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There are a couple of things Namco is known for, the most notable one being their impressive game lineup - stretching all the way from the end of the '70s and including such unforgettable titles as Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug, Mappy, and more recently Ridge Racer, Tekken and Soul Calibur. But it's not all about the titles when it comes to Namco. They made a reputation for themselves by creating the most impressive home platform conversions of their arcade titles, adding more than anyone could possibly imagine to the already perfect arcade experience. While most games get an arcade release first and a console port second, Soulcalibur III steps in to destroy this trend, premiering on Sony's PlayStation 2.


When Soul Edge got its PlayStation release, it was clear that it would become a strong franchise. Namco put alot of work into developing a great world the story is set in. Anything with that amount of detail was bound to be more than just a one shot, and so, in '98 Namco released a sequel called Soul Calibur. The game was great but Namco made some drastic changes to the gameplay, implementing their 8-way run system, adding depth to the fights. To put more emphasis on a new quality that was Soul Calibur, the old name was abandoned. Later, in '99, came the Dreamcast port and it was clear that Namco had developed one of the most impressive fighting games of all time.


The Dreamcast version of Soul Calibur was in fact so perfect when it came to graphics, that no other game in the series has managed to surpass this quality and create a noticable gap between how the game looked back then and how it looks now, ten years after its initial release. It's beyond me, but many characters in the game still look better on Dreamcast than they look on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 today. There's just something about how the hair [especially on female characters, most notably on Sophitia] and the faces were done that wasn't recreated ever since that memorable Namco and Sega teamup. Enough about history though, because I could write about it for days, literally. Let's focus on the game shown in the photos.


While the second Soulcalibur game appeared on GameCube, Xbox and PlayStation 2, third installment became exclusive to Sony's platform. Maybe Namco needed to focus on just one piece of hardware to improve a already impressive forumla? Maybe it was all about the money? I don't know and I don't really care. The fact is, game was developed as an exclusive title and was based on the same engine that Tekken 5 uses. Speaking of Tekken 5, Namco sure did spoil us with that one. Not only was it an amazing game on its own, but the single game disc included first three installments of Tekken, flawlessly emulated in all of their original arcade glory. To top everything off, Namco threw in their 3D space shooter, StarBlade.


After seeing the extra games in Tekken 5, I kind of expected something similar from Soulcalibur III. It wouldn't hurt to have Soul Edge and first Soul Calibur games on the same disc. After all, Soul Edge originally used Namco's System 11 arcade board, the exact same hardware as the one used by Tekken and Tekken 2, and Soul Calibur ran on System 12 arcade board, the one used by the arcade version of Tekken 3. This means that Namco already had the proper technology developed to emulate these titles, but for some reason just didn't do it. While Sega may own the license for the enhanced version of Soul Calibur, the arcade original is all Namco and so is Soul Edge.


Aside from that, Soulcalibur III looks and plays great. It's pretty clear that there's a strong tie-in to the first Soul Calibur game. Many arenas are basically enhanced versions of those from the first game. Taki's shrine and Kilik's proving grounds are good examples. On top of that, Kilik's stage has an arranged music from the corresponding Soul Calibur arena. It's a nice move on Namco's part. After the criticism of Soul Calibur II, they wanted to bring the series back to its 8-way roots and so they did. Even the final boss explodes into small glowing particles with the exact same animation as Inferno did in Soul Calibur.


One of the things Soul Edge was known for, were the amazing game endings rendered in real time by the game engine. It took Namco close to ten years to bring those back and I was happy to see them once again. I always thought the static art and scrolling text in previous Soul Calibur games lacked the flare of what Soul Edge had shown us on PlayStation. Another feature making a comeback are the weapons, each with its own abilities like healing, double the damage at the cost of our health and so on.


Except the regular one on one fights that take us straight to the next battle, Soul Edge introduced a story driven gameplay in Edge Master Mode. Similar to this is the single player mode in Soulcalibur III. You move across the world map and ocasionally you get to choose your route. It always comes down to beating your opponent, but at least you get the feel that you drive the story forward by your actions and it works. Every opponent beaten will earn you money that can later be spent to buy art and extra content [again, similarly to Soul Calibur] including items rangnig from new weapons to promotional footage from the game.


There are also a couple of features never before seen in Soul series. First is the character customization. Just like in Tekken 5 and before that in Virtua Fighter 4, you can create your custom player. The editor Namco provided is quite complex and gives us the possibility to alter pretty much anything, starting from the body build, to colours of clothes, hair, eyes and so on. The characters are saved onto the memory card and if you feel like it, you can beat your friend up with your newly created sumo wrestler named Wobbly Wallaby, or whatever it is you've created.


Soulcalibur III lacks any kind of online mode so unless you want to carry around your memory card, and you love playing with dolls and dressing them up, forget about the customization feature. Another new feature is a new gameplay mode called "Chronicles of the Sword". It's a strategy game that could be compared to board games where you control the actions of your troops in a war against the neighbouring countries. Again, it all comes down to fights, but it is a nice attempt by Namco to make things more interesting, even though I'd rather see something like the beachball from Tekken 3 or bowling from Tekken Tag.


Soulcalibur III is a great game. It's fast and it looks impressive. The soundtrack may not be nearly as good as Khan Super Session from Soul Edge, but it is pretty decent and it's certainly the best soundtrack in any of the Calibur games. Namco did try to stuff alot of content into the game and it shows. It's a solid production packed with unlockables and if you want to unlock everything, you'll need some time off work.


All that said, Soulcalibur III is the only weapon based fighting game around these days. Sega apparently doesn't feel like developing another Last Bronx title, so all there is left to do is to buy this game. If you like fighting games, it will be money well spent. It's not Namco at its best and I think they did a much better job with Tekken 5, but Soulcalibur III has no real sompetition and I'm not even sure if anyone else can do it better than Namco, even if they don't try their hardest.

PR

Two titles for the PlayStation 2 and one for the PC join the ever growing, eclectic collection of mine. Nothing breathtaking, imported or recently released, but each of these releases deserves some attention. We have something for the first person shooter fans, beat 'em up combatants and classic arcade goodness connaisseurs. There will be time to write about Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Soulcalibur III, but I wanted to start with my favorite from the bunch, Capcom Classics Collection Volume 2.


Many gamers out there can't be bothered to buy these fantastic collections of oldies, and do they ever miss out on tons upon tons of rock solid gameplay and endless fun. I'm a collections' supporter. I'll buy it all, as long as it's decent, like the recently reviewed Taito Legends Vol. 1 & 2, Metal Slug Anthology or a bit older Tecmo Classic Arcade. Capcom Classics Volume 2 is a definition of a high quality compilation and should serve as an example for many companies out there, especially for Namco with their endless conversions of Pac-Man and Dig Dug, which by now should be given away for free.


At first glance, the box doesn't look like much, but on the disc there are over twenty arcade perfect conversions, featuring many unforgettable classics from Capcom's CPS-1 era. Buy this collection and you'll play such games as Captain Commando, Knights of the Round, The King of Dragons, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Strider, Three Wonders [this single arcade board featured three titles: Midnight Wanderers, Chariot and Don't Pull] and many others.


Except for the games themselves, there is a rather impressive amount of bonus content. For each game you can unlock three content sections: strategy tips, art gallery and the soundtrack. Unlocking is done by completing various objectives, usually by reaching a specified amount of points in a game, reaching a specified stage and finally, completing the game. Aside from these bonus features, identical for every game, there's an in-depth Super Street Fighter II Turbo tutorial by David Sirlin [SSF2T expert and one of the people responsible for the Evolution tournaments held in the US].


So, why would you want to pick up this collection while there are ROM images and emulators out there? Most importantly, playing ROM images is illegal and if you think it's ok just because the games are old, you're a tool. Second, Capcom tried to and succeeded in recreating the arcade experience and you should respect their efforts. Get yourself an arcade stick and you're all set. All games support both 50 and 60 Hz refresh rates and progressive scan mode.


So what titles are the highlight of this great collection? To name top three titles, I would have to say Midnight Wanderers, The King of Dragons and Captain Commando, the first one being a right scrolled platformer and the other two, right scrolled beat 'em ups. If you're old enough to remember the '90s at the arcades, you have to know these titles, or at least Captain Commando. The '90s were truly the golden age of arcades and if you, like me, were feeding the machines with coins every single day of the week, you know what I'm talking about.


I've been collecting arcade boards for many years now, with the sole purpose of being able to enjoy these fantastic games at home. Many of these classic arcade games are hard to find or cost quite a bit and that's why I think it's great that Capcom has released those two incredible compilations, so that everyone can enjoy them. What better way to celebrate those great arcade years, than by buying a single disc packed with perfect conversions, dip switch settings included.


I sincerely hope that Capcom won't stop here and that more arcade titles will follow. Recently SNK started releasing new arcade conversions of titles that up until now were available only on Neo Geo cartidges. Capcom should follow this example by re-releasing some CPS-2 and CPS-3 games. Street Fighter II got a Hyper release, including all of the games in the series, same with Zero / Alpha. Why not release a complete collection of Street Fighter III games? After all, the first two [New Generation and 2nd Impact] are still only available on DreamCast.


Capcom also needs to release a proper arcade conversions of the few CPS-1 Dash [1.5] titles, including the praised and well known The Punisher and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. While the first one got a home platform release, the MegaDrive version, as good as it was, could not be compared to the original. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, originally released in 1993, never got a home platform release. The lack of any re-releases is probably caused by multiple licenses involved. There's Marvel in The Punisher's case and theres Kitchen Sink Press and Mark Schultz when it comes to Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. I'm sure Capcom has the money to release these games once again, so why wait?


Fo finish this entry, take a look at this video showing most of the games in action. If you're still not entirely convinced whether or not you should buy this collection, maybe this video will do the trick.

Some weeks ago I was browsing through the game bargain jungle that is eBay, and I found something that cought my eye. The first Japanese edition of Tenchu was up for sale and noone was bidding. I'm always willing to try my luck and this time it actually paid off. I scored a brand new, shrinkwrapped copy of Tenchu for a whole $1.4. You can start getting jelous right about ... now.


Tenchu series has been around for a while, but if you ask me, the first game always was the best and by the look of things, it will be for some years to come. When the first game came out, everything was exactly right or close to it [Or as right and as close to it as a PlayStation game from 1998 can get]. After the first game got released worldwide and some changes have been made, Acquire released an updated version called Tenchu Shinobi Gaisen, which featured two additional missions and an editor. This editor was used to make over a hundred missions which are all fanmade and were later released as a standalone mission pack called Tenchu Shinobi Hyakusen.


Tenchu Shinobi Hyakusen is the last game based on the first, unmodified engine and it was this title that marked the end of an era for me. Tenchu series from the second game onwards lost some of its magic, at least for me. But dwelling on the past wasn't what I meant to write about. I meant to write about my great and cheap find.


So yes, this is the very first release of Tenchu, also known as Rittai Ninja Katsugeki Tenchuu, translated by some as Dimensional Ninja Action Movie Tenchu. Its catalogue number is SLPS-01272 and it was this title that started it all for Acquire and made sneaking around and killing by stealth more fun than ever before. Obviously, I bought the Japanese edition, which as usual, differs greatly from both the US and European releases.


So what's different, you ask? A whole bunch of things! First of all, the Japanese version is harder. Or maybe not harder, but once the enemies spot you, they'll go at it like crazy. This for some reason has been tweaked a bit in other versions of the game and enemies won't go berserk on you if you're playing a US copy of the game. Now why would someone go and make things easy? It's a stealth game. You're supposed to avoid fights or kill the enemies from behind!


In the first Japanese version, you have to watch your timing while attacking. There are a couple of combos for each of the two characters in the game that when executed, have to be timed right. In other words, it takes a minimum amout of skill to pull some moves off and button mashing won't really work. Again, someone thought this needs fixing and so, the timing is more masher friendly in US and European versions, aswell as in later released Shinobi Gaisen version, which was based on the US / EU updates.


The first release has eight missions, while all subsequent versions have ten. Two missions were added when the game was translated. More missions is always good, but I thought the game could defend itself with only eight. I've got the english version aswell, so I'm not complaining. If you want the most complete edition out there however, you'd have to go with the previously mentioned Shinobi Gaisen, which not only has everything that made its way into english versions, but it comes with a mission editor aswell. And while I'm on the topic, the Gaisen editor is much better than the one seen in Tenchu 2.


So, does the first edition have anything cool that didn't make it to the international release? As the matter of fact it does. While most of the game has been translated, the short narrative bits that appear before every mission were skipped. Why? Beats me. Like in most translation cases, someone coudn't be bothered to give the 100% or the deadline simply didn't allow it.


All in all, Tenchu is one of my top ten PlayStation games of all time, simply because it delivered in every possible way. The graphics are great, the gameplay is superb and don't even get me started on the soundtrack. If you have this game, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, get it and then get the soundtrack aswell [which inclused some bonuses, by the way].


There is one more thing I wanted to mention before I wrap this entry up and that's the game ending. Don't worry, I'm not going to spoil anything for you so calm down and read on. The first Japanese version of Tenchu had an ending cinematic animated in a very unique way. The characters are animated pencil sketches and I always liked this artistic approach. If you're willing to spoil for yourself, click the video below to watch.


Anyone who has seen this has to admit, the style of this video is pretty unique, and while it may not be anything groundbreaking, it catches the eye and adds to the drama. When I first completed the European release, I was surprised to see that the ending had changed. Instead of the hand drawn characters were 3D models which didn't look nearly as cool. Again, if you are willing to spoil the ending for yourself, or if you simply don't care, click on the video below.


I don't know about you, but in my opinion the original ending beats the 3D model one hands down, anytime, any day and that's all I had to say this time around. If you see this game, don't hesitate and grab it. I know I always say this, but you know I wouldn't be lying to you, right? So, get it.

Welcome dear reader, to another blog entry starting with a photo of a package with all the interesting information censored by yours truly. Sadly, I have to censor my postal address to protect myself against stalkers and those who wish me ill just because I have a cool blog. Not to mention all of you crazy female readers who wish only to send me your pictures, but unfortunately you don't know where to send them.


So what special and interesting items might this package contain? Brace yourselves, for it's Einhänder for the PlayStation, which I've won in a competition held by my friends over at Cryptic Allusion. In addition I also recieved some Razer promotional merchandise and a Love Hina mini mouse pad. How cool is that, huh?


Now, a bit about the game. Einhänder [or アインハンダー as it is called in Japan] is a 2.5D shooter. Just like in G Darius or Thunder Force V, the graphics are polygonal, but the gameplay sticks to 2D mechanics with some occasionaly changing camera angles. The game was developed by Squaresoft, which in itself is a bit unusual when you think about what titles were developed by the company so far. Now having much experience in the field, the RPG factory did surprisingly well and made Einhänder into a pretty decent shoot 'em up.


So, what does Einhänder have in store for a shoot 'em up fan? The game is pretty straightforward, sticking to traditional style of gameplay reminescent of the previously mentioned G Darius, with maybe less dynamic pacing. While it will not satisfy those who are looking for bullet hell, it should turn out to be entertaining enough for those who love R-Type and its style.


What makes Einhänder stand out are not the graphics, nor the gameplay, but the weapons. Every weapon upgrade you pick up has a limited supply of ammo, forcing you to hunt for bullets and upgrades all the time rather than leveling up your ship and blasting away. While this might not seem like a good move on Square's part, it actually adds to the gameplay and makes you try harder.


With the gameplay out of the way, let's focus on the looks. Graphically, the game is pretty generic when you think of the games from mid-nineties. The design is solid and you can see that it came from someone with a serious passion for mecha. That said, one thing that could be done better are the backgrounds. The stages don't catch your eye like R-Type Delta ones can, but they're not bad either. Unlike many other shooters that tend to change the theme in between stages, Einhänder sticks to the dark and futusristic design.


Nowdays this game became somewhat of a collectors item if only because of its uniqueness as a one shot on Squaresoft's part. It seems like Einhänder was never intended to become a franchise and after ten years and change, it is the only shooter Squaresoft has ever made.


Now what's that on the photo? Another package with the address all pixly and unreadable? That's right! And believe it or not, it's a package containing another prize I won in a Cryptic Allusion contest. I won it a while back, but I never got around writing anything about it, so why not do it now, since I'm already at describing my prizes.


Universe at War: Earth Assault is a real time strategy for the PC and Xbox 360 in which you take on a role of one of several alien parties that have a go at each other at Earth's expense. That's right. Various alien races have decided to harvest our planet but they can't really decide between themselves who gets to anihilate us all and suck the planet dry.


Since I haven't really got around to actually playing the game, that's about as much information I can give you at this point. It's been ages since I tried any RTS, last one probably being KKND. That doesn't mean I don't like real time strategies, rather than I like them less than a billion other games I haven't yet finished.


What's interesting is that this game came with a code for Windows Live online service that allowed you to play for free under a period of time. Microsoft has however abandoned any plans of ripping PC gamers off, due to extremely low interest among gamers, who for some reason weren't too happy about paying for what should be free of charge or paid by the money you spent on your game. Take that Microsoft.


So, that's that. If you're planning on holding a contest, make sure you pick the ticket with "Morden" on it, just like the one above. And if you're a game box manufacturer, make sure your box can hold at least 10 discs, just like the Universe at War box can. That's it for today! Cheerio!

There are plenty of reasons to import Japanese editions. In most cases they just look so much cooler, they come out much earlier and there's often more game content and generally more of everything. Namco made Ace Combat into a successful franchise with the first two games, but it's the third installment in the series that takes the cake, or to be more specific, it's the Japanese version that does.


Since Japan is the country where it all goes down, they get almost all of the software first. Games are being developed in japanese and while they're being translated for the rest of the world, Japan has already played through them and forgot all about them. Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere came out in Japan on May 27th, 1999. The rest of the world had to wait for almost a year. One would think that during this year, US based Namco Hometek would have all the time they need to properly translate the game before its english release. Sadly, that didn't happen.


Ace Combat 3 was, and still is, vastly superior in almost all aspects to the previous games, featuring all new futuristic graphic design similar to what can be seen in WipeOut, great soundtrack produced by the sound team who also produced the music for Ridge Racer Type 4, completly new game engine utilizing some nice and previously unseen environment effects and all new storyline with plenty of missions to choose from. Sounds great, right? It is, and while Japan could enjoy the game in all of its glory, the rest of the world got a gutted product with the larger part of the content missing.


Before I get into details, let's talk a bit about the storyline in Ace Combat 3. The year is 2043 and much has changed. Money is technology and technology is power. The world is controlled by global corporations who are in a constant competition over territory and market. The major players are General Resource, Neucom and UPEO. While General Resource takes pride in using trusted technologies, Neucom is constantly striving for improvement, pushing the boundries of science. The two industry giants answer to NUN [New United Nations] but at the same time they're plotting against each other to ensure they come on top. UPEO with their military technology, takes the role of a peacekeeper and when corporations go to war, it's up to UPEO to eliminate the threat.


It seems that people at Namco Hometek couldn't be bothered with translating everything so what they did was cut out the majority of storyline and left the gameplay. Japanese version of Ace Combat 3 puts alot of emphasis on building up the story. There are anime cutscenes between missions, we get calls from other pilots, we can watch news reports and mission briefings are much more detailed. All we get in the english version is some text based intel before departure and that's pretty much it. If this wasn't enough, english version of the game offers 36 missions on one disc, while the Japanese version has 52 missions featured on two discs packed with top shelve storytelling.


As if all the extra ingame content wasn't enough, inside the game case is a thirty page long booklet called "Ace Combat 3 Electrosphere Portfolio Photosphere". Here we can find out a bit more about General Resource, Neucom, UPEO, various game characters, fighter planes and the Electosphere itself. The book starts off with describing the world as it is today and then gives us some insight into each of the companies. Later we get to read some character presentations, some of them being personal thoughts, other being interviews. Everything is printed on a high quality paper with ocasional silver lettering or outline. Except for the Photosphere we also get a full color 26 page instruction manual.


The game itself looks amazing. Namco used the same engine they developed for Ridge Racer Type 4 and even though Ace Combat 3, being a large open space game, can't show the technology off like R4 can, AC3 is still capable of producing some impressive visuals. You'll see the hot air coming from the aircraft engines distorting the image, you'll see some nice light reflections on the ocean surface, you'll see lens flares and you'll see gouraud shading on the planes. This plus much much more makes Ace Combat 3 into a masterpiece.


The sound doesn't dissapoint either. If you liked the soundtrack for Ridge Racer Type 4, you won't have anything to complain about. Guitars from previous games are replaced with some nice electronica, ambient and funk. You'll want to play through the game just to hear all of the tunes, I can guarantee it. Namco can produce a great soundtrack and music from AC3 is on my top ten Namco soundtrack list.


Years '96 through '99 were the best years Namco had. They produced some amazing games with feel and design still unmatched by their later releases. Soul Edge, Tekken 3, Ridge Racer Type 4 and Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere are what it was all about. If you had a console back then, it was NamcoStation. Nowdays I find new Ridge Racer or Tekken games less and less appealing. I won't say that Namco lost its touch, but something is missing. Something they figured out back then, but seem to have forgotten what it was.


Times have changed, new hardware arrived and Namco is still going strong, but if you're looking for gameplay at its best, do yourself a favor and import Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere and play it like it should be played, with the storyline intact. It's far more elaborate than what Namco did for Type 4 and I assure you - you're missing out.

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