And now, Scary-Crayon reviews...
Chinese-Canadian Playstation Imports
by: Wes

Washington D.C.'s Chinatown fucking sucks. In addition to the customary restaurant fare, the Chinatowns of New York, Boston, and San Francisco sport all sorts of atmospheric trinket shops with poorly-painted local souvenirs and freakish bootleg toys and enough VCD/DVD shops to ensure that you'll always find something interesting to watch. By contrast, D.C.'s Chinatown has restaurants and an American movie theater and an Urban Outfitters store, which is great if you're a greedy asshole who hates Chinatown and insists that everything be overtly Washington D.C.'s Chinatown sucks.Americanized, but not so great if, like me, you relish the unique culture and imported wares that one should be able to find in these sectors of town -- or if you just like watching wacky subtitled Asian films. There's only one video store in the entire area, and even that's filled with bargain bin releases of Hong Kong action flicks at outrageous prices. When you're charging $15.95 for something I can find at Best Buy for $6.99 -- and despite its name, Best Buy is not generally known for its super low prices -- you should be ashamed of yourself. Every time I get off at the Gallery Place Metro stop I feel like kicking that stupid Friendship Archway to the pavement with my worn rubber-soled boots.

The Chinatown in Vancouver, B.C., however, is a somewhat different beast -- in a good way. Whereas American Chinatowns typically strive to serve the local Asian immigrant communities while simultaneously pulling in tourist dollars by various means, this Canadian Chinatown doesn't at all cater to its English and French-speaking citizens. I don't recall seeing very many restaurants in that sector of town when I visited back in 2001, but I did see quite a few salons and hair-cutting places advertising various services for various dollar amounts in various characters that I lacked the ability to read. There were music and movie shops, but Canada's Chinese could care less about carrying subtitled versions for us pitiful folks without knowledge of their language. And while I dug the foreign atmosphere -- I imagine that this is probably the closest thing I've ever seen to an actual Chinese town -- I was a little disappointed that I wouldn't have any neat import flicks to show for my visit.

And then I came upon something I've never seen even in the Chinatowns of New York and Frisco: a cardboard box with "PLAYSTATION GAMES" scrawled on it in Sharpie marker. Now, there are stores with video games in other Chinatowns, but these are expensive new import titles that everyone's heard of, not obscure used imports with no documentation whatsoever. With the disc titles being printed in Japanese, I had no idea what I was purchasing -- but at $2 Canadian each, I decided to take a gamble on a few and see what I ended up with. When I got home and fired them up, my inability to decipher the text quickly induced me to cast them aside (all of my imports are fighting games, but these were text-heavy from the get) and return my attention to WWF Smackdown 2. I would not find them again until years later, when I fired up ePSXe and decided to see if I could figure out what the heck I had unearthed in that cardboard box in Canada in '01. Read on to find out!

Blade Arts

Square Enix's Blade ArtsI think she's talking about how dusty the floor is.

I didn't have any trouble finding out what the title of this game was, which is probably one of the reasons that I picked it out of the box so long ago. The fact that the company behind the game was Square Enix didn't hurt either, 'cause everyone's heard of it and it generally puts out good stuff. Of course, most of their better titles are RPGs -- which tend to be fairly text-heavy -- but that somehow slipped my mind at the time. As far as the game goes, the title, "New Game", and "Continue" are the only legible words unless you can read Japanese, which makes it kind of a chore to play because of the abundance of cutscenes and exposition. Back when I booted up the game in summer '01, I never even got around to playing it because it has one of the freaking longest game introductions I've ever seen -- and while I've sat through some pretty lengthy intros before, being unable to understand this one and unable to skip it by pressing start on the controller made it almost unbearable.

Something about physical education, perhaps?Fire burns in every language.

That doesn't stop when you get into the game, either, as every few steps you take are interrupted by a cutscene featuring Tekken's Nina Williams (not really) or a call on your cell phone from that chick who looks like Rebecca Chambers from Resident Evil. When your women aren't bugging the fuck out of you, the game plays a lot like Tomb Raider, which is to say that you mostly run and jump around bland stone environments and occasionally mix it up with a stray animal or two. I never got into Lara Croft's adventures -- I suspect that players were more attracted to the heroine's hourglass figure than the actual gameplay -- but even the first TR was more interesting than this dull romp through your standard underground temple of unknown and/or mysterious origin.

Someone in this picture should be wearing a beret.Um, you're supposed to do something with L2 here.

Apparently there were plans to release this title in the States that never came to fruition, but it's not difficult to guess why. With a name like Blade Arts, you'd expect awesome swordfighting action and maybe even a ninja or a samurai in the mix, but this game features uninspired combat and limited slashing attacks with a simple hunting knife. Maybe things get better later in the game. I couldn't tell you, because here's another interesting thing about all of the titles I picked up in Canada -- shortly into the game, they freeze. I don't know whether it's related to ePSXe or if the discs were damaged or if the indecipherable text on the labels clearly marks them as being demos, but I'm not particularly saddened by my inability to progress further into Blade Arts. I would, however, rent it if it were ever translated and released (and I don't know why it would be; I'm just saying), if only to find out just why the heck this poor guy constantly has to answer his cell phone and argue with women while scaling pillars and being attacked by magical black panthers in a traditional temple of doom. It's enough to make one wonder if there are intentional parallels to historical civil rights movements.

Magnetic Power Microman: Generation 2000

Micropeople unite!Blah Blah Blah Blah Generation 2000

I had no idea what this one was either, but luckily there is only one PlayStation game featuring "Generation 2000" in the title. Admittedly, I probably went for this one because of the company also. Most gamers may not think too highly of the folks at Takara, but I've loved them ever since the 16-bit days when they were responsible for porting SNK arcade games to the home console systems. I wasn't too thrilled with the lack of Mai Shiranui's bounciness in Fatal Fury Special, but being able to enjoy Samurai Shodown at home and even play as Amakusa were more then enough to please me in those days. Then Takara had a hand in the creation of Battle Arena Toshinden 1 and 2, two of my favorite fighting games despite the reality that there are lots of better competitive brawlers. I can't think of any that I've had more fun playing against my neighbors and schoolmates with, though -- and if Magnetic Power Microman: Generation 2000 had been released for U.S. consoles, I probably would've been among the first to buy it. Unfortunately, as I was with the horrible Toshinden 3 (how the hell did reviewers justify claiming it was better than the first two?!?) I also would likely have been disappointed with my purchase.

Choose your Microperson!These people are supposed to be 8 cm tall.

Apparently sort of based on one of the numerous Microman toy lines -- information on the game is pretty much nonexistent on the web, so I'm just guessing here -- the game requires you to pick either Microman or Microlady and do stuff in a space station for reasons communicated in Japanese. The gameplay is fairly straightforward and involves simply wandering around as the camera angles change in cinematic fashion. Most obstacles are automatically cleared by the character -- there's one room with a large amount of debris in the center, but the characters automatically jump over it upon approaching -- but occasionally the game requires players to utilize the Micropeople's magnetic lasso abilities to advance. In one portion of the game, for example, the lasso is used to guide the character across a bottomless chasm. It only involves holding down the circle buttton, but it's still kinda neat and makes me curious about how these puzzles play out in the game's later levels. However, like Blade Arts above, Magnetic Power Microman: Generation 2000 froze up shortly after I began playing.

Just hold square.I hope he's saying something about an intergalactic battle and the fate of the universe.

Obviously, being based on a primarily Japanese toy line, there was little chance of Magnetic Power Microman receiving a U.S. release, but I'm not sure it would've been a great success even if American audiences were familiar with the character. To be sure, there are some neat touches, but the controls suck. Like many similar 3rd-person action/adventure games, they take after Resident Evil in that left and right are used for pivoting and up and down move them forward and backward -- but whereas some have described manipulating some such characters as being like piloting automobiles, the Micropeople control like wheelbarrows. Turning while running creates wide, exaggerated arcs, and they always seem to stop a meter ahead of where you want them to. Granted, this doesn't create much of a problem in the introductory level. There's really nothing requiring precise movement, though it can be kind of frustrating to have to stop, turn, and walk through a door because the character lacks the finesse to be able to run through it without having to start turning two screens beforehand. The combat is also fairly weak -- once you've sighted an enemy, holding down the square button will cause the characters to walk over to them and punch them until they are dead. It keeps the controls from becoming an issue, but it's not all that interesting or challenging. Given that it's based on a toy line, the relative ease of the controls (in that the clunky character movement is negated by the simplicity of combat and skirting obstacles) makes me wonder if the game was marketed towards younger kids. Perhaps we will never know.

I have no goddamned idea ClockWorks

It's aliiiiiiiive!!!ClockWorks: ''Normal Mode'', ''VS Mode'', and ''Options''. Thanks, Dai!

Of the three import games I recovered in the Canadian Chinatown, this is the only one that I went for solely because of a graphic on the CD: a rendering of a freakish one-eyed clock with large lips. I had no idea what the heck it was, but it was weird enough to convince me to add the game to my purchases. When I fired the game up, the mysterious origin of the clock was communicated in a claymation video that showed a boy waking up to see his alarm clock mutate for no apparent reason, go freaking insane, and then cast him into an alternate dimension of colored dots and bubbles. It seemed like a really interesting premise for a fun platform title in the vein of The Neverhood's SkullMonkeys, but it turned out to be a funky puzzle game.

I somehow got through one level, but even then I admittedly had very little idea how this game works and wasn't particularly interested in figuring it out. However, while the controls screen wasn't terribly helpful, it did give me the title of the game: embossed in the background is the word(s) "ClockWerx". A pal translated the title screen as reading "ClockWorks" (thanks, Daimao!), which prompted me to search under both titles and soon revealed that what I have in my possession is ClockWorks, Tokuma Shoten's port of ClockWerx, aka Spin Doctor, a 1995 game by Callisto Corporation. As far as I can tell, the only notable differences between the original version and the Japanese incarnation are that the game now has an odd backstory, the yellow arrow the player previously controlled has been replaced by the character seen in the claymation intro, and that the overall look of the game is a lot kookier and more colorful. I don't know if this particular disc freezes or not upon reaching a certain point, but I think it's safe to say that it doesn't matter because I'm so not into this game. Love the clock, though.

Thus endeth these short reviews of the freaky Chinese-Canadian PlayStation import/demo games that I acquired on one fateful day in 2001 in a run-down corner of Vancouver. The games themselves may have been a bust, but they did give us something interesting to discuss for a little while, eh? And who knows what other pursuits may result from this article. Perhaps some of you will want to seek out ClockWerx and give it a try. Others who adamantly argued that even SaGa Frontier and Ehrgeiz were phenomenal titles may finally be forced to look at the Blade Arts screencaps and admit that not everything Square touches is golden. Somewhere, a Blockbuster Video executive is reading this article and thinking about how neat it would be if rental chains partnered with software companies to provide random import rentals to U.S. gamers interested in trying out some foreign titles. Personally, I kind of want to hunt down a copy of the obscure Microman anime. But mostly, I wish game companies would take a chance with zany Japanese titles and release games like Stretch Panic and Okage: Shadow King and Katamari Damacy more often. At the very least, they'd be more interesting than the slew of GTA clones and uninspired adventure games that have saturated the market during the last few years.

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