Virtual-On Retrospective: Twin Stick Controls

Previous: A Certain Magical Virtual-On

A thing that made Virtual-On in the arcades eye-catching was its setup of two sticks. This setup, named Twin Stick, is what defined Virtual-On‘s uniqueness even among arcade games. On the home front, you’ve most often had the option of using whatever standard control pad you had, or buying a Twin Stick controller. The difference between the two can not be overstated. A gamepad, even with the two thumbsticks, is not comparable to the intuitive and direct control the Twin Stick gives you. It’s extremely intuitive and easy on the surface how you control your Virtuaroid, as using Twin Stick resembles your standard tank controls. However, the moment the controls’ depth clicks and how much direct control you have, the tank-ness of things vanishes and you find yourself with one of the fastest and most furious of games in your hands. The skill ceiling is staggeringly high, as Virtual-On games have tons of techniques a beginner can only grasp. From how to approach your opponent to all the weapons firing differently depending on how you are moving and what position the sticks are in, the games offer nearly endless depth. Oratorio Tangram, the second game in the series, is still the most played and most popular, as it also happens to be the fastest game in the series.

The controls require some explanation, despite the basics being easy to grasp after a minute or two. Talking about the Twin Sticks themselves makes little sense if you don’t know why they are so integral.

The basic controls are as follows;

  • Pushing either lever in a direction while the other lever is at neutral, your Virtuaroid will walk in that direction
  • Pushing both levers in a direction, your Virtuaroid will run in that direction
  • Pushing the levers in opposite forwards/backward, your Virtuaroid will turn clockwise or counter-clockwise
  • Pushing the levers at opposite left/right outwards, your Virtuaroid will jump
  • Pushing the levers towards each other will make your Virtuaroid Guard

Attacking and Dashing are done by the buttons on the sticks;

  • Right Weapon is fired with the Right lever’s trigger. By standard, it is a kind of projectile
  • Left Weapon is by the Right lever’s trigger. By standard, it is some kind of explosive or a bomb
  • The Center weapon is fired when the triggers are pressed together. It is usually a strong, but a slow weapon.
  • When at a close range, Long-range weapons are changed to close-combat weapons
  • The Thumb button with a Lever direction will make your Virtuaroid dash in that direction.
  • In the original game, both Thumb buttons are required to be pressed down for the dash. Oratorio Tangram requires only one. FORCE requires the other thumb stick to be used in changing targets, as the game is 2 versus 2

Here’s an edited version of Oratorio Tangram‘s attract mode, with only the How To Play segments present

As mentioned, each of the three weapons has multiple modes of fire depending on what action you are in and in what direction. This changes the weapons’ properties and strengths. For example, one direction makes your Virtuaroid shoot out five smaller shots, while the opposite shoots three larger, more powerful shots. Furthermore, some Virtuaroids have secret attacks they can enact and require special input. Numerous attacks can be canceled or half-canceled into other actions, while Dashing attacks can’t. Movement options are also far more abundant than they first appear. For example, you can increase your Virtuaroid’s falling speed by making them Guard. Quickstep is another useful move, which includes releasing the Dash the very moment you input a direction. The Dash is canceled and your Virtuaroid has taken a fast step instead.

There are numerous systems that aren’t clear at first and most players won’t notice. These include things like how movement speed is relative to the distance between the Virtuaroids, and speed decreases the closer they are together. This can be tracked as the game has a distance counter in the lock-on reticle. Certain attacks gain more power as they travel across the stage, while others effectively lose all of their hitting power. The damage dealt over time also increases and carries over to subsequent rounds. The damage maxes out at +10% at one minute mark.

There is no traditional lock-in in Virtual-On, which throws numerous people off. Virtual-On has an unorthodox automatic lock-on when Jumping or Dashing, which rotates the screen and the Virtuaroid towards the opponent as well. Advanced players tend to use Air Dash Cancel and Quickstep instead, as both of these require Jump and Dashing respectively, but are much faster. This system is cumbersome at first, but at the same time, it promotes the discovery and learning of tons of techniques and methods when and how to cancel movements and options. Being aware of your surroundings becomes important as well for the sake of your own positioning in the stage geometry. Mizuumi Wiki has a page with a rather complete breakdown of the controls for Oratorio Tangram, and I would recommend giving it a look if you find yourself interested. It’s not completely applicable to the other games in the series, but the core basics are the same. There is an exhaustive Japanese wiki for Oratorio Tangram, Cyber Troopers Virtual-On Unofficial Anniversary Site, if that scratches your interest.

That is a long and infodump way to say that Virtual-On‘s Twin Sticks are very much the heart and soul of how the game plays out. The series is often counted as a Fighting game due to similarities in generic strategies of pressuring the opponent with neutral and low commitment attacks while closing in and punishing mistakes the opponent may make. The only games that are similar in direct comparison are Senko no Ronde and Acceleration of Suguri, which are best described as Virtual-On in 2D plane. Nevertheless, because the controls require much skill and dedication to be fully taken advantage of, the standard control pads don’t cut it. There is certain immediacy that Twin Stick offers and there are no extra buttons or even shapes to deal with. The game has been purpose-built with these two levers, and anything else comes short. When A Certain Magical Virtual-On changes its controls to fully accommodate the gamepad, large amounts of intricacies and techniques were lost. It is the best Virtual-On for a gamepad, but after spending some with a Twin Stick with other entries in the series, it becomes a much hollower game. You could always dish out money for a limited-run Twin Stick, but that option is out of reach for many.

Let’s take a look at what kind of Twin Sticks the series has been using throughout the years. While we will touch on some of the arcade controls, this is in no fashion and exhaustive look due to all the manufacturing and repair variations there are.

From left to right; Japanese cabinet, US P1 and US P2

There are a few types of cabinets the Twin Sticks first appeared in. The original Japanese cabinet from 1995 has more visual flavour to it and could be found as a twin unit. The European and American releases had the same, less flourished designed to them, but were often a set. A divider would be between the player’s views, with the American having a different design to the Japanese cabinet. There was also a Versus City cabinet, which was two Astro City units merged into back-to-back. Versus City cabinets were extensively used by Capcom as well and were used in fighting game tournaments. Each cabinet could be revised with a new game and hardware, and some titles would support game-specific messages at the top digital display too. Marvel VS Capcom was one of the games that used a Versus City cabinet, and from personal experience, I can attest Street Fighter IV did too. The two cabinet styles had different sticks, probably because a lot of used Virtual-On control panels that are found in the wild are sold as broken. Sega would revise these sticks. While images for the Virtual-On Versus City cabinets are rare, we do have images of the control panels for the first game and Oratorio Tangram. Sega made sure the cabinets were universal by designing a modular control panel, where operators could quickly switch the top out if a new game needed different controls.

There are some control panels sold on eBay, from which we can see that these are either European or American controls. The left one, Master Site, was often colored blue and was effectively Player One. Player Two was pink and got the name Slave Site. They are, however, more or less the same. There are only a few visual key differences, like the panel to the right, but otherwise even the control explanations are the same. The Operation decal is extremely to the point and showcases how deceptively easy the controls seem a first. These sticks were also very robustly built, partially why the Versus City cabinets probably used Sanwa parts rather than what we see below.

On the left, we have what was found in the Japanese Virtual-On cabinet, and on the right, we have what’s in a European cabinet. The difference is that the Japanese use Sanwa parts and have a square gate, while the European sticks have much more heft to them and have a round gate. There’s really no reason to assume the American market didn’t share the same build as the European stick.

These robust sticks were made to withstand thousands of clicks, though the switches themselves are more or less the same stock as you’d find in any contemporary arcade stick. The arcade cabinet is using a square gate form here, meaning you’d feel a round shape when twirling the levers around. These sticks would have stickers on the black steel housing, with some being labeled as Model 2B. This is a reference to the hardware revision used, as Virtual-On ran on Sega 2B CRX. These sticks would get tons of abuse, from people hitting them in anger, and food and drink being spilled on top of them. Looking at used sticks sold at auction sites, you often find them rusty.

Image courtesy of VOTwinstick

The joystick itself is probably the least interesting in the whole build, as it is a two-halve plastic housing with a standard trigger and a thumb push button. The parts of the course are of “arcade quality,” meaning the components used are standard for the industry and should withstand tens of thousands of activations. In principle, making your very own Twin Stick is stupidly easy nowadays, as long as you don’t cinch on the components. It might look a bit like an old Quickshot joystick, but far sturdier and it has a better feel to it. Note that while all the Thumb buttons shown in this post are round, the original Virtual-On cabinet in the US used square buttons, often seen in Happ-styled flight sticks. Also note that before Sega unified the sticks themselves, the original sticks were far thicker. If these hardware differences interest you, you might want to check out what Oratorio Tangram‘s arcade Twin Sticks look like when disassembled.

The original Virtual-On could be converted to function like an Oratorio Tangram cabinet, and there have been Oratorio Tangram cabinets that were converted to play FORCE. The levers have changed slightly throughout the years, with Sega at some point apparently abandoning this original hefty built in favor of the lighter models used in Versus City cabinets. Arcade.Tokyo has a short post about his experience with one of these slimmer candy cabinets, where the aesthetics are very much on the lighter side.

All this means that after Sega decided to use these shorter build sticks for Versus City, the Twin Sticks would be built based on Sanwa arcade stick parts over the original unbranded ones. As Oratorio Tangram could be converted into FORCE cabinets, there weren’t any changes to the sticks themselves. As per Sega’s standardization, these control panels could be switched in and out from their generic cabinets. This would also mean that outside the original Virtual-On cabinet, the controls would make a square shape when moved around, not a circle, as that’s the standard restrictor plate found in generic arcade machines. It is the most commonly used restrictor plate to this day.

All in all, the hardware for the Twin Stick is not exactly groundbreaking. It’s very much in line with existing parts and products that were put to good use. Much like how arcade games always had to be downsized for the home market, so were numerous control methods and even controllers themselves. It took some time for common accessories like steering wheels and pedals to step up their game and match the quality of their arcade counterparts. That is not to say that all these are uniform. For whatever reason, there are tons of variations in how the arcade Twin Stick controls were built. Very few of these appear on the surface, but things like some controls have fewer structural support parts, and some sticks inside are squared off instead of being round rods. Without a doubt, some of these variations are results of operators fixing the controls, while some probably are just manufacturing changes for numerous reasons, like easier assembly with fewer components or finding cost-friendlier parts. This is why it would be effectively impossible to do an exhaustive and complete view on all the variations on Twin Stick controls in the arcades, hence this overall glance at them and their insides has to suffice.

The first home release of Cyber Trooper Virtual-On also delivered us the first Twin Stick controller for the Sega Saturn. This was slated to be released in the US at some point but never did. In the end, no Twin Stick controller would ever be released in the US or Europe, leaving arcades the only place where you could play the game with Twin Stick, or import one from Japan.

Released Dec. 03rd, 1996

The HSS-0154 SEGA SATURN TWIN-STICK controller promises to recreate the excitement of the arcade experience, but in reality, it really doesn’t. The Saturn Twin Stick uses the same overall housing as the Saturn HSS-0136 Virtua Stick, an Astro City arcade cabinet-themed arcade stick. The only difference is the top plate, which houses the graphics and the levers themselves, and the lack of multiple switches at the top front. While the Virtua Stick has two versions, one with ASCII switches and one with Seimitsu’s parts. The difference between these two is that Seimitsu is of higher quality and should last longer. With the Twin Stick being a later controller model, all variants seem to use the same ASCII parts as the levers’ actuators. However, the weak spot of the Saturn Twin Stick comes with its use of ASCII’s parts. While ASCII did manufacture decent controllers and parts in the mid-1990s, they are very much of lower quality compared to Sanwa or Seimitsu’s parts. Its sticks also have a tendency to rotate slightly, something that’s up to opinion whether or not that’s a good thing. Some find the twisting more comfortable, as the hands then to find a more natural position and angle, while others want stiff sticks like in the arcades.

Released in 1999 (9th of Dec.), the DC Twin Stick is still a popular version of the controller

While ASCII parts may not be arcade-quality per se, they are nevertheless acceptable for home use and do rank well into the medium-consumer grade. Arcade-quality is a more or less commonly used marketing tactic, something loads of enthusiasts like to mimic. While you will find some of these sticks in a bad overall shape, even mediocre condition sticks work remarkably well. A stock purchase from eBay can yield a controller that plays almost as well when it was new. ASCII parts may be maligned when it comes to the Saturn Virtua Stick, which has a healthy modding community behind it due to its aesthetics, the Saturn Twin Stick doesn’t suffer the same bad rep. In fact, between this and the more desired Dreamcast Twin Stick, the Saturn version has been reported to withstand more abuse and longer sessions than the Dreamcast version. Oratan.com offers a view on a modified Dreamcast Twin Stick, but sadly it does not list who manufactured what. Sega has recycled the sticks themselves from the Saturn version of the controller, so the overall feeling might be similar, and the orange/greys aesthetics might fit some better, but longevity is not the Dreamcast’s side.

The issue with Dreamcast Twin Stick lies in the initial run use of a worse quality spring, which returns a lever to its neutral position. This yellow-colored spring would apparently simply break. The later production run of the controller would change this to a sturdier green spring. While there are no true indicators of what parts were used to make the sticks, they are very close to Seimitsu’s LS-56-01 stick, though the stock spring from Seimitsu is a few millimeters shorter than what Sega put inside the Dreamcast Twin Stick. It’s a crapshoot what parts you get in the secondhand market if the seller is not willing to open their controller.

However, modifying these two controllers is rather easy, as all you really need to do is change actuators and use the longer shaft. You might not want to lose the decal that’s on the Saturn stick, as the screws holding the sticks in place are under it, but using denatured alcohol to loosen the adhesive’s bond is an easy to way to remove it. Alternatively, simply remove the decal and buy a new one from the Internet by using some printing service.

Certainly, the Saturn Twin Stick is a budget release in many ways. Objectively speaking, it has the lowest cost parts out of all the Twin Sticks and was designed for children’s hands. For example, the distance between the sticks is shorter in the Saturn Twin Stick than in any other. That’s probably partially because of budget and partially because it is using the same plastic housing as the Virtua Stick. Realistically speaking, the Saturn would be the last console children would play Virtual-On on.

With the slow death of the arcades, Virtual-On moved to the PlayStation 2 with MARS. For this fourth game, Sega did not manufacture a Twin Stick for the game. Instead, the player could choose between a standard controller-specific setup, or using the two thumb sticks to emulate Twin Stick controls. Using the thumb sticks takes time to learn, as you’re expected to use the shoulder buttons for the rest of the controls. The Trigger and thumb buttons are relegated to the Dualshock’s shoulder buttons, which get rather awkward, but will ultimately offer superior controls.

With the Xbox 360 getting Virtual-On MARS and Oratorio Tangram, and PlayStation 3 seeing a direct port of the first game to the PlayStation 3, HORI would step up and manufacture extremely limited amounts of Twin Sticks for the consoles for 2010. The two controllers are exactly the same, just with console-specific bells and whistles attached. There was even a version specifically made for FORCE, which amounts to having an extra decal on the controller.

The issue with either of these controllers for the customers has been their price. HORI fetched a premium sum for these controllers, about 30 000 yen, and aftermarket sellers often ask for even higher prices. Aesthetically they are the most mature, but the least fitting for the franchise. These replicate the original arcade setup with the Start button in the middle, but for the first time, all the face action buttons on the standard controller have been added at the top front. Previously console Twin Sticks have managed to achieve the controls by using combinations of buttons to initiate an action, but with these HORI controllers, the levers are effectively the thumb sticks with shoulder buttons on them. These Twin Sticks had a small surge in demand after it was confirmed they’d work with the Masterpiece collection on the PlayStation 4. These controllers have been reported to be solid, and if HORI’s track record with their controllers since the 1980s is anything to go by, they probably are worth the money. It’s probable they were built on HORI’s expertise from their arcade stick side of the business and decided to use the more high-end consumer range parts.

A Twitter user, apply named VOTwinstick, posted a fully disassembled view of the lever assembly, which should be more or less the same as what the games have been using ever since Versus City cabinets adopted the Sanwa parts. The photo may be lacking the main PCB itself with the switches, but the parts that make up the rest of the stick are easily visible. Japanese blog Haphazard Blog (the author uses a temporary name of Alan Smithee) also contains a post about modifying HORI’s EX Twin Stick with Semitsu LSX-57 lever. The photos are tiny, but the overall setup hasn’t changed since the first consumer Twin Stick for the Saturn.

The Masterpiece collection hitting the PlayStation 4 was a piece of massive news for the fans. A Certain Magical Virtual-On had resorted to completely redesigning the controls for the DualShock, and with that tons of intricacies and tactics were lost. This is due to the revised controls themselves being a modern interpretation of the Twin Stick controls and everything that comes with assisted controlling. Tons of tactics and methods were simply locked out. Hori didn’t produce Twin Sticks for this round, but a lesser-known gaming peripheral company named Tanita did. They’ve promoted themselves as a company for healthier gaming, and their first big project was the Tanita Twin Stick.

Rather than track the original home controllers’ designs, Tanita chose to invoke the wider design of the arcade panels

The VDC-18-c 18 Type Control Device “Twin Stick” was first revealed at CES 2019 in Las Vegas. The prototype controller wasn’t all that attractive and its levers were of lower stock quality. However, the finalized limited production controller rolled out in 2020 (that you could order through Sanwadenshi official shop for 60 500 yen) ditches the previous iterations’ aesthetics and conventions. Now much wider and wholly made out of metal, the Tanita Twin Stick has made waves among the fans on how good the controller has been. It’s a Sanwa product at heart, using Sanwa sticks and buttons. Tanita could afford to manufacture two editions of this stick. The first was a crowdfunded version, which was sent to initial backers first. The second edition was a limited mass-production version, in which Tanita had managed to streamline some of the processes. However, it still ended up costing more than the crowdfunded version, hence the 60k yen price tag. This stick is currently the only way to play A Certain Magical Virtual-On under a Twin Stick setup, unless you want to use the thumb sticks as the Twin Sticks. This 440€ controller is currently the most expensive Twin Stick, and most likely one of the last iterations Twin Stick will see commercially.

The Twin Stick makes and breaks Virtual-On. However, due to all the variations in how Twin Sticks have been built throughout the years, be it in the arcades or at home, there is no one true setup. Some of these have been built light and moving the levers happens quickly and responds well to twitchy movements. At the opposite end, you have the European/American arcade controls, which are built like tank controls. To many whatever the arcades provide is the best, the only option. For others, they can make do with whatever they find more preferable for a variety of reasons, and we can always build better than what has been in the arcades. There still is a healthy albeit small scene of people enthusiastically building their own Twin Stick controllers by using whatever applicable flight yokes they might find to their liking and hacking the controller together from various cheap gamepads and whatnot. Nowadays, it’s become ever easier to make yourself one with little to no knowledge of things like soldering or electronics in general, and thus having yourself a relatively cheap but equally functional Twin Stick, with some caveats, is well within your grasp.

Next; A guide to making a PS4 and PC compatible Twin Stick

Towards the digital-only future you’ve chosen

If you’re one to go around video and computer games media, you’ve probably already a few things that are happening with digital media. First is that Sony’s announced that after the 31st of August, users will be unable to access Studio Canal properties in Germany and Austria, 314 and 137 titles respectively. Sony cites evolving license agreements as the reason, which means altogether nothing. It can mean Sony doesn’t want to pay for Studio Canal’s license fees, or that their license agreement just came to an end and nobody in Sony was eager to continue. Hard to say, but license issues are like this; the consumer will get shafted. According to Sony themselves, they’ll be removing these items from the user’s libraries. A Variety article points out that Sony was to allow access to these titles via on-demand, but the whole removing them from the libraries seems to be the overriding thing now. As for refunds or anything of that nature, of course, there won’t be any. As anti-consumer groups want to tote, you don’t buy to own when it comes to digital; you purchase a license to lease that item and the provider can take that license away from you any time for any reason they wish to.

The second thing is how Ubisoft managed to piss people off again by announcing Decommissioning of online services. This means killing off a number of titles’ online functionalities, ranging from patches, multiplayer, and DLC. This has happened before and will keep happening as long as the games-as-service model exists and functions are tied to being online. They also managed to stumble harshly with Assassin’s Creed Liberation HD on Steam, where they had the game -75% discount, and announced they’d be pulling it off after they made the sales. The language on the Steam store page makes it appear as if the game would be completely unavailable for the platform, but Ubisoft called their PR people to convince the people who had already “purchased” the game would still be able to access the title, but not its online components. The whole shebang comes from Ubisoft wanting to close down uPlay on certain platforms. It was a massive PR failure on Ubisoft’s part, but things were as expected.

The third bit is how last year’s news about Apple being sued for terminating his Apple ID has made some rounds as a result of the two previous bits. The plaintiff Matthew Price had spent almost 25k dollars on content attached to his Apple ID. Of course, when Apple closed his account, citing violations of terms and conditions, he lost access to all of it. Price says his account was terminated without notice, explanation, policy, or process, nor does the claim itself state what were the alleged violations. He wasn’t the only one who found themselves losing access to content he paid for. David Andino is the leading plaintiff in a class-action suit against Apple over the deceptive use of “rent” and “buy.” ArsTechnica had an article on it, and it covers all the basic bases just as well. Be it Valve, Sony, Apple or Netflix, they have the same unvoiced thing when you sign in and give them your money. The only difference here is that Apple voiced it as an argument in this case; “no reasonable consumer would believe” that content purchased through iTunes would be available on the platform indefinitely. US District Court Judge John Mendez rejected this, and Apple’s motion to dismiss the case. Amazon’s in the same pickle jar, having to defend themselves from consumers who have lost their digital libraries.

Back in 2019, the French court ruled that Valve should allow users to sell the goods they’ve bought on Steam. Valva argued that they were a subscription-based service, but the court disagreed, as the games were sold in perpetuity. This led Valve to change its terms and services as well as revise the language used across Steam. Steam still geoblocks titles and has differences in pricing, as well as preventing resales of games you’ve “bought.”

The whole issue stems from the languages these companies use. The terms buy and purchase give the idea of gaining ownership over an item. Digitally, ownership has been drastically eradicated from the equation. Without reading the Terms of Service, you wouldn’t probably know that you’re more or less buying a license for an item, which the corporation has any and all power over. If they wish to take away that license from you for any reason they wish to, they will. Physical media may be going the way of the dodo slowly (though it was first supposed to be dead in 2006, then 2012, then by 2020…), but ownership should not. Not only Valve’s practices with Steam have eradicated almost a generation’s worth of idea of what owning something and carrying the responsibility for it means, but we’re also taught that owning nothing means we’re going to be happier. Leasing and renting are being pushed as the future, yet that kind of future is looking grimmer and darker with every new iteration. Ownership means responsibility, which is being taken away from you, willing or not. If you carry no true responsibility for your actions and items you have, there is no reason to care or put effort. However, you’ll also be prevented from modifying, working, or doing anything to the same items, as they are not yours. It will lead your life being led into a box, where these companies are able to fully dictate how you act and what you consume. All because you’re dependent on their products, and even a small violation can lead to contract termination, effectively losing your way of living.

This may sound like a dystopia. Mostly because it’s all the little things that are piling on top of each other, but also because there are worldly political and economical factions that are gunning for it at your expense. Losing ownership is going backward in the overall progression of western civilization. One of the reasons companies like John Deere have had a hard time striking through the African heartland is that outside the major farmers, the land is owned by community leaders, not farmers themselves. At any moment, their land can be seized from them and given to anyone else. There is no incentive to put the effort into nurturing the farmland, which Africa has about nine of every ten farmable acres in the world, because the moment you make it work, it all can just vanish. All the modern and big equipment you might need to run a successful farm, alongside the workfoce, just isn’t worth investing in. Not to mention sabotaging these people putting the effort in isn’t uncommon, be it via damaging crops or just outright breaking the equipment. So, it becomes easier just to go with the minimum effort so you could keep the small bits that you don’t even own. This sort of lack of ownership isn’t uncommon in world history, and every time people get to own their land and their equipment, they start to care and put the effort into it. The exact same applies to the ownership of common good items and digital entertainment media. When the customer is given the responsibility of the product, be it what they produce or buy, there is care given. When it comes to working, things like giving the worker more responsibility and ways to properly do their work are highly important. For example, putting effort to develop new methods to make the work more effective and easier is rewarding in itself, and employers should take note of this. Sadly, the modern work environment is very stuck to certain ways and methods, and any sort of development that doesn’t come from the middle management tends to be shot down.

Funny that, ownership is very much individual freedom, something that you can express yourself through. That too is part of personal responsibility, something that is being slowly but surely eroded away from you.

So, the future of digital property will be the lack of it at this pace. You’ll put your money into subscription services and never consider it a loss, although, in the long run, you’re the losing party. All this can be changed if the customers will it. Everything runs on money, and you yourself know the best whether or not corporations and their products are worth it. When it comes to digital goods, be it on Steam or a sub to Netflix, take a few moments to consider whether it’s really worth it. You probably already have tons of games and movies around in one way or another. Don’t follow the new dangled shiny things in front of you, but put more time into the things you still have unfinished. It’s never going to go away; it’s digital after all. It’ll never truly vanish, not even when licensing agreements are to expire.

Unless it is a games-as-service model. Then you can just ignore it all and wish some hacker manages to make the online work via custom servers and hacks. Even better if you take up the mantle and become that hero yourself.

Capcom Fighting Collection’s success will pave way for more collections

Devilotte with her underlings and you probably will never get to play as her in Capcom Fighting Collection

Capcom Fighting Collection is almost upon us, with the usual marketing heads and Internet influencers having early access codes to showcase and market the title for you. In effect, you’d get the same experience from watching captured footage from a CPS2 arcade board, or just random Fightcade streams. There’s no reason to assume the Collection won’t have equally as competent emulation as what you have access to now. This makes the Fighting Collection a nice collection for arcade purists for sure, and online for some of the games is nice, but the reality of competition is that you can already play all the games in this collection in the aforementioned Fightcade, or FC for short. Sure, it’s illegal to download ROM files and all that, but again, not many really give a damn. As these are direct ports of the arcade games, Capcom is fighting their own shadow here. Not all games have online in the Fighting Collection, something FC provides, and if they’re raw arcade ports, they lack options and additions some titles got with their home ports. For example, Cyberbots had three additional playable characters, Chiyomaru Kagura, Princess Devilotte de Deathsatan IX (a fan favourite), and SHADE, that weren’t accessible in the arcade original. They also added full-voiced dialogues to the game. If you’d be going with the Saturn port of the game, you’d get a nearly arcade-perfect port, something Capcom had a knack for doing for the Saturn. Few cut frames of animation here or there because the hardware is a fair trade in exchange for more content and voices. We may disagree on this, but seeing Capcom already has done all this work for the previous port, there should be no reason to have their subcontractor do any less than their best to match up against these older ports. Of course, arcade perfection will be used as an excuse and some will buy it. Capcom has already made their money on these arcade games though. CPS2 encryption wasn’t broken until the millennium had changed, and at that point, Capcom had moved on from the system and wasn’t making profits off of them.

 

Shuhei Matsumoto had an interview with John Carson of Gameinformer about Capcom Fighting Collection, which of course serves more as a PR fluff than anything else. Though not just for the customer, but also for the industry as well. While fans have seen this collection more as a Darkstalkers collection with some other games thrown in, the reality seems to be that KOBUTA and MUUMUU, long-time programmers at Capcom, finally wanted Warzard/Red Earth ported to home consoles. Matsumoto confirms that the versions will be arcade ports and specifies that they’ll be versions used in tournaments. While it is nice to see these titles preserved for modern consoles, the fact that emulation and gaming archiving scenes have already done that. All these versions, and many others of these titles, have already been preserved for future generations. It may be through emulation, that has been more of a necessity than anything else. Game companies themselves have been notoriously bad at archiving their own code and artwork, something that Sega is infamously bad at; they’ve lost all the masters and source codes for Saturn games. This is why all Saturn games’ ports, like Princess Crown on the PSP, are running through Saturn emulation. Emulation which isn’t exactly accurate still. Saturn’s architecture wasn’t exactly orthodox and is a challenge to tackle properly. While we can discuss whether or not emulation is a proper contender against an official product, the question of how these have been ported to modern systems does make it relevant. If these are running on an emulator, then the comparisons should be completely relevant. If they’re proper ports made to run on modern hardware, then we should give them all the support we want. I’m guessing all the games in Fighting Collection will run through emulation, so in practice, there shouldn’t be any difference in you choosing between Fighcade and Fighting Collection; you’re getting the same shit anyway, except FC can update its emulators for even more accurate results.

 

Matsumoto: I genuinely want these titles to be played once again on current gen consoles. I also want people who may have seen them but never had the chance to play them to get this opportunity. That said, we do not think that this will necessarily increase the possibility of these series being revived.

This quote also damns the whole Capcom Test, an old thing they’ve done and which I discussed two posts ago. Matsumoto lays it down nice and flat, something that game companies don’t really like to do. Transparency is a positive thing and grows trust with the customer, but that also means competition sees what you’re doing. Take the quote as it is; game series will not see a revival from you buying Collections. This will, at best, see Capcom putting out more collections. A few years ago I went through Capcom’s Investors report, which mentioned the revival old of IPs. This is the route they’re going with it, packaging old ROMs with emulators. Things like Mega Man 11 and Street Fighter IV were only possible due to these games having an internal champion that took it upon themselves to see pitch the title and take all the heavy glory. These games may make or break them. The future of old Capcom IPs is a zombie state in collections of all sorts, repackaged lovingly with bare-bones ports with bells and whistles added to them via picture galleries (of artwork you can track down on the Internet in higher quality thanks to scanners [I doubt there’s going to be much new content in this regard]) and online play (which is already provided by emulators that are probably more accurate than what Capcom is packing in.)

Old fans and customers had hoped for new entries in long-sleeping IPs, but ‘lo, just pay for ROMs and emulators.

This isn’t bashing Capcom or telling you not to buy the collection. This is more about whether or not Capcom is giving you any better options than what is currently available for all, piracy or not. Capcom could take some actions if they wished to do so, but that might sour the relationship with the hardcore fighting game fanatics that play these games all day around. This barebones collection is for the people who want to play certain titles online in an official capacity, Capcom enthusiasts, and new fans who just can’t be arsed to track down the proper ROM file and an emulator. Capcom’s fighting an uphill battle against an enemy of their own making of sorts, and with the promise of this Collection not affecting any future game developments and being just the raw arcade ROMs with their usual unrealistically high expectations for sales numbers, all this is so goddamn awkward. The Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, while admirable in scope in most cases, suffered from games stuttering, game dropping inputs, input delays, bad online code, the game volume having issues, and stuff like that. There’s no promise of Capcom, or their subcontractor, making things any better, except for online play. That’s what the talking heads and PR always seem to go towards nowadays and how online play has to be 10/10. There’s never a moment given that the games themselves need to be more than what’s already out there, especially when you can go for a better online play for all these titles now with FC and other alternatives.

What is the supposed reason for this Collection to even be? Maybe people will buy it and play and for an hour or two, then move onwards to something else, because that’s how things just seem to work nowadays. Hardcore fighting game players probably will throw in the money and never even touch the game because Fighcade exists. I’ll probably buy it just to get a legitimate version of Red Earth to play at home. That’s as good a reason as any. Putting this kind of thing together probably is relatively cheap, and can give support for future Collections as well as bring in some cash into Capcom’s coffer. If this Collection’s core reason to exist is to celebrate Capcom’s fighting game history, it’s not doing so well. While I’d like to see Capcom doing collections of games that haven’t seen wider ports from the original arcade and one-console-ports, that might not be the most sensible in terms of marketing and sales. Bolting all these one-time titles with Darkstalkers is a good move, something they probably could replicate by using the clout Rival Schools has among Capcom fans and throwing in Star Gladiator games and Kikaioh to form a theoretical Capcom 3D Fighting Collection. Power Stone has its own collection on the PSP already, which honestly is superior to the original games in many ways. It having an anime and all other stuff might just make the Capcom executive veterans nostalgic enough to try to put it out as a digital-only upscale for Steam. I’m eager to see what’s it gonna be when the game launches tomorrow, and despite all the perceived negativity I have here, there’s always a slimmer of hope its (hopeful) success just might give Capcom some ideas to try out something else that isn’t Street Fighter when it comes to fighting games. That’s a one-in-a-million chance though, so don’t rely on it.

A Citizen’s view: Finland applying for NATO and historical relations with Russia

While this blog has always been intended to comment on things of design of pop-culture on the side of the customer, I do feel a personal need to comment on the current world situation with Finland, Russia and NATO from a personal perspective. While at this point it is rather a moot point to guess whether or not Finland will join NATO, as the process has begun and Turkey’s Erdogan is using it as leverage to try to root Kurds and his political targets with a genocidal passion. If you want the answer to the question Should Finland join NATO? the answer would be We should’ve joined NATO twenty years ago. Naturally, the issue is somewhat complicated and directly saying joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is very much populist politics, even though it most likely would raise the probability of keeping Russia from trying to invade Finland yet again.

Now, I feel a need to pre-emptively mention that while I speak of Russia in this post, the meaning is for its government or the entity known as Russia. A person can not choose the country they are born in, and I don’t have anything against the common Russian people. Above all, in matters like this, I hope their government would treat them better and improve their nation. The 20 million Russians living below the poverty line should their priority.

Finland’s history is that of three countries, roughly speaking. Finland did exist in its own form when Finno-Ugric tribes extended their power from what is currently Sweden to the Ural mountains. During the early eleventh century, there were few crusades to Finland, but while Dane’s attempt was lacklustre, the Swedish crusades over a few centuries managed to quell down the opposition, and ultimately Finland became part of the Swedish Kingdom. The treatment of course was what you would expect, as the Finish people were treated more or less as uneducated peasants while the Swedes were the higher class people. Nevertheless, the Swedish Empire was a strong contender on the stage of world politics for a long time. While this improved the Finnish living standards as well, it was also at the expense of the culture. Even nowadays there is a class divide between Finnish and Swedish, and Swedish is the second national language.

The Great Northern War saw Sweden and Russia waging war over the Baltic. The Russian forces had taken over the Finnish landscape in 1713, but the occupation never saw proper attempts at taking the Swedish coast. The occupation was brutal and harsh, and the time between 1713-1721 is known as the Great Wrath; Russians plundered and raped all the while demanding the peasants to pay contributions for the occupation. Lutheran churches were looted and Russians used scorched earth tactics to keep the Swedish from reoccupying. Enslaved Finnish counted in the hundreds of thousands. Massacres were common, with Hailuoto Island being one of the worst examples, where cossacks hacked 800 people with axes. Poorer people led to the forests to escape the occupational forces, something that would stick to the cultural mind and would bite the Russians back during the Second World War. Not that the Swedes were any gentler. The atrocities were at their worst when Gustaf Otto Douglas, a defected Swedish count, was leading the occupational forces. However, it wouldn’t be until the Finnish War in the early 1800s that Alexander I would take Finland away from Sweden and establish the Grand Duchy of Finland under Russian rule.

If for a moment you saw some similarity with the actions Russians have taken in Ukraine above, that is because Russian methods of waging war and destroying others haven’t changed ever since the Mongols invaded Kievan Rus in the thirteenth century. This invasion effectively created the basis, where all future Russian nations would find a cultural scar in. Without this invasion, Kievan Rus might’ve developed into a more benign entity, but what is left of it in modern Russian culture is a heavy distrust towards other nations out of fear of being invaded, systematic corruption through all possible means, and trust in one true leader who would protect the people with his inner circle. There are tons, but there are just to name a few and maybe the most relevant.

Even as a grand duchy, Finland’s independence varied, but at least the peasants’ situation was always better than the Russian serfs’. While the old Swedish laws were upheld, the czar was the ruler without a peer. This era, before Finnish independence, would be the basis where the Finnish would find their place as the in-between country and gain cultural skills on how to handle Russians. Part of this was based on the Swedish population’s rouse toward the Finnish language and independence, though even then it was more about returning to glory than giving Finland its own autonomy from other nations. The national literature revolution in the 1830s would kick up the Fennoman movement, which would drive Finnish independence and identity up until our declaration of independence in 1917. Because of the tensions between three nationalities, the Swedes in Finland, the Finnish and the Russians, the population of Finland were more educated than their contemporaries in the Baltics, the Finns were able to manoeuvre through the Russification that tzars Alexander III and Nicholas II were driving from 1881 up until 1917.

Russification of Finland, known as Times of Oppression locally, stemmed from Russia seeing Finland as a conquered territory, full of lesser people that Russia must assimilate and eradicate Finnish national identity in order to protect that part of their nation from Western influences. This attitude has never really changed. An example of this would be A.S. Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman, where the Finnish are described as poor people of nature, who should forget their old hatred against Russians as only Russians can save these wretched beings. Finland itself is no more than a place to threaten Swedes and cities are built for that end. This belittling of Finland and its population is part of the Russian cultural heritage.

Following the February Revolution in Russia, the Finnish politicians would beeline toward independence. In hindsight, it’s rather comedic that Russians had to put up a second revolution to wash their hands off the first one, but October Revolution was ultimately the one that allowed Finland to full detach itself from Russian rule as the Bolsheviks declared a general right of self-determination for the people of Russia. This was more or less allowed for the Finnish people, as the Bolsheviks fully expected the Socialist revolution to take the world by wildfire and Finland to join the Soviets soon enough. They tried to expedite this by supporting the Reds in the Finnish Civil War. Russia would continue to have its fingers in the internal and global Finnish politics well up until the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Much is said about Finland allying with Germany during the Second World War. However, it was a situation to ally with someone who could help, or be occupied by the Soviet forces and lose independence. Russia would invade Finland in November 1939, using the Shelling of Mainila as an excuse. The shelling was a false-flag operation, where Soviet forces shelled their own nation and claimed Finland as the perpetrator. In reality, no Finnish artillery could’ve had hit the town, as it was out of range. This sort of false flag operation is Russian standard when they want something. In this case, Finland had denied their demands to have Russian military bases on Finnish soil. The Baltic states had accepted this demand, and were fully occupied in 1940, losing their independence. Stalin had high expectations for the campaign and had already established the Finnish Democratic Republic to govern soon to be occupied neighbour. While Finland lost 9% of its land to Russia, the defensive war was a success, and a momentary peace was gained with the Moscow Peace Treaty in 1940. Russia was kicked out of the League of Nations as a result of the war.

The Finnish forces were in dire need to help at that point, and no other nation was willing to offer help but Germany. Continuation War would start in June 1941 as Germany began its invasion of Russia. It wouldn’t be until the 1944’s battles the Finnish troops managed to gain decisive victories against the Soviet invaders. The Vyborg-Petrozavodzk offensive might’ve ended in a stalemate, but Russians had already seen too many of their own soldiers go down. Compared to the other nations within the Soviet sphere of influence, Finland had managed to keep its democratic independence and never allowed the Soviets to occupy the Finnish soil. The Moscow Armistice restored the 1940 treaty, leading Finnish forces to expulse German forces from the nation, which led to numerous conflicts and at least one burned city. Finland did have to cede new parts to the Soviets and pay reparation for the war Russian themselves had started, legalize the Communist Party of Finland as well as ban all parties the Soviets deemed fascist. Russian meddling in Finnish politics would continue. The Communist Party was never declared illegal, despite its still driving agenda that is very much against the interests of the nation.

Finnish neutrality during the Cold War following the Second World War is grossly exaggerated. The Soviet diplomats and politics continued to harass and influence whatever decision Finland was making internally or in regard to foreign policies. While officially the government was neutral, the interests always were to move toward the West and protect the nation from future Russian invasion. This led to the military adopting the phrase The threat comes from the East during military practices, as Finland is not viably threatened by any other nation than Russia. In recent months, both politicians and generals have used this phrase with Russia instead of East in public statements. Despite the friendly ties Finland has had with the Russians, it’s been a delicate act to keep their unwanted influence from Finnish soil for some four hundred years now. This is why the Finno-Soviet treaty of 1948, or the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, was signed to keep the Soviets happy but at bay. Numerous voices siding with Russia have declared the Finnish intent to join NATO breaks this agreement, but they never seem to remember the treaty of 1992 with the Russian Federation made the 1948 treaty effectively null.

All this is to say that in the view of Russian culture, President Putin’s words about the good ol’ days of the Russian empire make sense. Ever since the Mongols invaded the Kievan Rus, the cultural mind has been deathly afraid of being invaded again. The unnecessarily cruel nature of Russian warfare stems from these Mongols and has never left their military doctrine. How Russia is waging war in Ukraine is a direct descendant of how Russia has waged war since the thirteenth century. No matter how much the tzars have brought European influences and cultural aspects to Russian soil, Russia is deeply an Asian country. In reality, Europe doesn’t end with the Ural Mountains, it ends where the Russian border is drawn. The culture is Asian, not Western. The Western World has accepted individuals’ right to self govern for better or worse a long time ago and has built trust among its peers. Russia’s cultural landscape does not admit to this. For them, it is their God-given right to fight and protect their own culture at the expense of all others, self-governance be damned. Strategic truth, as in lying, is extensively used to deceive in order to reach personal goals. Everything else can be expended for the Russian state and its people. In this equation, Finland is the buffer zone Russia has used against the Western World. When Finland began talking about joining NATO more openly following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s actions flared up; Russia cuts gas lines to Finland, diplomats put pressure on Finnish parliament members, sly talks about the Russian empire taking what was theirs and all that. It’s Russia talking down to the Finnish people again.

Back when I was in university, I discussed the relationship between Finland and modern Russia with a Russian exchange student. His view was quite telling; Finland is a poor place. It doesn’t even have its own culture or history.

To return to the question if Finland should join NATO for a moment, the question is absurd to me. The population of Finland has been under the threat of Russian invasion ever since Sweden got beaten during the Great Northern War. Russian proverb of The border of Russia is secure only when Russian soldiers occupy both sides of the border is a direct threat. Finland has every right to join whatever alliances they wish if that means securing the sanctity of their nation. To Russians, that often has meant a pre-emptive strike to make the enemy unable to attack. For a more civilized nation that means having a good enough defence to fight such an invader. It is no exaggeration to say Russia only considers itself safe when all possible opposition is crushed. This is, at best, medieval thinking and should have no place in the modern world. Russian propaganda will aim to convince people that Finland and Sweden joining NATO is the result of the Western world, especially the United States, tricking and deceiving Swedes and Finns into joining. The reality is that the Russian invasion of Ukraine and continuing their tradition of brutal and unnecessarily cruel warfare is at fault.

To be more realistic, Russia has been treating Finland as a NATO country for a long time despite also treating the country as a buffer zone. This is due to Finland being a NATO-aligned country. This means cooperation in intelligence and global actions, which naturally Russia deems as a threat. With Russia escalating its nature as a threat toward Europe, nations are justifiably worried about their safety. In a perfect world, Russia wouldn’t be afraid of being invaded and would find no need to invade countries that want to be independent. Russian propaganda and information warfare have a hundred-year history of mixing truths, half-truths and lies in their disinformation campaigns, and we’re seeing it in full action at this very moment. While it also tried to twist and turn the nation’s history toward a rosier view, they can’t really hide from the stripes on their fur.

In Russian, pravda does not mean truth as it would be in English. It’s not the opposite, but something that tries to find a balance and harmony between right and wrong, lie and truth. It’s closer to a white lie, a half-truth you use to get out of difficulties. You see this used far more often than the word istina, which stands for truth as it would in English. However, Russia has three words for lies; Vranjo, Lozh’ and nepravda. This gives a certain insight on the function of the language, and to some extent how people think. This is why foreign diplomats have difficulties in discerning what Russia says on the world stage. Be it Lenin, Stalin or Putin, they’ve all used this sort of strategic truth as a weapon, sometimes directly lying to misdirect their opponents. To put it simply, Russian culture doesn’t have a binary with lies and truths; everything is a mass of grey. Putin denying that it was his troops on the Ukrainian border is just an example of this. As much as we make comparisons of doublethink in modern parlance and its negative side effects, it is an everyday thing in Russian culture.

All that said, the generation that was born and raised under Putin does not exactly share all the sentiments made here. The one example of a fellow student voicing their displeasure towards Finland is against dozens of others doing the opposite. As it tends to be with these issues, a singular person or not the issue nor are the people per se. However, it is the culture and the leaders of that nation that perpetuate certain views and cultural trends through information warfare against their own citizens. When the government and everyone under them has their fingers in the system, the average citizen can’t really do anything but work with the system. Take a simple thing like nepotism. It’s rampant in Russian systems. Of course, you have to make sure your own family has the best positions and chances. Western systems abhor and have worked for ages to remove even the simplest forms of corruption. This is the opposite, as Russian culture has it baked in. This is one of the numerous reasons for Russia’s lack of success in its campaign in Ukraine, as the leaders have systematically siphoned resources away from equipment and training to their own pockets. This has its roots in the Mongol rule as one of the cultural scars. Not that the Mongols can be the sole perpetrator of this. The Russian people saw cruelty and terror under Stalin, second only to Mao’s China.  One of the biggest mistakes for many Western nations was to treat Russia as one of them, rather than as one of the Asian cultures.

If you’re interested in Russian historical culture and its direct influence on its modern-day actions, I’d recommend watching Martti Kari’s lecture on the subject. He’s an ex-intelligence officer, a lecturer nowadays, with a specialization in Russian history and culture under his belt. There’s a subtitled version for people who’d like to watch it, and if you can stomach autospeech, an English version. It covers a whole lot more than what I have here, but from a more objective view. It is highly recommended for anyone with even the slightest of interests.

Of course, the question of whether or not joining NATO would pose a threat to Russia should be entertained. For Russia, any foreign power strong enough to oppose it is a threat, especially with Russia’s historical disliking of the Western world, despite desperately wanting to be part of it. NATO is a defensive organization, only activated twice; once after 9/11 and the second time after the terror strikes on France. Whether or not you want to believe bad tongues about the alliance, out of the two options it does seem far better. To say Russia has always been a threat used to be politically incorrect, now it’s become a bit more media sexy in certain circles. Russia always had the capacity to invade its smaller neighbours, if it intended to do so. However, they never had a proper justification for it. Even when Russian forces are to protect Russian nationals even abroad, their attack on the Baltics or Finland would be hard to justify within the nation. Ukraine has been, and will always be, a special sore spot for Russia as long as they remember how modern Russia can be said to have started in Ukraine’s Kiev. Russia’s sad history shows they are not to be trusted to respect agreements or hold their end of bargains on the world stage, unless it benefits them. From a point of view of a citizen, in order to protect the sanctity of Finland’s borders and independence, we must find like-minded people who we can trust more so we can prepare for war. For war I hope will never again come. The argument that NATO had lost its relevance after USSR’s dissolution is largely ignoring how Russian Federation more or less continued the exact same path and methods as a direct continuation, just with less communism.

Nevertheless, whatever may come in the future, whether or not Finland manages to join NATO, there is one thing we must avert by all means necessary; the Third World War. Invasion of Ukraine, Finland Joining NATO and everything else has to be put aside for this issue. We can not afford to have a nuclear exchange between countries. We have only one world. Whatever it takes, the nuclear powers must never come into direct conflict with each other, less escalate it to a nuclear war. They are an awesome weapon to protect yourself from the possible enemy, yet they are something that must never be used. This is not an issue of political ideologies or world views, the matter of mutual annihilation touches everyone on the planet an equal amount. With the increase in amounts of tactical nuclear weapons, misreading situations for an actual strategic nuclear strike has become that much easier. A nuclear weapon must not be ever used, as the enemy might retaliate. While we are not near a nuclear exchange at the moment, all sides need to work together in some manner to ensure that the possibility is nil. We don’t need to lose our ways of living and sovereignty for that. We need dialogue and diplomacy for that. However, as we’ve seen this year, it is hard to do peace with someone who is willing to punch you down because they feel afraid for all the reasons you don’t threaten them with. The balance of power, as much as everyone hates it, is something that has always worked in human history. From having a better rock to a sharper knife, from having an iron sword over a bronze one to having rifled guns against smooth bores flintlocks, and to having a higher number of missiles with superior destructive capabilities. In the best-case scenario, which we’ve been in for some time now, the existence of a nuclear arsenal and the threat it poses has kept the stakes low. The lower they are, the less likely the enemy will have a need to resort to stronger retaliation. If we return our gaze back to Finland, even if we were to join NATO, the stakes would be kept low. Whatever government would allow foreign nuclear weaponry on Finnish soil would be letting their people down and spit in face of diplomacy. As long as NATO works as intended as a defensive organization, no power need to worry about it.

All this must seem like a rambling. Mostly because it is. The issue is not exactly easy and I am not too comfortable with these views or sharing them overall. However, we must face the danger that exists and admit that diplomacy has its limits. If we can’t trust a power, we must find allies somewhere else.

As an end note, why is that the featured image? There you see Russians dragging a boat along the river Volga, while at the far right you can see a German steamboat. Things haven’t changed.

The CAPCOM Test Collection

The Capcom Test is an old term dating back to the 1990s, though the practice probably dates well into the 1980s when Capcom was becoming an arcade powerhouse. Capcom used to rent yellow arcade boards to arcade operators for a time to test the game among consumers and to encourage the operator to make a full purchase of the arcade title. With consoles, this had to change, especially with the death of rental stores. Now the method is to put out a collection or a limited-budget production title, like the numerous Darkstalkers collections, to see if sales would be generated to ensure a new, higher-budget title. Often the sales number and the revenue these Test games have to make is unrealistically high, as Capcom moved towards a high budget, high-revenue model with their mainline games since the early 2000s. Personally, I would put the shift starting from the original Resident Evil to Devil May Cry 2. DMC2 was developed by an ex-arcade development team that was out of their depth in making a console game of this calibre. It is a lynchpin game, where Capcom would slowly, but surely, move their focus further on bigger-than-life titles with grandiose visuals. By all means, titles like Monster Hunter were part of this, as the franchise had grown bigger and bigger in terms of how grandiose it is despite the play part subdued. Hell, certain elements have been completely excised from Monster Hunter World. There has also been a further focus on the framing story sequences, which have slowed Capcom games down quite a lot. Mega Man is a good indicator of how Capcom sways. Aside from Mega Man 11, things have been very quiet, baiting with nostalgia via licensing.

The very recently announced Capcom Fighting Collection is, by all means, a Capcom Test. Social Media has people asking others to buy the game as it is seen as a Test for Darkstalkers series, a series that has already had more Tests than most other franchises. While yours truly is a fan of the series and would love to see a new entry, I also highly doubt this collection will yield any positive results for the fans. Capcom often has unreasonably high expectations of their titles, as any title is more or less expected to make Resident Evil or Monster Hunter tier revenue. That is not going to happen, as there is a finite amount of money the consumers can shell out and Capcom’s competition is harsh. Street Fighter 6, which got a teaser, too, did not exactly lit the audience. Simply displaying a fujoshi’s wet dream Ryu in RE Engine is not enough to make out what the game will be like. Sure, most people who have been in the arcades or given a glance at the fighting game scene know how a Street Fighter generally functions, but as usual, the core audience wants and needs to see and know more.

Would probably do good to showcase what’s been talked about

This Collection probably is not testing just Darkstalkers in a vacuum. While there is an obligatory Street Fighter II thrown in there, the rest of the titles are peculiar. Warzard/Red Earth is a CPS-3 system game that has not seen a homeport until now. Should’ve included all three Street Fighter III games while they were at it. Cyberbots is a cult game with little to no audience or live scene. Pocket Fighters is mostly a throwaway, it is not going to make any ends or means. What is peculiar about this collection is that it only has 2D fighting games. There is no Rival Schools, Star Gladiator, Power Stone or Tech Romancer. Not even a word is being whispered about Street Fighter EX titles in a collection, and I am sure Arika, as the developer of the games and owner of the series original originals, would be willing to cooperate. The reality probably is that this is a reasonable budget title for Capcom to test waters whether or not there is an audience for a new fighting game to go alongside Street Fighter but yet is distinctly different in visual and style. Darkstalkers still retains a very unique look, with the whole Western cartoon animation thing going on with its Universal Horror monster closet, while Cyberbots is strong mechanical mayhem to a tee. Red Earth is deeply rooted to its character growth system and will offer only a limited interest due to its low number of four playable characters. However, I believe this is the only way we would have ever got Red Earth ported; as a port of a collection.

Nevertheless, the styling is clear; a standard and safe Street Fighter II fair, a horror fighter, an SF mecha fighter, and a fantasy-themed fighter. All titles are going to use rollback netcode, so at least online play should be nice and nippy. If I were somebody at Capcom looking whether or not to greenlight a new project based on one of these games, I would have a line of code that would record how many hours each of the games are played to see what series, and what iteration in case of Darkstalkers, is the most popular and go with that. For better or worse, statistics still rule.

Maybe we’ll get at least a Capcom 3D Fighting Game Collection if this one sells reasonably to justify porting their 3D fighting games to modern platforms. I

The other side of the coin is that we are on Mega Man‘s 35th anniversary year as well. We have yet to see any kind of title being announced. Sure, it’s late February and there is a lot of year left, but there is not much Capcom can do in regards of collections. The latest Collections are not very old and are still in circulation, so putting out a new one wouldn’t be the best move to pull. Sure, something like Mega Man Legends collection would be nifty, but that’d also put the lens on the cancelled Mega Man Legends 3, and that’s something that probably salted the ground with Mega Man quite a lot. Mega Man is the other side of the coin due to how it depicts Capcom’s priorities. The best we can expect is a game during the Blue Bomber’s 40th anniversary. I honestly don’t expect a full-fledged Mega Man game on our shelves in the next five years.

There is no definitive way to say whether or not past Capcom Tests have been successful. When it comes to arcade games, we definitely can see how certain games floated to the top and became the cream of Capcom history. We can mostly point to Darkstalkers as a prime example of how the Capcom Test has flunked a series. I would say that the same can be appointed to the Mega Man series, which is now in the mobile game hell with Mega Man X DiVE. However, looking at a certain lack of titles that have come from Capcom’s collections as of late, chances are that even if the Fighting Game Collection sells, the hopes for new Darkstalkers should not be raised. Vote with your wallet and showcase the game, if you want to make your voice heard.

Though there’s always the question if modern Capcom can actually produce a new fighting game that isn’t a hyper-realistic million-dollar piece. All this sounds nice, but seeing how Capcom is doubling down on making the most Hollywood-like top-tier graphics experience with their RE Engine, the question that has to be asked is whether or not there is anyone who could head a cartoony horror fighter. Darkstalkers is very much a cartoony fighter with bright colours despite its motif. While Darkstalkers themselves are serious things. While the story hardly comes through the games themselves, their background is rich and gives all of the more than just that one shade of blood red. There’s whole mythology you can only see in sourcebooks. While the story and the result of these matches were equally as serious, the animations were always tightly knit to the Tom and Jerry kind of gag animation. You could cut your opponent open mid-fight, but he’d just flip back together and get up. It’s tons of fun, and in my older days, I’ve slowly come to appreciate the craftsmanship the series has in terms of animation over titles like Street Fighter III and King of Fighters XIII. If Capcom would be making a new entry, I hope it’ll be colourful fun, filled with cartoony gore. I hope my fears are crushed and Capcom can actually rip themselves off from sticking to either anime or hyper-realism.

The second bit is that Darkstalkers is known to be a hard as hell game to get into. While the first and the second game are relatively easy and simple, that’s only by comparison to modern mechanics in fighting games. Then you have Darkstalkers 3, or Vampire Saviour, a game that has people who want to get into it, and people who have played it for good two decades or so. There’s very little middle-ground when it comes to skill ceilings. The game’s speed is still unmatched, and the mostly polished mechanics make a game that’s very hard to get into. Sure, there are a few bullshit regulations and rules on how some of the mechanics work and Dark Force is utterly useless with some characters, but those mostly add to the meta-skills the player has to learn. It’s easy to say that Guilty Gear is a poster boy for having a gimmick with each character, but Darkstalkers did that first by having the first character to airdash. One character in the original game’s cast could airdash as we think it nowadays, the others couldn’t. Sure, Morrigan’s forward dash would actually lift her off from the ground, but that’s not the same in function. Other characters have long hops that force them into an aerial state. All this is to say that while the very core basic walking might’ve been shared with all characters, characters would also have different ways to do more advanced movements, like dashing forwards or hopping or just disappearing for a moment while sliding forwards. I take that back, actually. Guilty Gear is still the poster boy for gimmick characters, Darkstalkers has characters that are built around certain unique options only accessible to a single or limited number of characters.

In the modern environment, where eSports is a thing and has to drive sales, I can’t see Capcom putting an effort into making a game that has a high learning curve which is also further affected by each character in a heavier manner than in Street Fighter or King of Fighters. Guilty Gear mostly has bullshit single-character mechanics that might as well be a whole different genre. I can still hear Jack-O playing tower defense in my head. Heavily in-depth and complex fighting games don’t seem to make good sales or nice eSports titles, especially if the game’s emphasis is blitz-speed with no pause of any sort for Super Moves. The cartoony animation has to carry that wow factor. Perhaps it’d be better if Capcom would make a new Cyberbots instead. Their realistic approach could work very well for that game, and there has been a serious lack of quality robot fighting games as of late. Alternatively, a new Red Earth title could emphasize player-build characters through an easy interface with expanded RPG-like growth mechanics and elements thrown in, but that’d be effectively Soul Calibur. 

I’ll most likely be picking up this collection on launch day just to be able to play a legitimate copy of Red Earth without resorting to emulation. That’s a sticking point with some, seeing this collection moot because all the titles innit can be played through Fightcade. While an option, emulation doesn’t really showcase Capcom what the customers would like to have as it doesn’t show up in their revenue tape. In a sorted twisted sense, it can also show that people are completely fine playing the old games over and over again. All Capcom needs to do is to release a new collection every decade or so to test the waters. We’ve been through this a few times already. That’s kinda sad innit. Here we are, getting a collection of games we’ve played tons already throughout the years, just to test waters with if Capcom might want to make more money in making a new entry. 

Capcom fans are weird beings. On one hand, the fans want new entries for their old games. On another, there’s always a want for something new. It’s just Capcom wants to test first if there are enough existing fans to justify making a new entry. God only knows how the hell Capcom ever manages to produce new IPs, but they really need to get on that boat too in the near future.

Sony’s Bungie Jump

Sony buying Bungie is not a fast revenge-action to get back at Microsoft. Corporate buyouts take time, and unless Sony had info on Microsoft intending to obtain Activision Blizzard, they have something else in mind for Bungie. However, the grapevine has stated that Sony intends to obtain further game studios in the near future. This statement I would accept as a counter to MS buying ActiBlizzard, because it looks like appeasing the consumers and the stockholders.

Looking from the core game consumer standpoint it would be easy to argue that Sony buying Bungie is snapping at Microsoft, as the studio is still best known as the creator of Halo. Some praise Destiny while others dislike the title, but it has nevertheless has stayed afloat. We could assume that Sony now wants to make their Halo-killer, a lofty position that as given to numerous previous Sony-exclusive titles like Haze. Let us further assume that Microsoft does not continue multiplatform game contracts and ActiBlizzard titles will slowly but surely become Microsoft Xbox and Windows exclusive. Gaining a studio that would to American styled shooting games would be a decent counterforce. However, the two buyouts most likely were done for different reasons and probably did not have any direct relation.

Why Bungie though? Sega’s market value is about the same, so why not pick up them instead? In terms of raw franchising power, Sega would have been a better option. Capcom, Konami and even Square Enix might’ve cost a bit more, but they would have far more attractive franchises under their belts.

I think we need to look at Bungie closer. They are effectively a single-game company at the moment. Sony’s statement was that they will get knowhow on how to produce multiplatform titles and Bungie gets access to Sony’s media productions. At face value, Sony will be gaining further information and skills on developing and publishing games on other platforms other than their own, and Bungie can have their IP turned into a multimedia franchise under Sony’s wing. Destiny movie or television series is not wholly improbable, but still unlikely. It’s not the IP that Sony’s after here.

Destiny is a games-as-service type of deal and is wholly dependent on online servers and services. These titles make tons of money, which Sony will now be able to enjoy. Perhaps they want to make use of knowhow to develop a multimedia IP, driven by Bungie’s already successful model with Destiny. There is always ways to refine that model to become more profitable. I highly doubt Sony was after any Bungie’s IPs but rather their market potential in producing revenue and looking for a specific type of developer with specific set of knowhow. It just happened that Bungie probably was the easiest and the best option.

To be honest, there is very little to go on why Bungie would sell itself to Sony. However, we can be sure about the bottom line being about money. 3.6 billion dollars is not a small sum. Perhaps Bungie was hemorrhaging money somewhere and this is their way to obtain capital and production base they would not be able to secure otherwise. Bungie staying largely independent, at least for now, means Sony does not want to strangle whatever profits they are making. Hell, I would not really be surprised if they did not give a damn, what Bungie was making as long as the cash flow was coming in.

I cannot say whether Bungie is a ruined company like Blizzard is. They have not done much after Halo. Blizzard went to the shitter after World of Warcraft became a success. You could argue that there are few other corporations that changed after a significantly successful title. Post-Resident Evil Capcom might be one. Perhaps a certain turning point for Konami was the global success of Metal Gear Solid. Activision lost every resemblance of creativity for sure with their yearly Call of Duty releases.

This is more or less what we should have expected though. Sony has become more focused on the American market to the point of Japanese game consumers rejecting their modern direction. Perhaps it’s all part of Sony’s grander plan in making a cloud service and tying down a developer known for their games-as-service title. However, this is still game business as usual.

Microsoft is not gaining a monopoly in gaming

That’s an answer I’ve given few times when people have asked me about the whole shebang about MS buying Activision Blizzard. Sure, they gained applauded and popular IPs with and now can become the ultimate Western military shooting console with Bethesda’s RPGs and whatnot giving a countering balance. On the surface, it looks good for the Xbox in the future and most likely it’ll be a better platform for numerous games over both of Sony’s PlayStations in this regard. The Switch and whatever Nintendo’s cooking up next will be in its own ballpark again.

However, The Windows Company doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to company acquisitions. On the contrary, much like EA, Microsoft has more or less run their companies to the ground in one way or another. Rare is a perfect example. Banjo Nuts and Bolts is a mess and whatever the company did before is mostly remembered as a game Rare made rather than for their own merits. Battletoads looked exemplary in Killer Instinct and they allowed that modern, franchise-undermining soft-reboot to happen. Lionhead Studios had a strong start with Black and White and Fable, but thanks to The Movies failing Microsoft nabbed ‘em up just to produce more Fable with falling quality. We can discuss the merits FASA Studio had with their MechWarrior games, but MS ultimately decided to kill off the studio and license the studio’s games back to one of its original founders. Mojang is just a Minecraft studio, but the franchise’s growth has stalled significantly.

Bungie and Halo was a godsend gift to Microsoft and Xbox and is the sole reason why Microsoft is still kicking the brand around. However, Halo and perhaps a few other titles, everything Microsoft has done is just copying and following trends. Microsoft has not one creative decision under its belt that could be described as original. Nintendo at least has always been a follower as much as they have been a trendsetter. Sony is sort of falling between following and setting trends, but the trends they set have been more on accident rather than intentional. It’s more that Sony has tried to repeat business and technological successes rather gaming innovations. PlayStation 3 tried to create a new marketplace in a flash, similarly, how PlayStation 2 accidentally created a marketplace for DVDs in Japan the night it was released on. Both Microsoft and Sony catered their consoles as the media centers of your living room. In reality, they both kind suck at it.

If I have criticized that Sony lacks their own strong IPs that they could run with pride and prestige, Microsoft is, in all honesty, best known for Flight Simulator and Halo, and even here Bungie had been developing their game for a long time. Microsoft might have a want, or more likely a pressing need, to have their own IPs to contest Sony and Nintendo, but they have effectively failed in this core process. This shows a major weakness in Microsoft’s gaming business model and the lack of understanding of markets outside the US. It is out of weakness Microsoft has purchased Bethesda and Activision Blizzard, and we have yet to see anything solid from the Bethesda deal.

Gaming has not changed, though that is what numerous talking heads have voiced. This is normal business. Microsoft has obtained companies for their IPs so that their platforms would have a competitive edge against their two main rivals. All these IPs will most likely be fed to Microsoft’s game streaming service, of which I have yet to hear or read one positive thing about. I do not think a gaming streaming service will ever become truly mainstream unless games become shorter and more to the point. People do not have enough time to slog through tens or hundreds of hours of games. It works for music and movies just fine; they are something you do not actively engage in. Playing a game requires time and effort with concentration. Perhaps that is why game journalists are trying to push for the Skip-Game button. It is not that they could not learn the game well enough to beat, but they just do not have the time for them. People should not expect gaming to deliver similar passive media experiments. That would be just silly.  

Still, Microsoft is intending to make their Cloud services to be worthwhile, and it is highly possible that they intend to include numerous Activision Blizzard titles into their services. As much as Google was touted to become the Netflix of gaming, chances are that Microsoft is aiming for that role. Even then, people really would like to have community ran servers, as it seems most of Microsoft’s online games still suffer from servers being down and preventing online multiplayer. I really wish companies would include local multiplayer functions more these days.

Microsoft’s GamePass will, of course, be the main thing to benefit in terms of IPs, but on a grander scale, this is Microsoft wanting to include more content in their whole digital ecosystem. Honestly, MS picking up Activision Blizzard seems to be a pre-emptying move to keep some other tech giant, be it Amazon or Meta, from acquiring them first and including these IPs in their particular ecosystems. If Microsoft had their own strong IPs to back to, they never would have found the need to make this purchase. The whole metaverse can be ignored, for now, it has no real relevancy outside being the moment’s hot discussion topic.

Of course, the question of whether or not these IPs were worth it. Blizzard has managed to effectively screw up their ‘craft games and their remasters to the point of fans taking things into their own hands. Word of Warcraft is losing people to that latest Final Fantasy MMORPG. Diablo III is still a disappointment. The whole company and every aspect of their IPs have been falling in the eyes of the consumer for the potshots they have taken at ‘em too. Blizzcon fiascos, capitulating to the Chinese Communist Party by banning players voicing for independent Hong Kong outside their games all the while displaying an innocent plastic face while having harassment issues at their company. Looking at all the big hitters there, Blizzard has mismanaged all of them to the point of stopping at a wall.

As for Activision, they never really had a good reputation. They’ve effectively been a smaller EA in that they buy smaller studios and effectively fuck them over. Raven Software developed some great games by using Id’s engines, some better than Id’s own games. Neversoft will always be connected to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Spider-Man alongside Treyarch. Infinity Ward birthed the Call of Duty franchise, which Activision has been riding on ever since their acquisition while cutting down companies like Raven Software from their high position and relegated them as nothing more than CoD support team. Gray matter Interactive developed one of the best sequels in Return to Castle Wolfenstein but got thrown into Treyarch to work in the CoD support teams. RedOctane did Guitar Hero and Activision effectively killed the franchise.

Activision has a lot of good studios under them, but nobody really likes what Activision has done with them. There are so many former studios that it isn’t even funny. So many unused IPs that are completely dead in the water. Even CoD, while printing money, is far less popular now than it used to be. Much like so many of these IPs, it’s run to the ground. As a whole Activision Blizzard has made some seriously stupid and regressive decisions and has backpedaled many opportunities to push their IPs forward. Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon revivals were well received and sold well, all things considered. Despite this, the dev teams were thrown back to the Call of Duty mines to work in a supporting developer role.

Funny that Microsoft now owns numerous family-friendly franchises that originated from Nintendo and Sony platforms.

Now, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, the big dick running the Xbox brand, has stated that reviving old franchises, like Hexen and Guitar Hero, is on the table. While the consumers might see this as a great thing, a return to (their personal) glory days of gaming, stockholders don’t see it that way. These old IPs don’t really make the same amount of money. Thus, it could be possible that Microsoft might want to franchise or lease these newly gained IPs for other developers or whatnot to make a good buck on the side.

Another reason why Microsoft would have wanted Blizzard is to have a foothold in the Asian market. Xbox is still the rag dog that gets kicked around in the Orient, but with Blizzard, the Chinese market opens up that much more, especially with all the mobile phone games the Chinese and Koreans consume. The Japanese on the other hand most likely will still stay as an unsalvageable mess, unless Spencer really wants to change their methods. Spencer should follow what the Japanese have been doing but in reverse. Effectively, copy what Sucker Punch did with Ghost of Tsushima; take something Japanese, and make a somewhat Westernizer version of it to sell to the Japanese. The Japanese have been doing this as their main method of exportation, from cars to video games. Ghost of Tsushima showed that it works the other way too, as the Japanese audience loves the game. Credit where credit is due, Sony publishing the game was a good stroke and netted them some seriously needed credit amidst all the issues with their internal censorship that extends to the developers’ as well.

Microsoft has to respect existing contracts between Activision Blizzard and Sony. There will not be much exclusivity to be seen in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, I do wish Microsoft would simply cease putting any of their owned IPs on Sony’s consoles whenever they can just so Sony would be forced to think about their revenue streams first and foremost. However, Microsoft has to think through their growth and revenues now too, and expanding to Sony’s platform and making money on a PlayStation is win in their books. In the short term, we will not be seeing any sort of massive shift in gaming or change in content. If anything, it will take at least a few years until we see anything definitive coming from this deal, and even then, it might be extremely clashing due to the currently incompatible corporate structures and cultures between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard. Sorting that shit, and the whole lawsuit Activision Blizzard has to deal with, takes time.

Sony might be seen as Microsoft’s main rival (Microsoft has really just followed Sony’s path of grabbing up studios and probably will be making extensive limited-time exclusives in the future) but really, we could also see this as a move to counter how much power Tencent has. Tencent has its fingers in so many Western and Asian studios that it is not funny, and most likely few of your games carry their name somewhere on the label too. Honor of Kings or Arena of Valor as known under its international title is the most profitable electronic game in history. It alone has contributed over 13 billion dollars to Tencent’s revenues since 2015 and continues to contribute with its 80 million daily active users. With Activision Blizzard under their belt and the revenue stream possibilities they now have open, Microsoft is in a much better place to contest with Tencent. On the side, all the money Tencent is making is also money the Chinese government is making.

Gaming hasn’t changed suddenly with this purchase nor has Microsoft gained a monopoly. Like most things, the game market is constantly moving and shifting. Making sense out of it is just as hard as any business is. Consolidation of developers under a bigger banner has been happening constantly, but that doesn’t exclude people from putting up their own development studios and publishers. Even if Microsoft and Sony would prevent developers from having games on their platforms, there are tons of alternatives, including Nintendo’s. It might not have the exact same popularity or consumer base, but you have to start from somewhere. The best first step in becoming popular and mainstream is to first become a cult classic. Not every game can be Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter II.

The whole issue on the mainstream Internet media is far too US-centric. The IPs that are cited are most popular in the US, while European and Asian markets fluctuate how popular Microsoft’s games can be. Xbox itself may be more popular in the US, but it still has to fight tooth and nail in the European markets. We’ve covered Asian markets, so there’s that too. Looking at the global situation, this purchase seems to only benefit in the American and select European markets, with only droplets of Asian markets making a dent. Though even then I remember the news about Blizzard making quite the revenues in Asian mobile phone game markets, so that’s a bonus. There are no other home game console companies in the US, and the market is global. It’s not about an issue of Microsoft hogging all these companies and IPs to themselves when it comes to competition. The issue is what the competition is going to do in order to present their device as the superior option. The answer is as it has always been; have content that is able to compete with the opposition.

Personal opinion? I don’t really care for any of the IPs Microsoft acquired, but I do hope the purchase will go through fully and Microsoft will begin to consolidate all the IPs solely into their ecosystem to the point that its competitors have to find their own titles to counter. I wish to see the day when console libraries are vastly different and would be truly unique.

Top 5 games of 2021

The usual rules apply; the game must have been on a physical media to count (unless there’s significant merit for it), 2021 must have been the year I’ve first time have had a copy of the said game, and the year of production doesn’t matter. As usual, these are not in any sorted order; the first listed game doesn’t mean it is better than the four after it. With all that laid out, I’ve noticed that I haven’t really played many new games this year, and have concentrated on older titles instead. theHunter: Call of the Wild ends up being my to-go stress reliever still from the last year, while certain other titles serve other roles on the side.

I admit that once again, I’ve found my resources being invested in other matters. A new home has taken a significant toll on me in many ways as has human relations. A broken PC Engine has limited my choice of games for it quite a lot. I’ve also found a certain lack of time to play games due to work and other necessities. It’s less than I’ve suddenly had more responsibilities and more that I’ve decided to not fuck around with things that will have longer-lasting consequences. Adversely, this has also affected my want to write more, but have lacked time for it. Ah well, there’s always the next year. Unto the list of games;

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together 2011, PlayStation Portable

There’s not much to be said about Tactics Ogre or Ogre Battle that hasn’t been said already. It’s one of the best tactical role-playing game series that has been produced to date, which also spun off the best Final Fantasy title to date in Tactics. I decided to jump into the series this year after wanting to play something tactical and enjoyable for some time, and the Ogre series turned out to be a pretty good target. Now collecting those games into my shelf is another thing, so starting where the bar was lowest with the PSP remake of Let Us Cling Together was an easy choice. While a lot can be and has been said about the game’s historical inspiration in its narrative, with the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the end of enforced peace between Croatians, Bosnians and Serbians, the play really is its driving force in the end.

Building your own team and fine-tuning the synergy between your units and their skills is extremely enjoyable, albeit also very time-consuming. This is due to the need to grind as usual, but the end result often gives a strong, well-balanced team. Sure, the game can be somewhat easily broken even without the use World Tarot system, after which the Japanese subtitle Wheel of Destiny was given. In this, after beating the game you are able to skip back to story points in the game with your current units and make different path decisions.

Additional tweaks make the PSP remake somewhat easier game than the Super NES original, like being able to rewind back to max 50-turns, class rebalances that make their end-forms more breaking while being more crippled at the start, experience points are given as classes rather than individually, permanent death on the field has a 3-turn count with 3-lives backup and such. However, players can choose to handicap themselves and ignore most of the tweaks from the original if they so choose to. One of the best additions to the game is an overhead map, which hardcore fans like to equate to chess. Sadly, all this reminds us that the game got tweaked quite a lot, but visually it’s still the same title. Higher-resolution character artwork looks nice, but some sprite assets don’t really look all that good in comparison to the new higher resolutions portraits and even text boxes. It creates a mish-mashed look. Remaking the game from the grounds up with modern low-polygonal 3D assets for the playfields and perhaps even replacing the character sprites with proper 3D models would’ve made things less jarring. The overhead map becomes essential, as with the current sprite maps, you can’t rotate them, something that would’ve made the game that much more.

Nevertheless, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together is a damn fine game independent of whatever version you are playing it in. The PSP version is still rather easy to find and not terribly expensive, while the English PlayStation version can break a wallet. Of course, Japanese versions are readily more available, but you’ll be faced with a language barrier.

Last Gladiators 1995, Sega Saturn

I can’t say no to a video pinball title when I see one. If we’re honest, making a good video pinball title is hard, and you’ve essentially got two choices to go with; either make it a simulation or embrace the video game format and go nuts what it could be. While the NAXAT Crush series of pinball games are more of the nature of video games, Last Gladiators embrace the simulation aspect. Surprisingly, where video pinball will always lack in terms of kinetic controls and that simple feel of real buttons on the sides of the pinball cabinet, the atmosphere and design have been nailed like no other.

Just by looking at the game’s footage, you can tell a few things it got so damn right. The field design is limited to one screen, but everything has been laid out as if it was a real table. No scrolling back and forth, no gimmicks that wouldn’t be possible on a real table, text and colours are appropriate for an actual table’s screen. The sound is spot on, with one of the best rock soundtracks from the era and the constant barrage of pinball sounds you can expect. Even when text is flashing on the screen above the playfield, it is short enough not to mess with your concentration. Different guides are positioned to the sides with arrows in a manner that’s not to obscure the field itself.

The game offers four fields, all of which have their own theming and concentrated gimmick. This might make an individual table somewhat short in gimmicks, but they’re rather concentrating on doing those few things right. Some modern pinball games like to throw tons of different kinds of gimmicks on one table without much balance, so going back to something that offers multiple tables with their own strong designs with less content per table is a nice breeze of fresh air. Designing a pinball table is stupidly hard and becomes geometrically harder with each introduced goal and gimmick. However, there is a slight over-reliance on ramps, so on a longer session that might become a dulling effect when jumping between the tables.

The most important bit in any video pinball game is in ball physics, and much like how I’ve sung NAXAT Crush series praises, Last Gladiator nails it. The visuals add an impressive heft to the ball, the sounds add to it even more and controlling the ball feels heavy and accurate. All this of course adds to the need for instant action and reaction, something that modern flat-screen televisions and screens still have an issue with. Playing with a good ol’ CRT is your best option, with a nice surround system to go with. Trying to run the game on an emulator didn’t really help. The latency of modern hardware just didn’t cut it.

The game is nothing short of a burst of pure energy. The way it is distilled fun and game in a package that we don’t get nowadays all that much throws it at the top of my list. I wish we had real pinball tables still around here.

Cotton Reboot 2021, Steam, Switch, PlayStation 4

The Cotton series of games is again one of those 1990’s Japanese exclusives that saw very little attention in the West. Mind you, even in Japan the series was more a cult classic than anything else after its arcade-original game. Yet it was kept afloat by fans and people who remember all these old games, and just like we’ve seen resurgence with Umihara Kawase (for the better or worse) Cotton and her lust for candy has graced us with one of the better remakes in some time. It’s one of the best kinds of remakes, don’t do too much for it, make it more what it already was, and give it a banging soundtrack. Cotton Reboot has without a doubt a year-defining soundtrack, with the first stage’s theme ringing in my head from time to time spontaneously.

Cotton Reboot is a rather standard horizontal shooting game, though its stage designs and Bomb mechanics are rather unique. Some stage layouts take advantage of Cotton’s magical broom having an afterburner-like flame and able to damage enemies right behind her all the while having loads of verticality. While the first stage is a sort of forward-push kind of deal, the rest of the stages mix and match the scrolling direction. Enemy patterns across the board shine, with some clever use of ground-only mooks with chasing Deaths. You get stronger and stronger Bombs, or rather Magical Spells as you level them up with experience points. An initial Fire Dragon may be anaemic, but level it up for multiple Fire Dragons or one massive, screen-filling monstrosity. Alternatively, just drop tons of rocks across the whole screen.

There’s so much you can say about a remake that nails the original’s tone and style, something that can turn people off. The game has that 1990s Japanese whack-humour, similar to Slayers or Battle Mania at their zaniest. Visually, the designs, shading and everything that’s presented to you is top-notch in production quality. The usage of modern tools to reproduce older styles has come a long way in the last decade or so and all of it looks glorious.

While the game is easier than its original versions and offers infinite continues, it does come with its X68000 version with no bells or whistles added. While not necessary, these sorts of things always add something special to the mix and preserve old games for new generations. Too bad we can’t reproduce the dancing keyboard the X68k version had. While some bad blood was born between BEEP and importers when they removed English support after Western localisation was confirmed, the game stands out as damn fine and worth the purchase.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars 1994, 2021, Sega Mega Drive

Retro-Bit re-published the somewhat rare compilation game Mega Man: The Wily Wars this year. After sitting down with it and mulling over whether or not it gets a spot here, or with the close-call-five, it gets a top-five spot just barely. The game was at one point much maligned as inferior to the NES original games (the first three Mega Man titles) but this has seemingly been due to most people playing the PAL ROM file, which runs at 50Hz. This does make the game run significantly slower and the music becomes droning. These aren’t really issues in themselves, but rather than the issues with development are visible across the board. Some of the sprites, while upgrades from the 8-bit originals, are of weird design at places. Proto Man’s sprite wasn’t redrawn either in Mega Man 3, which just looks weird with him being smaller and all. Numerous small sound effects are missing, but at places this is a blessing, as the first Mega Man has tons of ear-ripping sounds. Some mechanics are slightly different, like how there’s a slight delay in movement, Mega Man’s centre gravity centre is smaller than NES counterpart’s and glitches have been fixed. No more Player-2 pad debug features for Mega Man 3.

The game has some glitches due to the difficult nature of development that never got ironed out. These include the ability to re-spawn the final boss of Mega Man 3 by walking out of the room, which causes the ending to screw up too, using Ice Slasher in the first Mega Man to prevent spawning of certain flying enemies, DokuRobot’s Atomic Fire doing no damage under certain situations and stuff like that. However, outside very few glitches, a player most likely won’t be faced with these under normal playthrough. Speedrunners have used these for some benefit.

Nevertheless, this is your familiar Mega Man, Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. While I’ll still argue how MM1 is a rather bad game, the whole package really is still a great way to play these games. There’s a fair bit of challenge, as the games use a Save system over Passwords, and if you’re intending to get to the whole-new Wily Tower segments, beating the three games first isn’t the fastest thing in the world. Mega Man 2 is still a series-making game and once you get used to slightly different controls, 2 and 3 become somewhat a breeze for experienced players. Wily Tower might be the only new content, but it’s a nice challenge overall for series veterans, and something to look for during your first playthrough.

Even when contrasted against other games we’ve seen this year, The Wily Wars stacks well against them. While it is an unrefined gem, an uncut diamond of sorts, it still pulled me back to the early days of Mega Man when we didn’t have tons upon tons of cutscenes messing with the play and slew of bolted-on gimmicks that didn’t do the series service. Do note that the game was also included in the Mega Drive mini, and that’s the thing I would recommend you to pick up if you have interest to play this outside your usual emulation needs.

Undercover Cops 1995, 2021, Super Nintendo

While old arcade-to-console ports always lack something, they often retain that certain charm and pull that the arcade original had. Mind you, there are plenty of examples of failed home ports, but Undercover Cops isn’t one despite the lack of two-player mode. Sure, the home port doesn’t match the arcade original in sound or graphical fidelity, it sure as hell retains the charm and fun play. While it is your run-of-the-mill beat-em-up on the surface, the addition of hidden special moves alongside your usual desperation attack, clever use of the environment here and there (e.g. you can beat the first stage’s boss quickly by using a giant press rather than just beat it up) and superb controls make this a gem. I just wish they had managed to squeeze that two-player mode in.

Honestly, that’s all I should need to say, but the charm is strong with this one. Despite being one of the less colourful games out there, with loads of greys and browns with subdued colours in everything else, the character designs, animations and how they feel and act is just so damn nice. Backgrounds also pop-up like no other, but what would you expect from the same people that were in charge of Metal Slug? The converted spritework is superb and the large sprites sell themselves just fine. The designs are very much core 1990s, but in a manner that makes them nearly ageless; there are tons of cues taken from the sixties onwards in a blend that makes it hard to pinpoint any given era for the game’s world. The game does tumble with this by stating the year is 2043, which will sadly not look as rad as this.  It was great to have the re-released, as the American localisation never happened despite advertisement being pushed out. Retro-Bit made sure there were both US and PAL compatible releases to boot.

It’s short, sweet and fun to come back from time to time, but perhaps not up there with the absolute best in the genre. At a time, it was an underrated title, but with the Internet making everything available for everyone, even somewhat obscure games gain a strong following. Personally, I’d probably pop this in over Final Fight or Streets of Rage 4 any day, but then again, I do love swinging a concrete pylon every other Sunday.

Do note that I would still recommend gunning for the arcade version, but not the World version mind you. Go for the Japanese or Alpha Renewal version, as they retain all the background details and moves. We really need something like an Irem Arcade Collection one of these days, which would collect as much of their original titles into one package as possible.

Honourable Mentions for those who didn’t make the cut

R-Type Final 2 2021, Switch, Steam, PlaySation 4 , Xbox One

It’s an unfinished product, by all means. R-Type Final on the PS2 was the last curtain call for the series as a shooting staple. Final 2 was supposed to be a glorious return, but instead, it is more retreading the same waters. It was delivered in a lacking stage, with only a third of those 101 ships found in Final. Extra Stages ended up being purchasable DLC rather than on-disc, which more or less means the game isn’t the advertised ultimate shooting game experience, but again ends up being a DLC hell cashing-in for nostalgia.

There’s very little that adds to the experience since R-Type Delta, and in the end the game feels a letdown in every respect. The new stages for the game don’t provide as much a challenge as previous games, no interesting mechanics have been introduced to make the game stand out in the marketplace and even the music has no real pull. The series stagnated right after Delta, and nothing has really managed to pull the series out from the rut. The Tactics games were interesting, but the overt masturbation on how difficult they supposedly are and how much a slow slog both titles ended up being, it would’ve been better to forget the series and forge for something new.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 2020, Steam, PlayStation 4. Xbox One, 2021, PlayStation 5, Switch

If you haven’t played the original games, or don’t have access to them any longer, do yourself a favour and pick this collection up. 1+2 updates both titles to the series’ latest mechanics and standards, and that’s also the fault here. The stages and challenges weren’t exactly designed to work under post-THPS3 mechanics and you notice that rather quick. However, you can rever the controls back to their original settings, and that’s who you should play the game; no reverts, spine transfers or wall plants. Nevertheless, it’s a faithful recreation of those two games, with some very minor changes to physics and mechanics. Most people won’t notice how it feels slightly different from the originals, but just like the Crash remakes from earlier, seasoned veterans will notice and will have to take some time to adjust themselves.

However, that’s all there is. It doesn’t exactly expand anything further, but it doesn’t really need to. It plays in the same ballpark as the 2001’s THPS2x, which was an enhanced re-released of the same games for the Xbox. It’s more of the same, but not really adding anything to the mix. It’s a damn good title nevertheless that I’d recommend, but not a Top 5 candidate.

Super Robot Wars 30 2021 Steam, PlayStation 4, Switch

The first mainline Super Robot Wars to be released in the Western frontiers, and plays like a sequel to a game we never got. DLC characters have nothing to do with the main game and are there to take up space in a game with plenty of units to choose from already. Because the game introduced a non-linear progression system inspired by the Compact series scenario system, which was also seen in Impact, stages have less a flowing feel and more something you’d play episodically. Honestly, the game wastes the Ultraman debut in SRW as DLC-only and based on the Netflix CGI show, and that rubs the wrong way. Loads of the sprites have a plastic sheen to them, which makes them more at home on your mobile phone than on a console or PC. Ever since SRW games have been getting closer to getting rid of the Super-Deformed designs, the further away we’ve been getting from well-animated sprites. SRW Alpha 3 has tons of SD sprites that have terrific animations, exaggerated and full of life, and in contrast, we’ve been getting animations that are stiffer by the year with more reliance on cut-ins. At this point, SRW might as well abandon scaled SD sprites altogether and present everything in so-called 1:1 design and have people wondering why the hell is Mazinger Z so big compared to a battleship. The series is going in the wrong direction.

Cotton Guardian Force Saturn Tribute 2021, Switch, PlayStation 4

This could’ve been a good collection, but after Cotton Reboot, this is just a lacklustre attempt to cash in. While the best way to get your hands on Cotton 2, Cotton Boomerang and Guardian Force, it falls in the same category as many other collections that they do nothing else or special with them. In addition, the initial version of the game has notable input lag, which has been rectified to some degree via patch, but really, Beep’s just riding on Cotton Reboot‘s success with this.

Blaster Master Zero 2017, Nintendo 3DS, Switch, 2019 Steam, 2020, PlayStation 4, 2021, Xbox One

I don’t know who wanted or asked for this game. Take a popular NES game, don’t give a modern face-lift but instead remake the game in overly used retro-sprites style and try to incorporate tons of story elements. Sadly, the graphics aren’t all that special and have issues with collision detection at places and plot’s forced down your throat while being poorly written. Serving both as a remake and a reboot of the original Blaster Master, you probably would end up having a better time with the original NES game due to how much the game holds your hand and halts the game with plot sequences. You’d think nailing a NES game revival’s controls would be easy, but yet they made them lacking. The revised designs are also pretty terrible, playing the most tired anime-esque tropes you can find out there. It’s IntiCreates went overboard where they could to compensate for the otherwise lacking design and detail in the game. In the end, the game ends up being a chore to play, but I admit, it at least is colourful.

You are not the media you consume

Whatever your opinion or view on the Rittenhouse trial, it’s been a doozy to follow on the side. While this blog doesn’t really care about it, as it has no real relevance here, one point the prosecution raised does raise eyebrows. Naturally, that point is when the prosecution asked whether or not the Rittenhouse plays Call of Duty with his friends. The prosecution then continued to ask if the aim of the game was, to quote Isn’t the one thing people do in these video games, [is] trying to kill everyone else with your guns? Rittenhouse’s respond to this inquiry was lacking, but that’s probably the point. Prosecution wants to sell the debunked idea of violent video games having relation to violent acts. Rittenhouse, however, did make a point how a video game and reality are separate, thus the prosecution’s point is invalid. Only people who cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy act in reality as if they were in fantasy. I guess I’m beating a dead horse with this post, but this issue has been raised once again on the media, and I can’t help myself. 

An old post of mine how there is no evidence for the Gaming Disorder still persists as true, including that electronic games have no negative impact on the player’s psyche. Something already has to be there. In Rittenhouse’s case, there was no case made for such a thing. Yet the old perception that violent video games lead into bad behaviour sticks to the cultural perception, and while it seemed that electronic games as a whole were getting rid of that stigma, cases like this show that people are willingly intending to mislead that a form of media, once again, would explain something about a person other than what their tastes are. Raising Call of Duty as a point of any kind was a weak attempt at illustrating a point and using video games as some sort tell-tale sign. 

Media is less influential than we give it credit for. If we allow media to influence us in a stereotypic ways, e.g. not questioning its content or message and taking it as valid truth, of course that’s going to influence our behaviour and thinking patterns. That goes for everything else as well. However, with fiction we are aware of its status as make-belief fantasy, we don’t tend to allow be influenced by it. Only works like documentaries and such which people can and often take as word of authority on a given subject, we are influenced to some extent. However, no documentarist would like to be accused of enticing people to commit violent acts. Of course, you have peer-pressure from social media, which might make you want to act in a way or another, or changes your perception because you want to belong to the inside circle of things, but that’s a different form of media influence. 

We all have consumed violent media in a form or other. Horror films with visceral gore was, and perhaps still is, accused of corrupting the youth and yet we don’t see news of horror movie buffs going about killing people in gruesome manners. Such things are often done by people with serious mental issues. Pretty much every form of media and genre has been accused for corrupting people in a way or another. The history of electronic gaming just happens to be very much tied to the old pinball and arcade parlors even before the previous century. It’s understandable that something which has been deemed as immoral and corrupting since almost their inception hasn’t got rid of their infamy. It’s just that the form of games has changed from kinetoscopes to mechanical pinballs to arcade games, and lastly to home electronic games. Even if the place where games are being played has become our homes, the content of these games is still being contested. Children are no longer in dark pinball parlors among the seedier members of the society finding alcohol, sex, drugs and criminal activity; now they’re finding such things in the comfort of their homes.

Joking aside, one of the more pressing issues with modern electronic gaming is the other people. Parents who do not follow what their children are playing or with who they are discussing things are letting things slide too easily. One of the more pressing issues parents have with online multiplayer games is how their child might be talking to a child predator. Violent content is always another, though the question why children have access to all this content without adult supervision is rarely the issue. Funnily enough, the twelve years old kid who plays Grand Theft Auto probably got the game as a present from his mom.

Normal people don’t go out and chop people with sword or riddle pedestrians with bullets because of video games. A video game might be an outlet, where a person might be letting out some steam and live out a fantasy, but the game is a third party tool; it’s not the instigator of such action. Neither are movies of books, which may contain glorified violence for the sake of storytelling effects. You don’t learn how to shoot a gun within a video game. You might learn how to operate one, if the game is accurately simulating the functions of a real firearm. Yet, the first time you shoot a gun, you will not hit your target dead-on. You won’t be ready for that kickback or the loudness of the gun. Then again, you can learn all the necessary things of weapon operation from manuals and some such. 

Games also don’t teach kids to act like they are in the military, as very few game even attempts to portray a realistic situation or methods of training. For example, any military wants soldiers that are professionals who are able to think and solve problems rationally, not vigilantes. At best, video games like Call of Duty teaches moment-to-moment reaction with your eye-hand coordination. The framing of a video game is far too narrow to allow realistic decisions and reactions to take place. The adaptability of a soldier cannot be found within the restrictive frames of a video game. While militaries across the world have begun to use virtual learning tools, which can utilize video games as their core, they do not teach violence or desensitize to it. These tools are teach decision making when the shit hits the fan and working with your team. 

What influences people more are real factors. Family violence, depression, alcoholic family members, peer influence, mental disorders, bad parenting and such. None of these issues are easily solved, and at worst, may be things we can never truly remove as factors. Rather than work on these difficult issues, scapegoats like the media gets propped up. If you want to prevent violent behaviour in children, it has to start with the parents and the family surrounding. If there are mental issues, they must be met with proper care. 

What does cause people to have violent behviour, be it through words or whatnot, is more often than not the competitive nature of a game and frustrations that come with it. If we were to ban violent games because losing may rile people up, we really might as well take a hard look at sports as well, where people riot when their football team loses and other similar cases. Clearly, the game and its competitive nature must be equally at fault for peoples’ reactions rather than the people themselves. 

To round back to Rittenhouse’s case, all the above play a role in the prosecution bringing Call of Duty to the table. The prosecution wants the jury to make their own mental connections with the negative effects of video games and Rittenhouse, as it is easy and cheap. While many think its ineffective method, sadly the news media is still full of parents who blame their kids’ misbehaviour on games. Then you have Jack Thompson and his ilk, who championed on the total ban of violent video games while citing misinformation out of belief. 

I highly doubt electronic games, or overall media for the matter, will ever get rid of the argument that media makes us act in some way. Bad behaviour has always been associated with media, though it changes with time and culture. Someone, somewhere, will find use of blaming the media for a tragedy or negative actions in order to further their own agenda. Let not a good crisis go to waste.