The Vita takes a lot of flak for its lack of games, but that certainly hasn’t been a problem recently. The system has become a magnet for quirky JRPGs, and three of them — “Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection,” “Mind Zero” and “Monster Monpiece” — are in this week’s column. Also new is “Transistor,” a mind-bending, downloadable PS4 tactical shooter that’s one of the best reviewed games so far this year, and there are also a couple fresh downloads for the traditionally software-poor Wii U.
Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection
(Vita, $40, Teen)
If you prefer your JRPGs hypersexualized and text-heavy, Producing Perfection won’t let you down. Part game industry parody, part choreography and music career sim, the game stars four buxom protagonists who represent different real-life gaming corporations. You choose one and help her garner fans, giving her commands to help her hone her performance skills.
You get the distinct feeling that you’re playing with dolls, and like most life sims, Producing Perfection works best in short, daily bursts. If you’re in the right mood, the cheeky, cheery dialogue and over-the-top performance aspects can be breezy guilty pleasures. If you’re expecting something more traditional, the game’s repetitive tasks can seem like chores. Perfection this is not.
(Vita, $40, Teen)
JRPGs are big on teen power fantasies in which high school students with secret identities navigate social minefields while saving the world from evil on the side. The dungeon crawler Mind Zero fits that Persona-style mold, focusing on a clique of kids who stumble upon a hidden realm that threatens their world. You choose a weapon and are assigned a monstrous alternate persona called a MIND, which reflects your inner depravity, or something. You use that identity to plunder your way through dungeons, leveling, looting and slaughtering as you go.
The story is a slow, steady burn, unwrapping twist after twist of its obtuse plot, which heads into dark, disturbing territory. Spirited voice acting — selectable in either Japanese or English — an entrancing visual style and economical, padding-free storytelling make you feel as though you’re always forging forward, rather than keeping pace on a treadmill like mediocre games in the genre.
(Vita, $30, Mature)
The saucy card-based battle game features suggestively-posed, barely-dressed fantasy girls, occasionally asking you to rub and poke the touch screen as they moan to pleasure them enough to “boost their attributes.” In between card battles, you button-mash your way through a slim excuse for a story, making your way to the strategic, challenging confrontations. Addicts of Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering will be right at home here, with solid, rewarding mechanics and tough but fair A.I. making the card battles rewarding.
There’s plenty to enjoy here, most likely in the confines of your own bedroom. Playing Monster Monpiece in public is a good way to creep out everyone around you. Despite the seemingly unchained naughtiness of the game, it’s supposedly tame compared to the Japanese edition. This is a censored version, taming the states of characters on some of the more lurid cards. Purists will probably want to go the import route on this one.
Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails
(Wii U, $10, Everyone)
Rail shooters were all the rage on the original Wii, but haven’t been heard from much since everyone and their grandma got over Nintendo’s hot-selling fad of a console. Scram Kitty captures the feel of mobile games that have stolen the company’s thunder. You hunt for your kidnapped pet cat, surging forward on a rail-based vehicle as you blow away enemies with lasers. Since most movement is handled for you, your main task is to keep the blasts coming to ward off the barrage of danger as you scoop up collectibles and go for high scores.
Level repetition and memorization are key to survival, which isn’t a problem because there’s little tedium in the fast-pace, frantic levels. There is tons of replay value here, much of which is because its later levels are so ridiculously hard that you’ll need to obsess over them to have a chance of escape. In the spirit of Super Meat Boy, all your many deaths feel like they’re your own fault, rather than results of shoddy controls or cheap mechanics. This is a game for those who like to turn their brains off and seek to enter an arcade-like trance.
(Wii U, $15, Everyone 10+)
A family-friendly, turn-based strategy RPG, Squids Odyssey has you propel creatures of the deep to take down enemy lineups. Lining up angles, you plot out your shots and watch the results via Angry Birds-style, physics-based chaos. Obsessed with being quirky and odd, the game hurls you through joyfully absurd, increasingly hellacious levels as you advance.
As with any Wii U game worth its sea salt, Squids Odyssey lets you play on either the TV or the GamePad screen, using traditional controls or the touchscreen. The challenge ramps up quickly and can grow frustrating, especially if you’re not willing to doggedly tinker with your tactics or seek help via walkthroughs. The system could use more strange indie downloads like this.
(PS4, $20, Everyone 10+)
Developer Supergiant Games, which rocked the indie download scene with the charmingly narrated lootfest Bastion in 2011, delivers another ace with Transistor, a tactical action shooter with steampunk trappings. You play as a heroine with a giant sword that doubles as a communication device. You quickly receive an array of attacks and maneuvers you can use to take down robotic enemies, including the ability to freeze time, mark out a course of attacks with a cursor, then set your character off to carry out the maneuver automatically.
It takes a mixture of pre-plotted stratagems and off-the-cuff combat to advance from one self-contained chamber to the next. There’s an overpowering emotional current to the story, as you communicate with a mysterious, controlling figure through the Transistor. The world is rich with visual details, which enrich the story for those willing to dig in and do some studying. The battles are every bit as entrancing, forcing you to think on your feet and fail miserably before managing to succeed. If you’ve got a PS4, you have no reason to whine about a lack of software if you haven’t given this one a whirl.