The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers [Video Game Books]

I’ve been meaning to review these books for a while now, but it was only a few months back that I finally got around to picking up the third and final volume in John Szczepaniak’s trilogy. I don’t really buy video game history books but these have proven to be the exception to that rule and I believe that they deserve more attention. Back in 2013, John – backed by funds from a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign – toured Japan for several months, interviewing Japanese game developers in order to obtain and preserve firsthand accounts of what it was like creating games in Japan in the 80’s, 90’s, and – to a lesser extent – the 00’s.

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Super Mario 3D All-Stars is classic Nintendo…

…in more ways than one (I’ll get to that in a little bit).

So, my first post in a long while is a reaction of sorts. Yeah, I’m not exactly thrilled about it either but hey, at least it’s encouraged me to get posting again. That aside, Nintendo have decided to celebrate Mario’s thirty-fifth anniversary with some new products and I’m going to give my unrequested take on the main feature of this celebration. I’m sure nobody cares, but, then again, I don’t particularly care that nobody cares. Here we are and here it is…

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Death by Degrees [Playstation 2]

Year: 2005 // Developer: Namco // Publisher: Namco // Also On: N/A

THE LEGEND OF TEKKEN’S FIRST LADY BEGINS HERE, the back of Death by Degrees‘ box proudly claims. And why not? Nina Williams was/is one of Tekken‘s most popular mainstays, and there was no reason why an action-based spin-off shouldn’t work when the Tekken team had previously ventured outside of the standard 1-v-1 fighting with the Tekken Force modes. Unfortunately, Nina’s solo adventure received poor to (at best) lukewarm review scores on release, and I even recall seeing Death by Degrees in a countdown of worst games for the PS2. I disagreed with these scores vehemently back in the day and, after revisiting the game in 2020, I can honestly say that I still enjoy this game.

Is it a misunderstood gem? No. There are loads of things about Death by Degrees that piss me off and were rightly criticised in period, but I feel that the good outweighs the crappy to enough of a degree (get it?) that I feel motivated to defend Namco’s Tekken spin-off.

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Rejecting the revolution

Before I get into this rant, it’s important for me – critical, even – to outline just how much I loved the Valkyria Chronicles series. I played the first three games to absolute death, and bought the thick-ass art books for all three (something I might show here on DS90 at some point). I don’t think that Sega ever managed to re-capture the magic of the original with the two PSP sequels, but they were still highly-enjoyable RPGs that must have done things right for me to invest so many hours into them.

With that background knowledge in mind, I suppose it was only natural that I didn’t want to believe the hate for Valkyria Revolution. Surely it couldn’t be that bad? Well, put it this way: there’s a reason why you can still easily pick up a brand-new, sealed copy of the (so-called) Limited Edition for less than £10.

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Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance [Playstation 2]

Every so often I will actively purge my videogame collection of all the games I know I’ll never play again, or those that I haven’t touched for years. I used to keep everything but, over time, I’ve managed to wrestle the inner hoarder into partial submission. After all, there isn’t the time to keep up with new releases let alone return to everything I’ve already experienced. You have to be realistic sometimes and simply let go. Tying in with this philosophy, I recently decided to turn a critical eye towards my PS2 collection. I’ve long considered this shelf to be slimmed down to the bare essentials but when “essentials” is still around fifty titles, there remains space for improvement.

Rather than simply get shot however, I’ve decided to play some of these games again to see whether or not they actually hold up in the harsh light of 2020. First up, Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance, a 2005 beat ’em up from Capcom. When I originally played this, I loved it. I considered it to be underrated; a hidden gem if you will.

But how does the 2020 edition of me feel about Beat Down?

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Well THAT was epic

If you read my recent post regarding my thoughts on Yakuza 6, you might have been under the impression that I was speaking about the game from the perspective of somebody who’d actually completed it. Well, confession time: I hadn’t. But I have now. And what an ending it was too.

But this was more than just the conclusion of yet another Yakuza game: this was the finale of Kiryu Kazuma’s story – an epic, and emotional story that spanned seven main series entries, over a decade of Yakuza/Ryu Ga Gotoku releases (the first being the PS2 original which hit Japan in 2005), and an in-game timeline that began in the late 80’s with Yakuza 0. It’s fair to say that Kiryu went through a lot during that time. He’s been embroiled in countless Yakuza conflicts and shadow games involving corrupt officials, lost countless friends and loved ones to said conflicts, and been shot, stabbed and beaten more times than I’ve had hot dinners.

The Yakuza series has always been OTT, with characters that can survive a highly unrealistic quota of explosions and bullets, but there came a point where Kiryu’s tale simply became far-fetched, so I can understand why Sega decided that it was time to retire the Dragon of Dojima. Nevertheless, I wasn’t particularly happy about said decision when Kiryu and his allies have become much-loved staples of my personal gaming landscape. So this Yakuza 6 ending NEEDED to be pretty good.

[Spoilers ahead, obviously]

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Paper Mario: Origami King

This post – about the upcoming new Paper Mario game – was inspired by a good read on The Wizard Dojo. Check out Scott’s thoughts (and blog in general) – it’s much better than what I cobble together here.

Anyway, there’s this new Paper Mario game coming out soon for the Switch, subtitled The Origami King. You may have heard of it. A lot of Nintendo/Switch fans lost their shit and got super-excited about it (good for them), while others have had a more lukewarm response to Mario’s latest paper-based spin-off. Where do I sit on this one? Somewhere in the middle. The trailer looked fun, but also disappointing. Maybe I’m just an crusty old entitled gamer? Perhaps.

But here’s the issue: The Origami King resembles Sticker Star and Colour Splash – not the first two Paper Mario games that fans desperately want to see a proper sequel to.

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Yakuza 6 is the worst in the series

Hopefully I’ve hooked you in with that clickbait-esque title BUT, before you berate me for using such shady tactics, I do actually mean what I say…sort of. Yakuza 6 IS the worst game that I have played in the main series (ignoring the Dead Souls spin-off) but it is still a Yakuza game. Branding the sixth chronological installment of Sega’s beloved franchise as the worst one is like being presented with a group of semi-naked Playboy bunnies and being asked to select your least favourite.

What I’m saying is that Yakuza 6 ranks bottom for me, but it’s still a fantastic game regardless of its issues.

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