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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Games: Import Games for Outsiders

posted by on April 10 at 15:01 PM

Further proof that I’m an aging geek: I call my DS a “Game Boy” from time to time. It wasn’t so long ago that I felt compelled by Lord Raiden to correct my mother’s every 16-bit slip (“Don’t call it ‘the Nintendo,’ it’s a SEGA GENESIS”), but I’ve got a soft spot for the old, green-and-black wonder. Yet in spite of my stunted adulthood, I somehow outpaced the Game Boy; its “Micro” redesign from 2004 didn’t take off, and its original heyday of fun pick-up-and-play games devolved when Pokemon and cartoon license games became top-sellers.

Japan’s a different story—the Game Boy was strong there until the very end, assuming you could wade through the other sea’s endless pachinko and horse-betting games. So when I caught myself saying “Game Boy” the other day, I got a hankering for some late-era GBA games that never came stateside. I don’t count myself as an import-gaming expert—not an anime fan, not into convoluted RPGs, not into androgynous dudes with names other than David Bowie—but these couple that came up on my radar a year or so ago were shockingly good, and all kinds of accessible to boot. With both the DS dominating and the “Wii Ware” downloadable game service launching in a few months, I’d like to think Nintendo can finally ship these gems overseas. Plus, they’re more interesting to talk about than the next game on my review queue, Devil May Cry 4 (see the androgynous dudes comment above). Hope you enjoy the detour after the jump.


Rhythm Tengoku: The folks behind Wario Ware cooked this one up in 2006. Ever played Wario Ware? The party-game series is filled with hundreds of goofy, itty-bitty games, each lasting roughly five seconds—jump! pick nose! stab! etc. This semi-sequel’s similar, but its games are a little longer and require a sense of rhythm, dooming its target audience. ZING! This design team’s offbeat rep is upheld here, whether you’re slashing bubbly creatures with a samurai sword (to the beat), punching light bulbs (to the beat), or yanking facial hair out of an onion (…to tha beat). This isn’t Hello Kitty, but the art design is sorta cutesy, and you’ll be stuck doing openly Japanese things like tapping pen strokes on a Kanji calligraphy board or clapping along to a Bon Festival. But if you’re into button-tapping games, RT’s good at ramping up the challenge and holding interest with a substantial, engaging amount of quirk. Plus, for a portable music game, there’s a surprisingly catchy amount of 8-bit synth and J-pop stuffed into the teensy Game Boy cartridge.
Recommendation: There’s a bit of Japanese text here, and a few of the mini-games use Japanese speech to issue commands, but everything related to the game can be figured out with minimal trial-and-error. When you’ve beaten the game, it remixes the old challenges to keep the play going, so it’s not too terribly short, either.


bit Generations: This set of seven semi-games was linked with a minimalist, simplified art style and puzzly bent. The look of these is striking—most with solid white or black backdrops, concentrated color palettes, and designs that revolve around dots and lines, not characters or cartoons. The gameplay ranges from boring to brilliant; at the bottom are Boundish, a glorified Pong remake, and Soundvoyager, which requires headphones to navigate. But the best of these games make me wonder why they never came stateside. Dotstream is a simplified racing game where you guide a one-pixel-wide line through a wireframe world, with no acceleration—you can only win by turning your line as little as possible. Coloris is an inventive take on Bejeweled—you have to match colored tiles on a board, but unlike other games, you can only change the colors according to their place on the spectrum—trickier than it sounds. And Digidrive…not even gonna try to explain this one. I didn’t understand what was going on until I’d played for 20 minutes, but by then, I was absolutely stuck on its battle-puzzle play. I’m hesitant to beg for this on the DS, because I might never stop playing a two-player online Digidrive. Ultimately, the bit Generations series pares its games down to the barest of elements, resulting in casual games for the snobby set.
Recommendation: All seven are in English and pretty much self-explanatory (except for Digidrive). The three games I’ve named are just about must-haves for anyone with a portable puzzle jones, though with a lack of bonuses and extra modes, $25 per game is kinda pushing it. (Japanese movie link can be found here.)

By the way, these games, and a zillion other Japanese games both classic and new, can be found at the incredible Pink Godzilla Games in the International District. Next week: It’ll be a hack-and-slash reviews theme with Devil May Cry 4 and Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword.

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I feel really, really bad for those who read Mr. Machkovech's video game posts that have no 10+ years worth of knowledge in the gaming industry.

If I were to try to fathom what it's like, it would probably be somewhere around the lines of the person who attempts to read Adrian! Ryan's feats of lunatic daring with absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever.


Posted by Mr. Poe | April 10, 2008 3:13 PM

And dude, I love you, don't get me wrong, but you're wayyyyyyyyy behind. Like, super behind. I wouldn't even bother reviewing DMC4. Everyone that would care has already beat it.

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 10, 2008 3:16 PM

@2: What, games released in Japan in 2006 aren't recent enough for you?

Posted by Sam M. | April 10, 2008 3:25 PM

I am so waiting for your reviews of DMC4 and NG next week. Besides, our cell phones are Japan's cell phones from 2006 too, so it's not like we're missing anything ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 10, 2008 3:41 PM


All of them?

Posted by Mr. Poe | April 10, 2008 3:44 PM

There is nothing like playing Dotstream on the Gamecube GBA Player on a WEGA in 5.1 surround.

Posted by kid icarus | April 10, 2008 3:46 PM

Sam, nihongo ga dekiru?

Posted by apres_moi | April 10, 2008 3:48 PM

Wakarimasen ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 10, 2008 4:14 PM

Minor point, but: The U.S. WiiWare supposedly will launch on May 12, not "in a few months."

(And then of course WiiFit launches here on May 19th.)

Posted by stinkbug | April 10, 2008 4:42 PM

@9: I'm still not used to it being April. Thanks.

@7: No.

Posted by Sam M. | April 10, 2008 4:58 PM

I call my son's DS a "Game Boy" all the time to blank looks, but that's because I worked on a few GBA titles (not to mention a couple SNES titles, back in the day).

Posted by Peter F | April 10, 2008 5:06 PM

I call mine a Game Boy all the time. But I'm not a real gamer, I just like my Sonic and Kirby games.

It's pink!

Posted by Abby | April 10, 2008 5:26 PM

Don't knock my Pokemans! I bought my girlfriend and I copies of Diamond and Pearl, we battle (wirelessly!) all the time.

Posted by MacJ | April 10, 2008 7:02 PM

It is a Gameboy. It was a Gameboy through nearly all of it's development until they decided to change it to it's own brand. And I'll continue to call any Nintendo handheld a Gameboy until the day I die.

Posted by Chris in Tampa | April 10, 2008 8:12 PM

You can have my Gameboy when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Posted by Greg | April 11, 2008 9:11 AM

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