Retro Re-release Roundup, week of June 29, 2023
Many of these games are quite alright!
Here's but one more release that, while very much a new game, is gunning for the attention of those with very specific tastes in old games:AEW Fight Forever, a game explicitly designed to replicate the style of beloved late-'90s/early-'00s wrestling games like WWF No Mercy, with help from some of the original creators who cut their teeth at the veteran wrestling/combat studio AKI, based on the rising underdog All-Elite Wrestling federation. Will someone finally take the wrestling game crown title from Backyard Wrestling 2?
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4
- Price: $7.99 / €6.99 / £6.29
- Publisher: Hamster / Nichibutsu
What's this? A side-scrolling run-and-gun action game starring a jetpack-wearing "detective", originally developed and distributed in Japanese arcades by Nichibutsu in 1985; players control "James" on a mission to save his girlfriend from the boss of the lady-stealing organization "Spectre", which he executes via the use of a pistol and a jetpack lifted straight out of Thunderball.
Why should I care? I hadn't so much as seen this game until today — Nichibutsu's arcade flyers of this era were all bikini-clad girls and no game — so I can't offer any insight into how it plays, but they get props for not even trying to pretend they weren't ripping off 007, I suppose.
Useless fact: This game was the debut work of Kenji Yoshida, the composer and sound designer principally responsibe for crafting the distinctive Nichibutsu arcade sound; this is a PSG-equipped game, so the sound design's nothing mindblowing, but everyone's gotta start somewhere.
NINTENDO SWITCH ONLINE EXPANSION PASS
June '23 update: Crusader of Centy/Soleil, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Landstalker, Revenge of Shinobi (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis), Fire Emblem (Game Boy Advance)
What're these? The first-ever digital reissue of a cult Zelda-esque action-adventure game, a well-respected port of Capcom's classic ruthless arcade side-scroller, the umpteenth re-release of Climax's beloved isometric action-RPG and a Yuzo Koshiro-scored ninja action game containing slightly fewer instances of copyright infringement than it did back in 1989. (Also included in this week's roundup, but actually released last week: the first internationally-released Fire Emblem game, known simply as Fire Emblem in the west. My bad!)
Why should I care? As far as multi-game NSO updates go, this might be the easiest to blindly endorse: all four of these games are extremely polished and acclaimed titles that stand among the very best games in their respective contemporary subgenres, and Crusader of Centy in particular is a game whose relatively small physical print run and complete absence from the digital ecosystem for decades has made it one of the most-demanded reissue candidates in the Genesis' library, so now y'all can spend money to play it without shelling out thousands of dollars for a vintage cartridge.
Useless fact: Both Landstalker and Crusader of Centy were tentatively planned to be released as action games in the Shining series under the title Shining Rogue, and the similarities with Landstalker in particular, which shared several key members with past and future Shining games, are not too difficult to spot.
Akai Katana Shin
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch (worldwide outside of Japan)
- Price: $29.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: City Connection / Cave
What's this? The delayed international console release of the recent port of Cave's horizontal ninjas-meets-vintage-Japanese-military horizontal shooting game, originally released in arcades in 2010, revised into a "shin" version and augmented with extra arrange modes for Xbox 360 in 2011 and reimported to arcades in 2012; this version, produced by City Connection's "TAKExOFF" subsidiary, is based on the X360 version and retains all the modes from that release, with further polish to ensure the accuracy of the original arcade mode, as well as online leaderboards and a brand-new arranged soundtrack included alongside the original and "shin" soundtrack options, originally composed by the late, great Ryu Umemoto of YU-NO fame.
Why should I care? Akai Katana was Cave's final original arcade shooting game, and while the combination of being a horizontal game — not always the most ideal orientation for bullet hell games — and one with a slighty more complex game system might make it a little less immediately accessible than other comparable games, the home versions have a lot of perks like genuine 16:9 modes and extended voiced character dialog that serve to make them feel less like arcade games plonked directly onto a console, and this game's relatively low profile among other Cave shooters is in no way an indicator of lesser quality. (I should also reiterate that the team behind this port is the one branch of City Connection that has reliably produced accurate and relatively lag-free ports, so you can rest assured that it hasn't been ruined in any obvious or immediate way.)
Helpful tip: Due to publisher/license-related issues, the localization for this port differs from that of the global X360 port released a decade ago; City Connection has since patched in bare-minimum subtitles for menus and so on, but the original tutorial modes remain untranslated in-game, so if you want to read them, you'll need to check them out on Youtube.
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch (worldwide)
- Price: $19.99 or equivalent each
- Publisher: Ziggurat Interactive
What's this? A fresh port of a dual-campaign third-person action game with mild RPG elements, originally developed by Starbreeze Studios and released for Xbox in 2002 and PC the following year, with a PAL-only Wii port released in 2012 and a digital PC re-up in 2013; this new console version boasts touched-up cinematics and new and remastered music, as well as a basic resolution/framerate bump.
Why should I care? I wish I knew: this game's emblematic of a particular strain of early-'00s PC-borne action games that I've never been able to grok, and the persistence of this game seems largely due to being a Starbreeze game and not due to any direct, widely-held appreciation for the game itself... but I will say, it was a fantastic-looking game twenty years ago, and if you A/B this new version with the original, you might be surprised by how little has been changed for the new port, and I mean that as a compiment.
Helpful(?) tip The motion controls present in the Wii version are not present on Switch.
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam (worldwide)
- Price: $29.99 or equivalent each
- Publisher: Capcom
What's this? A high-definition remaster of an original real-time mystery adventure game from the creator of Ace Attorney which puts the player in control of a ghost trying to solve their own murder, originally developed and published by Capcom for the Nintendo DS in 2010/11, with an iOS port released soon thereafter only to be repeatedly delisted and re-upped; this new, hopefully-permanent version presents the game in single-screen format with much smoother visuals, the ability to play with either the original soundtrack or a new remastered version, an art/sound gallery and more. (As is commong for Capcom releases, this is getting a physical release in Japan but not elsewhere.)
Why should I care? Ghost Trick's shots at wider acclaim have been hampered by external factors for well over a decade — being sent to die as a late-era release for the piracy-riddled DS; being seeing as an unwanted substitute for an Ace Attorney Investigations 2 localization; never being reliably available on iOS — but now that the game's available in a broad, no-nonsense way, you might finally want to catch up on a well-written mystery game that sets itself apart from both Ace Attorney and its other Japanese contemporaries through its simple-but-not-stupid timing-based puzzles and an abundance of extremely charming, hand-crafted 2D animation. It might also serve as a nostalgic reminder of the days when every other Japanese mystery ADV wasn't some sort of death game.
Spoiler warning: If you search this game online in any capacity, you will invariably be spoiled about the identity of a crucial character, so I'd recommend going straight to your digital store of choice, trying the demo and then going straight to the full game if you so desire. Seriously, there's no avoiding spoilers on this one.
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch (worldwide)
- Price: $49.99 or equivalent (Ray'z Arcade Chronology), $39.99 or equivalent (HD Collection)
- Publisher: ININ Games / Taito
What're these? Fresh ports of the three arcade entries in Taito's seminal lock-shot shooting game trilogy, originally released in arcades in the mid-to-late '90s and sporadically ported to Sega Saturn, PlayStation, PC, Xbox 360 and smartphones; these new versions, ported by maniacs M2, come equipped with on-screen gadgets displaying vital and hidden info on the screen borders, save states, online leaderboards and replay sharing, various control configuration options, multiple selectable soundtracks per game, a tate option for RayForce, the ability to play the latter two games in authentic crunchy low-res 3D or with new upscaled and slightly brushed-up HD visuals and more. (The HD version of RayStorm present here is specifically designated "Neo HD" in order to differentiate it from the earlier RayStorm HD release for Xbox 360, which wasn't an especially well-made or well-liked port.)
Which games are included? Ray'z Arcade Chronology includes all three arcade games — the pixel-art RayForce and the polygonal RayStorm and RayCrisis — with the latter two presented in both traditional and HD forms, whereas the RayStorm x RayCrisis HD Collection only includes the latter two games, and possibly without the option to play them in not-HD (although I'm not entirely sure that option's missing). Also included with Strictly Limited Games' collectors-edition physical version (which, as of this writing, is not quite sold out) is R-GEAR, an extremely short playable build of the fabled canceled pixel-art followup to RayForce that had been thought lost to time: again, this isn't included with the digital version; it's either SLG physical or bust.
Why should I care? All three of these games occupy a unique niche within the genre: their heavy use of lock-on shots was innovative and rarely imitated, they pushed the boundaries of expressive three-dimensional stage design, both via pixel-art and polygonal graphics and they're packed with oodles of distinctive, progressive music of the kind that only Zuntata could provide, and these ports are presented with all the accuracy and most of the features one would want, including a ton of arranged soundtracks. It should also be noted that the arcade version of RayCrisis has never received an authentic home version until this collection, as the PlayStation/PC port was heavily arranged from the original quasi-randomized structure to something more conventional, so the version presented here may well be new to those of you who played the home version back in the day.
Helpful tip: RayForce is the same game whose Saturn port was recently reissued on modern consoles under the name Layer Section & Galactic Attack S-Tribute, and that version cost $30 all on its own, so you can safely ignore it in favor of the full collection offered here, or buy the RayStorm x RayCrisis two-pack if you want all three games but don't want to double up. The Saturn-version soundtrack's included in this new port, even, and that was the one point in the Saturn port's favor.
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation 4/5, PC via Steam (worldwide)
- Price: $49.99 or equivalent
- Publisher: XSEED / Marvelous
What's this? A remake of the 2003 Nintendo Gamecube farming/slow-life simulator originally released under the title Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life, which was directly succeeded by an enhanced PlayStation 2 port and a further-modified girl-centric Gamecube revision; this new version offers brand-new visuals and updated character designs, the ability to play as and form relationship with characters of whichever genders you see fit, over seventy additional events, major revisions to the accessibility of your toolkit and tracking/triggering events,and many more changes big and small.
Why should I care? At the time, A Wonderful Life's hard swerve from its more iterative predecessors to a decidedly more compact and contemplative exerience centered around the passage of one's life and the experience of nurturing a child to adulthood was not especially well-received by core fans, but now that we're drowning in Japanese-style farming games that all aim to replicate and supersede the traditional Harvest/Seasons/Bokujou Monogatari games in their own conventional way, people might be more receptive to a game that admirably forged a different identity... and, if you liked the original way back when but lamented the lack of Stuff, then lucky you, this version has more Stuff, too.
Do I need to keep pointing this out? I'm really not sure: Bokujou Monogatari, the series originally released globally under the title Harvest Moon, changed its international name to Story of Seasons almost ten years ago due to a shift away from its original publisher, at which point the former publisher began producing original games and releasing them under the Harvest Moon name — put simply, the authentic, traditional series is called Story of Seasons, and the new games called Harvest Moon are imitations that vacillate between "adequate" and "are you even trying".
LIMITED-EDITION PHYSICAL PRINT RUNS
- Price: $54.99 / €69.99 each
- Availability: orders end July 30, ETA Q4 2023
Two of Wolf Team's most fondly-remembered Genesis/Mega Drive games — the cartridge-original gonzo action game El Viento and the X68000-to-Mega CD-to-cartridge shooting game Sol-Deace — are not only being reprinted as fancy new collectors editions with colored carts, authentic Japanese art (and the overdone Genesis alternatives, if you prefer) and more, they're also being made available in Europe for the first time. Retro-Bit's distributing via Limited Run Games in North America and a variety of different online specialty retailers in Europe, so keep an eye out.
LOOK WHAT STUART DID
All Games Are Good (Stuart Gipp, published by Press Run Books)
- Price: $24.99 (hardcover)
- Availability: ships ASAP
I can't say I expected the about-face on Sonic Frontiers, but I'm willing to be convinced.