Unholy Night: Fight Like It's 1995

My parents warned me when I asked for a Super NES back in 1991. It was a scam, they told me. Nintendo would quit making games for the Super NES in a few years, they said, and then I'd just have to buy another expensive console. Well, mom and dad, you were right about the general practices of the consumer electronics industry, but you were wrong about one point: somebody’s still making games for the Super NES.


Of course, the Super NES and other long-dormant game systems live on today through independent creators, not large companies and familiar series. Even so, Unholy Night: The Darkness Hunter has a pedigree. The developer, Foxbat, includes veterans from SNK's Neo Geo fighters and Eolith’s little-seen 2004 arcade release Chaos Breaker. However, their new fighting game is devoted to the Super NES, and they even began a Kickstarter to fund a run of actual cartridges.


Unholy Night is a throwback in its choice of console, but in many ways it’s a collection of every fighting game staple modern and distant. And those aren’t necessarily inventive or accomplished ways. The swordsman Blaze, ostensibly the hero, has weirdly oversized hands, and the knight called Reinhardt appears to wear his armored gown at nipple-height. The other fighters are less oddly drawn but no less cliché. We have a knife-packing maid named April, an older fencer named Chronos, and Nightmare, a woman who wields dark magic and wears even less than the half-naked werewolf.

Trouble Shooter's Third Strike

It’s a good time to be a fan of Trouble Shooter. Or Battle Mania. Or whatever you might call the two comedic Sega Genesis shooters that put heavily armed heroines named Madison and Crystal in a blend of Forgotten Worlds and Dirty Pair. I am a fan, because I know of no other game that drops you into a giant claw machine so you can fight a farting pig robot.


Hardcore Gaming 101 recently put up an entry on the series, and it covers the first game, which we knew here as Trouble Shooter, and the second game, which we never saw here and thus knew only by its Japanese title, Battle Mania Daiginjou. The article also mentions Madison and Crystal’s cameo in Segagaga. Of course, they would go by their Japanese names, Mania Ohtorii and Maria Haneda, respectively. I would be annoyed at having to explain that every time I talk about Trouble Shooter, but I like talking about Trouble Shooter too much.

The big attraction in the article is a set of design documents for the never-made third game in the series, Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou. The scans come from the fourth volume of Nazo no Game Makyou, which printed them small and in black-and-white. I bought this very issue about a month ago, but I dragged my feet on scanning it, restrained by that new-purchase aura that congeals when you spend twenty bucks on a little book about old video games. Fortunately, Hardcore Gaming 101 stepped up and scanned them as nicely as possible, considering that the original images were only slightly larger than Wheat Thins.

Those design documents show what could’ve been an amazing game. You can check out the entire set at Hardcore Gaming 101, but I picked out my favorite things from this game that never was.


Gravity Rush 2 Contest Results

Well, the Gravity Rush 2 Contest turned out much better than I expected. I had seven whole entries from four different people! And they were pretty good!


The winning entry came from Craig G, who cut mercilessly deep with the above revelation. Even so, Gravity Rush lets Kat throw enemy soldiers and average citizens off the edges of floating islands, allowing them to plummet into an ominous void. Perhaps she really is evil after all.

But that wasn't the only good entry I received! Check out the others!

Rental Stickers: An eBay Tour

I recently grew fascinated with those rental stickers often seen on old VHS tapes, DVDs, and video games. For many they're an annoyance, a sign that you're getting something that was digested and regurgitated by a hundred VCRs or Nintendo decks. But I like them.

This stems from my ongoing effort to buy fewer old games. Instead, I just look at them on eBay, where odd labels and faded warning tags only give cartridges and discs more personality. You’ll see hundreds of auctions for NES games at any given time, but only one might be from a long-gone Hastings Entertainment in Aurora, Colorado. A game assumes a greater place in history when it carries an old rental-store emblem. It’s not just a battered cartridge; it’s a memento from an age when Blockbuster Videos were as numerous as Burger Kings and renting a game was a blessed alternative to spending months of allowance on Brawl Brothers or Valis III.
 
I picked out a handful of intriguing (to me, anyway) ex-rental games from eBay, avoiding the more commonplace remnants of Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. There’s a little story in each one of these.



VIDEO EZY'S LAST BATTLE
Seller: 8bitlives (ended)

I love it when something wears its past in price tags. This Last Battle cartridge served its time at Video Ezy, an Australian chain that apparently survived the rental crash by embracing kiosks. Games were five bucks a week (which is about $3.50 in my native currency), and I’m sure a bunch of early Sega Genesis/Mega Drive owners got their fill of repetitively punching and kicking post-apocalyptic thugs. No, Last Battle isn’t a very good game. It was a Fist of the North Star title in Japan, but Sega excised the exploding heads, rampant blood, and manga-anime license for tender Western sensibilities, and what remained wasn’t very interesting.

No longer a hot renter, Last Battle ended up in the sales bin for about twenty bucks. And because that’s too much for a mediocre Mad Max knockoff, Video Ezy slashed the price below ten dollars. Someone nabbed it at that point, though I hope they held out for a buy-two-get-one-free offer and got, say, Forgotten Worlds and Truxton in the bargain.

Little Things: Legacy of the Wizard

In my last Little Things, I forgot to mention other small details that I like about Legacy of the Wizard. For example, I like the portrait that the family of playable heroes has on their wall.


There's a lot to enjoy on this screen, which presents the Worzen clan in their domestic forms and shows them transforming into fantasy archetypes once selected by the player. The best is Pochi, the dog who is really a grumpy dino-dragon creature.

However, my favorite piece of their home is that portrait on the wall. It supposedly depicts the bearded and bald ancestor who once sealed away the ancient dragon that the family must now defeat, but that picture also looks like a parrot.


Little Things: The Falcom Bounce

Video games diverge when it comes to falling. A harsh, semi-realistic adventure like Dark Souls shows no mercy to anyone who drops too far a distance. A cute side-scroller like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Dino City lets you plummet from great heights unharmed, provided there’s a place to land and you’re not just tumbling into a bottomless pit. There’s not much to it: if you fall, you either take damage or walk away cartoonishly unscathed.

Some games from Falcom put a little more thought into this. Characters don’t just fall. They bounce.

A good example appears in Legacy of the Wizard for the NES. It’s technically part of Falcom’s Dragon Slayer series, and it sends an adventurous family (and their pet) through a ludicrously complex maze. The gameplay resembles a side-scroller, so the members of the clan can jump, climb ladders, and, of course, fall from great heights.


Observe this example with Pochi, the family’s loyal monster pet. I’m using him because he's a dog in the family portrait and a dino-dragon in the game and therefore the best character.

Gravity Rush Now Even More of a Cartoon

Gravity Rush 2 is little under a month away, and I prefer to pretend it’s already here. I’m running a Gravity Rush contest for a few more days, and I’m busy playing the demo that went up on the PlayStation Network last week. And just today, Sony released the two-part Gravity Rush: The Animation – Overture. Sure, you can watch it for free on Sony’s YouTube Channel, but why do that when instead you can read my opinion of it?

Or maybe I'll just use a picture.


A bridge between the first game and the sequel, Overture answers at least one important question about Gravity Rush: what do the characters like to eat?

Yes, it goes all of two minutes before trotting out a harmless but tiresome cliché: the heroine flying into a violent fury when a precious, newly acquired snack is destroyed. Floating around a market, Kat buys a kabob, loses it, and trashes bug-eyed Nevi shadow creatures, whereupon Raven, her less cheerful rival, shows up and lends a hand. This occupies half of Overture’s running time.

The second half jumps back a short while and finds Kat and Raven eating snacks (of course) and discussing a recent spate of disappearances in their home city of Hekseville. They’re suddenly sent to a mysterious floating island where a HAL-like computer holds children hostage in little power cels. Two half-masked, mummy-like antagonists appear, and then everyone ends up warped to the strange new city we’ll see in Gravity Rush 2.

Overture is an enjoyable gap-filler, all things considered. I can't imagine it swaying those with no interest whatsoever in Gravity Rush, but it brings up the game's best points. The animation is vibrant and mostly fluid, capturing the details of the floating city and Kat’s bubbly personality—which fortunately develops beyond “I like to eat” in the second half. It also keeps the fictional language from the games, as the characters all use the same melodious semi-French, semi-Japanese tone (in which Kat and Raven’s names sound the same as they do in English). I’m a sucker for made-up languages. I’d watch Barb Wire if everyone talked like they were speaking Italian and Swahili backwards.

 Short as it is, Overture stokes my Gravity Rush 2 interest, which was, of course, crazily high already. I’m gonna go play the demo another dozen times.

The Best of Anime...Music

America’s anime fans were pretty busy in the late 1990s. We weren't satisfied just watching Robotech reruns on Toonami; we fervently devoured favorite series, wrote letters to keep Sailor Moon on the air, and went to conventions in numbers previously unseen. We also spent lots of money on anime and its ancillary merchandise. So great was our hunger that some of us thought it a momentous privilege to pay thirty bucks for the imported soundtrack to a movie or series we enjoyed.

In that light, The Best of Anime seemed like a great deal. Rhino Records released it in 1998 at the same price as a new album from Weezer or Neutral Milk Hotel, and it settled the question of anime's finest music for all time.


The Best of Anime aimed itself as much at new fans as it did at old-timers, and it shows in the cover choices. The CD comes with an illustration of either Cutey Honey or Speed Racer, and the art itself is a thin cel-like sheet posed before the booklet’s cover image of a Silent Mobius cityscape. I was a teenage boy at the time, and despite Speed Racer’s ironic cred, I went with the Cutey Honey cover. And then I tucked the cel inside the booklet before anyone could see it on my shelf.

Despite the title, this isn't an authoritative collection of the finest music spawned in Japan’s animation circuit. If it were, it’d have the Orguss 02 opening.

No, this is less a Top-40 countdown and more an educational sampling from three decades of popular anime series, and it might be more accurate to call it The Best of Anime That We Could Afford to License. It’s helped by some nice liner notes from Fred Patten, who introduces each series and explains just how it fits into the broader vein of anime. He also provides a brief rundown of just how certain shows and the attendant fandom took off in America—starting with an anecdote about the heroine of Brave Raideen kicking an enemy soldier in the crotch.

And the songs themselves? The Best of Anime is a hodgepodge of corny opening tunes and disposable puffery surrounding a few genuinely good numbers. In other words, it’s a perfect encapsulation of anime music.

Notes on Gravity Rush 2

Gravity Rush 2 was delayed, and I needed to compensate somehow. Sony wasn’t diplomatic about their reasons, either. Both Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian are shipping in late November or early December, and those games would bury Gravity Rush 2 and bury it deep. The solution? It’s now coming January 17. That way Resident Evil 7 and Tales of Berseria can bury it.

Without any chance to buy Gravity Rush 2 this year, I decided to buy something related to Gravity Rush 2. I went to eBay and looked for the cheapest possible fix.


I found this, an apple-shaped Gravity Rush 2 notepad. Apparently given away at conventions, it’s pretty much the only promotional trinket I’ve seen for the game. It’s about the size of a standard Post-It pad, and it was only 99 cents. That wasn’t bad, even if buying it would mean that I spent money on blank pieces of paper somehow connected to Gravity Rush 2.

Good thing there’s a surprise within.

The Tale of a TurboGrafx

What was the first thing you bought on eBay?

It’s an inane question, but I expect it’ll come up more and more often as the decades lurch onward and turn us nostalgic about every microscopic detail we recall from our younger years, whether it’s the first Star Wars figure you got or the LeMenu microwave dinner plate that your family reused almost every night for fifteen years. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you remember it.

In that light, it’s not hard to find some appeal for the early years of eBay. The website’s still around and will be as long as the Internet exists, but it was a different creature in the late 1990s, when just about everything online was more suspicious. Auctions didn’t need images, sellers and buyers were on largely even ground when it came to feedback, and PayPal was largely unknown. You might find yourself wondering if that Gundam model or old Arby’s kids-meal toy was really worth the trouble of getting a money order and mailing it off.



I first heard of eBay in 1998, but it was through a coworker who would interrupt conversations in the most awkward manner imaginable. He once accosted me in the store's video-game aisle just so he could point at Dead or Alive for the PlayStation and announce “this is the bounciest fighter.” When he mentioned eBay, I decided to stay away from it.

I didn’t stay away for long, and the next year I jumped into eBay. The first things I bought were not memorable: two Final Fantasy VII posters and an unopened Chun-Li figure from the G.I. Joe/Street Fighter cross-up of the early 1990s. The posters, which I now realize were bootlegs, stayed on my wall for only a month or so, and Chun-Li sat in a closet for a good decade until I sold her, still unopened, for about the same amount I’d paid.

My third purchase was the first important thing I bought on eBay: a TurboGrafx-16.