Have the Belmonts finally rid themselves of Konami’s Curse?
The highlight of today’s roundup is the long-rumored and oft-requested Castlevania Anniversary Collection, a multi-platform compilation containing a handful of titles from the early era of the franchise, and I’m glad to report that, on first glance, Konami doesn’t seem to have ruined these games in any real way. Could this be… progress?
Platform: Nintendo Switch (worldwide)
Price: $7.99 / €6.99 / £6.29
What’s this? A frantic dodgeball-esque action game starring cute pigs, developed by NMK and released in arcades by Jaleco in 1987 and later ported to various European microcomputers as Psycho Pigs UXB; one or two players are tasked with eliminating the other pigs by hurling bombs placed around the battlefield that will explode upon a direct hit or count down to an explosion when they miss.
Why should I care? You’re looking for a low-pressure co-op game with a cute atmosphere, and you have a particular tolerance for chiptune banjo ditties.
Useless fact: Buta-san was recently revived on 3DS and, true to form, the overseas Psycho Pigs version features some truly dissonant promotional art.
NINTENDO SWITCH ONLINE – NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM
May ’19 NSO update: Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong Jr., Vs. Excitebike, Star Soldier SP
Platform: Nintendo Switch (worldwide)
Price: available as part of Nintendo Switch Online
Publisher: Nintendo, Konami
What’re these? The home version of the second Donkey Kong arcade game, a peculiar twisty-turny black-box maze game and the one Famicom Disk System game Nintendo deigns fit to bring overseas, plus a savestate for Star Soldier that drops you a ways into the game with max powerups.
Why should I care? DKjr. is obsolete in the face of the arcade original, but Vs. Excitebike has more modes, more music and more content and is the most complete form of that particular game. Clu Clu Land… is a grower, I promise.
Helpful tip: The version of Clu Clu Land being offered overseas is the NES version, whereas the version being offered in Japan is the expanded Famicom Disk System version informally known as Clu Clu Land D; this version has twice as many stages, different music and additional enemies and items and is perhaps best known for being a really annoying in-game unlock within the Gamecube Animal Crossing title.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC via Steam (worldwide)
Price: $19.99 / €17.99 / £15.99 / ¥3000+tax
What’s this? An emulated collection of eight games taken from the classic, pre-IGA era of Castlevania; this M2-developed collection comes equipped with save states, replay saving and various display options (including Super Game Boy and pea-soup green filters for the Game Boy titles), as well as a bonus gallery containing development documents, basic strategies for each game and a few interviews.
Which games are included? In no particular order: Castlevania (NES), Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES), Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES), Super Castlevania IV (NES), Castlevania The Adventure (Game Boy), Castlevania The Adventure II: Belmont’s Revenge (Game Boy), Castlevania Bloodlines (Genesis) and Kid Dracula (Famicom, newly translated into English). The international collection currently only contains the US versions of each game, but Konami has announced plans to add the Japanese versions at a later date.
Why should I care? For whatever quibbles one might have about the game selection, this collection provides a respectable cross-section of old-school Castlevania, offering a mix of classic cuts and deep pulls presented with a degree of care that, while not quite to M2’s usual exacting standard, is far above the expectations held for a modern-day Konami initiative.
Useless fact: Castlevania series creator Hitoshi Akamatsu was not interviewed for this collection but you may be interested to read these newly-translated accounts of his work on the original NES trilogy, which address both his inspirations behind each game and his unfortunate but completely unsurprising dismissal from the series.
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC via Steam (worldwide, console versions available May 17)
Price: $9.99 or equivalent (or maybe double that on Switch, thanks PQube!)
Publisher: Arc System Works / PQube
What’s this? The original PlayStation entry in Arc System Works’ idiosyncratic and highly influential series of 2D fighting games, ported to modern platforms in celebration of the series’ 20th anniversary (which was last year, but who’s counting?); the game’s also available as part of a physical two-pack with the final 2D game, 2012’s Guilty Gear XX Accent Core +R, in Europe and Japan, but the North American release is completely standalone and digital-only.
Why should I care? The original Guilty Gear is an extremely rough ad thoroughly unbalanced game made by a handful of newbies whose ambitions exceeded their abilities but even in this primordial form, all the elements that quickly made the series a classic — the unique and bizarre setting, over-the-top character movement and unrelenting metal guitar noodling — are present and very much on display, so if you have a taste for breaking games wide open, there’s a lot of fun to be had. (Just be sure to invite a few friends over to play it with you: as is typical of most Arcsys ports, there’s no online play.)
Useless fact: Guilty Gear is a franchise that quickly became synonymous with high-end 2D animation but at one point, the team toyed with the idea of using CG pre-rendered sprites in the vein of games like Killer Instinct and Ragnagard.
SOUNDTRACKS & MISCELLANEA
FF DOT: The Pixel Art of Final Fantasy by Dark Horse Comics
Availability; ships January 2020
Originally released in Japan in January 2018, FF DOT explores the art, craft and design of Final Fantasy’s iconic pixel art and the craftspeople behind all those recognizable sprites, including series veteran Kazuko Shibuya, and now it’s finally being published overseas courtesy of Dark Horse Comics… but there are some 300-odd pages that need translating, so you’ll have to wait until January of next year until you can actually read it.
PULSTAR: The Definitive Soundtrack by Brave Wave
Format: CD, vinyl (2xLP)
Price: $15 / €15 (CD) / $35 / €35 vinyl
Availability; ships June
Composer Harumi Fujita might be best recognized for her work on early Capcom arcade titles like Bionic Commando and Strider, but she continued to contribute music and sound design to many games made within the Osaka development umbrella until the late ’90s, with her soundtrack to the Neo Geo shooting game Pulstar being both a fan favorite and a self-professed highlight. Brave Wave’s latest remaster bring both the cartridge and Neo Geo CD versions of Pulstar’s music to CD and vinyl with never-heard-before quality, supervised by Fujita herself and sporting cover art salvaged from unused production art; orders begin shipping next month.
DISCOUNTS & DEALS
Sega Ages Alex Kidd & Gain Ground discounts on Switch
Platform: Nintendo Switch (North America)
Discount: 25% off until… next week?
Publisher: Service Games Games
One of these games is a title you may have already played to death and the other is a title you’ve probably never touched; both are worth trying or retrying in the Sega Ages format, and now they’re a little cheaper for those who need the extra push.