Welcome back, everyone! We’ve been busy over here; this past week, I was working on the Atelier Marie Remake review. It’s a delightful game, someone does need to illustrate a family tree for the Atelier series that notes its origins in the Princess Maker games. Anyway, Atelier Marie kept me from making any progress on Xenoblade 3. Also, hey! I’ve been doing this column for a whole year as of this week! I’ll touch on this some more later on–for now, let’s talk news.
Tensions Brew Over AI Voices, Persona 5 Actress Suffers The Brunt Of It
AI content has been a whipping boy lately, much like how NFTs, cryptocurrency, the blockchain, and the Metaverse have been in years past. And for good reason: they’re horrible. Nothing to do with the quality of the work generated by AI generators, mostly to do with the morality behind them (stealing the work of countless individuals in the name of recombining them endlessly) or the potential consequences that might arise from them (artists losing their job after years of effort honing their craft so that executives can save some money by just pumping out AI-generated chaff). I’m waiting on Dan Olson to make a phenomenal documentary about them akin to his documentaries on NFTs and the Metaverse.
AI voice-scraping has hit an all-time high; it feels like every time I log into YouTube, there are countless videos of songs sung by AI generators programmed to sound like Spongebob Squarepants or Mr. Krabs. I’m against these. Things got pretty heated, however, when voice actress Erica Lindbeck took to Twitter decrying a video where an AI based on her performance as Futaba Sakura from Persona 5 was “performing” “Welcome to the Internet” from Bo Burnham’s comedy special Inside. The creator of the video complied and took the video down, but AI evangelists took to uploading countless duplicates—and harassing Lindbeck. In the wake of her departure, countless vocal talents have taken to Twitter to voice their support of Lindbeck.
There’s a lot to talk about here. As mentioned earlier, a lot of AI content is based around theft: scraping the work of other artists to serve as the reference pool for an algorithm. There’s the matter of consent on behalf of creatives having their work scraped. There’s the matter of creators of all stripes—vocal talents, artists, animators, all—working for years and seeing their careers threatened. Vocal talents have every reason to despise AI voices. It’s one thing if you’ve agreed to it; I’ve seen several VTubers offer their voices to generate text-to-speech generators that read their chat messages. One of my favorite VTubers even managed to get one of her mods to serve as the basis for a Kronk-based TTS. But it’s another when this kind of thing is done behind the backs of vocal talents.
Ignoring the threat to their continued employment (which is why a lot of vocal talents attach riders to their contracts prohibiting the use of their vocal data for AI), there’s also the invasive nature of hearing literal words being put into your mouth. It’s creepy enough to hear your voice being used to spout memes; it’s probably horrifying to hear your voice being used to spread hate. Actress Allegra Clark has a good thread explaining how it feels to have your voice used like that. There’s also the nature of your voice being used for stuff you don’t agree to; most vocal talents can at least consent to voicing in, say, erotica if they’re up to it. Through AI, people can generate erotica using talents’ voices in ways they never intended for their voices to be used. There’s already a significant brouhaha concerning certain erotic mods for The Elder Scrolls which have AI generated dialogue from the actual voice actors in the game, including industry mainstays like Richard Epcar or Kari Wahlgren. And to be clear, the issue isn’t that porn is being made out of people’s vocal data; it’s that it’s being done without their consent. (Epcar… wasn’t happy with the news, to put it lightly…) Deepfakes in porn—doctored images of real-life people inserted into porn scenes—are already a huge and invasive issue for people all over the internet.
The other side of the coin is that with how much more accurate AI-generated content gets, it’s harder to tell what is real and what isn’t. Voice actor Mike Pollock, best known as the current voice of Dr. Eggman in much of the Sonic the Hedgehog media, is famously very touchy about performing voice requests… especially since so many fans are so eager for him to do the “Snoo—pingas—usual, I see!” bit from The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Pollock has gone on record plenty of times that his main concerns are that he does not do something that reflects poorly on the parent company that hires him or that he knowingly takes part in something that might potentially be inappropriate for children (especially since, as we know, there’s a lot of really not-kid-friendly Sonic stuff out there). With these kinds of generators, it’s a lot easier for someone to force voice actors into voicing all kinds of incriminating things that… they don’t need. Pollock has pretty much the best statement on the matter, I think:
You don’t think putting troublesome words into another person’s mouth is just a little bit creepy? pic.twitter.com/kx3PoAHKtj
— Mike Pollock™ (@itsamike) July 8, 2023
Many people have wondered why AI is so maligned in this scenario instead of actors impersonating each other, and the reasoning is simple: impersonations aren’t the same thing. PixieWillow has probably logged more hours in the booth voicing Overwatch‘s Tracer than Cara Theobold. Still, nobody will begin to confuse one actress’s work for the other (especially since most creators actually credit Pixie for her work). Nobody is confusing Maurice LaMarche for the actual Orson Welles. Martin Billany‘s entire reputation revolves around having made fan-dubs, but nothing he’s done ever threatened Dan Green‘s career. These talents can have their careers completely apart from those who voice these characters and roles. More importantly, they can decide what and how they say it without affecting the other people involved. Nothing PixieWillow does is going to reflect on Cara Theobold, after all.
What hurts vocal talents most in these situations is that, for the most part, they’re powerless in these scenarios; as Clark points out in her thread, IP holders have more rights, being that they own the characters (and vocal performances from the talents). I’d hazard people invested in scraping vocal data for AI really reign things in while the getting’s good; much like with Swapnote and the people who just couldn’t stop drawing dicks, folks are bound to Pikachu Face™ when suddenly swift action is taken, and the hammer is dropped far harder than they anticipated. Though, in this case, drop that hammer from orbit: any potentially positive use of AI has been overshadowed by plain exploitation. It ain’t worth it; the whole thing can’t die off soon enough—and given how, by all accounts, the accelerated spread has led to such an abundance of AI that it could lead to an entire model collapse as content scrapers are fed by AI content, leading to diminishing returns, that “sooner” might be a lot closer than we anticipate.
As for Erica Lindbeck: my heart goes out to her and other vocal talents who find their work used in ways they don’t consent to. Lindbeck, in particular, is very well-regarded by fans and colleagues alike. I appreciate her work portraying Futaba Sakura as a young woman on the Autistic spectrum trying to regain her footing in the world. Hopefully, things turn up for Lindbeck, and she can shrug this whole mess off. And hopefully, people can be more respectful towards each other in the future.
Samurai Shodown Celebrates its 30th Anniversary
We had a big anniversary last year; as the header says, Samurai Shodown celebrated its 30th anniversary last week!
EN GARDE… FIGHT!
SAMURAI SHODOWN, the landmark title that started it all, was released 30 years ago today (July 7, 1993)!
Celebrate with this special illustration from SNK artist Yumi Saji!
Thank you all for upholding the samurai spirit—in the past, present, and future!#SamSho pic.twitter.com/M6DgDVIXna
— SNK GLOBAL (@SNKPofficial) July 7, 2023
While Fatal Fury and King of Fighters were far more well-known among studio SNK‘s crop of fighting games, Samurai Shodown wasn’t far behind. Consider it a spiritual predecessor to Takara’s Battle Arena Toshinden or Namco Bandai’s Soul Edge/Soul Calibur games in that SamSho was a weapon-based fighting game; being a game set in feudal-era Japan, the game featured plenty of samurai whose various fighting styles revolved around their swordplay, from Haohmaru’s traditional chanbara-esque swordplay to Ukyoe’s iaijutsu-inspired style. It also featured several fictionalized takes on Japanese figures like Hattori Hanzo and Yagyu Jubei. You could also point to Samurai Shodown for giving the world Nakoruru, quite possibly the most famous fictional Ainu character in all of the Japanese media and arguably the most famous character in SamSho. But Samurai Shodown also took advantage of its historical setting by including characters from around the world, from the French fencer Charlotte and her trusty rapier to the American ninja Galford and his trusty dog, Poppy. Of course, Shenanigans™ abound; Galford is supposed to be from San Francisco, which during the events of Samurai Shodown (the year 1788), was still a Spanish territory (the greater Mexican territories, which at the time would have included what is now California, wouldn’t even gain their independence from Spain until 1821). Also, the game’s final boss is Amakusa, based on Amakusa “Francisco” Shiro. Historically, Amakusa tried leading a Christian-based rebellion in 1638 and was executed following its failure. In Samurai Shodown, he’s… some kind of evil samurai wizard who fights with a magic orb. Also, he’s an SNK boss, with all the reputation that entails.
Historical shenanigans aside, what set Samurai Shodown apart from other fighting games? Well, for one, the pacing was far different. Unlike Street Fighter or Fatal Fury, the games weren’t as based on combos. They had a rhythm based on trying to get your enemy into an advantageous position before applying the coup de grâce with your sword strikes. You could run, sword swinging, but sword strikes were easy to deflect, even if they dealt major damage. And if you weren’t careful, your opponent could even disarm you in a sword clash and leave you fighting with your bare hands, dealing a pittance of damage. But you also had to be careful: Samurai Shodown introduced one of the first gauges in fighting games, the Rage Gauge (also affectionately known as the POW Bar). With every hit, your opponent’s bar would fill. Once it was full, your opponent would enter Rage Mode, where they would deal extra damage and even gain access to super-secret attacks. As I said, fights had a flow. On top of factoring in your frame advantages or individual characters’ stamina or mobility, you also had to factor in your opponent’s Rage evening the playing field.
SNK had a lot of fun localizing the Samurai Shodown games in the 90s; for one, they were initially going to name the series Shogun Shodown (hence the missing “w” in the name). Famously, Yagyu Jubei also liked reminding people that he wasn’t related to “the guy from Fatal Fury“, that being Jubei Yamada, mentor to longtime SNK mega-babe, Mai Shiranui).
Samurai Shodown lagged behind its SNK contemporaries, but there’s still a ton of love for the series—especially for Nakoruru, Iroha, and Mina Makijima. They might not be as thirsted-over as Mai Shiranui, but I’m pretty sure that they did plenty to keep the love for SamSho alive until SNK released the newest game in 2021. They’ve done a ton to support the game after release, too, adding tons of DLC for fan-favorite characters like Nakoruru’s little sister Rimururu–or quite possibly the best ideas for special guest crossovers ever, Warden from For Honor and Baiken from Guilty Gear. And hey, SNK is… uh… working on getting the game rollback net code? It’s supposed to be ready this summer.
So that’s Samurai Shodown. If it’s the older games you’re after, you can find them available on Steam pretty often. There are a few cool spin-offs that I wish we could have gotten, like the Samurai Shodown RPG that got released on the Neo Geo CD in Japan–but there have been fan-based efforts to get that one unofficially translated. Give Samurai Shodown a shot if you need a slower fighting game. And, as always, remember: SNK is owned by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is responsible for numerous human rights violations, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Sega‘s Workers Officially Vote In Worker’s Union
It’s been pretty messy this week if you’re attuned to worker’s rights in game development; the FTC lost its motion to block Microsoft from acquiring Activision-Blizzard. Expect to see scores of layoffs soon. But it’s not all bad: good moves are being made elsewhere in the industry. Like at Sega! This past week, the Allied Employees Guild Improving Sega (AEGIS) passed their vote to unionize with a 91-26 vote. In one fell swoop, this has formed the largest multi-department union in the game industry. While most other unions only focus on quality assurance contractors or programmers, AEGIS is a collective of workers from all over Sega; Q&A, translation, programming, and the works. A statement from Sega of America translator Ángel Gómez claims that the move will “protect the parts of the jobs we love, and strengthen the benefits, pay, and job stability available to all workers.”
Unionizing has had a bad rap in the US since the 1980s. But we’ve seen what the absence of decent unions has done for the gaming industry: mass layoffs at a moment’s notice, a dearth of rights for workers, insane hours, and toxic work cultures. Countless developers and careers have been burned at the altar for “just making a good game,” as many gamers would demand. Someone had to work late nights to make sure that the horse testicles in Red Dead Redemption 2 reacted to the temperature “realistically.” Someone at Neverrealm Studios had to stare at mangled corpses to the breaking point to render the gore in Mortal Kombat XI. We live in a world where it’s valid to ask “How many women had their breast milk stolen during the development of any particular Blizzard game?”. We know the names of superstar developers in this day and age. These individuals trot onto stages at the Game Awards Show or E3 and bloviate about how revolutionary this newfangled open-world game will be. We don’t know the names of the countless devs who crash and burn because the industry grinds them up into a paste. These people devote countless hours of passion to developing AAA titles and can’t put the game on their resumé because they had to bow out partway through development. And it’s the darnedest thing, every time there’s a big scandal about it, the executives making their puppy-dog faces and promising to “do better”… don’t.
Unions aren’t going to make games immediately better; I imagine the peanut gallery is going to look at the next mediocre Sega game and think they’re so smart for saying, “So much for the union making things better at Sega!”. But AEGIS can at least improve things for the people at Sega in many ways. And more importantly: the existence of AEGIS means that other workers at other publishers and studios can take cues. Remember: AEGIS is unprecedented for including workers from all branches at Sega, and it’s not uncommon for employers to sow discord between the many branches at their workplace to undermine solidarity.
And while we’re at it, I’m taking a moment to applaud Sega while glancing at Nintendo. Nintendo of Japan is no stranger to caring for their employees, but Nintendo of America has been scrutinized for their toxic work environments before. “Sega does what Nintendon’t”, as the adage goes…
Taito Brings Back Time-Honored Time Gal
This one goes out to my predecessor, Heidi. Lots of love to her; she’s the one who put my name forward above all other possible suggestions for succeeding her in this column. I was top of her list. And! She’s the biggest Taito fan I know. I know for a fact this news made her happy.
I’m not sure if your average “Jo Q. Gamer” knows or recognizes the name “Taito,” but I’d hope so—they’re vastly influential in the annals of video game history. They were responsible for Space Invaders, Lufia, Darius, Arkanoid… they may have a lot of old names under their umbrella, but Taito‘s games are names to be respected. And they want to celebrate an old part of their history: LaserDisc games!
So, let me go through some preamble here: LaserDiscs was a multimedia format from 1978 that didn’t see its retirement until 2000. It was an optical media that utilized large CDs as the physical medium—think DVDs but much, much bigger. By all accounts, they were far better than VHS tapes in terms of image quality, at the expense of being way more expensive and cumbersome (LaserDiscs could be up to a foot long). But they could also hold tons of data: depending on how old the DVD you watch is, the commentary track on that disk just might have originally been part of a LaserDisc feature (I know my old DVD copy of Spaceballs did that). LaserDisc only really caught on with media aficionados in the U.S.
Still, it was much bigger in Japan, where plenty of anime got lavish LaserDisc releases with some seriously sweet cover art—the oversized discs meant the cases were big enough to count as posters, and those 1980-90s era artists took advantage of that. LaserDisc was also useful for video games—famously, the high-quality video footage they could contain and seamlessly transition into meant that it was possible for “interactive movies” to become a feasible format for games. Hence arcade classics like Don Bluth’s beloved Dragon’s Lair or . The idea caught on quickly, and Taito released a number of these styles of games. By today’s standards, they’re somewhat hokey- essentially long, quick-time events (with potentially cheap timing). But the animations tended to be top-notch, and the format saw a resurgence in the U.S. when CD-based game formats like the Sega CD or the PlayStation came into vogue. Games like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers or Cliff Hanger turned whole episodes into quick-time events. In Cliff Hanger‘s case, they went so far as to repurpose footage from : and Mystery of Mamo.
Okay, so where does Taito fit into this? This past week, Taito announced the Taito LD Game Collection for the Nintendo Switch! Featuring high-definition remasters of three of their biggest LaserDisc titles, the collection is set to arrive on Nintendo Switch in Japan on December 13… and it’ll be coming to America sometime after that!
As announced this week, an international version of the Taito LD Collection, featuring
💿Space Battleship Yamato
is currently underway!
Stay tuned for more news👀#TimeGal #SpaceBattleshipYamato #NinjaHayate #LaserDisc pic.twitter.com/iXQRTlWweb
— Taito Corporation (@TaitoCorp) July 11, 2023
So, what games are available in the collection? First up is a remaster of , based on the beloved space opera of the same name. Created by the belated Leiji Matsumoto, this tells the story of the crew of the most advanced space battleship in the galaxy, which for whatever reason, is designed to look like a Japanese World War II battleship. Hey, Matsumoto dealt in dramatic and romantic imagery, not sensible imagery. This one stands out for having some dialogue; no idea how they’ll handle that in English. Hopefully, there will be subtitles. Next is Revenge of the Ninja, which tells the story of the ninja Hayate trying to rescue his princess. This one saw release in the U.S. on the Sega CD. What also saw a release on the Sega CD—the collection’s crown jewel—is Time Gal. Originally released in Japan in 1985, Time Gal saw the futuristic space-babe Reika chasing the time-traveling thief Luda across various epochs. Time Gal had a novel way of keeping the game fresh: while there were a variety of times that Reika could visit, their order was randomized, and sometimes the footage itself was mirrored to prevent memorization.
Throughout the late 80s, Reika from Time Gal served as a pseudo-mascot for Taito-managed arcades, with proprietary art appearing on decorations and standees. pic.twitter.com/LTR9zAUNXm
— It’s Fantastic! – Arcade scans and translations (@ItsFantasticAC) July 10, 2023
Reika was important as a protagonist; she might not have been the first female protagonist in video gaming, but she was one of the first, and she cut a niche for herself. She is intensely “of her time,” what with her being a green-haired space-babe in a futuristic bikini who likely is an airhead and has a penchant for getting her clothes shredded in her bad ends, but also, I think we’ve come around to appreciating bimbos as heroines (see: Princess Peach). She was also voiced by Yuriko Yamamoto, best known as the voice of ‘s mouthless, blue-skinned sake-loving alien friend. Taito especially kept her as a mascot of sorts for a bit, but sadly Reika was lost to history; even with the renewed interest in Time Gal following its release in the U.S. on the Sega CD, she was lost to the annals of history. She eventually earned herself a playable appearance in Castle of Shikigami III, but that was essentially it. It’s always great to see an old would-be heartthrob make it back.
Better yet, Taito has upped the ante with the Taito LD Game Collection—we not only get remasters of these beloved games and their fantastic footage, but Taito is also making a sequel to Time Gal!
Titled Time Gal Re:Birth, this sequel will be more of an adventure game—that is, a text-based adventure game—with quick-time events. The game will follow the adventures of a new spacesuit-clad space-babe, Luna, who sets out to fill in the blanks and follow up on what happened to Reika and Luda. Sadly, Yurika Yamamoto won’t return to voice Reika (Ayana Taketatsu‘ll voice her)—but I’m just stunned they’re making a sequel after all this time.
So far, we don’t know when the U.S. release will land—Taito has us on a “keep waiting.” But we’ll keep you guys posted.
Riviera: The Promised Land Gets A Makeover, And Yggdra Union Heads To The eShop!
Hey, so, like, remember back in January when I reported on Yggdra Union coming to Steam in the U.S. and I wrapped up that story with “See you in Riviera”?
— スティング (@sting_pr) July 12, 2023
… Yeah. Sting’s Dept. Heaven games had a loyal fanbase, from the card-based strategy of Yggdra Union and its many spin-offs to the wild insanity that is Knights in the Nightmare, but it all had a humble beginning with Riviera: The Promised Land. Released initially on Bandai’s Wonderswan Color in 2002, it was a clever combination of a text-based adventure game with an RPG system. You played as Ein, a Grim Angel charged with preventing the devastation of Riviera, the land of Sprites. You were helped with a charming harem of sprite-girls to help you: Fia, a girl-next-door-esque fencer; Lina, a bratty half-pint archer; Cia, a tomboyish Arc (she has demon wings, cat ears, and she uses scythes); and Cierra, the motherly witch. It was a charming game, but it would only burst into popularity once the GameBoy Advance remake was released in 2004 (2005 in the U.S.). Its popularity was such that it kickstarted the rest of the Dept. Heaven games; while Yggdra Union was never formally billed as a sequel to Riviera, later plot twists in the story confirmed the connection. Also, because Dept. Heaven was Like That™, Rivera is canonically one of the last chapters of the Dept. Heaven series, taking place long after the gods of Asgard are dead and Utgard is cleansed of demonic influence.
This news comes from Sting 21 years after the game’s original 2002 release; so far, we know it’ll receive a full HD remaster. Anything else is a bit beyond us. We are still determining if it’ll receive a U.S. release… and I’m hoping it does. Atlus went on quite the kick releasing all of Sting’s games in the U.S., especially after Riviera gathered such a loyal cult following. And on top of that…
Sting announced that Yggdra Union – We’ll Never Fight Alone, the GBA RPG classic, is being released in the West on the Switch eShop.
This is an enhanced version with additional quality-of-life features. pic.twitter.com/No9eFxxPXX
— Stealth (@Stealth40k) July 13, 2023
We have confirmation that Yggdra Union is finally releasing on the Nintendo eShop in the U.S. market! So far, we only have a vague “later this month” time frame, but this news comes along with the confirmation that the Steam port is finally leaving Early Access. Both the Steam and Switch ports will feature a ton of quality-of-life benefits, from in-game “tricks” like removing critical hits in battles or swapping union formations for male and female units. There will also be the option for Japanese or English voice acting, as well as a completely reworked system for items—this last one was important because the alternative is items completely breaking after equipping them for a few maps. The game leaving Early Access does mean that the price will go up a bit, but this is a complete package. We can only hope that Yggdra Union can serve as a good prelude to Riviera: The Promised Land getting similar treatment in the U.S. In the meantime, if you want to track down Riviera: The Promised Land, look for the PSP version. It’s likely not as rare or expensive as the GBA version.
LimitedRun Games Drops Bombs
In the absence of E3 this year, LimitedRun Games decided to host their showcase. Calling it “LimitedRun Games Showcase 3” and giving it the most “Graphic Design Is My Passion™” imagery, the boutique publisher dropped a ton of news concerning releases they’ll be working on shortly. Now, we’re not going to touch on all of them because some are beyond my column’s purview, but we’ll talk about some big ones. That said: holy crap, they’re giving Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties a “Definitive Edition” release. The absolute mad-lads. Okay, let’s get into it because this stuff is awesome!
I’ve talked about the mixed fortunes of the Shantae games before; while it’s one of the biggest indie series around now, it wasn’t always that way. Between the original game and the release of Risky’s Revenge on DSi, it did seem like Shantae was doomed to obscurity. And it wasn’t for lack of trying—WayForward Tech was trying hard to get a new game off the ground. This included a failed attempt at making a GameBoy Advance game which eventually paved the way for Risky’s Revenge. But WayForward is in a different place now—so the lost GameBoy Advance Shantae game is getting finished and released! On an official GameBoy Advance cartridge, even! Titled Shantae: Risky Revolution, it’s based on WayForward’s old plans and assets for their original plans. Credit to Matt Bozon’s passion, they hung onto all those assets. And WayForward’s penchant for programming wizardry endures even now: there’s a planned multiplayer mode for up to four players with the GameBoy Advance link cable! You’ll only need one copy of the game, too! There’s no confirmed date for Risky Revolution‘s release, but I’ll keep you posted. Knowing WayForward, they’ll port the game to every platform under the sun following the LimitedRun GBA release. Congratulations, Matt and Erin Bozon! Props for keeping your dream alive.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph H. Christ. They brought back Rose and Camellia. There had been some news of the Rose and Camellia games getting released on the Switch in Japan, but I didn’t think it would come to the U.S.! Rose and Camellia is a wild concept; originally released as a Flash game in 2007, it stars a widowed woman who must battle her entire family of in-laws to claim her proper inheritance following the death of her husband. This is carried out with, what else, a series of literal slap-fests. The original Flash game used the mouse to direct your slaps or dodges, but the Switch version uses the joy-cons instead. There’s quite a bit of sophistication to the whole thing, too: timing your dodges just right lets you counter-attack for extra damage against your catty in-laws. This new collection features updated animations from the old Flash game and English dubbing. That an old, zonko Japanese Flash game is given a new lease on life as a Switch game, then gets a U.S. release with all the bells and whistles, is the kind of Cinderella story I wish we saw more of.
There were tons of mascot platformers in the 90s, as it was the style at the time—so many that it clogged the market, and even the good games got lost among the mediocre ones. Now mascot platformers are relatively rare, and outside of the major classics like Mario or Sonic, the only ones we see are throwbacks based on Mario or Sonic. It’s just the nature of oversaturated markets (someone tell Kevin Feige about that.) Anyway! One of the many overlooked games of that era was Tomba!, a charming 2D platformer about a pink-haired wild child waging a one-man war against a gang of pig people in pursuit of a stolen gold bracelet. If it doesn’t sound that great, I’m underselling it; Tomba! is packed with charm and love in every pixel. Like any good platformer, it’s got simple mechanics with all kinds of fun permutations. Tomba can attack enemies with a variety of weapons, but his main attack is pouncing on enemies, biting on their heads, then just yeeting them off somewhere. And the game gives Tomba’s biting all kinds of applications; an early quest I was amused by includes Tomba having to bite a series of dwarves to learn the Dwarfish language. (Hey, if Starfire can learn languages by kissing…) Tomba! also had fascinating 2.5D applications; Tomba could hop fences in the foreground or background to reach new areas while searching for new tools to help him clear obstacles. While it initially did well enough to earn itself a sequel, Tomba! nevertheless faded into obscurity. Until now! LimitedRun is working with Tomba!‘s creator, Tokuro Fujiwara, to get this new port up and running. No word yet on a release date, but you can look forward to it releasing on PS4, PS5, and Nintendo Switch.
And the crown jewel of the announcements! We’ve also talked about Clock Tower before, a long-running and beloved series of point-and-click survival horror games based on the works of horror filmmaker Dario Argento (most specifically, Phenomena, which is worth a watch!). Clock Tower has been sadly dead for a very long time—most heartbreakingly, including its PS2 spiritual successor, Demento—or Haunting Ground, as it’s known in America. The original game is janky but amazingly atmospheric and noted for its tense puzzles and scares, as well as protagonist Jennifer heavily resembling actress Jennifer Connelly (who starred in Phenomena). Through a combined effort between Sunsoft, CAPCOM, WayForward, and LimitedRun, it’s finally coming to America—and it’s getting ported to the PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Steam, and Xbox platforms. And the remake will be comprehensive—much like WayForward’s release of River City Girls Zero, they’ll be animating cutscenes for this remake. It’s referred to as more of a “Port+.” Also, lots of love to Mariel Cartwright! Best known for her work animating Skullgirls and Indivisible, she’s the creative lead on this project. I love how she’s designed Jennifer; it’s Cartwright’s iconic style, but she still looks a ton like Jennifer Connelly. Also, lots of love to Suzi Spherehunter! She’s done tons of retrospectives of survival-horror games, and apparently, she’s collaborating on this remake. There are a lot of brilliant hands stirring this pot. I’m not going to lie, I’m excited that this remake’s success might lead to Haunting Ground getting a port, but it’s enough for an amazing survival-horror classic getting such a lovingly-made port.
Where There’s Smoke, They Pinch Back: Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore Promises To Tribute CD-I “Classics”
Aaaaaaaand here’s the real blockbuster of the day. The Phillips CD-I was a failure of a console in the U.S., but Nintendo nevertheless worked with them and licensed Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda to them after canceling plans for a Phillips-produced CD-based add-on for the Super Nintendo. The results were… a mess, to put it lightly. The CD-I had incredible processing power but wasn’t designed for video games, so the resulting games were just… off. The failure of the likes of Hotel Mario, The Legend of Zelda: Faces of Evil/Wand of Gamelon and The Adventure of Zelda put the kibosh on Nintendo licensing their characters for a long time (they’ve only recently done so with the Mario + Rabbids games and Cadence of Hyrule. On the flip side, these games became quite legendary for their pure comedy potential, serving as the breeding grounds for countless hysterical YouTube Poops. While Nintendo has wholly disowned the games, there is some love for them—particularly from Dopply, who remastered Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon three years ago. Thanks to him, the games look as good as they ever will. Well, it looks like it wasn’t enough for Dopply. He went above and beyond. Courtesy of him and LimitedRun Games, there is now a spiritual successor to those two interactive animated adventure titles. This is Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore.
Oh, God. I love how on-the-nose this is—the sound font for the music. Rob Dunlavey, the background artist for the original interactive animated adventures, created the digitized hand-painted backgrounds. The royalty-free sound effects (the very same ones used for the CD-I games, even). The constant, randomized zooming in and out of people’s faces. This is the deepest of cuts. You only need the blurry little “QUEBECGAMERS.COM” watermark in the bottom left corner. And best of all: they managed to track down Jeffrey Rath and Bonniejean Wilbur, best known as the voices of Link and Zelda in the CD-I games, to participate. They even named their studio “Seedy Eye” (get it?). We can expect plenty of other cheeky references, such as Bonniejean’s “Good!” can attest to this. There also seem to be some concessions to playability; combat looks leagues smoother than the old interactive media, and enemies now have health bars over their heads, so you don’t have to guess their health. Hopefully, this means you have some invulnerability period after you get hit, so enemies can’t just corner you. Also, bosses look to be a lot more involved than the series of one-hit kills they all were in the original interactive media–now you can’t just toss a single item at them to kill them in one good hit. Also, the music is suitably impressive; even the biggest haters of Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon will acknowledge that the games have amazing music, and Jake Silverman is pulling out the big compositional guns for this one. Also, one of the clips shows that they’re even squeezing in a Hotel Mario reference (the room with all the doors–Hotel Mario was about Mario closing all the doors in a stage). If Dale DeSharone, the original project leader, were still alive, I’m sure Dopply would’ve roped him in for good measure.
Now, many gamers are apprehensive at this all—for good reason. There are way too many movies that are trying to be intentionally “so bad it’s good,” and they can be freaking dire to sit through. Look no further than Samurai Cop; the original is a schlock classic, but the latter-day sequel is dull and puts way too much stock in the lead actor wearing a lousy wig again. As noted hack fraud Rich Evans of Red Letter Media said, “Bad movies aren’t fun unless the person that made them tried.” Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon were the result of people trying to make these ambitious interactive animated adventures on a console that couldn’t handle them, with cutscenes that were the result of a tiny budget and six animators getting flown out from Russia. Truly classic “so-bad-it’s-good” media requires sincerity. You can’t make Creating Rem Lezar if you’re being tongue-in-cheek.
Now, I’ve grown up with YouTube Poops. I was raised on Waxonator, QuibbyJibby, Deepercutt, and WalrusGuy. And call me crazy, but I see that there’s a genuine effort here. Dopply has a genuine appreciation for the finer details of the game. So he’s not approaching this project from a point of irony; this is the kind of game those interactive animated adventures could have been if things worked out better for DeSharone and company.
Arzette: The Jewel of Faramore releases later this year on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox platforms, and Steam.
Let’s wrap up with some quick tidbits
That’ll do it for this week. But hey—with this column, that’ll mark an entire year of That Bitch™ (that bitch being me) writing This Week in Games. I touched on Heidi passing the baton to me earlier, and I’d like to thank her for putting me at the top of her list. I’ve worked for Anime News Network for a lot longer than that (since November of 2020), but when I first started working with the This Week in Anime team, I never thought I’d get brought on to man my own column. This column is a lot of work, but I enjoy every bit of it. I like the idea of ikigai, the nexus of what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs. Does the world need a Puerto Rican constantly waving the banner for Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja? I don’t know, but—contrary to what many might claim—I love games. I love writing about games, I’ve been told I’m good at writing, and hey, I get paid enough doing it to afford VTuber merch and importing stuff from Comiket. And, best of all, I have you guys supporting me. From day one, I’ve had folks here happy to see me take the helm of this column and have been happy to read my input. There are a lot of people who probably know more about games than me, are probably better at not mixing up names or titles, or what have you. But I get to do this and have you guys reading my stuff and getting excited when I namedrop people’s obscure favorites. As a kid reading Electronic Gaming Monthly, I never thought I’d get to follow in the footsteps of folks like Jeremy Parish, Jennifer Tsao, Dan “Shoe” Hsu, or Shane Bettanhausen. But here I am. If you guys keep showing up to read, I’ll stick around to write. So, thanks for coming to my column week after week. It makes me very happy. Be good to each other; I’ll see you in seven—hopefully for another year, and many more to come.
This Week In Games! is written from idyllic Portland by Jean-Karlo Lemus. When not collaborating with AnimeNewsNetwork, Jean-Karlo can be found playing JRPGs, eating popcorn, watching v-tubers and tokusatsu, and trying as hard as he can to be as inconspicuous as possible on his Twitter @mouse_inhouse.