO - or MMO-lite - type experience, it is currently just described as a shooter that will be released for PC and consoles at an unspecified date. The only thing we really know about the game at this early stage is that it will "explore areas of the universe that fans haven't got to experience."

    That's not the biggest takeaway from this interview, though. No, that would be a comment Loeb made regarding how 20th Century Fox views their video game division moving forward. 

    "FoxNext Games seeks to make games as important a part of Fox's business as movies and television," said Loeb. "Games will be the defining entertainment medium of this century, in our view."

    While Loeb mentioned that this new emphasis on game development will include mobile titles - FoxNet is already working on a mobile Marvel game - Loeb says that they're just as interested in creating console and PC gaming experiences. 

    "Mobile is an intimate game platform - it's with you all the time and the games become part of your day," said Loeb. "PC and console are immersive platforms that will allow us to transport users into their favorite worlds. It's an incredibly important skillset and game type to add to our arsenal as we pursue our mission."

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    Wait a minute, wasn't that robot just in an episode of Black Mirror? Meet Nintendo Labo.

    News Matthew Byrd
    Jan 18, 2018

    Nintendo has just revealed an outside the box Nintendo Switch accessory that utilizes...err...boxes. 

    Here is the debut trailer for Nintendo Labo:

    Nintendo Labo is quite honestly one of the most bizarre video game accessories that we've ever seen. Each Labo box comes with about 25 sheets of cardboard. These kits will include instructions on how to assemble the cardboard in such a way that allows you to design a controller for the included software. For instance, there is a driving game that comes with components that allow you to design a cardboard steering wheel. You then insert your Switch and Joy-Cons into the cardboard wheel and play the game. 

    The simplest kits - like a remote-controlled car - take little time to assemble and seem especially geared towards a younger audience. The most complicate kits are an entirely different story. 

    For instance, the fishing rod Labo actually turns into a semi-functional rod-and-reel complete with rubber band gears. There's also a robot kit that turns your controller into a cardboard robot capable of controlling a digital avatar. The most impressive of these designs might just be the piano. It apparently takes about two hours to assemble and utilizes the camera on both Joy-Con controllers to read key inputs through reflective tape. 

    Nintendo has stated that this line of products is designed to showcase "interactive build-and-play experiences that combine DIY creations with the magic of Nintendo Switch." It's clear that they're mostly intended for younger users, though we certainly imagine that a few of these builds might catch the eyes of older gamers as well. 

    If you are one of those interested gamers, you'll be able to start purchasing Nintendo Labo kits on April 20. Early reports suggest that Labo kits will cost $69.99, but the exact pricing structure is unclear. For instance, it seems that Nintendo is offering a variety pack that includes several different builds for an as-of-yet undisclosed price. It also seems you'll have to pay a little more for the mech kit ($79.99) and the customization set that allows you to use different color markers, stickers, and tape ($9.99).

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    What you need to know about Vampyr, including latest news, release date, trailers, and much more!

    News Den of Geek Staff
    Jan 18, 2018

    Life Is Strange developer Dontnod's latest project is an RPG called Vampyr. The game stars a vampire named Jonathan, who stalks the streets of a flu-infested London, fighting off monster hunters and feeding on the living in order to survive.

    According to Dontnod, Vampyr will include brawling, shooting, crafting, and a range of missions doled out by non-player characters. The twist, however, is that you'll have to find mortal victims to slake your thirst for blood.

    "Don’t forget: sooner or later, you will have to feed, and make a difficult choice... who will be your prey?" Dontnod's press release reads. "Absolutely all characters in the game are potential victims of your vampiric lust. Carefully study the habits of your next victim, his or her relationships with other characters, and set up your strategy to feed, unnoticed: seduce them, change their daily habits, or make sure they end up alone in a dark street..."

    It sounds like a solid concept and a clever use of its early 20th-century setting. If Dontnod can couple the world building of Remember Me with a more compelling combat system, we could be in for a claret-spattered treat.

    Here's everything else you need to know about the game:

    Vampyr News

    A new dev diary from DontNod fleshes out Jonathan Reid, Vampyr's protagonist, and what the deal is with monster-infested London. Check it out below:

    Vampyr Release Date

    Oskar Guilbert, CEO of DontNod Entertainment, has announced that Vampyr has been delayed until Spring 2018.

    "Delaying the release of a project you hold dear is always a tough decision," writes Guilbert in a press release. "However, we believe that meeting a deadline should never compromise quality. We were still convinced just a few weeks ago that we would be able to release Vampyr this year. Unfortunately, a technical issue - now solved - has set our teams' schedule back at the end of the development.

    Guilbert also noted that this delay will allow the development team enough time to properly manage the balance and polishing stages of development which are "much needed for a game of Vampyr's scope..."

    Vampyr Trailers

    The E3 2017 trailer for Vampyr seems to have been released a little ahead of schedule. While this new preview doesn't offer any glimpses into Vampyr's still mysterious gameplay, it does afford us a look at the highly cinematic - and very dark - London setting that those who choose to take a chance on the game will inhabit. 

    This next gameplay trailer promises vampiric combat, RPG elements, and, most interestingly, the ability to choose who Jonathan feeds on. Jonathan's ability to take control of a victim, escort them to a dark place, and drink their blood is by far Vampyr's most intriguing gameplay element thus far. 

    Check out the gameplay trailer below:

    You can see the first teaser trailer below:

    Vampyr DLC

    Cédric Lagarrigue, president of publisher Focus Home Interactive, told MCVUK that Vampyr will not feature any DLC. 

    "This is a purely solo experience; we did not plan DLC. We would prefer, if the reception of the game justifies it, to think about a sequel," Lagarrigue said. "We and Dontnod already have some ideas, as there are so many incredible things to offer in such a universe." 

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    This might just be a mobile Harry Potter experience worth keeping an eye on.

    News Matthew Byrd
    Jan 18, 2018

    We already told you about developer Niantic's upcoming Harry Potter AR game, but it seems that's not the only mobile return to Hogwarts in the works.

    Developer Jam City has announced that they are working on a new Harry Potter mobile game called Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Unlike Niantic's app, this mobile game will play out like an RPG. 

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    Specifically, it will ask you to create a character, embark upon a journey that spans several years at Hogwarts, and "participate in all of the magical classes and activities they have come to love like Defence Against the Dark Arts, Potions, Duelling Club, and more." The game will also reportedly feature many of the professors from the books, but there's no word on whether Harry and the gang are going to make an appearance at this time. 

    It seems this game will also serve as a bit of a prequel to the Harry Potter books. It takes place "in the time between Harry Potter’s birth and his enrollment at Hogwarts, when Nymphadora Tonks and Bill Weasley were students." That means the professors will be familiar, but you shouldn't expect to see Ron, Hermione, or Harry. 

    There's also a bit of mystery surrounding how the game will actually play. We fill safe in saying that isn't going to be an incredibly deep RPG experience, but it does seem that Hogwarts Mystery will offer various story arcs, character relationships, and choices which will affect the overall narrative. 

    If we had to guess, we'd say that this game is going to be a simplified experience designed to appeal to the various age brackets that make up Harry Potter's global fanbase. However, there is always hope this might be...well, that it might an actual game. 

    There's no release date for this mobile app available at this time, but it should be out before the end of 2018. 

    We'd be lying if we said that there's been a definitive Harry Potter game released to date. The closest that we've come is Quidditch World Cup and the Lego Harry Potter series. The EA games based on the series have ranged from "pretty good" (Chamber of Secrets) to "burn it with fire" (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1). 

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    What you need to know about Shenmue 3, including latest news, release date, trailers, and more!

    News Matthew Byrd
    Jan 18, 2018

    The Shenmue III announcement was one of the big surprises of E3 2015, leading to an initial clamor of support which saw its Kickstarter campaign well over $2m within hours of launch.

    Shenmue III's $6.3m total eclipsed the previous record holder, Blood Stained: Ritual of the Night, which raised $5.5m. It's undoubtedly good news for fans of the earlier Shenmue games, and a sign of how much demand there is for a sequel among the sandbox series' cult following. But it's also some distance from the (perhaps over-ambitious) target Suzuki once set. He recently said he needed to raise $10m to make Shenmue III "a much larger, completely open world" video game.

    You may recall that the first Shenmue, first released in Japan in 1999, cost a reported $70m - a staggering sum for the time, and still a significant budget for a piece of entertainment even in 2015. Shenmue III will, barring some hefty private investment added at a later date, have less than 10 percent of that budget to play with - though its designers at Ys Net will at least be able to save money by using an off-the-peg engine (Unreal Engine 4) and recycled assets from earlier entries in the series.

    At any rate, the success of the Kickstarter campaign means that the once-dormant Shenmue franchise has a new lease on life. We'll just have to wait and see how Suzuki can reintroduce the series to a new generation of consoles and potential fans.

    Here's everything else we know about the game:

    Shenmue III News

    Three new screenshots have been released of Shenmue III running on Unreal Engine 4. They're our best look yet at how the game is progressing. Check them out below:

    Shenmue III Release Date

    Shenmue III has been delayed to the second half of 2018.

    Said the game's director, Yu Suzuki, about the delay: "By utilizing new technologies, we have been able to discover new possibilities and expressions. In many ways, the game has become bigger and more beautiful than I initially expected. We do, however, need more time to deliver the game to you." 

    The game is coming to PS4 and PC.

    Shenmue III Trailer

    The Shenmue III team have released a teaser trailer for this highly-anticipated project, and it is...oh boy, it's rough. It's probably important to keep in mind that the game is still in the very early stages of development and, as such, this trailer is perhaps best thought of as a glorified piece of concept art for the final project. 

    With that in mind, here's the first full-length teaser for Shenmue III:

    Yu Suzuki's team at Ys Net shared a brief yet atmospheric taste of what it could look like:

    Here's the reveal trailer that was shown at E3 2015:

    Shenmue III Screenshots

    Ys Net has released three brand new screenshots from Shenmue III, which has just opened PC pre-orders. You can pre-order here.

    Check out the screenshots:

    "Main game scenarios are nearing completion, motion capture tests are well under way, and voicing tests with the cast have begun," Ys Net said in a Kickstarter update.Ys Net is also working on other elements, such as mini games, events, and battles.

    "I have been completely absorbed in development [of] Shenmue IIIrecently, and often stay at the studio throughout the night to make it the best game possible. My life has become Shenmue both day and night, and I'm happy," said creator Yu Suzuki about developing this highly-anticipated sequel.

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    Is there any Mario crossover that doesn't work surprisingly well?

    News Matthew Byrd
    Jan 18, 2018

    If you thought that it was strange to see Mario wield a gun in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, then we highly recommend you don't check out this trailer for a mod that adds Mario characters to GoldenEye 007.

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    A YouTuber known only by the wonderfully appropriate username of StupidMarioBros1Fan supposedly spent four months adding Mario characters, worlds, and items to the N64's most memorable shooter. Initially, the idea was just to throw a few Mario skins into the game's multiplayer mode. However, it seems that StupidMarioBros1Fan may have had a bit too much fun along the way and decided to just go all out. 

    For instance, you may notice that this mod actually adds a host of Mario characters to the GoldenEye campaign. Enemies are replaced with Koops, Peach plays Natalya, Luigi subs in for the traitor Alec Trevelyan (nice), and Bowser is naturally recast as Arkady Ourumov. It's clear that this mod isn't trying to subtly add those assets to the game - just look at the size of those Koopas - but we don't actually require that much subtlety from the average Super Mario-themed GoldenEye mod. 

    That said, the subtle changes to the game's dialog that acknowledges the relationships between these modded characters is entirely welcome. 

    Of course, the mod's impact on GoldenEye's multiplayer mode will undoubtedly be the most welcome addition amongst the shooter's fanbase. As fun as it is to run around as various Mario characters shooting each other, the real draw of this modded multiplayer mode comes from exploring the custom Super Mario Bros. maps that have been added to the game. It's enough to make you ask for a proper crossover between these two properties (even though that will never, ever happen). 

    Fortunately, this fan-made take on that concept is free to download. If you're willing to put in the extra effort, you can even play this mod through an actual Nintendo 64. 

    Now, where did we put our extra N64 controllers with the bad joysticks that we gave to our friends when they visited...

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    The ambitious competition is off to an unbelievable start.

    News Matthew Byrd
    Jan 18, 2018

    Early reports state that Blizzard's Overwatch League was watched by over 10 million people during the competition's first week.

    That number is taken from the various streaming services that broadcast the league (including Twitch and MLG) and seem to suggest that Blizzard's bold attempt at forming a proper eSports league for one of their own titles is off to an incredible start. 

    "Since we announced Overwatch League at BlizzCon 2016, we've been eagerly awaiting the day when the global competitive Overwatch community could come together under one banner," said Nate Nanzer, commissioner of the Overwatch League. "Opening week was that coming-out party—for the fans, both in-person at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles and tuned in by the millions all over the world, and for the players, whose love for the game came through crystal clear."

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    The most-watched match was the highly anticipated showdown between Seoul Dynasty and Dallas Fuel. This incredible match between two of Overwatch League's pre-season favorites attracted a reported 437,000 concurrent viewers. That contest ended when Seoul defeated Dallas 2-1 and proved that Overwatch League's top teams are separated by a mere matter of degrees. 

    "We're thrilled by the overwhelming response to the Overwatch League's opening week of play," said Pete Vlastelica, president and CEO of Major League Gaming. "But this is only the beginning. With more than 35 million Overwatch players, the Overwatch League has the potential to become one of the most-watched leagues—of any kind—in the world."

    That may sound like hyperbole, but there is something special about the Overwatch League. Blizzard and the Overwatch League production staff have gone to great lengths to ensure that the competition can be easily watched by even casual fans of the games. From team uniforms to an excellent overview that shows player positioning, it's much easier to keep up with what's happening in an Overwatch match than it's ever been before. 

    Add to that the compelling team rivalries that are brewing, and there's a strong possibility that Overwatch League could become the future of major eSports. 

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    There was a time when Star Wars games allowed fans to go on their own exciting adventures across the galaxy. That time is over.

    Feature Matthew Byrd
    Jan 18, 2018

    Former employees of Lucasfilm Games (the precursor to the LucasArts development studio) once claimed to USGamer that George Lucas started a game development studio so that he could avoid massive tax penalties associated with the success of the Star Wars franchise.

    “He's not a gamer,” said Steve Williams, former GM of Lucasfilm Games and LucasArts. “It's not that he didn't care. He wanted us to be successful. He would say, ‘I don't know your market, you guys should figure out what you're supposed to be doing.’"

    Lucas may have wanted Lucasfilm Games to succeed, but he initially denied them access to the golden goose of his empire and the right to visit the very universe whose success prompted the formation of the development studio: Star Wars.

    That may seem odd, but you have to consider a couple of things. First off, Williams was quite right when he said that Lucas wasn’t a gamer. Former Lucasfilm Games designer Chip Morningstar admitted that he always felt Lucas viewed gaming as an immature medium.

    It wasn’t just video games, though. There was a time when Lucas didn’t even have faith in the possibility that Star Wars would become a franchise. He even reportedly asked author Alan Dean Foster to write the 1978 book Splinter of the Mind's Eye on the off chance that he might be able to use the story as the basis for a low-budget Star Wars sequel.

    Perhaps that’s why he sold the rights to produce Star Wars video games years before he ever formed a game studio. At that time, he probably viewed video games and Star Wars as roughly the same thing: two irons best struck while they were hot. Even if Lucas had known with all certainty that Star Wars was going to be a success, there was no way that he could have known what video games were going to become and what they would contribute to his prized property.

    Granted, that wasn't always the case. Lucasfilm may not have been making Star Wars games, but other companies certainly were. The first electronic Star Wars game, 1977’s Star Wars Electronic Battle Command Game, was little more than a beep and boop producing machine that so happened to bear the franchise's name.

    The first proper Star Wars video game, 1982’s The Empire Strikes Back for Atari 2600, wasn’t much better. It put players in the pilot seat of a snowspeeder and tasked them with taking out a series of AT-AT Walkers. Doing so required a Jedi-like level of patience for monotonous gameplay, but that’s about as close as it got to replicating the Star Wars experience.

    Many of the video games that followed also focused on very specific aspect of the films. Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle saw you assault the Death Star in the Millenium Falcon. Jedi Arenawas basically Pong with lightsabers.

    Crude as they may have been, these early games offered fans the chance to engage in a bit of wish fulfillment. The same can be said of the novels and toys, but only the Star Wars games utilized a similar kind of mind-blowing technology that helped make the films such runaway hits. That’s especially true of the 1983 Star Wars arcade game, with its revolutionary vector graphics, sound design, and structure.

    However, if the history of Star Wars video games had ended in the early ‘80s - a feat the great video game crash of 1983 threatened to accomplish - then it’s highly unlikely that anyone would remember them as more than a diversion. Had that come to pass, an entire generation of fans might never have discovered that the true joy of the Star Wars universe comes from the thrill of experiencing new adventures within it.

    The developers of early Star Wars games could have used Lucas’ indifference as an excuse to craft their own stories, but few actually did. You can blame the lack of creativity on a number of factors, but the biggest problem may have been that many of the people who worked on those games didn't have the chance to fully explore gaming as a creative medium.

    That was not the case for the LucasArts development team.

    "The fact that we couldn't use Star Wars was a constraint," said Morningstar. "It generated a lot of creativity."

    By the time the team at LucasArts finally got the chance to work on its first in-house Star Wars game in 1992, the studio had already helped pioneer the point-and-click adventure genre and proven that it was one of gaming’s most reliable sources for quality writing and visual design.

    Fueled by its success in creating original properties such as Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, the team at LucasArts realized that it wasn’t content developing a game that reminded people of the films. LucasArts instead chose to develop a title that provided an experience no Star Wars film ever really had. An experience only gaming could offer.

    That game, X-Wing, was a sci-fi flight simulator developed by the legendary Lawrence Holland. Fans attracted to the game because of its incredible soundtrack, revolutionary visual design, and familiar trappings soon discovered that X-Wing demanded incredible levels of skill and intelligence from the player. Success in X-Wing meant mastering a series of complicated mechanics.

    X-Wing was not a wish fulfillment game designed to offer simple entertainment to the masses. It was a game created for a more mature crowd of hardcore fans.

    That’s a demographic that most pieces of Star Wars-related entertainment had not catered to until that point (the Thrawn novels notwithstanding). Many of the people who flocked to X-Wing were older fans who had seen the movies countless times and younger fans who first saw the movies on VHS and never had the chance to experience the thrill of a new Star Wars movie release. Those are two groups of fans who may have fallen out of love with the saga had creators not found ways to rekindle the spark of the universe.

    Holland and the X-Wing development team continued to cater to that fanbase with the release of 1993’s TIE Fighter. This game continued X-Wing’s basic gameplay design, but cast players as an Imperial pilot rather than a Rebel. Mind you, this was much more than a change of scenery. TIE Fighter presented the Empire as the heroic body trying desperately to prevent the terrorist Rebels from undoing its noble efforts. It was the kind of daring and dark Star Wars story that never would have made it to theaters and had rarely been explored in books. 

    That’s just the way that many of the people who worked on these games liked it. For instance, the developers of 1995’s Dark Forces, a first-person shooter designed to capitalize on the success of Star Wars-themedDoom mods, originally intended to make Luke Skywalker the game’s protagonist. When LucasArts realized how much that would limit the game's creative potential, the studio decided to create a new hero, Kyle Katarn.

    Much like the 1991 Timothy Zahn novel Heir to the Empire, Dark Forces showed fans - who associated non-Lucasfilm contributions to the series’ mythology with the often dreadful world of fan fiction - that freedom from the shackles of canonical entertainment can unlock something new and exciting. Katarn's five-game journey from Imperial spy to Jedi master is the kind of grand arc fans had only dreamed of through table-top RPGs and action figure role-playing. It's also the kind of heartfelt and patient story that is tough for a blockbuster motion picture to properly convey.

    Katarn was the first great hero spawned by Star Wars games. He would not be the last.

    LucasArts again abandoned the strict confines of the Star Wars canon when it decided to develop a Star Wars interquel called Shadows of the Empire, which arrived in 1996. For this project, the studio used major Star Wars characters as the game’s protagonists to tell a new story in the galaxy far, far away, one that took place between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

    While the game was part of a larger multimedia project that also included a novel, soundtrack, and action figures, the game was the most direct way to experience this new story at its most cinematic. Its biggest draw was undoubtedly the ability to play as the franchise's newest hero, Dash Rendar, a Han Solo stand-in with his very own ship.

    Most importantly, Shadows of the Empire was the first Star Wars game to be truly recognized by Lucasfilm as part of a larger whole, and it received a huge chunk of real estate in the canon timeline. For years, Shadows of the Empire was the official story of what Luke, Leia, Chewie, and Lando were up to just before Return of the Jedi. Giving this much importance to Shadows of the Empirecould only bode well for Star Wars gaming going forward. 

    In fact, the push for originality and expanding the franchise's universe beyond the movies is what led to what could arguably be called the golden age of Star Warsgames. 

    In 2000, famed developer BioWare declined LucasArts’ offer to create a game based on Attack of the Clones in favor of telling a story that took place almost 4,000 years before Episode I. BioWare's game, Knights of the Old Republic, is considered by many - including director Rian Johnson - to be one of the greatest Star Warsstories ever told and perhaps the greatest Star Wars game ever made.

    While it wasn't the first tale set thousands of years before the film saga - Dark Horse's Tales of the Jedi comic book series took place even earlier in the timeline, and inspired some of the events in Knights of the Old Republic - it was the first time a game had taken this many liberties. Expanding on both Jedi and Sith lore - the latter by far the most interesting - Knights of the Old Republic and its sequels gave the Star Wars universe real history that fans could experience on the screen. From ancient Sith lords and never-before-seen Force powers to unexplored conflicts and planets, Knights of the Old Republic added a whole other universe of things to Star Wars. It's hard to imagine the Disney era taking such liberties and giving a huge part of canon to a video game. 

    Dark Forces, Shadows of the Empire, and Knights of the Old Republicall arrived at a time when Star Wars fans needed them most. Between the edited re-releases of the original films that some say butchered those classic movies and the highly controversial prequels, fans could no longer trust theaters to provide the greatest Star Wars experiences. Instead, a growing generation of gamers discovered that the best Star Wars stories of that era were being told by people who were just as likely to hold an actual lightsaber as they were to hold the camera that filmed the next Star Wars movie.

    Even the games that sought to recreate some aspect of the films did so in creative ways. 1999's Star Wars Episode I: Racer turned the most exciting scene from Episode I into a brilliant racing title that raised the standards of speed. 2001's Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader finally translated the brilliant space battles from the Original Trilogy into a fulfilling arcade-style shooter experience, while also adding quite a few new battles of its own. 2004's Battlefront turned the overlooked land-based battles of the film into an essential online shooter experience. 2005's Republic Commando fashioned a brilliant squad-based shooter out of the much-maligned clone storyline from Episode II

    With hit after hit, this was a time when those who had been shortchanged by the money machine that the Star Wars films had become could collect their compensation, courtesy of a collection of creators who understood why people loved the saga to begin with.

    Unfortunately, the golden age didn’t last.

    There had always been bad Star Wars games, but LucasArts and its partners began churning them out at an alarming rate in the early 2000s. Titles like Star Wars: Obi-Wan, Demolition, and the despicable Bombad Racing were barely playable titles that would have never seen the light of day were they not built on the foundation that the truly great stories established.

    These were the kind of Star Wars games that left people with the sinking feeling that their love for this franchise was an exploitable weakness that they needed to shed. Those who demanded more from the brand than laser swords, blasters, and familiar faces were suddenly made to feel like fools by those who insisted that the series was made up of simple pieces of entertainment best enjoyed with lowered expectations.

    The sins of this era are best summarized by a statement Nancy MacIntyre, former VP of marketing at LucasArts, gave to The New York Times after fans of the MMO Star Wars Galaxies protested against changes made to the game which significantly watered down the core experience in order to cater to a more general audience:

    “We wanted more instant gratification: kill, get treasure, repeat. We needed to give people more of an opportunity to be a part of what they have seen in the movies rather than something they had created themselves."

    That philosophy hindered even the noblest of efforts at LucasArts. 2008's The Force Unleashed was supposed to be the title that finally revived the golden age of Star Warsgames. It was conceived by a small group of designers at LucasArts who truly believed they could craft a Star Wars experience that would change everything. The brief presentation they finally put together impressed Lucas so much that he personally became involved with the development of the title. He wanted to ensure that the game felt like an extension of the films.

    As detractors know, Lucas' involvement isn't always a blessing. A member of the The Force Unleashed development team told Game Informerthat the team wanted to be able to use the "Darth" title for the game's main character. Lucas agreed and offered them two Darth naming options that he felt would fit into the canon: Darth Icky and Darth Insanius.

    "There was a pregnant pause in the room after that," said the team member. "People waiting for George to say ‘just kidding,’ but it never comes, and he just moved on to another point.”

    At it's best, The Force Unleashed did deliver a fundamental Star Wars experience. It featured lightsabers, Jedi, Sith, and a sweeping score that contains some of the single best tracks in the franchise. Even its story showcased moments of brilliance. The tale of Darth Vader's secret plan to use an apprentice to overthrow the Emperor touched upon some of the most appealing aspects of the mythos. There was also something undeniably appealing about controlling Darth Vader as he tossed Wookiees aside with the Force. And like the great games that had come before it, The Force Unleashed also established some very important Star Wars lore, particularly the birth of the Rebellion. Before the days of the Rebels animated series and canon reset, this game was the official Rebellion origin story.

    Unfortunately, the game was crippled by what one team member described as "curveballs thrown by people not directly tied to the development process." The small team that saw The Force Unleashed as a true new hope was compromised by a managerial agenda which severely limited its ability to forge a new path. What the team ended up delivering was indeed that "kill and repeat" experience that some at LucasArts felt was all that Star Wars games ever needed to be. The development team's apathy towards such a directive is best showcased in the various glaring technical issues and half-baked gameplay that plague the final product. 

    As the video game show X-Play once noted, it felt as if the developers "just stopped working on the game and went home."

    In 2014, we spoke to Matt Boland, a former designer at LucasArts, about this time at the studio. He described a disconnect between the Sales and Marketing department, which had become a much bigger focus of LucasArts' business towards the end of the developer's life, and the game development team itself. 

    For no-brainers like a potential Battlefront 3, things became infinitely more complicated as the focus shifted within the company.

    "Battlefront 3 was always on the radar, though the notion was always deeply rooted in a struggle between the goals of Sales and Marketing to carry on the franchise, and that of the design team to craft a completely unique shooter."

    And then there's the uphill battle LucasArts faced against the higher echelons of Lucas' empire.

    "A great number of times what the public might have seen as shitty work or laziness from LucasArts were actually the results of decisions from much higher in the LucasFilm food chain," Boland told us. "In the end, Lucasfilm is a film company, not a game company, and I think that knowledge gap lead to LucasArts taking hits for a lot of products that everyone (teams included) knew weren't ready for release."

    This miserable period for LucasArts culminated in the release of Kinect Star Wars, a motion-controlled travesty that allowed players to vaguely maneuver Han Solo as he danced on the grave of the proud legacy of Star Wars games. In just a few years, LucasArts went from a studio that didn’t want to be restricted by the boundaries of the films to a company that greenlit "Hologram Girl," a Star Wars-themed song sung to the tune of "Hollaback Girl."

    Kinect Star Wars was the last LucasArts Star Wars game, but the pain didn't stopped there. When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, the company wasted no time killing off any chance the future of Star Wars gaming might have had. On April 3, 2013, Disney announced that it had laid off most of LucasArts' staff. In the process, the House of Mouse effectively ended the development of Star Wars 1313.

    Boland told us that 1313 was still the best looking game he had ever seen up until that point.

    As far as cry worthy details, towards the end there was some awesome stuff developed using Boba's jetpack. We were just starting to prototype how the jetpack could integrate into a cover-based shooter without us cheaping out and committing the sin of arbitrarily taking away the jetpack at certain points.

    We also had an assortment of wrist-mounted gadgets players could use to gain advantages in combat, an epic story involving the Coruscant underworld, and a world class art team who created next-gen visuals when the PS4 and XBONE were mere twinkles in first-party executives' eyes.

    1313 was supposed to be a gritty and mature Star Wars title that shifted the focus away from lightsabers and the Force and to the early years of Boba Fett's mercenary career in the Coruscant underground. It was supposed to be the game that restored glory to the concept of interactive Star Wars experiences.

    The optimism required to believe that sentiment is similar to the drive the compelled Darth Vader to rule the galaxy. Both are dependent on your ability to press forward despite a history of severe burns.

    Even after LucasArts had been obliterated (it still exists as a licensor), Disney wasn't done doing damage to the proud history of great Star Wars games. In 2013, the company granted Electronic Arts the exclusive rights to make Star Warsgames. EA recently rewarded that trust by releasing Star Wars Battlefront II, a game so exploitative that the CEO of Disney reportedly stepped in to ask the publisher to dial back on the greed.

    However, Battlefront II’s greatest sin against the history of Star Wars games isn’t its loot box fiasco. It's not even the fact that it is almost solely based on nostalgia and what we've seen in the movies, forgoing even the tiniest hint of innovation (the single-player story campaign is paint-by-the-numbers and bad). No, the most depressing thing about Battlefront II is that it was the only new Star Wars game released in 2017. There's no new Star Wars game on the 2018 slate as of this writing.

    EA recently killed off developer Visceral Games and its narrative-based action-adventure project known simply as "Ragtag." The full story of that game's cancellation is a complicated and fascinating tale of what happens when ambition meets economic constrictions and big egos. Some at Visceral have even stated that the game was likely never going to be good. 

    Fans didn't see it that way, though. Due largely to an ill-advised press release that explained EA's decision to close Visceral Games, fans walked away with the impression that EA simply didn't feel a narrative-based, original Star Wars experience was viable in the modern age. 

    Even if that isn't the absolute truth, it's impossible to blame fans for believing it. After all, they have endured over a decade of executives telling them what they should want in a Star Wars game and how anything else simply isn't reasonable. 

    The fact that Battlefront IIrepresents the foreseeable future of new Star Wars video games is a disturbance that has left many fans with the feeling that a million creative voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. Or, as former LucasArts' programmer David Fox put it to USGamer, “I think [Disney] bought Lucasfilm for Star Wars, not old games."

    Perhaps there will come a day when Star Wars video games aren’t crafted solely by a studio petrified to abandon the doctrine of the films in favor of creating the kind of bold experiences that developers of the past preferred over the familiar. On that day, gamers everywhere will be reminded that the true joy of Star Warsvideo games doesn’t just come from the way they allow us to live out our fantasies, but in the way they give fans a viable outlet for the stories they envisioned as kids.

    Until then, don’t hesitate to revisit the greatest Star Wars games or play them for the first time. Here's a quick list: Knights of the Old Republic, the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight series, the Rogue Squadron games, the original Battlefront games, and Republic Commando. These games are still the best way to keep your Star Wars fandom alive at a time when it's beginning to feel like new Star Wars projects are destined to divide. 

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    Fist of the North Star? Dragon Ball Z? These 80s and 90s games looked very different by the time they appeared in the west...

    The ListsRyan Lambie
    Jan 19, 2018

    Thanks to the internet and the growth of gaming as a general cultural phenomenon, audiences are now more familiar with the concept of localization: the process of altering a video game for a specific marketplace. Sometimes, these changes can be as subtle as altering lines of dialogue so they make sense in a given country - an everyday phrase in Japan would likely mean nothing to UK gamers if translated literally, for example - to fairly drastic changes to a game’s graphics.

    One of the most famous examples is, perhaps, Bionic Commando on the Nintendo Entertainment System. In Japan, the game roughly translated to Hitler's Resurrection: Top Secret, and contained a number of controversial references to the Third Reich. Nintendo, sensitive about such imagery in the west, had all this shorn from the American and European versions, where the game went under its now recognized name, and all instances of Hitler moustaches and Swastikas were carefully edited out. Oddly, a late cutscene involving a gory exploding head was left in, possibly because Nintendo thought most players would never even reach it.

    Beyond avoiding sensitive topics like Nazism and religion (Nintendo also liked to edit out crucifixes and other such symbols from old games), there was something else that sometimes vanished on a game’s trip overseas: its licensing. Sometimes, this may have been because western audiences simply wouldn’t have recognized the anime or manga on which a game was based. Elsewhere, it was probably to avoid difficult rights issues.

    Whatever the reason, there are a number of games from the '80s, '90s, and beyond that you may not have realized were once based on animation or comic book properties over in Japan. Games like these...

    Ninja Kid - NES

    Was originally: GeGeGe no Kitaro

    It wasn’t an indelible classic like Super Mario Bros, but this fun, jaunty platformer had lots going for it, especially given that it came out in 1986 - back when the NES was in its relative infancy in the US. In its western guise, it offered a curious trip through what looked like a medieval world of ghosts and demons, with the player controlling a somewhat anonymous youth clad in blue. What most American kids wouldn’t have realized, though, is that Ninja Kid began as GeGeGe no Kitaro, an adaptation of a long-running manga and anime series that had its roots in the 1960s.

    As introduced in Shigeru Mizuki’s manga, the lead character is Kitaro, a weird kid with one eye, the missing one covered up by his long hair. In both the manga and the game, his job was to see off the various yokai - or supernatural monsters - invading Japan from all corners of the globe, and his weapons in the game were a flick of his long hair, a disembodied finger, or a wooden clog.

    In short, GeGeGe no Kitaro was like Yokai Watch decades before that became a hit, and this NES spin-off might (just might) have been the game to introduce the character to a western audience. Ultimately, Kitaro was carefully erased, along with other references to the original property.

    Black Belt and The Last Battle - Sega Master System, Mega Drive

    Was originally: Fist of the North Star

    When Akira kicked off a keen interest in manga and anime, particularly in the US and UK, Fist of the North Star was among a handful of features and OVAs put out by Manga Entertainment. The 1986 film’s ferocious violence caused a brief ripple of controversy among British tabloids when they discovered that - shock, horror - some Japanese animation contained a fair bit of death and nudity on occasion. The gorehounds who happily lapped up Fist of the North Star back in the 1990s may not have realized, however, that the west got a brush with the ultra-violent adventures of Kenshiro a good few years earlier.

    Black Belt, a side-scrolling brawler for the Sega Master System, originally began life as a licensed game based on the Fist of the North Star (or Hokuto no Ken) property, with the player kicking and punching his way through an assortment of ill-fated goons across a postapocalyptic background. For its trip overseas, all the crumbling skyscrapers and parched deserts were replaced by dojos and eastern temples, while the bad guys became generic figures in martial arts outfits. Oddly, Sega didn’t clean the game up entirely for its western release - when Kenshiro punches a bad guy, their bodies still explode in (bloodless) chunks of meat. 

    A similar thing happened a few years later, when another Hokuto no Ken game for the Sega Mega Drive was cleansed of its licensed elements and released elsewhere as Last Battle. This time, the postapocalyptic theme remained intact, though Sega was careful to remove all the squelchy exploding heads. A shame, really, because the blood and guts did much to disguise the original game’s repetition.

    Decapattack - Sega Mega Drive

    Was originally: Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure

    Now this is a really odd one. In the '80s, developer Vic Tokai made a small industry out of releasing a markedly similar game with different graphics. On the NES, there was Kid Kool, which in Japan was a licensed game based on a popular child actor. On the Master System, there was Psycho Fox, which was almost identical save for the new backgrounds and a shape-shifting fox hero.

    Finally, there was Magical Hat, a seemingly short-lived anime released by Studio Pierrot some time in the 1980s. It’s difficult to find many details about Magical Hat online, but we do know that it was lively and colorful, and prompted Vic Tokai to make Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure, which was basically Psycho Fox with graphics redesigned to fit the anime license.

    This, arguably, was the best of the lot, and a fun early platformer for Sega’s then-new 16-bit console. For its western release, though, Magical Flying Hat was altered beyond recognition to Decapattack, a cartoon-horror-themed platformer which traded the original’s blue skies and cute enemies with monsters and bouncing skulls. Instead of a plucky youth wearing a turban and a cape, the central character became Chuck D. Head, a mutant Egyptian mummy who throws his own decapitated cranium at enemies. Both versions are, in their own way, delightfully weird.

    Chubby Cherub - NES

    Was originally: Obake no Q-Taro

    Another fairly early release for the NES, this side-scrolling platformer was a decent if unremarkable platformer, with the central character being a hovering angel who looks a bit like an off-brand Kid Icarus. Its major innovation (if you can call it that) is that it gives the player a modicum of freedom to fly around, making it something of a shooter-platformer hybrid.

    As you may have gathered by now, the original Japanese release didn’t have much to do with chubby cherubs at all. Instead, the hero was Q-taro, the friendly ghost out of a hit manga and anime called Obake no Q-taro. The manga was by Fujiko F. Fujio, the duo who most famously gave the world robot cat character Doraemon. Q-taro is similarly cute and gentle. Although he’s a ghost, he has a crippling phobia of dogs, which is why the spin-off game, released by Bandai in 1985, contains a curious number of rampaging canines - and a subtitle, Wan Wan Panic (“Wan Wan” being the Japanese equivalent of “Woof woof” in English).

    Indeed, what’s interesting about Chubby Cherub is that, aside from changing the friendly ghost to a little angel, the rest of the game remains largely unchanged - and that includes all the references that western kids likely wouldn’t have understood. Collectible items still include onigiri (Japanese rice balls), and the backgrounds are unmistakably Japanese suburbs, complete with blue roof tiles.

    All this, together with some amusing Japanese-to-English translation, suggests that Chubby Cherub was localized in a bit of a hurry - all par for the course in an evidently low-budget, quickly-produced game. All the same, there’s something rather adorable about Chubby Cherub; maybe it’s all those puppies bounding around the place that make us go all soppy.

    Street Combat - SNES

    Was originally: Ranma 1/2: Neighborhood Combat

    Given the Street Fighter II mania sweeping the planet in the early 90s, this rather anonymous-looking brawler didn’t stand much of a chance, though it’s possible that a small yet devoted group of anime fans would’ve bought a copy had it been released under its original guise. In Japan, Ranma 1/2: Neighborhood Combat was one of several action games based on Rumiko Takahashi’s popular manga series, which became a hit anime in the 80s. Ranma was marked out by its immediately-recognizable art style, irreverent humor, and bold characters, which were all somewhat in evidence in Neighborhood Combat.

    Okay, so it was no Street Fighter II, but the anime-inspired graphics at least helped prevent it from looking like a straight clone. The same really can’t be said for the SNES version, where the quirky character designs were replaced by dull muscle-bound guys in jeans and t-shirts. Neighborhood Combat wasn’t great, but at least it let us fight a giant, belligerent panda.

    Fortunately, the next game in the series, Ranma 1/2: Hard Battle, made it to the west with its license instead. Tellingly, the belligerent panda (actually Genma Saotome in his ursine guise) appeared on the cover.

    Dragon Power - NES

    Was originally: Dragon Ball: Shenlong no Nazo

    In time, Dragon Ball Z would become known the world over thanks to its regular play on cable television and accompanying translations of Akira Toriyama’s action-packed manga. When Dragon Power came out for the NES, though, Dragon Ball was still something of an unknown quantity in America, and in any case its publisher, Bandai (which also brought us Chubby Cherub and Ninja Kid) clearly couldn’t be bothered to pay for the license to use the Dragon Ball name in the west. As a result, we got Dragon Power, a game changed just enough to avoid incurring the wrath of the rights holders, but with relatively minimum effort from those in charge of the localization.

    The manga’s shock-haired hero Goku is now a smiling, large-eared chap in a pink martial arts outfit. Secondary characters have been given a minor overhaul, too, but little effort’s gone into editing out some of the original game’s saucier aspects. One scene involves a lecherous old man, Master Roshi in Dragon Ball, asking to see a female character’s underwear in exchange for putting out a fire. We’re then treated to a cutscene where the old geezer’s surrounded by a circle of white knickers.

    How did Bandai work around this problematic sequence? By altering the dialogue so that the old man wants sandwiches rather than knickers, the idea being that the circle of white triangles could also look like halves of sliced bread. (This, coupled with some really iffy translated dialogue for several moments of unintended comedy.)

    Not that Dragon Power was much of a classic in either guise - with its top-down perspective and free-roaming map, it’s like The Legend of Zelda without any of the polish or refinement. Anyway, who wants a sandwich?

    Cratermaze - PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16

    Was originally: Doraemon: Deikyu Daisakusen

    An earless robot cat from the future, Doraemon's smiling face has graced a vast number of licensed games since the 1980s, and Doraemon: Deikyu Daisakusen was one of the most charming. It’s a twist on Hudson’s own Bomberman premise in that it’s a maze game where you collect things and blow stuff up. In this case, the aim is to collect all the doriyakis - those are Japanese pancakes with assorted fillings, and Doraemon’s favorite snack - and dig holes in which to capture enemies. It’s the same mechanic as Space Panic, in essence, but with Bomberman's top-down perspective and some surpisingly complex, maze-like area designs that provide a real puzzler-like challenge later in the game.

    On its trip to the US, where the PC Engine became the TurboGrafx-16, Doraemon vanished, with the central character replaced by a chubby guy in a blue space suit and the pancakes switched to treasure chests. Like Chubby Cherub, though, the rest of the changes are quite minimal, with several Japanese-specific designs left intact. In the opening cutscene, a villainous creature takes the form of a jomon statue from ancient Japan; temples and houses still look distinctly eastern. On the plus side, this means that Cratermaze lost Doraemon, but little of the original game’s breezy charm.

    UN Squadron - Arcade, SNES, various

    Was originally: Area 88

    In reality, almost nothing was changed in this very difficult side-scrolling shooter from Capcom other than the name. Everything else from the source manga and anime remains the same. In Japan, Area 88 was a long-running saga about mercenary pilots fighting a war in the Middle East, their heads turned by the prospect of huge pay checks while their souls are eroded by years of death and destruction. Capcom’s shooter inevitably lost the “war is hell" sentiment in translation, but the arcade game and subsequent home computer and console ports provided plenty of aerial thrills and explosions.

    Again, Area 88 was largely unknown in the west, so the name was changed to UN Squadron. The gaunt, distinctive character designs remain the same, though it’s a pity that UN Squadron’s western marketers opted to remove all evidence of Kaoru Shintani’s artwork from the box art and advertising. For the full Shintani experience, we’d recommend getting hold of the original Japanese Area 88 cartridge (boxed, of course) from Japan. It’s a thing of beauty.

    Tecmo Cup Soccer Game - NES

    Was originally: Captain Tsubasa

    Long before FIFA’s reign, numerous companies attempted to capture the dizzying thrill of football. One of the more unusual angles on the sport was Tecmo Cup Soccer Game, a kind of football RPG where actions were chosen from a menu. Once selected, your choices would then be played out in real-time by the little players on the pitch. The game’s largely forgotten these days, partly because it was roundly eclipsed by the almost identically titled series of Tecmo World Cup football games that appeared in arcades and on Sega Mega Drive and NES.

    Still, the Tecmo Cup Soccer Game at least offered a more cerebral alternative to the arcade version’s frantic button-mashing, and offered a further secret hidden from western players: it was originally a licensed game based on a series called Captain Tsubasa. In Japan, where it’s possible to find manga and anime based on just about anything, Captain Tsubasa reached the peak of its initial popularity in the mid-80s, when its comics were flying off the shelves and the TV show was pulling in sizeable audiences.

    Inevitably, Tecmo Cup Soccer Game got rid of the happy football-kicking protagonist and the show’s theme tune, and lost a bit of the original’s personality in the process. In place of the titular Captain, the western release’s protagonist is just Some Blonde Dude. Captain Tsubasa’s still going strong in Japan, though, and spin-off games are still being produced to this day.

    Cyber Spin - SNES

    Was originally: New Century CBX Cyber Formula

    Quite a few great racing games appeared on the SNES, largely because its fancy Mode-7 graphics allowed for super-fast, pseudo-3D sprite scaling. Strange, then, that Cyber Spin emerged as a top-down arcade racer. Strange, but not necessarily bad - on a console infamous for its slow-down (just take a look at Gradius III, for example), Cyber Spin offered a ludicrously fast, simple driving experience akin to the classic Super Sprint.

    Again, Cyber Spin began life as a licensed game: it was based on an anime called New Century CBX Cyber Formula about a futuristic grand prix where drivers sit at the helm of advanced, computer-assisted cars. The series was full of intrigue, bitter rivalries, and shock deaths, all of which fell by the wayside for the western release game. Cyber Spin lacks the Japanese version’s characters and cutscenes. Thankfully, the curvaceous 90s-futuristic vehicles remain exactly the same.

    The TV anime only lasted for a relatively brief 37 episodes in Japan, but the series was kept alive for years, thanks to straight-to-video installments and regular video game sequels on the PS2 and PSP. Unlike Cyber Spin, all of these appear to have remained Japan-exclusives.

    This is something we’re seeing more commonly in today’s much larger, more competitive video game market: rather than spending the money manipulating a game for a western audience, publishers are increasingly putting the title out as-is and hoping for the best (as in something like Yokai Watch, for instance) or simply leaving it as a purely local experience, known only to its Japanese purchasers or those who discover it on the web.

    The days of panties being recast as sandwiches are, it seems, gone for good.

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    Are people really just not buying enough narrative-driven games?

    NewsMatthew Byrd
    Jan 19, 2018

    Amy Hennig (former creative director of Naughty Dog) and Sean Vanaman (co-writer and co-director of Firewatch) recently sat down and had a conversation about the gaming industry. During their incredible discussion - which you can and should read in full over at Polygon - Amy Hennig talked about something that has fans of single-player game experiences engaging in a debate of their own. 

    "I think we’re in an inflection point right now," said Hennig. "Obviously what happened with our Star Wars project didn’t come out of the blue. A lot of too-dramatic articles were written about it — the death of linear story games and all that kind of stuff — but look, there is a real problem: this line we’ve been running up to for a lot of years, which is the rising cost of development, and the desires, or the demands even, of players in terms of hours of gameplay, fidelity, production values, additional modes, all these things. Those pressures end up very real internally. If it costs you, say, $100 million or more to make a game, how are you making that money back, and making a profit?"

    While that subject has been covered before, Hennig invoked an extra problem that doesn't get talked about very often. 

    "There is also this trend now that, as much as people protest and say, 'Why are you canceling a linear, story-based game? This is the kind of game we want,'” said Hennig. "People aren’t necessarily buying them. They’re watching somebody else play them online."

    By "watching somebody else play them online," Hennig seems to be referencing the rise of Twitch, YouTube, and other platforms that allow people to watch a streamer play through the entirety of a narrative-driven experience. We've heard other developers speak out against the rise of let's play culture and how those videos have negatively impacted sales

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    Even Vanaman disagreed slightly on that point. He stated that thousands of copies of Firewatch were sent out to various streamers and YouTubers and that the resulting exposure helped raise awareness of the game. As Hennig notes, though, the situation is a bit different when you compare a Triple-A release to an indie title. 

    Regardless of your thoughts on that particular topic, it's hard to deny that the public outcry for narrative-driven single-player games hasn't exactly translated into incredible sales. Some of 2017's greatest big budget, narrative-driven games - Resident Evil 7, Prey, and Wolfenstein II to name a few - all reportedly sold fewer copies than their developers had initially anticipated. 

    It seems that the heart of this problem, then, may just be the long-standing issue of the rising cost of games vs. the number of people who end up actually buying them. Is it possible that the most diehard supporters of Triple-A, narrative-driven games really are a vocal minority? Is it really just up to the consumer to go out and buy more single-player experiences?

    Unfortunately, the answers to those questions likely aren't simple ones. As always, though, the best thing you can do to support games you like is buy them, talk about then, and continue to keep exploring different types of experiences to ensure a variety of worthwhile games achieve the success they deserve.

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    In 1990, Konami made an arcade-only scrolling shooter based on James Cameron's Aliens. It's one of the best Alien games ever.

    Feature Ryan Lambie
    Jan 19, 2018

    This article originally ran on Den of Geek UK on April 4, 2015.

    When James Cameron’s Aliens stalked into cinemas in 1986, it was at a time when video game adaptations of major films and TV shows were really beginning to take off. Sylvester Stallone’s shoulder-padded Dirty Harry clone Cobrawas turned into a surprisingly decent run-and-gun courtesy of Ocean in 1986. Things like Airwolf, Miami Vice, and even Oliver Stone’s anti-war film Platoonwere all shrunk down to fit the computers of their day. Many were terrible, but a few, like Ocean’s other licensed titles (RoboCop, The Untouchables, and the like) were perfectly decent.

    Alienscertainly seemed to be a better candidate for a game tie-in than most movies. This was, after all, about a group of heavily-armed Marines led by Ripley, the survivor of Alien, as they’re assaulted on all sides by acid-spitting, hissing xenomorphs. Its humans-versus-monsters premise probably explains why a grand total of three games based on the movie appeared in the 1980s alone.

    One was an arcade adventure courtesy of Electric Dreams, which saw your first-person view switch between the film's increasingly nervy roster of characters. Activision's Aliensgame attempted something a bit more cinematic, offering up a string of mini action games stitched together by rudimentary cut-scenes (amounting to still images, for the most part) designed to take the player through the film’s pivotal scenes. Then there was Alienson the MSX, released exclusively in Japan in 1987 - a somewhat limp platform shooter which bore little resemblance to the film. 

    Konami’s Aliens game was somewhat late to the party, since it didn’t appear in arcades until 1990. Taking the form of a scrolling shooter, it loosely adapted the film’s final third, in which a heavily-armed Ripley heads back into the aliens’ nest to rescue Newt.

    Visually, Konami’s game takes the kind of liberties with Aliens’ characters that few developers would get away with in 2015. Ripley has a weird blonde rinse, Hicks (who steps in as player two’s character) doesn’t look much like Michael Biehn, while Konami introduces different strains of alien entirely of their own devising.

    In fairness, it’s not hard to see why the designers did this. The excitement of blasting the exact same type of alien for level after level would soon pall, and confronted with this reality, other developers would later take a similar approach with their own Alien games—check out the jazz-hands xenomorph in Gearbox’s tawdry Aliens:Colonial Marines for one example.

    Some of Konami’s alien designs make perfect sense on paper. There are flying ones, running ones, projectile-spitting ones, big boss ones as well as the more familiar soldiers Ripley fought in the movie. Yet Konami also saw fit to throw in zombies, which crawl toward you through ducts or reach out to grab you from behind vents. They’re more akin to something from a George Romero movie than James Cameron's classic.

    Glaring inaccuracies aside, Aliensis a decent '80s action game. The weapons have a satisfying, meaty feel, which makes you feel like an invincible, alien-mashing warrior right up until you’re overwhelmed on all sides and, inevitably, shown the dreaded Game Over screen. 

    Aliensis certainly more varied than most of the coin-ops that lined up arcades at the time. The first level’s side-scrolling section (where you can move in and out of the screen, like Double Dragon), which takes Ripley through the relatively unmolested areas of Hadley’s Hope, is followed up by an up-the-screen boss battle. Entirely disconnected from Alien lore though it is, this boss battle’s typical of Konami’s approach to game design at the time. Reaching an atrium the end of a long corridor, you’re confronted by a huge...thing, which proceeds to lunge out of the screen at you. It seems like a simple opponent to beat at first, but just when you think you’ve defeated it (by blowing its screeching head off), the thing starts charging around and firing balls of plasma from its neck hole.

    Level two is an into-the-screen blaster where you protect the APC as it hurtles down an alien-infested corridor. Level three takes place in claustrophobic air vents. Level four sees Ripley descend into the bowels of LV-426 in an elevator, xenomorphs sniping and snipping at the vulnerable lift cables all the way down. Some of the later stages are downright nightmarish, too. There's a colorful recreation of the aliens' nest, right down to the human victims hanging from the walls.

    Sure, Aliensdoes the usual late-80s coin-op thing, where certain moments prove so indescribably tough that a credit will vanish in seconds. To this day, I’ve never been able to guide Ripley to the bottom of that lift shaft without the pesky aliens cutting all the cables. But it’s also a solidly-made, exciting game, and a kind of cousin to Konami’s mighty Contra, a videogame series which itself owed a debt to the story ideas and production design in the Alien franchise. Alienseven fuses the film’s range of weaponry with familiar ordnance from the Contraseries: flamethrowers and M56 Smartguns are joined by three-way shots and missile launchers.

    Aliensbuilds to a predictable yet satisfying climax: a re-enactment of the scene where Ripley jousts with the alien queen in her Power Loader armor. The queen, all claws and writhing tail, is a fearsome creation, particularly given the limitation of the era’s hardware, and enough to sweep away memories of the weird space zombies and magenta alien soldiers. 

    Konami wisely gave would-be players a glimpse of the climactic battle in Aliens’ attract mode, knowing full well, it seems, why games like this were so popular in arcades. For players who weren’t yet old enough to see the film itself, the game provided a taste of its deep-space horrors. As a youngster at the time, I actually played Aliens a good couple of years before I saw the movie, and I didn’t realize that, one, Cameron’s sci-fi epic didn’t have a pounding electronic soundtrack, and two, that the xenomorphs in the movie aren’t a weird shade of pink. At the time, I didn’t care. All I knew was that I was being given a glimpse inside an R-rated universe I would never otherwise have been allowed to see.

    Unusually, Konami’s version of Alienswasn’t ported for home devices, perhaps because it arrived far too late to cash in on the film’s run in theatres. Instead, it was one of those arcade games that kept popping up here and there—a bowling alley perhaps, the end of a pier, or in the foyer of a swimming pool, which is where I first encountered it—before gradually fading out of public view.

    Konami hasn’t done much with Alienssince 1990, either—probably because it no longer owns the rights to the film’s intellectual property. The AliensIP now rests, of course, with Sega, and the resulting games have ranged from the sublime (the superbly-made but incredibly stressful Alien: Isolation) to the ridiculous (the disappointing Aliens: Colonial Marines) to the cancelled (Obsidian's Alienstactical game). 

    But 26 years ago, when licensed games were still a relatively new phenomenon, Konami’s Aliensarguably captured the excitement and claustrophobia far better than its counterparts on home computers. Indeed, Alienswas among the best games based on the property for many years—right up until Acclaim released its Alien 3-themed alien-blasting maze game in 1993.

    An engrossing trudge-and-gun shooter, Aliensgave kids everywhere a small taste of what it might feel like to be stuck in the gloomy corridors of Hadley’s Hope—at least, until you finally ran out of credits.

    Game over, man. Game over...

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    New role being created for Ken Watanabe in the Detective Pikachu Pokemon movie

    News Nick Harley
    Jan 19, 2018

    The long anticipated Pokémon live-action picture, Detective Pikachu, continues to move forward. Ken Watanabe joined in an unspecified role being written specifically for the film, according to The Hollywood Reporter. 

    Detective Pikachu will star Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) in the motion capture role of Pikachu. It's unclear if Reynolds will also lend his voice to the character, which could prove to be a bit controversial considering how fans reacted to the first time Pikachu spoke in a movie.

    Justice Smith (Get Down) co-stars as a kid who needs to find his missing father, and Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies), who is described as a "sassy journalist" who helps Smith's character and Detective Pikachu on the case.

    Detective Pikachu is being helmed by Rob Letterman, who is best known for adapting R.L. Stine's '90s kid nostalgia pic, Goosebumps, for Sony. Turning that into an all-ages comedy did wonders for the studio, and a sequel is expected to be on the way. Alex Hirsch and Nicole Perlman penned the script for Detective Pikachu.

    Legendary bought the international Pokémon movie rights in summer 2016 and has slowly been putting this movie together. It will also be produced through Universal Pictures, who will distribute the film in the U.S. and most international markets. Toho Co, Ltd., the movie studio behind all the animated Pokémon movies, will maintain the Japanese rights to the brand.

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    Yuji Naka, the programmer and designer behind the classic Sonic the Hedgehog, has joined Final Fantasy firm Square Enix...

    News Ryan Lambie
    Jan 22, 2018

    When it comes to Sega, no other game summed up the company's height of success better than Sonic the Hedgehog. The game that turned the Genesis into a true competitor to the Super Nintendo, Sonic the Hedgehog and its blue, spiky hero became the driving force behind Sega's expansion in North America and Europe.

    One of the key figures behind that game was Yuji Naka, a designer and programmer who'd worked on a string of titles at Sega since the mid-80s. Although he was far from well-known even at the time, Naka worked behind the scenes on the coding for such hits as Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Sega's unofficial mascot, at least before Sonic ousted him) Phantasy Star I and II, plus the rock-solid Mega Drive port of Capcom's Ghouls 'N Ghosts.

    It was in the '90s that Naka really made a name for himself, working as lead programmer and eventually producer on all the Hedgehog games at Sonic Team, the internal developer created in the wake of the series' success. Also at Sega, Naka worked on such titles as Sonic Adventure, Samba de Amigo, and Nights Into Dreams - in other words, some of Sega's biggest first-party games for its last two consoles, the Sega Saturn and Dreamast.

    Having left Sega in 2006 to set up his own independent studio, Prope, in 2006, Naka has since announced on Twitter that he's joined the Japanese giant, Square Enix. 

    "Just a quick note to let you know, I joined Square Enix in January," Naka wrote. "I'm joining game development as before, and to strive to develop games at Square Enix. I aim to develop an enjoyable game, please look forward to it."

    Naka's best known for his platform games, which might make joining Square Enix, a firm famous for its RPGs, something of a surprise. But Naka's also been producer and programmer on a number of action-adventures and role-playing games, too, including Phantasy Star Onlinein 2000 and 2006's Phantasy Star Universe.

    It's possible, then, that the formerSonic godfather's working on something more in the vein of those latter games at his new home. Will it be an original title or an entry in Square Enix's most famous games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest? We'll bring you more as we hear it.

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    The Belmont clan's destiny to forever battle Dracula will continue for at least another season.

    News Matthew Byrd
    Jan 22, 2018

    While Netflix's recent discovery that you can actually cancel a show has left some fans worrying that their favorite new Netflix series may be a one and done proposition, those who have already learned to love Netflix's Castlevania will be thrilled to learn that the streaming service has already greenlit the show's second season. 

    Showrunner Adi Shankar had previously hinted that the show's second season was a done deal in a now-deleted Facebook post, but Netflix officially confirmed the show's renewal in a brief statement that included the very welcome news that Castlevania's second season will be eight episodes long. While that's hardly the length of a network program - or even an HBO show - it's a nice upgrade from the first season's meager four episode offering. 

    All the principle participants of the show's first season appear to be onboard for Castlevania season two, which means that showrunner Adi Shankar, writer Warren Ellis, and voice actors Graham McTavish, Richard Armitage, James Callis, and Alejandra Reynoso will all reprise their respective on and off-screen roles. 

    A summer release date for Castlevania's second season was confirmed on Twitter by writer Warren Ellis last Friday...

    It might also be awhile before we hear any official plot description for the show's second season. However, given the events that transpire during the final moments of the show's first season, it's highly likely that this upcoming collection of episodes will pick up pretty much immediately where the previous season left off.

    There's also been no word on whether Adi Shankar's work on the recently announced Assassin's Creed anime - which may also come to Netflix - will impact the production of Castlevania's next season in any way. 

    In case you haven't yet read our review of the show, we thought quite highly of Castlevania's first season and look forward to seeing what the show's incredibly talented team can do when they have a full-length season to work with. 

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    The artist behind some truly unforgettable video game covers, Bob Wakelin, has sadly passed away.

    News Ryan Lambie
    Jan 22, 2018

    His artwork appeared on some of the best and most beloved games of the 1980s. New Zealand Story, Batman, Rainbow Island, RoboCop, Renegade, Chase HQ... The list is remarkably long. British artist Bob Wakelin was a key part of the UK games industry, and while not a household name, necessarily, his output was extraordinary - and in some cases, far more exciting than the products his artwork helped bring to life.

    It's with heavy heart, then, that we share the news that Wakelin. As word broke on Jan. 21, Wakelin's passing was confirmed on the artist's Twitter feed, while tributes poured in from fans all over the globe.

    Bob Wakelin's career began during the 1980s computer boom, hastened by such systems as the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64. After studying art at college, Wakelin stumbled into the games industry almost by accident when a friend encouraged Wakelin to meet the heads of Liverpool-based publisher, Ocean Software. It was at Ocean that Wakelin produced some of the most widely-recognised work of his career.

    Sometimes producing as many as three pieces of cover art per week, Wakelin was remarkably prolific, particularly given the detail of the work he was producing. His artwork for Daley Thompson's Decathlon, for example, was completed within just two days. Often working with an airbrush, Wakelin's cover art was dynamic and unfailingly eye-catching - his comic-book style cover for Batman: The Caped Crusader was perhaps one of his most accomplished pieces of work. 

    Then there was his artwork for Gryzor, a port of Konami's arcade game Contra. His depiction of two muscle-bound soldiers was so effective that it was used on Konami's own ports of Contra for the NES in America and Europe. 

    Never much of a fan of video games, Wakelin remained disarmingly down-to-earth about his contribution to the medium; in a series of recollections on the retro gaming site Exotica, for example, the artist simply said of his Gryzor/Contra cover, "A Predator/Alien rip-off is what the game appeared to be, so I supplied a Predator/Alien style pic - with ripped Arnie Predator poses."

    Along with the tributes that flowed around Twitter, video game fans also posted examples of their favorite Wakelin artwork, from military platformer Green Beret to the classic Wizball. It was a reminder of how enduring and much-loved the artist's work is, even decades later.

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    Barbarian remains one of the most controversial games of the late '80s. It's also a ton of fun!

    Feature Ryan Lambie
    Jan 22, 2018

    Where would the 80s have been without the writings of Robert E. Howard? In cinemas, John Milius’ 1982 adaptation of Howard’s macho pulp tales, Conan the Barbarian, prompted a wave of sword-swinging imitators, including The Beastmaster, Deathstalker, and Hawk the Slayer.

    The sword-and-sorcery zeitgeist also crept into the video game realm, from the decidedly Conan-esque playable characters in the hits Gauntlet and Golden Axe to the muscle-bound adventurer in Taito’s fantasy-themed coin-op Rastan. But for computer owners in the 1980s, one Howard-inspired game stood out from the pack: Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior, released by Palace Software in 1987.

    A one-on-one fighting game with unusually smooth animation and a decent selection of moves, given its pre-Street Fighter II vintage,Barbarian - arguably more than any other game of its time - made you feel like a hero from the Hyborian age. 

    Admittedly, Barbarian received the lion’s share of its coverage because of its Frank Frazetta-inspired marketing, which saw Wolf out of TV's Gladiator (or Michael Van Wijk, as he was then known) posing with a sword and loincloth next to barely-clad glamour model Maria Whittaker. But behind the parent-baiting cover art, there lurked a brawler that offered lots of fun, if not a huge amount of depth.

    Barbarian marked something of a turning point for Palace Software, which had entered the software market three years earlier. An offshoot of independent film company the Palace Group, Palace Software’s dramatic debut was a tie-in game based on Sam Raimi’s controversial, gleefully violent horror The Evil Dead. The studio’s parent company had already released the movie in the UK in 1982 - complete with Graham Humphreys’ wonderfully lurid cover art - and the decision was made to create a video game to go with it (“The Evil Dead was Palace Video’s big product and we had the rights, so we thought, why not?” recalled Palace Software’s Peter Stone, according to the book Britsoft).

    One of the very first licensed games of its type in the UK, The Evil Dead wasn’t exactly a classic (it iss essentially involved closing doors and windows before demons got into your log cabin), and even co-designer Peter Stone admits that it “needed better graphics and better gameplay.”

    For their next game, Palace Software hired artist Steve Brown, whose ideas were pivotal to the fledgling studio’s next phase. It was Brown who came up with the concept behind Cauldron, a shooter-platformer hybrid featuring a witch. When that game enjoyed glowing reviews and an uptick in sales, Brown presented his next idea: a fighting game inspired by the fantasy movie Red Sonja, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and also Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Konami’s hit arcade fighting game.

    “You know these fighting games?” Brown said at a pub meeting one day, “They’re okay, but the characters are too small. I really want a game with huge, huge characters - like, the whole screen.”

    Determined to create the most convincing pixel warriors he could, Brown came up with a simple yet ingenious method of capturing live-action footage and using it as a reference. He filmed himself performing sword-fighting moves on videotape, and then, having laid pieces of clear plastic over his television screen, traced them, frame by frame.

    The result was Barbarian, which featured some of the largest characters ever seen at the time. The game depicted a one-on-one sword fight to the death in an arena presided over by a villain named Drax. The moves were simple yet satisfying to execute: straight sword swings were accompanied by a kick and a head-butt (perfect for pushing your enemy back or getting out of a tight spot), and an over-head sword swing was good for gruesome blows to the head.

    The most dramatic move, however, was a kind of spinning sword attack that looked like something straight out of Conan the Barbarian. While performing it made you vulnerable to attack, there was a reward for getting the timing of it just right: if your sword connected with your opponent’s neck, his head would fly off.

    This meant that, in theory, you could forget about slowly chipping your enemy’s health down with several well-timed blows, and simply decapitate them with one grandstanding attack. Barbarian was, in short, the first fighting game in the world with a deadly finishing move, and predated the grisly spine-rippings and other executions in the headline-grabbing Mortal Kombat by several years. 

    Indeed, Barbarian’s controversy also prefigured Mortal Kombat’s, and it’s interesting to compare the public reactions to the game in Britain and Germany. In the UK, the outcry was largely reserved for Barbarian’s salacious advertising. In Germany, the game wound up in court for its excessive violence. At one point, the prosecution had to demonstrate the decapitation move, failed, and the case was thrown out. When the prosecution came back for round two, they brought a little kid with them who could actually play the game. He showed the jury the finishing move, and Barbarianwas summarily banned. Unperturbed, Palace Software simply changed the color of the blood from red to green, and the game was cleared for release once again.

    It could be argued that the decap-attack (as I’ve suddenly decided to call it) was a bit of a gimmick in an otherwise simple brawler. There is, after all, only one type of enemy to defeat over and over again until you face the evil Drax at the end of the game. But the risk-versus-reward nature of this special move completely changed the complexion of what could have been a fairly standard fighting game.

    With practice, it became easy to blast through the first few bouts in seconds, but the enemy AI tightened up as the encounters went on and the severed heads piled up. Towards the end of the game, the decap-attack was often countered by a brutal sword or kick to the ribs. Or worse, your enemy would perform his own decap-attack at the same time and your head would end up bouncing along the arena floor. 

    (It’s worth mentioning an incidental gag here, which occurred at the end of every bout: the losing player would have their corpse dragged off the screen by a hunch-backed, green homunculus. If the loser happened to lose his head, the loathsome creature would unceremoniously kick it off the screen like a football.)

    Unfortunately, Barbarian suffered from an affliction that plagued so many early fighting games: a weakness in the enemy AI meant that it was also easy to box your opponent in the corner and repeatedly whack them with kicks and sword swings until they finally succumbed. Once this was discovered, it became a relative breeze to get to Drax, who just fired balls of energy at you until you got close enough to stab him in the face. The ease of completion was a bit disappointing, but a two-player mode went some way to make up for it, and provided numerous hours of joystick button-bashing and competitive shouting.

    Barbarianwas far from perfect, and if it’s remembered at all, many will no doubt think of its box art and accompanying poster rather than the game itself. But for me, Barbarianhad a bit of an x-factor about it. Even though its thrills were short-lived in terms of variety, it offered a level of satisfaction that was rare in fighting games of the period. You only have to compare it to something like Yie Ar Kung Fu or Kung Fu Master, which were fun but didn’t exactly feel visceral, to see the difference. When you head-butted an enemy or lopped their head off in Barbarian, it was enough to raise a cackle of macabre laughter, especially if you were aged about 10 or 11 at the time.

    The only game that had the same gut-level impact was Way of the ExplodingFist, with its crunchy sound-effects and smooth animation (that kick to the nethers still brings a tear to the eye today). Certainly, Palace’s sequel 1988 titled Barbarian II: The Dungeon of Drax, didn’t manage to bring the same level of satisfaction. While it offered greater variety (it was a flick-screen brawler rather than a one-on-one fighter) and more Maria Whitaker on the cover, it felt a little tepid compared to its full-blooded predecessor.

    Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior, therefore, was far from big, and it was far from clever. But as Conan simulators went in the 1980s, it was undoubtedly a cut above the rest.

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    Figurines feature all your favorite stars like Crash Bandicoot, PaRappa the Rapper, and...err...the ship from Wipeout.

    News Matthew Byrd
    Jan 22, 2018

    Sony has announced a new line of figures modeled after the stars of some famous PlayStation games. 

    While these figures will no doubt have you crying "Sony Amiibos!" (assuming that you shout such things at screens) that's not exactly what we're dealing with. Despite their familiar looks, these figurines - which are officially referred to as Totakus - can't actually be used with your PlayStation 4 the same way that Amiibos can be used with the Switch and Wii U. Instead, they're just figurines modeled after familiar faces. 

    Also, it seems that Sony is not the one manufacturing these figures. Instead, they are being made under ThinkGeek's banner. As ThinkGeek is a GameStop-owned brand, these figures will only be sold through GameStop stores associated retail brands. The first figures available will be the hunter from Bloodborne, Crash Bandicoot, PaRappa the Rapper, Kratos from God of War, Sackboy from LittleBig Planet, Heihachi from the Tekken series, and the Feisar FX350 racing ship from Wipeout(which is kind of the "Shoe" of this Chinpokomon lineup). 

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    Otherwise, these figures are very similar to Amiibos. The designs of the first few models revealed thus far is fairly impressive. They aren't quite as detailed as the most expensive figures out there, but they certainly look pretty good for their retail price range (a fair $9.99). They should be available starting on March 23, 2018. 

    Interestingly, not all of the characters revealed thus far are actually owned by Sony. Crash Bandicoot, for instance, may have been developed by Naughty Dog, but he is technically owned by Activision. This seems to open the door for future figures that are only associated with this Sony brand. We've seen something similar with Nintendo's Amiibo line. 

    We're a little surprised it's taken Sony this long to get onboard with this concept. All reports indicate that Nintendo is shipping millions of Amiibos. Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not these figures' lack of functionality and Sony's less iconic roster of characters will impact the sales of this particular line. 

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    One of gaming's brightest lost gems is playable once more.

    News Matthew Byrd
    Jan 22, 2018

    One of the most notable games of the last 10 years, P.T., is finally playable again thanks to some dedicated modders who are trying to remake the game for PC. 

    The project is being helmed by a modder known only as SmoggyChips. He and a few others have worked to remake P.T. in Unreal Engine 4. While we've seen a few attempts at something similar in the past, many of the most notable P.T. recreations have had to change certain design elements in order to avoid a copyright strike. This remake, though, seems to aim to preserve nearly every detail featured in that famous 2014 title. 

    While the mod team states that the project is not yet finished - there is still some fine-tuning to be done - you can download a playable version of their vision from here for free. The description of the project - called Corridors - hints that the final build of the game may contain some twists, but this current build seems to be a faithful recreation of the classic horror title. 

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    If you're unfamiliar with P.T., we highly recommend you check out our retrospective look at the title which helps explain why P.T. was so notable upon its release and why there will likely never be a horror game quite like it. If you're looking for the short version of that story, though, just know that P.T. was a surprise demo for what was supposed to be Mega Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima and film director Guillermo del Toro's take on the famous Silent Hill franchise. 

    Unfortunately, that project was canceled when Kojima and Konami had their infamous falling out. As cruel as it was that Konami robbed us of that game, their cruelest move decision was to remove the P.T. demo from the PlayStation Store. In the process, they denied many gamers the chance to experience a horror title that has influenced the direction of the video game horror genre as much as any game released in recent memory. 

    As Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water continues its award season run, Hideo Kojima puts the finishing touches on his next game, Death Stranding, and Konami readies to release the controversial Metal Gear Survive, now feels like an especially appropriate time to revisit P.T. 

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