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Why Treasure Rules

Among the best recent releases in what is already a crowded late summer/early Fall release season are two downloadable re-releases that date back to antediluvian Sega Systems and that feature some of the best, most manic and frantic arcade-style gameplay of all time. After years of commanding big bucks in the aftermarket, Treasure’s treasured bullet-hell classic Radiant Silvergun (1998) and the quirked-out brawler Guardian Heroes (1996) have become available once again and in new, HD-remixed editions. Both titles are among the best in their respective genres, and both offer as good an argument as any as to why the Japanese developer treasure absolutely rules. If these venerated, storied titles aren’t convincing enough to you bear in mind that these are the same guys that brought us Ikaruga, Gunstar Heroes, Alien Soldier, both Sin & Punishment games, and the almighty Bangai-O in all of its glorious forms.

I love almost everything that Treasure does. They don’t do a whole lot of games and they’re neither pushing the technical envelope nor the accretion of cinematic technique in the video games medium. These guys are the inverse of David Cage, their aims are to put as many robots and missiles on the screen as possible, not to explore the depths of the human soul in Z-grade potboiler thrillers with limited interaction. They make video games, and it even says so in their logo- the splash screen says “Treasure Video Games”, in that old fashioned business name/line of business nomenclature. Treasure is an independent, rather small development shop of 30-40 people that encourages its key staff to work in multidisciplinary capacities- it’s clearly not the Activision/EA business model, and they’re clearly not working with Activision/EA budgets or expectations.

Regardless, Treasure just make damn good, old fashioned video games that almost universally have a timelessness that transcends whatever console generation they happen to occur in because they keep focused on the core values of high scores, simple mechanics, and skill-based gameplay upon which the medium was established. They still work in levels (what old timers used to call “boards”) and they’re firm believers in three lives and limited continues. Before Fruit Ninja, these guys were putting bananas, watermelons, cherries, and pineapples in their games- just like how Pac-Man and other arcade classics did in the past. Their arsenal is spread guns, homing lasers, and gigantic screen-filling missiles. Their games feel simultaneously like 1981, 1991, 2001, and 2011 all at the same time, with their earliest titles exhibiting a certain postmodernism that predates anyone ever talking about video games in such highbrow terms.

Treasure’s games are imminently playful, surprising, and creative, working within form and genre restraints but with sometimes wild results. Gunstar Heroes is a frenetic, sugar-fueled and bizarre take on the Contra run and gun model that includes an actual roll-and-move board game stage. Alien Solider is a series of many extremely short levels- like, twenty second ones- each ending in a massive boss fight. Ikaruga features that brilliant polarity-swapping mechanic, and Sin & Punishment: Star Successor has a boss that turns into a school of giant black dolphins. Bangai-O’s mix of puzzle solving and hardcore shooter action includes Gundam-like mecha wielding baseball bats to smash soccer balls into robot ninja. Then there’s Guardian Heroes, which predates the whole Bioware “moral quandary” mechanic with several multiple choice options that can completely change the outcome of the game and there is also a Karma system that penalizes you for transgressions such as continuing to hit enemies after they’re dead. That game also features a pre-Super Smash Brothers battle royale with something like 45 available characters that has got to be one of the most chaotic multiplayer modes I’ve ever seen in a game. There’s a real sense of creative, boundless energy in Treasure’s designs.

They are also not afraid to kick your ass. Treasure games tend to be fairly challenging, with Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun in particular representing some of the toughest shmups to ever have shmupped. I was sweating through Sin and Punishment: Star Successor last year and it was a Wii game for crying out loud. Their challenge level is always high, but it’s never insurmountable with practice, skill, and good old fashioned pattern recognition. But even if you manage to get through every storyline of Guardian Heroes or all five levels of Ikaruga, there’s always a higher score, a better chain, or a secret to pursue. There’s usually another playable character or loadout to check out. And if you’re a real arcade ace, there’s the elusive goal of one-credit, no continues completion. I can barely beat the first level of Radiant Silvergun with just one credit. There’s a definite sense of reward that goes beyond getting that high score or making through every level of a Treasure game, even if it’s just the moment-to-moment survival through a hail of pink bullets.

Their games tend to be very short which means that they keep things tight, focused, and risky throughout. You’re not getting a 10-20 hour campaign out of these guys because they understand that a great arcade game should be able to be played to completion in one sitting, and if it can’t be it should be broken up into very small levels as in Bangai-O. But you’ll go back to Treasure games time and time again. I don’t know how many times I’ve played through Ikaruga or Gunstar Heroes, just for the sheer fun of playing and seeing if I can’t get a better result. I love how their titles tend to focus on just a couple of simple mechanics or “gimmicks” to generate challenging, kinetic action and to provide the player with tools to overcome sometimes overwhelming odds.

For all of the current trends toward retro-atavism and the dopey emo-platformers and ironic shooters that the back-to-basics movement has precipitated, few development houses working either in indie or AAA comes close to showing Treasure’s mastery of the classic, arcade-style video game. They’ve done their fair share of rent-payers and contract work such as a couple of Tiny Toon games and something I’ve never seen called Mcdonald’s Treasureland Adventure that must be absolutely horrifying, but when they’re doing their best work they’re one of the most focused and creative developers in the business. I’m always on the lookout for what’s new from Treasure, even if it’s just a reissue of one of their classic games. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

BioShock Vita Not a Remake

This is actually really cool news.

In speaking with Joystiq, Main BioShock Man and all around brilliant designer Ken Levine said that the Vita version is going to be a different animal.

From the Joystiq piece:

Despite the naming convention, BioShock on Vita isn’t planned as a portable version of the upcoming game, Infinite, or the former two games set in the underwater city of Rapture — at least, not right now. “That’s not the current goal for what we’re doing,” Levine explained. While he admitted that “things can change,” he added, “I think for us, the idea we have is a really good expression on a platform like that [Vita]. It’s a different goal. And it has to sort of have its own voice in the franchise. If it just feels like a quieter voice in the franchise, I don’t think that works. For us.”

Levine also states:

And while he’s open to working with folks outside of Irrational’s internal teams (“Potentially, potentially,” Levine allowed), the worry for him is maintaining the same quality that the studio’s small handful of titles has established. “We have a Metacritic average of something like 88 or 89 percent [87.7 percent].

Sigh. Et tu, Ken?

Mojang Wins Round One in Scrolls Case

Bethesda got its nose bloodied in Sweden as the interim injunction to force Mojang to cease and desist from using the word “scrolls” in its title for an upcoming game was refused.

The court’s overall assessment does not consider there to be shown probable grounds for trademark infringement”, given the confusion between the two titles “is relatively low.

So what happens now is this:

1) Nothing. Zenimax/Bethesda pout a bit but moves on to other things,

2) They appeal the ruling and try again.

3) They settle out of court.

Alex Chapman, the lawyer representing Mojang:

“We will of course have to speak with our client as to what it wants to do but Markus [Persson], Jakob [Porser] and Carl [Manneh] have made no secret of the fact that they are prepared to settle the matter so long as they are able to use the name ‘Scrolls’ in the title of their game – which is no more than they are entitled to. The court’s decision vindicates the position Mojang has taken and their commitment to stand up for what they believe in – when many would have felt forced to give in. I think great credit has to go to them for that and also to their fans and indie dev community for their support.”

While I still think Zenimax/Bethesda had every right to publicly defend this, if not for this particular case but for future ones:

Hooray for common sense.

Slow News Day

No High Scores

Ok, I know we probably shouldn’t post stuff just to post stuff, but honestly, seeing nothing but that Batman graphic from my previous post was starting to unnerve me. Bill is away today, Todd is busy and I’m not sure if Barnes or Danielle have anything planned for the day. Me, I will soon be off to a parent teacher conference for my son. I’m hoping that I won’t have to kill him when I get home. If I do, I’m hoping that I can restrain myself long enough to play a little of Batman and then maybe kill him on Wednesday.

Speaking of Batman, I am strangely unexcited for the game. I think it’s because I’m currently knee deep in assignments and Batman is just another one for the pile. I don’t like to approach review games this way, but alas, it’s the curse of the holiday season. Oh, woe is me! I have to play a lot of games! Boo-hoo-hoo! I’m sure that I’ll get excited for it tomorrow once I start punching criminals in the face. On a related note, while I plan on looking for Layton after the conference today, I’m secretly hoping that I don’t find it so that I can read the copy of the new Hark A Vagrant book that recently arrived. It’s not procrastinating if I don’t have the game, right?

What about you? Are there high profile games this fall that you’d normally be all excited for but find yourself less than enthused about as the time approaches?

Calendar Man – Week of 10/17

No High Scores

This week is an extremely exciting week as not only does Batman: Arkham City come out, but the next Professor Layton game does too and Toys R Us has its annual buy two get one free sale. Truly we live in amazing times.

In other release news, you can get your co-op on in Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, learn to play guitar in Rocksmith, shake your digital booty in Everybody Dance or race a gaggle of souped up vehicles in Jimmie Johnson’s: Anything with an Engine. Ok, those times are starting to look less amazing.

New Releases
Batman: Arkham City is one of those games that I have not read about during the development process as I loved Arkham Asylum so much that it didn’t matter what I saw in a preview, it was a guarantee that I’d be buying Arkham City. The same could be said for Uncharted 3 although with that game I have made a concerted effort not to be spoiled. I’ll be reviewing Arkham City so hopefully I can still take the time to search through all of the nooks and crannies and still get my review done in a timely fashion. It’s hard to argue that you’re not qualified to review a Batman game when you have Batman’s symbol tattooed on your arm.

Second on my list of “This Week’s Awesome Games” is Professor Layton and the Last Specter. I love, love, love the Professor Layton games and expect that I’ll love this one too. In fact, Professor Layton is somewhat like Batman in that he’s a detective and he has a penchant for young sidekicks. In fact, I would love for someone with talent to write a Batman tale in which Alfred is given control of the Wayne fortune upon the death of Thomas and Martha due to Bruce suffering a massive psychotic break from witnessing the death of his parents. Bruce is committed and while he spends time in a mental institution, Alfred he uses the money to build a gigantic intelligence network to keep tabs on Gotham’s criminal element. When Bruce becomes old enough, Alfred arranges for his release and keeps him on a steady diet of medication so that he can control him. Alfred then sends Bruce out every night to wreak vengeance on the criminals of Gotham. Good times!

I have no idea what this Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure deal is, but it appears to be genius. It combines video games, collectible cards and action figures in a way that siphons money directly out of parents’ wallets. That tower of power doodad looks cool too.

I have played every Ratchet & Clank game except for that racing game, including the PSP games, but I’m not sure I can get behind. Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One. If the co-op isn’t necessary to enjoy the story, I’m all over it. If it is, I’ll be hard-pressed to find three other people to play it with. Plus, I’d have no way of communicating with them even if I did. Nothing says fun like mute co-op.

Rocksmith comes out this week, one last foray into the whole guitar teaching genre. At least I think it would be the last one. I guess we’ll see how well it sounds. It appears to be an actual teaching game, and not a rhythm game with a teaching element, so who knows. Maybe big sales is in its future.

PowerUP Heroes lets you use Kinect to turn your avatar into a superhero. What you do with it then is anyone’s guess.

Everybody Dance lets up to 20 people battle out for dance supremacy. I would imagine that the number of people who a) have 20 friends and b) have 20 friends that want to dance it out in Everybody Dance is extremely, extremely low.

I hope that if you neglect your pet zombie in Pet Zombies, rather than it get some sort of zombie fleas, it turns on you and devourers your brains. That ought to teach kids responsibility.

Come to think of it, I would like to see the same thing in Petz Puppyz & Kittenz.

Jimmie Johnson’s: Anything with an Engine lets you race a souped up cement mixer. You don’t see enough of that in gaming these days. Any of that, actually.

Tropico 4 already was released for the PC, but now the 360 gets its due. Too bad it doesn’t come with a collectible stogie.

I saw Ben 10: Galactic Racing at E3 and it looked like a fun kart racer. I loved when my kids used to be all into Ben 10 as I thought it was a great cartoon. Alas, they don’t care about it now and I watch enough cartoons on my own to add another one to the plate.

Jane’s Advanced Strike Fighters is an odd name as any vehicle that lets you travel over the speed of sound and rain death upon the ground is pretty damned advanced, even if the word isn’t in the title.

Toys R Us – Hooray! TRU’s buy two get one free sale is this week! Unlike Best Buy who takes the discount from the “free” game and applies it across all three games in transaction, Toys R Us charges you full price for two games and then gives you one game for nothing. This means that if there aren’t three games out right now that you want to buy you can buy two games as placeholder games, buy a third game that you want to keep and then exchange the other two when something you want comes out. In order for this to work though, the game you want to keep has to be the third game to be rung up. I’d also get gift receipts for the other two, but that’s just me. Toys R Us is also offering a $20 gift card with purchase of either a PS3 InFAMOUS 2 bundle or 360 4GB Kinect bundle and a $10 gift card with purchase of a 3DS or a Wii Mario Kart Bundle.

Target – Get a free copy of The Dark Knight on DVD or Blu-ray with purchase of Batman: Arkham City. Free $10 gift card with purchase of Sims 3 Pets.

Best Buy – Save $20 when buying Batman: Arkham city and a Power A Batarang wired controller. Save $20 when buying Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One and Everybody Dance.

K-Mart – Get Driver: SF for $39.99. Get Dead Island for $44.99.

Steam – Steam has the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games as well as the Supreme Commander games on sale. Visit the specials page for all of the details.

Impulse – Impulse has Deus Ex: HR and Section 8 Prejudice on sale. Visit their specials page for all of the details.