Thursday, April 13, 2017

Raise your hand if you, too, are excited about all the 3DS games still coming out this year

I know many--most?--people are focused on the PS4 and the Switch these days, but I'm still plugging away at 3DS (and, er, WonderSwan) games.

As such, yesterday's European, Japanese and North American Nintendo Directs made me quite happy.

In fact, I have a feeling the 3DS games mentioned in those broadcasts, as well as a few that were announced or revealed earlier, will keep me and my bank account nice and busy through the end of 2017 and beyond.

Speaking of which, here are the upcoming 3DS titles I'm planning on buying (and playing) in the coming months:

The Alliance Alive--This spiritual successor to The Legend of Legacy has been a known quantity for some time. It won't hit the streets (in Japan) until June 22, though, so it's still an upcoming release. Anyway, I know not everyone loved The Legend of Legacy, but I really enjoyed it. The Alliance Alive seemingly takes that rather simplified 2015 title and turns it into a full-fledged JRPG. I'm not altogether enamored with that, as I liked The Legend of Legacy's bare-bones approach to the role-playing genre, but I pre-ordered it long ago anyway. Should Atlus or some other publisher decide to the bring the game to North America, I'll likely buy it a second time--especially if its packaging is as beautiful as that of its predecessor. (Here's a look at The Legend of Legacy's Japanese packaging, and here's a look at its North American packaging.)

Culdcept Revolt--Here's a 3DS game I never thought would leave Japan. After all, the DS version of Culdcept was a Japan-only affair, as was the 2012 3DS title of the same name. So, when NIS America revealed its plans to bring Culdcept Revolt to my neck of the woods (it'll hit digital as well as retail store shelves in North America on Aug. 29), I nearly fell out of my chair in shock. Which is kind of surprising in itself, as this will be my first Culdcept experience. I have a hard time imagining I'll hate a card-based board game that combines elements of Monopoly and Magic: The Gathering, though, so I'm not too worried I'll wind up thinking I wasted my money on Culdcept Revolt.

Dragon Quest XI--I've eagerly awaited this game ever since I sank my teeth into Dragon Quest IX for the Nintendo DS. That was the first mainline Dragon Quest title I'd played since the original, and it so impressed me that I put at least 100 hours into it before turning my attention to something else. Will I do the same with Dragon Quest XI, which is due out in Japan on July 29? I sure hope so. It's quite possible I'll fall short of that goal due to the language barrier (I'm not holding my breath on a North American localization, so the current plan is to pre-order the Japanese version as soon as allows me to do so), but I can guarantee you I'll give it my best shot.

Etrian Mystery Dungeon 2--Full disclosure: although I've had a copy of the first Etrian Mystery Dungeon since it hit North America a couple of years ago, I've yet to actually play it. Hell, I'm pretty sure I haven't even opened its case. Still, I'm excited about this just-announced sequel (due out in Japan on Aug. 31). Why? I'm a big fan of roguelikes, for one. Also, I like that this follow-up will include the "farmer" class that made its debut in Etrian Odyssey III. There's no way I'm going to import the Japanese version of Etrian Mystery Dungeon 2, though, so hopefully Atlus will bring the game--along with Etrian Odyssey V--to North America sometime later this year.

Ever Oasis--For whatever reason, this Koichi Ishii (creator of Square Enix's ages-old Mana series) game interests me the least out of the many that are discussed in this post. I'm not entirely sure why that is, to tell you the truth. I mean, I love Ever Oasis' art style and I like that it allows players to control three characters at once (à la one of my favorite games of all time, Secret of Mana), so why on earth am I not more stoked about its impending release (June 23 in North America and July 13 in Japan)? I don't know, but I'm buying it regardless--or at least I will once Amazon opens up pre-orders.

Hey! Pikmin--Does the world really need a portable, side-scrolling Pikmin game? I can't say I wanted one before Hey! Pikmin was first shown off last year, but now that I've seen what's possible with such a title, I'm champing at the bit in anticipation of its release. Admittedly, Hey! Pikmin's visuals give off a strong Arzest vibe, but thanks to the game's uniqueness and potential I'm willing to give it a chance even if it turns out the makers of the meh-tastic Yoshi's New Island also had a hand in producing this adventure.

Layton's Mystery Journey--If Layton's Mystery Journey doesn't ring a bell, how about Lady Layton? Yep, it seems the folks at Level-5 have decided to rename this Professor Layton spin-off, which is being prepped for Android and iOS as well as the 3DS. Although the 3DS version is supposedly going to see the light of day in all regions, only the Japanese iteration currently has a release date (July 20). Fingers crossed it's released physically once it finally makes its way to North America.

Miitopia--I probably shouldn't be surprised Nintendo has decided to make this Tomodachi Life-esque RPG available to 3DS owners outside of Japan, but I am. Although the aforementioned game from 2014 ended up being a surprise hit around the globe (that's been my impression, at least--let me know if I'm off-base here), I assumed the company would pass on publishing this similar effort in the West thanks to the dwindling 3DS audience and the booming Switch one. At any rate, I was wrong, and Miitopia will arrive on store shelves here and elsewhere later this year.

Monster Hunter Stories--I know a lot of folks would have rather seen a localized version of Monster Hunter XX pop up in yesterday's European and North American Nintendo Directs. I, on the other hand, lit up like a Christmas tree when I realized this spin-off was leaving Japan. (It's coming to this West this fall.) Granted, I've always been a sucker for portable RPGs, especially ones that feature appealing art styles. Those aren't the only reasons I'm interested in Monster Hunter Stories, mind you. I'm also interested in it because it looks like it'll serve as a more accessible entry point to Capcom's long-running MonHun series.

RPG Maker Fes--Much like Culdcept, I've never played an RPG Maker game. Given that, I'm not sure what to expect when I start my way through this 3DS entry, which will hit the streets here on June 27. (You can snag a copy of RPG Maker Fes at Amazon, if you'd like.) Even so, I pre-ordered it because I want to support its localization and because I like the idea of being able to play one of these titles on the go. Plus, this may be the last RPG Maker game to both be developed for a console (or handheld) and released outside of Japan.

The Snack World: Trejarers--Another Fantasy Life-ish RPG for the 3DS? Sign me up. Actually, I don't know for certain that The Snack World, out on July 13 in Japan, will be anything like that 2014 title. It definitely looks like it in the video footage that developer and published Level-5 has released so far (you can see the Nintendo Direct segment devoted to it here), but that doesn't mean a whole lot. Assuming the final product is at all import-friendly (and doesn't require you to buy the Amiibo-esque accessories that have been shown off for it so far), I may pick up a Japanese copy of The Snack World in the weeks or months following its release in that region. If not, I'll wait for it to come to the US--assuming that ever happens.

Are you looking forward to playing any of the games mentioned above? If so, which ones--and why?

See also: '15 North American and Japanese 3DS games I'm planning to buy (and play) later in 2016 or at some point in 2017'

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Welcome to WonderSwan World: the WonderSwan Color system

Before I start sharing my experiences with the many WonderSwan and WonderSwan Color games already in my collection, I thought I should say a few words about the WonderSwan system.

Actually, I can't say anything about the original, black-and-white WonderSwan system (released all the way back in 1999), as I've never played one. For the same reason, I also can't say anything about the third piece of WonderSwan hardware, the SwanCrystal, which hit Japanese store shelves in 2002. (I plan on buying one of the latter in the next few months, by the way, so hopefully I'll be able to chat about it soon.)

What I can talk about here: the WonderSwan Color system. It made its debut (in Japan, of course) in late 2000--just a year and a half after Bandai shipped the original model of its GameBoy Color competitor.

As its name implies, the WonderSwan Color added a color screen to the mix. That screen is a tad larger than the one built into the original WonderSwan, by the way--2.9 inches (diagonally) compared to about 2.5 inches.

Actually, the WonderSwan Color hardware as a whole is a bit bigger than that of its predecessor as well. I can't pass along the exact dimensions of either system right now, but the WonderSwan Color is approximately the same size as two iPhone 5Cs stacked on top of each other.

Besides that, the WonderSwan Color is powered by a single AA battery (which allows for around 20 hours of play) and, mostly importantly and intriguingly, offers users a bevy of buttons and control inputs.

The most curious of those input options are the pair of split directional pads situated along the left side of the system. To be honest, I have a feeling they're not really split d-pads. Instead, they're probably just buttons arranged to look like and simulate a pad. Regardless, you use them to control movement while playing WonderSwan games (and quite adroitly, I might add), so I guess it doesn't matter if they're really split directional pads or not.

At any rate, the cool thing about this particular grouping of buttons is they let you play a WonderSwan system horizontally or vertically. (When the system is held vertically, the left set of buttons act as the system's d-pad, while the right set act as action buttons.)

Now, you can't just switch between the two willy-nilly. Most games stick to one orientation for the entirety of the experience, with the majority forcing you to hold your WonderSwan horizontally, like a GameBoy Advance, PSP or Vita. Don't fret if the ability to play handheld games vertically has you excited, though; a good number of WonderSwan titles require you to hold your system in that position. (A handful of examples from my own collection: Puzzle Bobble, Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party and Tane wo Maku Tori.) Also, a select few--including Kaze no Klonoa: Midnight Museum and Makaimura--incorporate both orientations into their gameplay.

Some words of warning about playing WonderSwan games with the system held vertically: it's not all it's cracked up to be. Don't get me wrong, it's unique and interesting, but it's not always enjoyable or comfortable, mainly because the system is so small. (If your hands are tiny, you may not have any problems holding it. But if your hands are on the larger side, prepare for some uncomfortable moments while playing vertically oriented WonderSwan titles.)

Still, experiencing portable games in this manner is such a breath of fresh air that I think it's worth dealing with the occasional hand cramp it's bound to cause.

That's nothing compared to the main issue associated with using a WonderSwan Color, which is its screen isn't illuminated. Although recent portable game systems like Nintendo's DS and 3DS, or Sony's PSP and Vita, feature backlit screens, all three of Bandai's WonderSwan models follow in the footsteps of older handhelds--like the GameBoy or the Neo Geo Pocket--by utilizing screens that are only visible under plenty of ambient light. (And in the case of the original WonderSwan as well as the WonderSwan Color, you have to futz with the system's contrast wheel before you can see anything clearly, even in perfect lighting conditions.)

This may not sound so bad if you've never tried playing a handheld without a backlit (or frontlit) screen, but believe me, it can be a challenge. I often feel like I have to squint to see what's going on even in perfect lighting.

Given that, I can't exactly recommend everyone run out and buy a WonderSwan Color along with a pile of WonderSwan cartridges, as I imagine most people who are used to more modern portable gaming hardware will find it difficult to fully enjoy Bandai's offering.

If you've spent plenty of time with a GameBoy or GameBoy Color or GameBoy Advance in recent months or years, though, and as a result you're basically aware of what you'll be getting into with the WonderSwan Color, go ahead and buy one. (Or, better yet, spend the extra cash needed to pick up a SwanCrystal, as it supposedly sports the best screen of the bunch.)

Before you do that, though, you may want to wait until I've written about a few of its games. Thankfully, I'm planning to publish "Welcome to WonderSwan World" posts about a slew of titles--such as Clock Tower, Engacho!Puzzle Bobble and Rainbow Islands: Putty's Party--over the next couple of weeks.

See also: more photos of my WonderSwan Color system and collection of WonderSwan games