Project Minerva

Conventional wisdom states that you need to spend some time with a videogame, really dig in there, in order to review it. Most days I’m with conventional wisdom on that one: just not today. Lately, I played Project Minerva for a few hours, and it committed so many unpardonable sins out of the gate that I was already writing the review in a corner of my mind from the first moments of the game. I couldn’t help it. My brain needed some kind of other stimulus to make the time go by faster, as the heroine plodded, hunched over, across an endless grassy plain.

Before the game has even properly started, an uncanny valley effect hits: in the opening video you’ll notice that the heroine looks much more human than everybody around her. This is a D3 Publisher joint from 2001, early in the PS2’s life. Though D3 had not yet figured out the whole “Simple Series” business that would bring them to success, the production values are certainly on the same level as that series. Bare-minimum character models dance the robot through every animation and cutscene.

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Simple 2000 Series vol. 116: The Nekomura no Hitobito

Cover scanVingt-et-un Systems is showin’ em how it’s done. The Genshijin – just about to be released in the US as The Adventures of Darwin – was the highlight of D3′s Simple 2000 release schedule in 2006, and the peak of VSC’s creative output to date. This year’s spiritual sequel, The Nekomura no Hitobito, is even more polished and full of personality than The Genshijin, and it’s gone even further to demonstrate what can be done on the Simple 2000 budget.

The game is set in an Edo-era Japanese village populated not by humans, but by anthropomorphic cats. The Genshijin, for those unfamililar, was heavily based on Nintendo’s Pikmin series. And here, too, you directly control the leader of a team of these villagers. They follow you around as you navigate obstacles, and they attack enemies once you give the command to swarm.

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Simple 2000 Series vol. 113: The Tairyou Jigoku

I have to say, this is an excellent coverWhat makes a Simple 2000 release worthwhile? Does the concept need to be original? Does the game have to be “good?” Or simply playable? There are roughly three grades of Simple 2000 games out there: those that are terrible and unplayable, those that are terrible and playable, and those that are not terrible. I had fully expected this game to fall into the first category, but I found something that just barely sneaks into the second.

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The Maid Uniform and Machine Gun

it's a trap!It’s not often that a Simple 2000 game has recognizable – or even mildly appealing – characters. More often than not, Simple 2000 characters simply represent archetypes or attempt to imitate well-known characters from full-priced games. But when a game in this series has characters that are so appealing that they make one want to ignore the overall quality of the game, it’s clear that the developer has done something right. Such is the case with last August’s release of Simple 2000 Series Vol. 105: The Maid Uniform and Machine Gun – and, indeed, there’s a lot to ignore if one expects to have much fun with the game at all.

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Simple 2000 Series Vol. 99: The Genshijin

What makes a successful Simple 2000 Series game? Sometimes it’s a collision of original elements that have been refined over several games, often on other publishers’ dimes. Sometimes it’s a mere port or remake of a game that’s previously found success as a full-priced release. The well-executed, original, non-franchise title is a rarity among the rare good games in D3 Publisher’s catalog. However, the necessary alignment of heavenly bodies seems to have been just right for the release of developer Vingt-et-un Systems’ April release, Simple 2000 Series Vol. 99: The Genshijin, or The Primitive Man.

The Genshijin can best be described as a combination of Nintendo’s real-time-strategy-explorer Pikmin and Artdink’s bizarro caveman-sim Tail of the Sun. As the game begins, you control a diminutive monkey living in a small monkey-village. Your monkey is ever-so-slightly bigger than the rest of the monkeys in his tribe, and therefore is able to boss other monkeys around and lead them on sorties into the great wilderness outside. The monkeys in the boss’s party follow him in formation and act on the commands he gives. They can pick up food and artifacts, attack wild beasts with their monkey-fists, and work together to surmount obstacles (which are usually great slabs of rock that serve as gates between areas).

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