[GAME REVIEW] Mega Man 4

Introduction

Mega Man 3 was highly regarded upon its 1990 release. Unbeknownst to the people who bought it, however, the project had to overcome myriad roadblocks in order to see the light of day. Director Akira Kitamura had left Capcom and would later quit making games entirely while his replacement, Masayoshi Kurokawa, frequently clashed with the team, causing him to leave the project halfway through. This resulted in artist Keiji Inafune taking up the reins, forcing him to compile their work in a very short amount of time. Consequently, many ideas were left on the cutting room floor. For example, the team expressed the desire to replace the famous stage select system in favor of a linear level progression or take inspiration from Super Mario Bros. 3, which had been recently released, and implement a map system. Both ideas were shot down by Capcom executives. While Mega Man 3 remains a beloved classic, it does bear signs of its taxing production cycle for those who dig beneath the surface.

Although Mega Man 3 could have been considered a grand finale for the series, Capcom realized that the title character was their answer to Mario. With a formula that lent itself well to sequels, a fourth installment was an inevitability. Production of Mega Man 4 went much more smoothly according to Mr. Inafune, who worked as one of the three designers for this game. As a result, he and his fellow staff members often held this game in higher regard than its direct predecessor. The game was released domestically in December of 1991 as Rockman 4: A New Evil Ambition!! before abridging the title abroad to Mega Man 4 a month later. Mega Man 4 is notable for being the first installment in the series released after the debut of Nintendo’s Super Famicom console in November of 1990. Was Capcom able to give those who hadn’t yet adopted the new platform an experience worthy of its acclaimed predecessors?

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[GAME REVIEW] Tacoma

Introduction

The year 2013 marked the debut of Gone Home – the inaugural project of The Fullbright Company. The team, based in Portland, Oregon, was founded by one Steve Gaynor, who began his work in the industry as a tester for Sony and Perpetual Entertainment before designing stages for BioShock 2. Gone Home was a resounding critical success. The most notable piece of praise it received was from Polygon when critic Danielle Riendeau awarded it a perfect, ten-point score, calling it a “quiet triumph in storytelling”. Despite its universal critical acclaim, Gone Home struggled to find an audience outside of its proponents due to its short length and lack of gameplay.

Despite its overall mixed reception, Fullbright would use their success to fund their next project. Keeping true to their Pacific Northwest roots, they conceived a story taking place in a home in Tacoma, Washington. However, they backpedaled from this idea when they felt it to be too similar to Gone Home. While Gone Home sold itself as a slice-of-life story told within a video game, their next product would incorporate science fiction elements by being set in a space station. The team would name their game Tacoma as a nod to its original setting.

Tacoma was originally announced at The Game Awards in December of 2014, though it wouldn’t see its release until August of 2017 due to their playtesters’ feedback. Released across various platforms, Tacoma received favorable reviews. Eurogamer notably ranked it twenty-second on their list of the best games of 2017. Despite its favorable reception, Tacoma went on to sell fewer copies than Gone Home. Mr. Gaynor himself attributed its modest performance on the sheer number of games released in 2017, believing by that it was harder for indie titles to break out into the mainstream by then. Regardless of the exact reason, they realized Tacoma wasn’t the success story on the same level of Gone Home. Was it truly a step down from their thunderous debut?

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Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom

Introduction

Although Westone’s Wonder Boy series garnered a following, its association with the popular developer Sega arguably ended up being its undoing. This is because 1991 marked the debut of Sega’s mascot: Sonic the Hedgehog. Seen as their answer to Nintendo’s Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog’s debut game proved to be a gigantic hit. As a result, Sega began primarily focusing on their popular character. The game marked a stark paradigm shift in Sega’s output, causing many of their older franchises to fall by the wayside. This included their former mascot, Alex Kidd. Despite not having been developed by Sega themselves, Wonder Boy was afflicted as well. With Sega electing not to export what would end up being the final installment, Monster World IV, to the West, the series quickly fell into obscurity.

Sixteen years later in 2010, an independent developer in Paris, France named Game Atelier was founded. They made their passion for the medium clear from the beginning, wishing to one day create a surprising, joyful, thrilling game everyone can enjoy. One of their first games was Flying Hamster – a colorful horizontal shooter. Their effort was a success, being downloaded over one-million times across the various active platforms at the time. Game Atelier took this opportunity to set their sights higher when it came time to make a sequel. To fund the game, they looked to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.

Helmed by one Fabien Demeulenaere, Flying Hamster II was to provide a completely different experience from its predecessor, being an action-RPG platforming game with a shapeshifting protagonist. Parallels to the Wonder Boy series – more specifically, the Monster World installments that followed the original arcade game – were not a coincidence. Mr. Demeulenaere and his team were big fans of the series, and Flying Hamster II was to be both a loving tribute and a spiritual successor to those games with a projected release date in mid-2015. Before it could be determined if the creators reached their funding goal, the project was suddenly cancelled. The developer announced a partnership with FDG Entertainment, a company founded in 2001 that specialized in producing and publishing games for Java-compatible hardware. For the next year, no new information would be revealed.

Game Atelier then broke their silence by announcing their newest project: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. Although Westone had filed for bankruptcy and liquidated their assets in 2014, Sega only owned the names of the games. This meant that series creator Ryuichi Nishizawa was able to retain everything else. As fate would have it, Flying Hamster II caught the attention of Mr. Nishizawa, who was flattered that his work struck such a chord in Game Atelier. From there, he used his ownership of the series’ rights to transform what would have been a spiritual successor to Wonder Boy into a canonical installment. Collaborating with Mr. Nishizawa, Mr. Demeulenaere and his team finished and subsequently released their game in December of 2018. Twenty-four years had passed since the release of Monster World IV when Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom saw completion. Outside of the comic book industry, not many people can claim to have directed an official installment of one of their favorite series. Was what Mr. Demeulenaere created worthy of marching under the Wonder Boy banner?

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Mega Man 3

Introduction

The year 1987 saw the debut of Mega Man. Made by Capcom, this game only proved to be a modest hit. Nonetheless, director Akira Kitamura and his team found much potential in what they created, and sought to make a sequel. Capcom’s executive branch permitted them to work on it under the condition that they contributed to other projects at the same time. To see this project to completion, the team had to regularly work twenty-hour days for four months. Although Keiji Inafune, one of game’s original artists, described the process as daunting, he also considered it the single greatest period of his tenure working for Capcom. The care and attention they put into the game paid off when, to everyone’s surprise, Mega Man 2 sold well both domestically and internationally. With a clear triumph in the console market, Capcom began working on a sequel in 1989. However, the team faced a significant setback during the planning phase when Akira Kitamura resigned from Capcom. He would soon join the developer Takeru wherein he directed a game highly similar to Mega Man known as Cocoron before leaving the industry in the early 1990s.

Not willing to let the series come to an end, Capcom assigned Masahiko Kurokawa, a man who had proven his skills on other projects, to direct the newest Mega Man installment. Creative differences between him and Mr. Kitamura’s former teammates resulted in a troubled production cycle. The immense frustration led Mr. Kurokawa to leave the team before the game was finished. With the project quickly falling behind schedule, Mr. Inafune stepped up to salvage what they had completed before the deadline. Realizing his own lack of experience helming a project, he recruited Yoshinori Takenaka, who had designed Capcom’s adaptation of the popular Disney animated show DuckTales, for assistance.

Soldiering on through, Mr. Inafune and his team completed the game, which was released domestically in 1990. Named Rockman 3: The End of Dr. Wily!?, Mr. Inafune would regard this particular installment his least favorite entry in the series. Even if he and his team were able to get the game released on time, they had to leave many ideas on the cutting room floor. Nonetheless, the game was met with a positive reception; some regard it to this day as the series’ definitive entry. After it was exported to the West under the name Mega Man 3, the game went on to sell over one-million copies worldwide. In defiance of Mr. Inafune’s negative feelings about the game, does Mega Man 3 stand as one of the series’ highlights?

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Dark Souls

Introduction

In the 1990s, a man named Hidetaka Miyazaki graduated from Keio University with a degree in social science. He began working for an American company named Oracle Corporation wherein he managed accounts. However, he reconsidered his career path at age 29 when a friend recommended a game named Ico to him. Inspired by its design, Mr. Miyazaki sought a career in game design. Due to his age, few companies were willing to employ him. Fortunately, he found one promising studio in the form of FromSoftware. After being hired, he began working as a planner for the then-latest installment in their long-running Armored Core series of mech games: Last Raven. To his surprise, he soon found himself in the director’s chair, overseeing the development of Armored Core 4 and its direct sequel Armored Core: For Answer.

The seventh console generation began in 2005 following Microsoft’s launch of the Xbox 360. It was in full swing in 2006 once Nintendo and Sony released the Wii and PlayStation 3 respectively. The latter was largely criticized upon its launch due to its limited library upon launch and exorbitant price point of $599 USD. Having manufactured the console upon which FromSoftware made their debut, it seemed only fitting that the developer would provide Sony with a hot app. It was to be a fantasy role-playing game intended to be a spiritual sequel to their inaugural title King’s Field.

Mr. Miyazaki was especially interested in the project, though the rest of the company considered it a failure. Not helping matters was its negative reception at the 2009 Tokyo Game Show. Nonetheless, Mr. Miyazaki felt that, once assigned to the game’s development, he would do his best to put his own artistic spin on it. He rationalized that “if [his] ideas failed, nobody would care – it was already a failure”. In spite of its poor initial showing, the game, entitled Demon’s Souls, began selling surprisingly well through word-of-mouth. FromSoftware soon found they had a sleeper hit on their hands. Such was the hype surrounding Demon’s Souls that it caught the attention of Western gamers – some of whom went as far as importing it. Luckily, they wouldn’t have to wait long for a chance to play it themselves because the surprising success of Demon’s Souls allowed them to easily find publishers willing to venture an overseas release. Thus, Demon’s Souls went on to become one of the PlayStation 3’s exemplary exclusive titles.

Having made such a popular game, it would seem only natural for Mr. Miyazaki and his team to rally themselves for round two. As soon as they could, they began working on a new game. However, things were not so clear-cut. Demon’s Souls was published by Sony whereas this new game would have Bandai Namco do the honors. As a direct result of this transfer, the intellectual property rights prevented FromSoftware from making a direct sequel to Demon’s Souls.

Undeterred, Mr. Miyazaki and his team retained many of the same basic ideas from Demon’s Souls to create not a sequel, but a spiritual successor. Working hard over the next two years, the game was finished and released worldwide in 2011 for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 under the name Dark Souls. While Demon’s Souls brought the company true international exposure, Dark Souls signposted to everyone that their success wasn’t an accident. Selling over two-million copies over the next two years, Mr. Miyazaki would soon be rewarded for his creativity by being promoted to the company’s president in 2014. To this day, Dark Souls is considered one of the greatest efforts of the 2010s. On the heels of a surprising sleeper hit, how was Dark Souls able to continue this momentum?

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Mega Man 2

Introduction

The year 1987 marked the debut of Mega Man. The brainchild of Capcom members Akira Kitamura and Keiji Inafune, Mega Man was to be among the developer’s first original games for Nintendo’s highly popular Famicom console – known as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) abroad. The game, made in a few months by a group consisting of six people, proved to be fairly popular. It sold well enough domestically to have been considered a sleeper hit, yet flopped in the West partially as a result of a hasty, borderline nonexistent marketing campaign. Despite its mixed reception, Mr. Kitamura wanted to make a sequel, seeing further potential in what they created. These aspirations came to a stop when he was overruled by producer Tokuro Fujiwara. In response, the director then went to Capcom’s Vice President to get permission to make the game. The executives permitted Mr. Kitamura and his team to work on a sequel under one condition: they had to work concurrently on other projects as well.

Shortly thereafter, the project supervisor invited Mr. Inafune back to the new project. The artist had been working on a separate game at the time, but agreed to help. According to him, the development team willingly worked twenty-hour days to see this project through. He and his fellow staff members would spend their own time on the project to improve the gameplay established in their original effort. His second year working at Capcom, in his own words, “opened up a whole new world of stress for [him]” as he became far more involved with the sequel’s production and even got to mentor a new employee. Despite this, he would later describe it as his best time with Capcom because they were working towards a common goal and made something they truly cared about.

A few months later, Mr. Kitamura’s team completed the project. In Japan, the end product was released in December of 1988 under the name Rockman 2: The Mystery of Dr. Wily. While the original game was, at best, a modest hit, the sequel proved to be an overwhelming success. Still deciding to give the Western market a chance, Capcom had the game localized and released in the United States in June of 1989 retitled and abridged to Mega Man 2. To their surprise, the game was a hit abroad as well. Its international success and critical acclaim allowed Mega Man to become Capcom’s flagship series overnight. Even to this day, Mega Man 2 is considered one of the greatest games ever made as well as the standard to which a sequel should strive to achieve. How exactly was a sequel to a game many considered middle-of-the-road able to give its title character a new lease on life?

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Mega Man

Introduction

In the year 1987, a graduate from the Osaka Designers’ College by the name of Keiji Inafune received a degree in graphic design. During this decade, a new form of entertainment was quickly gaining popularity. Known as TV games in Japan and video games in the West, this medium distinguished itself from others by allowing the audience to be a part of the experience. Twenty-two at the time, Mr. Inafune sought a job in this booming new field – hopefully as an illustrator. He originally wanted to join the prolific developer Konami, but there was another one much closer to his place of residence: Capcom. For one of his first assignments, Mr. Inafune was placed on a team led by Takashi Nishiyama. The result, released in the same year he graduated, was Street Fighter – one of the first fighting games to achieve mainstream success.

Capcom had a lot of success in the arcade scene throughout the 1980s. When Nintendo’s Family Computer (Famicom) was released in 1983, Capcom began porting their more well-known arcade games to the platform. Although the graphical capabilities of the Famicom – called the NES abroad – weren’t nearly as advanced as the most prominent arcade titles at the time, players found themselves drawn to the ports. The idea of being able to play even a downgraded version of an arcade game in the comfort of one’s home was highly enticing. Although the ports sold well, Capcom eventually wanted to develop something specifically for the Japanese home console market. To this end, they decided to recruit fresh, young talent for a new team.

Among the recruits was Keiji Inafune. He found himself on a team of five other people. Leading this team was Akira Kitamura, who mentored the newcomer throughout the development process. To design a protagonist for this game, Mr. Inafune drew inspiration from Astro Boy – the eponymous protagonist of Osamu Tezuka’s landmark manga series. In fact, the game was originally intended to be an adaptation of Astro Boy, but the team ended up with a creation of their own. Before Mr. Inafune had joined the project, Mr. Kitamura developed a basic character concept for this game’s protagonist. After a few illustrations, they ended up with a humanlike robot boy. This character went through several names, including Battle Kid, Mighty Kid, Knuckle Kid, Rainbow Warrior Miracle Kid, and The Battle Rainbow Rockman. Eventually, the team settled for cutting out a significant portion of the last of these names, ending up with Rockman. He was so named because the team went for a musical motif – Rockman’s sister being named Roll to complete the genre allusion. The game, named after the protagonist himself, was domestically released on December 17, 1987.

Capcom’s executives believed that Rockman wouldn’t sell. They were proven wrong when Japan’s limited quantities quickly began disappearing off of store shelves. The company had a sleeper hit on their hands, which prompted them to hastily commission a Western localization. Caught completely off-guard by this development, Capcom’s North American branch quickly began work. The Senior Vice President at the time, Joseph Marici changed the protagonist’s name, and by extension the game’s title, from Rockman to Mega Man. Why he imposed this change is straightforward enough; he did not like the character’s original name. As this was going on, the president of the North American branch told a marketing representative to have cover art for the box done in one day. In a panic, said marketing executive had a friend draw the cover in six hours. Working with only a single vague description of the game over the telephone, the results were memorably terrible.

It is said that this cover art contributed to the game having flopped abroad along with a general lack of press coverage overseas. Nonetheless, with strong domestic sales in spite of its tepid critical reception, Mega Man was a modest success. Did Mega Man allow Capcom to put their best foot forward in the console market?

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Pokémon X and Y

Introduction

Around the time director Junichi Masuda and his team were putting the finishing touches on Pokémon Black and White, they had already begun drafting ideas for the succeeding set of games. Mr. Masuda wanted the themes of the sixth generation to revolve around beauty, bonds, and evolution. Evolution had always played a key role in the series, being a power many of the title creatures possessed, though it would be more accurate to describe the process as a metamorphosis. Bonds had also been a running theme throughout the series with narratives emphasizing the teamwork between Pokémon and humans in their universe. This just left beauty as the sole theme the series hadn’t covered at length. It was therefore fitting that Mr. Masuda would base the setting of these games off of France – a country known for its beauty. To this end, he brought a team with his to France to study the countryside and architecture.

As they worked on the games, the DS’s successor, the 3DS, was about to be released. The console, which would be released in 2011 worldwide, boasted the same dual-screen gameplay of its predecessor in addition to a litany of new upgrades. This included built-in motion sensors, a larger screen, and true to its name, a true three-dimensional presentation. Although it didn’t initially sell as many units as its popular predecessor, it eventually gained momentum following the release of several high-profile, acclaimed games such as Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. It would also be the console that finally allowed Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem series to get mainstream acclaim in the West when Fire Emblem Awakening was localized in 2013.

The Pokémon franchise had always been on handheld devices, so it was only natural for fans to eagerly await a new generation to debut on the 3DS. In defiance of the series’ naming conventions, which involved colors or gemstones, the team decided these new games would be called X and Y. These letters were chosen in order to represent different forms of thinking, bringing to mind an x-axis and a y-axis. It was also a subtle allusion to the simultaneous, worldwide release of the games in 2013. Mr. Masuda’s team even attempted to make the names of the Pokémon the same in every country whenever possible, though Mr. Masuda found this task exceptionally difficult.

The anticipation for these games was such that Brazilian stores attempted to sell them prior to their official release date. This prompted Nintendo to issue a warning stating they would penalize them if they continued to do that. However, the United Kingdom ended up following suit when a store in Bournemouth started selling the games on the eve of their release date. This created a domino effect, prompting other retailers across the nation began selling the games early as well. Like the preceding sets of games, X and Y were well-received critically. Commercially, they beat the records set by Black and White by selling four-million copies worldwide during the opening weekend. Being on the 3DS, X and Y would be the first games in the main series to leave spritework behind in favor of three-dimensional models for their characters. After this, there was no going back. Were X and Y able to successfully translate the series’ iconic gameplay into three dimensions?

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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Introduction

Call of Duty: Ghosts proved to be a success when it was released in 2013. However, particularly bad word-of-mouth ensured it was met with a poor fan response. Independent critics disliked it for the campaign’s litany of unfortunate implications whereas fans were unimpressed with its multiplayer capabilities – or lack thereof. Despite selling over nineteen-million copies, Call of Duty: Ghosts was considered by its creators to be a failure, thwarting any immediate attempts at creating a sequel. In order for the series to win back its wary fans, the creators realized they needed to shift gears.

Sledgehammer Games had co-developed the third and final entry in the Modern Warfare trilogy with Infinity Ward after much of the latter company’s key personnel was fired for what Activision CEO Bobby Kotick considered acts of insubordination. However, even before then, Sledgehammer had been working on an installment of their own entitled Call of Duty: Fog of War. Announced before the release of Modern Warfare 3, this game was to be set during the events of the Vietnam War. It would defy the series’ conventions by being an action-adventure game presented from a third-person perspective. The plans for this game were put on hold when Sledgehammer dedicated all of their efforts to seeing Modern Warfare 3 to completion.

Fog of War was then silently canceled when Sledgehammer began working on an entirely different project upon completing Modern Warfare 3. According to its director, Michael Condrey, the game’s engine had been built from scratch. On top of that, the game was to boast an advanced facial animation system using the same technology James Cameron sought to employ in his then-upcoming film Avatar 2. Even with a technological advancement other developers could only dream of possessing, Sledgehammer wasn’t done. In an attempt to capture the Hollywood sensibilities the AAA industry had been pursuing for some time, they recruited actor Kevin Spacey to portray a central character. With these enhancements, it seemed only natural that they would entitle the game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. All of the steps Activision and Sledgehammer took in order to get people talking about their game paid off when it received fairly positive reviews upon its 2014 release. Many critics called it the breath of fresh air the series desperately needed after the annual releases rendered it stale. With no shortage of hype surrounding this installment, was Advanced Warfare able to maintain the Call of Duty franchise’s relevance going into the eighth console generation?

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Colossal Cave Adventure

 

Introduction

The Second World War brought about one of the most significant advancements in technology in recorded history. Decades after the conflict ended, the world’s superpowers began working with advanced machines capable of expediently conducting calculations. These machines were eventually named computers. In the 1960s, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), a branch within the United States Department of Defense invented a packet-switching network. Named the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), it was the first network to implement the TCP/IP protocol suite. Government agencies would use this internetworking process to quickly share important information in a secure manner.

One of the programmers who helped develop ARPANET was Will Crowther. In his spare time, he and his wife Pat would frequently go spelunking. Mr. Crowther had previously helped create vector map surveys of the Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky for the Cave Research Foundation. He was also a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop role-playing game that launched its first edition in 1974. These good times weren’t to last, for he ended up divorcing his wife in 1975. Striving to find some way to connect with his daughters following the separation, Mr. Crowther had an idea. Combining his fondness for cave exploration with his programming expertize, he decided to create a computerized simulation of his travels.

Development of this project began in 1975 and took a year to complete. It consisted of nearly 700 lines of FORTRAN code with another 700 written for BBN’s PDP-10 timesharing computer. The result was considered the first known instance of interactive fiction. The executable file for this program was called ADVENT, but the opening screen provided its more famous name: Colossal Cave Adventure. One person who discovered Mr. Crowther’s work was Don Woods – a recent graduate from Stanford University. Mr. Woods added his own ideas to the code, including a scoring system and high fantasy elements – the latter of which was inspired by his fondness of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Unlike Mr. Crowther’s original version, the source code of Mr. Woods’s was widely distributed. What started off as a way for a man to connect with his daughters became ground zero for a type of entertainment the public later dubbed adventure games. As computers became more commonplace in the average household, Colossal Cave Adventure became a great success. Even those with limited programming knowledge could enjoy playing this game, and its impact on the medium cannot be denied. In an era before people regularly used the term “video game”, how does Colossal Cave Adventure hold up?

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