Hatsune Miku:
Project DIVA Future Tone
Jan 21
Posted by James at 11:15

Rhythm action games, as a genre, have been through some tough times. Just over a decade ago a market still existed for original, mid-budget affairs, with wholly unique soundtracks to boot. Yet today these games are almost nowhere to be seen, and the mainstays of the past – Guitaroo Man, Pop’n Music, Dance Dance Revolution, Ouendan, Rhythm Tengoku – either died a slow death or retreated back to the arcade.

But mercifully games based on licensed music and characters have found their way to the home, and it’s allowed Sega to sustainably produce and iterate on a new modern rhythm action series for almost a decade. The end result - Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone - is the culmination of all the Vocaloid rhythm games Sega’s esteemed AM2 team has worked on over the years.

The Project Diva series feels like a love letter to all things Hatsune Miku, the synthesised idol from Crypton Future Media. A song list comprised of music from fan favourite vocaloid composers? Check. Plenty of unassumingly delightful nods to vocaloid culture? It’s all there. Gorgeously modelled music videos that bring the music to life? Yup.

Since the lyrics are all composed in Japanese, that last point is rather important – the scenarios of the story-focused music videos do a lot to bring out the meaning of the lyrics while playing to the compositions’ strengths. It’s not hard to feel the mood while playing a song like From Y to Y, for instance.

Being an arcade conversion, Sega has included over 200 songs, spanning every genre you can imagine, and not only every previous game in the Project Diva series, but the cuter, more bouncy Project Mirai series on 3DS. Those willing to give Vocaloid music a fair shake are unlikely to be disappointed with the selection on offer, and based on my own personal experiences, it’s likely you’ll still find something to love in the songs that you don’t find catchy, thanks to the storyboards in the music video, or some rather brilliant choreography on display.

Tracklist natter aside, Future Tone’s roots at the arcade means Sega have brought over some of those arcade sensibilities with it. Basically: It not only looks and sounds the part, but it plays the part. Here’s the gist of it: button prompts fly in from the sides of the screen. You clear them by pressing the appropriate button when the prompts land in their designated zones, which are placed ahead of time to the vocaloid music.

What’s always made the series stand out is the depth to these mechanics. Not only do the flying button prompts and fixed zone markers keep things unpredictable yet fair, those that learn to “dual wield” the controller – interchanging the face buttons for the D-Pad and vice versa – will discover hidden depths to playing each song.

Dual wielding means that you can clear a button prompt for pressing Cross by tapping down on the D-Pad instead. Left on the D-Pad thus becomes the same as Square, Triangle can be substituted for Up, and so on. Which mercifully allows you to tackle more complex note charts that the developers cook up on the harder difficulties.

For instance, pressing Square, Triangle, Square in time and in quick succession to a three-syllable word would be difficult using just the face buttons, but with practice it soon clicks in your brain that you could dual wield, and either bash out Square, Up, then Square with your two thumbs, or Left, Triangle, left to the music.



This has been a staple to the series since the second entry on PSP, but Future Tone raises the bar in a way that provides a lot more depth to mastering and interacting with each song in the game. There are three main additions: Button prompts that beg to be held down instead of tapped, multi-button presses, and Left/Right markers that require either a trigger tap or a slide. At the arcades, an inviting multi-coloured touch-bar handled the slides, but on PS4 you can either hold down the left trigger, or more characteristically, tilt the controller or slide your thumb over the touchpad.

Having to now hold down some buttons, or press several at once, adds more nuance to the game’s scoring systems. For instance, holding down a button continually adds to your score, but it’s no easy feat to do this *and* continue playing the song as normal using the other, unoccupied buttons. Likewise score tracking is a lot more detailed, letting you know the exact boundaries for getting a Great, or an Excellent. It’s a no-nonsense approach to rhythm action that also feels great to play – feedback is crisp and the sound effects are inviting, as they should be.

It’s also a return to form after the two PS Vita games introduced some odd new mechanics which had the effect of creating the illusion of more complexity; the first introduced “scratch notes” that forced players onto an imprecise analogue input in response to a precise note – tilting the sticks or swiping at the screen. The second game replaced some prompts with on-rails markers, preventing the player from being able to read the music ahead of time.

Future Tone provides a firm but fair challenge that feels familiar and fresh to longtime fans, while keeping the hardest elements out of harder difficulties so not to alienate newer players. Some of the note charts on Extreme difficulty tended to reward memorisation rather than skill, however, but overall there’s little to fault here. It’s one of the best mid-budget home rhythm games in years – even if you’re not accustomed to synthesised Vocaloid music this is the perfect introduction.
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Kurukuru-ing
Edition
27-09-16
Posted by James at 14:56

I've had an itch for pick-up-and-play, arcade-like experiences lately, which nudged me in the direction of an imported copy of Kururin Paradise to play on my lovely Game Boy Micro. And it’s reminded me of how much craft large teams poured into decidedly lower budget handheld game back when the majority of the market only consisted of these two, very distinct worlds of console and handheld.

Much has been written about Kuru Kuru Kururin before here, but for the uninitiated, you pilot a helicopter (a helirin) through a series of puzzle mazes in search of the level goal. Except it's not really anything that resembles a helicopter; it's a constantly spinning stick as seen from above and the direction it’s facing determines where you can lead it on the way to the goal.

The beauty of Kururin is it’s an idea that can serve an entire game and then some, much like Super Monkey Ball, which has you rotating a maze to guide your simian to each level goal. That's reflected in the game's name, where "Kururin" is Japanese for "spin".

What sequel Kururin Paradise has to offer, then, is an expanded version of this very concept. In the first game, your stick only spun at a set speed, making harder levels feel a lot more restrictive than they ought to. It was too easy to be stuck waiting for your stick to rotate back round to where you needed it to, and it meant there could only be a certain number of ways to tackle some of the trickier levels as a result.

Paradise lets you speed up your stick’s rotation with the R button, and it’s revelatory. Impatient players like myself can use this new move to try and “game” the game as much as possible, calculating when and where to speed up the stick’s rotation ahead of any upcoming obstacles and never slow down on the way to the goal.

Above and beyond opening up new opportunities to attempt speed runs, it simply gives you so much more control in dodging obstacles, and this is reflected in the game’s level designs. One level sees you try to avoid ghosts that latch onto your helicopter, slowing down its movement. Another sees you dodge a plethora of flames, danmaku style. There are minigames which ask you to perform abstract tasks – like mowing a lawn – against the clock. This all wouldn’t be possible in the game's predecessor.

I really enjoyed my time playing through Kururin Paradise. It has all the hallmarks of a great Game Boy Advance game: A super solid gameplay concept, excellent use of sprite scaling, beautiful pixel art sprites and backgrounds, and a catchy soundtrack that also manages to make use of Game Boy backwards compatibility.

There’s a GameCube sequel: Kururin Squash. I've yet to play my copy of the game, but when I do it’ll certainly be interesting to find out whether Eighting can improve the core gameplay concept once more with the addition of analogue control…
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Sep
06
2016
Posted by James at 15:20
So Nintendo’s shutting the DSi Shop at the end of the month. While DSiWare will continue to live on as part of 3DS’s eShop thereafter, this is our last chance to download the games to an actual DS, the best way to experience them. And it served as good enough an excuse as any to take a quick look back at the DSiWare service.

DSiWare gets a bad rep for shovelware, and while there is a fair amount of junk on the service, there are some gems too. The service arrived at an awkward time - the iOS App Store had only just opened for business, and physical and digital were words used to describe two very different worlds of video games.

The tried and tested way of getting games to audiences was still through physical media, something which held especially true for the DS, a platform with no means of purchasing games digitally for four years.

Which begs the question: How could you make a compelling DSiWare game DS games already thrived on emphasising a gameplay concept and good art direction and had relatively lower development costs than most games?

It turns out you had to take those ideologies even further. The best DSiWare titles aren’t attached to the most eye grabbing IP, or the biggest development budgets. And due to the comparatively smaller publishing costs, even the quirkiest game ideas became that much more viable.

Take Reflect Missile for example. It’s Arkanoid mixed with Puzzle Bobble, rethought as a methodological puzzle game. You aim a scarce number of Missiles at an arrangement of blocks, hoping to destroy those marked for clearing each level. It's simple enough, but developer Q-Games took this one concept and ran with it, programming characteristically playful physics for for each missile type and offering a whole tonne of level layouts that make the most of the idea of bouncing stuff off walls and blocks.

Then there's Mighty Milky Way, a game about exploding planets. Tap a planet and it explodes, propelling your green-skinned character into outer space. It's another simple concept, but the circumstances to which its released means it's also surprisingly well polished for what it is.

These games celebrate the importance of good game design above all else, and there are much more of them, listed below.

I’ve also found them fairly refreshing - it’s rather neat to see large scale publishers like Nintendo and Konami invest in tiny ideas like these, and the simplicity of the game ideas on display here.

If you’ve got a few quid spare, dig out that DSi XL, pick up a few of my recommendations below and remind yourself of simpler times. Times when digital distribution meant realising a simple game idea that might not make it to a store shelf. Times before publishers all set their eyes on the gamification movement on mobile...

DSiWare gems: Sujin Taisen: Number Battle, Art Style: Digidrive, Dragon Quest Wars, Art Style: Decode, Wakugumi: Monochrome Puzzle, 3D Space Tank, Trailblaze: Puzzle Incinerator, Aura Aura Climber, Glow Artisan, Snapdots, Art Style: PiCOPiCT, Alt-Play: Jason Rohrer Anthology, Maestro: Green Groove, Primrose, Surfacer+, Bomberman Blast, 10 Second Run, Starship Patrol, Divergent Shift.
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Pokémon Go
Edition
09-08-16
Posted by James at 15:44

It's obligatory Pokémon Go article time!!!

But there's a good excuse: It's the summer games drought, where publishers decide not to release any games because we're all out getting some sunshine in our free time and no one else can say otherwise. The climate does make a great case for Pokémon Go, though, so that's what I've mostly been playing over the last month.

In a way, Pokémon Go is the all-encompassing idle game. You walk around your neighbourhood or areas unknown in the chance that a rare Pokémon might come into proximity, or hoping that one of the nine nearby Pokémon will pop up on your map, ready to battle and capture.

Your phone then gives off a satisfying buzz, you prod the Pokémon on the map, catch the critter and then it's off to look for more. It never really requires your full attention, but the heavy reliance on random Pokémon spawns combined with the social pull for groups to play or discuss the game makes for a game that’s nearly irresistible to leave alone. You're not only always making progress; you’re increasing your chances of being able to do so in the first place.

I’m still unsure whether playing Pokémon Go has made my journeys more exciting yet. Discovering new Pokémon in the same old areas is always exciting, but on the flipside it can all feel like busywork if you’re playing on your own and the novelty of the AR feature wears off. In particular, evolving Pokémon for experience points is often a long and cumbersome experience, and it can be disheartening to visit gym after gym of more powerful Pokémon than your own.

What makes Pokémon Go a bit more unique in the realm of games-as-a-service apps on mobile is that it’s compelling without the need to rely on tempting you back with superficial rewards.

There are no daily log-in bonuses, and a new player can quickly get accustomed to the game without being "trained" through a long and arduous tutorial that points the player towards all the different things they can do. Many of Pokémon Go's mechanics are left entirely unexplained to the player, which gives the experience the same sense of adventure as your first main Pokémon game.

Because Pokémon locations are all shared among players, it doesn’t feel as cynical as other games in the genre can. Niantic simply doesn’t – and can’t – discriminate directly between players in an obvious, direct way.

While Pokémon Go is undeniably seen as a social experience, the game actually lacks any sort of direct social features, too. There’s no way to spam your friends’ social media feeds with invites to the game for in-game currency, neither is there any way to directly compare your own achievements with friends’.

Social interaction is mostly driven from within the game’s intrinsic mechanics – I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with others, comparing our roster of creatures, or what we managed to capture over the weekend. It almost feels like a return to purer times as a result, where games weren’t actively trying to use their current playerbase to convert new players, or existing players into payers.

While I've unknowingly sunk many hours into catching dozens of Pidgeys and other common Pokémon in the name of levelling up and making progress, there's a lot to appreciate about Pokémon Go's design, and it certainly feels less cynical than other games on mobile.

Perhaps that's reflected in the spending patterns of players -- Macquarie Securities claimed that the majority of purchases in Australia were driven by a large number of players rather than super-engaged big spenders. Maybe I was wrong to point my finger at The Pokémon Company after all...
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Zero Escape
Edition
12-07-16
Posted by James at 14:36

I haven't really been playing all that much, admittedly. Since picking up a 64GB PS Vita memory card I've spent far too much time organising downloads for a bunch of previously deleted games, scavenging for old saves (this was less successful) and shifting whatever content I'd managed to back up over the years from a computer back on to memory card.

Among all the micromanagement I did manage to play something - Zero Time Dilemma weighing 1GB meant it was still on my old 16GB memory card, and thus ready to go. And...it's quite a departure to what came before it, just in ways which don't seem immediately obvious.

It's still a narrative driven experience interspersed with bouts of point and click puzzling, but its differences change how it fundamentally presents its story to the player, right down to each and every scenario. And it's why I shied away from calling it a visual novel in the previous sentence, as I would have done for its predecessors, 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Virtue's Last Reward.

Unlike those games' first person narratives, Zero Time Dilemma is presented entirely in third person, with animated cutscenes replacing simple text screens and dialogue-in-textboxes.

This shift in narration is certainly unexpected given the series' visual novel roots. But the problem lies in the execution. 999 only had lines of text and simple sprites to work with, so it practically lived or died solely on the basis of its vivid writing.

Zero Time Dilemma replaces the text narration with animated characters and cutscenes, but it's also clearly been made on a budget. What results is the series' trademark tense and foreboding atmosphere is missing.

Animation appears wooden and stilted, making even something as simple as a talking character appear awkward. It's hard to feel shocked about a character's death when you're presented with a scene of some unconvincing blood (tomato juice?) spilling out beneath them. And the camera angles used - presumably to keep the on-screen graphic violence down to a minimum - don't help the narrative's cause either.

So while Zero Time Dilemma sees a return to 999's horror roots after Virtue's Last Reward diverged from them, it's just less effective at realising its scenarios. No longer is it asking the player to read some prose, listen to some music and picture a gruesome scene with their imagination. Instead it's giving them the whole picture, only it's a flawed one.

In a way the developers were in a catch-22 situation: The game wouldn't have existed without the support of western fans, and the switch in narrative style was likely made to appeal to western tastes. But the lack of budget behind the project has meant the game's original vision hasn't been realised.

While I'm not as engrossed into Zero Time Dilemma as I was 999, or even Virtue's Last Reward, I'm still enjoying it. It's just a shame it isn't as fully formed as its predecessors were - moreso as the game's a love letter to fans - but on the other hand you can't accuse Kotaro Uchikoshi of shying away from trying something new.
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Jun
16
2016
Posted by James at 16:08
Surprise! Announcements like this, which completely appear out of nowhere, are the best. Moreso after the dust settles at E3.

But did it really come out of nowhere? A bit of sleuthing suggests that Mastiff have been dangling this version of the game in front of our very eyes, having created a Twitter account with the handle @Gurumin3D back in March, and tweeting that they were off to E3. It all makes sense now...

Anyway...Yes, Falcom's action adventure game, Gurumin, is heading to the 3DS in July courtesy of publisher Mastiff, and this is a release to get excited about. No, seriously.

In fact, I recently picked up the PSP version as part of my effort to revisit those games I missed in the PSP's software library, and I found it to be a charming action adventure title that has its own unique identity, enough to hide some of its shortcomings.

A 3DS version of this makes a lot of sense. Gurumin has a lot of platforming, and some of it can feel quite rote -- at least on a handheld -- due to the lack of visual feedback as to where all the platforms lie in relation to your character, Parin. So hopefully the developers will program in a good 3D effect to make the game's platforming feel natural and confident.

It's currently being developed by Opus Inc, who have done good programming in the past with the PC versions of Half Minute Hero, in conjunction with Falcom and iNPLAS, who, er, previously worked on this.

Please make sure the 3D effect is good, programmers.
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PSP Revisited
Edition
14-06-16
Posted by James at 14:21

Given the current glut of interesting new software coming to dedicated handhelds lately I thought it’d be a good idea to revisit Sony’s PSP. Or, rather, the games I missed out on back when new releases for both handhelds of the era weren’t hard to come by in the slightest. So I managed to pick up a brand new PSP-3000 to replace my aging 1000 model, and ordered a bunch of UMDs to go with it.

The PSP-3000 is a lot nicer than the pundits may have you believe. Its step down in build complexity is noticeable but it’s still a sturdy piece of kit, and the screen is more than acceptable by today’s standards, producing colours that are a close match for the sRGB standard for consumer content. Boring hardware chatter aside though, here’s what I’ve been playing in drips and drabs over the past few weeks:

OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast

As an adaptation of OutRun 2 SP this was always going to be good, but the PSP version is plagued with a framerate that always feels like it’s on the brink of disaster. This naturally makes it a lot harder to play once you’re past the earlier challenges. Still, it looks great, and in the moments where the action is smooth and stable your Ferrari just drives like a dream. Arcade racing at its very best.

Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure

Going off the blurbs on the back of the box, European publisher 505 Games wrongly oversell this as the next Zelda epic.

But really, Gurumin is more Zelda-lite with a much, much larger emphasis on platforming than puzzle solving.

What puzzles it does have aren't as clever as Zelda, and its combat can feel a bit rote at times, but Gurumin holds a lot of charm and more surprisingly, has its own unique identity too. Even the music is wholly unique for a Falcom-developed title, and the quirky voice acting and vivid localisation both go hand-in-hand with its purposely simplistic visuals.

It's a game that's hard not to appreciate or fall in love with, and one that doesn't necessarily need to ask a lot from its players to create some enjoyment - you enter its dungeons, smash things up and push through to the end.

Star Ocean: First Departure

This remake of Tri-Ace’s first RPG is interesting, but perhaps not for the reasons that would keep you playing until the end. What’s impressive is the lengths TOSE went into to recreate what was originally a Super Famicom game in the same style as its PlayStation-bound sequel. So there’s 90’s-era CGI backdrops everywhere, the battles now take place in simplistic 3D environments and even the item icons look like they were lifted from the PS1 sequel.

But really, the first Star Ocean isn’t a particularly interesting game to play today. It gives the illusion of complexity through its speciality system, which lets you teach specific skills to your party members, but fails to make this system feel like a worthwhile investment. It’s mostly due to the way the game plays out – battles are largely automated affairs, and difficulty is weighed too far towards character levels than actual skill and execution.

Star Soldier

A remake of Hudson Soft’s signature 2D shmup series, you play this entirely in vertical orientation, or TATE mode. After a few minutes of wriggling your fingers about and getting accustomed to the layout – it’s a bit like gripping a baseball bat and having to wriggle your thumbs around – it plays surprisingly well, letting you see far further up the playing field than you could on the console versions.

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva 2nd

One of the best titles on the PSP. Everything about it has been built for the system, from Hideki Nakamura’s interface design – he also worked his magic on Ridge Racer: Type 4, Ridge Racers and Ridge Racer 6 – to the rhythm mechanics and note charts, which complement the PSP’s symmetrical button and D-Pad layout nicely. It also looks the part too, featuring none of the dithering that plagued many other PSP games. It’s a great example of a time when publishers started investing in the platform after Monster Hunter lifted sales in Japan.

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Extend

More of the same as above, really, but with a weaker song list. I don’t think I’m going to be as compelled to master every song in Extreme difficulty like I normally do in the series because of it.

Everybody’s Golf 2

I’ve only played a couple of holes on the first course, so I shouldn’t even be listing this. But judging from those ten or so minutes I’ve spent with it, combined with the dozens of hours I poured in to Everybody’s Golf on Vita years back, I can say that this is going to be another feel-good golf game with solid mechanics and a chilled-out atmosphere.

It also helps that the Vita version even shares its physics engine with the PSP titles, so this game isn’t actually all that different, visuals notwithstanding.
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Effortless
Edition
17-05-16
Posted by James at 16:26

Unlike Mark, I haven’t really been playing anything that feels particularly substantial lately, instead just picking up whatever device I come across and settling for whichever game I feel like playing. But hey, that makes for a more unexpected opportunity to look at something different, as one of the games I found myself playing the most happened to be the smartphone port of Dragon Quest V of all things.

It’s easy to write off console-to-smartphone ports on the basis of a few developers that have got it horribly wrong. Take Final Fantasy VII for example. Rather than rethink the game for touch, the developers plonked a bunch of transparent on-screen virtual buttons over the screen to replace the inputs of a PlayStation controller. It's a terrible substitute.

Dragon Quest V, on the other hand, gets it right. Its heritage as a port of the DS remake of the PS2 remake of the Super Famicom original makes it an easy transition to the smartphone format. Where the DS game tried using both screens to create a single towering image, on a single display the gap in between is eliminated.

What results is a natural fit: Just like how you interact with the majority of smartphone apps - phone held in portrait orientation, one thumb over the screen - this game is just a hand's clutch away.

So you can play Dragon Quest V one-handed now. Better still, there are no virtual controller buttons littering this game's interface. Instead, the developers have designed and programmed what I like to call “smart buttons” – iconographic buttons that don’t substitute for buttons to drive a controller-driven interface. Rather they accept direct input that's translated directly into the game itself.

For instance, moving your character is as easy as sliding your thumb about the screen wherever you like. A single tap performs context sensitive actions like starting conversations with locals in towns and advancing text in battle.

We spend a lot of time navigating menus in RPGs, making it something that needs to be as frictionless as possible, particularly so when it comes to a shift in interface paradigms. Previous versions of Dragon Quest V had you use the controller to move a cursor between different menu options, listed within windows.

Rather than utilise on-screen controller buttons to navigate the same aforementioned button-driven interface, Arte Piazza have taken a touch-first approach to navigating the traditional Dragon Quest RPG menu.

Here, every selectable option is displayed as a large button, making up a grid of four or so options at a time. Like the navigation controls, it’s all accessible to a single thumb, so it’s just a case of tapping the option you want, then tapping what you want to do with it. Think of it like the bottom screen in the DS Pokémon games, only it extends from battle to every facet of micromanagement within the game.

The title to this piece is a big giveaway for what I'm about to write here, but Arte Piazza's reworking of controls and interface really do make this 24-year old RPG effortlessly easy to play on a small slab of metal and glass in 2016.

No doubt part of the game's success will be down to how the DS version from which it was based is such a natural fit. In addition to the vertical orientation of the graphics, your thumb only ever needs reach the “bottom” half the screen, ensuring it doesn't obscure the action.

But to point to the DS remake would be to belittle this version’s achievements. After all, the DS version didn’t support touch input, or carry a touch-friendly interface at all outside of a single minigame.

With Dragon Quest V on the smartphone, Arte Piazza have created an adaptation that should be applauded, an adaptation of a traditional console role playing game that can be effortlessly played with one hand on a device nearly everyone owns today.
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Apr
25
2016
Posted by James at 13:29
Looks like we're back to where we started as far as European releases for Atlus USA games go.

Speaking with trade magazine MCV, NIS America CEO Takuro Yamashita confirmed that the publishing arm recently cut its ties with Atlus USA, also hinting at its dissatisfaction from how Atlus USA would treat NIS America as a second class citizen when picking which games it would be given the license to publish.

This has two effects: Firstly Atlus USA will no longer distribute NISA's titles in North America; NISA will have to look for a new distribution partner. Secondly, and this is the obvious one, NIS America will not be publishing Atlus USA's games in Europe.

This has profound implications for us. Before late 2012, Atlus USA would seek out publishers on a game-by-game basis for European release.

This had all sorts of knock-on implications, since these games would have to fit around other publishers' priorities. This resulted in either long delays (Devil Survivor 2) or no release at all (Trauma Team) depending on the game and whether a publisher wanted to pick it up.

When NIS America struck a deal with Atlus to publish its games in Europe this all changed. NIS America have a comparatively low overhead to other publishers, also distributing its games via Reef Entertainment. So any Atlus release - big or small - would potentially be profitable for it to release in the region.

So we started seeing all sorts of games we didn't once receive before, from speedy releases of the likes of Persona Q and Persona 4: Dancing all Night to more obscure titles like Stella Glow and Lost Dimension even seeing a release at all. To say this was a massive improvement is an understatement.

That's all gone now. So we've gone from guaranteed releases of all Atlus USA games to the chasm of uncertainty we had before.

This is what I feared when Sega of America and Atlus USA finished unifying their publishing activities earlier this year.

While it meant great news for North America - as a publisher, Sega of America are stronger than ever, bringing in Atlus USA's localisation and publishing expertise - I had a feeling Sega would try and regain control of what have become its own releases in Europe.

Indeed, if the responsibility has now shifted to Sega of Europe we're likely going to miss out on a lot of smaller titles. Case in point: While Sega of Europe were quick to announce release dates for Valkyria Chronicles on PS4 and Yakuza 0, they've remained silent on Sega 3D Classics Archives (their own heritage!), Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X and 7th Dragon III.

So the future really depends on what Sega intends to do with European releases for Atlus USA titles. If it's all moving internally to Sega of Europe, then expect only the biggest titles - like Persona 5 - to make it over here.

But if Sega of America and Atlus USA are willing to step in and find a low cost way for Sega of Europe to get the smaller titles out the door like they did with NIS America, then we might have reason to remain hopeful again.
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Mode 7
Edition
18-04-16
Posted by James at 17:37

Ah, Mode 7. Arguably the defining feature of SNES-era visuals.

This party trick of sorts involves scaling and rotating an image, and was used in increasingly inventive ways throughout the course of the console's lifespan, from creating the tilting rooms in Super Castlevania IV, to bringing a slanted, angular viewpoint to many a role playing game’s overworld.

Environments created using Mode 7 all had one thing in common though: As detailed as they were, they all basically amounted to a flat plane on the ground. And so developers needed to be creative in bringing them to life. In Super Mario Kart, the driving physics made it feel like those tracks (which were basically part of a single image!) were real, your tyres convincingly skidding and sliding over the mud in Donut Plains.

That’s all timeless design – Super Mario Kart has certainly not aged because it’s all been skilfully designed around Mode 7 constraints – but one of the more interesting applications of Mode 7 comes from a launch title.

I've been playing Pilotwings recently, an arcade-y flight game, and I've come away impressed with how Nintendo EAD have used the effect.

Where other games used it to map out a world on the ground, Pilotwings uses it to take you to the sky, to create the illusion of flight, and hope you never realise the trickery behind it all.

Despite the earth below amounting to what is basically a flat, single image, Pilotwings does a great job at succeeding at this very aim. Most of Pilotwings' missions involve you completing tasks in mid-air before landing your plane/parachute/rocket belt/helicopter/hang glider, and this is how it gives you a feel of flying around in 3D space, above and beyond a rotating Mode 7 world below you.

For example, you might have to steer your craft through a few floating rings, or underneath a narrow arch, or follow a landing trail. And these markers are comprised of individual sprites that position themselves appropriately in 3D space, depending on where you’re flying.

Combine this with the ability to swap camera angles when you’re strapped into the rocket belt, and Pilotwings often makes you feel like you’re actually flying about, that you’re actually gaining altitude above and beyond what the heads-up-display is telling you.

The illusion is maintained by some characteristic physics – much like Super Mario Kart – but also some other clever tricks, like a shadow when you’re flying low, or how the horizon tilts when you’re turning the light plane around.

While the original Pilotwings isn’t exactly delivering any resemblance of a realistic flight simulation 25 years after release, it remains a great example of how a game can still deliver a convincing world to play around in, despite being designed around the constraints of Mode 7.
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