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The Gameslinger's blog, Games Obscura, is a blog dedicated to covering strange, obscure, underrated and overlooked games. Some games covered are amazing games that were simply overlooked or forgotten. Some are flawed or poorly received, yet have interesting aspects or concepts that make them worth a second look. Others are downright weird; but fun and interesting, too. In any case, all are worth digging up and taking a second look at, and that's what this blog is all about: In-depth second looks at games that are worth rediscovering, for one reason or another.

I take requests and suggestions! If you know a game that was underrated, obscure, strange, overlooked or poorly received, and you think that it is worth discovering and giving a good second chance, then let me know!

Send any requests or suggestions to: gamesobscura@hotmail.com

You can also leave suggestions in the comments section, or send them to me via a PM.

Feel free to browse through all my articles; the material in them generally isn't time-sensitive, and I check comments on all of my articles, new and old!
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Details:

Title: Kinetica

Developer: SCE Santa Monica Studio

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America

Platform: PlayStation 2

Release Date: October 14th, 2001 (N.A.)


Cover art for Kinetica.

What is This Game?

Kinetica was a blazing fast, sexily sleek and just plain beautiful futuristic racer, released relatively near the outset of the PlayStation 2 era; at a time when futuristic racers were still a somewhat popular niche within the racing genre. Kinetica stood out from the crowd for a number of very good reasons; an excellent sense of speed, great track design, beautiful visuals and design work, an amazing electronic soundtrack, generally great gameplay, and a truly unique set of characters based off of a highly creative, cool and appealing concept…..that the racers themselves WERE the vehicles. That is to say that, in Kinetica, you’re racers aren’t contained in some kind of vehicle; instead, the racing machine is literally a part of them. Wearing “kinetic suits” with wheels and machinery attached directly to them, and scant amounts of armor to protect (or inhibit) them save for helmets and a few other steel parts, the racers of Kinetica blaze around, right-side up, upside down, up, down and everything in between, through gorgeous futuristic land and city scapes, while performing stunts and duking it out in tense neck-and-neck battles for victory. Kinetica takes place in a beautifully realized futuristic setting, filled with everything from neon cyberpunk cities to desolate wastelands, and the cast of racers are some of the most genuinely cool, creative and appealing, I’d wager, in nearly any racing game out there; thanks largely in part to the fact that you are really playing as THEM, since they are the vehicles, after all. Pile on top of this some positively awesome track design and a mercilessly satisfying level of challenge, and you’ve got an often-overlooking futuristic racer that any fan of the sub-genre, or racing games in general, owes it to themselves to go back and take a real second look at……


Kinetica is a racing experience unlike any other. Get ready for an edge of your seat ride....

Introduction:

I’m a long-time fan of the futuristic racing sub-genre; ever since I picked up F-Zero X for my N64, I was utterly and hopelessly in love with this niche genre-within-a-genre. The blistering speed, the futuristic settings, the thumping techno and rock soundtracks and the ludicrously over-the-top track designs that were staples of the genre…..I loved the whole thing. THIS was intense, and downright fun, racing. After F-Zero X turned me on to the sub-genre, I was hooked, and it quickly became a favorite of mine.

Though futuristic racers were never a sub-genre that enjoyed huge popularity, they did have a bit of a heyday, from around the middle of the 32/64-bit generation to sometime around the middle of the PlayStation 2 era, when they hit their stride and found a niche. During this time, a healthy amount of very interesting and unique racers were released….

Right around the middle of this “heyday” was when Kinetica was released, about a year into the PS2’s lifecycle. Released alongside another futuristic racer, Extreme G 3, Kinetica was one of the first games of its kind on the system, and is still one of the very best. I was drawn to it, personally, by my love for the futuristic racing niche, but even more so for its strikingly unique premise and style. The concept and sharp, sleek look of its characters (who were, indeed, the vehicles themselves) was incredibly cool and fit right in with the extreme, cutting edge appeal of the sub-genre; and the whole game oozed style and creativity in every screenshot and piece of artwork I saw for it. When it met with a positive critical reception as well, it was very clear this was a game I, as a huge fan of futuristic racers, simply could not miss.

I was not disappointed, and when I did get my hands on Kinetica, I was instantly in love with it. As a fan, this was the best futuristic racer I’d played since F-Zero X, and probably a game of even cooler style and and an even more imaginative premise. With a good amount of content and a very stiff challenge, I was hooked on Kinetica for a long time as I squeezed every last bit of gameplay out of it, determined to dominate each race (a serious task for a game as tough and unforgiving on its harder courses as this one).

Kinetica is, frankly, a damn cool title, and a really good game. And it’s too bad, then, that the game has been largely forgotten over the years…..much as the futuristic racing niche itself has been, really. While Kinetica enjoyed critical praise upon its release, the title never really caught on, and what could have become a promising new IP slowly faded into the background and was forgotten. But, for those who never experienced it, it still isn’t too late to go back and give this great game a second look. Fans of the lost  sub-genre of futuristic racing, racing in general, vivid sci-fi settings or, frankly, any game that is just stylish, fun, challenging and downright cool, read on: Kinetica is one title very much worth discovering.....


Kinetica's unique brand of racing, where the racers ARE the vehicles, makes for a truly original and wild racing experience.

History, Release and Reception:

Kinetica was developed by SCE Santa Monica Studio, a game development branch of Sony Computer Entertainment based out of Santa Monica, California, as a branch of SCE Worldwide Studios. The studio was founded in 1999, on the eve of the PlayStation 2’s arrival, with the purpose of developing new and revolutionary first-party titles exclusive to Sony’s upcoming juggernaut. In the coming generation, SCE Santa Monica would become a major player in game development for Sony, tasked with development of some huge first party exclusives over the life of the PS2 and, eventually, the PS3.

But before it truly became one of Sony's greatest assets, SCE Santa Monica began with work on a new game for PlayStation 2, running on a powerful next-gen game engine of its own in-house development: that game was Kinetica, and that engine was, appropriately named, the Kinetica game engine; an engine that would see a lot of use in Sony’s AAA first party titles in the years to come.


Sony Santa Monica Studio was conceived in 1999, as a development branch for first party Sony titles. They developed the Kinetica game engine, which was actually first seen in the non-Sony Santa Monica developed Twisted Metal Black, and then a few months later, in its namesake game, Kinetica.

In fact, Kinetica was not the first title released to be powered by the Kinetica engine….it was another Sony-published title, and one of the PS2’s first real killer-apps: Twisted Metal Black, developed by Incognito Entertainment. Released in June 2001, a few months before Kinetica itself, the game was an early example of what SCE Santa Monica’s handiwork was capable of.

It wasn’t until a few months later, in October of 2001, when SCE Santa Monica would show the world what they’d be developing with their new game engine; and in October, Sony released the first title to be developed by the up-and-coming SCE Santa Monica development branch. Kinetica, of course, was that game. Kinetica saw very favorable coverage and reception from the press upon its release, with most reviews from major sources ranging from good to excellent; likewise, the game was released very close to another futuristic racer of similar concept: Extreme G 3, the 3rd installment of Acclaim Entertainment’s modestly successful series that saw its first two entries on the N64, and was now making the jump to PS2 and GameCube. Released little over a month and a half after the late August PS2 release of Extreme G 3 (and little under a month before its November GameCube release), Kinetica found itself frequently in direct comparison and competition from most publications and websites with Extreme G 3.


Kinetica's (pictured right) release date placed it in direct competition with another futuristic racer; Extreme G 3. (pictured left) In the end, both titles fared very well with critics, and were met with similarly positive receptions.

But, though Extreme G 3 was part of an established and moderately successful franchise, and fared very well with most critics, Kinetica was neck-and-neck with the game critically. Nearly all major video game websites and magazines praised Kinetica; GameSpy gave it an 85 out of 100, while Game Informer and IGN both awarded the game an 8 out of 10, with IGN calling it “one of the most original racing games you’re going to find on a console.” Meanwhile, Official U.S. Playstation Magazine rated the game an exceptional 4.5 “discs” out of 5. And gaming website GameZone has even gone as far as saying it “practically annihilates Extreme G 3 and the last two F-Zero games.”  A small percentage of other sources gave the game slightly lower scores, in the above-average range, including Game Pro, who rated the game a 3.5 out of 5, and Gamespot, who gave Kinetica a 7 out of 10. Kinetica had almost no unfavorable reviews to speak of from major sources, with the single exception being Play Magazine’s review, the lone oddity which gave Kinetica a 2.5 out of 5.

Kinetica fared very well with the gaming press, but, while not a financial failure, it never achieved particularly great success or popularity in terms of sales or awareness upon its release, and soon faded into general obscurity. SCE Santa Monica, on the other hand, and the Kinetica game engine, moved on to great successes and popularity. Using the Kinetica game engine, SCE Santa Monica went on to create two of Sony’s most successful series of the PS2 era; the Jak and Daxter series and the God of War titles. In addition, SCE Santa Monica’s popular PS2 engine was used in a number of successful Sony titles not developed by SCE Santa Monica, including the SOCOM series, Wipeout Fusion and Sly Cooper. SCE Santa Monica itself became one of Sony’s biggest players after the huge success of the Jak and Daxer and God of War titles. The development house was given more status and responsibility by Sony, especially into the PS3 era, and an external development branch was added to SCE Santa Monica, which funds and supports the development of an array of games, including many titles from independent developers……such as some of Sony’s biggest indie game releases like Flower, Fat Princess and Journey.


Sony Santa Monica has gone on to create and fund some of Sony's biggest first-party titles of the PS2 and PS3 eras.

Unfortunately, though, amongst the studio’s rising success, Kinetica, its first game, has been left in the dust and largely forgotten, by both gamers and seemingly the developer itself. While SCE Santa Monica has gone on to great things and made a slew of exceptional games since that have met with much greater popularity and success, it is well worth going back to their beginning to experience this inspired and original game.......


Sony Santa Monica has moved on to great success, but Kinetica has been left behind by the studio and most gamers....however, this title is as fun and high-quality as their best works, and is deserving of a second look....

The Game:

Flaws:

Kinetica is a well-made, polished game on the whole, and so there isn’t much bad to say about it, nor are there any kind of major flaws that were the cause of what held it back or kept it in obscurity. That said, there are a few quips to address before we discuss the bulk of the game, which is excellent overall.

One strike I could issue against the game is that, especially with later tracks/races, the game can feel a bit “trial and error” sometimes, and chances are that you’ll spend a good amount of time replaying some of them to learn memorize track layouts and seek out shortcuts before you can really work on kicking ass in these later races. This is not a huge flaw with Kinetica, though, and is honestly something you could say about very many racing titles…..it’s a bit of a double-edged sword, where one side of it is that “practice makes perfect” and you don’t want tracks or races that are too simple, but the other side is that this can lead to repeat plays that begin to feel like trial and error more than practice. Still, it’s not a thing that ever becomes a huge issue in the game, and more often the need to replay for perfection is a result of the game’s stiff and satisfying level of challenge than simply “trial and error” game design.


Some tracks are rather complex, and will require some practice to dominate them.

On that note, one thing that may deter players is that Kinetica has a very steep learning curve, and in particular, learning to effectively control your racers can take a bit of time. Don’t expect to be great at the game right when you jump in, as you’ll likely find the controls are a bit tough to master and that you’ll need some practice to maintain tight control over your character on the game’s wild tracks. The computer AI is pretty unforgiving as well, and races will usually wind up neck and neck; so the learning curve associated with the game could be a potential turn-off for some gamers.

While the game does have a satisfying enough amount of content, the other thing worth noting is a general lack of different modes to mix things up…..there’s not much beyond the core racing/career mode besides a (albeit helpful) practice mode and split-screen multiplayer, as well as an obligatory single race option. This isn’t a huge issue, but the game could have used a bit more content in the form of extra modes or tracks to extend longevity. However, there is still a good amount of content as far as racers, tracks and general core content go, even if it’s not, perhaps, the simply massive amount of content seen in, say, F-Zero X or GX; and the unforgiving challenge will keep you playing and perfecting your techniques for a long time as it is.


A few more modes or seasons would have fleshed out Kinetica a bit more, but as it stands, there is still a satisfying amount of content and extras.


Likewise, the game could have perhaps used a few more offensive weapons in its “pick-up” repertoire to flesh that area out a bit, but I’d say that its simply more that direct “combat” racing isn’t really Kinetica’s style; and the deep and exciting stunt system does more than enough to make up for that.

Outside that, there’s very little to complain about….Kinetica is a brilliantly crafted and great-looking game, but the one minor technical issue is some occasional slowdown in extremely busy moments, specifically when there are numerous racers on screen, and thus a lot of activity, at once. Slowdown is hardly a prevalent issue, however, and never was enough to hurt the actual gameplay or experience.

Besides these small quips and concerns, Kinetica is a great game with a hell of a lot going for it. Sit tight, because this game is definitely a ride worth taking.


Kinetica is a beautiful, original and exceptionally creative game.


Why it’s Worth a Second Look….

Kinetica is an awesome futuristic racer, well worth a second look, especially for fans of the niche, but even for those unfamiliar or impartial to it, as well. A game filled with style, beauty, creativity, challenge and just flat-out fun, Kinetica is a forgotten gem that gamers would do very well to rediscover.

There’s a lot of great stuff to say about this game. For starters, the game is really gorgeous. Especially for a game which came out less than a year after the launch of the PS2, Kinetica looks absolutely marvelous; no doubt a mixture of a quality game engine, solid craftsmanship and, perhaps more than anything, lovingly inspired and creative design. From a technical standpoint, the game looks surprisingly beautiful for its time, and easily holds its own against even later-generation PS2 titles. The Kinetica game engine went on to power some of the PS2’s best, and best-looking, titles, throughout the generation, and Kinetica easily stands right alongside those titles technically. Graphics are smooth, sleek and colorful, with a surprising level of detail, and lack the ugly blemishes of some other early-gen titles such as jaggy edges or generally low polygon or “blocky” models or environments…..again, things look smooth, rounded, detailed and natural; and, basically, just great overall. Likewise, animations look equally great, and in general, the game looks as excellent in motion as it does in stills; better, even. In general, everything moves very fluidly, backgrounds and environments are filled with detail and action, and characters especially move with both swiftness and grace, in all their actions, from simple movements to elaborate stunt maneuvers (an essential part of the part which I’ll detail in a moment). Kinetica is a technically polished and well-made game, and it shows very much in its graphics.


Kinetica's graphics are bright, smooth and vibrant.

Of course, all the technical prowess in the world means little without high quality, creative and exciting visual design, and Kinetica absolutely nails it on this front….Kinetica is filled with immense style and remarkably creative visual design. It’s hard to even know where to start when speaking on Kinetica’s visual design, as it is such a huge and amazing part of the game. The overall look of the game is fresh and unique, and its immensely creative futuristic style permeates throughout the entirety of the game…from its tracks and environments, to its character designs, even throughout its menus, loading screens and various pieces of character and environmental art that highlight the menus and screens outside gameplay.


Kinetica is absolutely bursting with creative and stylish visual design.

The whole design of Kinetica’s world is compelling and filled with imagination and detail. Environments, both the tracks themselves and the areas in while they take place, are bursting with excitement, life and attention to detail. Tracks themselves are intricate, well-designed roller-coaster rides of increasing intensity and challenge, but likewise look sleek, exciting and natural within their environments as well. Tracks are well enough designed that they often feel like (or actually are) an extension of the environment they take place in, not just a roller coaster floating above a landscape or around some skyscrapers, as can sometimes be the case in other futuristic racers. As you race through its tracks, you encounter all manner of futuristic racing challenges; insane jumps, tracks twisting and turning upside down and right side up, massive hills and extreme drops, half-pipes and whole-pipes, loops, and plenty of other extremes one would hope for from a game of its kind. Tracks are well-designed, offering a stiff challenge but with great reward, and make for insane, neck-and-neck, totally extreme racing at all times as you speed through them.

On that note, the world itself in which Kinetica takes place is an exciting amalgamation of different futuristic styles, and the environments themselves in which races take place both reflect and communicate that, creating a game filled with style and atmosphere, taking place in an exciting and unique setting. Kinetica’s futuristic setting mixes a number of styles and different types of environments to create a sleek future setting which blends hard technology with the organic, in a world where both mix and exist as extensions of one-another.  Kinetica’s world is one of towering technology meshed with organic life, with environments including towering neon, cyberpunk cities, vast expanses of desert, and stations high up in the atmosphere and in orbit above Earth. These stylish environments are gorgeous and lovingly rendered, a treat for the eyes as you blast through them at top speed; from the bright neon lights of the city, to the gloomy, mechanical expanses of high atmosphere stations, and plenty of organic and man-made places in between and beyond, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an environment lacking at all in imagination or style in Kinetica.


Tracks mesh well with the environments, and feel like natural extensions of them....and you'll be hard-pressed to find a track or environmental design that is less than excellent.

Character design is just as impressive as that of the environments and world, and is especially critical to what gives Kinetica such a fresh and creative style amongst its peers. One of the coolest things about Kinetica, which extends into the gameplay to make it a truly unique experience, is its amazing and remarkably creative character designs; which are also its vehicles. As I touched on earlier, each character is, essentially, their vehicles, with each of them sporting unique “racing suits” that serve as vehicular extensions of their own bodies. Each character’s design is thoroughly unique and interesting, with both the characters themselves and their suits each being uniquely individual and intricate in their design, and, frankly, just downright cool. From the massive, hulking Vigor, who’s torso extends upright from a motorcycle-machine where his legs would be, to the tiny Xia Covault, one of the characters who’s suit is essentially nothing more than a slightly armored and minimalist outfit with four wheels on the hands and feet, to the mechanical and spider-like appearance of Siba Castron, who’s suit has “limbs” extending to two wheels at her head and feet, the character designs, and the very concept of them, are full of imagination and style. There are a total of 9 characters in Kinetica, but each also has an “alternate” version which is, more or less, something like its own character as well; with an alternate color scheme but also a totally different name, as well. At any rate, Kinetica’s characters are each thoroughly unique and interesting in their design, which scream personality and style, and there is a well-rounded cast of male and female characters, who run the gamut from hulking to sexy to strange; and all are remarkably sleek and full of style, imagination and individuality. Fusing the organic with the mechanical, and making the characters the vehicles was an extremely creative and unique idea, and the idea was pulled off with a remarkable level of sleek, sexy style which made for a concept and visual design that was truly original; and something I’ve still yet to see anything else quite like. There’s no other game with a style quite like Kinetica’s, and the character designs truly are a huge part of what makes Kinetica’s visual appeal something really unique.


Kinetica's character designs are incredibly creative and stylish; these are just a few examples.

Kinetica really is pure style throughout, and even the menus, HUD and 2D character art ooze style. Right from the intro movie before the title screen, Kinetica engulfs you in its sleek, stylish world and doesn’t let you go. Menus are filled with style, and character selection features beautiful 2D art, while all the menus are presented and animated with slick, futuristic style. Even your in-game HUD looks sleek and stylish; it’s honestly hard to find a moment in Kinetica that is not lovingly detailed and presented with pure style and beauty.


Each character has an "alternate" version of themselves to select.


Of course, a great visual experience begs for an excellent aural one to accompany it……and Kinetica is every bit as brilliant in the sound department as it is visually. Sound design is excellent, and accompanies the game’s futuristic stylings perfectly. The severely digitized, almost garbled, sound of the voice with accompanies the player through the menus and gameplay as the sort-of “announcer” lends a unique sound to the game, and the likewise “digitized” screams of crashing racers, sounds just right, lending a strange, robotic sound to things. Sound effects follow suit, with a similar effect to much of them that sounds a bit mechanical, computerized or robotic. Sound design is excellent across the board, but but speaking of the aural design, one of the greatest highlights of the game is the excellent musical soundtrack…..


Kinetica features incredibly stylish visuals, great sound design and an absolutely excellent electronic soundtrack. The game's intro features just a sample of the aural and visual excellence you can expect.

Made up of an excellent and varied selection of electronic music across a number of electronic genres such as trance and house, Kinetica’s musical soundtrack is nothing short of phenomenal, featuring an amazing selection of licensed tracks from unique electronic artists including Hybrid, Way Out West and Meeker, amongst others. With a variety of both vocal and instrumental tracks always pumping through the menus and the gameplay, Kinetica’s excellent soundtrack, alongside its brilliant visuals, does so much to keep you immersed in the game’s constant stream of pure style. There simply is not a bad track amongst Kinetica’s musical selection, and its soundtrack both fits the game and adds to its futuristic style immensely, while simultaneously being excellent music all on its own. To call Kinetica’s soundtrack great would be an understatement; it isn’t just a great soundtrack, it’s a huge part of the game which adds to its style and entertainment value.


Kinetica's soundtrack is sublime and fits the game to a tee. Featuring a range of licensed electronic musical tracks of various stylings, it is truly a feast for the ears. Here's a sample, and you'll find more in the links after the video.

Both visually and aurally, Kinetica is a knock-out. Its smooth style and the way it combines its visual and aural elements to create a game where the style permeates throughout the entire experience with such grace and effortless skill is something remarkable. I’d compare this excellent weaving of pure style into the game to the likes of Jet Set Radio, to reference a game of similar visual and aural excellence which similarly weaves an expertly stylish experience through the brilliant and seamless meshing of its audio and visuals with gameplay.

Of course, all the style in the world would be wasted were Kinetica not a fun game to play……but I’m happy to say that Kinetica’s amazingly stylish presentation accompanies a fun, intense and challenging gameplay experience, as well.

Kinetica features a grand total of 15 tracks spread across 3 “seasons,” and, as I previously stated, a total of 9 main racers (3 of which are unlockable), each with their own alternate personality of sorts, with a different name, color scheme, etc. In a simpler or easier game, this might not sound like a particularly large amount of content, but Kinetica demands practice and perfection, and has a unforgiving learning curve and difficulty that make it very tough to just jump in and start winning. You’ll practice and perfect your skills with your favorite racers for a good, long while before you’ll truly dominate Kinetica, and this is one of the greatest strengths of the game. Never was I dissatisfied or angry with the stiff challenge of Kinetica; on the contrary, it was one of my favorite things about it. I don’t like feeling like the computer AI is cheap, but I dislike even more the feeling that I’m just flying by the competition in a racer of any type…..and Kinetica balances a grueling, unforgiving challenge without ever feeling cheap or hopelessly impossible to create an extremely challenging but immensely satisfying racing experience. You’ll be retrying the game’s toughest courses for perfection and the first place position many times, over many weeks or even months, but it’s not frustrating…it's exhilarating. And when you finally do dominate them, the satisfaction is immense. Kinetica’s stiff challenge is truly a great strength.


Kinetica offers a stiff challenge, and practice will make perfect.....expect to find yourself fighting for victory, especially on the harder tracks.

Touching back on track and racer design for a moment, it’s certainly worth revisiting the subject to emphasize that they are designed just as well from a gameplay standpoint as they are visually. While I went into some detail on them from this perspective earlier, it’s worth reiterating, on the subject of gameplay, just how well-designed and balanced the collection of racers and tracks are. Each track felt like a unique challenge, and while even the first series of tracks will put you to the test, the later ones will push you right to the brink……when I finally placed first in the last track of the final series, it was after months of practice and still in a neck-and-neck battle to the finish….and the challenge and awesome design of the tracks has a lot of to do with Kinetica’s tough but rewarding challenge…..and furthermore, they’re all just plain cool, intense and fun. I had a blast racing through all of Kinetica’s tracks; I’d honestly say there’s not a low-light in the bunch, with each providing a unique and balanced place amongst the selection. The length and structure of tracks provides a constantly intense challenge, without ever dragging on too long….races are quick affairs of a just a few laps, but never feel too short, either, partially because each one provides a unique burst of challenge and entertainment, and few dull moments at all. Racing through a variety of exciting environments adds to the experience, but the intensity and excitement of the tracks themselves, with a constant assault of huge hills and long drops, jumps, loops, half and whole pipes and so many other exciting and intense features, is at the core of Kinetica’s excellent gameplay…..great track design in a racer is essential, and Kinetica nails it.


Tracks are intense and intricately designed. There's rarely a dull moment on any of them.

Next to the tracks, the other truly integral part of any racing game is, of course, its racers. And just like its tracks, Kinetica’s racers are as well-rounded, balanced, varied and fun to control, as they are visually striking and imaginative. Just as each character has a strikingly unique persona and design, each also feels unique to play as, with their own strengths and weakness, and equal out to a cast that is as well-rounded playably as they are visually. This is a game where you’ll have to truly find “your character” and learn to dominate with them, as each character’s strengths and weaknesses vary widely enough that mastering your favorite racers is integral to ultimately winning.

Excellent track and character design and balance contribute heavily to some truly great gameplay, which is rounded and perfected by several other essential elements which solidify Kinetica as a great and unique futuristic racing experience. The computer AI is likewise well-balanced, equally intelligent while never feeling cheap. The computer AI is tough-as-nails, but doesn’t feel superhuman, and while races, especially later ones, are guaranteed to be neck-and-neck, this is, again, due to quality game design made with a satisfying, if unforgiving, challenge in mind, and not simply cheap, “slingshotting” computer AI seen in some racers.


Completing a season with a character will reveal their appearance without their kinetic suit.

Sharp gameplay would be hard to achieve in a game such as this without adequate controls, and thankfully Kinetica’s controls strike the perfect balance of “easy to learn, tough to master.” Controls all feel natural, but learning to control your racers perfectly will prove a challenge worthy of practice and concentration…..and this works well for the game. Learning to properly time moves and stunts, and corner effectively, amongst other techniques, is what will lead to mastery of your racers, and victory. More than likely, when you jump into your first race, you’ll notice right away that the controls have a feeling of required precision, and that cornering and navigating tighter parts of tracks requires thought and precise control. For Kinetica, its precise yet challenging control scheme fits the game like a glove, and gives the player a sensation that feels very true to its subject matter…..which is to say that, the precise yet challenging controls give a sensation that feels “true” to the intense experience of controlling its racers in their kinetic body suit at high speeds.

Other core elements of racing in Kinetica include stunts and boosting, both of which can be essential to winning when used properly. You’ll encounter on each track “boost strips” of differing size and length, that will let you either immediately gain a quick boost as you go over them, or will let you "siphon" boost from them to save for the right moment later on. The other way to gain boost is by performing various stunts throughout the race; stunts can be performed at any time, but will slow you down as you do them, and severely limit control/steering of your character, so it is important to time them correctly. Performing stunts is a unique and well-implemented element of gameplay that both becomes essential to racing and cleverly adds another layer of style to Kinetica’s already immensely stylish racing experience.


The almost acrobatic nature of racing in Kinetica strongly contributes to the sense of style.

Of similar important to stunts and boost, are also the “crystals” you’ll collect throughout races, and the offensive and defensive effects they will yield to aid you in getting the upper hand. Typically, collecting five orange crystals, or one purple one, will randomly give you one of several effects to use. Including such things as a super-boost or the ability to electrocute your opponents, slowing them to a crawl, this element adds just enough extra flavor to Kinetica to really round out its competitive racing experience.

Also worthy of mention is the game’s two-player split-screen mode, which works well and plays smoothly throughout, even with the occasional slow down. Overall, this mode manages to replicate the standard feel of a single player race in Kinetica without feeling dumbed down or inferior; another element many racers can struggle with at times.

Cleverly fusing its sleek and constant sense of style with its edge-of-your-seat gameplay creates an absorbingly stylish and enjoyable game across the board, and Kinetica nails the balance of style and fun like few others manage to do. I can think of few games with such an emphasis on pure style and gameplay the way Kinetica has it, which likewise manage to so seamlessly merge that style with the entire experience, including the gameplay itself. You’ll not encounter much plot during Kinetica, but this is no weakness: Kinetica is all about pure style and gameplay, and truly, it’s a strength that it doesn’t try to shoehorn in too many story elements, which in a game of its nature, can often feel tacked-on, contrived or just silly. What’s more impressive is that Kinetica simply lets the entire experience speak for itself in that way; there’s no need for long monologues or story sequences to explain Kinetica’s world and characters, because all its stylish visual, aural and gameplay elements are so well-implemented that they simply speak for themselves, and manage to absorb you in Kinetica’s world in a much more subtle and effective way.


Kinetica is a well-rounded and absorbingly stylish racing experience.


In Conclusion….

Kinetica is a game of immense style and intense gameplay, crafted expertly to create an absorbing and truly unique racing experience…..and the fact that it managed to slip through the cracks and fade away into obscurity, even amongst its studio’s success, is a shame. Sony Santa Monica has since gone on to great success, heading up development of some of Sony’s biggest exclusives on both the PS2 and PS3, but it’s worth taking a look back at where they came from to discover Kinetica; a game every bit as solid as their more popular titles, which is still one of the most unique and purely stylish racing experiences on any console. Kinetica is an inspired, stylish, addictive and extremely original game, and not just that, but one that has aged remarkably well, and remains gorgeous and thoroughly enjoyable, as much today as when it was released. Few games achieve a level of pure style the way Kinetica does, and even fewer merge that so well with great gameplay…..but Kinetica skillfully succeeds in a way few others manage. If you’re one who misses the lost genre of futuristic racing, and have yet to experience Kinetica, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to pass over this hidden gem any longer. Kinetica can be found for relatively expensive prices today, and is still one of the best and most unique entries in this sadly forgotten sub-genre of racing. Fans of futuristic racers, or just those looking for a game that is fun, stylish and just flat-out cool, should make a point of it to experience Kinetica. The futuristic racing sub-genre may have been left in the dust these past several years, but Kinetica is a relic of this forgotten niche that begs to be rediscovered…..one of the most purely stylish and just-plain-cool racers out there. Kinetica is every bit as fun, stylish and unique as the day it was released…..a true stand-out title in a lost gaming niche, and an expertly-crafted, and downright cool, game that deserves to be dragged out of obscurity.


Kinetica is perhaps one of futuristic racing's most unique, fun and stylish titles; and any fan of this niche sub-genre should make sure to check out this forgotten classic.

Who Should Play It?

Any fan of futuristic racing games, or racing games in general. Those who really appreciate a strong and absorbing sense of style in their games; especially those with a love of great visual and audio design. Fans of sci-fi settings, especially cyberpunk-style ones, or even fans of electronic music. Gamers looking for a unique, fun and challenging racing experience.










Details:

Title: Data-Fly

Developer: ORiGO Games

Publisher: TBA/potentially ORiGO Games

Platforms: Xbox 360 (possibly cancelled), PlayStation 3

Target Release Date: To be announced/none

Status: Development sporadic/stalled; without official publisher; possibly to be self-published


Title image for Data-Fly.

What Is This Game?

Perhaps one of the most fascinatingly obscure console titles to never be released this past generation, Data-Fly was to be, from what information was revealed of it, a 3rd-person stealth action/adventure title. Set in a coldly technological future, Data-Fly’s world is one of heavy emphasis on computerization, nanotechnology and cybernetics, with a look of cold sleekness akin to something along the lines of the Aeon Flux world. Data-Fly places the player in the role of the title character, Data-Fly, an artificially-intelligent, nanotech lifeform. As the game begins, the player finds themselves, as our lead character, in the middle of the barren Salted Desert; a desert that was, long ago, the floor of a deep-sea trench, long since dried up. At the outset, Data-Fly has but one vague directive: to find her creator. However, her objective is more complicated and difficult than it initially seems, and her creator turns out to be very illusive and heavily guarded man. As Data-Fly tracks her creator, she will be lead across her futuristic world, tracking the “creator” through numerous locales, ranging from natural, organic environments to futuristic cityscapes and facilities. And as she pursues him through the sleek, cold, tech-heavy future in which she exists, Data-Fly will have to employ all her skills of stealth, cunning and combat prowess, alongside her unique nanotech abilities, as she closes in on the mysterious creator, in an adventure that will take her across a world filled with slick, highly-advanced technology, techno-organic landscapes and the remaining traces of the natural world left behind by technology.


Data-Fly is a futuristic stealth action title with plenty of personality and potential....but the game has remained in limbo, with limited details released, for several years....

History/Background:

Data-Fly was first formally announced in October 2005, tentatively scheduled for a release on the at-the-time still upcoming consoles of the next-generation, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. With few details about the title initially revealed besides its nature as a stealth action/adventure title, it was one of two titles announced for the next generation by a little-known developer named ORiGO Games; the other title being what was to be the first in an epic RPG series, The Embrace of Time: Chapter One Resurrectio Ocolus. While The Embrace of Time was a project the developer had already informally announced under the title “Project Embrace,” Data-Fly was something that had never been mentioned before.


ORiGO announced its first two games as in development in 2005. Embrace of Time (left) and Data-Fly (right) were both titles ORiGO founder Adam McClard (center) had envisioned and dreamed of creating since as far back as the late 90's, before ORiGO was even founded.... 

It is interesting to learn, then, that, according to ORiGO Games’ Deviant Art page, the title has been in the works since as far back as 1998; two years before ORiGO Gaming Entertainment (the company’s original name) was officially founded in 2000 by company CEO Adam McClard, alongside his co-founder, and vice president, David Klein. A recent graduate of Full Sail University with a degree in Computer Animation, Film and Digital Media, McClard was eager to carve out an important place for himself in the gaming industry, and set his sights to an unlikely place: China. Largely untested water for outsiders, China’s gaming industry was a place many would have seen as an impossible task to infiltrate for somebody not native to the country, but McClard relished the challenge and instead saw an array of creative and business opportunities waiting to be reaped. In 2000, Adam, alongside industry veteran David Klein, established his own company in the Chinese gaming industry: ORiGO Gaming Entertainment was officially founded, based out of Shanghai, China, with a wide range of ambitious goals.

Developing their own titles was just the beginning of McClard’s goals for his fledgling company. McClard’s decision to base his company out of China was a product of some lofty ambitions which began with infiltrating the Chinese gaming industry and developing his own unique titles, but moreover, McClard saw the Chinese gaming industry as a place filled with untapped or unfocused potential and talent, in need of somebody who could help them focus and apply their skills and ideas to make truly great games. With this in mind, one of McClard’s primary objectives, outside of developing his own games, was to help put China and its gaming industry and developers, on a productive track to success by getting their talent and work recognized, and helping to get developer’s games published.


ORiGO was officially founded under the name 'ORiGO Gaming Entertainment' in 2000, by Adam McClard, alongside his co-founder David Klein. A recent graduate, McClard was a young man with big ambitions in the industry; ones both in development of his own games and far beyond....and he set his sights to China, where he saw a trove of opportunity and talent waiting to be reaped....

Rome wasn’t built in a day, however, and while ORiGO was founded in 2000, it wasn’t until 2005, just before the official start of the “next generation,” that ORiGO began to really make a name for itself and make a push for awareness of their company, their goals and their games, on an international level. But with a new generation on the horizon, and number of years prior spent establishing itself in the Chinese gaming industry, it seemed ORiGO’s time to brings its ambitions and games to the world was at hand.

In September of 2005, Adam McClard represented ORiGO in an interview featured on IGN, in which he spoke on and revealed some of the ambitions, intentions and games ORiGO had been working on over the past few years. A relatively small group of just 20 at the time, ORiGO had big plans to grow in size as the industry moved forward over the next few years, and revealed plans to create branches outside of China, partnering with companies in Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. They also spoke on their intentions within the Chinese industry. When questioned on the current state of game development in China, McClard told IGN that “the market internally is running mostly off the sales of MMO titles,” adding that “the market is crumbling itself by producing too much without market strategy, and lack of proper education for their employees.” McClard went on to say “ORiGO is here to assist, we plan on developing an education program first in Shanghai, then throughout China to cover the broad needs and necessities of the importance of learning more proper development methods, and technology skills towards the game market.”

Likewise, on the subject of the Chinese gaming industry and ORiGO’s planned role in helping developers gain the opportunities and recognition they deserve, McClard said "China will grow, and it will grow quickly,” citing Tose Software, Sega, Ubisoft, Konami and EA’s recent interest in the region, and went on to say that the bigger hurdle was China getting its games to outside markets. McClard elaborated, stating that China has been looked down on by the industry in the past, and that getting over such mindsets and securing publishers for talent with ambitious ideas and games would be their biggest challenge in the coming generation; but that China was a market with truly limitless potential just waiting to be tapped. McClard’s views on the prevalence of piracy in China echoed similar sentiments, as well, stating that much of the cause of it involved largely disproportionate pricing in the industry, which did not line-up with the economy or average income of the Chinese people. Thus, this (coupled with the infamous Chinese console ban) was leaving many who wanted to play video games with no choice but to pirate them, as they simply could not afford the cost of purchasing them legally, even when they were available.

It was with these lofty ambitions and inspirations fresh in mind that, just a month later, in October 2005, ORiGO formally announced two titles set for the next generation: the first being The Embrace of Time: Chapter One Resurrectio Ocolus, the RPG they had previous teased as “Project Embrace,” and the latter being our current subject of interest, Data-Fly. Both titles having been in various stages of planning and development since as far back as the late-1990’s, ORiGO was finally beginning to make a name for itself and now seemed like a good time to reveal two works which the company, and Adam McClard, had held a passion for for nearly a decade at the time. With few details on either title released right away, it wasn’t until December, roughly a month after the launch of the Xbox 360 and the official onset of the new generation, that more details on either of ORiGO’s upcoming titles would surface.

While further details on The Embrace of Time remained absent, some more details and insights into Data-Fly appeared in mid-December 2005, detailing some tid-bits on the beginning of the game, a basic outline of its mysterious plot and setting, and revealing some of its stealth-oriented gameplay elements. While details were still a bit scarce on the game, it was still rather soon after its announcement, and it seemed we’d hear more on the game soon….

However, as time passed and the new generation came into full swing, any word on Data-Fly or Embrace of Time remained totally absent, and gamers and the gaming press heard little from ORiGO. Months turned to years, and soon, it was simply assumed by most sources that both games had been unceremoniously cancelled.


After several years of absence, Data-Fly suddenly reappeared in March 2009, with a post on PlayStation Universe's forums by ORiGO and a new teaser site announcing an upcoming teaser trailer and an appearance at the upcoming Game Developer's Conference. Pictured above, the cryptic image released at the time alongside the game's reappearance.

Then, suddenly, in March of 2009, Data-Fly reappeared, as, just weeks before the 2009 GDC (Game Developer’s Conference), ORiGO put up a teaser website for Data-Fly, with a countdown and some cryptic messages eluding to the game’s concept, while promising an all-new trailer for the game soon, and an appearance at Game Developer’s Conference in just a few weeks. ORiGO choose to drop the Data-Fly news via PSU.com’s forums originally, which soon thereafter, as the PlayStation Universe website became aware of the post, lead to the website being the first to break the news; and plenty of speculation from fans that the title may have gone from multi-platform to PlayStation 3 exclusive. ORiGO neither confirmed nor denied this, with their post stating simply that "Because PSU's audience has been most supportive we have decided to post this directly from the source. Keep your eyes open to PSU for the announcement."

ORiGO itself, it appeared, and McClard, had actually been very busy over the past few years, despite the general lack of news or information coming in on the company or its games. In fact, the lack of focus on their own personally developed titles could have had very much to do with all the other tasks McClard had been busying his company and himself with as the generation had moved along. Over the past few years, McClard had been busy making a name for himself in the Chinese gaming arena, and establishing ORiGO as a company focused on one of his closest and most passionate subjects of interest: bringing the Chinese gaming industry to the rest of the world, and helping developers get their games published, their ideas set in motion, and their staff properly trained to create exceptional games.

In the time that had passed, McClard had managed, working in the background, to entrench himself deeply in the gaming industry, especially within China itself. Amongst his accomplishments, in January of 2006, he co-founded the Shanghai division of the IGDA, or International Game Developer’s Association; a non-profit organization with chapters across the world, dedicated to helping game developers with various stages of production and helping them get their ideas and games out to the world. This was just one of McClard’s impressive accomplishments in that timeframe. He’d also founded the Video Game Investment Information Network (VGiiN) in 2007, an organization created to provide investors and similar entities with a better understanding of international video game markets, and to provide video game creators with a platform to be better prepared and educated on investments. In addition, McClard also managed to become the first non-Chinese member of the SISA Shanghai Online Games Committee, and in 2008 began work as an advisor for the Entertainment Media Council, a U.S.-based organization working with the entertainment industry to connect entrepreneurs with business professionals.


While development of Data-Fly and Embrace of Time may have gone silent for several years, ORiGO and McClard had kept very busy over the span of time, becoming further entrenched and more prominent in the industry. Amongst his accomplishments, McClard co-founded the Shanghai division of the IGDA, and also became the first non-Chinese member of the SISA Shanghai Online Games Committee. 


Amidst all this, it appeared ORiGO’s own titles had somewhat fallen by the wayside, but with the new info and the promise of more Data-Fly details to come as GDC 2009 approached, it seemed that the title was back on track. When the Game Developer’s Conference rolled around, ORiGO teased the game with a new “teaser image” as they promised, and soon thereafter, come the beginning of April, ORiGO released a teaser trailer for the game, showing off some of its style, setting and somewhat reworked character designs. McClard commented at the time, stating that ORiGO was “aiming for PS3 as the lead platform, due to the fact the gamers appreciate more original titles on PS3." For obvious reasons, this lead to further speculation that the game had become at least a timed PS3 exclusive, if not a PS3 exclusive entirely. Over the next month, ORiGO kept up with a steady trickle of Data-Fly details, releasing five new pieces of concept art by the end of April, stating that it was “just a sneak peak of what is to come,” and that the new art “barely scratches the surfaces.”


ORiGO followed through with its promise of more Data-Fly at and after GDC....including a teaser image at GDC (pictured above), new concept art and a teaser trailer (below) over the following month.


However, after April 2009, ORiGO again went silent on Data-Fly. It wasn’t until almost two years later, in early April 2011, that anything more was released or revealed about the elusive game. On April 7th, 2011 a slew of concept art for both Data-Fly and the long-since unmentioned Embrace of Time was unceremoniously posted on ORiGO Games’ Deviant Art page, with some interesting and enlightening factoids about both games accompanying the art. Much of the art for both games appeared not to be new art, but instead art created over the past several years, which the company had decided to release for those interested, in consideration of both games’ status as being caught somewhere in limbo. Some revealing tidbits about both games came to light via McClard’s comments accompanying the images, including the first public mention that both games had been originally envisioned as far back as the late 1990’s, and that, specifically in Data-Fly’s case, ORiGO Games still intended to one day see the game through to completion…though the time and date was unknown even to them. It was mentioned that Data-Fly was a work of passion by its creators, and was always intended to be a “pure sci-fi” world and story, one of originality and inspiration, and some interesting designs and names for various environments and enemies were revealed. It seemed there was no planned time for Data-Fly to see release, however, comments made mention that “when the time was right,” Data-Fly and its world would one day be realized. It appeared that while Data-Fly was caught in limbo, the team was still passionate about the title, and confident that one day, their vision would be realized.


A slew of concept art for Data-Fly appeared on ORiGO's Deviant Art page in April 2011. To view all of the art, follow the link below to ORiGO's Deviant Art and view their gallery.
http://origo-games.deviantart.com/

Since then, though, nothing new has been mentioned on Data-Fly. The same cannot be said for ORiGO Games, however.  In the past few years, McClard has continued to advance himself and ORiGO in the industry. ORiGO Games has expanded greatly in recent years, and branches of the company have opened in locations across Asia and North America, including ones in Singapore, Shanghai, China, Seoul, Korea and Bangkok, Thailand in Asia, as well as Los Angeles, California and Baltimore, Maryland in the United States. The company has busied itself over the past few years with one of its primary goals, mostly: helping developers get their games published, and in recent times, has expanded its vision for this goal beyond just China to an international level. Most recently, the company has worked on publishing downloadable titles, including A.R.E.S. Extinction Agenda, and has more titles they will be published soon in the works, including a puzzle-platformer called Beyond Ordinary, and an action side-scroller, Mirage. ORiGO shows no sign of stopping, and most recently, within the past year, changed its official logo to appear as “OR1GO.” While information on Data-Fly has remained absent, the game can still be glimpsed on ORiGO’s official homepage, via a piece of art that scrolls by in its top bar, so it is at least safe to say the game is not forgotten by its creators.


ORiGO has spent its time recently helping smaller indie games get published. A few of the recent games they've worked on publishing (left to right); A.R.E.S Extinction Agenda, Beyond Ordinary and Mirage.

Data-Fly remains in limbo, and many have precluded that it is gone forever, with the title listed as “cancelled” in many places, including GameFAQS. However, Data-Fly is still out there, in some form…..and one can only wonder what such a passionate and intriguing work might have in store for us if it ever truly does come to fruition…..


The Game:

What’s It All About?

Details on Data-Fly have been scarce over the years, but a number of interesting bits have surfaced over time, and while it remains mysterious, there are some revealing details out there.

As stated earlier, Data-Fly has the player take on the role of the title character, Data-Fly, a nanotech, artificially-intelligent life form. Tasked with a lone objective, to “find her creator,” she’ll traverse a futuristic world while hunting the mysterious creator, a heavily guarded and elusive man. The creator is indeed a mysterious figure because, as far we know, at the game’s outset anyways, who he is and why Data-Fly must track him down is unknown, at least to the player, and seemingly to Data-Fly herself. We know Data-Fly will have an interesting array of abilities related to her nanotech make-up and that she will use them as she tracks the creator across the varied expanses of her futuristic world, and that her world appears to be one over-saturated in sleek technology, but also one which appears to have fascinating remnant of a more organic and natural past, and a large world outside the realm of man that is ruled by nature, but infused with technology. The best way to describe Data-Fly’s unique world and style would seem to be as a hybrid of a number of futuristic science fiction styles, including utopian, dystopian, cyberpunk and techno-organic.


Data-Fly combines a number of futuristic sci-fi stylings to create something fresh and fascinating.

On the subject of Data-Fly’s world, the concept art revealed via ORiGO’s Deviant Art page, and its accompanying comments, revealed a good amount about Data-Fly’s world and the environments the player would be exploring and sneaking through. Ranging from the salted sands (a desert that is the remnants of a long-dead ocean), to the vast caverns below them, to more lush settings infusing the primitive and with technology, to the depths of high-tech facilities which litter the lands of the future, to what appears to be high-tech temples and power cores, to the sleek and advanced capital city of Azadeh, and the lands still ruled by nature, filled with lush greenery and organic life beyond, the variety and imagination behind Data-Fly’s world is certainly impressive. And with what we’ve glimpsed being just a sample of its world, one can only imagine what else lies in store in its vast, varied and imaginatively lush futuristic world.


It appears Data-Fly will have no shortage of enemy types; and each appear to be distinct in appearance and abilities.

Data-Fly has also revealed itself to be an immensely stylish game in its character designs, with multiple designs befitting of the game’s interesting look and style, combining sleek technology with the organic. Enemy designs are very interesting, combining cybernetic elements with strangely organic features ranging from humanoid to fish or bird-like. Multiple enemy and boss designs have been revealed, including the mysterious “Light-Bringers,” the human-like “Nanophytes,” the hulking “Nanolysts,” and the sleek “Picerian,” and concept art for the first boss; and while the enemies remain mysterious, they are no doubt befitting of the game’s sleek, cold style. Concept art has likewise revealed natural lifeforms of the Data-Fly world which appear strange and unique. But even more striking and unique is the design of the main character herself. Data-Fly saw two iterations of her design with the same general idea but some pretty big stylistic changes. Upon the game’s original announcement in 2005, her appearance was slightly more “anime-esque,” whereas, upon the game’s reappearance in 2009, our heroine had undergone some stylistic changes giving her a darker, more serious and realistic vibe, with an overall look that remained true to her general design concept, but made her appearance significantly more serious and even slightly (intentionally) more unnatural, with wilder hair and an almost unnatural thinness to her form, which the developers described as a part her design intended to reflect her existence as a nanotech lifeform designed for performance, speed and perfection in her tasks.


While the general idea of her design remained consistent, our heroine saw a large change overall in artistic style between her initial design revealed in 2005 (left) and when the game reemerged in 2009 (right).

Considering the extremely interesting design of the characters, enemies and the world itself, alongside the thus-far mysterious but very intriguing story and setting, it is no stretch to say that Data-Fly has more than enough potential to be an extremely intriguing experience. Equally intriguing is simply the game’s look and style, which is something very much its own, but also seemingly sees inspiration from 80’s and early 90’s sci-fi; a nostalgic throwback which hits a chord with me personally. With a look reminiscent of something like the Aeon Flux animated series, combined with hints of 80’s cyberpunk and sci-fi, as well as both utopian and dystopian futires, and the techno-organic, the game certainly has an appealing style to draw us into its mysterious world. The world looks to be filled with intriguing locales to explore, and no doubt Data-Fly herself, and her mysterious creator, will be fascinating to learn more about, as well as their futuristic world. We can assume, from the mysterious nature of the trailer and story premise, and the seemingly intentionally vague details provided on the characters, world and premise, that it all hints towards an adventure full of mysteries, which, judging by the art, comments and details provided, we’ll unravel for ourselves as the game progresses.


Much of Data-Fly and its world still remains shrouded in mystery.....


How Will It Play?

While details released on Data-Fly have been few and far between, what we’ve heard and seen gives us a very good idea of how the game will play.

Data-Fly is to be, at its core, a stealth-action title. In some ways, Data-Fly does follow a stealth-action formula, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t appear to be very creative and unique; especially considering that stealth-action is a sub-genre that is not over-populated in the first place. In my experience, one could generally divide the stealth-action sub-genre into two more sub-genres of its own: "Tenchu-style” games, which emphasize the “stealth kill,” and center much of their action around eliminating your enemies as you progress. The other would be the “Metal Gear-style,” which places more of an emphasis on the infiltration aspect of stealth, and generally on finding a way past the enemy defenses; with elimination of enemies taking a backseat to sneaking past the defenses altogether, and killing being an auxiliary measure.


Data-Fly has plenty of nanotech abilities she'll use to elude, deceive and combat her foes; seen here, our heroine turning her enemies' mech unit against them.


While it is impossible to say with total certainty how Data-Fly will play, it does appear that the game leans more towards the “Metal Gear-style” of stealth gameplay, with its general theme, along with much of Data-Fly’s techniques, emphasizing infiltration and elusion of the enemy over total elimination of them. This can be assumed by the general lack of emphasis on stealth-based killing or stealth-based violence we’ve heard so far, as well as the details we’ve heard about the title character’s abilities. As a nanotech lifeform, Data-Fly will have the ability, for example, to jack into both manned and unmanned robotic enemy units and control them from afar (a technique called the ‘guardian hack technique’). This technique can be used to confuse and elude enemies, as well as gain access to areas or objects inaccessible to Data-Fly herself.

Our heroine will have a slew of other abilities to take advantage of as well; another revealed thus far is her ability to shape shift into the form of others, allowing her to take on the appearance and form of her enemies. But her ability to replicate and blend in doesn’t end there; likewise, she’ll be able to scan enemies and take on or replicate multiple aspects of them. Data-Fly will, in fact, be able to replicate not just her enemies’ appearances, but also their movements, weapons and even voices, for her own personal use. Similarly, she’ll be able to blend in with her environments, using a chameleon-like ability. While the developers haven’t yet specified all the uses of these abilities, it doesn’t take much to imagine what their primary purposes would be, and the possibilities they make for some really interesting modes of infiltration and deception are things that could make for a very unique and exciting stealth gaming experience.


Through contact, Data-Fly will be able to replicate her enemies, as well as their voices, their movements and their weapons.

This is all in addition to what will most likely be a slew of other nanotech abilities that have been implied but not officially announced; the trailer seems to imply some acrobatic maneuvers for use in stealth and combat, and perhaps even super-speed of some kind. This will be alongside, of course, the standard set of stealth abilities we’d expect; creeping along walls, hiding in and behind objects and walls, etc.

With all the emphasis on stealth and the various abilities and gameplay elements related to it, it’s surprising then to hear how much effort and emphasis ORiGO has placed on the heroine’s combat abilities and proficiency, as well. McClard stated previously that players would be able to play Data-Fly as they choose; either taking a stealth approach, or a more action-oriented one. While the game still appears to emphasize stealth as its main draw, and stealth seems to be encouraged, there is no doubt that the title character has no shortage of combat proficiency when an unavoidable battle approaches or she has alerted her enemies. It seems that Data-Fly will have a hearty selection of combat abilities and weapons at her disposal as well, for use in direct combat situations. One of her main nanotech combat abilities is something called a “body blade”…..a blade generate from her body which can take different forms and form itself in different places around her body to serve her purposes. Likewise, what we’ve seen in the trailer emphasizes her speedy, acrobatic combat techniques, and there’s little doubt that Data-Fly will prove herself to be as capable in combat as she is in stealth. Likewise, her ability to replicate objects and enemies extends to her ability to replicate their weapons….and she’ll increase her arsenal in just that manner, making her a more and more deadly threat in combat.


In addition to stealth techniques, Data-Fly's nanotech make-up provides her with a deadly array of combat abilities and maneuvers.

Naturally, if there was no regulation on the use of her special abilities, it would be easy for Data-Fly to become overpowered, so, as may be expected, special abilities of all kinds will expend energy points. To regenerate your energy points, you’ll need to seek out exposed circuitry in the environments, or the electrical components of defeated enemy units or weapons……essentially encouraging progress to keep your abilities charged up. Furthermore, you’ll use energy points to replenish your weapons and ammunition, and so, to remain effective and capable, you’ll need to progress through the environment and dispatch robotic enemy units or sentries to keep your energy, and abilities, charged up.

It was also revealed via concept art on ORiGO’s Deviant Art page, that the main character will have at least three forms, to compliment different situations and abilities. The three forms are referred to as “Pure,” “Zard,” and “Armed,” each changing her appearance slightly and presenting different aspects which compliment a variety of situations. While the specific aspects and advantages of each form weren’t specified, it appears that “Pure” is her core form, without any added offensive or defensive capabilities, most likely best suited for general stealth situations, while “Armed” appears to be a form with more heavily fortified armor (best most likely for defensive heavy combat situations), and Zard appears to be lightly armored but almost bladed and aggressive….perhaps suited for offensive close-combat situations. These are assumptions, however, and it is not the official word on what exactly each form will entail.


It has been revealed that our heroine will have three main "forms" she can take for dealing with various situations; Pure (left), Armed (center), and Zard (right), as described by McClard; or Life-Line, Nerve and Reptile as the concept art refers to them.

One aspect we’ve seen a good amount of conceptually and artistically, but little on in terms of actual in-game, gameplay-related layouts, is the environments. Environmental design is very important to a stealth title, and can have a large effect on the gameplay and the quality of it; a stealth title must be careful to have environments which compliment stealth, but also don’t seem illogically contrived for the purpose of stealth, or which make sneaking overly easy. A careful balance needs to be achieved to hit to the stealth-gameplay sweet spot. That said, ORiGO seems to know what they are doing, and the variety of environments presented conceptually provide us with glimpses of what has a lot of potential for great variety and excitement in actual gameplay. No doubt the world and environments seem to be very intriguing to discover and learn more about as it is, but the varied locales seem also like ones that will provide exciting variety in gameplay, and which have a lot of potential for varied, fresh and exciting stealth challenges as the game progresses.

On that note, Data-Fly appears to be a game which offers the player a good amount of freedom on how to play, but will progress in a relatively linear way. The game has been confirmed to take place over “stages,” not an in “open-world” fashion, which it sounds like the player will progress through in a semi-linear manner, and choose how to approach the situations presented throughout the stages. There is no word yet on how many stages there will be, however, nor the length of individual stages or the game as a whole, so these are things still purely up for speculation.


Much has been shown of the game's environments conceptually, but we've seen very little in the way of actual level design...

Looking Forward…..

Data-Fly is a fascinating, little-known title from a highly ambitious creator, of which we’ve sadly heard all-too-little about since its initial announcement; so little, in fact, that most sources have, twice now at least, assumed the title was dead and gone, long cancelled…..only for the game to pop up again, in some form, just when it was thought dead. If anything, Data-Fly may have seen few details released, even over what is now approaching almost a decade since it was first announced, but is also a title which is still very alive in its creator’s and developer’s hearts. No doubt, Data-Fly has spent its existence thus far shrouded in ambiguity, and even the actual state of development it is in remains a total mystery, but there is little doubt that ORiGO is as passionate about the title as ever……Adam McClard still appears confident the game will see release one day, eluding on ORiGO’s Deviant Art that the game’s secrets will remain a mystery until “the time is right.”  Likewise, glimpses of the game can be caught even today on ORiGO’s own homepage, making it more than clear that the game may be shrouded in secrecy and caught in limbo, but is still far from lost or forgotten by its creators. While Data-Fly’s fate remains in limbo, there is still hope for the title; ORiGO has silently risen to success in the gaming industry since the game's initial announcement, and as a game its creator has held passionately close to his heart since as far back as its conception in the late 1990’s, it’s safe to say that the game will not go easily forgotten by ORiGO or McClard……and perhaps, when the time is right, we will one day, at last, get the opportunity to experience this mysterious, intriguing and passionate vision of a futuristic world. If and when we ever do, Data-Fly has all the potential to be a very exciting and unique title, and a totally engaging stealth adventure through a mysterious and coldly beautiful futuristic world.


Data-Fly has long been caught in a state of developmental limbo.....but its creators remain passionate about it, and with ORiGO's consistently rising success in the industry, there is still hope that, one day, Data-Fly will finally reveal its mysteries to the world.


Who Should Keep an Eye On It?

Any fan of stealth-action titles. Sci-fi fans, especially those with a love for some of the unique futuristic setting found in 80’s and early 90’s science fiction films, shows and animated series. People with an interest in utopian, dystopian, techno-organic or cyberpunk futuristic settings….this game has elements of each style in it. Those with an eye or interest in passionate or well-realized fictional worlds, and an interest in the mysterious or even artistic side of science fiction.










Details:

Title: Brutish Mine

Developer: Illusion

Publisher: Illusion

Platform: Windows PC

Release Date: September 14th, 2000 (Japan)


Cover art for Brutish Mine.


What is This Game?

Brutish Mine is a 3D, turn-based Japanese RPG, set in the year 2058, in the futuristic metropolis of Kannazawa City. Technology has continued to advance, but the continued destruction and pollution of the environment by humans has led to a number of strange space anomalies, which have resulted in the appearance of aggressive, hostile “monster-like” creatures on Earth. The worst of it, too, is their ability to blend in with human society, with many of the creatures taking the form of humans with superhuman or, seemingly, supernatural, powers . The humans take to calling these monsters “demons.” As the game begins, we glimpse some images of Kannazawa City, and an ominous scene of a blue comet hurdling through space, observed by a mysterious figure in what appears to be a satellite in orbit above the Earth. The scene soon shifts to a young man named Kento, a resident of Kannazawa City, who, while leaving a bar, encounters a “demon” in human form and is nearly killed by it, only to be saved by a young woman named Maki. Maki treats Kento’s wounds and escapes with him, and he soon finds himself at the headquarters of “SPAT,” or “Spirited Attackers” a small rebel organization dedicated to investigating and combating the demons, and the sinister corporation known as “Gaian Global,” which SPAT suspects is somehow at the center of the crisis. Maki, a member of “SPAT,” introduces Kento to the team, and he is soon inducted into their ranks.


Brutish Mine begins with some ominous glimpses of things to come....but the scene quickly shifts to our main characters......

From there, Kento, Maki, and the other members of SPAT adventure and investigate around Kannazawa City, looking for clues and adventuring while combating monsters and the forces of Gaian Global. Brutish Mine plays similarly to many RPGs of the PS1/Dreamcast era, and will no doubt remind players more than a little of the PS1 Final Fantasy entries in gameplay and style. As Kento and the other members of SPAT, you’ll explore every corner Kannazawa City (which most all of the game takes place within), unravel an increasingly sinister story, buy items, weapons and other upgrades, all while building your character’s stats to your liking on your quest to discover the dark secrets of Kannazawa City, Gaian Global and the so-called demons.


Kento is assaulted by a mysterious thug and his minions, who turn out to be of inhuman strength, but makes a narrow escape when he is rescued by the beautiful Maki. Soon after, he finds himself inducted into the rebel organization known as SPAT.....

With a story and style which infuses cyberpunk and fantasy/scifi with dark horror themes and hints of both realism and anime-styles in its art and character designs, Brutish Mine has a style which is somewhat reminiscent of the Final Fantasy series, yet still uniquely something its own, with a number of interesting inspirations coming together to create something very interesting, attractive and appealing.

Oh, and did I mention that Brutish Mine is technically a hentai game?

I didn’t scare you off there, did I? Now that the notion of taking a second look at a hentai game probably has some of you ready to walk away in disgust, others drooling with anticipation, and many more probably wondering just what the hell I’m thinking, I’d like to say this is the time to, as part of the theme always is here at Games Obscura, put aside any preconceived notions you may have about this game, as we take a good, honest second look at this forgotten gem. Brutish Mine is more than one might think upon first impression, and is a surprisingly well-made, great-looking, enjoyable, intriguing and totally overlooked piece of forgotten Japanese RPG lore.


Yep, that's right.....Brutish Mine is, technically, a "hentai" game......but don't make any assumptions just yet. This isn't your typical "adult" title, and there is actually an impressive and well-made RPG lying behind that dreaded "18-plus" label......

Introduction:

Brutish Mine was released solely in Japan in 2000 and, no doubt due largely in part to its “adult” content, got very limited attention, especially outside Japan, where it never really had a prayer of seeing an official release. It’s safe to say I’d heard nothing about it personally until a number of years later, in 2005, when my quest for the most obscure of PC games from Japan led me to a slew of hentai or otherwise 18-plus releases that had, naturally, never made it off the shores of Japan. While the majority of these titles pretty much fit the general stereotype of Japanese h-games, being either generally low-quality or long-winded and monotonous visual-novels with next-to-nothing in the way of gameplay or interactivity, a few surprisingly interesting titles popped out that didn’t quite fit that unfavorable bill. Most prominent were the games of a publisher/developer by the name of Illusion, a company whose line-up of games were shockingly high-quality and well-produced, and even more importantly, appeared to be genuinely creative and fun games, spanning a surprisingly ambitious variety of genres. And while some of their titles appeared to be straight-up erotic games, many others looked to be something quite substantially more.

Out of their library of titles I’d never before heard of, Brutish Mine stood out to me in particular. It looked very far from the stereotypical hentai game I’d expect and, in fact, had me second guessing upon first glance if this fascinating, bright and beautiful-looking game, with its impressive 3D graphics, gorgeous prerendered cinemas, addictive RPG gameplay and genuinely interesting setting and story, was, in fact, a “hentai” game. It didn’t quite fit the stereotype, for sure, and even upon beginning my actual playthrough of the game, I was surprised to find that this game, right from the outset, was something different and, honestly, much more, than what I or most people would expect from a game labeled as “hentai” or “erotic.” In fact, one thing that really struck me was the game’s surprising LACK of focus on its erotic or pornographic elements, which were surprisingly few and far-between, and its much greater interest in telling a story, creating an interesting world and ultimately making a game that was a genuinely interesting, fun and engaging RPG experience.

Whether you’re preconceived notions of games labeled as “hentai” or “adult” be positive, negative, or somewhere in-between, I honestly encourage you to put them aside and approach Brutish Mine with a fresh, clear outlook and mindset. Brutish Mine just may surprise you and, especially for fans of classic Japanese RPGs, Brutish Mine is a pleasant surprise to be discovered.


Almost completely void of any mainstream awareness in the gaming community, due in part to its "adult" status, Brutish Mine is as obscure as they come. But this title begs a second look from any fan of classic turn-based RPGs.....

History, Release and Reception:

Brutish Mine was developed and published by Illusion, a Japanese PC gaming software company that, while never having released a single game outside Japan (due largely to the adult and somewhat controversial nature of their titles), has managed to gain a degree of infamy outside of Japan in the past several years due somewhat to word-of-mouth amongst fans and the generally unusual high quality of their titles. But perhaps much more so due to a string of negative controversy which haunted the company when certain audiences outside Japan became aware of some content in a couple of their more potentially-offensive titles.

Although Illusion grew into quite respectable prominence within the “adult” Japanese PC gaming field, it began a bit more humbly in the early 1990’s. In fact, their first title did not feature any of the “adult” elements that became a staple of the company’s releases. The first in a string of releases for the NEC PC-98, “Angel Army,” the developer/publisher’s very first game, was released on April 1st, 1993. A turn-based strategy/war game featuring bright anime character designs and art, Angel Army featured none of the sexual content of the company’s later releases. Just a few months later, the first game to feature their signature blend of established gaming genres with erotic scenes was released on August 27th, 1993; a 2D platformer called Sei Senshi Mokkoriman.


Illusion released its first game in 1993, a strategy/war game titled Angel Army (pictured above). Angel Army is, to date, Illusion's only game not to featured any "adult" content, and was also the first in a long list of releases from Illusion for the NEC PC-98.

The stark difference in genres and content between their first two releases was already indicative of the company’s fascination with genre experimentation, and willingness to work with different genres. In the coming years, they would continue to establish what would become a staple of their company: releases which experimented across a variety of genres, and created polished and well-rounded gameplay experiences, while implementing adult content or scenes into the games. Amongst a slew of continuing releases for the PC-98 over the following few years were a selection of titles featuring Mokkoriman, including Mokkoriman RPG (an RPG featuring Mokkoriman), Ai no Omochashi: Space Gigolo – Red Cobra (a Space Harrier-esque 3rd-person space shooter), and Ranko Nyotai Tsuri: Mokkoriman no Nani de Nushi Tsuri (a fishing game….yep, that’s right), alongside a number of other titles, such as Ura Mansion, Hakkin, Kankin, Hyoryu and several other “visual novel” style games; a genre which Illusion would soon distance itself from completely, in the interest of taking on a range of genres, gameplay styles and innovations unique to the Japanese adult gaming niche.

In 1997, Illusion released Des Blood, the first in a series that would become a staple of the company, and would ultimately be the series that put them on the map, as a sort of centerpiece of the company’s philosophy on game design and adult gaming in general. While the original Des Blood game was a first-person adventure game with first person shooting sequences (though not to be confused with a visual novel-style game), Des Blood 2, released the following year, would push the series, and the company, even further toward its ideals of genre experimentation rarely seen in Japanese hentai games, as it implemented a 3rd-person free-roaming style of adventure gameplay with strong ties to the action and survival horror genres.


Beginning in 1997, the Des Blood series marked the beginning of a new era for Illusion, as the company placed an emphasis on genre experimentation and high-end 3D graphics. The Des Blood series itself would prove to be one of Illusion's most successful series of the late 90's and early 2000's.

At any rate, with the beginning of the Des Blood series, 1997 marked the year that Illusion would drastically evolve its games from a technical and game design perspective, to ultimately become the company they would be known as in the years to come. Placing an emphasis on detailed 3D graphics almost unseen in h-games, especially of the time, and opening up to create games in a broad range of genres seen often in gaming, but rarely in adult gaming. Illusion placed high-end graphics and production quality, with games running on their own, in-house 3D engines, as a staple of their releases, going hand-in-hand with a dedication to quality gameplay experiences and a strong relationship with their fans (the company did, and still does, release beta versions of many of their games for fans to openly try out and comment/give suggestions on for the final release), emphasizing itself as an “adult” PC gaming company that was really about quality games for gamers.

Over the course of the next several years, into the 2000’s, Illusion would continue mostly publishing and developing its own games, alongside a few releases which it published for a sort of sister development company by the name of Dreams. Illusion continued to experiment across a variety of genres, and Brutish Mine came about in the year 2000, amidst what were possibly some of the company’s best and most creative years. As the company’s first attempt at a 3D, turn-based RPG, Brutish Mine drew inspiration from some of the genre’s heavy-hitters of the time, including the Final Fantasy series. Indeed, Brutish Mine was, as many of Illusion’s releases at the time, something very unique to the adult gaming niche, but still, its status as a hentai game damned it from the outset to be cast aside by the mainstream. Brutish Mine received very little mainstream attention, naturally, and its release came and went quietly in Japan, with absolutely no attention to speak of at the time outside of Japan.

With very little reception to speak of at the time of its release, Brutish Mine faded into obscurity almost as soon as it was released, and was quickly swept up in the tide of other Illusion releases surrounding it. Illusion continued experimenting across genres, creating everything from action/adventure games (2001's Requiem Hurts), to fighting games (2002’s Battle Raper and its sequels), third-person shooters (2004’s A-GA), and even a series similar to DOA Xtreme (the Sexy Beach series, started in 2003 and still seeing installments), alongside a number of sequels and spin-offs to its successful Des Blood series.


The late 90's through the mid-2000's saw a good degree of success for Illusion, and numerous releases from across a wide variety of genres. A few highlights outside Des Blood and Brutish Mine included (pictured left to right) A-GA, Requiem Hurts, the Sexy Beach series, and the Battle Raper series.

It wasn’t until several years after Brutish Mine’s release that it, or most of Illusion’s games, would see any awareness outside of their homeland. But with the rapid expansion of the internet from the early to mid-2000’s, and the advent of considerably faster internet connections, download speeds, files sizes, “torrenting,” and, as part of all this, huge fan communities for niche areas of gaming and all manner of pop culture, Illusion’s games found a niche audience outside of Japan.

Specifically amongst large gaming/anime/Japanese pop culture communities online, Illusion found a very dedicated niche for their games outside Japan. Amongst them, sites such as the massive Hongfire website and its huge, dedicated community did much to bring awareness of Illusion’s games to people, and even saw groups creating English patches for some of their games. By around 2005/2006, Illusion had found a niche outside Japan, thanks to the internet, without even lifting a finger and, seemingly, without much awareness of it themselves. In this time, Brutish Mine itself managed to garner some special attention for its unique qualities, especially amongst communities who were already fans of the Japanese RPG genre.

While Illusion’s sudden popularity amongst this niche ultimately grabbed it popularity and attention where it never would have seen it, it also drew more awareness to the company with audiences outside of its homeland who were not used to, or very accepting of, some of its more controversial titles’ content.


Illusion found a niche audience outside Japan in the mid-2000's, as availability and awareness of its titles became more prevalent amongst niche anime/gaming communities on the internet. However, it didn't take long for this awareness to land Illusion at the center of a very serious controversy, sparked by a game called RapeLay, one of its most potentially-offensive titles.....

Beginning around the time of a controversial review of Illusion’s 2006 title “RapeLay,” on “Something Awful’s” website in 2007, almost a year after the game’s release, Illusion found itself at the center of some serious controversy that came with the sudden mainstream awareness of one of its most potentially offensive titles. Something Awful posted its somewhat-untimely review, expressing horror and disgust at the game’s content, and as the game suddenly hit mainstream awareness, it set off a chain-reaction of controversy and outrage triggered by sudden mainstream attention of the decidedly niche and potentially offensive game. It simultaneously became aware to a number of people, upon heightened awareness of the game, that it was available for purchase on Amazon.com, which lead to outrage from Keith Vaz, a British Member of Parliament, who expressed shock and disgust at the game and its availability for purchase on a mainstream website, subsequently vowing that if it and a number of other “rape-themed” games on Amazon weren’t taken down from the website, the issue would be taken before the British Parliament. Amazon quickly responded, removing all copies of RapeLay, and anything similar, listed by sellers on its website. As the controversy escalated, numerous politicians and other groups from various countries, including the United States, got behind the attack on RapeLay, ultimately lumping what was a game not even meant for distribution outside an of exclusively adult audience in Japan, in with the entire gaming industry, resulting in sweeping statements such as Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s statement that “it appears that there is no antisocial theme too base for some in the video-game industry to exploit,” as well as bans in countries such as Argentina, and a ban of sale by the EOCS (Ethics Organization of Computer Software, an independent Japanese adult gaming ratings board) in Japan, making purchase of title impossible even in Japan.

Illusion’s reaction to the controversy surrounding its seemingly obscure, Japan-only title outside of its country of origin was one of shock and confusion, at the fact that the game had not only generated such an explosive controversy, but that the international mainstream was even aware of it. Defending itself from further backlash or controversy, Illusion cited that it and all its games conformed with Japanese law and were not for distribution outside Japan; and shortly thereafter, removed all references to RapeLay from its website and halted production and distribution of the title entirely.

The entire RapeLay debacle ultimately scared Illusion enough to block viewing of the company’s website to visitors outside Japan for a few years afterward, and served to solidify the company’s intentional isolation from non-Japanese audiences, as the company made sure to drive home the point that its games were not intended for international audiences. As Illusion closed its doors once and for all to the outside world in the latter half of the 2000 decade, it continued with much of the company's previous trends, including high-end production values and 3D graphics, although it moved away from the true genre experimentation of its late 90’s and early 2000’s “heyday,” and more into the realm of games strictly focused on their erotic content. The company has maintained a solid fanbase outside of Japan, however, especially for some it’s most ambitious works of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, who have maintained availability of even the company’s most recent titles to international fans via internet sharing and even English patches.


In more recent years, Illusion, somewhat sadly, moved away from the genre experimentation and innovation of its heyday, sticking more to games focused strictly on their erotic content. Entries in some on-going series have continued, including Artificial Girl 3 (far left) and Sexy Beach Zero (center left), but most of its less sexually-focused titles have been left behind in favor of titles such as HomeMate (center right) and Real Kanojo (far right) that favor flat-out erotica.

In a way, it’s a shame that Illusion’s reputation and, ultimately, its legacy, to most of the world is dominated by the RapeLay controversy. The shadow which this single game and its controversial reputation cast over the company and the rest of its library of titles is a shame because it has ultimately obscured even further a line-up of ambitious and high-quality games which Illusion has produced over almost two decades; a line-up which may fascinate many gamers, even those not interested in “adult” or “hentai” content. Regardless of one’s stance on RapeLay or the controversy surrounding it, it would be a mistake to judge the company and its variety of other releases based solely on one title, and gamer’s may find that many of Illusion’s releases are beyond what they’d expect. For fans of turn-based RPGs, especially those of the Playstation/Dreamcast eras, Brutish Mine should be of particular interest amongst Illusion’s surprisingly impressive library. If you enjoyed the likes of the Playstation Final Fantasy entries, or many of the other RPG greats of the time, and don’t mind the occasional adult content present in several scenes, Brutish Mine is a truly obscure RPG gem waiting to be discovered…..


Brutish Mine, as many of Illusions best titles from the late 90's to mid-2000's, offers up an excellent gaming experience regardless of its adult content. Those with a love for Japanese RPGs have a treat to look forward to in this engaging and satisfying RPG.....


The Game:

Flaws:

Brutish Mine is not a terribly flawed game in most areas, and is a technically well-done and attractive game; if anything, most issues or flaws to be found with it are either subjective, or are a matter of preference or (of course) attitude towards some of its racier content.

That said, there are a few quips on the technical side that are worth mentioning in Brutish Mine. First amongst them is the game’s preset camera angles, which can be a bit awkward at times, occasionally obscuring the proper path to follow or certain objectives, items or objects which otherwise should not be a challenge to find. It’s hardly a huge issue though, and more of an occasional inconvenience than a glaring problem.

Graphically, Brutish Mine is a very good-looking game on the whole, especially considering its time and the standards of most adult titles. However, if there is one flaw I could point out with Brutish Mine graphically, it’s that the animations, both in-game and in some of the prerendered cutscenes, do have a bit of a stilted, slow or robotic look about them. This is not to imply that they are jarringly bad or strange, but simply that they can look a bit stilted or slow at times; a problem that, honestly, wouldn’t even be very noticeable if the character models themselves weren’t so smooth and well-done, making the less-than-perfect animation a bit more obvious. One other, minor, graphical issue is in a few lower-detail environments, especially environments during battle, which can have some odd looking, repeated textures or general lack of detail; but this is a very minor nitpick, as, more often than not, environments are detailed, lively and attractive.


One of the few graphical lowlights to speak of is some low-detail battle environments. By and large, however, Brutish Mine is a very good-looking game.

The character progression is a bit slow, as well, which is something that can make character growth feel less rewarding than in a standard leveling system. Using a system similar to Chrono Cross’s character growth system, in which there are no actual “levels” but instead simply the slow building and progression of character’s stats, which does involve player choice, but can also feel slow and unrewarding at times. Likewise, all aspects of character building could have used a bit more work to feel truly engaging; characters do not gain spells through leveling, for example, but rather learn them from various books found throughout the adventure. This isn’t terrible, and it is fun to find various magic and spells and apply them to your characters, however, they are few and far between, and left me feeling as if finding these spell books would have been better as an addition for acquiring rare spells, than as the only way to gain magic in the game. On a similar note, as well, you’ll find yourself in the same armor with the same weapons for a long time; while there are different weapons and armor available for purchase at shops in the game, they are rather expensive and your purchases of them will be few and far-between. In one sense, this is a good thing, as it can make for less of the hassle of constantly swapping out armor and weapons, but in another sense, it once again factors into some generally unsatisfying character growth and a sense of linearity.


Story progression and development can be a bit slow at a few points, but it ultimately pays off and remains interesting.

The story progression can also, at times, feel a bit slow, and though I found the setting and story to be ultimately quite interesting, the story does hit a stand-still at certain points, sometimes with a few “dungeon” areas between any significant plot development. Still, the story and setting on the whole were interesting enough that I found myself interested, even through these slower parts.


The game bears resemblance to the Final Fantasy series in some stylistic and gameplay elements. However, it has more than enough personality of its own, as well.

Besides these issues, Brutish Mine doesn’t have a lot of problems working against it. One subjective issue I found some might have is that the game does, admittedly, borrow heavily from the Final Fantasy series in some aspects; however, this isn’t so much a flaw with the game, as it is something that might be pointed out as unoriginal. Still, the game has more than enough of its own personality and style to separate it from being anything within “knock-off” territory.  On that note though, while it is not really a “flaw” in the game design, it should be emphasized that Brutish Mine is, in some aspects of its gameplay, battle system and design, a bit “typical” of the turn-based RPG genre, and doesn’t really bring a lot of new ideas to the table for the RPG genre. It should also be considered, however, that, as many of Illusion’s titles, it is VERY ambitious for a “hentai” game and takes strides in storytelling and game design that are usually not seen in titles of an “adult” nature; and that at the end of the day, the game is still polished and plays well regardless.

Of course, the other “subjective” matter which some might take issue with is the game’s sexual content. I don’t really want to cite the game’s adult content as a flaw, but it is something which some may object to and which may, indeed, turn some off to the game entirely. As it stands, however, it should be emphasized that, love it or hate it, the game’s erotic scenes are infrequent and usually are not entirely tasteless, either; if anything, on the opposite end of the spectrum, those who came to Brutish Mine looking for just such content may, in fact, be disappointed at the infrequency of such scenes in the game.  Relegated mostly to infrequent shower scenes and occasional sex scenes (all of which are done in prerendered cutscenes), they feel almost more along the lines of occasional easter eggs or “bonuses” than a prevalent part of the game, aside from a few which do, genuinely, pertain to the plot. Either way, love ‘em or hate ‘em, these infrequent erotic scenes can be easily ignored by those uninterested in them and, although cinematics are unskippable, it’s easy enough to simply “wait them out” if they aren’t your cup of tea, and outside of them, there is only some rare nudity to speak of in a few non-sexual scenes.

With these quips and issues out of the way, I’m happy to say that Brutish Mine is a very cool game, and one with a lot of style and substance going for it, regardless of its “adult” status. This is an interesting, attractive and very fun RPG which holds up very well on its own, and is definitely worth looking into…..


Brutish Mine does have several scenes which contain nudity or sexual content, but they are infrequent and easy enough to ignore if they aren't your thing. Love 'em or hate 'em, there is plenty to love about Brutish Mine beyond them.


Why it’s Worth a Second Look….



Brutish Mine is more than worthy of a second look from gamers, especially Japanese RPG fans, for many good reasons. In fact, for fans of Japanese RPGs, Brutish Mine is a game worthy of recommendation for many of its merits as a great-looking and engaging RPG, adult content or no; one at least up to par with the flood of noteworthy RPG titles for the original Playstation from which it draws its inspiration.

The first thing that struck me about Brutish Mine, and contributed heavily to my initial interest in it before even purchasing and playing it, were the bright and beautiful 3D graphics. Coupled with highly attractive and detailed character models and bright, detailed environments, the game’s graphical presentation and visual design are sure to be one of the first and most striking aspects of the game right from the outset. Not only was I shocked and impressed to see such a graphically impressive presentation in a hentai title, Brutish Mine is just a very nice looking game regardless, and I really loved just about every aspect of is visual design, from the look of its world to the design of its characters. The graphics are, from a technical perspective, easily on par with a Dreamcast title, and from a creative perspective, lively and, although borrowing from some inspirations, very unique and appealing, filled with life, character and inspiration. I simply loved the look of the game, the design of its world and characters, and it’s exciting infusion of a cyberpunk city with anime inspirations, with motifs of modernism, scifi/fantasy, and even touches of gothic horror in its darker moments and places. All of the motifs and elements in its visual design add up to create something that draws from a variety of outside inspirations, but ultimately adds up to something very unique, appealing and attractive. And the technically impressive graphical quality of the title does an excellent job of conveying attractive and appealing visual design of the game.


Brutish Mine features some excellent in-game 3D graphics, with smooth, detailed character models, impressive spell effects, and colorful, detailed environments.

Likewise, just as impressive as the in-game graphics are the beautiful prerendered cinematics throughout the game. The prerendered scenes are easily on par with some of the higher-end ones found in numerous PS1 titles, and are highly detailed and well-implemented throughout. Used with relative frequency throughout the game, usually at key story moments or for the game’s occasional “erotic” scenes, they are very well-rendered and work very well for the game. Characters and environments all look great in the Brutish Mine’s prerendered cutscenes, and they are well-directed and convey the story and action very well when used. They also merge well with the rest of the game, and never feel like a jarring transition from the in-game graphics; due largely to the already high quality and detail of the in-game graphics to begin with.


Prerendered cinemas are great-looking, exciting and convey the story and action well.


Delving deeper into the game’s visual design, the character design is an element I really liked about Brutish Mine. Out of the main heroes and villains, the character design of each was interesting, unique and attractive; each character has personality in their look, and all the designs have a bright, appealing look to them, combining “realistic” elements with a certain “anime” flair; similar, in some ways, to the look of characters in Final Fantasy 8 or 10, for example. The look of each character befits their personality well, as well as the feel and look of the game’s world. Once again, varying by individual character, their looks implement inspirations of sci-fi, fantasy, modernism and gothic horror, and create a cast of characters with a bright and very appealing look to them. I found each character’s design to be unique and appealing in its own way, and befitting of the character’s personality.


Character designs are attractive, with plenty of style and personality.

Likewise, from a visual design standpoint, the other element which drew me so to Brutish Mine was its world, and both its attractive graphical presentation and the fascinating look of its various locales and creative fusion of genres. As a big fan of the “cyberpunk” style, the whole look of its neon-lighted, over-industrialized, utopian-turned-dystopian city was immediately appealing to me. But what made it even more exciting was the previously mentioned, and refreshingly unexpected ,fusion of numerous style and genres coming together to create a world and look that is at first bright, upbeat and neon, but as we delve deeper into the game and its world, reveals itself as one not only filled with the expected dingy urban decay that is a staple of cyberpunk, but also, more surprisingly, some even darker themes and locations, which delve more into the occult and the styling of gothic horror. This fusing of gothic horror themes into the game’s cyberpunk setting is, in fact, the key to what gives Brutish Mine a style and feel not quite like anything else. It is obvious in some ways that Brutish Mine clearly sees inspiration in some of its visual elements from the Final Fantasy games; however, it’s the strong cyberpunk and gothic horror stylings throughout the game which really are the key to making Brutish Mine’s look, style and mood something unique, fascinating and its own. Whatever the case, it all added up to a game with a visual style that was very appealing to me personally, and created a world I found atmospheric and absorbing.


Kannazawa City proves to be a lively and interesting setting.

On the subject of Brutish Mine’s characters, I not only found myself loving their visual designs, but also found that the game did a good job of developing its core cast, from a plot and character development standpoint, into an interesting, varied cast, with well fleshed-out personalities, motives and back stories. The members of SPAT are a well-rounded group of characters, and while a few of the more minor secondary characters don’t see quite as much development, the majority of the central villains and heroes are all interesting and well-developed as characters, too. In particular, I found Kento and Maki’s (the main male and female leads) back stories and the development of their relationship were particularly interesting, and the main villain and his two female cohorts were appropriately underhanded and mysterious in their intentions, while still revealing themselves, and Gaian Global, to have some interestingly dark motives and mysteries to unravel. And dispelling any potential worries of a misogynistic attitude toward its female cast (a stereotype haunting Illusion’s games from the RapeLay debacle which, in many of their title’s cases, proves largely false), Brutish Mine’s female cast members are just as strong, if not more so, than the majority of its male cast, and indeed consist of some of the game’s most interesting and strong-willed characters. And, in both visual design and personality, they come off as attractive and sexy, but in a restrained and reasonable way; and all are strong characters, equal to their male counterparts and handled and developed well.


Brutish Mine's characters prove to be more than just pretty faces; the cast is endearing and well-developed throughout the story.

And just as with its characters, Brutish Mine’s world (namely, Kannazawa City, where the game primarily takes place) is just as engaging and interesting as it is bright and attractive. Even though the city isn’t fully explorable in an open-world sense (you move about to different locations via a overhead map of the city), the city still feels alive and engaging, with varied and interesting locales that are all great to look at and exciting to explore. While the fact that an entire, epic RPG takes place within one city may seem like a strange choice for a game of its type, it actually turns out to be a huge strength for the game. Kannazawa City reveals that it, in and of itself, is a vast world of its own, and the focus on one city as the setting both creates a more intimate feeling of attachment and familiarity to the setting, and also complements the game’s unique cyberpunk-inspired style, allowing the game to emphasize its themes of over-urbanization, conglomerations and urban decay, while still showing different sides to the city through various locales including mansions and greens on the outskirts of town or dark and mysterious corners of the city. The unique scope of Brutish Mine’s “world,” allows it to focus in on the smaller details and locations of a city which, as many urban metropolises can be, is a world of its own. And in turn, it creates a city which feels more like a real, full-scale city, not just one scaled down to a selection of shops and locales; a choice which suits the game’s style, setting and futuristic motifs well, creates a unique appeal and feel for the game world, and makes for a setting which is unique, absorbing and engaging. Kannazawa City is a setting which proves itself to be heavily atmospheric, mysterious, intriguing, varied and very interesting to explore, and is a great, unique setting which proves to be one of the game’s most interesting aspects.


You'll navigate between areas of Kannazawa City via an overhead map.

Of course, what ties the setting and characters together is the story, and I found that Brutish Mine’s story was, while maybe just a bit slow at times, ultimately mysterious, unpredictable, intriguing and with a satisfying level of depth. The main conflict between the evil conglomerate, Gaian Global, and SPAT, the underground rebel faction, within the walls of an urban jungle, does indeed bear some resemblance to the premise of, you guessed it, Final Fantasy 7. However, the game quickly goes in a direction very much its own with the story, and while I admittedly first found myself somewhat expecting a Final Fantasy 7 knock-off based on this initial premise, the game and its story proved itself to be better than that. Brutish Mine quickly takes its sci-fi/cyberpunk-esque setting and story, and begins to heap on the mystery as it soon introduces hints of the supernatural and occult, and soon enough, the story and setting take on some strong themes of the horror genre; something I did not expect, and which effectively piles on mystery and dread to the story and setting. Where the story goes is far different than I would have expected, and the mystery behind Gaian Global and its connection to the mysterious “demons” that have been appearing makes for an engaging story, due to the heavy occult/horror themes which it mixes effectively and excitingly with its fantasy/sci-fi and cyberpunk elements, and creates a sinister and intriguing atmosphere because of it. Likewise, good character development and interesting and equally mysterious backstories for the central characters creates a cast that is linked well to the tale and are fascinating characters to learn about, too, as the story unfolds. The story, setting and characters are some of an RPG of this type’s most important elements, and Brutish Mine did a great job of keeping me interested and engaged in them.


Kento and Maki's relationship is well-developed, and plays an important role as the story progresses.

Brutish Mine also provides a solid performance from an audio perspective, for the most part, as well. While sound effects can be minimal or basic, the music, though all digitized, is fitting and suits the mood well, with a few standout tracks. What I really enjoyed about Brutish Mine’s audio, however, was the frequent and well-done voice acting throughout the game. Most major story sequences, and all prerendered cutscenes, are fully voiced, and it really helps to bring the game to life. Few RPGs of the time featured extensive voice work, and Brutish Mine implements it well, with high-quality Japanese voice acting which isn’t just relegated to a handful of short scenes or exchanges.

From a gameplay standpoint, Brutish Mine is in some ways a rather traditional turn-based, Japanese RPG. However, this shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing, since it is also a very well-designed and polished one, which is fun and engaging to play, keeps things interesting, provides a decent challenge and has a few tricks and secrets of its own.

Outside of its story, setting and characters, it is often said that the other element which can make or break an RPG is its battle system; and Brutish Mine does quite well in that regard. Implementing a turn-based battle system working off an “Active Timer” system, the flow of Brutish Mine’s battles is very similar to that of the battles found in the Playstation Final Fantasy games. Though the active battle timer ultimately ends up working the same as in said Final Fantasy titles, the presentation of it is slightly different, with one single bar or “track” in the bottom right corner of the screen, with icons for all of the player characters and enemies moving along it (at different speeds based on their individual stats), ultimately moving from left to right, and when the character or enemy’s icon reaches the far right side of the track, it is their turn. You’ll have a party of three characters in battle, and during your character’s turns, you’ll work from a typical menu-based system where you can select options such as “attack,” “magic,” “item,” “defend,” and so forth, and then work through the sub-menus to select individual spells, items, options, etc. Battles move along at a satisfying pace and don’t get too long or drawn out in average battles, while simultaneously providing some satisfying and exciting boss confrontations. The game presents the battles well, too, in an exciting fashion with dynamic camera angles and exciting attack and magic animations that keep the action exciting and attractive. Overall, the pacing, set up and challenge of the battle system and battles themselves is well-done, satisfying, fun and well-balanced.


The turn-based battle system functions well, and provides a balanced level of challenge. Some of Brutish Mine's tougher boss battles (such as the one pictured) will test your skills sufficiently, as well.

Of relation to the battle system, I also quite liked Brutish Mine’s magic and, particularly, how it was not only functional, but also fit well into the setting and story of the game. Tying back to the game’s occult themes, you’ll acquire magic from mysterious tomes you’ll find in various places, and I liked the way that magic and the tomes fit well with the game’s story and made sense with the themes of occult magic the game’s story goes into. The game has a good variety of spells, including standard offensive, defensive and healing ones, and some more elaborate, “summon”-style magic which you’ll uncover as the game progresses. Spelling casting sequences during battle are well done, as well, especially for some of the more powerful offensive and summon spells.

Somewhat unconventional of the genre is Brutish Mine’s “leveling” or, more accurately, stat upgrade system. There are no actual “levels” in Brutish Mine; instead, characters gain points which give small boosts to their various stats (attack, defense, magic, etc) frequently from battle. What makes it interesting is that, at any point, the player is free to access their stats and redistribute any amount of points in one category towards another. So, for example, you may go into your menu and take points out of defense to add to attack, magic to add to agility, etc, etc.  This makes for an interesting added layer of strategy to battle and character growth, as it makes it possible to basically rebuild your characters as you see fit to suit the battles or situations you are preparing to encounter. While some might say that it in some ways makes character growth less fulfilling due to the lack of permanence, I personally thought it was an interesting system which allowed for a variety of possibilities and strategies.


Character growth is a bit unconventional. There are no "levels;" instead, characters gain points to their stats, which can be redistributed at any time as the player sees fit.

The exploration and discovery of Kannazawa City was something I found constantly intriguing, and this over course carries over into a satisfying gameplay experience outside battle, as well. There is a lot of variety to the various locales found within Kannazawa City, and discovering and exploring a new one was always full of intrigue. You’ll return to certain areas somewhat frequently, particularly SPAT headquarters, where you’ll return at time to find your friends or party members or prepare for your upcoming adventures, and a few shopping or residential areas, where you’ll go to buy or sell items/weapons/armor or converse with residents. You’ll pick up and complete some side-quests along the way, as well, often from residents of the city, which adds a little extra depth, and there are also some corners of the city and secrets hidden within them waiting to be uncovered.  While you return to certain areas somewhat often, this isn’t a weakness, and I thought that it contributed to the unique feel of the Brutish Mine’s setting; Kannazawa City felt like a massive place, but one which people actually inhabited and lived in, and the returns to familiar areas gave the adventure a unique feeling, even as you were constantly discovering and exploring new corners of the city.


The sinister Gaian Global has some dark secrets and motives to discover.....

...and you'll encounter some interesting villains during your fight against them.

The satisfaction of Brutish Mine’s exploration and general gameplay outside battle is most evident in its “dungeon” areas, which are mysterious, intriguing and often sinister places to explore. The layout of hostile areas such as these I always found to be well-balanced, and usually not too short or too long and drawn-out. Likewise, there’s a good, satisfying mixture of random battles, which aren’t too frequent, exploration that is truly intriguing, and puzzle-solving, which make dungeon areas a generally exciting affair, often topped off with an exciting boss battle. And as with the rest of Brutish Mine, these areas have plenty of variety; everything from hospitals to caverns to mansions.


There's plenty to explore in Kannazawa City, and no shortage of variety in its areas. Dungeon areas in particular are always fun to discover and explore, with interesting puzzles, secrets and bosses.

The overall progression of Brutish Mine is, on a related note, somewhat linear, with the occasional side quests or optional/secret areas, items, and extras to flesh things out a bit. The world isn’t quite as in-depth and packed with extras as some of the deepest J-RPGs of its time, but there is still enough freedom, exploration, magic and items to find and things to do and discover on the side to give the game and its world sufficient and satisfying depth. The main draw and bulk of the game, however, still comes from the path following the main story, and there is plenty of interesting material to keep you interested as you move forward. And, in the end, Brutish Mine adds up to a respectably hefty adventure, with plenty of content packed into the roughly 30 to 40 hours you’ll spend with it by the end. And on that note, without spoilers, I was happy and satisfied by the end of Brutish Mine; by its end, Brutish Mine is satisfying and complete, with its tale and main characters developed, and things coming satisfyingly full circle. I was happy with what felt like a story and game that felt complete by the end, and a climax and conclusion I felt worked well.


Brutish Mine's story develops slowly at a few points, but there is still no shortage of exciting moments, epic confrontations, or fascinating twists and turns to keep things interesting.


In Conclusion….

Brutish Mine is a beautiful, exciting and well-made RPG which was, by its very nature, doomed to never see mainstream attention, and ultimately exist in obscurity. But what’s a real shame is the negative stigma with which such “adult” or “hentai” game status left the title saddled with from its outset, too; and this, combined with the huge controversy surrounding its publisher/developer years later, has resulted in numerous ambitious and impressive titles from Illusion, including Brutish Mine, to be not only obscured, but worse, stuck with an unjust, generalized reputation which is not only unfair, but largely untrue. But, regardless of one’s feelings or preconceptions of Illusion’s more controversial titles, or hentai games in general, Brutish Mine is a game well worth a second look. By resisting the urge to shrug off Brutish Mine based on its label, one will be rewarded with what is a surprisingly fascinating and well-crafted entry in the RPG genre; one that is great-looking, stylish and absorbing, and which proves itself to be on-par with the mainstream hits of the genre in many regards. Brutish Mine is a great looking RPG that plays very well, has an attractive style to its characters and setting, and is fascinating to explore and unravel its intriguing and mysterious story and world. And regardless of its infrequent sexual content, Brutish Mine is a fine game all on its own, which stands tall as a very good RPG in its own right; not just one that’s “good for a hentai game.” No matter if your preconceived notions of what a so-called “hentai” game can be are good, bad or indifferent, it’s a good idea to put them aside, hunt down Brutish Mine, and judge it on its own merits as a game. It, like a number of Illusion’s titles, may actually surprise you, and, at the end of the day, Brutish Mine reveals itself to be a very fine RPG; one which deserves the much-needed attention it never had a chance at, and a good, honest second look.


Brutish Mine is a great-looking, thoroughly interesting RPG which, regardless of  its 18-plus label, more than deserves the much-needed attention it has never gotten.

Who Should Play It?

Fans of RPGs; especially turn-based, Japanese RPGs of the Playstation or PS2 eras. Fan of futuristic, cyberpunk, or sci-fi/fantasy; even fans of horror may find some pleasant surprises in the game’s story and style. People who enjoyed the look, style and gameplay of the PS1 Final Fantasy entries. Those looking for an obscure and interesting Japanese RPG, who won’t object to the occasional sexual content.












Details:

Title: Bullet Witch

Developer: Cavia

Publisher(s): AQ Interactive (Japan), Atari (N.A. and Europe), Codemasters (AU)

Platform: Xbox 360

Release Date(s): July 27th, 2006 (Japan), February 27th, 2007 (N.A.), March 6th, 2007 (Europe), March 16th,2007 (AU)



Cover art for Bullet Witch.

What Is This Game?

Bullet Witch is a third-person action shooter which casts the player as Alicia Claus, a tough, beautiful, stoic witch, battling her way through the demonically-overrun, post-apocalyptic ruins of the “near future” in the year 2013. After the legions of Hell suddenly and violently appeared on Earth, they quickly began laying waste to human civilization in an orgy of murder and violence, overpowering even the military and raining destruction upon our world, and as a total badass and perhaps the world’s only hope, Alicia takes up arms against the demonic forces. Wielding her signature weapon, the “Gun Rod,” along with a host of devastating magical spells and an acrobatic moveset, and guided by a strange supernatural voice, Alicia will tear through the forces of hell, and just about anything else that stands in her way, with her destructive arsenal, on a quest to save humanity and uncover the mysteries of her own past.

Bullet Witch is an action shooter with some technical flaws, but also some very fun gameplay concepts, a massive sense of scale to the action, a dark, gritty, cool (and wonderfully over-the-top) setting, bizarre enemies, and a badass, sexy main character, which all feel like something akin to a comic out of “Heavy Metal” magazine with a bit of a Japanese gaming twist. As Alicia, our dark, brooding heroine, the player will massacre the legions of darkness, while navigating huge environments and, despite some noticeable technical flaws, will discover some amazingly intense, exciting and explosive action along the way. Bullet Witch has been bemoaned by some for some of its technical issues and lack of polish in some areas, but for those who can look past these issues, there is an explosive, intense and immensely stylish onslaught of action gameplay awaiting them. Infusing gothic horror and modern stylistic elements with the look and borderline-insanity of an animated metal music video, Bullet Witch creates a style and atmosphere uniquely its own, and when combined with explosive, intense action (including massively destructible environments) and the stylish, sexy and badass heroine at the center of it all, it becomes easy to see why Bullet Witch is a game worth checking out for curious gamers who’ve seen it sitting in the bargain bin…..if you can overlook its technical issues, a game filled with character, style and intense and addictive gameplay is waiting…..


Alicia is a graceful, stylish heroine; and Bullet Witch's brand of unique action gameplay reflects that.....


Introduction:

Bullet Witch was a game which, in a way, won my love far before I’d ever played it. The gameplay videos, trailers, and various concept and promotional art of it I had seen over the year between its release in Japan and its eventual North American release revealed to me what I, honestly, knew would probably not be a “technically” great game, but still looked to be remarkably original, creative and fun. Bullet Witch didn’t have amazingly high-end graphics on par with Gears of War, and much of the press surrounding its Japanese release reported a game that had more than its share of AI problems and technical shortcomings. But what was also apparent in every screenshot, every video and every piece of conceptual or promotional art I’d seen for Bullet Witch was a sense of creativity, style and excitement. I loved the scale of the environments and action. I loved the gothic-horror-infused post-apocalyptic setting. I loved its over-the-top, flat-out strange enemies. And I adored the amazingly cool, uniquely stylish Alicia, a heroine who managed to be badass, sexy and feminine without coming off as contrived, silly or overtly exploited. In short, I was into Bullet Witch from the beginning, intrigued by its thoroughly unique qualities and concepts and in love with its fresh, creative look and style.

I had Bullet Witch preordered months before its U.S. release in early 2007, and was following the developer’s blog on IGN for the game closely as its release approached. When the game released to mixed reviews, I wasn’t terribly shocked; and, perhaps partially because my expectations were well-adjusted, I picked up my copy of Bullet Witch and found myself thoroughly enjoying it and quickly addicted to its explosive and addictive gameplay. Bullet Witch, to be fair, has a number of glaring technical flaws and some thoroughly cheeseball writing, voice acting and cinematics……but there is also a wonderfully charming, unique, stylish and just-plain-fun action-shooter underneath them. And if you can look past its shortcomings, you’ll find a game that is fun and filled with personality…..


Bullet Witch had a lukewarm reception, but lying beyond its shortcomings is an explosive, exciting game, with plenty of style and personality....


History, Release and Reception:

Bullet Witch was created by the recently-defunct Japanese development studio, Cavia. Cavia was founded in the year 2000, and had met with a good degree of success in development of licensed titles for existing franchises, including a number of relatively successful licensed PS2 and Game Boy Advance titles for popular anime franchises including One Piece, Naruto, Steamboy and Ghost in the Shell, in addition to development of a number of spin-offs to popular video game series, including Resident Evil: Dead Aim (a light-gun shooter) and Dragon Quest:  Shonen Yangus to Fushigi no Dungeon (a Dragon Quest “Mystery Dungeon” spin-off). As a freelance developer, Cavia worked with numerous publishers, and two of their few “original” IPs being the Gungrave series, and the Drakengard series (or Drag-on Dragoon in Japan), which was published by Square Enix.

In October of 2005, on the horizon of the “next generation,” Cavia expanded its business from a freelance developer to its own development and publishing company, renaming itself AQ Interactive, while simultaneously acquiring Japanese game developers “Artoon” and “feelplus,” and re-creating the “Cavia” brand itself as another subsidiary development company within AQ Interactive. With AQ Interactive serving as a parent company to the three development houses, Cavia had managed to expand itself while simultaneously maintaining its own, original brand as a subsidiary of its new-found, expanded brand name.


Bullet Witch's developer, Cavia, had spent much of the previous console generation doing titles for established franchises; pictured here (left to right): Resident Evil: Dead Aim, Steamboy, Dragon Quest: Shonen Yangus to Fushigi no Dungeon, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and One Piece: Grand Battle.

The Drakengard series (known in Japan as Drag-on Dragoon) was one of the only original IPs for Cavia during the PS2 generation. The series won praise for its dark story and setting, although its gameplay was criticized by some as simplistic or repetitive.

Having spent much of the prior generation working on licensed properties, Cavia/AQ Interactive was eager to try their hand at a new original IP as the new generation of consoles arrived. Bullet Witch producer Tohru Takahashi described his and Cavia’s excitement for the oncoming generation in an interview with 1Up.com, stating “The Xbox 360 is a particularly exciting hardware to develop for, because its superior power now allows for new kinds of expression which were previously impossible.” With an enthusiastic outlook on the new generation Cavia set to work on creating an IP that would strike a balance of appealing to both Japanese and North American gamers, and at the same time breath a unique breathe of life into the third-person shooter genre. The idea of taking the traditional third-person shooter gameplay elements and infusing it heavily with fantastical elements and a hint of exploration and adventure gameplay was the core idea behind Bullet Witch in its inception, and served a model that the team felt would make for a unique experience while simultaneously appealing to both the Japanese and North American market’s differing tastes. The art direction and character designs were an especially important element to the team, as well, and Takahashi noted that considerable thought was put into the game’s look and style; particularly, into the main character, Alicia, herself, who went through a number of iterations before finally settling upon her final design. Likewise, Cavia built Bullet Witch’s gameplay from the ground up, including all its mechanics and the engine itself, in the interest of creating a unique next-gen experience centered on fast-paced action, massive destruction and physics-heavy combat and gameplay.

When Bullet Witch launched in Japan in July of 2006, it met with heavy promotion and hype, but also some harsh criticism from professional gaming journalists. With the Xbox 360 less-than-popular in Japan, Bullet Witch was a unique title for Japanese gamers in that it was a rare early Xbox 360 that was not only developed in Japan, but also with a Japanese audience in mind. Bullet Witch was launched with a fairly large amount of promotion, especially in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, where director Take Yoichi promoted the game at the store AsoBitCity on its launch day, alongside a playable demo set-up for the game in front of the store. Alongside considerable coverage in Famitsu's magazine and on their website leading up to its release, it appeared Bullet Witch was on track for success…..but when it released in Japan, Bullet Witch met with a lukewarm reception both critically and in sales numbers. Professional journalists noted the game’s general “unfinished” feel and lack of polish; including poor enemy AI and sub-par graphics, and, due much in part to the Xbox 360 itself and its thus-far dismal sales performance in Japan, the game, even being one of the more “popular” Xbox 360 titles in Japan at the time, still had largely poor sales numbers; debuting at number 29 on the sales charts, selling a mere 9,083 copies.


Bullet Witch had no shortage of attention leading up to its release in Japan. It was featured prominently in magazines such as Famitsu......

......and even saw a large promotion on launch day in Tokyo's Akihabara District. Unfortunately, the Xbox 360's general lack of popularity in Japan meant little success for the title.

Bullet Witch may not have been a rousing success in terms of critical or sales reception, but the title had received enough attention for its style, interesting central character, and unique brand of action gameplay to gain the attention of publishers Atari and Codemasters, who picked up the rights for North American, European and Australian releases of the title. With Atari shoehorning the title for North American and European releases, the first thing the publisher did was to look at the game’s technical flaws in hopes of improving upon them for a more positive reception outside of Japan. Much of the press surrounding Bullet Witch’s Japanese release reported on a game with a very cool concept that was simply bogged down by far too many technical flaws and limitations, resulting it what ultimately felt like an “unfinished” game. With this in mind, Atari went back to Cavia and AQ Interactive, giving them the time and money to improve upon some of the game’s issues and ultimately polish up the game for what would hopefully be a better reception internationally.

With additional time and money, AQ and Cavia went back to work on Bullet Witch, issuing improvements and tweaks to the game across the board, including a repositioned “aiming” camera, graphical tweaks and improvements, and minor work on the enemy AI, controls and core engine of the game. Meanwhile, Bullet Witch received a fair amount of hype and coverage, thanks largely in part to Atari’s push for attention and awareness. Aside from a consistently updated developer’s blog on IGN in the months leading up to Bullet Witch’s North American release and a consistent stream of coverage by the media, including a number of featured publisher and development staff interviews on major video game websites, Atari also saw to it that Alicia herself and, as such, Bullet Witch, got a little extra attention by the public eye, when she appeared topless in Playboy’s “2007 Video Game Preview” feature. Likewise, Bullet Witch saw an added promotional bonus in the form of a collectible, pre-order exclusive Bullet Witch comic for its North American release.


Atari promoted Bullet Witch quite heavily to the gaming press for its upcoming stateside release, which boasted some much needed technical improvements, and early press was positive. Sadly, upon release, it critical reception still was ultimately mediocre.

With a healthy amount of coverage and promotion, and additional work being put into the international version of the game by the developers, Bullet Witch appeared to be on the right track. Unfortunately, however, even in its final international release, improvements and all, many of Bullet Witch’s inherent flaws still shone through, resulting in an ultimately mixed-to-negative reception from critics and the press, and similarly unremarkable sales. IGN and Official Xbox Magazine both blasted Bullet Witch with 4.0’s out of 10, while Gamespot gave the game a mediocre 5.5 out of 10, citing poor level design, bad enemy AI and general technical and mechanical issues as the game’s biggest problems. On the slightly more forgiving side were sources including Game Informer, who awarded Bullet Witch a somewhat average 6.5 out of 10, and X-Play, who gave Bullet Witch a middle-of-the-road review with a score of 3 out of 5. Ultimately, it seemed, even after the game had gone back into development, undergoing tweaking and improvements on the technical front, the sentiments and complaints of many were still largely the same, and with its poor reception, Bullet Witch’s final hopes of carving out any large degree of success largely faded.

Atari continued to support Bullet Witch after its release with the subsequent release of DLC costumes and extra missions which had previously been released on the Japanese marketplace and, despite the subpar reception from the press, Bullet Witch managed to carve out some love amongst gamers who picked it up in spite of the negative buzz surrounding the game. While most who picked it up agreed that the game suffered from some legitimate problems, many also found a game that was surprisingly fun and unique underneath its problems. Despite some forgiving and loving fans who supported the game, Bullet Witch never saw the degree of success its creators or publishers had hoped for, in Japan or elsewhere, and what AQ Interactive and Cavia had hoped would be the start of a successful next-gen franchise quickly fell by the wayside. While Cavia had planned to make Bullet Witch the first in a series, the title’s poor performance critical and financially put the ax to any plans of a sequel, and Bullet Witch soon faded away as Cavia and AQ concentrated its efforts elsewhere.

Cavia and AQ Interactive themselves plugged along for a few years after, with a number of titles fitting the mold of their releases in the previous generation; mostly licensed titles based on existing anime and video game franchises, including two Zegapain games for the Xbox 360 and Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles for the Wii. Although they had been tasked with developing Hironobu Sakaguchi’s upcoming Xbox 360 RPG, Cry On, alongside his studio Mistwalker, with AQ Interactive to serve as publisher, the upcoming would-be killer app was cancelled in 2008, due to AQ Interactive’s unease over the Xbox 360’s lack of success in Japan. Moving on, Cavia and AQ released, along with fellow developer/publisher Square Enix, the Xbox 360/PS3 action-RPG, Nier, in May of 2010. While the title was a big hit in Japan, it was just soon after, in July, that AQ Interactive decided to dissolve the Cavia development team into AQ Interactive, and just over a year later, in October 2011, AQ Interactive itself merged with Marvelous Entertainment to create Marvelous AQL, essentially absorbing AQ into Marvelous in the process.


Cavia saw a big hit in Japan in 2010 with Neir, another original IP, for Xbox 360 and PS3. Shortly after, the Cavia brand was dissolved into AQ Interactive, and AQ merged with Marvelous.

By this point, it is safe to say that Bullet Witch is all but forgotten by most gamers and, seemingly, by its creators, with no real hope of the franchise continuing and only a small handful of gamers who recall it, and even fewer fans. Bullet Witch has received the occasional attention over the following years in Japan; although sales were unsatisfactory overall, it did manage a spot in the Xbox 360 Platinum Hits line-up in Japan. However, with such a limited audience for the Xbox 360 in Japan, even this meant little in terms of sales, and since, the game has faded into obscurity, with only the occasional mention here or there. But while Bullet Witch is a title with some problems, it’s also a title worth the attention of curious gamers; especially for the dirt-cheap prices it’s dropped to. With the game going for little more than five to ten dollars at most retailers in North America, gamers owe it to Bullet Witch to finally give it a go, if they haven’t already……while Bullet Witch has some issues, it also has a lot to offer to those willing to look past them, and is a unique, quirky and often intense and exciting shooter with a lot of genuinely inventive and innovative gameplay features, an interesting style and setting, and a downright awesome heroine. Bullet Witch may be well worth looking past its blemishes to enjoy…..


Bullet Witch has been left behind and forgotten by most, but this unique action title may very well be worth a second look now more than ever.....


The Game:

Flaws:

While there really is an interesting and often extremely enjoyable game in Bullet Witch, the truth of the matter is that many of the criticisms leveled against it are not inaccurate, and Bullet Witch does indeed have its share of issues. There’s a lot to love once you look past them, but first, let’s get the bad out of the way so we can focus on the good….

Bullet Witch is a game with a ton of great ideas, but also one with a number of downfalls that hinder them, mostly in the technical department. The big problem is that, at its core, Bullet Witch runs on its own engine, built from the ground up by the developers, and the engine itself seems to have some inherent issues which, ultimately, lead to a number of technical problems.

There are a number of issues, some small, but some pretty big, stemming from the somewhat faulty engine at Bullet Witch’s core. While it renders some surprisingly large and open stages seamlessly without load times, it also comes at the cost of an often-choppy framerate. While I found that the framerate issues ultimately didn’t lead to any major gameplay problems directly, they are still pretty noticeable when the action on screen gets chaotic, and considering one of Bullet Witch’s main selling points is massive destruction and chaotic action, framerate issues rear their head a bit too often during some of the game’s most spectacular moments of action and destruction.


The scale of the action and destruction can be massive in Bullet Witch, although the game's engine tends to struggle a bit during its more chaotic moments.

Another issue that stems from the game’s engine is some occasionally strange physics. Physics play a big part in Bullet Witch’s gameplay, and knowing this, the team designed the game’s engine to allow for advanced physics on objects and environments; and considering that the use and destruction of said objects and environments plays a pretty large part in Bullet Witch’s gameplay, seeing to it that the physics engine worked properly and consistently would seem to be a given. However, the physics in Bullet Witch can act downright strange at times, especially, once again, during chaotic moments or massive environmental destruction. Considering that many of Alicia’s offensive spells, as well the attacks of some larger scale enemies, rely on physics to destroy, throw or otherwise move objects, and while the complex physics make for some spectacular action, the somewhat spastic and unreliable nature of them also makes it somewhat unpredictable and risky to dabble with them at times. While these physics issues are not such a problem that they are constantly prevalent nor do they heavily impair or affect the gameplay, in a game so heavily reliant and focused on the use of physics in its action, some added polish and perfecting to the physics engine would have gone a long way.

Issues with Bullet Witch’s engine extend into the graphical presentation itself, as well, and while Bullet Witch is a very cool-looking game stylistically, and features some impressively large environments and incredibly frantic action and destruction, the game has number of technical problems on the graphical front as well. Aside from the aforementioned hiccups in the framerate, Bullet Witch’s graphical engine also seems to have some odd issues with properly rendering real-time shadows, which results in strangely jagged or trippy shadows, especially on objects or characters in motion. While not a huge quip, it is telling of the issues which Bullet Witch’s seemingly underpowered engine struggles with. Bullet Witch is somewhat of a double-edged sword across the board on the graphical front; while I was honestly impressed by the sheer size of the environments and scale of the action, and really like the stylistic elements of the game, including the designs for Alicia herself, her “gun rod,” the settings, and the downright bizarre enemies, the game’s graphical presentation, from a technical standpoint, appears lacking for an Xbox 360 title, even of the first generation. Textures are often flat or bland and environments, in turn, come off as low-detail. Animations are a mixed bag, as well, and while Alicia herself and some enemies move smoothly, other enemies come off as jerky and stilted in their animations.


Bullet Witch has some graphical issues, but the huge size and openness of the environments is quite impressive.

Although a number of the flaws mentioned thus far are largely anesthetic, Bullet Witch has a few other noteworthy problems which go beyond appearance. One of the most obvious and troublesome is the, frankly, idiotic AI most of Bullet Witch’s enemies suffer from. While Atari had Cavia go back to the drawing board to work on many of Bullet Witch’s technical issues for a release outside Japan, with the AI being one of the primary areas of concern, it seems Bullet Witch’s AI problems were a bit more deep-seated than some mere tweaking could correct, and even in the international version of the game, enemies remain largely oblivious and brain-dead; it’s not unusual to encounter a group of foot soldiers who will simply stand in one place as you mow them down, or who are running aimlessly back and forth or in circles. AI issues seem to permeate to all classes of enemies, with similarly oblivious or strange behavior from nearly all types, regardless of size or the nature of their attacks.


Enemy AI is one of the game's biggest problems. Much of the time, enemies are utterly brain-dead.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bullet Witch also suffers from some occasional, frustratingly “cheap” enemies and deaths, including some obnoxious moments of instant death. While these moments aren’t the norm, they also usually come suddenly, unexpectedly and with very little time or way to avoid them. In particular, the greatest offenders are Bullet Witch’s “sniper” enemies, who will hover a red laser over Alicia for a few seconds, before firing a single shot which, unless you manage to find cover, will most likely hit and, when it does, instantly kill Alicia. Often just as frustrating are the unexpected instant deaths which can result from falling or flying objects; the damage inflicted by flying, falling or moving environmental objects can seem entirely random, and results in some frustratingly unexpected, swift and frustrating deaths. It also feels like a cheap method of artificially ramping up the difficulty to, in some sense, make up for the otherwise poor AI.

Outside of the nagging technical issues and oddities, Bullet Witch’s other major issue is the length of its main story mode. Consisting of just 6 stages, the game is over far too soon, and while the individual stages themselves are very large, open and expansive, it still adds up to a campaign that can be blown through in little more than 4 to 5 hours. Bullet Witch does have considerable replay value in the form of its numerous DLC stages, as well as multiple difficulty levels and a large focus on scoring and perfecting your performance on individual stages (which, in turn, is lent an added level of addicting fun by the game’s online leaderboards), but the length of the core campaign is still shorter-than-average, and could have benefited greatly from even two or three more stages to flesh things out more.

Besides this, once we step away from the technical shortcomings, there is little I didn’t love about this quirky, flawed-but-fun game. One knock I could issue against the game is that the story, cutscenes and dialogue are pure cheese. While the premise for Bullet Witch and its world is the perfect setting for the over-the-top, ass-kicking shooter it intends to be, the cutscenes and dialogue can often be cringe-inducing and overly melodramatic. Likewise, while Alicia herself is an awesome, thoroughly likeable heroine, the same can’t be said of the remainder of the cast; and with mega-dork military meathead Max Cougar (the major supporting character of the game) desperately trying to steal the spotlight from Alicia every time he shows up in a cutscene, it can honestly be suggested that the story sequences and dialogue be ignored. This would be more of a concern if telling a story were a big focus for Bullet Witch, but Bullet Witch is clearly a game more focused on its gameplay and stylistic aspects, and as such, concerns of some cheeseball cutscenes and characters is more a passing concern than it would be in other games. As it stands, while Alicia may be the only worthwhile character in the game, she is also the one you’ll spend all of the game around, and goes a long way toward making up for the otherwise throwaway cast and story elements, by being a particularly unique, likeable and appealing character.


The dialogue and cutscenes are pretty goofy, and Alicia is probably the only likeable character in the bunch. Trust me, you'll be sick of this guy in no time.

While it may sound like Bullet Witch has a lot working against it, there’s also a lot to love beyond its issues. For those who can look past its problems, read on, Bullet Witch may have its flaws, but there is also a lot to make up for them under the surface….



Why it’s Worth a Second Look…..


Beyond the initially all-too-obvious problems which seemingly plague Bullet Witch, there really is a fun game with a lot of personality and individuality. While many were put off by its shortcomings, Bullet Witch is well worth a look by those who’ve been curious, but put off by its negative reception, or a second look by those who wrote it off originally.

Despite, or perhaps even in part because of, some cheesiness, one of the most striking and appealing aspects of Bullet Witch was its immense and distinct style. Lying somewhere between a comic you’d find in Heavy Metal magazine, a B-grade action/horror movie and a Japanese anime, with a bit of gothic flavor for good measure, Bullet Witch has a style all its own which it is simply drenched in, right from the moment you reach the title screen. Everything about the presentation and design of the menus, art style and general design of everything from the outlandish enemies to the setting to Alicia herself is bursting with a wonderfully bizarre and lively style that is simultaneously cool, dark, cheesy and at times totally crazy; and it fits the game perfectly and gives everything an added charm. Menus, including the title screen and spell casting menus have a gorgeous gothic style to them that goes above and beyond the presentational effort seen in many games of twice its budget or profile. Style was obviously a core concern for the team when making Bullet Witch, and it shows.


One of Bullet Witch's great strengths is its creative gothic/post-apocalyptic style, which the game is completely drenched in. Even the menus are oozing with style.

The greatest oddity of Bullet Witch, to me, was that a game with so many technical issues that directly affect its gameplay was simultaneously a game that was so much fun to play in spite of those flaws. While Bullet Witch suffers from a myriad of technical flaws which inhibit its gameplay, the core of the game itself was so fun and addictive that it counteracts it technical issues and produces some considerably fun, addictive and extremely satisfying gameplay.


There are definitely some strange enemies in Bullet Witch.

There are a lot of aspects which make Bullet Witch such an enjoyable game to play, and no doubt near the very top of the list is the sheer size, scale and impact of the environments and action. There’s a real sense of satisfaction in Bullet Witch’s action, and even with some poor AI, the action still manages to remain intense and keep the player on their toes, especially on higher difficulties. Although not all of Alicia’s spells are available right from the start, the impact and sense of scale is still apparent even in the first stage, and only ramps up from there. The level of satisfaction and sense of impact, excitement and power in Alicia’s actions and attacks is one of Bullet Witch’s greatest assets.


The action is explosive, unpredictable and satisfying.

The elaborate use of physics in the action, coupled with the destructibility of environments, is a large part of what makes the action and combat in Bullet Witch so exciting. While the physics engine has its hiccups, it is still undeniable the sense of fun and excitement it lends to the action, and what a large role it plays in it. The selection of offensive spells caters to the physics and destructibility of environments, too, and, once again, their impact is incredibly satisfying and appropriately exciting. From pushing objects such as cars and pieces of the environments around and into your enemies, to blowing up tanks with an explosive bolt of lightning, to casting tornado and watching a whirlwind suck in enemies, vehicles, trees and chunks of buildings, then watching it spit them out and send them flying , the spells, their elaborate casting sequences, and the ensuing chaos, lends an epic sense of scale to Bullet Witch’s combat.


Physics play a large role in the action. Expect to see cars and other large objects thrown at yourself, enemies and all about.


Likewise basic combat and general control of Alicia is exciting and satisfying. Aside from spells, the other half of combat relies on Alicia’s Gun Rod, a huge weapon she carries with her. The gun rod is capable of transforming into a number of different gun “types” including shotgun, machine and sniper rifle, as well as a few basic up-close physical attacks. In general, just as with the spells, the impact and feeling of power behind Alicia’s signature weapon is immensely satisfying. The gun rod itself suits Alicia nicely, lending to and complementing the already badass and unique style of the main character herself, and Alicia handles the weapon with a signature grace and style that permeates through all of her actions.


Alicia's signature weapon, the Gun Rod, has a number of forms and can function as numerous weapon types, including a shotgun, mini-gun, and sniper rifle.

On that note, it should be said that one of the things I loved most about Bullet Witch was just that: how unique and enjoyable Alicia was not just in her design, but also in all of her actions, movements and animations. In many ways, Alicia is really what brings the experience together and makes Bullet Witch something unique and fun beyond its flaws. Alicia moves and controls with a certain stylish grace unique to shooters and action games. From casting spells, to using the gun rod, to simple movements and acrobatic jumps and flips, Alicia has a graceful, elegant style to her animations and the way she moves that lends a very unique feel to the gameplay and puts it apart from the tough, masculine “feel” of the gameplay in many third person shooters and action games, whether the protagonist be male or female. Whether you're dodging bullets with a cartwheel, twirling the gun rod to choose between different attack types, or simply running or walking, the unique grace and elegance with which Alicia moves and controls lends a unique and exciting feel to the gameplay, and also complements Alicia’s character and style perfectly. Bullet Witch is a game with a lot of style, and Alicia’s subtle grace and elegance in everything she does works well in making the player feel at one with the stylish brand of action the game presents.


Alicia's actions have an acrobatic grace to them, which in turn give the gameplay a feel very unique to the action genre.

On that note, Alicia herself is, without a doubt, a large part of what lends such a particular attitude and style to the game as a whole, and her presence as the main character lends a constant sense of unique style to the game.  Alicia’s design is bold, distinct and creative, and she manages to be both feminine and tough, graceful and deliberate, and sexy and understated, simultaneously, without feeling exaggerated or silly, either. Her tall, slender figure, and dark, gothic character and costume design make for a strikingly distinct and unique character. The game is smart, and does well, to center itself and its action around Alicia, with its elaborate spell casting sequences calling attention not just to the destruction they cause, but to Alicia herself and her stylish brand of action, and even the game’s camera generally sets itself in such a way that keeps itself close to Alicia and makes her appear big, bold and the “center of attention” even amidst the destruction and chaos of the action around her. The default third-person camera sets itself in just such a way that keeps itself close to Alicia and is set just subtly below her level, emphasizing her character as big, bold and authoritative, and, likewise, when the camera pulls in over-the-shoulder for more precise aiming of your shots, Alicia’s character and her signature weapon are big, bold and attention-grabbing.


Alicia herself, and her bold design and presence, lend a boatload of style and personality to the game.

While Bullet Witch may seem a bit on lean content at first glance, and its main story mode is indeed a bit short with just 6 main missions, there is much more to Bullet Witch than may at first meet the eye; and a number of factors come together to drastically increase the replay value, longevity and amount of content, thus taking a game which, at first, seems like an all-too-brief experience, and turning it into a highly addictive game bursting with extra content and replayability.

The smallest, although still significant, of these features is Bullet Witch’s leveling system, which allows you to level up Alicia’s various abilities at the end of each stage with points you earn from achieving higher ranks and earning skill points to distribute into three areas;  Ability (for HP and MP), Gun Rod (pretty self-explanatory), and Witchcraft (which powers up your magical spells and abilities). The leveling system is nothing terribly involved, but there is a definite feeling of progression and accomplishment associated with it, due much in part to the fact that it does carry over beyond playthroughs and throughout the game as a whole; so, in other words, to take on harder difficulties, improve your scores and do better in the challenging extra missions of the game, leveling Alicia plays an integral part. If anything, the leveling system could have benefited from more expansion on it, as it will only take a few playthroughs to max out Alicia’s abilities; still it is a nice addition to the game and its persistence throughout the game as a whole sets the tone for what really makes Bullet Witch a fun game; its replay value, extras, extra missions, and emphasis on improving your skills and ranks.


A tense battle atop a moving airplane is one of Bullet Witch's highlight set-piece moments.

Many of Bullet Witch’s harshest critics railed against the game for the far-too-lean amount of content it initially presented players with, and, really, this was not at all an invalid complaint. Indeed, at first glance, and especially upon its initial release, Bullet Witch gave off a bad impression as a game with a very short campaign that clocks in a little more than 4 to 5 hours, and seemingly offered little to do outside of it. However, while these complaints are are/were not invalid, especially at the time most reviews were written for the game, there are a number of features they do not take into account, some due largely to the fact that said features/content were added later on via DLC. That said, these features absolutely must be addressed because of how greatly they affect the longevity and enjoyment of the game on the whole.


Scoring, ranking and online leaderboards add a whole new level of replayabililty to Bullet Witch, especially with the abundance of extra missions available via DLC.

Central to much of the extras and features which enhance Bullet Witch’s addicting replayability is its scoring/ranking system and, subsequently, its online leaderboards. At the end of each stage, the game will add up your score based on a number of factors and areas including Kill Points, Survival Rate (how many deaths/continues) and clear time, and multiply it accordingly by which difficulty you were playing on. It grades your performance with a letter rank (i.e. S, A, B, C, etc) in each area and then tallies everything up to come up with your overall score and rank for the completion of the stage. The system itself isn’t overly complicated and is easy to understand, but this works well, and is easy to grasp. Simultaneously, the score system, coupled with the online leaderboards, creates and demands an addictive drive for perfection, and the drive to perfect your score and skills becomes a central focus, and creates a highly replayable and challenging experience, greatly increasing Bullet Witch’s longevity.

Of course, with just 6 main missions, even with an addictive scoring/leaderboard system and multiple difficulties, the fun would still wear thin pretty quickly if that was all Bullet Witch had to offer. Thankfully, a slew of post-release DLC largely remedies this problem and serves to turn Bullet Witch from a game that is over in a day or two, into one you’ll be squeezing replay value out of for months.


A fun selection of alternate DLC costumes helps keep things fun and fresh, but the real meat of the game's DLC content comes in the form of its variety of additional missions.....

For starters, a list of fun and unique alternate costumes help to keep replay value up. While a somewhat superficial addition, the alternate costumes are each fun and unique and help to keep things feeling fresh upon extended play sessions and add some variety to things. Ranging from sexy to silly, the costumes include an (obligatory) schoolgirl outfit, a secretary, a colorful pixie, a mummy, and an alternate “white witch” version of Alicia’s original costume. While alternate costumes are just a surface-level addition, they are fun, varied and add an extra level of variety, freshness and fun to replaying missions. Of course, as fun as alternate costumes are, the game would need more to keep you playing than just that; and that’s where the bulk of Bullet Witch’s post-release DLC comes in, in the form of a hefty selection of extra missions which heap on heightened challenge and tons of replay value.


The wide selection of DLC missions, combined with alternate costumes and scoring/leaderboards, adds plenty of lasting appeal, variety and replay value to a game that was initially lean on content.

The game’s extra “concept” missions generally consist of reworked versions of the game’s main stages, with entirely different enemy and stage layouts, including considerably ramped up difficulty, and generally grueling challenges which will put your skills to the test, as well as versions of the game’s missions with all of your spells unlocked from the get-go (allowing use of the most destructive and high-level magic in the game’s earlier stages.) With a grand total of 17 extra missions, the amount of content and lasting appeal the DLC stages add to Bullet Witch cannot be understated; and in many ways, these DLC stages are more interesting, challenging, intense and just downright fun than the game’s original six stages. Most, in fact, go out of their way to emphasize what are some of the game’s best aspects, namely its potential for highly explosive and destructive action on a huge scale, and tense situations where the line between victory and defeat can literally be inches or milliseconds. Likewise, these missions place further emphasis on the addictive strength of the online leaderboards, and considering the intense challenge, the unpredictability of the action and chaos, and the precision and lightning-fast reflexes needed to achieve victory and perfection, the addictive fun of challenging other player’s scores and ranks in these missions adds a boatload of extended replay value to the game. The addition of having your full arsenal of spells unlocked adds a new level of insanity to each stage, and the unique layouts and challenges of each extra mission are genuinely imaginative and creative challenges. The fact that the amount of DLC missions equals out to nearly three times the game’s original set of stages really says it all; and between this and the slew of fun extra costumes, the amount of content added via DLC to Bullet Witch vastly changes and improves the game’s weight, lasting appeal and sheer fun and value.

One final, and more personal, note I must add, is that I found Bullet Witch to be the perfect game for which to set up your own playlist and play to. While the game’s soundtrack is not bad, and is well-suited to the game, it’s also minimalist and comes and goes with different action and set pieces; and I personally found that adding my own playlist and rocking out to the destruction and action in Bullet Witch was well-suited and added to the fun of the game. But I digress…..


Alicia certainly isn't afraid to leave some destruction in her wake on the way to saving the world.

In Conclusion….
 
Bullet Witch is a fun, quirky title with obviously large ambitions, which, sadly, the team may not have had the time, budget or technical prowess to ultimately achieve. The technical shortcomings, coupled with the generally lean amount of content in the game when it launched, added up to a reception that was lukewarm at best. However, Bullet Witch is also a game which begs another look, more so than it did even when it was released. Beyond some initially all-too-obvious technical shortcomings lies an explosively intense and exciting action game with uniquely open, destructible environments, a distinctive brand of stylish action, and a visually striking, imaginative and just-plain-cool heroine. Just as significant, however, and what reviews and press at the time, justly, could not have taken into account, is the huge amount of new content added via DLC, which does so much to enhance and extend the game and its lifespan, and more than remedies one of the biggest complaints leveled against the game at its inception: the very thin amount of content and replay value. With that issue more than remedied, however, and the price tag on the game reduced to little more than that of a cup of coffee, there is very little reason for action gamers or those who’ve long held off on it to pass on Bullet Witch any longer. With a unique style and setting which blends gothic horror and dystopian future, a badass and downright cool heroine, and its own very distinct brand of action, destruction and level design, Bullet Witch is more than worth a glance by curious gamers. Combine that with a boatload of post-release DLC, and you’ve got a game which is more than worth a second look. Beyond some technical deficiencies and a few cheesy cutscenes, there’s a game oozing with style, exciting action and plenty of reasons to keep you coming back for more. Bullet Witch has its shortcomings, but Alicia and her game are stylish, unique, explosively exciting and, more than ever, deserving of a second look.


Bullet Witch is not without its technical flaws, but with a strong heroine, an explosive and unique brand of action, and a boatload of post-release DLC extras, the game begs a second look now more than ever.

Who Should Play It?

Action gamers and fans of 3rd-person shooting. People who enjoy score-attack-style ranking and competition, and love competing to improve their own scores and best other’s. Fans of gothic or post-apocalyptic settings and styles. People looking for a somewhat different or unique brand of action/shooter gameplay, or who really love big, open environments and the ability to thoroughly destroy them. People who’ve seen Alicia around and are still wondering what her and her game are all about; or who appreciate a cool, stylish female lead with a unique style of ass-kicking.












Details:

Title: EGG: Elemental Gimmick Gear

Alternate Titles: E.G.G. (abbreviated), Elemental Gimmick Gear (abbreviated)

Developer: Birthday

Publisher(s): Hudson Soft (Japan), Vatical Entertainment (N.A.)

Platform: Sega Dreamcast

Release Dates: April 4th, 1999 (Japan), December 28th, 1999 (N.A.)


Cover art for EGG: Elemental Gimmick Gear.

What Is This Game?

EGG, aka, Elemental Gimmick Gear, is a 2D, top-down perspective action-RPG/adventure title, in the vein of Zelda, Secret of Mana and Beyond Oasis. The game tells the story of the mysterious “Sleeper,” a man found in the cockpit of a strange bipedal machine uncovered from the ancient ruins of the world of Tokion. The Sleeper is taken to a laboratory for analysis, along with his machine, where scientists discover that the machine is over 5000 years old; and that the Sleeper is alive and healthy, but despite all attempts, will not wake from his comatose slumber. Over time, the Sleeper’s machine is studied, as he remains deep in sleep within the laboratory, and the people eventually begin to create copies of his egg-shaped mecha, using them for labor and work, giving the machines the name "Elemental Gimmick Gear", or "EGG" for short.

100 years pass after the discovery of the Sleeper and his machine. One day, without warning, the mysterious ruins extend a multitude of violent, mechanical tentacles, rooting themselves into the earth and bringing with them the destruction of all in their path. Just as the sudden appearance of the giant tentacles emerge from the ruins, so does a thick fog, which surrounds the ruins with its layer of gloom, giving the ruins a new title to the people of Tokion: Fogna. Just as this crisis emerges, so does The Sleeper finally emerge from his slumber within the laboratory, having not aged a day since his discovery over one hundred years ago. Under the care of the scientist Dr. Yam, son of the YAM Ruin Laboratory founder, (the facility dedicated to study of the ruins) and Selen, a fellow scientist under the care of Dr. Yam, The Sleeper’s awakening comes as a shock alongside the sudden danger emerging from the ruins. However, awakening under the watch of Selen, who has watched and cared for him for a time, she allows him to leave without alerting the other scientists, hoping he can somehow solve the mysterious threat of Fogna. With no memory of his own past, and only a new name (Leon by default, unless you choose to rename him) given to him by Selen, The Sleeper, along with his EGG, head out into the world of Tokion to save the dying world and solve Fogna’s mysteries; even as he and his machine are just as much mystery, both to those around him, and to himself.

From here, The Sleeper will set out on an adventure of Zelda-esque gameplay proportions. As The Sleeper, you’ll talk to people in town, explore the countryside, battle other creatures and mechs, take on dungeons full of devious puzzles, fight bosses, and gain items and upgrades, all while unraveling the mysterious story behind The Sleeper, Fogna, the EGGs, and the world of Tokion. Combining lovely hand drawn 2D graphics with occasional 3D boss battles and prerendered cinematics, EGG is a beautiful adventure with a gorgeous look and sound with a world and style both ethereal and dreamlike, yet at the same time, mysterious and foreboding.


Prepare for a mysterious journey in the world of Tokion in Elemental Gimmick Gear.

Introduction:

Ah, the Dreamcast. We hardly knew thee. I was enthralled by it long before it ever launched, swept up in the massive hype behind it, and when it finally arrived I was clamoring for one. An avid admirer of Sega’s often-troubled-but-always-inspired efforts, the Dreamcast held my interest both for the revolutionary power and graphical capabilities of the system, but also for the special place in my heart which Sega’s unique brand of creativity, style and innovation held. The Dreamcast did not disappoint me when I got my hands on it; the capabilities of the system wowed me, but what wowed me even more were the variety of fascinating and unique first and third party titles coming out, and waiting at the gates. I was enthralled. Sadly, my hopes and dreams were crushed far too soon thereafter, when, barely over a year after I’d gotten one, Sega made its tragic announcement that the Dreamcast was not faring well, and that they would be ceasing support for the system, and exiting the console business.

In a way, this was both a tragedy and, yet, a sort of odd blessing for me, as a passionate Dreamcast owner. While I was nearly in denial that this amazing new system I loved was dying, it also resulted in a swift price drop across the board, not just to the console and its accessories, but also to its library of games; a library that proved incredibly vast and varied for a system that, in the end, lasted barely over two years. A relatively broke kid at the time, with my primary source of income coming from the few dollars I could earn working for neighbors and relatives, the tragedy of the Dreamcast’s failing at the same time allowed my love for the Dreamcast and its library of games to thrive; with games and accessories dropping to dirt cheap prices on Ebay, the Dreamcast became the first console I was able to consistently afford new games and accessories for on my minimal budget. While I was in denial over the Dreamcast’s defeat, I was simultaneously in gaming heaven.


The Sleeper awakens after one hundred years in the Yam Labratory, much to the surprise of scientists Dr. Yam and Selen.

As prices sank and the PlayStation 2 rose, tightening its iron grip on the market, I was squeezing every last bit of gaming bliss out of my faithful Dreamcast. I found myself putting the vast majority of the money I earned into the Dreamcast and its library of titles, and it was almost intoxicating, having so many great titles to choose from, on a system which not only was still consistently wowing me, but now also fit my boyhood budget. Amassing a sizeable collection of Dreamcast games in a short time span, few titles escaped my grasp, and even fewer escaped my attention. From the big, triple-A titles, to the smaller niche ones, to the high-res PC and PS1/N64 ports, to the massive library of import titles which never came stateside, the Dreamcast had one hell of a selection for such a short-lived console, and I was on top of it, sucking up every bit of gaming goodness I could.

EGG was one of those titles I swept up in my Dreamcast frenzy, and, while almost entirely forgotten (or, perhaps, not noticed in the first place) by the rest of the gaming community, it left a lasting impression on me, both as something fresh and unique in the Dreamcast library, and as a nostalgic reminder of gaming from earlier generations. EGG is one of many forgotten but wonderful niche titles on the Dreamcast, a system overflowing with hidden gems. I was enthralled by EGG’s gorgeous 2D art, its intriguing techno-organic setting and its challenging but satisfying traditional action-RPG gameplay. In many ways, EGG is both a lovely throwback to 16-bit gaming, and at the same time, something entirely inspired and all its own. In an age where 2D, old-school gameplay was being somewhat neglected in light of the incredible new technology at the industry's fingertips, EGG was a refreshing change of pace and a fascinating little game bursting with personality and style. Fans of old-school action-RPGs, stylish hand drawn visuals or those with a true appreciation for niche titles and stylistic excellence in gaming must dig up this forgotten relic of Dreamcast excellence.


Setting out into the world of Tokion will prove to be a mysterious journey of self-discovery for The Sleeper....

History, Release and Reception:

EGG was developed under well-known Japanese publisher, Hudson Soft, by a little-known development team by the name of Birthday. Birthday was, and is, a nearly unheard-of developer, especially outside of Japan; having primarily worked under Hudson Soft and Namco for most its existence, with relatively-little credit ever given to its name, Birthday remained under the radar for the entirety of their existence. Prior to EGG, none of Birthday’s games had ever left Japan, their resume including mostly Japan-only turn-based RPGs, with their best-known work being on the Daikaijyuu/Kaijyuu Monogatari games, a series of turn-based RPGs released for the Famicom, Super Famicom, Game Boy and Game Boy Color under Hudson Soft’s name.


Birthday's previous titles included a number of Japan-only turn-based RPGs, such as the Daikaijyuu/Kaijyuu Monogatari series, which saw numerous installments on the Famicom, Super Famicom, Game Boy and Game Boy Color.

It is almost an oddity that EGG ever saw a release outside Japan, really. Released a few months after the Dreamcast’s launch in Japan to relatively little attention, it came as a pleasant surprise when small-name North American publisher Vatical Entertainment announced in November 1999, just a couple of months after the Dreamcast’s debut in North America, that they would be bringing the little-known title stateside by the end of the year. Vatical themselves, much like Birthday, were never well-known, and had largely stuck to releases for the Game Boy/Gameboy Color, with a few occasional N64 and PS1 releases. Although Vatical had a few Bomberman titles under their belt, and had recently published some N64 titles such as Shadowgate 64 and Top Gear Overdrive, most of their releases were low-profile.

With little public attention and no advertising, EGG was unceremoniously released at the end of December 1999 in North America, amidst a rapidly growing library of titles for the Dreamcast. EGG was quickly swept up in the tide of Dreamcast releases and went largely unnoticed; although it did gain very positive reviews from the publications and websites which noticed it. IGN have the game a very positive review score of 8.0 out of 10, mentioning some quips with the combat and English translation, but otherwise finding the game to be satisfying and extremely likeable. Planet Dreamcast also gave the game an 8 out of 10, praising the game’s graphics and music, and calling it part of a “dying breed of 2D overhead action-RPGs,” going on to say it is “one of the better ones of recent years.” Reviews for EGG resonated this same vibe across the board, from anyone who took notice of this diamond in the rough; Gamespot gave EGG a 6.8 out of 10, Shin Force gave the game an 8.0 and Game Revolution gave it a “B” on its letter grade scale.

Despite a positive reception from members of the press who played it, EGG was overlooked and quickly forgotten, due in part to the game’s niche appeal as an “old-school” title in an age of revolutionary new technology, but perhaps more so, simply due to the quiet release and almost complete lack of advertising or press leading up to or following the game’s release. Birthday was not heard from again, EGG being their final game, and, likewise, Vatical Entertainment disappeared as well, after the fall of the Dreamcast lead to the cancellation of a few possibly higher-profile releases for them, including a cancelled port of System Shock 2 for Dreamcast.

EGG itself has been, sadly, almost entirely forgotten since. Even when the Dreamcast is reflected upon by gamers, this small but wonderful title has still gone largely overlooked. And that is a true shame, because EGG is not just a wonderful game, but also a title that stands out as a unique and inspired entry into the Dreamcast’s library of hidden gems, cult classics and revolutionary titles. Certainly, all who have played it agree that EGG is a very special piece of Dreamcast gaming; the few Youtube videos on it praise the game for its gorgeous art and old-school gameplay, and nearly all user reviews that can be found for EGG are positive; it has just four on Game FAQs, but of them, all are extremely positive, praising the game with a 9, two 10’s, and a 7.

EGG is sadly forgotten and overlooked, even by Dreamcast fans. And this is a shame, because EGG has all the makings of a cult classic, and is a title which truly stands out amongst the Dreamcast’s library, both for its concept and quality. If you own a Dreamcast, and have a love for traditional action-RPGs, EGG begs to be dug up, experienced and given the long-overdue appreciation it has missed out on for so long…..


EGG has seen very little awareness, but almost all who played it agree it is a title any action-RPG fan should discover......

The Game:

Flaws:

EGG is a lovely game, but there are a few quips and scruples with it, and its appeal is, admittedly, to a somewhat limited audiences. There is so much to love about EGG, so first, let’s get the bad out of the way….

Probably the most legitimate complaints about EGG lie in those about its combat and, more specifically, its boss battles, which take place in 3D. To be specific, normal combat, outside boss battles, is not problematic at all, just rather simplistic on the whole. While you’ll gain upgrades and abilities, ultimately, the core combat itself comes down to “punch, punch, punch…..and punch.” Outside that, there is also the ability to do a powerful spinning attack which will send your EGG whirling around the screen at high speeds to collide with enemies; the downside being that it will slowly drain your HP. But there is much more to the basic core of combat than that….it isn’t flawed per se, just rather simplistic.


Combat is a bit simplistic, but still works well.

Boss battles, on the other hand, are a bit more legitimately problematic. EGG takes place almost entirely from its 2D, overhead perspective; with the exception of boss fights, at which point the game goes to 3D, usually within a small, contained “arena” type room, where the boss battle takes place. Generally, the boss fights and fighting mechanics function the same as the normal 2D combat, however, they are simply not as well-designed as the rest of the game, have a somewhat clunky and inaccurate feel and, although each boss has a bit of their own “trick” to them, the boss battles generally follow the same routine and feel rather repetitive and uninspired. Boss battles are always a stiff challenge, so they are always rewarding in the end, but part of that challenge comes from the fact that the combat feels clunky and imprecise in them, and that the camera can be a bit awkward and stubborn. They aren’t terribly, horribly broken, but they do have an unpolished, tacked-on feel to them which is uncharacteristic to the rest of the game. What’s more, the boss battles would have functioned better and probably allowed for more variety and precision if they had simply been done in the same 2D, overhead style as the rest of the game. Overall, the boss battles aren’t some huge, broken issue with the game, but rather just something that feels tacked-on and unpolished; like a last minute 3D addition to what was meant to be a fully 2D game. The best way to sum up my thoughts on the boss battles is to say that I picture the team working on what was meant to be a traditional, old-school 2D action RPG, when somebody said….”listen, guys, we need to put in SOMETHING that’s 3D….this is a ‘next-gen’ system, after all……I dunno, make the bosses 3D or something.” Likewise, where the rest of the game’s hand-drawn 2D visual look positively gorgeous and overflowing with detail, the graphics in boss battles, while not ugly by any means, feel a bit bland. While they are not broken nor do they detract from what is overall an amazing game, the boss battles are clunky and a bit unnecessary, and feel uncharacteristically uninspired, amidst what is otherwise a game that feels very passionate and inspired.


The 3D boss battles in EGG are a bit of a low-light. While functional, they are a jarring transition from the rest of the game and feel a bit tacked on.

Some issues with the boss fights aside, I can find very little to really call “flawed” with EGG. One issue some may have is with the game’s steep difficulty. EGG is a homage of sorts to classic action-RPGs, and it will put the skills which fans of the genre have honed since the SNES and Genesis to the test. EGG follows a very similar structure to a game like Legend of Zelda in its pace and progression; you’ll go to town, buy items, speak to people, do some minimal side quests, roam the overworld, and go to dungeons, where you’ll solve puzzles, fight enemies and ultimately face the boss of each one, unraveling the story along the way. But don’t think EGG will let you off as easy as Zelda; EGG is tough as nails and pretty merciless as times, both in its puzzles and its enemy and boss difficulty. This is not a flaw, really; in fact, I absolutely loved it, as I’m always up for a hearty, legitimate challenge. But fans should know that EGG is a tough game, and those without the patience to overcome some its more devious dungeons may find themselves frustrated. One other minor scruple is that the game suffers from the occasional slowdown when there is a lot of action on screen; but this is a small issue which is ultimately of little effect on the game overall.

There’s not much else to really call EGG out for than these few issues, though, really. If you’re a Dreamcast owner, and a fan of classic Action-RPGs and adventures, read on, because EGG should be making its way to the top of your “to-play” list…..

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

EGG is a forgotten relic of Dreamcast lore which is worth a look from any Dreamcast owner, and is must-play for any Dreamcast fan with a love for classic action-RPGs and adventures. There is so much for fans of the genre to love here, that this wonderful title should quickly move to any fan of the genre’s to-play list….


EGG's 2D visuals are gorgeous and filled with intricate detail.

First and foremost, what will be immediately noticeable to any who play EGG are its gorgeous visuals. EGG’s world is a wonderfully imaginative techno-organic sci-fi setting, with a remarkably distinct look and style, and huge credit is owed to the artists and graphical designers at Birthday who so brilliantly brought this world to life with the gorgeous, exquisitely-detailed 2D graphics and art throughout the game. Environments are lush and bursting with color, and the contrast between the lush greens of the organic world and ancient depths of the ruins clashing with the mechanical forces rooting themselves into the otherwise pure and earthy world of Tokion makes for a strikingly memorable world and an instantly unique and fascinating style. Likewise, while sprites and character art are small and at times minimalist, the characters, mechanical designs and enemies all have a similarly distinct style to them that completes EGG’s remarkably original world and brings it to life with its own, imaginative style. The end result in a gorgeously detailed and realized world, which simultaneously draws inspiration from an array of sci-fi and fantasy sub-genres, and combines them to create something all its own. EGG’s distinct style and visuals will leave a lasting impression on any who experience it.

Aside from the lovely 2D graphics throughout EGG, I also loved the style and look of the occasional cutscenes in the game. To anybody who watches the game’s intro cinematic, this unique look will be instantly apparent. Combining 2D animated characters with prerendered CG, the look is unique, captures the feel of EGG’s world beautifully, and is pulled off with excellence. These cinematics are few are far between, but what there is of them are very nice, and serve to complement the game’s already excellent visual presentation.


Cutscenes combine traditional 2D animation with prerendered CG.

Speaking of EGG’s wonderfully imaginative and creatively brilliant world and style, the story, setting and adventure itself are all just as engaging as the visuals themselves, and in many ways, all of these elements complement each other perfectly, working together to create a fascinating and engaging world and experience. The tale EGG tells is mysterious and interesting, and is greatly enhanced by how brilliantly realized its setting is. The setting of EGG in and of itself was so fascinating that I wanted to unravel its mystery just to know more about this fascinating world, and while the story itself sometimes takes a back seat to the gameplay and exploration, it is always driving the player forward, consistently lending to the genuine sense of mystery and discovery throughout the game at all times. It was a tale and world I truly wanted to unravel the mysteries of. The origins of The Sleeper, his EGG, the ruins and the world of Tokion are shrouded in mystery, and it was all a joy to discover. Just as the setting drove me to unravel the story, so did the story drive me to explore the setting, and the way the tale and gameplay complemented each other in this manner is proof of how fascinating an experience EGG is. Likewise, by the time the credits rolled, I felt EGG was a very “complete” game, and was fascinated, satisfied and even moved by the experience I’d had in the world of Tokion.


The world of Tokion is fascinating to discover and explore.

EGG’s world is a joy to explore, on that note. It’s beautiful hand-drawn 2D graphics make for a world that is always a pleasure to behold, and there is both a constant feeling of discovery and, at the same time, a somewhat friendly, homey feeling about it all. EGG’s world is not particularly huge, really, and you’ll find yourself returning to the same small town and surrounding areas often; but this is not a weakness, it actually is one of the game’s strengths, which suits the atmosphere of the game, reinforces a feeling of connection with the people of this part of Tokion, and creates a growing feeling of “home” with the game’s surroundings, as The Sleeper himself becomes more accustomed to the places and people around him, who in turn begin to accept him and look to him for help. The size of EGG’s world and the fact that the game has you revisiting the same places and people often is ultimately a very good thing, which simultaneously manages to never hinder the feeling of adventure and discovery when exploring the ruins and outskirts of its world. If anything, the cozy area of the world you find yourself in and around, filled with familiar people and places, establishes a bond between the player and the game’s world and people, which goes hand-in-hand with the story and adds a significant weight to the game’s immersion and emotional connection.


You'll leave your EGG to explore some parts of town.

Exploring the world and ruins is always exciting, and there is a feeling of accomplishment as you build your character in a particularly Zelda-esque fashion, gaining upgrades, increased health and new abilities. While the lush overworld is always a joy to behold, the dark, foreboding dungeon areas of the ruin are just as interesting, and are an incredibly satisfying challenge to overcome. EGG’s dungeon areas play out in a familiar fashion to any action-RPG/adventure game, but what makes them so great is the particularly devious puzzles and intricate construction of the dungeons themselves. Each area of the ruins will put the skills of any fan of the genre to the test, and EGG manages to achieve a balance between a tough challenge, both in its mind-bending puzzles and its challenging enemies/bosses, while still never becoming too over-the-top; you’ll always feel challenged, but never like the challenge cannot be overcome.


Exploring the ruins will put your mind and skills to the test.

EGG is a game which achieves a very strong and distinct atmosphere, and that atmosphere is much the result of the game’s gorgeous visual style, but also its lovely musical soundtrack, as well. EGG’s soundtrack, like much of the game, harkens back to the sound and feel of classic 16-bit RPG soundtracks. EGG’s soundtrack is lovely, filled with a sense of adventure and emotion, and has the distinct 16-bit sound of something like an orchestral score that has been digitized. The soundtrack radiates feelings of adventure and nostalgia, and, as with so much of the game, fans of 16-bit RPGs with fall in love with its familiar, yet distinctly original, sound. EGG’s soundtrack is fitting and completes the mood and atmosphere of the game, and on top of it, is highly memorable; even today, over a decade since I first played EGG, I still find myself humming its most memorable tracks.


You'll gain various power-ups and upgrades throughout your quest, bulding your EGG into a more powerful and capable machine.

The thing about EGG that is hard to put down into words is just what a wonderful and memorable experience it all comes together to create. EGG will simultaneously have you feeling nostalgic for the days of 16-bit gaming, while providing you with an experience that is fresh and original even as it pays homage to old-school action-RPG adventuring. EGG is so consistently a joy to see, hear and play that the whole experience becomes something almost cerebral. Its setting and concept are so unique that, even as you recall the older titles which served as its inspiration, and even as it follows many of the gameplay concepts prevalent in so many similar titles, you’ll still never feel like you’ve taken this adventure before. EGG follows a structure of gameplay and progression very similar to the “usual” action-RPG/adventure formula; if you’ve played through a Zelda title or Beyond Oasis, you’ll know what to expect from the general feel of the gameplay, and the progression of the adventure, as you talk and buy items in town, explore the world, uncover secrets and side quests, and ultimately prepare for and enter the game’s labyrinthine dungeons to solve puzzles and defeat menacing bosses. But what makes EGG great is that it takes this well-proven formula and creates a game that is so inspired, unique and beautiful around it. Any game can copy an established formula; but to take an established formula and create something all its own and fascinatingly original with it is impressive. And to maintain a nostalgic feeling of homage and never feel like it’s just “copying” the titles it was inspired by, is a hard balance to achieve, and a real accomplishment that EGG does it so perfectly. EGG does all this with ease, and creates an engaging story and creatively inspired setting around it all.


EGG establishes a strong feeling of connection between the player and the world of Tokion and its people.

Once you finish EGG, there is not a lot of incentive for replay value, however, your stay in Tokion will not be one that is short-lived. Clocking in at somewhere between 25 to 35 hours, EGG is of healthy size for a traditional action-RPG. The adventure lasts just the right amount of time; nothing in EGG felt like fluff or filler, there is just the right amount of optional content and side quests (which, likewise, don’t overwhelm or distract from the main story and quest), and the story and bulk of the game never hits any hiccups, nor does it fly by too fast; overall, I would describe the pace as steady throughout, never losing the player’s interest or feeling rushed. Gameplay itself is satisfying and rewarding throughout, as well, as the player steadily gains upgrades for their powers and health, and the somewhat basic upgrade/leveling system for the EGG’s various abilities (attack, defense, mind, etc) works well for the game, and makes for a satisfying experience in which your character constantly feels like he is growing and becoming more powerful, creating a feeling of accomplishment as you move forward. The game moves at an almost leisurely pace at times, but once again, this is part of what makes EGG such a pleasant experience; getting to know EGG’s corner of Tokion is a fulfilling experience, and the steady pace and progression of the story and main quest do an excellent job of conveying a feeling of fascination and connection with EGG’s story and world.


Uncovering the depths of EGG's world and tale is mysterious and fascinating.

In Conclusion….

Elemental Gimmick Gear is a lovely game that simply fell through the cracks. Developed by a near-unheard-of developer and brought to North America by an equally obscure publisher, EGG saw very little in the way of advertising or press upon release, quickly washed away amongst a sea of oncoming Dreamcast releases in the console’s opening months. As a decidedly classical game, both in gameplay and graphical presentation, EGG was a bit of an oddity, as well, in a time where the gaming industry was gearing up for a revolutionary new step in technology; and perhaps this, too, cemented EGG’s position as a niche title. However, in a time and on a console that was moving so boldly towards the future, EGG simultaneously served a quiet reminder that, even amidst the revolutionary new ideas and technology being set forth into the industry, the classics and classic concepts were still every bit as solid and strong as ever. It is only a shame that more people didn’t notice; because for any gamer with a love for classic gaming and a soft spot for 16-bit action-RPGs and adventures, EGG will almost undoubtedly prove to be an immensely satisfying experience. From the classic gameplay, to the gorgeous 2D visuals, to the lovely music and thoroughly unique and engaging setting and story, EGG is sure to intrigue and enthrall any with a love for the classics. Any who own a Dreamcast, and have a love and appreciation for the 16-bit classics of the action-RPG/adventure genre, will find a true diamond in the rough with EGG. This forgotten Dreamcast classic is overlooked far too often, even by fans of its genre and system, but any who take the time to dig it up will find a wonderful journey waiting for them in the world of Tokion.


EGG's journey is one every action-RPG adventurer owes it to themselves to take.

Who Should Play It?

Any fan of the action RPG or adventure genres, especially those of the 16-bit era. Dreamcast aficionados looking to discover and play some of the system’s lost classics. Fans of science fiction or “techno-organic” styles and settings. People with a love or appreciation for hand-drawn, 2D art or creative art styles and settings in video games.










Details:

Title: Burning Rangers

Developer: Sonic Team

Publisher: Sega

Platform: Sega Saturn

Release Date(s): February 26th, 1998 (Japan),   May 31st, 1998 (N.A.), June 31st, 1998 (Europe)


Cover art for Burning Rangers.

What Is This Game?

BURNING RANGERS, GO! From the funky soundtrack and theme music, to the bright anime-style visuals and crazy concept, Burning Rangers was a third-person 3D action/platformer that still speaks of how insanely creative, inspired and downright fun first-party Sega titles could be in the company’s heyday. Burning Rangers places the player in the roles of two new members of the Burning Rangers team. Just who are the Burning Rangers, exactly? You can think of them as a cross between firefighters and the Power Rangers, I suppose. The game takes place in a futuristic, nearly-utopian society, where one of the only prominent dangers remaining is the risk of fire. To deal with just such dangers, the Burning Rangers were formed, as an elite team of superhero-esque firefighters, trained and equipped to deal with even the most extreme fire emergencies. And this is where you, the player, comes in. Choosing from two of the Burning Rangers newest rookie members, Shou Amabane and Tillis, you’ll be sent into situations to deal with raging blazes, rescue trapped civilians, and navigate labyrinthine structures in an increasingly ludicrous (in a good sense) set of missions, while unraveling a mystery involving a distress signal that has set a giant cluster of space junk on a collision course with Earth. Armed with your blaster weapon for extinguishing fires (along with warding off a few belligerent enemies/other hazards), you’ll run, jump, fly (with your patented Burning Rangers jetpack!) and ultimately navigate your way around massive stages while putting out fires and searching every nook and cranny for crystals and civilians that will up your score. Burning Rangers is classic Sega and Sonic Team fare; and a wonderfully fun and original blending of 3D action/adventure, shooter and platforming mechanics, all wrapped up in a package with that classically outlandish Sega charm.


The whole Burning Rangers team, gathered for a mission debriefing in one of the game's anime cutscenes.

Introduction:

I came into the Sega Saturn game a little late, you see; and as a big fan of Sega’s work, that’s both a shame and an oddity. Heck, I’d had a Sega CD before it, and was in love with my Dreamcast after, so how’d I miss the Saturn boat? The sad fact of the matter was that I was a bit younger at the time, and just didn’t have the money for every console; and the Saturn had a bit of a bad rap as the “third place” console in North America at the time. I recall being very intrigued by the Saturn and many of its unique, seemingly overlooked, titles, but at the time I was younger, more impressionable, and with minimal funds, and the general consensus from the press and my peers was to just go with the Playstation and Nintendo 64, which were in much more prominent status during their respective generation in North America. I loved my Playstation and Nintendo 64, and we had a lot of great times together, but in the back of my mind, there was always the Saturn….Panzer Dragoon, Rayearth, Shining the Holy Ark, and, of course, Burning Rangers…..there was just something about these (and many more) Saturn exclusives, that kept the console in my mind throughout the generation, and far beyond it…..


Burning Rangers' style and concept are fun and upbeat.

The generation passed and the Saturn went out early (in North America, at least), albeit in a blaze of glory, with some incredible titles. The Dreamcast rose and fell (much to my dismay), just as it kicked off a new generation of consoles, and years later, the Xbox 360 released in late 2005. Oddly enough, it was only a month after acquiring an Xbox 360, effectively entering the newest generation of consoles, that I finally found myself fulfilling my belated Saturn destiny. After scoring a Japanese Saturn, with somewhere around 30 games, and a boot disc (to play North American games on my Japanese console as well….I know, it’s a bit backwards), I’d finally done what I always should have a long time ago; and funny enough, even with my shiny new Xbox 360, I found myself playing the Saturn every bit as much.

Burning Rangers had always been one of the Saturn’s most intriguing titles to me….it's bright, flashy visuals, attractive character designs, and outlandish premise had drawn me to it in old issues of Ultra Game Players and EGM. Reminding me each time I’d seen them that while Playstation and Nintendo 64 were dominating the market, there was still something very special about this console which had gone, in retrospect, criminally overlooked outside of Japan. Burning Rangers was a Saturn game which had haunted the top of my to-play list for far too long and, as such, it became one of my very first Saturn purchases after getting my hands on the system.

I wasn’t disappointed. Burning Rangers was, and still is, classic Sega fare; another forgotten testament to the  creativity, crazy ideas, great music, bright, vibrant visuals and pure fun which were a staple of first party Sega titles. One of the Saturn’s greatest stumbling blocks had always been its 3D capabilities; while, if harnessed correctly, it could do some impressive 3D, it was simply built to be a 2D machine in its original conception, and as such, proved far more troublesome for developers, in an era dominated by 3D gaming, than its competition. However, Burning Rangers goes to show that, when harnessed properly, the Saturn could, in fact, pull off a visually brilliant, totally fun and highly playable, 3D title. But Burning Rangers isn’t just a wonderful game because it shows off what the Saturn could do. Burning Rangers is just a wonderfully fun and original concept on its own; a bright, flashy, funky game with spirit and soul, a great blending of genres, and a game bursting with personality. Anybody who loves or appreciates some of Sega’s or Sonic Team’s great, original efforts, owes it to themselves to check out this joyfully vibrant, sadly forgotten Saturn classic….


Burning Rangers is a fun, funky ride. Get ready....Burning Rangers, Go!

History, Release and Reception:

Burning Rangers was yet another forgotten Sega classic that was a sad victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thus ensuring it’s unfortunate obscurity. Released in mid-1998, the Saturn was, at the time, still enjoying a comfortable level of success in its Japanese homeland, but elsewhere, was not faring so well, nor had it been for quite a time. Burning Rangers was part of the last batch of Sega Saturn games to reach North America and Europe in the Saturn’s waning years, and one of a number of brilliant first-party titles released in the systems final months, ensuring that the Saturn would at least go out in a blaze of glory.

And Burning Rangers was indeed a game worthy of any Sega Saturn owner’s attention. In addition to its fun and unique concept and impressive technical achievements for the system, it was also an all-too-rare appearance from Sonic Team on the console, backed by an array of talent and big names from the video game, anime and Japanese music realms.

Of course, the most immediately apparent and instantly attention-grabbing name for any Sega fan was that of the development team itself, Sonic Team, headed by Sega legend, Yuji Naka. Sonic Team’s presence on the Saturn had not been quite as prominent as many Sega fans would have hoped. Besides the classic Saturn launch title, NiGHTS (and subsequently, Christmas NiGHTS), the legendary Sonic the Hedgehog creators had only headed one other completed project for the system; Sonic Jam, which was not so much an original game, but a collection of 2D Sonic titles featuring a slew of extras and a 3D hub world. The most glaring issue was the lack of a true, original Sonic title for the Saturn. At the time, the team’s namesake series had seen three releases for the system, Sonic Jam and the non-Sonic Team developed Sonic R (a racing title) and Sonic 3D Blast, and of the three, none were really full-fledged entries in the Sonic franchise, and only one was a Sonic Team-developed title. Sonic Team had spent much of the generation wrapped up in the ill-fated, ultimately cancelled, Sonic Extreme, which was to be Sonic’s true Saturn successor, and as such, little had been seen of them. Because of this absence, Burning Rangers was an instant attention-grabber to any Sega fans pinning for the return of the beloved Sega development team to the console; it wasn’t a new Sonic title, but an original title from Sonic Team was long-awaited and much-needed regardless.


Mostly absent since their release of NiGHTS at the Saturn's launch, a new release from Yuji Naka (left) and Sonic Team was long-awaited by Saturn owners.

And Sonic Team spared no effort in recruiting a wide array of talent on all fronts. Burning Rangers owes much of its visual and aural excellence to a team of talented and well-known artists recruited by Sonic Team for the project. Burning Rangers has a very bright, distinct, and attractive “90’s anime” look and vibe, which resonates throughout the entirety of the game. To help achieve this stylistic element, Sega brought in anime character designer Hiroyuki Ochi for character designs, and artistic supervision and work including design of the game’s promotional and cover art. Ochi was an anime veteran, who’s work included the likes of Armitage the Third and Sol Bianca, among others, his career in the industry spanning work as an animator, character designer and director. Bringing in his talent lent much to the appealing visual style seen in Burning Rangers, and, along with the guidance of Sonic Team’s Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima, did much towards lending the game its distinct and appealing style, as well as its flashy and crisply animated anime cutscenes, which were subsequently outsourced to Kyokuichi Tokyo Movie for professional animation work.


Anime production veteran Hiroyuki Ochi had worked as an animator, character designer and director on numerous anime titles, and was recruited to work on Burning Ranger's character designs, lending a strong anime style to the game.

Just as important to Burning Ranger’s was the sound and music, and plenty of equally-notable talent was on board to see to it that Burning Ranger’s poppy, funky, upbeat “anime” appeal resonated beyond the visuals. Heading up the game’s musical department was Naofumi Hataya, a man who’s musical genius should be near-legend to any Sega aficionado; his prior work including music and sound on games such as Sonic CD, Golden Axe II, and the Saturn’s own NiGHTS. Working alongside Hataya was a formidable team of vocalists lending their talents to the game’s upbeat, catchy vocal tracks which would become a staple of Burning Ranger’s style. Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, a fellow Sega musical veteran, who’s voice appeared in the soundtrack of Daytona USA, lent his vocal talent to the game’s vocal themes, in addition to Tomoko Sasaki (aka “Talking Moon”), who’d provided vocals for NiGHTS. But the attention to detail didn’t stop there; each track was, in addition, re-recorded in English in New York, under Hataya’s supervision, for the English-language version of the game.


Naofumi Hataya had created the soundtracks for Sega classics such as Golden Axe II and Sonic CD, and teamed up with talented vocalists to create Burning Rangers' brilliant soundtrack.

In addition, the Japanese version of Burning Rangers saw the addition of some big-name voice-acting talent from the anime industry. Main characters Shou Amanabe and Tillis were voiced by Hikaru Midorikawa (Zelgadis Greywords of Slayers) and Yuko Miyamura (Asuka of Neon Genesis Evangelion), while the supporting cast included voice talent by Tomokazu Seiki (Van Fanel, Vision of Escaflowne), Ryuzaburo Ohtomo (Abigail, Bastard!!), Hiroko Kasahara (Naomi Armitage, Armitage III) and Aya Hisakawa (Iria, Iria: Zeiram the Animation).

With an all-star line-up of talent across the board, Burning Rangers had a lot going for it. Just as impressive as its cast and crew line-up, were the game’s technical accomplishments, though. As previously mentioned, one the Saturn’s greatest problems for developers of the 32-bit generation was that the Saturn had been originally conceived as a 2D monster; with its 3D capabilities added in later in the console’s development, upon the realization that the market was heading in a 3D-focused direction for the generation. While the Saturn was certainly capable of producing a good 3D title, it also presented a difficult development environment for 3D games, in particular making the inclusions of detailed effects including complex lighting and transparencies much harder to pull off than they were on Sony or Nintendo’s systems. With Burning Rangers, however, Sonic Team proved that, when harnessed properly, not only could the Saturn pull off these 3D feats, but also create a damn fine looking game that could stand tall right alongside the competition. Not only did Sonic Team manage to pull off excellent lighting and transparency effects that some had thought nigh-impossible with the Saturn, it also managed to create huge environments filled with vibrant colors and detailed character models, excellent fire effects, and fast-paced action, all running at an impressively smooth framerate. As one of the Saturn’s dying efforts, Burning Rangers was an excellent accomplishment as proof of what the system could really do; and it didn’t go unnoticed, with almost every major review and preview both at the time of its release and after pointing out its technical achievements for the system.

As what was seemingly one of the Saturn’s final big games, Burning Rangers gnarred a good amount of positive attention from the press prior to its release. Previews and press of Burning Rangers were in no short supply, with a number of big, multi-page features on the game from Sega Saturn Magazine,  including a 4-page feature in December of 1997, and a massive 8-page feature in March of 1998, just prior to the title’s North American release.

When Burning Rangers was released, in February in Japan, and a few months later, come late spring/early summer, in North America and Europe, the Saturn was on its last leg outside Japan, and Sega itself was already looking past it towards hopes of success with its next console, as Dreamcast rumors started to buzz around the industry. The game fared well with the press, receiving mostly above average-to-very good reviews and scores. Gamepro magazine awarded the game a score of 4.0 out of 5, bemoaning the game’s controls a bit, but otherwise calling it a “roaring good time” and stating that “for Saturn fans, it’s one of the last good games for a system that’s pilot light has all but gone out.” Sega Saturn Magazine, meanwhile, gave the game a 90%, while Edge Magazine gave it an 8 out of 10. Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 4 reviewers, meanwhile gave the game a variety of scores ranging from average to excellent; awarding it two 7.5’s, a 6.5 and an 8.5, while Gamespot.com gave the game one of its lower scores, a 62, stating that it wasn’t quite the “virtual fire-fighting experience we’d all hoped for,” but still went on to say it was a “really good game” regardless.


Burning Rangers saw a lot of positive press leading up to its release, and fared favorably with critics.

Burning Rangers saw a lot of positive press, but unfortunately, with the Saturn on the way out, it was released to a very limited audience outside of Japan, with the Saturn’s low install base and lack of success in North America and Europe. Because of the Saturn’s dying status outside Japan, Burning Rangers saw a rather limited number of copies printed and shipped, and was sadly overlooked by most.

Burning Rangers has seen some references and occasional press since, and has achieved a very positive level of cult status amongst hardcore Sega and Sega Saturn fans. To this day, the limited attention the game has gotten is almost always positive; IGN took a look back at the game with a retro-review in 2008, awarding it an 8.0 out of 10, and stating that “this game, and the Sega Saturn itself, deserved a better send-off.” Sega and Sonic Team, themselves have inserted references to Burning Rangers in some of their games since, including references in Phantasy Star Online and Phantasy Star Universe. Still, sadly, Burning Rangers remains a lost classic amongst Sega’s many great original titles of the past and, like far too many of their most creative and original works, was a sad victim of bad timing on a tragically unsuccessful and/or underappreciated console. But, like so many other underappreciated Sega classics, Burning Rangers begs a second look from curious gamers, and this lost child of Sega and Sonic Team is one with all the same charm, spirit, creativity and fun that the publisher and developer’s greatest classics are renowned for…..

The Game:

Flaws:

Burning Rangers is not a game with a lot of legitimate flaws to complain about, nor with many glaring issues. It’s honestly a very well-made game that, at its core, works well, has great presentation and is just a lot of fun to play. That said, Burning Rangers does a few quips and issues to mention, in addition to what is probably its one big flaw, which is the short length of the main game and small amount of individual missions.

This relatively short length and small amount of content in the game’s core story mode is probably Burning Ranger’s one big issue, and one of the only big complaints commonly cited by critics and fans. With only 4 missions in the game, the game flies by very quickly on your first playthrough, even considering the large size of each mission, and even considering the game’s large focus on replayability (which I’ll get more in-depth on later), it still makes for a game that goes by too quickly and feels like it could have used a bit more core content. The game has a plethora of extra content and unlockables from completing the game that vastly increase its lasting appeal (including a stage randomization feature which does much to remedy the small selection of missions), and a  focus of perfecting one’s scores and times which likewise encourages replays of the game. But the fact still remains that 4 main missions is a few less than would have been desirable, and even with the level randomization feature, more actual missions, with brand new environments and sights to see, would have increased replayability and lasting appeal even further, and made for a game that felt like it had a bit more meat on its bones.

Besides a need for a few more missions to beef up its content, other issues are mostly small or subjective in what is overall a polished and well-made game. One small quip some have mentioned involves the controls, which can at times feel a bit floaty. It never becomes a huge issue, and the control layout itself is intuitive and easy to learn, but the control over your character can feel a little loose at times, and a bit of tightening up would have made controlling your character a bit more comfortable, especially during flight or intricate platforming sequences. Likewise, boss battles feel a bit less tight and well-conceived than the rest of the game, too. These are really small and easily overcome issues, however.


Burning Rangers could use a few more main missions, but the replay value is high, and missions are all exciting and enjoyable.

Also, one far more subjective complaint, could be found in the choice to dub the vocals in the game’s iconic soundtrack into English in the North American version. This is a small issue, and a debatable one that is probably more a matter of taste. The music is still catchy and spirited in English, and nothing besides the vocals were altered in the songs, but the vocal tracks generally sound better suited to their original Japanese vocals, which have a more “professional” quality to them, and just sound smoother and more natural with the songs. A minor, ultimately subjective, issue, and really just one with the English-language version.

And that’s about it, really; besides these quips and the aforementioned need for a few more main missions to flesh the game out a bit more, Burning Rangers is a polished, well-made and extremely fun game, bursting with the slightly-crazy personality and originality that made old-school Sega first-party efforts some of the best  game’s around in the company’s heyday. Burning Rangers is truly a forgotten classic that is worth a second look….

Why it’s Worth a Second Look:

Sega has many brilliant first-party titles that have gone underappreciated but achieved a strong cult following, but Burning Rangers is one of their most tragically forgotten and neglected classics. There are a multitude of good reasons for gamers to dig up, and love, Burning Rangers.

Burning Rangers is a game bursting with the style, originality and totally unique and creative individuality that have made Sega fans fall in love with so many of the company’s wonderful original titles and exclusives. Burning Rangers is a stylish and unique game in nearly every aspect. From the bright, vibrant 3D graphics, to the funky and totally catchy soundtrack, to the perfectly executed and attractive presentation and menus, and lovely, bright and stylish anime cutscenes, Burning Rangers is filled with its own brilliantly realized and downright fun look, sound and atmosphere, and is overflowing with style and entertainment value.

The first thing you’ll notice about Burning Rangers is its upbeat visual and aural style. Even before the menus, you’ll be greeted by the stylish anime opening sequence, with its funky opening theme song and beautiful 2D animation. And from there, Burning Rangers truly never lets up in its audio and visual presentation. Truth be told, just about every part of Burning Rangers is exploding with its signature style in the sound and visual departments, and I can’t recall even a moment that lets up.


Right from the opening cutscene, Burning Rangers presents itself graphically and musically as attractive, upbeat and stylish.

The title screen and then the menus are the next thing you’ll notice, and all are beautifully stylish and well thought-out. With the funky music beating in the background (Burning Rangers, Go!), you’ll navigate what are honestly some gorgeous menus that are both perfectly functional and informative, and bursting with tons of colorful style and life. The constantly animated menu backgrounds keep everything feeling fast-paced and upbeat before you even get to the action, and little touches draw you into the game’s style and world; like the ability to check your “mail” from within the game/game world on the main menu, and the big, bold and attractive 2D character art on the character select screen. Honestly, it may seem silly to emphasize a game’s menus so much as a positive aspect, but they are a prime example of the excellent presentation, and the consistency of the game’s visual and aural stylistic excellence. The thing is that Burning Rangers draws you into its fun, bright, exciting atmosphere from before the actual game even begins, and it never loses focus on it for even a moment; Sega has a track record of first-party titles that were stylish and strong in their presentation, and Burning Rangers more than lives up to that reputation. From the excellent anime opening and cutscenes, to the gorgeous and lively menus, to the in-game graphics and HUD themselves, and even the loading screens, featuring the game’s lovely 2D character art, Burning Rangers always looks and sounds great, filled with life and style.


Even the menus are lively and stylish.

The music of Burning Rangers deserves special mention, because it is so off-beat, so funky and so much a part of the game’s personality and style. All of Burning Rangers music is great, from the overly-passionate Burning Ranger’s theme music to the upbeat menu music. Most important are the fun, funky vocal tracks, which have a style lying somewhere between 70’s disco/funk and 80’s pop, which a generous helping of old-school anime theme music. It both perfectly complements and, at the same time, completes, the game’s style and atmosphere. Burning Rangers soundtrack is just plain awesome, bursting with personality and fun which suits the game perfectly. It’s anything but generic, and is genius in how well it suits the game and what a creative and individual style it works so well towards establishing for Burning Rangers.

During gameplay there are, actually, long stretches of time without any music, however. With what a strong soundtrack Burning Rangers has, this might sound disappointing, but it also works remarkably well in heightening the tension, especially considering how nicely done the game’s soundwork is. The absence of music at most times during gameplay actually helps to keep the tension up and the player’s thought-process focused. Little details do a great job, like subtle background noises, including the constant, low rumble of the burning structures as they burn and collapse, of serving as a constant reminder of the urgency of the situation, and keeping an atmosphere of danger heightened. Likewise, sudden explosions, bursts of flame and crashes of collapsing object had an effectively low, bassy and powerful sound to them, and little details like the sound of futuristic doors opening or the echo of character’s voices within the massive structures you must navigate complement and complete the sound environment and all fit in and suit the game naturally.

In the voicework department, of course, the quality ultimately depends on the version you are playing; the original Japanese voicework is professional and well-done, performed by a cast of veterans from the anime industry. In the dubbed version, voice acting is more along the lines of merely “acceptable;” never awful or painful (which, considering this is a game from the 32-bit generation, is a step up from many of its peers), but nothing particularly remarkable either; some characters and actors in the dub are slightly above average, while others are slightly below, and it often sounds a bit cheesy, but either way, the dub work is not awful, just not too great, either. Either way, the game is fully-voiced throughout, which was always a nice and welcome addition in the 32-bit generation, and the voice work is at best excellent (in the Japanese version), and never anything worse than acceptable in the dub.

On the visual stylistic side, the character designs and art deserve just as special a mention as the excellent soundtrack. Sleek, attractive and filled with personality and style, Burning Rangers anime-style visual design is highlighted by the excellent character designs and bold, attractive art presented in the anime cutscenes and 2D character art showcased throughout the game. Characters themselves have tons of personality, both distinct as individual characters and iconic to the game’s look and style, while maintaining a style both familiar and attractive to any fan of anime, especially of the 80’s and 90’s generation. The characters themselves are likeable and attractive as is, but their costume design is just as important to their individual personalities and the overall visual style of the game. I simply love the “look” of the Burning Rangers team, the individual characters, and their uniforms and outfits, which are simultaneously a semi-humorous homage to the “anime superhero” look and something totally its own, as well. Decked out in skin-tight, brightly colored spandex bodysuits, topped off with equally flashy uniforms, big-collared jackets and angelic-looking jetpacks on their backs, the Burning Rangers crew is looking downright stylish as they fight fires and save lives. Of course, the crew itself is a fun, varied and, of course, totally sexy bunch (in true classic anime hero fashion). From the beefed up muscleman, Big Landman, to the wise-but-beautiful team supervisor, Chris, to the aptly named, handsome and stoic team leader, Lead Phoenix, and your main characters Shou Amanabe (the classic cocky-but-dashing anime pretty boy) and Tillis (the classic cute and sweet, but confident, female rookie), the cast of Burning Rangers is in some ways almost the anime stereotype, but moreover a completely conscious homage to the classic team of 80’s/90’s anime superheroes, while at the same time achieving their own unique and totally likeable style and personality. The character designs, cast and whole look of the Burning Rangers team is great and, just like the soundtrack, achieves a style that is both a classic anime homage, and something completely its own.


The Burning Rangers team are sleek, stylish, attractive and likeable, and a perfect homage to the classic anime superhero team.

Of course, the setting and world these characters are in is just as important, and Burning Rangers world is just a bright, fun and stylish as its characters. Again drawing from classic anime inspiration, while adding its own flavor to the mix, Burning Rangers showcases a bright and exciting futuristic sci-fi setting, and while the story it tells is somewhat brief and a bit outlandish, it also suits the game nicely and is in tune with the game as a whole; spirited and just fun, while, more importantly, showcasing a setting that is unique and enjoyable to experience.

The game’s style and visual excellence doesn’t let up during gameplay itself, either. While it is always arguable how well 32-bit 3D graphics have “aged” by today’s standards, it is, on the other hand, a fact that, for the capabilities of the time and system from which Burning Rangers comes, it is a damn fine looking game. In-game graphics are impressive and attractive from both a technical and artistic standpoint, and look great and are technically impressive by both the standards of the Saturn, and really, of any console at the time. In-game graphics jive perfectly with the anime-style presented throughout the game, and the 3D environments and character models are bright, colorful and filled with life. Likewise, the character animations are mostly smooth and well-done, and the sheer size and complexity of the game’s massive, totally interconnected stages is both impressive just for the size itself, and for the intricacy and attention to detail in them throughout. Stages and characters themselves are lively, each character and environment both technically impressive, and filled with unique personality and style. What really drives the graphical prowess of Burning Rangers out of the park, though, and completes it as a technically impressive achievement, is the excellent lighting, fire and environmental effects. Lighting effects, big and small, are extremely well-done, and do wonders to enhance the visuals, and add to the gameplay experience. Meanwhile, fire effects, explosions, and environmental destruction looks great and adds to an exciting and unpredictable experience. One thing the Saturn always had trouble with was transparencies and similar visual effects; but judging from Burning Rangers, you’d never know that. Visual and lighting effects are not just something Burning Rangers displays it is capable of, it is an area the game consistently excels at. Combine attractive character models, massive, detailed, and intricate environments, smooth animations, and an excellent array of visual effects, and they add up to a game that is both a technical achievement for its system, and just a great-looking game in general. Add to that the fact that, through all of it, the game runs surprisingly smooth, with a consistent framerate, and Burning Rangers really is impressive. While 3D graphics of the 32-bit generation have, arguably, not aged well by today’s standards, Burning Rangers is still a great looking game for its time, and, honestly, a game that holds up pretty damn well, considering its age, today.


Burning Ranger's graphics were a technical achievement for the Saturn, packed full of 3D lighting and effects than many thought the Saturn incapable of.

Of course, as with all games, one of the most important questions is: is it fun to play? And for Burning Rangers, the answer is a resounding “yes.” True to Sonic Team’s classic work, Burning Rangers is an experience focused largely on style, and just as much on fun, addictive gameplay. At its core, Burning Rangers plays like a blending of a few genres. Specifically, Burning Ranger’s gameplay is a combination of 3D platforming, 3rd person shooting, and 3D action/adventure, with a bit of arcade flavor achieved via a large focus on replaying missions to achieve higher scores and better ranks, by racking up more points through speed and completion time, exploration, finding and rescuing civilians, extinguishing fires, defeating the occasional enemy and collecting different color “crystals” (which also function as your health in a way very similar to rings in Sonic games) throughout the stage.


Your handheld blaster will prove to be an essential tool, both for fighting enemies and bosses, as well as putting out fires.

The game will place you in the role of the character of your choice (Shou or Tillis at first, or later, the other Burning Rangers members, who become playable upon completion of the game), and once in the role of the character of your choosing, you’ll navigate and explore the game’s huge environments, solving the occasional door or environmental puzzle, with the ultimate goal of reaching the end of the stage, defeating the boss, and ultimately saving the day. Along the way, you’ll search the stage for civilians in need of rescue, teleporting them out of the area upon discovery of them, you’ll fight fires and avoid or subdue dangers like rampaging mechs or environmental dangers like explosions and collapsed environments, and perform platforming feats, largely with the help of your jetpack, which allows for extended jumps and brief flight. The most central and essential tools with which the player must work are their trademark Burning Rangers jetpack, and their chargeable blaster weapon, which doubles as a tool for extinguishing fires and as a type of pistol for fighting the occasional rampaging robot, blasting environmental obstacles and, of course, fighting the end-of-stage bosses. Of all the gameplay elements, platforming and 3rd-person shooting are probably the most constant and prominent throughout, and what I really like about Burning Rangers is the way in which it cleverly implements them as a part of the gameplay that feels natural within the game itself. Specifically, I love how Burning Rangers takes traditional platforming and shooting elements, and molds them cleverly to fit the game’s theme of a fire rescue team; using third-person shooting mechanics to fight fires, and intelligently implanting platforming in a way that feels natural through the implementation of the jetpack itself, and makes the platforming itself feel less tacked on, more like a natural, logical need when navigating a structure that is half-destroyed and quickly burning to the ground.


The jetpack enables longer, higher jumps and brief flight, and serves as an important part of platforming sections.

Burning Rangers manages to keep up a tense and urgent pace at all times, as well, thanks to another cleverly implemented gameplay feature; a constantly-increasing structural “limit” for each environment. Burning Rangers encourages players to explore its environments, pressing them to find hidden areas and rescue innocents trapped throughout them, but at the same time forces you to think on your feet and keep moving, as the steadily-increasing “limit” percentage rises in the top right corner of your HUD. Extinguishing flames throughout the environment will help to bring the percentage down again, but every time the limit reaches an increment of 20%, flames will begin to explode from the environment around the character, and if the player can’t avoid and quickly put out the raging blaze, the flames will make short work of them. This could possibly become frustrating if the game didn’t handle navigation of its huge environments so well; but thanks to the ability to radio in for navigation and directions, the game again creatively and naturally makes itself intuitive in a way that never feels obtrusive or out-of-place. In this, the game cleverly encourages exploration of its large, intricate environments to not just rescue people, but find flames to extinguish, bringing down the “limit” percentage, while at the same time forcing the player not to dawdle in any one place too long or retrace their steps too often. These smart game design choices are pulled off expertly, effectively encouraging exploration while simultaneously keeping the pace and tension of the game at a consistent high point.


Missions are tense and exciting throughout, and stages are massive and intricate.

Burning Rangers is a relatively short game, but it is also one of exceptional replay value for a number of reasons which, in many ways, actually get more fun after your first run through the story mode. One of the key factors to this is the game’s arcade-esque focus on scoring, time, and mission rankings. Replaying missions is a core part of the game’s lasting appeal, as repeat playthroughs of missions are exciting and addictive as you attempt to seek out hidden areas, finish stage quicker and with greater precision, collect more crystals, and rescue more survivors.

The replayability and lasting appeal of Burning Rangers would be relatively thin if replaying the same 4 missions for higher scores was the only reason to continue after the credits rolled. But Burning Rangers has many more features and extras that are sure to keep you coming back for more. First and foremost, it should be mentioned that playing through the main story is something to be done at least twice, since, although the missions remain the same, the two main characters, Shou and Tillis, each have their own unique cutscenes and arcs of the story. But there is far more to Burning Rangers replay value beyond that, because upon your first completion of the main story mode is when Burning Rangers really opens up, with a whole slew of excellent extras and unlockable content that bring the game and its replayability far beyond what is initially accessible.

Probably the biggest and most significant of these features is the stage randomizer which becomes available. The stage randomizer in Burning Rangers massively increases the game’s replay value and amount of content. The stage randomizer does pretty much exactly what it sounds like; randomizes the layout of each individual mission, essentially altering the paths through stages, locations of dangers and civilians, and allowing for further exploration into the massive stages, opening doors that were previously inaccessible, which give way to all new areas, while at the same time cutting off other routes. The stage randomizer feature even allows the player to save their favorite randomized layouts for future playthroughs, allowing for replays of individual randomized layouts to discover their own secrets and perfect your time, score and navigation of them. I can’t emphasize enough what a great feature this is; especially when considering the seemingly lean amount of missions first available. The stage randomizer is an excellent feature that ups the replayability and lasting appeal of Burning Rangers massively.


Burning Rangers may have only 4 main missions, but its replay value is huge, thanks to an array of unlockable features, including a level randomizer, and the ability to enter special passwords and play as extra characters.

This feature alone drastically increases the size of the game and extends its appeal well beyond the somewhat brief story mode. But there is a plethora of other fun and significant unlockables that will continue to keep any player hooked on Burning Rangers. Upon completion of Burning Rangers, in addition to the stage randomizer, you’ll also unlock a “password function,” allowing you to input a wide array of passwords which will unlock a ton of other extra features. Password-unlocked extras include sound and cutscene tests, but probably the best and most notable of them are the passwords which allow you to play as any of the game’s supporting cast (Lead Phoenix, Chris and Big Landman) as well as the mysterious Iria Klein (who’s origin would be a bit of a spoiler to reveal), in any of the stages except the final mission, in addition to the ability to play as Shou or Tillis with the Burning Rangers theme playing throughout, in substitute of the voice navigation feature. Playing as the rest of the cast is a great addition, and it’s fun to see all of these supporting characters in action, and to be able to replay the missions with the game’s funky theme music driving the action.

Scoring and improving one’s performance is, as mentioned, a huge part of Burning Rangers lasting appeal as well, and one of the most fun features tied to this comes in the form of the game’s “mail” system. Essentially, there are 118 survivors throughout the game to rescue, and while rescuing them is essential to upping your mission performance and rank, you’ll also collect mail from the survivors when you save them. Individual survivors all have their own names, and will actually send numerous emails upon repeat saves, which differ depending of the character and the amount of times you’ve saved them. It’s a fun feature which serves as a unique form of collectibles, and an incentive to go back and replay stages for better results. Just one more fun feature, adding to the fun and consistently addictive quality of Burning Ranger’s excellent gameplay.


Replaying missions to rescue survivors and perfect your time and score increases Burning Rangers lasting appeal greatly.

In Conclusion….

Burning Rangers had, and still has, everything it takes to stand tall alongside Sega’s library of first-party classics and cult hits. It has all the style, beauty and focus on innovation and pure fun of the company’s long list of original titles. Sadly, like so many of the company’s other would-be classics, Burning Rangers was a victim of its console’s unfortunate fate, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Burning Ranger’s was released to a console that had already seen little success outside its homeland, and by the time it was released, the Saturn was already being disregarded as a dead console by most. As such, Burning Rangers, even amidst positive press, went mostly unnoticed, fading into obscurity as yet another excellent and inspired, but ultimately lost, Sega original. Even today, amidst what has been somewhat of a resurgence of recognition for Sega’s forgotten classics, Burning Rangers still, as it long has, remains overlooked and forgotten. But Sega fans, and gamers in general, shouldn’t let this title slip by them any longer. Forgotten and overlooked too often, even by fans of Sega, Burning Rangers is another great original title, with all the staples of what made Sega and Sonic Team’s work so exciting in their heyday. And gamers owe it to Burning Rangers, and themselves, to discover, enjoy and appreciate this lost would-be classic. Burning Rangers is a bright, beautiful game, bursting with the quirky fun, originality, inspiration and creativity that made Sega’s original titles so exciting in their best years.


Burning Rangers is a wonderfully original and well-made Sega title, which has gone overlooked for far too long; gamers owe it to themselves to check out this fun, addictive and stylish game.

Who Should Play It?

Any fan of Sega or Sonic Team’s classic work, or Sega aficionados. Fans of anime/anime style visuals, especially fans of 80’s and 90’s anime. Those with a love for arcade-esque score-topping and skill-honing at a game. People who love classic 3D platforming or action/adventure, or those who appreciate some creative cross-genre gameplay. Any gamer with an appreciation for excellent style and presentation, or creativity and fun.
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