Originally published in 2017, for The Australia Times Games Magazine
Last issue, I provided a comprehensive look at Nintendo’s unique eShop games. As I was researching for the piece, I realised that there was another group of 3DS games that really needed another dose of exposure. Enter Level-5’s Guild series. Initially released in Japan in two groups (Guild01 and Guild02), these experimental games surprisingly made it over to the west (let alone Australia), and were fantastic additions to the 3DS’ digital library. Now, I shine the spotlight once more on these games, and highlight just how essential they are!
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Created by Goichi Suda (AKA Suda51, the man behind cult titles such as Killer 7 and No More Heroes) Liberation Maiden is the only Guild game to be ported to another platform (iOS), and it’s easy to see why.
Echoing Japanese mech dramas like Neon Genesis, you play as the president’s daughter – a schoolgirl (of course) named Shoko, who becomes the leader of New Japan after her father is assassinated. Obviously, there’s nothing quite like leading by example, so Shoko boards her trusty robot Kamui, and blasts the hell out of her country’s invaders.
In terms of gameplay, Liberation Maiden plays very much like Sin & Punishment, or the flying segments in Kid Icarus: Uprising. An on-rails blast ‘em up that is basically a3D bullet hell, with tonnes of enemies, explosions and lavish style. Movement is done with the analogue stick, strafing via the L button, and aiming and shooting are accomplished with the touch screen. This style certainly has its detractors, but there’s no doubting the precision it offers – and precise it very much is.
There’s a nice strategic layer to the action, too. Shooting actually leaves your shield open, so spamming attacks won’t keep you alive for long. Similarly, you can create homing missiles by dragging Shoko’s reticule across foes, and holding her fire until you hear that audible ‘ping’. It’s very much a risk/reward system , which is the very best gameplay system, in my humble opinion.
Also worth mentioning is the game’s crazy production values. Full anime cutscenes (by Studio BONES) pepper a visually stimulating experience, and a completely vocalised soundtrack belies that fact that Liberation Maiden is a download-only title – and one that is only a few bucks.
This is a game that is another notch in Grasshopper Manufacture’s quirky belt, and like its other output, Liberation Maiden is something that is most definitely worth a try, if only for its crazy story and setting. Fortunately, it also has the gameplay chops to back it up. Get it!
Developer: Vivarium Inc.
Aero Porter is quite an odd concept… so, just like every other game in this feature.
Created by Yoot Saito (the guy behind Dreamcast curio Seaman), this is a puzzle/rhythm title , this puts you in the shoes of an airport boss, and it’s your job to quickly sort luggage in order to keep customers happy, and to grow your business.
Based on colour matching, you manage a tower of disc-shaped conveyor belts, and you must raise and lower the structure in order to correctly deposit the matching baggage. Initially, it starts simple enough, but as your business grows, you’re given new challenges, such as the ability to turn lights on and off (use them, and its easier to see colours, but you use up precious fuel), or hatches that only open when a certain luggage quota is matched (think Cement Factory from Game & Watch). There will even be suspicious packages that must be discarded; usually they’re easy to spot, but sometimes you need to blow into the 3DS in order to recognise the blighters.
As mentioned earlier, fuel is a commodity that is essential to running operations. Use too much, and your airport regresses, and in order to get more, you need to buy some with money – money that can only be earned by optimum bag sorting. Failure causes cancelled flights and hefty fines, but upgrading your airport will allow you to alter flight times, and even acquire new plane types. You can also send planes to other players via StreetPass!
As expected, the gameplay truly gets manic, and the score-chasing makes it incredibly addictive. If only there were a Leonard Nimoy narration, and it would’ve been perfect!
Developer: Nex Entertainment
As the years go by, it seem like fans of Dungeons & Dragons (and other RPG board games) are becoming a dime-a-dozen. What once influenced entire gaming genres like RPGs and action-adventures have seemingly regressed in the digital age, as people are now more keen to let epic CGI-fests do what simple imaginations once did; create grand quests from nothing. So, imagine my surprise when Level-5 released Crimson Shroud; an RPG that is a celebratory hybrid between the new and the old.
Playing as a money-driven ‘Chaser’ named Giauque, you are paid to retrieve a mystical item called the Crimson Shroud (surprise!), which was supposedly the item responsible for bringing magic into the world. Regaled as a tale told 1000 years in the future, Giauque teams with a healer named Frea, and a rogue called Lippi, and the three heroes plumb the depths of a labyrinthine dungeon that lasts for the game’s 10 hour duration. Though that may sound short for an RPG, you can rest assure that the game is a very rich experience. The plot is surprisingly thick with twists, and the world is well-realised.
So, what exactly makes Crimson Shroud a nostalgia trip for Gygax-worshipers? Well, you see, the game’s presentation actually emulates classic tabletop experiences by having characters represented as static figures, and combat being played out via the roll of die.
Yes, in effect, you are playing under the whims of the dungeon master, and everything is done via menus. This can be slow-going for more impatient players, but the experience is still quicker than an actual, analogue board game. For those who love strategy though, this is heaven on two screens. As you can probably guess, the dice is God in this game, and the numbers they produce influence everything from attacking, to special moves and equipment accrued.
Crimson Shroud is most definitely an old school offering, despite its unique presentation. A wonderfully paradoxical package, those pining for the good old days of the pre-videogame age could do worse than playing this… videogame. Huh.
Weapon Shop de Omasse
Developer: Nex Entertainment
Think of the countless adventure and RPG games you’ve played over the years. All the weapons you’ve bought. All the blacksmith services you’ve paid for with your hard earned cash (well, some of it was hard earned, you dirty thief you). Where would you have been without their invaluable services?
Dead, that’s where.
Evidently, Japanese comedian Yoshiyuki Hirai has pondered such things, as he saw fit to work with Level-5 in creating Weapon Shop de Omasse (translated as Omasse’s Rental Weapon Shop). It’s an interesting quandary. Whilst the chosen heroes are off saving the world, just what does the average NPC do in their daily lives?
Evidently, in the case of Omasse and his apprentice Yuhan, they bang-out weapons for goofy heroes in a rhythmic pattern, as they listen to their fanciful tales.
Initially, the games seems to be a one-note experience. You create tools of destruction by following the beat, before moving on to the next. However, I was surprised to find that Weapon Shop de Omasse was in fact much more diverse than it initially seemed.
There’s quite a lot of dialogue for such a seemingly simple game. Each hero you create weapons for has a ‘blog’ (for lack of a better word) that records their adventurous deeds. It’s in these text updates that clues can be found regarding how to effectively create your next masterpiece. In a way, the game is very much like an RPG, as stats and attributes play a key role in your product’s maximum effectiveness. Do a good job, and you get compensated handsomely. Blow it, and customers will leave in a huff.
Gameplay is primarily done via the touchscreen, and it’s not exactly the most intense or cerebral offering. Really, it’s all about the overall experience – especially considering Weapon Shop de Omasse is constructed like a sitcom, complete with audience laughter and applause. Yes, you read that right. If that doesn’t make you want to try this, then I don’t know what will.
Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale
Developer: Millennium Kitchen/Aquaria
Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale is a game I eagerly downloaded as soon as it became available.
Unlike the other Guild games, this is very much a story-based experience, with very little challenge (or indeed, actual gameplay). Instead, AofFM is all exploring the world, and interacting with a small cast of characters, whilst uncovering an intergalactic mystery.
Playing as a boy named Sohta, you are a new arrival in a small Tokyo village in the 1970s, where your parents run the local dry cleaner. Things are a little glum for the poor lad, as his folks are going through marital problems, and he’s the new kid in town. However, he eventually befriends the geeky Ramen and the token girl Akebi, who teach him about Monster Cards, which are simple collectables that are played with a rock/paper/scissors system.
That’s not all, though, as they tell Sohta that monsters and superheroes from famous ‘tokusatsu’ shows (like Ultraman and Super Sentai) invade the town every Friday! Disbelieving their outrageous claims, they take him to the TV station where their favourite show is filmed, and sure enough, the supposedly fictional characters appear, and wreak havoc in the late afternoon skies!
I won’t spoil any more than that, because the narrative is the main reason to play Attack of the Friday Monsters. However, I will say that if you’re expecting an epic tale, then you may have to look elsewhere; despite its crazy premise, this is very much a relaxed affair, with occasional scenes of excitement. That doesn’t make it any less gripping, however, as the world built by Millennium Kitchen and Aquaria is such a joy to explore, with interesting characters and special ‘glims’ that can be collected, in order to create new monster cards. Aesthetically, too, the game is soothing for the soul, with bright colours and lovely music that actually compelled me to finish the entire thing in one run (as short as it is).
Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale is something that needs to be experienced. It last-century Japanese setting reminded me a lot of Shenmue – and anything that echoes Shenmue is a-okay in my book!
BUGS vs. TANKS!
Now this – this is something.
Imagine; playing a videogame based around the concept of WWII Nazi soldiers, who have been shrunken, Rick Moranis-style. Not only that, but they’re assailed at all side by humongous insects, whilst the story ponders the deep, philosophical themes that can only come with war.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present BUGS vs. TANKS!
Designed by Keiji Inafune, this is a top-down shooter where German artillery meets the ultimate weapons of nature. Across 40 levels, you make your way through the underbrush via top-down shooting gameplay, saving soldiers and customising your squad with collectable tank parts.
In truth, it’s fairly simple. You move your vehicle with the circle pad, aim with Y and A (or the touchscreen) and shoot missiles with R. Holding it down will set it to automatic fire, and as is usual with the genre, you need to switch between the slower, stronger offence and the quicker, weaker projectiles.
BUGS vs. TANKS! is considered one of the more challenging offerings of the Guild series, and is certainly more obtuse in its direction, leaving gamers to guess more than once regarding their objectives in some of the harder levels. Still, it’s worth trying simply for the premise alone, and maybe one day, we’ll get Michael Bay to direct a movie version.
*sigh* One day…
The Starship Damrey
Upon booting up The Starship Damrey for the first time, you are greeted with the following message; “This game contains no tutorials or explanations. Part of the experience is to discover things yourself.”
Ironically, that says everything about this horror game, which is set aboard a derelict spaceship. Well, I say ‘horror’, but it really isn’t violent or action-packed in any way. It’s more of a subdued, creepy version of Myst.
You wake up in a sleep capsule, but find yourself unable to leave. Instead, you remotely control a robot, and use it to explore the deserted vessel. Set across three floors, you explore every room one at a time, finding key points of interest, like puzzles or journal entries that allow you to slowly piece together just what on earth (or not, arf) happened to everyone.
Much like Attack of the Friday Monsters, The Starship Damrey is more of an interactive book than a conventional videogame. It echoes the point n’ click era of PC, complete with clunky (though not necessarily game breaking) visuals, and excellent writing that – in this case – uses the ‘less is more’ approach. This also extends to its (arguably unfortunate) reliance on finding specific objects, as well as the likelihood of experiencing dead-ends. Still, as a game that rewards thorough examination and exploration, its incredibly satisfying, especially when you find secret space-leeches, which can be linked with save data from Liberation Maiden, Aero Porter, Crimson Shroud and Weapon Shop de Omasse in order to unlock additional story content!
So, if you have fond memories of games like Myst of Shadowgate, then The Starship Damrey is most definitely worth a must. Again, like Friday Monsters, it’s not the type of game you’ll play more than once – but it’s certainly a memorable experience.