Thursday, 15 August 2019

Simple 2960 Tomodachi Series Vol. 3 - The Itsudemo Puzzle - Massugu Soroete Straws (Game Boy Advance)

I'd previously written off the Simple 2960 Tomodachi series, assuming that it was just a bunch of untranslated visual novels like the Dreamcast's Simple 2000 DC series. I happened across some screenshots of this one recently, though, and it turns out I've been wrong all this time, and the GBA Simple games have at least one cute puzzler among them! In fact, looking at the list of titles, I have no idea where I got my previous assumption from, as it's clear that none of them are visual novels at all. But anyway, this is The Itsudemo Puzzle ~Massugu Soroete Straws~, or The Anytime Puzzle ~Line Up the Straws~, and it's pretty good!

The game presents you with groups of stars connected by lines, and you move your cursor thing around, pushing stars up and down the screen so that the connecting lines become one straight line, either horizontal or diagonal. Do it multiple times in quick succession for more points, of course. There's a totally unimportant story about an apprentice witch who I think is trying to hold back the dawn for as long as possible by arranging the stars in the night sky into straight lines? That's what seems to be happening in the main mode, anyway, as the moon scrolls across the screen and the sky gets lighter as time starts to run out, while going in reverse when you get more time while clearing lines.

Other than the main game, there's also a time attack mode, in which you attempt to score as many points as possible in three minutes, and a free mode, which just goes on forever until you quit via the pause menu. Oddly, even the free mode has a high score table, though the nature of the mode means it really just measures the player's tolerance for boredom (though playing free mode did help me figure out little techniques here and there to improve my game, like any good practice mode should).

There's not much more to be said about this game! It's cute, it's fun, and unlike a lot of Simple Series games, a real copy of it can be found for next to nothing online if you're lucky. It's recommended!

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Gamera - Daikaijuu Kuuchuu Kessen (Game Boy)

Videogames based on Kaiju and Tokusatsu properties can be a mixed bag, though I'm probably not alone in thinking that the 2014 Godzilla game on PS4 is probably the best. And while its true that a lot of these games have got a worse rap than they deserve due to critics not really understanding their appeal (the common opinion of the Dreamcast's Godzilla Generations, for example), I might have found the worst of them all, by some considerable margin.

How Gamera - Daikaijuu Kuuchuu Kessen works is kind of like a turn-based fighting game, with no menus. Every turn, you're asked to input a command, then both monsters' maneuvers play out, and that carries on until one of them runs out of health. The closest thing to which I can compare it is probably the weird FMV fighting game Battle Heat on PC-FX. Except it's on the Game Boy, so you don't even have the visual spectacle of lavish full-screen animation to liven things up. Though if you're playing on a Super Game Boy, there are some nice borders to look at, I guess.

There are really two problems with this game, and they're both massive ones. The first is the inconsistency: it seems like pressing the same button combination on different turns doesn't always result in the same action, and furthermore, performing the same action won't always produce the same results, even if the enemy does the same thing, too. So the game boils down to you watching little animations of Gamera and his current opponent doing seemingly random things at each other until one of them suddenly gets hurt. This repeats over and over until one of them runs out of health, and to make things worse, you have to win two rounds against each monster.

And that leads nicely into the second problem: this game is unbelievably slow! Honestly, it took me a few attempts to get past the first fight, simply because it was sapping me of the will to live, and when I did finally get past it, it took over twenty minutes! And that's without losing any rounds! Then you get to the next stage and are faced with the prospect of this carrying on. Apparently this game has a total of five stages, but I can't imagine anyone having the patience to play through them all. I definitely don't recommend trying to.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Small Games Vol. 4!

All the games in this post are for the Epoch Game Pocket Computer, from 1984. Also, I'm going to at least mention all the games for the Epoch Game Pocket Computer, as there's only seven of them. And only two (maybe three) that are actually worth playing. Now, I'm not 100% on this, but while it definitely wasn't the first handheld games console, I think this might have been the first to have all the true hallmarks of what we think of as a handheld console: interchangable ROM cartridges, processing power in the console itself (as opposed to being inside the cartridges), and a pixel-based display (as opposed to a bespoke Game and Watch-style display for each game). If I'm wrong, please correct me, but I can't see any earlier handhelds that have all three properties.

The first game I'll talk about is Astro Bomber, which is mostly a clone of Konami's arcade game Scramble, though it does have a few of its own original elements, such as fuel-eating clouds, and a final bossfight against a ship that shoots giant snakes at you. It's fun enough, but it's both incredibly easy and far too generous with the lives: you start with six of them, and on my second play, it took until midway through the second loop to lose one of them. I guess that'd make it great for a long train journey, though? Oh, also when you beat the boss, it plays a little bit of Star Wars music, which gave me a laugh the first time.

Next up is Block Maze, which is an original idea, as far as I can tell: you play as a thing in a maze, and you have to kick four blocks from the middle of the maze to the four corners. There's also enemies to avoid, and balls to kick at the enemies and kill them. Plus, after the first stage, the blocks and corners get marked with letters, and you have to get each block to its matching corner. Unforutnately, it suffers the same problem as Astro Bomber: six lives that are way too easy to keep ahold of. Also, the scoring system relies heavily on a little roulette minigame that plays whenever you get a block to its corner, and you know I hate luck-based scoring systems.

The third game isn't even a game, it's the console's built-in art program! That's pretty impressive for a mid-eighties handheld, right? Of course, there's not much you can do with a 75x64 screen and 1-bit colour, but it's interesting nonetheless. I couldn't get much out of it, but I bet pixel artists who love limitations would have a lot of fun with it! The two biggest shames are that there's no way to save your work (on the original hardware, at least. Obviously in an emulator, you just take screenshots), and that every  time the cursor moves a pixel, it's accompanied by a hellish beeping.

As for the rest of the line-up, there's a puzzle game that's also built in, but it's unfortunately a sliding tile puzzle, which doesn't even make a picture, you're just putting letters in order. There's also Sokoban and Mahjong games (I absolutely hate sokoban, and I'm useless at mahjong), and there's an Othello/Reversi game, which might be okay, but there's not really anything to say about it. And that's the Epoch Game Pocket Computer! We hardly knew ye.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Junker's High (Mega Drive)

Just for clarification, Junker's High is the beta title for Outrun 2019, and the only differences, as far as I can tell, are that Junker's High was intended to have the ability to save times and even replays, though it seems like these options don't actually work, even though they're there in the game. But still, Outrun 2019 isn't particularly well known as it is, is it? Until the Asian version of the Mega Drive Mini comes out, at least.

Despite the different working title, it's pretty clear that this was always meant to be an Outrun sequel: it looks and feels like Outrun, and even uses a similar branching paths system. Similar, but not exactly the same. Before you start playing, you pick one of four stages, each of which is made up of a collection of branching paths, like the one in Outrun. Though they don't follow the same big triangle formation as in the original game, instead being a selection of diamond and chain shapes. This means that each time you play a stage, the first and last areas will be the same as the other times you picked that stage, but there's a bunch of different routes to take in the middle. So while a single play will be shorter than a game of the original Outrun, there's a greater number of routes to go back and see.

The structure isn't the only change to the formula, though: your Batmobile-looking vehicle also has a boost function, that works in a pretty unique way. If you reach and maintain top speed for a few uninterrupted seconds, the boost will activate, significantly incresing your speed until you slow down for any reason. It's a little more strategic than the usual limited-use boost items you'd see in other racing games, and what makes it better is that it really does seem like the tracks are designed around it. It pays to learn where the straight parts are in a track that let you really cut loose with the speed, and where you should tap the brake to stop the boost activating so that it doesn't send you careening off of a bridge.

Another interesting thing is that though it looks like it's going to be set in a grim cyberpunk dystopia, there's actually a bit of optimism in the game's backdrops. Most of the city stages seem clean, shiny and genuinely advanced, and there's a few stages set in  lush green paradises, too. From what I've seen, there's only one stage that takes a "glass half empty" approach, and that's a stage with you driving on bridges over clean-looking water, with a backdrops of ruined, crumbling skyscrapers in the distance.

If you like Outrun and want some more of it, then Junker's High/Outrun 2019 will give you exactly that, with a couple of new and interesting twists bundled in, too. The Asian version of the Mega Drive Mini probably has the best line up generally, and Outrun 2019 is a part of that, which is nice, since actual cartridge copies seem to be selling for the same price as they did when the game got released in 1992. (On another note, who would have ever have guessed it'd be Konami of all companies, that did the proper thing with their mini console by putting the same lineup on every version of it?)

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Other Stuff Monthly #3

I'm not sure how to write well about toys, so you'll have to forgive me if this post isn't great. But hopefully it's something I'll get used to and figure out over time, okay? Anyway, this post is about a figure from the 1994 anime series Haou Taikei Ryu Knight. The series is a fantasy mecha show, that occasionally throws a bit of wild west stuff in there too. It's nothing spectacular, but it's decent enough. If someone had dubbed it into english and had it broadcast in the US or UK at 6am, I'm sure it would've been a cult hit that a few people remembered and loved to this day.

The protagonist party in the show all fit into typical RPG classes, like knight, mage, ninja, and most pertinent to this post, priest. They all also have giant robots called Ryus, that are thematically appropriate to their character class. What I have in this post is the Ryu Priest Baurus action figure, accompanied by a smaller, unarticulated figure of its pilot, the priest Izumi. Getting Izumi out of the way, in terms of toyeticity, he's kind of superfluous here: nicely sculpted and painted, but unarticulated and not to scale with his mecha. Thinking like a kid, though, if you had a bunch of the other figures, having the pilots with them, even in this form, would add a lot of between-battle play value.

Onto the main figure: it's pretty good! I'm missing a couple of pieces (the big tall priest hat, and a part to attach unused weapons to the figure's back), but it's not too big a deal. It occupies a space between model kit and normal action figure, which I guess must have been a common trait for kids' mecha shows in the early 1990s, as I remember having, when I was a kid, a Samurai Pizza Cats figure that I later learned was an imported and repackaged Japanese toy. So the figure comes mostly pre-assembled, apart from weapons and a few details, and it can also be dismantled to a certai extent, too.

You might expect this hybrid approach to result in great articulation, but while there are some points you wouldn't have normally seen on regular action figures of this period, like in the middle of the feet, there's also some weird omissions of joints you'd think would be mandatory. The most glaring of these is the lack of elbow joints, especially since the figure comes with multiple weapon options (a large club, two smaller clubs, and a shield), that can be health in either hand. Speaking od which, the hands are pretty interesting: they're in a weapon-holding position that similar to what you'd see on Gunpla. The difference is that this toy is skewed towards a younger audience, and towards play more than display. So the hands are made of a slightly flexible rubber/plastic, making it easy to change what they're holding.

How do I end a review of a toy? I don't know, I guess I'll just say that I really like the squat, cute mecha designs of this series, and they do make for great-looking toys. I also think that as a kid, the lack of elbow joints would have annoyed me, but not enough for it to be a deal-breaker. That's all I've got, really: it's a pretty good toy, but it definitely could have been better.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Dragonball Z (Plug and Play)

So, back in the mid-00s, there were a lot of these licensed plug and play joystick things, usually shaped like a character from a show they were based on, and more interestingly, containing one or more completely new 2D games! Though there's recently been talk of a lot of plug and plays actually being famiclones, with brand new, officially licensed Famicom games still being written because of them, as far as I can tell, these Jakks Pacific ones aren't famiclones. The games are too colourful, the sprites are too big, and so on.

This one was shaped like Shenron, and contained three games, all of which vary in both quality and thematic appropriateness. We'll get the worst and least fitting out of the way first, with "Kamehameha Assault". This is Dragonball Z-themed Pong. You pick one of five characters (Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, Cell, and Buu), then you hit a green energy orb back and forth while also shooting energy blasts at each other. Each of the two characters has some of the Dragonballs behind them, and every time one of them gets hit by the green orb, it goes over to the other character's side. When one character has all seven, they win. It really is just fancy pong where you can also shoot each other a bit. It's definitely not fast or exciting enough to be considered a Windjammers-alike.

Next up is the most thematically appropriate of the three games, and while it is better than Kamehameha Assault, it's not by a great amount. Its name is Buto-Retsuden (fighting fighting legend? Am I reading that right?), and it's a fighting game. The roster is the same five characters as before, and it looks and feels like a poor imitation of the Super Butoden games. Except there's no special move inputs, beyond, say, forward+attack. Also, all the attacks, even the supers, do a pathetically tiny amount of damage and the fights feel like they last for hours. As a result, I never even managed to finish a credit of this, win or lose. By the halfway point of the second fight's first round, I was losing the will to live every time, and just quit.

Finally, we've got the best game of the three, and while it doesn't fit the theme particularly well, it's pinball, and basing pinball tables on things no matter what they are is a grand old tradition dating back to colonial times, at least. Also, the ball launch mechanism is Goku charging and firing a Kamehameha, which is a nice little touch. It clearly takes a lot of inspiration from Devil Crush, with the basic structure being a three-screen-tall main table, with entrances to seven bossfight bonus tables hidden around the place, and enemies marching up and down the place waiting to be smashed by the ball. Of course, every time you beat one of the bosses, the ball turns into a dragonball for you to take to goku up at the top of the table. Get them all to summon Porunga (since this table is set on Namek, during the Freeza arc) for lives and points and such.

Pinball isn't a spectacular game, but it's not awful, either, and it's a lot better than the other two games on here. Whether or not it's worth the price of admission depends on how much that price is. The going rate on ebay at the time of writing seems to be £10-20, which is far, far too much. If you see one of these for a pittance in a charity shop, though, the pinball game will give you half an hour's fun before you put the stick on a shelf, where it will at least make a fairly nice ornament forevermore.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Otostaz (PS2)

I can't find any evidence of this besides on mention in a 17-year-old issue of Edge, and I don't know if any other games came out of it, but Otostaz was possibly the result of an initiative at Sony in the early days of the PS2 to put out some games with lower production budgets and shorter development times. Presumably, the aim of such an initiative is to create more interesting, unique games, that didn't necessarily need to sell lots of copies, since they had less to lose. That's the kind of thing I like to see in videogames, movies, and so on. Lower budgets, more imagination!

Anyway, it's a kind of solitaire Othello game, themed around making buildings grow. There's three kinds of tiles in the game: ground, tree, and water. If there's one piece of ground touching both a tree and a bit of water, then a level one house will grow there. If there's a bit of ground touching two level one houses, a level two house will grow there, and so on up to level six. Your job is to make as many high-level houses grow as you can before each stage ends, to score points. There's also a game over condition that I think happens when you don't have any houses in the leftmost column of spaces when the screen scroll past it. But you'll be playing a few hours before you get to the point where that happens.

There's a few more advanced techniques to learn too, but you'll pick them up along the way, plus not only is there a very through tutorial, but there's also an option to turn all the text into English, despite this being a Japan-only release, which is nice. It's generally a fun and satisfying game to play, too, once you've figured out how it all works: lots of squares constantly flipping over, and numberse going up, and all those little kind of kinaesthetic touches that let you know you're doing well.

The presentation's pretty nice, too, with the game seemingly being set in a world made of thick coloured paper, though the stock sound effects do make it feel slightly cheap. The only real problem with Otostaz is that there's not much to write about regarding it. It's a decent game, pretty unique, and if you see a copy going cheap, it definitely wouldn't hurt to pick it up. You'll definitely get a few hours of enjoyment out of it, even if the first hour is just learning how to play.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Off-World Interceptor Extreme (Saturn)

This is a game that got a lot of coverage around the time of the Saturn's European launch, though I don't remember ever hearing of anyone actually owning or even playing it. There's a few reviews on GameFAQs, that are all well over a decade old and incredibly poorly written, even by GameFAQs standards, and they all absolutely hate the game and everything about it. Which strikes me as odd, since the game isn't terrible by any degree, nor is it even well-known enough for any supposed low quality to be received opinion, either. But one review even went as far as to say that Off-World Interceptor Extreme was so bad that Superman 64 looked good next to it.

It's not like this is some great forgotten classic, either, of course. But it is pretty good. You play as a "trash man", which is a kind of futuristic bounty hunter, employed by some military-looking people to chase down and kill space-criminals, and if you happen to also kill tons of space-cops along the way, that's fine too. Yeah, I'm not sure what kind of organisation is employing you, except maybe some kind of incredibly well-funded space-anarchist vigilante group? But anyway, you go to various planets in your futuristic gun-car and kill lots of space-cops and occasionally a space criminal, then spending your bounty on new cars and upgrades.

"Pretty good" is a perfect assessment of this game, in fact: driving isn't perfect but it's fun enough and goes at a decent speed. Shooting enemies and seeing them explode is kind of satisfying, et cetera. It wouldn't have been a wise purchase at full price even in 1995, but if you pick up a copy cheap in 2019, you'll get an hour or two's worth of fun out of it. (I did check ebay, and the prices for this game vary wildly: from £2 up to £50!)

Of course, it's a western-developed game from the early days of CD consoles, so there's the obligatory live action cutscenes between each stage, during which you're given your missions and the higher-ranked officers gradually warm up to you and so on. It all looks like a very low budget TV show, like most live action FMV did, bet there is one small difference that makes OWIE's cutscenes stand out: self-awareness. I don't know if it was the intention to do this from the start, or if the developers saw the footage and took and instant dislike to it, but all the cutscenes has imposed onto them the silhouettes of two guys in armchairs, watching the proceedings and making jokes at the game's expense, in a manner obviously inspired by Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Occasionally, they do even get some actual funny lines, too!

Off-World Interceptor Extreme is really the kind of game that natually gravitates towards being forgotten: it's nothing special, but it's not really a bad game, either. It feels a lot older than it is, too, despite the stages being made of texture-mapped polygons, too (though all the things in the stages are sprites): replace them with a good-old stripey road like you'd see in a typical sprite scaling game and take out the cutscenes, and this is a game that could totally have appeared on consoles five years prior, or in arcades ten years prior. That's not to say it's bad, but at the launch of a shiny new console generation, it probably got buried under all the games that were offering something genuiniely new.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Supreme Warrior Ying Heung (Mega CD)

I've long theorised that the thing that killed the Mega CD was western publishers and their obsession with FMV, since the PC Engine CD, which had almost no support in the west, and had no FMV games, was a pretty big success (in Japan, at least), just by having lots of good games. Until now, though, I hadn't actually played any of the western "interactive movie" style FMV games, only the likes of Road Avenger and Strahl: the "laserdisc arcade" school of FMV games that were made up of long strings of QTEs and cool-looking 80s animation. Those games are pretty fun, if very limited.

Supreme Warrior Ying Heung is the first interactive movie I've played, and using the word "played" is an act of generosity it doesn't deserve. The story sees an evil warlord attacking a small town in sixteenth century China, demanding half of a magic mask from the local martial arts master. If he gets the mask, he'll be all-powerful and go on to rule the world. Unfortunately, the master is too old to fight the warlord, and his best student is injured. So it falls to you, a collection of disembodied limbs attatched to a movie camera to save the day.

There's some good things about this game, that I should mention before I continue with its burial, so here they are: the production values are surprisingly good, in a mid-90s American TV show kind of way, and the video quality is a lot better than most live action Mega CD games. That's about it, though. The big problem is that the developers have tried to make something a bit more sophisticated than the typical QTE festival, and it just doesn't work. This is a problem shared by one of the aforementioned laserdisc arcade games, Cobra Command (aka Thunderstorm FX), which added a fiddly, semi-functional crosshair shooting element to proceedings. Supreme Warrior manages to be go even further with the complexity, and while Cobra Command was pretty difficult to play, this game is practically impossible.

The actual game part of Supreme Warrior has you fighting the warlord's three henchmen, then, if you somehow manage to beat them, the man himself. The fights are completely live action and first person, with the henchmen punching and kicking in the direction of the camera, while you're expected to punch, kick, and block in accordance with the little prompts that appear at the edges of the screen. The problem is that the prompts sometimes don't appear, and sometimes hitting the right direction and button doesn't do anything. I made a few attempts at fighting each henchman, and I never landed more than two hits on any of them. It just doesn't work on any level: it's no fun to play, the basic mechanics don't work, and your hands and feet flying in from the edge of the screen look stupid every time.

I wish I could say it was a shame that this game turned out how it did, and that the concept had so much potential, but I can't see how else they would have done it. I guess they could have made it a simple QTE game like the arcade games that had been originally released almost a decade earlier, or they could have used the movie segments as mere cutscenes to a more traditional action game, maybe with Mortal Kombat-style digitised sprites. But neither of those solutions really offers the kind of interactive movie innovation towards which Digital Pictures strove. Since no-one else has managed to make a good game from the concept in the decades since, maybe it's just not possible?

Friday, 28 June 2019

Boukyaku no Senritsu (Game Boy Advance)

I don't know what made this game's title stand out to me while I was perusing a list of GBA games, but it did, and I'm glad I decided to investigate for myself then and there instead of going online and looking it up first. Because what this game is is a pretty fun Kiki Kaikai-alike, and what GameFAQs inexplicably lists it as is an adventure game. If i'd have seen that listing before playing, I would have just assumed it was completely unplayable without Japanese literacy and ignored it. So the moral is not to trust crowd-sourced info when it comes to lesser-known games, I guess?

So yeah, Boukyaku no Senritsu (also known as The Melody of Oblivion) is a top-down shooting game based on a 2004 anime I've never seen,, and in it, you pick from one of three characters and go trough five stages fighting against strange monsters, like robot cows, monkeys and babies, a bull/buss hybrid thing, and so on. Once per stage there's also a non-shooting section where you're riding on a jetbike and you just have to avoid stuff until it's over. I was pleasantly surprised in a number of wats playing this game, too: not only is it a really fun game to play, but it also has an amazing soundtrack, reminiscent of PC98 shooting games. The GBA doesn't have a great reputation regarding music, but it is possible to eke a good soundtrack from it.

With two exceptions, the presentation is a good job all-round, in fact. The first exception is that the sprites are in that ugly, blobby pre-rendered that was popular for some reason in the GBA's heyday (though the backgrounds are still nice enough). The other is that a few times per stage, and between the stages, there's lengthy dialogue scenes that you can't just skip in one go with the start button or anything: you have to sit there hammering the A button until the characters stop their yammering and let you go back to shooting stuff. There is one really nice bit of aesthetic flourish that almost makes up for those things, in that when you use your bomb attack, you get a few seconds of full screen animation that not only looks great, but is also pretty impressive for a GBA game. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any others that do that. And again, the music really is great.

There's not much more to be said about this game, to be honest: it's another, heretofore unsung high quality action game that manages to be worthwhile on a system that already has a generous supply of better-known high quality action games. It's a little easy, since I got to the final boss on my first attempt on default settings, but there are higher difficulties, including one that has to be unlocked by completing with every character. It's also pretty cheap to get a legit copy of, which is probably thanks to its relatively unknown status. I recommend it! One final word: apologies for this shorter-than-usual, slightly thrown-together post, but a combination of being busy with some other writing, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night getting released last week, and some bad mental health days have all hit at once, taking away the time and energy I need to research a few posts in advance like usual.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Other Stuff Monthly #2: Marvel Cross

There's not much information around regarding the Japanese fandom of western-produced comics and cartoons. I think the most well known piece of that world are the cute pieces of fanart made of South Park characters by mainly female Japanese fans. If we go into things a little more specifically, towards Japanese fans of western superhero comics, the only time an english-language spotlight has been shone on that area that I'm aware of is the 1994 one-shot "Justice", printed by Antarctic Press, which featured fanart and translated fanzine articles drawn and written by Japanese fans, mainly about Marvel and DC characters.

A couple of years ago, however, I became aware of an officially licensed magazine published in Japan in the 1990s entitled Marvel Cross, which featured Japanese translated reprints of various Marvel comics. A while later, I actually managed to get my hands on a copy, and here we are. Before we get onto the actual contents, it should be noted that those Japanese fans must have been truly dedicated: a 120-page issue of Marvel cross cost 1000 Yen, compared to the breezebloack-sized Shonen Jump, which in 1997 cost a mere 210 Yen a pop. Furthermore, while collected trade paperback editions of manga also cost a couple of hundred yen per volume, this issue contains ads for the first volume of the X-Men storyline The Age of Apocalypse, carrying a hefty 3200 Yen pricetage.

Now, we finally get onto the contents! There's four issues reprinted in Marvel Cross #14, all of which come from the 1980s: The Amazing Spider-Man #310 (December 1988), Uncanny X-Men #137 (September 1980), The Mighty Thor #337 (November 1983, and X-Men Annual #12 (1988). It looks like, judging what's listed in the previous issues directory towards the back, and on the next issue preview page, that Spider-Man was in there as a permanent fixture, while the other series would cycle in and out in 4-6 issue long arcs. For example, the X-Men annual is listed as the first part of a three-part X-Babies story, while Uncanny X-Men #137 is the double-length climax to the five-part Dark Phoenix storyline, to be replaced in the next issue by the start of a three-part Iron Man/Captain America team-up, and what I think is the start of ongoing 1960s Iron Man stories.

As well as the comics themselves, there's a fairly generous portion of back matter, too: a letters page, a Q&A section "hosted" by Uatu the Watcher, a few columns, comics news and sales charts from the US, and, most exciting of all: a fanart section with a couple of cosplay photos thrown in for good measure! The magazine in general is pretty well-presented, to be honest. Each comic is preceded by a brief recap/dramatis personae section, with the Dark Phoenix's page being especially impressive, listing twenty-two characters!

All in all, there's really no good reason beyond curiosity for western fans to pick up issues of Marvel Cross: even if you can read Japanese, it'd be easier to get hold of the comics contained therein in their original English. I'm glad I did, though, just because it means I could learn about a previously unknown facet of a fandom that's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and even more importantly, to share that learning with you. Having said that, it is a really aesthetically great-looking magazine, and I've long been of the opinion that superhero publishers should look further into anthology formats (which, to give them credit, they actually do in the UK). As this isn't a review, I'm not sure how to end it. I'm done imparting information now. Goodbye!