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Former Destructoid associate editor and Mega Man super fanboy.
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After a short hiatus, I'm back with the next "wonderful" installment of Off-Brand Games! When I began this series, I had a huge list of candidates for crucifixion. I've been zipping through the shorter games, hoping to pump out articles at a regular clip. Now I'm left with the games that require greater investment and feeling a tad overwhelmed. Suck it up, boyo!

That means the articles may not be coming as often as I had once hoped. Don't worry, though! I'm still devoted to cracking open these sons of bitches like pińatas, releasing the months-old candy and moldy chocolate goodness inside. I want to hit up some GameCube and PlayStation 2 games hardcore, maybe a PC title here and there if my laptop is up to the challenge.

As for today, I've pulled out another Atlus-published treasure. The Legend of Zelda is tapped once again, and as with Alundra, it's really kinda tough to screw up a winning formula.

OFFENDER: Crusader of Centy
TASTES LIKE: The Legend of Zelda

Crusader of Centy was developed by Nextech, better known these days as Nex Entertainment. This group demonstrated great prowess with a little game called Resident Evil Code: Veronica. Fearing the obligation of meeting expectations of consistent quality, it shat out Time Crisis 4 and brought balance back to its software catalogue. Who wants to work that hard all the time, seriously?

The game opens with a history lesson on the planet's creation. Before plants and animals sprung, the land was populated by monsters. As light poured over the surface, the weaker monsters died off while the more resilient ones took refuge deep underground. It was there that the monsters flourished as humans established themselves as the dominant creatures in the world above. One day, the monsters crept out of their caves and tried to adapt to the altered environment.

Naturally, the people responded by pissing their pants and killing shit.

You are Corona and you've just celebrated your 14th birthday. That means you get to start hero training! Pick up your dead father's sword and continue the proud family tradition of ruthless slaughter. You were to be joined by your cousins Tecate and Dos Equis, but unfortunately previous engagements prevented their appearance in this game. In their place is a squad of animal companions who bestow upon you kick-ass magic! Animals rule!


What the hell is a "Centy"? No, really. I have no fucking clue.

Is it wrong to assume that the title of a game should offer some insight into what it's all about? The word is only spoken once in the entire game, around the halfway mark when an enemy refers to you as the "Crusader of Centy." A little context could help, thanks! Is it a person? Was there once a hero named Centy? I don't think it's the name of the continent. In fact, the European title of the game, Soleil, happens to be the name of your village. So it's more like you're the "Crusader of Soleil," but we still have a mystery here! Is it shorthand for something? Jesus! Tell me!

The entire game is a localization mess. I thought by 1994 these grammar screw-ups would be a thing of the past, but no! There are cases of text scrolling by so fast that you can't read it, then you are given a yes/no response prompt and you have no idea what it is you are responding to. On several occasions, a word would improperly wrap from one line to the next, so you'd get something like "with" where the end of one line has the "w" and the following line has the "ith." That's some amateur RPG Maker horseshit!

At least that can be attributed to human error. The game's scenario, on the other hand, is flat-out lazy. The whole game feels like one big fucking side quest. You get a sword, go to the training grounds, travel outside the village, save a lady from the fucking Big Bad Wolf, and rescue a little critter from an octopus, the successful completion of which qualifies you to be the world's savior or some nonsense. It doesn't add up!

Right near the end of the game, you are hit with a big Shyamalan twist. It seems that the monsters are not evil, merely misunderstood. You've been killing innocents out of fear and ignorance! I would feel sickened, except that every monster boss you face is a bigger asshole than the last! They taunt you, insult you, threaten you, and generally get all up in your business. Forgive me if I don't quite empathize with your plight, jerks! Don't gimme that "oh, but we were pushed into a corner" crap either. Even the most minor enemies attack you unprovoked! Misunderstood, my ass!

All this is at odds with the core game which is actually quite polished and streamlined. It really lends credence to my theory that the folks at Nex Entertainment can't stand having a good game on their record and thus must sabotage their work somehow. The game borrows its aesthetic from Zelda, specifically A Link to the Past. A lot of the tiles and architecture look like they would fit right in Link's third outing. Rather than Heart Containers, you collect Apples of Life. There's a Master Sword-like upgrade. Two-thirds of the way through the game, there's even a Dark World mechanic in which you go back in time to explore areas you were unable to in the present.

However, while the game looks like and shares a few common elements with Zelda, it really goes off and does its own thing. The name of the game is "streamlining." The only tool you ever use is your sword (which can be thrown like a boomerang, by the way). Instead of picking up new items, you recruit fifteen different animal helpers and apply any two at a time. They bestow abilities to augment your body and weapon, such as extended sword throwing range, fire or ice affinity, running speed boost, etc. Once equipped, you can see the current animals floating behind you in adorable familiar form.

Because of these visual cues, the game lacks a HUD crowded with a bunch of nonessential data. Crusader of Centy's minimal HUD is in stark contrast to that of the Zelda series which seems to grow more and more cluttered with each successive installment. All you need to know is how much health and money you possess. As an added bonus, monsters have their own visible health bars. Enemies and bosses go down fairly quickly, but it's still a nice extra over Zelda's offering of nothing.

Crusader of Centy eschews a traditional overworld in favor of a stage select map of sorts. In order to progress, you have to complete some challenge at a level marker. Once you've met the clear requirement, whether it be defeating a boss or running from Point A to Point B, you are free to pass over that marker unless a future objective requires a return trip. One downside to Zelda is the tedium in trudging through the same areas to fight the same squads of goons repeatedly every time you have an errand to run. Zelda games get around this through some kind of warping mechanic, but this stage select system is much cleaner.

While Zelda is extremely puzzle-centric, Crusader of Centy is more focused on straightforward platforming. There are several zones that lack any monster encounters and only ask that you clear the obstacles to reach the goal. You ricochet off giant rubber bands, slide across moving floors to pick up enough momentum to cross massive chasms, and maneuver past retractable spikes or flame columns. The game's jump mechanic is only used to step on buttons and clear gaps with no fucked-up relative-elevation guesswork as in Alundra. Thank God for that.

Whereas most of the action in a Zelda game is found in the dungeons, you are just as likely encounter major challenges and bosses in the normal areas in this game. In fact, there is no real distinction between dungeons and regular zones. You don't collect maps or keys, nor do you open more than a couple of treasure chests. It's a transparent experience that avoids the rigid level-overworld-level format that Zelda games fall victim to. Even with the inclusion of the stage select map, the world feels a lot more connected.

There's one point where you gain the ability to speak with plants and animals, but then a calamity occurs that makes it impossible for humans to communicate with one another. Try to speak to an NPC and you'll just get garbled characters. To resolve this, you have to scale the Tower of Babel, battle a freakish dental floss monster, and gain entrance into Heaven. You shoot the breeze with some angels before advancing across platforms miles above the Earth and battling a beast that guards the key to restoring communication. At no point during this trial do you think, "I have completed this dungeon, am entering a town, and will be playing through another dungeon." No, the transition from one zone to the next is very smooth and subtle.

The game flat-out looks good. There are these little details that absolutely tickled me. When you walk across the beach, your footprints will remain in the sand until you exit the beach area. You can run around the whole place and draw pictures in the sand and shit and it'll stay there! It really drives me up the wall that all this polish and detail is ruined because the scenario writers and localizers were dicking around instead of doing their job.

Because of the odd balance of fantastic and lazy design, the end result is somewhat of a mixed bag. The game is fun to play, but you don't feel that sense of satisfaction that should come with tackling an epic quest. The game is over extremely quickly, much faster than A Link to the Past, and the endgame isn't all that satisfying. However, the positives outweigh the negatives, so I say go for it!

Oh yeah! Sonic the Hedgehog says hello!

Photo Photo Photo

A couple of years ago, somebody must have tripped over the lever that operates the floodgates because the requests for ports have been pouring in, pouring in, pouring in. Port begging, of course, is the practice of suggesting, subtly or otherwise, that a particular game be ported to or should have been developed for another platform or platforms. It has always been around, yet I don't recall it being so prevalent just five years ago when everyone worshipping at the PlayStation 2 altar.

In any case, I'm tired of it, you're tired of it, we're all tired of it. Port begging needs to stop. Now.

Here's how it goes. There's a hotly anticipated game coming out for the 360 and PS3. Wii-only fans jump into the thread or comments and wonder why they are being left out. There is some ruckus over how the Wii Remote could be implemented or how the "hardcore" Wii owners are being starved. The others respond that the Wii group should stop being so cheap and simply buy another machine since they clearly aren't having their needs met. Besides, if all they can do is piss and moan whenever AAA titles pass them over, why did they even get a Wii?

The next day, something interesting is announced for the Wii. No minigames, no cute animals, no crappy plastic dildo add-on... say, this might not be a total train wreck! Now the tables have flipped; all the HD console owners who were ripping on Wii owners are feeling quite covetous as the Wii owners tell the first group to dust off the console on which they spent good money. What about seamless online capabilities and classic controls? What about the game's "full potential"? Do you honestly think the game can match the concept art with the Wii's specs?

Maybe you are a level-headed multi-console owner who loves all his machines equally... and yet... and yet you too feel obligated to chime in and offer your support to the beggars. You cut right through the dripping fanboyism and seething anger and excavate the sensible arguments in favor of a port. Though you possess all the machines, you want to have the best possible experience. The only way that can happen, as you've so judiciously demonstrated, is if the game were on one of the competing consoles.

Hey, check this out! A is coming to X! Oh, I don't like X, but I love Y! No, here you can have a unique experience, but there you can have more responsive controls, and ew, I don't like waggle, and there's no audience for that there, and think about the costs to the developer, but who cares about the developer, and games should be progressing, and the game really won't be any different, and you guys already have such-and-such, but that was a spin-off, and... what were we talking about again? What began as musings over development tidbits on an exciting new game or extended coverage on a title already released has devolved once again into a debate over individual hardware features and capabilities.

One of my favorite sites is the gaming forum NeoGAF. I may not be a member but am familiar with their rules and policies. One rule in particular states that port begging will result in an instant account ban. It's not enforced religiously, but the mods will step in and start swinging the hammer once a thread has passed a certain threshold. Once they drop the final warning, get in gear. It doesn't matter if you have noble intentions or if you are a long-standing member of the community. If you suggest that a game should see some type of release on different hardware, you are gone. That's how the Dragon Quest IX, Monster Hunter 3, and Epic Mickey threads were handled.

Am I suggesting that we start banning people on Destructoid? No, that's not my place. However, NeoGAF has a point. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but how annoying is it to have to read the same tired arguments over and over again in every thread and article? Where does the debate lead? All port begging serves to do is to derail the conversation, turning it into another theater of the console war. A few words are all it takes when it comes to such a hot-button issue.

Besides, it is what it is. Decisions were made and games go where they go. Deal with it. If a port happens then a port happens. Whatever. Don't you have anything else to play? If you feel so strongly and want to make your voice heard, just keep it to yourself. No sense making waves when it isn't necessary.

Now, there is one specific case of port begging unique to Wii that carries its own problems apart from the general ones. I'm talking about Wii-to-XBLA/PSN ports. When did this begin? There have only been a handful of formerly Wii-exclusive games that made the jump to the HD platforms (Rayman Raving Rabbids, No More Heroes, and possibly others), but as far as I know, there has not been a single instance of a full retail Wii title appearing down the line as a digital download. Where's the precedence?

What really infuriates me is the kind of games that fall under this umbrella -- A Boy and His Blob, Muramasa, MadWorld, and most recently NBA Jam. In other words, 2D side-scrollers and arcade-style software. Even though they are Nintendo properties, games like New Super Mario Bros. and Wario Land: Shake It! have had their worthiness as full retail releases questioned. That's the bit that gets me. These games aren't worthy of the disc treatment?

Look, I know that gamers expect retail software to meet certain benchmarks, but when they ask for such games to hit the digital channel it undervalues those games' quality. Is it that you are unwilling to pay $40 or $50 for them? Why? Are they so lacking in content that they don't deserve to occupy shelf space? Most of today's games lack replayability and have extremely short playtimes. With their stacks of unopened games and massive backlog, even the heaviest of gamers are guilty of investing a couple of hours at most into a title before tossing it aside. Why then is it that the games with older sensibilities get the short end of the stick? They get as much mileage as the big boys, sometimes more.

I know the argument for this one. They may be good and all, but the look and play-style is not what the market at large demands. They'll get much better exposure in an environment that is more receptive to their ilk. This is basically saying that simpler experiences are only viable if companies essentially give them away. The games I specifically mentioned are very polished and robust, so the thought that they should be $10 seems disrespectful to the teams that worked so hard on them. I know that there are similar games already on XBLA and PSN, but that shouldn't discredit what these guys are trying to do.

I dunno, that's probably a personal thing. Doesn't have much to do with port begging all that much. I think I just derailed myself.

So yeah, port begging. Stop, please.

Last June, I brought to your attention the fan-made Fatal Frame IV translation project. The aim of the project was to do the job that Nintendo and Tecmo failed to perform by localizing the game into English. It was supposed to be completed by the end of the summer, but real-life priorities no doubt pushed back the ETA.

Ladies and gentlemen, the patch is complete!

The best part about this patch is that it requires no modding of your Wii whatsoever! All you need is a copy of Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen, an SD card, and the patch itself. After following the instructions on the site, you should be able to run the game on any Wii regardless of region. Once activated, the patch will remain on until you manually disable it, letting you conveniently play disc at any time.

You should keep you eyes peeled on the site, though. It'll offer updates in the event that a Wii firmware update disables the patch. The team is also hard at work on extra goodies like English dubbing!

What are you doing? GO! PLAY!

Oh. My. God. Oh. My. God.

Are you seeing this shit!? OH MY GOD! Better than every episode of Robot Chicken combined!

This generation has seen the rise of the portable gaming in a grand way. Games so robust, so imaginative, so endearing that they rival the greatest of their home console brethren. The landscape is so rich that you can devote yourself to handheld gaming full-time and never be lacking in content. And yet, the end of the year rolls on and suddenly everyone has Alzheimer's.

It never fails. Is handheld gaming not real gaming? Is the hardware too weak to provide any substantial sustenance? That's what it seems like because it's rare for any site or magazine show real consideration for the great handheld games of the year. It's more than just a gnawing disappointment over some of my favorite games getting the shaft. No, it's the complete dismissal of a massive chunk of the software pie.

Oh, sure. They might get some mention if there is a handheld category, but other than that? "Game of the Year" nods? Don't hold your breath. Even in Destructoid's ten games that didn't make the final cut, the only portable game to appear is Half-Minute Hero. That's fine and all, but are you guys sure there wasn't another title or two you could have added as well?

Let me remind you just how awesome handheld gaming was in 2009.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own a PSP so no PSP-exclusive games appear on this list. That's not to say I don't think there were solid PSP games available this year but simply that I cannot personally vouch for their quality. Ironic that I would write about slighted handheld games and then not mention the PSP, but what can I do, honestly?

Retro Game Challenge (February 10, 2009)

Inspired by the awesome GameCenter CX Japanese television program, Retro Game Challenge was a celebration of the 8-bit era of our childhood. It was a compilation of several original games that paid homage to many NES and arcade classics like Space Invaders, Dragon Quest, and Ninja Gaiden. In-game magazines provided tips for getting high scores or skipping levels and clued us in to the "latest" software down the pipeline.

Playing this was like warping back in time and reliving the simple pleasures and discoveries of our youth. Other throwback games try to recapture the style of old-school gaming, but Retro Game Challenge recaptured the very culture and language. It reminded us of those days reading Nintendo Power with your best buds just behind the jungle gym, sharing rumors that we heard from that guy whose brother's friend's cousin scored "insider" info.

It's a shame no one bought the damn thing and now XSEED won't localize the sequel.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (March 17, 2009)

Rockstar promised a unique and full-featured entry in the GTA franchise for the Nintendo DS and that's what we received. It wasn't just a good DS game, it was also a bang-up GTA title, succeeding in areas where even 2008's Grand Theft Auto IV did not. With all the accolades it earned, it became the highest-rated DS game ever, proving naysayers wrong and filling a gap in the DS library that had been left wide open.

Why have people forgotten Chinatown Wars? Because it didn't sell five million copies out the gate. Some would claim that it's because the DS has no adult market, but I'm pretty sure it's because the return to the overheard perspective of the pre-Grand Theft Auto III iterations turned off a lot of folks. If the poor sales of the PSP port and Episodes from Liberty City are any indication, perhaps gamers are getting bored with the franchise.

At least Wired gave the game its due.

Rhythm Heaven (April 5, 2009)

Niero and the rest of the Dtoid crew have sung the praises of the Japan-only Rhythm Tengoku on numerous occasions. When the sequel Rhythm Tengoku Gold was announced for Western release, the crew hyped it as the best thing since curly fries. It arrived... and it was the best thing since curly fries!

Rhythm Heaven was a game basic in premise but infinitely charming and stylish. Just tap and flick the DS screen in time with the music. Sounds simple, right? The game was so mesmerizing and the music so infectious that you can't help but keep playing. With its microgame structure, the urge to play just one more song was too hard to shake.

And wouldn't you know it, Wired came through once again!

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (August 24, 2009)

I've really got to hand it to Chris Kohler. He truly appreciates the value in handheld gaming. He even awarded Professor Layton and the Curious Village as one of the great new titles of 2008.

Curious Village essentially took the brain teasers from Highlights magazine and wrapped them in a narrative featuring a suave English gentleman and his eager young assistant. It shouldn't have worked but it did oh so well! The sequel Diabolical Box arrived and gamers were treated to more of the same, but when "the same" means more puzzles and more beautiful hand-drawn cutscenes, is that really a problem?

Japan is already on the fourth iteration with a fifth on the way on top of a recently released animated film. The rest of the world needs to catch up!

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (September 14, 2009)

Of all the games on this list, Bowser's Inside Story may be the most deserving of a "Game of the Year" acknowledgement. It was universally regarded as one of the best games to grace the DS, mesmerizing gamers with its humor and spectacular writing while washing away the taste of its less-than- superlative predecessor Partners in Time.

The premise of the Mario brothers getting trapped in Bowser's belly opened up a bevy of creative scenarios. Need to give Bowser a boost of strength? Massage his muscles with a Mario tag team attack! Need the brothers to ascend to an unreachable height? Have Bowser drink some water to flood his stomach and allow the brothers to swim to their destination!

The most remarkable thing about this game is how much it differs from the other high-profile Mario game this year, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Such two disparate experiences that are spectacular in their own way prove that Mario will never go out of style.

Scribblenauts (September 15, 2009)

Scribblenauts became a victim of its own hype, but the fact that it garnered so much hype to begin with is a testament to its jaw-dropping innovation. When this game was demonstrated at E3 2009, many outlets called it their "Game of the Show." Considering the competition in Uncharted 2, Mass Effect 2, and others, that's quite an accomplishment.

The premise was simple -- solve puzzles by using any object you could possibly imagine. Once written, the object would materialize and more or less function as you'd expect. With a dictionary consisting of thousands upon thousands of items, each level could be approached in an infinite number of ways. If everything had come together, it could have been one of the greatest games ever made.

But reality struck. Controls were fiddly and there was no incentive other than self-satisfaction to solve puzzles in anything than the most straightforward manner. Nonetheless, Scribblenauts deserves enormous praise for attempting to do what had never been done. If a sequel gets made, I have no doubt that it will meet every expectation that we had for the original.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (December 7, 2009)

How you considered Spirit Tracks relied every bit on how well you enjoyed Phantom Hourglass. Did you like the total stylus controls? Did you enjoy charting a course on the overworld? Were you comfortable with the central dungeon mechanic? If not, you might have approached Spirit Tracks with a bit of apprehension. Though these elements remain, the tweaks made to the formula should be enough to deserve your attention.

With Zelda playing a more prominent role this time around, this might be one of the more unique entries the franchise has seen since Majora's Mask. Really, though, it's Zelda. What is there to say? Even at its lowest, Zelda games are amazing experiences and Spirit Tracks is no different. There is that sense of warm familiarity and curious exploration that keeps you coming back for more.

And many more...

These weren't the only notable releases this year. There were plenty of others worthy of your time and money.

The DQ remake train continued with Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, and the Shin Megami Tensei series received another solid entry with Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. Westerners were finally introduced to the beginnings of a long-lasting Nintendo franchise with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, Pokémon Platinum reminded us that we will never escape the little devils, and we got to peek a little deeper into Organization XIII with Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days.

Of a more arcade-y nature, DS owners were gifted the addictive Peggle: Dual Shot, the colorful Big Bang Mini, and the pulse-pounding Space Invaders Extreme 2. We were also surprised by Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, the action-platformer/puzzler that came out of nowhere to drop classic side-scrolling challenge on our doorstep.

The DSi was released and with it came the DSiWare store. Though pickings on the service have been slim, we were still treated to such gems as the Art Style series and WayForward's clever Mighty Flip Champs. The real winner here is Flipnote Studio in which you can create your own animated short and upload it for all to see. And the best part? It's absolutely free to download!

I could keep going, but I think it's clear that handheld gaming stood tall in 2009. It's a shame that portable games never seem to register much of an impact on gamers and gaming sites for them to favor them above the home console fare. But you and I know what's up, right?

Wink, wink.
Photo Photo Photo

Did anyone else watch Ninja Assassin? Duuuude! Ninja creeping in and out of the shadows, getting the drop on unsuspecting punks and ruining their holidays with a katana clean through the jaw line. Brutality at its finest!

Not gonna lie -- the movie itself was shit. The action pieces were great, though. Totally makes you want to flip out and kill your entire neighborhood with a twenty-foot boner while wailing on a guitar. Not bad for a film starring Korean pop sensation Rain.

As a result, I've been on a bit of a ninja kick lately. I've been looking around, hoping to find something juicy to slake my fascination with the shadow arts. So I thought to myself, could there possibly be a game starring a kickass shinobi duo that personifies the tenets of ninpo? If that's not possible, can I just get Strider with a pair of tits as a bonus?

DEVELOPED BY: Hori Electric

I guess I spoiled the surprise, huh?

Run Saber was developed by Hori Electric, a company with an impressive résumé consisting of a vast spectrum of hallmark titles dating all the way back to... pffffft! Naw, I joshin' ya! It only made two games before dissolving into the ether. At least, I think that's the case. I can't find shit about this crew.

Publishing duties were handled by Atlus because, c'mon, Atlus is totally fuckin' bonkers. If the company isn't making games about teenagers shooting themselves in the head to "release the beast within", it is publishing games about snowboard races when there isn't any snow. It even has a game in its portfolio about sentient vegetables. Who's gonna bat an eye if it slaps its name on a Strider clone, seriously?

In the oddly specific year 2998, Dr. Gordon Bruford develops a miracle mist that, once launched into the atmosphere, will cleanse the Earth of all pollution. Surprising no one, the mist instead turns humans into psycho Hellspawn. Turns out the good doctor knew what would happen all along as he declares himself king of the mutant freaks. Mankind's last hope rests on the shoulders of three ninja-like cyborgs known as Run Sabers... oh snap, one went bonkers and turned evil. Don't you just love sinking billions in malfunctioning techno-shit? So... umm... two! On the shoulders of two Run Sabers!

Better cross your fingers.


I must admit I never got past the first level in Strider at the arcade. I would always find the machine up in a Pizza Hut or somewhere and pop in a quarter with the misguided impression that this would be my day. It never was. My experience with the game therefore comes from the sequel on PlayStation and YouTube playthroughs of the original.

With that in mind, I feel safe in calling Run Saber the long-lost twin brother of Strider. You run through five levels across the globe, scaling up walls, gripping to ceilings, and sliding across floors while slicing through your enemies with a blade that travels in an arc similar to Strider Hiryu's Cipher. I'm happy to say that unlike some other cases of mistaken identity, this game is every bit as solid as its source material.

There are a couple of minor changes to the experience. You are not allowed to spam the attack button like Strider can but you do possess the ability to jump kick directly beneath you or at an angle on either side. You can also curl into a spinning ball of death not unlike the Screw Attack from Metroid. Finally, each of the two playable characters can cast an ultimate attack with an elemental affinity -- lightning for the male, Alow, and ice for the female, Sewa.

Aside from that, Alow and Sewa differ only in how they perform a basic attack -- Alow swings directly in front of him exactly like Strider while Sewa swings at a slightly upward angle. It isn't a game changer, but I prefer being able to have some range above my line of sight. Gives me a little extra oomph, know what I mean?

The major difference from Strider is the co-op mode. Two players can team up to take down Dr. Bruford and his horde of mutated scumbags in a display of acrobatic finesse and elegance. Unfortunately for me, I had no one to play with. As I wept for my loneliness, I convinced myself that the experience couldn't possibly be that much different with a partner. Besides, now I can play as the woman and stare at pixelated boobies in the comfort of solitude.

What? I'm a very lonely guy! Don't fuckin' judge me!

Let's redirect the conversation towards bosses. Yep, this game has 'em. Some crazy ones, I must say. Right at the end of the first level, you ride atop a fighter jet, battling this tumor-like protrusion that morphs through the hull as the plane spins around like one of the Blue Angels. Totally badass. You also run into Kurtz, the fire-affiliated rouge Run Saber, at sporadic points during missions, just to keep you on your toes.

There are a couple of curiosities that don't break the game or anything but nonetheless made me feel uncomfortable. First to the plate is the run ability. Your normal walking pace is quite decent, but you can speed it up if you're looking to rush things a bit. However, the animation cycles for both are identical, so instead of running you appear to be speed-walking. Sorta reminds me of how I walk when I'm shopping in Walmart and I want nothing more than to grab my shit and get the hell out as soon as possible.

Second to the plate is the direction marker that appears next to your health meter. Run Saber is a very linear game where the paths you must follow are clearly laid out. Regardless, there is a persistent arrow floating overheard that tells you exactly where you need to go. It will even tilt as you are walking up and down inclines just in case you thought you can be clever and clip through solid ground.

You know, there have been "keep moving" arrows in previous games that only pop up when you have cleared a room of enemies and are granted permission to progress, but it isn't a constant event. It's not like the game is holding you by the hand, leading you every step of the way. That's how playing Run Saber feels like; I find it very condescending. Christ, it's as bad as when your GPS tells you to keep driving straight down the interstate for the next 300 miles. Well, no shit! I've only been driving on the same road for the last four hours! Big fuckin' mystery!

All in all, Run Saber is a fairly simple game. It may not be easy by today's standards but it is a lot easier than Strider, and that's despite how the game throws you into the action without a full bar of health. I've never been a big fan of games that give you a big-ass health gauge but don't bother to top the thing off before handing you the reins. However, it doesn't seem to be much of a deal here once you grow acclimated to the controls and start picking med kits and 1-ups all over the place.

There doesn't seem to be much else to say about it. It's a nice Strider wannabe that unfortunately ends way too quickly, but during that time you are treated to some decent slicing and dicing. I wish I could say it was a steaming load of shit balls, but it isn't. It satisfied my ninja fix. What more could I ask for?

Since I still have space to fill, I might as well spiel more about ninja. More specifically, I wanna talk to you about the greatest ninja the world has ever seen.

When you really think about, Strider and the Run Sabers are totally not what shinobi are all about. Oh sure, they satisfy the cinema and video game ideal of badass ninja killing machines that run around and wreck shit, but they lack that one oh-so important cornerstone of ninjutsu -- STEALTH. These cats are not stealthy at all.

Check out that motherfucker above. You think he's a good ninja? He is a terrible ninja! Running around in broad daylight, severing limbs and leaving a mess wherever he goes? Shinobi are supposed to act discretely, are supposed to drop in out of the shadows, leave their mark, and get to steppin'. Ryu instead makes damn sure that people know he's around. He attracts a crowd just to show off whatever bloodstained toy he happened to pick up in his travels.

This isn't ninjutsu! Are you kidding me? It's an ostentatious display of bravado that has no place in the world of espionage and assassinations. Thank God he at least wears black and not something loud and attention-grabbing like an orange jacket and golden blonde hair.

Yeah, like that. This guy would do well to shut the fuck up now and then. It's kinda tough to get the jump on your enemies if every time you step into a room you start screaming, "I'm here! Look at me! I'm gonna save the day! I need attention! I need third-party acknowledgment! I need my Ritalin!"

I've always been impressed by real-world kunoichi who rather than skipping across rooftops would don disguises to fulfill their duties. One would dress up as a seemingly harmless geisha or servant, get close to their targets, and fill their cup with poisoned wine. Nothing like the big-breasted sluts you see in anime and manga, mind you.

That got me thinking -- men would be far more effective ninja if they appeared deceptively non-threatening. Maybe one could be a heavyset, bumbling man who employs visual gags to mislead his enemies. Unlike Narutard above, he would be seen as fat comic relief rather than an obnoxious loudmouth who needs to be silenced as quickly as possible.

Then I remembered this guy and that thought of mine went right to shit:

Just look at Robin Shou over there, ready to beat the bejeesus out of his agent for fixing him up with a supporting role under Chris Farley. Really, I think Robin Shou should beat his agent on principle. The man is far too awesome to be continually cast in half-assed video game adaptations.

No, if we wanna find the greatest practitioner of the art, we'll have to look elsewhere. We can't look to film, we can't look to games, and we can't even look to history. No, we'll have to look to literature to find this model of excellence. This is a man whose skills in deception and stealth are second to none. He is so elusive that most don't even believe he exists.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the greatest ninja of all time:

YES! Yes! Don't fucking look at me like I'm crazy! You know it's true! Yes, you do!

Look at that guy, so pimpalicious. You just know he's concealing a sword in that cane of his. And that outfit! His clothing may not help him sneak in the shadows but it allows him to vanish into any crowd of colorful characters in the blink of an eye. Blending into any environment is a far more impressive feat than lopping off limbs with an oversized reaper scythe.

Oh, you think you found Waldo? You think you found him? Are you forgetting a particular scenario in a certain book in which he visits a land populated entirely by doppelgängers? Perhaps you need reminding. Gaze upon absolute futility and despair:

He is also a man of many names. Here in the States we know him as Waldo, but around the world he is known as Wally, Charlie, Walter, Willy, and so on and so forth. His myth is so awe-inspiring that each culture has assigned a different title to his persona. He is not a man but a motherfuckin' force of nature.

Your God has failed you. You will never suspect his arrival. You are no more prepared for his divine justice than a fly is prepared to be caught in the spider's web. He is the lion and you are his prey. Don't fight it. One day he will come for you. Make peace with your earthly relations because your Deity has already severed His ties with you.

He is ninja. You are his bitch.

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