Some Kiwami Films For Yakuza Fans

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With Yakuza Kiwami out now and hopefully selling well for Sega as an evergreen title into the future, overall interest in the long-running series over the past few years seems high enough that I’m thinking some of you folks might be interested in a few of the many Japanese gangster films out there. If you’re new to them, this very short list of recommendations may pack a ton of surprises on a few fronts.

If you’ve played Yakuza 0, Yakuza 4 or more recently, Kiwami (which means “extreme” in Japanese), you’ll very clearly see cinematic influences in abundance throughout the series. Even though the games are set in a more modern version of Japan, most of these films have very similar scenes that show how in general, some criminal behavior never really changes and it’s quite a draw for some who choose to live that lifestyle despite the risks.

Anyway, just step into this alley over here and I’ll set you up right… or set you upright after setting you up, right?

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Cops Vs Thugs * – Prolific director Kinji Fukusaku made a number of great yakuza-themed films, but this 1975 gem is probably his best. Notable for a brutal interrogation scene where an actor playing a gangster is actually beaten by actors playing crooked cops (the rehearsal footage is included as one of the bonuses), that scene is somehow very tame once added to the assorted forms of other violence on display.

When crooked but loyal to a fault cop (Bunta Sugawara) and his equally crooked and loyal to a fault Yakuza pal Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata) clash with a gung-ho young detective who wants all corruption purged from the force, plenty of mayhem ensues. There’s not a dull moment at all here and it’s also a case of seemingly minor characters having major roles as the plot twists pile up.

Fukusaku’s candid camera catches it all, sometimes tilting mid-action during certain scenes and freeze-framing during others for added emphasis. The imminent threat of random violence and no clear black and white heroes makes you almost root for both sides. But you’ll see that there’s no winners here when all is said and done. This one’s a must despite the kind of goofy title as well as a great way to embellish your Kiwami experience outside the game.

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Quick Takes: Some Good Games To Catch Up On (In A Year Of Too Many Great Ones), Part 1


 

Yep, the backlog has been officially backloggier thanks to stuff being stuff in the real world. But things are getting played bit by bit here despite incessantly annoying diversions. Hey, one needs something FUN to do between bouts of eyebrow lifts, sighing into adult beverages and trying not to trip over the assorted stacks of THINGS TO GET DONE lined carefully in strategic spots around the office. Okay, it’s not anywhere near that terrible, but I love to melodrama my issues a bit much. Anyway, here’s part one of a series of capsule reviews, or a brief rundown on things that have been tackled, games division.
 


 

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing Extended Edition (PS4): If you’re a big Diablo III or other isometric ARPG fan and want another game of the chase and chop variety, a mere $20 will be well spent on NeoCore Games’ more amusing and in some areas, harder game. While it goes for a more Steampunk Victorian visual aesthetic and uses a good deal more in the way of humor in its storytelling, the quest and side-quest 1-2 punch holds things together quite nicely. Granted, you have fewer classes to play around with, but the skills system for your Van Helsing and his ghostly aide Katerina ends up being pretty complex with many passive skills that boost combat to some often grand destructive levels. There’s no defensive roll like the console versions of DIII, but you’ll get used to dealing with huge packs of foes by taking it slower and picking off smaller groups one by one.

The game is generally solid overall and features online co-op play (no split-screen here, sorry!), a very fun “tower defense” mode that pops up a few times as a diversion from the main plot, and about 30 or so hours of gameplay if you’re determined to get everywhere you can on one run. The ending is somewhat of a ‘To Be Continued’ deal, but having played the other parts on PC, it’s worth the wait for the sequel to hit PS4 at some point. In fact, as this is only the first of three chapters, it would be great to see the other two arrive on PSN as soon as humanly possible and perhaps later, the entire trilogy out on a disc via a small print publisher like Limited Run Games or SOEDESCO. As always, we shall see. But for the money there’s a load of great fun to be had and had again.
 


 

Mantis Burn Racing (PC/PS4/Xbox One): While it’s initially short on tracks and content compared to other arcade racers, the difficulty curve in developer VooFoo Studios racer makes the game supremely challenging right from the get-go. A blazing fast proprietary engine showcases gorgeous 60fps racing where the slightest mistake will leave you in back of the pack and eating the digital dust of your opponents blowing past you. Practice makes perfect, but expect the game to not let you breathe much against AI that gets better as you do. Against live players the competition is far fiercer with expert players constantly making short work of anyone popping online for the friendliest of matches. You’re going to get smoked like a country ham if you’re not ready for the tracks in this one for sure.

That said, once you get the handling and have matches where you’re in the zone and nail those tricky turns, not bashing into other cars and generally having a zen-like experience racking up wins, the game is so hard to put down that you may need an alarm set to remind you to do important stuff. I haven’t tried out the new Snowbound DLC yet, but if this video is any indication, this 100% FREE update is going to suck me in all over again to the point where I’ll need to get a dog or cat or some other pet to remind me with a paw to the face to get up and go for a stroll, play with or feed them. A service animal for gamers? Who knew!
 

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Magical Brickout: Off The Wall Hybrid’s A New Classic in the Making

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Black Shell Media has been publishing a slew of fun indie games for a while (over 60 titles to date) and as I whittle away at my backlog, I’m finally getting around to playing a bunch of them. Magical Brickout won the coin toss and as a fan of Breakout or Arkanoid-style games, this Early Access game had me at the first ricochet. Indie developer Cunning Force Games has whipped up a fun mix of puzzle and RPG-light gameplay that’s addictive and challenging with a circular play field that may remind a few of the well-aged gamers out there a tiny bit of Star Castle played from the perspective of that game’s titular nemesis.


 

There’s a basic plot about an evil wizard trapping fairies in magical bricks and using their powers to keep his castle safe while his kingdom domination plans, but you’d like to know how it plays, I’d bet. Pretty darn good, I say. The rotating play field takes a bit of getting used to, but the replayable tutorial does an excellent job of setting up the game and letting you ease into the controls. Using the A and D keys to rotate the play field and SPACE to launch balls (or the right analog stick and X on an Xbox 360 pad), you’re tasked with freeing all the fairies on each board while avoiding bad status bricks and using assorted power-ups to aid in your progress.

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From what I’ve played so far, complaints are minimal. Sure, mouse control would be a nice addition to the game because some levels get REALLY hectic. But I think  the rotation speed of the board is set to be intentionally methodical for say, billiards and pinball fans looking to line up shots before launching. That and heck, there’s something to be said for LEARNING how to play a game and not expecting it to play EXACTLY like something familiar, right? Yes, the art direction could be described as “hidden object game rustic” (a friend who popped by noted that with a chuckle), but it’s all good that this game rocks that hand-painted style without apologies.

Updates are hitting this one fast and furiously, so there’s a great deal of content to explore that makes the price point more than a reasonable bargain. Even better, there’s also a big sale on Black Shell’s catalog on Steam even as we speak, so I say click on over and buy a few things to add to your library or gift to friends who need more variety in their own collections. Add some Magical Brickout to your life as well – you look like you need to spin this spinner of a game for a spin anyway.

Capsule Reviews 2: A Few More Games? Okay, Let’s Go

More bite-sized review bits? Sure, why not?

Onechanbara Z2 gals 

Onechanbara ZII Chaos (PS4, $49.99) – Budget game developer Tamsoft gets its sexy ladies onto the PS4 in a game that’s going to be loved and hated by gamers for a few reasons. While it has a super smooth 60fps frame rate, the cheesy music rocks somewhat firecely and the action is nearly non-stop (and supremely gory), it’s easy to see the easily ticked off whiny westerners losing their minds over the skimpy costumes and all-out fan service on display. Bikini, schoolgirl outfit and other fantasy femme tropes get trotted out (and that optional Banana Split pack bonus costume is too racy to show here), but the ladies are far from the helpless princess stereotype at all. Aya, Saki and the rest of the crew have been zombie killing for about a decade since their introduction on the PlayStation 2 and later Xbox 360 and Wii Onechanbara titles, so this one’s just their best looking adventure to date. While the game seems a tad on the short side, the reply value comes from unlocking outfits and having at stages again so you can better your score jut like arcade games of old. Then again, every Onechanbara game is pretty much the same: kill plenty of zombies before they kill your gal of choice and have a BIG grin on your face while doing so. Score: B (80%) 

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Capsule Reviews 1: Some Games You May Have Missed (Me Yak About)

Well, 2015 zipped by too quickly (he typed, knowing that the year isn’t quite over but hey, everyone else seems to be doing year-end articles) and I while didn’t get to write as many reviews as I’d have liked to, I took a ton of notes on things so I could sit down and catch up a some point. The best laid plans of mice and men (and Bemis!) often go wildly astray, so instead of long form full reviews, I’m going to do a bunch of capsule commentary on games, films and books over the next few days just so you have a little something to read when you pop by. Anyway, some quickie game impressions to get started: 

Tales of Zestiria Cast 

Tales of Zestiria (PS4/PS3/PC, $59.99/$49.99 respectively) – Namco’s Tales Studio pulls out all the stops in this latest installment in the long running JRPG franchise (15 Tales to date!) with a game that’s part throwback and homage to the first Tales (of Phantasia) back on the Super Famicom while bringing in an all-new cast, storyline and for the first time, an open world map to explore. Although PS4 owners get the better visual end of the deal on console, the PC version should more than please those fans who pick it up looking for something to play and show off to friends. The game is consistently entertaining from the fast-paced combat to the usual humor found in character interaction and dialog choices. Yes, the use of classic literary references, myth and other tropes is piled on thicker than your mom ever spread mayonnaise, but it works well enough to keep the game fun. I’m actually still playing this one because there’s an extraordinary amount of things to do, stuff to collect and some 93 hours in, I’m close to the endgame but will probably dive in again at some point to revisit a few save files. There are enough divergent paths and interesting encounters (make friends with the Normin you meet!) to keep this one in the play stack for a while. Score: A- (90%)
 
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